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.
Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.
~Booker T. Washington
wwwHe stepped into the shower, the dry fiberglass of the tub floor beneath his feet cool and smooth. Rotating the handle above the bathtub faucet from blue to red, he let the cold water splash across his bare feet, taking in the shock of temperature. Before the water could warm, he pulled the shower stem, needing that same shock blasted across his bare chest, shooting down the back of his neck, covering his back with still-frigid liquid.
Dean gasped automatically, his skin breaking out in tight shivers as his body pulled close in protection from the cold. He lifted his face to the water, letting the tremors of sensation roll through him as the water slowly adjusted and heated up. It beat against his closed lids and ran across the planes of his face to fill his ears and muffle any ambient noise.
He’d woken up in his father’s arms this morning.
There was no way for his brain to compute that fact from surreal wonder into actual reality. He literally couldn’t remember a time when John had held him for any other reason than anger or desperation. The last time he recalled John actually touching him was after his near-drowning in the Arizona flash-flood a month ago.
What the hell was I thinking?
He hadn’t been thinking that much was certain. He’d been so wrapped up in what he was feeling, drowning in it, that he hadn’t thought through the ramifications of showing such need, such weakness to his father. The unexpected sight of John in their motel room had sent him spinning and he’d ricocheted so quickly from what am I supposed to do to give me an order the only solution he could deal with was oblivion.
He turned, his feet suctioned at the arches to the floor of the tub, and allowed the water to rumble against his stiff neck, hoping its heated fingers would miraculously kneed the aches from his back. He could still feel his father’s hand there, at his back, helping him roll from his recumbent position to sit, blinking, wide-eyed and uncertain.
Memories of John in times of fatherly compassion always included Sam. It was ironic, really. Sam and his dad were consistently at odds from the time Sam turned thirteen and decided he didn’t approve of their father’s choices, but was too young and powerless to do anything about it. However, all Dean could remember of seeing John act like a dad… like the dad kids imagine when they picture the ideal family… involved Sam.
Sam in danger. Sam in need. Sam gripped with a nightmare. Sam asking about Mom. Sam, Sam, Sam…
Dean reached up to finger the tender muscles at his neck. His head had been propped up on John’s thigh, his face turned toward his father’s feet, his body twisted slightly, putting a strange pressure on his still-healing ribs. The first thing he’d been aware of as he’d slipped slowly through increasing levels of light to full wakefulness was the weight of a limb across his upper chest—avoiding the cracked ribs, but restricting his breathing ever-so-slightly.
He’d felt his own heart bounce against that weight and had tried desperately to remember who he’d climbed into bed with the night before. The scent was what jerked him from numb confusion to baffled awareness. His father’s scent was unique—even after days wrapped in the industrial clean of a hospital the aroma of gunpowder, leather, and whiskey clung to John’s skin like a memory.
Dean tipped his head back, letting the now-steaming water fill the hollows of his eyes and skip over his pursed lips as gravity pulled it down his body. Only two things had stopped him from launching up and away from the startling proximity of his father: contact with the floor reminding him of his efforts to escape the night before and the resulting stiffness in his body.
He jerked in surprise, slipping on the now-saturated floor, and caught his balance with a hand slapped flat against the tiled wall. “Yeah!”
“We’re burning daylight!” His father’s voice was muffled, slightly indistinct, coming from the living room, not yet breeching the unspoken sanctity of Dean’s room, and sounded… typical. As if last night hadn’t happened. As if normal still prevailed.
Dean swallowed, unsure how long he’d been soaking away the bizarre morning. “Five minutes,” he called back. Turning to face the water once more, he scrubbed his hands over his face.
They hadn’t spoken yet, not really. Dean had simply turned his head, blinking in amazement at his father’s grim face, then allowed John to help him sit upright. Without a word, John had nodded toward his wheelchair and Dean had managed to get to his feet, his head pounding, sweat breaking out on his forehead and his stomach churning. He’d pulled John up, helping him into the wheelchair and moved the chairs and bed to the side so that John could maneuver into his bedroom on his own.
The water turned lukewarm and Dean shut it off, grabbing a towel from the silver bar as he stepped out. The headache that had been poised behind his eyes since he regained consciousness eased back a step while he’d been under the water. But the cold snap of air thrust the pressure back and he narrowed his eyes in retaliation.
He started back into the bedroom and his clothes, but stopped just inside the bathroom doorway, glancing through the open doors toward the living area. John sat in his wheelchair, his broken leg up, his hair still twisted in its rustled morning-after configuration. He didn’t look like he’d slept. Wrapping the towel around his waist, Dean moved into the bedroom doorway, trying to figure out what to say next.
“You, uh… need some help? Or… anything?” It sounded as if he were speaking with a stranger.
“It’s about time,” John groused, rolling his neck. “We need to talk—” John looked over and his face drained of color. “Jesus Christ, kiddo,” he breathed, dredging up a rarely-used endearment.
His eyes were on Dean’s bare chest.
Dean glanced down. The bandages that had bound his ribs lay in a heap on the floor next to his discarded clothes. His skin was a mottled ripple of coloring, gathering in a series of broken blood vessels in what appeared to be the shape of an elongated hand. Purple, blue, and yellow edged outward toward his sternum.
“Did that thing… hit you?” John asked, turning his chair slowly to face his son.
Dean looked up. “Honestly? I didn’t really notice.” The bruising had been basically universal in the hospital. The handprint hadn’t shown up until days later, when the bone-deep pain had subsided leaving behind tender muscles that whimpered with each stretch. “Kinda happened at light-speed, y’know?”
John blinked, staring at Dean with an unreadable expression, then seemed to fold inward on an exhale. He covered his face with his hands and Dean found his eyes drawn to the reflection of filtered sunbeams bouncing off of his father’s wedding band. Nostalgia ran delicate fingers down his spine and he shivered.
“I’m sorry, Dean,” John whispered, the words so low that had there been any other noise in the room, Dean would have missed them. “I am so sorry I got us into this mess.”
Knotting the towel at his waist to secure it in place, Dean moved forward. A lump lodged in his throat as his body continued to react to the inadvertent abuse he’d subjected it to by passing out next to the door of the motel room—and apparently on top of his dad—last night.
His chin practically touching his chest, John rubbed the top of his head with the flat of his palm, his words a low rumble. “What the hell do I do now?”
No… no, don’t you say that… not you… Dean reached out a shaking hand for the back of a chair, and lowered himself slowly so that he was eye-level with his father. John was here now. He wasn’t holed up in some hospital, wounded and weak. He was present and vital and Dean needed him to be Dad. To be the super hero he’d always believed him to be. Because if he wasn’t…
“Hey… Dad, listen.” He nervously cleared his throat.
But John shook his head, dropping his hands but not raising his eyes. “I’ve been thinking about this all night,” he sighed. “You were out, but I couldn’t sleep. I just… just watched you. I can’t remember the last time I did that with you. Sammy, sure, but… you’ve always just…”
Dean licked his dry lips and waited, unsure what was coming, where the lesson would be tucked into the carefully selected words. John never spoke to him this way, with such quietness.
“Dean, the truth is… you can do this without me. You are doing it.”
Confusion laced the dissipating edges of sleep that clouding his clarity. There wasn’t a time in Dean’s memory when praise wasn’t followed by a chaser. His dad was forever asking Dean if he was picking up what John was putting down—perhaps not always in words, but in signals, in expressions, in actions.
“Question is… what the hell am I doing?” John finished, his eyes skirting over Dean’s form and skimming the walls covered with notes and the map of the Olympic Peninsula. In the soft light of morning, the burned-out bulbs were a non-issue. “I shouldn’t have let it get this far…”
Dean leaned forward, his elbows on the soft terrycloth towel that covered his knees. “What are you talking about?” He wanted to reach out, rest his hand on his father’s arm as he would if this were Sam. But he held himself still, remembering in time that Sam wasn’t here—and wasn’t going to be here anytime soon. “You’re here now… we can figure it out together.”
He needed John to look at him. To gather himself up and bark an order. He needed his general back.
John gestured to the wall. “You’re on your way to figuring it out on your own, Dean. Might take you a bit longer, but… you’re right. You don’t need me pushing you.”
“Yes, I do.” Dean replied without thinking.
Eyebrows up, John closed his eyes and shook his head. “That’s not what you said last night.”
“Yeah, well,” Dean sighed, sinking back against the slatted boards of the chair, the cool wood shocking his bare skin. “I said a lot of shit last night.”
John began twisting his wedding ring. Dean watched, anchored by the familiar gesture. “I left you alone to deal with this hunt. I made this mess. And…” he sighed, nodding toward his elevated leg, “I can’t do a thing to help you clean it up. I may as well have…”
Dean frowned, his brows nearly meeting over the bridge of his nose. His stomach tightened at the ominous tone in his father’s voice.
“What would you have done if the Kappa had killed me?” John asked suddenly.
Dean felt instantly cold, as if his blood had been replaced by ice. He tried to sit upright, away from the unforgiving back of the chair, but found that he couldn’t move.
“I saw the mirror, Dean,” John said softly, finally looking at him.
The mirror… Air escaped him, drawing tiny black dots from the dimly-lit corners of the room that danced at the edges of Dean’s vision.
“Read Dad’s journal,” John pressed. “Empty PO Box. Find Uncle Bobby. Check on Sam…”
Dean dropped his head, seeking balance, needing air. His skin felt prickly, like the quick jolts from a sparkler’s cast-off fire at the Fourth of July.
“I… um…” Dean used the edge of the table to force himself to his feet, knocking his chair backwards in his haste. He turned and reached for the doorframe that separated his bedroom from the living room. Without another word to his father, Dean shut the door between them and dropped heavily onto the corner of the bed.
He’d forgotten about the damn mirror.
One night too many of solitude had led him to thinking what if… Several minutes of staring at his silent reflection had spurred him into writing out a possible solution, a plan, the steps he’d take if he found himself truly on his own. He’d never really been alone before; he’d always had Sam to look after, Sam by his side.
But with John laid up in the hospital, the reality of doing this job by himself had hit Dean in the night and he’d done the only thing he could think to do. Why didn’t I erase the damn thing? He wasn’t ready to admit that being alone—being without Sam and John—was the only thing he truly feared. Down deep inside, in a place he chose not to pay attention to, he knew it was true; he didn’t need a shrink to point out his co-dependency issues. But knowing it and saying it aloud—to his father of all people—were two entirely different levels of acceptance.
Taking a breath, Dean dropped his towel and gingerly pulled on his day-old clothes. Regardless of familial drama, he had a job to report to today and John was right: he was burning daylight. His muscles called out quick moans of protest as he straightened, tugging his jeans up over his clean boxers. He wrapped his ribs quickly and tightly, having become adept at doing so on his own over the last several days.
Putting on his boots was another matter altogether and he practically bit through his lip as he tied them, vowing to always pass out near something soft from that point forward. Grabbing Sam’s hoodie and his canvas jacket, he tossed the mirror a derisive passing glance and opened the bedroom door. Expecting John to be elsewhere, he nearly yelped when he saw his father hadn’t moved away from the door.
“You okay?” John asked.
“Yeah,” Dean said quietly. “Listen, Dad… about the mirror? It didn’t mean anything.”
“Hell, yes, it meant something,” John retorted.
Dean averted his eyes and moved around his father’s wheelchair. “You want some breakfast?”
“It’s okay to have a plan, Dean.”
“I’ve got coffee and Lucky Charms,” Dean said, opening the cabinets. “And some of those toaster waffles.”
“I had a plan in case I couldn’t get back to you boys.”
Dean shut cabinet and opened the box of Lucky Charms. “I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Pastor Jim would’ve taken you—“
Dean slammed the opened box down, cereal bouncing out of the top and scattering across the counter. “I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Because it’s pointless.”
“You made a list, Dean. A list of what you’d do if you were alone. A list that didn’t include finishing this hunt. Or looking up another one. It wasn’t pointless.”
Dean licked his lips, feeling his world tilt once more. His pulse beat behind his eyes. With a trembling hand he grabbed a glass from the sink and filled it with water. Draining the contents, he turned around, bracing himself by leaning the curve of his lower back against the edge of the counter.
“First of all, nobody would’ve taken us,” Dean said, finding his father’s eyes. “I took care of Sam all his life; I’d just keep doing it.”
John’s eyebrows bounced once. “Not that you’ve thought about this or anything.”
“Second of all, the Kappa didn’t kill you—or me—but it did turn our routine into a big ol’ clusterfuck, so we got that to deal with.”
“If this is your go team speech—“ John started.
“And third… we’re finishing this hunt.”
John blinked slowly. “Kid…” He stopped, looking down, confessing to his lap. His left hand crept down his thigh, gingerly massaging the muscles. “I don’t know if I’ve got it in me. And I can’t ask you to clean up my mess—“
“Dad,” Dean interrupted him. “Once a Marine, always a Marine, right?”
At that, John looked up, his face going slack in surprise.
“I mean, that’s what you always said, isn’t it? There’s no such thing as a former Marine?”
“Y-yes,” John nodded, then cleared his throat. Something shifted is his expression and Dean felt heat radiate through him. “That’s right, Son.”
Dean swallowed, looking down. He lifted his eyes, keeping his chin tucked submissively against his chest. “I think it’s the same for hunters.”
John tilted his head, his dark eyes softening.
Dean ran his thumb against the inside of his silver ring, weighing his next words. It wasn’t an easy thing to say suck it up and stop feeling sorry for yourself to his hero. It wasn’t an easy thing to even want to say it.
“You can’t hunt like you used to right now,” Dean continued. “But that doesn’t mean you’re any less important.” He glanced down. “It… it doesn’t mean I need you any less.”
“What about…” John swallowed. “About this not being your war?”
Dean felt the air tighten around him. The hairs on the back of his neck rose sluggishly to attention. “I was… just tired.” He pulled his lower lip against his teeth, forcing himself to meet his father’s eyes. “Something… evil… killed Mom. Changed everything. There’s no way I wouldn’t be in this fight. This… I mean… this is my life. It’s all I know.”
John watched him for another moment, something heavy in his eyes leaking out and illuminating his face. Dean found himself holding his breath, on unfamiliar ground in this oddly open communication with his dad. John dipped his head in a slight nod, and Dean felt his shoulders sag with relief.
The weight in the air seemed to lift as if a storm cloud had passed over, sparing them the torment of rain and raw feelings. Dean wasn’t sure if they’d solved anything, but he felt his balance return, a virtual white flag waving between them and putting them back into the roles they were familiar with. Nodding back at John, Dean turned back to the counter and grabbed an empty bowl, filling it with Lucky Charms. He heard the squeal of John’s wheelchair as his father maneuvered through the tight spaces.
“You gonna give your old man a hand?” John called from the door way of his bedroom.
Dean glanced over his shoulder. “You serious?”
John’s mouth quirked a bit around the edges. “So, you’ll help me shave, but you draw the line at anything else?”
Dean lifted an eyebrow. “I don’t do sponge baths.”
John chuckled. “Ease up, Princess. Just need you to fill the sink and grab a few things for me. I think I can manage to clean myself.”
“Thank God,” Dean sighed, grabbing his father’s crutches from their slant against the wall near the map and made his way into the bedroom.
As John struggled out of his shirt, Dean filled the sink with hot water and placed soap, shampoo and towels within arms reach. He gave John a hand out of the wheelchair and helped him balance on the crutches.
“I gotta go to the site today,” he said, picking John’s duffel up from the ground and setting it on the edge of the bed for easier reach. “You gonna be okay?”
“I’ll manage,” John said, scrubbing his face and neck with soap. “Just… y’know, check in or something.”
“’kay,” Dean nodded and started back for the kitchen.
“Dean,” John called. Dean turned back. “I miss it, too.”
“It?” Dean frowned.
John looked at him, water dripping from his chin, his hair sticking to his wet forehead. “The way we used to be. I miss…” He sighed and turned back to the mirror, speaking to his own reflection. “I miss Sam, too.”
Dean felt his lips twitch and tightened his stomach in rebellion of emotion. He nodded, then turned away, closing the door behind him, grateful in the moment for the mask temporary solitude afforded him.
www“Our boy has a system, Mary,” John mumbled aloud as he regarded Dean’s wall of clues. “But I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it is.”
John had mapped out hunts before. When Dean was around ten or eleven, he’d caught the boy watching with calculating eyes, not commenting, but completely absorbed. When Sammy started asking about the process, he’d shown him how it worked. But Dean had never asked. He’d listened, he’d watched, but he’d never asked.
John had always used thumb tacks and string, finding the pattern, seeking the rhythm. But Dean’s notes were a flow of names, half sentences, questions, ideas, possibilities.
“How does he find his way through this maze?” John said, peering at the circled points along the water’s edge. “This is like… trying to make sense of Pink Floyd song lyrics.”
His eyes caught on the name inside one of the circles and he recognized it as the beach where he and Dean had fought the Kappa. Eyes skimming back over the other locations, he realized they were the points where the bodies of the children had been found. Just below what was possibly the first location, Dean had taped a note that read: third generation pays the price.
“Third generation?” John muttered. He rubbed his forehead, then made his way back to his wheelchair in a lurching gait. Sinking down into the low-slung seat, he groaned, lifting his leg up into the extension. After just an hour on his feet, the limb began to throb. “I don’t know, sweetheart,” he sighed, continuing the conversation with his wife. “He’s always been more your boy than mine… Maybe that’s why I managed to get along with him so much better than Sammy.”
Talking to Mary had been a habit of his for years. At night, when he teetered on the edge of consciousness, he’d even feel her answer him. As October quickly fled and November drew closer, John found himself yearning to talk with her more. It was always this way, year after year. November was a bleak month, yet something in him was convinced that one of these years, he would find grounding for Mary’s death inside of those thirty days.
Taking a breath, John wheeled over to his duffel and pulled out his journal. Thumbing through to a blank page, he set the book on his lap, open, and wheeled back to the map. Tucked into the spine of the journal was a pen.
“How I wish you were here,” he sang softly, distractedly, eyes darting from the wall to his journal, his hand tracking information from one to the other that his brain hadn’t yet processed. “We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.”
His voice rumbling low in his chest, John tilted his head, seeing suddenly a pattern in Dean’s notes where before he’d only seen chaos. “Running over the same old ground. What have we found… the same old fears.”
He drew a line connecting the boxes he’d sketched, pulling the notes together in a concert of meaning. “Wish you were here,” he whispered, staring at his journal, then up at Dean’s collage. “David Gilmore, eat your heart out,” John chuckled. “I’ll be damned.”
The knock at the door startled him from his reverie of wonder. Wheeling himself to the table where Dean had stacked the now-loaded guns—in alphabetical order, John noticed—he pulled out a Glock, chambered a round, then set the weapon in his opened journal resting in his lap. In a few rotations of the wheels, he was at the door, opening it a crack.
Aaron Glover stood on the other side, clean towels balanced in one hand, a plastic grocery bag in the other.
“Hi, Sergeant,” the boy greeted.
The cool air John expected from the October afternoon was missing. Instead, an Indian Summer-like warmth rolled through the opening and spilled fresh-aired warmth into the confined room.
“Hey, kid,” John replied. “Got yourself a handful.”
“Yessir,” Aaron replied, craning his neck to see around John’s chair. “You planning a mission in there?”
“Something like that,” John nodded, closing the Journal to camouflage the weapon, and reached out to take the bag from Aaron’s arm.
“What’s all this?”
“It’s for Dean,” Aaron informed him, shifting the towels from one arm to both. He didn’t seem fazed by not being invited inside. In fact, John mused, it seemed this interaction was almost routine.
John peered into the bag. “Dean asked you to get him beer?” He asked, eyebrows bouncing up to his hairline.
“Nah. I just saw he liked it.” Aaron shrugged. “Grabbed a few bottles from Dad’s shelf. Believe me, he’s got plenty,” Aaron shook his head, “and he don’t need that much.”
John pressed his lips together, and reached into the bag to pull out a package of Peanut M&Ms. He glanced at Aaron. “Really?”
Aaron grinned. “He gave me extra for that.”
“Extra what?” John arched a brow, tempted to push the door further open.
Aaron struggled to dig a hand into his jean’s pocket. John reached through the opening and took the spare towels from the boy’s hands. Aaron dug out three blue marbles, one with a milky-white swirl.
John felt his mouth go dry.
“He added the shooter,” Aaron said, a slightly dirt-smeared finger running lightly over the white smudge almost reverently. “Said it was special.”
“It is,” John said roughly. “He got that for his brother. A long time ago.”
Aaron looked up quickly. “What, his brother not want it?”
John tugged up the corner of his mouth in a sad attempt at a smile. “Not really.”
He felt a now-familiar ache settle around his heart as he thought about the kid Dean never really got to be. Apparently, that boy was still hiding in there somewhere, peeking large eyes around the corners of the internal walls Dean had so solidly constructed over the years.
“Well, guess that’s good for me, then.” Aaron shoved the marbles back in his pocket.
John grinned. “Sam was just… into different things. Dean would try to teach him about car engines and Sam would be more interested in reading the owner’s manual.”
Aaron’s face screwed up in disgust. “Sam’s a weird guy,” he said with the scoff of the innocent. “I’d give anything to have a guy like Dean show me that stuff.”
“Well,” John sighed, thinking about the marble. “Some stuff stuck. The really important stuff.”
“If you say so,” Aaron shrugged. His face smoothed out with a light of remembrance. “Oh, I almost forgot.” He pulled a pink slip of paper from his back pocket and handed it to John. “Some lady named Dr. Rice called the office looking for you.”
“Thanks, kid,” John said, taking the note, thankful that he hadn’t given her his cell number as his message contained his real name.
“You can just leave the dirty towels outside the door. Thataway no one sees the secret stuff.”
John’s smile turned genuine as he regarded the boy. “You take care of that shooter, now.”
“Yessir,” Aaron grinned, tossing John a three-fingered salute, then turned and ran back toward the manager’s office, his Converse sneakers slapping in a steady rhythm against the cement.
John shut the motel room door, turning the lock, and wheeled back to the table to set down the towels and unload the journal and gun from his lap. He opened the note.
Friday, 5pm. Physical Therapy.
“Swell,” John sighed.
As if he didn’t have enough to deal with. He glanced up at the clock mounted on the wall above the table. He had five hours until Dean returned. Closing his eyes he tried not to let helplessness take over.
www“There’s the miracle worker himself,” Gus greeted as Dean approached the now-bustling worksite.
“Am I late?”
“Nah,” Gus shook his head, waving him over. “Just talked a few of these townies into starting early. Want to get the outer walls and windows finished as soon as possible. We can take our time on the interior.”
“Why the rush?” Dean asked, slipping his canvas jacket from his shoulders, but keeping Sam’s hoodie in place. He tossed the garment into an empty corner and accepted the tool belt Gus offered.
“You’d think Halloween would be the problem,” Gus said, tucking a pencil behind his ear, his dark eyes skimming over the ant-like movement of the dozen or so men moving around the construction site. “But it starts about the middle of the month. Last twenty years or so, it’s been a cluster of vandalism and destruction around town. Need to get the property as protected as possible.”
“So you don’t just have a Devil’s Night, huh?” Dean asked, shifting his hips to find a comfortable resting place for the tool belt overtop his jeans. “Guess I always thought that was more of a Detroit thing.”
“Nah, it’s a punk thing,” Gus scoffed. “An excuse to cause trouble and blame it on the spooks. Speaking of,” he glanced askance at Dean. “Since you did that salt mojo, things have been quiet as a grave around here.”
Poor choice of words, Dean thought as he masked his wince with a shrug. “Sometimes you can never tell what’ll work.”
“Well, spreading rock-salt around a construction site pretty much defies all logic, but I ain’t looking to drop-kick a gift horse, y’know?”
Dean rubbed his lower lip with the flat of his finger. “Logic is the beginning of wisdom. Not the end.”
Gus cocked an eyebrow. “Confucius? Budda?”
Raising his hand in a live long and prosper salute, Dean grinned. “Spock.”
“Gotta love Star Trek,” Gus laughed.
“And hours of late night TV,” Dean agreed. “Where do you want me?”
“You can go topside—third floor—with… oh, wait. That’s Cole,” Gus said, then met Dean’s eyes. “On second thought… how ‘bout you head to the east wing, third unit over. Look for an older guy named Chester.”
“Want to keep the gaijin away from the locals, huh?” Dean tilted his chin toward Gus with a tolerant smile teasing his lips.
“More like spare you his shit,” Gus shook his head. “If I didn’t need help so badly, I’d kick his ass outta here.”
“Something happen?” Dean asked, hooking a thumb in his tool belt and cocking his hip in a causal stance. The weight of the belt felt like a holster and he hid a secret grin as he imagined heading to the third floor and ‘calling out’ Cole Lawson.
Gus sighed. “He’s had his boxers in a twist about Marissa Teller since that night at McGee’s bar. Guess he found out you took her home.”
Dean grunted. “Yeah. I took her home. End of story.”
“Doesn’t matter to Cole.”
“Dude’s an idiot,” Dean muttered.
“You’re not wrong,” Gus said, nodding at Dean as he moved away.
Dean headed to the east wing of the building, searching for Chester, who turned out to be an extremely skinny man with lines etched on his face like calligraphy and tattoos snaking around each finger on both hands. He used very few words to instruct Dean on what to do and where to go, and Dean found that they were able to create an easy rhythm of companionship. He compensated for his still-damaged ribs, realizing that if he shifted most of the weight of any one thing he was instructed to pick up, carry, or hold to his left he was able to do his job without too much pain.
The day passed quickly and by the time they broke for lunch, they’d raised the outside wall, insolated the interior, and placed plywood all along the inside the east wall of their wing. Dean was spent, but satisfied. His hands ached from gripping the nail gun, and his back was a mess of coiled muscles from trying to keep his ribs protected, but he felt accomplished. He’d worked all of his life, but it was hard being good at something no one really cared about. This job was something people would see. People would use. And people could know he’d been a part of it.
“You eating, Winchester?”
Chester’s voice seemed to come straight from his chest. He had a way of not looking directly at any one thing, even the person he was addressing. His eyes drifted, fixing on emptiness for a moment, then sliding away. It made Dean constantly want to glance over his shoulder.
“Thinkin’ about it,” Dean replied.
“Don’t see no lunch bag,” Chester pointed out, dropping down in one of the few remaining wall openings on their end of the building, his spindly legs swinging down into the drop-off below.
“Yeah…” Dean said, glancing down at his empty hands. He hadn’t thought through lunch; they always just stopped and grabbed when they were hungry on the road or during a hunt. Or they went without until they could.
“C’mere,” Chester gestured with his head. “I got plenty. Wife thinks I’m too skinny.”
“You’re kidding,” Dean deadpanned as he sat next to Chester.
The man grinned—a macabre grimace in a river of age lines—and handed Dean a foil-wrapped sandwich and a bottle of water.
“Heard you made yourself an enemy,” Chester said. “Thought at first it was Kwaiya.”
“Why?” Dean asked, surprised.
“Saw him watching you,” Chester nodded toward the western slope of land where Dean had first seen the big man dressed in Native American garb earlier in the week. “Knew he was sweet on Marissa. Knew you took her home.”
“Damn!” Dean listed to the side, supporting his body against the stud and watching Chester talk. “Word travels fast, huh?”
Chester glanced in Dean's direction, stopping short of looking right at him. “Not much else to do in a small town ‘cept talk.”
“Fair enough,” Dean nodded, taking another bite of sandwich. “I don’t think it’s Kwaiya, though.”
“’s not,” Chester shook his head. “He likes you.”
“You ask him?” Dean inquired.
“Nah, don’t have to,” Chester shrugged. “Can just tell. It’s Lawson’s kid.”
“Yeah,” Dean sighed. “Figured.”
“I think you can handle yourself,” Chester said, pausing to take a swig of water. “But I’d still stay away from Cole Lawson. He’s…”
“A dick,” Dean finished.
Chester grinned his wide, skeletal grin once more and nodded.
“Hey, Chester,” Dean asked. “What’s the story on Kwaiya anyway?” Gus hadn’t known much, and it would help him get a jump on digging into the back story of the town if he had some more information.
“You see that stretch of land yonder?” Chester said, pointing with his half-eaten sandwich. When Dean nodded, he continued. “That’s Quileute land. Long time ago—maybe fifteen, twenty years—one of the men from the tribe found a white boy, half-drowned, beaten, pretty much dead. He told the sheriff, but,” Chester took a bite of sandwich, speaking around the food, “no one went out to investigate.”
“How come?” Dean asked, following suit with the food, speaking balance.
Chester looked toward him. “Quileute’s have a reputation for…” he shrugged, “shape-shifting.”
Dean simply waited. When he said nothing, Chester shook himself and continued.
“Anyway, locals kinda avoid them. Y’know, just in case.”
Dean finished his sandwich. “Afraid one of them’s gonna wolf-out on you?”
“I ain’t,” Chester said quickly. “But people… yeah. Anyway, this kid… no one in town claimed him; sheriff didn’t investigate, so the tribe raised him, even though he was white.”
“That was Kwaiya?”
Chester nodded once, wadding up the paper bag his sandwich had been in and taking another long pull on his water bottle. “Kwaiya’s kinda special around here—and not just because he knows the Quileute’s. He’s just… special. Just about everyone wants to protect him.”
“Everyone but Cole Lawson,” Dean guessed.
“Cole’s had it in for the guy ever since I can remember.”
Dean looked down at his boots dangling just above the ground.
“Marissa Teller used to date a kid from Kwaiya’s tribe,” Chester said, tucking his legs under him like a colt and preparing to stand. “Not sure what, but something made that kid skedaddle. Kwaiya’s kept an eye on her ever since.”
“And that just makes Cole eight shades of crazy,” Dean said, using the wall stud to pull himself up and offering a hand to the older man.
“You might say that,” Chester nodded.
By the time Dean finished his day, he and Chester had closed off the east wing of the third unit and the dry-wall crew had moved in to work overnight. There were two more units to complete, but Dean guessed that if they kept moving at this pace, they’d be done before the week of Halloween, easy.
His body was a walking whimper, but he felt oddly whole. He’d earned each pulled muscle, each strained joint. He’d done an honest day’s work that he could tell someone about. No one had died and he hadn’t had to kill anything.
“See you up at McGee’s, boys,” Gus called from the west entrance. “First round’s on me.”
“You comin’?” Chester inquired.
“Nah, thanks, man,” Dean waved him off, pulling on the hoodie once more. The day had gotten warm enough for him to shed a couple of layers as he worked. “Gonna go check on my dad.”
Chester tossed him a wave and stepped away. Dean unbuckled his tool belt, easing it off his sore hips. The relief of the weight made his body sigh and he made his way slowly to the west entrance to pick up his jacket.
“Lookin’ for this?”
Dean dropped the tool belt next to a tall, red toolbox. Marissa stood in the doorway, the dying light of day filling the area around her with deep purple shadows. She wore boots and a short denim skirt under an oversized gray sweatshirt that still somehow managed to show off her curves. Dean’s eyes caught on the shape of her legs and he had to force himself to look away.
He reached for the jacket she held out to him. “Yeah, thanks.”
“No problem.” She smiled. He knew that smile. Promises were held in that smile.
“What brings you around here?” Dean asked.
“I was looking for you,” Marissa said, stepping closer. “I, uh… I wanted to thank you. For the other night.”
He could smell her perfume. It wasn’t flowery, but it was light. Like her skin had soaked up the sweetness of the day and was letting it escape in small hints of scent. It made him want to pull her closer and bury his nose in the soft spot of her neck right where it curved to meet her shoulder.
“You don’t have to thank me,” Dean said, easing the jacket on over Sam’s hoodie. “You decide what you’re gonna do?”
Marissa looked down, shoving her fingers into the pockets of her skirt. “No,” she confessed softly.
Dean ducked his head, catching her eyes. He almost didn’t notice when she stepped closer yet again. “S’okay to be scared, y’know,” he offered.
“It’s just,” she shrugged, catching her bottom lip between her teeth, then looking up at him through her lashes. “It’s such a big change.”
Dean’s eyes rested on her mouth. “Sure it is,” he said softly. “You just gotta decide if he’s worth it.”
“You’ve got me all confused,” Marissa breathed, leaning up on her toes, her mouth inches from his.
Her name was barked with such a sense of authority and ownership that Dean felt himself snarl even before Marissa’s flinch had her stepping back and away. Cole Lawson stepped through the opening, his eyes on Marissa, his tool belt in his hand.
“What the hell are you doing here, girl?”
“Me? What are you doing here?” Marissa shot back.
“I work here.” Cole’s eyes darted between Marissa and Dean, glittering in the echoed light.
“I watched you leave,” Marissa returned, a line bisecting her brow.
Cole glared at her. “I asked you a question. What are you doing here… with him?”
“How is that any of your business, Cole?” Marissa snapped, turning from Dean and heading for the door, Cole between her and freedom.
“Guess it’s my business where my girlfriend spends her time.”
Dean rolled his eyes.
“You stay out of this gaijin,” Cole snapped.
Dean tilted his head. “Careful,” he said mildly. “Using words above your pay-grade. Might sprain something.”
“I was never your girlfriend,” Marissa said, stepping between Cole and Dean. “And we stopped dating when I realized that I’d learned everything interesting about you inside of five minutes.”
Cole reached up and grabbed her arm, jerking her towards him and causing her to gasp.
Instinctively, Dean moved forward with a, “Hey!”
He heard the tool belt drop, but his eyes were on the hand gripping Marissa’s arm. It wasn’t until Cole released Marissa that Dean saw the crescent wrench in his other hand. The silver of the tool glinted off of the shop lights the dry-wall team had set up around the interior of the construction site.
Pushing Marissa aside, Cole stepped forward, wrench raised. “You think you can come in here, cast some spell over Gus, over Marissa, and just… solve all our problems like some Goddamn rainmaker?”
Dean lifted his hands, palms up. “Dude, I’m just trying to do a job. Believe me, soon as I can, I’m outta here.”
Marissa turned away. Cole tightened his grip on the wrench.
“Oh, I think that’s gonna be sooner than you’d planned.”
Dean zeroed his focus in on the bigger man’s exposed throat, calculating his chances of a quick punch taking out Cole’s windpipe before the wrench broke Dean’s skull open. Before he raised his fist, however, he heard the ironically welcoming sound of a police siren. The blue and red lights turned the interior of the building into a twisted disco.
Dean didn’t recognize the voice. A man in a tan sheriff’s uniform stepped in, his hand on the butt of his unsnapped pistol. Cole turned to face him, the wrench lowering slowly as he pivoted.
“Got a call from one of Gus’ boys,” the sheriff stated, flat eyes moving around the room to take them all in. “Said they’s worried there might be trouble here…”
“Sheriff,” Marissa said, her voice shaking slightly. “I want to press charges.”
“What?!” Cole exclaimed.
“This man assaulted me.” Marissa held up her wrist and even in the dim light Dean could see rising bruises.
“What about this other guy?” the sheriff asked, nodding toward Dean.
Marissa glanced at him, regret turning her blue eyes limpid. “He’s just trying to go home,” she said softly.
Repeating Cole’s Miranda rights, the sheriff cuffed the man’s hands behind his back.
“This ain’t over,” Cole snarled toward Dean.
“Oh, that’s original,” Dean scoffed. “What’s next? I'll be back?”
The sheriff hauled Cole forcibly out of the building and pressed the top of his head down as Cole folded himself into the back of the patrol car. Dean watched, standing next to Marissa. As the car pulled away, he felt her sigh.
“Maybe I have decided,” she said. “Just… got a few more things to wrap up before I can leave.”
“Just go,” Dean said, not looking at her. “Let the rest take care of itself.”
Marissa shook her head. “I can’t. Not with this. It’s too big.”
Dean frowned, looking down at her. “What is it?”
Her eyes far away, Marissa sighed. “Someone else’s mess.”
wwwHe heard the Impala return, feeling a calm ease quiet fingers through him. The creak of the door followed by a low-voiced hum and the snap of metal on metal preceded Dean’s entrance. He unlocked the motel door, tossed his keys on the table just inside the door as if he’d been doing that very thing all his life and glanced around quickly, his eyes catching on John.
“Hey, old man.”
“Hey, yourself,” John returned, unable to mask the small smile at seeing his boy walk through the door—in one piece. “You done playing with grown-up Lincoln Logs for the day?”
“Yep,” Dean nodded, slipping out of his jacket and a gray hoodie that appeared a size too large for him. “Dude, I’m cooked.”
“How’re the ribs?”
“Sore,” Dean groaned as he sat slowly in one of the straight-backed chairs, a hand resting like a shield against his side. His head dropped forward, chin to his chest, and he closed his eyes with a heavy sigh.
“What’s for dinner?” John teased.
Dean didn’t look up. “I work all day and you can’t even have food on the table when I get back?”
“Bitch, bitch, bitch,” John said. “Look in the bag.”
Dean did as he was instructed, his face lighting up at the contents. “Mm! Jerky. And M&Ms! That kid is awesome,” he sighed, tearing into the bag of chocolate.
“He also got you beer,” John informed him.
Dean’s head snapped up. “What? How the hell’d he do that?”
“Swiped it from his old man.”
Dean frowned. “Gonna have to talk to him ‘bout that. No good getting himself in trouble over me.”
John smiled inwardly at the look of protection that slipped easily across Dean’s face. He’d seen it so many times as the boys were growing up he’d taken it for granted. In the time since Sam had left, the look had been lost in the minutia of survival, but seeing it again, John felt a sense of peace. That his boy wasn’t too far gone.
“He brought light bulbs, too. Guess you called his dad about that?”
Dean lifted a shoulder.
“I replaced the one above the table, but you’ll have to get the other ones.”
“’Kay,” Dean said, filling the palm of his hand with candy.
“You gonna ask about my day?” John said, wheeling his chair closer to the table.
“Sure,” Dean said around an M&M. “You recruit any mutants, there, Professor X?”
“Always with the humor,” John shot his son a glance of false irritation. “I spent most of the day trying to crack your code.”
“My code?” Dean’s eyebrow bounced up.
John nodded to the map on the wall. “I think you got something there.” He opened his journal and spun it around to face Dean. “And I think it all started in ’81.”
Dean leaned forward, popping three M&Ms into his mouth. “What happened in ’81?”
John looked sideways at his son. “You had several people mention something happening twenty years ago… something about a curse.”
Dean stopped chewing, lifting his eyes to meet his father’s. “Yeah…”
“Look here.” John slid a paper out from underneath the journal and shoved it under Dean’s nose, pointing to an article with the headline: Town ‘Celebrates’ Macabre Anniversary. “This is one of the papers they brought me to read while I was trapped in that damn bed. In 1981, a woman died in a fire in the temporary jail here in Brinnon.”
“She died in the jail?” Dean asked, eyes skimming the type. “What was she in there for?”
“Article doesn’t say,” John revealed, leaning back. “But what it does say is where that jail was.”
“Gus’ construction site,” Dean said.
“Son of a bitch.”
“Another thing.” John pointed once more to the journal. “Your… flow chart or whatever up there seemed to come down to one pretty specific name.”
Dean nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking that same thing. Had to be close enough to the building to gain access—“
“And had to be able to figure out the Japanese summoning spell for the Kappa—“
“And had to have something to gain by the building not getting finished.”
“Marissa Teller,” John declared at the same time Dean said, “Cole Lawson.”
“What?” They exclaimed in unison.
“Dad, Cole Lawson is a total douche bag,” Dean said. “Gus said it himself; he’s been trying to sabotage this project from the beginning. Only reason Gus hasn’t fired his ass is that he needs help. And Lawson’s brother is one of the partners.”
“But your little girlfriend has a pretty hefty motive—losing her boyfriend like that. And witches are more commonly female; the Kappa was summoned by someone familiar with wiccan rituals.”
Dean shook his head, pushing himself to his feet. “It’s not Marissa,” he said decisively. “She’s got issues, yeah, but you should’ve seen her talk about her niece, Annie. She was devastated.”
John shrugged. “Maybe Annie was a mistake.”
“Maybe,” Dean conceded, “but my money’s on Lawson. I almost got into it with him tonight. Guy’s not hitting on all cylinders.”
John frowned. “Got into it?”
Dean shrugged out of his long-sleeved shirt. “Man, it’s hot in here. Yeah, he caught Marissa and I talking and thought it would be a good idea to take a crescent wrench to my head.”
“You okay?” John asked quickly, his gut tightening in worry.
“Cops showed up.” Dean wandered into his room and dug out a change of clothes. John watched him glance at the bedroom mirror and then he disappeared around the corner. “Arrested him for assaulting Marissa. He’ll be out of the picture for a few days at least.”
He came back into view and John saw that he’d pulled off his T-shirt and that it was covered with black smudges. Lips tugging up into an abbreviated smile, John wheeled back over to the map, looking at it as he waited for Dean to emerge.
“It’s one of these guys you have up here,” John said. “And I’m willing to bet whoever it is knows exactly what happened to that woman in ’81.”
“Man, I’m starving,” Dean muttered as he stepped back into the living room area dressed in sweat pants, a clean T-shirt, and carrying the discarded radio.
John watched, partly annoyed, yet mostly amused when Dean plugged the radio into the wall and set it on the counter next to the sink. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Saturday Night Special crackled to clarity and Dean grinned, heading back to the table and flipping John’s journal around to face him.
“You gonna work or listen to music?” John asked, forced irritation weighting his words, his face betraying him.
Dean glanced up. “I can’t do both?”
John sighed. “It’s not one of the partners,” he said as the lyrics to a song he’d heard thousands of times drifted into his subconscious.
Well hand guns are made for killin'. They ain't no good for nothin' else…
“You sure about that?”
“It’s their kids that were killed, Dean,” John pointed out.
“Like you said,” Dean shrugged, “maybe one was a mistake.”
“We know just enough to be stupid about this.” John rubbed his face. “Four kids and one doctor have already died—“
“And you’ve got a busted-to-hell leg,” Dean interjected.
“We need to know for sure,” John stressed. “There are too many lives tangled up in this.”
“Aw, damn,” Dean replied sarcastically. “And here I was gonna say we should toss a dart at the board and be done with it.”
John ignored him. “This isn’t a straight salt and burn, but I do think a spirit is involved. Someone summoned the Kappa—“
“And painted the protection symbols around the building… Hey, Dad,” Dean said suddenly, interrupting himself. “Does the article say which unit of the old building the jail used to be in?” He fingered the edge of the newspaper, frowning as he scanned the contents once more.
“Not that I remember,” John said. “Why?”
“Because the building is parceled up in three units,” Dean said, setting down the paper and looking at his father, a line of thought dividing his brows. “And only the first one—the far west one—was covered with the protection symbols.”
John narrowed his eyes. “What are you thinking?”
Dean tilted his head. “Are we sure a person did this? I mean… a you sure a spirit couldn’t have summoned the Kappa?”
Sighing, John rotated his hand in a slight shrug. “Let me make some calls,” he conceded, “but I’ve never heard of it happening.”
Dean rubbed his stomach lightly. “You didn’t finish the toaster waffles did you? ‘Cause I’m starving.”
“So you said,” John mentioned dryly, his eyes slipping up to the map once more. His mind began to churn through the facts, taking in Dean’s abbreviated notes, considering the organized information he’d jotted down in his journal. Woman burned to death, trapped in a cell, building becomes her grave, building remodeled, grave desecrated…
“What?” John looked over.
“I’ve been talking to you for like five minutes here,” Dean said, irritated. “What the hell are you thinking about?”
“The hunt,” John said simply.
“You ate all those waffles, didn’t you?” Dean grumbled. “I’m going out for pizza.”
“Hold up a minute,” John said.
“Unless Aaron knows someone who can deliver in this Mayberry of a town,” Dean continued, heading into his room for a jacket.
“Just sit tight, Dean,” John ordered, his voice gruff enough to get Dean’s attention. He glanced at the clock. “Give it five minutes.”
“Tell me you ordered a pizza,” Dean moaned.
“Aaron’s got connections,” John grinned as Dean sighed happily and sank into his chair. “You owe him that red shooter, though.”
Dean’s head snapped up. “He told you about the marbles?”
“He did,” John nodded, offering Dean a smile of approval. “It was a good idea.”
Dean grinned slightly. “Someone should use them, huh?”
“Yeah,” John agreed.
Continued in Part 4B here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/69515.html