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.
As the radio rotated through the evening song list, Dean went to the fridge and used the edge of his ring to open two bottles of beer. They sat and drank in comfortable silence until the pizza was delivered. John watched his son all-but inhale two pieces of pepperoni before he spoke again.
“Think there’s anything to that curse?” he asked his dad.
John shrugged. “I think you had the right idea about the third generation paying the price. Only reason those kids are dead is because of something their parents did.”
“Or their grandparents.”
John nodded, reaching for his crutches and standing awkwardly. “Keep talking,” he said as he made his way to the duffel on his bed. He was past due for pain meds and feeling the ache in his leg increase the longer he sat.
“Twenty years ago, Jake Teller was in high school,” Dean said, thinking out loud. “So were the rest of those guys. So, it’s totally possible that they did something stupid, got that woman killed, and doomed their own town.”
“It’s also possible,” John continued, swallowing two pills with a swig of beer, “that they’re innocent, just like their kids were.”
Dean sighed and opened another bottle of beer, standing in front of the map and his notes, rocking slightly back and forth in time with the music.
“So… the three of the four partners have a history with this town through their fathers. According to a few random people I’ve talked to, Joe Lawson—real piece of work, by the way—Frank Teller, and Roman Sutcliff were all a pretty big deal back in the day,” he said, eyes on his notes. “Joe owned a construction business that helped build a lot of the downtown. Frank was a doctor and Gus told me Roman did a stint as sheriff.”
“The Brinnon Trinity,” John said, shuffling slowly back into the room.
“Frank’s dead, Joe’s become a permanent fixture on a bar stool at the local diner, and I don’t have a clue where Roman is. Or if he’s even still alive.” Dean turned staring just past his father, still lost in thought. “Something big—the fire—happens twenty years ago. They aren’t able to rebuild the block. The town starts to die. Then their sons teamed up with some random fourth guy and started this partnership. They decide to restore the place, and all hell breaks loose.”
John sighed. “You know what we need.”
A look crossed Dean’s face and his lips parted just as a name ferreted through John’s thoughts. Dean clamped his mouth shut as if he’d been caught swearing in church, and John dismissed the possibility almost as quickly as his brain had conjured it. Sam wasn’t there. He wasn’t going to be there. And no amount of missing him was going to bring him back if he didn’t want to come back.
“A library,” Dean answered, his voice slightly choked. He took a pull on his beer bottle, flipped a chair around backwards, and slung a leg over it, resting his forearm across the back of the chair and his chin on his forearm. “So much for my code, huh?”
“Not unusual to need a library during a hunt like this,” John said, easing himself back into his wheelchair. In the background, Springsteen’s smoky moan lamented about being in the Darkness on the Edge of Town.
“Your mom loved this song,” John said, surprising himself.
Dean’s head bobbed up. “She did?”
“I always teased her that it was because she had the hots for The Boss,” John grinned, his gaze unfocused, seeing not the motel room, or the dingy curtains, or even his green-eyed son sitting across from him, but instead the sassy eyes of a curvy blonde glancing up at him through her lashes, lips quirked in a secret smile. “She’d just shush me and… this part, this line here…”
Everybody's got a secret, Sonny. Something that they just can't face. Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it. They carry it with them every step that they take…
“…she’d turn that up and sing along.” John’s grin slipped, turning sad. God, I miss you, Baby. “She had to sing low, like Springsteen. She couldn’t hit all the notes if she didn’t. Sounded like a lounge singer, y’know? All… gritty. Like she’d spent her life surviving on whiskey and cigarettes.”
He’d almost forgotten Dean was in the room. His arms had begun to ache in that gut-twisting way that kept him up at night. The ache of the amputee. When something that was supposed to be there was cut away, violently. He sighed, taking a long pull on his beer.
“Haven’t listened to this in a long time,” John confessed, turning his eyes to Dean and finally drawing him back into his orbit, focusing on his son’s pale face and sad eyes.
“You, uh,” Dean started. “You never really… y’know… talked about her like that before. Like she… was a person.”
John felt his mouth trip over a botched attempt at a smile. “Yeah, I guess not. I wanted you boys to… to remember her as your mom. She loved being your mom. It’s really all she ever wanted.”
“To be a mom?”
John nodded. “She wanted a family. Hers was… well, it was screwed up.”
“Guess it’s genetic,” Dean said.
John huffed out a humorless laugh. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“What else did she like to listen to?” Dean asked, his voice young, hesitant, as if afraid this bubble of honesty would burst and things would go back to the way they were before.
The third generation pays the price, John thought as he regarded Dean. You got that right, Son.
“She liked Tom Petty,” John said, nodding with memory. “And Fleetwood Mac.”
“Ack, Mom!” Dean protested. “Now I know where Sammy gets it.”
“She used to sing a Beatle’s song to you when you were a baby,” John revealed, watching Dean’s face open in wonder.
“You used to just stare at her, like you couldn’t get your eyes big enough.” John felt emotion welling as he spoke, the ache in his arms turning into a bright pain. “I told her it was because you hated her choice in music, but she’d just ignore me and go right on singing.”
“What did she sing?” Dean asked, his voice hushed.
“In My Life,” John said, his voice a whisper. “She only sang it to you.”
They sat in silence as the Audioslave claimed I Am the Highway. After a moment, Dean cleared his throat and stood.
“Been a long day,” he said in a tight voice. “Think I’ll turn in. You, uh… need anything?”
John shook his head, his face pulled close. “I got it.”
“You sure?” Dean pressed. “Not a lot of room to move—“
“I said I got it,” John barked, memory making his voice gruff, his tone impatient. He needed Dean to leave. Just go so that he could be alone with Mary.
“Okay, then,” Dean nodded, lifting his hands in surrender, his face, when John glanced at it, registering that the moment of peace was gone and they were back to the ranks of soldier and general. “Night.”
“Night, Son,” John said softly to the closed door of Dean’s bedroom.
wwwHe blamed it on the dream.
It was the fifth time he’d dreamed he was looking for Sam and found that damn turtle instead. Each time the dream grew more hazy, more frightening. As if he were somehow losing himself the longer he went without finding his brother.
He woke with a startled jerk, the shock of awareness taxing to his system. His skin felt damp, panic having drawn perspiration from his body and chilled him. Rolling carefully to his back, Dean drew his hands from beneath his pillow, forcing his fingers to open and release his hold on the knife he’d taken to keeping under his pillow since he was just about ten years old and a shtriga had almost killed his brother.
It was dark in his room; the clock radio was in the living room. He could still hear the music playing softly through his closed door. Either John had never gone to bed, or he’d kept the radio on.
Kicking his legs free of covers, Dean rolled to an elbow and used it to push himself upright. His tender ribs hitched with the movement and he caught his breath, tired of the pain. Tired of being tired. He reached to the spare bed and grabbed his jeans, digging into the pocket for his cell phone.
Seven in the morning.
He’d either wake him up or leave a message; at this point Dean didn’t care. He just needed to hear his brother’s voice. Just remind himself that at one time, there had been such a thing as balance in his life.
“This is Sam. You know what to do.”
Dean had nearly five seconds to try to decide if he was disappointed or relieved as the recorded voice instructed him to leave a message at the beep.
“Hey, Sammy,” he started, forced to clear the sleep from his voice. “I’d say I hope you’re out with those friends of yours closing down some bar, but knowing you, you’re probably passed out on top of some fat law book. I, um…” I miss you. Just say it, Dean. “I just wanted to say hi, y’know. Check in. Things are… well, they just are, I guess. Talking to Dad is like riding one fucked-up roller coaster sometimes. Hit me back when you can.”
He pressed the ‘end’ button with the phone still next to his ear.
“Miss you, man,” he whispered to the dial tone.
Sighing, he eased back on the bed and crossed his arms over his eyes. “Goddamn turtle dream,” he muttered.
He showered away a night of wandering thoughts and dressed in layers, unsure what to expect from the temperamental Pacific Northwest weather. When he stepped into the living room, he found it empty, the smell of pizza and beer heavy in the air. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, he hummed along softly to Alice in Chains’ Would? as gathered the pizza box and empty bottles, stuffing them into a plastic trash bag.
Pausing to listen for movement from his dad’s room, he set the instant coffee and a mug down on the counter where John could reach it, then turned to the table to grab his car keys. Sitting next to the keys was a pink paper with a note about John’s physical therapy that evening at five. Grabbing the pen from the spine of John’s journal, he wrote, I’ll be back in time and slipped the note under the edge of the mug.
Taking the trash with him, Dean exited into the foggy morning. The encroaching day was warmer than the retreating night and as he drove away from the motel he felt as if he were shrouded, somehow hidden from the true face of his surroundings. He grabbed a breakfast biscuit at the gas station, eating it as he put ten dollars’ worth into the Impala. He half expected to be the first on the job site, but admitted that he wasn’t surprised to see Gus walking through a preliminary punch list.
“Hey, there,” Gus nodded at him. “Back for more, are you?”
“Depends,” Dean grinned. “You got a check for me?”
Gus pulled out a white envelope, too fat to be just a check. “Didn’t figure you’d have any place to cash it, so…”
Dean took the envelope and peered inside. “This is more than two days’ work, Gus,” he said, frowning as he looked up.
Gus shrugged. “I padded it a bit. Don’t worry; you’ll earn it.”
It was on the tip of Dean’s tongue to resist, but the arch of Gus’ brow stopped him.
“Thanks, man,” Dean nodded, folding the envelope and stuffing it into his back pocket. He shrugged out of his jacket and rolled up the sleeves on his flannel outer shirt. “Didn’t expect it to be so warm in October.”
“Usually isn’t,” Gus said, buckling his tool belt as he spoke. “Once in awhile we’ll get a random heat wave, but it’ll be snuffed out in a week or so.”
“I’m not complaining,” Dean said, picking up his own belt and registering the fact that he was actually able to bend over without catching his breath.
“You and Chester turned it out yesterday,” Gus commented. “Think you can team up on unit two? Get the ground floor set up?”
Dean nodded. “You got someone on the upper floors?” he asked, thinking about Cole being arrested and Gus now a man down.
Gus’ lips quirked in a suppressed grin. “He won’t stay the day in there, you know. Big brother’ll have him out by this afternoon.”
“You planning on letting him come back to work?”
“Not if I can help it,” Gus said, waving at another arriving worker. “You won’t have to watch your back while you’re here.”
“Good to know,” Dean nodded, starting for the second unit, then pausing. “Oh, Gus,” he called. “I need to knock off at four. Take my dad to the doc’s.”
“He okay?” Gus asked.
Dean pressed his lips together in thought. “Take a bear, break its leg, tie it to a chair, and set a jar of honey just out of arm’s reach, then ask it that question.”
Gus huffed out a laugh. “Do what you gotta do, man.”
By nine, Dean was thankful that he’d tucked his throwing knives into his boots rather than his arm sheathes as he had stripped his long-sleeved shirt and tied it around his waist below his tool belt. By eleven, a dark V of sweat decorated his T-shirt, the cotton material clinging to the valleys and ridges of muscle along his back. He’d thought to bring a bottle of water with him today, but it was gone before he and Chester broke for lunch.
“Wife packed you some grub,” Chester said as they walked in tandem toward the slope of land that emptied into an inlet of the Sound. “Told her you couldn’t get enough of her turkey.”
Dean grinned his appreciation and took the proffered bag. Chester dropped down on a large rock, reaching between his shoulder blades and pulling his now-grimy T-shirt off over his head. Dean blinked at the intricate coloring and design that covered the thin man’s chest and back.
“Impressive,” he said around a mouthful of sandwich. “What does it mean?”
Chester didn’t even glance down; his eyes wandered the curved coastline, not resting on any one thing as he ate. “Nothin’ ‘cept that I thought I had a lot to say to no one who’d listen when I was younger.”
“Looks like… Valkyries,” Dean said, tilting his head to peer at the tattoo design that seemed to shift from angelic to horrific as Chester’s muscles constricted with movement.
“We could learn a lot from our past,” Chester said simply.
Dean nodded, deciding he liked Chester’s idea of sunning himself in the rare moment of peace and settled down on the rocky shoreline, his back against the cool body of the rock. After a moment, he slipped off his T-shirt and leaned his head back, eyes closed against the sunlight. The faintly acrid scent of cigarette smoke wafted their way from the other men breaking for lunch and mixed with the briny smell of the ocean.
He felt his muscle begin to uncoil as the sun heated his skin. He’d decided against wrapping his ribs that morning and the rays glided over his chest like a lover’s caress. The deep-tissue ache that had seemed to become a part of him over the last week had surreptitiously lessened and he found he could tighten his stomach muscles without his chest protesting the movement. Rolling his neck and listening to the crack of his joints, Dean vowed to not take feeling whole for granted again.
“That ain’t no tattoo,” Chester remarked calmly.
“Nope,” Dean replied.
“Cole do that?”
A note of protectiveness had slipped behind Chester’s words causing Dean to open one eye and squint up at the older man. “You’re the one that called the cops last night, weren’t you?”
“I was. You didn’t answer my question.”
“Easy, man,” Dean closed his eye and continued eating. “Cole didn’t do this.”
“What the hell happened then?”
Dean sighed, pulling his head up and opening his eyes. He faced the west side of the building and could see other workers sitting around the site at random places, eating, talking, smoking. He let his eyes move along the outer edge of the building, thinking back to the protection symbols being only in the first unit, wondering how much change the building had gone through in the first stages of remodeling before he’d gotten there.
“Happened on a job,” Dean said distractedly.
Was that Marissa? He leaned forward slightly, peering into the shadows of the building. There was a woman standing near the building. Dean blinked, frowning, trying to figure out what seemed off about her.
“Hey, Chester,” he said, not looking away from the woman’s figure. “You know that lady there?”
“Lady?” Chester asked, and Dean heard some gravel dislodge as the other man shifted. “What lady?”
“Over there by the edge of the—“
And then it hit him. She was too still. The warm October wind dried the sweat from his bare back, rattled the paper bag at his feet, but didn’t lift her dark hair from her shoulders or stir her white T-shirt against her body.
“Son of a bitch,” Dean breathed.
She stood in the darkened triangle of the building, just this side of the sunlight, and, Dean realized, on the outer edge of the salt ring he’d spread around the sight.
“You don’t see her?” Dean looked over his shoulder quickly, making sure Chester was looking in the right direction. When he glanced, back, however, she was gone. “Holy shit,” he whispered.
John had said that the night didn’t hold sway over spirits, but he’d only seen a spirit during the day one other time, and that had been in the basement of a haunted house. Day and night were turned inside out in that environment.
“You okay, kid?” Chester asked, standing above Dean now, scanning the area around the building for whatever had sent his younger companion spinning.
“Yeah,” Dean said, pushing himself to a slightly shaky stance. “Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry… I just… thought I saw… never mind.”
If Gus hadn’t already paid him—and if Chester hadn’t already fed him—he would have walked off the job that minute, grabbed his dad and headed to the library. As it was, he had an afternoon’s worth of work to finish.
He felt like a machine. Dumping his T-shirt into the same pile as his jacket, he joined Chester in finishing the walls of the second unit, laying in window wells, insulating walls, and nail-gunning plywood in place. Above their heads, other teams did the same and Dean couldn’t help but wonder which would be the better place to be if the hastily-constructed flooring gave way: on it, or beneath it.
He left Chester at four, gathering his clothing and stripping off his tool belt. As he made his way through the west wing toward the main entrance, ignoring the occasional surprised glance at his bruised torso as he passed other workers, he thought about asking Gus if he’d seen the woman. When he hit the entrance, however, he realized that wouldn’t be possible. Gus was standing on the street-side of the building, deep in conversation with the three remaining partners.
Dean dropped his tool belt next to the red tool box just as he’d done the day before and pulled his gray T-shirt on over his head, eyes on the foursome. Whatever they were discussing was definitely not sitting well with Gus and when his boss glanced up Dean caught his eye, asking with a raised eyebrow if he needed help.
Gus shook his head once, and focused his attention back on Jim Sutcliff. Dean headed for the Impala.
www“You didn’t have to come back for me,” John greeted him when he walked through the door.
So, we’re back to that are we?
“How else were you going to get to the appointment?” Dean asked.
“Wasn’t planning on going,” John replied, rolling his neck in a recognizable sign of weariness.
Dean wondered how much sleep his father had really been able to get on the motel bed, his leg aching like a son of a bitch.
“Not much physical therapy I can handle right now anyway,” John continued, his tone somewhat bitter.
“So maybe they just check you out,” Dean shrugged. “Make sure everything’s okay.”
“It’s fine,” John snapped. “You don’t think I know if I’m fine?”
Dean sighed. This is not going well. “I’m not saying that,” he placated, moving around John’s chair to head into his bedroom and grab his dad’s jacket. “Just saying… we’re here, right? Can’t go anywhere until you can get out of that chair. Permanently.”
John muttered something unintelligible and Dean decided not to ask. He simply handed him his jacket. “You’re not going to need this now,” he said. “But who knows how cool it’ll be when we leave.”
“You don’t have to wait with me,” John grumbled, sounding almost panicked at the idea.
“I’m not,” Dean said, opening the motel room door. “The library’s across the street from the hospital.”
Getting John from the chair to the front seat of the car wasn’t nearly as difficult as lifting the collapsed wheelchair into the trunk of the Impala. It wasn’t the size; that trunk was big enough to fit a body if need be. It was the lifting. The soft hum of healing Dean had experienced that morning had been whittled away by a day of manual labor.
He closed the trunk and wrapped his arm around his side, leaning forward, his forehead resting on his forearm as he caught his breath. He couldn’t suppress the groan and wished he could remember if his dad’s window was down or not.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered, pulling in a bracing breath, and straightening up. He caught John’s eyes in the side mirror watching him carefully. Dropping his arm and squaring his shoulders, Dean moved around to the front seat and eased himself behind the wheel.
“By the way,” John said casually, tossing something into Dean’s lap. “You forgot this.”
Dean looked down. His cell phone. He picked it up and pocketed it. “Huh. Must’ve dropped it when I was getting the trash.” He glanced askance at his dad. “You call any of my honey’s?” he teased.
John looked away, staring out of the window. “No, but someone called you.”
The way John said it had Dean going cold. Sammy… He struggled with what to say next.
“I didn’t answer if that’s what you’re wondering.” John said. “And before you check… he didn’t leave a message.”
“I’m sure he just…” What, Dean? Why do you want to apologize, you chicken shit? You’re not the one that kicked him out. “I’ll talk to him later on.”
“You do that,” John replied.
They drove part-way to the hospital in silence, Dean working out exactly how to bring up the fact that he saw a spirit in broad daylight.
“You know what you’re looking for?” John asked, and Dean could practically hear his dad mentally clicking through a checklist of facts and gaps in their intel.
“Yes, Sir,” Dean replied automatically.
“You need a cover story… something that won’t raise suspicion about what you’re after.”
“Make copies, as many pages as you can, of all pertinent information.”
“Dad,” Dean sighed. “I got this.”
John was quiet a moment. “I know,” he said reluctantly. “You’re… you’re a good hunter, Dean.” He shook his head. “I just hate… not being part of this.”
“I think I saw her today,” Dean said suddenly, finding the reveal of information easier than attempting to convince his father that he was a part of this. He never left it.
“The girl from ’81.”
John shifted stiffly, turning to face Dean as fully as his body would allow. “You saw a spirit? At the construction site?”
Dean nodded, recalling the moment with as much detail as possible. “Didn’t believe it at first… y’know, until she vanished into thin air.”
“No one else saw her?”
“Not that I could tell,” Dean replied. He glanced once at John. “I’m not making this up.”
“No, no,” John shook his head. “I’m not saying that, just… it’s really rare for a spirit to be visible during the day. Takes a lot of power.”
Dean rolled his neck, feeling exhaustion begin it’s coup on his energy reserves. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
They pulled into the hospital parking lot and Dean retrieved the wheelchair, helping his father settle in, noting the pinch of discomfort as he maneuvered his leg into the extender. He wondered how long they would make John get trussed up like that—and if it were really helping.
“You can go,” John said, wheeling himself across the parking lot.
“You don’t need me to, y’know… check you in or whatever?”
“I’m a grown man, Dean,” John grumbled, sparing him a short, irritated glance. “I can check myself in.”
Dean took a step back. “Okay, I’ll… uh… just, y’know, call me when you get done.”
“You just get that intel,” John ordered, wheeling himself up to the automatic doors and disappearing inside.
“Yes, Sir,” Dean muttered, watching him.
He turned, sighing, and headed toward the library, the pages from his father’s journal tucked inside his back pocket. He’d managed to snake them as John was stubbornly wheeling himself out to the Impala, needing the cheat-sheet so neatly crafted by his meticulous Marine of a father to keep his facts straight.
As he crossed the empty street to the library, he saw that the small police station was now located one block down from the hospital. Scolding himself for not registering that before, he made a note to head inside and inquire about the arrest in ’81 if he didn’t get what he was after in the archives.
Formulating a cover story on the fly had never been a problem for Dean. It was making sure it would fit inside whatever stories his father and brother might’ve told that made him sweat. This time, however, there was no need for coordination. It was all on him. The bored-looking librarian could care less about the report he was following up on concerning the fire in 1981, or that he claimed he was from the Seattle area looking to write a big story about Brinnon.
“The archives are in the basement,” she said, cracking her gum between her teeth. “You need a key.”
Dean pressed his lips together, dropping his chin. “You think I could get that from you… Stacey?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “We close at eight.”
“I give this key to you, you gotta swear you won’t keep me late.”
Or you’ll do what, exactly? Dean wanted to ask, but he masked it with a smooth smile that he allowed to warm his eyes. “Cross my heart.”
She sighed expressively. “Fine.”
The lights in the basement archive room were fluorescent and flickered at regular intervals, clicking annoyingly as if invisible fingers consistently tapped on the glass. It didn’t take him as long as he thought it would to pull up news papers from October of 1981. Coughing from the dust and choking back a decidedly girly scream as he flinched away a large spider, he pulled out as many articles as he could find, surprised when the number turned out to be so small.
Retrieving the notes from John’s journal and the pen he’d borrowed from Stacey’s desk, he began to draw together the back story, as well as he could piece together. A woman by the name of Brooke Marcus, a loner by all accounts, had been accused of murdering her own son and was awaiting trial in Tacoma. The town of the article had her tried and convicted, Dean realized, his lips curled in a snarl of defense.
Reports from locals—some of whom he’d met either in person or had heard about from Gus—claimed that she’d always been a bit strange and some accused her of witchcraft, saying she was the reason their garden wasn’t flourishing, or their cat had died, or that the weather was so unseasonably warm.
Two days after she’d been arrested, the local paper covered the fire that killed her on October 15th, expounding on the fact that Sheriff Sutcliff had managed to escape, rescuing one prisoner—a drunk ‘sleeping it off’—but that, sadly, Brooke Marcus had perished in her cell. After her death, he found several articles crucifying her for her pagan beliefs and ritualistic adornments in several rooms of her house. Some quotes went so far as to say she deserved her death, convinced she’d committed murder to pacify her gods and had been punished.
He searched through several papers after that, going up through March of 1982, but could find nothing talking about the cause of the fire or any further investigation into Brooke’s death. He abhorred witches, their practices, their methods, the fact that each one his family had come across had an apparent disrespect for the sanctity of human life.
But the idea of that woman being trapped in her small cell, unable to escape, knowing she was going to die burning… Dean shuddered, folding the papers methodically to banish the unwelcome feeling of claustrophobia.
A name caught his eye just as he started to close the last paper: Kwaiya.
“Huh,” he muttered, peering closer.
…boy found by a member of the local Quileute trip last fall will be attending a small missionary school next year. The boy, named Kwaiya by the tribe, had been beaten and has been determined to be unfit for public school education. Representatives of the Quileute’s claim that Kwaiya is smart and capable of learning with specialized assistance. In one of his final acts as sheriff before retirement, Sheriff Roman Sutcliff approved the admittance of the boy into the missionary school saying, “In a town our size, this child belongs to all of us. It’s our duty to see that he has every advantage.”
Kwaiya, a Quileute word meaning water, will live with the tribe until he is old enough to care for himself. Investigation into his appearance met with dead ends last fall. “The boy appears happy with his home,” Sheriff Sutcliff is reported as saying. “He’s been through enough.” As no one has come forward in the last six months claiming him as their own, it appears the boy is truly a child of the town…
“Hey, mister!” Stacey called from above him. “It’s almost eight!”
“Right,” Dean replied, folding the paper and gathering his notes. “Be right there.”
He took the stairs two at a time, slipping past Stacey as she flicked off the lights and pulled the heavy door shut.
“You know the new Sheriff, Stacey?”
“New?” Stacey glanced at him. “Sheriff Bonner’s been here for like… twenty years.”
“Right,” Dean said again, nodding. “My mistake.”
Tucking the papers into the interior pocket of his jacket, Dean pulled out his cell phone and called his father, exiting the library into the rapidly cooling night.
“’Bout time,” John said.
“Sorry,” Dean paused, looking from the hospital to the police station. “I was in the basement. No signal. You been waiting long?”
“I’m fine,” John replied, sounding weary. “They took the chair.”
“Gave me a walkin’ cast. Big mother, too.”
“You can walk on it?”
“Not too much,” John amended. “Still hurts like a bitch, but I guess I got good bones. Took a scan. Said it’s healing faster than they would have thought.”
“My dad,” Dean grinned. “The over achiever.” He heard John’s whiskers scrape against the phone and imagined his father’s smile.
“Have to come back first of the week to practice how to walk in this thing.”
“What’ll you do until then?”
“Crutches,” John said, and Dean heard his voice shrug.
“Ah,” he nodded. “I got some stuff.”
“Not quite, but I got an idea,” Dean said, heading toward the police station. “You think you can sit tight for a few more minutes?”
Dean jogged across a section of lawn, not yet wet from the night’s condensation. At the break of a darkened building was an alley that looked to wrap around the back of the police station. He heard voices coming toward him from the front of the station and instinctively ducked down the alley.
“I think the sheriff might know something,” Dean replied. “He took over for Roman Sutcliff like… six months after the fire.”
“Think he knows what started the fire?” John asked.
“Or who,” Dean replied. “And we need to find someone who knew Brooke Marcus.”
“The dead chick,” Dean clarified. “I’ll give you two guesses what everyone said she was, but you’re only going to need one.”
“Dean, I called a few guys. I was right. Even if she had been a witch, no spirit could have—“
Dean stopped walking at the sound of the familiar voice, his spine tightening in reaction. “Shit,” he muttered into the phone.
“What is it?”
Dean pivoted slowly, seeing Cole Lawson approaching him in the gloom of the alley.
“Hang on, Dad.”
“What the hell are you doing here, gaijin?”
“Who is that?” John asked.
“Cole,” Dean said, his mouth still near the phone. “Got your big brother to turn you loose, huh?”
He heard something rattle near Cole’s waist and found his eyes darting there, trying to pick out what exactly the bigger man was reaching for and regretting leaving his .45 back at the motel room.
“I’m getting fuckin’ tired of you screwing everything up,” Cole snarled, stepping closer, light from the police station exposing the doubled-up handcuffs gripped in his meaty fist. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed how you showed up just a coupla days after they found Cody.”
Dean frowned, having almost forgotten Cole had lost family in all of this.
“I’m real sorry about your nephew, man,” Dean replied, taking a step back and thinking furiously how he was going to get to the knife he’d slipped into his boot by habit. “I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on around here… what got those kids killed.”
“He just disappeared,” Cole continued, his voice thick with hatred. “Just gone. Then he turns up by the water. His eyes…”
Dean heard Cole swallow and took another step back.
“Think it’s about time you just… disappeared.”
“Dad,” Dean said into the phone. “I’m gonna have to call you ba—“ He didn’t get to finish his sentence, dropping his phone as he reached up to block Cole’s first swing.
wwwJohn had started moving for the door the minute he’d heard the shift in Dean’s voice. He’d been there when Dean had talked someone down—been damn impressed with his son’s skills, too. His boy could read people and reach them in ways Sam’s vulnerable eyes and sensitivity or John’s brash approach simply couldn’t. Dean got them. And they responded to him.
But this… this was different. There was a tightness to Dean’s voice as he addressed the other man in the alley. A feeling of being backed into a corner and having no exit strategy. John made it to the automatic doors, hindered by his aching leg and the awkward angle of his head pinning the cell phone to his shoulder, when he heard Dean start to say he’d call him back.
“Dean!” He yelled into the phone, startling two nurses as they walked into the hospital past him. “Dean!” His only response was the sound of an obvious struggle and someone swearing. He shut his phone, stuffed it into the front pocket of his jeans, and without thinking headed through the parking lot toward the police station.
He was huffing when he reached the other side of the road, his good leg trembled from his lopsided gait, his arms shook from the effort of keeping him balanced on the awkward crutches, and his lungs begged for respite. Eyes searching the darkness, he searched for any sign of his son, feeling fingers of panic reach out and tug at him.
The familiar bark of the drill sergeant caught him unaware and he actually jerked his head to the side. He’s lost that voice somewhere in the melee of self-pity over the last few days. He’d lost his grip on his mission. But he had a different mission now: Dean was in trouble
“Get your ass moving, soldier! We’ve got a man down!”
“Where is he?” John whispered, his throat dry.
“When your eyes can’t be trusted, what do you do?”
“Listen,” John said, closing his eyes and forcing his body to go completely still.
“Son of a bitch!”
As he drew closer, he was momentarily caught by the sight of his son. Blood traced a narrow path down the side of Dean’s face, finding its way into the corner of his eye and smearing down his neck. His body curved a bit as he automatically tried to protect his weakened side, but the sparring John had watched between Sam and Dean was nothing like what he was witnessing here.
Dean was motion.
Cole Lawson had fifty pounds and several inches on him, but he was unskilled and fueled by rage. John had always taught his sons that anger in a fist fight would wind them faster than any movement. Their only advantage was to empty their minds of thought, their hearts of feeling, and think only of the motion. Dean blocked a heavy-armed punch and brought his other fist up in two quick jabs just under Cole’s rib cage, twisting his blocking arm to grab the inside of Cole’s elbow and spinning the man around and away.
John had started to lift a crutch, preparing to crack Cole over the back of the head when suddenly it was Dean in front of him. The fighters staggered to the end of the alley, a yellowish parking lamp spilling a cone shape of light onto the gravel lot in the back of the building and the tree line just beyond.
John wanted to call out, needed to help, but the gravel surface that the alley emptied onto made it difficult for him to even keep his balance. He could see that Dean was weakening. He had stopped blocking punches and was now ducking, rolling away from jabs, keeping Cole just outside of his strike zone.
“Dean,” John breathed, afraid to call out and distract him.
When the figure emerged from the tree line, John thought at first one of the police had joined the fray. When the man stepped fully into the light, however, he saw the misshapen, scarred face and knew this was the person Dean had referred to as Kwaiya. John’s eyes darted from the large man dressed in buckskin and flannel to his son. Dean had seen Kwaiya emerge and his attention had wavered, giving the lumbering Cole an opening.
John saw something silver flash in the pale light.
“Dean!” John shouted, drawing his son’s attention back to the fight just as Cole swung a heavy fist and cracked Dean hard along the jaw.
John stepped forward, tottering on his crutches as Dean’s head snapped back and to the left, blood flying from his mouth, his body going loose for a moment. John was sure he would be felled by that hit, and found himself breathing once more when Dean staggered, but didn’t fall.
Lifting his face and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Dean stared at Cole. “You really shouldn’t have done that,” he said, his words muffled.
John watched him spit out a mouthful of blood and moved forward once more.
“Oh, yeah?” Cole panted. “What are you going to do about it?”
“Not me,” Dean said. “Him.”
Something about the expression on his face caused Cole to pale and John watched the thick-faced man turn slowly, seeing Kwaiya standing just behind him.
“Leave,” Kwaiya rumbled. “Or I do something about it.”
Cole looked back at Dean, then John saw his eyes dart up to the backside of the police station. Glancing over, John realized that someone had been watching the whole fight from inside the station. He took in the observer’s ruddy complexion, gray comb-over, and bulb-like nose just a shade too big for his hang-dog face.
He memorized this man who’d watched the fight happen. Who’d let the fight happen.
Cole seemed to wilt a bit under the gaze of the man in the window, then looked back at Dean, a hand snaking around to hold his obviously-wounded side. Without another word, he turned headed back down the alley, sparing John a passing glance and flinching away from the heat John put in his glare. John moved forward on his crutches until he was within an arm length of his son.
Dean was listing to the side; John wasn’t sure how he was still on his feet.
“So,” Dean said, holding his side, his tongue darting out to dab at a split in his bottom lip. “That… was Cole Lawson.”
John kept his eyes on Dean’s, searching for a sign of how much more his son could take. “You’re right,” he nodded. “Douche bag.”
“Fuckin’ mean right hook, though,” Dean said, his voice slightly breathy. John watched him reach up a trembling hand and press it against the cut on his forehead. “I, uh… whoa.”
He seemed to sway and John reached out, curling his fingers in his son’s sleeve as Dean blinked his eyes wide, as if trying to focus.
“I just… I need a minute.” Dean’s voice wavered and he took a step forward. “Holy shi…”
When Dean’s knees disappeared, John instinctively reached out with his other hand, looking to catch him. His crutches caught him up, the fabric of Dean’s sleeve slipping from John’s fingers as Dean crumbled.
Before Dean hit the ground, a large arm tucked beneath him. John blinked in surprise; Kwaiya had been so quiet he’d forgotten the big man was still standing there. As John watched, the man bent, slipping his other arm beneath Dean’s legs and lifted him into his arms.
Kwaiya shifted once and Dean rolled limply until his head rested against the big man’s bicep, his left arm dangling free.
“I got him,” Kwaiya declared, and began to walk back down the alley toward the hospital.
John trailed behind, propelled on tired arms, dragging a stubbornly painful leg, spurred by one very basic need: to be with his kid. His boy was hurt, and he had to fix it. He winced in the darkness as he moved forward, keeping his eyes on Kwaiya’s lumbering figure and the sight of Dean’s head hanging limply over the edge of the big man’s arms.
wwwHis knuckles were wet.
It was the first thing he was aware of. He felt like his hand was lying in a bowl of water. For a fraction of a second, he wondered if their prank wars had begun once more.
Until he remembered that Sam wasn’t there.
Until he remembered he’d just gotten the shit beaten out of him by Biff Tannen.
“There you are,” said a too-cheery female voice as Dean worked to pry his eyes open. “Thought you were going for a repeat performance.”
“Huh?” Dean muttered.
“Well, it was around this time last week you were in my ER.”
Dean blinked, bringing the woman into focus. “Caroline?”
“I’m flattered,” she smiled, her soft face creasing in a manner he’d always found appealing. It showed her story, that she’d lived. “Though it has only been just over a week.”
“This time it wasn’t my fault,” Dean replied, closing his eyes again.
“Last time it was?” Caroline said, and Dean felt the wetness on his hands once more.
He turned his head slowly, peering down at the side of his bed. His knuckles were scraped raw. Caroline ran a small alcohol pad over the abrasions. He wondered dimly why he didn’t feel an accompanying sting.
“How’s the head?”
Dad. Dean felt his body sigh as he looked away from Caroline. John stood just inside the curtained area, leaning on his crutches, his face drawn and pale, but a smile ghosting his lips.
“It’s still on,” Dean replied, grimacing as the absent pain chose that moment to make an appearance. “Barely.”
“He been awake long?” John asked Caroline.
“Just opened those gorgeous eyes a minute before you got back,” Caroline said, smiling at Dean as she stood.
“Where’d you go?” Dean asked, flinching as Caroline began to clean the cut on his forehead.
“Made sure your friend got out of here,” John said.
“Kwaiya brought you into the ER,” Caroline said, her voice carrying an unfamiliar weight. “Put you on this bed and tried to leave, but—“
“Couple of doctors tried to hassle him,” John muttered.
“They were just concerned,” Caroline countered defensively. “They thought he’d hurt you.”
“You set them straight?” Dean asked, his eyes on his father as John moved further into the small room.
“Yeah,” John nodded, grimacing as he eased down into the hard, plastic chair situated next to the small ER gurney.
Dean watched him, remembering. “You were gonna take that punk out with a crutch?” he asked
“You saw that, huh?”
“You think about how you were gonna stay standing up with just one crutch?”
John pinned Dean with his dark eyes. “Kid,” he said tiredly, “all I thought about was killing the son of a bitch that was wailing on you.”
Dean closed his eyes, rolling his head to face forward. When he opened his eyes again, Caroline was leaning over him with a syringe. “Whoa! What the hell is that?”
“Calm down,” Caroline said softly. “It’s just Lidocaine. A local anesthetic. Unless you want to feel these stitches.”
“I think I’d rather feel the stitches,” Dean mumbled as he felt the tip of the needle pinch as it slid under his skin. After several moments, though, a cool, almost wooden feeling took over his forehead and the side of his face. “Weird…”
“Not that you two aren’t a treat for the eyes,” Caroline said as she worked on Dean’s wound, “but I’ve gotta say I’m sorry to see you in my ER again so soon.”
“Wasn’t my idea,” John said. “Wouldn’t have gotten this far if your police department did their job.”
Caroline frowned, concentrating on her stitching. “Sheriff Bonner’s a good man. Shoulda seen things when Roman Sutcliff ran the town.”
“He watched the whole fight,” John said. “Didn’t do a thing to stop it.”
Dean watched Caroline’s face pinch close. “I can’t believe that.”
John described who he’d seen. “Watched Cole lay into my boy with some kind of brass knuckles and didn’t raise a finger.”
“Handcuffs,” Dean said, the movement of his mouth feeling odd in his numb face. “He had handcuffs on him.”
“That sounds like Joe Lawson,” Caroline revealed. “Sheriff Bonner was called out to Gus Spencer’s construction site tonight.”
Dean started to turn and share a glance with John, but Caroline held his head still, frowning down at him. His brief motion was enough, though. John picked up the non-verbal cue.
“You said things were a mess when Sutcliff ran the joint?” John said, drawing Caroline back through her memory.
“Oh, my, yes,” Caroline sighed, placing a gauze patch over her handiwork and cleaning the rest of the blood off the side of Dean’s face and mouth as she talked. “I grew up around here, had both of my children right here in this hospital. But there was a time when I considered packing them up and running. My husband… well, the cancer took him,” Caroline paused her ministrations for a moment, then continued to examine Dean. “This hurt? How about this?”
“’M fine,” Dean muttered, not wanting her to probe too deeply along his ribs. He knew they weren’t cracked further, but he’d not done them any favors and the muscles running along his side felt like they were burning. His entire body felt lit up from their bone-deep heat.
“The doctor’ll be in to check you for concussion,” Caroline said.
“Seriously,” Dean said, trying to infuse his voice with strength he didn’t feel. “I just need a few aspirin. I’ll be okay.”
“Sorry, hon,” Caroline smiled. “You lost consciousness. I know you want out of here, but you’re not leaving until I’m satisfied.”
Dean sighed, too tired to argue.
“Why’d you want to leave?” John pressed as Caroline gathered her supplies.
“Well, you’re new here, so you wouldn’t have any way of knowing, but,” she paused in her actions, her shoulders falling, both hands full and resting on the side of Dean’s bed, “a woman died in that building Gus Spencer is remodeling. She… she burned to death.”
“Brooke Marcus,” Dean interjected.
Caroline flinched, surprise turning her face slack. “Yes! How in the world did you know that?”
“I’ve been working at the site this week—“ Dean started.
“You’re working construction?” Caroline almost squeaked. “With cracked ribs?”
“—and,” Dean continued, “I’ve been hearing some things… about witches?”
“Oh, what a bunch of horse crap. ‘Scuse my language,” Caroline huffed, continuing to clean up around Dean’s bed. “That poor woman… she never got a break. Her parents died when she was just a teenager and she worked two jobs to keep her home. I worked with her at the diner one summer. Sweet, sweet girl.”
“So… not a witch then?” John asked.
Caroline frowned, hesitating. “She had her own ways… her own ideas about things. Wore a pentagram on a chain around her neck, for example. But she said it was for protection.”
“It is,” Dean and John replied in unison.
“She doted on that boy, though,” Caroline sighed. “We were pregnant together, but I was married. Able to leave the diner when my daughter was born. Brooke… she just kept right on working.”
“No husband?” John asked.
Caroline shook her head. “She never said who the father was. We all had our guesses, though. Brooke… she was a pretty one. Put a man’s head on a swivel just by walking down the street.”
“What happened to her son?” Dean asked.
Caroline picked up Dean’s chart, biting her bottom lip. “No one really knows. She came to Roman Sutcliff and said that Andrew was missing, but the next thing we all knew, they were saying they’d found enough physical evidence in her home to prove she’d killed him.”
“But… you didn’t believe it,” John guessed.
Caroline tilted her head, her eyes turning soft. “Andrew was her world. You don’t love someone that much and kill them.”
“Could’ve been an accident,” Dean hedged, hearing the slur in his words. “She panicked, buried the body, reported him missing to cover it up.”
“That’s what Sutcliff and his pals wanted us to believe,” Caroline shrugged. She turned, her hand on the curtain that separated Dean’s bed from the rest of the ER, and then paused. “You know, until you brought this up, I never put it together, but… those kids that died… they were all grandkids of that group.”
“Joe Lawson, Roman Sutcliff, and Frank Teller,” John provided.
“Yeah.” Caroline shook her head. “Guess karma doesn’t play favorites.” She shifted her eyes to Dean’s battered face. “You just hang tight. I’ll get you out of here soon as I can.”
When Caroline stepped away, Dean sank back into the bed, letting his eyes fall closed. He felt stretched thin, hollowed out. He was absolutely certain that if someone touched him, he’d break into a thousand pieces and there wouldn’t be anyone left that knew how to put him back together again.
“You okay, Son?”
“You look like shit.”
“Aren’t you the morale booster.”
There was a lengthy pause and Dean found himself drifting, sinking in an ebb of motionlessness, the pain in his face masked by the Lidocaine.
“We could leave,” John said softly.
Dean flinched, his father’s voice catching him on the edge of sleep, yanking him back into the now with an unexpected possibility.
“What?” He worked to open his eyes, to focus on his dad’s face. “What did you say?”
“I don’t have to be here to heal up,” John continued. “We could take it slow, head south.”
The edges of John’s face were blurry, as if someone had taken an eraser and scuffed out the clean lines that so clearly defined his father as a force to be reckoned with.
“Brooke died on October 15th, right?” John asked.
“That’s Monday,” John revealed. “It’s just going to get worse.”
“And… you want to leave?” Dean repeated, the word sounding foreign to him. It didn’t even fit in his mouth properly, leaving his lips parted.
John bowed his head and Dean seemed to lose him for a moment as a gray curtain fell over his vision.
Then John spoke and Dean latched on to the sound, finding his father again inside of it.
“I don’t want you to get hurt anymore. Not over this. Not… not when I can’t help you.”
“You almost crutched a guy for me, Dad,” Dean reminded him.
“But I couldn’t move fast enough, Dean,” John countered. “I couldn’t step in, stop it. Hell, I couldn’t even carry you out of there.”
“Dad,” Dean tried, finding it hard to connect the words crashing against each other in his head with his sluggish mouth. “We—“
“Dean,” Caroline stepped quickly into his alcove, the curtain parting behind her and exposing the suddenly active ER. “It’s going to be awhile before the doctor can get to you. He’s authorized pain meds. You want pills, right? No needle?”
“Yes,” Dean replied. “What’s goin’ on?”
“I, um, I’m not at liberty to say…”
Dean pushed up stiffly on his elbow when he caught sight of a familiar face standing just behind Caroline, peering into the next alcove over. “Gus?”
Gus jerked at the sound of his name, and Caroline stepped back, allowing him access to Dean’s area. “Dean? What the hell?”
“You okay?” Dean asked. “What’s going on?”
Gus blinked owlishly, leaning one shoulder against the wall. “God, kid, you look like shit.”
“Thanks a lot,” Dean said, holding his side as he searched for a comfortable position. “You should see the other guy.”
Gus’ face darkened as understanding seemed to dawn. “If it’s Cole Lawson, I hope you destroyed him.”
You and me both, Dean thought.
“What’s going on?” John demanded.
Gus seemed to sink in on himself a bit. “Jim Sutcliff is dead.”
“What?” Dean exclaimed. “How?”
“Nobody’s… exactly sure.”
“I just saw him,” Dean said. “At the site—just before I left.”
“We had a meeting. Everyone left but… apparently he came back,” Gus sighed. “I don’t know why… maybe looking for something? Bonner got an anonymous tip and called me up on his way to the site. Found Jim just behind the west wing.”
“Found him how?” John encouraged.
Gus rubbed his face. “I told them about your salt line; tried to show them how it had kept whatever was… was working against us… away.”
“Let me guess,” Dean sighed, sagging a little as he spoke. “They didn’t believe you.”
“Two of them wanted to fire me,” Gus said with a rueful smile. “Terry Bowing convinced them to keep me on. Hell… now I wish they’d just laughed me out of town.”
“Gus,” Dean said softly, “how did you find Jim?”
“He was half in, half out of the building, and his legs… it looked like… well it looked like…”
“Just spit it out, man,” John barked, making Gus jump.
“It looked like he was running away from something—running toward the building, away from the water. His hands… were pinned to the floor. With nails. And he’d kicked the salt like all to hell.”
Dean and John exchanged a glance.
“When you were there, did you see… anything?” Dean asked.
“You mean aside from one of my bosses crucified on the floor of his own building?” Gus asked. “No.”
“Spencer!” called a voice Dean recognized as Sheriff Bonner.
“I gotta go,” Gus sighed. He looked back at Dean. “Rest up, kid. Don’t worry about coming back. This project… it’s done. I can’t take anymore blood on my hands.” With that he stepped from the room, Caroline behind him.
Dean looked back at John. “You still wanna leave?”
John swallowed, and Dean felt his father’s eyes roam his face, taking in his bruises, the stitches, the swelling around his eye. “You can’t take much more, Dean.”
“I might surprise you,” Dean said, straightening as much as his body would allow.
“Well,” John sighed, using his crutches to pull himself to his feet. “You’re the one on the front line, kid. This is your call.”
Dean met his father’s eyes, his gaze unwavering, exposing none of the weakness he felt eating away at his resolve. He felt the weight of those words like a mantle. “All right, then. We’ve got work to do.”
wwwa/n: Thanks for reading! More to come soon—and things are going to get a bit worse before they get better…
Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd (One of my favorite late-night songs. Ever.)
Saturday Night Special by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Darkness at the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen
In My Life by The Beatles
I Am the Highway by Audioslave
Would? by Alice in Chains
Continued in Part 5, here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/70291.html