Characters: Dean, John
Rating: PG-13 for language and mature scenes
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.
We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. ~Kenji Miyazawa
There was a moment in the night when the darkness dug deep, as if physically clinging to the earth in rebellion of the coming dawn. It was that moment John always dreaded. It was that moment, he knew, Mary had been taken from him.
If he slept through the night—which was rare—he always woke with a lingering feeling that he’d missed something. Like an oven left on, or a door left unlocked. He would scout the place where he and his boys were living, his body curved into a predator’s prowl, checking salt lines, securing weapons, reassuring himself with the tandem breathing of his sons.
The first time he’d slept through the darkest hour after Sam had walked out on them, John hadn’t been able to get back to sleep for three days. He’d started on his rounds, making sure everything was as it should be, and had stopped at the foot of Dean’s bed, staring at his sleeping son, listening to the sound of only one breath, feeling the invisible beat of only one heart.
He never finished. Months later, he still felt as if he were securing their perimeter, ensuring their safety. He wondered, sometimes, if he would ever be able to keep his boys safe again.
Dean slept tense.
Watching him now, John could feel worry, awareness, roll from his son in waves that wrapped around John and amplified his impotent frustration. Dean’s body was tilted slightly to the side in the narrow hospital bed, unconsciously protecting his tender side, and his face was turned away. A hand—knuckles scuffed and scraped, a testimony to his struggle to survive—lay draped in deceptive casualness over a jean-clad hip and it’s mate was at his side, palm up, fingers curved inward as if ready to curl into a fist at a moment’s notice.
The pain pills Caroline had offered were powerful and allowed Dean the reprieve he wouldn’t willingly take on his own. She’d told John they could stay in the ER alcove as long as they needed; Dean wasn’t injured enough to be admitted, but both John and the nurse agreed that not having to move right away would be a good thing. Caroline had brought an ice pack wrapped in a soft towel and, after Dean had finally succumbed to exhaustion, John placed the pack on his son’s bruised face, hoping the coolness would ease the painful-looking swelling around Dean’s mouth and eye.
And then, he’d simply watched him sleep.
The small hospital had grown quiet as the night drew on, staff reduced to the minimum, with the exception of the ER. Here, John saw, it seemed that the darker the night, the busier the people. He’d been listening to the conversations that carried on around him—as if the curtain that separated Dean’s alcove from the rest of the facility was somehow soundproof—about the death of Jim Sutcliff.
“Elroy? Mr. MacGillicuddy?”
Caroline’s shift had ended and John had pulled the curtain half-way, feeling safer when he could see who was approaching, see the night through the exterior windows, see the tight expressions of worry or weariness on the faces of the hospital staff.
A hand was suddenly resting on his shoulder and a voice—the same voice he now realized he’d been hearing call an unfamiliar name—said softly, “John?”
Cringing inwardly, realizing his mistake, John glanced up into the gentle eyes of Dr. Rice. “Hey, Doc.”
Her lips—painted a deep red to match her brightly colored shirt—pressed into a knowing smile. “Caroline told me you were down here.”
“Not me,” John said, nodding in the direction of his sleeping son. “My boy.”
Dr. Rice closed her eyes briefly, conceding his correction. “How’s the leg?” she asked, her dark eyes darting to the thick, padded cast he’d propped up at the edge of Dean’s bed.
“Been better,” John shrugged.
“I’m glad to see you staying off of it,” she said, stepping slightly away from him. “May I?”
“Knock yourself out,” John replied, watching as she carefully pulled the straps of the cast free of their buckles and Velcro and peered at the healing skin beneath.
“You heal remarkably well,” she said, closing up the cast securely.
Dean twitched in his sleep, his hands bouncing slightly as if in reaction to a threat.
“Hopefully your son has inherited this trait,” she whispered, stepping close to Dean.
“Careful,” John said, automatically. He didn’t want her to wake him; they had a heavy few days ahead of them, and Dean needed all the rest he could get.
Dr. Rice nodded, narrowing her eyes as she examined the bruising, adjusting the ice pack, then stepping away. “Has he been checked for concussion?”
John nodded. “He’s fine. Just exhausted.”
Crossing her arms, Dr. Rice met John’s eyes. “I want to know what’s going on with you, John.”
John looked away, out to the movement of the hospital staff in the center of the ER. “Nothing you need to worry about, Doc.”
“I may not look it,” Dr. Rice continued, stepping closer, “but I’ve lived through some stories that would shake most people to their bones.” John glanced at her out of the corners of his eyes. “But not you, I suspect.”
“You never know,” John said, purposely vague.
He couldn’t be sure how old the good doctor really was. Her smooth, cocoa-colored skin hid the normally tell-tale lines that so often tracked the movement of time through a person’s life. However, John conceded glancing at Dean, it wasn’t so much how time passed a person as it was how time impacted them that left traces.
“I hear things,” Dr. Rice said, crossing her arms once more and resting a hip against the foot of Dean’s bed. “I hear things like you using a fake name. I hear things like you and your son being involved in whatever is tearing up this town. I hear that you’re a hero, that you’re a menace, that you’re the reason so many people have died.”
“That’s not true,” John said, unable to continue to keep quiet at the thought that the deaths of those children could be put on them—on Dean. “We had nothing to do with—“
“Then tell me what is going on with you,” Dr. Rice said, her voice dropping, her lips tightening with the intensity she inserted into her words.
John looked up at her, his face blank, his eyes dangerous. He knew exactly the level of venom to fill his gaze with to back a person off. He wanted her to be careful; he didn’t want to scare her.
Dr. Rice sighed. “The only reason I agreed to this cast, John,” she said, her eyebrow bouncing up knowingly as she used his given name, “was because I was afraid of you playing hero in that other one and damaging your bones to the point they couldn’t be repaired.”
John pressed his lips forward, keeping his voice low as he caught Dean twitching again. “So what you’re saying is, you don’t think we’re killers.”
Dr. Rice rolled her eyes. “No, I don’t think you’re killers. But you’re also not—“
John looked over quickly at the sound of Gus Spencer’s voice. He frowned fiercely at the man and watched Gus’ almond-shaped eyes flick from John up to Dean’s recumbent form, then back.
“Sorry,” Gus whispered. “Can I… uh… can I talk to you?”
“I’m not done here, John,” Dr. Rice interjected.
John took a breath. He wanted everyone away from Dean—now. He pointed at Gus. “Go to the waiting area. I’ll meet you there.” Gus nodded, tipped a two-fingered salute to Dr. Rice, and left. John looked at his doctor. “If we make it out of this, I promise to come clean with you, Doc. Until then… the less you know the better.”
“What if I can help you?” Dr. Rice said, helping John pull his leg from the edge of Dean’s bed and handing him his crutches.
John breathed carefully through the slow roll of heated pain that rippled from his toes to his teeth as his leg changed elevation. “If you can help,” he said, glancing at her, “then you’ll know it.”
He glanced once more at Dean, then started out of his alcove toward the waiting area when a thought stopped him. “Hey, uh, Doc?”
Dr. Rice turned to face him.
“About my name…” The last thing he needed was for the hospital to get wise to his insurance scam before they left town.
Dr. Rice looked down, dropped her arms, then lifted her dark eyes to his. “Keep that leg elevated as much as you can. Do not walk on it before Monday.” Her eyes scanned the myriad of computers and life-saving equipment situated in the middle of the ER in a type of organized chaos. “And as far as the name is concerned, you are Elroy MacGillicuddy, but everyone calls you John.”
John’s mouth tugged up in a brief, appreciative grin. “Thanks, Doc.”
“Take care of yourself, John,” Dr. Rice said, glancing over her shoulder at Dean. “And of your boy.”
“Will do,” John nodded, waiting for her to leave, then made his way through the double-doors to the nearly-abandoned waiting room where Gus was busy pacing.
“Hey,” Gus greeted, stopping his endeavor to wear a new path in the carpet when he saw John. He’d been chewing nervously on the calloused flesh at the edge of his thumb, and his eyes had a hunted, suspicious cadence to their scan of the room behind and around John. “Thanks for, uh… y’know.”
John leaned heavily on his crutches, more tired than he cared to admit, and regarded Gus. “What’s this about?”
Gus’ eyes darted toward the doors that led to the ER. “I wanted to talk to Dean, but—“
“No,” John said, his tone harsher than he’d intended. “Just leave him be for now.”
“Yeah,” Gus nodded. “He looked pretty roughed up.”
John swallowed, resisting the instinctual need to quietly berate himself for not being able to protect his son from further harm when he’d been right there. “You said you needed to talk,” John encouraged him.
Gus licked his lips, then crossed his arms over his chest, tucking his fingers beneath his arms as if to keep them still. “You’re gonna think I’m crazy,” he prefaced.
John couldn’t stop his quick, tired grin. “I doubt that.”
“Yeah, okay,” Gus nodded. “Dean did say it was a family business…”
John sighed, easing himself down onto one of the uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room. Using his crutch, he maneuvered another chair in front of him. Gus saw what he was trying to do and helped him position the chair, gently lifting John’s casted leg and setting it carefully on the cushioned seat.
“Thanks,” John said, relief at the release of pressure on his leg slipping through his voice. “Now sit down and start at the beginning.”
Gus sat, shifting his chair so that he could look at John without turning his head. “I, uh… I think I might’ve seen a…” he licked his lips nervously, “ghost.”
John nodded, keeping his eyes on Gus’ face. When he didn’t speak, Gus laughed nervously and shook his head.
“See? I figured that’s what you’d do,” he said, rubbing the palms of his hands on his pant legs. “I’m losing my mind, aren’t I?”
“Hardly,” John replied. “Tell me what you saw.”
Gus rubbed two fingers across his forehead. “Earlier today, the group came to talk with me—“
“The partners… well, all but Jake Teller, of course.”
John nodded, flicking his fingers forward in an invitation to continue.
“They wanted… I don’t know, a… report or guarantee,” Gus sighed, dropping his hand to his lap, his eyes following, “something I can’t give them. Guess they thought I’d brought Dean in as a… ringer or something.”
Gus looked up at him. “There’s been a lot of talk around town about why he’s here—guess why you’re here, too. Timing’s too convenient for some people, what with the kids dying and then Jake… and let me tell you this town is scapegoat happy. All they need is a viable story—don’t matter much if it’s true.”
John frowned. “So, what, they think… Dean’s responsible for the deaths in this town and that you brought him in?”
Gus shrugged. “That’s what they were, y’know, insinuating.”
“How does that make sense,” John all-but growled, “when what he did kept people from dying?”
“Yeah, well,” Gus leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, “that’s what I was trying to tell them today. I told them about the salt lines and how since he did his… whatever he did… people have been safe and work’s been getting done. But then… I went too far.”
John lifted a brow, scratching distractedly at the stubble framing his jaw line.
“I told them I thought the site was haunted.”
“You did, huh,” John muttered. “Dean tell you that?”
Gus shook his head, studying his hands. “My, uh… my mother.”
John frowned. “Your… mother told you the site was haunted?”
Gus sat back with a heavy sigh and looked up at the ceiling. “My mother is Japanese. She… knows things. Most people think she’s crazy, but she’s just… she keeps with the old ways. My father died when I was away at college and she was alone. She… coped, I guess you could say, by finding meaning in a lot of the lore her people created and shared.”
“Lot to be learned from Japanese folklore,” John allowed, twisting his wedding ring in an absent-minded gesture, his mind tracking through a tangled maze of facts.
“It’s called a Kappa… It’s a Japanese water spirit.”
“Kinda geographically confused, isn’t it?”
“Washington’s on the Pacific coast. Not like spirits are bound by borders.”
“Think someone summoned it?”
“Maybe. Could be it hitched a ride with a fishing trolley. I don’t give a damn. All I know is, it’s here, and it’s killed four kids already.”
“How does it kill?”
“Drowns its victims… drains their blood and goes after the soft tissues…”
“How do we kill it?”
“There’s a… bone-like growth filled with water on its head. When the basin is dry, it dies. So, we keep it on land long enough so that it suffocates on air.”
“Oh, great… We’re going up against some kung-fu water spirit that we have to trap on land. This is going to be super fun.”
John looked up, shaking his head slightly and refocusing on Gus, belatedly realizing the man had continued to talk to him. “Sorry,” he said. “Just… thinking.”
“Anyway,” Gus said, “I told her about the salt lines and she just kinda… nodded. Like she’d been waiting for something like this. Said that that salt was to keep the spirit out.”
“Smart lady,” John replied. “Gus,” he asked, keeping his tone even, his eyes down, “does your mom have any… connection with this building site?”
Gus huffed slightly. “She doesn’t come into town. Ever. Says the town killed my Dad and it’s killing me. She wants nothing to do with it.”
“What about with… the partners?” John pressed.
“She knew their fathers, sure,” Gus nodded. “But she never met these guys.”
“She talk with anyone in the town other than you?”
Gus pulled back slightly, a line of worry dividing his brows. “Only person would be Kwaiya, but then… y’know, everyone knows Kwaiya in some way. Why?”
John shook his head, rolling his bottom lip against his teeth as he thought. The outside door opened and a dark-haired, slim girl dressed in jeans, cowboy boots, and a gray and white flannel shirt, it’s too-long sleeves rolled up to her elbows, came inside. She glanced at the empty admittance desk, then over to the waiting room. Relief and recognition crossed her face when she saw Gus.
“Gus!” she called, hurrying forward.
John knew without being told that this was Marissa. Her features were finely drawn, smooth skin poured over perfect bones and lips that held just the right amount of pout, but it was her eyes that gave her away. The blue caused John to do a double-take as she crouched at the side of the contractor’s chair.
“Marissa,” Gus exclaimed, turning sideways. “What are you—“
“I heard about Jim,” she said, her eyes filling slightly. She blinked the tears away before they fell. “Is it true? He’s… he’s dead?”
Gus rested a large hand over hers and John took in the contrast of skin tones.
“I’m sorry,” Gus nodded. “I… I didn’t realize you were close.”
Marissa stood quickly, pulling her hand away. “I’m not—wasn’t. It’s just… the kids, and then my brother and now Jim…”
Gus looked down. “I know. It’s… it’s a lot to take—“
“Don’t you think this is enough?”
“What do you mean?” John spoke up, drawing Marissa’s eyes.
She swallowed, put off-balance by the realization that she’d interrupted something. “Uh… who are you?”
“Marissa,” Gus said. “This is Dean’s dad.”
“Oh,” Marissa’s eyes tracked down John’s elevated leg. “Oh,” she repeated, as if putting puzzle pieces together in her mind. “Are you… why are you here?”
John took in the worried lines that drew down her eyes, turning her mouth into a low frown. Worry not for him, but for is son.
“Cole and Dean kinda got into it—“ Gus started.
“Shit!” Marissa spat, starting to turn away. “Is he okay?”
John was confused for a moment who Marissa was referring to.
“Dean’ll be fine,” John reassured her.
“I hope he killed that bastard,” Marissa said, her lip turning up in a snarl. The venom in her voice matched the coldness that had seeped into her eyes.
Gus shook his head. “Haven’t seen Cole, but—“
“He’s not dead,” John said. “What did you mean, this is enough?”
Marissa looked at John, her lower lip quivering. “All of it. All these deaths… just to rebuild that damn building? I can’t believe whatever they’re trying to hide is worth… all of this…”
She looked away and John ran his tongue along his teeth, weighing his options.
“Can I go see Dean?” Marissa asked.
“He’s sleeping,” John said, distractedly.
“I won’t wake him,” Marissa said, watching for permission.
John nodded, and as Marissa walked away, he sat forward, pinning Gus with serious eyes. “No more bullshit, man. I want it all. Now.”
Gus rubbed his face, then bowed his head, addressing the floor as if sharing eye contact with John was too much to bear. “I told them—the partners—about… about the salt. And the ghost. I thought Matt was going to have a heart attack. Terry looked like he was afraid I’d gone crazy or something. And Jim… he shut me down so fast…” Gus shook his head. “When Bonner called me out to the site, I have to admit… I never saw this coming. We were making progress, y’know? Real progress. I had the drywall done in the lower portion of the east wing, unit three. Painters had their equipment set up in there. Upper floors were getting close in units three and two…”
“So you got to the site,” John said, pulling the contractor back on track.
“Bonner went in through the front—unit one—and I went around the back. All I could think was that someone had stolen the painting equipment or… y’know, something… easy like that.” Gus sat back, but didn’t lift his eyes. “Bonner found Jim, and I heard him call out to me, but before I could get over to him, I, uh… I thought I saw Matt Lawson running away from the building. Toward the water. I heard his boat a few seconds later.”
“You saw someone running away from a murder scene?”
“Did you tell Bonner?”
Gus shook his head.
“Why the hell not?”
“I couldn’t be sure, y’know? I… I mean, what would Matt gain by killing Jim? They were partners!”
A dozen possibilities skidded through John’s mind as he watched the younger man struggle with logic that didn’t meet up for him.
“You went back there,” John guessed, thinking of the time between Gus’ announcement that Jim Sutcliff had been killed and now.
“I had to,” Gus nodded. “I circled around back—just the same way I did before—and Matt was there again, only this time… it looked like he was digging.”
Gus nodded. “He was digging like the devil himself was watching. I started to go over there… I didn’t know what I was going to say but I had to say something… and then I… I saw it.”
“The ghost,” John supplied.
Gus nodded and John noticed sweat beading on the man’s upper lip, his hands running in a nervous path along the tops of his legs. “It was a woman. I couldn’t see the face, but she had dark hair.”
“Where was it?”
“Inside the building—in unit one.”
“Where the jail used to be,” John said. Gus nodded in confirmation. “What happened next?”
“I couldn’t move,” Gus said. “But… Matt looked up and… he saw her and… kinda fell backwards. He dropped the shovel and ran—toward the water again.” Gus took a breath and looked at John. “And then she was gone. Like she’d never been there.”
“Did you go see what he was digging?”
“Hell no, man,” Gus shook his head, his voice trembling with a nervous laugh. “I got the hell outta there. Came straight here. Only person I could figure wouldn’t lock me up was Dean. And, well, I guess… you.”
“I need to see what he was digging,” John said. “If it was a grave, this could all be done tonight.”
“What?” Gus blinked at him.
“We’ve been assuming Brooke Marcus burned to death in the jail fire. But if there’s a grave—with bones—and the remodeling of the building has disturbed that grave, then we could banish her spirit and be done with all of this tonight.”
John was speaking quickly, not looking at Gus, his mind seeing a path, a plan, a solution. He could end this, now, and without any further damage to his son. He could step back into his role, finish the hunt, let Dean heal as he should have been able to do back in Arizona. He looked at Gus, his eyes burning.
“I need you to take me to that spot.”
“Now,” John pushed the chair away with his good leg and lowered his other slowly to the ground, reaching for his crutches.
“What about Dean?”
“Dean needs to rest,” John grunted as he used the crutches to pull himself to his feet. “He doesn’t need to know about this.” He moved forward, toward the hospital entrance, looking over his shoulder at Gus. “I need you to get me some things,” he said.
“Let me guess,” Gus said, hurrying forward to open the door. “Salt?”
“Among other things.”
“You really think we can end this tonight?”
His son’s voice suddenly screamed in his head and John flinched with the sharpness of the warning. Someone had summoned the Kappa… no spirit could have done that… someone had painted the wiccan symbols of protection in the building… no spirit could have done that…
Calm down, Son, John lectured the Dean in his head. Let me work.
“Yeah,” John answered Gus. “I think we can.”
He smelled coffee.
The rich aroma was enticing enough to draw him from the dark in increments. He allowed awareness to approach. Rolling his head slightly, he felt something soft give beneath him. As he rose one further level away from the dark, he realized he could hear voices—several of them, in fact, talking over one another and creating a beehive-like hum in the background.
“Is that for me?” he asked without opening his eyes.
“Jesus, you scared me,” came the reply.
Okay, so… not Dad.
He opened his eyes and shifted, a cold pack slipping away from the side of his face. “Marissa?”
“Hey there,” she smiled, standing, a take-out cup of coffee balanced in her slim hand.
“What are you doing here?” Dean pushed himself higher in the bed, the edges of his perception muddled and cloudy with the after-effects of sleep and pain killers.
“I came when I heard about Jim,” she said, prying the lid from the cup. “It’s black,” she handed it to him and Dean took the hot beverage gratefully. “I ran into Gus and your dad in the waiting room.”
He greedily sipped the caffeinated liquid, enjoying the rush as it slid down his throat and hit his belly with enough force to clear out the fog in his system. Another sip and he found the strength to drag his legs off the side of the bed and sit up straighter.
“You saw my dad?” Another drink.
Marissa nodded. “They were talking about something. I interrupted them.”
“Where is he now?” Feet planted firmly on the floor, hand gripping the edge of the bed.
She shrugged. “The waiting room was empty when I went out to get coffee.”
“When was that?” Standing fully, feeling each joint, each muscle stretch and call-out protests in resistance to his movement.
“Like… maybe fifteen minutes ago… what are you doing?”
“I’m getting the hell outta here,” Dean said, finishing the coffee and handing her the empty cup.
“Are you sure?” Marissa backed away, allowing him room to move from the bed to the chair that was laden with his jacket and boots. “You were unconscious like five seconds ago.”
“I wasn’t unconscious,” Dean protested, staring at his boots as if they were the enemy. “I was asleep. He… he let me sleep.” Maybe I don’t need to wear shoes, he thought, grabbing his jacket.
Marissa saved him from finding out by folding her legs and sinking to the floor, grabbing first one boot, then the other, and helping him slide them into place.
“I suppose it doesn’t do me any good to point out that if you can’t even put your own boots on—“
“No,” Dean shook his head as she stood up. “It doesn’t.” He patted his pockets, searching for his cell phone. “You sure he wasn’t out there?”
“Want me to go check again?”
“Yeah,” Dean nodded, remembering finally that the last time he’d seen his cell was in the alley behind the police station just before Cole decided to use him as a punching bag.
He watched Melissa jog out through the heavy doors and stepped into the organized chaos of the ER. As he did, he caught sight of his reflection in a blackened computer monitor. He could see the tight skin around his eye and mouth where the bruising had swelled; the ice pack had helped, but it hadn’t worked miracles. His fingers curled into a fist at his side at the thought of payback.
“They’re not there,” Marissa said as she breezed back into the ER, ignoring the protests of a shift nurse. “I looked out in the lot. Gus’ truck is gone.”
Dad, you stubborn bastard, Dean thought, his eyes finding a clock positioned above a nurse’s work station. It was nearing dawn. He’d been asleep for almost eight hours. Long enough for John to decide that we’ve got work to do meant I’ll take care of this.
“I need a favor.” Dean grabbed Marissa’s arm in a gentle hold and pulled her close, his mouth inches from her ear. He glanced quickly at the nurses busying themselves with their change-of-shift routines.
“Anything,” she said.
“Can you go over to the police station—to the alley between the buildings—and see if you can find a cell phone?”
She frowned in confusion, then nodded. “What are you going to do?”
He released her arm and looked directly into her eyes. “Break the law.”
When Marissa left the ER, her frown still in place, Dean turned back toward the alcove where he’d been resting and swept it with his eyes, making sure there was nothing of the Winchester’s left behind. Reassured that he and John were once again ghosts, he picked up the chart resting in the plastic pocket at the foot of his bed, removing the order Caroline had written there for the pain medication she’d given him.
Ten minutes later, he’d duped an orderly into helping him get a refill when he couldn’t find his nurse—shift-change in a small hospital being the easiest time for him to pull off that particular grift—and was waiting next to the Impala for Marissa. He saw her crossing the nearly-empty lot in the gray light of dawn.
“Found it,” she said, breathless, her hand chilled as she placed the phone in his. “I’m coming with you.”
“No, you’re not,” Dean shook his head. “And thanks.”
“You’re going to get yourself hurt again,” Marissa protested.
“Probably,” Dean nodded, turning away and putting a hand on the door handle.
Marissa stepped into the small pocket of space between him and the Impala, her cold fingers curling around his, stopping him. “Dean,” she said softly, her eyes on his bruised mouth. “This isn’t your fight.”
He let his eyes take in the whole of her face, then rest on her lips. “Yeah,” he said, matching her tone. “It is.”
It hadn’t started out that way. It had started out as a hunt. A job. We do what we do and we shut up about it. But then John had started to fade out and Dean had started to lose himself and the things that used to define him, the places where he’d once found meaning, had turned inside out and the normal things—like getting paid for a job—had started to matter.
Making this fight his own—making it matter—was the only way Dean knew to get himself back. To get his father back. To find their balance again.
Marissa took a breath. “If you’re going to do this… go deeper into all of this… there’s something you should know. I don’t know if it means anything, but… well, it’s why I can’t leave yet.”
Dean waited, knowing that there had been something hidden behind those blue eyes since the moment he’d wrapped her up on the dance floor.
“Matt Lawson,” she said, the name climbing from her gut as if it were poison, “raped my sister-in-law.”
Dean blinked, surprised by the revelation. “What?”
“Jake never believed it,” Marissa continued. “Matt denied it, and Jake said that she was just looking for attention. But when Annie was born… well, she didn’t look anything like my brother.”
“No offense, sweetheart,” Dean said, his voice husky with incredulity, “but you live in one fucked-up town.”
“Matt’s wife can’t have kids,” Marissa continued. “I heard Jake on the phone one night. Talking to Matt.”
Dean frowned, the cold air of the morning tightening the tender skin around his eyes. “But… what about—“
“Exactly,” Marissa said cryptically. “When I said before that I had a mess to clean up…“ She looked away and Dean saw the infant light of early morning catch her blue eyes. “My sister-in-law is a good person. She doesn’t deserve to have to handle the fall-out from Jake and Annie… and whatever the Lawson’s have done.”
“You think it has something to do with what’s happening out at the building site?” Dean asked.
Marissa lifted a shoulder in a shrug and tightened her fingers on his. “No offense, but,” she looked directly at him. “I don’t give a damn. I just wanted you to know. You’ve been so good to me, and you haven’t asked for anything back. You never even…” She flicked her eyes down, then back up at him. “No matter what happens with all of that stuff at the building site, as soon as what’s left of my family is okay, I’m leaving.”
Dean swallowed, seeing a vaguely familiar resolve in her eyes. Seeing a peace there that came with making a choice and having a plan. A peace he had never felt. “Good.”
Inching up on her toes slightly, Marissa pressed chilled lips to the unmarred corner of his mouth. “Thank you,” she said, squeezing his fingers once more, then stepping away.
Dean stood for a moment, shivering in the crisp fall air, and watched her walk away. Before she was out of sight, he unlocked the Impala and slipped inside, breathing in the heady scent of motor oil, leather, gunpowder, and stale food.
He dialed his father’s cell number, swearing when he heard the voicemail pick up.
His gut told him that Gus had taken his dad back to the site—there was something about the way Jim Sutcliff had died that hadn’t sat well with Dean. Remembering from Gus’ recollection that Sutcliff had kicked away the salt lines in his struggle to live, Dean paused at the motel and hurried inside.
He knew immediately that someone had been here—and that person hadn’t been familiar with the Winchester’s habits or patterns. His first thought was Dan Glover, but the motel owner hadn’t breeched his wall of privacy once in all the time they’d been holed up in Brinnon; he wasn’t sure why he’d start now. Dean crossed the room to the table of weapons, noting the way the guns were scattered, as though someone had been searching by description and not knowledge.
“Gus,” he muttered.
Turning, he made his way to his father’s room and found John’s duffel emptied on the bed, his lighter missing. Frowning, he returned to the living room area and opened a box of rock-salt-filled shotgun shells. Pocketing several shells, he made a pit stop at the bathroom—pointedly ignoring the garish bruises feathering the left side of his face—then changed out his light canvass jacket for the heavier leather, and headed back outside.
He headed to his father’s black truck—sitting alone and forgotten in the nearly-empty lot—and opened the back end, tripping the spring-like trigger that popped open a stash of weapons. Most he’d already hauled inside earlier in the week, but he knew there should be two sawed-off shotguns still in the truck.
He found one.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered, grabbing the weapon, closing the truck box and hurrying to the Impala.
The sun had crested the edge of the horizon, its fingers of light turning the land to a gilded orange and causing Dean to narrow his eyes against the brightness as he headed east toward the construction site. His stomach tightened in anticipation as he drew closer to the now-familiar building. He saw Gus’ truck parked just outside of the west entrance and pulled over, turning off the Chevy and grabbing the shotgun.
He loaded the weapon on the fly as he hurried toward the heavy plastic that doubled as a door to the building. The hairs on the back of his neck and on his arms stood the moment he crossed the threshold, as if something had electrified the air. Energy seemed almost to spark to life in his periphery. Dawn had reached the world, but the inside of the building—the very air that surrounded him—was dark.
Dad, where are you? His mind screamed to John, but his lips wouldn’t move. He pumped the shotgun once, chambering the shells, and the sound cracked through the silence like a whip.
That’s when he saw her.
“Oh, God,” Dean whispered involuntarily. He’d seen spirits before. He’d seen them beautiful, he’d seen them empty, he’d seen them look alarmingly alive, he’d seen them look horrifically dead.
But the tortured expression on the scarred face before him was like a punch in the gut. Her eyes beseeched him, turning from dark brown to opaque in a heartbeat; her red, blistered face seemed to fold in on itself, rippling and bubbling, then smoothing into the unmarred skin once more. Her dark hair hung down, long and lanky, to the middle of her back, strands of it covering the nightmare of her face.
Dean stood, frozen, knowing what he should do, knowing what came next, and unable to do more than pull in air.
She lifted a hand and Dean saw that her wrist bled, the liquid wrapping around her hand and dripping from her fingers. Not from a cut; not suicide. From something that had bound her. Something that had held her while she burned.
Dean lifted the shotgun, his hands shaking, the barrel pointed at her chest. Her mouth moved and Dean gasped, hearing her voice inside his head.
“He is mine.”
And she was gone.
“Wha—“ Dean breathed, looking around the room, his eyes wide, his skin alive with pinpricks of horror and fear. In the absence of Brooke’s spirit, he could suddenly hear voices.
“Dad!” He rushed forward, stepping through the space she’d occupied seconds before, and moving from the shadowed building into the growing light of day.
Several feet away he saw his father standing next to a small mound of earth, leaning heavily on his crutches, his face lifted toward the building. In the hole at John’s feet, Dean saw Gus’ dark head and the silver glint of a shovel blade as more earth was added to the pile.
Dean took a step forward, relief and anger warring for dominance inside of him, when suddenly John was flung violently backwards, landing in a heap of escaping air. No… Dean’s heart beat the word as he rushed forward.
“Gus!” He yelled. “Get the hell out of there, man!”
Gus peeked up from the hole like a prairie dog. “What—“ he began, but Brooke didn’t let him finish. His cry of pain and surprise was aborted as an invisible force grabbed him by the neck and pulled him away from the hole. Dean raised the shotgun, struggling to figure out where to fire as Gus clawed ineffectually at his throat. Dean ducked as the spirit threw Gus aside, the contractor’s body meeting the earth with a thud.
Gasping, Dean looked around. Brooke Marcus’ tortured image stood next to the hole Gus had been digging.
“He is MINE.”
This time the words were cacophonous in his head, causing Dean to grab his ears in defense. He didn’t even realize he’d cried out until he heard his father’s voice calling his name. He looked up and saw John sitting up, his face tense with pain and lined with the same incensed anger Dean had seen before: when something evil stood between him and one or both of his sons. In his hand he gripped the other shotgun.
Without having to be told, Dean hit his knees and John fired. Brooke’s spirit flashed, a disorienting display of power, and she disappeared. Dean looked up and around, knowing she wasn’t gone.
“She’s not gone!” He yelled.
“Get the box! Dean! Get the box!” John screamed back at him, using his elbows and the heel of his good leg to propel himself back toward Dean, keeping the shotgun in his grip.
Box… Dean crawled quickly to the edge of the hole and saw a box roughly the shape of a small steamer trunk half-buried in the mud. Tightening his grip on his shotgun, he dropped down into the waist-deep hole and kicked at the dirt, trying to loosen the box from its earthen prison.
He looked up at the savaged cry coming from his father, expecting to see Brooke’s spirit attacking his father and surprised when he found himself face-to-horrific-face with the spirit. Reacting instinctively, he pulled the trigger on his shotgun and emptied both barrels of rock salt into the spirit’s chest. This time, she dissipated in a cloud-like burst of gray dust.
“Jesus H. Christ,” he heard Gus exclaim in a strangled voice.
Dean shot him a look, his hands moving in a trained, automatic action of reloading the shotgun. “Get over here and help me,” he ordered, hearing his father echo the words with his own spin, “Get in there and help him!”
Gus was hurting; Dean could see that, but he made it to the hole and used the blade of the shovel to find the other end of the box, dislodging it from the mud and helping Dean haul it up.
“Get that to the car,” Dean panted, climbing from the hole. “My car, not yours, you hear me?”
“She’s not gone, Gus.” Dean stood, his legs shaking more than he wanted to admit. “I don’t know how long it will take her, but she’ll be back.”
“But… you shot her,” Gus protested, lifting the box in both arms, dark eyes darting between the two Winchesters.
Dean looked over at his father and grabbed the crutches. He handed one to John, then tucked his arm under John’s, lifting his father to his feet, helping him balance on the crutches.
“You okay?” he asked quietly.
John nodded, though Dean noted he still hadn’t quite caught his breath.
“You shot her,” Gus repeated.
“She’s had years to gain power,” Dean said. “And something else I didn’t realize until now—“
“The protection symbols,” John said through gritted teeth. Dean nodded. “They’re to protect her… not to protect us from her.”
“Exactly,” Dean said, picking up John’s shotgun. There was still a round in the chamber. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What’s in the box?” Gus asked, an almost child-like fear in his voice.
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Dean said. “Away from here.”
“Dean,” John said. “If it had been her grave—“
“I don’t care,” Dean said, feeling anger work its way around his fear, weave a path through his exhaustion and barrel over his pain as if it was inconsequential. “Let’s just go, okay? Let’s go.”
“It could have been done. Over. I could have ended it.” John’s voice was a confusing mixture of explanation and a plea for forgiveness, but it was enough to push through the filmy barrier of patience Dean had managed to construct.
“You could have gotten yourself killed, too, Dad! You ever think of that?” Dean shoved his father’s shotgun at him with unnecessary force, causing John to grapple with the barrel before finding a way to hold it and his crutches. “You’re willing to get killed just to prove you can still soldier, is that it?”
He was vaguely aware of Gus standing off to the side, the muddy box still gripped in his hands, watching them with a wide-eyed mixture of wonder and fear.
“NO! Dean, that’s not—“
“’Cause that’s what it looks like from here!” Dean stepped away, then turned back to face his father, seeing daylight hit John’s face and catching on the silver and white hairs peppering his dark beard and exposing his humanity. “What the fuck happened to me being the one out in the field, huh? What happened to—“
“I didn’t want you to get hurt anymore, Dean!” John bellowed, straightening as much as he could on his crutches, and leaning forward. “I had to watch that bastard lay into you and couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it.”
“I stopped it, Dad!” Dean spread his arms wide, the shotgun gripped tightly in his right hand. “I handled it.”
“Barely,” John shot back. “If it weren’t for that Indian you might still be lying in that alley.”
“I wasn’t hurt that bad,” Dean protested, shaking his head. “I woulda been fine.”
“You take a look at yourself lately, Son? You’re beat to hell.”
Dean felt his chest tighten, his mind scrambling to order thousands of reasons, hundreds of words, a dozen retorts, and only needing one answer. “What do you want from me, Dad?”
It came out so quietly, the words almost lost in the war of sound still echoing off of the building, but John jerked as if Dean had struck him.
“What do you want me to be?” Dean pressed. “’Cause I can’t keep doing this all the time.”
John sighed, looking down, and seemed to gather himself. “Dean, I know you’ve been… struggling since Sam—“
Dean felt something inside of him crack, as if John’s words had breached a stronghold that had been protected until that very moment. “This has NOTHING to do with SAM!” He pushed at John, feeling heat roll inside of him. “This is about US, Dad.”
“There is no us!” John yelled back, his words unexpected, sudden, and blade-sharp in their honesty. “There is a you and there is a me, and that’s where it ends!”
Dean pulled in and away, unable to mask the pain he felt as he looked back at his father.
“You are my son, goddammit. You’re not my partner; you’re not just another hunter!” John’s eyes were both alive and devastated as stared back at Dean. “We are never going to be equal, do you get that? No matter how good you are, no matter how good you get, you will always be my son. My responsibility.”
Dean staggered at these words, the rush of blood in his ears making him dizzy. He drew a breath, then another, feeling that no matter how many breaths that he took, he still couldn’t breathe. He was never going to catch up, never going to be good enough. He was meant for only one thing, good for only one thing: following orders.
“No…” Dean shook his head. “No, you can’t—“
“You are my kid,” John repeated, his chin trembling as his voice began to fade. “Mine. You don’t get to make the rules in this fight, Dean.”
“But you do?” Dean asked. His voice hurt as it scraped along the inside of his throat.
John pulled up straighter, shifting the shotgun into a natural firing position, the image of a wounded warrior. “Until I say otherwise.”
Dean closed ranks inside. His heart pulled in close. His spine cracked as he brought it straight. Gone was the tired, easy truce from the hospital room. Gone was the soft-spoken moment of accidental memory from the motel room. Gone was any hope he’d held that John would see him as more than just a soldier, more than just a weapon to be wielded in the fight against evil.
He turned away, wanting to reach out and hold onto something, resisting the urge to fold in half at the realization that there was nothing around him. There hadn’t been anything to grab onto since Sam had left. He fixed his eyes on the horizon of water that chased the shoreline just behind the building. He could let his father’s need to be right, to be in charge, to be in control define and defeat him... or he could use it.
Looking over at John, he lifted his chin. “Fine,” he said.
John pulled his face slightly back. “Fine?” he replied, and Dean could tell this hadn’t been the answer he’d been expecting.
You want me to be here, ground you, support you, keep you solid, Dad? You want me around when you need me, without you having to ask, like some kind of… gravity?
“Yeah. Fine,” Dean repeated.
I can be gravity. But let’s see you try to walk without me.
“Okay,” John said hesitantly. “Okay, then.”
A film of wary acceptance settled across John’s face and Dean had two heartbeats to wonder if giving in was the same as giving up when Brooke’s voice suddenly screamed in his head once more. Dean cried out in surprise and watched John mirror his body’s instinctive flinch down and away.
As if on tandem strings ruled by a well-timed puppet master, the Winchesters raised their shotguns and aimed toward the image of Brooke Marcus, standing next to the wound they’d dug into the earth. With twin blasts from the weapons, Brooke’s spirit once more dissipated in a cloud-like burst, leaving only the sight of a pale and shaken Gus Spencer in her wake.
“Oh, fuck me,” Gus whimpered.
“Gus, take the box to my car,” Dean ordered.
Gus nodded spastically, turning and running around the corner of the building. Without looking at his father, Dean reached out to take the other shotgun from John’s hands.
“C’mon,” he said quietly, walking next to his slowly-moving dad, feeling buffeted by a storm-like struggle that he felt certain they’d be fighting as long as they were alive.
John had felt this before—this state of constant exhaustion, of perpetual pain—and while his body called to him to please, please just sit down, just stop moving, his mind reminded him that there was a job to do and nothing stopped until the job was done.
He looked askance at Dean, at the bruises on his son’s face, the determined set to his jaw. Rest would have to wait, pain could be ignored. He’d taught his kid that; he need only to look at Dean to stop feeling the ache in his leg as keenly.
Did I do the right thing?
He had reacted without thinking, backing himself into a corner, desperate to keep Dean in check, to keep control of the situation. But in the silence of that car—not even Dean’s incessant music offering him a reprieve from his thoughts—he wondered if he could have offered Dean some kind of hope, some kind of encouragement.
If he could have at least told him that he was proud of him.
“We need to decide if Gus is in on this or not,” Dean said suddenly.
“I think the whole damn town is in on this,” John grumbled, wanting to rub at his tired eyes and refusing to allow himself even that luxury.
“No, I mean, if we let him help,” Dean clarified.
John looked at the side mirror and Gus’ truck following them back to the motel. “I don’t think we have a choice, Son,” John confessed. “He’s seen too much to just walk away.”
“Not everyone who sees a ghost wants to be a part of it, Dad,” Dean pointed out.
“You know him best,” John countered. “What do you think?”
“I think we could use him,” Dean said. “But…” He lifted a shoulder, “I’m just your kid.”
John clenched his jaw, letting that slide, knowing he deserved it. It pained him to realize that when he said you’re my kid he meant I wouldn’t survive the loss of you but that Dean heard you’re not good enough. It had been Dean who’d reminded him of his connection, his responsibility as a parent all those days ago on that darkened shoreline, drawing out the Kappa. It had been Dean who’d made him remember that he had a son to care for and not simply another warm body taking up space near him.
He looked out through the side window, his whiskered chin covered by his roughened hands, and found himself searching for a way to help his son understand, for a way to reach him.
It hadn’t been easy raising two boys without their mama. It hadn’t been easy raising two boys with every member of the family against him. It hadn’t been easy raising two boys like Dean and Sam. But it had been so much easier when Sam was with them. There had been a system, a rhythm, a… pecking order. And Dean had never questioned it.
Sam had, sure, but it seemed to simply be his role. His personality. He always needed to know why. He needed a purpose, a motivation. Dean had simply needed an order. Until now. Dean had protected John from Sam’s incessant thirst for information and in a way, Sam and protected John from Dean’s quiet rebellions.
But now, everything that had worked before was backfiring on him and he could feel the chasm between himself and Dean that he’d detected back in Arizona beginning to widen once more. They pulled into the motel parking lot and Dean helped him out of the car—that bitch had rattled his bones but good with that toss—before grabbing the box from the trunk and hauling it inside.
Gus stood off to the side in the motel room, his hands in his pockets, his expression uncertain.
“Gimme a minute,” Dean said, and John saw him reach for a soft bag. He emptied the rest of the marbles—including the red shooter—into the palm of his hand. “I’ll be right back.”
Before John could protest, he and Gus were left standing in the motel room alone.
“Okay, before this gets too awkward,” John said, clearing his throat. “All that shit back there between him and me… it’s been building up for awhile now.”
Gus shrugged. “You don’t owe me an explanation,” he said. “I had a dad, too, once.”
John frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Gus moved to the map and Dean’s convoluted reasoning. “Just that… y’know… my dad was always right, even when he wasn’t,” he replied, his eyes scanning the notes. “Hell, I didn’t even really know that he saw me as a person until he died.” He glanced at John. “Too little, too late, you ask me. But… y’know, everyone’s different.”
John opened his mouth to respond, but was interrupted by Dean’s return.
“’Kay,” he said, shrugging out of his coat. “Got a number of a guy we can get some more rock salt from.”
“What were the marbles for?” John asked.
Dean lifted a shoulder. “Needed Aaron to, uh… grease the wheels a bit. Get Dan to talk to me.”
“Dan?” Gus turned, voicing the question that had hovered on the edge of John’s tongue.
Dean sighed, lowering himself into one of the chairs next to the weapon-laden table. “Seems we’re the talk of the town,” he said, looking at John. “They’re practically laying bets on if we’re the good guys or the bad guys.”
“This is why I hate small towns,” John grumbled, making his way over to another chair and easing down, his leg beating a pulse up through his hip.
“You hate towns, period,” Dean remarked mildly.
“True,” John conceded.
They sighed in unison and looked over at Gus.
“What?” the contractor asked, warily.
“You wanted to know about our family business,” Dean reminded him.
“I think I changed my mind,” Gus remarked.
“Make your choice now,” John said gruffly. “Because once you’re in this, we need you to stay in until the fight’s done. You get me?”
Gus’ eyes flicked from John to Dean and back. “Do I really have a choice?”
“Yes,” they replied together.
“You don’t have to do this,” Dean told him. “But… when it’s over? And we leave? Don’t talk about what happened. To anyone.”
“This is Brinnon,” Gus reminded him. “No matter what happens, or what I say about it, they’ll make up a story and then no one will bring it up again.”
“Good point,” Dean nodded, rolling his neck.
“So?” John pressed.
Gus’ lips quirked. “Do I get to carry a gun?”
“No,” father and son replied, again in unison.
“You’re no fun,” Gus grumbled. After a moment he sighed and nodded. “Okay, I’m in. What’s next?”
“Food,” Dean declared, closing his eyes. “I’m starving.”
“How ‘bout you two run out and grab some?” John suggested.
Dean opened one eye, peering back at him. “What are you going to do?”
“Sleep,” John yawned. “Hate to admit it, but this leg is killing me and I’m an old dog.”
Dean dropped his chin regarding him with sharp-edged humor. “I promise not to shoot you.”
“That’s horses,” Gus interjected.
“Oh, right,” Dean pointed at Gus, then pushed himself to his feet. “Well, then, I promise not to teach you new tricks.” He dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out a bottle of small white pills, tossing it to John.
“Contraband,” Dean replied. “For the leg.”
John nodded, letting Dean see the gratitude in his eyes before making his way toward his bedroom. “Don’t be gone long,” he ordered. “We’ve got some bad guys to pin down.”
“Yes, Sir,” Dean replied in a subdued voice.
John suppressed the urge to allow his shoulders to bow in weary defeat.
Continued in Part 5B, here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/70568.html>