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.
Today was the anniversary of the worst day of his life.
In some ways, he began preparing for it the day after it was over, vowing each year that he would find the monster that took his girl, he would seek vengeance, and he would erase it from the earth. On this particular day, however, John found himself staring at his journal, at the next empty page that would mark what was to come and covered what had been, his pen poised in mid air as if he’d forgotten what it meant to write.
After the events in Brinnon, revenge now had a bitter taste, an off-toned ring that made him wince with just the thought of the word. Revenge had driven him to find answers which had led him to more questions which turned him back onto a path of revenge. He’d lived eighteen years spinning on an axis of that vicious circle and had accepted that there was no extricating himself from this pattern, this path. There wasn’t hope for heaven; there was only certainty of Hell.
Now, his purpose seemed to narrow, focus pulled from the simple act of retribution and shifting to include the possibility of a greater evil. A larger threat. A greater enemy.
One that was teaching him how to fight it, how to win.
“Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.”
A quick, sunny laugh followed the familiar lyrics, and John brought his head up, glancing out through the parted window at his oldest son’s profile. Sunlight struck the thinned-out planes of Dean’s face and glinted off of his lashes, giving him an ageless appearance. He looked too old to be as young as he was, and yet was too young to hold the weight John always saw in his son’s eyes.
Music blared from the speakers of the Impala — rescued from the fall-out of the fire by Gus Spencer the day after the hospital room summit — all four doors of the car open and freeing the sound to the nearly-deserted car lot.
Dean sat on a tipped-back chair, leaning up against the side of the motel building just outside their room, watching Aaron Glover wax the hood of his car, calling instructions in a patient tone — more patient than John had ever been when Dean first started to wash and wax that car — and soaking in the mild warmth of the autumn afternoon.
“Now this,” Dean was saying to Aaron, “is music.”
“So’s Nirvana,” Aaron retorted.
“Kid.” John saw Dean shake his head in mock sadness. “You’ve got so much to learn.”
In the two and a half weeks since the fire, Dean had recovered slowly. After five days of IV antibiotics, Dr. Rice had agreed to let him leave the hospital on the condition that he not do anything strenuous. His leg seemed to heal the quickest, prompting her to comment about their remarkable biology.
The wounds on his wrists were turning to thin pink lines that John knew would eventually fade to white until they practically disappeared. Dean’s scars tracked like pale roadmaps recording the pain of his life. Sam’s, John knew, were more like his own: dark marks that resembled bruises until one day they simply disappeared.
Dean had taken to wearing a wrist cuff on his right arm covering the wider of the two scars. John couldn’t be sure where he’d procured this adornment; only that he slipped it on one morning and hadn’t taken it off since. His ribs seemed to be taking the longest to heal, but in all fairness, they’d also taken the worst of the hits. Starting with the Kappa and ending with the fall.
Outside, he was coming together with impressive haste, visibly readying himself for the next hunt, the next job, the next battle. Inside, John mused, Dean was a mystery. After months of struggling — finding new ways to speak out, speak up, speak his mind — Dean had grown quiet. It wasn’t the troubling quiet John had witnessed after the Kappa attack: the stillness that felt so foreign and wrong when he regarded his oldest son.
It was more settled, more secure. As if somewhere along the way, Dean had accepted a small corner of this new life: this life without Sam. Redesigning their balance without that presence had almost torn them both apart. But, John realized, they had finally found a stride between the two of them to make it work. To survive however long until Sam came back to them.
Because he would come back. Of that, John was certain.
John breathed in the burnt-leaf smell of the wind as it snaked cool fingers through the opened window. He’d traded up his wheelchair for crutches at Halloween, but would clearly be hampered by a cast for several weeks yet. Looking back down at his journal, he tried to concentrate on what to write to commemorate this day. Outside, Zeppelin drew guitar riffs in the air, and Dean called out to Aaron.
“Make sure you get the wheels. No good getting rust on her rims.”
“You order your brother around like this?” Aaron grumbled, but when John looked out through the window again, he saw the kid crouching eagerly in front of the right front tire, polishing the rim as though his life depended on it.
“I did,” Dean nodded.
“How’d he like it?”
John saw Dean’s crooked grin. “Well, he’d tell you he hated it. And he’d tell me to go to Hell. But I knew. He secretly liked it.”
Aaron stopped what he was doing to turn and look over his shoulder at Dean, his young eyes narrowed in doubt. “He liked you bossing him around?”
“Nah,” Dean shook his head, popping a Peanut M&M into his mouth. “He liked me paying attention to him.”
John looked away, back down at his journal. That was part of his legacy there. Orders meant attention. Instructions equaled love. John sighed. Maybe it was enough that he’d gotten the message across. Maybe it didn’t matter how he’d done it.
“It starts out like a murmur, then it grows like thunder until it bursts inside of you. Try to hold it steady…”
John closed his eyes as he listened to his son’s low voice roll alongside the lyrics.
“Hmmm?” Dean paused in his singing to answer Aaron.
“You sure you guys really have to go?”
John opened his eyes, looking at Dean’s profile. Dan Glover had changed his mind about their being bad news, it seemed, once Sheriff Bonner and Gus Spencer had spoken with him. When they’d been released from the hospital, returning to their evidence-strewn motel room, he’d been waiting with a deal: keep an eye on Aaron after school while they were healing and he wouldn’t charge them further for their room.
Dean had been heartbreakingly eager to agree and John had watched his son once more teach another kid a mixture of things John remembered teaching Dean, and things Dean had learned on his own somewhere along the way.
He watched him teach Aaron to correctly break down and load a hand gun, cautioning him that this was only to be done when absolutely necessary and scaring the shit out of the kid by regaling him with stories of accidental shooting deaths. He watched Dean walk Aaron through the parts of the Impala’s engine, how to fix a meal using the most random assortments of foods. He watched Dean make Aaron a rather authentic-looking werewolf costume for Halloween.
And he watched him school Aaron on music. His music. Dean’s music. So many of John’s memories were tied tightly to the chords, riffs, rhythms, and lyrics that Dean now embraced as his own. He wasn’t sure if he should be proud his son had taken up so many of his own vices, or worried that Dean didn’t seem to have any uniquely his own.
In the weeks of recovery, Aaron was both a distraction and a method of healing; yet each evening when he left to go back to his place, John saw a shadow pass over Dean’s face.
“Yeah, kid, we gotta go,” Dean answered finally.
“But you ain’t really got a home — and the Sergeant doesn’t have a mission right now,” Aaron tried.
Dean huffed out a careful laugh. “Kid, there’s always a mission. Just kinda depends on if we can fight in it.”
“Yeah, okay,” Aaron replied glumly.
“Besides,” Dean countered. “Who said I don’t have a home?”
“Well…you’re living in a motel room,” Aaron pointed out.
“What do you think you’re taking care of right there?”
John looked through the window at Dean as his son nodded toward the Impala.
“Not just any car,” Dean informed the kid. “I was raised in that car, dude.”
“You mean…this car is your home?” Aaron asked, puzzled.
“Damn straight,” Dean replied.
John smiled, reflexively remembering bringing the Impala to pick up Mary. Her nose had wrinkled in that way he’d found gut-weakening adorable and she’d declared she didn’t like it. About two weeks later, however, she was begging to drive it.
“Can I drive it?” Aaron asked.
John almost laughed aloud.
“Ah, no.” Dean shook his head. “You’re about seven years too young. But I tell you what. I’ll let you pick the music.”
“Yes!” Aaron exclaimed, pumping a fist in the air. He hopped behind the wheel and started spinning the dial.
“I wish I was like you. Easily amused. Find my nest of salt. Everything is my fault. I'll take all the blame…”
John chuckled as Dean exclaimed, “Dude! I said music!”
The diesel-engine rumble of a truck caught John’s attention and he looked up to see Gus Spencer pulling into the spot two down from the Impala. With a sigh of resignation, John closed his journal and tucked it into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. He glanced around the now-barren motel room. Maps and notes had long ago been pulled from the wall. Weapons had been cleaned, loaded, and stored in the trunk of the Impala. Duffels sat on the floor near the door waiting only to be carried out.
John fumbled with his crutches and rose from the table, making his way to the door, still awkward in his movement, but more assured than he’d been the week prior. He opened the door to see Gus standing next to Dean.
“…said to tell you she’d call when she got there,” Gus was saying.
Dean looked over his shoulder at the sound of the opening door. “Marissa went after her man,” he informed John.
“Good for her,” John nodded. “Gus.”
“John,” Gus nodded back. “Chester woulda been here, too, but he went with Kwaiya. Said he knew you’d understand.”
Dean nodded. John watched his son’s profile carefully. Since the town of Brinnon — those who’d been around when Brooke Marcus had been killed, anyway — had stepped up and raised money to put Kwaiya in a private home that treated mental illness rather than allowing him to be sent to a state institution, Dean had been quiet about his feelings concerning the big man’s fate.
John suspected that he’d never really know how Dean felt about the outcome of this hunt; he was learning that there were layers to his son that were kept not only out of his sight, but out of the sight of the world. Dean was quite adept at donning the necessary mask for a particular situation.
“You get Dad’s truck handled?” Dean asked, deflecting the topic.
“Yep,” Gus handed him a key. “This is the only key to the lock. The storage unit is the only one in Sequim, so you won’t have trouble finding it when you get back.”
“You use the name I told you?” Dean pocketed the key.
“Dwayne Hicks,” Gus nodded. “I swear I’ve heard that name somewhere before.”
Dean ignored him, looking over at John. “You ready?”
John nodded, making his way to the Impala.
Dean grabbed the two duffel bags and dropped them into the trunk, circling the car to close the rear doors and giving the vehicle one last check.
They’d agreed that this would be their joint car until John was healed enough to drive, and after overhearing Dean’s conversation with young Aaron, he was glad of it. His truck had been stripped down and stored in a town nearby; they could retrieve it soon enough.
“You got another, uh, hunt? Job? Thing?” Gus asked, stuffing his fingers into his pockets.
Dean met John’s eyes over the hood of the Impala, Aaron’s music hanging between them. John saw a paper-thin film of something that could have been hope, but was tinged with a chaser of resignation, cover the green of his son’s eyes for one brief moment before it was absorbed into the rest of the secret thoughts Dean would never share.
“Nah,” Dean shook his head. He rested a hand on his still-battered ribcage. “Not yet.”
“You don’t have to leave, y’know,” Gus said quietly. “There’s plenty of work around here. Could always use another set of hands.”
Dean smiled softly. “Thanks, man. But...”
“We’ve got some unfinished business,” John supplied. He reached out a hand to Gus. “Thank you,” he said sincerely as the contractor clasped his outstretched hand. “We don’t find a lot of friends doing what we do.”
“You’re welcome,” Gus replied. He looked at Dean. “I can tell you this is something I’ll never forget. And I never want to do it again. No offense.”
“None taken,” Dean grinned, shaking Gus’ hand. He moved to the driver’s side of the car, peering down at Aaron. Sullenly, Aaron turned off the radio, but refused to look up at Dean. “C’mon, Squirt. Out you go.”
“You could take me with you,” Aaron attempted.
“Who’d look after your old man if I did that?”
Aaron squinted up at him. “He doesn’t need me. He’s a grown up.”
Dean arched an eyebrow, then pointed toward John without looking at him. “Who do you think keeps the Sergeant out of trouble?”
Aaron looked at John, then back at Dean. “You?”
“You bet your ass, me,” Dean replied. “Without me, he’d be lost.”
John looked away, swallowing at how true Dean’s casual words were.
“So, you got a big job, kid.”
“Watching out for my Dad?”
“Exactly,” Dean said, tenting his fingers on the top of Aaron’s head as he climbed from the Impala. He stuck out his hand as he’d seen the adults do moments before, grinning as Dean took it. “You be good, kid,” Dean said, his voice slightly husky.
Aaron stood next to Gus who dropped a protective hand lightly on his shoulder.
“You, too,” Aaron replied quietly.
Dean nodded at John. Tossing his crutches into the back, John lowered himself into the passenger side of the Impala.
One day Dean would be hunting alone. He’d be heading out, geared up, ready to take on evil with the conviction that John had instilled in him that he would come out on the side of good. John knew with a father’s instinct that day wasn’t far away.
But it’s not today, John thought with relief as his son slid behind the wheel and cranked the keys, igniting the engine. His son may not realize it, but having Dean next to him—even if it was just for now—was better medicine than weeks of resting up.
They lifted their hands in unison, waving good bye to their small farewell party, then pulled out onto the main road. John said nothing as Dean fumbled with the tape deck, but couldn’t help but shake his head with a tolerant grin as the first demanding chords slicked up the inside of the car.
“Back in black, I hit the sack. I've been too long I'm glad to be back. Yes, I'm let loose from the noose, that's kept me hanging about…”
“Really?” John asked, raising a brow.
Dean beat the rhythm on the crest of the steering wheel with an expression of delicious enjoyment. “Seemed fitting. South, right?”
“South,” John nodded. “We should hit Palo Alto sometime tomorrow afternoon.”
“You look up any hunts around there?” Dean asked hesitantly.
John shook his head, letting the familiar rhythm of the Aussie band rock through him.
“So…we see Sam,” Dean said, “then what?”
“We go someplace else,” John replied. He had a promise to keep. A monster to find. His own revenge to extract.
And he still had so far to go.
“Goin’ someplace else,” Dean repeated. “Story of my life.”
John glanced sideways at him. “Story ain’t over yet, Son.”
Dean only nodded, his lips tipping up at the edges as he turned up the music and let the road lead them on.
a/n: Well, there you go. I hope you felt it worth your time.
Thank you so much to all of you who read, and a special, heart-felt thank you to those that took time to gift me with a review. Your reviews are such a reward for the terrifying risk of putting pieces of me out in the world. Because of your feedback, I’ve worked to improve my craft and because of your encouragement, I’m venturing into the “real” world of writing.
After I do a bit of fanfic binge reading, I will be posting a zine story, Deep Waters Run Still, printed in “Road Trip with My Brother 7” by agentwithstyle. Other zine stories to be posted as they are "released."
And next ‘solo’ project will be Heroes for Ghosts, a Western written for my good friend and former beta, Kelly.
If you choose to read, I hope you enjoy.
Black Dog by Led Zeppelin
Wearing and Tearing by Led Zeppelin (c’mon, I had to)
All Apologies by Nirvana
Back in Black by AC/DC (Debbie, this one’s for you)>