Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language and themes
Spoilers: Set pre-Series and in Season 1. No spoilers beyond Season 1
Summary: They didn't have many ; they didn't have many friends. Pastor Jim had been both. A look at how one man's life and death affected the Winchester family.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Story name comes from Alter Bridge song, Wayward Ones.
A/N: This story was written in February of 2009 for the fanzine The Brotherhood: 8, printed in May of 2009. Many thanks to Yum@ and K Hanna Korrossy for their time and attention.
I wrote this story, in round-about way, for charis_kalos. She didn't specifically ask for it, but she is an admirer of the character of Pastor Jim, and I was intrigued by the dual role of a hunter and a pastor. Depending on how you look at it, both roles work to rid the world of evil. We never really got to know Pastor Jim in canon and his death was so sudden, yet devastated John so visibly, I wanted to explore how his life and death may have impacted the three Winchester men. The story is told through the eyes of John, Dean, and Sam, shifting points of view. In it, I've repurposed some scenes from a few of my other stories and elaborated on some scenes from the show to try to weave a complete picture. If you read, I hope you enjoy.
As they fight to exist
We neglect and resist
Let this circle be broken…
- "Wayward Ones," by Alter Bridge
Sometimes it's those we think we know best who elude us.
I've spent my whole life watching him. Watching, waiting, listening, absorbing. And I still missed it. I didn't know where the line was, or how deep the crevasse was buried inside him until one faded and the other broke him.
When I look back, I think, I should have seen, I should have known.
But there aren't any rear view mirrors in life, and the moment we look over our shoulder to try to see what's being left behind, we turn into a pillar of salt.
Doesn't stop me from trying, though.
Salvation, Iowa, 2005
Sam was quiet beside me. I knew he was thinking of the signs Dad had just revealed to us. The signs that had been in Lawrence the week before Mom died. The signs that had been in Palo Alto. I knew he was trying to remember a storm. A news report of unusual animal activity or deaths.
"Stop it, man," I said, hearing the tightness in my voice. I cleared my throat, working the stiffness from my neck with a tilt of my jaw.
I'd wanted Dad back for so many months. To bring us back together, be a family again. But from the moment Dad had leaned against my window after we'd been inside Elkins' cabin, I hadn't been able to rid my neck of this freakin' knot.
"C'mon, Sammy…." I kept my voice low, even, soothing.
Sam didn't reply. From the corner of my eyes I could see his sullen stare through the front window. His jaw muscle was working overtime, wearing his teeth to nubs, twisting the headache I could recognize from the line between his brows into a full-on migraine.
Fine, I wanted to say. Fine, you want to take the weight of the world on your shoulders? You want all this to be your fault? You want to bear that cross? FINE!
But the moment the thought heated my heart, it was quenched by the constant need to ease his pain. I stole another glance at him and saw that he was rubbing at a worn spot on the leather interior of the passenger door with his frayed thumbnail. It's a spot just below the metal divider between the corner window and the wide main window. It's a spot that we'd both worried with dirty fingers time and again during cross-country journeys from one safe haven to the next.
"You couldn't have known."
"He coulda told me," Sam said, his voice barely audible, his anger loud and clear.
"How? You weren't exactly pen pals at the time."
"Something like that…he could have found a way."
I looked at him again, feeling my own anger work its way to my fingers, making them itch. I squeezed the steering wheel, tight. "Would you have listened?"
Sam looked back at me, the betrayal in his eyes turning them liquid, then back to the rear gate of Dad's pickup through the front window. We were barreling down a back country road toward Salvation, our speed thwarting the wet leaves' attempt to plaster the pavement with orange and red. The weather pressed close, but inside the Impala, we were safe.
We were together.
The only thing missing was Dad.
"Dean!" Sam's warning pulled my focus front. Dad was braking, pulling quickly to the side of the road.
Shit. My breath thudded painfully at the base of my throat, the ice in my stomach flashing to a nervous, sweaty heat as it melted against my heart. Something's wrong.
Working to blank my mind from the myriad of possible scenarios that were suddenly clamoring for attention, I pulled the Impala over behind Dad's truck, turned off the engine, and stepped out into the wet air. The slam of Dad's truck door punctuated the unspoken fear in my heart.
"Damn it." His voice was tight. His face was tight.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Son of a bitch!"
My entire body coiled. I was aware of Sam reaching out for the side of the Impala, as if looking to balance himself. I stepped forward, needing to be closer to Dad.
"What is it?"
Dad looked at me, and I could see the gutted hollow of his eyes slowly building with impotent rage.
"I just got a call from Caleb."
I could tell by the set of his jaw that he was working up to something, working to get out bad news. I tried to remember to breathe.
"Is he okay?" A picture of the scrappy hunter, his wiry body built more for playing soccer than fighting werewolves, shot through my memory.
"He's fine." Dad paused all of a heartbeat before saying, "Jim Murphy's dead."
I felt my mouth open in protest. Not Jim…he's…he's…
"Pastor Jim?" Sam asked behind me, his voice young with shock and disbelief. Dad didn't take his eyes from me as he nodded. "How?"
"Throat was slashed—he bled out." Dad's voice was cold. It made me shiver inside.
I wanted to say something—anything—but I couldn't seem to make my throat work. The air I'd pulled in at Dad's words lay trapped and rotting inside of chest. Pastor Jim is dead. I rolled the words around in my head, trying to make sense of them.
"Caleb said there were traces of sulfur at Jim's place."
Dad's words brought my head up. "A demon," I proposed. At Dad's slight nod, realization hit me. "The demon?"
Dad shook his head slightly, almost helplessly. I felt something slide sideways inside of me. The look in Dad's eyes was unsettling. I wanted to reach out for something. Lean on something. But I was surrounded by nothing but leaves. Everything was wet, heavy, unreal.
"I don't know. Could be he just got careless…he slipped up." Dad paused, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat. "Maybe the demon knows we're gettin' close."
I could sense his hunger. His need to attack. It almost rolled from his shoulders. He wanted to get this thing, now.
"What do you want to do?" I asked, knowing the answer but needing to hear it. Needing something solid, real, something tangible that I could hold onto in the wake of this news.
"Now we act like every second counts." He was talking too fast. I felt myself curl in, leaning forward, eyes pinned to his lips to catch every word. "There's two hospitals and a health center in this county. We split up, we cover more ground. I want records. I want a list of every infant that's gonna be six months old in the next week."
I blinked. This is how Dad worked, I knew. Move, move, always move. Check your six. Know your exits. Find a solution; find a reason. Do the job.
"Dad," Sam protested, his voice slightly breathy with doubt. "That could be dozens of kids. How the hell do we know which one's the right one?"
I watched Dad. It was typical of Sam, pointing out how something wasn't going to work. But…he had a point. Dad shifted his eyes to Sam and I watched them go flat. Emotion evaporated with the flick of his lashes, and I clenched my jaw.
Jesus, give him something, Dad.
"We check 'em all, that's how. You got any better ideas?" he challenged.
I looked at the ground, pulling my lower lip in against my teeth. Waiting. Beating back the whisper of truth that I didn't want to face. Pastor Jim is dead.
"No, sir," Sam replied, subdued, apologetic.
Dad turned from us, stepping back toward his truck, and I recognized that as a loud dismissed! I started back to the Impala when something tugged at my attention. I hadn't heard his door open. I turned back, watching his shoulders bow, feeling my heart slam harder.
For one full minute, he didn't move. I glanced at Sam, who was looking at me for reassurance. Lacking that, I looked back at Dad. I opened my mouth to call his name once more, when he turned around and I felt my heart stop. I hadn't seen that look on his face since….
"Yeah…it's Jim. You know? I can't…."
I swallowed. Hard. I know. I knew exactly what he couldn't do. What I couldn't do. Jim was gone. The rock my father had broken himself against time and again, the support we'd all depended upon in our youth, the one hunter who had protected more than our lives—the man who had been home for Sam and me when the only home we knew left us behind—was gone.
I grabbed those thoughts in a mental fist, shoving them down deep inside my gut as I watched my father's eyes harden, the lines around his mouth deepen.
"This ends now. I'm ending it. I don't care what it takes."
I nodded, not knowing what else to do but agree to get the son of a bitch that killed Jim. That killed Jess. That killed Mom. It had taken too much from us. And Dad wasn't going to let it take anyone else.
I planned on standing next to him when he took the bastard down.
Moving in tandem with Dad's newfound ferocity, I climbed back into my car, slamming the door in unison with Sam. I pulled back onto the road behind Dad's black truck, gripping the wheel with sweaty palms.
Working to swallow the sudden sour taste at the back of my throat, I focused on breathing, trying to quiet the race of whispers in my head. Pastor Jim is dead.
Sam paused, and I let the silence shimmy between us. My mind was too full of Jim's craggy face melding with Dad's tragic eyes. Pastor Jim is dead. It just didn't fit with reality as I knew it. There are some people whom the bad guys just didn't get. Some people who were too tough. Like Dad. Like Jim….
I looked over at Sam, his little-boy voice catching me. He was watching me, his eyes too large for his face, his bangs falling across his brows, seeming to shrink him.
"Sure, I'm okay," I replied, shifting a bit in my seat. I was cold. "Why?"
"You look…," Sam faltered, looking up at Dad's taillights once more. "Forget it."
Pastor Jim is dead.
I swallowed again, feeling my stomach hitch. Sweat broke out on my upper lip, and my coat was suddenly too heavy.
"Yeah." I couldn't say much. I was afraid of what would come out if I opened my mouth.
"I can't remember the last time I saw him."
I sat quietly for a moment, gripping the wheel tighter as I took the turn into Salvation behind Dad, blindly following him to the motel that we would use as our base of operations while we searched for the demon's next victim.
"I remember," I said softly. I'll never forget it.
It was a time when I thought I'd lost everything that mattered. But Jim…Jim gave it back to me.
Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, 2004
My breath collected in a tiny cloud bank in front of my frozen face as I pressed my back against the tree.
This is a stupid, stupid idea.
But it was too late to stop now. The werewolf had my scent, and all I could do was kill it before it got me. And there was no fucking way I was going to walk into another gore-covered room to find another dead girl, terror lingering in her dead eyes while her chest lay ripped open and bloody, her heart missing.
Licking my lips to ease the nerve-induced dryness, I clutched the .45 filled with silver bullets against my chest. I automatically darted my eyes to the right—to where Sam should have been—cursing myself for forgetting. Sam had left a long time ago. He wasn't coming back…not willingly. He didn't need me, so why did I still need him?
The snuff of the werewolf's shuffle across the frostbitten ground grabbed my attention with the force of a punch. No Sam, no Dad—I couldn't afford to let my attention wander. Not if I wanted to live through this hunt.
I rounded the tree as silently as I could, the leather of my jacket stiffening up in the cold, scraping across the bark. Sound around me ceased. No bird cry, no animal call, even the wind had stopped teasing the tops of the winter-dead trees.
It was close.
Bring it on, you son of a bitch.
Counting to three under my breath, I turned, the muzzle of the gun butting up against the matted hair of the werewolf's chest.
"Oh, fuck," I breathed.
Dad had talked me through the different species of werewolf when he was updating his journal one night, not too long after Sam had left. I knew my chances for this one to be of the more-human, less-beast variety were slim to none, based on the aftermath of its attacks. But knowing that and facing that were two totally different realities.
The werewolf's breath was rancid, the rotting flesh trapped in its teeth wafting out in a sickeningly sweet rush as it huffed in surprise. It recovered quickly, though, slashing at me as I fired. I twisted to the side, glancing off the tree and slipping on the frozen ground, still firing.
"Arrrggghhh!" I realized I was echoing the creature's cry, hearing its howl of pain as my bullets found their mark…but missed its heart.
I dug the heels of my boots into the earth, pushing back and away, firing until the hammer clicked on an empty chamber. I'd managed to put a fair distance between us, but not enough of one that I was able to pull out my spare clip before it hit me. The force of its weight drove the air from my lungs and the curse from my lips as I grappled with it for dominance.
This was a fight I couldn't lose; defeat in this arena meant true madness, not just the absence of life. Rolling with a guttural grunt of frustration, I managed to straddle the creature, reaching behind me for my Bowie.
You want freedom, Sammy? You got it. Live your damn life. I got me a mission.
I growled, using my foot to keep one claw-leaden paw from filleting my shoulder, and flipped the blade of the knife forward, putting all my anger and pain into the thrust as I aimed the silver blade for the wolf's heart.
It deflected my swing with a powerful swipe of its paw, its mouth close enough to my neck that its jagged teeth brushed my skin, its saliva seeping into the edge of my T-shirt, sizzling like acid. The motion tossed me to the side; I felt myself skid across the frozen earth, my knife still gripped in my cold hand.
The wolf stood, stretching to his impressive full height on rear legs. I rolled to a crouch, eyes up, hand tented on the ground, ready to launch.
Stay focused, Dean, Dad had said. I need you sharp and ready to run.
So, Sam leaves me, lives a life, and gets to be a real boy. Dad leaves me, fights demons, and gets to be the hero. And I'm left to…what? Be ready to help them when they decide to come back?
"Hell with that," I spat, rushing forward with the speed and power of a fullback, ducking my shoulder low and taking the werewolf in the mid-section. I felt the fiery dig of the beast's claws against my side and cried out.
In that moment, I slipped my skin, my conscious self moving outside my body to lean against the nearest tree and watch the action. My back arched, my neck snapping back, as the pain from the werewolf's claws burrowed into me, twisting inside of me with a volcanic heat, then swiftly cooling to a bone-aching ice. I stabbed the sliver blade into the creature's neck and shoulder, over and over, its scream of pain matching my own.
I turned, slicing the knife down across the claws still embedded in my skin. One broke away and I staggered back, falling to my ass, gasping, shaking, sobbing. No tears, though.
That was a weakness I refused to show. To anyone. Not since Sam left me.
The werewolf slid backward, away from me. One hair-covered arm lay useless on the ground, blood crystallizing on the frozen grass. It was whimpering, I realized. It had too much silver in it to attack or run, but not enough to die.
"Luckily," I panted, digging into my coat pocket, "I brought plenty."
Shoving the clip into the grip of my .45, I relished the echo of the round slipping smoothly into the chamber. Bracing the butt of the gun with my left hand, I sighted on the retreating werewolf, firing twice. The creature bucked, its yelp cut off as my bullets found the heart. I exhaled a shaking breath as it slumped forward, its body a dark shape against the moonlit prisms of the frozen, blood-stained ground.
I sat for a moment, just breathing. The cold was seeping up through my jeans, making itself at home in my bones. My conscious self seemed satisfied with my body's performance because I could suddenly feel everything again. There was a hot spill of blood on my side soaking through my shirts and down my jeans. I reached down, pulling my jacket away, and saw the claw still stuck in my flesh.
"Damn," I panted, my mouth suddenly, viciously dry. "That's gonna leave a mark."
A hawk screeched high above me and seemed to signal it was safe to come out. The night noises surrounded me, and I blinked up at the silver of the silent moon. I wanted to go home, back to the Impala, back to the little house Dad had rented for us. I wanted Dad to give me hell about hunting alone when I hadn't known the full extent of what I was up against. I wanted to tease Sammy for worrying about me when I showed up bloody.
But there was a body to burn.
Struggling to my feet, I felt the odd sensation of a spider web slipping from my neck. I reached up with my free hand, brushing absentmindedly at my neck, eyes on the now very human form of the werewolf lying naked and dead in the moonlight, when I realized what had caused that sensation.
My amulet had fallen.
The panic that hit me was sudden and complete. I cast about quickly on the ground, slipping once in a small pool of blood that I didn't even register as having come from me, until I found the gold face of the charm reflecting the deadly light of the moon. I bent to pick it up, and a wave of weakness broke over me, driving me to my knees. The tie was still fastened, but the leather strap had been severed.
Pulling my hand from my bleeding side, I tried to tie it in a knot, tried to fasten it together, but the leather continued to fray, as if it were being slowly eaten away by something. My bloody fingers shook, flitting across the collar of my T-shirt, feeling the holes there caused by the werewolf's saliva.
"God damn it," I muttered, pushing myself up and crying out as the cuts on my side protested. "GOD DAMN IT!" I yelled to the night, scaring up several bats from their perch above me.
I couldn't seem to catch my breath.
This was all I had left of Sam. I couldn't lose this. I pressed the heel of my hand against the worst of the cuts on my side, grunting from the pain of that contact, then looked over my shoulder at the man who had caused so much trouble. Aside from leaving behind evidence of my kill, he was harmless now. I knew Dad would kick my ass if he found out that I'd left a body without burning it.
"He's gonna hafta find out first," I muttered, gripping the amulet in my bloody hand, stuffing the gun in my pocket, and sliding the knife back into its sheath, promising myself I'd clean it later.
I had to get help. I was in trouble, and I couldn't fix it on my own.
I stumbled through the dark woods, slightly amazed that I'd come so far in my hunt of the werewolf. The Impala was parked outside the house of the latest victims. Reaching her, I fell against the hood, catching my breath and peering at my side.
"God…." I had lost even the will to curse. I pressed my hip against the car, using her as support, and slid around to the driver's side. I forced myself to pointedly ignore the fact that I was bleeding all over the seat.
I had a vague idea of where I was. It was too far from the little house, and who knew if Dad would be there, anyway. And I knew I needed to get this patched up quickly; doing it myself was not an option, apparently. There was only one place I could go.
I gripped the steering wheel tightly, finding the grooves worn by my father's fingers; I wanted to wipe the sweat from my eyes, but I was unable to move my other hand from my bleeding side.
The hot burn of the wound had faded to a trembling cold, and my teeth were chattering.
"Okay, th-that's n-not good," I muttered, blinking my eyes wide to focus them. I knew I should pull over, but I couldn't stop until I got there. It's the only home I'd ever known besides the one I was in.
I hastily rolled down the window, letting the cold night air wash over and through me, jolting me awake as my vision blurred. I straightened the swerving Impala, its wheels following my fading sight, and searched for the elusive road sign, the only marker that would alert me that I had to turn or I'd miss his house.
As is usually the case in my car, I'd left the radio on, but the music wasn't the distraction I needed. I couldn't focus on the lyrics, and the beat of my heart was drowning out the rhythm that I had so often used to calm my frayed nerves.
I wanted him to go, I reminded myself. Not because I didn't want him around, but because he'd needed it so badly. And his need was never something I could deny. And I'd fought with Dad for him to go. And I'd snuck around California checking on him. And I'd survived this long without him. What was one more hunt?
I groaned when I reached the house, seeing the darkened widows, the vacant signs of life. I didn't even need to get out of the car to know that he wasn't home. I thought furiously where I could go at this hour, in this condition, to find him. Like a light bulb illuminating a dark room, the realization of where he'd be left me dizzy, and I backed out of the drive, turning at the next road, searching for the haven. The lights of the chapel drew me in, and I ended up curbing the Impala as I slid to a stop.
Shutting off the engine, I sat for a moment to collect my breath. This was all I had left, the only refuge I knew. I laughed slightly at the thought, then sobered up quickly as I remembered my blood was spilling over my hand, down my jeans and onto the Impala's seat.
"Shit," I muttered, pushing the door open and staggering around the front, bouncing off the grill in my haste to get inside. Please be here, I found myself chanting silently. Just please…be here.
The door to the chapel was heavy, and I almost lost my grip but managed to push it open. It swung wide, slamming against the wall and echoing loudly through the empty sanctuary. He was standing at the pulpit, an arm in the air, mouth open, mid-lecture.
He looks older, I thought.
"I need your help," I said, my voice sounding strange in my ears.
He stumbled down from the altar, approaching me in a cautious, shocked gait.
"Dean? What…? Where's John?"
"On a hunt," I replied, my conscious self deciding once more to step away, leaving me feeling dizzy and light. I stumbled against one of the pews. The noise of wood scraping on wood was loud and startling. "I need your help."
Jim reached me, his eyes watering from surprise or wonder, I wasn't sure. His hands were warm and strong on my shaking shoulders. He scanned me quickly, taking in the dirt, the blood, the scratches and the bruises. His eyes widened when he saw my side, the gouge visible through my torn shirt.
"What the hell?" Jim exclaimed. I was always surprised to hear him swear, though I've heard it often enough.
"Werewolf," I explained. "It's dead. I need your help." I tried for more emphasis on the word help, needing him to realize this.
"Dean, sit down," he ordered, trying to turn me toward one of the pews.
"In a minute," I snapped, reaching a hand into my blood-soaked pocket.
"Where's Sam?" Jim asked.
I knew with absolute certainty in that moment that if he hadn't been holding me, I would have fallen.
"Oh, dear God, is he—" Jim choked.
"He left," I interrupted. It was the first time I'd said it out loud in a while. "He's at school. In California. He left us."
"He…left?" Jim repeated, shock plain in his eyes.
"I need your help," I said, my voice firm, my body betraying me. My legs seemed to vanish, and I slid down the side of the pew to the wooden floor, Jim following me, still gripping my arms.
I pulled the amulet from my pocket, holding it out to him.
"Werewolf spit burned through it," I said. "Just before I killed it. I can't put it back together."
"What?" Jim asked, taking the amulet from me, confused.
"It burned…the…." My vision wavered, like water sluicing across glass, and I forced my eyes wider. "The strap tore and it won't hold a knot. I think…I think because—"
"Of the werewolf saliva," Jim said.
Yes, I thought, my shoulders sagging a bit. Yes, thank you. Finally, someone to help.
"Let's get you taken care of first—" Jim tried, shooting his worried eyes to me.
"No!" I snapped. "I need. Your. HELP."
"Okay," Jim soothed. "Okay, Dean. I'll help. I promise."
"Fix it," I implored. I could barely get the words out. I was so cold, yet my side was burning. I pressed my hand carefully to the wound, the claw seeming to meld with my torn skin. "Please…."
It's everything, I wanted to say. It's all I have.
Jim looked at me, then cupped the back of my neck, easing me to the floor. I was finally able to take a breath, and I felt my body sink as if the floor were actually made of feathers and not wood. Jim removed his jacket and covered my shivering body.
"I'll be right back, Dean," he promised. "You stay here, okay?"
"Okay." I couldn't have moved if the church had been on fire.
Jim returned within minutes with another man, someone I didn't recognize.
"Where is it?" I demanded, ignoring the man.
"I have to replace the strap," Jim said. "Let's get you to—"
"No," I protested, pushing away the other man's hands. "Fix it first."
"God damn it," I growled, my lips curling in a feral expression. I felt the odd sensation of seeing myself from the outside and was impressed with the dangerous look on my face, even while the world was floating away.
"You're a stubborn son of bitch, boy," Jim replied. "I blame John for that."
"Blame whoever you want," I whispered, relaxing, knowing he would finally do as I asked. "Just fix the damn thing."
I faded a bit after that, the heat of my skin losing the war against the chill of my heart. I roused once, long enough to feel the weight of the amulet on my chest as comforting as the back of Sam's hand. I came aware long enough to ride the lightning of pain as Jim and his friend—who I later learned was another hunter seeking sanctuary in Jim's rectory—poured Holy Water on my side, cleansing the wound of all its poison.
I slept for a long time, waking only briefly to eat and use the bathroom. Jim hid me in the back room of the church, surrounded by religious charms and spells, and about four dozen different knives. The man was definitely a collector.
I woke one evening feeling stronger than I had in days. The disorienting fever had cooled enough that I was no longer seeing midgets in clown makeup surrounding my bed, and I was only moderately thirsty rather than begging Jim for water. I turned my head slowly, hearing the creak of the cot beneath me with the shift of my weight, and saw Jim sitting next to me, his gentle eyes waiting.
"Hey," I croaked.
"How long've I been here?"
"'Bout three days."
Shit, I thought. Dad's gonna be pissed.
"He hasn't called," Jim spoke up, freaking me out once more with his uncanny ability to follow my train of thought. "I don't think he knows."
I tried to shrug off the pang of disappointment in my heart, but my body resisted. I settled on a flicker of an eyebrow.
"Don't act like you don't care," Jim scoffed, leaning forward, his elbows braced on his knees. "I know you better than you think, Dean Winchester."
I hated it when he used my full name. Even when it was said with kindness, I felt as though I were being scolded. I flicked my eyes around his safe room. "Who's that dude that was with you?"
Jim sat back. "One of the…wayward."
I lifted an eyebrow at him. "You collecting hunters now, too?"
Jim shrugged. "I keep what needs keeping."
"You and your riddles."
"John shouldn't have let you fight that werewolf alone," Jim said, his voice hard.
"Hey," I bit off. "I can decide for myself what hunts I take. Dad wasn't back yet, and that wolf was working its way through that entire town."
"It was a two-man job, Dean."
"I did fine." I looked away, feeling my body start to shut down once more.
"He's never treated you boys as sons," Jim started.
I looked back at him, cutting through his bullshit with my eyes. "Stop it."
"Why?" Jim stood suddenly, worry and exhaustion turning him edgy. He stalked over to his display of knives and began to stroke the blades. "John taught you to be an amazing hunter, Dean. But…I'm afraid the only thing you learned about…love…was how to…survive the moment."
Love? I blinked, trying to focus on the surplus of words suddenly flowing around Jim. I never really thought about Dad…loving me. Love was a word women used. Love was a fantasy, a way to pin someone down. Love wasn't as important as duty, honor, loyalty, trust.
But then I thought of Sam.
And my chin shook.
"He needs to remember that you are, first and foremost, his son."
"He knows that," I protested.
Jim turned around. "Does he?"
"Just lay offa Dad," I mumbled, growing weary. "He does the best he can."
"Tell me, Dean." Jim approached the cot once more but didn't sit. "Did he let Sam go to school?"
"He's there, isn't he?"
"Yeah, but…how hard did you have to fight for that?"
I sighed. "Why does it matter?"
"I love your father, Dean," Jim said softly, surprising me. It was not a phrase I expected to hear. Ever. "And there are times when he amazes me with his knowledge and skill. But it's the one-on-one—with you, especially—where he could use some work."
I didn't respond, trying to come to grips with the idea that this man just said he loved my father. I haven't even said that. I felt more emotion for Dad and Sammy than anyone in the world. Is that what Jim meant? I was willing to lay down in traffic for them. I had fought for them, killed for them, bled for them—would do it all again in a heartbeat. Was that…love?
My mind was a mucky wash of memory and fact, trying to piece together a coherent path through the blurriness.
"Does Sam check in?"
"No," I said automatically, my weariness thinning my walls and causing me to forget to hide how much that mattered to me.
"But…John checks on him, right?"
"He does the best he can," I repeated, letting my eyes fall closed.
Jim said something else, but I didn't catch it all. I slipped into darkness, ready to forget the conversation, unable to let it go.
A week later, when I was finally strong enough to leave, though sooner than he wanted me to, Jim told me, "You always have a home here, Dean. All of you. Don't forget that."
"Remind your Dad."
"I will," I promised. "Thanks."
I shook his hand, feeling the slim bones beneath my strong grip. He'd aged, as I had. But time had worn him down like water on rock. Beating him and thinning him. He'd been a shelter from the storm of my life, but as I looked at him, I knew I wouldn't come back here again.
Jim saw too much and not enough when he looked at my family. He saw us as one of his wayward few, one of the lost that he could offer a beacon of hope. He didn't always see the raw truth in the connection that laced Sam, Dad, and me together: no matter how far we wandered from each other, no matter how much we tried to untangle it, that bond was always going to be there.
I released Jim's hand and tucked the amulet under the edge of my borrowed T-shirt. I was ready to head back to the little house, hoping to find Dad there waiting, looking to kick my ass for being late. And then…then I thought I'd maybe hunt up Sam.
"Sam's gonna be okay, Dean," Jim said, laying a hand on my arm. "Sometimes…you gotta let someone find their own way home."
"Yeah," I replied quietly.
But it never hurts to send them a map once in a while.
Story continues with John and Sam's POVs here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/88227.html