Author's Note: I just watched 90% of SPN in the last few months. If details are off, please leave a comment and let me know. That aside, I hope you enjoy. This is kinda dark, be forewarned, but the concept really interested me.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Pairings: Mary/John, Jess/Sam.

Summary: When Dean doesn't call him for a month, John doesn't think twice of it. It takes several more months of radio silence before John realizes something is wrong.

Warnings: Implied/referenced suicidal thoughts, some gore, John's general A+ (sarcastic) parenting, character death. No slash, no smut, no non-con, no incest. Language is all K.


"Oh, father tell me: Do we get what we deserve?

...And they will run you down, yeah, so you can't crawl no more,

...And way down we go."

-Way Down We Go, Kaleo.


Dad was always there for us when it mattered.


August Was A Long Time Ago:

When Dean doesn't call him for a month, John doesn't think twice of it.

Hunting is a busy lifestyle, he knows that from firsthand experience, and sometimes you don't have time to sit down and be social.

He could call, but John rarely initiates their talks first, not unless he needs backup, and a part of him doesn't want to. November is rolling around, and John has little desire to try and be civil.

He just downs another shot, and thinks about the bloody bones he's tracking, and how he's going to have to sit down and break it to the parents that their child is tethered to the beast, and is going to kill them if they aren't careful.

Hunting is rarely a delicate profession.

He just needs to figure out who the kid belongs to, then he can figure out who the monster is and stab it in the face. Something he'll do to the Demon first before killing it.

(He hates November.)

John holds the phone in his hand though, inside his truck, once he's left the bar. He feels irritable and spent, like he's reached the end of a very long rope. Stretched taut and hardly tied down. It's funny in a bitter way, because he's never been closer to finally pinning Mary's killer down, and he's never felt closer to giving up.

But Winchesters exist off of spite.

He looks at Dean's number, marked in his contacts as D.W. and wonders what it is his son has been hunting. Now that he's thinking about it, the last time he can honestly remember Dean making contact with him was in August to ask if he's ever run into a pack of black dogs. (John hadn't.) Not the longest they've gone without communicating, but something doesn't sit well with him.

John frowns, but closes the phone after some debate. If he calls, Dean will want to talk, and John doesn't want to talk. Not now. Not so close to November second.

Dean's fine. Growing a limb and actually figuring out the lore for himself and doing the brunt of the work for a change. Good. He taught his boys to be independent, and it's time that Dean finally started incorporating those lessons. Dean's always been fine, no matter the weight thrown at him. It's not like a few measly weeks is going to have somehow changed that.

He puts the phone down, and buries himself inside the hunt. A familiar, repetitive mindset that sometimes feels a little bit like a drug. But at least he doesn't have to think deeply when he's here.

It takes the better part of two days, but he learns the girl's name is Sadie. Her parents take the news about as well as any civilian does: shock, tears, and denial. Having broke the truth to well over hundreds now, John is a little less sympathetic than they probably deserve. But their daughter has been dead for months, and it's not like they haven't had time to adjust.

(John remembers, sitting in Missouri's living room, cup wrapped around a mug of coffee and trying not to panic as the psychic explained to him. It'd taken him days to adjust. Sometimes he doesn't feel like he ever really did.)

"You need to be careful," John explains, "this creature doesn't stop until the whole family's dead."

"Our daughter is a ghost," the mother breathes. She looks at her husband, as if staring at him long enough will make the world make sense again. "She's trying to kill us."

"This isn't Sadie," John explains, impatient. It's the third time he's said this. "You're doing her a favor by letting me put her spirit to rest."

The father hasn't said a word since John sat them down. John finds he doesn't really care.

"Oh, gosh," the mother moans. She puts her head in her hands. "What do we do?"

Sit still and play bait, John keeps to himself. Instead he says, "Just keep an eye out. Let me know if you see her again." He hands her his phone number. He feels weird, looking at the paper, and suddenly realizes that Sam doesn't have it. Sam has no way to contact him, even if he wanted to.

Dean should have called.

"Okay," the mother says. "Okay," she repeats, as if trying to compose herself.

"Good," John says. He gets up. He stares at the devastation he's left on their faces and feels a twinge of regret, but there's no other way to get this done, and it's not like they wont be better off knowing what's really out there. John is. An explanation for the crazy is always, always better.

How would he avenge Mary if he didn't? She deserves vengeance for being pinned up on the ceiling and burned to death for no other reason that Sam.

He turns away, and hears the father say very, very softly: "My child is dead."

The thick grief of his voice almost knocks John back a step. He feels his face break, twisting with...something, and he's glad that his back is to them. He forgot that they'd assumed she was missing at first. The mother pushed for a funeral, to have closure. The father kept seeing his daughter everywhere, which is why he's here in the first place.

The grief assaults him. I know this loss, John thinks.

Then he walks out the door.

Weirdly, Dean lingers on his mind. He hadn't seriously thought about him for weeks now. Assumed that if he needed help, he'd call. Dean's smart enough to know when to call for backup, John made sure of that.

So he doesn't know why he keeps thinking about how long it's been since August. He doesn't know why Dean's silence grates at him. Nothing is wrong. Maybe he'll call him when this hunt is over, just to appease this uncomfortable itch. Yes. Dean always picks up when he calls, and answers within a forty-eight hour period if he texts. It's a given in this world.

Mind settled, John lets himself relax into the hunt.

The bloody bones sends Sadie after her parents, as expected, and John manages to kill it. The mother doesn't make it, but John shrugs it off as best he can. (Drinks himself unconscious.) Accidents happen. Death isn't his favorite outcome, but it happens. He's been hunting for two decades. He knows that a little too well by now.

The father pulls a gun on him in the bar the next night, eyes thick with grief, then he shoots. John is unharmed, and chaos erupts.

John slips out the backdoor as the bartender deals with the mess. He doesn't think anyone notices as he leaves, and abruptly, that makes him feel a little strange. It's a good thing, obviously, being invisible, unmemorable, is a skill that's coveted in this line of work.

But it does make him wonder. How long would it take for someone to realize that he was truly, really missing?

Most hunters he's worked with he's either had a falling out with, or they're dead. Sam hasn't spoken to him in years. Maybe Adam, but he doubts it. He's spoken with the kid, taken him out a few times, but there's a wide chasm between them and an actual relationship. Dean would notice, of course, he reassures himself. Dean pays attention to those things.

He clambers into his truck, unable to see straight, and leaves the rugged town in the middle of backwater Utah behind him.

000o000

It's ten days later when John remembers he was going to call. November second has come and gone, and with it an annual plunge to the bottom of a bottle. And the ironic part is that it isn't like he really remembers. He's just reminded, in an offhanded comment that he was supposed to do that once the bloody bones case was wrapped up.

He's in a bar, sitting across from Gordan Walker. He's gruff around the edges, but a fine hunter in his own right. Walker is as old as Dean, but looks older. His eyes hold a swathe of shadows and self righteousness that is somewhat reassuring. Walker doesn't second guess himself. He doesn't question the morals of the hunt, like Sam used to. He just finds the thing and kills it.

John can't remember the last time he had a partner he could rely on so easily.

"So how is Dean doing?" Walker asks, once John is past his third shot. John nearly sputters the liquid all over the tabletop. Oh yeah, he thinks, almost distantly, I was going to call him. If Walker notices his surprise, he doesn't say anything, just nurses his glass slowly. "That's your son, right?"

John nods.

John's brought up Dean twice on the hunt, once when Walker asked if he had any family—and a part of him feels strange, but still cold and angry thinking about the fact that he didn't mention Sam—and the other time when they'd finished cleaning out a nest of vamps. My son would love this, he'd said. Dean's always been an adrenaline junkie.

Walker had given a smile to that, wiping blood off his machete. It didn't reach his eyes. Not much emotion does, as if Walker has been a walking corpse for a long, long time.

But John understands that. You don't get introduced to hunting by choice. It starts bloody and it ends that way. Dark weather, darker rainstorms.

John recovers himself. "He was doing fine last I heard from him. Hunting a couple of blackdogs in California." And, John adds softly to himself, probably checking up on his brother. John should swing by soon, he hasn't seen Sam since May. But Stanford is the epitome of normal and civi life; Sam likely hasn't run into any more serious trouble than a papercut since he ditched them.

"Huh," Walker intones, finger lingering on the rim of the glass. He gives John a look that suggests that he thinks John is an idiot.

John bristles a little, "What?" he asks, annoyed.

You should call Dean, a small voice in the back of his head insists for the hundredth time since Dean's radio silence occurred to him. It's the same voice that said he should swallow his pride and go talk to Sam after he left for Stanford. The same voice that insisted he pull out of hunting when Dean nearly lost an eye at twenty, or when he got a hundred and seven stitches from being thrown out a window when he was twelve. Same voice that said he should do something when Sam screamed at him that he wanted to die at seventeen.

You need to call Dean.

"Nothing. Well," Walker leans forward slightly, "Just that—last I'd heard, there was a surge of demon possessions in Sacramento and a Winchester was smack in the middle of it. Thought it was you, at first. You think it's Dean?"

Something tightens in his stomach. It takes him a second to realize it's dread.

"What?" John manages to get out. He thinks of Jim. "There's barely five demonic possessions per year, Walker. You must've gotten your information wrong."

Walker looks annoyed. "I don't get the wrong information, Winchester," he says flatly. "You heard of Ellen Harvelle?"

John's throat feels tight, thinking of that fatal gunshot. "Yeah."

Walker doesn't add anything to that. As if the mere mention of Ellen's name is enough, and it is. Abruptly, he wonders how Jo is doing. She'd be what? Twenty-three, twenty-four now? "You think that your boy is working the demon cases? I'm about to head west myself to see what's what."

August was a long time ago.

Ever since Dean started hunting alone (since you left, that small voice corrects), he's barely stayed in once place for longer than three weeks. And besides that, Dean would've called him if he was hunting demons. Dean's rarely hunted demons before. He wouldn't know what to do. John would have. He's spent too much time peddling after the Demon not to.

"I doubt it," John says, even though something in him insists otherwise. "Dean's good, but demons aren't his specialty."

Walker gives another one of his cold, empty smiles. "Well, hunting forces us to adapt, doesn't it?"

John thinks about that for a while, after Walker has left. He thinks about dragging his boys all across the country, from school to school, motel to motel, crappy house to shelter in the car. It's not the life he wanted for them. Or the life Mary did, when they'd stay up late at night when she was pregnant with Dean and talk about the life they were going to give their kids.

I don't want them to live in violence, Mary had said, very quietly, as if she knew something he didn't at the time. I want them safe.

John had kissed her on the forehead. He thought about the gun he kept in the bedside drawer, and the skills he honed in the military. They have us, he'd answered, they'll be safe. What else are they going to need?

Walker's got a point, even as much as John doesn't want to admit it. Hunting does force them to adapt.

He thinks about the failed college funds for the first time in years, and feels his hand tighten around the glass. Even if it's not the life he and Mary wanted for them, but at least it's the life that kept them alive.

(I want to die! Sam had screamed, voice brittle and broken. You'll get caught in the crossfire, John had said, before Dean nearly lost his eye. Dean had stared at him with genuine confusement then said, And?)

000o000

John begins to look into the possessions in Sacramento the next day. He finds the evidence that Walker was right about the demons, but no mention of Dean, and feels grim. He wonders what he'd have done if he'd actually picked up that case in California. It looked like a Woman in White. Would he have known about the demon sightings?

On November tenth, John finally breaks down and calls Dean's number. The tone dials, and John hears Dean's voicemail play. This is Special Agent Dean Garrison. Leave a detailed message. Abruptly, John feels annoyed. Dean can't even bother to pick up?

"Dean, it's Dad. Call me when you get this." John says. He slaps the phone shut and sets it down next to his journal. He can't focus, though, because his eyes keep drifting up to the phone, waiting. Irritated, John stuffs the phone into his pocket and grabs the book on demons he stole from a local library.

Dean doesn't call him back. John leaves another message the next day, and the three following. All on different phones. When he's exhausted the five known numbers John is aware of, John realizes that Dean isn't going to call him. For the first time since that day in October, John allows himself to worry slightly. Dean doesn't do this. Radio silence has never been a habit of his.

So where is he?

John sets the phone down and runs a hand through his hair, trying to keep his breathing calm and steady. People who panic in emergencies are the ones who die, and John has long since learned how to keep a clear head above any worry.

Okay. The last time he had a confirmed location from Dean was in August. Dean made a habit of calling on a mostly bi-weekly basis beforehand (and why did it take him months to realize that somewhat was wrong?), which means that if something went wrong, it was probably in August. That was a long time ago.

Weeks.

Months.

Curses.

If Dean was in trouble, why didn't he pick up a freakin' phone and call him for assistance? And you'd have picked up? Reliable like always? He shakes the thoughts off. They aren't helping. Sacramento for a couple of black dogs. Sacramento, which is in the middle of a surge in demon possessions for some reason.

What if…?

What if…?

John throws the demon book onto his dufflebag. California it is.

000o000

John arrives twenty-two hours later. Longer than he'd have liked, but coffee only did so much and he's not going to help anyone if he's dead.

He checks into a motel, and then goes to the library to start searching. He finds the evidence of Dean's last case, and the confirmation that the "wild animal attacks" had suddenly stopped. The article is dated August twenty-second, which sort of gives him a date. He picks his way through the general news of the last few months, looking for anything that would have kept Dean in Sacramento long enough to get caught up in the demon mess.

The possessions didn't surge until the end of September. He can't find any reason for Dean to have stayed in California (except Stanford), and that means that his son could be on the east coast by now, safely hustling pool and flirting. The silent, unanswered phone calls suggest otherwise.

John releases a breath of frustration.

Where are you? He wonders. He calls Dean's number again, and receives the same answer he's gotten for the better part of a week.

John thinks of Stanford, and considers checking up on Sam. He decides this is more pressing. Sam can wait.

000o000

The unfortunate part of teaching his sons to cover their tracks is that when they cover their tracks, they cover their tracks. Trying to hunt down Dean is like finding a needle in a pile of needles. He manages to pick up a weak, thin trail and follows it out of Sacramento to Washington where it goes flat.

He feels a rush of incredulous frustration that Dean is much better at this than he gave him credit for. Even with the Impala being a recognizable car, it's like Dean doesn't exist. Drops down from wherever he's floating to work a case, then vanishes again. John taught him how to do most of it, and he should probably be proud that Dean's excelled so well.

He just feels frustrated, and, if he's being honest with himself, a little helpless.

C'mon, Dean, he pleads softly, tell me where you are.

He puts a hunter APB out on the Impala, then files a police report, and drops a dime to the FBI. Dean can be pissed at him later if it means he's alive. He calls what contacts will pick up, asking if they've heard from Dean, and receives a negative from all of them.

"Why?" Jim asks.

John feels frozen. "I," he says, and feels ridiculous. "I haven't heard from him since August, and I can't get a hold of him."

Jim is quiet for a moment. He can practically see the man's disapproving stare boring down on him. "It's November, John," he says very calmly. Too calm. John winces slightly, closing his eyes.

"I know."

"You just started looking now?" Jim asks, in that same tone.

"I didn't know." John protests, angry. "How was I supposed to know that the stubborn idiot would need assistance? If he needs help, he's supposed to call me."

"Of course," Jim's tone is slightly bitter. "Because it's your son's job to keep in contact with you." John makes a noise, but Jim is unrepentant. "I'll ask around. I'll call if I've heard something. You might want to call Ellen or Bobby. They have more contacts than I do."

The thought makes his stomach squirm uncomfortably. The thought of talking to either of them isn't a comforting one.

Jim hangs up. John holds the phone in his hands, and, like a dog with a bone, calls Dean's number again. There's no different answer, not like he was expecting one at this point.

It's November twenty-ninth when Caleb finds the Impala. It's in Palo Alto. Somehow, that surprises him and it doesn't. According to Caleb, it "looks like crap, I think it got hit by a truck." And that doesn't feel him with much confidence. The most recent receipt Caleb finds is from October third.

John, still in Washington, clambers back into his car and makes the drive back to California.

It shouldn't surprise him that Dean managed to go from Washington back to California without leaving a trace, but it does. There's a sick, tired pride that settles somewhere deep inside him at this. It's as he's crossing the Oregon border that John realizes he should probably tell Sam his brother is missing.

But is he going to care? A snide voice asks in the back of his mind, it's not like Sam's shown a great deal of concern for this family anyway. Not like he's tried to talk to us since he left.

John decides against it. And it's not that he's uncomfortable with the prospect of talking to Sam. It's not. Obviously, he'd put Dean above that. Above everything.

And that's why you haven't called Ellen or Bobby yet? That soft, sickly voice asks.

000o000

John arrives in Palo Alto on November thirtieth. He meets Caleb at the Impala. It's stuffed in the back of an old parking garage, like someone was making an attempt to hide it, but obviously with the intent to return. The tires are flat and the frame is bent. The mechanic in him grimaces at the sight. It's totaled. Have to be built from the ground up if there's any hope at all.

He feels a weird sense of loss at the sight of the broken vehicle, like it was a family member.

But it's just a car.

He rests a hand down on the trunk, and it bounces a little. The lock is meaningless now, and he pushes it open without much resistance. "Already checked, but I can't tell what's missing," Caleb says behind him.

John would have, at one point, but the Impala hasn't been his since Dean was eighteen.

He pulls it open anyway, and opens the false bottom. There's a few straps and holsters missing bulk. Maybe a gun and a knife at minimum. He digs around for a moment, frowning. There's an empty milk gallon sitting in the far left corner, filled halfway with water. There's a necklace with a cross pendant sitting at the bottom. Holy water.

John's stomach twists. Just because there's holy water doesn't mean that Dean was wrestling with demons. John pushes around and finds a handful of tattered papers. It's all in Latin, which John has always struggled with reading. He can speak it just fine, but he made sure that Dean and Sam didn't have that problem.

But these are clearly exorcisms.

John closes his eyes for a moment, breathing out slowly. It's fine. Dean is twenty-six. (Only twenty-six.) He can take care of himself. He's probably fine. Because Dean's never not bounced back from something, and he's never not been fine. (But he's also never disappeared for months on end.)

John digs around in the front, and finds four phones on the last dregs of battery life. One has already given up the ghost. There's missed calls and unanswered texts, but none of the messages are about anything other than hunting.

There are messages from Bobby. Demands for Dean to call him. The last one is dated October thirteenth. The last call logged is November third. John feels a twist of something in his gut, looking at those. The last answer from Dean was October second, but is clearly a discussion about demons. And, weirdly, Sam.

Bobby asking how Sam is.

Dean answering cryptically.

There's a brief discussion over Sam's safety, when Dean finds a demon just outside Stanford, and then Dean answering that he'll take care of it. That's it. The last message that Dean sent is a simple I'll take care of it, and then nothing. Just a few unanswered texts, and unanswered phone calls. October second is a long time away from November tenth, when John called.

John looks up at Caleb. "Did you know that Dean found a demon in Palo Alto?" he demands.

Caleb's brow furrows, but he looks a little impressed. "He did?"

John lifts up the phone, "You didn't look at any of these?"

"No," Caleb answers, "didn't see them."

John feels some unease at that. The phone with this information was just sitting on the front seat, almost as if it was waiting for him.

000o000

It's December sixth when John finds evidence of Yellow Eyes in Palo Alto.

It's exactly half an hour later when John arrives outside of Sam's apartment building. Or, what's supposed to be Sam's apartment building. It's covered in old crime scene tape and a complete mess of burn marks and ash that's in the process of being cleaned up, like whatever accident that happened was weeks ago. John feels a deep seated panic settle in his stomach standing in the doorway.

The ceiling is missing in what was a bedroom.

Oh God, John prays to the being he doesn't believe in, please no.

The apartment has been stripped of what meager possessions survived the inferno, but John finds a small photo tucked underneath the bed, next to the headboard, like it dropped and was forgotten about. It's burned at one corner, but mostly intact. It's of Sam and a young, blonde woman. They're standing in front of Stanford, both holding Associate degrees. The woman's tongue is sticking out, and making moose horns on Sam while his youngest makes bunny ears over the girl's ears. Sam is laughing.

John can't remember the last time he saw Sam look that happy.

He tucks the photo inside his coat pocket, and realizes with a pang that he doesn't have any photos of Dean since he hit his twenties. People take photos of things they're afraid of losing, Mary told him once, and snapped a photo of him with a wide, earnest smile. Her eyes were haunted. Sometimes John thinks there's a side to his wife he didn't know about.

I am afraid of losing them, John thinks, desperate, wild, so why don't I have any photos of them since before Dean ended up in juvy at sixteen?

Jessica, John remembers suddenly. Sam's girlfriend's name is Jessica Moore. He ran a background check on her when he dropped by twice and realized it was the same girl. She was born in Idaho, got a full ride to Stanford for an art degree. Her birth father lost custody of her when she was seven, and her mother remarried when she was fifteen.

Where is she? Where is Sam? Sam was supposed to be at Stanford, away from the family he left, learning whatever stupid bit of education he wanted so desperately.

John leaves the burned apartment and asks around until he finds someone who was there that night. His name is Brady. He's blond and a little tipsy, but smiles wide at John. "Oh yeah, it was terrible, man," Brady says, shaking his head slightly, "an electrical shortage one night, whole things went up in flames."

They said Mary's death was an electrical shortage, too.

"When?" John demands.

"Um," Brady frowns, "beginning of November."

"Any causalities?" John asks, dreading the answer.

"Yeah. A few." Brady says, his expression cracks, as if he's trying to feel remorse but can't quite reach it. It's not authentic, and John feels suddenly apprehensive. "It was awful, I tell you, I'm still so broken up about it. My best friend, and he—"

"Christo." John says.

Brady stills, but doesn't flinch. Not that John expected him to. That only works on low-level demons, which, in general, don't walk out of hell that much. John pulls out the holy water flask he's been carrying on him since he arrived in Palo Alto and splashes Brady in the face. Brady's face smokes and he howls, scrambling away.

John feels himself crack.

000o000

"Where are my sons?" John demands, spilling water onto Brady's lap. The demon screeches, and pants, looking at him with contempt and so, so much glee.

When he can talk, Brady says, "We expected far more from you, John Winchester. But it took you months to even notice."

John sees Caleb glance at him from where he's perched on a wobbly table in the warehouse they found. "What's that supposed to mean?" John demands, leaning in. "Where are my sons?"

Brady licks chapped lips and smiles cheerfully. He leans forward as well, clearly unintimidated. "You know, I didn't peg Dean as a screamer, but," he sighs, "get that boy going and he's got a set of lungs."

John feels sick.

"What did you do?" Caleb asks. He sounds furious. "Where is Dean, you ugly freak?"

Brady frowns, looking down at himself. "Well, I wouldn't say that this meatsuit is exactly ugly, per se, but it's been a while since I was topside. You—"

John punches him across the face. He dumps a waterbottle of holy water on top of his head and Brady shudders and screeches, his skin burning. John spares a thought for the vessel, but realizes he doesn't care. John wonders when torture stopped bothering him. "Where are my children?"

Brady only gives him a crooked smile, spitting dribbling blood on the floor. He asks in a tone that's almost careless, "You want to know what Sam smelled like when we burned him?"

Horror wraps around his throat.

No, no, no—

Brady leans back, "Thought not. You gonna send me back to hell, or are we going to go in more circles?"

000o000

John finds the paper a few days later. FIRE IN STANFORD UNIVERSITY DORMITORIES. FOUR CAUSALITIES. The names are listed there, and John follows them down with dread.

Natasha Rushman, Peter Johnson, Li Cheng, and Sam Winchester.

John thinks about the burned-out ceiling in Sam's apartment.

He thinks of Mary up on the ceiling, bloody and charred. Then he thinks about Sam pinned up on the ceiling like a mutilated butterfly before the flame swallows him.

John barely makes it to the bathroom before he throws up.

Then he sits next to the toilet lid and tries to let himself cry, but his eyes remain dry.

(My child is dead, he thinks of Sadie's father saying, voice brittle and broken. My child is dead. Dead, dead, dead…)

000o000

John calls Bobby a few hours later. He doesn't even give the man time to make a greeting or shout at him. He's surprised Bobby picked up at all, if he's being honest. His voice is raw and his eyes ache. He feels a little dead.

What, John wonders, is he going to tell Dean?

If he finds him.

The demons had him.

"Sam's dead." John says when the connection has been made. "Demons burned him on the ceiling, Bobby."

Bobby is quiet for a moment. John expected a reaction, at least. Bobby was, at one point, uncle Bobby. Bobby's voice, when he speaks, is careful, but thick, like he's been drinking. "I know, John."

John's hand tightens on the phone. He feels a surge of anger. "For how long?"

"Burned on November second," Bobby says, like he's discussing details of a case, and not John's son. "Heard about it on the third." John thinks about the last time Bobby called Dean's phone, on the third.

"And you didn't think to call me!?" John shouts. "My son has been dead for more than two weeks, and you didn't even bother to call and let me know!?"

"What, with you being so reliable and all, you idjit!?" Bobby demands, equally infuriated. "You don't know half of what went on these last few months! Those boys went through hell, John, and you were out gettin' drunk and pretending you didn't have a family to take care of!"

The words hit him like a physical blow. "They're adults," he defends. He feels the bottle he drained, and reaches for more.

(Sam burned on the ceiling. Sam's dead. Dead, dead, dead.)

"And you were their father." Bobby says.

John's jaw grits, and the words register. "Singer," he says, tight, "what do you mean were? Where's Dean? Don't—don't tell me that he—he—"

"Balls, Winchester!" Bobby spits, "Here I thought you were just keepin' distance because you were grieving, but you don't even know!?"

"Know what!? I've been looking for Dean for weeks, Bobby, so tell me where my son is, or God help me—"

"Blown out dust particles, that's where. Gave 'im a hunter's funeral outback." John feels frozen. His limbs won't move. He thinks that the entire world has just crashed. Bobby's voice is marginally softer, "He died on October thirty-first, John."

He can't breathe.

(My child is dead.)

"What...what happened?" he croaks. Why didn't they come to me? "Do you know?"

"Not as much as I'd like to. You want the full story, I'd reckon you talk to Jessica. Sam's girlfriend, if you don't know. She's with her folks up in Idaho. But what I do know is this: Dean was kidnapped by demons late August. When he escaped in October, they tried to kill 'im by a hit and run a few days after he called me. Dean showed up on Sam's doorstep after that. Jessica got herself possessed, and when they finished the exorcism, they clambered in a bus and took themselves across the country. Showed up on my doorstep at the end of October, with a gun that can kill a demon."

The Colt. They had the freakin' Colt?

"Do you still have it?" John asks, desperate.

"I do," Bobby says levelly. "Yellow Eyes showed up at my front door and slit Dean's throat. Made Sam watch. Said he'd save him if Sam agreed to go with him. Sam did, but Dean died anyway. I assume they went back to Palo Alto, and Sam said something that disagreed with the Demon. He burned Sam on the ceiling as recompense. I sent Jessica home after we learned what happened to him."

John feels sick. And angry.

So, so angry.

(My child is dead.)

"I see." John says, tone even.

"No, John," Bobby's voice is hard, "you really, really don't, you never have."

000o000

It's December twentieth. He feels cold. Hollow inside.

John knocks on the Moore's front door. An older woman opens it, and looks him up and down once, then says flatly, "Christo."

John feels a surge of irritation. "I'm not a demon." He says. "I need to talk to Jessica."

The woman stares at him a moment. "John Winchester?"

He nods.

"Okay." The woman says, and shuts the door in his face.

000o000

John finds Jessica a few days later, out back on the family farm. They grow and breed horses, which isn't something that John knew about until he got here. John wonders if Sam liked horses. He doesn't know. He doesn't know a lot about Sam. Or Dean, for that matter.

He wonders what their hopes and dreams were for the future, because he doesn't know. He can't remember ever asking. Which might be why he was so taken aback when Sam said he was leaving. Maybe Dean didn't have any, anymore. They all rotted up when John shoved Sam into his four-year-old arms.

Maybe when John handed Dean a gun at six.

"Jessica," John says.

Jessica turns away from a gray horse that probably has an official name, but John doesn't know it. Jessica's eyes are red, and when she looks at him, her expression switches from broken to infuriated. "You…" she says and then slugs him across the face.

John's head swings to the side. Left handed. He didn't expect that.

He looks up at her, jaw gritted. Angry. "What the—!?" he demands.

"Get out." Jessica demands, her tone icy and cold. There's none of the warmth in her gaze that John saw in the photo. "Get off this property before I shoot you."

"Jessica," he keeps his voice level. "I'm not here to hurt you. I want to know about my sons. I want to know…" he breathes out. "I want to know about what happened. Where the Demon got them, so I can stick it full of bullets."

Jessica stares at him, almost as if she's incredulous. She opens her mouth once, then closes it. "Are you serious?" she asks, voice steady. It strikes John as strange, that her eyes can scream with so much rage, but her tone is so calm. It reminds John a little of Sam. "Are you really, honest to God—"

Jessica takes another swing at him, but John leans out of the way this time. "I HATE YOU!" Jessica screams, moving in again, fists swinging. "I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! Your children are dead! My boyfriend is DEAD! And your biggest concern is killing the thing!? Are you even upset!?"

"Of course I'm—what kind of question is that!?"

Jessica stops, leaning back, breathing out hard. Her expression is deadly. "The question I have to ask, because of who you are."

What?

"How—I was a good father! I loved them! The only reason I'm going after this demons is for them!"

"No, it's not," Jessica's jaw is taut, fists balled. A storm hiding beneath skin. The horse swings its head in agitation behind them. "You're doing it for you."

"How dare you—" John gets in close to her, "I loved them."

Jessica scoffs. She doesn't seem phased by him, which he thinks is ridiculous. She might be tall, but she's thin as a reed and about as intimidating as one. Her punch ached, but not the way anything supernatural would have.

Jessica's voice is venomous. "If you loved them, you would have put them first. You would have settled down, and given them a stable life instead of forcing Dean to do your freakin' job. You would have protected them from the hunting life instead of throwing them in it, and actually cared the Sam was suicidal. You wouldn't have raised them in a cult for your dead wife. I don't know what you think you feel for them, John Winchester, but it wasn't love. Love puts others first. Love would have saved them."

John stares at her. Something is sinking in his chest, but her words are coming from nowhere. "You knew my son for what? Eighteen months? I raised those boys, you don't know a thing about them."

Jessica smiles. It looks like she's baring teeth. "I don't think you do." She says. "You want to know how I know that?"

John's jaw shifts.

Jess leans in close. He can see a wildness in her eyes. "Because Dean went missing in August, and it's almost January. Because when Dean showed up on our doorstep, bloody and broken, he begged us not to call you. Because when we trekked across the country, neither of your sons seriously considered that you would help them instead of yell. Because they've both been dead for more than a month, and you're only approaching me now."

The words are a low blow.

He loved his sons. He did. How dare she imply that he just—!?

"Go to hell," Jessica spits, grabbing at the fence. There are tears in her eyes, she looks like she's trying not to break. "I'm not going to talk to you."

He recovers himself, somewhat. Still rattled, and his pride stinging, but he needs the information. He grabs her arm when she turns away from him, "I need to know about—"

A small blade, silver, he notes, and the slight curve labels it as Dean's in his head, appears in her hand and presses up against his throat. "Get. Off. The. Property." She snarls. "I was possessed by a Prince of Hell. You don't want to know the things I know how to do now. And if you don't get away, you're going to get a front row seat."

John releases her arm. He only has a vague idea of what a Prince of Hell is, but he's not going to take it lightly.

Jessica looks feral.

John's never there to deal with fallout. He wonders if everyone possessed has something this violent left behind. Maybe Jessica has always been a little dark, but he can't get the image of her and Sam holding their Associates', happy. This isn't the same woman. She really will kill him.

John leaves, feeling bitter and angry.

(But maybe, a voice suggests, she's not wrong.)

000o000

He goes to South Dakota and gets the Colt from Bobby. The man stares at him for a long, hard moment when he demands the gun on his doorstep, but gives it to him.

"Don't come back." Bobby warns.

"I've gotta kill this thing." John answers.

"No," Bobby says, "you don't."

Then he shuts the door.

000o000

John finds Yellow Eyes.

He's gloating and laughing inside the devil's trap and says, "I did warn you to back off, you know. Way back in June. You just kept pushing, so something drastic had to happen. I took your boy. And I'd planned on waiting for you to make contact, but I'd had no idea I'd have to wait so long." He smirks, "By the time we were done with him, it was just far more rewarding watching you chase your tail. Once you realized you needed to chase it, that is. For those boys being your only weak spot, you weren't concerned with keeping track of them, were you?"

John feels tense.

Yellow Eyes smiles slightly. "I guess I shouldn't have worried as much, huh? If it takes you this long to find dead family..."

John shoots him between the eyes. He doesn't feel any relief. He doesn't feel anything at all.

000o000

John collapses next to the Impala with a bottle of jack. For a long time, he just sits there. Thinking. The sun sets in the distance, bathing him in the dark. He takes a swig from the bottle occasionally, but the alcohol doesn't bring any of the relief it normally would.

(My child is dead.)

It takes him a moment to realize that his breath has steamed out, and even longer to realize the drop in temperature.

His hand curls around his .45, but a part of him just wants to let it come. He looks up and startles at the figures, barely daring to breathe, let alone move. He fears he'll blink and he'll lose sight of them, or they'll change.

"Hey, Dad," Sam whispers. Dean stands next to him, and gives a grim smile. He stares at both of them, drinking in the sight even as much as it hurts. Spirits look like how they did when they died, and his boys are no different.

Sam's skin is charred and covered in burns. He's weeping blood from his stomach, legs, and face. Eyes are heavy and wary. He barely looks recognizable as a human, let alone his child.

Dean is covered in cuts and bruises. One leg is bent out of shape, three fingers and his left eye are missing. His throat is slit, and dried blood clings to his open shirt. John remembers Brady's words about how Dean screamed and feels breathless.

He has to clear his throat, "Hey, boys." There's so many things he wants to say. So many he should. All he asks is, "What are you doing here?" Dean was given a hunter's funeral. Sam burned alive. They should be in heaven, with their mother.

Sam looks a little disappointed. His form flickers, and it reminds John that they're dead.

Dean gives his brother a look. Sam's lips part with what looks like some effort. "Someone's gotta take care of Dean's baby." He says, and rolls his eyes a little when his brother elbows him, but he looks so tired. "We're not...stuck or anything. When we're ready to move on, we will."

Somehow, that doesn't reassure him.

"Boys," he says. Croaks. "God knows how sorry I am. I can't believe that I…"

August was a long time ago. (My child is dead.)

"It's okay." Sam says, even though it's not. "Just...take care of yourself, alright, Dad? You can stop now."

Stop what? Hunting?

"There's always something else out there," he tries to explain. He's not drunk enough to be talking about emotions. Dean smiles gently. That hurts more than anything. "I failed you both. I'm sorry." He says.

Sam doesn't say anything to fight against it, even if a part of John was selfishly hoping he would. After all Jessica dumped on him, he'd wanted reassurance. He doesn't get it.

Dean gives him a two fingered salute. Sam gives him a pained smile. They flicker out.

That's the last time John sees them both.

000o000

It's well over twenty years after when John starts hearing about the phantom car that travels down Route 66. "A '67 Chevy Impala," his neighbor explains, "with two boys driving the thing down the road like they've got nothing else to do. Thing's a freakin' ghost, Johnny, but at least they just seem content to drive."


A/N: I just joined Tumblr. Come talk to me while I decide how to fill this blog at (blog/GalaxyThreads). :)