The Demon Within
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine, the show is not mine, the Impala is not mine. Boy this is depressing.
A/N: This was written in response to the challenge on PL Wynter's forum: What happens when the case is more normal than paranormal. (Don't let the title fool you.) Just a warning, the story is a little dark.
Sam eyed his brother apprehensively over the roof of the Impala. A garbled – almost panicked – call from their father had resulted in an eight hour drive to the Sleep-Well Motel, just outside of Lawrence, Kansas. Dean had been quiet and tense throughout the trip, but had broken the silence long enough to tell Sam in a monotone that their dad had caught up with the demon that their whole lives had been dedicated to finding. His very lack of emotion, coupled with his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, showed Sam that Dean was just as shaken by the call as he was.
Meeting his eyes, Dean moved around to the back of the car and opened the trunk. "He said they're in room 13."
Sam clutched their father's journal in his hand as Dean pulled the customary bag of weapons from the trunk. "Did he say what we'll need?" he asked, trying to keep his voice as business-like as his brother's.
"No. He sounded freaked out and he hung up before I could ask anything."
Sam nodded, but couldn't come up with a response. Their father was nothing if not calm in the face of danger, and the fact that he had been panicky on the phone didn't sit well.
As Dean slammed the trunk of the car, they heard a low, howling scream rising from the nearby room. Sam felt the hair on the back of his neck stand at attention, but he followed at Dean's heels as he ran to the door, stuffing the journal into a coat pocket to free his hands for the shotgun his brother shoved at him.
Dean kicked in the door and they burst in, covering opposite sides of the room. Neither was prepared for the sight that greeted them.
John Winchester was seated on the floor in the middle of the room with one arm handcuffed to a table leg. His face and arms were covered with wounds, and a bloody knife was on the floor not far from him. His eyes were wide, darting around the room uncontrollably. Sam froze, staring at his father, but Dean's voice, harsh in his ear, brought his focus back.
"Check under the beds, Sammy." Dean moved quickly across the room to the bathroom, emerging seconds later. "Clear."
Sam nodded. "Nothing under the beds." He closed the door as Dean set their bag on the nearest bed and rifled through it. He tossed the salt to his brother, and Sam applied a line across the doorway.
"You boys are good," John said, giggling and manic. "I taught you that. My good, good boys." He sighed and was silent again, a satisfied smile on his face, but his eyes continued to roll back and forth, trying to look everywhere at once.
Sam glanced at Dean for reassurance – that giggle had been just too weird – but Dean was staring at their father with a confused look on his face. Sam gave him a minute, struggling himself to reconcile this strange behavior with any past experience with their father. When Dean still couldn't find his voice, Sam turned back to their father.
"Dad, where is it? What happened to the demon?"
John's smile widened. "It's right here," he answered, gesturing expansively at himself.
Sam registered Dean's surprise from the corner of his eye, but kept his attention focused on their father. Swallowing hard, Sam tried again. "What are you talking about? What happened here?"
John began to tell his story in fragments, his voice low and halting. "After all this time I finally found out what killed your mother. Found the demon. It was hiding all along. Hiding inside me. That's why I could never catch up." John's voice shook, but gained volume as he began to rant. "Running after it, it was always right here inside. Hiding with me wrapped around it. A demon wrap." He giggled again. "I'd like the demon wrap, waiter." His eyes narrowed and he scowled suddenly. "Must have sensed it though. That's why I had to leave. I knew. Even though I didn't know. Couldn't let it get my good boys. Not Dean, so much like Mary even though he hides it. Not Sammy, my poor angry little Sammy. Never knew his mom. Had to run far, far away."
John's expression lightened a little as he lunged and grabbed the knife off the floor. Both of his sons were frozen in place, staring at him in disbelief and horror. "Tried to cut it out," he told them, raising his shirt to poke the blade into a nasty gash in his abdomen. "Didn't work," he shook his head gravely. "Tried to bleed it out." He ran the knife across his arm, adding another wound.
Sam discovered that there were tears running down his face, and swiped at them with his hand. He heard a choked whimper, and the realization that it had come from his brother, still frozen in shock, galvanized him into action. He crossed the room to his father's side and, laying his shotgun just out of reach, seized John's wrist firmly, taking the knife away.
"Dad, stop it!" he implored. "You know that's not the way."
Sam tried reflexively to pull away as his father wrapped a bloody hand around his arm and studied his face searchingly.
Dean shook himself free of his paralysis and crouched on the other side of their father, muttering, "Christo."
Sam met his brother's eyes and shook his head, fighting despair. There was no reaction; no demon here – only madness. Something had pushed their father over the edge, and he wasn't sure what they could do to get him back. It took all of his control not to pummel Dean with questions – he knew that Dean wouldn't have any more answers than he did, but the first instinct was to turn to his brother.
John saw the look they exchanged and realization dawned on his face. "No, it's here," he insisted. "You cheated! You snuck up!" He looked at his older son reproachfully. "Do it again! You'll see!"
Dean shook his head, backing away slightly. His eyes were wide, pain and revulsion etched on his face.
"Watch! I'll do it. Christo!" John shouted. He shook his body and howled, rattling the handcuffs as he lunged at Dean. He howled again and gnashed his teeth, saliva dribbling down his chin.
Sam averted his eyes, unable to watch any more. "Dad, you're sick. You need help." He tried to pull his arm free, but his father's grip, fueled by his madness, was like steel.
John shook him violently before pushing him away. "I called for help, but you're not helping. You've always been a sniveling whiner, Sammy," he spat, "but I expected better from your brother. What happened? Did you turn him against me?" John's eyes, rolling back and forth between them, seemed to be all whites, and Sam shivered involuntarily, moving further back.
John fell back against the table leg, breathing heavily, and Sam found himself wishing for the father that he had resented all through his teenage years. No, that John Winchester would not have had any kind words for his sons, but he had always been a solid rock to fall back on and he would certainly know what to do in a situation like this. Sam caught his brother's eye and was unable to hide the pleading and uncertainty in his own. He reverted back to his childhood ways without thought – if Dad wasn't available, Dean could fix anything.
Dean recognized the look and responded to it automatically, without thought. "Come on, Dad," he said, his voice surprisingly steady, "we're going to get you cleaned up and get you some help." He half-rose, reaching out toward John.
John shook his head, trying to move away. Sam forced himself back to the other side, reaching out to grab his father's arm. John bared his teeth at them and growled. When he moved, it was quickly and without warning.
Grabbing the handcuff chain, he pulled and jerked the leg off the table, swinging it at Sam. It connected solidly with his shoulder, knocking him to the floor. Undoubtedly his insanity made him quicker and stronger than usual, and he lashed out with his foot, catching Dean in the chest and pushing him away. Before either of them could recover, John had a shotgun in his hands.
Sam fought the impulse to move closer to his brother. Instead he slowly inched in the opposite direction. If they could split John's attention, maybe they could distract him and regain control.
John seemed to recognize the intent and rushed at Sam, pushing him against the wall and shoving the shotgun up under his chin. "I know what happened," he told his son, eyes narrowing. "I got the blood on you. It contaminated your mind." He seemed almost regretful as he shook his head. "I've destroyed you, too."
Sam held his breath and closed his eyes, turning his face away as he waited for the shot. His eyes flew open when, instead of the shotgun, he heard his brother's voice.
"Dad, please," Dean begged. "You know this is wrong." He had pulled a 9mm from their bag and held it leveled at their father. Sam could see the fear clearly in his brother's eyes as Dean inched closer to them.
"Uh-uh." John shook his head and shoved the shotgun higher, forcing Sam's head back. "You stay over there." His expression was almost loving. "Don't want to contaminate you too."
Dean froze, but didn't lower the gun. "You know I'm not going to let you hurt Sam." Sam felt a rush of pride and love for his brother. Dean was obviously shaken and scared, but his voice was strong, and the gun didn't waver.
John half-turned to look at his older son, but maintained the pressure of the shotgun at Sam's throat. "Dean," he asked conversationally, "why do you always have to be such a disappointment?"
Dean gasped at the words and shook his head in denial, but the pistol remained steady in his hands. "Dad, don't. Just let Sammy go."
Sam tried to push himself closer to the wall to relieve the pressure of the gun against his throat. He couldn't breathe, couldn't speak. Most importantly, he couldn't free himself to prevent his brother from having to make a terrible choice. Sam knew that if he didn't find a way to turn the tables Dean would have to shoot their father. After all their time on the road together, he felt a certainty – that he had never laid claim to before – that Dean would choose his life over their father's. He was ashamed that this was something that he hadn't recognized earlier, and he was determined to protect Dean from being in that position. He knew that the shot, if it came, would be a killing shot. Dean would not take the chance of shooting to wound if it meant he might lose them both.
Sam was pulled from his realization by pain, as their father began rhythmically jamming the shotgun up under his chin to emphasize his words.
"You've always been weak, Dean." John continued to speak in that mild, conversational voice which somehow made his word even more hurtful. "No matter what I did, even after all my efforts, you still care too much. You don't want to hurt people. Especially family."
John turned further toward his older son, and Sam felt the shotgun shift away slightly. He seized the opportunity, grabbing the gun with both hands and twisting it as he lunged at his father to push him away.
A brief surge of triumph was quashed as John used his superior weight to force Sam back. He quickly regained control of the shotgun before Dean could close the distance between them. Sam was reminded bitterly of training sessions when they were younger. John would build them up to believe that they could beat him before knocking them down. As they'd gotten older it reached a point where Dean could win almost half the time, but Sam's successes hadn't been as frequent. For a fleeting moment Sam wondered if it would have gone differently had their positions been reversed, but then the shotgun was back under his chin and he heard the terrifying sound of the hammer being cocked.
The shot seemed to echo in the small room and Sam sank to the floor as his knees buckled under his father's weight. He heard a low keening sound and it took him a moment to recognize it as his own. It was quickly drowned out by his brother's howl of anguish. He looked up in time to see Dean drop the handgun as if it had burned him and dive to the floor next to their father.
Sam pushed the body off his legs, then reached out with unsteady hands to help Dean turn their father on his back. John's eyes were open and he stared at them sightlessly but somehow reproachfully. Dean reached to check for a pulse and Sam saw that his brother's hands were shaking too.
After a minute Dean shook his head, looking up to meet Sam's eyes. "He's dead," he said, voice cracking.
Looking at his brother meant not looking at the body, so Sam watched Dean slump back against the wall and close his eyes. His customary mask of indifference had been shattered and the pain and guilt were clear on his face, but his eyes remained dry. Sam brushed his own tears away, wondering randomly if, after all these years, Dean's body had forgotten how to cry.
With one more glance at the body, Sam lowered himself to lean against the wall by his brother. "Dean, I …" he struggled to find words, but gave up when a sob choked them off. Instead he dropped his head onto his knees.
It was only a few seconds before he felt Dean's arm around his back. Burying his face in his brother's shoulder, Sam was suddenly eight years old again. In the warmth of Dean's arms – so much stronger than they had been back then – he came to another realization. Yes, he would miss his father, but was he really losing a parent? Dean had been the one who raised him and took care of him. He had given up on getting John's approval long ago, and he didn't share Dean's earliest memories of a warm and loving father. Actually, he hadn't really known his father, and now the opportunity was gone. Sam sighed deeply as grief overwhelmed him.
He wasn't sure how much time passed before Dean's hand tightened on his shoulder. He looked up into his brother's face, now tight and strained, but with less pain showing through. The mask was slowly pulling itself back into place.
"Sammy, we've got to get out of here. The gunshot…even in this dump somebody might call the police."
Sam nodded, not trusting his voice, and climbed to his feet. Following instructions, he packed the weapons and carried the bag out to the car while Dean wiped the fingerprints off the few surfaces they had touched.
When he returned, Sam found Dean lifting their father's body up into his arms. "What are you doing?" he demanded, stopping in the doorway.
"Putting him in the car," Dean replied without making eye contact. He rested the corpse on the nearest bed when Sam continued to block the door.
"Dean, what are we going to do with the body?" Sam asked almost hysterically. He had a mental image of their father sitting on the backseat behind him, decaying slowly, as they drove around the country.
Dean pressed his lips together firmly before answering, and for the first time Sam noticed that – while he wasn't crying – his eyes were filled with tears. "Sammy, I can't just leave him here. There's no telling what would happen to the body. He wants to be buried with Mom."
It didn't escape Sam's notice that Dean spoke of their Dad in present tense, nor that he had turned away, apparently overcome and embarrassed by his emotions. Mind racing, Sam surprised himself with a plan. "We have to leave him here, Dean," he began.
Dean refused to turn around, but shook his head in denial. "No way."
"Listen. If we leave Dad here the police will find him. They'll ID the body and when they release it, we'll ask Missouri to make the arrangements. Hell, she could even call and report him missing if they don't find him right away. She'll do that for us, I know it."
Dean still didn't look at him, but he had stopped shaking his head. Encouraged, Sam continued.
"Think about it. If we take the body we can maybe get away with burying him in the middle of the night, on top of Mom. If we leave him here, Dad could have a real funeral, a real grave, and his name on the headstone with Mom's."
"Okay." Dean capitulated, his voice rough. He gently picked up the body once more and returned it to its original position on the floor. "Okay," he repeated, "we'll do it your way, but we'll have to hide out for a while in case we were seen coming here." Still looking anywhere but at Sam and avoiding a final look at the body, he headed out to the car.
Sam sighed, wanting nothing more than to escape from his feelings. He felt guilt for his inability to turn the tables and prevent things from coming to this. He was apprehensive about calling Missouri – sure she was their friend, but she had been Dad's friend for much longer. Would she understand? He was fighting grief at the loss of their father, and suddenly the arguments seemed less important and the good memories were much clearer. The depth of his own pain made him worry about Dean. His big brother had always been closer to Dad. Dean had been the one who was still seeking approval, and now it was never going to come. Remembering John's last words to both of them, Sam winced. He told himself that the words were a symptom of the madness, and he hoped that Dean realized that too. Their father had always loved them in his own unique way, and they would be best served to remember that instead of his final disjointed rantings.
Sam decided that he would look out for his brother, just like Dean always did for him. They were all that was left of the family now, and they would get through this together. For now, the most important thing was to get away from the motel and the town. Then they would rest, and when they were both ready, they would resume the search for the demon that had killed their parents. Sam nodded his head decisively. Yes, their father had ultimately been destroyed by his own madness, but the demon was responsible. Just as responsible as if it had been in the room all along.
"Good bye, Dad," Sam called back into the room. Wiping the doorknob with his shirt, Sam closed the door gently and walked out into the night to join his brother.