Title: Bait

Author: Black Wingedbird

Warnings: Spoilers for 'Something Wicked' and 'Faith'. Bad words.

Standard Dis

Author's Notes: This is for Rob and Amy and all my other buddies. Rob threw this bunny out there, Amy and I snatched it up, played with it, then I stayed up way too late getting it onto paper. Hope you guys enjoy.

Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.

Oscar Wilde

The two-lane highway stretched out before him, swallowed by the black, lonely night. The Impala's engine purred. The tires hummed over the blacktop, evenly spaced between the center line and the edge of the road. The car was guiding itself now, moving straight as an arrow through the darkness. Inside, the only light was the faint glow of the dashboard gauges. Sam was asleep with his head against the window, slumped awkwardly against the door panel. Turned on low volume, AC/DC whispered in the air.

Dean rubbed his eyes. After saying goodbye to Michael and his mother, he and Sam left town, their mission accomplished. The talk had been small but companionable. Dean was still feeling proud of his victory over the Shtriga, and Sam's mood was as light as it had been in days. Then, while stopped to refuel, Sam had found a lead involving a possible werewolf. So courses had been altered, the tank topped off, and the brothers were officially on their way.

But even with the 500 miles between them and Fitchberg, the memories didn't fade. Memories of years ago, in an old hotel room that smelled of dirty socks, a black and white TV with rolling lines of static, and nearly-bare pantries. Memories of Dad, of little Sammy, of cooking and guarding and cleaning all rolled into one. Sometimes he was the nanny- the maid- and sometimes he was the Doberman Pincher in the black studded collar. The responsibility was heavy, but Dean was proud to carry it. He was rewarded every time Dad's eyes shone with pride, every time Sam's eyes lit up with trust, envy. Worship.

That was all Dean wanted. To feel needed. To be a part of something- a family.

Dean sighed, blinking and refocusing on the road. The car smelled of leather and polish and Sam and himself, and Dean found some of the tension leave his body. The road was deserted and the yellow lines were monotonous, hypnotizing. Dean rolled down the window, letting the snap of cold air on his face wash away his fatigue. The sky was black and heavy with clouds- it would rain soon.

Again, his mind wandered. Sharing his memory with Sam had reawakened feelings he'd long since buried, and Dean wished he could bury them again. That night in Fort Worth had been the first time he'd seriously fucked up in his job as big brother. And he had no one to blame but himself.

He'd disobeyed direct orders and left Sammy unattended. Snuck out late at night to relieve his boredom and play a video game. He thought Sam had been safe, thought he'd only be gone for a short while- but he didn't have many chances to play video games and this particular one was addicting. The air didn't smell like feet and the people around him weren't annoying little brothers who wouldn't eat their Spaghetti O's. Time slipped by as easily as that monster had slipped into Sammy's room.

Dean's throat tightened and his hands clenched the steering wheel. The image of that thing over his little brother's body, claw-like fingers of bone, dead, empty eyes longing for it's next meal…

He tried to act- to save Sam. Dean grabbed the gun, raised it and aimed just like his father had taught him… but then Dad was there, yelling, and Dean dropped to the floor as Dad rushed the thing, shooting and driving it back, away from Sammy, through the wall and out of the room. He met Sam's eyes briefly before Dad scooped Sammy up, holding him tight in a way that Dean wished he could. But Dad was the superior- he had control over everything in Dean's life, and at the moment, Sammy belonged to Dad.

So Dean stopped short of the bed, apologizing in a broken voice and waiting his turn to see to his brother, the brother that had almost been a victim- almost died, thanks to Dean. Would have, if not for Dad and his impeccable timing. It was a miracle, really.

Except there were no miracles, a small part of Dean hissed. Look at what happened with the faith healer. The miracle was only an illusion, a mirage. Behind the curtain, behind the smoke, there was only a woman playing god with innocent people's lives.

Another mile rolled by on the Impala's odometer and Dean's eyebrows knitted together in thought. Dad's timing had been perfect that night, hadn't it? What were the chances, the odds of such a perfectly timed rescue? The Winchesters were lucky, but were they that lucky? Dean's hands tightened on the steering wheel and his knuckles turned white.

Okay, so Dad was lucky. He had been graced with good timing that night. But what about the fact that he also happened to have the right bullets? It wasn't everyday that they loaded their guns with bullets blessed by priests. Did two lucky strikes equal something more?

Dean wanted to give Dad the benefit of the doubt. But Dad was better than that- more careful and thorough than that. He knew the creature's habits, knew it went after child siblings. They'd gone on hunts with Dad before- why did he chose to leave them there that night?

"Stay here."

"Watch your brother."

"Shoot first, ask questions later."

"Son of a BITCH!" Dean shouted, slamming a fist on the steering wheel. "Son of a bitch!"

Sam jerked awake, hands out at his sides, reach for a weapon that wasn't there. "Dean? What's going on?"

Sam's soft, drowsy voice went unnoticed. Nobody dangled his brother from a string like that- nobody. It infuriated him that John Winchester- the man Dean looked up to and respected- had played him. He felt enraged, manipulated… used. And Sammy…

"Dean? Hello?"

Dean had two hands on the steering wheel and he set his jaw, his molars grinding over one another. He breathed heavily through his nose, chest heaving against the seatbelt. The Impala's engine roared as the car picked up speed. But as angry as he was, as betrayed as he felt- it was a pain for him and him alone. He would not hurt Sam- or give him one more reason to resent their father. "It's nothing, Sammy. Sorry. Go back to sleep." His calm façade was forced and strained and he stared out the windshield.

Sam blinked once, his pupils large and shining black in the dim light, then he shrugged and burrowed into the corner once again. "Whatever, man. Wake me up when it's my turn to drive."

Dean's thoughts immediately began to churn. 'He used me,' Dean seethed. 'Dad fucking used me. Left me there, alone with a shotgun full of consecrated bullets and a defenseless kid brother as bait.' Dean blinked, his eyes burning. 'Bait. Dad used Sammy as bait. He knew!'

Had it been a test? One that Dean failed miserably? It didn't matter- there was no excuse in the world for using a kid to bait a soul-stealing monster.

Realization hit him like a bucket of ice water.

So the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree.

Did realizing that Dean himself was willing to use a child as bait make what John did better, or make what Dean did worse?

Did he even deserve to ask the question at all?

Dean sunk down in the seat and forced himself to remember that no matter the intent, the outcome had been favorable. Sammy had been saved that night, even if it was by Dad's hand and not his. Dean could live with that, as long as there was a Sammy to save at all. He couldn't simply abandon a lifetime of respecting his father, of looking up to him.

John Winchester was a true warrior. He had the confidence, the skill, the determination to slay every demon he went after. Dean had trusted him all those years ago, and he trusted him today. After months of solitary hunting, Dad was still alive- and that was saying something considering the amount of evil that was out there. Sam was right when he questioned the witch's ability to escape their father- it just wasn't possible. Nothing escaped their father. Their father was nothing if not tenacious- take the 22 year hunt for the fire demon, for example.

Maybe he was rationalizing away the truth, reburying it so he wouldn't have to face it, to deal with it. This thing would probably resurface later, once it had festered and grown sore- and the timing would be all wrong then- but Dean really didn't care. He had to believe that Dad knew Sammy would be safe that night in Fort Worth. Dean had been the fuck-up that night, not Dad. Dad was the hero. He had to keep his faith in John- because if he didn't, what was he left with? What were any of them left with?

With a small sigh, Dean stole a glance at his sleeping brother and pressed on.