Title: Failure

Rating: PG

Summary: John Winchester was a failure.

Spoilers: Nothing, unless you were unaware that Mary's dead. Oh, you were? Oops. Sucks for you.

Disclaimer: I'm aware this will come as a shock to many of you, but I don't own Supernatural. Waits for readers to fall down in surprise. Mmm hmm, I know, it gets everyone. Supernatural and the Winchester boys are property of Eric Kripke and the CW.

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John Winchester stumbled through the front door of the apartment, his legs wrongly believing they had just stepped off the S.S. Minnow. His eyes glassy and his head throbbing, John ran directly into the one person he had hoped to evade.

Dean.

John knew his oldest was giving him the once-over; trying to figure out if his dad had drunk himself over the depths again. The stinging glare from his sixteen year-old's sometimes too critical eye was making him internally cringe and not for the first time. John knew what the drinking did to his boys. But when his post-hunt glow faded, all that he was left with at night were a handful of faded memories and the desperation to find his Mary's murderer. It was a constant pulsing ache that John could not bear. It was an ache that made him cry out in his sleep.

One night when his boys were small, the nightmare that had always been consistent had changed. Mary on the ceiling, bleeding from her belly was normal. Mary on the ceiling bleeding from her belly, Dean on the floor bleeding from his neck and Sammy in the arms of the demon being carried away into the night was not normal. That was the night John found his first companion since Mary in a bottle of Jack.

Sometimes it was Jim, or maybe Jose or even the entire Miller family.

John's screams that night had woken both boys. Little Sammy was just four and the sight of his big, strong dad screaming had reduced him to tears. Confused Dean was stuck between attempting to comfort Sammy and question his father, though it was in large part due to his father's unfocused eyes and labored breathing that made him dare to do the latter.

When John found his bearings, it had been the sight of little Sammy's tears and Dean's worried eyes that had given him the push he needed. Never again would John Winchester's children bear witness to their father's pain.

John shrugged Dean off with the simple explanation of a silly nightmare and went to comfort Sammy. Sammy moved closer to his big brother and regarded his father with wide eyes. After a minute or so of gentle prodding (I'm sorry, Sammy. I didn't mean to scare you. I just had a stupid little nightmare. Nothing big I promise. Just a little nightmare. Come 'ere Sammy. Come on.), Sammy finally released the anxious grip he had on Dean's pajama top and went into his father's arms.

Sammy had been easy enough to mollify, but Dean would be another story. At eight, Dean was already so much his mother that at times John had to avert his eyes from the boy to prevent tears from forming. In so many ways every day, Dean made John miss his beautiful soul mate. Mary would never have let John's nightmare rest without questioning him, and apparently she had passed her doggedness onto Dean too.

Dean opened his mouth to speak, and John cut him off at the pass, knowing what he was about to say would forever change the dynamic between father and son.

That's enough Dean. Your brother's fine. I'm fine. No arguments.

John knew that the, until then, seldom used tone left no room for argument and that Dean would fall in line because John said so. John also knew that at the rate Dean was starting to question him that that tone would be used a lot more in the future.

John hated that tone just as much as he hated the nightmares. If his Mary had still been breathing, there was no way he would have ever gotten away with that tone. The image of her right eyebrow rising accompanied by the inevitable small smirk and hands on her hips made John smile briefly.

But Mary wasn't alive, and the tone was necessary. Dean and Sammy needed to be safe, and if John had taken anything away from his stint in the Marines, it was that the right tone could get a man through hell and back. The right command could save a life.

A year later, Dean stopped questioning his father entirely.

Eight years after that, Sammy started questioning everything.

This time it wasn't Mary's persistence that had been passed on, but John's own stubbornness. Dealing with Dean had been child's play compared to the inflexibility of Sam.

John was now staring himself in the face, and he had absolutely no idea what to do.

So he yelled. He commanded. He ordered. He used the tone more and more that as a young private he hated so much. It was the tone that made him leave the service. He forbid. He said Because I said so. A lot.

It was in those moments that John had started to really hate himself.

He was fostering a rift between himself and his youngest that he knew could only be fixed with time or death. And he wasn't too sure about the death part of that equation.

Still, when John came stumbling through the door, he had hoped that if either of his boys were awake, that it would be Sam. He could take the yelling at his obvious lack of lucidity. He could take the biting comments and the exasperated sighs. What he could not take was Mary's eyes.

But just like every night, that's what John got. His constant reminder.

He had failed Mary.

And as he stared into his son's green eyes, John couldn't help but think that without meaning to, he was failing her all over again.