Beta'd by pixel :) thank you to everyone who reviewed. This is a little longer than usual so hopefully it'll tide you guys over for a bit (with Christmas around the corner things are a little hectic, not to mention I'm supposed to get christmas prompts written.)
John looks at Sam like he's a broken doll after a burning blaze—the only surviving unscathed toy surrounded by the charred remains of a life once lived.
He looks at him like he's the only thing that made it out of that fire in one piece.
He cocks his head to the side and watches his youngest son's chest rise and fall steadily. Sam's too busy following the penlight the doctor's holding in front of him to notice his father staring.
Hell, he's still trying to understand why his father's there in the first place.
He's answering questions carefully—he's articulate...perfect. John isn't sure if his boy's lying or not and that scares the shit out of him.
What was it Bobby had told him? That he didn't deserve their loyalty?
Maybe he's right, maybe John doesn't. Sam shouldn't be able to lie that well, no one should be that good.
Maybe John lost his right to respect when he taught them how to be the perfect criminals just because that's what the job demanded. The hunt.
Maybe he lost his right to respect when he told Sam to leave and never come back.
Maybe it was after he left his boys in Fort Douglas for days on end when he knew who the Shtrigawould go for. It was no coincidence that the latest victims had lived next door to the motel.
No coincidence at all.
He'd used them as bait. He'd waited, and he'd convinced himself that nothing bad would happen to Sam as long as Dean was around. He hadn't seen Dean leave the motel room though. He'd been scouting the perimeter. He hadn't seen, and he had blamed Dean for something a child could not expect to avoid. Boredom had gotten the better of him that was all. He wasn't openly defying orders for the hell of it. He was acting his age. As he should.
John had scorned him for it, and let that one event mould his boy into the perfect soldier. A fighter, a hunter.
"Well Mr. Matthews, it seems like the worst is over, but we still need to run some tests, schedule an MRI—"
Not again, Sam thinks.
"I'm fine, really."
"It's routine with injuries such as yours, we don't want to overlook anything."
"If Sam says he doesn't need the test, Doc, I believe him," John replies, knowing that if there's a problem, there's nothing the doctors can do.
"It's Sam, he had a...a vision and he fell."
"Where's Dean?" Sam mumbles, and John smiles tiredly as the doctor leaves them to their business. John jerks his head to the open door, and Sam can just see his brother on the chairs outside. It looks like the most uncomfortable position known to man but there's a frown on his brother's face—and Sam hates that he put it there.
"He okay?" Sam asks, and John snorts. It was always the same, despite injuries or ill health, both of them were always concerned about the other.
"Just needs rest; he was swaying on his feet when I got here."
Sam doesn't ask why Dean isn't in the room with them. He doesn't need to.
"Why are you here?"
John hides his hurt with a quirked eyebrow.
"That came out wrong," Sam corrects quickly, and John nods in understanding.
"Dean called me."
As much as Sam completely and utterly had confidence in his brother, he'd been faltering of late. Their run-in with the demon had left so many scars.
Outside. Inside. Hidden. Not forgotten.
Dean was more jumpy than usual. The demon had gotten inside of his head. Tortured him with his father's face...taunted and mocked and whispered insecurities—bringing them out into the open. No matter how trivial they were to Sam, they clearly meant enough to Dean for the demon to have mentioned it at all.
"He's not handling anything, is he?" John asks, sounding every bit as defeated as he feels. Sam wishes he would stop before the emotional dams were breached. He can't take another broken Winchester; he is barely holding it together himself.
John shakes his head. A smile slipping into place and a hollow laugh that's more like a whisper leaves his parted lips—crowned with teeth, biting down in concern.
"What happened Sam?" he changes the subject. "Dean said something about a vision, the doctor said you fell down a flight of stairs..."
"What did you see?" John asks as he shoots his sleeping son one last look before closing the door and giving Sam the privacy he needs.
Sam tells his father every sordid detail until his memory is replaying the melody like it's the soundtrack to his twisted subconscious. He tells all he remembers, everything he felt, everything he saw and heard. He has no time to worry about how his father will take all of this in. He opens up like he's never been closed. Like Dean never will.
And when he's done, and John's just sitting there, Sam braces himself for the orders.
He'll accept them, he'll follow them. He needs his father to tell him exactly how to handle this. How to go on, how to keep himself from letting the dreams—the visions—consume him.
And he's gonna get it. Dad will know what to do, he'll impart his wisdom and they'll all be better off for it.
"Your mother always hated nursery rhymes."
That's all John says after a long silence. But somehow it sounds better than any order could have.
Creeping, clawing, and edging deeper inside where it doesn't belong.
Blood spills freely, drips slowly, and you're gasping and wishing you could move just so you could fall into a heap. Just so you could grab at the blood and force it back in, hold the wounds and try to staunch the bleeding.
Fall, fall, fall...
"Dean!" Sammy's screaming.
"He's in the room," a female whispers. "He's with Sammy."
Slapstick has always made Dean laugh but never when he's the one doing it.
His nightmares make him jerk and in a vain attempt to escape the pain of jamming his hip against the plastic chairs for the nine billionth time that day, he moves to the left. His foot, caught in the leg of the chair, brings him down to the ground and the chair follows after.
He doesn't get up straight away. He lies there for a moment, trying to discern if he's broken his nose or not. He hasn't, but it hurts like a bitch and he no doubt looks like a complete idiot in the middle of a now fairly crowded corridor.
He picks himself up slowly. No point adding a repeat performance now is there?
He moans as the feeling of vertigo unleashes itself on his head as he tries to right his position from floor to standing. He doesn't spare a glance to the closed door of his brother's room. He's too busy making his way to the toilet down the hall. He looks at his watch and groans. Three hours means nothing when you'd been awake for so many days...not to mention the goddamn nightmares.
He stares at his gaunt face in the mirror and blinks, running a hand down his face and splashing more water there for good measure. He sucks in a deep breath and lets the liquid drip down and pool at his neck and on the collar of his shirt.
He has no pills to pop, and he isn't about to scam the hospital before his brother is released. He's in no condition to get away with it either. The water will have to do for now.
He feels more than a little disconcerted by this new twist in his dreams. A woman he doesn't know...hell he can't even tell if she's human. But she's there, whispering to him like he should recognize her voice, but he doesn't. He can't.
He takes his time shuffling back down corridors he knows too well on his way to his brother's room. He would have hurried if he'd known that he was the current topic of conversation.
Then again, maybe not.
"It's post-traumatic-stress, Dad, it doesn't just go away."
"You think I don't know that, Sammy? He can't go on like this, it's killing him."
"I know, I know."
"He just needs to know it's gone. That it won't come back." That it isn't in me, that I'm not it.
Sam looks at his father. There's no way that sentence wasn't provoked by Sam's earlier explanations of his most recent visions.
"It isn't gone, and it will come back, Dad. It's not just around you. He has nightmares, horrible nightmares. The kind that could make mine look like lollipops and candy canes."
"Traumatic stress comes from trauma. If the trauma doesn't go away, the PTSD doesn't either."
"He's fine." Injury wise, he means. "It's been months since the crash, since the cabin."
"Exactly and he's barely mentioned it. The stuff the demon said about me being a favourite came straight from Dean, I know it did."
John's Adam's apple bobs up and down as he swallows. He remembers because he saw—and was seeing long before he finally broke through the demon's hold even if it was only enough to see Dean slump forward, blood dripping to the ground.
Dean needs to find a way to cope, but John doesn't know what to tell him.
He still hears the screaming of bullets ripping into bodies from his days in the Marines. He still sees smiles with spots of crimson. They just get pushed to the back of his head with everything else that's going on around him.
"He needs to talk to someone, Dad."
His boy doesn't need counselling. The Winchesters look after their own. But that isn't what Sam meant.
"He doesn't want to be near me."
"Exactly. He has to face you, Dad. He can't avoid you forever."
John scans his own mind for conversation topics just as he scans weather reports for signs of the demon. Just like when he counts and recounts data that might help them. Random sequences of information that make sense, even if he could never explain them to another.
Bobby has the car, and John has the Colt. It's tucked inside a lead box—with countless carvings of sigils on the sides, top and bottom. The inside is laced with salt and blessed crosses, water strips with the added touch of a priest's blessing. Devil's traps, signs of old. Nothing's getting in there unless it's John or one of his boys. They've got one bullet, one goddamn bullet and they can't waste it. They can't.
"How's the hunt?" Dean asks, watching Sam pretend to sleep, and John's saved from trying to start a conversation when Dean does it for him.
"No leads yet, but he'll show, I know he will."
It's the same kind of attitude that had John dragging toddlers across the Midwest. He'll be there, I'll find him, I'll end this soon, I promise.
Dean walks out of the room, because if Sam's gonna pretend to snooze, then he doesn't deserve to hear and John follows, thinking pretty much the same.
"What are you driving these days, kiddo?"
"Crappy ass rental. Sam's choice."
John worries that Dean isn't asking about his baby.
Maybe he's afraid. Maybe he doesn't care. Maybe he's already worked it out that Bobby's busy with the framework and then it's all on Dean to make the finishing touches—tweak the engine and make her his own.
Maybe he knows Bobby's holding her for him. Maybe he knows Sam's keeping it a secret.
Maybe he's so lost that he hasn't noticed she's gone.
"We went to Lawrence," Dean tells his father. "Missouri, she..."
"I know, I heard."
Dean nods. Even a hunter runs out of small talk eventually. Dean can't think of anything more to say. They might as well be strangers.
"There's an ending to this, you know."
"What?" Dean asks, unsure of how his silence brought on that.
"Everything, this whole fight, it'll get done. You have to be ready to play your part, the demon—"
If John had just carried on...
If he'd bullshitted his way through the end of his sentence, Dean wouldn't have blinked an eye. But John didn't. John faltered. Dad never falters, he never hesitates.
He lets his guard down around his boys, lets his emotions cloud his judgement
He's vulnerable when he's with us.
Dean doesn't ask, What, what is it? He doesn't glare, he doesn't step closer and he doesn't try to manipulate the information past his father's steadfast defences. He connects the dots that were always there and whispers instead, "You know."
It isn't feigned innocence; it's resigned surprise.
"This whole plan the demon has, you know all about it, don't you?"
"No, Dean—" It's not like that.
"You lied to us," he starts off quietly. Horrid realisation clawing through naïveté and denial. "You sent us hunting, you kept us back, you nearly...you nearly died, we could have all died...god, you lied to us!" He emphasises the word with bitter betrayal seething within.
He's screaming. His breathing is more akin to harsh gasps as his chest heaves. As he tries to understand but can't. He's tail spinning. He's fucking...god I can't do this.
He's pacing, he's stamping his feet, and he's making the nurses look up at him in frustration. He's running his hand through his hair and pulling at the close to greasy locks as though the stabbing pain on the top of his scalp might wake him up from this nightmare.
John inches forward, and Dean screams "Liar!" to his father's face.
He can't stop the thoughts racing around his head. The father he worships...now fears, knew all along. He sent them on hunt after hunt knowing that Sam was vulnerable with a demon on his tail. He knew and he lied through all of it. Sam's on a hospital bed because Dean didn't understand enough to help him...because his visions sent him toppling down a fall that could have resulted in a broken neck...in death.
He feels his life slipping away. He's always scared, he's always worried, and he's always looking over his shoulder and hating not knowing. That's the worst of it; never knowing, never understanding.
And all this time John could have put his son out of his misery. Could have helped save them both.
John grabs his son by his arms. Holding the fleshy muscle beneath and fingers tighten a little more than needs be. Dean's entire stature has frozen. His body rigid in his father's arms.
"Calm down," John growls, unprepared for any more damn outbursts. Unprepared for Dean's outbursts on the whole—that was Sam's job as the young rebellious teenager. Dean did as he was told, always.
John won't tiptoe around his sons any longer. It's ridiculous.
But Dean is far from calm.
"You will not make a scene," he says in a low voice that's dangerous and calculating rather than cruel and malicious. But still, with his father's fingernails scraping close to ripping his t-shirt, Dean can barely feel his legs.
He's numb because John's glaring.
When his father lets go, he doesn't move. He doesn't move until John sighs and catches a glimpse of Sam's doctor walking away in the other direction. John follows her without a word, and Dean lets his body slide down the wall until he's crouching and resting his head on his knees.
John's getting coffee when Dean comes back, and when John returns, Dean's taking his pee break. The awkward silence lasts as long as it takes John to suddenly need another cup of caffeine.
Dean pointedly ignores his brother's sheepish grin; he even pretends he doesn't see Sam's clear eyes staring him down. No, he's too busy watching the steady drip of the IV fluids. He's scrutinizing the blankets and few machines his brother is hooked up to.
If the job wasn't on hold before, it sure as hell is now.
When Sam tries to talk, tries to comfort and console, Dean raises his hand—silencing him immediately—and sits down on the chair that's waiting for him. Practically calling his name. He leans back, eyes closed and lets his entire body sag.
"Why do we always end up back here?" Dean finally asks. His voice sounds strained with more emotion than he'd ever care to admit.
"Creatures of habit," Sam grins but Dean's face falls.
Maybe their destiny is to become what they hunt. Violent spirits spawned from violent deaths. Demons dismembering their insides until they're nothing more than sagging skin on dirty, splintered walls.
What hurts him most is that his father knows, and Dean can't find the courage to stay close enough to ask what the hell they're getting into.
But then, even John doesn't know everything, and there's so much they're all so fucking clueless about. Nothing's accidental. Nothing's meaningless.
Everything, everything plays a part. Everyone is a pawn in one huge chess game. Everyone is a user, a manipulator. Everyone has a motive. Everyone has a reason and every, everything plays a part...
"It's not all bad." Sam's voice echoes through the painful reverie Dean finds himself in. "Bet you've already got all the nurses' numbers."
Dean laughs. He plays along, plays his part. Lying through his teeth. Like father, like son.
"You pull this shit again and I'm outta here," he comments with a sly smirk that Sam returns with ease.
"Sure you are."
"I'm serious man, you get yourself admitted anytime soon, and I will kick your ass."
"Doesn't that defy the point of getting admitted? To a hospital?"
Dean shrugs and finds the windowsill so interesting all of a sudden. There's no TV, no radio, just a small dresser by the side of Sam's bed with a pad of paper and pen sitting there. Sam doesn't fail to notice his brother's lack of...being.
"Hey man, I know you were worried and I'm sorry, but I'm fine, I swear," Sam presses.
"Yeah, you better be, bitch."
His assurances will make sure that Dean gives him enough space to breathe. Dean won't coddle, he can barely stand up...
He isn't the only one lying his ass off, Sam is too, because as much as he's smiling and laughing, he can still hear it in his head. The echoing tune like a forever-opened jewellery box. Foreboding melodies because the demon knows just how to mess with his head, like always.
"Mary had a little lamb."
Like the fucking plague.