Okay so BIG thanks to HT for helping me flesh out this idea and make it the better for it, and hell, if we aint getting the hang of this cowriting stuff, chica! Never thought I'd enjoy it this much, but hell, it's awesome...Okay so the reason y'all are here.
A Soldier's Tear
It wasn't the ever present nightmare of fire destroying the woman he loved or the imagined putrid, thick smoke, seeping into his lungs and cutting off all fresh air that jolted John from his sleep. No, this sound, coming from down the hall, was real, was here, was now; something else entirely. As familiar as its sound had become, he'd not yet found a way to soothe it properly and so, to the father's ears, the stifled anguish only served to intensify the thudding of muscle against ribcage.
John swore he'd burst if this failure couldn't be rectified, and soon.
The ex-Marine sucked in a breath as his bare feet contacted the cool, wooden slats that adorned the floor of his sister's house and shuffled as quietly as he could to the ajar door at the end of the hall, keeping within the illuminated path of the dim nightlight. Carefully, he pushed the creaking door open, aware that the quiet hiccups did not cease at the sound of his approach, and stepped over to the dust of blonde hair peaking out from under the blankets and the quivering body beneath them.
"Dean," John whispered, settling down on edge of the bed and placing a large hand on his son's shaking shoulder. "Hey, kiddo."
John's eyes burned furiously when the small, red face of his eldest son turned towards him, Dean's hazel eyes overflowing with crystal tears. "Yeah, buddy. It's okay."
Dean merely nodded, his blonde hair flopping in his face as he sniffed and wiped his eyes before hiding his face again. The vice around John's heart clenched as he waited for more from his son, and the father almost laughed at the irony of remembering that Dean had always been a talker, to the point of being almost bothersome, and now he barely uttered a word. But then again, silence could speak volumes too.
That didn't make his son's sudden lack of vocabulary any easier for John to accept, but he knew when he was beat. Some wars were fought in silence. Some soldiers bled alone.
His sister had said "time," and he'd said, "bullshit." Blunt, and crude, gruff, perhaps, but clear, succinct, controlled. His words he could control. Silence he could not. And tears, shaking shoulders, and smothered hiccupping breaths were not in John's vocabulary. He couldn't hear them, couldn't understand them, didn't know if he was losing his son, too.
But Dean and his quivering silence were formidable in their ability to maintain a perimeter, one that John found himself forever on the cusp of and never allowed to breach. It seemed that tonight would be no different. John was simply too tired to fight the silence, and Dean had acquired less than fifteen hours of sleep the past week himself. It was unlikely that this, week three of their new, fire-wrought life, would find either Winchester with the energy to break the suffocating membrane between them.
With a deep sigh of resignation and a quick check on Sammy, John patted Dean's shoulder and started toward the door. The shuffle of sheets halted his steps, and John turned halfway to stare back at the wide eyes that now studied his every move.
"What is it, Dean?" John asked quietly, entering the room and crouching down at the side of the bed to meet his son's gaze.
Dean ducked his head, and John tilted his own to try and reestablish the tentative connection.
"Why don't you cry, Daddy?"
The question was barely audible, sparingly clear, but it floored the elder Winchester, crumbling the fatherly mask of concern into stricken, tangible grief. It was gone the instant Dean's eyes filled once more with wetness, and somehow John found himself half hunched against the too small headboard, his son fitted against his side.
"I just…," he stammered slightly, having never actually wondered that himself. "I just can't," John admitted to the darkness. The heavens be damned he wanted to; God he wanted to.
Dean squirmed and turned those damn too-wide, innocence-robbed eyes back to his father's, "Can't?"
John took a deep breath, allowing the anger of his loss to resurface and replace the emotion that clouded his thoughts. "This is a war now, son. That thing…We're going to get it, Dean. We're going to find it," he said, as though a four-year-old could understand that duty might sometimes override the basest of human emotions.
"The bad guy that took mommy?" Dean questioned earnestly, climbing onto his father's lap.
"Yeah," John muttered soothingly. "The bad guy that took mommy."
A lopsided grin crossed his son's face. "Daddy, are you G.I. Joe?"
John bit his lip and stifled a small laugh, "No, kiddo, I'm not."
"Oh," Dean murmured, his grin sinking back into a pensive frown.
The father sensed the impending silence and quickly intervened. "Why do you ask?"
"'Cause he's in a war, and he don't cry," Dean offered. John smirked for what felt like years.
"Well then, I guess maybe I am then, huh?" Dean nodded, satisfied, and his mouth opened wide in a lion's yawn. "Okay, soldier, time for bed."
"I'm a soldier too?" Dean asked wide-eyed as John tucked the covers in around him tight.
John nodded, his expression firm, decisive. "Yeah, kiddo, you are." His face softened thoughtfully.
"Dean, take your brother and run out of the house as fast as you can. Go now! And don't look back!"
"You are now."
The father made his way back to the doorway, resting against the post as he watched his son's breathing begin to even out before turning to leave. "Daddy?"
John huffed a breath and ran a hand over his stubble tiredly, "What, Dean?"
"Can soldiers cry sometimes?" The sandy-haired boy inquired, his back still turned to the doorway where father stood and found himself barely able to stand under the question's weight.
John cleared his throat a few times too many before responding. "Yeah, soldiers can cry, son. But a soldier's work is very important. They protect the innocent. And if the innocent can't see, because their eyes are filled with tears, then the soldiers have to keep watch for when the enemy approaches. Do you understand?"
Dean's head bobbed in answer, and he paused thoughtfully. "What if your eyes get all blurry and you got to let one out so you can see?"
"Well, you let that one out," John answered, ruffling his son's hair. "And then you go right back to keeping watch. You don't want to miss when the bad guy comes back, do you?"
"No," Dean replied quickly, shaking his head.
A half-smile graced the older man's face. "You're going to be a good soldier, Dean. Now, go to bed. Aunt Claire is gonna kick my a…, uh, put me in a time out, if you don't get some sleep tonight."
"Okay," Dean yawned, shuffling under the race car bedspread and setting his head down on the pillow.
"Good night, son." John whispered and vanished into the recesses of the hallway.
Dean waited until his father's footsteps had receded completely, before cracking his eyes open and throwing off the sheets. Quietly, he made his way over to Sammy's crib and pulled the small desk chair over to the side. Sammy whimpered, his face scrunching in protest at the scraping noise of wood on wood, preparing an almighty baby yell of teary agitation. Dean shushed him gently.
With one final lookout glance, the older brother climbed onto the chair and over the guardrail of Sammy's crib. A few readjustments later, and Dean had his little brother held close. One thing he knew was Sammy cried an awful lot.
It had been years. Twenty-three, to be exact, and Dean still hadn't forgotten that night. Over that length of time, he'd become a true soldier, hunter, and defender, met with adversity on every side, but never losing sight of his purpose, his mission.
His father had taught him time and again how to be a soldier, and he was the best. His elder's order's he'd followed to the letter.
"Take your brother!"
"Don't look back!"
"Silver for werewolves, iron for fae!"
"Don't shoot 'til you see the whites of their eyes!"
"Suck it up, son!"
Each hunt brought new fears, worries and weaknesses to light, but Dean fought them back, kept the stoic front he'd learned to master. In fact throughout his entire career and the millions of horrible things burned forever in the recesses of his mind, Dean had shed solely two tears since that night so long ago.
The first had come the day he'd ended up in the middle of the ultimate family showdown.
"If you walk out of here now, don't you even think about coming back!"
"Stay out of this, Dean!"
That one defiant drop had been witnessed by his sergeant, but the whiskey-drawled voice and glassy eyes hadn't registered it, not really. For that Dean was grateful. He preferred the drunken stupor to blatant disappointment.
The second crystalline defector had stained his cheek not more than four years later. Blindingly sterile walls had borne witness as he struggled to keep focus, ignoring the hiccupping breaths, his tightening chest, and the fiery wetness behind his eyes struggling for a release he would not grant.
"Why are you saying these things? You're scaring me."
"Don't be scared, Dean."
It was clear now. The entire time his father had stood before him with his arm held tightly by the pale blue sling and his body bruised, Dean hadn't been able to keep his eyes away from the trickling wet line escaping his hero's eye. It came silently but screamed at him in a language he'd never forgotten. It sounded a lot like goodbye.
"It's our Dad. It's our Dad."
And now, there was heat. Flaming flickers of red-orange gold crackled and devoured the fallen soldier he'd desired to become. Thick smoke encircled Dean and the putrid smell of burning, charred flesh flooded his nostrils, summoning bile that churned in his stomach. But he stood firm, at attention, while Sammy cried.
He was Sammy then, not Sam. The world had replaced that crib, and Dean's encircling arms were broken somehow, like the rest of him. But the fact remained that Sammy sometimes cried, and while he cried, Dean stood watch. Because he was a soldier.
"Did he say anything to you before he…?Uh, did he say anything to you? About anything?"
Fading ash stung Dean's eyes, eyes widened in disbelief and agony, but he was unable to turn away. At the sound of his brother's stricken voice, Dean tore his gaze from the pyre and to the desperation that was so visible beside him.
The lie escaped his lips as easily as the millions he'd told before, but his heart pounded at the sight of his brother's open expression. If Sam was open…then Dean needed to be closed. Danger.
Each stream pouring from the taller man gnawed at Dean's very substance. It wasn't the first time he'd been left to see for Sam, to watch out for the enemy while his innocent brother succumbed himself to blindness.
But this time was different. This time the soldier was broken, his mind and body consumed with the images of suffering, torment, pain, betrayal, and loss. This time, he wanted nothing more than to succumb to the darkness himself.
Pools of the offending substance rose to grant his heart's crushing desire, and the world became damp and blurry.
"What if your eyes get all blurry and you got to let one out so you can see?"
"Well, you let that one out. And then you go right back to keeping watch."
The soldier turned away as the flames sealed the fate of the man he loved. Within a single drop, he conveyed his pain and his loss, though both paled in comparison to his duty. He slipped back into silence and waited for the one order his father had never taught him to obey.
"At ease, soldier…"
But this silence spoke not at all, or if it did, Sam's sobs drowned out the message.
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