Title: This Lowdown Feelin'

Author: embroiderama

Characters: Dean, John (gen)

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: none

Spoilers: Through about 2.02

Word Count: 950

Disclaimer: None of the Winchesters belong to me, alas.

Summary: Cry! Cry! Cry!

Notes: Thank you to Eloise-bright for the very quick and kind beta. This was inspired by legoline.

Dean clicks the radio off, knowing that Sam's too-fucking-analytical brain is probably sensing a pattern, but he can't, can't hear it right now. He feels like he's barely hanging on, and Sam, goddamn him, sees that, too. He just can't take hearing Johnny Cash right now. Maybe not ever again.

It's not that he doesn't like his music. Not his usual thing, not really, but they grew up listening to The Man in Black, and the songs are familiar. Comforting. Used to be. These days, though, just the sound of that low, dark voice and the pain in Dean's chest swells out into the rest of his body.

The danger of Sam figuring this out is that Sam's probably hatching a plan to get him drunk and force him to listen to Cash's greatest hits in order to facilitate a catharsis or some other kind of psycho-babble bullshit. He sincerely hopes that Sam never puts that plan in motion because Dean has the feeling that if he listened to too much Johnny Cash right now he wouldn't be able to keep getting out of bed in the morning.

Johnny Cash is the music of nighttime drives with Dad. Sammy'd be asleep in the backseat, but Dean made himself stay awake in case Dad needed help keeping his eyes open. After dark, when the traffic thinned out, and the road slid away beneath the Impala's tires with flashes as the white lines caught the headlights' glow, Johnny Cash just felt right.

Dad would hum, sometimes, and then Dean would let his eyes close for a while, knowing that as long as he was humming Dad was still awake. Behind Dean's eyelids, Dad's low humming would weave around Cash's voice and his guitar, blending in with the vibration of the Impala until Dean felt like he was in the middle of a solid ball of sound. Sometimes Dean would hum too, and Dad would smile over at him like they were sharing a secret.

When Dean was 14, on the anniversary of Mom's death, they were staying in a motel room halfway between Cincinnati and Chicago. Dean woke up in the middle of the night, his legs aching from growing pains, and realized that Dad wasn't in the room. Wasn't in the bathroom either, but when he quieted his breathing and listened he could hear the rumbling of the Impala outside their room.

Looking out the window, Dean could see his dad in the front seat of the car. The headlights were off, but Dean felt wide awake with a sudden worry that Dad was going to drive away. He hadn't said anything about going off on a hunt right now, and there wasn't a note on the table. But why would he be in the car if he weren't going anywhere? He knew he should probably just go back to bed, but he'd never be able to sleep, listening for the door to open or the car to drive away.

He pulled a pair of jeans and a flannel over his boxers and t-shirt and shoved his feet into his sneakers with no socks. He walked out the door, watching for a reaction from the figure behind the wheel of the car. His dad's head stayed bowed, and when Dean stood next to the driver's side of the car he could hear "So Doggone Lonesome" coming from the car stereo.

Dean reached out to touch the window. "Dad?"

He stepped back as his dad straightened up with a jolt, his eyes looking red and a little wild. "Dad?"

Dean watched his father's broad shoulders slump in on themselves as he leaned over to roll the window down.

"Dean? Somethin' wrong?"

Dad's breath and the warm air coming out through the open window reeked of whiskey, and the skin beneath his eyes was wet and a little swollen.

"No, sir." Dean bit his lip, not sure what he should do. "You okay, Dad?"

Dad's face looked like he was trying to shape it into a smile. "Jus' one of those nights, y'know," he slurred.

Dean looked at his dad sitting there behind the wheel of the car and thought that it would probably be better to get him inside, but he didn't want Sammy to wake up and be scared. Dad wouldn't want Sammy to see him like this. "You're not, um, not going to drive, are you?"

Dad breathed out a sad chuckle and slumped down further, resting his head on the steering wheel. "No, no, 'm gonna stay right here."

"Do you want me to stay, too?" Dean held his breath, not sure which answer he wanted to hear.

"No." Dad rocked his head back and forth against the wheel. "Go on inside now."

"O-okay."

Dean stood still for a moment, until Dad rolled the window back up, and then he walked away. Back inside the room, he settled down on the floor near the window, where he could hear the car better, but he fell asleep before Dad came back inside and woke up in bed next to Sammy.

Maybe some day he'd be able to listen to Johnny Cash again without feeling like he was going to fall apart into pieces that would never fit back together again. Maybe then he could let Sam get him drunk and coax him into crying some manly tears. Maybe some day he'd be able to talk about Dad without feeling too many words and emotions pressing up through his stomach and chest and into his throat like a bad hangover. Maybe some day he could remember the sound of his father's voice without hearing his final whispered words.

But not today.