Title: The Long Goodbye
Betas: Amy and Carikube
Rating: R (language)
Author's Notes: My deepest gratitude goes to Amy and Carikube. Amy not only trusted me to write this story, but also had the patience to beta it months later. This story takes place before Season 2. John Deathfic.
It came upon them slowly and silently, as all skillful predators do. Fingers like black roots burrowed deeply and firmly, moving so slowly and delicately that none of them felt it happening. It waited; long, thin fingers of poison bracing itself for the moment it would seize- and rip them apart.
The Impala slid to a stop next to the old black truck, the tires screaming as Sam was pitched towards the windshield. He caught himself on the dashboard, locking his elbows as his head fell forward, and he cursed- the expletive lost under the bass notes pounding from the speaker. Then the car rocked backwards hard, and Sam let himself fall back against the seat. He drew in a deep breath and looked up, finding John Winchester standing only inches from the Impala's front bumper, dust and fumes swirling around him in the light of the headlights. Sam coughed, waving a hand to dispel the dust that had floated in through the open windows.
Dean shoved the gear shift up into 'park' and killed the engine, prematurely silencing 'Jukebox Hero'. "Dad- what the hell!" he shouted, running a trembling hand over his head. "Don't stand in front of me like that!"
John lifted the shotgun so it rested over his shoulder, his face neutral and hard in the faint light of the moon. "Come on, we need to move."
They were out of the car instantly, moving to the trunk. Humidity made the air thick and sticky, pressing down upon them, suffocating; it was less than ideal for zombie-hunting and quick escapes. But as Sam knew very well, life was hardly ever ideal.
Dean opened the trunk then lifted the false bottom and secured it. The array of weapons glittered in the moonlight. They moved together, Dean grabbing two guns as Sam took the flashlights. As Sam clicked them on, Dean shoved one gun- a 9 mm- in the waistband of his pants and he held the other out to Sam. Sam took it, trading a flashlight for the weapon, and shoved the cold steel muzzle under his belt at the small of his back. The weight of it was familiar and reassuring, and oddly, Sam felt completed.
He looked to his father for instruction. "What's the plan?"
John opened his mouth, and then hesitated. "We'll, uh, we'll do what we did that time in Utah, when we took out that family of zombies in the trailer home."
"The Winchester Special," Dean affirmed with a slight nod. "My first official battle strategy."
"Yeah," John grunted. "That one."
"Remember the picture you drew?" Sam teased. "My favorite part was the rainbow-colored stick people."
"It doesn't matter what color his people were," John said. "The plan worked. Now quiet down. We got a job to do." He grabbed a dark colored duffle bag from his own truck as Dean closed the Impala's trunk. The brothers turned, the beams of the high-powered flashlights piercing the surrounding night, and looked to their father.
"You boys ready?" John asked, shouldering the bag.
"Yes sir," they replied simultaneously. Sam's heart beat hard with anticipation.
"All right then, fall in."
They abandoned the vehicles and walked into the woods, using the flashlights to guide their way. John took the lead and Sam brought up the rear, his gun out and held tightly under the flashlight. The old farmhouse loomed a quarter of a mile away, situated at the end of the gravel driveway they were walking. "There's three of them, right?" he murmured, watching the tree line for movement.
"Kyle said there was three last night- doesn't mean more haven't turned since then." John kept marching, his stride never faltering. "Look sharp. They're not fast, but one bite is all it takes."
Sam ducked under a fallen branch, quickly reorienting himself as he righted. Gravel crunched under his feet. He searched the tree line on either side, then turned and walking backwards a few steps, making sure nothing was crept up on them- 'Watching their sixes', in marine lingo. Satisfied their arrival was still unknown, he turned back around.
"Lights off," John said, holding up a hand.
The farmhouse loomed in the distance. Sam couldn't suppress a shiver of excitement. He clicked off the flashlight and stuck it in his back pocket, readjusting his grip on the gun. They continued forward in darkness.
John stopped one hundred feet from the house. Sam and Dean got close, being careful to stay in the shadows. To the left, a tire swing dangled forlornly from a large tree, unmoving in the humid air.
John nodded towards the house. "Dean, you're on."
Dean looked at his watch. "Five minutes, remember?" He looked from John to Sam.
Sam raised his wrist, setting the timer on his own watch. "Five minutes."
Dean nodded then pocketed his gun with a cocky smile. "Meet back here for the fireworks."
Sam watched him go, swaggering up to the farmhouse like he had all the confidence in the world. Which, knowing Dean, he probably did.
"Here, get ready," John said lowly, holding the duffle bag out to Sam.
Sam took it wordlessly then returned his attention to his brother.
Dean bounced up the wooden steps and stopped, facing the front door. He raised his fist and knocked, loudly.
"Hello! Papa Murphy's Pizza Delivery! Anyone order the zombie special?"
As expected, the door burst open and Mr. Patterson's pale, rotting face appeared, glaring at Dean.
"Boo," Dean grinned.
Then he took off running.
Mr. Patterson lashed out and missed, then growled. He stumbled into the moonlight, clunking down the old wooden steps on stiff legs with his arms out before him. A simple gold wedding band glinted in the moonlight as he moved and moments later, Mrs. Patterson teetered outside. Her floor-length cotton dress was dirty and ripped, her hair missing in large patches. Her once soft skin was green and peeling from her bones. She followed her husband with determination, cold dead eyes locked on Dean's back. Sam wondered for a moment what her dreams had been, how many children she wanted, what her goals were.
The postman joined the chase last, the freshest body of the three. The mail carrier emblem was still recognizable on his shirt and hat. Dean jogged, moving fast enough to evade their capture but slow enough to keep them coming. His flashlight was on and a small ball of white light bobbed over the ground, getting smaller as Dean led them away.
"Now Sam, go!" John urged from beside him, and Sam leapt out into the front yard. Dean led the zombies into the woods and Sam sprinted to the abandoned house, John close behind. He jogged up the stairs, the duffle bag thumping against his thigh, and moved through the doorway.
The house smelled like rotting flesh and Sam gagged, coughing into the crook of his elbow.
"This way," John said, brushing past.
Sam followed his father, not questioning how the man knew his way around the strange house. John Winchester just knew these things.
They went through the kitchen, stopping at a white door. John aimed the shotgun as he pulled open the door. A set of stairs led down into a thick, musty blackness. "This way," John said, lowering the shotgun as he started down.
Sam followed quickly, well aware of the watch on his wrist and the numbers it ticked away.
The smell of mold grew stronger, as if the air down here hadn't been breathed in for a long time. While it wasn't pleasant, Sam preferred this odor over the nauseating stench upstairs. His foot hit concrete and Sam spared a moment to glance around, getting his bearings.
One small window, covered in dust and spider webs above a stack of wooden crates, filtered the moonlight streaming in. In the corner, an old, iron wood burning furnace sat against the wall. Large cardboard boxes lined the far wall, each labeled in black marker for a room upstairs. The handwriting was large and loopy and as he moved to the center of the room, Sam imagined Mrs. Patterson showing her husband where to set the boxes.
John stood beside a support beam. "Sam, toss me the dynamite."
Sam dropped the bag, catching it before it hit the floor. Being a Marine had enabled John to establish contacts with trustworthy weaponry dealers. So when Dean was younger and presented their father with his first hand-drawn game plan to take out a large group of zombies, John went out the next day and returned with the requested supply of explosives. Dean's eyes lit up and that night, they put the plan into action. It worked flawlessly and even earned its own code name: the 'Winchester Special'.
Even Sam had to admit, blowing up houses- while the zombies were inside- was pretty cool.
Sam bent over and unzipped the bag. He reached in, once more conscious of the time then paused.
"Uh, Dad?" This couldn't be right. Sam dug deeper, finding nothing but their father's clothes inside.
"Sam, on the double!" John growled impatiently.
Sam's chest tightened with fear. "There's nothing in here," he said, his fingertips scraping the bottom of the bag over and over. Nothing but clothes. He'd been too preoccupied to notice the difference.
"What do you mean, there's nothing in there?" John replied with annoyance, abandoning the post and moving towards Sam.
Sam thrust a white t-shirt at his father. "It's just clothes- There's nothing else in here!" He dropped the shirt, glancing at his watch. Shit. They only had forty seconds before Dean would be back, angry zombies in tow.
John snatched the bag and clawed through the contents, a scowl deep on his face. "Son of a bitch," he muttered, then threw the bag aside. "Fuck."
"What do we do?" Sam asked. His heart hammered in sync with his watch.
"Stay calm," John ordered, running a hand through his hair. "We gotta get out of here. If they come back and we're trapped down here…"
Heavy pounding sounded over their heads. "Honey, I'm home," Dean shouted.
Sam looked up as dust sprinkled down, glittering in the moonlight. It started at one end of the basement and quickly spread forwards as Dean moved above them.
"Let's go," John ordered, grabbing Sam by the elbow and pushing him towards the stairs. "Move!"
Sam didn't need to be told twice. He scrambled up the filthy stairs, determined to beat the group of zombies to the top. He crested the stairs just in time to see Dean disappear around the corner, heading towards the back door.
He was one step inside the kitchen when the zombies appeared, moving rather quickly for decomposing lumps of flesh. He skidded to a stop. Dean would barricade the back door as soon as he was through it, so he couldn't go that way. And three groaning, hungry, angry zombies bore down from the other direction. He was trapped.
"Back down!" John shouted, pulling on the fabric between Sam's shoulder blades.
Sam stumbled as he backpedaled, ducking out of the doorway just as a large hand with yellow fingernails swiped at him. He flew down the stairs, breathing hard through his mouth. Behind him, the zombies followed.
"Here," John yelled, firing the shotgun at the small window, shattering the glass. "Get out and get Dean," he said as he kicked the stack of wooden crates closer to the wall. "Go, Sam!"
Sam leapt on the boxes, his legs wobbly as he fought for balance. He reached up, grabbing a hold of the window ledge and ignored the bite and sting from the shards of glass. He jumped, propelling his head through the window and clawing for a better hold in the overgrown weeds outside. His shoes scrabbled over the concrete wall before meeting resistance, and then Sam pushed himself completely through the window.
"Dean!" he yelled, even as he spun around to help his father.
John stood on the boxes, his arms through the window. He dropped the shotgun onto the ground and Sam reached for him, rocking back on his haunches and bracing his feet against a thick tree root. His hands burned when he gripped John's wrists and he fell back, the blood coating them acting as a lubricant.
Sam cursed and pushed himself up. He could see the zombies behind his father and he scrambled forward, reaching out again and grabbing his father's shirt sleeves instead. He leaned back, pulling with all his strength as John struggled. He felt the gun in the small of his back but reaching for it would mean sacrificing his father. "Dean- Now!"
The zombie-postman grabbed a hold of John's foot and both men slipped forward as John kicked out. The zombie fell back, his tattered blue postal cap falling from his matted hair, and Sam gave one hard tug, finally heaving John through the window.
John grabbed the shotgun and spun, facing the window with his weapon aimed. Sam reached for his own and together, father and son slew the advancing zombies.
Moments later, zombies littered the cold concrete floor, unmoving. Gunpowder and sweat hung heavy in the air and the simple chirping of crickets echoed around them. Sam lowered his weapon, panting. He looked at John.
John's nostrils flared as he breathed. After a moment, he glanced at Sam. "God damn. Good shooting, Sammy."
Sam looked at him incredulously.
"Sam! Dad!" Dean came crashing through the woods at the backs. "I heard the shots- what happened? What about the plan?"
"Why don't you ask Dad," Sam muttered, bringing up his hands to examine them. They stung horribly and he could feel the glass embedded in his skin.
"Jesus, Sam- what happened?" Dean bent down, grabbing Sam's right wrist and shined the flashlight on it. The thick blood sparkled.
John pushed to his feet. "Come on, we'll take care of that back at the motel," he said, brushing off his jeans. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"We need to torch it first," Sam said, and then he hissed in pain as Dean probed too hard. "Get away," he snapped, pulling his hands out of Dean's grasp.
Dean glared then rose to his feet as well. "What happened in there, Dad? Why aren't I watching pieces of zombie guts fall from the sky right now?"
"It's nothing, Dean," John snapped, staring at the broken window.
Sam stood, feeling his face getting hot. His curled his hands into fists, reveling in the pain. "Nothing? You almost got turned, Dad. What if that thing had gotten a hold of you?"
John spun to face him. "Knock it off, Sam. Nothing happened."
Dean cut in. "Uh- hello? Someone mind telling me what's going on?"
Sam whipped around. "Dad brought the wrong bag, that's what's going on. There was no dynamite, just clothes." He glared at John, his jaw clenched.
Dean's body tensed in shock. "Dad?"
John turned away, starting for the vehicles. "Dean- don't. I'm fine, Sam's fine, and the zombies are dead." Under his breath, he mumbled, "Mistake."
They followed on his heels. "But you don't make mistakes," Dean shot back. "Ever."
"Well, tonight I did, okay?!" John's shoulders tensed and his arms hung stiffly at his sides. "Now I'm telling you- drop it!"
Sam moved in front of Dean, his body still humming with adrenaline. "What's with you? You're the one always telling us to stay on top of our game, always stay sharp. We almost died back there!"
John stopped and spun on his heel, jabbing a finger in Sam's face. "You watch your mouth," he growled. "Don't tell me about the dangers of this job. I do not need a lecture from you about staying on top of the game!"
Sam clenched his jaw, recognizing the feral look in his father's eyes. As much as he wanted to, arguing now would be pointless. The older man was a brick wall; Sam could beat against it until his fists were bloody and it would do no good.
They stared at each other a moment longer before Sam blinked and looked away. "Yes sir."
"Good," John said simply, and then he turned and continued back to the vehicles.
Sam and Dean followed without a word. He hadn't changed his mind- something was definitely off with their father, like he was distracted or his head is not in the game. This forgetfulness had steadily been getting worse in the past few weeks. Several times, he'd forgotten the names of the people they talked to. He woke up at odd times in the night and watched TV till morning. Sam couldn't understand it- the anniversary of Mary's death wasn't for months. If Dean noticed, he hadn't said anything.
The crickets came to a crescendo then, the noise deafening him. Sam took a deep breath, pushing down his anger. Ahead of them, John had already started the truck and Sam stared at the glowing brake lights. Something was bothering his father and until he got it straightened out, Sam would stay out of the way.