A/N : Well, here it is. The last chapter of the story. While I feel it's a bit rushed, it works, and I like it. Perhaps I'll somehow manage to work up a sequel, perhaps not. Either way, I'm happy with this story. Hope y'all are, too...hint, hint! ;)
More than once John Winchester had made a solemn promise. To himself, to his wife, and to Dean. He swore he would never lay a hand on him again. He swore he would never hurt his boys. He would not let anger get the best of him.
But somehow, when Dean stumbled through the door drunk five years under the legal age, he couldn't help himself. He'd lashed out, and Dean ended up with a shiner. They told Sam he'd been injured on a hunt, and that was that.
He apologized an hour later, and given Dean his favorite knife, saying, "Don't let it happen again, okay? I'm sorry."
Dean only smiled, accepted the knife, and spent the next hour honing the blade to a deadly sharpness.
And again, when Dean was 17, and John caught him driving the Impala back from some dive at three in the morning. He'd woken up to find his son's bed empty, and spent two hours worrying before he heard the Impala's engine cut off, and saw Dean coax it into the parking lot. He'd beaten him almost unconscious before Dean even set foot on the sidewalk. While Sam slept unaware inside, Dean curled into a ball, trying to deflect the damage from his father's steel toed boots.
John counted to himself, one for stealing the car. One for sneaking out. One for being where he shouldn't be. One for scaring the shit out of me.
By the time he'd come to his senses, Dean was spitting blood and begging his father to stop.
He'd stumbled back, unable to believe he'd done this kind of damage.
He started crying, and Dean, barely holding himself upright, was so shocked by this display of emotion, that he was the one apologizing, comforting his father with a hand on his shoulder.
"If something happened to you..." John sobbed. "What would I do, Dean? What would I do?"
And Dean said, "I'm sorry, Dad. I'm sorry."
There were incidents here and there, little things that almost weren't worth remembering. Slaps and shoves and occasional punches. Some bruises and a busted rib here, a chipped tooth from the bathroom sink and a broken finger or two there.
They never told Sam, and Sam never caught on.
Dean took it with a quiet acceptance, and John always apologized. He always said he was sorry, and Dean always forgave him, because his father was not a monster.
He was doing the best he knew how.
But when Dean was twenty, and Sammy sixteen, John raised his hand to Sam for the first time.
They were holed up in some hotel outside of Nevada, and Sam brought up, also for the first time, that he wanted to go to college. He would be graduating soon, he said, and it was time to start looking.
John snorted and said, "You're not going to college."
And Dean winced when Sammy stuck his chest out and insisted that yes, he was.
The fight that ensued was heated, and Dean found his stomach turning as he watched them. Never had he instigated his father like this, and he knew there was only one way it would end.
John Winchester always had the last word. And it wasn't a word you disobeyed. No, by now he knew better.
And before he knew it, his father's hand drew back.
Sam's eyes took on an almost comical wideness, his jaw literally falling as he realized his father's intent.
And Dean, like a flash, so fast even he didn't know how he got there, was suddenly in between them. He put himself between his father and his brother and did something he'd never done before.
He grabbed his father's wrist before the fist could land, and with strength he didn't know he possessed, he said, "No."
John blinked, the tone so icy he had to check to make sure this was really Dean.
He pushed against the grip, testing it, and his son's fingers bit into the skin, knuckles turning white.
Deans eyes bore into his own, dark and frightening, and in a whisper he hissed, "Not Sammy."
"Not Sammy," he repeated, shaking his head.
John let his fist fall to his side. He had no doubt that Dean would kick his ass there and back for not listening to him.
He was warning him. His eyes, shining and feverish, told him, I won't let you make this mistake again.
It was the first time Dean had fought back.
John swallowed, stepped back, and wheeled around.
"I'll be at the bar," he said, and was gone.
He spent the rest of the night getting drunk enough to forget what he'd done, what he'd tried to do.
It was the last time he ever raised a hand to Sam.
Years later, Sam was saying, "I'll tell you one thing. We're lucky we had Dad."
Dean faltered. "I never thought I'd hear you say that."
"Well, he could've gone a whole 'nother way after Mom. A little more tequila, a little less demon-hunting, and we would've had Max's childhood," Sam said. "All things considered, we turned out okay—thanks to him."
Dean swallowed hard.
"All things considered."