Title: Darkness Shall Follow
Rating: PG-13 for creepiness and violence, gen
Characters: John, Dean, Sam
A/N: This is so not my norm, and I really can't say why John's voice came into my head of all people. In this fic, Sam's 16 and Dean's 20, and John is John. This is a dark-ish fic, but I don't think it's too out there, but I could be wrong. Much thanks to geminigrl11 for the beta. And I have to thank sendintheclowns for being my go-to girl when it comes to random plot details that need to be researched. And altpointofview was extremely helpful confirming all the medical stuff and for general cheerleading. There are four chapters to this fic and an epilogue.
Disclaimer: I claim none of this, except the places where my tense slips--that's all me :)
Summary: It doesn't matter who it is. It just matters that it's not both of them. That he's going to save one and probably condemn the other. This destroys him either way
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter - bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."
-"The Heart" by Stephen Crane
It's late fall and they're in Minnesota. John's caught wind of some disappearances he wants to check out and there's a few other hunts in the area that allow them to settle for a bit in Duluth. They've been there nearly three months, nearly long enough for Sam to finish up his term at school, and John just wants to finish this last hunt up, and move on.
The longer Sam stays someplace, the more he wants to stay, and the kid has been dropping hints for weeks about how he wants to finish out his English Literature class.
They're headed for a fight, John can sense it, so he wants to pull out and leave before it gets harder than it is.
For now, though, they're all focused on the hunt. The boys have been studying and training, and he's been covering all his bases.
He gets home that afternoon, a little weary, and a little anxious. They're getting close, and something just feels bigger about this one in a way he can't explain.
He's so focused on that, that he's thrown off when he finds his son sitting on the floor, reading.
"Aren't you supposed to be training?"
Sam jumps, clearly caught off-guard. He hurriedly closes his book and shoving it behind his backpack. "Sorry, I, uh--"
"Thought you could get away without training today?" John guesses, his voice a little light in the accusation. Sam's been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. It's such a flagrant offense, almost innocent in its obviousness, that John isn't sure he needs to yell.
Sam blushes. "I have a lot of homework tonight," he says.
John just raises his eyebrows. "Training before homework. You know the rules."
Then Sam rolls his eyes, and John knows this is trouble. Sam sighs a little, in exaggerated exasperation. "It's not like one day will kill me or anything," Sam says, his voice far too easy.
"Training is important," John replies, his voice taking on an edge. "You know that."
At this, Sam snorts, and it sends John's blood pressure rising. He wonders why his son just can't take orders, just can't obey without comment for once in his life. He'd never had nearly this problem with Dean, and John's so used to people doing what he says that patience isn't a virtue he practices anymore, and usually Sam gets the short end of that stick.
"Yeah, I'm sure that a spirit will really care how many sit-ups I can do as we're wasting it," Sam quips.
And that about does it. Sam needs a talking to, to be reminded of who he is. "I suggest you rethink what you're saying, son." It's not a request and they both know it.
The humor fades from Sam's eyes and his jaw sets rigidly for a moment. "I just stopped for a minute," he says, trying to justify his wayward behavior.
John recognizes it as a childish plea for mercy. An excuse. Sam's out of excuses in this house. It's always something, always just for a minute, always just a little. On some level, John can see that Sam's desires are simple and normal, but their lives aren't simple and normal, and John knows if he gives too much, he'll lose his son forever one way or another. He's worked to hard for that, worked too hard to have Sam act like a common teenager.
His eyes narrow and he straightens his back. "Samuel, you know the rules."
A thousand imperceptible thoughts flash through Sam's eyes--annoyance, fear, questioning, frustration--before they go blank again. He tries to smile. "Dad..."
"You think this is a joke, Sam?" John asks, point blank, so Sam has no place to hide.
Sam looks down and won't look up at him. Though his youngest is nearly as tall as him, the thin shoulders slouch, and he seems to shrink in his father's presence. "No, sir."
"Then you can leave the attitude outside, okay?"
Sam grits his teeth and John can see the boy wants to protest.
"You hear me?"
Patience is not a strength of any teenager, and clearly Sam's no different. "We shouldn't have to do this," he says finally, a twinge of petulance coloring his voice.
"What, protect yourselves?"
Sam sighs in exasperation. "I wouldn't need to protect myself if you didn't drag me on hunts all the time."
And there's the accusation that John won't stomach, the one that Sam's been dancing around for weeks now. His anger turns wrathful just like that. "You think ignorance will help you? That it will save you? That if you live in a nice house on a nice street with nice things that somehow you'll be safer? It doesn't work that way. People die every day—all because they were too ignorant of what was out there to help themselves. Evil doesn't care who you are. It always finds you, always. And the only way to protect yourself is to fight it. To be ready for it. To get it before it gets you."
The words subdue Sam, beat him down, and the boy seems to fold into himself completely. He won't look up, and his eyes darken and his shoulders sag. John swallows hard, wondering if he's gone too far.
But Sam nods, his son acquiesces. The defiance seems to be buried in the hurt and John almost opens his mouth to say something.
Sam beats him to it. "Four more sets?"
This is such a rare acceptance that John's words are quieted and he nods gruffly back. "Make it three then take a shower."
Sam doesn't even look up as he bends down to try his hand at push-ups again.
John lingers for a moment, watching his son, watching the way Sam moves, strong and confident and able. He has a swell of pride and he leaves the room before he can let that emotion overtake him. He knows that emotion is weakness, that sentimentality is dangerous, that giving in ruins the chain of command. There simply isn't room for risks.
John is reading when he hears the shower run. He doesn't have to check to know Sam did what he was supposed to do. Sam is defiant, but he knows his son, knows when he's given in and when he's still fighting. Sam's resigned himself for today, and John rests easy in that fact.
The door opens and John looks up. Dean is sauntering into the kitchen.
John looks back down at his notes. "You pick up the supplies?"
It's an unnecessary question, he can see the bag in Dean's hands, and more importantly, he knows this son, too.
Dean grins and places the bag on the table. "Everything, just like you asked," he says, and John can hear the pride in his voice.
Dean pulls two candles from the bag. "Purest wax I could find."
John nods in approval. "The herbs?"
"All there," he says, tossing the small packets on the table. "Had to hit the organic food store and everything."
"Good," John murmurs, making another annotation in his margin.
Dean sighs a little and sits down in the chair. "You really think he'll give us trouble?" Dean asks, fondling the herbs and the candles laid out on the table.
John pauses for a moment and thinks Dean is talking about Sam. But his son is focused on the tools of the hunt, the task at hand. "There's just something...off in this case," John tries to explain. "No one's actually seen this one, and usually there are rumors at least."
"Well, everyone's convinced it's some serial killer," Dean says with a snort, leaning back in his chair.
John chuckles. This feels good. Him and Dean, talking the job. Dean's a natural at this, and John's a little reluctant to admit that his son is almost ready to go solo. But for now, it's still a story of the family that hunts together, stays together. And together is the only place he wants them to be.
"A serial killer would be easy to deal with," John says. "No supernatural powers, no salt and burn, just simple flesh on flesh, mind to mind."
Dean just shrugs. "Nothing we can't handle."
He says it with such ease, such confidence, such assurance, that it makes John feel like maybe he's done something right in his life after all.
At nine, the sky is dark and the air is bitter cold. The locals have all huddled up for the night, and smoke rises from the chimneys throughout town. No one seems out and about, and as John rubs his hands in the night, he's actually pretty glad. The last thing they need are people wandering by. It's never easy to explain one's presence in a graveyard at night with a shovel in hand.
The boys are mostly quiet, both focused on their tasks. He wants them covering the perimeter. It's not clear where the attacks take place and John wants to be sure it doesn't pop up elsewhere and nab someone else.
The boys move in tandem with one another, reading the other's moves without talking at all. They exchange glances, almost dance around each other as they prepare, and it's so seamless that John wonders when they became so good at it.
All the training, all the years and years of training and persistence, seems to have paid off, he thinks, and he can't help but smile.
"Keep to the perimeter and check out any suspicious movement," John reminds them.
Sam purses his lips and Dean's nod is serious.
"Be safe, boys," John says as he shoulders his pack and grabs his shovel.
At this, they both nod. It's Sam who says softly, "You too, Dad."
The dig is hard. The ground is cold and the dirt is stiff as he tries to dig through it. The entire night is uncomfortable as hell and he'd rather be at home nursing a beer with his journal, but he's not. And this has to be done.
His breath comes in puffs and his lungs burn a little with exertion in the cold. He's going to be stiff tomorrow, no matter how good of shape he's in, and he can feel it working through his muscles already.
But it's been thankfully quiet, and John is grateful for that small favor.
He hopes the boys are moving around, that they're keeping themselves warm. Both of their jackets are worn, and Sam's is far too small for him. Next week, when the hunt is over, he'll have to buy them new ones.
He's nearly done when he sees the light.
It's coming from the crypt.
For a second, he thinks it could be the boys, that they could have gone in there to get warm, but it doesn't make sense. They know better than to draw that much attention to themselves. And John knows his boys, and they wouldn't be distracted enough by cold to abandon their posts. Not for anything.
Dean's distracted by a good looking girl and Sam's a sucker for a good book, but both boys know that on a hunt, there are no room for mistakes. Their focus is singular. Everything else gets put aside.
So it's not the boys. And John can't think of anything else.
He could wait for the boys to check it out, but he's much closer, and it's making him nervous. Sighing, he hoists himself from the grave, shovel in one hand, flashlight in the other, and walks toward the crypt.
He scans the perimeter and looks for a sign from the boys.
All is still and quiet.
That seems off to him, seems too quiet. He wishes he could see something from the boys, but he's the one who taught them how to be stealthy. He shouldn't be surprised that they're good at it.
He approaches the crypt cautiously and uncertainly. He doesn't know where this is leading yet, and he needs to be open to all possibilities.
When he gets there, he sees the door is cracked, and there's someone inside.
He could just leave, go hide, but something compels him to go forward. Whoever this is, he's surely already seen John, already seen the grave he's been digging, so there's something to be said for damage control.
The door opens with a squeak, and John steps in. The man looks up at him from the opposite side. He's reclining against the wall, arms crossed against his chest, and he's watching.
John is tentative and slow. He doesn't know this man, hasn't seen him, but he seems familiar. His policy is always to play it cool with civilians because he doesn't want them involved, but he doesn't really know why this one is in a crypt at night.
"I've been watching you, John," the man says, so casually, almost friendly.
John's heart skips a beat right there. Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong. He's walked into something that he's not prepared for, he's been totally and completely blindsided.
The man seems to be enjoying his confusion. "I've been watching you trying to watch me," he says. "And you've been close. So close. But just not quite." The regret in his voice sounds rehearsed and mocking.
"Who are you?" John asks, his fingers tensing on the gun buried under his coat. He circles slowly, his back still to the wall, keeping his distance and sizing up his opponent.
The man is normal looking. Average height, a somewhat lesser build. His hair is brown and his face is forgettable. But his eyes twinkle with darkness and his smile reveals pure white teeth. "My name's Garrett," he says. "But you're already familiar with my work."
Seven disappearances, all in this graveyard. The victims' jackets and shoes were always found in this crypt, but no other trace was ever discovered. One every year. Same date. Same time. Same everything. The victims aren't connected, aren't similar. It has all the markings of a telltale spirit and a cemetery is a perfect place for one to grow.
The cops were thinking serial killer, but John had been pretty sure otherwise.
The cops were right.
The killer is standing right before him, living and breathing and not nearly as psychotic as John would think a serial killer would be.
The man, Garrett, recognizes the realization in John's eyes. He chuckles. "You thought I was a ghost," he said. "You were prepared for a haunting. You even have the boys out there right now keeping watch to make sure you don't get picked up for desecration."
And he'll be damned if it's not like a sucker punch. It takes all he has to keep from flinching.
Garrett seems to see it anyway. "You fascinate me, John," he says, hands pushed deep in his coat pockets. "You're so sure of yourself, so careful, so protective. I like to watch people, John, and I've never watched anyone like you."
John is still moving, even slower now, waiting for his opening, waiting for a sign to strike.
"You're so blind when it comes to them," Garrett says. "You love them, you want to keep them safe, but you left them completely exposed out there."
And John gets it suddenly, gets what Garrett knows. He knows where the boys are. He's seen the boys.
"Anything could happen to them."
"Leave my boys out of this," John growls, a flash of rage mixing with a bolt of fear as he finds his voice.
He smiles, long and easy. "But, John, I'm not the one who brought them into this," he says.
"They're just boys," John says, and he can keep the panic from hitching in his voice.
"That should be at home, studying and thinking about girls," Garrett agrees. "But instead you arm them with silver bullets and salt and show them all the darkness of the world. Then you march them through the pits of hell and have the audacity to be surprised when demons salivate over them." He shook his head slowly, a smile of sympathy and condescension on his face. "You don't understand, John. You did this to your boys. This is your fault. You can't protect lambs by hiding them in a lion's den."
John is frozen now, too angry to even speak, too scared to even draw his gun.
"Your boys, John? They're good kids. Almost as good of hunters. But not good enough. Not prepared enough. They should be at home watching TV on a cold night like this. But instead you had them playing back up, hiding in some ditch. You'll be lucky if they both don't catch hypothermia from sitting out there." He stops and smiles. "Although hypothermia isn't much compared to a head injury and oxygen deprivation now, is it, John?"
John's blood is boiling and freezing all at once and he lunges forward at him in a burst of rage, pinning him to the wall. "What have you done to my sons?"
Garrett just laughs, not struggling against John's grip. "I assure you, I did them very little harm."
John's grip tightens dangerously. "Where are they?" he demands, his eyes delving into the man's deceptively soft blue eyes.
"But I thought you trusted them, John," he says. "I thought they were safe."
He's mocking him and it makes John's anger surge. "Tell me." He emphasizes his words with a harsh shake.
It makes Garrett laugh, throw his head back and laugh. When he's done, he quirks his lips into a smile. "Give me your weapons," he says.
"Give me your weapons," he repeats. He nods to John's gun tucked in his pants. "All of them."
"Why would I do that?" John's voice is a mixture of disbelief and anger.
"Because if you don't, then I won't tell you how to save your sons."
John just stares at him.
"It's their time you're wasting, John," he says. "I have all night. They don't."
Numbly, John lets go, releases him and steps back.
"That's it," he coaxes. "The gun first."
He can't believe he's doing this. He could beat this man, he could kill him with his bare hands, but something inside of him can't take that chance. He won't take that chance.
He knows demons lie, and people can too, but this one's telling the truth.
John pulls the gun out and hands it over.
A flash of victory lights on Garrett's face. "Now the rest, please, John."
So John disarms, methodically and quickly, and Garrett accepts each piece like a conquest.
Garrett fondles each piece for a moment, before pocketing them. Then he smiles broadly. "You're to wait five minutes," he says. "Then you may leave the crypt and look for the boys. There will be a map at the cemetery gate. If you follow me, you'll never get it. If you waste your time coming after me...well, then, you really won't need the map after all. Do you understand, John?" His smirk is condescending, his tone is too good natured.
John's heart is racing, and he feels a little faint. His mind is screaming that he needs to do something, anything, but he can't make himself move.
Garrett moves to the door, cocking his head. "A little tongue-tied, are we? I know you're not a man of many words, but really, I did expect more from you."
Garrett's to the door and John's still standing there. He's still a little shocked he was wrong, still a little shocked that a man that looks like nobody could have gotten one up on him, still a little shocked that this man is dangling his boys in front of him and he can't do anything but play by his rules.
He's John Winchester. This just doesn't happen.
But it is happening.
"And I'd hurry, John," he adds from the doorway. "It's already been a good thirty minutes. They're running out of time."
With that, Garrett disappears, and the door shuts behind him, leaving John alone and numb.
The words resound in John's ears.
"You don't understand, John. You did this to your boys. This is your fault. You can't protect lambs by hiding them in a lion's den."
He doesn't wait five minutes, but he waits until his brain knows how to make his legs move again, and he's out the door.
The map is just where Garrett says. It's crude, an elementary drawing, but John follows it with ease.
The map leads him to the back of the cemetery, where new plots are being laid. He doesn't know what he's looking for, where his kids are, because all he sees are headstones and two mounds of dirt.
From freshly dug graves. Unmarked graves.
It can't be.
It just can't...
John's mind is reeling and the world is tilting and tunneling and it just can't be true.
Seven disappearances. No trace ever found. All in the cemetery.
No one looks for dead bodies in a cemetery.
Ghosts aren't the only ones who kill in ritualistic and cruel ways.
John's knees nearly give out and he feels himself start to retch.
He wants to lie there and breathe and get his crap together, but there's no time for that. The longest anyone has survived being buried alive is two hours. Two hours, and John figures he's already out thirty minutes. That leaves 90 minutes.
The fastest he's ever dug a grave is just under that.
It makes him want to puke again.
He can only save one boy.
Looking up, he sees the two piles, sees the shovel planted in the ground, waiting for him.
He doesn't know how to process it, how to think about making that decision, to think about while he saves one, the other will die.
But it's time he doesn't have, and one is better than none, and maybe he'll dig faster, maybe the dirt will be so loose that it'll shave time off his dig, maybe he can do this.
He stands and reaches for the shovel, tackling the first grave he sees.
There's no other option.