Title - Walk the Line

Summary - There was one song that made John think of Mary, one song that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Part of 'The Dark Horse' series

"Walk the Line"

"Dance with me," Mary demanded as she held out a hand.

John was sitting on the sofa with Dean curled up beside him, his head resting comfortably below the man's shoulder. Johnny Cash played on the record player, and John couldn't help but grin at the gleeful smile playing on his wife's lips. It was their song, had been since the day they met. At a bar right after he came home from Vietnam, he saw her sitting with a couple friends. Walked right up to her and asked her to dance with him, told her he never saw a more beautiful woman in his life. She laughed at him, said he couldn't pick her up with some cheesy line like that. He let out a low chuckle, a smirk gracing his features, and told her he wouldn't leave unless she danced just once with him. So she danced with him, I Walk the Line playing softly in the background.

"John," she said pleadingly.

He patted Dean gently on the shoulder, causing the boy to reluctantly sit up straight as John stood. He wrapped one arm around her back. With his free hand, he encased the small hand with his larger one and pulled it close to his chest. They swayed together as Mary watched Dean give a toothy grin as he positioned himself over the side of the couch to catch a glimpse of his four-month-old brother lying peacefully in the nearby playpen.

"For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide," John song softly along with the music, "because you're mine, I walk the line."

"Remind me again why I married you, John Winchester," she asked quietly as she rested her head on his shoulder.

"Because you thought my ancestors invented the Winchester rifle and you wanted to bask in my fortune," he replied as she laughed.

"That would only be a bonus," she replied as she looked up at him. "Look at our boys, John. They're beautiful."

John twisted his neck to peer at his sons. Dean was leaning dangerous over the side of the couch as he tried to tickle Sammy awake. His face was scrunched up in concentration, his body inching slowly off the side threatening to flatten Sammy at any second.

"Dean," John said with a laugh as he pulled away from Mary, "you're going to fall on your brother."

With little effort, Dean was scooped up into his father's arms. Mary smiled sadly, a hand massaging the back of her head causing her hair to get messed up. John and Dean's laughter rang in the living room as John tickled his son. The childish protests followed, his tiny voice cracking with laughter. John stopped immediately at Mary's long face, tears burning in her eyes.

"Mary, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," she replied, "I'm just really happy."

Looking at her with concern, John wanted to press the matter but knew his wife was as stubborn as he was. She wouldn't tell him what was bothering her until she was good and ready to. Adjusting Dean on his hip, John placed his free hand on the back of his son's head and drew it close to his face. He kissed the top of the boy's head, his eyes never leaving his wife. A total feeling of foreboding filled him, but he quickly pushed it aside. He told himself that it was probably just her hormones.

That night, when the boys were fast asleep in their beds, Mary sat up writing in her journal. John lied next to her, balancing the books of the small auto body shop he owned with his best friend. He glanced at his wife every now and then, wondering what she was writing. Mary always wrote in a journal, every night, never forgetting to chronicle even the most uneventful day.

John was snapped out of his thoughts when he heard the soft pitter patter of footfalls. Craning his neck, he watched the slightly ajar door open fully. Dean stood there clad in footsie pajamas with tears streaming down his face. Immediately, John was out of bed and at Dean's side. The small body flung his arms around his father's neck, sobbing into his father's shoulder.

"Dean, Buddy, what's wrong?"

"Man," he said with a gasp. "Man in room."

He heard his wife's breathing hitch as she scrambled out of bed and out of the room. John, with Dean wrapped tightly in his arms, quickly went to the closet and took out a handgun. He then ran down the hallway to his son's room to see Mary standing there with her arms wrapped around her chest and the window open.

"Mary?" he asked as he looked around the room.

"Should we call the police?" Her voice quivered, her body shaking with fear.

John didn't reply at first. He handed Dean to his wife and quickly searched the room. There was no one there. He went to the window and closed it, latching it shut tightly. The family then made their way down to Sammy's room to see the baby sleeping soundly. John checked the whole house, top to bottom, looking for the invader. There was no one. Crawling back into bed next to Mary, John pulled Dean close to him.

"Maybe he just dreamt it," he murmured as he slid closer to his wife.

"Maybe."

"We probably just left the window open and forgot about it. It is summer," he whispered before planting a kiss on her temple.

"Yeah… all right."

"Dean and Sammy are fine," he stressed. "I checked the whole house. Nobody is here, and nobody is going to hurt any of us."

Mary tilted her head to look at John, her face looking so defeated and worn. She nodded slowly before closing the space between their faces and capturing his lips into a kiss. The look of Mary that night would haunt John Winchester for the rest of his life. It was as though she knew something, something that he couldn't even begin to comprehend. When Mary died, a part of John died with her. If it wasn't for Dean and Sammy, John was certain that he would have killed himself to escape the pain. To go on without Mary was just unbearable. He had never loved anyone as much as he loved that woman. She was his soul mate. It killed John to look at Dean, the small boy who was the very embodiment of his late wife.

John drove down the highway, arching his back into the leather seat of his beloved Impala. In the backseat, a sixteen-month-old Sammy cuddled against his five-year-old brother's side. His mouth was slightly open, drool accumulating on Dean's shirt, and soft snores escaping his lips. Dean's arm rested comfortably around his brother, his head drooping down to rest on the top of Sammy's unruly brown curls. With a sharp intake of breath, John thought of Mary and how her heart would have just melted if she saw the boys cuddling in such a way.

Upon reaching the next motel, John stopped and checked themselves in. With Dean in one arm and Sammy in the other, John fumbled with the lock of their room. Once inside, he gently laid the boys down onto the bed. He tucked them in, giving each boy a kiss on the top of the head. Dean's eyes fluttered open as he looked at his father, his body instinctively scooting over towards his brother.

"Go back to bed, Kiddo," John whispered as he pushed the boy's hair away from his eyes.

Dean didn't say anything. He nodded slowly before drawing Sammy close to him, burying his face into the boy's soft hair. John carefully laid the salt around the motel room before walking out to the Impala to get their bags. Setting them down onto the pavement, John opened the backdoor of the car to grab the discarded stuffed animal that Sammy was so fond of - that had been Dean's before. The boy had given it to his brother, the white fabric dirty from ash and foul smelling. Sammy was more than ecstatic, clenching the thing in his chubby arms whenever he wasn't clenching his older brother's hand. Grabbing the decrepit stuffed rabbit, John noticed a record lying underneath the backseat.

He felt like he had been punched in the gut. An old Johnny Cash record laid there, the song I Walk the Line being on the playlist. Throwing the rabbit back onto the bags, John grabbed the album in his shaking hands. Gripping it tightly, he broke it in half over his knee. Then he broke the two pieces again. Finding the nearest trash bin, he threw the broken pieces of record in. Memories of Mary suffocated him, making it hard for him to breathe.

Going back to the motel room, John shut and locked everything. He sat in a chair next to the bed, his head in his hands. Soft sobs escaped his lips, his body shaking in grief. He didn't even hear the bed creak until he felt Dean's hand touch his arm. Turning his blotchy red face towards his oldest, he felt comfort slowly starting to fill his limbs and the twisting in his stomach coming undone.

"It's 'kay, Daddy," he whispered. "I miss Mommy too."

The kid hadn't talked in months since Mary's death. The only person he'd talk to was Sammy and even then it was just the quietest of whispers. Whenever he needed something, Dean would play an extravagant game of charades. To hear Dean speaking to him, to see his mouth move and words actually being heard made John the happiest he'd been since Mary's death.

"I love you, Dean."

John reached out and pulled the boy into his arms before getting up. He laid Dean back into his spot next to Sammy and climbed into bed with his boys, the weight on his chest lifting ever so slightly. He had his boys, the only people who were keeping him sane. He had to protect them, had to save them from the evils of the world. There was no way he could leave them. They needed him just as much as he needed them.

Ten years later, there would be moments when John would look at his boys and see them as small children with toothy grins and high-pitched laughter. He could still picture them cuddling in the backseat rather than fighting playfully with one another. He could still see them when they were innocent and not the mischievous teens they had become. It was the times that they reverted back to their sweet, innocent selves that made it all the more hard for John.

He returned home from a hunt one weekend to see both the fifteen-year-old and the eleven-year-old awake on the apartment's couch. Sammy was leaning up against his brother, his eyes drooping. Dean, on the other hand, had a cup of coffee in his hands and more awake than what John considered healthy. It was two in the morning for crying out loud.

"Sammy," Dean nudged his brother gently as John walked around the couch to stand in front of them.

"What are you still doing up?" he demanded as his gaze drifted to a poorly wrapped present on the coffee table.

"You weren't home yesterday," Dean explained as Sammy sat up while rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Yesterday was your birthday. You're like what? 70 by now?"

The trademark Winchester smirk found its way on Dean's maturing face. Sammy let out a soft laugh as a smile appeared on the boy's chubby face. John glanced at his children in disbelief. Had it really been his birthday? Had he really just turned 40?

"We got you something," Sammy announced as he held out the flat package. "I wrapped it in the funnies because it was the only colorful part of the paper."

"You went out and spent money on me?" he questioned as he took the present from his youngest. "Where the hell did you get the money?"

"Signed up for my first credit card," Dean boasted. "Jimmy Morrison. Nineteen. Pleasure to meet you."

John let out a laugh as he slowly unwrapped the present. It was a record, a special edition of a record that John had long ago broken into pieces. Johnny Cash's face stared up at him, the man in black's straight face seemed to mock him. He couldn't breathe as he stared at the album, and he was certain that his eyes started to feel moist.

"Dad?" Dean questioned. "I thought you'd like it."

John's head snapped up to look at his two very confused boys. They had tried to do something nice, and he was making them believe he hated the present. Truth be told, he did hate the present. The lyrics to Cash's songs only reminded him of Mary and everything that he'd lost in the fire over ten years before.

"Nah, I do like it," he managed to get out in a steady voice. "It's great. Thanks, boys."

"We can take it back," Sam offered as he turned to a crushed Dean.

"I remember you always used to sing some of his songs to Sammy and me when we were younger," Dean said in a soft voice, "or when we were sick. You hum the songs sometimes while you're driving to keep awake."

"I do?" John questioned as he didn't recall ever humming Cash since Mary died.

"Yeah… it always helped Sammy and me sleep in the car," admitted Dean.

"Dean, Sammy, seriously, thank you. It's just… it reminds me of your mom."

At the mention of Mary, Sammy immediately sat up straight. Fully awake with anticipation to hear about his mother, Sam leaned slightly forward towards his father to get the details. It was a rare occasion that John or Dean would talk of Mary, the two too grief stricken to even mention her name. Sam craved of tales of the mother he never knew.

"Our song was I Walk the Line," John started in barely a whisper. "Picked her up at a bar and asked her to dance with me. That was the song on the radio."

"Did it play at your wedding?" Sam asked eagerly.

"Yeah… it did."

John sat the album down on the coffee table so that he could twist his wedding ring on his finger, a habit that he instinctively did whenever sadness started to consume him. He closed his eyes; Mary's laughing face burning into his eyelids as he idly twisted the ring.

"I'm going to bed. Thanks for the present."

John opened his eyes as a long, sad sigh escaped him. He picked up the record and made his way out of the small living room and into his bedroom. His boys sat in the living room alone, sadness and guilt filling them.

John would do anything for his boys. He would do anything that they asked of him, kill anything that threatened them, lie to protect them. He had known what the Demon wanted with Sammy, what he was… what those other kids were. He'd known it before Sammy went off to college. That's why he was so adamant that Sam not leave for Stanford because John knew he couldn't protect his son there. John felt that he had failed Sammy in a way, failed to protect him of the horrors that lie ahead of him.

"If you can't protect Sammy, then you have to kill him, Dean," he whispered into his eldest son's ear.

Dean looked at him as though his own father had just shot him, disbelief obvious in his features. John couldn't look back and explain what would surely happen if Dean failed to protect Sammy. It was just too painful to even think about. So as John walked down the corridor of the hospital, his heart sank. He wouldn't be able to help Dean protect Sam. What kind of father was he?

John placed the colt in front of the Demon, his fate sealed. Silently, he walked back to his hospital room and stood by his bed. He breathed heavily trying to mentally prepare himself for death. He thought of his boys, the boys that he'd be willing to die for. His sons had kept him alive after Mary, kept him sane. Without them, he wouldn't have survived, wouldn't have the will to survive.

Feeling nauseous, John tried to take his mind off his impending death. He thought of his wedding day. He remembered with a weary smile that Mary had been sick that day, her nose runny and eyes watering. He remembered their honeymoon. They had went to Florida and pretended that they were in the Bahamas because they didn't have enough money to go there. John had gotten sick from Mary. Their honeymoon consisted of staying in the hotel room and watching the people on the beach. He remembered that they got food poisoning as well on their honeymoon. He had held Mary's hair back as she retched in the bathroom. She had rubbed his shoulders as he took his turn in the retching session. Once they arrived back in Kansas, they vowed to go on another honeymoon in a year or two once they had enough money. They never did get to go on another one because by the time that they had the money for a semi-nice honeymoon, Mary had gotten pregnant.

John thought of the day Dean was born, all small and pink. He remembered the first time he held Dean in his arms, the baby gurgling as he grabbed onto his father's shirt. He could recall the first time his son opened his eyes, bright green orbs staring up at him in curiosity. He could still feel the baby in his arms if he concentrated hard enough, Dean's once warm and smooth skin brushing up against his.

He then thought of the day Sammy was born. He could recall Dean bouncing in excitement to see his brother and scrunching up his nose in disgust when he first laid eyes on his baby brother, asking why he was so small, bald, and ugly looking. He remembered the first time he helped Dean hold Sammy, watching for the first time as Dean accepted the baby as his brother. Not so bad, the boy said with a smile, not so oogly.

The fire burst into his mind, seeing Dean small and frightened looking. He clearly remembered handing Sammy to Dean and telling him to leave the house. He could still hear Dean's scampering footsteps on the floor as he bolted for the front door. He could picture Mary on the ceiling surrounded by fire, a look of pure terror on her face, clear in his mind as though it happened yesterday.

His heart clenched as tears burned his eyes. He tried to breathe but found that he couldn't. John fell back onto the hard tile ground, heaving. He closed his eyes and tried to take breaths but just couldn't do it. He heard humming in his ears, a low hum of Johnny Cash. He dared to open his eyes to see Mary hovering over him. She reached out a hand and stroked his hair, her humming continuing. John closed his eyes and leaned into the hand, peace overwhelming him for the first time in over twenty years.

"Dad!" a voice in the distance shouted before everything went completely black.

Author's Notes - Just a little character blurb of John since I love him so. Please review and tell me what you think, it only takes 30 seconds and it is the polite thing to do.