Father Knows Best
Disclaimer: I still don't own them and I already miss new episodes!
A/N: I'm not sure how I feel about this story. It's similar to something else I wrote, yet very different. At any rate, I hope you enjoy it and feedback is always welcome.
It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father - Pope John XXIII
"I need to go out of town for a job. I might be gone for a while, so Aidan is coming to take you to Jim's."
Dean Winchester looked up from his car magazine. He didn't think he'd heard his father correctly. It had been at least three years since he'd dropped them off at Pastor Jim's house on his way to a gig.
"How long are we talking about?"
John had just walked into the kitchen with a bag of groceries and he went about putting things away without answering his son's question.
Dean was sure he'd seen his father's shoulders slump, just for a moment, before he put the last items into the cabinet.
"I'll be leaving tomorrow night;" he said busying himself with something on the counter.
Dean pushed the magazine aside. He didn't like the way his father was acting and he was suddenly very nervous.
"Dad, what's going on? Sammy still has school –"
"His last day is next week."
Questioning his father wasn't something that Dean normally did. He followed the rules and he obeyed the orders, but he didn't ask about his father's motivation. Normally what his father wanted made at least some kind of sense, but, even though John had been depending on him to take care of himself and Sammy for as long as he could remember, this was way out in left field.
"How long will you be gone?" Dean forced himself to ask.
"The lease on this place is up next month, so before you leave with Aidan, you'll need to pack up what doesn't belong here. There are some boxes in the shed out back if you need them. I've got some stuff in the car already. It shouldn't take too long to pack it all up."
"Next month," Dean repeated to himself. The longest his father had even been gone was a couple of weeks.
"I've paid the rent and talked to the landlord; handled the rest of the details. Sammy's school has Jim's address and they'll send his final report card there. All you need to worry about is getting your and your brother's stuff to Jim's."
Dean felt a coldness in the pit of his stomach that started to spread. He could barely feel his arms and if he'd been standing up, he was sure he would have sunk to the floor by now. He needed reassurance from his father, not more mysterious answers.
For as long as he could remember, their summers had been spent going from job to job in the Impala. John could go on hunting jobs further from the one base of operations necessary during the school year. For the last three years, he'd even been letting Dean help him in the field and the boy looked forward to these times. He loved his brother and would do anything for him, but longed to spend time with his father. He wanted to know everything his dad did about supernatural monsters; he wanted to be as good at investigating, tracking and killing them. But more than that, he just wanted to be with the man he worshipped.
"Why is Aidan coming?" Dean asked. "I can drive to Jim's."
John finally turned around. He leaned against the counter with his arms crossed over his chest. Normally this would signify that he was done talking and it was time to follow his orders. This time, though, Dean didn't see the steel determination in his father's eyes that he was used to. Instead, he saw uncertainty. His eyes didn't lock on Dean; he was looking everywhere but at him.
"Dad, please. You're scaring me."
This seemed to focus John and he finally looked at his son.
Dean didn't hear the confidence that he always heard when his father spoke.
"Why is Aidan coming?" Dean asked again. He had a lump in his throat and could barely hear his own voice.
"It's just a precaution."
Dean couldn't believe he kept asking questions, nor could he believe that John was allowing it. John wasn't a tyrant, but he was a dictator. His word was law and he took no guff from anyone, least of all his sons. The teenager was afraid something was terribly wrong and he didn't know what to do about it.
John sighed and closed his eyes for a brief moment. It might have been a blink, but somehow Dean knew better. There was something his father didn't want him to know. But there were always things he didn't want Dean or Sam to know and he'd never acted like this before. The more adamant he was to keep a secret, the more stoic he was and the more he demanded obedience. This was something entirely different; something Dean could never remember seeing before.
He watched as his father sat down across from him and laid his palms flat on the cheap kitchen table. He waited, trying to be patient.
"Dean, listen to me. I know you can take care of things here. I know you can get our stuff packed up and moved to Jim's. You could have done that when you were ten." John smiled at him, hoping to put him at ease. "I know you can take care of your brother. But I would feel better with Aidan around."
"But why, Dad? What are you worried about?"
"My sons," John smiled. "I always worry about you two when I'm gone."
Before Dean could say anything else, John stood and put a hand on his shoulder. "Why don't you get your brother from school and spend a couple hours at the gym? I'll meet you at the pizza place for dinner."
Not knowing what else to do, Dean nodded and stood up.
He paused at the back door.
"Don't say anything to him, okay?"
John stood at the window and watched Dean, telephone to his ear.
"Hello?" he heard as Dean backed the Impala out of the driveway.
"Is everything ready?"
"Just about. I'm leaving tomorrow night."
"You'll send the boys here, as we planned?"
"Are you all right?"
"I don't think so. I couldn't do it; I couldn't pull it off with Dean."
"Did you tell him?"
"No, but he's suspicious. And worried."
"I'm surprised, John. You've had a lot of practice keeping things from the boys."
"Thanks," John grumbled.
"I didn't mean it that way," Jim paused. "Exactly."
"Yeah," John said. "You did. And you're right. But I have my reasons –"
"Of course you do." Jim sounded more than a little exasperated. "You don't have to do this, you know."
John didn't respond and he heard his friend sigh.
"Yet honor tells you otherwise."
"He was a good man, Jim. He helped me when I needed it; he kept me sane when everything was spiraling out of control. If it hadn't been for him, I never would have met you –"
"John," Jim's voice was patient once again. "You don't have to be the world's hero."
"I'm not trying to be, really I'm not. But this one is different. This one is personal."
"I know it is. Maybe you should tell the boys –"
"You know I'm not going to do that. I just need to know you'll do as I've asked –"
"Of course I will, John. I couldn't care more about those boys if I was their father. But you'll take Caleb with you as you said you would?"
"Yes. And a few others. Hopefully we can get this done quickly." John paused. "Jim?"
"Thank you for taking care of the boys. I know they'll be safe with you."
Dean drove toward Sam's high school, his mind on what had just happened at home. Something was terribly wrong and he was afraid his father was willfully going into some kind of trap. They fought monsters, supernatural beings that were evil and hurt people, but his father wasn't without his enemies. Dean couldn't help but wonder if he was going to meet one of these enemies for some reason.
He parked in front of the school and waited for Sam; his younger brother came into view a few minutes later as he came out of the front door of the two-story brick building. He was with a few other boys who, had the Winchesters lived a normal life, would have been friends.
When Sam saw the black car sitting at the curb, his said his goodbyes and headed forward. He tossed his backpack into the seat behind him and settled next to his brother.
"What's wrong?" he asked, noticing Dean's expression.
"Nothing. Dad's going off on a hunt tomorrow night. He's springing for pizza tonight."
Sam looked surprised. "He is? Why?"
Dean shrugged and started the car. "He said he'd meet us there in a couple of hours."
Sam watched his brother as he pulled into traffic. "What's the hunt?"
Dean shook his head. He didn't want to speak, he wasn't sure how long he could keep his voice from betraying him like his face had. "I don't know."
"Well, if we have a couple of hours, can you drop me off at the library so I can study?"
Dean knew they were supposed to go to the gym, but he wasn't really in the mood for a workout and he knew that Sam had exams starting in two days. He enjoyed school a great deal and his grades were very important to him.
Dean nodded. "Sure."
"Are you okay?" Sam asked after a moment.
"What's with all the questions?" he asked, sounding angrier than he intended, angrier than he even felt. Normally he could be as stoic as their father, but he couldn't manage it this time.
"Sorry," Sam said, turning back to the front.
Dean said nothing for a moment. "I'm sorry, Sammy. I – I guess I'm just pissy."
They were quiet until Dean pulled into the library parking lot. "Dad wanted us to spend a couple hours at the gym, so don't let on that you were studying instead."
It wasn't the first time that Dean ignored their father's wishes for something Sam wanted, but he knew this time was different. He knew his brother better than anyone else, and he could tell something was wrong.
He didn't open the car door after Dean parked. Instead, he turned back to his brother and looked at him.
"I'll be back at 4:20," Dean said, ignoring Sam's look of concern.
"Don't you have studying to do?"
Sam sighed and reached for the door handle. "Fine."
Dean watched Sam walk into the library, knowing if he'd had his choice, he would have gone with his friends to study. But a close second to that, ironically, was sitting alone in the public library studying by himself. Once his brother was out of sight, Dean drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, wondering how he was going to get answers. A moment later, he reached for his cell phone and dialed Aidan's number.
He and Aidan Prichard had a lot in common. Like Dean, he found out about the supernatural when he was young and basically grew up in the life. Dean's mother was killed by something they didn't yet understand and Aidan lost both parents to a demon. Granted, it was a demon his father made a deal with, but the end result was still the same.
Aidan spent the second half of his childhood in an orphanage run by Jim's church, with the pastor taking an active role in his upbringing because of his supernatural experience. If he'd been able to, he would have formally adopted they boy. John was his mentor and treated him like a son, and sometimes like a brother. He also had a talent that often came in handy on a hunt. He wasn't psychic, though occasionally had vague feelings, but he was able to see an entity even if it didn't materialize.
He wasn't a full-time hunter. Aidan was an extremely talented artist who sold his drawings and free-lanced for a small company that produced a limited number of computer games.
"Hey, Slick. I thought I might be hearing from you."
"Because your dad is putting me on babysitting duty."
"I don't need a babysitter, man. I never have and I take care of Sammy. What's going on?"
He heard Aidan sigh. "I don't know; I really don't. I got a call from Jim a couple of days ago and he told me to finish up what I was working on and head your way. Then your dad called and basically told me the same thing."
"He's freaked out."
"What do you mean?"
"Dad isn't acting like himself at all. He's nervous and it's like he's not planning to come back."
"Come on, Slick, your dad –"
"He's sending us to Jim's with you as an escort. I'm 19, dude, and he's been leaving me and Sammy alone for years. Something isn't right; more not right than usual. He didn't tell you anything?"
"He hardly ever tells me anything."
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
John put the dresser drawer on the bed and sat down to go through the contents. Most of his meager belongings were already packed, but he'd left the dresser for last. He didn't have much left from what he thought of as before; when Mary was still alive and they were a happy family. Though the fire that killed her was primarily contained in the nursery, other parts of the house were damaged. He'd managed to salvage some pictures and a few other things; anything of value had been sold long ago.
He ran a gentle finger over a photo taken at their wedding. Mary's smile was infectious and even seeing it in an old picture warmed his heart. Turning a page in the album, he saw pictures of Dean as a baby, then as a toddler and preschooler. There were pictures of Sammy and of the brothers together. He noticed, not for the first time, that Dean always seemed to have a protective arm around his little brother. He took fewer pictures after Mary was gone, but there were always some to add to the album after they'd spent time with Jim. He closed the book and set it in the box at his side.
Moving aside some socks that should be thrown out, John found the small wooden box that he knew was there. The lid was decorated with an intricate tulip design. They had been Mary's favorite flower and he gave the box to her before they were married. She saved reminders of their dates: ticket stubs, napkins, and coasters, among other things. The box also contained the first baby tooth Dean lost and even some hair from his first hair cut. John hadn't opened the box in years, but he always had it with him.
He never liked leaving the boys and he hated it more than usual this time. He was always prepared in case something happened to him on a hunt, but this one was causing him to take even more precautions. This time, he was going up against something he'd only encountered once before. This thing may have been responsible for Mary's death, but it was definitely responsible for the death of one of his best friends.
Dean tossed his phone onto the seat next to him and sighed. He rarely defied his father, but justified not going to the gym because it had sounded more like a suggestion than an order. He thought about calling Jim even though he knew it would be a waste of time. The man kept John's secrets even when it was obvious he didn't want to. Worried and frustrated, Dean drove out of town on a back road. He did his best thinking in the car and enjoyed being alone with his music. He wanted to give Sam plenty of time in the library and even though he could amuse himself in the oddly adequate occult section, he didn't want to be cooped up inside.
There was a lake not too far from town that was always crowded with people in the summertime, but since it was a weekday and school was still in session, the area would be nearly deserted. Dean pulled into the makeshift parking lot and was glad to see his it was empty. He turned up the radio so he could hear it from outside the car and settled on the hood. He laid back, hands clasped behind his head, and stared at the trees hovering above him and the fluffy white clouds as they moved by.
His father might be surprised to find him relaxing this way, but Sam knew all about it. As much as Dean liked to be in a crowd, he could never pass up a quiet place to think. He especially enjoyed being around serene water; lakes and slow-moving rivers were calming and he could let his mind wander.
Dean couldn't get the thought out of his head that his father wasn't planning to come back from where ever he was going. He knew the man preferred to hunt alone, but as often as not, he would take Caleb or Aidan with him. Dean thought it was odd that Aidan was seemingly being sent to the safety of Jim's church along with them. He'd tried to reach Caleb on his way to the lake, but the call went to voicemail and he didn't think his message would be returned. Dean didn't like being sent away to be protected. He'd been taking care of things since he was a kid and even though he was still kept away from the more dangerous hunts, he knew how to handle himself. It was one thing to be left behind because Sam needed someone to look out for him, but it was quite another to be coddled.
He didn't remember much about the night his mother died, but he knew that was when his whole life changed. He knew for sure that they had been happy when his mom was alive. He remembered the fun and the laughter; always feeling safe and warm. He didn't hear his father laugh very much anymore and he never felt truly safe.
Dean sometimes still had nightmares about that night; he felt the heat from the fire and saw himself running out of the house with his baby brother in his arms. He wondered how much of what he remembered were his own memories, though. He'd heard his father's story so many times over the years that it almost felt like his own.
What would happen if their father went off on a hunt and didn't come back? Dean tried never to think about that when he and Sam were too young to be alone, yet left in a motel room on their own. He could never let on that he was scared because Sammy needed him to be strong. Besides, they always knew how to get in touch with Pastor Jim. When Caleb and Aidan were old enough, they too could be trusted to come in an emergency.
Dean wanted to know what was going on. His father never acted this way before a hunt. A long time ago, he often came home looking and feeling the worse for wear, but Dean always tried to be strong for him. He made sure that anything his dad might need was within easy reach and that Sammy was taken care of and kept out of his hair. But that was after a hunt. Before a hunt, he never let on that he was nervous. Dean knew that when John Winchester was scared, there was plenty of reason for it.
With no answers and no way of getting them, Dean slid off the hood of the car a little later and settled back behind the wheel. It was almost time to pick Sam up from the library and meet their father for dinner. He hoped his brother wasn't in the mood to pick a fight tonight.
Dean couldn't sleep. He lay on his back, staring at the ceiling and listening to the sounds of his brother's even breathing, but his mind was working too hard to allow slumber. He was glad things had gone well at dinner; Sam knew he was worried and did his best to stay positive and not cause any arguments. He talked about school and his upcoming exams and, for a change, their father seemed interested. It wasn't that he didn't think school was important; it was more that his focus was always on the hunt.
As he lay in bed, letting his mind wander hoping for sleep, Dean saw the bedroom door open. The room was dark, but the light from the hallway was enough to show the silhouette of his father. He didn't come into the room. Instead, he leaned against the door frame and seemed only to watch his sons. Dean stayed quiet and didn't move. A few minutes later, his father backed away and the door closed silently.
Dean heard him in the kitchen. He waited, not sure he wanted to interrupt his father's nocturnal wandering, but thought he might have a better chance of getting honesty from him due to the late hour. Being careful not to wake his brother, Dean pulled on the earlier discarded pair of jeans and walked to the kitchen. He got a glass from the cupboard and filled it with tap water; his father watched from the small table.
"It's late," John said, his tone neutral.
"I was thirsty. You, too?" He nodded toward the bottle of Jack Daniels on the table.
"Grab a glass and sit down."
Even though he was underage, this wasn't the first time Dean drank with his father. He dumped the water into the sink and sat down. John poured each of them a generous shot and set the bottle in the middle. He held up his glass and waited for Dean to do the same.
"What are we drinking to?" Dean asked.
John shrugged. "How about to our family?"
Dean nodded and threw back the shot. He watched as John refilled their glasses.
John finished the second shot, his eyes avoiding his son. Dean moved the bottle away.
He watched as his father stared into the empty glass, seemingly struggling with his emotions. Dean had never seen his father quite this way; not even after a hunt. He looked almost haunted; his eyes held no emotion and Dean felt a coldness coming from him that was unfamiliar.
"What is this job, Dad?" Dean whispered.
"I'm not going to tell you." John finally looked into his son's eyes. "But I will tell you that I'm not going in alone. Caleb will be with me and a few others you don't know."
"Why do you think we need Aidan here? Why isn't he going with you?"
John reached for the bottle and Dean didn't try to stop him. He refilled his own glass, but this time only sipped the alcohol.
"Jim doesn't want him with me. Jim wants him at home."
"So Caleb is expendable, but Aidan isn't?"
"It's not like that, son."
"What is it like, then?"
John covered his face with his hands, then rubbed his eyes and looked at Dean. He couldn't read his father's expression.
"It's complicated. But we'll talk about it when I get back."
"So, you're coming back?" Dean looked at the table.
"Because the way you were talking, the plans you were making, it sounded like maybe not."
"I always plan to come back."
Dean looked at him. "This time, too?"
John laid a hand on his son's wrist. "This time, too."
John sent Dean back to bed and, alone in the kitchen with his thoughts, he knew he was screwing up. He tried to maintain a wall between the boys and the hunts because he didn't want them to worry. The wall was supposed to hold back all of his fear and uncertainty, but this time he just couldn't manage it. He told Dean that he always planned to come back and he did, but he knew that not all plans worked out.
He could suddenly picture what Mary looked like when she was pinned to the ceiling above his younger son's crib. He closed his eyes against the memory, but he could still see it. She was slashed across the abdomen and her blood dripped on his hand. He saw himself handing the baby to Dean and telling him to run, trying to save his wife, then running out of the house himself when he realized it was fruitless. He saw Dean frozen to a spot outside of the house, holding his brother and staring up at the flames coming from the second floor window. He ran faster, needing to get them away from the house, and scooped them both up as he continued to a safer distance.
The next several days were a blur. A part of him died with Mary, but instinct had taken over and he somehow managed to take care of the boys with the help of his business partner and his wife. He knew what he saw and he knew it was impossible. How could she be on the ceiling? It wasn't logical. He started looking for answers and somehow he found his way to Missouri Moseley, a psychic who showed him an entirely new world. She pulled aside the thin curtain that separated his reality from the truth and he learned about the monsters that existed. He knew that his baby, his innocent boy, was somehow tied to the thing that killed Mary and he was determined to keep Sam safe from it.
The first hunter John met was Daniel Elkins. He was a mean, lying sonofabitch who taught John what he needed to know, but continued to insist he walk away from his boys and leave them with others to raise. He was adamant that he couldn't be a father and a hunter. Looking back, John couldn't help but think he was right. He was a much better hunter than he was a father, but he loved his boys unconditionally and did what he thought was best. He couldn't leave them with innocent people when something evil might come for Sam. He had to protect them and he couldn't do that if they were apart.
Daniel led him to Alec Saunders. Alec was hunter a few years older than John who had lost his mother to the same evil that invaded John's world. He was six months old when his mother was killed in a fire in his nursery and almost 20 when he suddenly developed psychic abilities. Through the similarities in their history, they found friendship and Alec introduced him to more of the hunter's world, including their trusted ally, an unassuming pastor.
After losing an arm in a particularly brutal battle several years ago, Alec retired from active hunting, but he researched and continued to look for his mother's killer. He sent John tips for jobs and they shared every piece of information they found.
It was only a few days ago that word of Alec's death reached Jim and he didn't hesitate to contact John. He'd been found intentionally burned and with a slash through his abdomen. The police theorized that he was attacked by some kind of ritual killer who had extinguished the fire before the body was destroyed, though they had no theory as to why. Jim and John knew the truth even though his death didn't fit the pattern they had only recently begun to discover.
John reached for the bottle of whiskey and poured a liberal shot. They boys knew about Alec and had met him a few times, but after losing his arm, he became somewhat unpredictable. John still trusted him with his life, but he didn't trust him with his children.
They knew exactly what had killed Aidan's parents and why. They had no reason to believe he was connected to what they now knew was a demon, but Jim still wanted him nowhere near this hunt. He was afraid some kind of connection they hadn't yet discovered would put him in too much danger. John wanted Aidan with him in the fight, but understood Jim's concerns. Though he didn't agree with it, the pastor was one of the few people who didn't constantly berate John for the way he was raising his children and he owned the man some loyalty for that. Jim loved Aidan like a son and if he wanted him away from the hunt, John was in no position to protest that decision.
He was torn between going in alone and going with an army. They still didn't know enough about this demon, but each encounter left them with another piece of the puzzle and John recognized that he needed backup.
He swallowed the last of the Jack Daniels and put the bottle away before heading off to bed.
Dean rolled out from under the Impala later and saw his father standing above him.
"Yeah, just making sure everything is okay for the trip to Jim's. She needed a tune-up anyway."
"We usually work on her together."
"I figured you'd be tired. I checked out your weapons; everything looks good."
John held out a hand to help Dean up. He hesitated for a moment, then took it. He wiped his hands on the rag he'd stuffed into his back pocket and looked at his father when he put a hand around his shoulders.
"Come inside for a few minutes. I have some errands to run, but I want to talk to you."
Hesitantly, Dean followed his father into the house. He washed his hands in the kitchen sink as John pulled two sodas from the refrigerator and sat at the table.
"About last night," John began uncomfortably. "You shouldn't have had to deal with that. I'm still not going to tell you about the job just yet, but I will say again that I'm planning to be at Jim's in a couple of weeks or sooner if I can manage it. I took care of things here because that's what a father should do. Don't read anything into the arrangements I've made."
Dean nodded, still not feeling any more at ease.
"I didn't want you to worry, but I've already screwed that up so maybe you can do your best to keep your brother from worrying. Take the next couple of weeks as a vacation. Goof off and have fun. Eat junk food, don't work out, do whatever kids do on vacation." John looked at him affectionately. "And when I get to Jim's, we'll find some jobs to handle together. Just the three of us. And maybe Aidan and Caleb, occasionally."
Dean couldn't help but smile. The best times of his life were with his family.
"I have things to do before I leave tonight. Are you picking your brother up this afternoon?"
"Yeah, he's staying late to study so it will be about 4:30."
"How about you come with me, then? It won't take long and then I'll help you with your car."
"Yeah. Just give me a second to clean up."
John nodded and watched as Dean left the kitchen. He sat back in his chair and smiled to himself.
"I've got to go, kiddo," John said to Dean later.
Dean nodded, struggling to hold himself together. He never liked to see his father leave, but this time was harder than normal.
"I talked to Aidan a little while ago and he's on schedule to be here tomorrow afternoon."
Dean nodded again.
John put his arm around his son's shoulders. Since coming back from dinner, he and Dean had been sitting on the couch and pretending to watch a movie. Sam stayed with them for a while, but reluctantly went to his room to study. John stood up a moment later.
"I'm going to talk to Sammy for a few minutes. I'll be back,"
Dean watched as his father walked away.
"Hey," John sat on the edge of Sam's bed and the boy turned from the desk.
"You might want to take it easy on him for a day or two," John smiled sadly.
Sam glanced away. "He's worried about this job."
"Yeah, I know."
"Should he be?"
John leaned forward and laid a hand on Sam's knee. "It's just another job."
"Don't study yourself crazy, okay? You'll do fine on your exams."
"You will," John smiled at him. "So, I'll see you in a couple of weeks at Jim's."
"Yes sir," Sam said quietly.
John squeezed his knee. "I love you, kid."
Sam looked at him, surprised. "Dad, is Dean right to be worried?"
John smiled at him encouragingly. "Good luck on your tests, son."
Dean was leaning against his car in the driveway when John walked out of the house a few minutes later.
"I put your bag in your car."
"Thanks. I'll call tomorrow."
"It's going to be okay."
He nodded again and John pulled him into a hug. Dean grabbed a handful of his shirt and held on tight.
"It's going to be okay," John said again.
"Be careful, Dad."
"I'm always careful, kiddo. Look, I'm sorry I've worried you, but I plan to come back from this just like I've planned to come back from every other hunt."
"You better," Dean forced himself to say.
John gave him another squeeze and then pulled away. "Take care of your brother."
John put a hand on his shoulder. "And take care of yourself. Don't give Aidan too hard a time."
"Make sure you keep the doors and windows salted."
Dean nodded. "I will."
John smiled. "I love you, kiddo. I'll see you soon."
"See you soon," Dean said, hardly able to speak.
Dean watched as his father got behind the wheel of his car and backed out of the driveway. He couldn't get rid of the feeling that this would be the last time he saw the man alive. When he turned back to the house, Sam was standing in the doorway. He wiped his face quickly and joined his brother. Without a word, they walked into the house and sat on the couch together. Neither one paid attention to what was on television, but they sat side by side until the program was over.
John drove for three hours to get to the town where he was meeting up with Caleb. He found his friend in a bar where they'd met several times before. He ordered a beer and carried it to the table.
"Caleb," he said then took a long draw from the mug.
"It's not good that you already look like shit."
"Thanks for the constructive criticism."
Caleb leaned forward. "Rough with the boys?"
"It's my own fault. I didn't do a very good job of hiding my emotions from Dean this time."
"Maybe you shouldn't keep hiding things from him," Caleb said carefully. He knew as well as anyone else that John had his own ideas about raising the boys and he wasn't about to take advice; especially from someone who didn't have children. "He's nineteen, he's starting to hunt with you and on his own. He's a part of the team, John."
"Yes, he is. But there are some things I just can't tell him."
"How do you expect him to help if he doesn't know the whole story?"
John looked at him coldly, but the expression softened quickly. "He's a good boy. He'll do what he's supposed to, even if he doesn't know all the reasons why."
As Caleb watched, John drained his beer and asked for another.
"I appreciate your help on this one," John said.
"It could be a tough one."
"Yep," Caleb agreed.
"The whole damn thing might have been easier if Elkins had agreed to help," John grumbled.
"Maybe so, but you've always said he was a mean bastard who only cared about himself. I don't know how that kind of person even becomes a hunter."
"He liked killing," John shrugged. "At least doing this wouldn't land him in jail for murder. I know he has information about this thing."
"What makes you so sure?"
"I just am," John said, determined. "The expression on his face every time I brought it up…. He knows something."
"Why wouldn't he share?"
"What part of mean bastard indicates to you that he might be willing to share? He's a cretin, Caleb. You're well off to remember that and stay away from him."
"Jim said the same thing. I've never met the man."
"Count yourself lucky."
"I rented us a room for the night," Caleb changed the subject. "We'll head out to Alec's in the morning. What happened to his body?"
"His sister claimed it and had him cremated," John said. "I talked to her yesterday and she said she'd get the ashes in a few days. Alec wanted her to scatter them at some lake near his place; she asked if I wanted to be there."
"I think you should be."
"It will do you good to get some closure."
"You been reading self help books again, Caleb?"
"Screw you, John," Caleb said through his smile.
After another couple of drinks and some food, they went to the motel where Caleb had arranged for a room. John called the boys before falling into bed.
John and Caleb left the next morning in John's car. The bar owner was sensitive to hunters often helped where he could; he let Caleb park his car behind the building. They made the trip in near silence, but it was comfortable. They knew each other well enough to communicate with just a look if necessary and that was very helpful on a hunt.
They planned to search Alec's house, hoping the police hadn't disturbed things too much with their investigation. Other hunters were meeting them at Bobby Singer's salvage yard to help go through Alec's documents and develop a plan of attack Bobby was another trusted Winchester ally and though he wasn't particularly experienced in the field, his knowledge was invaluable. He was an expert in demon possession and owned books that contained all manner of ancient rituals and information. John's sons had never met him, but they knew about him and John could well imagine Sam losing himself for hours amongst Bobby's books.
It was late afternoon by the time they arrived and, after a quick meal, John and Caleb made their way to Alec's home. It was situated on several acres that had been left mostly wild and was miles away from the nearest people. His sister lived in town and she knew about the paranormal, but other than very peripheral assistance, she had been kept apart from that world.
The house was just as John remembered it and reminiscent of Bobby's cluttered home. Both men had more reference material than even some well-stocked libraries and no one else understood their version of organization. Though small, it still took quite a bit of time to search every room thoroughly, especially since they had no idea what they were looking for. But that was generally the case; investigating a paranormal event was very much like investigating a crime. Anything could be important so the inspection always had to be methodical.
"Well?" Caleb asked when they were done with the first pass.
John sighed and rolled his stiff shoulders. "There's nothing jumping out at me, but we need to go through those books. Where the hell did he hide his journal and research data?"
Caleb was silent.
"You saw the ceiling in the bedroom?"
"Looks like the fire started there."
John nodded in agreement. "Did you get the crime scene photos?"
"Bobby's got 'em."
"I think the police are going to treat this as some kind of occult thing, but I doubt they'll look too far. Alec was a recluse and his sister isn't going to encourage the police to find the killers," John said and started to pace. "Why kill Alec?"
"There has to be a reason?"
John glanced at him.
"What?" Caleb asked suspiciously.
John looked at him briefly as he continued to pace.
"Aw, shit, John. What haven't you told me?"
"It's nothing," John said and shrugged. "Much."
"John," Caleb moaned.
"I talked to Alec a couple of weeks ago. He thought he might be on to something, but he wouldn't tell me what."
"Is that where you learned it from?"
"Learned what?" John asked, confused. He'd stopped pacing and was standing in the middle of the room.
"That damned secrecy of yours!" Caleb took a deep breath, not wanting to start a fight. "Anyway, so this something he was on to…."
John rubbed his face. "I have no clue, but the only thing he was actively working on was this fucking demon. He kept records, same as the rest of us. Where are they?"
"His sister?" Caleb guessed.
"Probably. We'll talk to her tomorrow."
John and Caleb found Alec's sister at home the next morning. She greeted them warmly and supplied them with strong, hot coffee. They sat in the dining room of the house that she had shared with her husband until his death last year. He'd suffered from cancer for several years and when his condition worsened yet again, he elected not to receive any more treatment. They didn't have children, but doted on their cats and the horses in the stable behind the house.
"Louisa," John began after the obligatory small-talk. "Did Alec leave his journals with you?"
"No, but I know where he hid his work. It isn't easy to find; it would be better if I went out to his place and showed you."
"We'd appreciate that," he said. "I hope you don't mind, but we've called one of our contacts to deal with all of his books."
"Of course not. I'm grateful for any help you can provide to clean the place out. I have no idea what most of that stuff is. There are some personal mementoes I'd like to keep, but the rest of it, you're more than welcome to."
"Thanks, I'm sure it will all be helpful. Caleb and I can help you bring back the things you want to keep when we go out for his documents if you'd like."
"Thank you," she said and laid her hand on his. "Alec felt very close to you, John. I know he'd appreciate his things being in your hands."
"I hope so," John said. He didn't miss Caleb's grin.
"I know you didn't get involved with his work, but do you know anything about what he's been working on?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm sorry. He refused to talk to me about any of it. I only know where his documents are hidden."
John moved his hand away from hers and wrapped both around his mug. "Do you mind going out there with us now?"
"Not at all," she smiled at him and squeezed his hand. "I'll be ready to go in just a moment."
Caleb and John watched as she left the room. Caleb slapped John on the back. "She's flirting with you!"
"What? No, she isn't. Her brother just died and –"
"And she's flirting with you."
John ignored the wide grin on his friend's face. "Her brother was my friend, I –"
"Whatever, John." Caleb rolled his eyes and finished his coffee.
Louisa led them to a spot almost a half mile from Alec's house. Hidden behind some large rocks and lush bushes was a small metal door built into the ground and disguised to look like the dirt that surrounded it. It was secured with a complicated series of locks that she expertly worked her way through, explaining that Alec made sure she would be able to access the contents.
Once it was opened, John and Caleb could see a small vault had been built underground. Once opened, they saw it held what looked like years of research. There were journals, folders, and various kinds of loose documents that John gathered up and secured in the bag Caleb had carried.
He and Caleb waited while Louisa went through the house, packing only one box.
"Take whatever you think will help you with your work," she said while looking at John. "Once your people are done here, let me know and I'll take care of the rest."
He nodded. "Thank you for being so cooperative."
She looked around and shrugged. "I don't understand this world. Alec always wanted me to be apart from it. I was four when his father met my mother; they got married two years later. Alec was seven years older than me and always took care of me."
"I didn't realize you weren't related by blood. I assumed you had the same father," John said. "I guess we never talked about it."
Louisa smiled sadly. "He was a good brother."
John put his arm around her shoulders and led her back out to the car. Caleb followed, carrying the small box she had packed.
They drove back to her house and though John wanted to get back to the motel to delve into the documents they retrieved, he didn't want to leave her alone when she was upset. He accepted her offer of tea, but gave Caleb a dirty look when he declined. Instead, he said he would take the documents with him and start to catalog and organize them for John's inspection.
The older hunter didn't feel entirely comfortable alone with Louisa. He got the feeling she was interested in more than he was willing to give. Once Caleb had gone, though, and Louisa started to reminisce about her childhood with Alec, he started to relax.
When John got back to the motel room, he found Caleb surrounded by piles of paper and books.
"I can't figure this out, John," Caleb said as soon as his friend had closed the door. "I think it's all kind of organized, but I don't know what any of it means."
John took an initial perusal of the piles. "I'll work on it. Did you call Jim?"
"Yeah, he's sending a couple librarians; they should be here tomorrow. When do you want to head to Bobby's?"
"I don't know," John sat down and started going through documents. "Maybe tomorrow; once I've had a chance to look through everything."
"Things okay with Louisa?"
"Fine," John said without really hearing the question. He looked up a moment later. "What?"
Caleb smiled. "You're not even the least bit tempted?"
"She's my newly dead friend's sister."
"I'm here to do a job."
Caleb stood up and stretched. "Do you ever have any fun?"
John ignored him.
"She's obviously in to you."
"Just drop it, okay?"
Caleb hid a smile. This was a conversation they'd had a hundred times before. John was no saint, but he had no intention of getting close to a woman while he was still hunting the thing that killed his wife. Caleb didn't doubt that if Mary had died in some other way, that if there had been no need to hunt down her killer, John still would shun a romantic relationship. He was devoted to her and even tough Caleb had never met Mary, he knew she had to be special to tame the likes of John Winchester.
He was of no use to his friend right now. John had moved into research mode and wouldn't even notice Caleb leaving. He decided to get some fresh air and come back later with food for both of them.
"Are you still awake?" Caleb groaned when he opened his eyes and saw John sitting at the desk in their motel room. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. "What time is it?"
"Alec had all this information, but he didn't put it together. He didn't know what he had."
Caleb sat up. "What do you mean?"
John waved his hand over the piles of paper on the desk and on the floor around him. "Weather patterns, disappearances, deaths…. Jesus, Caleb. It's all here."
Caleb threw his legs over the side of the bed. "What's all here?"
"How to find the demon."
"What?" Caleb felt cold inside.
"We can track it now. I found the pattern that Alec was looking for."
Caleb wanted to join his friend across the room, but didn't think his legs would hold him. They'd known they were probably dealing with a demon, but there had been a definite lack of proof before. There were patterns – nursery fires, children who developed paranormal abilities within a few years of turning 18, disappearances…. But to be able to track the bastard now? That was huge.
The older man leaned back in his chair and covered his mouth with one hand.
"Okay," Caleb took a deep breath. "We can track it. We'll find it and exorcise it."
"It will just come back if we do that. We have to find a way to kill it."
"Kill it?" Caleb asked incredulously. "You can't kill a demon."
"Daniel Elkins knew of a weapon that can kill anything. That's one of the things the motherfucker is keeping to himself."
Caleb couldn't form a coherent thought.
"Let's pack up and get to Bobby's. The others should be there by now."
"Yeah, about that. So, the plan was to get all the brain power in one place and go through Alec's stuff. You've done that on your own so what –"
John rubbed his face. "We're going to summon the demon."
"We're going to…. John, I…. What?"
John stood up and paced around the room.
"We summon it and we will exorcise it, but only to give us some time to work on Elkins or find the weapon without him."
The other man continued to pace, seemingly oblivious to Caleb's presence in the room.
"It's either making children with abilities or marking ones who are born with them. We can't let it come back for Sammy," John looked at his friend. "We can't let it come back for any of the children."
"It didn't come back for Alec; how do you know –"
"We think it did."
"Alec developed some pretty powerful psychic abilities. About a year after they started to manifest, he started dreaming about a demon with yellow eyes. It tried to make convince him to do things in the dreams, bad things. Alec was able to resist, but as he did, his abilities grew less predictable and less effective. It was our theory that was the demon that killed his mother and it was trying to get him to join it. We think that once their abilities start to develop, it tries to get to all of the children it visits in their cribs."
"For what purpose?" Caleb asked quietly.
John shook his head. "I don't know."
"That doesn't make me feel very good."
"Tell me about it."