Summary: A hunt gone terribly wrong prompts John's first trip to Stanford. Dean's hurt and hurting, father and son angst ensues. Concluding chapter 9 of 9.
Rating: T, language.
Spoilers: None, but for John's quote from "In My Time of Dying" shown below.
Disclaimers: See my profile page.
Author's Notes/Comments/Warnings: Well, the journey's come to an end and it's time to wrap things up. Thanks so very much to Heather for her willingness to help with the medical questions and to Jennie for the grammar and tense clarifications. My questions for both of these ladies were always last minute and the answers always came back quickly. Thanks also to Beki for the reality check which prompted a definite improvement to the story and to Leslie for all her inspiration in the form of articles, chat and those glorious pic spams! Special thanks must go to Penny, my beta-reader, for sinking her teeth into this story and for caring as much about its outcome as I do. Mission accomplished. . . I've got her hooked now on our boys and encourage all of you to watch out for this mega-talented fic-writer's Supernatural stories in the hopefully not-too-distant future (eg) .
Lastly, my thanks to all who have read this story, those who have put this story on alert or favorited it and especially those who took time to send feedback. Your comments were flattering, thought-provoking, and encouraging and often simply made my day.
"I've made some mistakes. But I've always done the best I could." In My Time of Dying, episode 2.01
Chapter 9 - Armistice
John made a quick visual sweep of the cabin before closing it up for good. Throwing his weapons bag over his shoulder, he ambled over to the Impala, opened the trunk and loaded the duffel inside. Taking in a deep breath of fresh ocean air, John smiled to himself, more content than he'd been in months.
So much for money not buying happiness.
Okay, so the beachfront cottage had been one hell of an indulgence, way out of the Winchesters' usual league. But Dean needed some honest to God decent rest and a fleabag motel just wasn't going to cut it this time. So, John Wyman's American Express card got another workout and father and son got soft sheets and firm mattresses for a change, satellite TV, an internet connection (for their newly acquired laptop) and, oh yeah, a floor-to-ceiling view of the Pacific Ocean.
After Dean had admitted his subterfuge and that an actual meeting with Sam hadn't been in the cards, the two of them had stayed only about twenty minutes longer at Stanford. They'd watched the party's goings on in muted contemplation, Dean giving the occasional commentary on this geek or that jock, or whether this blonde's or that brunette's breasts were real. He was certain Jessica's were home grown -- John adamantly refused to speculate.
Eventually Dean had gotten quiet, and then his head grew heavy against John's neck and shoulder and that was when John had decided it was time to hit the road.
Without waking Dean, he'd managed to lay him down, his head resting on the pillow next to John once again. The blanket only up to his waist since, despite the shade, the car had warmed up considerably while he'd kept it idling so long. John had intended to pull out then but found it impossible to drive away, to leave Sammy behind. Instead, he'd continued to watch as Sam interacted with his friends, always with Jessica's hand in his, and John had felt both pain and pride. Wishing Mary could have been there to see her baby boy, happy and so obviously in love. If not for the comforting steady rise and fall of Dean's chest beneath his palm, the loss John had felt at that moment would have damn near crippled him.
Fate, or rather a resounding chant for "beer, more beer" intervened though and Sam and a considerably shorter and stockier friend had disappeared through the nearest door to the residence. Shaking off his hypocritical consternation over underage drinking - hell, Sam was just shy of twenty-one, not to mention Dean had been downing beers in pool halls with his old man by the time he was seventeen - John had forced himself to leave. Maneuvering out of the parking space and shifting into drive before allowing himself time to reconsider. Never once looking in the rearview. After all, he and Dean would be back this way again.
Decision already made, John had driven south. Even though Dean had been in dire need of a proper bed, staying in Palo Alto would have felt like picking at an open sore, so John had decided the ninety minutes to Monterey would be their destination. Figuring Dean would get a kick out of its historical importance - that being the legendary rock festival and not its significance during the Mexican-American war - John had been right. Dean had fallen for Monterey. Its pop-culture history combined with the recuperative properties of the ocean air and their peaceful surroundings, not to mention that all important satellite television, all had helped Dean to finally start bouncing back from his concussion.
After Dr. Rowe's imposed additional 24-hour concussion watch had ended, John had ordered Dean to sleep. Typically, his kid had attacked the command with gusto, sleeping straight through for a good sixteen hours. Or thereabouts. John had eventually succumbed to his own fatigue and had woken up a short while after Dean, or so he'd been told.
Dean had spent another day confined to the cottage, though he'd watched TV - a big screen one, much to his delight - from the couch, not the bed. He'd gotten better at sitting up, hadn't needed a ton of support but even now vertigo was still an issue and his head simply felt better having something soft to lean it against.
By the next day, he'd been twitchy - or, more aptly, bitchy - so John had slung an arm around Dean's neck and they'd gone for the first of many walks along the shore. Dean was still tiring quickly and, yeah, so, maybe John's grip that first time out had been excessive the closer they got to the water. What could he say. . . post-concussive vertigo mixed with boardwalks, boulders and high tide made him a little antsy. So sue him.
They'd picked out a couple of those boulders to climb and plant their asses on and, given the fact that his vision still wasn't quite right, Dean probably did overdo with the binoculars. Still, he was relaxed and recovering and since they'd soon be facing a two thousand mile drive, John had allowed it. Hell, he'd enjoyed it. Couldn't remember the last time he'd spent this much time with either of his boys when a hunt wasn't involved.
John had to admit he was itching to get back to the hunt. But Dean was still on the disabled list and needed more time to recover. John wasn't about to deny him that nor abandon him to the call of the hunt. After nearly losing him to Wellington's ghost, he sure as hell wasn't going to beat himself up for enjoying a little quality time. Fact was, it was long overdue.
It was time to get the hell out of Dodge though. Lay John and Dean Wyman's credit cards to rest. John was ready, the Impala packed and all he needed was his co-pilot. He thought about laying on the horn but, in the middle of all this placid nature, it somehow just seemed wrong. He knew where he'd find Dean anyway.
Making his way over to their boulders, John muffled the urge to give Dean shit for climbing up the steepest one on his own. Though he couldn't honestly say at this point whether his motivation was actually worry for Dean or for his own forty-nine year old knees.
Practically hop-scotching his way over to his son, there was no need to announce his arrival as he scrabbled his way over to perch next to Dean. Immediately handing his binoculars to his father, Dean's only greeting was, "Here, look," as he pointed out over the water. "Max out your range. Between one and two o'clock."
Following Dean's instructions, it only took John a second or two to zero in on the pod. The whales were far off but, even at a distance there was no doubt in John's mind what he was looking at. "Orcas," he whispered, and then cleared his throat, embarrassed at the awe he'd heard coming from his own lips.
"Not too shabby, Captain Nolan," Dean replied, laughter in his voice. "Whale Watch says they've been around since Saturday. Finally found 'em."
John turned to Dean then, handing over the binoculars, his son's enthusiasm every bit as enticing as watching a group of Killer Whales. Dean's color was back -- finally. Admittedly, the winds were so brisk at times John could probably put that down to wind burn. But he didn't believe it. Not for a minute. This furlough had done them both a world of good. It may well have been too risky to fuck around with credit card fraud in a place like this - hence why they were about to hightail it - but John had no regrets.
Aside from having to put a premature end to nature boy's whale watching.
"We ready to rock?" Dean suddenly asked, lowering the binoculars and proving once again that he had a sixth sense when it came to his father's thoughts.
Using his boots and butt, John quickly shinnied his way off of the boulder and then turned back to help Dean. Feeling regretful about cutting their last day in Monterey short, that sentiment came through as he answered, "'Fraid so, dude."
Dean just shrugged, packed the binoculars into the case hanging from his neck, then leaned down to grip the hands reaching up for him. They'd done this a few times now; Dean's balance still not what it should have been and getting on the boulder was a hell of a lot easier than the dismount. And every time, John was struck by the memory of another, still brimming with innocence. . .
"Daddy, I climbed too high." Not yet five and already a daredevil and John, panicked heart slamming against his chest, not yet the man who'd turn misfortune into a training exercise but rather one freely giving of hugs and kisses, reaching up with trembling arms, "'S okay, tiger. Grab on, Daddy won't let you fall. . ."
Sliding off the big rock now, Dean landed in John's ready grasp and the two of them stood there a minute clinging to each other until Dean's knees locked into place and his equilibrium finally accepted the fact that the only things actually moving in his periphery were the Pacific's waves crashing against the shore.
"Okay, I'm good," Dean declared, still looking a little too unsteady for John's liking.
"Yeah, thanks," was his reply, though letting go any time soon didn't appear to be in the kid's plans.
Despite John's reservations, he ushered Dean forward anyway. Under John's arm and held close, no way would John let his boy fall. It wasn't until minutes later, when they'd navigated the rocky shore and found themselves on level ground, that John relinquished his hold. Opting to keep Dean's pace though, walking next to him, their shoulders nearly touching.
The newly washed and waxed Impala sat waiting for them in the parking lot, glistening under the sun in all its sleek black glory. "Ah, baby, not yet," Dean said longingly and John damn near expected the Chevy to sigh its own disappointment. It had gone unspoken that the kid wasn't yet ready to drive. John had to admit, even though he still loved driving the Impala, he'd have been more than happy to relinquish the wheel.
John had already opened the driver's door before noticing that Dean wasn't yet making any effort to climb into his side. Dean just stood there, casually leaning against the sedan, his hands clasped together on the Impala's roof as he seemingly took in the sights and scenery all around them. Taking it all in one last time. God knew their next stop would more than likely be a dive.
"Where we headed?" He abruptly asked, deflecting John's concern.
"Jim's again. Pick up the truck. Figure we can hole up there for a while," John responded then added, pointedly, "You're still on the D.L."
"I'm all right, Dad."
John didn't like the defensiveness and guilt creeping into Dean's voice. "You're not arguing with me, are you?" His tone holding as much teasing humor in it as it did warning.
"No, sir. Not me." The feigned innocence was downright comical. Just the response John had been aiming for.
"Good. Besides, Jim and I need to have a little talk," he added ominously.
A smirk played across Dean's features and John was glad to see it. "You planning on giving him a blast of shit?"
Climbing into the seat, John chuckled at that perceptiveness again. John was sure he'd vowed only to himself that Jim Murphy was going to take his share of heat over the debacle that had been the Wellington hunt. "Oh, yeah. You can count on it," he smiled grimly. Hell, John had no qualms whatsoever about placing blame where it belonged. Dean's insight was only half right this time though. "I've got a lot of things to say to him," John continued, sharing a conspiratorial smile with Dean as he joined his father inside the car, quietly adding, just as they both slammed the doors closed, "Maybe even thanks."
Firing up the engine, John chose not to respond, instead turning to ask Dean, "You wanna take seventeen north or one-fifty-six east?" He was giving Dean the option to drive by Stanford again if he wanted to.
Dean didn't answer immediately. Not with words anyway. His eyes were telling a different story though, reflecting gratitude and, dare John think it, the admiration and devotion he used to always wear on his sleeve before Sammy left. A moment later, as he answered the unspoken real question, the corners of Dean's mouth quirked up then broke into a grin. "Nah, we don't need to draw any attention to the car again this soon. Besides, he's probably naked and plastered in Malibu by now."
John winced. He so did not want to go there.
"You sure?" John asked, changing the subject. Wanting to ensure that Dean knew his offer was genuine. "We're not on the clock."
"Yeah." Another smile appeared, softer this time. "Next time though, huh?"
John mirrored Dean's smile with one of his own. "Sure." Nodding to Dean and to himself, he promised, "Count on it."
Twenty minutes later, driving east on one-fifty-six, fingers tapping the steering wheel in time with Up Around the Bend, John heard the telltale slide of weighted fabric against leather. Then felt the heavy thud of Dean's head against his shoulder, the Impala's tranquilizing abilities having worked their magic once again. Unable to contain another grin, John shifted slightly, raising his arm and gently pulling Dean in under it, snug against his side. Kid was going to be embarrassed as hell when he woke up like this.
Not to mention the cricks and kinks they'd likely both end up with.
Tempted to wake Dean, one look at that peaceful face stopped him cold. Dean was looking so much younger these days. Or maybe, without Sammy around to compare him to, John was just finally opening his eyes to what had been there all along. Either way, he decided against disturbing his son's sleep. What was a little muscle strain and stiffness in the grand scheme of things anyway?
With that in mind, John awkwardly reached over to turn CCR down; changing his mind the moment the distinctive opening riff of Sweet Child o' Mine reached his ears. Though John found himself generally and quite contentedly mired in late sixties and seventies rock, it had been a teenage Dean who'd introduced Guns N' Roses to his at first skeptical, then appreciative father.
Listening to the lyrics now and looking down once more at that youthful face, John couldn't help but shake his head and chuckle at the irony of Sister Carol's words back at the hospital. And think about the bittersweet memories the song and the image of a youthful, sleeping Dean evoked. . . taking him away to that special place, if he stared too long, he knew he'd break down and cry.
Okay, he had to admit that the whole premise of the song was wrong but, thinking about this last week or so spent with his kid - first hating to look into those pain-filled eyes and then spending these last few utterly enjoyable days of downtime in Monterey, where everything damn near did feel as fresh as the bright blue sky - somehow the song still fit. And knowing that Dean could sleep through a bomb blast right now and not even twitch, instead of turning the radio down, John turned it up just slightly, let his arm drape around Dean again and quietly sang along.
After all, Sammy was safe and happy and Dean was at his father's side, beginning to heal in every sense of the word. What better reasons could John ever have?
Additional notes: Lyrics to Sweet Child o' Mine have been borrowed without the permission of Messrs Rose, Slash, Stradlin and Adler. The song was reputedly written in 1987 as a love-song for Erin Everly, Axl Rose's then future wife. Still, the words always make me think of tragic sons and tortured heroes such as Johnny Lancer and Dean Winchester and, in the case of Dean, I can't imagine John thinking otherwise whenever it came on the radio.
Kudos to anyone who recognized "Captain Nolan", Richard Harris' character in "Orca". I had to use IMDb to look him up. Dean would remember though, I'm sure of it ;-).
Thanks so much to all the readers who have been so supportive of my first multi-chapter Supernatural story. You're all gems!