Title - Lies the Crown

Summary - Nearly three months after the fire, John Winchester packed up his boys and left Lawrence for good. With a mission in mind, John and his two small sons redefine their lives and start down the painful road of revenge.

Part of 'The Dark Horse' series

'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown': a person with great responsibilities and is constantly worried

"Lies the Crown"

There was something about watching your wife being murdered that forever changes a person. John Winchester wasn't one of the fathers who constantly fretted about his children, who didn't allow his kids to do something just because there was a possibility that they could get hurt. After seeing Mary pinned to the ceiling of their baby's nursery, blood spilling out of a gash across her abdomen, and a bursting fire licking her flesh made John somewhat of a pessimist. The very thought of losing one of his sons was enough to throw him into a complete emotional breakdown. The fact that he dreamt of his sons' dead and bloody bodies didn't help matters either.

After leaving Lawrence at the end of January 1984, John drove his small family to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Their stay lasted two months; and in that time period, the Winchesters would redefine their lives and deal with the painful truths that lie ahead of them. John took the opportunity to research anything and everything about hunting the supernatural. He rented a small one-bedroom apartment, content that the boys would sleep with him. There was always a sense of panic when Dean and Sammy weren't in his sight, as though they would end up dying just like their mother. No matter how much he tried to keep those fears at bay, to not allow the thoughts of his boys being murdered fill his mind, he couldn't help it. They always seemed to seep into his mind - day or night.

Dean seemed to understand the fact that John wanted them close and not wandering about. He'd sit on the living room floor with Sammy, keeping the small child occupied while John poured over piles of reference materials. Looking up every now and again, when he heard Sammy's infectious giggling, he'd watch Dean smile sadly at his brother's glee as he tickled the baby. No words escaped the older boy's lips. The kid refused to talk ever since the fire, the night Mary was brutally taken away from them. Their whole lives were turned upside down and the five-year-old didn't know how to cope with his mother's absence. Mary had already missed so much in the short period she had been gone from Sammy's first Thanksgiving and Christmas to Dean's fifth birthday to Sam's first word - a high-pitched squeal of 'Deeeee!' when Dean tried to leave his brother's side to grab the remote.

The first night in their new apartment, John got Sammy ready for bed in the bedroom while watching Dean across the hall brushing his teeth while standing on the step stool in front of the sink. Laying the baby in the middle of the bed, John laid next to him, propped up on his elbow to wait for Dean. Sammy gurgled, sleepily staring up at his father. His slobber-covered fingers poked and prodded his father's neck and face. Reaching down with his free hand, he rubbed the small child's chest the same way Mary used to when he fussed, the slobbery hands slowly lowering themselves at the motion.

"Go to sleep, Sammy," he spoke softly before turning his attention to the door. "Dean! Come on, Buddy. Time for bed!"

John heard the water turn off and a soft thump! indicating that Dean jumped off the step stool. Seconds later, John's oldest appeared in the doorway with his old Marine t-shirt on. The shirt looked like a dress on the kid. Dean stole one of the few articles that survived the fire mere days after the incident. The first couple weeks after Mary's death, John was distant from his children, locking himself up in the room his best friend offered him. Consumed by grief that slowly turned into guilt at the very thought of what was going through Dean's mind when he failed to be there for him. His mother dead, his father practically a zombie, a baby brother who needed to be cared for… no wonder the kid wouldn't talk. John only assumed that Dean stole the shirt for some sort of reminder of his father during his lack of attention.

Snuggling up next to his brother, Dean immediately closed his eyes to sleep. John reached over Sammy to run a hand through the older kid's hair. His green eyes snapped open to look at John, his head leaning into the familiar touch. A lump formed in John's throat as he stared at the little boy whose eyes held too much knowledge of the cruel world they lived in.

"We're good, aren't we, Dean?" he whispered as Sammy's breathing evened out. "We're gonna be okay. The three of us… you, me, and Sammy, we'll make it. I promise you."

His stomach flip-flopped as the boy nodded his head slowly in agreement, his mouth still wired shut. He hated seeing the kid so quiet, so distant. When Mary was alive, Dean was an active kid who loved T-Ball and throwing around a football. He was a talker, always having something to say about everything. The little boy in front of him now, however, was so different, so detached - just a small bundle of depression and worries. John felt the overwhelming need to bring back normalcy into his sons' lives so swallowing the lump in his throat, he thought of how Mary always tucked the boys in at bed with stories of angels being their ultimate defenders.

"It's like your… uh, Mom always said. We'll be fine. Don't worry. We got… we have angels loo-"

"Not real," Dean snapped quietly but sternly, tears burning his eyes.

"Yeah… I'm not much of a believer in divine intervention either."

John let out a small sad chuckle as memories of Mary burned him. He knew Dean had no idea what was just said but didn't question it. He was never much for questions anyways. Whenever John or Mary told him something, he believed it without hesitation. They could have told him the sky was green and the grass blue without Dean ever doubting them for a second. John only hoped that Sammy would be so easy.

The next morning, John took the boys out for breakfast at a local dinner. With Sammy situated on his lap and Dean secure between him and the wall, John allowed some of his anxiety to pass. When the waitress walked over and directed her attention to Dean, a sweet smile on her face, but the boy tugged on his father's leather jacket and pointed to what he wanted - farther refusing to talk at all. John didn't know how much longer he could take Dean's vow of silence. He missed the boy's conversations almost as much as he missed his wife. It was just too painful to look at his son and only see a ghost of who he used to be.

That afternoon, John watched as Dean looked around the apartment with Sammy situated securely in his arms. He was careful not to leave his father's sight, but the sudden curiosity of the apartment made John a great deal uneasy. He didn't know how long they were staying and didn't want Dean to become too acquainted with the place. It was not their home. Their home was gone forever, and Dean needed to understand that. Attachments simply wouldn't do. Both of his boys had to understand that much, because their lives would not be considered normal.

Settling Sammy on a mass of blankets in the living room floor, John pulled Dean aside - far enough away to not disturb the sleeping baby but close enough to keep an eye on him. Dean sat on the couch, his knees drawn up close to his chest and gaze glued to his brother. John knelt in front of him, his hands resting on the kid's knees. Blocking Dean's vision, John tried to keep all eyes on him.

"We need to talk, Dean. I know you're hurting and don't want to talk. That's fine. I'll do all the talking, all right?"

John swallowed the lump in his throat, preparing himself. He needed Dean to understand without hurting the kid even more. Shifting his weight on the floor, he pulled the boy off the couch and into his lap so he could run his finger through the kid's hair just like he did whenever Dean was sick or woke up from a bad dream. Dean leaned into his dad's chest. His ear situated over John's heart.

"This isn't our home, Dean. We're not staying here for long. We're going to be moving around a lot, because I have a new job." He paused, leaning down to kiss the top of Dean's head before resting his cheek on his fine blonde hair. "A lot has changed, and a lot more is going to change. Dean, Buddy, one thing will always be the same though. The three of us are always going to be together. I'm not going to leave you for good. I'll always come back. I got a job… which means I'm not going to be home twenty-four/seven, but I'll always come back. Just like when I used to work at the garage. I'd leave, but I'd always come home. Always. I can promise you that much."

John could feel Dean's silent tears through his shirt. Wrapping his arms tighter around the child, pulling him as close as humanly possible, John felt the hot wetness of his own tears streaming down his face and into the corner of his mouth. Dean's arms enclosed themselves around his father's midsection, his face buried into the folds of his t-shirt.

"You're my dude, Dean. When I'm working, your job is to take care of Sammy. I trust you. I trust you to protect your brother, because you already saved his life once when you carried him outside during the fire. You're the reason he's still alive, and I'm so proud of you." He blinked back the tears before continuing. "I love you so much, Dude."

Grabbing Dean by the shoulders, John pushed him back to look at him. The kid's face was red, his eyes puffy. Trails of tears were streaked down his pale face. Cupping the boy's face in his hands, John brushed away the stray tears with his thumbs. He forced a smile on his lips as he leaned his forehead against his son's.

It was right then and there, on the floor of their first shithole, did John fully understand. At the tender age of four, his son became a man the day his mother was murdered. No longer did the kid hold his childish notions. Angels didn't exist, because they didn't save his mom. Santa Clause didn't exist, because he didn't bring his mom back. T-Ball was no longer the most important thing in his life, because he had responsibilities. Fairy tales were replaced with nightmares. As John looked at his son - his broken boy who grew up too fast - he knew that his words helped define the boy's life. He carried Sammy out of the fire, saved his life. That moment, that terrifying night, was what would make Dean the person he was to become.

John couldn't help but think of the moment he always fancied as his defining moment in life. During the war in Vietnam, John had saved a fellow Marine's life. He always thought that was what defined him as a person, made him who he was. Now, looking at his motherless children, he couldn't help but think Mary's death was his true defining moment. He was never much of a pacifist but never had John been so hellbent on the prospect of revenge. He would avenge his wife's death for as long as he lives. Never did he imagine, however, his thirst of revenge would be passed on to his sons.

Since their talk, John couldn't see Dean without Sammy. The five-year-old was always by his brother's side, as though they were joined at the hip. Before, when the baby would take a nap, Dean would wander over towards John to see what he was up to. After the talk, Dean would lay down next to Sammy, watching him sleep to make sure nothing happened to him. Guilt washed over John, having put so much pressure on his oldest. It wasn't exactly his intention, but it backfired.

Dean even gave the child the only stuffed animal that survived the fire. A stuffed rabbit whose white fur was dirty from ash with a foul smell of smoke absorbed in the fabric. Mary bought the rabbit for Dean only a couple days after he was born. She would read him The Velveteen Rabbit and go into a long description about how one day, his rabbit just might be as lucky as the rabbit in the story. Before the fire, Dean would take the rabbit everywhere with him. John hadn't seen it since he tossed the rabbit into the salvage box two weeks after the fire.

February passed and Dean still refused to talk. He hadn't said a word since the night John tried to talk of angels and protection. John watched as his oldest slowly got into a routine of caring for his brother while his father poured over information on hunting, the supernatural, and anything else he could get his hands on. Towards the end of March was when John got the phone call he had been waiting for.

Missouri Mosely introduced him to the world of hunting, carefully explaining the horrors that weren't just in movies and television. She promised him to find a hunter willing to take him under their wing, show him everything he needed to know. While on the phone, a pen touched down to a piece of paper, John watched as Dean's mouth moved. Though he couldn't hear any words, he watched as the fussing baby quieted down, his eyes drooping with tiredness.

"You got that, John?"

"Uh… yeah. Manning, Colorado. Some guy named Daniel Elkins."

"He's a good hunter, a bit eccentric, but he's willing to take you and the boys in."

"Thank you, Missouri, for everything."

"Daniel wants you to be prepared before you go to him. He wants you to have weapons, a cache installed in your car, the usual stuff."

"How am I supposed to know what the usual stuff is if I'm a rookie?" he questioned harsher than he intended to.

He wanted to get hunting, learn the ropes of the game so that he could find that son-of-a-bitch that murdered his wife. He didn't want to waste time getting his weapons and personal effects in order. He could do all of that after Elkins taught him what he needed to learn to defend himself and his boys against the supernatural.

"Well, John, no need to get snappy. I got you covered. There's a pastor in Blue Earth, Minnesota - Pastor Jim Murphy. He's willing to take you boys in for a couple months and tell you where to get your weapons, how to get your IDs, introduce you to some hunters so you got some resources. Daniel is expecting you sometime between September and October where he'll take you on a few hunts and show you how to deal with certain things. He wants you to have your aim down, even though I told him you were a Marine, he wants you to practice handling guns, knives, and all that."

The next day, John packed up their few belonging and bundled up the boys. Situating them in the backseat, John slid behind the wheel. Gripping the steering wheel tightly, his knuckles slowly turning white, he tried to keep his breathing under control. The trip to Blue Earth was the beginning of a very long journey. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he watched as Sammy flung his hands out in front of him. The tiny boy laughed as the mittens strapped to his wrists swayed when he jerked his arms. Dean observed his younger brother silently until one of the mittens hit him in the face. Wrapping his arm around the tiny baby slouched up against him, he held the flinging hands at bay.

"It's going to be a long drive, Dude," John told his oldest as he turned the key. "You sure you don't want Sammy in a car seat because you gotta hold him the whole time if you don't."

Dean shook his head no, his growing blonde hair whipping from side to side. The kid's arms wrapped themselves tighter around Sammy. The tiny boy responded by resting his head against his brother's side, his arms still trying to move against his brother's grip to watch the mittens bounce. With a sigh, John pulled out of the apartment complex and headed west towards Minnesota to embark on their new lives as hunters, down the long and painful road of revenge.

I'm a sucker for John - hence all of the one-shots I seem to be doing of him. I had this idea in my head about John sitting Dean down and having a talk with him about their new lives, new responsibilities, and starting the nice tradition of calling his son 'dude' because John had no other words. Once I finish 'Grazed Knees' (which I fully intend on having the new chapter up sometime this weekend), I am going to write a short chaptered story - probably around 3-5 chapters - on the Winchesters' time with Elkins, John's first hunt, and how different it is from their old life. Anyways, do leave a review if you enjoyed the story and if you intend to read John's first hunt. It's going to be 'Way the Wind Blows' so look out for it.