The Song Remains The Same
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em and I'm certainly not making any money off of them.
Author's Note: I found about two pages of a story on my hard drive a while back. It had been started about mid-season one, but abandoned for one reason or another. I really liked the opening paragraphs when I came across it not too long ago and decided to resurrect it. Going that far back in time to finish the original idea didn't feel right, so I revamped it into what you'll see here.
It's definite AU; post-demon and John is alive. Kristine floats in and out, but, as always, the focus is on the Winchesters. Let me know what you think; as always, I value your opinions!
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival - C. S. Lewis
Kristine sat on a couch in the hotel lobby watching people walk by. She dug in her purse for her cell phone and after checking the time, looked up to see a tall man, dressed all in black, coming through the revolving door. She watched as he seemed to take in every detail of the lobby and, though anything but ordinary, it was almost as if he disappeared from the room completely. No one but her even appeared to notice him. He walked toward her, deliberately, yet somehow casually at the same time, and sat on the other end of the couch.
"Jesus Christ, John, could you be any more dramatic?"
John Winchester broke into a smile and Kristine slid closer to him, leaning into a familiar hug.
"You get here okay?" he asked, an arm still around her shoulders.
"How are you?"
She only nodded. "I talked to Bobby a few weeks ago and Joshua stayed at the house for a while."
John made a mental note to get back to his question. "I can't remember the last time I talked to Joshua."
"Have you talked to anybody recently?"
"I didn't ask you to meet me here so you could give me crap." John said.
"Really? I'm shocked. Why did you ask me to meet you here, then?" she asked, her tone light.
Kristine saw John's jaw muscle flex as he stared across the room.
"John?" she asked after a few moments. He squeezed her shoulders and pulled her closer.
She already knew that something was wrong, but now she was more than a little worried. "I rented a suite. Let's go talk in private."
Kristine slipped out of her jacket and tossed it on a chair while John made a mental inventory of the room. She grabbed two beers from the small refrigerator and handed one to him as they settled on the couch.
"Kind of ostentatious, isn't it?" John asked after taking a sip of beer.
"You can stay in fleabags if you want. I like clean bedding and an honor bar."
John almost laughed.
"So what's going on?" Kristine asked after a few moments of silence. "I know you haven't talked to your sons recently."
"Don't give me that. You know Dean and I talk. You should try it some time."
"Are you giving me crap again?" he looked at her from the corner of his eye.
"What's going on, John? What was so important you couldn't talk to me about on the phone or come to North Carolina?"
John leaned forward, rolling the beer bottle in his hands and resting his elbows on his knees. "You know, I thought when we finally killed the demon that life could be normal again, but I don't think that's ever going to happen."
"What do you mean?"
"The boys are still hunting."
Kristine nodded. "Yeah, I know."
"I wanted Sammy to go back to school. I wanted Dean to settle down –"
Kristine couldn't help but laugh. "Settle down? Dean? He can't stay in the same place for more than a few weeks. As for Sam, he came really close to losing Dean more than once in the last couple of years and he's not ready to split up to go back to school."
"I've been hearing things."
"I thought you retired."
Kristine rolled her eyes. "What have you been hearing?"
"That's why I've been out of touch. I was looking into the rumors; trying to figure out what's going on. There's a group of hunters organizing."
"Organizing for what?"
"Even though Sam hasn't had a vision in over two years….There are still hunters who think he's dangerous."
"They're organizing to hunt Sam?" Kristine was incredulous. "And you haven't told him or Dean about this? John –"
"I only just found out, Kristine. And that's why I didn't want to come to North Carolina; I don't know who all might be involved and I didn't want to risk being seen –"
"You think hunters coming to my place might be after Sam?"
John put the beer on the coffee table. "I don't know much of anything yet. Just that things are in the works."
Kristine looked at him, then sat back on the couch and sighed.
Kristine Ryan became a part of the Winchesters' lives several years ago. Not long after Sam left for Stanford, Dean was hunting with his father. They were going from Tennessee to South Carolina to check out a job John had heard about, but they weren't in any hurry. Dean had gotten pretty banged up in their last hunt and John wanted to give him plenty of time to heal.
Planning to stay in Raleigh for the night, they were on a back road when they came across Julia, Kristine's mother, standing next to her disabled car on the side of the road. John managed to get it started and they followed her into the small town where she lived to make sure she got to the garage safely.
Julia insisted on repaying their kindness with a room at the bed and breakfast she owned. The connection between the families was discovered when Dean and Kristine were talking over coffee a couple of days later. Her older sister had been killed by the same thing that took Mary Winchester, Dean's mother. Of course none of this came out in a straightforward conversation, rather one filled with vague and circular references.
It wasn't long after this realization that Julia also died. Her death was outside the pattern that John was in the process of piecing together, but she died in a mysterious fire in her bedroom that unexplainably started on the ceiling. Despite the one inconsistency, they knew the killer had to be the same thing John had been tracking for nearly 20 years.
These days, Kristine used her mother's estate as a safe house for hunters. They came when they needed rest and, sometimes, medical care. She also used her skills as a therapist to help them when emotionally. The people of Mountain Lodge, the small town where she lived, knew she ran some kind of a clinic on her family's land, but because of her status, excessive questions weren't asked. The Ryans had helped to found the town generations ago and she did enough philanthropic deeds to keep everyone satisfied.
Kristine looked at John. "So there's a group of hunters forming and you felt you couldn't tell me on the phone or come to North Carolina? Or call your sons?"
"I told you Kristine, I didn't want to be seen at the safe house quite yet. And the boys…."
"You promised them you wouldn't keep them in the dark any more."
John nodded and took a long swig of the beer. "I know."
"And if there are hunters, hunters, after Sam…."
John stood up and walked across the room. After staring out of the window for a few moments, he began to pace. He had taken his sons down a path he never intended. After his wife was killed when Sam was just a baby, he came upon the hunter's world and found himself a part of it before he realized it had happened. He had been desperate to find Mary's killer and felt that he had gotten a little closer with every job, but it had never occurred to him that the search would take over 20 years ….nothing had worked out like it should have.
"John?" Kristine interrupted his thoughts.
"Gordon is out of prison. I think he's the one organizing the hunters."
Kristine stared at him, obviously shocked. "Gordon will go after them just for kicks. How long have you known he was out of jail?"
"I….not long. I have people keeping an eye out for him, but he's not surfaced yet."
"John, damnit! Stop acting like you're the only one in this. No matter what you say or do, your sons are going to do what they want to. If they want to keep hunting, they will. And if you want to help keep them safe, you have to be up front with them. About everything. All the time."
"It's not everyone who gets away with talking to me like that," John said, with no shortage of affection for Kristine.
"Yeah, well, it's not everyone I let get away with what I let you get away with. I came here to see you without a good reason, just because you asked me to and –"
"It's not a secret that the boys spend quite a bit of time in Mountain Lodge and they'd be easy to find there; their guard down. I asked you to come here so we could safely talk about –"
"John, if I'd been hearing rumors about this –"
"I know you'd tell me. Or Dean. But you might have heard or seen something without even realizing it." John held a hand up as her expression darkened. "Not that you don't know what you're doing. I'm going to have the same conversation with Ellen --"
"You haven't even told Ellen? John! You know Gordon had contacts that came through the Roadhouse. You –"
"Stop it!" John's exasperation won out. "I'm going to talk to the boys and Ellen and…."
He sat down on the couch again and looked at Kristine, feeling an empty despair that he only guessed was reflected in his expression. He couldn't speak as Kristine sat next to him and took one of his large hands in her much smaller ones. He heard her sigh.
"I'll answer your questions. I'll do whatever you need; you know that," Kristine squeezed his hand. "But you have to tell Sam and Dean about this. You can't let Sam run around unknowingly while hunters are trailing him."
John nodded, looking away.
"Is there something else?" Kristine asked, her tone gentle, but skeptical.
He took a deep breath before answering. "No. It's just…."
"I never meant for the hunt to take over 20 years. And I hoped when it was over that the boys would be safe." John looked at her with tears in his eyes. "They're never going to be safe, are they?"
"They know how to look out for themselves," she answered helplessly. It wasn't every day the great John Winchester showed such raw emotion.
"Are you happy with the way things are? With Dean, I mean?"
Kristine blinked. "They are what they are."
"That isn't what I asked. If you could have anything you wanted, would you want Dean to be with you all the time?"
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable having this conversation with you," Kristine said.
"I just….I wonder if they'll ever be able to live normal lives or if I've ruined them."
"They're not ruined, John. They're strong and loving men….they have issues to be sure, but who doesn't? There are plenty of people who didn't grow up as supernatural hunters who can't stand being in one place for too long or who can't have a real, committed relationship. Don't judge yourself a failure as a father because your sons are still hunting evil and saving lives."
John sighed and Kristine smiled as John took the cell phone from his jacket pocket.
"Where are you headed next?" Bobby Singer asked as he came back from the kitchen with coffee in a large mug.
He and the Winchester brothers finished cleansing a haunted house just over the border in Wyoming after exorcising a demon not much further away.
Dean shrugged, staring into his own mug. "Hadn't thought about it."
Prior to destroying the yellow-eyed demon that killed their mother and Sam's girlfriend, the brothers spent all their time on the road hunting evil. That wasn't the case anymore. They had a few bases of operation around the country and sometimes spent weeks with their father. He had continued to move around quite a bit, even after the demon was destroyed, but was finally making a home near Ellen Harvelle. They weren't involved, at least the brothers didn't think they were, but a friend of hers had been interested in selling his garage and Ellen convinced John to buy it and settle down.
"We haven't heard from Dad in a while. Ellen doesn't know where he is, either," Sam commented. "Maybe we'll see if we can track him."
"Yeah, because that always works so well," Dean grunted. He looked at his cell phone when it started to ring, then raised his eyebrows at Sam and put the phone to his ear. "Hey, Dad."
He kept glancing at Sam as he listened to his father's voice to the point where Sam started to fidget.
"What?" he demanded when Dean finally ended the call.
"Gordon is out of prison." Dean looked at him and Sam nodded, his expression neutral. "There's more."
Dean glanced at Bobby, then looked back to his brother. Ever since Sam was born, it had been Dean's job to keep him safe. Dean felt it instinctively, even at the age of four. Their father never told him it was his job, he just knew it. For a long time, part of keeping Sam safe meant not telling him things because couldn't be scared of what he didn't know about. That tactic hadn't worked for a long time, but it was still Dean's first instinct.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Dad said….He said there are some hunters organizing and…."
"And what, Dean?" Sam asked in an obvious mixture of fear and impatience.
"Dad thinks they're being led by Gordon and that they'll come after us."
"After me, you mean."
"Hey, what affects you affects me."
Sam looked at his brother affectionately.
"Where's your dad now?" Bobby asked, drawing their attention.
"Are we supposed to meet him there?" Sam asked quietly.
Dean nodded, then looked back to Bobby. "We should get going."
"I'll be a couple hours behind you."
"You don't have to come, Bobby."
"I'll be a couple hours behind you," Bobby said again. "Keep in touch."
The brothers had been on the road for almost three hours and Sam had yet to say anything. He'd been leaning against the passenger side door, silently staring forward. Dean knew he wasn't really seeing anything outside the window, nor was he sleeping when his eyes were closed; he was brooding and thinking about the situation.
Their last encounter with Gordon ended with the hunter's arrest. He'd kidnapped Dean with the intention of luring Sam and then killing him. During a routine exorcism, he'd discovered that Sam had visions that were somehow connected to the yellow-eyed demon being hunted by the Winchesters. In his mind, that made Sam evil and something to be hunted. Sam outsmarted him and rather than kill him, he'd anonymously called the police, making sure to mention the hidden arsenal in his car.
"Sam?" Dean prompted when his brother didn't answer.
"It's not just what happened when Gordon got arrested, is it?" Sam finally said, his voice quiet.
Dean chanced a glance at him as he navigated a curve in the road. "What do you mean?"
"Gordon isn't coming after me because I bested him and called the cops. He's coming after me because of the visions."
"You don't have visions anymore."
"Does Gordon know that?"
"I don't know, Sammy. But don't you think it's just as likely that he's coming after us because of what happened before and he's using the visions as an excuse to get those other hunters to join with him?"
"Whatever," Sam muttered. "I guess the reason doesn't really matter."
"It matters to you, though, doesn't it?" Stealing another glance at his brother, Dean saw Sam set his jaw before turning away. He decided to leave him alone for the time being.
"So, you think my house is bugged?" Kristine asked John over dinner.
He shrugged. "If it isn't now, it probably will be. The boys still operate like we used to; deep under cover. Gordon is good, but I'm betting my sons are better. He can't track them without some outside help."
"And that help is me."
"Maybe Ellen, too, but…."
"He's been called worse."
Kristine took a sip of water from the glass in front of her. "I talked to Dean three days ago. If Gordon already had people or bugs in the house….You have no idea where Gordon is?"
"You think they're okay?"
"They're due to call in twenty minutes."
Kristine nodded silently and John smiled at her. "There's no reason you can't call now."
"I don't think that's a good idea."
John was confused. "Why do you say that?"
He watched as a sea of emotions floated over Kristine's face. She gripped the glass of water with both hands and was clearly struggling to maintain some composure. He hesitated for a moment, but then reached out and put a hand on her wrist. He felt a slight flinch, but she looked at him with a small smile.
"Your older son is very complicated," she began a moment later. "He's strong, loyal, smart…but he's also skittish. I don't cling too tightly."
"That kind of leads back to our earlier discussion."
"The one I'm still not going to have with you," she squeezed his hand. "But before you go blaming yourself for Dean's lack of commitment, you have to know that I'm far from perfect myself."
"No one is perfect."
"The reason Dean and I aren't together isn't entirely his fault, John. My whole family was destroyed by that demon. Hell, Patrick was possessed by one of its children and nearly killed me. I have my own issues, John," she said and pulled her hand away. "Maybe we should go back to talking about Gordon and what he's doing."
"You want to stop for the night?" Dean asked. They'd been on the road for several hours, stopping only for gas and coffee and Dean was tired. Sam's mood hadn't lightened, no matter what tactic Dean tried. Finally, he'd given up and let Sam brood in peace.
"Sure." His tone was neutral.
"Maybe get something to eat?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Sam, you haven't eaten since breakfast and we've been in the car for twelve hours."
"I said I'm not hungry, Dean."
Dean sighed to himself and took the next exit. Sam waited in the car while Dean secured a motel room for them.
"I'm going to grab something from the diner next door," Dean said as he opened the Impala's trunk. "Are you sure you don't want anything?"
"Yeah." Sam grabbed his bag.
"I'll call Dad. Unless you want to."
"No, go ahead."
"Sam…." Dean shook his head. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Dean watched as his brother unlocked the door and disappeared inside the room. He noticed that the light didn't come on and sighed as he walked to the restaurant on the next lot. Like most places that touted having food 24 hours a day, it was entirely too bright and the happy yellow paint on the walls nearly made Dean shudder. He was the only customer and the waitress behind the counter didn't look any more thrilled with the décor than Dean.
He ordered a BLT for himself and a bowl of soup for Sam, hoping he would change his mind about eating. While waiting for the food, he pulled out his cell phone and called his father's number while moving to a corner away from the counter.
Since finding out about Gordon being out of jail and probably organizing hunters to come after his brother, Dean had tried not to think about it. That wasn't easy with said brother brooding in the car next to him, but keeping the music on a little louder than normal helped. He'd made a couple of scheduled phone calls to their father, but the conversations had been short and he'd yet to talk to Kristine. While listening to his father's phone ring, he wondered what she thought about that.
"Hey," Dean heard his father's voice, quiet on the other end.
"Hi, Dad. We've stopped for the night. We've got about twelve more hours before we get there."
"Sure. Considering there's a madman after my brother."
"Well, yeah, other than that."
Dean smiled to himself, knowing his dad was trying to keep things light. "Sam's brooding and not eating. I'm picking up some food and hoping I'll be able to talk him into it."
"Old habits die hard. How are you?"
"Me? I've been trying not to think about things."
"Look, Dean, I've been thinking….I should have brought you two in on this as soon as I suspected something was going on. I guess I'm not doing a great job at changing."
Dean was surprised by the apology because it wasn't generally his father's way. He wondered how much influence Kristine had over him.
"You know, if I'd been sure about any of it, or if I'd thought you and Sammy were in any immediate danger…."
"I know, Dad."
"Your brother's probably pretty pissed at me."
"He'll probably get to that," Dean laughed.
"You know, I couldn't help but notice that you've called four times without asking about Kristine. And since I've been with her most of the day, I know you haven't talked to her."
"Is she all right?" Dean asked, almost without thinking about it.
"She seems okay, but she never really answered when I asked her. She's changed the subject every time."
That caught Dean by surprise and he was suddenly very concerned about her. They generally spoke a few times a week and, after her recent stay in a mental institution, he hoped he'd know if something was wrong. He hadn't told his father about that and he didn't think that Kristine had either, so he had no intention of mentioning it now, even though he knew his dad was fishing for information.
"Hey, Dad, the food is ready. I need to get back to Sam, so I'll call you in the morning."
"All right. Good night, Son."
"Good night." Dean took the large paper bag that contained his food order and then walked back to the motel, calling Bobby along the way.
When he got back to the motel room, Dean found Sam lying on the bed furthest from the door. He was on top of the covers, fully clothed and staring at the ceiling. Sam barely acknowledged his brother's entrance into the room.
Dean put the bag on the table without a word and slipped out of his worn leather coat, tossing it over a nearby chair. After cleaning up in the bathroom, Dean went about taking things out of the bag and watching his brother out of the corner of his eye. Sam seemed to take no notice of what he was doing.
"I talked to Bobby," Dean mentioned as he set the container of soup on the night stand between the beds. "He's a couple of hours behind us, but is going to stop here. I talked to Dad, too."
He took his own meal and sat on the edge of the other bed. Sam had yet to move.
"Sammy," Dean said gently, leaning forward slightly. "You need to eat something. Please?"
Sam blinked hard, but said nothing.
"It's just vegetable soup, but it will do you good."
Sighing, Sam sat up and reached for the soup.
"You want to talk about this?" Dean asked after his brother had swallowed a few spoonfuls of the broth.
"What's to talk about?" Sam asked, his voice gravely.
"Dad wanted to know if you were pissed at him for not telling us about this immediately."
Sam smiled lightly. "He's just being Dad, man. Too much has happened to get mad at him for doing what he's been doing all my life."
At first, Dean wasn't sure if Sam was being genuine or if he was being sarcastic, but the expression on his brother's face told him he was sincere. After a few more swallows of the soup, Sam spoke again.
"You and Dad almost died. I'm not going to start that old war with him again."
The final battle with the yellow-eyed demon had been hard won. Each of the Winchesters suffered injury, but Dean's and John's had been life-threatening. Dean was in a coma for weeks and John still had to do special exercises because of the back injury he sustained.
Dean looked at his brother, sure his face showed the surprise that he felt. He'd noticed that even when the three of them were together, the fights that had become commonplace between Sam and their father didn't happen. They hadn't talked about it, but Dean never thought Sam had been consciously avoiding them.
"I'm glad to hear you say that," Dean said. "But maybe we should have talked about this before."
"He said he was sorry about not saying something when he first found out."
"John Winchester apologized?"
"Yeah. He apologized and you….It's a banner day."
"Thanks for the soup."
"Don't mention it."
They turned the lights out and crawled under the covers half an hour later.