Title - Crown of Thorns

Summary - It was a demon John wasn't expecting, a hunt that he didn't count on going down exactly how it did. All he knew is that this demon got into his mind, twisted his thoughts around into a pile so dark that he couldn't even remember his own sons. This demon who somehow managed to take away everything he held dear, to make him lash out against his oldest son. It was this demon who changed his youngest son's opinion of his father forever.

Part of 'The Dark Horse' series

"Crown of Thorns"

"Chapter One: Lamb to the Slaughter"

7 February 1997

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

He felt like he was floating high in the sky, gliding through fluffs of white. He felt light, weightless, free. Everything seemed right with the world, and he was positive he'd never been so carefree in his life. That's when he saw her face a lit with sadness as the rays from the sun illuminated her from behind. His world was crashing around him, large hands clenched around his neck as though to suffocate him. Suddenly, he gasped for breath, but there was no air. She - the beautiful blonde who he watched die years before - told him to open his eyes, don't stop fighting. There was work that needed to be done, boys who needed their father.

The air entered his lungs in a rush as the woman dissipated. A constant beeping rang in his ears as he worked his way through the thicket of fog. The room was a blurry white except for the fuzzy silhouette standing by his bedside. Squeezing his eyelids together, he tried to focus his gaze on the figure. He made a move to wipe a hand across his eyes but found that he couldn't move his arms.

Panic rose up in his throat and twisted his stomach into knots. Glancing down at his hands, he saw tan strips around his wrists to hold him securely onto the bed. He feverishly twisted his wrists and jerked his ankles.

"How could you do it?"

A soft voice cracking with emotion made him falter in his attempt to free himself. Looking towards the not so blurry version of his youngest son, he felt at a loss of what to say. The kid, only thirteen years old, was reduced to tears with his arms crossed stiffly across his chest. John Winchester looked away from his youngest in search for his oldest - the son who wasn't so judgmental and cryptic. He was nowhere to be found.

"Sammy," he hated the hoarseness of his voice, "where's Dean?"

"Why do you care?" he spat out viciously. "Want to go another round with him?"

"Sammy-"

"DON'T!" The kid's breath was labored as his eyes flickered to the door. "You've done enough! I hate you!"

Never before had either of his sons said such a thing to his face no matter how many times they may have gotten mad or failed to agree with him. In fact, no matter how hard things got for the tiny family, the words I hate you were never uttered from anyone's mouth. For Sammy to say those three words in such an even tone unnerved him greatly. John watched as his youngest stormed out of the hospital room, slamming the door as he left. Feebly, he continued to twist his wrists as he searched frantically through his mind to remember what the hell happened to end him up in the hospital and Sammy to react the way the kid did.

One Week Earlier

1 February 1997

John Winchester rode shotgun in his old '67 Impala Chevy with newspaper clippings laid out idly in his lap. Except, John wasn't paying much attention to the articles for the new case but whether watching in semi-panic as his oldest weaved in and out of traffic on the major highway. He began to lose count of the numerous near misses, all the accidents his eighteen-year-old somehow managed to avoid with ease. Glancing in the rearview mirror, John could make out his youngest slouched against the backseat with a book propped on his lap.

"Jesus Christ, Sam!" he snapped. "The seatbelt is there for a reason!"

There was something about being a passenger in a car that made John antsy and generally testier than normal. It wasn't that he didn't feel Dean was a good driver with his ability to just barely miss every car he passed. Hell, he just wasn't much for shotgun with anyone especially with Metallica wafting softly through the speakers which had been blaring on full blast three hours ago when they started their road trip to the outskirts of Sioux Falls.

"You never have a problem with seatbelts when you're driving," the kid muttered as he clicked the buckle into place.

"Yeah, that's because your teenage brother isn't driving."

"I'm a good driver," Dean interrupted with a slight offensive tone as his eyes dragged off the road.

"Dean, eyes on the road or else you won't be driving again."

His sons had a way to make him agree to things. They both had pathetic looks they'd plaster on their faces that would easily break down John's walls. Somehow, after only two minutes, Dean conned him into forking over the keys to the Impala while they were packing their bags.

"Are we going to school?" piped Sam from the back as he flipped through the pages of his book. "We were supposed to read The Chocolate War and technically I stole this book since I didn't know we were leaving so soon."

"Dude, shut your cakehole. I don't want to go to school," snapped Dean.

"You're going to school," John concluded as Dean pulled in front of a Honda, the bumper just barely missed being scraped.

"Technically, I'm eighteen and could drop out," he replied like a smartass.

"You drop out of school and you will never drive the Impala again for as long as you live. Not to mention you will not touch a gun or go hunting with me ever again. You will finish school, Dean, end of discussion."

There weren't many times that Dean stepped out of line but the struggle to convince Dean to graduate high school was increasingly difficult. The kid hated the very prospect of school, homework, tests. He deemed them unworthy of his attention and more often than not ended up with report cards with D's and F's. There were few classes that Dean achieved higher grades in such as gym, Latin, and general blow off classes. John knew that his oldest could get straight A's if he wanted to, but he never felt the need to put the time or effort into such things as homework and studying.

"You're going to actually apply yourself as well."

John relaxed in the car, as he picked up a newspaper clipping to read over again. It seemed whenever he was giving orders, the knots seemed to ease in his chest - must be the Marine in him. That was until Dean swerved in the right lane, barely missing a Chevy truck, and preceded to drive onto the off-ramp.

"So, what are we hunting?" Dean questioned as he scouted for a motel.

"Seven people so far lost a day of their lives in the past month, can't remember anything of what happened. A few days later, they just snap - go completely bonkers. They murder a family member or close friend before offing themselves off as well," John replied.

"So what do you think? A demon causing people to go all Norman Bates? That's awesome."

"Oh, yeah, Dean, it's a walk in the park."

Sometimes John often worried about Dean and his enthusiasm towards the job. He would be more than elated if he could just drop out of school and become a professional hunter. Except, John wasn't certain he wanted his boys to follow in his stead. They could go to college, get married, have kids, and be safe for the rest of their lives. A part of him, however, didn't want the boys to leave his side. What if something happened to them just because he wasn't with them?

"Pastor Jim says that there's only one thing more important than education and that's religion," Sammy piped up from the back as he tossed the book aside.

There were times when John wanted to pound Jim in the freakin' ground. He adamantly made his sons attend Sunday School whenever they were near Blue Earth. There were also the countless religious stories that Jim would pour onto the kids. John knew that Mary would be more than thrilled that someone was teaching the boys about religion and angels, because he, himself, could not bring himself to talk about anything that reminded him of Mary. Not to mention, he was never a big believer in the first place.

"Plus, Pastor Jim would know. He's as old as Methuselah."

"No, Dad's as old as Methuselah," Dean said with a smirk.

"Yeah, because forty-three is so old," John replied with an amused tone. "Jim's a good ten years older than me."

"Try two," replied Dean as he pulled into a motel parking lot.

Looking up, John noticed that Dean picked the dingiest, dirtiest, and most disgusting motel in the area. A bout of pride filled him as a smile crept on his face. That's when he noticed Sammy's scowl.

"Maybe we should rent out an apartment," suggested John.

"Why waste the money on an apartment when Lloyd's Motel is probably a lot cheaper?"

"Because we won't get diseases in an apartment," snapped Sammy. "I'll sleep in the car if I have to. There's no way I'm going in that place."

John looked at the motel with broken windows and what looked like blood smears on a part of the building. Granted, it was probably dirt-cheap but somehow he couldn't bring himself to make Sam suffer. John thought about staying in Sioux Falls for the rest of the year to actually give Dean a chance to graduate. He knew a guy who could fudge identification like nobodies business, so the guy could easily enough forge some school documents that could make his oldest a straight C student.

He'd met Hamilton Slane through Bill Harvelle. The two grew up together in hunting families. The men would go off to fight the good fight while the wives stayed at home with the children. The last time John talked to Hamilton, the guy gave him a bitching out about not watching Bill's back as closely as he should have been. Except, John was watching Bill's back. On the other hand, however, he should have noticed Bill had been acting strange, not much like himself since before they even left the Roadhouse. For that, John blamed himself.
If Hamilton wouldn't forge some documents, John was sure his teenage son Rick would. He'd talked to the kid only twice before at the Roadhouse. He'd been around Dean's age, perhaps a year younger or so. At around the age thirteen, he watched the kid give a hunter a fake ID that looked like a professional did it.

"I'm driving. Out, Dean."

After a good two hours, John found a semi-decent apartment with two bedrooms. Growling slightly, he counted out a thousand buck deposit from his poker and pool winnings from the last town they crashed. They hauled in their bags and the weapons. He let the boys pick their room which was, believe it or not, the master bedroom although it wasn't much bigger than the spare.

"So, you gonna let me in on the hunt or curse me to go to something as useless as high school?" inquired Dean as Sam lounged on the couch and John set up his work in the kitchen.

"No, Dude, you're benched."

"Why?"

"Because, Dean, your GPA is a pathetic 1.8 and you're on the verge of not graduating."

"Nothing in high school they teach me is going to prepare me for the job!" he protested. "Well, except all those Latin courses I took. I don't think I've ever gotten an A before with no effort whatsoever."

"Once you graduate, you can go on every single hunt with me that you want."

"Dad, this hunt, it a one in a million hunt," he reasoned. "I can keep up with schoolwork and help you out."

"Dean…"

"You know how Pastor Jim likes to go on about demons. It's his favorite subject next to God and angels." With the last line, the kid rolled his eyes. "He would be disappointed if you didn't let me hunt some demon with you."

"I think Jim would protest with that idea stating that education is more important no matter his extent of love for religious wars." John paused, giving his first born a long steady look. "I'm going to give it to you straight, Dean. You flunk out of high school; I'm shipping you off to live with Jim next fall to repeat your senior year how ever many times it takes until you graduate. You got that?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Watch out for Sammy," he said softly as he shuffled through the clippings one last time. "I'm going to go to the morgue, see if I can't see our latest victim."

Reaching a hand out, John squeezed Dean's shoulder tightly before dragging his eyes to look at Sammy. His hand fell from his son as he walked past him into the living room. Standing behind the couch, he reached a hand down and patted Sammy's mess of hair.

"I'm going out. Dean's in charge."

"He's always in charge," Sam muttered.

"He's the oldest."

"Whatever. Bye, Dad."

Walking out of the apartment, John waited outside until he heard Dean lock the door. He then proceeded to the parked Impala not knowing exactly what lay ahead of him. It wasn't just an ordinary hunt. It was a hunt not only to test the resolve of John Winchester, but a test the hunter's sons. John never even made it to the Impala - didn't even get a chance to dig the keys out of his jeans pocket.

All he knew is that someone grabbed him from behind and pushed him up against a wall on the side of the building. Immediately, he knew it was a possessed human. The demon stared at him, a smirk working its way up upon his face. That's when she came, a tall, dark-haired woman in a skintight dress. John tried to move but found himself glued to the brick building.

"I've heard all about you, John Winchester," the female spoke quietly as her hand touched his cheek. "Shame we had to meet this way."

Her hand left his cheek, gliding up his face until the cool hand lay across his forehead. He couldn't speak, couldn't even move his mouth. Suddenly, pain shot through his whole head and spread all over his body. He felt as though he were on fire as the white-hot pain pulsated through him. The demons that were in front of him started to become blotchy, their faces swirling together in a mixture of colors. Suddenly, the dizziness of shades became darker until everything became black.


Author's Notes - There's so much I would like to say about this story in the author notes, but I wouldn't dare bore you. I'm actually trying to make this a heavy allegory meta, so hopefully I will be able to pull it off. Not to mention, it's a huge irony piece as well. I couldn't resist it. I probably should have waited to post this until I finished a chaptered story, but 'Grazed Knees' only has one chapter left. Perhaps I should get a beta who wouldn't let me post so many stories at once. This is a huge build-up to the title piece of the series which always get pushed farther back. You know what would really make me happy? A nice little review. They're a joy.