Author notes: Thanks to tanaquisga for extensive nitpicking and suggesting an additional thought.
Last Man Standing
To the uninitiated, the motel room looked like a rat's nest. A madman with a penchant for palimpsests seemed to have redecorated the walls, pasting notes, newspaper clippings and roughly drawn charts haphazardly over the original flowery design. More sheets of notepad paper and computer printouts were strewn about on every flat surface, some stapled together, others gathered loosely in untidy piles. There was barely room left to put a foot down, let alone to sit or sleep.
After his first night here, the maid had taken one look at the mess, shaken her head and moved on, never to return. Which was fine by John Winchester. He was sitting in the middle of the clutter, trying to create order out of apparent chaos. To an experienced hunter like John, each snippet of paper held a clue; each clipping could be the key to his next move. Taken separately, none of it meant anything: the scribbled notes, maps outlining the occurrence of freak electric storms or newspaper articles on strange cattle deaths and spontaneous wildfires were merely random facts. But bring them together, draw the lines and connect the dots, and a pattern would emerge. A pattern that John was looking for. A road map that, one step at the time, would bring him closer to the demon that had murdered Mary.
For over twenty years, he'd been looking for the bastard, never finding trace or trail. But now old yellow eyes had come out of hiding. John didn't question his luck, or wonder why; he simply accepted it and was determined to make use of it. Because, this time, he was prepared. This time, the son of a bitch would go down. So no family would ever again have to endure what had happened to the Winchesters.
John realized his hands had balled themselves into fists, crushing the page he held. He forced himself to relax and let go. Smoothing the wrinkles out of the scrap of newsprint, he tried to bring his mind back to the problem at hand. He let his thoughts drift, allowing his subconscious to take over, as he ruminated over how the latest bit of information might fit in. Years of experience had taught him how the subconscious was well prepared for seeing structure where the conscious mind only saw mayhem.
The room was dim, the lamps lit to banish the gloom. He'd drawn the curtains and lined the window sill with salt. Nothing supernatural could come in. In the corner, to his right, the tiny twelve inch television bolted to the wall was on. He'd turned the sound down to a soft murmur that failed to drown out the roar of semis on the Interstate less than a hundred feet from his room. The paper scraps pinned to the wall quivered and the windows rattled with each passing truck.
From the corner of his eye, he caught the image on the television screen changing to a glaring red-and-yellow Breaking News logo. He didn't pay it much attention, but focused on ordering the dates of several Midwest wildfires that were blamed on lightning strikes despite occurring during cloudless days. Television stations these days turned just about every politician's fart into a Breaking News bulletin, and it rarely, if ever, had anything to do with him.
Until, as loud and clear as if the television's volume had been set on high, two words jumped out of the babble and hit him flat on. He whipped his head around, his hand already reaching for the remote to turn up the sound. The peppy anchor woman's voice continued to speak over the footage of a black-plastic-wrapped body being wheeled out of a villa on a stretcher, red-and-blue lights streaking strange shadows across the scene.
"With the death of Dean Winchester, formerly of Lawrence, Kansas, the police believe that the manhunt for the serial killer stalking women in the St. Louis area has come to an end."
An overlay window popped up in the right top corner of the screen and John found himself staring into the face of his older son. His heart dropped to sit like a stone on the bottom of his chest.
It wasn't Dean. It couldn't be. John fumbled for the cell phone to check his messages. There were none. Sammy would have called if... Wouldn't he?
John remembered the last time he'd talked to his younger son: the harsh words and angry accusations that had flown back and forth. They hadn't parted on good terms, but—
No, John decided. Sam would have called if something had happened to Dean. They were still family. If he'd instilled anything in his sons, it was that family came first. Even after years of radio silence. And Sam hadn't called. Which was to say Dean wasn't dead.
Demon chase forgotten, printouts and notes abandoned, John started to pay close attention to the television, listening for the things the anchor woman didn't say.
"Winchester was shot at the home of the Warren family in the Central West End of St. Louis by an unidentified shooter. Police refuse to comment on speculation that a special task force was brought in to apprehend the suspected serial killer."
Translation: they haven't got a friggin' clue what happened. John smiled grimly to himself.
"Though not all the evidence has been processed, and the dead man is officially still merely a suspect in the brutal slaying of several young women, police are confident they have found their killer. The DNA that identified the intruder as Dean Winchester is now being compared to samples collected at the scenes of the murders, the first of which occurred about a month ago."
When Dean was in Ohio, with Sam.
They wouldn't find a match, John was sure of that. Apart from the fact that he knew Dean hadn't been anywhere near St. Louis at the time of the first murder, John knew his son wasn't a killer—at least not of things that didn't deserve killing. Which begged the question: to whom—or what—did the dead body in the St. Louis morgue belong?
John would bet good money it was a shapeshifter. Out of all creatures that could mimic others, his research suggested only shapeshifters were capable of replicating their target down to the DNA strands that'd fool even modern science into believing what wasn't true. But shapeshifting required proximity. If a shapeshifter had taken on Dean's form, that could only mean the boys had been in St. Louis.
And that meant they'd have taken care of the problem. John was certain that the unidentified shooter mentioned on the news was either Sam or Dean. Perhaps even both.
The desire to call his sons was strong. It warred with the desperate need to keep them at a distance, out of harm's way, while he chased the most dangerous thing he'd ever hunted. Hand trembling as he thumbed the lid off his cell phone, his fingers hovered over the buttons.
In the end, he settled for calling Caleb.
"It's John Winchester. Did you hear?"
"Yeah,I heard." Caleb's tone was relaxed. That, as much as his old friend's next words, reassured John. "And John, it's not Dean. I talked to him, afterwards. Dean's all right."
But only when John had heard it confirmed from the mouth of a man whose word he trusted did he realize how the doubt had niggled at the back of his mind, despite his confidence in his children. He closed his eyes and let out a long breath. Thank you, Lord.
He tried to imagine what he would have done if it had been true, if it really had been Dean killed and not some thing that only looked like his son. He'd never expected to hear about it on the news, that was for sure. But a phone call in the middle of the night, from Sam, or Jim...? That was entirely possible. Not many hunters survived to die of old age in their bed, and his own death had always been a potential outcome of any hunt. But he'd never entertained the possibility of seeing his sons die before him; it simply didn't bear thinking about.
John knew this wasn't the life Mary would've wanted for her children. And he'd have done anything to give Dean a real home, let Sam go off to college when he wanted to. But after she died... How could he have turned his back on the things he learned, have kept his boys in the dark, unaware, unprepared? There was no way in hell he could've walked away, or left them defenseless.
Except they had gone off to hunt on their own. Stepped right into the family business of seeking out things that went bump in the night. Should've done any father proud.
A cold finger tickled along John's spine. Truth was, he had no clue what he'd do if Dean died. If Sam did. He hoped he'd never have to find out.
He made sure none of his thoughts showed in his voice, though.
"Shapeshifter?" John's tone was analytical, even.
"That's what they said."
For a few seconds, both men remained silent.
"John," Caleb said at last, softly, "call them. It was Dean who shot it. I'd say he can use a—"
"Can't," John interrupted, his tone gruff, before Caleb could finish. "Not yet." He broke the connection without another word.
He was closing in on the demon, slowly but surely. And once he found it... Well, he didn't expect to survive the encounter. But if it was the last thing he'd do on God's green Earth, he'd bring the son of a bitch down. In the meantime, his boys were safer on their own.
He snapped his phone shut, reached for the remote and turned the television off. He wasn't proud of some of the parenting decisions he'd made along the way, but at least, he told himself, if he died, he'd do so knowing his sons lived, that he hadn't dragged them down with him. And knowing he'd prepared them to survive in a world that few people even knew existed.
And that, he decided, was something.
Disclaimer: This story is based on the Warner Bros. Television/Wonderland Sound and Vision/Eric Kripke/Robert Singer series Supernatural. It was written for entertainment only; the author does not profit from it nor was any infringement of copyright intended. Please do not redistribute elsewhere without the author's consent.