Chapter One – The Challenge
"Dad, please, I'm begging you."
"Dean, it's our job."
"But Dad, you don't understand. Please don't make me."
John took in the sight of his son, desperate, pleading. His son's eyes a sad mix of heartbreak and dread, with a touch of panic barely showing around the edges. This was not his son. No way. His son was stoic, determined…, fearless. Silently he wondered if he'd been possessed; or worse, lost his edge.
"Dean, since when do you shirk off responsibility? Since when do you consider risk or consequence?" John was searching for answers, hoping his son could offer up some reason, some compelling justification for turning into a whiner. "If the job requires it, you do it. End of story. What's come over you?"
Dean scuffed his boots in the dirt, his eyes skirting off into the distance, unwilling to meet his dad's intent gaze; unable to stand firm, look him straight in the eye and admit to his face he was a quitter. Damn this job! He stammered, trying to come up with a plausible excuse, something acceptable to ease his guilt.
"Dad… it's… it's just… "
"What?" John waited. Silence his only response. Only the pain on Dean's face speaking now, contorting his face into someone unrecognizable. I don't have time for this. With his most forceful tone he commanded his son to respond, "Dean, WHAT?"
The words were uttered so softly John almost didn't hear. A broken whimper of "I'm sorry."
In that moment John took pity on his son. In all the years since Dean had assumed his place beside his dad in this unholy war John had never seen him so distraught, so devastated, so unwilling to do the job. He'd seen his son in physical pain before, too many times in fact. He'd seen him in emotional turmoil, worried out of his mind over Sammy or his dad. He'd seen Dean at wit's end dreading the fallout from a hunt gone terribly wrong, but he'd never before seen him contemplate throwing in the towel. He'd never seen his son so perilously close to surrendering to the forces of evil. Prior to this moment he'd never even considered the remote possibility Dean would walk away from a job not done. Maybe I don't know my son at all?
This was a test; it had to be. Some random cosmic tribunal. His son was being judged by some omnipotent being, somewhere ruling whether Dean Winchester was man enough to be a hunter. As much as John wanted a normal life for Dean, as much as he hated seeing him risking his life fighting evil, he could not in good conscience let his son fail in this trial. Dean was a hunter. All evidence pointed to that irrefutable fact, and he was a damn good one. If he walked away from this challenge now, it would dog him for the rest of his days, taunting him, whispering on the wisp of the wind you're not worthy, you are weak… you failed.
No. He would not let his son fall short. Dean was strong, brave and true. His son would not run from this challenge. He would not deny his destiny. Dean was a hunter and he would fulfill his obligations… regardless of the cost.
"Dean, I'm sorry." No pity in his voice, only a harsh statement of fact and the unspoken command to never quit. John placed his hand firmly on his son's shoulder and looked directly into his eyes, willing over his own strength to fortify his son. "Son, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. The burden rests on you. You can do this."
Dean weakly smiled. Perhaps it was more of a grimace, but the familiar strength returned in lockstep with sheer determination. He shook out his shoulders and straightened up to his full height, pulling in a lung full of air before huffing out a deep grunt, his eyes again focused and steady. He solemnly nodded and reached into the trunk of the Impala and began gathering the supplies he would need. He slipped the EMF meter into his inside breast pocket, and then he loaded the shotgun with rock salt shells and threw a dozen more shells into the oversized pockets of his worn leather coat. He hesitated briefly before reaching into a side compartment and grabbing two metal flasks: one full of holy water, the other whiskey.
John arched his eyebrows, his look signaling disapproval. Drinking after completing a hard job was an expected response; drinking on a job was unequivocally unacceptable. Dean shot a sideways glance at his dad before averting his eyes and quickly depositing the flasks on opposite sides of his inner coat pockets. Right, holy water. Left, whiskey.
"Dad…, I know. Cut me some slack. Would ya?" Dean gave a quirk to his face and twisted his lips into a sneer, his eyes downcast before returning to offer a slight glint of fear and shame. "… just this once. You don't know what you're asking me to face here."
"All right, son." John placed his hand on Dean's shoulder again and gave a slight squeeze as his gaze signaled confidence. "You're a good man, Dean. Believe it." John's thoughts drifted back to Dean's first hunt, his first kill, and how his son's skills and fortitude had always made him beam with pride. It hurt to see his son so hesitant, so lost, so reluctant to do the job. A slight smile crossed his lips as a solution to Dean's plight occurred to him. Dean always excelled when he focused on his brother. His need to protect and guide Sam always driving him to be better, stronger, braver. "Dean, why don't you take Sammy with you as back-up? He can use the experience."
"Dad, WHAT?" Dean shuddered in horror, his eyes wide in unmitigated terror. "You can't be serious?"
"Sure… why not? I think it'd be good for him, and I think you could use a hand. You wouldn't be alone on the gig."
"NO, Dad! He shouldn't be exposed to this. He's barely fourteen. He's too young."
"Dean, you started backing me up much younger. He'll be fine," John reasoned.
"Yeah, but Dad, we weren't facing this. He's safer at the motel. I can't expose him to this." Dean's face was set in determination. "I won't."
"It's your call." John looked into the sad eyes of his firstborn son. The life he'd been forced to live weighing heavy on a father's heart. He wished Dean could relax a little and do something fun for a change, go to the movies and enjoy an action flick with a bold hero with a cocky attitude and a ready quip. That's what his son should be facing on a Saturday night, not this… Dean was paying a high price to complete this job and for that John was truly sorry. Maybe later, Dean and Sammy could take in a good movie, eat some popcorn and escape their reality. Maybe… "Dean, it's your gig. You know you can call if you need me. I'm heading down to Pittsburgh to check out that new sighting, but I can be back in three hours. I should only be gone four days, tops."
Dean again hesitated, unsure if he could further expose his fears, already revealing too much weakness to a man he only wanted to be strong for. A soft voice whispered, "Dad, what if I can't handle it?" The voice and tender gaze that accompanied it took John back to another time when the sensitive eyes of a four-year-old child looked longingly into his own for reassurance.
John had to look away to calm his trembling heart and steel his resolve. Leaving his son alone to face this evil was tearing him apart, but it had to be done. Dean could handle this, he had to, and he would. There was no other option. John looked toward the forest, black and foreboding off in the distance. His mind again picturing all the evil in the world, all the danger his son faced every day of his life since they'd embarked on this journey. Then he considered this job and he sighed, hoping all the years of training had taken hold. "Dean, you can do this. I have faith in you."
John forced himself to look deep into the tender eyes of that child, his child. The body was of a young man, tall and muscled, confident and sure in his actions; that is, before this job. This job that at first appeared so simple and straight-forward was dredging up old wounds, reminding John of the pain of that frightened child that lingered behind sad eyes for too long. Forcing him to revisit how a child's innocence was forever lost… replaced by dread and fear of the unknown. The terror that had haunted Dean his entire life was resurfacing when least expected to knock the young hunter on his ass. All John could do was support his son in his time of need and try to steer him past this hurdle. He repeated his words of comfort, hoping Dean could find it within himself to believe.
"Dean, you can do it."
"Yeah?" Dean tentatively looked up from beneath long, lush lashes, his gaze dark and distant beneath hooded eyes. The angelic beauty of his face masking the heart of a hunter.
"Yeah. Go get 'em, Tiger."
John pressed his leather journal into Dean's startled hands and his son hesitated to wrap his fingers around it, the weight heavy as his dad released the worn book. Dean's eyes misting as the realization hit. Dad's journal? Dad never goes anywhere without this thing. Ever. John clasped his hand at the side of his son's neck, gently massaging the juncture with his shoulders for the briefest moment before releasing his grip. He cleared his throat and again shoved his roiling emotions down, back into the depths.
The question was silent but they both understood the significance. John smiled, warm and tender, as his open palm again gently touched the side of Dean's face along his jawline. He offered a soft pat and he paused as he locked his gaze to his son's and silently nodded.
"Dude, you hold on to that."
Dean simply nodded.
John smiled at his son and retreated to his truck. He swung up onto the seat and started the powerful engine. With one last nod of his head he pulled out of the parking lot leaving his son to face his first solo job. He hoped he was up for the challenge. Dean had all the training he could provide and it was all up to him now. John braced his large hands around the steering wheel, desperately hanging on as the feelings of dread threatened him. He shuddered to think the almost imperceptible straw of this simple job could possibly bear sufficient weight to break the camel's back and turn his son into a quitter. He hoped not. He hoped his son was brave enough to endure his anguish, to soldier on, and complete his mission. It's what he's trained his entire life for, don't blow it now, son.
Dean gave a parting glance to his dad before turning and with sure steps marching up to his destiny. He had a job to do, an important job, and there was no room for hesitation. He would do the job. He always did. He glanced about him at all the innocents scurrying about totally unaware of the supernatural forces swirling inside the building. He could feel the chill in the air, wafting down around him as he turned up the collar on his oversized, battle-scarred leather jacket. No artificial warmth could ease the apprehension in his bones, his knowledge of the coming pain taking him to the brink of despair. He was walking headlong into a den of torture, the memories of what he was to again endure pounding in his brain.
Damn, why me? Why the hell me?
He slowly walked up to the counter and laid his money down. A booming voice echoed through the speaker making the teenage ticket seller seem more threatening than her bubblegum chewing image presented.
"What'll it be?" she chirpily asked, blowing a huge pink bubble and popping it, grinning like the end of the world wasn't imminent.
He nervously shifted, glancing back over his shoulder one last time, thankful no one he recognized was there in the mass of people all jammed together waiting for the Gates of Hell to open and swallow them up. He lowered his voice just the same, cautiously whispering, "One for Titanic."
Yep, this is the backstory for my one-shot Famous Last Lines. It is not necessary to read that story first… all you need know is several readers were shocked and curious as to how Dean was so well-versed with the movie Titanic. Well, folks, we are about to find out!
Thanks for reading, and how about a review? This story was originally going into a zine, but I needed to post something less agonizing than my Evil story… more along the lines of what I normally write. I do hope you enjoy! Later, B.J.