"The Dark Horse"
"Chapter Six: Anomaly"
Anomalies were what made people different from one another. People have their own quirks, expressions, interests, looks. Except some people had a wider range of anomalies that was borderline something else entirely. John had seen people deviate from themselves, killed people who had developed an anomaly unlike any other. Werewolves, shape shifters, demons… name it and John Winchester has probably killed it or attempted to kill it. He'd seen everything from demons to ghosts to things that real nightmares were made out of. Hell, he'd even seen psychics who had empathy up the butt or could see energy. He'd never heard of psychics who could deep-fry a person in five seconds flat, had dreams of the future, could heal people with one touch, play Simon Says to make others their minions… it was ridiculous. What was even more unbelievable was that his little boy could be one of these extraordinary anomalies who no one had ever seen before. His little boy who had the power of demons.
He fought the idea and looked for loopholes in the Intel he was given. Sammy wasn't a killing machine, wasn't some freaky psychic. He was just a pain-in-the-ass teenager who had a mouth full of attitude and wore his heart on his sleeve. The kid took everything as a personal insult, took every lie as an ultimate sin. John lied to his kids to protect them. Dean saw that even though he didn't agree with it. Sam, on the other hand, took it as betrayal and a personal jab at his ego. Sam was selfish and stubborn, but he wasn't a murdering freak.
All John wanted was the honest-to-goodness truth so that he could protect both his sons. If Sammy was some sort of psychic, then John would do whatever it would take to save his baby boy from going dark side.
Apparently, if one has the right ritual and the right name, one can summon any demon of choice. John wasn't much for summoning evil to come visit him but was rather a guy who liked to surprise said evil. The demon would have the upper hand, come prepared with bodyguards and a plan. John would be the one out of the loop, the one scrambling to outsmart. He didn't really care about what could happen because for some insane reason he sorta trusted this demon named Abaddon. That, within itself, was beyond dangerous.
Speaking the Latin in a low rumble over the chalk marks on the warehouse floor, John stroke a match and let it drop into a bowl of sulfur. Flames exploded briefly as he continued the incantation. Before he had a chance to finish the ritual, a cold breeze washed through the room and blew out the fire. John stilled, his hand snaking behind him to grab the pistol tucked away in his jeans.
"Abaddon felt the tug and decided she didn't want to show," a male voice called.
Whipping around, John spotted a man inching towards him. He was tall with cropped chestnut hair. His hazel eyes rolled up to reveal vibrant orange irises before rolling back to its usual color.
"What do you want?" John demanded as he trained the gun on the demon.
"I want you to put the gun away before you kill the meat suit, and then I want you to realize what your role is in this little thing we call war."
John lowered the gun slightly but still kept it in front of him in case he needed to shoot. Bullets were essentially ineffectual with demons, but there was some comfort just to have the metal piece with him.
"What's my role then?"
"To kill Azazel," the demon replied simply. "In order to do that, you need to come to terms with the fact that Samuel was marked by Azazel when he was a baby."
"Not this bullshit again."
John knew Sam and Dean like the back of his hand, and he would know if his younger son was some sort of freak. Sam was a lot of things but psychic was definitely not one of them. He didn't see the dead everywhere, have premonitions, or have some other sort of strange power. No, Sammy Winchester was just a pain in John's ass ninety percent of the time, but he wasn't special in some sort of freaky way.
"My colleagues and I have been tracking children marked by Azazel for a little over a century. He never quite seems to get a batch that he's content with until now. Our spies say he's quite satisfied with these children, knows that this is the batch he's been waiting for. Rumor has it there are a couple that he's taken a special interest in - Samuel being at the top of his list along with a boy named Jake and a girl named Lily. Azazel believes that one of those three is the one he's been searching for."
"Searching for… what?"
"To lead him into prominence."
John scoffed. This whole thing was getting beyond ridiculous. Since he started hunting, he never thought that'd he'd actually stand around and have a civil conversation with evil. Except, in the past few years, he'd been talking with demons about aiding them in war. He had no idea why he kept putting up with it, sneaking around his children in order to meet with them for their help.
"Right, this Azazel doesn't believe Satan's real and wants to run the gun show down in Hell."
"Yes and no," the demon replied. "Azazel doesn't want to rule Hell, doesn't want his headquarters to be located there. Anyone, demon or not, who would willingly stay in Hell is completely out of their mind. No, Azazel wants to rule the soil that you walk upon and wants Hell to be his prison for those who don't follow him."
"Alright, let's say that I bite. Why are you demons coming to me and not someone else?"
"Because you are the dark horse of the hunting community. People underestimated you and you proved them wrong by rising to the occasion. We need someone who isn't seen as a threat but is a very powerful weapon. Plus, you're playing emotional in this with Samuel's involvement."
"Let's get something straight, Sam isn't a part of this!"
The very thought of Sam possibly being involved in war and this psychic business was enough to drive John insane. His boys were his life. Without them, he was sure that he would have killed himself after Mary's death. There was no way that he would have survived so long without his kids, his touchstones.
"You know that there have been other house fires where mothers have died. Check farther back than 1983. You'll find your wife's name on that list - nursery fire and parents dead. You see, it's only when Azazel is caught in the act does he take action."
"Caught in the act of what exactly?"
"These children are picked because they're smart, they're special. They all have potential in them. Based on our Intel, Azazel gives these children his blood… enhances their potential."
"Potential for what?" demanded John. "This cryptic crap you got going on, it's not really working for me."
"You won't believe me, won't believe anyone until you see it with your own eyes. That's the way you are, John." The demon took another step forward. "You had it all figured out years ago. Your wife with her enchantments around the house, the salt containers in every room… you had your suspicions but you always tried to push that into the back of your mind. You didn't want to believe until Azazel attacked your family. Now, you're a gung-ho supernatural hunter."
John didn't know what to say to that. Mary had her quirks with salt and symbols and silver. Everyone had his or her own quirks though, and he never thought she was some supernatural hunter in some double life she was leading. In that moment with this demon, he just wanted to say fuck it all and leave. What if he was right though? How could he walk away from that and not protect his son?
"Okay, say that I believe you and I wanna hunt down this Azazel. I don't have a way to kill the sonofabitch. I can't shoot him, can't stab him, and he's not just gonna sit around waiting to be exorcised. Am I just supposed to wander on into battle with my thumbs up my ass and pray that he just drops dead?"
"There's a gun that was crafted by Samuel Colt…"
The first thing that John learned about demons was that they were masters at telling manipulative lies. He heard the tale of Samuel Colt creating a gun that could kill anything supernatural - even demons. Hunters liked to tell tall tales, like to spread rumors and gossip. John had heard several variations of the Colt gun for years, but he never once believed that it actually existed. It was a legendary anecdote that rivaled King Arthur's Excalibur and Beowulf's Hrunting. Some demon was telling him that the Colt was real and out there somewhere. How was John supposed to believe that?
The thought of this mystical gun wouldn't leave John's mind as he drove to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his sons from Caleb Lyons. Years ago, John had met Caleb through Pastor Jim. They became quick friends, and John had trusted him completely from the start. Back when he first started to hunt, trust came desperately and easily. As the years wore on, trust seemed to become a rarity. He always second guessed peoples' actions, was always on guard. There were only a select few people that John still trusted with his life, with the lives of his children.
"If you look up my name in the phonebook, is it under fucking babysitter?" questioned Caleb Lyons as he answered his front door to see John Winchester standing there in all his glory.
"They're hardly babies anymore," countered John with a smirk. "It's more like hanging out than sitting."
Stepping aside, Caleb allowed the older hunter to cross the threshold of his home. The house looked different since the last time John had been there. It was homier with ruffles and curtains - definitely had that female vibe going on. His eyes swept the living room until they landed on a leggy brunette lounging on the sofa with a small bump under her breasts.
"You're pregnant?" John questioned. "The poor kid is gonna to have Lyons as a father. What were you thinking?"
The woman unfolded herself from the couch and walked towards the hunters in the foyer area. She stopped short of John, a smile flashing brightly on her face, as she extended her arms to pull the man into an embrace.
"John Winchester," she greeted fondly.
"Riley Fontaine," he replied as he returned the hug, "I haven't seen you since your wedding when you went temporarily insane enough to marry this poor bastard."
"Can't you and Caleb ever play nice?"
The embrace broke, and John scanned the house once more for his sons. Joshua's car was absent from the driveway, but he honestly couldn't see Dean or Sam going anywhere with the kid. Dean was fiercely protective of his family and immediately deemed Joshua as a threat.
"Where are my boys?"
"Shooting range with your long lost son," Caleb supplied.
"He's not my son," replied John. "I'm just training him."
"Since when does the great and fierce John Winchester take in strays?"
Even though John had been pissed about taking in the Harper kid in the beginning, he was slowly warming up to the kid. He saw so much of himself in Joshua that it was just impossible to ignore the kid and let him fend for himself. There was a part of John that wanted to see the kid get his revenge, to succeed.
"He went through a tough time," John replied.
"Yeah, I know, he's quite the talker," responded Caleb.
"Caleb," Riley said strictly, "he's been through a lot and you can't honestly be that insensitive."
"Says the social worker," bit Caleb under his breath. "You and Johnny wanna take on that kid as your little pet project, then go ahead. I ain't jumping through hoops for him though."
"I am part of the Department of Social Services, and I have given my life to protecting children! I'm sorry, but I thought you were the kind of guy who was out there to help people too given the fact that you've dedicated your whole life to hunting things an-and saving people!"
John could remember the first time he met Riley Fontaine. He had been hunting with Caleb and Bobby Singer up in Maine when Sam was six and Dean was eleven. A rawhead had been kidnapping children - children that had been part of families under investigation by the Department of Social Services. They were abused kids who had been taken by a monster. Riley had been rookie in the scene and started to get in way over her head. Caleb, the fool, had confided in her to find the kids. It worked out in the end despite the fact that Bobby swore he was gonna kill Caleb for blabbering about hunting to a civilian.
"Harper isn't your kind of problem, Rye, you get that, don't you?" whispered Caleb.
"He's an orphan who watched his sister get mauled to death. He's not a problem, Caleb. He's dying inside, barely holding on, and he has this wild fantasy in his head that hunting is going to heal these wounds."
A car pulled into the driveway, so John cleared his throat to stop the bickering. The last thing Joshua needed was to walk into the house and find two people arguing about him. The front door opened moments later to reveal Joshua, Dean, and Sammy hitting it up like long time friends. One minute, Dean would be harassing Joshua and the next being buddies with him. John blamed himself for the actions of his oldest son. When Dean was stressed or hunting, he tended to trust no one. During downtime, it was easier for him to get along with others.
"Hey, boys," greeted John.
Naturally, Dean was the one to greet his old man and rush forward with concern shining in his eyes. Sammy lingered back by the front door with defiance implanted in his stance. Joshua slowly made his way towards John, a half-crooked smirk on his face.
"Are you okay?" questioned Dean.
"I'm fine, Dude," he responded with a hand on his son's shoulder. "You guys doin' alright?"
"We're fine, Dad…"
Squeezing Dean's shoulder tightly, John smiled knowingly at his oldest before turning his gaze onto the two other boys.
"What's going on, John? Where are we headed to next?" asked Joshua eagerly as he stepped forward.
"There's something that I gotta do with m'boys, Josh," replied John. "I want you to go to Pastor Jim's and we'll meet you there in a week, okay?"
Never before had John watched a face drop so suddenly. Disappointment and rejection was clearly written across Joshua's face as he nodded numbly at the news. John motioned for Dean and Sam to get upstairs and pack up. They treaded up the stairs while John turned towards Joshua.
"Look, Joshua, you're a great kid. I'm not ditching you. I just - a lot has happened lately and the boys need to meet their grandfather, you know? It's about time that they know their family... where they came from. I'll pick you up at Jim's though, I promise." John clapped the kid on the shoulder. "Now, go pack up. You can follow me until we get to the center of Iowa. You'll go north to Minnesota, and I'll go east to Indiana."
Joshua nodded with a weak smile before heading upstairs to pack up his things. Riley followed him up to help the boys pack while Caleb lingered behind. John tried to avoid the gaze of his friend. Too many times in the past had John badmouthed his own father in the company of the younger hunter.
"I thought you hated your old man," observed Caleb with suspicion lacing his words.
"They met Benjamin Seraph."
That was all John could force himself to say. The whole situation was complicated, and he didn't really want to explain it when his boys could wander downstairs at any second. Except, the name didn't really quench Caleb's thirst on the subject.
"Seraph? He's that loony hunter who wrestled a Wendigo to the ground and took on an army of spooks, right?" asked Caleb with a chuckle. "I mean, who knows if the stories are true, but there're some pretty crazy ones out there like that."
"He's my… brother-in-law and the boys don't know that," rushed John. "Don't say anything, okay? I wanna keep this on the DL and not have them find out."
"No, really, I don't think I will, Caleb," snapped John. "Now can you keep this between you and me?"
"Seraph is a relative of yours?" the younger hunter clarified with a low whistle. "Seriously? Man, I thought my family was screwed to hell, but yours just keeps topping the cake."
"You mention this to anyone, Caleb, and I will not hesitate to help land your cocky ass in the hospital. You hear me?"
"Fuck, Johnny, I consider you to be some kind of wacky brother, uncle, and father all rolled up into one scrumptious package of brooding eyes and scowling looks." Caleb smirked. "Of course I'll keep your dark secret."
John really didn't know what possessed him to take Dean and Sammy to Indiana to meet his father. Perhaps it was the whole deal with Seraph that got him thinking about his dad. If Seraph met the boys, then didn't Gabriel Winchester deserve to meet them as well? In fact, John would rather have his father meet his boys than Seraph any day.
When they arrived at the Veterans Retirement Home in Valparaiso, the nurses didn't quite believe their eyes at seeing how much Sam and Dean grew which was odd since John didn't know that his father, let alone the nurses, knew what his sons looked like let alone their names. In fact, the nurses fawned over Dean and Sammy. They said how happy good ole Gabe would be when he saw his family'd dropped by. It was uncomfortable to say the least since John wouldn't have put the word 'happy' in the same sentence as his father. 'Bitter' and 'mean' would have been a better fit in John's mind.
They were led into a game room where residents were playing cards, chess, and other games. John spotted his father in the middle of the room sitting by himself at a table playing a card game. Reaching out, John wrapped one arm around Dean's shoulders and the other around Sammy's shoulders. He wasn't going to let them out of his sight.
"John," Gabriel said indifferently without even looking up from his card game, "what brings you here to see a dying old man?"
"Thought you might want to meet your grandsons; but if you'd rather not, then we'll just go."
Gabriel looked up, his bushy eyebrows raising high on his forehead as he took in the two boys on either side of John. Sam fidgeted against John's side, an awkward smile crossing his face. Breaking away from his father, Sam sat down at the table across from his grandfather. Dean, on the other hand, stayed next to his father unmoving. He had no desire to meet a man that his father didn't seem to like in the least. That simple fact unnerved John more than he was willing to admit since family was the most important thing in his eldest son's life.
"Hi, I'm Sam," he blurted out excitedly. "It's g-great to finally meet you."
John could see his youngest practically glowing in anticipation to gain information on his father to use against him in future fights. There was really no rhyme or reason as to why John brought his sons to meet their estranged grandfather. After meeting Seraph, he felt desperate for the boys to meet someone actually sane in their family even though neither knew Seraph was their uncle.
"So you would be around fifteen now, aren't you? Beating the girls off with a stick, Boy?"
Dean snorted next to John, his head shaking. John gripped his son's shoulder tighter. A nice pink tone sprouted almost immediately on Sammy's face as he awkwardly smiled at his grandfather.
"Uh, n-not so much," he replied. "I'm more of a-a studying kind of guy."
"Gotta let loose and have some fun too, you know what I mean?" Gabe chuckled. "I could tell you stories about your father that would make you never look at him the same."
"Seriously? Would you can it, Father," snapped John, "… I mean, Sir."
As soon as the words left John's mouth, he knew his father was going to be on his ass. He was raised in strict military code and that meant never disrespecting his father no matter how much he deserved it. Hell, he instilled the same code on his own sons. Dean always followed it but Sammy could care less.
"Boys, why don't you leave me and your dad alone for a bit, yeah? There's a pop machine 'round the corner."
The goofy smile disappeared nearly instantly from Sam's face as he slowly stood up and followed his brother out of the room. John took the recently vacated seat.
"I need your help," whispered John, "or advice. I dunno which."
"This is a first, Johnny," replied Gabe. "I haven't seen or spoken with you since your mother died, but somehow your pretty wife managed to send letters and pictures every month."
The words left John frozen in his seat. Mary had sent his father pictures and letters while alive? It seemed almost unfathomable that he wouldn't notice it over the short years of their marriage. What really was the kicker of the whole thing that Mary felt John's estrangement from his father was uncalled for when her estrangement from her family was perfectly justified. Back then, John felt his wife was hypocritical. As the years passed and John became more enlightened about her past, the estrangement became reasonable.
"Figured somethin' was wrong when the letters and pictures stopped coming in '83. Did some research and found out about the fire and Mary's death. I'm sorry about all that, John, she was a good girl." Gabe cleared his throat as he gathered the cards together in a pile. "Had some old friends of mine keep a look out for you and the boys to make sure you were all right. Nobody ever seemed to be able to locate you, pick up your trail."
"You tried to find us?"
Pushing the cards away, Gabe looked up at his son with remorse shining brightly in his eyes. Growing up, there were a lot of things John didn't understand about being a father and the choices they made. When he first found out Mary was pregnant with Dean, he vowed he'd never be that distant and cold father like Gabriel Winchester. As the boys grew up, John slowly began to empathize with his father a bit.
"You're m'boy. I know I made mistakes that you think are unforgivable, but that don't change blood, boy." Gabe leaned back in his chair. "Wanna talk about Mary?"
"You wouldn't believe me even if I wanted to."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Something… something started that fire. Something murdered my wife, and I'm just beginning to understand it all."
"John, what are you talking about?"
"Look, you were never much of a father, but I need you to be a father to me now. There's someone after Sammy, and I don't know what to do. What am I supposed to do?"
"You do what any good father would," Gabe spoke softly with a frown etched in his eyebrows. "You kill the sonofabitch who is after your son. You protect him. The golden rule of it all, Johnny, a father never allows his son to know the sacrifices he made for him."
John wondered, perhaps, if there was a deeper meaning behind his father's final words. There wasn't much time to press Gabe for more details since Dean and Sammy were making their way towards the table. They each pulled up a seat and sat down around the table. It was the first time that all of the living Winchester men were together. All Gabe could do was glance between his grandsons and ask questions about their lives. Sammy slipped easily into the conversation, eager to tell tales to his long lost grandfather about school and himself. After awhile, Dean grew comfortable with the man and started to interject Sam's rants with comments of his own. John leaned back into his chair and watched his family interact as if they were just like any other normal family.
John let all of his worries be put to rest. He pushed Seraph and his ultimatums to the back of his mind. The whole demon war and Azazel business seemed to slip away. His constant worry for Sammy was put at ease. For the hour and a half that the four Winchester men sat around that tiny table, John felt truly happy for the first time in a long time.
Author's Notes - The final chapter of this story is finally up. I've rewritten this chapter about a hundred times, and I think I'm happy with it at last. Thank you to everyone who has stayed with me during my long stretches of no updates. It means a lot to me. Special thanks to Shannon for editing for me. Don't forget to leave a little review.