A/N: Here it is, finally, the first sequel to my story Hitting Walls and Getting Scars, but you don't need to read that one to read it. This story is written as a missing scene for Dead Man's Blood and deals with some of the events in that episode as well as John's reaction to what happened in Hitting Walls. As always, a huge thank you to my wonderful beta MuffyMorrigan who's kept me motivated these last months when real life got in the way of my writing.
Picking Up the Pieces
"You're the one who said don't come back, Dad. You're the one who closed that door, not me! You were just pissed off you couldn't control me anymore!"
Sam's voice was tense, angry, his eyes holding his father's in a staring contest neither of them was willing to break. Sam stood his ground, even when his father grabbed his collar in anger. He wasn't going to back down, for once he wanted his father to see all the anger he was carrying around, but more than that, he wanted him to see the pain, rejection and loneliness that was hidden beneath the anger.
It was clear from his father's angry, burning eyes, that he didn't see it, though. All he saw was his youngest son disobeying him, and that infuriated him. John clenched his fists even harder around Sam's collar, pulling him closer, until Dean suddenly broke in, pulling them apart, yelling "Stop it, stop it, STOP IT! That's enough!" Even then, Sam and John didn't break eye contact but continued their battle of wills. Not until Sam started to turn away towards the Impala did John pay attention to his eldest son's words "That means you too!" John escaped from answering when Dean turned towards Sam to see him getting into the car. John used the opportunity to turn away and go back to his own truck, leaving Dean alone in the middle.
"Terrific!" he said, his hands making a gesture of defeat as both the others disappeared into their own worlds. Then he walked around the Impala to get into the passenger seat beside Sam.
Sam was staring straight ahead through the windscreen, a muscle twitching on his chin.
"I hate him." Sam's voice was so low that Dean almost couldn't hear the words.
"What?" What did you just say?
"I hate him. I swear, sometimes I hate the man." Sam shook his head once, his hands clasping the steering wheel convulsively.
Dean looked at him incredulously, starting to speak but needing three tries before the words actually came out.
"No, you don't." How's that for a brilliant comment?
"How would you know? You've always been his golden kid, the one who's just like him, the one who's just like he wants you to be. Me? No matter what I do, it's never good enough. No matter what I do, he'll never respect me. I've tried… I've tried everything, Dean. But no matter what I do, he'll never change his opinion of me."
Sam tried to keep his voice calm, hard, but Dean heard the break in it when he said the last words.
Dean searched desperately for something to say, something that might east the hurt that was pouring off his little brother in waves.
Sam shook his head. "No, Dean. Please don't. Don't defend him, ok? I don't want to hear that right now. I don't want to hear anything right now."
Dean suddenly noticed that Sam was shaking all over – whether from reaction, shock or pent-up emotions – and when Sam moved his head, Dean saw a tear glistening in his eye. Then his brother took a deep breath, turned the key in the ignition and set off in the direction where their father's taillights were disappearing in the distance. Once they were off, Sam reached out and turned the music on, Boston's 'A Man I'll Never Be' starting to pound through the car. For once, Sam didn't turn down the volume but rather let it play at an ear-splitting loudness that more than anything told Dean how bad his brother felt.
Sometime later, they saw John turn off the road ahead of them and park the truck on a wide space overlooking a bit of water. Sam parked beside him, and they got out of the car.
"So what's the plan?" His anger and defiance were still very evident in his voice. He seemed to have gotten the hurt under control in sufficient degree to let only the aggressiveness shine through.
John stood still for a moment, looking at his youngest son appraisingly. Dean could almost hear the thoughts running through his mind in that moment, so it was no surprise to him when his father said the worst thing imaginable.
"The plan is, Sam, that you're staying here while Dean and I go take a look at the situation at the nest." John said it in his unrelenting drill-sergeant voice that they had know all their lives and which they had seldom, if ever, dared defy. He hadn't taken into account the years that Sam had spent away from him, though – years where Sam had been on his own, learning to cope without the guidance of his father and brother.
"Oh, yeah?" Sam asked, his voice very quiet, almost too calm to Dean's ears.
"Yeah!" John said, straightening his back in a futile attempt to look Sam straight in the eyes. "You stay back here. You obviously won't take orders, so you'll bring us all in danger if you come along."
Sam grew very still, staring at his father, not daring to believe his own ears. Everything he had ever feared, all the feelings of lack of respect, all his thoughts that he could never be good enough, that he could never gain his father's approval, were confirmed by those few words, leaving him empty and broken inside. He felt himself slip, the confidence that had made him defy John dissolving as all his old insecurities broke through the wall that he had built around them, plunging him back into the young, unsure person he had been years before.
Dean watched as his brother's defences crumbled. John didn't notice it, but then he hadn't been as close to Sam recently as Dean had. Dean recognised the hurt look in Sam's eyes when he turned and walked away from John, noticed the slight shake in his hands, noticed the clenched jaw as Sam struggled desperately not to fall apart in front of his father. John only saw a submissive soldier giving in to his superior.
Dean was torn between following his brother and giving his father a piece of his mind. He had never gone up against John much in the past, always being of the opinion, like he had told Sam earlier, that he followed the orders if that was what it took to work together and get the job done. That attitude had left him standing in the middle, alone, too many times to remember, both of the others wanting him to take their sides, not realising how much they were tearing him apart by doing so.
Having gotten to know his brother better in the past months, he now realised the immense effect his father's words had – and had had – on Sam, and how all Sam wanted was for his father to respect him for what he was and what he was able to do.
Something in Dean snapped.
"STOP THAT!" he yelled, surprising both himself and his father, but once the dam had burst, there was no stopping him. "Don't you realise what you're doing to him? Don't you see? He's doing everything he can to be what you want him to be. Do you realise what he's done these last months? Do you realise how much we've hunted, how many ugly SOBs he's killed? How many times he's saved my life? Do you realise how much Jess meant to him? I hope you do – you should! You should understand that better than anyone. Understand what her loss meant to him. But you know what he did?" He paused, taking a breath, noticing the surprise on his father's face, seeing how he struggled to find something to say. Dean continued before he could say a word.
"He turned to hunting. He kept going, from the very get-go. He didn't break. He didn't try to hide the pain. He didn't try to bury it. These last months… I've seen him deal with it. Mostly on his own, except for when he occasionally let me help him a little. But he's getting through it. I won't say he's through it, because I don't think he'll ever be. But he's getting there. In less than a year, Dad. How long…?" How long did it take you, Dad?
Dean saw anger flash in his father's eyes at his words. Although he had left the question mostly unspoken, John had clearly understood his meaning. Suddenly realising what he was about to do, Dean took a step back, then he hardened himself and continued.
"And you know what? I'm sick of hearing you do this to him. I hope you don't really mean those things, because if you do, I don't know what I'll do! Do you realise he's saved my life more times than I can count? Do you realised he saved me from certain death by taking me to a faith healer? And you didn't even answer the freaking phone! Do you realise that if it wasn't for him, NEITHER OF US WOULD BE HERE?????"
Complete silence fell.
Sam stood rooted to the spot, fear coursing through him at the thought that his father was about to hear what had happened that night not long after he had left for Stanford.
Dean was silent, suddenly realising what he had said, afraid how Sam would react, afraid how his father would react. He'd wanted to open his father's eyes to the man his brother had become, the man who had grown from the boy who'd left them years before, but he hadn't wanted to do it this way. He had wanted to let Sam himself tell about that hunt when he was ready to do so. Dean knew the subject was still sore to him, although he had tried time and time again to convince Sam that what had happened wasn't his fault.
Dean wanted his father to see Sam for what he was now, not what he had been – or rather what his father had thought he was. He had hoped that his father's flaming temper wouldn't blind him to what was really laying beneath the surface of Sam's questions and reluctance to obey orders.
More than anything, he had hoped that he wouldn't once again be caught in the middle, having to mediate between two unyielding walls determined not to give away one inkling of the deep wells of emotions they were carrying.
He sighed, waiting for the explosion.
It didn't come.
Neither Sam nor John had moved an inch when he finally turned his head to look at them one at a time. When he met his father's eyes, he saw not anger but disbelief. "What?" John said.
Dean took a deep breath, knowing that he wouldn't be able to escape the questioning. "You heard me. If it hadn't been for Sam, we'd both be dead now. Would've been gone for years, actually."
"What do you mean?" John's voice was quiet, low.
Before he could answer, Dean heard his brother's voice, low as their father's, pleading.
Dean heard the fear in Sam's voice, recognising it from that day months earlier when Sam told him about that hunt, but he knew there was no going back now, that if he didn't tell their father about it now, the rift between John and Sam might never be healed. He needed John to realise what Sam had become, needed him to respect him and try to understand him if they were ever going to be able to hunt together again.
He looked at Sam, understanding in his eyes. "He should know, Sam," he said quietly. I hope he understands. I have to tell Dad now. I have to make this right. I have to make Sam see that he's got nothing to fear. How do I do that?
Sam stood there, looking at Dean, not daring to look at their father, paralysed with fear of how John might react to hearing about the hunt, hearing how they had gotten hurt because of him. Even though Dean had told him over and over again that it hadn't been his fault, that he had in fact saved both their lives, Sam couldn't quell the old, well-known panic from welling up inside him.
But it was more than that. They still hadn't gotten around to telling John about his visions, having only spoken to him once, briefly, on the phone since he had started having the visions, and after meeting up with him again the day before, there had been neither opportunity nor reason to bring it up, what with the hunt for the vampires who had killed Daniel Elkins and possibly the 911 couple too. Although Dean had proven his fears about rejection wrong when he had finally told him about his visions and his guilt over Jess' death, Sam knew that their father harboured an intense hatred of anything supernatural. He sometimes dared hope that John would accept him anyway, knowing how John had sought out the psychic Missouri just after their mother had died, but still Sam had spent many sleepless nights in a panic, imagining how his father might react when he learned about his abilities, not least when they told him how Max Miller had used his psychic abilities to kill.
What if… Oh God, what if he even knows something about them already? He told us he'd found out what the thing is… What if he's encountered other people with psychic abilities like me and Max? Other people who've killed… What if he knows I might become like that, what would he do?
He tried desperately to hide his fear, to remain calm in front of his father. He put his hands in his pockets to disguise the fact that they were shaking, then slowly raised his eyes to look at his father, fully expecting him to order him to tell him everything. He was surprised to discover that his father wasn't even looking at him but rather was staring at Dean with a stunned look on his face.
"Know what, Dean? What are you talking about?" John's voice held equal measures of surprise and disbelief.
Dean shot Sam an apologetic look before he started speaking.
"Remember that hunt near Palo Alto soon after Sam had left for college? The ghost who liked to drop people from the ceiling of a mansion?"
John nodded. "The time you nearly…" He stopped.
"Yeah, that time. Sam saved us that night, Dad. He was there, I wasn't hallucinating. He was really there, and he saved both our lives!"
John frowned, thinking back to the hunt and the despair of the days after it, when he thought he had almost lost his eldest son. "What do you mean? That spirit disappeared when you salted and burned its bones!"
"No, Dad, it didn't. Sam got rid of it. He saved my life, after saving yours inside the house! He was there, Dad. All the time! And in the hospital too!"
John paled at his eldest son's words, the implications of what he was telling him slowly dawning on him. No, no, it can't be, why didn't he… Oh my god, he must have thought… He looked at Sam.
"Is it true?" Trying to hide the emotions welling up inside him, the words came out much harder than he intended.
Sam started, then nodded, panic coursing through him, rendering him unable to speak.
"What happened? Why didn't we see you? Why didn't you talk to us?" He focused his eyes on his youngest son, impatiently waiting for him to answer, yet dreading what that answer might be. Was it… Was it because of me? Because of what I said before you left, Sam?
Before Sam could answer, Dean stepped in, seeing the effect his father's tone had on his brother. "Hey, hey, hey, take it easy, Dad! One question at a time!"
John took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. He looked from one son to the other, his oldest looking at him, a determined expression on his face, his youngest staring at the ground, refusing to meet his eyes. What is going on with him?
"Sam?" He tried to soften his tone. Sam kept his eyes glued to the earth in front of him.
"Sam? Son, please look at me."
Slowly, Sam lifted his eyes to look at his father. John flinched imperceptibly when he saw the look in his son's eyes. Is that… fear? What could make him that frightened? Frightened… of me? What?
"What happened, son?" What can be so terrible that… that you would be afraid of me?
Sam swallowed a couple of times, his mind racing, panic making his usually logic mind resemble an anthill, thoughts chasing each other all over the place. What do I tell him? He wouldn't understand… He'd just get mad because I didn't get to them in time… I got them hurt, hell, Dean almost died…What do I tell him?
"It wasn't a normal haunting, Dad. Someone had summoned the spirit to kill the new owner of the house, then left it there to roam freely. Sam got rid of it by performing a blood ritual to destroy the amulet it was tied to. Before that, he saved you in the house, using his iron knife to get rid of the spirit when it was about to throw you from the ceiling. Then he saved my life when that evil SOB was using me for target practice. Dad…" Dean looked from Sam to John, swallowing as he remembered how close Sam had come to dying for his sake. "He took a knife for me." Dean's voice grew quiet on the final words. Don't you see, Dad? How can you not see what he's become? He's one of use, always was, always will be. If you don't force him away, that is.
John's frown deepened as he tried to make sense of it all. What? Sam there? I don't remember… I remember thinking that the thing got me, then waking up on the floor, and it was gone. And then finding Dean there, next to the burning bones in the grave… But… Sam?
"Sam? Is this true?"
"Dad, you already asked him that once!" Dean's voice was angry. He was getting ready to go off again when he suddenly felt a hand on his arm.
"It's ok, Dean." Dean could hear the shaking in Sam's voice but it was so small that he didn't think his father would notice.
Sam took a deep breath, then looked his father in his eyes. Here goes. Please, Dad, please don't send me away. But I can't go on like this. You need to know, I can't keep this inside anymore. Any of it. "It's true, Dad. I tried to contact you to tell you, when I heard about the spirit being summoned, because I knew you wouldn't be able to get rid of it just by burning the bones. But you didn't pick up the phone. Neither of you. So…" He swallowed, then forced himself to go on. "I went to the house. But I was almost too late. I'm sorry…" He paused, hoping his father would start talking, stop him, yet also hoping he'd keep quiet. "I'm sorry you got hurt because of me. And I know it wasn't the first time that happened. I…"
He felt his self-control slipping, emotions welling up inside him. He looked sideways at Dean and was encouraged by the slight smile on his face. Is that… pride? Reassured by his brother's silent support, he once again looked at his father. Then he continued his story, hoping that his father would understand, if not forgive him. He finished by telling how he had ended up in hospital but had gotten through it with the help of his friends, leaving out his desperate last attempt to get to see Dean, only to see the two of them driving away. No need to tell him about that terrible emptiness, or the fear – the knowledge – that Dean almost died because of me. And I bet Dean won't like him to know exactly how desperate those days were for him either.
While he talked, his voice had slowly grown stronger, and although the repressed emotions raised their heads once in a while, the fact that he had already told the story to Dean helped him. And parts of it Dad wouldn't want to know anyway… How I thought they didn't… What I heard…He was pretty sure John might realise that he was leaving out parts of his story, but he figured his father wouldn't be interested in his devastation, so he kept his story mostly to the facts of the hunt, merely stating in a matter of fact voice that he thought they wouldn't want to see them so he had stayed out of sight. He noticed Dean frowning once or twice when he skipped the severity of the infection he had suffered and how he had heard them fighting on the night before the hunt, and was thankful that Dean didn't interrupt him.
When he finished, he stood in front of his father, staring at the ground in front of him, the confidence that he had gained while speaking fading away with each passing second that went by in silence. He shifted uncomfortably, then gratefully shot Dean a glance as he took a step closer to him, showing his support.
John stood completely still, staring at his two sons. His mind was racing, trying to make the boy no, man standing before him correspond to the image of Sam that he carried in his mind. He suddenly realised that the image was built on increasingly distant memories of what he had seen as a rebellious teenager that he had never really understood.
He had noticed the moments when the emotions threatened to overwhelm Sam but noted, with part pride and part regret, how his often-very-emotional son managed to get them back under control every single time. Guess he really has grown up. He realised he didn't really know how he felt about that, and he didn't at all know what to do with the emotions it caused in him. So he reverted to what he had done so often before – and did nothing. As so often before, he missed his wife and her ability to understand people's emotions. He recognised that same ability in Sam, and that made the fact that he now saw his youngest follow his example and clamp down his emotions more painful than he would ever have expected. Damn it, why do I feel like this? Mary? You would know, you would understand him. What do I do?
He realised that he had to act now to start mending the rend that had been torn between him and Sam so long ago and been re-opened by his angry, unfeeling words a few moments earlier. I have to do something. I can't lose him, not again… What do I do? His eyes flickered momentarily to his oldest son for help, but Dean was standing slightly behind Sam, arms crossed across his chest, clearly stating where his support lay at the moment.
Realising that he'd have to figure this one out on his own, John finally found his voice. "So… You hunted? On your own?" Great strategy, John. Don't address any of the emotional stuff, just focus on the hunt. He almost felt Mary's disapproving stare when he raised his eyes and looked at his son. But this… at least I can give him this.
"Yes, sir." Sam's voice was slightly confused. Dad? You're not mad at me?
"Sorry?" Sam looked at him in confusion. Why did he ask that? Is he asking about what I've hunted, or what does he mean?
"What did you hunt?"
"Uh. A few spirits – among them the ghost of a librarian who haunted the campus library. A werewolf. A skinwalker. And a couple of other things…" He grew silent, fidgeting slightly under the surprised stares of his father and brother.
"What?" he said when neither of them spoke.
"A werewolf?" Dean said at the same time that John said "A skinwalker?"
Sam scratched his head in embarrassment. "Yeah."
"You never told me that," Dean said. What the hell, little brother? I thought we were done with the secrets.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to worry you. Anyway, it's in the past now. And I DID tell you about the librarian's spirit." Sam flashed him a small smile. Ooops. Shouldn't have revealed that about the werewolf. Hope I can distract him. I'm not too keen on remembering that particular hunt.
"Yeah, but only because that also happened to be around the time that you met Jess. Trust my little brother to get knocked out by a book-throwing librarian's spirit and wake up in the arms of a gorgeous blonde." Dean's tone was bitter but he couldn't disguise the smile tugging at his lips.
"I told you, libraries aren't as bad as you make them out to be," Sam replied with an answering smile.
John shook his head. Boys will be boys. "Boys? If you two are done, I believe we've got a vampire's nest to stake out."
Sam's smile disappeared instantly, his stomach clenching in fear. We? Did he mean that? Or did he just mean him and Dean?
"We?" he asked nervously. Please, Dad. Please let me come with you.
"Yeah, Sam. We. All of us, son. You've earned your right to come along quite a few times, it seems." He nodded his approval, then turned from them and went around his truck to pick up some things from the passenger seat.
Sam smiled at his father's show of approval, but he struggled to make sense of the emotions warring in him. He felt happy that he'd finally gained his father's approval and maybe even respect, but he also knew that he had only gotten it because of his skills in hunting. And he still doesn't know… He might not hate me for getting them in danger, but if he knew… He sighed. And I guess he'll never understand… But Dad, I'm changed now. I'm not even sure I can go back, after everything… I know I told Dean, not that long ago, that I wanted to go back to school, but I don't know… I'm not even sure I can anymore, hell, I don't even know who I am anymore. I don't know WHAT I am anymore.
Realising that Dean was talking to him, he shook himself from his musings and looked at his brother. When he met his eyes, Dean smiled at him. Sam could see the relief in his eyes and suddenly realised how much it hurt Dean to be always caught in the middle between him and his father and how much it cost him to oppose his father as openly as he had just done.
"Thank you," Sam said quietly. Thank you for having my back. Even against Dad. And… sorry for putting you in that position, Dean. More times than I can even count. I didn't realise…
Dean nodded. "No problem, Sammy boy. Now, what do you say we go hunt some vampires?" Dean smacked Sam on the arm, his relief showing in his restless movements and eagerness to get moving.
Sam shook his head at his brother's sudden mirth and the way he brushed off Sam's gratitude, then smiled back at him. "You're just hoping to run into Janette!"
"Mmmmm, Janette… " Dean said, a dreamy look suddenly appearing on his face.
Sam laughed, then grew quiet when his eyes once again fell on his father caught up in his preparations for the hunt. Well, I guess it's a start… I just don't know how to tell him…
But at least I know Dean's on my side no matter what.
Then he sighed and went to join his father and brother on their first hunt together since that fateful day that nearly cost all of them their lives.