Author: Mirrordance

Title: Things We Know

Summary: A salute to the classic episode Faith... would Sam still have taken a dying Dean to Reverend Roy LeGrange even if he knew that to save his brother would be at the cost of a stranger's life? Alternate ending. Warning: Character death and language.

Note:

This is my first fic for Supernatural, and will be posted in 3 parts. Standard disclaimers apply. "Things We Know" is an homage to my favorite episode "Faith," and almost like a 'love song' for the entire series. Many of my favorite lines from the show will be recognized by fans as having been pulled from various episodes and then shoved into the fic's alternate situations (the reason why will be explained later). These will be attributed in the footnotes.

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Things We Know

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Chapter 3: John

John Winchester could not stray very far, not as long as his eldest son breathed. He wanted to. God knows it would not have been the first time he had left behind Dean somewhere in pursuit of something or other. Obviously, this time was different.

He couldn't remember the last time he had seen his son so openly ill or hurt. A father never forgets the first time, of course, but the last one of many hurts Dean had taken over the years must have been so long ago, or, or perhaps, so well-concealed, that he could not for the life of him remember the circumstances around it.

The memory was so alien that he could not believe that he was looking at his son upon first sight of him at the hospital. Sunken, dark-rimmed eyes, gray-pale skin that drew out those freckles he hated as a child. He was lying slumped, wilted, not as if he were drunk or lazy (familiar sights to a father of course), but just... just because he was barely there, anymore. Like a part of him had already gone ahead, like he was already half away from this life and--

Thin, he thought, cutting off his bleaker thoughts, Dean looked thin.

Uncharacteristic was an understatement, of course.

John reflected that it wasn't his fault he thought of Dean that way, since he was certain it was Dean himself who had cultivated that image, after all these years looking after his family. He got thrown around and spat out and he always came out kicking somehow, every time, kicking and throwing punches and running that mouth.

He hung around the hospital for a bit, wearing a uniform from janitorial in the mornings, and then the security guard's at night. It was John manning the security cameras that night Sam Winchester snuck into the hospital off-visiting hours to try and convince his brother to go see a faith healer in Nebraska.

John watched Sam thoughtfully, in the soundless black and white of the gritty, pixelated screen. His sons were damned good, but always have tended toward the reckless side when they were desperate. And every bit of movement in Sammy was pretty damn desperate by now.

John trailed Sam's image as he walked past the corridors, his image jumping from screen to screen, until he vanished into Dean's room.

John leaned back in his seat, contemplating making an appearance for one tempting breath, before settling down, not wanting to be any more of a danger to his sons than he already was.

He wondered what they were talking about. He wondered how Dean was going to get out of a useless trip to Nebraska. He wondered if they were talking about him. He wondered if they were talking about demon deals. He wondered if Dean could successfully wrangle a promise to behave out of Sam, as he had done (more or less) with his father.

All of fifteen minutes later, his heart jumped in his throat when doctors and nurses began running toward Dean's room. He sucked in a breath, waited a full minute and was turning away to start running there too, when suddenly, Sam emerged from the room, looking devastated and world-wrecked.

Dead...? his blood turned cold in his veins, like they just stopped and froze. His hands were shaking, like they were freezing. He couldn't think, couldn't breathe. It was the second time he'd had to think of Dean as... as...

The doctors were talking to Sam. He looked calmer, and kept sneaking glances in the room.

Alive, then, John decided, even as his mind thought, Yeah but for how long, huh...?

Sam didn't bother sneaking out the way he had come in, but was escorted out by a sympathetic-looking nurse. He wouldn't be banned or punished for breaking in to see his dying brother, that was for sure. John trailed his image in the security cameras, until he had gone on his way.

The whole voyeuristic incident reminded him of Stanford, of how he and Dean would drop by once in awhile and just look in on his prodigal son. Look but don't touch...

The distance they had to keep from Sam ensured the show would be soundless too, just like it had been tonight. Whenever Dean was feeling melancholy about the whole scenario, he would cover up their bleak thoughts with joke after joke of hilarious things that the people could be saying, even mimicking a very unjust impersonation of his brother. One time, an apparent freshman was asking Sam for directions, and Dean dubbed over their conversation and turned it into a very casual sexual instruction session. John had growled at him in dismay, but the irreverence got them through those dark days, making it easier for John to walk away, and just let Sam be. This wasn't a habit Dean had lost over the years.

"I'll get it back to you, dad," Dean promised, closing his fingers around his precious new possession, falling asleep as he grinned and muttered, "But you still should have left me the one with the chain. Chicks dig that."

John smiled tightly, even as tears shivered in his eyes.

" " "

He marveled at how it was that anything that had any part of him could come out so shiny and pretty. This was the first thing he thought upon seeing his eldest son, with his dark blond hair and green eyes and cheeky grin. He lifted up little Dean, speculatively, and turned him over once, twice, inspecting him.

"Checking for factory defects?" his wife teased him. He ignored he quip, focused on the task of looking Dean over. Mary took no offense whatsoever, and just watched her husband fondly, a corner of her lip turned upward, laughing at him inside. He suspected the blasted baby was doing the same thing.

"You sure he's mine?" he had growled, teasing his wife.

Dean peed on his hands, and just grinned at his father.

"Oh yes," his wife said, definitively, as she laughed.

Dean grew up hardy, almost in defiance of his face, which John appreciated. No Winchester was growing up a pretty boy, if he had anything to say about it. Sam, on the other hand, seemed set to defy him even on that trivial respect. He grew up with earnest eyes. Kid was tailor-made to be a con-man except he also had an inconvenient decency to go with the face.

Strangely enough, though, the more time the three Winchester men spent on the road together, it was Sammy who had emerged to be more like John. Dean had his father's drawl, his father's walk, his father's fighting flair and driving skills. He loved his father's music and wore his father's clothes. But it was carefully cultivated, sometimes almost contrived, as if he was unconsciously making up for traits he did not share with his father.

Sam, on the other hand... they had the same dark features, for starters, but more than that, they had the same relentless drive, the same thick skull. Dean ran his mouth a lot, but the kid's bark was much louder than his bite. He was actually much more flexible, much more easy-going. Sam and John though, was another matter altogether. Nothing could stand in their way. As Ted Nugent once sang, A house gets in the way... I'll burn it down.

Ironic, John thought with a frown. Thoughts of burning houses and depressed Winchesters just did not go together.

The inevitable happened as it was wont to and John and Sam's wants diverged, and the two thick skulls turned into the proverbial irresistible force and immovable object. Sam, unstoppable in going after a life that was outside of hunting, and John, unshakable in his determination to find his wife's killer, had gone head-to-head. The so-called irresistible force paradox asks what would happen if the irresistible force met the immovable object, and Dean became the answer.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, as some would say, Dean was flattened to an almost absence. John was an obsessed bastard, yeah, but he was far from blind or stupid. He knew what he was, could not help that, but he also knew what he was doing to his son.

Dean's car? Dad's (10).

Dean's favorite leather jacket? Dad's (10).

Dean's music? Dad's (10)...

Dean had become dad's clone and Sammy's shadow. He was John's wife and Sam's mother. He became the one-man band, the entertainment center and general source of distraction and levity.

Everything that he was had been defined by the two strong-willed men that surrounded him. Son. Brother. He was a comedian when they were unhappy, referee when they were fighting. He molded himself against the rock and the hard place to survive, and what came out was, John realized, a young man who would both live and die for him and Sam, but seemed to want nothing for himself. His one selfishness was that he was deathly afraid of being left alone. As if he was nothing without everybody else.

He remembered what Dean was like, after Sam left for Stanford. For a long time, Dean had kept a dogged, jerky, watchful eye on his father, as if he was afraid he'd go away too (which he did, eventually). Every job had to be perfect. His father had to be safe. He was so careful he got reckless. And God knew, the moment John had left, the kid up and leaves everything and then goes looking for Sam.

Has Dean been dead a long time...?

Burnt up along with Mary after all...?

I've done everything you ever asked me, Dean had begged, "Everything. I've given everything I ever had. I've never asked you for anything, dad...

How the hell could he have said no?

And at the same time, his father's heart berated him too, How the hell could you have said yes (speaking for rocks and hard places)?

I would sell my soul for you, he thought, experimentally, before realizing he was thinking about a literal, actionable truth and that unlike Sam, he did not need a damn notebook page to know what he had to do to succeed.

I've done everything you ever asked me... Everything. I've given everything I ever had... Dean's breathless voice echoed in his ears.

I can really, truly sell my soul for you, he thought again, and then Decided.

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As soon as John Winchester makes up his mind, a deed is as good as done. The thing about this deed in particular, however, was a possible redundancy issue. Meaning... of the two promises he made Dean the night before, one concerning himself and the other to look after Sam, the latter he intended to keep, at the very least. All in all, a fifty percent rate ain't bad, after all.

So... he had to make sure that if he was selling his soul in order to save Dean, Sam wouldn't do the same thing. It would make for one fucking lucky devil who could grab two Winchester souls for the price of one, after all, just 'cos they didn't coordinate.

How to do that without alerting Sam to his presence was another matter altogether. Without knowing yet what to do, he settled down in the sleepy little town for a little while, and resolved to keep an eye on Sam, make sure he doesn't do anything crazy, until he figured out what to do. It wasn't very hard; watching Sam from the shadows was not something he was unused to.

He watched Sam primarily through hospital security cameras, of course, since Sam spent every breath of the visiting hours with his brother. It was odd, though, how one day Sam entered the hospital premises and looked up at the security cameras, straight through, as if he knew he was being watched. John's breath caught; it felt like the first time his son had looked straight at him in years. Sam walked away, and he let the feeling go.

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Strange, John thought, watching Sam shuffle out of a grocery store with a bag of groceries. He realized that there were some mundane tasks he had never seen Sam do, said tasks having been relegated to him or Dean back when the three of them hunted together.

While he had seen Sam drive the Impala when he was younger, he had never seen him drive it like he was driving it now... less reverence, more practiced ease, but same heavy foot on the breaks. The car was such an extension of Dean, that it looked odd, moving with Sam at the wheel.

He had also never seen Sam buy groceries. Had never seen Sam cook. Just small, strange things...

Did I miss you boys grow up, he wondered.

Dean driving the car, buying groceries and cooking hadn't been as strange, that was for sure. Dean took to the tasks as if they were expected of him, a spin-off of the 'Look after Sammy' mantra he was living by. They hadn't been any indication to John of growth, or maturity. These were just things that were always there somehow, and he'd hate to think that Dean had been a grown up already at, say, age eight (though this was also possible). The first time he had looked at his eldest son truly as a grown-up, as an equal, was that first time Dean defied him, "Because you know I'm right," and he believed.

Dean was fifteen and fucking up high school, but getting better and better at the gig. John came to rely on him more and more, expanding his tasks, giving him more involvement in planning and deciding. Sam, on the other hand, was getting better and better at research. The kid's earnest face and eager, wildly-perceptive questions had strangers helping him out at libraries and schools, and eventually, he would be coming up with insights and answers that even John did not have. He also usually went home with a cache of food or candy from his new friends. John had raised a soldier and a con-man. The Winchesters were on a roll.

John was walking wounded coming off a hunt, and dove prematurely headfirst into the next one. He would have gotten himself killed if Dean hadn't popped up at the last moment, against orders to stay 'home (a motel somewhere)' and prepare for a history final, his final shot at making the grade that year. Two minutes later Sam pops out too, and from the sour look on Dean's face, Sam had also gone against Dean's orders to stay home as well.

John was bleeding and biting his son's head off, as Dean took over the wheel of the car (under-aged and illegal, but when did that bother them) with set jaws, taking it all in. Once in awhile, he would glance threateningly at the rear view mirror at Sam, as if promising him a similar scolding was in store for him later too.

John was still running his mouth when they reached the motel and Dean was patching him up, and Dean was still quiet, not looking him in the eye. But there was something simmering in his eyes, John realized now, in afterthought.

"Don't you have anything to say for yourself?" John had asked him, exasperated.

Dean looked up at him, eyes piercing and astute. "No sir."

"Why the hell not?"

Dean looked at him for a long moment, before going back to stitching up his father's arm. John bit his tongue after that, knowing precisely what the silence meant.

Because you know I'm right, Dean might have said. But he didn't. Stubborn bastard that John was, he'd have eaten through that statement in indignation. But in silence, he let it go, because it was the truth. His weariness kind of just sank in at that point, and he closed his eyes and let the anger run off of him in a breath. When he opened them again, he noticed that similarly, the tension had left Dean's body, and the piercing gaze had softened to worry, and suspicion.

"You all right?" Dean asked, gruffly.

"Remember the first time I told you about," John waved at their general situation, "All this?"

"What about it?"

"Didn't it ever cross your mind that your old man was just crazy?" John asked him, with a self-deprecating chuckle.

Dean's brows furrowed. The answer was simple and heartbreaking.

"No."

"Why not?"

"I know you," Dean said, finishing up the bandage with a flourish. He was also very, very good at patching up his father in more ways than one. "Did you ever think you were crazy?"

"God knows everyone said so," John said with a grunt, "God knows I wished to hell I was. That everything was all right. That there was nothing sitting in the dark. But... no."

"I didn't think so," Dean said, asking again, "You all right?"

"Yeah," John said, "You did good, Dean. But don't think you can make a habit of this."

Dean smirked at him, the look warming his eyes. He looked like his mother.

Ever since that night, his back never felt cold again, having Dean there to cover it.

John has not changed his mind about that... wishing all this was in his head, wishing he had lost his mind instead of the reality that he was living in. He'd rather be tied up in a padded room somewhere, with Mary outside all right and alive. And Sam in school. And Dean... God, where would Dean be...

He realized with a sinking heart that he didn't know what Dean would be without all of this. He had made hunting so much a part of himself, had become such an extension of his father's obsession, that John simply Did. Not. Know.

But alive, he thought, Alive was a safe bet and a fair start. Dean would be alive if all of this was gone, and that was enough for John.

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John had taken to walking the hospital at night, wearing his borrowed/stolen/same thing night guard's uniform. He would peer at his sleeping son every night, watch him as he wheezed his heart out because there was no Sam or dad to pretend with anymore.

Every night, John would stop by that door, consider going inside, wanting to grip Dean's empty, open hands, wanting to smooth the creases on his face, now aged and lined by his pain. And every night he would just shuffle away. Dean looked like he was already halfway away from this life, and the wheezing seemed metaphorical of him running, running away from them.

One night, John was so used to walking that hospital and stopping by Dean's room at his leisure that he got reckless. Just kind of walked up to that door, expecting Dean to be asleep and lifting his head to find that he was wrong.

Dean was sitting up in bed, the table he usually used for eating pulled toward his chest, with John's journal sitting pretty right on top. A pen was poised at the ready between his fingers. Dean jerked in surprise at seeing his father, and though he looked beat-to-hell, his face widened to a welcoming grin. The oxygen mask was gone tonight, replaced by a nasal cannula that was not removed at all anymore, night or day, the wearer's will, vanity or pride notwithstanding.

"What made you change your mind (4,12)?" Dean asked.

"I haven't," John winced, looking left and right, before stepping inside. Dean's eyes rove through his father's uniform with humor.

"Nice," Dean grinned.

"Whatcha doin' over there?"

Dean flushed slightly, closed the book and put the pen down. He scratched the back of his neck in embarrassment. "Yeah, sorry, dad. I was just about to write some stuff down, I didn't think you'd mind--"

He looked like he was fucking eight years old, and John wanted to shoot himself in the foot for causing all of Dean's fears and hesitations.

"'Course I don't mind," John said at once, "It's your book, Dean, I wrote that stuff down for my stupid sons, you can write whatever you want."

Dean bit his lip, and nodded, looking away for a moment.

"So, ah..." he began, "You know I gotta ask you something. 'Cos Sam asked me and you know, if anyone would know anything, might be you, so... if you know the answer... if you could just tell him... might make him feel better, about things--

"You believe in God?" he asked suddenly, cutting off his own rambling.

Dean writing down in John's journal and asking about God. God... must have meant they were running out of time.

John set his jaws, and contemplated lying. He knew Dean had read his face, because his expression sank, disappointed. It stings and softens John in a very familiar and predictable way.

"There's Something out there," John said, gruffly.

"Anything good?" Dean asked, smirking.

It took John a long moment before he could answer.

"You remember when you were a kid," John said with a sad smile, "And I first told you about all this stuff? You never doubted me, son. Never thought I lost my mind or anything like that. Whatever I said, it was true. Whatever I asked, there must have been a good reason for you, all the time. Whatever I did, whatever I said, you just trusted that there was a good reason, and that somehow things would be all right. You know that feeling?

"That's how I feel," John said, "About Something being out there."

Dean's brows rose, "I'm kinda surprised."

"That your father's isn't a godless sonofabitch?" John chuckled.

"No," Dean said, "It's just... I'm surprised, is all. That you'd be more like Sam than me about all this. I believe in what I can see. But Sam... I caught him praying here, once. The things you learn about a guy (13). And then again, and again I caught him when he thought I was asleep, and it looked natural on him, you know, like it was something he did all the time. Have you two been watching the 700 Club behind my back?"

"I don't know if there's a God, Dean," John admitted, "And I stopped praying a long time ago, myself. But it's so damn hard to do this, what we do (13). All alone, you know, and there's so much evil in the world I feel like I could drown in it. Sometimes, you just need to think there's Something Else watching too, you know (13)?"

"If someone's watching," Dean said, his tone clipped, "That's all they're doin,' seems like."

John hesitated for a moment, but he moved closer and held Dean's hand. His son flinched, need battling with his pride and embarrassment. It made John wince too, but he was father before everything else, and he just clung tighter. After a beat, Dean clung back with twice the force.

"I can't tell you why bad things happen to good people, Dean," John said, "No one can. I don't know why there's evil in the world. I don't know who's watching, or if at all there is someone out there looking out for us. But seems to me that every time something bad comes up there's always a way to stop it. Not always easy, but always true. Don't be scared, Dean (2). Everything's gonna be fine, you'll see."

"I've always trusted you dad," Dean said, softly, "So if you say so... If you think so... I can live with that."

And die with it, was the unspoken conclusion to that statement. John pulled him close in an embrace, and Dean hung tight. Dean held on, and John felt like a lifeline.

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" " "

Later that night, he knocked on Sammy's motel room.

"What are you doing here (1)?" were the words his son had greeted him with, as he dragged himself into the room.

"I got your calls," John said, wincing with the simplicity of the words as he sat on one of the chairs in the room, and glancing at the paper-strewn mess that was Sam's bed. He saw lore books on demon deals and crossroads, blood pacts and ritual sacrifice offerings alongside medical journal entries. They looked strange all together.

"I thought you'd be around," Sam admitted, sounding annoyed again, which was his norm with his father.

John's brows rose, thinking back to that morning when he thought Sam was looking right at him, which at the time he felt must have been impossible.

"Yeah?"

"Dean stopped asking me if I called you," Sam shrugged, "Then I took a chance on tracing your phone. Told them some cock and bull story about my diabetic son running off with my car (14). It was surprisingly easy. And then there was this."

Sam drew out the dogtag John had left with Dean, now put on the honored keychain with the precious Impala's keys.

"He said," Sam's voice was taking on an angry edge, "I was getting very pissed at you, and he said 'Don't get mad, Sammy. Dad was here, I swear it, I'm not lying this time.' He sounded like he did when we were kids. I didn't feel like believing him this time, 'til he brought this out. I knew you'd turn up sooner or later."

So they have been talking about me, John thought, and wondered if Dean had asked for proof of his presence precisely for the purpose of assuring Sam that their father cared for them. Sounded like him, fair enough.

"So what, dad?" Sam asked, wearily, pocketing the keychain. John wondered why Sam didn't bother returning the tag yet, "Come to save the day?"

John cleared his throat. "I can't stay long--"

"What's new--"

"Just listen a minute--"

"That never worked before--"

"Damn it, Sam," John growled, before reigning in his temper, "Can we not fight (2)? Half the time we're fighting, I don't know what we're fighting about (2)."

Sam set his jaws, a retort at the tip of his tongue, but he nodded curtly, jerking his head at his father, as if giving him permission to continue.

"I ah..." John hesitated, looking at the references to dark magic on Sam's bed again, "I came here to tell you not to worry. That your brother's gonna be fine. That you shouldn't think about doing any of that crap there."

Sam blinked at his father, before narrowing his eyes in suspicion, "Why? What the hell did you do?"

John racked his brains for a decent lie. It was harder to lie to Sam than to Dean. Not that Dean couldn't tell; he was just better at pretending belief, and sometimes, John really needed that. Sam either just didn't want to bother, or didn't have as much practice as Dean when it came to putting on the game face.

"There's this priest," he said, "Up in New Orleans. Old magic stuff. Dean's gonna be fine."

Well he will be, John thought, After I get a chat with a Crossroads Demon tonight...

Sam's eyes flared in hope, for the blink of an eye. Hope and logic it was all the time, with Sam. He was always afire with hope, and then managed it with logic. The hope John could court, always, easily. The logic, not all the time. Certainly not tonight.

"If you'd done it already," Sam said, voice barely above a whisper as he began to come to some startling realizations, "You wouldn't have come here to tell me. You wouldn't have come here at all. You're here because you haven't done it. You're here to make sure I don't do anything you're about to."

"Sam--"

"You're gonna do it, aren't you?"

"Sam--"

"Stop lying, dad," Sam growled at him, "I'm not five years old anymore. You're gonna sell your soul, aren't you?"

John stared at him for a long time. "I can do this. Ten years is not a bad deal. And we'd have ten years to figure out how to get out of it--"

"God," Sam said in a half-choked, laughing-sob. There was a joke there, something deep and scathing that Sam found tragically funny but John could not completely comprehend.

"No one ever has," Sam told him, still in that same, broken tone.

"What's going on with you?" John asked him.

"Damned if I didn't tell Dean the exact same thing," Sam said, running a hand wearily over his face, "Ten years is a long time to find a way to weasel out of a deal, right? But listen, dad. You're not doing that crap. Not while I'm around, all right? I have a plan."

John's brows rose. "What?"

"This guy in Nebraska you wrote about--"

"LeGrange is a bust," John groaned, thinking he just had this conversation with Dean...

"No, he's for real," Sam insisted, and then went on to explain what John already knew, about how LeGrange was trading one life for another, but if it worked, and that was what it took...

"I don't care anymore, dad," Sam said, his voice shaking, "If that's what it takes, I don't care. Dean wouldn't let me bring him, but he might listen to you, or we can take him when he's out--"

"LeGrange is a bust because I stopped him just before coming here," John said, softly, running a hand over his face, "Dean knows that, I don't know why he didn't tell you."

Or maybe he did, John realized, because the same enlightened and heartbroken look was settling on Sam's face.

"He didn't tell me," Sam said, "Because he needed to know this was a decision I could make." His eyes watered, and the fight had gone out of him because the tears started to streak down his cheeks, "Damn it, Dean..."

Sam sank down to sit at the edge of the bed, putting his head in his hands, "Damn it. I guess I failed that test, didn't I? God... I've been wracking my brains, thinking about what I was doing, letting my brother die, or killing somebody else. And all this time he knew it wasn't going to work anyway. I could kill him."

He raised his head up to look at his father hotly. "And you. I needed you here. I was going to let him die. And then I was going to kill somebody else to save him. I needed you here. I needed you to tell me I was wrong, dad!"

"I'm sorry, son," John said, quietly, tentatively, reaching out and putting a hand to Sam's knee. "But we can get around this, son, I swear it. Way I see it, this demon deal's the only way out of this so... this is how it's gotta be. Ten years to figure out an exit plan ain't a bad deal."

"No," Sam said fervently, looking up suddenly, "You're not doing that, dad. I won't let you. Not as long as I'm alive. You're my dad. And I promised Dean. I'd rather die. I'll do it."

"You're dreaming if you think I'll let that happen," John snapped, "I'm your father, I'm supposed to look out for you. And Dean wouldn't want that for you."

"Or you," Sam pointed out, "I won't let you do it, dad. 'Cos I don't want to, 'cos Dean doesn't want you to, and 'cos I promised him."

"Well you're not doing it," John said, with finality, which was exactly the kind of tone that never worked on Sam.

"Neither are you."

They stared at each other, and just like that! they knew. They were caught in Dean's clever little Stranglehold. They were strung together and deadlocked on this, now, matched in every way.

"Listen, dad," Sam said, one last ditch effort at reason, "What are we gonna do, huh? Race to draw cross chalks on the floor, see who gets to drive to a crossroads first? Drug each other? We can talk about this like adults..."

Could they?, John wondered, because they tried that with college once and that was only Sam's second most important thing in the world, following Dean, and they all knew how that worked out (It did not).

"You're not doing it," John said again, "And I'm not letting you out of my sight."

"You're not doing it either," Sam countered, "And I'm following you anywhere you go."

John stared at his son's face. The naked conviction, the unquestionable strength.

I did miss you growing up, he thought. He was still a danger to Sam, God knows, but it was much more dangerous leaving him alone, at this point, and what had Dean said?

Don't be alone too long, dad...

Let him help you once in awhile...He needs you.

And I need him too, John knew.

Winchesters have always weathered storms much better when they had a job to do, and each other to look out for. He survived Mary's death only because he had sons to look after and a killer to hunt down. Dean very openly lived for his brother and his father. Sam was a mix of both. Now, presumably, Dean had concocted this crazy plan of ensuring that both Sam and John survived this latest tragedy by tying them together, making one look after the other, especially since apparently, they weren't willing to take care of themselves.

Clever, John conceded, even as he thought, I'm going to kill him.

"I guess," Sam gulped, "I guess this is what Dean wants. I'm going to kill him."

The unknowing echo of his father's thoughts made John smile grimly, "Don't I know it."

" " "

" " "

Dean Winchester died a day after one month of being admitted to the hospital. It was that rebellious streak in him, John figured. The doc said a month at most, and Dean must have decided he'd prove him wrong no matter what.

In his last days, the doctors allowed Sam in on all hours, and John joined him, less afraid of the danger he presented to his sons now that he had already resolved to drag Sam around anyway and Dean was already at the end of his rope.

It was the first time the three Winchester men were in the same room for an extended period of time in years, and Dean looked tired but damn proud of himself. Half-awake and grinning to himself, like it was his achievement. Damn fool.

In one of those days, Sam had placed the keys to the Impala within easy sight and reach of Dean, right at the night table near his arm, asking something wordlessly and yet very clearly – Wanna get out of here?

Dean reached for the keys right away, wistfully, thoughts and memories and considerations playing over his face as he fiddled with the keys. They all knew that the car was his most prized possession in the world. He hadn't been in the Impala in nearly a month, not since he got laid up here, and had been asked by his brother to stay put to live longer. Today though, with the offer plainly given by Sam, he was being let go, set free... it was as freeing as being in his car, in those bright nights and illuminated long, endless roads, driving with the windows down, ushering the wind as a warm breeze ruffling his hair. The Impala was freedom, but Sam's letting go was so much more so.

"Nah, I'm good," he said with a cheeky grin, though his fingers still toyed with the keys, affectionately, and he still did not relinquish them to his brother.

"This place growing on you?" Sam teased, a sad, slight smile on his lips.

"Hell yeah," Dean lied, though he did look at his brother and father meaningfully, "I want 'longer,' right, Sammy? So I guess this is where I gotta be."

They spent the time watching Dean's favorite soap, and had witnessed Roger's lovelife burn to the ground. It was better than Sam expected, and as inane as John thought it would be. They read through their father's journal at night, Sam and John taking turns reading and taking turns interrupting and tossing barbs at each other, the three men using the entries as starting points for talking about all the odd things they've seen in their lives.

Everyday and night it crossed John's mind to put up his soul for sale. Every day and every night. Watching his sons talk, or in the absence of words, like the nights that Dean's breaths ran short, just how they looked at each other, and at him... God, it wrenched him. Nothing can break a Winchester but love. Once in awhile he'd try to slip by, but Sam missed nothing, he never has, even as a child, and he was not about to start now, and most especially not with this. Besides, the game was on, and despite popular belief that Dean was wilier, Sam never lost. Ever. And so the days ran on...

Dean hung on until just before they reached the very end of the journal, where he had scrawled a few words in that casually forceful writing, the letters leaving impressions and deep grooves on the paper.

I wish I could stay around, always knew we'd be stronger as a family (11), but you know, what can you do. I love you dad. I love you Sammy. I'll be around, I think. I hope. I don't know what's out there, no one does... and you know I'm not much of a praying type, but I'm gonna pray for you (1). Most of all, I'm gonna be praying for my car. You better take care of her, or else I'll haunt your ass (1). Look out for each other. I'll tag-team with mom. We'll all be okay somehow.

Dean passed away coolly, as if it was so easy for him, like picking up a girl in a bar for a romp in the sack, or pulling out of a driveway in the Impala. The days of his pain and weariness kind of just slid off of him one night, and his eyes were wide and bright and acutely aware. He had looked almost healed. He said good night. And then he said nothing else, ever again. It was not a bad way for a good guy to go. He certainly looked as if he did not think so. He looked calm, and happy. Like a young man falling into a deep, beautiful sleep, the kind you never wanted to wake him up from, the kind you'd never want to pull him back from...

In true Winchester fashion, John and Sam stole his body from the morgue and prepared for some salting and burning action in a woodsy area a few miles off the sleepy town. They bore the body as if revered, and Sam took the wheel of the Impala and let his father cradle the now-empty shell of his brother at the backseat, not daring to look at the rearview mirror and lose his nerve and heart about all this. John was grateful at the concession, and he held Dean, what was left of him, smelled his hair, looked him over, never imagining, never ever conceiving that such a thing could happen to the beautiful shiny, pretty baby he held in his hands not too long ago.

I would sell my soul for you, he knew, his mind hasn't changed. But neither has Sam's, and for now, for now, this should hold. Dean was dead, but his beloved brother and father were not only alive and well, they were tied together, as he had always wanted them to be.

When they were laying him ready for the pyre, John eyed the amulet around Dean's neck, and when he looked up at Sam, he realized that his younger son was doing the exact same thing. He wondered if the two of them would fight about who got to keep that. They didn't. Sam suggested they bury it along their mother's grave, and John agreed. Days later, hands and knees on the soil before Mary's headstone, Sam dug around for a bit, and then put in Dean's amulet to the ground. He folded soil over it in a careful, repetitive and strategic way that weirdly enough reminded John of gift-wrapping.

And then they drove away in the Impala, deathly quiet, except for Sam's heavy foot on the wheel and the fact that he was going out of his way to meet every pothole on the ground that he could see, in an effort to court Dean's pissed-off ghost.

John let him work through his grief. The two of them, they've survived deaths of loved ones before, after all. Granted, probably the main reason they survived was because of Dean...but now that it was Dean himself who was gone... well.

Well.

But they did have each other, he and Sam. And they did have that one other thing (aside from Dean) that could help them weather all the losses that have ever hurt them.

We've got a job to do (15, 16).

THE END

April 15, 2008

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AFTERWORD
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Big Thanks to PADavis, Flaming Telepaths, Stoneage Woman and Zuimar for reading and reviewing. As I may have mentioned before, I'm new at this fandom and am grateful for the highly perceptive and enthusiastic feedback.

I am also very grateful to all who took the time to read. While 6 reviews is admittedly unremarkable, haha, with or without reviews, you have still shared your valuable time and that is a whole lot to give too.

Anyway, if you're interested, a few production notes:

1. On Quoting Episodes and Recurring Expressions

2. The Ending and an Alternate Ending

3. Characterizations

4. Next Project

1. On quoting episodes, and recurring expressions

As previously posted, the numbered statements within the story correspond to the following episodes:

(1) Faith

(2) In My Time of Dying

(3) What Is and What Could Never Be

(4) A Very Supernatural Christmas

(5) Home

(6) Devil's Trap

(7) Red Sky at Morning

(8) Malleous Maleficarum

(9) Fresh Blood

(10) Dream a Little Dream

(11) Dead Man's Blood

(12) Scarecrow

(13) Houses of the Holy

(14) Born Under a Bad Sign

(15) Pilot

(16) All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2

As I mentioned in my foreword, there was an intentional literary reason why I decided to quote episodes or pick up the ideas of certain statements along the course of "Things We Know."

You may notice that all quoted episodes are episodes that happened after "Faith (except for #5 Home, which I started to use until I changed my mind, and was not used in "Things We Know;" I just kept the number because I've already used numbers 6-16 and didn't want to re-organize the whole thing)." This is because "Things We Know" summarizes all the conversations from the latter episodes that never would have happened if Dean had died in "Faith."

Aside from that literary device, I also used some recurring expressions from the series, such as the Winchester-patented dumbfounded/I-heard-you-but-it-hasn't-sunk-in-yet "What?" and "What made you change your mind?" I of course also had to use the "We got a job to do" gung-ho statement, which had been said by Sam in the Pilot, Dean at the end of season two, and I had to close it with John in "Things We Know." This is to create a feeling of consistency, as if these were real people and these were their usual expressions.

The title of the fic itself, you may note, was also plucked from "Faith," during Sam's phone call to his father and he says They don't know things we know. I was also hoping to emphasize one of the larger themes of the fic, which was the casual manipulation of truth between the three Winchesters.

2. The Ending

People who have read my stories before have a very unique understanding and appreciation for the fact that I have no bones about killing off characters. Morality makes everything amplified and move in fast forward. It intrigues me, because it forces prioritization, honesty and action. Suddenly, the things that are important come to light, and suddenly time is not enough. From the get-go, Dean was slated to die in this fic, though in afterthought, the teaser could have hinted at Sam's demise instead.

Anyway, the key elements on the ending are these:

a. Sam and John are still willing to sell their souls to bring Dean back, but probably won't be doing so. As we all know, haha, Winchesters never say die so yes, the ending of "Things We Know" does maintain that they are both still willing to give this option a go. However, Dean found a way to keep them from succeeding by pitting them against each other. I know many will agree that while the Winchesters typically have little care for themselves, they probably wouldn't think twice about protecting each other, and that is why the deadlock can work... at least for a little while, haha. As long as they try to stop each other, then they should both be kept alive.

b. The desire to bring Dean back should fade with time. Already, this is hinted on when John muses about how Dean looked peaceful and happy in death, as if he had fallen into a good sleep that John didn't want to wake him from.

The Alternate Ending. I was so tempted to keep the original ending to this fic that I kept trying to shove it into the fic somewhere, anywhere, but ultimately did not succeed because it would have changed the story too much.

In the alternate ending, John, Sam and Dean never end up in the same room together. John promises Dean to look after Sam. Sam promises Dean to look for their father. The two stubborn Winchesters live for these promises, and keep them. The ending scene would have been titled Haunted Objects, Reprise, and was of John writing a journal entry of how he had watched, from a distance, of course, a heartbroken Sam behind the wheel of the Impala after Dean's death, slamming it frontwards and then back, as if daring Dean's ghost to come and call him out on it. Sam and John would not have run into each other in the story at all. Visually, this scene really appealed to me. Jared Padalecki can pull off the no-holds-barred-orphan-look so easily and distinctly, as he did in "In My Time of Dying," that it was hard to let go of the visual. But then I figured, these characters would break promises like that, easy. I thought the only thing that would keep Sam and John from setting up demon deals to save Dean was each other, so that's how the fic went instead, and the scene of course, was lost with it.

3. Characterizations

a. Sam

Dean is actually my favorite, so I found it odd that I was more inspired by Sam's conflict. In "Faith," Sam apologizes to Dean for brining him to LeGrange, saying he didn't know what was really going on and had only wanted to save his brother's life. "Things We Know" attempted to answer what Sam would have done if he had known about the life-trade.

Hands down I would bet Dean would have been willing to still give LeGrange a shot if it were the other way around. Sam would be much more eaten up by the decision, certainly, not because he had a more compelling sense of right or wrong than his older brother but I guess simply because they were still two different people. Toward the end of "Things We Know," though, I guess in compliance also with the darker tone Sam is getting in the series itself lately, I can imagine that it is a choice he could make, to have someone else die to save his brother, especially someone who 'deserved' it. I'm certain many people will disagree, haha, but there it is.

b. John

It seems to me that the general consensus is that John must have been (1) aware of Dean's illness during "Faith" and (2) could have had something to do with finding the solution. It's very reasonable for fans to believe that John would not have just shrugged off something like that, after all. I guess it's also reasonable to be looking for a more caring, actively involved John Winchester. Besides, who can possibly resist seeing more of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, haha.

The debatable aspect of his character in this fic, however, may be that I have resolved to have him get rid of LeGrange even if he knew that the guy could save Dean. According to canon, after all, John was even willing to deal with his wife's killer to save his son. But here, he snuffs out his son's only chance at life. I guess that's because my impression of John Winchester is, as Dean thought of him in this fic:

His problem was that he was a great man, batting for great causes, and understanding that all that crap came at great costs. He could actually imagine his father just like one of those sad mythical figures standing victorious on a ravaged battlefield, alone. Grimy, lonely, triumphant last man standing, who lost everything but won the war.

c. Dean

I guess when I explain characterizations in my afterwords, they're explanations precisely because the fic might have raised some debatable character issues. In "Things We Know," I think I went straight for the archetypal Dean: tough guy with a soft spot for kids and his brother, the devoted family guy perpetually caught between his brother and his father, this guy who had heartbreakingly simple aspirations in life. I don't think I veered too far away from the standard perception of him.

4. Next Project

If I should ever get around to writing it, the next project will be a continuation of Season Three as it currently stands (post Jus In Bello), which probably means that as the next few episodes come about, it will eventually be considered an AU. I've never shied away from being adventurous when it came to writing weird stuff so that doesn't bother me really, assuming I ever actually do get to write it that is, haha... Anyway, the genre is probably going to be action/adventure/drama. If I get my way, I need it to feel larger, like a summer movie, not so much like my angsty fics (like "Things We Know") whose approach is more intimate and contemplative. Anyway...

Title: Road to Hell

Summary: Every demon knows that if they want to get out of hell, all they had to do was kill Dean Winchester, and then keep him at the very back of the line... because as long as he stays there, Sam's going to be keeping that Hell's Gate wide open.

Clip:"You know everyone in the Pack is trying to find a way to keep your brother alive," Ruby told him, and there was this wink of light in her eyes that he was getting more and more used to, which was a mix of calculation and pitch-black humor.

"You don't make it sound like it's a good thing," Sam commented, finding that he wanted to know her thoughts. God, she was annoying sometimes but damned if she didn't almost always have something useful to say.

"Oh there's nothing selfless about it, if that's what you mean," she said, "The same way I'm helping you not to help you, but to help me. You see, Sam, the great thing about this setup is that you are surrounded by selfish and or single-minded people. This means that you'll always know what they're about to do and why. This makes them so much more reliable than so-called noble people, because morals sway every which way, now and again. The selfish are always predictable and controllable. Take the infamous Bela Talbot, for instance."

"What about her?"

"Everyone knows she's a bitch," Ruby shrugged, "But every time anyone needs something and they can afford it, they call her. Simple, clean and straightforward Bela Talbot. You, on the other hand..."

"What about me?"

"Lovely, earnest, noble Sam Winchester," Ruby said with an indulgent smile, "Whose once iron-clad straight-laced boy-scout ways have become the occasionally inconvenient morality. You are more dangerous than selfish people, Sam, because no one ever knows when the straw will break."

"What does all this have to do with my brother?" Sam asked, edgily.

"Every demon knows that if they want to get out of hell," she replied, "All they had to do was kill Dean Winchester, and then keep him at the very back of the line because as long as he stays there, you're going to be keeping that Hell's Gate wide open."

"The Pack thinks I'll be opening that damn door?" Sam asked, incredulous.

"If Dean ends up there," she said with a shrug, "Not very hard to believe, is it, Sam? Sure sounds like something you'd do for old short-buzz. Daddy Winchester got out the same way after all."

Sam set his jaws, and looked away. "Even if I wanted to, what could I possibly do to make that happen, huh? The Colt's with them, not me. How could they even think I can go up against them?"

"You're the Big Cheese, remember?" she pointed out, and it suddenly struck him that she might be even more annoyed with him and Dean than they were with her.

She can't stand me, was an odd revelation.

"It's a possibility they'd avoid if they could," she said, "Besides, the options are pretty narrow. Save Dean and keep you on their side, or lose Dean and turn you into a loose cannon. Of course, if they lose Dean, they can just kill you and be rid of the problem, but they need you too, to win this war. There's just something about you, Sam."

"What's new," Sam muttered.

"You're like the personification of the Colt," she said, "If you think about it, it's its own foil, because its two functions counteract one another: It's the key that opens the door to hell, and it's the only thing that can kill a demon. Humans can't destroy the key to hell to keep it locked forever because they need the gun. Demons can't destroy the only weapon that can destroy them because they need the key. Catch 21."

Sam's brows rose. He's never thought of it that way, much less that he would be the human version of that little problem. Sometimes, it really was better not to listen to what Ruby had to say...

"So what have they come up with for my brother?" he asked, speaking of single-minded things...

"You know how to lose a hellhound?" she asked, "Same as shaking ant dog off your tail. You gotta change your scent."

"Meaning?"

"We need to hide Dean," she said, and Sam knew that Ruby could not possibly be referring to a literal hiding, or, or running. Because there was no literal, physical hiding or running from a hellhound.

"Hellhounds hunt those who made the Deal," she said, "At the end of the term, their hearts and their minds and everything that makes them who they are no longer belongs to them, but to the demon. But if we hide him from himself, there wouldn't be anyone to hunt, now would there?"

"What?"

"There's a potion that can make people forget everything," she said, "And there's a spell that can create new memories and new realities. He'll be someone else. And he'll be very, very alive."

Sam's brows furrowed in thought, thinking back to the time Dean was abducted by a djinn, and how it had manipulated his reality, and how he wanted so much to stay...

"New realities," he murmured, thoughtfully.

"But you won't be allowed to see him, of course," she said, "Or maybe you can see him, but he can't see you. He's not allowed to know you at all. He's not allowed hints of his old life. If you want him to be safe from the hounds, you need him to be someone else completely."

"I can live with that," Sam said softly, knowing that it wasn't a lie. Dean alive... and Dean with a new life, a fresh start, even one that didn't involve, it could be enough. It really could be enough, especially given the alternative.

"There's one thing you're not asking me," she said with a knowing smile. Her eyes were afire again, and Sam was starting to get nervous.

"Weaseling your way out of this deal is going to get you killed," she said, "Aren't you worried about that?"

Dean alive, he thought, Dean happy...

"I am concerned," he admitted with a wince, "But it didn't come to mind right away, no."

"I'm helping you to help me, remember?" she asked, "And we both know you're no good to me dead. So even if you break the demon deal for your brother, I'm pretty sure you'd still be alive."

"Why is that?"

"You know perfectly well there's just one thing that can keep a dead body alive and running around, Sam," she said, seriously, her eyes dimming, and then shutting down to a perfect, depth-less black.

"You've already got it inside you," she said, wistfully now, "All you gotta do is give in."

TO BE POSSIBLY CONTINUED...