Meeting of minds, breaking of hearts

Chapter 3 – Enough for one lifetime

"You going somewhere?"

Dean froze, his hand still hovering over the open duffle on the bed as he heard John's gruff voice from the doorway. 'You could say that.' "Yeah…I've found a job. A hunt." He refused to look round, continuing to pack the rest of his clothes, stuffing them in the bag as fast as he could. He really didn't want to draw this out any longer than he had to.

"Alone?"

"No. Someone… a hunter, needs a hand with a job and I said I would help him out, shouldn't be gone more than a couple of days." 'Like you'd give a damn.'

John took a step further in through the door. "Were you planning on telling me?

Dean went to turn but checked himself, his returning resentment making him speak defiantly. "Just told you!"

He could hear the hitch in his father's breath and it was easy to imagine the look of incandescent rage in his eyes, he'd seen it a hundred times before, only usually it was directed at someone else. 'Yeah, sucks to be you dad.'

John's voice was a growl, a whole octave lower than it had been. "Dean, you….."

Dean spun round to face his father, a burning anger in his eyes and a coiling heat in his gut, ready for anything John could throw his way. But John had stopped, and just stood looking at his son from the open door, his eyes falling on his cut and bruised face, a mix of emotions that Dean couldn't place clouding his expression.

Eventually he seemed to arrive at a decision and spoke, unexpectedly softly. "Son, I need you to listen to what I have to say." He paused; looking from the cut marring the younger mans face to the packed bag on the bed. "Please, Dean."

Instantly disarmed, Dean was speechless. The old man never used the 'P' word; it just wasn't in his vocabulary. Curiosity overtaking his anger, he gave his father a small, uncertain nod, but held his ground.

John closed the door and moved forward into the room, sitting on the edge of the other bed. He took a deep breath, and tried to overcome the deep discomfort he was feeling at having to deal with any kind of emotion. And he looked everywhere, but at Dean.

"Dean, what happened with Sam, I never wanted things to go down like that. I know I've always pushed you boys, pushed you hard, but I only do it because I have to keep you safe. Keep you both safe." John paused and stared at the floor, elbows on his knees as if needing to compose himself before continuing. "I know I may not be winning any parenting awards here, but I'm doing the best I can." He looked up then, locking eyes with his son. "I just wish Mary was here, she would know what to say."

The mention of his mother hit Dean hard, and try as he might, he couldn't hold on to his precious anger any more as John continued to speak with a softness that was unexpected. "Son, for what it's worth, I don't want you to go, but if you need to leave, I won't stand in your way. Think I've done enough of that for one lifetime."

Dean felt a deep shiver from the centre of his belly, resonating out into his bones, and looked into John's face…and for the second time in as many weeks, his heart broke in two as a single tear tracked down his father's rough cheek.

"Dad, I…." The words wouldn't come, but the memories were there in blinding detail.

He stared, in wide eyed innocence at the man who was his hero, the man who was entrusted him with his most precious burden and sent him running down the stairs. 'You have to look after your brother Dean; it's your job now'. 'Yeah, but who's going to look after you dad?'

Dean paced forwards as John stood and encircled the older man with tight arms. It took a long moment for him to respond but when he did, Dean felt the force of his embrace melt away the years of emotional neglect, and he gulped down the feeling like a drowning man taking his first breath of air.

It lasted a full minute but was over far too soon, and as his father pulled away Dean fought to regain his self-control. He sat heavy on the bed and looked at the half full duffle bag spewing clothes. "I told Jacob I would meet him later tonight."

Taking a deep breath, all emotion stowed away and secured, John was once again all business. "I have another job you need to do first, and then you can go help this Jacob."

Dean's heart sank.

He closed his eyes tight, nothing had really changed, he was still the grunt; there to toe the line and follow orders like an obedient dog. He took a breath, but before he had a chance to speak, John sat on the bed beside him and spoke, his voice tender.

"I need you to go check on Sam. Make sure he's using his head. Just because he's not here doesn't mean he's not in danger from what's out there in the dark." He cocked his head and looked at his eldest, solemnly.

Dean just stared at his father, eyes wide and fixed before he was able to whisper an answer. "Yes sir."

"And, if you can help it, try not to be seen. He needs to have a fresh start, away from the job, away from me." He paused for a moment, deep in thought. "Don't worry about Jacob, I'll get a message to him, let him know what's going on."

Dean just nodded; the large knot in his throat preventing him from speaking further. Then, John slowly stood, patted his son on the shoulder and reached into his pocket, handing over the keys to the Impala.

ooooo

Under the bridge, Jacob had already been waiting a full ten minutes and was none too happy. He nervously flicked ash from the end of his third cigarette and glanced at his watch. The noise that drew his attention would have been unnoticed by most, but his instincts were those of a hunter.

"Dean? That you, boy?"

The answer was a low, oily growl that flowed from the shadows like liquid tar. "Dean couldn't make it, Jacob."

For just one second Jacob felt confused before he worked out who the speaker was. He smiled wryly "John Winchester. Heard about you, kinda tough guy, huh? At least you sure are with your boys."

John ignored the bait, keeping hidden deep in shadows, making no attempt to reveal himself. "I've come to find out why, Jacob. Why Dean?"

The old man searched the dark like a predator. "What you talkin' about John? The boy was just gonna help me out, that's all." It was Jacob's voice that was oily now, an unsuccessful attempt to sound sincere.

But John really wasn't in the mood. "Don't play games with me; I know about the book, I know what you had planned." His voice resonated once again through the dark. "Why Dean, Jacob?"

For a moment Jacob remained silent, desperately attempting to subdue his raging heartbeat. He'd faced demons that hadn't filled him with this much dread, but he'd be dammed if he'd let this upstart get the better of him, even if he were the boy's father. "Because he was there." He spat the words out like bile as he nervously paced in the mud. "He was there, and he was open to it and he was bleeding emotion like it was his life's blood. Damn well primed for possession. I couldn't have hoped for a better opportunity. It was meant to be."

He moved around wildly, trying and failing to locate the unseen hunter. "One life, John. Just one sacrifice to destroy the purest evil you could imagine." He swung his head from side to side scanning the night for any sign. "You would have done the same thing."

The answer didn't come straight away, and was a deep whisper that seemed to assault his ears from every direction at once. "No, Jacob. I wouldn't."

Jacob angered slightly at the hint of disapproval from the other man. "If not him, then someone else, Winchester, it's gonna be done, one way or another. Not as if you can stop me, so just walk away like a good boy, go back to where you came from and keep your damn mouth shut."

"I can stop you, Jacob."

The old man shook his head and spoke slowly, taking a step toward the shadows, hoping to see where the other hunter was concealed. "What you gonna do about it, John? Kill me? Think you can kill a human…hunter?"

The voice from the dark was terrifyingly low and menacing. "You planned to use my son, Jacob. To stand by and watch as some hellish demon invaded him. You were going to do nothing, while that thing sank into my boy and took hold, leaving him helpless, leaving him scared. All just so you could kill one demon." John stepped forward out of the gloom and faced Jacob for the first time, the veins in his neck pulsing with barely contained rage. There was no mistaking the threat in his voice. "No one messes with my boys, Jacob."

He looked through cold, hooded eyes at the older hunter and saw him reach inside his coat. Knowing what that meant, John levelled his gun at Jacob's head and without a second thought, pulled the trigger. Jacob Hearn was propelled backwards, mouth wide open, arms spinning wildly as he crashed to the muddy floor and laid still, eyes fixed and staring into the midnight sky.

Walking over to the stricken man, John toed the corpse and saw the glint of gun metal as the concealed pistol fell from his waistband, the fact he'd shot in self defence made no difference to him. He squatted over the man he'd put down, riffling through his pockets and coming away with a bunch of keys and a wallet. Jacob's truck wasn't far away; he'd seen it on the way in. 'Have to get rid of that, as well as the body.'

John Winchester knew exactly what he was prepared to do to protect his family, just as he knew what he was prepared to do to destroy the yellow eyed demon. He would make things right with Sam, eventually, and he'd already planned what he'd tell Dean; that the old man had skipped town on another job, but would probably be back one day.

Dean would forget after a while, John was sure of that. He would make sure of that. There'd be better memories for his son to hark back to and John would make sure of that too, because no one messed with his boys.

Slowly, he lifted his face to the night sky, looking at the stars, and then turned and started the long walk back to the truck and the tools of his trade. He had a lot of work to do and the night was almost over.

The End