Dean has absolutely no idea how to react to the sound of his father's voice: he's torn between anger and relief, doesn't know what to call the emotion that surges through him.
"Yeah," his father says, unnecessarily. "It's me."
"Where are you?" Dean asks, his voice carefully controlled.
His father sighs, a harsh sound that rattles down the phone line. "How's Sam?"
Not going to answer the question. Okay. Two can play at that game. Dean is silent, takes a drag off his cigarette. Waits.
"I heard about his girlfriend," John continues. "I heard you two were together."
Heard? Jesus. Bobby is the biggest blabbermouth on the freakin' planet.
"He okay?" John presses.
"No," Dean says.
There's silence. John clears his throat. "How, uh. How are you? How are you doing?"
Dean laughs, a low, bitter sound. "How am I? Oh, that's right. Last time you saw me I wasn't doing too well, huh?"
"They thought you were going to lose the leg," his father says in a strange, almost pleading tone.
Dean takes a deep breath, rubs his forehead. Doesn't know how to say anything he wants to say. Doesn't know what he wants to say. "Why are you calling? Now?"
"I told you. I heard about Sam's girlfriend."
"So you're calling to check up on him? Ask his address so you can send him a couple boxes of tissues?"
"She died in a fire," John states.
"Were you there?"
Dean tries not to feel an accusation behind the words, but he does. If you were there, why didn't you save her? "Yeah. I was there."
"Was it just a normal fire?" his father asks carefully. "Cops are saying electrical shortage."
Dean lets himself marvel briefly at his father's freakish research skills – not twenty-four hours have passed, but already he's up-to-date.
"I think," Dean says slowly, "that you know what kind of fire it was."
He hears his father suck in a breath. "I have my theories."
"I EMF'd the place," Dean says, grudgingly getting sucked into the hunt talk; the only way he knows how to speak to his father, right now. "I've got some theories too."
Neither of them speak. John lets out a slow, heavy breath. "Listen," he says.
Dean doesn't want to listen.
"I'm sorry," his father says. "I'm sorry I left you."
Dean closes his eyes, focuses on the ache in his leg, tries to ground himself.
"You're probably angry with me."
"You know what killed Jess?" John asks.
"Don't say her name like that," Dean says, suddenly vehement. "Don't say her name as if you knew her."
"Do you know what killed her?"
"Demon," Dean says. "Same demon that killed mom. Same demon you're tracking right now. Same demon you left me to go after."
John starts to say something, but Dean cuts him off. "Yes, I know what killed them and I know what you're doing. I'm not fucking stupid. At first I thought you were in danger, thought something took you, or… But I figured it out."
"I didn't want you to get hurt," his father says, all in a rush. "I knew. I knew you would want to come. I couldn't let you get hurt."
"If I recall correctly," Dean says, unable to hold back, "I already was hurt."
"I know," John says, and his breath hitches, catches somewhere in the back of his throat. "I know. I saw. And I'm sorry I left you. But not sorry enough that I wouldn't do it again. I couldn't let—"
"Let?" Dean asks. "What am I, four? Christ, Dad, I can—"
"Dean. You may not have lost the leg. But you don't exactly have it, either."
Dean breathes noisily through his nose, furious and obscurely embarrassed. "I'm fine."
"You're not." He hears something change in his father's voice, then, and John says, "Jesus, Dean, I saw what it was like. I took you in. I was there. In the hospital. And I know you think I just split on you without a backwards glance, but I spoke to your doctors every goddamn day up until you left. So I know, dude. I know you're not fine."
"Yeah, well," Dean spits out, "I'm trying to be."
His father's silent for a moment. "It hurt?"
"No, it feels awesome. You should try it."
"How are you getting around?"
"Sammy bought me a pony."
Neither of them speak. Dean glances down, remembers his cigarette, which has burned itself into a long worm of ash and gone out in his hand. He fumbles another one out of the pack, lights it with a hiss of his Zippo.
"Where are you?" his father asks.
"Sam's friend's house."
"I can hear you smoking."
"You added sonic hearing to your superpower roster? Wow, Dad. I woulda gone with x-ray vision, personally."
He hears John snort. "Why do you have to be such a smartass?"
"Same reason you have to be just a plain old ass."
"So you're staying with a friend? Sam's friend? He's got… people?"
"Yeah, he's got people. Me, for one."
John sighs. "Are you… up? Moving around?"
"I told you. Pony."
"Just—Jesus." John's voice is a knot of frustration. "Just give me something to go on here, huh? I can't fucking imagine... I mean. You must be. Are you. Just give me something, okay?"
Dean lets out a breath. "It sucks, Dad. It takes me fifteen minutes to climb twenty stairs and it fucking sucks. Is that what you want to hear? Is it?"
"Yes," his father says, voice slow. "I guess that's what I wanted to hear."
"You happy now?"
There's not much Dean can say to that.
"God," John says. "Fuck."
"Shit." There's that hitch in his voice again, like a piece of cloth snagged on a rusty nail. "Dean. I."
Dean doesn't want this, really can't handle the broken quality in his father's voice. Demands, "Are we going to see you? Are you close by?"
"I can't. Not yet. I've got some leads; I think I'm on the right track."
"Dean," his father says. "What I did. Leaving. I didn't want to. I just couldn't watch you, couldn't let you… Fuck, Dean. You should have seen your. It was."
Dean taps ash onto the table.
"Can you. You think you're ever gonna forgive me?"
Dean sighs, shakes his head. "Yeah, you melodramatic asshole," he says. "I already have."
John draws a shaky breath. "Okay, then," he says.
"Please. Tell Sam. Tell Sam I called. Tell him I'm sorry. About J—about his girlfriend. And about… what I said. Last time."
"Take care of yourself, man, okay? Be easy on that leg. Fuck. Take it easy."
"Dude. I'm serious. I know you're gonna want to get into this. Don't."
"See you, Dad," Dean says. Hangs up the phone.
He finishes his cigarette, gets to his feet. Picks up his crutches, goes back into the house.
"You were out there a while," Sam says, still on the couch. Eyes red.
"Yeah. I was on the phone."
Sam's eyes grow wide, and before he can stop himself, Dean swings his crutch out in a long arc and brings it down hard on the coffee table. It doesn't break, but the two cups on it go shattering to the ground in a loud explosion of glass, and there's a huge dent in the wood.
"Fuck!" Sam says, jumps to his feet.
"Sorry," Dean says, hollow. Repeats, "Sorry."
"Jesus, Dean, that's not our fucking coffee table!"
"What the fuck am I going to tell Colin?"
"Tell him your brother's a nutcase."
"I'm pretty sure he got that by now," Sam spits. "Jesus."
Dean lowers himself onto the couch, can't help the grunt that escapes his lips. Everything fucking hurts.
Sam's face changes, softens. "What'd dad want? Why did he call?"
"Heard about Jess. Offers his condolences."
"Does he know the fire was…"
Sam is silent for a moment, then he licks his lips, closes his eyes. "Does he know what caused it?"
Dean hesitates, figures he's already gotten in pretty deep. "Demon."
"Fuck," Sam hisses.
"Same thing that killed mom," Sam says, not a question.
"And Dad is…"
"Going after it."
Sam's jaw twitches, locks.
"I went over to the apartment this afternoon," Dean says. "Sulfur. No EMF signal."
Sam shakes his head, threads his fingers through his hair.
"Why?" he asks. "It doesn't make any fucking sense."
"Why would a demon want to kill Jess? She was—she never did anything. She was just good, that's all. She was so good."
"And Mom, too, jesus—" Something hardens on Sam's face and he stands, crosses the room. Comes back. Looks like he's trying to work through something, jaw moving in and out, shoulders rigid.
"Is Dad on its trail?" he asks.
"Looks like. Says he's got some leads."
"You mean other than Jess getting burned to a crisp?" Sam bites out the words, and Dean draws back from the venom in his voice.
Sam's face crumples. "God. I didn't mean that."
"But it's a demon," Sam says, like he's trying it out. "A demon that killed mom. That killed Jess."
Sam looks at his brother. Visibly comes to a decision.
"Dean," Sam says, low, intense. "Do you want to find him?"
"Tell me. Do you still want to find him?"
Dean is quiet, leg throbbing hotly to the rhythm of his heart.
"You said you weren't going to stay here," Sam presses. "You said you were going after Dad. Is that still what you want? You said you can do it. Do you really think you can?"
"Things have changed," Dean tries. "I'm not gonna leave you after—"
"That's not what I'm saying," Sam says.
Dean knows that.
He looks up, meets his little brother's eyes, fierce and bright and focused and full of a wild pain.
Dean has never said no when Sam has really needed him. Never will.
"Yeah," Dean says. "I can do it."
"Okay," Sam says, more to himself than to Dean. "Okay."
And that. Is that.
The End —
A/N: THANK YOU to those who stuck with me through my first fic!! I really appreciate your support and encouragement.