Title: The Least I Can Do
Summary:Whenever he doubted himself,he drew on the memory of his son,battered but unbeaten on the stand,telling Social Services to screw themselves & just give him back to the best dad in the world.Dean is 16 and Sam is 12.The Winchesters fight to stay together.
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The Least I Can Do
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"I wanna say something."
Kid always knew how to make an entrance, John Winchester reflected inanely, as heads swiveled toward the weary but determined voice of his eldest son, standing heavily against the wooden double doors at the main entrance of the courtroom.
"What the hell are you doing here?" John barked at him, apparently forgetting that they were not alone, giving in to habit, or maybe giving in to plain, sheer annoyance that his orders have been disobeyed, or maybe just because it was a fair question.
It was also probably because he was embarrassed as hell that his son was going to be around to hear the world declare that he was a piss-poor dad...
"I checked myself out," Dean replied with a wince and a smirk, the way only he knew how to put them together. Green eyes looked to nowhere else but his father's for a moment, seeming liquid in weariness but also alive and shining in determination. His young face was still pale where it wasn't bruised or cut, and the way he leaned on that door was giving off alarm bells in John's head.
"I helped," a lower and just-as determined voice piped in, and Sammy appeared behind his older brother, looking nervous but, as always, intense. He was, at long-limbed twelve, almost as tall as his compactly-built sixteen-year-old brother.
"Boys--" John growled, his face sinking into a lethal scowl. Sam looked at him with familiar, defiant fire in his eyes, as if saying, No, you gotta listen this time. His more evasive older son took that precise moment to look away from him and imploringly up at the judge.
"Sam told me that part of the investigation of Child Protective Services involves watching the parent interact with the kids," Dean said, a little breathlessly, "And interviewing the kids with or without the parent present. No one's had a chance to yap at me."
"Not for a lapse in the investigative process, judge," the female attorney representing the Family Independence Agency piped in, "It was not advised by the child's doctor at the time of the investigation. He was too severely injured."
"Well I'm here now," Dean said, simply, "And I got things to say." Sam nodded enthusiastically beside him.
"May I point out that we were already coming to a decision," the attorney said, "the Judge found it wise to continue to another date to gather, among other things, this young man's testimony, and to continue the current situation of--"
"Keeping my family apart?" Dean snapped at her, "I'm here. Now. I can promise you I'm not gonna be dying in the next five minutes so would you mind listening just a little bit? I'm alone at the hospital and my brother comes to me 'cos he's shit-scared he's not gonna be allowed to see his dad or me ever again, so can we please, please talk about this now?"
"Dean it's not that simple--" John said.
"It can be," Dean told him, urgently, before looking back up at the Judge. "It can be. Please..."
The Judge, a middle-aged woman, had a thoughtful look on her face. "The doctor handling the Dean Winchester case did not recommend his involvement in this case at this time, am I correct?"
"He's not yet well enough--" the FIA attorney argued.
"I'm frigging peachy, lady--" Dean snapped.
"Not peachy," Sam interrupted, "But I'll put him back right after!"
John's mouth kind of just opened, paused there and closed, looked from Sam to Dean to the judge to the lawyers, as if he was wondering where the hell he was supposed to start.
The judge raised up her hand, and all perforce fell silent. She turned to her clerk. "Call for the clinic, and have them arrange for a cursory examination and immediate return of this young man to the hospital, and his younger brother to foster care."
"No, no--" Dean was saying, looking at her in panic, stepping forward.
"That should give you your five minutes while we wait, Mister Winchester," she said to him, waving for the witness' seat next to hers, "Samuel may sit with your father, for now."
The attorney for the FIA was not happy. "Judge, while we concede that Dean Winchester's testimony is important, it must also be noted that the other evidence is already categorically enough to show John Winchester is unfit; he does not provide these children with any form of stability with a home, or a source of income. They have had to constantly change schools, possibly damaging their development. The few affidavits forwarded to vouch for John's character and his relationship with his boys are from friends who have not had extended exposure to this family, as they are always on the road. And most importantly, either by John Winchester's neglect or possibly even conscious action, these boys are constantly and often very seriously hurt, with this most recent incident almost resulting in Dean Winchester's death."
I know it better than anybody, lady, John thought.
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"Oh my god," John had said in a breathless, gutted, stolen exhale, and he knew it was a mistake the moment Sam's head shot up to him and pinned him down with betrayed, searching eyes.
"Dad...?" his youngest asked, in a meek tone he had never, ever heard from Sam in his life. Sam was his mouthy fighter, intelligently combative to the end. That one broken word, said in a tone of utter helplessness and reliance was enough to cripple John.
"God," he said again, falling to his knees just because the situation was bad enough that he could not control himself, he did not know what else to do. He ran his hands over his face and hair, once, twice. He felt sick to his stomach. But he knew that he wouldn't be helping the three of them if he let that eat him up.
Get your shit together, Winchester.
But where the hell do I start?
"Dean," he said, and his voice was suddenly different from the one that had just breathed intercessions from a much higher power a moment earlier. This one was much more measured, clipped, efficient. Familiar. His sons needed him. He could sink in that despairing black hole later.
Mary's gonna kill me...
They were in the basement of the miserably rundown haunted house. The roof had caved in. The moon was new and mostly out, but the night was fairly lit with a sky littered with stars that winked over their heads from the hole three flights up, still lending the basement an eerie glow. The dim light bathed the narrow, oppressive space where splintered wood, twisted metal and other forms of fallen debris or years-neglected storage was dusted and scattered. And now bloodied too, he supposed, since his eldest son had fallen from three flights up to join them. Dean now lay on his back in a gray-dusted heap, looking just as broken and forlorn as the dead, forgotten things that surrounded him.
In the dull, filtered violet of the night light, his blood looked black and thick and alive, dripping here, oozing there, pooling somewhere else. Bubbling at his open mouth. His face was ashen, but also inexplicably calm, somehow mercifully devoid of pain. Even his clear eyes blinked lazily, indulgently slow, looking up at the stars. Such a sight would have turned any father inside-out, and so John found that he could not begrudge himself the unguarded oh-my-god.
"Dean?" John called again, shining his flashlight over his son's eyes. A concussion was expected, he did not bother to watch how his eldest's eyes tracked. He just wanted to make sure Dean knew he was not alone, that he had to hold on. The green eyes drifted to settle on his father's face, after a long, breathless moment.
"Good," John grunted, and kept his gaze on Dean's, afraid to give his son any reason to let go. The fall was bad. His son's body was broken. He had no injury to look at, because there was so much to fix that ultimately, there was nothing.
Green eyes widened as the teenager beneath him gasped, his chest rising in a massive, struggling, inhale.
"Dean, just calm down--"
Dean let out a strangled cry, and John's eyes shot down to his son's right hand, which was grappling around for his gun. He knew then to look behind him, and wasn't entirely ready for the ghost that jumped toward him. He raised his own weapon, even as he knew it was already too late, except the figure vanished in a disembodied spray of salt rounds and ill intentions. Behind it, Sam had his smoking gun raised.
John lowered his own, and nodded at Sam in approval. The twelve-year-old didn't even acknowledge him, just shot wide, fearful eyes at his brother's prone form.
"Sam, call 911," John said, bringing his eyes back to Dean's, as he peeled off his jacket, "Fast as you can, buddy."
He did not have to say it twice. Sam, though his eyes were despairing, fully understood that the best he could do for his brother was to run like hell away from there and start banging on neighbor's doors and asking to use their phones.
John listened to Sam's panicked, thundering footsteps as it faded off to the distance. He settled his jacket over Dean's body, careful in touching him, even as he knew that his son had already gone beyond pain by now.
Dean's jaws spasmed in movement, mouth jerking. John's blood turned cold, until he realized that the waxed humor in his son's eyes meant he was trying to say something. He broke their locked gazes, and lowered his ear to Dean's face.
"...runs..." he rasped, as John picked up one in every few words between the ragged breathing and the liquid gurgle, "... faster with... tail... on fire."
John pulled his head back, and smiled. "You wanna save your strength instead of making fun of your brother?" He leaned down again, when he felt Dean brace with a response.
"...'scalled," Dean replied, "'king fun... 'cos...'ts fun."
John chuckled, quietly, and Dean smiled in that sick, bloodied way that had John searching for his son's hand and gripping it in a deadly, unyielding hold.
Don't. Go. Anywhere., his hand seemed to say. His fingers digging into the spaces between Dean's, as if they were his war trenches. This is my territory. I'm in for the long haul.
But why is his hand so cold...?
... and so loose...?
"Help's coming, son," he whispered. Dean just grunted in acknowledgment.
"I'm so sorry, Dean," John said, under his breath, desperate like he had never ever felt or shown before, "God, I'm so sorry."
"What... the hell for," Dean gasped, gagging and breathing bubbly blood, hold on his father's hand spasming. But of course they both knew what they were talking about.
John clenched his eyes closed for a long moment, feeling scared shit-less and worse, guilty as hell. This was all his fault. The life they led. The fact that for the last few days Dean had been reckless, overcompensating, trying to please his dad because a few days before that, Sam had accidentally called his older brother "dad" and Dean caught the quiet misery in John's eyes, the unspoken, helpless self-resentment. Sam didn't even notice. But Dean did, those eyes caught everything. So Dean had backed off of Sam, as if giving his father some space to try harder, and John just barked at him and set himself further apart, embarrassment and shame hiding beneath his anger. Sam, on the other hand, kept trying to ingratiate himself with Dean, because Dean had backed off so much he feared his older brother was mad at him.
And so it went, the three of them skirting around each other for days, Dean courting his father's favor and avoiding Sam, Sam courting Dean's favor and avoiding his father, John avoiding them both. All going into a stupid job, and reckless actions and distracted minds, ending in a poorly-lit, decrepit basement with his eldest bleeding on the ground.
"No time," Dean gasped, "For... crapping around, I guess. 'S okay, dad... I'm s-sorry too." And his eyes slid back toward the stars, where they lingered, and stayed, and drifted, and--
"Dean," John called him urgently, to no response, "Dean!"
"Dean!" and it was Sam this time, running back toward them, sliding to his knees on the ground next to his brother's head. "Hey! Hey! Help's coming, bro."
John's reinforcements have arrived (and he wasn't thinking about EMT's). Dean's eyes sought out his kid brother's. John watched, as Sam gave him a typical, terribly ineffective effort at a reassuring smile. Dean held Sam's gaze, and it hardened, and focused.
John watched the play, like he always did. Dean had a different game face on for his younger brother. With John, he had always tempered that show of strength with deference to his father's authority. He could let the buck stop with dad, let him handle things, make decisions. Let him live with the consequences of these. With Sam, there was no quarter. Dean couldn't fail, couldn't appear weak or hurt. Because the assurances had to come from him and not John, whose credibility had long since expired to Sam. Dean's hurts had to be subtle, his work had to seem fun, because Sam was looking through the world the way Dean painted it.
Tonight, the world was so obviously slathered in pale, terminal purple in the spots that it wasn't pitch-dead black. But Dean was promising life, somehow, green, like the eyes deadlocked on Sam's.
His chest stopped rising.
"He can't breathe," Sam said, sounding appropriately agitated.
"I'm not sure what's broke," John said, eyes raking over Dean's bent form, "But we gotta clear that airway, turn him on his side. We turn him your way, Sammy. Support his neck, son, keep it as immobile as possible. I got his back."
"Okay," Sam said, his voice shaking only a little. He placed his hands gently against Dean's neck.
"I'll shift him on three," John said, and counted and did as announced. Blood trickled slowly from Dean's mouth to the ground. "Help him a little, Sam, clear his airway."
Sam gulped, but nodded, freeing one hand cautiously and wiping it against his clothes, not so much for sterilization, obviously, but out of nervous habit. He used his fingers to help clear his brother's mouth.
"I feel air on my fingers," Sam said softly, relieved, looking back at his brother's chest, which rose in as massive a relived inhale as it could muster, given the severity of his injuries. His breath whistled on, somehow. Dean moaned unintelligibly in what must have been some form of thanks.
"Just breathe, Dean," Sam said, putting his free hand against Dean's head reassuringly, before putting it back to support his neck. He looked up at his father and said softly, "The ambulance will be here in two minutes."
John nodded, jerkily.
God, that's going to feel like forever.
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"Judge," the attorney for the FIA said, "While we concede that Dean Winchester's testimony is important, it must also be noted that the other evidence is already categorically enough to show John Winchester is unfit; he does not provide these children with any form of stability with a home, or a source of income. They have had to constantly change schools, possibly damaging their development. The few affidavits forwarded to vouch for John's character and his relationship with his boys are from friends who have not had extended exposure to this family, as they are always on the road. And most importantly, either by John Winchester's neglect or possibly even conscious action, these boys are constantly and often very seriously hurt, with this most recent incident almost resulting in Dean Winchester's death."
"You're eating into my minutes, lady," Dean snapped at her.
"It's kinda weird," Sam said, thoughtfully, "That they're telling me my dad's neglectful when they're the ones who lost a kid like me from foster care, and that my severely injured brother, also a minor, got to escape the hospital."
John's brows rose. He did not know it, but the lawyer's beside him rose too. The word Lawsuit floated thickly on the air, and the FIA representative cautiously stood down.
Dean was sworn in, just before he sat heavily on the witness stand, and John was reminded of Dean's youth by the subtle, nervous gulp he made at the swear, the shift of his eyes to his father's, and then his younger brother's. John nervously ran a hand over his weary face, but he let it fall on the wooden table of the desk he was sitting on next to his court-appointed lawyer, and gave his son a slight smile.
You know Sammy, this is going to sound stupid but it's really okay to lie sometimes...
The memory was random, but it struck John right there, in the middle of the courtroom, watching Dean ask for God's help to speak the truth and nothing but.
They were just kids, Dean not even a teenager, and John could hear the whispered conversation of the two brothers from beneath the blanket of the bed next to his. John had started to fall asleep, until he heard them talking.
"Dean, I helped dad bring in his stuff," Sam said, "I dropped his bag, but only for a second. You're not telling him, are you?"
"I will if you don't shut up," Dean groaned, "God, Sam, it's bad enough we gotta share a bed, I gotta listen to you too?"
And it was silent. For maybe two seconds.
The rustle of shifting. And again. And one more time-
"Oh for god's sake--"
"Is my name really Sam Winchester?" came the breathless, shaky question.
"Have you lost your mind--"
"Shh!" Sam said, "Lower your voice, Dean, I think I can hear Dad waking up."
Does this kid miss anything?! John wondered, taking a deep, calming 'sleeping' breath and releasing it as indulgently.
"Your real name is dickhead."
"It's not funny, Dean," Sam scolded his older brother, "I saw these... these ID tag thingies, with dad's picture and all but the names were different."
A heavy, rolling sigh.
"You know Sammy," Dean said, 'This is going to sound stupid but it's really okay to lie sometimes. Dad has to do it a lot of the time, to be able to do his job..."
That night was the first time John realized that Sam had already discovered his hunting secret. He was ready to choke on a snore right than and there, and it took all that he had not to shoot up in bed and talk to his son, explain what was going on, just... just fucking say something.
Yes, monsters are real. They took your mother. But no one's taking you away from me. No one's going to hurt you. Everything is going to be fine...
But he stood still, and listened. Partly because he didn't know what to say. Partly because he was a coward. Mostly because after he listened a little bit longer, he realized that somehow, somehow, Sam was all right. That somehow, Dean managed to make things sound not-that-bad. Dean had that absurd talent of sharing his delusions. God knows where he got it. John raised a fricking salesman. He wondered what Dean was going to be selling on the stand today.
To be continued...