Yet another story written as I tried to cure the interminable block with a prompt.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: Sam's left for Stanford and Dean is finding life hard. (pre-series)

Chapter 1

The Pastor looked sadly down at the young man before him, asleep in the bed. The toll of years of pain and weeks of drinking etched into his features as even now he wasn't truly relaxed. "We'll get through this, Dean. You'll find your way again, I promise," he whispered quietly as he bent down to draw the covers up to tuck him in, as he had done so often when Dean was a child.

There was a movement in the doorway behind him. Jim Murphy turned to see the boy's father behind him. He raised his eyebrows in question as John roughly thrust a bucket at him. "I'd put that by his bed if I were you. I wouldn't trust him to make it out of bed before he throws up," he said as he turned away from his son in disgust.

Jim turned back seeing the fragility in the form of the sleeping twenty-two year old. A fragility that was usually shrouded by cocky bravado, muscle and determination, but now it wasn't masked. Dean's face was a mess of bruising and cuts, a split lip and cut above a blackening eye and swollen cheek, dark bags below both eyes and the skin, between the shadows and the bruises, too pale. It all called to Jim of pain, not the obvious physical trauma but a deeper pain, a personal inner pain, a pain Dean no longer knew how to handle.

Jim barely resisted the urge to sit on the side of the bed and stroke his fingers soothingly through Dean's hair as he had done when Dean's sleep had been tormented by nightmares when he was younger. Jim knew the nightmares never left; Dean just learnt to hide them, only ever admitting to them with Jim in late night conversations in the kitchen when the Winchesters were visiting him. It seemed like his father and brother had never noticed, but Jim would know when they arrived how bad they were by the depth of shadow below Dean's eyes. Right now, they must be pretty bad given that Dean had such marked bags, the Pastor wondered if the drinking was an attempt to block the nightmares or was it just an attempt to escape reality altogether.

He placed the bucket beside the bed and turned slowly away, making for the door. He would go down now and listen to what light John could throw on the situation. In a while, he would come back up, water and Tylenol in hand and he would wait beside the bed for the nightmares to come.


Jim took a deep breath as he pulled the door to the boys' room closed behind him. It was another reminder of the changes; only one boy lay within, the other gone for good, forging his new life at Stanford. Bracing himself, he descended the stairs to the ground floor and headed for the kitchen. He found John Winchester sitting at the table nursing a glass of whiskey with the bottle placed close to hand. A wry smile passed his lips as he thought back to the brief phone conversation of the previous day . . .

"For crying out loud, he's drinking like he's going to find an answer in the bottom of the glass."

"He's hurting, John."

"What? And his non-stop drinking is supposed to help that, is it? I didn't bring him up to be that stupid."

"Bring him to me John; let's see if he can't find his way back."

"Spiritual guidance, Jim? You've never had much luck convincing Dean that the Bible held the answers in the past; what makes you think you'll manage it this time?"

Jim ignored the slight on the Good Book and the one that implied that he had never been able to help Dean without it. Jim had a deep respect for John's eldest son, a boy old before his time, who for so many reasons that Jim perfectly understood couldn't find his answers in God's Word, yet still came to the Pastor for guidance. Real guidance, not superficial quotations, but real life, real care, real hope answers. Dean searched, not for God but for ways to survive the life that was his.

Jim walked to the table, flicking the kettle on to boil as he passed and sat down opposite the eldest of the Winchesters. "So I wonder where Dean learnt to look in the bottom of a bottle for an answer then." He looked pointedly at the bottle on the table as he spoke.

"It's not the same. Not at all."

"You sure about that?"

"He's been drunk virtually every night since Sam left. He's an absolute waste of space like this."

"And so are you when you're on a binge, John."

"A binge? I'm not giving your comment about me the least acknowledgement because that's bullshit and you know it." Jim didn't press the point verbally, but he ensured that the message in his face was clear. "Don't Jim, it isn't the same. Dean's 22 and he's wasting his fucking life away and drinking more money away than he can afford and after two months of this I'm not putting up with it anymore."

"You're leaving him here? What do you want me to say?"

"Say! Just tell him to get his fucking act together and to get back in the game."

"I presume that's what you've been telling him for the last two months?" He didn't bother waiting for a response from John before he continued, "That must be just what he needs to hear then because it's clearly been working so well . . . Have you tried talking to him, John?"

"I've told him to pull himself together, like he listens to anything I say. No fucking wonder Sam left, he only made matters worse, coddling the boy, making him think he can have whatever he wants . . . If Dean had listened to me in the first place, we wouldn't be in this mess now."

Jim stood and lifted the bottle from the table to put it back in the cupboard as he moved to make coffee. He didn't respond to John's comments immediately, instead allowing the thoughts to run through his head of the things he could say, the things he wanted to say, trying to balance them out, make them work. He looked long and hard at John as he returned to the table with two coffees in hand. "Do you ever listen to him?"

"What? What are you on about?"

"When Dean wanted to finish school . . . you never listened to him, did you? He turned up here half dead after the Lord knows how long missing and you never really listened to why he ran, why he gave up, why he came back to you. So long as he does what you say, how much attention do you pay to him?"

"I make sure he doesn't get hurt," John muttered defensively

"No, John, no you don't . . . you try to make sure he doesn't get hurt but he does and he doesn't want that for his brother, so yeah, I would guess he probably did help Sam go, like you said on the phone."

"So if he wanted his brother to leave, why is he such a fucking mess? He got what he wanted . . ."

"No, I don't think he did . . . what he wants is for his brother to be safe . . . I honestly don't believe he wanted him to leave, but he wants what's best for Sammy. Without Sammy, he doesn't really know who he is."

"He's a hunter and a pathetic one at that on the current showing. It appears that's who I brought him up to be."

Jim shook his head sadly before replying, "Believe it or not, John, that's not true, you actually brought him up better than that . . . sometimes I wonder how when I listen to you . . . You brought him up to protect and nurture his brother, to put his brother's needs and desires and safety ahead of his own. You've taken that away from him . . ." He put up a hand to silence John's attempted interruption. "You've taken that away from him," he said firmly, "Sam hasn't just left for College, Sam isn't coming home at the end of the semester, Sam can't just call him up for a chat, and he can't just swing by and check on his brother, he can't even call him because you took all of that away from them both. Who is he without his brother?"

Jim took a deep breath, forcing himself to stay calm for everyone's sake. "That's what he needs to figure out and he is more than just a hunter, more than just a soldier in your war. You can't just take everything his life was built on and expect him to know who he is supposed to be."

"Sam made the decision. It was in his hands."

"No, John, it was in yours; same as it is in yours to put it right now."

"I've got a hunt . . . Call me when I can swing by and pick up my son again rather than the . . ."


"No?" John's expression darkened.

"No, John. I won't call you. When and if Dean wants to speak to you, he will call. In the meantime, I will keep him here until he is ready to make a decision on what he wants to do."

"He should be hunting; he's wasting time, people are in danger. It's selfishness to sit back and let other people get hurt."

"John. You're wrong . . . He's hurting and when he's ready he will do the right thing, whether that be hunting or something entirely different."

"You shouldn't be encouraging him to be selfish . . . isn't there something in your faith about . . ."

"Faith doesn't come into it, nor does selfishness. We are all entitled to a little selfishness. We are all entitled to want something good; the Lord does not intend that our whole life be subsumed in self-sacrifice. He gave us life to enjoy, to experience, to better ourselves and yes to help others as well, but it is not just that. Dean is far from being selfish . . . I've seen him go without more times than I care to think about to make sure that you and Sam were safe, fed, clothed, healed. I've seen him struggle through with injuries whilst tending to other people's, risking his life . . . John, he is 22, that's all, when are you going to allow him to live before he dies?"

"You think this life isn't good enough for him?"

"I don't think it's good enough for any of you, any hunter, but I know it's necessity. Look at Caleb . . . he hunts, it's a big part of his life but it isn't all of his life . . . not like it has become all of yours, John. One day, a hunt is going to be too bad, you're going to lose your son or he's going to lose you and it's going to be too late for the rest. You can't make it up to either of them when you're dead and if they die . . ."

"I'll call you." John pushed his chair back from the table and headed for the door. Reaching the car, he went round to the back door and retrieved Dean's duffle bag. He walked back up the porch steps to the Pastor and held the bag out. "It's his stuff." Jim nodded as he accepted the bag. "Tell him . . . tell him I'm sorry, I'll be back and I've put the Impala at Bobby's, so it's safe. Tell him to call me." Jim shrugged non-committally at the last request and watched as his friend's head dropped as he turned and walked back to the car, driving away without a wave.


After John left, Jim wandered round the house quietly, picking up the few bits that needed tidying, washing up the cups, his thoughts wandering back and forth over the conversations he'd had both that evening and in the previous weeks with John about Dean. He thought again of the bottle that he had taken from John and of Dean. He was undecided, unsure. Dean had been beyond conversation when he and John had arrived and Jim wondered when during the day he'd had an opportunity to get drunk. His train of thought returned again to the bottle in the cupboard and wondered whether to just get rid of it to be sure.

He heard the sound of movement upstairs, heavy footsteps staggering across the landing and the bathroom door banging to heavily. He winced as the unmistakeable sounds of retching travelled through the silent house. Fortunately it wasn't long before they were replaced with the sound of the toilet flushing and water running. Jim moved to collect a glass of cold water and the packet of Tylenol. He turned to take them up the stairs, before a sudden cautiousness overtook him. Turning back, he put the glass down, opened the Tylenol and removed just two, leaving the rest of the pack on the kitchen table, before picking up the glass and heading upstairs.

The bathroom door opened as he reached the top and he saw the exhaustion and pallor of the young man stepping out clearly under the hallway light. "Dean? Are you okay?"

"Sorry . . ." the young man mumbled. "Sorry, sir."

"It's okay, we've all been there at some point."

"Freakin' waste of space, causing trouble, shouldn't have to put up . . ."

Jim cut in recognizing John's words on the boy's lips, "Dean, it's okay, we've all done it, got trashed at some point. Don't think that just because I'm a Pastor, that I haven't been there." He saw the young man's eyes flick up in a mix of disbelief and shock. "It's true. I've even done it since I've been a Pastor . . . It's just a collar that I wear, it doesn't stop me being just as human as the rest of the world." Jim smiled gently at the boy.

"Pastors aren't supposed to lie . . ."

"Well, then it must be the truth, mustn't it? Come on, you look like you could do with another lie down and some more sleep and I've brought you some water and Tylenol."

"Don't deserve it."

Jim smiled, some things never changed with Dean Winchester. "Penance, Dean? You really would make a good Catholic, you know that, but remember you and me, we aren't Catholics so being sorry and trying better next time is enough. Come on; let's get back to your room." He watched as Dean pushed himself upright from his slouch against the doorframe and walked unsteadily down to his room. Dean sat back down on his bed, elbows on his knees and dropped his hand into his head and massaged his temples. Jim held out the glass and pills, saying, "Come on lad, take these."

Dean looked up at him with sorrow-filled eyes, then reached for the glass. He took a long swallow of the water, before reaching for the pills. He seemed to look at them carefully, weigh them in his hand before coming to a decision to swallow them and draining the rest of the water in the glass. He put the glass down on the bedside table and let his head drop back into his hands. Jim stepped forward and held a cool hand against his forehead. "Sorry," Dean said again.

"We'll sort it, Dean. For now though, just lie down and get some more sleep. I'll bring you up some more water soon." The Pastor was relieved to see the young man do as he asked, removing his hoodie and fumbling with the zipper on his jeans, before removing them and climbing into bed in boxers and t-shirt.

Jim pulled the covers back over the young man before stepping back and lifting the glass to take it back downstairs. As he moved towards the door, he heard the young man speak quietly, "He left me, you know, left me."

Yeah, and didn't Jim just know that that was how Dean would feel. He figured it was probably his brother he was talking about, but his father had done the same and although a short reprieve from the constant orders and lack of positive recognition might be a good thing, the desertion wouldn't feel that way.

Jim waited until he was certain Dean was asleep before leaving the room, this time leaving the door open so he would hear any movement within.