It's strange, being in the old house. It feels like the first time; last night it was dark, for one thing, and for another, Dean was a little too busy being thrown into the furniture to take a good look around.
His father, Sam and Missouri are casing the joint corner-to-corner, but Dean's settled on the couch with a sparkly plastic cup of juice in one hand. He had put up a token protest, but it was pretty clear he wasn't gonna make it up the stairs, and honestly, the way he's feeling? He didn't even want to try. He's sweeping his eyes over what he can see of the house, remembering little, silly things – smacking his head on the molding in that corner, Sam in a weird, jingly swing-thing hanging between those two doors…
"So," Jenny says, perched on an armchair across from him, bouncing Richie idly on her knee. "I'm living in a ghost hunter's haunted house."
"Ex-haunted," Dean amends. "And, uh, ex-our house."
"God," she groans, "just my luck."
Richie smacks her face with his little palms, and she lets him down. He toddles over to Dean, looks at him suspiciously.
"Juicy," he says.
"Yeah," Dean says, hoists the cup, and Richie pounds him on his bad knee. He can't help a little pained groan, because christ, the kid's stronger than he looks, and Jenny glances up at him, flicks her eyes to the cane propped up beside him.
"You didn't—I mean, last night—"
"Nah, it's an old problem," Dean says, grimacing as Richie tries to clamber up on the couch using Dean's bad leg as a ladder. "Hey," he says to the kid, carefully sets his juice down and scoops Richie up, plops him on the couch by his good side. "Manhandle this leg, huh?"
Richie complies, starts beating a pattern on Dean's knee, and Dean reaches back for his juice, takes a sip. Pineapple. Who'da thunk it.
"Do you mind me asking…?"
"Uh," Dean says. "Fell a couple stories."
She winces. "Hunting ghosts?"
"Poltergeist," he says, grins a little at the expression on her face, doesn't bother to explain that she actually had a poltergeist in her own home, not a ghost. Ghost is a lot easier for people to understand. Although he guesses she had a ghost too – well, a spirit. His mother's spirit.
Richie is making a high-pitched noise and squeezing Dean's earlobe, and Jenny looks at him in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, is he bugging you? Richie, come here!"
"No, he's fine," Dean says. "Really, I don't mind."
Sam wanders into the living room a few minutes later and grins at the sight of Dean, Richie's hands buried deep in his hair, one foot planted on his thigh.
Dean gives him a don't-you-dare-say-a-word glare, and Sam sinks onto the couch next to them.
"Place looks clean," he says. "Completely clean. Nothing."
"Nothing," he repeats meaningfully. "They're both gone."
John and Missouri come in, trailed by Sari, who's holding the E.M.F.
"Nothin'," Missouri says, shaking her head. "Not even a trace."
Jenny lets out a little sigh of relief. "Really? 'Cause I just can't afford to sell this house right now, and—"
"You got nothin' to worry about," Missouri says. "And even if you did, I only live a few minutes away. We'll stay in touch, but you'll see, you won't need me."
"Thank you all so much," Jenny says fervently as Dean tries to unstick Richie from his shirt so he can get up.
"Little help here?" he grits, and Sam laughs, reaches over and tugs Richie off, climbs to his feet and reaches out his good hand towards Dean. Dean looks at it for a second, trying to judge how difficult the ascent will be, then takes it grudgingly, pulls himself to his feet with a wince and hiss of breath.
His leg might be killing him, but it feels good to be back on the cane again, instead of the crutches. Feels freer.
"Oh," Jenny says, "I almost forgot," and she digs into her pocket, comes out with a cellphone. "This was on my front walk; belong to any of you?"
"That's mine," Dean says, reaching, "Christ, I completely forgot. Thanks, Jenny."
She nods, smiles. "You guys be safe, huh? Take care of yourselves."
"We'll try," John says. "You watch out for those kids of yours."
"You too," she says with a half-smile, stands in the doorway as they leave.
John goes towards his truck, but Sam tugs him back. "Hey," he says. "I'll take your truck. You go in the Impala."
"I'm not goin' anywhere, Sammy," John says with an exasperated sigh.
"Yeah, well, I don't trust you."
They look at one another for a moment, and then John rolls off a shrug. "Fine. But I'm driving."
Dean tosses him the keys without protest, and Sam and John go around back to the trunk to put the weapons and E.M.F. away. Dean, sitting in the backseat, Missouri in front, can hear them start to bicker about rifle placement or something stupid like that, and Dean leans against the door, sighs a little.
"Those two seem to go head-to-head on a lotta things," Missouri says, twisting a little to look at Dean.
Dean gives her an annoyed grunt as an answer, because it may be true, but he doesn't need other people making observations about his family. Especially not some two-bit psychic who almost got them killed with her "the house is clean" shit.
Missouri glances at him sharply. "I understand you're in pain, boy, but that's no excuse to be uncivil."
"I'm sorry," Dean says, instantly contrite, because she's right, the throb of his leg is making him crabby, and he shouldn't snap at Missouri.
Right. He'll just save it for his little brother, who'll take it without complaint. God, Dean's an asshole.
"Dean," Missouri says, reaches out and lays a hand on his bad knee, winces a little like she's in pain. Dean, uncomfortable under her touch, can't stop from twitching, but she holds on, expression intent. He's unsure, doesn't know what she's doing, doesn't know whether to move or stay still, but the pressure he feels in his hip mean's he's going to have to change position sooner or later. And that's when Missouri shifts in her seat with a familiar movement, a movement Dean recognizes from having done it a thousand times before; the exact movement he was about to make.
"Hey, woah," Dean says, comprehension dawning. "Can … are you… can you feel it?"
"Mmm hmm," she says, lips tight. "Sure ain't pleasant."
Dean can't help himself, flexes his leg a little, just for that flicker of pain he knows will come up from his knee. He and Missouri grimace at the same time.
"Okay," Dean says, feeling invaded, "that's…"
"It's a metaphor, honey," Missouri says.
"You do know what that is?"
Dean bristles a little, and Missouri smirks.
"Well, this one's important," she says, hand still on his knee, wince still on her face. Dean wonders if that's what he looks like, all the time, forehead just a little furrowed, mouth flat, eyes a little unfocused from pain.
"No," Missouri says. "Maybe at first, but you're more used to it than I am."
"I don't mean to be uncivil," Dean says coldly, "but would you mind getting out of my head?"
Missouri withdraws her hand, relaxes a little, relief flickering across her face.
"So," Dean says after a moment, cursing himself. "What's the metaphor?"
"You gotta figure that out yourself," Missouri says. "But Dean, honey – things'll get better."
Dean is spared from having to answer by John yanking open the front door and climbing inside, doesn't close the door, just look up at Sam scowling down at him. John glances at Dean. "Can't believe you let your brother stack the rifles in the back like that."
"Saves room," Dean shrugs, and from outside the car Sam crows in triumph, bangs on the roof.
"That's what I said!"
John gives Sam an annoyed look that's more fondness than anger, and Dean can't help but smile a little.
"See you back at the motel," John says, and slams the door.
They drive in silence for a moment, and then John clears his throat, inclines his head towards Missouri. "So, Mary—Mary's gone?"
"Yes," Missouri says. "From what you told me – she destroyed herself getting' rid of that thing. Their energies cancelled one another out."
John nods, tightens his grip on the wheel.
"That wasn't your wife, in there," Missouri says softly. "You know that, right? Spirits aren't the people we loved, they're just echoes."
"Close enough," John says, and no one asks him what he means.
They drop Missouri off at her house, but Dean stays in the backseat, too lazy to get up and get in front.
"You remember that house at all?" John asks unexpectedly as they pull away from the curb.
"No. The—our old house."
"Yeah, I remember," Dean says, digging in his pockets for his cigarettes. "Some." In the rearview, his father nods, looks a question at him, and Dean knows what he's really asking. He lights his cigarette, leans back in the seat, licks his lips.
"Uh, I remember we had this white couch?"
"Yeah," John says. "We did."
"And I poured paint on it? Or something dark."
"Motor oil," John says, shakes his head. "Motor oil, Dean. I brought it home from work to oil our lawnmower and like an idiot, I left it on the table where you could reach it."
"Yeah," Dean says. "And Mom freaked out at me. I can remember watching her mouth move, you know, she was so pissed, but I wasn't scared… I was just… I think I thought it was kinda funny. I thought she looked funny."
"She did," John says, grins. "When she got mad, her eyes would bug out, and her nostrils would get huge, like, nickel-sized."
Dean sniffs a laugh, takes a drag and rolls the smoke around in his mouth. Remembers something suddenly. "Sam wasn't around yet, but… he was on his way, I think."
"Yeah," John says. "It was just a couple weeks before your brother was born. Jesus, she was a bitch that last month."
Dean's eyes widen, because in their family, calling Mary a bitch is kinda like calling the Virgin Mary a whore while kissing the pope's hand in the Sistine Chapel. But John is smiling to himself, lost in some memory, hands loose on the wheel, and Dean relaxes into the seat, flicks ash out the window. Watches the road.
When they get back, John comes around to Dean's door, cocks his head a little.
"I got it," Dean says, pulls himself out of the car as his father hovers, fingers twitching: Dean is reminded suddenly, strongly, of Sam, the same anxious look, same ready-for-anything stance. It pisses Dean off at the same time it makes him smile a little.
The motel room looks dingier to Dean, somehow, after spending the morning in two real homes. Clothes lumped in corners, grey walls, the stink of cigarettes. It depresses him, suddenly, and he eases himself down onto the bed feeling like he just wants to sleep for a year. Maybe never wake up.
He feels Sam watching him as he unwraps an Actiq, swabs it around his mouth a little and gets his legs up on the bed, eases back against the headboard.
"All right?" Sam asks him, and Dean nods, too tired to try and look more convincing. Jesus, it's only one in the afternoon, but he feels like it's much, much later.
He's aware that his father is standing strangely still, like he's waiting for their attention, and Sam and Dean glance at him at the same time. John rubs his jaw.
"We need to talk," he says.
"You breakin' up with us?" Dean asks, not really a joke, and no one smiles.
John sits down on the bed across from Dean, hands hanging in his lap. "I gotta get moving again," John says. "Today."
"Yeah," Sam says when Dean is silent. "Figured."
"I'm—I'll have my phone on," John starts, but Sam makes a violent movement towards him, fists balled.
"Dad," Sam says. "You can't keep us out of this."
"No. You can't. This is our fight just as much as yours – we've been at this just as long as you have, been waiting for this our whole fucking lives. Our whole lives. I tried to get away, Dad, and you almost killed me, told me I could never come back. Do you remember that? And now, now that I'm in, you try and cut me out? You're a fucking hypocrite, you know that?"
"It's not safe," John growls. "I will not put you in that kind of danger."
"Safe? Danger? You taught me how to shoot a gun when I was six, you think that's safe?"
"This is different, Sam, this is a demon, a demon who is old, and smart, and who—"
"So it's okay for you to go up against it, but not us? You're on a fucking suicide mission, Dad, you don't care if you come out of this alive or not, do you?"
"Of course I care—"
"Then let us help! This is about our family, not just about you and the fucking demon. She was our mother, Jess was my girlfriend, and I deserve to have a part of this just as much as you do."
"This isn't your fight," John says vehemently, "and it never was. It's my fight, and maybe you boys never should've been involved in the first place. Mary – your mother never would have wanted to see you living this life."
"Well, tough shit," Sam says, "because we're here now. It is our fight. It is our lives. And you can't just take back twenty-two years of that, you can't. You can't. It's done."
"You're right," John says, "it's too late. But it's not too late to keep you boys safe. You're not safe with me, Sam, and your brother — Dean —"
John and Sam both look at Dean, like they're just realizing that he hasn't said anything yet. Two pairs of demanding eyes on him. He swallows, wishes he could sink into the woodwork and disappear. He's the one making this difficult; there would be no argument if it weren't for him.
"Sam's right," Dean says quietly. "You can't cut us out of this, not now."
"Dean," John says. "Dean, you're gonna get yourself killed if you keep going on this way, and I can't — I can't let that happen. You need to stay put somewhere, stay off that leg, quit acting like things haven't changed for you because they have."
Dean takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders. "Then take Sam. I'll just slow you down, but Sam, he's good, he's a good hunter, he can help you, and you need backup, Dad, you can't do this alone."
"No," Sam says, "that isn't what I—"
"I can do research," Dean says steadfastly, "if you call me, and tell me what you need. I can stay with Bobby, or find a place somewhere, I—"
"No," Sam says, shaking his head, "this isn't what you want, Dean, you don't want to sit on your ass, I know you, I know you, man, and—"
"What the fuck does it matter what I want?" Dean asks. "I want a lotta things, Sam, and yeah, sittin' out for the count sure as hell ain't one of them. But—"
"It does matter, Dean, jesus, can't you—"
"I'll just fuck everything up," Dean says, "Dad's right, don't you get it? You can't trail this fuckin' thing with a disabled guy on your ass, draggin' you down, it's—"
"Stop," Sam says, "just stop, stop and listen to me, okay?"
Dean and John both fold their arms simultaneously, and Sam runs a hand through his hair, grips tight.
"I don't—I just want a compromise, okay?"
"I'm listenin'," John says.
"Dad — me and Dean, we'll stay put for a while—" Sam holds up his hand as Dean tries to say something. "We will dude, we both need a rest, not just you, so shut up for a second, all right?" He takes a breath, continues. "We'll stay put, rest for a while, but Dad, you have to keep us informed. I mean, you call us every few days, tell us exactly where you are and what you're doing. Fax us documents, email us photographs, whatever, we get all the details. Full disclosure."
John doesn't say anything, and Sam continues.
"And if, at any point, me and Dean feel like we should step in—we do. If you're getting close, we step in. If we have a lead we think we should follow, we follow it. And you don't give us any shit about it."
John tightens his mouth, looks from Dean to Sam. Sam adjusts his stance, jaw set. Dean can hear the cheap motel clock ticking away in a corner, can hear the murmur of traffic out the window. The thump of his heat.
"Okay," John says finally. "Deal."
"Promise me," Sam says immediately. "Promise me that we will have access to all the information that you do. Promise me that you won't go AWOL."
"I promise," John says, his eyes on Dean. "I promise, if you promise to do your best to take it easy. To take care of yourselves."
"We promise," Sam says.
"Shake on it," John says, and Sam reaches forward, grips his father's hand. "You too, Dean," John says. "I want you to take it easy, you hear me?"
"We can't just stop hunting," Dean says a little desperately. "There's – people need our help."
"Just promise me you're going to watch out for yourself as best you can, that you're gonna watch out for Sam."
This, this part Dean can promise, has been promising all his life. "All right."
John nods once, shakes his head. "I don't know what the hell I just agreed to."
"Honesty," Sam says stolidly. "You agreed to be straight with us. For once."
"Sam," John says, a warning in his voice. "Can you, for one second, just—" He breaks off, shakes his head, mouth slipping into a rueful smile. "He like this with you?" John asks Dean.
"Me?" Dean grins. "Nope. Me, he bakes pie."
Sam lets out a huff of laughter, sinks onto the bed next to Dean, and Dean feels the tension in his shoulders uncurl with hope and disbelief. Sam's not leaving. Sam's not leaving.
"Okay," John says, stands, glances towards the door. "I…"
"You gotta go," Sam finishes for him, then holds up three fingers. "Three days, Dad. You call us within three days or we go out and find the biggest, scariest, most dangerous hunt in the continental U.S. No, fuck that, Hawaii included."
"Okay," John says, grinning a little. "What about Alaska? Hear they've got haunted igloos up there."
Sam snorts. "Just call."
They look at each other for a moment, Sam and John, then John reaches out an arm, and Sam steps into it, a quick, strong hug and a firm clap on the back, Sam with his chin hooked over his father's shoulder. Dean sees his eyes shut tight for just one second as he digs the fingers of his good hand into John's jacket.
Dean sucks on the Actiq, turns his head away.
John and Sam break apart, and Sam glances at Dean.
"Dad," Sam says, "your bag still in the Impala?"
"I'm gonna… I'll go get it." He moves before either of them can protest, ducks out the door, Dean cringing at his lack of subtlety. Thought he taught the kid to be a little smoother than that.
As the door closes, John comes and sits next to Dean on the bed.
"We okay?" he asks.
"We're fine," Dean says. "Please, god, don't tell me we're gonna have a repeat of this morning." He grins at his father's grimace, clacks the Actiq stick against his teeth.
"Are those meds?" John asks, squinting at the plastic tab on the bottom.
"Funny way to deliver 'em."
"You're tellin' me."
John smiles, though it doesn't quite reach his eyes. "Painkillers?"
Dean quirks an eyebrow, doesn't answer.
John looks at him for a moment, then smiles grudgingly. "You gonna hug me before your brother gets sick of pretending to get my bag, or what?"
Dean laughs, and then his father is pulling him close, and Dean leans into him, ignores the protests from his hip, just concentrates on breathing the familiar scent of his father, leather and lighter fluid and the particular John smell, a little like the Impala, a little like Sam, but mostly just John, a smell Dean remembers from all the way back, when John used to bring home motor oil instead of gun oil.
"Don't be an idiot," John says in his ear.
"Don't be a jackass," Dean retorts, and his father snorts, releases him with a reluctant clap on the back.
"Take care of your brother."
"Yes, sir. You take care of yourself."
John gives Dean's shoulder one last squeeze before standing, and, as if on cue, Sam opens the motel door, John's bag slung over his shoulder. John takes the bag with a smirk of thanks, pats Sam once on the side of his head.
"Okay," he says, looks around the room. "Okay."
"Three days," Sam says.
"And if we call, you pick up."
John nods once, puts his hand on the door, pauses. "It was good to see you boys."
"Thanks," Dean says. "For coming."
"Better late than never, right?" John says.
"Right," Sam mutters, and John gives him a last, wry smile before pulling the door shut behind him.
There's silence in the motel room, and Dean spits the Actiq into the wastebasket, digs his cigarettes out of his pocket, watches his brother sink down in the chair by the table and run a hand through his hair.
Dean lights his cigarette, exhales slowly as he closes his lighter with a snap.
"So," he says. "What exactly did you mean when you said rest? Is there a bed in front of that? 'Cause I distinctly remember telling you I was done with bed rest."
Sam snorts. "I meant rest. Two weeks minimum, no hunting. My shoulder's fucked up and, no offense, but you're a mess, dude."
"Where the hell are we supposed to go?" Dean demands.
"I dunno, Bobby's? Cancun? We'll talk about it." He looks at Dean, face apprehensive. "But it was good, right? What I said? What we agreed on?"
Dean takes a drag, squints at the ceiling. "Yeah, Sam. It was good. Lawyerly."
Sam nods a little, relaxes.
"But," Dean says, can't help himself. "Dude, what I said – if you wanna go with Dad, this is your chance. I'm – I understand. Hell, I—"
"I don't wanna go with Dad," Sam says, eyes flashing. "I want in on this, but—not yet. When it gets… I mean, I think there's still a lot Dad doesn't know about this thing. We need to do more research, get his notes. Then decide what we want to do. But for now—for now, I just want to order a pizza, maybe watch a shitty movie, and sleep. We'll talk later, tonight or tomorrow, figure out what we want to do. Where we wanna go."
"Okay," Dean says, and he's gonna keep bitching about it, but deep down he's kind of looking forward to a few weeks of, you know, not getting thrown against walls every fucking day.
Sam gets up, stretches, crosses the room to the mini fridge and cracks a beer, takes a long swig.
"Little early for that," Dean says mildly as Sam comes to sit on his own bed.
"We're on vacation," Sam points out. "As of now."
Dean pulls on his cigarette, tries to decide if he should say something else, and Sam leans down and tugs the phonebook out of the drawer of his nighttable. "What kind of pizza you want?" he asks.
Dean shrugs. "I don't care."
Sam looks at him.
"Sausage. Onions. Peppers."
He listens to Sam order the pizza, finishes his smoke and eases himself up against the headboard a little more, painkiller in full, lazy effect.
"Fifteen minutes," Sam says, gulps his beer, rolls the can absently between his palms.
Dean pushes himself up a little more, eases his legs over the side of the bed.
"Where you goin'?" Sam asks, gaze sharp.
"Bathroom," Dean says, reaching for his cane.
"Sam," Dean snaps, more tired than angry. "No one – you don't have to – every time I –"
"Shut up," Sam says dismissively. "Yeah, I do. I need to. And not just for you, Dean, so quit – just quit it."
Dean pushes himself to his feet, doesn't really know how to answer that, but thinks, suddenly, of Missouri, her hand on his knee, his pain on her face. It's a metaphor, honey. He shivers a little.
When he gets back from the bathroom, Sam is opening another Pabst can, laptop open on the bed in front of him.
"I was thinking we could hole up somewhere warm," Sam says. "New Orleans?"
"Texas," Dean says. "Let's go to Texas. There are armadillos in Texas."
Sam grins. "We could think about Texas."
Dean gets himself adjusted on the bed, watches Sam take a sip of his beer.
He should be happy – fuck, he is happy, can't believe Sam's staying – but he still feels that cold clench of anxiety in his stomach, the feeling that everything's spiraling downwards.
"This really what you want?" Dean asks suddenly, can't help himself. "Shitty motel rooms, shitty pizza, dislocated shoulders?"
"No," Sam says, keeps his eyes on the laptop. "It's not what I want. But at this point, if it's a choice between this and any other fucking thing I could do, I'll take this."
"What about school?"
"I don't know," Sam says, takes a drink, swipes a hand across his mouth. "I'm gonna have to think about that when the time comes. But the time hasn't come. So. I'm not gonna think about it."
Dean knocks a cigarette from his pack, looks at it for a while before putting it in his mouth. "If you wanted to go back—"
"I said I don't know, Dean. Shit's changed."
Dean nods, because yeah, shit has changed. Keeps changing, and there's nothing he can do to stop it. Like a black hole.
They're silent for a few minutes, Sam drinking his beer, Dean smoking his cigarette, the hum of the laptop as it heats up, the click of the pipes somewhere in the walls.
"How's your shoulder?" Dean asks finally, for lack of something better to say.
"A hundred thousand times better than when you asked me five minutes ago, miraculously."
Dean cracks an unwilling grin. "Don't be a smartass. Now you know how I feel all the goddamn time."
"Well, then you should know better."
Yeah, shit keeps changing. But some shit will always stay the same.
And there's a measure of comfort in that, Dean realizes, even as Sam stands to get another beer, even as his father gets further away with every minute, with every mile, even though tonight Sam might have a nightmare that'll come true, for chrissake — some shit will always stay the same. And that's what Dean's gonna hold onto for dear life. That's what counts.
A/N: THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH FOR READING! You guys are so incredibly gratifying to write for, I love it so. *sweeps you up and bear hugs you all 'til you collectively gasp for air*
I hope everyone has happy holidays, or whatever, I don't know what's PC and what's not these days, but I hope it's happy!
I'm gonna take a break for a while, will probably churn out a one-shot or two, but the next multi-chap won't be on the heels of this one like this was last time. But there will be more. Oh, so much more.
*liberally distributes booze and cigarettes"
*throws in some Vicodin*
*stops babbling now*