So this is the final installment for "Abandon." Spoilers for season 4, episode 3 ("In The Beginning"). Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing. And for those of you who want to continue on this journey with me, the next portion of the series kicks off with "Just Like Starting Over." Trust me, there are miles to go before this story will be complete.
Mary Campbell had never been a patient woman. She spoke her mind, was forthright, and loved openly and unabashedly. It was one of the things John loved most about her. Though she could be guarded, and certainly had a number of walls in place to hide her secrets from the world at large, her heart was always on her sleeve when John was around. To him she was an open book. And when her parents died, something in her snapped. Whatever strings had been holding her together unravelled, leaving her wanting, needing, begging for release and protection. She wanted it now. Needed it now.
"You said you would protect me," she'd said. "You said you would take me away from all of this. Take me away, John. It's just us now. Just you and me."
Just you and me, Mary.
"I want it all – you promised me!" Her eyes shimmering with tears, glistening with bashed hopes and pleading for promises John prayed he could keep, would give his life and soul to keep. "I want marriage and babies and a life that's just you and me and us."
"Ok, Mary," he'd said. Anything you want. Everything you want.
"And I want it now."
He couldn't have known what she knew. And even now he didn't know the full extent of it. But her world had ended that day – had come crashing down around her with the death of her father. And it had been a blur. Samuel Campbell in a rampage, threatening, grabbing. John had blacked out only to find Mary cradling him in her arms, her father's limp body on the ground next to them. Dead. He dared not ask her how: he didn't want to know. Was afraid of the answer. Had she killed her own father to save him? No. Not Mary. Not his sweet little blonde, a tiny slip of a girl with a heart full of fire and green eyes like moss torn to shreds on stormy seas.
But there was something horrible behind it. Something unspeakable. Samuel Campbell dead. Deanna Campbell too. Both parents gone in a single night – Deanna most likely at Samuel's own hand. And John couldn't ask. Instead he made her promises he'd give his life and soul to keep. Marriage and babies and a life that's just us. He could do that.
The marriage part was easy. It was a promise and a gift. It was like coming home to everything – settling into his own skin and resting there easy, like it had always been a perfect fit. Him and Mary, together like Adam and Eve: man and woman alone in the garden. And they were safe. And God, Mary was happy. In her whole life she wanted nothing more than to love him, and he bathed in her love every day, taking for granted that it would always be there. Because he'd promised, and she'd promised, and it was supposed to be forever.
Then came the babies part. That was more of a challenge. Mary wanted children so badly. The loss and grief and terror of her past had her biological clock ticking by the time she was twenty. She wanted to be a mom, to be the bringer of life and love. But there had been upsets and disappointments. Miscarriages and loss of hope. Then Mary began to pray.
And then there was Dean.
John had never been a religious man, but he would have sworn that God Himself had planted the seed in Mary's belly, that God Himself had answered her prayers. After six years of trying to conceive, Mary was pregnant. And after making it through the second trimester without incident, they were given the all-clear from the doctor. They were going to have a baby. Really and truly were going to have a baby.
John had never been more excited in his life. The anticipation and bubbling joy, unfulfilled hopes waiting to be realized in this little person who had yet to come into being… It terrified and amazed him. But Mary – she glowed. Her eyes lit up like the sun, reflecting John's own hopes and fears and secret joy at whoever was coming into their lives. Because they both knew that that little person was going to be somebody very special. Their whole universe.
"I want to name her after my mom," Mary had said one night into the dip of John's shoulder, her cheek sticking to the sweat of his flesh as he ran a hand along her distended belly, feeling the kicks of the little person inside. "Deanna's a beautiful name. I think my mother would really like that."
"And if it's not a her?" he had asked archly. The neighbour's wife had insisted that Mary's prolonged morning sickness was a clear sign that they were having a girl, and Mary had foolishly clung to the old wives' tale.
"Oh, it's a her," she'd assured him, grinning knowingly.
"Ah, you just want to have someone to be girly with," John teased her. "So you can braid each others' hair and get her ready for the prom."
"And you'll be waiting at the door with the shotgun to greet her date, right?"
"If she's as pretty as her mama, I'm going to have to," he whispered into her hair. "I know what teenage boys are like."
In later years he would definitely have reason to know what teenage boys were like, only in the reverse context.
As it turned out, the neighbour's wife had been wrong about Deanna. John could still remember the shock and then intense paternal satisfaction when the doctor announced that they had a healthy baby boy. John had been ushered from the waiting room to meet his wife after she'd been cleaned up, only to be greeted by a sight so breathtaking it stopped his heart for a moment. His whole world was in her eyes as she cradled that little red squalling bundle of bellowing lungs, and the calm that descended upon her, replacing anxiety, worry, excitement, said clearly that she had come home. This was it. Her golden tendrils flying in frizzy disarray around her sweat-slicked face, her cheeks red from recent exertion, she smiled at him and was the most radiantly beautiful thing he'd ever laid eyes upon. This was home.
There would be other moments that stabbed with beautiful pain through his now shattered heart, other moments seared into his memory of times so precious the earth seemed to stand still. But that one in particular, when husband and wife became family, when a hope and a prayer and a bump in Mary's belly became Dean, all perfect pink skin and ten fingers and toes and blues eyes and spit bubbles and gums. Mary's face flushed with exhaustion, glowing with pride and purpose, laughing at the ear-splitting bellow of the baby they made out of nothing, whose lungs they were sure could shatter glass they were so strong, and he was so strong. And God, if that wasn't the most perfect moment in John Winchester's entire life.
John turned his sad eyes onto the sleeping form of his eldest son, one hundred and eighty pounds of muscle and bone and full of piss and vinegar, bravado masking pain, selflessness and self-sacrifice, razor wit and overcharged sex drive. But he still had ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. And though he never raised his voice against his father, his lungs were as fit for making noise now as ever they were when he was only seven pounds of hope and promise. And whenever Dean sang in the shower, bellowing at the top of his lungs as if he were the only person in the world and no one else could hear him, John thought of Mary. She loved to sing.
August 18, 1983
"Just got back from Illinois. Lock the front door," Mary paused in her singing as Dean twirled around on the lawn, his arms outstretched in a dizzying spin.
"Oh boy!" he sang, his cherub face squinting in the morning sun as he spun.
"Got to sit down, take a rest on the porch," she continued, twisting her fingers through a patch of dandelions and skimming her bare toes through the grass. "Imagination sets in…"
She paused and waited for Dean.
"Purty soon I'n singin'," he sang on an inhaled breath before toppling over.
"Doo doo doo," Mary chimed and was then joined by the four year-old who lay sprawled on his back in the grass, "Lookin' out my back door!"
John watched with a face-splitting grin, baby Sammy snuggled safely in the crook of his arm, as Dean crawled up off of the grass and teetered dizzily toward his mother, tumbling playfully into her lap. His floppy blonde locks were so light they glinted like white gold in the sunshine.
"Will Sammy sing with us when he gets bigger Mommy?" he asked.
"He might," she replied, scooping him up into her arms and pulling him into her lap. "Unless he's as tone deaf as Daddy."
Dean giggled and leaned back into his mother's chest, nuzzling into her.
"Are you tone deaf Daddy?" he asked with a grin.
"According to your mother," John admitted. God, he was smiling so hard his face hurt.
The blonde head tilted up to look at Mary.
"What's tone deaf mean?"
"It means he can't sing, baby," she whispered conspiratorially. "Because he sounds terrible."
"Oh," he said thoughtfully, pursing his tiny bee stung lips. "I hope Sammy's not tone deaf, 'cos I want him to sing wif us when he's big enough."
"Are you going to teach him to sing, Dean?" John asked. It really did ache, the tension in his cheeks from smiling.
"Uh-huh!" Dean proclaimed proudly. "An' I'm going to show him how to play wif Tonkas and how it's okay to sleep in the big boy bed."
Mary brushed the long locks away from his forehead.
"And do you think you like having a little brother?"
"Mmmhmmm," he replied with enthusiasm. "I like it when Sammy talks to me."
At first they had been worried that Dean would be jealous of his baby brother, especially with all the attention he got from friends and neighbours, but there had been none of that. The four year-old doted on Sam, watching over him like a golden-haired puppy, taking in all the sights and sounds that were uniquely 'baby Sammy' and placing meaning to each and every one. He was convinced that every garbled sound that came from the baby's mouth was some kind of secret brotherly code, and to his credit, Dean did seem to be incredibly attuned to his brother's needs. He knew which cries meant Sammy-needs-changing and which meant Sammy's-hungry. And he prattled constantly to the baby, as if Sam could understand every word, and John couldn't help but notice that Sam's eyes lit up whenever his brother was around.
"You're going to look after your brother, aren't you sport," John said.
Dean nodded emphatically. "And I'm gonna teach him to make mud pies!"
"Dean!" Mary intoned. "If I catch you digging around in my garden again…"
And damn if the cherub-faced little devil didn't grin at his mother's warning, as if he had every intention of digging up the garden again, or worse yet, had already found a better, more infuriating place to make his mud pies. It was a grin that John Winchester would come to count on, though it infuriated the hell out of him, in dark days to come.
John Winchester sighed heavily and looked at the clock. 4:00 a.m. and he still couldn't sleep. The only sound in the quiet motel room was Dean's steady breathing. John often found himself watching him as he slept, trying to find solace in the inhalations and exhalations of breath, watching his son's chest rise and fall under the sheets. He remembered all too well a time, twenty two years ago, when he would stand over Dean's crib and watch that same chest rise and fall, holding his breath for fear that the kid would simply stop breathing in the night. And it had been no different with Sam when he was born. He and Mary both would hold their breath, watching with that absurd parental feeling of trepidation when new life is so small and fragile that the child breathing is like a miraculous act of God.
And he wondered, not for the first time, how he had ever let things come to this.
God, Sam. Sammy. So much of everything bundled into that one fire-cracker of life. John hadn't known it at the time, could never have guessed it until he actually arrived, but the entire Winchester lifeline was tied up in that person-to-be that was Sam. John and Mary had been hopeful, surprised, and a little scared when their second miracle came. And Dean had been enraptured. Sam was like the Second Coming. Sam's arrival heralded Winchester completeness, and they all felt it.
But there was a taint, even then, a dark shadow that fell over their happy home, and John cursed himself for having missed the signs. Because Mary had gone pale when the doctor told her the expected due date: May 2nd or 3rd, he'd said. And that was the ten-year anniversary of her parents' death, wasn't it? They'd never talked about it. But it seemed like a bad omen. A very bad omen. And Mary was so jittery in the weeks leading up to the delivery. If John hadn't known better, he would have sworn Rumpelstiltskin himself had laid some kind of claim to their second born by the way Mary worried about the birth of Sam. She'd been a nervous wreck in the weeks after as well. But with the passage of time she'd eased up. Summer came and brought sunshine and warmth, and Dean's blonde locks were bleached white by the sun, and Mary's burden eased. And Sam grew sturdier and stronger, as newborns are wont to do, and everything settled into place and it all just fit.
John had never dreamt that he could ever be so happy. A no-good mechanic and ex-marine who'd seen too much in the war without being hardened by it, but with nothing to offer his young wife but his love and devotion. And that had been enough for her – it was all she wanted. And with his job at the garage, and the house in Lawrence, and then Dean and then Sam, somehow the Winchesters had built a whole life out of nothing. And John had kept his promise. He'd given Mary what she wanted: he'd taken her away from whatever shadows were chasing her, and had built a life with her.
"I think Sam's going to be taller than Dean," she said, snapping the sticky tab across the fresh diaper and lifting the gurgling infant off of the changing table. "Look how freakin' long he is, John."
And it was true: Sam was extremely long for a baby – much longer than Dean had been when he was that age.
"But he's already as handsome as his brother, aren't you? Aren't you, Sammy?" her voice dipped into nonsense baby levels and she blew a loud raspberry on his belly, eliciting an infectious eruption of gummy giggles.
"They're fine looking boys," John agreed, scratching at the scruff on his chin.
"Sammy's got your dimples," Mary said with a wide smile. She watched her husband with heavy lids, a purr bubbling up within her at the sight of him in all his dark-haired domesticity. "Handsome like his daddy."
She leaned in and kissed him soundly, moaning her pleasure at the smell of axle grease and aftershave on his skin.
"Speaking of which…." She hesitated for a moment. "Mrs. Beardsley called today."
"Mrs. Beardsley? The pre-school teacher?"
"How is that speaking of which?"
She ignored the question and instead continued with her train of thought. "Apparently Dean was looking up a girl's skirt in school today."
John laughed from his belly.
"God help us," he said. "Chasing skirts already?"
"He said he wanted to know what she was hiding up there."
There was a three second count before they both erupted with laughter.
"We're going to have to explain the whole girls have boobies and boys have pee pees talk, aren't we?" John asked.
"I think so," Mary agreed.
Even as they talked, they could hear the sounds of Dean singing to himself as he sat at his little desk in his room and coloured in his colouring book. Mary peeked around the corner and caught a glimpse of him sitting contentedly, his feet swinging back and forth, as he sang his own wrongly-worded version of CCR's "Fortunate Son." It ate me. It ate me. I ain't no fortune son.
"Fuck he's cute," she breathed, sighing. "Just once I'd like to dress him up in a dress and put clips in his hair. Just once!"
She made shushing sounds to stop her husband's protests.
"I wouldn't actually do it, John!" and pouted. "But look at him!"
John grimaced, not wanting to encourage Mary's disturbing fantasies about cross-dressing his eldest son. But it didn't mean she wasn't right. The kid was ungodly cute – Gerber baby cute. And he was always singing and always chattering and always smiling and always getting himself into trouble without ever intending to. It was so hard to discipline him when you were struggling not to laugh, especially because half the time Mary encouraged his behaviour. She thought it was funny. John knew that if they didn't rein him in he was going to be impossible to deal with later.
And then there was Sam.
John didn't know what to make of Sam. His eyes were ever-watchful, as if he were taking everything in and sizing everything up. Every now and then he would yelp excitedly, his baby-fat legs kicking out for added emphasis, as if he were making the most important declaration any baby could possibly make in the history of mankind. And with his chubby cheeks and that tiny button nose, he looked so much like one of those Cabbage Patch dolls that were all the rage these days.
"I could just eat his face," Mary was constantly muttering, much to Dean's dismay. The first time she'd said it in front of Dean he'd burst into tears with a pathetic plea for his mommy not to eat Sammy.
Convincing the four year-old that his mother was not a cannibal, and would not be eating his baby brother any time in the future had been an exercise in patience. Even so, Dean had kept a watchful eye on his mother for three whole days to make sure that she wouldn't carry through with her threat to gobble baby Sammy up.
The memory made John ache. Even then, Dean's watchful eyes were trained on his brother, seeking out any hidden dangers that might be nipping at his heels. In retrospect, John wondered if maybe the boy had had some kind of psychic premonition, because the darkness was after Sam. And the baby did need looking after with more than just parenting. Evil had come to Lawrence, had stood over Sammy's crib – to do what John still didn't know – and had claimed Mary as its sacrifice to the dark. And since that horrible November night, John had learned things about evil, and about the vileness that was nipping at their heels, that had added more gray hairs to his head than time alone warranted, more worry lines to his face than age decreed.
And John didn't know what to do, because he'd made Mary promises that were impossible to keep, and he was pretty sure that he'd pissed all over her wishes in dragging her sons along on this dark path toward revenge. He had all but destroyed Dean and everything he could have been, in conditioning him to be his brother's protector and nothing more. And he'd driven Sam away – had barred him from ever coming back with his iron fist and his ultimatums. And now Sam was gone, and how in the hell was he supposed to keep him safe?
But no matter how he looked at it, sizing it up from each angle and taking bites from each corner, it always looked the same and tasted the same: ash on his tongue and blurring shades of gray. He couldn't have done it any other way, because evil was everywhere, and evil had found them, and evil was tied up inexorably with Sam and that meant that they were always in danger, and needed to be prepared to fight it before it swallowed them whole.
And that thought alone brought John Winchester to his knees, because he didn't know how to fight and win, and he didn't know how to keep his boys safe when one of them was on the other side of the country 'living his own life' and the other was downspiralling with grief, like a rudderless ship in desperate need of an anchor. Sam was gone and he needed protecting more than anyone, and before John knew it his blood was boiling with pent-up rage and frustration. Sam was gone. Sam had made plans that had nothing to do with staying safe, with fighting back against the encroaching darkness, with avenging his mother's death. And John wanted to scream that he was selfish and arrogant and disloyal, but mostly he wanted to hold him close and never let go because the darkness wanted to swallow him whole and make him its own, make him not-Sam.
He listened to Dean's steady breathing and held his head in trembling hands. He'd fucked everything up. He'd let both of his sons down, had let Mary down. And now Sam, his baby Sammy, was beyond his reach where he couldn't keep him safe, where the darkness could sneak up on him at any time. And John Winchester was so terrified he thought he might choke. So he did what he had to do to make it through the next day. He prepared for the hunt.
The newspaper article said that three hikers had gone missing deep in the Minnesota woods. A black dog, maybe. John circled the name of the investigating officer and folded the newspaper with a sigh. Sam would be okay. He was a smart kid and stubborn enough to make it just fine, if only to spite his old man. Sam would be fine.
Even so, John sent up a silent prayer to Mary to watch over their youngest boy, to keep the darkness away from him as she'd done, or tried to do, that cruel November night eighteen years ago. If Mary was watching out for him, maybe he would be okay.