TITLE: Tempered, Honed

AUTHOR: Eleri McCleod

EMAIL: elerimc (at) gmail . com

STATUS: complete

CATEGORY: missing scene, one shot


SPOILERS: In My Time of Dying



CONTENT LEVEL: T, 13+, FR13, take your pick


SUMMARY: Sometimes the only words needed are the ones that can't be said.

DISCLAIMER: Supernatural and its characters are the property of Eric Kripke, Kripke Enterprises and Warner Brothers. I'm just borrowing them for a little while and will return them unharmed. No copyright infringement is intended.

ARCHIVE: , Supernaturalville, LJ, any others please ask

AUTHORS' NOTES: This is kind of a rant in response to the plethora of fics I've read in the last few months, many of which have portrayed John as a heartless bastard who couldn't care less about his boys. I thought it was time to stick up for him. Grateful thanks go to Lynette for her skills as a beta and her encouragement. As always, any and all feedback is appreciated.

John sat, each muscle held in perfect stillness. The pain was background noise. His shoulder, his head, his chest, his leg. Each was merely a pinprick as he stared at his unmoving son.

The body on the bed was pale, ghostly even. Tubes ran from the nose and mouth, an IV in one arm. The respirator hissed quietly from the side of the bed, breathing for lungs and a diaphragm that had been too damaged to do their job. A series of stitches ran nearly the length of the forehead, the angry red line the only color in the white of the face.

His eyes saw it all, but his brain refused to acknowledge the images. That couldn't be his beautiful baby boy lying on that bed. Not his son. Not his Dean.

Dean was full of life, full of motion and smart comments and sarcasm and attitude and the thrill of the hunt. Full of strength and vitality and purpose and, yes, even righteousness. John knew what filled his own heart, his own soul – rage, commitment, drive, hatred. Everything that his little boy wasn't.

And yet a body still lay unmoving on that bed.

His eyes traced the slope of the nose, the sweep of brows Mary had always claimed was identical to her father's. John hadn't argued. There was no denying bits of Samuel had been reborn in Dean's features. The wall cracked at the thought and his hand shook once, twice before he forced it to stop.

As much as he might wish it otherwise, the truth was clear and staring him smack in the face from a hospital bed. He'd done this to Dean, made his little boy straddle the line between life and death and he'd done it with his eyes wide open.

God, what had he done?

It was supposed to be his job to protect his children. His job to keep them safe. His job to comfort them when they were scared. And yet who had really done the comforting, the protecting? Who had had the strength to keep the family together? Who had really raised Sam? Who had propped up John's battered soul after every hunt? Kept him in one piece time and time again?

He forced a breath through his nose, the dizziness fading slightly. Sam had accused him of not caring that his son was dying, of caring more about his revenge than his own flesh and blood. He was only partially right. He cared. Damn but did he care. Just in a way Sam could never know.

The pale features exposed a vulnerability in his oldest boy John hadn't seen in years, vulnerability Dean kept hidden from everyone, Sam included. Dean's protective walls were thick, high and nigh on impenetrable. John knew he'd placed each and every brick into his son's young hands, even mixed the mortar himself. And Dean had never complained, just added brick after brick, doing anything and everything his father asked of him. Then the boy had given even more. He'd taken over Sam's care, raised him, taught him, allowed John to learn the business of being a hunter and forget about being a dad.

When Dean nailed every bottle where it sat on that damned fence the first time out, John the hunter had almost busted a gut he'd been so proud. John the dad had locked himself in the tiny bathroom of the motel they'd been living out of and bawled. The next day they'd gone back out to the fence and killed more bottles. The smiling, happy boy vanished overnight, a solemn, dedicated young man appearing in his place. Dean's childhood might have been destroyed by Mary's death, but John had hammered the nails into the coffin himself, knowing exactly what he'd been doing the whole time.

Yet somehow, Dean had become more than John's teachings, more than John's revenge. Despite the horrible things he'd seen, the horrible things John had made him do, he'd become a good man, a man who helped people because there was no one else to do it. Not because his mother had been killed, not because his dad told him to. Dean did the job because it had to be done.

There was no doubt in John's mind about who the better man was, who was going to go on to save lives. He wasn't about to let his son die. Not if there was anything he could do to prevent it.

He stood, arm cradling aching ribs, and his hand actually tingled with the need to touch Dean. As much as he wished it, he couldn't take that one step forward, couldn't reach out and make contact. The wall was brittle enough as it was. If he gave in he'd never leave his son's side. Neither of them could afford the comfort that single touch would give.

Taking one last long look at the unconscious man, the ghostly face that should be smirking up at him, John turned and made his way slowly to the door. He had a plan. He wasn't saying it was a good plan. Hell, it was probably the worst plan he'd ever had. But at least it was a plan, one that had the potential to end this whole thing.

The demon may have started the war. John might have kept it waging strong. But Dean would be the one to finish it.