Against the Branding
Janet hadn't been convinced that Andy didn't need a hospital, but once Aidan had cleaned the wound she saw it wasn't that bad after all. After a thorough examination of Dean's new and old injuries, John was satisfied he didn't need a hospital, either. Sam got ice for his brother's eye and sat next to him on the bed while Dean lay with it on his face.
There had been no sign of Frank in the basement when John and Aidan went back inside. There had been a few ghosts to fight off, but the majority of them seemed to have left when Andy no longer controlled them.
Driving toward the motel, John had called Brenda in case Frank was headed in her direction. It was a short conversation, but she'd sounded shocked at John's abbreviated explanation of what had happened.
It took a while for the adrenaline to leave everyone's systems. Once things were more calm, Janet stood in a corner of the motel room with John. "I'm so sorry about this. I had no idea –"
John nodded. "I'm just glad we got there in time. Do you have any idea where Frank might have gone?"
Janet shook her head. "None. I've tried to call him, but it goes right to voicemail."
While John spoke with Janet, he kept an eye on Andy. He was young and getting shot seemed to have a profound affect on him, but John still didn't trust him. Andy denied any knowledge of where his uncle might have gone and insisted that the ghosts attacking Sam and Dean in the basement was the complete plan.
While the group headed back to the motel, Sam had told them what kind of car Frank had been driving. Though he and Dean had been blindfolded, he'd overhead Frank and Andy talking about where it was parked.
After helping to get the boys settled in the room and checking out Andy's wound, Aidan had left in his car to see if he could catch up to Frank. He wasn't surprised to find the car not parked where Sam had told him it was – more than enough time had passed for Frank to get to it and take off.
Aidan drove around for a while, hoping to pick up the trail, but Frank could have gone anywhere. He went back to the motel.
"I don't want to appear ungrateful for your help today," John said to Janet once Aidan had returned. "But I think you should get Andy home and into his own bed."
The reality was that he didn't want the boy near his sons, and John suspected that Janet understood. Her car was still parked at the school, so Aidan drove them home.
"Let me take a look at that eye," John said sitting on the edge of Dean's bed once the others had left. Dean moved the ice bag away. "It looks a little better. Do you need anything for the pain?"
Dean shook his head.
"What about your stitches?"
"I'm fine," Dean insisted. "You've already looked me over."
"Yeah, and I'll do it again if I want to," John said. His tone was light and he saw a small smile on Dean's face.
"They know your car, Aidan," John said into his cell phone.
"I'm not an amateur, John."
"Yeah, I know, but….just be careful. You don't have any backup."
"I'm being careful. You talk to Brenda any more? Is she still around?"
"I haven't tried calling her again, but I doubt she bailed completely. Why? You think she can help?"
"I don't know. Do you trust her?"
"I did, but that was a long time ago. I don't know about now."
"Yeah, I get that. I'll stay here for a while and see if anything happens."
"I want you checking in every 15 minutes, Aidan."
"You got it, Boss." Aidan ended the call and set his cell phone on the dash in front of him. He was parked down the street from the Brown home, but had a good view of the house. John was right that they knew Aidan's car, but it was parked in a lot several miles away. They wouldn't recognize the car he was currently…borrowing.
It would be better if there was also someone watching the back of the house, but manpower was limited. Aidan knew that John trusted Dean's abilities, but Dean had already been operating at a lower capacity than normal before being kidnapped and beaten. Sam knew his way around all manner of weapons and had good instincts, too, but John wouldn't risk leaving him in charge. Even though it was probably killing him not to be actively doing something, John probably felt he had no choice but to be with his sons to protect them.
Aidan looked into the rearview mirror when movement caught his eye. He saw someone he didn't recognize walk to the Winchester's house and ring the doorbell. The man waited on the porch for a few moments before taking a step back and pulling out a cell phone. While Aidan watched, he seemed to speak with someone and Aidan picked up his own phone to call John. When he heard John's outgoing voicemail message begin, Aidan dialed Dean's number.
"Hey, Aidan," Dean sounded tired.
"Hey, where's your dad?"
"He's here on the phone."
"You know who he's talking to?"
"Dude who owns the house. Why?"
"Someone's at your house...you know what the guy looks like?"
Dean described the man standing on the Winchester's porch and Aidan relaxed. "Yeah, that's who's here. Dean, are you okay, man?"
"I hate to say it, Slick, but you don't sound like you're okay."
"Just tired and sore."
"All right. Take care of yourself."
"You, too. You're the one putting your neck on the line, man. I'm laying in bed in a motel room with John Winchester to protect me. Nothing's gonna happen to me."
Aidan chuckled. "You're probably right about that." He set the phone aside and watched as the landlord used a key to open the front door. A moment later, his phone rang – it was John asking him to run interference at the house so the landlord didn't see more than he needed to.
After getting off the phone with Aidan, John told the boys to pack up what few things they'd taken out and get ready to leave. He knew Aidan couldn't be everywhere at once and even though he hated to do it, John needed to leave the boys alone to get out on the streets.
"Dad, we can get ourselves to another motel," Dean said after John told them his plan.
John looked at him. He knew Sam and Dean could do just about anything they needed to, but this morning, it was harder than normal to let them out of his sight. He never liked leaving them alone and always felt like he had a good reason for doing it. John sighed.
"Dad, really," Dean said. "And if you need us to, we can –"
"No," John said firmly. "I know you're determined, Dean, but right now you can barely stand and I'm not entirely sure you shouldn't be headed to a doctor. But, yeah, okay. You can get yourselves to another motel."
Despite Dean's protest, John carried his bag to the Impala while Sam grabbed his own. They were stashed in the trunk and John checked their weapons supply. While Dean leaned back against the driver's side door, John put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "He'll listen to you. Take care of him, okay?"
Sam nodded, looking serious, and John pulled him into a hug before they joined Dean.
"Why don't you let Sammy drive?" John suggested, seeing Dean's pale face.
"Dad, you're over-reacting."
"Humor me," John said with a hand on Dean's shoulder. He was too tired to issue an order.
Dean sighed and handed the keys to his brother. John watched as they headed off a few moments later.
Aidan was heading back to his hiding spot when he saw Frank skulking toward the Brown's house. Frank didn't knock before opening the back door and going inside, and Aidan thought that meant he was not only welcome, but expected. He pulled out his cell phone to call John.
"I can't believe you shot my son," Janet said when she heard Frank come through the back door. She was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee between her hands.
"You pushed me. What the hell was that, anyway?"
"I was putting on a show for John. Like I was supposed to."
"How is he?"
Janet looked at Frank, her expression cold. "He's all right. John's friend cleaned him up and dressed the wound. It's not that bad."
"You want me to take a look at it?"
"Not now. He's sleeping."
"You wanted to do this," Frank reminded her. "You –"
"I didn't think you were going to kill the man's children. I didn't think you were going to use my son to that way." Janet shook her head. "It's over. We're done."
"Janet, I –"
"No, Frank. I'm not going to let you use what my son learned to do for this…sick thing. Chris wouldn't want this, Frank. He wouldn't."
"That man killed your husband, Janet. He killed Andy's father."
"Yeah, that's what you've been saying. Even if that's what happened….I'm not going through with this. You lied to me. If I'd known what you were really planning….And how did you get Andy not to tell me? What did you say to him?"
Frank looked away for a moment. "If you're not going to help me, I'll find another way."
Janet stared at him, wondering how she'd let herself get wrapped up in his vendetta – and more importantly, how she'd let her son get involved. She shook her head. "Frank…."
"I was there, Janet. I know what happened."
"Even if John killed Chris outright, what you were planning to do? It's wrong, Frank. His sons didn't do anything – they weren't even there!" Janet stood up. "I think you should go, Frank. You're not exactly a good influence on Andy these days."
Frank looked at her, shock evident on his face. "Janet, I –"
"We'll talk more later. In a few days. Just go." She walked out of the kitchen.
When Aidan saw Frank leave through the back door, he called John's cell phone. He wasn't entirely surprised to find out that John was almost at the house himself. Working in tandem, they tailed Frank to a motel room across town.
"What do we do now?" Aidan asked John. They were both parked along the street from where they could see Franks' room, speaking on their phones.
"I don't have a clue," John sighed wearily.
After a few moments of silence, Aidan cleared his throat. "So, what did happen with Frank's brother?"
"We were hunting a shape-shifter. The four of us. We were on its tail and split into two groups to trap it. Unfortunately, we lost track of it and it took over Chris' appearance."
"You were with Chris?"
"Yeah, but we got separated. Brenda and Frank caught up with me – I was at the entrance to an alley and thought I'd seen Chris run in there. Turns out it was the shape-shifter. Chris came up behind me, Brenda and Frank got there a few minutes later."
"Sounds like a damn confusing situation."
"That's an understatement," John said. "It was the shape-shifter who shot Chris. I was able to tell it was the real Chris, and I shot the shape-shifter. Frank and Brenda got to the alley just in time to see that, but Frank thought it was Chris."
"I blamed myself for a long time – thought there should have been some way for me to tell which was which."
"You know –"
"Yeah, I know. Now. But not then."
"You know, it's weird that Frank happened to see you here a couple months ago and Andy developed that nifty talent of his in that amount of time."
"It didn't seem to me that he had great control over the spirits. It still could be a new skill."
"It doesn't really matter. What do I do about all this? It's not like I can kill Frank. He's human. And Andy is just a kid. But how can I make sure neither one of them try to get to Dean and Sammy again?"
"What about Brenda?"
"Yeah. You think she can help convince Frank that he's wrong?"
"I suppose it's worth a shot."
"Assuming we can trust her."
"Yeah. Assuming that."
After a few more minutes of conversation, John called Brenda. He gave her a more complete version of what had gone on that morning and she agreed to talk to Frank. John knew he was taking a chance, but felt he had no other option.
She arrived twenty minutes later. John and Aidan were still keeping watch and as far as they knew, Frank was inside his room. Brenda sat in John's truck with him, going over things again and discussing options.
"He's going to want to know how I found him."
John looked toward the motel. "Yeah. No reason to lie."
"Right," she said thoughtfully. "Yeah."
John reached for the door handle.
"Whoa, where are you going?"
"I'm not letting you go in there alone."
"He's liable to shoot you, John."
"Holy hell," Brenda sighed. "Let's go."
John and Brenda got out of the truck. They walked across the street and Aidan followed at a distance.
Brenda knocked on Frank's door after John checked his gun. He was standing to the side where Frank couldn't see him through the peep hole. He would also be out of sight when the door was opened.
"What are you doing here?" Frank asked, clearly surprised to see Brenda.
"I want to talk to you, Frank."
"How did you know where to find me?"
"Can I come in?"
Frank looked at her with a knowing expression on his face. "Where is he?"
John stepped into Frank's line of sight, behind Brenda.
"This doesn't have to be ugly," Brenda said quickly. "Let's just talk, okay? The three of us."
"I knew you'd be on his side," Franks said icily.
"I'm not on anyone's side," Brenda countered. "Frank, please."
With a grunt, Frank moved aside to let them in. John closed the door behind him and leaned back against it. Frank stood against the opposite wall.
"Really?" Brenda looked from one to the other. "This is how it's gonna be?"
Neither man responded and Brenda sighed. She sat down in one of the two chairs situated around the small table in the middle of the room. "We need to talk about that night."
"There's nothing to say," Frank growled.
"That's where you're wrong. Look, I know Chris was your brother and I know….well, it's hard to lose someone you care about. But, Frank, blaming John? All these years? That's not healthy. And going after his children like that?"
"He should have done something!"
"You don't think I feel the exact same way?" John asked. "If there was something I could have done, I would have!"
"He was my brother, damnit!"
"We know that, Frank," Brenda said, her voice soothing. "But that doesn't change the fact that there was nothing John could have done differently. Maybe if they'd not gotten separated – maybe if the four of us had stuck together….Frank, come on. Deep down you know it wasn't John's fault."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I let him out of my sight," John said.
"How…how did it happen?" Frank's voice was raspy.
John looked at him, surprised. He suddenly realized they'd never had a real conversation about what had happened that night. When Frank realized his brother was dead, he'd shut down completely. He'd refused to talk and certainly wasn't in the mood to listen. He'd taken off on his own not long after and that was the last John had seen of him until now.
"Chris and I were tailing the shape-shifter," John said, his throat tight. "It was dark, damn dark. We lost track of it, but Chris was sure he'd seen where it went. He took off and I followed him, but I got caught by a car – rolled off the hood. By the time I got to that alley…."
Frank looked at him and John saw him cracking. It wasn't something he wanted to witness, but there was no backing out now.
"Get out!" Frank screamed at John. He grabbed the closest thing he could reach – the phone from the desk – and hurled it in John's direction. The cord kept it from hitting him.
"I'm sorry, Frank," John said.
John opened the door and backed out. He saw Frank slide down the wall and hit the floor hard. He covered his face with his hands and began to sob. With a glance in John's direction, Brenda went to him. She knelt down next to Frank and put her hand on his leg. John closed the door.
"So, that's it?" John asked Brenda when she came out to his truck. He and Aidan had been waiting for her.
She shrugged. "I don't know. I think so. I'm going to stay with him for a while."
"Call me later?" John asked.
John took Dean to the doctor that afternoon. With everything that had happened, they'd both forgotten he had a surgery follow-up appointment and were reminded when the receptionist called Dean to push it back an hour due to an emergency at the hospital. The doctor wasn't happy about Dean's new injuries, but said they were fairly minor and he gave him a clean bill of health.
They were on their way home when Bobby called with some information.
"Got some news for you, too, Sammy," John said after Dean told his brother about the doctor's appointment.
John sat down on the couch next to him. "It's about your friend, Tim."
"What did you find out?"
"It wasn't me. It was Bobby. Turns out Tim and his mom are in hiding, but it doesn't have to do anything with hunting. His father is in jail – seems he was an abusive alcoholic. He went too far one night and Tim's mother almost died."
"Oh, my god," Sam said. "That's horrible."
"Yeah," John agreed. "After the guy was sentenced, Tim and his mom left town, changed their names…they're just covering their tracks so he can't find them when he gets out of prison."
"I guess that explains why he's so private," Sam said thoughtfully. "Thanks for telling me, Dad."
Brenda didn't call until late into the evening. She'd spent the day with Frank and was convinced he'd realized the truth about his brother's death and was done with his need for revenge. She told John that Frank was leaving town the next morning and that she was going with him. He'd spend some time with her in Oklahoma before deciding what he'd do next.
"So, if we don't have to worry about Frank any more, can we stay until the school year is over?" Sam asked after John relayed his conversation.
"Andy's still here, Sammy."
Sam was about to protest, but he saw Dean's warning look and backed down.
"Look," John said, sounding tired. "It's Friday. Give me the weekend to think about this, okay? Maybe we can figure something out."
Sam nodded, surprised that his father was open to the possibility of staying. As it turned out, the decision was taken out of John's hands.
The next morning once everyone was awake and dressed, they went to a nearby diner for breakfast. With the doctor's okay to eat whatever he wanted now, Dean perused the menu carefully. After finally deciding on scrambled eggs with bacon, sausage and a side of pancakes, they were finally able to place the order. John's cell phone rang almost as soon as the waitress walked away, and he went outside to answer it.
"John, it's Janet."
"How's Andy?" John asked, just because he thought he should.
"Physically, he's fine. The wound doesn't look like much of anything and he says it doesn't hurt at all. Emotionally….well, that's a whole other story."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Look, uh, I just wanted to let you know that Andy and I are going to leave Merrillville. I don't think it would be good for him or Sam to see each other, and….well, I think we should be near Frank for a while, too. This family has a lot of healing to do. And I know that there's no way I can ever apologize enough for what almost happened."
"At least we got there before it got too far out of hand," John said, his voice tight. He was still angry about the whole situation. "Janet, I'm just curious, but Andy's ability…."
"I didn't know about it, but we talked last night. He told me that Frank noticed the talent – apparently Frank took him on a hunt that I didn't know about, to some haunted house or something. Frank encouraged him to develop it and even found things to help him with it."
After hearing that, John wasn't sure Andy really needed to be around his uncle, but it wasn't his decision. On the other hand, if the boy did decide he wanted to hunt, being able to control spirits would be an excellent weapon.
"Can I ask when you're leaving?"
"Well, I'll still be here for a while. I have things to take care of, obviously, but I'm sending Andy ahead with Brenda and Frank."
"Oh. Well…I appreciate you calling."
"Yeah," Janet sighed. "John, I'm so sorry about everything."
"Let's just move on," John said. He couldn't tell her what he was really thinking.
"Good luck." John held onto the phone after the call ended and he took a deep breath. He wasn't entirely satisfied with how things turned out, but wasn't sure how they could be any better. John knew that Sam would be relieved to be able to finish the school year in Merrillville, but he wasn't sure of his own feelings.
Instead of going back inside, he dialed Brenda's number and elicited a promise from her to call immediately if Frank – or Andy – left town, or if she became suspicious in any way.
"John," Brenda said before letting him end the call. "I know things got crazy and we didn't really have the conversation I wanted to, but….It was nice to see you again."
"Yeah, about that conversation, I –"
"It's okay, John. I think I found out what I needed to know."
"Oh? What's that?"
Brenda laughed. "Well, I still you might be the one that got away, but it's probably for the best."
"I don't know what to say to that."
"Just take care of yourself, okay? I'll keep my eyes and ears open for anything that might help you find the thing that killed your wife."
"Thanks, Brenda. Take care of yourself, too."
John looked through the diner's window, to the table where his family sat. Dean was still a little pale, but John took comfort in the doctor allowing him to go back to his normal activities. Sam was laughing at something while Aidan was sitting back and smiling. It looked like they were ready to move on and John thought that maybe he should do the same.
With a deep breath, he opened the diner door and went back inside.
not what was trained
Against the branding
The fight begins now
that all house arrest has died
Parallel lives are all spent in suffering
Knowledge is power/Knowledge is peril
Branding the Muse