Disclaimer: I don't own 'em. More's the pity.

Spoiler: None. Pre-series. Story title from Led Zeppelin song of the same name.

a/n: This story assumes some facts gleaned from TV canon, with my own interpretive modifications. I haven't read the published "John Winchester Journal," nor have I looked anything up online pertaining to that work. It's more out of laziness than stubbornness on my part, but I figured what's shown on TV is universal—the other works, not so much.

I'm going with this timeline: Sam began attending Stanford in the fall of 2001 at the age of 18. Dean would have been 22. Dean states in the Pilot, "You know, in almost two years I've never bothered you, never asked you for a thing." This story assumes Sam was actually in his fourth year at Stanford when Dean arrived asking for his help to find John, and that Dean's statement was actually in reference to an unknown event mid-way through Sam's college career where the brothers parted ways—Dean to hunting, Sam to school—and 'lost' contact.

With that, I wanted to say up-front that Sam is in this story through reference and memory only. This is an exploration of a particular father/son relationship; it centers on John and Dean in the weeks and months that follow Sam's departure. If you choose to read, I do hope you enjoy.


In theory one is aware that the earth revolves, but in practice one does not perceive it, the ground upon which one treads seems not to move, and one can live undisturbed.
So it is with Time in one's life.

Marcel Proust


September, 2001

He could still remember the first time his father had given him a handgun. He remembered the impossible weight of it, the way his fingers almost-but-not-quite wrapped around the textured rubber of the grip, how terrified he'd been.

Not of the weapon. But of letting his father down. Of doing it wrong.

That same day, he'd walked away from an abandoned lot—his hands blistered, fingers bleeding from catching his skin in the slide, arms and backside aching from the kick, ears ringing from the concussion of sound—with four tin cans obliterated.

He was six years old.

"Okay," he said, peering into the storm-darkened afternoon. "You go low, I'll go high."


Dean shook the rain from his hair, eyes blinking away the flat splatters. He spit out a mouthful of water as he glanced at the man on his right. "I go high, you go low?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" John said, irritation lacing his words.

"Taking out that son of a bitch," Dean replied, raising his voice over the increasing noise of the desert storm, reminding himself too late that he wasn't hunting with Sam. He wasn't lead dog here, and humor was lost on this alpha.

"Dean. Focus!"

Curling his lips in against his teeth—mostly to keep from choking on rain—Dean nodded once, spinning his .45 on his middle finger and adjusting the balance of it in the palm of his hand.

"Right. Sorry," he snapped, running his free hand down the length of his face. Even at six, four cans hadn't been eight, and eight had been what John set up for him to shoot.

"We're going to have to catch it in a cross-fire," John yelled, peering at Dean through the storm.

The Arizona monsoon kicked up thick, red mud that coated everything around them; the rain came hard and fast, turning the parched, cracked earth into a flood zone. Dean felt the rushing water tug at his pant cuffs, and he slipped a bit as the sole of his boots lost purchase on the slick ground.

"Can't see shit out here, Dad," Dean yelled back, hesitant to question his father's orders, but wary of firing at the thing into a storm, knowing his father could easily be on the receiving end of the bullet. "You sure?"

"I'm sure," John replied, water spraying from his lips and soaking his thickening beard.

John hadn't shaved since Sam left. Dean knew he hadn't slept much, either. Or eaten. In fact, in the two weeks since he'd last seen his brother, Dean hadn't watched his father do anything consistently except drink and hunt.

"It's a chupacabra," Dean said unnecessarily. "Bastard's not going down easy."

John pivoted to face him, somehow maintaining his balance in the increasing ferocity of the rushing water. "Which is exactly why we come at it from both sides, fill it with silver, end of story. You got me?"

Dean swallowed, backed down more by the flinty glare in his father's dark eyes than the bite at the end of each word.

"I got you."

John's nod indicated he accepted Dean's words as submission, and he flicked the tip of his pistol to the right. Dean squared his shoulders, then crossed in front of his father, making his way through the wash of water, around a cluster of mesquite trees. The creature was atop a rise—that was beginning to look like an island in the rising flood—feasting on what had once been a coyote.

It was mid-day, but the rain had turned the sky dark as quickly as it had churned the air into mud. He was forced to sluice water from his features twice before he could clearly make out the hunched form of the creature. Making sure he could see both the shadowed image of the chupacabra and the basic position of his father, Dean raised his weapon.

John would fire first, he knew. One second after John's shot, Dean would begin emptying his weapon into the body of the creature. He knew that even hampered by exhaustion, there was no better shot in the world than John Winchester.

The first shot cracked as loud as thunder, startling the creature and causing it to lift his head. Dean started firing and didn't let up until his hammer clicked on an empty round. The creature had fallen with the third shot. It had stopped screaming with the sixth. But he fired until his clip was empty.

"Dad!" Dean shouted, straightening.

"Clear!" John replied. "You good?"

"Yea—" Dean started to answer, but his words were cut short as a chunk of earth and rock broke free from the rise that held the chupacabra's body and tumbled through the flash flood directly at him.

On impulse, Dean tried to dodge to the side. The earth seemed to vanish beneath him and he went down hard, air tripping on itself in a rushed exodus from his lungs. The tumbling rock cracked against his head, snapping his neck back and to the right. With an instinctive gasp, Dean brought in a gulp of water, choking, as his vision went from dim to gray, and then faded to black as he was carried in a tangle of loose, uncooperative limbs through the flash flood and off into the desert.

As if suspended in a surreal fog, he felt his body catch and hold, the frigid rainwater slamming against him in a rush. As if he'd slipped his skin, Dean peered down at himself, watching with mild disinterest as a figure approached the edge of the newly-formed gully, dropped to its knees and reached for his body. His jacket had caught—miraculously—on the out flung branch of a mesquite tree; he saw himself hanging limp, buffeted by the water, as the figure wrapped strong fingers around his wrist and yanked.

With a sudden rush, he was back, his consciousness thrashing against the confines of the dark, desperate to surface.


He struggled to breathe, to cough. His lungs were thick, his body heavy.

"Don't… this…"

Words bobbed in his ears, slipping in and out of meaning. A flash of brilliant pain, white-hot and sudden, spread from the center of his chest to his sluggish limbs, pounding with ferocity through his head. Again. And again.

With a nauseating surge, the heaviness in his lungs exploded, raking his throat in its eagerness to escape. He gagged, desperate for air. Hands at his back turned him, helping him curl in on himself. He coughed, dragging in precious air, choking on it. Hands moved from his back to his neck, the shock of warmth on his cold skin sending shivers through his tortured system.

"Easy, just breathe, Dean."

The order was soft, almost gentle, with an undercurrent of trembling panic. It took him a moment to place the voice, to understand that the hands holding him together in this moment belonged to his father. John's hand skidded from his neck to grasp his face, turning him and encouraging him to open his eyes with repetitive, gentle strokes of his thumb across the plains of his cheeks.

"You with me, Son?"

Dean opened his mouth to reply and ended up doubling over in ragged coughs once more. His chest and throat were lit with pain and he felt himself groan from the inside out. The rain pelted mercilessly down and he felt John shift his body closer. He found himself unable to resist, unable to move. He was tucked up against his father's chest, his head resting on John's collar bone, his father's hands holding him still.

"You're okay," he heard his father repeating. "You're okay, Son. I gotcha… I gotcha."

Dean nodded against his father's chest, torn skin at his temple pulling as it rubbed on the material of John's coat. He lifted a weighted hand and clumsily patted his father's arm, trying to reassure him and keep him close—for just another moment—with the same motion. He felt John take a shuddering breath, felt the impact of his father's heart against his body, and was released.

"You think you can stand?" John asked, not quite looking at him.

Dean felt John's focus begin to stray, now that the immediate danger was past. Afraid that speaking would bring on another round of rib-cracking coughs, he simply nodded. John stood, mud pulling at his sodden jeans with a shucking sound. He reached down for Dean's arm, gripping it just below the elbow, and pulled.

Dean knew he was no light weight. Sam had overtaken him in height when his brother was sixteen, but Dean's six-foot frame was lean muscle and solidly built. Coupled with rain-soaked clothes and clay-like mud, Dean expected that lifting him would take effort.

Yet John did so with a quick, hefty jerk, bouncing Dean to his feet as if he were no more significant than a feather. The moment his father released him, however, the storm-darkened world dimmed further and tilted sideways. Dean felt himself sway and was at a loss as to how to find balance.

"Whoa, there, Son," John rumbled, catching him and immediately returning his hand to Dean's arm, lifting it and dropping it easily across his shoulders. Dean was the almost the same size as his father, but he never doubted who of the two was stronger.

"Let's get you back to the truck."

"Dad—" he started, unable to finish as words were swallowed by coughing and the rage of the storm. He shot his eyes toward the barely-visible rise where he'd last seen the chupacabra, unwilling to be taken to safety when the job wasn't finished.

"I'll come back for the 'cabra," John assured him.

Dean resorted to his functional-mute impression and without further protest allowed his father to haul him up the mud-slicked trail along the rain-washed gully, past the matted heap that was the dead chupacabra, through the small thicket of mesquites, and to the waiting black truck. They'd left the Impala at the motel for this hunt, and for once, Dean was glad she wasn't there. He'd never have been able to drive her feeling like this.

John propped Dean up against the truck bed and opened the passenger door. Dean waved off the helping hand and climbed clumsily into the truck, pressing a hand against his sternum and dragging in a relieved, ragged breath at being free of the constant rain.

"I'll be back," John said, clapping a hand on the now-soaked door panel.

"You think… can haul… it—" Dean attempted, his voice barely present even to his own ears. He looked at John squarely in the eyes, needing to know that his father would be okay.

"Don't worry about it, Dean," John reached out and clapped a hand on his arm, splashing water from the fabric with the motion. "I'll just have Sam—"

John stopped, his voice choking off as if an invisible hand suddenly wrapped around his throat. If Dean hadn't been staring straight at him, he didn't think he would have caught the quick, devastated flash of pure pain that shot through John's dark eyes. Dean didn't speak—couldn't speak.

John's mouth worked silently as the lost words scrambled to reassemble themselves and return to the surface in an order that both could bear to hear.

"I'll bury it," he amended. "Gotta hide it for now. We'll come back when the rain stops to burn it."

"Head," Dean reminded him, pushing the word out with effort, wanting volume behind it. I didn't forget, Dad. I'm still in this fight.

John's mouth quirked into a quick, surprised grin. "I'll cut it off," he said, shaking his head. "Who do you think you're talking to here?"

Dean leaned his head back and closed his eyes. When his door didn't immediately shut, he opened one eye, rolling it in the direction of the opening with a raised eyebrow. John was looking at him, hair matted to his head, water running in a finger-thick river from a twisted point in his tangled beard. Dean lifted his head from the seat, ready to pull his shivering body from the cab of the truck and follow his father back into the storm.

John nodded once, as if deciding something, then stepped back, shutting the door and closing Dean into the safety of the interior.


His drill Sergeant during basic training had a voice that banged against the air like a gavel, deep but with an undercurrent that warned of dire circumstances should anyone step out of line. That man had died over twenty years ago, but John still heard him. He heard the snap of twisted-off words every time he let one of his sons down.

Slogging back through the mud toward the lump of chupacabra, shovel from the bed of his truck doubling as a pick axe, pulling his body through the muck, he allowed himself exactly five minutes to think of all the ways this could have gone wrong; by the time he returned to Dean, this misstep would be as buried as the chupacabra.

What if I hadn't found him? What if that branch hadn't caught him? What if I couldn't get him breathing again? What if I'd lost him? What if I'd lost him? What if I'd lost him?

His stomach had disappeared the moment he'd seen the flying rock take Dean's feet out from under him. When his son went down, carried away by the rushing water, all John could do for one long heartbeat was stare.

If Sam had been there, John knew, Dean would have been in a different position. If Sam had been there, they would have attacked with a different plan. And neither of his boys would have been standing in a gully. Neither of them would have—

Winchester! The drill Sergeant bellowed, the voice loud even in the cacophony of the desert storm. Suck. It. Up. Soldier! You have a job to do! Focus on the job!

Curling his trembling hand into a fist he took a steadying breath, then shoved the blade of the shovel into the saturated earth near the base of the mesquite trees Dean had been standing behind. The mud was heavy, his motions hampered by the pull of his wet clothes and the weight of his heart.

He couldn't lose Dean. He wouldn't. The very idea was unacceptable. He'd failed with Sam. Lord knows how many ways he'd failed his youngest. Enough so that Sam had left them. Turned his back on his family.

But Dean hadn't. Dean was his constant. I should tell him that, John thought, panting from his efforts as he shoved the body of the chupacabra into the hole to hide it until the rains subsided. One day I'll tell him that.

Just before he dumped the first shovel of mud back over the body, he stopped short, hearing his son's voice, seeing the pain-heavy eyes flash at him.


"Son of a fuckin' bitch," John growled, irritation with himself making his motions clumsy. He pulled the six-inch Bowie knife he'd seen Dean eyeing with lust on more than one occasion free from its back sheath. Gripping the matted, wet fur of the chupacabra's head, he hacked three times, severing its connection to the body and sending a strange gasp of released power back into the universe.

Tossing the head aside, knowing he'd have to dig a separate hole, he set about burying the body, feeling time tick by, thinking of Dean's injuries, needing to get back to him. There was nothing in his life more terrifying than seeing one of his sons bleeding. Dean wasn't meant to be limp, swaying, flinching in pain. He was built for survival, for fighting. His son was a soldier.

Because I made him one.

The hunt finished for now, John trudged tiredly back to his truck, tossing the shovel into the bed as he made his way around to the driver's side. When he opened the door, he felt a pang of dismay at the sight of Dean slumped sideways in the seat, blood trailing down the side of his face, his lips parted to release raspy breaths.

"Dean," John said, closing the door behind him and shutting out the storm.

Dean didn't stir.

"Dammit." John turned on the truck, then flicked the dome light, reaching for his son.

Dean's skin was still cold. John shoved him upright in the seat, gently lifting his eyelid to check his pupils. At the touch of his hands, Dean twitched, turning his face away with a groan.



"Dean," John barked, ignoring the sharp hiss of pain that flashed through his heart at the sound of that name. That name in Dean's ragged voice. "Open your eyes, Son."

Dean's lashes had gathered into small triangles with the water, stirring John's heart with nostalgia, remembering his son at four, at eight, at ten. Wondering when he was truly last a child. He watched Dean's eyes roll under his closed lids, fighting as always to do as ordered.

"Dean." John tapped his cheek gently, exhaling in relief as Dean finally won the internal battle and opened his eyes, blinking owlishly back at him.


"Hey," John replied, tipping his chin up in a greeting. "Sleepin' on the job?" John held his son's face easily in one hand.

"Just… restin'…"

"How many fingers, Dean?" John held up two fingers in front of Dean's face.

"Peace," Dean muttered. "I'm fine, Dad."

"Yeah, well, you're bleeding all over the inside of my truck."

"Least it isn't the Impala," Dean said, straightening slightly.

His voice had regained some strength and while there was still a catch in it, John didn't hear the liquid rasp that had chilled his heart earlier. Staring at him a moment longer, John mentally flipped a coin: hospital or motel?

"Get on back to the motel," Dean grumbled, groaning as he reached up to tenderly probe his head wound.

"Take it easy there, hero." John lifted an eyebrow, trying to tough-guy his son into focusing. "You're not hurt bad enough to cry about it."

"That water was damn cold," Dean mumbled, wincing as he pulled away blood-smeared fingers.

"I don't think you have a concussion," John said, latent worry vocalizing itself in a gruff bark.

"I don't," Dean sighed, rolling his neck. "I've had enough to know the difference."

John turned to face his steering wheel, twisting the keys to engage the engine and tugging the gear down into drive.

"Hey, Dad?"


Dean dropped his head back on the seat as if it were made of whisper-thin glass. "Thanks."

John didn't reply. He tightened his jaw, pulling away from the clearing. He registered Dean flattening his hands on the seat and the door to steady his body as the truck rocked and rumbled across the terrain, but he didn't slow.

They drove in silence—mostly because John simply hadn't thought to turn on the radio. Mentally prioritizing tomorrow's mission—including returning to unbury and burn the body and head of the chupacabra—John ignored any slight hisses or groans that came from the passenger seat. Putting his children in danger had been the nature of the game, and he'd done his level best to keep them from the worst of it.

But Dean was twenty-two, now; by his age, John had survived grueling months in the jungle dodging bullets and sickness until he'd been able to return home to Mary. He'd been married by the time he was Dean's age. He'd been years away from being a father, but he'd known what it was like to owe his life to someone.

Dean knew the dangers of hunting. He knew the risks and the rewards. He knew why they did what they did. He glanced over quickly when Dean coughed once, working more fluid from his lungs. Clenching his jaw, not allowing himself to think, he curled his hands tightly around the steering wheel.

He'd raised his boy to be a soldier, and he was a damn good one. The thing that scared him, that kept him up at night, that kept him from looking at himself in the mirror, was that he knew—better than anyone—that soldiers die. And the way they lived, he would probably end up picking which field of battle took his son.

Swallowing the bile that rose at that thought, John slid the big truck into a parking spot next to the Impala, turned off the engine, and exited, slamming his door behind him. Without checking on Dean, he stomped up to the motel room door and pulled out the room key.

"No, no, I'm okay," Dean called out with mock-sincerity. "You go ahead, Dad. I got this."

John shot a look over his shoulder, his brows pulled together in a reflection of his dark mood, and watched as Dean slipped from the truck, shutting the door slowly behind him. His light-brown hair was plastered to his head, making his eyes seem impossibly large. Rain began washing the gore from his face as he made his way in a slow, sore gait toward the room.

"Get inside," John sighed.

"Why didn't I think of that?"

John gave his son a light shove on the shoulder as he crossed his path. "That rock didn't knock the smart ass outta you, that's for sure."

Dean groaned as he shrugged out of his wet jacket. "Gonna take a lot more than a monsoon to get rid of that, old man."

"Still young enough to teach you a thing or two," John grumbled automatically, shucking his own jacket and toeing off his boots. "Grab a shower, get warm, then I'll stitch you up."

"Yes, Sir," Dean agreed, squishing in sock-covered feet toward the bathroom, leaving wet footprints in his wake.

John watched until his son closed the bathroom door behind him, then stripped out of his soaked clothes. Draping them over the already-ruined wooden chairs, he pulled a cigarette-smoke scented pillowcase free and toweled his body with the thin material, then tugged on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt with three burn-holes in it. He fingered the holes idly, unable to recall exactly what had occurred to put them there.

He reached into his bag and pulled their med kit free, popping the lid open just as Dean stepped from the steam-filled bathroom, a white towel knotted at his waist. John started to glance up and order his son to get dressed and sit down when his eyes caught on a yellow, folded piece of notebook paper tucked into the lid of the kit.

"What's that?" Dean asked, his teeth chattering as he hurried toward his duffel to grab some warm clothes.

John just shook his head, pulling the paper free and unfolding it. He blinked.

It was a list.

In Sam's handwriting.

Like a kick to the ribs, John's breath vanished and he missed his youngest son with pain so bright he couldn't pull anything in to replace the air. He was so damn angry with the kid. Angry that their lives—the life he'd made for his boys—hadn't been what Sam wanted. That they hadn't been what Sam wanted. He felt betrayed and forsaken and regretful and it all twisted inside of him until it coalesced into anger.

He saw the paper begin to shake, unable to connect that tremble with the sudden tremor in his hands.

"Dad?" Dean's voice was suddenly tight, his head barely poked through his T-shirt, blood from the cut on his head smearing the collar. "What is it?"

John couldn't answer. He dropped the paper and stepped back until the backs of his legs hit the edge of the bed. His stomach had turned to ice and was churning, cutting him up inside. With burning eyes, he watched as Dean picked up the paper and frowned at the contents.

"It's an inventory," he said. "Sutures, bandages, antibiotic cream, needles, tweezers, pain meds… he inventoried our supplies."

John forced himself to blink. In his mind, a voice was rolling like a record played too slow. Dean looked over at him.

"Did you know he did this?"

John wordlessly shook his head, eyes on his son.

Dean's mouth twitched into a half-smile and his eyes softened. With his feet bare, his jeans sitting low on his hips, his T-shirt slightly askew, and his short hair scuffed around his head in tufts, his son looked like a teenager, not a battle-hard warrior. The only thing marring the effect was a thin trickle of blood slowly crawling down the side of his face.

"He's always so paranoid about us getting hurt—"

"Was," John interrupted, the tremble in his voice shaming him.

"Huh?" Dean looked up at him, confused.

"Was paranoid."

Dean drew his head back. "Dad, Sam didn't die. He's just at school."

John felt emotion seep from his eyes, felt it drain from his face, leaving curious pin-pricks of pain behind. He looked at his oldest and felt a chill settle in his bones as Dean reacted to his expression with something like fear.

"He left us, Dean," John said coldly. "He made that choice."

"So what? He's dead to you now?" Dean lifted an eyebrow, flinching as the motion pulled at the cut on his head. "That's a little too Corleone, even for you."

John stepped forward swiftly, causing Dean to stumble back a step in surprise.

"I gave him a choice," John stated, pushing Dean down into the last available chair not covered with John's wet clothes. "And he left. Now, sit down."

John watched Dean's eyes dart away, his lips pulling in tight against his teeth. He reached for the antiseptic and suture supplies, hearing Dean mutter something in a low voice as he sank into a chair.

"What was that, son?" he all but growled.

Dean looked at him, rebellion turning his green eyes murky. "I said, it wasn't much of a choice."

John felt his heart slam, once, twice, hard against his ribs. Like a thunderstorm in his mind, he felt the same swift flash of terror that had swept over him when Dean had been washed away so quickly by the flood. If he lost Dean, he'd have nothing left. If he lost Dean, he'd lose himself.

As he stood looking down at Dean's angry eyes, he saw the very real possibility of losing his son not to a hunt, but to a different life. To a normal life. Just as he'd lost Sam. He had to curb this. Now.

"We're done with this conversation," John said, his voice steady as he wet a cotton swab with antiseptic and dabbed it on the one-inch gash on Dean's forehead.

"Oh, so we're just… never going to talk about him again?" Dean said, hissing as the liquid burned into the exposed flesh.

"I'm not debating this with you, Dean." John threaded a needle and leaned forward. Close ranks, Winchester! Do not let him call you out. You are in charge here.

Dean caught his arm at the wrist, forcing him to look down. "You can turn your back on him if you want, Dad. But he's my brother."

John didn't move, didn't flinch, allowed Dean to keep his hand on his wrist, and repeated in measured tones, "We're done with this conversation, Dean. Is that clear?"

A muscle in Dean's jaw coiled and twisted like a live thing, but his eyes flattened, the fight gone out of him. "Yes, sir," he spat, dropping his hand and holding himself completely still.

John sewed his son's forehead with slow, careful strokes, trying to quell the jump in his gut each time the needle pierced Dean's skin.


She had blue eyes. Husky-blue. The dark hair she absentmindedly twisted between two fingers as she talked to him set her eyes off with startling clarity.

Dean watched her talk, taking in the way her lips wrapped around the words, closing smoothly over white teeth and tugging slightly at the corners when she would infuse humor into her speech. He'd stopped listening about ten minutes ago, but liked the hum the rhythm of her voice played on his ears and the way she put her whole body into what she was saying.

Her eyes seemed to dance a bit and he took that as his cue to tip his chin up and offer her a half-grin in agreement. The bar had gradually filled with the late-evening drinkers, but the girl—Maria? Marta?—hadn't budged from his side since he'd dropped on the stool next to hers and offered to buy her a drink.

Two pints and three shots of Jack later, they'd moved from the bar stools to a booth in the back corner and she was tucked up against his side—his arm slung across the back of the faux-leather seat—telling him her life's story. The liquor sat warm in his belly, slipping through his system like soft gold, loosening his tight, sore muscles and making him twitch with a secret pleasure every time she shifted or tapped his thigh with darkly-painted nails.

Her eyes flicked to the butterfly-bandaged cut on his forehead and he tipped his head to the side to offer her a better look. The skin was bruised, but his Dad had pulled the stitches free just before they'd left Arizona. Since Sam had left, he and John hadn't stayed in one place more than three days—just long enough to find the hunt that brought them there, take care of the piece of shit, partially heal up from anything that needed healing, and then hit the road.

Dean was tired.

They were now in Washington state, but damned if he could remember the town. It was near the ocean, he knew that much. And he was in the same time-zone as his brother. In some weird way, it made him feel closer.

Goddamn, I miss you Sammy.

"Hey, there," the girl said, pausing long enough in her monologue to actually see him. She traced a cool finger down the side of his face, stopping short of his lips. "You okay? You look… sad."

Banishing true emotion from his eyes was simple. He'd learned from a master architect how to swiftly construct interior walls of protection. Tipping the corner of his mouth up in a grin he knew would make her knees disappear, he caught her chin with his thumb and the bend of his forefinger.

"I'm good, sweetheart," he said softly. "How could I not be, with you here beside me?"

She blushed and he found he liked the color on her porcelain cheeks.

"I've been talking your ear off." She looked down at her hand resting on the top of his thigh. His belly caught fire in a nice, slow burn as she slid her fingers down to the inseam of his jeans, then inched her hand up toward his crotch. "Must be boring you to tears."

"Oh," Dean said, shifting slightly so that he wouldn't embarrass himself. "I wouldn't say that."

She looked over her shoulder, as if suddenly registering the gathering crowd. "You… wanna dance or something?"

The jukebox in the corner had been playing a mix of old-school rock and blue-grass country. At her words, he lifted his head and picked up Bob Seger's Night Moves.

"Not much of a dancer," he said, watching the eclectic mix of people bouncing off of each other on the dance floor.

"I could," she swallowed, turning to face him, her striking blue eyes large in the dimly-lit corner. "I could teach you," she finished, catching her bottom lip in her teeth, her eyes on his mouth.

He wanted to inhale her. Pull her in, kiss her breathless, have her limp and willing and ready to let him bury himself inside of her where, for a few minutes of numb-headed bliss, he could forget about Sam and Dad and hunting and evil and pain. He could just be a guy fucking a girl and having a good time.

But this one, he knew, was going to take timing.

When Seger faded and Dean heard the first chords of Bad Company's little played Don't Let Me Down, he let his mouth relax into a full smile. Bad Company had always been his pinch-hitter in these situations.

"All right, sweetheart," he said, liking the way she seemed to melt into his smile. "Show me what you got."

She slipped from the booth, catching his hand in hers and tugging him along behind her. He followed her lead to the edge of the small, sawdust-covered dance floor, then watched her eyes widen in delighted surprise when he rested his hand on the small of her back, pulling her up close to him, and tucked her other hand up against his chest, wrapping his fingers around hers.

As music filled the space around them, erasing the other people in the bar, he narrowed his focus to the girl in his arms, curled his shoulders in, dropped his chin, and surrounded her. She melded her body to his, her mouth at his neck, her lips slightly parted so that he could feel the warm exhale of air on his throat.

He liked that he didn't know her name. He liked that he didn't know if she was older or younger than him. He liked that she fit against him and that her skin warmed at his touch when he skipped his fingers along her bare arms. He liked that she hadn't asked about his bruises or what he did for a living. He liked that he hadn't listened to a word she'd said.

She could be anyone. He could be no one. And it all fit in his mind as something he could use in the moment and guiltlessly release when they were done. And it didn't matter that Sam hadn't called him back. Or at all. And it didn't matter that he'd found his father passed out twice in the last three weeks. And it didn't matter that they hadn't been able to stop moving. That his dad hadn't been able to stop moving.

For this moment, he wasn't a hunter or a fighter. He didn't know what lurked in the dark. He wasn't vigilant in his wariness or suspicious of each encounter. He was just a guy on a dance floor with a girl in his arms.

Sometimes the night was the toughest part of the day. He'd learned young that the arms of a willing woman were the perfect hiding place when he had no choices left. As he swayed with her, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, scuffing the soles of his boots in a small, slow circle, he pulled in her scent: tangy, but sweet.

The song reached its end and the first chords of AC/DC's Shook Me All Night Long had the bar whooping with toasts and an exchange of dancers. Dean stood still, the blue-eyed girl held gently in his arms, and waited, breath held.

"You wanna get out of here?" she whispered.

His smile was immediate and sunny. He turned the wattage up a notch when he saw her eyes dilate in reaction. "Absolutely." He let the word roll out over his teeth and slip inside her, slowly.

They paused at the back table to grab their jackets—autumn in the Pacific Northwest was somewhat unforgiving—and Dean dropped some money on the table to cover their tab. He held her hand loosely in his as he led her to the Impala, parked in the back of the lot under cover of darkness for ease of escape, if necessary.

He was busy calculating exactly how long his dad might be away from their room as he unlocked the passenger door for her. Before he could reach a conclusion, however, the girl gripped him by the shoulders and pushed, hard, unbalancing him and sending him sprawling across the bench seat.

His first instinctive thought was succubus, until the girl breathlessly laughed and climbed in after him.

"I've always wanted to see if I could pull off the rough stuff," she said.

Dean swallowed his knee-jerk reaction, silently cursing the life that had him seeing evil in the innocent. He pulled his legs in, tipping her forward onto his chest with the motion and pulled the door closed with the toe of his boot, trapping their passion-heated air in the confines of the car.

"You don't want the rough stuff," he said.

"Oh, I don't?" she replied, coyly.

Dean shook his head, wrapping his arms around her slim body and turning her, grinning around the quick gasp she let out in surprise.

"No," he asserted, his mouth less than an inch from hers, "you don't."

"What do I want, then?" she asked, and he smelled the whiskey on her breath, felt her press up against him in an instinctive, primal arch.

Dean licked his lips, letting his grin turn her soft and pliant in his grasp, and then took her mouth with his. He was slow at first, gentle in his touch, but at her whimper pressed harder, dove deeper, and let himself taste her. She clutched at his shoulders, wrapping a leg around his, tightening her muscles to pull him closer.

He slipped a hand up along her ribs, lightly touching her breast until she moved a hand from his shoulders to his hair and tugged in a wordless bid for action. He'd just begun to pull her shirt loose from her jeans when his phone rang. He jerked back, surprised.

"Son of a…"

"Wh-what's that?" she gasped, her lips swollen from his kisses.

"My damn phone," he grumbled, digging it out of his jacket pocket.

"Don't—" she started to plead, but he was already flipping it open, having seen the name Dad highlighted in the window on the front of his phone.

"Yeah?" he said, his voice flat.

"Dean? Get back here," John snapped. "Talked to a source. Found out what's killing those kids."

"You need me right now?"

"Yes, right now." John's voice was clipped and in no mood to negotiate. "We've got work to do."

Dean bit back a sigh. "Gimme twenty."

"You got ten," John replied, waiting on Dean's reply of, "Yes, Sir," before cutting off their connection.

The blue-eyed girl was still beneath him, sensing, it seemed, that the heat had been lost from their stolen moment.

"You gotta go?"

Dean closed his phone, tucking it back into his jacket pocket, and nodded.

"Work?" She guessed.

Sighing, Dean rolled off of her, balanced on the edge of the seat, allowing her to pull her legs close in a more modest position. "More like… family business."

She nodded. "You coming by later?" she asked hopefully.

Dean rolled his bottom lip against his teeth. "Maybe. You gonna be around?"

Her lips were losing their puffy, just-been-kissed appearance and looked thinner somehow when she smiled. "Maybe."

Dean looked at her, full-on, capturing those wolf-like eyes with his. Reaching out impulsively, he cupped the back of her neck and tugged her mouth to his, closing his eyes as he let himself taste once more. Mouth still close to hers he relaxed his grip, saying, "Thanks for the dance."

"Uh…" she breathed out shakily. "You're… welcome."

Dropping his hand, he waited until she slid from the car through the driver's side door, straightened her clothes, shook out her tangled hair, and walked alone back to the bar. He kept his eyes on her until she went through the entrance unharmed, then fired up the Impala.

"Whatever you've got planned, Dad," he muttered, twisting the wheel in a tight, tire-squealing arc, "there'd better be time for a damn cold shower."


Dean slammed through the door, pinned an expressively irritated look on his father as he shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it on a vacant chair, then made a bee-line to the bathroom. John kept his mouth closed, but couldn't hide his smirk of humor when he heard the shower water turn on and the stream of colorful swear words that bounced around the tiled walls.

Brinnon was a small coastal town. Their usual motels weren't available to them with this hunt, and John had to make an exception when he'd found them a home base. The room he'd secured for them had felt a bit extravagant with separate bedrooms and bathrooms connected by a common living space with a small kitchenette. They hadn't had separate rooms since the little house he'd been renting when Sam had decided to leave. He had to admit, though, that getting some space was probably for the best; they'd been living practically on top of each other for nearly a month now.

He'd put the room on a little-used credit card under the name of Elroy MacGillicuddy—a name Dean had selected and submitted before John was able to clip the application—knowing the limit was low, but anticipating they'd be moving on inside of the week. It was one of his few fake cards that shared a name of fake insurance and he didn't like to use it too often in case those that paid attention to such things were able to find a trail of fraud. After eighteen years living under the radar, he'd picked up a few habits that had kept him from jail and his sons away from Social Services.

Dean's leather jacket—John's old coat—held the smell of whiskey and cigarettes and John knew his son had been desperately searching for some downtime when he'd called him back. Dean needed something to pull his mind from the hunt. Something to ground him, remind him why they lived the way they did.

Especially now. Now that Sam wasn't here. Now that Dean's purpose—the purpose John had instilled in him—was gone.

Logic bade John do the same, but the need to forget, the drive to keep regret at bay, pushed him to keep moving. And though he'd never confess as much to Dean, he understood Sam's need for normal all-too well. He'd had his own version of normal now and then when he'd left the boys for a job. There were times when he'd just let himself pretend that he'd saved the day, let her thank him in that way unique to women, and then use her to fill himself back up.

But he always came back. He never left his boys for long.

While Dean…showered…John continued to fit iron slugs into the brass jackets of the rifle bullets. Shotguns weren't going to work for this hunt, and the handgun bullets were too small for the slugs. Iron was the main repellent and he knew that if either he or Dean got too close to this mother, they'd be broken like a pretzel.

Dean finally re-emerged, dressed, his hair glistening wet and spiked as he rubbed a small towel over his head.

"Okay," Dean growled, irritably. "What's so damned important?"

John's head snapped up. "Sorry if your date got interrupted," his voice rich with sarcasm, "but in case you forgot, we have a job to do."

John knew Dean was tired, frustrated... hurting. They both were. But when had their timing ever been good?

"How could I forget, Dad?" Dean yelled, his voice angry. He threw the wet towel into the corner with enough force that it hit the wall with a splat. "You never let me!"

"Hey!" John shot back. "I don't like your tone. You better re-think it damn quick."

"Dad, since Sam left, all we've done is hunt. Day after fuckin' day!"

John stood, heart pounding in a dizzying combination of fear and anger. "You don't like it?" He paused for a heartbeat. "Then leave."

"What?" Dean blinked, blindsided by the word, settling his stance in what appeared to be an unconscious balance for understanding. "I'm not leaving," he said, his voice hushed with confusion.

John tossed a rifle bullet onto the table next to a stack of weapons. "You better be sure."

Dean's lips tightened. "I haven't quit you yet."

"No," John bobbed his head, conceding that point. "But frankly, I'm up to here with you pining for your brother all the time. Get over it."

"Oh, and you're not pining for your son?" Dean challenged, his eyes snapping.

John's gut twisted; Dean had his mother's eyes. Hers would look just like that moments before she let fly. And his girl was a scrapper. He didn't know where she'd learned it, but Mary could fight and he learned to respect her strength, her logic, and her passion.

"You gonna stand there and tell me that this doesn't feel wrong to you?" Dean waved his hand in the air between them. "We're a family, Dad. Going full-bore like we have been… without Sam… it's…"

John's fist curled instinctively, but he forced himself to stand still when he saw Dean's shoulders tighten in reaction. He'd never hit his sons—not once—and he was damn-sure not about to start now. Forcing himself to take a breath, he turned and reached for the half-empty bottle of Jim Beam that he'd set on the dresser. The whiskey felt warm and familiar in his belly and he took another sip before setting down the bottle and facing Dean once more.

To his surprise, Dean had turned away and was gripping the back of the chair closest to the weapon-laden table, his knuckles white, his head down.

"Why can't you just admit that you—"

"That what? I was wrong? That what you want me to say?" John roared, pulling Dean's surprised gaze to him as he exploded. "Goddammit, Dean, I did the best I could. I tried to protect him from this as long as possible. But you know why he had to be a part of it. He knows. And he turned his back on us. I told him to choose, and he chose to leave!"

Dean blinked at him as John dragged in a rough breath, working to steady his shaking hands.

"I was just gonna say," Dean said softly, "why can't you admit that you miss him?"

John closed his eyes, then ran a hand down his face, pulling gently on his beard. He opened his eyes and looked at Dean silently.

"But you just can't do that, can you?" Dean said, bitterness lacing his words with sarcasm. "You do that, and he wins. This is all just some big soldier-game to you, isn't it? You're the general, we're your soldiers, and Sam went AWOL. So screw him."

Feeling the burn of tears spark up at his son's tone, John looked away, picking up the Jim Beam and dropping down in an empty chair facing the weapons. "Yeah," he said dully, grasping any reason to stop fighting. Didn't matter if it was true or not. "Yeah, that's pretty much it."

Dean thunked the chair he'd been gripping against the table and turned away. After a moment, his back still facing his father, he said, "So what about me, then?"

"Well, that depends on you, Son."

"Depends on me, how?"

"You have the same choice," John said, knowing he was lying, knowing his words were hollow even as he said them. "You in or out, here? 'Cause me? I got a job to do."

He spoke toward the table, unwilling to even catch Dean's tight shoulders in his periphery, hating himself more with every word. "I'm gonna find out what killed your mother and I'm going to make that sonuvabitch suffer. And in the meantime, I'm taking out as many of these evil bastards as I can. You want to be a part of that, you throw it in with me now."

Dean's shoulders drew tight as his eyes filled.

"You want out?" John continued, his stomach on fire. "Want a normal life? Want to be safe? Empty out the Impala's trunk and get moving."

The room was silent for a moment and John felt his son's heartbeat. Felt the truth resting between them like a third party in the room. The truth screaming at him that Dean had never had a choice. From the moment he'd placed baby Sam in Dean's arms and ordered him out of their burning house, his eldest son's fate had been set. And the kid had spent the last eighteen years of his life fighting the good fight, protecting his brother, taking care of his father—doing the job.

It was one thing, John knew, to realize this truth, quite another to understand it, and almost impossible to outwardly appreciate it. He knew he'd told Dean that he'd done a good job. He knew he'd thanked him a time or two. When he'd been very young, John had told his son that he loved him. But he'd never once told Dean how proud he was. How much he respected this kid for the man he'd become—for being a better man than he'd ever be.

As Dean turned to face him, his eyes large and wet, his face drawn, his lips tight, John knew he was sealing his son's fate for life in this moment.

"So, uh," Dean said, clearing his throat and blinking back emotion that had risen to the surface, unbidden. "What's this kid-killing thing called?"

John mentally closed his eyes and took a breath, relief he would never show pouring through him, thankful that they were back on even ground, that they could focus on the job, and not on what was tearing them both up inside. He covered the moment by taking another sip from the bottle before twisting on the cap and setting it aside.

"It's called a Kappa," John said. He picked up a throwing knife lying on the table along with an oilstone and slid the blade along the stone's surface just to have something to do with his hands.

"Sounds like a sorority," Dean said, and with his quip, John felt the tension not so much leave the air as feeling it put away, even if just temporarily. Dean reached out and hefted John's Bowie, balancing the blade on his finger tip.

John lifted an eyebrow, tossing a side-long glance at Dean. "It's a Japanese water spirit."

"Japanese?" Dean asked, his eyebrows up. "Kinda geographically confused, isn't it?"

John shrugged, sliding the iron bullets into the breechblock of one of the two rifles stacked on the table. "Washington's on the Pacific coast. Not like spirits are bound by borders."

"Think someone summoned it?"

John shrugged. "Maybe. Could be it hitched a ride with a fishing trolley. I don't give a damn. All I know is, it's here, and it's killed four kids already."

"So," Dean set the Bowie down. "How does it kill?"

"Drowns its victims."

"Then what?" Dean frowned. "Eats them?"

John shook his head, setting down one rifle and picking up the other. "Not entirely. Mostly drains their blood and goes after the, uh…"

Dean looked at him. "What? Hearts?"

"Soft tissues," John said, curling his lip up in distaste as he thought of the coroner's report he'd reviewed of the latest victim. The child's eyes had been missing, as if sucked clean from his skull.

Dean grimaced. "Well that's… gross. How do we kill it?"

"There's a… bone-like growth filled with water on its head. When the basin is dry, it dies. So, we keep it on land long enough so that it suffocates on air."

Dean frowned. "That sounds too easy."

John picked up his journal and opened it to his latest entry. "Well, Joshua—"


John looked at his son. "Friend of mine."

"Friend?" Dean formed the word as if he didn't understand the meaning.

"Hunter friend," John clarified. "He did some digging and said these bastards are known for their bone-breaking skill."

"Oh, great," Dean rolled his eyes. "We're going up against some kung-fu water spirit that we have to trap on land. This is going to be super fun."

"It has an aversion to iron," John continued, reading his notes. "And, it uh…"

"What? Likes moonlit walks? Is allergic to shellfish? What?"

John clapped the journal closed, tossing his son a deadpan glance. "It looks like a man-sized, upright turtle."

Dean blinked at him. "We're going after a Japanese Mutant Ninja Turtle?"

John finished loading the second rifle, set it down, and then twisted off the cap from the whiskey. "Basically, yeah."

"So where's this Joshua dude?" Dean asked. "Or, hell, any other hunters for that matter? Sounds like more than a two-man job, Dad."

John just shook his head. When he'd first found out about hunters—how they lived, how they killed, how they died—he promised himself that with the exception of a few he was going to keep his sons away from their kind. Hunters by and large were a dangerous, desperate lot. They'd seen the darkness in the world and it had changed them. It turned them. They became part of the shadows, willing to do whatever they deemed necessary to get the job done.

He'd seen soldiers like that in Vietnam. Those that had been in country too long, who had lost their compass and had turned to the gray of the world to fight the evils they saw. In their effort to win, they'd made compromises they never thought they'd make, and lost pieces of themselves along the way. John was not about to let that happen to Dean and Sam. Not while he was around.

His boys were soldiers, but they were good men. They would stand in the light and judge the dark. There would be no gray area. No modification. Evil was evil, end of story. Bobby Singer, Jim Murphy, and Caleb were the extent of his allowances for the boys' network. Everyone else he kept at bay.

"We don't need any other hunters," John answered.

Dean sighed. "We're tired, Dad," he said softly.

The way his boy spoke the confession—including John in the configuration—caught him. John looked over, quiet, waiting.

"We are," Dean continued. "We haven't stopped, not for longer than a day. I'm hurting, I know you're hurting. And—"

John watched him swallow Sam's name.

"I just think we could use some back-up. We've gotten used to fighting as three."

"I used to fight as one," John reminded him.

"I've been hunting with you since I was twelve, Dad."

"Fourteen," John corrected.

Dean shook his head. "That spirit back in Knoxville? In the old hotel?" He reminded his dad.

"You were twelve?"

Dean nodded.

"Ten years, huh?" John tilted his head, looking at his son with appreciation. "Well, then, you know we got this."

Dean licked his lips, fingering the Bowie once more. "You got all the research on it? I mean, are you full-on ready?"

"Your brother isn't the only one who can work a laptop, Dean," John scoffed.

"Yeah, I know," Dean said, adding somewhat reluctantly, "but he also took it with him."

John arched an eyebrow. "There's a library three blocks from that bar you went to tonight."

Dean dropped his shoulders, looking sheepish. "Oh."

John clapped the tips of his fingers on the table, leaning forward. "We're gonna be okay, Dean. We just keep doing what we do—saving people. Hunting things. We have ourselves a family business."

"Yeah, I know," Dean nodded. "You taking the Bowie?"

John's lips quirked. "Tell you what. You carry it for this hunt."

"Yeah?" Dean flipped the blade in his hand.

John smiled at the eagerness in his son's voice. "Yeah. Now, get geared up. I have a plan, but we have to get some things first."

"Yes, Sir."


"Lonely is the night when you find yourself alone. Your demons come to light and your mind is not your own…"

Dean in the driver's seat of a darkened Impala, the keys turned to the first catch, triggering the battery and allowing him to sink into the guitar riffs, fingers tapping out the beat on the inside curve of the steering wheel.

"Lonely is the night when there's no one left to call. You feel the time is right, the writin's on the wall…"

He peered through the window, waiting for his father to emerge from the motel manager's office, wondering why they were taking one car—his car, no less—instead of the dual truck/car combination that had been serving them rather well over the last few years. John had tucked two Winchester 9422 rifles, loaded with the iron-tipped bullets Dean had seen, salt, and rope into the Impala's trunk on top of the meager supplies he had begun to store up on his own.

Telling Dean to pull the Impala into the shadow of a large birch tree, hiding it from the powerful security lights, John had slipped through the night and into a side door of the manager's office.

"What are you doing, Dad?" Dean muttered, narrowing his eyes and trying to see anything moving in the murk of darkness. Mid-October wind had turned the night from chilly to frigid between the time he'd left the bar and the lean hours of the morning.

When Dean saw his Dad emerge from the manager's office, he twisted the keys, starting up the Chevy with a low rumble. Then he saw the short figure jogging behind John, a dark hoodie covering its head.

"What the hell?" Dean muttered, reaching for his door handle just as John yanked open the rear passenger door.

A kid of about nine, with large, dark eyes, sleepy-looking, but excited about whatever adventure he believed himself to be on, stared back at him.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey," Dean replied, baffled, then looked over as his father slipped into the passenger seat.

"All right," John said, slightly winded from the quick jog and tension. "Head to the coordinates I gave you."

"Uhh… what's with the kid?" Dean jerked his thumb over his shoulder toward the back seat.

John didn't look at him, choosing instead to stare resolutely through the front window, rubbing his hands together to create friction-induced warmth. "I told you. I had to get a few things."

"I'm here to help, "the boy interjected.

Dean shot him a look, then forced himself to smile. "Thanks, kid. Uh, you think you can hang out here for a sec?"

"You gotta talk to the Sergeant?" the kid replied.

Dean lifted an eyebrow, sliding his eyes back to his father's profile. "Yeah," he said tightly. "I gotta talk to the Sergeant."

John looked at him then, the sarcasm in Dean's voice tripping a land mine of pride. "We got a job to do, Dean."

"Can I talk to you outside real quick?" Dean opened his door.

"No time." John shook his head.

Dean stepped out, then ducked his head into the interior of the car, missing its warmth almost immediately. "Make time," he said, slamming his door. He moved around to the hood of the car and rested his pockets just above the grill, waiting for his father.

After a few heartbeats, he heard the passenger door close and John made his way to the front of the car, facing Dean rather than sitting next to him.

"Well?" John flicked his fingers in the air between them. "You got something to say? Say it."

"We're not taking the kid," Dean declared.

"You want to trap this bastard? We need bait."

Dean jabbed his chin forward, dropping his voice, though he knew the kid couldn't hear them over the noise of the radio. "We'll find another way."

"There is no other way," John said, his whisper so sharp Dean felt it cut the air. "The Kappa feeds on children. You want to wait until it kills another kid? Or do you want to control the situation."

"This is messed up, Dad." Dean shook his head. "How the hell did you get him to come with you?"

"He's the manager's kid. Talked to him earlier today; he was outside playing war with his G.I. Joes. Kid likes to play soldier, so… I gave him a mission."

Dean gaped at him, unsure if he should be awed or horrified by his father's tactics. "I'm not letting you take him."

John narrowed his eyes. "This isn't the first time we've used… live bait."

Dean looked away briefly, remembering the night Sam sat, alone, in a circle of rock salt while he and John flanked him, waiting. He'd never been so afraid, so sick, and so determined to not miss. "That was different."

"How, exactly?" John challenged.

Dean narrowed his eyes, jabbing a finger in his father's direction. "Sam knew the danger. He knew what was going on."

"And that made it better?" John asked.

Dean felt his brows meet across the bridge of his nose. "You trying to talk me into this or out of it, Dad?"

"I'm trying to get your ass back in the car so we can go kill this mother and get some sleep." John's shoulders hunched close as he inched forward, his face close to Dean's, his breath hot and slightly whiskey-tinged on Dean's cheeks. "Believe me, boy, if there was another way—"

"There is," Dean said, light dawning like a super nova in the back of his mind.


"There is." He straightened away from the Impala, causing John to back up a step. "Use me."

John instantly started to shake his head and Dean interrupted his denial. "You said it feeds on children."

"You may act like a teenager in heat, Dean, but you're not—"

"Yeah," Dean interrupted again. "I am. I'm your child."

John blinked and Dean heard him swallow. They stood, boots barely inches apart, eyes on each other's face, challenging, waiting, thinking. Dean felt his back tighten, his heart slamming against his ribs, as he tried to determine if his father would accept his proposed solution.

"It could work," John conceded.

Dean felt dizzy from relief. "I'll take him back."


"I won't be long." Dean was already loping around to the passenger side of the car, his heart climbing his throat and beating a rhythm behind his eyes. He opened the door and motioned for the kid to slide out.

"We still going on the mission?" the kid asked, a yawn punctuating the end of his sentence.

"Mission's been aborted, kid," Dean shook his head.

"But I was gonna help," the kid said, allowing himself to be steered by the shoulder back across the lot and toward the side door.

Dean tried the handle, cursing under his breath when he found it locked.

"Key's under the mat," the kid said.

Of course it is, Dean thought, bending and kicking the silver object loose. If people knew half the ways that criminals got to them, they'd dead-bolt their doors thrice over. He unlocked the door, glanced over his shoulder, then put a hand on the kid's shoulder.

"You did good, kid. You were ready when we needed you. The Sergeant told you how important it was to keep quiet, yeah?"

"National security," the kid yawned.

"Exactly," Dean nodded. "Get back in there and go to bed. Don't want your Dad worrying about you." He gave the kid a gentle shove through the door, closing it behind him.

National security, he scoffed inwardly. Dad, you scare me sometimes, man.

He made it back to the car, noting that John was now in the driver's seat of his car, and slid inside.

"Happy?" John grumbled, pulling away from the lot.

"Hell, yeah," Dean replied. "I'm fuckin' ecstatic that I get to be turtle bait." But at least some random kid isn't going to have his world rocked by seeing that what's really out there in the dark wouldn't need a key to get to him.

"Everybody grows up sometime, Dean," John said softly, as if reading his mind.

"Yeah, well," Dean looked through the passenger window as they headed to the shoreline. "Doesn't have to be like that," he muttered softly to himself.


He didn't like this. Not at all. Risking Sam while there had been two to cover him was one thing. Risking Dean with no back up…

"This isn't a bad plan, Dad."

"It's not a good one, either."

Dean sheathed the Bowie and tugged his jacket down over it. "It's okay to admit I'm good at this, y'know," he grinned cheekily at his father.

John narrowed his eyes, his lips pursing. "That'll be the day."

He hefted one of the Winchesters from the trunk, eyeing the other, trying to work out a way to arm Dean with more than a blade.

"Hold this," he said, handing the rifle to his son.

"Didn't bring my duster to this shoot-out," Dean said.

John began to eject bullets from the spare rifle, raising an eyebrow in Dean's direction. "You watch too much TV, kid."

"You can learn a lot from TV," Dean argued, his eyes on his father.

"Such as?" John prompted, setting the empty rifle back in the trunk and reaching to take the loaded weapon back from Dean, catching his son's grin as he did so.

"Well, you sure as hell didn't teach me about the birds and the bees," Dean smirked.

John raised his free hand in surrender, making a face. "I get it, I get it."

The bodies of two victims had been found downriver, several miles apart. The third victim had been one mile north of the second, and the fourth, a half-mile north of the third. It was closing the gap, feeding more quickly, getting reckless.

"My money is still on summoning," Dean commented as they made their way to the cluster of trees near the coordinates John surmised the Kappa would be lurking next. "It's the only thing that makes sense. I mean, why else would it start… feeding so close together unless someone was making it?"

"So, what, these kids pissed someone off? That it?" John glanced at Dean, watching him shrug.

"It's just a theory," Dean replied.

John had to nod. "Not a bad theory," he conceded. "I've been trying to figure out how the hell this thing got four kids away from their homes and parents in order to kill them in the middle of the night."

Dean tossed his father a quick glance. "You managed it easily enough," he said.

John opened his mouth, but closed it without replying as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. They were near the shoreline. The rocky terrain gave way to pea-sized gravel and sand, branches strewn across tufts of grass turned silver in the waning moonlight. The night was fading, growing closer to dawn. When the bodies of the children had been found by morning joggers or a boat patrol, time of death had been estimated as six to eight hours prior.

Right about… now, John thought, nodding at Dean as his son stepped away and began his slow trek down the shoreline, hedging carefully away from the repetitive rush of the lapping tide. According to Joshua—and some swift research on John's part—the Kappa emerge from the water long enough to snatch their prey, then pull them back to the tide and kill them. The bodies were then washed up on the shore.

He shivered, partly from the adrenaline rush of anticipation, partly from the rapidly dropping temperatures. He watched Dean move further from him, and gripping the rifle, his shoulder pressed up against a tree, wondering if they'd been wrong about the night… about the tactics… about the location.

About the bait.

This isn't going to work, he thought, stepping from the shadow of the tree into the silver of the moonlight, flattening his lips and whistling once to grab Dean's attention. Dean turned, seeing him, and started to head back when the impossible emerged from the black water to his son's right.

It was only then that John realized his mistake. The Kappa hadn't seen Dean until John emerged. It hadn't recognized Dean as a child until the father became visible.

"Oh shit," John breathed. "Dean!"

Dean had stumbled backwards several steps in surprise when the creature seemed to simply rise from the murk at the water's edge, but regained his footing and opened his stance to fight.

"Get the hell out of there, boy!" John yelled, running forward, raising the rifle to his shoulder and firing in one motion.

The Kappa didn't divert its attention from its prey. The description Joshua had offered didn't do the creature justice. John had seen ugliness, impossible creatures, fiction-made-real, but nothing prepared him for this. The creature was a bi-ped, its dark, scale-covered arms reaching for Dean with claws extending like talons. On its head was what looked to be an inverted shell-like basin made of bone and filled with water. Its mouth was a wide slash in a scaled-covered face and John could see yellowish eyes with goat-like horizontal slits glowing where the pupils should be.

"Son of a…" he breathed, startled by his son's echoed, "…bitch!"

Dean had the Bowie out and was holding the Kappa at bay—barely. John shook himself, raising the rifle once more, taking aim and firing. This bullet found a mark and the creature flinched, a howl echoing off of the water and causing Dean to curl in, covering his ears.

"Dean!" John barked again. "Run!"

But Dean stubbornly held ground and John hurried forward once more, kneeling down and firing just as the Kappa lunged. This bullet went wide and John heard his son cry out in a quick bleat of surprised pain before a flurry of curses chased the heels of the sound.

"You fucking lizard," Dean growled, his voice seeming to roll up from his gut, "I'm gonna turn you into boots!"

John saw him slash at the creature's jugular—or where a jugular should be—and raised his rifle once more just as the Kappa swiped at Dean, its arm a blur, and cracked across Dean's side. Dean slammed, hard, to the ground, sound evaporating as John heard quick punches of air escaping.

John fired, cocked the repeater and fired again, emptying the iron into the creature as it thrashed backwards, away from Dean, toward the water.

"Goddammit," John cursed, digging into his pockets for the spare bullets as he ran. He needed the bastard falling the other way—toward land. He splashed through the surf as he reloaded on the move, casting a glance at his son, lying still on the wet sand, his body shivering from cold and pain.


Dean lifted a hand, motioning, but didn't respond. As John splashed past, he could hear the ragged rasp of his son's breathing and guessed he'd either had the wind knocked out of him, or had broken some ribs. The Kappa was stumbling back to the ocean when John reached it and instinctively grabbed the creature's wet, scale-covered arm.

The Kappa roared.

There was no other category for John to place the sound. It was a lion's roar, ferocious and frightening. John flung himself at the horrific, nightmarish body, shoving it with force toward land, rolling with it, working to wrestle it into submission. With surprise, he felt himself flung aside as the creature rose to its feet. Blinking up from the ground, John focused on the dark shape of the creature as the barest hint of dawn lit the sky behind him.

"Dad!" Dean yelped, and John reacted, rolling to the side as the Kappa's foot came down in what would have been a bone-crunching blow.

He bounced to his feet. "Dean! The rifle!"

The iron didn't seem to be slowing it down as much as John had hoped, but it was still something to fight back with. He backed away from the creature, catching Dean's figure out of the corner of his eyes as he crawled through the edge of water toward the discarded rifle. The Kappa turned to Dean. John drew back a fist, ready to send a powerhouse blow to the creature's neck.

The Kappa was faster. Stronger. Deadlier.

The blow from the creature's foot hit John's tibia with a sickening crunch. He was falling before he felt it shatter, before he felt it break through the flesh of his shin, tearing his jeans and spilling his blood. He was on the ground before the pain hit him, sweeping over him like a white-hot wave, rolling him in an embrace of fire, reaching down his throat and dragging a scream of pain from his belly.

He saw nothing but white, the edges of his blinded vision crinkling in like burning paper and fading to black.


"DAD!" Dean screamed, feeling the sound scrape the inside of his lungs raw.

His side was weeping from pain, the blow of the Kappa effectively breaking at least two of his ribs. He lifted the Winchester rifle and fired two shots before John had finished screaming. The Kappa jerked with both blows, but continued to come at him. Dean cocked the gun, but the Kappa reached out and tossed the weapon away, bending the barrel as it did so. Dean lunged at it, pain and fear turning his attack desperate.

The Kappa simply wrapped him in a suffocating embrace and allowed itself to fall, dropping them both into the pull of the tide, letting the strength of the water roll them under. Dean grabbed a breath and closed his eyes, knowing the combination of salt water and sand would render them useless in seconds. He pushed against the slick, water-tight skin of the creature, his struggles weakening as pain and lack of oxygen began to win.

As he fought, his flailing fingers found the large orbs that gave the creature sight. In a last-ditch effort, Dean dug his thumbs into the Kappa's devilish eyes, pressing until he felt the creature's grip loosen. He kicked free, gaining the surface and gagging on water. With weak strokes he swam the short way to the shore, his body trembling, his side almost numb from pain and cold.

He fell to his knees just shy of being free of the water, unable to move, for a moment needing simply to breathe.

The ocean exploded behind him and Dean instinctively ducked, rolling to his back and crab-crawling away as the Kappa seemed to fly at him, enraged. Dean couldn't move fast enough. It was moving like a blur, claws extended, hand reaching—and then it stopped.

Dean blinked, his breath coming in ragged gasps. He saw the creature struggle, trying to lift its basin-like head, water sloshing free. Pinning its outstretched hand to the compact earth was John's six-inch Bowie knife. Dean looked with shock from the buried blade to the pale, trembling hand that slowly released the hilt.

John looked at him, face white as a sheet, eyes pain-filled. "You… c-call this a… good plan?"

"Jesus Christ, Dad," Dean breathed.

The Kappa tried to lift its head once more, but being pinned face-down seemed to be as effective in trapping it as tipping an actual turtle onto its back. Dean swallowed, gathering his legs beneath him, and reached out a hand to the basin on top of the creature's head. He pressed, tipping the head so that more water sloshed out.

The Kappa thrashed violently at first, but as the basin emptied, its struggles lessened and in moments it was still. Dawn bruised the eastern horizon, tipping the sky above the ocean into an ink-like blackness. For one heartbeat, everything on the beach was still, then a soft blue wrapped its arms around the edges of the world and when Dean looked at the Kappa, it had curled and shriveled into a hideous, alien-like corpse.

"B-burn the bastard," John choked out.

"Need to get you some help, Dad," Dean argued.

"Do it," John ordered.

Dean pushed himself to his feet, tapping his wet pockets uselessly. He turned to his father and reached for the inside pocket of John's coat when he saw the mangled mess that was John's left leg.

"Oh, fuck me," Dean breathed. "Dad—"

"Hurry… hurry up, Son," John choked out. "Can't…"

With that, John's eyes fluttered, the brown rolling back in his head, and Dean saw him sag as he gave in to the pain.

"Dammit!" Dean dug John's silver Zippo from one pocket and a small, palm-sized can of lighter fluid from another. He crawled painfully back to the husk of Kappa and squirted the lighter fluid on the remains, pulling the knife free before flicking the lighter and touching the flame to the fluid.

A horrid, dead-fish smell permeated the air around them and Dean tucked his nose into the crook of his wet elbow before making his way back to his dad. The sight of John's mangled leg made him want to gag once more, but he forced himself to clear his head, to remember his training, to think.

"Splint? Right… right, splint," he said to himself, working to keep his teeth from chattering, forcing himself to breathe regularly as each hitch, each gasp drew fire across his side. He forced himself out of his wet jacket, easing John's leg up and wrapping the arms of the jacket around the base of his knee, above the break.

Grabbing two sticks of roughly the same size from the scattered collection on the beachhead, he slipped them beneath the jacket tourniquet, shrugged out of his wet flannel shirt and used a combination of it and the jacket to encase the wounded leg. He looked up the path they'd walked down earlier.

He couldn't drag John up there; the damage to his leg was too severe. The only thing left was to carry him. The thought twisted Dean's stomach, knowing how it was going to jar his broken ribs. Closing his eyes, he breathed in slowly, then exhaled, steeling himself for the inevitable.

"Dean…" John's voice startled him.


"Lift me up, Son," John slurred, his eyes barely open. "Can't… carry me…"

"You're not walking out of here," Dean shook his head, pressing John's shoulder down as his father started to roll to his side.

"Dean," John looked up at him, his mouth hidden by beard, his eyes hollowed-out by pain. "Together."

Dean felt his jaw tremble, wishing with every part of him that his brother was there. That Sam was beside him. Keeping Sam calm and focused had always kept him calm and focused. And he could really use the kid's strength right about now.

"On three," Dean nodded. "One… two… three."

He got John to a seated position before they both had to stop to breathe. Another three count and Dean was bent at the waist, John near-collapse across his back. With a painful shift, he got his arms around John, securing John's arm over his shoulder. They began to move, every few feet stopping to breathe, John unable to keep from crying out as weight was inadvertently shifted to his left leg.

It was arduous, it was impossibly long, and just when Dean decided that dying in the woods could be an acceptable way to go out, he saw the Impala.

"Hang in there, Dad," he panted. "I see her… just a bit further, okay?"

John didn't answer. He'd grown so heavy in Dean's arms that he wasn't sure if his dad was still conscious. He eased John down on the ground next to the car, and opened the door to the back seat. He had to climb in and pull John in behind him, jostling his wounded leg and eliciting a choked cry of protest from the older man.

With John situated in the back seat, Dean closed the door and turned to get behind the wheel when the world suddenly faded, going silent and gray. He felt himself tip, caught at the shoulder by the roof of his car. The feel of her sturdy body against his brought him back with a nauseating swiftness.

This time, he couldn't swallow the bile, bite back the cry of pain, or stop himself from going to his knees. The force of his retching tore at his side and all he gave up, it seemed, was water. When he was finished, he lifted the back of his hand to his mouth, not noticing how it trembled as his entire body was shaking. Reaching up, he opened the door and pulled himself inside, digging the spare keys from the glove box and starting up the car. He punched the heater and turned the wheel, heading for town and the nearest hospital.

"Guess it's a good thing you t-taught us to locate the hospitals first, Dad," Dean said, knowing John wasn't listening. "Hospital, hotel, library. Always in that order."

He drove through a red light, took a four-way stop on two wheels, and arrived at the ER with two police cruisers behind him. Stumbling from the car, he lifted his hands, a battered image. Standing in his wet T-shirt and jeans, his face bruised and dirty, hands up, he waited until the police approached him.

"Where the hell's the fire, Son?" one asked.

Dean tipped his head, willing his body not to follow. "My Dad," he said. "He's hurt. Pretty bad."

The other cop whistled, waving at someone on the other side of the Impala. In moments, Dean was moved aside and the cops and two men in dark blue scrubs were pulling John from the back of the car and laying him on a stretcher.

"Jesus H. Christ, kid," one of the men in scrubs exclaimed upon seeing John's leg. "What the hell happened to you guys?"

"He… got kicked," Dean said, finding it hard to make his tongue obey his commands. There was an odd ringing in his ears, as if an alarm was going off somewhere in the distance.

They began to wheel John toward the door. A cop rested a hand on Dean's shoulder, then pulled it back. "Why are you wet?"

"I, uh… I f-fell in the ocean," Dean said, shivering as he shut and locked the Impala, then shoved the keys into his pocket. He followed the cop around the trunk of the Impala, his hip on her body the whole time, reluctant to part with the impression of safety she offered him.

The cop at his side was still talking, asking him questions, but Dean's eyes were on the rapidly disappearing stretcher bearing his father down the hall, words like severe bone fracture… low blood pressure… surgery… filtering back to him.

He bounced off of the shoulder of a female nurse, pushed back as another person in the ER waiting room shoved at him to get by. He felt hollow, as if his insides had been scooped out and deposited elsewhere. The world was about three feet away from him, the sounds tinny and senseless. The overhead lights were too bright and he squinted up at them, wondering who needed lights that powerful while they waited to hear if their family was alive or dead.

I need to call Sam, he thought, patting his pockets clumsily, clueless as to where he last saw his phone. He turned to the officer on his right, who was staring at him, brows gathered in concern, still talking.

"Can I use your phone?" he said, unaware that he was yelling. He couldn't seem to hear his own voice. "Need… need your phone," he repeated, blinking as the cop started to blur around the edges. The cop said something; Dean saw his lips move, but he couldn't make out the words. "Just… hey, I just… I just need your…"

With a slow spin, the rotation of the world decided now was a good time to toss him off. He felt his knees disappear, registered the sensation of falling, and with a last, slow blink, sank forward into the abyss of a stranger's arms.

a/n: And so it begins. This story—if told properly—will have a few layers of a story-within-a-story. And I hope you take the journey with me.

If anyone is curious, I decided not to incorporate Adam or his mother, except in passing references to John's "escapes." Hope that's okay.


Night Moves by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (always loved that name)

Don't Let Me Down by Bad Company

Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC

Lonely Is The Night by Billy Squier