Disclaimer/ Spoilers: See Chapter 1
a/n: Every time I get to the last chapter of a fic, I think of Frodo's line in Tolkien's epic, Return of the Kings: "I'm glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things." I know. I'm a geek.
While not the end of all things, writing the end of a fic is emotional for me because of the journey it's taken me on. I hope it's been a journey you have enjoyed as you read, even if some of the plot twists or characters were a little hard to follow. The onus is on me to clarify or simplify next time 'round.
I'm not exactly sure what possessed me to write this story centering on just these two characters. I will say I'm exceedingly glad I did, and I won't be writing another SPN story that is not primarily focused on the two brothers. Though I knew going in that Sam would only be included in memory (or dream), I missed writing the dynamic of the two brothers.
And since I'm growing closer to keeping all of the promises I made in the fanfic world and ending (even if just temporarily) this sojourn, I want the last few stories I write to include the brothers I fell in love with. Thank you, though, for indulging me as I tried to climb inside the skin of my favorite brother and the father who helped shape the man he became. Lastly, I have a longer a/n at the close of the chapter with some information some of you have asked me for.
With that, I give you the close of this story, and I thank you for spending time with me.
Oh, and Terry, my good friend, thank you for the sanity. Though there are times you share what can't be spared. *wink*
Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.
It had taken several moments of skimming the surface of consciousness for Dean to really register the fact that pain was determined to be his constant companion.
He'd fought so hard to leave that room, that horrible, tiny, white room. Breaking through to what he knew was real—knew because of the noise, because of the frenetic energy that beat against him, because of the hands touching, checking, maintaining his tenuous grip on life—was akin to surviving a battle. The only thing that had kept him from backsliding into the white abyss that waited patiently for him was the hand that held his.
His father's hand.
There'd been several minutes of crystal clarity as people spoke around and to him; an awareness so bright it seemed to tweak the air, turn it glinty. And yet, superimposed over everything like a life-sized faded photograph, the image of his dream, of Sam with his shaggy hair shadowing his innocent eyes, slid in and out of focus until Dean had to close his eyes, turn his face away from the sight.
"Rest, Son," John said. "Rest while you can."
Dean felt John's hand on his, heavy with worry and relief, and he instinctively turned his own to hold his dad close. He wasn't ready to let go. He was so sure he'd fall.
"Take it easy, Dean."
Muscle memory had his body reacting to the softly spoken order. His shoulders released the tight hold he didn't realize he'd been maintaining, but without that hold, an all-too-familiar heat began to work its way up from his belly through his limbs to beat a pulse that was impossible to ignore.
"They all gone?" Dean asked, frustrated that his lips were too heavy to wrap around his words. He sounded like he'd had one too many.
"Yeah, they're gone," John replied. "Think you can sleep?"
Dean shook his head slowly, carefully. He could hear his hair rustle against the pillow but the motion of denial sent a soundless reverberation from the base of his skull down his spine and settled with vengeance along his right leg. He tried to bite back the groan, but suffered the realization that his vulnerability had long ago been laid bare before his father.
"Yeah," Dean whispered, slightly stunned by the sheer weight of the pain. "My l-leg," he stuttered. And what the hell was going on with the knife in his ribs? "Somethin's pokin'…m'side."
"Nothing is poking you, Dean," John replied.
Dean heard his father shift; the wheelchair he knew John had to be sitting in creaked with the motion. The heavy hand—skin calloused in familiar patches where John had gripped a gun so often over the years—patted him as it retreated. Dean wanted to grab him back, but the knife suddenly twisted roughly.
"Easy," John was saying. "I called the nurse."
He hadn't realized he'd made another noise, but his distress was apparently more than evident to his watchful father.
"What happened to me?"
"You fell through the floor," John replied.
In a rush, much the same as the sound he'd heard when cuffed to that damn post, the fire came back to him. It was practically inside of him. With a disorienting sense of vertigo, he remembered the fall. He remembered the weightless moment when he seemed to hang, suspended by the waves of heat. And he remembered landing, the crash burning through him as he sank into the murk of smoke and flames and nothingness.
"Did I…burn?" Dean asked, his voice choked. He worked his eyes open, parting them enough to take in the sight of his father's face pulled taut with memory.
"Your leg," John replied. "Not too bad, but…"
It throbbed then, as if in reaction to John's words. Throb wasn't even an accurate word. There was no downward slope of relief sliding off the back of the climax of pain. It was constant. A high-note held. A nail running the length of a chalkboard the size of a football field.
His eyes fluttered closed, the effort of sight too much to ask of his overtaxed brain.
And John's hand was on his again. John's voice was in his ear. The words were meaningless; Dean couldn't find the beginning or the end inside the sound. It was simply the rumble, the rhythm, the reassurance that he wasn't alone with the pain. That there was another by his side.
He felt a cool flood in his arm and suddenly he could breathe again. The fire in his body turned quickly to steam and the teeth-clenching ache fluttered to nothing like a leaf falling slowly to earth. He wanted to thank whoever it was that finally removed the knife from his side—it was so much easier to take a breath without that there—but his mouth had disappeared.
Dean knew he wasn't really asleep. For one, he could still hear voices. For another, he didn't see that damn room. And there hadn't been a night since coming to Brinnon that he hadn't at least visited the white room. But now he simply floated in a gray haze, weightless and pain-free.
He could get used to this.
The noise of words swam around him like ghosts of voices. It was like listening to a short-wave radio with a bad antenna. Language bounced into sudden clarity—meaning lost without the benefit of context—and then faded once more. After a while, the voices seemed to multiply. Most were unfamiliar. But one stood out. One was constant.
It took the protection of the gray haven he was enjoying for Dean to register the significance of what he'd opened his eyes to. John had stayed. For the first time in Dean's memory, John hadn't left to fight the good fight. He'd stayed by his side; he'd fought for him, encouraged him, drew him out of the empty whiteness of that room.
How had he made it? Had the fire taken Brooke Marcus' spirit? Had there been a ritual John performed at the hospital? What had saved him?
"Why am I still here?" he wondered, not realizing it was aloud until he felt the tickle of air across his lips, felt his tongue hit the backs of his teeth.
He reached up with a clumsy, awkward hand and touched fingers that felt almost wooden against his chapped lips. His mouth was there after all.
"Dean?" John's voice: partly surprised, partly amused, somewhat worried.
Dean rubbed his fingers across the scruff on his chin, blinking the too-bright world into focus. There were several people in the room, but he couldn't pull any of their faces into clarity. He fumbled his fingers along his cheekbone and rubbed at the grit in his eyes, wincing slightly as he made contact with a bruise.
The feel of something like cotton against his cheek drew his attention and he lifted his hand to stare in confusion at the bandage wrapped around his wrist.
"They handcuffed her. Her wrist was bleeding, like she'd been tied up. She must've tried to fight her way free."
"Son of a bitch," he muttered, awareness climbing ladder rungs in a hurry to reach the top. He lifted his other arm, the IV lines tethered to the crook of his elbow, and saw that bandages were wrapped around that wrist as well. "Bastard cuffed me," he said, his burning eyes shifting blurry focus from his arms to his dad's face.
John was leaning forward in his wheelchair, his forearms braced on his armrests, watching Dean intently.
"She got him," Dean asked, swallowing thickly. "Didn't she?"
John nodded. "Yeah, kid," he said. "She got him."
Dean saw him nod to someone on the other side of the bed. In seconds, a straw was hovering near his lips and he grasped it gratefully, filling his mouth with cool water and feeling it slip through his whole body as he swallowed.
"You okay?" John asked.
"Think so," Dean replied, drinking again.
"You were out like a light after they gave you the pain meds," John informed him.
"I wasn't asleep," Dean said, dropping his head back against the pillows and licking his lips. Sleep would have meant dreaming and dreaming meant seeing Sam without really seeing him.
He saw John grin as if humoring him. "You've been out for about three hours, Dean," he said.
"I heard you talking," Dean looked around, recognizing, finally, some of other faces in the room.
Gus and Chester leaned against the back wall with another man—a large, heavily muscled Native American who seemed to strip Dean to the bone in a glance. A man in a sheriff's uniform stood next to a pretty black woman near Dean's bed. And sitting on the other bed in the room was Kwaiya.
"Maybe you were dreaming," the black woman suggested gently.
"No." Dean shook his head, fumbling for the bed controls and tipped the head of the bed up so that he could see them more easily. He shot a glare at the woman, feeling off-balance, out of step somehow under her sympathetic gaze.
John cleared his throat, and Dean looked over quickly at the sound. He recognized the look on John's face. It was the same look he'd had for years when they'd had to duck Social Services or explain absences to school principals. Be quiet and let me handle this.
"Dean," John said. "This is Dr. Rice. She's, uh…she's been taking care of you. Of us."
Somewhat mollified, Dean tipped his chin up at Dr. Rice by way of greeting. "Thanks, Doc," he said grudgingly, not quite understanding the quick half-smile she shot in John's direction.
He looked across the room at Gus, noting the clean, white bandages that wrapped the man's chest beneath his opened shirt, and the same markings of soot covering both his and Chester's hands and face.
"What did you mean?" John was asking him.
Blinking over at his father, all-too aware of the many sets of eyes trained on him, Dean pulled his brow together in a frown of confusion.
"You asked why you were still here," John clarified. "You mean at the hospital?" The level of you've gotta be shitting me in John's tone snapped Dean to attention and he squared his shoulders slightly, aware of the pinch that motion caused in his side.
"Did the fire—" he glanced quickly at the others in the room, the back at John. He'd missed time, and too much had obviously happened for him to assume anything. "Did it…take care of…y'know…things?"
He caught Gus rubbing his face tiredly out of the corner of his eyes and waited for John to answer.
"Not exactly," John sighed, sinking back against the sling of the wheelchair. Dean hadn't seen his father look so…so worn down in a long time. It was as if the last few hours had somehow been longer for John, worry and frustration aging him in ways Dean had yet to understand. "What do you remember from the fire, Dean?"
Pressing his lips together hesitantly, Dean looked at Gus and Chester, then slid his eyes to the sheriff. Apparently following his line of worry, John assured him, "It's okay, Son. They're okay."
Dean looked back quickly, absorbing the level of resignation on John's face.
"I, uh," he started, dropping his eyes to his lap, his sight turning inward, skipping over the white room, and rolling back into the heat of the fire. "I remember Cole jumping on me. I fought him, but…I was wrecked. I remember it getting really cold," he looked quickly at his father, seeing John nod in a shared memory. "And I knew Brooke's spirit was there. She—" he darted a look at the sheriff, "—she killed Cole. Impaled him on something. He was dead before he started burning."
The sheriff sighed, seeming to fold in on himself, and nodded.
"Then what?" John pressed.
Dean rolled his neck, feeling the motion in his hip joints. "She came after me. She…I remember she reached out for me and…" he lifted a shoulder carefully. "I don't remember anything after that. Anything real anyway."
"Real?" John asked.
Dean looked away and down, not wanting to go into too much detail with six strangers staring at him. "It was like I was kinda…trapped. In a dream."
"With Sam," John said softly, as if remembering something Dean had said.
Dean nodded silently.
"It was her," John told him. "She touched you." He pointed to Dean's chest.
Dean reached up and rubbed at his sternum, remembering the blood that seemed to pour from him in the white room. The skin above his wrapped ribs felt tender and tight, as if he'd spent too many hours in the sun.
"You're bleeding again…why are you always bleeding?"
"So the fire didn't get her?"
John shook his head. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Gus and Chester. "These guys did."
Gaping in astonishment, Dean looked at his former boss. "Wait, what?"
Gus looked at him, his dark eyes crinkling at the corners as the dirt creased with his smile. He tipped his head to the left toward Chester. "He dug, I salted," he pointed to the large Native American man, "he lit her up."
"She come after you?" Dean asked.
"Oh, hell yeah," Gus huffed.
Chester nodded sagely. "She wasn't ready to go."
"And…you were…you did it?" Dean asked, working to compute the significance behind what he was hearing.
Someone else had finished the hunt. Someone else had vanquished the spirit. John Winchester, mister all-go-no-quit, we do what we do and we shut up about it hadn't left him.
You stayed. He looked at his father. You picked me.
Gus coughed into his fist, drawing Dean's attention once more. "We had some help."
As if on cue, all eyes except John's turned to the Native American man next to Chester. As Dean watched, he straightened away from the wall and came to stand at the foot Dean's bed as if preparing to report. Dean watched the man's gaze track over to Kwaiya and his gut panged at the sorrow and regret he saw slice through the dark eyes.
"I am Powell, Kwaiya's father," he said, his voice rumbling like the bass beat of a rock song. "And I have much to atone for."
Dean looked over at Kwaiya, truly seeing him for the first time since waking up. The big man was curled in on himself, his clothes ill-fitting and loose over thick bandages that practically encased his torso. His head hung low, dark hair streaming around his face so that his eyes weren't visible. His hands were curved in, one resting on his lap, the other hanging limply down his side.
Stomach clenching at the sight of such defeat, Dean closed his burning eyes for a moment.
"You did it, didn't you? You summoned the Kappa," Dean said, his voice rough-edged and flayed with regret. He knew he was right. He knew Sam—or rather the part of himself that had become Sam—had been right: Kwaiya had simply been biding his time.
But he wanted so badly to be wrong.
"Hold up, the what?" the sheriff spoke up for the first time.
Dean ignored him. He kept his eyes on the Kwaiya, waiting for the man's reply. He could feel John's gaze steady on his face. The silent tension in the room was broken only by the steady monitor that still tracked Dean's heart, reminding him that he was here.
When Kwaiya said nothing, Dean looked over at Powell, searching there for the confirmation or denial that would help him decide what to think next. He felt as if they were all about to be handed a sentence, a prediction on how they would henceforth define right and wrong, and he wondered if he'd ever really be able to see the gray in a situation again.
"Kwaiya had an enemy," Powell began, his dark eyes never leaving Dean's face. "An enemy that was smarter than him. There is no teacher like an enemy. No one but your enemy will ever tell you what the enemy is going to do. No one but the enemy will ever teach you how to destroy and conquer. And only the enemy can show you where you are weak and where you are strong."
"Who was his enemy?" Dean asked, surprised that his voice was still so clear.
The man dropped his eyes, then turned to face the sheriff. "You know," he said quietly, though his voice seemed to fill the room. "You all know. You have known for years."
The Sheriff lifted his hands in an unconscious gesture of surrender. "Now wait a minute," he said. "You can't go accusing—"
Powell cut him off, looking back at Dean. "The enemy tells you what you can do to him, and what you can stop him from doing to you."
"But how did he know what to do?" Dean asked, shaking his head. "It's the only thing that doesn't fit." He looked over at Kwaiya. "How did you know, man?"
Kwaiya seemed to have retreated inside himself. The shell of the human man who sat in their midst was not longer the lumbering guardian of Marissa, nor the lucky savior of Dean. He wasn't the same man who'd scaled the wall of a burning building to drop a metal bar at John's feet so that he was able to free his son. He wasn't even the man who'd found a crack in the walls of an inferno to make his escape.
He'd been broken. Worse than when he was a child. Looking at him now, Dean saw that Andrew Marcus had died today and in his place was a machine wearing human armor. It was the first time Dean could remember a person not of his family having the power to bruise his heart so thoroughly.
"Hey," Dean barked, hissing in pain as the noise punched the air and pulled harshly against his ribs. He slid a hand to his side. "Hey, man, I'm talking to you. Look at me."
Kwaiya didn't move.
"Look at me," Dean almost pleaded.
Tell me you didn't kill those kids. He didn't know why he needed Kwaiya to be innocent; he wasn't sure when along the way he'd started to care. It was more than simply the fact that the big man had rescued him, had carried him from danger.
It was the knowledge that Andrew Marcus had been innocent and someone had taken that from him. Andrew Marcus had been a boy who'd lost his childhood and his mother and had been powerless to stop either event. And he wasn't sure where inside him—where everything had a category and a classification—to put the fact Andrew Marcus had become someone who could release a monster onto the world.
"How the hell—" Dean clenched his teeth as he leaned a bit forward, his whole focus on the hollow man who sat with head bowed in front of him. "How did you do it? Huh? You're no witch!"
"Dean," John started. Dean saw his father reach for him out of the corner of his eyes and he pulled in on himself, away from John's touch. Not now…I can't deal with that…not now.
As they talked, Dr. Rice quietly moved the sheriff away from his protective stance next to Kwaiya and began to inspect the big man's wounds and the bandage job, offering him water, smoothing back his hair.
"Let me tell him," Gus spoke up, stepping away from the wall and approaching Dean's bed. He stood awkwardly, his hands clasped behind his back, and kept his distance from Kwaiya's father, as if uncertain of the man's true powers. "I talked to my mother and, uh, she told me that Kwaiya had come to see her." He glanced guiltily at the Quileute. "She gave him the ritual."
Dean shook his head. "But he couldn't have known how to use it."
"He knew," the Quileute man said. "He knew because we told him that one day he would be able to take his revenge. We healed him with the knowledge that one day he would be strong enough."
Dean closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"This has been a lot of information," Dr. Rice spoke up as if from the far end of a tunnel. "Maybe we should—"
"She told me," Kwaiya said suddenly, the deep rumble of his voice a shadow of his father's bass. The room went silent and Dean found himself holding his breath, his heart beating rapidly against his ribs, betrayed by the quickening bleat of the monitor.
"She told you what?" Dean said in an almost-whisper.
"She told me I was hers," Kwaiya said, not raising his head. "I wanted to be with her."
Dean looked at John, catching in that quick glance the expression of horrified understanding ghosting Gus' features.
"Hell, Dad. She did it," Dean whispered. "Not him." He grabbed onto the thought like a lifeline, ignoring the pang in his gut that reminded him of his father's words: Dean, I called a few guys. I was right. Even if she had been a witch, no spirit could have…
"Dean," John said softly, shaking his head.
"You said yourself she was powerful, showing up in the daylight like that. Maybe we were wrong. We coulda been wrong." Dean clenched his jaw, closing off the end of his words, hearing the plea laced through each one. He hated the need he heard there.
John looked down, and Dean felt him searching for words. "She gave him the power, Dean. She told him what to do…guided him, maybe, but…he's the one that performed the ritual." He looked up and pinned Dean with his dark eyes, fathomless with regret. "He's the one that brought the Kappa down on those kids."
Dean felt his heart beat behind his eyes and reached up to rub his face. "So…to punish the people responsible—in a roundabout way—for his mother's death, he… kills those kids?"
"Grief can manifest itself in pain so immense that can become real beyond the grave," Powell said solemnly.
Dean glared at him. "Oh, thanks, Confucius," he snapped. "That just makes it all better. Y'know it didn't just take those kids away. It drowned them and then…"
He couldn't finish the sentence; the idea of the little bodies with the empty eye sockets was too much for him in the moment. It was unnecessary anyway. The people of Brinnon congregated in the room wouldn't soon forget the price those children had paid for the sins of their fathers.
Powell didn't react. "It was never up to me. It wasn't up to Kwaiya, either. Ultimately, his mother decided they should die. No other magic—not even the magic of our people—could have brought this about."
"You sure?" Gus interjected. "That was some impressive magic that I saw today, keeping that spirit away from us."
The Quileute man dropped his head, his shoulders bowing sadly. "That was for protection. That was clean magic. What Kwaiya needed…that power could have only come from a hate so strong—"
"And you're just okay with this?" Dean said, feeling the energy seep out of him, wanting suddenly for everyone to go away, leave him alone. It was too much. His body seemed to shimmer from the inside out, wanting desperately to hide inside the anonymity he usually shunned.
Powell turned away, facing the outside window, his eyes on the retreating sun as it leached the life and color from the world. "When I found my son," he said gravely, "he was near death. The hate that fueled the spirit's powers did not begin with her. It began with the men who destroyed that boy. They are to blame for the death of the children. All of the children. Including the son of Brooke Marcus."
"So, you knew," Dean interrupted. "You knew all this time what those people did to him—to his mom. And you didn't say anything."
Powell looked over his shoulder at Dean, his eyes incensed. "Who would have listened?" He turned, facing Gus. "You?" He rotated again, facing the sheriff. "You?" Advancing on the sheriff, he continued. "No one wanted him when we found him, beaten, destroyed, ruined. No one wanted to know the truth then. Only more death opened your eyes. Only the loss of your own made you look. Made you see!"
"Listen, you don't have any proof that the Lawson's are responsible for what happened to that boy…er, to…to him," the sheriff tried, gesturing toward Kwaiya.
"Bonner," John spoke up, addressing the sheriff. "Shut up."
Dean watched the sheriff's mouth open and close, a helpless, impotent gesture of denial.
"He's right, though," Dean said softly, searching Kwaiya's downturned face for any sign of life. "There isn't any proof. Not really. I mean, everything Cole told me basically burned up with him. Without anyone to corroborate—"
"What about Matt?" Gus interjected.
Dean looked up. "Matt? Matt Lawson?"
Gus nodded. "Sheriff Bonner stopped him from trying to kill Kwaiya."
"It wasn't exactly like that," Bonner amended, looking around for support and finding none. "I took Marissa Teller home. Cole had…" he pressed his lips flat as if it hurt to say the next words, "worked her over pretty good. Kwaiya was there. I don't know if he was waiting for her, or checking on her, but…" his voice trailed off.
Dean heard Chester clear his throat and looked over at the thin man.
"Cole's had it in for the guy ever since I can remember…"
"Cole hated Kwaiya," Dean said, catching Chester's eyes. The man's narrow face seemed to shrink further as the skin around his mouth tightened. "Why?"
Chester lifted a bony shoulder. "I just thought it was 'cause of Marissa falling for that boy, Seth, and not him."
"But it wasn't, was it?" Dean looked at Kwaiya's father. "He didn't really know why, but Cole knew Kwaiya. It was like…he was being haunted by someone who wasn't dead."
"Still, that doesn't explain why you think Matt Lawson could—" Bonner cut his words off as he caught the look John shot him.
Dean glanced at the sheriff. "Matt was part of all this. I kinda doubt there was anything that one of those guys did without the other. Jake Teller's wife even thought Matt was the one who raped her when Cole said it was him…makes me think Matt must've been there."
Bonner was rubbing his face and nodding. Dean knew then he'd heard about the Teller woman's rape. He pushed forward while he had Bonner's horrified attention.
"Matt and Cole found out that Brooke wanted to leave their dad and instead of being pissed off at their dad for swinging that way, they decided to take Andrew." He rubbed his forehead, trying to relieve the pressure building behind his eyes. "When she didn't go back to him, they tried to kill him. Thought they had, actually. They took his bloody shirt back as proof and their mom trumped up the story of Brooke being a witch and killing her own son to cover what Matt and Cole had done."
Dean sagged back against the bed, wrung out. He'd spent his life shirking the supposed righteousness of people who thought they knew what was best for his family while his father—and then later himself and Sam—risked death to keep those same people safe from the darkness that permeated so many parts of their lives.
He'd seen vengeful spirits, creatures hell-bent on bringing about death and pain. He'd seen monsters most only thought existed in fairytales and books. He'd learned young that the dark was only scary if he didn't have a weapon in his hands.
But all of that paled in comparison to the iniquity the people of this town had committed. It was a stunning, soul-numbing realization that the very beings he and his family risked their lives to protect were capable of visiting more evil upon each other than nearly all of the supernatural beings his family had ever defeated.
The room was quiet around him. He suddenly lacked the energy to do anything but breathe, his eyes finding rest on his father's hands. John held his right with his left, slowly turning his wedding ring in that absentminded way that made Dean unconsciously long for his mother.
"Matt Lawson," Bonner spoke up, his voice craggy and lost, "is at my jail facing charges of attempted murder. When I took Marissa home, Kwaiya was there, like I said. But apparently word of the fire got out, and Matt found out about his brother, and…well, before I could do much, he showed up at the Teller's and opened fire."
No one moved. Dean simply waited for the next part. He was tired of this town. Of these people. Of this pain. He was tired of giving so much for so little. He wanted to erase the folded look of weariness and hurt from his father's face. He wanted his brother back.
He wanted to go home. If he could remember where that was.
"Matt Lawson was the one that dug up the box," Gus said suddenly.
"Box?" Bonner inquired.
Dean kept his eyes on nothing, unfocused, exhaustion reaching up behind him to pull him down like the fingers of a too-clingy lover. He wanted to see his father, but the effort of moving his head suddenly seemed too much.
"There was a box of letters, a blood-stained shirt, and Brooke's pentagram buried out behind the construction site," Gus said. "I caught Matt digging it up after Jim Sutcliff was killed."
"Where is it now?"
"We have it," John replied in a hollow voice.
"I'll need that," Bonner said. "It's evidence."
"Means nothing to me, man," John sighed.
Dean could hear his father distancing himself from these people, this town. The hunt was over. The Kappa had long since been defeated and the spirit that provided the power to summon it had been vanquished. They'd done their job; it was time to leave. But they were broken and bruised and the heaviness of what they had survived seemed to inexplicably bind them to this web-like saga.
"My point is," Gus said, an edge to his deep voice. "You've got your proof right there."
"How do you figure?" Bonner inquired.
"Matt knew the box was there because he buried it. He buried the box of items from two people his family murdered—or thought they murdered," Gus finished.
"So you're saying I should charge Matt Lawson with all of this?"
"None of us walk away clean from this, Sheriff." That was Chester's voice, Dean realized. At this he did turn his head, compelled to hear what the man would say next. "We're all to blame for what's happened here. If you want to get down to it, you could charge me."
"For being a friend of the Quileute," Chester shrugged. "Their tribe saved Andrew Marcus. They taught him how to hide in the open. Basically, they told him to listen for the spirit of his mother to tell him when the time was right."
"I'm not arresting you, Chester," Bonner sighed.
"You could arrest me," Gus offered. "I put on the extension to the building that desecrated Brooke's grave." He gestured to Kwaiya's father who had moved away from the window to stand next to his adopted son and was resting a gentle hand on Kwaiya's wounded back. "He just said that Kwaiya wouldn't have been able to do what he did without his mom's…y'know, power, or whatever. Or, hell, speaking of moms—he wouldn't have been able to summon the Kappa without mine. How about you go drag her ninety-year-old self to your jail?"
"Now, just hold up a minute! I'm not arresting anyone else!" Bonner held up his hands as if pushing them all away. "Especially not some ninety-year-old lady."
"What are you going to do, Sheriff?" John asked.
Bonner was quiet. Dean watched the play of emotions that chased each other across the man's face. "I have a man in custody suspected of being directly or indirectly responsible for one attempted murder, one assault, and…" He ticked out his fingers as he counted quietly. "Nine murders dating back to 1981. His accomplice, apparently, has already been sentenced."
He sighed and moved across the room to stand in the window space recently occupied by Kwaiya's father, his back to the room. All eyes followed him, waiting.
"I have a mentally…challenged…man in custody suspected of being responsible for four murders. A plea of insanity, however, is one that would definitely hold up in court." Bonner sighed again and Dean watched him rub at the back of his neck. "He'd live the rest of his days in a state institution."
"I will take him home," Kwaiya's father spoke up.
The room seemed to shift around Dean. He turned his head and saw Powell standing in the doorway, his arm cradling Kwaiya's bent body as if the other man's size was of no significance. Dr. Rice stood on the other side, her cheeks wet with tears, a blanket in her hands ready to hand to them.
"That man is under arrest," Bonner protested, finger pointing at Kwaiya as he crossed the room.
"He is in my custody," Powell said solemnly. "When you are ready for him to stand trial, you may collect him. And with him, his family."
Bonner looked first at Gus and Chester who looked away, then turned to face John and Dean who stared back. Dean knew he sure as hell wasn't going to stop this man from taking Kwaiya away, keeping him safe, and he felt his father's agreement in his stony silence. Helplessly, he turned back to the two men blocking the light from the opened door.
"We can't survive more," Bonner admitted softly. "We can't. This town…this town is dying. It has to be over. All of this…it has to be over."
Kwaiya raised his head and Dean flinched at the sight of the man's sunken cheeks and shadowed eyes. He looked across the room, not at Bonner, but at Dean. His cracked lips parted and his chin trembled slightly as he spoke.
"It is over," he said.
Dean felt something sear through him, bouncing around in the hollow of his chest and jamming his throat. He tried to swallow past it but it built up, threatening to escape through his eyes as Kwaiya continued to look at him. He blinked, but Kwaiya didn't look away.
"It is over," the big man repeated.
"I know, man," Dean choked out. "I know."
With that, Kwaiya's father turned him, guiding him through the door, his body language declaring to everyone watching them leave that he would be by his adopted son's side, no matter the consequences of his actions. Dean wet his lips, closing his eyes as they disappeared from sight, and lay his head back against the pillow. He felt tears slip quietly from behind his closed lids and skip down either side of his face.
The room seemed to sigh and he heard motion, subdued voices, parting words. He didn't open his eyes, didn't move. He wanted more oblivion, more escape from the rapidly returning pain, but he knew that after this, such a thing may no longer be possible.
This had been more than a hunt gone sideways. This had been innocence lost on levels deeper than Dean had the strength to assimilate.
A creak of a wheel drew his attention and he parted his eyes to look toward where John had last been. The side of his bed was vacant.
"Dad?" He rasped, turning his head.
John was now positioned between their beds, watching him.
"They're gone," John answered his unspoken question.
What do we do now, huh? Dean wanted to ask, but was honestly afraid of the answer. Or lack thereof.
"You look like hell," Dean commented.
"What was that you said about a pot and a kettle?"
Dean pulled the corner of his mouth up in a tired grin. His brows bounced together as a stab of pain caught him by surprise.
"You need me to call the nurse?" John asked.
Dean shook his head. "I burned my leg, huh?" he asked, having never really gotten the full report on how badly he'd managed to mangle himself. He felt the ribs, saw his wrists, but everything else was like one big ache and he couldn't really separate burns on his leg from bruises on his hip.
"Yeah," John replied. "Not exactly pretty, but Dr. Rice said it'll heal just fine. Just have some interesting scars."
"S'okay," Dean mumbled. "Not like I wear shorts."
John grunted in response and Dean turned to see him reaching for the controls, lowering the other bed so that he could shift from his chair.
"You gotta be beat," Dean commented, watching as John took a steadying breath.
"It's been a helluva weekend," John grumbled.
When John had managed to get himself on the bed, Dean spoke again. "You weren't supposed to come after me."
John tossed him a look of pure Winchester irritation.
"But I'm really glad you did," Dean finished. "How'd you get down those stairs?"
"Crawled," John said as he grit his teeth, then lifted his casted leg onto the pillows at the foot of the bed.
Dean was quiet for a moment, his face turned toward John, his eyes resting on nothing. "This hunt didn't turn out like we'd planned," he said softly.
"I think that was the problem," John commented on a sigh, raising the bed back up to be level with Dean's. "We didn't—hell, I didn't—have a plan. I just needed…I need to keep moving, I guess."
"I know, Dad," Dean said, watching his father's profile.
"You boys," John said softly. "You're all I got. When Sam left…" He sighed, looking down. "Everything was wrong. I was wrong."
Dean frowned. "What do you mean?"
John shook his head helplessly. "I forgot who you were, kid. I just…I forgot for awhile." John looked over at him. "But you reminded me. And…she reminded me."
"She?" Dean blinked in surprise. "You mean this ghost?"
"All this shit? This town, these people? None of it would have happened if she'd been able to keep her boy," he said. "Your mom died protecting your brother. I, uh…I think I just forgot what that meant for awhile there."
"Dad, you can't protect him from everything," Dean said. "Sam has to find his own way. It's just how he's put together."
John studied him. "And you're okay with that?" He pushed Dean's own doubtful question back at him.
Dean looked down. "Well, no, but…" He glanced back at his father. "It's not really up to us."
John rested his head back and closed his eyes. "How'd you get to be so smart?"
"Must've inherited it from mom, I guess," Dean shrugged.
John chuckled softly. "Always the smart ass."
Dean was quiet for a moment, then, keeping his eyes averted he said softly, "I really wanted it not to be him, Dad. I…I wanted Kwaiya to be innocent."
John didn't open his eyes. "In a way…he was. He was led to this solution by a vengeful spirit, and you know as well as I do he didn't put together what she was telling him to do with what ultimately happened."
"Yeah, well," Dean sighed, wetting is lips and regarding his father's profile, closed eyes, steadily rising chest. "I think…I kinda think I might've always known. Y'know, that he'd done it. I kept dreaming…it was weird, but I kept dreaming about this damn turtle."
John opened one eye, shifting his head to regard Dean curiously. "That's not all that weird, y'know. You used to dream about the monsters we hunted a lot when you were younger."
"This was different, though." Dean shook his head. "This wasn't like those werewolf dreams. I wasn't dreaming about the Kappa; it was like…well, according to Sam, I was trying to tell myself something."
At this John opened both eyes. "What do you mean, according to Sam?"
"The Sam in my dream," Dean said, glancing away from John's prying eyes. "He was me, but he looked like him—oh, forget it." Dean eased back against the bed, addressing the ceiling. "The point is, I kept seeing this little turtle. First it was dead, then it was alive…" He closed his eyes and the image of Sam's little-boy eyes surfaced almost immediately. "Then it was a picture on one of Sammy's lame-ass T-shirts."
John huffed out a tired attempt at a laugh.
"I thought it was showing up to tell me that Kwaiya wasn't guilty. I was so busy with this hunt, I didn't really stop to pay that much attention to it. It was just…"
"Creepy," John supplied.
His voice a low rumble, the words a sticky rush as if throwing themselves toward freedom, John said slowly. "You are a hunter, Dean. And there are two sides to being a hunter. You're obviously comfortable in action, but," Dean heard him turn his head, "you just gotta remember to be still once in awhile."
Dean waited a beat. "I think you've been hanging around that Quileute guy too long," he mumbled.
"Dean, one of these days, I'm not going to be hunting with you anymore."
Dean lifted an eyebrow. "What do you mean one of these days?"
"What I mean is, you're going to be hunting on your own someday. Without Sam, without me. You're too good at this not to. I've never seen a soldier with instincts like yours."
Dean dropped his eyes, unsure how to take the compliment. "Uh, thanks…I think."
"But not every hunt is a shoot first, ask questions later situation," John continued. "And you have to trust those instincts enough to know when to stop and listen and when to move."
Dean swallowed, hesitant to accept the gentle delivery of John's words. "Damn, Dad," he said with wry amusement. "All that was missing was the anthem music playing in the background."
John grunted. "If you weren't beat to hell right now…"
"You'd what?" Dean challenged good-naturedly.
"Don't you worry," John sighed. "I'd think of something."
They slipped into a comfortable quiet.
"Get some sleep, Dean," John ordered.
Dean lay still, thinking. He heard the monitor they had yet to remove from his body. He heard the voices at the nurse's station out in the hall. He heard the low hum of traffic outside the building. He heard his father breathing.
"You want outta this place?" John grumbled. "You gotta heal up. You wanna heal up? You gotta rest."
The order was wrapped in a softened buffer of care.
"I'm not sure I can," Dean confessed softly. Everything inside of him was twisted, a fist of truth gripping lifetime of lies and he was afraid if he let go enough to sleep, he might get lost inside of that.
He heard John's bed groan as his dad turned slightly to face him. He couldn't look back. His defenses were too thin; this level of honesty was something to be shared inside of protection, in the dark, with walls shorn up by too much coffee and sharp-witted stories.
They were physically as close as they had ever been at their weakest point. Unless there was no other choice, John hadn't shared a room with his boys. And since Dean had turned eighteen and inherited the Impala, they'd been separated when on the road as well. The only time such proximity between father and son had existed since Dean's memory began its record keeping for evidence, one of them had been in danger of dying.
And Dean knew he wasn't going to forget the feel of his father's hand on his, holding his, anchoring him.
"It's not a pretty job, Dean," John said finally, cutting through the silence with the gruffness reality commissioned. "It's messy and it can hurt like hell. But if we don't take care of the shit we know is out there, then we're no better than the people who let all this happen."
"Yeah, I know," Dean said the words an automatic, instinctive agreement, their lie turning to sour-tasting ash on his tongue.
The wicked truth of Brinnon didn't start with a spirit, it started with a person, and wrapping his mind around that set Dean's internal compass, his clear line between light and dark, spinning.
"We do what we do—"
"—and we shut up about it. I know," Dean muttered.
"No, you don't. We do what we do because we can, Dean. Because we see what others ignore. We can't un-see it. Not now. Not after," John's voice wavered slightly, a watery undercurrent pulling at Dean's heart, "not after Mary."
Dean's eyes slipped closed and he flinched back from the images he saw there. Opening them once more, he said, "It's all such a fuckin' mess, Dad. How do you see right and wrong when you have this." He gestured to the empty room.
"Right is us," John said. "Wrong is all the evil in the world. We did our job here, Dean."
"All we did is dig up a twenty-year-old secret and bury a town with it," Dean said.
"Don't start thinking like that, kid," John said. "The minute you stop believing what we do is right, you'll go under. How many more kids would the Kappa have taken if we hadn't stopped it?"
Dean thought about that a moment. Teresa Bowing hadn't been part of the logical pattern of Brooke Marcus' vengeance—if logic could be applied to such a thing. Kwaiya's monster had slipped its leash.
"It's not like what we do is…is some noble quest, Dad," Dean said, weariness and pain thickening his words. He wanted so badly to lay his head back, close his eyes, and disappear into nothing. And yet, he was scared to death of that very thing. "We drive around the country and hunt monsters. How is that right?"
"Dean," John almost barked. "Son, look at me."
It was a command he was too tired to ignore. Turning his head slowly, he met his father's eyes, struck by the fire he saw there. It was a passion Dean had had before, one he'd lost somehow, months ago.
"I'm sorry I never asked you if you wanted to fight this war," John said, plowing forward before Dean could open his mouth to protest. "I wasn't really consulted either, y'know? Hell of it is, we're damn good at this."
Dean looked down, lacking the strength to agree.
"Eyes up," John ordered. Dean looked back at him. "You and I…we've been through the shit these last couple of months. Your brother leaving," John shook his head, filling in meaning with the motion that words could never accurately convey. "It changed us both. But you saved me, kid."
"What are you talking about?" Dean scoffed. "I'da been barbequed if you hadn't—"
"Shut up and let me finish, would you?"
Dean closed his mouth with a click of teeth.
"You never said no. Not once—not in all these hunts. You came this close to drowning in Arizona and you rolled with it. I should be shot for putting you through what I have."
"Well," Dean shrugged. "You did break your leg, so…call it even?"
"What I'm trying to say is," John glanced down, took a breath, then met Dean's eyes once more. "You don't have to worry about our family turning out like these idiots. No matter what you might think, you, me, your brother…we're always gonna need each other."
Dean's eyes burned. He couldn't cry in front of his father. It was simply not possible.
"Yes, Sir," Dean finally choked out, laying back against the pillows, and closing his eyes, feeling for the second time that afternoon tears escape and follow a path down his face.
He was so tired. But somehow, inside his father's words, in the message of reassurance carried there, he'd found a balm. He knew that the words weren't promises; there was no guarantee of safety, no vow of peace.
Their lives were going to be bloody, and they were going to cut a swath through the world with violence, but if they could save a few people along the way, then Dean had to believe that what John said was true: it would all be worth it.
"You still think we could…check on Sam?" Dean asked hesitantly, his voice breaking across his brother's name.
"Hell, he's not gonna want to see me," John replied tiredly.
Dean tried to nod, accepting John's words as truth. He knew his brother better than anyone, and Sam could hold a grudge for an impressive amount of time. It was going to take a lot of time and a special circumstance for Sam to want to be around their father again. Dean was only partially sure the same sentiment couldn't be said of Sam wanting to see him.
"Still…he doesn't have to see me for us to check on him, right?" John amended after a moment.
Dean felt the corner of his mouth tug up slightly. "Right."
"Think you can rest now?"
His body ached, his skin stretched and burning in places. His ribs dug sharp-nailed fingers into his side when he breathed. His head seemed too big for his neck. But his heart was warm and his soul assured. He let the silence after his father's question drag a bit too long, feeling the slightly euphoric sensation of tipping over the edge of consciousness and allowing himself to slip into the waiting arms of relief.
Just before he greeted the darkness with a sigh, he heard his father whisper, "Atta boy."
Today was the anniversary of the worst day of his life.
In some ways, he began preparing for it the day after it was over, vowing each year that he would find the monster that took his girl, he would seek vengeance, and he would erase it from the earth. On this particular day, however, John found himself staring at his journal, at the next empty page that would mark what was to come and covered what had been, his pen poised in mid air as if he'd forgotten what it meant to write.
After the events in Brinnon, revenge now had a bitter taste, an off-toned ring that made him wince with just the thought of the word. Revenge had driven him to find answers which had led him to more questions which turned him back onto a path of revenge. He'd lived eighteen years spinning on an axis of that vicious circle and had accepted that there was no extricating himself from this pattern, this path. There wasn't hope for heaven; there was only certainty of Hell.
Now, his purpose seemed to narrow, focus pulled from the simple act of retribution and shifting to include the possibility of a greater evil. A larger threat. A greater enemy.
One that was teaching him how to fight it, how to win.
"Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove."
A quick, sunny laugh followed the familiar lyrics, and John brought his head up, glancing out through the parted window at his oldest son's profile. Sunlight struck the thinned-out planes of Dean's face and glinted off of his lashes, giving him an ageless appearance. He looked too old to be as young as he was, and yet was too young to hold the weight John always saw in his son's eyes.
Music blared from the speakers of the Impala—rescued from the fall-out of the fire by Gus Spencer the day after the hospital room summit—all four doors of the car open and freeing the sound to the nearly-deserted car lot.
Dean sat on a tipped-back chair, leaning up against the side of the motel building just outside their room, watching Aaron Glover wax the hood of his car, calling instructions in a patient tone—more patient than John had ever been when Dean first started to wash and wax that car—and soaking in the mild warmth of the autumn afternoon.
"Now this," Dean was saying to Aaron, "is music."
"So's Nirvana," Aaron retorted.
"Kid." John saw Dean shake his head in mock sadness. "You've got so much to learn."
In the two and a half weeks since the fire, Dean had recovered slowly. After five days of IV antibiotics, Dr. Rice had agreed to let him leave the hospital on the condition that he not do anything strenuous. His leg seemed to heal the quickest, prompting her to comment about their remarkable biology.
The wounds on his wrists were turning to thin pink lines that John knew would eventually fade to white until they practically disappeared. Dean's scars tracked like pale roadmaps recording the pain of his life. Sam's, John knew, were more like his own: dark marks that resembled bruises until one day they simply disappeared.
Dean had taken to wearing a wrist cuff on his right arm covering the wider of the two scars. John couldn't be sure where he'd procured this adornment; only that he slipped it on one morning and hadn't taken it off since. His ribs seemed to be taking the longest to heal, but in all fairness, they'd also taken the worst of the hits. Starting with the Kappa and ending with the fall.
Outside, he was coming together with impressive haste, visibly readying himself for the next hunt, the next job, the next battle. Inside, John mused, Dean was a mystery. After months of struggling—finding new ways to speak out, speak up, speak his mind—Dean had grown quiet. It wasn't the troubling quiet John had witnessed after the Kappa attack: the stillness that felt so foreign and wrong when he regarded his oldest son.
It was more settled, more secure. As if somewhere along the way, Dean had accepted a small corner of this new life: this life without Sam. Redesigning their balance without that presence had almost torn them both apart. But, John realized, they had finally found a stride between the two of them to make it work. To survive however long until Sam came back to them.
Because he would come back. Of that, John was certain.
John breathed in the burnt-leaf smell of the wind as it snaked cool fingers through the opened window. He'd traded up his wheelchair for crutches at Halloween, but would clearly be hampered by a cast for several weeks yet. Looking back down at his journal, he tried to concentrate on what to write to commemorate this day. Outside, Zeppelin drew guitar riffs in the air, and Dean called out to Aaron.
"Make sure you get the wheels. No good getting rust on her rims."
"You order your brother around like this?" Aaron grumbled, but when John looked out through the window again, he saw the kid crouching eagerly in front of the right front tire, polishing the rim as though his life depended on it.
"I did," Dean nodded.
"How'd he like it?"
John saw Dean's crooked grin. "Well, he'd tell you he hated it. And he'd tell me to go to Hell. But I knew. He secretly liked it."
Aaron stopped what he was doing to turn and look over his shoulder at Dean, his young eyes narrowed in doubt. "He liked you bossing him around?"
"Nah," Dean shook his head, popping a Peanut M&M into his mouth. "He liked me paying attention to him."
John looked away, back down at his journal. That was part of his legacy there. Orders meant attention. Instructions equaled love. John sighed. Maybe it was enough that he'd gotten the message across. Maybe it didn't matter how he'd done it.
"It starts out like a murmur, then it grows like thunder until it bursts inside of you. Try to hold it steady…"
John closed his eyes as he listened to his son's low voice roll alongside the lyrics.
"Hmmm?" Dean paused in his singing to answer Aaron.
"You sure you guys really have to go?"
John opened his eyes, looking at Dean's profile. Dan Glover had changed his mind about their being bad news, it seemed, once Sheriff Bonner and Gus Spencer had spoken with him. When they'd been released from the hospital, returning to their evidence-strewn motel room, he'd been waiting with a deal: keep an eye on Aaron after school while they were healing and he wouldn't charge them further for their room.
Dean had been heartbreakingly eager to agree and John had watched his son once more teach another kid a mixture of things John remembered teaching Dean, and things Dean had learned on his own somewhere along the way.
He watched him teach Aaron to correctly break down and load a hand gun, cautioning him that this was only to be done when absolutely necessary and scaring the shit out of the kid by regaling him with stories of accidental shooting deaths. He watched Dean walk Aaron through the parts of the Impala's engine, how to fix a meal using the most random assortments of foods. He watched Dean make Aaron a rather authentic-looking werewolf costume for Halloween.
And he watched him school Aaron on music. His music. Dean's music. So many of John's memories were tied tightly to the chords, riffs, rhythms, and lyrics that Dean now embraced as his own. He wasn't sure if he should be proud his son had taken up so many of his own vices, or worried that Dean didn't seem to have any uniquely his own.
In the weeks of recovery, Aaron was both a distraction and a method of healing; yet each evening when he left to go back to his place, John saw a shadow pass over Dean's face.
"Yeah, kid, we gotta go," Dean answered finally.
"But you ain't really got a home—and the Sergeant doesn't have a mission right now," Aaron tried.
Dean huffed out a careful laugh. "Kid, there's always a mission. Just kinda depends on if we can fight in it."
"Yeah, okay," Aaron replied glumly.
"Besides," Dean countered. "Who said I don't have a home?"
"Well…you're living in a motel room," Aaron pointed out.
"What do you think you're taking care of right there?"
John looked through the window at Dean as his son nodded toward the Impala.
"Not just any car," Dean informed the kid. "I was raised in that car, dude."
"You mean…this car is your home?" Aaron asked, puzzled.
"Damn straight," Dean replied.
John smiled, reflexively remembering bringing the Impala to pick up Mary. Her nose had wrinkled in that way he'd found gut-weakening adorable and she'd declared she didn't like it. About two weeks later, however, she was begging to drive it.
"Can I drive it?" Aaron asked.
John almost laughed aloud.
"Ah, no." Dean shook his head. "You're about seven years too young. But I tell you what. I'll let you pick the music."
"Yes!" Aaron exclaimed, pumping a fist in the air. He hopped behind the wheel and started spinning the dial.
"I wish I was like you. Easily amused. Find my nest of salt. Everything is my fault. I'll take all the blame…"
John chuckled as Dean exclaimed, "Dude! I said music!"
The diesel-engine rumble of a truck caught John's attention and he looked up to see Gus Spencer pulling into the spot two down from the Impala. With a sigh of resignation, John closed his journal and tucked it into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. He glanced around the now-barren motel room. Maps and notes had long ago been pulled from the wall. Weapons had been cleaned, loaded, and stored in the trunk of the Impala. Duffels sat on the floor near the door waiting only to be carried out.
John fumbled with his crutches and rose from the table, making his way to the door, still awkward in his movement, but more assured than he'd been the week prior. He opened the door to see Gus standing next to Dean.
"…said to tell you she'd call when she got there," Gus was saying.
Dean looked over his shoulder at the sound of the opening door. "Marissa went after her man," he informed John.
"Good for her," John nodded. "Gus."
"John," Gus nodded back. "Chester woulda been here, too, but he went with Kwaiya. Said he knew you'd understand."
Dean nodded. John watched his son's profile carefully. Since the town of Brinnon—those who'd been around when Brooke Marcus had been killed, anyway—had stepped up and raised money to put Kwaiya in a private home that treated mental illness rather than allowing him to be sent to a state institution, Dean had been quiet about his feelings concerning the big man's fate.
John suspected that he'd never really know how Dean felt about the outcome of this hunt; he was learning that there were layers to his son that were kept not only out of his sight, but out of the sight of the world. Dean was quite adept at donning the necessary mask for a particular situation.
"You get Dad's truck handled?" Dean asked, deflecting the topic.
"Yep," Gus handed him a key. "This is the only key to the lock. The storage unit is the only one in Sequim, so you won't have trouble finding it when you get back."
"You use the name I told you?" Dean pocketed the key.
"Dwayne Hicks," Gus nodded. "I swear I've heard that name somewhere before."
Dean ignored him, looking over at John. "You ready?"
John nodded, making his way to the Impala.
Dean grabbed the two duffel bags and dropped them into the trunk, circling the car to close the rear doors and giving the vehicle one last check.
They'd agreed that this would be their joint car until John was healed enough to drive, and after overhearing Dean's conversation with young Aaron, he was glad of it. His truck had been stripped down and stored in a town nearby; they could retrieve it soon enough.
"You got another, uh, hunt? Job? Thing?" Gus asked, stuffing his fingers into his pockets.
Dean met John's eyes over the hood of the Impala, Aaron's music hanging between them. John saw a paper-thin film of something that could have been hope, but was tinged with a chaser of resignation, cover the green of his son's eyes for one brief moment before it was absorbed into the rest of the secret thoughts Dean would never share.
"Nah," Dean shook his head. He rested a hand on his still-battered ribcage. "Not yet."
"You don't have to leave, y'know," Gus said quietly. "There's plenty of work around here. Could always use another set of hands."
Dean smiled softly. "Thanks, man. But..."
"We've got some unfinished business," John supplied. He reached out a hand to Gus. "Thank you," he said sincerely as the contractor clasped his outstretched hand. "We don't find a lot of friends doing what we do."
"You're welcome," Gus replied. He looked at Dean. "I can tell you this is something I'll never forget. And I never want to do it again. No offense."
"None taken," Dean grinned, shaking Gus' hand. He moved to the driver's side of the car, peering down at Aaron. Sullenly, Aaron turned off the radio, but refused to look up at Dean. "C'mon, Squirt. Out you go."
"You could take me with you," Aaron attempted.
"Who'd look after your old man if I did that?"
Aaron squinted up at him. "He doesn't need me. He's a grown up."
Dean arched an eyebrow, then pointed toward John without looking at him. "Who do you think keeps the Sergeant out of trouble?"
Aaron looked at John, then back at Dean. "You?"
"You bet your ass, me," Dean replied. "Without me, he'd be lost."
John looked away, swallowing at how true Dean's casual words were.
"So, you got a big job, kid."
"Watching out for my Dad?"
"Exactly," Dean said, tenting his fingers on the top of Aaron's head as he climbed from the Impala. He stuck out his hand as he'd seen the adults do moments before, grinning as Dean took it. "You be good, kid," Dean said, his voice slightly husky.
Aaron stood next to Gus who dropped a protective hand lightly on his shoulder.
"You, too," Aaron replied quietly.
Dean nodded at John. Tossing his crutches into the back, John lowered himself into the passenger side of the Impala.
One day Dean would be hunting alone. He'd be heading out, geared up, ready to take on evil with the conviction that John had instilled in him that he would come out on the side of good. John knew with a father's instinct that day wasn't far away.
But it's not today, John thought with relief as his son slid behind the wheel and cranked the keys, igniting the engine. His son may not realize it, but having Dean next to him—even if it was just for now—was better medicine than weeks of resting up.
They lifted their hands in unison, waving good bye to their small farewell party, then pulled out onto the main road. John said nothing as Dean fumbled with the tape deck, but couldn't help but shake his head with a tolerant grin as the first demanding chords slicked up the inside of the car.
"Back in black, I hit the sack. I've been too long I'm glad to be back. Yes, I'm let loose from the noose, that's kept me hanging about…"
"Really?" John asked, raising a brow.
Dean beat the rhythm on the crest of the steering wheel with an expression of delicious enjoyment. "Seemed fitting. South, right?"
"South," John nodded. "We should hit Palo Alto sometime tomorrow afternoon."
"You look up any hunts around there?" Dean asked hesitantly.
John shook his head, letting the familiar rhythm of the Aussie band rock through him.
"So…we see Sam," Dean said, "then what?"
"We go someplace else," John replied. He had a promise to keep. A monster to find. His own revenge to extract.
And he still had so far to go.
"Goin' someplace else," Dean repeated. "Story of my life."
John glanced sideways at him. "Story ain't over yet, Son."
Dean only nodded, his lips tipping up at the edges as he turned up the music and let the road lead them on.
a/n: Well, there you go. I hope you felt it worth your time.
Thank you so much to all of you who read, and a special, heart-felt thank you to those that took time to gift me with a review. Your reviews are such a reward for the terrifying risk of putting pieces of me out in the world. Because of your feedback, I've worked to improve my craft and because of your encouragement, I'm venturing into the "real" world of writing.
After I do a bit of fanfic binge reading, I have the pleasure of co-writing with a wonderful friend and great storyteller, Tara aka LovinJackson. Refuto Monumentum will be posted on Tara's page [http:// . net/u/ 981972/ LovinJackson] and will also be on both of our LiveJournals. The story is set in Season 4 and explores memories repressed and journeys to Hell for both brothers.
I will also be posting a zine story, Deep Waters Run Still, printed in "Road Trip with My Brother 7" by agentwithstyle. Other zine stories to be posted as they are "released."
And next 'solo' project will be Heroes for Ghosts, a Western written for my good friend and former beta, Kelly.
If you choose to read, I hope you enjoy.
Black Dog by Led Zeppelin
Wearing and Tearing by Led Zeppelin (c'mon, I had to)
All Apologies by Nirvana
Back in Black by AC/DC (Debbie, this one's for you)
Some of you have asked if the playlist in the story is what I listen to as I write. The answer is rarely. Usually, the music in the story is selected specifically for a scene either to set a mood or because of the lyrics in that particular song.
When I write, I need more soulful, emo-type music than classic rock. Classic rock is usually reserved for driving—especially in the warmer months when you can have the windows down—or cleaning house, or cooking dinner. That's when I jam. When I write, I pull out the angst and get lost. For this story, I was all over the board, but here are a few artists and albums that got a lot of air time during the course of this story:
30 Seconds to Mars, This Is War
Seether, One Cold Night
Clint Mansell, Smokin' Aces Soundtrack (check out Dead Reckoning. Guh.)
Snow Patrol, Eyes Open
Dishwalla, Live…From the Flow State
Digital Summer, Hollow
Staind, The Singles Collection
Matthew Good, In a Coma: 1995-2005
Ryan Star, Songs from the Eye of an Elephant