November 5, 1983
John barely takes notice of the details around him, save for the day's gray skies or the wind that sends goose bumps skimming across his body. It doesn't really matter whether those shivers are due to the morning chill or from the circumstances - standing at his wife's grave - nothing penetrates the haze of John's grief. He stands tall and unmoving in his new suit. Dean huddles at his side throughout the ceremony while John holds a bundled up Sammy who cries his way through the funeral.
Not that John blames him as his own tears fall freely down his cheek. The wind swallows the pastor's words until everything sounds like white noise; only Sammy's continuous wailing soothes John's scorched soul. It's a banner cry of anger, one John understands as he holds Sammy, awkwardly shifting his son to bounce on his shoulder and offer what little comfort he can.
Behind them stands a group of their friends; mostly people from work and customers, their surrounding neighbors, and friends of Mary's. Further back, a small group of strangers is gathered, people who read about the fire, or heard it on the news, and want to offer their condolences. Then there are the gawkers: those who want to see the widower left with two small children.
At first John isn't even aware when the pastor stops talking and steps aside. Around them everyone quiets so that John hears the pain in Kate Guenther's voice as it rises and cuts through Sammy's cries. Her sorrow mirrors his pain. Her voice carries his grief heavily in every word she sings. The sweet timbre of her voice cracks, barely holding together, as she sings the last verse of Amazing Grace.
As the song ends John ignores everyone except his boys. He feels shattered, unapproachable. He is isolated by his grief, feels pushed further and further from the rest of the world by every moment he survives without her. Dean and Sammy are the only ones that force him to hang on, to continue. He needs to do for them what he failed to do for Mary - protect them.
None of it makes sense but neither did seeing Mary trapped against the ceiling, her stomach cut open and bleeding up. The image is singed in his mind, held by the flames that danced around and over Mary's body until they burst, engulfing his wife. Those moments move in slow motion, replaying like his favorite football team whenever they fumbled: every angle explored, though the end result never changes. With Mary suspended on the ceiling - fully aware - staring down at him, the pain and horror evident in her eyes.
He's pulled back from the memory abruptly as he feels Dean's arms curl around his leg. John wants to pick Dean up and hug him, but they're alone and holding Sammy is a challenge. John can only run his fingers through Dean's hair. Dean accepts the invitation and scoots closer, tightening his grip around John's thigh.
Together they stand there while John stares numbly at the coffin, lost in memories that are interrupted only by the demands of the dispersing crowd.
November 2, 1983
John had no words of comfort. What could you tell a four-year-old who had just lost his mother – who had watched their home burn? John hated that Dean had seen so much that night.
After running out of the house and grabbing Dean, John had heard the explosive burst of flames breaking through the windows. It was too surreal, the fire lighting up the evening sky. He'd felt like he was seeing everything happen through a filter while the sirens of both police and fire trucks had come closer and closer.
Through the chaos of noise and activity, John had noticed water hitting the nursery's windows. Billows of smoke had filled the sky as jets of water had struck the windows and roof. Almost in retaliation, the flames burst through the walls and the roof, determined to consume their home.
Dean had been at his side, wide-eyed, and John had seen the moment that his son had come to the slow realization that his mommy had still been in the house and that she hadn't come out. Dean hadn't cried, hadn't spoken, not then. Not even when the EMTs had checked him over, or when the police officer had tried to ask him questions. Dean had only nodded yes or had shook his head no.
Later that night, the fire had finally gone out and the fire department had declared the house too dangerous due to the levels of lingering smoke. By that time the EMT's had medically cleared him and the boys. His partner from the garage, Mike Guenther, had arrived with his wife, Kate. Though reluctant to leave, between Mike and Kate's cajoling and the police's insistence, John had gathered his children and left. Minutes later they had arrived at Mike's house, where Kate had given them the guest room.
Still in shock, John had gone through the motions. He had tucked in Dean. They had shared the same bed, both still dressed in damp, smoky pajamas. Neither had been willing to let the other one go. Sammy had slept soundly between them. It wasn't until Dean, exhausted, had curled to Sammy's side, and had fallen into a fitful sleep that John's body had shaken as he cried.
That next morning, when Dean had awakened, John had seen confusion written on Dean's face, the light of hope that it had all been a nightmare. Until Dean's eyes had blinked, he had seen Sammy beside him, and he had stared imploringly into John's eyes. John had recognized Dean's urge to deny, even at four, that it was all real. He had shaken his head and looked around the room in an obvious search for Mary. Before John had been able to stop him, Dean had heard someone in the hall and scurried out of bed to run to the door, opening it in a rush.
He had startled Kate.
She'd offered Dean a smile, her eyes wet, rimmed in red from fallen tears. Kate had quickly realized Dean had expected her to be Mary. Her lips had trembled in response to what she saw in Dean's face. Turning, Dean had run back to bed, had flung his body against John and buried his head in the crook of John's neck. John had felt the give of Dean's body, the wrack of tears, the choked wails of who he wanted, Mommy.
Wordlessly, John had wrapped his arms around Dean, squeezing that small frame against his chest. His soul had screamed in complete agreement with Dean's inconsolable cries, his want just as overwhelming as his son's. A noise had eventually caught his attention, and he had looked up to see Kate's solemn face, tears falling, as she had pulled the door closed.
Kate returned with a tray of food and a bottle for Sammy. Sammy was only willing to eat in-between cries. It was as if Sammy had decided that if he cried loud enough, long enough, the one person he wanted would hear him and come to pick him up. Seeing the tray of food turned John's stomach but, for Dean's sake, John forced himself to eat and to make sure Dean followed suit. Kate rambled on about making some calls, about leaving shortly to do a few errands, some shopping, and about how John didn't have to worry about the shop - Mike would handle everything. John heard her, he even knew that he would probably be grateful at some later point, but he wasn't able to connect any importance to anything not directly related to his boys. He nodded when it seemed appropriate, just wanting her to leave – to leave them alone. There were no words she could have offered, that anyone could offer, to soothe his soul. There was no sage advice, there were no condolences that John wanted to hear. The only things he wanted were the same impossible things that Dean wanted, that both his boys wanted: their Mommy, his Mary.
John tried to talk to Dean, to explain – and failed. Every time he tried, the lump in his throat grew and swallowed the platitudes: she was with God now, the angels came and took her and she is in a good place - he just looked into Dean's eyes and silently watched his son cry. Small hands reached up to wipe away his own tears, and Dean settled himself back into John's arms, his legs hitched around John's waist, hugging. Dean's small fists clutched tightly to John's shirt, afraid to let go.
John woke a few hours later to the sounds of Sammy's cries. Undisturbed, Dean remained sound asleep, his body spread out, covering John's chest like a blanket. John scooted up enough to move and gently roll Dean's sleeping form onto the bed beside him.
Once John's hands were free he scooped up his younger son and stood, rocking Sammy with a jiggling bounce. "Shhhh," John breathed, grabbing a diaper as he headed toward the connected bathroom. John closed the door behind them, not wanting to wake Dean as he turned on the light and the overhead fan buzzed to life.
John stood there for a second just staring at the counter and the supplies he'd need that were already sitting there, waiting.
Kate and Mike didn't have kids, and, outside of Sam and Dean, Kate had never really been around kids. She had declared she wasn't ready to start a family, but with Kate's attention to detail and spur-of-the-moment innate awareness of everything he'd need for the boys, he had to wonder if maybe Kate wasn't ready now. He'd have to mention it to Mary…
The slip hit, and stark realization shredded him with the knowledge that he'd never have that time, those moments, with Mary ever again.
Once again, Sammy's fussing brought John back. With a deep sigh, John moved toward the sink. The counter was long and wide enough to support double sinks. Kate had filled one sink and covered it with a kitchen cutting board draped with a heavy cloth, basically converting the space into a changing table. Grateful for the thought, John laid Sammy down.
Leaning over his son, he smiled, "Hey kiddo" as Sammy looked up and gurgled in response. John's smile faded and his eyes watered as a flash of the night before intruded. He tried to force the memory away of those last moments before he saw Mary on the ceiling – but this time, staring down at his son, John was washed with the sudden awareness of how close he came to losing Sammy. Closing his eyes, John shuddered at the thought, then reprimanded himself. He needed to stop. Opening his eyes, he pushed forward, going through the motions. His hands quivered as he stripped Sammy of his jumper and started to remove the diaper. Reaching over, he turned on the water faucet and adjusted the temperature before rinsing and wringing out the wash cloth. With one hand he clasped and lifted Sammy's legs. With his other he pulled the dirty diaper away and used the cloth to wipe Sammy clean.
It was mundane routine, one he'd had lots of practical practice with in the last six months. It was one of the many dirty chores John didn't have a problem doing. Instead, he was usually too elated by the small miracle in his arms.
Being a father had exceeded all of his expectations from the moment Dean was born. John had felt akin to the Grinch whose heart had grown and expanded at just the idea, and then had expanded even further as he had held Dean for the first time. When Mary had told him she'd been expecting again, John had been beyond ecstatic. Any spare time he had had, John had spent with Mary, holding her, caressing her belly, talking to Sammy and relishing whenever Sammy would kick in response.
At times, it had been reminiscent of their first year as newlyweds. John just hadn't been able to get enough time with her. He had hated every moment he'd been away from Mary. His favorite moments had often been at the crack of dawn while they'd been alone in bed, feeling secure within the haven of their bedroom where he'd been able to hold her. His fingers had spread out over her stomach, measuring, feeling the taut stretch of her skin. Often Mary had tried to push him away, overly conscious of John's inspection and awareness. It hadn't been something that he had done with Dean. During her pregnancy with Dean, the whole experience had been too new. It had been curiously exciting and a bit daunting for both of them as first-time parents. Though he had held her and had catered to Mary's every whim, John's focus had been on Mary, not her pregnancy or the changes of her body. Back then, John had been too worried about everything else to do more than that. Anxiety over the shop, bills, trying to buy a house, taking care of Mary had all taken their toll, and topping the list was whether he'd make a good dad like Pop had been to him.
With Sammy, though, throughout Mary's pregnancy John had felt fearless and grateful beyond words. This time he hadn't wanted to miss anything - even if it had started to annoy Mary.
Once Sammy was born, though, she had been grateful that his fascination hadn't worn off. She'd appreciated how he'd marveled at Sammy's small body, less afraid than he had been with Dean. He'd kissed and smelled all ten wondrous toes and fingers, had exclaimed in pride whenever Sammy's fingers had wrapped around John's pinky, refusing to let go. Midnight feedings, diaper changes - it hadn't mattered, nothing had deflated John's joy. Once, while he had been changing Sammy, Mary had jokingly wondered aloud if he had been replaced by a pod person. He had ignored her teasing jabs but had then, in retaliation, bent down to whisper conspiracy to Sammy when Sammy had suddenly started to pee, hitting John's chin and chest. Mary had inhaled and then had burst out laughing loud enough to draw Dean's attention who had come running to see what had happened. Mary had been doubled over, tears of laughter running down her face. Dean's scrunched up face had turned from Mary, to him, to Sammy, then had rotated back to Mary as he'd tried to figure out what had happened. John had lasted maybe a minute, maybe two, before Sammy's gurgling smile of relief had broken him, and he had cracked, joining Mary in the hilarity of the moment - even as he had wiped away the pee dripping off his face.
John was so lost in the memory that he didn't hear Dean until it was too late. Dean burst through the door, sheer panic evident in his features as he rushed over to crush his body against John's side. The sounds of hiccups boomed over the fan's hum. As if he sensed Dean's panicked turmoil, Sammy burst out crying, drowning out everything else.
The vivid memory of Mary's laughter faded as the weight of grief settled back in its place. Using his body to block Sammy from rolling off the counter, John shifted and swiftly bent down to pick up Dean. Immediately Dean's legs anchored around John's waist, and Dean's face buried against John's neck.
John tried to soothe his son, rubbing circles over his back, "Shhhh, it's okay, kiddo. Bad dream?" Dean silently shook his head, no. His lips pressed just below John's ear. Only sputtered, choked sounds escaped with hiccups intersected between. Suddenly, John understood that when Dean had woken up he had been alone, and it had terrified him.
Helplessly, John returned Dean's hugs. By the wetness against his neck, Dean's tears were falling in a steady stream. John's own voice was suddenly gone, suffocated under the weight of Dean's pain.
The rest of the day crawled by. Later that night, John just lay there staring at the clock's luminous hands; it was two in the morning. His heart ached, and he couldn't sleep for fear of nightmares following. John's sorrow grew even more intense with the realization that it had been a short span of time, exactly twenty-four hours since the fire, since he lost Mary.
Each hour ticked by at a snail's pace, from two to three to four, five in the morning. John would doze off then snap awake from a nightmare. Sammy slept tucked up against him, with Dean on the other side. John found that he kept threading his hand through Dean's hair, caressing and rubbing the silky strands between his fingers to soothe the restlessness of both him and his son. The texture was smooth and baby fine, making it apparent that in addition to Dean's features, his hair was closer to Mary and her side of the family than to John's. Mindlessly, John continued petting, carding his hand through Dean's hair, until sleep took him.
November 3, 1983
When Kate came in that morning with another tray of food, Mike was behind her rustling several bags. Kate had indeed gone shopping and had bought clothes for the three of them, from outerwear to underwear. There were more diapers, bibs, toothbrushes, a shaving kit and all the other essentials he would need for Sammy, Dean and himself. What they'd had yesterday was beyond repair, had either been burned or damaged by the smoke.
This time Kate didn't leave but stayed, fidgeting at the door. Clasping Mike's hand, she finally plunged ahead and brought up the topic of funeral services. Had he and Mary ever discussed it? Discussed what Mary - John wanted? He almost laughed in Kate's face because all John wanted was Mary. Instead John bit his lip to keep from laughing, yelling, or even screaming. He listened to her, to Mike's rough sympathy, and tried to be grateful that they were both willing to help in any way they could.
Finally, John nodded, tried to breathe and switched his attention back to the soothing repetition of feeding Sammy. Sammy's body squirmed, and he kicked out in between bites from where he sat in John's lap. John focused on the spoon, on each act of the process: one spoonful scooped and swallowed, the second spoonful spit out, the swipe of the spoon over Sammy's lips to capture the rejected food – Sammy's frustrated crying between mouthfuls. John shared Sam's irritation. He rarely fed Sammy; that was, had been, Mary's thing. This was out of his son's routine. Sam wasn't in his highchair, John didn't smile, didn't play or make plane engine noises. He didn't coo for Sammy to open up like his wife had.
Images of life and the ringing sounds of laughter filled John's mind until his hand shook and his throat burned, each breath jagged and harsh even to his own ears. John tried to refocus, but his eyes burned as he blinked away the tears. He found a connection, a shared solace with his son. In hearing Sammy's cries, he found a tether to bring him back to the present. Resuming his task, John could do nothing more than nod to Kate as he continued to feed his son, scooping and capturing the food that Sammy spit out then re-spooning it back into Sam.
They had talked about it; both were too familiar with losing family to unexpected, too early death. Still, he didn't know how to answer Kate, his ability to speak suddenly lost in the wash of his memory. John hated to think about it, but, yes, they'd talked about their possible deaths – not that they had ever agreed.
He knew Mary had wanted to be cremated, had wanted not to join her parents in the reserved plot. Nor had she really wanted to join John's parents. In the end, she'd conceded to whatever he wanted but had made him promise that he'd notify her uncle if she passed before him. John hadn't done that yet, hadn't fulfilled that simple request. John hadn't stepped outside of Kate's guest room except to use the bathroom.
John wasn't sure if he actually heard something or if he just felt the intensity of their stares. Either way, John looked up to see Kate and Mike still standing there. The looks on their faces, the sympathy, the pity – John realized they were aware of how far he had zoned out. How long, he wasn't sure, but a quick glance at the tray showed that Sammy's jar of baby food was empty. From under his lashes John nodded, creating and swallowing saliva to speak around the lump lodged in his throat. "M…" John's lips trembled and he clamped them shut, belatedly realizing he couldn't say her name without shedding more tears. His voice raw and coarse, "I should, I should call." They waited, ready and willing to do whatever John wanted, or needed. "In the office, my desk, in the bottom drawer. There should be a black phonebook, her uncle's number is in there – I should call…"
Mike answered, his voice booming and too loud in the hushed quiet of the room, nodding as he spoke. "I'll go now to get the book and bring it home." Then Mike was gone, too eager to leave. John would have laughed if he thought it'd come out sounding anything like laughter.
Slowly, John realized Kate was still standing there, waiting expectantly. "I should wait until I call him before I make a decision." At his answer, Kate nodded, seemingly pacified by his words. She stepped forward and took the tray before she left.
Once the door was closed, he moved Sammy's sleeping form onto the bed at his side. Patted his hand on his other side for Dean, silently letting Dean know he could scoot closer. Dean needed no further encouragement as he bypassed where John's hand lay and crawled up into the space in John's lap which had been vacated by Sammy.
Kate's question about whether they had discussed the possibility of Mary's death reverberated and repeated over and over in his mind.
The first traumatic death that had affected John was his mother, Erica. She had been sick for a little more than a year, had gone back and forth to the hospital until that last month when she hadn't come home. Years later, it had been his big brother, Frank. Frank, with his best friend George, hadn't wanted to wait and see if they'd be drafted. They had shocked everyone when they enlisted. There had only been a year left - they had marked the calendar in the shop - until Frank would have been sent home. But that had never happened. Instead, George had arrived home in a body bag, and they'd received notice that Frank was MIA. That had been the main reason that John had enlisted as a Marine: his long-shot hope that, once he got over there, he might have been able to find Frank or, at least, discover what had happened to him and bring his body home. Ironically, it had only been after John had enlisted that the Marines had notified them that they had found Frank's body, killed in action, and the Marines had been in the process of returning his body. John had thought Pop would have boxed his ears when on finding out that John had enlisted. He had forged Pop's name. On the contrary, John had watched helplessly as his old man had cried and had made him promise to come back alive.
It was after John returned from 'Nam and started to seriously see Mary, when both her parents had been killed by an unknown psychopath. The police had listed the homicide as a robbery gone wrong. That had never made sense to John since nothing had been stolen.
At the funeral, John had met Mary's uncle and few cousins. They had been oddly tight-lipped, and Mary had seemed to have a strained relationship with them. He remembered that Mary had gone with them, late, one night after the funeral. She had said it was family business that her uncle had insisted upon. They had dropped Mary off, and she had returned more solemn then she had been at the funeral. That had been the last that John had seen of them. Mary hadn't even invited them to the wedding. Regardless, her uncle had stayed in touch, calling once or twice a year to check in. The calls had been brief, like they were an obligation, and though John wouldn't say Mary had ever voiced any warmth in those calls, neither had she ever expressed any animosity.
Funny - he could remember that, before Mary's parents were murdered, she had talked at every opportunity about leaving Lawrence. She had wanted to explore and settle down somewhere – anywhere - that wasn't Lawrence.
It had been painfully obvious that Mary and her father had had conflicts. John had been and remained sure that most of it was over him - even Deanna's acceptance of him hadn't been able to ease Samuel's mind. For some reason, Samuel hadn't liked him; whether it was because he had willingly served in Vietnam or because he was a lowly mechanic from a family of mechanics; John had never figured out. Mary had always tried to reassure him that that wasn't the case, that it was more she and Samuel had just had different views on her career choice - she wasn't willing to go into the family business of sales that required traveling around the mid-west. Again, something John had never been able to blame her for, and, for the life of him, he still couldn't see Mary as a traveling salesman. For that matter, he'd always had a difficult time seeing Samuel in that role. Mary had constantly told him otherwise, her voice brimming with pride whenever she'd spoken about it. She'd said that her father had been good at the job, the best she had ever seen.
All John had known for certain was that Samuel had blamed him for distracting Mary, for driving her away from a career path he'd wanted her to follow and creating a divide between father and daughter.
The tension had been enough that Mary had wanted out of Lawrence. She'd wanted to travel across the country and go to California. That was why he had started looking around for a vehicle. John had had access to the tow truck, but Pop had needed that for the shop. He had almost bought a wagon; instead he had let himself get talked into a cherry ride, a black '67 Impala. He didn't regret it, but that had been the beginning of the end; one by one, like dominoes, their plans and dreams of traveling, of moving away, had stalled out until the murders had permanently curtailed them.
John had stayed at her side and had helped Mary through her parents' murders. He had held Mary's hand as she was questioned by police, and she had clung to him even while he had been questioned. Throughout the entire investigation, the police had found no answers, no clues as to why the psycho had picked the Campbells. Afterwards he'd stood at Mary's side while she had made the funeral arrangements for her parents. A few years later, Mary had done the same for him after Pop had died from a massive heart attack. John was thankful Pop had gotten to know Mary, had been there at their wedding, had walked Mary down the aisle. Pop had been there the day Dean was born and had lived just past Dean's first birthday.
John gradually focused on Dean, who there, kneeling, his knees digging into John's lap, face to face with John. His son's expression was somber and too serious for any four-year-old. Dean's small hands cupped John's face, forcing him to look into his son's eyes, see the anguish. Dean opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. Slowly John understood the silent question that Dean was asking, that Dean was afraid if he spoke out loud that it would somehow make it come true. Dean's wide expectant green eyes stared imploringly, the unspoken question hung in the air between them, Mommy isn't coming back, is she? John felt the tears well up, felt them burn as they slid down his face. Dean waited. John's voice cracked and the noise resounded within the room. The lump in his throat grew and prevented him from speaking.
Shaking his head, John finally answered, "No," confirming Dean's greatest fear.
Dean just stayed there, staring, no tears, lost and not understanding. This time he didn't wipe John's tears away, his body just gently pressed in and curled up against John's chest. Quiet and still, they stayed like that, Dean's small hand patting over John's heart. John's body trembled in pain and grief as he cried for both of them. For everything he understood that his son didn't – for knowing, for seeing too much. The weight of responsibility: that John didn't stop it, couldn't save Mary, couldn't fix it … until at some point exhaustion took over, he collapsed, and they both fell into a deep sleep.
November 4, 1983
Returning from changing Sammy early the next morning, John noticed the new tray of food at the end of the bed and a rocker for Sammy next to it.
"Looks like Kate's back." As he moved over toward the bed, he saw that the tray was filled with two plates, one a plate of cheese and crackers, the other with cut-up fruit. Beside the plates was an open package of chocolate chip cookies with a tall glass of milk and a new bottle for Sam. He felt the warm consideration of his friends loosen something inside him for the first time since the fire.
Then John spotted the black book he had asked Mike to retrieve.
John's heart sank and his throat tightened with the realization he couldn't avoid going forward. He had to call Mary's uncle.
Shifting Sammy from hip to rocker, John settled Sam in and fastened the small safety straps. John turned to Dean, his voice scratchy as he spoke, "Okay kiddo, I have to go downstairs and make a phone call." John watched his son's eyes widen in fear at the thought of John leaving him. Bending down, John murmured, "Shhhh, I'm not leaving – I'll just be downstairs."
Dean's lips trembled, the gleem of unshed tears pool promising to spill as Dean reached out grasping John's hand – silently pleading.
Pained, John shook his head. He didn't want Dean listening on as he talked to Mary's uncle or hearing the calls John had to make for the funeral arrangements. "It's one of those stupid grown-up things that I have to take care of. I'll just be in the living room. You know how Aunt Kate's place is, you just walk into the hall, and you'll see me downstairs. I'll leave the door wide open and will hear you if you need me - I promise."
John felt the tug on his hand and knew that Dean wanted to refuse. With regret he used the only leverage he had to force Dean to stay. "I need you to watch Sammy for me. Bet I'll be back before you can finish all those cookies." Picking up the bottle, John held it close enough for Sammy to grab. Immediately Sammy clasped his chubby fingers around the bottle, clutching tightly as he started greedily sucking. "See, Sammy's hungry. I bet you are too. And, you can have as many cookies as you want, okay?" John ignored Mary's whispered teasing reprimand. One he had heard whenever he had let Dean eat sweets too close to dinner. John, that'll spoil his dinner. John would heartily reply, Nah, he has Winchester genes, and a Winchester's appetite is huge. He'd make his point by sweeping Mary up into his arms, lips nibbling on her neck to force giggles out of her and out of Dean while he watched.
Pushing the memory back, he smiled into Dean's face. "I'll be right downstairs, okay?" John didn't wait for Dean's reply as he pulled out of Dean's grasp and grabbed the black book. A quick glance back once the door was opened all the way showed Dean still standing there, his face sad, lost, and all-too-mature before John's eyes.
John turned and walked out of the room, his heart breaking with every step. At the top of the stairs, he saw Kate. Her hand squeezed his arm as she passed, "I'll stay with them."
John nodded his thanks then, and, as he headed downstairs, requested, "Leave the door open."
The call to Mary's uncle was quick and almost painless. John had only stumbled when her uncle had asked how Mary had died. John wasn't even sure actually what he said, but he felt accountable, compelled to explain why he hadn't saved her, but the words lodged in his throat. Somehow John answered with the bare facts, rambled out by rote: there was a fire; it was under investigation; they were considering faulty wiring. Once John mentioned the fire, her uncle interrupted and didn't need to hear anymore.
After that, Mary's uncle rushed through expressing his sympathies, offered to pay for the headstone while mumbling some excuse about how he wouldn't be able to get away for the services. He appreciated John calling, he said, and the next moment, John was listening to a dial tone.
He should have been furious, but he couldn't manage it. The majority of John's anger was reserved for himself. He was angry that he didn't save Mary and that he was keeping his silence about a truth he was afraid to voice: what he had seen, how Mary had actually died. That somehow someone attacked her and cut her open, leaving her to hang from the ceiling like a sacrifice. It was a truth he knew no one would believe, and if he did say something to the wrong person, they wouldn't just look at him crazy, they'd probably go ahead and lock him up – take the boys away. No, John was praying, banking on the idea that the forensics would find evidence to prove someone was there, someone who set the fire and murdered Mary.
An abrupt cry sounded, and John glanced up toward the stairs. The door to their room was being held open by Dean's small fingers. The door jerked as Dean let go and went in to Sam. A minute later, the crying stopped. Not wanting to delay things any further, John turned and refocused on the grim task at hand.
Grabbing the phone book, he looked up Jake's number. Jake was a friend; someone John had known most of his life, though growing up they had never been best buds. Because of Jake's position as the local mortician, though, that had changed. Like John, Jake had taken over his family's business, Anderson Mortuary, after he graduated. It was through that that their friendship had changed. With Mary's parents, Jake's dad had handled everything, but Jake had been there. Then a couple of years ago with Pop, it had only been Jake. Initially he'd thought it would be awkward because of his friendship with Jake, but he'd quickly discovered that having Jake as a friend had actually made the process easier. This time it would probably be the same in hindsight, but John couldn't think beyond his own grief or how much he hated this whole process.
Gladys, the receptionist, answered on the second ring. "Anderson's Mortuary. How may I help you?"
"Hi, Gladys, is Jake around?"
"Oh, John, is that you? I'm so sorry. We saw everything on the news this morning."
John nodded absently into the phone, lost anew. A harsh breath was forced out by the weight of his gratitude that he hadn't seen or heard the news. Suddenly he realized, as Mike and Kate probably already had, that the rest of Lawrence had woken up to his loss.
Gladys easily interpreted the sound, his anguish, something she dealt with every day, so she interrupted his train of thought and assured him, "I'll get Jake." She put him on hold.
John barely waited ten seconds before Jake picked up, "John?"
John spoke, his voice raw, "Hey, Jake."
As predicted, Jake took over and reassured John that he'd take care of everything; to start, he'd call the hospital and find out when exactly they were going to release the remains. Since John and Mary hadn't been church goers, Jake asked if John wanted a memorial service.
John's head hung as he considered it. He didn't want any of this, but a memorial service wouldn't just be for him. It would be for all of their friends – other family. Though now, the only other family that'd be there would be the boys. Sammy wouldn't know, but Dean... John wasn't comfortable putting Dean through that and there was no way he was leaving Dean home.
On the heels of that thought - of home, John shuddered involuntarily at the vision of their home burning. Jake interrupted John's silence to tell him they could hold off deciding for now – that he'd take care of everything, have it set for whatever way John wanted to go.
Jake offered his condolences and told John not to worry before he hung up.
John returned the phone to its cradle and just sat there, staring into space. John's eyes caught the gleam of his ring, and he twisted it around his finger. Memories hit: when Mary had put the ring there had been one of the happiest days of his life. With Mary he had many happy days, a lifetime's worth, but even accepting that realization, it was still too short, too little. Facing each day, each moment without her… thinking that he would never again wake up to her scent, her warmth, made him ache. He'd even miss her pointed elbows poking his stomach in sleep, silently demanding more room. Yet once he'd moved and shifted, she'd scoot back in even closer, only to repeat the jab twenty minutes later. A small smile graced his lips. His mind filtered through the multiple varieties of Mary's laughter that had gone from a soft lilt, to a devious sneer, to a full-out belly laugh that had brought tears to her eyes. It had all been part of Mary's vitality, part of the jovial spirit that encompassed only a small sum of everything that had been his wife. Shifting through memories, John tried to catalog, to memorize each moment. However hard he tried, though, the reality that he'd never again see, hold, or hear Mary hindered his memory. Those happy moments were fleeting and chased away by the endless loop of the hours just before the fire and of Mary, there on the ceiling.
Once again, Sammy's cries broke through. John blinked, remembered where he was and looked up to see Dean no longer hiding behind the door. He was kneeling, looking on, his hands clutched tightly around the balusters. Even from there, John could see in Dean's eyes the shared understanding of what they'd both lost.
John made it up the stairs before Dean could move, taking the stairs two at a time. Dean turned to watch him ascend the stairs; otherwise Dean didn't move from his spot. Reaching Dean, John squatted down to Dean's level. His hand cupped Dean's neck, and he slid his thumb over his son's cheek, silently directing Dean to look at him as he said, "We're going to be okay."
Dean stared at him unblinking before going through the motions and nodding at the words, but John could see the truth: Dean didn't believe it any more than John did.