The Illusionist II

Chapter 19 : The Absentee

John stood between the two beds, gaze drifting back and forth between his two sleeping sons. He was bone weary and felt as though he hadn't slept in days, his brown, sunken eyes a testament to that fact. He felt like absolute shit. He sighed silently and scrubbed a hand over his face. What had he done? His only goal in life after Mary had died was to catch and kill the thing that had murdered her, and maybe rid the world of a few other horrors along the way. But somehow, he'd managed to drag his sons into this – this mess.

His gaze drifted to Dean, chest seizing at the sight of his oldest son. Exhaustion was more than apparent on the young hunter, his slight body sprawled flat out on the bed, still wearing the clothes he'd been wearing since the day before. His face, gaunt even in unconsciousness, still wore the expression of pain he had while awake. His skin was pale, and the circles underneath his eyes dark and heavy. But John knew his greatest pain was invisible. Thanks to him, his oldest son was deaf again, having just got back his hearing a month or so before.

John clenched his jaw as memories and thoughts of days past flew across his eyes. A surge of pain flared up in his gut, and all he could think about was how horribly he had treated that boy. He'd put more bruises on that kid than he could ever count, and not once did Dean ever even try to defend himself. He just stood there and took it.

And it wasn't as though John didn't know how badly Dean tried to please him. The kid would go without food or sleep, mind too distracted by clues or cases to give either a second thought. And would he say anything to him? No, of course not. He'd let the kid continue to punish himself just as much as he punished him, and never even put out an inkling that he was worried about him. Not one fucking time.

He'd made him run for miles on end, beaten endless patterns of bruises onto his flesh, and berated him so badly he made his own stomach turn. Sure, his kid might not have been able to have heard his voice, but undoubtedly the expression on his face showcased exactly how he felt. Only, he was pretty positive, Dean would never know that the disgust he felt was for himself, not for the younger hunter.

Some fucking father he was.

He could feel a lump form in his throat as Dean shifted in his sleep, the kid curling up into a fetal position with his knees pressing up tightly against his chest.

His kid wanted to be as small as possible. Probably felt that way too.

John swallowed down the saliva that was resting just above the lump, thinking the action would force it down, but it didn't. It only made it worse, made it harder to handle.

It wasn't long before he felt tears well in his eyes, his vision blurring as he tried to trap them there, but a few escaped, crashing to the floor below.

He immediately moved a hand up, and swiped them away, but more fell in their place.

An image of his son at four years old flashed before his eyes. The kid was grinning from ear to ear, blond hair bouncing up and down as he ran straight towards John with his arms wide open.

"Daddy!" and just the memory of that little voice echoing through his head sent tremors down his body, and caused more tears to flood from his eyes.

He'd destroyed that little boy, forced him to become a man far before his time.

He took away his future, took away those dreams of becoming a fireman, took away any hope of his kid ever being just that – a kid.

John clasped a hand over his mouth, feeling the beginnings of a sob attempting to pry his lips open and escape out into the air, but he bit it back and choked it down.

He hurriedly wiped his eyes again, and ran his hands through his thick, dark hair, fingers clenching the tips.

A shaky sigh escaped his lips as his gaze was pulled towards Sam, and more guilt flooded through him. He knew Sam wasn't meant for a life such as the one they lived. No, his youngest son was destined to be in a more intellectual world, a normal world. Sam had hated hunting the moment he'd found out about it – hated the killing, the moving from place to place and never actually getting to settle down – even John had had that comfort when he was a child, and yet he'd stripped that from both his boys.

Dean always took it, accepted it; but Sam always made it known how horrible he thought it was.

Sam was so much like him it hurt. But it hurt even worse to know that his son hated him, because even though John had nothing to do with the demon that had let itself into their home that one fall night many years before, he had everything to do with what happened afterward. Instead of accepting the fact that his wife was gone and never coming back, he trudged forward into a world of monsters and demons and rituals no one in their right mind should be forced to learn. But he had, and he he'd forced that life on his kids, though they were anything but nowadays.

They were men now, and yet he still ordered them around as thought they were mere pawns on a chessboard. He used them like the king did, putting them on the front lines of battle and both of them had the scars to prove it.

He couldn't let this go on anymore.

This had been his battle, his war from the start, so therefore, it would be his to finish as well.

"I love you both," he whispered, and his mind was made up.

He took one last look at them before he turned around and opened the door, shutting it quietly behind him.

He was going to finish this once and for all.

On his own.


Dean wasn't quite sure what had actually roused him from his dreamless sleep. It was either the fact that he was freezing, or the overwhelming sense of emptiness that he felt as soon as he regained consciousness. He opened his eyes slowly, unsure of what he'd see when he did.

Sam was laying on the bed next to him, brow drawn and expression serious even in sleep. Guilt struck Dean as soon as he saw him, and he couldn't push the feeling away even if he'd wanted to. It came in bits and pieces, but the one thing he could clearly remember was when the demon had been hurting his brother – that part he hadn't forgotten. Almost everything else was shoddy, and he presumed that more than likely in the days to come, his subconscious would remind him of all the other things the demon had forced him to do or see.

His gaze crept over the room, traveling from the empty table to their two duffel bags that sat on the floor, and that's when he realized their father was missing. He sat up, too suddenly for his own good, the headache that he'd had before he fell asleep hitting him in full force and causing a wave of dizziness to crash over his equilibrium and sending him straight back down to the mattress. He raised both hands to his temples and pressed in, willing the pain to go away though it stayed put. Feeling as though he were on the verge of vomiting, he sat up as slowly as he could, but he still couldn't shake the nauseous feeling. Clamping his hand over his mouth, he struggled to make it into the bathroom before he threw up. Once his stomach had been emptied (nothing but bile and water, he saw), he flushed the toilet and sat up, already figuring he had woken Sam up. It wasn't long before his younger brother appeared in the doorway, looking worried and just as worn as he felt.

"You okay?" Sam asked, and Dean nodded. He watched Sam shake his head at himself. "Sorry," his younger brother said, and formed a fist with his thumb resting atop his fingers and made a few clockwise motions in front of his chest.

Dean just shook his head. "It's alright, Sammy," he muttered, forcing himself to stand. He went over to the sink, and splashed some water into his mouth and over his face. He dried his face off with one of the motel's cheap towels, the overpowering scent of bleach enveloping his nose. He took a deep breath and turned to face his brother. "He's gone."

Sam nodded in response, and Dean couldn't tell if he was sad, angry, or relieved.

"You okay?" Dean asked with his hands, pointing at Sam and then finger-spelling the 'O' and 'K'.

His younger brother nodded, grimacing as he did so.

"Headache?" Dean inquired silently, lifting both hands up in front of his forehead and extending his index fingers towards each other.

"Yeah," Sam admitted, running a hand through his hair.

Dean nodded and exited the room. He made his way over his duffel, rummaging through it for a moment until he removed a bottle of ibuprofen. He popped the lid open, and shook two pills into his hand. He grabbed a bottle of water from the mini fridge and handed the items over to Sam.

His younger brother stared at him, blue eyes questioning and searching as he accepted the water and pills.

"What?" Dean asked, with a shrug of his shoulders. "Why are you looking at me like that?" signing his words instead of speaking them. His insecurity level was running high, so he decided he wasn't going to speak for awhile. Not until Sam needed him to.

The youngest Winchester let a sad smile grace his lips before shaking his head and gulping down the ibuprofen and water. His then moved his right hand to his chin with his fingertips touching his lips, and extended it forward in an arch towards Dean. "Thanks," he said. His still looked pale and worse for wear, so Dean grabbed some change from his jacket pocket and signed, "Be right back."

Before Sam could protest, he was already out the door and treading along the rows of rooms, the cold making his teeth chatter. Finally, he found the vending machine and stuck the change in, entering the code for the last Snickers bar that was sitting in spot B6. He shivered, flurries scattering around him as the candy bar dropped down. He quickly reached in and snatched it up, crossing his arms against his chest as he made his way back to their room. Sam was sitting on his bed, back to him with his head in his hands. Dean walked around the bed and handed him the candy bar. Sam looked up, hands shaking as he took it. "Thanks," he said again, this time not signing the word, but Dean already knew what he'd said so he just nodded in response. Dean watched him eat, and when he was satisfied that Sam would be alright, he grabbed some clothes out of his duffel.

He cleared his throat, and forced himself to speak. " 'M gonna go get cleaned up. When I'm done, I'll go get some real food. Sound good?"

Sam nodded. "Sure." He looked on the verge of being upset, and Dean figured it had something to do with the fact that Sam knew that no matter what type of fight he put up, they were still going to follow their father. So Dean kept quiet and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He tried his best to ignore just how sore his body was as he peeled off the layers he was wearing. Most of the wounds he had sustained at the hands of the Benders were healing, but they still hurt. Though he'd never admit it. He'd just do what he always did, keep marching on regardless of the fact that he was hungry, tired, or cold.

...Be a good soldier...

He turned on the water in the shower, letting it warm up before he got in. The mirror was beckoning him, but he avoided his reflection. From what he had caught just a few minutes before, he looked like shit, and didn't care to give himself a second glance. After a minute or two, he undid his belt and slid his jeans and boxers off and gingerly climbed into the shower. The stab wound on his leg was still bothering him. He grimaced as the hot spray hit him, making all the injuries he'd sustained in the past few days burn as they were thoroughly cleaned. Before he even bothered with the shampoo, he let the water run on the back of his head. John had cleaned it for him last night, Sam having been far too out of it. The oldest Winchester had sewn his flesh back together, albeit roughly, but it had managed to bleed a bit while he had slept. Once the dried blood was out of his hair, he began to wash it as carefully as he could.

When he was content that his hair was clean, he reached for the bottle of AXE that was sitting on the edge of the shower, but he lost his grip and it clattered to the shower floor. He let out a curse, and bent down to retrieve it, though when he stood back up, all he saw was black. Dizziness crashed over him, and forced him to hold onto the shower wall for support. His breath started to quicken as the world spun silently around him, so he pressed his head against the wall and closed his eyes, trying desperately not to panic. He could feel his heart, thumping away in his chest, pumping his blood through his veins like there would be no tomorrow. It was almost like his worst nightmare, not being able to see or hear.

...Go away, go away, go away...

It was then that he could feel the muscles in his stomach tighten and twitch, and the urge to throw up hit him again. He wrapped his arm around his mid-section as he dropped to his knees, unable to stop himself from dry-heaving. He honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten anything. He was pretty positive that nothing passed through his lips the entire time he was possessed, and before that he was uncertain. Had it really been an entire week?

Pain continued to twist his stomach into knots as the shower water rained down upon him. He blanched when he felt two hands grip a hold of him, one on his shoulder, the other on his back. The motion caused him to lurch forward, but he didn't fall. Instead, one hand disappeared, and an arm slid across his chest, holding him securely in place. Seconds later, he felt the water stop. Then, a towel was being wrapped around him, the rough motel cotton brushing against his marked skin. Slowly but surely, he felt himself being guided upwards. He was still dizzy, but he forced open his eyes and saw his little brother standing there amongst the blue and purple spots that were still marring his vision. "I can do it," he forced out, but Sam wasn't going anywhere. Dean relented, knowing full and well he wouldn't be able to make it back into the bedroom without his little brother's assistance. Still, he couldn't help but be encompassed by guilt. He was supposed to be taking care of Sammy, that was his job, not the other way around.

He put on a brave face, gritting his teeth at the continued pain that was making his stomach cramp. His arms were wrapped around himself gripping the towel, while Sam's hands were ever present on his shoulder and back. Eventually, they made it over to Dean's bed and he sat down. He was too ashamed to even throw a glance up at Sam's way. He just hunched over on himself, pulling the rough cloth tighter around his thin frame. An involuntary shiver wracked his body, and he clenched his jaw even tighter, hating how weak he looked now.

It was as though, all at once, everything that was wrong with his long exhausted body finally caught up with him. His head ached; his knuckles, though scabbed over, burned; and those were just some of the physical wounds. His mental state was a whole other story.

Suddenly, he felt Sam's hand on his shoulder again, and he jerked away from the contact, the motion jarring his already painful wounds. It didn't help that he'd managed to mutter, "Don't," so brokenly that his younger brother was nearly in tears. He couldn't help it though. He didn't deserve for Sam to be so kind to him, not after what he'd done to him. He'd nearly killed him, and yet there he was, still trying to be a good little brother and do what he thought was right. But Dean knew better. He didn't deserve the comfort of a soothing hand or his brother's embrace which was inevitably coming. He felt the bed dip next to him, and he tightened in on himself even more, trying to make himself as small as possible. But not matter how hard he tried, he could shrink no further away from Sam, and soon, he was being pulled forward, one hand on the back of his head, the other gently pressed against his back. He tried pulling away once again, but his brother's embrace was firm. He shook his head, and once he felt Sam's breath against his ear, shushing him, he knew he must've been muttering something. What, he had no clue. He bit his bottom lip to stifle whatever words and sounds were escaping his lips, and stared forward, waiting for it to be over with.

Finally, after a few minutes, Sam pulled away from him, though his hands were still on Dean, positioned gently on his shoulders. That's when Dean saw the tears that were slowly traversing the expanse of his brother's cheeks. "I can't begin to understand what you're going through," Sam said, removing his hands to sign with them. But before he could finish, Dean just shook his head and looked away, embarrassment and anger forcing his brow to narrow. Within seconds, Sam's hand was on his cheek, touch as light as feather as he guided Dean to look at him again. "Please just listen to me," Sam said, laying his right hand flat against his chest and moving it counter-clockwise. He then formed his hand into a 'C' shape and cupped his right ear. "Please?" he asked again, blue eyes glimmering with more tears, and the guilt that was consuming Dean forced him to keep his brother's gaze.

"I know what you want to do, and I'm not going to argue with you about it. I'm not," Sam reinforced, pointing to himself, then forming a fist with his hand, he stuck his thumb up and placed it to the tip of his chin and moved it forward in an arch. "But before we go anywhere," he said, placing his hand out in front of him in a fist shape again with his thumb sticking up while he moved it in a circle, then tucking his thumb away, extended his index finger and shook it. "You have got to eat something. Even if it's just a bowl of soup, because this can't keep happening, Dean." And Dean could tell by the way his brother's top lip was trembling that he was having trouble holding it together. He could see that Sam was on the verge of crying again. "Or one of these days, you might not wake up, to save Dad or anyone else for that matter. And I couldn't live with myself if I allowed that to happen. So will you please do that? For me?" he asked, pointing to himself.

Dean stared at him, green eyes appearing larger in his gaunt face. He nodded after a moment, though the guilt that had poured over him earlier was still keeping him company.

A sad smile pulled at the corners of Sam's lips, and a single tear cascaded down his cheek. "I'll go get something. Stay put, okay?"

Dean reached out to him, bony wrist peaking from the confines of his towel and lightly gracing Sam's arm before the younger man could make it too far from the bed. His brother stopped immediately, blue eyes locking onto his. Dean withdrew his arm and instead made the sign for clothes, forming a 'five' shape with his hand and running it down his chest twice. The sign called for two, but his other hand was still busy holding up the towel. He was pretty sure Sam understood his shorthand. His brother looked apologetic and nodded, going into the bathroom and coming back out with the clothes Dean had taken in there with him. Sam handed them over and Dean took them gratefully. He was freezing.

"You need help?" Sam asked, holding his left hand out in front of him palm facing upwards as he placed his right hand that was formed into a shape of a fist with his thumb pointing upwards and moved it away from himself.

Dean shook his head, pointed to himself, and signed back the letters 'O' and 'K'. He could feel Sam staring at him, and rolled his eyes. "Go," he signed, bringing his right hand up to the side of his face with his fingers extended, then moving it away from him and bringing all of his fingers together.

He watched his brother move out of the corner of his vision, still not making eye contact even as Sam slipped on his jacket and grabbed the Impala's keys. Finally, Sam stepped in front of him. "I'll be back soon," he signed, and Dean nodded. Sam disappeared from his sight, and after a few seconds, glanced over his shoulder to make sure he was actually gone. Once his suspicions were confirmed, he released the breath he'd been holding, and started to slip on his clothes. He pulled on his boxers first (they too were now loose), followed by his jeans. Even though they were only a size 32, they still hung dangerously low on his hips, where the bones were now definitely jutting out. He pulled on the black henley, the shirt easily three sizes too big on his slender frame. He completed the outfit with the thick black socks his brother had given him as a late Christmas present. They were warm and comfortable, and for that he was thankful because his feet were freezing.

Still feeling chilly, he carefully stood up. This time, however, his vision stayed intact. He lightly padded over to his duffel and unzipped the bag. He was about to rummage through it for another t-shirt when he saw his father's journal sitting atop everything. He paused, knowing full and well that John had held onto it since his return, and the last time he had seen it, it had been on the table before he'd passed out. Curiosity getting the better of him, he removed it from its perch, and stood back up, absentmindedly grabbing Sam's hoodie that had been strewn across the back of one of the motel chairs. He pulled his arms through it, zipped it up, and sat back down on his designated bed. He began to flip through the pages of the journal, not finding anything unusual until he got to the last page. He almost dismissed the letter, except for the fact that his name was scrawled atop of the page in his father's frantic-looking penmanship.

His brow narrowed at the discovery. Swallowing thickly, he allowed himself to read it.

Dean -

Son, there isn't enough room on this page for me to tell you how sorry I am for everything I've ever done to you. A true father would've never even thought of doing the things I have to you to their son. I just wanted to let you know, that in no way have you ever let me down. You've done more for me than anyone else in my life, and a million thank yous still wouldn't be enough to express the gratitude I have for you. You changed my life the moment you came into it, and I will never forget seeing you for the first time in your mother's arms. Dean, you are an amazing son, and the fact that I was never able to tell you this myself only solidifies what kind of a person I am. I screwed up, kid. I screwed up big time. I won't even ask for your forgiveness because we both know I don't deserve it. Take care of Sammy for me, and let him know I love him.

I love you, son.

Dean read the entry over and over again until his vision blurred. A few tears slipped down his cheeks, and he quickly swiped them away. This couldn't be right, he thought, rereading the words over and over again. Dean honestly couldn't recall the last time his father had told him that he'd loved him. He remembered hearing it a few times when he was little, before his mother had died. Dean had just assumed that any love his father had had died with their mother.

Dread began to invade Dean's body, snaking up his spine and spreading out through his chest to his arms and finally to his fingertips.

This note – it was a good-bye. His father had left them to go take care of that demon on his own, and wasn't expecting to come back from it. Dean felt like an idiot for not realizing it sooner. He couldn't let that happen. He just couldn't. He was so caught up in his thoughts that he hadn't felt the cold gust of wind spiral around him as Sam came back through the door. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw his brother set two styrofoam boxes and a cup holder on the table to his left, and slide his jacket off. Sam met his gaze almost instantly, and worry quickly transformed his neutral features. "Dean, what's wrong?" he asked, bringing his hand up to his chin with his pinkie finger and thumb extended, the rest of his fingers bent, and tapped it twice.

Dean just stared at him, eyes haunted by the paper below him.

"Dean?" Sam inquired, sincere concern creasing his brow, showcasing lines of worry.

Dean glanced down at the journal, and slowly slid it across the bed towards his brother. Sam stared at him curiously for a moment before leaning over and picking the leather-bound book up. Dean watched his brother's eyes read over each line, and his face grow darker with each new sentence. "We can't let him do this," Dean signed once Sam's eyes had left the book, fingers moving gracefully and fluidly even though his hands were shaking. "We have to help him."

He didn't trust himself to speak right now. He knew how bad his voice would sound, and he didn't want Sam to hear it.

Sam set the journal back down on the bed and nodded. "Let's eat first, then we'll get out of here. I promise."

Dean hesitated, wanting so badly to tell his brother that the food could wait because the clock was ticking and their father needed them right fucking now, but he stilled his hands and forced himself to stand up. He saw Sam hovering, but ignored him and made his way over to the table without any help. He sat down and popped open the container, growing nauseous at the sight of the oatmeal, toast, and egg that were currently cooling in front of him. Sam tapped his hand, and he immediately glanced over at his brother.

"I wanted to get you soup, but they were only serving breakfast so it was the best that I could do," he signed, fingers moving slowly but steadily, a sad look in his eyes.

Dean signed 'O' and 'K' again, and picked up a slice of toast. He stared at it in disgust before finally tearing a piece off and putting it in his mouth. He chewed as fast as he could, the sick feeling staying with him still. He hated the way it felt like a lead weight as he swallowed it, and how it made his stomach feel heavy and full after consuming just the single piece of bread. He managed to eat half of the oatmeal before he closed the container, deciding he'd had enough. It was better than the nothing he'd consumed for the past seven days, and he hoped it would make his brother happy. As happy as Sam could be in their current situation anyway.

He glanced over at Sam, and caught his younger brother staring at him, a distraught expression on his face.

"What?" Dean mouthed with a shrug, though it was much more subdued than his usual sharp and standoffish one.

Sam sighed and sat down his fork, bringing both hands up in front of his chest with all of his fingertips touching and then moved both hands in an outward motion. "Nothing," he said, with a shake of his head.

"Sammy?" Dean finger-spelled, narrowing his brow. "What?" he asked again with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Are you sure you're going to be able to do this? You're," and Sam hesitated on his words, hands faltering as he signed. "You're sick," and he held one hand up to his forehead with his middle knuckle bent, and one hand in front of his chest also with the middle knuckle bent and turned them both inwardly simultaneously.

Dean's brow narrowed further at that, and he could feel anger starting to creep into his movements. Sharply, he held his hand up in a 'five' shape, and thumped his chest with his thumb twice, indicating that he was perfectly fine. He could feel the argument that Sam promised wouldn't happen on the horizon.

"I'm just...I'm worried about you," Sam said, and Dean hated that he could see anguish and sorrow in his little brother's eyes.

"Don't be," Dean stated with his hand, bringing his hand upwards with his thumb up, using the the digit to brush underneath his chin and moved it in a forward motion. "Worry about dad," he signed, and Sam rolled his eyes.

"Dean," Sam started, but the middle Winchester cut him off, silencing him with his sharp hand movements.

"We can't let him die, Sam. He deserves a lot of things, but dying isn't one of them. So cut the shit, finish eating, and let's go." With that, Dean got up, threw his leftovers into the trash, and retrieved his boots. He slipped them on without even looking at his brother, and started collecting his things, stuffing them all into his duffel. He was still a little shaky, but he told himself that it was because he was angry, not because he'd only consumed around two hundred calories. "I'll be waiting out in the car," he stated with his hand, finger-spelling the word 'CAR', and snatched the keys from off the table, hurriedly making his way out the door before Sam could protest.

He walked over to the Impala and opened the trunk, tossing his bag in and slamming it shut. He quickly unlocked the driver's side door and got in, putting the keys in the ignition and starting it. His gaze fell on the motel room door, and once again, he was hit with a fresh wave of guilt. He sighed and rubbed his hands together, cold air swirling from the vents, but the action did nothing to warm him.

He knew things had to change soon. He just wished it wasn't so damned hard. His gaze fell to his fingers and he could see how bony they were. Hell, his ring wouldn't even fit on his finger anymore. It just fell off. He was going to kill himself if he kept going at the rate he was, and he knew it. He was still exhausted, and figured that somewhere in the sixteen hour drive to Chicago, they were going to have to switch places because he'd just be too fucking tired to go on.

His gaze shot up when he felt cold air pour into the car. He hadn't even realized Sam had come out, let alone walked up to the Impala. Dean watched his brother toss his bag into the backseat, and slam the door shut before climbing in on the passenger side.

"Ready?" Dean asked with his hands, bringing them both up and crossing his middle finger on each hand over his index while the rest of his fingertips touched. He then moved them in a straight line to his right.

Sam nodded, and Dean put the car in reverse, backing out and pulling out of the lot and onto the highway, Chicago bound.

A/N – First off, I just want to simultaneously apologize for taking so long to update, and thank each and every single one of you for your high patience level. I can't thank you all enough for the wonderful support and reviews you've left for this story. So twaddletoe, Guest, Shara Raizel, Dee2436, Stryder2008, TreenBean, Carla888, dandy44, renniespice, WeFallTogetherNoMore, Anon, Reader, HPSmallCharm, KimiUzumaki, LoveHasNoHeart, and every single one of you other beautiful people that have followed this story or faved it, THANK YOU! :) I hope this chapter sufficed for now, and as a fair warning, I foresee there only being three or four left. So once again, thank you, thank you, thank you.