Summary: John Winchester is a good man and a good father, but after a bad night and a drunken mistake, Dean refuses to bail his father out of jail, and then grabs Sammy and takes off. If John really was sorry, if he really wanted to apologize, then he would get sober and give up hunting long enough to find them. Set Pre-series.
Rated T for coarse language and child endangerment
Disclaimer: I do not know or own Supernatural or any other affiliated character, nor is any money being made. The show and all recognizable characters belong to Eric Kripke and the CW.
From the hotel parking lot, in the middle of Maine, still more than a hundred feet from the room, Dean can already hear them arguing. There's a slur to John's angry tirade and an edge to Sam's still deepening voice that doesn't just piss Dean off. It scares him.
It's gonna be one of those nights, he sulks and drags his feet getting to the door. The fights are becoming a common occurrence; John drinking is kind of an everyday thing, at least when he's around. It's not often when his father gets drunk, though, and when he does he's more or the less the kind of drunk who breaks down crying and shares everything he's feeling while Dean provides the comfort.
John Winchester is a good man and a good father and Dean fucking idolizes him. The man is a hero. But on very rare occurrences, drinking turns John into a mean son of a bitch, and more often than not when that happens, Dean ends up getting the shit kicked out of him by his own father.
He is not in the mood to get his ass handed to him tonight, especially not after being stuck in the car for eight hours listening to Sam bitch the whole time. When was that kid just going to accept the fact that they were never going to be normal? They were never going to have that life. And he was not in the mood to spend the day tomorrow comforting Sam, who he knew would fall eerily quiet and plaster himself to Dean's side until well after their father was gone, feeling guilty, and seeking and providing comfort all at the same time.
He's tired of the fighting, tired of being their meditator, and he almost turns around and walks away. Almost. Except Dean is an awesome big brother, and he can't just leave Sam in John's unpredictable hands.
He's barely in the door when he sees John's hand fly up and smack Sam hard enough to send the gawky teen tumbling backwards. Dean is across the room faster than either of the other two men can react. He hauls a stunned Sam to his feet, drags him to the bathroom and locks him in there with a chair under the handle, knowing full well that if he didn't, the younger boy would try and intercede and get in the damn way. Which is more of a hassle than Dean needed right now.
He has enough to worry about.
There's a wild look in his father's eyes, a look Dean knows too well. It says I'm drunk, I'm angry and I don't know why and most importantly, I'm not going to remember this tomorrow. John with his inhibitions could be terrifying and intimidating, but without them, he was not a man Dean was eager to confront. For Sam's safety and their father's wellbeing, he would anyways.
It is not his father he's starring down right now, he tells himself, it's just a part of John that everyone hates, the part that burns bridges, alienates friends and generally just pisses people off.
He's handled this side of John before, and he can handle it again.
Everything is going to be just fine.
Someone called the police. He thinks it might have been Sam.
Dean's glad he did.
They drag his father away in cuffs, past the gathering crowd, and shove him into the back of a police car. Dean doesn't protest and there's more to his silence than anything he tells to the cop with the sad eyes.
He hands the sympathetic cop taking his statement his fake ID. It's the one his father got him for sneaking into bars, the one that says he's eighteen when there's still seven months to his real 17th birthday. It's never failed him before.
"You look awful young for your age," the police officer says, scrutinizing the ID with a critical eye.
"I get that all the time," he smiles charmingly in response, lying with practiced ease. He's had the ID for months now, to hustle pool and poker while his father was gone. Dean's had plenty of experience lying to get what he wants.
It always works.
He's not going to press charges. The cop lays an unwanted hand comfortingly on his shoulder and tries to convince him otherwise. The cop tells him bullshit, like it's not your fault, and there are people who can help you, but still Dean refuses. They think he's 18, so there's nothing the cop can do, but drag John to the drunk tank for the night for disorderly conduct and release him when he's sober. He'll be out by morning, early afternoon at the latest.
Dean's not planning on sticking around to find out exactly when.
A young, green looking, paramedic is stitching up his arm from his wrist to half way to his elbow. A defensive wound regrettably obtained from the jagged edges of John's broken beer bottle. The paramedic looks almost nauseous at the sight of the cut. Dean's had nastier cuts sewn shut with dental floss, a blunt needle, and no pain killers or fancy anesthetics. He's fucking fine and he really wished the cop would realize that and stop giving him the pity eyes.
His ribs are probably broken and he just might have a concussion, he's told. You need a hospital, the paramedic insists.
Dean isn't going to the hospital, not in this town at least. Not tonight. Because by morning when John finally stumbles back to the hotel, hung over, apologetic and far less ornery with only a vague notion of what exactly happened the night before, Sam and Dean will be long gone.
He loves his father, he really does and he's never blamed the older man for raising a hand to him every once in a while. He knows John isn't a bad father, knows he is a good man, but he crossed the line when he smacked Sam. Dean is not going to sacrifice Sam's safety for anything, not even their father.
As soon as the police are gone, he's packing up Sam and taking off. To where, well they'll find out when they get there.
There's a sad pathetic look on his father's face that makes him look more like a drowned kitten and less like a warrior as the cop car pulls away. Dean is impervious to that look by now. His father is always sorry. If John was really sorry, if he really wanted to apologize, if he really cared, then he would get sober and give up hunting long enough to find them.
They grant Dean temporary custody of Sam. They do after all think he's a responsible adult.
The cop leaves him with his card and a number for a center for abuse victims on the back. Five seconds after the last squad car and ambulance pull out of the dark parking lot, he leaves the card in the trash. Dean is not a victim, and he does not need their help.
Sunrise is in six hours. By then he wants as much distance between his father and them. While Sam packs their shit, he hotwires an old, beat up Camaro that he's pretty sure belongs to a drug dealer. Good. Means no one would report the car stolen.
The interior smelled like BO, rotting food, and rotten flesh. Just to be safe, he checked for drugs and possible dead bodies in the trunk.
Dean takes the main highway out of town before realizing that it's too easy of a trail to follow. If John wants to find them, Dean's going to make him work hard for it. There's no crawling back this time, no pretending it never happened.
He's a good son. He doesn't argue and he always follows orders. He's always rolled with the punches and never complained when 'accidents' like this happened before. But this time, John had gone too far and he had to face the consequences of his actions. If they stay, John never has to face up to the truth, and incidents like these will just keep happening over and over again. Dean can't always be there to protect Sammy if it does. So Dean is going to be the one to force him to see that hard truth. And if he didn't want to face reality, and never came after them, then Dean and Sam were going to be just fine on their own. He's been taking care of Sammy practically his whole life anyways and he can do it just fine even without Dad.
He takes the first exit off the highway and takes random road after random road for hours until his stomach is rumbling and his bladder is threatening mutiny. He keeps going anyways, doesn't stop until he has to.
By then, he knows, they've already disappeared into Nowhere, America. Only someone who really wanted to, who really tried to, would ever find them.
"Dean," Sam finally speaks up hours after they hit the open road. They've only made two quick stops since they left Maine, and after 13 longs hours of constant driving, they are almost to Ohio. Dean's still not sure where they are going, but figures he'll know it when they get there. Sam, just like Dean knew he would be, has been quiet and contemplative in the passenger seat. Moping is a more accurate term. "I'm sorry," Sammy says and looks at Dean with his big puppy dog eyes.
It's not the first time Sam has riled up their father and Dean took the heat for it. Last time John passed out after a handful of punches and a few solid kicks. A dislocated finger was the worst of the injuries and Dean easily popped it back into place himself. The bruises were easy to hide and when the next morning came around, John didn't remember and Dean didn't tell him. It wasn't all that bad and Dean was fine. There was no use in stirring the pot. He made Sam promise not to get Dad worked up like that again.
It was a promise he knew Sam couldn't keep.
He almost thought of turning back then, thought of going back to Maine and apologizing to Dad. He never wanted to hurt his father like this.
Then he caught site of bruise on his brother's cheek. He was doing this for Sam, running away for his protection. Dean couldn't make excuses for John forever. At some point, no matter how traumatized, or run down, or exhausted, John had to learn that you just didn't treat family like that.
"Sam, don't," he says, and turns up the radio effectively ending the conversation. He pretends not to notice the hurt look that settles in his brother's eyes.
It's not that he blames Sam, he doesn't, really. Sam didn't make John do anything. Sam didn't make John get drunk and he sure as hell didn't make John hit him. But if Sam wants to share and care, forget it. That's not happening. Because Dean is fine and Sam is barely 12. He doesn't need to be worrying about this shit. Dean is going to take care of it, take care of him.
"Where are we going?" Sam ventures sometime later after the Metallica tape he took from the Impala has played through once, rewound and played again.
"I don't know," Dean gruffly replies.
"We could go to Bobby's? Or Pastor Jim's?" Sam suggests.
"No. We're getting away from Dad, remember? And those are the first places he'll look." They talked about this hours after they first got into the car, and he knows Sam understands. He knows that Sam gets that they have to get away and force John to straighten out. When he does, they'll stop running.
Dean also knows that Sam is just worried about him.
"Oh," is all Sam says and he turns to stare out the window at the night sky and the passing corn fields. "Do you think Dad will come looking for us?"
Dean casts a quick glance towards his brother, desperately hoping that his own fear and uncertainty aren't obvious in his gaze. He wants to tell Sam 'of course he will.' He wants to tell Sam that their father is already well on their way to finding them. But Dean doesn't know that for sure, and while he wants to believe it is true, a greater part of him is skeptical.
"I don't know, Sammy."
On the third day, they end up in some place called Silver Creek, Nebraska. Silver Creek is a small village, with less than 500 people and it could not be more in the middle of nowhere.
There Dean finally stops running.
For the time being, at least.
There's not much to see, even less to do, and the closest city is hours away. It's perfect. No one will ever find them here.
Dean's not sure how he feels about that.
The semester is almost over, but he enrolls Sam for the last month of school anyways. It's what his brother needs and Dean is going to give it to him. He finds work on a farm owned by an elderly couple. They're too old to handle the crops alone this year, but too stubborn to sell the farm and retire. Dean kind of likes them, especially since Mrs. Kincaid bakes him home-made apple pies and lets him take them home to Sam.
He makes enough money the first week to rent a trailer at the local trailer park, trailer number 9. It's a dump, smells like old feet with a nearly black carpet that used to be light grey at some point. The furniture is moldy, the bathroom is barely big enough to fit in and Dean and his brother will have to share a bed.
It almost feels like home.
It's a hick, redneck village with nothing Supernatural in sight. But Sam makes a few friends, Dean doesn't hate his job, and soon they find themselves quickly falling into a routine.
There isn't much to see in this small town, even less to do, so most weekends Sam follows him to work on Saturdays. Sometimes Sam helps him out and sometimes his younger brother just lounges around or gets lost in a maze of maize. Mrs. Kincaid makes them lunch on Saturdays, Sam always help her. Together they eat their meal and drink their ice cold lemonade under the hot southern sun and talk about their week. He regales Sam with a ludicrous tale about his first attempt at trying to catch a chicken. He leaves out the part about having to cut its head off, because even with all the gore he's seen hunting, killing the chicken still kind of makes him sad. Sam tells him about the girl in his gym class that keeps trying to corner him and kiss him.
It almost feels normal.
Sundays are his only day off. Long after Sam has fallen asleep, every Sunday night, Dean walks to the only pay phone in the little village. And every Sunday night he stares at the phone for nearly an hour, before turning and walking away, never once making a call.
He never tells Sam that he leaves on Sunday, but he thinks his brother knows anyway.
It isn't until the fourth Sunday, that Dean finally picks up the phone and makes a call. He's not entirely aware of who he's calling, until he hears Bobby's gruff 'hello' on the other end.
"Bobby," he chokes out after a long moment of silence and an impatient sigh.
"Dean?" Bobby asks and he knows he's not imagining the relief he hears in the older hunter's voice. "Are you alright?"
"We're both fine," he says into the phone and rests his head against the glass wall of the booth. It was good to hear the older hunter's voice.
"Everybody's worried, son. Your Daddy's about to shit a brick. Tell me where you are. I'll come get you. You can stay here for awhile."
"That's not going to happen, Bobby." His voice breaks a little, and damnit those are not tears in his eyes. He wants what Bobby is offering, safety and stability, but he knows it would only be a matter of time before John showed up there to collect them. Dean's not ready for that yet, and he doesn't think Sam is either. I only called to let someone know they are all right, he tells himself.
"Dean," the hunter begins to argue.
Dean huffs into the phone and pounds his forehead against the glass. "He hit Sam," he says, cutting off the rest of Bobby's argument.
He hears Bobby sigh into the phone. "I know," is all he says and just like that Dean knows the older man understands why he's still running. What John did is pretty much unforgivable in Dean's book. It is going to take a lot longer than the month they've been away for Dean to forgive and forget this one.
"Where is he?" he asks and hopes Bobby doesn't hear the crack in his voice.
"I don't know."
"Is he on a hunt?"
Bobby hesitates, waits just a moment too long to answer. "He's looking for you and Sam," he evades.
Dean knows he is lying.
He purses his lips in anger and clutches the phone tightly in his hand. "Thanks, Bobby," he softly says and abruptly hangs up the phone. If he stays on the phone much longer, he knows Bobby will convince him to head over to the junkyard. He wants to go home, he wants to be with their father again, but not like this. If he goes back now, there's no hope John will get the point.
They stay in Silver Creek, Nebraska just one more week, long enough for Sam to finish the school year. Dean finally gets the stitches in his arm taken out at the local clinic, before packing them up in the old, stolen Camaro and picking another random direction to drive in.
Just two days later, after they flee the little town, John shows up in Silver Creek, Nebraska looking for his boys. They are already long gone and nowhere in particular, the trail ice cold.
They stop at a fair somewhere in Wyoming. They ride all the cheap, slightly dangerous rides, play a few games and Dean even wins Sam a stuffed animal, even though his brother is way too old for one. Doesn't matter, because Sam still likes it. He even names it Taco. They stop at a stand that sells deep fried Twinkies that taste like fried heaven on a stick.
They wander around aimlessly after that. Somewhere in Nevada, they ditch the Camaro and pick up another classic Junker that Dean is pretty sure no one is even going to notice is missing. That is when Dean gives Sam his first lesson on how to boost cars.
Dean's been fixing the Impala by himself since he was Sam's age, but his little brother is as clueless as they come when it comes to cars. Kid's practically a genius, though, and it doesn't take him long to learn how to hotwire his first car.
By the time they leave Nevada, Dean has noticed that he is starting to rapidly lose weight. It's not that money is a problem. He's got enough cash saved up from Nebraska to keep them going for a while, and emergency credit cards in case they run into trouble.
Dean's just not that hungry anymore. He's nervous, stressed, on edge and his stomach constantly feels likes it wants to upchuck everything in it.
Not like it's much different than before they ran away, it just somehow feels different somehow. It feels like maybe they are never going back, and this is it and he'll be alone forever, and...
Dean doesn't let himself dwell on those dark thoughts for too long, but that doesn't meant those thoughts aren't still lurking in his mind.
He called Bobby again from Arizona and couldn't glean that much information from him about John, but he is under the impression that his father isn't trying all that hard to find them.
It's just a little depressing.
Bobby yells at him this time, tells him to get his stubborn ass to his place pronto.
Dean listens to him rant, quietly tells the older hunter he'll think about it, and then hangs up. Heading to Bobby's would be the same thing as admitting defeat and Dean's not ready for that yet.
Because maybe he's got something to prove.
He is acutely aware that Sam is worried about him. He doesn't miss the furtive glances his brother keeps sending his way. He plasters on an encouraging smile and they keep going.
He finally gets up the nerve to call John.
He would know already, from his brief and rare conversations with Bobby, if it was the right time to stop running.
But he misses his Dad and wants to hear his voice.
He doesn't say anything when his father picks up the phone on the fourth ring, but his Dad knows it's him.
"Dean, is that you?" his father demands. When he says nothing, his father continues. "You better come back, with Sammy, right now or I will…"
Dean hangs up mid rant.
He just got a little extra incentive to keep going.
In search of a familiar face, Dean heads back east to Pastor Jim's place because he knows the older man won't force them to stay. They'll be long gone before John can get there, if he is even following.
Before he can protest, Pastor Jim tightly hugs both of them, holding them close to his chest.
"You boys okay?" he asks, already herding both of them into the kitchen, for a nice hot meal.
"We're fine," Dean replies and Sammy nods his assent. He still has cash left from the job in Nebraska, plus the money he hustled in Nevada, and his brother is finished with school for a couple of months. There is nothing to tie them anywhere.
Pastor Jim flits around the kitchen, preparing what looks to be homemade chili. Dean lets his weary shoulders relax, just for a moment. He knows Pastor Jim will take good care of Sammy.
"Pastor Jim?" he asks when the man starts dishing out dinner. "Can you not call our father, until tomorrow?"
"You've been gone for seven weeks, Dean. Your father is worried sick," the pastor argues.
"Please," he says and gives his best impression of Sam's puppy dog eyes. The older man gives him an appraising look, but hesitantly agrees.
As soon as dinner is over, though, after the man settles them into a spare bedroom, Dean knows Pastor Jim immediately goes to call their father.
Sam knows it too.
They both quietly eavesdrop on the conversation long enough to find out John is beyond pissed at both of them.
Dean doesn't think their father has the right to be mad.
"We could stay," Sam suggests, knowing that's what Dean wants.
"I don't think that's a good idea," he says in lieu of what he really wants to say.
Because he knows their father is worried, he knows their father is upset, and he knows John is furious.
But he isn't sorry. And until he is, they're not going back.
They are long gone before Pastor Jim wakes up the next morning. They've completely vanished into oblivion by the time their father reaches the church.
Somewhere near Amarillo, Dean watches Sam disappear into a rest stop. Then he locks the doors, grips the steering wheel tightly, and shakes and pounds his fist on the steering wheel until he isn't so angry anymore.
It doesn't exactly work.
Dell City, Texas is the first place they've stayed at for more than a day since Nebraska. It's another small town well off the map. Another place easy to disappear in, absorbed completely by desert, farmland and mountains.
It's one of the most beautiful places he's even seen. Sam agrees.
No one will think to look for them here.
He knows Sam's been thinking it for a while, but Dean is just starting to wonder if maybe he doesn't want to be found. Maybe he doesn't want to go back to hunting and their old way of life. Maybe he wants this instead.
The idea is so ludicrous that he doesn't give it a second thought.
He gets a job as a ranch hand. It's hard work, but it pays well and he gets to work with horses. Without school to keep Sam occupied, Dean's a little afraid to leave his brother alone all day long. But Sam finds ways to keep himself occupied. When Dean does bring Sam around to the ranch, the owner lets his brother brush the horses and even sometimes gives him riding lessons.
Sam kind of likes it here. Dean kind of likes it here too.
He doesn't stop to think that what that might mean.
Three weeks later, an accident ruins everything. A small fire in the barn leads to a bunch of panicked horses trying to break free. Another ranch hand, named Randy, and Dean were trying to calm a horse down and lead it out of the barn when Dean got knocked down. The horse reared and about a thousand pounds of giant horse muscle came crashing down on his arm.
He didn't need to hear the snap to know it was broken.
He decided to go home and tough it out anyways and told the owner, who was suddenly squatting down next to him, exactly that. He didn't even make it to his feet, before the owner decided Dean was obviously in shock and therefore incapable of making sound decisions. He had Randy drive him to the hospital.
It was only after he was sitting down in a beat up Ford pickup that he realized the bone was sticking out of his arm.
Half an hour after he arrived at the emergency room, Hurricane Sam stormed into the ER slightly panicked and definitely freaking out. He calmed down a little after seeing that Dean wasn't hurt that badly.
Sammy hugged him so hard it hurt and made him promise never to scare him like that again. Dean, somewhat grudgingly, agreed.
It was a promise Dean knew he couldn't keep.
Sam called Bobby from the hospital. The old hunter told Sam in not so polite terms that he knew a couple of psychics and a lot of hunters and he was gonna send them all to hunt Dean and Sam down if they didn't get their asses to Sioux Fall asap. Sam kindly passed the message on to Dean.
They were forced to use one of Dad's insurance cards for Byron Breckenridge and his two sons of course. It was all fake, but they would be long gone before anyone knew the difference.
They stay in Dell City for one more day, before leaving bright and early in the morning, the rising sun to their right, and head in a general northern vicinity.
But this time they had a destination in mind.
This time they're headed for Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Two days after leaving Dell City, they make it to the border of Kansas and Nebraska before they are forced to stop.
Dean has been irrationally irritable since he made the phone call to Bobby, telling him they are on the way to his place. Bobby just growls about time and slams the phone down. Dean wasn't really expecting anything else and the thought makes him smile.
They can always count on Uncle Bobby.
The Ford Bronco he stole just outside of Dell City feels hot and stuffy and suffocating. Sweat drips from his skin, but he can't stop shivering despite the heat. His skin is pale, his cheeks are flushed and he feels tired and miserable. A headache has stubbornly nestled right between his eyes and flares white hot agony every time they hit a pothole. His broken arm feels like someone is digging around with a hot poker under his cast.
Sam asks every five minutes if Dean is okay.
"No, I am not okay!" he finally snaps and then immediately apologizes. It isn't Sam's fault he feels like shit. Isn't Sam's fault they haven't seen their father in almost three months. It's not his brother's fault that Dean is stressed beyond belief and doesn't know what to do anymore and that's he sick and tired of taking care of everyone and always being the go-between. And it's not his fault that they're hunters and that they move around all the time and that their mother is gone and their lives generally just suck!
It's nobody's fault, and yet somehow it always feels like it is Dean's fault.
He hits another pot hole and his nausea rises like a tidal wave before he's forced to pull over. Dean dives out of the Bronco just in time to spew his guts out all over the road.
Shaky, nauseous and dizzy, Dean stumbles wearily to his feet. If it was not for Sam's steadying hand, he would have fallen flat on his face in the dirt road. After that Sam shoves him into the passenger seat, and even though he's only had a handful of lessons on how to drive and he's only 12, he takes over the wheel and takes them to the closest hotel. His vision blurs and dims to a dull grey, but Dean is too sick to understand just how sick he really is. Over and over Sam tells him 'we're going to be just fine.'
Dean knows that was never true.
He calls Bobby from the hotel and nearly cries into the phone when he tells the older hunter they just might not make it to his place after all. Then, trusting Sam to take care of things for a little while, Dean passes out on the closest bed and doesn't remember much after that.
He'll close his eyes, rest for a little bit, and be ready to travel by the time Bobby gets here to take them home.
He wakes up sometime later to a cool cloth on his face before everything nauseating tilts sideways. Belatedly, he realizes that someone is carrying him. He struggles weakly, before a voice he kind of recognizes tells him to calm down. Thank god, Bobby must be here, is all he can think before he passes out again.
There are a few hazy images, but Dean's next clear image is waking up in a hospital. He's groggy, sore, tired and confused. He has no idea how he got here, nor why he is here. The thing that scares him the most, though, is that he has no idea where Sam is. There's an IV in his hand that he's just about to pull out, when a hand grabs his wrist and forces him to stop.
"Leave it alone," Sam commands and he sounds tired and scared.
Relieved, Dean asks, "Are you okay?" and forces his blurry eyes to focus on his brother long enough to check for any injuries.
"I'm fine," he replies and rolls his eyes. He pulls Dean's good hand closer, refusing to let go, grip tightening almost painfully around his wrist.
"What happened?" he asks and tries to sit up. Sam pushes him back down. If Dean didn't feel so horrible, he would have been embarrassed by how easy it was for Sam to manhandle him.
"Your broken arm got infected because you weren't taking the antibiotics they prescribed for you in Dell City. Did you even get the prescription filled?" Sam asks and he seems a little angry.
Dean sighed softly. No, he hadn't. Dean hadn't even thought about it. At the time, all he had been worried about was getting out of Dell City before the insurance went through and getting to Bobby's place as soon as possible. Antibiotics and pain killers never even crossed his mind.
He must have unintentionally said some of that out loud, because Sam doesn't look so mad anymore, he just looks sad and resigned. "I know," he says and squeezes Dean's wrist before letting go. "Dad's here."
Dean doesn't have much to say to that.
Dean falls asleep shortly after his conversation with Sam. When he wakes up his father is silently sitting next to his bed, staring steadily straight at him.
Dean stares back, trying to read John's expression and assess the situation, but he can't tell just how mad the older man is. He missed his father so much, and he doesn't want to keep running. Dean wants them all to be a family again, if not the most functional, at least they'll be together. But if he has to, Dean will sneak out of the hospital, grab Sam and keep going if John so much at looks at either of them the wrong way. The tense set of his shoulders and the cold gleam in his dark eyes conveys as much to his father.
He doesn't expect his Dad's face to crumble into almost a pathetic pout.
Surprised, his tension flees and he starts relaxing back into his hospital bed, when his father's hand snatches the front of his gown and roughly pulls him into a hug. "Don't," his father says.
He pats his Dad on the back with his good hand, but he doesn't tell him that it's okay. Not this time.
"I'm sorry," his father finally says when he pulls back. His father looks so haggard and sad and distressed that Dean believes him. "Don't leave."
He thinks this just might be the only time he's ever heard his father apologize for anything.
Dean narrows his eyes, unwilling to cave just yet. "It never happens again." Dean is not asking. And he sure as hell isn't telling John to try. It either never happens again or they're not coming back next time.
"Promise," John replies without hesitation and pulls Dean in for another hug. This time Dean does tell him it's okay and leans into his father's embrace.
This is one promise in a very long list that Dean hopes John can keep.