There were many faces of John Winchester, most of which revolved around the twin themes of "I'm Right" and "I'm A Bad-Ass Hunter". One was usually seen by his sons, and the other seen by whatever sorry sonofabitch he was about to smoke. There were variations on the themes, of course, but those expressions were generally what John showed to the world.
What most people, and monsters, didn't realize was that there was a world of difference between the "I'm A Bad-Ass Hunter" face and "You Broke My Kid" face. Dean had been a woozy witness to the "You Broke My Kid" face on one or two occasions, and he could testify to the scariness of that particular expression when Dad had swooped in to save his ass. However, nothing beat the terrifying countenance of "You Broke My BABY"!
Dean found it a little ironic his brother never got to see that particular face because if Sammy ever had seen it there would never be any room for doubt about just exactly how their father felt about his youngest son. Unfortunately for Sam he was always unconscious or in too much pain to pay attention when John flipped out wearing that particularly grim expression.
All of this flashed through Dean's mind as he raced, shotgun raised, toward the Impala.
The Nalusa Falaya that they'd been tracking in the Mississippi swamp had evaded them for two days. Forty-eight hours of fruitless searching, endless humidity, uncomfortable heat, and strenuous hiking resulted in a very testy Winchester clan. Sam irked Dad endlessly with complaints about how he'd be so much better off if they'd left him to stay in school; Dad fumed that his intel was poor and that the monster was so elusive. That left Dean to keep the peace between them both, but after two days out in nature, his considerable peacemaking skills were stretched to the limit.
When they got back to the Impala at the edge of the swamp, Dean thought he'd never seen such a welcome sight. She gleamed in the fading light of twilight, shining as beacon of stability and a promise of return to normality. John started barking orders right away, but rather than argue Sam complied immediately knowing that the faster he moved the quicker they'd get out of the swamp.
"Sammy, stow the gear in the trunk. Dean, keep an eye on the perimeter. That damn thing is too clever by half, and I know I'm missing something…" The last was said more to himself than his sons as John spread a well worn map on the Impala's damp, sun-warmed hood.
Dean eyed their back trail. The natural shade of the swamp was enhanced by twilight as the waning light pulled away leaving pools of shadow perfect for camouflaging the monster that eluded them. For most of the last two days Dean's senses told him that they were alone in the swamp; that the Nalusa Falaya had gone to ground. But now he felt eyes all around them, and he was certain they weren't alone.
A quick scan behind him showed John's broad back leaning over the Impala's hood as he fixated on the map and Sammy loping around on his recently too-long legs organizing the gear. Sam caught Dean's eye and nodded in his direction, flashing two fingers to indicate that he had two more bags to stow, before disappearing behind the raised trunk of the Impala.
Dean turned back toward the deepening gloom of the swamp and froze. Three will-o'-the-wisps hung in the air about ten feet away. As he watched they spread out, one to his left and one to his right. They stopped and hovered when they were each about five feet away from the one in the center. Dean raised his shotgun though he knew this weapon was useless against the Nalusa Falaya's minions because they were just motes of light.
Dean didn't shout, but he didn't have to. John was alerted when Dean raised his weapon. John stepped toward Dean, took out his pistol and eyed the will-o'-the-wisps. The lore said that the wisps lured travelers into the swamp where their master, the Nalusa Falaya waited. The monster was supposedly so horrifying to look at that the person would faint out of fright, and that's when things got nasty.
Dean's instincts screamed at him that this was all wrong. The wisps didn't move away trying to lure them back into the swamp, they simply hovered. They shouldn't do that. It went against everything the lore said…unless.
They were a diversion.
Dean came to this terrifying conclusion a split second before Sam sucked in a startled gasp at the far end of the car. John and Dean whirled in tandem. Dean could only see the top of Sam's head as he stood up straight to face the menace that snuck up behind them. Sam choked out "Dad!" in distress. Dean saw Sam jerk forward, and then there was a sickening crack as Sam was hurled against the car and his temple met the lip of the Impala's raised trunk.
Time froze. Then it started rushing forward in fits and starts.
As he started running, Dean felt a surge of inappropriately timed pride that Sam wasn't scared into fainting by the Nalusa Falaya, and it had to physically knock him out instead.
He could hear the slide of Sam's cotton t-shirt against the bumper of the car as he fell.
Although he had a further distance to travel around the passenger side of the Impala, John had somehow pulled ahead of Dean in their run toward the trunk.
A thud indicated that Sam had reached the ground. Just one thud – Sam hadn't done anything to break his fall. Dean's heart leaped up into his throat.
How could it possibly take so long to run down the length of the car?
The claustrophobic silence was broken by the self-satisfied chuckle of the monster still hidden from Dean's view. He heard the sound of fabric rubbing against the grass as the creature rolled Sam into a different position.
Then there was a sound Dean couldn't place. It almost sounded like a knife being unsheathed, but the timbre was wrong, and it was accompanied by an uncomfortable tearing sound. Dean's adrenaline fueled brain provided him with the factoid that the Nalusa Falaya impaled its victims with spikes that protruded from under its skin and infected them with its own special brand of evil.
Dean ran faster.
When Dean finally cleared the rear driver's side of the Impala (hours, minutes, seconds later) time froze once again. The creature's small, bat-like head was turned toward Sam and its inky black eyes were focused on the victim before it. It gathered Sam's t-shirt in its far too human hand, pulling him to the right to expose his chest, poised to skewer the youngest Winchester through the heart with a poisonous spike.
But from behind the creature, on the far side of the car, loomed another form. It was somewhat calming to Dean when he realized that John's expression had morphed into the "You Broke My BABY" face. That level of rage was truly disturbing, making John look even less human that the monster threatening Sam.
Dean squeezed the trigger of his shotgun, and suddenly time and space snapped back into place. The blast did little to injure the monster, but it did take its attention momentarily off Sam. It growled from deep in its throat but had no chance to make a move before John descended. Somewhere in his run, John unsheathed his silver-bladed knife and attacked with a weapon in both hands.
Dean dove for Sam.
It wasn't easy doing a field triage with a battle raging overhead while keeping an ear out in case Dad called for backup, but now Dean was in the zone. He was relieved to find Sam's pulse and breathing steady and strong. The knot on Sam's temple and the amount of blood the injury produced were far more concerning, but not enough for Dean to leave Sam in the line of fire.
Doing his best to keep Sam's head steady, Dean pulled Sam into an upright position against his chest. Then using his own head to keep Sam's head tucked into his shoulder, Dean pulled him away from the fight and around to the driver's side of the Impala. Dean seated Sam upright against the wheel well so Dean could cover his position and also take a shot if the opportunity or need arose.
After hundreds of years of shocking victims into helpless unconsciousness the Nalusa Falaya was unprepared to face a resourceful and dangerous opponent. The monster made a serious miscalculation when it attacked the Winchesters in the vicinity of the Impala's open trunk, and an even greater miscalculation underestimating the wrath of an enraged John Winchester.
By the time Dean got eyes back on the action, John had hamstrung the creature with his silver knife and was methodically stabbing it where its vital organ presumably resided. In one smooth motion John reached into the trunk and pulled out a machete. Arm raised, John noticed Dean was watching, and Dean could see a desperate tension in his eyes.
Dean replied before he had to ask, "I got Sammy. I got him."
The downstroke took the creature's head off and John lost some of the manic anger in his face. He applied himself to systematically dismembering the monster. Dean was mesmerized by the fervor with which John applied himself to the task until he felt Sam's fingers grasping at the leg of his jeans.
Dean dropped to a crouch and put the shotgun down parallel to Sam's outstretched legs. He took Sam's head in both of his hands and guided Sam's face so Dean could look into his eyes, but he couldn't see much in the deepening twilight.
"I'm right here, Sam. I got you."
Sam swallowed hard fighting the nausea that came with a solid crack to the head and winced in pain. It was hard to know how much Sam could see between his aching head and the blood running down his face, but Dean could tell that Sam knew that John wasn't in the picture. Sam pulled his right leg in and under him, and tried to use his right hand to get some leverage off of the ground.
And just like that, John appeared, crouching next to Dean. A hand on Sam's right shoulder kept him from moving any further. "I'm right here Sam."
The fight drained out of Sam and he sagged against the Impala. As Dean had moments before, John took Sam's face in his hand and turned it away from him. With his free hand he probed the growing knot at Sam's temple. Sam hissed, but Dean could tell he was working hard to control his reaction and manage the pain. John put his left hand on Sam's head, exhaled long and slow, and then nodded to himself. When he abruptly stood up and ran his hand down his face, Dean would swear there were tears he was wiping away.
"Dean," John's voice was rough – from exertion or emotion, it was hard to tell. "Get your brother in the car, don't let him fall asleep. I'll finish cleaning up. Then we find the nearest hospital."
Dean's automatic reply was, "Yes, sir."
Maneuvering a gangly, concussed, semi-conscious Sam into the Impala's backseat was no small accomplishment. Dean eventually situated them with him seated behind the passenger seat and Sam was sprawled across his lap using Dean's jacket as a pillow. Dean held an ice pack on the injury and Sam tried hard to stay awake and not vomit.
A short time later John slid into the driver's seat. He smelled like blood and smoke – usually the signs of a job well done. With no preamble John slid the key into the ignition and the Impala roared to life. John navigated the car back onto a main road while Dean kept Sam talking.
Dean did his best to catalogue all of the good things he could glean about Sam's condition – his speech wasn't slurred, he was sleepy but not rolling back into unconsciousness, his vitals were steady and he didn't seem to be experiencing shock. All of these observations comforted Dean, though he knew the injury was serious.
Dean took his eyes off of Sam, hoping to pass the encouraging news on to John. He glanced up looking toward his father just as the Impala passed under a streetlight. Then, from the back seat, Dean caught a glimpse of the most elusive John Winchester face of all...it was naked emotion, self-loathing and blame. "I Was Wrong".