A/N Hey guys! It's been a while since I did a one-shot; I've been really caught up in Whiplash. Anyway. I did this one because it is a very special occasion. Back at the start of this year, TheResurrectionist wrote me one of the best stories ever as a birthday present. Well, today's her birthday, and in celebration of that I baked some cake and wrote her a fic. An angsty one. Because angst is how we show our love. Anyhoo. Here's to her having an amazing birthday! And if I've posted this too early, well, blame the timezone difference. Cheers, hon! Enjoy! :) ~Sammy
I'm underwater and I'm breathing fine
Dean didn't talk for four months after the fire; and as much as it broke John to see his once-rambunctious little boy sit and silently stare at the walls, he never pushed Dean to say anything. Heaven knows John had a hard enough time finding words to say himself. So, no, he wouldn't push Dean to speak. Not if being quiet meant that Dean wouldn't wake up screaming, sobbing at the thought of nursery-fires and bright yellow eyes. Silence was safer. Still. It hurt. He'd lost his son's voice at the same time as he'd lost his Mary. He wasn't sure which one he missed more.
Dean had been five for a month before he finally opened his mouth to speak. John was hunched over the small motel room table, flipping through the fat tomes Missouri had given him, reading about something called a Shritga, shuddering at the thought of actually having to encounter one. Dean was sitting on one of the beds, fiddling around with a plastic firetruck he'd managed to find somewhere, and he looked content, if still completely silent; so John didn't pay much attention to what his son was doing. That is, until Dean suddenly jumped up and ran towards the small kitchenette and started rummaging around in the cupboards that he could reach from the ground. John watched, momentarily distracted from his research, as Dean huffed out a soft annoyed breath, and dragged a chair over to the cupboards, climbing onto it so that he could reach the higher shelves. John felt the strange urge to laugh at the look of utter concentration on the kid's face.
"What're you looking for, tiger?' he asked, not that he was expecting an answer, he was used to the boy's silence. So it caught him completely off guard when Dean said, in a soft voice that was rough from disuse, "I was looking for the saucepan, Daddy."
John blinked away the shock he felt at hearing his son speak after so long, but he didn't react otherwise, worried that he'd scare the kid back into silence. He just pushed the book away from him, and scratched the back of his neck. "I think it's in the second cupboard to the right."
Dean nodded his head, said "Thanks daddy" so quietly it was barely audible, and dragged the heavy saucepan out of the cupboard before setting it on the stove and, in a move that made John flinch and reconsider his parenting, turned the stove on without even hesitating. Dean took the pack of milk from the refrigerator, and poured some into the saucepan, staring at the slowly heating pan as if it was a matter of life and death.
John got more than a little bit curious. "Whatchya doing, Dean?"
Dean glanced over at his father, and stated in a tone that was completely even, "I'm heating up the milk."
John couldn't help the laugh that bubbled forth, and he smiled down at his little boy. "I can see that, son. Why are you doing it, though?"
Dean rolled his eyes, an action that John thought was too mature for his kid to be doing, and said, almost patronizingly, "You're supposed to drink warm milk before you go to sleep."
John stared at Dean uncomprehendingly for a few moments, before it finally clicked. Mary always gave Dean warm milk before she sent him to bed. John willed away the tears that had risen, and concentrated on his son. "If you wanted warm milk, you could have told me, Dean. You didn't have to do it yourself."
Dean just shrugged. "You were busy. And the milk's not for me."
That stumped John for a second. He watched as Dean quickly tested the milk's temperature with his finger, before pouring it carefully into a glass. He had carried the glass over to the bed before John finally found words. "Who's it for, then?" John wondered if Dean had found and kept a stray kitten without him noticing, it would explain the milk and the tiny little fort of pillows Dean had constructed on his bed. Dean ignored John questions, simply putting the glass down amongst the pillows and staring at the mound of blankets and everything soft Dean had managed to get his hands on. John watched his son for a few seconds, wondering if his son was planning on answering.
He'd just about given up, when Dean spoke up again. "It's for Sammy. He was hungry."
John hit the bottle a bit harder that night, and he cried for his Mary.
Dean was ten, the first time he came back from school with a split lip and bruised knuckles and a purple stain spreading across his face. John had been talking to Bobby on the phone, asking whether it was possible for a spirit to attach itself to something other than its mortal remains; but as soon as he saw his son limp into the motel room, he said a quick goodbye to Bobby before hanging up and helping his son over to the bed. Dean winced as he sat down on the hard mattress, and John almost fell over in his mad dash to the bathroom for the fist aid kit. A few minutes later, Dean was settled against all the pillows John could find, and he was holding an icepack to his lip, grimacing at the cold sting. John cleaned and wrapped up Dean's knuckles in silence, feeling his son's eyes on him, but choosing to say nothing. The worry he had felt when Dean had walked through the door was fading away, giving place to the rising anger. He held back, though. It wouldn't do to yell at the kid, not when he didn't know the whole story yet.
"What happened, Dean?"
"Got into a fight."
John almost laughed at that. Dean hadn't given him a straight answer since he was five. "I know. I can tell."
"Why'd you ask, then?"
Count on Dean to be a complete smart-ass. "I didn't get a call from the school."
Dean rolled his eyes, the action completely natural on him. "The school doesn't even have your number, Dad. Besides, I didn't fight them in school."
"Oh yeah? Where'd you do it then? Some random back alleyway?"
Dean smirked, and winced a little as his torn lip announced its presence again. "Sure did, Dad. I cornered a bunch of kids in an alleyway and mugged them. Totally."
John regretted ever teaching his kid sarcasm. "Very funny, Dean. What really happened?"
Dean squirmed a bit on the bed, avoiding John's gaze. "I told you, got into a fight."
"Yeah I got that," John said, "who was it with, though?"
"Just some punks who tried to jump me."
Dean was a pretty good liar, but John knew his son, and he knew that he wasn't freaking jumped on the way back from school.
"Why'd you do it, sport?"
"It wasn't my fault, okay? It wasn't my fault, but I'd do it again."
John blinked in surprise. Dean wasn't the kind to enjoy getting into fights. Sure, he liked training well enough, but that was so that he could 'gank fuglies' not beat up other kids.
"There were these kids, they're in my class, I think. They were hanging out near the school, and they were saying- they were saying stuff, and I just kinda lost it."
"'m sorry, Dad. Won't happen again. I just-"
"What were they saying?"
Dean froze, and his eyes widened, and hell if John had ever seen a more accurate depiction of 'deer in the headlights'. "N-nothing. They didn't say anything."
John raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Uhuh. So you just randomly beat up a couple of kids for no good reason?"
Dean nodded as vigorously as he could while trying (emphasis on the trying) to look as innocent as he possibly could. If John hadn't been the one to teach Dean that look, he might have fallen for it. As it was, he snorted a bit, and leveled his best you-can't-be-serious expression at the kid because really?
"Right. Well. It's nice knowing I raised you to whale on random kids just to entertain yourself."
John had been smiling as he said it, but he knew how his son would react, and Dean didn't disappoint. He immediately snapped to attention (or what could be passed off as attention, the bruises didn't really look like they particularly made for comfortable uniform) and his eyes widened, genuinely this time, and he looked almost defensive.
John would have laughed at Dean's expression; except, he wasn't entirely sure that it wouldn't sound hysterical.
Because how dare anybody even suggest that John's parenting was less than perfect?
(Even if John himself had been the one to suggest it and he didn't so much want to smile, but weep at how shitty that made him feel as a parent.)
"Dad, it's not-"
"Dean. It is. Now tell me. What did they say?"
"Doesn't matter. They won't dare say it again, so why should it matter?"
"It does matter. Don't you think I should know why my son's come back from school looking like he took on a poltergeist by himself?"
"It's not that bad…"
"They were shit-talking him, okay? They were shit talking Sammy and I flipped out."
John rocked back on his heels and stared at his son for a few moments. Dean refused to meet his gaze, and he shifted uncomfortably on the bed. John took a deep breath before turning away and heading back to the rickety table covered with newspaper clippings. He picked up the phone, paused before dialing Bobby's number, and looked over at Dean, still sitting motionless on the bed. "Change out of those clothes and get yourself something to eat from the diner. This call's going to take a while."
Dean's voice was soft, and just the tiniest bit rough. "Yes, sir."
Dean was fourteen the first time he came home with a mischievous smirk on his face. Not that John had been all there to see it (he might have been more than slightly drunk), but still, he knew.
He knew; just like he knew that Dean didn't really like Lucky Charms, but still kept buying them for some reason.
He knew; just like he knew when Dean stayed up the whole night watching over his dad because he had been stupid and let his guard down for half a second and a black dog came flying out of nowhere and put John out of commission for at least a week.
He knew; just like he knew when Dean had been a little more scared, when he thought that this close call had been too close, when his son was terrified and hid it behind snarky jokes and wicked grins.
He knew, mostly, because Dean's shoulders weren't pulled too far back, and his eyes didn't look like he had something to prove, he didn't walk like he was indestructible.
He was, for once, a normal fourteen year old kid who was going to be leaving for his first date in an hour. Which he was. And that was good. Really. John was not secretly planning to sober up and scope out the place later. Seriously.
And if John put away the bottle of whiskey he'd been nursing… Well.
Crappy absent parents are still parents, you know.
John knew; just like he knew that everything was shot to hell the minute Dean clomped out of the bedroom he'd claimed as his own when John had rented the apartment, with a stormy expression and a barely heard grunt of "I'll be back before midnight." (Try not to choke on your vomit before I get back, okay?)
John didn't even spare a second glance for the still mostly full bottle on the table.
Dean came back before midnight, but just barely. His eyes widened a bit- apparently he hadn't been expecting to see John still awake and not drunk- but he didn't otherwise react. His expression seemed to have lightened just the slightest bit, but it was back to its earlier shadowed version when he glanced at the closed door to his bedroom.
"How was the date?" John asked, because that dark look scared him, it was too reminiscent of the expressions he'd seen on the faces of those old grizzled hunters who had seen too much death. And he'd be damned if he let his son turn into… that. A broken old thing who knew nothing but the evil that lurked in corners. This was just temporary. It was. Just until he found Mary's killer and then- And then. Something. Something that didn't involve living out of a worn duffle bag and drinking himself to sleep and picking up and leaving a town as soon as he could. Something better.
Except- John's already seen that look, on Dean, on himself, when he patched himself up in front of a mirror after a particularly tough hunt. It's the look of someone too far gone, and even as he brushed it off every time, blaming a trick of the light, on the inside, in the deepest recesses of his heart, it killed him.
So. He'd try to stay sober for one evening, because eventually, at some point, when he was bleeding out on the ground under some other nasty sonuvabitch, all he'd really have is a memory of asking his kid how his first damn date went.
"Fine." said Dean, and the sound of his voice and the look in his eyes might just haunt John, even after his death.
"Just fine? From what I heard, you were pretty excited about- what was her name? Katie?"
"Right. Cathy. Thought you liked her."
"Yeah, she's hot."
"I'm kinda tired, dad. I'm just gonna sleep."
Dean almost ran into his room before slamming the door shut, and John was left sitting alone in the kitchen, his hand stretched out a bit, craving a good solid drink. He didn't move.
The sounds of a raised voice carried past the closed door, growing steadily angrier and there was a soft thump that seemed much louder in the almost menacing silence that followed. John was half out of his chair when the door was suddenly flung open, and Dean walked out, sporting a magnificent bruise on his cheek, his steps quick and controlled. He shoved past John and flung himself down on the ratty couch, burrowing down into the blanket he'd dragged with him.
John stared at the closed door of the bedroom, and in that moment, he swore he almost heard Dean choke out a sob that sounded suspiciously like 'sorry, Sammy'.
Maybe John was a little drunk.
John was pissed.
How dare he try and tell him how to raise his own damn-
"I don't care what you say, Singer. He's my son."
"John, he's still just a kid, he can't-"
"Dean's nineteen, okay? He can handle one simple salt and burn by himself."
"Just think about it, at least."
"No. Just, no. Okay? He's going on this hunt, that's final."
John shoved the phone back in its cradle, cutting off whatever the old man (nosy bastard) had been trying to say.
Because really, he'd heard enough. He'd been chewed out enough times by Singer for his 'unconventional' parenting. He'd had enough conversations with Bobby and Jim sitting across him, a shot of hunters helper in front of him, furiously arguing with the men. He'd had enough.
He turned around and saw Dean standing behind him holding plastic bags full of takeout ("How's a kid supposed to grow on this crap, John?"). John tried for a smile, but he was pretty sure it came out as more of a disgusted grimace. Dean blinked and stepped back, just a bit, but it was enough for John to curse his apparent inability to show emotion, and this time, the smile was a little bit better. ("When's the last time you told the kid you love him?" "I don't need to tell him, he knows." "You sure about that, Johnny?")
"Hey kiddo." Dean looked more than slightly confused at the very out of place term of endearment ("No attachment, Dean. Attachment makes you weak. Hunters can't afford to be weak. Understand?" "Yes, sir."), but John just pushed away the rising thought of failure that was slowly engulfing him, and tried smiling again. And this smile? This one was real. Or, well, as close to real as he ever got after- that. "I found you a hunt."
John gave Dean a minute to comprehend the meaning behind that, and sure enough, three seconds later, Dean was grinning like Christmas had come early ("Not that you're ever there for Christmas. Can't you spend one day with your family?" "I was working a case, Bobby. People were dying. It was important." "Your family is important, you idjit."). John watched as Dean immediately puffed up and snapped to attention, the bags in his hands rustling too loud. "You've got a hunt for me?"
Dean looked like he was three seconds away from bursting into song. Over a hunt. And hell if John didn't want to bury his face in his hands and cry at that. ("Of course he gets excited over hunts, he thinks that's the only way you'll be proud of him.")
John nodded, and his cheeks were hurting from smiling a smile so plastic. "Yep. It's just a basic house haunting over in Georgia. I figured you could handle that one yourself while I wrap up here."
"It's a solo hunt?"
"Well, it doesn't have to be, I could probably have Caleb go with you if you want-"
Dean interrupted him with a sudden shout of "No! No. I can- I can handle it."
John grinned. "You sure? 'Cause I know for a fact that Caleb's not on a hunt right now and-"
"I can do it."
John laughed. It was a hollow dry laugh, but still. He laughed. "Alright. Alright. You can handle it. Get out the food before it gets cold. I'll tell you what I know while we eat."
John watched as Dean shoved yet another worn t-shirt into his duffle bag and checked and rechecked his shotgun, wondering when, exactly, his sweet little kid turned into the fluid, excited, reckless hunter in front of him. John cleared his throat and when Dean looked up, he threw a set of keys at him. Dean caught them with ease and looked down at them with a slow smile twisting his lips.
"Take the Impala."
"Yeah. You're a hunter. A hunter needs a good car. She's all yours now."
"What about you?"
"I've got another car ordered. I'll take that one. Don't worry about it."
"So… she's mine?"
Dean laughed and hitched his bag over his shoulder before running to the door. He paused before opening the door. "So, uh, I'll just-"
"You know I… uh"
"Me too, kid. Me too."
"Just- take care of Sammy, okay?"
The door slammed shut before John could even think of a reply.
When John walked back from the bar, his knees were shaky and his vision was shot to hell. He knew he was absolutely plastered, but he couldn't bring himself to care. It took him a couple of tries to get the key in and unlock the door, and his alcohol soaked mind briefly wondered why Dean hadn't opened the door for him yet. Surely he could hear John's none too discreet drunken attempts.
The thoughts flew out of his head when he finally managed to shove the door open and he saw Dean half slumped over the far bed, not moving.
Oh god no.
"Dean?" he managed to choke out, stumbling over to his kid, swiping a shaky hand over his back, pressing trembling fingers to his neck, praying like he'd never prayed before that he was just passed out, pleasepleasepleaseplease.
He almost sobbed in his relief at the thrumming of life he could feel and the soft breaths he could feel against his hands. "Dean." He said, urgently, because his son may be alive, but he needed to see him awake, see him walking around and talking. He needed to know his son was here.
"Dean." It was a command this time. Wake up. Now. Up and at 'em, soldier.
Dean stirred, and John fell a few steps back. "Dean." He called again. Dean. Wake up. Need you.
It was Dean's voice that almost did John in. Twenty two years old, and the kid still sounded like that sleepy three year old who'd had a nightmare about the monster under his bed.
Dean opened his eyes slowly (excruciatingly slowly hurry up I need to know you're here with me) and pushed himself up. His eyes were red rimmed and he wobbled a bit as he stood. Drunk, then. Well, at least that was one thing John had in common with him.
John just waited for Dean to orient himself, and he stayed a few steps away, because he knew that if he went any colder, he'd probably get his ass handed to him by his son. He'd trained the kid himself, after all, and maybe he did it a little too well.
The dazed expression faded from Dean's eyes as he ran a hand through his cropped hair, and he seemed steady enough on his feet for John to take a step towards him.
Dean stepped away, his shoulders taut and his eyes angry, and John froze. "Don't you touch me."
"Don't. Just. Don't. Don't talk to me right now."
"This is all your fault! He was going to come back, dad. He wasn't abandoning us!"
"Dean, I don't-"
"But no. No. You couldn't have that, could you? You couldn't have him walk in and out of this family as he pleased. You needed him to hunt. He was going to college. He got a freaking scholarship, and you couldn't even say you were proud of him. You knew he never liked hunting. He's not meant for it, dad. He was supposed to get out. You weren't supposed to- You- He was supposed to have our support."
"You know what? Screw this."
Dean picked up his duffle bag and shoved his things in haphazardly. John was glued to the ground, he could do nothing but watch.
"Wait, where are you going?"
Dean gave John a look that he'd only ever seen directed at the monsters that Dean really hated, and he didn't really want to think about what that made him. It hurt enough already. He didn't need Dean pointing a gun at him, it would just be the final nail in his too-heavy coffin.
"Dean, you can't just-"
"Don't tell me what to do. Don't you dare. I'm leaving, and that's it. I can't- I can't hunt with you. Not after this."
John could feel his son slipping through his fingers, and that terrified him.
"Don't try to stop me, dad. It won't work."
"I'm not- I'm not trying to stop you."
Dean paused, "What?"
"You can leave, if you want. Just- you know you can come back, right?"
Dean laughed a bitter laugh, and John shrank a bit at the death glare his son gave him. "You should have said that to Sam."
The Impala's engine revved loudly, and the last piece of John's family left him.
John drove without stopping for three days, only pulling over at the side of the highways to catch a few hours of sleep before speeding down the road again.
A bottle of jack lay in the seat next to him, unopened. His finger itched to pick it up and down the whole thing in one long burning swallow. He held back, though. He couldn't be drunk now. Not for this. Not here.
He pulled up on a dirt road, and for a moment, he almost couldn't bring himself to step outside. He steeled himself (you've faced monsters, Winchester. You can do this.) before taking a deep breath and opening the car door.
He hadn't wanted this- there hadn't been enough left to bury, after the fire- it had been some random uncle of hers who'd decided to do it. Still, sometimes, he was thankful for it. It was a marker. It was proof. It was a place for him to mourn.
He kneeled in front of the gravestone (Because that's all it was, a slab of stone. The grave was empty.), and he put down the bunch of flowers (Lilies. She never did like roses.). The gravestone was dull and the writing was already beginning to fade.
"Hi, Mary. It's been a while."
The trees rustled softly with an unbidden breeze.
"I messed up. I messed up bad. I couldn't get him to stay. I- I let him leave. He's twenty six but he's still just a kid. He doesn't know. He doesn't know, and I couldn't even tell him. I should've told him, I should've- I knew there was something wrong, Mary, but I couldn't tell him, I just couldn't. It would have broken him. He keeps leaving me messages, keeps telling me about that road-trip he's on with Sam. You should hear him now. He sounds so happy. I don't call him back. I can't. He'll tell me about what new thing he and Sam have found and I just can't. I can't. I can't face him again and pretend like everything's okay because it's not. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I wish you were here, Mary. I miss you."
John Winchester did not cry. Even here, in front of his dead wife's grave, he couldn't cry. Not when there was something else- someone else- that made him sob himself to sleep every night. He pulled out the tiny bouquet of daisies he had tucked away in his pocket (a four year old Dean had insisted they were Sammy's favorite) and he placed them on the ground (as gently as he would place a baby in its cradle) a few feet away from Mary's grave, in front of another headstone, this grave small and also empty. A tear fell to the ground, big and solemn. "I miss you too."
He walked away, slid back into his truck, and drove away as quickly as he could, but not before sparing one last glance for the graves he'd just left behind.
In loving memory
You will be remembered
A/N Hey, I did say this was going to be angsty. Still, I suppose it is my civic duty to console those I reduced to tears so... here's some invisible tissues. Blow your noses, all of you. You guys look terrible when you cry. Also, in case you're confused and wondering why, exactly, you should be crying... just reread the thing. I think you'll get it the second time. If you still don't, well, PM me and I'll explain it to you. Anyway. This was the angst-driven birthday fix for TheResurrectionist. Hope you liked it! As for the rest of you, let me know what you thought in a review! Reviews are what keep the angst going. (Also, in case you want me to write you something, just give me a prompt via review or PM and I'll try to get one out for you too.) Thanks for reading, you guys are awesome! :) ~Sammy