Fic: Never Say Die (4/16)
Title: Never Say Die (4/16)
NEVER SAY DIE
"And we trust each other?" John asked.
"You and Bobby have had your differences," Ellen answered with a wry smile. She was driving the Jeep, so she kept her eyes on the road as she talked. They were on the way to Bobby's place. It was almost dark, but they would reach the house soon. On the drive, she had tried to tell John everything she knew about the years he still could not recall. It wasn't much. John Winchester was a name every hunter knew, so Ellen heard stories over the years. She knew that for a few years John put aside his aggressive determination to work alone, and hunted with his son, Dean. She knew that Sam's girlfriend died in a fire around the same time John took himself out of the game to track the yellow-eyed demon. She knew that, during that year, John's sons had more than proven they could fill his shoes. But there was a great deal she didn't know, and John's questions betrayed his frustration with his lost memories.
John was in the passenger seat beside her, cleaning a gun as they talked. "You said we were friends," he pressed.
"That too," Ellen agreed. "You're both stubborn bastards, John." She almost added that Bobby was very protective of the boys; it wasn't hard to figure out that was why the two men clashed. But she caught herself in time. Perhaps it was better that John didn't remember that. "When you were in danger, he was the first person Dean and Sam turned to for help."
John nodded, laying the oily rag on the dash and beginning to reassemble the gun. "That says a lot."
Ellen turned into the road that would lead them to Bobby's place. "We're almost there. Do me one favour, John."
John loaded bullets into the magazine. "What favour?"
"Try not to kill Bobby. You're back from the dead. He's going to take a lot of convincing and I don't think he'll tell us anything about the boys until he's convinced you're not - "
"Or a vampire, or a zombie, or lord-knows what else."
John slid the magazine into the gun and pointedly chambered a round. "I don't plan on killing anyone, Ellen. But I'm going to find my sons."
Ellen said a silent prayer.
The lights were on in Bobby's house, but the windows were so dirty it was hard to see inside. Ellen slowed the car as they came near the house. Though she couldn't see him, she was sure Bobby would be watching and she wanted to give him plenty of time to recognise her car. She parked next to an old camper van. It wasn't a vehicle she had seen here before but Ellen thought nothing of it: there was always a car or two around Bobby's.
She turned off the engine and pocketed her keys. "Ready?"
"I think it'll go better if you go in first," John suggested.
Thanks for small mercies, Ellen thought. She climbed out of the car and headed for Bobby's door. John followed, at a distance. Ellen knocked.
Bobby opened the door, so quickly she knew he had been watching her approach. "Hey, Ellen. I've been trying to call you."
She managed a grin. "You know how I feel about cell phones. Bobby, uh, we need to talk about..."
But Bobby was already looking past her. His eyes widened when he saw John.
Ellen had been unable to predict how this would go. First and foremost, Bobby Singer was a hunter, and people don't just come back from the dead...especially people who sold their souls to demons. Maybe Bobby would believe his eyes. Maybe he'd go for a weapon. Maybe he would assume that Ellen, too, was something to hunt.
He did none of those things. Bobby stared at John for a long moment. "I'll be damned."
John moved closer, into the light coming from the house. "Hello, Bobby."
Silently, Bobby stepped back from the door, inviting them inside.
Ellen narrowed her eyes suspiciously. This was much too easy. "Not even a question, Bobby?"
"I was expecting John," Bobby admitted. He shrugged. "I thought the guy who warned me was two planks short of a rain-barrel, but..."
"What guy?" John interrupted sharply.
"Come inside, John," Bobby evaded.
John walked past them both into the house. Ellen started to follow.
Bobby stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Are you okay?" he asked quietly.
"I'm good. What the hell is going on?"
"We'll explain inside."
We? Ellen remembered the camper van. She had a split second to suspect, to decide which side she was on. "John!"
She heard a shot, deafeningly loud in the small room.
Bobby whirled, shouting, "No!"
He froze, John's gun inches from his face.
Bobby raised his hands, slowly, demonstrating that he was unarmed. "We're not the enemy, John. You came here for help, didn't you?"
Ellen stepped out of the doorway, letting the door swing closed behind her. She kept her hand near her own gun, but didn't draw it.
Instead, she spoke quietly, "John?” Nothing more, only his name. The next move was his, but Ellen would back his play. She hoped he understood her.
John pointed the gun at the ceiling. Ellen relaxed.
"Christ, John!" Bobby moved past him and only then did Ellen get a good look at the man on the ground. A fallen gun lay on the floor beside him. Blood stained his shirt and flowed down his right arm from the shoulder. There was a spray of blood across the books and bookshelf behind him. It looked like a flesh wound, though. He was already sitting up.
Bobby helped him. "You okay?"
"I'll live. Do you have a little ice?"
"Yeah." Bobby looked up at John. "Paranoid, much?" he demanded.
John moved toward them, the gun still in his hand. He looked down at the man he'd shot. "I know you!" he said.
November 1983, Lawrence, Kansas
John leaned over the pool table, sighted down his cue and sank the final ball, smooth as a fine whiskey. He straightened and looked for his opponent.
Tom scowled at the table, reaching into his coat for his wallet. "Double or nothing?" he suggested hopefully.
John shook his head. A few weeks earlier he would have accepted, and then doubled a third game to go home with a nice profit, but John found no pleasure in the game now. He came to the bar to drink and he played pool because it was easier than pretending to socialise. No one tried to talk to him when he had a cue in his hand. John took Tom's money with barely even a smile. He tucked most of the cash into his billfold and headed back to the bar.
The bartender looked up at John's approach. "What'll it be?"
"Whiskey, Kate. Double."
Kate poured the whiskey. "Are you driving tonight, Mr Winchester?" she asked with genuine concern in her voice.
John scowled at her. She knew the score. Everyone knew. He hated that the whole damn town seemed to know his business. "Just give me the damned drink, Kate." He pushed a ten dollar bill toward her.
She shrugged and took it, her red hair bouncing as she headed for the cash register and rang in the sale. She returned with his change. "I'm only worried..." she began, but her voice trailed off at John's dark look.
"I'll see him safely home," a man's voice said.
John pivoted on his barstool to face the speaker. The first thing he noticed about the stranger was his eyes: startlingly blue even in the dim lighting of the bar. The second thing was the man's height; even hunched over his beer, John could tell he was well over John's own six feet tall. His shoulders were broad, his face tanned, his shoulder-length brown hair sun-streaked. He wore faded blue jeans and a short-sleeved t-shirt, with a sheepskin jacket hanging over his lap. He was a manual worker of some kind, John guessed. As their eyes met, the stranger raised his beer bottle to his lips. The gesture revealed a tattoo on his right arm.
"Thanks," John said, "but I don't need help. Sergeant." The last was a guess, but John knew a Marine tattoo when he saw one.
The stranger smiled. "Sharp eyes." He offered his hand. "The name's Hunter."
John shook the offered hand automatically. The man had a strong grip. "John Winchester. That your first name or your last?"
"Last. David Hunter."
John nodded and knocked back his whiskey. He didn't want to talk. He turned back toward the bar and silently pushed the empty glass toward Kate. She gave him a look but refilled it.
John gazed into the amber liquid, seeing Mary's face reflected there. She was everywhere for him now. Enough whiskey dulled the pain, but it couldn't make him forget. There wasn't enough whiskey in Kansas to help John convince himself that he didn't see what he saw that night: Mary, on the ceiling, the fire bursting out of her body to engulf the room. Which was impossible, as everyone told him. He drained the glass and rose from the stool.
"Thanks, Kate." He headed for the door.
Outside the bar, the cold air hit him and John hesitated in the empty street. He wasn't ready to head back to Julie's place. It hurt too much to face them all: Julie and her husband with their sympathetic looks and careful avoidance of the painful truth; Dean, who stared at him with hollow eyes and seemed at peace only when he held his baby brother; and Sammy, who couldn't seem to stop crying as if he knew, somehow, that the world had ended for all of them. John couldn't face any of them.
"Winchester," Hunter called from behind him.
John buttoned his jacket. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not." Hunter moved into John's view. "Listen...people talk, you know? I heard you lost your wife."
John wondered who had been gossiping. Kate? Did she share tales of crazy John Winchester who thought something freaky burned his house down?
"What's it to you?" John growled.
"Nothing, but I know how you feel, man."
That was too much. "You have no idea what I feel!" He shoved Hunter out of his way.
Hunter grabbed John's arm. "Three years ago," he said, "I lost my wife and kids in a fire. I could never prove it, but I know it was arson. They were murdered."
John had clenched his fist ready to throw a punch, but his anger faded instantly. He lowered his arm. "I'm sorry." Maybe this stranger really did understand.
Hunter released his arm. "From what I heard, you've got a boy at home."
John nodded. "Two."
"So, let me give you a ride home, man."
John was ready to argue, but right then he heard a squeal of tyres behind him. He whirled around to see a car career around the corner. The headlights blinded him, but he'd seen enough. The car was out of control. John started to move. The car veered away. The building across the street was covered with scaffolding for some repair work; the car hit one of the scaffolding poles with a deafening impact, ploughed right through it and knocked down a second before coming to a stop. The whole structure wobbled. It could collapse at any moment.
John started across the street. Whoever was in that car, he had to get them out before the scaffolding came down. "Call 911," he shouted back to Hunter.
Hunter grasped the back of John's coat and pulled him back. "John, wait! There's nothing you can do." He wrapped his arms around John's chest.
John struggled against Hunter's hold, disbelieving. "What the hell are you - "
The car exploded. A ball of yellow flame rushed toward them and the force of the blast blew John into Hunter's body. Intense heat rushed like napalm across his exposed skin. He heard the scaffolding come down with a deafening crash. John and Hunter fell together, rolling over in a heap, and ended with Hunter on top of John, shielding him from the worst of the blast. After, John was never certain whether that was intentional, or just the way they both fell.
Shielding his eyes from the bright flames (Mary, so like the flames around Mary that night), John climbed unsteadily to his feet. The street was filling with people from the bar. There were voices all around. Someone asked John if he was okay, but John brushed aside the question. He looked at the burning wreckage. He saw the shimmer of glass in shards all over the road and the twisted mess of the burning car crushed under fallen metal and timber. If Hunter hadn't stopped him, John would have been in the middle of that.
"John." Hunter laid a hand on John's arm again. "I'll take you home."
Home? Home was gone. He had no home.
John accepted the offer, following Hunter to his car. The car was an old Ford and smelled strongly of cigarettes. John gave Julie's address. She was Mary's closest friend, and offered John and the boys a place to stay after the fire. She was grieving for Mary herself, but she was good for Dean, at least. John heard sirens approaching and it occurred to him that he was a witness to the accident. He should stay and talk to the cops. But the thoughts were distant, and he let Hunter drive him away from the scene.
Outside Julie's house, John hesitated before getting out of the car. "Thanks," he said, not quite certain whether he meant for the ride or for saving his life.
"Anytime," Hunter answered. He turned those startling blue eyes to John. "Hey, man. If you don't mind some free advice from a stranger...take care of your family, John. Take it from me, there's nothing more important."
John didn't need some stranger to tell him that. He thought again of Dean, who still wouldn't speak to anyone except Sammy. He thought of Sammy's incessant crying. He thought of Mary, who couldn't be buried because there hadn't been enough left of her body to even identify human remains, let alone bury them. She was just ashes, like the rest of John's life and hope.
He met Hunter's eyes and found only empathy and compassion reflected there. Hunter had said he'd lost his own family; John believed him. At least John still had his boys. He muttered a second thank you and climbed out of the car.
Julie and Dean were waiting for him in the doorway. Dean was half-hiding behind her, clutching her hand.
Julie gave John an apologetic look. "He wouldn't settle," she said by way of explanation.
John bent down to pick up his son. "It's okay," he told Julie, then, to Dean, "Hey, Champ. Shouldn't you be in bed?"
Dean hooked his arms around John's neck, but he didn't cuddle in as he used to. Instead he met John's eyes and nodded solemnly.
"So, who is looking after Sammy?" John asked Dean, hoping to provoke the boy into saying something.
Dean merely shrugged.
Behind them, John heard Hunter drive away. He hugged Dean close to him fiercely. If Hunter hadn't been there, Dean and Sammy might have been orphaned tonight.
The coincidence nagged at John. Mary. A stranger who lost his own family in a fire. A similar fire? Could it be? And John's own close call. He turned to watch the car go and felt an impulse to run after Hunter, but it was too late, the Ford's tail-lights already vanishing around the corner.
John carried Dean into the house. Take care of your family, John. There's nothing more important. Hunter's words suddenly seemed sinister.
Something killed Mary. Something that might be after him, too. And his boys.
John was through waiting for the cops to find answers for him. Starting tomorrow, he was going to find them for himself.
Bobby held the ice, wrapped in a clean cloth, to Hunter's wound. Hunter took it from him. "Thanks, I'll be fine." His blood turned the cloth pink as he held it to his arm. Hunter leaned against the doorway that led through to Bobby's "library".
"You're David Hunter," John said aloud. He remembered it now: the car that almost hit him, the explosion. Hunter had a marine tattoo on his arm. That was why he'd associated the name with Vietnam. But the memory raised more questions than it answered. He fought to keep the gun at his side. Yeah, he was twitchy. Paranoid. The man had been going for a weapon...or so John thought. And this man, Bobby Singer...Ellen vouched for him, said he was trustworthy. And yet John's instinct screamed that there was some secret here.
He watched Hunter holding the ice to his wound. That was odd, too. Ice might help with the pain but John's bullet went right through Hunter's arm. Why hadn't he asked for stitches, or at least a bandage?
"Are you somehow responsible for - " John began.
"John," Bobby interrupted sharply, getting to his feet, "you want to calm the fuck down and listen."
John rounded on him. "Don't tell me what I want to do!"
"Same old John. You selfish bastard."
"I'm - " John began hotly.
"Dean is dying!" Bobby bellowed.
John stopped. "What are you talking about?"
Bobby met his eyes. He was angry, but when he spoke his voice was even, careful. "Two days from now, Dean will be dead. Unless we can figure out how to save him. There ain't time for the long version, John. Sit down, shut the hell up, and listen."
"A year ago," Bobby began, "Sam was taken - abducted - by the yellow-eyed demon. Azazel." He took a sip from his hip flask and offered it to John, who took it. "I don't know everything that happened, but by the time Dean and I tracked them down, it was too late. Sam died."
John drank Bobby's whiskey and found his hand shaking. He looked at Ellen. "You said they were okay," he accused.
"Ellen doesn't know," Bobby said, "because Sam didn't stay dead. John, when Sam died Dean was...he was crazed. Couldn't handle it. I thought he was gonna eat his own gun, but he did something even more stupid."
John's stomach felt full of lead. "What did he do?" he asked.
"He summoned a demon and traded his soul for Sam's life."
"Oh, my God," Ellen whispered. One look at her stricken face convinced John she hadn't known any of this. That made two of them.
"Demon gave him a year to live," Bobby went on relentlessly. "His time's up tomorrow night."
John took another pull of whiskey and passed the flask back to Bobby. He turned away from them all, gazing out of the dusty window into the darkness. Why, Dean? What could have driven you to do something this desperate?
He got himself under control, and looked for Hunter. "Where do you fit into all this?"
Hunter stood against the wall, his arms folded across his chest. Blood was drying on his shirt, but if he was still in pain, it didn't show. "I'll tell you what I can, but you're gonna have to take a lot of this on faith. There just isn't time for detailed explanations or proof."
On faith. Yeah, that's gonna happen. "Just talk," John ordered.
Hunter glanced at Bobby, then back to John. "I'm not a hunter, exactly. I used to be. What I do now is more...complicated. Do you remember the night we met?"
John nodded curtly. "Yes."
"The reason I was in that bar, the sole reason, was to ensure you lived through that night. I didn't know why you were important or what would come of your survival. Only that the future depended on you not dying as you were meant to."
John frowned. "You mean that car wreck?"
Hunter nodded. "It was supposed to kill you."
Yeah, you saved my life. What does that have to do with my Dean? "According to Ellen, I did die. Two years ago. I'm still findin' that hard to believe, but if it's true, did you bring me back?"
Bobby interrupted. "It's true, John." He was looking at Hunter, a silent question that John couldn't read.
Hunter seemed to hesitate. "Raising the dead is far beyond my abilities," he said at last, but, yes, I arranged for it to happen." He met John's eyes unhappily. "I feel I owe you an apology for that. I had no right to interfere in your life like this."
The apology took John by surprise. He was sorry for giving John his life back? Most people would consider it a gift. John didn't know how to respond to the apology, so he ignored it. "How did you 'arrange' it? And why?"
Hunter shook his head. "That would take too long to explain, and you wouldn't believe most of it anyway. I'll tell you this much: no one died for it, no one traded their soul or anything else for your life. That was your real question, wasn't it?"
It wasn't, but the assurance lifted some of the weight in John's stomach. Aside from Christ and Lazarus, every legend of true resurrection he knew of involved either human sacrifice or demonic deals. That Hunter's way didn't involve those things (if he was telling the truth) raised more questions, but they would wait.
Hunter went on. "You asked why. That's another too-long explanation, but I'll try to shorten it. I believe you can save Dean, or you know something that will save his life and his soul."
If I knew something, do you think I'd still be in this fucking room? Jesus... quot;Why would you think that? Why do you care about Dean?"
Hunter moved away from the wall. He sat down on the edge of the table. "I've seen visions most of my life. True visions of the future. Most psychics see specific events: one person in danger, something like that, with no idea about the consequences of changing what they see. I get the opposite. All I can see is the big picture, huge events. It took me a long time to figure out how to find the small things that lead up to the big events. That's the only way to change the future: one life at a time. Sometimes it means letting someone die. Sometimes it means saving someone."
"Spare me the philosophy lesson," John growled.
"Philosophy, my ass. This is my life! You have no idea. I bust my ass trying to find ways to save the future I see. I never know for sure if I'm on the right track until it's too late. If I try to interfere too much, I can fuck things up far worse than I see."
John narrowed his eyes. "I don't give a fuck. What does this have to do with my Dean? Or with me?"
Hunter looked at him steadily. "If Dean dies this week, if Dean goes to Hell, in twenty years so will the world. Literally."
There was silence, as all of them took in that pronouncement. John looked at the others. Ellen looked scared; she believed it. Bobby's expression was utterly impassive; John couldn't tell what was beneath that carefully neutral look.
John shook his head. "That's ridiculous."
"It's fact," Hunter insisted. "I don't know why Dean is the key. It may be he's destined to save someone important, or kill something that will make the difference. Or it could be Dean himself who will save the world. I can't see everything. I only know the two things I've told you: Dean has to live, and something you can do, John, or something you know, is critical to making sure that happens."
Suddenly all three of them were looking to John. It was a look he knew: expectant. John looked at Hunter. "But I don't," he said honestly. "I don't know how to save him."
There was no way to break a deal with a demon. You could be careful about the terms you agreed to, maybe, if the demons would let you build in a loophole. But once you made a deal the demon held all the cards. How could Dean have done this?
Ellen came to John's side, laying a hand on his shoulder. He turned to her, meeting her eyes and finding strength there.
"John, I don't know about this destiny stuff, but maybe you do know the answer. Or, you did...before."
John understood her at once. Of course she was right. If he knew something, it was in the years of memories he had lost. Why? Why go to the unimaginable lengths of bringing me back from the dead, then steal the memories I need to save my boy?
As John turned to him, Hunter's blue eyes went wide. "How bad is the memory loss?" he asked.
Either the man just read his mind, or he'd known that this would happen to John.
John stalked up to him. "You son of a bitch. You stop fucking with me or the next one won't be a flesh wound. Why take my memories? Why?"
Bobby started toward them. "John..."
"You stay where you are," John snapped without looking at Bobby. "Why should I trust you, either of you? Why should I believe any of this?"
Hunter muttered something in a language John didn't recognise. From the tone, he guessed it was something obscene. When Hunter looked up, he was frowning. "You're right. You have no reason to trust me. If you believed that you died, the fact that you're standing here would be enough. But you don't remember that, do you?"
Damn it! John's back was to the wall. He knew he was being manipulated but the only way he could see through this was to go along. He could leave, oh, yes, but he needed the information Bobby had: the whereabouts of his sons.
"John," Hunter said urgently, "what's the last thing you remember?"
John looked at Ellen. "I remember a hunt," he answered reluctantly. "I screwed up and got someone I love killed."
"How long ago was this?"
Hunter swore again in that foreign language.
"That ain't helping, David," Bobby interrupted.
Hunter nodded. "You're right." He looked at John. "I knew you would have some memory loss, but this is too much. It shouldn't be this way. Maybe I can...but that's dangerous. Too dangerous."
"Let me ask just one more question first. When you think back to the last memory you have, what happens when you try to remember more?"
John shook his head. "I can't. I can't remember anything after Bill's death." John turned away from Hunter. "It's just gone." As he spoke it was there again. Bill, possessed, trying to kill him. John wrenched himself away, reloading his gun even as he gasped for breath. He shot, and black smoke filled the air...
And then nothing.
"It's a memory block. John, I might be able to fix it."
"How?" John demanded.
"I have some psychic ability. You've worked with psychics before, haven't you?"
John nodded, thinking of Missouri Moseley back in Lawrence. She could read minds, too, and he'd trusted her once.
"I can break the block in your memory, John, but you need to understand. It was put there to protect you. It's a dam, holding back memories you're better off not remembering."
"Fuck that!" Hunter's words sparked real anger in John. Who dared to decide what he was better off without? "I need my memory back to save Dean," John insisted.
It was Ellen who stopped him. "John, think about this..." she warned.
"Why? What could be in my memory that's so bad it's worth my son's soul?"
Ellen backed off. "When you put it like that..." she shrugged.
John could tell there was something. He looked at Bobby. Bobby met his eyes, steady and inscrutable. "It's your funeral, John," he said.
No help there. John wasn't surprised. He turned to Hunter. "Alright. Do what you can."
To the rear of Bobby's house was a yard with cars in various states of junk and repair. In the half-light of dusk, the cars were hulking shapes and shadows. Hunter had suggested they should be outside for this. The scents of rust and old gasoline were familiar to John. For some reason it made him more comfortable. He was nervous. John still didn't know if he should trust this man and he was about to let him play around inside his head. If he had any other way, he wouldn't do this...but he needed to know what was in those missing thirteen years.
John looked back over his shoulder to Hunter. Hunter showed no sign of pain from the bullet wound John had given him. It stopped bleeding unnaturally quickly, and now there was only the dried blood on his shirt to testify he had been wounded. John had an uneasy feeling that if he asked Hunter to show him, the skin beneath the shirt would be whole and unscarred.
"What are you really, Hunter?"
Most people would take offence at being called what. Hunter merely smiled. "Truthfully, I don't know any more. I started out human. I think I still am...but perhaps that's a matter of opinion."
"What does that mean?"
"I'll make you a deal, John. In three days this will all be over, one way or another. At that time, I promise you, I'll answer every question you have, as fully as I am able. Until then, how about you just accept I'm one of the good guys and table the rest?"
"You ain't helping me trust you," John said. But he did see Hunter's point. Time was a factor. While he was distracted by irrelevancies, Dean was dying. He met Hunter's glittering blue eyes. "Alright. What do we do?"
"Think back to that last memory you have. I need to touch you to find the block and break it. It'll only take a moment. And brace yourself, John, because when this dam breaks, it's going to be like Niagara Falls. There's no way for me to do this gently."
"Okay." It took very little effort for John to recall that memory again. It was hard not to think about it. I know who you are, John Winchester! I know about your boys!
Hunter reached up with his wounded arm and cupped the side of John's face with one large hand. The gesture felt sexual, as if Hunter was going to kiss him, but John had no time to feel uncomfortable or to pull away.
Ellen, her eyes red-rimmed and still crying, looked up at him with hatred in her eyes. "Get out, John. Just fucking go."
Sammy bent over Dean's head, breathing air into his brother's lungs even as he cried. John was performing chest compressions. "Come on, Dean. Don't you dare die. Come on!"
Hot blood sprayed into John's face, blinding him.
John sat on the hood of the Impala, watching the football game from a distance. Sammy was playing quarterback. He was pretty good. If only he'd put the same effort into training with his brother...
The scent of cheap perfume overlaid the scent of stale sweat. John kissed her anyway, shoving her hard against the wall of the alley. They parted and she smiled through smeared lipstick. "I have a room..."
John smiled, his hand closing around the handle of the machete concealed beneath his coat. "Sorry, darlin'. I'm not into necrophilia." Her eyes widened and she had time to take one more breath before John decapitated her with one powerful blow.
Sammy, yelled into John's face, furious. "I'm going, Dad. This time you can't stop me."
"If you walk out that door, you selfish piece of shit, you stay gone. If you walk out on your family now, I don't want you back. Ever!"
The door slammed behind Sammy, leaving John with a white-faced Dean. "Go, son. Just go."
He walked into the motel room he'd expected to find empty. Dean was on the bed, naked, with two women. He struggled to disentangle himself from them as John stood there. "When you're done, son," John said dryly, "we do have a job to finish."
Dean laughed; he sounded drunk. "Yeah, sure. Just give me five minutes."
Dean. Oh, Dean, what am I gonna do with you? "Make it ten, Dean," John said. "You're gonna need a shower."
Driving his truck down a lonely road, John stopped to pick up a woman who was hitchhiking. "Take me home," she purred, and he knew what she was.
Invisible claws raked his cheek. Sammy shouted a warning and even through closed eyes the light was painfully bright. Someone - John thought it was Sam - helped him up. Later, in the dark street, Dean said, "You can't come with us, Dad."
"You left! Your brother and I, we needed you!"
The adrenaline high made John grin as he turned the lever, flooding the tunnel with holy water. Meg stood on the other side of the flood, black-eyed and very pissed. "Holy water, John," she taunted. "Very cute." It was a threat, a promise of pain, but for now Meg was trapped.
Invisible hands pinned him to the wall, dragged him upward off the ground. He fought against the force lifting him, but it was too strong. Now he was the one trapped.
Trapped in his own body, while a demon used John's own voice to taunt his son. "Funny. But that's all part of your MO, isn't it? Masks all that nasty pain. Masks the truth! They don't need you! Not like you need them."
Dean was bleeding. Dean was begging him for help.
"Sammy! You shoot me in the heart, son! Shoot me!"
A hospital room, white walls, and Sammy was yelling at him again. "That's my point! Dean is dying, and you have a plan!"
Hatred, more bitter than anything John had ever felt, filled him as he gazed down the barrel of the Colt into those yellow eyes. He had waited twenty three years for this moment, but as much as he longed to pull the trigger, John didn't do it. "I wanna make a deal," he said.
He laid the Colt on the table between them. He was genuinely afraid of what he was about to do, but he was satisfied that this was right. Dean would finish what he, John, began. Somehow, he kept the fear out of his voice as he met those yellow eyes again. "Okay. I'm ready."
The demon smiled triumphantly. "You do know, don't you, that you just sold me your precious Sammy?"
John's last, defiant whisper: "That's what you think, you son of a bitch."
Dying is easy. What comes after is anything but.
It was pain. Unimaginable pain, so much it should have killed him instantly, but he was already dead. He would have screamed until his throat bled, but he had no body, no mouth with which to scream his agony. Then he did, and that was so much worse.
John roared, a long, wordless scream in the silence of the yard. He was on his knees, though he didn't remember falling. He scrabbled at the ground, his hands seeking something to hold. The relentless assault of memory went on and on.
Oh, God, make it stop. Make it stop!
Bright light that should have hurt his eyes but didn't. His eyes didn't hurt, but everything else did. He raised his hands before his face and found the flesh burned, black and torn. Skin cracked as he flexed his fingers and he saw his own bones. Then there came a voice. He thought it was a female voice. "Sleep, child. When you wake your body and mind will be whole again."
Someone's hand gentled John's back. "John," Ellen said soothingly. "John."
John looked at his hands, certain the flesh would be blackened and split, blood and broken flesh with bone showing through. But his hands were whole.
He raised one hand in a stop gesture. "I'm okay," he said hoarsely, and was amazed to find he had a voice. "Just give me a moment."
John concentrated on breathing. Just breathing in and out. He was breathing. He was alive.
After an endless time, John rose slowly to his feet. He looked for Hunter, who merely nodded, once. He looked at Ellen. She seemed scared, or worried. John thought he understood why. He reached for Ellen, drawing her into his arms. Ellen hugged him back fiercely.
John spoke quietly, his mouth against her ear. "We'll talk about last night, Ellen, but now's not the time. I am truly sorry, for everything."
Ellen drew away from him. "Now's not the time," she agreed.
Satisfied, he turned to Bobby. "Where are they, Bobby?"
Bobby shook his head unhappily. "John, I truly don't know. Dean called me this morning. He told me they were going someplace out of cell range. He didn't tell me where. They've been staying in the central states lately, but...that's all I know."
Shit. "Think, Bobby. Did Dean say anything else? Anything."
Bobby frowned. "He said there was a place in the mountains."
John almost smiled. The mountains. He remembered...he hadn't thought Dean so sentimental. "It's Colorado. Daniel owned a cabin high in the Rockies where we spent a few summers when the boys were little."
Bobby shook his head, as if thinking he should have known. "Elkins. I forgot he trained you."
John waved it away. "What demon did Dean summon to make his deal?"
Bobby hesitated. "He made the deal at a crossroads. The boys tried to find the name of the demon who holds his contract, but - "
"You don't know. Fine. Last question: do they still have the Colt? I know all the bullets are gone, but do they have the gun?"
Bobby answered, "That's a story and a half."
"Yes or no, Bobby."
"No. But there's more."
"You can tell me en route. That's if you're coming with me."
Bobby met his eyes. "You got a plan, John?"
"I'm going to Colorado to save my son. Are you with me?"
Bobby actually smiled. "I'm with you. I love the boy, too."
"I'm with you," Ellen said, before he could ask.
Hunter nodded. "If you'll have me."
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