The first thing he sees are stars.
When he sits up and manages to get past feeling he had been hit with the worst hangover of his life and a damn boulder all at once, he sees that he’s in a courtyard.
In a fucking hospital gown that exposes his ass to the wet grass, no less.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, John Winchester.”
John jerks his head towards the voice and jumps to his feet in a defensive stance. A boy, who can’t be more than 16 and is completely naked, slowly approaches him with deliberate steps. John glares at him and steps back.
“Stay back,” he warns, instinctively reaching for a weapon that he doesn’t even have, “I’m warning you.”
The boy cocks his head, “Warning me of what?”
John sputters and tries to come up with an answer, but he doesn’t have one. What can he warn? That he’ll kill him, blind to knowing what he even is? And even so, he’d rather not threaten a fucking kid.
“You remind me of Dean,” the boy says, unimpressed and almost disappointed.
John’s blood runs cold at the words. Before he realizes it, he starts charging at the boy.
“Where’s my son?!” he growls, standing inches away from the boy’s face, “Where’s Dean? I made a deal!”
The corners of the boy’s mouth turn upwards into a small smile, but his eyes stay wide and still.
“I sometimes forget. I wasn’t around when that happened.”
John squints in frustration and grips his hair, “What are you talking about? Fuck my head…”
The boy’s expression grows more serious as he puts a hand on John’s shoulder.
“You’re blocking out Hell. I understand. Hell is not pleasant. I’m not looking forward to going there to get Eileen. But she went there without any just cause and I will bring her back. Sam loved her and I love Sam. Still, it would be nice if she had been tucked away in Heaven like you had been. Not that Heaven’s a barrel of laughs either.”
“What??” John grits out.
“I must go,” the boy informs him, taking a step back, “When you find your sons, tell Sam I brought you back. As a gift. Because I love him.”
John stares him in complete confusion, but then the boy rolls his eyes with exasperation.
“You can tell Dean you’re a gift for him too...I guess.”
Before John can open his mouth, the boy disappears, nowhere to be seen.
“Can I at least have some clothes?” he calls out, looking around the grounds.
His request is met with silence.
John lets out an enraged growl as he stomps out of the courtyard, the back of his gown flapping in the wind. He’d need a car so that he could save his sons from that...that thing. A demon? That was the only possibility going through his head right now. Whatever it is, he doesn’t like it, whether it loves Sam and tolerates Dean or not.
He finds the parking lot on the other side of the building, a building that turns out to be a hospital or sorts. Glancing at it, he realizes it’s the hospital he and Dean are, or had been, admitted to. Where he had made a deal with Azazel. Would he and Sam still be there? The boy had made it sound like they aren’t, like John had been gone for a while. But how long?
What all did he miss?
John finds a car, tucked in the far back corner of the lot. Going by the models of some of them, he can tell he’s been gone for a while. So he sticks with a car he knows. It’s a beat up Grand Am and he wires it in no time and is on the road. Now if he only knew where to go. There’s change at the bottom of the cup holders and it’s still early enough for no one to be on the road. If he could just find a pay phone, he could call the boys or Bobby, hell, any of the contacts he had memorized. They might not believe him if they know he has been dead. Bobby might call him a lying shit and tell him to stay the hell away from the boys. But he has to try something.
As long as he doesn’t get himself killed first.
The sounds of vibrating take him by surprise and almost make him curb the car. Maybe it’s the pounding in his head or the anxiety that has him in his grip, but the possibility that it could be a phone doesn’t connect for a moment. He finds a rectangular device, squished into the passenger seat, lighting up despite its black screen. John picks up the device with weariness and watches as the phone stops buzzing and displays.
There’s nowhere to dial, just one singular round button. John presses it down and holds it and the phone lights up.
What can I help you with?
John stares at the phone in silence, feeling put on the spot by the blinking line. The question goes away after seemingly getting impatient waiting on him, so he holds down the button again.
What can I help you with?
“...Hello,” John answers.
John almost drops the phone when a woman answers, “Hi there.”
John tries to ask another question but is made to press the button again, which is frustrating, because it’s like having a conversation with someone who isn’t listening past each singular exchange.
“Call somebody,” John orders.
“Who would you like to call?” the voice asks, before the blinking line makes an appearance again.
John repeats this process several times. All of the numbers John remembers of Bobby’s are out of order, the last ones he remembers of Dean’s are too. He tries Sam and Rufus. Kate, who will probably give him hell for ducking out of Adam’s life without a word, but her number’s disconnected as well. He even calls Ellen, although if he’s being honest with himself, he’s sort of happy hers is out of service, despite the fact she knows every hunter in the Midwest. It’s not like they’re on good terms.
He has one more he can try, one that isn’t a hunter. One that he can trust and will know that he is who he says he is.
“Call 785-555-0182,” John orders the device.
“Calling 785-555-0182,” the voice responds.
The phone rings and rings and, just when John thinks that he’s shit out of luck, a sleepy voice answers the phone.
“John Winchester,” the woman mumbles, exhausted, “Back from the dead or not, there’s no excuse to call at 4 o’clock in the morning. Do you realize how little sleep I’m getting these days? You try having premonitions regarding a well-meaning but powerful man baby, wanting to bring back what he thinks is his family.”
John freezes at the implications, but swallows down the stream of questions that flood his mind, “It’s good to hear your voice, Missouri.”
After he ditches the phone in the parking lot like Missouri told him to, John starts driving. He has two-thirds of a tank left but not enough to refill it once it gets low, so Missouri agreed him halfway at a McDonald’s at Fort Calhoun. When he gets there, he realizes he has enough change to get a coffee and a couple things off the dollar menu while he waits. Thank god for drive thrus. He has no desire to have a wellness check called him just because he is in a hospital gown and barefoot.
He had brought up going straight to Bobby’s, that it was pretty close to the hospital and more convenient. Missouri’s tone got softer when she told him Bobby died five years back.
It hurt to hear that. Bobby had been his friend, even though the bastard hated him half the time. He had been good to Sam and Dean, another father when John had stints where he couldn’t be. And the boys lost him too.
As for the year? 2017. 2017. That made Dean 38 years old. Sam was 34. They were men, through and through. And, although Missouri hadn’t told him much, she did match the boy’s confirmation and told him that, as far as she knew, they were currently alive.
A knock on the car window interrupts his thoughts, he quickly turns in his seat, the glare set on his face being his only defensive weapon to scare anyone off.
All Missouri does is raise an eyebrow and roll her eyes impatiently.
“Well? You just going to stay in that beat up junker or are you going to get out and give me a hug?”
John lets out a breath, before opening the door. He’s never been too much of a hugger, he liked to save those after long separations and close calls with death.
Learning you’ve been dead for 12 years probably fits in both of those categories.
He scoops up the older woman and holds her tight, probably holding onto her for longer than necessary, and it probably would have gone on even longer if she hadn’t started running the tests on him when he least expected it.
“Never can be too sure,” Missouri shrugs, putting away her knife and flask, before studying him.
“You’re shaking,” she notices, rubbing his back a little, “You getting soft on me or is that gown not doing you any favors?”
“It’s definitely not doing any favors,” John laughs, wiping his eyes quickly, “I need to-”
“You need to find your boys. I know,” Missouri tells him, “I’ll take you back to mine and give them a call.”
“You know where they are?”
“I know where they live,” Missouri corrects, “Have never been invited back for tea, but they keep in touch every so often, let me know where they call home. But they can be in Timbuktu at the moment for all I know. You know that life better than anyone.”
“They still after Azazel?” John asks, stomach churning.
“Aw, honey,” Missouri tsks, something akin to pity in her eyes, “Azazel’s dead and gone. Old news. He was a cakewalk compared to what has gone down since.”
And that statement doesn’t make John feel better at all.
“Go get in the car, I’m right over there,” Missouri tells him, motioning her head towards the other end of the parking lot.
The car...the car is strange, to say the least. He doesn’t like that it starts with the push of a button, rather than the turn of a key. It makes it seem like it would be easier to steal.
“Like you have any room to talk!” Missouri barks with a loud laugh, “If that is the case, you of all people should be thrilled!”
“Will you stop reading my thoughts?” John grumbles, “I hate when you do that.”
“Oh, shut up,” Missouri dismisses with a flick of her wrist.
Missouri doesn’t answer too many of his questions. When he starts asking about people, she starts to get quiet.
“I think we should wait until I get you with your boys,” she answers softly, “Let’s not talk about it right now, okay?”
“Why not? You going chicken shit on me? I can take it, Missouri. You know I can,” John mutters.
“Honey, you’ve...you’ve lost a lot of people. Your sons have lost even more but at least it’s happened over time, although a relatively short period of time. You’ll need all the support you can get, since you’ll probably be finding it all out at once.”
John opens his mouth to object, to demand she just tell him already and put him out of his misery. But he can’t bring himself to insist she say anymore. Some part of him knows she’s right, even if not knowing and just waiting to be told is almost as bad.
The drive to Lawrence feels longer than it should, despite Missouri’s speed demon habits still being in effect. John takes the time to absorb his surroundings, see what’s changed on the roads he used to frequent time and time again. There are some signs for new restaurants, new exits, intersections, and bridges, but he can still recognize where he is and knows he could still go from state to state on his own without issue.
He’s not sure why it takes him so long to notice the carseat in the back.
“That’s little Miss Lila’s,” Missouri answers fondly, without him saying a word, “She’s three now.”
John nods, “She a family member or somethin’?”
Missouri smiles a little, “Or somethin’. She’s Denise’s granddaughter.”
“Who’s Denise?” John asks, staring out the window once more.
John does a double take at that, staring at Missouri in bafflement and confusion.
“It’s a different time, John,” Missouri says softly, “It’s allowed now. We met six years ago, it became legal a few years later and I thought, ‘Why the hell not?’ We gained custody of Lila two years ago. Sort of difficult, considering both Denise and I are psychics and the judge was a skeptic. But his tune changed once I read his thoughts. Her momma died from an overdose. Drug problem in this country’s real bad now. It’s a damn shame.”
John shakes himself out of his stupor, “I didn’t...I didn’t know you were…you know.”
“What? A lesbian? Me either. I don’t think I’m one completely,” Missouri laughs, “I have to say, I did admire your cute behind as you walked to the car. But Denise? She does something for me. She’s sexy-”
“Okay,” John interrupts, clearing his throat.
“Am I making John Winchester uncomfortable?” Missouri asks, faking a gasp, “I figured you’d be jaded by the way all you men talk in the Marines.”
John rolls his eyes at that and looks back out towards the scenery.
They get to Missouri’s house around 9:30, where Missouri is greeted by a toddler running down the steps to greet her with open arms and a big smile.
“Hello, my sweet girl! Your Nana making breakfast?” Missouri asks.
“Yes, Meme. She’s making a big bweakfwas,” Lila confirms, nodding her head once.
“Good. Your Uncle John ate the worst first meal I’ve ever seen in my life,” Missouri answers, before putting the little girl down, “Go say hi to him.”
The little girl skips over to him, before taking his hand.
“Hello, Unca John! It’s nice to meet you!” she greets with a jump.
“...Hi,” John eventually tells her, patting her head awkwardly.
“Lila will show you inside,” Missouri tells him as she makes her way up the steps, “Keep you out of trouble while breakfast cooks and I get ahold of those boys of yours.”
“I’ll draw for you and make you pretty pictures, come on!” Lila insists, yanking on his hand.
Even without the years he missed out on, it’s been a long time since he’s been around a young child. He’d have to interview one for a case from time to time, but once Dean got old enough to play partner, they tended to respond better to him rather than John anyway. Dean always had a nurturing and loving spirit that came out when needed, putting everyone around him at ease. Making it easy for him to accept too much responsibility.
He hopes, after all these years, Dean still has that. That he’s taken care of Sam and himself. That he hasn’t lost it, despite what might have been thrown at him.
Dean would do much better with Lila than he is right now, not that Lila seems to particularly care. With her tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth in concentration, she creates some sort of scribble, blue crayon in her left hand as she clumsily moves it across the page.
“There,” she declares, holding it out for him to see, “It’s great, huh?”
“Sure,” John nods, gently taking the drawing from her hands and hesitantly accepting a side hug from the overly affectionate girl, “Thanks.”
“It’s an angel. A nice one, not a mean one like some. I made it so it will watch you and keep you safe forever,” Lila informs him.
John almost asks her to elaborate, not that it matters since there’s no such thing, but another voice jumps into the conversation.
“That’s not what angels look like.”
John jumps up and stands in front of Lila as soon as he sees the boy, Lila cries in fear and holds onto his leg as she lets out a wail.
“Who are you?” John bellows, “Tell me who you are!”
The boy doesn’t respond and picks the fallen picture up off the floor. John must be imagining it, but the boy almost looks at Lila with contempt before straightening his posture.
“I can do better,” the boy shrugs, before disappearing once more.
“It’s all right,” John murmurs leaning down to rub the little girl’s back, “He’s gone now.”
“Who the hell’s in my house?” Missouri yells, running out with a shotgun, with a woman John can only assume is Denise at her heels, “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty!”
“It was that kid,” John sighs, sitting back down as he watched Lila run into Denise’s arms, “Came in, made a comment about Lila’s drawing, then left.”
“Oh,” Missouri sighs, putting down the gun, “I thought you guys were in trouble.”
“The boy’s obviously quite powerful, Missouri,” John snarls, “He needs to go.”
“He’s a baby,” Missouri dismisses, “He can cause harm, but has no desire to. Leave him be. He’s not even out of his naked phase yet.”
“Let your boys handle him,” Missouri keeps going, “They’ll explain it. You won’t like the explanation, but know that things aren’t as black and white as they used to be.”
And John tries to argue with her, he really and truly does. But it’s not easy to win an argument with Missouri Moseley and she says something that stops him in his tracks anyway.
“I talked to Sam.”
John lets out a breath, blinks, and nods his head.
Missouri smiles sadly, “As alright as can be expected. Although, he might be panicking now. I accidentally hung up on him when I heard Lila screaming. I’ll call him back for you. You can talk to him yourself.”
Missouri presses call on Sam’s name and hands over the phone. With an unexpected tremble, John takes it and watches Missouri as she ushers Denise and Lila out of the room.
“Hello?” Sam answers on the first ring, “Missouri? What’s going on? Did something happen?”
“Hey, son,” John chokes out, covering his eyes, “It...It’s Dad.
The other end of the line is silent and part of John wonders if the call was dropped. But Sam lets out a shuddering breath and clears his throat.
And that response? It makes John desperately want to know what his boys have been through since he died.
“‘Hey?’ That’s all you have to say?” John prompts, frowning.
Sam snorts at that, “Winchesters aren’t exactly known for their eloquence.”
John huffs out a breath at that, “No, I guess they’re not.”
There’s a beat of silence before John tells Sam what’s happened so far unprompted.
“And then the kid said he loves you,” John continues, disgusted, “I’m worried, Sam. If this kid has some sort of sick obsession-”
“Don’t worry about Jack,” Sam interrupts, “He’s not...He’s not obsessed with me, not like that, he’s a kid, come on. He...Shit, I don’t know, wants me to be his dad or something. It’s weird. I’m trying to talk him out of it but he has selective hearing, kind of like you.”
“You’re really going to start a fight now?” John sighs.
“Nah, I’m just stating facts.”
John grunts at that before letting his voice get soft, “Dean around? I’d...I’d like to talk to him too.”
It takes a moment for Sam to respond, which makes John more nervous.
“Dean...Dean’s not in a good place right now,” Sam tells him evasively, “I don’t know how he’d respond to a conversation with you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” John demands to know, “What’s going on with Dean?”
Sam lets out a sigh, “Look, I’m not keeping you from talking to him. He’s at home anyway. I’m in the car outside of a Gas n’ Sip in town.”
“What’s. Going. On. With Dean,” John enunciates, hoping his younger son will take a hint.
“We had a rough battle a couple months back. Lost a few people. Dean lost someone he was extremely close with and is struggling with that,” Sam tells him sadly, “So, when I get you, I’ll be coming alone. He won’t know until I know you’re who you say you are. There’s no easy way to break news like this, but I’m not going to put him under even more stress if this is a sham.”
“It’s not a sham,” John breathes out, rubbing a hand over his face, “But okay. Do what you feel is best.”
“Alright. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Before John can tell him the same, the line beeps, signaling the end of the call.
“I got you this.”
John stands to his feet, turns and throws out a punch, only to watch his fist go through a massive painting.
Jack looks down at the painting sadly, “I thought you might like it. It’s a Picasso. Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust. It sold for over 106 million dollars in 2010. But I feel that you are a much more worthy owner.
John watches Jack, dumbfounded, as the boy mends the painting with the touch of his hand.
“In case you change your mind,” Jack says hopefully, giving him a small smile, before gently pushing the painting towards him.
“I’m sure as hell not going to change my mind on sending you straight back to Hell-” John starts to rant but, once again, Jack is gone.
He’s tempted, he truly is tempted, to take the painting, put it out on the curb, and leave it at the mercy of the garbage men or a greedy neighbor. But when he moves the painting, he sees a piece of paper taped to the back, written on with childlike, boxy letters.