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Gallows Pole

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“So if you want,” said Sonny, “I’ll stick my neck out for you, and I’ll fight for you to stay.”

Dean’s eyes shone in the dark room. He went to the window, shifted the curtains, and looked down at the car idling before the big farmhouse. Sammy was hanging out of the window, playing with a toy jet Dean didn’t recognize. Maybe Dad got it for him while Dean was gone.

Sam alone with their dad. The idea was so messed up. Who’d look after Sam? Who’d hunt with Dad?

At the window, Dean said, “I can’t leave my brother alone, Sonny.”

Sonny watched him. “OK,” he said. “Dean, listen to me. Here’s what we’re gonna do.”

---

Here’s what they did: Sonny went out to speak with John. Dean stayed in Sonny’s office, because Sonny thought John might’ve seen Dean from the window upstairs, and Sonny didn’t want John to know exactly where Dean was. Sonny stayed calm. John didn’t. Sonny said, “Mr. Winchester, listen, I don’t wanna have to call the cops, but I’m gonna have to ask you to leave,” which he didn’t do, so Ruth called the sheriff’s office. The car rumbled away before the deputies got out, which Dean was furious about, but Sonny sat him down and calmly explained that they were going to file a report right here and now, and with any luck, Sam will be back with Dean in no time.

It was a sheriff’s deputy first, and then it was a social worker. “Dean,” said Sonny, seriously, while Ruth served her tea in the kitchen. “All you gotta do is be honest, you hear me? Don’t have to lie. Don’t have to make anything up to make sure it sticks. Promise you, it’s enough as it is.”

Dean did have to lie, though, because if he started talking about monsters and ghosts and demons no court was going to take him seriously. But he didn’t lie about John.

---

John and Sam were staying in Room 11 in the Silverview Motel, a few miles away from the farm. An older woman wearing a silver cross necklace knocked on the door and served John with the court order. When John opened the door, Sam peered curiously past him, trying to get a glimpse of her. No one had told him yet why he couldn’t see Dean.

After she left, John flipped through the papers while Sam read a book on the bed. There were two half-full bottles of whiskey in the trunk of the car. John finished them both by the time Sam fell asleep.

---

The night manager at the reception desk startled awake when he heard it.

Blam .

He jumped, heart racing, peering out into the night. Maybe a car had misfired.

Blam .

This time, he saw it - a flash, hardly obscured by the thin curtains, coming from inside Room 11.

---

The kid, approximately twelve years of age, had been shot in the back of the head execution style and pronounced dead at the scene. The older guy had eaten a bullet, but he was still alive when the paramedics got there. It was ugly - blood everywhere, jaw half-broken, one eye obliterated, moaning incomprehensibly. When the police got there, they found the court papers on the motel room table, along with the two empty liquor bottles. About as open and close as you get.

The doctors at the hospital didn’t know who John Winchester was when they saved his life. While hopped up on painkillers, he shouted and babbled on about demons, about evil, about the end of the world and how he had no choice. He kept saying the name Mary .

---

John Winchester was convicted of murder in the first a little over a year later. He was sentenced to thirty to life. By that time, Sonny moved Dean into his own room in the farmhouse, and he took him into the county once a month to talk to a social worker, for whatever it was worth. Dean was not particularly talkative, but by the time John was sentenced, he wasn’t catatonic anymore, either. 

---

The first time Dean destroyed Sonny’s office, Sonny stood with his back against the closed door, watching Dean with a heavy heart. Sonny had seen his share of troubled, violent boys, but Dean was an injured animal, a raw nerve, screaming and shouting and throwing things and beating his fists into the wall until they turned bloody.

“Let me OUT ,” he bellowed at Sonny. “Let me GO!

“No, Dean,” said Sonny, sadly.

“You can’t KEEP me here!”

“You got nowhere else to go, Dean.”

Dean shouted and lunged at Sonny, who caught his wrists and tried to hold him back; but Dean was fast, and he twisted out of Sonny’s grib and clocked him, hard, in the face. Then he stopped, chest heaving, and stood there defiantly, as if waiting.

Sonny touched his split lip. Then he looked up at Dean.

“I ain’t giving up on you, kid,” said Sonny, his voice quiet. “And I ain’t gonna hit you back.”

---

“If - I’d - been there ,” sobbed Dean.

“Dean,” muttered Sonny, holding the kid as tight as he could. “If you’d been there, you’d be dead too.”

---

Bobby helped the police go through John’s belongings. He towed the Impala back to the farmhouse, though he offered to take it back to his place first. His voice tight, he told Sonny, “John told me - hell - I thought he was with Dean, I…”

“Yeah,” replied Sonny, with a short nod. “Sounds like John Winchester was a hell of a liar.”

“I never saw him lay a hand on those boys, I swear if I’d known-”

“Yeah,” said Sonny, cutting him off. “Yeah, well. Too late now.”

---

Dean stayed at the farm for six years. He managed to muddle his way through high school, though he was nineteen before he finally got that diploma, and by then he was fixing things all over town. A girl Dean went to school with inherited an old beat-up vintage truck when her grandfather passed, and Dean spent a lot of time in her garage, fixing it up. Her older brother was in and out of town, a raging alcoholic but a whole lot of fun, and when Dean finally got the car running they drove it out to the farm and parked it behind the shed and made out in the truck bed.

Later that summer, as Dean was washing dishes with Sonny after dinner and the boys were watching TV or getting ready for bed, Sonny said, “Hey, you wanna invite Jason around here for dinner one of these days? Bound to be a lot nicer than wastin’ time back behind the shed.”

Dean kept washing dishes. Then he said, “I’ll ask him, Sonny.”

“Just make sure he comes over sober, alright? I don’t mind whatever you do with that kid, Dean, but you do realize I can smell it when you come home stinkin’ of grass, right?”

“OK, Sonny,” sighed Dean, but there was a little smile on his face, and when Sonny saw it he smiled too.

He elbowed Dean. “Hey,” he said. “I’m proud of you, kiddo.”

Dean didn’t reply.

---

Since the day his brother died, Dean had only been in the car three times. Once was after Bobby towed it back to the farm. Dean was sixteen, and he sat in the front seat in the middle of the night and he cried. The second time was when Dean turned eighteen, thinking about his father, thinking about the car that might’ve been his. It was his, now, but wrongly. Terribly.

After his first boyfriend broke his heart and drove that old pickup out of town, Dean went back to the Impala, and he figured, what the hell, might as well fix her up too. Sonny had been dropping hints about college for a while now, testing the water, trying to tell if Dean was interested. Maybe he was. It was strange, to think of a life beyond the farm. Everything felt distant, unreal: except somehow the car, which came into view suddenly as something solid , substantial, as if more real than the things around it. He popped the false bottom on the trunk. Bobby had taken guns and the knives, but there was some holy water, some salt. It made Dean feel strangely alive, as if he’d spent the last few years in some kind of sleep, waiting for whatever inevitable thing was on the horizon.

But what else could there possibly be? He did not fear the worst, because the worst had already happened. He could not go lower, because he had already fallen as far as he could go. When family was all you had, Dean thought sometimes, though the thought filled him with such shame he banished it the moment it came into his head, then, turns out - sometimes it can be a relief that they’re gone.

---

While he worked on the car, he was playing Zepp on the boombox Sonny had given him a few years ago. I couldn’t get no silver, I couldn’t get no gold ...

It wasn’t really the car’s fault that it was in such bad condition: she’d been sitting still and quiet for half a dozen years. Poor thing could barely hum to life at all.

You know that we’re too damn poor to keep you from the Gallows Pole…

He kept the holy water and the salt in the false trunk. With money he earned fixing things Dean had bought a shotgun last year, and he kept that in the trunk too. Sonny didn’t allow any firearms in the house, which was for the best. Most of the boys who came through couldn’t be trusted with them.

Hangman, hangman, hold it for a little while…

She was almost fixed up by now. Dean took her apart to try and get those Legos stuck in the air vents, but it wasn’t happening.

I think I see my brother coming, riding many a mile…

Outside, the doors to the shed creaked. Dean looked up.

---

When Sam Winchester was raised from the dead, the same skinny twelve-year-old he’d been the day his father killed him, the back of his head was still matted black with blood.

---

Dean drove up to the men’s correctional facility upstate in the Impala. He had never been there before, but Sonny had told him what to expect. He checked in, he went through security, and then they led him to a seat before a glass window, with a phone receiver hanging on the wall. He waited.

On the other side of the glass, a man came shuffling out with two guards on either side of him. Dean had not seen his father since he was sixteen, and he caught a glimpse of him covered in bandages at the courthouse. The bandages were gone now, and in their place was a horrible scar across his cheek, blasting into his eye, which was a clear, demonic white. A glass eye.

John Winchester sank into the seat on the other side of the glass. There were tears in his good eye as, tentatively, as if frightened, he reached out, and he brought the receiver to his ear.

Dean listened to him breathe. His stomach lurched and his mouth tasted sour and sick.

Quietly, John mumbled, “Hey, son.”

“Don’t call me that,” said Dean shortly.

John pressed his lips together, watching Dean. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again, Dean.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t planning on it either.”

John wiped at his nose, the tears in his eye threatening precariously to spill over. “God,” he breathed. “God, I wish they’d left that bullet in my brain, Dean. I wish they’d let me die on that damn motel floor.”

“Shut up,” said Dean. 

Pathetically, John shut up.

Dean sat there for a moment, struggling with himself. He didn’t want to stay here. He didn’t want to hear his father’s voice. He wanted to leave, and never come back.

But more than anything, he wanted answers.

“Why’d you do it?” he asked, his voice stony. “What’d he do to deserve that? He get on your nerves? Ask you too many questions? What was it?”

John watched him.

“No,” said Dean, leaning in. “No, no, Dad. I really wanna know. Why’d you kill Sammy?”

“I had to,” John whispered.

“Why?” demanded Dean. “Who made you? A demon? Was it Yellow Eyes?”

John peered through the glass at his son. “I did it, Dean,” he whispered. “No possession, no ghosts, nothing. It was me.”

A muscle worked in Dean’s jaw. He stared at his father. “Why?”

“Because,” John breathed, crumbling slightly, his eyes fluttering closed. “It was the only way.”

“The only way for what ?”

“I did what I did,” John continued, stubbornly, “because I had to. I hate myself for it and I deserve to die, but dammit, Dean. I put my boy in the ground myself rather than let him turn into what they were gonna do to him. I hate it. I spend every day wishing I’d died that day too.” He looked back at Dean with his one good eye, mouth drawn tight. “But I don’t regret it.”

A bolt of anger hot and sickening rose in Dean’s gut, and he squeezed the receiver at his ear so tightly his knuckles went white.

Dean leaned in towards the glass.

“Dad,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I want you to listen to me real carefully, alright?” He met his father’s gaze, brow hard. “You lost, Dad.”

John stared at him.

“I don’t know how,” Dean continued, his voice so light it barely made it through the receiver, “but something out there wants Sammy alive. So you’re gonna rot in here for the rest of your life. Sam? He’s with me now.”

The blood drained from John’s face. “Dean,” he began, stricken. “No - whatever that thing is - that’s not your brother-”

“You know,” Dean continued, casually, speaking over his father’s pleas. His expression blank and stony, he said, “I’m glad that bullet didn’t kill you, Dad. ‘Cause it means if you ever get out of here, then I get the pleasure of killing you myself.”

Dean hung the receiver up. On the other side of the glass, John started to scream, slamming his hands against the glass, calling after his son. “ Dean! Dean! YOU BETTER KILL HIM! YOU BETTER KILL THAT BOY! YOU BETTER KILL HIM NOW, SON!

His father’s words ringing in his ears, Dean walked away.

---

They drove in silence for a while.

“You know,” said Sam, in that terrible twelve-year-old voice, the voice that had haunted Dean’s dreams for so many years, “it’s not your fault.”

Dean glanced sidelong at him. “What do you mean?”

“What Dad did.” A pause. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Did I say it was?”

“No. But I know you think it was.”

“Oh yeah?” asked Dean, his patience wearing thin. “How d’you know, huh?”

Sam did not answer for a few minutes.

Then, quietly, he murmured, “I can hear you thinking it, Dean.”

---

During a hunt gone wrong, Sam screamed, and the bullet whizzing towards Dean’s head stopped in midair.

---

Sometimes, when they’re in the car, twenty two-year-old Dean and his twelve-year-old kid brother back from the dead, and another car passes them going the other way, the headlights reflect in Sam’s eyes just right, and for a split second, Dean could swear he saw them go yellow.