Sam hovers. He does that when he’s got something to say. “Hey, uh, Dean, you, uhm, you saved my life back there.”
“So I guess you’re glad I brought the gun, huh?”
“Man, I’m tryin’ to thank you here.”
His brother looks like hell. Eye swollen, bruised up, split lip. In way over his head. Perhaps Sam was right. Perhaps he never should’ve gone and took the kid from Stanford. Jess would still be alive, Sam wouldn’t be a spoon-bending oracle and Dean would just be doin’ what needs doin’. They wouldn’t have had to watch Max shoot himself out of sheer misery. Dean wouldn’t have...
Dean looks outside and down at his hands, the rag stained with their father’s blood and his own. Probably some of Sam’s too. The day’s chaos is catching up and they won’t have long before more shit hits the fan, and he doesn’t wanna have these thoughts. But he’s stuck with them. The hole they’ve been digging to find that demon keeps getting deeper and deeper. He knows this has to happen. He knows, hell, he wants to settle the score, maybe it’ll get him his father and brother back, but the way things are going that hole might just cave in on them. It doesn’t sit right. None of it.
He digs a fingernail into his skin to pry off flakes. His gaze flicks elsewhere, past the constraints of the cabin they holed up in. Low in his gut, an uneasy feeling swirls. Could be fear, could be disgust. Something else maybe, something he’s unable to define, but it’s getting stronger. There’s been plenty that died at his hands before. Just never…
“You know that guy I shot? There was a person in there.”
“You didn’t have a choice, Dean.”
“Yeah, I know,” he nods, sinking deeper. “That’s not what bothers me.”
“Then what does?”
He gives a few slow blinks, mind going curiously calm and, like his voice, all of him levels out, realizing that . “Killing that guy, killing Meg. I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t even flinch. For you or Dad, the things I’m willing to do or kill, it’s just, uh,” he scoffs through a wry chuckle, “it scares me sometimes.”
Sam’s gaze lingers, probably at an equal loss. Looking down at his hands once more, Dean frowns, unsure what he expects either of them to do or say. He wonders when it was he took on this capacity for killing. When the lines between monster and human blurred. And if decisions like these always blindside the one who makes them.
I had no choice. Age-old argument of… of, who exactly? It reeks of ‘wir haben es nicht gewusst’. No choice, no knowledge, a blind eye, railroading the story so it’s the only way it can go. His insides tumble alongside the slippery slope of a thought and he doesn’t know if he’s onto something, about to get sick, or hungry.
Dean straightens his back reflexively when John walks in.
“It shouldn’t. You did good.”
His heart leaps into his throat, lodged there, when he tries to swallow. “You’re not mad?”
“Using a bullet.”
“Mad? I’m proud of you.” He freezes at the words. “You know, Sam and I, we can get pretty obsessed. But you – you watch out for this family. You always have.”
He hides the tremble that courses through him, glancing at Sam. As if someone is slowly dragging the soft side of a fingernail up his spine, a frost creeps up alongside before it nestles at the nape of his neck. A chilling warning, as he looks back at their father, unsure what to make of this unexpected clemency. That’s all it is. Not kindness. If anything, John tolerates his presence, but never - never - his mistakes.
“Dean, you got the gun?”
“Give it to me.”
Obeying his father his second nature, he reaches for the Colt, tucked behind his belt, and brings it out, their objective in mind. “Dad, Sam tried to shoot the demon in Salvation. It disappeared.”
“This is me. I won’t miss. Now, the gun, hurry.”
That same chill runs up and down his spine, but the feeling is different. Lighter, almost a feather’s tickle, as if fearful Dean will give himself away or John will catch on. The doubt. The mere hint of mutiny. Dean hesitates, looking down at the gun, brow knit, and that same wariness from a moment ago grows stronger. A choice.
“Son, please,” John says, reaching out.
Since when does John ask for anything? Dean backs up a few steps, the Colt loose in his palm. His gut is heavy with fear and anger, as some of the pieces fall into disquieting place. His mind is racing, while that balmy coolness rests at his lower back, as if someone’s right there, backing him up.
“Give me the gun. What are you doing, Dean?”
“He’d be furious.”
“That I wasted a bullet. He wouldn’t be proud of me,” he says, shaking his head minutely. “He’d tear me a new one.”
John falls silent, eyes trailed on his face. His heart rate skyrockets as he points the Colt at John, and cocks it, lips quivering.
“You’re not my Dad.”
“Dean, it’s me.”
Anger coils tighter, his father’s face at the end of the Colt’s barrel. Fury reigns, carried on something sickening and vile. “I know my Dad better than anyone. And you ain’t him.”
“What the hell’s gotten into you?”
“I could ask you the same thing. Stay back.”
He makes sure to keep his eyes locked on John, when Sam returns, his insides churning at the surreal turn the circumstances have taken. “Dean? What the hell’s going on?”
“Your brother’s lost his mind.” John sounds like his disapproving self, but it’s too late.
“He’s not Dad.”
“I think he’s possessed,” he says, throat constricted, heart hammering. A demon is holding their dad hostage. If he’s right, it’s not just any demon… “I think he’s been possessed since we rescued him.”
“Don’t listen to him, Sammy.”
“Dean, how do you know?”
His eyes sting and he blinks it away. He wants to plead with his brother to believe him, because he’s so sure this thing that’s proud of him for wasting a bullet can’t be their father. He can’t be wrong. He knows his world’s rules. “He’s... he’s different.”
“You know, we don’t have time for this. Sam, you wanna kill this demon, you’ve gotta trust me.”
Sam is looking from their father to Dean and back, confusion marring his features. Dean holds his tongue, there’s more he wants to say, would say if he only knew how.
“Sam?” John says, reaching.
Sam’s gaze keeps bouncing between them. Dean panics at the thought of what he’ll have to do if Sam chooses John. More, if he thinks harder on the fact his father is possessed and the only way he now knows how to deal with that is to kill and… Sam will never forgive him and he’ll be alone.
“No.” Dean hides the sense of relief that floods him. They lock eyes quickly. “No,” Sam repeats. He steps closer, stands by Dean’s side and his insides lurch. A warmth pushes against his back, pooling low. All good and dandy, but now… John is looking at them, angry, disappointed, betrayed, Dean can’t be sure. All too intimately known facial expressions and his conviction threatens to waver.
Nostrils flaring, eyes brimming with something that Dean doesn’t want to name, John nods. “Fine,” he whispers, “You’re both so sure, go ahead. Kill me.”
He holds Dean’s gaze, both of them on the verge of tearing up. This is a delusion. A demon. Trap. All he can do is stare right back, afraid of what’ll happen if he takes his eyes off of his father for even a second. John casts his dark eyes down, expecting Dean to pull the trigger.
His fingers flex. This isn’t their father. He’s sure of it. Dean holds the gun on him, but… he can’t. He can’t.
“I thought so,” John says, a smile to his deeper voice.
That split second before he looks up at his sons, Dean knows what he’s gonna see.
Ahead is the contorted shape of Sam at the wheel, in an argument with John. A soft spoken one, all in all, for their doing. Dean is at the centre somehow, right opposite their mom, two sides of the same coin. Revenge for her. They missed their shot, literally. Not too long ago it was all Sam could think of and it remains all John can think of, even when Dean is bleeding out in the backseat. Dean almost shot John. Sam did. And still…
Their voices fade in and out like radio static. Louder and painful now, it’s still not enough to drown out the physical pain he’s in. He lost a lotta blood.
He’s gonna tear you apart. He’s gonna taste the iron in your blood.
“Look, just hold on, alright. The hospital’s only ten minutes away.”
His insides were rent apart by no ordinary means. What are they gonna tell the ER? How do you fix Yellow-Eyed demon inflicted wounds? A dense part of his brain, perhaps already delirious and on its way out, wants to laugh. Plays out the scene in his head like a comedy noir.
Funny, but that’s all part of your M.O., isn’t it? Masks all that nasty pain, masks the truth.
John’s voice cuts through the din. His body sways with the bumps in the road and he is unable to stop it. “I’m surprised at you, Sammy. Why didn’t you kill it? I thought we saw eye-to-eye on this?”
True. They did. More so than Dean, in the end, and neither of them were able to pull the trigger, so the damn thing got away. Again. He braces for the verbal lashing that’s sure to follow. It heightens the agony he’s already experiencing, an echo of past words poison in his veins.
You know, you fight and you fight for this family, but the truth is they don’t need you. Not like you need them.
Groaning, he bites back a sob, throat convulsing around blood and saliva. He wants to tell them to leave him behind. Beat them to the decision, so it is his own call. Anything is better than…
Sam – he’s clearly John’s favorite. Even when they fight, it’s more concern than he’s ever shown you.
“Killing this demon comes first – before me, before everything.”
He shuts his eyes, something warm running down his cheeks. A tremble courses through him, carrying despair and nausea with it, and he just wants this over with. He gasps for air, ready to throw out the offer, just leave me, get the bastard, see if I’m still alive after, please just get this over with…
The silence weighs a ton, crushing his chest. Forcing himself up, he swallows the bile, the blood, about to blurt out the words, when he finds Sam is looking at him in the rear view mirror.
“No, sir,” he says, after a heavy beat. “Not before everything.”
Whatever energy he was working himself up with seeps right back out. His system is in too much distress to truly respond, so all he has left in him is to hold Sam’s eyes long enough and hope it translates. Whatever he’s even feeling.
Sam chose him. And he just did it again.
Relief shouldn’t taste this desperate. He blinks, blood blurring his world further, and their voices go denser. He's going under, a familiar drowning sensation. Ain't been that long since he last felt this way. The pain is worse, maybe ‘cause it's Yellow Eyes' doing or cause the words are sticking to him like tree sap.
“Look, we’ve still got the Colt,” his brother says, voice echoing, “We still have the one bullet left. We just have to start over, alright? I mean, we already found the demon…”
The impact is brutal. He doesn't know what it is, only that it railroads Baby. Metal screams, the shock of the crash sends him flailing like a doll, and pain hits increased tenfold. He screams, fresh blood coughed up, and tries to curl in on himself. Brace himself. Call out to Sammy.
It takes forever for Baby to screech to a halt. His head is throbbing, the glare of headlights blinding, and he's slipping away. The scrape of a truck door. Someone's coming.
The last thing he feels is the sensation of being wrapped in clouds. Just like that one time.
This is it. Has to be. They’re done for.