debbiel66: (BB psychic boy)
[personal profile] debbiel66
Title: This Time Around
Author name: [livejournal.com profile] debbiel66
Artist name: [livejournal.com profile] odysseaia
Genre: gen
Characters: Sam, Dean, John
Rating: R (language, violence)
Word count: 37,000
Warnings/Spoilers: Language, violence; AU for the pilot and Season 1

Summary: John Winchester breaks into Sam’s Stanford apartment in the middle of the night with bad news. Dean is missing—hasn’t been in touch for days. Furious with his father for endangering Dean, Sam agrees to come along, but only to find his brother.

Once on the road, John and Sam’s rocky relationship gets even rockier, especially when Sam learns that John has been withholding information. But Sam has his own secrets, ones that include visions of Dean’s brutal death at the hands of a demon. Finding Dean will only be the beginning, as the Winchesters face up to the tension and heartache that broke them apart in the first place.

Author’s notes: This story originated as a prompt on [livejournal.com profile] roque_clasique's birthday commentfic meme. Thanks to her for the idea and her encouragement to “go for it” when I told her I thought I could get a Big Bang out of it.

Enormous thanks for my beta readers, [livejournal.com profile] callistosh65, [livejournal.com profile] geminigrl11, and [livejournal.com profile] ancastar. I would never have started this story, let alone finished it, without their encouragement and support. Any errors still remaining are mine alone.

An enormous thank you to my talented artist and new friend, [livejournal.com profile] odysseaia who made this whole thing so much fun.

Master Post






John saw Sam coming down the stairs with the bat in his hand and half-expected his prodigal son to call out some lame-ass warning.

Hello? Anyone down there?

But John had always underestimated Sam.

Instead, as John took a step forward, Sam barreled into him. He had always taught his sons to strike first, hit hard, and keep the pressure on. The trick was to stop the attacker before the attack actually got started. Even as Sam slammed him to the ground, John felt pleased that his boy hadn’t forgotten everything he’d been taught.

Which also meant he had to get his shit together before Sam succeeded in beating the hell out of him. Sam had him flat on his back with his forearm pressed against John’s trachea. But John still outweighed his son by a good forty pounds, and he knew Sam’s weakness as a fighter. He had never been able to break the kid out of the bad habit of telegraphing his moves.

Every single time Sam was about to take a swing, he would do the same thing. He would tense his neck and shift his shoulders, take a sudden breath, and then he would cock his arm dramatically back, effectively proclaiming to the world that Sam Winchester was about to throw a punch.

It usually worked against an unfamiliar opponent, which was why John had never been able to convince him to break form. But against an enemy who knew his weaknesses, Sam went down hard every time.

So as Sam launched into his pre-punch ritual, John was ready for him. He easily dodged the blow, bucked and twisted out from under Sam, and then momentum was back on his side.

Sam went down, and John moved in to immobilize him. He didn’t think the kid was carrying a weapon—thank God, he had dropped the bat—but John wasn’t taking any chances. He had Sam pinned, but his boy was fighting back hard. John needed to put an end to this. It would be easiest to disable Sam with a sharp blow to the ribs or groin, but John didn’t want to hurt him.

“Sam!” John hoped that his voice would be enough, but Sam started to grope for something underneath the sofa.

John knew he had to end this before either of them got hurt. He pushed down on Sam’s exposed carotid with his thumb and forefinger. Usually, it only took a few seconds of a chokehold before the victim began to lose consciousness, but Sam had been taught how to exhale and relax his neck. Sure enough, Sam started to relax into the pressure, which was only going to drag the ordeal out even longer.

John shouted, “Sam! Stop it, Sam, it’s me.”

Even in the dark, John could see Sam’s eyes widen before they started to close.

Sam whispered a single word. “Dad.”

John let go immediately. “It’s me. It’s just me, Sam.”

Sam sucked in huge breaths of air, before rasping, “Dad… what the hell?”

John grinned. “Hey, Sammy.”

He offered Sam a hand up and held onto it longer than he should have. Damn, but he had missed his boy.

“What are you doing here?” Sam gasped, his voice still not back to normal.

“Your technique’s getting sloppy.” John clapped Sam on the back. “You gotta stop using the same old lame-ass moves, or you’re gonna get yourself killed.” Sam was still staring at him bewilderedly, so John thought it might be a good idea to add, “You did a good job with the chokehold though.”

That much was true—it was a huge relief that Sam hadn’t forgotten all his training.

“Dad? What the hell? I could have killed you.”

“Unlikely. But it’s good to know civilian life hasn’t ruined you, kiddo.” John smiled because he could tell that Sam was getting pissed off.

But Sam didn’t look ruined. Sam looked healthy and a helluva lot better than he had the last time John had seen him. Of course, that last time had been from a good fifty feet away and through a pair of binoculars.

The last time John had seen him, Sam had just survived a bout of bacterial meningitis that had scared the hell out of both John and Dean.

They had gotten the call in the middle of the night—someone found Dean’s phone number in Sam’s paperwork—John and Dean had driven all night and into the next day before they had made it to Stanford. It had been all John could do to keep Dean from barging in and attacking the ICU doctors for not making his brother better already, the second they walked through the hospital doors.

John had convinced Dean to wait it out because Sam had made it perfectly clear that he wanted to be left alone. But if Sam had gotten any worse, John would have been the first one in that hospital room.

Yet Sam’s girlfriend had seemed to be on top of things—Jessica Moore had stayed with Sam even when told to leave, battled with the doctors over his treatment options, and only cried when she was out of his room.

Dean had posed as a nursing student and had gotten a hold of Sam’s records—kept tabs on how he was doing. Everything was as good as they could have hoped for, given the circumstances. Stanford was an excellent hospital, one of the best in the country, and Sam had been assigned some big-shot infectious disease expert, who had started him on an aggressive course of antibiotics and corticosteroids.

According to the other student nurses, they’d caught the meningitis early, before there was any brain swelling or inflammation. Jessica had brought him in with a raging fever and had insisted on a spinal tap—turns out her decision had saved him. Lots of people waited until it was too late. By the time Sam was released from the ICU, his doctors felt that he was out of danger.

Sam spent a week in the hospital but was attending classes the day after he was released. He was a tough kid—took a lot to keep him down.

John knew the whole thing had been hard on Dean, shaken him to the core, and he wondered how much Sam’s illness had to do with what was going on now. John had been upset—you don’t mess around with shit like meningitis. Dean had been more than upset. He’d been terrified to see Sam knocked out like that. He took it hard and didn’t let it go. It was almost like the fucking Striga case all over again.

But Sam was fine now—he looked good even though his fighting skills had obviously gone to hell. If it weren’t for the fact that Sam looked like he wanted to take a swing at him, John would have hugged the kid because damn—it had been almost four years, and here he was…

Sam.

Sam was already stepping out of reach. “Where’s Dean?”

Before John could answer, the lights went on. John squinted in the sudden brightness but turned to see Sam’s girl standing at the foot of the stairs. She had the bat in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

“Sam?”

“It’s okay, Jess, everything’s fine.” But Sam didn’t take his eyes off John. Good boy—keeping his eye on the threat, not letting himself get distracted.

“It’s not okay,” she protested. “You’re hurt.”

John took a better look. Technically that was true—Sam’s nose was bleeding, and his throat looked bruised and swollen. John’s own knee was starting to throb from where the kid had kicked it. They were both good though—no broken bones, no need for stitches.

“I’m fine. Really.”

“Should I call 911?”

“No!” Sam and John blurted out simultaneously. John was relieved to see her prop the bat against the wall. It would be awkward if he had to stop her from taking a swing at him. She was still holding the phone though, and John knew full well that 911 was a far greater threat than a baseball bat.

“Sam, who is this?” she demanded.

“It’s okay Jess—this is my dad.” Sam walked over to her and gently took the phone out of her hand. “Dad, this is my…Jess. This is Jessica.”

“Your father?” she asked incredulously, and John wondered what story Sam had come up with to explain his estranged family. From the look on Jessica’s face, John decided that he would just as soon not know.

“Yeah, my father. It’s really okay—I’m sorry we scared you.” Sam kissed her on the forehead, and she used her thumb to swipe at the blood underneath his nose.

John had to stare. It occurred to him that he’d never seen Sam like that with anyone else before. And damn, Jessica was a pretty thing. John had only seen her from a distance, but he realized now that she was almost as pretty as Mary had been.

Almost. Nobody was pretty as Mary.

John cleared his throat. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you too.” Jessica offered her hand, and without thinking, John took it. Her fingers were cold. “It’s just such a…surprise. Sam didn’t say you were coming.”

“I didn’t know Dad was coming,” Sam said, looking away from her to glare at John.

“Sam, your father probably wants to sit down.” Jessica still seemed shaken, but her good manners were apparently kicking in.

That didn’t surprise him—John had done his homework on the girl.

Jessica Moore was solidly upper middle class, had grown up with two little brothers and a cat. Her family still lived in the same two-story house in the Bay Area suburb that she had grown up in. Her dad was a cardiologist, her mom a CPA. Jessica had been the valedictorian at her high school, student body vice-president, and the editor of the yearbook. She was finishing up her senior year at Stanford with a 3.8 GPA and an internship organizing a tutoring program for kids in East Palo Alto.

Jessica was a gloriously normal overachiever—everything Sam had ever wanted to be. Everything he had accused John of taking away from him.

“No, thank you,” John told her. “I had plenty of time sitting in the car.”

“Dad, why are you here? Where’s Dean?”

“Your brother, Dean?” Jessica asked, looking even more confused. “Sam, I don’t understand. You told me that—”

“I know, Jess, I know. Just let me figure things out.”

Jessica glared at Sam, obviously not happy. She was wearing some short t-shirt with Smurfs on it. John remembered Smurfs from way back when Sam used to watch them on TV. Someone had given Sam a stuffed one somewhere along the way, and he had kept it in his duffle until Dean teased him into leaving it behind a couple months later.

“Please, Mr. Winchester. Have a seat. Let me get you something to drink at least.”

John sat on the faded sofa because it seemed like the wisest thing to do with Sam glowering at him like that. This was taking longer than John had hoped it would. He had wanted to find Sam, review the situation, and be back on the road by now.

But he couldn’t do that—not with Sam’s girl here and Sam not exactly making it easy for him. Like Sam had ever made anything easy for him…and being around Sam was more unsettling than John thought it would be.

On the one hand, Sam looked pretty much the same, only a helluva lot taller. And yet there were signs of domesticity everywhere. Framed posters of flowers on the wall, ugly-ass pillows on the sofa, a rectangular tin of some mocha flavored crap by the sink. It was hard to assimilate, and John didn’t have time to figure out what it meant.

He needed to get rid of the girl, so that he could talk to Sam.

“I’m going to make some coffee,” Jessica announced, and without waiting for an answer, went over and picked up the tin of mocha.

“It’s the middle of the night, Jess,” Sam protested, before testily adding, “Dad probably needs to get back to his motel room and get some sleep.”

John didn’t miss the emphasis on “motel room”.

“Sam’s right. I’ve already had more coffee than I should. But I do need to borrow my son. We have some…family business to talk about.”

“Okay,” Jessica said, but she looked uneasily at Sam.

Sam seemed to come back to himself. He went over and draped his arm possessively around her shoulders.

“No. No secrets. Anything you have to say, Dad, you can say in front of Jess.”

Sam didn’t have to say it, but John heard it loud and clear.

She’s my family now.

But John knew that just saying it didn’t make it true. The three Winchesters—that was the only family that mattered. Anyone else was a distraction they couldn’t afford.

“Sam, it would be better if you and I took this outside.”

Sam’s jaw muscle twitched but he didn’t move. So John folded his arms and stared right back at him.

“Dean’s gone.” It was the first time John had said the words out loud, and somehow voicing them made it worse.

“What do you mean?” Sam let go of Jess, his eyes wide and scared. “Is he—you didn’t call me…is Dean—”

But John knew he’d made the right call. Dean was the game-changer. Always had been.

“He’s missing,” John said, keeping his voice steady, eyes on Sam. “Hasn’t been home in days.”

Sam took a step toward him. “What the hell did you do? What happened to my brother?”

“Sam?” The girl sounded worried. “What’s wrong?”

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Sam?” Jessica grabbed his arm, but Sam shook loose and got in John’s face like he was about to jump down his throat.

“Where the fuck is he?”

“He went on a hunt by himself. Haven’t heard from him since he left.”

And just like that, Sam had his fists full of John’s jacket. “What aren’t you telling me? There’s no way you’d let Dean go by himself!” So much for the college student—Sam sounded almost feral.

“Stop it, Sam!” Jessica was trying to pull Sam off, but he wasn’t letting go.

“Stand down,” John ordered, and that did the trick. Still panting harshly, Sam let go and took a step back.

“Jess, I’ll be right back. My dad and I need to talk outside.”

But Jessica still had hold of him. “Sam, you’re scaring me. What is it?”

“It’s my brother,” Sam said, his eyes not leaving John’s. “Jess, really—I’ll be back. Everything’s fine, don’t worry.”

It’s my brother…

For Sam, it had always been about Dean.

When John had given Sam the ultimatum—if you walk out that door, don’t you ever come back—he’d never believed that Sam would actually do it. Not with Dean standing there, looking gutted and terrified.

He had no illusions where he stood with his sons. John’s two boys had been a world unto themselves. Sam had left his father, had abandoned hunting, and had forsaken everything he’d been raised to believe in. He had walked out that door and had never come back.

John had gambled everything and lost because he had never believed Sam would leave his brother. But here he was, placing the same bet now. He couldn’t raise the stakes any higher than Dean.

John knew he had won, when this time, Sam followed him out the door.





******



The air was crisp and cold, even for a California night in late October, but the stairway reeked of pot and stale beer. John wondered if Sam actually partied in college. As a kid, Sammy had never approved of excess in anything but ambition.

Sam made it to the bottom of the stairs before he turned on his heels. “I want you to tell me everything. Why the hell was Dean on a hunt by himself?”

“How about—good to see you, Dad. It’s been over three years, Sammy.”

John tried to keep his voice calm, but he couldn’t stop staring at Sam, trying to figure out what had changed. Sam looked different; his slouching did nothing to cover up a good three inches of growth, but it was more than that. He could have been any college kid on any college campus—John wondered what had happened to the competent hunter he had raised.

“Oh, please.” Clearly, Sam’s attitude had survived college intact. “So now we’re supposed to forget about Dean and pretend that you’re making a social call for the first time in your whole friggin’ life?”

John pointed his finger at his son. “Don’t use that tone with me, Sammy. You’re not so big I can’t kick your ass down this street.”

“No.” Sam pressed his lips into a tight line, shaking his head. “No, you don’t get to do this. You walk in—you break into my home in the middle of the night, tell me my brother’s missing. Right now you need to tell me what the hell’s going on.”

“Is your girl paying for the place? I know you’re not working.” There was no way in hell John was letting his smartass kid tell him what conversation they were having.

Besides, it rankled. John had never gone to college but he would never have let Mary work to support him. Sure, from their surveillance, Sam seemed busy. He was always gone from the apartment, coming back at all hours with armfuls of books. But it wasn’t real work, the kind that saved lives and put food on the table.

“So you’ve been spying on me too?”

John could tell that Sam was pissed enough to take a swing at him. The last thing they needed was someone calling the cops on them in the middle of the night. Time to calm things down.

“C’mon, Sam. Let’s go talk. There’s a Denny’s around the corner.”

“No. I’m not going anywhere with you until you tell me what you did to my brother.”

What you did to my brother.

John swore under his breath. He had known he would have a fight on his hands by coming to get Sam, but Jesus—nobody could get him mad like his youngest son. “I didn’t do anything to Dean. He took off. Said he’d gotten a tip on a hunt.”

“You let him go on a hunt by himself?”

“He’s twenty-six. It’s not like he can’t handle himself. He’s been hunting alone for years.”

“Then why are you worried?”

“The thing he’s hunting…is dangerous. It’s not a one man job, and he hasn’t been answering his phone for the last four days.”

“Then why the hell did you let him take the job if it was so dangerous?”

John jammed his fists in the pockets of his jacket. “There’s just two of us. Sometimes, we have to split up to get the job done.”

John let the unspoken accusation do its work. He could tell by the look on his youngest son’s face that Sam heard it loud and clear.

Dean hunts alone because you left him.

Sam had abandoned his family to go play house with a pretty girl. He should be able to handle hearing a hard truth. Actions had consequences. There was no such thing as a free ride.

Sam just scowled, but he looked a little cowed. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“I need you to come with me…help me find your brother.”

You need me?” Sam laughed, but there was no humor in it. “Since when? What kind of hunt is this?”

“Sam, I don’t have time to explain now.”

“What kind of hunt did Dean go on?”

John looked away. “A bad one. Dangerous. He never should have even found out about it in the first place. I would never have—”

“How did he find out about it?” Sam persisted—the kid could never let anything go.

“This isn’t the time or place. You need to tell your girl that you’re leaving for a few days.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you until you tell me how Dean found this hunt.”

John sighed. “It was my journal. Dean read about the job in my journal.”

“You sonofabitch,” Sam bit out, and John was almost sure he was going to come at him again. “I swear, if you did anything that got my brother killed.”

John’s temper flared up at that. He grabbed hold of Sam’s shirt and pulled him in close. “Okay, you tell me this, you arrogant little shit. Where was all your damn concern when Dean went up against a poltergeist in Ohio? How about a water wraith in Wisconsin? The fucking demon in Missouri?”

“Demon—” From the quaver in his voice, John could tell that Sam was already backing down. Sometimes, a show of force was all it took. “Since when are you going after demons?”

“I don’t have time for this, Sam. Dean doesn’t have time for this. I need to know—are you in, or am I just wasting my time here?”

“Do you really think Dean is in trouble?”

“I know he is.” There was something on Sam’s face…an expression that could mean more than plain worry. John took a chance even though he wasn’t even sure what he was asking. “You can feel it. Can’t you?”

Sam looked down, scuffed his shoe against the ground. “I—I don’t know what you mean.”

John was sure his boy was lying to him but didn’t have time to pursue it. “In or out, Sam?”

“In.” Sam swallowed but he stood up straighter. “I’m in. I’ll come with you. But I have to talk to Jess first.”

John took a deep breath, even more relieved than he’d thought he would be. “Take ten minutes, Sammy. Then we gotta get on the road.”

“But I have a condition.”

“Of course you do,” John said, trying not to smile. He’d never thought he would miss Sammy and his endless conditions.

“I want to know what you know.” And that was classic Sammy as well.

“Sure,” John said, unblinking. “No problem. We’ll talk once we’re on the road.”

The lie came easily enough. John had been lying to Sam for most of his life. No use in changing now.


******


John kept his eye on the road as he reached for his coffee, but he could see Sam fidgeting next to him, clearly uncomfortable riding shotgun. That had always been Dean’s spot. Sam had spent his first eighteen years in the back of the Impala. He’d never complained about the seating arrangements though, even when his legs stopped fitting and his knees would jam against Dean’s backrest. John had always figured that Sam cared more for keeping all his school crap with him than he cared about his own comfort.

The kid used to tell people—waitresses, motel clerks, social workers, anyone—that he was homeschooled. Or that he was on independent study.

It wasn’t a bad cover story for all the times when they were on the road and couldn’t stop long enough to establish residence. But Sam took his own self-education seriously. Even assigned himself a summer reading list. The summer after 8th grade, Sam somehow taught himself Algebra, so he could start high school taking Geometry instead. Said it was important, so that he could take AP Calculus as a senior.

What kind of thirteen year old worried about shit like that when the real world was so dangerous…when evil was pounding at their door?

Dean teased him. Called him a geek or a nerd, but John had always known his youngest son’s ambition was damn serious. John had only prayed that it wouldn’t get Sam killed one day.

Sam cleared his throat. “Have you tried tracking him with GPS?”

“Of course I tried GPS,” John snapped and then forced himself to soften his voice. “I’ve tried everything.”

“What was he hunting?”

“Later. We’ll talk about it once we stop.” They had grabbed breakfast at the gas station when they’d filled up the tank, but John would need to get a few hours shut-eye. It wasn’t safe going on two days straight without sleep.

Sam shook his head. “You’re freakin’ unbelievable.”

John took his eyes off the road. “Don’t make me stop the car. You watch your tone.”

“Okay. You’re freakin’ unbelievable…sir.”

“Damnit, Sammy. You need to stop pushing my buttons, and I’ll stop pushing yours. Dean can’t afford to have us at each other. Now you and I both want the same thing. First, we get Dean back. Then, you and I can beat the crap out of each other, if that’s what it takes to get it out of your system.”

From where he was sitting, John could see Sam’s jaw working back and forth.

“We agreed?” John asked, his tone making it clear that they’d better be.

Sam obviously didn’t agree, but he didn’t bitch about it either. With Sam, that was practically a signed treaty.

“What did you tell your girl?” John asked, downing another mouthful of his long-cold coffee.

Sam didn’t answer right away. It would be classic Sam to stop talking after getting mouthy like that. John could remember times when Sam refused to talk to him for a week at a time. The little smartass would either communicate through Dean or write down one-word answers in his notebook and shove it in front of John’s face.

But Sam shrugged and answered, “I told her you have a drinking problem. Dean got sick of dealing with your crap, so he took off, and now it’s my turn to dry you out.”

“Jesus, Sam. Why the hell did you tell her that?”

Sam had the balls to smirk at him. “Because if I told her Dean had a drinking problem, then Jess would worry every time he reached for a beer at Thanksgiving. I didn’t want that kind of baggage from a cover story.”

John looked at him sharply. “And so it’s better that your girlfriend thinks I’m a drunk when I reach for a beer?”

Unblinking, Sam shot back, “You’re not coming for Thanksgiving, Dad, remember? You’re the one who told me to walk out that door.”

Damn but the kid could still draw blood when he wanted to.

John kept a good grip on the steering wheel. “Eat your egg crap. It’s gonna get cold.”

Sam tossed the wrapped sandwich over his shoulder into the back. “Too late.”

John gritted his teeth. How had he ever managed it? How had he kept himself from beating the tar out of the kid during those endless miles on the road?

Dean had been a piece of cake to live with, such a good kid, always trying to make peace, always trying to make this godawful life a little easier to take.

Dean.

Dean was most likely the sole reason that Sam had stayed off the social workers’ case lists. Dean had physically stood between them when they’d fought, made a joke to ease the tension when the fight was over, and stopped them before either had said something they couldn’t take back. Until that last night, at least.

“How long until we get there?” Sam asked sulkily.

“Not soon enough,” John muttered.

He reached for his cell phone and hit the speed dial without having to check if it was the right number. “C’mon, Dean. Answer the damn phone…”




******



Sam was leaning against the trunk when John came out of the motel office.

“Anything?”

John rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “Nope. Last time the guy saw him, he was with me. Dean hasn’t been back.”

Sam bit his lip. “Dean wouldn’t just take off. What…what if something took him?”

“Nothing took him.”

“But how do you know?”

“I just know.”

“But why….”

John had forgotten how much time he had to allocate for Sammy and his questions.

How do you know? Why? How come? What aren’t you telling me?

“Dean told me he was leaving—left a note. Told me to keep an eye on you. Does that sound like a supernatural kidnapping to you?”

Sam frowned. “Then what was he after? You’ve got to have some idea—he was reading your journal.”

“I’ve got a couple theories. Got some calls out…when I know more, I’ll tell you.”

“Like hell you will,” Sam muttered under his breath quietly enough that John decided not to call him on it. “What do we do now?”

John held up a key. “We have a room. We can catch a few hours sleep, and then we’ll figure out where your brother went.”

Sam shook his head. “You can sleep while I drive. I want to keep going.”

John took a good look at his son. Sam looked like crap, his hair sticking up in all directions, eyes bloodshot and shadowed. “No way, Sam. You’re not driving my truck.”

“Please, Dad.” John sighed. When he wasn’t being a pain in the ass, the poor kid looked so bereft, John was tempted to give in. But the truth was that Sam needed to get some sleep, and John needed to call in some favors.

“No. This isn’t up for discussion. We’re already checked in. You call your girl, tell her you’re all right, and then I want you getting some shut-eye. We’ll drive up to Ashland tomorrow, look around, and then head out to Bobby’s if we don’t find anything. Go get your bag. Right now, Sam. I mean it.”

Sam crossed his arms over his chest. “You can’t tell me what to do.”

Oddly enough, he didn’t sound like a rebellious child when he said it. John realized it was more a statement of fact than a declaration of independence.

John took a deep breath. Sam had guts, always had, and the truth was that John respected that about his son.

As nicely as he could, John said to his wayward son, “Get your ass in the room and get some sleep. Please?

Sam stared and then cracked a small smile. “I’m sorry, Dad. I know I’ve been acting like a jerk. I…I just wanna find Dean, that’s all.”

“I know you do. So do I.” John hauled both their bags out of the bed of the truck. “But there’s no use in taking off while we’re dead on our feet. That’s the way we make stupid mistakes. Get ourselves killed or get Dean killed.”

“I have to get back by Monday.” Sam’s voice was quieter, less confident.

John tossed him the canvas bag of ammo. Sam caught it easily and slung it over his shoulder.

“Why’s that?” John asked, trying to keep his tone light.

Sam hesitated enough that John looked up. And there it was—the exact same look Sam had had on his face every time he brought home a perfect report card for John to sign. Pride mixed with a big helping of trepidation. In a different world, Sam’s accomplishments might have been a big deal, but John lived in the real world—the world Mary had left behind. John was sorry for that, he was, but wishing things were different didn’t change a damn thing.

“I have an interview.”

“What kind of interview? Semester’s just started. It’s too early to be looking for a job.” Sam was looking at him with his head tilted, so John added, “Your brother keeps tabs on your schedule.”

Sam smiled a little. “It’s an interview for law school. I think…I think maybe I have a chance at getting a full ride.”

Sam looked down, almost like he was waiting to be shot down. John felt regret about that, but he’d done the best that he could with what he had. Even so, he could give Sam this the way he hadn’t with Sam’s first full ride.

John raised an eyebrow. “Huh. You wanna be a lawyer?”

Sam shrugged and then grinned, almost shyly. “Figured you and Dean could use all the help you could get.”

John let out a surprised bark of a laugh.

“Go call your girl, Sammy. And then you’re getting some sleep.”

For once, Sam did as he was told. He even smiled as he leaned back against the truck and flipped open his phone.

John heard the soft, “Hey babe, it’s me,” as he opened the door to their room.

It was strange to think about it—the fact that Sam had a life of his own, one that had nothing to do with him or Dean. Sam had gotten what he’d always wanted, and a part of John wished he could just let his son have his golden future. But wishing didn’t make it so. John already knew the truth. Sam’s shot at a normal life was quickly coming to an end.

John hated what he knew. Hated that Dean found out before John had a chance to track it down himself. But the fact of the matter was that the whole thing was unraveling much quicker than John had expected.

He left the door cracked open for Sam.

John unpacked his duffle, taking out only what he needed for the next few hours. He was careful—the newspaper clippings and the rest of his evidence were all stored safely in the false bottom of his bag. It was only a rabbit track of a trail, but the last thing he needed was Sam getting a look at it and going off half-cocked the way Dean had.

John was bone tired. When he got like this, it was too easy to lose his way. His life was a crusade to avenge the mother of his children, but when he got tired, he would think about Mary and the college fund she had begged him to start for her boys, the way she would look at them at the end of the day. It was crazy the way the ache for her could come over him. But he couldn’t afford to lose his focus, not at a time like this when the stakes were higher than ever.

John lay down on the bed closest to the door. He could hear Sam outside, saying, “I’ll be back by Monday, no problem. I miss you too. I miss you so much.”

John remembered when a few days apart seemed like an eternity. He hadn’t been the perfect husband, but he missed his Mary, his pretty girl, the love of his life. She would have been thrilled for Sam, looking at a full ride in law school. She would have been so furious at John if he ever let Dean find out what she had done.

John knew that Mary would never have forgiven him for the way he raised her sons.

But she would have understood.

John took a deep breath and sat up again. He needed to get his head in the game, needed to think about where Dean would have headed, given what he had found out. Wearily, he scrubbed his hands over his eyes and wished he hadn’t thrown out that cup of coffee.

John was bent over his map when the phone rang. It was Caleb’s caller ID—he wondered if someone had gotten a lead on Dean.

Keeping an eye on the door, he answered, “Caleb—you got anything?”

“Not on Dean. Still looking. But John, I think I’ve got a job for you.”

“I’m not working jobs, Caleb—you know that. Not until I find Dean.”

“This one’s a simple salt and burn. You’re only a couple hours out, and you’d be in and out in a couple hours.”

“Caleb, I just can’t.”

“John, it’s already killed five people.”

John sighed deeply. He needed to get to Dean, couldn’t afford distractions, and most importantly, he needed to keep an eye on Sam.

“I’ve got Sam with me. He hasn’t been on a job for almost four years.”

“So keep him in the car.”

John snorted. “Have you met Sam?” He heard a similar snort on the other end of the line. And then a loud sigh.

“John, people are dying. And you know that Sam has to get back in the game sometime.”

John did know that. He looked out the window at his boy, who was leaning against the truck’s side door, ducking his head in a smile.

John rubbed a hand over his face. He just wished sometime didn’t have to be now. “Okay, Caleb. Tell me what’s going on.”


******



“Goddamnit, Sam… where are you?” John muttered under his breath.

John scanned the stage, making sure the ghost hadn’t materialized again. It had made its entrance with such manic fury that it had been all John could do to lift his shotgun before the damn thing vanished again.

There was movement to his left. John turned on his heels and fired off a round, praying to God there weren’t any civilians curious enough to risk a gut full of rock salt.

But no, it was just the ghost—one sad sack of a balding, middle-aged apparition wearing a purple velvet cloak, a crown on his head, and waving around some sort of jeweled dagger.

John hated it when ghosts showed up in costume.

The spirit flickered out, but John knew he hadn’t hit the damn thing. Sure enough, it blinked in on his right, and John fired off a second round. The ghost splintered under the salt barrage, but he knew he’d only bought himself a little time.

“Sam?” he yelled again, hoping like hell that his son was within earshot.

No answer. John was going to have Sam’s hide if he was off sulking somewhere because he was still mad about the job.

But John was still convinced that taking the job was the right thing to do. Caleb was right—the Oregon town of Ashland was on their way, and by all appearances, this was a routine haunting. Besides, it was tourist season at the Shakespeare Festival, and John couldn’t exactly allow some damn ghost to keep stabbing people when it was a piece of cake to stop it.

Sam was overreacting, just like he always did, and was totally out of line in saying that John cared more about the job than about Dean. John was pretty sure that Sam’s life work was seeing how far he could go before John finally snapped.

Even so, Sam had been gone too long.

John tried calling again. “Sam!”

Nothing. What the hell could take this long? John felt the familiar worry clench in his gut—sometimes it was a bitch being a hunter and a father.

Sam was supposed to be gathering intelligence. They were pretty sure that the ghost was a middle-aged actor who had stabbed himself to death just over a year ago. But the stagehands John had interrogated didn’t know jack about the guy. They were freaked out about the recent deaths and hadn’t even been able to remember whether the poor guy was buried or cremated. It was pretty hard to salt and burn the remains of someone if you weren’t even sure if there was a body.

And to top it off, during the whole time that John had been questioning the stagehands, Sam had just stood there with that infuriatingly smug look on his face. Sure enough, as soon as they were alone, Sam had said he wanted to do some digging on his own. Smartass always did think he was the only one in the family who knew how to do research. John had protested, but Sam knew how to play this game and said they’d be back on the road a whole lot faster if they split up.

John didn’t like it. The fool kid was out of practice. But John had given in because he didn’t want to waste time any more than Sam did. When it came to this, John and Sam could actually agree on something for once—all they wanted was to get back on the road and find Dean.

John was ready to pack it up, when there was a crash backstage and the sound of something shattering. John grabbed his bag of ammo and was about to check it out when Sam stumbled onto the stage. He was a mess. It looked like someone had had a heavy hand with the fake blood, but from the way Sam was swaying on his feet, John knew it was all too real. He couldn’t get to Sam fast enough.

“Jesus, what happened?” John barely made it before Sam all but collapsed. He was clutching a pamphlet, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was bleeding all over it.

“Dagger,” Sam gasped. “Really big dagger. But it’s okay. I—I think I know what he wants.”

“What the hell who wants?” John eased his son to the ground and started unbuttoning his shirt. He needed to figure out where the bleeding was coming from. “Damnit, hold still, Sam. I need to stop the bleeding.”

“The ghost. We were right, it was him—the actor who killed himself.”

John struggled to peel Sam’s flannel shirt off him, only to find a thermal long sleeve underneath. Damn but the kid wore a lot of clothes. “Did you find out where he was buried?”

Sam shook his head, flinching when John found the bleeding slice taken out of his arm. It was a nasty gash, at least a couple inches long, and deep.

“Not buried—cremated. Ouch…don’t poke at it.”

“I’m not poking anything. I need to wrap it—get the bleeding to stop.”

“Fuck! I mean—crap. That really hurts.”

John pulled an ace bandage out of his bag. “Talk through it, Sammy,” he ordered. “If this guy was cremated, why is he still around?”

Sam bit his lip, as John wrapped it tightly around the wound. John frowned…something was wrong. Sam’s shirt was soaked with way too much blood for it to have all come from his arm.

“Sam—did it get you anywhere else?”

“Maybe my back.”

Maybe your back? ” John pushed Sam forward more roughly than he intended and rucked up his undershirt. Sure enough, the kid had literally been stabbed in the back. “Goddamn it, Sam. Next time you tell me everything when I ask where you’re hurt.”

Sam glowered at him, even though his skin felt cool and clammy. “This is your friggin’ hunt. I just want my brother.” Sam’s voice cracked on brother. When Sam would get sick as a little kid, he’d push his dad away because only Dean would do.

John took a deep breath. He didn’t have time for this, and neither did Sam, who was most likely going into shock.

“Sam—tell what you found out about the ghost. Sam!” Sam’s eyes were starting to close. John gripped his shoulder hard. “Now—Sam. Report.”

“The ghost…”

“The ghost, Sam. Tell me how to get rid of the ghost. You said you found something.”

John pressed his hand against the wound on Sam’s back, trying to stop the bleeding but also hoping that the pain would keep Sam awake.

“Bradley Owen,” Sam mumbled, while trying to pull away from the pressure. But John wasn’t letting go. “He was mad because they cancelled his play…”

“What play? Stick with me, goddamn it. What play did they cancel?”

“Salt.” Sam made a vague circular gesture with his hand.

John frowned. “The play was called Salt?”

Sam huffed a weak laugh. “No…the play was…Mac—no…I mean The Scottish Play. Can’t say the name in a theater…got enough bad luck already. We need salt around us.”

John still had no idea what the hell Sam was talking about, but laying a salt perimeter wasn’t a bad idea. The spirit had to be coming back, and Sam was in no shape to help with a defense, let alone mount any sort of offense.

John closed the salt circle at the exact moment that the ghost flickered back onto the stage. It was the same ghost as before, only this time his dagger was bloody—with Sam’s blood. John was going to kill the sonofabitch if it was the last thing he did.

With the salt perimeter intact, John wasn’t even sure the spirit could see them. Sam started frantically flipping through the pages of the booklet he was holding.

“It’s the Shakespeare Festival,” the spirit complained dramatically, as if John gave a crap about the grievances of the fucking apparition who had stabbed his son. “Not the Theater of the Absurd festival. I’ve waited my whole life for this part.”

“What the hell is he talking about?”

Sam was shivering in John’s arms, but he seemed more lucid at least. “The company switched the play. He’d gotten the lead in…The Scottish Play…but they changed their mind…went with another play instead.”

“Bastards!” the ghost howled. The histrionics would have been funny if not for the fact that John was bearing the weight of his youngest son who very well could be bleeding out.

“Something’s keeping him here,” John said. “There’s gotta be something. Some human remains.”

“My blood,” the ghost agreed sadly. “My sweat and tears.”

“For God’s sake,” John muttered.

But Sam tried to sit up. “Wait a minute.”

“What?” John kept his hands on Sam’s shoulders, propping him up.

Sam gestured with the pamphlet. “Is this your script?”

The ghost looked at Sam like he was actually seeing him. So often, the dead looked right through the living. “I only want to act. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve worked so hard for this…all my life, I’ve made so many sacrifices.”

Sam persisted, “But the script…is it yours? One of the other actors thought it belonged to you.”

“It was the role of a lifetime,” the ghost said mournfully. “I was born to play the Scottish Thane.”

“Dad, there’s blood on this,” Sam said in a low voice, holding up the script.

John scowled. “Of course, there’s blood on it. There’s blood on everything.” John was putting pressure against Sam’s back, but he could feel more spreading wet and warm underneath his fingers.

“Not mine…old blood. There was blood when I found it. Someone kept it…some kind of warped keepsake…costume director said Bradley was holding onto it when he killed himself.”

John was skeptical, but it was worth a shot. He reached for his lighter, but Sam grabbed onto his hand.

“No. Let me try something.”

“Not now, Sam, we gotta get you out of here.”

“Please, Dad…maybe I could help him, you know, rest in peace.”

“For God’s sake, Sammy.” John glared and shook his head. Sam always did have a weak spot for ghosts. Always wanted to give them closure or some crap like that.

“Dad—please.”

John didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no either. Sam apparently took that as permission.

Sam said gently, “Hey, man, tell me your favorite part of the play. I’ll run through your lines with you.”

The ghost looked confused. “But the play has been cancelled.”

“Maybe…” Sam took a shaky breath. “Maybe, if they know how good you are…maybe, they’ll give you a second chance.”

“That’s all I wanted,” the ghost said. “I earned this—the lead in…The Scottish Play. And then they decided to run Waiting for Godot instead.”

“Beckett is totally overrated,” Sam said sympathetically. “Where do you want to start?”

The ghost actually smiled, like he couldn’t believe his luck had finally changed. “Could we do Act V…when he finds out that the queen is dead…”

Sam shuffled to find the page, but his hands were shaking so badly that John had to hold it steady for him.

“Hurry up, Sam,” John urged.

Clearly ignoring him, Sam asked, “Do you want me to read Seyton’s line?”

The homicidal ghost nodded agreeably and wiped his knife off on the edge of his cape. John could see a flicker of a smile. “Thanks. That would be great.”

Sam read carefully, “The queen, my lord is dead.” John flicked his lighter, ready to burn the script, but Sam grabbed his arm. “Not yet,” he hissed.

Apparently from memory, the ghost began reciting his lines. John didn’t bother figuring out what he was saying. He had watched Hamlet once because Mary had wanted to see it. For her, he would have sat through anything. John now remembered the play as three hours of his life he got to spend holding her hand.

The ghost’s voice grew softer. “Out, out, brief candle! Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then, is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.”

“Now,” Sam whispered, handing over the script. “Burn it now.”

For once, John followed Sam’s lead. As the script burned around the edges, the ghost dropped his dagger. His face became translucent, like an image etched on glass.

“Thank you,” the spirit whispered and took his bow, weary and already fading. And then he was gone.

John didn’t have time to take satisfaction in a job well done. Almost immediately, Sam slumped in his father’s arms, out cold.


******



“Sam? Sammy? C’mon, Sam, I need you to wake up.”

John jostled Sam carefully by his good arm and frowned at the lack of response. He had Sam laid out across the bed on his stomach, all stitched up and ready to go—except for the fact that he couldn’t get his boy to wake up.

John rubbed his hand over his eyes. His day was not going according to plan.

Sam groaned, turned his face into his crooked arm. John was pretty sure the kid was just wiped out. Massive blood loss would do that. Even though John had gotten the bleeding under control, it took a while to come back from it.

But Sam’s vitals looked good. He was sweaty and pale, but not clammy. His fingers weren’t cold. John was pretty sure that shock was out of the picture. Sammy just needed to sleep it off.

But damn, the kid was going to be pissed when he woke up.

John had promised him the job wouldn’t screw up their search for Dean, and it wouldn’t have, if Sam hadn’t gotten himself fucked up by a ghost. But that wasn’t fair. Sam hadn’t been reckless or careless…he was just out of practice, and John should have known better than to have let Sam out of his sight.

In his sleep, Sam moaned, whispered a name, and then said it louder.

“Jess…”

John frowned. He’d noticed Sam dreaming about his girl the night before. That wasn’t unusual, but there was something about the way Sam had woken up—sweat-soaked, gasping for air, eyes wide and terrified. It was almost like he’d seen something—something horrible.

“Jess! No, no, no. Jess, no!

John rested a hand on Sam’s shoulder, while he studied his son. Sam tossed his head back and forth, eyes moving rapidly underneath closed lids. Because it was exactly the same as the night before, John knew he couldn’t chalk this up to blood loss.

He tried again, shaking Sam a little. “Sam—wake up.”

But Sam gasped and sobbed. Tears leaked out from under his closed eyes. “God, Jess.”

John gave up on trying to wake him. Whatever this was, it had to work itself out. He went over to the other bed and sat down, not taking his eyes off his youngest son.

The weight of what John knew felt heavy, but it was his burden to carry alone.

“Hey kiddo,” he whispered. “What do you see?”

He didn’t bother voicing the real question. Not—what do you see?

But—What can you do?

Part 2
Master Post

Date: 2010-06-30 03:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saberivojo.livejournal.com
Oh, Deb, this is perfect. As I was reading I kept thinking...this, this is what I need to tell her is perfect. Or this...this is perfect but then I started thinking I'd have to cut and paste it all!

Uhm. Right here. Unblinking, Sam shot back, “You’re not coming for Thanksgiving, Dad, remember? You’re the one who told me to walk out that door.” Boy knows how to not only drive the dagger in but give it a good twist eh?

Love the John and Sam dynamics. They are dead on for this time in their life and this AU. Sam pushing buttons, John barely controlling his need to put Sam in his place. The subtle shift of John realizing that Sam is growing up. John isn't quite ready to give up command though and that is canon through and through.

Liked this Sam had guts, always had, and the truth was that John respected that about his son. 'Cause that is how I see it too. John appreciates the balls that Sam has. Doesn't mean he doesn't get more than a little pissed sometimes about Sam trying to throw his weight around.

I like that John sticks to his guns about making Sam rest. He is a good dad.

Loved this little smidgen too “Fuck! I mean—crap. That really hurts.” That cracked me up. Grown up Sammy, trying to watch dropping F bombs around his Dad. Even bleeding all over the place. *snerk*

Awesome, awesome, awesome chapter. You are da bomb.

Date: 2010-06-30 06:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debbiel66.livejournal.com
I can't even tell you how happy it made me to get this feedback... I've never sat on a fic so long after finishing. It's really made me over-think everything. Knowing what worked and that you're enjoying it so far has done a lot to boost my confidence.

&hearts for you! I really do appreciate it.

And let me tell you, writing the John and Sam dynamics for this one was a blast. The show did such a good job with the two of them. All that tension and love misfiring in different directions. I always wanted more - this was my self-indulgent way of getting that.

Date: 2010-06-30 09:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sandymg.livejournal.com
Just started this. Need to stop here and resume later but had to write now. So good. You write SPN as it lives in my head. Just the right dynamic. Just the right emotions. I love your John, caring but pragmatic -- a hunter. Stanford Sam was spot on. Jess was strong and smart. Dean, always there, even when he isn't. It's just brilliant.

Will read more later ...

Date: 2010-07-01 12:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debbiel66.livejournal.com
So glad it feels real to you. Writing this made me miss Season 1 boys so much it hurt a little. Just thrilled to get comments as you read. Thank you! &hearts

Date: 2010-07-01 02:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rokhal.livejournal.com
EEEEEE! I love SamnDad fics. There's so much rocky ground they never got to cover.
The ghost was a riot. That case could be stretched into a whole black-comedy short story, with the quirky setting and the theater research you obviously did. And I loved Sam doing his "we gotta put him to rest" thing.
I also like how John watches for signs that Sam is linked to the supernatural.

Date: 2010-07-01 01:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debbiel66.livejournal.com
I agree there was so much the show couldn't get to. So glad you liked my Shakespearean ghost. That was a lot of fun to write, and I did enjoy writing stubborn Sammy.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting - is hugely appreciated! &hearts

Date: 2010-07-08 04:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carocali.livejournal.com
Great start! I dont think I've ever read a fic where John and Sam are in the pilot, so this is awesome! Spot on dialogue between the two. The fact that you added some nice h/c from the beginning and let him be smart!Sammy right away is really cool.

Is Dean looking for the demon? Does John know that Sam has premonitions? Hmmmm...

Wonderful artwork as well!

Date: 2010-07-08 04:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debbiel66.livejournal.com
Hey, thanks so much! Lots of h/c and smart!Sammy to come. Thanks so much for commenting as you read. &hearts

Date: 2010-07-09 01:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ash48.livejournal.com
Oooh hun, just started this and I'm loving it!

The Sam John dynamic is perfect. It's exactly how they would be in this situation. And I'm loving John's voice. It's great to read something from his point of view - looking at they way he views Sam, getting a better understanding of his motivations and thoughts.

And the twist on canon is fabulous. Just the idea of John coming to get Sam from Stanford to look for Dean is inspired.

I'm looking forward to the rest.
<333

Date: 2010-07-09 02:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debbiel66.livejournal.com
Yay, I'm so glad you liking it! I have to admit that the desire to have more John with his boys fueled this whole thing, and like the boys, I'm still not ready to let go.

Thank Roque for that twist of canon. I'm very grateful to her for the idea.

Thanks so much for reading! &hearts

Date: 2010-07-20 04:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] counteragent.livejournal.com
Ooh, this is great! Looking forward to
the rest tomorrow.

Date: 2010-07-20 11:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debbiel66.livejournal.com
Thanks so much for reading - I really hope you like the story. &hearts

Date: 2010-09-29 02:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] asher-elric.livejournal.com
wow.
This is so sweet and a fic with a plot that I've never seen. I love it.

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