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[it seems you need a saving grace, and a savior's something i'm not]
Gen - rated R
3,943 words

notes: AU from In My Time of Dying. thank you to [profile] purestvixen and [profile] lilibella for the betas.

for [personal profile] fated_addiction



[it seems you need a saving grace, and a savior’s something i’m not]


---

It isn’t the fight they were looking for, even less the outcome they expected. Dean can still feel the impact vibrate in his bones, and John tries not to think about it at all or he won’t survive this. They’ve got all their things at the junkyard, and Bobby’s doing work on the car because he and Dean still got more than their share of things to get a handle on, but they don’t call anyone else. Dean shuts off his cell phone because he hasn’t got anyone to call, anyone who’d care.

John’s phone rings loud and shrill in the silence of the room, and the floorboards squeak when he gets up and his weight shifts as he walks over to the bed stand to pick it up. Dean’s only half paying attention, staring down at Sam’s phone in his hands, the screen cracked and caked with blood. He looks up, catches the expression on his father’s face, the defeat in the way his shoulders slump. It’s so quiet he can hear both sides of the conversation from the cell phone.

“John? Where are you?” Dean knows Missouri’s voice, knows it well enough that he can distinguish it over the tinny sound from the cell phone. “Are you alright?”

“I buried my son today,” he says, and Dean twitches. They didn’t bury Sam, not really, they burned him first, so technically, all that was left were ashes, and in his book that doesn’t count as burying one’s son or brother. But he’s dead just the same.

“A lot of things happened the way they shouldn’t,” she says, and Dean wants to rip the phone out of his father’s hand a throw it out the window. “You’ve got to set things right, John.”

“I know,” he says, and that’s all there is to it. He hangs up, and Dean gets up, grabs his jacket and shrugs it on. He doesn’t explain anything, doesn’t say a word, he just leaves, and John lets him.

---


In retrospect, he’s not sure what he expected, but it wasn’t this. Drinking isn’t going to change it – any of it – but it sure as hell feels better to be a little numb. He brought his phone more or less out of habit, and he turned it back on, but he hasn’t answered a single call because he knows that every one is John. How do you like it, old man? he thinks, and he almost hopes that John gets that cold, heavy feeling in his stomach like Dean did back in Lawrence when they had to go back to the house with Missouri.

Every shot burns the whole way down; not one feels any better than the one before it and Dean swears that when he went out drinking with Sammy, the burn went away after a while. It’s involuntary when the muscles in his jaw clench, and he slams the shot glass down so hard it shatters on the bar; he wants to squeeze his fist tighter with the little pieces of glass in it, wondering if that’d hurt more, too.

The bartender kicks him out after that, and he raises his hands in surrender, backing out, because he don’t want no trouble. He’s almost surprised that John’s outside waiting for him, but then he remembers this is who he learned everything from, and he chokes on something that’s supposed to be a laugh.

“What’re you doing here, Dad?” He says, boots crunching on gravel and kicking up dust.

“Pickin’ you up,” he answers, grabbing the sleeve of Dean’s jacket.

Honestly, when he thinks about it, he doesn’t know what he was actually thinking, just that he didn’t want John to touch him, didn’t want anybody to touch him. So he yanks his arm away shoves at his father. “Don’t,” he says. “ Just don’t.”

“Get in the car, Dean.”

He makes another grab, and Dean can’t remember how it started, just that it did, and they’re tussling right there in the parking lot. One thing he has to remember is that John’s better than him, always was, and he slams Dean hard up against the brick wall of the bar. “This how it’s gonna be?” He yells in Dean’s face. “You’re gonna get drunk and give up? That son of bitch killed your mother, killed your brother and this is how you’re gonna do this?”

“Get off me!” Dean shouts back, but it’s half-hearted. “It was a fucking truck! You can’t blame this one on the demon, Dad! It’s just shitty luck!”

“Don’t you dare!” John yells, hands fisting tight in Dean’s jacket, slamming him a little harder. “I told you what happened! That driver… I saw that thing come out of him, and you think that it was some coincidence that truck driver was possessed after we went one on one with the demon? Do you?!”

Dean’s got nothing to say now, because John’s right and he knows it; he just doesn’t want to fight anymore. Dad was everything he looked up to for a long time, but Sammy was everything he lived for since he was four-years-old. It’s not so easy to keep going when you lose the only thing you ever remember living for.

John lets him go, and steps back in enough time to let Dean hit his knees in the dirt and vomit until he can’t anymore.

---


Dean’s just sits in the lot with what’s left of the car for a long time. He sits inside, as best he can fit, in the driver’s seat, hands on the wheel, not moving and not really seeing anything. Sam was as good as dead the last time he sat here, it didn’t matter if he didn’t die in the seat, it was the last place he was breathing, last place he was alive. Dean’s forehead throbs when he thinks about it, and if he closes his eyes he can still hear the sound of the metal and glass, can still see the way it slammed Sammy to the side, the unnatural angle of his neck. He knew right then, the instant he saw Sam stop moving that shit was bad.

He can’t really remember the helicopter ride, no matter how much he tries, but he remembers the hospital just fine, and honestly that’s the part he wishes, sometimes, he could just forget. He remembers the way the plastic and metal neck brace held Sam’s head perfectly in place, the way the tubes went up his nose, down his throat; he remembers the sound the machines made breathing for Sam because Sam’s injuries were bad enough, the doctor said, that he couldn’t breathe for himself. He remembers feeling sick when the doctor said if Sam ever woke up again, he’d probably never walk, not from the way his neck was injured in the accident.

Dean sat there for a long time, just staring at Sam, sitting silent in the chair, hand resting on the bed just not-touching his brother. There were wires and IV’s, and he was afraid that somehow he’d hurt Sam if he touched him, so he didn’t. He talked to him, once or twice, but he didn’t honestly know what to say. Sorry, you’re here like this didn’t seem right, and I’d take your place if I could didn’t seem like enough.

In the end, it didn’t matter what he did or didn’t say, because he stood in the doorway and watched Sam die. He’d watched them all around his brother’s bed, watched them pull open Sam’s hospital gown, watched them try over and over again to just make Sammy’s heart beat. Dean’s fingernails left crescent shaped marks in the plaster around the frame of the door. His ears had been ringing from the long, constant whine of Sam’s heart monitor, and had still been ringing when he heard the words time of death. He stood there for a long time, after the machines had been shut off, after tubes had been disconnected, after – when he finally had the guts to touch him – Sam’s skin felt cool.

Someone came in after a while, probably to take him to the morgue, and Dean looked up. “Take that thing out of his throat,” he said, and his voice was hoarse. Whoever the girl was, she didn’t argue, just did as asked. Dean stared down at Sam’s face for a while, his lips dry and cracked from having tubes shoved past them, and since it’d been so long now they were blue around the edges. He just stood there and stared down at him, until he started to shake.

“I have to move him,” she said softly, and Dean didn’t look at her. He touched Sam’s face and left, hands and body – everything – shaking, and dry-heaved in the men’s room down the hall before he even told John.

---


At night, neither of them sleeps. Dean keeps the window open, watching the ratty curtain sway a little, and listening to the noise the dust blowing across the lot doesn’t make. Instead, he hears the floorboards creaking with every step John paces in the next room; he hears the bedsprings squeak when John sits, again when he stands, and the floorboards once more when the pacing starts up all over again. Sometimes, Dean holds the Colt his that John keeps safe, hidden and secret, running his fingers over it, wishing he’d just get one chance to use it on that son of a bitch that tore up his family, but most nights Dean just lays there, eyes open, staring at the ceiling because there isn’t much else to do because he can’t sleep.

As hard as this is, Dean thinks, as hard as it has to be for his father to lose a son, he thinks this is harder on him. He doesn’t know how to do grief; he didn’t know how to do it when he was four, and that hasn’t changed, so he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. He knows he can’t sit here, doing nothing, sitting here every night thinking about what they should have done different, thinking about the way Sam looked when there wasn’t any life left in him. So he does what he knows how and finds work, finds jobs; he lines them up and doesn’t ask John if he’s ready, and John never says if he is or isn’t but he goes anyway. John nods, says he’s got an old friend around here, and maybe they can use a little help. Dean doesn’t argue; Sam was always better at that.

And maybe he shouldn’t be, but Dean’s surprised when he meets Ellen; maybe it’s because she’s a woman, or maybe it’s because his father kept their acquaintance from him, he doesn’t know, but he doesn’t get an explanation first and doesn’t complain, because that’s just how John does things.

Ellen says to John “I’m sorry about your boy.” Dean doesn’t want to notice the way she looks at John, the way her eyes say she knows their pain – one way or another - and Dean walks away then, sits at a table in the empty Roadhouse by himself. Her daughter must not get it because she’s suddenly there in front of him, setting a beer down.

“Sorry about your brother,” she says and he doesn’t say anything at all. He picks at the gouged table top and takes a long pull from the bottle. The beer isn’t good, but it’s strong, and he supposes that’s good enough.

“Yeah,” he finally says. “Me too.”

He thinks she’s probably smart because she gets the point and walks away; he watches her, looks at the way her jeans fit against her ass, and it’s not as thrilling as it used to be when Sam gave him dirty looks for checking out girls’ asses in bars. He glances in the direction of the bar and sees John and Ellen sitting close, heads bowed together while they talked; there was another guy with them and John was pushing his folder towards him, journal too, all the information, and for a minute Dean tenses but doesn’t move. They don’t share things like this with strangers, and then he remembers they aren’t. He’s not sure what a guy with a mullet adds to this whole thing, and he means to smirk, but it never really makes it to his lips. So he gets up and goes to the bar, finds out what they’re even doing here.

When they leave Dean looks over at John and says “So… You and Ellen had a thing?” He knows it’s stupid the second it leaves his mouth. John was nothing if he wasn’t devoted to his wife – dead or not – and there was never any other woman, ever.

“No,” John says, keeping his eyes on the road.

“How’d you meet her?”

He watches John for a minute, watches him blinking at the road and steering one of Bobby’s old junkers effortlessly. “I knew her husband, Bill. We hunted together once.”

Dean catches the fact that John knew her husband, and he doesn’t ask how he died. Instead, he asks about Ash. “He’s a genius,” John says with half a laugh.

“Are you kiddin’ me? He’s a Lynyrd Skynrd roadie.” He sees John smirk, and it’s a shock in itself because Dean realizes it’s been a while since he’s seen that, and it looks a lot like Sam’s grin.

“Yeah, maybe,” he says, “but he’s an expert in finding the kind of things we need to find. He don’t look the part but…” John shakes his head a little. “Trust me.”

Dean says okay, and trusts him, because that’s just how he does things.

---


In Red Lodge everything changes.

It’s easy to fall into step with Gordon, and right off the bat, John is disdainful. Dean doesn’t understand it, understand John, and he doesn’t care to. There’s someone else here, someone more interested in this fight, someone he can be in tandem with just like Sam and so different all the same. Everything has been simmering between him and his father like it never used to, but it’s there now and it makes him uncomfortable in ways Dean doesn’t know how to explain. Dean’s quick to trust Gordon, quicker than he ever would have been to trust a stranger, and when John says that he trusts Ellen over Gordon, Dean takes it as a personal insult to his judgment.

“He’s not Sammy, Dean,” John says quietly, and they stand in the parking lot of the motel. Dean makes a noise that almost sounds like a laugh, but isn’t, and just says “Don’t,” instead.

“You can’t replace him with Gordon,” John says, and that… That’s something he never should have said and Dean’s swinging before he really has time to think about it. He connects, just once, and then his father has his arm around his neck – not choking, but not a nice, soothing gesture, either – holding him tight, back to chest. “You really wanna do this?”

“Let go of me.”

He shoves Dean away from him, and Dean’s breathing hard, but they hold eye contact, the air between them sparking and crackling with tension. “You can hit me, you can hate me, even – that’s fine. But it’s not going to bring him back, Dean!”

Dean’s smart enough to clench his jaw tight and walk away, and won’t admit to himself that maybe John’s right. So they torch the nest of vampires they came here for and Dean forgets about Gordon altogether because, no matter what he wants he ain’t Sammy.

---


It’s easy the way he falls right back into things, and it’s a little scary how easy it is to pretend like he’s fine with this. Like there’s some way to be fine with your dead brother, some way to be fine he’s not here, and pretend like it’s not killing you. But he makes it by, and it doesn’t seem like John notices – or at least if he does, he doesn’t mention it.

He makes a stop at a bar in each town they stay in, drinks shots that warm his insides but not nearly enough, and drinks beers that seem to take to long to pull from the bottle. He flirts with girls, calls them sweetheart and grins at them. It’s not hard for him to find one to take out back every time, it never was, and he tries not to think about the way Sam probably would disapprove. He ignores it as best he can, tangles his hand in curly blonde hair that’s too teased, slips his hands under a shirt that’s too tight; he fucks this one against the wall at the back of the place, her sounds soft-hiccupping noises until she comes, nails digging into his arms. When he’s done, he tosses the condom aside, and goes his own way while she goes hers. John never says anything about the bite mark on his neck or the nail gouges in his biceps.

He never does anything with Jo – not because he hardly knows her, and not because she isn’t attractive – but partially because he doesn’t doubt her mother might come after him with a gun, or that his own father might knock a few extra sense into him, and partially because her damned determination to win him over reminds him of Sam somehow. He doesn’t realize until they hunt the ghost of a serial killer almost gets her killed that he feels responsible for her the way he always felt responsible for Sam.

When Ellen calls looking for her, John doesn’t look him in the eyes, and Dean’s the one to promise he’ll bring her home safe. The safe part isn’t exactly the truth, but he gets her home in one piece, and ends up tossing off another piece of himself when she tells him that her mother doesn’t want her hunting with him because it’s John’s fault her father is dead.

When they leave, John and Dean don’t talk, and Dean drives too fast.

---


They head down to Santa Fe to check out some Aztec lore and when it turns out to be nothing, Dean wants to lay low. This time, it’s John who doesn’t understand, because this fight ain’t gonna fight itself. Dean shakes his head and walks back to the car, leaving John standing by the row of faux-adobe houses. “How can you want to just give up?” John asks and Dean stops, shakes his head and turns around again.

“Maybe I’m just tired of losing people,” he says, and even to himself, he sounds weary.

The car door creaks when he gets inside.

---


He realizes, dully, that sleep doesn’t get any easier. Sometimes he falls into it heavily, and it rolls over him like black water, and sometimes it stays just out of reach until dawn presses in around him in a tiny motel room, his father pretending to sleep in the bed across the room.

Ash helps them track a few leads, and there aren’t any real answers, but even partial ones are better than going on nothing, and at least now they know there are other kids like Sammy. John doesn’t look surprised, but Dean is, and somehow that bothers him.

“You knew,” he says, and it’s not a question, not at this point.

“I knew,” John replies, and for a moment, for one solid moment he feels this uncontrollable rage boil up, hatred, and it’s gone as fast as it came.

“How long?”

“A while now,” John says and his voice is quiet, and it tells Dean without John ever having to say the words I never wanted you to have to know. “It’s not…” he starts, and then stops. “We’d have saved him, Dean. We’d have saved him before – ” he stops again, and he doesn’t have to say before he became something we’d have to kill.

“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter,” Dean says and even he can hear the bitterness in his voice, the anger, “because he’s dead now, and that saves you the trouble doesn’t it?”

Dean’s not sure what he hates more, the fact that his father doesn’t have the decency to lie to him and say he’d have never killed Sammy, or the fact that he knows – had it come down to it – John would have done it.

---


The tension between Dean and John gets thicker, and Dean feels like it’s a wire strung so tight between them he could pluck it and it’d snap. John tells him about Mississippi and they go. The music plays loud in the car and John doesn’t complain, and everything on the roadsides blur by them with the windows open. Dean remembers driving like this with Sam for hours, and it was comfortable, easy silence, and this is so different he almost wishes…

John’s the one who finds the actual crossroads, but Dean’s the one who voiced the thought. It’s easy for Dean to think that ten years is a long enough life if he could sell his soul to have Sammy back, but looking at his father, he knows John couldn’t make it alone – not anymore. So instead, they get more information, and if they can save Evan Hudson they will, and on the ride to his place, John says his name softly.

“I need you to promise me you won’t do it,” he says, and John Winchester doesn’t break easily, but Dean could hear the tightness in his voice.

“Dad…” he starts, scrubs a hand over his face, and closes his eyes. “I can’t…” He laughs then, a sharp bitter sound. “Sam would kill me,” he says and John lowers his head, nodding.

“He would.”

It doesn’t occur to Dean, then, to make John promise him the same, because he never thought his father would be stupid enough to sell his soul.

---


In the end, he didn’t think he’d be begging, saying Dad, please. He thinks it was the demon, but he only sees the back of her head – never her face – but the power rolls off her in waves, and it’s not like the demon can’t inhabit whoever he wants. For a minute he thinks they’d still have ten years, but this is something different, and he knows an in instant that the stakes are so, so much higher.

John smiles a little. “I’ll be alright,” he says, and Dean’s shaking his head, but he can’t find his voice again.

When John hits the ground he can feel the scream build up from his stomach, but nothing comes out. He doesn’t know how, and he doesn’t have time for questions, but Sam’s there, lying on the ground next to John, and he thinks I’ve lost everyone. But Sam’s eyes blink open, and he says Dean soft and scared and childlike. He lands on his knees between them, and it feels like the same place he’s always been.

---


Sam’s the same as he was in all the ways Dean can see, and he can’t say that he’s afraid Sam’s changed in some way that isn’t visible, but it stays unspoken. He thinks I’ll save you because it’s what he was born to do.

Sam says softly, “Before he… Before he… Did he say anything to you?”

The smoke smells like burning bones and flesh, and Dean stares straight at the fire until he feels the burn in his retinas.

“No.”

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March 2011

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