Characters: John, Dean, Sam, Bobby, Castiel
Word Count: 6800
Rating: R (language)
Warnings: Spoilers through 6X16; AU from that point on
Author's Notes: This story follows Clean Slate in my resurrection!John verse. It is not necessary to read that story first, but it would probably be helpful.
* There is now a sequel to this story: Back Seat Driver
Enormous thanks to callistosh65 for being such an insightful and talented beta. Also, a big thank you to saberivojo for being a sounding board and helping me with my John musings.
Summary: After his own unlikely resurrection, John desperately tries to find out what happened while he was gone, despite the fact that Sam and Dean have secrets they are determined to keep. But nobody is better at chipping away at a wall than John Winchester…
Sam smiles when he walks into the kitchen. Still amazed, John thinks to himself…this is my rebellious son.
This is the same son who never let an opportunity pass by to roll his eyes, hug his arms defiantly against his chest, stomp his feet, sigh and glare and proclaim to all creation that Sammy Winchester was the put-upon son of the worst goddamn father the world had ever produced.
What a difference a death makes.
John knows he should be grateful for the improvement, but the current state of Sam confuses him because John knew that son. He studied him, battled him, and even admired him for all that obstinacy, despite the fact he would have sacrificed a kidney on a demonic altar before he let the kid know it. Sam was John’s burden, his fucking life’s work. The one who had to be saved at all cost because there was simply no other alternative. His boy.
This boy, this grown man, is actually fairly pleasant to be around. And easy to get along with, so John knows for damn sure that something is wrong. He just doesn’t know what it is yet.
“You want a beer, Dad?” Sam opens the fridge and pulls out a bottle from the back.
John glances down at the sheets of notebook paper he’s got spread across the table. He’s written down everything he can think of, searched for patterns, tried to make rhyme or reason of his unexpected resurrection. No matter how hard he looks though, he’s still got nothing.
So yeah. He’d really like that beer now.
John sighs and pushes the paper away. What little he has figured out about the past six years his boys have lived is next to nothing. He’s just killing time until they decide to tell him or until he can bully it out of them on his own.
Just yesterday, Dean’s belligerent summary had left a lot to the imagination….
John had been asking—okay demanding—more information. He’d wanted to know what had happened while he was gone. How could there have been an apocalypse that went away? What had happened to Azazel’s plans for a demonic army? What had happened to Sam and Dean? It was painfully obvious they weren’t the same boys he had raised.
Arms crossed tight against his chest, with a stubborn set to his jaw, Dean had told John, “You want to know what happened while you were gone? Okay, I’ll tell you—we fucked up the world, and then we saved it. Good as new, but shit still happens…monsters walk the earth, we kill them, they kill us. Got any more questions?”
Dean had then turned to glare at Sam, as if daring him to add more.
Bobby had choked on his own laugh, but Sam had just rolled his eyes and said, “Dean, you can be a real jerk sometimes.”
Dean shoved at Sam, just hard enough to rock him on his feet. “Shut up…bitch.” Sam smiled a little at that, and John noted the still running “inside joke” they thought he didn’t know about. Dean continued, “Nobody talks—you hear me? Not until we get a hold of Cas and find out what we’re dealing with. We still don’t know if he’s who he says he is…or what might be missing.”
John had stared hard at his oldest son, wondering who or what a Cas was and what the hell could be missing, but Bobby and Sam didn’t argue the point. Dean had his game face on, that was for sure, and the way his boy took control of the room was pretty damn impressive. John always knew Dean had it in him. He also knew underestimating Dean could have life-changing consequences.
But the power-trip was starting to get old. Dean didn’t even want him watching the news, let alone catching up over the internet, lest he find out more about the state of the world and what the Winchesters had done to screw it up. Sam had played peacemaker, saying it was only a precaution. As soon as they knew what they were looking at, they could make plans, figure out what would happen next.
John was well aware Dean didn’t trust him, didn’t know who or what had brought him back, and that was something they had in common. John wasn’t sure he could be trusted either. Evil had a way of creeping into a soul…if anyone knew that, it was John. Coming back from the dead was way out of his comfort zone.
“Dad…? You okay?” Startled out of his musings, John realizes Sam is still standing in front of him, proffered bottle in hand. “Do you want a beer or not?”
“Beer sounds good, son.” And it does. His throat is brimstone dry, and it’s been a mind-numbingly frustrating day. He takes the beer from Sam and takes a long draw from the bottle. It’s incredibly satisfying, even if it’s not too cold…Bobby’s fridge is practically an antique…you can hear the motor running from the other end of the house. But it’s satisfying, all the same, and takes the edge off.
“Where’s your brother?” John asks.
It’s been three days, and this is the first time John has been alone with Sam. Bobby’s not much better—shadowing him everywhere but looking away every time John tries to make eye contact.
Sam pulls out a beer for himself and pries open the bottle cap with the broken sharp edge of Bobby’s tile counter. “He’s out changing the oil. Again.”
“Killing time?” John doesn’t really need to ask. Dean always fussed with the damn car when something big was about to go down.
Sam’s mouth twitches. “Oh, I think ‘time’ is probably good and dead by now.” He smiles, with fondness that makes John’s heart ache a little, even though he isn’t sure why. “Dean hates waiting. Always has. Puts him on edge.”
John knows this about Dean, but he leans forward. “Waiting for what? We’re just wasting time. There’s got to be an answer out there, someone who knows someone, who’s heard something.”
Sam clears his throat, “We do know someone. Someone with inside information…he’s kind of an expert on this sort of thing.”
John raises an eyebrow. “On what sort of thing? Resurrections?”
“He some kind of a priest?”
Sam sputters with his mouthful of beer, and then he actually laughs out loud. “Definitely not a priest. He’s higher up than that. I can’t say more, or Dean’s gonna kick my ass.”
John eyes his youngest son, noting that Sam’s hair is still way too long, but at least it’s not hanging in his face any more. It used to be a convenient handhold for every evil sonofabitch who wanted to make a grab for him. John can’t even count the all fights they had over Sam’s stupid hair.
But now he leans back in his chair and asks, “You two really fuck up the world?”
Sam knocks back the rest of his beer and then gives a little nod. “Yes, sir. But Dean’s right…we did fix it.”
“Mind telling me how?”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Because Dean says so?”
Sam plays with the rim of the bottle. He’s not making eye contact any more.
“Sam, look at me.” John waits until Sam does, and then he continues. “Fill me in. Tell me what happened while I was gone. I need to know.”
“Dean’s already told you—” Sam begins, but John cuts him off with an impatient wave of his hand.
“Dean’s told me nothing.”
Sam pushes his chair away from the table. “Dean and Bobby don’t want me to talk about it—”
“Don’t use them as an excuse,” John snaps. Sam sets his jaw, and John can almost see it…the stubborn little idiot he raised who never met bait he didn’t take. It gives John the confidence to push a little harder. “How old are you now? You’re a grown man. What about you, Sam? You mean to tell me you’re just going to fall in line with whatever they tell you?”
“You don’t know anything about me,” Sam retorts, eyes narrowing.
“Then tell me,” John says and leans back in his chair. “I think you can give me that much.”
Sam just shakes his head, but the way he’s chewing on his lower lip gives him away. It’s his tell—Sam always had a lousy poker face. Weak means strong…strong means weak—it’s the first rule in poker. John is reassured to know this at least hasn’t changed.
Sam says, “I can’t. Dean’s already told you what’s safe for you to know.”
“Safe for who?” John bites out, scornfully. “For me? Are you seriously trying to protect me? Boy, you’re forgetting where I’ve been.”
“I know exactly where you’ve been,” Sam shoots back, with a peculiar look on his face.
John knows he’s getting closer to the truth. “Who are you trying to protect then? Your brother? Bobby?”
Sam stalks across the kitchen, hunching over the sink. Like always, his posture betrays him…the tension in his neck, his bowed head, the way he white-knuckles the edge of the counter. There’s a marked difference though. The old Sam would blow right now…let out his frustration in an explosion of defiance and rage. It used to be so easy to provoke Sammy into spilling it all.
“You don’t understand,” Sam says quietly.
“Not Dean then, not Bobby,” John continues. “What about you? You trying to protect yourself, Sammy?” As soon as he asks the question, John knows he’s found his answer. Sam goes stiff, and when he turns around, the answer is all over his face.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Then tell me, damnit,” John walks over to him. Sam towers over him, but from the way he leans back, John knows he hasn’t lost the ability to intimidate his son.
“I shouldn’t have to tell you,” Sam says angrily. “You should have been here. You left us here to figure it out ourselves.”
“Everything I did, I did for you boys.”
“That’s bullshit. Sir.”
“What did you say to me?” John gets right in Sam’s face.
“You left us alone. We had to clean up the mess you left behind, what you put on Dean’s shoulders.” Sam’s shirt is soaked with sweat…jaw set so tense, John can see the tendons raised on his neck. “Do you even realize what he did, just because you told him he had to save me?”
Finally, he was getting somewhere. “Tell me, Sam.”
“You told him he would have to kill me if he couldn’t save me. You had no right to tell him that, Dad.”
“It was the truth. He had the right to know the truth.”
“You should have told me!” Sam explodes. “It was my destiny, my problem. You should have told me to kill myself, not lay that crap on Dean!”
Astonished, John takes a step back. “I wanted him to save you, not kill you, Sammy. Dean knew that.”
Sam shakes his head, swipes at his eyes. “What kind of bastard lays that on his own son before he dies?”
“If I was wrong, then give it back to me,” John urges. “Tell me what happened …we can figure it out together.”
Sam looks away. “I can’t. I promised Dean.”
“I’m your father—I can take it,” John reminds him, and carefully reaches an arm around Sam’s enormous shoulders. Sam doesn’t pull away, so John takes a chance and pushes a little harder. “Dean saved you, didn’t he? Didn’t he?” John lowers his voice, keeping an eye on the doorway.
Sam is so tense, John can feel him shaking. “You don’t know what it cost him.”
There’s fear in his belly, but John says, “Dean’s all right. He’s here…you’re here. It must have worked out.”
Sam shakes his head and looks at him disbelievingly. “Just this morning, Dean told me the ends would always justify the means with you. I told him he wasn’t giving you enough credit, but he’s right, isn’t he?”
John tamps down on his own rising anger. Sam, when he’s self righteous, can still piss him off more than anyone else alive. “We’re talking about some pretty significant ‘ends’, Sammy.”
“Don’t call me Sammy.”
“Sam,” John says, but it comes out more mocking than he meant it. “Please just tell me what happened.”
Sam cuts a glance at him, and he looks just like a kid again, with his eyes filled with unshed tears and accusations. “I died. Azazel had one of his children kill me, and I died. Is that what you want to know? I died, and Dean couldn’t save me any other way, so he cut a deal with a crossroads demon for my life. You know all about that, don’t you? Like father, like son…is that what you wanted to know, Dad?”
“When did this happen?” John asks grimly, but he’s already running the numbers in his head. A standard crossroads deal is ten years. Six years have already passed since he died. That doesn’t give them much time to get Dean out of this mess. There is no way his boy is going to go to Hell…
“Stop it,” Sam says brokenly. “I know what you’re doing, and you can stop. It’s already over…it’s done. He died, okay. Dean went to Hell because he felt like he had to save me. He came back, it’s all right now. But you have no idea what you did, laying that on him.”
There are no words. It makes no sense. “Why didn’t you…didn’t you save him?”
“I tried! I tried to save him! I’d have done anything—you have to believe me!” Sam is shouting now—he’s lost all sense of caution. John hears the front door slam hard, feels the vibration of heavy boots against the floorboards, and Dean explodes into the room, with Bobby on his heels.
“Get the hell away from him!” Dean is roaring, and comes at John hard and fast, shoving him against the counter. John grunts from the impact—he’s going to be bruised tomorrow. Dean turns and jabs a finger in Sam’s direction. “You don’t talk to him! Sam, what the hell’s going on? What’s wrong?”
“Dean, c’mon…it’s all right,” Sam protests, trying to pull him off, but Dean shoves him away.
All Dean’s rage is for John, but his words are apparently directed at Sam. “I left you alone for a half hour! Told you not to talk to him!”
“He didn’t do anything to me,” Sam explains, anger long gone. “We were just talking…it’s okay.”
“Nothing about this is okay,” Dean retorts and fists John’s jacket. Bobby has a hand on Sam’s arm, holding him back. “Sam—you shouldn’t even be going near him. We don’t know what’s gonna set you off. I told you to tamp down on it—you know what the stakes are.”
Bobby tells Sam grimly, “Sam, you get yourself outside. Dean ain’t gonna see reason until you’re out of the line of fire, you know that.”
Sam looks like he’s going to argue, but he gets a better look at Dean. He nods and follows Bobby out of the kitchen. Alone with Dean, John can feel the sweat trickling down his neck, soaking his collar. He’s not going to fight Dean, even though he thinks he could take him. Even post-resurrection, he’s probably got twenty pounds on his son.
But John doesn’t want to fight. He wants to fix this, even though he can hardly get his head around what he knows. Dean went to Hell. Somehow, he came back again.
Bobby comes back in the room, looking unsettled. “Sam says he told you about Dean’s deal. About Cold Oak.”
Dean lets go of John and turns to Bobby. “Sam had no right to tell him that.”
“Maybe not, but what’s done is done. We were going to have to tell him sometime,” Bobby replies.
“That’s assuming he is who he says he is.”
“True enough,” Bobby says impassively, studying John.
Dean runs a hand through his hair. “You always knew how to get to him,” he mutters. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that? Sammy’s been through enough. He doesn’t need you chipping away at his weak spots. What’s past should stay in the past.”
But there is no way John is going to let this go. “Sam says you went to Hell.”
Dean just stares at him and turns to Bobby. “Can you leave us alone for a minute?”
“You sure?” Bobby asks gruffly, glaring at John.
“I’m sure. Go check on Sam. Make sure he’s got the sharing and caring out of his system.”
Bobby fixes John with a dark enough look that John is pretty sure the man is reconsidering not taking him out while he had the chance. But he tugs his hat over his eyes and heads out of the room after Sam.
But John isn’t finished. “You cut a deal,” he says bluntly. “You made a deal with a crossroads demon to save Sam.”
“Pot, kettle,” Dean fires back.
“How could you do something so stupid?” John asks. “What were you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that Sam is a bitch-ass with a big mouth. I told him not to talk to you. I told him.”
“Dean…I don’t know what to say.” He really doesn’t. He remembers every second, minute, hour, month, year, and every decade of Hell. There is nothing to say that can change any of it…nothing at all.
“Then don’t say anything,” Dean demands. “You hear me? Don’t say anything to me or to Sam. Look, I still don’t know what you are. I should have you locked up in the panic room, not letting you wander around loose where you can hurt him.”
“I’m your father,” John says, trying to keep his voice from breaking. He’d died to stop this from happening…to protect his boys. The plan had never been to leave them behind defenseless, like lambs primed for the slaughter. He can’t get his head around the idea of Sammy dead and Dean damned. It’s too much to take in.
Dean shakes his head. “Yeah well, that remains to be seen. I don’t know anything for sure yet.”
John asks quietly, “Would it make a difference if you did?”
“I don’t know,” Dean admits. “But until I find out, we’re not talking about this any more. And you sure as hell aren’t talking to Sam.”
“Sam is my son,” John reminds him. “Don’t forget that. I love Sam the same as I love you. I never wanted to hurt him.”
Dean stares at him for a long moment, before walking over to the sink and bracing himself against it, his body language mirroring Sam’s earlier stance so uncannily that John does a double take.
Then Dean dips his head and starts mumbling under his breath. From where he’s standing, John can’t make out all the words but it almost sounds like he’s praying. It makes no sense…Dean never did have a lick of faith. Took after his old man that way. Sammy and Mary were the believers.
Dean lifts his head toward the stained ceiling and says, “Any time soon would be awesome. Amen.” Then he turns around and looks at John. “What are you looking at?” Without waiting for a reply, Dean stomps toward the door, warning over his shoulder, “And stay away from Sam.”
John lets him go. He isn’t sure there is anything he could say that would make a difference. Not for the first time, he wonders if his resurrection is meant to be payback.
John goes over to the sink and splashes cold water against his face and neck. He can hear his boys yelling in the other room. He doesn’t try to make out what they’re saying. He’s heard enough for the time being.
John is beginning to wonder why he agreed to this.
Sure, Dean said it was the only way they’d be able to trust him, but Dean has said a lot of things, and John would like to forget most of them.
But the ropes are tied way too securely for his liking. Even through his jacket, they’re chafing his wrists and forearms. Dean is a fucking Boy Scout when it comes to knots, and John has always hated being tied up. But Sam reassures him that he’ll need to be restrained for what’s in store. He sounds sorry when he says it, and John is anything but reassured.
They’ve got him in the basement…damn place is so filthy John can hardly breathe through all the dust. Sam has hardly left John’s side for the past couple days, like he’s trying to atone for what he said. Clearly, he doesn’t want to fight any more, but he’s not talking either.
They’ve had him tied up for about an hour, when Dean comes down the stairs, glares at John like usual, and lifts an eyebrow at Sam.
“Is he coming?” Sam asks. “I thought you said he was coming.”
“I prayed,” Dean snaps. “Cas showed for a second and said he could spare a couple minutes to do his…soul searching. Said we should have him ready.”
“What the hell does that even mean?” John asks.
His boys both turn to study him. John doesn’t like the pained look that crosses Sam’s face. “Dad, it’s hard to explain,” Sam begins, while Dean fires back, “It’s not like Cas doesn’t have better things to do…”
They’re both talking over each other, when a tall, solemn looking man suddenly appears behind them.
“Dean, behind you!” John shouts, and both boys turn around calmly.
“Bout time you showed,” Dean says, and Sam huffs out a relieved breath.
John has absolutely no idea what is going on. The man is wearing a trench coat and inexplicably, a tie. He looks rumpled and beleaguered and not at all what John was expecting. He stares impassively at all of them.
“Who the hell are you?” John asks, wishing like hell he hadn’t agreed to being tied up. Something is wrong. His skin is crawling just looking at the man…or whatever the hell it is. Every hunter’s instinct he’s got is screaming that he’s not human.
“My name is Castiel. I’m your sons’…friend. I’ve heard a great deal about you.”
Sam crouches next to John. “Dad, Cas has to….check something. It’s gonna hurt like hell, but it’s important. He’s gonna let us know if you’re who you say you are.”
“This some kind of an exorcism?” John asks gruffly, not taking his eye off the unsettling trench-coated man.
“You could say that,” Bobby says, coming down the stairs. “Or you could call it Heaven’s way of getting intel.”
Torture, then. John asks, “Not that I expect to get a say in this, but what exactly are you hoping to find out?”
Castiel steps forward and says, “I need to feel your soul.”
John gapes at him. Outraged, he turns to Sam. “What kind of pansy-ass New Age crap have you been getting into while I was gone?”
Unbelievably, Sam barks out a surprised laugh, and even Dean looks like he’s fighting off a smile. Still grinning, Sam says to Dean, “You wanted proof. You gotta admit this probably is Dad. He always did worry I was going to run away and join a commune.”
“I am not a hippie,” Castiel says, stiffly, and this time, Dean does smile.
John is sick of the whole thing. “If all of you are through with this soul-crap, let’s get on with it. Torture me, already. My goddamn hands are losing circulation.”
Dean’s smile fades, and he sets his jaw. “Do it, Cas.”
Castiel looks down at John. “I would like to have your permission.”
“Permission for what?” John asks with a sigh.
“Like I said before, I need to touch your soul.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” John mutters. He looks up again at the man who is staring unblinkingly at him. “Fine, touch my soul. But touch me anywhere else and I’ll tear you a new one.”
“Duly noted,” the man says, without a hint of irony. He turns. “Dean, I’ll need your belt.”
Automatically, Dean reaches for the buckle, and John tries to pull away. “What the hell for?”
“The procedure is extremely painful. Even though I could heal you if you bit through your tongue, I’m afraid it would be unpleasant.”
Dean steps forward with his belt. “Don’t be stubborn,” he says roughly. “Bite down and think of the Impala.”
John doesn’t have a chance to reply before worn leather is thrust in between his teeth. Castiel leans down with an inscrutable look on his face. It isn’t a second after he reaches for John’s chest that every nerve in his body turns itself inside out, and agony explodes, white-hot and ferocious in flashes of red and black.
John knows one thing and one thing only…there is no pain on Earth like this.
“Dad? Dad.” There is a tentative voice close to his ear, and when John opens his eyes, Sam is next to him, tugging at him gently.
“Sammy?” His own voice sounds like he has been swallowing broken glass. It feels like that too. John lifts his head, trying to figure out what happened.
He’s lying in bed. Scanning the room, he recognizes it as Bobby’s spare bedroom on the lower floor. He’d been given the couch before. Apparently, he warranted an upgrade.
“Thought you weren’t supposed to be alone with me,” he says hoarsely to Sam.
Sam smiles at that. “Cas says you’re really John Winchester, the one and only. Like there’s any doubt. Took you forever to pass out, and it took twice as long to get at your soul as anyone else. You never did like the touchy feely crap.”
John takes the glass of water Sam is offering. “So, I’m not possessed?”
“We weren’t worried you were possessed. I’d have felt it if you were.”
John grimaces at the coldness of the water, before he remembers the pain Sam was in when Dean had first tried an exorcism. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Sam shakes his head. “Never mind. Dean’s gonna be back in a second. We can talk then.”
Sure enough, John hears footsteps, and Dean is right there in the doorway, followed by the trench-coated man and Bobby. John’s heart starts pounding hard at the sight of him, and he shudders.
“Don’t you let that sonofabitch anywhere near me,” he warns, jabbing a finger in Castiel’s direction. He starts to sit up, but the world immediate weaves and blurs out of focus. John has no idea what the bastard did to him, but the vertigo it left behind is horribly unsettling.
“It is unnecessary for me to touch you again,” the man says in a steely voice. “I have the information I need. Your soul is intact, unharmed.”
“Good to know,” John shoots back, trying hard not to think about the hell-tainted violation of being known. “You’re not human,” he says, the truth of his own words clear to him.
Castiel nods solemnly. “I am an angel of the Lord.”
“An angel?” John scoffs incredulously, but suddenly, immediately, he knows it to be true. His skin crawls with gooseflesh like someone walking over his grave. The thing is standing way too close to Dean. Sitting up despite the vertigo, John hisses, “Get away from my son.”
“Dad, it’s just Cas,” Dean says, and somewhere in the back of his mind, John notes this is the first time Dean has called him Dad. “He’s an angel. You need to chill out.”
“Lucifer is an angel,” John says, and next to him, Sam recoils.
“Dad,” he whispers, his face gone grave-white. “You need to stop talking.”
But John knows he’s onto something. John knows his lore. If angels are real, they are not to be trusted. He glares ferociously at Bobby. “You should have known better, even if they didn’t.”
But Bobby places a protective hand on Dean’s shoulder. Unreasonably, John hates the familiarity between them, the fact that Bobby has a right to touch his son casually like that.
“This angel saved your boy’s life, and you owe him everything. Castiel is the one who pulled his ass out of Hell. You should be on your knees thanking him.”
The angel’s lips narrow into a flat, unhappy line. “That isn’t necessary,” he says shortly.
“What do you mean he pulled him out of Hell?”
“I pulled Dean out of Perdition,” the angel says, as if that should clarify everything.
But John can’t get his head around the possibility of an angel saving anyone from Hell. The lore says it’s impossible. That there is no yoking the sacred to the profane. There is only one angel who has been known to set foot in Hell…only one, an angel of light, who is the closest thing to absolute darkness this world will ever known.
“Get the hell away from my boys,” John says in a low voice.
“Dad,” Dean begins, but John doesn’t want to hear it. He struggles to his feet and grabs Sam, who is closest.
“Don’t you understand? This could be Satan. You could be putting your faith in the Angel of the Pit!”
They are all staring at him, apparently stunned, but they aren’t getting into defensive position. He doesn’t know how he can get them to understand. Angels are the most brutally powerful of all the supernatural beings. There is nothing about angels that could be considered good news.
So softly John almost doesn’t hear him at first, Sam says, “Cas isn’t Lucifer, Dad.”
“How the hell do you know?” John asks, thoughts plowing through everything he learned about Lucifer during that last year of his life. Once he learned of Azazel and his army of damned children, Sam leading the pack…he studied the lore on Lucifer. He knows all about Lucifer rotting in his cage, rattling the bars of Hell in his bloodlust to get out and rule the world. Who knows what happened while he was gone…his skin crawls when he thinks of what Dean told him. If he looks carefully, he can almost see the shadow of the creature’s wings.
We fucked up the world, but then we saved it…
But at what cost?
John takes a step toward the creature of light. He’s completely unarmed and has no idea what he’s going to do, but he has to do something. He’s almost there, when Dean steps in front of it. Only his oldest son would try to protect an immortal being from a washed-up, back-from-the-dead, middle-aged hunter. John wishes to God he’d told Dean more about what he’d known. It was unforgiveable to leave his boys unprotected.
“Dean, get away,” he growls.
“Dad, don’t be an idiot,” Dean says, and it looks like he’s trying not to smile. “You can’t kick an angel’s ass. Believe me, I tried.”
“It would be unwise,” the angel agrees.
Bobby is rolling his eyes to high heaven. “Blasted Winchesters,” he grumbles, but he also comes forward to stand by Dean, like they’re the creature’s bodyguards. Only Sam stays by his side.
“I am not Lucifer,” the angel says, sounding offended by the idea. “I am Castiel, and I serve the God of Heaven—”
“He serves a deadbeat dad,” Dean interrupts. “So you see why me and him have a lot in common.”
“Dean, knock it off,” Sam protests. His voice sounds strained.
John tries to get around Bobby and Dean, but it’s no use. They aren’t moving. He tries reasoning with them instead. “Angels can’t step foot in Hell,” he explains frantically. “They can’t. Only Lucifer…don’t you see what that means? Lucifer was the craftiest of all the created beings…he can look like anyone. Anyone. Even an alcoholic FBI agent if he wants to.”
“Dad…Cas isn’t Lucifer. Lucifer is…”
“Lucifer is in his cage,” Sam whispers from behind him.
And then there is a thud…the sound of dead weight hitting a bare floor. In a singular moment, Dean’s expression shifts from one of almost amused defiance to distress and then to something akin to terror. John can’t process the change, cannot follow what’s happening at all, but Dean leaves the angel unguarded, pushes past John, and sinks to his knees.
Bobby’s eyes are wide and horrified, and even the fucking angel looks alarmed. John turns and sees what they see.
And John Winchester dies all over again.
John’s body remembers what to do before his mind catches up. It is muscle memory if nothing else. He tries holding down both of Sam’s legs but only manages to get a firm grip on one. He can feel the strength in his boy’s thrashing body like he hasn’t felt it before. Sam is so massive now, heavy bones underneath taut muscle. Dean has his arms around Sam’s shoulders and chest and is trying and failing to hold him still, to keep him from doing more damage to himself than he’s doing already.
John thought he’d seen Dean pray before. He was wrong.
It’s like watching any natural disaster, an act of God, utter desolation. Sam’s face is twitching horribly, his eyes are rolled back in his head, and there’s blood from where he bit through his lip, from the back of his head where he hit it.
Dean looks up, and his own face is ashen. “Bobby, hold him,” he manages to grit out, and Bobby places both hands on either side of Sam’s face and turns it to the side. Bile pours out and drips down his cheek onto the floor. Sam had been choking on his own vomit.
Bobby lets go when it seems like he’s done, and holds down Sam’s other leg. The strain in John’s arms lessens a little and he moves to make room, grateful for the help.
It feels like it’s going on forever, like the worst kind of earthquake that just won’t end.
“Don’t do this, Sam,” Dean is babbling, “c’mon, Sammy, hey man, don’t do this. Please God, don’t do this, give us another chance.” He tucks his face against Sam’s neck, still holding on. “Sammy, I’m here. I got you, I’m right here. I won’t let you go.”
Desperately, John glances over his shoulder and sees the angel, just standing there, watching, but with such a look of profound sadness on his face that for the first time, John has his doubts that what he’s looking at is evil.
“Please,” he pleads, fully aware he might be selling his soul to the devil again, but he doesn’t care. “Please, help him. Make it stop.”
The angel doesn’t even look at him, but he does come forward. With great dignity, he kneels beside Dean and places his hand on Sam’s gore-covered cheek.
“Rest, Sam,” he said gently. “Rest in the name of the father.”
John doesn’t want to know what father the thing is referring to, and it really doesn’t matter because Sam’s body immediately settles. Dean sobs out loud. Sam is so still in Dean’s arms that John instinctively moves to check for a pulse, but Dean’s hand is already there against his neck.
Dean looks up, his breath hitching. He nods, and whispers to the angel, “Thanks, Cas. Thank you.”
It occurs to John that Castiel has not removed his hand from Sam’s cheek. He looks soberly at Dean. “I don’t know how long the patch will hold. The wall is badly cracked.”
“I know,” Dean chokes out, “I know.” But he’s already leaning over Sam’s unconscious body, crooning apologies and promises to his brother that John doesn’t even pretend to understand.
For the first time, John truly feels like he has no right to be here. It’s wrong that he is in this world. It is entirely possible that Dean is right…his presence caused this somehow. John feels bile rise in his throat, and he gags on it. He leans over and vomits away from them, his stomach heaving and rolling until there is nothing left.
Castiel has turned to watch him, but then he looks back at the boys. Sam is beginning to stir in Dean’s arms. “You both need to sleep,” he says.
The angel places a hand on both of their shoulders, bows his head, and in a blink of an eye, there is incandescent white light, and all three are gone. John cries out…he feels their absence as absolute loss, but there is a hand on his own shoulder and he glances up to find Bobby looking down at him with something resembling compassion.
John hears himself asking, “Where…where did they go?”
Bobby smiles, but it’s so sad. “I think Cas put them to bed,” he says. “That’s what he’s done before.”
“I don’t understand…” John stares down at the blood and bile all over the floor, so much pain and brokenness. He’d died to save his boys… but not for this.
“You’re not supposed to understand,” Bobby says dryly. “None of us do. Welcome to the family.” And when he reaches over to give him a hand up, John takes it.
Like a pair of old battle-worn soldiers, John and Bobby stumble up the stairs, until they come to the bedroom that Sam and Dean always shared when they were kids. The door is ajar, the faint light coming from the window already fading with the setting sun. Bobby’s hand comes to block the doorway, as if to keep him from going in. He needn’t have worried. John has no intention of disturbing them.
They’re out cold, tucked in the single bed like they used to be when they were kids, covered with the threadbare quilt that has been on that bed since John has known Bobby. The angel is nowhere in sight, and John never even told him thank you.
“What’s wrong with them?” he whispers.
“Nothing, far as I can tell. They’re just done in, I expect.”
John understands. The adrenaline is gone, and now he feels undone…achingly exhausted. It’s all he can do to stay on his feet and watch his boys as they sleep.
Honest to God, John cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. Even though he hadn’t cried when Sam was seizing, he now feels tightness in his chest, but the tears don’t fall. There is a pain that burns so deep, he wonders if the damn angel is poking at his soul again.
“Look here...” Bobby’s voice is pitched quiet enough that only John can hear. “There are things you need to know. Things it ain’t safe for you not to know. But you gotta swear to me that you’ll never talk to them about it. Neither of them. Not Dean and especially not to Sam.”
John nods, unable to tear his eyes away from the single bed. “I swear it.”
Bobby shakes his head sorrowfully. “Your promises don’t mean crap, and you and me both know it. But for whatever reason, somebody out there thinks you’re worth a second chance, and I ain’t one to second guess angels.”
John looks at him sharply. “You think that angel brought me back?”
Bobby retorts, “I don’t know who brought you back. But you’re here now, and I reckon we gotta deal with you.”
“Those boys mean everything to me,” John says evenly. “I won’t hurt them.”
Bobby pulls John around by his arm. “If you hurt those boys, I’ll end you. You’re all a bunch of stubborn jackasses, the whole lot of you. But John, I’m telling you this—don’t waste all this suffering. Don’t let it be for nothing.” Bobby lets him go and gazes into the darkening bedroom.
“I swear I won’t hurt them, Bobby.” John doesn’t know how to say it plainer than that. Bobby simply grunts in response.
John turns to look in on his sons. Dean and Sam…they could be little boys adrift, anchoring each other in a sea full of monsters. They share a single pillow, facing each other, foreheads touching. They are a world unto themselves. They always have been.
Gruffly, Bobby says, “There was a lot that happened…a whole helluva lot…while you were dead.”
Sequel: Back Seat Driver