: It's A Cold Hand That You FeelAuthor
: PG-13 for languageSummary
: Tonight, Dean cares too much about Dad to let him do something this dumb. Tonight, there will be mutiny.Author's Notes
: Thanks so much to my beta mad_server, who always know how to spot the chinks, and to littlealex for much needed cheer-leading and hand-holding.
With twelve inches of snow on the ground they might as well be in Alaska. But they aren't. They're in New Hampshire. Some dumpy town nowhere near any cozy ski lodges filled with pink-nosed hot-cocoa sipping athletic girls with fuzzy ear-muffs, nowhere near anything but gun-toting libertarian Yankee freaks and more damn snow. Not that Dean's one to criticize toting guns. Or being a freak, for that matter. Still doesn't change the fact that he's bored out of his mind, and Sam's driving him crazy studying for his freakin' PSAT morning, noon and night.
The motel room is cramped and smells like a locker room, which, okay is his fault 'cause it's his turn to do laundry. But there's no Laundromat in town (if you want to call Route 49 part of a town, and he's not sure what the name of said town would even be), and he doesn't particularly feel like playing Pioneer House in their mint-green bathtub. But Dad promised them this would be a quick hunt, that they'd be out of here by tomorrow.
Thing is, Dad's been acting weird all day. Weirder than usual. And sure, Dean knows Dad gets into these "moods" sometimes. Bouts of depression, when he doesn't talk much and goes out and doesn't come back until 4 am, when it becomes Dean's job to keep him from knocking all sorts of shit over, waking Sam up. Because it's always worse if Sam is awake when Dad comes home like that. So, yeah, Dad pulls shit like that sometimes, but it's a rough job this hunting gig, and he's got to take care of two kids on top of everything, and he didn't ask for this. Didn't ask for his wife to be murdered by some thing
. Didn't ask to be stuck raising two boys by himself at the same time as being a hunter, trying to save other people's families because that's the least he can do. Dean knows that. So why shouldn't he cut Dad some slack when he comes home reeking of whiskey and sometimes even cigarettes? Sometimes even puke.
In between hunts, at least.
Not, you know, the night of one.
Now it's possible Dad isn't at this very moment out getting shit-faced. It's possible that when he left the motel at 4 pm saying he was going to pick them up some dinner, that's exactly what he did. Possible that his truck broke down, that maybe he slid on a patch of ice and got stuck in a snow bank. Possible that he dropped his cell phone in the same snow bank, and that the battery froze. And that's why he's not home 4 hours later, why he won't answer when Dean calls.
Possible, but not plausible.
"Weren't you guys supposed to go to the house tonight?" Sam asks, his nose in some vocabulary exercise book filled with words like 'polemical' and 'juxtapose'. The fact that Sam's studying for the PSAT pisses Dean off, to be honest. Dean never took them. Never even contemplated the SATs at all. What the hell is Sam trying to prove? Anything to piss off Dad, right Sammy?
"Maybe… maybe he decided to go early. Maybe he picked up some new info," Dean says, staring at a muted episode of Different Strokes
, barely believing his words himself.
Sam glares down at the freshly cleaned weapons on the floor in front of the flickering TV. "Without any of his gear? Jesus, Dean, get serious." Of course, going without Dean would be believable. But without his Smith and Wesson? His Mossberg? Never.
It's a haunting, a nasty one that's been plaguing an old retired couple's farmhouse about ten miles up the road. They'd planned to leave at dusk. At this time of year, this far north that means 5:30—two and a half hours ago.
"So then what Sam? What'd you want me to say?"
"The truth." Sam looks over at him from the other bed, finally letting his homework loose from his hands. Dean can't not answer him now, with that look on his face, like he asks for so very little, like he's so desperately deprived of normalcy he can barely breathe. The little brat.
"The truth is, I don't know where the hell he is. I've got a pretty good feeling, but I'm hoping I'm wrong."
"He's at a bar, isn't he?"
Dean sighs. He really doesn't want it to be true. "You saw how he was before he left. All quiet and grunty and shit. Like a freakin' caveman."
"Yeah. He spent like, an hour in the shower this morning," Sam adds. Secretly, they both know what that means. Know that Dad thinks the sound of the shower covers up the sound of other things--the sound of a man remembering his dead wife, and a life he used to have long ago. The sound of a man who never cries in front of anyone.
There's a rumble of an engine outside, and both the boys' ears are attuned to recognize that particular sound instantly.
"Don't say a fucking word, Sam," Dean warns, quickly settling up against the headboard, flicking up the volume on the TV.
They hear the door to the truck slam shut. The clomp of heavy boots on squeaky, crunchy snow. A set of keys falling to the ground. A low incoherent string of swearing.
"Shit," Dean says. Sam just shakes his head, like Dad being drunk is about as surprising as a monkey eating a banana.
Dad swings the door open finally, a cold gust of wind right behind him. He closes it behind him, but his hand clings to the doorknob for too long. He's trying to figure out what to hang onto next. How to stay upright.
"Sorry 'm late," he says, squinting at the TV like he's never freakin' seen one before.
"We had a hunt tonight Dad. What the hell?" Dean says, not really angry, but confused because this isn't Dad's MO. He doesn't do this kind of thing while they're in the middle of a job. Never. It makes Dean wish Dad was more open with them, wish he'd tell them what was wrong, because he's fucking scared now, scared of what could make Dad do something so stupid, so irresponsible.
Dad steps into the middle of the room, swaying a little on the way, and Dean moves towards him.
When he tries to lead him towards the bed, John pushes him off. "We have a hunt. We HAVE a hunt, Dean." He swipes his shotgun off the floor, swings it over his shoulder clumsily, like a twelve year-old girl might swing a Hello Kitty backpack over her shoulder.
"Are you kidding me? I'm not gonna hunt with you like this!"
"Fine. Stay here with Sam. I'm a--"
"You're gonna get yourself killed Dad!" Sam adds, on the edge of his bed now, arms crossed. Ready to make a move, but not sure of what it would be.
"Sam, stay out of this!" Dad opens his mouth, but Dean says it before he has a chance to. Still, Sam has a point. And guessing from the bitter look on his face, he knows it.
Dean shakes his head, turns back to Dad. "You know he's right. You can't go."
"We promised them. It's my job," Dad insists, sticking a pistol in the back of his jeans, focusing hard on keeping steady. Trying to will himself sober.
"I'll handle it Dad."
"No. It's a two man job."
"Think about what you're doing, for fuck's sake Dad," Dean growls, pulling at the hair at the back of his head.
Dad grabs Dean by the shoulders. "I'm fine, Dean," he says, working his tongue and lips extra hard to enunciate perfectly. Overcompensating. "Now let's go."
Part of Dean wants to just give in, let Dad come with him. Let him lead the way, even. Because that's what Dad does. And what Dean does? He follows. That's what. He doesn't order his dad around, that's for fucking sure. It just feels wrong. But he also cares too much about Dad to let him do something this dumb. So no matter how badly he wants to just let Dad give the orders, he knows tonight it isn't going to play out like that.
Tonight, there will be mutiny.
Dean knows what he has to do. Knows it's going to have to be perfect, and really damn powerful. If it doesn't work? Well. Dad'll have him hog-tied and tarred and feathered for this, sooner or later. Dean's just pushing for later. After he's laid to rest an angry ghoul.
"What did you say?" Dad snarls, squeezing Dean's shoulders tighter.
Flicking Dad's arms off of him is easy enough. The rest happens in a blur: pulling his fist down to his belly for an uppercut, and letting it fly fast, steady and certain right between the eyes. Where Dean hopes it'll knock Dad out quickly and efficiently. Hopes. He's never actually done this before.
When his fist hits Dad's face, Dean can feel the lightning shock of the impact all the way to his toes.
Sam literally jumps off the bed. "Holy crap!"
It works. Dean's fist hurts like a mother, but it's worth it. Dad is on the floor, out like a light.
"Sammy," Dean says, pulling the shotgun off his father's unconscious form with his left hand, "take care of Dad while I'm gone."
"Jesus, Dean. That was one hell of a punch."
"Yeah, well… I learned from the best…"
Before he leaves, he handcuffs Dad to the bed. Just in case.******
John Winchester does not panic.
He assesses, re-groups, strategizes. Panicking is for civilians.
And so, in the split second John has regained consciousness, and has not yet opened his eyes but can feel the throbbing pressure on his brain and the tight pinch of handcuffs around his wrists, he may think to himself very emphatically, oh shit.
But that doesn't count as panicking.
Wherever he's being held captive, it smells like a goddamn high school gym locker-
Oh, that kid is DEAD.
Since when did his kid throw such a heavy-weight punch? Oh, yeah. Since he taught him. At least he knows Dean was paying attention. He's got the blurred vision to prove it: there's one more Sam reading in a dimly lit corner of the motel room than there should be.
"Where is he?" John says, the words coming out all dry and gravelly.
"You're awake," Sam says closing his book, then disappears into the bathroom. He comes out with a bundled towel, and plops it on John's face, right between the eyes. Ice.
John's got to assume Dean's the one who cuffed him to the bed. Took off, and left Sam to guard the prisoner. Went on the hunt without him. Alone.
Great. He's got to go after that damn fool kid before he really fucks things up.
"Sam," John warns, shaking his head so that the ice falls onto the bed next to his shoulder, "if you know what's good for you, you will get these cuffs off me ASAP."
"Can't. Dean's got the keys," Sam says, finding his way back into a comfortable position on the chair in the corner.
"Who said anything about keys?" As if John didn't spend two weeks straight training the kid to pick locks. And he damn well knows that Sam excelled above and beyond him, enjoyed it even, breaking out of sets of handcuffs like he was solving a damn Rubik's cube or something.
Sam just shrugs. "Dean said--"
"I don't give a damn what Dean said. Your brother's in a world of trouble, and if you don't get me out of these cuffs right now, you'll be right there with him."
Sam comes back to the edge of the bed slowly, stares at John like he's grown a tail and big ol' donkey ears. "Why'd you do it?" Sam asks, bundling the half-melted ice cubes back up into the fallen towel, holding it over John's face.
John doesn't want to answer. Doesn't want to think about the reasons he got lost on the way to get dinner—lost in his head, lost at the bottom of a bottle of Jim Beam. It's not important anyway. What's important is that his boys follow their father's orders, no matter what. No questions asked.
It's even more important that they heed his orders when he's losing control. But who that really helps, who it makes feel better, is hard to say.
Sam looks scared. And it hits John that all this? Is Sam and Dean's way of trying to help him. The only way they know how. The only way he's left open.
If you know you're going to drown, at some point you've got to let go. Try not to drag anyone down with you. John's never too sure how far off he is from that point. But right now, squinting up at Sam around the edges of a cold, scratchy mustard yellow towel, he knows tonight's not it.
"I'm okay now Sam," he says, looking hard and firm into Sam's eyes, trying hard not to see his own sins reflected back at him. "And your brother needs my help."
Sam sighs and slides a tiny key out from under one of the textbooks on the dresser next to the TV. Cleary, lock-picking isn't the only skill John's successfully imparted.
"It's been nearly three hours, you know? Dean's probably salted and burned by now," Sam says with the sort of irrational confidence only an idolizing younger brother is capable of. And for a moment, John is almost jealous. Sam's never believed in him as much as he believes in Dean.
Right now though, he hopes that belief is well founded. That Dean's got a handle on things.
"I sure as hell hope you're right, Sammy," John says, twisting his wrists as Sam reaches behind the headboard with the key.
Sam has a couple aspirin handy, and the first thing John does after sitting up and rubbing his pink wrists is swallow them and wash them down with some water straight from the tap in the bathroom. He's steady on his feet, if a little stiff. He splashes cold water on his face and the back of his neck, lets the water run as he looks at himself in the mirror.
There's a bruise emerging over his left eye, near the bridge of his eyebrows, yellowish-brown and pink around the edges. He's got a feeling it'll look a hell of a lot worse tomorrow.
He'd punched his own father once. Had dropped out of school that day, told his parents he was joining the Marines. It hadn't gone over very well with the old man. John was 16.
He'd punched his dad to escape his family. Dean had punched him to save his.
"How'd you get so damn lucky…" John mutters, at a reflection of himself where a misguided 16 year old kid hides under layers of skin leathered thick from blood and death and dirt.
Sometimes, it hits him hard. These kids are all that's keeping him standing.
Turning off the faucet, he hears the car pull up to the motel and breathes a little easier.
He doesn't even think about waiting for Dean to come through the door before he heads outside into the cold winter night, Sam tailing close behind.
There's music playing in the Impala—some old Doobie Brothers song—and for a second, John thinks Dean's lingering in the driver's seat so he can hear it to the end. Wouldn't be the first time.
But a closer look reveals a tight grip on the steering wheel, and bleary, unfocused eyes.
John opens the car door, and leans in, one hand flush on top of the icy roof, the other reaching for Dean's shoulder. The kid won't look at him. He's focusing too hard on something else.
"Dean. What happened?"
"I finished the job's what happened."
But he isn't. John wishes like hell he was. That he just really loved Listen to the Music.
But he doesn't. It's a shitty song.
"Damnit, Dean! You knock your old man out cold, the least you can do is be straight with him when he's regained consciousness."
Dean peers over John's shoulder. John follows his gaze to Sam huddled behind him, shivering, scared and jacketless, and Dean releases his iron grip on the steering wheel and pulls the keys from the ignition.
"Sorry 'bout that…" he mumbles, hoisting himself out of the car, wincing at some mysterious injury. It won't be a mystery for long if John has anything to do with it.
And unfortunately, he's got everything to do with it.
John takes a step back, gives the kid some space as he closes the car door behind him. But the momentum from swinging it shut sends Dean's body swaying back against the car. His knees buckle and he slides down into the snow with a misery-laden grunt.
"Dean!" Sam cries, and he and John are down on the snow next to him in a split second. His face is scrunched up in pain, his arms curled and crossed protectively over his heart and god, this is exactly what John was afraid of. He wants to yell at Dean and tell him he's an idiot for giving a damn. Tell him it's not his job to look out for him. Because then what's John's job? What the hell is he supposed to do? What goddamn use is he to these boys?
But there's more important things to do right now than indulge his insecurities. Right now anyway, Dean needs him.
Sam looks too stunned to move—just squats on the ground as close to his big brother as he can get, squeezing snow in his fists like stress-balls. "What's wrong with him? What's wrong?" Sam asks, as if John just knows somehow. And maybe it's because he's trying very hard to look like he does, even if he's silently screaming out exactly what Sam just said. What the hell is wrong with his son?
John takes Dean's chin in his hand, makes the kid look him in the eyes.
Dean winces, like just looking at his father is the source of the pain.
"Where are you hurt?" John asks, trying his damnedest to stay calm. Because someone has to.
"It… it got its hand… in my chest…" Dean confesses, barely a whisper, words coated with pain—but there's shame there too, embarrassment. Dean wanted to be able to pull this off without a hitch, rub it in John's aching face. Right now, John wouldn't mind that alternate ending one bit. He nods in understanding, as if he's completely familiar with the first aid procedure for someone who's had an angry spirit's hand poking around inside his body. He isn't. But that's not the point.
"You cough up any blood?" he asks, all business. Pressing two fingers firmly against the pulse point on Dean's neck, with Sam twitching anxiously across from him, wanting to help, but unable to without directions.
Dean shakes his head slightly, as yielding and compliant under his father's hands as John expects, as he knows Dean will be after all is said and done. He finds less comfort in that fact than he used to, when Dean was too small to hold a rifle, too small to throw punches that could land a guy (and not just any guy—John fucking Winchester) unconscious.
The snow is melting under his knees now, and John feels water soak into his jeans as he tries to concentrate on the rhythm of Dean's pulse. It's racing and a little uneven. Could be a lot worse. John lets his hand slide off Dean's neck onto his shoulder.
"Got the wind knocked out of you is all," he says. It's shock or something, really. But Dean doesn't need to hear it. Christ, John doesn't want to say it.
Back in Nam, when guys would go down right in front of you, guts spilling out, limbs hanging on by a few strands of cartilage, you'd always tell them it was nothing, that the chopper was about to land even when there wasn't one for miles and miles. You'd tell them everything was okay and then their eyes would stop moving. And then you'd tell them it was fine a while longer until there was someone next to you, telling you
everything was okay.
This is the kind of shit that pops into John's brain (whether it's invited or not) every time he finds himself hovering over someone, telling them they'll be okay—a friend, a stranger, anyone he's sworn himself to protect. But this is different, right? Dean isn't going to die. Dean will
be okay. So why does it still feel like a lie, even though it's true?
"That what they call it?" Dean asks, in between deep, focused breaths. He rests his head against the side of the Impala and stretches his arms out towards the ground, tight fisted and determined to regain some semblance of composure. John can't comprehend for a moment how the kid can possibly be so resilient and so fragile at the same time.
"Okay. We're gonna get you inside, alright?"
Dean's Adam's apple bobs slowly up and down and he nods with his eyes squeezed shut.
As he and Sam help Dean carefully to his feet, John tries not to imagine how Dean managed to get back to the Impala and drive all the way home without passing out. Even though he doesn't have to imagine. He knows exactly how, because he's done it himself more than once.
It's rare, but every so often, if you get one that's smart, that's been around for a very long time, a ghost can control its physical presence—choose what to move through and what to touch: walls, objects, people... flesh. John pictures the ghost of the deranged old country vet grabbing his boy, shoving its wrinkled and crooked boney fingers into Dean's body, sliding through his skin like a voodoo witch-doctor, wrapping its other-worldly digits around his son's heart.
Dean, somehow managing to strike a match and drop it on the bones at the last minute.
John feels his heart squeezed now too.
Inside, John pulls the covers down on his bed, sits Dean on the edge. Sam start in on getting his boots off, and John unbuttons his jacket and slides it off his trembling shoulders while Dean just sits there, quiet and dazed.
It's hard getting Dean's t-shirt off without hurting him, and as soon as John sees the boy's chest he understands why.
John doesn't blink. Doesn't wince or gasp at the sight of the dark purple handprint shaped bruise over Dean's heart. Dean needs to know he'll be okay. That this is no big deal.
Sam's not so subtle. "Woah. What the hell…"
"It's okay Sam," John says quickly. "Go get your brother some more ice from the machine, okay?"
"Yeah." Sam's obedient when he's scared. For that John's grateful.
Kneeling on the rough brown carpet with cold, snow-soaked jeans, John can't stop himself from laying a hand on Dean's forehead. Dean resists only a little, turning his head down towards the floor and squinting, as if a bright light were being shone in his eyes.
He's not warm with fever, he's cold with exhaustion and fear.
"Lie down," John says.
Dean falls back onto the pillows with a soft groan, and John pulls the blankets up to the edge of the ghost-inflicted bruise. Sam comes back, disappears with the ice into the bathroom, and returns with a bundle identical to the one he'd had on John's face just a few minutes earlier. John holds it gingerly to Dean's chest with an apologetic frown, as Dean shivers as it makes contact with his skin.
"Dad, he's cold."
"Gotta get the swelling down, Sam. You know that."
Sam doesn't answer. He's to busy pulling the thick fleece blanket off the other bed. He drags it on over, and John just watches as he eases Dean up a little and slides it under his bare back, pulls it up and around Dean's shoulders. John should feel guilty for not thinking of it first, but he's too busy being proud of how well his boys look out for each other. Damned if he hasn't done something right, even if he's not quite sure how he managed it.
"Thanks Sammy," Dean says, nodding and looking Sam in the eyes as if doing so is some unspoken way of telling his little brother that everything's going to be okay.
Miraculously, it works. Sam smiles wearily, and curls up on the other bed, atop Dean's leather Jacket, trying valiantly to keep an eye on his sick brother, but ultimately falling victim to his own exhaustion.
John's not even close to falling asleep. He sits with Dean and ices his injury, helps him swallow painkillers and overly-chlorinated tap water. Drinks a few glasses himself, hoping to quelling his incoming hangover.
He watches his son drift quickly in and out of sleep, thanking god or fate or whoever, that all Dean is going to come out of this with is a sore chest and some bad memories—that he's going to come out of this, period. John suspects that any good luck here is what Dean deserves, and not what he does.
"Dad… I'm sorry," Dean says to him at three in the morning, restless and still unable to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time.
The kid can't look at him, twists his face halfway into the pillow. "You know what for. Jesus. I didn't know what else to…"
"You were right… I couldn't…"
It boggles John's mind how hard Dean tries to carry the blame for his mistakes. Like his brain would just stop working completely if he let himself believe John made a mistake.
"No, you couldn't. But neither could I."
"Yeah…" Dean says, and it's the closest he's ever come to admitting John's fucked up.
John sets aside the mostly melted towel of ice, and pulls the wayward blanket up over Dean's shoulders.
"You throw a real killer right-hook, Ali," he teases, rubbing the sore spot over his eye with the back of his fingers.
"Was an uppercut."
"Whatever it was, next time it better be aimed at something you aren't related to," he warns gently.
"Yes sir…" Dean says, like he wants it to be an order, like John giving him one is the most curative thing he's done for his son all night. So that Dean can really rest now, can finally begin to look like he's comfortable, his chest rising and falling more smoothly and easily.
It's not that John expects Dean to ask. He never does. And John often tells himself that when he comes home wasted, the last thing his kids want to know is why. They don't need to hear his sob story. They're living their own.
But tonight it's different. Tonight John broke pattern, and he knows that even if Dean won't admit it, it's freaked him out. Tonight, Dean needs to know why.
"It's our anniversary today. Me and your mom's," John says, staring hard at the wall behind the bed, the faded green paisley wallpaper.
"Yeah, I… I forgot. Then I remembered."
"Shit. You won't forget that again."
Dean sounds as certain as John feels. He won't forget any of it.