Characters: Sam, Dean and John
Spoilers: References to IMTOD
Summary: Five times John Winchester tried to be a good father.
Disclaimer: Not mine!
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I did the best I could.” – John Winchester, “In My Time of Dying”
“Look . . . I don’t expect to make it out of this fight in one piece. Your mother’s death, it almost killed me. I can’t watch my children die, too. I won’t.” - John Winchester, “Dead Man’s Blood”
John wondered if Dean blamed him for Sam leaving, but he couldn’t be sure because his son hadn’t mentioned it. Unless it was about hunting, weapons or the car, Dean didn’t speak. The silence thrust John eighteen years into the past, and when he looked at Dean he had to blink to remove the image of a four year old sitting on a ratty hotel bed telling him to talk to Sammy.
He regretted his anger, and the part of him that was terrified that Sam would be alone and in danger wanted to track the boy down and say he was sorry. Maybe if they led a different life he would pick up the phone and call his boy and tell him these things, but stubborn pride and the vain hope that Sam could have a normal life kept him silent. As hard it was to accept, he couldn’t help but think that Sam was probably better off far away from this life, away from the hunting and fighting, even if it meant leaving his father and brother behind.
John had been selfish and single-minded and controlling, but never blind; there was no doubt in his mind that Dean felt like he’d been left behind. Taking care of Sammy had been Dean’s job for most of his life, and without that responsibility Dean was left drifting, unsure of his place in the world.
There needed to be something for Dean to hold on to, something that was his own. The Impala was the first thing John thought of. He’d needed – wanted – a truck for some time, and now that Sam was gone they would have to split up to cover more ground on hunts. And Dean was twenty two years old, for God sakes; John hated knowing exactly where his son was spending his nights because he had driven him there.
He waited a little bit, and when he was sure that Dean’s silence wasn’t going to break he handed over the keys. He couldn’t remember the last time he saw Dean so happy; the kid was practically bouncing with glee and John couldn’t help but grin as he watched his son seat himself behind the wheel and stroke the dashboard thoughtfully. No doubt he was theorizing which girl he could get into the backseat the quickest.
“I expect you to take good care of this car, Dean. It’s lasted this long; I don’t want to see it go to crap in a month.” John said, crossing his arms over his chest and trying to look commanding.
“Yeah, Dad,” Dean responded absently, still maneuvering his hands around the interior, rubbing the leather seats.
“I meant it, Dean.”
Dean looked up and flashed a grin – the first John had seen in a week. “Don’t worry, Dad. I’ve got it covered.”
The engine was revving up and Dean was obviously done with the chit-chat and ready to go for a ride by himself. John nodded and stepped back, allowing his son to pull out of the parking spot. As he watched the car drive off, part of John wished his oldest would leave, too, go off and have a normal life like Sam. He would understand if Dean drove off and never came back. But he knew Dean better than that. He had raised the boy. Dean would never leave, and it was a tragedy and a blessing.
John had been prepared to die for the past twenty three years. Ever since he found Mary burning on that ceiling he’d been living on borrowed time; there was almost nothing left of him now anyways except for his love for his children.
It was why he didn’t mind paying up, not really. He’s a father first, and he’d gladly lay down his life for his children, for the chance that Dean will live to die on another day. His only regret is that he won’t be able to see this fight through to end. It will be left to his sons, and that’s something he never wanted to happen. He’d spent the last twenty-two years trying to keep his boys safe, alive, believing he could save them from this somehow if only he fought hard enough.
It was a hard realization that, after everything that had happened, he’d still been naïve. He had acted under the notion that they were a solitary unit, that one single battle could end this struggle – that he’d kill the demon and he Sam and Dean would be free. Now, only at the end of his life, he knows better. His sons were born into this war and no one can outrun their own destiny. The fight was in their blood, literally.
There was no going back now, and he had to hope that he raised his boys with enough strength to finish it without him. He hoped they could succeed, but if they didn’t . . . he tried desperately to take comfort in the fact that they had loved each other and done their best. There was nothing else left; they were only human, after all.
Dean, forgive me for what I’m about to do. I’ve laid so many burdens at your feet already, and now I have to do it one more time.
John could see the worry and the fear in his oldest son’s face. Dean had always been just as smart as Sammy in his own way, and tears burned his eyes, despite his struggle to keep them at bay, because he is going to say goodbye and Dean won’t know it until it’s too late. He forced out a smile that was a combination of sad and grateful; there’s no joy. There never had been much of it in their lives.
“You know, when you were a kid, I’d come home from a hunt and after what I’d seen I’d be wrecked. And you – you’d come up to me and you’d put your hand on my shoulder and you’d look me in the eye and you’d say, ‘it’s okay dad.’ Dean, I’m sorry.” John whispered.
“Why?” Dean asked, immediately suspicious at the openness, the tears John can’t keep back.
God, it’s even harder than I thought.
John plowed ahead, because tim was running out and he wanted to say this. Everyone deserved acknowledgment for their love, even if was too little, too late.
“You shouldn’t have had to say that me. I should’ve been saying that to you. I put too much on your shoulders; I made you grow up too fast. You took care of Sammy and you took care of me. You did that and you didn’t complain, not once. I just want you to know that I am so proud of you.”
Dean’s suspicion was still there, increasing with each word. “Is it really you talking?”
“Yeah it’s really me.” John assured him.
“Why are you saying this stuff?”
“I want you to watch out for Sammy.”
“Yeah, Dad you know I will. . . “ there’s a pause and Dean looks almost panicked. “You’re scaring me.”
What do you say to a son who should be scared, better yet, completely terrified? John decided it was better to lie, because his son will need every ounce of strength that he has and it doesn’t matter what words give it to him.
“Don’t be scared, Dean.”
Damn it all, he didn’t want to do this, but he couldn’t think of any other way to offer protection to his boys.
John gave his oldest son one last smile and, with a prayer to whatever God there was, he leaned forward to lay the burden down on his son’s shoulders one last time.
If you can’t save Sammy, you’ve got to kill him . . .