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08 March 2015 @ 08:06 am
j'adoube: The Board Is Set (chapter 7)  
"Stay with me, John."




J'adoube

Chapter Seven
The Board Is Set

****

A/N: Before I close, I want to thank my betas for all of their assistance. Thank you Emmessann for your penetrating questions and for always making me think. Thank you to Numpty for coming in and pinch-hitting in these last chapters. She saved you all from several typos (the rest are all my fault). And thank you to my Aramis loving buddy, Sue Pokorny, who accompanied me on this journey from beginning to end. I thank her also for creating such a gorgeous poster for me on AO3 and Live Journal. You ladies are awesome!

A/N: Thank you to every single person who read this story…and especially to those who selflessly went above and beyond and left a review. I cannot thank you enough for that.

A/N: Assorted Pai Language translations are listed at the end of the chapter.



"Stay with me, John."

A figure haloed in golden light fluttered before him then winked out as he closed his lids against the scoring pain in his head.

"You with me, John Winchester?"

Hearing the gentle voice, John swallowed and opened his eyes again, taking time to focus on Yunosi as she smoothed his brow, her head wreathed in the flickering bonfire behind her.

He guided her hand away from his hammering forehead. "What happened?" Crooking his neck, he peered about him.

"Be still, John. You must rest. Allow your soul to find purchase after its journey."

"What fuck…what?" John sprang up, groggy and disoriented, but ready for a fight. Yunosi pressed an arm against him, trying to stop his addled charge.

"Don't John, please. You are not all here, yet."

John's head bobbled as he searched Yunosi's face. He remembered—remembered the glowing spirit attacking them, remembered Chickapanagie uttering the banishing spell, right before the creature had sent juiced bolts at them, and that was it. He remembered nothing more. He raised his hand and found the amulet twined about his fingers. "Where's…" His glance darted around until he spotted Tlootha and several others gathered around a figure on the ground. John startled up on coltish legs, swaying and staggering as he barreled through the crowd, falling to his knees at Tlootha's side.

"Easy Dála, don't move until you have fully anchored yourself," the Havasupai man urged his father, his young face full of care and worry. Chickapanagie grasped his torso, his breathing wet and shallow. "Tell me where you are hurt, Dála."

"I'm all right." The medicine man winced, adjusted his hand over his abdomen and wiped a daub of blood from his lips. "The Winged One sucker-punched me, but I will rise again—you know—if you'd stop hovering and let me rise, Humé." Chickapanagie grinned through his pain, slapped his son's shoulder, getting him to move back. John and Tlootha each took an arm and helped the older man sit.

Chickapanagie stretched his torso, twisting this way and that, trying to find a comfortable position. Taking a deep breath, he patted the hunter's face.

"Ahhh, I see you made it back in one piece, Johnny. Did anyone ever tell you your soul glows pretty?"

"Shut up." John gave the man a worried smile. "Let's get you off the ground and resting somewhere more comfortable."

Chickapanagie squeezed John's arm. "I have dispelled the magic tethering your son." He coughed and gripped his stomach.

"Dála…" Tlootha kept a hand on his father's shoulder.

The shaman took a deep breath. "But with the magic removed, I sense your children are in grave peril, especially the white pawn." He held up a hand in warning. "I see fire and ash. I sense great thirst. You must get to them as soon as you can. Time is running out."

A storm of adrenaline surged through John's body as he recalled the window in the white room and the strand of smoke rising from the desert. He noticed the moon high overhead. With a ten-mile hike and a long drive ahead of him, it'd be hours before he reached his kids.

"Sonofabitch. I'm sorry. I have to go. I have to go now."

Chickapanagie gripped his son with one hand and his staff with the other, rising gingerly to his feet. "Tlootha will fly you there. The pawns need their father. There is no time to waste on travel. Go, both of you."

"How can I leave you, Dála? You are wounded." Tlootha stood firm by his father.

The Havasupai man placed a hand against his son's cheek, his eyes shining. "Yunosi will help me to my hawa." He wiped sweat beads from his brow and turned to John. "It is done. My debt is repaid. Love your sons well, nya nuwa." He lifted his palm to his mouth and pressed it over his heart. "And try not to be such an asshole, huh?" He wagged a playful finger at John.

The medicine man leaned against Yunosi for support. "Come nya misi:'ye, help an old man." The girl put her arms around Chickapanagie as the crowd parted to let them pass.

Tlootha stood anxious and still as his father limped away. He spun toward John, fighting his worry. "Come John. Do not fear. I will get you to your children. Follow me."

****

"Dean!" Sam shook his brother. Getting no response, he fought against a swell of panic. He whimpered before stowing his shit, as his dad would have told him, and set to work, allowing his training to take over his actions.

His dad had taught Sam CPR last fall. He'd been pissed at the time, his father forcing him to miss a big soccer game while he spent hours in training. He was grateful for it now, though. He tilted Dean's head back, listened for breath, and, finding none, he gave his brother two breaths and felt for his pulse—nothing.

"Dean…please!" He flattened his hands and pumped his brother's chest thirty times before giving his brother two more breaths. As he started the second round of chest compressions, Dean choked and swallowed a gasping breath.

Sam's body flooded with relief and the world spun around him like a teacup ride. Time blinked and stuttered, and he found himself on his butt, having no memory of having fallen. He battled for balance, rose to his knees and resituated himself over Dean. His brother's brows pinched as he coughed and gagged. Sam eased him onto his side, making sure his airway remained clear.

"You're all right, Dean. Keep breathing. Oh, God…please keep breathing!" Sam rubbed Dean's bare back, massaging it with trembling hands. Every muscle in Sam's body quaked with fear and relief.

"Dean? Can you hear me? Can you open your eyes?" Sam worked to stimulate his brother, but he got no response. He sat there for some minutes, doing nothing but watching the rise and fall of Dean's chest, terrified it'd stop.

So intent upon this task, he never noticed the approaching lights. It wasn't until he heard the unmistakable whir of propeller blades in the distance that he glanced at the sky.

Following the sound to the north, he saw the blinking lights of a small helicopter, its search light panning the desert floor as it moved in their direction.

"Here! We're here!" Bounding to his feet, his legs buckled and he fell onto his ass again, so he screamed and waved his arms, praying they'd see them in the moonlight.

Whether it saw them or not, the helicopter flew right at them and slowed to a stop, hovering above the burnt-out cabin. The rotor blades whipped up a blizzard of dirt around them, stinging Sam's skin. He tucked his head down and bent over Dean, trying to protect him from further injury as the helicopter landed and cut its engine.

When the wind stopped, Sam chanced a peek. The doors opened and two men in traditional Native American dress jumped to the ground. One of them ran to the smoldering cabin.

"Sam! Dean!" His dad's voice rang shrill in the night.

"Dad!" The desert swallowed Sam's small, broken voice. He coughed, tried again, but his dad's rising horror and panic drowned out his words.

John circled the cabin, frantic. "Sam! Boys!"

"Dad!" Sam called. He lurched up and staggered a few steps before falling into the dust. His dad must have seen the movement in his peripheral vision, because he called to the pilot.

"Tlootha! Over there!" The two men sprinted up the rocky embankment.

"Christ…" His dad breathed the word, catching sight of Dean lying shirtless, covered with soot.

"Dad…sorry…" Sam choked the words out, trying to clear his throat. "Knocked over the lamp. Dean's bad, Dad. Wouldn't drink before the fire an' we had no water today. His han's are cut. He broke the window so we could get out. He's dyin' Dad. Help him, please."

John made no sign he heard him. He scooped Dean into his arms. "Son. Son!"

"He stopped breathing a few minutes ago. There was a bright light and he just stopped."

His father's eyes swept over Dean, listening for breath, checking his pulse. Finding it, he lifted him. "I got him. C'mon, move out, Sam." Sam strove to find his feet, but they went out from under him again. John startled, as if seeing him for the first time. "Oh Jesus, Sam. I'm sorry. I'll be right back."

"I have him, John." The helicopter pilot lifted him into his arms, and everything started to take on a surreal, dreamlike quality. Sam's ears echoed with a hollow buzz and his spine tingled. They'd been saved. Their dad was there—neither a hallucination nor a fanciful wish. His dad was there.

The thought tripped around his head and he repeated it aloud. "He's here. He's here."

He remembered the annoying pain in his nose when it hit the man's shoulder—remembered the guy adjusting and shifting under the sudden dead-weight in his arms, but beyond that…nothing.

****

His shoes squeaked on the floor as he trotted to the open elevator. The woman holding the door for him pointed to the buttons.

"What floor?" she asked.

"Eight, please." He grinned his thanks and leaned against the side of the car, humming…then singing under his breath:

"There'll be no strings to bind your hands
Not if my love can't bind your heart…"

The woman stepped back and fixed her attention on the display as the elevator slipped past each floor. "That's an oldie," she said idly.

"…But a goodie," he agreed and continued singing under his breath.

"There's no need to take a stand
For it was I who chose to start…"

The bell dinged. "…Oops…that's me!" He winked as the door hissed open. The woman gave him a small, amputated smile in return, pushing the button for her floor several times, encouraging the door to close on the off-putting man. Shrugging, he dusted his shoulder and gave her a tip of his head.

Strutting down the hallway, he hopped a step here and there, light on his feet as he continued singing:

"Just call me angel of the morning, Angel
Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby…"

He marched around a corner, passing the nurse's station.

"Just call me angel of the morning, Angel
Then slowly turn away…from me…"

He took another corner and slowed, surprised to see the door to the ICU guarded. He walked up to the tidy, black vessel standing there.

"Uriel? What are you doing here?"

Uriel pointed his steepled fingers at him, his back stiff, face aloof. "Michael sent me. He's not pleased, Zachariah. He wants a full report."

"Not pleased?" Zachariah staggered back a step. "What do you mean? He should be thrilled."

"You've been playing a dangerous game. You let two humans trap you, not to mention your little experiment scathed both vessels, nearly killing them."

Zachariah waved a dismissive hand. "Nonsense. They're fine. I had everything under control the entire time." He looked past Uriel's shoulder into the room. "Where is dear, old Dad?"

"He's down the hall with his other son at the moment. He's been splitting his time between them. Don't change the subject. Was it really necessary to take things this far?"

"Absolutely." Zachariah stood firm. "We've collected all the information we need, made all necessary adjustments to ensure victory. Both you and Michael will thank me for this. Every piece on the board is set." He clapped his hand on Uriel's shoulder. "Come with me, I'll show you."

Together the angels strode into the ICU where the attending nurse moved in, about to confront them. Zachariah smiled and pressed a finger to his lips. The woman stopped, blinked and went back to fiddling with her charts, the encounter forgotten, their presence unnoticed.

They took their places, one on each side of Dean's bed. The boy's hands and forearms lay swathed in bandages. Tubes and wires ran from machines into various entry points on his body. Zachariah placed a hand on his forehead, taking his own readings. There was nothing that wouldn't heal with time—nothing physical, anyway.

"So did he pass the test?" Uriel asked.

"Oh my, yes," Zachariah said, beaming. "He surpassed it. Removed from his environment, stripped of his memories—loyalties planted indelibly elsewhere—he still chose to give up his life to protect Sam."

"So?"

Zachariah huffed, boggling at the obtuse angel. "So, we know he'll sacrifice himself when it matters most. If he'll do it under these circumstances, imagine what he'll do with his memory and fidelity restored to full. There's nothing he won't do to keep his brother breathing. There's no price he won't pay if anything were to ever happen." He swirled his finger. "You get my drift?"

The angel chewed over his words, the light dawning, "Ohhh…"

"Yes, Ohhh…" Zachariah nodded. "Call this a dry run, if you will. And it worked like a charm. It's one thing to create a vessel, it's something else to calibrate an apocalypse. What good will it do for Michael to have the perfect vessel if events do not unfold in the proper sequence, resulting in his need for a vessel in the first place? We need more than a vessel. We need prophecy fulfilled. We need a Righteous Man—a man who will play his part—his whole part."

Uriel tipped his head in begrudging respect. "So, all of this was to be sure he would—"

"Yes. And now we know, don't we? Michael can rest easy. He'll do what we want when we want it. It's in his nature, he won't be able to not do it. It is a glorious day, Uriel. Paradise is ours to rule."

"Just so long as he says yes afterwards, of course."

Zachariah snorted. "Well, that won't be a problem. Look at him. See how much he cares for his brother and for other people? He'll be on board with that part of our plan, rest assured. Who wouldn't be honored to act as vessel for the mightiest of God's angels?"

"You're a genius, Zachariah. Michael will be pleased to know his vessel is ready."

Zachariah pursed his lips, nodding with pride. "Trust me, I have this all under control."

"Well, we both know that's not true," Uriel folded his arms, his chest puffed. "The shaman managed not only to trap you, but to dispel your illusion. A human, Zachariah…" He said the word with distaste, "…a human. Don't tell me you let it happen, either, because we both know the truth."

The angel jutted his chin, balanced on the balls of his vessel's heels. "I admit I was surprised by the human's strength. I didn't expect it. But since I was about to change Dean back anyway, I didn't thwart it. Still, we can't have that kind of power running amok, either." His eyes lit with mischief. "So, I've taken steps to ensure it doesn't happen again."

"Oh really?"

Zachariah shrugged, wiggled his jazz hands. "Stage Four stomach cancer. It is one of my specialties, after all. I can't have him gumming the works, now, can I? He knows who we are and where to find us. But that'll be behind us in two months, one week, three days and," he checked his watch, pointing, "forty-one minutes. There. See? I have it all under control. And besides, he just dispelled the illusion from the vessel. I had to put our supporting cast back in place myself."

"The family?"

"Yes indeed. Real people, real lives. Though, and this will interest you, brother—all those fractional adjustments, every minute calculation I had to make in order to insert the vessel into their lives—it made for some interesting variations. Given their druthers, I think they'd have chosen to stay as their altered versions—you know—if they had a say in the matter—which, of course, they don't. No, I've wiped their memories of Dean, recalibrated and restored their lives to their to original factory settings. Still, it's fascinating what the presence of one life can do. Almost makes me want to expand my field of study. A few more experiments could prove entertaining as well as informative." He cocked his head, bobbing it back and forth, considering. "But, another day, I suppose. So much to do in the next fifteen years, who'll have the time?"

"So that's it? Shall I inform Michael the vessel is secure and where we need him to be?"

"Of course. Not only is he secure, he's in better shape than ever. There is but one small adjustment left to make, and for that, I won't have to lift a finger."

"What adjustment?"

"The pièce de résistance. You'll see, brother…you'll see." He smiled like a shark. "Now to get out of this reeking piece of meat. I should have Michael's unending gratitude for wearing this thing as long as I have." Craning his nose away from the human scent, he dusted off his hands. As he did so, Dean's bloodshot eyes opened, swimming with both confusion and recognition.

Michael's young vessel gave his lips a slow lick, brows puckered. "Mr. Adler?"

Zachariah chuckled, extending two fingers and touching them to the vessel's forehead. "Yes Dean, very good. Now, go back to sleep."

With that, the boy slipped into a deep, dreamless slumber. And amid the ruffle of feathers, the angels departed, making ready to shed their vessels and spread their glad tidings throughout Heaven—Paradise was assured.

****

John spanned a hand across his forehead, pinching hot, dry lids, kneading his throbbing temples. With the help of Tlootha, he'd gotten the kids to a hospital in Flagstaff, where they'd been treated for dehydration, smoke inhalation, heatstroke and exposure. Dean had the added complication of blood loss from his lacerations and dehydration so severe his heart had stopped again on the gurney. His condition upon arrival had been so critical it had taken several hours of heroic measures before they'd stabilized him enough to move him to the ICU. John had been out of his mind with worry.

Over the past thirty-six hours, however, both boys' conditions had steadily improved, and their prognoses were optimistic. Sam had regained consciousness, but, of course, that came with a price for John. Though tired and weak, the kid had become an annoying patient, demanding he be allowed to sit with Dean. He wasn't in any shape to be doing that, and John had been forced to strong-arm the boy. So, now, on top of all his worry, he had a surly child refusing to talk to him. Lovely.

At least they hadn't been made. No one had questioned his ridiculous tale of having become separated from his kids while hiking and the boys taking shelter in an abandoned cabin until it'd caught fire. There hadn't been so much as a flutter of suspicion. In Sam's room, John had kept the TV on, waiting for updates on Will Darnell's abduction, but he saw nothing. It gave him hope Chickapanagie had fixed Dean, but he wouldn't know for sure until his son woke up—which he stubbornly refused to do.

Cupping the tips of Dean's bandaged fingers, he traced the grain of his boy's fingerprints with his own, waiting for him to wake, John's guts stewing over what'd greet him when he did.

As if in answer to his thought, John felt Dean's fingers stiffen and twitch in his hand. It took a moment for its meaning to register in his exhausted brain, but when it hit him, he bolted up, placing his other hand on the boy's chest.

"Hey, hey kiddo. You with me?"

His son's brows pleated and he brought his arm up to rub his head or face. John stopped him halfway there.

"Don't do that. You're all gauzed up, there, buddy-boy. Don't move your hands."

Opening bleary eyes, Dean stared at John for a long moment. "Dad?"

John's heart thumped in his throat. "The one and only. You know me?"

"Huh?" The kid battled his heavy lids, opening them only to have them fall again.

"Take your time, bud. You're safe."

His son widened his eyes, florescent green swimming with confusion. "Whah?"

"Relax. You're in the hospital, kinda been through the ringer, kiddo. But you're gonna be fine, I promise."

Dean searched John's face. "Dad?"

John nodded, repeated himself. "You know me?"

"Wha' kinna question's ‘at?"

"What's your name?"

Licking his lips, Dean lost the thread of the conversation. His lids drooped when he tried a second time to bring his hand up to his face. John stopped him again.

"I said, don't do that, kiddo. C'mon, what's your name?"

Breathing through his nose, he studied John's face, trying to work out the question in his slow brain. "Dean…Winchester."

"Birthdate?"

"Uh, January 24th, 1979." He attempted to rise, but John kept his hand on his chest, stilling him.

"One more…" He lowered his voice. "How do you take down a skinwalker?"

"A what?"

"A skinwalker. How do you take one down?"

"Uh…um…" Dean's lips pinched, trying to concentrate. "Uh, you shoot it."

"With…?"

"Silver bullet, bolt or arrow…in the heart."

Tears welled in John's eyes, and a flush of relief and exhaustion flowed through his body, leaving him light-headed. "That's good, Dean. Real good, son."

"What's…?" Dean looked at his father, worried, but then stopped short, the events of the past three months spilling over his face. His chest heaved. "Dad? What the…? Dad?"

"Shhhh, now." John checked on the nurse. Turning to Dean, he pressed a finger to his lips. "Quiet, bud. Stay calm, now. You're all right. We got you back."

One of the machines attached to the boy began wailing, and an army of nurses soon swamped them, pushing John away for several minutes while they examined the teen. By the time they allowed him back to the bedside, Dean lay fighting the effects of whatever light sedative they'd given to calm him.

"Dad?" Tears dripped from his long lashes. "Wha' happened?"

John thought about it a moment, unsure what to tell the kid, unsure what had happened himself. "We don't know. Some supernatural bastard got a hold of you, wiped your memories, planted a bunch of fake ones. It took us a while to track you. I'm sorry, kiddo. I'm sorry we couldn't get to you sooner."

Dean's eyes searched the ceiling, his face a stew of emotions: grief, shame, guilt—others too, maybe. John didn't label those, didn't want to think about it. "It's over now. Let's just stow it and move on, okay?"

Dean gasped. "Sam!" He lurched up again, despite the drugs.

"He's all right, Dean. Shhh…I mean it, now. Stay calm or they're gonna kick me out'a here." John thumbed toward the nurses. "Now, stand down, soldier." Dean immediately complied, though John could see the kid's heart fluttering in his chest. "Sam's gonna be all right. He's got his own room not far away. Once you're out'a the ICU we'll put you together. I'll see to that. And it won't be long until you're both out'a here for good. Play it cool for now."

Tears tracked toward Dean's ears. "I'm sorry, Dad. I'm so sorry." His chest hitched. "I was so awful to you. I was horrible to Sam. I thought those people were…" He didn't finish. He turned away from John, hiding his shame, hiding his grief and loss, too. John's stomach quivered at that, but he said nothing, burying it deep—snuffing it before it could see the light of day. His kid worked to do the same. Dean swallowed, cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, Dad. Do you hate me?"

His child's agonized eyes sought forgiveness and comfort, but how could John give him that without telling him how devastating the whole experience had been? How could he lay that at Dean's feet? How could he relay the fear, the worry, the anger and the terror of having come so close to losing him forever? How does any parent convey that to his kid? What good would it do to tell him how he and Sam had suffered through some of the darkest moments of their lives during their cross-country search for Dean? How could he ever make his son understand how much he loved him, how much he'd missed him, how he couldn't conceive of a world without him in it? He couldn't process any of that shit himself, how could he expect his kid to handle it? So, he didn't tell him any of that. The kid had been through enough. He didn't need that. So John opted to give him some good, old fashioned tough love. It was his default parental position after all, one Dean could relate to—one John felt comfortable with. So, he gave his little soldier what he needed.

John bent his head, studying his son. "I don't hate you kiddo. But you dropped the ball—let something take you, didn't you?"

Dean trembled from head to toe. "Dad—"

John held up his hand. "Did you forget to drop a salt line? We're gonna have to work on that. I gotta be able to trust you'll look after Sam, yeah? You can't do that if you let yourself get taken, now can you? I count on you, Dean. I count on you to take care of him, and you let me down."

"M'sorry, Dad. M'so sorry." Dean batted his head back and forth, squeezing his lids shut.

"What if something had tried to hurt Sam and you weren't there to protect him? I thought you learned your lesson with the Shtriga." The low blow had Dean flinching and John feeling like shit, but he didn't take it back. "We're not gonna have to go there again, are we?"

Dean's eyes boomeranged open. "No! No, Dad." He shriveled in on himself. "Sammy…I—I'm sorry."

"Right. We can't have that, kiddo, so you gotta stay in the game." He hated seeing Dean so crushed, but he knew he'd respond better to this than any sentimental crap they'd both feel awkward for later. He'd bounce back quicker from this than from a maudlin display.

John barreled on, "And Sam tells me you wouldn't eat or drink in the cabin. You wouldn't be in such bad shape now if you'd done what you've been trained to do. You get taken, you eat and drink whatever they give you. You stand no chance of busting free if you got no strength. Sam's in much better shape than you are because he wasn't stupid enough to refuse food and water. You get me?"

Guilt leveled his son, pushing him into the bed. "Okay, Dad. Yeah, okay. My fault. I was stupid. All my fault."

"Cut it out with the guilt. Man up, now." John smiled, stroked his kid's head. "Just need you to learn from your mistakes. Next time you'll know better, we clear?"

Dean nodded his head, leaning into his father's touch like a whipped dog. "Yeah, Dad. Won't let you down again."

"I know you won't, son. This is your job, and you'll do it. You'll look after Sam…protect him no matter what, right?"

"No matter what." Dean promised.

And seeing the humiliation and remorse in his son's eyes, John believed him.

****

"Hurry it up, Dean. We gotta get back on the road, you hear me? Bobby's expecting us to meet him in Des Moines tomorrow morning, and it's already 5:00pm now. We're gonna be driving all night as it is. Five minutes. I mean it."

Dean squeezed the newspaper in his anxious hands, twisting it into a tight tube, his intestines gurgling. "Okay, Dad. Wait here."

Opening the door, he stepped onto the sidewalk and took several deep breaths. It had taken a lot of convincing to get his dad to stop, but now that he was here, he wondered what in the hell he'd been thinking.

In the days following his and Sam's rescue, it had become evident no one was searching for him. His dad had told him a dear friend had helped him fix whatever had been done to him, but beyond that his dad refused to discuss the matter—said they never found what had done it and to quit asking. Dean wasn't sure if he believed him or not. Things got worse when the pilot who had helped save them visited, telling them how Dad's friend had fallen gravely ill. After that, his dad had left the hospital and gotten drunk. When he returned, he flat out refused to talk about it anymore. That topic became forever off limits—case closed.

Instead, his dad threw himself into research, checking with both the FBI and the Albuquerque Police Department for open kidnapping and missing persons cases. He found nothing. He'd called the TV station that had filed the report they'd watched in the motel in Gallup, but they had no idea what he was talking about and suggested he might have them confused with another TV station. His dad had found no record of any boy named Will Darnell ever having resided in Albuquerque or New Mexico. Still, his dad went to great lengths to vet the Darnells, making sure they had no history of having a son, before he grudgingly agreed to let Dean come here today. And that had been another battle, because he'd initially given him an emphatic hell no when he'd asked to go see them, but something must have softened his stance on the matter, because he'd come back the next day and told him he'd give him five minutes.

So, there he stood, legs quivering, intestines churning, staring at the house. It had been weeks since he'd seen it, but it felt like a lifetime—or another lifetime. Now that the spell had been broken, the planted memories from his supposed childhood had faded, and he couldn't understand how he'd ever believed them in the first place. That part had been easy to see through, but those real moments he'd spent with the Darnells, those three months of living his life among them—those true memories remained as crisp and sharp as whip wheels on sensitive skin. Those months had been real. He'd really attended his Middle School graduation, had watched his mother get all weepy and fuss because she'd forgotten tissues. He'd really hammed it up in front of his dad's video camera, posing with Macy in his corny cap and gown the school had made him wear. That'd all happened.

He remembered bouncing off the walls like a hyperactive maniac the day his parents had taken him to buy his bicycle, recalled the week spent with Granny. He'd really gone to see Jurassic Park on opening day with Macy. He'd played with her every day. All of it—every moment had been real. And a part of him, the shameful part he hid from his Dad and brother, the weak, disloyal, ugly part of him ached for them, still.

"Jesus Christ, Dean. Get the lead out already."

Rousing, Dean squared his shoulders. "Be right back."

Walking to the front door, he noticed his mother's small garden with her beloved apache plume was gone. It didn't appear to have ever been there. He wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans and climbed the steps. Heart racing, he knocked on a strange door with a fancy stained glass window inlaid into it. That was new. Twisting the newspaper in his hand, he saw the drapes in the front window part. Macy's pigtailed head peaked out and darted back. Hearing the pattering thump of someone approaching, Dean lost all moisture in his throat.

His mom opened the door. Well, no—not his mom. Cheryl opened the door, her thick, long hair collected in a barrette and spilling down her back—a departure from the tidy short-crop she'd worn when he'd been part of the family. It was pretty…but different. Very different.

Standing face to face with her, he could smell her perfume. That hadn't changed, and he remembered smelling it every time she'd hugged him, and he remembered, too, how he'd always brushed her off with a roll of his eyes. He'd been such an idiot. With his brain overtasked, churning through his memories, he said nothing. He just stood there blinking up at her.

After a few strained seconds, she arched one of her beautiful eyebrows at him, smiling playfully. "Can I help you, sweetie?"

Dean swallowed, unable to find his voice. He stared dumbly until Macy poked her head out from behind her mother.

"Mace…" the word slipped from his mouth before he could stop it.

Macy turned toward her mom for protection, revealing a fresh, disfiguring scar running from her mouth to her ear.

"What happened?" Dean's protective instincts took over, and he forced his way past Cheryl, trying to get to Macy. "What happened to her?"

"Uh, whoa, son. What's going on, here?" Cheryl stepped between Dean and Macy, pushing against his chest, keeping him from approaching the frightened girl.

Dean staggered, stuttered, "I—uh, I just—" He stepped away, shoulders slumped. "What happened to Macy?"

Cheryl gave him a cockeyed, confused look. "You two know each other?"

Dean thought fast. "I, uh…I know Nicole Hamilton. Her little sister plays with Macy a lot. I've seen her at Nicole's house. I didn't…I didn't know Macy'd gotten hurt."

"Ah, I see," Cheryl said. "Well, Macy had an accident while visiting her grandma a few months ago. She ran through a window."

Oh, God. Dean remembered that day. Macy'd been sitting by the pool playing with her Barbie dolls and had run to get a popsicle. She hadn't noticed Granny had closed the door. Dean'd seen it coming…saw she wasn't stopping and he'd run to her, caught her right before she hit the glass. He'd even sprained a finger grabbing her and had pitched her crap about it afterwards, too.

Stroking the girl's pigtails, Cheryl smiled at her daughter. "She's got a long journey ahead of her. She'll have to go through a few surgeries once she's fully healed, but she's a brave girl, aren't you, honey?"

Macy gave her mom half a smile—the other half deadened by obvious nerve damage.

Dean bent down to Macy. "I'm sorry, munchkin. I'm so sorry." The little girl hid her face from him.

"You'll have to excuse her," Cheryl patted her daughter's head, "she's shy around strangers. Hasn't grown out of that phase yet."

Dean's throat constricted. Of course. He was a stranger to her. Tears prickled behind his eyes, and he pursed his lips, fighting them back. "That's all right," he said at last. He held out his hands to the little girl, skin still raw and red from having his stitches removed less than a week ago. "See? I went through a window this summer, too. We're, like, brother and sister."

Macy's curiosity overcame her shyness and she looked at Dean's hands, eyes wide as she looked at the patchwork of scars.

"I got one here, too." She showed him another long scar on her upper arm. "Mommy says I'm still beautiful, though."

"You are," the words burst from him. "You're more beautiful than Miss America. And you're smart and funny, too, and…" he swallowed, "…and you're a good kid. I should'a told you more often."

Cheryl's brows pinched. "So, um, did you come to see Macy?"

Dean rose to his feet. "Uh, no. I came because of the ad in the paper." He waved the scrunched newspaper. "You found a bike. I think—I think it's mine."

That one eyebrow of hers shot up again. "Oh! I see. Yes, we found it in our carport. I don't know how it got there. Can you describe it?"

Dean's lip wobbled. "Yeah, it's a 1993 GT Pro Elite. It's got AME Pro Tri grips, Rhyno Lite rims, and Odyssey Pitbull brakes."

Cheryl laughed. "Well, I'm not sure about half the things you said, but it is a GT Pro Elite. Any other special marks on it?"

The boy thought a moment and remembered. "Yeah," he said. "I etched my initials into the paint right below the logo—WD. My name's Dean Winchester."

The woman's smile lit her face sunshine bright. "Yep, sounds like your bike, all right."

As she spoke, a newer, black Nissan Dean didn't recognize drove up, slowed as it passed the Impala and turned into the driveway.

"Oh, there's my husband now. Hang on, he'll show you where the bike is." She waved at her husband who stopped in front of the gate spanning the driveway. When the man got out, Dean stifled a gasp of shock.

He'd put on over twenty-five pounds since Dean had last seen him. He wore dress pants, a dark blazer and a tie, hair slicked back, nearly gray. He'd only had a smidge of salt-and-pepper around his temples last time Dean had seen him. Beyond the gray, though, his whole posture was off, worn and tired, shoulders hunched from a long day at work. Judging from that, Dean didn't suppose he enjoyed it much.

As he opened the gate, Cheryl called to him. "Joe, this is the owner of the bicycle." She walked down the steps, beckoning Dean to follow her. Macy clutched her mother's shirt and came, too.

Following, Dean saw his dad in the Impala motioning for him to hurry it up. Dean made eye contact, gave his dad the smallest of nods and walked with Cheryl to where Joe stood, opening the gate.

"This is Dean Winchester, honey. He's the kid who owns the bike."

Joe smiled. "Oh, so this is quite the reunion, huh?"

Dean paused. "Yeah. I—I missed it."

"Okay then, well let's get you two back together."

"I'm taking Macy inside. Dinner will be ready in five." Cheryl took her daughter's hand. "Come on, let's go, Monkey."

Both Dean and Macy glanced up at that. Dean cleared his throat and massaged the newspaper in his hands, twisting it tight before stuffing it into his back pocket.

Dean bent down to Macy. "You take care, munchkin."

Macy smiled shyly and waved a pinky at him before taking her mother's hand and walking way. Dean watched them until they disappeared into the house.

"All right, young man, let's go get that bike of yours." Joe held the gate open, motioning for him to enter.

"Thanks." Dean followed him, too numb to say more. Joe made small talk with him as they walked toward the carport.

"Is that your dad in the Impala?"

Dean peered over his shoulder. "Yeah, my dad and my brother."

"She's a beaut. '67, right?" Dean nodded. Joe whistled his longing. "I used to own a small garage. Gave it up about ten years ago, though. Always wanted to focus on restoration. Never got the chance." The man swept a hand through his gray hair.

Dean stopped, his heart breaking. "Why? Why would you do that? You were good at it."

The man chuckled. "How would you know? Maybe I was a crap mechanic."

"I just know. I can tell."

A wistful smile broke over Joe's face. "Aw, I dunno. Working for a steady paycheck seemed like a good idea at the time."

"You should quit your job and open a shop. You'd like it. You'd be great at it. I know you would."

"Oh, you think so, do ya?"

Dean remembered all the nights spent bent over an open hood, passing tools back and forth, Joe teaching him everything he knew…taking simple joy in sharing his passion with his son. "Sure as heck beats working for the man."

Joe laughed, "Well, I think my girls would have something to say about that. They're not into cars, much. I think I'd better stay where I am." He pointed to the bike leaning against the carport. "Here we go—your chariot young sir…"

The lump in Dean's throat made it impossible to utter a word. The bicycle looked the same as it had that day he'd ridden it to his dad's—to Joe's—shop. He touched the black paint, ran his fingers over his initials haphazardly carved into the frame.

"So what's WD stand for? Your initials?"

Dean nodded. "M'name is Dean Winchester."

"Ahhh, well, you mixed them up, there." Joe grinned, gave him a lighthearted poke.

"I know. I was just—confused that day."

"Well, as long as you found each other again…I guess that's all that counts." Joe winked at him, the crinkles in his eyes more pronounced than they had been—as if he'd aged an extra five years in the past month. "I can tell you missed her."

Dean squinted at the man. "I d—do. I did. I mean—" The words come out reedy, brittle.

"You okay, Dean?" Joe placed a concerned hand on his shoulder.

Dean drew his hand across his nose. "Yeah." He smiled shakily. "Yeah, sure. I just—I wanted to…" He offered the man his hand. "I wanted to thank you—for the bike—and…for everything."

Joe took his hand. "Uh, that's all right, kiddo. We didn't really do much. We woke up one morning and it found it in the carport. I guess whoever stole it dumped it here."

"Well, it means everything to me. You're an amazing guy, and—and you have a great family."

Joe chuckled, thinking Dean was nuts, no doubt, but he gave him a pat on the back. "Well, thanks, son."

Dean said nothing. He rolled the bike out from underneath the carport, mounted it at a hop, balancing with little effort, muscle memory taking over as he pivoted this way and that. He looked at Joe. "I'll never forget you."

Joe smiled, both amused and confused. He went to say something, but Dean stopped him.

"Tell my dad I'll be back later."

With that, Dean spun the bike around, and instead of taking the driveway, he cut into the alley behind the house. Standing on the pedals, he pumped furiously down the gravel road, hopped the curb, tore through the Baxter's driveway and sped along Bluewater Road. Hanging a right like he'd done a hundred times that summer, he stormed across Mrs. Minyard's lawn and pounded through the trail behind her house, connecting to the service road that led to the river.

At the riverbank, he let the bike fall with a clatter onto the pavement. He walked a few paces away towards the river and then back to the bike, his chest working in hectic bursts, adrenaline flowing, a million emotions storming through him until they boiled over, flying out of him in a blind rage.

He stampeded around the bike, blood burning his cheeks. "You're a dumb, ugly…useless, piece of crap bike." He kicked the front tire, stepped away then came back and kicked it again, harder. "You're stupid, you hear me? Stupid! I only wanted you because I was under a spell. I only wanted them because someone made me! You get me? You hear me, you idiotic hunk of junk?" His voice cracked and broke around the words, his throat desert-dry.

Heaving the bike up, he slammed it onto the pavement with a crash. "I don't want you. I don't need you! I should'a been watching over Sammy instead of wasting my time with you—with them. My brother needed me and I was off playing dumb kid-games. I wasn't there for him! I dropped the ball, just like Dad said! I fucked up. And I hate you for it—I fucking hate you! I hate the day I ever got you! That dumb day…" He snarled, grabbed the handlebars and dragged the crippled bike, its frame bent all to hell, as he loped toward the river.

"You're not special, you know that? You think I care? I don't! See?" He slammed the bike down again, fury coursing through his body, making him dizzy. He picked the bike up for a last time, swung it by its handlebars, supercharged by self-loathing, and he let it go with a primal grunt. The Rio Grande heartlessly swallowed it with a splash, and the sound echoed and echoed in his ringing ears as baby whirlpools gulped and slurped over its settling spot.

It took a full minute for it to register—for him to come down from his high. Standing there blinking, throat constricted tight, he released a high-pitched wail of devastated shock. Dean's shoulders knotted with defeat and regret, and he collapsed, drawing his knees to his chest. Clasping them with his raw, aching hands, he laid his head down, and cried—cried for what he'd done and for what he hadn't, mourned for his losses and for what he'd failed to preserve.

He'd screwed up. He should have been there for Sam. He'd fucked everything up, let himself get taken—let himself be happy. All his fault. He hadn't laid a salt-line when he should have—hadn't done his job. And there'd been his atrocious behavior after Sam and his dad had gotten him back. Sam nearly died and he'd done nothing to help. He had a vivid memory of Sam passing out and falling down the rocky hillside, but he had no recollection of anything after that. He must have keeled over, too, instead of holding his shit together. It was a miracle his brother had survived. He'd failed. His father had been right to ream him for it.

He looked at the dark, murky waters. Though buried too deep to see it, the water still eddied above the bike, the currents below having to find new pathways around the obstruction.

Dean took a deep breath, and another one. He'd make it up to Dad and to Sammy. "I'll do it right next time," he said aloud. "I won't drop the ball. I don't care what it takes or what I gotta do or what happens to me. I'm a Winchester. I'll never let you guys down again. I won't." He wiped tears away with the balls of his hands. "I won't. You'll see. I swear to God, you'll see."

He sat for some time, head in his hands, rocking on his heels and haunches. Deep in thought he didn't hear the Impala until it drew close. Recognizing the sound, he lifted his head and wiped his nose. Somehow they'd found him, just like they always would. Lumbering to his feet as if the weight of the world rested upon his shoulders, he hailed his dad.

Rolling down the window, the man barked at him, "What the hell's gotten into you, Dean? I told you I was on a schedule."

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir, it won't happen again."

"Get in. We got work to do."

Dean crossed in front of the car, opened the door and swung into the passenger seat. "Okay."

His dad gave him a penetrating glance. "Got your head in the game now, Dean?"

Dean turned his back on the river, stowing his shit two fathoms deep, his face set. "Hell, yeah. I'm good to go. I'm on the job. I won't screw it up, you have my word."

The End


Assorted Pai Vocabulary:

Dála ("Father")

Humé ("Son")

Hawa ("House")

Nya nuwa ("My friend")

Nya misi:'ye ("My daughter")

 
 
 
jpgr: SPN Dean & John hugjpgr on March 9th, 2015 04:42 pm (UTC)
Wow, I thought I'd be last in a long line of comments here. I had forgotten the day and what it meant.

Though this story was a bit shorter than your last two, it was still packed with both action and angst from all sides. I should have realized Zach was behind the whole thing. A test run, eh?

I'm so sad to see the end but what do we have to look forward to next? Do you still have that country club plot burning somewhere? I would just love for someone to have the boys have to carry off something of a long con, going undercover as it were with the upper crust, hanging out at a country or yacht club for a prolonged period.

Whatever you do next, it'll be amazing!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 9th, 2015 11:18 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks babe! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

I dunno what I'll do next! We'll have to see....decisions...decisions!

You're the very best. Thanks so much for all of your support. I appreciate it so much.

Kat
astafirastafir on March 9th, 2015 06:14 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed reading your story! I liked how Dean always stayed so Dean-like! He was so good with Macy, he saved Sammy even without any memory about him... I also liked Sam's reaction to slightly different Dean, the way he would be with two parents and without hunting... I really liked the moment when boys bonded in that cabin playing chess and just talking!
I hate Zach! And I hate Uriel! And I'm not so happy with John either! Could he not guilt-trip Dean?! The boy was already sorry and ashamed! So John could spare him that lecture... But that is just John!
And those Darnells actually would be a little bit happier with Dean in their lives... But it was Winchesters who were blessed with having Dean...
Thank you very much! The story was very exciting!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 9th, 2015 11:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much, astafir! I think John just doesn't think sometimes. I believe that HE believes he's doing what's best. I don't think he'd do what he does if he knew how much damage he was doing.

Thank you very much for taking the time to let me know you enjoyed the story. That does my heart good!

Kat
gluisa88gluisa88 on March 9th, 2015 06:25 pm (UTC)
Wow, my heart is breaking :((

Thank you so much for this- I loved every minute of it!!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 9th, 2015 11:21 pm (UTC)
Thank YOU for reading. I am so happy it sat well for you. :)

Kat
lidia1991_anlidia1991_an on March 10th, 2015 04:58 am (UTC)

Amazing story,I loved it! John was an ass to Dean,poor boy so much guilt!

Thank you and well done, can't wait for the next!

Hugs...
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 10th, 2015 04:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks lidia! I'm so glad you liked it! John was certainly blind...I think he means well...but he just eff's up when it comes to those important emotional moments, I think. He doesn't realize how unhelpful his "help" is a lot of the time.

/hugs right back!

Kat
tifachingtifaching on March 12th, 2015 12:52 am (UTC)
I should have known Zachariah was behind this, the giant douchebag. I don't know who I'm angrier at, him or John putting the final touches on setting the wheels in motion that would send Dean to break in hell as the Righteous Man. Grrrrrrrrr.

And Dean going back and trashing his bike. Break my heart.

Gorgeous, well plotted and packed with enough Dean whump to satisfy me. Thanks!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 12th, 2015 02:06 am (UTC)
Thanks Tif! I appreciate that. Haha...yeah, Zachariah is a douchebag. Though, there was a little hint that it was him all along..."Mr. Adler" was the name of Dean Smith's boss (Zachariah) in "It's a Terrible Life". ;) Gotcha! LOL. But don't feel bad, I had to look up the name when I decided to use it. I couldn't remember what it was, either.

Yeah...John, John, John...he really, truly loves his sons, but he does damage them at times, and this is a heartbreaking moment when the extent of that damage is made manifest.

Thank you for the support, babe. You're my hero. :)

Kat
tifachingtifaching on March 12th, 2015 02:20 am (UTC)
When Dean saw Zachariah in the hospital and called him Mr. Adler, I made the connection but not before. Nicely played. :)
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 12th, 2015 02:33 am (UTC)
Mwahahaha... ;)
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2015 01:20 am (UTC)
I had written a longer comment but it did not go through. In short I wanted to say that this was a wonderfully written story. Your depth and detail and your characterizations were very well done. It was a sad ending here because Dean Winchester can never have the life he was given here. And the amount of stress and pressure he has always felt upon himself to take care of others before himself will never allow Dean to have a normal life. For Dean it is just not meant to be.
All your stories are written with a clear pleasure that comes through to the reader. All the chapters flow well together and keep the story moving. You wrote a story in the past that I cannot recall the name of. It concerned Dean being thrown back into the Dust Bowl period. It was written so well with so much history and detail to it. Like I said before it is like you paint a portrait with your words.
The only bad things about these stories is that they eventually do end. And as soon as they do I find myself looking greedily for the next one.
Thank You for sharing this with me. It was a pleasure to read it. This post will not allow me to post under Taylorariel so I will enter as Anonymous instead.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 15th, 2015 01:46 am (UTC)
Oh dear...you got to love Live Journal sometimes, huh?!

Thank you for going to heroic lengths to say such lovely things to me, Taylorariel, you cannot know how much that means to me.

Yes, I think a bittersweet ending is about as good as it ever gets for poor Dean. I fear the show will not even give us that when the end finally does come. Yikes! But we'll see.

D'awww! Thank you for you remembering Dust Devils (well...not the name...but the story...*wink-wink*). That particular story is very close to my heart, so whenever anyone has a kind word for it, it always makes my night. So, you've made my night TWICE. I sprinkle you with good karma for that. :)

Thanks again, hon. Mwah!

Kat
Somersomer on March 22nd, 2015 08:06 pm (UTC)
alskdjfksg;alskdjfhkgjse;alsjkfh DAMN YOU FOR WRITING SUCH PERFECT STORIES!!! Man, this was good, so damn good!! Read it on this lazy Sunday afernoon and I doesn't regret a single minute!!! Loved the whole chess theme, including the name of the chapters and how it played out in the fic itself!

ALL THE DEAN WHUMPAGE IN THE WORLD *hugs you*

She beamed at him. Her cascading blonde hair brought a lump to his throat, despite knowing his mom’s hair was short and dark. It was confusing, but it was right, too. And in the end, it didn’t matter. She was here, and she had him, and everything was going to be all right.

Kneeling, she pressed a loving hand to his cheek. “You are my little angel,” she cooed to him, a tender smile playing on her lips.


Oh man, oh man. Goosebumps all over the place!!! And this...

We need more than a vessel. We need prophecy fulfilled. We need a Righteous Man—a man who will play his part—his whole part.

They never stood a chance! So damn awesome! Okay, seriously, thank you so much for writing this story. I enjoyed everything. From the moment they got Dean, to the cabin, the AWESOME secondary characters, and especially the time Sam and Dean spend in that cabin, bonding despite everything! The bike, John's behavior in the end at Dean's bedside *sniffs*!!

Perfect, just perfect!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 22nd, 2015 09:59 pm (UTC)
What a sweetheart you are. Thank you so much for all of these incredibly kind and encouraging words. I'm so, so, SO happy you enjoyed this story.

There can never be too many fics that explore Dean's "Dean-ness" and how that Dean-ness came to be.

Thank you again...I can't tell you how much it means.

Kat
fangirl29fangirl29 on November 25th, 2015 08:50 pm (UTC)
Heartwarming
I have a confession to make. I stopped watching SPN after the disaster that was season 6. Thanks to Netflix, I've been skimming the episode lists & choosing the episodes I want to watch. Needless to say, I make sure to revisit my favorite Dean-centric episodes, the ones that focus on the angst & guilt he carries. You so beautifully created a very credible backstory that blends seamlessly into SPN cannon. I love it! You're my favorite SPN ff author! I only wish I would win the lottery so I could pay you to write full time!!! Thank you so much for such a beautifully crafted story. Your attention to detail, plot & characterization is truly phenomenal & greatly appreciated! Happy Thanksgiving!!!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on November 25th, 2015 10:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Heartwarming
Aw, hun...thank you so much! I'm so glad you liked this story.

Oh yeah, right? SPN after S5 is not my favorite either. That's why I tend to set my stories in the early (or pre) seasons. The characters have become somewhat unsympathetic, canon's been twisted and changed and flat-out disregarded, and the whole "vibe" is different. I ache for the dark tones of S1-S2. They never should have brightened the show.

But, I guess that's all part of the "aging show" gig. I think most series have their golden years...and they're almost never the later years. Heh.

However, I'm tickled beyond words that you dropped by gave this story a go. Makes me so happy.

You take the best of care, and I hope to see you around again.

Kat