|Ashamed because of their sacrifices.
Eleventh in the Second Sight Series
Supernatural, all audiences, future-fic, slash. Minor character death. Implied character death.
Characters: Sam/Dean (implied), John, Pastor Jim
Contiguous to Make known to me the path of life
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
§The wind hath wrapped her up in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.§
He and Kate were never close, even as children. Obligated by blood more than anything. He disagreed with her choice of husband; she'd been completely distraught and upset when he'd joined the service, afraid her baby brother would become a killer.
He was more or less wrong about Mike. She'd been more or less right about John's future.
Kate's always been one to assess people pretty accurately, used to know when John was in trouble or about to be. She said it was because she was his sister and knew him better than anyone. Later with her own kids, she said it was just a mother's instinct. Never was a spectacular thing. Didn't lift any wrecked cars off her children or keep her eldest from breaking his leg in three places on a ski trip. Didn't warn her when the oldest girl miscarried first time she got pregnant but still…for someone with no sight, she's a hell of a guesser.
Sometimes he wonders if it doesn't run in the family anyway…if maybe it is his side of the family as much as anything that has contributed to Sam being how he is.
They are still not comfortable with each other entirely, he and Kate, but blood and obligation, those can be powerful bridges. And Kate's a kind woman in her own way. Early on she and Mike had offered to take the boys for awhile, because Sam was an infant and Dean just a child.
He'd viewed that offer with more suspicion that was probably fair; still reeling from Mary's death, from how she died, and seeing threats everywhere -- even in his own sister.
And then there had been the outright fear and denial of having Sam grow up calling anyone but Mary momma. So, John had made sure he'd grown up calling no one that. He didn't intend it to be that way, but he wonders sometimes…he can't help but wonder.
Most of the pictures he has have faded now, the colors bleeding to browns and grays. Dean finally took the best of them, had them copied or scanned or something, put on a CD, keeping the color of Mary's eyes bright and true, the flag of Dean's own childish blond hair still shining, kept Sam's sweet childish face free of lines but full of freckles. He'd given John a copy, way back when.
John never looks at it. Instead he sometimes opens the box and fingers the old, faded photographs, like maybe once they are completely impossible to see except with the aid of memory, all the sorrow and regret and pain, and fear and loss will fade too.
It's taken a lot longer than it should.
He's got some newer pictures though. There's a nice one in his living room, of Sam and Dean and their trip to the Grand Canyon a decade or so back, taken by one of the guides: the two of them, men full-grown, silver already tinting their hair before Sam even reached forty. Dean laughing at something, a hand on Sam's chest, the other on his shoulder. And Sam with that teeth-flashing bright smile of his, head back.
He can see Dean's eyes, the lines at the corner, the green-brown that’s settled more toward hazel than green as he's gotten older.
Sam's eyes are hidden by dark glasses; thin framed and tinted smoky blue.
It had taken a lot of years for John's to be to look his youngest son in the eye again, with or without glasses. He could look at older photos and still see the brown tinged with green, darker than his brother's eyes, but to look at Sam after he lost his sight, to see the cloudy blue-white film that John had only ever seen on undead or evil things, or on the very, very old…he couldn't look at Sam and see that. Couldn't force himself to do more than glance at him then quickly away.
Sam knew. John had watched him when he'd show up suddenly like he sometimes did back then, watched Sam fumble and feel for his glasses, looking away until he could hide his eyes, like he's ashamed.
It was never Sam's shame that made John look away.
He never confronted them about it. Never let on that he knew. First because he was angry, maybe even disgusted, scared for them, which later would make him laugh at himself for being scared of this thing between them when he himself had put them in front of far more damaging and dangerous things.
He thought he'd given up on God when Mary died. Figured he pretty much tossed society's morality out the window the first time he'd killed something that had been human; who maybe still was but he didn't have the time or the knowledge to be sure, then.
He didn't think Dean would stick it out as long as he did, no matter how much his eldest loved his brother. John and Sam both underestimated Dean badly. But mostly they just misunderstood what drove him. And it was more than family, more than obligation, more than fear for Sam. It was even more than Dean needing to be needed which was true, no matter how cruelly that had been tossed in his face by the demon that had shadowed all of their lives for too long. It had been used like an insult, like a weakness, presented like a flaw in Dean's character.
Mostly because John himself kind of thought that way -- not sure how he'd ever fostered a need in his son when he himself had tried to hold fast and true to not needing anyone.
Different when the boys were young -- they were children, of course they needed their father. And being needed had pulled John through some rough patches; kept him from eating his gun instead of feeding the boys; kept him from drowning in the bottom of a bottle instead of giving Sammy a bath; kept him from driving into oncoming traffic instead of driving the boys to school.
Dean had always been both smart and observant. Took John a lot of years after his talk with Jim to realize Dean had learned that from him too -- that there was strength in being needed, in having to be there for someone, in choosing to be there for the people you loved. It took a lot of strength when maybe what you wanted to do was run.
So, first, he thought it was need that made his boys make a choice that he couldn't quite get his mind around. Couldn't get his heart around. He'd have probably figured it out earlier if he hadn't been so busy looking away from Sam, unable to look at his son's eyes and see his own failure there.
He missed, at first, the fact that blind or not, crippled by visions or not, Sam got stronger staying in one place. He got steadier and calmer. Dean had always needed something to focus on, something to keep him from taking all that need to do something from ripping him apart, making him reckless.
He'd stayed with them off and on during those first few years. Took over Sam's bedroom while Sam slept in his office. John had protested that at first but the sofa was long and comfortable and Sam actually slept there a lot even when they didn't have a guest. There were signs all along, and hunter that he was, John had missed it. Missed it because he didn't want to see.
When the boys went to the Grand Canyon, it hit him. He'd stayed in Sam's room like he usually did. Found the necessary tidiness a little unnerving. Thing stayed the same in much of their world -- had to. Sam's books, in order, all labeled. His clothes hung just so and tagged. Even his t-shirts and jeans. Order gave Sam freedom of a kind.
But the week had gone by slow and John had prowled. Made sure he put things back where he found them -- books, plates, cups. Remote control always in the same place. It was kind of like being back in the marines. Order, discipline, and more order.
Dean's room had been much the same, something John hadn't noticed at first. Not really. He'd gone looking for books that weren't in Braille or not in the mix of Braille and type, just because Sam's books were heavy -- needed the paper to be a heavier weight so the imprints wouldn't fade from being reread.
And Dean had paperbacks. Had music too, and his taste and John's had always been more closely aligned than Sam's with anybody's.
All the paperback were marked with Braille tags too. The tapes, the CD's.
Mid-week then when John had sat in the chair in Dean's room, used the stereo there to read and listen and found himself staring at the heavy book on the bedside table. Recent release. In Braille. Still didn't connect fully, that book, Dean's room. Sam read aloud a lot. Not just for his work. John had listened to him, sitting downstairs after a good meal, a couple of drinks, with his boys. Not watching television, just listening to Sam read.
Took him too long still, and when it hit him, he forgot for a little while that his sons were grown men. He'd checked Dean's drawers; dresser and bedside table, checked like he had when Dean was sixteen and John suspected him of trying to hide drugs.
Dean wasn't trying to hide anything. It was all there, precisely laid out, marked in Braille and while he could have just marked it off as Dean being thorough, he knew the Braille markings on the box and the bottle weren't for Dean at all. The extra large shirts in his dresser weren't there for him.
That alone wouldn't be enough to have told him, but there was so much -- what he'd noticed without knowing he'd noticed. Meant nothing that Sam moved with his hand on Dean's shoulder when they walked strange paths, through shopping malls or, going out to eat. Should have meant nothing in those quiet times after a good meal when Sam would read and Dean would stretch out on the couch with his feet in Sam's legs, calves the braces Sam used to rest his heavy books on so he could find the words with his fingers. They were brothers. They'd almost been close, shoving and pushing at each other, Dean forever catching Sam in a headlock to drag him places, tickling Sam until he was red-faced and laughing. Made sense that they'd touch more when Sam had to rely so heavily on Dean to be able to see the world at all.
He never saw them kiss or anything that meant anything more than what it was. Never read anything into the few times he'd caught them after a call, after a vision -- marking the body count, Sam with a glass in his hand, head bent low and Dean showing nothing on his face because John was there, but his hand would rest on Sam's head, sort through the tangles, comfort and presence all in one. Never really noticed or thought much about the funerals they'd attended when Dean would check Sam's tie, smooth his shirt. Wordlessly checking on his brother and Sam checking on him in the silent language of brothers.
Never wondered once, when they'd sit down to breakfast and Sam's hand would come out to pat Dean low on the belly before getting down the plates. There were brothers, partners, friends maybe most of all.
He sat in the dark for a long time with a carefully marked box of condoms in his hand and just stared at nothing. Wondering what he'd done, how he'd messed up this thing, twisted his sons more than demons or spirits or danger had ever managed. Wondered if it was Sam's need or Dean's or both that had driven them to this. Wondered how to fix it.
Sat for a long, long time.
Then he got drunk.
Thursday he decided he was wrong. His boys were good men…they wouldn't.
Re-examined every touch, every clasp of arms or hands.
Dean never talked about women anymore. Still flirted and teased when they went out. Sam hadn't been with anyone that John knew of since….since…
He started drinking again Thursday night, but more slowly. Apologized to Mary. Apologized to his boys. Thought about his old corps brothers; men in the field, men who were scared, or lonely, or just bored. It wasn't the same. They went back afterward; lives, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends -- John didn't care much about that. They went back. What happened in the dark, when you didn't need to feel alone. Not so much touching and contact as much as just not being alone.
But the war, their war, it was over. It was, wasn't it? Even if John still hunted and Dean too sometimes…it wasn't the same. It was…done. They'd killed the worst of their nightmares. Sam had killed…
It was dawn before he realized it wasn't over. That for Sam it would never be over. You didn't leave a man behind. Dead or alive, you didn't leave him alone.
Sam couldn't leave the field. And for the first time maybe he got, not in his brain or his heart but in his soul, what had made Dean so angry years before. They couldn't take Sam with them. John had said it but he hadn't meant it that way. The battle, whatever was left of it was still being fought, just …now it was being fought in Sam's head, in his eyes. They could run, keep moving but that war, that battle, Sam couldn't escape it.
He sat on the porch of his sons' house, drinking strong black coffee, staring at the morning and stopped thinking about all that was wrong with this and thought about what was right. Or if not right in the actions, at least what was right in the reasons.
He couldn’t shed it all. He couldn't approve. They never had nor ever would ask it of him. They were his sons and he loved them. They were good men. They'd always loved each other. There was nothing wrong in that at all. They were good men.
Good men have nothing to be ashamed of.
But John could be. He could be ashamed that he didn't have it in him to give them what they'd never ask for -- unconditional love was supposed to be a parent's gift to their children.
He couldn't love this.
But he could give them his silence, his continued ignorance. They would be circumspect and he would be…blind.
It's funny how things came to you sometimes. A letter from a lawyer to let him know that Jim had left him that rambling old farm of his, even though he knew John wasn't a farmer and never had been. He could have leased the land to Jim's neighbors or sold it. John did neither; he called the boys and they packed up his stuff and moved him up there.
He knew why Jim did it, of course. There were things in the house, secured away in the basement and attic and out in the barn that didn't need to be found by Jim's scattered and distant family. And there was a need for Jim's place to be where it was and how it was, for the others still out on the road, hunting in the towns and fields and dark places.
Jim called Sam too, finally, sometime after he hit seventy, to tell Sam to let it be, no matter what it was.
But Sam couldn't, for once, only he hadn't called Jim, he'd called John first.
"It's a fire, Dad. At the church. He's not alone."
For some reason that made John angrier than it should have and only later, afterward, did he know why. He thought it was wrong, that it was cruel for Jim to put that back on Sam. Forgot about the other people who'd be there, didn't care to save their lives at the cost of what John was pretty sure was Sam's soul.
"He's made his choice, son. You need to respect that," John said.
It was Dean who called, of course, and Jim died anyway. Folks at the church -- the altar guild that morning -- said he went back in like he thought there was something, someone in there…and didn't come out again.
No one else died that day.
The church burned to the ground and the only good thing about it was that all that was left to John to do was to salt the remains.
He figured the right cross Dean landed on his jaw a few hours after Jim's funeral was probably deserved. He took it as a compliment that his son still thought him fit enough at sixty-two to take a punch.
Sam didn't say a thing to him about it. Maybe because it was easier to let Dean express his anger for him, or maybe it was because Sam actually understood John better than any son should ever have to understand his father.
Dean was still pissed off hours later when they sat around Jim's big, out-of-date kitchen with a few lingering friends; a couple of bottles of Southern Comfort split up between them and one very good bottle of scotch laid to rest, much like its owner.
There was a stack of Braille translations on Jim's desk with Sam's name on them, and John watched Dean trace his fingertips over them, eyes half closed, reading more slowly than Sam, but reading it. Something John had never learned to do.
"You proud of your boys, Johnny? You think you did good raising them?"
Jim had asked him that one night years ago when the autumn was burning bright and red and gold and orange through the trees, and everything smelled like wood-smoke and cold even though there were no fires burning and John was sitting on Jim's broad porch in his shirtsleeves with a cold beer in his hand.
"Of course I did. They're good men, both of them."
Jim didn't disagree, didn't say anything else until John slid a glance at him, looking at that placid, aged face, and rolled his eyes.
"What? I should tell them more often?"
Jim hadn't even looked at him, only drained his own bottle. "Naw. Just thinking you ought to tell yourself that more often, until you stop trying to convince yourself and actually believe it."
"You are so full of shit."
Jim had only grinned, leaned back on his elbows on the steps, watching the sun settle. "Nothing you did brought this on them. Not Mary and not Sam."
"I never thought that."
"Now who's full of shit? You keep thinking evil picked on you and yours for some reason. And it did, but for its own reasons, not because you or Mary or your boys deserved it. This was never the smiting hand of God, John."
"God's got fuck-all to do with any of this," John said.
"God's got everything to do with this. You are just too damn stubborn to see it because you're still looking for a reason."
"Damn right I am! Aren't you? And if you aren't what the hell are you still doing in this business?"
"I'm in this business for the same reason I'm in my other business. To save souls, if I can," Jim said. "You got in the business to avenge your wife's death and destroy the thing that killed her. Well, you've done that. Your boys have done that."
"It's not done."
"Demon's gone, just like you swore."
"Sam called you lately, Jim?" John had asked and got up to get another beer.
Of course Sam had, more than once. Called people John only barely knew, and he watched Sam pull back, pull away a little every time he did, whether he saved them or not. Sitting in Jim's kitchen after his death John knew Sam wasn't the only one.
These people sharing a drink with them were people Sam and Dean had known since they were kids, most of them. More than one had gotten a phone call from Sam over the years. A relayed message.
John knew he wasn't the only one who sometimes looked at the number displayed on his phone or heard the familiar voice on his answering machine and thought…not this time. Not at this price.
John's never not answered the phone. But he's thought about it, let it ring two, three, sometime four times before he answers.
And watching them, seeing Dean stick close to his brother, making people come to them if they want to talk to him, to either of them, he knows Dean's never not answered the phone on the first ring. That without Dean there, Sam would draw back until he was all but invisible.
Respecting Jim's choices hadn't been even part of it.
At sixty-two, John Winchester decided that it was about time he started respecting the choices his sons made.
Dean had just turned forty. Sam was coming up on his thirty-sixth birthday. Sam'd been living with this curse for a third his life.
Watching them both he believed what he told Jim all those years ago. He'd done a good job raising his sons. They were good men, both of them.
And if worth and success are based on results, then he's good man too.
Good men have nothing to be ashamed of.
He didn't mean to stay. After they got back from their rafting trip; he meant to leave quickly. Wasn't sure he could look them in the face, either of them.
But there was Sam, bruised up and battered. There was Dean, hovering a little but never close enough for Sam to know it, except he did, reached out and found Dean there when he was getting out of the car, holding his arm stiffly, but no longer foolish enough not to accept help when he needed it. Complicated dance his boys did, proud and stubborn both of them.
"What the hell happened to you?"
"I fell out of the raft."
"You dove out of the raft."
"That would imply I meant to do it."
"No. I meant to keep you from falling out of the raft."
There was a kind of anger Dean reserved for Sam only when Sam said or did something that Dean both agreed with and didn't. It had driven John crazy when they were growing up, how Sam could do all the wrong things for all the right reasons and vice versa.
His heart's in the right place, John, Jim had told him more than once, usually after Sam had been hurt enough to need to stay with Jim for a few days.
I'd rather he had his head in the right place.
What makes you think it isn't?
Because he's in there with a busted up leg, and it's going to be a week at least before we get on the road again.
Jim had only grinned at him. The Lord does work in mysterious ways.
More than once John had wanted to plant a fist right on that smug grin of Jim's.
It takes him awhile to get the whole story; in between unloading the car and putting things away. After the beers Sam passes around but before any food is actually eaten. Somewhere in between unpacking and sorting, and Dean swearing he will break Sam's arm if he picks up one more thing, but before he keeps Sam from tripping over the stack of things left at the bottom of the stairs to be carried up.
Somewhere amidst the bickering and the concern masked by sniping at each other, occasionally at John, between the descriptions of beautiful country and the sound of water in a canyon, John actually stops trying to see what he doesn't want to and realizes how he missed any of it to begin with.
They are still the same, his sons. The men his sons have grown to be. The signs he examined in retrospect were only there because they'd remained unchanged. Whatever else his sons have become to each other, they are still what they've always been to each other, both strength and refuge. Sam is and always has been Dean's reason for being, and Dean is and will forever be the reason Sam never gives up, never quits, never backs down.
For the first time in a lot of years, John Winchester looks into the eyes of his youngest son and actually sees. Not just the pale, disconcerting whiteness that hides most of his eyes, the faint show of pupil and iris under a film that glistens. It's still hard to look and see the visible evidence of both their victory and their failure.
The demon may be gone but Sam's still a killer, by action or inaction, he's still got far too many deaths that can be laid at his feet. At their feet.
It's the knowledge of that that John can see in Sam's eyes. It's a horrible thing to think about, to know, to have to realize he's as much a part of it as Sam is. That in some ways, he's as much to blame as the demon.
He knows why Dean never looks away, doesn't flinch or hesitate to look Sam in the eye. And some part of him knows, even though he doesn't want to, that whatever else is between them, it rarely happens in the cover of darkness. That Dean will never look away or not see his brother.
He doesn't have to think too hard about why Sam would have flung himself from a flimsy raft into rough water.
And maybe Jim was right all those years ago, about God having his hand in all this, not to punish, but stepping in anyway, strangely and unpredictably.
If good men have nothing to be ashamed of, then there's no reason for John to be ashamed of the men his sons have become, the man he's become.
And when he looks in the eyes of his sons, both of them, to tell them he loves them and welcome home, he's pretty sure Jim Murphy is laughing his ass off.
He's still pretty fit at eighty-two. His joints are a little looser, his muscles not quite as strong. His hair has been grey for years and sometimes he gets a twinge in his chest and an ache in his arm. He knows what it is.
He sees the boys a lot more often now. Arranged the first floor of the old farmhouse with less clutter, furniture than never moves, cabinets in the kitchen marked and organized. The boys don’t want the house -- it's too far from things for Sam, too isolated in winter. Most of the accumulated texts and books have been moved to the little house in the heartland, stored and shelved in the basement John helped Dean finish off a decade earlier.
When Sam called a month ago and asked him to come there for a long stay, John knew it wasn't because Sam missed him. Sam didn't say it but he didn't have to. He's gotten good, better at knowing what and when and how and even how many will be affected. Dean's the man the others go to, who they call, who they occasionally ask to help out. It's been twenty years since Jim died. Things are picking up again but John's long known there had to be someone for the younger ones, the new hunters, to go to.
And maybe he should have gone to his sons when they called.
"Dad, we're headed your way tomorrow. Just for a couple of days," Dean said when he called on Saturday.
"As long as you bring the beer," John told him which made Dean laugh, but John could hear it in his voice -- a tinge of fear, of worry, of sorrow.
He spent the day and night getting a few things ready. He really hadn't expected to live this long; surprised that the last few years hadn't been as burdensome as he'd feared.
Sat down on his steps on Sunday with a cold beer and watched the road, could see the dust approaching as the car came down the old lane.
When his phone rang he picked it up on the first ring, just as he had been for years now.