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A Hole in the World

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There's a hole in the world tonight.
There's a Cloud of fear and sorrow. There's a hole in the world tonight.
Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.

They say that anger is just love disappointed.
They say that love is just a state of mind,
But all this fighting over who will be anointed.
Oh how can people be so blind?

- The Eagles, "Hole in the World"


No one quite knows what ended the world. Well, if people knew—scholars, politicians—they weren’t telling the rest of humanity. Not that there was much of humanity left to tell.

Evolution, they called it, when the population bottlenecked and humans became an endangered species for a time. Everything was threatened, and more than one species fell off the map entirely. And for a long while, humanity teetered there as well. Maybe it was evolution. Maybe it was man-made, with scientists forcing the issue of humanity’s survival. Maybe the pervasive gray ash that clung in the air did something, changed something. Maybe a lot of someones had somehow gotten frisky outside the species, with potential human mates dwindling. And hell, maybe the religious fringe were right and the apocalypse had happened, and they were cursed. By now, no one knows. No one cares. The world is as it is.

Humanity changed to make breeding imperative, their bodies transforming over time and through increasingly pitiful generations to something more. . . efficient.

Why should the human body produce two milliliters of ejaculate and call it quits, when it had the potential to pump through multiple orgasms, knotting a pair together for hours and saturating a womb?

Why release only one egg per month, or two, when a fertile woman is born with 400,000, of which only .1 percent will ever be released, and beyond that only one or two will be fertilized?  

Why should humans be one of the few species so sense-blinded that they didn’t scent when a potential mate would be most fertile? Why should a species that so needed to expand to survive escape the driving biological imperative to reproduce?

Perhaps most curious of all, however, was the element of adjustment to the concept of gender within the species.


Home sweet home, Lawrence Kansas, and the bar where everyone knows your name.

Dean Winchester is pretty sure there are people in this blighted, godforsaken country that romanticize that sort of crap, but Dean will never be among them. There are good reasons he left Lawrence, reasons that are becoming readily apparent the longer he's here, but he'll be damned if he's going to go into hiding now that he's back.

“C’mon, breeder. . . you want to ride my knot, baby? Split you open on my cock, stuff you so full you’re sore for. . .”

“About five fucking minutes, probably. If that.” Raising two fingers to signal another shot he probably doesn’t need, Dean grits his teeth over the rest of his intended tirade at the warning look Ellen shoots him from the other side of the Roadhouse, where she’s rounding up orders for a group around the poker tables. He’s feeling loose and reckless at this point in the night, more than a bit agitated about being home, and if it starts a bar fight so be it. Ellen will forgive him for it eventually as long as he doesn’t pull a knife or break anything expensive. That’s what family’s for.

“What the fuck did you just say to me, bitch?” Fetid breath washes over Dean’s cheek, a body crowding up against his back, and Dean’s gone. Doesn’t matter how patient he is, every man’s got his breaking point, and there are few things that set Dean off like being called someone’s bitch. The asshole’s next words only dig him in deeper. “That’s not how I remember it, slut. . .”

The bar stool scrapes the concrete floor loudly before off balancing, Dean unfolding himself from it to loom over the redneck beside him, his fingers biting into the paunchy neck his hand is wrapped around before the stool even has the chance to finish its journey to the floor.

“You kiss your mama with that mouth, Nate?” Jo Harvelle is a vision, and the moment she rebelliously plunks another drink down in front of Dean against her mother’s advice, planting her fists on her hips, Dean knows this fight’s over. Not because he won’t get into a brawl with a girl around, but because he’s known Jo since she was a toddler tripping him up in this bar, and he knows this is almost as much a hot button for her as it is for him. Plus there’s the embarrassing possibility that she’d win. The girl cheats, and goes straight for the testicles. His own damn fault. He taught her how to defend herself when she was eleven, and didn’t account for how ruthless she’d become by twenty-two.

Dean knew how to defend himself because of assholes like the man in his grip. The fifteen years between haven’t been kind to him, or to the band of cronies he’s apparently kept since they were all kids, but Dean recognizes him now, this close and with a name to associate to. Goddamn but he hates coming back to Lawrence.

“Let him breathe, Dean, I want to hear this. Because if this asshole thinks the ability to take the pain of squirting a kid the size of a watermelon out makes over half the population of the planet a ‘bitch,’ I want to hear it. And then I want to hear him call his Mama and tell her that, because I remember Missus Hardey from fifth grade and she scared the shit out of all of us.”

Nate Hardey’s face is turning a satisfying shade of purple, eyes bulging, and Jo’s hand touches Dean’s arm above the wrist to remind him to drop the asshole back to his feet. Hooking his foot into the slats of his stool, he pops it back upright deliberately without bending and settles down into his seat, resolutely picking his drink back up. It’s a smooth burn going down, and bless that girl she gave him the good stuff.

Hardey’s coughing and hacking beside him, and he can hear the profanity between each wheeze. He can hear people moving behind him, knows that some of the men at his back are hostile as well. He knows intimately just how far these assholes will take things if left to their own devices.

Because as a just barely post-pubescent teenager, fifteen years earlier, he’d learned how little the world cared about the consent of a fresh ‘bitch.’ He has these idiots to thank for being able to fight. But he’d learned it after spending two weeks in the hospital, and three months of lingering pains, and then . . . hell, even Dean knows he has issues. His issues have volumes. His volumes could fill libraries.

It doesn't take much for Ellen to put two and two together and get four. The quiet threat of violence in her tone means she doesn’t even have to reach for the shotgun behind the counter, doesn’t have to put it into her words. “You boys better clear out, now. And find some other place to drink from now on.”

She waits until Hardey retreats, snarling threats that he can’t voice around the gasping rasps, dragged away by his cronies, before she swats Dean upside the back of his head with the flat of her hand. “Boy, what part of that seemed like a smart idea? Or of this.” She gestures at the line of shots before him. “You don’t come home near often enough for me to want to see you getting this drunk first night, and. . .”

“Not doing this because it’s smart, Ellen. Didn’t stand up to that jackass because it was smart, either. . . though it felt damned good.” Dean takes his drink up from the bar again and finishes it, letting the flavor roll on his tongue for a moment before tipping his head in thanks to Jo. “Thanks, kid. That was good.”

Jo rolls her eyes, finally unclenching her hands from around the rag she's supposedly wiping the bar down with. “Don’t thank me. I’da kept giving you the swill, since you’re determined to kill your liver. That was from the professor type over there, picking up your tab.” Tipping her chin at the corner of the bar farthest from the door, she indicates a man who has seemed to fade into the nicotine stained wood-grain behind him. All Dean gets is the impression of rumpled, too-formal clothes, hair that stands up every which way, and eyes that seem creepily fixed on his every move as he turns in his chair to squint across the room at his patron for the night.

Any desire to find out who the stranger buying him drinks is, though, was washed away by the encounter with the fuckheads earlier, the knowledge that everyone in this bar now has a damn clear idea of what he is even if they didn’t already know who he is, and the intense need to shower until his skin turns red and their smell is nowhere near him. “Yeah, well, free booze so I’m not complaining. Ellen, I’m gonna go crash, long as you haven’t decided you regret offering to let me stay upstairs. . .”

Ellen rolls her eyes, a long suffering look that masks the sympathy and pity he asked her to put away the moment he walked in, but she jerks a thumb at the stairs behind the bar and doesn’t press Dean for answers the way she would have if he’d been in Lawrence for any other reason. “Better you stay here than there. We’re closer to the hospital anyway, and I wouldn’t put it past those assholes to try and catch you leaving here. Don’t you mess with my stores, though. . .”

Rising to his feet, Dean braces his hands on the bar and swings himself over it, earning him a swat from Jo for ‘leaving an assprint where she’d just washed’ and an exasperated sigh from Ellen with a pointed look at the gap he could have walked right through. He catches her around the shoulders, a quick hug that she reciprocates, taking the rare opportunity Dean allows someone to give comfort in return. “Wouldn’t dream of it, ma’am.”

“Pull the other one, Dean.” Jo smirks, shaking her head slightly and going to take care of the professor-guy. Dean can’t help but snark back at her, his shoulder to the door that leads upstairs. “Why, kiddo, you still think you’re gonna grow taller if I keep pulling?”

Whatever Jo mutters in response startles a rich chuckle from the dark haired man in the corner, low and whiskey-soaked and rough, but Dean’s through the door and on his way to scrub down and sleep it off.


Dean is raw and pink and Irish Spring fresh by the time he falls into bed. He still takes a knife with him, tucking it beneath the pillow, and still sleeps on top of the covers rather than let himself be tangled in them if he had to wake up quickly.

If he wakes up four hours later in a cold sweat, dragging himself out of old nightmares, then he’s the only one to know.


Morning comes, and with it comes responsibility. Dean allows himself very little time to watch the ray of sun slipping between the curtains and catch on the bottles stacked in the corner, making the alcohol within glow in luminous amber. The upstairs store room doubles as Ellen’s guest room and, at times, Winchester Drunk Tank. From the looks of it, she hasn’t used it for that second purpose in a while: Dean’s enough of a cynic not to think that means his father cleaned up his act any, and Ellen wouldn’t have trusted John around her stock of liquor unwatched. Ellen’s generous with family, adopted or genetic, but even her hospitality has its limits. That means his old man’s been cut off. He probably picked a fight, or was pushed out for his own health and failing liver.

If John had been drinking at the Roadhouse, would he have gotten into the accident?

Ellen’s not to blame. Dean’s learned the hard way over the years not to exonerate his father of all potential for wrongdoing, which just makes what’s coming next harder to deal with.  Watching his father die is going to be hard enough. Watching him die while angry with him, justifiable or not, is going to wreck him.

Dragging his palm down his jaw, Dean rolls out of bed and showers again, the pungent soap scrubbing away the scent of sweat and fear. There are plenty of jackasses who get off on that, too, the sharp tang of a terrified omega. He’d rather not smell like anything at all. Dean doesn’t conform to the stereotypes of his gender, and he’s not about to start now: he’s spent ten years passing himself off as normal, and he knows what he’s doing.

The problem is that here, in Lawrence, everyone knows otherwise. Here he will always be a ‘bitch male,’ and he gets the confirmation of it when he steps out of the Roadhouse and sees the Impala in the parking lot, words gouged deep into her door panels and trunk with a key. Grimacing, he traces his fingers across the marred paint, the slurs etched into one of the few things he has of his own, and brushes away the metallic flakes. “Oh, baby. What’d they do to you?”

He’ll be able to buff it out and repaint once he gets to the garage. As much as he’d prefer to deal with it at Singer Salvage, back in Sioux Falls where he’s been working for Bobby for years now, there’s no way he’s driving her almost four hundred miles across country this way, advertising like a goddamned ice cream truck what's available within. There’s a long moment when he considers calling Ellen or Jo, rousing them to see if they’d be willing to bring him to the hospital, but there’s no point to it.

Omega males were uncommonly seen enough that when his first heat hit, everyone in the entire damn town heard about it and spread it on. And it’s not like Lawrence is enough of a population center that the town’s changed since he left. He doesn’t give two shits about what these assholes think of him, and he has more important things to worry about today.

When Dean parks at the hospital, he weighs safety versus courtesy, and for once in his life courtesy wins out. The smart thing to do would be to park his baby right up in front of the doors, beneath one of the light posts around the lot. But that means kids and geriatrics and people having the worst kind of day and being hospitalized having to walk past the shit carved into his doors. He parks in the back and treks it to the hospital, and up the stairs to the right floor. The nurse behind the desk recognizes him from yesterday evening. She offers the same half-smile of greeting, trying to cross sympathy and welcome, and waves him through.

John Winchester is as still and lifeless as he had been the day before, unrecognizable beneath crushed bones and bandages and bruises. Air pumped through him raises and lowers the chest beneath the thin hospital blankets, and tubes steadily keep him hydrated and technically alive, but there’s nothing of his father in this shell in front of him. He knows he’s right to keep Sam out of this part, as he catches the visitor’s chair in his hand, turning it to keep his back from the room as he perches on the edge of the seat.

His head is pounding, aching from the hangover and the lights and the discordant sounds of medical alerts. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands.

“Hey, dad. I’m back.” Dean’s voice is thick, and he looks to the ceiling as if it can provide him guidance, huffing a humorless laugh at his own ridiculousness as he rubs the back of his neck. “They figure you aren’t hearing me, brain damage and all, so I’m not even sure why I’m talking. I dunno. It’s stupid.” I’m stupid, he thinks, but he’s never doubted that. “I. . . uh.” It’s been so long since John and Dean had a conversation, a real conversation, that he doesn’t even know where to begin this one-sided farce of one. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here. Called Sammy last night, he’s getting a flight, will be here. . . after. I put it off, I guess. Chickenshit of me, but I don’t want him to see you like this, and if he were here they'd make him do this.  He had enough trouble forgiving you after. . .” Dean shrugs, and even now he can’t put everything into words. “If someone’s gotta make this choice and carry it . . . it shouldn’t have to be him.”

Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, Dean glances around the room, at hospital beds left empty and others hidden by curtains, and to the door where bright blue eyes look back at him, a man in a white coat frozen on the threshold staring. He doesn’t make a move, but Dean startles as if he’d jumped in the room screaming ‘boo’ at the top of his lungs, and the doctor grimaces and drops his eyes from the stare. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt you. . .”

“So you just decided to stare instead? That’s just creepy, man. . .”

Taking a bracing breath, the doctor nods, either to himself or to confirm Dean’s assessment of his manners. After a moment, he rearranges his features into something stoic and more impersonal, a doctor’s professional mask, and he steps fully into the ward with his clipboard under his arm. “I’m sorry for startling you. I’m Doctor Novak, the nurse paged me to tell me that you were here, Mister Winchester. . .”

“Dean.” The correction is automatic, and Dean pushes himself to his feet glad, now that the surprise has passed, to be out of that chair and have something to focus on other than the real ‘Mister Winchester’ stretched out beside him. Dean extends his hand for the man to shake, and there’s a long moment afterwards where he wonders if he’s about to be snubbed. Novak stares at his extended hand as if he’s confused by it or something, before reaching out slowly to cup his hand against Dean’s, palm burning hot, handshake firm, and Dean could swear he feels a tremor run through the arm of the man in front of him. His head is tipped down to look at their joined hands, and that’s when Dean figures it out.

The man in the bar last night. The dark hair and the voice and the unnerving stare that flicks back up to his face and latches there again, holding his hand a shade too long.

“Roadhouse. Last night. That was you, right?” He doesn’t need the confirmation, but the way the doctor swallows and looks away is enough. Dean drops his hand like it’s diseased, like he hadn’t been holding on the same as the man in front of him, and scowls. This is the last thing he needs, some pretty-boy doctor perving on him on a day like today. Anger is easy, it’s sweet relief, an emotion he can grab and cling to because it’s familiar. “Great. Whatever. Well, don’t expect you’ll get any different answer than they did just because you bought me a drink. You make a habit of drinking all night before coming into the hospital next morning, or are we just special . . .?”

The changes in emotion, expression, would be almost amusing if Dean weren’t so pissed. Embarrassment at being recognized, indignation at the sudden swell of anger misplaced at him, denial at the accusation of the pickup attempt, and by the time Dean’s done his fifteen second rant he’s getting stone-faced by someone who should give lessons on it. “I left shortly after you did, and only went because it had been. . . a very bad day. I purchased you the drink because it seemed that you were also having a ‘bad day,’ not to attempt to obligate you into. . .”

“Doctor Novak. . .” The nurse seems afraid to interrupt, frozen in the doorway by their low conversation and by the hostile stares both men swing at her for the interruption. “Doctor Adler needs your sign-off on the transfer from oncology. I have the paperwork. . .”

“Yes, Rachel. Thank you. Let Zachariah know that I will be with him once I have the chance to review the documents . . .” The blonde nods, unfazed by or accustomed to the abrupt dismissal and curt edge to his tone, slipping back out of the room, and the doctor turns back to Dean, shoulders square. “We have gotten off on the wrong foot. I apologize if my presence at the encounter last night has made this uncomfortable today, but it was not my intention then or now. I understand that today is difficult for you, and I do not want to interrupt your goodbyes. Do you have anyone else that you’re waiting for before we. . .?” Dean shakes his head, before the words are finished, and Doctor Novak continues. He’s found his rhythm, placed himself firmly where he intended to be in the conversation, and the sympathy doesn’t seem forced despite how crappy they started this. “Would you like me to arrange for last rites? I am unaware of John’s religious and spiritual preferences. . .”

Dean snorts, bitter and quiet, and shakes his head. “Him? No. He didn’t care about all that. Maybe a long time ago, but not in years. That was my mom’s thing.”

There’s a moment’s hesitation, before the doctor continues, drawing Dean’s attention back to him with carefully chosen words and a sloop-shouldered posture seemingly designed not to be imposing, beneath that oversized white lab coat that hangs off of him. “It might bring some small measure of comfort to the rest of your family, and his friends, even if he lost hope.” Maybe there’s something to that, considering how he's dying and what caused it. He seems to realize Dean is considering it, when he offers to help. “I can recommend the Presbyterian pastor who oversees the hospital chapel in the mornings.”

This guy had to have a shitty-ass job if he's so chummy with all the priests, rabbis and ministers who give last rites. Lips twisting, Dean agrees silently, and the doctor nods and jots a note on his clipboard. “The process itself is relatively quick. We do not know how long he will persist without the respirator, but. . .” Doctor Novak looks down at his patient, now, one hand reaching out to needlessly adjust the covers over him, pulling them up to conceal bandages that the nurse had left bare to Dean’s gaze, as if a man with no brain activity was recognizing a breeze. It’s an almost endearing glimpse of what this guy must be like when he’s not being chewed out for something that wasn’t his fault.

“. . . In my experience, Mister Winchester, I think that John is ready to move on.”

Dean doesn’t argue that. Allowing himself to look at his father, he nods slightly and runs a hand over his light brown hair, trying to keep from crying or making a fool out of himself in front of this guy. “Yeah. He never wanted this. He’d have put a DNR together long time ago if he ever even thought this far ahead. Never wanted to end up tied to a bed making machines breathe for him.”

There’s a pause, sympathetic and slightly awkward, like the guy doesn’t want to keep offering useless platitudes, like he’s gotten before, and when he speaks again he’s quiet, the low gravelly voice somehow an unexpected balm to Dean’s jangled nerves, flowing over him.

“I will call down to the minister, and return shortly. Do you need anything? Water, or breakfast?” The longer this guy talks the more Dean feels like a complete shit for damn near stabbing him from the start of this conversation, and Dean lets out a ragged breath and offers a faint quirk of his lips, strained but genuine, without looking away from John. “Any decent coffee here? Late night, early morning, and I just. . . ”

It’s a peace offering, and the man in front of him seems to recognize it as such. There’s still something about him that strikes Dean as. . . weird. . . but he tucks his clipboard back beneath his arm and nods. “I’ll see what I can do. Please don’t hesitate to page us if you need anything else. I’ll be back shortly, Mister Winchester.”

“Dean.” His dad being addressed by first name, and him being ‘Mister Winchester,’ he couldn’t help but try to correct again. The doctor tips his head, acknowledging the correction, and turns on his heel. He’s almost out the door again when Dean raises his voice, addressing his back because he needs to know, but he’s afraid enough of the answer that he doesn’t want to see the reaction, doesn’t want to see how it’s presented in the papers, or on the news. “Doctor Novak. . . the people in the van he t-boned, did they. . . ?”

He can’t say it.

How do you ask if your father drunk driving on the highway managed to ruin more lives than his own?

The doctor stills in the doorway, one hand on the frame, and lowers his head without turning. “The boy will survive, he is stable. The father, he died instantly, before our paramedics arrived on scene. The mother. . .” Turning his head, he looks at Dean out of the corner of his eye, and Dean knows. He just knows. “We can’t save everyone. Though we tried.”

It looks like he and Sam aren’t going to be the only boys orphaned today.

No wonder the doctor had needed a drink.

Swallowing heavily, Dean looks away, looks anywhere but at the doctor, or the mangled body of his father beside him. After a moment, he’s left alone in the ward of comatose and insensate patients once more.

He should have been here.


Ten minutes later the nurse delivers him breakfast on a hospital tray, ‘at the request of the doctor,’ and though there’s juice and water there’s not a drop of coffee there. However, a small plastic cup holds two aspirin, and Dean’s willing to overlook that transgression.

He forces himself to eat the tasteless hospital food, not because he wants it (it feels heavy in his stomach) or because he knows he should, but because he recognizes the kindness behind the gesture. Plus he’s pretty sure the guy ordered up or stole him a patient meal, and apparently wrote him a prescription for his hangover. Dean’s pushing frighteningly yellow scrambled eggs around on his plate with a fork aimlessly, trying to distract himself, when he smells coffee and the door opens again.

“I’m sorry. The patient coffee in hospitals is all decaf, and I needed to brew a new pot in the physician’s lounge. I hope you don’t mind, I brought one for myself as well. Pastor Jim will be up shortly, he is on the second floor consoling a family.” The doctor extends a styrofoam cup of coffee to him, blue eyes huge and solicitous, and Dean gives up the ghost on trying to dislike this guy, creepy staring or not. It’s a shitty situation for everyone, all he’s trying to do is make it better, and he’s been taking care of Dean’s dad like he isn’t the guy responsible for destroying another family. Somehow, it’s better with this guy in here, making Dean less anxious if no less miserable.

“Thanks, doc.” Dean mutters, nodding, and he pops the top of his coffee off to let it cool slightly. He almost rises to his feet when the doctor goes to move his tray away, just to pick up after himself, but he’s waved back. “Sit. Please. I don’t want to interrupt. . .”

“You’re not interrupting anything. I don’t have anything to say. We weren’t close. We haven’t been for . . . a really long time, if we ever really were.” Dean finally interjects, and the doctor falls silent, eyes creasing slightly as he narrows them to try and see if Dean is being truthful with him, or like he’s trying to understand why anyone wouldn’t be closer to Dean, his head cocking to the side. He eventually places the tray on an empty bed and closes the curtains around it, as if hiding evidence until he can erase it properly, so that he doesn’t have to stop trying to visually dissect Dean. Clearing his throat, Dean holds the cup up to his lips and shakes his head slightly. He’s reluctant to push him away, but he won’t have this guy screwing up on the job just because Dean . . . he doesn’t even know why he wants him here.

“Look, doc, you got other places to be, I’m sure. I can just have the nurse page you when the minister gets here. . . “

“I don’t.” The doctor’s expression shuts down, and Dean’s almost sad to see the stone exterior again so abruptly. “For the moment, this ward is my sole responsibility.”

A room of vegetables. And not many of them, at that. Dean cocks an eyebrow, inviting explanation, and hell he’d rather be in someone else’s problems than his own for five minutes, pretend that he isn’t waiting to pull the plug and end his father’s life. “Don’t strike me as someone who’s crappy at his job. . . so you really must have pissed off your boss.”

The doctor hums quietly in agreement but doesn’t offer more. After a moment, he shakes his head as if he’s trying to throw off a spell, whatever the hell it is he sees in Dean that keeps him staring. “I’ll see to my other patients, though.” As if Dean was chasing him off. Seems to be an ongoing theme, but Dean’s not sure what this doctor is expecting. He can’t just keep talking to his father, he can’t process it. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, and it was easier to be mad at someone, and now all he has is to be mad at his Dad, mad that after a lifetime of riding them, making their lives miserable. . . after driving Sam away to California and treating Dean as a failure since he figured out what he was, he’s ending up like this. Angry that he’d thrown everything away after Mary died in the fire. Angry that he couldn’t even die right, he had to make it so that Dean would have to kill him, so that it’s his decision, that his death will always sit on Dean’s shoulders, and now all that’s left of the Winchesters are he and Sam. If anything ever happened to Sammy like this. . .

Dean doesn’t realize he’s broken until that thought floors him, until he realizes he’s shaking and staring at the side of his father’s unrecognizable face with tears burning down his cheeks and blurring his vision, breath coming in short burning gasps, and he isn’t alone and needs to hold it together. Except that he can’t.

Inevitably, that’s when the pastor shows up. Dean can see him come to the doorway with its wide glass window, and stop there, signaled back by someone deeper in the room than Dean, and then the doctor is by his side again, offering him tissues without judgment in his eyes as Dean tilts his head up to look at him, a petitioner begging for some sort of answer to his prayers. There’s a surprising empathy on the doctor’s face, and after a moment he shifts, coming to stand beside Dean’s chair. His hand seems to burn through Dean’s clothing as it rests bracingly against his shoulder, propping him up in the chair and Dean shouldn't be leaning into this stranger’s side, but he can’t help it.

The fabric of the doctor’s coat brushes his cheek, and he’s a line of heat beside Dean that he can feel sink through his skin even with space between them, and it should be ringing warning bells in Dean’s head, but he can’t think and the world’s crashing down around him. “Dean, we have all done everything we could. It’s alright to be angry. But you said it yourself that this was his wishes. If you would prefer, I can remove the. . .”

“No.” The reaction is fierce, a low growl, but the doctor beside him doesn't seem offended. Dean forces himself to stop leaning toward him, as difficult as resisting the pull of gravity, and breathes out carefully through his mouth, angrily scrubbing away his own tears. “No. We need to do this. I need to do this.” Waving his hand dismissively, he doesn’t look up. “Do what you need to do then we’ll get the preacher in here.”

After a long moment, the doctor nods and slowly steps away from his side, though he stays on the same side of the medical bed. Deft hands carefully slide IVs and tubes away, gentle though Dean knows there’s really no need to be. Medical equipment is silenced, until it’s just the hiss and click of the respirator, clear tubes running to the bandages across John's nose. The last lifeline, forcing air in and out. Footsteps approach them, and the minister offers his hand and condolences, but Dean is tuning him out, staring at the oxygen tubes as curtains are closed around them, cocooning them away.

Funny that it’s the doctor’s voice that reaches him, a low rumble explaining what the minister is doing with far too much comprehension of the religious aspect, as if he’s describing a medical procedure. Dean doesn't know when he crouched down beside him, but there is an elbow braced on the arm of his chair, touching his own arm as a steadying point of contact, and blue eyes are fixed straight ahead on the minister’s work.  “They call this anointing of the sick, or extreme unction. When a patient is conscious for the rites, they are able to offer confession. . . here, like this, they can offer absolution. It’s a forgiveness of sins based on the concept of contrition, that if he were capable he would feel regret and repent, and secure his place in the afterlife.”

For the accident that killed him, Dean’s got no problem imagining his father would feel like shit about it. About killing some kid’s parents, and leaving an orphan in his wake. Everything else he’s done wrong in his life. . . Dean’s not so sure. But for all his faults, if there’s an afterlife, Dean can’t help but agree that for all the shit he went through in life John doesn't deserve more hell once he’s dead. He’s an asshole, and a shit father, and a drunk, but his eldest son is still loyally convinced that he's not inherently a bad man.

“The holy Communion. . .” The pastor carefully slips a wafer into John’s slack mouth, past bandages, and Dean is staring blankly though his attention is fixed on the words of the doctor beside him, a low rumble as he leans into Dean, keeping his voice down to not disrupt the ritualistic recitation of prayers. “In his faith, and several others, the final Communion is commonly called ‘provisions for the journey,’ nourishment for the soul’s travel to Heaven. Now he will anoint his forehead with Holy Oil . . . essentially, baptismal rites. . .”

The doctor seems to recite the final prayer in a whispered tandem with the pastor, though Dean notices a few words changed, ‘Holy Spirit’ instead of ‘Holy Ghost’ being the stumbling point that temporarily throws off the man beside him. Turning his head, Dean looks to the doctor to find his eyes closed. He looks tormented, broken, a deep sorrow that settles into the lines of his face and seems to add ten years to his age, but when he blinks his eyes open again and finds Dean looking at him the creases smooth out and he is collected again, sympathetic pain rather than his own.

There’s a story to this guy, and any other day Dean would want to know it.

With a quiet, controlled breath, the doctor rises to his feet again and Dean knows this is his part. He tries to make out John’s face beneath the bandages, this broken stranger, and he can’t see it. Can’t see the man he’d idolized so much, until his hero worship was betrayed. He tries to ignore the fine tremor running through his hands as he reaches out and touches the bandages over his dad’s forehead. “Bye, dad.”