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How Far We've Come

Chapter Text

To be honest, John had never considered this. He never considered that he would be sitting here, head dipping into his hands, those hands that were too callused, too scarred to be normal. As if any part of John could be considered normal. But here he was, on this plastic chair that was sunk in from use, this chair with a back that curved inwards as if it could offer him support in this moment of need. His body tilted forward, folding in on itself to stray away from any inch of comfort because it wasn't in his nature to want.

John Winchester did not like to need.

He had needed his wife. His wife with her soft voice but tough personality, the I-don't take-any-shit attitude she flashed outward without resignation. The first time he tried to talk to her she turned and walked away and that was the moment he fell in love with the set of her shoulders, the curl of her hair as it bounced in her wake, her own quiet fuck you to the ex-marine who chased after her from day one. Before all that needing had left him bled dry and empty and wanting nothing more than bones snapping under his hands, John had been the gentle one, the who would murmur in Mary's ear as her eyes grew bright with a fire she stored somewhere deep in her. His teasing, his words flowing like a lullaby in her most heated moments, his voice had led her away from a cliff she liked to wander by. He didn't know in those days it was the same cliff he would throw himself off, a child tucked beneath each arm. He was still falling, here, now. Falling, falling, and all these years later John was just starting to see the bottom of the pit, just starting to think maybe jumping hadn't been such a great idea.

Her absence tore through him like shrapnel, always present and throbbing until he learned that if he couldn't escape it, he would embrace it and stoke it like a fire, feeding it. Even in death, Mary drove him forward, always running; she would be there whispering at his back in each dark motel room. Go. Fight. Kill.

But now John was left sitting on this goddamn chair and Mary's voice wasn't even an echo and all he could hear was a silence in his head that told him he had finally fucked up beyond repair. Three seats down was a woman with hair the color of the moon and her head was bent over folded hands that sat beneath her chin. Her lips moved but there was no one around and John watched out of restlessness, out of the simple need to devote his attention somewhere so he didn't go insane in these precious minutes.

What was she doing?

Her torso rocked back and forth and then her eyes closed and John thought perhaps he should alert a nurse because this was not normal behavior at all, he knew that. But then those fists parted and out dangled a necklace. No, not a necklace: a rosary.

The old woman was praying.

John thought about sliding down until he was next to her and putting an arm around those thin shoulders and telling her sorry but praying doesn't do any good. It won't keep you safe. Nothing can keep you safe. John would know about survival; he was an ex-marine after all. That and the trunk of his car was loaded with an arsenal that would make any soldier drool with envy. In those days after they fire, John had prayed. Prayed with his eyes open, eyes closed, on his knees, laying face-up on a bed. He had prayed in English, had looked up Latin prayers. He had even gone to church. Of course, there was no answer; Mary was still dead and gone and John was creeping closer to that cliff.

The old woman's head snapped up and over and then she was watching John just as much as he was watching her and even after all he'd seen, he still flinched as her eyes roamed over his face, taking in his paleness and bloodshot eyes.

"I'm sorry," she said and her voice was high and lilting, almost musical.

"For what?" John said stupidly because after all, he had been the one staring and yet her tone was so apologetic it made him want to cry for some reason. It had been years since he cried. Over a decade.

"For your suffering." No one had ever apologized for that before. No one had ever taken responsibility for the weight that the Hunter carried over his shoulders, the weight he dragged with him not because he was chained to it but because he refused to let it go. This weight, this suffering was comfortable and familiar and John's nature depended on this handicap. Without his suffering, there was nothing to define him.

"My son," he croaked out even though she hadn't asked. He waved one of those scarred hands at the doors in front of them. She nodded and stood, walking over to him and then taking a seat. Her closeness was uncomfortable; John didn't like other people, didn't like people in general. Her hands were small and withered, more supernatural than anything else he'd seen so far in this hospital. But she was just a woman, just a human.

"I'll pray for him," the woman said and John nodded because what else was he supposed to do? In all fairness, Dean deserved to have someone praying for him. Hell, the kid deserved to have a hundred, a thousand people praying for him.

"Mr. Winchester?" A man in a white coat was standing in front of John and the old lady, wearing a stethoscope around his neck and bad news on his face. John tilted his head upwards, eyes catching on the fluorescent lights before sliding over to settle on this face that was about to shatter his world. "If you follow me, I can tell you about Dean's condition." All of a sudden, John didn't want to leave this chair and an absurd feeling of hesitation washed over him. It would be so much easier to stay here in this hallway with this strange but kind lady. For all the people John had met, it was her he chose to latch onto, like a child with a favorite blanket.

"Go ahead with the doctor now," the woman said, patting his arm, allowing her fingers to linger as if he could leech warmth from her touch. "I'll be here praying for your boy."

He went.

They sat in an office that was decorated with certificates and plaques and John wanted to point out the absolute insanity of living in a world where success was measured in pieces of paper and planks of wood. But he kept quiet and let the doctor explain to him why the last untarnished part of his soul was about to go up in flames.

"Your son, Dean, was badly injured as you know. The animal that got him – you said a mountain lion – tore into some of his vital organs. There was a massive amount of blood loss and his heart stopped three times during surgery. We managed to resuscitate him but his heart is weakened and damaged, Mr. Winchester. There's reason to believe the amount of blood loss and lack of oxygen caused moderate to severe brain damage. He's also not breathing on his own."

John wasn't breathing too well himself.

"I'm very sorry, Mr. Winchester, but I encourage you to get in contact with whatever family that would like a chance to say goodbye."

John's chest shrunk until his heart was demanding more room, pounding loudly on his ribcage in protest. He couldn't feel them but his fingers were clenched into fists as his eyes roamed over the doctor's face, wondering whether it would make him feel better to kill him right there. Because John was angry. Seething. A molten rage was ripping it's way through his body, bubbling inside him until it erupted and soared into words.

"What did you say?" The words had sounded louder in his head but as they fell from his lips, they were just a whisper, the battle contained inside John for the time being. His insides writhed.

"The chances of Dean pulling through are set at about two percent."

His child was a number. Dean, the carefree, uninhibited man-who-was-really-still-a-boy, who smiled with a quirk of his lips and laughed with his eyes had been reduced to a statistic.

"I don't believe you." The white coat lifted and fell in a sigh and John's vision was filtering in red every time he blinked. He was standing now, somehow had gotten to his feet even though the doctor was just sitting there, not even trying to explain, trying to help. John's son was somewhere back there in the belly of the monster and all this jackass could do was sit there with a grimace and a fucking clipboard. How dare he.

"Mr. Winchester, do you need to call someone before I take you to Dean?"

"No," John snapped. Don't talk to me, he wanted to say, wanted to roar. How satisfying this room would look if all those frames and plagues were splintered into fragments. John lived in a dog eat dog world and this man had just shattered his life. That meant it was John's turn to do some damage. The doctor frowned, disbelief coloring his face like a little kid with crayons.

"No mother, no grandparents? No siblings?"

Sam.

John was a monster, this night proved it, but he was not going to let his son leave this world without giving his younger brother a chance to say goodbye. So he focused long enough to growl out a word.

"One."

The doctor left him in the office with a phone, keeping the door open just in crack. John stared around the office in bewilderment, not letting himself sink too deeply into his thoughts because if he did, he would crumble into dust and there would be nothing left to put back together. So he palmed the phone, letting the weight sink into hands as if it were a weapon and not a piece of wire and cheap plastic.

And John Winchester made the hardest phone call of his life.

xxx

It was two in the morning on the California coast and even worse, it was a Tuesday so Sam wasn't awake, hadn't even just fallen asleep, because he had a exam in his International Sustainability class at eight. Jess, the angel of a girl he had fallen in love with two years before was curled at his side, one leg thrown carelessly over his knees in sleep. It was her who answered Sam's phone because he always slept with it under his pillow, some habit he brought with him from a childhood he refused to talk about. The phone vibrated under her ear and without thinking she pulled it out and without opening her eyes, mumbled,

"'lo?" She almost hung up on the silence that came from the other end but a gruff voice came at the last second. A voice that sounded like it was choking.

"Sam?" Jess pushed her palm into Sam's back, jostling him.

"Babe, get up." Sam liked to sleep and didn't like to wake up so all he did was roll over and hug a pillow to his chest. Jess was on her knees now, the phone forgotten on the sheets and used both hands and her voice to bring him out of the dream world. "Sam. Your phone rang." He reached out a hand and she slapped the phone into it, curling over his shoulder and peering at him curiously as the voice on the other end spoke again and then Sam's eyes flew open. He sat up, throwing her back to her side of the bed and his legs swung over the side of bed; he was bent at the waist as if he was going to throw up.

"I told you not to call," Sam said, well snarled was more like it, Jessica thought. She watched the muscles in his neck twitch and tighten, his shoulders becoming a wall to keep her out. "You can't call me every time he gets himself into trouble." The baritone words coming from the phone floated back to her but she couldn't distinguish, could only tell that they were getting louder. Someone was yelling. Sam took it, listened for a long while with the phone pressed against his ear, not once glancing at her. After a few minutes, his body tilted backward as he drew in a deep breath and his hair fell to one side as he cocked his head.

"How bad?" Then the phone was snapping shut and Sam was pulling on the jeans that lay discarded on the floor.

"Sam, what happened?" She stood, pulling on her own clothes because even if it was California, it was cold in this apartment. Cold because heat cost extra money and if there was one thing Sam didn't have, it was that. "Is everything okay?" He still hadn't looked at her; those hazel eyes were roaming the room for something and even in the dark, he found it. Textbooks and paper and bits of pencils poured onto their bed as he emptied the backpack and started shoving clothes into it. That's when Jess started to panic.

"What happened?" she repeated, flicking on the light.

"My brother's hurt," Sam said.

"Dean?" His nod was nothing more than a dip of his chin. She was impressed. Since she'd known him, Sam had left like this five times, tonight making six, always claiming that his older brother – who Jess had never met – was injured or sick and Sam had to go to him. It was sweet, she thought at first, that Sam would go take care of him. But Dean seemed to be in trouble a lot.

"Again?" she asked because the words forced themselves out past the barrier in her brain that was telling her to shut up. Those hazel eyes found her then and if it had been anyone else, anyone else besides her Sam, she would have been frightened. They were searing with something unintelligible, some crusade of the heart and soul. He flashed his armor at her.

"I'll be back," was the only thing he said as he flung the backpack over one shoulder, slipped the phone into his pocket, grabbed the wallet from the bedside table.

"You don't have to go you know," she said quietly because he did all this as if he had no other choice. He always left angry when it was about Dean and would come back even more upset, so upset that it took Jess a week or two before she could calm him down enough to forget about whatever he'd just been through. She resented Dean for that. For taking away her sweet boyfriend and turning him into a lost human being that flailed high on a tightrope until she could convince him it was safe to get down.

"I do," Sam said and there was nothing apologetic in his tone. "But it will be the last time."

"What do you mean?"

"He's dying."