Sometimes it was only in that dark, quiet of the night when all was calm and still, with a glass of whiskey or bourbon or whatever cheap alcohol he could get his hands on, that John Winchester would allow himself to really think about the person he had become … the life he now lived … everything he had lost and left behind.
He sat in a chair in the “living room” of the motel suite he and the boys had accommodated for three days now. It was a single open room that combined living room and dining area and kitchen, with a bedroom door not far from him, open just a crack … just enough that he could hear anything strange or concerning. He would probably work his way back there eventually, collapse into the second bed. Then again, he may just stay in this chair until extreme fatigue and desperation took over him. It didn’t matter either way. He was here. Nothing would happen to them while he was here. Nothing would happen to them when he wasn’t here as well – he did his best to make sure of that. That was one of the few purposes his life had now. To keep his boys safe. At any cost.
Five years. Five years since his life had been forever changed. In the blink of an eye, everything he had, everything he knew, had been ripped from his life. All his hopes and dreams, everything he wanted for his family, for himself, was torn from him with a cruel and vicious indifference. He had escaped with only his children, and his car as well -- and his heart and soul ripped and shredded and scarred for life. How does anyone pick up the pieces of their life after something like that? The sad truth was there were almost no pieces to pick up. He had Dean and Sam – that was it. And the fear that none of them would ever be safe again. The fear was deep, consuming, almost paralyzing. He had never felt fear that like before in his life, not even in Vietnam. And the fear never went away. It wouldn’t diminish. It was always there. All he could was force it down and bury it, and do everything he could think of to counteract it. To make sure those fears would never be realized in his family again. He would never lose those boys like he had lost Mary. He would do whatever he had to, to make sure of that.
It still hurt to think about Mary. Most of the time he couldn’t. He wouldn’t let himself, because it felt like it would destroy him. She was the love of his life, the kind you only get once. How idyllic their life together seemed to him now. How pure and perfect. In reality, it certainly had been neither pure nor perfect. But compared to the life he had now, it was Heaven. They’d had struggles, like any couple. But they worked through them as best they could. At the foundation of it all, they loved each other. And they loved their children. Their life was content, maybe even happy. John wished now he had appreciated more just how happy he was then. Sometimes you don’t recognize these things until they are shattered and gone forever. He would never find love like that again. Especially now, with the path his life was on.
He never wanted to be a hunter. Hell, he hadn’t even known what that was, at least this type of hunter. Even when he first started on this frenzied quest to find what had destroyed Mary, what had taken his world away from him, he didn’t know that’s what he was doing … adopting the “hunting” life, becoming a hunter. It was only after he started to meet people such as himself, resources from which he tried to garner anything useful, that he realized there were others that lived that type of life. Most of them were older, wiser, hardened by it all. They still sympathized to a degree. Some of them even understood – they had lost friends and loved ones to the evil that he was now painfully aware was everywhere, out there in the world. But they didn’t always agree with what he was doing. Some felt he was too caught up in his revenge. “You may never find what killed her,” they’d tell him. “And you need to be okay with that.” Sometimes he kept his mouth shut, and other times he gave them a few choice words before storming out (or being kicked out). He couldn’t be okay with that. He had to find what killed Mary. Not just to avenge her, but to keep his boys safe. To keep everyone safe, really. John had always wanted to help others. That was no different now -- it was a still a part of him, even to a lesser degree. Perhaps that was his third purpose, behind avenging Mary, and keeping Sam and Dean safe … making sure no one, no family, ever went through what he had. Keeping them safe too. No other husband should ever lose his spouse like that. Nor should any other children ever lose their mother to something so evil. Not if he could help it.
John turned his head and looked at the bedroom door again, listened closely to see if he could hear the soft sighs of his children sleeping. Part of him wanted to go in there and sit on the edge of the bed, stare down at them, gently touch their sleeping faces. Do the things a father should do. Things he had done once. It seemed like a completely different life. Days where he would scoop Dean up in his arms or place him on his shoulders and carry him around like a great big bear. When he would take him out in the yard and play a simple game of catch with him, or try to show him how to swing a plastic bat. Or when he would plant Dean beside him while he worked on the car, explaining what he was doing in the simplest terms he could think of, telling him the names of the tools, asking him to hand him something and seeing if he got the right one. Watching Mary tuck him into bed with her sweet way, stories and prayers and kisses, then coming in after her and tousling his hair, giving him some dad statement like “Sleep tight, big guy.” Eagerly awaiting the days when he could do all those same things with Sammy.
Now he couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually shown some fatherly devotion to either boy, but especially to Dean. He counted on Dean. He relied on him. Nine years old, and already becoming a good little Private. He was tasked with looking after Sammy and doing whatever his father said. Dean knew more about what was going on than any child should. John couldn’t do anything about that. It was just the nature of the beast in hunting. You couldn’t keep these things hidden for long. John was already teaching him anything he thought he could handle, to again keep himself and his brother safe.
He knew there were people, even hunters, who didn’t agree with what he was doing with his children. But what else could John do? He had to keep them safe. He loved them. They were all he had left anymore. And that was the only thing he could do … keep them safe, and make sure the evil out there in the world never hurt them. How could that not be love? Maybe he was misguided, like some of them said. But misguided love was still love, wasn’t it?
His hand came up to rub at his eyes, then his hand stayed there, partly covering his face as though trying to hide the pain he felt. He had no idea if he was doing right by his boys. They had lost their mother. He was all they had, and he gave them what he could, the only things he could. It was times like now though, where he started to think what he gave them was pathetically insufficient, lacking. Not nearly enough.
Then like the good soldier he was, he straightened up and forced everything he was thinking back down and buried it. He took a huge gulp from his glass, almost emptied it. He had no idea if he was on the right path, but he was doing the best he could. He was only trying to find his way through this darkness his life had become … and to keep it from enveloping his children as well. Who knows, maybe this was what he was supposed to be doing. Maybe this was where he was supposed to be. Maybe this was his life now … existing, alive, but not really living. Merely trying to put one foot in front of the other and keep going, cheating death and trying to make a difference. It felt like a dream in a way. His life felt like a dream.
Maybe when it was over, he would finally wake up and feel like he could actually live again.