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John Winchester is not the man we saw at the beginning of Season 2.  He is a man who never recovered from his wife's death, who has grown bitter and harsh over the years, determined to find his revenge.

Chapter 1 - An Unexpected Visitor

It's good to be out of the classroom. Not that I'm not enjoying it, but on days like today, I can't get used to being stuck indoors for hours at a time. Just to sit for a few minutes and bask in the sunshine makes it worth savoring the moment. I ought to call Bobby and let him know I'm out for the day, in case he's waiting for me.

I open the phone and flick to his number. He picks up almost immediately. "Yep, it's me . . . that's right, finished for the day . . . uh-huh, do you want me to go do some shopping? . . . No . . . Okay . . . Okay, I'll see you in fifteen here . . . No, it's fine, I'll just enjoy the sun. See you then."

I sit down on the wall outside the education centre to wait.

"Dean! I thought it was you as I drove past. No surprise to find you still round here. I see your phone does work. You changed the number?"

I go cold at the sound of the voice. All this time, when I have worried about him and now Dad's stood here and I have frozen in front of him. "Um, yes, no, new phone and new number. That's right."

"New phone, new number, they look like new clothes. What's going on, Dean? Feeling flush? Been hustling?

"Er . . . no sir, no hustling."

"So where'd the money come from then?" he presses the point.

"Working, I guess."

"Right.  What about hunting? Have you even bothered?" I look at him searching, searching for any sign of the man I thought he was, the man I’ve believed him to be.  I know he cares, he must do . . . I’m his son.

"It's not like that, I still . . ."

"You're still sitting around on your ass. What was the matter with the old phone? I've been trying to get in touch with you."

"It broke in the accident. Sam got me a new one. I guess, I never thought about letting you know, I just didn't think . . ."

"No, you don't think, do you, soldier?"

He’s right, I can’t deny it, I should have thought, I should have known better.  There is no excuse really for my not having contacted him.  No matter what Sam and Bobby thought, it was my duty to do what I knew to be the right thing. "I guess. I figured you'd call Sam if you needed us."

"Right, because your brother is so good at answering when I call. So what are you doing sitting here then?"

"I'm waiting for a lift."

"From?"

"Bobby. I'm staying out with him." I know it's the wrong thing to say, but I just can't think of a lie to replace it with.

"It's one thing about you, Dean. You're predictable when you're weak. It's long past time you'd pulled yourself together and got back to hunting. That is where your priority should be. Anyway, I'm guessing Bobby is going to be here soon and I don't want to speak to him so I'm going. I have a question for you first though, Dean. Do you still know what's important? Does family still count to you?"  My stomach twists at his accusations.

"Yes, of course it does."

"Family should be a strong unit, Dean. You didn't keep ours strong. You let ours break. You helped Sam go and look what happened. You want it back? You want me back?"

"Yeah, Dad."

"We'll meet again then. When? Where?"

"Friday, here, same time."

"It better be worth my while, a longer time to chat, Dean. Oh yeah, if you want me to stick around long enough to rebuild the family, don't tell Bobby. The choice is yours."

"No sir."

"You'd better think about being ready to get back in the hunt as well. Time is wasting, Dean. You have obligations to fulfill." With that parting shot, he stalks off.

I have wanted Dad to come back and join us since the accident, his continued absence has ached inside but now he's here and . . . it doesn't feel good or right and I can't help feeling I've made a mistake in agreeing to meet him on Friday.

"Dean, are you coming?" I look up into Bobby's face. I hadn’t even heard him pull up. He's smiling and his eyes are warm. It's such a contrast to Dad's reaction. I climb in the truck and he pulls away.

I stare out of the window as Bobby drives and think. I need to be ready for Friday. I need to know what I want before I meet with Dad. I know what he's going to want. If I do what he wants, I'm giving all of this up. I can't expect Bobby to take me back in again if it all goes to hell and there is no one else. I'll be throwing in school as well and I'm even nearer to graduating this time. But he is my Dad, I owe him. I owe it to Mom to look out for him.

"Dean?"

"Huh? Yeah?"

"Geez, boy! Where are you? I've been talking to you for the last ten minutes without a reaction. I was beginning to think you'd died on me."

"Sorry, just thinking, miles away."

"Dean, you don't look so good. Are you not feeling well?"

"I'm fine, don't worry."

"Maybe you should take it easy this afternoon. One afternoon off won't do any harm. No point knocking yourself out when you've got so much coming up at school. An afternoon's rest will refresh you; you'll be ready to start again tomorrow."

"I'm fine."

"Okay, you're fine, but I don't want you to do anything for me this afternoon." Bobby’s voice sounds determined, but I can’t help feeling guilty, like I’ve already let him down just by having spoken to Dad and arranged to see him again.

"But . . ."

"In fact, I think we'll both take the afternoon off and I think Sam's home early today, isn't he?"

"Sam?" I’m struggling to follow the conversation, everything Bobby says makes me think in some way of Dad, the thoughts and memories cascading one on top of another overwhelming me.

"Your brother, Sam.  Isn’t he finishing early today?"

"Is he? Umm, I guess."

"You're not with it at all. Has something happened?"

"No, nothing, nothing important. It's fine. I'm fine."

"Okay. How about I make lunch? You rest and when Sam gets home, the two of you go for a walk?"

"A walk where?" I don’t get what he’s trying to say, Sam and I don’t normally go for walks.  We run sometimes, not as much as we should because Sam is worried that my chest still hasn’t healed right and he thinks the running doesn’t help it and being honest, with the school work that I’m trying to complete it’s hard to have enough time to fit it all in if I’m going to help Bobby out too.  The hospital gave me some rehab ideas, Sam prefers it if I work on those, I think he feels it’s safer and I can’t really argue with that, we can’t afford for me to be ill again.

"Out, fresh air, just time away, remember that?"

"I suppose I could do that, if Sam wants to."

"Talk him into it, Dean, persuade him. The sun is shining, take advantage, the weather will change again soon enough."

"Huh? Weather?"

"Never mind."

I'm glad he's given up talking as I just can't keep track of the conversation. My mind keeps flitting back to Dad, how severe he looked, pissed he sounded. Do I want to go back to that life? To him? What would Mom want me to do?

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"Dean? Dean! Is something the matter with your hearing, dude? Geez. Bobby said you were thinking about going for a walk. Still thinking of going? Want some company?" Sam is speaking already as he knocks and opens the door to Dean’s room, expecting to find his brother either resting on his bed or poring over his study books, a sight which never ceases to bring a smile to his face, but he isn’t doing either.  He is just sitting, staring blankly at the wall.  Sam’s prompting draws his eyes to his brother and he gives a tired smile.

"Yeah, Sam. Sure. I'll come with you if you want to go for a walk."

"I was suggesting that I came . . . never mind . . . you good to go?"

"Huh?"

"Good to go, Dean? Ready to leave?"

"Yeah, just . . . I . . . I need my shoes. Hang on."

Sam walks back into the kitchen, shaking his head at his brother’s reaction.  "Bobby? Did he bang his head or something? He's not with it at all."

"I know what you mean, lad, but nothing so far as I know. He seemed fine when he called me for a lift but when I got to pick him up about 15 minutes later, he looked out of sorts and hasn't really been right since. Trying to talk to him is difficult to say the least."

"Maybe the walk will help clear his head." Sam turns back towards Dean's room as he still hasn’t heard Dean getting ready and calls, "Dude, are you ready yet?" No answer. He walks forward and pushes the door open to see Dean sitting on the edge of the bed looking at something in his hands. Sam walks in and sits beside his brother, "Dean? You okay?"

"Sam? Shit, I came to get my shoes. Geez, sorry man."

"What've ya got?"

"Huh? Nothing, it's nothing. I'm ready. Let's go." Dean lets what he's been holding drift to the bed.

Sam looks and recognizes it instantly. He'd had his own copy of the photo once, probably still did somewhere but it isn't something he feels the need to keep close track of anymore. He's got some more recent photos of himself and Dean, they are more important, but he supposes Dean remembers to some extent the time before the fire, however, dim and tarnished the memory might be.

The boys hit the trail outside Bobby's at an easy pace. Sam figures he could try probing to find out what is on his brother's mind as they walk. "So are you thinking about when we were kids, then?"

"Kids? Us? Oh the photo, you mean. No, not exactly."

"Thinking about Dad then?" Sam presses again.

"Yeah well, Dad. Not really, not like that, a bit but it's okay, Sam, it's not you know, anything to worry about."

"Dean, Dad will be fine. He always is; you shouldn't worry about him so much. He's not worth the wasted energy."

"No, sure. You're right. He'll be fine like you say. Nothing to worry about, nothing at all." Sam gets the distinct impression that Dean is just parroting back answers, that there is no real sincerity behind them, but that this isn’t Dean lying, it’s Dean confused by something and not fully following the conversation, his mind working through something else.

"Dean, what's up?"

"How do you know? How do you work it out?"

Sam frowns, confused by the question. "Work what out, Dean?"

"The right thing to do." There is such a genuine desperation in his brother’s words that Sam can’t help but stare at him and try to fathom what is really on Dean’s mind.

"Not following you. You're going to have to give me more than that to work with."

"Like when you're making a choice, how do you know which is the right one? How do you know you're doing the right thing?"

"I guess you don't; you just go with whatever seems right at the time. Whatever feels best. Why? Are you making a decision about something?"  Sam is mildly concerned by the conversation wondering what has pushed Dean into trying to fathom something that could have right and wrong choices.  He understands his brother’s turmoil.  It’s only recently that Dean has been free to start making his own life choices, uninfluenced by the need to take care of either his younger brother or their father and Sam knows that Dean still struggles as he tries to work out not what he wants to do but how to keep everyone else happy, no matter how often he and Bobby reassure him that he can make choices based on what he himself wants.

"I don't know, maybe. Do you like just make the choice or do you think what would she want me to do? Would she think I was doing the right thing?"

"She? Dean, who? Mom? Are you worrying about what Mom would think?"

"I think she'd like the fact you went to Stanford. I mean, I don't remember her ever really saying stuff like that about College but I think she used to say it was important to learn stuff, learn as much as you can."

"Dean, it was a long time ago," Sam attempts to reassure Dean.

"I just, you know, wonder sometimes, whether I've done enough to make her proud."

"I'm sure you have, Dean. I'm sure she'd be proud of you."

"Maybe. Sometimes I'm not sure. Sometimes I think I've made the wrong choices."

"Dean, everyone does sometimes but so long as you've tried to do the right thing, it'll be okay."

"I don't know. She'd have hated the hustling and the card scams and when I stole stuff."

"Yeah, but we've stopped that now, she'd respect that. When did you steal stuff? You mean like cars for jobs?"

"That too."

"When else Dean? What else?"

"Food. Dad was away, we were hungry, I stole some stuff from a store. She'd hate me doing that."

Sam works hard to keep the pain out of his voice or any hint of recrimination because he knows that Dean should never have been in a position to need to steal to combat hunger.  He wonders when it would have been or how often had Dean been pushed so far that he’d needed to steal.  It hurt to think that Dean carried the guilt for something like that, something that was quite evidently not his fault, but he isn’t going to deny that it is not what his mother would have wanted for them.  "Yes she would, but she wouldn't blame you. She'd be sad for you, that's all."

"Maybe."

"Why are you worrying about what Mom would have wanted now? Is there something I should know?" Sam watches him intently, wondering what is making him so preoccupied by what he thinks his Mom would want.

"She's always loved you, Sammy. You were special. She used to say that all the time. Sammy's our special baby. We're lucky to have him."

"She loved you too, Dean."

"I nearly shot her." Sam can hear the horror in his voice at the memory of the events in Lawrence. "I didn't recognize her, you did though. I didn't recognize her."

"Dean, it wasn't like that, you didn't have time." Sam has no idea how to assuage his brother's sense of failure. "She knew."

"She came for you." It is in those four words that Sam can hear the deep hurt in his brother's heart. The feeling of having been abandoned by both parents. Despite his every attempt to live his life to please them, he had been deserted and there would never be anything Sam could do to change that for him.

"Mom always thought family was important. She used to say how I had to be a good brother."

"You've done fine, Dean. Honestly, a great brother, that's you. Stop worrying about it."

"Not a good son, though. Never managed that, did I?"

"So, this is about Dad?" Sam prompted gently.

"What would have to happen for you to want us to be a family again, Sam?"

"Dean, we've talked about this before. We are a family. You and me, that's our family and Bobby, I guess. We're settled, we've got a home, Dean. This is the best we've ever had it. Aren't you happy? Is there something missing? I didn't think you were missing Dad, you haven't said anything about him in . . . God, I don't know how long. I guess I was wrong when I thought maybe you'd realized he wasn't worth it."

"I know what you're saying, Sam. I do. I am happy. I was happy but then I got to thinking about what would Mom say, you know, to us cutting him off like that? How disappointed would she be in me?"

"Dean, man! You don't see it at all, do you? If she's going to be disappointed in you or me for that matter, her priorities were screwed. How do you think she looks at him knowing what he did? How he left us alone, how he left you to bring me up, how you had to steal and hustle and scam because of him, how he used to hit you? What about him cutting me off? What about him walking out on us in the hospital or calling me to leave with him, leaving you alone? Do you honestly think we don't have a reason to put an end to it?" Sam wishes he could make Dean understand, it would make everything so much easier for everyone, Dean most of all.  All the pain of failing could be laid to rest and Dean could truly move on with his life.

"But he does it for a reason, he does it for her."

"No, not anymore, he does it for revenge. Dean, he does it because we let him and no-one calls him on it. The only times you've said no and he's put you in hospital. Dean, she would never want that for you. She was your mother; no mother could want that for their children. Believe me."

"God, I hope you're right." Sam watches Dean as they walk. There is obviously more to the conversation, something else that he isn't talking about, but Sam can’t work out what.

There is no way for Dad to have been in touch with Dean without him or Bobby knowing about it unless Dean has contacted him. Sam had quite deliberately trashed Dean's phone when he was still out of it in the hospital after Dad had left. Dad had shown his true colors and Sam had decided then not to let Dean be drawn back into the abusive cycle. He'd got a new phone and a new number and Dean had never questioned it. As far as he knew Dean had made no attempt to call Dad and Dad couldn't have found out his number. So what exactly has triggered this?

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Friday! It doesn't matter what I think, what I decide I am going to have to deal with him one way or another tomorrow. Not that I know what I'm going to do yet. It's going to be nasty whatever I decide; I'm going to piss off either Dad or Sam and Bobby.

I can't say I've hidden it very well but I can say they haven't worked out what I'm hiding which is something I suppose.

I've played it out every way I can think of and short of just not being there when he comes, I can't think of any happy solutions to the scene. I tried to find my duffle bag, figured I could pack some stuff in case I decide to go with him, but not only can I not find it anywhere, I can't exactly load it into the truck with me in the morning without some reaction from Bobby. I haven't even managed to come up with an excuse for not needing to be picked up at the usual time yet. I just can't think straight.  I can’t find the answers.

It's time I started making something for us all to eat this evening before Sam gets home. Bobby will be in any time. I've achieved nothing this afternoon. I gave Bobby a hand this morning which at least kept me working with no time to think. On my own this afternoon, I've neither been able to concentrate on my work nor come up with any solutions to my dilemma.

I've opened the fridge and I can't work out what exactly I planned to make this evening. I'm standing staring waiting for something to occur to me.

"You know, Dean, the TV has more happening if you're looking for action to watch." Bobby’s voice holds a note of concern behind me.

I jump back from the open refrigerator door. "I didn't hear you come in."

"No, I guessed that. You've been watching the food for a good ten minutes since I came in, so have you decided what we're having yet?"

"Er, no, not really."

"What's the problem?"

"Guess I'm just not inspired tonight."

"You okay?" He presses the point, but I just look at him, trying to find the right answer, not . . . not just a lie.

I nod and don’t meet his eyes as I answer, "Of course, just you know, not in the mood. How about I treat us all to take-out?"

"Sam in a rush tonight?"

"Not as far as I know."

"Sounds good then."

We wait for Sam to finish work then phone his cell and get him to pick up the take-out on his way home. I feel like I might be saying good-bye to all of this. It isn't a good feeling.

The meal finished and cleared away and we're sitting in front of the TV. I've got a book I'm supposed to be studying for tomorrow but I haven't got a clue what it is about. I can't keep track of the conversation Sam and Bobby are having either. In the end, I figure it's pretty pointless my sitting here and it's only making matters worse, so I grab my stuff and say goodnight. I head off to think in peace and hope that I can come up with some sort of solution.

It doesn't pan out that way. No solution, no sleep and at four I get up, figure I may as well go for a walk as the sun rises.

 

 






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