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Right or Left ~ SPN Fic, R

  • Apr. 18th, 2009 at 11:15 PM
sloth: girl napping on a sofa floating in the water (water livin')
 Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue. 

Warning: angst and depiction of child endangerment.

 

Right or Left

 

 

Right or left. Step this way or step that way, yes or no, black or white. Choices.

 

John’s not so good at making them.

 

*

 

Thing is, he got too used to seeing the gray. Soldier in a human war, fighting human faces, scared boys too young (he’d been a scared boy, so young) – not evil in the Biblical sense, not even wrong. Just – the other side. What kept him from them, the difference, a matter of geography twisted into a matter of ideology – and he can’t forget the spray of blood that fanned behind their faces, when he put a bullet between their eyes.

 

All the years after his discharge, those years with Mary when she was soft and all light (not burning and screaming and beyond his reach), he’d be restlessly sick with the knowing of how he’d killed some mother’s son. Shades of gray, because no one who looked that young could be evil.

 

*

 

He was never one of the soldiers who would throw themselves on top of the grenade to save the others in his unit.

 

He knew the value of his life, and it was high.

 

*

 

One son or the other, and he can’t deny it – he heard Mary screaming and the first thing he’d done was run to Sam’s nursery.  Heart thumping and so afraid. But the underwater kind of fear, the slow-motion kind of fear. The too-slow-to-react.

 

*

 

He didn’t want Dean and Dean came anyway. John was afraid. He was afraid for nine months, all the ways he was going to fuck up his kid.

 

He didn’t want Sam, either, though he hid it better that time so that Mary wouldn’t frown, bite her nails, run herself ragged. He loved Mary (he should never have married her), he wanted her safe (and look how that turned out), she was the only thing that ever made the things he couldn’t forget hurt less (selfish, he was so fucking selfish).

 

He didn’t want Sam, and Sam came anyway.

 

*

 

He loves his sons. He’s afraid of them and afraid for them, and the only way he knows sometimes is the hard way, and the only thing he can do, sometimes, is be hard.

 

Like today. In the old house, the old breaking house, Sammy seventeen and Dean cocky twenty-one; midday, the weekend (Sam is supposed to be graduating right now, but this is a graduation too, in and of itself, Sam with a gun in his grip side by side with his brother, active in the line of duty) – sunlight dusty and lazily hot – sweat streaks through the dirt on John’s face and falls into his eyes and stings them until he blinks.

 

*

 

Sam and Dean will tell different stories about today. Dean will bitch about missing Sam’s graduation and Sam will bitch about how he had to use the gun with the trigger that sometimes sticks (because someone scratched up the insides, Dean, and he’ll roll his eyes at his big brother and his big  brother will go all defensive and raise his hands and say I was still learning, shut up. Bitch. and if John isn’t ignoring them he will say Language).

 

Sam blames Dean and Dean blames Sam and neither blame John though they should. They blame each  other for the wrong thing – for not doing all the research, for leaving that last stone unturned, for missing the second ghost.

 

John blames himself because this is the life he chose for his sons. They didn’t get to choose it. Dean even less than Sam, because he at least tried to do the decent thing for a while, at least tried to shelter Sam from the fact that all the monsters were real and wanted to eat him (or do worse) – but Dean he told the details to, described the hunt and made his son love it, eyes shining and unafraid. Hero-worship blatant on his face, and it gave John a charge, it made his weary wounds bearable.

 

Two sons and two ghosts and this is an equation even John can predict, though he doesn’t, not when it’s happening in front of him.

 

He sees one son and one ghost and shoots accordingly and behind him Sammy cries out and falls. John turns and the spray of blood stripes his face.

 

*

 

Bloodspray.

 

Bullet between the eyes.

 

Claws through the shoulder.

 

The enemy. His son. Blood, it’s all on him, sticky and warm. He can wash his skin clean, but it’s never coming out.

 

*

 

When John was young he thought the worst things that could ever happen would happen at night (Mary burning) – but that’s an illusion, because he’s yelling and screaming and it’s the height of day and none of this stops the pool of blood that’s growing beneath Sammy’s fallen body.

 

Later Dean will be angry and say, “You should have been watching out for Sam,” and John will say, “Dean, Deano, I didn’t know he was in danger,” and Dean will ask, “Would you have saved me before him, if you did know?”

 

*

 

John could say yes.

 

John could say no.

 

*

 

The bitch of it is that Dean was the one who got angry earlier that day,  that morning, when John said they were getting rid of the ghost today, before the post-graduation tradition of partying in the haunted house took off. Dean said, “Dad, it’s Sam’s graduation, too,” tone implying John had forgotten.

 

John hadn’t. “It’s too good an opportunity,” he said, brusque, and Sam had nodded as if he’d expected nothing less. John clapped him on the shoulder. “You know we’re proud of you, Sammy,” he’d said, “You don’t need a pointless ceremony. We’ll go out for steaks tonight, after the salt and burn.”

 

Sam said to Dean, later, when they both thought John was loading the car, “It’s okay. I’m pretty amazed we actually stuck in one place long enough for me to graduate at all, I don’t mind, this is good too.” And he did sound happy. He was, after all, his father’s son.

 

*

 

John never wanted Sam, because he knew this moment was inevitable.

 

Blood on his face and blood on his hands and Sam motionless on the ground. The ghost that got his boy slams into John and bowls him over, leaves him gasping without breath.

 

Dean shoots the ghost off of him, and John gets his head back in the hunt – it’s a short business after that, finding the hidden bones and lighting them into ash. Then back to Sam, who is still alive, who is even conscious, now, applying pressure to his own wound, smiling lightheadedly. “Helluva graduation,” he slurs, and doesn’t say anything more until later when John splashes antiseptic on his shoulder – and then all he hisses are curses in Latin and ancient Greek.

 

*

 

If he had known there were two ghosts. If he could choose between Dean and Sam.

 

Yes. Or no.

 

*

 

He has to ask himself if he was running toward Mary or toward Sam. He has to ask himself if it would have made a difference, if Mary had been screaming in Dean’s room, if he still would have gone to Sam’s nursery first, he has to ask himself if what he never wanted (scared him too much to want, his boys, his too young boys) outweighs what he so dearly lost.

 

He left Mary to burn. He left her to save their sons, and remembering that is what absolves him.

 

*

 

He was a good enough marksman to aim above their heads. Good enough to not hit, miss the aim, the sweet spot that is the blank space between too young eyes.

 

It sickens him that this never occurred to him, not until years after, not until years too late.

 

*

 

If there’s a right way to be a father, John doesn’t know it. If there’s a wrong way, John’s already walked it.

 

*

 

Dean asked, “Would you have saved me before you saved him, if you did know?” and it’s a question that paralyzes John. Not because he can’t answer it, and not because he knows the answer and that scares him – but, the phrasing. ‘Before’ and not ‘instead’, like John could save them both, it was just a matter of in what order.

 

To Dean Sam comes first. (John made Dean that way. “Take care of your brother. He’s your responsibility. He’s in your safekeeping. He’s yours.” Dean only nine, ten, eleven – Dean solemn and serious and angry at the weight of another life resting on his shoulders.)

 

To John Dean comes first. Born first, nine terrifying months, and then this little boy with tufted hair and closed eyes, who John loved at first sight and touch and smell, who John never wanted but would kill for despite that. The feeling so new it shook him to his bones – he wasn’t ready to be a father, but that hardly mattered, Dean came anyway. And Sammy. John thought he’d be ready for Sammy. Scared shitless, but he had practice now with Dean, he thought he wouldn’t have to sit down from the fear of holding Sam. Fragile weight in his arms, drowsy breath – how could people keep on doing this? Mothers and fathers, how could they bear how small their children came into the world?

 

John can’t guarantee ‘before’ rather than ‘instead’. He can’t.

 

*

 

No. Or yes.

 

*

 

Today is the day John splashes antiseptic into his son’s wound and sees the red raw angry flesh beneath blood. Sam blasphemes in a low voice, in a foreign language, lyric as a native speaker; Dean paces the length of the room with the short controlled steps of a confined predator; John sterilizes a needle and passes Sam a bottle of whiskey and sets to work.

 

Sam gets drunk the day of his graduation – in an auditorium, parents and teachers are cheering – Sam passes out once John has his shoulder wrapped in layers of gauze and tape – Dean silently snarling.

 

*

 

Three weeks later and Sam still wears bandages against his skin, because he’s young and heals fast, but not that fast.

 

Three weeks later and Sam is yelling and Dean is yelling and John is – quiet.

 

There`s an open envelope and a thick sheaf of papers, and John is proud and disgusted, John doesn`t know what to say or think or feel except that Sam is still too young. Sam is still too small. Sam can still be hurt. John has let him be hurt. Sam is walking wounded, and he wants to keep on walking right on through the front door – and.

 

He was too young to be born, too young to watch his mother die, too young to be told the monsters are real, too young to go to school, too young to leave it, too young – eyes too wide, blank open target, no one could miss him – no one could miss him –

 

*

 

Instead, not before.

 

And how can he answer that? How can he say yes?

 

“Yes, if I knew it was down to either you dying or Sam, I would choose to save you.”

 

That wouldn’t be a kindness. That would kill Dean, too. And John’s not sure that it’s true.

 

*

 

Make him go or make him stay.

 

It wouldn’t take much, either way. (John stays quiet.)

 

Forbid him to leave and he’ll leave, because Sam bucks at pressure, which John has always known.

 

Ask him to stay. Say, ‘Please,’ say, ‘Sam, Sammy, my boy, you have to stay, we need you here, you’re ours,’ and it can be that easy.

 

(John stays quiet.)

 

*

 

One son and one ghost and one shot and it’s such an easy equation. Even John can figure it out.

 

*

 

Before, instead. Yes, no. Either, or.

 

Dean, Sam.

 

*

 

“No, Dean. I would choose Sam over you, I would let you die so that Sam could live, I would let you die, you would die and Sam would be alive, no. NO.”

 

(John is quiet.)

  

*

 

One ghost, one son, one shot, and he can make it so Dean never asks him that question ever again. He can do that right here and right now.

 

No yes or no, no either, no or, no choices, because John is just fucking bad at making them, he can only make them if he’s not thinking and if he’s not thinking then he (bloodspray, wide eyes, why the fuck didn’t he shoot to miss) fucks up. He fucks up, and fucks his sons up, isn’t this proof? Sammy on full ride to Stanford and too afraid to be proud of it, this is what John’s done to his sons.

 

*

 

The air is gray when he says, “Get out. Leave and don’t come back. You never come back. You choose that life, you don’t get to come back.”

 

It’s just like he thought it would be.

 

Dean’s shocked wide eyes, Sam defiant and little-boy-scared but going through with it, walking out the door.

 

The air is gray and John is used to it. Everything is gray, and John is used to it.

 

*

 

He never wanted Dean and he never wanted Sam, but they came to him anyway, and he would kill to keep them. He would kill and do worse. He would torture, he would maim. He would rape and steal and debase himself utterly, if it meant they would be safe. He would sell his soul. He would swear to never see them again, if it meant their happiness; he would send them away, he would break them apart, if it guaranteed their lives outlasting his own. He would throw himself on that metaphorical grenade, because he knows the value of his life.

 

It’s nowhere close to the value of theirs.