But Sammy just shuts down sometimes. He’s got all the willpower us Winchesters are known for, but in him it sits quietly. You don’t notice it’s there until he decides he feels strongly enough about something that he won’t compromise. Then you might as well wrestle angels.
He’s been thrown before, he’s hit walls, doors, cars and even gone through a window, once. It’s always the sudden hit at the end he fears most. He twists in midair and brings his arms up to protect his head and waits for the impact.
But there’s no wall, no obstacle putting a painful end to his flight. Suddenly his feet touch the ground and he stumbles forward on shaky legs, hands reaching out for something to brace against, but there’s nothing—
John’s eyes snap open and he spins around in a panic, trying to take in everything at once.
Cars, all around him are cars, cars on top of each other, next to each other, long lines of them in various states of deconstruction on both his sides. The lines extend over a wide area and at one end of it there’s a tool shed and a vaguely familiar house next to it. The sun is shining brightly, bouncing off metallic skeletons and hitting him straight in the eyes, blinding him. He shields his eyes with a hand and turns, scanning the yard carefully.
He knows this place, he’s been here before, but he can’t quite place it, for some reason his memory keeps him in the dark. John studies the unfamiliar car wrecks intently, as if they and the place they’re in hold the answer to a question he can’t form yet.
Wherever he is… it’s too quiet.
John pats down his side pockets— he’d feel a lot less helpless if he had some weapon to defend himself with. Against what, he has no idea, but he’s always made a point of staying ahead of the game and never letting himself be caught off-guard or without a weapon. But he comes up empty, there’s nothing on him, not even the paperclip he’s made a habit of keeping in his pocket.
He turns slowly and takes another look around, hackles rising at the thought of being vulnerable in a location he can’t identify. He’s standing right in the middle of a junkyard, in plain sight for anyone who happens to come by. His gaze sweeps over the cars again and comes to rest on the house, there’s something about it that tickles his memory, something that keeps drawing his attention to the shabby building…
And then he sees it, on the right side, near the porch, there’s a car. Black and sleek, it stands just as quietly as the other cars, but this one isn’t a wreck, this one he knows, this one he recognizes immediately.
It’s his car, the Impala.
He forgets all about feeling helpless and exposed and rushes over to the car’s side, running a hand over its smooth planes. The metal feels hot to the touch and he pulls his hand back when his fingers tingle painfully. He can’t tear his eyes away from it, not even when memories rise to the surface of his mind, unbidden, unwanted, but too powerful to be held back.
The last time he’d seen the car he’d been trapped inside it, crushed against the side door, waiting for the rescue team to cut him out. There was so much pain, everywhere, in his side, his shoulder, in his head… He’d been forced to watch faceless shapes work on the dented metal through heavy, burning eyes that wouldn’t focus on anything. Panic, for his boys, they were trapped with him and he wanted to check on them so badly. He tried asking the people around him how they were doing, if they were still alive, but his battered body didn’t respond and he panicked. Helpless, weak, convinced his kids were dying and he couldn’t do anything to help them, he couldn’t even turn his head—
A shudder runs through his frame, pulling him out of the too vivid flashback. The car is still standing in front of him, silent and reassuring, whole, spotless and shiny as the day he’d bought it. No sign at all it has ever been in a car crash.
Still shaken by the memory, he takes comfort in its presence, if the car is all right, then the boys—
John’s head snaps up and he stares at the house. They are in there, the boys are in there, both of them, he can sense it, he can feel it. His boys are in there, so close—all he has to do is get inside to see them.
He starts walking toward the house—and something changes. It feels like something is lifted off his senses, like a veil that has dulled his eyes and is slowly receding, dissolving. Some piece of the puzzle that is his newfound reality clicks into place and suddenly there’s a name—
Singer’s Salvage Yard.
Singer’s place, that’s where he is, that’s where the boys are.
John straightens, relaxing slightly, looking around again. This time he recognizes the tool shed, the house, the porch he’d spent a night on a lookout helping the other to get rid of a nasty imp. It had sent Singer down the stairs and he’d broken his leg—and the car, Singer’s antique, rusty tow-truck that should have stopped running ages ago…
He’s at Singer’s place and that’s—
Without warning, his insides twist into an uneasy knot. A sudden bout of panic steals his breath and he rounds the car, leaping up the stairs of the porch as fast as he can. He needs to see his boys, now, it’s the one thing on his mind, the one thought repeating so loud and clear inside his skull it’s impossible to think of anything else.
John reaches out for the door, doesn’t even consider knocking and waiting for someone to let him in. It’s rude, but he doesn’t care, not if his boys—
He can’t touch it.
It takes him a second to realize that his fingers don’t connect with the doorknob; he can’t turn it because he can’t get a hold of it. Narrowing his eyes slowly, he takes a closer look. It looks normal, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it, so John tries again, frown deepening. No matter how often he reaches out and tries to turn it, he can’t, his hand stops in midair, a few inches in front of the knob, as if there is an invisible wall holding him back.
John takes a step away from the house and looks at it, really looks at it, scanning it for anything unusual he might have missed earlier. The house looks as it always has, old, grungy, not really cared for, like it’s uninhabited. It doesn’t offer any explanation for why he can’t seem to open the door and he lets his eyes wander across the sparkling wall… a wall that’s sparkling? There, beneath the window to the living-room he can see a sign painted in brown color. It’s a sign he knows, he’s used the same thing a hundred times before, it’s a simple protection rune that wards an area against all kinds of supernatural creatures.
And it’s sparkling; there’s no other word to describe it, to his eyes it looks as if someone put some kind of glittering powder on the sigil, from this close it stands out clearly against the dirty wall. It’s weird, you have to paint the ward with holy water for the protection to work and once the water has dried, you wouldn’t be able to see it anymore. And yet, there it is, right next to another sign, this one from a language he’s seen before but can’t identify. This one is painted in a lighter color but still very easy to see against the dark background. Just like the next, even smaller one below it. In fact, now that he’s looking for them, he can see that most of the wall is covered in protective sigils—they cover the walls from the foundation to damned near the roof. Singer would have had to have used one hell of a ladder for the ones at the top.
It doesn’t surprise him; the old bastard is a cautious son of a bitch, even more paranoid than John himself. Singer would have warded his home against any supernatural creature he could think of and a few that might not be real, just to be safe. If he doesn’t want something to get inside, no creature would be able to cross the threshold that easily.
But why are the symbols visible like that? Why has he never noticed them before?
John gets up from his crouch and approaches the front door more cautiously. There’s a particularly fine sign carved into the wooden top stair of the porch and something about it catches his attention. He reaches out, running his fingers over it—and freezes.
His hand went through the wood, right through it.
He jerks it back, staring at it for a moment, before he reaches down again, experimentally running the tip of his index finger over the wood—
It goes through it, again, as if the wooden plank is only an illusion, isn’t really there, as if—
Before that absurd idea can take hold, he reaches out again, determined to make contact this time. Angry now, and frightened, this time, he feels something as he places his hand flat on the door—
And the world explodes.
John’s vision goes black as something takes a hold of him and he—his very being—shatters. His body breaks into a thousand pieces and all of them are pulled into different directions at once. It hurts, it hurts so bad he wants to scream, but he can’t, his throat is gone, there’s no voice left—
It doesn’t take him long to figure it out after that.
He comes to—or rather, he blinks back into existence— next to the car. Despite the fact that he was thrown off his feet earlier and he blacked out at some point, he is upright and standing now, apparently in one piece, whole. There is no pain, no lingering aches, no bruises, nothing that would indicate that, only a moment before he’d felt as if he was being torn apart.
Warmth seeps into his senses, somewhere at his back, at his legs, a pleasant heat that curls through his body. He is leaning against something solid, something real, something that is holding him up.
It’s the car, the Impala, he’s leaning against its side. It’s hot to the touch, almost too hot to be comfortable, but he doesn’t care. The sun is beating down on them, on the black paintjob, causing the very air above it to shimmer with the heat. John welcomes the sensation, using it to claw his way back to reality, to the junkyard, to the house that is still glowing ominously in front of him.
He knows now what has happened to him, what has become of him, it’s as clear as day to him, Singer’s house, his damned safe haven had repelled him, had kept him out like any simple salt-line would do from now on.
Cold iron, protective sigils, bullets full of rock salt, they are his weakness now, weapons he has to keep an eye out for, because they can harm him, they can incapacitate him for some time. They won’t kill him permanently, but he isn’t too keen on finding out what it actually feels like to have them used against him.
Oh, the irony isn’t lost on him, not at all, after all those years, after everything he’s been through, put his family through, after all this for him to end up like this… He imagines quite a few creatures would think of it as poetic justice, that he’s finally got his just deserts and that it—that he could only end this way. The hunter becoming the hunted.
And, in a way it is, it’s like the universe is pulling one final prank on him, the ultimate way to show him he is screwed and always will be the butt end of the never-ending joke that’s his life. A part of him, a small part admittedly, wants to rage against that, wants to throw a fit about the injustice of it all, wants to ask TPTB if he hasn’t given enough, if he hasn’t lost enough, finally suffered enough to get a fucking break this time—but he doesn’t.
Because the larger part of him, the part that doesn’t really give a damn anymore, that part simply starts laughing. Out loud. A little hysterically at first, maybe, but, for the death of him, he can’t stop himself, can’t hold back the chuckle that starts deep in his chest, creeps up his throat and bursts out in a bout of laughter that shakes his frame and leaves him breathless. He can’t stop it, and, after a while, he doesn’t even try. Or care. It’s too much, the situation’s too hilarious to get a grip on himself and keep a straight face. For once, he doesn’t give a damn if it’s inappropriate or out of character or if he’s breaking his own rule to always have his emotions in check.
And it’s not like there’s anyone around to hear him, anyway, with the situation as it is right now he could as well start singing at the top of his lungs and nobody would notice, nobody would care. Nobody would hear him. Or, rather, could hear him.
John Winchester is now officially dead to the world.
And he has just become his own final hunt.
The sun is beginning to set on the horizon when he decides to handle this situation like he would any hunt: figure out why… the spirit is still around, find out about the rules of how to ‘live’ on this side of the veil and… how to end it.
John’s been in the hunting business long enough to know that, no matter how a particular spirit is born, at some point in its unnatural existence it will inevitably turn violent, or evil, in short, it will become a threat to the people around it. He knows that’s what is going to happen to him as well, he’ll probably go just as crazy as all the spirits he’s helped… move along in his life. The only difference between him and them is that he is aware of his situation. He knows a little something about the metaphysics of a spirit and the world they exist in.
And, of course, there’s always the boys, he has them on his side. Once he’s found a way to get through to them and let them know he’s still around, they will find a way to put him to rest. It’s… weird, thinking about himself like that, like nothing more than an ordinary hunt.
He doesn’t want to leave, he doesn’t want to die a second death and cease to exist… He doesn’t want to find out what comes after this.
But he also doesn’t want to become evil, he doesn’t want to turn into some desperate, vengeful spirit that becomes a danger to the people around it. And, least of all, he doesn’t want to be put down like some mindless poltergeist— he’d rather find a way to kill himself—his soul—for good while he can still put two and two together.
On any regular hunt his first step would be to find out why he is still there, what, exactly, the focus of his prolonged existence is, or, in other words, what object he’s haunting.
It doesn’t even surprise him, much, that he’s still around. Given the life he’s led, the constant worrying about his boys, about Sam’s destiny, the need to avenge his wife—he’s always been textbook material for a soul destined to become a lost, wandering spirit, restless even in the afterlife. It makes sense, for all the time he could never settle down and never let anything but the boys or his revenge get close enough to touch him—why would the afterlife be any different?
He shifts, sitting down on the Impala’s hood, running a hand through his hair as he tries to figure out how to tackle this hunt. The first thing to do, on any hunt, is to find out where the body of the spirit in question was buried. With his case, though, salting and burning his bones to get rid of him surely is out of the question. They’d never really talked about it, because there had never been a need for it, the boys knew what he expected them to do. And he knows they would have done it, his earthy remains have been taken care of, and even though thinking about that fact is kind of unnerving, he’s thankful for that. They’re good boys, his kids, and he trusts them with that.
So, since the bones are ruled out, that leaves an object. And as he’s never called many things his own—
A sudden realization hits him and he looks down, at the car.
So far the Impala has been the one thing that’s solid, the one thing he can touch. He can touch it, run his hand along the roof, he can feel the difference between metal and glass. It makes sense, he’s spent a great part of his life in there, the car has been the one constant, reliable companion he’s had through the years. He’s bled in the car, sought shelter from the elements and even slept in it, more than once. There’s probably more of him in the car than there ever has been in the house he’d shared with Mary and the boys. The Impala has been his back-up, a safe place if a hunt went South, almost like a partner who had his back and got him out of more tight situations than he could remember.
With the how covered, that leaves the why. Why’s he still here? The average spirits stays because they feel their work on earth isn’t done. With Azazel dead and both his boys safe and whole, there isn’t anything left he would cling to. He’s always known he wouldn’t make it out of the big fight at the end and he’s always been okay with that. As long as the boys are safe at the end of the day, he’d lay down his life gladly and with no regrets. Well, almost no regrets.
And the boys had been fine, he’d seen them, both of them, alive and standing, banged up and definitely shaken, but whole.
How much time has passed since he’d made the deal? The boys hadn’t changed that much the last time he had seen them, but who knows how much time lies between that and him getting tossed onto the junkyard? He has no means of finding that out, the only source of information is, again, the Impala.
He turns and leans down, looking inside.
The car is as empty as it is silent. Besides a few burger wrappings and other fast food remains littering the floor of the back seat, there’s nothing, nothing that doesn’t belong there, nothing out of the ordinary. No blood, no other signs of trouble.
That’s… good. Good for the boys at least, but it doesn’t make it easier for him to figure something—anything out.
But he’s been in worse situations, and, in the end, he’s always got out of them. No matter how long it will take.
The first time he sees one of his kids, he’s busy searching the tool shed for any clues like newspapers Singer might have lying around. There’s the sound of a door opening behind him and he whirls around.
It’s Sam, he’s standing on the porch, blinking in the bright light. He looks tired, wearing some blue shirt and jeans that look clean and blessedly unbloody. He scans the yard for a moment, eyes flicking over the tool shed once before he goes down the steps and approaches the Impala. He stops next to the car, running a hand through his hair as he studies the door for a moment, then opens it and gets behind the steering wheel.
John is frozen, he’s both shocked and incredibly relieved to see his son. Sam obviously can’t see him, and that makes things more difficult for him, but he knows that younger spirits aren’t as powerful as the ones who have been around for years or decades. It’s an inconvenience, as it makes talking to his boys a little harder, but he’s pretty positive that he will figure out a way to tell them he’s there. He just has to figure out how, but that won’t take him long, if he’s learned one thing in his years as a hunter it’s how to improvise.
It’s the familiar rumbling of the car’s engine that finally draws him out of his stupor. The Impala is already moving down the yard when he realizes Sam is driving somewhere and he has no idea how to get into the fucking car—
Except, when he blinks again, there he is, in the car, on the passenger’s seat. He winces, looks around, confused, shocked by the sudden change of location. How exactly has he done that?
There’s a soft noise next to him and he turns, finally getting a close look at his son.
Sam looks exhausted. His eyes are dull and lifeless, unfocused, tousled bangs hiding most of them from view. His face is pale and drawn, a shadow of stubble clinging to his cheeks and he keeps rubbing at his eyes distractedly. He’s hunched over the steering wheel as if it is helping him to remain upright, watching the street through squinted eyes. He looks so tired and sick that John feels a strong urge to reach over to check his temperature, barely stopping himself in time.
The kid seems to be running on autopilot and it makes John’s skin crawl. He leans back, watching his son worriedly.
“What the hell happened to you?” he mutters thoughtfully, unaware he is talking out loud.
Sam doesn’t answer.
They drive in silence. Sam doesn’t move much, attention clearly elsewhere, some place John can’t see. It’s unnerving and testing his patience in a way that has him all tense to a point where he will eventually snap. Not that it’s going to do him any good, but it does help him with the decision to somehow catch Sam’s attention. He isn’t sure if he’s strong enough to breach the gap between the two worlds and affect reality, but it’s worth a try. It is possible, he’s seen young spirits toss objects of any kind across a room, even people, if the specter was mad enough. Maybe if he can turn on the radio…
Before he can reach out, the car suddenly swerves to the right and leaves the road, slowly rolling to a stop. John’s eyes snap to Sam in alarm, but his son is only sitting there, staring ahead blankly, empty eyes focused on the street. The car’s engine is still running, rumbling softly in the silence, and somehow Sam doesn’t seem aware that he’s stopped at all. He looks so miserable, so lost John forgets for a moment that the kid can’t hear him.
“What is it?”
Instead of an answer, Sam takes a deep breath and sighs… and sags, deflates like some oversized balloon losing all its air. He slumps over the steering-wheel, bowing his head and resting his forehead against his arms. There’s a soft sound, almost like he’s choking on something, but then he falls silent.
And he stays like that, he doesn’t move, except for the slow rise and fall of his back. The traffic outside rushes by, loud and in stark contrast to the defeated silence inside the car.
It feels as if he’s intruding on Sam, his son clearly doesn’t want anybody to see him like this. Sam wants to be left alone when there’s something bothering him, he sometimes goes so quiet he stops talking for days, brooding in silence and all for himself. It doesn’t mean you won’t notice him, there’s some kind of nervous energy around him when he gets like that, he’s vibrating with tension that usually speaks louder than words.
This, now, isn’t like him, this isn’t Sam, not at all. The boy tackles problems head-on, Sam is action, even when he’s working on figuring something out. He’s focused, but restless, he won’t leave whatever it is alone until he’s found a way out.
He doesn’t give up, not like this, he doesn’t become still and withdrawn, as long as there is even a sliver of hope that he can fix it you can count on him working his ass off to make it work. And that’s exactly what he looks like, the sunken eyes, the pale face—Sam hasn’t been sleeping much, something big is bothering him, and it’s keeping him awake.
It’s about Dean. John can feel it, it’s not just an argument between them, whatever it is, it goes deeper, it’s something serious. He’s seen that look before, fairly recently to be exact, it’s the same exhausted but determined glint in Sam’s eyes that had been there when Dean had lain dying in the hospital after the car crash…
“How could you…”
Sam’s voice is hoarse and so quiet John can barely hear him. He’s speaking into his arms and the question comes out mumbled.
“How could you do this?”
Sam’s getting louder, looking up, glaring at the steering wheel in front of him. John is surprised to see tears shine in Sam’s eyes. They don’t fall, but John feels his heart drop. This is bad, this is so bad it makes his skin crawl.
A cell phone shrills to life, making both of them jump in surprise. Sam snaps up and starts fumbling for the phone in his back pocket, fishing it out and staring at the small display.
And then he does something that hits John harder than having to watch Sam break down: As soon as his son realizes who is calling, his demeanor changes: He sits up straighter, clears his throat and puts on a fake grin. From one moment to the other, Sam pushes his feelings back like it’s nothing, it’s such a complete change from devastated to ‘cheerful’ it hits John like a punch. Because it’s Sam’s game face, and it’s perfect and it’s wrong. And if he hadn’t seen his son just a moment ago he’d never have found out that something is wrong.
Sam’s voice pulls him back and he cringes, there’s no trace of hopelessness left in it at all, he sounds completely normal, if a little tired.
The voice that comes through the speaker the next second makes him dizzy with relief, it’s Dean. John can’t understand what he’s saying, but he’s talking, he’s alive and conscious and John’s heart unclenches for the first time ever since he’s found himself standing on Singer’s junkyard.
Sam is still listening to whatever Dean is saying and rolls his eyes at some point, mouth quirking up into the shadow of a grin.
“When have I ever forgotten the pie?” he asks, voice deliberately exasperated. It’s one of the running gags the boys have going, the words so familiar they make John’s chest ache.
Sam listens for another moment, then snorts. “Asshole.”
And hangs up.
John watches him stare at the road in front of them for another long moment before Sam pulls out onto the street slowly.
He still looks incredibly sad and tired, but the phone call has lifted his spirits slightly. It doesn’t really ease John’s mind, especially not since now he knows that what he is seeing is only a poker face.
“What the hell is going on with you, Sam?”