The boys relaxed back on the twin size beds. Sam curled up with a John Grisham paperback while Dean flipped through an issue of Road and Track. They'd had a long day and, realistically, they wouldn't get more than five hours of sleep that night. Both boys were silent, the television on for ambience.
For once they weren’t low on funds, and although it was better to stay ahead, sometimes a night away from a smoky bar and pool hall was necessary. Dean felt he needed to recharge, and find his center. He was reacting instead of being proactive, going from hunt to hunt barely finishing a length ahead. Tomorrow, when he felt more refreshed and relaxed, he would win them some money.
Dean crossed his arms under his head, closed his eyes and prepared to drift off. "You asleep?" he asked his brother. There was no response. Dean turned and shut off the light. He should have also shut off the television, but Sam held the remote hostage on his bed. Dean didn’t mind wasting electricity on someone else's bill.
He always had the ability to rest his body while his mind raced with thoughts. Tonight he tried easing his mind as he felt his body grow heavy. A knock on the door interrupted the visage of Jessica Biel. Dean immediately came awake, pulling the knife from underneath the pillow. "Sam!" he said in a harsh whisper.
Sam woke up as alert as Dean. The older Winchester gestured to the door. Sam nodded, sliding out of bed, and placing his hand on the door knob. He paused for three beats and opened the door, pulling in the person on the other side.
Dean brought his knife to the man's throat. "Who are you?"
The man's salt and pepper head was bowed low, his hair covering his face. "John. John Winchester. Your father."
Dean’s hunter reflexes served him well. His stomach tightened at the introduction but his body didn’t hesitate and he defensively reacted.
"Our father is DEAD!" Dean yelled as he pulled the man's hair back, forcing his face up.
Under the grubbiness, hollow cheeks and scruffy beard was John Winchester's facade.
"Dad?" Sam took a step back, stunned. Immediately, he recovered and lunged for the nearby flask of holy water. With a quick twist of the cap he opened the container and splashed the liquid across their visitor’s chest. "Cristo!"
There was no reaction.
John closed his eyes. "Holy water doesn’t work on the demon. Try an exorcism."
Dean nodded to his brother, the knife held steadily at the man's throat. Sam retrieved their father's journal. The younger Winchester began reading the Latin phrases, glancing to see if there was any response.
Dean loosened his grip on the knife, switching hands, before again placing it on the man's throat. "Who are you?!" he yelled again. "Our father's dead." He looked at his brother. "Only the Colt works against the demon."
The younger Winchester took a step back then forward again. "Doppelgangers or Skinwalkers can’t manifest anyone long dead. And anything else would have reacted. Right? Dean. . ." Sam was starting to believe their father had in fact returned from the dead. They had seen stranger things.
But another web spun in Sam's mind. Part of him worried his brother had conjured up John Winchester. "Did you do this?"
Dean shook his head. He had been tempted, however decided it was a vile act which would only betray his father. "What's dead should stay dead," he whispered, repeating the mantra he claimed after he deduced his father had traded his life for his son's.
John bowed his head, inhaling and exhaling a few times before saying anything further. He shifted and looked at his sons. "Mary made a deal with the demon. She took my place and I came back. . . She said our boys needed someone. . ."
"Mom?" Sam choked.
Dean rubbed his mouth with his hand. "How?"
"She never moved on. She stayed in limbo. She was waiting and now. . ." John sobbed. He fisted his left hand, closing his fingers around his gold wedding band.
"Dean?" Sam's voice cracked. He wanted to believe this was their father reborn.
Dean was dangerously close to believing too. There were only so many tests they could perform. They were both virtually safe since Bobby gave them the medallions. And a demon would enjoy the cruelty too much - set John free and imprison his beloved Mary, no other torture could be worse.
Dean took the step towards communion, and slowly put down the knife. He brought a hand under his father's arm, and lifted him to near standing. Sam took John's other arm and the three of them clasped in an embrace.
They didn’t know how long they stood there lost in emotions. But, eventually the boys sat their father on Sam's twin bed, careful with what seemed to be a delicate burden. Their father's haggard appearance and thin looks were those of an unwell man.
"Dad." Dean stated, still in disbelief staring at his father, alive, and sitting in front of them. He wanted to ingrain the memory in his mind, but overlap it with an image of a more robust John Winchester.
"Boys, I . . ." John stuttered. He was a broken vessel, and didn't know how to be in this world, his old reality. He tilted his head up. "It's a mistake. . .a mistake. . .your mother."
Dean's eyes narrowed, feeling the personal attack, and wondering if his father blamed him for setting events in motion. "Dad?"
"We need to call Mac." Sam bit his lower lip, echoing his feelings of being completely unsure on what to do with a newly arisen father from the dead.
John frowned. He wanted time with his boys. "Wait. We need to talk first."
Dean glared at his brother, trying to convey that Sam should not push. They needed to be patient and still wary. Dad had been through . . . Dean pushed the thought away. "It can wait. Are you hurt?"
"No." John shook his head, turned his hands over, studying them.
Dean saw what seemed to be black soot embedded in his father's fingernail beds and the crevices of his hands. "Why don't you clean up a bit?"
"Okay." But John remained on the bed.
Sam bent down on the same level as his father. "Are you hungry?"
John shrugged his shoulders, trying to adjust to his bodily needs, and being around others once more.
"I'll get you something to eat." Dean stood up. He needed to do something, act. He helped his father stand, and ushered him to the bathroom door. John did not complain about the escort. This John Winchester was fragile goods. Dean closed the bathroom door behind his father. "Stay with him."
Sam nodded. "Dean, I mean, it's Dad. Right?"
Dean shook his head. He was unsure. It was surreal. They needed to be careful. The brothers still needed to watch over each other. "Yeah, but . . .Mom?" Suddenly, there was another dimension added to their already perilous situation.
"Yeah." Sam replied, understanding their mother was now serving an eternity of punishment. Truly, the exchange was cruel.
And the cruelness of the act was enough that Dean only had minimal doubts. But, there were still doubts because the whole situation could be a lie, a setup to lure the Winchester brothers. "Draw the trap on the ceiling while I'm out."
Sam felt a nervous energy as he carefully drew the trap, and listened to the rushing water in the bathroom. Once he heard the water stop he knocked on the door. "Ahh, I left some clothes outside the door for you."
The door opened slightly, giving enough room for his father to place his hand through and pick up the clothes. "Thanks," he mumbled.
Sam wondered when his brother would return. Thirty minutes was plenty of time to find a McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's.
His father exited the bathroom. He looked better, having trimmed his hair and shaved off the graying stubble. Sam suppressed a grin at his father's wardrobe. The blue shirt with the primitive art dog graphic was Sam's, the ripped up jeans were Dean's – they both seemed incredibly out of place on their dad. John stepped into the Devil's Trap not noticing he was ensnared. "Do I ask how've you been like nothing has happened?"
"I guess." Sam answered. He sat on Dean's bed, aware of the surrealism. It had only been a short while ago he had been sleeping, reading a book. "It's like that movie Castaway," he said, with a twisted smirk.
John took awhile to answer, having trouble thinking. The opportunity to have coherent thoughts seemed like a lifetime ago. "With Tom Hanks and the basketball. I liked the basketball."
"It uh, it was a volleyball." Sam picked at his fingernails, scratching a layer of his thumbnail away.
John glanced to Sam. "What?"
Sam lifted his eyes. "Wilson, in Castaway…it was a volleyball."
"Really?" John frowned.
"Yeah." Sam nodded. This was a strange conversation, memorable even.
John looked around the room, not comfortable in his foreign surroundings, nervous on what he should do next. "Everyone moved on with their lives."
Sam swallowed. This person, shell, was unlike the confident man he knew. The man Sam needed him to be. "Not really. Everything's the same, just worse." Eventually they would have to broach the subject, things had changed.
Dean came through the door in a huff, holding a Burger King bag. "Here you go. Flame broiled from . . . right." He internally admonished himself for the poor choice of words. He took the Whopper, fries out of the bag, setting them on the table. "Here you go."
The little white table with two blue upholstery covered chairs were outside of the trap. John passed through and took a seat without any reaction.
The brothers visibly relaxed. Their father had passed every test they knew. They still needed to be wary, just not hyper-vigilant. Dean took the other upholstered blue chair, while Sam remained sitting on the bed. Now they looked at their father in awe, and with many unanswered questions.
Sam was worried about his mother and ramifications for Jessica. Had she lingered on waiting for him too? What would Jessica be willing to do for him? "Did you see Mom?"
John put down the burger he hadn’t even taken a bite of. "Boys, I can't. . .I'm not ready to talk about her."
Dean rubbed the back of his neck, wanting to make his admission. "I told Sam, Dad. I told him everything." Even if this was not their father, he was not divulging any secrets the demon did not know.
"Dad, I made Dean promise. . ." Sam was unburdening himself also, wanting someone to tell him he had made the right decision.
"Promise?" John pushed the wrappings and the burger away, losing the appetite that really wasn’t there to begin with.
Sam bowed his head, then looked back up. "To kill me if I turn evil."
"That's not going to happen, Sam." Dean interjected, heatedly. "Dad, you said I could save him. . ."
John closed his eyes, realizing how much his boys needed him, and feeling as though he was going to let them down. He couldn’t help them. He couldn’t help himself. "I know what I said Dean." There were decisions made, and he didn’t know if they made sense in his fractured soul. What had he been thinking when he told his eldest not to be scared?
Dean pushed his chair away, and stood up. "Yeah, and we have other problems. The FBI, friggin' demon Meg, and other hunters. . ."
"Other hunters?" John placed a hand over his face, wiping it down. He thought The Brotherhood would provide some sort of protection for the boys, even though he had separated himself from them at the end. But, it shouldn't have affected the plans for the boys, their future positions.
"Within The Brotherhood, outside factions. . ." Sam continued to explain, looking at his brother in concern of their father's reaction.
"Damn," John stated. Too much had happened while he was dead. Changes he had set in motion without foreseeing the ramifications. There was a war, and he made his sons the flashpoint.
Sam saw how the conversation was spiraling out of control with their fragmented explanations. "Mac and Caleb have been watching over us, helping."
"Good, that's good." John picked at a French fry. There was an awkward silence between the three men. Dean and Sam watched as their father ate his food slowly and carefully.
Dean had remained standing, his hands against the chair. "I should call Caleb." He didn’t wait for a reply from either Winchester. He had to remove himself from the room. He went outside, the pavement glistening from a Midwest rain. He leaned against the building and dialed Reaves's number. "Pickuppickuppickup," Dean said, filled with impatience after two rings.
"Hey, Deuce, what's going on? It's late, or early, or whatever." Caleb fumbled for a light switch, grimacing when the room became illuminated.
Dean bent his legs and slipped down the wall. "Caleb, Dad's here. He's alive. I. . ."
Reaves had been lying in bed, but at that news he bolted upright. "What? Dean? He's dead. Where's Sam?" Caleb worried the older Winchester had become compromised, lost or done something foolish. He tried to remain calm.
"He's with Dad." Dean said evenly. He knew the older hunter was thinking his friend had a sudden disassociation with reality. He tried to explain coherently. "Listen, it's him—we tried everything. It isn’t a spirit, or a possession. It's Dad. Mom made a deal to free him, and he's with Sam."
Caleb was trying to process the information. "Okay, Dean, slow down. Where are you?"
"Ohio." The younger hunter gave a curt answer, the name of the town escaping his mind at the moment.
"Okay, go to Jim's place." Caleb rubbed his forehead, wondering what he should do next. "I'm gonna call Mac. Okay?"
Dean repeated the orders. "Yeah, we'll take him to Jim's."
"Good." Reaves nodded at the confirmation of the order. "Deuce, it'll be alright." He tried to reassure the other hunter, to reassure himself too. Dean's prompt ending of the phone call did not bring him any comfort. However, neither one had been in a Lazarus situation.
Caleb stood up, finding some clothes to put on. He needed to make a hasty departure. He called his father, not caring about the late hour. The psychic did exactly what Dean had done to him, blurting the disconcerting news. "Dad, Dean called. John's alive."
Mackland Ames had been sleeping. The burden of the role of Scholar, the only living member of the current Triad did not lead to steady sleep patterns. His mind took a few seconds to process what he’d heard. "Son. . .I need you to repeat that."
"Dad, John Winchester is alive. Dean called. Said they tested him and he passed. Dean is freaked." Caleb said each word with a pause as he cradled the phone between his chin and his neck and slipped on his jeans. He was just as distraught.
Ames had been on the receiving end of many late night phone calls, but never one so startling. "My God. John. How?" His effusive vocabulary suddenly became limited.
"Mary made a deal with the demon, an exchange, I think." Caleb had deciphered Dean's statements, but it sounded gruesome.
"Oh no." Mac sighed, summing up his and his son's reaction perfectly. There would be guilt on many levels for all of the Winchester men.
"I told them to go to Jim's." Reaves slipped on a short sleeve t-shirt from some concert he went to over ten years ago, pulled one arm through, and switched the phone to his free hand to slip his other arm in the sleeve.
"I'm leaving right now." The doctor went to the closet to retrieve his always-packed travel bag. "Where are you?"
"South Carolina." Caleb was glad he had decided to stay in the South to follow up some leads; it left him close to Kentucky. "Dad, is this possible?"
Mackland frowned. He
didn’t know if anyone coming back from the dead was a good idea,
even his beloved friend. "I don't know, Son. I don't know."
Onto Chapter 2