Yeah, I'm back. No excuses, other than a writer's block that had me securely in its grip, it seems.

This is almost the end of this story. I hope you find the time to read and will forgive me for letting you wait a week longer than I promised!

Crows in the wheatfield

Chapter 28

"Where have you been?"

Dean tried his hardest not to flinch when, as he stepped into the dusky darkness of the house, he was greeted by his father's voice from the other end of the room.

He stopped briefly at the door, one hand on the knob, fighting down the urge to snap at his father for startling him the way he had, aware of how wrong it was that he should be surprised by John's presence in the house, shouldn't have expected it in the first place. It wasn't like there was anyone else but them anymore. And Dean really, really shouldn't scare this easily, let anything sneak up on him unexpectedly.

John was sitting at the kitchen table, as he so often did these days, pouring over some books and articles, his journal lying open next to him, the laptop too, with a wild swirl of color-changing tubes chasing themselves over the otherwise dark screen. For some reason Dean couldn't quite fathom John seemed to find it strangely fascinating to stare at the rushing patterns of color when lost in thought, waiting for the abstract angles and shapes to form only to be extinguished again a minute later before building anew.

Dad had brought home the computer last week, announcing that it was time they get their own one now, finally. Sam had taken their laptop – their joint laptop that had always really been Sam's to begin with – when he'd left for college the first time around. Since both the older Winchesters hadn't ever been too comfortable around computers to begin with, they hadn't thought to replace the lost resource until now. Now that they were stuck pretty much in the middle of nowhere, doing nothing but sitting on their asses all day long, without much access to a well-kept library or newspapers or even the informative gossip of the town's people.

Which, no matter how you looked at it, was Dean's fault.

If he hadn't gotten hurt, wasn't slowing them down, they'd long starting moving again, leaving this house and all the memories that had gathered in its dusty corners. Leaving behind the memory of a messed up hunt and pain tearing them all apart and the reunion with a lost brother and son as well as his too soon departure. The house, it seemed, was a constant reminder of their failure to be a family – to become a family once again. If Dean had ever liked it here, felt comfortable in the run down yet homely structure, all of that was gone now, somehow.

If it wasn't for Dad, the last tiny bit of home that he felt when coming back inside would have been long gone, seeped through the cracked floorboards and blown out the leaky windows.

"Dean, where have you been?"

Dean's head shot up, eyes meeting his father's. John had been pouring over his books again but he'd stopped working and turned around on his chair, facing Dean and watching him with an intensity that had Dean straightening his shoulders instinctively, broadening his chest and tightening his stance. As if he would be able to fool his father, at all, with false displays of strength and bravery.

Biting back the slightly defensive tone that he felt burning at the base of his throat, Dean replied quietly: "Been out, taking a walk."

John looked at him with those intent, dark eyes, his jaw seemingly relaxed and his eyes relaying just enough true worry to let Dean forget about the most definite note of impatience that tightened his face around the edges, showing clearly what he thought of his son's evasiveness.

So, they both were on edge a bit these days. Turned out that playing house, settling down, not actively hunting – it was wearing them both kinda thin in the long run.

They'd done pretty good – considering - for the first two weeks after Sam had left again, had been as harmonious as they'd been…too long ago for Dean to remember. But with Dean getting better – physically speaking – the old need to get moving, to keep moving once again became more and more overwhelming.

"Where's your crutch?" John asked, the warm timbre of his voice softening even further as his eyes roamed Dean's body unabashedly, settling on his left leg as if he was able to see the condition of the injured limb through the fabric of Dean's pants.

"Left it here," Dean replied quietly as he let the door swing shut behind his back and slowly, carefully limping his way into the living room, trying his hardest to not let his father see how much the little expedition had actually worn him down. "I'm doing fine without it, can probably start running a couple of laps again next week,"

He didn't care to look at his father as he said it, knowing what he would see, knowing that he couldn't fool his Dad when he couldn't even fool himself. He was so far from running laps, was far from even walking any farther than a couple hundred steps without having to sit down again. But with them it had always been about keeping up the pretense, no matter how ridiculous it might appear from the outside.

It was the Winchester way – patented and proven, and Dean would be damned if he broke the tradition of playing tough in front of the other now. They both needed this – the front they kept up for each other's benefit, holding on to old habits they had established over the years. It gave them both something to hold on to, when everything else around them seemed to slowly fall apart.

"You already did your PT this morning, Dean," John said softly.

"Yeah, so what?"

Dean could feel his father's eyes on him like laser points as he eased himself down onto the sofa with as little sound as possible. His belly and side gave a tweak of discomfort at the motion, muscles pulling taunt and quivering underneath healing skin. A series of rapid-fire sparks of pain travelled through his lower stomach only to fade into something akin to a muscle ache, as if he'd been doing a couple of sit-ups too many the day before. But the muscles held, supported his movements, if not in their old way then at least sufficiently enough to not have him crumble down right there in the middle of the room.

He was doing better – so much better. Might be weeks still until he was absolutely pain-free and running without a limp that gave him away, but that had never stopped Dean before. Not long now and he'd be his old self again, ready to step up to his father's side again so they could join in the fight against evil once more.

John sighed, turned a little more in his seat. The chair gave a small, squealing sound as John's weight made them chair's legs shift over the plastic linoleum covering the ancient boards in the kitchen area so he could better face his son.

Trying to remain outwardly unfazed by his father's close scrutiny, Dean stretched his bad leg out in front of him, one hand resting lightly against his hip to be able to grab the limb more forcefully should it start cramping again, as it had a history of doing, lately. Maybe he did treat it a little too harshly, lately, pushing himself too hard, challenge the leg – and himself - too much. Most days he would end up falling into bed being in more pain than he'd been in the morning, the limb swollen and aching from toe to hip.

So he was getting a little impatient with the whole healing process that took the better part of two freaking months now… Could anybody blame him for that?

He wasn't used to this constant weakness, wasn't used to his body not bouncing right back again after being tossed around and beaten by some freaking ghost or poltergeist – after getting ripped to shreds by a black dog and a skinwalking werewolf – or a werewolfing skinwalker. He wasn't used to not being in control. His whole life had been about being the one in control, revolving around this one simple fact.

Be in control of yourself and you survive.

"You remember what the doc told you about overdoing it with the PT – about fluid built up around the fracture-site and all that, about infection settling in again if you're not careful,"

"Yeah I remember," Dean snapped, feeling his own patience wearing thin with his father's continuous admonitions, feeling as if his Dad was the biggest hypocrite, saying one thing while clearly meaning another. "You don't have to remind me…I've been there when he gave me the lecture, remember?" he pointed out more softly after a while, trying to flatten the waves he'd managed to stir up with his heated comeback.

It wasn't like his father to accept weakness – body or mind – and it was slightly disconcerting how he tried to hold Dean back lately, slowing him down in his almost desperate attempts to find back to his old stamina. As if he wanted to hold Dean back on purpose… Dean just didn't know what to make of it, if to feel comforted by the thought that his father wasn't, for once in his life, pushing him to be faster, stronger, better, or to be worried about the fact that he wasn't doing just that. On the contrary.

Something had to be off if his father wanted to give him time…

"Well, it doesn't look like you're taking it easy, Dean. You're up on that leg for hours at a time, and if you think I can't see that it's still bothering you…that you're using up all the damn ice-ships every single night…"

"It's not bothering me. It just…takes forever already. Maybe you're not seeing this for what it is, might look worse than it is from where you're standing, but I got this perfectly under control," Dean challenged, holding his father's eye as John apparently decided if and how to call Dean's bluff.

Dean had made it a habit to muster his father very closely, lately, watching carefully for any sign of restlessness – any signs that he would get impatient. That he was close to packing his bags and leaving again. So far all Dean had found in the countenance of his father, though, was the usual level of restless energy that surrounded John for as long as Dean could remember. Ever since Mom…Dad had never really settled down again afterwards.

As a matter of fact, John was more settled than Dean remembered him being for a long, long time. The forced rest – maybe it did them good, after all. In a way. Dad was researching a lot, not really telling Dean what he was looking into so thoroughly, but he wasn't as secretive as he'd been in the weeks prior to Dean's injury, either. He didn't have that nervous air of secrecy around him, even though it was still clear as hell that he was keeping something from his son. Maybe he was finally deciding to let Dean in on that big hunt he was lining up, was working toward.

Dean had a weirdly unsettling and exciting notion as to what hunt exactly it might turn out to be…

"You didn't take your phone with you,"

Dean's thoughts stuttered and tumbled over each other, disappearing like bubbles hitting the thorns of a rose.

The phone.

For the past hour he'd successfully been able to block out the thought of his damn phone.

"Yeah, well…figured I wouldn't go far,"

His eyes skittered away from his father's and automatically moving towards the kitchen counter where he remembered to have left the mobile when going out.

He hadn't exactly forgotten…

But the phone wasn't there anymore and Dean furrowed his brows in confusion, his eyes roaming the room, suddenly frantic when he didn't immediately find it. It wasn't until he finally worked up the courage to look toward his father again when he saw the mobile lying on the kitchen table, a couple of inches away from John's hand. The tips of John's fingers rested against the wooden table top, roughed skin and short-cut nails brushing against the inscription Sam had made all those years ago, the phone within reach yet he didn't seem to find the courage to touch it.

Dean's eyes were as if glued to the phone, his father's hand, the crude carvings in the wooden table, and for a moment everything else stopped.

Just stopped.

The pain of his injuries, the worry about his father's departure – about the hunt for mom's killer, if it ever actually came to it. Nothing mattered for the moment but the need to grab the phone he'd purposely left behind before, to avoid yet another anguished conversation with his brother.

Sam had called every couple of days ever since returning to college. It was more than Dean had ever hoped for. More than he'd ever thought he would get.

Only that suddenly he wasn't so sure why he'd actually hoped for that superficial and perfunctory contact at all.

Because it hurt so goddamn much…

Somehow it hurt more than not hearing from his brother at all.

Had taken Dean a freaking eternity to figure out – to admit to himself that his father might have been right.

Every time the phone rang, Dean got almost giddy with relief, body and mind alight with excitement about hearing Sam ramble on about a course he was taking, a professor he respected or hated, a classmate he'd met in study-group or in the café he apparently worked after school. Dean loved to hear Sam talk, period, just for the feeling of company it gave him. But almost as soon as the first thrill of excitement passed – as much as he had craved the contact, he started to fear the deep, bottomless loneliness that always swamped him as soon as the conversations were over.

He started to fear the goodbye more than he ached for the hello.

What made it worse – made it so much harder to admit to the pain was the fact that Dad had told him all along – back all these years ago.

A clean cut – the only way to handle this.

But Dean hadn't believed him – had willed dad to be wrong, had been mad at him for making that clean cut for him.

And now he himself was the one walking away when weeks ago he would have been sitting right next to the phone, waiting…

"'Someone call?" Dean asked, lowly, around the lump that had risen in his throat, working on swallowing past the clot sitting right behind his tongue.

John's index finger lightly tapped against the table, once, before stilling again.

"Sam did,"

"Yeah? What did you talk about?" He was aiming for casual, but from look on John's face Dean guessed he wasn't doing such a great job.

"We didn't. Talk. I was outside when it rang, didn't make it in time," John said, his eyes still on Dean, yet shifting into those unreadable depths that Dean had always tried to copy, had admired him for even.

It was a lie, of course, because Dad hadn't been outside, had been sitting in that chair at the table when Dean had left hours ago, probably hadn't moved except for going to the bathroom or taking a beer out of the fridge. Dean's guess was on his phone lying right next to his father, as a matter of fact, John looking at the damn thing even as it rang.

But he hadn't picked up.

Because officially, Sam and John were still where they'd left off some one and a half years ago.

Both of them were way too stubborn to admit to being wrong, none of them willing to step down from their own convictions and approach the other with a peace offering. Taking the first step had never been either of their forte.

Dean's injury had been the only reason they'd called a temporary cease-fire, had managed to not kill each other in the 24 hours or so they'd shared the same house again. Dean knew to take this as the gift that it had been – the devotion both his father and brother had for him, apparently. Even though it sometimes didn't quite feel like it.

John was still watching him, his brain apparently still working overtime. He was a lot like Sam in that department – the way you could almost see him think. But, unlike Sam, John had the impassive face down to perfection, could pull of the unreadable mask better than Dean – better than anyone Dean knew. There were times when even Dean, who probably knew his father better than anyone, had trouble guessing what was going on in his father's head.

Right now he could be mad, could be disappointed, could be feeling sorry for Dean or telling him to pull himself together and stop feeling sorry for himself. It was part of what kept Dean on edge – always had – not knowing if his father was feeling impatient with Dean's slow healing process, with his physical improvements. So now Dean would push himself harder only to find his father reigning him back again the next day, telling him to take it easy – one step at a time.

One step at a time.

It was all so damn confusing…

"Are you going to call him back?"

This time it sounded as if John was the one trying for casual, as if he didn't care about what Dean did about this matter. But Dean had a strong suspicion as to what his dad was hoping he'd do, and what he'd feared he would do, on the other hand.

"Maybe later. I think I'll just go rest a bit now – that walk did kinda wear me down, to be honest…"

John just nodded, but he didn't look as relieved as Dean had thought he would.

Maybe he'd finally realized what this cost his son, what it took out of him.

Or, maybe, he'd known for a while already. The mere fact they were even talking about Sam now – in quiet conversation…it was probably more about granting Dean the choice than anything else he could have said or done.

Maybe John actually was giving Dean a choice, here.

They held each others eyes for a couple of moments, silent words spoken between them, and Dean knew he'd made the right choice in staying. For the moment, he wasn't only right where he needed to be, but where he wanted to be, too. Fighting side by side with his Dad, hunting and eventually killing the thing that had taken his Mom – Sam's mom, Dad's wife. Once they were done here, he would figure out where to go next.

With Sam still there with him, for Dean it had always only been about the one hunt – the end-game. Killing the thing that had killed their Mom – the love of their father's life. Dean hadn't ever thought any farther than that. It was only recently that he realized that it probably wouldn't be over for him, then. The one goal – the most important thing that kept them moving would be extinguished, sure, but they'd still keep going. It would be little things, but it still would be about saving people and that was one big, giant incentive right there. Dean didn't know anything else. This was what he'd always done.

And Dean was proud to be a part of it – always would be. Things could only get easier from that point on.

It actually sounded pretty damn good to him.

"I'm gonna let you do…whatever it is you are doing," Dean finally offered, waiting that heartbeat that would allow his father to fill him in on the ominous research he'd been doing, accepting John's silence without bitterness when no explanation came.

He pulled himself off the couch, satisfied when the pain in his stomach and side merely poked at him a little, reminding him of their presence but not being too persistent about it. His leg, due to the straining exercise he'd subjected it to, fared a little worse, so Dean relented and picked up one of the hated crutches to keep him company.

Getting better – one tiny step at a time.

"I'll wake you when dinner's ready," John called after him when he was halfway across the room.

Dean smirked at the though.

Leftover Chinese – heated up in the pan on the rusty stove. But then he couldn't help but smile.

"Sounds great."

OoOoOoO

He woke with a start.

It was the kind of awakening you usually saw in movies only – the sitting up in bed, breathing harshly routine, his heart hammering inside his chest as if it wanted to break his ribs from the inside out.

Instantly, instinctively, Dean reached for his knife – not really knowing what good it would do him if what he'd heard had been right, had not just been a dream. But his knife – the Bowie his Dad had given him for his eighth birthday – had always been Dean's anchor, his reassurance. Back then, he remembered, he'd for the first time felt capable of actually, truly protecting his little brother from the monsters Dad had been telling Dean about, the monsters that, apparently, were all too real.

With the knife securely in his grip Dean was able to slow down his breathing quickly, years of training paying off as he took deep breaths, letting the air rush out of his mouth in a slow, controlled motion. It couldn't have been more than a minute and the rushing sound of blood in his ears was down to almost nothing, no longer covering up the other sounds filling the house.

Dad's phone.

He'd heard Dad's phone ringing.

Not his own, because that song – Highway to Hell – was too distinctive, too branded into Dean's brain to mistake it for anything else. For weeks now he'd heard the song and immediately started salivating, almost like one of those dogs…whatever the hell their names had been. A sound triggering an instant reaction...

Pavlov – that was the guy that had tortured those poor dogs with promises of food, schooling their reaction. Funny, how Dean would remember this random bit of information from his long ago and not so frequent visits to school. During the past weeks especially, the melody had triggered a need in Dean that he had trouble placing, the need to pick up and talk to his brother paired with the wish for it all to be over – the heartache and desperation whenever their always too brief conversations were ended again.

Dad's phone.

Not the crow. NOT the crow…

For a brief moment there, right before waking up, Dean could have sworn he'd heard the all too familiar, hoarse call of that damned crow again, cutting through his otherwise uneventful dream, dumping him right back into his deepest, darkest nightmare – before he'd pretty much screamed himself awake.

Or so he'd thought.

His throat sure felt dry enough, but maybe he hadn't screamed after all, because there wasn't the rapid sound of footsteps approaching the den where Dean had fallen asleep, his father not rushing in on him as he surely would have if he indeed had screamed. Since they spent so much time so very close to each other it had become even harder to keep secrets from each other – now more so than ever before. In the past, Dad had been gone a lot, but lately he was always there. Right in Dean's face, even. It was unnerving at the same time as it was comforting – reassuring.

But Dad didn't come now.

Dean barely had himself under control again when he realized that the phone had stopped ringing a while ago – and judging from the silence permeating the house John hadn't picked it up.

The sudden burst of panic at the realization had him feeling light-headed once more – if only for a moment.

It didn't necessarily mean that John wasn't here. As a matter of fact, the fact that he'd left his phone in the house meant that he definitely planned on coming back, no matter where he'd gone and for how long he planned on staying gone. He really couldn't be far. Also, John Winchester had a certain reputation of not picking up his phone when being called – almost like his very own business card. As if it made him feel more in control, somehow, being the one who got to choose when to pick up, calling back when it suited him. Flexing of muscles in the world of hunters, maybe, or maybe it was just one of John's many quirks.

Dean had never quite gotten behind his father's motivation of this particular one.

Gradually, Dean forced himself to relax his grip on the knife, easing the weapon back down onto the mattress before using the flats of hands to push himself up until his back leaned against the headboard of the bed.

He'd give himself another minute until the last remnants of sleep released him out of its grip before getting up for good, investigating. Checking on where his father might have gone, making sure the Impala was still parked underneath that wooden carport next to the house. Running the back of his hand roughly over his eyes, dislodging grit and tangled lashes from his burning eyes, Dean swung his good leg off the bed, using his free hand to drag the bad one after.

Where the hell had he left his crutches?

He positively thought he'd jumped, definitely giving something akin to a humiliating little yelp, when he turned around, toward the other wall where the bunk bed stood and found John sitting on the lower mattress, watching him.

"Jesus…what the…the hell you doing there? You trying to give me a freaking heart attack?" the words left Dean's mouth in a rush, too clipped and harsh to not cover up his humiliation, his embarrassment at being caught unawares like this.

Why the hell hadn't he realized sooner? He should have felt it, heard his father's breathing. He shouldn't have been so caught up in…whatever it was he'd been caught up in to not realize someone else was in the room with him. If this hadn't been his father – had been god only knew what else…Dean could be dead by now – or worse.

John sat on the bottom bunk, hands clasped between his knees, his eyes dark and unreadable, his jaw tight.

"You dreamed again,"

It was a statement rather than a question and Dean swallowed hard, realizing that he had one hand clamped around the knife once more, at least having the presence of mind to go for his weapon – an instinct so deeply ingrained into his very being.

"I called you…talked to you. But you didn't hear me,"

The words sounded soft, worried, not at all the reproach Dean had been expecting.

Only a couple of weeks ago there would have been no forgiveness for him slacking out like this, letting his guard down. But it seemed like a lot of things had changed lately – even some things Dean wasn't entirely comfortable with.

"I…I heard…your phone was ringing. Startled me, is all," Dean stuttered, cursing himself at how it came out.

How long had Dad been sitting there, watching him already? And if that meant that he had dreamed again… But he couldn't remember anything, up to that ominous cry that had started him awake, so it had to be one hell of a sucky premonition on the crow's part. What good was a damn vision if you didn't remember what it was about?

John somehow looked away, dropping his eyes and while he didn't worry his lip or screw his forehead into the deepest ravines imaginable, like Sam would under the circumstances, he managed to still give Dean a clear enough impression that something was wrong.

"Heard you yelling out when the phone started to ring, so I came in here. I wanted to make sure you were…"

"I'm alright," Dean interrupted his father quietly.

So, maybe he hadn't woken quite as instantly as he'd thought. Still didn't explain why John was sitting there like a peeping Tom, not announcing his presence.

"You had one of those…dreams again?" John asked solemnly.

Dean shook his head, again rubbing the back of his hands over burning eyelids.

"No, nothing like it. I'm…why didn't you wake me? If you heard me, why didn't you wake me instead of sitting there, looking at me like you're some kind of peeping tom?"

"It always used to be better to let you dig your way out of your nightmares yourself. Even back when you were little. Found out the hard way," John gestured to a scar on his left cheek, a gentle grin softening his features, "when you used the new knife I'd given you for you birthday only a week or so before and you managed to get the drop on me."

Again Dean swallowed, confusion making his brows draw tight.

"What…I…Sammy was the one with the nightmares,"

Dean hadn't been the one waking up screaming and crying in the middle of the night, all his life. It had always been Sam, and Dean had always known just how to handle his little brother at situations like that. And Sam hadn't woken up fighting. On the contrary – he'd used to cling to Dean like he was the only one being able to catch him, to protect him from the monsters chasing his dreams.

John tilted his head, the smile not vanishing from his face even though it shifted into something more painful.

"You used to, too. When you were little. But you never remembered afterwards, just woke up kicking and lashing out. If I woke you before, it only made things worse. So I'd just sit there and you'd dig yourself out of it and wouldn't remember a single thing later."

John shrugged, dropping his shoulders a little.

"It stopped when you got older. Right when Sam's dreams got worse. Like you shuck yours in order to be able to be there for him…"

At that, finally, he broke off. Dean didn't think he'd have been able to take another second of awkward soul-baring.

He didn't remember one thing of what his Dad just told him. Which didn't necessarily make the whole story made up.

The silence that ensued, paired with the way Dad still looked at him squarely unsettled Dean somewhat. He just wasn't used to this…openness from his father. John usually wasn't the one sharing memories – Dean had always had to be the one keeping the family history vivid and remembered, no matter how much it hurt at times.

"So, uhm…" he rubbed the palm of his hands over his thighs as if to dry them, looking around the room to find his crutches, aiming to make getting up and moving, at least for the first few minutes, a bit easier on himself. It usually took a while until the last remnants of sleep drained out of his aching bones nowadays, until his body loosened up again. "I am awake now. You might want to check your phone, see who called,"

John got up, picking up Dean's crutches and handing them over, watching silently from a little distance until his son had pulled himself to his feet and balanced his weight, bad leg carrying some of his weight for the moment.

"It was Caleb,"

The shortness of the statement pulled Dean up short, a tiny ball of lead settling low in his stomach.

"Oh, alright,"

"We talked a couple times lately, compared notes. I'll just call him back later."

It was then that Dean remembered the talk his father had had with Caleb a couple of weeks before.

The pit in his stomach grew.

They walked into the kitchen, Dean settling at the table, noting how his father apparently had been researching – again or still, when he'd been sidetracked.

His phone lay on the table next to the laptop, blinking furiously. Dean eyed it suspiciously, not buying the nonchalant way his father went about preparing some pre-packed oven-dinners, placing the steaming trays of plastic and a couple cans of beer on the table between them.

"So, you guys caught scent of another hunt yet?" Dean asked, casually, realizing that he was itching for another hunt, to get moving again. Anything to escape this inactivity that left him too much time to think about what he'd lost. Again. "Caleb always has something up his sleeve. Maybe, another week or two, we could meet up with him,"

Dad didn't answer immediately, which had Dean looking up, a macaroni still dangling out of the corner of his mouth. The pit in his stomach was back again, and this time Dean was sure it was everything but unfounded.

When John looked up at him, Dean felt the pit disappear, felt it swallowed up by a nothingness that was too big and too complete to be put into words.

"Dean, there's something we should talk about…"

OoOoOoO

Dean watched them pack the car from his perch on the sorry excuse for a porch.

He sat on the front steps, his cast clad leg stretched out across the width of the stairs, back against the banister. He sat a little too straight, was a little too tense to appear quite as nonchalant and unaffected as he wanted them to belief he felt. John could see it – and so could Caleb. But the other hunter had the decency to not call Dean on it, exchanged some meaningless small talk with the kid, never once letting on bout the mess of fading yet still visible scars on Dean's neck, peeking out from underneath the t-shirt he was wearing.

At least the bruises were practically gone already, at least from John's point of view, who still had a very vivid picture of the purple and black array of blotches and welts that had adorned Dean's shoulder and neck right after the attack of the skinwalker. Hell, every time he closed his eyes he remembered so much more, so much more…

Caleb crouched on his haunches in front of Dean, both of them in deep conversation and while John knew that his son always had been fond of the man he couldn't help but feel jealous of his old friend. Dean hadn't said much to him, besides shop-talk and the bare necessities since he'd found out that John would be leaving again.

Even though, officially, they had agreed on this. They had talked about the necessity of John getting his truck again, for once, about helping Caleb with a hunt he couldn't take care of himself. A hunt that Dean wasn't fit to tackle yet. Dean had agreed, had goddamn given his permission. He'd said he understood.

Sighing, John finished loading the last of his bags into the trunk of Caleb's car, feeling a strange tug of melancholy in his heart as his eyes fell on the sleek, black skin of the Impala, standing shadowed by the wooden roof of the carport next to the house.

He'd miss riding her.

One of the few upsides of having to leave the truck behind all those weeks ago had been being able to ride in the Impala again.

She'd been his first car, the first car he'd bought with his own money, at least. He remembered so many times he and Mary had taken her for a ride, picnics at the lake – John taking her out in the middle of the night when Dean had been an infant and hadn't been able to go to sleep until her purring engine had pulled him under.

John had always cared for her – more than he'd ever cared for another car before or after, in his life. The only reason he'd handed her over to his son all those years ago had been that he knew that Dean cared for her even more than he did. Dean loved that car with a vengeance that bordered on being comical at times but while Sam had made fun of his brother for it, John had smiled and understood. And, as much as it hurt to admit it, he'd probably taken much better care of her than John ever had.

But he wasn't really sorry about leaving her behind now. There were plenty other things to regret – enough to last him more than just one lifetime.

John closed the trunk of Caleb's pickup with an audible thud, watching Dean turn his head away from Caleb, saw the other hunter look up at him as well. Upon seeing that he was done, Caleb leant forward to grip Dean shoulder lightly, squeezing it gently and saying something to him before getting up and turning to walk down the stairs and toward the car.

He passed John and, with a silent nod and a pointed look climbed into the driver's seat of the pickup, leaving John and Dean to say their own awkward goodbyes.

John took a deep breath, steeling himself. This definitely wasn't going to be easy.

As he took his first step toward his boy he saw Dean struggling awkwardly to his feet, frustration shortly overshadowing the placid calmness of his features as the dragged his heavy leg across the floor, shifting a little until he had a firm enough balance on his two feet again. John walked slowly, giving his son time to brace himself, knowing that it was more important to him than anything.

He deserved to be prepared.

Dean limped heavily as he descended down the two steps leading into the driveway, coming to stand a couple of feet in front of John, who realized that his shoulders at least had lost some of the all too familiar tenseness the bruised and torn muscles had provided him with over the past weeks. He was healing. But it wasn't enough yet. Not with what John knew was about to come.

"We're about ready to get going," John offered calmly, determined to not let this get out of hand.

He had a mission, and he wasn't going to risk his son in this – not now. He would need him later, John knew that, but he wasn't ready to sacrifice him just yet. Not until he knew more, was better prepared…

Dean just nodded.

"You got all the papers so you can get that thing removed next week?" John asked, gesturing towards Dean's cast.

Again Dean just nodded.

"And you remember your PT, the instruction the doctor gave you?" he pressed on, determined to break his son's silence.

But once again Dean nodded, bit his lips and looked to the side.

"Dean…let's not do this," John sighed, but Dean finally cut him off, head moving back towards him much more quickly than his eyes did, though.

"I've got everything under control. You don't need to worry about me," His voice was flat and emotionless, betraying the telltale glint of hurt in his eyes.

This time it was on John to nod.

"Alright, yeah. I know you do,"

"You're not going to take the Impala's keys from me, mail them to me when you think I'm ready to drive again?" Dean asked suddenly, and he didn't even try trying to mask the sarcasm in his voice teasing, was aiming straight for the jugular. It was something that John was used from Sam but not his eldest and sure enough, upon closer inspection, John thought he detected a hint of that stubborn, pushed forward bottom jaw that he'd come to detest so much in Sam…

"I'm not…Dean…" John sighed, ran a hand over his face and through his 7 day stubble, closing his eyes to dig into those last, almost nonexistent resources of patience that just had to be hidden somewhere.

"Dean, let's not do this now, OK? We've talked about this. I'm not leaving because I think you're not capable…"

"Yeah, great. Too bad it doesn't feel that way to me. Too bad it's not what you really think,"

John had expected venom, accusation in his son's voice but all he got was silent defeat, Dean once again slipping back into his familiar mode of silent suffering. John dropped his hand from his face and looked away from his son, giving the house a once over, as if to check if everything was alright there. Truth was he couldn't stand to look into those eyes anymore, eyes that reminded him so much of Mary. This was exactly what he imagined Mary to look at him if she knew what had become of her boys…

"You know that's not true, Dean. I told you that's not what this is about. I'm not going to go there again,"

"Fine, fine, lets not, then. Just…call me when…"

Dean drifted off, biting his lower lip for a second before he became aware of the gesture of insecurity, releasing it again with a snap.

"Dean,"

"Whatever dad. Just…take care of yourself. Don't worry about me, I'm going to be fine,"

The last sentence was said so quietly, so brokenly, John felt his heart clench at the look of defeat in his son's eyes.

"Don't push yourself too hard, Dean, alright? You can stay here as long as you like, don't feel obliged to get up and moving again too soon. Your body still needs time to heal. You just need to take it easy,"

"Yeah – coming from the master of Zen, that really carries a lot of conviction, Dad." Dean shot back, the hint of amusement heavily coated by dripping sarcasm as he impatiently shifted his weight, his eyes flicking over to Caleb's car before returning to his father's face.

"Fine, yeah…OK. I'll call you when the hunt is taken care of…when Caleb dropped me off at the garage to pick up the truck. Shouldn't be more than a couple of weeks at the most," John offered quietly.

"Right,"

They stood there for another couple of seconds, uncomfortable silence stretching the very short time into an eternity. Both wondering which hunt exactly John was talking about, how many hunts it would actually take until he'd find the time and courage to pick up the phone again and call his son.

John knew he should be going – needed to be going. He knew Dean could handle this. He wasn't alright, sure, his body and mind still healing, but he was past the point where he needed his father to look out for him, right? Dean was going to be alright – he'd said so himself. And he'd be in greater danger if John took him with him, allowed him to participate in this hunt that just might give him a clue as to what had killed his beloved Mary. If Caleb had been right about this, which was still the biggest IF ever. They'd been at exactly this point about a half dozen times before only to once again find themselves working a dead-end.

Still he couldn't find the right words to say goodbye, didn't know what to say to not either get Dean going again or break him even further.

In the end, Dean was the one relieving him of the decision as he took a limping step towards his father, briefly embracing him with his right arm, holding on tightly, but way too quickly breaking the contact again. John felt empty as his son slipped out of his grip once more.

Dean kept his eyes down, nodded at his father one last time, then turned around and walked back into the house.

There was no angry stomping of feet, no banging of doors and still John thought he felt his son's frustration and disappointment wash over him like a smothering wave crashing against the shore.

Dean accepted John's decision, but he hadn't done so willingly.

And John was absolutely sure that he didn't understand.

OoOoOoO

tbc

AN:

So, I am so relieved that I could post today, because it didn't seem likely until about a week ago. I had nothing.

This chapter was written and I was about to post it last saturday, as promised, because I didn't want to keep you guys waiting any longer. But I wasn't satisfied with it, no matter how I looked at it. A writer's block is something terrible - and maybe it was sired by a hell of a stressful week or two at work, but it seems that I'm past it. At least, I hope you agree.

Up until five minutes ago I loved this chapter. Now, naturally, I'm not so sure anymore, but I guess it was to be expected. Is there something like stage-fright for ff-authors? There has to be, because I have a serious case of it!

One more chapter after this one, and I hope that it will manage to wrap up this story that by now means so much to me in a way you can all live with.

Thank you all so, so much for your wonderful reviews last chapter. They were one of the things that kept me sane, I think.

I hope to hear from you all again.

And, last but not least - only two more weeks to go until Season 6! I'm so excited.

Love you all and take care!