John looked at the closed door of Dean and Ladona’s room for a second before he turned and stalked back inside his own room and slammed the door. He pushed past Dean to lean on a small table against one wall. He really didn’t need this, he thought and suddenly wished for a day from years ago when Dean followed every order without question. Those days were long gone, John knew, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.
Finally, John turned to Dean and adopted the same stance: feet planted, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. “What seems to be the problem, son?”
“The plan. Your plan. It sucks.”
John raised his eyebrows not only at Dean’s words, but the low, angry tone. “Well, thanks for your opinion, Dean, but I wasn’t really lookin’ for your approval.”
Dean barked out a mirthless laugh. “My approval? That’s a good one when it’s obvious the only person whose opinion you seem to value lately is Anna’s, though it looks like your wife might not be too happy with you right now, either.” Dean’s tone was mocking, daring John to refute him.
It was all John could do not to rise to the bait. He closed his eyes and counted to five. “There are things you don’t understand.” It was a struggle to keep the tenor of his voice even when inside he was shaking with rage and fear and remorse for not finishing this job years ago.
“Really.” Dean said, the sarcasm nearly dripping off that one word. “How about you make me understand. Make me see why in the hell the mighty John Winchester has put together a plan so … amateur,” Dean practically spit each word out of his mouth as he leaned forward, his body taut with anger and the need to lash out. “This is something I would have expected when I was a kid, but since I’m obviously not a child any more, I’m guessing your caution has everything to do with Anna.”
John recoiled visibly at the venom with which Dean said Anna’s name, but still he said nothing. His pride, and the growing certainty that his caution is indeed about protecting Anna more than anything else, choked back any retort he might have made.
Dean was on a roll, but he never raised his voice. His tone was hard and tinged with a combination of disbelief and disgust. “You’ve been different ever since we got Anna away from that crazy son-of-a-bitch. Sticking around headquarters and sending other hunters – sending me and Sam – out to do jobs you should have been handling, using your poor wife’s experience as an excuse. That might have worked for the first couple months or so, but after that? Everyone was wondering of you’d lost your touch, if you were too afraid.” He paused and took a breath. “But I defended you, Dad. Told everyone you’d been to Hell and knew what it was like, offered to take them there myself if they had a problem with you. So you trained Anna and went back into the field. Great. Only I wonder how many cases you’ve actually solved if every plan you execute is as lame and weak as this one.”
Like he’d done in his own room, Dean paced back and forth. John watched him with his eyes and kept his teeth clamped firmly together even as an angry fire lit his eyes and his breathing became labored with the effort of not biting his tongue.
“You love Anna. I get it. I love Ladona. But my partner,” Dean sneered the word, “doesn’t hold me back. She’s along for each ride, taking the same risks and never asking me to be anything than what I am –“
Something snapped inside John then. He was across the room in two steps with his hand around Dean’s throat, pinning him to the wall, nose-to-nose. “You better be careful, boy, of what you say next about my wife.” The words came in a rush. John had no more control over what he said than he had to stop the sun from shining or snow from falling in the mountains. “You think you’re so smart now because you’re grown? You say you’re not a child anymore, but I don’t see you acting like it. No, Dean, I see you acting like a spoiled brat afraid his daddy’s new wife will take away his love for his sons or that it means I never loved your mother. It’s getting old. I loved Mary more than I’d ever loved anyone until you boys came along, but I’ve been alone for a long time and I deserve some happiness with the woman of my choice.”
Now it was John’s turn to be on a roll, the emotion of the case, of how Anna had taught him love again, of how their fates were entwined, all bubbling to the surface and needing an outlet. John was an honest enough man to admit that until Sam and Skye arrived, which could be days, the plan was overly cautious, but that only fueled his outburst more. Still, like Dean, he never raised his voice. The timbre and pitch letting the younger man know that John Winchester was still a dangerous man.
“And what do you know of Hell, Dean? You think Ladona’s trip below ground qualifies you as an expert? Not. Even. Close. You want to talk partners, let’s talk partners, son. You say you love Ladona, but do you really love her?” John curled his lip and narrowed his eyes. Dean was pinned in place not only by John’s hand at his throat, but also by the fire in his father’s eyes and the mocking tone he hadn’t heard since the YED had possessed John a lifetime ago. “Could you live if she died or would you just mourn for a while and then get back to your old ways when you were fancy free with a girl in every town? Would you go to the ends of the earth to save her or tie your life to hers so that when you die, she does as well?” John’s voice got hard again. “Would you make that deal, Dean, or are you all talk and hot air? Would Ladona even accept that deal? Are you that sure of her love for you?”
Dean’s eyes widened and John stepped back as if Dean had burned him. “What did you just say?” Dean finally managed, his voice cracking.
“Nothing. Forget it.” John went back to the table and leaned on it again, taking deep breaths to calm down. Nice one,
“I’m not going to forget it, Dad. What did you mean about tying your fate to Anna’s?”
John didn’t respond and he didn’t look at his son though he felt Dean’s eyes on him like hot, lead weights. After a few more moments of struggling with himself, he turned to face Dean squarely.
“That was the deal with Nemesis. She agreed to take care of certain aspects of the plan to rescue Anna from Hell and we had to agree to tie our lives to each other. Or, more specifically, Anna’s life is tied to mine. If I die, whenever that is, she dies as well.”
All the breath left Dean’s body in a whoosh and he leaned on the back of one of the chairs so he was no more than a foot from his father. “Why didn’t you ever tell us this? Does anyone else know?”
John nodded. “
Dean nodded, trying to understand how John and Anna could have agreed to such a deal. A new respect for Anna took hold of Dean and he flushed with shame over how ridiculous he'd been behaving towards her and around her. Ladona had been right all along, he realized. Anna and John were forever, more so than anyone could have guessed.
His father's questions rang in Dean's ears. Could he live without Ladona? He didn't want to find out. He'd barely kept it together waiting to find her during Anna's rescue and since then, they'd not spent more than a handful of days and nights without the other. If she died while they were on a case, could he go on? He didn't know since he could honestly say he'd never loved a woman before. At nearly 30 years old, even he had to admit it was a little pathetic. Would he make the same deal his father had? More importantly, would Ladona?
Dean shook his head. "I've really been an ass." Dean took a deep breath. "All this time I've been taking it out on her."
John looked up. "What do you mean?"
"It's hard to explain," Dean began, looking sheepish. "When I told you before the rescue that I didn't object to Anna it was mostly true. The year Anna was gone was one of the best years of my life." John raised his eyebrows and Dean rushed to get the words out. "Not because Anna was gone, but … we were … we were close. I just … I don't know … But then you got back from your honeymoon and things were different. It was like you didn't have time for anyone else but Anna and … well, it really pissed me off. I know I should have just talked to you." Dean looked down at the floor and sighed. He reached out and put his hand on John's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Dad. Really. If I'd known …"
John patted Dean's hand and they both stood. "Maybe I was a little preoccupied," John acknowledged. "And I should have told you." He smiled a little. "I guess we better go next door and work with Anna and Ladona on a new plan."
"If Anna's even speaking to you."
John’s laugh rumbled up from his chest. “Right. Thanks for reminding me.” He followed his son out the door and instantly came up short.
Dean was standing in the chill evening staring into the open door of his and Ladona’s room. John went to his side and gaped disbelieving at the wreckage inside. A window was shattered and the curtains lining it were blackened as if they’d been recently set on fire. Furniture was tumbled about or in pieces. Ladona’s books had been dumped on the floor and the table on which they’d been sitting was overturned. Her knife lay near the bed in a pool of blood.
Dean stepped into the room and bent to pick up the knife, wiping it clean on his sleeve. He pocketed Ladona’s weapon and stood before setting the table right so he could gather her books and put them back. Time seemed to stand still and if asked, he couldn’t say why it mattered that the books be picked up off the floor, but he knew Ladona respected her books and the power they contained. Dean couldn’t just leave them scattered.
After the books were put back in place, Dean became aware that John was in the room, too, scooping up papers filled with Ladona’s half-cursive, half-printed handwriting. John looked over the notes she’d made, holding the top sheet in one hand and flipping the other pages on top of the books.“Looks like Ladona found a way in,” he told Dean. “We have to go.” He grabbed Dean’s arm and pulled him from the room, making sure to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign in place. Together they hurried to their respective vehicles, throwing weapons into bags and grabbing flashlights. John checked his jacket to make sure his journal was in the inside pocket and they moved off into the woods. They blended into the shadows effortlessly as they followed the trail up the mountain and towards the caves to destroy the coven once and for all.