rageprufrock: (fml)
[personal profile] rageprufrock
Title: Wayfinding, pt 7/?
Rating: R, for John Winchester
Summary:

Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand.
—Deuteronomy 28:41

JOHN

Dee, at three, is the most beautiful girl alive. She has dark blond hair and mossy green eyes, and when she laughs John feels his knees go weak, like he wants to drop down and pick her up and clutch her in his arms, like that's why little girls laugh to begin with: to get out of walking to the playground.

Mary's out talking to adults, people who converse in full and complete sentences, she says, but John likes Deanna better. They get each other, they always have, and they talk in the secret language of favored fathers and daughters, instantly fluent in each other. She talks by waving her chubby hands, by tugging at his jeans, by crawling up into his lap in their living room, by touching his face, and when he smiles at her, she beams back and John feels his heart clutch in his chest because he loves her so much. She babbles at him about her day, and what sandwiches she and Mommy made, about the songs they sang, and how much she missed Daddy.

John never know he could love anyone this much. It scares him how much he loves her.

He takes her to the playground, pushes her on the swings, wants her to go as high as she wants, as fast as she likes, anywhere she seeks. At night, he thinks about when she gets older, about having to share her with the teachers at school, with the little brother or sister he and Mary have been thinking about having one day. He worries she might fall down, that people will disappoint her, that her life will be hard. He worries that nobody will understand how amazing she is, about if she'll know how to do her own taxes, and if she'll get mad if he tries to do them for her. He worries about her SAT scores, and if she'll be embarrassed that he's a mechanic and not a doctor or lawyer; he looks up law schools. He thinks about what he'll do if she ever stops loving him the way she does, if she stops looking at him like he's a giant who can fix anything, the way it makes him feel shit-scared and like Superman all at once. He gets sick thinking about boys making her cry, about one day when he has to let go of her hand in a church and give her over to someone else, and how he might not live through it, giving up his perfect girl.

John knows it's a dream, because it's been a long time since Deanna's hair curled like that, since she wore green t-shirts and pink shorts, tiny yellow sneakers and looped her arms around Dad's shoulders.

More than that, he remembers, like the first burn of Alistair's knife into the flesh of his thigh in hell, the day Deanna stopped looking at him like that, when he'd looked at her heartbreakingly beautiful face and all he'd seen was how tired and hurt she was, and knew he couldn't do fucking shit about it. For all the boys he'd been scared would hurt her feelings, John knows he's done the worst, that he's left the deepest scars. Sometimes he thinks that if only his handlers in hell had known how much that had hurt him, and how long, how deep, they wouldn't have bothered with knives, with fire, with peeling off the individual fibers of his muscles at all.

But right now, right here, in this haze of sleep he doesn't deserve, it's Lawrence and Dee's three; they are walking home from the playground at six o'clock. He hasn't failed her yet, and all Dee knows is that he's her daddy, and that her momma's waiting at home, and that when she wakes up tomorrow there will be pancake men on the griddle and that life is good. It's all John's ever wanted her to know, and the one fucking thing he couldn't leave her. Even this is all his. He doubts Deanna remembers.

"John."

He blinks. It's Lawrence. It's 1982.

"John. You must wake up."

He gasps, and his heart roars into his throat.

John blinks again, and it's Chapel Hill. It's 2008.

"John. Wake up."

"Jesus fucking Christ," he chokes out, and pushes himself up. His whole body hurts. He's 54 years-old and he feels every fucking year; he's 54 years-old plus 200-odd years in hell, and feels those, too, the memory of pain, too fierce for all the human words he knows, and too small, now, for all the demonology he learned in the pit.

At the foot of his fucking bed, Castiel is staring at him, crazy-eyed.

"What the fuck do you want?" he growls, and rolls over onto his side, swinging his legs off the edge of the mattress. He hears his spine creak, his knees protest. He's too old for this, and it's still raining, the wetness seeping into his joints and making them hurt.

"Deanna is gone," Castiel tells him, short like a gunshot.

John freezes. "What do you — ?"

"I cannot find her," he says, and Castiel looks away from him, stares out the window into the rain. "She's not here."

He already feels sick, nauseated, but he says, "Hell, look, she might like you, but that doesn't give you leave to follow her around you feathery fuck."

"She's not here," Cas says again, precise, and this time, when he meet's John's gaze, his eyes are blazing.

John swallows. "Maybe she's at work," he says.

"Her car is here," Cas rejoins. "She told her coworkers yesterday she was quitting her job. I heard her on her telephone. I didn't know what it meant, at the time."

John hears himself say, "Fuck," and then he's out of bed, all the pain subsumed into something bigger, dizzying fear that claws at him like the hellhounds had, and he barrels out of his room and down the hall, shouting for Sam.

In Deanna's bedroom, they find letters. She wrote one to Sam, one to Bobby, to Missouri and Ellen and Jo and hell, Ash. There's a letter to John, one to fucking Castiel. On the dresser, near her piles of unworn earrings and an origami crane, there are her car keys, and a Post-It saying: FOR SAM. DAD, DON'T LET HIM FUCK UP MY BABY.

"God damn it," John yells, and whirls around on Castiel. "How can you not find her? You're — you're a fucking angel."

"I recognize souls," Castiel growls. "And Deanna's is — "

He cuts himself off, looking away again, and John's grateful for that, at least. He's already busted his hands on Castiel's face once, he doesn't need to do it again.

" — And I cannot find Deanna's," Castiel finishes, selecting his words carefully.

They toss the house. They search it from the corners of the attic into the basement, and Castiel flits from corner to corner, there and gone again in a heartbeat, and John almost drives Sam's fucking car into a tree when Castiel pops up in the God damn passenger seat as John's driving through campus, looking for any sign of her.

"You're wasting time," Castiel grinds out.

"She can't have gotten far by foot," John snarls. He fucking hates angels.

"She's not a child," Castiel retorts. "She didn't run away."

"It's been eight hours — she could be entire states away," John says, clutching at the steering wheel, because she could be, and he has to believe it.

"She's not in any state," Castiel says, impatient. "She is not in North America. She is not in the Western Hemisphere and she is not on Earth. I looked for her from the top of Everest and I dove past the continental shelf and there's no sign of her — not a trace."

John would throw up if there was anything in his belly to throw up.

"Well, what the hell does that mean?" he asks, his voice is breaking and pitchy with panic. "What — does that mean she's dead?"

Castiel is quiet for a long time, too long, before he murmurs, "It means someone, or something, strong enough to disguise her from me has her."

John slants him a look. "Maybe you're not looking hard enough."

And when Castiel's eyes meet John's, John thinks he remembers — against the unrelenting red of hell, like a gash mid-putrefaction, endlessly dying — beyond the blue irises and black pupils and all the human trappings that John sees now, something terrible and beautiful and so huge John can never know it in complete.

"I have always known where Deanna is — I did not lose her, she was taken," Castiel tells him — the "from me" is silent. His voice sounds like the endless, hollow spaces of a library, the air filling up a basilica: old and huge and knowing.

"Jesus fucking Christ," John says, and turns back toward the house, where the car pulls into the driveway just in time for to hear Sam screaming, for John to throw the car into park, tear out of the side door.

He follows the sound of Sam shouting — for help, for anyone, oh God, please, no, no — his voice getting hoarser and thinner, and when John gets into the barn, Castiel's already there, filling the air with something that sounds like a fucking siren on mute, just the press and urgency and terror of it, getting louder by the fucking minute.

John's about to ask, "Sam, what — ?" when he sees it.

***

In hell, there are stages.

In the early days, John was too busy reeling from the horribleness, the sheer and terrible evil of the place to process anything, and the soul is strangely cerebral in the way it shuts down for preservation, he thought, watching demons scrape his skin from his muscle, peel him apart like an onion oozing blood.

The nerves wear away and at some point it's just nausea, awareness, that hurts, and not the way the guts of you feel any physical pain. It's when they run out of skin to cut and things to rape and nerves to twist and blood to drain and the agony of your physical body vanishes into nerveless oblivion that it all gets dicey, that it gets worse, that it gets into the territory of things John Winchester doesn't know how to describe, can barely remember accurately, just feels like a physical lurch through spaces his body occupies that he doesn't know how to name. But he knows this: for the first year after the pain stopped terrifying him, when the easy kick of horror wore off, a demon named Alistair had dragged Deanna onto the rack.

It wasn't Deanna, but it was, and John will never forget her shaking lower lip, her cheeks, dirty and wet with tears, what Alistair did to her, or how the last breaths of her rattled out of her chest over and over again, every day, and how he always screamed, even when his lungs had been clawed out of his chest. They brought her in when she was a grown woman, beautiful like his last clear memories of her; they dragged her down as a gangly limbed girl; they strapped her onto the rack when she was ten and screaming, turning her face toward him and shouting for help; they carried her over, frozen, green eyes swimming with tears, when she was five, when she was brand new.

When he was numb to that, too, to watching his baby girl die over and over again, when he was too tired of being ripped up — and that had been terrible in its own way — they'd brought out Sam.

***

Sam's hunched over, on the floor, making hurt, animal noises in the dirt, his body a broken arch over where Deanna's on the floor, her hair a dark gold spill across the floor.

Her eyes are glassy and open and dead, one hand flung out, fingers curled delicately, and from the neck down she's been ripped to pieces. There're long gashes down her chest and belly, blood soaking dark and day-old into the dirt, a messy spatter of gore on her bleached and blue-white skin, on the curve of her chin. Her UNIVERSITY OF CHAPEL HILL SCHOOL OF NURSING t-shirt is shredded, and John can see the ghastly white of a bone in all the blood and he thinks, no, no.

Her hair is dirty, matted, and getting worse from where Sam is brushing her bangs back away from her face, he keeps gasping, "No, Dee, no, please, no, Deanna." John doesn't know it until he hits the dirt that his knees are giving out, that he's falling to them, and then he's crawling forward on all fours to Sam, to Deanna, to where Sam's face is slick-wet with tears and he's run out of words.

John pulls Deanna's head into his lap — hands shaking — and when he tries to suck in a breath it hurts like a knife in the gut. He palms her cheeks. He touches Deanna's mouth. He brushes the corners of her eyes, her throat — the white skin of it, too still — and he strokes her arm, the long muscle and the dip of her elbow, down to her wrist and John closes his fingers there, ignores the way blood is slicking his palm. He thinks about the first time he ever touched Deanna's wrist, when it was small and chubby and the first time she closed her fingers around his thumb; he thinks about holding her hand when she was a baby, when she was small, when she got so big, and then he has to stop thinking about it before he throws up. He's looking for a pulse even though he knows there's no way there is one — the ground underneath her is soaked dark red, soaking into John's pants now, too, too much for one person, for one girl, and John knows, he knows, he knows but — but he can't stop looking, can't stop running his hands over her.

"No," he's saying, "no," because he died for her, he sold his soul for her, he went to hell for her, and whenever he'd watched her die there, he'd known it was bullshit, that Deanna was upstairs calling Sam a motherfucker and taking care of him and breathing and — he turns to Castiel.

"Fix her," he says. "Fix her."

Castiel doesn't look at John, can't take his eyes away from Deanna — her body, what's left of her, Jesus Christ — and he just says, "I don't know how this happened."

"Fuck how, who cares about how?" Sam snarls, and he gets to his feet, he grabs at Castiel's trench, hands smearing dirt and Deanna's blood, and when Sam shakes Castiel, Castiel actually shakes. "Just fix her — bring her back — "

"I can't," Castiel tells him, distracted, and he's not looking at Sam, he's looking over Sam's shoulder, looking at Deanna like something stuck a fist into his chest.

Sam's face crumbles again, like even his muscles and bones hurt to much to hold it up, to keep it together, and he just keeps clawing at Castiel's coat, keeps saying, "Please — please, it's — she's my sister, please."

"I can't," Castiel says again, a crack of lightning in the heavy air. And softer, creaking, hurt in a way John would have sworn the unbending edifice of Castiel, angel of the Lord, couldn't be, he closes his eyes, he murmurs, "It's beyond my powers."

"You — you pulled Dad out of hell," Sam says, wild. "You're an angel."

"And I knew then where your father was," Castiel hisses at Sam, eyes blazing, "where his soul was, who had it, and I had heaven's fiercest garrisons at my back when we stormed the gates of hell for him — for Deanna, I know none of these things, and — " and his voice cracks here, his voice a whisper " — and I know no one, no demon, who could have taken her, stolen her from under my protection."

And that's when Sam starts yelling, starts hollering, that familiar note of total batshit crazy-would-do-anything-no-questions-asked that John knows has led to at least one dead body before.

"No!" Sam's screaming, "no! She's — no! You bring her back, you fix this, you — " with Castiel growling over him, and Sam's voice getting pitchier and more desperate and less coherent, guttural and begging, with all the syllables and words melting away.

John loses track of the argument, he stops listening, and he runs his fingers over Deanna's face, closes her eyes, puts his hands over her ears, because he knows she hates it when they fight, when Sam's yelling. He curls over her, he pulls her up, he presses her face into his neck and he breathes through the gold floss of her hair and he tries to wake up. He rocks himself back and forth, he threads his fingers into Deanna's, he pulls her hand up to his mouth, and he kisses the unbroken pink skin of her knuckles, sobs into her fist and prays, and prays, and prays.

***

They put her in the library.

John doesn't bother suggesting a pyre. He thinks about picking her up, about carrying her inside, but when he tries to move her, Sam goes postal. John gets the blanket from the hayloft instead and hands it to Sam, lets him wrap it around her, face gray and terrifyingly blank. He doesn't fight it. John's always known that Sam and Deanna orbited each other, that he's always watched from a distance. Sam wraps her up like a baby, picks her up like one, like she weighs nothing, and he carries her into the house, her head against his shoulder, and he hushes her like she can hear him when he puts her down, lays her across the rug in front of the fireplace.

Castiel has followed them like a ghost, just flashes from the corner of John's eyes, but John can feel him, the hugeness of Castiel's presence like an electrified blanket, muting out all the ambient noise. It kills the sound of cars on the road, the rustle of the trees, the silence is so complete and unbroken it's swallowing, it eats up everything, and John just sits in the armchair in the library and lets it eat him, too.

He watches Sam kneel over his sister, over their shared heart, and John's still because he doesn't know what else to be, what else to feel, anything to do, and Castiel flutters like a shadow, flickering in and out, and nobody says anything, everything in slow motion.

The sky goes from the swollen, overcast morning to dense heat by mid-day, and John just sits and sweats ice, hurts. God apparently hates a vacuum, and in the absence of Deanna — Jesus Christ — to lock it down and get shit done, apparently it's Sam's job, and John ain't moving anywhere, doing anything, anytime soon. So Sam gets a wet cloth, washes the blood off of Deanna's face and fingers, pats her hair clean and brushes it out. He calls Bobby and says, "Bobby, we need your help," and "Deanna's — Bobby, something got her." He calls Ellen. He calls Missouri, and John can hear her already crying when she picks up the phone, murmuring, "Oh Jesus, that poor girl, oh Jesus," and Sam just tells her, something brittle in his voice, "Don't worry, we'll get her back."

Sam stays long after it gets dark and cool, long after Deanna's gone stiff, and John wants to ask what the hell they're doing here, what the hell either of them are doing there, but then Castiel appears, a darker shadow among many, and says, looming over Sam and looming over Deanna:

"It's hellhounds."

John freezes.

Sam croaks, "What?"

Castiel drops down on his haunches, balancing on the balls of his feet, the trenchcoat pooling around him, and he reaches one hand over, hovering it over Deanna's body. Sam goes to snatch it away, but his fingers freezes midair, suspended like he can't move, and Castiel ignores him, just says, "Hellhounds — I knew I recognized her wounds."

John has never seen a hellhound. Not even in hell did he see one with his eyes, but he knows them, the way they fill up empty spaces, the way their teeth rip on his skin, through his bones, into the matter of the soul, tore at the vicera of what made him, seen their victims littering the long basalt walkways of hell. Alistair had kept a pack of them, and when hell was particularly busy, and he was particularly occupied with trying to break John, he would dispatch the dogs to do his business on the other souls in his charge.

"Why would hellhounds — " Sam starts.

"It's also why I haven't been able to locate her soul," Cas murmurs. "My sight doesn't extend to hell when its gates are sealed."

"Oh my God," Sam croaks. "Deanna's in hell."Castiel's eyes shutter, and his palm drops, tired, closing over the wings of her collar bones, his thumb in the divot between, like he, too, is looking for a pulse but he doesn't know how.

"Most likely," Castiel rasps. "I'm sorry."

And it surprises John more than anybody, probably, when he asks, "Why?"

Castiel's eyes, when John catches them, are cold fire.

"I don't know," he admits, and unfolding himself, says, "But I will find out," and before he's fully standing, the space he occupied is empty again, and when John looks down, Deanna's wounds are closed over, the skin closed and unbroken, just blood smeared across white, all knitted together.

***



This part brought to you by the Delta SKY Lounge wifi and open bar.
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