Title: Epiphany
By: Emily Brunson
Pairing: Dean/OMC
Rating: R
Note: So, bunny based on one of the (many) interesting tangents about pretty!Dean in the earlier discussion. No beta, no nada, this is purely off the cuff here, an impulse, a one-off. John-centric, pre-series. Hope you might enjoy it.
Summary: Pre-series. He will spend a lot of hours, later, coming up with reasons why he didn’t notice.

Later he thinks, For a man who’s survived as long as he has by depending on his ability to notice things out of the ordinary, he’s pretty bad at it. It has been, after all, right there under his nose – literally – for a lot of years.

He will spend a lot of hours, later, coming up with reasons why he didn’t notice. Lots of excuses, each dismissed with a flicker of utter disgust, because he can fool a lot of people a lot of the time, but he’s crappy at fooling himself, and he loathes excuses. Excuses don’t change anything; excuses don’t undo what’s been done. They don’t make things right again. To indulge in coming up with a few for himself is nothing more than indulgence, and he loathes himself for that.

It’s summer, the summer of 1995, and they’re in eastern New Mexico, holing up for the moment at Eldon Joseph’s enclave on the Red River. Eldon’s got about two hundred acres of land, most of it untouched, and over the years it’s become a favorite gathering spot for men like John, men with little regard for the law and every ounce of respect for blue steel and the testosterone high of hand-to-hand combat. This is the third summer they’ve spent here, he and his boys, and it’s a little like coming home in a lot of ways. Closest to home, he thinks, they’ll ever have again, at least until the boys finish growing and do whatever it is they do. Dean, of course, will be with him for the foreseeable future. Sam, well, he hopes he will be, but he isn’t so sure. Too prickly, too smart, mind like the flash of a trout in bright morning sunshine, and the stubborn set of his jaw promises trouble to come.

Here, John lets down some of his walls, allows himself to relax briefly. He can afford to, because Eldon’s compound is the most heavily guarded place imaginable, no one here even walks over to the house for chow without carrying at least one sidearm and a couple of well-hidden blades, and often it’s more than that. So what if few of them add a canteen of holy water when assembling their gear? Doesn’t matter shit. What matters is that everyone’s prepared, everyone’s ready for something, and John lets out a breath of air he’s been holding for months, every time the Impala passes through those old iron gates.

Another benefit is the continuation of the boys’ training. He’s taught them a hell of a lot over the years, but there’s always more to be learned, and no place better than at the hands of a bunch of ex-military current-mercenary gun-and-ammo freaks. They ARE freaks, no ifs ands or buts about that one, but some of these guys have tricks even John hasn’t uncovered yet, and it would be purely foolish not to avail himself and his sons of that opportunity.

So John lets himself ramp the vigilance down a couple of notches at the Red River compound, and doesn’t worry quite as much for a month or two. However long it is before the itch is too strong to deny, before he can’t stop pacing and staring at the long dry horizon and thinking he’s wasting precious time.

This summer there are a few new faces. There’s Frank, ex-SEAL and the only one whose weapons John has never actually seen; Frank has a long jagged scar down his left cheek and dead ice-blue eyes, and even Sammy treats him with immense respect. Frank rarely speaks, but Dean hangs on those few words, watching him intently, and John thinks maybe he could learn a bit, although he prays, at night, that the life never leaves Dean’s green eyes as it has Frank’s.

There’s a trio of guys fresh from some operation down in Managua, and they teach Dean and Sam colloquial Spanish and ways to hide gear so the gringos won’t find it, and if they’re a little too fond of their tequila John doesn’t much give a rip. Dean can already hold his liquor, and Sam needs to learn, and here’s the best place to try it.

And there’s the Chris guy, the only one to give John a little pause. Not because of his abilities – he’s ex-Marine, too, got the same tatt on his left arm as John, and he seems like an all right fellow. But he’s the kind of white-supremacist racist asshole that John doesn’t even take the time to hate; just hopes Dean has developed enough of a mind of his own to resist the occasional sermon about white bullshit. It’s a tactical risk, hanging out with extremists; you’re going to run into people whose methods are yours and whose beliefs are so far to the left that you wonder at times how they don’t wind up tipping off the edge of the planet. John’s warned his boys more than once about those types. He’s never seen any evidence that the doublespeak is taking root. He’s proud of that, and silently relieved. Easier to fix lots of things than that, and he’d hate to have to take Dean out back and beat the shit out of him, but he’ll do it if he ever hears a copycat word escape Dean’s lips.

He doesn’t feel much one way or the other about Chris, or the handful of other guys with similar beliefs that turn up this summer. Par for the course, and John’s bone-tired from the four months spent planning and executing the thing in Victoria, and all he wants, right now, is to kick back a little. Just for a little. Get drunk a few times, really sleep, let his scars turn white and strong, and then move on.

There are a few women, too, and a baker’s dozen kids, all ages, well-behaved for the most part because these sorts of families aren’t real politically correct and the rod is rarely spared hereabouts. The women keep to themselves; there’s no real camaraderie, zero flirting, and although not every union is sanctified by church or state, they’re solid as iron, and to John’s knowledge nobody transgresses. He certainly doesn’t. The few times he needs his rod yanked, he takes the car over to Albuquerque and pays a woman for the privilege, or heads over to Amarillo or Lubbock for a night out. The boys are safe. And a man does have needs from time to time. Works out fine, and none of those women ask about the ring on his finger.

They’ve been at Red River for three weeks and six days when Sam comes up to him in the morning and says, “I can’t find Dean.”

John’s never been able to sleep in, even when he’s in relaxation mode like he is here, and he’s been up since before dawn, drinking Eldon’s fiercely strong coffee and thinking he should take the boys fishing, for once. So he’s well awake, alert, and Sam’s sleep-creased worry seems a little much.

“Probably already out,” John says with a shrug. “You ask Trent?” Trent’s the oldest of the kids, besides Dean himself, fifteen and acts forty, and he keeps an eye on the younger ones, doesn’t seem to mind doing it. John likes Trent, knows he’ll grow up straight and true, just like his father, and hopes he won’t get scragged when Pete drags them both back home to South Africa.

“He said he hadn’t seen him either.”

“He’ll turn up. Not a lot of places to go.”

But Dean doesn’t turn up. Not for chow, breakfast or lunch either one, and by one in the afternoon John sees the pinched look on Sam’s still boy-pudgy features and knows he’s wearing the same expression. Dean doesn’t just up and vanish. Too well-trained for that. Always lets someone know where he’ll be, at least roughly, and John doesn’t like this feeling, not at all.

“Daisy’s here,” Trent tells him in a low voice, when John asks. “She’s been here all morning.”

No question Dean’s had his head turned by Eldon’s middle daughter, and it’s occurred to John that they might sneak off, do a little bit of what comes naturally for kids their age. But Daisy’s there just as Trent says, laughing with her sisters and giving John a wide-eyed look and no words, respectful, and there’s no sign of Dean. Daisy just shakes her head when John asks if she’s seen him. No sir, not today. Is he okay?

John swallows and doesn’t answer her.

By four, the whole compound knows Dean’s missing. And it’s Eldon himself who pulls John aside and says, “He ain’t the only one, either.”

John stares at him.

“Haven’t seen Chris today. Hide nor hair.”

John nods, and likes the feel of the weight at his belt, the gun hanging poised and ready. “Think it’s connected?” he asks, although some part of him already knows it is.

“Hadn’t felt like I oughta say anything.” Eldon has a rare look of discomfort on his broad features, eyes meeting John’s and then darting away again. “Yesterday I saw something. Might -- Aw, hell, I dunno, John.”

“What did you see?” John asks, not bothering to make it easy or soft, and Eldon’s head jerks a quick assent.

“Your boy, he was in the mess hall helping out. Flirting with my daughter, I guess, but she’s already told me that ain’t turning into nothing, and I believe her.” Eldon lifts his chin. “Chris was there. Didn’t much care for the look on his face, either.”

“What look?”

“The one he had when he was looking at your boy,” Eldon says very evenly.

There is a stony silence, John digesting the implications of that, and then Eldon continues, “I ain’t the first one to tell you, John, and I won’t be last, either, but that boy’s too pretty for his own damn good. Pretty as a girl, and –“

“He’s not a girl,” John says, low and furious, and Eldon snorts.

“Ain’t a lot of real girls around here, case you hadn’t noticed. And what there is, spoken for or unavailable. Some men, John, find a boy like your Dean awfully easy on the eyes. Tempting,” he adds after a tiny pause.

“Son of a –“

“Ain’t saying nothing more.” Eldon heaves a sigh that sounds truly exhausted, shaking his head and staring down at his boot stirring eddies in the red dust. “That Chris fellow, I don’t know him too well. Never heard nothing bad about him, though. Wouldn’t have let him stay if I had, you know that. Now -- I don’t know, John, I truly don’t. But that look in his eye yesterday –“ Eldon keeps on shaking his head, not meeting John’s furious, horrified gaze. “And now Dean’s nowhere to be found, nor Chris, and well.”

John’s head feels as if it’s ballooned to twenty times its normal size. Dizzy, and empty of anything but shock, but that slap in the face of Dean is a handsome boy, Dean is the spitting image of his mother, and haven’t others commented on that before? Better teach that boy extra-good, Jack. Tell him to grow a beard soon as he can. Get a couple of scars, mess up that girly face.

Eldon looks at him with sympathy in his dark blue eyes, and John lifts his lip in a snarl and turns away.


There’s no chow ready come evening. The compound is quiet, the feel of a battle ready to commence, only John is alone, gathering his gear, forcing his mind to empty of anything but his quarry. Eldon and Pete, Frank, old Elijah and Darren the priest-warrior show up while he’s shoving extra ammo clips in his bag. All sober, even Elijah, and all wearing the same look of dread and determination.

“If he’s gone to ground, be tough finding him,” says Eldon, with his fingers caressing the fine old Glock at his hip. “Gonna need help.”

“You offering?” John asks, slinging his bag over his shoulder.

“Jesus, Jack,” Eldon whispers. His face is pale and sick-looking. “Ain’t ever had nothing like this happen here. I swear, as God is my witness.”

Frank’s iceberg eyes give John a dead stare. “We’ll help,” he says, and everyone looks because Frank speaks rarely, and his voice is like the whistle of January wind through barren tree limbs.

A chill ratchets down John’s spine, and he nods curtly.

Outside the cabin, Sam is sitting on the fallen log, a few of the other children lurking nearby. Trent is with him, in the midst of saying something in a low, comforting voice, but at John’s approach Sam shoots to his feet, brushing his hands on his dirty jeans. He’s getting taller, so much that he’s almost looking John in the eye, and his jaw juts when he says, “Are you going to find him?”

John nods evenly.

“Let me come.”


“He’s my BROTHER,” Sam says, with thick tears in his voice and none in his imploring eyes. “Jesus, Dad.”

John nods again and gives Trent a fast, meaningful look before staring at Sam. “I’ll bring him back. You stay here.”

“Dad –“

John lifts his chin, keeps on staring, and Sam swallows and shakes his head and takes a step back, mumbling, “Yes, sir,” and turning away.

The men are standing in a silent loose clump by the vehicles. John gives each of them a careless look and shrugs. “Whoever finds him,” he says hoarsely, “you let me at him first. All I ask.”

Frank gives a tiny flick of a nod, and John says, “Let’s go.”


It’s wide, empty land, but more than a few have hidden here over the years, and searching at night is risky. John doesn’t give a shit. He knows places, ones he’s seen and ones he’s just heard of, and Eldon knows this area like the back of his hand, and anything he doesn’t know, Elijah does. Eli’s eyes are sharper than John’s, even if he is getting deaf, and they’ll turn things up. John has zero doubt of that.

They use walky-talkies to reconnoiter, and John drives silently in the directions Eldon indicates, doesn’t look back at his companions while he goes into the first little abandoned shack out three miles downriver. The only living things he finds have way too many limbs, and he can smell there’s been no one human here for years. He stands on the hardpacked ground outside, pauses and feels the tightness in his chest. There are images in his mind, things he’s never considered before. Things like Dean’s face, and full-lipped mouth, not smiling now but stretched in a rictus of pain and terror, and the clarity of it John can feel in his balls, drawn up, in his stomach churning with fear and rage and horror. He doesn’t indulge in what-ifs, never has, but now they rise up like revenants from the darkest part of his imagination, what is happening now, what has he done to my child, my BOY, my SON.

He swallows bile and climbs back in the car. No one speaks. At the highway, Eldon points right, and John doesn’t nod while he guns the gas.

It’s nearly three in the morning and the fear has turned to glue in John’s veins, hope guttering like a lamp in high wind, when the radio crackles and Frank says, “Got ‘em.”

Takes an hour to get there, they’re so spread out now, and John sees the steady high-beams of Frank’s truck and Darren’s beat-up Ford as he pulls up. Another shabby cabin, but there is light from the two dusty windows, and outside men stand, pacing and smoking and silent as the grave.

“He’s here. He’s gonna be okay,” Darren says, hoarse and jittery with excitement. “What you gonna do, Jack?”

John looks past him, at Frank, and Frank’s teeth gleam in the reflection of headlights. “Inside,” Frank says.

No one follows him. No one says anything. John doesn’t even feel the fear any longer. Nor relief. He is a machine, he is a weapon with no safety and only one setting, and when he sees Chris kneeling in the dusty floor, hands bound behind his back, John doesn’t hesitate. It’s a clean shot, cleaner than a monster deserves, and John doesn’t spare a glance at Chris sprawling in the dust. Holsters his weapon and walks slowly into the other room.

It smells, like body odor and piss and blood and shit. Sex. It’s the smell that penetrates, slams into him like a fist holding a roll of nickels, makes his knees waver beneath him. It stinks, and his son, his beautiful TOO-beautiful son is lying on an unmade bed, naked as the day he was born.

Air hisses out of John’s throat, not words, just this weak old-man sigh, and he sees Dean’s body tense, hands jerking against the ropes that hold his wrists, cruel tight bonds like the ones on his ankles, holding him helpless. Dean draws a breath that sounds like ripping canvas, and John reels to him, tries to see and not to see, also.

“It’s okay, son,” he says, startled at how ordinary he sounds. Calm. Focused. “I’m here. Gonna be fine.”

Dean gives a thin cry when John touches his back. Uncomprehending, high with terror, and John spins and lurches to the corner and vomits, fast and efficient. Wipes his mouth on his shirt cuff and lumbers back to the bed. “It’s me, Dean,” he says. “It’s Dad. Look at me. You’re okay, you’re gonna be okay. Look at me, Dean.”

Dean’s eyes are squinted in the lamp light, but John can see his pupils are wide open, drugged, and there are needle marks on his buttocks. John bites back a groan of fury, wants to resurrect Chris just so that he can kill him all over again, slowly this time, rend limb from limb, and forces himself to nod, produce a reassuring smile. “It’s over, son,” he croons. “Let’s get you home.”

When he unties Dean’s wrists, Dean’s hands pat ineffectually at him, grasping his fingers, and John has to swallow and blink and force himself to finish the job, cut the ropes and wait for Dean to huddle into himself, stoned eyes leaking confused tears.

And then Dean sees him, really sees him, and his bruised face crumples, and John lets him crawl into his arms and strokes his back with shaking hands, staring at the opposite wall, unable to feel anything at all.


Murphy’s what passes for a medic in this group, and back at the compound he gives Dean a shot of something, antibiotics John thinks, and another he doesn’t explain at all, and then tells John Dean will be okay in a few days. Roughed up, and well, there’s the other stuff. But physically he isn’t badly hurt. Murphy thinks the drug was ketamine, but can’t swear to it. Doesn’t much matter anyway. Did the job.

He doesn’t say anything about the rest. That he leaves to John, and gives him a sympathetic look before walking away and leaving them alone.

When he goes in the bedroom, Sam is sitting at Dean’s bedside, face intent while he smoothes Dean’s matted hair. Dean is asleep, probably thanks to that second injection, and Sam only spares John a brief look before returning to his study.

“You should get some sleep,” John says rustily from the door. “Nearly morning.”

“He might need me,” Sam says.

There is innocence in the face that looks up to him, that is so earnest and worried, and John thinks about that, about Dean’s open laughing face and knows he won’t ever see that come back. Not the same. Dean’s last innocence is gone, taken by a man who met beauty with greediness, lust, and John thinks that he will give himself, anything, a limb or an eye or anything at all to keep it shining from Sam’s wide eyes.

“I’ll be here,” John says. “You go get some shut-eye, and then pack up. We’re leaving in a few hours.”

“It’s just July,” Sam begins, and then stops without being told. He looks back down at Dean, bends and kisses the top curve of Dean’s ear, and edges out of the room without looking at John again.

In sleep, Dean is relaxed, eyelids bluish and lashes brushing his cheeks. In spite of the dirt, the bruises, he is perilously beautiful. John sits, sagging into Sam’s abandoned chair, and leans forward, hands dangling empty and useless between his knees. His head throbs in time with his fast heartbeat.

Will this ruin Dean? Dean is strong, perhaps the strongest of any of them. Will this be a test he can’t pass? The thing that will corrupt him when nothing else so far has?

“I’m sorry,” John whispers, clears his throat. “I’m sorry, Dean.”

Under his trembling fingers Dean’s skin is smooth and soft. He sleeps on while John takes his hand back, laces his fingers together and squeezes until his knuckles turn white as bone, bows his head and closes his eyes.


No one’s surprised to see them go. Eldon nods, still can’t look John in the eye very long at a stretch. “Coming back next year?” he asks.

“Not sure yet,” John lies. They both know this is the last time. If not for John’s sake, then for Dean’s. Dean who is silent, silent like years ago, moving like a man twice Eldon’s age and eyes too wide and suspicious. It will take time to undo what’s been done here, but John thinks right now that if anyone can come through, Dean can. What he won’t do is make him try to do it here. There’s not a hell of a lot he can do for Dean right now, but he can sure as hell take him someplace that doesn’t remind him of what was done to him.

“Take care of him,” Eldon says, and tightens his lips as he turns away.

There are a few other goodbyes, and Frank startles him by coming up when John’s about to climb into the car, Dean an unmoving form riding shotgun and Sam fidgeting in the back seat.

Frank nods curtly, and takes a fabric-wrapped parcel and puts it in John’s hands. “Give him this, sometime soon,” he says. “He’ll know what to do with it when the time comes.”

John draws a breath to ask, or maybe thank him for whatever this is, but Frank eyes him with his dead blue eyes and turns away, boots sending up little puffs of dust with his brisk steps.

That night they stop outside Tempe, little anonymous motel where John plans to hunker down for a few days, let Dean heal and see what sort of damage has been done. For once he doesn’t know where they’re headed after that, and doesn’t care. What matters is this, and when they’ve unpacked some of their gear and Sam’s splashing in the shower, John takes out the bundle and hands it to Dean.

Dean looks his question – not sure when Dean will talk again, or if – and John shrugs. “Present from Frank. Go on, open it.”

He’s figured he knew what it was by the shape of it, but he isn’t prepared for the knife Dean uncovers. It is long, gleaming, curved and deadly, and Dean’s mouth opens in pure impressed shock.

They stare at the knife, and John says, “He said you’d know what to do with it. When the time came. I don’t know what he meant by that.”

Dean’s green eyes are steady, meeting his, and he doesn’t speak but the words are clear anyway.

I do.

Then Dean looks away, nods once as if agreeing with himself. Slides the knife back in its sheath.

That night, John can’t sleep, finds himself sitting looking out the window, and finally worry, restlessness, propel him to his feet. In the bedroom, Sam sleeps fitfully, all increasingly long legs and arms, covers flung every which way. Dean is a tight bundle on the other bed, on his back with a hand slid behind his head, under the pillow. Metal gleams in the thin sheen of moonlight from the window.

While John watches, Dean’s eyes open, and he grasps the hilt of the knife and smiles faintly, then turns his head on the pillow.

They leave Tempe a week later. Dean’s talking again, and the afternoon before they leave John hears him laugh at something Sam’s told him, sees him bump Sam with his shoulder and then rub his hand in Sam’s hair the way Sam hates. It feels right. Not perfect, not quite normal, but right.

“Wasted enough time,” John says, seeing both his sons sit up sharply, both heads light and dark swiveling to watch him with alert eyes. “Want to see some sparring before supper. Dean?”

“Yes, sir.”

There’s no stiffness left in Dean’s gait, no hesitation in his movements. He’s all right. They’re all all right.

Which doesn’t explain why John makes them spar longer, or why he doesn’t feel anything but relief when one of Sam’s punches puts a bruise on Dean’s jaw that swells to gargantuan proportions a couple of hours later. It mars that clean line, and Dean grumbles and holds an icepack against his face and Sam apologizes furtively, but John just gives a nod. Feels safer, seeing that blemish.

“Getting soft,” he tells Dean as they’re getting ready for bed. “Can’t afford that.”

“No, sir,” Dean says, and doesn’t replace the icepack.