Characters: Dean, John (Gen)
Summary (Pre-Series): The first time Dean went on a solo hunt was eight months after Sam left for Stanford.
Author's Notes: For my switch_25 table ("Strength") and writers_choice ("Independence").
The first time Dad sent Dean on a solo hunt was eight months after Sam left for Stanford.
"It's time you learned how to handle this on your own, start to finish." They were in West Virginia then, about to take on a Litikwat demon when reports of a vengeful spirit in Columbus came through. "The drive isn't too far, and we've done enough salt-and-burn operations that this should be second-nature. You take the car, I'll stay here and work this other case."
Dean drove to Ohio in a daze. He'd never really been alone before—even when Dad had been gone for days or weeks on a hunt, Dean had always looked after Sam. Now with Sam at college, the atmosphere in the car, on the job, and in motels was a little weird compared to before, but at least Dad was there.
Dean wondered whether this trip was really for his benefit, or whether his father had just gotten sick of constantly having him around. He disagreed, regardless—family should always be there, and having someone to watch your back just made sense if you wanted everyone to survive.
In Columbus, Dean headed straight for Union Cemetery to look for Jack McCabe's grave. He located it by four-thirty, left to get an early dinner from a McDonald's drive-through, and came back after dark with a shovel. By ten o'clock there was nothing left of McCabe but ashes, and Dean was back on the road. He arrived in Moundsville well before one a.m. and went straight to the motel room his father had secured when they first came to West Virginia. The sound of familiar snoring greeted Dean as he opened the door, and his flashlight found Dad's journal on the table and the room's two beds, one occupied and one empty. Dean's relief was overwhelming, and all of the nervousness he'd held in emptied out in a rush that left him exhausted. He stumbled into bed and fell asleep within minutes.
His next solo job came up a month later, with a banshee in St. David's. Dad dropped him off on the way to a demon possession in Las Vegas. Dean didn't like being left behind, and not having the car made it worse—he'd spent too much of his childhood waiting for his father to come back, worried that his Dad had gotten sick of all the responsibility or finally met an enemy he couldn't defeat.
Dean found the banshee on the first day, and destroyed it. Then he was stuck hanging around town until Dad finished his job. Eating out alone was just too weird—Dean got most of his meals at grocery stores and fast-food places, and even then being by himself made him feel so exposed. He hated that it even mattered—seriously, what the hell? It had ever bothered him before…
Still, he holed up in his motel room and watched TV to make the time go faster while he wondered whether Sam was getting along without them and why Dad was taking so damn long. At night, he left the TV going in the background just to cover up the silence so he could sleep.
It was four days before Dad finally came through town. Dean rushed to the door as soon as he heard the car in the parking lot, like he was ten all over again and he and Sam had been left alone for the weekend. But Dad only nodded at him as he came in to use the bathroom before Dean checked out. That keyed-up feeling in Dean's chest collapsed into something else.
He was an afterthought, an obligation, already forgotten.
They rode south the rest of the day in near-silence. Dean could have talked a blue streak with all the emotions churning inside him, but he knew Dad hated nervous chatter. He forced himself to keep quiet instead.
In California, Dad had Dean research ghosts in Bakersfield while he went on to another job in San Francisco. They hadn't seen Sam since he headed off to Stanford—hadn't gone anywhere near him—and of all the times to leave Dean behind…
Part of Dean said it was deliberate, that his father didn't want him risking the temptation of seeing Sam again. Another part said Dad was being a controlling asshole, that he wanted to make sure Sam stayed lonely and that there'd be no chance for Sam's negative influence to rub off on Dean.
When Dad got back, he didn't mention Sam or Palo Alto or any of the things Dean desperately wanted to know about, and by then Dean knew better than to ask.
The next time Dean worked a job on his own, he grabbed dinner at a bar and met a black-haired woman with a persuasive smile. He took her back to his motel room and let her ride the emptiness out of him. Lying there afterward, surrounded by the scent of her hair and the sound of her breathing, Dean could almost believe he was there by choice.
He found someone different the next night, and the one after that. No promises or expectations, just a little fun to pass the time. It helped fill up the edges of all that space, all that waiting. Sometimes—as the months went on and Dad sent him away on his own again—Dean thought it was the only thing that could.
"I've got a job for you," Dad would say, and Dean choked his protests down. He always did what his father asked, but he didn't like it. Maybe he never would.
He couldn't argue with the results. He was a better hunter now, and damn good at doing the legwork on his own.
But it still seemed like Dad was preparing him for something, and whatever it was couldn't possibly be good.
Dean hoped to God the day would never come when he'd find out exactly what.
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