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the island of conclusions

Fic: Circuit-Breaking

the island of conclusions

bright star

Fic: Circuit-Breaking

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bright star
Title: Circuit-Breaking
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1,631
Spoilers: none
Warnings: um, angst?
Disclaimer: not mine, no profit
Summary: John makes the decision to cut himself off from his boys in the weeks leading up to the pilot.

A/N: beta'd by the ever lovely [info - personal] calamitycrow

A/N: So: I posted this prompt at the wonderful spngenlove John/Bobby/Castiel meme here . And I got an amazing response from an anonymous poster who turned out to be kroki_refur, here. But I was still dogged by my own prompt. So I gave in and wrote something.


John didn’t get suicides—not for a long time, anyway. Especially not ones with families, with husbands or wives, or worst of all, children. How could you leave them with the sure knowledge that you had made a conscious choice to go away, with nothing but an image of blood or pain to bear forever? It seemed irresponsible. And in John’s book irresponsible was just this side of evil.

But after a while, he understood. There came a point when you truly, fully, believed that they were better off without you. That all the misery your death might cause was nothing compared to the havoc wrought by continuing to have you in their lives. Such certainty might be delusional, the result of depression or some other chemical imbalance, but, to the suicide, it felt true.

It wasn’t irresponsibility, or selfishness. It was sacrifice.


“Dad?” Dean was saying, “Dad? You gonna order something?”

“Yeah, yeah,” John shook himself free of his thoughts, and found the waitress hovering over him, “three eggs, sunnyside down, white toast and bacon, thanks.”

Dean picked up the story of the possessed roller coaster where he’d left off, and John nodded, like he’d been listening all along.

They had taken to working cases separately, but they still met up as much as possible in between, using the same information pool, divvying up the work, and sharing the stories after.

Dean had been cleaning out a haunted amusement park—pure gravy, the way he told it. He’d been there long enough to not only find out all kinds of crazy things about how the rides really worked, but also to learn at least five new scams from the con artists who really haunted such places. Dean loved that kind of stuff, and he was recounting both the mechanical and the criminal details with a gusto he usually reserved for girls.

John pretended to pay attention, but mostly he was just staring at his son. Dean was lit up with the hunt. John had no idea where it came from, the pure joy that sometimes rose in Dean, the sheer grace with which he fitted himself inside the moment. Some random genetic mutation, probably, like Sammy’s steel-trap intellect. John had never had that knack for immersion in experience, Sam only occasionally, and then only in Dean’s wake. It didn’t come from Mary, either, for all her warmth and compassion. She and John had shared a kind of earnest concern for the future that put a limit on their enjoyment of the here and now. It was something unique to his first born, and sometimes John was set back anew with wonder at it.

He smiled, but it had nothing to do with Dean’s story. He was thinking about the way all your children’s flaws and weaknesses felt like your own fault, like things they would have been spared if only you’d done your job right. But the good things in them seemed to appear out of nowhere, as if by magic. If John had been a different kind of man, he would have said, as if by grace.

He had been getting ready to tell Dean about the demonic signs he had been tracking—signs that suggested that the one creature they had always looked for wasn’t far away. But right then and there he decided to keep that information to himself.


The next month, they worked a case together. It took longer than it should have and was messier in the end than it might have been.

It had taken Dean a fraction of a second longer than usual to hand John the right kind of ammo, and they missed the safe long shot. They’d had to get up close to the thing, and go hand-to-claw with it for a few minutes before John could finally put it down for good.

Its talons had raked across Dean’s forearm, cutting through his jacket and two layers of shirts, and so John found himself sitting across from his son in that week’s grubby motel room, simultaneously patching him up and reaming him out.

Dean kept his head down and his jaw clenched, responding to neither his own pain nor his father’s invective, and somehow that made John even angrier. He could feel his rage stoking itself higher, something hot and viscous bubbling just under his skin. His fury seemed only tenuously connected to the events of the day. The missed shot probably had been as much his fault as Dean’s, and, in the end, they’d gotten the job done with only this minor injury. But still the words poured out of him, honed by anger into swift, glistening missiles designed to burrow under whatever defenses his son might put up.

It wasn’t really Dean he was mad at; it was the blackness he now saw spreading out around them, a labyrinth dark as pitch that held his family at the center. A pattern he had decided weeks ago not to tell Dean anything about. The demonic maze pulled at him, his own uselessness and ignorance flying in his face at every turn. His rage was directed against his own futility. He had wanted to keep Dean out of its gravitational field, but here his son was, as usual, fighting to stay upright under its force.

Dean finally lifted his head and looked at John. His eyes held no anger, and very little hurt. What John saw there instead was resignation, as if he’d long ago accepted the inevitability of his father’s arbitrary storms of fury, and his own role in absorbing and surviving them. John’s harangue dried up mid-sentence. He bent his head under his son’s gaze and taped the last bit of gauze over the wound.


His phone started ringing again in the seat next to him. John didn’t check who it was—he could see Dean well enough in the motel window, backlit by the interior lamp, one hand holding the phone, the other rubbing the back of his neck, every line of his body tense with worry.

It was damn hot in New Orleans, even in October, and John had all the windows of his rented truck rolled down. Unbidden, he remembered a sweltering night from the summer after Mary’s death—the three of them on the road somewhere. The motel they’d been in was so ramshackle it didn’t even have an air conditioner and the room had been stifling. Nonetheless, they had all piled into one of the room’s two beds. In that grief-filled year there had been too many nights when that had been the only way they could hope to sleep at all—like animals seeking comfort in the pack, the half-feral creatures John feared they were fast becoming.

So there John had been, lying on his back between his two boys—fifteen-month-old Sam curled into his hip on one side, five-year-old Dean sprawled on his stomach on the other, an ankle hooked over his father’s calf and a hand splayed along his shoulder. They’d all stripped down to boxers in the heat—well, diapers, in Sam’s case—and the boys’ bare skin had felt slightly sticky against his own.

Yet, somehow, that physical contact had given John a deeper peace than he’d known since the fire. Some alchemy in the way his sons fit alongside him, some chemistry of skin against skin, had been reassuring in a way nothing had been for a very long time. The circuit of their bodies had seemed absolute, unbreachable, and the world beyond it had faded, for once, into inconsequence. It was possibly the most perfect physical sensation he had ever felt, and it had nothing to do with sex. John remembered choking back a sob, then, because Mary must have known that better than he ever could, and she was gone.

It had been ages since he’d touched his sons except when they were sick or hurt, or for a brusque hug through layers of fabric. They had never been clingy children, never sought physical reassurance from him; he’d trained them to be like that, of course, trained them hard. In John’s world—the way he’d been raised, the way he’d raised his boys—adult men didn’t touch except in dire circumstances. And you were pretty much an adult from the time you were eight.

Looking at his eldest through the motel window, though, he wondered if, through some unknown set of improbable circumstances, he were to feel his sons’ bare skin against his own again, whether the circuit between them would reform, would generate that same pulse of peace and invulnerability.

It had been ages since he’d touched his sons, carried them, felt the press of their bodies against his. He’d broken that circle long ago. But now that he was moving so definitively beyond it, he felt disturbingly weightless, unanchored, raw—as if a layer of his own skin had been sloughed off as he pulled away.

His phone stopped ringing. Dean moved outside of the frame of the motel window. He wondered what his son would do next. Track him down? Go get Sam, more likely, now that the one reason for not doing so had literally disappeared. He wondered what Sam would do when Dean came for him. He’d seemed so at home, so happy, as John had watched him carrying groceries up the rickety outside staircase on his run-down apartment building, laughing with his blond girlfriend.

His sons would form their own circuits, free from the static of his anger and the crackle of his obsession. Maybe he’d come back to them clean. Maybe, even if he didn’t, he’d be able to give them back their own lives.

He turned the key in the ignition, and gunned the truck out onto the highway.
  • (no subject) -
  • Oh, nicely done! I really thought you captured John in all his screwed-up glory, especially the fact that, no matter what, he's a FATHER first. A great metaphor for the Winchester bond, too -- and sleeping boys? That is LOVE.
    • Thanks so much for reading--glad you enjoyed it! The sleeping boys image was the kernel of the whole thing, so I'm glad it worked for you--
  • Very well done! I like the way that John comes to realized how toxic some things about their lifestyle really is, as well as the electric imagery used to describe his thoughts.

    Thank you for sharing :)
    • Thanks--and thanks for reading! Yeah, I guess it might be wishful thinking, but I do like to think that some part of him worried about what he was doing to his kids, even as he couldn't help it or do otherwise...
  • Oh my *cries*

    This is amazing! It took me a few episodes to warm up to John but when I did he became one of my favorites. You managed to capture his character perfectly!

    • wow--look at your icon--that's gorgeous!

      Thanks for your kind words about this fic--I feel the same way about John, and this is the only story I've written from his POV--he hits a little close to home for me....But I'm glad he came across okay--
  • Still going through your back catalogue. :D

    I barely know these characters, but this story was incredibly moving and heartbreaking. This part here:

    He was thinking about the way all your children’s flaws and weaknesses felt like your own fault, like things they would have been spared if only you’d done your job right. But the good things in them seemed to appear out of nowhere, as if by magic.

    made me cry, because like you I'm a mommy and this is exactly what it's like, isn't it? This was like you pulled the words out of my heart.

    Your story also made me very glad I still lift up Javier and hug him whenever I can, and I'll do it as long as he'll let me.
    • I'm so glad you liked this one--I have a soft spot for it myself (though I just read it through and wanted to take out about 50 extra words). But, yeah, I'm really glad it spoke to something you recognized about parenting. I hardly ever write fic with John Winchester in it, because, single parent, two boys, kinda too close to home, but when I do it's kind of wrenching for me too--

      Thanks so much for reading all of these!
      • You're welcome. And thank you for taking the time, energy and effort to write these wonderful stories when you have so much going on in your life.
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