You can dream the American Dream
But you sleep with the lights on
And wake up with a scream.
You can hope against hope that nothing will change.
Grab a hold of a fistful of rain. -- Warren Zevon
Dean Winchester was four, nearly five, and his brother Sam was six months old when their parents died in a fire. Most of the time, Child Welfare Services made an effort to keep siblings together. But there were hundreds of happy, well-off couples lining up to adopt a healthy white baby boy, and a traumatized four-year-old who wet the bed, never spoke, and punched and kicked violently at any stranger who tried to approach him or his brother was not considered a desirable addition to the package. Reluctantly, the social worker in charge of the case agreed to split them up.
Dean's weeks of silence came to an abrupt end the morning his brother was taken away from the interim foster home where the boys had been placed. He shrieked for hours, frightening the other children and driving the foster parents into a state of exhausted distraction. That night he ran away, climbing out the bedroom window when everyone else was asleep. A state trooper picked him up six hours later, walking south on Route 59, covered with dirt and blue with cold.
"I have to find Sammy," was all Dean would tell him.
He ran away five more times over the next two months. The fifth time, he stowed away in the back of a furniture delivery truck and wasn't discovered until two days later, in central Oklahoma. By that point, no one could honestly blame his foster parents for giving up the effort.
Six years and eleven foster homes later, Dean Winchester was generally considered a lost cause. He'd been picked up twice for shoplifting, three times for vandalism, and once for stealing a motorcycle (which he managed to ride for nearly a mile before crashing into a chain-link fence). He was reading at second-grade level, got into fights on a daily basis, and four different psychologists had diagnosed him with four different learning disorders. He had no friends his own age, though several foster parents had reported that he was fiercely and violently protective of the younger children. Even the most idealistic social workers looked at his case file and threw up their hands in despair.
A month before Dean's eleventh birthday, a local Baptist church sponsored a Christmas dinner and toy giveaway for underprivileged children in the neighborhood. Dean had no interest in either the dinner or the toys, but no one had bothered to ask his opinion about attending. So he sullenly filed into the church dining hall with the other children, sullenly stood on line at the rickety plastic buffet table, and sullenly held out his paper plate so that a plump black woman in a fuzzy orange cardigan could spoon a dollop of mashed potatoes onto it.
The plate sagged under the weight of the food, threatening to collapse, and the woman quickly put out a hand to support it. Her fingers brushed Dean's. She froze for a moment, then dropped the spoon onto the table and gripped Dean's wrist with a surprisingly strong hand. The sudden move startled Dean into stillness, and for a moment the two of them stared at each other in silence. Then the woman blinked and looked up, still holding on to Dean's wrist.
"Who's in charge here?" she demanded in a high, carrying voice that halted all other conversation within earshot. "I want to speak to whoever's in charge of these children. Because if this boy is learning disabled, then I'm the Queen of England."
The woman's name was Missouri Moseley, and she plowed through the state bureaucracy like a bulldozer through a plate glass window. A few eyebrows went up when she listed "psychic reader" as her occupation on the foster parent application. Still, there was nothing on paper to disqualify her.
"And besides," Dean's latest case worker muttered wearily to a colleague over lunch, "it's not like anyone else is going to touch this kid with a ten foot pole."
The application was approved. Missouri completed the mandatory training, refurnished her sewing room into a boy's bedroom, and bought a pile of books on home schooling. As usual, no one asked Dean's opinion of the arrangements. If they had, he would've said with perfect truthfulness that he didn't give a shit. The way he figured it, Missouri Moseley was going to be just like every other foster parent he'd ever had, which meant there was no point in forming an opinion; he wasn't going to be around long enough for it to matter.
Missouri was nothing like any other foster parent Dean had ever had. She seemed always annoyed, but never actually angry. She could stop nightmares with a chant and a bagful of herbs tucked under a pillow. She knew what sort of trouble Dean was going to get into about five minutes before he got into it. She was the first person Dean had ever met who was more stubborn that he was, and she could be kind in a way that didn't really feel like kindness, so Dean could accept it without feeling weak. It took him nearly a year to figure that last bit out, but by then it was too late. He already loved her.
Not that she didn't weird him out sometimes, even after he'd lived with her for years. Every now and then, Dean would turn his head in the middle of some perfectly ordinary task -- washing dishes, or doing his homework, or just watching TV -- to find her watching him with a strange, intense expression, as if she was reading something inside his head that even he didn't know was there. "What is it, Mom?" Dean would ask, but Missouri would only shake her head and snap at him to get back to whatever he was doing.
Missouri wondered sometimes if she was doing the right thing. It was one thing to feed comforting lies to her customers. It was something else entirely to hide the truth from her son. She told herself that she wasn't really hiding anything, that Dean would remember if he wanted to, that there was no point in inviting trouble. She told herself that the chill she sometimes felt in Dean's presence was only an echo of a dead and buried past, that she was a medium, not a prophet. She'd gotten really good at comforting lies over the years.
It took years of intensive home schooling to fully put the nonsense about learning disabilites to rest, but by the time Dean started high school, no one brought up the subject any more. Dean's grades were never far above average, but he took the baseball team to two consecutive state championships and set his school's all-time record for strikeouts, which was good enough for the University of Kansas. Missouri came to every game, wore a Jayhawks sweatshirt and learned how to do the wave, but by the time Dean started his senior year she still couldn't explain what a balk was.
It was a perfectly ordinary Sunday afternoon when Missouri came home from a church bake sale to find Dean in the living room serving coffee and slices of her homemade cinnamon bread to a gangly teenage boy in neatly pressed khakis.
"Miss Moseley." The boy stood up and held out his hand. "Dean's just been telling me about you. I'm Sam Crawford."
Sam Crawford had short brown hair and an easy smile. His accent was faintly southern. His shirt looked expensive. There was no rational reason at all for the dread Missouri felt when she looked at him.
"Sam thinks he's my brother," Dean said. "I have a brother." His eyes were shining.
"How did you find us?" Missouri blurted out. Sam shrugged awkwardly and shuffled his feet. Behind him, Dean frowned. Missouri knew she was being rude to a guest, inexcusably rude after all the effort she'd expended on instilling proper company manners in Dean. She couldn't help it. All the shadows she'd glimpsed hovering around her son over the years, all the premonitions she'd so steadfastly ignored -- they were out in force now, waiting to pounce. She couldn't bring herself to shake that nice boy's hand.
Sam blushed. It made him look even younger and more sincere than before, which was saying a lot. "I know it'll sound strange," he said, "or, well, maybe not to i you /i . But I've been having dreams. About Dean. It took me a while to put the pieces together, to work out who he was... who he must be." He shook his head. "I knew I was adopted, but I never knew about a brother until I talked to my parents. And then... you understand, don't you? I had to come. I had to meet him."
"Of course," Missouri said in a dull, distant voice. She swayed on her feet, and Sam reached out to steady her.
Missouri had always known the limits of her powers. She could read minds, with varying degrees of clarity. She could touch inanimate objects and, if the connection was strong enough, get echoes and images of their owners. She could recognize haunted places, sense the presence of spirits. But she had never been able to see the future -- until the boy who was once Sam Winchester put his hand on her arm.
"Mom?" Dean's voice seemed to come from a distance, breathless and worried. "Mom, are you okay? Talk to me."
Missouri opened her eyes, blinking away images of blood and fire. She was lying on the sofa with her shoes off and the collar of her shirt undone. Dean kneeled on the floor next to her, and Sam hovered awkwardly behind him. Both boys looked frightened and pale. Dean kept patting her hand, and Missouri didn't need to be a mind reader to know he was reassuring himself as much as her. She held on to her son's arm and pulled herself up to a sitting position.
"I'm all right," she said. It was a lie, of course. She wasn't all right, because her son wasn't all right. Or rather, he wouldn't be. Not for much longer. Missouri wrapped her arms around herself and rocked back and forth, fighting down the fear. She had seen enough to know that something was starting, but not enough to know how it would end. She couldn't stop it, but she thought, perhaps, that she could help. If she could see more, learn more, she could prepare the boys.
She drew in a deep, shuddering breath and looked up over Dean's head at Sam.
"Sit down, boy," she said. "We all need to talk."
Dean stood in the doorway, rifle in hand, and peered out into the moonlit night. He could hear the chanting behind him, Mom's and Sam's voices perfectly in synch, and he knew that magic was flowing into the room, coiling in the air above their altar like an electrical charge in a capacitor. He couldn't see it, couldn't feel it, but he knew it was there.
Outside, the clearing in front of the cabin was quiet, nothing more threatening than the occasional cricket chirp disturbing the green stillness of a Montana summer. Dean knew it was too early for anything to happen. The full moon had only just risen. It would take another minute or so for Mom and Sam to complete the summoning spell, then at least five more minutes for the werewolves to reach the clearing where Dean could shoot them. But Mom had told him to stand guard, so he was standing guard. Mary Winchester did not tolerate arguments on the job.
The chanting grew louder. Dean glanced backwards over his shoulder and saw the black candles on the altar flicker, though there was no breeze in the room. Mom and Sam had their hands linked above the altar. Between them, the tall silver goblet of blood -- Sam's this time around, because the spell required blood from the primary caster -- seemed to glow with a faint reddish sheen that was too steady to be cast by candle flames. Mom's face was hidden by her hair, but Sam's was clearly visible: eyes shut, brow furrowed in concentration, skin flushed and gleaming with sweat as if he was feverish.
Dean tightened his grip on the rifle and swallowed down the sour taste of fear in his mouth. Sam had no business casting a spell this powerful. He was only fourteen, he'd never tried anything more demanding than wards and scryings before. But he'd been arguing for weeks that he was ready, and Mary had finally agreed, shooting down Dean's objections with a cool glare.
"Do your job, Dean," she'd said; "don't tell me and Sam how to do ours."
Job. Right. Dean had no illusions about the extent of his contribution to the family business. A strong arm, a steady aim, and the occasional pint of blood when a spell allowed for it. Mom and Sam did all the real work. Mary Winchester was probably the most powerful witch in North America. Sam was well on his way to catching up. Dean was the muscle.
The candle flames flickered again. Sam's breath hitched. Dean took an involuntary step toward him, then froze when Sam's eyes abruptly opened. His irises glowed a deep, garnet red.
"Eyes on the door, Dean," he said in a deep rasp that sounded nothing like his normal voice. Then he closed his eyes again and resumed the chant.
Dean fought down a violent impulse to march into the room and kick over the altar. It would do a lot more harm than good, and he didn't want to even imagine what Mom's reaction would be, assuming they all survived the fallout. So he turned his back on the room, resumed his watch and tried not to think about what was happening behind him.
He heard the werewolves before he saw them. Not the stereotypical horror-movie howling, but a steady rustling in the underbrush, moving closer every second and punctuated by occasional snarls and growls. Werewolves, Dean knew, were larger and burlier than proper wolves, and tended to make a lot more noise. He planted his feet and raised the rifle to his shoulder just in time to see them burst into the clearing.
Aim, fire. Aim, fire. There were four of them. Caught in the grip of the summoning spell, the creatures didn't even try to scatter or dodge. When Dean dropped the first one, the others just leaped over the fallen corpse and kept coming in a straight line. It was like picking off targets on a shooting range. The only problem was, they were moving so damn fast. Dean didn't waste a second between shots, yet the last werewolf was actually leaping for his throat by the time Dean sighted on it. Dean braced himself against the impact and planted a bullet into the snarling muzzle at nearly point-blank range.
He barely had time to register the splatter of gore on his face before the thing slammed into him, bearing him down to the floor. Dean grunted as he landed hard on his back, and let go of the rifle. The body on top of him was still twitching, but he knew it was dead -- most of its head was gone. Dean buried his hands in blood-slick fur and pushed, heaving the corpse to the side. It landed with a dull thump and lay still.
Dean, too, lay still for a few moments to catch his breath, then sat up and scrubbed his face with his sleeve. It came away smeared with blood and other stuff he didn't want to look closely at, but none of it was his, which qualified this as a good night. His back twinged as he moved, and there would probably be some spectacular bruising there later, but no one ever died of a bruise. Dean rose to his feet, only a little unsteady, and turned to see how Mom and Sam were doing.
Sam was sprawled on his back in front of the altar with his head in Mary's lap. Most of the candles had gone out, but the ones that remained cast enough light for Dean to see how still and pale his brother was. He stumbled forward, anxiety churning in his gut again.
"He's all right." Mary was loosening the collar of Sam's shirt. "Just drained. Go take care of the bodies. I'll watch him."
Dean hesitated, unable to take his eyes off Sam's ashen face. "Does he need anything? I could fetch the medical ki--"
"The bodies, Dean." Mary's voice hardened. She didn't look up, but Dean dropped his gaze anyway.
"I'm going," he said in a flat voice and headed for the door.
Sam would be okay, Dean told himself as he retrieved the rifle from the floor and jogged out to the car. Mom would make sure of it. Sam was too important, the hope of the family, the only one who might one day be strong enough to defeat the thing that had killed Dad.
Or so Mom always said, anyway. Dean had long ago given up pointing out that they didn't know what had killed Dad, were no closer to knowing now than they had been thirteen years before.
Sometimes -- most of the time -- Dean worried about what it was doing to Sam, all the blood and death and dark magic, all in the name of avenging a man Sam had never even knewn. When they were younger, he'd made a point of talking to Sam about their father whenever he could. But there was so little to say, only a handful of vaguely-remembered impressions to repeat over and over. Eventually, Sam had simply lost interest. And Dean's own memory was becoming fuzzy. He could recall a deep, rumbling laugh, strong hands lifting him up into a brilliant blue sky, a laughing voice shouting "Great catch, Dean! You're a natural." But it was all hazy now, and Dean didn't know how to make Sam understand what any of it meant.
Dean popped the trunk on the car, tossed the rifle in, and took out a shovel, a flashlight and a towel. He used the towel to wipe as much blood as he could from his skin, hair and clothes, then took it with him to the edge of the clearing. There was a spot there, just behind a row of trees, that he thought would be a good place to dig. Dean left the towel and the shovel on the ground and went to check the bodies.
They'd all changed back to human by then. He'd known they would, but it didn't make it any easier to watch his flashlight beam reveal the twisted, naked limbs and bloody bullet holes. The three corpses in the clearing turned out to be two men and a woman. None looked familiar, which was a relief. It would've been that much worse if any of them had turned out to be one of the people he and Mom had talked to in town. Everyone had been so nice.
The body inside the cabin had no face to be recognized by, and Dean wasn't about to stop and look for distinguishing marks. He lingered just long enough to see that Sam was sitting up and drinking water from a bottle Mary held to his mouth. Then he grabbed the corpse by the ankles and dragged it outside to lie with the others.
His bruised back started to complain as soon as he started digging, but there was nothing he could do about it except grit his teeth and keep going. It would take most of the night to make a hole large enough to bury four bodies in, and they had to be gone by dawn. Dean had seen both Sam and Mary in the aftermath of a major spell often enough to know they'd be of no help; Mom would be prone to dizzy spells for the next several hours, and Sam would be lucky if managed to stand before morning. Dean knew it wasn't really reasonable to feel resentful at being stuck with the grunt work each time, but he couldn't help it. He was fucking tired.
He could do more than this. Could do better than this. He might have about as much magic in him as the average piece of rock, but he had a "fine analytical mind" and a "rare gift for science." All his teachers had said so, in recommendation letters Dean had steamed open and read before carefully resealing and sticking them into the college application envelopes. And other people apparently agreed, because the acceptance letter from Carnegie Mellon was buried at the bottom of Dean's duffel bag along with the scholarship offer. Not a full scholarship, but he could get loans and a part-time job to make up the rest once he got there. Assuming he did get there. He could make it work.
Dean was painfully aware that Mom and Sam were both perfectly capable of stopping him from going. Hell, if they felt like it, they could stop him from even i wanting /i to go, and that thought was scarier than any monster he'd faced down in his life. He didn't think Mom would actually do it, but he wasn't prepared to bet on it either. And Sam... lately Dean was starting to be a little afraid of Sam, and if there was anything in life more pathetic than being afraid of his baby brother, he didn't know what it was. Just another indication that it was time to go, and to go in secret.
He'd do mechanical engineering. Or maybe computer science. He was good at that sort of stuff. The laws of physics didn't change with phases of the moon or suddenly stop working if you sneezed in the middle of solving an equation. There were rules to them, and patterns, and Dean could make sense of them even when most people couldn't. It wasn't magic, but it was something he could build a life from, something he could use to make himself into more than just Mary Winchester's personal thug. And maybe it was selfish of him to want it, but Dean no longer cared. He had his way out. He was taking it.
When he was twenty-one, Dean Winchester decided that it was time to stop being an employee in his father's garage and start being a partner.
It was a good time for it. Mike, John's current partner, had been talking about retiring for some time now. He'd sell his share in the business for a reasonable price. And John needed somebody around who had a head for business. He was great at actually fixing the cars, not so great at day-to-day decision making. Dean had been doing most of the bookkeeping and accounting for the past year anyway. Might as well make it official.
He had some money saved up. The original plan had been to use it to buy a fancy engagement ring for Emily. But Emily had made it perfectly clear that she'd rather have a secure future than a piece of flashy jewelry. Dean figured he could get John to cosign for a loan for the rest of the money, and then he'd be set.
Sam was highly amused when Dean told him the plan, and sneered in a manner that only a little brother could manage.
"Don't take it the wrong way," he said, "but you are waaaaay too respectable for your own good."
"Uh-huh," said Dean. "So says a guy who's just mailed out his 912th college application."
"College," Sam announced in his best lecturing voice, "is a place where young, red-blooded American males go to drink, party and get laid for four years at their parents' expense. If you'd tried it when you had a chance, maybe you wouldn't be such a middle-aged fart at twenty-one."
"If the alternative is to be you," Dean grumbled, "I'll pass, thanks."
Sam laughed and thumped his feet on top of the coffee table, a habit John and Dean had never managed to cure him of.
"Seriously," he said, "I know you have it all planned out, and it's great about you and Emily and all that, but don't you want to go out and have some fun first?"
"I'm having fun here."
"You know what I mean. If college isn't your thing, you could... I don't know, backpack across Europe or go beach combing in the Florida Keys or something. You don't have to have your life all planned out right now."
Dean shrugged. This was a familiar argument, and he really wasn't in the mood to have it again.
"I like what I'm doing, Sam. I don't need to experiment just for the hell of it. And besides, Dad needs me."
"Dad can take care of himself," Sam said softly. "Or at least, I think he could, if you ever gave him half a chance."
That, too, was a familiar argument. Dean suppressed a sigh.
"I think I'd better get going." He started to get up from the couch, but Sam grabbed his sleeve.
"Hey. You know I'm behind you all the way, right?"
"I know." Dean punched Sam lightly on the shoulder. "See you later, jerk."
"Sure, old fart."
Dean flipped him the finger and headed over to the garage to talk to his father.
John was in the middle of fixing a transmission when Dean arrived, but he was happy enough to take a break and listen while Dean outlined his plans.
"It's a good idea," he said when Dean finished. "Sensible."
"Right." Dean nodded. "I'll talk to Mike tomorrow."
"You do that." John looked down at his grease-stained hands, his face shadowed and still. "So I guess that means you and Emily will be setting a date soon?"
"Uhm, yeah." Dean cleared his throat. "We're thinking July or August, maybe. She'll be done with nursing school by then, and her brothers will be home from college."
"That's good." There was a hollow ring in John's voice that set off mild but immediate alarm bells in Dean's mind.
"Everything okay, Dad?"
"Sure, Dean." John actually looked up and smiled, but not in a way Dean could really believe. "Everything's great. I'm so happy for you and Emily. I hope... I hope it all works out for you."
The unspoken like it didn't for me hung in the air between them, an intangible shadow. It wasn't something they could talk about, or anything Dean could try and fix, it was just... there. Dean hated that. He tried to think of something he could say to lighten the mood, but John was already getting up from his chair.
"I'd better get back to work," he said.
"Right." Dean got up too. "Listen, you wanna come over for dinner tonight? Emily would--"
"I'm a little tired today, son," John said quickly. "Maybe sometime over the weekend, okay?"
"Okay. Sure." Dean gave a not-very-convincing smile of his own, then went outside and called Sam from his cell phone.
"Keep an eye on Dad tonight," he told him before heading home to the small apartment he shared with Emily.
They were in the middle of dinner when Sam called.
"Dad's doing that thing again."
Sometimes Dean wondered how Sam planned to make it through college, with that as a representative example of his command of the English language.
"Are we talking the drinking thing, the crying thing, the moping-in-the-dark thing, the--"
"The moping thing. He's in the garage. I tried to get him to come home, but he won't even look at me when I talk to him."
"Right." Dean closed his eyes and rubbed at the spot between his eyebrows where a headache was rapidly developing. "Sit tight. I'll go over there."
He found John in the small office at the back of garage, slumped in a chair with his back to the door. The lights were off and the only illumination came from a street lamp in the parking lot outside. It was enough to let Dean see his hunched, defeated posture and the tears gleaming on his face.
"Hey, Dad. What's wrong?"
"Nothing." John didn't turn around. "I'm just... thinking."
"I'm going to turn on the light, okay?" Dean didn't wait for an answer before he flipped the switch. The fluorescent light overhead came to life with a flicker and a faint hum. John still didn't move. "You coming home any time soon? Sammy's waiting up."
"Your mother would've been so happy for you today," John said in a distant voice. Dean took a step toward him.
"I know. Look, you really should--"
"It's not fair. She should've been here to see it."
"She should've been here to see everything all your life."
"I know." Dean took another step and put his hand on his father's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
He wondered if John had been taking his medication. Sam was supposed to keep track of that stuff for as long as he still lived at home, but Sam was distracted with exams and college applications. Dean hoped this wasn't going to be one of those periods where he had to come by and count the pills every morning. He'd kind of hoped they were over that for good, but he supposed he should've known better. For his father, there was no such thing as over.
Dean wished he could understand it better. He remembered, vaguely, the night of the fire that had killed his mother. He remembered that he and Sam had had to stay with Mike and Kate for a year because "Daddy had to go away to get better." Over the years, he had watched the quiet, beaten-looking man moving through life as through a thick fog, and had wondered, better than what? But he couldn't understand, couldn't fathom the idea of mourning non-stop for all this time when there were living people who needed attending to. All he could do was observe the effects.
"Come on." He moved his hand from John's shoulder to his elbow, and levered him out of the chair. John allowed himself to be guided, quiet and non-resisting, leaning into Dean's hand. He was accustomed to being led by Dean at times like this. They moved to the door together, and Dean ushered John out of the room before switching off the light. "That's good, Dad. Let's get you home now."
He walked John the three blocks back to the apartment where an annoyed and worried Sam was waiting. Together, they got their father properly medicated and settled in bed.
"You want me to stick around?" Dean asked. Sam shook his head.
"Nah. Go snuggle your fiancee. I'll call if I need anything."
Emily wasn't in the kitchen or the living room when Dean finally got home. She didn't answer when he called her name. His half-eaten dinner was in a plastic container on the kitchen table, with reheating instructions written on a Post-it note on the lid. He wasn't hungry, so he stuck the container in the fridge and wandered into the bedroom, yawning.
"Emily?" Still no answer. She must've gone out for something. Oh, well, he'd wait. Dean yawned again, closed his eyes, and flopped over backwards onto the bed.
Something warm and sticky splattered against his cheek. He raised one hand to his face, and another warm drop landed on his knuckles. Dean frowned and opened his eyes.
He never knew how long he lay there, staring in frozen incomprehension at Emily's pain-twisted face on the ceiling, before the room burst into flames.
He didn't remember getting out of the apartment. Didn't remember most of the hours that followed. There were sirens, and flashing lights, and flames licking at the night sky. At some point, he was sitting in unfamiliar room with a styrofoam cup of coffee in his hands, muttering, "I don't know, I don't understand, how could it happen, I don't know what happened..." over and over and over, but he had no idea who he was talking to. A cop, a fireman, a random stranger. It was all the same.
By the time his mind started tracking again, it was morning, and he was huddled, fully clothed, under several blankets in an unfamiliar bed. It took him a few moments to recognize the bed and the room as Sam's, a little longer to become aware of Sam himself sitting in a chair next to the bed and John standing by the window.
"Hey," Dean said. His throat felt raw, and the word came out as a harsh rasp.
"Dean." Sam sat up straight and placed one hand on Dean's arm. "Hey. How are you feeling?"
"Emily is dead," Dean said in a dull voice. He felt lightheaded and strangely weightless, almost insubstantial. He thought he might float away if the blankets weren't holding him down.
"God, Dean, I'm so sorry." John sat down on the bed next to him. "I wish-- if you-- if there's anything at all we can do..."
"I don't understand," Dean said. It was all wrong, it made no sense. "She was... I mean, she couldn't have been..." It couldn't possibly have happened the way he remembered it happening. And yet, the image was so clear in his mind...
"I'm sorry," John said again. Dean barely heard him.
"I must've imagined it. Or dreamed it. She couldn't have been there. I don't understand."
"Dean?" Sam's grip on his arm tightened a little. "What do you mean?"
"She wasn't even home. I came home, and she wasn't there. But then she was on the ceiling. I must've dreamed it. She couldn't have been on the ceiling. I don't understand..."
He was still trying to work it all out in his head when John grabbed him by the collar and hauled him up to a seated position.
"Say that again. What did you see?"
Dean could only gape in silence, struck speechless by his father's wild stare. John shook him once, hard.
"Dean. What did you see?"
"Easy, Dad. He's in shock." Sam was reaching for them, but John didn't even look his way. He kept his gaze locked with Dean's, and the look in his eyes made Dean truly believe , for the first time in his life, that his father had once been in the Marines.
"What. Did. You. See."
Faced with that implacable demand, Dean could only speak the truth as he knew it.
"Emily. She was on the ceiling over the bed. There was blood on her shirt -- so much of it -- dripping. And then there was fire everywhere, and I don't know what happened next."
John let go so abruptly that Dean toppled over backwards, and would've probably banged into the headboard if Sam hadn't caught him. For a few endless seconds, no one in the room moved or made a sound. Then John lurched clumsily to his feet and staggered out, slamming the door behind him.
Dean looked at Sam, who was still holding him upright with one arm wrapped around Dean's shoulders.
"I'm not making it up," Dean said. "I know it doesn't make sense, but I swear to God, that's what I saw."
"I believe you," Sam said. His voice held absolute conviction, and it was all Dean could do not to burst into tears right then and there.
A violent crashing noise somewhere down the hall made them both jump. It was followed by another crash, and then another. Dean and Sam shared an uneasy look.
"Dad." Dean pulled away from Sam and swung his legs off the bed. "I think I freaked him out."
"I'll go talk to him," Sam said. Dean shook his head.
"We'll go together. He sounds... violent." It felt so weird to even be saying something like that. Their father was never violent.
They left the room together and edged toward the bathroom, which was where the noise seemed to be coming from. They found John standing there, slumped forward with his hands braced on either side of the sink. The mirrored door of the medicine cabinet had been ripped half off its hinges, and the contents were scattered all over the floor.
"Dad?" Sam said hesitantly. "Are you--"
"Fucking bastards," John growled in a voice grown icy and hard with rage. It made Dean's blood run cold, until he belatedly realized that John wasn't actually talking about him or Sam. "Goddamn fucking brainwashing bastards. They made me believe it. They really made me believe it didn't happen."
"Who?" Dean asked blankly. "And, uhm, what?" But even as he was asking, he knew. Or at least, he was starting to guess. John's reaction made a sick, terrifying kind of sense that he didn't want to examine too closely. He had never before attached any special significance to the fact that his mother had died in a fire. And now his father was turning to face him, and his eyes held the shadow of the pain that Dean was only just starting to process within himself.
"Dean," John said quietly, "we need to talk."
Dean Winchester was walking across the high school parking lot to his car when he first spotted the guy watching him.
He didn't recognize him, which wasn't too surprising. The guy looked young, probably a freshman, and Dean, in his lofty position as a senior, was above noticing the small fry in the lower grades. And he seemed ordinary enough in his faded jeans and dark green sweatshirt, dark hair in an untidy ponytail, eyes hidden behind cheap plastic-framed sunglasses. But there was something off about the way he was standing so perfectly still next to the big oak tree at the far end of the lot. The breeze that rustled the tree's branches didn't seem to disturb as much as a single hair on the kid's head.
Dean stopped and stared, without knowing exactly why. The kid stayed put, and even with the sunglasses in the way, Dean i knew /i he was being watched. Not that being watched by some scrawny kid was a big deal or anything, it was just...
"Yo, Winch!" a cheerful voice bellowed in his ear, and Dean spun around to see Mike Wyman grinning at him like an idiot. "Give me a ride?"
"Only if you promise to never call me Winch again," Dean muttered. "Hey, Mike, do you know that kid over there?"
"Right over the--" Dean turned to point toward the oak tree, but the kid was no longer there.
The first dream came that night. Dean couldn't remember specific details afterwards, only that there was a great deal of blood, and cold laughter, and flashes of light glinting off ugly sharp things that might've been knives or claws or maybe teeth. He woke up drenched in sweat and hyperventilating, and it took a long while for the shaking to ease up enough for him to turn on the lamp on the desk near his bed. He stayed up with the light on for the rest of the night, embarrassed by his fear but unable to overcome it. In the morning, when Mom remarked on the dark circles under his eyes, he just muttered, "I didn't sleep well," around a mouthful of scrambled eggs, and took off for school before she could ask about it.
Two days later, Dean saw the kid again, during track practice after school. Dean was running laps, just warming up, not paying much attention to anything but the steady rhythm of his own feet. He didn't know what made him look up into the bleachers halfway through his third lap, but look up he did, and there the guy was.
He sat in the very top row of the bleachers, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees. His face was half-hidden by a baseball cap, the visor pulled down low, but Dean was instantly sure that it was the guy from the parking lot. Same gangly build, same weird stillness. Same unexplained stab of unease when Dean first noted his presence. There was no one else in the bleachers -- track practice wasn't exactly a popular attraction -- and Dean knew, with irrational yet absolute conviction, that the kid was there specifically for him. He lost his rhythm and stumbled, pitched forward and had to plant one hand on the ground to keep from falling on his face.
"You all right, Winchester?" Coach Pulaski called from the sidelines. Dean lurched upright, waved and kept running. When he glanced back over his shoulder at the bleachers, the kid was gone.
He had the dream again that night, still vague, but with flashes of new and entirely unwanted clarity. Blood dripping down a wall in a thick, viscous stream. Faces of strangers, twisted in agony or frozen in death. Knivesclawsfangs tore at broken flesh, and Dean woke up on the floor, thrashing wildly against the covers he'd dragged down with him when he fell out of bed.
He didn't even realize he'd screamed until his parents burst through the door, and then the embarrassment was almost as bad as the fear had been.
"I'm fine," he insisted over and over, while Dad helped him untangle from the covers and Mom checked his forehead for fever. "Just a stupid nightmare, that's all. I'm sorry I woke you up."
They backed off eventually, though Dad kept throwing worried glances at him as he walked out of the room, and Mom insisted on tucking him in before she left.
"Give me a break," Dean grumbled. "I'm eighteen, not five."
"I know." Mom bent down and kissed his cheek. "It's a terrible fate, having your worrywart mother fuss over you. I don't know how you can stand it. Do you want some hot cocoa?"
"All right, all right. I'm going."
Dean waited until she shut the door before he turned the light on.
After that, nothing happened for over a week -- long enough for Dean to decide that the nightmares were just some sort of weird mental glitch, and the stalker kid was some random freshman he happened to run into twice. He was starting to forget the whole thing when he spotted the kid across the street from the Ben & Jerry's on a Sunday afternoon. Dean started toward him, but an eighteen-wheeler rattled by, blocking his view, and by the time it moved on, so had the kid.
He tried to tell Mike about it, but Mike thought it was funny.
"Maybe he's got the hots for you, Winch. Maybe he wants to ask you to the prom."
"Maybe I've got a moron for a best friend."
"You could take him. Make him wear a dress, buy him a corsage. I bet you'll make a beautiful couple."
"Fuck you," Dean muttered, and decided he wasn't going to even mention the nightmares.
That night, he screamed in his sleep for three minutes straight and bloodied his father's nose when John finally succeeded in shaking him awake.
After that, Dean learned his lesson. When Creepy Stalker-Boy shows up, don't sleep.
He showed up five times in the next two weeks. Each time, Dean stayed up all night with the lights on, blasting his Discman for hours at a time to keep himself awake. His parents noticed, of course. They'd always been protective, and all the screaming-in-the-night business had them on high alert. Dad watched him with worried eyes, but didn't say anything beyond the occasional "everything all right, son?" Mom dug up brochures about sleep disorders and left them lying around in places where Dean was sure to find them. Dean resolutely ignored the hint. He knew Mom was working her way up to a Talk, but he hoped it would take her a while to get there.
In the third week, it all came crashing down. Stalker-boy began to show up every day. Never inside the school -- Dean no longer believed he was a student -- but everywhere else. Dean skipped track practice, declined all invitations to hang out with friends. He came to school early, parked as close to the entrance as he could, stared only at the ground as he hurriedly covered the distance from car to building twice a day. It didn't help. He'd spot the kid in the parking lot, or in the street when he stopped at a light, always hovering at the edges of Dean's peripheral vision. The kid's eyes were always hidden -- by sunglasses, or a hat, or sometimes both -- but Dean could feel his gaze like a physical weight.
He made it half-way through Wednesday with no sleep, before passing out in the corridor on his way to history class.
Sleep deprivation, the doctors said, and Dean thought, i well, duh/i but managed not to say it out loud. He mumbled some lame excuses about being stressed over the SATs, but he knew his parents weren't buying it, even if the doctors were.
Mom and Dad didn't say anything at the hospital, or during the drive home, but as soon as they came inside the house Dean knew his reprieve was over. He tried to dart upstairs to his room, but Dad put one hand on his shoulder and guided him into the living room instead.
"I'm going to bed," Dean protested. Dad frowned at him, kind but implacable.
"We all know you're not going to sleep, Dean. Give us a few minutes, will you?"
Dean wanted to argue, but he was just too damn tired.
"What's happening, Dean?" Mom sat next to him on the couch and rested one hand on his arm as she spoke. Her face was gray and haggard with worry, and Dean really wished he could come up with a good answer just so she wouldn't look like that anymore.
"I'm sorry," he said helplessly, and Mom looked like she wanted to cry.
"Honey, don't apologize. You haven't done anything wrong. We just want to know what's the matter, how we can help."
"And don't say it's the SATs," Dad put in gruffly. "You've never worried about a test in your entire life."
In the end, he told them the truth because he was too exhausted to think of anything else. Mom and Dad both listened in attentive silence, and Dean wanted to hug them both for not arguing or laughing or acting as if he was nuts. Dad got up to pace the room at one point, and Mom kept squeezing Dean's hand, but neither one of them spoke until he finished.
"This boy," Dad said thoughtfully, "you're sure you never saw him before that first time in the parking lot?"
"Not that I remember." Dean rubbed his eyes. "I mean-- I was kind of thinking-- but it doesn't make sense..."
"What is it?" Dad sat down on the arm of the couch and put one hand on Dean's shoulder. "What doesn't make sense, son?"
"I think it's Sammy," Dean blurted out.
He knew as soon as he said that he'd made a mistake. Mom and Dad both went very still all of a sudden, and Dad's hand tightened on Dean's shoulder. No one turned to look at the old family photo framed over the fireplace, but its presence in the room suddenly seemed huge.
"Dean, honey." Mom's voice was soft and soothing, as if she was talking to a small child. "Sammy's dead."
"We don't know that. I mean, he just disappeared, right?" Dean knew the story by heart; his parents had told it to him as soon as he was old enough to understand it. Someone had come into their old house in Lawrence and stolen Sammy away. Someone who'd looked like Dad in the dark, so that Mom hadn't realized that anything was wrong until it was too late. It was the reason why Mom and Dad were so protective, the reason why Dean had been trained from an early age to watch out for suspicious strangers. For other kids, it was a routine precaution. For Dean it was a way of life. It was probably the reason why he'd noticed the kid in the first place.
"Dean." Dad's voice was steady, but his face was so pale, Dean thought he might keel over. "Why do you think it might be Sammy?"
Dean shook his head. "I'm not sure. I guess... he kind of looked like you, a little. And I thought, maybe he's not dead. Maybe whoever took him... kept him."
Mom shuddered and pressed the back of one hand against her mouth. Dad let go of Dean to reach across and stroke her hair.
"Even if that was true," he said softly, "it was fourteen years ago, and in Kansas. Don't you think it would be a bit too much of a coincidence for Sammy to just run into you in New Jersey now? And how could you recognize him, or he you?"
"I don't know," Dean sighed. "I said it makes no sense, didn't I? It's just that he looks the right age, and... maybe I wanted him to be Sammy. I don't know."
"Maybe we shouldn't talk about this now," Mom said. "Dean is supposed to be in bed. Why don't we i all /i get some rest, and maybe we can figure it out in the morning."
"Right." Dean glanced toward the stairs. The thought of going to bed gave him a cold, sick feeling, but he knew that staying up all night wasn't going to be an option anymore, not with his parents watching over him like hawks. "Get some rest. I can do that."
"Do you want one of us to stay with you?" Dad asked. "I could put a sleeping bag on the--"
"No!" Dean said quickly. Nightmares or no nightmares, the idea of having a parent sleep in the room with him was too embarrassing to bear. "I'll be fine."
"Yeah. I didn't even see the guy today, so no nightmares, right?" He'd leave the light on again. That was embarrassing too, but at least no one else would be there to see it.
Alone in his room, Dean almost changed his mind. But the curtains were drawn, and the bed was soft, and the desk lamp was casting a warm yellow glow on the walls. Mom and Dad were right next door, and they'd promised to stay up in shifts all night, ready to come in and wake him if he screamed. The prescription sleeping pills he'd swallowed under Mom's watchful eye were making Dean's head feel fuzzy, and it wasn't all that difficult to convince himself that there was nothing to fear, not tonight. He hadn't seen the guy. It was going to be one of the safe nights.
He woke in the dark, and spent a few moments blinking in drowsy confusion before he realized why that was wrong. The lamp was off. The only light in the room came from the full moon outside, and that was wrong too, because Dean had drawn the curtains before going to bed, didn't he? There shouldn't have been any moonlight.
Maybe the bulb had burned out. Dean started to sit up, and a cold hand shoved him back onto the mattress, holding him down. He tried to scream, but the hand pressed down on his chest with inhuman strength, and he couldn't draw in enough air for anything more than a strangled gasp.
The worst thing was, there was nobody there. No one visible, no one substantial. Dean swung one arm weakly at the space where an attacker should've been, and met nothing but air. Yet the feel of fingers splayed across his ribs was solid and unmistakable. He tried to scream again. Managed a barely audible wheeze.
Something stirred on the far side of the room. A single human-shaped shadow detached itself from the darkness and stepped into the moonbeams that slanted through the window. The pale light picked out disheveled dark hair, gangly limbs, a broad, boyish grin that unaccountably made Dean think of knives.
"Hello, big brother." The shadow took another step closer, and Dean saw his stalker's eyes for the first time.
He found he could scream after all, given enough motivation.
John Winchester, bursting through the door five seconds later, found an open window and an empty bed. Afterwards, there were hysterical phone calls to the local and state police, and media coverage, and a statewide search that lasted for weeks. The fourteen-year-old case of Sam Winchester's disappearance in Kansas was reopened. The FBI were involved. None of it made any difference.
Dean Winchester was never seen again.
The Topeka Capital-Journal
August 19, 2056
Dean Gregory Winchester, former Lieutenant with the Homicide and Robbery Division of the Topeka Police Department, died at the St. Francis Health Center yesterday of complications following a heart attack. He was 77 years old.
Mr. Winchester was born in Lawrence, Kansas, the older of two children of John and Mary Winchester. He graduated from Lawrence Free State High School in 1997 and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1998, following in the footsteps of his father, who served in the Vietnam War, and of his paternal grandfather Gregory Winchester, who fought in WWII and Korea. Mr. Winchester served for eight years, reaching the rank of Gunnery Sergeant. He was stationed in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, and was awarded the Iraq Service medal before his honorable discharge in 2006.
Mr. Winchester joined the Lawrence Police Department in 2006, and transferred to Topeka in 2011. He remained with the Topeka PD for thirty years, eighteen of them with the Homicide and Robbery Division. He briefly came to national attention in 2029, when his investigation of a series of murders near the Washburn University campus resulted in the arrest and conviction of the Kansas governor's son.
"No one wanted that damn case," said Detective Kevin Roarke, who had also been working in the Homicide and Robbery Division at the time of the killings. "Everybody knew there was some sort of cover-up going on. We all drew straws in the squad room to see who'd get stuck with it, and Winchester got the short one. You should've heard him cuss."
The murders, popularly known as "The New Moon Stranglings," were eventually the subject of a highly fictionalized i New York Times /i best-selling book and a FOX TV movie. Mr. Winchester was not involved in either project.
He married Dr. Elizabeth Nielsen in June 2008, and the couple remained together until Elizabeth's death from a stroke in February of this year. They had three children: John, Susan and Katherine.
Mr. Winchester is survived by his children, his five grandchildren, and his brother, Congressman Samuel Winchester (Dem., CA).
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the Topeka Police Foundation Scholarship Fund, the American Red Cross, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation.