The final chapter. Read on.


These Crimes of Illusion
Chapter 2.9

Red and blue hits the trees and reflects off the wet leaves, catching the flashes of light to throw it back out again in altered patterns full of holes. White remains trapped, its overabundance washing out the warmer colors as the summer storm rages on. Lightning flashes in the distance, ignored, overshadowed by blinding headlights and wavering flashlight beams. The storm sends a boom of thunder in annoyance, a five-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.

Police swarm around the motel, most focused on the dark blue truck once belonging to Alvin Marshall, formerly of the US Marines and a Vietnam veteran. Motel guests stand huddled in the red-rimmed doorways of their rooms or staring from behind drawn curtains, eyes wide as they watch the ultimate form of entertainment, a developing crime scene.

John Winchester watches from the edge of the wood next to the motel, hidden from view by tall trees heavy with foliage and summer rain. Watches and waits, arms crossed. The rain falls unhindered onto him; he stands soaked but doesn't feel it. His friend, a close friend, from both wars he's fought, one official, one his own, lays dead across the blacktop. His son, God, may lay dead in the woods behind him or may come sauntering out and suggest they get that drink now.

So he stands and waits, counting the minutes in his head; meditation requires an emptying of the mind, and counting helps maintain such strict focus. It keeps John from thinking the worst, from thinking at all. Lights bounce on his stoic face, deepening the shadows on it and catch the sorrow in brown eyes.

When the count reaches six minutes, his arms drop from the defensive stance and fall to his sides. At seven, he looks over his shoulder and considers trespassing on his son's solitude.

Tires squeal, spinning out on the wet pavement, the sharp noise snatching John's jumpy attention from the woods to the crime scene. The ambulance is careening down the road, lights flashing and siren blaring. Each revolution of the piercing screech builds hope; if Al could be alive, Dean could, and the night might not be a crapshoot after all.

He feels Dean's presence as only a parent can, strong and vibrating at his side, before he says a word.

"Al?" asks Dean, his question scratchy, deeper, even. He's aged in the last ten minutes, crossed over the line from child to adult in a way age can't touch.

"If the siren's on, he's still alive," John replies as evenly as he can. "They don't turn it on if someone's dead."

They stand, silent, as the wailing sirens fade, tapering off in a peel of thunder. Large droplets of rain plunk on the ground, on them; rolling to lower ground to collect in pockets of sunken earth. Footsteps become a trail of puddles leading out of the woods. Neither knows how long they stand there under the trees; police come and go, and when John takes a step onto the blacktop, only one patrol car remains.

"Dad," Dean says, and the shattered tone gives pause. This is a discussion he's never rehearsed in his head, never prepared for. Since his boys were old enough to fire a gun, he's reinforced the rule that they don't kill humans. Never. Unacceptable. It's a line John crossed when around Dean's age, one he never wanted his boys to even see.

He's yet to look at Dean, afraid of what he'll see. Now, he turns and shoves his hands into his pockets, looking down to rearrange his face before holding his head high.

"Dad, I -- he took us there for a reason," Dean manages. "Crazy as he was, he knew these were young trees."

John frowns. This isn't what he was expecting. The remaining patrol car lets out a loud whoop, white hot headlights swinging around, momentarily illuminating Dean. He's hunched, arms wrapped around his chest, and as the light hits his eyes, he blinks rain from them --

"I still can't see," he finishes as those ice blue eyes catch in the light. The glimpse is gone as the car flicks on its sirens and takes off in a roar of shifting gears and a revving engine.

Lightening flashes behind Dean. John hears the hiccup of breath of leftover sobs and tries to keep his heart from bursting out his chest.

"I killed him and they couldn't see it," Dean chokes out. "Fuck, I did it and nothing changed."

"No, son," John says, "just you."

Dean nods, sways, and falls forward into his father's arms. The sky opens up with a blast of thunder and releases enough tears for both of them.

--

Two days sees the Impala's return to Chilton Woods.

Belongings are scattered haphazardly in the back seat, grabbed quickly and shoved wherever there was room before the cops returned to find the missing occupants of room 173. Clothes and weapons mingle under the grey-blue sky of a departing storm, still damp from runs through the rain and slow to dry in the muggy humidity.

The drive was marked by silence, the engine gossiping under the hood with no one listening. After awhile, even the loud rumbling became a dull ambient sound like the whistling wind outside open windows. Dean sleeping in the passenger seat left John to his thoughts, shouting voices growing in volume in an effort to be heard. He shuts them up with counting and multiplication tables until Dean shifts, then jolts awake violently, all arms and legs and wild eyes.

John's ready for the talk he knows is coming. Two hours out, he stopped to replenish the alcohol supply he and Al depleted during their discussion. Elixir of the Gods, though God has little to do with the mistakes of mortals. It will help Dean quiet the memories yanking him awake; for how long, John doesn't know. His son's a stronger, better man than he, and perhaps he'll make it to the other side in one piece.

The car slides easily into the space it occupied days before, and the engine gives one last burst of conversation, then falls silent. Dean stirs at the absence of the background noise, stretching and blinking sleep from his eyes. He can feel the energy radiating from the forest and those who live there, smell the musky scent of wet undergrowth, dirt, and slithering worms. The leather of the driver's seat creaks under his dad's weight, hardly noticeable before, but all his senses have grown as they pick up the slack for useless eyes.

A pre-emptive strike deflects, but always initiates conflict. "I don't want to talk about it."

"You will," John says. "Better to do it sooner than later."

"How 'bout never?" Dean pulls on the door handle, but the door doesn't budge. "Listen, none of this touchy-feely, okay? I've had enough to last me a few years."

"Good enough," John replies. Dean feels around the door, finds the lock, and pulls it; he easily opens his door, escaping before he breaks down again and feels that terrible rush of anger that gave him the ability to kill a man. Better to keep it locked tight, all his emotions dangerous when let lose.

John gets out at the same time, both doors slammed closed for different reasons. "Just don't come to me when you've hit rock bottom because you can't deal with it anymore."

The comment stings in a way none of his injuries can. A flicker of anger leaks out from the new walls. "Why would I? You'd probably be too drunk to care. Let's just get this over with."

"Maybe you should reconsider. This blindness has brought out a whole new side of you," John shoots back. There's a reason you don't pick at scabs, no matter how fresh or old they are.

"Whatever, man."

Dean doesn't remember the exact words John says to him at that moment, simply recalls they ripped at his carefully collective soul and erased, for a second, years of obedience and respect for his father.

John said, "At least the men I killed were soldiers who knew the risks, not innocent men," but Dean sees red and uses John's voice to guide his fist straight into his jaw.

A crack of bone on bone settles in the sizzling air, evaporating into grey clouds above. Time stills, moving slowly like life through water; John sways, caught by surprise, and falls onto the hood of the Impala with a prolonged thud, catching himself at the last moment with two palms splayed on the hood. Time snaps, a colliding rubber band through the air, when physics catches up with Dean for a third time and return force throws him back onto the ground, painfully jarring his body.

Time waits for a reaction.

It comes from John, who sits on the hood. He swipes a hand across his jaw, blood stretching on his skin in a bright line of red, and upon seeing it, lets out a laugh.

"Sure you don't have anything to talk about?" he asks, flexing his jaw side to side. Dean hisses through his teeth on the ground near the hood, gravel from the hastily-constructed parking area digging into his hands as he tries to get up.

"Guess I deserved that," says John finally, standing. He holds a blood-streaked hand out for Dean to take, then bends over to grab an arm and haul Dean to his feet. "That's the first and last time you'll raise a hand to me," he continues, patting Dean on the back once he's on his feet.

"Fine," grits out Dean. Locks that anger back where it belongs. Emotion, he decides is a luxury he can't afford. Just as a referee needs to remain impartial, Dean feels anything inside may cloud his judgment; hunting has no room for personal preference or moments of moral clarity. If he had learned this earlier, there wouldn't be this giant ache inside where some small remains of innocence survived only to be destroyed by his own hand.

There's no turning back now. No wishing for a life lived normally, no ending to this hunt until it takes him. Dean's convinced he deserves nothing more, that abandoning his hope for an end is his lifelong punishment for killing Hall. A prison of his own creation.

He serves his sentence willingly.

And so, he doesn't talk about it, doesn't take that chance for absolution because doing so would be taking a hand-out, might convince him he's wrong, and he feels so fragile, such a reversal may end badly.

Aching in every way possible, Dean turns his back on salvation and marches slowly into the forest.

--

A hand slides down Dean's cheek, a bite of ice welcomed in the leaden suffocation of mid-summer. Fingers linger on his jaw, tap it once, then continues to caress his neck dotted with neglected stubble. His adam's apple bobs as he forces himself to swallow down air, thick, damp air that has no place in this fanciful hallucination of escape from the added weight on overburdened shoulders.

His ear is tickled by a blast of chilly wind, struck by the lash of an icicle tongue, and the hand near his neck slides down to his side, hovering dangerously close to the fresh wound from the Redcap's axe.

"She was right, you are a beautiful toy, my pet," coos a female voice.

Ice runs through his veins. He killed Estrella, watched her die, and yet, the touch feels so hauntingly familiar. Her hands raise goose bumps on his skin, and once pleasurable contact becomes intolerable. Dean pulls away and hears a crunch under his foot. Blinks. White fills his field of view, but not the elegant white of Estrella's created room.

Snow covers the ground, falls from a starless sky, hangs heavy on drooping branches. Dean turns around expecting to see the lights dotting the summer he left, but sees only more snow. As his eyes adjust, the light dims to a soft blue under the moon, the blanket of snow providing a glow of illumination.

He turns back; a fae stands where there had been no one before. She blends with the snow, is snow and woman at the same time, white and dark in a way only magic can create.

Ruby red lips draw into a smile. "You would have been happy with her, once she broke you. Everlasting life and power, yet you turned it all down."

Dean regains his wits; it's the only way he'll get out of this alive. "Sorry. She must have forgotten to mention that between blinding me and kicking my ass."

"I'm doing neither. It would be interesting, but alas -- I've been told not to harm you." The fae pouts and bows her head, thick black hair falling into her face. She reminds him of Snow White from the movie he watched as a kid, pale and beautiful. The surroundings help complete the image, a drop of snow clumps and falls from an overburdened branch behind her. A still painting of the unobtainable, and yet here she stands.

"Thank God for that, sweetheart. I draw the line at fake winter scene," Dean smirks. "Where's my dad?"

"Safe," she chirps, face brightening without visible transition. "I wanted to have a little chat with you before letting my dear, dear friend release you."

In a flash of quick magic, she skitters back to his side and strokes the side of his face, pets him. The air's taken on a chill; Dean can see steam rising from his skin as heat fizzles and dissipates. Her arms snake around him, meeting at his stomach, and she leans into him, head resting between his shoulder blades.

"So young and fresh," she sighs, sad. "What a waste."

"Like I haven't heard that before. Will you get off me?"

She keeps contact and slides around to face him. "That Seelie hasn't told you everything, you know. You trust her above me because of your pathetic human values of good and evil -- opposites can exist without them, but you humans," she shakes her head like a disappointed mother. "I was trying to help you, and you go running to her."

"Help me? Whoa, you've got some messed up idea of what help is."

"Granted, Estrella, as you call her, went a bit overboard -- "

Dean furiously shakes his head. "A little overboard?"

" -- but she meant well. We intended to bring you into your own. And before you judge Estrella's methods, remember this: she tortured you, yes, but the Seelie Queen made you kill one of your own. I ask you, which is worse?"

She -- and Dean now feels he's speaking with the Unseelie Queen -- smiles, knows she's right. Any harm done to himself by Estrella's hand is better than the death of Stewart Hall, an event he'll be carrying around for the rest of his life. But there's a hole in the Queen's logic, and Dean slithers through it.

"She said you wanted me dead," he states.

"Oh, well," she hums and starts biting a long nail poised on one of those perfect, slender fingers. "We aren't angels, Dean. Estrella wanted a pet, and you are far too strong to be dominated by anyone. In the end, she would have helped you."

"Gee, thanks, but I don't remember asking for any."

"Does a drowning man ask for a rescue? An ignorant man for knowledge? Is it not the pursuit of life to better yourself?"

"Thanks, really."

The Queen shakes her head, and switches tactics. "Haven't you wondered why you're unaffected by iron or any other methods you humans have devised to hold us at bay?"

Curiosity latches onto Dean, internal questions begging for answers, and here are the answers. The solution is a bigger prize than finding his father, or escaping this place -- both can wait a few minutes, be put off while she satisfies his thirst for answers.

And she knows she has his rapt attention, has won him over, and grins like a schoolgirl about to do something very bad but oh, so good.

"You don't know, do you? For all those books and stories, there are still some mysteries the 'tween still holds," she chirps, happy -- excited. "I will tell you, pet, if you do something for me."

"There's always a catch," Dean mumbles. "Just take me to my dad so I can get out of this damn place."

"Oh, it's nothing horrible, I promise," she says.

But here in the realm inbetween, the rules are different. Knowing the fae can't lie only means their words have double meanings, their intentions veiled thickly, and each agreement full of loopholes. Nothing here is straightforward, like the Glamour creating imaginary worlds and altered realities. Such a place requires different considerations when hearing something such as the Queen's promise that what she wants of him isn't horrible. It comes down to a matter of point of view -- relativity and internal morals rarely match person to person.

Logic clashes with emotion, and Dean finds himself stuck where so many mortals have been before. He now understands actions and choices once denounced as idiotic, those hapless men and women who chose the wrong door on purpose. If seduced, would he run off like Marjorie Hall?

"I'm not playing these games."

"Please. We both know you're going to answer me. The temptation's too great for even you to resist."

"Depends on your definition of horrible," he give in.

The Queen laughs -- a high, barking laugh of victory and Dean gets it. Here, winners and losers are determined before the players even meet. Destiny, it seems, trumps free will.

"I've been told not to harm you," she reiterates, "and we both know I can't go back on my word."

Dean knows she's withholding, but won't learn anything at all unless he agrees. Around him, the air grows cold, colder still, and all he's wearing is a t-shirt and jeans geared for summer heat. He hates the cold, hates the reminder of that deep, permeating chill of Estrella's prison and the tiny goose bumps it raised on fevered flesh.

He makes a decision; she won't let him leave and return to his father until he gives in, and he'd rather enter into things on his own terms sooner than hers later.

So he agrees.

The Unseelie Queen squeaks, excited, and bounces on her feet before bounding up to Dean and wrapping her arms up around his neck, fingering the outgrown hair at the base of his neck.

"Kiss me, pet, and I'll tell you a secret," she says, smiling up at him.

Dean's thinking their definitions of horrible are vastly different, but he wants to know the secret, needs to, and dips his head slightly hoping it's worth it.

--

Sun dips behind the trees; twilight is when faeries come out to play, in those hours between days and nights when what the eyes see can't be trusted and illusion comes out of a mixture of sunlight and moonshine. Just as potent, the playground of faeries exudes magic, bright, enveloping magic one can drink out of the air.

John's still rubbing his jaw when Dean passes through the trees and falls from view for a second, obscured by the trunks of proud old trees, thick legs with dirt feet.

He lags behind, more than his jaw hurt by Dean's swing, his pride slowing his stride. Dean's more than proven he can take care of himself, so John gives him the space to do so. This is Dean's fight, not his. Resentment keeps him a few feet behind his son, and the spreading sadness that John's no longer needed in the same way he was before all this happened.

He passes between the trees seconds after Dean, and when his eyes adjust to the subtle change in light, he finds himself walking through to a bright clearing dotted with the vivid flowers of mid-spring, colors blending with healthy green grass soft to the touch.

The scene, reminiscent of his early summer days visiting his grandparent's farm in Iowa, stops John. He stands on the sizzling dirt of the forest floor on the edge of the grass blanket and knows if he turns around, the scene will only surround him.

When he does, a wave of vertigo slams into him. The world's flipped on him -- what he believed he was turning away from is what he stumbles into, now with youthful faeries lounging in the shade of supple trees or dancing to the tune of a male piper. John's fallen into a fairy tale, a story spun from mythology. The music tugs at him, pulling at something deep inside, and all thoughts of Dean or what he's doing there evaporate into the magic sunshine.

Like a runaway kite, John snatches the trail end of thought and holds tight. Focus in this place is difficult, but not impossible, and were he a lesser man, the charm of faerie music would have obliterated what makes him John.

Determined to keep his sense of self, he steps forward onto the lush grass.

The music fades, then stops, the dancers turning to watch him approach, bright, unnatural eyes glued on his every move. Even those under the trees sit up and lean forward. Silence is unbecoming of such a place; even the birds and trees hold their breath.

"For a human, you walk into my court with strong confidence," chimes the Seelie Queen. She hasn't changed at all since he last saw her. She walks up from behind him and gracefully stands tall off to the side. "One could almost consider that rude."

"Almost," John says, "but I get the feeling you were expecting me."

"A wise assumption. Even the false night created by a storm is within the hearing of the Unseelie Queen. She saw that the geas was fulfilled properly. I am not without my spies."

"So she's here, too, then."

"The activities of the Unseelie are not my concern, nor should they be yours," she says, cryptic. From the left approaches another fae, the piper from earlier now without his instrument. "I had thought you a careful man," the Queen says, "and yet, you said nothing when I entered into the geas with your son. I wonder, why do you believe I would send your son after a hunter of fae and let you, a man just like he, go free?"

The Piper's close, close enough for John to reach with an outstretched arm. The proximity combined with the Queen's words put him on the defensive, mind cycling through the weapons on him and who he needs to take out first, second, until the Glamour around him dissolves and allows for his escape.

But he doesn't have Dean's gift to see through Glamour, and he barely finishes a block before the Piper takes a second shot to his side, arm, then his sore back. His bruised spine buckles under a series of blows enhanced by magic, and while he manages to get in a few punches and kicks, even a seasoned fighter like John is no match for a Sidhe, and the fight ends quickly.

A sweep comes on top of a shot at his side, and John blocks the punch and gets one in, but the sweep knocks him flat on his back, inflaming the injury sustained while trying to keep the Redcap from harming Dean.

The Queen stands above him. "I granted your son safety, not you. If not for your oversight, I would never have gotten him just where I need him. How does it feel, knowing you are the root of your son's undoing?"

John would tell her exactly what he thought if his mouth would work. The Piper's spun his spell, and John can feel the soft grass ripple underneath him as he's dragged away.

--

The Unseelie Queen's lips are surprisingly warm.

She begins with a chaste kiss, a peck on Dean's that gives hope that perhaps that's all she wanted. Then he feels the light swish of her small tongue and knows she wants more as her hands tighten their hold on his neck, fingernails digging into his skin.

There's never been a time when Dean's kissed a woman he hasn't wanted to, if only filled with evanescent lust at the end of a long night. He feels revulsion as he parts his lips, a sickening sense of invasion as she deepens the kiss and presses against him. Dean keeps his arms locked to his sides and lets her explore. Turns off his conscious mind and imagines himself someplace else. Anywhere but the snow-covered forest created by the queen of the darkest creatures of faerie.

Then something changes, a surge of power and -- it feels like the prickle of electricity when touching a live wire or unprotected socket, that uncomfortable crawling of fire ants under the skin. It spreads through Dean quickly, washing over and through him, scrambling real and illusion, dream and awake. The kiss deepens, though not on the Queen's side as Dean yearns to feel more.

Locked together in the snow, Dean grasps the Unseelie Queen tight and loses all sense of himself as he kisses her ferociously, almost violently as waves of that indescribable power seep deep into him, permeating every fiber --

-- and ends. Cuts off so sharply, he's sent reeling back, down, and only the chill of snow seeping through his jeans wakes him back to now.

The Queen stands above him, hand covering her lips, blood dripping down her chin to plop onto white snow. Her eyes, twin orbs of black coal, are open wide in shock. Gone is that playfulness sprung out of control; it's replaced by raw surprise.

Dean has the upper hand, if only he knew what the hell just happened.

"That sneaky bitch," the Queen mutters. "She knew all along and still -- " she pauses and looks to Dean with pity, almost motherly concern flashing in her dark eyes. "You poor, poor boy. She has you right where she wants you, and you have no idea."

"What the hell did you do?" Dean demands.

"I wanted to show you, let you know what lies beneath if you gave up your humanity. You're a powerful man, pet, and a worthy ally."

"Enough with this cryptic bullshit, okay? Plain English works fine for me."

"You don't get it, do you? There's only one way you can give up being human -- and when you do that, all those charms you use will affect you as they do me. There's a war coming, pet, and the Seelie Queen will do anything to get you on her side."

Dean picks himself off the ground, brushing all-too-realistic snow from his jeans. "Whatever. I'm not on anyone's side. Just killing all the evil sons of bitches I can."

"Admirable," the Queen remarks dryly. "Remember what I said, pet, and be wary of Queens who hide in the daylight. They're magicians of a different kind."

The potent sorrow she exudes gives Dean pause as he watches her walk off into the winter forest until she becomes the snow beginning to fall. Her comments only strengthen his doubts of all this being a coincidence. Heat begins to warm him, the snow melting rapidly.

Estrella may have been acting out of her own insanity when running into him outside that bar -- could have been directed by forces outside her knowledge just like him -- but that doesn't mean others didn't jump in to take advantage the moment Dean killed his captor and blindly stumbled back out into the world.

--

Eleven months after his family was fractured by the departure of his youngest son, and three weeks after his eldest called him on the phone, bloody, broken, and blinded by a force he had yet to come against in his personal war against the evils that haunted the innocent, John Winchester sees the spitting image of his wife's turbulent hazel gaze in Dean.

He'd begun to doubt seeing those expressive eyes again, so strong and certain when worn by the warrior his eldest's become, and in the sparkling spring sunlight, they seem almost green as Dean appears on the edge of the Seelie Court. His mistakes and doubts and actions yet to come into being all seem for naught when he sees Dean whole once again not only in his eyes, but body as well.

Cuts and bruises remain, marks of the trials he's had to go through since John's obsession with finding the demon that took his wife kicked into overdrive. They're subtle reminders that the part of him still called father kept such new discoveries secret out of some twisted sense of protection, and ultimately drove Dean from their shared life. While Dean may have left physically, John had long ago left in spirit, going through the motions of hunting to mask his true activities.

A storm was brewing. He'd seen the signs -- increased possessions, more creatures coming out in the open to mingle with humans, and spirits of the departed becoming stuck here, on this plane, in grossly large numbers. Whatever it was, he had a sense that their family's search for the demon who took Mary was perceived as more than a personal quest.

Originally, he believed Sam's survival was the key, his research revealing his Sammy to be one of only three infants to make it out of the demon's fire. Now, his stock in not his, but Dean's part in saving his baby brother, has increased. This newest turn of events gives reason not only to why they were so good at what they did, but also to why a demon would take notice of their quiet suburban family in the first place.

John still feels guilty for his wife's death and the life he's forced upon his sons, but feels he better understands the path his life took even before meeting Mary Browning in that small bar down on King Street he frequented after moving back to Kansas City.

And Mary, beautiful, smart, spontaneous Mary, always acting on some mysterious hunch that inevitably worked out, had some part to play as well. Free will may have set the pace of their relationship, but fate brought them together.

He may be a hunter, but at the end of the day, he's only the father who trained his sons to fight evil. Because, he realizes, it's not his fight and never has been -- it's theirs. Once he finishes by finding Mary's killer, it's time to bow out and watch from the wings.

For now, all he can do is prepare them as best he can. It's time to let them leave the nest and make their own mistakes without their father there to tell them how to fix things.

John figures now is as good a time as any. Because being bound to a tree and gagged, he laughs to himself, really lends itself to being an audience member.

--

The first thing Dean notices is not the sudden change from winter to spring, or the double images of dual sight, but his dad tied to a tree on the far side of the ring of trees with blood dried on his face.

Anger builds inside him at the sight of his dad hurt and captive. With long, decisive strides, he passes the lounging fae and dancers, making his way to his dad, intent on freeing him from his bonds and getting the hell out of there. All kinds of freaky shit was going on, and he's a firm believer that if stuff starts to creep you out, you either shoot it or haul ass.

Since shooting up the place wasn't an option at this moment, getting the fuck out of there seemed a damn good plan. And, while he was being so assertive, Dean crossed 'hanging out near possible fae hang outs' off his list of things to do before he died. Hell, he wasn't even going to go near a wooded area unless he had to for awhile.

Three feet from his dad, the Seelie Queen slides between them, floating above the ground. Again with the freaky shit.

"Hello, Dean," she smirks -- not smiles gently as the Unseelie Queen did, but smirks like a lioness ready to pounce on her young. "Enjoy your chat with my lovely friend?"

"Yeah. Great time. What the hell did you do to my dad?" Dean shoots. This just keeps getting better and better -- did traditional ideas of good and evil have no meaning here, or was he stuck in some cosmic opposite day?

"Why don't we have a little chat?"

Dean doesn't move. "Maybe later, when my dad's not tied to a fucking tree. You said no one would hurt us if I did what you wanted. He didn't kill Hall, I did."

The Queen nods as she listens, then shakes her head slowly. "Perhaps you misunderstood me. I never said your father wasn't to be harmed, only you. Any implications or assumptions you made weren't errors on my part." She speaks to him like a teacher does to a student who's having difficulty understanding an easy concept, voice sweet yet condescending.

"You fucking two-timing bitch. You knew how we'd take what you said," Dean growls. "Damnit, dad, you could've knocked some sense into me or something."

The Queen holds up her hand, and Dean turns to look over his shoulder. The Piper stands near him, ready to attack at the Queen's command. But a deal's a deal, and no matter how many insults he throws at her, she can't -- or anyone else -- lay a finger on him.

"While I do enjoy your company, I have other matters to attend to."

"Other matters? How about letting him go?"

"You have your sight back, and I believe the other queen removed her executioner's curse. I've held up my end of the bargain, as promised. Your father's condition is no concern of yours," -- and here she pauses, going from preying lioness to the Cheshire Cat -- "unless you are willing to make a trade."

Dean doesn't even hesitate. For all that's happened, that he fears will happen, he'll do anything for his family. "What do you want for his freedom and safety?"

"You're learning," the Queen says, almost delighted by Dean's response. "I want your word you will turn a blind eye to the activities of the fae. You are not to hunt them or hinder them in any way. For that, I will let your father go."

"Not good enough. I want your word that none of you fae will harm him. Or my brother."

The Queen tsks. "That will cost you more."

"Fine."

Around them, things darken. The lounging fae scatter, disappearing into the surrounding trees.

"You will come to me when called, if the need for another like Hall to be killed arises."

John, who's remained quiet, makes a sound that could be a shouted no, but Dean doesn't listen. No, for his family, killing another would be worth the personal cost.

"Only once. That's it," he tells her. "I'm not your personal assassin. Get the flute player over there to do your dirty work."

"Are we agreed, then?"

"Yeah. Now let him go."

The Seelie Queen nods; the ropes binding John fall away, dissolving into dirt with his gag. The Queen gives one last nod -- acknowledgement that one term has already been met, and in the span of one blink, she and her Court are replaced with the serene pathway of Chilton Wood's main trail. Without the Queen obstructing the way, Dean goes to his dad's side and helps him up from where he sits against the tree.

The return of his sight feels like a worn pair of jeans found after weeks of being missing; everything slides into place like no time has passes. He does, however, have a greater appreciation for it.

Wrapping an arm around his dad's shoulders, he leans on him to keep himself upright as much as John leans back for the same reason.

"Man, dad, you've really let yourself go. You look like shit," Dean says.

They start down the trail back to the Impala and the open highway beyond, the contestants in some fucked-up three-legged race.

"Why the hell did you make another deal with her?" John asks when they've made it within sight of their beloved car. "You know she'll mess with you again."

They emerge from the forest. Dean stops and throws his head back to let out the cross between a laugh and a sob -- how fucked up is his life? In a flash of Glamour-driven foresight, he sees himself face to face with fae, cheeks burning with shame as he turns away - punching the nearest wall when the next day's paper reports a death he could have prevented. And what of his father, and the fragile peace between them? Will he finally see Dean's failure with all that has happened, that he proved himself useless, and slowly start weaning himself away out of sympathy?

He stares at the sky and the clouds before facing a befuddled John. He measures his words carefully against the guilt of killing another human, of being such a failure, contacting his brother at this point would only give more reason for Sam to stay away, of knowing his father's going to leave him, too. He almost, Dean tells himself, deserves it.

But he doesn't show it. Paints a smile on his face and says, "You're my dad. I'm not going to let some bitch fae torture you."

John raises his eyebrows, curious. "No?"

"That's my job," Dean smiles. "Now, give me the keys. I'm driving."


Author's Notes

I remember sitting in my apartment in Los Angeles chatting online with PL Wynter. "I have this idea, but it's kinda Mary Sue; I think I can make it gen, though," I told her. She told me to write it. To not care that I didn't have a storyline planned, that I wouldn't have to show anyone. She was my first audience, and encouraged me to go on.

Of course, the story wasn't this story at that point. This one begins where a flashback from another version started...and it just continued to grow.

This is due to Scout27. She is a goddess and my muse and so many wonderful things. Without her, I'd never write anything, would never have the confidance that what I've written is worth posting online. Not only does she keep me sane at work by chatting with me via email, but she keeps me going in more ways than one.

I have to admit, the original Mary-Sue-ish story I daydreamed was inspired by Koyote and her fic Second Sight. Through an odd twist of fate, she became my beta, and man -- she is talented. She's made this fic so much better through her suggestions and edits and due dilligence to look up spellings and word usage. I cannot thank her enough.

I also would like to thank the follow people for their comments and support: Movaeblehistory, Lemmypie, Big Pink(who rescued me from falling off a cliff of pity and whining), and Carocali.

And, of course, all of you. You have made me happier than I could have imagined with your comments and flattery and I thank you all for coming along on the ride.

Oh, dear. I think I might cry. And I'm at work.

3 Kira