Disclaimer: The TV show Supernatural and all characters therein are owned by assorted Americans, not me. This fiction is purely for the enjoyment of readers; no money is being made. All Original Characters remain the property of Catherine D. Stewart and may not be used without the express permission of the authoress.

Summary: Set post all-Seasons; what do you do when you've won the war, only to lose what you were fighting for…

Rating: 'T'/15 because of the angst, but there is no 'on-screen' gore, graphic or gratuitous infliction of suffering, violence, sex, etc. This story was inspired by two scenes in Shadow – see author's note. Depending on Season 2, this will probably end up being an AU.

The story of my life

Is very plain to read.

It starts when you came

And ends

The day you leave.

MY LIFE

The demon was dead, and so was Dad.

Of course, to fit the cliché, John Winchester should have gone out in a blaze of glory, taking the demon with him in an epic final battle leaving his grieving sons nevertheless iron-jawed with pride.

But no matter what else they did, the Winchesters did not do cliché.

After the initial encounter with the Hunter's gun, the Winchester men had renewed their quest with a vengeance, spurred not deterred by the murder of their friends Caleb and Pastor Jim. The demon had been faced with three supremely angry, obsessively motivated Winchester men, and weight of numbers had seen the three Hunters win through

Just.

It was simply survival rather than victory, and it wouldn't have been that without the other Hunters. Missouri Moseley had gathered as many nearby Hunters as she could and they had come to the battle scene knowing beforehand what John and his boys were going up against, working frantically to stop the grievously wounded trio bleeding out into the grass.

A unique group with a unique perspective – fortunately; when Sammy had weakly closed blood drenched fingers in Missouri's jacket and told her to immediately go buy consecutive Lottery scratch cards from the nearest drugstore, she had done the sensible thing and obeyed – and won $2.5 million.

In any other circumstance, a healthy fortune, but one which had rapidly evaporated into nothing like morning dew in paying for medical care for three injured men over six months of hospitalisation and physical therapy following a 'grizzly bear' attack; admittedly top-notch medical care, since the three had left hospital after a lengthy sojourn of complete rest, massages, pampering and light exercise almost in better shape than at any point in the last decade. Sam's clumsy, futile attempt to get Missouri the card purchaser to keep some of the money had been as close as they'd come to real danger in that period.

But after that…like an antique pocket watch, John Winchester had just wound down. In their world he had a towering repute, and had long since passed beyond legend into almost iconic status; some of the 'new kids on the block' claimed him an urban legend himself. He had even entered mainstream culture, a semi-mythic figure spoken of by urbanites and ordinary people who uttered sayings without any real notion of the history behind them. Any extraordinary act of courage or face-down of a bigger bad by Joe Average provoked the comment, "'Who do you think you are/does he think he is – John Winchester?'"

But John had never set out to be a legend, or a myth or an icon. All he'd ever wanted to be was a suburban husband and father with a nine-to-five job, his nice house in Lawrence and that big old garden with a tree-swing. He'd wanted to be just average, everyday Mr Winchester, with him and Mary watching the boys graduate from college and having a quiet paternal pride in Dean his eldest joining the Marines in service to his country like John had and Sam achieving his academic potential and becoming a lawyer or a doctor and settling down with a nice daughter-in-law and providing gurgling grandbabies John and Mary could indulge.

Dean watched his father fade and had done his grieving long before the day when John simply didn't get up one morning; he understood. What was there left for Dad now? Impossible for anyone who had seen and done the things he had to return to being ordinary, to remarry and settle down in suburbia, to start anew. The only thing Dad truly, truly wanted more than anything else was to be with Mary.

Missouri had come over that morning when Dean called to say Dad had passed away in his sleep, her ample frame embracing them as they sat, bereft and bewildered on the porch steps. John had made arrangements long before and updated them in the months that he slipped away as he was sure his sons were recovering their health and growing stronger.

Somehow, both Dean and Sam had expected a small service at Lawrence's church before Dad was placed right where he should be – next to Mom, with the headstone already pre-purchased and carved according to his dictation by John himself, a simple dedication: John Thomas Winchester, husband of cherished Mary. (Standing next to Sam as they were given privacy at their parents' resting place in Lawrence's historic and elegant cemetery after the funeral, only Dean had known that in a few days another monumental mason would come and add another line: beloved father.)

The eclectic gathering at the funeral had not disturbed them as they knew these people as family; during their childhood the murdered Pastor Jim had been combination grandfather/uncle, foster father for several periods of time when John was Hunting in places too dangerous to take children, and through him and John the boys had come know many Hunters and their families and friends.

Even Dean, who unlike Sam was not surprised by the number of varied people that John Winchester had known and considered his friends, had been pleasantly pleased for Dad's sake that the small church had had more than just few mourners. But then people had just kept coming. Missouri had told other Hunters who passed the word on who sent emails that got onto websites.

First there'd been a hurried scramble to get more pews, then any spare chairs, then they could only open the doors and let the service carry outside. Old age pensioners and nervous adolescents, families and couples, a wealthy New York investment-banking couple had shared pew-space cheerily with a weary trailer-park single mom with three solemn, carrot-haired waifs.

Each story was different, and essentially the same: fear and sometimes death, panic and hopelessness, and a guy in a truck with the 'saddest eyes in the whole world' but a gently wry smile, and a quiet confidence that reignited hope and a competence that smothered despair. A man who talked, softly, of an adored, murdered wife, and with love and pride about his 'boys', a man who had saved their families with adamantine determination because there had been nobody able to save his own.

Grandmas and Grandpas, moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, best friends, alive and safe because of that man – seventeen children had attended John Winchester's funeral who only existed at all because years before they were even a potential, one parent or the other or both had been snatched from the jaws of werewolves and wendigous and women in white and poltergeists and vampires and shtrigas and incubi and succubi and whatever other kind of supernatural evil had been stopped from being able to chow down on them.

As he'd stood next to Sammy, Dean had hoped in the knowledge of its hopelessness that Sam would look at everyone around them and understand, as Dean did, that though their father's life had been spent alone it hadn't been lonely. Though he had been solitary, he had lived a life rich in meaning and profound in purpose.

But Dean knew Sammy. He loved his brother, but not blindly. Sam was intelligent and courageous and witty and loyal and determined and compassionate. But he was also self-centred and stubborn and wilfully blind to anything that didn't fit in with the way he wanted to believe the world was and see the world as.

So this was goodbye, Dean knew as dawn's early light silhouetted the towers of Stanford University in a wholly undeserved halo of burnished gold. It had barely been late afternoon by the time everything was all done and over; their feet had ached and their hands were swollen from everyone who had wanted to meet John Winchester's boys and shake their hands and then suddenly it was just the two of them looking at each other in weary silence and mutual loss.

Sam had slid into the car's passenger side to go to the house John had rented for the three of them in Lawrence, near enough that he could visit Mary's grave every day whilst Dean and Sam were finishing off their recuperation, and by the time Dean had got around to the driver's side, Sam was deep in exhausted slumber. Sam didn't know all his things were in the trunk, since Dean had known his brother would abandon him again from when he walked into Dad's bedroom that morning with John's cup of coffee and the morning paper only to realise instantly that John's 'sleeping' face was too peaceful; too relaxed; too unwary.

He had simply started the car and driven through twilight into night, his speed never dipping below a hundred, an invisible black blur swallowed up in an indifferent black night, and Sammy had never stirred once, such was the depth of his exhaustion.

Which Dean was pleased about, because if Sammy had woken in the night he would probably have made a jerk of himself by begging, or offering to pay Sammy to not desert him again. Now as he coasted to a halt at the kerb, he checked his reflection in the rear-view mirror, aware that he was lucky in his ability that women would have killed for: he cried like an old-time movie star cried, diamond-droplets of tears slipping from haunted eyes down drawn, pallid cheeks in ghostly silence, like Ingrid Bergman or Lauren Bacall or Greta Garbo, instead of like how real people cried with blotchy faces and runny noses and puffy eyes and tears that flooded like a burst water pipe with snuffles and sniffles and wails and whimpers.

The tears that had flowed as unchecked twin streams down his cheeks and throat to soak invisibly into his T-shirt during the night had left no visible trail on his face and his eyes were desolate but clear. He turned off the engine and sat, using each second to imprint the details on his memory – Sam's face, his faint smile, that ridiculous floppy hair and those faded jeans and that old T-shirt and that battered jacket and those two beauty spots on the left side of his face above and below his lips. He would need these seconds again, not soon, not even in the days and the months ahead, but when it came to the years and he was nothing more than an occasional falsely-cheerful postcard correspondent and an annual Thanksgiving phone call to Samuel J. Winchester, affluent, upwardly mobile white-bread attorney at law, then he would need these seconds to look at, and gaze upon and recall how once, for a little while, he had been part of a family and Sammy had still loved him and needed him.

He watched as Sammy twitched and yawned and stretched and looked around with confusion and then at Dean and then with widening eyes at the sight of Stanford through the windscreen.

"I'll get your stuff out of the trunk," Dean said casually, "that way you can get there for registration this morning."

He suited actions to words until Sam fumbled open the passenger door and got out, bewilderment edged on his adored face. "Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"What's going on, why are we here?"

"Because you're going back to school," Dean said patiently as he unloaded Sam's suitcases. "It's over, Sam, and we actually won. So now you get to go back to school and be a lawyer like you wanted."

"But…" Sam blinked rapidly and shook his head as if trying to clear it which made his hair flop into his eyes endearingly, and Dean had to avert his eyes and concentrate on closing the trunk lid so he didn't collapse in a pathetic pleading heap at Sammy's feet. Not Sammy, Sam: Samuel J. Winchester, attorney-at-law – there was no room in there for 'Dean'.

"But …" again it trailed off.

Momentarily, Dean observed the struggle between desperate longing and guilt-stained sense of obligation in his brother's eyes as Sam fought to reject his desire and do what he felt he should, rather than what he wanted. It didn't make it hurt any less, but it was the final confirmation that Dean was doing the right thing. Love could not be coerced or manufactured, it would only be given, freely and without constraint; there was nothing that would poisonously turn love into hate and so completely rot their sibling bond as if some vicious acid more totally or more quickly than Sam staying out of a sense of duty, a belief he was obligated to stay with Dean because guilt insisted he 'owed' his brother.

"This is what you need to do," he said firmly. "You need to finish school and become a hotshot lawyer; you were born for a higher purpose – that of giving your deadbeat brother someone to sponge off. Now go start earning money to give to me."

The feeble witticism fell awkwardly as Sam shook his head. "No, Dean…I can't just go back to school like nothing ever happened. I can't just walk away…"

Yes you can, you did it before so it's bound to be easier this time. Heroic effort enabled him to swallow the words.

"…I can't let you Hunt without me…what if something happens…"

"Whoa…I did alright for nearly four years" and every day was a lonely drudgery "without my obnoxious teenage brother holding my hand," Dean shot him down. "Besides, who said anything about Hunting?"

Sam looked at him with a piercing, probing and entirely disbelieving gaze.

But Dean had always been a consummate liar, especially when it was something that would protect Sammy or be better for his baby brother in the long run. So he shrugged and said, "Dad's dead, the demon's dead and my social calendar's pretty thin right now."

"You're not going to Hunt?" Sam challenged, equally shrewd in knowing that his brother struggled to lie to his face.

Dean shrugged, "Right now no, I'm…going to Missouri…the State not the woman."

"Like Cape Girardeau?" Sam pounced.

Dean gave his trademark 'bad boy' smirk, "Maybe…"

Sam grinned, his expression flooded with relief and you-sly-dog speculation. Dean held the grin, letting Sammy nurture the wishful inference his younger brother had drawn from Dean's words. Sam wanted to believe that like someone quitting cigarettes, Dean could give up Hunting for a 'real' life if he really wanted to. It was one of those things he was wilfully blind about, so Dean had always known there was no point in making another attempt to convey that their world, the society of Hunters, had always been far more 'real' to him than the 'normal' Sam craved.

For all his flippancy and insouciance Dean had always been extraordinarily self-aware, far more than Sam for all his self-analysing and semesters as a psychology-student. He knew his strengths, and his limitations – coping with bureaucrats and petty, petty officials and the minutiae of daily living with tax returns and bills and mortgages and the missus and 2.4 kids was beyond him. In such situations he floundered and drowned, standing helplessly when some overpaid minor functionary bombarded him with diktats that might have been uttered in Urdu for all the sense they made to the bewildered man.

So he watched as Sammy walked away, at first uncertainly and casting several wary glances over his shoulder at where Dean lounged against the car, then with a gradually increasing confidence and straightening of his spine. One final time he paused and looked back, smiling with relief as Dean waggled his fingers in a shooing motion.

For several moments after Sam was no longer in sight, Dean stood unmoving as he fixed the memory in his mind. He would never see Sam again, though it would take some time before Sam fully drifted away from him to the occasional email and phone call as the demands of his new life subsumed residual guilt.

Dean drove out of Palo Alto and eventually found what he was looking for, a secluded beauty spot on a side road, empty of traffic and people. He turned off the engine and made sure the doors were locked, and then finally he cried like a real person with a blotchy face and puffy eyes and runny nose and broken, gasping sobs of grief and despair.

© 2006,

Catherine D. Stewart

Author's Note: This story was inspired by two scenes in Shadow: (1) the motel roombetween 'Sam' and 'Dean' where Sam is rhapsodising about abandoning hunting oblivious to Dean's increasing distress until they have the exchange where Dean acknowledges he's too conditioned to be anything else other than a Hunter and that his greatest fear is Sam's abandonment of him again, (echoes of 'I know I'm a freak and…everyone will leave me' – Skin) and Sam self-centredly gives him the 'you've got to let me go' speech, and (2) the alleyway scene between the three men when Sam gets a taste of what its going be like as he has to let their father go in order to protect him and them from Meg Masters. I know Season 1 was a cliff hanger (what a non-surprise), so this may end up being AU. However, I do have several ideas to develop this story so this may eventually be reposted as "Chapter 1", but for now it's a one-shot.