Jess did not get married the next week.
Instead, on what would have been the second night of her honeymoon, she was at a moonlit funeral with the man who would have been her brother-in-law. That had to suck, Dean reflected.
"You know, you didn't have to come," he told her. It was the first time either of them had spoken since Dean had lit the pyre.
He didn't turn to look at her, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw her dart a swift glance at him.
"Yeah I did," she whispered, turning back to the flames.
Jess hadn't said much in the past week. Hadn't said much, Dean assumed, since she had dropped the Colt that afternoon. Assumed because Dean honestly couldn't say he would have remembered if she had. There were hours – maybe more – after Sam slumped into Dean's arms that Dean couldn't have given an account of if his life depended on it.
Some things he could have described in graphic detail. Like the way his ribs shifted when Sam fell against him. The sticky slickness of John's blood underfoot. The deafening sound of Sam not breathing.
The rest, though, was pretty much just a haze of pain and sirens and hospital smells, and Dean was sure that Jess had been there for all of it, but only because where else would she have been?
He sighed. Now was probably not the time or place to discuss this, but maybe if they went ahead and got it over with, he could walk away from here and never have to think about any of this ever again.
He cleared his throat, stalling.
"Jess. You … I … " He tried the clearing the throat thing again. "I'm sorry … about all this. That you got caught up in it."
She didn't say anything. Just stared at the fire in a way he could tell didn't have anything to do with seeing it. There was a suspicious shine in her eyes, but after the past few weeks he'd kind of gotten used to that.
Still. He sighed again.
"You … you did the right thing. You know that, right?"
She gave a bitter snort that was a close cousin to a sob. "I shot your father."
" … Yeah." Again with the throat clearing, though it was legitimately needed this time. "But … you saved Sam."
The sobs started in earnest then. "Almost not," she stuttered, and Dean couldn't help a weary chuckle at that.
"First you're guilty about shooting him, and then you're guilty about not doing it sooner?"
She shrugged, obviously not appreciating the irony.
"Jess – Dad, he … he would have wanted you to do that." He tried for a crooked smile. "He would have been pissed that you wasted so many bullets, but …" It got twisted up when half a sob of his own slipped past. "In a choice between him and Sam, he … I know he …" Deep shaky breath, and it was time to clear his throat again. "I have to believe he would have done it himself if he could have."
Then: "But you wouldn't have." She looked him in the eye, challenging. "You wouldn't have done it if you'd had the gun. You'd have found some other way."
Dean found he was the one who couldn't hold the eye contact now. Because he didn't know. He didn't know what would have happened if he'd had the gun that night. Probably he'd have handed it over the first time the thing asked. And maybe his dad would be here, but probably not. More likely, he'd be out there somewhere, walking around with a demon inside, doing God knows what. And then maybe everyone else would be dead, because if Dean was honest with himself, he couldn't imagine the thing actually letting them all walk out alive.
He looked back up at Jess. "I'm glad the decision wasn't left up to me."
Jess took that for what it was, but didn't seem to find a lot of relief in it. "I doubt Sam will agree," she said.
Sam was still pretty out of it. Between the gunshot wound, the broken leg and the glass buried in the meat of his thigh, the surgeries had been multiple and serious – made more so by severe dehydration and the beginnings of malnutrition. He was going to be OK, the doctors promised, but for now it was taking some pretty hefty drugs for that to sound convincing.
So Sam hadn't been filled in yet on the way things ended at Bobby's. He knew John was gone, but not how or why. Dean wasn't even sure he really understood where Dean and Jess were, though he'd been told. However, that was probably for the best, because Dean was pretty sure Sam would have tried to insist that he should be there. But no way could he leave the hospital, and it wasn't like these things could wait when you weren't employing traditional embalming techniques.
Still. Jess wasn't the only one worried about what was going to happen when the fog cleared. If their situations had been reversed – if John had been killed to save Dean … Well, Dean was pretty sure he wouldn't have handled it well.
"Maybe not," Dean said, answering Jess's question. "But Jess, he loves you. And you did it because you love him. It … it'll be OK. Or as close as Winchesters usually get."
Dean wondered if that had been a lie a few days later as he passed Jess hurrying down the hospital hallway, her eyes puffy and determinedly avoiding his. She didn't stop when he called after her.
He pushed Sam's door open uneasily. Sam was staring sullenly out the window.
"Dude," Dean started, tentatively. "What'd you do to Jess?"
Sam pried his gaze away with obvious reluctance. He looks tired and confused and angry and guilty, all at once – it was only a small improvement over how he'd looked for the past week, despite the doctor's continuing admiration of his progress. Then again, Dean had been out of the hospital for almost a week, and the same description probably summed him up as well.
"What do you mean?" Sam grumbled.
"I mean she looked like you'd been kicking puppies in here. And she wasn't crying again yet, but I bet you $20 she is by now."
Sam let out a sigh. Between his own and Sam's, Dean was getting pretty dang sick of the sound. "Dean …"
"Sam …" Dean whined right back to him.
Another sigh, this time less tired and more … huffy. "What do you want me to do?"
"Uh, how about thank your fiancée for saving your ass, rather than making her feel guilty about it."
Dean didn't bother to return it that time. Just shot him a get-over-yourself look.
All Sam's righteous indignation bled out of his posture. "I'm not mad at her."
"Well, you're sure as hell doing a good impression."
"Yeah." Sigh. "I know. It's just … you know."
Dean gave his own sigh and let the challenge drain from his own body language. "Yeah. I know."
Sam shifted, obviously uncomfortable, and Dean felt bad. And then Sam spoke and Dean felt worse.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. It was a wretched sound. "I should have listened to you months ago. Years ago, even."
"Sam," Dean admonished softly. But Sam didn't give him a chance to go on.
"If I had listened when you told me this wouldn't work, that I'd never be able to pull off normal, Jess never would have been put in that position. And Dad would still be alive."
Dean shook his head, not quite sure if Sam meant what Dean thought he meant. "Sam, I never said that. That was the shapeshifter. We talked about this."
"Yeah, well." Dean could all but hear the 'doesn't mean it's not true' tacked onto the end.
"And besides – where would that leave you? Jess did the right thing, Sam."
"You don't really believe that."
"The hell I don't."
Dean broke first. It was his turn to sigh again.
"Sam. It's … God. This didn't happen because you wanted a girlfriend. This happened because of Dad and that stupid gun. You don't have anything to be sorry for. If anything, he –"
But Dean stopped himself there. Normally he didn't have a problem speaking ill of the dead – the dead so often did something to deserve it. But. This was his father. And, well …
"Dean – what?"
He took a deep breath and decided to be completely honest. "He shot you, Sam. If anything, he owes you an apology. And I wish to God he were here to give it, but …" He trailed off and found that he needed another deep breath. "Anyway. You don't get to feel guilty about that."
"Dean, I had been torturing you for hours. What else was he supposed to do?"
"Gee, Sam. Double standard much?"
Sam just sighed and stared down at his hands twisting in his blanket. Dean saw the sigh and raised him an eye roll.
"Sam. Man. Come on. Think about this. It's finally over. We got it. The thing that killed Mom. Nothing's standing between you and normal now. And Jess loves you. And you love her. Just … don't throw that away. Dad spent half his life chasing the thing that ruined that for him. He wouldn't want you to ruin it for yourself."
Dean didn't know if that was really even true, didn't know if his father had ever thought about that at all. But he decided the white lie was worth it when Sam looked back up at him and some of the anger and confusion and guilt was gone.
It was a couple of weeks before it really hit Dean.
I mean, yeah, you're slipping and sliding on your father's blood, and there's no getting around feeling it in the very pit of your stomach. That horrible breathless moment when you actually tell yourself not to be so dramatic, this is not the first time you've thought he was dead, you're overreacting, obviously he's not dead because you wouldn't have let that happen, no way. Even then you have a sneaking suspicion that's just some sort of warped form of the denial people always talk about. Which means you're going through the stages of grief. Which means you have something to grieve.
But between his hospital stay and Sam's hospital stay and trying to hold everyone else together, Dean kind of got stuck there in the denial stage. He still wouldn't have called it that. Obviously he knew his father was dead. There was literally no denying it when you burned the body yourself.
Instead, he congratulated himself on how well he was handling it. Told himself that it had worked out better than anyone could have expected – the demon was dead, Sam was alive. John, he told himself, was with Mary, his quest fulfilled, his family safe.
And Dean was able to rock along like that for a surprising amount of time. He didn't think, when wedding preparations resumed, of how he wished his dad was there to see it – because truth be told, he didn't think his dad had been planning to come. And he didn't ever pick up the phone and dial John's number before he remembered or turn around expecting him to be there.
What finally triggered it, the punch to the gut that made Dean really really realize that John was gone was something so stupid. It shouldn't have meant anything.
But when he checked the post office box in Nevada, one of seven they had scattered around the country, and found the credit cards – one for Carlos Garcia and one for his son, Jose – he just broke.
Based on the postmark, the application would have been sent in not long after Dean had walked out of the Saginaw hotel room with Sam. Who knows – maybe it was filled out with one of Dean's unanswered calls ringing in the background. It didn't really matter. It was a peace offering. Until that moment, Dean hadn't even realized he needed one.
He sat on a bench outside the post office for about four hours, holding the cards in his hands, rubbing his thumb over the raised plastic of the names as if they spelled out John Winchester in Braille. Thought about how dumb he was for trying to convince himself that what had happened was for the best.
Got mad and snapped Carlos's card in half, then quarters, and chucked them in a nearby garbage can. Had to concentrate on not diving in to dig them out when he started to regret it. Went to a nearby bar and got a black eye and enough whiskey to make him fall-down drunk and didn't call and tell Sam that he wouldn't be back that night after all. And in the morning, he puked his guts up and tucked Jose's card into the back of his Dad's journal.
Then he headed back to Sam, glad his brother hadn't been around to see that.
He wondered what to expect from the bargaining and depression stages.
It wasn't what they deserved.
For one, it was small. A big, lavish wedding didn't seem right, so close on the heels of a funeral. And besides, with America's declining attention span, you postpone a wedding and you're bound to lose a few guests – maybe even a bridesmaid – along the way.
For another, it was outside. On such short notice, none of the good places were available. And California, outside in July is just no place for crinolines and cummerbunds.
And then it was all a little less shiny that it would have been. The groom was on crutches and swimming in his tux, and the bride had killed a man just over a month ago. That'll push you right past the moony phase of newly-wedded bliss.
But Dean figured most the people who had skipped out had already sent their presents. And that bridesmaid right over there? He'd be glad to help her out of her petticoats when the service was done. And he'd given Sam some honeymoon pointers that should go a long way toward putting the merry back in married – he'd even written instructions on Sam's cast, lest he forget. With illustrations. Good ones.
So, all in all? It probably wasn't what Sam had imagined all those months ago when he'd called to tell Dean his news.
But it wasn't so bad, either.
Whew. I was beginning to think I was never going to get there. Perhaps you were, too.
Another thanks to Mazza. If you liked this ending, you should probably thank her as well. She's not afraid to say, "no, try again." That does not, however, mean that she endorses this final product. Anything you don't like is probably something I was too stubborn to change.
Anyway. Thanks so much for sticking with me this far. If you did. I hope you did. And I hope I didn't disappoint. I would love love love to hear from you, good or bad. I'm planning to go back and revise this once I can stand to look at again, so it would be good to hear from you what is most in need of revision. Let me know. If you're too nice to tear it to pieces in public, feel free to send me a personal message. Seriously, I want to know.
And thanks to those of you who have been leaving comments. That's one of the most exciting things in the world.