Every Spring, Lilies Bloom.
It was a complete amateur's move, and if Dean had thought about the character of the man involved, what his marriage had meant to him, the nature of his death (unknown, but really, what else could it be?) for just one second and had treated his father's death like any other case, then Dean would not have made it. But this was his father, and seeing John so still, so pale, and so dead, well, he hadn't exactly been thinking straight.
Usually, ghosts are very predictable. If the state records are intact and there are a few living relatives to point towards a cemetery, and some political nut job hasn't gotten it into his head to move it, then the only real concern is the price of gasoline. Sometimes, though, ghosts aren't attached to their bones like they should be. If the trend of the day is human hair on a doll, a little girl can commit murder decades after her death. Sometimes, enough blood can spill out of the body so that the soul resides in a stain on the carpet.
Sometimes a man loves his wife more than himself.
It's supposed to be just a little band of silver; it doesn't even shine in the light anymore, the gleam worn away from years of dirt and blood. Dean takes it off of John's hand as he wraps the body (because watching the corpse of their father burn is more than either can take). It slips off easily, the beads of grease on John's decaying skin making it slick. It kind of makes Dean sick, but he's had his hands in worse, so he wipes it off and puts it in his pocket, just before Sam comes back with more gas.
That ring should've burned with John, and he knows that. Maybe it did, because Dean is willing to swear on his eventual grave that it heated up in his pocket when John's body was cremated, but that might have been because Dean was clenching it so hard in his fist, or it might have been some deep psychological association, family, fire and death.
Or maybe it could've been wishful thinking.
Dean isn't alright. He isn't alright at all. But he's going to hold it together, as well and for as long as he can. There isn't anything he can do about it, anyways, except keep going and hope for a miracle. Not that God's ever given him any miracles, or given him any slack.
He's a hero, like his father, and he knows this. He was proud of it, still is, but he just wonders why it has to be him, and if it weren't for Sam, Jesus Christ, if it weren't for Sammy.
He's going to have to kill Sam.
That demon was right. There are days when he can't even get out of bed.
Sam picks up on the fact that Dean stops speaking. It isn't like he stops talking, because he'll make small talk just fine. "How you doin'?" "Good." "Are you hungry at all?" "Nah." "Maybe we should get something to drink. Bobby knows a good bar in town." "I have to work on my car."
That's another thing Sam doesn't like. Dean hasn't stopped working on the car. If it's daylight, he's outside in the sun, burning his skin but refusing to stop until the sun's dropped so far he can't see anymore. The Impala is coming along alright, Sam supposes, but he's not sure if that's a good thing. Sam does want it to be fixed. That car means a lot to him too, even though he doesn't worship it like Dean does, or John did.
He wants the parts to be working again.
The first hint that there's something around that shouldn't be comes late one night when they're driving in Tennessee, even though it doesn't provoke more than a glance between Sam and Dean. They're on the highway, going in and out of patches of light on the road, and the soft clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk of tires running over potholes has lulled Sam to sleep, as it has for years.
Dean's just barely awake himself, with the radio acting as a small diversion from sleep, but it's only a small static cackling in the background so Sam at least can rest. He has never fallen asleep at the wheel before, but these days, he can't seem to sleep at night, and there's nothing to look at on the Tennessee freeway except for pavement and the same yellow lines repeating into infinity.
They manage to coast for quite awhile, actually, when Dean drops off. It's one of the perks of driving in an unpopulated area.
When the Impala comes up on a curve, though, the radio gets loud, real loud, to the point where both Dean and Sam jump awake.
"Sonofabitch," Dean swears and violently turns right, heart jumping in his chest when he sees how close the near hit is. He takes a few calming breaths, turns the radio down, and swallows, running a hand over his chin.
Dean and Sam exchange a glance, and Sam asks, "Should I drive for awhile?"
Dean shakes his head. "No. No, I've got it."
Sam nods and sits up in his seat, readjusts himself and stretches the limited amount he can. "Fine. Just don't get me killed."
Sam has no way of knowing why, but the words sting like they're intentional.
They're in Kentucky when they get their first shred of evidence that something's up. Not that they haven't been able to tell by themselves. Dean's got an infallible gut, and Sam, even though he's partially in denial, has been able to sense ghosts more or less since a dead psychiatrist made him shoot Dean full of rock salt.
The house they're casing is supposed to be haunted. It isn't a classic New England style haunting, with a dead widow walking halls in Victorian lace, but a bluegrass haunting, with a pissed off wife-beating hic in flannel.
Sam has the professional EMF, and Dean has his Walkman-cum-EMF. They split up a half hour ago, Sam on the second floor, and Dean on the first, and when they meet up an hour later for lunch (what Dean suspects is soy-bread and tofu pretending to be chicken), Dean declares that the first floor is full of EMF, and Sam says there's nothing on the second floor.
After lunch, they switch, and Dean finds EMF on the second floor and Sam gets squat on the first.
"Are you sure that thing is working, Dean?"
"Sam, I built it myself."
Sam gives Dean a pointed look.
"Oh, don't give me that, man. I was taking these things apart and building them before you were born."
"Well maybe you busted it somehow," Sam says, fiddling with his. "Tossed it into the trunk a little too hard. Maybe sat on it."
"I think I would've noticed if I'd sat on it, thanks. And maybe yours is the one that's broken and we're really standing in Casper's family."
Sam looks around. "I don't think so. We haven't been attacked."
"We aren't married women, Sam, of course we haven't been attacked," Dean says. "Although I guess you'd come close."
Dean takes the lid off of his Walkman and gives it a once over. All the wires are connected, and connected properly. Doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the internal workings, but the one part he couldn't build himself could be malfunctioning.
"Nah, I can't tell what's wrong with it," Dean admits, and closes the cassette lid.
"Give it here," Sam says, and holds out his hand to Dean. Dean puts the EMF in his hand, and then Sam's professional EMF meter goes off, whining and squealing as it gets close to Dean. Sam gives it an astonished look, and then brings his meter up right next to Dean, and the all five lights go bright red.
"Dean, you're emitting EMF," Sam says quickly, looking at his brother with worry.
Dean stills, and then says, "I knew it wasn't my Walkman. Hand-made, Sam. Never fails."
"Dean. You're emitting EMF," Sam tries again, because obviously Dean isn't getting it.
"Yeah. That's weird," Dean says, scratching the back of his neck.
"Christo," Sam says, taking a quick step back into a fighting stance and looking at Dean expectantly.
Dean waits a second, and then shrugs.
"I don't know what to tell you, Sammy. I don't feel weird, or different. Haven't been in contact with anything. Anyone. Residual, maybe? This jacket sees a lot of blood," Dean says, spreading his arms and making the leather crinkle at his shoulders.
"Maybe," Sam says, unconvinced.
Sam has another vision. He's watching a woman put a little baby girl down to bed, all sweet blonde curls and happy cooing. The mother is in a white nightgown, and smiling at her child. Sam knows what's going to happen, but he can't move. He just watches, watches the mother start the mobile with a lullaby, and then she looks right at him, and says, "you!"
He's doing it. He has her against the wall; he has her on the ceiling. He cuts open her womb so even if she survives, the family line is stopped. This house will see no other children.
The father comes up, calling "Erica?" softly when he notices the mobile. When he notices the blood next to his baby he looks at the ceiling, and the fire breaks loose.
It burns him. It physically burns him. The pain pierces his skin and he can't escape, as he watches the father and daughter sit on the lawn from the nursery window. He screams and screams because the heat is too intense, and a voice says, "You're my favorite, Sammy."
Then he falls out of bed. When he arrives at full consciousness, he first spots Dean, sitting on his bed, looking at Sam like he's a threat. It confuses Sam, until he sees the state of the room, which looks like it's been ransacked. Everything that wasn't bolted down has been moved a few inches in one direction or the other.
"We aren't on the San Andres Fault Line, are we?" Sam asks, thinking earthquake.
"Vermont," Dean says softly, relaxing his muscles and setting back into a sitting position on his comforter.
"Oh," Sam says, before passing out.
Sam has minor burns all over his skin, everywhere. Every inch of Sam is raw, and Dean starts to get a little bit scared. If Sam can be attacked through his dreams, then they really are screwed.
Dean hangs the dream-catcher above Sam every night and puts a ring of salt around Sam's bed thicker than his wrist. It doesn't happen again, and thank God for that. Thank God for that.
It seems to have left Sam with more power than he can handle, though. It's just little things, really, but sometimes Sam responds to thoughts Dean doesn't remember saying out-loud, or if Sam needs a pencil one will roll across the table to him, and he will look up at Dean just as surprised as Dean is.
There is something wrong with Dean's shadow. Sam's not entirely sure what, just that it's off. If Sam concentrates and focuses, it becomes clearer, almost like a person separate from Dean, but just as quickly as Sam sees it it becomes hazy again, or moves.
And it isn't only Dean. Sam's seeing a lot of these distorted shadows, and sometimes the shadows aren't connected to people.
Sam's a bright boy, but denial is human nature. He struggles with the fact for a month, and then caves to the truth.
He doesn't know if he should tell Dean, though. Telling your brother he's being haunted by what could very well be his dead father isn't the easiest thing Sam's ever had to do, but somehow, it isn't he hardest.
Knowing what Dean's reaction would be to "Dad's haunting you," Sam decides to take it in steps.
They're in New Hampshire when Sam first decides to tell Dean about the strengthening of yet another power. They're eating dinner, and Sam clears his throat.
Dean looks up at him and wipes spaghetti sauce off his face with a thumb. "Yeah?" he asks around his bite.
"I can see ghosts."
Dean stops mid-spaghetti twirl, and raises his eyes. "You mean, dead people?" he says with a mock frightened whisper.
"I'm serious. I can see ghosts, Dean," Sam says, and hunches his shoulders.
Dean slowly sets down his fork. "Sonofabitch," he whines. "You had to go and spoil a good meal. Best spaghetti in these fifty states, haven't had it in years…."
"I don't think you're quite hearing me, Dean," Sam says, taking his napkin off his lap.
Dean just gives him a dull look, then stands up and walks over to the in-restaurant bar, and then Sam knows Dean has heard him.
"Okay, so you can see dead people. We can work with that," Dean says, saluting Sam with his seventh bottle of El Sol beer. "Huh? No more EMF, no more… bumbling around, putting ourselves in danger. Right. We can do this." Dean drains the rest of his beer and sets the bottle down. Then he looks at the bottles, and makes a small pyramid out of them.
Dean is a very supportive drunk, saying things a normal big brother would say to his little brother sober. Only with Dean, not only do they come out encouraging, but dirty, and loud, and isn't that just Dean in a nutshell?
"Maybe we should go. You know, beds. Free ice. Windows. Wireless," Sam offers. "I'll even let you drive if you stay under 10 mph."
"I'd love to spend a night with the Hiltons. Or Lindsey," Dean says, grinning lewdly. Sam's used to that, too, when Dean only says the end of his train of thought and leaves Sam to connect the dots.
"I didn't mean to keep the ghost thing from you for so long," Sam tries. A drunken Dean has to be reminded of the subject every so often. With gentle verbal steering, though, Sam can usually get stuff out of him Dean wouldn't normally say or admit to.
" 'S'ok, Sam. I know. I guessed it along time ago. Figures the man's too stubborn to die in peace. Shouldn't have done it, no sir."
"What'd you do, Dean?"
"I didn't done nothing. Do. Dune. Done. Done do," Dean says, and then snorts and bursts into giggles.
Sam sighs and shakes his head. He didn't think telling Dean would get this kind of reaction. Just telling Dean how his powers are working would maybe inspire a few bottles of Bud, maybe whiskey if they were in the south, but not this. Something else must be bothering him, too, although Sam can't guess as to what. Ever since John died, Dean's been keeping something from him.
"I don't know what you're saying, Dean."
Dean looks over his shoulder likes he's checking for someone that could be listening in, but then he spots a blonde instead. She's a bit chunkier then Dean goes for, but she's fit, and showing off a lot of skin.
"Dean," Sam says sharply, and Dean's head whips back around, wobbling a bit.
"Oh, right, right," Dean says, remembering they were talking.
"What's wrong?" Sam asks.
"What do you mean? I'm super. Okay doeky!"
"No, you're drunk."
"You can't prove that!" Dean shouts, pointing crookedly at Sam.
Sam gives Dean his look for when Dean's saying something dumb and what Sam's about to say should be obvious. "If you were to breathe into a plastic bag, it would float away."
Dean kind of thinks that over, and then says, "Remember when we lived in Georgia? When I was eighteen?"
Sam reaches for Dean's beer bottle and takes a sip, and then puts it back down in front of Dean. "Yeah. Sure. Why not?"
"I was going to sign up for the Marines. I ever tell you that?"
"No," Sam says, frowning curiously at Dean.
"Well, I was. Had it all planned out. Figured I'd make Dad proud that way. Figured if I wasn't there he'd start taking better care of you."
"What stopped you?"
"The old man himself. Said he needed me around more then the suits in D.C."
"We probably did. You remember how Dad and I used to tear at each other."
"If I'd gone to Afghanistan, it occurred to me that I wouldn't have to listen to you two, yes."
Sam smiles a bit, and Dean slaps the table with his palm.
"There it is! I never thought I'd see you smile again. Now all we have to do is get you laid and you're cured. You can't keep it in like that, Sam. I know you think I'm being a jerk when I tell you to go get a skirt, but man, you keep it in like that, you'll burn out. I know you need… to be in… love, but face it Sam. There's no room for love. This job, man," he says, shaking his head. Then he just watches Sam for a second, and asks, "Can I tell you a secret?"
Dean looks over his shoulders, then tugs on Sam's collar and brings him close. He says, "I'm being haunted" with big eyes.
"You're being haunted," Sam repeats, watching Dean's face intently.
"Oh, yeah. He's being very sneaky, but there ain't a ghost alive I can't take. Instinct, man. Luck is better then skill. That reminds me, I should go play some pool. Maybe when the bar stops spinning, huh?"
"Who's haunting you, Dean?" Sam asks softly, and Dean gives Sam his 'you're-an-idiot' look.
"Dad, Sam. Finally realized his mistake, wants his life back. Well good riddance! Spend your whole damn life hunting the devil, finally get your chance and make a business transaction? What the fucking hell, man?!"
Then Dean stills, and picks up another beer bottle.
"He wasn't supposed to die that way, Sam," he whispers. "He wasn't supposed to save me. I'm not supposed to be alive," Dean says, and Sam starts to get worried when Dean looks like he's going to cry. Instead of falling apart, though, Dean gets angry. He smacks the table. "His fucking choice. Good riddance."
Dean stands up, and yells to the bar, "you hear that, Dad?! Good riddance!"
Sam grabs the leather of Dean's jacket and leads him to the car, apologizing to the stunned crowd.
They're in northern New York when Dean wakes up enough to be coherent. Sam's given him plenty of water and crackers, and wonders when taking care of Dean started to feel like taking care of a hamster. Dean takes over the wheel as soon as the world stops spinning, and takes them further south.
"So," Dean says.
Sam looks up and asks, "So?"
"You can see ghosts."
Dean unconsciously checks his mirrors. "Have you, uh. Seen him?"
Sam picks up his coffee and enjoys the heat radiating from it. The Impala's heater is old, and isn't exactly working well. He's shotgun, he has the luxury of a woolen blanket over his lap. Dean's driving, but it's Dean. If it means he can drive he'll take a little winter weather.
"Yeah," Sam admits, and takes a sip of the coffee. It's black, so he sets it down and picks up his.
"He's definitely around?"
Sam uses his side mirror to glance into the backseat. Sitting behind him is a shadow, but he can't see it clearly.
"There's no question there's someone haunting us, but whether it's Dad or not, I can't tell."
"Coupla hunters being haunted. It's disgraceful. If we had badges we'd probably have to turn them in. Laughed out of the academy. Or pool hall," he trails off.
Sam looks out his window at the snow. It's just a sprinkling, with blades of grass poking through, but the sun's been on it, so it's nice and melty and sticky.
"Wanna have a snowball fight?" Sam asks.
Dean finally takes his eyes off the road, looking at Sam with an open mouth and raised eyebrows. He scoffs and shakes his head like Sam's not getting something, but then hesitates.
"Yeah, alright," he says, and pulls off to the side of the road.
They're working in Mississippi in late January. In fact, they decided to spend the entire winter in the southern United States. They aren't going anywhere above Missouri, unless it's to Bobby in South Dakota, or a real emergency crops up that requires them personally, like another 'special child.'
Except for Minnesota, because as Dean points out, it snows year-round there, so there really isn't a point in avoiding it.
In the early afternoon their peaceful drive to Montgomery, Alabama is interrupted by the new custom ring tone Dean made for Sam when Sam was in the shower that morning.
Answer your damn phone, Sam! Answer your damn phone, Sam!
"Awesome," Dean chuckles.
"I'm going to kill you," Sam says, fishing around for his phone.
Answer your damn phone, Sam! Answer you-
"Hello?" Sam asks. There are a few seconds of silence, and then Sam sighs and glares over at Dean. "If this is a joke, it's a really sick one," he says.
"I just messed with your emo jingle," he says, taking one hand off the steering wheel to hold out to Sam. Sam places his phone in Dean's hand, and then slouches in his seat and scowls.
Dean glances at Sam, and is about to give hell to whomever provoked this reaction when he hears, -chester, if this is an emergency, call my son, Dean. He-
Dean closes the phone and sets it on the dash.
That is a sick joke.
They go to a discount movie theater in Louisiana to catch up on their (Dean's) horror movies. They watch Pulse, White Noise, Lady in the Water, but are forced to walk out of Black Christmas when they see the guy on the ceiling.
Dean's doing laundry in New Mexico when he finds John's wedding ring. It was in the pocket of his dress pants, (i.e. the pair of jeans without holes) that he wore to John's impromptu funeral. He isn't wearing pants when he finds it, so without a pocket he sticks it on his left index finger and goes back to sit next to Sam, who is also pants less.
Damn New Mexican sand got everywhere.
Sam drives them through New Mexico and into Wyoming, where there's an antique camera sucking people into pictures. It's defiantly a noodle-scratchier. They spend a month trying to figure out how to save these people, but it isn't happening. Dean burns the camera and they move on.
Sam doesn't notice Dean's wearing two rings until a month later, when they're eating breakfast in a diner in Arizona.
"Who gave you that one?" Sam asks, pointing with his fork while he types something on the laptop.
"What one of what?" Dean asks through a mouthful of Sam's eggs.
"The ring. The girl from last night?"
Dean looks at his hand. "No."
"Where'd it come from, then?"
"It's Dad's," Dean admits, and puts his hand under the table.
"You kept it?"
"Of course, Sam. It's a family heirloom now. Like the '06 Winchester .45. Speaking of which, we're out of ammo for."
Sam nods and takes a drink of coffee. "Right. Well. It's going to be hard to find ammunition for a gun made in 1906."
Dean shrugs. "We should probably retire it, anyways. It doesn't like firing when it's cold out."
"I wish you'd stop referring to objects as though they were people."
Dean laughs. "In our business, you never know when some object hasn't been a person."
It makes Sam kind of sick, but he has to agree with it.
Sam doesn't realize until later, but that that was a hell of a diversion tactic Dean pulled.
There are two things about the classic New England haunting Dean refuses to admit. One, is that Sam actually coaxed a murder-promise out of him. Two, that while Sam had his hands on Dean's face and was saying, "kill me," there was a hand on his shoulder just as clearly saying "I'm sorry."
Why can't the dead just stay dead and the living keep living? Would that really be too much to ask?
Dean finds himself accommodating John in a lot of little ways. They only salt the doorways when they think they're in danger or are worried about something getting in, now. They tested it, and found that yes, John is bothered by the salt, same as any other ghost, but he only objects to it when he's trapped inside the room while the boys go hunting, and can't help protect them.
They explained the damage to the hotel manager from that one as "we had the world's quietest kegger," because the room looks like it's been trashed by a least thirty people.
(Remarkably, though, the weapons and rare books were left alone.)
Sam and John start arguing again after a month of domestic bliss. Only this time it isn't about Sam's schooling or when to move on. Now it's strategy, and division of duties.
Dean, not being able to see or hear John, will often come back from procuring food and coffee to find Sam yelling to himself. When he was in high school he remembers seeing the speech team practicing by yelling at the lockers, and he still thinks it's weird. Only now, if he wants to, he can put John's image where he probably would be and fill in John's part of the argument with scary accuracy.
Occasionally, though, the fighting gets out of hand, and Dean understands how debating strategy is important, but as soon as it approaches deeper issues, he'll stop it before it comes to old wounds.
"Sam," he'll say, and Sam will give him his fed-up glare and bark, "What?"
"You're arguing with a dead man again,"
"You keep that up people are going to think you've got a screw loose,"
"Shut the hell up."
Dean discovers that having a ghost reading over your shoulder isn't pleasant. First, it's cold. People got that much right, at least. Secondly, it's creepy. Maybe if Dean didn't hunt he wouldn't notice, but every time John gets close the hair on his neck bristles.
So he takes the initiative in fixing that by taping everything they'd made photocopies of onto the walls for John to read. John tended to pace when he thought, so this method was how John researched when Sam and Dean were kids. If they stayed in one place for long enough, or if the haunting was bad enough, eventually the walls of entire rooms would be completely covered in newspaper clippings. In Montana, they had an apartment that was almost completely covered, hallways and all, and they couldn't have people over. If John had restrained himself to one room they could just lock it up when they had company, but it's pretty hard to explain to a girlfriend why the hallways are covered in myths and murder stories.
When they were in Jericho, breaking into John's hotel room after he first went missing, the fact that there were articles taped to the walls was what convinced (Dean at least) them that yes, John had been there.
Dean decides to cover the hideous picture of the ugliest baby he's ever seen in their motel room with the articles, and John seems to appreciate that. Dean thinks he might have felt a hand on his shoulder, but it could've been the wind.
When Sam comes back from Super Target an hour later, he finds Dean and John, standing the exact same way with their arms crossed, reading off the wall. They might as well have been discussing options like they used to, and making banter together. (Dean picked up all his smart-ass remarks from John.) It doesn't exactly make him smile, but he appreciates feeling like he's home again.
In 2003, John bought their only CD. Dean remembers driving through an endless field of corn (A.K.A. Iowa) at four in the morning with John shotgun when the DJ announced a new Styx song.
John had laughed and said, "They formed when I was a teenager. I don't think I've ever felt so old."
Dean doesn't understand why John bought the CD. The song was depressing and much too mellow for his liking, but he supposes not for John. Who knows? Maybe John liked the lyrics or wanted to feel young again (mid life crisis?). Dean's never asked.
They check into a room that's modernized (which means working heat and a DVD player), and while Sam is out, Dean puts in the CD (because God forbid Sam ever thinks he likes Styx). He isn't even sure John's with him and not Sam, but maybe, just maybe, Dean can hear John singing along to "Boat on the River."
He's sure John is with him, though, a half hour later when a song called "Dear John" plays and half-way through it the radio turns off.
They're eating lunch in a truck stop in the middle of California. They were just in Flagstaff, so they're wearing their winter clothes in the middle of a desert. That's what Dean loves about this area of the country. If you're too hot, within five hours you can be in the mountains and skiing (not that he skies). If you're too cold, after some winding roads, you can be on a beach. There isn't much middle ground, though. It's either snow or cactuses.
"Cacti," Sam corrects, flipping through a newspaper.
"Whatever," Dean says, offering Sam his pickles.
Two men in flannel shirts which have had the sleeves cut off to make tank tops come up to them. They're both wearing baseball caps, one of them saying "Bob's Fish House," and the other, "Minnesota Twins."
Twins says, "You boys Dean and Sam Winchester? Jack's sons?"
There's something about the South where men refused to call people by their Christian names. It's either Scooter, Rooster, Mad Dog, or Buck.
John's nickname had been given to him on accident. When John was talking to a cop, he had said his name was John E. Winchester, and the other hunters heard "Johnny." They gave John the choice of Jack or Joise when John refused to be called Johnny. Dean hadn't let Joise go for a week, and John had to finally punch him in the arm.
Dean smiles a little bit. "Yessirs," he says. "What can I do for you?"
"Ooh, boy, haven't seen you munchkins in awhile," Bob's Fish House says, and sits down. "Grew up in one piece, something to Jack's credit, I guess."
"Not that we don't appreciate him. Rod and I'd be dead right now if it weren't for your father. That man really knows his, ah," he says, looking around. "His horror movies."
The guy in the Twins hat starts humming the signature song from "The Omen," and Dean snorts. It's an inside joke between John and himself, but every time he hears, "da da da-dum," he laughs, no matter how inappropriate it might be at the time. He honestly can't help it.
"Can we buy you boys some drinks?" Twins asks.
"It isn't even noon- Ow! Dean!" Sam hisses.
"Sure you can," Dean says, ignoring Sam and grinning widely.
Bob's Fish House makes a little motion with his hand, and the waitress, in a pink serving uniform, calls out from behind the counter.
"Yeah, what'ya'ant?" she asks through her gum. They order one Miller, one Bud, and some scotch, and no one except Sam objects. They talk about things they've hunted recently, including their guns and other weapons, and no one gives them a second look.
Dean kind of loves the south.
Bob's Fish House and Twins finally tell the boys how they came to almost certain death, and Jack stepped in at the last second and saved their asses.
"Jack is, well, a Jack-of-all-trades, but boy does he know his demons."
"You know, I heard the man could make holy water. Never needed to steal it from a church."
"Man like that was born for this work. They should make him a saint."
"I think you have to be dead first for that, Rod," Twins says, and Sam and Dean exchange looks.
"He is dead," Dean finally says. "Died six months ago. Heart failure."
Twins and Bob's Fish House give Dean a funny look, then look at each other the same way Sam and Dean look at each other. "That's impossible," they say at once.
"He saved us last week," Twins says.
"Smoked that demon like it was nothing," Bob's Fish House says, frowning.
There's a moment of silence, and then Sam says, "Yeah, we're working on that."
The next day was the weirdest day Dean's ever had in his life, including his entire life. They meet a man named David Phillip Fitzgerald III, who goes by Worcester, pronounced 'wooster,' which would be fine if they were in New England where no one pronounces 'r's correctly, but they're in the middle of the southern California, close to the Joshua Tree National Park, where it becomes clear to Dean that the heat has fried everyone's brain and yes, in fact, stupidity is contagious.
Dean heard an urban legend when he was a teenager about a cactus a woman bought at a farmer's market somewhere (New Jersey?) that started dancing on her coffee table one morning. It turned out the cactus had tarantula eggs in it, and the wiggling was hundreds of eggs getting ready to hatch.
What they're looking at in the desert in California is like something out of Hitchcock, only instead of rows and rows of birds, it's a poisonous cactus that can sense a human presence, and launches spikes towards the heat given off by the skin. It grows like crazy, at a demonic rate, and it's all they can do to get rid of it.
Worcester, 'wooster,' David Phillip Fitzgerald III doesn't pay Sam and Dean, but gives them a bright purple umbrella.
"We barter," Worcester explains. "You help me with my problem, I give you this."
Dean stared at the bright purple umbrella. "We risked our lives for an umbrella? You ever been attacked by a cholla cactus? Those needles break off if you just breathe on them! I'm not going to be able to walk right for a month."
"It's valuable. Coveted," Worcester insists, and Dean wonders if the man's a swindler or just an idiot.
Sam squints up at the clear blue sky and kicks up some dust.
"You get a lot of rain around here?" he asks.
"You daft, boy? Course not. But that makes umbrellas in these parts rare and rare means valuable."
"Can't argue with the man's logic, Sammy," Dean says, and takes the umbrella. He flips it over and offers the handle to Sam. "Happy early birthday. A rare and valuable umbrella," he says. "Nice doing business with you, Oyster," he says, and walks away.
Some people just didn't get it, but Dean learned that a long time ago, after a man tried to sue John for damages made to his house while John was saving his daughter from a raw head.
Sam has a psychic attack. He takes out a few windows, a lamp, and has a vision of little girl dragged through the sewers. The problem is that all of America's sewers look alike, and there isn't anything they can do. The body will probably never be found.
Dean should be comforting Sam. He should be in there with jokes and food, and maybe some words of friendship, or brotherhood, or something, but sometimes it gets to the point where Dean just can't deal anymore.
He's stargazing on the hood of the Impala, reclining on the windshield. It's chilly and the bugs are vicious for it being winter in Oklahoma, but he can't do it anymore. He can't go back inside.
Sam sends him a picture a half hour later, taken from the motel window. Of course it's Dean on the hood of his car, but there's also John, sitting with his elbows on his knees, feet on the front bumper. The message Sam sends with it is, thought you should know.
"You should talk to him, Dean," Sam says, sucking ketchup off his thumb from the French fry he just stole off of Dean's plate.
Dean says, "Did you know ketchup was first sold as a medicine in 1830?"
"I told you that, like, fifteen years ago, and you're avoiding the conversation."
"There wasn't a conversation to avoid. Do you want more coffee?" Dean asks, getting up and walking to the counter.
"I don't know why you're afraid to talk to him," Sam says, timing it perfectly so they're stuck in traffic.
"I'm not afraid, Sam. I'd just rather not deal with ghosts I don't have to kill. And in case you've forgotten, I can't hear him."
"That's not what he wants. He wants you to just talk. About anything."
"Dad wants to talk? Oh, yeah, that sounds like Dad."
"Dean, he's worried."
"Nothing to worry about, okay? I'm fine," Dean says, and turns on the radio, turns it up. Sam reaches for the dial, and Dean grabs his wrist. The damn thing turns off anyways.
"Jesus Christ, whatever happened to 'driver picks music?'"
Sam looks into the backseat. "He says he's older."
"Tell him he's dead," Dean grumblings, and he has a sneaking suspension Sam and John are exchanging looks.
"He's with you most of the time. Did you know that? Whenever you go out he goes with you. When I go out he stays with you. When we're in booths in diners, or fast food places, he sits on your side."
"That's great, Sam."
"Come on, Dean. He's your father. You can't avoid him forever."
"I can try. And I'm not avoiding him."
One night, Dean's sick of listening to Sam bitch in the confines of their cabin in the mountains, so he goes out driving by himself in the Rocky Mountains. He's listening to Blue Oyster Cult, humming along and drumming on the wheel, and then his senses prickle as the temperature drops a few degrees in the car.
He grips the steering wheel a bit too tightly, and feels like a fool when he says, "I put the rust protection on her, like you wanted."
Dean discovers that, like his father, he's allergic to shrimp after eating Sam's leftover shrimp linguini with white cheese sauce. John had always suspected his boys might have the same allergy, so he forbad them from eating seafood. Sam doesn't have it, though. He says he learned it in college, but Dean has a feeling Sam discovered it pre-Stanford just to break another of John's rules.
Dean, though, had good reason to listen to John's rule. His throat swells shut and he swears he looses half his body weight in sweat and sees the guy from Amityville dancing with the one chick from "Buffy."
But he learns he can still get a girl's (nurse's) phone number when he's all puffed up, so. He wins.
Their air conditioners crap out on them in Fort Lauderdale in the middle of June, both in the Impala and in their room. There's a loud party next door, all night, every night, and some Italian chick hits on Sam, then puts a hit on him when Sam offends her, so they're really screwed with both the government and this mafia-wanna-be on their asses. Then Dean almost gets his leg torn off by a rouge alligator on a golf course. A few hours later Dean gets burns all over his chest and arms when Sam opens the bathroom door too quickly and Dean is walking by carrying two cups of coffee.
Which is pretty much par for the course for Florida.
"I don't blame you," Dean says, crossing the parking lot with their duffels on his back. "Hell, if it were you, or Sam, I would've done the exact same thing, no hesitation. And if it wasn't… what you did, I would've found a way. The things I'm willing to do for this family, I swear," Dean says.
"But that doesn't mean I forgive you. 'Cause I don't. And I don't think I ever will."
He opens the trunk, and puts the bags in faster and harder than he wanted to.
"Not for bringing me back from the dead, or telling me about Sam. Christ, especially not for telling me about Sam."
He closes the trunk, places his hands on it and leans. The car dips from his weight, and there's still one spot on the truck from where he wasn't able to work out the dent from when he took a tire iron to it. "But I know why you did it. You had to. I get that."
He sneers and then swallows and smiles. That's another thing John taught them, this time by example. Smile when you hurt.
"You'd better be here, Dad, because I'm never saying that again."
The air around Dean is cold, which is strange for Florida in June.
"If this were any other job, Dean, you know what we'd do," Sam says, looking up through his bangs.
Dean runs a hand over his chin, and then folds his hands between his knees. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I know. But Sam, it's Dad. It just isn't another job. I mean, we can't just…"
Sam nods and turns a few pages in John's journal just as something to distract him. "I suppose we could live with him. It isn't like it'd be any different then when we were growing up. I mean, you can't even see him, so it's not like things are much different."
"I can sense him, Sam. I know when he's around."
Sam shifts his eyes. "Like, psychic sense?"
"No, asshole. Just like there's a ghost nearby. Instinct, man."
"Psychic," Dean mutters, shaking his head.
Jo runs into trouble in the nose of Montana's face, and calls Sam and Dean before her mother. The boys try to bail her out, literally, but they aren't her siblings, or family, and can't say what their connection is to her or why they're so far from their registered address, Mr. and Mr. Brownback, ahem.
Dean's getting fucking sick of that, too. If he and Sam shared a limb or a major organ no one would ever question. Although sometimes it feels like they really are attached at the hip and are conjoined twins, so maybe that's the vibe people are picking up on and mistaking.
They do get Jo out, of course, because that was the objective, even if the method was not part of the plan, or legal, per se.
Jo and Sam are playing pool together in a bar in North Dakota while Dean drinks and chats with the bartender, a retired hunter. The place is empty because it isn't even ten in the morning, but it's "always open to the children of John and Bill."
Dean does not like being reminded he's second generation.
Shawn tells Dean stories about John and Bill, some that date all the way back to 1984, and tells Dean it was a crying shame. The men were practically brothers, and John had to kill him. He'd never seen Johnny more upset.
Dean smiles and looks into his drink.
Later that night, Jo and Sam are arm wresting, which is equally impressive and pathetic. They spend five minutes going back and forth, and then call it a draw. Dean can beat Jo (even if he's a gentleman about it in public), but he can't beat Sam. Never been able to, ever since it counted. Somehow, when the competition is Dean, Sam always pushes harder.
It gets to be around three in the morning and Dean thinks he's drunk, but not enough to really show. He can walk straight, and make sense of Latin (there is another pair of hunters talking about a demon in it further along the bar), but his vision is blurring.
He's watching Sam play some cards, and Jo hustle a trucker at darts. He feels like he's making sure the kids are handling themselves fine. He hears, "she looks so much like her father," and the voice is unmistakable. It's so good to hear it, after so long, almost two years.
It's said very softly, and the voice is regretful and sad, and that makes Dean think he wasn't supposed to hear it at all.
"Yeah?" Dean asks. "I thought she looked more like Ellen."
"Nah. All Bill. The eyes, especially. If you ever see a picture of Bill, you'll see it. Good man," John says, and then softer, "good man."
That's how Dean discovers he can hear John when he's drunk.
He tells Sam, and Sam laughs first, then launches into an explanation about hormones and alcohol and what part of the brain the ability to see and hear ghosts must be part of, and Dean gets fed up and hits him, because Sam isn't listening to him.
Dean finds John's wedding ring again, and looses it 'accidentally-on-purpose' just as quickly.
A psychic nun in full habit tells Dean he was an exceptionally strong guardian angel looking out for him. Dean doesn't say anything because he's heard about nuns and luck, and he might not believe in it, but lately there are a lot of things he never believed existed cropping up.
It gets Sam going, though, which makes Dean wonder if the nun didn't whammy him after all.
"What if Dad is your guardian angel?"
"Angels don't exist, Sam."
"Angels exist. Guardian angels are in question. There's a difference. You know, all things like this, especially so well-accepted, usually have some base in fact. What if guardian angels aren't sent by some divine source, but are just dead loved ones just… there?"
"Look, Dean, will you at least – Where are you going?"
"I'm going to see if I can't drive faster than my 'angel' can fly."
"I'm coming with you!"
"You're staying where you are. I've already got one chimp on my back. With you on it I'd probably be crushed."
"Dean, wait, can you just-."
A fucking angel. Sam was out of his mind.
The man sold his soul, for Chrissakes.
Dean sort of forgets to go back to the motel that night. He doesn't go drinking, or looking for chicks, but just drives. He makes a "four-leaf clover"-like shape around the city of Pierre maybe twenty times, Metallica blaring all the while, and then realizes he's burning too much gas.
If he thinks hard, he thinks he can remember a loose floorboard in his room in Lawrence, and putting things into it he wanted to keep safe. He had a set of classic cars when he was three, and they took the set with them after the fire. It has all of John's favorites, but the '67 Impala was missing, and Dean thinks he finally knows where it went. It isn't in a bus stop in Jefferson City, like he thought, but under the floor in Kansas.
When he does get back, it's two days later, but just barely. He knocks on the motel door instead of just coming in, and shoves his hands in his pockets when Sam answers it.
"Dean?" Sam asks, "Are you alright?" He has this stupid worried look on his face.
Dean inhales through his nose. "You know what we never got to do, Sammy? Not once in our entire lives have we eaten cookie dough off of the beaters. Don't kids usually do that?"
Sam looks humbled. "Yeah. They do."
"So unfair, man," Dean says softly, shaking his head and looking at his boots.
In Dallas, it's 110 fucking degrees out with a heat index of 122, and there aren't any clouds in sight.
Dean sells out.
He wears shorts.
Dean's watching Sam finagle a library card from the University of Wisconsin, and it's actually working. They're in the University's all-night library (no questions – well, less questions) and this is Dean's fourth cup of black coffee.
He drains the last of it, down to the grounds, and sets in on the table with a hollow echo.
"Dad," Dean says. There's a change in the air that catches Dean's hunting instincts, like something has its eyes on him. Dean chuckles because he can't believe he's actually going to tell John this.
"I uh. Until a few years ago I never actually liked coffee, y'know? Hated it, actually. Couldn't stand the stuff. I just drank it because you did."
They stop a week later at the Roadhouse, which is now officially an unofficial inn, renting out rooms. Ellen cleaned out the basement with help from Ash and some friends and refurnished it. It isn't glamorous, and Sam says it's like living in the dorms all over again, with bunk beds, drunk guys in baseball caps bragging, and people coming and going at all hours of the day.
They don't stay long, though. For one thing, John absolutely refuses to come into the Roadhouse, a coward when it comes to fixing relationships as much as when he was alive as dead. The more important reason is that word has spread that Sam's not pure human. That worries Dean more, and even though they're among their people, he stays armed and demands Sam do the same, repeating, "ask questions later" maybe ten times.
They also leave fairly quickly because John Winchester was infamous, never missed a single kill (which Dean knows is wrong, but it's what people say), and by day three Dean has had close to fifty people offer condolences, and if one more person tells Dean he's sorry, then Dean's going to have an 'eye-of-the-tiger' moment and kill someone.
The morning of day four, Sam comes and sits next to Dean on a bar stool and steals Dean's beer. Not that Dean especially minds that. They've been sharing things like beer and soda for decades without asking. It's the look on Sam's face that bothers him.
"Alright, what is it now, princess?"
"You know how Dad won't come in here?"
"Sure," Dean says. Sam leans down on his elbows on the bar.
"I found the reason in Ellen's room."
"What? Ellen? I don't blame Dad. The woman's six kinds of scary."
Sam shakes his head and swallows. He takes out his phone with a stony face, and Deep Purple starts playing in Dean's pocket a second later. Dean gives Sam a look.
"Just look at it," Sam says, closing his eyes. "Ellen's forgiven Dad. I didn't think Dad could be afraid of facing her. So I went looking for, well."
Dean gives a last glance at Sam, and opens the picture.
It's of a man, maybe mid-40s, with Jo's hair and eyes, and a bullet hole in his forehead.
Dean whistles lowly.
Maybe it isn't Ellen John's afraid of facing after all.
They hit Vegas, just because they can. Dean sleeps with a different woman every night, and starts feeling old by the end of the week. He plays poker against professionals, and gets quite far, but is eventually knocked out, but not before winning ten thousand dollars.
The dork actually goes out to Red Rock Canyon, Lake Mead, and Hoover Dam. After the first day, though, Dean declares he can win more money then Sam by skill then Sam can win by smarts, and then all bets are off (so to speak).
Sam starts gambling, and beats the house every time. He makes five grand in an hour. Dean has pretty much ignored Sam's growing psychic powers, but he's glad the kid finally has them under control. Sam says he doesn't know what Dean's talking about, but Dean saw that dice roll, and dice don't move that way.
Sam only plays enough to compliment Dean's ten grand, so if they ever do have to go into serious hiding they'll be okay for awhile.
The House catches onto Sam, so Sam moves to a different hotel on the Strip to make some more money, and Dean finds himself a girl. They keep that routine up for another week.
One night, as Sam's getting ready to leave for Bellagio's and Dean has a vivacious creature on his arm, Sam says, "you do realize Dad's been with you the entire time, right?"
Goddamn, but that puts a cramp in Dean's libido.
It was kind of a double pranking, happening only seconds apart. Dean winds up covered in pink paint, and Sam gets a mouth full of salt-laced toothpaste. They don't know who starts it this time, but it escalates for the next week, until something snaps that has been building up since an entire town in Oregon vanished, and they wind up in a heap on the floor.
They both hear, "boys!" and they're roughly pulled apart by something, Dean at least, can't see.
John would not have stepped in, but he can tell the difference between when Dean and Sam are playing and when they're actually trying to hurt each other.
They're driving on Route 66 through fields of sand and weeds when Dean says, "I just got a really bad craving for bourbon."
Sam looks over at him, and then runs his hand over their map to smooth it out.
"Yeah," he says. "I'm feeling homesick, too."
They celebrate the 4th of July that year. They're in Oregon, a little bit outside of Salem, and they make themselves sick by eating an entire Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake on the hood of the Impala while watching fireworks from a distance.
In Wyoming they get a call from one of John's old friends who wants help with a yellow demon in Hawaii. Not a demon with yellow-eyes, but a yellow demon.
"I thought demons were always black," Sam says, flipping through the pages of John's journal.
"Nope," Dean says. "They're made up kind of like we are, only with carbon on the outside and brimstone on the inside. If you ever cut one open, it's yellow inside."
"Cut one open," Sam repeats. "You can cut open a demon?"
Dean shrugs. "Dad was experimenting with ways to kill demons, and he found a spell to freeze one at absolute zero. He summoned one, and it got kind of messy, but eventually he managed to freeze it and drive a knife into it. Of course, it didn't kill the demon. Didn't even hurt it none. Just pissed it off."
"So all demons are yellow on the inside?"
"Unless there's another kind of sulfur. I remember something about different ions being different colors from chemistry. I don't know. Chemistry was first period. I slept through it a lot."
"That's ions, not atoms, Dean."
"What's the difference?" Dean asks, leafing through some photocopies on Hawaiian demons.
"Do you really want to know or are you just being smart again?"
"That's what I thought," Sam replies.
Sam isn't sure they can do this job. Hawaii might be an American state, but it has a completely different history and different defaults. Silver, in the continental states, will usually work in a fix, but based on Sam's research it won't do squat in Honolulu.
"So this demon is probably volcanic. If it is just sulfur, maybe evolution adapted it so it could hide in a volcano."
"It's an idea."
They read their respective materials, and then Sam, idling reading about another cursed painting in storage at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, asks, "are you sure you're going to be okay with flying?"
Dean doesn't look up from his photocopy, either. "If you ask me that again I'm going to hide a clown doll somewhere in your possessions."
Sam doesn't ask again.
Dean does not take to flying well, so he knocks himself out with sedatives. When they get to the airport, Sam has to drag Dean off the plane. When a woman says "aloha!" and puts a lay around Dean's neck, Dean sways and then looks up at Sam.
"Am I dreaming?" he asks, because a beautiful native woman just put flowers around his neck.
So Sam pinches him.
It turns out it isn't a demon, but a Hindu, for lack of a better term, angel, that was killing everyone involved in the murder of the person it was supposed to protect. It moves like a demon, it possesses like a demon, but it isn't a demon, and the only clue was that it was yellow, a Hindu color of purity.
Dean stopped wondering along time ago how pure things can be driven to kill. He knows.
John makes a request of Sam. He asks in a very round about way, but Sam gets the point and goes to Indiana. He tries to bring Dean along, but Dean won't have anything to do with it, and they should just leave the poor couple alone. They don't need to hear it. Sam tries to leave Dean in Charleston, but Dean won't let Sam out of his sight, so Dean comes anyways.
Sam goes in the afternoon, just before tea time. He knocks politely at the door, and waits. A frail looking woman opens the door, and is looking at him with such hope in her eyes it startles Sam. When she notices who it really is, she kind of deflates.
"We're not buying anything," she says.
"Wait, ma'am, you don't understand. I'm Sam Winchester," he says, and the woman's eyes widen. "Sammy? John's son?"
Sam givers her his best grin. "Yeah. That would be me."
"Oh, Sammy!" She pulls him into a hug. "Oh, honey, last time I saw you you were only four months old! You look so much like your father!" she says, putting both hands on his cheeks. "I thought you were him, a few minutes ago. Come in, come in," she urges.
Sam doesn't tell them the truth, obviously, but keeps it close. He tells Mr. and Mrs. Winchester John saved Dean's life, but died doing it, and Dean feels guilty as all hell about it.
"We always suspected he was dead, but along time ago," Mr. Winchester says. "John near went off the deep end after... What was her name?"
Mrs. Winchester lifts her tea cup. "Mary, I think," she says.
"Right. After Mary and the fire. I'm surprised you're still in one piece, Sam. We didn't think we'd ever see our grandkids again. Your brother doing alright, too?"
"He's getting there," Sam replies truthfully.
Becky gets married to one of Sam's Stanford buddies, and he gets an invitation to the wedding. Dean forces him to go. After ten seconds of silent bickering, Dean grins and says, "he'll be there," into Sam's cell. "When're you getting hitched?"
Sam bitches the entire way, but Dean thinks it'll be good. They shouldn't have to give up so much for this job. They just shouldn't. Getting to see Becky and Zach, and all his friends will make Sam see that, and maybe finally they can stop hunting for awhile until things settle down, both with the FBI and the Demon.
Sam just has to see the logic in everything, though.
"Dean, you don't think the FBI is going to notice one of my best friends from college is getting married and think we might be there?"
"They might," Dean says.
"And? That doesn't bother you at all?"
Dean half-shrugs. "Not as much as it used to. Not as much as I used to think, after actually going to jail. Freedom is where you find it, Sammy."
That makes Sam hesitate. For a second he thinks he understands something deeper about his brother, but he looses the feeling when he remembers where he's heard that before.
"You stole that from 'Walden Pond,'" he accuses.
They just barely get there on time, and Becky has to greet them in her wedding gown. Sam takes his place in a line of men next to the groom, and Dean watches politely in the back, not really knowing anyone and knowing that saying he's Dean Winchester is going to get people asking questions, and he's a recently escaped fugitive.
He takes out a pen and writes, "t.y.t. Deacon" on his hand. Hilts and McQueen are going to be sending Deacon a thank you card at the next mailbox they come across.
Dean doesn't stay for the reception. Since the "crazy kids" are in graduate school, the bar isn't an open one. The live music is recent, and so there really isn't a point. He's just cramping Sam's style.
When Sam slides into the Impala a quarter after midnight, they head for Ohio, knowing this is the last time they'll ever be in Palo Alto for pleasure again.
Dean's on America's Most Wanted one Saturday night in Utah. John Walsh shows pictures, and says some pretty nasty things about how they were raised. At the mention of suspected abuse, a lamp gets Swazy'ed off a table. The good folks at AMW mention the car, how Dean is never without his little brother, that their mother is dead and their father is missing, and could be in any of the fifty states and Canada.
This time just a change of license plates isn't going to be enough. They drive up to South Dakota during the nights, only driving between midnight and six, and going the speed limit the entire way. It takes days to reach Bobby, but good old Bobby, he has a good replacement for the boys.
"It could've been a lot worse, Dean," Sam says. He's the one driving the dark green '74 Chevy Impala because Dean thinks it would be a sacrilegious act if he drove. "Y'know, it could've been a station wagon, or a, uh, a Prius...?"
Dean snorts and crosses his arms, slumping even further in his seat. "Like I'd be caught dead."
"Exactly. Same make and model. That's something, right? We can paint it black."
"Sam, it could be the exact same car, but it wouldn't help. So shut the hell up."
"Dean, I get it, you're upset. Could you not take it out on me?"
"That car is forty years of family history, Sammy. I just... grr, just..."
Sam notices a few raindrops as they head down through the Badlands, which is different. All the times he's crossed through the Badlands, in twenty years, not once has it been raining.
"Yeah, I think I get it," he says finally.
Dean's never been able to let go of the people he's loved. He never forgets they're gone. The time in between thinking about them might get longer, but they're there with him in his mind, lined up and watching.
Losing his father's car is like losing another chuck of John.
It's spring, and they're in Wisconsin. They have changed their M.O. and instead of staying in a motel, they're paying a weekly rent and staying on the enclosed porch of a nice old lady.
Dean's drinking coffee on the front step of their 'landlady's,' in one of Sam's hoodies and his sweats. The wind is soft and gentle, and it blows a shower of purple blossoms from the trees across the yard. Each petal is out-lined with gold from the rising sun.
He wonders if John ever watched a sunrise from the front step of their old house, and that makes him a little bitter.
"Regretting it yet?" Dean asks, bringing the coffee to his lips.
Dean's glad John's a ghost. He doesn't really want to hear the answer to that.
Halloween is bad that year. They're in Connecticut, and sometime before midnight, Dean is abducted with the intention of being a human sacrifice for a necromancer who's $50,000 in debt. If he can raise the entire cemetery, all three thousand bodies at once, that debt will disappear. Dean is really started to hate bored rich men.
The necromancer tells Dean, holding up a silver knife, that Dean has seen Death, and has a touch of power to him. Dean tells the freakin' necromancer he's crazy, playing an innocent civilian until the end, which of course never comes. He's not sure if it's Sam's bullet or his knife that kills him, and he doesn't care.
Dean hates necromancers. He's glad they're a dying race because as far as he's concerned, they aren't human.
The dead should stay dead.
In South Carolina, they save a math professor from a vengeful ex-wife who has gone off the deep end and is subconsciously and systematically offing everything who has crossed her in the last four decades.
In return, the professor shows Sam how an infinite distance can be walked in two hours, which completely blows Sam's mind, and to Dean just blows.
So he can walk an infinite distance in two hours. How's that gonna protect him from a uraga?
They're in Philly when the '74 starts smoking. Dean's driving because Sam's too tired to, and that's the only freaking reason. When he notices the smoke from the engine, he hits the steering wheel.
"No, no! What is this, huh?! Man!"
Dean's girl would never let them down like this. John and Dean have been taking care of that car together since Dean was three. A breakdown would never happen, has never happened, and it just figures, doesn't it?
"Stupid hunk of junk," Dean bites out, kicking the bumper.
Sam takes a breath. "It's not the best timing," he concedes.
"Timing my ass. Suppose we'd've had the fuzz on us? If I had my girl..."
Sam shrugs and looks over the engine. "You think you can fix it?"
Dean cross his arms and his amulet digs into his chest.
"Maybe. Chevy fucked up their cars in '73 because some environmental nuts didn't like how they ran."
"I think you mean they didn't like the carbon monoxide emissions."
Dean ignores Sam and his Encyclopedia of Weird.
"Maybe," Dean says again, this time to himself, and goes to dig his tools out of the trunk. Sam sits by the side of the road, watching Dean work and watching for other cars. He doesn't think they should except any rides. The car isn't registered to them. They're kind of on their own with this.
After fifteen minutes of Dean leaning in on the engine, Sam hears John with what aren't quite his ears, and says to Dean, "Dad says you should check the exhaust system."
Dean gives him a sarcastic 'thumbs up,' but lies down on the asphalt to look under the car anyways.
There's a demon in skinny Idaho (their nickname for the northern part) that's convincing people to commit suicide. It isn't a full blown demon. Evolution missed this one. It can't scheme, it can't think, it can just fuck with someone's head something awful.
It's like contagious depression.
Sam catches it after saving a teenage girl. Dean notices the difference almost immediately. Sam's face shuts down, and he stops talking, just giving Dean these sad eyes like he could burst into tears at any second.
Luckily, it's a twenty-four hour demon. If it doesn't eat by then, it moves on, because the little thing is damn hungry. If one can keep the possessed alive for that long the possessed will be okay.
Dean doesn't wait that long. They're surrounded by weapons, and Sam's too resourceful to be left alone. Dean could hide everything dangerous, round all the corners, leave the mattresses bare, and remove all loose objects from the room and leave for just ten minutes, and come back to a dead Sam, who will have likely taken the wiring from inside the walls and electrocuted himself in the bathtub.
Dean knows from experience that electrocution isn't a fun way to go.
Besides, they are not losing another Winchester do a demon-induced suicide.
Sam's arguing with John again, venting some anger and depression. He's accusing a dead father of all the things he never did. Dean understands that if Sam can get the demonic influence out of his system there's less chance of him turning that negativity inwards, but Dean is sick of listening to it, so he knocks Sam out.
An hour later, he finds an exorcism for the little demon, and gets it out of Sam, whose been sitting listlessly in a corner since he regained consciousness.
"Doing alright, there, Sammy?" he asks, crouching in front of his brother.
Sam shudders and says, "That was horrible," very softly.
"Yeah. I bet."
Sam swallows and looks up at Dean. "Are you sure it's completely gone?"
"I was, until you asked me that. Why?"
"You know how they say people who've lost limbs can still feel a phantom limb?"
"I think I've got phantom depression. Like I should be depressed, but I'm not, so my body's trying to… do it?"
Dean snorts and Sam smiles weakly. "Yeah, alright, Haley. If you say so. Hey, you know what's good for depression?"
Sam takes a wild guess. "Food?"
"Bingo," Dean says. "There's pizza a block away. Come on, man. It'll be okay."
They're in Louisiana when Dean gets depressed. It isn't a demon this time, and the only reason why Sam knows this at all is because he's lived with Dean for practically all of his entire life. He doesn't really know how to fix it. Dean can usually bring him out of a funk with little trouble, but Dean? Dean's like a sinkhole. The surface stays put while the ground erodes under it. If the surface sinks even a little bit it probably means there's a nice big hole waiting to collapse under the slightest pressure.
There's a green sky overhead when they're in New Orleans. It's close to Mardi Gras, and Dean sort of commandeered the '74 while Sam was asleep, declaring he needed a break. They aren't even close to Bourbon Street, but the area around them looks remotely French. It isn't the best area of the country to be in for them. They aren't familiar enough with the history or the culture to hunt down here, although Dean says he's tried it and won, but not before getting a few pins in his arms.
Sam brings Dean some bourbon, John's liquor of choice when they had the money, and sits next to him on the '74's hood. Dean's right. It just isn't the '67.
"Hey," Sam says. "Do you remember, when we were kids, how we used to climb in elevator shafts?"
Dean pauses for a minute, and then grins. "Dad gave us such hell for that."
"Saved our asses more then once, though," Sam says, taking a little sip of his bourbon. He watches a group of black men play jazz. They aren't asking for money. They're just playing for fun. There's a group little kids dancing near them.
Dean leans closer to him. "Remember that hamster you had?"
Sam laughs. "Oh, man. That thing would just not stay in its cage."
"Because you kept liberating it," Dean says. "You just didn't get hamsters wouldn't 'stay.'"
Sam smiles. "Yeah. I remember. How old was I?"
Dean cracks his neck, and winces when it cracks harder then he expected. "I was thirteen, so either nine or eight." Dean looks over at Sam. "You know the reason why Dad wouldn't let you keep it long term was because he didn't like mice, right?"
Sam looks sharply at Dean. "Are you joking? Dad? Afraid of mice?"
Dean gives Sam a look. "Did I say 'afraid'? He didn't like them like how most people don't like poison ivy, or tuberculosis."
"Oh," Sam says, and swirls the liquid in his shot glass while Dean knocks his back and shudders when it goes down. They sit and listen to the jazz for awhile, while the storm builds. Finally there's a bolt of lightening in the distance.
"I miss him," Dean says softly, running a hand through his hair.
"Yeah," Sam says. "Me too. Good man. Saved a lot of people."
Dean nods a little, and then gets up to refill his glass.
The older hunters are dying. They weren't the first men to take up arms, probably not even second generation, but these days they have about the same chance of dying from prostate cancer as they do from a demon. If they aren't killed in the field, it's infection, or some other common disease.
Dean doesn't tell Sam, but he melts down John's wedding ring in salt and turns it into a bullet.
So, that's it. That was the last trace of their father, and it's gone. His journal is filled, their pictures of him were destroyed by a semi, the '67 is collecting dust in South Dakota, his ghost is gone, and he doesn't like it, but Sam's right.
He is John's legacy. He, Sam, and a leather-bound story are all the evidence that their father ever even existed. It's time for the next generation to step up. The family honor is at stake, here, and maybe Dean will stop hunting one day, but not until John's had his post-mortem revenge.
They take off the next morning, heading out of the Midwest because it's tornado season, and it isn't the '67 but Sam's there, and his music, and an endless path of broken white lines on pavement with an open sky overhead.
Dean isn't sure why, but right then, he feels like he and Sam are going to live forever.