With Angels Watching
WARNING: This is a coda to What Is And What Should Never Be, so spoilers up that episode.
Sometimes he's still not sure he's awake.
When Sam smiles a little too bright, for instance, like Jessica's still at his side. Dean'll say something casual like 'remember that time' just to make sure he's got it right. Sam wanted to be a lawyer once upon a time, so he can read the agenda in-between the lines.
"You sure you're okay?" Sam will ask, all big earnest eyes and floppy hair and so much sincerity that Dean will be able to breathe again, for a few more minutes at least.
"Yeah," he'll say. "Yeah. Of course I'm fine."
Sam won't believe him, but he'll pretend like he does.
"You really think I'd play softball?" John asks. He's leaning against the doorway to the motel with a little more grey than Dean remembers and laugh lines he's sure weren't there before. "You know better than that, champ."
John steps inside, smiling like he hadn't for years, looking like an old photograph. "Why do you have to keep dragging us back? Haven't we suffered enough? Leave us be, Dean. You've got enough ghosts to keep you busy without us."
Dean shrugs into his leather jacket as Sam packs their suitcases and takes a deep breath. It's only a slight consolation that he knows he would never have wished for this.
There's a tingling in his neck, like a needle prick, and he rubs the skin raw. Sam doesn't notice. Never does.
Sam was the one that was good with dream worlds and ignoring the obvious. Dean's glad the Jinn didn't get his hands on him instead.
It isn't fair, maybe, but Dean's realistic. He's a pragmatist. He might not want this world sometimes, but he knows Sam wants it less.
"Want me to drive awhile?" Sam asks.
It's not what he's really asking. Dean knows to say yes would be like admitting he's anything but fine, so he says, "I can make it to the next state line," and Sam nods like he's passed some kind of test.
Dean snags Sam's laptop one night and goes to an Internet cafe he wouldn't be caught dead in under normal circumstances. He runs searches for hours on people he used to know, just to make sure they weren't in the obituaries.
They're not, but John and Mary still are.
It should be a fair trade, but Dean's only human, so it's not. Not quite.
He'd give his own life, of course, but that's easy. Sacrifice is giving up something you can't afford to lose.
"You lose reality, after awhile," John tells him. "I warned you about this."
Dean closes his eyes. The fan on the ceiling is old, looks like it's trying to take off and sounds like it too, but it's hot in Alabama this time of year. Sam and Dean are good at picking the less of two evils, and they'll put up with the noise if it means keeping cool.
"You could still be there, of course," John says. "But maybe it's before that. Maybe that trickster never let you leave the university auditorium, did you ever think of that?"
Dean thinks of that all the time. He takes a razor to his wrist, drawing a thin enough line he'll be able to hide it with his watch, and lets it bleed a minute, just to see if it'll take him somewhere else.
It's not quite relief he feels when it doesn't.