Post-What Is and What Should Never Be
The voice on the other end of the phone was warm, happy to hear from him. Dean felt his throat close up.
"Hey," he returned, struggling to get just the one word out. This was a mistake.
It had been three days of walking around in a fog—here, but not. Regret and missing and an ache he couldn't breathe around. Three days of anxious, confused, gentle Sam. And though Dean had tried to talk through the mess in his head and his heart with his brother, nothing seemed to make things better.
He wanted his mom.
He'd had her. Just for a moment. And even if she'd only been in his head, the loss of her again felt almost unbearable.
He cleared his throat. "How are things?"
"Fine." Jo drew the word out, clearly onto the fact that something was wrong.
He tried again.
"Yeah," she answered slowly. There was an awkward pause.
Please say something. Please. Just….
"So, Jake got a spot on the varsity baseball team for next year."
Dean felt the tension train out of his shoulders, and he leaned across the roof of the Impala, resting his elbows on the metal surface, looking out across the darkened parking lot of their motel.
"I told him he could hit ten times better than those dorks they had last year," he told her with satisfaction. He shifted his stance so that the car was taking most of his weight. "Did they put him at first? What's-his-face… that dumpy kid… Elliot… he was a complete waste of space at that position. He couldn't throw worth crap, and Jake…."
Jo let him go on, and then told him that the older boys on the squad had held down their new teammates and shaved their heads. Jake's hair was never much longer than his own, but Dean could imagine the kid's reaction to being ambushed and forcibly shorn. He couldn't stop giggling.
"I'll pass on your condolences," Jo said dryly.
Dean wiped at his eyes. "Yeah, do that for me."
The silence now was more comfortable.
"Dean. How are you?" Jo asked gently.
He drew in a shaky breath. Steadier now, maybe ready.
"Fine," he said, though he knew that his tone communicated clearly that he wasn't. Jo didn't say anything.
"It's just… we had this weird job and it… I don't know… kinda sucked," he said tiredly.
"Was anybody hurt?"
He knew she meant him or Sam.
"Not really. I mean, there was this girl, but we got to her in time. The hospital said she'd be OK."
"Well, that's good," Jo said and he could hear the relief in her voice. "You or Sam weren't hurt, were you?" Less worried, but still concerned.
He was quiet.
Experience had taught him that saying "no," and then casually mentioning a black eye or bruised ribs was not the best way to go with Jo. She had a different take on "hurt" than he and Sam generally did.
"Nothing major," he said.
He could hear her sigh on the other end of the line, but she didn't fuss.
"What happened?" she asked carefully.
"It was a djinn. A genie."
"A genie?" She paused. "Like a grant-you-three-wishes kind of genie?"
Dean huffed out a breath. "More like a reach-into-your-head-and-yank-out-a-wish kinda genie."
"What does that mean?" she asked, concerned.
Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. "It … cornered me. And when it touched me it… somehow it knew and it made me think that my … biggest wish had come true."
She didn't say anything for a minute.
Then, "Your mom?"
"Yeah," he answered softly.
He hurried on because if he let her pity and concern in, he'd never be able to tell her, to finish saying what he needed to.
"There'd never been a fire and she was alive, living in our old house. Sam was in law school and Jessica was there…" He trailed off.
Dean swallowed hard and shook his head against the phone.
"He'd died. But in his sleep. Of a stroke."
He rubbed at his eyes and cleared his throat.
"What was it like?" she asked softly.
"It was amazing. And weird. I mean, I knew it was all different, but nobody else did. They kept… they kept asking me if I'd been drinking." He laughed uneasily. "Mom made me a sandwich. And I mowed the yard. Sam asked Jessica to marry him while we were all at dinner."
He knew it was disjointed, but those were the things that he kept thinking about.
"Wow. It sounds… great."
Dean shifted where he was sitting. Ache just under his solar plexus.
"Yeah. But. It wasn't. It was… Sam and I. We weren't close. He… He kind of hated me, I think." He couldn't help the break in his voice. "I guess I'd been a real jerk to him when we were growing up."
"That doesn't sound like you."
"He said I hooked up with his prom date. On prom night." Dean laughed a little wryly. "That sounds like me."
"No, it doesn't," Jo contradicted him sharply. Dean couldn't help his blink of surprise. "I don't believe you would ever hurt Sam like that Dean. Ever."
Dean felt the pressure in his chest loosen. Gratefulness and an odd relief that she would think better of himself than he did.
He lifted a shoulder.
"I guess because Mom never died, we never hunted together, and so we just never … connected. We've always been so different…"
He could hear the sorrow in his voice and tried to swallow it down.
"Honey, I'm sorry."
They were quiet for awhile.
"So it was the four of you? You and Sam and your mom and Jessica?"
Dean bit his lip. "No. There was a, uh, girl. I had a girlfriend. Her name was, um, Carmen. And she was a nurse."
Why wasn't she saying anything? Dean couldn't help the twinge of uncertainty in the face of her non-response. What…?
"Was she hot?"
Dean could hear the laughter in Jo's voice, and he relaxed with a grin.
"Hell, yeah she was hot!" Putting all the cockiness he could into his response.
"And a nurse, huh?" she teased.
"Pretty respectable," he said smugly.
She was quiet again.
"So, what happened?" she asked. "It wasn't real, right? I mean, I don't remember going through a period when I didn't remember you boys…"
"No, it was all in my head. Then djinn just made me think my wish had come true."
He hesitated, not sure how much detail he wanted to go into.
"I knew something was wrong. Even in the middle of it all. I kept getting flashes of what was real. And I just couldn't let it go," he ended bitterly.
"When I finally figured it out, I… I had a choice. They… Mom… Sam…. They wanted me to stay. And I knew… if I stayed, that I'd die, that the djinn would kill me. But they said it would seem like years. That it would be like a whole life. With Mom and Sam and … a family." His voice cracked on the last part of it, and he cleared his throat angrily.
"But, if I stayed, people would die. Even in the dream, I'd have to live with knowing that people would die…. And I couldn't…"
His voice broke again, and he stopped, trying to get a handle on his emotions.
"I wanted to stay so bad," he whispered. "Even knowing all that, even knowing that I'd be leaving Sammy alone and unprotected, I wanted to stay."
And the guilt of that knowledge was eating at him. Because even as he talked about what had happened with Sam, he couldn't admit that. Wouldn't tell his brother that he'd been incredibly tempted to abandon him just so that he could have the life he'd always wanted.
"I would have left Sam…"
"But you didn't." Jo interrupted him gently. "Baby, you didn't leave him."
"I wanted to, though. I…"
"Sweetheart," she broke in again, and Dean stilled. "It isn't the temptation that's the sin—it's the choice we make in the face of that temptation. You were tempted to leave, but you chose not to. You could have taken the path that would have been easy, and so much less painful. But it would have been a lie, Dean. And you would have died." Her voice was shaking. "You chose the harder path. You chose life and all its difficulty and heartache."
Dean closed his eyes, struggling with what she was saying.
"But there's joy, too. In life. There's your relationship with Sam. And that's real, Dean. It's true. Your love for him and his love for you. You chose that. You didn't abandon him, you didn't give up. There's no shame in the temptation, Dean." Her voice now was steady and strong. "You made the right choice, whatever you might have considered. And that's what's important."
"It's hard, though," he whispered around the lump in his throat.
"I know it is."
"And it isn't fair." He said it out loud. To her alone.
"Life isn't always fair, baby," she answered.
And Dean couldn't help the laugh.
"That's what Dad would have said," he told her, wiping his eyes.
"You dad was a smart man," she said, the smile clear again.
"Yeah," he breathed.
They sat in silence for awhile.
"I know I'm not…. That it's not the same, but… I'm so proud of you."
Dean swallowed and was silent.
No, it wasn't the same. Not exactly. But even if it wasn't, even if it felt a little hollow, it was real.
"Thanks," he whispered.
"It's the truth," she said
Jo hung up the phone and turned to look at the kitchen table.
There was a bouquet of daisies in an old pitcher in the center of a mess of crumpled wrapping paper and lunch dishes. Perched against the make-shift vase was a card that read, "Happy Mother's Day!"
She smiled, and stacking plates, began to clear the table.