Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue
Author's note: The last of the circles 'verse.
So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty,
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams
Before the last revolving year is through
--The Circle Game, by Joni Mitchell
Sometimes, Bethany joins Dean outside; sitting down beside him on the porch while the day melts seamlessly into night. In one hand, he holds his bottle of beer, barely touched, his other hand pressed against the cooling concrete, leaning his weight back on his arm. He watches the cars drive by, body strangely relaxed in a way she's not used to in the daily movement of her life. She knows him as tensed and ready, but out here, in the evenings, he's a completely different figure, almost entirely foreign to her.
He doesn't actively acknowledge her presence, but she knows he's aware of her. It's there in the gentle curve of his lips, the way he stretches out one leg and shifts his shoulder slightly so he can see her face better out of the corner of his eye. Dean never says anything, let's her talk if that's what she wants, but seems far beyond the reach of the world around him. At these times he's someplace else, and no matter how hard she tries, Bethany knows she'll never reach it.
She started this when she was nine; stealing Dean's wallet. In it, there is only the ghost of a man. No photographs of friends or family, no credit cards in his name, a few receipts, creased and yellowed; one folded business card with a faded number on the back. The leather is worn, falling apart at the seams. She thinks she'll buy him a new one.
Her mom leans her shoulder against the wall, asks, "What're you looking at?"
He caught her in the backyard, that first time, holding one of the many-named credit cards in her hands. "Nothing." Bethany tosses the wallet on the coffee table. "He needs a new wallet."
Mom rolls her eyes. "Try telling him that."
"Try telling him what?" Dean asks, coming in through the front door, grease on his hands. He sees his wallet. "I've been looking for that"
"Mom believes you're emotionally attached to it." Bethany announces.
Dean shrugs, "It's a wallet."
"It's falling apart," she tells him helpfully.
He gives her an amicable swat on the head before facing her mom. "Oh, hey, Shelley, Bobby called me. I've gotta head out in a bit."
This is how it always works. She met Bobby, once, but that was years ago. In her mind he's nothing but a burly shadow with a booming voice. Dean only mentions him before one of his hunts.
"How soon?" Bethany watches her mother cross her arms over her chest. Dean rubs at his jeans with his hands.
She learned the rules of the Impala years ago, the first time he stuck her in the back seat to go to school. Since then, she would sit with him when he detailed it in the evenings, telling elaborate stories about her day at school; the teachers, the friends she made. He never called her on it, the lying, but she stopped anyway. It didn't feel right.
He taught her how to drive in this car, patiently describing how to work the clutch, how to know, instinctively, the best time to shift gears; one calloused hand over hers, directing with gentle pressure.
It's still bright and sunny outside as she watches him throw his duffel bag into the backseat. From inside, the sound of her mom cleaning the dishes is audible. The driver door creaks when Dean pulls it open.
There's never been any formal acknowledgement of it all; this strange replacement that plays rock and roll loudly and sharpens knives at the kitchen table when her mom's out of the house. It's not something she's ever figured out. He comes and goes dressed in his jeans and t-shirt, boots clumping on the floor of the house no matter how many times her mom tells him to take them off when he's inside. At night he draws salt lines across the doorways and window sills. When she was little, he was Dean. Now that she's older, he's still Dean. The time before, with another man she used to have labeled as Daddy, has faded, although that gentle ache of loss is still there.
She doesn't remember her dad, not really, and her mother doesn't talk about him. He pays his alimony on time. As far as Bethany's concerned that's the only thing that matters.
The Impala comes to life, engine catching immediately from years of gentle care. Dean smiles at her, waves as he backs the car out of the driveway that passes as a front lawn. Bethany goes back inside before the car turns the corner onto the main road.
Four days later the guidance counselor asks to see her. Bethany makes her way down the hallway. Around her, there are posters, loud with glitter and streamers and bubble letters telling her it's not too late; that Winter Formal is Here! She knocks on the door quietly, holds her breath as she listens to muffled movement before it opens.
The counselor uses sentences like, with your marks, and world at your feet, and you're so much better than this.
When Bethany gets home, the Impala's still gone. She knew a boy, once, years ago, whose dad had a tour in Iraq. This, she thinks as she fishes her house key out of her pocket, must be how he felt whenever he came home.
Her mother will be working overtime. Something Dean hates. "Too bad for him," her mom says every time he's gone. "The bills don't stop while he goes on his goddamned crusades."
Bethany drops her bag to the floor, pulls out pamphlets that promise her a future in big bold letters. She almost sets them on the coffee table to look at later, but at the last instant slips them back into her backpack.
Her mom comes home late.
Dean comes back clutching his side. A freshly stitched wound on the edge of his chin still has the angry red of healing.
"Jesus," her mom says. "Jesus."
"Why, thank you," Dean grins.
"It's not funny."
"Sure it is," he says, eyes drifting to Bethany. "Just a bit."
That night she dreams of blood, sweat, fear, and a man with yellow eyes. When she wakes up, there's a foreign name on her tongue. Around her, the air is like ice. She gets up to shut the window, but it's already closed.
"Bend your knees," he tells her.
They spar in the backyard where a dilapidated fence gives them the illusion of privacy. Dean wears jeans and a t-shirt and old runners that are practically falling apart.
"You gotta bend your knees."
Under their feet, the grass is frozen, covered in light frost. It crunches as she moves. There's no snow; hasn't been for awhile. The cold gave up sometime before Christmas, and returned, too strong, after.
"Move with me," he says, "Gentle. Gentle."
Sometimes, he takes her mom out here. Other times, most times, it's just Dean in ratty runners and ratty jeans sparring against the air. His time, her mom calls it while she makes dinner, chopping carrots irritably. His time. It sounds true enough so that neither of them have to question what it actually means.
"That's it. That's it. Now, down."
She slams him into the ground, one arm twisted behind his back. "Good. Good. But twist my arm more…more…mo—ow, okay, there. Right there." He slaps the frozen ground with his free hand. Bethany releases him. "Think that's enough for today, don't you?"
He holds the backdoor open for her but doesn't follow her inside. The backdoor clicks shut quietly. She doesn't have to look to know he's still outside, fighting his ghosts.
The letter, when it comes, is dropped carelessly on the porch steps like mailman couldn't be bothered to try and make it fit into the mailbox Dean built. Bethany holds it in her hands, feels its weight the same way Dean taught her to feel the weight of a weapon.
That night, her mom asks, "Anything new happen today?"
She pushes the food around on her plate.
A red-breasted robin is the first sign of spring. The same day she sees it, Bobby calls. She answers the phone, the ringing too piercing to let it go. For a moment, when his voice sounds over the distance, made tinny by bad reception, she remembers him clearly. But the burst of memory is gone as quickly as it comes and he's nothing but a vaguely familiar voice again.
"He's in the backyard."
"How you doin', Bethany? Your mom?"
"I'm good." A pause, "She's good, too."
"Not working too hard?"
"Good. Look, you mind puttin' Dean on? Gotta job for him."
There's a brief, indescribable moment where she thinks about putting the phone back on the hook. Her feet think faster than her hands, though, and she's already at the backdoor, calling Dean in.
When he hangs up the phone, his mouth is a little tighter.
"A hunt?" She asks, even though she already knows.
"When do you leave?"
"If I go now, I can make it by nightfall."
She doesn't even think when she says, "Can I come with you?"
Dean laughs and ruffles her hair.
She used to make up stories. Holding that old wallet in her hand, clutching the credit cards and driver's license, squinting at the unsmiling picture of Dean under the guise of Sam J. Winchester, she'd give him a history. Bethany wishes she could remember when she outgrew that: filling in the gaps herself.
If she's being entirely honest with herself, then she has to admit, she made the decision a long time before turning left instead of turning back at the corner and walking the eight or so blocks to the bus terminal.
She gets off at her stop several hours later.
Even in the well-lit street, Dean looks like a stranger behind the wheel of the Impala.
"Did you think Greyhound travels faster than phone calls?" He asks when she pulls open the passenger door.
"I thought I was eighteen." Bethany winces at the petulant words.
Dean snorts, "Shelley's gonna kill you."
"Only if you take me back."
Before he answers, he turns the keys in the ignition. Black Sabbath blasts out of the speakers, angry in a way Dean never gets. Absently, he turns down the volume. A car pulls into the space behind them as they leave. Bethany watches it through the side-view mirror.
"So this is your attempt at running away?" He sounds amused. "Gotta say, kiddo, pretty shitty job."
They pass under a street lamp and it goes out. Bethany looks down at her lap, feels five-years-old again while her dad tells her not to tell mommy what she just saw.
"I'm hungry," she says.
After Dean's grabbed a booth by the window, and the server has taken their orders, he tells her to wait there a moment. She watches him go outside, pulling his cell out of his pocket.
For the first time, she notices what he's wearing. Streaks of dirt have ruined the white t-shirt; drying sweat stains evident under the armpits. His hair is matted to his forehead, barely covering small, angry scratches that look eerily like fingernail marks. There are matching nicks up his lower arm and along his fingers. The motion of walking is stiff, no longer fluid or purposeful, but pained.
Suddenly, she sees him, shoulder deep in a grave, digging angrily when his cell phone rings. Sees the way he answers in confusion; how they argue, him and her mom. (It's the only time they ever seem to argue, really, truly argue: when it's about her.) When he hangs up, Bethany can see him shake his head in annoyance, lips thin. After a moment, he tosses the shovel next to the growing mound of earth and slowly climbs out of the hole. He pauses, looks into the open grave, grabs the shovel and starts to fill it back up.
By the time Dean's back in the restaurant, sliding into the booth across from her, she already feels suitably guilty.
"I called Bobby." She keeps her mouth shut. "He's going to get someone to come back and finish the hunt so I can take you home." He doesn't say other people will get hurt in the mean time, but Bethany knows how to fill in the gaps. "I also called your mom. Let her know you're safe and sound, however long you remain that way once your home, I can't say."
Bethany stares at her plate, watches her Ketchup congeal.
"Don't have anything to say?" Dean asks, drinking his coffee. She bites her lip. He sighs. "Yeah, somehow I figured. Finish up. We've got a long way to drive."
When she was fifteen, Dean and her mom got into their first major argument. It was one of the few times she had ever heard Dean yell. Usually when he's upset, he grows quiet. He is the type of person who exudes emotions; it's in his walk, in the way he puts a coffee mug down, revs the engine before he leaves for work in the morning. Disappointment is the way he avoids eye contact and smiles brightly, emptily. Anger is in his silence.
She remembers how he towered, fists clenched like he wanted to hit something. Do you know what happens to psychics who can't protect themselves?
"What?" She hates that she sounds irritated, that she is irritated.
He drums his fingers on the steering wheel. She can tell he wants to reach out, turn on the radio and pretend everything is fine. And she hates that. Hates him. Hates that he didn't finish the job; that he piled her into the car and drove away. Hates that it's her fault.
"What were you doing out there?"
"I wanted to come."
"You wanted to come."
Her fist clenches in anger at his refusal to understand. "I wanted to come with you. I wanted to hunt."
He laughs. But it's nervous, tired and wasted between them. "You don't want to hunt."
"Yes I do."
"No, Bethany, you don't."
"How would you know? God, how the hell would you know what I—"
"Nobody chooses hunting, okay? You've still got school and everything ahead of…"
"I don't want to do school. I hate school—"
"No you don't. You don't hate—"
"Yes I do!" Dean cringes away from her as though the words are a physical blow. "I hate school. I don't belong there—"
"And what, you belong out hunting? You don't know the first thing about—"
"I know what you've taught me. I know everything you taught me."
He looks pale in the darkness. "That's different."
"No. It's not." She says, letting her bitterness seep into her voice. "It's not different—"
"You're better than this!" He shouts, suddenly, angrily. "You're better than all of this." He repeats desperately, hands squeezing the steering wheel so tight the knuckles turn bright white. "You don't know anything. You don't know what it costs. What you give up for it. All you see is what I fucking let you see."
Bethany wants to say she does know. That she sees it every night when she dreams, every time he comes home with a fresh scar or broken bones, in the way her mom stays up late those nights waiting for him. But the words are like bile. She swallows them back down.
Dean only stops once at a gas station to let her use the washroom. They get home long after the sun is over the horizon. Her mom's there, waiting. After she's been dismissed to her room, Bethany lies awake listening to them arguing. When Dean leaves, he slams the door. The entire house shakes.
The dreams are always in colour. They look like moving paintings, reds and blues, and blacks and yellows blending into one another to form vague and violent pictures.
She wakes up after her mom leaves.
At school, the guidance counselor asks to see her. The hallways are lined with posters screaming Prom Tickets on Sale! Get Yours Today! She knocks on the office door, listens to muffled movement until it opens.
The counselor uses sentences like important decision, and time is running out, and you're so much better than this. Bethany nods her head absently, staring at the anti-drug advertisement on the desk.
When she gets home, the Impala's still gone. She fishes the key out of her pocket, unlocks the front door. Back in grade school, she knew a girl whose dad went out for cigarettes and never came back.
Tonight her mom will work overtime. Bethany wishes she wouldn't.
It takes a while but when the Impala finally does come, it still looks the same: headlights burning brightly, engine rumbling, one window rolled down to let in the dusk air. He stops the car in front of the driveway. She fingers the envelope in her hands nervously before she finally gets up. The passenger side door creaks when she opens it.
Dean looks the same as he did the last time she saw him. He's even wearing the same white shirt although the dirt stains have been washed out. Without looking at her, he shifts the car into drive.
They don't go very far, just off the main road to a little park where people have picnics in the summer. Her mom and dad took her here, once, but that was years ago, now. In a time that didn't really matter.
After they settle side by side with the surprising coldness of the picnic table soaking through her second-hand jeans like water, Dean takes a deep breath.
He says, "Your mom's still angry."
She's not. Not really. Her mother has spent years trying to prove something to someone. Bethany's not quite sure what it is, or who it is her mom's proving it to, but she knows that it all comes back to watching her dad drive away without looking back. Even now, Bethany likes to believe that Dean understands that better than anyone else; understands that her mom's stuck standing on that pathetic little porch, watching him leave, every single day.
But belief is for little girls whose fathers tuck them in at night and tell them monsters aren't real.
Dean rubs his hand through his hair, and she sees that it's streaked with grey. Notices the deep crows feet and the laugh lines, how he's been slowing down, for years, in their sparring. It's the same way her mom looks, lit by the kitchen fluorescents while she cooks dinner.
Bethany wonders who it is that Dean watches leave every night in his dreams.
"Yeah," she sighs, stretching her legs out. It's the only answer she can give. "Yeah."
He slides one hand over, taking the envelope from her loose grip. His fingers trail over the Harvard logo on the corner and he chuckles.
"Funny," he tells her. "I expected something else."
"I haven't accepted yet."
She knows what she would say, if she could. That, no matter what he thinks or her mom thinks, or the guidance counselor at school thinks, she's not better than this: the single story house off the main road, the divorced mother and the runaway dad; than Dean, living a shadow life even when he doesn't have to, hiding behind fake names like a mask.
"I figured." He runs his fingers under the broken seal, slides the pages out of the brown paper. A streetlamp flickers and goes out at the other end of the park.
She wants to hunt. Wants to go with Dean to wherever it is he goes, help the people who scream in her dreams at night. But the words failed her. In the coldness of the poorly lit park, she can see the expression on Dean's face. How he's smiling, not just proudly, but happily.
He looks younger.
She feels like a coward
"A full ride."
When he hugs her, it's with both arms wrapping around her so tight that she can only smell cologne and sweat and everything Dean.
Sometimes, Bethany joins Dean outside, sitting down beside him on the porch. In one hand, he holds a beer, while the other rests on the cooling concrete. He watches the cars drive by, body relaxed in a way she's not used to in the daily motion of her life. She knows him as tense and ready, but on these evenings, he's different, almost entirely foreign to her.
He doesn't actively acknowledge her presence, but she knows he's aware of her. It's in the gentle curve of his lips, the way he stretches one leg out and shifts his shoulder so he can see her better out of the corner of his eye. He never speaks but let's her talk, if she wants to.
She turns, sees her mother standing in the doorway, a tiny silhouette. Beside her, Dean cocks his head, listening.
"You've got homework."
Bethany starts to stand when Dean speaks, voice strangely hoarse. "Let her stay, Shelley."
Her mom ducks her head in a tight nod and turns to leave. "Stay?" Dean asks, half-turning to look up at her mother.
There's a brief moment when Bethany thinks her mom will ignore him, go back inside where dishes are waiting to be washed and laundry is waiting to be done. Everything is still shaky and uneven between them, broken in the ways of growing older. Instead, her mom steps outside, nudging at Dean with her foot until he shifts over enough for her to sit down.
"I ever tell you about my brother?" He asks once she's settled. The question is awkward on his lips like he's speaking another language for the first time.
"You have a brother?" Bethany looks at him, tries to imagine someone else at his side. She thinks she sees a tall shadow with a matching grin, but these days she's given up on filling in Dean's blanks. The shadow fades like it was never there.
"Yeah," Dean says, smiling. "I did." He drapes his arms over their shoulders, pulls them close.
Bethany knows, then, that it can never get any better than this: just the three of them with the traffic on the road while Dean talks. His is voice soothing and warm, telling a story that never seems to have an end. And even though she's aware that Dean is somewhere else, that, no matter how hard she tries, she'll never reach him, when he tightens his grip around her, she leans her head on his shoulder to watch the moon rise before the sun has entirely set.