Title: Those Who Have Crossed with Direct Eyes

Summary: "Let me be no nearer/In death's dream kingdom/Let me also wear/Such deliberate disguises/Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves/In a field/Behaving as the wind behaves/No nearer--/Not that final meeting/In the twilight kingdom." (Uh, that's not really a summary. But, it paints the right picture, I hope. From T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men").

Spoilers/Warnings: This is a COMPLETE AU from the end of Season 3. Anything you know about Season 4, erase it from your head and begin again, all right? But there are spoilers for Season 3.

For Whom?: Sweet Charity fic for a_starfish .

Disclaimer: Dissed and claimed. I mean, not minesies.

A/N: To fairly warn you, this chapter is SHORT and kind of more of a prologue. If you get hot and bothered by cliffhangers, maybe wait a little bit and then read.

:::

Dean used to have these nightmares, from the age of about seven to ten – nightmares in which he would wake up inside his dream and mistake it for reality. Would climb out of bed like any normal morning, would yawn and stretch and turn to wake his brother up and get him ready. Sam would pout and squabble and insist on wearing the same damn Batman t-shirt he wouldn't let go of long enough to wash, and Dean would protest at first and then cave, grumbling like every morning. Then he and Sam would trek out to the kitchen, if they had a kitchen, or they'd hang out in the motel and wait for their dad to get back with breakfast. And then Dean would turn and he would see John's body lying on the floor in a pool of blood, with some sort of terrible creature crouched over him. And the creature would smile, and the smile would grow wider and the teeth would grow longer, and sharper, and the mouth would gape open, and the eyes would slot ink-black and alizarin crimson, and the terrible hunger would roll off in waves and the panic would be blinding – and then Dean would wake up. Would climb out of bed and yawn and stretch and wake up Sam and go to the kitchen and find his father dead on the ground and the monster would come towards him – and then he would "wake up" and cycle through the whole thing again, sometimes six or seven times, 'til he finally awoke for real, gasping and panting and covered in sweat.

But the point is. The point is, each time Dean opened his eyes onto the real world, each time he woke up for true and for real, it was instant and clear and incredible, his knowledge that this was reality and that had been a dream. It was unmistakable, the clarity of the edges of things, the way his waking body felt so good and so solid, and the relief was sharp and sweet and certain. It seemed unbelievable that his dream-self could have ever thought otherwise, could have been fooled by so many false awakenings, because this was the absolute genuine Real. He was awake.

It is this exact feeling that Dean has now, so many (so many) years later.

He opens his eyes to a stained motel ceiling, takes three breaths, blinks, takes another breath, and starts to cry.

It startles him, the sounds he makes, and the wetness of the tears, because he's pretty sure he's been crying for so many (so many) years, but while at the time it had seemed like the only reality he'd ever known, the memory of it is scrawled in watercolor – bloody, dark, horrific watercolor, but it's just watercolor.

This – this is fuckin' Sharpie.

He sits up, and the complete lack of pain makes him cry a little harder, but he does his best to ignore that, wipes roughly at his eyes in an effort to clear the moisture so he can get a better look at his surroundings. The first thing to do is look. Then maybe he'll attempt coherent thought.

It's a motel room, a dingy, badly-decorated motel room, with sickly orange trim and greenish walls, a painting of a beach ball on one wall and a huge bunch of fake begonias nailed haphazardly to the other, two beds lumpy and unmade, a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels pooling on the ground by his feet and the sour smell of unwashed dude filling his nostrils, and it's undoubtedly the most beautiful sight Dean's ever seen.

He takes a deep breath and forces himself under control, takes the emotions screaming for release and pushes them down, and he stops crying almost immediately. He's had a long time to practice walling off parts of his head.

He thinks. He hasn't done this for a while. It's kinda tough.

Okay.

There are things he knows without question, such as: This is a motel room. That is a table. This is an arm and that's a window and that's a hideous painting and that's probably a piss stain and he's not in hell anymore. He's not in hell anymore.

It occurs to him that this could be another fucked-up hallucination created specially for him, but he knows, bone-deep, that it isn't. He is awake. This is awake. And alive. He's alive. He knows this.

There are some things, however, that he doesn't know, such as: How did he get out, and where the fuck is Sam?

Sam.

He hadn't realized he'd even remembered Sam until it hits him, but it's like being smacked with a cement-loader full of bricks, and a thousand memories collide and jostle for place and they're all singing and bright and hurt. He sees Batman t-shirts and mashed-up bananas and rolled eyes and floppy hair and skinny wrists and impossible height and oh god blood pooling from a severed spinal cord and I'm gonna save you and pursed lips and rare, glorious, body-shaking laughter, and Dean had forgotten what it felt like to have an emotion other than fear or pain – but whatever this is, it's stronger even than fear and it fills his chest and lungs and heart so tightly that he can't breathe, and he thinks maybe he's going to die again.

He's crying once more, which he stops pretty quickly, but the thought of seeing Sam again bubbles up and stretches out his mouth and then he's laughing, verging on hysteria, and it feels better than crying but it's loud and the sound frightens him so he stops that, too.

"Sam," he says, and his own voice makes him flinch and tremble but he says it again, louder. "Sam. Sammy."

There's no answer, which makes sense, because Dean's alone in the motel room.

Okay. First order of business. Find Sam.

It feels strange, to have a goal, to have free will, so he chooses something else to do, which is to stand. His legs buckle when he pushes himself upwards, and the ground seems farther away than he remembers, but after a moment he steadies himself and takes a step. It's successful, so he takes another one, and another until he's standing in the middle of the room. He turns around slowly.

The room is a mess, strewn with clothes and empty bottles and there's a half-open duffle in the corner that looks vaguely familiar, so he crosses over to it. Inside are guns and knives gleaming metallic and sharp and he sits down fast on the floor and throws up onto the carpet.

"Dude," he says out loud when he's finished. He pushes hair back from his forehead and wipes his mouth. "Fuckin'. Come on."

Then, because he'd forgotten that swearing makes him feel better, "Fuck. Motherfucker. Shitass motherfucking cuntsucker cockgrabber slutbag garbagewhore."

He stands again, wobbles for a moment and then steps delicately around the puke. Stops, narrows his eyes at it. He doesn't remember eating, not for – not for a long fucking time, anyway. So what the fuck did he just – ?

He decides he'll think about that later.

He looks at the guns again, swallows down bile and forces himself to reach out, though he stops short of touching anything.

"Sam," he says. "Fuckin' Sam." He clears his throat. "Sam, where the fuck."

He turns around, feels fear again, and helplessness, which pisses him off. His whole body is trembling hard, and won't quit it, but he tries to ignore it and turns to look at the room again. There's another door, and he knows it leads to the bathroom. Sam could be in the bathroom. Please, please, please let Sammy be in the bathroom.

His hand rattles against the doorknob as he turns it, and he curses again, then remembers how Sam always used to say he needed to expand his vocabulary, and god he can't wait for his little brother, to see him and shove him and touch him and to hold onto him.

At first glance, the small room is empty, but then Dean steps in further and turns around and his heart swells with inexpressible blind joy and he starts laughing and crying again and reaches forward because Sam is right there, with his dimples and stupid hair and pointy nose and freakishly broad shoulders and Sam is laughing and crying, too, is reaching out for Dean and Dean cannot fucking wait.

Then his fingers hit cold glass and he stops, confused, until the proper memory comes back to him. What this is.

A mirror.

He's looking at his own reflection.

Sam is looking back.