Title: When It Was Over
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: I've been working on this one for awhile. I started it pre-S5 but so far nothing has happen to render this AU as of yet. For me, this isn't necessarily what I think will happen, but maybe what I wish could happen. The boys deserve as much.
A/N 2: Much thanks to geminigrl11 for the beta and sendintheclowns for the continued support through the writing process. I will say upfront that this fic is more Sam-centric, though Dean is a strong player in it. This is more about Sam's emotional recovery, of which Dean is a huge part, but ultimately is not the focus.
A/N 3: This was supposed to be a one-shot that got desperately out of control. 50,000 words later, it's pretty obvious this can't all be put in one chapter. At the same time, this story doesn't lend itself well (in my mind) to delayed postings, so I'm going to upload all five parts at once so it can be read as a cohesive narrative, as it was conceived in my mind.
A/N 4: I have various song lyrics to accompany the fic, but am only posting those in the LJ version of the story. For those who may be interested, you can check it out at my LJ (faye-dartmouth(dot)livejournal(dot)com).
Summary: Dean's fought the good fight with the hope for peace when he is done. Sam's fought and failed with the hope that someday, finally, he might just be done.
It's been nearly three years since Sam started the Apocalypse.
It's been a mere two since Dean stopped it.
Sam's been looking for redemption.
Even three years later, his search goes on.
"A ghost?" Dean whines. "I don't want to hunt a ghost."
"It's killing people."
"So is cancer," Dean says. "Let's go hunt that."
Sam sighs. "You asked me to find a gig."
"I was hoping for something a little more interesting."
"It's not about being interesting," Sam reminds him. "Saving people, hunting things."
Dean makes a face. "You're still focused on the family business?"
"I sort of gave that up when, you know, an angel pulled me out of Hell."
Sam's never been pulled out by an angel. He hasn't been to Hell either, though sometimes it seems like it. "Then what do you want to do?"
Dean sighs. "I just want this to be over," Dean says.
"We can take a break," Sam offers, not because he wants to, but because Dean sounds like he wants it. It's been years since they had one, and Sam remembers his own pipe dreams of safe and normal.
"I don't want a break," Dean says. "I want out."
Sam doesn't know what to say. He has no solace to give his brother in this regard. Sam doesn't think about getting out. He doesn't think about after. He thinks about the here and now, this task before him, the people he has to save to compensate for the ones he killed.
Got killed, Dean's voice corrects in his head. Dean thinks there's a difference; Sam's really not so sure.
Out is something you fight for because you deserve it. It's something you earn because you're worth it.
Sam's doesn't deserve it. He's not worth it.
"I can do this one alone," Sam offers.
Dean looks at him, surprised and angry. "You trying to ditch me?"
Sam's eyes widen. "No, I--"
"We do this together," Dean says. "You should know that by now. Remember what happened when we didn't?"
Sam remembers Ruby and demon blood and Lilith.
Dean swallows. "Just forget it," he says. "When it's time to move on, we'll know. Right?"
"Signs, Sammy," Dean says. "God's mysterious ways."
"You're banking on signs?"
"Better than waiting on your sorry ass," Dean quips.
It's a joke, Sam knows. It's also true.
Dean clears his throat. "So a ghost, huh?" he waggles his eyebrows. "Tell me it's at least got a good story."
The ghost doesn't have a good story.
It does have surprisingly good aim for something non-corporeal.
"We're too old for this," Dean moans, clutching at his ribs.
It strikes Sam as funny. Dean's spent his life outgrowing hunting. Sam's spent his life growing into it. Sam wonders if that difference will matter, if it'll come to a head. He wonders what will happen when Dean finds his sign, when Dean rediscovers his true calling, and realizes that Sam doesn't have to be in that picture. That Sam probably shouldn't.
He swallows, closes his eyes and turns away. He can't roll on his side with his hips in traction, and he feels vulnerable and exposed.
But at least there are drugs in the IV and Sam actually sleeps for what seems like the first time in years.
Bobby shows up two days later. He's scowling and looks tired. "I drove all night, you damn idiots," he says.
Dean grins. "Thanks for coming," he says.
"Well, what else am I going to do?" Bobby grouses. "Someone's got to watch out for you two geniuses."
"You so love us."
"Stuff it, Winchester," Bobby orders.
Dean just keeps grinning as Bobby settles in the chair between them. He hasn't used the wheelchair for years, not since the angels gave him the use of his legs as thanks for his role in averting Lucifer's victory. "You two survive the Apocalypse and nearly get taken down by a ghost."
"We got her in the end," Dean reminds him.
"Yeah, and it only cost you two broken ribs and a serious concussion?"
"Don't forget Sammy," Dean reminds him.
Bobby looks at Sam and shakes his head. "Mr. Fractured-Pelvis-Internal-Bleeding-Coma-Boy."
"I was in a coma, too," Dean reminds him petulantly.
Bobby just rolls his eyes. "You two better get some sleep," he says. "Sounds like we'll be here for a while."
Sam's already halfway asleep and doesn't think he could fight this one he if he wanted to.
It surprises Sam how much his brother loves the hospital.
Dean flirts with the nurses, he makes the doctors laugh. He does a Jell-O impression that has the candy striper almost hyperventilating. He loves the food, he asks for extra sponge baths. He spends time memorizing his chart, and pulls out medical jargon just to see how it goes over.
All in all, Dean's flourishing. Sam doubts his brother ever wants to leave.
Sam feels useless. His body feels weak and impotent, and the stabilizers around his hips are heavy and uncomfortable. He has things to do--things to hunt--and fractured hip and internal sutures aside, Sam doesn't feel like this is a reprieve he's earned.
He wants to sign out AMA as soon as he can, but right now, he can't even walk.
As far as signs go, Sam's pretty sure that that's another one. A nail in his coffin. It doesn't matter what he tries, he'll never be enough. He'll never make it right. Maybe he would be better off just rolling over and giving up.
That's a failure Sam can't abide by, though. He'll take the injuries. He'll take the road. He'll take the countless motels, the faceless monsters, the numbing anonymity. He'll do whatever it takes, whatever he has to do. To make it right by the world. To make it right by his brother.
So Sam refuses the painkillers, and pushes for therapy early. There are no easy outs for sinners, especially not ones like him.
Dean is discharged. Bobby sticks around and the two of them hole up in a motel near the hospital. They visit Sam daily, but it's not the same as being with them, and Sam can't help but wonder what they're doing; wonder what they would rather be doing.
After all, Dean and Bobby are able and fit hunters. Heroes of the Apocalypse.
Sam's the reformed blood addict in traction.
The pain is reassuring, at least. Demons don't feel pain, he knows. If he does, that must count for something.
Dean's still loving this.
That is perhaps the strangest thing at all. It's not that he's just putting on a front to ease Sam's discomfort, because they both know that ship sailed about the time Sam was locked in the panic room. But it's real. Dean's just...happy.
Enjoying nurses, eating massive amounts of food, having a good time. Which really isn't all that unusual, but there's something different about it this time. Because Dean's not just killing time. He's not just enjoying the moment. He's settled.
That scares Sam. That scares Sam a lot. He can be his brother's backup. He can play research boy. He can guard his brother's six and hope to throw himself in front of any bullets Dean might be destined to take. But he can't make Dean stay. He has nothing to offer Dean--he has no ground to stand on. If Dean wants to stay or if Dean wants to go, he can, and Sam couldn't blame him.
Though Sam's been waiting for it. He's seen it coming. It's a stand Dean took with that famous ultimatum. It's a journey he's been taking since he broke down and told Sam that he was tired, that he wanted out. It's a path that Sam has no such part of.
Sam knows this story. He knows how it ends.
Dean's fought the good fight with the hope for peace when he is done.
Sam's fought and failed with the hope that someday, finally, he might just be done.
Bobby's news is old: "Isaac Jefferson is dead."
Sam just nods and Dean make a pained face. "I heard it was natural," Dean says.
"The old guy just went to bed one night and never woke up," Bobby confirmed.
Sam hesitates a moment, for fear of sounding heartless. "So what is it?" he asks gently.
Bobby purses his lips. "The lawyer finally went through his last wishes. I got a call about a few things he left for me and the guy asked me if I knew you two."
Sam and Dean exchange surprised looks.
Bobby shrugs. "Apparently, he left you something, too."
"Dude, the old guy hasn't seen us in years," Dean says. "What would he leave us?"
"Damned if I know," Bobby says. "They're shipping mine back to the salvage yard."
"They can send ours there, too," Dean says.
"It's a little hard to send an entire estate."
Sam stares. Dean is faring no better. "His entire estate?" Dean asks.
Bobby looks like he can't quite make sense of it either. "Jefferson always did have his quirks."
Sam shifts a little in bed. He's out of traction now, but moving is still awkward. The doctors think he can be released in a week and Sam's already planning to bolt AMA in two days. "Are you sure?"
Bobby makes a small sound in the back of his throat. "Lawyer sounded pretty sure on the phone," he says. "Wants you two down there ASAP to comply with Jefferson's last wishes."
Dean blows out a whistle. "Well, damn," he says. He looks at Sam. "Looks like your recovery is just on schedule."
"You sure you boys are up to this?" Bobby asks, uncertainly.
Dean just grins. "You doubt us?"
Sam looks away so as not to disagree.
Dean doesn't like the idea of AMA, so he offers a compromise. Sam can sign out early if they high tail it out of there and straight for Alabama.
"What's the big deal?" Sam asks.
"It was part of Jefferson's last wishes."
"And we'll get there eventually."
"You can't just delay someone's last wishes."
"He's already been dead for months," Sam reasons.
Dean shakes his head. "When did you become such a heartless SOB?"
Sam sighs. "It's just--we have things to hunt."
Dean rolls his eyes. "There are always things to hunt."
"Exactly," Sam says.
Dean isn't buying it. "We need to do this."
"Why?" Sam asks. Jefferson was an acquaintance of their father's. They'd been in contact briefly over the last few years, a few references for hunts but nothing more. There is little sentimentality there that makes Sam think that this should matter as much as Dean wants it to.
"I just think...maybe it's a sign, you know?" Dean ventures, and Sam can tell he's hesitant.
"A sign?" Sam asks.
"The timing--it's just--kind of a coincidence, you know?"
Dean sighs. "I'm looking to get away, to have a little downtime and then, out of the blue, Jefferson leaves us his estate? Come on, little brother. Surely you can see that."
Sam's tried believing signs. He's tried believing in wonders, too, and even a greater good. But every sign Sam's ever followed led him straight to Hell. The greater good Sam yearned for didn't care who died in the pursuit. He's done with belief; he's done with faith; he's done with hope.
What he believes, what he has faith in, is that he'll never hope to deserve any of their comforts.
Dean, however--Dean does.
It's what he's been afraid of. The thing he's been waiting for. The inevitable separation, the finale punishment Sam just needs to accept. Dean has earned this, and Sam knows this could have been far worse. It could have been with a punch and an ultimatum; it could have been with a bullet in his back.
This is just a bittersweet goodbye, a painful letting go.
Sam nods, and he swallows. His throat is tight, but he makes himself speak through it. "You can go," Sam says.
Dean's brow furrows as he weighs Sam's words. "I can go?"
Sam shrugs, and it takes more resolve than he wants to admit to stay calm. "You've earned it."
Dean hesitates. "But I thought--I thought we'd go together."
This surprises Sam. He swallows hard. His resolve is shaken now; he had not anticipated this. "Together?"
"Yeah," Dean says. "Two brothers on a road trip. Like it should be."
It's a nice idea. It's a really nice idea. Five years ago, he would have jumped at the chance. Five years ago, it might have been what he wanted most.
But there are things that are stronger than dreams. There are truths that are more important than wishes.
There's atonement to be sought. There's a danger in settling down. There's the fact that Sam tried to leave once, and it's a mistake that cost him almost everything.
He can't leave. He can't stop. Sam can think of no greater use for his condemned soul than this. Sam can think of no greater punishment than to stay in the life he hated--forever.
"What about hunting?" Sam asks, his voice shaky and low.
"We've paid our dues," Dean says. "My contracts with Heaven and Hell are over, man. There are rewards for that kind of service, and it's about time we started enjoying them."
"They're rewards for you." Sam tells him, his eyes refusing to look away, daring Dean to contradict him.
Dean's face goes taut and he swallows. "I can't do this alone."
"Yes," Sam says. "You can."
"Yeah," Dean says, and he raises a chin and dares Sam back. "But I don't want to."
And there it is--the lynchpin. It's the point Sam can't argue, the thing he can't refuse. Sam has no rights of his own left to cling to. He owes Dean everything. Everything.
A day later, Sam signs out of the hospital. They bid Bobby farewell, stow their stuff in the trunk, take the letter from Jefferson's lawyer, and head south.
The letter tells them to check in with Gerald O. Daly, Attorney at Law. Turns out, the man operates out of a trailer on the outskirts of a small Alabama town called Wedowee.
When they knock on the door, there is a long bustle inside. Something crashes to the floor and someone curses, and Sam's about ready to bolt when the door finally opens with a bang.
A harried man is behind it, about Dean's height, frayed gray clumps of hair standing disheveled about his head. He's got jeans on and an open flannel shirt over a stained white undershirt.
"Can I help you?" he asks, and his drawl is as thick as the smell of alcohol on his breath.
"Are you Gerald O. Daly?"
"You boys looking to get hitched?"
"What?" Dean asks.
"Practicing minister," Gerald informs him.
"Not an attorney at law?" Sam asks.
"Oh, hell," Gerald says. "I forgot about that one."
Sam's not sure how anyone could forget about the LSATs and law school, but that's neither here nor there.
"You looking to sue someone?" Gerald asks.
Dean holds up the letter. "We're here about the estate of Isaac Jefferson."
Gerald's face lights up and he throws up the door further. "Why didn't you say so?" he says. "Come in, come in."
Dean exchanges a look with Sam. Sam just shrugs, and follows after his brother.
The trailer is a mess. Open packages of food, half drunk beer bottles, dirty dishes stacked in the sink. Gerald leads them to the table. He swipes aside the sundry items: papers and plates even what appears to be an open calculus textbook.
"I was expectin' y'all weeks ago," Gerald explains. "You were mighty slow getting here."
"We were a little weighed down," Dean says.
Sam glares, the memory of the traction too clear in his mind.
"It's all good now," Gerald says conversationally. He settles down and produces a manila folder out of nowhere. "Sit, sit. We won't be long."
Dean sits first, and Sam tentatively follows. His chair squeaks and Sam shifts his weight, trying to keep the pressure off his sore pelvis.
"Now, you boys were the sole beneficiaries of Jefferson's, he was quite clear about that. He made me promise that his no-good brother wouldn't see a dime."
"Did he say why us?" Sam asks.
"Something about meeting a need," Gerald says. "Jefferson was really into that during his last years. Always had something to give to someone, and he seemed to always know just what people needed."
Dean looks at Sam, very purposefully.
Sam ignores him. "So what exactly is in the estate?"
Gerald pulls out the papers and lays them in front of them. "Basically, everything he owned. He did leave a particular rifle to some guy named Richard and he gave most of his furniture and personal items to a local church. He also left some car to a fella out in South Dakota, but the rest of it, it's yours."
Sam's eyes are skimming the paper, making short work of the legal jargon.
Dean doesn't seem to have the patience. He licks his lips and smiles. "So if there aren't many possessions left, just what are we looking at here?" he asks. "A trailer or something?
"There is a house," Gerald says. "I haven't been there, but I know it's in decent repair. But most of it is the money."
Sam looks up. "The money?" he asks.
Gerald points to the provision on the will in front of Sam. "Right there," he says. "All of his life's savings and the house are to be shared equally between Dean and Samuel Winchester."
"What kind of life savings did Jefferson have?"
Gerald grins and pulls out another sheet. He puts it in front of the boys. "This is his latest bank statement. Jefferson was real careful with his money, put it in all the right places to minimize the red tape when he was gone. There's some tax issues, of course, but that sum? Ain't too far off."
Sam can't even speak. Dean just laughs. "You're kidding, right?"
Gerald isn't kidding.
Dean's jaw drops. "Well," he says. "Crap."
"Crap ain't exactly the term I use for a quarter of a million dollars," Gerald says.
Sam remembers to breathe and shakes his head. "Are you sure that's right?" he asks.
Gerald nods. "Did all the paperwork myself. You boys ain't millionaires or nothing, but Jefferson set you two up real nice, if you just know what to do with it."
"And you're sure he didn't say why he picked us?"
"Son," Gerald says as a matter of fact. "There were some things that Jefferson just knew. He found the Lord late in life, and it's hard to say, but I think they had a special relationship. Seemed like Jefferson just knew what God wanted done, and the man found a way to do it. I learned to stop questioning it, and just accept it. Don't know for sure how and don't know why, but he certainly did have a sense of this kind of thing. I think he thought you needed it, that you deserved it."
Dean looks at Sam again. "So you think it's God's will that we're here?"
Gerald chuckles a little. "I ain't no religious man by any stretch of the imagination, son," he said with a self-deprecating sniffle. "But it don't take no saint to know when something's divine."
Sam can't take any more of this from Gerald O. Daly or Dean, so he forces a smile. "So can we go see the property?"
"Sure," Gerald says. He turns the envelope over and a set of keys comes out. Gerald hands it over. "The address and all's on that sheet. And I'll just need to know the account you want the money transferred to when it's convenient for you."
Sam's got the keys and the sheet, and he's pushing to his feet. "We may have to set something up," Sam says.
"But we'll definitely be in touch," Dean assures him, standing after Sam. "Don't want to mess up God's will or anything."
Sam rolls his eyes and heads toward the door. "Thank you for your time," he tells Gerald.
"Anytime," the man says. "And if you all are looking to get married, you just let me know."
Both Sam and Dean pause at that.
"Not to each other, of course," Gerald says quickly, with a snort of laughter. "Brothers ain't legal, not even down around these parts."
"Right," Dean says.
This encounter is a lot of things--weird, unnerving, amusing, eccentric--but Sam's pretty sure right is one word he wouldn't use.
They settle into the Impala, and Sam's looking through the legal documents. Everything seems in order--just like Gerald O. Daly said.
"So, what do you think?"
Sam frowns a little and shakes his head. "It looks legit."
"Of course it's legit," Dean says and he swipes the papers from Sam. "I just meant, what do you think we're looking at?"
"The house and the money," Sam tells him. "We won't know what the house is worth until we see it."
Dean grins at him. "So maybe it's time to take another little road trip."
"I don't see much other option."
Dean rolls his eyes. "Don't sound too excited about it or anything."
"It probably isn't much."
"It's a house."
"If you haven't notice, the properties around here aren't the greatest," Sam says, nodding to the dingy trailers and the dilapidated farm houses in the distance.
"And if you haven't noticed, this isn't where the place is."
"So where is it?"
Dean pauses for a moment, looking at the paper. Then he laughs. "Dude, you have to see this."
"The name of the town."
"What difference does that make?"
"Just trust me," Dean says.
"I still think this is kind of a waste of time," Sam mutters, slouching in his seat.
"Look at the name of the town, Sam," Dean instructs, a hint of exasperation in his voice.
Sam purses his lips. "It's not going to make a difference."
"Look at the name of the damn town, Sam," Dean says again.
Rolling his eyes, Sam takes the paper, and looks down.
"See, Sammy," Dean says. "Sign from God."
Sam doesn't speak. He can't speak. He's too busy staring at the name, printed out in black and white, as clear as day: New Hope, Alabama.
"It doesn't mean anything," Sam says for the third time. The car is hot and Sam's sweating under his jacket. "It's coincidence."
"It is," Sam insists, trying to sound sure, but mostly sounding petulant.
"For a smart guy, you're really being pretty stupid about this," Dean tells him.
Sam is sulking, and he knows it, but he can't bring himself to stop. "I'm just smart enough to know what a coincidence is."
Dean laughs, shaking his head. "What is it going to take? God coming down from Heaven and telling us to take a break? Would you believe it then?"
"This isn't a question of belief," Sam says.
"No," Dean agrees, giving him a look from the driver's seat. "This is a question of denial."
That's not it either, but Sam doesn't know how to say what he really means. He's not sure how to explain that he believes in God and he believes in God's goodness: he just doesn't believe in it for him.
"God wants us to do this, Sam," Dean says earnestly. "If you can't trust Him, trust me."
It's the right leverage. Sam squares his shoulders a little, his jaw clenched. "We may as well check the place out," he concedes.
Dean grins. "That's my boy."
Sam just slouches in his seat, pulling in tightly on himself. He'll go along, but he won't do it happily.
For his part, Dean doesn't stop smiling the whole way there.
New Hope is smaller than Wedowee, and it has that intimate, secluded feeling that towns under 5,000 seem to emit. The downtown is a block long, with weathered buildings slouching in slumped salute, each one looking more aged than the last.
Sam points out a gas station, which would be great for directions, but Dean's thirsty, and pulls them off at a bar instead.
It's six o'clock on a Wednesday night, and it shows. The bar has only a few scattered occupants, including a family of five eating dinner by the window. Dean nods to them with a congenial smile before he saunters up to the bar. Leaning against it, he tilts his head toward the bartender, who comes over with a meandering gait. "What can I do you two for?" he asks.
Sam has positioned himself next to Dean, sitting slightly on the stool.
"Couple of beers," Dean says.
Sam interjects firmly. "Just a water for me."
"Will do," the bartender says easily.
The door opens behind them, and the sound of shrill giggles has both of them turning. Two twenty-something girls are walking inside, moving toward the bar and settling a few stools away from Dean.
They whisper, give Sam and Dean a once over, and giggle again.
Sam wants to hide. Dean sticks his chest out and tries not to preen too obviously.
The bartender returns, placing their drinks in front of them. As he moves off, he nods to the girls. "The usual, ladies?"
"Yes, please, Virgil," one of the girls drawls. She's skinny and blonde, with ripped jean shorts and a baby t-shirt that looks too small for her.
Dean takes a swig, turning slightly toward Sam. "I call dibs on the blonde," he whispers. "The brunette is totally into you."
Sam looks at them appraisingly. The brunette is taller, a bit broader boned. Her hair is shorter and she doesn't look nearly as impressed by the entire situation as the blonde does.
The blonde presses her lips together and straightens her shoulders. She smiles at them. "You're not from around here," she says simply.
Sam almost rolls his eyes at the obviousness of it, but he refrains--for Dean's sake.
His brother perks up a little, flashing her a patented half-grin. "We're taking a little road trip."
The blonde looks vaguely interested.
Virgil the barkeeper puts drinks in front of the girls. The brunette takes a long sip. Sam can't blame her.
"You must be lost then," she says. "No one just wanders through New Hope."
"Oh, why not?" Dean asks. "Seems like a nice little place you have here."
The brunette snorts. "You got the little part right."
"Ellie's just doesn't know how to appreciate what she's got," the blonde says with a look back at her friend.
Ellie rolls her eyes. "And Veronica is far too keen on over-valuin' what she does got," she says. She looks at Sam and then at Dean before her eyes linger on Sam again. "You can barely find New Hope on the map. Not that it's not a nice place to grow up or nothin', because it's safe and it's simple and we all trust our neighbors. The guy at the gas pump knows you by name and all your teachers had your momma and your daddy in the classroom before you. It's quaint Americana as it used to be, only we just haven't quite caught up to the rest of the world. People don't look for New Hope. They find it, and nine times out of ten, once they do, they haven't a blessed clue what to do with it."
It's a little bitter and a lot candid and there's almost something rueful in it all. Sam is pretty sure he falls in as one of the nine, and he's pretty sure that Ellie does, too. The blonde is a little hard to gauge just yet, and if he lets Dean take this too much further, his brother will play to be the one of ten, just to make a point.
It is the blonde's turn to roll her eyes. Sam figures it's a rant she's heard before. "Ellie is quite the melodramatic."
"Sounds like a girl who knows her stuff," Dean comments helpfully.
"I've had twenty two years to figure it out," Ellie says with a drink. "Give it two days, and you'll see it, too. New Hope is a little about sink or swim. You belong here or you don't."
"Actually, we are looking to stay in the area," Dean ventures.
The blonde raises her eyebrows. "You're thinking of stayin'?" she asks.
"We have an uncle around these parts," Dean explains. "He, uh--passed away a few months ago. We're here to settle up his estate."
"Oh, I'm sorry," the blonde says, her eyes wide. "What was his name?"
"Isaac Jefferson," Sam interjects, for fear of what ploy of sympathy Dean might entail. A little flirting was okay, but the prospect of being stuck with the brunette is unsettling. She's painfully honest and acutely aware, and the last thing Sam wants right now are more reminders that small towns and peaceful Americana scenes are things he can't ever have.
"Jefferson?" the blonde asks. "You mean the old guy who kept to himself all the time? A little eccentric and a lot brilliant?"
Dean grins. "That's him."
"Why, everyone knew Jefferson," she raves. "But I'll tell you, he didn't live in town."
"So where did he live?" Sam prompts.
"Over 'bout five miles to the west," the blonde says.
"In Peace," Ellie adds.
Sam stiffens. Dean stills. The words reverberate through them with an intensity neither of them can deny.
Swallowing hard, Sam thinks he surely heard it wrong. He must have. There's no way...
Slowly, carefully, he composes the question. His argument hinges on this. His last chance to talk his brother out of this hangs in the balance. He needs this, to prove his point. He needs this, to still have his out. "Where did you say he lived?"
"Right down the way, there," she says, gesturing with her hand. "Just follow the road out and you can't miss it."
"No, the town," Sam says.
"Well, it ain't really a town," the blonde admits sheepishly. "But we all think of it as one."
"What's it called?"
"Peace," she says, with an earnest nod.
Sam's throat tightens and Dean cocks his head. "You're telling us to find Peace?"
"Sounds hokey, I know, but these small towns, they've had these names for hundreds of years."
"It doesn't sound hokey," Dean tells her, and he glances purposefully at Sam. "It sounds just about right. Doesn't it, Sam?"
This time, Sam has no objections. No comebacks.
They're being sent from New Hope to Peace, and Sam's just going to have to accept that.
Peace, Alabama isn't anything more than a collection of ten houses and three stores. The entire town isn't even a town because it's not even on the map. It's just two square blocks, twenty-seven people, a general store, a bar, a church, and a nail salon.
"At least you won't have to go to town for that," Dean says, nodding at the flickering neon sign on Peace's House of Nails.
Somehow, it's not much comfort, but it certainly makes Dean happy.
Sam doesn't know quite what to think, but Dean's already settled down in Peace, and he has no choice but to follow.
Jefferson's house is an ancient two-story, with clapboard siding with peeling white paint and a large front porch that slopes toward the street. It's cozy on the inside, with simple rooms and scuffed wood floors. There are three fireplaces, all of them functional, and the ceilings are eleven feet high. The entire thing creaks, and Sam wonders absently if it's even safe at all.
But Dean's taken to it, scoping out the rooms and laying claim. He's designated the formal parlor as the TV room and the sunny second floor bedroom that has the balcony over the street is his. They'll have to share the bathroom, and Dean is thinking about setting up a shop in the pathetic excuse for the garage that opens up to the alley at the back of the lot.
"The rest is all yours," Dean says with a shrug. "You could do up the kitchen real nice. Learn how to cook."
Sam makes a face.
Dean rolls his eyes. "I thought you could use one of the bedrooms as an office or something. Get some book shelves, make your own little geeked out library."
"To do what?"
Dean grunts. "How the hell should I know?" he asks. "Do I look like a geek?"
Sam narrows his eyes and purses his lips. "We don't even have any furniture."
At that, Dean grins. "Shopping," he says. "Awesome."
That's not the word Sam has in mind, but for now, it'll do.
There's no furniture store in Peace, and there's nothing but an antique shop in New Hope. So they drive all the way to Wedowee. Dean goes through the store like a man on a mission, picking out sofas and chairs, headboards and dining room tables. He picks out a flat screen TV for himself and a desk for Sam, and an assortment of bookcases.
It costs a pretty penny, but Jefferson's money covers it. It'll be delivered in a week, they're told, and Dean takes them out for dinner to celebrate.
"We'll need to clean," Dean says. "Scrub the cabinets, polish the floors. See if the windows needs to be replaced."
Sam just looks at him.
Dean munches on a French fry. "What?"
"This is an awful lot of work and money," Sam says.
"I guess," Dean says.
"I mean, we've never done anything like this before."
"Well," Dean says, shrugging. "We've never been home before."
They clean for two days straight, and then Dean brings in the tools and they start fixing. Dean plasters the worst of the walls and rehangs a few doors and replaces the hardware on the kitchen cabinets. The next day, Dean comes home with a wide assortment of paint, and they coat the walls with various shades of earth tones and bold colors.
Sam can't help but laugh.
Covered in paint, roller poised on the wall, Dean looks at him. "What?"
"You're painting the living room Weathered Wicker," he says.
"So?" Dean asks. He looks at the color. "I like it."
"It just seems a little, I don't know, Trading Spaces?"
"When do you have time to watch girly TV?"
Sam remembers that Jess used to watch it, almost every day. She liked Genevieve's sense of style and was turned off by Hildi's high brow eccentricities.
Sam's smile fades. "Never mind," he says.
They've worked for nearly six days straight when Dean's humor fades. Sam tells him that Indian Summer is too bright of a color for their kitchen and Dean tells Sam he can shut the hell up. They're screaming about paint colors and furniture arrangement, and Sam's got a splash of color in his hair, while Dean's got Indian Summer smeared across his backside.
"We'll never finish all this if you don't shut up and pull your weight," Dean snaps.
"Who said I wanted to finish this at all?"
"You're the one who wanted to settle down," Dean says.
"That was a long time ago, Dean," Sam says with a glare. "I'm a different person."
"Yeah, like I don't know that," Dean snaps back.
Sam's chest tightens, and he remembers Ruby and the demon blood. He remembers Dean telling him he was going to go darkside, calling him a monster. He remembers the long months afterward when Dean didn't trust him, when Dean wouldn't even look at him.
That was the worst. Worse than losing Dean--his brother's silent condemnation is something Sam carries with him and always will.
He knows Dean remembers it, too. Dean says he's forgiven Sam, but in moments like this, Sam's not so sure.
Before either of them can say anything else, the doorbell rings.
Dean scowls at Sam and Sam glares back. Moving past Sam, Dean goes to the door. Sam stays in the kitchen, looking at the half painted orange walls and wishes he is somewhere else.
It's the welcome committee.
It's also the entire town. The woman in front is named Sylvie, and she closed down the General Store so she could be here. The rest shut down and turned out, too, every last man, woman, and child.
They bring baskets of food--an odd assortment of baked goods and canned delicacies. Sam spots SPAM and a six pack of beer and wonders what is wrong with these people.
"It ain't everyday we get new blood," Sylvie explains. "So we like to make it seem real special like."
Dean's holding a box of fruit, grinning. "That's so awesome," he says.
Sam makes an attempt to smile. "We really appreciate it," he says. He eyes Dean. His brother is glowing a little bit. Sam shifts a little. "We really do have a lot of work to do."
"Work?" Sylvie asks. "What kind of work?"
"Painting," Dean says. "And we're sort of hoping to replace out a few windows and see if we can put some spindles back in the banister."
"Why, darling, why didn't you say so?"
Sam opens his mouth and exchanges a glance with Dean, who looks equally dumbfounded.
Sylvie turns to the crowd behind her. Sam really looks at them for the first time. There are people of all ages, from an elderly couple to a handful of young children. They're white and Hispanic and black and Asian and they're all smiling at him like children of the damned.
"Tanner, why don't you go back and get your tools," Sylvie says. "Byron, you got your glasses on? And Erick, head on back to the store and pick us up some rollers and painter's tape. And only the good stuff. Don't pick up the generic crap we have in the back."
Dean looks uncertainly at them. "We've got it under control."
"Oh, nonsense," Sylvie says. "You boys are at Peace, now, and we're going to make sure you know it one way or another."
With that, the woman pushes past Dean into the house.
In an afternoon, everything is done.
Byron Lin, a former architect, helps the with the spindles on the crooked stair railing. Chris Porter cleans out their plumbing. Anita Sanchez rewires their lights so they're not a fire hazard while her sister Julia polishes the fixtures. Alice Tanner's got her four kids taking off all the hardware in the house and soaking in a vat of vinegar to take the age off, and Everett pulls a chimney sweep out of nowhere and goes to town. He comes out dirty, but everything else is spotless, and Sam's more than a little blown away by it.
Even Zach, a tall kid with a withdrawn disposition, goes out of his way to make sure that fridge is spotless, under Sylvie's direct supervision, of course.
Dinner appears out of nowhere, complete with piping hot deep fried chicken and fresh squeezed lemonade. Sam doesn't remember a time when he's been better fed...or more noticed.
It makes him feel horrible.
He's glad when they all leave.
Together, he and Dean stand in their empty living room, looking out over the empty floors. The sinking sun is filtering through the spotless windows, hazy with the waving tree branches just outside. It is somehow peaceful there, and for a moment, time seems to stand still.
Just Dean and Sam and this house--this entire town. Something Sam can't put his finger on, and isn't sure he wants to. He doesn't want to know all the good that's here, all the potential it all has, because it would just hurt even more when he couldn't have it. When he didn't deserve it.
"This is good for us, Sammy," Dean says. "Both of us."
And Dean means it--with every fiber of his being. Dean's in this for the long haul, Dean's committed and there's no turning back.
It is a beautiful picture, with friends and family and the stability Sam wanted growing up. There is something about this town--the way it draws them in, the way it doesn't let them walk away. It makes Sam want to believe Dean.
Almost, but not quite.
It takes Dean two days to figure out the lingo. He knows exactly what they're trying to say when Sam's still lost in the harsh twangs.
It takes Dean two weeks to slip ain't into regular conversation. After two months, he has a distinctive southern drawl of his own.
Sam still can't quite get used to the cadence of their speech, and he feels so out of place when he talks that he avoids doing it whenever he can.
If Dean notices, he doesn't say anything.
Thing seem to be falling into place. It doesn't take long before they know everyone in town, from Erick, who works for Sylvie at the General Store, to Levi, the mild mannered preacher who maintains the church adjacent to Jefferson's house.
Sam knows that Amanda Tanner has to roam around town to get a signal on her cell phone, which she does every night after dinner without fail. He knows that the bar has a sign that says that its hours are from noon until nine daily, but that Anita will serve a drink or whip up a meal for anyone who comes in at any time of day or night.
He knows that Everett and Delores fight every day next door, screaming and yelling. Delores harps and Everett spits and the voices are so loud that sometimes it shakes the walls.
"They are so awesome," Dean says, shaking his head one afternoon while he's sprawled on the couch.
"They fight all the time."
"They love each other."
"How can you tell?"
Dean shrugged. "Seems kind of obvious to me."
"Yelling obscenities at someone is a sign of love?"
"Works for you, bitch."
Sam scowls but can't quite disagree.
That night, Sam is mending the front fence when he happens to look over at the porch next door. Everett is in his chair as usual, reclined against it, a beer in one hand.
Delores is lounging next to him on the ancient swing. The rusted chain creaks with every gentle motion, but the couple looks like they don't care.
It's unusual, Sam thinks, to see them so quiet. To see them so happy.
He's staring, so he smiles and waves.
Delores smiles back and Everett just nods at him.
When Sam turns back to his work, he thinks about the way they're holding hands, and something in his chest tightens. Confusion or envy: Sam will never make himself discern the difference.
Dean likes the bar and already knows the General Store better than Erick, who's worked there for five years. Dean can predict who's going to need help before they need it, and has a miraculous talent for showing up with a box of screws or a turkey sandwich whenever one of the neighbors needs it. He's fixed Sean Wanet's bike and produced a cup of sugar for Caris Johnson's pound cake in peril and even once manage to catch Nina Porter as she fell off a step stool inside her house.
Dean just speaks the same language as the people, and it's more than lingo and accents. It's a way of life, a way of being, and it utterly confounds Sam.
He's smart enough, but when he looks at all the people in town, he doesn't really understand. He doesn't understand the leisurely pace or the casual conversation. He doesn't know how to fit into their friendly relationships and their silent pleasantries.
Maybe there was a time when he could have. Maybe with Jess, maybe when he was a kid who just wanted safe, but he's changed now. He remembers telling Ruby he'd changed for good, and even if Dean doesn't like to talk about it, Sam still knows it's true. The angels didn't smite him, but he's not a hero.
People like him--things like him--can't just settle in. He doesn't deserve it, and neither do they.
Dean's personalized the house everywhere. From the splash of spaghetti sauce on the rug in the kitchen to the sleek pinups of classic cars in his bedroom, Dean's imprint is everywhere. Dean's style is rugged leather sofas and industrial end tables, tops with wrought iron lamps and a painting of the Grand Canyon, which hangs opposite the plasma TV.
"Nice, huh," Dean says.
The painting looks like motel room art, but the nice stuff--not the dusty, tacky stuff like the places they used to stay at. But the bland kind that normal people see in dentist offices and department stores.
"Yeah," Sam says. "If you like the neutral vibe."
Dean glowers a bit. "Well, you can pick out accessories, too, you know."
Sam wants to laugh. "You just told me I could pick out accessories."
"You live here, too," Dean points out.
"Yeah, but..." His voice trails off. But it's not home. But it's not permanent. But it's nothing more than a temporary thing, and the second he wants it, it'll be gone.
"But nothing," Dean grumbles. "You're the one who hasn't made any effort."
Dean's right about that. Sam's room is neat and perfunctory. He has the bare essentials in terms of furniture--the cheapest he could find at the store. And he only picked out the green quilt comforter to keep Dean from buying him a little girl's set adorned with Hannah Montana.
"I mean, you could at least pick out a mouse pad or something for the office. Maybe one of those little desk lamps with the little compartments for paperclips and stuff. You can never have too many paperclips."
"I don't use a mouse," Sam reminds Dean.
Dean rolls his eyes. "You're missing the point," he says. "Until you start decorating, lay of the criticism. Got it?"
Sam gets it and retreats to his bedroom. He reads a book on ancient demon lore for a while, and then pauses to look at his room. His bed is a queen, and he didn't bother with a headboard. His bedside table is sort of flimsy, honey oak in color with spindly legs. There's a single drawer in it that's empty, and Sam consented to picking out a simple lamp. His dresser is long and short, but the top is empty. He has an armoire that he found on sale because it has a long scratch up the front of his cherry veneer. He uses it to house his weapons cache.
With a sigh, Sam goes to his closet and opens it. His shirts are neatly hanging, arranged by color and style. Tucked on the top of the rack is Sam's duffel.
He pulls it out, putting it on the bed. He just looks at it for a moment, and remembers that this is all he carried with him for six long years of his life.
He's already removed and organized the clothes, but there's more in it. Sam opens it, and feels something pull hard in his chest.
Sam lost nearly everything in the fire back in Palo Alto, and he lost most of the rest somewhere between his father's death and Dean's, but some of it is still here. A partially charred biology textbook of Jess's. A salvaged coffee cup that Jess gave to him when they first started dating.
A few of Jess, a few of his childhood, a few of his parents. They are painful to look at, yet Sam turns them in his hands, and remembers.
He lays them on the bed, side by side. Snatches of his former life, pieces of his former self. He's not that person anymore--not the boy Jess loved, not the child his mother died for. Not even the kid his father kicked out of the proverbial house.
Especially not the little brother Dean so loved.
He wants to put them away, because he doesn't deserve the memories. But he decides not to.
They'll stay out, and Sam will buy frames. He'll put them on his dresser and make sure he looks at them each morning. A reminder of what he lost. A telltale sign of how much he threw away. A testament to how far he fell.
Sam knows he deserves far worse.
For such a small town, Peace is always buzzing with life. People are outside in the evenings, grilling in their backyards or lounging on their porch swings. Couples take walks and linger in each other's yards, chatting and sharing as if there's nothing more important to do.
Which, Sam begins to wonder, there may not be.
Life in Peace is just simple. It goes on, no matter what people do. The General Store is always out of white bread, but can always be trusted for whole milk. The House of Nails hasn't provided a real manicure in years, but people show up every day to share the latest gossip with Edna. Children do their homework on the cracked cement sidewalks, and people love what they do and do what they love.
Sure, they all complain. About the sweltering heat or poor tacos at the bar. They complain about keeping up the archaic houses and the cost of health care. But none of them mean it.
Sam doesn't understand it, doesn't know what to do with it.
Dean just buys a porch swing and joins them.
Katherine Lin bets her brother five dollars that she can roll a penny farther than he can.
Thomas agrees, but only under the condition that they have an impartial judge.
Sam, in the front yard, trying to fix the gate, is their first choice.
Sam tries to decline, but they've already dragged him to the street and are priming up to go when a racket comes from the house next door.
It's Delores and Everett--yelling and screaming again, like they've actually got something important to say.
Thomas pauses, looks at his watch. "They're getting a late start today," he says.
"I ought to divorce your lazy ass!" Delores screams.
"Please, do, you ghoulish old witch!" Everett hollers back.
"That's a new one," Katherine tells him, matter-of-fact. She sounds impressed.
"Do they always do this?"
Thomas and Katherine look at him. "Only when it's nice out," Katherine says.
"What does that mean?" Sam asks.
"When it's raining, no one can hear them, so what's the point?" Katherine says, and she's so straightforward about it, that Sam can only gape a little.
"They just know their part," Thomas continues for his sister. "Every town needs a fighting couple, so we've got Everett and Delores."
"Really?" Sam asks.
The kids nod.
"So who am I?" Sam can't help but ask.
Katherine smiles. "You're our judge," she says. "I can't imagine anyone better for the job."
Sam can think of a few dozen or maybe a few million, but he doesn't have the heart to back talk to an eight-year-old girl.
For the record, Katherine's penny goes farther. Thomas' does the cooler spin.
Both kids go home happy. Sam goes home confused.
Sam finds Jefferson's library after they've lived there three months. It's upstairs, behind a fake back to the closet in Sam's bedroom. Sam's trying to pull a belt of his closet, but the buckle is stuck on something. When Sam investigates, the entire panel slides away. He ducks inside in wonder.
It's not as dingy as Sam might have expected for a hidden room. But then, he figures, that's probably because Jefferson may have had hidden it, but he used it often.
Still, it's dusty. There's a small circular window that peaks out the side of the house. A bare bulb hangs from the ceiling. There's a long card table, scattered with bottles of herbs and spices and other miscellaneous things Sam recognizes from the hunt. The entire back wall is covered with built in bookshelves. They look mismatched and parsed together at random, but they're covered with books.
Sam walks closer, fingering the spines. Ancient druid myths. Medieval traditions. The history of witchcraft. The topics are as diverse as they are detailed, and there's even an entire section devoted to common sense remedies and critical first aid skills.
It makes sense, now, why Jefferson left it to them. It had to stay with hunters, people who would appreciate it all. Sam didn't know Jefferson all that well, but he was a reclusive man, with few acquaintances and even fewer friends. Tough as nails and well read on the supernatural, which are good things for a hunter's life, but not so good as a legacy to leave behind.
Hunters beget hunters.
This house, this town--they may be Dean's inheritance.
This room, these aging books--these are Sam's.