His body was aching from the top of his head to the tips of his toes—especially his toes. Probably. That lovely ache was telling him that he was still alive when—according to the odds—he shouldn't be. At first, he had thought that maybe death would be preferable, because he hurt that much. But no, he had to live; there were people counting on him. Sam was counting on him; Bobby was counting on him. As of a week ago, the whole world had been counting on him. He pulled his tired, aching body off the hard, lumpy mattress and sat up to face the day. Ironically, the sun shone brightly and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
His brother was sitting up at the table across the room with his laptop open and a piece of paper full of notes. There was a small map tacked to the wall with various different colored pins sticking out of it. Dean fought back a groan—and the sudden, overwhelming urge to roll over and go back to sleep—as he realized what Sam was doing.
Already, Sam was looking for another case. He shouldn't have been surprised, not knowing his brother like he did. They had beaten Lucifer—the morning star, the most beautiful of the angels, Satan, the Devil himself—just a week ago, and Sam was already looking for another case. Dean would have been happy to sit back and bask in the glow of knowing that they had saved the world, but that just wasn't Sam's way. Sam wanted to try to right the wrongs in a misguided attempt at redemption. He didn't seem to think that saving the world was enough.
"What, no coffee this morning?" he said lightly, trying—and failing—to hide how much pain he was in as the got out of bed and made his way to the sink.
"I figured it would be cold by the time you go up. Besides, last night I think your words were "I'm taking enough Vicodin to knock out an elephant and if you wake me up before it wears off, I'm gonna kill you." I figured I'd let you sleep," Sam answered, his voice not quite hiding the traces of his guilt.
"Yeah, well…Vicodin's worn off and I'm gonna take a shower." And when he got out of the shower, Sam would have that coffee waiting. He caught a flash of his face in the mirror and wished for the thousandth time that he had let Cas heal him when he had the chance; but that ship had sailed, and getting Cas to heal him now was only going to make Sam feel more guilty.
In the privacy of the bathroom, he took careful inventory of his bruises and lumps and decided that even though he felt like death, he was definitely better than he had been the day before. The swelling in his left eye had gone down enough for him to actually see out of it again, and all of his bruises were starting to turn that sickly shade of greenish-yellow as opposed to the dark blue-black that they had been before. He still felt the surprisingly sharp pain in his ribs when he moved, telling him that even though they were only cracked, they were still taking their time healing.
Lucifer had beaten him down, and he had survived to tell the tale.
Unfortunately, Lucifer had been wearing his brother when he had beaten him down, hence Sam's guilt. It didn't seem to matter that they had both known the risks going into it. It didn't matter that it wasn't Sam who was in the driver's seat while his body was kicking Dean's ass. What mattered to Sam was that he had felt his brother's flesh give way under his hands, felt his ribs crack, and had been helpless to stop it.
This didn't bother Dean. Not as much as it probably should have, anyway.
He had known going into it that things probably weren't going to work out like he wanted them to. When it comes to being a Winchester, things never go like you want them to. The plan itself was simple: Sam was going to get doped up on demon blood, say yes to Lucifer, and then try to keep control. Then Dean was going to come along and use the Enochian incantation to expel Lucifer from his brother's body. It wasn't a plan that Dean had liked—especially not the part where Sam said yes to Lucifer—but it was the only one that he could get his brother to go along with. Sam had argued that no one else would be strong enough to hold Lucifer in check while Dean said the incantation, and he was partially right. It was only after Lucifer had nearly beaten him to a bloody pulp, while he was gasping like a fish in Lucifer's arms that Sam was able to force his way back to the surface. As Sam had held his brother in his arms, Dean recited the incantation and focused everything he had on his brother, on getting him back.
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, there had been a painfully bright light. He had kept a strong grip on his brother, even when he felt him collapsing. After the light faded, he had opened his eyes and found Sam exhausted and trembling and in pain, but it was Sam.
"Dean, you're—" Sam had been choking on his words, every noise causing him pain.
"I'm fine. Let's just get…the hell outta here," he had answered. Neither one of them had been in any condition to drive, and it was a small miracle that they had made it to a motel before dropping onto a bed and sleeping for sixteen hours straight. Only after that, after the worst migraine of Sam's life had faded, did they call Cas. He had shown up promptly, and his first reaction had been to heal Dean.
Dean hadn't allowed it.
Since he had returned from 2014, Sam had been asking him about what he'd seen. Dean had answered every question that Sam had asked; Sam just wasn't asking the right questions. He asked about Cas and Bobby; he asked about whether or not had had said yes. When Dean explained about the incantation, he asked where he had found it. Dean had told the truth: someone in his camp had been able to translate it from Chuck's writing.
What Dean didn't tell his brother was that he had seen that his future self was in love with the person who had translated their incantation; he didn't tell his brother that he had a little girl; he didn't tell his brother that he had watched his future self hold his wife while they both bled out and died in the middle of some abandoned road. When he got back, he had been numb. He didn't tell his brother that he had gained and lost everything in the span of three days; he didn't show Sam the picture of a red-haired woman holding a smiling chubby-cheeked kid with matching red hair that he had snatched from the Jeep.
When he had been emotionally numb and more of a violent alcoholic than usual, Sam had chalked it up to the fact that the future had been horribly bleak. Dean wasn't feeling anything with any real depth; not when a ghost had knocked him on his ass or when a pagan god had had nearly gutted him like a fish. He hadn't really felt anything because that meant feeling the loss of his daughter and wife.
But when Cas had wanted to heal him then, after they had beaten Lucifer, all he could think of was watching his future self holding Cason while she was dying. He heard his own dying words ringing loud and clear in his head.
"Stop this. You stop this. Do you understand me?"
And then he didn't want to be numb anymore. He wanted to feel everything: pain and joy and sadness and anger and surprise. So he had grabbed Cas's hand and said, "No. Let me feel it." Cas had stared at him long and hard for a moment before pulling his hand away and leaving Dean to feel every harsh stabbing pain and ache that Lucifer had inflicted on him.
Now, as he was stepping into the warm spray of the shower, he was still grateful for it. He wasn't grateful that he was a walking reminder to his brother about Sam's failure—though Dean didn't think of it that way—but he was grateful that he was feeling things again. No, it didn't make him feel any better about the fact that Cason was out there somewhere and didn't even know that she had helped to save the world, but at least he was feeling something again.
When he finally got out of the shower and dressed, Sam had breakfast and a cup of coffee waiting for him on the table. Sam was talking a low voice on the phone to someone—probably Bobby—about whatever it was that he had been charting. If it had been up to Sam, they would have been working a case the day after taking out Lucifer. However, since Dean wasn't in tip-top shape, he had taken to finding cases and calling Bobby so that Bobby could try to send someone else to work it.
"This is FBI Special Agent Mick Scott from the Charleston field office. I need to speak with an…Inspector Bennent. Yes, it's about the recent assaults you've been investigating. Thank you," Sam said, though it was obvious that he was trying to keep the snark out of his voice. He sat on hold for several minutes before anyone came to the phone.
"Yes, Inspector Bennet? This is FBI Special Agent Mick Scott from the Charleston field office. I've been tracking the recent assaults that you've been having in the news. They appear to be similar to some that occurred here in Charleston last year, and I wanted to confirm any details so that we can put you in touch with the officer that worked the case down there."
Sam asked a series of questions and furiously jotted down all the answers while apparently providing answers to any questions that Inspector Bennet had. Sam put three more push pins into his map as he listened, his frown getting deeper and deeper the more he listened.
"Yes, I understand. Thank you. The contact in the Charleston Police Department is Inspector Ricci. Yes, that's right, R-I-C-C-I. Yes, I'll see what I can do. Thank you, sir."
"What was that about?" Dean asked between bites of pancake.
"I've found this case, but Bobby says that there's not anyone in the area that can handle it. Or not anyone that will handle it, anyway," Sam answered. "Dean, I know you're not a hundred percent yet. I'll handle the case if you'll just come with me. Please."
He was giving Dean the puppy dog face, the one that was practically begging to take this case. It was another chance for redemption, and not one that Sam was willing to pass up. As much as Dean needed to feel something—even if that was just the pain of his own injuries—Sam needed this in the same way.
"What's the case?" Dean relented. Sam sighed in relief.
"In Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the past two weeks there, have been five women who have reported being sexually assaulted in their homes. Normally, I would just say pervert, but all of the witnesses have said that there was a fiery light outside their houses before and after. There have been burnt patches near each of the crime scenes—"
"Did the cops do a drug test?"
"Yeah. All but one have had alcohol in their system, but none of the levels were out of the legal limit."
"And the same thing happened…where?" Dean asked.
"It happened in Charleston, SC last summer. Twelve victims in a month, all reporting the fiery lights outside the window," Sam said, though his voice had a foreboding undertone in it. "Of the twelve victims, nine died. Two are in a coma and one has lasting brain damage. She can't speak. Funny thing is, there wasn't any head trauma in any of the victims. They got a fever within thirty-six hours of the attack and were dead within first two in Winston-Salem are already dead, the third and fourth are already sick, and the fifth will be sick within twelve hours."
"Have their been any other patterns between the two?"
"All the victims have been college students. In Charleston, they went to the College of Charleston. This time we're looking at Wake Forest. And all victims have shared the same physical profile: petite build, pale skin, naturally red hair."
Dean froze as his mind started to put together everything that his brother was saying: Wake Forest; petite, red-haired women; sexual assault. Before he thought better of it, his hand flew to the jacket pocket on his chest and pulled out the crinkled, well-worn picture as if he could keep her safe by staring at her picture.
He was moving before he even started talking. "It's in Winston-Salem, right? That's a…thirteen hour drive. We've gotta get moving."
"It's a sixteen hour drive, at least," Sam corrected, staring at his brother in shock. He wasn't aware that his brother could move that fast.
They made it in thirteen.
"The last victim was at a bar before she was attacked. Do you want to take the bar or the house?" Sam asked.
Dean didn't even grin at the question like the normally would have. Instead, he said, in a rushed, urgent tone, "I'll drop you off at the house and then go on to the bar. The bar's within walking distance."
He practically pushed his brother out of the car and took off for the bar, not bothering to see if anyone was home. When he pulled up in front of the bar, he had to stop and try to find some semblance of composure. He was working the case, and he was going to figure out what the hell was doing this, and he was going to keep Cason safe—even if she didn't know about it. Before he went in, he picked up his phone and dialed Bobby.
Before Bobby even said hello, Dean was already talking. "Bobby, we're working a case in Winston-Salem at Wake Forest. I need you to look up a student for me. The name is Cason Butler. Find anything and everything you can about her and call me back."
As he hung up, he was already walking inside, completely ignoring the pain in his ribs and face. Inside, the bar was smoky and dark. Most of the light in the room came from the lights over the bar, where they had a jukebox and a very impressive display of alcohol. Several pool tables were situated in the middle of the room with tables and booths pushed into the shadowy corners. With a sigh that sent a sharp pain tearing through his ribs, he pushed his way through the sea of college students and made his way to the bar.
He hadn't been in his seat more than two seconds before a bartender was there. "You look like you've had a long day. I'm betting you're a whiskey man."
And then—for a moment—he couldn't breathe. She didn't look the same as she had the last time he'd seen her, but she was just as beautiful. The tired circles that he had seen under her eyes last time were gone; she didn't have the worry lines around her mouth. The determined glint he had seen in her eyes was now playful. But her smile was the same. It was still a smile that could turn razor sharp in a minute or that could charm the birds from their nests.
"Are you alright?" she asked when he didn't answer.
"I'm doing just fine. I'm Dean," he said, extending his hand.
"And do you have a last name, Dean?"
"Winchester. Dean Winchester."
"Well, Dean Winchester, it's nice to meet you. I'm Cason. Cason Butler."
This time, his smile was genuine, and her's was too when she smiled back.
"It's nice to meet you too, Cason."
Author's Note: And that concludes "The World As We Know It." Thank you guys for sticking it out with me and being patient and reviewing and loving Cason and Kendel as much as I do. The decision to have Dean undo it all kinda killed me, too. So anyway...I know I kinda left you with a little bit of a cliffhanger (sorta-kinda-maybe-not really), and to remedy that, I will be writing a sequel. Be on the lookout. Please review and thanks for sticking with me!