After the Dust Has Settled

November 2nd, 2013

The dark blue SUV with the yellow and red license plate jounces down the dirt road carpeted with fallen leaves. There is more autumnal confetti on the ground than on the trees at this point, and the few still clinging to their branches are vivid with color. It's a change from New Mexico, where the seasons are more subtle,

Sam knows he's early, but he can't help himself. He's looked forward to the reunion ever since he'd gotten the first e-mail. It's been a little over two years since he's last seen Dean, and it's time to forget all the arguments, sacrifices and lies the Apocalypse had helped bring about. It's time to be brothers again.

The fact that he's two hours early...that's okay. He can put the time to good use. That's plenty of time to set up camp in, and he can always---son of a bitch. He's not the only one who's early.

As he emerges from the lane into the open field by the lake, the first thing he sees is the glossy black presence of the Impala. The fact that Dean, who's never been known for punctuality, is already here reassures Sam that the reunion means something to him. He's been low-key about it in the e-mails they've exchanged, and he probably won't admit it---but here's proof. The second thing he sees is a dome tent in the shade of some pine trees---which, since it's only ten a.m., means Dean's been there all night.

Sam smiles.

Then he spots Dean, standing on the dock, looking toward the hills that surround the lakeside valley. He taps his horn, and Dean turns and watches as he parks beside the Impala.

Okay, the important thing is to reconnect. Sam takes a deep breath as he turns the key to shut the truck down. The past is past, they've survived the Apocalypse, saved the world---the rest is trivia and can be forgotten. He needs to take it easy, respect his brother's privacy. Don't pressure Dean for details of his new life. That's going to be the hardest part---he's consumed with curiosity.

He's rummaging around in the back of the SUV when Dean approaches.

"Hey, Sammy! Long time, no see!" Dean embraces him, thumps him on the back, smiling.

"Looking good!" Sam says, and means it. After all those years of ever-increasing tension it seems as if Dean has found peace. There aren't as many worry-lines on his face as there had been by the end of the crisis, and he no longer holds himself as if bracing for an attack.

"You too...cowboy." He should've seen that coming. Sam's gotten so used to wearing western shirts and cowboy boots with his jeans that it's his normal, now. "What, no mammoth belt buckle?"

"I knew I forgot something. But I brought beer. Want one?" Dean hasn't changed much---today's ensemble is jeans and a tee under a flannel shirt and drab jacket, with work boots---when he'd heard about Dean going back to school, he'd wondered if preppy was going to be his new norm, but apparently not, at least not on this trip.

"You didn't have to, Did you think I was gonna forget beer?"

Sam grins as he lifts the lid on the cooler in the back of the SUV. "Yeah, but I brought the good stuff."

His brother inspects the brown bottles, clearly skeptical. "'Sagebrush Ale'...'Dry Gulch Ale'. 'Palomino Honey Lager'. 'Old Paint Lager'. 'Brewed by Boot Hill Beerworks'---what the hell---?"

"Local microbrews," he says, reaching for the Palomino. "Try the Sagebrush, I think you'll like it."

Dean's disbelief lasts only as long as it takes to uncap the bottle and sip. "Not bad. What the hell? You brought a barbecue grill to camp out?" He gestures toward an already-dug fire-pit.

"This is not one of Dad's camp-outs," Sam says as he hauls it to the vicinity of the fire-pit and sets it up. "We don't have to start a fire with a couple pieces of flint, twigs and shavings, or incinerate dinner on a stick. We don't have to catch it and kill it, either, for that matter. And I notice you brought a tent, and I'll bet there's a real sleeping bag in there."

"You got that right." Dean lifts the bottle in a toast. "Here's to knowing how to do it the old-fashioned way---and being able to do it the twenty-first century way!"

"I'll drink to that."

Their bottles clink together and there's a moment of quiet, interrupted by one of Dean's classic belches. "So what happened?" he asks. "I thought you were headed back to California."

Well, there's a switch. Dean's the first to start asking what the other's been up to.

"It didn't work out," Sam says finally. "I think I could've talked my way back into school, but...I looked around, and I felt about fifty years older than all those baby-faced kids walking around campus. We stopped the Apocalypse and I'm supposed to get all worked up about textbooks and term papers and keggers?" He shakes his head. "I roamed around for a few months,. Finally got to see the Grand Canyon, by the way. Stopped for gas outside of Taos, met this girl, got to talking..." Sam remembers the red-gold light of the afternoon, the petite girl with the flashy pinto pony...her smile.... "She has a ranch and rents out cabins on the side. I've been there ever since."

"You have something going on there? Is she hot? Why didn't you bring her along?" Dean settles himself on his own ice chest and looks expectantly at Sam over the neck of his bottle.

"Yes and yes, and Gen had plans of her own this week. She's competing in a big quarter-horse event. Besides, she doesn't know much about my past and I didn't think this would be a good way to break it to her." The ice is broken. Sam asks, "How are things with you and Lisa?"

It's Dean's turn to fall briefly silent. "I'm still surprised she took me back, after the last time I saw her. At first, I kept waiting for it to go wrong, for me to get bored or her to get bitchy---but it's not boring. Oh, we had some fights---she put her foot down about me sitting around the house playing 'Zombie Wars' on Ben's Xbox---but she was right. It wasn't doing me any good, just keeping me all PTSD. That's how I ended up going back to school."

"Good for her."

"Good for me, too. After all the shit we went, term papers? Are a breeze compared to demons and angels and all that bullshit. The world is not gonna end if I get a C-minus on some stupid test. No pressure! It's great."

Something inside Sam shifts, like a compass needle swinging to magnetic north. Dean's just put his anxieties into perspective with a couple simple sentences. For the first time in a long time, Dean's his all-knowing big brother again, the one he idolized as a kid. He never expected to get that feeling back; it's peculiar and reassuring at the same time.

"Are you really majoring in religion?" he blurts, because it's been messing with his head ever since he first heard it..

Dean laughs. "Yeah, wild, huh? I figured World Religions would be an easy 'A' while I was piling up entry level courses...except I kept having these big debates with the prof in the middle of class, and he'd tell me to go look up such and such, and I'd counter with other shit, and...I dunno, I wanted more. Knowing what's out there made it easy in ways I didn't expect. Hey, do you know what CLEP is? It's where you take tests to find out if you can get credits for stuff you already know. I CLEP'ed freakin' Latin. Who knew twenty-something years of exorcisms would be good for my foreign language requirement?"

It's on the tip of Sam's tongue to ask if he's planning to turn pro, but that's a little too direct for the first hour they're together. Although given the number of times Dean has impersonated clergy, it's certainly not difficult to picture. So he finishes unloading his supplies---Dean's gonna love the range-fed beef he's brought in the other cooler---and they bring each other up to date.

"I heard from Martin. He's doing a lot better, he's in a transitional living facility outside of the hospital."

"So, one flew out of the cuckoo's nest?" Dean jibes. "That's great, he's a good guy."

"He's not going back to hunting, though. Says he's retired."

"There's not a whole lot left to hunt, anyway. And that's just fine with me."

"Me too," Sam agrees. "There's a ghost town not too far from the ranch, and I've been out there with an EMF. Nothing!"

"Hey, we went to see Chuck and Becky over 4th of July weekend---did you know Becky's got a bun in the oven?"

Sam nods. "Yeah, she's due around the New Year. They couldn't tell from the sonogram if it's a boy or girl, but they've decided on Angela if it's a girl. The last I heard, they were still wrangling over boy names."

"Can't decide between Sam or Dean?"

"Actually, it's between Archibald or Victor---his dad or hers."

"Archibald Shurley? Geez, I hope Becky wins that one. The kid'll be toast before he's eight with a name like that."

"I suggested they might want to use that as his middle name. They're thinking about it."

The conversation has worked its way from Chuck's books to last summer's movies, when a familiar vehicle chugs into the meadow. Bobby's not alone in the Chevelle, and the Winchesters exchange glances.

"What the hell? Sam, did you know---?"

"It's news to me, too, Dean."

Bobby may have a few more threads of silver in his beard, otherwise he looks like he always has, from his disreputable trucker cap to his battered work boots. His companion has changed demonstrably. Before being shut out of Hell, Crowley had always worn custom-tailored suits. Now, in a butter-yellow polo shirt and khaki Dockers, he projects an air of suburban harmlessness.

"Oh look, it's a Guppy," Dean comments in an undertone.

"Oscar and Felix," Sam mutters back as the two stretch and stroll toward them.

"Huh?" Dean is puzzled by the reference. "I remember Oscar the Grouch, but the only Felix I remember is Felix the Cat."

"He's referring to 'The Odd Couple'," remarks Crowley as Bobby and the Winchesters hug. "Which was not set in South Dakota, FYI. Gentlemen, it's good to see you again."

"You too," Sam says, extending his hand more out of politeness than any real liking. Dean just grunts.

The expatriate demon doesn't seem to take it personally. "Perhaps a refreshing beverage would enhance the conviviality of the occasion," he murmurs, and with a nod, the side of the campfire facing the lake blossoms with assorted gear, including cartons of bottles:

"He's a handy guy to have around," Bobby chuckles as Sam and Dean blink. "We've got beer and root beer. Pick yer poison."

"We've also got some rather nice forty-year old Scotch," Crowley announces with a look at Bobby.

"I'm saving that for toasts," Bobby growls at him. "I'd better not catch you getting into it before that."

Crowley holds up his hands, placating. "Wouldn't dream of it, dear boy."

"After that long drive, a cold root beer would hit the spot, while you're at it, Felix."

"Now look at what you've started," Crowley chides Sam. One of the bottles hovers in mid-air, and the cap pops off by itself. A chilled mug appears beside the bottle, which tilts and pours its contents into the glass. "Here you go, Oscar."

Bobby intercepts the mug with its head of foam and sips with gusto. "Like I said, he has his uses."

"I should think I've proven that."

Sam wonders at the undertone to the banter, but the idea of Bobby and Crowley as a couple is so disturbing that he decides he's imagining it. That's what happens when you start drinking beer before noon.

"Rufus says 'hi', by the way," Bobby announces. "He couldn't make it. He's on his honeymoon."

"No shit?" Dean shakes his head. "Who did he find to marry him? I mean, talk about a grouch!"

The old hunter practically has feathers coming out of his mouth. It's quite a canary from the way he's smirking. "You didn't hear? He hooked up with Missouri Moseley."

Sam bursts out laughing. "You know, I can see that," he says to Dean, who's still shaking his head in bemusement. "She tells it like it is, He's a cut-to-the-chase kind of guy. I wonder what would make a good wedding present...?"

"Separate honeymoons," Dean mutters. "Or his and hers---listen."

"Sounds like a hog," Bobby says after a moment. "Coming this way."

The rumbling thunder comes closer. The bike emerges from the tree-line and roars toward them at speed. It doesn't look like it's going to stop---Dean dives for cover behind the row of coolers and Sam's about to bolt for the lake, when the rider brakes hard, skewing wildly and showering them with a rooster-tail of grass and pebbles. It's incredibly reckless, and Sam gazes at the rider in disbelief as he silences the bike and snaps the kickstand down.

Of them all, Castiel has changed most. Gone is the so-called 'holy tax accountant' of old. A dark gray rag is wrapped like a headband across his forehead and his hair is pulled back in a ponytail. By contrast, his stubble is only a day or so old, The beige raincoat has been replaced by a black motorcycle jacket with silvery zippers over a tee shirt. Black leather chaps over jeans cling to his long legs. Steel-capped black boots complete the look.

He looks fierce, Sam thinks. You wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley.

Dean rises and dusts himself off. "Cas, are you out of your mind? You could break your neck doing shit like that!"

The former angel says quietly, "It's the only way I can bear not having wings of my own. Hello, Dean. Sam."

Before they can begin another round of man-hugs, a distinct, "Idjit!" is audible---but there's no one else there.

"Over-react much?" Invisible Bobby grumbles. There's no sign of him or Crowley.

"Bobby?" Sam raises his voice. "Where are you?"

"Up here." He waves from the branch of one of the pines behind the tent. "I guess this bird-brain thinks it's time to fly south for the winter."

Crowley returns to the ground and looks up "Who are you calling a bird-brain?" he asks pleasantly. "I was removing you from what I perceived as harm's way, but if you don't want my help, feel free to make your own way back down."

"Either of you boys have a rope?"

"I've got one, Bobby," Sam assures him, and turns toward the SUV.

"That won't be necessary," says Crowley, and Bobby is standing beside him again. "Because I can just imagine what a mess it would turn into, and really, nobody wants that."

"Good to see you, Cas. Nice bike."

It is a nice bike, if you're into bikes. Sam admires the smoke-grey pearl paint on the tank and frame and the shiny chrome everything else, though he doesn't fancy it as a ride. But then, he's never had wings of his own, either.

Castiel's smile is, a tight-lipped version of its former glory. "Thank you, Bobby." He glances around at them. "What have I missed? I thought I was reasonably punctual. In fact---" There's a sturdy chrome timepiece on his wrist "---I believe I'm fifteen minutes early. Was I mistaken about the time?"

"Dude, it's all good," Dean grins. "Let's get this party started! Beer?"

Cas accepts a beer from Dean, while Bobby sets up a couple canvas folding chairs. His is camo-patterned while Crowley's is pin-striped. The demon stands by offering advice and sipping from a martini glass, complete with olive. Sam finishes assembling the grill and his tools to his satisfaction. "Anybody for burgers?"

There's a unanimous chorus of agreement, and soon the aroma of beef on the grill fills the air.

It's good, being with his family again. Bobby was right, all those years ago---family isn't just blood kin, it's the people you'd go through Hell for. In Castiel's case, he sacrificed Heaven for them. Crowley...well, he's more like a half-assed in-law, but he was there when it counted.

Bobby's talking with Dean about his planned retirement. He wants to sell off the salvage yard and relocate, he and Crowley have been talking about starting up a boutique operation, restoring classic cars. There is something innately funny about hearing the words "boutique operation" coming out of Bobby's mouth.

"What does he know about fixing cars?" Dean is suspicious.

"Not a damn thing," Bobby replies amiably. "I figure I'd be doing that end of it, he'd be handling sales and PR and all that crap. You know me, I'd rather be fiddling with engines than shaking hands and making nice-nice. If there's anybody who could get top dollar out of a buyer, it'd be him."

"Yeah, he'd make a good used car salesman, that's for sure."

Crowley meanders over to Sam. "The most difficult part has been talking him into it," the demon confides. "Really, Bobby needs a change of scene. That house of his is dreadfully depressing, the community is about as welcoming as a school of piranha and the climate is ghastly. You're in the southwest now, aren't you? How do you like it?"

Sam shrugs. "I'm kind of out in the boonies, I think you'd need someplace bigger to support that kind of business."

"Certainly. But from what I've gathered, that area is good for acquiring older cars that haven't been rusted out from road salt, which would be ideal for our purposes." Crowley glances toward Bobby and shakes his head. "And, as I said, the winters are less severe. He had a nasty chest cold last winter while I was away for a few days, and I'm just glad I got back when I did,"

"Me, too. I talked to him in January and he sounded like he was going to hack up a lung, but he said it was nothing much."

The demon sighs. "Of course, he'd say that. Stubborn old cuss...."

"Are you talking about me?" Bobby demands from across the fire-pit.

"But there's nothing wrong with his ears."

"Damn straight."

Sam's rummaging through his number three cooler, Perishables, for cheese---the first two coolers are Beer and Beef---when an unfamiliar voice says, "Whoa, cool bike!"

The speaker is a dark-haired boy in his late teens, tall, but not yet filled out. He's dressed for hiking, and walks around the parked motorcycle with an expression of rapt admiration. The way his hands are twitching, he clearly wants to stroke the gleaming chrome, but he's holding himself back.

"Yeah, I thought we'd be hearing from you once the cooking started." Dean raises his voice "Everyone, this is Ben. Ben, this is your Uncle Bobby and his friend Mr. Crowley. Do not make any deals with Mr. Crowley, understand?"

"Dean, I'm wounded."

"You'll be more than that if you mess with the kid, got that? And this is Castiel---"

"That's a great bike!" Ben says, without waiting for Dean to finish. The jacket is a giveaway.

"Thank you, Ben. Do you ride?"

"I want to, I've been saving up for a ride of my own. Just, you know, a starter bike. But yours is insane."

Cas crosses over to where Ben is standing, and for the first time, Sam notices the back of his jacket. In swirls and swoops of silver script are the words: Team Free Will. Beneath the legend is a single fallen feather.

"Ahem!" Dean clears his throat. He shoots Ben a look. "My brother, Sam."

Somebody raised the kid right, because he walks over and extends his hand. Sam straightens up, and discovers that he and Ben are eye-to-eye. It's a little disconcerting; Sam is used to being the biggest guy in the room.

"It's a wise man who knows his own child," says Crowley, nibbling on the olive from his drink.

"She says he's not!" Dean protests, and Sam catches Ben rolling his eyes.

"Good to meet you, Sam," Ben says politely as they shake, but he's back at Castiel's side as soon as Sam nods and says, "You too."

Somewhat to Sam's surprise, Dean doesn't argue with Crowley's comment. He's wondering if maybe Bobby would part with the Chevelle; Lisa would have a shit-fit if Ben got a motorcycle, but at least this way, he'll have a classic ride. Anyway, it'll be classy by the time they're done with it, it would make a good project for them to work on together. And this way, maybe he'll stop asking to borrow the Impala. Bobby hems and haws, but doesn't say 'no' outright.

Lunch goes well, and afterward, Bobby fishes off the end of the dock, with Crowley beside him, reading The Wall Street Journal. Dean has yielded to Ben's importunings and lets Castiel give him a ride. Sam leans against the SUV while Dean inspects the Chevelle.

"Ben looks like Dad, don't you think?"

"I think the transmission seals on this puppy are shot." Dean grumbles from beneath the old Chevy. "Look, it doesn't matter. As long as I'm with his mother, he's my kid, even if he's not my son."

"How can you say it doesn't matter? What if he is?"

"Lisa's already done all the hard work. I'm late to the party and making it up as I go along. We get along okay, but---he's eighteen. I figure the best thing I can do is not be a bad influence. As long as he stays out of jail and doesn't hate my guts, I figure I'm doing okay. And this power steering pump has a leak."

"What if---"

"Sam!" Dean slides out and gives him the hairy eyeball. "Look, do me a favor---drop it. This is between me and Lisa and Ben, comprende?"

Sam remembers his earlier resolve to give Dean his privacy. "Okay, you're right. Not my business."

"So, tell me more about your cowgirl. Is it serious?"

He has to think about that for a moment. He could say, "Define serious", but that would be stalling. What he has with Gen is comfortable, in a way he hasn't felt in a long time. The string of one-night stands he had after Jess's death---even if he'd felt a connection, they had either been superficial or ended tragically. He refuses to think about his affair with Ruby; that had been madness.

"It's good," he says after a moment's cogitation. "She's passionate and generous and honest---"

"Passionate, huh?" Dean smirks and reaches for his beer.

That's none of Dean's business. "Outside the bedroom, jerk. Like, she feels intensely about things. She loves her horses and works hard around the ranch and she gives everything 110 percent. But she stops to watch the sun set, she's rescued a whole pack of dogs and cats that hang around the place, she enjoys long, lazy Sunday afternoons...."

"Sounds like you're gone." Dean's moved to a sitting position, his back against the Chevelle's left front tire. "You're all dewy-eyed when you talk about her."

"I could do a lot worse---and before you say it, I know: I have."

"I wasn't gonna say it." Dean raises his hands. "Hey, I'm glad to hear you've got someone. It bugged me, thinking about you roaming around by your lonesome while I'm all happily shacked up in suburbia."

"I've got barbed wire instead of a white picket fence, but that's okay. Life on the CW suits me just fine."

"So what do you think is going on with Bobby and Crowley?" The pair in question is still ensconced on the dock.

"Don't know, don't want to know. Bobby's got his soul back, he's a grown man, who he wants to hang out with is his business." Dean's expression is dubious, and Sam feels a little guilty. That was, after all, the same justification he'd used when he was screwing around with Ruby and drinking demon blood. "Crowley honestly seems to care about him," Sam says, trying to build a case. "Bobby's not...he doesn't...I mean, I don't see him getting 'all dewy-eyed' about a demon, do you?"

"God, no. It's just...weird. Not so much the 'odd' as the 'couple'." Dean grimaces.

"Second verse, same as the first: It's Bobby's life. I don't know if they're a couple-couple, and again, I don't need to know, I don't want to know. He's healthy, he's happy, he doesn't have to be a hunter any more---shouldn't that be enough?"

"I guess. I think he's doing better than Cas, if it comes to that. While you were playing Bobby Flay, he told me he was looking forward to getting old and dying, but if you ask me, he acts like he's willing to skip the 'getting old' part."

"I don't buy that. I think it's another experience for him. How old is he, really? Pretty old. Most of it without changing at all, without having a physical self to worry about---he's got a better idea than we do about what really happens after we die. We think we remember, but that could've been more of Zachariah screwing with us. Or Jeremiah. I don't really trust any of that bunch. But if Cas says he's looking forward to it, it must be good, right?"

"I hope you're right. What he said about riding being the closest thing to having wings...I have a feeling that he thinks dying would be a second chance at Heaven."

"If that was true, do you think he'd still be here?"

"I hope you're right," Dean says again with a sigh. "Come on, let's see if we can get Team Free Will to park it and go round up some firewood."

The four of them walk beneath the skeletal canopy of branches. Ben reports having seen several downed trees during his earlier hike, "It was good, dry wood, too," he says, and it is.

While Dean splits it and Ben stacks, Sam uses the activity to ease up beside Cas. "How've you been?" he asks.

Castiel regards him with his brilliant blue eyes. "I'm well, thank you, Sam." is his courteous reply. He tilts his head, a familiar mannerism, "Is there something specific you'd like to address?"

"May I ask you a personal question?"

"You know, Sam, the difference between you and Dean is, Dean would simply ask the question."

"What do you look forward to?"

This time, the head-tilt is accompanied by a quirk of dark brows. "I'm afraid I don't understand your question."

Sam takes a deep breath. "I've been looking forward to this get-together for weeks. Tonight, I'm looking forward to steak for dinner and the toasts after dinner. Monday, I'm looking forward to getting home and kissing my girlfriend---" The word 'home' reverberates in his head. Has he ever called any place 'home' before? "It'll be Thanksgiving in a few weeks, and I have a lot to be thankful for. And in December---"

"Sam---" the fallen angel interrupts. "It's sounds to me like you're spending so much time looking ahead to things that you aren't appreciating the moment. I read something by an anonymous philosopher that sums it up perfectly: 'Yesterday is but a memory, tomorrow is only a vision. Today is a rare gift, that's why it's called the present.'."

That's a bumper sticker, Sam wants to say, but refrains. Maybe it's a sign of how human Cas really is now, that he's aware of how fragile and finite life is. "That's a very good point, Cas. Thank you for reminding me. I was just concerned..."

"About what?"

"You gave up so much. Was it worth it?"

"It's a tremendous adventure. Free will is a precious thing, and I treasure it, but it's far from the only gift I've been given. For so long, I pitied humanity---their abilities were so limited, I thought---but I've discovered that they possess an infinite capacity for creativity to overcome those challenges. It's very stimulating to realize that I have that as well. I'm no longer limited to obedience and orders---I can make my own decisions and set goals for myself and invent ways to achieve those goals."

"But isn't setting goals another way of looking ahead?" Sam argues.

Cas smiles, the radiant smile of old. "I guess it must be human nature," he ripostes.

They all haul wood back to the campsite, making multiple trips, ensuring that they'll have enough for a good bonfire. Before Dean can shatter the stillness of the little valley with AC/DC as he's threatening to, Sam plugs his iPod into the speaker base and calls up his Carlos Nakai playlist. The Native American flute harmonies are magical in the golden light of sunset, conjuring images of wind, water and sky. As he'd hoped, it's just as haunting in this unspoiled forest setting as it is in the southwest desert. No one objects. Not even Dean.

While Dean and Ben assemble the bonfire kindling in the fire-pit, Sam starts dinner preparations. Crowley helps by carving radishes into rosettes for garnish---although Sam doesn't remember bringing radishes. Bobby and Castiel are setting up Bobby's tent. The group's energy is mellow, and Sam feels a sense of peace.

Later, when the bonfire crackles and the moon is a sliver overhead, Bobby distributes highball glasses, fills them with Scotch. Ben looks hopeful, but Bobby serves him root beer instead. Castiel declines, producing a bottle of tequila from his saddlebag, and though he politely offers to share it, there are no takers.

"You mind?" Dean asks as he accepts his glass from Bobby.

"Go right ahead. I don't reckon we're going anywhere."

Dean raises his glass. "Thirty years ago tonight was when it started----at least, that's what we thought for a long time. It really started way before that, but tonight is the anniversary of our mother's death. Sam and I lost her, and our dad, too, because of it, Mom, Dad, we love you. We miss you. To John and Mary Winchester!"

Everyone knocks back a swallow in memory, and Sam is the next to lift his drink. "We also lost the younger brother we never really got to know," he says, hot with regret and whiskey. It would have been cool to be the older brother for a change. "Here's to Adam Milligan."

"A lot of other good people died," Bobby says after they've drunk to Adam's memory. "Ellen and Jo Harvelle, two of the bravest people I've ever known, my old friend wife, Karen---" He chokes up and takes a gulp of the booze, moisture glinting on his cheeks in the firelight.

Castiel raises his bottle after they've drunk Bobby's toast. The fierce look makes a mask of his features. He clears his throat. "To all my brothers and sisters who died. Some of them were misguided, others were betrayed. All are missed."

"To Victor Hendrickson," Dean proposes. "And Nancy, and everyone else who got in Lilith's way. And to everybody who got hosed by Azazel. I'm just sorry I couldn't kill that son of a bitch more than once."

"To the real Meg Masters." Sam says somberly. "And a lot of other people who didn't survive their exorcisms."

There's a moment of silence after that, and then Crowley says, "To Giovanni!"

"Who the hell is Giovanni?" demands Bobby. Sam silently seconds that; he's not about to toast any demon, present company included.

"Giovanni was my late tailor," Crowley informs them. He looks down at his current attire. "I do miss him."

"You're not funny," Bobby growls.

"I'm absolutely sincere!"

"Dean, can I have a real beer?" Ben asks suddenly.

Dean hesitates, shrugs and pulls one out of their cooler. "Don't tell your mom, okay?"

The youth stands a little taller as he holds up the red, white and blue can. "You guys are the ones who deserve to be toasted. You could've given up---most people would have! But you didn't. You kept going even though the odds were crazy against you. You saved me, and my mom, and her mom in Florida, and the forty-one kids I graduated with last June and six billion other people who have no freakin' clue. You guys are total heroes. You rock!"

Six billion people with no clue---he's right about that.

"Here's to peace!" Sam says.

There are nods around the circle, and Dean says, "I'll drink to that."

The End