A/N: I love to make guesses and scenarios of my own if for no other reason than to see how close or far to the mark I get. Apologies to SamGirls. I might write the next one, depending on the feedback.
It required every ounce of his willpower to keep the tears and heartache at bay. The night Dean stumbled to Lisa's doorstep, he did so under the strength of shock. She held him, fed him, after a few hours and several beers, she put him to bed.
Dean covered his tumultuous pain with masks and denial. He repeatedly told himself that Sam was just in college. That's all. The last five years never existed. Their father died a good, peaceful death ...
Lie. Lie. Lie.
Dean kept that facade in place and it carried him all of two weeks. By then he found an under-the-table job as a part-time mechanic. He buried himself in mindless work and the bottle. He played daddy to little Ben and tried to be a good man to Lisa.
The operative word: 'tried'. Everything reminded him of Sam.
And Sam was in Hell.
Sam was in Hell.
Dean paid bills and cut the lawn. He repaired household problems and picked up Ben from school. He used Lisa's car because he could not drive the Impala. She was part of a life long since gone. Dean washed her, polished her and covered her with a black shroud. He sealed her in storage. He scrubbed, burned and locked up all evidence of his former life. He pretended all the scars on his body did not exist. He could not even look at the tattoo over his left breast. He brushed it off as unimportant when Lisa asked. Please, please don't ask anymore!
But as fast as Dean fortified walls around his fragile psyche, the abyss in his soul tore them down. Just a few years ago, he and Sam became orphans. Just a while ago, he became the sole survivor of a family cursed and dead.
It was like reliving Cold Oak all over again. Except that Cold Oak haunted him day after day. Sam made him promise not to bring him back. Dean became a zombie inside. Each day he wallowed through the mundane. Then nightmares hit.
Three nights in a row, Dean retired at the same time. The dreams trapped him with memories and visions of horror. He changed his sleep patterns with the same results. He took sleeping pills, drank more then drank less. The same scenarios, sometimes even worse dreams lashed through his mind, leaving him screaming, cold and emotionally distraught.
Lisa tried to understand. But he met her consolatory attempts with hostility, denial and eventually, shouting matches.
"I want you to get help, Dean," she ordered. "You've been through something I can't fix. Get help or you'll self destruct."
Dean refused at first. The whole shrink thing only dredged up memories of another case (what DIDN'T remind him of one case or another?). But the intense nightmares shackled him to his inner turmoil. One such night, he fled the bed, the vision still blood-fresh. He tripped over the blankets, landed hard on the floor and curled in, holding himself tightly. Dean called Sam's name over and over. Lisa helplessly wept.
Doctor Cambers could not see Dean due to a schedule conflict. So the office asked if he'd mind a visit with Doctor Swiftsen.
"Is she good looking?" Dean winked as he casually scripted his john henry across the registration slip. The receptionist, a chubby, cranky thing, merely scowled at him. Dean took a seat in the waiting room and stared at a painting while the TV quietly played the Weather Channel.
This was normal? Work, house work, yard work... the weather channel. None of it added to anything more than more work.
Dean rolled his head to the left and listened to a couple quietly bicker about finances and why the water bill was so high. A toddler sat on the floor at their feet and proceeded to pull a doll apart.
Some older lady, stationed several seats away, just sat and stared. The blank expression told Dean she too suffered her own private hell. Dean's body languished under evil memories. He always prayed he'd not live a life of loneliness. I'm so tired, Sam, he'd often say.
Sam. Sam. Not having Sam there was like losing breath. Dean choked on his tears and bit his lip to maintain control.
The nurse's voice shocked him because Dean realized he used his real name. How stupid was that? His father would kick his ass into tomorrow. Dean did not meet her smile. He concentrated on the next breath, on blocking tears, on keeping himself intact.
The nurse led him to a small room complete with a love seat, a desk, a floor-to-ceiling shelf and a computer. She lipped something about the doctor arriving momentarily. She departed, unfazed by his silence.
Dean sat, tense and nervous. He straddled the fences of his own emotional edge. A gentleman entered the room and extended his hand for a shake. Dean's eyes climbed until he met the face of someone in their late forties. He tossed 'Doctor Shrink' half a smile. Maybe he could fake his way through this office visit. He could swing one way and get himself locked up or slide another direction and not worry about coming back.
But then, that certainly would not solve anything.
"Dean Winchester," the doctor rolled his name as though it were sacred. "Born Lawrence, Kansas. Thirty-plus years young. And a troublemaker."
Dean stared, baffled at his sloppiness. The doctor read his face and lined his lips in a frank smile. "My name is Swiftsen. According to your initiate, here, you're experiencing severe night terrors. You have trouble sleeping at all and recently had an anxiety attack."
Dean shrugged. "Guess so."
"Tell me about yourself, Dean."
"It's all right there in someone else's scribbles, Doc."
"I don't read other people's notes, Dean. That's just a formality. I want to hear it all from you."
Dean shifted, pulled on a smile. "I work a regular job, live with a lovely girl and her son. It's all peachy."
"Except the nightmares."
"Yeah, well, nobody's perfect."
"Alright. How about those nightmares?"
"What of them?"
Swiftsen turned from his computer, pushed his chair closer to Dean and removed his glasses. "Are your dreams long or short? Are they about people or events?"
Dean grinned. "I get a full course each and every night. A table loaded with all the best shit you could ask for."
Swiftsen nodded sagely. "So... what exactly brings you here, Dean? I can see you're evading the truth and thereby, the issue."
Dean scanned the wall to his right. Some crappy painting of a sailboat hung next to a framed photograph of Lake Eerie. "Yeah, well, I guess that's not all. I just... came through-" he swallowed hard. "-hell. You know? I-"
"You recently had a death in the family."
Dean nailed the doctor hard with large tear-burned eyes. Damn! Damn! "Yeah," he relented. "Yeah. He died saving the world." Dean figured the doctor would assume he used a metaphore.
"You watched him die."
"S-stop," Dean lost his voice. His walls crumbled a little more. "Stop. I can't do this anymore."
"You are bleeding, Dean."
Instinctively, Dean examined himself but found no wounds there. His gaze drilled into Swiftsen. "That's not funny."
"Dean, the soul bleeds every bit as much as the body. I sensed it the moment I walked in here."
Dean scoffed. "Wow. Doctor Super-psychic to the rescue. Tell me, Doc, what color are my boxers?"
"The more walls you build, Dean, the harder they'll come crashing around you. Either you stop building them or you'll end up buried."
That was it. Dean stood to leave. "That's fabulous advice, Doc! Seriously! I'll go home and-and start looking for a grave site!" he reached for the door knob.
"Sam would want you to get help."
Dean's heart stopped, frozen with shock, struck by his brother's precious name. And all Dean's walls came tumbling down. He crashed to his knees, unable to breathe, incapable of seeing or hearing. The blood in his veins stopped dead. Tears poured over his face as Dean crumbled against the door. Unable to move or help himself, Dean melted into tears.
Dean drove up the dirt road to the abandoned farm where he agreed to meet Castiel. The Impala purred until he parked her several yards off. Armed with weapons and whichever emotional mask he found strong enough, Dean approached the Angel. His eyes stole a final glance at the car. Her black paint gleamed dark red in the bloody sunset.
Cas offered a practical smile. A glint hit his eyes as a light flared in the distance. Dean had no strength to return the smile. "What's this about, Cas?" he asked wearily. "I can't play for very long. Lisa's gettin' tired of me taking off on short notice."
"I was told to come here and to bring you. That's all I know at the moment."
Dean glared. More heavenly B.S.
"There!" Castiel's excitement confused Dean until he followed the Angel's line of sight. One third of a mile away, a blue-white spark snapped out. A figure emerged, striding along the ground as though he owned it. The tall figure had a body built like stone, broad as though jacked on steroids.
"Good Lord," Castiel murmured. "I've not seen him in thousands of years."
"What?" Dean managed. "Friend of yours?"
"No. I know him only by reputation. His name is Thor."
Dean flinched, confused. Thor was just a myth. "Um, I thought-" he cut himself off, recalling the wacko motel that trapped him and Sam. A couple dozen Pagan gods rented rooms there for some goofy 'divine' convention. So Dean shut his mouth and swallowed the fact that Thor was a real person.
The great figure neared them and Dean realized the Norse god carried something in his arms. It wasn't until Thor came within ten feet that Dean's heart stopped. He could not breathe.
Thor stood before him. His bright blue eyes shined with an unnatural light. His face, worn with unspeakable torments, drifted from Dean to the unconscious form he held with great care. "I was too arrogant to ask for redemption. But he was given redemption long ago. I asked to bring him here to you because he is worth everything it took to save him. Thor lowered and laid Sam's languid body at Dean's feet. He stood, eyes never leaving Sam. "I wish..." Thor shook his head, unable to finish. His striking blue eyes pinned Dean's with a sad smile that expressed deep regret. Without another word, Thor turned and disappeared.
Dean gazed into his long-lost brother's face. Sam lay pale and dirty. His clothes, long since torn and ragged, revealed a long, terrible journey. Sam's eyes opened at Dean's gentle touch. Tears fell over Sam's temples into his hair.
Forgive me. Only Sam's lips moved; his voice long since ripped out his throat from endless screaming.
Dean woke, facing a white ceiling. He lay on a bed, a soft grey blanket tossed over him. Strangely enough, he felt peaceful. But then, he just woke up. Who knows how he'll feel in another couple of hours.
The door to his left opened and a lady peeked in. Their eyes crossed paths and she entered with a light smile. "How are you feeling at the moment, Mr. Winchester?"
"All right, I guess. How did I... last I remembered-"
"You passed out."
"We've already called your wife, Mr. Winchester. We told her you'd be staying the night with us."
"How long was I out?"
Dean sat up and the dream of Thor and Sam and Castiel flashed across his eyes. It felt so friggin real. And what amazed Dean was just thinking of Sam did not conjure the emo-effect. Dean creased his face with confusion and directed it at his visitor.
"You had what we call a melt-down, Mr. Winchester."
"Dean. And when can I crash out of here?"
"After breakfast and a couple of forms we need you to fill."
"What-uh-what time is it?" Dean swung his legs over the bedside and rubbed an ache in his neck.
"Eight-thirty A.M. There's a bathroom there by the desk and when you're ready, come out, take a right hand turn and take the first door to your left."
Dean waited until she departed. He sat there as befuddlement turned to sadness. But the sadness did not deepen. Maybe they gave him something for the anguish. Dean took care of business then made his way to the mystery room on the left. He did not care that he walked about only in his socks. The floor chilled his feet, but he chose to ignore it.
He opened the door and found a room filed with tables and occupied by a dozen or more people. A TV silently played at the far left corner. Drapes hung partly opened to a quiet cloudy day.
"Hi there!" a girl greeted him too cheerfully. "Have you had breakfast yet?"
"No." Dean could not keep the wince out of his eyes.
"Well, come on. I'll get you served up." She planted her hands on his broad shoulders and gently guided him to the serving counter. She plucked out a plate and tray, silverware and a coffee cup.
Dean didn't stop to realize someone was taking care of him. He followed her lead, just watching her demeanor, thinking about Lisa. "So, what do they call you around here?"
Her hazel eyes caught him with annoying brightness. "I have a name."
"Yeah. That's good."
"Jenny," Dean echoed. "You always this chipper?"
Her face broadened in a bigger smile. "I like what I do."
She gathered a plateful of goodies, coffee and added juice to the mix. She led him to a table occupied by two other men. Dean sat down and stared at the plate. Food really wasn't on his mind at the moment. Other than memory of the dream, his head lay open like a blank page.
Jenny waited until Dean settled at the table. "Dean, this is Ed and Jack. Fellas, this is Dean. Take care of him for me, will ya?"
The two men, somewhere in their fifties, nodded their promise and Jenny left with a satisfied smile. Dean took a grateful gulp of coffee, pleased to have something wipe the nasty taste in his mouth. He stabbed a mound of eggs.
Jack spoke first: "so, Dean, what's your psychosis?"
Dean's eyes snapped up as he mulled through the eggs. "'scuse me?"
Ed smiled more to himself as he stirred his fried potatoes. "What they got you in here for?" he translated.
"Oh. Uh, religious fanaticism," Dean repeated what another psychiatrist once told him. He ate a bit of his potatoes and sipped his juice.
"Oh boy," Jack bounced his brows. "Another one of those."
Dean's eyes steeled. "What? Is that a popular subject around here?" Both his peers bounced their heads. Dean rolled his eyes. "So much for originality."
Ed grinned again. "So what are you? Angel? Demon? The Devil himself?"
"No." Dean's eyes dropped to his plate. "I sorta decided not to go that route."
Sam, Dean thought dismally, I will miss you for the rest of my life.
Ed's grin turned eager. "There was one fellow in here, not too long ago. He said he was a Horseman. He said he was War." Ed wheezed in laughter. "War!"
Dean smirked. "I can tell you all about War. He held a whole town captive, made everybody fight each other. In the end, he lost several fingers and a ring."
His present companions stared blankly at him until Ed nodded. "Uh-huh."
Dr. Swiftsen welcomed Dean into his office after thirty minutes of slavery, signing medical and legal forms. Dean's old life slipped further and further away with each signature. He worried his real name might be revealed. He was, after all, wanted in three states, if not more.
Dean sat on the sofa again, still unable to look Swiftsen in the eyes. He felt exposed.
"Post traumatic stress requires a long road to recovery, Dean," Swiftsen started. "You've taken the first crucial steps. You came for help."
Dean blinked slowly. "Doc-"
"You can call me Justin."
"Right," Dean muttered. "If we're going to be doing the whole caring-sharing, let-me-sob-about-my-life bit, I'll need to warn you ahead of time that I've been through ..." Dean almost lost his composure, thinking about Jo. He recovered with a clearing of his throat. "Let me say that you would not believe me, no matter how much evidence I bring to your office." Dean squirmed under Justin's intense gaze.
"Let me answer that, Dean by telling you that you are safe here. No one will know anything outside these walls. We are here to help you. All soldiers need to rest before picking up the pieces. You're not leaving an old life, Dean. You are brand new. Reborn. You can't expect yourself to pick up the pieces of an old life. You place them in a locker and you start over. And beginnings can be very difficult."
Swiftsen shifted in his seat and set his clipboard down. "As for believing you: I am certain that your life has been no less fantastic than some other patients of mine. You've been through war. I know the look of it. You've lost people you loved. You're lost. And there's no shame in any of it, Dean. No shame in tears, they don't make you any less or weaker a person. I'm guessing someone must have told you to be a big boy at one point, that big boys don't cry. I'm going to tell you that if you've been through hell, you should cry."
Dean recovered in baby steps. Lisa kindly gave him room and time. She learned about Sam; Dean learned the ropes of fatherhood. It was tough. The day-to-day stuff choked him with monotony. Sometimes acting as Ben's surrogate father caused Dean such pain he had to bury his emotions under an automaton mask. Ben often reminded him of Sam.
Dean kept busy. He changed his last name for the sake of a real, full-time job. He did not adopt Ben. Lisa still collected child support from Ben's real father and Dean did not want to jeopardize that for her. The first year drifted into the second. Dean visited his mother's grave on the anniversary of Sam's death and told her all about it. He wept in private, revisiting the emotional wounds. Sam was condemned to an eternity of agony and suffering. Upon recalling that, Dean relapsed. It took another two months before he returned to work.
"It's going to be like this," Justin warned him upon a seventh visit in the same month. "You've been through hell, Dean. You don't recover from something like that. All you can do is remember where you are at the moment. You're going to have flashbacks and old pains."
"My brother is in Hell, Justin. He and I were given passage into Heaven long before he dragged the devil into the cage." Dean did not care whether or not Dr. Shrink believed him.
Justin sat quietly for a long, long moment. "If you were promised something, Dean, chances are, that promise was kept. Think on it. When we die, our bodies go into the grave. Our souls leave the body. So... maybe the only thing that's with the devil is Sam's body, but not his soul."
Dean instantly relaxed. The paradigm shift shocked him into such relief that he had to sit back down. He stared at the floor. He could live with that. There was hope, even in Sam's death.
That same hope carried Dean through another three years. He watched Ben grow into puberty. Dean doted on Ben, doing everything in his power to be the type of father for Ben that he never had himself.
The world changed upon The fourth anniversary of Sammy's death. It started with a power shift in the Northern Lights. From beauty and grace, the aurora borealis turned deadly. For each color or shape shift, the ionization turned into negative electrical impulses and shot out as lightning against the atmosphere. Three aircraft caught in altitudes of six thousand feet or more near the Alaskan latitudes collided into the planet with horrific results.
Migratory birds lost their sense of direction. Hail weighing as much as ten pounds obliterated small towns across the globe. And under the oceans, new volcanos heaved and spewed, forming new islands, killing fish and plants for miles around.
Dean no longer watched the news. The world staggered drunkenly through another disaster phase. Why did it have to be in his lifetime? Another apocalypse? Impossible. But something else brimmed over the horizon; a stirring of forces.
"What do you think is going on?" Lisa asked him the night they heard about a small Alaskan town leveled by a freak lightning storm.
Dean shook his head and diverted his attention to his step son. "How was class, Buddy?"
"Good. We get to dissect worms tomorrow!"
Dean grinned and grimaced at the same time. "Awesome."
Ben chomped on his pork steak, his eyes shining on Dean. "Mom," he called.
"David's holding a paintball party this weekend. Can I go?"
"What about homework and chores?"
"I can do them Friday. Please? Can I?" he held his hands together prayerfully, his eyes grew large.
Lisa sighed, reluctance breathed out. "All right. But you're not staying past noon on Sunday."
Ben pumped a fist downward. "Yes!" as he took another mouthful of food, Lisa slipped her foot up Dean's leg so that he nearly choked on his drink. Her smile turned devilish.
The phone rang, dragging Dean from seduction. "Hello?"
Dean scrunched his face with loss of recognition. "Yeah?"
"Been a while."
Dean's head raced before he batted his eyes. "Bobby?"
"Glad you still remember. Been a while."
"Uh, yeah! Long while!" Dean left the kitchen and stepped outside. Chills shot up his spine. "Hey, what's going on?"
"You kidding me? Have you been watching the news?"
"Uh, not if I can help it. Spend most of the time on Cartoon Network-"
"Listen, Dean, I need to ask a huge favor of you."
"No, Bobby. I'm sorry. I don't hunt anymore. I'm done with all that."
"I ain't askin'," Bobby drew a deep breath. "This... this is harder."
Dean's throat constricted. "Okay." The first thing that hit Dean was Bobby might be dying and prepared to ask him to take care of personal matters.
"Do-ah-do you still have Sam's old books?"
Dean lost all color and all his strength left him. "What? What, Bobby?"
"Sam's books. Do, um, do you still have them?"
"Yeah... yeah, I think so."
"Would you mind too much looking up something for me?"
Dean slipped back into the house and searched for a pen and something to write on. He grabbed an empty envelope. "Yeah, sure, Bobby. What book and what did you need?"
"Eastern Daemons and Tryptikon Walking."
Dean hesitated. The first book sounded vaguely familiar. He jotted down the title, misspelled half of it and drew a deep breath. "Okay. Um, what exactly did you need, or would you like me to just send it..." His voice failed. It was Sam's book. It was one of those things that Sam owned, one of few that Dean had left. But hell, he himself didn't need it.
"Nah," Bobby passed, "I just need a couple of phrases, that's all."
Swallowing heartache, Dean jotted the instructions and said his good-bye. He met Lisa's sweet eyes and pulled a smile over his lips.
"Everything okay?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah. Its all good. Bobby just needed me to sniff out some info in one of Sam's books, that's all." He watched her nod the okay. Dean refused to let Lisa pay the storage bill for the Impala. But they had gone a few rounds about holding onto a possession he no longer needed. That hurt, but Dean was a big boy and he made it clear that there were certain pieces of his life that were rightfully his and she was not to tell him to get rid of it. After all, Lisa had her family. Dean had the Impala.
Dean waited until the next day to visit his beloved Impala. Lisa and Ben parted for school and work and would not return until late that afternoon. Dean called in sick from work-something he tried not to do too often, now that he found better emotional ground to stand on.
In all honesty, Dean hated the workforce. Two of his coworkers were jackasses. His boss wanted him to use computerized equipment. Dean was a very good mechanic with excellent intuition. Not that he couldn't use the diagnostics mechanism, but nothing worked better than a little investigative work, listening as the car spoke through subtle noises. Besides, his gut instincts saved his customers money.
Dean missed the open road, too. The garage was a cage where the job forced him to smell old oil instead of sweet rain. The job kept him away from the stars, now that he slept nights and worked days. His did not trust his coworkers and all too often, the customers demanded miracles for next to nothing.
The job slowly sucked the life out of him.
Dean undid the combo-lock on the storage. He wondered briefly why he used Ben's birth date instead of Sam's. Lisa frowned on any revelation of Dean's former life to her son. She did not want Ben tainted with the evils of monster hunts or tales of things that lived along the outer edges of sanity. It was hard because it was something Dean wanted to share with Ben. The kid had it in his blood, he really did.
Dean lifted the storage door and reminded himself for the billionth time he retired from hunting. No more chases, mysteries or dangerous fights. No more sleazy motels, crappy, greasy food or fake I.D's.
He and Sam lived on the coldest edge of life. They were destined to die before old age hit. Now it looked like Dean, housebroken and tamed, would spend his life in a chair, in front of the TV. Bored.
Dean skinned the covering off his beloved car and ran his hand over the clean smooth surface. "Oh, baby, I can't tell you how much I've missed you! What's it been? Two years? Three?" He opened the door. It squeaked the most beautiful music. He sat behind the wheel and choked up. "I'm so sorry, Sam," he mourned. "You gave your life and I'm just fading."
Dean rested his head against the steering wheel, taking back the feel of the seat, the smell of leather, metal and five years of laughter, blood, anguish, and sharing life with his brother, his best friend. It was a crazy life. He and Sam got into some real jams. But it didn't matter because Dean had two things that mattered most to him; the Impala and Sam. But what the hell was all the chasing, the hunting and bloodshed for? Why did he and Sam stay on the road, pressing ever forward to the next job? Were they a pair of bloodthirsty idiots trying to prove something? Were they just out there because it's what their father wanted?
Or was hunting all about the journey? No, no. Hunting was about freedom. His job at the repair shop gave Dean something to do and offered a few pathetic perks. Hunting meant Dean and Sam lived life on their own terms. They hustled pool. Sam was good and on a really great night, the two of them cleaned up the town.
Dean unconsciously smiled, recalling one night he and Sam played a small group of hunters in some two-bit town in Wyoming. Sam was unusually cheerful that night. And smooth? One of the hunters didn't even know what hit him until Sammy pulled his triple-strike shot. That play got them two grand. Sam purchased a new computer and gave the rest to Dean to take care of the car and purchase new weapons.
All that was over. Gone. Dean loved Lisa. She was very good to him, especially after Sam's death. But he and she shared nothing in common. Lisa surrounded her life with Ben and her job. She was knee-deep into New Age. And because Ben was such a popular kid, the house sometimes resembled Romper Room. Dean locked his former life in a shell of privacy because even now memories broke his heart. Dr. Shrink was right; Dean would never fully recover from the war, from Sam's death.
With a final deep breath, Dean left the driver's side, closing the door like a death song. Maybe Lisa was right. Maybe he should just sell the Impala. All it did was remind him of old wounds.
Dean opened the trunk. He sifted across bags of salt, containers of old herbs and several cans of spray paint. Under that lay Sam's laptop. Dean swallowed hard and pushed himself to keep going.
Under that lay several well-used, but carefully preserved books. Titles such as Creatures of the Unknown, Etruscan Keys and three parchment scrolls lay on top of a larger, very heavy book hand-bound by thin sheets of plywood. The rare book, written in the 1400's, was one of Sammy's most precious possessions. As the last of two of its kind, Sam made extra certain that only he and Dean knew of its location.
Dean struggled not to think anymore of the situation. Everything of that nature was part of a past. Sooner or later his memory of those five years would fade, growing cold like a weather-beaten tree, obscured by new growth forest. After all, Sam had been gone almost five years.
The books Bobby requested lay beneath a duffel bag. Dean picked up the first one Bobby needed: Eastern Daemons. Three bookmarks protruded at the top of the book. Sam was in the middle of studying, but Dean did not know when. Curious, he flipped the old pages to the first marker. A single sheet of notebook paper snuggled between the pages with Sam's messy but legible print written across it.
"Water daemons en emprimial: known for destructive forces in lakes and seas. Chained to the underworld as guardians of the Gates. Aaroticus of Ur warned the en emprimial would free themselves at the point of the Apocalypse as a safety mechanism to secure the follow-through of such an event.
Dean unfolded Bobby's 'shopping list'. 'description of the emprimial.' He almost laughed. By some miracle, Sam did the work for him already. Dean had no idea what it meant except that the description and the fact that Bobby searched for it, felt ominous. After fulfilling the second request from Tryptikon Walking, he tucked the paper away. Dean carefully arranged the trunk the way he found it. If he ever sold the car at all, he'd have to find a place for all the equipment. No. The Impala was all he had left that was truly his own.
The visit to the Impala left Dean unsettled. He all but tuned out his adopted family. He went through the motions, using the same general questions, answering theirs with single-word phrases or shrugs. He ignored the look on Lisa's face. She was not happy that he tormented himself by visiting his memories.
Lisa put Ben to bed and returned to the living room where Dean sat in the easy chair, vegetating in front of the boob tube. "Dean," she started. He knew that tone by now: the voice of business, pleading, underhanded demanding; the marks of a conflict. "You know, it really hurts to see you do this to yourself." she paused. "Did you want to tell me anything? You know I'm willing to listen in."
He slowly shook his head. "Just visited my car. That's all."
"That's never all," she added a slight edge to her voice. He only shrugged. "Dammit, Dean, you're tearing yourself up again and I wish you'd just sell that damn thing and put it behind you-"
He snapped his eyes on her. "Look, you don't get it-"
"Then explain it to me!"
"Sam is gone!"
"Everybody dies at some point, Dean-"
"Not like that, they don't! You weren't there! You didn't see the resignation in his eyes, the-" he choked, unable to breathe. "Nobody just sacrifices themselves to protect a world that knows nothing of what they did!"
"Oh, the sacrifice-thing again." Lisa slapped her knees and stood. "Dean, you've GOT to put this behind you! It's suffocating you."
Dean trembled. His green eyes turned cold with pain. He left the chair, ready to stomp out the door. Dean hesitated and faced her again. "Let me ask you this," he said with a broken voice. "How would you feel if your sister were chosen to house the devil in her body? Forever and ever, the devil would own your sister's body and walk the earth as though he owned it, wearing your sister's face, using your sister's body to contain his power and his inhumanity. How would you feel if your sister was destined-had no choice in the matter? Huh? And at the end of it all, your sister said yes to that sonofabitch and then dragged the devil to hell, trapping herself there-for ALL ETERNITY, Lisa! THAT'S what I have to think about all the time!"
Dean's voice cracked. "And Sam made me promise I'd not try to bail him out. And all I can think about is how he's living under eternal torment day after day. And all I have is a slice of hope that somehow someone saved my baby brother!" Dean wanted to fall apart but did not dare.
Lisa fell dead quiet. "You know, that's all I wanted to know, Dean. I don't understand why it was such a big secret. Even after four years, you still can't seem to trust me enough to learn more about your life. You won't tell me what you've been through. I want to understand."
Dean shook his head. "No. You don't. You've made it clear more than once that you did not want to know all the things me and Sam did. The changeling we killed... Lisa, there's bigger, badder, more terrifying things out there than what we killed here."
Lisa surrendered. The shouting match ended, but Dean, conflicted and aching, refused to go to bed. He sat in front of the TV, paying no attention as his mind whirled. He was done hunting. Done. He found safety here, even if he was not really happy. At least normal was sane.
But Lisa was right. The Impala had to go. Dean decided he'd spend the following weekend emptying out his beloved car. He'd ship everything off to Bobby and sell the Impala.
With that decision, Dean drifted to sleep.
"Dean? Dean. Dean, wake up and talk to me."
At first he thought the voice came from his mother. Rationally, that was not possible. Lisa? Nope, wrong voice. He lifted tear-dried eyes and found himself in a space with no walls, no ceiling; just white as far and high and wide as his vision reached. Dean sat up and found himself standing. "What is this?" He turned and turned, searching for a door, a window or an object of any kind. "Hello?" he called. No answer. "Must be dreaming." Dean frowned. A trickster, maybe? "I thought the trickster was dead." he answered himself.
Dean swung to the left and met a gentleman somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties. The guy wore a grey sweater. A soft glow radiated from his gold-brown eyes. Chills spread across Dean's chest. It wasn't that the guy felt evil, but that the encounter felt unbelievably real. "Who're you?" Dean asked, considering himself in a dream.
"I am God," the gentleman answered quietly. "Have a seat."
"What? No way!" Dean expected to wake up. He batted his eyes and waited for the real world to call him from slumber. Nothing changed. He snorted. "You are not and cannot be God."
Dean narrowed his eyes in disbelief. "Oh yeah?" he dared, "How do I know you're not lying?"
The gentleman steeled his gaze straight into Dean's soul. "Because, Dean, I'm the one who invented coffee. Now please, have a seat."
It was the last type of answer Dean expected. He blinked. "Oh. Yeah. I guess that qualifies as something." He found a chair waiting behind him and almost sat when another argument slipped from his head to his mouth. "But, I thought God was some old man floating around space on some cloud."
The gentleman looked incredulous. "I was thirty-three when I died, Dean. Now, please, have a seat." A short staring contest ensued. God's calm brown eyes did not waver. He nodded as though reading Dean's mind. "I know you hate me," he said with a leveled voice. "But to be fair, you owe me a hearing."
"What?" Dean recalled the devil's little sob story. Was God going to preach his story, too? "No, no," Dean objected. "I don't owe you anything. My life is fucked up because of you, Pal. And for the record, you're an even bigger asshole than the assholes we used to put down."
"I'm not here to argue. I just think it's time to clue you in."
"Pfff. I don't believe this," Dean muttered. "You took a friggin' vacation while me and my brother got our asses handed to us time after time-"
"You weren't alone, Dean. I've been with you all along."
"When the truck slammed into the Impala, your father should have died instantly. When the demon walked out of the truck, he had orders to leave no survivors. Sam would have died. Instead, the demon was forced out. The truck driver called for help-"
Dean exploded, "You could have prevented all that from happening!"
God remained calm. "Sit down. Sit. Down." He waited while Dean chose to finally obey. God waited until Dean was calm enough to listen. "Everything that has taken place had to take place. It had to happen."
"Yeah, right," Dean snarled, "Like Sam's death at Cold Oak."
God nodded, his face solemn. "It was a turning point." He watched Dean turn inward with grief. Everything changed at Cold Oak. Their history, their relationship, Sam's sense of vulnerability. A year later, both boys lost their innocence in the trip through hell.
God allowed Dean to mentally meander a moment later before speaking again. " You know, Dean, one of my favorite quotes from you, was what you told Brad in the alleyway. You said "All those angels, all those demons ... we're the ones you should be afraid of." you could not have been more accurate. I loved the look on Brad's face."
Dean blinked, wondering why he was still dreaming. "What?"
"Through you and Sam, the Angels and Demons learned that power is nothing. They, with all their ideas, machinations and power lust, could not take down two little Humans. The Four Horsemen will be licking their wounds for hundreds of years."
Dean blinked slowly. "'Cept Death. He said he was gonna claim you sooner or later."
God smiled, clearly amused. "Death always had an arrogance problem. If Death were that powerful, you, Sam and Castiel would cease to exist." Dean nodded once in agreement and God continued, "Because of you and Sam, Demons, Angels and their minions learned lessons they'll never forget. It all had to happen, Dean. No one could have taught them better. Zachariah will NEVER forget you. Say your name to his face and he cringes. Lesson learned. Michael learned that no matter how much power or authority he commands, no matter how many Angels may flock to his call, he's still just an Angel who tried to move heaven and earth to get you to say yes. He still failed.'
'The Demons, with all their devices and craftiness, with all their abilities and powers, still could not turn Sam into one of them. And THAT was even with the scales tipped in their favor. I allowed Sam to be tainted, knowing who and what he would grow up to be. He taught them the meaning of honor and love. No matter what they did or what they threw at him. You and Sam, Dean, became their teachers."
Dean scowled, slightly annoyed. "Don't you think it would have been easier to just hand them a textbook?"
God shook his head. "Nothing teaches better than experience. And there's nothing like learning the lesson up front and personal. Between you and me, they all needed a good swift kick. So... I allowed them to come up with all their ideas and follow through with their plans. I allowed them to do whatever they could to break you apart. I allowed them to do everything in their power to prove how superior they were. Because I knew the truth already. I knew you and Sam would meet them head-on. You, Dean, kicked their asses in ways they did not know their asses could be kicked. And for all eternity, Dean, the names of Sam and Dean Winchester will be a name of respect and fear. It had to happen. And you haven't lost Sam. You will never lose Sam. You'll see him again."
"Couldn't you have told me all this a long time ago? Do you have any idea what kind of a wreck I've been?" Dean tried to hold it back, but could not. "I've lost my entire family!"
The answer, no matter how gentle, struck Dean as absolute and finale. He realized there was only one way to get through the lesson. And although Dean felt a bit used, he realized that God said he'd see Sam again. Maybe Dr. Shrink was right. Maybe Sam was in Heaven after all.
As though reading Dean's thoughts, God smiled again. "By the way, Dean. The version of Heaven you and Sam saw?"
"Yeah?" a frown creased Dean's face. He recalled the unimpressive nature of Heaven.
"That's not Heaven. That was Zachariah. You think I'd go to all the trouble to create the universe, the galaxies, the stars and Earth and all the living things in them just to make Heaven a place where you simply relive your life? Above and beyond anything you can think or imagine, Dean. I have a very special place waiting for you and Sam and it's not your mother's house. Okay? Now, go find Sam. He's in Wisconsin. Oh, I should warn you: Sam is not the same. Lucifer put up quite a fight before Plazius, Gabriel and Aussair pulled him out. His memories are suppressed to protect him. He's not aware of who he is."
Baffled, Dean furrowed his eyebrows. "What? Can't you just... bring him home?"
God tilted his head, his lips lined. "Young man, I am not here to do everything for everyone. A crisis is approaching and I've assigned Castiel to help out. Which means you have some decisions to make." God smiled again. "Now get some sleep."
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