Author: Mirrordance

Title: The Righteous with the Wicked

Summary: Dean is finding it hard to survive survivor's guilt. Set after Swan Song.

Hi guys,

First off, thanks to all who read, alert-ed, favorite-d and especially all who reviewed my last post, Chapter 2 of Ever This Day: Be at My Side. This new offering is another unplanned one for me, but I guess a lot of writers out there found 5.22 Swan Song so compelling to write about that it might as well be re-named The Episode I Gotta Tag, haha; seriously though, the fandom has already unleashed a wave of Swan Song tags and I guess here's another one, hopefully one that you will also enjoy. I started it almost right after the epi ended and then kind of just got sad and stopped, haha, but anyway, it finished eventually.

As always, c&c's are very much welcome and longed for :) But for now, without further ado, The Righteous with the Wicked:

" " "

The Righteous with the Wicked

Weeks into 5.22 Swan Song

" " "

When he opened his eyes and saw her pinned to the ceiling, blood spreading outward from her stomach, the air already kissed by the smell of carbon and fire as it started to eat into her flesh and corrode her life, her mouth flopping open and then closed, soundless in incomprehensible misery...

... he felt relief.

He took a deep breath, exhaled it in a sigh. He took in the smell of burnt flesh and smoke greedily, let it tickle his throat and poison his own body. He let the heat of the fire, spreading across the ceiling, send waves of warm radiance down to his face. He let the devastation of her loss seep into the core of his bones.

Poor Lisa, he thought, burnt up on the ceiling, just like mom and Jess.

He tried to find anger, but all he felt was...a sick, inexplicable sense of belonging. I'm like dad. I'm like Sam.

And odder still, a sense of belonging coming from the grateful idea that God or Whomever is out there didn't just up and forget about me.

There was Someone Out There who was still out to get him, Someone Out There looking his way, reminding him he existed ironically by wanting to wipe him out.

I'm gonna die.

Thank god.

"I'm sorry Lisa," he remembered to whisper up to her, and he wasn't entirely sure what for. He was sorry he came into her life and (apparently) consequently destroyed it. He was sorry he couldn't save her. He was sorry he was cursed. He was sorry he wanted nothing more than to lay here and watch her burn and then quickly follow.

He was pinned to the bed just as she was pinned to the ceiling, unable to move, to rise, to rage, to fight.

Bits of her clothes, her hair, her body, broke off from the rest of her in half-charred, half-flame-lit wisps that took to the air and whipped with the angry fire-winds, looking like falling petals. He blinked lazily as they fell all over him, on his forearms, his face. A few particles landed by his eyes, making them water, and he blinked more vigorously to clear his vision -

- only to find her gone.

He didn't gasp awake; that was exhausting, to have to feel surprise, to have to feel exceptionalness and indignation over a dream. The simple fact was that he had dreamed she was burning, it felt unquestionably, indisputably real, and he had felt relief.

It struck him like a runaway freight train, when the relief melted into regret – why was it was just a dream? - and then regret corroded into shame. I was just gonna lie here and let us burn.

It was the shame and the guilt of that realization that churned his already-unsettled gut. He gagged, scrambled against the sheets that kept him in bed in uncoordinated, desperate, unthinking, jerky movements that landed him on all fours on the floor. He crawled, he fucking crawled, out the guest room and to the bathroom in the hall, and lost what little he had of his dinner, barely making it to the can.

His eyes watered mercilessly, and the burn of the bile went up his throat, up his nose. He felt his stomach tighten, turning itself inside and out it seemed, clenched and wouldn't let up. He heaved and heaved, wondered if he would ever stop, wondered when the foodstuffs he had efficiently dispensed of turned to pale, sick, strands of yellow-green and then into red.

He watched the disgusting swirl of it in the toilet water, and the fascination was what got him stopping. He tilted his head in wonder, and there was that feeling again... relief.

I'm dying.

Thank god.

He didn't forget about me.

The rest of the world tilted with him. He was kneeling there, and then suddenly the floor swung upward like the light end of a seesaw and hit him on the side of the head. The tile was all sterile, unforgiving, efficient cold and it dug into him, skin into flesh into bone, sending shivers up and down his spine. His breath came in ragged and shaky and inadequate, and so his heart went faster, faster, trying to catch up to things as it always felt it had to do with this failing body and this ridiculous life.

I'm dying.

Thank god.

He didn't forget about me.

" " "

He wasn't.

And so he didn't.

And maybe God or Whomever did.

He woke up where he fell asleep, cold and miserable on the bathroom tiles. His limbs felt scattered and detached, made him contemplate the meaning of the word 'discarded' very closely. Dull streaks of sunlight bled in from the bathroom window, but this was not what had woken him up.

Highway to Hell suddenly played mid-way through a riff, and the sound of the music was the unjust sharp, bass-hungry version to be found in Ben Braeden's alarm clock, a few doors down from where the kid's bedroom was on the other end of the hall.

Muttering a curse, Dean twisted in the narrow space between toilet and bath, gripped at ceramic and wall to push to all-fours, and then his feet. He swayed, still felt ill and unbalanced. But his most pressing problem was that the bathroom smelled like vomit, and the day's morning rituals were about to begin.

He closed the bathroom door and locked it behind him. He knew from the experience of living with the Braedens over the last few weeks that he still had a few minutes to clean up. Dean knew that Ben usually pressed Snooze on his alarm, and that the kid slept ten minutes more before the alarm sounded again and he truly rose up from bed, grumbling unenthusiastically about school as his heavy, defiant feet stomped down the short, narrow hallway from his room to this very bathroom.

Dean flushed the toilet with a grimace, and then raked through the cabinet underneath the sink. He spritzed air freshener into the room generously, cracked the window open a little. His eyes raked through sink and toilet and bath, making sure they were cleaned of any indication of whatever the hell had transpired here just a couple of hours before.

Me dying, he snorted, What a drama queen.

He turned the blowers on and washed his face, rinsed his mouth, brushed his teeth. He stepped out of the bathroom just as Highway to Hell sounded again. He walked down the hall to Ben's door, peered in at ten-year-old's room. Only the kid's thick, wavy head of brown hair could be seen, and his small body was lost in the wrinkle of blankets. It made Dean smile.

"Yo, Ben," he called out, "You'll be late for school, dude."

"Bite me, dad," came the semi-coherent mumble.

Dean's blood turned cold; the kid had never ever called him that, but apparently they all thought about it. Half-awake and nowhere-near-fully-aware, though, was this one time Ben had said it out loud.

Dean took a deep breath, suddenly realizing there were eyes on him from the other end of the hall. Ben's mother was standing there watching him, and they both knew he heard what had been said. She looked at him curiously but said nothing as she padded over in her bare feet and sweats. The two adults were intimate but kept separate rooms, Dean having been given the guest quarters out of deference to the kid in the house. Ben was ten, but sometimes he still hung around his mother's room because for the longest time, it was just the two of them.

"Bite you, huh?" Dean replied, a little belatedly but he made up for it with animated execution. He stepped inside the room, "You asked for it, kid-"

Ben jerked awake with a sleepy, squealing laugh when Dean hopped on the bed and grabbed him by the shoulders, making exaggerated biting movements with his teeth.

"I'm up, I'm up!" the kid cried out breathlessly, kicking blindly and then more calculatedly at Dean's shin, the way Dean had in the course of the last few days actually taught him how.

"Ow! Geez, Ben!"

"I'm sorry!" Ben said quickly, offsetting it by adding, "It's your fault!"

Dean found that funny and he chuckled, ruffling the kid's hair and pushing him off the bed, in the direction of the bathroom, "Take a bath already, your breath reeks."

"Your breath reeks," Ben grumbled, but did as he was told. He gave his watching mom an absent-minded, wordless hug by the door, before heading to the bathroom to get ready for class.

Lisa smiled at Dean, and he marveled at how her face lit up when she did that. She was a beautiful woman, no two ways, but when she smiled that sheer beauty turned effervescent. It was a generous smile, and sometimes he still felt that insane urge to look behind him to check whom it was for.

She sat beside him on Ben's bed, and then they both leaned back - her against his chest, him down to the covers. They just laid still there, breathing.

"How'd you sleep?" she asked.

His body stiffened, and he knew she noticed because her hand started making these insanely comforting, rubbing motions on his chest. It gave him the strength to lie.

"Pretty good, Lis, just like always."

" " "

'Dean Smith' was for all intents and purposes, a fairly accomplished man.

Roundabouts of this time last year, when he was caught in the sick spin of his unimaginable failures, the angels of his miseries felt the need to revive his hunter's spirit by shoving him into Dean Smith's world of corporate America, steaming lattes and low-carb diets.

Real place, real haunting, the angel Zachariah had said, just plenty in the middle without the benefit of your memories. That meant everything around him had been real, right down to the strange identity he had lived in until he got those memories – and his fighting spirit – back.

He'd kept the identity around though; the credit cards, the deeds and documents (post-recession flailing and finally now-recovering financial portfolio included) hidden in his car, and always somewhere at the back of his mind. Not that along the course of the Apocalypse he ever thought he could just slink back to normal at the end. It was just that the financial cushion was comforting, in case he or Sam or Bobby ever needed anything along the course of their fight.

Besides, all the Winchester men at one point or another had a secret, fake life hidden somewhere, right? His father had another family and his younger brother had gone to college and lived quietly for years. What Dean had on that score was a cosmically-constructed sales-and-marketing-director persona with a fat wallet and an MBA-level understanding of the world that he was still trying to shake off. Once in awhile, he still found himself concerned about declined retention rates. The three Winchesters had hideously vanilla alter-egos.

He started going by 'Dean Smith' in the Braeden house and their community. He liked his own real name but didn't feel the need to endanger Lisa and Ben with the turbulent history of twice/thrice/lost-count-dead fugitive Dean Winchester. In the same vein, he'd stopped sleeping with his hunter's knife beneath his pillow. Both were hideously incompatible with his new life.

For instance, Ben liked sneaking in and sitting with him in the guest room to watch TV. Dean had nearly gutted him the first time he went, and that paralyzing thought of harming the two people who had opened their doors to him against all logic still made him shiver each and every time he remembered how close he'd come to hurting them.

He'd come so close he could imagine it; the knife going through thin, band shirt cloth and kid's bones and underdeveloped muscle, finding a home it would never leave intact in the small gut, twisting just a little bit. The stab would be deep, effective, and not too messy. There wouldn't be very much blood, not at the start and not when you're really good, which he was. You go in, shake things around and exit fast, barely a speck of blood and death on you, so that you can use the knife again on the next guy who comes along.

But they both survived it. By some sheer, blind luck they both survived it. The knife would have killed Ben. Killing him would have finished – already dead inside – Dean.

Ben sat beside him, and they shared an overloaded cup of ice cream as they watched Amityville. Lisa was disarmed enough to let the precocious movie-rating slip, as well as the eating-on-the-bed thing which normally would not have been permitted. She passed by the hall, lingered a little bit by the door and then walked away with a small, wistful smile on her face. Dean sat beside the ten-year-old and kept thinking about how it would have felt like to gut him. It made him feel like a fraud.

He was torn from his dark thoughts by shifting movements beside him. Ben was pulling the covers from beneath his ass where he sat, shoved a fistful Dean's way.

"What?" Dean asked, blankly.

"I think yer cold," Ben said, nodding at him. Dean looked at his trembling hands, at the goose flesh on his forearms.

"I guess I am," Dean said quietly, "Thanks, dude."

" " "

He moved in gradually.

In the first few days, he'd lived off of his lightly-packed duffel, and then when he ran out of clothes from there he used the Impala as a closet, would just step out of the house and grab whatever he needed. He realized he'd been around a fairly long time when he found himself asking to use Lisa's washing machine.

"God, yes," she said, blinking at him in surprise that he even thought to ask, "This is your home, Dean."

It fucking wasn't, not that early, not now and maybe not ever, but he needed to wash his goddamn clothes, so he just said 'Thanks.'

Laundry, he found, was one of the few cornerstones he had for marking the time. Otherwise, one day just seemingly melted into the next. Highway to Hell wakes up Ben and everyone else, and the kid would get ready to go to school. Lisa follows in the bathroom. Dean would grab coffee for himself and make everyone else breakfast, and all three would sit down together until it was time for Ben to go to school and Lisa to go to work. Dean would always volunteer to drop Ben off so that they all could leave a little later since Lisa can just go straight to work. At the start, Lisa adamantly said no; the official reason was that the school was on her way to work and that she enjoyed doing it. The unspoken one was that while she enjoyed Dean's company and was grateful he had once saved her only child's life, she was still a mother and there were too many black holes around him for her to be so easily comfortable with bundling Ben up into his car and sending them away. Dean didn't take it personally, but he realized time had gone by again when she just relented one day, and he'd been doing it everyday since.

After dropping off Ben at school, Dean would just spend an inexplicably absorbing time in the house, walking around, watching television, sitting down and looking outside the window at motionless suburbia. Time ate at him, seemingly long but also liquid, slipping between his fingers. As he grew more comfortable, he started cleaning up the house; repairs, work in the yard. He'd do that until Ben walked in the house from the school bus stop, always looking for something to eat. Dean would make him a sandwich, ask about the day, and help out with homework which was always done by the time Lisa came back so that the three of them could just lounge around over dinner.

Lisa never asked him about getting a job. He didn't think she was built that way, but he also made sure she never felt compelled to, because Dean had always known to pull his weight. He used Dean Smith's considerable savings and placements and started paying for gas and electricity, and even buying groceries. There was a Walmart not too far away, and midday he'd be the one fairly-young guy there, stocking up his over-sized shopping cart.

One of these countless days, he drifted toward the electronics section, not so much out of interest but because he'd drifted everywhere else. He stopped by this particular contraption, sleek and black and had the contours and curves of a classic car, because it was sitting by a cardboard poster of AC/DC. Hell Ain't a Bad place to Be was playing in low register, making him freeze, wondering if it was another joke on him, or if his ears have just been attuned to anything in relation to There ever since his little brother-

"I thought you looked like a Rock Band kind of guy."

He blinked at the Walmart dude. His name's Steve, he wants to help you save money and live better.

"Give her a shot," Steve said, handing Dean a guitar-like thing with weird colored buttons. He accepted it blandly, realizing now more than ever that he had nothing better to do. "Follow the lights on the colors there, and you're good to go."

He went home with it.

He went home with it because he found the toy unreasonably expensive and he was in one of those spiteful moods. He went home with it because it was distracting. He went home with it because Ben would like it and because he missed the kid's last two birthdays and he felt guilty about almost-skewering him.

It was only later that he hesitated giving it. The Play Station 3 sat in the trunk of the Impala, along with Rock Band and its respective attachments, as he and Ben sat down to their afternoon sandwich and homework. Maybe it really was too expensive, too presumptuous of him to think he had any right to give it. Lisa would probably disapprove. Ben might not even like it...

"You're really kinda good at this," Ben said, breaking into his thoughts.

"At what?"

"Math crap," Ben shrugged, drawing out a piece of paper from his backpack and handing it to Dean, "And the other stuff too. My teacher told me I musta turned a corner or something 'cos my grades are now made of awesome."

Dean looked through the report card, when the C's melted into B-pluses and A-minuses. Not-quite Sam, he thought helplessly, but not bad. Any thought of Sam though...

"I mean it could be better," Ben suddenly hesitated, spotting the sadness on Dean's face, unable to comprehend it.

"No, man," Dean broke into a smile, "This is awesome, you're right. Your mom's gonna be crazy proud. I know I am." He bit his lip, made a quick decision. "Tell you, what. Let's finish up your homework, then I gotta show you... I gotcha something."

Kid's eyes popped like saucers, "Yeah?"

Ben had begged and pleaded to know what it was right away, but Dean was resolute. The distraction meant they took twice as long finishing up homework that afternoon, but eventually found themselves standing by the back of the car, Ben fidgeting excitedly. The sun was setting, and the breezes of the late afternoon ushering in the early evening were soothing, making small swishy noises with the leaves and the branches of the trees that dotted the sidewalks.

"Gogogogogo," Ben said to Dean urgently, oblivious to the subtly beautiful quiet.

The two boys were distracted by the arrival of Lisa, who pulled up to park behind the Impala. There was that smile again, and there was Dean, looking behind him again like he was subtly checking who it was for.

"What are you two up to?" Lisa asked.

"Well," Dean said, found himself hesitating again, "I mean I missed Ben's last birthday-"

"You missed the one before that too," Ben pointed out, "And didn't get me a present for when I met you at my party when I was eight."

"I saved your life, brat!" Dean genuinely laughed, speaking of being presumptuous...

"Go already!" Ben said, "Please."

Dean smirked, took his time. He popped open the trunk, and the kid very genuinely squealed. Behind him, he heard Lisa gave something that was more of a gurgled squawk. Ben was going nuts, just gathering everything in his arms and crying out like a victorious barbarian. He even chest-bumped Dean, before running into the house with his spoils.

Dean watched him go, before turning to look at Lisa.

"You didn't have to," she told him, "As a matter of fact, I wish you hadn't done that."

It's what he was afraid of, that disapproval in her eyes. His chest tightened, and his breath sped up a little, and he felt so incredibly, blindingly afraid that this transgression would make her cast him away, away from their home, away to be alone again, to be completely alone. He wanted to say he was sorry, wanted to take it all back, wanted to tell her she couldn't send him away, because Sam had died for him to have this, he had a promise to keep, he had to be good at this...

He'd never forget that deep, dark feeling of being very completely on his own, after Sam... after Sam had gone away, and Castiel was dead in pieces and Bobby was steps away with his neck broken. Dean was hurt, seeing double of everything which was basically nothing because all he could see were two of Bobby's dead body, two of the empty ground Sam had gone under. Two of nothing. He had absolutely nothing. He tried to get to his feet but out of either injury or sorrow or both, there was just no way forward but to crawl on his hands and his knees, crawl to where Sam had vanished to. He'd felt so completely alone, so completely empty, devoid, washed up, rinsed out, gutted. He'd never felt so heavy and lost and impoverished. He could even feel the sag of his shoulders from the weight of it; if they could move further downward they would have, but then he'd have to remove them from their sockets, maybe tear out his arms, maybe- and then Castiel came up behind him, better than alive, pulling him out of that deep, dark hole. The angel's touch had healed him, healed Bobby, filled him with a terrifying fearful hope that maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe-

But all he got is his brother in a hole. And him, back in some kind of hell.

"I'm sorry," Dean choked out, wanting to say, don't send me away. Sam wants this for me, I can't have screwed it up so soon-

"Hey," she said, soothingly now, and her steely eyes turned sympathetic, pitying. Dean both loathed the pity and hungered for it; he loathed it because he'd never liked pity. He hungered for it because if she pitied enough maybe she'd let him stay, let him fulfill the promise he made to his brother.

"Dean, you went all white there," she said, ushering him by the elbow to sit on the curb, between their two parked cars. He let her, and they sat side by side, shoulders touching. He ran his hands wearily over his face, over his head, and then again, and then again, like he was trying to wipe his visage off. He'd done that to other souls, in hell. He wondered if Sam was doing it to anybody, or the converse, if anyone was doing it to-

"Dean!" she called out, when black clouds started swimming in his vision. His stomach was hurting something fierce so he doubled over, and he couldn't seem to catch a decent breath, "Okay, head between your knees, there you go, just breathe, that's it..."

He felt her warm hands rubbing circles on his back. He focused on that hypnotic motion, closed his eyes tight, tried to regain his composure.

"I think I'm comin' down with somethin'," he growled, "Maybe I sh-should s-stay away a f-few days, don't wanna g-give you or Ben the bug."

"This is exactly why you shouldn't have given him anything," she told him, more mildly now, "If you're just... if you're just gonna come and go. He likes you, Dean, and he's never had a dad in his life. If you're just... if you're just gonna break his heart, don't do stuff like that to him... or to me."

"I won't hurt you," he said softly.

"You won't?" she asked.

A Winchester's word was set in stone, and made of gold. They've always taken it very seriously, it was always cast in the truest intentions. But despite the gravity accorded it, sometimes words got broken, and that was just life being a bitch. He wouldn't hurt her, but maybe she'll be hurt by him anyway. Similarly, he had promised Sam he'd have a certain kind of life, but maybe he's just not cut out for it...

"I won't," he said softly, meaning it completely and at the same time, not knowing if it was something he could give, "I promise."

" " "

Lisa and Ben had a thing: they would pray together, out loud, every night. She said they picked up the habit when the world started going haywire a couple of months ago (so it was actually Dean's fault, but he didn't bother telling them that), and have kept it up since, especially because things have settled down and Ben was convinced his prayers had something to do with it. She invited Dean to join in, and he was going to say You really shouldn't bother 'cos He certainly doesn't, but Dean just said 'No Thanks.'

But he'd hear them at night and he'd listen. The prayers always started with gratitude: Dear God: Thanks for ma, and Dean, and Dean's spaghetti, for Rock Band and AC/DC, and for when Carly dropped and broke her art project. Ben would add crazy stuff like that to get a rise out of his mother. Then they would move to Ben's favorite part, the asking-for-stuff part... petitions, Dean remembered. Which would be the long part, because the kid wanted a lot of things. He wanted his mother to let him stay overnight at the Wentzes, two doors down. He wanted a dog. He wanted a horse. He wanted a motorcycle. He wanted a brother.

Dean wanted one too.

" " "

Dean reflected that Ben's prayers must be pretty damn effective, because he got yet another request, this time the sleepover at the Wentzes. This meant Dean got to 'sleep over' at Lisa's room too.

They started the evening by dropping Ben off, and then sitting down to dinner. She cooked this time, and watched intently as he had a bit of everything.

"You've lost weight since you moved in," she told him as she looked on, and he perforce tried to shove a few more things than he wanted into his mouth, before he pushed away his half-filled plate. His twinging gut was telling him he'd already had too much.

"Really?" he asked mildly, "Never crossed my mind."

"The only thing I keep seeing you take down is coffee," she said.

"I like coffee," Dean just shrugged, got up from his seat and started to nuzzle her neck.

"Dean, stop," she laughed, "You're not gonna get away from this that easy."

He did.

And then later in the night, after they've both satisfied each other, he woke up in her bed to the dull sound of the television running a midnight movie.

"I hated You as though You existed," Dean heard the character in the movie talking, just as Lisa sensed him stirring and told him softly, "Sorry, go back to sleep. I just needed some light for a second."

Dean nodded and drifted off. Lisa lowered the volume and he started to go back to sleep, hearing, "Now I am tired of hating... but You're still there. So Your cunning is infinite. You used my hate to win my acknowledgment. And I've only one prayer left. Dear God, forget about me..."

" " "

He'd always been his truest self at night, cloaked in the dark.

Since he was four years old, there was himself at night and himself in the light. Between a day job and a hunt, between a fake name and his real one, between the lies in the morning and the fears he lain alone with at night, he'd just... always been his truest self at night. In the dark.

When Sam left, the dark and the silence of the night became so overcrowded with his miseries that these things encroached into the day. Slowly, surely, him at night ate into him in the day. The heaviness of his loss, the twinge he felt in his gut each and every time he wondered about what now, what next, is this it, am I doing 'normal' right, am I doing Sam justice with this, I reallyfucking miss him... everything just seemed dimmer now, like there was a dull purple shade over his sight, making everything look like a cloudy late afternoon. No more day, no more night, just the purgatorial cloudy midday, him walking around in this haze.

The kid was in front of him another nameless afternoon, eating a sandwich with his mouth open and talking about baseball practice, when someone put the brakes on all of this. He zoned out a little, still hearing Ben yak at him meaninglessly, like some twittering bird by his ear. He was quite sure he was nodding at the right moments, up until Ben's tone turned from animated to one of escalating worry.

"Dean?" Ben was yelling at him, "Dean!"

He heard his name, realized he was no longer sitting on a chair but sprawled on the floor, the wooden seat he had been on lying on its side near his rump. He blinked, forced awareness into himself, wanting to respond to the kid's cries. But it felt... far. It was too far, and too exhausting to have to act on this.

Gimme a sec, he thought up to Ben, I'm on my way.

He wasn't. He drifted off again and the next thing he heard was Ben talking on the telephone, the words from his mouth quick and scared, but coherent.

"We were just talking," he said to the person on the other line, "And then he turned all white, and then his eyes rolled back like in the movies and he kinda just plopped to the floor and I can't wake him up... What's a pre-existing condition?... No, but he's kinda been walking around like a zombie the last few days... what do I do what do I do..." he rattled off the Braedens' address, and Dean went under again.

" " "

"I don't need any of this, get me my goddamn clothes."

He woke up in the emergency room knowing by the smells and sounds exactly where he was. After taking quick stock of himself, these were the first things out his mouth with the first person who got in his face. It was a tiny female nurse, who told him he just had to stay put a little and wait for the doctor.

He decided to take things into his own hands the moment she rushed out to get the doctor in sooner; wasn't the first time, won't be the last, that he'd break himself out of a hospital. He already had a jacket over the embarrassingly thin hospital gown and was pushing himself to his feet to put on his jeans when Lisa walked in with the doctor in tow.

She rushed him, hugged him tight before remembering herself and stepping back, letting the doctor look at Dean warily.

"I really wouldn't advise this, Mr. Smith," the doctor told him calmly.

"I'm fine and I'm aware of my rights and I really want outta here," he insisted, already embarrassed by the scrutiny and Lisa's clouded, worried stare.

"You lost consciousness," the doctor began to drone on, "And have been unresponsive until now. You're tachycardic, with below normal oxygen levels. You're running a low-grade fever and you know as well as I do you're still shaky. You're anemic, and we have good reason to believe you're suffering from an underlying condition that deserves serious attention-"

"You scared Ben," Lisa said, and that was all he really needed to hear.

" " "

Dean generally behaved himself out of sheer exhaustion and because Lisa and Ben were around. The doctors asked him questions about his health; he told them the first things that came to mind just to get them off his back. Some of them lies, some of them truths. There was this saying once, about half-truths being whole lies. He didn't care either way.

"How long have you been feeling sick?"

Was that a trick question? This pain felt like it's become a part of him, and since there was no foreseeable end, how could there have been a beginning?

"Kinda just crept up on me."

Questions went in one ear and out the other, and unthinking words tumbled from his mouth in between, most of which he didn't bother to remember. The doctors decided tests would be more useful than his answers.

The medicos took some blood from him, hooked him up to a unit of blood and IV fluids, and then admitted him to stabilize him as they waited for the results. The nurses were transferring him to a room, and he agreed to the wheelchair if Ben would push it; the kid looked wide-eyed scared, and Dean thought he could use the distraction. He'd done that for Sam, once or- He cut off the thought, because it made his stomach ache and his head spin. He bit his lip and stifled a groan.

"I'm gonna end up bumpin' you into things," Ben said, breaking into his thoughts.

"I'm tough, I can handle it," Dean told him with a smirk.

Chagrined, he let a burly orderly help him to his feet and then down to the chair; the doctor had been right about him being shaky. Ben turned out to be a not-so-bad wheelchair driver. He'd pushed Dean to the elevator and then to his room. When Dean was settled in bed, he shifted uncomfortably, and then stared at Lisa.

"You guys can go, you know," he told her quietly, "You should. Ben must be tired, and he's got school."

"I ain't goin'," Ben insisted, "Not 'til you're okay."

"I'm okay," Dean sighed, "I'm fine, see? Go home, kid."

"Mom!" Ben complained, looking to a higher authority.

Lisa looked from Dean to Ben, then back again, the both of them subjecting her to similarly imploring looks. Sometimes, they really could have been blood-related.

"You're both impossible," she decided, "We stay one more hour, Ben, and then I'll take you back here right after school tomorrow, okay? Dean's getting tired too."

Ben frowned, displeased. He settled on a chair by Dean's bed, crossed his arms over his chest. It made him look like an imposing little pouty Napoleon, making his displeasure clear. Dean was charmed; he was brain and body-weary but god he was human too, wasn't he? He lowered the handrails on his bed and picked up the television remote control on his nightstand, lifted it up to Ben's view like a peace offering.

"Wanna drive?" he asked.

"I guess I can," Ben said after a moment. Dean scooted to the far end of his bed, and Ben abandoned his chair and sat beside him as he took over the remote.

" " "

'Underlying condition' sounded bland when the doctor said it, but it reared its ugly head soon enough. His dinner came in just before the Braedens were about to leave – an unidentifiable mash of pale-colored shit – and they postponed their departure to make sure he ate it. He complied just so they'd leave, and then minutes after they went out the door his gut complained. The constant twinge in his stomach suddenly just flared up inside of him, the little nagging hot pokes suddenly expanding its radius up, then outward, widening and widening and widening, burning him inside-out.

He tore at his Ivs, blood and clear liquid making a mess on the sheets and the floor. He staggered for the bathroom, threw up his damned fugly dinner. He heaved, found himself grinning sickly at the mostly-undigested food mixing with his blood on the toilet.

"Better out than in for that shit," he gasped, doubling over again and heaving. His stomach was just burning, and as he threw up more and more blood, he started getting scared.

I got rid of the shit already, he thought, Quit it.

He went on. He went on and on until he couldn't feel his lips, and then his hands and feet were nothing but a mass of cold pricks and tingles. He turned everything red with the blood from his mouth; the water in the can, the toilet seat when he lost his grip and his aim, the tiles on the floor when he fell, the clothes he had on, the limbs he lost control of, his vision when spots danced before his eyes, the face of the man who found him like that.

Dude looks scared.

I'm dying.

Thank god.

He didn't forget about me.

" " "

In his dream/nightmare, he went back to that old boneyard outside of Lawrence, probably because it all has to end where it started.

Dean-hell started here in this cemetery when Sam jumped into actual-hell. Dean thereafter walked away alive an uninjured, and it was time to walk back in.

"You haven't been taking care of yourself."

Dean whipped around, found the angel Castiel standing there, still in that infernal light brown coat.

"This is me-time," Dean growled at him.

The angel just shrugged, looked around before stepping forward. He kept a respectful arm's length away from Dean.

"You are not doing so well out there," Castiel informed him, "Lisa Braeden took your phone and worked down your speed dial."

"Lemme guess," Dean told him snarkily, "Speed dial 1 – Sam – was outside the coverage area."

His stomach didn't hurt like he expected it to, like any thought of his brother inspired pain outside in the real world.

"Bobby is finishing up a hunt," Castiel said, "But he is on his way to you. I didn't know I was delegated to number three."

Dean just snorted, "You're not offended, are ya?"

"It's a good number," Castiel said, "Like the holy trinity."

"Oh please," Dean rolled back his eyes, "You came on over here just to tell me this?"

"No," Castiel said, "I am here to... to get you better."

"Heal me?" Dean snapped, "Really? Heal me?"

"You are ill," Castiel said, "And I have the means."

Dean looked away from the angel's look of earnest simplicity, saying, "When I was... when I was in hell... they sliced and carved and tortured me until there was nothing left. And then suddenly, I would be whole again, like magic. Just so they could start all over." He looked back at Castiel, angry eyes watering, "Are you the devil, Cas, by any chance? I gotta check, 'cos all of this? All this shit? Is looking really kinda familiar to me."


"No," the hunter snapped, swiping at his eyes angrily, "No, goddamnitt, do not fucking touch me, do not fucking fix me. My brother is in a goddamn hole and this is the scenario where we win. I walked away from all that shit unscathed, man. No wound on me, nothing. Like nothing had happened and I'm trying to figure out... how there's a god out there that lets him rot down there and I'm walking around without a fucking cut on me living with a hot chick and her nice kid. Why'd... why'd you have to fucking fix me? Couldn't you have just saved us both and took away an arm each or something?"

The angel pressed his lips together.

"There is nothing I can possibly say or do to-"

"Then why are you here?" Dean raged, "Why the hell are you here?"

"Because..." the angel scrambled for words, looked genuinely perturbed by the question before finding, "Because you are."

Dean closed his eyes at the undisguised answer, decided now was a good time to just fall to his rump on the floor and never ever get up again.

"I don't know the answers," the angel went on, "I can say nothing to comfort you, not even a decent lie. But I know enough to say that this is not what Sam wants for his brother. How can he possibly want this for you."

"He had no right to ask me to live like this," Dean said hotly, "It's some kind of a... prosthetic life. I'm pissed at that stupid bastard. He's lost his goddamn vote." He regretted the words the moment they slipped from his lips. His fingers curled at the grass on the ground that his brother had vanished into apologetically.

"How can I possibly do what he wants," Dean said, more quietly, "How? How can I just... just stop." Stop from wanting to break him out of hell came unsaid. But more than any technical thing like that, how can he stop missing his brother? Stop thinking about how he would make a terrible uncle-babysitter to Ben when Dean wants to go on date night? Stop hurting at any thought of Sam? How can he just... stop?

"You don't," Castiel told him quietly, "You don't stop, Dean. You go on. You bring that with you and carry it around. It is an unenviable burden, I know. But how can you not do this... when it was your brother who had asked? When have you ever not-given him what he wanted?"

Dean looked down on the ground. He wanted to open it up and dive in and crawl back out, dragging Sam back with him by the hair. He wanted to follow Sam down there, even if only within six feet under where everything in his head can finally go quiet, for his gut to settle. He wanted a lot of things he wasn't likely to get. But what Sam wanted... what Sam wanted he could almost always give. He could almost always be.

"I'm still alive out there?" he asked the angel.

"Mostly," Castiel said.

He pursed his lips, nodded. "I can just wake up, right?"

"Yes," Castiel replied.

"How long have I been out?"

"A couple of days," Castiel answered, "Bleeding ulcers, with some complications. I have read that it can be stress-related."

"That's very helpful of you," Dean told him, mock-gravely.

"It will hurt when you wake," Castiel warned him shifting from leg to leg in unrecognized anxiety, "And as you recover. I can help you on this score, at least. I can heal you. I can fix that."

Dean looked at the angel, then stared. This whole ridiculous exercise made him realize he sought out the pain because it made him feel closer to his brother; that they shared some sort of similar fate, that they weren't so far apart. Castiel was a different animal altogether. He sought to help and to fix, because he could do nothing else for Dean. They were both pathetic, helpless fools under the cover of their victory.

I can heal you.

I can fix that.

Because he couldn't fix the most important thing, couldn't bring Sam back. It's why the angel had fixed him here, after Sam had gone to hell. Had fixed Bobby too. The angel was like a distant father who bought his daughter a fucking pony because he can't give her time. At any other time, Dean would have indulged Castiel. But not yet, and not today.

"I think I'll just take it on," Dean told him, "Thanks though."

He wanted it to hurt, just a little bit longer.

He needed to hurt, just a little bit longer. He needed to feel Sam just a little bit more; be unhappy about his brother's loss, be stressed out about it, to not-eat because of it, to hurt for it, be nearer to it, just a little bit more.

He needed it for himself, and then he'll work up to giving Sam what he wanted for Dean before he went away. Apple pie life... he'd get there, somehow. But for now, for himself, he just needed to hurt a little bit longer.

The End.

May 31, 2010.


The Title

The title of this fic, The Righteous With the Wicked came from what is said to be the first solemn prayer recoded in the Bible, in Genesis 18:23 - "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" The context behind this prayer is asking for the sparing of a town even if only a few righteous people were there. In the context of my fic, it's Sam burning in hell – righteous among the wicked – and Dean needing for something out there to save him and wrestling with the implications of the answer being nothing. Like he said in the finale, all he had was his brother in a hole.

The Characterization of Dean

There's several key aspects to Dean's characterization in this fic. There's the survivor's guilt that is just one part of Post-traumatic stress disorder, among many other symptoms that you might have spotted in Dean in this fic. I had a hard time writing this, trying to get in the proper head space where he was caught between suffering his brother's loss and living out his brother's wishes.

I looked through some accounts of PTSD in WWII veterans, who kept wondering why they survived and others didn't, who kept having nightmares, but still also had to function on a daily basis and be with the people they loved. I wanted to capture that fragility and at the same time that relentless ability to function. That's why I kept tossing Dean between the two: the darkness of his thoughts and the mundaneness of doing his laundry, date night, making sandwiches, shopping at Wal-mart. The most detailed of this series is throwing up blood at night thinking he was dying, and then waking up the next day to clean the bathroom, and thinking about skewering Ben while sitting beside him and watching TV. Gradually, the separation slowly united until he could no longer handle it, the mental manifesting into the physical, the night and the day melding into late afternoon all the time.

Dean's characterization in this fic is also about a guy who sort of welcomed his misery and pain because it made him feel closer to his brother and father and mother, but at the same time understood how dysfunctional it was and understood that his brother wanted something else for him. I really wanted to write a fic that united the Dean who was grieving for Sam but at the same time, the Dean who can sit at the Braeden's dining table and try to just survive.

Aside from the mounting but functional PTSD, there is a faith-aspect to this characterization also, of course. The movie that was playing on the television during the date night scene of this fic was The End of the Affair, about a man who at the start didn't believe in God until he lost the woman he loved: "I hated You as though You existed. Now I am tired of hating... but You're still there. So Your cunning is infinite. You used my hate to win my acknowledgment." The statement kind of reminded me of Dean and the current and atypical place God has in his life.

I was born and raised a Catholic, and I always think that the show is constantly walking a tight rope in terms of offending me (it hasn't yet, haha). But I find I both appreciate and fear the risks they take, but the former outweighs the latter because more than anything else, I appreciate how they bring faith into the discourse, and makes people think about it more.

Oh and for the eagle-eyed fans of the show, quoting the television to contribute to the storyline is actually an idea borrowed from the S3 episode Long Distance Call; something was playing on TV after the boys had their heart to heart talk and the character was discussing something about having enough time (right after Dean and Sam were discussing Dean being scared of going to hell and running out of it). I really like it how Supernatural sneaks in nice tricks like that to magnify a situation or a conversation.

Anyway... this note is long enough, haha. The fic was depressing, I know, but I do hope you were somewhat entertained and that it captured your idea of how Dean could be coping without his brother. Your comments and constructive criticism is always, always appreciated. Thank you so much for your time and hope I catch you with the next work I put up. I am hoping that one will be a bit brighter, haha. For now... thanks for reading and 'til the next post!