Having a few years of higher learning under my belt doesn't make me a scholar, or a philosopher. I don't have any right to weigh in on the age-old debates regarding life and death – primarily when it starts and when it ends. I don't think that's something we'll ever really pin down.

But if experience counts for anything I've come to believe that there's no such thing as death. Matter doesn't go away, it just becomes something else. Bodies rot, turn to dust, but they still exist. Spirits leave a body, but they don't just stop. They just go somewhere else – Heaven, Hell, or somewhere in between. Rebirth is real. Demons and Angels swap bodies like fashions. Death isn't the cessation of life, it's simply a different state of being.

It still sucks.

Why? Because there are rules. Rules govern the body, and they sure as hell govern the spirit or else every building, every object, every square inch of ground on the planet, would be haunted. Ghosts are tied to things, bound by rules. Some haunt the place where they died, unable to forget the trauma. Some haunt an object – the weapon that killed them, a piece of jewelry they cherished, a favorite painting - there's always a catch. There's always a knot that has to be unraveled before a ghost can cut loose on its own. We told that girl, Molly, it was unfinished business. She needed to know what happened to her husband. I thought I tied up all my loose ends pretty good, but I guess not.

Ghosts can be tied to people too. Shouldn't be surprised I'm stuck with Dean. Neither one of us can let go, never could, and there's probably some psychological syndrome to define it with, but I don't have the answer. Even our dysfunction is dysfunctional, and it's certainly not normal, or normal for being abnormal. We're joined at the hip. No, correction, we're joined at the soul, because Lucifer was right about one thing - I'm one half of a whole. He just got the other half wrong, but what do you expect from such an arrogant bastard?

I don't know how I got here. I don't really know why I'm here. All I do know is I'm not stuck in a cage with two archangels who are as pissed as hell at me for fucking up their Apocalypse. Given that choice, I'll stick with Dean.

I see things I'm not supposed to see, and I mean that in more than one way. This place, this thin slice of existence between Heaven (or Hell) and Earth, is sort of a dumping ground for the unexplained. I guess the best way to describe it would be to call it a parallel universe just beyond normal human senses. Limbo, maybe? There's only a thin layer between this and the "real" world. Some people, psychics, can tap into it, and once they do, human rules don't apply. You get a key to unlock the door to this world and it's anything goes. Trust me on that one. Been there. Done that.

Angels and demons hang here when they're not possessing some poor schmuck. The Almost-Apocalypse really got them all stirred up though and I've been told there aren't nearly as many as there used to be. The few that do pass through usually ignore human spirits. We don't mean much to them. That's one good thing. They can't really fuck with me anymore – not here, not as long as I follow the rules.

Reapers are the masters of this universe. This is their realm. I've seen Tessa a few times. I once asked her if she could cut me loose, but she can't. She said, "This prison has two keys, and one won't work without the other."

Nuclear bomb analogy? Nice. Appropriate. It'd take a nuke to pry me and Dean apart. If death can't do it, what else can?

Tessa told Dean that spirits become ghosts – the type we used to hunt - because over the years they get desperate and angry. I've been desperate and angry all my life. I don't think I have any of that left for the afterlife. I can see how it can make you nuts though. You can look but not touch. There's not much to do but haunt somebody. Poltergeists are defined as "restless spirits." I can see why. I've been real tempted to throw a few rocks around myself. It's fucking boring here, especially since I can't change the channel. All I have to do is watch Dean live his life, the life I made him promise to live. That hurts, man. It really does.

You can take a wild animal and put it in a cage, give it shelter, food, water, make it more comfortable and safe than it could ever be in the wild, but it still won't thrive. It's not that it can't be content, or even find some sort of happiness, it's just that the bottom line remains the same. It's still a wild animal.

My brother was never meant to be domesticated. He tries though, God he tries. He wants it real bad too, I know he does. He loves Lisa, and Ben, and the new kid on the block, Junior. Everything Dad wasn't, Dean is trying to be. Dad wasn't much of a role model. Dean's idea of fatherhood comes from those old shows he watches on TVLand. He's knocking himself out to become Ward Cleaver, and in a screwed up sort of way it's working. He coached Ben's little league team, and Dean knows shit about baseball. For Ben, though, he learned. I guess I shouldn't be surprised Dean is taking so well to fatherhood. He was more a father to me than Dad ever was.

Dean loves the hell out of Ben, even if he doesn't know the truth. I don't know why Lisa lied to him about it. Maybe she thought it would give him an out – or herself an out – if they couldn't hook up again. I don't know why Dean hasn't called her on it either. Junior could be Ben's clone, and there's no doubt he's Dean's. I wasn't supposed to see that either. Junior's conception was – very interesting. I know now why Dean nicknamed Lisa "Gumby Girl."

The nickname "Junior" bugs the crap out of Lisa. It's a joke that stuck. His name is John Robert, after Dad and Bobby. His initials are JR, so Dean started calling him Junior right out of the starting gate. Dean was there when he was born, and was the first to hold him. Lisa asked him if he wanted to name the baby Sam. I was kinda flattered. We'd only met in passing, but I guess that just shows you how much she loves Dean.

Dean didn't say anything at first when she suggested it, but then he handed Junior back to her and shook his head. "No." It choked him up so he could hardly talk. "No," he said. "I can't."

It's a wound that hasn't healed, even after ten years. I've been gone ten years now – seems like a nice, even number doesn't it? A decade. Ben's in his first year of college. Athletic scholarship. Junior is in second grade, and smart, real smart. I've watched them grow up just a little more every day for the last ten years. I've been right there with Dean on the pitcher's mound and in the delivery room. I saw him tear up when Ben got his diploma, and was at his side when he helped Junior take his first steps. I'm always here.

I've also been there, late at night when the kids and Lisa are sleeping, when Dean sits alone in the dark and talks to me – sort of. It's just a whisper usually.


That's all. Just my name, nothing else. No tears. He doesn't need them to convince me or anyone else of anything. The pain in his voice says it all.

You know Alistair may have been able to claim he broke Dean in Hell, but I've got the dubious honor of having shattered him here on Earth. He's going through a different kind of torture now. It's killing him, and God, I'd stop it if I could. The only way is to get free of him but that's not going to happen any time soon.

See, he knows I'm here. I don't mean consciously. He doesn't know I'm here, but he can sense something. They all can. We've seen it before, dozens of times. People can't let go any more than spirits can, or will. The grieving process never ends, the wounds never heal, and they can't understand why the pain never stops. That's the definition of "haunted." I'm a little surprised Dean hasn't figured it out, but then, it's hard to think straight when you're hurting so bad.

It's infuriatingly simple. Dean won't let me go, and I can't let him go. I've tried, but I can't. There's something else at work here, and I'll be damned if I know what it is.

I'm not desperate, or angry. I haven't gone nutty and started throwing the furniture around – not yet anyway. Sometimes I get bored, but even that's gotten better over the years. I can do things, move things. I read a lot, anything I can get my hands on. I'm careful not to leave things out of place. Lisa and the kids might not notice, but Dean would, and I still don't want him to know for sure I'm here. As uncomfortable as it might be sometimes, he wants this life, and I want him to have it. I can't screw that up.

I honestly don't know what he'd do if he did find out I've been hanging with him in spirit for the past decade. Try to free me? Send me packing? How? No body. It's long gone. There's nothing left to burn. There's nothing left to bring me back to either. I doubt even an angel could resurrect my corporeal body, and they probably shouldn't. The last time I saw it, it was occupied by Lucifer. It's gone, he's gone, and it should definitely stay that way.

What really scares me is the thought that Dean might try to join me here. There's been more than one time I've seen him out in the garage, sitting in the Impala with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a loaded gun in his lap. The first time was not long after I...left. It wasn't the bottle he raised to his lips - he'd finished the whiskey by then - but the gun. He had it cocked too. He'd be dead if I hadn't been there. I managed to work up enough energy to throw a little electromagnetic spark at the Impala's wiring, and the horn went off like a trumpet.

If Dean hadn't been so completely trashed he might have wondered why the Chevy's horn went off by itself, but he was and he didn't. If he were more trashed than he was he might have accidentally pulled the trigger when he flinched. Instead he just dropped the gun down into the floorboards. By the time he found it, Lisa had made her way to the garage. She took the gun away from him, held him through the inevitable break-down, and then put him to bed.

That was the first attempt. He's made others over the years, but he's never taken it that far again. He'll drink himself unconscious and never get the safety off his gun. They say suicide is a sin, but I can't fault him for it. I've been there. In a way, I am there. No, let's be honest. Let me be honest with myself. We both knew damn well if I jumped into that cage I wasn't coming out again, at least not in the traditional sense. It was suicide.

I'm not going to lie about it anymore. I dare anyone to try to keep going knowing you were responsible for the freakin' Apocalypse. And my family? We won't even begin to go there. Even the ones I had left – Dean, Bobby – I lost their trust, their respect. I lost respect for myself. I lost everything, including my humanity. My last Hunt wasn't for Lucifer, not entirely. My last Hunt was to take out the monster I saw standing there in the mirror every morning of my life.

You can argue that it wasn't my fault, that it was destiny, or just fate fucking around with me, or whatever, but that doesn't bring back everyone who suffered because I was "chosen." It doesn't make Dean forget Hell, or clean up the mess inside his head. Of course me being dead obviously doesn't help Dean either. I'm dragging him down like a damn anchor.

I'm scared of the idea of him dying, but at the same time I don't think I'd be too sorry if he did join me. This, the "in-between" is a pretty lonely place. Nobody to talk to, not much to do but replay every moment of your life trying to figure out what got screwed up when and what you could have done to change it. I had a lot to think about, stuff I didn't want to think about. There was nothing else to do.

If Tessa is reaping anywhere nearby she'll stop to say hello sometimes. She has a soft spot for Dean. Reapers aren't known for their sentimentality, but Tessa's had too many encounters with the notorious Winchesters. We tend to leave a mark on people (and apparently non-human people too) who come in contact with us. They change – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

I also get messages from Ash from time to time. He's employed a Cupid to be his go-fer. None of the messages make much sense and the Cupid insists on hugging me before he delivers them. Still, it breaks up the monotony. Ash's crazy rambling can be entertaining, and figuring out how I'm supposed to answer can be a challenge, but I can do without the hugging. I think it was Ash's Cupid that ratted me out upstairs. In a round-about way this answered the question of whether or not the angels had anything to do with snatching my soul out of Lucifer's cage just nanoseconds before the door slammed shut.

The answer was "not." They had nothing to do with it.

With the loss of Michael, Zachariah and Uriel, and by virtue of being singled out by the still AWOL, but obviously attentive God, Castiel became the new B.A.I.H. – Big Angel In Heaven. Once he knew what happened to me, he kept my existence to himself. He sometimes has trouble with a few rowdy Michael supporters looking to unlock the door and let the big guy out again – along with Lucifer and the Apocalypse. It would seriously undermine his peacekeeping efforts if they knew I was still around. I have no idea what would happen to me, or Dean, if they came looking for me. I'm glad Cas is running interference.

Lucky me. I'm universally despised. It makes me think God might be behind my last-minute reprieve after all. This place, this gray area between worlds that makes up the sum and substance of my existence, is probably the safest place for me to be right now. It's keeping me out of trouble, and keeping trouble from finding me.

The moratorium on angel/human communications is back, but it doesn't stop Cas from talking to me when he can – I'm technically not human anymore. Trust Cas to find a loophole. When he first visited he stopped just short of pulling a Cupid. The strain of holding back this seriously un-angelic gesture was written all over his face, but he held back the hug. Jimmy Novak was long gone of course, and I could see Cas' true form without getting my eyes roasted, but he still showed up looking like the Cas I knew. That was comforting. He knew it would be.

He was as clueless as I am regarding the how and why of me being here with Dean. I asked whether or not I should let him know I'm here. Cas said, "I think, when the right time comes, you'll know it, but now is not that time."

When, though? And more importantly. Why? What event will make it so I'll have to reveal the truth and screw up Dean's apple pie life? I'm not sure I want to know.

It was inevitable that Dean went Hunting again. I never expected the gig to come from someone other than Bobby, or even me, but I knew one day he'd go back out on the road. It would take a lot of convincing. Whoever was doing the convincing had to be someone close to him. He'd never do it otherwise.

The request came from Ben. There's no way Dean would have said no to Ben. He came home over spring break and made his request in person, sitting out on the back deck while Dean fired up the grill. The subject matter clashed incongruously with the mundane suburban setting. They talked about spooks. Dean flipped burgers.

"A friend," Ben said. "It's for a friend."

Nobody should have been surprised the friend was a girl. Like father, like son. Lisa can deny Ben's origins all she wants but it's obvious he's a Winchester. He's probably what Dean could have been if we'd grown up normal. He's everything I always wanted to be, and reminds me a lot of myself. Just because he's in school on an athletic scholarship doesn't make him a dumbass either. He's smart, real smart. Pre-med. He wants to be an EMT. Helping people, it's in our genes I guess.

"Her parents bought a farmhouse, early nineteenth century, started renovations and something nasty showed up."

Dean illustrated the incongruity with a wave of a spatula. "I'm too old to go ghost hunting," he said.

"Dad, you're forty."

"Yeah, and you know how many Hunters make it to forty? Not many." Dean shook his head. "I'm retired."

"Uncle Bobby is still Hunting."

"Uncle Bobby is a freak of nature," Dean said affectionately. "So why don't you call him?"

"I did. He's busy with a kelpie."

When he said this, Dean rolled his eyes. Bobby thinks he's being slick when he comes up with little secret codes for what he's really doing. Hunting a kelpie is code for getting some coastline R&R. Bobby wasn't busy working, Bobby was on vacation. Ben had no way of knowing that but it didn't matter anyway. Not much could pull Bobby away from break time when he had his mind set on it. No ghost was worth the effort.

"I could always go check it out myself..." Ben said quietly.

That's when Dean gave him "The Look."

I have to give him credit, Dean is a good dad. He's figured out how to strike a balance between too much and not enough, you know? For the most part he's pretty laid back, and the kids have fun with him, sometimes too much fun if you were to ask Lisa. But they also respect him. When Dean laid down the law, he meant it. Sure, they tested him, like kids will, but they know there are reasons behind his rules. He's never uttered the words, "because I said so."

Because of a close encounter with a changeling, Ben knew what Dean did for a living before he became "Dad." Over the years he pieced together a little more of the story from things Dean did reveal and from little bits of overheard conversation between Dean and Lisa, or Dean and Bobby. He didn't know all the gory details. Even Lisa didn't know everything. Dean was pretty sketchy about what he told her, skipping a lot of the worst stuff, candy coating other things. She came to her own conclusions.

Lisa treated Dean like a man who has come home from a really bloody war, and God knows it fits. He's shell shocked and damaged, scarred for the rest of his life. He told her he went to Hell, but she only half believes it. It's figurative in her mind. It's all too real in Dean's. She knows something really bad went down, something apocalyptic, but not that it was THE Apocalypse. Regardless, whatever it was cost Dean a brother and made him stop Hunting.

There was no way he'd let Ben anywhere near that house.

Dean didn't have to raise his voice. After leveling that wilting look at Ben he focused his attention back to the grill. "You even think about it," he said quietly. "And I'll kick your ass."

"Why not? It's just a ghost."

Why not? Ask Ellen Harvelle. Or not. Dean did a pretty good job of channeling her when he turned around and snapped, "Because that's how it starts!"

Ben scowled. "I'm not going to become a Hunter, Dad..."

"You don't get it, do you?" Dean took the last burger from the grill and set the plate full of beef down on the table. "Hunting isn't a choice you make. It's...something else...a disease, I don't know. What I do know is once it gets hold of you it doesn't let go, Ben. Once you get a taste of it..." He stopped abruptly, standing there, clenching and unclenching his fists. "No. I said no. You stay the hell out of it. I'll go."

Ben's look was sympathetic, 'cause he knew he'd crossed a line somewhere. "Okay," he said softly. "Thanks."

"On one condition," Dean added. His voice got rough, real rough. Ben might not have been able to see the tears but I could. "You promise me. Promise me you'll forget about Hunting, forget it exists. There are no such things as ghosts or changelings, or shapeshifters or whatever. This is it and we're done forever."


"I'm not going to lose you too, Ben. I swear to God I won't." This time Dean did raise his voice. "Promise me, dammit!"

In ten years Dean had never shouted at either of the boys. He'd never cursed at them. Hearing it now set Ben back a second, but startled him into stammering a promise it was pretty obvious he intended to keep. He had no interest in Hunting. Helping people, yes, but spending his life out on the road, criss- crossing the country on shitty back roads, looking for the stuff of nightmares – no.

Thank God.

Dean hadn't driven the Impala in ten years. He'd pulled it into Lisa's garage and parked it under a tarp. Sometimes, like I said, he'd go out and sit in her and drink, but most of the time she just sat there gathering dust. He had a beat up old truck he drove instead, and Lisa had an SUV. Like a lot of things in Dean's life, the Impala just was. She was as much a ghost as I am. There, unseen, undiscussed, but not forgotten, never forgotten.

Lisa knew something was up when she came home one afternoon and saw the Impala parked in the driveway. Dean had spent all day working on her, helped by Junior who, like Dean at the same age, stood ready and willing to hand his father tools and fetch him drinks. Junior was pretty psyched that Dean had the Impala out, but Lisa wasn't, not in the slightest. She sent John Robert inside to clean up and confronted Dean.

"Is it today?" she asked quietly.

"Is what today?" Dean shut the hood with a bang and leaned against the fender wiping his hands on a rag. "Did I forget an anniversary?"

He was pretty tired by then. He'd stayed up late, after Lisa and the kids went to bed, sorting through the trunk, making sure everything was in working order, dismantling guns, sharpening knives. Funny, Hunting is one of those things that people compare to riding a bike. You don't forget. Dean didn't. His hands knew just where to go, what to do, without conscious thought. I hadn't forgotten either. Watching Dean work - on his weapons, on the car – made me feel like nothing had changed. I'd watched him do those things so many times, over and over again, that it could have been any moment we'd shared over the years. The normalcy of it was almost painful.

"Is this the day you leave us," Lisa clarified.

Dean stopped wiping his hands and stared at her. "What?"

Lisa looked away, shifting her weight as she crossed her arms over her chest and gazed out across the lawn. "I always knew it wouldn't last, that you'd take off sooner or later. I just I thought..." She shook her head. "I don't know what I thought."

"Hey," Dean caught her by the shoulders, pulled her into his arms. She was a strong woman, Lisa, one of the reasons Dean got along with her so well, but she had her moments. This was one of them. She was crying, and trying not to let him see. He did though. "Lise, I'm not going anywhere. It's just a quick trip across the state line to check out an old house. I'll be back by morning. I swear."

She pulled back and looked at him. "A Hunt? Dean. You said..."

"I'm not Hunting. I'm...consulting. Ben's got this girlfriend - well, not girlfriend, but girl friend – and her parents think their new renovation project is haunted." He shrugged, petting Lisa's shoulder as if he were stroking a cat. "I'm just going to poke my head in, reassure them they don't have Casper hanging around in the attic, and then come home. Ben's Dad impresses girl's parents, Ben gets girlfriend."

Lisa slugged him in the shoulder. "Dean! Don't teach him to think like that."

Dean grinned and reeled her in again for a kiss. After he was done, Lisa wiped her eyes and gave him a hard stare.

"So you're not going back on the road."

"No. Absolutely not."

After a pause, Lisa added. "Do you miss it, Dean?"

His answer was much quicker, and that should have tipped her off that he was lying.

"Not in the slightest," he said.

The drive from Cicero to a little town on the Indiana-Ohio border wasn't long, but it was long enough to remind both of us that no matter what, things would never be the same.

Oh, it looked the same on the surface. Dean sat behind the wheel of the Impala in his old leather jacket, driving too fast, playing his music – classic rock, what else – much too loud. I was even in my usual spot riding shotgun, sort of. I suppose there might have been a few people we passed who could have seen me, swearing there was someone there when there wasn't. Dean couldn't see me, and that made all the difference. To tell the truth, Dean wouldn't even look in my direction. Even if he could have seen me, he wouldn't have, because he never looked.

Dean's never been good at dealing with what he's feeling. It's always too little or too much, feast or famine. He shuts it up inside, or it completely overwhelms him, so he tries to avoid situations that cause really intense emotions. He avoided looking over at the passenger's seat because it was empty, because it reminded him of his greatest loss – and I'm not being full of myself by saying that. He wasn't making that trip to stir up bad memories, but because it was a job. He couldn't afford to let his personal shit get in the way.

As for the job - I don't know what those people were thinking when they bought the house. There wasn't anything spectacular about it. It was plain, old wooden farmhouse, the kind you see scattered all over the rural Midwest. We'd been in a blue million of them over the years. Most of them were built in a time when living was rough, and dying too. Spooks clung to those old houses like the cobwebs hanging from every corner. They hadn't left life easy, and didn't like to let go. They'd worked too hard for too long to give it all up just like that.

These were most likely to be the nasty kind of spirits too. Some of them were antisocial when they were alive, and once dead, hated the living even more. Some of them just fall apart from sheer loneliness once the last living occupant moves out and the house falls into disrepair. It's renovation that stirs them up in either case. One wants the living to leave him alone, the other has just become so used to the silence, all the commotion pushes them over the edge into full on bat-shit crazy. Angry ghosts are dangerous. Crazy ghosts are dangerous too.

Once, when I was about twelve, we had a gig de-spooking an old farmhouse that was sitting next to a brand new office complex. Because of some local restrictions regarding the razing of historical buildings, the owners of the property had left the old house standing. The ghost in residence started screwing around with the tenants of one of the new office buildings nearby so the owner called a friend, who called a friend, who called an uncle, who called Dad. We showed up and barged right in looking for the ghost. It happened to be an angry, antisocial son-of-a-bitch who had a particular disliking for kids. I was twelve, and actually looked younger, so the asshat ghost took a particularly particular dislike to me.

It was a big house, bigger and fancier than the usual old farmhouse, with a central staircase and two wings. We split up on a balcony overlooking the entryway. Dad was going to go down the hall to the west, me and Dean were to take the east – or so that's what was supposed to happen. What really happened is that Dad headed down the hall all right, but me and Dean – we never even took a single step before the spirit manifested right under our noses.

There's a reason why we use EMF detectors to hunt the supernatural. It takes energy for some of the things we Hunt to do the things they do, and they pull it from anywhere they can. They suck it up, build it up, and then tap into it when they need it. By monitoring fluctuations in electromagnetic fields we can tell if there's something unseen sucking up juice. That's also why a cold spot might indicate the presence of a spirit, because they use heat energy too.

Some spirits, angry ones in particular, use emotion to fuel themselves. Oh, they'll start out pulling from another source, but once they get going, their own anger keeps them going. HH Holmes' ghost out in Pennsylvania was one example. That mother was bad, real bad. I have no doubt that he'll eventually find a way out of the trap we snared him in, salt, iron and concrete be damned.

So this kid-hating spook shows up, right, and we can't even get a shot off before its got me. It chucks me over the balcony railing and as I'm falling Dean finally gets it together enough to shoot the thing. To this day I have no idea how the hell we pulled it off, but seconds later I see Dean's legs come over the railing too. He'd thrown down the shotgun and just vaulted over the edge after me in either a really daring, or a really dumb-ass attempt to save me, and it blows my mind that it actually worked.

I made a blind grab and my fingers snagged onto his boot. He'd been wearing a pair of old army boots that night and I'd grabbed onto the front, where the shoelaces laced up. If he'd been wearing motorcycle boots like the ones he wears now, my hand would have slipped right off and I'da hit the floor. I don't know if it would have killed me, but I definitely would have been damaged.

"Dad!" Dean yelled at the top of his lungs. "Dad!"

He had both hands around one of the spindles of the railing, and was having a hard time keeping his grip. It would have been hard enough to keep himself from falling, but he also had me to deal with. I was hanging onto his feet for dear life, my arms wrapped around his ankles and my face buried in his pant leg. I was pretty scared. I was even more scared when I looked up and saw the ghost crouched on the balcony, methodically beating on Dean's knuckles with her fists, prying at his fingers, trying to make him let go.

"Son of a bitch!" Snarling, Dean bit down on a yelp when she dug long nails into his skin, drawing blood. He was starting to get panicky. He was slipping fast. This time both of us yelled, "DAD!"

There was another shotgun blast. The ghost vanished, and Dad had hold of Dean's arms. It took a lot of effort, and I was terrified they were going to drop me more than once, but eventually Dad and Dean managed to get us both up over the railing to safety. Once he knew we were okay Dad spent some time both praising and chastising Dean for leaping over the balcony after me. But that's Dean. That's the story of Dean and me.

When I left for Stanford I asked Dean to come too. I wanted him to get away from Dad, to find himself, cut the strings and stop being a Dad's little marionette. I knew he'd be a pain in my ass, but I asked anyway. I owed him that much.

He refused and I went without him. It was the first of only a handful of times Dean hasn't followed me, hasn't taken that leap over the balcony rail in some heroic attempt to save my ass. The last time was in Stull Cemetery, when I took a giant leap into oblivion. I don't know what held him back, whether it was his promise, or simply the fact Lucifer had shattered virtually every bone in his face, but he didn't jump.

Since then he's come pretty close to the edge. He hasn't jumped though, not yet, but I don't know how long that's gonna last.

Dean's heartache is palpable. It's always there, lurking just under the surface like some dark predator ready to pounce. On that night, his first Hunting trip since I died, it jumped out and gut him. Just over the Ohio border he switched off the music and the tears began – the music of grief. The rest of the trip I was forced to listen to my own requiem.

I would have preferred Metallica.

Like I said, I don't know what those people were thinking when they bought themselves a run-down farmhouse. It wasn't worth crap, and definitely not worth saving. They could tear it down and rebuild a modern look-a-like for half of what it would cost to fix the original. The place was a wreck. Dean shared that opinion. He pulled up to the front steps and got out of the car, staring up at the house with a look he usually reserved for a plate full of broccoli.

"What a piece of shit," he said, shaking his head and adding, "Morons."

Just like he had a million times before, Dean went to the Impala's trunk and came back with a shotgun and a flashlight. There were several steps involved in a ghost hunt. The first was to confirm the existence of the spook. Once that was done we had to figure out who the ghost was, and where the remains were buried. Finally we had to send it packing.

Ghosts have rules. They – we – haunt. We're like parasites, latching onto something or someone, unable or unwilling to let go of the life we once had. I never thought I'd be that way, even before I knew what existed out there after we die. Maybe that's why I'm still here. I wasn't real impressed with Heaven, and I sure can't imagine it without Dean. Maybe once upon a time I could, but not now. We've been through too much together.

Lucifer was brought down by vanity. He never thought some puny human would have the strength to take him on and win. He never thought he could make a mistake, but he did. He gave me access to inhuman powers, and tipped me off to a way to pump up the volume with demon blood. That was his first big mistake. His second biggest mistake was at the very end when he decided to torture me and beat the snot out of Dean.

I experienced it all. Lucifer made sure I did. I smelled the stench of blood when he killed Cas. I felt the bullets from Bobby's gun tear up my body, and I felt every bone in Dean's face shatter under my fist as Lucifer worked on beating him to death. I could see Dean's face swelling up into something unrecognizable – a bloody bag of broken bone – and I couldn't stop hitting him. I don't know how he kept himself from passing out. The last blow that landed felt as if I'd punched a blob of Jello.

The pain must have been excruciating, but he never screamed, never let it show. He just kept saying the same thing over and over again - "I'm here, Sammy. I'm not going to leave you." Lucifer broke his jaw, and he still said it. "I won't leave you."

If he had, we – humanity - wouldn't be here. Lucifer would have won. Dean being there gave me more strength than any amount of demon blood. I couldn't have taken Lucifer on without him. He's never left me. Not then, not now, maybe not ever. It makes me wonder sometimes just who is haunting who.