The fun part about writing fanfiction is the freedom. Why would anyone want to write for the show itself (well, besides the paycheck) when you're pretty much locked onto one course of direction?
As a follow up to my last post-Swan Song fic, Deus Ex Machina, I decided to go a different direction.
Just for fun.
This house wasn't like the one she had before. That one had been new, built only a year before she moved into it. Dean remembered thinking that it had a "new house smell." You could still catch a whiff of paint and wood glue, vinyl and whatever chemical they had used to treat the wall-to-wall carpeting. It looked like every other house in the neighborhood, all of them being built by the same developer. It lacked personality.
He had been glad to see Lisa move, and not just because of the house, but because of the things that had gone down there. In his experience, places where bad things happened were forever tainted. They were left scarred – if the wound healed at all. Sometimes, like in Lawrence, infection runs rampant. Bad things continue to happen over and over again. Dean lost everything he ever truly loved in Lawrence, Kansas. He would never set foot there again.
Dean knew he was dreaming because he was in Lawrence. Specifically, he was in Stull Cemetery. It wasn't a part of the graveyard he recognized. This place looked new, modern, like Lisa's old house. Manicured lawns stretched up and down gently rolling hills for as far as the eye could see. Aside from the rows of perfectly spaced, nearly identical headstones, it could have been a golf course. The grass was a brilliant verdant green, the sky a cloudless shade of brilliant blue, and a gentle breeze shook the trees lined up around the perimeter fences. Their leaves rattled, saying "shh, shh" as if to remind visitors it would not be polite to wake the dead.
In his dream Dean could also hear the sound of his boots crunching along in the gravel, and his heart pounding hard in his chest as he climbed toward a small tree at the top of a low rise. In his mind he could hear a familiar voice telling him that people sometimes planted trees as grave markers. Dean hadn't planted this tree. He wondered who had.
There was already a gravestone. It was cold, dull, and just like all the others, save for the words carved into the gray stone face.
1983 – 2010
Dean stopped. He took up the shovel he had slung over his shoulder, and started to dig. The earth yielded easily. A rich, fertile smell rose up from the good Kansas soil – at first.
Dream Dean dug with determination, while the sleeping Dean tossed his head and moaned. He'd been here before. He knew how the scent of the Earth changed the further he dug, first to the sour smell of sulfur, then to the metallic stink of fresh blood, until finally he was assaulted by the stench of rotting flesh – the scent of Hell.
Stop. Please. Just stop. STOP!
But he couldn't stop. He kept digging, despite everything, despite his promises. He wouldn't stop, not until he heard a soft voice speaking over his shoulder, Sam's voice calmly inquiring….
"What are you doing?"
In his dream Dean always turned quickly, startled, but the dream ends there. He never confirms Sam's presence. He never knows if it was truly his brother, Sam's spirit, or Lucifer, who spoke to him. He always jerks awake with a cry, and this night was no different.
His voice was a hoarse whisper as consciousness returned and his dream voice became reality. He automatically glanced to his right. Sometimes his nightmares woke Lisa, sometimes they didn't. He hadn't woken her this time. Lisa continued to sleep, face down, one arm curled beneath her pillow and her long black hair tousled around her head. Dean lay his head back down. He reached out with a trembling hand and slipped a finger through a single coil of her hair. Her warmth and the steady rise and fall of her breath he found comforting.
After a moment he rose from the bed, moving carefully so he wouldn't disturb her. The other house had been new, and carpeted – silent. This house was older, with wooden floors that creaked and moaned, but Dean knew from experience where not to step. He didn't sleep well. Lisa assured him his insomnia wouldn't last, that eventually he'd relax and settle in to his new routine, but Dean had his doubts.
He'd been a Hunter since he was four years old. He had spent years cultivating a nocturnal lifestyle – because bad things came out at night, mostly. Sleep deprivation was part and parcel of the job, and so were nightmares. All Hunters had nightmares, because nobody chose to be a Hunter, every one of them had a tragic history. Every one of them had been dragged in kicking and screaming against their will.
There was only one Hunter, perhaps only one man, who had been to Hell and back quite literally. Dean's nightmares weren't always as benign as this one. Sometimes he remembered. Lately, since Stull, he imagined. Not long after he'd joined the Braden household he'd been shaken awake by Lisa in the middle of the night. His eyes were burning, his body shivering as if he had plunged into an icy lake. He'd looked up into Lisa's worried expression.
"You were crying," she'd told him. "Was it Sam?"
Dean remembered the nightmare in fragments, disjointed images that recalled, made his chest ache. He'd told Lisa Sam had died. She assumed it had been on the job. She imagined he'd died saving someone, or someone's child, much as he and Dean had saved her child. Dean never set her straight. Sam had saved the world, the entire human race, by giving up his living soul to the Devil himself. His torment would be endless. Lucifer would show him no mercy.
In his nightmares about Sam in Hell, it was Dean who wielded the instruments of torture. No matter how much he tried, he couldn't stop himself. No matter how much Sam screamed and begged for mercy, Dean could. Not. Stop. Lucifer stood behind him wearing Sam's face, praising him in Sam's voice for work well done. Sometimes though, Lucifer wore his father's face, and Dean heard John's whisper in his ear: "I told you you'd have to kill him."
It was 5 a.m. in the morning, and this was the second time Dean had been up since they'd gone to bed the night before. Three hours earlier he had gone downstairs for a beer. He'd flipped through a few television channels before going back to bed. Now his beverage of choice was coffee and instead of the television he sought out Lisa's laptop.
There was another habit that was hard to break. Dean kept his eye on things, checking the news for anything that seemed to fall outside the ordinary, paying particular attention to his own immediate vicinity. Dean's primary concern was for his family, which now consisted of Lisa and Ben. He was no fool. He knew whether he was Hunting or not, he was the number one most wanted on both angelic and demonic hit lists. Neither group would hesitate to use his relationship with the Bradens against him, so Dean stuck close to home and kept his ear to the ground.
So far the past twelve months had been quiet. Nobody, nothing, came for him, not even Cas. No angel or demon or any other nasty creature came anywhere near Cicero. In fact, there had been very little supernatural activity throughout the entire state of Indiana. It had struck Dean as almost being too quiet, so much so he'd picked up the phone and called Bobby, whom he'd not seen, nor talked to in months.
Bobby's first reaction to Dean's query had been typical, and not entirely unexpected. "What the hell are you complain' for?"
"I'm not complaining. It's just….weird."
"No. It's not. The angel and demon gangs are too busy taking pot shots at each other, and the near Apocalypse opened up a lot of people's eyes. For every Hunter we lost, three more sprung up out of nowhere to take their places. "Bobby paused. "Dean. You're off the hook. Relax and enjoy it."
"Kid, just live. It's what your mother wanted. It's what Sam wanted. They never got this chance. Don't blow it by looking for trouble where there ain't any."
What Bobby didn't understand, that Dean himself was only just beginning to understand, was that Dean needed to be needed. He'd lost everything with Sam – his purpose in life, his very identity. Lisa and Ben had gotten along just fine without him. They liked having him around for sure, but they didn't need him. Dean felt as if he'd been set adrift in a lifeboat without a paddle. He was alive but not getting anywhere, and in that scenario, what was the point of living?
Being honest with himself, Dean realized there were only two things keeping him from blowing his own brains out. The first was simple – he'd made a promise to Sam. The second was that he knew what awaited him after death. He'd been to Heaven, and he'd been to Hell. The unpleasantness of Hell was a given, but Dean had also found very little enjoyment in Heaven. Either way, Sam wouldn't be there. Sam was in a special Hell, trapped there forever with two powerful beings that had every reason to hate him. Dean had nothing to live for, but he had nothing to die for either.
"I just exist," he murmured. "Even the damn coffee maker doesn't need me." He dropped a pre-measured filter "pocket" into the machine and pushed a button. Almost immediately coffee began pouring into a carafe. "Next they'll invent a pot that pisses for you." He slipped a mug in to the spot where the carafe sat, let it fill, and then swapped it for the carafe again. With coffee in hand he sat down at the kitchen table and stared at the laptop.
Nothing. Not a blip on the supernatural radar anywhere.
A scuffling sound and the creak of floorboards suddenly made Dean tense. He flinched, turning quickly to confront whatever had entered the kitchen, despite immediately having some idea as to its identity. It, was a who, and the who, was Ben. He shuffled into the room with his hair sticking up in all directions, yawning and rubbing his eyes, but his eyes were bright and awake when he looked up and gave Dean a grin. Dean grinned back.
"Did I wake you up, sport?"
"Nu-huh," Ben ambled over to the pantry and pulled open the door.
"You want me to make some pancakes?"
"Nu-huh." A box of toaster pastries was procured. "I'm good."
Dean sighed. He shut down the computer. It was just as well there was nothing going on that he had to worry about, because they had big plans for the day. It would be one of their first major outings as a family. They were going to the state fair, which was probably why Ben had gotten up so early. This was the first time he'd be big enough to ride the adult roller coasters. Dean preferred to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground, but he'd agreed to ride with him. Ben was understandably excited about the trip.
"When are we leaving?" Ben asked, bringing his toasted pastry and a glass a milk to the table.
"Dunno. When your mom wakes up we'll ask her."
This made Ben scowl.
Dean frowned, puzzled. "Yeah, and?"
"Don't do what you usually do on Saturdays."
"And what's that?"
Ben chewed and swallowed. "You'll say, 'I'll go wake Mom,' but then you'll go up there and have sex and then both of you will fall asleep until ten."
Shocked, Dean's mouth fell open. "What?"
"It's true," Ben stated, taking another bite of his breakfast.
"Wha…where….who taught you about sex?"
"Sex Ed. Didn't you have sex education in school?"
Dean flushed. He didn't just have Sex Ed in school, he'd had sex in school. "Yeah, but I was twelve!"
Ben just shrugged. "Guess they decided they'd better start sooner these days."
"Jesus wept." Dean shook his head.
He felt gypped again. This time robbed of the fatherly duty of giving Ben the "Birds and the Bees" speech. He'd tried to give his very carefully prepared treatise on sex to Sam once, only to have his little brother look at him like he was a complete moron. Sam had been fifteen, but Dean knew for a fact he'd missed the sex education classes at least twice due to switching schools at the wrong time. It had never occurred to him that not only did Sam know all about sex, but Sam was experienced in it. He'd lost his virginity two full years before Dean did. He'd been thirteen and the circumstances were still clouded in mystery. Dean didn't ask, and Sam didn't tell. They'd both been too young, Dean thought, but then, they'd always had to grow up faster than other kids.
"There's one thing I don't get though," Ben said.
"What's that?" Dean asked, somewhat hopefully.
"Why do you call Mom, 'Gumby Girl?'"
Dean stared at him.
Ben stared back. "What?"
Picking up his coffee, Dean rose from the table. "I'll tell you when you're twelve."
Parked in Lisa Braden's garage, gathering dust beneath a tarp, was a large, dark part of Dean's past – quite literally. Twelve months earlier he'd parked her there, hiding her from prying eyes and potential enemies. He hadn't driven the Impala since then. Instead he drove a foreign import Lisa bought. In twelve months he'd ruined two starters, because he wasn't used to driving a car with an engine you couldn't hear running. It had air conditioning, seat belts and airbags, intermittent wipers, heated seats, and a trunk the size of a breadbox. It also had cruise control, which Dean absolutely refused to utilize.
"That's not driving," he said in disgust.
He called the Impala, "Baby." He called the import something that was far from politically correct and that made Lisa smack him the first time she'd heard him say it.
"Not in front of Ben!" she'd hissed. "Dean, that's racist."
"It's a car!"
Lisa glared at him, so Dean was rude to the car only when nobody else was around. When they were around he called it "The Pink Puke."
"It's Champagne," Lisa corrected.
Ben, naturally, sided with Dean on the subject of the newer ride. "Looks pink to me," he said. "Let's paint it black."
When he and Dean high fived, Lisa stalked off in a huff. However, she would not let them paint the car black, nor any other color. She did allow Dean to hide a lock-box under the driver's seat. Inside was a gun. Lisa was nothing short of prudent.
They drove the Pink Puke to the fair, and for once Dean wasn't particularly sorry it had a rather unique color as there were dozens of similar makes and models in the crowded parking lot. Like the Impala, the Puke stood out in sharp contrast to the other cars. It would be easy to locate in a hurry. He left the gun where it was, thinking it wouldn't be a good idea to wear a holstered weapon on a roller coaster that would flip him upside down more than once. If the gun fell out, it could kill someone – not by going off – but by hitting them in the head. Instead he had a knife secured at one ankle beneath his jeans. It wouldn't fall out of its sheath, and would be more effective against demons anyway. It was Ruby's knife.
Dean had been to many fairs and carnivals, but never for fun. His visits to such places in the past had always been for business, not pleasure. To be there not looking for some evil creature or cursed object was at first strange, but Ben's excitement was contagious, and within a short time Dean was having the time of his life. The food alone was worth the trip, but there were a million other things to see and do. They rode rides, played games and watched a tractor pull. Lisa insisted they look at the agricultural exhibits and walk through the animal barns. She came from a small farming community in rural Indiana. Going to the fair was like going back to her roots.
The target shooting game was no match for Dean Winchester. He won Lisa a giant stuffed dairy cow, which made her laugh. Ben won a goldfish at the ring toss game and named it Bubbles Walenski. When asked why Bubbles Walenski, he just shrugged. It sounded good, he said.
Lisa leaned over to Dean and whispered, "it sounds like a stripper," and both of them giggled like children.
For Dean, it was one of the best days he'd had in a very, very long time. He should have known he wouldn't make it home on that high, because everything he ever did always seemed to turn sour.
The day had gone by quickly, and so had the daylight. It was dark by the time they headed for the parking lot. The daytime crowds of families had given way to the younger, rowdier set, and Ben was exhausted. He trudged wearily along between them. Dean carried Lisa's cow. She'd been put in charge of Bubbles. Whether it was habit, or just common sense, Dean kept a wary eye on their surroundings as they made their way across a nearly empty field to where the car was parked. As people left, the lot cleared out in patches, with "islands" of vehicles scattered randomly around the field. One island stood between them and the Puke, a group of three cars parked beneath a lighted utility pole. Within the light there stood a group of five or six people.
Dean immediately went into defense mode. He handed the cow back to Lisa as he knelt and pretended to tie his shoe. The knife went from its sheath to his belt. "Keep walking. Don't say anything."
As they grew closer it became obvious what was going on. There were six people in total. Four stood in a semi-circle around a fifth, who had the sixth pressed up against the side of a car. There was blood on the sixth man's face, and on his attacker's fist.
Dean's stride faltered, his memories of Sam's last day triggered by the sight. Castiel had healed his face, but not his mind. He still remembered the agonizing pain of his shattered bones, and the metallic scent of blood as it filled his sinuses – until the swelling ultimately destroyed his sense of smell. His mouth and tongue had continued to swell too, and the pressure inside his head had grown with every passing second. He'd sat there wondering which would kill him first – the fluid building up inside his skull, or lack of oxygen when his ability to breathe was finally squelched – and he hadn't given a damn either way.
Lisa's voice grew tense. "Dean, please. Don't. Just call the cops. Let them handle this."
He was about to reply, when one of the combatants looked up at them with a snarl. In the pale light shining down from the utility pole, Dean could see the man's face quite clearly, and just as clearly he could see the inky black color of his glistening eyes.
"No," Dean whispered. "They don't know how to handle this." He met Lisa's fearful gaze. "Take Ben to the car. Get in. Lock the doors. Under the passenger's seat is a box of salt….."
"I've lost enough!"
His voice was still a whisper, but the frantic, frightened tone made it a shout. Without another word, Lisa took Ben by the hand and continued toward the car at a brisk pace. Dean turned and walked toward the gang of demons and their victim – smiling.
"Hey guys. Having fun?"
At the back of his mind, Dean realized taking on five demons with one little pig sticker was pretty much suicide, but something inside him had gone slightly off kilter when his father died. Hell, after the Apocalypse and what had happened to Sam – well, he wondered sometimes if it all hadn't destroyed the last bit of sanity he had left. What he was doing now definitely fell under the category of insane.
The first demon, the one who had snarled, turned to meet him, raising one arm as it prepared to send Dean on a one way trip to the hospital, or the morgue. Not all of them were strong enough to do the flinging thing, but apparently this one was no weakling. That was the problem with killing demons with a knife. You had to get close, and sometimes getting close was damn hard to do.
Dean quickly raised his own arms in a gesture of surrender. "Hey! No worries. I'm unarmed."
"Like hell you are," the demon spat. "I can smell the blood on that knife you carry."
"What are you," Dean muttered. "Part hound?" He braced himself for his flight.
"Wait!" Another demon approached. The meat he wore was a young blonde kid, a surfer type. He pushed the first demon's arm down and nodded toward Dean. "Are you in a hurry to go back to the Pit?"
At first Dean thought the demon was talking to him, but quickly realized he was addressing his comrade.
"He's an idiot with a knife!" The first demon raged. "Arrogant bastard thinks he can take us on? He deserves to die."
"Not arguing with you there," Number Two said, shooting Dean a baleful look of his own. "That idiot is Dean Winchester."
The remaining three demons, two of which were holding their victim, shifted their weight uneasily, and after only a second's indecision, made their retreat. Exiting the mouths of their meat-suits in whirling, screaming clouds of black smoke, they retreated into the night. The men they'd been wearing fell to the ground and lay still. The man they'd been beating slumped heavily against the car door, wiping blood from his nose on the back of his sleeve.
"Son-of-a-bitch," the first demon cursed. He shoved his companion's hand from his shoulder, and slipped away into the darkness, taking his meat-suit with him.
Demon number two looked at Dean and snorted. "It's a sad sign of the times," he said. "When our kind back down from an easy kill."
Puzzled by the abrupt departure of the first four, Dean shook his head. "Why are you?"
The demon smirked. "Because I'm not an idiot."
Between one blink of an eye and another, the demon was gone, leaving only the gang's victim and Dean standing beneath the light. The guy was staring at Dean with almost as much venom as the demons had, and as Dean approached he wrinkled his lip in clear disgust. Dean aborted his check on the downed meat-suits when the guy spoke.
"Don't bother. They're long dead."
Dean shrugged and checked anyway. They were dead, and cold. He wiped his hands on his pants. "Are you okay?"
"I have nothing to say to you."
"Really? 'cause I think a thank you would be appropriate," Dean said, puzzled by the guy's attitude. "Dude, I just saved your life."
"Those vermin couldn't have killed me. You wasted your time."
There was a quick burst of light, a sound like the rushing of wings, and the demons' victim was gone.
Dean blinked in surprise, and then scowled deeply, realizing he'd risked his life for another creature that wouldn't have thought twice about killing him. "Angel," he growled. "Dammit!"
Turning on his heel, he walked back to the car, still puzzling over the demons' odd behavior and musing at the fact he'd gotten away from an impossible to win situation unscathed – again. At the car he found a relieved Lisa and Ben waiting for him. He got in and locked the door. Lisa handed him the keys.
"Did you call the cops?" he asked.
She nodded. "They're on their way."
"Good, let's go."
Dean started the car, taking a quick glance in the rearview mirror. The demons, and the angel, were long gone. Had he been alone, he might have pursued them. They hadn't turned on him. He would have been easy to take out, but they hadn't attacked, and stranger still, they seemed to have no desire to either.
"I don't know," he said quietly.