Summary: Dean's living the life Sam wanted for him, but everything isn't as it seems. No spoilers as far as I know, unless you haven't seen the season five finale. In that case, none of this will make much sense. Written for the spn_summergen challenge. My prompter wanted fic with Jess. Of course, I don't own any of the characters or make any money writing about them.
The Name of My Soul
He's not sure why he goes there, to the 'scene of the crime' as it were. He knows there's nothing there, nothing worth mentioning, or the world would know too much, ask too many questions. That's not how it's supposed to work. People aren't supposed to know about what they did. There's no redemption in pride, anyway.
Still, he goes there, if for nothing else but to close that door and place ending punctuation on the story of the life that's over and done. Bobby's gone, and Cas. Dean's better off without him. This is just Sam, picking up where he left off, so desperate for a direction he's willing to follow a thread from his past into his future. If there is a thread. If there's… anything. The world's more hollow than he remembers it.
Still, he goes there, if for nothing else but to close that door and place ending punctuation on the story of the life that's over and done. Bobby's gone, and Cas. Dean's better off without him.
This is just Sam, picking up where he left off, so desperate for a direction he's willing to follow a thread from his past into his future. If there is a thread. If there's… anything. The world's more hollow than he remembers it.
The landscape blurs as if viewed through a windshield with rainwater sheeting off it, and most of what he sees is suspect, unsteady like his wobbly sea legs on newly solid ground. Stumbling closer, he pinches the bridge of his nose and wills away the tragic irony twisting up his spine, wonders if this is how it's supposed to feel to walk over his own grave. The place has its own gravity and draws him in, each step a lurch in his gut that would surely wake him if this was only a dream. He doesn't know what he's afraid of, what could be worse than where he's been, but each step grows stilted, knees locking out to keep his stride from turning over.
There's a house in the suburbs somewhere, soccer games and barbecues in the corner of his mind. Peace. Rest. And he walked away. To keep it safe, warmed by something other than hell fire. He can almost feel the glow off the window glass, the idyllic scene within almost washed out by the reflection of the full moon behind him as stands on the street outside.
It's the biggest moon he's ever seen.
Almost too big to be real.
Breath shreds his throat, blistering hot and cold as liquid nitrogen, and he's lying in the field, gasping as panic burns its way up his throat.
"No!" He turns over and over a dream horizon but doesn't wake up. Fingers scrambling in the grass, the skin strips from his knuckles when they connect with cold stone. Sharp unnatural corners dig into his shoulder. A gravestone. This is a cemetery, after all. No cause for panic.
Except the shoots of grass around it are already burnt with stomach acid, painted yellow with bile. He brushes away the dirt, the etching too shallow to read under the dusting of debris. It'll be his name on the stone. Or maybe Adam. That too big, too bright moon on the windowpane is his.
It isn't. Not his moon. Not his window. Not his name. The sinking realization grinds like gizzard stones in his chest. They really can't save everyone.
Free will aside, The Book of Life isn't Choose Your Own Adventure. If it was, this would be the end.
Dean keeps waiting for the world to feel saved. He's not sure what that would feel like, or what it would look like. It's not that he expects to see Sam's face on billboards or Jumbotrons, or wants a collective moment of silence every second of May. It just seems like there should be something on those billboards besides ads for last year's new cars, available for less at Repo Joe's, and there should be something more to the noise of everyday life than engines and sirens, ringtones and dialtones, Sirius satellite radio and static. But the world doesn't act saved. It just goes on, intent on dragging him along with it.
Maybe it's him that's not saved. He just isn't seeing the point anymore. What is the point of surviving the apocalypse and coming out the other side, if the other side's the same as the first and he's only half the man?
There was a time, possibly the briefest moment in the history of the universe, when he thought all this was worth it, deserved to be saved. Now, everyone's over-indulged, privileged, unaware at what cost they drink Starbucks and watch television on demand, a haphazardly stitched together Joseph's Coat of innocence, indifference, and ignorance-blissfully unaware. Everything's just like Sam would've wanted. It's everything he wanted for Sam, once. And look how that ended.
What about Sam in Hell? What about Sam suffering so the world doesn't have to? What about Sam, alone in the dark?
He never asks, 'What about me?' He doesn't dare.
What about him? What did he do? What does he deserve?
Damned if he knows.
Oh blah dee, and oh blah dah.
Life's good, it seems. He doesn't want for anything.
Lisa makes mashed potatoes for dinner every night, the kind from out of the box. When he asks her why, since most people don't serve mashed potatoes with spaghetti or frozen lasagna, she says because they're his favorite. He shrugs and piles them on his plate, even though he doesn't remember telling her that.
There's a lot he doesn't remember.
The refrigerator in the garage is always stocked with beer. It's good. Some brand he's never heard of. Lisa says it's the best. Far be it from him to turn down the best. He's sure the bar downtown serves something that doesn't taste like fermented sweat socks, but this is the best, so he stays home.
What more could he want?
Ben's on a baseball team. At least, he says he is when he comes to Dean, glove in hand and wants to toss around the ball. Dean's been planning to clean out the car, shoulders squared to take on the weight of the world he's got locked behind the rearview mirror, all that empty, empty space, but it's not going anywhere. The car hasn't moved since he parked it in the driveway, but Ben has a game on Saturday.
The two of them play catch for hours. They laugh and tell bad knock-knock jokes the whole while, and no matter how distracted they get, the ball never rolls into the street or dents the Impala where it's parked in the driveway, spotless and gleaming. When they're finished, satiated on sunlight and the heady scent of fresh cut grass, they leave their gloves on the mantel next to Ben's soccer trophies while Dean grills steaks in the backyard. Always steaks. 'Cause they're the best.
He hasn't had a cheeseburger in forever. But, hey. Steak. And Imported beer. With mashed potatoes. And the Impala sits in the driveway, safe.
He doesn't actually remember going to a baseball game, never wonders why there are no soccer balls in the garage. He just plays catch and lets himself be caught up in whatever the world throws at him.
Life is good.
But what about Sam?
On Sam's birthday, they take Ben to Disney World. It's a coincidence. He didn't even know about the trip. May 2nd just finds him dodging turnstiles at the break of day instead of cleaning out the glove box like he'd planned. That happens a lot. He never talks about Sam. He barely thinks about Sam in complete sentences. Never gets the chance. He no sooner starts, and the subject changes, or the moment just passes. Every chance he has to dwell- stuck in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, standing on Main Street USA in anticipation of the Electric Light Parade and fireworks he didn't light himself-and the world goes on. Unaware.
Traffic clears; another checkout opens up right in front of him; they're bear hugged by Goofy and end up wearing Mickey Mouse ears and posing for pictures until he almost feels like they are the family in the photographs. Caught up in the claustrophobic press of apple pie families into his personal space and stealing his air, it seems petty to keep reminding himself of the one body that isn't there.
Sam wouldn't want that.
So, Dean smiles. He oohs, and ahhs, when the fireworks light up Cinderella's castle. He pretends he doesn't want that either.
He's planning to wash the car, whether it needs it or not. Last time he wondered out loud how it hasn't got even one spot on it, despite sitting in the driveway 24/7, Lisa said little elves polished it while he slept.
The thing is, he doesn't actually remember sleeping. He doesn't remember lightning storms or dog days of summer. He doesn't remember being hungry or thirsty, morning wood, or at least two out of the three S's in his morning routine. But hell, the world doesn't remember nearly ending, so he figures this is just what it feels like to be saved. It feels muzzy-headed and foggy but warm, tastes like expensive beer and steak. It looks like a car that never needs washing.
His reflection's too bright and crisp on the surface of the bucket; it ripples and breaks apart when he drops the sponge into the soapy water. He's watching it shimmy and sway, the entire reflecting pool world slipping out of focus, when Ben turns the water hose on him from behind. The moment passes in splashing, tickling, travels round and round the car in pop goes the weasel fashion, and ends with them both drenched and exhausted, clothes sodden and heavy. Lisa calls them for dinner, and Ben scampers in, still giggling.
Dean watches him go, his own cheeks sore from smiling, then leans down to pick up the soap bucket. He meets his own reflection, crystal clear in the passenger door, and looks himself in the eye.
There should be streaks. There should be smears. Dried up soap bubble rings, finger prints, nose prints, ass prints. He knows there should be a mess. But there's just him in HD, the most spectacular sunset streaking behind him, the horizon meeting the sky at the end of the longest, smoothest road he's ever seen.
He's seen it before, once, should've seen it sooner, all of this, for what it is.
The bucket bounces off the hood without leaving a dent, and his foot doesn't break no matter how hard he kicks the bumper or how long, again and again until he falls backward to the ground, the stars already blanketing the part of the sky on the dark side of the full moon.
His clothes are completely dry when he climbs into the driver's seat, starving for a bacon cheeseburger and the cheapest beer on tap.
Or chocolate chip cookies.
There are a lot of greasy spoons on the side of the road between Dean and Palo Alto but no other cars. He no sooner imagines a cheeseburger, or fries, or pie, and another appears on the horizon. He doesn't recognize them so much as he recognizes something about each one - the selection of songs in the jukebox, getting the high score on the Ms. Pac Man game in the corner, the well-endowed waitress that tasted like peach preserves. He eats his burger and keeps driving.
Jess isn't wearing a Smurf T-shirt when she opens the door. She has instant potatoes in the cupboard and expensive beer in the fridge; she hugs Dean like she's been expecting him.
Sam isn't home. Dean says he'll wait.
Jess is a good hostess. She treats him like family and not company, pulls up a chair across the table from him and sits with one ankle crossed under the opposite thigh, a knee tucked into her chest. She eats bread and butter, tearing it apart and rolling it into little balls before tossing it back like popcorn, blushes when one falls down her shirt. Dean feels like he could talk to her forever. She only talks about Sam.
"Y'know," Dean says, around a heaping forkful of potatoes, "I never really liked these things."
Jess's mouth snaps shut, and her hand drops to the table, bread ball still in her fingers as her brow crinkles, one cocked in amusement. "But they're your favorite."
"I know," Dean says. "When Sam was little, he always wanted to do whatever I was doing. So, whenever he got it in his head to help with the cooking, I let him make instant potatoes. If they were too runny, we added more flakes. Too dry, more milk. Worse that could happen was they'd boil over onto the burner. Couldn't really screw them up." Dean can't help but smile at the image of Sam standing on a kitchen chair and stirring potato flakes into a saucepan. "He was so proud of himself. No matter what we were having, I always told him the potatoes were my favorite." He leans across the table, fork still in hand. "That's why I should've figured this out a long time ago."
She looks puzzled but pointedly stops tearing up her bread. "Figured what out?"
He goes back to eating, uses each mouthful as a dramatic pause and gestures with his fork in the air. "I missed it, for awhile. Because I didn't remember any of this. But then, I never knew about that cabin with the dog and the cold pizza." He shovels in another bite, watching her over the bridge of his nose as he forces it down, follows it with a shot of beer that makes him grimace at how over the top it is. Too good to be true.
"I don't... know," she stammers.
"Same Heaven," he says, "Just not my version." He tilts his head, lets his eyes squint as if he can somehow see past the glamour. "So, when's he coming home?"
"I don't know," she says.
Now that he knows he doesn't sleep, passing the time becomes an issue. As much of a relief as it was, initially, to finally find someone willing to talk about Sam, Jess only has a couple of years worth of memories, and Dean's pretty sure she isn't real, anyway. Only room for one soul mate here. The rest is just wishful thinking. But he can see, watching Jessica, why Sam would wish for this, why he remembers her this way. She's comfortable, a peaceful, easy feeling, and not because she's wearing pajamas and plying on the mashed potatoes. There's warmth in the way she twists all that long hair up on the top of her head and knots it, doesn't seem to be bothered by the strands that pop out and tickle over her nose as she clears away the dishes. It's the way she forgets he's sitting there, and dances to some tune she's got stuck in her head while sudsing up the plates, and the blush that creeps up her cheeks when she remembers but goes right back to doing it anyway.
Yeah, this is where Sam should be. This is where Dean waits.
He's on his one thousandth verse of "The Song that Never Ends," feet propped on Jessica's kitchen table when finally, she turns to him, a cheap bottle of beer extended to him as an offering and says, "You should come see what we've done with the yard, Dean." And even though they're on an upper floor with nothing but a fire escape outside the window, he follows her into the yard.
He's been there before, the air thick and climate controlled, misting nozzles high on the dome and out of sight, the leaves around him dripping false dew in filtered sunlight.
"Where is Sam?" he asks, squinting into the light.
"Wherever you are, if only in spirit." Jess's mouth, her eyes, her face, but not Jess anymore. Just a figment, like the rest, but figments are the only things real here, so he believes her.
"Right," he says. Hands in his pockets, his thumbs shrug up with his shoulders and his eyebrows, unimpressed. "Right. Guess I had that comin,' but you know I gotta ask. Where is he, in body?"
"He's doing God's work."
"On Earth." She presses her nose into a gardenia blossom, somehow too white the way the highlights in her hair are too bright by just one or two levels. "Soul mates always come together in the afterlife. If you'd follow him into the cage, you'd both be there still. When you came here, so did he."
He's never been so glad to be dead before in his life. But why doesn't he remember? How long was Sam in the cage waiting for him? "When?" His hands can't stay in his pockets; they come out, and to keep from grabbing her and shaking her for answers, clasps his elbows across his chest, swaying over his feet.
"Lucifer intended to kill you," she says. "He didn't fail."
"So, in the field… Lawrence?"
She nods. "With Bobby and Castiel gone, there was no one there to pick you up. They put a stone where you fell. It says, John Doe."
"But Bobby and Cas came back," he objects. "They were resurrected. I saw it."
"In your version of Heaven, they lived. However, you're the only one who saw that."
"Um," he scrubs over the back of his head, "okay, I guess, but then, why isn't Sam here?"
She turns her attention on him again, the gardenia branch springing back hard enough to shake dew from the neighboring blossoms. "I told you, he's doing God's work."
"God sent him back? Why?" He doesn't say, 'why not me.' He's pretty sure he knows; the lack of purpose, of work has been keeping him forever rolling over a dream horizon in his mind without the benefit of waking up. His work might be done, but he's too wide awake for rest, nothing peaceful about early retirement.
"Redemption comes at a hefty price."
"He gave his life!"
"It wasn't his to give."
"Who are you to decide?"
She tsks, then, and it's so like Ruby, heavy with condescension, that he wishes she'd take off Jess's face. "It's not up to me."
"Then, who?" And he knows as soon as he says it that he's earned the eyeroll that elicits. "Oh, right, God's work." She's about to follow a butterfly beneath the fronds of a weeping willow tree, but he catches her by the shoulder and spins her back around. "So, tell God I want to go back. Dean Winchester, reporting for duty, or something. Put me in Coach. Whatever He wants to hear, tell Him."
"That's not how it works," she says. "He tells me what He wants you to know. It's not exactly a two way phone call." She sighs, then, seems honestly perturbed, whether by his plight or her own shortcoming, he can't tell. She lays a hand aside his cheek, tips her head to the side, studying, her thumb soft across his chin, then she steps back. "You have to tell Him yourself."
"Great," he shrugs. "So, how do I do that?"
"Easy. You call Him by name."
He scoffs. "What? So, I just say, 'Are you there God? It's me, Dean?'"
She laughs. "No. His one true name is written in your heart. You know what it is as surely as you know who you are."
And that's a problem, because he really doesn't know. He's not sure he ever has.
"You do know who you are, don't you, Dean?"
His knees threaten to give out from beneath him, sudden like a thunderclap, along with the certainty that he's never ever going to find Sam. All the time that's passed, physically, metaphorically, hypothetically, and he's never felt that until now.
"Dean," he huffs, suddenly out of breath and swaying. "Dean Winchester?"
"Doesn't sound like an answer to me," she says. Her fingers clasp around his elbows as he tips forward at the waist, starts to buckle backward.
"Son of John and Mary, brother of Sam…" He can feel her fingers like talons. Waves of energy course from each one, wrapping his entire body in a vice of pain pleasure too closely related to differentiate between, and he can't see for his eyes rolling back, lids fluttering shut against his cheek.
She floats forward with him as he falls, a stilted Texas Two Step, and he's tripping over the rowels of his spurs.
"No, Dean. Who are you?" Then, she lets go.
"I don't know." It's the heaviest weight he's ever tried to carry. His collapse ends abruptly with his ass settling onto a mossy stump, and he's got his head between his knees hyperventilating as he tries to know, tries to remember everything he's ever heard about the name of God, deep inside himself in places he never looks, because what's safe is closer to the surface. He starts with what he learned from Indiana Jones, that Jehovah starts with an 'I' and not a J, glances off the 'God is Love' bumper sticker he spent hours peeling off the Impala after an unfortunate run-in with a church group on a camping retreat in werewolf country. God is not there, but Dean was, once. Memories peel away like the shreds of paper.
He feels smaller, somehow, something deflated and empty, ready to be filled, the way he always felt sitting in that over-stuffed chair in Pastor Jim's office as a little boy, waiting for the grownups to stop talking while he distracted himself reading the plaques on the wall. His breath rakes in and out past a constriction in his throat, and even the memory world darkens around the edges, his vision tunneling over Pastor Jim's walls, past the Footprints plaque, and the Gethsemane painting to the one that always seemed as out of place as Dean had felt. To the one that felt like Dean.
It's a giant, garish poster, rainbow-colored wall of text on a black background, and the entire verse is the name of God-Alpha, Omega, The Way and the Truth, Messiah, Prince of Peace… and in the center, two words in white, like truth… but he can't remember, because he never believed… or understood. He tips forward off the stump, his knees in soft-moss-covered earth, everything dark now, except the words, and her hand as she stops his fall.
Jess kneels in front of him, dressed in flowing white. The slight over-brightness has amplified to a blinding glow that drives daggers through him. "You know His name, Dean," she says, and when she puts her hand to his chest, it hurts, because there's already something there, heavy, and pointed and metallic, hanging over his heart… where Sam would've wanted it. "You know who you are and where you find God."
The amulet bursts open, illuminating the last two words at the fringes of his memory… and he falls into the light.
Sam hisses as Dean peels the bandage away from the burn on his chest.
"Serves you right," Dean teases. "Should've left that thing in the trash."
Sam doesn't say anything, just clenches his fingers in the t-shirt across his lap and stares through Dean while biting back grunts of pain. Three days Dean's been back, and Sam still looks at him like he might be a hallucination.
"Would you stop," Dean says. "I'm here, okay. I'm real. And before you get all emo about it, it's because I want to be here."
"But… why?" For a second, Sam's that little boy again, the one who never stopped asking questions, and right now, Dean doesn't want him to ever stop.
"For one," Dean explains, lathering the reddened skin with burn cream, "If I'm doomed to be your soul mate and share a Heaven with you, I gotta do a better job of making sure you know what my idea of Heaven is."
"I dunno," Sam says. "What you described sounds like Heaven to me."
"Yeah, to you." Dean shrugs, takes a break from applying the bandage by sitting back on his haunches for a second, pensive. He studies the threads of gauze, the way they weave and twine together. Everything looks different now, and not just because it's real. "I mean, I still don't get it. I don't remember doing any of those things. Baseball in the backyard, barbecues… Disney World…and I'm pretty sure you don't either."
"Dreams," Sam suggests. "Memories and dreams, both just electrical impulses as far as your brain is concerned."
"But I never dreamed about Disney World," Dean snickers. "Space Camp, maybe…" Heat rises in his cheeks, and he goes back to bandaging.
"Not all of my dreams were about me, Dean." Sam looks down, the haunted look replaced momentarily by a blush and a crooked, one dimple smile. "And now I know. Space Camp instead of Disney World. Got it."
Dean musses his hair, leftover impulse from Heaven and Ben, or so he'll swear if Sam calls him on it, but Sam doesn't. "So, there you go. If we gotta share a Heaven, I figure I gotta get a few of my own memories and… dreams," he clears his throat, still a little hesitant to believe he's allowed to have either, "because I've been sharing a room with you my whole life. You're not hogging all the blankets in Heaven, too."
Sam laughs at that, bunching and unbunching the knotted up T-shirt. "So, are you ever gonna tell me?" he asks.
"Tell you what?" Dean asks.
Sam rolls his eyes. "The name of God. I figure that's need to know information, you know, for future reference."
Dean shrugs. "I don't know. I don't think it's a name so much as an idea."
Satisfied with the patch up job on his chest, Sam starts to pull his t-shirt back on, huffing and stiff until Dean rolls it over his shoulders for him. "But, if you don't know, then how did you get back here?"
"This is where I belong," Dean says. He gets up off his knees, knows there will be bruises on them in the morning, and creaks in his bones to go with them, relishes every one. "It's who… I am."