Summary: Dean has been wearing a mask for a long time. Nowadays, with a promise as his compass to an unknown land, he feels like it's becoming his reality. Pretending is hard…turns out, trying to keep a heart from breaking is even harder.

Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural; Mr. Kripke has the privilege of that. I'm just borrowing his creations and pretending to be able to write angst.

A/N: A big thanks to Electric Dream who beta'd this for me, although I must say I added a few things after that, so any mistakes are my own! Enjoy…


He is going to die. He is going to die in this godforsaken graveyard and he can feel it, the ache deep in his bones confirms it. The ache deep in his heart promises to finish the job if nothing else does.

He is about to die and he prays for death to come as soon as possible because these moments that he still breathes, that he still thinks, that he still feels, are unbearable. He can't just be, in whatever state, while Sam is down under, imprisoned for all eternity in a cage with Lucifer.

He can feel his forced breath coming in and he knows that there are at least two internal bleeds. He can feel the four broken ribs poking awkwardly at his lungs and threatening to break his skin. His head is pounding, screaming at him, the concussion making all the other aches just a bit duller. His face is all a bloody mess, throbbing and stinging, but the tears just won't come. His eyes remain stubbornly dry – he doesn't know if there's anything left in him to cry.

He is broken, so very broken, but more from the inside than the outside. There is no chance he will survive, there is no one around to take him to a hospital where doctors could try and save him.

He can easily admit that he is even glad.

He has a promise to keep, a promise he made for Sam's sake. A promise he hates, having being forced to say the words, all for his brother's sake; all because stubborn Sammy had asked. He doesn't want to keep the promise. He doesn't want to live, he doesn't want to feel happy ever again, he doesn't want to have to learn to live without Sam.

He also doesn't want to disappoint Sam.

So, dying sounds like the best compromise. He will have peace at long last, he will be in a place where he won't wonder every single moment how Sam might be in Hell; a place where he won't wish he could take revenge; a place where he won't have to force himself to forget.

He wishes he could lie down and wait there peacefully, a litany of 'sorry' and 'I'm proud of you' going through his mind, but he hurts everywhere and he is tired, there is no more strength left in him, there is no will to move anymore. So, he just stays there, waiting for the end, counting the seconds down and idly wondering whether he will be welcome in Heaven now that he has royally ditched them.

Then, there's this odd feeling he's painfully familiar with and Cas is there, right there, whole and alive and a solid presence that puts his body instantly back together.

He would punch Cas if he had the strength, if he were less confused about the situation. But Dean finds himself accepting this new turn of events with a grim determination, the same one that has defined him for the last few months, and he puts one foot in front of the other and he walks ahead, keeps going and it hurts, it does, every single step he takes is a stab to his heart but he doesn't – won't – stop. If he stops now, he'll never stand up again and he has a promise to keep, dammit.

Lisa hugs him like they are two long lost lovers – they aren't. They weren't ever real lovers – Dean thinks they might never really be. He hugs back like he needs it. And he does, he really, really does because he's not sure he can stand being there, living a life that doesn't belong to him without someone to tell him 'it's okay, it's gonna be okay' – even if it's a lie.

It's not okay and it won't ever be okay. Sam's rotting in Hell and he's trapped in Stepford, only he knows that it's him who's the fake one among a plethora of normal, ordinary people. He squeezes her and she hugs tighter, like she understands – she never will, how could she?

They don't make love. They live in the same house, they share a life and they don't make love; Dean suspects they never will. They do have sex, though. He just doesn't think he can make love or even knows how to anymore. He doesn't think he can touch her soft body and caress it lovingly, worship it; he doesn't think he can look into her eyes as he slides inside and connect with her, let her feel him; he doesn't think he knows how to give what she might ask for. He doesn't have anything to give. Empty and broken like a forgotten shell washed up on the shore by the force of the sea, not by its own accord.

The sex is good, though. Fast and hot and satisfying; he is human after all. Not like Lisa's complaining.

They don't fall in love either. Or at least Dean thinks – or even hopes – Lisa hasn't fall in love with him. He knows he hasn't. There's not much you can do when you've left your heart behind. He has come to care for her, though, and see past the idea she represented to him – the normal life and family. She's sweet and patient, her humor a bit awkward, her desserts a little too sweet for him, her taste in tv unusual for a single thirty three year-old mother. Her smile is easy and bright and she's generous with everyone. She tends to be a neat freak most of the time and gets annoyingly anxious where Ben is concerned, but he doesn't complain, it's not like it's his place to do so.

Months of living in her house, being part of her family and he doesn't know if he'll ever feel 'it's his place to do so'.

He drives the truck and he thinks he got himself a pretty good deal out of it. The man who sold it to him was decent and straight forward with him. The price was beyond good and Dean might even feel bad about it if he wasn't quite short on cash.

It turns out, driving the truck is not uncomfortable or difficult because there's nothing missing from it. It's not full of memories and it's devoid of any pain the sound of the upholstery or someone else riding with him may cause. It's not safe and it's not familiar. He has the papers that name him the owner, but it's still not his. Pretty much like his entire life nowadays.

The construction site was not a difficult choice in the end. He knows how to built things, he's always been good at using his hands. The money is good and hey, it's a decent day job and he never expected to find himself in one. He did pass outside a mechanic's store before applying to the construction site, just a test for himself, wondering if he could do it. Besides, fixing cars is something he's really good at. He's better at it than anything else. Anything else but hun-

He stops the stray thought right there. He's good at fixing cars, there's no doubt; he just thinks that if he were to slide under a car, something in him would brake and he can't take any more, there's already too much of him left unfixable. His life consists of moments and things and people arranged in a way that they don't bring back any memories. This is a different life and he has to keep it that way in order to stay sane.

Lisa seems uncomfortable when she has to leave him alone in the house. Not alone with Ben, just alone. He thinks it would be funny, but it really, really isn't. He doesn't know exactly what she's afraid of. Maybe that he'll get two or more bottles of something strong and unforgivable and finally, literally drown in them. Or maybe that he'll let loose of all the anger she only suspects is buried there and he'll destroy the house or hurt himself. Or maybe she thinks he'll just leave for good.

Dean is not doing any of these things. He's not going anywhere. It's not like he has some place else to turn to. He's not leaving Lisa or this life and he's not leaving this world. He made a damn promise and he'll stay here, nail his hands and feet to the walls if he has to. And he's not letting loose of any anger and he's not destroying anything. He gives everything he has into simply living, getting through every day, he doesn't have enough strength to be destructive. If he had, he'd brake a promise that means more to him than protecting this life he's still adjusting to.

He still makes lame jokes and this time around, there are people who laugh at them. He still makes crude jokes and there are guys who smirk with him. He wonders why he wants to punch them all.

He attends school games and a couple of fairs and it's not the first time in his life he's done that. It's the first time, however, that he doesn't feel excited about it. It's not because he doesn't like Ben. He does, he really does like him. If he had a son, a real son, he'd be proud if he were anything like Ben. Dean has always been good with kids and Ben is one of the best and somehow it's Ben who always manages to bring him back to now when he starts drifting.

He's not overprotective and he doesn't feel like it's up to him to teach Ben what he knows, to make sure everything's alright, to shape him into the man he'll one day become. That's Lisa's job and Dean is thankful she doesn't ask anything like that from him because Dean doesn't have anything like that to give.

Dean is good with kids, but he was even better with one very special kid.

He may have never admitted that, but up till the end he used to still have nightmares about Hell. He really isn't surprised when he only dreams of blackness these days and emptiness. In some ways he thinks this is worse than the nightmares. It's worse because it represents his life and he thought he tried to make it full, to make it mean something and these dreams just prove how much he's been lying to himself.

He eats and drinks and makes jokes and he slips on the mask he's so used to wearing that sometimes he has to stop and wonder what's real anymore. It's the same mask he always wore in front of his little brother, to protect him, to guard him from the worst of their lives' aspects, even if it didn't work most of the time – Sam knew him too well. This time it's him that needs protecting, though, and wearing the mask will help him keep the questions and curiosity away. He doesn't want to talk; he doesn't need to.

Sam is his to keep. Even the repressed memory of him is Dean's and Dean's alone to keep. No one else has to carry around that burden. Just like keeping Sammy safe was his job, now Dean finds that it's his job to carry around, buried deep and left alone, the memory of his little brother who saved the world.

So he eats and drinks and makes jokes and he breaks down inside a bit more every day. He wakes up and goes to sleep every day with a warm body beside him, but it's Sam he has on his mind, apparently the only time of the day he lets himself acknowledge the constant present of him in his thoughts, and he wants to whisper 'we did it, Sammy, an other day has passed and I'm still here', like Sam can hear him, like Sam will be content with his words.

He doesn't let his mind think about why Sam can't hear or feel anything right now, why he can't hear anything right now. He doesn't let his mind count the years Sam has been locked away. He just thinks of how he'll go through the next day, because he promised. He promised and he, not once, has dared to let his little brother down. It's his job as a big brother, anyway.

He also never thinks of why he's not really a big brother anymore. Because that's the only thought that can undo him. The only thought that will make him break the damn promise.

And Dean, even now, just won't let Sam down.

Freedom or peace, Cas had asked him and he knows that what he fought for, what he and Sam gave to the world was freedom. Nowadays, he thinks freedom is overrated. Because it's not real when you're trapped in your own, personal hell. Having peace at least can offer you real calmness and balance, in both heart and mind. And that's where real freedom lies – when your heart is at peace with your mind.

Only Dean thinks that for him that's a long lost possibility. He left his heart in pieces somewhere in a graveyard in Lawrence, Kansas. He's now only left with his mind in a constant loop of 'keep going forward'.

The world feels empty no matter how much he tries to fill it up with mundane tasks and things, like school games, a decent day job, sex and jokes and he wonders how long he'll manage to hold on, how long before he breaks down. He wonders if someday it'll be easier to walk down the street and not feel like an outsider in his own life, or if it'll grow worse and worse, the Sam-shaped hole in his chest widening and deepening until it consumes him whole.

Dean keeps going on like that until one day, after what feels like an eternity and a half, after he has learnt to accept the life he's not really living, destiny knocks on his door.


The End (…or maybe just the beginning)