Father Figure
K Hanna Korossy

Dean shot up from dead sleep with a gasp.

Sam was so startled, he actually jumped in his chair.

Dean was looking frantically around the room, trying to get his bearings as he kept dragging in deep lungfuls of air. Another nightmare of Hell probably, or, worse, about Sam unleashing Lucifer on the Earth. Sam quickly stood and moved around the table where he'd been sitting to crouch by his brother.

"Dean? Y'all right, man?"

He already knew the answer that question would get, but it was deliberately phrased. Dean didn't want empathy when he woke like this, scattered and shaking. He needed grounding, a nudge to pull himself together, and nothing did that like putting his game face back on for his little brother.

Dean's eyes had latched on to him, hands curled into the covers of the bed for anchor, and Sam watched him orient himself. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm good. I'm…" He shook his head, lifting one hand to press against his eyes. "Had this dream…"

Sam opened his mouth to ask, but before he could, Dean's face suddenly cleared. Then his brother was arching back, grabbing his cell off the bedside table. Sam frowned, ready to ask, but Dean put a finger up as he hit speed dial and listened. Storm clouds were gathering in his face.

"Cas? Get down here—we gotta talk. Tennessee. Blue Hills Motel, room 10, Gatlinburg."

Sam's rear hit the ground as a half-second later, there was suddenly an angel standing between him and the bed.

Dean didn't seem surprised. He looked furious, in fact. At Castiel.

"Why didn't you tell me about Anna?" He stood, sheer presence pushing Cas a step back so they were face to face.

"What about Anna?" Castiel asked imperturbably.

"Right," Dean spit out. "I should've been more specific. I mean, I could be talking about when you turned her in to Heaven and got her locked up, or about when she broke out."

The angel's tranquility was shaken by that, a look Sam had seen disturbingly often of late. "Anna has escaped?"

Sam pushed himself to his feet but didn't interrupt, watching the interplay carefully.

"Didn't know about that, huh?" Dean's tone was acid. "Yeah, guess she didn't want to tell you, seeing as you're the guy who gave her up in the first place."

Castiel actually seemed to shrink a little into himself. "I believed it was the right thing to do at the time. It might have been a mistake."

That pulled Dean up short, Sam could see. They'd all made mistakes in those days leading up to Lucifer's rise, Sam more so than any of them. But while Dean hadn't forgotten the betrayals of those around him, he had an almost limitless capacity to forgive. Cas making the right choice at the end had helped a lot, too. Sam wished he could claim the same.

The wind taken out of Dean's anger, he made a face, a vague gesture with his hand. "I know. I know, okay? But you still should've told me," he finished sulkily.

Castiel tilted his head. "You have talked to her."

Sam's eyes shot back to Dean.

"Yeah. Popped into my dream." Dean unexpectedly flushed a little, rubbing the back of his neck, and Sam's mouth twitched. He had an idea what kind of dream Anna had interrupted, and it wasn't the Hell kind. In another place and time, he would've delighted in teasing Dean about that. "She, uh, wants me to meet her. Said she needs to talk to me."

Castiel's eyes narrowed. "Where?"

"Why?" Dean shot back.

"It's too dangerous for you to go. Where Anna was…" Castiel shook his head, and there was some remorse in his eyes. "She's changed, Dean. I am certain of that. She cannot be trusted."

Dean was looking back at him just as intently. Sam had been forgotten. "What're you gonna do to her?"

"Talk. See what her intentions are. Then decide."

"To, what, maybe arrest her again? Or worse?"

"If it is necessary."

"Cas—"

"Heaven is on your side right now, Dean. If Anna is Fallen, she may be a danger to you. And Sam."

For the first time since the angel had arrived, Dean's gaze jumped over to Sam. Anger still simmered in it, but also indecision, fear, pain. They'd had to make a lot of hard decisions those last few months, and each had taken its toll. Especially when they involved someone Dean cared about.

"Go meet her, Cas," Sam said quietly, his eyes also glued to Dean. "But no smiting unless there's no other way, all right?"

"Agreed."

Sam saw the struggle in Dean's eyes, the moment of resignation. "225 Industrial," he finally muttered.

With a flutter of wings, Cas was gone.

Dean looked at where Castiel had stood as if he wanted to call him back, then up at Sam before he ducked his head. "This sucks."

Sam quietly scoffed. "Pretty much. So, what were you dreaming about when Anna showed up?"

Dean glared at him and turned away, heading for the bathroom.

Sam smiled at his back. That was better than despair, anyway.

Dean was still in the shower when Cas returned. One look at the angel—and, seriously, when had a figure popping in and out of their room stopped being weird?—and Sam strode over to the bathroom door and banged on it with a fist. "Showtime, dude."

The water cut off a few seconds later. Sam stood awkwardly, keeping the silent angel company until a hastily dressed Dean threw the door open and stepped out into the room.

"So?" he demanded without preamble.

"Anna wants to kill Sam."

Sam blinked.

Dean froze. "Come again?"

Castiel gave a human-sounding sigh. "Anna intends to kill Sam to thwart Lucifer's plan."

"I don't believe it. I mean, Lucifer will just—"

"Not if she does a thorough enough job," Castiel interrupted grimly.

Dean turned to look at Sam.

Sam looked back. It didn't scare him like it once would have. He always preferred death to becoming evil, and Lucifer was as evil as it got. Couldn't really blame Anna for taking the pragmatic approach to things.

But Dean's face was ashen, and Sam's thoughts shifted away from himself to what his brother had to be feeling. Dean wasn't in love with Anna, but he'd certainly had feelings for her. To find out she wanted to kill the one person whom Dean had made it his life mission to protect had to be wreaking havoc with Dean's sense of right and wrong.

"How did she escape?" Sam asked quietly, not caring so much as buying Dean another minute to pull himself back together.

"I do not know." Castiel sounded troubled, again. "It should not be possible without help, but Heaven does not wish you dead, Sam." Right, because Lucifer needed a skin for the championship fight, Sam thought bitterly, and why couldn't angels just go at it in their celestial forms, anyway? "Perhaps there are more Fallen in the ranks, or…"

"Or she's stronger than you think," Dean said wearily. Sam watched as yet another wall went up in his brother's heart, brick by determined brick, cutting off one more person from the few in his life Dean still trusted. Because where Dean was concerned, Sam versus anyone else? Sam always won.

He looked down, freshly grieved and humbled.

"Just…" Dean turned back, still bewildered. "Really? Anna? I don't believe it," he repeated half to himself.

The problem, Sam knew, was that he did.

00000

You weren't supposed to remember having died.

The fact was, the brain wasn't made to process those last sparks of life, the certain knowledge of mortality, the last extinguished thoughts. So it translated it into something that did make sense: a knife in the back that only hit muscle. A lightning strike that merely shocked instead of killed.

Sam lurched up from the bed as if waking from a nightmare, then immediately curled on his side, coughing against phantom pain. Against the pipe that had impaled his torso, the unbelievable pressure. But even as his hands ghosted over his chest, his stomach, they found nothing but unsoiled material and, beneath it, unbroken skin. Even the remembered pain was fading like a dream.

But Sam knew.

If he hadn't been sure, Dean's panicked bark of "Sam!" behind him a minute later, then the hands that were suddenly shoving his knees out of the way and yanking at his shirt, would've been proof enough. Sam watched the color drain from his brother's face as he quickly examined Sam, then sank back on his heels. "You were…"

"I know," he said quietly. He wouldn't make Dean say it.

Dean rubbed a hand over his face, and even with clearing vision, Sam could see how much he was shaking.

He sat up gingerly, aware of Dean surreptitiously watching him. Nothing hurt, though; there wasn't even the weird feeling of distortion that had followed their earlier angelic transport. Just the mind-stuttering knowledge that he'd died, again. And that Dean looked like he was in shock.

"Dean?"

Dilated eyes stared at him blankly. Dean was so pale, every freckle stood out starkly, and for a moment, Sam's older brother looked weirdly young.

"Hey." Sam spoke slow, soft, as if to a spooked witness. Which Dean was, come to think of it. "What happened?"

Dean blinked, twice, licked his lips. "Uh. Michael."

Sam's turn to be stunned. "Michael showed up? In who?"

"Dad." Dean's lips twisted. "Something about the bloodline…"

The bloodline. So, not just him and Dean, but…Winchesters? And any archangel maybe? Then who, Sam wondered bleakly, had decided that he was the one to get Lucifer? "So…Anna…"

"Dead." There was a flatness to Dean's tone that wasn't just buried grief. She'd eradicated all empathy in Dean when she'd shoved a pipe through his little brother. "And Mom's and Dad's memories were erased."

"Oh." That brought an unexpected pang; Sam hadn't even begun to process the thought of having met, having spent time with Mom. But somehow it hurt that she wouldn't have even remembered meeting him. Sam pulled in a breath. "And…that's it? No pitch for you to say yes?" Lucifer certainly hadn't shut up about it.

Dean's mouth ticked in what could have been a smile or a grimace. "No. He's pretty sure it's gonna happen. Destiny and all that crap."

It wasn't something they hadn't already heard twenty times, and that Dean had brushed off just as often. But something had changed, Sam saw. Something Michael had said, something about the face-to-face had planted a seed of doubt in Dean, an unease that hadn't been there before. Every time Sam had worried about saying yes to Lucifer, Dean had been so flat-out adamant it wouldn't happen. But his belief was now shaken.

Meeting the archangel who was determined to wear you could do that to a person, Sam knew.

He folded a hand around the one Dean still had bunched in his shirt, apparently forgotten. The touch surprised Dean into looking up, and Sam looked back. "Think it's time for a drink, don't you?"

Dean peeled his fingers off, slid them out from under Sam's, and rose to his feet. "God, yes," he said fervently.

Sam nodded and also stood to dig out the glasses.

Deliberately not asking if Dean still believed they could fight this, because he wasn't sure he could take the answer.

00000

"Turn here?"

Sam craned his head to check the landscape. It had changed a lot in thirty years, but, "Yeah, looks right."

The Impala jiggled up and down on the overgrown road. For them it had been just yesterday that they'd gone down this same road in this same car, Dad and Mom up front, their sons in the back. But for the road and the car, and the house that loomed up ahead, it had been a lot longer.

Dean pulled up beside the isolated building and cut the engine. Then they just sat and stared out the window.

"You ever remember Dad coming here?" Sam finally asked into the quiet.

Dean shook his head. "Don't think he knew about it. Would've been hard to explain the décor."

Sam smiled a little, thinking of devil's traps under the rugs and sigils carved into the soft wood posts.

"It's still registered as belonging to the Campbells, though, so guess it's ours now." Dean shoved the door open, put a leg out, then glanced back. "You coming?"

Sam climbed out of the car in response.

They'd arrived there in the dark the last time, so there was little feeling of déjà vu to the peeling structure, the vine-choked porch. It was only when Sam followed Dean inside and his brother snapped the still-working light on that the memories flooded back.

My dad raised me in it.

You're serious? Who the hell does that to a kid?

Mom had been amazing. Sam hadn't been able to take his eyes off her. But Dad had been the revelation.

Your father was supposed to protect you.

He was trying. He died trying.

Sam slowly crossed the room, sank down on the warped bench where he'd had a talk with the dad he'd never known, the one who'd died the night his mom did.

He was...just doing the best he could. And he was trying to keep it together in-in this impossible situation.

Sam had compared his father to his friends' dads growing up, always coming up short. Roger Miller was the first time that, with adult eyes, he saw how much worse John could have been. Then hapless Mr. Carey, mourning for his son without ever knowing what he was. And Azazel, the demon who looked at Sam like a son and wanted awful success for him. And Bobby, who was the personification of tough but unconditional love. Sam had measured his dad against all the others. It was only last night, though, that he'd had the chance to compare the John Winchester he'd known, pragmatic and obsessed and twisted by loss, against the original.

My dad died before I got to tell him that I understand why he did what he did. And I forgive him for what it did to us.

I just…I love him.

Sam wiped at his eyes, nodding. Even if John didn't remember it, even if he'd never known it was his son talking, Sam had said it and believed it, and some part of him had found peace in that.

A crash sounded from the other room.

Sam was on his feet, hand on his knife before he even thought about it. Three long strides carried him to the doorway, the same place he'd stood and listened to Dean tell their mom the truth about them.

Dean picked up a rickety chair from the center of the room and threw it against the wall, where it joined another as kindling.

"Chairs do something wrong?" Sam drawled, sounding casual despite his tight throat.

Dean didn't turn toward him, but his hunched shoulders heaved with emotion. "You ever think about it?" he asked in a low, broken voice. "We've been taking orders our whole lives."

Sam's eyebrows went up. "Well, yeah—"

Dean turned halfway, his face in shadow. "I'm not just talking about Dad, Sam. I mean, yeah, the bastard was sending us on cases even when he was missing that last year. But after he died, it was Ellen and Bobby, then Ruby, then Cas… Always being the good little soldiers, doing what we're told."

Sam scoffed, but quietly, worried about the visible tension humming through Dean. "What we're told? Dean, you never do what you're told."

Dean looked up at him then, and his face was so raw, so wrecked, that Sam's heart seized up tight, refusing to beat for a moment. "Sam…"

He'd never compared his dad to Dean. Never, when it would've been so natural to. Dean had been his parent for so many years, after all, mother and father as well as brother. But some part of Sam knew how catastrophically John would fail to measure up to that standard, and Sam had never gone there. He couldn't afford to.

But Dean hadn't been a dad. He'd been a scared kid most of Sam's childhood, just doing his best with determination and love. And things weren't so different now. He saved Sam, looked after him, gave him a home, kept taking him back long after anyone else would've given up on him. But he'd never had John's years of normal life, a chance at love, the experience and assets and preparation to be a dad.

It wasn't fair to have all this rest on his shoulders.

Sam stepped up to him, feeling the balance shift with every step, the seesaw evening out. "So now we're gonna do our own thing, all right?" he said, ducking to make sure Dean was focused on him. "No more taking orders, no more following destiny or someone else's plan, Dean. Just you and me. And Cas. Team Free Will, man." He patted Dean's chest.

Dean swallowed. His shoulders rose a little, the terrible fear fading some from his eyes. "Yeah." It was still more bluff than belief, but it would let him keep going for now. "Yeah, okay. Team Free Will."

And in that moment, for the first time ever, Sam was certain that John would've been proud of them.

The End