AN: What can I say but thank you, thank you, thank you. You guys made writing this a joy. I posted the first chapter of this series almost exactly two years ago, May 4, 2010, when I was living in Ecuador and I was all alone, and it honestly saved me. It gave me an outlet and a community, and most importantly a way to have fun. Now I've been home for a year and this story is still so dear to my heart. I'm sad to see it go, but after five books (don't forget Wire in a Fire!) it's time to wrap this tale up. That's not to say I'll never revisit it for a oneshot or two, but this is the end of the grand tale. Or is it the beginning?
Love, and I hope to hear from all of you.
Epilogue 2: The Beginning
"Dee? Can I talk to you?"
It was nighttime, and Dee was sitting in the dark in Charles' study, the moon shining silver through the big bay windows and illuminating her worn and drawn face. She started when Winni spoke, and immediately flicked on the desk lamp, bathing the room in a warm yellow glow.
"Of course, sweetie," Dee said, wiping her eyes. "Come on in."
Winni edged into the room, wringing her hands. "Dee, I saw something today and I…I don't know who else to talk to. I want it to be true, I do, but I don't know…"
"Calm down, hon, and start from the beginning," Dee said, patting the cushion next to her.
Winni took a deep breath and perched on the edge of the couch. "It was at the funeral…no, wait. It started at the wake. I heard these voices, these familiar voices, and the one said…" She stopped abruptly, realizing how crazy she was going to sound.
"Said what, Win?" Dee pushed gently. "You can't say anything I haven't heard before, believe me. Go on."
"It said: It's not every day you get to go to your own wake," Winni said, stumbling over her words a little. "Then it…she called the other person Cas. I got up to look but they were gone."
Dee leaned forward, suddenly interested. "Is that all?"
Winni shook her head, tugging at the ends of her long ponytail. "At…at the funeral, I saw them, two people. They were young and…happy. He was wearing a trench coat."
"What did they look like, Win?" Dee asked sharply. "Tell me exactly."
Winni reached for the side table, picking up a framed photograph with shaking hands. Silently she handed it to her aunt.
It was a picture of her Grandparents, back in 2013, three years before Charles was born. They were in front of the still-unfinished Roadhouse; she was on his back, covered in paint, in overalls with a bandana around her head, waving a huge paintbrush victoriously. He was looking up at her, amused, arms wrapped under her knees to hold her up, a faint smile at the edge of his mouth, paint dripping onto his hair.
Dee's face drained of color before her cheeks flushed brilliant red. "You're sure?" she asked breathily. Winni nodded.
"I swear, Aunt Dee, it was them. I'm positive." She hesitated. "Dee, I heard you and Dad, at the funeral…"
Dee smiled at her, putting the picture down and taking her niece's hand. "What do you want to know?"
"Is it true?" Winni blurted out. "Are we hunters? Is all that stuff real? Really real?"
Dee pursed her lips, then nodded. "Not a word to your dad," she said sternly. "He'd kill me if he knew I was telling you this. But you're seventeen and you have a right to know." She looked Winni straight in the eyes. "It's all true, Win. All of my parents' stories, every scary story you've ever heard. It's real."
"Is that why…" Winni asked, lifting up her shirt to show the anti-possession tattoo her grandmother had taken her to get when she was fourteen. Dee laughed.
"Yeah. Your dad threw a fit when he saw it. Said the necklaces he gave you were enough. Mom gave him such a dressing down." She smiled fondly. "She always could put him in his place."
"So you think, I mean, the people I saw—were they ghosts?" Winni asked, almost fearfully. Dee frowned, shaking her head.
"I don't think so, Win."
The doorbell rang.
Winni shifted and waited for someone to answer it. When no one did and it rang again she huffed irritably. "Chess!" she shouted. "Get the door, jerk!"
"Why is it always me!" her brother yelled from the kitchen. Winni stood up and went to the study door.
"Just do it, assface!"
The doorbell rang again.
"For the love of God!" their father yelled. "Chess!"
Chess grumbled and went to answer the door.
He sullenly pulled it open, his video game goggles still hanging from one hand. Then his eyes widened and he dropped them, the plastic skidding across the ground.
A man and a woman stood on the doorstep. He was wearing a trench coat and a navy tie, black hair tousled and messy, his eyes a very deep, penetrating blue. She had on a green dress with sandals, her hair loose around her face; freckles covered her nose and cheeks, and her eyes, when Chess finally looked at them, were the same color of her dress, the brilliant green of high summer.
The woman bent to pick up his goggles, handing them back to him with a smile. "Hi, Chester," she said. "It's so good to see you."
Chess' fingers closed around the goggles automatically. "What—I—who are you?" he asked, his face very white, darting his eyes between the two. "Are you…you're like, relatives, right? Here for the funeral?"
"In a manner of speaking," the man rasped. The woman leaned forward and touched the twelve-year-old's shoulder.
"My white knight," she said softly.
Chess stared at her for a second, his mouth hanging open. White Knight had been his grandmother's nickname for him, a pun on both his chess-related name and the fact that they always used to play together, he white, she black. No one else ever called him that. He remembered what Winni said at the funeral.
"…Grandma?" he whispered hoarsely. His eyes slid over to the man in the suit, the man with Chess' eyes and hair, and Winni's nose. "Grandpa?"
"It is good to see you, Chester," the man said formally. "It's been a long time."
Chess stared at them a moment longer, then skittered away and began to holler.
"Dad, Mom, Dee, Win, someone, get the salt, there are fucking ghosts in the house, oh my God, oh my God!"
Eli sunk her face into her hands. "Not the reaction I was hoping for," she muttered.
The foyer was suddenly full of people. Dee and Winni came crashing in from the den, while Charles charged in from the kitchen, his hand clutching a container of salt. Chess and Winni's mother, Doreen, edged curiously down the stairs. All of them stopped abruptly at the sight of the couple on the threshold.
Dee was the first to speak. "I knew it!" she squealed. "Mom, Dad—" She moved as if to approach them but Charles blocked her way.
"Don't be stupid, Dee, of course it's not them," he snarled, his face white. He turned to them. "How dare you wear their faces, come in to my home, talk to my children? What are you?"
"Well technically we're not in your home," Eli pointed out lightly. "No one invited us. Rude, if you ask me." She stepped inside and everyone edged back.
"You—" Charles started furiously. Castiel stepped beside his wife, looking disapproving.
"Eli, they're scared. Don't toy with them." He looked at his children and his face softened. "Charles. Deanna. My children."
"We are, Charles," Eli said. "And you know it. But if you want proof…"
The room suddenly went dark. Winni screamed. Lightning flashed, and there on the wall behind them were wings, huge and brimming with grace. Everyone could feel it in their bones, washing away their doubts.
These were angels.
The lights came back on. Dee finally rushed to them, flinging her arms around both like a little girl. "Mom, Daddy, I knew it, I told them!" She was laughing and crying at the same time, burying her face in Castiel's shoulder.
Castiel stroked her hair. "Deanna. My faithful one. You live up to your namesake."
Charles was just standing there. All of the color had drained out of his face. Eli approached him.
"Don't call me that," he said dully, automatically. He dropped the salt, letting it spill on the carpet. His fingers reached up, tentatively touching her arm. "I…Mom?" he croaked. Eli nodded.
He staggered forward and she drew him into a hug, cradling him gently. "I'm sorry," he sobbed, clutching her waist, and she knew it was for everything he had done, the years she couldn't see her grandchildren, his anger, his disbelief. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
"It's okay," she whispered. "I forgive you. Oh, love. It's okay."
Eli led him to the group. Castiel was swinging Chester in a circle, and Winni was chasing him around and around, her brown hair whipping behind her, her face flushed with disbelief and elation. Castiel was laughing, that rare joyful laugh, and he was smiling, in his newly-made replica vessel, and Eli loved him as much as she ever had.
Doreen was watching the whole thing with a sort of awed bemusement. Eli smiled at her. "Hi, Doree. You okay?"
She nodded, tucking brown hair behind her ear. "My Mother-in-Law is an angel."
"Hard to believe, I know."
"I know werewolves and vampires and other monsters exist. This is…good," Doreen said carefully. "Mind-breaking, but good."
Eli beamed. "I knew I liked you for a reason."
The two kids nearly knocked her over with their attack, both hugging her tightly. Eli laughed. "Oh, my darlings, you're so beautiful." She kissed them, all over their faces. "Wasn't it just yesterday that you were in diapers?"
"You still sound like a grandmother," Dee said dryly. "Even after death."
That sobered everyone up a little. Now that the immediate insane joy had passed the weirdness was setting in. Eli sighed, cradling her grandchildren to her. "I suppose we'd better explain," she said. She glanced at Castiel and he frowned, that furrowed line appearing between his eyebrows. "Come on, everyone. This might take a while."
It was almost sunrise when Eli found him sitting on the back porch, hands laced over his knees, staring unblinking into the dark.
"You look just like your father when you sit like that," she said, dropping down next to him, her summer dress flaring around her.
"Why does it have to be them," he asked in a ragged voice. Eli sighed and took his hand.
"Because it has to be, Charlie."
"Don't call me that."
"You were named after both your grandfathers," she said lightly. "You should be proud of that."
He made a small, troubled sound. "I wanted to get away from hunting," he said, but leaned into her nonetheless. "I wanted them to have a normal life."
"Did you ever think about what they want?"
He looked at her, hard. "They're just kids, Mom."
"They're Grants. There are no Winchesters anymore. We're what's left of the great warriors. Charles, you're descended from angels."
"I thought there was no fate anymore," he said bitterly. "No destiny."
"There'll always be just a little bit of destiny," she said. "If we want the world to keep turning."
"Mom, they're my children."
Eli stroked his hair. "Love, I know. And I'll be watching out for them every step of the way." She paused. "We're not throwing them into a vampire nest, Charlie. We just want to train them. When they're of age they can decide for themselves."
He looked at her desperately, his eyes red, suddenly a little boy again. She remembered him hiding behind her leg in the Roadhouse when he was four years old, refusing to come near anyone but his parents or Sam and Dean. He had loved Sam especially, sitting on his shoulders whenever he could, pretending that he was flying. "Promise?"
"I promise," she said seriously. "If they want out, they get out. But we have to at least give them that choice."
He nodded, quiet. Then: "I am sorry, Mom. I wanted-I wanted to believe that you were crazy, because if it were true I could just forget all of the things that you said. I could make all of the monsters and hunts just a bad dream that I used to have. I could be safe."
"You are safe. Safer than ever." Eli kissed his hair. "You've got angels on your shoulders."
Deanna was drinking a beer on the front porch swing, rocking herself back and forth and looking out at her brother's perfectly manicured lawn.
"You should be kind to him," a familiar low voice said. "He is confused, and he is not the hunter that you are."
Deanna smiled up at him. "Hi Daddy. Come here, sit with me."
Castiel sat next to her on the swing and she used her boot to push it from the wall. She leaned into his shoulder. "I missed you. But I never gave up hope."
He wrapped his arm around her. "I know. You are so brave, my Deanna." He paused. "But be kind to your brother."
He always did know what she was thinking. Deanna rested her cheek against his trench coat. "But Dad, what he did, especially after you were gone…"
"He put mom in a home," she said passionately, sitting up. "He said she was crazy. He didn't teach his kids anything, didn't even tell them the supernatural exists! He ran away and left me to take care of the Roadhouse and treated me like this black sheep all these years…"
"I know. And you must forgive him."
"Why?" she asked, rubbing angry tears from her face. Castiel looked at her evenly.
"Because he is your brother."
"He's a dick is what he is."
"Be that as it may," Castiel said, with the hint of a smile. "He is your brother, and you love him. And he needs you, now."
Deanna looked at him sharply. "Why?"
Castiel sighed, furrowing his brow. It was strange, looking at him like this, young and handsome, with no scars, but somehow exactly the same as always. She figured it was the voice, and the eyes, that elusive blue color that almost seemed to glow in the dark. Those things never changed. "He's just learned a very hard truth. He's upset, and confused. And his children need someone to show them how to be hunters. They need someone to guide them as their father can't."
Deanna gaped. "Me? Dad, I love them and everything, but my life…"
"Is about to change," he said gently. "For the better, I promise. And it will be good practice."
She looked at him suspiciously. "For what?"
Castiel gave her a side-eye, sneaky look. "As your mother would say, spoilers." She glared at him and he laughed quietly. "You're still young, Deanna. I doubt you'll be a lone wolf forever."
Her eyes widened, her hands instinctively going to her stomach. "Not…now," she croaked in a scared voice. He shook his head.
"Someday. Find love, first. Find peace." He rested his hand on her shoulder. "You have a very bright future, my faithful one."
"Will you…stay," she said softly. "Here, with us?"
He shook his head. "But we'll be watching over you. And we'll be there, when you need us."
"Dad…" Her eyes were filling up with tears again. "I need you all the time!"
He kissed her forehead. "I'm with you all the time," he murmured. "We both are. You'll just have to pay attention."
They stayed for a few more hours. Eli produced John Winchester's journal and Doreen made cookies, and they all sat around pouring over the old pages, the adults drinking beer. They reminisced.
("The first time I met Sam and Dean was at Bobby's house, right as he was telling a joke, and they had been driving all night. I was just this little smartass and Dean hated it...")
("There was an angel, her name was Anna, and she saved my life when my brother turned on me...")
("Then there was that time Cas malotoved the devil...")
("I didn't know that assbutt wasn't an acceptable insult.")
("...and drank a liquor store.")
("Eli will tell you only the embarrassing stories.")
("Shut up! But really... we saved the world -")
They knew that they would have to tell the other stories later, the hard stories, the ones that only had blood and pain and loss of life. The ones that almost broke their spirit. The ones that ended in depression and cremation. They would tell those stories, and watch as the ones they loved lived them, watch as one of their children died young, as their grandchildren grew up and clung to each other in the same way the Winchesters once had, because they needed the other to survive, because hunting was a terrible, terrible job.
But not tonight. Tonight there was beer and cookies, and the Grants were simply a chosen family.
Finally, the cookies ran out.
The lights flickered.
"Really, could you take any longer," a snarky voice said from behind them. "We've waited a whole human lifetime, we're getting antsy. I want to get back to my life of casual debauchery, thank you very much."
Everyone turned to stare at the weathered British man with an old-fashioned v-neck shirt on, one of the newly engineered glowing martinis in his hand. A woman was next to him, looking pleased.
"It's time to come home, you two," she said.
"Balthazar," Castiel greeted the man. "Rachel…" He looked at her. "You seem different."
Balthazar grinned smugly. "Finally got the stick out of her ass. I'm telling you, brother, it was a lot of work." Rachel glared at him and he quailed. "Oh, wait, there it is. Never mind."
"These are angels?" Charles and Deanna said simultaneously, Deanna with a kind of brimming enthusiasm, Charles with a twinge of righteous horror.
"Oh look, they're doing the doublemint twin thing," Balthazar said, resting his elbow on Rachel's shoulder with familiarity. "I swear, your family is becoming more like the Winchesters every day." His gaze fell on Winni, causing her to blush. "Hello, Winifred."
"No," Castiel and Eli said together, sharply. He held up his hands.
"What? I'm just saying hello."
Rachel was scowling. "It's time, Castiel, Lady Elijah," she said. "We're waiting for you. Everyone."
"Everyone?" Eli asked, smiling. Rachel nodded.
Goodbyes were said. Eli and Castiel hugged them all. Eli knelt between Winni and Chess, wrapping her arms around them simultaneously. "I love you so much," she said fiercely.
"We love you, too," they mumbled, crying. Winni pressed her face to her grandmother's hair, breathing her in. She smelled bright and clean, like the air after a storm.
"You'll be back though, right, Grandma?" Chess asked weakly, pushing his glasses up his nose. She nodded.
"Whenever you need me," she promised. "My white knight."
Castiel was with Charles and Deanna. "Be good to each other," he said solemnly. "You're family."
They nodded. Then Charles blurted out, almost shyly: "Love you, Dad."
"I love you, Daddy," Deanna said, grinning through her tears.
"And I, you," he said, kissing each of their foreheads.
When it was all over Eli and Castiel joined Rachel and Balthazar. Eli took her soulmate's hand. "What was it that we said, the first time around, after Lucifer and the apocalypse that wasn't?" she asked him. "It's been real…"
"…but I think it's time for us to go," he finished softly, looking at her with those bright blue eyes.
"Home," she said, lacing her fingers in his, feeling absolute love and joy wash over her at the sight of him, the only one she'd ever loved, the only face that she wanted to wake up next to for the rest of eternity, even if they didn't technically need sleep.
He smiled at her, that crinkle-eyed soft look, and bent his head to her ear. "Home," he said, his breath ghosting over her skin.
In the background, Balthazar made a gagging noise. Eli laughed, throwing her head back and her arms around Castiel, and that was when the light wrapped them up.
There was a moment, a brief brief moment when it looked like other figures stood with them in the light: Two familiar men, young again, in flannel and beat-up jackets, one ridiculously tall, the other with messy hair and a cocky smile on his lips. And then, in the fraction of a second too short to even be real, there were others, hosts of them, all young: A man with a beard and a ball cap, his arms around a young woman with yellow hair; a sturdy-looking man with dark skin and serious eyes; two women, a mother and a daughter, with pretty faces and bright smiles; a young couple, he with dark hair and blue eyes, she with blonde hair that trailed down her back; a pleased-looking, floppy haired man with wings, munching on a candy bar, and next to him a skinny girl in a toga-like dress and high-top sneakers; another young couple, with traces of Eli in both their faces; a man with a reddish beard and impossibly wise eyes, overlapping with a short woman who, despite her shiny dark hair and slanted blue eyes, looked somehow identical to him. There were others, and names, too, like whispers rushing out of the ocean, names like prayers. John. Mary. Jess. Ellen. Jo. Rufus. Bobby. Karen. Adam. Charles. Laura. Samuel. Pamela. Ash. Andy. Missouri. Gabriel. Aeliana. Lucy. Chuck.
Winni watched as the light rushed them up and away, the final vision of her grandmother and grandfather floating in front of her eyes as a hazy afterimage long after they were gone. She wrapped her arm around her younger brother, and felt the tears drip off of her chin before she even knew that she was crying.
They were going to save people. They were going to hunt things. The family business.
Winni grinned through her tears. This was a fabulous beginning.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
And I feel fine.