An: I hate when an author goes on and on about her ideas for a story instead of just getting into it. But since I can use this small space to scribble down a few thoughts, I wanted to give this fanfic the proper context. This is somewhere in the middle of the fifth season on the brink of the apocalypse. This will be slightly AU.
Part 1 – Training
Chapter 1 - Commune
The note was taped to their hotel room. Dean found it first and brought it inside.
Go to this address. Castiel.
Below was an address somewhere in Illinois.
Dean took it inside, flipping over the sheet to see if the angel had written anything else. Nothing else could be seen, and Dean handed it to Sam.
"Illinois?" Sam glanced up.
"It figures," Dean scowled. We're all the way in freakin' North Carolina. Where is Illinois anyway? Why can't Cas choose somewhere closer?"
"We've driven farther than that for a hunt," Sam ran a hand over his tired face. The looming battle with Lucifer was draining Sam's energy and he was sleeping less than ever.
"I know, but we're not his pets that he can order around. He could ask at least."
"Castiel doesn't really request things," Sam kept staring at the note as if he expected it to reveal some hidden secret.
"I know, but he could choose somewhere closer," Dean leaned over his duffel bag and started tossing things into it.
"Are we just going?"
"Cas told us to," Dean shrugged. "It must be something important. We've got to get there and see what he wants. And he's our best backup now."
The silence that followed implied everything Dean meant – Castiel was their best backup because everyone else had died. There was Bobby, but he was still in a wheelchair.
They packed in silence. Dean didn't really discuss plans with Sam anymore; there was no arguing about stopping hunting, no complaining about how Dean didn't open up with his feelings or how Sam moped and sighed. They got to work and they didn't stop. Life was a trudge of familiar actions – loading the cars, loading the weapons, killing, bandaging up, and getting ready for the next fight.
Dean had a cut on his side that was still leaking blood, but he had taped it up the night before and fallen into an exhausted sleep. The wound should be hurting sharply, but the pain felt oddly numb and comforting. He wondered if he was capable of feeling anything anymore, but he didn't say a word.
Sam was craving demon blood again, but he made no comment about the thirst. They drove without speaking, the music low in the background.
North Carolina was closer to Ohio than Dean remembered, and the address was at the bottom of the state. After ten hours of driving, they turned off onto a dirt road that led into the woods.
Sam thought about commenting that they might be driving into a battle, but he stayed quiet. Dean considered making a joke about driving deep into the woods to battle instead of fighting in a field where they could see anything, but the joke felt stupid inside his own head. He said nothing.
A mile down the road, the gravel road turned into dirt and the Impala groaned as she bumped over the ruts. A year ago, Dean would have sworn and ranted that his baby would be destroyed, but he didn't make a comment now.
Another mile, and the road opened up into a clearing where a large grey building sat in front of the remains of a garden.
"What is this place?" Dean looked at the rectangular building that seemed bare and minimalistic, almost like military barracks though the building was two stories high.
"I think it's some kind of commune," Sam said. "I'm pretty sure the garden goes on back, maybe to a field. Maybe for hippies or rejects or people done with society."
Dean nodded without much interest. They both swung out of the car and headed for the back to get weapons.
"Leave them for now," a voice said.
Around the car, Castiel walked towards them. The angel's face was blank as always, but behind that stoic mask, Dean would have sworn that Castiel looked almost pleased.
"We're here," Sam said blankly.
"Welcome," Castiel held out his hands in greeting. "This is the beginning. The others have arrived. More will follow."
"Am I supposed to understand what that means?" Dean asked, not caring very much. The wound in his side felt raw and wet; he wondered if blood was dripping down to his hips. It was always hard to clean dried blood out of jeans.
Castiel waved to the open door of the commune.
Dean looked up, expecting to see a hoard of demons or other angels or something new and wicked to fight. They would kill it if it were evil or talk to it if it were good. They would sustain some injuries or find new information. Same old, same old.
Then the world stopped as John Winchester stepped out of the building. In the glow of twilight, John looked at them.
"Hey, boys," he smiled at them.
Beside Dean, Sam stopped breathing.
Another second, and Ellen and Jo came out of the building as well.
Sam reached for the crossbow. "Who's possessing them?" he trained the bow on John and waited for Castiel's answer.
"Put the weapon down, son," John came closer.
"You're dead," Dean said blankly. "You're all dead. I watched you all die – burn, blow up, get smashed to pieces of nothing."
"They were dead," Castiel came in between John and his sons. "They're back for the fight.
"What?" Dean and Sam said at the same time.
"It's crazy," Jo stepped forward, her blond hair bouncing against her shoulders. "We woke up in this building in the morning. Mom was beside me. Castiel told us we had been brought back for the fight."
"To die again for a lost cause," Ellen's face was tight and angry. "We did that once, but that wasn't good enough for the angels, I guess."
"Where were you?" Sam asked. "Were you . . . in a good place after . . . you know?
Ellen blinked, clearly annoyed. "I don't know. I can't remember. I remember the pain of the explosion, waiting with my baby to die, but I can't – anyway, we found him," she glared at John, "in the next room."
John absentmindedly put his hand to his face. Faint red lines ran down one cheek, five parallel lines. Ellen had pulled the fingers of her right hand into a claw, and she looked ready to attack him again.
"Castiel said we were brought back for the fight, for one last great battle," Jo said. She seemed torn between loyalty to her mother and anticipation for the future, and her eyes were dancing brightly. "We were chosen, resurrected."
"We're not fighting," Ellen declared. "We died once, and it didn't do any good."
"Ellen, calm down," John said, but she whirled on him.
"You say one more word to me, Winchester, and I'll send you back to the grave. They brought you back – they brought you back, and they didn't bring back my husband! You got him killed, and they didn't bring him back."
She was screaming at the end, and Dean felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck at her murderous look.
"Mom, mom, come on," Jo tried to take her mother's hand, but Ellen wrenched it free. "We still don't know that Dad won't come back. He could."
"He's not here. Ash isn't here. Bring them back, bring them back."
"That isn't in my power," Castiel said calmly.
"You brought us back," Ellen's eyes were wide and frantic. "Bring the other two back, and I swear I will do whatever you want. Or take me instead, but bring the other two back."
"I didn't bring you back," Castiel said.
"Who did?" Sam asked.
Castiel held out a piece of stiff parchment. They crowded around to read it.
Use this place to prepare for My battle. Train as My soldiers and keep My commandments. Give My name glory for many jewels in your crowns. Defeat those who do evil in My name, and remember you are My children. God.
"You have got to be kidding," Dean looked around the group. "God wrote this note?"
No one said anything.
"God brought all of you back to die again for his battle?" Sam said.
"Is no one else seeing the obvious?" Dean asked. "If God can bring you guys back and get this place for us, why can't he fight his own battle? He's God. Destroy these bastards."
"That's what I said," John said. "But Castiel told us that this is our home, earth, and we get the tools to fight, but we have to fight our own battles."
Dean studied his father, the man's quiet but set face. The last time he had seen that face, the man had smiled at him before dissolving into light. That was John Winchester alright, always knowing his own mind and convinced he was right. Dean felt torn between hugging his father with all his might and punching the man in the face.
"We're not fighting," Ellen announced. "I'm taking my daughter and we're leaving, going far away from here where no one can find us. I don't care what God wants – I'm not holding my bleeding daughter again and feeling her die. No, that is too much to ask for me."
"Okay, okay, wait," Dean held up his hands in protest. "Before we decide who's leaving and who's staying, let's get the whole thing figured out first. God wants us to train?"
"This whole place has been equipped like a boot camp base," John explained. "Upstairs has single bedrooms, and downstairs has training rooms and a mess hall with a kitchen off it. The only thing it doesn't have is weapons."
"Because we're the weapons," Jo's eyes were almost sparkling. "We learn to fight like trained soldiers instead of scrappy hunters."
John and Ellen turned on her.
"What do you mean 'scrappy hunters'?" John barked out.
"Your father wasn't a bad hunter," Ellen insisted. "He got killed because Winchester was a lousy backup."
"But before, everyone was on their own or in pairs," Jo tried to explain. "We were divided, each of us on a separate mission. Now all five of us, six including the angel – we're all on the same page. We've been brought back to do something great, something marvelous for mankind."
"I'm tired of mankind," Ellen said with a catch in her voice. "I'm tired of caring and hurting and watching the slaughter."
"You can leave," Castiel said. "You still have freewill. God chooses when you live. You get to decide the rest."
"I'm not leaving," Jo said quietly. "I'm not hiding anymore from the truth. We're in a war and hiding won't make it go away. That's why Dad went hunting. And that's why I'm staying."
Ellen looked furious, but something caught her eye, and she turned to Dean. "Dean, are you bleeding?"
Dean looked down where his jacket had opened in the front and blood seeped through his blue shirt. "Oh, a little. Rough fight yesterday."
He waited for Ellen to protest that that was the reason they weren't fighting. But instead she stepped towards him and reached for his jacket. "Take that off. I'll clean you up."
"I'm good," Dean shrugged.
"Mom's been appointed doctor for the base," Jo said. "We each have a role we have to follow apparently. Mom's the doctor and in charge of the infirmary. I'm a private, but in charge of the kitchen and the mess hall."
"God's pretty traditional," Sam commented before he could stop himself.
Jo frowned at him. "I didn't say I was in charge of the cooking. I'm in charge of assigning cooking and KP duties and I get to schedule whoever I want when I want."
"You two are privates," John told his sons. "Dean's in charge of weapon repair and Sam's in charge of research. I'm the captain."
Sam huffed slightly and rolled his eyes. Before John could respond, Ellen took Dean's arm.
"We can argue roles later. I want to get you cleaned up first."
"I thought you weren't staying," Dean quipped.
"You watch your mouth, boy," Ellen herded him inside.
Inside the commune, the walls were painted white and the floors were wood. Ellen led him into the second door on the left, a clean, sterile room with various medical equipment and a padded table covered with thin paper, just like a doctor's office.
"Up on the table," Ellen instructed as she reached for plastic gloves. "Take the shirt off too."
John, Sam, and Jo had followed them into the room, and Dean pulled off his shirt, trying not to wince.
"Really, it's nothing," he tried to brush it off. "We've been beat up before."
The others said nothing; they stared at the bandage over his side and the dark red blood that stained the bandage red. Blood had seeped out the bottom and ran down his side in one small rivet of red.
"I don't even feel it," Dean claimed. "It's just sore."
"He's going to need stiches," Ellen pulled the gloves on. "I have a local anesthetic that will numb the area."
"Just give me some whiskey and I'll be fine."
Ellen opened one of the drawers and took out a small vial and syringe. She inverted the bottle and then injected the needle into the top, drawing the clear liquid down into the tube. Once she had the required amount she withdrew the needle and then flicked it to get rid of any air bubbles. Her actions were so calm, almost clinical, that Dean almost believed she was a doctor for a second.
When she removed the bandage, the sight of the ugly wound caused everyone to peer at it. When he had slapped a bandage on it the night before, the wound hadn't looked so bad. But in the sterile infirmary, with everyone else not bleeding, the wound was harsh and ugly. The demon had slashed Dean with a knife, and the blade had cut into him at an angle, causing the torn skin to flap slightly and keep bleeding.
Ellen injected the shot just below the wound, and Dean winced, but said nothing.
"Give it a few minutes," Ellen told him. She found rubbing alcohol, a kit for sewing up wounds, and bandages."
"Mom needed a few minutes to calm down," Jo whispered to Dean, but everyone could hear. "She locked herself in here for an hour while we were waiting for you guys. I guess she found where everything is."
"Shut up," Ellen said, but her attention was on threading the medical suture through the needle. "I know how to work a medical room. Your idiot father was always coming home from hunts bleeding all over the place and I patched him back up, until he didn't come home at all. Ash was clumsy and getting hurt all the time, and you liked to pick fights."
"I got the older boys at school to show me a few tricks," Jo confided.
Dean rested his hands on the edge of the table. The pain in his side had almost disappeared, and he reached one hand up to touch it to see if the skin were numb.
Ellen swatted his hand down. "No touching. It has to be clean."
Dean opened his mouth to make a smart reply, but John asked Sam, "Are you injured?"
"No," Sam shook his head. "It didn't get me. I got a few bruises, but those are from other fights."
Ellen swabbed the wound with alcohol, but instead of the usual burning pain, Dean didn't feel anything. He stared down at the blood and the raw skin as she wiped, but it didn't hurt.
"That stuff is wicked," he said. "Can I get a full body injection of that for the next fight?"
"No, because you're going to train and not get in scrapes like this," Ellen began stitching up the cut. With practiced fingers, she closed the wound together.
"Winchester," her tone was short, "get over here and apply pressure so I can tie the ends."
Sam stepped over to help, but John was already beside her.
"Put on gloves," she nodded her head towards the box of surgical gloves. "Anyone caught in here touching anything needs to have gloves on. I don't want to risk infection or blood poisoning. Winchester, push the cloth down firmly so I can pull the edges tight. The tighter I get it, the quicker he'll heal."
Dean blinked at the closeness of John and Ellen, both of them with hands on his side and their faces serious with concentration. An old memory sprung up in Dean's mind, a shadow of things forgotten but lingering . . . his mom and dad in their old kitchen. He had been lifted to the countertop by Dad and he was crying because he had fallen on the sidewalk and skinned both knees. Mom had been really big then, bigger than usual; a few days later Sam would come home from the hospital.
"John, hold the cloth on his knees," Mom had said. "I'll put the Band-Aids on."
Dad's hand had been big enough back then to cover both of Dean's knees. "It's okay. We're going to get you fixed up, and you'll be okay then. You're my brave soldier, aren't you?"
"Oh, John," Mom had rolled her eyes, "Would you stop the Marine stuff with him? He's just a baby."
"I'm not a baby," Dean had insisted, blinking back tears. "I'm big. And I'm big enough to go out in the street by myself."
"You know what happens if you go into the street," Dad had worn the look that Dean thought of as the Uh-Oh Look. Dad had spanked him for running into the street once, and since then Dean had gone up to the edge of the curb, but not in the street. He had hurt his knees on the walk leading to their front door when he tried to run as fast as Superman and tripped over a loose brick.
Dean had nodded and then leaned forward to hug his dad's arm while Mom put on the bandage. The Uh-Oh Look had disappeared from Dad's face, and he had squeezed Dean in a tight hug. Once the knees were bandaged, Dad had grabbed him and tossed him up in the air, catching him in those strong arms. Dean had screamed in delight while Mom had worried that Dean would hit his head on the ceiling.
"John, be careful," she had said. "You'll make him throw up."
"Winchester, be careful," Ellen warned. "And get your clumsy fingers out of my way."
Dean looked down to see his father's fingers holding the new bandage on while Ellen taped the edges to Dean's skin. Dean wasn't sure where the memory came from; he must have buried it deep back in the recesses of his mind where he hid all the memories of childhood.
"There we go. Tomorrow I'll change the bandage," Ellen threw away the bloodied cloths and stripped off the gloves. She put a hand on her hip and studied Dean carefully.
"What?" Dean asked, feeling odd with his side numb and pain-free.
"I'm trying to figure out whether you deserve a spanking for not taking care of yourself and then lying about it," she said.
Dean felt his face turn beet red; that was not the answer he had been expecting and he didn't know where to look. "A span – Ellen, I'm a grown man. You don't span – you don't do that to grown men."
"We do here. Winchester?" she glanced at John.
Sam looked as shocked as Dean, but Jo stepped back, about to duck out of the room.
"Na-uh, young lady," Ellen shook her head, "you stay right here."
"But Mom," Jo suddenly sounded about nine years old, "I've already heard it."
"Then it'll do you good to hear it again. Winchester?"
"We don't have time for nonsense or insubordination here," John's voice was calm, but stern. "We don't have time for sulking or selfishness and certainly not guilt. We have guidelines to follow. You screw up – you get corporal punishment. You take it, you apologize, and you forget it and move on. We have no time for anyone to be lugging around guilt or hurt feelings."
"Oh, just like that?" Sam said. "We get punished and everyone is better? We're all adults here. We're not going to be punished like kids."
"Oh, yes, you are," John looked right at him. "We've spent too many years fighting and going back and forth. We don't have time for that here."
"So your solution is that I let you beat me and everything becomes better?" Sam faced off with his father. "Just like when I was little?"
"I never beat you when you were little."
"Yes, you did. You belted me for every little thing."
"I gave you three whacks with my belt when you disobeyed me and put yourself in danger," John said. "That's what parents are supposed to do."
"You were a terrible parent."
"That's enough," Ellen cut in. "This is what we're talking about. We don't have time to go back and forth, blaming each other. John's in charge here."
"Who says?" Sam challenged.
"I did," Castiel appeared at the doorway. "And I'd be more than happy in helping maintain authority."
"You've always hated me," Sam clenched his teeth together. "You've had it in for me since the first day you saw me."
"Everyone calm down," Dean raised his voice a notch. "No one's going to get span – punished because we're all going to follow the rules. Ellen, I'm sorry for not bandaging myself better and for not telling you. I was distracted by Castiel's letter and by trying to get here as fast as I could. I apologize."
Dean bowed his head, trying not to break into giggles at the absurdity of the older generation.
"Pardoned this time," Ellen was not joking in the least. "Next time, it'll take more than an apology. We'll show you around and then you can look over the list of rules."
Ellen, John, Castiel, and Jo went into the hallway, but Sam stopped to grab Dean by the arm.
"Are you crazy? You're agreeing to this?"
"Whatever Ellen and Dad need to make them feel in charge," Dean explained patiently. "They want to be all big and in control – whatever. I'm not letting them punish me, so who cares?"
"What about Cas?"
"I can get that angel to do whatever I want," Dean gave a smug smile. "He's a pansy, the old pushover. Give him a sad look, make him feel all guilty, and he's toast."
Sam looked doubtful. "Jo seemed pretty convinced."
"Oh, Jo's scared of her mom. You know how girls are. I bet Dad scares her too. I'm not scared of Ellen, and Dad's all talk. He yells and threatens and lectures, but he hasn't whipped me since I was thirteen. I'm not going to stress out over a few rules. We got an apocalypse to worry about."
Dean went out of the room with his usual swagger, and Sam trailed behind, not fully convinced.