A Twist of Fate – Epilogue
(See Part 1 for warnings)
Dean had almost finished scattering his seeds in the final row when the crunch of boot on dirt had him spinning around, with his shovel held protectively in front of him.
'Hey Dean,' Sam greeted him.
Dean frowned and looked up at the almost setting sun.
'Aunt Karen sent you, huh?' he said to his brother.
Sam nodded. 'Seemed like you didn't hear the dinner bell.'
'I didn't. I was miles away.'
Sam's brow furrowed and he did that wide-eyed innocent expression that usually had people eating out of his hand.
'Literally miles away,' he asked, 'or…?'
Dean shook his head.
Sam's expression became slightly more alarmed.
'Nothing bad,' Dean assured him.
Sam's vigilant expression relaxed a little. 'So you're feelin' alright?'
Dean scowled at him. 'Relax, Sam,' he said irritably, 'I haven't had an attack in months.'
When they'd arrived in Sioux Falls two years ago, Dean had still been recuperating from the injuries Alastair had inflicted on him. He'd been unnaturally quiet and had seemed content just to stay in bed, letting Karen dote on him hand and foot—bringing his meals in to him on a tray, fetching and carrying for him—and making no real attempt to face the world. The only time he ever came downstairs was to raid Bobby's liquor supply and eventually, a fortnight into their stay, the man had called him on it.
'We need to talk, son,' he said, coming into Dean's room and sitting on the edge of the bed.
Bobby didn't miss the way Dean's pupils enlarged or the way he shrank from the man sitting on his bed.
'I ain't your son,' he said.
Bobby rubbed at his beard and regarded Dean thoughtfully.
'Karen and I always wanted children,' he said, 'but the good Lord didn't see fit to bless us with any.'
'That ain't my problem,' said Dean.
'No. But the way I see it, family don't end with blood. Your daddy damn near drove me crazy the whole time we served together. He was the most arrogant, egotistical, hard-assed perfectionist I've ever met.'
Dean's eyes were almost ludicrously wide and a small smile touched his lips.
'Wow, Bobby,' he said, 'don't hold back, will ya? Tell me what you really feel, huh?'
'Ain't in my nature not to call it how I see it. Now don't get me wrong. Your daddy was a good man; real smart, a brilliant tactician, loyal, dedicated, if a little obsessed sometimes. He was like a brother to me, Dean. And he loved you boys somethin' fierce. When he knew he wasn't gonna make it, his only thought was for you and your brother. He begged me to take you in, to raise you as my own, and not being able to find you, not being able to honor his dyin' wish, it's been eatin' me and Karen alive these past seven years. Karen ain't your momma, I ain't your daddy, and you ain't our son. But I ain't never gonna stop thinkin' of you and Sam as my boys. And I ain't never gonna stop lookin' out for your best interests: which is why I gotta ask you to hand over the bottle of three-day-old rotgut you got hidden in your bedside cupboard.'
Dean stared hard at the patchwork quilt on his bed. He knew—because she'd told him—that Karen had started making it when she and Bobby got engaged, expecting to give it to their first born child. When Bobby had come home from the war and told her about his late friend John Winchester and the search for his boys she'd added a row of patches to the quilt, especially for Dean, and then she'd started on a second quilt for Sam. It touched Dean more than he could ever adequately express that while he'd been stealing, grafting and whoring for his survival in New York, out here in Sioux Falls a woman he had never met had been lovingly making quilts for him and Sam and looking forward to the day when she could finally take them into her family. Maybe Bobby was right, maybe family was more than blood.
With a sigh, Dean reached into the cupboard and pulled out the bottle of hooch. He handed it to Bobby wordlessly, refusing to make eye contact.
'Look at me, son,' Bobby said. His tone was gentle but firm and Dean knew an order when he heard one. He raised he eyes reluctantly, and swallowed hard against the compassion he saw in Bobby's expression.
'You need to start livin' again,' Bobby said simply.
Dean's eyes filled with tears. 'I dunno if I can. You've got no idea what I've been through, Bobby.'
Bobby's mouth straightened into a grim line.
'No I don't. But I do know that you have trouble sleepin' and when you do sleep, you have nightmares. I know your brother ends up sleepin' in here more often than not, tryin' to keep you calm. I know sudden noises make you real jumpy, that havin' to talk to people you don't know makes you tremble, and I know that you flinch away when men come close to you. I know you're tryin' to detach yourself from the world, Dean, and I know you're tryin' to avoid pretty much anythin' and everythin'. I also know that I've seen this before: during the war and afterwards too, in war veterans. Some folks call the condition Soldier's Heart. Others call it Nostalgia.'
'Nostalgia?' Dean's tone was deeply derisive. 'Believe me, Bobby, I don't feel nostalgic about the past.'
Bobby scratched his head. 'I don't rightly understand it,' he said. 'Seems to me a person's mind can get damaged from being in a dangerous situation for too long.'
Dean stared at the quilt for a long while.
'So you're sayin' I should be in a loony bin?'
'No, son. I'm sayin' you had to shut down for a long time to cope with what all was bein' done to you, and what you had to do to survive. And now that you're finally safe—really safe—you have to face all that and it's hard.'
'I just…I'm not interested in anything anymore. I don't wanna get close to anyone and, I dunno Bobby, I just don't see any point in plannin' for the future.'
Bobby reached out and clapped a hand on Dean's shoulder, and Dean tried really hard—and unsuccessfully—not to flinch.
'I ain't gonna let you stop livin' kid,' he said. 'Maybe you don't need an old man, but I sure as hell need a young one. Who else is gonna take over the farm when I'm too old and gray to manage? Who else am I gonna teach my trade to?'
'What's your trade?' Dean asked. 'I thought you were a farmer.'
'I am,' Bobby nodded, 'but I'm also a farrier. There are four of us in the village so between us we can see to all the village horses as well as manage our own farms.
Hired help is all very well, but I need a right hand man I can trust and an apprentice. Sam tells me you're a clever young man and that you're good with your hands. And I intend to get you outta this bed and put you to work—even if I have to push!'
And true to his word, Bobby had pushed, forcing Dean to get out of bed, to dress and to take on simple chores around the farm.
Things got worse before they got better. As Dean moved out of his comfort zone and began to challenge himself he found himself having more and more flashbacks and sometimes they developed into fully-blown panic attacks. But bit by bit he learned how to cope and to talk himself down, and with the love and support of not just Sam, but Bobby and Karen too, Dean slowly got back to the happy-go-lucky guy he'd been before everything went to hell. Sam still worried about him, though.
'Seriously,' Dean re-iterated when Sam just keep looking at him, 'I'm fine.'
'Okay,' Sam said easily. 'Pass me that shovel. I'll start covering up the seeds while you finish planting the row.
Dean shook his head. 'You'll get dirty.'
Sam rolled his eyes. 'And God forbid Mr Winchester should get dirty!'
Dean smirked. 'Well we wouldn't wanna ruin your soft school teacher hands now would we?'
When Sam had walked into the village school with a reference from the New York Mission School and asked if they needed any more teachers, the one and only school mistress, Miss Sarah Blake, had been delighted. The village was expanding and the number of pupils in the school was growing and Sarah had been thinking for some time that it would be wonderful if she could split the class in two, with one teacher for the six to ten year olds and another for the eleven to fourteen year olds. Sam himself may have only been fifteen, but he was already almost 6ft3 and with his background, not even the toughest fourteen-year-old farm hand was going to give him any trouble. Mr Winchester commanded the absolute respect of every male pupil in his class; the girls had an unfortunate tendency to get swoony and giggly in his presence and Sam had been embarrassed to find 'Mrs Winchester' lovingly scrawled in many a girl's school book. The village council was delighted with Sam's teaching performance and Dean had been delighted when his little brother and Sarah had started courting.
Sam scowled at his brother's suggestion that, two years later, he was now too soft for manual work.
'Just give me the damn shovel, Dean!'
'Alright, princess. No need to get your panties in a bunch.'
The brothers worked together in silence for a while and then Sam asked, 'So what are we planting?'
Dean's eyebrows shot up. 'Geez, Sammy, don't you pay any attention? What did we just harvest from this field in May, huh?'
'Right. So that makes this crop…?'
'Sunflowers?' Sam said sheepishly.
'Give the man a medal.'
He'd never admit it to anyone, but Dean loved it when the sunflowers were in bloom. Sunflowers were so bright and sunny, and the way they chased the sun, forever turning their faces towards it, just made Dean happy. Having spent so long in darkness himself he felt that he could identify with the sunflowers' need to keep their faces turned to the sunshine.
'Hey, Dean? You and Bobby normally look after Freddy Johnson's horses, right?'
'Yeah. You heard, huh?'
Sam nodded. 'His girls are in my class. Larissa told me their two best work horses had foundered.'
Dean snorted. 'Damn fool let them get into his corn. Bobby made up his special bran poultice and we tied gunny sacks over their feet. They'll be right as rain in a week.'
'Which do you enjoy more? The farrier work or the farming?'
Dean shrugged. 'I love both. Maybe I like working with the horses a little bit more. I get a bit shaky around the hot pokers sometimes, but—'
Sam looked up sharply and noticed that his brother's eyes were sparkling.
'You're joking, right?' he said softly.
'I am. I'm alright, Sammy. You don't have to hover over me anymore, okay? Relax. Move on. Ask your girl to marry you.'
Sam grinned. 'Speaking of, Sarah tells me that Ben Braden mentioned you in Show and Tell this morning.'
Dean waggled his eyebrows. 'Show and Tell? Ain't that a little kinky for school kids?'
'Get your mind outta the gutter, Dean! It's where the kids bring in something special to show us like a really big pumpkin or a corn doll that they made, or else they tell us about something really amazing they did like helping their horse to give birth.'
'Sammy?' Dead deadpanned, 'I do know what Show and Tell is.'
Sam scowled. 'So Ben, he told his class that momma's friend Dean came for a sleep over.'
'And this ain't New York; it's a small town. People talk. And people talk enough about Lisa as it is, without you waltzin' over there to dip your wick without givin' two hoots about her reputation.'
Sam covered up the last of the seeds and the brothers headed back towards the house.
'Ya know, Lisa doesn't care two hoots about her reputation either,' Dean said after a moment. 'And what we have works for us.'
'What do you have?'
'Good sex,' Dean said bluntly. He shrugged. 'Friendship. Understanding.'
Sam was silent for a moment. 'No-one believes she's a widow you know.'
'Are you askin' me?'
They walked in silence for a while.
'She's from Wisconsin originally,' Dean said finally. 'Came up here when Ben was a baby, with a man who promised her the world. He got restless after a few months and decided to head out to California; said he'd send for her when he got settled. She ain't waitin' on him no more.'
'Was he Ben's father?'
Dean shook his head.
'Was she married to his father?'
There was another lengthy silence and then Dean said:
'This ain't for gossip, alright? I tell you this, it's just between you and me…you don't even tell Sarah. Alright?'
Sam nodded. 'Promise.'
'She was raped. When she was fifteen. By two men who were close friends of her Pa. No-one believed her until she started to show and by then it was too late. Somehow or other she ended up getting the blame, so when Roy passed through and offered to take her with him, she upped and left. I guess…'Dean hesitated, 'I guess we can sorta relate.'
'You told her? About…you?'
'Some. Not everything, but enough. And I guess that's part of it. We understand each other, Sam. We're comfortable together.'
'Then maybe you should make it something more. If the two of you are good together…and…Ben clearly adores you.'
'Dunno. Maybe. Not sure either of us is ready for anything more yet.'
They reached the farmhouse, toed off their boots on the back porch and washed up in the sink there before walking into the kitchen.
Bobby was sitting at the table with a mug of beer in one hand, his fork in the other and a very crotchety look on his face.
'Bout damn time,' he grumbled, 'I'm starved!'
'Oh hush, old man,' Karen said with a fond smile, 'You're hardly wasting away.'
She was busy slicing up a loaf of freshly baked bread and Dean wrapped his arms around her and kissed her cheek.
'Sorry I'm late, Aunt Karen, I didn't hear the dinner bell.'
"Yeah. You want me to take that to the table?'
'I got it. You go on now and sit,' she shooed him over to the table.
Dean sat down next to Sam and looked up at Uncle Bobby sitting opposite.
'What kept you so long?' Bobby asked gruffly.
'Wanted to get the rest of the sunflowers in.'
'You get it done?'
Karen joined them at the table and that was the signal for the men to start helping themselves to cold cuts of beef, cobs of corn, freshly baked bread, buttered peas and stewed carrots.
The boys ate so well since coming to live with the Singers that if they weren't both vigorously active (and if Sam wasn't still growing) they would've been starting to get fat. As it was they both looked fit and healthy and as Karen watched them devour her food with obvious gusto, she smiled with motherly pride.
'Hey Dean,' Sam said suddenly, 'Remember that time back in Kansas when I asked for more?'
Dean grunted. 'Nearly gave me heart failure,' he shook his head. 'No way that was gonna end well.'
Bobby and Karen were sitting very still, almost holding their breaths, and Sam knew it was because neither he nor Dean talked about their past very often; there was a lot in their history that they were ashamed of and a lot that was just too painful to reminisce about.
'It's what got us kicked out the Poorhouse,' Sam explained to the Singers.
Dean huffed. 'Yeah, after they finished whippin' the livin' daylights out of us.'
Sam chewed on his bottom lip and looked apologetically at his brother.
'Sometimes I get to thinkin',' he said tentatively, 'that if I'd just managed to keep my damn mouth shut that day, maybe we'd've had all this sooner, cuz we'd've still been there when Uncle Bobby and Cas came for us.'
Dean scrutinized his little brother carefully and then wrinkled his nose.
'Nah,' he said, 'fate always gets her own way; a push here; a twist there. If it happens, it was meant to be. Besides, you wouldn't be the Sammy we all know and love if you didn't mouth off about injustice.'
Sam shared a sad smile with his brother as they both remembered the number of times Dean had reminded Sam that life wasn't fair and you just had to suck it up and play the hand you were dealt.
'Speakin' of love,' Sam broke eye contact with Dean and turned to look at Uncle Bobby. 'I'm thinkin' about asking Sarah's Pa for permission to marry her. What do y'all think?'
Dean let loose with a 'yee ha' and slapped him on the back. 'Dude,' he said, 'she's a classy broad and way outta your league, but if she'll have you, then you go for it.'
'You have our blessing,' Bobby said, reaching out to grasp his wife's hand.
'What about you?' Karen said to Dean. 'Are you going to let Lisa make an honest man of you or are you going to keep sneaking in through her back door late at night and expecting no-one to notice?'
Dean put his hands over his face.
'Does everybody know about me and Lisa?'
'Yep,' said Bobby. 'You ain't in New York no more, son. This here's a small town. Everybody knows everybody's business.'
Karen stood and started to clear away the meat and vegetables. 'I think you boys should invite your ladies over for a simple family supper next Sunday after service,' her eyes took on a faraway look, 'I'd like to see you both settled,' she patted Dean on the arm, 'especially you. Your twenty-one now, I think it's about time you thought about giving me some grandbabies.'
Dean choked on his beer and shot Bobby a helpless, pleading look. Bobby merely grinned.
As Karen took a steaming, sweet smelling apple and cinnamon pie out of the oven Dean took a moment to look around at his family. Karen was different in almost every way to Mary Winchester and yet she was everything an orphan dreamed of in a mother. Bobby was tough and gruff and quick to call him an idjit and smack the back of his head if he messed up, but he was also kind and supportive and he'd taught Dean a lot. Dean loved him like a father and he knew that Sam did too. And Sam. Dean turned to look at his brother. Azazel used to say they were unhealthily co-dependent and maybe that was true. All Dean knew was that he loved his little brother more than life itself and he would give anything to see the kid safe and happy. As Karen served everyone a generous slice of pie Dean wondered what it would be like to be sitting at his own kitchen table with Lisa serving pie and Ben and a couple of his own kids sitting around the table too. He looked at Sam again and when their eyes met Dean knew their thoughts were on the same track.
'Here's to an apple pie life,' Sam said, raising his spoon.
Dean raised his own spoon, 'To normal,' he said, 'No…to family.'
'To family,' Bobby, Karen and Sam echoed.
Oh yeah, Dean thought, as his mouth closed around a piece of soft, sweet, warm apple, life doesn't get much better than this.
Whew. Well, that's all folks. I've been delighted and amazed every time I got an email telling me that someone had added this story to their alerts or to their favorites…and even more delighted every time somebody sent me a review. Feedback is like manna to writers so thank you so very much to everybody who has taken the time to leave me a comment. Especially those who have commented more than one part and in particular Souless666 who has left me detailed feedback on every part! Much appreciated! But seriously, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this story; I really hope you've all enjoyed the ride.