A/N: Time and the muse have been in short supply lately, but it's hard to avoid this old movie during the holiday season and it did get me to thinking. Hope you enjoy :)

Warning: This is spoilery for the current state of Dean and Sam's relationship in S8. Not so much for the season's plot though.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Dean had to laugh to himself when he saw the name of the town on the exit sign: Bedford Falls. Now wasn't that the place to find oneself on a Christmas Eve? The picture perfect, apple pie town of Jimmy Stewart's beloved George Bailey. Of course he remembered that town. He'd only seen the movie five-gazillion times. No matter how skeevy a motel was, you could always find at least one TV station showing it between Thanksgiving and New Years and, more often than not, he caught it at least once a year.

Problem was, this version of Bedford Falls wasn't exactly picturesque. For one thing, this was Bedford Falls, New Mexico. He couldn't quite remember where the movie version of the town was, but he was fairly certain it was up north somewhere. New York or someplace in New England, maybe? Definitely not New Mexico.

Aside from the difference in geography, there was the fact that this was apparently the Bedford Falls of Bizarro World or the one that existed in the world where the evil Mr. Potter ruled. The place was a shithole to put it kindly.

It seemed the recession, the meth epidemic, and every other societal problem of the past two centuries had converged here to create a quaint patchwork of empty buildings, pawn shops, working girls, and teenagers with nothing worthwhile to do.

Yeah, definitely Potterville. Now he was just waiting to see Dru Barrymore's evil great-grandaddy come rolling by in his wheelchair, smoking a cigar and cackling maniacally while he counted his cash and ran down starving street urchins. That would actually be kind of funny… in a sick, twisted sort of way.

Dean was beginning to wonder if the 24-hour/always open diner he saw a sign for still existed or if it had closed-up shop like most everything else in this town. Then he saw the bridge up ahead. That sight was just a little too much, even for his freak show of a life.

It looked exactly like the bridge from It's a Wonderful Life, the one that old George was going to take a swan dive from. And even though it was dark out, it still seemed to live in a strange black and white sort of world of its own. Dean had sure as hell seen his share of freaky angelic television dimensions, but he had to check this out. Come on! He'd more than likely end up regretting it, but he had to check it out.

He eased the Impala onto it and, sure enough, now he was in black in white. Seriously, what the hell?

After pulling to a stop right smack in the middle of the bridge, Dean climbed out and wandered toward the edge. He wasn't quite sure if this was real. It reminded him of something out of the African dream root experience. With his luck, he was about to face down both his demon possessed doppelganger and the ghost of Jimmy Stewart.

He was a bit surprised to make it to the edge and see nothing but dark, swirling water below. It was much colder here in this Twilight Zone version of George Bailey's bridge from Bedford Falls. It was also blowing snow.

Snow.

It was blowing friggin snow. In New Mexico. Where it was a good, solid 50 degrees not 50 yards south. Yeah, this made all sorts of sense. All sorts of it. Maybe this was the universe's sick way of telling him it was time to hang it up. After all, his life did pretty much blow.

Practically everyone he'd ever known or cared about was either dead or didn't know he existed anymore. And Sam wasn't speaking to him, hadn't spoken to him since the fake 911 from Amelia.

He'd tried to explain. He'd even gone to Texas, but Sam was nowhere to be found by then and was once again not answering any of his phones.

Saw Amelia though. She was just a girl. Kind of cute. Definitely human. Not Ruby. Not a monster. Not anything horrible at all.

He wasn't exactly blown away by her. A part of him wanted to be. Part of him wanted to think 'Wow, this chick is so worth leaving your brother to rot in Purgatory over! Now I understand!'

But no, she was just a person. A mere human being. And a married one too, apparently. Damn. He'd kind of sent ole Sammy into the hornets' nest there. No wonder he was pissed.

He almost introduced himself, but decided it was best not to. He didn't know what or how much she knew about him and figured he could track his brother just as well without her. There were many times he'd had to track down a Sam that didn't want to be found, this was just one more.

Eventually, he'd given up on finding him in Texas and drifted across the state line into New Mexico. Now, here he was in fake Bedford Falls vaguely considering throwing himself off of Jimmy Stewart's fake bridge in the fake snow.

Suicide had never truly been a viable option for Dean. Sure, he'd have done it if he ever truly thought it would solve any of his problems. But, truth was, he knew way too much about what went on behind the curtain for that.

If the Catholics were right about the suicide thing, then he'd go to hell, which was… hell. And with Crowley in charge down there, it might be even worse than hell this go around.

Then there was heaven. The best he could hope for up there was an eternity of re-runs, but he highly doubted the angels would make it that easy for him. He was pretty sure he'd be less than popular upstairs as well.

Sadly, he'd probably fit in best in Purgatory. At least he understood the politics of the place. Kill or be killed. It was pretty cut and dried.

Screwed. That was him. His life was a great cosmic joke and now even God, some Trickster, or who-the hell-knows-what-else had decided to have some fun with him.

"Cas," he called out just because. "Dude, you better not appear out of nowhere and jump off this bridge. My ass ain't jumping in that cold water to save you. Whatever the game is, I'm not playing."

"Shit!"

Dean should be used to it. He really should. But every time Cas materialized out of nowhere when he wasn't expecting it, he almost had a stroke. One day he was going to have a stroke or piss his pants, or both. He was actually very glad to see the guy, but a little warning would have been so nice.

"You seem surprised," Cas remarked mildly.

"A little bit." Jeez what an understatement.

"You called me."

"No, I was running my mouth. There's a difference. I didn't exactly expect you to turn up. You don't normally pop-up out of nowhere every time your name gets mentioned."

Castiel nodded his head in agreement as he stared out across the dark water. "True. But this time you sounded particularly," he paused as if trying to find the right word before finally settling on, "frustrated. I thought you might require my assistance."

Frustrated. Yeah, that was a good word for it. But, wait a minute…

"Cas, are you saying you can hear every conversation where your name is mentioned? Dude, do you just sit around listening to all conversations where your name is brought up, because that's just weird and all kinds of creepy."

"I am an angel, Dean. I'm tuned-in to many frequencies at once."

Dean ran a hand down his face and realized that his nose was almost numb from the sudden artic temperatures. Cas really had not answered his question, but whatever. One weird-ass, disturbing thing at a time.

"What's the score here, Clarence? Did we get thrown into an old movie or what? Am I here to learn that the world would be better off if I'd never been born?"

Cas turned to him with an uncharacteristic expression of surprise painted on his features.

"Meg used to call me that. I never understood the reference."

"It's a Wonderful Life."

The angel tilted his head and blinked his eyes at Dean. Damn. It was almost comforting that some things never seemed to change. Cas was still as clueless as a toddler at times.

"Is it?" he asked.

"No, Cas, it friggin' sucks. That's the title of an old movie. It's a classic. Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed?"

"Jimmy Stewart, the actor?"

"Yeah, Jimmy Stewart, the actor."

"He has a very interesting heaven, actually. I think you call it BDSM. There is lots of rubber and -"

"Dude! I really don't need to know about that! Just let me tell you about the movie, okay. It's important." Later, he was going to ask Cas to wipe that bit of info from his brain. This was Jimmy Stewart for God's sake! The man was a national treasure.

"Okay," Cas agreed. He actually looked like he was pouting about not being allowed to share his juicy gossip.

"Okay… So, Jimmy Stewart plays this guy named George Bailey and George is this really good guy. He lives in a town called Bedford Falls, just like this place, except not a shithole, this place is perfect. Lionel Barrymore plays a douchebag who tries to make it seem like good ole George is stealing money from the bank where he works. A lot of crap goes down and George decides to throw himself off a bridge that's exactly-friggin-like this bridge where we're standing. Snow, black and white effects, and everything. But before he can do it, he sees some old dude flapping around out in the water and he jumps in to save him. Turns out the old dude is actually an angel named Clarence who was just pretending to drown to keep George from killing himself."

"Oh, so that is the source of Meg's reference."

Dean nodded. "That's Meg's reference."

"I miss Meg," Cas remarked thoughtfully. "I worry about what may be happening to her. It cannot be pleasant."

Honestly, Dean could give a rat's ass. Meg would slit any of their throats just for kicks. But, being a dick hadn't gotten him very far lately, so he decided on a shrug and a quick change of subject.

"Anyway," he said, plowing ahead with his tale, "George tells Clarence that he wishes he was never born. Clarence needs to earn his angel wings, so he shows George what a terrible place Bedford Falls would be if George had never been born and George realizes he wants to live. George lives happily ever after, Clarence gets his wings, and everyone has a Merry Christmas. The end."

Cas seemed to give the story a moment or two to soak in.

"Angels do not have to earn their wings, Dean. We are created with them. We don't go through any special process to obtain them."

Dean sighed. Leave it to Cas to pick up on that detail.

"That's not the point, Cas. It's a movie. I'm just telling you the plot. It's not a theology lesson."

"And you think we are in this movie?"

"Kinda? I mean, the bizarro version of it. Look around, Cas, something's messing with reality here. Don't you agree?"

"Yes, definitely."

"Okay. And, trust me, this is not George Bailey's version of Bedford Falls. This is more like the version of Bedford Falls that existed in the world where George Bailey was never born. The crap version. Some supernatural smartass is trying to say I should have never been born. Which yeah, fine! I get it!" he yelled, giving the finger to the increasingly snow-filled sky. "But exactly what the fuck am I supposed to do about it?"

"Okay," Cas said, sounding infuriatingly calm given how enraged Dean was feeling at the moment.

"Okay, what!?"

"Okay, you were never born."

That was not what Dean expected to hear, so his rage fell in on itself a little. It was hard to keep a good, righteous anger going when your company was so friggin bland about everything.

"I, what now?"

"You were never born."

"I'm standing right here, Cas. No offense, but are you sure your marbles are all back in place?"

"I am perfectly sane. I just thought this would be an interesting exercise. If it helps you to understand the concept, you can think of this as an alternate dimension. A dimension where everything is exactly the same, except you were never born. You are simply here visiting."

"Awesome. I'm a tourist."

"If it helps you to see it that way."

Dean threw up his hands. "Whatever. You're running this tour, Clarence. What's our first stop?"

Cas did not look like a man with a plan. A deer in headlights would be Dean's description.

"What was your destination when you drove into this town?" he asked.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

This was flat-out ridiculous. Dean hoped that whatever was doing this was getting a real kick out of watching him suffer. Seriously, what the hell was the point of this stupid charade? And why would Cas think it was a good idea to play along with the bullshit?

Dean was no longer even remotely hungry, but he'd originally pulled into this town to grab a burger at the local diner and Cas clearly didn't have a better plan up his sleeve.

As they rolled off the bridge and back onto the road to try and locate the restaurant, it was hard not to notice that the entire town now appeared to exist inside an old black and white film. Better yet, the town no longer looked like Cracktown, U.S.A. it looked much more like George Bailey's quaint, picturesque Bedford Falls.

A gentle snow was falling, but it conveniently failed to stick to the roads or the sidewalks. At least that was a plus. Baby was a bitch to drive in even the lightest snow.

Unlike the movie, this Bedford Falls' architecture was distinctly Southwestern in theme. Adobe walls, palm trees, and cacti looked out of place covered in a several inches of powdery snow. It also looked like someone had let Martha Stewart loose and she'd had way too much eggnog beforehand.

Every house was decorated in tasteful white lights with candles and boughs of holly in each window, and a perfectly constructed snowman wearing a wool scarf sat in each yard. Each lamppost they passed held an intricate handmade wreath with a giant red bow. Absolute perfection down to each tiny little snowflake.

It was depressing and a little bit terrifying, and Dean wanted to bawl like a gigantic baby.

There was no way he was crying. Not a single tear. Not in front of Cas and not in front of the dickwad he knew was kicked back in its own private theater eating popcorn, Goobers, and slurping Coke from a ginormous cup. That thing was not getting the satisfaction of seeing him break.

Why?

What was the point?

It wasn't like he was under some grand illusion that he was a gift to this world. He was more qualified to list his failings and shortcomings than anyone. Did he need to make a list? Check it twice?

For fuck's sake!

"You are about to miss the diner, Dean."

Cas was pointing to the shiny, welcoming All-American diner to their right. Dean wasn't sure how he almost passed it by. Oh yeah, too busy being dead inside.

The back end of the Impala fishtailed around when he made the sudden turn into the lot. Again, it was a lucky break that his non-existence prevented snow from sticking to any driving surfaces, otherwise that was a wreck waiting to happen.

After regaining control and maneuvering into the first empty space in the lot, he killed the engine, gripped the wheel, and looked over at Cas.

"I'm done. I've seen enough. Just flip whatever switch it is you need to flip. Let me disappear, cease to exist, go back to my dimension, or whatever the hell you need to do to finish this. I'm done, okay."

Cas just stared unblinking and Dean had to remind himself how he almost broke his hand the last time he punched him in the face. It was taking everything he had. Everything. Every-freaking-thing just to hold himself together and Cas just sat there staring at him like Goddamn Rainman.

"Cas, please. Don't make me beg, man. I can't. I can't do this anymore. Just-"

"You surprise me, Dean. When confronted by angels, almost all humans do whatever we ask of them. Sometimes we have problems convincing you what we are, but once we get past that issue, we never have a problem. But you… you gave heaven all sorts of problems, Dean. No one knew what to do with you. It was unprecedented."

Wonderful. Now, one of his last remaining friends was going to join in on the kick-Dean-when-he's-down party.

"I'm a pain in the ass of the entire universe, Cas. That's been established. I don't need to see more evidence."

"It is obvious that you do!"

Angry Cas always captured Dean's attention. It was rare and frankly scary as shit. It was sometimes easy to forget that the guy was nearly invincible.

"All the trouble you gave heaven. All the trouble you gave me! We were going about it wrong. It took hell thirty years to break you, so obviously they went about it wrong too. There's no point in torturing you, or arguing with you, and God help anyone who tries to reason with you!"

"Gee, thanks, Cas! Tell me how you really feel."

"I am serious Dean."

"Well, what the hell is all that crap supposed to mean?"

"You will have to figure it out for yourself. I am going inside."

The passenger door slammed with a little too much angelic force for Dean's comfort and he could see the tail of Cas' trench coat flapping as he stalked toward the entrance of the diner.

Really? Cas was storming away in a huff. Wow. Now that was almost enough to make him laugh. Damn, the guy was really getting into his part. Clarence was going to show Dean the error of his ways and earn those wings.

XXXXXXXXXX

The inside of the diner was exactly what he expected, more perfection. The waitresses were all gorgeous and even the line cooks, who usually have a giant beer gut, all looked like they belonged on the cover of GQ magazine. Every surface was so clean you could eat off of it, definitely no roaches waiting for the lights to go out or rats hiding in the back.

Even in Pleasantville, there were people dining out on Christmas Eve. Picture perfect families with beautiful, well-behaved children. It was way too quiet, considering the limited space and the number of people packed in here. People were chatting, but they were way too polite and low-key about it, especially for a friggin' hole in the wall diner.

The waitress who came to hand them their menu and take their drink orders was just Dean's type if he still had a type. Honestly, at the moment, he wasn't sure his libido was ever going to make a reappearance. She was beautiful (wasn't everyone?). A brunette, curvy, and she had big, expressive brown eyes. At least he thought they were brown. It was hard to tell in black and white. Hell, they could be green for all he knew.

He ordered coffee and Cas mimicked him, he supposed that was just to blend in. Then he flipped open the grease-stain-free menu and, for the first time, the façade began to slip a little.

"Dude, where the hell are the burgers?" he asked in a whisper. It seemed weird to talk out loud here. Everyone was so damn subdued.

"There are no burgers," Cas answered simply, keeping his own menu up in front of his face.

Dean yanked Cas' menu down, because honestly, he didn't need it and Dean didn't have the patience for his act.

"What do you mean 'there are no burgers'? What the hell kind of diner doesn't have burgers? Or bacon?" A scan of the breakfast section confirmed 'bacon' as another member of the missing. In fact there were no meat products whatsoever and nothing fried. This place was Sam's wet dream. What a nightmare!

The waitress reappeared with two ceramic mugs and a coffee pot. A coffee pot with an orange handle, the universal calling card of decaffeinated coffee.

This woman was going to try and pour him decaf coffee. Dean just stared at her with his mouth open while she poured because, obviously, the answer was 'there is no regular coffee'. He didn't have to ask. He was catching on.

Dean tried hard not to yell, because he was fairly certain the occupants of this establishment were not prepared for the extent of his vocabulary. He gritted his teeth and leaned forward in his seat as far as he could and did his best to keep things to a low growl.

"Cas, what the fuck is going on here? That crazy bitch just put decaf coffee in my cup, dude. Decaffeinated coffee is like non-alcoholic beer, the shit should not be allowed to exist. Makes no logical sense. None. And no meat? You're telling me that just because I was never born, there are no burgers, no bacon, and no decent coffee? Guess you're gonna tell me there's no beer either?"

"There's no beer either. No fermented beverages of any kind."

"What? Jesus Christ!" That time Dean did raise his voice and got several shocked and embarrassed glances from other patrons because of it.

"Dean, what exactly do you think this is?" Cas asked patiently.

What was the game and why were there riddles involved? This was giving him a headache.

"This is what the world would be if I had never been born. Remember? You're the one who thought it would be an interesting exercise."

"And what year is it, Dean."

Still patient. Still infuriating. And Dean still couldn't punch him without breaking his hand.

"2012, I guess."

"Yes, it is 2012. And what happened in 2010. May 13, 2010 to be specific."

What the hell was Cas talking about? That was one of the worst days of his life. It was the day he watched his brother throw himself into the pit. But it was a moot point here. He didn't exist here, so it never happened.

"I don't believe you," Dean said. "Didn't happen here. Couldn't happen here. It had to be me and Sam, Michael told me that. That was always the master plan. Adam was just a last minute replacement. There was never a me, so it never started. Don't fuck with me on this, Cas."

Dean felt a slight touch on the forehead, then a brief feeling of displacement, and then nothing. He was still sitting right where he had been sitting, across from Cas in the booth of the diner. Thing was, the diner around them wasn't the same. Not exactly.

For one thing, the black and white movie world was gone. Also, Dean would not be eating off any of the surfaces and as soon as the light switch went off, he was sure it was the Kentucky Derby of roaches around here. This was a hole-in-the-wall diner and a crappy one at that. Not even a single waitress could be termed cute. But he could smell the bacon frying and the grease in the air was almost a solid thing. It was beautiful.

"Decide to give up on the movie business?" Dean asked. He hoped he sounded a little better than the basket case he felt like right now.

"No, we are still in movie world as you call it. I believe this is what they call a flashback in the film industry."

"Huh?"

"Ask the man behind you if you can take a look at his paper. Or perhaps you can ask our waitress what the date is?"

Dean looked up at the expectant face of the plump, but pleasant looking middle-aged waitress in front of him. "Okay, I'll play," he said. "What's today's date, sweetheart?" he asked her with his best shit-eating grin.

"It's May 13 all day long," she said with a smile. "Now what can I get you to drink, honey?"

"Coffee… the real kind," Dean said absently. "And, before you go, humor me. What's the year?"

She paused and looked at him for a moment like she wasn't sure what to make of him, but finally shrugged and answered, "2010," before turning to Cas who said something Dean didn't even catch. His mind was reeling. Flashback? Cas had that one wrong. This was time travel.

"What's going on, Cas? I'm serious. I'm about this close," he warned, holding his thumb and forefinger about a millimeter apart. "I will flip the fuck out if you give me one more cryptic answer."

"I am not being cryptic, Dean. We are still in the same diner. We've only traveled back in time a few years. I wanted you to see what it was like just before everything changed."

"Changed how?"

"The Apocalypse, Dean." Now Cas sounded exasperated with him. That was rich. "This," he continued, sweeping his hand out, "is what this diner looked like just before Lucifer and Michael met on the field of battle and began the Apocalypse."

"Okay and the Christmas 2012 version?"

"That was the post-Apocalypse, paradise on earth version. Remember? A few billion die, but those who are left behind get a perfect world."

"With no bacon?" Dean really didn't know where to begin. That was just the first thing that popped out of his mouth.

"It has been a process of trial and error," Cas said with a frown. "Humans are very difficult to understand. Very illogical. Creating a paradise on earth has been challenging. You say you do not want animals to die and yet you wish to eat bacon. You are filled with insecurities about your weight, your looks, your age, the size of your sexual organs, the .."

"Whoa, just whoa, I'm gonna stop you right there, Cas. I think I get the point. You've had problems ironing out paradise, but you seem to have it working. All those folks seemed… happy." Dean shrugged. They actually seemed zoned, but he wasn't there long. "I didn't hear any complaints. Good looking bunch of people too."

"Yes, we ended up euthanizing everyone who did not fit a certain genetic profile, but surprisingly people missed their less attractive relatives, even after they seemed so unhappy with the basic concept of physical flaws. We decided changes in brain chemistry were the most efficient and practical way to go."

Dean was thankful he didn't have his coffee yet, because he would have choked on it.

"The angels gave every living person a lobotomy?"

"Not technically. But, yes, I suppose that is a good way for you to conceptualize it."

Holy freaking cow. This was a nightmare. He may as well just go ahead and ask the question he'd been dreading and avoiding.

"Cas, who does Lucifer wear to the big fight?"

"Sam, of course. And your half-brother Adam is Michael's vessel. I can show you. We can observe the battle unseen. Although, I'm not certain it would be wise for you to witness it."

The rough edges of his calluses made Dean aware of the fact that his face was buried in his hands. For someone who never existed, his hands were beat all to hell. At least George Bailey's bad ear and split lip got fixed.

"So, it made no difference at all. Sam still got screwed."

"Sam had it worse. Think, Dean. Stop hating yourself for one second and think. What do you believe would have happened to Sam if you had not been around? Your father loved Sam. He loved both of you. But he had his own problems. If you had not been there to help him, to take up the slack, to get between them when things became heated. What do you think would have happened? What do you know would have happened?"

He really wanted to believe he'd made some difference amid all his screw ups. That he'd done something other than irritate the shit out of his brother, cramp his style, and force him into a life he hated.

He knew there were times when things came close to getting physically violent between Sam and Dad before Dean stepped between them. Food budgets stretched way too thin, less than stellar holidays, bullies at school, and too many various close calls to count. It was not Beaver Cleaver's childhood by any means, but he'd tried. Still, he wasn't buying that he'd made that big of a dent in history. This little scenario was way too Hallmark Channel and it was really starting to piss him off.

"So you're telling me Sam went darkside just because I wasn't there to give the little brat his Lucky Charms and wipe his nose for him. Bullshit, Cas. I'm calling bullshit! Sam's not evil." At least, this time, he didn't get much more than a bored glance from a couple patrons for his outburst.

"No, Dean. Sam is not evil. Not in your dimension and not in this one. It is not about being evil. It is about being manipulated. You and I both know that Sam is capable of being manipulated and he had no one to tell him differently. No one he could count on. No one left who cared. He is a very angry young man."

"What about Dad?"

"Azazael found a way to dispose of him. He was in the way. Some things never change."
"Like Cold Oak. Bet that didn't change either. How's Sam here if I wasn't there to bring him back?"
"He did not need to be brought back, Dean. This Sam did not hesitate to kill. That was the only reason he died the first time."

Dean closed his eyes. There had to be something else. It couldn't have been that simple, that easy for everything to just fall apart.
"Bobby then," he said desperately. "What about him? He wouldn't give up on Sam."

"Bobby has not been in the picture for a very long time. Sam hasn't seen him since he was a young boy. John Winchester had a bitter falling out with him years ago. You have a way of holding people together, Dean."

"I don't believe you, Cas."

"Call him. I'm certain he can be reached at the same number. Although, he is a much heavier drinker in this reality. His speech is incredibly difficult to decipher any time after the noon hour. The man is practically a hermit as well."

XXXXXXXXXX

He was feeding quarters into a payphone. It was stupid. He wasn't even sure why he was doing it, but his cell didn't work and the idea of hearing Bobby's voice was damn near irresistible.

"Singer here," answered an incredibly slurred voice.

"Bobby, thank God," Dean couldn't help it and his voice cracked like a twelve-year-old's too.

"Who the hell's this?" snapped the voice on the other side of the line. "Ain't got all day. State yer business."

Think, Dean. This Bobby doesn't know who the hell you are.

"Bobby, this is Dean. Have you ever heard of me?"

"No. Ya famous 'r somethin'?"

Grouchy, old, drunk bastard. It was so tempting to see how long he could keep him talking, just to hear the sound of his voice.

"Do you know a Sam Winchester?" he asked carefully.

There was a beat of silence before Bobby spoke again and this time his speech was clearer than before.

"Don't you ever call here again. Boy's a monster."

Dean wasn't sure how long the line had been silent before he finally laid the receiver back down in the cradle.

"Are you ready to go now, Dean?"

Dean looked up to see Cas standing outside the phone booth looking at him expectantly. He had a feeling this wasn't the first or even the second time he'd asked that question.

"Where? Back to the future?" he asked, laughing automatically at his own stupid joke, even though he wasn't amused and it wasn't even that funny.

Cas cocked his head. Another reference wasted.

"I was thinking we would return to the present, preferably in the dimension where you do currently exist."

"Why not," Dean sighed. "They do keep the burgers and the beer there."

Now Cas looked like someone had kicked his dog. Dean supposed he was expecting a more Hollywood-like ending to this film. Maybe a spontaneous outbreak of carol singing or something.

"Look around first, Dean. Tell me what you see?"

Oh God. Enough of this crap. He was worn out. All he wanted to do was go back to his own place and time, find the nearest fleabag, and pass out.

"I see a shithole, Cas. A piece of crap phone booth with graffiti and the friggin Ebola virus all over it, sitting in front of a skeevy diner in a shady-ass town. What do you want me to say?"

"This is Bedford Falls pre-angelic interference in the world where Dean Winchester was never born. The fact that you were never born did not change generations of bad choices, economic misfortunes, or the fact that No Child Left Behind was not a viable program. You have had a great impact on some people's lives Dean, and on the world, but in some ways you greatly overestimate the power of your own influence. This is, in your very own words, a shithole."

Okay, Dean was not going to say this was a light bulb moment, but it kinda was. There was a little flicker there. He had to admit it. Maybe a little weight was lifted. That permanent kink between his shoulders may have felt a bit looser. His sense of humor was back. That had to be a good sign, right?

"Cas, please don't ever say shithole again. You don't say it right. You put too much emphasis on both words like shit-hole instead of just shithole. It sounds profane. It's gross!"

Cas smirked at him. He was pretty sure Clarence was feeling smug and fine. Let him have his moment and stretch his shiny new wings.

"It is extremely crude. I do not understand how you wish me to make it sound."

"I don't wish to ever hear you say it again. That's how I wish you to make it sound."

XXXXXXXXXX

The 24-hour/always open diner in Bedford Falls was still in business and since his car was already parked there when Cas officially zapped him back into existence, he decided to go ahead and eat.

Cas hung out and kept him company. Plus, the food wasn't half bad. Lots of grease, lots of bacon on the cheeseburger, and some of the God-awful ugliest cooks Dean had ever laid eyes on. He never thought he'd be so happy to see ugly people. Life was freaky.

Regardless, he was ready to get the hell out of that town as soon as his check was paid. Another hour down the road and he found a town where he was much less likely to get scabies from the motel sheets.

He flipped through the cable channels until he found the one showing the twenty-four hour marathon of It's a Wonderful Life, popped open a beer and watched George and Mary give away all their honeymoon cash to the bank customers until he couldn't hold his eyes open anymore.

He didn't even waste much time bellyaching about the fact that this was going to be the very first Christmas morning he'd ever wake-up completely alone.

XXXXXXXXXXX

Dean finally realized that the knock on the door was not a part of his dream and it wasn't going away. He'd put the 'Do Not Disturb' sign out. It was 9A.M. on Christmas morning. This damn place better be on fire.

"Comin'," he yelled, mostly into his pillow.

He stood up and tried to stretch the kink out of his back. Luckily, he'd drifted off in his clothes, so he didn't have to worry about getting decent. Not that he was really that concerned. You come knocking this early uninvited, you might get shocked.

After making sure his pistol was secure at the small of his back, he made his way over to the door, slid back the deadbolt and then opened the door, leaving the safety chain in place.

Honestly, he didn't expect trouble. He expected a maid or some drunk dumbass who'd forgotten their own room number. The latter happened way too often. The very last thing he expected was Sam. But that was exactly who was standing there outside the doorway, looking a bit unsure of himself and holding a six pack of beer. Wonders never cease.

Dean held up one finger, because he honestly wasn't sure what to say, but Sam knew what he meant - he had to shut the door so he could pull the safety chain loose. The Winchesters were experts on motels. When he was done, he pulled back the door and held it open silently so his brother could step inside.

"Merry Christmas," Sam said with a smirk, holding up the six pack of some generic canned beer and a paper bag with who-knows-what inside it.

"Merry Christmas," Dean repeated back cautiously. What the hell was going on? Should he run all the tests?

Sam headed straight for the mini fridge and stowed away all but two of the beers and the bag. He popped the tab on one of the beers and held it out toward Dean. He accepted. Hell, he was surprised Sam was drinking at 9A.M. but it was Christmas.

"You know, Dean, that was a dick move you made back in Louisiana."

He almost asked 'what was?' It was on the tip of his tongue, but he knew damn good and well what Sam was talking about. He was talking about the fake text message and, yeah, it was a dick move. He'd probably do it again, because it had to be done, but it was a dick move. May as well call a spade a spade.

"Yeah," he agreed simply. "That was a dick move. How'd you know I was here?"

"Cas," Sam replied with a laugh. "He's like the Christmas Angel or something. Didn't think we should be apart on Christmas. What's with him? I think he's been watching the Hallmark Channel or something."

"Dude, you wouldn't believe me if I told you. It's really that weird."

Dean wandered to the bedside table, grabbed up the remote and handed it over to Sam.

"I'm gonna go take a leak. Find something good for us to watch. Nothing too cheesy. I'll be right back."

When Dean got back, Sam was sitting with his back against the headboard of the unused bed, sipping his beer, and surfing the channels. He guessed this was it. Now they go back to the way things were. Let it all go.

He was fine with that. Real fine with that, actually. He was tired of being pissed off at Sam. Things could be a lot worse. A whole lot worse. Like an angel lobotomy kind of worse.

"Dean," Sam said eventually, after a long stretch of them watching some made-for-TV movie where Jenny McCarthy is Santa's busy, executive daughter. "I really thought you were dead. I mean I wanted you to be dead."

This he didn't need to hear. Letting it go was a much better plan.

"Thanks, Sammy," he snapped. "That helps!"

His brother turned around all dewy-puppy-dog-eyes and huge, wrinkled forehead.

"No, I don't mean it that way. I mean you were so miserable. You hated your life. You gave up everything. Lost everybody. Drank all the time. And you always fixed things for me. Always. My whole life you were there to fix everything."

"Sam."

"No, Dean, just listen for once. You fixed everything for me and I could never fix anything for you. Even after we grew up. Man, you brought me back from the dead! You made sure I didn't remember anything about hell and, when I did, you fixed that too. I couldn't do any of that for you. So, I thought maybe if you were dead you'd finally be happy. Maybe you could see Mom and Dad again, and see how far Pamela would let you take that kiss, and hang out with Ellen and Jo at the Roadhouse."

Dean started laughing a little, because this was really the last explanation he ever expected to hear and it was awesome. But Sam looked like a little kid in that ginormous body and he was really starting to feel uncomfortable and damn this conversation needed to be over.

"It was stupid Dean!" Oh God, Sam better not start crying now. "I realize that now. I should have known better! But I was lost. I didn't know what to do. I had no one to fix it and I couldn't fix it for you, so I ran. That's what I do best."

"I get it, Sam, okay? I've let it go. It's over, dude. I'm Zen. You had no way of knowing where I was and no way of getting me out if you did. Look at the mess Cas made when he tried to open Purgatory in the first place and dude's an angel. Just drop it and please tell me there's pie in that bag. No more chick flick moments, Sam. I mean it. I'll kick your ass."

Sam started laughing and thank God that sort of derailed the awkward waterworks that were about to start flowing, although one or two tears did escape.

"You're such a dick! And, yeah, it's pie, but it's mincemeat, dude. It's the worst pie ever. It's a long story. Trust me, even you won't like it."

Dean would be the judge of that. So far, this Christmas had been pretty damn awesome in its own freak show way. How bad could mincemeat pie be?