The Long and Winding Road (amypond45) wrote,
The Long and Winding Road
amypond45

PART TWO: If I Ever Lose My Faith

No demon answers his summons.

Dean spends over four hours yelling into the void, waiting, drives to five different crossroads to try again and again.

Nothing happens.

Hell must be locked down tighter than Sam’s ass, he figures finally.

Time for Plan B.

“In my world, Sam knew a spell that could resurrect a dead person,” he explains to Sam when he gets back to the bunker. “Tell me you know how to do that, too.”

Sam’s eyes widen. “Necromancy? Dean, that’s dark magic. Dad always said, what’s dead should stay dead. He was very clear on that. My brother would never...”

“I don’t give a shit what your brother would do,” Dean snaps. “He’s not here, is he? That’s not you lying in there on that bed. And I’ll tell you one thing, if it was and he was here, he’d be trying to do the same thing.”

Sam stares at him for a moment, then ducks his head and clenches his jaw. “You were gone for six hours.”

Dean frowns. Sam looks more tired and worn out than before, and he gets it. He knows how it feels to think you’ve lost someone. Again.

“I’m not him, Sam,” he says as gently as he can.

“I know, I know.” Sam takes a shaky breath, tries to look him in the eye but can’t quite do it. “It’s just — When you came through the rift, I — For just a moment, I thought — ” He clears his throat, tries again. “I just can’t lose you.”

Dean takes a deep breath, lets it out slow. He understands. Even if he’s just a carbon copy of this man’s brother, that’s better than nothing.

And given what Chuck’s been doing to the other worlds, it seems more than likely that the other Dean is toast.

He reaches out, lays a hand on Sam’s shoulder and gives it a squeeze.

“Look, Sam, I’m sorry about your brother. I’m sorry I’m not your brother. But if I know him at all — and I’m pretty sure I do, since he’s me — I can tell you that he’d want you to find a way to go on without him. Meet a girl, or marry the one you already care about. Does Eileen exist in this world?”

When Sam nods, Dean goes on. “Settle down. Have kids. Grandkids. Be happy. Right?”

Sam nods, blinking back tears, and Dean pats his shoulder before drawing his hand back.

“But first, maybe you need to take a shower, huh? Eat something? How long is it since you slept?”

Sam lets Dean take care of him, and Dean falls so easily into the role he almost forgets about the dead body in the infirmary.

Almost.

He focuses on feeding Sam, getting him showered and changed. He gets him a glass of water to take to bed. After Dean cleans up in the kitchen, he checks on Sam just as he would have done after a hunt. Sam’s left the door to his bedroom ajar, just as he always does when they sleep in separate rooms. The light’s off, but in the lighting from the corridor Dean can see Sam sprawled on his stomach, big socked foot hanging off the side of the bed, arms folded under his pillow. Except for the glasses on the nightstand, he looks just like he always does when he sleeps.

Dean gazes at his not-brother just a moment too long. Then he quietly pulls the door almost shut and heads back to the library for a nightcap and some research.

Somewhere in this bunker is the spell he needs to bring Sam back to life. Dean’s going to find it, or die trying. That is, if God doesn’t get here to finish off this world first.

He wonders about that as he sips his whiskey. Why did Chuck leave this world virtually intact? Did he just miss it somehow? Or is it set to blow any minute? Dean suspects the latter. If he’s lucky, he’ll be dead soon, hopefully meet up with Sam in Heaven.

He takes his whiskey and a book on ancient necromancy into the infirmary, sits down on the chair next to the bed and stares at his dead brother.

“I’m sorry, Sammy,” he murmurs finally. “I didn’t see this coming. I figured Chuck would let us go down together at least, you know? Not this lingering on afterwards with you dead.”

He throws back the rest of the whiskey and pours himself another.

“I guess I should just shoot myself, huh? I know Chuck said Billie wouldn’t let me die, but how would she know? We’re not even in the same world.” Dean sniffs, biting back the tears blurring his vision. He reaches out and tucks a curl behind Sam’s ear.

It occurs to him that Sam’s probably happier where he is, in Heaven. He’s probably living his best life with Jessica, maybe. Or Sarah. Or maybe there are memories of Dean that don’t make him totally miserable, and he’s got Mom and maybe Dad if those are happy memories...

Sammy’s probably fine without Dean, in Heaven. He was always going to be fine without Dean. Like he was at Stanford. Like he was while Dean was in Purgatory.

“Anyway, it’s just a matter of time before Chuck gets here and destroys everything. This poor guy here? Your doppelgänger? His days are numbered.” He wipes his nose with his sleeve. “His brother’s gone, too. He probably doesn’t want to live, either.”

He takes another sip of whiskey, looks down at the book balanced on his knee. The words blur across the page, useless and undecipherable. He flips through the book, shaking his head.

“You could fix this,” he murmurs, fighting back despair. “If you were here, you’d know what to do. You’d have a spell or two we could try. This guy here, this world’s Sam, he’s afraid of ‘black magic.’ Couldn’t perform a resurrection to save his life.”

Dean takes a deep breath. “I know you’d hate it if I forced him to do it, but I’m tempted, Sammy. I’m really tempted. You know I can’t live with you dead.”

He finishes his glass and sets the book on the floor. He wants to slide to his knees, bury his head in his arms on the bed next to Sam, stay there till he dies. Maybe he’s had enough to drink tonight to give himself alcohol poisoning. Maybe if he falls asleep he’ll pass away, right here next to his dead brother. That other Sam will come into the infirmary in the morning and find two dead bodies.

Dean feels vaguely guilty at that prospect. The Sam in this world seems like a nice guy. Innocent. He’s been missing his brother and was so grateful when Dean fell through the rift. He was so glad to see him. It would be cruel to just die on him like that.

Dean almost wishes he cared.

//**//**//


“Dean?”

Dean starts as he feels a hand on his shoulder. He reaches under his pillow for his gun but finds no pillow, just his folded arms, wet with drool. Then he remembers.

He’s on his knees on the floor next to the bed where Sam’s dead body lies, having drunk himself into a stupor, and now the clock on the wall says 6:15.

It’s morning.

Sam stands at the foot of the bed, looking worried. Concerned. He’s dressed in track clothes, as if he was on his way out for a run before he stepped in here because he heard Dean snoring.

Sam puts a hand out, trying to help Dean up off the floor, and Dean slaps his hand away.

“I’m okay, I’m okay.”

He rolls over, fighting the combination of nausea and pounding headache, and runs a hand over his face. He needs a shave. A shower.

“Were you here all night?” Sam’s voice is soft, careful.

“Doesn’t matter,” Dean mutters, pushing himself to his feet. “None of it matters.”

“Dean — “ Maybe it’s time to bury him, huh? Or maybe think about a hunter’s funeral? Sam doesn’t need to say that last part for Dean to hear it in his head. He knows Sam too well.

“Leave it alone, Sam!” Dean roars, making his head feel like it’s about to split open.

Sam lowers his eyes, nods once, and Dean feels like a dick. The kid doesn’t deserve to be yelled at. This isn’t his fault.

“You know, I could perform a preservation spell,” Sam says as they both look down at Sam’s body. “I could stop the decay, at least.” Since you’re not ready to let him go,

“What?” Dean blinks uncertainly.

Sam nods. “I can’t bring him back, but I could do that much.”

Dean hadn’t even thought about it. It hadn’t occurred to him that he couldn’t just keep Sam’s body on the infirmary bed indefinitely while he searched for a way to bring him back, if that was the plan.

Was that the plan?

“Go on,” Sam says. “You take a shower while I do the spell and make coffee. You can use Dean’s shaving kit. Put some fresh clothes on. You know where Dean’s room is, right?”

Dean finds himself leaving the infirmary, leaving Sam’s body, doing what Sam asks him to do because he’s Sam and sometimes Dean lets Sam tell him what to do.

He’s probably a little drunk still.

When he stumbles back down the corridor later, clean and shaven and dressed in fresh shirts and jeans, the smell of coffee and bacon improves Dean’s mood considerably. The shower and shave helped him feel better, and now the smell of food has him on a leash.

“Hey.” Sam greets him from the stove, where he’s stirring eggs in a pan.

“Hey yourself,” Dean answers as he reaches for a cup, pours himself coffee. Everything in the kitchen looks the same as it does in his bunker. It’s safe. Familiar.

“Eat,” Sam instructs as he puts down a plate of eggs at Dean’s usual place at the table. A plate of bacon and another of buttered toast are already laid out.

Dean takes his seat, sips his coffee. It’s good. Black and strong, the way he likes it. He looks up over the rim of the cup as Sam joins him at the table with his own plate of egg whites.

“Thought you were going for a run,” Dean notes.

Sam shrugs, doesn’t look up as he reaches for a piece of toast.

“Figured I could run later,” he says, noncommittal. After I make sure you’re okay.

“So, you and your brother live here alone?” Dean asks, forcing himself to care.

“With our dad and three other Hunter-Men of Letters,” Sam says with a nod.

Dean lifts an eyebrow. “Dad? Your dad’s here?”

“He was.” Sam sips his coffee, puts it down. “Until the rift opened up about a year ago. Dad led an expedition into the rift six months ago. He never came back.”

“And your brother went after him last week,” Dean suggests. “With another expedition.”

Sam nods. “We thought we had the coordinates right,” he says. “Dean was so sure he could rescue Dad, get him back through the rift before it closed again.”

“But he missed the window,” Dean guesses. “Rift closed again before they got back.”

Sam blinks, obviously struggling with his emotions. “Yeah. I’ve spent the last week trying to open it again. Until you came through, I wasn’t having any luck.”

Dean nods. He takes a bite of his eggs, chews. They’re good.

“Your brother’s a hunter,” he suggests. “And you’re... A Man of Letters? The brain to his brawn?”

Sam’s jaw twitches. “I hunt,” he insists. “But my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. I’ve developed other skills to compensate.”

“Magic,” Dean suggests, raising an eyebrow. “Spell-casting. You’ve got a talent for it. You’re good at it.”

“Right.” Sam flashes a dimpled grin, making Dean’s chest ache. “I’ve got a garden out back for herbs and this and that. I grow most of the ingredients I need for my spell work. The bunker provides the rest.”

“The bunker provides?” Dean frowns.

Sam looks up, holds Dean’s gaze for a moment. “This bunker is the most magical place on Earth, Dean. Isn’t that true in your world?”

Dean flushes, grins lopsidedly as he ducks his head and scoops up another forkful of eggs. “In our world, it’s mostly just an old dead place full of musty old books and storage rooms. But it’s home, I guess. A place to come back to after a hunt.”

“Your dad?”

Dean draws a breath. “He died a few years ago,” he admits, taking a sip of his coffee. “Mom just last year.” No sense in explaining everything. “Your mom?”

Sam flinches. “She died on a hunt when we were kids. Dad went a little crazy afterwards for a while, so Dean basically raised me.”

Dean nods sympathetically. “Do you remember her?”

“More or less,” Sam says. “I was four. We were living in a nice suburban home in Lawrence, but after she died, Dad moved us here. Said it was safer.”

“Well, he’s not wrong there,” Dean says. “So your dad was a Man of Letters.”

Sam nods. “Born and raised, like his dad before him.”

“Huh.” Dean takes a bite of bacon, chews thoughtfully. “In our world, hunters and men of letters lived pretty separate lives. They didn’t like each other much.”

Sam grins again, and this time Dean can’t take his eyes off him. Sam’s whole face splits open when he smiles. His eyes sparkle.

“Yeah, Mom and Dad had kind of a rough marriage, from what I can tell. Her people were hunters, and she never really left the life, even after she had us. She was always gone, always hunting. Dad had to pick up a lot of slack.”

“Huh.” Dean thinks about the young woman he met years ago, in another timeline, the young woman who wanted out of the hunting life, who swore she wouldn’t raise her kids the way she was raised. “So Dad knew she was a hunter when he married her.”

“Of course,” Sam says. “But it was a bone of contention between them. It was compulsive with her. She just wouldn’t give it up.”

Dean nods. That sounds like the woman he knew recently. “And how about you, Sam? Didn’t you ever want something better? Something more...normal?”

“Something better than being a Man of Letters?” Sam looks so shocked that Dean almost laughs. “What could be better than that? I get to do real good in the world.”

“Oh yeah?” Dean raises an eyebrow.

“Dean, a couple of years ago, I used a spell that purifies groundwater to clean up the drinking water supply for the entire city of Pittsburgh.”

Dean chuckles. “Good for Pittsburgh.”

“Damn right,” Sam says, puffing out his chest. “That spell saved lives, Dean.”

Dean finishes his toast, washing it down with the last of his coffee.

“My Sam, he stopped the apocalypse,” he says with a proud smile. “He saved the world from the Devil himself.”

Sam shakes his head. “Wow. Angels are real in your world. I don’t know if I can get my head around that.” He takes a deep breath. “When I was a kid, I used to go to church and pray. I used to pray to God. Finding out God’s real is just mind-blowing.”

“Yeah, well, let’s keep hoping he forgot about this world, because he’s on a rampage to destroy everything that even you couldn’t stop.” Dean clenches his jaw.

“You and your brother...” Sam hesitates, and Dean waits. “You and your brother were very powerful, in your world.”

Dean huffs out a laugh. “Naw, we were just a couple of guys who knew a few things,” he says. “We had help. Two angels, a demon who became the King of Hell, his witch mother who took over the job after he died. Plus lots of hunters. Good men and women who worked with us, trusted us. We got a lot of them killed, of course. A lot of them.”

Dean pushes his plate away, stands up. His chest feels tight. Heavy.

“I think I’ll go check on my brother.”

He can feel Sam’s eyes on him as he leaves the kitchen to return to the infirmary.

Sam lies as still as before, but Dean can feel something has changed. Or maybe isn’t changing. That’s probably the point. Sam’s skin is pale, but not ashen anymore. His body is solid, not shriveling or shrinking. He looks like a statue, lying cold and hard on the infirmary bed.

Dean sits down on the chair next to the bed and picks up the book he dropped the night before. As he reads, he tries not to think about what will happen to this world when Chuck finds them. Sam’s hopefulness, his conviction that he’s doing real good in the world, breaks Dean’s heart. He’s a good kid. Dean can’t help caring about him. He can’t help wanting to protect him, to keep Chuck from hurting him if he can.

Dean will be sorry to see this world where demons and angels don’t exist disintegrate under Chuck’s destructive power. John and Mary existed here, John until very recently. It hurts to think about how much different their lives might have been in Dean’s world if Mary had come clean to John about her hunting upbringing before they married.

On the other hand, John growing up as a Man of Letters instead of losing his father at a young age must have made him a different man, someone Dean probably wouldn’t even recognize.

Yet, even here, John had become an obsessive bastard who left Sam to be raised by his big brother. The Dean of this world had done a lot of the heavy-lifting, leaving his little brother safely at home with his books while Dean went into the rift to try to save their dad.

Dean wonders if Sam’s figured out by now that his dad and his brother are dead. Probably. Poor kid. At least he doesn’t have long to live now.

The words swim on the page. Dean’s head hurts. Part of him wants it all to be over right now. He’s not sure he can stand the suspense.

“Hey.”

Dean starts, looks up to see Sam standing in the doorway. He’s changed his clothes and his hair is slicked back and damp, like he’s just taken a shower. Like he’s been out for the run he postponed earlier so he could make breakfast for Dean.

“You want some lunch? I’m just on my way to the kitchen to make something.”

Sam’s tone is hopeful, entreating. Hard to refuse.

Dean glances at the clock on the wall. It’s almost noon. Time seems to move differently here. Faster. He’s already been in this world for twenty-four hours. How is that possible? Where the hell is Chuck?

Dean’s stomach growls. Food sounds good.

“Thanks, Sammy. Sounds great.”

Sam winces, nods, and starts to turn away. Then he turns back and lifts wounded puppy eyes to Dean.

“My brother called me Sammy,” he says. “He’s the only one who did.”

Dean nods, gestures to the dead body on the bed.

“Yeah, this one, too.”

Sam frowns, hesitates a moment, and Dean waits.

“You know, I never had a body to mourn,” Sam says finally. “Without Dean’s body, or Dad’s, I can still believe they’re alive. I can still go on hoping they’ll stagger home someday.”

Dean takes a deep breath, lets it out on a slow nod. “You know they won’t though, right? You know there’s nothing out there. All the other worlds are gone.”

“Yeah, I know,” Sam agrees. “But without a body, I can still hope. It’s not a good thing, that kind of hope, but it is what it is. At least you have your brother’s body. At least you have proof that he’s gone, you know?”

Anger blooms hot and sudden in Dean’s chest. As Sam turns to leave, Dean surges to his feet, pounds up the stairs and grabs the big man before he can get out the door.

“You know I would give anything to be able to hope that my brother was still alive,” he growls fiercely. “Anything!”

Dean pins Sam against the wall, fisting his hands in Sam’s shirt.

“I don’t know how you and your brother are, but we never let the other one go. It’s who we are. You can call it soulmates or you can chalk it up to the way we were raised or the way we’ve always sacrificed for each other. But I would never give up on him.”

He presses up into Sam’s body, chest to chest, and Sam stares at him, frowning, flinching as Dean shakes him.

“I would always try to find him, always try to get him back,” Dean snarls. “And he would do the same for me. He has done the same for me. So I’m not giving up. Just because you won’t help me, just because you think it’s unnatural or black magic or whatever the fuck you think, I’m not giving up trying to get him back, you hear me?”

Dean shoves a leg between Sam’s, presses up so he can feel Sam’s erection. Sam gasps, reddens, his eyes drop to Dean’s mouth as Dean shakes him again.

“Body or no body, I’m not giving up!” he says. “And neither should you.”

He lets Sam go, steps back, and Sam follows. He grabs Dean’s face and turns them so Dean’s the one pressed against the wall, steps in and crashes his mouth down over Dean’s.

It takes a second for Dean to realize he pushed too far. It feels so good to have Sam so close, to taste him after losing him, that Dean lets it happen for another second. He can’t help it.

But this isn’t his Sam. He can’t do this.

Before he can even start to push away, though, Sam lets him go. His cheeks are flushed, lips swollen and glistening, hair mussed. His eyes are hard behind his stupid glasses.

“I’m not giving up,” Sam hisses, chest heaving. “I would never give up on my brother. Fuck you for saying that to me.”

He shoves Dean back against the wall as he shoulders past him, heading toward the kitchen, leaving Dean gasping and shaking, unsure what the hell just happened.

Dean licks his lips, tasting Sam. He rubs his thigh, the impression of Sam’s erection lingering. He knows he provoked the big man. It’s Dean’s fault this happened. He was probably secretly angling for it ever since he staggered through the rift. He’s such a pervert.

Dean’s body doesn’t know the difference between his brother and this other Sam. His brain, neither. Obviously his libido. They’re all tangled together, just as his love for Sam has always been a tangled mess of feelings, physical sensations included.

It’s not even the first time they’ve kissed.

Well, it’s the first time Dean and this Sam have kissed, but getting worked up and shoving each other around isn’t new. Neither is the occasional sexual release they get out of it. Doesn’t mean anything. They’ve lived their entire lives attached at the hip. Those charged moments are normal for them, especially in times of danger and/or crisis, times of impending or barely avoided death.

Times like this.

“Fuck.” Dean rubs the back of his hand across his mouth, straightens his shirt to hide his half-hard dick. “What am I supposed to do now, Sammy?”

It’s probably a little crazy, talking out loud to his dead brother, especially with his body lying right there in the room. Dean’s crazy. He’s totally losing it. That’s why this happened.

Sam’s safe in Heaven, waiting for Dean. Or he’s in the Empty, suffering Billie’s “cosmic consequences.” There’s no way Sam’s ghost is lingering around. He would sense that. Dean’s definitely just talking to himself.

“Dean!”

Sam’s voice yelling from the kitchen brings Dean back to himself like a slap. It’s so ingrained in him to respond to Sam’s call that it actually takes him a second to remember that it’s the guy he just kissed who’s yelling for him, not his brother.

Nevertheless, Dean runs to the kitchen, heart pounding with fear. The possibility of losing another Sam is just too much to take today.

Sam’s standing in the middle of the kitchen floor with two plates of sandwiches in his hands, scowling.

“Eat!” he orders, slamming one of the plates down on the table with a resounding clank. As he shoulders past Dean with the other plate, Dean frowns at him.

“Where are you going?” he asks, half-afraid of the answer.

“To the library,” Sam snaps crossly. “Gonna find a way to bring your damn brother back.”

//**//**//


“So your Dean never sold his soul to bring you back from the dead?”

It’s an hour later, and Dean’s sitting across the library table from Sam, flipping through one of the books on necromancy. It might be the same one he was looking at earlier, he’s not sure. It’s so boring he can barely keep his eyes on the page.

He wonders if the bunker has some magic spell woven into the fabric of the walls that makes Dean sleepy whenever he opens a book. He wouldn’t put it past it.

“What? No! Of course not!”

Sam’s still irritated. He won’t look Dean in the eye. He’s got five books open on the table in front of him, seems to be able to read them all at once with minimal effort.

Nerd.

“Huh.” Dean takes a sip of his coffee. “Did you ever die?”

Sam looks up, stares at Dean in disbelief for a moment. “No!”

Dean nods, satisfied. “Then you don’t know.”

“Don’t know what?”

“You don’t know what your Dean would do if you died,” Dean states flatly. “You don’t know how far he could go to get you back.”

Sam huffs out a disgusted breath. “Why does this sound like it’s not the first time you’ve done this?”

“Because it isn’t.” Dean shrugs. “It isn’t even the third time. He and I have died too many times to count. And we always bring each other back.”

“You know that’s pretty sick, right?”

Dean shakes his head. “We’re not exactly poster boys for health,” he agrees. “Although, learning that God — the literal God — has been manipulating our lives since before we were born kinda gives us a pass in the toxic codependency department.”

“I can’t believe God exists in your world,” Sam says, shaking his head.

“I take it you’re used to things like ghosts and vampires. Werewolves, maybe,” Dean suggests.

“Well, yeah.” Sam nods. “We’ve hunted Wendigoes, black dogs, a ton of vengeful spirits, the occasional shapeshifter. Took down a Djinn once. Dad and Dean took out a nest of vampires near Omaha a couple of years ago. We don’t get many of those.”

Dean leans back in his chair and sighs. “Simpler times,” he says. “That’s the way things were for us, back before we got sucked into the whole demons-and-angels thing. Back before Sam got possessed by the Devil himself.”

Sam’s eyebrows go up. “Seriously? Your Sam was possessed by a devil?”

“Not just any devil,” Dean corrects. “Lucifer. Satan. The big cockroach himself.”

“Wow. How did he get out of that one? I mean, I’ve heard of possession, of course. Did you do an exorcism on him?”

“My brother is the bravest man I’ve ever known,” Dean growls. “He rode Satan into Hell and lived to tell about it. Well, after Cas brought his body back and I got Death to bring his soul back.”

“Cas?”

Dean’s chest clenches with grief as his gaze falls on the spot on the floor where, in his world, Cas’s dead body lay.

“A friend,” he says quietly. “Angel. Dead now.”

Sam shakes his head. “Your world is really weird.”

“It’s no Disneyland, that’s for sure.” Dean lifts his gaze to Sam. “But you hunt. You know the risks.”

“Of course.” Sam nods. “After my injury a couple of years ago, I got benched. Dean doesn’t let me back him up much anymore. I stay here to do research, provide intel while they’re out in the field. But Dad’s getting older now.”

Dean squints, does the math. “Yeah, he’d be what? Sixty-six now?”

Sam nods. “He’s stubborn. Doesn’t want to retire until he kills every evil thing that roams the Earth.”

“That sounds like him, all right.” Dean smiles ruefully. “My Sam — he tried to get out, a couple of times. Sometimes, I wish he’d been able to stay out.”

“Did he go to school? Stanford?”

Dean frowns. “Yeah, he did. Practically killed me to watch him go, but yeah. He and Dad used to get into the worst fights.”

Sam chuckles. “That’d be about right,” he agrees. “Back before I left for school, I was so angry. At Dad, mostly, for riding Dean so hard and leaving us alone so much.”

“Did your dad throw you out?” Dean can’t help himself. He’s morbidly curious. “Did he tell you to get gone and never come back?”

Sam’s wide-eyed expression answers the question even before his words do.

“What? No! He was proud of me for getting into Stanford. Scoring that full-ride scholarship was the best thing I could do. The law degree helped our family out of a helluva lot of jams over the years. Plus I learned how to file all the paperwork to keep this place running under the radar in a totally legal way, so nobody ever bothers us.”

Dean nods. “Huh. Good for you. And you didn’t have a girlfriend who burned on the ceiling?”

“Wow.” Sam shakes his head. “That happened to your Sam? I’m sorry, man.”

“Yeah, well, that’s not the worst of it.” Dean huffs out a breath. “My brother, he’s the strongest man I’ve ever known. What he went through, what he’s had to suffer...”

Sam regards him with a sympathetic, thoughtful look Dean knows too well.

“I don’t know, man. Sounds like your brother had it pretty rough. Maybe he’s better off now, huh? At least he’s at peace.”

Anger rises in Dean’s chest again. He’s suddenly restless, can’t sit still.

“Yeah, maybe,” he scoffs, getting to his feet. “Hey, I think I’ll drive into town, get us something for dinner. You want anything?”

“A salad?” Sam asks. “We’re out of bread, if you want to stop at the grocery store. I haven’t been eating much this week except peanut butter sandwiches.”

The drive cools him down some, but Dean’s still fidgety when he gets to the grocery store. He’s so distracted he doesn’t notice the woman waving to him from the produce aisle until she finally calls his name.

“Mr. Winchester?” Dean looks up in surprise. Nobody knows his real name here, at least not in his world.

A petite motherly woman smiles broadly at him now that she’s got his attention. Glancing around, he notices several other shoppers giving him friendly smiles. They all seem to know him.

“Oh, I’m so glad I caught you!” the woman goes on. “Remember that spirit problem in our barn last summer? Well, I think it’s back.”

Dean chokes back his alarm. She knows what he does?

“Um, I’m sorry to hear that, Ms. — “

“Carson,” the woman provides helpfully. “But you always call me Ruth, you know that.”

“So I helped you with a spirit problem, did I, Ruth?”

“Oh, you sure did!” Ruth doesn’t seem to mind that Dean doesn’t remember her. “We were so grateful, but you warned us that the spirit might be back.”

“I did?”

“Uh-huh, and you were right! Rattling chains in the middle of the night, flickering lights, the whole thing. I don’t suppose you have a moment to check on it for me?”

Dean blinks. “Uh, well, I’m on my way home with dinner at the moment...”

“Oh, you don’t have to come by tonight,” Ruth assures him. “It’s not urgent. Not like the spirit’s trying to kill anybody or anything.” She smiles brightly, like she’s made a joke. Like spirits don’t sometimes do exactly that.

But whatever.

“Okay, good.” Dean starts to back away. “I’ll drop by tomorrow sometime. How would that be?”

“Oh, that sounds wonderful! Thank you so much, Mr. Winchester.”

“Dean,” Dean corrects her. “You can call me Dean.”

Ruth’s bright smile threatens to explode off her face. “Oh, I forget. You young folks don’t like the title. Your father, now, he always stuck to formality. I would never have thought to call Mr. Winchester Senior by his first name. Oh my no!”

Dean backs into a produce table piled with oranges, grabs one just as it starts to fall to the floor.

“Right. Okay. Bye.”

Ruth continues to smile as Dean turns away, putting the orange into his basket for Sam.

Now that he’s been recognized, he notices other shoppers nodding and smiling at him. He’s well-known, apparently by his real name and for what he really does for a living. Okay.

When he gets to the check-out counter, the clerk smiles and calls him by name, asks him how he’s doing.

“We haven’t seen you in here for a while,” she says. “Everything all right at home?”

Dean frowns. What the hell does that mean?

“Uh, yeah,” he mutters. “Everything’s fine. Everything okay with you?”

The clerk rolls her eyes. “Well, you know, ever since your brother helped us communicate with Grandpa Glen, things have been a little complicated.”

“That so?” Dean doesn’t want to know. He really doesn’t.

“Yeah, I mean, now Dad and his brothers won’t stop arguing,” the clerk goes on. “I guess it’s not always a good thing, communicating with the dead. But tell your brother thanks, okay? At least we know what Grandpa Glen really wanted now.”

“Right.” Dean’s so horrified he doesn’t wait for his change. He practically runs out of the store with his bag of groceries, nodding at a bag-boy who waves at him cheerfully from behind a line of shopping carts.

“What the hell is wrong with this world?” He mutters as the car roars to life. “I gotta tell you, Sammy, this world’s us seem about as dangerous as shoe salesmen. Weird.”

Just on a hunch, he pulls over to check the trunk about a mile out of town. As he suspected, the trunk is full of hex-bags and various spell paraphernalia. When he finds a salt gun and a silver knife he’s relieved.

At least the trunk contains some weapons.

PART THREE
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