There’s no body.
There’s only a memorial. An empty tomb with the pictures of the dead soldiers set up along its top. Some pictures are decorated with flowers, others with small personal items, others sit alone. John Winchester’s picture sits farthest to the right, two different flowers placed carefully in front of it.
Dean Winchester stands in front of it, taking a deep, shaky breath as he looks down, the picture of his father blurring from the tears in his eyes. He reaches out a trembling hand, placing a third flower next to it. He hangs his head, closing his eyes tightly, trying to remember how to breathe. After a few seconds, he feels a hand on his shoulder, and he looks up tiredly, meeting Bobby’s eyes.
“Come on, son,” he says quietly, leading Dean over to sit down in the front row
The service is very short and impersonal, but Dean doesn’t make it two minutes. He’s up before they’ve even mentioned his father’s name, walking fast with determination. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but he knows he has to get far away. As far as he can.
He makes it about six blocks down the sidewalk before he’s collapsing onto a bench, putting his face in his hands and sobbing violently.
It’s just not fair.
It’s not fair that that bomb had to hit John’s base.
Dean rubs a hand roughly into his eye, wiping at the tears that seem endless.
It takes a while for the sobs to stop, but eventually he just sits on the bench and stares forward, eyes looking but not seeing. He’s starting to feel numb, and there he goes, back and forth on the rollercoaster of emotions he’s been stuck on the past few days.
Dean isn’t sure how long he sits there, feeling distant from the world, but at some point, a hand on his shoulder breaks through his muddled thoughts. Sam stands over him, his eyes and nose both red and irritated. Dean bites his lip, swallowing hard, and feels a small pang of guilt. He shouldn’t have left Sam like that. Sam needs him, and to be honest, he needs Sam.
Dean stands up, walking around the side of the bench. He embraces his brother in a tight hug, holding him close. Sam buries his face in Dean’s chest, crying silently.
“It’s gonna be okay, Sammy,” he whispers, kissing the top of his brother’s head.
After a moment, Sam pulls back slightly, sniffling. “I know it will.” He pauses, then looks up. “Do you, Dean?”
Dean laughs humorlessly, shaking his head. “I wish I did.”
Castiel rouses, shifting his weight against Anna. He’d fallen asleep in his sister’s lap on the couch, drifting off as they waited for their parents and Michael to get back from the hospital. Cas sighs, sitting up and rubbing his tired face.
Anna smiles tiredly at him. “How you doing, sleepyhead?”
Cas yawns, resting his head on her shoulder. “Still tired,” he sighs. “What time is it?”
“It’s almost eleven-thirty,” Anna replies, reaching up to stroke Cas’s hair.
Cas groans quietly. “When are Mommy and Daddy going to be back?”
Anna chews on her lip for a second. “I don’t know, Cas. Soon, I hope.”
Cas looks down, nodding slightly.
“It’ll be alright, bud,” Anna says, hugging him. “I promise.”
Before either of them can say another word, the phone rings, and Castiel is crawling off of Anna, allowing her to get up and race into the kitchen to answer it.
“H – Hello? Yeah – hi, Mom. What’s – what’s going on? How is he?”
Cas peaks through the doorway, keeping his hands against the wooden frame as he watches Anna carefully. She’s pacing around, chewing on her cheek as she listens to her mother speak. She nods a little to herself, going pale. Her eyes glaze over and her lips tremble.
“A brain scan?” she asks. “Well, they don’t think they’re going to find anything do – “
Her eyes widen, her mouth falling slightly open.
“Oh. I – okay. Well, I hope – “
Anna presses her lips together, and a few tears begin to fall down her cheeks.
“He – he just woke up, but yeah, I’ll – I’ll try to get him to bed. Is – is Dad staying there or - ? Okay, yeah. Tell him I love him, please. No, honestly, we’re fine, Mom. No, I – I’ll get Cas to bed, don’t worry. Mom, Dad needs you. Please. Just go.”
She’s crying now, her shoulders shaking as she tries desperately to stop. “I love you too, Mom,” she manages to choke out before hanging up. She places the phone down on the counter, her whole body beginning to shake. Castiel watches in horror and confusion as Anna sobs, bringing a hand up to cover her face.
“Damn it,” she hisses. “Why? Why is this happening? Please. Dad – he doesn’t deserve - how’s Michael going to go to college? And – and Cas – he’s – he’s eight. Please, God. Please, just help us.” Anna wraps her arms around herself, hanging her head as she continues to cry for another minute. What feels like an eternity later, she lifts her head up, sniffling and wiping her nose. She turns to the doorway, seeing Castiel.
“Anna?” he asks softly.
She moves forward, dropping to her knees so she can match his height. “Yes, Cas?” she asks, her voice still thick with tears.
“Is Dad going to be okay?” Cas asks, twisting his fingers together.
Anna reaches out, pulling them apart and taking Castiel’s hands in hers. “Oh, I hope so, Cas. I really hope so.”
Dean sits on the hood of his Impala, knees pulled up to his chest and a beer bottle hanging loosely between his fingers. He’s been out here for hours now, watching uninterested as the sun lowered in the sky. It’s setting now, letting the night sky take its reign. Footsteps crackle somewhere off to Dean’s right, and soon enough, Sam is hopping up onto the car next to Dean.
“Bobby know you’re drinking that?”
Dean shrugs, taking a swig. “I’m sure,” he says dryly. “It’s not really a secret to him that I drink, Sammy.” Sam nods, biting his lip. “You look scared,” Dean remarks, smirking slightly. “What’s wrong?”
Sam shakes his head, looking down.
“Come on, Sam,” Dean says, nudging his shoulder. “Just tell me.” He nudges again, and again. “Come on, Sammyyyyy.”
“Dean, stop,” Sam says sharply. “You’re drunk. Stop.”
“Whoa, you’re mad,” Dean says, eyes widening.
Sam gives himself a small shake, scooting away from his brother. “Yeah,” he says tiredly. “I am.”
Dean blinks. “Why?”
“Because,” Sam says, frustrated. “Because, Dean - ” he breaks off, swallowing hard and blinking at the tears in his eyes. “Dad’s dead and everything sucks and I need you. But . . . you’re not you anymore. Dean, I just – I want my brother back.”
Dean stares at him for a long moment, eyebrows creased together. But not even Sam’s tears are enough to shake him out of this.
“Oh, Sammy,” he says, hanging his head. He laughs bitterly. “This is me now,” he says quietly. “I just can’t deal with things the way I used to.”
“So you’re just going to give up?” Sam asks, sniffling. He looks up at his brother desperately, looks for any familiarity in his eyes, but they’re glazed over with intoxication.
Dean nods. “I’m just too tired. I can’t fight anymore.”
Cas has known what the word means since he was very young, but now he’s not quite sure he understands it. He always thought that someone died quickly, in an instant, fast and irreversible. He never knew someone could die slowly, wasting away like his father is.
His father spends most of his time in bed now, only getting up if he needs to use the bathroom or vomit. He goes to the hospital every few weeks, and soon enough, his hair starts falling out in clumps on his pillows until he decides to have Mom shave it all off one day.
It’s harder for Cas to spend time with him now, which only makes everything else worse. Dad is tired a lot, and Mom tells Castiel that he must stay out of the bedroom – Daddy needs his rest. Cas listens of course, but it doesn’t make him any less upset. He’s young, but he’s old enough to see what’s coming for his father. He understands that he might not have all of the time in the world anymore, and it makes Cas anxious to see him.
When Cas does spend time with him, it’s quiet. He reads to his dad, or they watch some of their favorite movies together. Dad will smile most of the time, but Cas knows he’s sad when he looks the other way. Sometimes, when Cas is really distraught, and his father has enough energy, Cas will sleep with him, curled up tight to his father’s side.
For awhile, it seems like things might be getting better. It seems like life is blossoming back in his father’s eyes, but the happiness is short-lived when on one morning, Castiel enters his father’s room to wish him goodbye before going to school. Dad stares at him for a moment, confused, and says hoarsely,
“Who are you?”
Everyone freezes for a moment, and then Mom is leaning close to Dad, talking in a low voice.
“Castiel,” she says. “It’s Castiel – your son?”
There’s no look of recollection in his father’s eyes and before Cas can even begin to understand what’s happen, Anna’s pulling him back. She drags him across the house and pushes him out the door, bringing him to the car. He fights, kicking and screaming.
“Anna, what’s wrong with Dad? Anna, why doesn’t he recognize me? Anna, please – just tell me what’s going on.”
She shoves him in the backseat of the car before getting in the driver’s seat and pressing down hard on the gas. However, she doesn’t take him to school. They drive for what feels like hours until they reach a small ice cream shop. They order ice cream, but don’t eat it. They go to the park, but neither of them play. Neither of them knows what to do but wait. Wait until their mother calls. Wait until their father is stable again. Wait until this is all over.
But it never is.
Not in the way they want it.
He’s standing in the doorway of his bedroom, now bare and empty. He looks around again, trying to take it all in. He’s had his own room at Bobby’s since he was around four years old. To see it all packed up, the walls free of posters and the floor finally clean for once – it’s strange.
“Come on, Dean,” Sam says. “We have to go.”
Dean turns slowly, eyes grazing over every last detail. “Yeah, I – I’ll be right there.” He heaves a sigh, not wanting to tear his eyes away, but a gentle hand on his arm get his attention. He turns, glancing at Sam and swallowing hard.
“Don’t worry,” Sam says. “Pontiac’s going to be great, Dean.”
Dean nods, breathing deep.
“It’s a fresh start,” Sam continues. “And I think it’s really what we need.”
Dean doesn’t respond. He simply follows after Sam, walking through the deserted house. They make their way out into the driveway, where Bobby’s truck sits, full to the brim with furniture and boxes. Dean’s Impala is parked next to it, the trunk still open. Dean walks over and admires his things for a second before shutting it.
“You ready, son?” Bobby asks, his feet crunching against the gravel. “It’s a long drive.”
Dean nods, biting his lip. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“What do you mean he’s not coming back?” Castiel’s face falls, his shoulders slumping.
“Cas, Dad’s – he – “ Michael tries helplessly, but Cas interrupts him.
“He’s not just going to leave us, is he? He can’t. He can’t leave me.” His expression crumples and he leans forward, putting his face in his hands.
“Cas, I’m so sorry,” Michael sighs, resting a hand on Cas’s back. He looks over to Anna, biting his lip.
“Cas?” she asks softly. “ Castiel?” He lets out a sob in return, and she moves forward, opening up her arms. “ Oh, God – come here. Come here, Cas.”
He buries his fast in her chest, hugging her tight.
Pontiac isn’t bad, but it really makes no difference. Sure, they’ve got a new place, a new school, a new chance. It’s a new beginning, an opportunity to move on and get happy.
But at the end of the day, Dean’s still an orphan and life still isn’t fair.
He really doesn’t see why this new town would change it anyway.