a world so hollow
suspended in a compromise
He eats home cooked meals, and sleeps between sheets that smell of fabric softener. He waits until after four (sometimes five) in the afternoon before having his first beer of the day, and he always stops before it becomes a six-pack. He gets a job (a proper one; paychecks and insurance and weekends off). He takes Ben to Little League.
He doesn't fix the Impala's windshield.
Bobby calls him every couple of days at first, then every couple of weeks, every couple of months. His thumb hovers over the answer button, but he lets the calls go through to voicemail, all of them.
He doesn't listen to the messages.
The sex is still good.
He doesn't care.
is forgetting all of the questions
He grieves -- a few tears, at first, then a few sobs. Struggling to breathe, chest aching and tight and he's sure he can hear his ribs cracking, shards of bone tearing through his lungs. He spits and is surprised not to see blood. He sucks for air and can't quite believe it when that works.
He blames God.
Lisa asks, where's your brother? and he doesn't answer, just looks away, and she doesn't ask again, just assumes, and he finds that's a pretty sweet deal, her assuming, so he patterns it into their deal and that's pretty sweet too. Ben asks, are you going to stay? and he says, yes, because he has to, because that's part of his deal, his and...
He blames Sam.
He backs the Impala into a dumpster at the local mall when he's dropping Lisa off one Saturday, denting the fuck out of the fender, and it's not the end of the world.
He blames himself.
illusions of the sunlight
and the reflection of a lie
He sees Sam.
At the workshop, his overgrown clown feet walking towards the car he's working under. At Ben's baseball games, the back of his head shoulders above the dozen other people in line at the concession stand. At Lisa's place, his reflection caught in the corner of the window he passes as he mows the lawn.
He sees Cas.
Let's him say, Dean, before banishing him the fuck out of here, just for old time's sake.
He sees a stranger everywhere.
He thinks it might be him.
and this war's not over
He gets up with the alarm, makes coffee for him and Lisa, pours cereal for him and Ben, showers and grabs his keys and says, see you later, and leaves for work. Lather. Rinse.
He forgets to repeat, and by nine am he's on Highway 31.
He calls Lisa when he hits Carthage, loves her that much at least, and tries to explain, to tell her that he tried, tried so hard to keep his promise, but that was Sam's life, Sam's dream, Sam's fucking picket fences, and his is black asphalt and white lines, the smell of gas and cordite and rock-salt. When she says, I understand, all quiet and unsurprised like she'd always expected this call, he thinks he's probably the biggest dick ever, but it doesn't feel like failure and he doesn't change his mind.
He goes back to the field, and throws Death's ring down, and then sits there with a bottle of Jack and drinks himself stupid, the first time in months, and it tastes sweeter than he possibly could have imagined, the alcohol slamming through his veins like memory, like feeling.
He wakes the next morning dew-damp and hung-over and he looks around the field, sees the ring gone, and thinks, fuck you and the horse you rode in on; I did what you asked, but nobody -- not Death, not God, not Sam -- answers and that's probably answer enough.
When he gets back to the Impala, Jo's leaning against it, blonde hair burning in the dawn, and he shoots her in the shoulder with rock-salt without even blinking. As she staggers from the car, she shoots back her own, bruising the fuck out his thigh.
"I swear to God, Dean Winchester," she says, glaring, "if I'm some sort of post apocalypse prize I will kick your ass all the way back to hell." She pauses, smiles sweetly. "Then I'll bring you back and do it all over again."
He calls Bobby, and lets him list all the thousands of ways he's an idiot; tells him Jo's back, and listens to him not-cry and list all the thousands of ways he's an idiot.
Behind him, Jo's walking around the Impala. "What the hell'd you do to the car? Let Sam drive?"
He flinches, feels the bite of grief, then licks his lips and tastes a smile there. He thinks maybe he'll keep it.
First thing he's going to do when he really sees Sam again is punch him in the face. Then he'll probably hand him a beer (if they're somehow both let into heaven again) or steal him a glass of water (if they're in hell), and never let him out of his sight again. Ever. That's his promise.
In the passenger seat, Jo stirs, pushing back from the door and blinking away sleep. "Where're we?"
He checks his mirrors, shrugging. "Somewhere."
She yawns and closes her eyes, slumping again, this time against him. "Mmm." Her head falls heavily on his shoulder, cheek rubbing against the bone until she's comfortable. "Wake me when we get wherever, yeah?"
He glances down at her, and nods, and moves his right hand to her thigh, fingers curving towards her knee. She lets him. "Yeah."
Bobby texts them jobs, each one something nasty somewhere normal, and it feels good to be hunting again, better than he remembers, purposeful and right, Jo by his side and the highway rolling on forever.
He feels. Finally.