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Lead Me Home

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Dean stood outside the hospital doors, pausing to drain the last few drops of caffeine-infused heaven from his cup. He figured it would be his last shot at peace for the entire day, so he might as well enjoy it while he could.

“What do you think this is, an episode of Scrubs?” a cocky voice rang out behind him.

Dean rolled his eyes without bothering to turn around to identify the owner of the voice.
“What are you talking about, Gabriel?” Slicked back light brown hair and a permanent smirk swam into Dean’s line of vision.

“You just look like you have some serious internal monologing going on there, bucko.”

“No, just trying to enjoy not having to deal with assholes for a few minutes. Thanks for ruining that, by the way.”

“My pleasure.” Gabriel breezed past him and pulled open the double doors with a flourish. “Coming my way?” he asked with an unnecessarily complicated eyebrow wiggle.

Used to his friend’s antics after rooming with him as an undergrad, as well as the years of bailing him out of trouble while struggling to focus on medical school, Dean didn’t bother to respond. He walked by Gabriel, knowing that if he ran into any trouble, his friend would be right behind him.

He always was.

...

It was one of those days.

“What is this, a full moon or something?” Denise asked in a bewildered tone of voice as she foisted off another stack of clipboards into the arms of an unlucky intern.

Dean glances over from where he was eyeing the surgery board. Denise did look like she was about to keel over.

“A full moon at,” Dean paused for dramatic effect and looked at his watch, “two-eleven in the afternoon?”

Denise blew a stray bang out of her eye and gave him a small smile. “Hey, it’s the only reasonable explanation for why we have three bar fights and a guy who attacked his best friend with pruning shears in the middle of the day.”

“What’s the only explanation, natural selection?” Gabriel quirked, as he popped up from who knows where.

“No, a full moon,” Denise replied at the same time that Dean said, “If it were natural selection, how would you still be alive?”

“To you, a hardy-har-har,” Gabe said to Dean before turning to Denise. “And obviously, this is just the moon getting us back.”

Denise and Dean exchanged significant looks.

“Alright, I’ll bite,” Dean finally said. “What is the moon getting us back for, Gabriel?”

Gabriel pulled a Twinkie from his pocket and unwrapped it carefully as he spoke. “Well, the gods did shove him up there for being too beautiful to live.”

“Oh, here we go again,” moaned Denise as she proceeded to walk behind the counter and do her damndest to pretend she was the only one in the room. Gabriel took this as a sign that he needed to speak louder and begin gesturing with his snack-cake.

“I mean, they said it was because it was arrogant to name yourself the moon.” Gabriel paused to place a hand over his heart, “But I understand how it feels to be shunned because others can’t stand to be around someone who is endowed with the level of aesthetic rapture that I myself have been graced with. And yes, I did say endowed,” Gabriel lilted over his shoulder at Denise, who appeared to be singing I’m a little teapot to herself as she filed paperwork in an attempt to drown Gabriel out.

“Jesus Christ,” muttered Dean.

Gabriel nodded solemnly. “Yes. Jealousy of his beauty is exactly why they killed Jesus, too.”

“I don’t have time for your crap today, Gabriel,” Dean said as he turned to walk down the hall, “I have to go pull pruning shears out of some poor schmuck’s neck.”

“Tell him it’s all Odin’s fault,” Gabriel called down the hall to Dean’s retreating back.

Just before Dean got out of earshot he heard Denise stop singing children’s songs long enough to ask, “Wait, where the hell did you get a Twinkie?”

Dean really didn’t want to hear Gabriel’s answer.

...

“Winchester!”

“Huh?” looked up at the sound of his name.

Mike was in the bathroom doorway, a vaguely concerned look on his face. “You all right there, man?”

“Yeah, yeah of course.” Dean pulled his red and wrinkled hands out of the sink and quickly wiped them on the sides of his scrubs.

“I was gonna ask if you wanted to go out for a drink, but now I’m thinking maybe you should just go home and get some sleep.”

Dean paused and scratched the back of his neck. “Ok. Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

“Alright, man. Don’t let Gabriel keep you up all night.”

Dean stopped in the middle of pulling his shirt out of his locker and let the cotton hang limp at his side. “What did you say?”

Mike shifted his weight uneasily. “I just said don’t let your roommate keep you up all night. Didn’t you say he got you up at 4 in the morning last weekend because he needed a singing partner for the opera he wanted to write?”

“Gabriel doesn’t live with me,” Dean blurted out. His palms were sweating and he could distantly hear his heart pounding in his ears, though he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why.

Mike stared at him blankly. “What, did you guys have a fight or something?”

Dean blinked a couple of times. “I don’t know why I just said that. Of course he still lives with me.” Dean gave an uneasy chuckle. “You try living with him, man. It would make you convince yourself you live alone too.”

Mike relaxed and gave an answering laugh. “I don’t envy you. Anyway, take it easy.”

Dean nodded and turned away so Mike couldn’t see him worry his bottom lip as he got dressed. He gradually heard the door swing closed and footsteps receding.

Why had he said that? It didn’t make any sense. Of course Gabriel lived with him. They had lived in that house together for almost three years. Three infuriating, crazy years. But it wasn’t just that he said it. He felt it, just for a moment, deep down in his bones, that he lived alone - that the idea of Gabriel living with him was crazy, almost frightening.

Dean shook his head to clear it. The thought of Gabriel being frightening was ridiculous. Oh, the man was insane, no doubt about it. He had an unhealthy fascination with Norse mythology, never seemed to actually sleep for more than two hours at a time, and would probably directly inject sugar into his bloodstream if he could get away with it, but Dean would easily call him pathetic before he would call him frightening. Dean fiddled with the collar of his shirt with a still sweating hand. Why could he still feel the adrenaline coursing through him?

“You ready to go yet?”

Dean jumped slightly and looked up to find Gabriel leaning against the lockers. “Yeah, sure. Let’s beat it.”

Gabriel gave him a small, unreadable smile.

“You got it, boss. Lead me home.”

...

Two in the morning rolled around to find Dean sitting in the living room, staring at an old stain on the wall. He was idly twirling the neck of an empty beer bottle between his fingers, half a dozen more littering his feet. Gabriel suddenly appeared from around the corner whistling a loud and off key song that only faltered slightly when he saw Dean sitting there.

“What’s up, Dean-o?”

Dean kept his gaze trained on the wall, slightly glassy with an alcohol haze. “I’m trying to remember how that stain got there.”

Gabriel gave a half shrug. “Don’t know. It was there when we moved in. The people before us had covered it up with that god awful picture, don’t you remember?”

Dean snorted. “You mean that one of the angels that looked like fat babies trying not to poop?”

Gabe flopped down next to him and started searching for a bottle that Dean hadn’t managed to kill yet. “Yeah, and for some unknown reason, you insisted on keeping that monstrosity in the attic.”

Dean smirked and tossed him a bottle from the fresh six-pack next to him. “Of course I did. That picture is of the angel Gabriel, man. That’s blackmail material for life.”

Gabriel rolled his eyes and popped off the bottle cap on the edge of the end table next to him, nicked and faded from use. “Somehow I doubt if angels were real they would look anywhere near that pathetic.”

Dean nursed his beer for a minute in silence. “You don’t believe in God, Gabriel?”

Gabriel gave him a hard look. “I used to,” he responded finally. “I have to admit, at some point I just ran out of reasons to have faith.”

Dean murmured something indecipherable and looked into the neck of his bottle, as if searching for the answers of the universe. “I never did. All the rest of them seemed to, but I never much saw the point.”

Gabriel hesitated before responding. “All the rest of who, Dean?”

Dean gave him a quizzical look. “You know. The other kids at the orphanage. To be honest though, I’m not really sure they could tell the difference between a god, or a mom or dad.” Dean tried to take a drink out of his bottle, discovered it was empty, and tossed it to the side irritably. “It was all something bigger than them. Something that would mean they didn’t have to take responsibility for themselves anymore.” His eyes hardened. “Something we didn’t have.”

Gabriel wordlessly passed his beer over to Dean who drained it in one go.

“Easy there, tiger,” Gabriel said lightly. “We still have to work in the morning, remember. Lives to save and all that. Fighting the good fight.”

Dean gave him a good-natured shove with his shoulder. “Hey, you know me. I’ll be good as new come morning. I just need my four hours of beauty sleep and then I’ll be good to go.”

Gabe smiled and shoved him back. “Yeah? So why aren’t you in bed now, hot stuff? Trying to figure out all the mysteries of the world with the help of a few bottles of intellect and courage?”

Dean gave him a rueful grin and shook his head. “Nah. Just thinking about how great it would be to bang that new intern.”

Gabriel smirked appreciatively. “Which one? The short one or the red head?”

Dean stood remarkably easily for someone who had just consumed his body weight in beer. “You know what they say about red heads.”

Gabriel sat for a minute, considering his response. “No. What do they say about read heads? Enlighten me, oh wise one, with your stories of sexual prowess.”

“Shut up,” came Dean’s laughing response, floating out of his bedroom.

Gabriel got up and walked toward the stairs. “It can be in the form of a sonnet, if you choose. Free verse is acceptable; I’m not too picky. Come on Dean, help a guy out!”

For all his troubles, Gabriel got a door in the face.

...

Dean paused outside the hospital doors in the same place the next morning, holding a water bottle irritably against his temple as he squinted in the sun’s glare. He saw a flash of long brown hair, like a shaggy Beatles cut on steroids, out of the corner of his eye and looked from an automatic sense of familiarity. But the man walking his dog was one he had never seen before.

Dean puffed out his cheeks.

“Man. How much did I drink last night?” Shaking his head, he walked inside.
...

“Dr. Winchester,” Denise called in a breathless yell as she ran down the hall to catch up with him.

Dean looked longingly at the cafeteria, caffeine and sustenance just tantalizingly out of reach. “Why so formal today?”

Denise rolled her eyes, looking for a moment like the spoiled tomboy of years gone passed. “I got spoken to about my ‘unprofessional tone and demeanor’.”

Dean leaned in conspiratorially. “Meaning that you’re one of the few people I can count on to act like an actual human being rather than a trust fund yuppie robot in this place?”

Denise snorted. “You got it, Winchester. Anyway, pruning shears guy is putting in a real stink to get released. I thought you could use that patented charm of yours to convince him to stay another night so he doesn’t rupture something and just end up back here tomorrow in a body bag.”

Dean cast another longing glance at the room behind him.

Denise noticed, and narrowed her eyes. “I’ll meet you at the nurse’s desk in ten minutes with a giant cup of coffee.”

“I don’t know, Denise, this isn’t really my job.”

“Oh, come on. Just turn on that million watt smile of yours, maybe throw in a wink or two.” Denise gave what she must have considered to be a lascivious body wiggle. Dean didn’t think that telling her she looked like a worm someone had just cut in half would bring him enough satisfaction to be worth the resulting black eye.

“I don’t know ....”

“Did I mention he’s really hot?” Denise looked at him hopefully.

This time it was Dean’s turn to roll his eyes. “And why would that matter to me, Denny?”

Denise shrugged. “I don’t know, but did you see this guy’s eyes yesterday?”

Dean shook his head.

“Oh, Dean, you are missing out. Gay, straight, I don’t care, I think anybody would melt into a pile of lust under that gaze.” Denise made a big show of fanning herself with the chart that Dean snatched mock-irritably from her hands.

“Fine, fine. I’ll go talk to this guy, if only to make you shut up. Don’t you have somewhere else to go be a giant creeper?”

Denise beamed at him as he started to walk down the hallway. “Thanks Dean, you won’t regret it.”

“And bring me pie!” Dean barked over his shoulder. This guy better be a friggin’ angel to be worth all this.

...

Dean breezed into the room, his professional voice switching on autopilot. “Alright, Mr. Stone, I hear you’re looking to be released, despite that being against my orders. Care to tell me what’s going on here?” Dean found his voice faltering as the most piercing blue gaze lifted up to meet his own.

“I feel fine,” he answered shortly.

“Yeah, so says the guy who lost over a liter of blood just yesterday.”

“I remember. I was there.” Mr. Stone looked away with a dark look in his eyes that Dean found made himself extremely uncomfortable.

He took a deep breath and glanced down at the chart in his hands to try and regain his sense of equilibrium. “Jeremiah,” Dean started gently, “what exactly is it you’re willing to risk killing yourself to get to so quickly?”

“Nothing important,” Jeremiah responded, but the blush coloring his cheeks would have clued anyone in to the bald faced lie.

“Ah, I know that face.” Dean grinned. “There’s a girl, isn’t there?”

Jeremiah looked at him with confusion. “What? No, nothing like that.”

Dean perched on the arm of one of the faded blue chairs. “Take it from me, man, getting laid is an awesome reason to do something stupid. At least, it is if it’s with the right girl. Anything other than that though? Not worth the risk. And even if it is the right girl, she’ll wait until you’re no longer in danger of spontaneous hemorrhage.”

Jeremiah looked completely bewildered. “What kind of doctor are you?”

“An honest one,” Dean answered firmly. “Now, you’re an adult. I can’t keep you here if you’re really sure you want to leave.”

“I do,” Jeremiah started, but Dean continued on as if he hadn’t heard him.

“But see, I don’t like it when my patients go off and die on me. It gives me bad dreams. So.” Dean paused to drag his chair directly in front of the door, and then flopped back into it, putting his feet up on the bed tray. “You better do some damn good convincing here, or if you want to go through this door, you’re going to have to go through me first.”

...

“Denise!” Dean bellowed as he stormed into the on call room.

A giant crash answered him as Mike fell off the bed in shock. “Dude! She’s not here.”

“Son of a bitch,” Dean growled, glaring at the sheets tangled around Mike’s ankles as if they had personally offended him.

“What is your problem, man?” Mike’s words were slightly undermined by the fact that he currently looked like a sleep rumpled teddy bear.

“I can’t find my keys.”

“Seriously?” Mike got off the floor with some difficulty and set to extracting himself from the sheets. “You’re storming in here over a set of misplaced keys?”

“Yeah, well, I’ve had a really shitty day, and that’s all her fault, so this is probably her fault too!”

Mike looked at him with pity. “Dean. Denise did not take your keys to screw with you.”

“Yeah?” Dean barked. “And how do you know that?”

“Because the only person I can think of who would do something like that is your best friend.”

“Gabriel is not my best friend,” Dean grumbled, pointing a menacing finger in Mike’s general direction.

“Sure he’s not. Anyway, he knows how to pick the lockers and I know he was scrounging around for vending machine money before.” Mike tossed him a significant look that sent Dean scurrying to his wallet. It was suspiciously lighter than when he changed into his scrubs this morning.

“Son of a bitch.”

...

Four convoluted clues, a stubbed toe, and twenty minutes later, Dean finally found himself standing in front of his car, glaring though his rain spattered windshield at Gabriel. A Gabriel who was currently curled up in the passenger seat of the car, fast asleep, with the remains of a Twizzler hanging out the side of his mouth.

“Up and at ‘em, sunshine!” Dean barked while kicking the passenger side door with all of his might. The face Gabriel made as he choked on his Twizzler was almost worth the fact that Dean had used his foot with the stubbed toe. Wincing slightly, Dean lowered himself into the driver’s seat and bestowed a baleful glare upon his roommate.

“What crawled up your butt?” Gabriel asked mildly.

Dean full out growled in response, aggressively turned on the ignition and peeled out of the parking space.

“Whoa there, cowboy, I would prefer to get home in one piece.”

“And I would prefer to not be starving, dripping wet, with my foot on fire, and out five bucks!” Dean looked at him in disgust. “Seriously man, how many Twizzlers did you buy?”

Gabriel shrugged, seemingly unconcerned about the tirade being flung at him. “I wanted peanut M&Ms too, and they only had them in the big bag in the gift shop.”

Dean slammed both hands down on the steering wheel. “You are just fucking impossible, you know that?”

Gabriel gave him his most infuriating smirk. “I try.”

Dean took his right hand off the steering wheel in order to stick a threatening finger in Gabriel’s face. “Not one more word out of you, or you’re walking home.”

“Fine, fine,” Gabriel answered, holding his hands up in surrender, only to be met by Dean’s death glare.

Luckily for Gabriel they were only about a quarter of a mile from their house when he innocently offered Dean a Twizzler and was unceremoniously dumped out on his ass in response.

...

“You know, this is becoming a habit.”

Dean looked up from his position slumped on the counter with a glass of whiskey in his hand at the sound of Gabriel’s voice. “Yeah, well, I know that you never sleep unless you’re supposed to be working, so I thought I’d start staying up to keep you company,” Dean quipped, but it was half hearted at best.

Gabriel gave him another one of those unreadable looks of his and wordlessly took the glass out of Dean’s hand and dumped it down the sink.

“Hey! That was expensive shit.”

Gabriel cocked an eyebrow. “I’ll buy you more as long as you promise not to drink it by yourself at three in the morning.”

Dean sagged more heavily against the counter and let his head fall forward. “Couldn’t fall back asleep,” he grunted. He heard the scraping sound of one of the stools being pulled out from under the table.

“How come?” Gabe asked.

Dean gave a shrug of deflection, but he knew without looking that wasn’t going to fly with him. Dean sighed. “Just been having some dreams, I guess. I dunno, I can’t even remember them when I wake up, but I just get this feeling like I’ll regret it if I go back to sleep....” Dean’s voice trailed away. He looked up to find that Gabriel was looking at him with an eerily intense gaze.

“How so?” Gabriel’s voice was a good half octave lower than normal.

Dean paused to collect his thoughts before responding. “It feels sort of like if I go back to sleep, I’ll wake up and I’ll be there, and not here anymore. Wherever there is,” Dean continued with an awkward little laugh.

Gabriel didn’t even crack a smile. He just continued to look at Dean as if the weight of the world rested on this conversation. It was creepy. “And would that be so bad?”

Dean let out another laugh, a real one this time. “Dude, what the fuck kind of question is that?”

And just like that, the moment was broken and the regular Gabriel was looking out of his eyes again. “I don’t know, maybe in this dream world of yours I get to live with three strippers. And a dog.” Gabriel sighed a little wistfully. “I would like a dog.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “I’ve told you, we can’t get a dog until you prove to me you can keep a fish alive for more that three and a half days.”

Gabriel shrugged. “Three and a half days in fish years is like 13 years for a dog.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not true.”

Gabriel shrugged again. “Whatever. No one cares about fish. We didn’t even name them.”

“Yeah, because we couldn’t agree on a name.”

“You wanted to name all of them after guns!”

“Well, you wanted to give them these prissy ass names like ‘Cassiopeia.’ And Wesson is a badass name for a goldfish!”

Gabriel snorted. “Whatever you say, Dean-o. Anyway, I’m going to bed. You should get some sleep.”

Dean struggled to swallow the sudden lump in his throat that formed as soon as he was left alone in the kitchen. “Gabe?” he called out, too softly for his voice to actually carry, so he was surprised when Gabriel stuck his head back into the kitchen as if he had never left at all.

“Yeah?”

“It was his eyes.”

Gabriel grew serious again. “Whose eyes, Dean?”

Dean swallowed and gripped the countertop behind him. “That guy I had in surgery yesterday. Pruning shears guy.”

Gabriel smirked and batted his eyelashes at him. “Yeah? Were they just so dreamy you can’t get them out of your mind, Doctor Winchester?”

“No,” Dean answered softly. “They were a dead man’s eyes.”

Gabriel looked at him for a minute before mustering up a small smile. “Yeah? What color?” he asked lightly.

Dean shook his head as he tried to get rid of his feeling of disquiet. “You’re such an ass, Gabriel.”

Gabriel hesitated for a moment before crossing the kitchen and clapping Dean on the shoulder. “Try to shake it off, Dean. After working in the business for as long as we have, you’re bound to see ghosts sometimes. But this guy? You saved him. He’s gonna be fine. So don’t worry about it anymore.”

And with another squeeze of his shoulder Gabriel was gone.

...

Dean woke again the next morning drenched in a cold sweat. Every time he lay down, his last conversation with Jeremiah Stone would ring in his ears.

“I have to leave. It’s important.”

“Yeah? What’s so important that you’re willing to die for it, huh?”

Jeremiah paused with pursed lips before answering.

“I have to leave for my brother.”

Dean splashed some water on his face, breathing heavily.

“Hey, Dean?”

“What, your brother can’t take care of things for another 24 hours?”

Jeremiah answered with a wry smile. “Oh, he’ll take care of things all right. Probably in a way that’ll get him arrested.”

“Dean, you awake?”

“Ok, so you think your brother might be an idiot. Must be hereditary.”

Jeremiah gave him a hard stare. “You don’t have a brother you would do anything for? A brother you would kill to protect?”

“Dean, hello ....” With one last call Gabriel threw the bathroom door open with an utter disregard for privacy.

Dean jumped and turned toward the door, his heart racing, a strange double vision flashing before his eyes.

A sense of Déjà vu, Gabriel jumping through a door saying, ‘hello, thank you, thank you.’ A laugh track. Fear.

“Dean-o, you ok there?”

Dean couldn’t do anything but gasp for air. He felt like his chest was constricting. Gabriel’s eyes filled with concern as he took a small step toward Dean, his hand raised. “Don’t you touch me,” Dean barked.

Gabriel’s eyes flashed with hurt and he dropped his arm. “Ok,” he started, softly as if talking to a spooked horse. “I won’t touch you.”

Dean squeezed his eyes shut, trying to get his racing mind and heart back under control. And as quickly as the sensation had come, it passed. He opened his eyes again, feeling rather foolish. “I’m sorry man. I guess I must have had a panic attack or something.” Dean ruefully rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s new.”

“Hey, it’s fine.” Gabe gave a little smile and shrug. “No skin off my nose. Actually, you helped me out. If I had touched you I would have had to go wash my hands six times, or burn the germs off or something.”

Dean let out a surprised laugh. “Yeah, it’s a good thing we avoided that.”

Gabriel gave him a genuine smile. “I was just coming up here to see what you wanted for breakfast.” He briskly rubbed his hands together. “It’s our day off. I feel like pancakes.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Is that you offering to cook?”

“Yes it is, and don’t wait too long, or this offer is likely to expire. Just like we would if it were your cooking we were planning to eat.” Gabriel gave a little mock bow and gestured for Dean to precede him out of the bathroom.

“Hey,” Dean narrowed his eyes, intentionally shouldering aside the much smaller man as he walked to the doorway. “I’ll have you know I make a mean Spaghettios.”

Gabriel gave him a pained look. “As if that’s something to be proud of.”

Dean waited until Gabe was busy in the kitchen to let the forced smile slide off his face.

Even whistling and flipping pancakes, with a faded sunflower dishtowel thrown over one shoulder, all Dean could see was a Gabriel who had him backed up against a wall. A Gabriel who threatened to kill him.

A Gabriel who maybe did.

Chapter Text

Dean opened his eyes and blearily rubbed them with the back of his hand. He blinked for a minute to bring his surroundings into focus, hoping that the now daily feeling of his dreams being more real than reality would pass.

It had been two weeks since his panic attack in the bathroom. He had taken to sleeping in the on call room at work whenever he could get a chance, and spending most of his time at home watching action movies and old westerns. Mindless violence seemed to be the only thing that calmed him down.

What the hell does that say about me as a person? Dean thought.

Gabriel, for his part, seemed content to mostly give Dean his space. Dean wasn’t sure if this was because he had picked up on the antagonistic feelings that Dean was trying so hard to suppress, or if Gabe just didn’t feel like subjecting himself to his friend’s grumpy and rapid mood swings.

Either way, Dean would take it. He spent half his time terrified that this was all in his head and that all he was doing was driving his oldest friend away. The other half of the time he was convinced that Gabriel wasn’t human, but rather something ageless, powerful, and evil.

But the one thing Dean had misjudged was the effect that having Gabe in his life had on his sanity. He had spent most of his childhood as a loner. Self-reliance was the only rule he operated by.

But then he met Gabriel. He lived down the hall from Dean freshman year of college, and while Dean had gone to school to work hard and study, Gabriel had apparently gone to school to make life a living hell for his entire floor. He instigated a prank war that turned half the dorm into an instant war zone. When Dean finally couldn’t take it anymore, he decided to end it all by breaking into Gabriel’s room, stealing every article of clothing he had, sewing them all together into one giant rope, and using said rope to tie baskets full of all Gabriel’s other belongings to the trees in the quad. He also put a note in each basket. They started out essentially calling him an asshole, but the more notes that Dean tried to write, the funnier he began to find the entire situation. The notes reflected this by gradually becoming less hostile, and more ridiculous.

The next morning he opened his door at a knock to reveal Gabriel, dressed only in a sheet wrapped as a toga, who wordlessly gave him a deep bow and a wink before walking away to retrieve his belongings.

Watching Gabriel awkwardly climb trees in an oversized bed sheet was one of Dean’s favorite memories (even though he accidentally got an eye full that he never saw coming). That day marked the beginning of a grudging friendship that had carried through to the present, constructed of equal parts ridiculousness, dickishness, and a genuine fondness for each other. Dean never realized how much that independent child had grown into a man who relied on this friendship until it was gone.

Dean pushed himself up to a sitting position on the cot in the on call room. He wasn’t entirely sure if the creak came from the old bed or his older feeling bones. He squinted at his watch in the dim light. He needed to go grab a cup of coffee if he expected to be awake enough to actually perform surgery in half an hour.

Dean walked down the hall, wincing at the unreal glare the florescent lights bathed everything in. He paused at the door to the cafeteria. Mike and Gabriel were sitting at a table, talking and laughing as they plowed their way through two oversized sandwiches.
He took a deep breath to steel himself, then plastered on a fake grin as he walked over to their table.

“You guys are gonna need bigger mouths,” Dean joked. Gabriel jumped as if he had been shot.

Mike laughed. “You’re such a tool, Winchester.”

“You know it,” Dean shot back, forcing his legs to cooperate as he sat at the table as far from Gabriel as he could get. Gabe studiously looked down at his plate. If Mike noticed anything weird was going on, he didn’t let on.

“So what do you have on the docket today?” Mike asked Dean.

Dean carefully kept his eyes trained on Mike and tried not to fidget too much as he spoke. “I have surgery in a little while on a veteran, actually. Apparently, the guy has been walking around with shrapnel in his chest for two years, and his general practitioner has just now decided that the guy is stable enough to risk surgery to get it out.”

Mike responded with a low whistle. “That’s a big one, dude.”

Dean sucked on his cheek slightly, lost in thought. “Yeah. I’m just in here to grab some coffee before I go start prep.”

“You shouldn’t have coffee right now,” Gabriel spoke up unexpectedly. He gave a little apologetic shrug as the others looked over at his sharp tone of voice. “It’ll make you jittery. I’ll go get you some tea.” He abruptly stood and half jogged to get in line.

Tea, Dean mouthed to Mike with a smirk.

Mike was not smiling back. “Winchester. What’s going on with you, man?”

Dean’s heart leapt into his throat. “What do you mean?”

Mike cast a significant look at Dean’s leg, which had been jiggling under the table for the last five minutes.

Dean flushed slightly. “Maybe I have been having a little too much coffee lately.”

“Uh-huh.” Mike did not look impressed. “And don’t think I haven’t noticed you’ve been sleeping in the on call room, even when you’re not on call.”

Dean started absently shredding the napkin Gabriel had left behind. “Do you think anyone else noticed?”

Mike gave a noncommittal shrug. “No one has said anything to me. But whatever it is that’s messing with your head right now, you better sort it out soon. You can’t afford it in this line of work. Too much is at stake.”

“Yeah, Mike, I know. Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it all under control.”

Now the familiar look of pity colored Mike’s eyes. “Have you thought about talking to somebody, Dean?”

Dean’s head jerked up. “What, like Mallory?”

“She’s here for any staff member who wants to talk, you know that.”

Dean scoffed. “I don’t do shrinks, man.”

Mike gave him a sad smile. “There’s nothing wrong with it, you know. Lots of people work with Mallory. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad at their jobs, or anything.”

“Who said anything about me being bad at my job? I’m awesome.” Dean didn’t seem to notice that his voice was getting louder and people from surrounding tables were starting to stare.

Mike shot him a panicked look and tried to shush him with frantic signals to quiet down.

Dean stood. “I don’t have to take this crap from you.” Dean whirled around angrily and almost collided with Gabriel who had been watching his outburst with surprise.

“Tea,” Gabriel said shortly, holding out the paper cup. Dean grabbed it and stomped away irritably, not caring who saw as he hurled it at the trashcan with such force that the top popped off and lukewarm tea sloshed over the side and onto the floor.

“Clean-up aisle four,” Mike joked weakly. Gabriel gave him a dirty look and stormed off after Dean.

...

Dean irately snapped his mask into place and started scrubbing his hands in iodine with perhaps slightly more force than necessary. He didn’t look up at the sound of the door swinging open and shut. He could sense who was standing there, a feeling of disquiet radiating under his skin, akin to the unease a child feels about the monster under the bed.

“Get out of here, Gabriel,” Dean growled.

“No,” Gabe replied firmly. “Not until you tell me what’s going on.”

Dean laughed mirthlessly. “Honestly, Gabriel, I have no fucking clue what’s going on. Why don’t you tell me?”

Gabriel made an inarticulate noise of incredulity. “Me tell...Dean, you’ve been avoiding me for weeks. What the hell did I do?”

Dean whirled on him, feeling far more anger than he knew he was capable of. His voice was high-pitched and slightly hysterical. “I don’t know! I can’t fucking remember! It’s like it’s there, under the surface of all these memories I have of you, but it isn’t you at the same time. Every time I look at you I feel like I should be afraid of you, and then I hate myself for being afraid of my best friend. I remember when we bought this house, and the time you flooded your parents basement, and our graduation, and a million other things, but it’s like there’s this overexposed photograph just out of reach, where all the same things are happening, but it’s not you looking out of your eyes, but someone, something different. Something old and powerful and terrifying, pinning me with this gaze like a bug under the microscope, waiting with glee until the moment you can rip all my legs off and pin me to your wall. So you tell me, Gabriel. What the fuck did you do to me?” Dean finished his tirade and gasped for breath.

Gabriel looked at him seriously. “Dean,” he started, but then he seemed unsure of where to go from there.

“You need to leave so I can finish getting ready for surgery,” Dean muttered, noticing with surprise that his surgical mask was soaked in his tears.

“Dean,” Gabriel repeated. “You’re bleeding.”

Dean felt the resistance leave his body like air from a popped balloon. All his muscles were trembling, and he wasn’t sure he would be able to remain standing much longer. He felt Gabriel’s hands close around his arms from behind and sagged listlessly into him. If Gabriel was going to kill him, at least this whole nightmare would be over.

But Gabe didn’t kill him. He just gently removed Dean’s hands from the sink, revealing the skin around his nails and knuckles peeled off in bloody tatters. Gabriel kicked out a stool with one hooked ankle, and wordlessly lowered Dean into it before snagging some clean towels to wrap around Dean’s hands.

Gabriel crouched in front of him, gently applying pressure to his hands. “Dean,” he started again. “What do you want me to do?”

For the first time in days, Dean looked into Gabriel’s eyes. Glistening in the amber there was something ancient, yes. Something powerful. But for the first time, Dean also saw something compassionate. He let out the rest of his breath in something that was embarrassingly like a stuttering whimper. “There’s blood on my hands.”

Gabriel rocked back on his heels and rolled his eyes. “Well, of course there is Dean-o, you just did your best to flay yourself alive.”

“No. I mean from before. There’s blood on my hands and I can’t remember why.”

“I know,” Gabriel replied simply. “There’s more blood on my hands than yours, kiddo. I’ll ask again. What do you want me to do?”

There seemed to be some sort of weighted message in that question that still eluded Dean’s grasp. “I’m going crazy, aren’t I?” Dean asked quietly, staring at some point off to the left.

Gabriel laughed. “Oh, kiddo. If you weren’t going a little crazy after all this, I would seriously question your sanity.”

Dean surprised both himself and Gabriel with a small smile. “I guess I should go talk to Mallory. Take some time off. Maybe get on some meds.”

A fleeting expression of disappointment passed across Gabriel’s face, but just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. “If that’s what you want.”

Dean gave a little shrug. “I don’t know if it’s what I want exactly, but it seems to me to be the only option.”

Gabriel gave his hands one more squeeze before patting Dean on the knee and standing back up. “That’s what we’ll do then.”

Dean glanced through the glass into the operating room. “I guess we should probably send this guy back to his room until another surgeon is available.”

Gabriel started to answer, but was cut off by a high-pitched beeping that emanated from the monitor next to the operating table.

“Oh, shit,” he muttered.

...

It was Dean’s third meeting with Mallory in as many days. It was about double the amount of time he had ever spent in the older woman’s company cumulatively before his breakdown.

Apparently the hospital had a policy of three day monitored probation before granting time off for mental health. They had cancelled or reassigned all of Dean’s surgeries, so he found himself irritably and listlessly wandering the halls, reviewing patients’ charts and snapping at passersby in equal measure.

He had finished each day with an hour in Mallory’s office. He would have liked to be able to say that his time spent in the most uncomfortable armchair known to man had caused him to completely reevaluate his misconceptions about therapy.

Really all it did was give him lower back pain.

“Alright, Dr.Winchester. I’m signing off that you will be granted one month medical leave, the first two weeks of which will be paid. Should you continue to meet with me on a biweekly basis, you will be reassessed at the end of that month.”

“What happens then?” Dean asked with a raised eyebrow.

Dr. Wright answered with a small, soothing smile. “Then we will decide whether more treatment will be necessary, or if you are ready to resume your duties.”

Dean suppressed the urge to punch her stupid little smile. He figured that knocking out 52 year old ladies was not the way to start his medical leave on the right foot. Instead he gave a grunt of acceptance and stood to go.

“One more moment, Dr. Winchester,” Dr. Wright looked up at him sharply.

“Yes?” Dean replied, trying with all his might to hide the fact that he was grinding his teeth together.

“I know that you are only required to speak with me twice a week. But in these cases it is often most beneficial for the patient to find another outlet for their feelings.”

Dean snorted. “What, like a diary?”

There was that stupid smile again. “Journaling is, of course, always a valid option. However, many doctors find that speaking with someone else who has gone through the same things they have often helps alleviate some of the stress and pressure that is very likely an underlying cause of the difficulties you are currently facing.”

Dean gave a cautious nod. “I could do that.”

For the first time since the session began a little genuine warmth snuck into Dr. Wright’s smile. “Then I will see you next week, Dr. Winchester.”

...

Dean stopped by the pharmacy to fill the prescription for the anti-anxiety meds that the shrink had prescribed. He had been surprised that there wasn’t something a little stronger in the bottle, considering the extent of his symptoms.

Nothing he could do about it. Dean shoved the little orange bottle into the bottom of his hip pocket and tugged his sweatshirt hood over his head before perching awkwardly on the edge of one of the stone benches outside to wait for Gabriel to swing by and pick him up. Not being allowed to drive was probably the worst part.

A horn blaring three quick bursts in succession jerked Dean out of the uncomfortable doze he had fallen into. Rubbing the back of his aching neck, Dean stumbled over to the car and fell heavily into the passenger seat.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were self medicating,” Gabriel half questioned.

Dean shot him a dark look and dug the plastic bottle out of his pocket, flashing it mockingly at his roommate. “Now why would I need to drink at work, Gabe? Who needs alcohol when you get to take these awesome happy pills?”

Gabriel’s brow furrowed slightly as he caught and held Dean’s wrist long enough to read the label. “Ativan? That’s all they gave you?”

“Well, obviously neither of us are psychiatrists, but I would think full scale delusions would merit something a little stronger, wouldn’t you?” Dean asked bitingly.

Gabriel lifted both his hands on the wheel briefly in surrender. “Dean, come on. Anti-psychotics have way too many side effects to be used lightly. And full-scale delusions? Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on yourself?

“Hard on myself?” Dean’s voice rose incredulously. “Gabe, I keep thinking you’re going to kill me. In what universe is that not the sign of a severe psychological problem?”

Gabe’s only answer was a self-deprecating little smile. Glaring at him defiantly, Dean popped the cap off his Ativan and swallowed two pills dry. Getting no reaction from Gabriel, Dean tugged his hood down over his eyes, and slithered down into a disgruntled heap.

Neither spoke for the rest of the drive.

...

The next few days all passed in pretty much the same way. Dean would stay up all night, poring through the boxes in the hall closet that contained everything he and Gabe had saved from college and medical school – pictures, the odd flier, the programs from each of their graduations, acceptance letters, etc. He’d select each item one at a time, and then spend a few minutes staring at it, conjuring up all the images and memories he could.

Gabe, after observing this once, tried to never be in the hallway when Dean was. He commented that it looked more like Dean was trying to light the paper on fire with his brain than bring up memories. It creeped him out.

Any hopes of discussing the results with Gabriel now shot, Dean grudgingly moved on to the journaling option. He would write pages on each memory, fragments of thoughts and words jotted down in a haphazard manner, all selected to somehow evoke something real, something concrete.

Dean found that when he read these entries the next day, they just as often felt like he was reading a story that had happened to someone else as a documentation of his memories.

So rather than reread them, Dean would spend the morning dozing listlessly on the couch, and the afternoon with the T.V. on and his eyes closed. He would conjure up his own images to fit with the audio, placing himself in them as if the television was an omnipresent documentary of his life.

He liked that version better than the box he forced himself to dig through every night.

By Wednesday, Gabe had seen enough. His eyes narrowed when they fell upon Dean on the couch, still wearing the same clothes he had been in on Saturday, his eyes glazed over with the television a low murmur in the background.

“Alright, that’s it,” Gabe snapped. Dean looked at him in surprise. He hadn’t heard the front door open. “Get the hell off your ass, right now.”

Dean’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times like a beached fish. When he didn’t react quickly enough, Gabriel grabbed him by the front of his shirt, and hauled him to his feet. Instantly regretting touching the sweat and grease-stiffened fabric, Gabe hastily let go and wiped his hands off on the side of his jeans.

“You haven’t moved from that couch in four days except to act like a serial killer digging through the memorabilia of his victims.” Dean opened his mouth again, maybe to actually respond this time, but before he could, Gabriel cut him off. “Get your ass in the shower while I make some dinner, actually touch the soap and shampoo to your body, and for the love of God, put on some clean underwear!”

Dean gave him a vaguely rebellious look, but obediently started to walk upstairs without any other form of protest.

“And that water better be hot enough to sterilize plague victims if you think you’re going to sit on any of our furniture again!” Gabriel added to Dean’s retreating back. The fact that he didn’t hear any biting retort in response worried Gabriel more than anything else.

...

Half an hour later a much cleaner Dean sat sullenly in the kitchen, drinking the glass of water that Gabriel had unceremoniously dropped in front of him as soon as he appeared. Gabriel paused from where he was dumping spices into the pasta sauce to sneak an appraising look over his shoulder at Dean.

“When’s the last time you slept?”

“I got a couple hours in this morning.”

“Ok, let me try again. When’s the last time you actually slept more than two hours?”

Dean snorted. “You’re one to talk. I’ve never seen you sleep the whole night through.”

“Considering you were always asleep, how would you see me?” Gabe shot back.

Dean rolled his eyes. Gabe stirred the pasta sauce and counted to ten.

“Dean. You know I’m here to help you, right?”

“Well, it’s either that or you’re here to kill me. I figure I can flip a coin each morning to decide which I think it is today.”

“Remind me to give you a trick coin then,” Gabriel replied archly.

Dean surprised both of them by laughing. It came out more like a rusty croak, but the sound was appreciated all the same. For the first time, Dean looked at Gabriel.

“Insomnia is one of the side effects of the meds.”

Gabriel sighed and turned the gas down on the stove. “Yeah, I know. I just wish you were trying to take care of yourself a little more.”

“I take care of myself,” Dean said, the automatic shrug showing that Dean had absolutely no faith in what he was saying.

Gabriel raised his eyebrows and placed a helping of spaghetti in front of Dean.

“No appetite is one of the side effects too,” Dean replied mechanically.

“Yeah? Well is being a complete ass-hat another side effect?”

“Must be,” Dean said evenly.

“Wanna show that to me on the bottle?” But Gabriel was smiling as he sat down across from Dean with his own spaghetti and a plate of garlic bread.

Dean grudgingly took a piece. He never could resist good garlic bread.

“How about you give those boxes a rest and try and sleep in your own bed tonight, huh? The carpet needs a break from your ass.”

Dean shook his head as he mechanically shoveled pasta into his mouth. “I’m doing what the doc suggested. Journaling.”

Gabriel gave him a pained look as flecks of sauce spattered the table between them. He reached over to the counter and snagged the brown leather-bound book.

“What, this thing?”

Dean gave him a guarded look, but nodded.

Gabe looked at the journal in his hand for a minute, running his fingernail around the binding. “Where did you get such a nice journal?” He asked, with a forced air of casualness.

Dean shrugged. “Found it lying around upstairs.”

Gabriel smirked sadly. “Found it right when you were looking for it, huh? Didn’t think it was strange that you had never seen it before?”

Dean blinked at him. “Well, yeah, I guess. Why are you being so weird about this? Did I accidentally swipe your diary or something?”

Gabriel laughed and started thumbing through the pages. “Nah, Dean-o, it’s definitely not mine.”

“Well, then stop being such a bitch about it,” Dean said, making a grab for the journal.

Gabriel held it just out of reach. “Jerk,” he said, giving Dean another one of those calculating looks.

“What are you calling me a jerk for?” Dean asked, bewildered. “You’re the one being a gigantic dick tonight.”

Gabriel visibly deflated before looking back at the journal in his hands. “You know, this isn’t what she had in mind when she told you to journal.”

“How would you know? You weren’t there.”

“I don’t have to have been there to know that this,” Gabriel waved the journal in the air for emphasis, “this isn’t healthy.”

“Trying to understand my past isn’t healthy?”

“You’re not understanding here Dean, you’re obsessing.” Gabriel dropped the journal onto the table between them and stabbed it with a finger. “You have to know that Dean. Part of you has to realize that this journal here, all it is, is obsession. All it means is obsession. All it has ever held is obsession. No matter how helpful it might seem sometimes, what’s inside this journal will eat your life and spit you out on the other side, unrecognizable.”

“Dude,” Dean replied shakily, “it’s just a couple memories.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is to you.” Gabriel ran his tongue over his lips and looked away briefly. “Doctor Wright suggested you journal about how you’re feeling, not do this to yourself.”

“What is it in our past that you don’t want me to remember?” Dean asked with open curiosity.

Gabe smiled again and leaned across the table into Dean’s space. “There is absolutely nothing that I don’t want you to remember.” He stood up and put his mostly untouched plate into the sink. “The question is, do you?”

And with that last cryptic question, he left Dean alone to clean up the spaghetti.

...

“Rise and shine, Dean-o!”

Dean woke up from the first night sleeping in his bed in almost a week to the dulcet tones of Gabriel. He groaned. “I did what you asked, Gabriel. I slept in my own bed. Why are you punishing me?”

Gabe stuck his head inside the door. “I took today off. We’re going out.”

“Out?” Dean asked incredulously. “I’m in the middle of a psychotic break and you wanna take me on a date?”

Gabriel leered at him. “Well, obviously a major medical issue was the only way we would get enough time off to let me make my move, hot stuff.”

Dean stuck his tongue out at his roommate and pulled his pillow over his head.

Twenty minutes later, Gabriel successfully managed to haul a recalcitrant Dean into the passenger seat of the car and drive him to the park.

Ten minutes after that he almost had to turn around and go back home.

“You brought me to a duck pond?” Dean asked incredulously.

Gabriel shrugged. “I thought we might feed the ducks.”

“That has got to be the stupidest thing you have ever said to me.”

Gabriel took a step back, defensive. “Yeah, well, I just needed to get you out of the house. This was the first thing that came to mind, ok?”

Dean rolled his eyes and stalked over to the bench before flopping himself onto it. Gabriel followed a moment later. “Ok, give me the damn bread.”

“What bread?”

“What do you mean what bread? You said we were here to feed the ducks.”

“We are here to feed the ducks. I just don’t have any bread.”

“What the hell did you bring to feed the ducks then?”

“Um ... Skittles?” Gabriel answered hopefully.

Dean started laughing helplessly and let his face fall into his hands.

Gabriel smiled cautiously. “You laughing or crying there, Dean-o?”

“You brought skittles to feed the ducks,” Dean managed to get out breathlessly. “All this time I was worried you were going to kill me, apparently it’s the ducks I should have been thinking about.”

Gabriel scuffed his toe into the dirt. “Yeah, well, it doesn’t matter what we do. I just wanted to get us out of the house to talk for a bit.”

Just like that, Dean’s laughing fit was over. “I don’t need you to psychoanalyze me, Gabe.”

“Who said I was trying to?” Gabe asked seriously.

The line of Dean’s mouth tightened as he looked out across the pond. “You know, you could have at least brought fishing stuff.”

“You like to fish?” Gabriel asked in surprise.

“Yeah, I always used to sit on this old dock a couple of towns over whenever I needed to get away for a while. It was peaceful, you know?”

“No, I didn’t know you did that.” Gabriel responded quietly.

Now it was Dean’s turn to look at him in surprise. “Sure you do. I must have gone fishing a dozen times since we’ve lived together.”

“Nope.”

“What the hell, Gabriel? Are you trying to make me doubt myself more?”

Gabriel sighed. “No Dean, I’m not. I just don’t remember that. Memory isn’t infallible you know. There’s nothing wrong with forgetting things sometimes.”

“Depends on what you forget.” Dean answered darkly.

“No.” Gabriel replied softly. “It depends on what you remember.”

...

Dean seemed to unwind a little bit after Gabriel switched to talking about some mythology book he was reading. As Gabe climbed onto a nearby rock to cheerfully enact a few of his favorite, most gruesome moments, Dean fiddled around with some scattered sticks and pine needles, trying to figure out if he could cobble together a makeshift fishing pole with one of his bootlaces.

He was briefly distracted when Gabriel lost his footing and tumbled into the duck pond. A soaking wet Gabriel was a cross Gabriel. Dean flat out ignored him for ten minutes as he sat there with his Skittles, muttering to himself about how awesome it would be if he could just get dry with a snap of his fingers. Eventually, Dean took pity on him and walked over to show him how to use the fishing pole as a distraction.

Gabriel trying to fish proved to be just as entertaining as Gabriel flailing around in the water, so Dean counted it as a win.

After a while, Gabriel let out one last huff, dropped the hopelessly tangled ‘fishing line’ to the ground and lay back on the rock like a cat soaking up the sun.

“Don’t fall off again.”

“Wasn’t planning on it,” Gabriel replied calmly, a piece of grass sticking out from between his lips.

After a minute’s consideration, Dean flopped gracelessly down beside him and closed his eyes. They lay there for a few moments, neither actually sleeping, just settling into a contented and relaxed zone.

Gabriel finally broke the silence. “So, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I checked up on gigantor the other day.”

“Who?”

“The vet who was supposed to have his shrapnel removed, remember?”

“The one I almost killed, you mean?” Dean asked, trying to sound nonchalant but failing miserably.

Gabriel rolled onto his side so he could look at Dean. “Dean. You saved his life.”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious, if he hadn’t been left under for that long we wouldn’t have found out about that arrhythmia until he had been sliced open. At that point, it could have been curtains down for that guy.”

Dean waited until Gabriel rolled onto his back and resumed looking at the sky.

“It doesn’t matter. He’s dead anyway.”

Gabriel sat up. “Um, hello, are you listening there, buck-o? There’s an incredible skilled, not to mention devastatingly handsome, doctor telling you that the patient is fine. I mean, he can’t have the shrapnel removed without risking major cardiac arrest, but he’s been living for two years without that causing any major problems, I don’t see why it should start now.”

Dean shook his head, his mouth in a narrow line.

“Kiddo, the guy is the size of a moose. He’ll be fine.”

Dean shook his head. “I saw him lying there. I knew he was dead even before I heard the monitor.”

“Why? Because he had dead eyes too?”

Dean irritably tossed his forearm over his eyes. “I knew you wouldn’t believe me. Just forget about it.”

Dean heard Gabriel sigh. “Alright, then explain it to me. You told me that other guy had dead eyes. What did you mean by that?”

“They were so blue,” Dean said softly. “I’ve never seen eyes like that before. I felt like they were looking through me.”

“Alright, the incredibly girly nature of that last comment aside, what makes them dead? Do you mean emotionless? Like the guy had given up on living?”

Dean let his arm fall back to his side. “No. They looked like anyone else’s eyes.”

Gabriel tilted his head slightly. “I’m pretty sure you just got through with telling me exactly why they didn’t.”

Dean sat up abruptly and looked at him. “The guy was alive. He was alive, right in front of me, and vibrant, and just chock full of good old-fashioned human emotion, but it was like he was dead at the same time. Like a fake image superimposed over a real one.”

Gabriel nodded slowly. “Like how I’m supposedly these two people at the same time?”

Dean flushed slightly. “I know it seems crazy.”

Gabriel looked at Dean, a slightly apprehensive edge to his expression. “Are my eyes a dead man’s eyes too, Dean?”

“Aw, man, don’t do that. Don’t let my crap bring you down.” Dean stood up and moved away slightly.

“Maybe this is important, Dean. Maybe answering these questions will help you to figure out what’s really going on with you.”

“We know what’s going on with me,” Dean answered harshly.

Gabriel stood too. “Do we, Dean? Do you really think it’s job stress, or any of the other platitudes that Mallory tried to thrust on you?”

Dean turned on him. “Well, what the hell else could it be, Gabriel? Is there just something inherently deficient in me, something that was always broken, ticking just under the surface?”

Gabriel made an aborted motion in the air, like he wanted to wrap his hands around Dean’s neck. “You always do that, you always make it something bad about you. What if it’s not?”

Dean stared at Gabriel, his jaw slack. “Are you saying this could be something good? What the hell have you been smoking?”

Gabriel swatted his question away like a troublesome fly. “Maybe it’s not good, not bad, not anything. Forget your imposed morality for a second, Dean. Maybe it just is.”

Dean gave a humorless laugh. “And here I thought I was the crazy one.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Are my eyes dead too?”

“It’s a delusion, what the fuck does it matter?”

“Are my eyes dead too?”

“Will you stop asking me that already, you freak?”

“Are my eyes dead too, Dean?”

“No!” Dean finally shouted at the top of his voice. “The dead eyes belong to all the people I’ve killed, you’re the one who killed me!”

Dean’s shout was followed by a good thirty seconds of absolute silence before Dean’s legs slowly folded beneath him and he lowered himself to the ground. Gabriel looked shaken.

“You’ve remembered your dreams then?”

“Sort of. Bits and pieces.” Dean looked bemusedly at his trembling hands. “Do you ever feel like you save the same people over and over, and no matter how many times you save them, they’re still dead when you close your eyes?”

Gabriel slowly knelt in front of him. “I don’t know how to answer that,” he said honestly.

Dean shook his head as if trying to shake himself from a trance before giving Gabriel a wry smile. “I wouldn’t expect you to, man. Thanks for the bonding attempt today. Let’s go home.”

Gabriel remained sitting on the ground as Dean walked back to the car. He wasn’t sure if his legs could hold him.

Chapter Text

Dean stood outside the hospital doors, idly passing his coffee cup from hand to hand.

“Nervous?” Gabriel asked with a raised eyebrow.

Dean jerked. He hadn’t heard Gabriel come up behind him. “Nah,” he scoffed. “I got Mallory eating out of the palm of my hand. No way she doesn’t approve me to go back to work.”

Gabriel gave him a skeptical look. “That’s all fine and good, Dean-o, but don’t forget, even if Mallory approves you, only the board can clear you for surgery again.”

“Hey,” Dean smirked. “No worries, here. The dreams are gone; I’ve been sleeping regularly again. I’m good to go.”

Gabriel laughed. “Whatever you say, boss. After you,” Gabriel finished with a mocking bow.

Dean rolled his eyes and walked through the hospital doors. No way he was going to let Gabriel throw him off his game today.

...

Two hours later, Dean shut himself in the supply closet to just stand and breathe for a few minutes away from prying eyes. Getting past Mallory had been easy. He just plastered on an easy grin, made sure to open up and let out just enough sob story to convince her that he was more at home with sharing his feelings and dealing with his emotions rather than repressing them in a beer bottle. With just a little bit of charm and elbow grease, he got his lab coat back.

The board wasn’t going to convene until later that afternoon, but Dean wasn’t worried about that either. He knew that they were mostly concerned about the psych evaluation, so after they saw that he passed that with flying colors, the rest of the meeting would essentially be a formality.

Mike and Denise were glad to see him back. He got the sense that they were treading on eggshells around him, though. Denise’s snark level was way down, and Mike always seemed to be watching him out of the corner of his eye for warning signs of hysterics, or a violent break, or something else equally disastrous. But Dean knew them both well enough to know that after a few days of seeing him functioning per usual, they would fall back into their old patterns as well.

So everything in the hospital was essentially fine. His reintegration was going as smoothly as could be hoped for. That is, other than Gabriel.

Gabriel was always there.

And not like how Gabriel would always pop up at inconvenient times and locations like a bad penny. Gabriel seemed to have raised omnipresence to a rare art form. Dean never actually managed to catch him entering a room, but somehow, every time he turned around, Gabriel was there.

And the worst part was, half the time Gabriel appeared to be ignoring him. He would be leaning on the nurse’s station filling out some paperwork, or pushing a patient down the hall in a wheel chair, or in the bathroom, caught by the pressing need to urinate exactly when Dean took his ten’o’clock dump.

But as soon as Dean glanced away from him, he could feel eyes prickling on the back of his neck. Gabriel was waiting for him to slip up. Waiting for him to let on that the dreams weren’t in fact as gone as he had been pretending. Waiting for him to own up to the fact that the dreams had in fact gotten substantially worse. Flashes of something concrete had started to sneak in.

“Relax! He’ll live ... maybe.”

Words that were somehow linked with a flash of familiar blue eyes. Dead eyes.

“Told you. I’m in witness protection.”

A fake image superimposed over a real one. Something ancient and deadly and powerful, hidden under a really good photo shopping of a benign prankster.

A wink. A snap. A car. A million flashes, bare snippets of data that raced around in Dean’s head every time he closed his eyes. At first he shrugged it off as being a side effect of the medication, but as the puzzle pieces started to slot together, a terrifying truth began to take hold of Dean’s consciousness.

He had been right all along. Gabriel was not who he thought he was. His whole existence was a lie.

But there was one question that his subconscious had yet to answer.

Why?

...
“Hey, Denny. About that favor you owe me...”

Denise continued chewing on the end of her pen as she typed up requisitions. “What favor would that be, Winchester?”

“Pruning shears guy.”

Denise looked up in bewilderment. “What favor could you possibly have to ask about a patient who was discharged months ago?”

“What? No, the favor isn’t about him. He’s why you owe me.”

Denise blinked, an overly obvious show of confusion. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Dr. Winchester.”

“Denny,” Dean growled.

She rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine, you’re no fun anymore. What do you want and make it snappy.”

Dean grinned and leaned over the counter into her space. He pointed significantly at the stack of clipboards waiting to be filed. “Any paperwork in there from Gabe’s patients?”

“Probably. Why?”

“I need you to fuck with them for me.” Denise gave Dean a hard look and he held up his hands, palms out. “Calm down, obviously I’m not asking you to do anything that will screw anything up for any patients that are still being treated. Just the stuff on his discharged patients. Lose it, claim his signature isn’t legible, anything, I just need you to mess with it significantly enough that he’ll be forced to stay late today to deal with it.”

“Are you serious right now?” Denise asked scornfully.

“Come on, Denise, you know you owe me.”

“Yeah, and I thought you would save that favor for when you actually needed my help for something real. I don’t want to be your accomplice in whatever pissing contest you currently have going on with Gabriel.”

“You hate Gabriel.”

“So what?”

“You’re saying that you don’t want to see his face when instead of going home to watch the gazelles screw on the wildlife channel he’s stuck here doing paperwork?” Dean gave her a significant look when she didn’t respond right away.

“I hate you.”

Dean grinned. “You love me, and you know it, baby.”

Denise rolled her eyes and walked over to the waiting stack of filing to skim through it. “I’ve got enough to work with here to give you twenty minutes. That’s all I can promise.”

Dean gave her a loud and sloppy kiss on the forehead. “That’s all I need, Denise. You’re a lifesaver.”

Feeling more chipper than he had in a long time Dean sauntered off to finish his rounds for the day. The sooner he could get home, the sooner he could put his plan in motion.

...

An hour and a half later, Dean burst into the empty house like a whirlwind and made a beeline for the hall closet upstairs. After digging through a couple discarded boxes, Dean found the journal. Pulling it out into the light, Dean thumbed through it quickly, ignoring his scrawled musings on his fake memories, and instead studying the structure of the book itself. Gabriel’s mini rant on the journal had to have been a clue. Either the journal truly was Gabriel’s, or it was something that had managed to slip through the cracks of Dean’s real life to follow him into this fantasy world. Either way, there had to be something here to go on.

Nothing on the outside. Nothing on the back. Dean recalled Gabriel running his finger along the binding and mimicked his movements, but met nothing but cracked leather. Dean opened the front cover one more time and stared at the letters in the bottom left corner. HW – it meant nothing. Dean chewed on his lip apprehensively. The W could stand for Winchester. But the H?

Dean turned and chucked the journal back into the closet bitterly. He had been so certain that the journal would act as a magical decoder ring, that it would take the swirling jumble of information in his head and give it purpose, give it meaning. Instead, he was just left with another question.

Dean sagged down against the wall, defeated. He knew Gabriel would be home soon, but he couldn’t bring himself to move from his somewhat incriminating spot.

“Hey, Dean.”

Almost as soon as the thought had occurred to him, Dean heard Gabriel’s voice float over from the top of the stairs. “Gabriel,” he responded shortly.

Gabe walked over and surveyed the open closet for a minute before picking up the journal, gently smoothing back a few of the pages that had gotten bent when Dean had thrown it. Gabe sat down next to Dean, shoulder to shoulder, and held out the journal so both of them could see it.

“You know you could have just asked me to give you some space for a while. You didn’t have to manufacture that shit at the hospital in order to brood up here by yourself.”

“That’s not why I did it.” Dean’s tone was biting, harsh.

Gabriel looked a little taken aback. “Wanna tell me why you did do it, then?”

Dean didn’t move from where he was sitting, every muscle of his body tensed into fight or flight. He figured pretending at this point was futile. Maybe Gabriel could actually give him some answers. “I remembered that you had gotten really worked up about this journal last time you saw it. Not because of what I was writing, though you pretended it was, but because of the physical journal itself. I figured maybe it could give me a hint as to why you’ve fabricated an entire fake life and stuck me in it.”

Gabriel jerked slightly and narrowed his focus on Dean. He gave a low whistle. “You’ve been thinking that for a while, haven’t you? Your acting has gotten better, Dean-o.”

Dean smiled without any humor, more a baring of his teeth than anything else. “Good thing yours hasn’t.”

Gabriel full out laughed. “Kiddo, I haven’t been acting.”

“Bullshit.” Dean stood up, ready for the fight that he was sure was just seconds away. Gabriel, for his part, just sprawled out further on the carpet.

“What can I say? I’m a what you see is what you get kind of guy.” Gabriel smirked at Dean’s glare. “Remember who I am yet?”

“So you’re admitting that you’re not Gabriel?”

Gabriel laughed even harder and made a show of wiping tears from the corner of his eyes. “Oh Dean-o, you do say the darndest things.”

“What do you want?” Dean growled.

“That’s not the question you should be asking.”

Dean frowned and grabbed Gabriel by the arm, hauling the smaller man to his feet. “That’s fine. You want questions. I got plenty of questions.”

Gabriel’s infuriating little smirk stayed strong. “Hit me.”

“Don’t tempt me. Where am I?”

“In our house.” The unspoken duh trailed at the end of Gabriel’s words.

“Cut the crap. Where the hell are we?”

“In our hallway?”

“I swear to God, I am going to punch you.”

“Well, you didn’t seem to like my last answer, so I had to be a little pedantic.” Gabriel nimbly ducked out of Dean’s grasp so that Dean’s fist clutched nothing but air. “You’re still asking the wrong questions here, kiddo.”

“What the hell should I be asking then?” Dean shouted.

“Not what.” Gabriel paused significantly. “Who.”

“There’s no one else to ask, Gabriel.” Dean growled.

“That’s not true.”

Frustrated, Dean brandished the journal under Gabriel’s nose. “This journal made you practically manic. Why is it so important to you?”

Gabriel looked at him incredulously. “You still don’t get it, Dean. I’m not the one who made that journal important.” Gabriel poked him in the chest. “You are.”

“How could I make it important? I don’t know what the hell it means!”

“Look again.”

“Gabriel, you shit-head, I swear to God if you don’t start giving me some straight answers, you’re going to regret it.”

Gabriel snorted. “Yeah, good luck with that. And look again.”

Before Dean could open his mouth to respond, or throttle him (Dean wasn’t really sure which was going to come first) Gabriel snapped his fingers and was gone. Dean stood stock still for a moment, gaping at the space that had held his roommate just seconds before. It was a good two minutes before it occurred to him to look back down at the journal in his hands. Numbly, he flipped open the cover, only to drop it in shock.

The journal was filled, every single page teeming with writing that Dean had never seen.

...

Gabriel didn’t come home that night. Or the next. Dean called out sick from work the day after that. He wasn’t sure why he bothered; the more of the journal he read, the more sure he was that the hospital wasn’t even real. He supposed it was just muscle memory, for lack of a better term.

Dean’s instincts had been right, the journal was the magical decoder ring he was missing. Each page contained a score of memories, jotted facts on monsters and cases opening up doors in Dean’s mind. He remembered hunting, growing up flitting from hotel room to hotel room, a car the only home he had.

In some sick way, the orphanage from his fantasy life was a more stable home than any he had with a father.

That realization sent him to the bathroom, the only food he had managed to eat in the last 24 hours making an abrupt reappearance.

And though the journal never directly discussed any of them, Dean found that the words in the book gave form and identity to the people with the dead eyes. Cas. Bobby.

And Sam.

Without ever saying the name, every page was full of Sam. Sam’s name screaming out from the ink, Sam’s face floating behind every anecdote, his voice in every case.

Dean sat numbly on the bathroom tile. He couldn’t cry anymore. He was beyond crying. He had found a brother and lost him again all in the span of a couple of hours. But the worst part? The worst part was he had spent months now fighting to rediscover a life that he was sure had been lost to him. Now he remembered. He remembered and he knew he had to get back.

But there was still this little niggling voice in the back of his mind, whispering cruelly that he was happier in this fake life than he had ever been in that other world. A world where he had a family. He had a father who loved him. A father who was obsessed and trained him to be a killer that could never live a normal life. He had a brother who he loved with every fiber of his being. A brother who was trapped in a life that he never really wanted, addicted to demon blood, possessed by the devil, trapped in hell, returned to earth soulless, and then crazy; a brother who that life had killed a thousand times over until his death finally actually stuck.

Until the day that Dean failed and let him die.

Dean had to get back to that life. He had to get Sam back, and Cas.

Dean fell asleep, an exhausted and numb heap on the bathroom floor, the last thought floating through his mind wondering if it would in fact be kinder to finally let them die.

...

Dean awoke the next morning with his eyes and muscles aching but his mind clear. By restoring his memories, the journal had answered his final question.

Why.

Dean knew why Gabriel had done this, or close enough. The trickster, the coward archangel turned pagan god. He had killed Dean more times than every other monster he had ever faced added together, and even though he had eventually become a recalcitrant ally against Lucifer, he obviously hadn’t changed his tune all that much. Either he was somehow back from the dead, or he had never truly been dead in the first place, and he had decided it was his job to royally fuck with Dean’s life again.

It was all a trick. An elaborate prank, probably under the charade of teaching some lesson, but really just for Gabriel’s own perverse pleasure.

And Dean was in no mood to deal with it. Now that Gabriel had returned his memories, he knew how to take care of the situation.

It was time to go angel hunting.

...

Dean stalked into the hospital, lab coat swinging behind him, hoping that Gabriel hadn’t disappeared from work the way he had from the house.

“Hey, Dean, where ya been?” Mike called as Dean walked by. Dean didn’t bother to stop and acknowledge him. He wasn’t even real. Just a fake friend fabricated by a fake doctor.

Dean turned a corner to find Gabriel leaning against the wall smiling jauntily, almost like he was waiting for him.

“There you are Dean-o, I was wondering - ”

Whatever it was Gabriel was wondering, Dean never bothered to find out. Striding angrily into his space, Dean slammed Gabriel back against the wall and held him pinned. Gabriel’s smile never even wavered. “Shove it, you son of a bitch. I know who you are now. I know who I am now. Most importantly, I know how to take you out.”

“Is that an angel blade you have hiding in your lab coat, or are you just happy to see me?”

Dean gritted his teeth. “I’m ecstatic to see you, best buddy. I have some questions that we didn’t get to the other night.”

Gabriel pouted slightly. “Well that doesn’t really sound fun. How bout this, we’ll make it a little game. You ask one, I ask one. Sound good?”

“Sounds peachy. My turn. What is this little charade expected to achieve? It can’t be about playing my role this time, that ship has long since sailed. What’s with the repeat of T.V. land permanently stuck on one channel?”

Gabriel pursed his lips and rolled his eyes up to the ceiling. “Well, I’m pretty sure there were two questions in that one, but I’ll let it slide this time.”

“Cut to the chase, Gabriel. What’s with the charade?”

“No charade on my end, Dean-o. I already told you, I haven’t been acting.”

“Bullshit,” Dean replied harshly. “What -”

“Uh-uh-uh,” Gabriel said in a sing-song tone of voice. “My turn.”

“Fine,” Dean growled.

“What do you want me to do?”

“What?”

“What do you want me to do?” Gabriel repeatedly evenly.

“Why the hell do you keep asking me that?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t want you to do anything, you shit head, other than end this bad episode of Doctor Sexy and bring me back home.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Gabriel said sadly. He glanced down the hall briefly to where the other staff members were milling around like ants, unsure about what to do in response to one of their doctors having a psychotic break right in front of them. “Looks like they’re going to call security on you soon. You might want to do something about that.”

“What the fuck can I do about that? Call them off.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Make them disappear, whatever.”

“I already told you, Dean,” Gabriel started, a hint of steel creeping into his voice. “I can’t do that. They aren’t my constructs.”

Dean lowered his arm from Gabriel’s throat numbly. “What?”

“They aren’t mine.” Gabriel replied softly. “The only person who can make them all disappear is the one who made them in the first place. And it wasn’t me, kiddo.”

“Who else could it have been?” Dean asked, his voice cracking slightly.

“You already know the answer to that.”

Dean took a step back, his hands shaking. He looked over at a swirl of commotion to see security striding down the hall and closed his eyes instinctively, waiting for the fist to fall.

It never did.

Dean cautiously opened his eyes again to find that everyone, every single intern, patient, and security guard had frozen in place, eyes blank and glassy like a wax museum. Dean swallowed.

Gabriel let out a low whistle. “Not bad, Dean-o. You catch on quickly.”

“No,” Dean said softly, “this, this had to be you. You changed the journal, you’re still controlling this.”

Gabriel shrugged. “I got lucky with the journal. You’re not a god, Dean, you’re human.”

“So?”

Gabriel waved a hand around them. “Everything here has to be constructed from something in your memory. You can’t create something out of nothing, you can only change, build from the archetypes that you already know.”

Dean paused and looked at the frozen people around him, eyes narrowed. “So everything is built from something in my real life, journal and people alike? Ok, I’ll buy it for now. Why the hell would that mean you could change the journal but not these people?”

Gabriel looked at him exasperatedly. “Dean. Don’t be stupid. How many different people in your life have you met that these people could be built from? There was only ever one journal. I didn’t change anything; all I did was access that archetype in your mind so you saw it as it truly was rather than the glamour you had put on it.”

Dean looked again at the people. “So they could be anyone?”

Gabriel shrugged. “They could. But I don’t think they are. I have my suspicions.” Gabriel snapped his fingers and the people around them changed. All of a sudden Dean was standing in the middle of a museum of the people he had loved and lost. A sea of Bobby, Cas, and Sam stared blankly out at him from the hospital beds.

Dean sat down heavily.

“You doing ok there, kiddo?”

“But you knew. You knew this whole time.”

“Of course I knew,” Gabriel said scornfully. “Hello, trickster.”

“You could have told me, stopped me, done something, anything other than just sat there letting me delude myself for months. Years even,” Dean paused and looked at Gabriel. “How long have we been here?”

Gabriel sat down and leaned against the wall across from him. “No idea. It’s dream time, kiddo. That’s hard to stay on top of, even for me.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed and he spontaneously leaned across and punched Gabriel in the stomach, hard. He reeled back with a hiss of pain, cradling his bruised fist to his chest.

“What the hell was that for?” Gabriel asked, offended.

“What are you upset about, princess?” Dean groaned through gritted teeth. “I’m the one with broken fingers over here.”

“Well it’s not my fault that your reaction to your big revelation is to turn into a giant moron.”

Dean let his hands drop into his lap. “You’re real,” he said shortly.

“Yup,” Gabe replied cheerfully.

“I mean, you’re not someone built out of some different archetype in my mind, or whatever the hell it was you said. You’re real. You’re actually here.”

“Yeah, I’ve had the luxury of living inside of hotel Winchester for quite a while now.”

“That’s disgusting.”

Gabriel smirked. “Hey, it’s not my fault you have a dirty mind.”

“How are you here, Gabriel?”

Gabriel shrugged again, a flicker of uncertainty flashing through his expression for the first time. “I really wish I knew, kiddo.”

“Lucifer killed you.”

“That he did.”

Dean raised his eyebrow. “You expect me to believe that? How can I be sure that you didn’t fake it like every other time we thought you were dead.”

“You can’t,” Gabe replied simply. “But as far as I could tell at first, you’re the one who has me trapped here. I haven’t lied to you at all kiddo, I’ve just been waiting for you to be ready to face the truth.”

Dean nodded slowly. “The truth that everyone I know is dead.”

Gabriel smiled. “I didn’t say that it wouldn’t suck.”

Dean laughed without humor. “What’s the point, Gabriel? What’s the point of going back? Cas is gone. Bobby’s gone, Sam’s gone.”

“Well, let me put it this way. What’s the alternative?”

Dean looked directly into Gabriel’s eyes. “I could let you kill me.”

Gabriel snorted and pushed himself to his feet. “That’s the best you can come up with? Really?”

Dean shakily got up as well. “Come on. I know you want to.”

“Dean,” Gabe started, as if talking to a four year old. Dean cut him off.

“You certainly seemed to enjoy it back at the mystery spot. All this time stuck in my head with me, don’t tell me you don’t have the itch.”

“Ok, buck-o, for a start, I never actually killed you. I just manufactured an alternate timeline for Sam where he watched a fake you die over and over.

“Semantics.”

“Big word, Einstein. It’s not gonna happen though.”

“Why not?” Dean asked, a little desperately.

“Haven’t you been listening? We’re in your head Dean-o; we’re in dream space. I can travel through it, I can talk to you, but even if I wanted to I couldn’t kill you here. You don’t have a form to kill.”

“Then get the hell out of my head, go find my body and kill me!”

“I told you,” Gabriel growled, “I’m trapped here.”

“Fuck that, I’m in charge, aren’t I? You said it yourself, I can control this shit. I release you, or whatever.”

Gabriel just stood there, looking at him sadly.

“You keep asking me what I want you to do, and I finally have an answer. I want you to kill me!”

Gabriel didn’t answer.

“What the fuck good are you then?” Dean stormed away a few steps and let his forehead fall against the wall.

“I can’t leave, Dean.”

Dean took a deep breath before turning around to face him. “What are you still not telling me, Gabriel?”

Gabriel shrugged, looking a little lost. “I died. I have no idea how long ago, or what’s happened in the world since then. Angels don’t have souls, once you’re dead, you’re just ... gone. The next thing I knew I was trapped in your dream. I seem to still have all the powers of an angel within the dream space, but I can’t leave it.”

“What would make that happen?” Dean asked.

Gabriel looked at him pensively. “There are only a couple of options, really. Either I’m actively being trapped here by a creature more powerful than myself, or ...” Gabriel trailed off.

“Or what, Gabriel?”

“Or I’m not really here at all.”

There was a beat of silence before Dean spoke.

“You’re shitting me.”

“I really wish I were.” Gabriel busied himself briefly by flipping the blinds of the window behind him open and closed, an oddly useless and human gesture.

Dean sunk his hands into his pockets. “Yeah, but you said that I’m in charge of my dream space. I could be the one trapping you here.”

Gabriel smiled crookedly. “That’s a nice thought, kiddo, but let’s be honest. There’s no way in hell any human, even you, Dean Winchester, could somehow accumulate enough power to trap me anywhere.”

“So you could still be dead, you’re saying?”

“That’s the best explanation I can come up with, yes.”

Dean suddenly punched the wall. “What the fuck good are you?” He asked again.

Gabriel walked over and grabbed Dean’s hand, healing the bruised and swollen fingers almost distractedly.

“You couldn’t have done that five minutes ago?” Dean grumbled halfheartedly.

“I looked into the future and knew that you would just go breaking them again when you punched the wall,” Gabriel replied matter of factly.

Dean hesitated. “Really?”

Gabriel rolled his eyes, briefly looking like his old self again. “No you asshat, I just figured only you would be enough of a moron to hit something with a broken hand.”

Dean snatched his hand back, cheeks burning.

“You know you can go back whenever you want, right?” Gabriel asked softly.

“Wake up, you mean?”

“Semantics.” Gabriel smiled.

“If I can wake up, why haven’t I done it yet?”

Gabriel looked into Dean’s eyes for a moment, almost as if he were looking through them. “You were hiding from yourself,” he said finally. “I’ve taken the liberty of snooping around your mind a bit. Your body is hurt, but it hasn’t suffered enough trauma that you would still be here if you didn’t want to be.”

“Unlike Sam and Cas,” Dean said harshly.

“Enough with the pity party already,” Gabriel said scornfully. “Don’t you think you’ve been sulking in here long enough? Grow up. People die. Brothers die. You’re not dead. Deal with it.”

Dean briefly considered hitting Gabriel again, just out of spite, but abruptly deflated. He leaned back against the wall, shoulders sagging. “It was my fault.”

Gabriel nodded thoughtfully. “I figured you would think that.”

“How?” Dean asked bleakly. “You pick that out of my brain too?”

“I’m sorry, have you met yourself? Self-blame seems to be the Winchester motto. No mind reading powers needed to gain that pearl of wisdom.”

Dean looked down at his feet.

“Not to mention the fact that I’ve just watched you turn yourself into a doctor that can save them over and over inside your head,” Gabriel continued blithely. “And I have to admit, you wouldn’t make a bad trickster. Pruning shears to the neck? That’s just gruesome enough to be funny.”

Dean made a frustrated little noise in the back of his throat. “So I’ve basically been playing house all this time, convincing myself that I was saving people that were long gone just to give myself a happy?”

“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think you were very good at it. You did keep saying that they had dead eyes, remember.”

“Thanks, Gabe. You’re a big help.”

“Anytime,” Gabriel said breezily before staring distractedly down the hall. Dean scowled at the shift of attention and tried to come up with something suitably cutting to say. “Wait a second!” Eyes sparkling suddenly, Gabriel snagged Dean’s wrist and dragged him out the front door of the hospital and across the parking lot, shushing Dean’s queries impatiently. “This is a real place,” he said excitedly as they reached the top of the hill out behind the hospital.

“Uh, no, Gabe, we’re in my head, remember?”

Gabriel brushed his rebuttal aside. “Of course we’re still inside your head, you ape. But the hospital, our house, the grocery store, the lake –“

“Duck pond.”

“Whatever, they’re constructs too. Like the journal and the people, they weren’t real, they were manufactured from something else in your memory. This place, though, this place is the exact replica of a real location.”

“Is that important?” Dean asked.

“I have no idea,” Gabriel answered, beaming.

Dean laughed, a little helplessly. “Ok. Well, thanks for that little dose of insanity then.”

Gabriel abruptly grabbed Dean by the shoulders and turned him around so that he was looking out across the town. “You know, the fact that you created all this detail from your mind is pretty incredible.” He snorted and shook his head. “Humans, man. Never can count them out.”

“Yeah,” Dean replied sarcastically. “My fake dream world is a real masterpiece.”

Gabriel flopped on his back on the grass and started twirling a half crushed flower between his fingers. “I do find it interesting, however, that you managed to find yourself one of the only jobs that has as much riding on it and causes as much stress as hunting does.”

Dean gingerly lowered himself to a sitting position next to Gabriel. “I guess that’s all I’m good for.”

“Maybe,” Gabriel replied enigmatically. “Maybe not. Wanna find out?” He waggled his eyebrows ridiculously.

Dean looked at him skeptically. “What, you mean, just wake up and walk out of the life? Become a librarian or a McDonalds worker or something?”

Gabriel pushed himself up on his elbows. “Why not? Hell, you could even actually become a surgeon if you wanted. I guarantee you have the nerves for it.”

“Yeah, you see a lot of surgeons walking around without highschool diplomas,” Dean said scornfully.

Gabriel grinned flippantly. “Piece of paper, I can get you one.” Face falling abruptly as he realized what he just said, Gabriel hastily continued on, “or I’m sure you have plenty of contacts that could do a decent forgery.” Gabriel paused thoughtfully. “I would suggest actually going to college though. It worked fine in here, but trying to save real people’s lives based only on a lifetime watching Doctor Sexy probably isn’t the best idea.”

Dean laughed. “Probably not.”

Both sat there together for a few moments in silence.

“You’re forgetting something though, Gabe.” Dean said softly. “It was Sam who could get out of the life, not me. It was never me.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” Gabriel said again. “Now’s your chance to find out. Apocalypse is over, hell is sealed shut, and a new generation of hunters is waiting there, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to take on whatever evil remains in the world.”

Dean looked across the skyline thoughtfully.

“The world has been ticking by just fine while you’ve been in here Dean-o, I just know it.” Gabriel hesitated, and then rested his hand on Dean’s shoulder. “It’s not your world to save anymore. You did your part. Get out while you still can.”

“But Sam –“

Gabriel shook his head to cut him off. “Sam is in Heaven, Dean. So is Bobby. Cas ...” the corners of his mouth quirked down briefly. “Cas ... there’s nothing you can do for. Don’t you think they deserve their rest now too?”

Dean shrugged Gabriel’s hand off and swallowed the lump in his throat. “You don’t give up on me either, you hear me?” Dean’s voice was rough. “You could still be there when I wake up.”

“I could,” Gabriel agreed, but Dean could tell his heart wasn’t really in it.

“Hey, it’s the rule of the world. Only douchebags as big as you survive things that would kill a dozen good people.”

“Takes one to know one,” Gabriel shot back.

“Yes it does,” Dean replied with a grin. Dean turned to Gabriel and gripped both of his shoulders, hard.

Gabriel looked at him, bewildered. “What?”

“Ask me again,” Dean ordered.

“What?”

“Ask me again,” Dean said stubbornly.

Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Fine. What do you want me to do?”

Dean’s grin widened. “Lead me home.”

A glimmer of hope in Gabriel’s eyes, he reached out with one hand to touch it to Dean’s forehead. Dean ducked out of the way.

“Who the hell do you think you are, Castiel? Where’s the showmanship, the panache. Come on you asshole trickster, is that the best you got?”

Gabriel smirked, his good humor rapidly returning. “You got it, boss. You sure you ready for this?”

Before Dean could answer, Gabriel snapped his fingers in the air, and everything went black.

...

Dean opened his eyes to the beeping of the hospital monitors and was instantly met by a flurry of activity. Dean stared blankly for a moment at the empty space by his bed where a visitor would be. Only a concerned nurse was there, and Dean let himself slip away into a dreamless sleep.

...

Dean awoke again a few hours later but couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes. For one brief, heart-wrenching moment, Dean had convinced himself that there would be someone sitting by bedside, waiting for him to wake up. The idea of opening his eyes to reality was crushing.

Oh well. I can’t just lie here forever. Dean opened his eyes.

“Well, good morning, sunshine. I thought you’d never wake up.”

Dean gaped. “Garth?”

“Not who you were expecting, huh?”

Dean blinked a couple of times. “Yeah, you could say that.”

Garth nodded sagely. “And who were you expecting to be here when you woke up, Dean?”

“No one, and thanks so much for rubbing it in.”

“Dean. I’m not here to help you pity yourself.”

“Well, why are you here then?” Dean asked crossly.

“I’m here to see if you want to get back to work, you idjit!”

“What have I told you about saying that, Garth? I swear to God, I will get up and beat you from the hospital bed, it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been unconscious.” Dean hesitated. “Garth, how long was I out?”

“It’s been almost two weeks.”

“That’s all?”

“That isn’t enough?”

Dean hesitated. “What did you do with Sammy?” Dean was pleased to note that his voice only cracked slightly.

“Hunter’s funeral, you know what that means.”

Dean nodded, struggling to not show how disappointed he was. Garth gave him a hard look.

“Why? You weren’t looking to cut any deals, were you?”

Dean smiled ruefully. “No. I have it on good authority that I wouldn’t be doing Sammy any favors to bring him back this time.”

“So that’s it?” Garth actually looked impressed. “The famous Winchester duo is down to one, and he’s actually content to fly solo?”

“Looks like it.”

Garth broke into a smile. “I’m proud of you, Dean.”

“Yeah, well, hold the gift basket. What about Cas?”

Garth’s smile faded. “There was no body to burn.”

Dean, surprisingly, started to laugh fondly. “Yeah, well, there never is with that fucker.”

“You know this wasn’t your fault, don’t you Dean?”

Dean picked at a thread on the blanket. “Yeah, Garth, so I’ve heard.”

“I mean it Dean,” Garth continued intently. “Closing the gates of hell required sacrifices. Don’t take that success away from them.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “I got it Garth, ok?”

“You can’t always be the one that takes the fall. Sometimes it’s someone else’s turn. Sometimes you have to stand by others’ decisions, even when they eat you up inside.”

“I said I got it Garth, would you stuff it already?” Dean snapped.

“Oooooook,” Garth said slowly. “Well, I’m sure they’re going to want to keep you here a few more days until we’re sure you’re not going to become mister comatose again. If you want, I’ll hang around town a bit longer so I can show you where to go.”

Dean squinted his eyes. “You mean where to go for a hunt?”

Garth blinked. “No, I meant where I spread Sam’s ashes. It’s a beautiful spot, Dean. I think he would have liked it there.”

“Well, what’re we waiting for? Let’s move.”

“Dean, I don’t think you can leave right now-“

Garth’s protests were met only by the insistent beeping of all the machines Dean had quickly unhooked himself from before booking it out the door.

“Idjit.”

...

Twenty minutes later, Garth pulled off the road onto a little dirt path. He patted the dashboard fondly.

“I’m not sure my baby is gonna make it up there.”

“It’s cool,” Dean replied, awkwardly hitching up the pants that had been given to him by Garth. “I’ll walk.”

“It’s right up the path. You’ll know when you get there,” Garth said helpfully, gesturing up ahead.

“Yeah, ok, thanks Garth. Oh, and Garth?” Dean continued, pausing to smack the hood of the car. “This thing does not, under any circumstances, deserve to be called baby.”

“Got it,” Garth replied with a weak smile to Dean’s retreating back.

...

Dean would have been embarrassed by how winded the short walk made him if he weren’t so focused on his goal. He had spent too long hiding from this moment. It was time to face reality.

Breathing heavily, Dean broke over the crest of the hill to find...the hill. The very same hill that Gabriel had taken him to inside his mind, exact in every detail.

“Huh,” Dean said bemusedly, only surprised that his discovery didn’t in fact surprise him at all. Dean let his hands sink into his pockets as he paused to survey the town laid out in front of him. A town that he hadn’t created, but it was one of many that he and Sammy had saved.

Dean found himself smiling. Garth was right. Sometimes it was someone else’s turn.

“Hey, Garth?” Dean called back down the hill, not really caring whether Garth could hear him or not. “I quit!” Still smiling, Dean flopped down onto the ground and continued to look out over the skyline. After all, he had a forgery to plan.

And as he sat there, for a brief moment when the wind picked up, Dean could swear he felt a shoulder against his. Outright grinning, Dean lay back onto the grass and looked up at the stars. Let it be someone else’s turn. For the first time in 30 years, Dean had his whole life ahead of him.