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They drive and drive.

The Impala eats up the miles and Dean thinks to himself that her engine almost sounds giddy, a wild exultation of sound that rumbles through his palms. The thought makes him grin.

Every so often, he and Sam catch each other’s eye and laugh helplessly. They’re free, Dean thinks. They’re really free.

“Where are we going?” Sam says, bemused, at one point. They're crossing through familiar terrain—all low rolling hills, the same palette of golds and greens smeared endlessly out to the horizon on either side of the road.

“Dude, I don’t know.” Dean beats a staccato rhythm against the steering wheel with his palm, and laughs again. Free, he thinks. “Celebratory road trip. We helped gank God. Well, not gank, I guess that was kind of the point, but you know. We can go anywhere. It’s just us.”

“Just us,” echoes Sam, and he smiles out the window at the landscape, a faraway look in his eyes.


They stop at a diner and Dean could swear the greasy, ordinary fare tastes better than usual. Maybe it’s because they came so close to, well, no more of this. No tired waitress shoving her bangs out of her eyes and taking their order, no trucker nursing a cup of coffee in the corner booth, no gangly teenagers darting their eyes bashfully at each other as they split a chocolate malt on the other side of the room. Dean feels affection well up in his heart for all of it.

“The world, huh?” he says. Jesus, maybe he's getting sentimental in his old age.

Sam pokes at his sad-looking salad. (Chuck may be gone but some things never change, apparently.) “It’s something,” he agrees lightly. Dean luxuriates in his brother's relaxed expression. It's been too long since they were both so...weightless. Too long since something or other wasn't hanging over their heads.

“Hey,” says Dean as a thought occurs to him. “You think Jack can hear us? Can he hear everything? Now that he’s...y’know.”

“I suppose,” says Sam. He chews a lettuce leaf musingly. Like a wise tortoise, Dean thinks, and successfully suppresses a snort. “I can’t imagine what it must be like. To be so...connected to everything.”

“I mean. If he’s so connected to everything, why isn’t he here with us? Eating a burger, watching you eat your lawn clippings?”

Sam takes another, even prissier bite of his salad. “I think that’s why he had to leave,” he says. “Dean, he’s us, anymore. I know it's easy to keep thinking of him as our kid but he's, well, god now. And you heard what he said. Chuck put himself into the story and that was the whole problem. Maybe this is the only way we can really be free. God up in...Heaven, or wherever. Humans down here. It’s just us. Writing our own story, following it where it leads, no interference, no one else.”

"You and me, huh, bitch?" says Dean.

"Always, jerk," says Sam with the shadow of a grin.

“I’ll drink to that,” says Dean, and tips a french fry toward Sam.


They get a motel for the night. Dean burrows under the covers—it's chilly in the room, not much better than the damp night outside—and listens to Sam’s breathing even out in the other bed. They’ve been heading vaguely west and he traces out the map in his mind, thinking. Maybe they’ll skirt north a little, head up toward Washington. Change of scenery. Maybe all the way to the coast. That’d be two, maybe three days’ driving. Or find some cabin by a lake somewhere, take it easy for a couple of days.

He feels his lids growing heavy. Free, he thinks drowsily. He remembers Chuck’s pitiful groveling and a smile twitches the corner of his lips. Maybe he’ll dream about it tonight, relish the moment all over again.

Dean sleeps, and he doesn’t dream at all.


They stop for gas a couple counties over and catch wind of a case. Vampires, it sounds like. Dean looks at Sam over the top of the Impala and shrugs. It’s not like they’re in a hurry.

“How much longer till...wherever we’re heading?” says Sam. He chugs some water, the bottle tiny in his giant hand.

“Maybe...two days, to the coast? Pace we’re going?” Dean shrugs. “No rush, right?” They have the rest of their lives to live out however they want. How long has it been since some huge world-ending terror wasn’t looming them, overshadowing the future? Dean can’t even remember. Maybe they’ll redecorate the Bunker when they get back. Turn it into a friggin’ bed-and-breakfast. Hell, maybe he’ll learn to make croissants or something. 


They find the vamp nest pretty easily, catch the bloodsuckers red-handed, quite literally. The frightened girl who was about to be their next meal escapes out the shed door as Dean and Sam lay waste with a pair of machetes from the Impala’s trunk.

It’s a good, rousing fight, the kind that’s just iffy enough to send adrenaline crackling like lightning through Dean’s veins, the kind where he’ll leave it a little bruised but not badly injured.

He shakes blood off his machete as the last vampire crumples, headless, to the ground. Grins over at Sammy, who for his part is surveying the wreckage of the shed with something like dismay.

“That seemed sort of...easy,” said Sam. A wrinkle appears in his gigantic forehead as he furrows his brow.

“Easy?” says Dean, incredulous. “Did you see me getting thrown into that woodpile?”

Sam huffs out a breath. “Don’t you think it’s a little...weird? We just walk into this case, breeze through and solve it? It hasn’t even been a day.”

“Dude.” Dean wipes the machete against a tarp-covered piece of machinery. “Normally I would be very supportive of your tin-hat ravings, but in case you forgot, the puppeteer behind your conspiracy theories is literally depowered. There’s no big bad evil pulling the strings anymore. Coincidence is just...coincidence, again.”

Sam looks skeptical, but he shrugs after a moment and starts attending to his own blade. “I guess.”

“God’s not even gone for a week and already you’re bored with cases,” Dean chides. His arm twinges—he’d landed on it badly when the vamp threw him. He reaches across to rub at the sore spot, then snatches his hand back in shock, staring at his shoulder.

“Dean? You alright?”

Dean tugs at his jacket, peers at the garment where it rucks over his shoulder. The fabric is pristine under the light dusting of sawdust from his woodpile collision. He'd thought—for a moment it'd looked like there was—but trick of the dim light, maybe.

He brushes his wrist across his eyes. “Yeah. I'm fine.”


Sam pokes him awake. The motel room quilt is scratchy under his arms and neck. Dean mumbles something.

“Don’t do what?” says Sam.

“Huh?” Dean struggles to bring his brain back online. “I didn’t say anything.” He eyes the two cups of coffee in Sam’s hands. “One of those for me?”

“You must’ve been dreaming.” Sam hands over one of the cups.

Dean wraps his hands around the steamy cardboard sleeve and sighs happily. Shitty gas station coffee, best way to start a morning on the road. “Nah, didn’t dream at all.”

“Me neither,” says Sam. “Slept like a rock.”


Sam stands outside the Impala, stretching for a moment before he slides in behind the wheel. “How much longer to Washington, do you think?”

Dean yawns and settles into the passenger seat, enjoying the breeze that plays lightly over his face. It's a little chilly and he reaches over to turn up the heat. “I dunno, like two days if we make decent time. Wake me up when you get tired.”


The clerk at the motel flirts with Dean and he grins at her, winks in a languid way that makes her giggle and makes Sam exhale a loud, long-suffering sigh. Dean ignores it. Sam’s been getting cranky—too much time on the road, maybe. Dean resolves to have them stay put for a couple weeks once they get back to the Bunker. Sam can go back to his little morning jog routine, start buying his bagged kale salads again. Dean will bully him into rewatching some old Westerns. Tombstone, maybe? No, not that one. Whatever—some kind of movie marathon, a couple days of boring cardio. Sam will cheer up eventually. They’ve got time.

“No need to harsh my vibe, Sammy,” he drawls once they get in the room, because hell if he’s going to pass up a chance to be annoying. “You’re just jealous of my way with the ladies.”

“Why would I be jealous?” says Sam, glaring. And then he frowns a little, like the question is bothering him.

“Aha,” says Dean, pointing. “You are jealous.”

Sam blinks at him. “What?”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Never mind. Come on, I’m beat. I want to try to get an early start tomorrow.”

He tumbles into the bed, fully-clothed, and is asleep almost immediately despite the scratchy sheets and fairly anemic heating. He doesn’t dream that night, either.


“How long to Washington?” says Sam, from the passenger seat. He’s rummaging through the bag of fast food they’d picked up for lunch.

“Maybe two more days,” says Dean. He hums along to the radio station—Seger, something boisterous and exultant.

“Feels like we’ve been driving forever,” Sam complains.

“If you start asking are we there yet, I swear I'm strapping you to the roof. You can stretch your legs and feel the wind in your flowing hair, you big princess.”

“You know, just because God’s gone doesn’t mean you get to be a dick, Dean.”

The radio stutters at that moment, goes to static. Dean tenses, and so does Sam. But it’s just static, crackly and soft. They glance at each other and start laughing.

“Old habits die hard, I guess,” Dean says. He suppresses another chuckle. “Throw a tape in, would you? There’s a couple in the glove box.”

Sam rummages through the glove compartment, pokes a tape into the stereo. The guitar starts up, sweet and lilting and a little wistful. Then Plant’s voice, picking up softly. It is the springtime of my loving, the second season I am to know—

Dean yanks the steering wheel to the right, pulls the Impala over to the shoulder in a screech of brakes.

“Dean!” Sam yelps. “What the—”

There's a wrongness welling up in his chest, in his gut, in his throat. It's terrifying. It’s something huge and awful and choking and he doesn’t know what it is.

“Something’s—something’s wrong,” Dean says, stumbling over the words. “Sammy, something’s not—”

“You didn’t put your blinkers on just now,” says Sam, bitchily, “so hey, maybe it's that.”

Dean fumbles at the tape deck. I watched the fire that grew so low, Plant croons. Dean jabs at the buttons in increasing desperation. The tape is ejected finally, into his shaking hand. Deans top 13 zepp traxx, it reads.

“Why is this here,” Dean chokes out. “Why is this here, why is this in here—”

“Dean, what the hell, it’s your tape—”

It hits him like a runaway train, the answer. Dean doubles over like he’s just been punched in the stomach. His knuckles are white where he's clutching the wheel.

“Cas,” he gasps. “Sam, where’s Cas, where’s—”

He sees Sam’s eyes fly wide with recognition, then horror.

Dean shoves open the driver’s side door and stumbles out onto the tarmac. A semi blares by in a rush of wind and sound. He bends to brace his hands on his knees, hyperventilating. His eyes sting.

I love you. Don’t do this, Cas. I love you.

“Dean!” Sam stumbles around the front of the car. “Don’t—don’t run into traffic, Jesus—”

“What the hell is going on?” Dean yells. I love you. I love you. It pounds in his skull like a fucking death knell. “Did we—did we fucking forget Cas?”

Sam’s face is twisted in mingled confusion and anguish. “No,” he says, “no, we didn’t—”

Sam’s right, Dean realizes. He rakes his fingers through his hair, blinks away a blurry film of bewildered tears. He hadn’t forgotten about Cas. He just—hadn’t thought about him, either. As if Cas had just been—shelved in the back of his brain, a closed book, out of sight and out of mind. But that—that doesn’t make sense—

—because Dean would never—not even if it took him years, he would never—

“Jack could’ve brought him back,” says Dean wildly.  “Jack’s the frigging boss of the universe, why didn’t he just—”

Why didn’t you ask him to, snipes an oily, self-hating voice in his head.

Sam is shaking his head, one hand pressed to his temple. A tear glints on his cheek.

“We didn’t ask,” says Dean. He feels unmoored, panicky. Like he's been climbing a set of stairs in the dark, and his foot has just plummeted through empty space where there should have been a step.

He looks at Sam, like he's going to find answers written on his brother's face, somehow. “Why wouldn’t we ask? Sam, we just—we just up and left for a road trip? We left Cas in the—in the—” He can barely say it. He sees, again, the black tar devouring Cas's tear-streaked face. It's burned into his brain. How could he have ever not been seeing it? “Why didn’t we talk to Jack about it?”

Sam swallows; the corner of his mouth trembles. “Dean...I don’t think...I don’t think we talked to anyone. After Jack left, we just...”

Dean opens his mouth. Closes it. Thinks back to that afternoon. They’d driven back to the Bunker, barely finished their celebratory beers before hopping into the Impala and just—going. “But why would we—wouldn't we talk to—”

Sam blanches suddenly. “Oh my god,” he gasps, “Eileen.”

“Eileen—Bobby, Charlie, Donna, Jody—” Dean rakes his hands through his hair as the names sink into him like knives. "What the fuck." Awareness floods through him and he can't understand how—he doesn't understand. It wasn't even that he'd assumed everyone was alright. It hadn't even crossed his mind.

“What the fuck," he repeats. "Did we check on any of them? Did we just fucking skip town? They’re back, right? Are they back?”

“We...didn’t think about them at all,” says Sam slowly. “How could that...we didn’t think about them, and we didn’t think about Cas, we just—”

Dean yanks his phone out of his pocket and swipes through it. Nothing. No missed calls, no unanswered texts. He lets it slide out of his shaking hands, onto the tarmac.

Sam’s eyebrows are angling downward, a muscle knotting in his jaw as he clenches it. “Dean,” he says, very quietly. “How long have we been driving.”

“Is that really important right now—”

“How long, Dean!”

“I don’t know, a week?” yells Dean. “Who cares, it’s two more days to—to—”

He sputters to a halt. Stares at Sam. What the fuck. What the fuck is going on. It's been two days to Washington for—how many days? He and Sam have just been—driving unconcernedly towards the horizon, all this time. What have they been thinking about—why is there so much they haven't been thinking about? The gaping hole that throbs in his chest like a wound, when he thinks of Cas—where has that been, all this time? He tries to fight through the spasm of fear and panic that's making his hands shake, but some kind of frantic clamor is starting up inside his head, drowning out every coherent thought with a ceaseless cacophony of this isn't real this isn't real.

Sam seems like he's tracking to the same conclusion, if his enormous eyes are anything to go by. His mouth has already settled into a grim line, like Sam's body has already identified and is reacting to the presence of danger, even if his mind hasn't caught up yet. “Something is wrong," he says, low and sure.

"No shit, but what—"

The sound of the highway, of the cars roaring by, cuts out.

Dean and Sam turn, and there he is, strolling toward them across six lanes of frozen traffic. Slow-clapping, like the asshole that he is.

“Oh, really good, guys,” says Chuck, and his smile is wide and bright and diamond-hard.

“Chuck,” Sam whispers. “But—how—”

“Come on,” says Chuck. He comes to a halt beside them and tucks his hands into his pockets. “That was the big reveal, boys. You're supposed to have it figured out now."

“Jack drained you,” Dean spits. His mind whirls. This isn’t possible. They were free.

(Free to do what, he thinks. Driving endlessly. Brains running in the same tired loops again and again like hamsters on a wheel. They weren't free at all, they were trapped in a bigger cage.)

(Trapped, and alone.)

“Oh, Jack drained me?” says Chuck. He rolls his eyes at the sky, his whole body echoing the motion. “Jack was...let me see, what was it, a power vacuum? Really? You guys thought that one was plausible? And what else...Michael survived for, let's see, no reason at all, and he was playing you, very predictable, except you were really playing him, also predictable. And oh yeah, we threw Lucifer in too, didn’t we. Really just dug that one up just to rebury it, huh?”

“What the hell—” Dean balls his hands into fists.

“None of it was real,” says Sam, quietly. “Was it.”

“Oh, you mean the incredibly convenient me ex machina where your adopted kid sucks all the midichlorians out of me and takes my job? No, you morons.” Chuck spreads his hands. “I’m a cosmic entity. I created everything that exists. I’m not a fucking guy with powers, I am power.”

“Why?” Dean demands. “Why go through all of this? What’s the point?”

Chuck turns to face him fully, eyebrows arching like Dean’s just asked a truly stupid question. “The point is that you two still don't get it. You idiots still think you get to choose. You think you can do whatever you want, that you can fight my fingers stirring around in your little brains. But guess what? All I have to do is make you think I’m gone for good..." He mimes exaggerated jazz hands at them, palms out. "And I’m in, baby.”

“You messed with our heads,” Dean growls. “Again. You played us, again.”

“Yeah, and you didn’t have a clue, because the big, bad god was gone, huh? Coincidences are just coincidences. You let your guard down and now you two will keep running your little rat race for as long as I want. Driving your stupid little car on a highway with no end, having the same tired conversations and letting your thoughts carve grooves into your little skulls—this is your life. This is what you get. You were my favorite show. Now? Now you get to be boring.”

“Oh yeah?” says Dean. Rage licks a stripe of white-hot fire down his insides and he leans into the comfort of it. Stokes it into a blaze, converts it to a furious recklessness. In the back of his mind, he's aware that Sam has shifted positions, is no longer in his field of vision. “Because I’m pretty sure we just figured it out, anyway. Your con job worked for what, a couple weeks? And now we’re onto you, so you can kiss your screwed-up plan to leave us on eternal screensaver mode goodbye, you fucking dick."

“Is that what you think?” Chuck sneers, advancing on him. “Keep fooling yourself, Dean. I’ve got my hooks so deep in you and your broth—”

The scythe-blade bursts out of the front of his chest with a sound like whispering silk. Chuck gags on the middle of a word, his head tipping back. His blue eyes are round with shock, fixed up toward the afternoon sky like mirrors.

Behind him, both hands wrapped around the scythe haft, Sam curls his lip in a snarl. “Pretty sure Death’s scythe can kill a cosmic entity.”

“And stay gone, this time,” Dean adds, for effect.

Chuck’s mouth moves wordlessly. A bubble of scarlet blood blooms from between his lips. Light starts to unfurl just beneath his skin, a vibrating bloom of white-gold radiance.

Sammy,” Dean calls urgently, reaching out as his brother edges around Chuck's shaking form. He feels Sam’s sleeve under his hand, and clutches at it. The light from Chuck burns brighter, hotter, until Dean has to turn away and shut his eyes. Sam's hand is on his wrist, fingers digging in. There's a roaring all around them, like he's caught in a hurricane-force gale.

Cas, he thinks, for no particular reason. I'll find a way to

Just as suddenly, the light and sound are gone. Dean cracks his eyes open.

Warm lamplight, old-fashioned furniture. The quiet hum of machinery beneath his feet.

The Bunker.

“What the—” Sam sags beside him. “Holy—”

“—shit,” Dean finishes, dazed. “Whoa.”

Sam swivels his head this way and that. “Jesus. Did we...did we just…”

“...kill God? Yeah, looks like.”

“Thank goodness we kept Betty’s scythe,” Sam mumbles.

“No kidding,” says Dean. “Shit. He’s really...he’s really gone. Not just depowered—he's dead.”

He feels a tightness in his chest, as he says it. He hadn't wanted that, Chuck dead. Not really. Not anymore. But Chuck—Chuck had forced their hand. They'd had no choice.

"We did it,” says Sam, wonderingly. "Dean...we actually did it. We won. For real. We're free."

"We won," Dean echoes. The tension coiled in his chest loosens and he feels his limbs relax, feels weight lift from his shoulders. They beat God. He and Sam—they did it, they saved the world. They saved themselves, from Chuck's twisted designs, his awful power fantasies. “No gods, no epic plans, no storylines. Just us.”

“Wherever our story takes us," says Sam, and he, too, looks like weight is lifting from him. His expression clears, the worry and disbelief easing into something lighter, happier.

“Well,” Dean says. “Hopefully Baby got zapped here too. What are we waiting for?”

He claps Sam on the shoulder, grinning suddenly for a reason he can’t quite pinpoint. They stride toward the garage.

Free, Dean thinks. We’re free.

He starts to add, for no reason, free to—

But the thought slides away, unfinished.