When Dean’s twenty-four, he wakes up on his back in his motel room with a throat that tastes like vomit but no vomit anywhere, and chalks it up to getting blackout drunk the night before. There’s probably a bar owner out there somewhere bitching about what Dean’s done to his parking lot.
A year later, Dean’s on a hunt. Simple salt-and-burn, or it would be if Dean wasn’t such a fucking useless idiot. Instead, he’s getting tossed around one of the grossest graveyards he’s ever seen (and he’s seen many) by some vengeful fifth grader. What the hell does a kid who’s barely hit double digits have to be vengeful about, anyway?
Well, okay. Dean retracts that statement. He had plenty to be vengeful about at age ten too.
Anyway, so there’s this tiny baby ghost, and Dean keeps trying to burn her bones so that she can finally be at peace, or whatever happens after ghosts get ganked, but she keeps knocking him into crumbling graves and mushy soil instead, and child or no, he’s getting pretty fucking pissed off, and makes a mistake (one of many). He yells, “Hey, you little bitch, I can’t wait to put you in fucking time-out.”
The ghost flickers, and reappears right in front of Dean. Then she reaches out her arm, fingers clenching in that creepy way ghosts sometimes do, and Dean does almost a full 270 and flies at a tree near her grave, because there’s always a fucking tree in the way whenever monsters decide to practice free throws with Dean’s physical body.
He’s flying basically head first at the thick trunk, or maybe at a slight angle, and it’s a little like one of the times Dean has been in a car crash, between the moment he knew he was going to crash and the moment it actually happened. His life has never flashed before his eyes in these moments. Instead, he usually has some asinine thought come to him, unbidden. This time, he thinks, not my best line .
When he comes to, light is cresting over the horizon. The ghost is nowhere to be found. Dean’s neck hurts like damn hell, and he struggles to his feet. God. He’s fucking pissed himself. What the actual fuck. He groans in a mixture of pain and shame and glances around. He doesn’t usually do his grave desecration during the day, because he doesn’t want to get caught, but he doesn’t think anyone has seen him yet and he’s not going to have time to fill in the grave right now either way, and he doesn’t want to risk having to deal with security at the grave if he has to come back, so he shrugs and finishes his salt and burn. Then he hurries back to the motel, changes quickly, and gets the hell out of dodge as fast as he can. He’ll keep an eye on the area in case that didn’t finish the job, but he doesn’t think it’s safe to keep hanging around town with the way he left the gravesite.
What the hell happened? Dean’s been knocked out before, but he’s never actually pissed himself when he has. And for so long? Dean figures a head injury bad enough to keep him totally dead to the world for hours must come with some sort of long-term effects, but he doesn’t want to get checked out and his brain doesn’t feel like it’s stopped working (not that it’s ever worked so well for Dean, but whatever), so he just keeps driving.
Two months later, it’s a fluke. Nothing supernatural about it. He’s in one of the more dangerous neighborhoods of Beloit, Wisconsin, just having finished an interview with a witness, and someone fucking shoots him. He’s vaguely aware of someone trying to help him, calling 911. Things are pretty fuzzy when some paramedics load him into an ambulance, and people are yelling words he can’t make out, and then they’re taking him out of the ambulance into a hospital, and then he wakes up in a morgue.
Inside, he’s freaked, but he’s cool and not showing it when he sneaks out of the morgue and out of the hospital and finds his way back to his car.
In the safety of the Impala, he lifts his shirt. There’s a scar in his stomach where the bullet must have entered. His shirt has a hole surrounded by blood in the same area. He tries to slow his breathing, and then he calls Caleb.
He tells Caleb a version of the story – shot by a regular human, he’s fine and was treated at the hospital, but he wants to skip town before anyone realizes all the information he gave them is fake, and can Caleb or one of his contacts finish this cursed object job, please.
Once he hangs up, Dean thinks. He’s not good at thinking, as many people have told him, but he’s pretty sure the hospital didn’t mistakenly mark him dead. Okay, so there was that episode of Dr. Sexy where a woman was dead and the whole family went to say goodbye but then she woke up suddenly, and it was a lesson for Piccolo not to undervalue her friendships, but Dean can’t imagine that that actually happened to him.
Though, the other option, which is coming back from the actual dead, is hardly more likely.
Dean just can’t understand it. He wishes that Sam were here. Sam had always been better at figuring things out.
As he navigates due south, however, carefully avoiding the exits that would take him toward Chicago, because he doesn’t want Baby in that traffic, he remembers hitting that tree. Remembers the pain at the top of his spine and in his head. Remembers–ugh–the piss on his jeans. Remembers how long he had been out, but how his brain wasn’t soup afterward.
No. He’s definitively crazy for even letting himself think this.
On the other hand, he did just wake up in a morgue.
He stops for dinner eventually. After he finishes his cheeseburger, he orders some coffee, and stays seated at his place at the counter for longer than he would usually stay while he’s on the road. He must look pretty out of it, because when the waitress fills up his coffee for the third time she says, “Been driving a while, honey?”
He smiles at her. “Yeah,” he replies. He figures they must get a lot of travelers here, at this little diner off the interstate. He’s been to a lot of places like these, and this one is far from the best, but he’s tired and the diner is warm except for when the door opens and Dean doesn’t want to leave. He wonders with some shame if he’s so tired because he’s been doing so much more thinking than he normally does on the road.
“Where you headed?” the waitress, Jenny, asks.
“Dunno,” Dean says. “Got nowhere to be for the moment.” He realizes suddenly that he could stop for the night even though it’s pretty early still. He’s so tired despite the coffee and it might even be the responsible thing, to stop now. It’ll give him a chance to look around for leads tonight and tomorrow morning, figure out what his next stop should be. Or he could relax. Have a little fun. Jenny must be at least ten years older than him, but she’s pretty, in a way that makes him sad for a reason he can’t name. He hasn’t gotten a call or text from Dad with coordinates or anything, so he’s technically not on work time. Not that the supernatural ever sleeps.
When Jenny comes back around to him and asks, “Top it off?” he says no and asks where the nearest motel is.
The motel clerk has a southern accent, just like Jenny did, even though Dean’s still in Illinois. And the motel’s not bad at all. After checking in, Dean doesn’t go to the bar or trawl for cases. He showers and then lies back on the bed, with his arm over his eyes. Even though he was exhausted just half an hour ago, the coffee has done its trick. Eventually Dean gives up and watches TV for a while, and can’t forget that he was dead this morning.
He doesn’t have a nightmare that night, exactly. The dream starts out nice, really nice, with his mom making him a sandwich. The Wonder Bread when she places the crustless sandwich in front of him is so beautifully white and springy. Then his mom answers the phone, and Dean is scared all of a sudden. And then Dean’s in bed in a shitty old motel, but his mom is still on the phone, but Sam is there and he looks about seven and Dean has an Encyclopedia Brown book in his hand, and Sam is telling him to read it to him and they’ll figure out the bad guy together, and his mom is still in the room, and she’s not on the phone anymore, but she’s upset. And then the room and Sam and his mom fade away, and it suddenly gets very cold and dark, and for a minute Dean thinks it’s a ghost, and then he realizes it’s the morgue at Beloit Memorial Hospital.
Dean hangs around the same town for a few more days, chatting with Jenny at the diner during mealtimes, drinking at the bar in the evenings, having strange dreams at night, and watching TV the rest of the time, until he gets a call from his dad that sends him over to Pennsylvania to see about a werewolf.
His sleep is troubled and he’s increasingly foggy during the day. It makes his work more dangerous, but also the longer he gets by on only a few unrestful hours of sleep a night the more convinced he is that it doesn’t matter. He can die no problem because he’s pretty sure he’ll just come back.
He works cases all up and down the eastern seaboard for a while. He’s so tired that he’s missing obvious facts and easy shots and people that shouldn’t have died die because Dean keeps having dreams of what? Happy memories? He’s weak. He’s incapable of saving people. He’s a disappointment to his father.
January 24 comes and goes. He’s made it another year, somehow. He’s twenty-six.
It all comes to a head with a poltergeist at a midrange spa, which is an annoying location for a poltergeist because it means Dean’s cover story has to be that he’s some kind of sissy who cares about his skin, but one who can’t afford anything better than this place. A female employee with acrylic nails tells him his skin is “deliciously” smooth, but tuts at the bags under his eyes.
“Work stress,” he mumbles, and then pivots to questioning her about anything that might hint to a way to stop the poltergeist.
The spa is actually kind of nice, and he’s managed to nearly slip into sleep during a facial when a crash wakes him up.
It takes him a second too long to react, and when he gets to the scene the poltergeist is in full swing, tossing random shit all over the room. The lights are going crazy. An employee is huddled in a corner, and a woman is screaming. She’s screaming about a preteen girl, with her feet in a bath. The girl is slumped into her mother’s shoulder, mouth agape.
It doesn’t take long for Dean to figure out what happened. The woman and her daughter were there for a mommy and me appointment. There was an electric current caused by the poltergeist, which the water in the footbath conducted, killing the girl. Her name was Allie. Dean was too slow. Dean was too fucking slow. If he hadn’t let himself get complacent, if he’d been better, Allie would be alive now. With renewed focus on the case, Dean figures out the poltergeist is attached to one of the beds in the spa – a bed, of all things, Christ – and Dean destroys it. After that, Dean stops having the strange dreams for a while and goes back to his usual nightmares.
It’s all too much. If anyone’s going to have the ability to come back from the dead, it shouldn’t be Dean. There are kids with cancer out there, for chrissakes.
Dean knows that he’s becoming more and more erratic, and he knows he’s a danger to himself and others. He can’t live like this. He needs to know.
If he’s right then he’ll be fine. If he’s wrong, well. Then at least he won’t be able to cause any more damage.
He drives out to a remote field where he’s pretty sure no one will hear him. After parking the Impala, he layers up. It’s chilly out and Dean could be lying here for hours. Then he walks a few meters into the field and kneels down.
Taking out his phone, he sends a text off to his father that says, simply, thank you . He thinks that’s enough to express how grateful he is to his father for keeping him and Sammy safe all those years, for raising them to know how to fight and how to protect people, even if Dean fucks it up all the time.
He hesitates for a long moment with Sammy’s number up on the screen. He’s not sure he should send anything, but he also doesn’t want his last spoken words to Sammy to be his last words to Sammy if this doesn’t go how Dean expects.
Finally, he sends, bet u r kicking ass at college nerd. good luck w midterms, because he thinks college midterms might be around this time.
Then he puts his gun in his mouth and flicks the safety off. He’s afraid, suddenly. He wasn’t afraid until this very moment.
He has to do this. If he doesn’t, more little kids who like math and basketball like Allie are going to die. There’s a teeny tiny voice in the back of his head that tells him that he’s crazy, and that there’s no connection between shooting himself and getting people killed. A louder voice tells him he needs to do this, or he will never be able to hunt properly again.
Dean looks up at the white sky. There’s a couple of dark birds circling around up there. Maybe hawks. He makes a deal with himself. If the hawks fly off in different directions in the next ten seconds, he’ll get back in his car and forget he ever almost did this. If they keep circling, he’ll go through with it.
He counts in his head. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. The hawks have moved further down the sky, but they’re still together. Dean feels unexpected tears at the corners of his eyes. He pulls the trigger.
Things actually are easier after that. He still has the dreams, but he had underestimated how much of the trouble sleeping he’d been having was due to all the confusion. He’s taking harder cases now, too. Cases his dad would never think he was ready for and never would send him on. He hears about them through Caleb and Pastor Jim, Richie and Lee, and a couple other hunters Dean knows. He strictly hunts alone now.
And he’s good at it. Not having to worry about dying is so good for his hunting game. He throws himself into risky situations to get the kill and it’s working. Dean’s on top of the world. With every damn monster he ganks he thinks about Allie and he thinks, I’m trying to make it up to you, and with every pretty girl that kisses him in thanks for saving her parent/sibling/child he thinks about Allie a little less, and it feels a lot like relief the first morning he wakes up and realizes he didn’t dream about Allie’s death, even if there’s guilt there too.
He’s testing the rules of his death thing too. One evening he writes down the time on a piece of paper and then shoots himself in the head. When he wakes up he checks the time again. It takes about four hours to wake up after dying. Dean thinks that sounds approximately right for the other times he’s died too. Once Dean breaks his arm on a hunt, and it makes him wonder, so he shoots himself in the head. When he wakes up, his arm is tender and painful, but it’s not broken anymore. Handy trick.
He keeps going like this. He barely notices that his Dad doesn’t call much anymore. He tries other experiments, and he dies on a bunch of hunts being reckless, but his success rate is amazing.
It’s the first day of November and Dean is damn depressed. He finished a voodoo thing in New Orleans a couple days ago and now he’s in Texas staking out a suspected demon. He’s laid a Devil’s trap in an old warehouse he’s seen it go into a couple times and now he’s just waiting for the demon to go back there, and then Dean can exorcise it.
The anniversary of the fire is tomorrow. He hasn’t heard from Dad in ages, but he doesn’t want to talk to the guy right now anyway. He’s always unpleasant this time of year. Dean takes a swig from the bottle of Jack he has with him in the car. He’s pretty well and drunk by now. He still tries not to drink too much before driving Baby, because just because he can’t die doesn’t mean other drivers and pedestrians can’t, and Baby deserves to be taken care of too, but times like this Dean figures he’s owed a fifth of whiskey or ten.
Finally the demon leaves where it’s holed up for now and starts walking towards the warehouse. Dean follows at a distance, keeping one hand around the neck of the bottle. He parks in front of the warehouse and sneaks in through a side door.
But the demon isn’t standing in the Devil’s Trap.
“What do we have here,” Dean hears from his left, and turns toward the demon.
It steps out of the shadows wearing the face of Dan Cortes, a sixty-one year old history teacher. “A hunter,” it says, cocking its head. “You tried to trap me.” The demon actually sounds kind of annoyed about it.
“And I’ll do it again,” Dean declares, smirking, and spreads his arms wide to either side. He made a mistake, but whatever. He’ll just finish this bitch off in approximately four hours.
The demon reaches out an arm, and flicks its wrist.
Dean comes to at the kitchen table of his childhood home. His mom places a crustless sandwich in front of him and smooths his hair. He frowns. This isn’t the warehouse. Is he asleep somehow?
There’s a bald man sitting across the table from Dean.
“Who are you?” Dean asks.
“My name is Zachariah,” the man says calmly.
“Where am I?” Dean says.
“This is Heaven, Dean,” Zachariah responds.
Dean snorts. “Yeah, right. And what are you, a fucking cherub?”
“No,” Zachariah says. “But I am an Angel of the Lord.”
Dean stares. “There’s no such thing.”
Zachariah spreads his suited arms wide. “You believe in demons and Hell, Dean, so why should there not be angels in Heaven?”
“I believe in what I can see,” Dean growls.
“And you’re looking at me now, in Heaven.”
Dean looks around. “So Heaven is...Lawrence, Kansas?”
“For you, it is,” Zachariah says. “At least some of it is. And really, Dean, your mother arguing with your father is your happiest memory ? Does that make you feel good about yourself?”
Dean stands up. His mom is on the phone, but Dean ignores her and paces the kitchen. “So are you the one who keeps bringing me back to life?”
Zachariah stays seated, with the same creepy, pleasant smile on his face. “Yes, and I have to ask that you stop dying quite so often, if you could. It started to become tiresome to restore your soul to your body after the first three times.”
“Heaven has plans for you, Dean,” Zachariah says.
“All in good time. All you need to know now is that we need you alive.”
And Dean hates that answer. And he hates stupid fucking Heaven, which he guesses is what he’s been dreaming about all this time. And he really hates Zachariah, with his stupid smile.
“So, God,” Dean says, “fucking real then.”
Zachariah inclines his head.
“Bullshit,” Dean says.
“I’m sensing some hostility here,” Zachariah says. “Let’s work through it.”
“Shut up,” Dean grits out.
Zachariah just continues smiling. “You have quite the role to play, Dean. God has made you special.”
“Oh yeah?” Dean says, tone challenging. “If God’s such a freaking fan, why hasn’t He ever helped me save anyone? Why did He let my mom die? Why didn’t He–” and that’s when Dean stops himself, because what’s on the tip of his tongue, Why didn’t He protect me? is getting far too close to something Dean can’t acknowledge, even to himself.
“You’re angry with God because you feel He has not shown you any kindness,” Zachariah says. “But I am meeting with you now to tell you that God is showing you kindness.”
“What the fuck are you talking about, man?” says Dean.
“God wants you to go to your brother,” Zachariah says, and Dean’s breath catches.
Sam. Dean doesn’t want to be caught up in whatever this plan shit is, but he really doesn’t want Sammy caught up in it. But Dean does want to see Sammy. And if the real, Biblical God also wants that….
Dean shakes himself out. “What?”
“Sam has a role to play as well. Not quite as important as yours, but still. And Heaven needs you two together.”
“Fuck you, I’m not Heaven’s fucking errand boy,” Dean says, even though he’s getting kind of tired of arguing. The kitchen is warm and his mom is crying. He wants his mom to come over and kiss his head and tell him he’s her little angel. Dean’s nothing if not stubborn, though, and he wants to give this smarmy bastard a fight.
“Dean,” says Zacharariah. “All we’re asking is for you to meet your brother. It’s what you want to do. There will be plenty of time to learn about Heaven’s plan after that.”
“Go screw yourself,” Dean says. “Wake me up, already, bitch.”
Finally, Zachariah’s smile drops. “Alright, Dean,” he says. “First, though, I have something to show you.”
He places two fingers on Dean’s head and the world spins.
Dean stumbles and retches. Beside him, Zachariah looks unruffled. Dean looks around. They’re in a dark bedroom. Dean can smell fresh chocolate chip cookies from the oven. The room also smells like paint and detergent. The bed is made but not super neatly and the mattress is a little saggy. The room looks cozy. It looks like a family lives here.
“Where are we?” he says.
“Just watch, Dean,” says Zachariah.
The bedroom door swings open with a click, and Dean has to catch his breath when he sees who enters. It’s Sam. He’s taller than Dean remembers – God, he’s gigantic, but his hair is the same, if slightly longer, floppy bangs and brown curls where they meet his neck.
“Jess?” Sam says. He walks over to a plate of the cookies, smiles down at the note lying on top of them. Then he flops down onto the end of the bed.
Dean suddenly knows that something is very, very wrong. As soon as he realizes this, Sam flinches as something drips onto his face. Dean looks up to the ceiling as Sam opens his eyes.
There’s a blonde woman up there, blood on her stomach and flames at her back, just like Mom, and Sam is screaming Jess! over and over again, and flames are licking at the ragged furniture as Sam stumbles back, still screaming, and then Zachariah puts two fingers to Dean’s head again.
When they get back, Dean is once again seated across from Zachariah at the kitchen table. His mom is sliding a crustless sandwich at him.
Dean is shaking. “What was that?” he demands.
“I wanted you to see this, Dean, to show you that it isn’t just Heaven who has plans for you and your brother. Hell does too. What you just saw is something that Hell is planning to do, today. But you can still stop it, Dean. Go to your brother. God loves you, Dean. God wants you and Sam safe.”
“Send me there,” Dean begs. “I need to–I need to save her. I need to protect Sammy.”
“I know, Dean,” Zachariah says. “But you have to hurry. This event will transpire at 7:21 tonight.” Zachariah reaches two fingers out towards Dean, but pauses. “And remember, Sam isn’t like you. If he dies, he won’t come back.” Before Dean can interrogate the asshole about that, Zachariah closes the distance between them, and things go black.
When Dean wakes, the warehouse is empty. He sprints to the car. It’s nearly three AM. Dean can still make it, but he’ll need to hurry. He slams on the gas and gets the hell out of El Paso, heading west.
Dean skids to a stop in front of Sam’s apartment building. Fire is roaring inside. His heart sinks, but he runs in, taking the steps two at a time.
It’s too late for Jess. Sam is about to jump into the flames, but Dean grabs him around the chest and wrestles him backwards. Sam’s screaming in his ear but Dean doesn’t stop. His head is pounding and he’s struggling to breathe between the smoke and the panicked memories of the last time he ran Sam out of a burning building.
They meet the firefighters coming up as the two of them are going down. Sam’s sobbing in Dean’s arms. One of the firefighters breaks off and helps Dean get Sam to an ambulance.
Dean retreats a little bit while the paramedics are checking him out, but keeps him in his line of sight. With the distance, Dean can actually see the moment Sam snaps out of the hysterics and, still sobbing but calmer, starts to wonder what the hell his estranged brother is doing here, at the exact moment his girlfriend caught fire.
At last, Dean turns away. The paramedics won’t let anything happen to Sam, for now. Eventually, they release him, and Sam comes to stand next to Dean at the Impala.
“Not that I’m not happy to see you, Dean, but what are you doing here?” he says.
“It’s a long story,” says Dean.
“We’re going to have a lot of time on the road chasing the thing that killed Mom and Jess,” Sam responds. “You can tell me all about it then.”