When Dad dies, Dean takes a week off. It wasn’t sudden, or a surprise. Dad had been sick for a while, his body starting to fail him. At first Dean had been scared, and then he’d been angry. He was only twenty-four when Dad got the diagnosis and it wasn’t—fair, in some stupid but essential way. He’d barely graduated from college and, yeah, Dad was kind of old, older than a lot of his friends’ parents, but—he thought, somehow, that him dying just wasn't… applicable. Dad was just—there, always. Solid, supportive, kind of boring maybe but also stronger than anyone Dean had ever known, or would ever know, and it wasn’t right that he could just be sitting in his apartment midway through a novel and get a call and kind of sigh, because he was in a good part in the book, and then to sit up straight with his hair standing on end to hear Dad say, quiet, I’m sorry, buddy. We need to talk about something. That’s what he said, first. That he was sorry.
There were treatments, but not many. Dean had flown out and gone to a few of the appointments with the oncologist and Dad had been quiet, listening to the options. He’d researched a lot of this on his own, because Dean had done the same thing, and they’d both been nodding along during the options. Injections, radiation. Chemo. Dad had asked, polite, what the life expectancy was for each option, and Dean had watched the side of his face and not the doctor, and when the answer was given Dad had closed his eyes briefly, and then looked away from both Dean and the doctor, out the window at the snowy day, and Dean had known, then.
Dad made it past Dean’s twenty-fifth birthday. He had a party with his friends, at his girlfriend’s apartment, and they tried to keep his spirits up but it was a pretty shitty party, all told. The next day, his actual birthday, he flew back out to Dad’s house and he was in good spirits—had a mini-cake, even, with a single candle that he made Dean blow out—but he was thin, and his hair was growing back in snow-white and tender-soft, and when Dad fell asleep in front of the crappy old cowboy movie that Dean had picked just because he knew Dad for some reason liked it, Dean went out onto the porch into the nearly-springtime air and he cried, pissed at himself. Pissed at everything. Then just—unbearably sad, because he liked his current girlfriend but he didn’t think he was going to marry her, and that meant that whatever girl he did marry would be one his dad would never meet—if he had kids, they’d never know how his dad concentrated like a motherfucker on crossword puzzles and obsessed over documentaries and knew every single piece of the inside of that behemoth car in the garage and was just the smartest kindest most stubborn person. Just—the best person. They’d listen to Dean’s stories maybe but they wouldn’t know, because Dad would never meet them, and that was just—unbearable, that night. In the morning, Dad made oatmeal and Dean added a bunch of sugar because Dad’s oatmeal was inedible otherwise, and Dad smiled kind of rueful like he always did when Dean did that, and then Dad said, I’m sorry, again, kind of quiet, and Dean reached out and held his hand—thin, and the bones feeling frail—and he said don’t be sorry, Dad, and four months later, Dad was dead.
Dad was always pretty up-front with him about most everything, especially after he and Mom split up. When he was twelve, Dad explained the supernatural very carefully, telling him that he was safe but that other people might not be, and why. When he was thirteen, Dad told Dean that Hell and Heaven were both real and that there was, definitely, confirmed, a God, and maybe it wasn’t the same God that other people knew but that Dad said he was kind, in his own way. The person in charge of Hell, Dad said, was maybe less so, but she wouldn’t hurt Dean, ever. Dad said he knew that for fact, and he said it so certainly, looking Dean in the eye, that Dean believed him. When Dean turned eighteen, a few months from graduating high school, Dad took him to a tattoo parlor and said for maybe the first time in Dean’s life that something was non-negotiable, and Dean hadn’t cared because what other kid in the senior year was going to walk at graduation with a kickass demonic tattoo?
There were other things, though, that they didn’t talk about. Dad said one day a lot when Dean was little but then, when he was older and it was clear that one day would be never, he just said—I can’t, buddy. I wish I could.
After the week off, rattling around the old house, and the cremation with no service that Dad had insisted on, Dean drives out to the lawyer in Sioux Falls. She’s nice. Respectful but not cloying. The Samuel Winchester Estate that Dean is the sole beneficiary of is—a lot of money. A lot more money than he knew Dad had, or that he could have ever earned. Dad has assigned some of the money to go to charities, and to some people Dean doesn’t know—the lawyer doesn’t say who in the specific, but says they’re kids of some of Dad’s old friends. Dean didn’t know Dad had many friends, much less ones who’d get trust funds in inheritance. Aside from the stock options and the accounts and all the money left over, Dean inherits a list of assets. The house, of course. The Chevy in the garage, with the stipulation that he can never sell it. A safety deposit box, from which the lawyer has already retrieved the contents.
She leaves him alone, to go through the box. Neatly organized, like everything else in Dad’s life. File-folders of pictures, printed out all old-fashioned. Some of Dean when he was a baby. Some of when Dad and Mom were still together, leaning against each other, Dean hugged between them. Some—much older, creased and faded, stored in little plastic sleeves so they can’t degrade. He recognizes a few from the framed copies Dad always had in the house. Some he hasn’t seen. Most of them—almost all of them—are of his Uncle Dean, who died before he was born, and he looks especially at one that just—hits him in the gut, in this awful way where he has to sit there looking at the soothing taupe paint of the conference room wall before he can look at it again. Uncle Dean’s facing the camera, sort of, although he’s laughing about something and not really looking into the lens, and there’s Dad, laughing too. He looks… young. Younger than Dean is now. He flips the picture over. Dad’s handwriting, careful: 2006, Bobby’s house. Almost fifty years ago. An entire life he didn’t know. He thinks again of his imaginary future kids. These lives they have, grandfather to father to son, that overlap like a venn diagram but—not enough. Not close to enough.
What’s a life? How to summarize, from beginning to faded end, in a way that would make sense to anyone but who it happened to?
Dad left letters, explaining, but he’s gone and the context is missing. There are so many questions Dean wants to ask but he can’t, of course, anymore. The first letter is attached to the key to the bunker, where he would never take Dean when he was alive, and on winter break from med school Dean flies from Boston to Kansas and rents a car and drives alone through the snowfields.
Dark, inside. He throws the big switch and the lights crackle, hum on, almost reluctant. He has no idea how it’s getting power. Dust, but not as much as there could be. A library, a kitchen. Archives upon archives. Dad had explained, but what little he’d said both in life and in the letters didn’t come close. It was home, he wrote, for over a decade. The only one we had with four walls, for our whole lives, although we didn’t think of it that way. I didn’t, at least. Dean doesn’t know what that means but he looks into the bedrooms and sees… emptiness, plain bunks and old desks and funny lamps. I just picked a random room, Dad said, and as Dean’s looking he really can’t tell which was Dad’s. Figures. Their house when Dean was growing up didn’t change a bit, no matter how terrible that wallpaper was. It’s only when Dean pushes open the door to room 11 that there’s any personality, and he flicks the light and stands there blinking, surprised. Guns and knives on the wall. Books, piled up. Empty beer bottles crowded on the little table. Dust, but—not as much as there could be. He walks in, cautious, this feeling in his gut like he’s in someone’s home and they’ve just walked out, and could return any moment. A food bowl on the floor. A shirt flung over the chair. On the desk: more books and magazines and a folded actually-on-paper newspaper from 2024, and a job application, half filled out. Dean Winchester, it says at the top, in mostly-neat capitals, and Dean rests a hand on the back of the chair and feels… strange. He tries to picture it—the man from the pictures, Dad’s brother, filling up this space. Drinking beer and reading pulp westerns and checking out—oh, weird, magazine porn. Dean shakes his head. Impossible.
In the letters, Dad said: Hunting was all we knew how to do. With everything we knew, it was our duty to use the knowledge the best way we could. I went back and forth on it. Your uncle never did, even if I know there were times he wished he—that we both—could be something else. I don’t want that for you. I want you to live exactly the life you want for yourself. No expectations, okay? Not from me or anyone else.
There are printed files that go back a hundred years. More than. Paper files, but old SSDs too, with connectors Dean has to find adapters for. Dad: If you want to know what we did, it’s digitized. I know I always said I’d tell you one day, but I never knew how to say it. I’m sorry for that. I always thought I’d be one hundred percent honest, if I ever got a kid, because of how we were raised. I didn’t know how hard that could be. Stuff that you’d want to say, but when it came time to just open your mouth and say it there weren’t any words.
Dad wrote up all the old hunts, it turned out. Simple notes about where/when/how, the kind of monster it was, the number of people who died and the people who were saved. The people they had to explain things to, who knew now about the supernatural underbelly to the universe. He noted, too, if there were injuries, and Dean reads with his hand over his mouth a long, long litany of Dean W. shot, right arm; Sam W. broken bone in hand; Dean W. concussion; Sam W. strangled. On and on. No wonder Dad didn’t make a big fuss when Dean broke his leg in the fourth grade.
He sleeps in the bunker overnight, in one of the spare bedrooms that’s not room 11. There’s a fan on the ceiling, dusty office supplies on the desk. By lamplight he reads the letters, on his back on the stiff terrible mattress, his eyes stinging and past-midnight tired. Our lives weren’t the kind of thing anyone would want, Dad wrote. I spent so long trying to get away from it because I thought ‘it shouldn’t be this way’ – and I was right, you know? It shouldn’t have been how it was. But it was that way, anyway, and in the end that was something I was okay with. We were making what difference we could. We were happy. A lot of people have it worse.
'We’. Dad hardly writes Uncle Dean’s name but he’s in every letter. We, we, we. Dad told Dean stories, of course, the dumb stuff they got up to when they were teenagers, or the (sanitized, Dean’s sure) adventures they had as adults, but despite the pictures on the wall at home and the pictures in the deposit box and the whole life that’s here, Dean can't—see it. Beer bottles on the table in the bedroom, one on either side of the tiny table. The shirt slung over the chair. We were happy, he says, but—how? Dean can’t imagine it.
In the last letter Dad wrote, I think I’m writing this when I’ve got a month or two left. Dr. Hendricks isn’t sure. I wish I had more time, to explain how it was. Who we were. I never told you the most embarrassing thing in the world, but I’m old and I’m not going to be around and not much will be able to embarrass me anymore, so screw it. (Fifty years ago I would have gotten really mad at myself for that kind of comment; more things age can fix.) There are books about us. There’s a hard drive, in the bunker. It’s labelled BURN THIS. (That’s your uncle’s handwriting.) They’re true, more or less. Written by a really crappy, amateur writer, but he was a kind of prophet, and he knew everything there was to know about us, and he wrote books for about five years, based on our life and the real things we did. Some of it is exaggerated and melodramatic. A lot of it is just how it happened. You’ll have to decide which is which. I don’t come off too well in some of them but I hope you’ll understand that the world… I don’t know how to describe it. Somehow the world felt different, then. It was just us, trying our best. I hope it gives you some idea of the life we had. No matter what happened, I’m glad that life led me to you.
What’s a life?
Dean marries. Not the girl from college but a woman, later. Red hair, blue eyes. Absolutely no sense of humor beyond puns. Hates cooking and has strong opinions on movies from the 1980s. They have three kids, a girl and then a boy and then a girl again. All dark-haired, smart. Dean gives the boy the middle name Samuel and his wife holds his hand, says it sounds great.
He’s a doctor. He meets hunters. He sets bones for free and prescribes medication when needed and when it will be needed. A woman, last name Novak, calls him and says you know, your dad was one of the greats?, and he meets people—older than him by twenty, thirty years, with scars and dangerous lives and guns hidden in every corner, and he hears stories. Sam Winchester, who saved the world. Dean knows—he’s read the books—but there are more years that the books didn’t cover, more people who didn’t die because of his dad’s intervention. “They were the best,” one man says, shrugging, and gets no argument, nods and shrugs from every hunter in the room, and Dean goes home that night and kisses his littlest girl where she’s already tucked up in bed, and he thinks: what will she know, about who her grandfather was? Who their family is? What could she possibly know?
Dean’s wife dies in her eighties. An accident. A broken hip, an infection following. Still happens, even in this new century. The kids are grown, have kids of their own, and the funeral is big, and there are people at his elbow who say to him we’re so sorry and who share anecdotes of her life and who support him to his chair, even though at ninety he’s perfectly capable of getting to his chair himself. He’s a cranky old man, he realizes. She would’ve laughed at him. He thinks, inevitably, of his own father’s death. Silent and unmourned, except by one. What’s a life.
He writes letters, for his children. The estate is handled. He calls the oldest girl and explains to her that she’s going to be the executor, and that there are things she has to keep. A key. A car. Pictures, so that her boys will know where they came from. “Of course, Dad,” she says, placating a little because he’s old and clearly starting to lose his grip, but she’ll do it. She’s a good kid. Dean learned how to raise a kid from the best.
When he dies, he’s expecting it. The trip to the hospital. The monitors. He knows the pain meds even if he’s retired and his doctor looks like an infant but she gives him the good stuff. It's—easy. A slipping away. He closes his eyes to sleep and there is a moment where he thinks with surprisingly clarity, this is okay, isn’t it, and has the feeling of someone’s hand laid on his, and then he sleeps, and doesn’t wake up again.
He opens his eyes in an armchair, in a house that he doesn’t recognize but that feels instantly familiar. Music playing, somewhere, and a gold-tinged afternoon spilling through the window, and tone-deaf singing from the kitchen. His mind feels clearer than it has in… Tears come to his eyes but it doesn’t hurt. He puts his fingers to his mouth and smiles, breathing in slow, and thinks—well, this is it. Heaven.
Time is no longer time. Space is—immaterial. There’s a house, not their house, but it’s roomy and it has what he needs and the bed he crawls into with his wife at the end of a day is comfortable, and that’s what matters, as he lays his hand on her hip where he used to lay it always, and she sighs against the pillow and squirms and tucks herself into a fetal pretzel, like she always used to. The spill of her hair red against the pillow. Her warmth, plush against his bones. She smells not of honeysuckle or vanilla but just like warm, human skin, the faint bite of salt-sweat at the nape of her neck, the must in the morning in thin bluish light when she turns over and finds him awake, and smiles. Incredible. The weight of her is real, and the spot between her breasts when he kisses her there is real, and he’d always believed in some distant way that what his dad had told him was true—that there was a heaven, that there would be some kind of justice after death—but it was distant, and academic, because of course there was a life to live and patients to care for and children to raise and a wife to bury and a death to get through. What a thing, to come to. This place, with her hair on the pillow, and her smell. He hadn’t forgotten it, in the end, after all.
The house sits in some place that feels like South Dakota. Home, or close to it. A lake among trees. A distance between things. He reads, and plays games he barely remembers from being a kid, and he watches the Ghostbusters movies again because his wife insists and they are, he has to admit, still funny, but he makes fun of the weird museum guy anyway, and she kicks him where her feet are tucked in his lap, and he tickles her in retaliation, and then—well, the movie will be there, later, when they’re done.
She rides her bike every day. One day she comes back and says she was just visiting her mother, and Dean sits up and says, “What?” But—of course. What’s time? What’s a space, between this shared slow heaven and another? She shrugs—his mother-in-law says hi—and he sits there on the couch with his game paused, watching her go into the kitchen and shake her sweaty hair back from her face, redoing it into the practical twist at her neck like she always does, and he thinks—okay. Okay, maybe now.
The bookshelf has every book he could want, and seems to know what he needs to read before he does. Raining outside, spattering gentle on the eaves, and his wife made a huge pot of tea and took it to bed upstairs and left him just a cup, and so he sits at the kitchen table with his cup of tea and opens the book—Home, by Carver Edlund—and reads it, lingering, even if he’s read it three times before online, his thumb brushing over the cheap too-thin pages of this physical copy. There’s a poltergeist, preposterous. The psychic, odd and familiar. The brothers, united, and he reads the next-to-last chapter very slowly, lingering, as they find the box of pictures, as they get into the car together. Drive off, to meet some new dawning day.
He finishes his cup of tea. Puts on a clean shirt, combs his hair. “I’ll be back,” he says, to his wife, and she blinks at him from her nest of blankets with her own book and then only nods, and Dean goes downstairs and gets into his car and finds the road, beyond the garden gate, and drives.
He doesn’t know where he’s going but that doesn’t matter. He turns on the car radio and it’s playing—oldies, but really oldies, the stuff that was old when he was little. What childhood sounded like. Farms appear, melt away. Trees rising, through hills. He sings along, under his breath, remembering: a roadtrip to his grandma’s house, Mom sleeping in the passenger seat and Dad driving through the night, and Dad singing very, very badly, as quiet as he could, and Dean thinking even as a kid that this was some private thing, to see, and he had to be silent and not show that he was awake or it would disappear. That feeling, it crept up on him at the oddest times, when he was an adult, and later. That sensation of the armored tank of the car moving through the dark, and the silence around them, and the quiet music inside, and Dad, in a world of his own, entirely separate from the world he shared with Dean.
Another hill. Climbing a mostly-paved road. Not raining anymore but the sun coming in slanted gold through the trees. Distance, and a curve, and then: a house. Old-looking. Older maybe than the one Dean and his wife share. In front of it, a car. The car.
Dean parks. He gets out, and the air smells washed-fresh, a little fecund. Like summer. He puts his hand on the hood of the Impala and it’s sun-warm and he tears up, completely unexpected, and has to sit on the hood and hold his hands over his face, his heart—full, in a way he’s felt since dying, but not in this particular way, this way of feeling that he thought had mellowed, a lifetime ago.
So much for putting on a good face. He wipes over his mouth and dashes his eyes clear. A porch, with new-carved railings. A door, painted blue. He knocks, his body feeling empty and clean and young, terribly young, and before he’s quite ready the door opens, and it's—his uncle, in a purple plaid shirt and paint-spattered jeans and grey socks, frowning at him, saying, “Uh, hi?”
He looks—almost exactly like he looked in the pictures. Maybe forty, lines beside his eyes and heavy stubble on his jaw. The age he was when he died. Dean opens his mouth, can hardly dredge up what to say, and then he hears a voice say, “Dean?” and Dean and his uncle both turn their heads to see—Dad, young too, completely shocked, standing on the far side of the porch in running gear with sweat slicking his hair back from his head, and Dean drags in air and says, “Dad,” and Dad grins at him, that big creased dorky-looking dad-smile that Dean only got once in a blue moon, and he steps forward and they’re hugging, then, and it's—heaven. That’s all he can think. Heaven, Dad’s arms tight around him, his shoulders slotting in under Dad’s because—Dad was so tall, and this is where Dean fit and never would fit again once Dad was gone. Here, under Dad’s arm. Like being a kid again.
Dad’s hand on the back of his head. A startled, shaky, deep breath in, and then hands gripping his shoulders, and being shoved reluctantly back to have Dad look down at his face, serious and worried. “How long has it been?” he says. “Are you—you didn't—?”
“I was ninety-seven,” he says, and Dad’s eyebrows go high and he smiles, big and glad and real, relieved. He touches Dean’s face and Dean smiles back, tears rising again for no reason and for so many reasons. “I look good, don’t I?”
Dad huffs a laugh. “You look great,” he says, and then his eyes lift over Dean’s head, and Dean has to turn around because—
What to call him? Uncle Dean. Standing there with his shoulder against the doorframe, his mouth tucked in on one side. Like from right out of one of the pictures, returning Dad’s look. His eyes drop after a second to meet Dean’s and Dean feels this odd jolt, in his chest. Bizarre, to see. He’s real. All Dad’s stories, the wall of memories, the books, and here he is, in grey socks, looking all over Dean’s face like he’s seeing it for the first time. “Guess you got your looks from your mom’s side of the family,” Uncle Dean says, finally, and Dad says, behind him, “Nice, dude,” and Uncle Dean shrugs, unrepentant, but with an unexpected dimple quirking into his cheek, and holds out his hand to shake, and Dean takes it and has another shock at it, warm, callused, firm, real—while Uncle Dean says, wry, “Well, I guess some introductions are in order, huh?”
Uncle Dean and Dad share the house. It’s nice, inside. Old fashioned in a way that feels comfortable, as Dean’s come to expect. (He wonders, in a few hundred years—will new arrivals to heaven expect old-fashioned arcologies?) Uncle Dean brings beers from the kitchen and Dad takes his without even looking, drinking in Dean’s face when Dean’s doing the exact same to him. He looks so young. Younger, maybe, than he was even in the few pictures Dean has of him being a baby, held tiny in the crook of Dad’s massive arm—some past time, some time Dean doesn’t belong to, but Uncle Dean clearly does. Dad shakes his head after a few seconds, huffs again, rueful. “I don’t even know where to start,” he says.
Uncle Dean rolls his eyes, behind him, and says, “How about you ask the kid how he’s doing, genius.” Mean, but he squeezes Dad’s shoulder too, and Dad bites his lip, looks at Dean, his head tipping. Asking.
It’s awkward, but only in the way Dean would expect. To see his dad after so long—and both of them dead—and to explain… what? A life. Being a doctor, meeting a wife. Children. Grandchildren. “Great-grandpa Sammy,” Uncle Dean fake-whispers, “told you you were old.” Nudging Dad, half-sitting on the arm of his chair. Looking proud enough he could burst, although Dean doesn’t know exactly why.
“Are you going to make dinner or are you just here to heckle?” Dad says, looking up, exasperated, and Uncle Dean raises his hands, says, “Oh, I’m here to heckle,” but he gets up, too, says, “You get tired of the inquisition, kid, we’ve got more drinks in the kitchen,” and cuffs Dad around the back of the head before he disappears down the blue-painted hall—and music comes on, after a moment. The kind of music that was on Dean’s radio as he drove. Comfort sounds that go deep into some space beyond his bones.
“He’s a lot, sorry,” Dad says, after a second.
“I know, I read about it,” Dean says, and Dad blinks at him, mouth half-open, before he remembers.
They have dinner. Uncle Dean makes burgers, fries, a spinach salad that Dean and Dad both groan at, and he looks at them across the table with his burger in his hands and shakes his head. No salad on his plate, Dean notices. They talk but about—nothing. Uncle Dean asks if the Broncos ever won the Superbowl again and Dean tries to dredge up an answer. Dad asks what his wife did for a living. Dean wants to ask things and doesn’t know how. There’s time, he knows, but for now all he can do is—watch. Dad leaning back in his chair with a beer, smiling at him while Uncle Dean tells some probably well-worn story about trying to fix the Impala in a rainstorm, and Dad was pissed for some reason and so kept handing him the wrong tools. “It was too dark to actually read the grip numbers,” Dad says, patient like it’s the hundredth time, and Uncle Dean says back, immediately, “Who needs the numbers? You can feel the weight in your hand!” Old arguments, well-worn, in the well-worn house. The way they move around each other, washing dishes, putting plates away. The way Dad’s eyes will jump across the table, half a second before Uncle Dean’s even opening his mouth, a smile already waiting to be pushed back down.
When it’s night he says he should get back to his wife. “I’d like to meet her,” Dad says, “some day.”
“Gotta see who’s willing to put up with a Winchester,” Uncle Dean says, eyebrows waggling.
Dad sighs but nods, too. Dean gets folded into a hug, there under the tuck of his arm, and then he hugs Uncle Dean, too, impulsive and just—wanting to, feeling like a kid. Uncle Dean startles but hugs him back right away. “You’re good, kid,” he says, quiet against the side of Dean’s head, and Dean nods and says, “Thanks,” for more than he can say other than that, right then on this particular day, and then he gets into his car and pulls away from the house and looks back to see Uncle Dean gripping Dad’s shoulder again while they watch him move away—and when he’s home, after a blurring drive that’s long enough for him to settle himself, he comes up the stairs to where his wife’s warm in bed and slides in beside her and she says, sleepy, “How was it,” and he says against her hair, “Perfect,” because—it was. It was perfect.
Dean comes alone to their house twice more, on days when he needs it and doesn’t see a reason not to. He brings his wife, the third time, and Dad’s extremely polite and Uncle Dean asks her about engineering and Dean enjoys it, from the couch, while she gets the same interrogation he did, and they’re driving home with her at the wheel, his eyes on the passing trees, before she says, “They’re an interesting couple,” and it doesn’t strike him, for what may be a mile of blurring distance, why that sentence wasn’t quite right.
It should be a shock. It isn’t. That it isn’t should, itself, be a shock, but he sits with it for a few days, the easy rhythm of heaven sliding around them.
He goes to see his mother, finally. She’s in a place on a lakeshore. Her first husband, kind but remote, giving them space. She presses his hands between her own and he goes through the list of answers to all her questions, smiling, feeling déjà vu, and then says, cautious, that he’s been to see Dad. “Oh!” she says, and doesn’t seem upset. “How is he?”
“Good,” he says. They never married, his parents—Dad had told him, much later, that it just didn’t occur to him to ask—and he knew they didn’t resent each other, but there wasn’t much closeness there. He didn’t realize how little until he was married himself. Still, he’s cautious as he says: “He and my uncle have a place. Uncle Dean, you know?”
Mom sits back in her chair. “Well, then,” she says, soft. She’s youngish, too. Fifty maybe, her hair shot with grey. “That sounds about right.”
He doesn’t know how to ask but there’s no way to do it other than just—to ask. “What do you know about him?”
Mom smiles, slow, and looks out at the lake. “Honey, your dad’s a good man, but I think you know as well as I do that he doesn’t give a lot away.” Dean follows her look. A boat, far out on the water. Not close enough to hail. “He didn’t talk about his brother, much. That said more than I think he knew it did. All those pictures. Well, you remember.” She shakes her head, looking down at her lap. “I resented him for a while. A dead man. Silly of me. But then I suppose your dad could have resented Luke, if he'd—cared more. Sorry. That sounds like I’m angry, but I’m not. There just wasn’t much left in Sam, that’s all. He loved you and he loved someone that wasn’t here anymore and there just wasn’t room for me, or at least not room for what I needed. I wished I could’ve known him. Dean, I mean. I would’ve understood your dad a lot more, I think, but then—I don’t think I would’ve ever met him, if Dean were around.”
When he gets home he pulls a book off the shelf. Frail, the spine cracked badly. Supernatural, the first book in the whole series. When Dad was at college and the whole thing started. He sits on the floor by the bookshelf and lets the cup of tea his wife brings go cold on the rug, and reads again and again the scene—coming down the stairwell, finding the car in the garage, going through the details of the voice on the tape, on where their dad (Dean’s grandfather) could possibly be, and Dad says there’s this interview he can’t skip. His whole future, on a plate. In the story, it’s Dad’s point of view, and he looks at Uncle Dean and Uncle Dean smirks, and Dad thinks, This is exactly what I was getting away from. Dean drags his thumb over the page, looks at the shelf. All those books. All the years in them, and the horrors in those. Hell, and apocalypse, and none of it euphemisms or easy metaphor. All the things Dad wanted to get away from—and then all the years, after, where he stayed exactly where he was. And then—a lifetime later—to come back home to a house, with a blue door, and his eyes not bothering to follow his brother as he leaves a room, because he knows without doubt that he’ll be back.
In bed, he asks his wife, “When do you think the kids will get here?” and she turns over and stares at him, and says, “Hopefully not for years?”
He shakes his head, folds his arm under his head. “Duh,” he says, and gets her to punch his chest lightly. “Ow. I meant… I don’t know. What do you think their lives will be? Like… who will they be? I can’t even imagine.”
She stops trying to lightly beat him and goes thoughtful. Her thumb finds the little scar on her chin and rubs it, as is her habit, and her eyes slip over his shoulder to the distance. “They’ll be—them.” He raises his eyebrows, and she shrugs, rolling closer. “I mean, what do you want from me? I knew Abbie for fifty-one years and I still think that girl’s a mystery. When she's… probably a grandmother herself, now, I guess. Is she still at Notre Dame? Are she and Andre happy? Are the boys healthy and do they like each other, and did she ever get Jacob to stop drawing cartoon dicks on the walls?” Dean laughs—god, he’d forgotten that—and she smiles at him, props her head on one fist. Says, softer, “Did she live the life she wanted to have? I don’t know. I guess when she gets here we can ask her, but we’ll never…”
No, they’ll never. Dean touches the scar on her chin and she focuses on him, instead of some other world they’re no longer privy to. “It’s a venn diagram,” he says, after a moment. “All of us. Abbie, overlapping with you and me, and then us overlapping with our parents, and on and on, all the way back. I guess we don’t get to know what’s outside the center parts.”
“Even if there’s a hundred and four crappily-written books about the other parts,” she says, raising her eyebrows, and Dean shrugs, caught. She grins, shaking her head at him, and then squirms in close, tucking in under his chin. Kisses his throat, sighs. “Why not stop at a hundred? Seems random.”
“I don’t know, maybe the publisher wanted him to stretch it out,” Dean says, and she hums, and puts her nose on his collarbone to settle in. He smooths her hair back, away from her shoulder. His favorite book is Swan Song, probably. The final one, as far as most people knew. His dad, the hero, saving humanity and the world, but that wasn’t the best part. The best part was the army man, stuck in the door. His dad, looking at that, and meeting his brother’s eye, and that being—enough. Just that, and all the life it represented. Enough.
“Venn diagrams,” he says, aloud, quietly.
“Yes, you’re very brilliant, Dr. Winchester,” his wife says, mumbling. “Now go to sleep.”
He kisses her hair, and does.