Dean fidgeted around in the overstuffed armchair that a few months ago had sat in Garth’s comfy living room. Now it sat in the room recently added to the Fitzgerald’s household. The addition still smelled faintly of new wood, carpet, and paint. The chair still smelled faintly of the now rancid chocolate milk Garth’s son Sam spilled in it, making the stain on the arm that relegated it to its new home. The room was big enough that a half dozen people could theoretically sit in it without touching each other. One wall was full of bright sunny windows with blackout curtains pulled aside to let the light in. The other wall had a love seat with a hastily repaired rip near the floor that had resulted in its banishment from the living room.
Across the room from where Dean attempted to make himself comfortable there was a long desk with papers and books piled on it. In front of the desk there was a worn, padded rolling office chair. Garth sat in it looking much more comfortable than Dean felt. He wore a caring, serious look on his face, though the humor in him still peeked through. Looking at him made Dean more uncomfortable, and irritable. Garth sipped from a steaming mug giving off a peppermint smell.
“Can I offer you a cup of tea Dean? I find peppermint helps me stay focused.”
“No. I’ll pass on the peppermint tea, thanks. But if you have anything stronger…?”
Dean uses his thumb and pinky to make a ‘drinking’ motion. Garth looks at him levelly and sighs, holding the mug in his lap.
“Let's go over the procedural stuff, even though I’m pretty sure you know it all. Just try to settle in while I give you the spiel. First of all, while I’m happy to see you, whether I’m happy to see you or not, the second you step through that door our relationship becomes entirely professional. We will behave in a professional manner, and anything you say in this room stays here. I have never once repeated a thing I hear in here, and I never will. I won’t judge you for what you say, I won’t hold it against you, and I won’t let it change the way I see you when I see you in my kitchen later. Everything I write down is written in code and no one but me sees it.
“In accordance with the new Guild rules you are here for your first assessment. In order to maintain your membership in the Hunter’s Guild you will be expected to attend another assessment every 6 months. If any 3 members vote within a month that you need further assessment you will be expected to attend another assessment. You may of course schedule more appointments as you see fit.”
“I hate the name Hunter’s Guild,” Dean muttered to himself.
“I voted for Hunter’s Union, but the vote was had and here we are. Do you have any questions about any of that Dean before we begin?”
“Yeah, how the hell did you get anyone to give you a degree in Hunter Therapy?”
Garth shrugged a little, still smiling “I got a degree in Counseling Psychology online from Southern New Hampshire University. I did an internship and everything. The degree is legit. I just didn’t mention the under the table unethical working with friends part of the plan.”
Garth’s smile was replaced again by the calm look and he picked his tea back up in both hands, looking at Dean evenly. “Shall we begin?”
Dean crossed his legs and folded his arms. “You’re the expert.”
“So, Dean. How have you been?”
“Fine. Good. Doing fine.”
“That was a very automatic answer. Would you like to take a minute and consider a more detailed answer?
“No. There’s not much more to say. I’m doing fine.”
“Ok. Fine can be a complete answer. Any major changes in your life in the last few months?”
Dean knew Garth well enough to catch the hint of the smile not hiding very well on Garth’s face. Garth knew damn well there had been changes in Dean’s life.
“You know damn well there have been”.
“Well why don’t you explain them to me as if I don’t know.” Garth leaned back in his chair a little, getting a bit more settled in and waited.
“Uh, I got a second job. Well, I guess a first job since hunting doesn’t come with a W2, but a second job to hunting. There’s this older guy in town, Emmett, flips classic cars. He buys them at auctions and from out of old barns and stuff, polishes them up, restores them, and sells them at a profit. Though I think he’d do it even if it didn’t make money. I think he just likes saving them. But he’s getting on a bit. It isn’t as comfortable for him to climb under an engine as it used to be. He’s not on any schedule so I can go in as many hours as I want, and if I’m gone hunting for a few weeks he can get along without me. It’s working out real well, I think.”
“Is anyone else working there, or is it just the two of you?”
“He has these two teenage boys that alternate a few hours after school Monday through Thursday. The local high school has an automotive program and he sponsors 2 kids a year for a sort of internship. Matt and Mark. Good kids. They like Emmett and he’s really patient with them. Also there’s Casey, Emmett’s daughter. She’s about 40. She keeps his records, does his taxes and such. She’s got a 10 year old son, Greg, who comes around sometimes, but I wouldn’t really call him an employee.”
“How often would you say that you’ve flirted with Casey?”
Garth’s expression didn’t change, but Dean looked confused. “I mean, I’ve been friendly, maybe a little flirty, but not seriously. I haven’t made a pass at her or anything.”
Garth nodded a little. “So She’s not your type.”
“I don’t know about that. She’s pretty enough. Smart. Doesn’t take a lot of crap. Can hold her own in the shop. I guess… I guess she’s a lot like my type.”
“Is that usual for you Dean? To not flirt with the pretty girl?”
“I guess… It just didn’t occur to me? God that does sound weird to say out loud.”
“How do you feel about the job?”
There was a brief second of lag as Dean dragged his puzzled mind away from the conundrum of non-flirting and to the question at hand.
“It’s good. I like it. I think it’s good to have the chance to get out and do normal things. I fix cars, I show teenagers how to change a timing belt. Sometimes I go with Emmett to look at potential cars. I get to see a lot of countryside, meet a lot of people, and not think about salt, or shotguns, or vampires or ghosts. It gives me a chance to meet normal people in normal ways. Live like the other side lives a little.”
Dean shrugged a little and gave his first hint of a smile.
“Do you worry about those things while you are out at auctions and in barns? Have you ever had to check for ghosts or brought salt with you while out with Emmett?”
“Well, ok, yes. I do bring SOME salt with me. I’m not going to have NO salt in some dude’s strange dark barn in an old farm full of weird shit in old trunks and boxes and stuff. I still check. I’m employed, not suicidal.”
“Did you ever find anything?”
Dean shrugged. “Once I thought I felt a cold spot, and the lights flickered a little, but everything seemed cool, and I didn’t see anything to make me think the guy was in real trouble, so I let it pass. I don’t want to look for problems where I don’t need to find them.”
Garth leaned in a little, looking curious, and still holding his mug. “You mentioned a W2. Did you mean that literally? Did you get a W2? How on earth did you make that happen? Do you even have a social security number?”
“It took a little work, I’ll admit. Sam managed to get me a number, and some matching drivers license/social security cards. Sam told me, but I didn’t exactly pay attention to the details.”
“Tell me about the cars you restore. What are they like?”
Dean sat up straighter and gave a genuine smile, all traces of discomfort in the chair had evaporated.
“We get some real beautiful cars. Real pieces of history. A lot of the time the people who sell them to us have had them for decades and they know they can’t take care of them, they know they’re rotting in the garage or barn or wherever, and they sell them to us because we can convince them we’ll take care of them. Give them new life.”
“You mentioned earlier that Emmett saves these cars. Are you saving these cars?”
“I mean, yeah. Those cars would sit and rot without us. We are their second chance.” Dean smiled. “It’s a living.”
“Speaking of living, how is domestic life?”
Dean’s smile vanished, and his legs crossed again.
“It’s good! We’re happy. We’re all… very happy. Sam has been whistling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really annoying, his taste in music still sucks, but it’s nice that he wants to whistle. Eileen has been around a lot more lately. I don’t really know what’s up with them. I think Sam still has that domestic dream, and Eileen is a true hunter. Just… a fantastic hunter. She’s, she’s damn effective. I just can’t see her hanging up hunting while monsters are still out there. I don’t know how they’ll do it, but I’m betting on them.”
“Well that’s real good to hear, you know I’m rooting for Sam. I’ll ask him all about his life when he comes in for his assessment. How is YOUR domestic life. And don’t bullshit me Dean, this is a respectful office, and I won’t have you lie to me about your truth.”
Dean frowned and crossed his arms.
“It’s good. We’re good. Things are going really well.”
It was obvious Garth was not convinced. Dean threw his hands up and sighed.
“It IS good! We ARE happy! We don’t really have problems. I honestly don’t know what to tell you.”
“Ok, let's try this. If Cas was here, if he was sitting in this chair, what might he tell me about how things are going?”
A moment of pause
“I think he might say that I am unpredictable. I think he might say that I am anxious and overprotective one moment, and distant and pushing him away the next. I think he would tell you that I am touchy and hard to communicate with.”
“Why do you think he’d say that you’ve been like that?”
“Because he’s a smart guy and he can see the obvious.”
“Ok. Why do you think you are being like that?”
“How the fuck would I know that? You’re the one with the degree. I’ve never known why the fuck I do what I do. I’m no good at this feelings crap. Hand me a shotgun and point me at a ghost and I’ve got your back, hand me a wrench and point me at an engine and I’ll set her right in no time, but I’ve never gone in for all this touchy feely stuff.”
“Do you think he’s going to cheat on you? Are you unhappy? Do you regret declaring your love? Do you think he regrets it?”
“No, I don’t think he’s going to cheat on me. No, I’m not unhappy. I told you, I’m very happy. No I don’t regret declaring my love. I don’t think he regrets declaring his love either, but it did get him ripped away to the empty for a while, and he did think he was going to be gone forever, so if he did regret it I wouldn’t exactly hold it against him. But no. I don’t worry about our relationship. I know we’re both in it for the long haul.”
“Well, have you had these behaviors in the past? What was going on between you two when you’ve acted like this before.”
Dean was quiet for a moment, Garth waited and sipped his tea.
“I don’t think I have ever felt this way before. It’s not the relationship thing. We weren’t exactly domestic before, but it’s not like the love is new. We both knew how we felt individually. It just never seemed like the time to try to make something of it.”
“So now you have time.”
“Now we have all the time! We have a whole human life, and with Jack’s redesign, we have eternity after that. We love each other, and we have something other couple’s don’t have, an inside line on Heaven.”
“So for the first time in your entire life you have reason to believe that ultimately, it’s going to be ok. Excuse me for assuming your feelings, but that must be really weird.”
Dean let out a breath he hadn’t been thinking about holding.
“It’s really fuckin weird. I’m grateful, I’m glad. But I have no fuckin idea what to do with myself. People really go around feeling like things are going to be ok, and then believe that’s true? How do people, regular people, exist just believing they’ll live to be 80? I didn’t think I’d see 20, and then 30, and then 40, and now I’m looking at a near guarantee for decades? It just… feels wrong man. It feels… unnatural.”
“To you, it is unnatural. The only uncharted territory you have left is safety. Let’s take just a minute, I’ll keep it short, I promise, to talk about that last time Cas died. When the empty took him. Try, as best you can, to remember how it felt to be in that room when you saw the empty surround him, and in that moment that you realized Cas was gone.”
Dean visibly swallowed and his crossed arms almost hugged himself. He took a deep, somewhat shaky breath.
“Ok, Dean, that’s good enough. Lets talk about what your body is doing right now. I’m going to make some guesses. I’m going to guess that your mouth has gone dry. I’m going to guess that your limbs feel shaky, and your heart rate has gone up. Maybe your hands are a little tingly, maybe your feet are a little tingly. Maybe your stomach dropped a little. Am I getting close?”
Dean looked at him warily. “I would say you aren’t too far off.”
“That’s your fight or flight right there. Your digestion slows down, your heart speeds up. Your blood flows out to your limbs to prep your muscles. Your vision may narrow, your memory can be too fuzzy, or too clear. You might have trouble listening to what people are saying to you. It’s a biological response to your environment that is designed to run for short periods in times of danger. And I would bet it feels very very familiar to you.”
“I might be familiar with the feeling.”
“That instinct has kept you alive. It has served you well for your entire life, and I, for one, am grateful for that. I am so glad that those instincts were there for you when you needed them, and that they could hold you together when some nasty thing was trying to tear you apart. That state has saved your life many many times.
“The kick in the balls though, is now those same reactions that have saved your life for your entire life are holding you back. All the skills, all the instincts that you have spent your whole existence honing and perfecting are now in your way. You are an expert in surviving danger, which we know because here you are. But you have zero experience in shutting that part of you off and just trusting life to be comfortable.
Again, this is me being presumptuous, but you have a very real problem that is also a good problem to have. You have to learn to be safe and happy, and you are way way out of your depth here. The restlessness, and the stress, and the anxiety you are feeling makes total sense. It sucks, it’s uncomfortable, but it does make a good kind of sense. It does mean though that you need to learn a new set of skills for approaching life now, and that’s no small task. Luckily, as we already know, you are a stubborn sonofabitch and a survivor.”
Dean stared out the window at the sunny backyard for a minute.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“Dean really, let me share my tea with you. A little mint tea will go a long way to taking the edge off. I won’t hear an objection from you!”
Garth turned around in his chair and rummaged among the mess on the desk and pulled out an empty mug. He inspected it briefly, picked up his own mug, held it above the new empty mug and tried to pour some of his tea into the new mug. Nothing came out of his mug.
“Huh, I’m out of tea. I guess I can’t help you out if I don’t make myself more tea first.”
Garth sat and stared at Dean, a mischievous grin fully on his face. Dean glared at him.
“Garth, I need you to tell me, did you put that other mug on your desk before I got here so you could make this dumbass point with props?”
Garth laughed. “Dean, I love you like a brother, but you are not half as stoic as you think you are. You weren’t exactly difficult to read even before I got my fancy degree.”
“Dean, you spent the majority of your life looking out for the people you care about and saving as many people as you could. You still won’t fully let go of hunting because you know you can save people still. Now you have a civilian job, and what do you do? You save cars! Hell, you’re in this domestic bliss situation because you saved your boyfriend from death. Again.
“You’ve got one foot in the monster world, and one foot in the civilian world, and that’s a hell of a place to be. No social security number, but a W2, no white picket fence” Garth gestured out his window at his own fence in the background “but a partner you come home to every day. You have a reliable job and a trunk full of rock salt.”
“You are going to have trouble sometimes turning the fight or flight on or off as the situation requires, and that’s ok. That’s a skill that’s gonna take time to learn. But before you can learn that balance you have to learn how to turn it off at all, which you have never ever had a chance to do before.”
“And if you think that sounds bad I have worse news for you. You are probably going to need help doing it. I know those are the hardest words for any hunter to hear. You are going to need to talk to other hunters trying to find that balance in their lives. Compare notes, see what feels right to you. Remind each other you aren’t alone, and you aren’t the only ones. Every hunter I’ve met with so far has one theme running through their stories, they all think they’re the only ones having the thoughts and feelings and struggles that they are having, and they are all telling me the same damn things.They all think they’ve gotta do it all alone, and they’re all so tired of feeling so darn lonely.”
I’m clearing you to hunt Dean, you are doing just fine. Sure you have trauma, but heck, which of us doesn’t. But I am giving you homework. I’m telling you to find a little ritual that grounds you in your home. Some thing that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and cozy. Something that you can do when you have trouble shaking the paranoia and just want to chill out and be there with your family.”
Garth slid a desk drawer open and pulled a tea bag out and flipped it to Dean, who caught it.
“I’m not talking out of my rear here Dean. I’ve been there. And you can call me any time, as a friend, or for an appointment. I know it’s hard. But you will find a way. When things are at their toughest you always find a way. Especially where Cas is involved. Now, if you could do me a big favor and pop into the kitchen on your way out and grab you a loaf of zucchini bread. I thought I would like gardening, but I don’t know what I thought I was going to do with the Zucchinis once I grew em. Obviously no one in my house was going to be eating zucchini. We’ve got a real glut right now and I am running out of people to give em to. I’d consider it a real personal favor.”