Title: From Yesterday, Epilogue
Characters: Dean, Sam, and OCs
Disclaimer/Summary: See Part 1: Prologue
One thing I've never been able to reconcile is how easily my brother can decide that someone else's life is more valuable than his. Some might call his behavior suicidal. But it isn't. Dean has no desire to die; he never has. He's been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.
He doesn't enjoy pain; outside of hunting, he does everything in his power to keep himself and those he loves as pain-free as possible. His entire house was both child and demon-proofed within hours of his moving in…and his child was four years old at the time.
He simply cannot fathom a reality where someone else would – or should – sacrifice for his sake. Even his own brother. No, scratch that. Especially his own brother. When it comes to hunting, Dean is a genius…without a stitch of self-preservation.
I spent most of my adolescence resisting the truth of our lives. I ignored my father's teachings when it came to lore, I phoned in my combat training most days, and I put the majority of my energy into rebelling against anything that had to do with hunting. Once I learned the truth, I both resented my family for keeping it from me and resisted the fact that monsters were a reality. It's one of the reasons it was important to tell my children the truth from the start.
Knowledge, I've learned the hard way, means preparedness. And you can't survive by luck alone for very long. You have to be prepared.
Even for the boogieman.
A púca is basically an Irish boogieman. Lore will tell you it can be malevolent or benevolent in nature. It's a shape-shifter and can be a horse, goat or rabbit. Dean had a field day when he read that "Harvey," as in the Jimmy Stewart movie, was actually a púca. I mocked it as a true monster and suggested we send Brenna after it; it was her culture after all.
But when the first child died, all humor evacuated. Tommy McMahon had alerted us to the situation. He was somewhere in Canada at the time, and had gotten a call from another hunter who'd been on his way to Texas, then called us, apparently deciding Kansas was close to Massachusetts.
Dean downloaded an Atlas app on the guy's phone the very next time we saw him.
Thinking that it had been a bit since we'd hunted anything beyond the ghosts that continue to haunt Lawrence, and that it would offer us the opportunity to visit Virge, Dean and I loaded up the Impala and headed out on the road.
It was fall, 2017. My son, John, was four and Thea had just recently turned one. Aislinn was ten going on thirty and our confidence was fueled by our comfort in the knowledge that we'd managed to keep everyone safe and ourselves out of danger for six years.
The light Dean had projected from inside himself that summer night in 2011 seemed to have sent the demons scurrying back to their holes and we were arrogantly certain that if we could defeat an army of demons, an Irish boogieman was going to be cake.
We were soon reminded that there are, in fact, creatures worse than demons in the world.
Sam paused, sitting back with a deep breath and rubbed at his face. Castiel could see the scar on the back of his left hand where the sword had stabbed through. Miraculously, Sam hadn't lost complete use of that hand, though he couldn't grip anything or curl it into a fist. He was able to move his fingers just enough and had taught himself a new way to type, but Castiel knew it still pained him at times.
If he still had a vessel, he would have frowned as Sam rubbed at his hand, his eyes on the window, but clearly not seeing anything beyond the glass. Castiel remembered that hunt Sam was writing about. He'd been there as ever, observing, witnessing, but this time…he'd interfered.
It seemed that whoever now controlled Heaven and ruled the angels had either forgotten about him, or had decided he was exactly where he needed to be. Castiel thought for sure he'd eventually become the Winchester's official guardian once more, though nothing was said to him and no angel sought him out to tell him so. When he'd stepped in at the abandoned building to aid in the defeat of Crowley, and then once more with the púca, and received no reprimand or reassignment, he decided to stay right where he was, assignment or not.
Sam stretched his neck to look through the window and check on his kids. John had climbed the tree and was sitting, slouched, on one of the larger branches close to Sam's open window. He was reading something, but it was too far away for Sam to see the title. Thea was down in the yard, playing dolls inside the miniature fort her Uncle Dean had built for her. Sam could remember Aislinn playing in that fort with Thea several years ago. It seemed impossible that his niece was now old enough to drive.
The púca, when we finally saw it, looked like something out of Tolkien – a demonic horse worthy of the Nazgul. Its shape-shifting capabilities had made it impossible to find for several days, slipping from our grasp and disappearing, escaping from two different traps we set and earning it the nickname of 'McGuyver' by Dean due to the fact that it didn't simply disappear to get away. It literally found ways to deactivate the traps or slip its bonds.
It had terrorized a small community outside of Boston, summoned, as it turned out, by a kid with no real knowledge of what he was doing. Dean, for all his awareness of lore, was at the time still against my telling John and Thea the truth about the world.
I think that he was seeing himself at four, when we lost Mom, and not wanting his nephew to lose his childhood as Dean had. However, encountering a teenager playing Dungeons and Dragons who'd accidently summoned a púca because he'd somehow managed to mix the right sigils with the right incantation turned Dean's head around and he was the one to show John how to load rock salt into shotgun shells when the kid turned eight.
Once we finally located the thing, we managed to corner it in an ancient graveyard where it had dragged its fourth victim. Finding a boogieman is a lot easier than getting rid of one. Consecrated iron would burn it, salt would weaken it, but the only thing that would actually kill it was a stake made from a rowan tree delivered to its weakest point, what would be a jugular on a human.
The wood from rowan trees is said to be the strongest in the world, and druids have used it for centuries to both protect against and ward off evil. It was logical, then, that it would be the one thing that could be used to banish an Irish boogieman…the only problem was that rowan trees weren't exactly something that grew readily in the United States.
And that was where having a druid in the family paid off. Brenna grew up in a rural community outside of Boston. It was where we'd first met her, and where her parents and her Grandda were buried. Two phone calls connected us to Virge who paid a visit to the cemetery where Declan Kavanagh was buried. Brenna had constructed a Celtic cross out of rowan wood for Declan's grave.
"He owes you," she'd said. "He let Dean face that banshee alone, and then left the two of you in that mill with it, knowing you were hurt."
"Well, that and he summoned a damn wraith," Dean had reminded her.
Not one to ever back down to my brother, Brenna had replied with a clipped, "You're getting the cross, okay? Debt's paid."
As it turned out, having Virge near when we fought the púca saved our lives. Well, Dean's life. Which, in turn, saved mine. I cornered it as planned, blasting through its strange half-body with rock salt, but even weakened it was a monster. It charged and slammed into me, sending me spinning, winded. The plan had been for me to keep it cornered so that Dean could get close enough to spear it with the stake we'd fashioned from the base of the rowan cross.
But once I was down, the púca honed in on my weakness and it came at me. To this day, I don't know if it was luck or the fact that Dean had given me the iron bar, rather than keep it for himself, that kept the creature from trampling me. It was as if it were held back, unable to quite reach me, no matter how hard it tried.
Castiel smiled, satisfied that he'd been noticed – as much as he wanted to be noticed, that is. Having either brother know he was around, observing them, watching over them, would change the way they behaved and he would no longer be able to see their story as it unfolded. This unobstructed view was much like how he'd begun his interaction with the Winchesters, only now…he cared what happened to them.
He was invested and that investment anchored him to their reality.
I swung at the creature's legs, its screams as the iron connected with what passed for flesh were enough to wake the dead. Being as we were in a cemetery, that was actually a very real fear of mine at the time.
It sounded like a banshee's scream, ear-splitting and heart-crushing. I could barely breathe from the impact and I was not able to do more than keep the thing from stomping me. I'd blown our plan and was left trying to simply keep it occupied so that Dean could get close enough before it stomped me to death.
And then I heard my brother's voice.
There's something powerful about the sound of the human voice. Especially in our line of work where unearthly screams are actually the norm. The emotion that is caught in that sound cuts through the chaos and drives you forward, reminding you that you're not alone in the madness. Someone sees you, someone knows you, someone is watching out for you. Even when you can't see them, they're there.
My brother has a powerful voice. Even when it's weak, even when he's weak, his voice is powerful. It demands attention and insists on action. It compels you to listen and believe even when everything inside of you is screaming denial and rebellion. Dean's voice draws up his conviction and lays it before you with such raw honesty you have no other choice but to trust him. Trust him that you're going to live. You're going to be okay. He's going to get you out of this.
Sometimes all of that is in how he says my name. That night, I heard him bellow, "SAM!" and suddenly I could breathe again. I knew he was going to take this bastard out and it wouldn't kill any more innocent people and it wouldn't take me away from my children.
Sam sat back, taking a quick breath. Castiel was mesmerized. Seeing through Sam's eyes was fascinating to him. Sam seemed so very basic, in a way. The logic that ruled his life made it rather simple for Castiel to align to the human choices with a clear reason behind Sam's actions.
Sam was steadfast and steady, enticing trust with simply a look. In contrast, Dean was chaos and complexity. A thunderstorm bottled up in a diamond-hard gentleness.
But when Castiel watched Sam write about their lives, their adventures, their survival, their brotherhood, he saw something within Sam that wasn't evident on the surface. He saw the layers that made Stella love him enough to cope with the life of a hunter. He saw the worth that made Dean willing to sacrifice his life time and again. And he saw the promise that the universe recognized the moment Sam had been born.
It's always hard to write about my brother being harmed by our life, and yet so much of our collective story is stained by Dean's blood. My wife will attest to the fact that I don't always emerge unscathed, but it's because of my brother that I emerge at all. Dean always seems to bear the brunt of the pain – a direct result of continuously throwing himself in front of the bullet.
This hunt was no different.
I heard my brother shout my name and I took one last swing, backing the púca off enough that I could move out of danger…just as Dean slid in, feet first, like a runner stealing base. He had the stake in his grip and a light in his eyes I hadn't seen since before the amulet nearly burned him up. The púca – no doubt sensing its demise was near – reared up and came down, both legs slamming into Dean so hard I thought his scream would tear me in half.
Dean was in a rage, swearing a blue-streak, but before I could climb to my feet, he'd buried the stake in the púca's neck so deep his hand nearly disappeared into the sucking, swirling smoke that the creature began to dissolve into. With the sound the water disappearing down a drain, the púca folded in on itself and within seconds was gone.
The world around us was silent. I sat trying to slow my racing heart and catch my breath, staring into the darkness where the púca had been moments before, my brain delayed in processing the scene I had just witnessed. And then I heard his voice once more.
"Think I'm…gonna need a little…help here."
Casual, like he was asking me to take a bag of groceries from his hands. I don't remember actually moving over to where Dean was; I only remember finding him, his left leg broken in two places, the bone protruding from his jeans. I didn't dare move him; I tried to stem the bleeding without causing Dean too much pain, but it was impossible with what I had with me.
Virge was still nearby and arrived in minutes of my call. Dean remained conscious long enough for Virge to arrive – and though he denies it, I know it was so that I wouldn't be afraid. I was thirty-four at the time and my big brother was still looking out for me.
Being so far out, away from the city and easy access to help, and alone in the middle of a cemetery with my wounded brother, all I could think about was Stull. Dean hadn't been conscious that night when I called for help. But he still seemed to know how those memories slipped back in, making me shiver, making my head swim. His voice was tight, his breath stilted as he tried to bare down on the pain, but he talked to me, his voice a constant reassurance that we'd made it.
Once more, the light had won.
Though Virge was able to brace his leg, the pain overwhelmed Dean and the moment we lifted him to the back of Virge's truck, he passed out. I sat in the back of the truck, holding my brother's lax hand and reminding us both – though I knew Dean couldn't hear me – that we'd made choices so that we wouldn't be in this situation again. We needed to keep to those choices. We had people in our lives now who were more important than any hunt.
They set his leg, but he couldn't travel for a bit. Brenna and Aislinn drove out to be with him. If there ever a doubt that Brenna was my brother's perfect match, it was dispelled when she immediately turned the situation into an adventure for her daughter, building up the idea of a road trip so big that by the time Dean was healed enough to return home, Aislinn had plotted sight-seeing stops along the way that would be accessible by crutches.
When Dean told me about their return trip – just the three of them, Brenna driving the entire time – his face held a softness I wasn't used to seeing. I actually…can't remember having ever seen it prior to that moment. I've seen my brother through all gamut of emotions, from happy to mischievous to resigned to infuriated to betrayed…but the peace I saw that day stayed with me.
Dean had walked with a limp ever since that hunt, Castiel knew. It wasn't extremely noticeable unless he was fatigued, but it was there. And it gave both brothers one more reason to be selective about the hunts they accepted. Dean began to help in other ways.
He worked with Mason to supply hunters with weapons and spells that Sam's database noted would take out various creatures, and he offered hunters a safe place to stay if they were between jobs. While everyone from Virgil to Jackson had said Dean would be an excellent counselor for soldiers or police who'd been through a traumatic event, Castiel knew that Dean had never really healed enough himself to feel able to counsel others on how to heal.
He was content to be working on cars at Mason's garage, living one street down from his brother's family, around to experience his daughter growing up, and loving his wife.
Castiel followed Sam a bit longer, until he left his house and headed over to Dean's. He knew the chapter Sam had just finished lingered in his memory, coloring the way he'd embraced his wife and smiled at his children as he left.
Castiel felt the change come over Sam as it always did when he entered his brother's house. His perception shifted, adjusting from leader to follower with a breath and an accepting smile.
"Hey," Sam called out, following the sound of a radio and clink of cutlery.
"In the kitchen," Castiel heard Brenna call out.
This house was always filled with music. All kinds of music. Castiel enjoyed that quite a lot; it made him feel at home.
Like the shadow he was, Castiel tracked Sam through the living room, past the comfortable sofa and chair with books of all genre stacked about, into the kitchen where Brenna was unloading the dishwasher. Two dogs ran up from the back yard to the screened door, both staring, disconcertingly, at Castiel.
"Can I let them in?" Sam asked.
"Only if you let that one back out again," Brenna told him, nodding to the younger, yellow Lab. "He's a terror."
Sam pushed the screen open and the older dog headed to its bed in the corner while Tuck, the younger, bounded up and attempted to knock Sam over with enthusiasm. The dog continued to look at Castiel, however.
"Whatcha see, huh?" Sam asked, as he always did. Rubbing the pup's ears he laughed. "You're always looking for something. You checkin' for ghosts?"
"Maybe it's your guardian angel," Brenna said, turning around to lean backwards against the sink and regard the two on the floor with a wry grin.
Castiel looked at her curiously. He suspected, at times, that her daughter sensed when he was near. Sometimes Aislinn would pause, as if she thought she'd heard something, then shake herself and move on, but each time she did so, Castiel had stretched his wings. He'd often wondered if her mother held the same level of perception.
"I doubt it." Sam laughed as the pup licked his face. "We lost him a long time ago."
"Maybe you only think you did," Brenna countered. "You've made it this far, haven't you?"
Sam clamored to his feet. "Thanks to good women and clean livin'."
"Now you sound like your brother," Brenna smirked, reaching for the fridge to pull out some containers with leftover food stored inside. "Don't suppose you're staying for dinner?"
"Depends," Sam hedged. "How'd the driving lesson go?"
Brenna set the containers on the counter and reached in the fridge again for two beers. Dean still preferred to drink from a glass bottle, despite the recycled containers that were currently popular. Brenna always had some of his favorite on hand for days like today.
"It was the best part of his day," she replied with a genuine smile, handing him the two beers.
"Who was here?" Sam said, dispensing with why he'd known the hunter staying in the back room of the garage had been the reason Dean had been enough off his young niece had noticed.
Brenna may be able to see the truth inside of Dean with her druid sight, but Sam knew his brother better than anyone.
"Older guy. Joe Hill?"
Sam shook his head. "Never heard of him. Did Dean know him?"
"No," Brenna frowned slightly. "But he insinuated he knew your dad. I guess some things about him didn't add up and Dean kicked him out. It happens."
Sam nodded, but Castiel could sense his tension. It had happened, but he did not recall a time that had prompted Dean to dig out their dad's journal.
Aislinn's sunny voice greeted from the yard as she stepped inside, shooing Tuck out behind her. Castiel had noticed the fact that Aislinn never used the moniker of 'uncle' when she addressed Sam as his children did to Dean. He wondered if it was because she knew the people around her on a layer deeper than most people were able to assess.
"Hey," Sam greeted with a grin. "So, how'd the driving go?"
"Fantastic," Aislinn grinned. "Dad was proud."
"Yeah?" Sam lifted his chin.
"The minute we hit K-10, he turned on the radio and stuck one of those old music tapes in," Aislinn said, her grin big enough to include her mother. "Once we got out of the driveway, he didn't even give me any more pointers."
"You're a natural," Brenna said, gently brushing a strand of hair off Aislinn's forehead. "You come by it honest."
Aislinn moved to slouch against the counter next to her mother. At sixteen, she was nearly the same height as Brenna, her slim, willowy frame a match to Brenna's as well. Her blonde hair had darkened over the years, and she was every inch her father's daughter. Her eyes, her smile, even the freckles across her nose marked her as Dean's.
"He out in the garage?" Sam asked.
Aislinn nodded. "It's good you're here," she said. "That hunter kinda…sent him a little sideways."
Sam frowned. "He bother you two?"
Aislinn arched her brow and glanced at her mother. "You really think Mama would let anyone bother us?"
Sam tipped his head. "Point taken." He glanced over his shoulder. "I'll go out and see what's up," he looked back at Brenna, "unless…you want to…?"
Brenna shook her head, a smirk playing around her lips. "You go. I'll untangle him tonight."
"Ack, Mom!" Aislinn rolled her eyes and pushed away from the counter.
"What?" Brenna looked at her daughter. "You're old enough to know what goes on behind closed doors."
Sam swallowed a grin as Aislinn mock-shuddered, diving head-first into the refrigerator in search of a drink. "Yeah, but not with my parents."
Brenna turned back to the counter and began to spoon out leftovers onto a plate. "One day you'll find a man like your dad, and you'll be ready to untangle him, too."
Aislinn simply shook her head, grabbed a can of pop, and closed the fridge. "I'm just going to pretend this conversation stopped with point taken."
Sam chuckled while Castiel stared at the two women curiously. He never had been able to figure them out. Half the time, they acted as if they were communicating telepathically, and the other half they each alternated between amused and exasperated. Dean simply accepted it, seeming to instinctively know when to step aside and let the women come to their own understanding, and when to step in with a word or a hug.
"I'll keep dinner warm," Brenna told Sam. "Just in case."
"Thanks," Sam smiled and opened the screen door to walk toward the garage. Jude, Dean's older dog, hopped up to follow as if he knew where Sam was heading.
Castiel heard music back there as well, though it was slightly tinny and a bit muffled. He could soon tell that it was coming from the speakers of the Impala, the old car sitting like a warrior in flight with its doors open, allowing the sound to escape. Castiel saw Dean almost as soon as Sam entered the garage.
Though in his mid-forties, Dean hid his age well. Lines collected at the sides of his eyes, exposing his penchant for laughter. The scars he'd accumulated at Stull had faded over the years to thin, white lines, but only seemed to add to his allure. A small scattering of gray hairs had collected at his temples, but one had to be quite close to see them.
Castiel watched his friend move stiffly from one workbench to the other, leaning heavily on his right leg and giving his weaker one a rest. A large knife and a whetstone were in his hand, and his lips were pressed out as he hummed along to whatever song pounded from the Impala's speakers. The grey T-shirt he wore pulled across the muscles of his back as he set the whetstone down. A smudge of grease tracked the side of his jeans and a shop towel was tucked into his back pocket.
"Haven't seen that knife in a while," Sam commented, bringing Dean's head up and around.
"Well, if it isn't Hemingway."
Sam handed his brother one of the beers, trading it for the knife in Dean's hand.
"Hemingway was a manic-depressive alcoholic," Sam said. "I'm more like…Stephen King."
Dean folded his lips down and nodded. "Yeah, you do write about some weird shit."
The dog headed over to Dean and sat next to him, looking up expectantly.
"Hey, Jude," Dean greeted, rubbing the dog's head with his damaged hand. Jude leaned against him a moment, then laid down near the workbench, his wise eyes tracking both brothers.
Dean sipped his beer while Sam turned the knife over in his hand. "When's the last time we even had this knife out of the Impala?"
"Twelve years ago," Dean answered automatically. "Crowley."
"Damn," Sam shook his head. He slid it back into the sheath Dean had set on the work bench, knowing Dean would have to set his beer down to grasp the knife once more. "Why now?"
Dean took another drink of beer, and paused, his eyes somewhere far away. Sam waited him out, having learned long ago that rushing an answer from Dean would only get him deflection or sarcasm. He waited a while. Until Dean had finished his beer and tossed the bottle into a bin of other glass for recycling – something his daughter insisted on.
"Sammy," Dean said finally. "You ever wonder how we made it this long?"
"I try not to think about it too much," Sam confessed. "I'm just…y'know. Glad we're here."
Dean shifted on his good leg, moving to the large opened bay door to lean a shoulder against the doorframe. Castiel watched him stare out across the top of the Impala, past the edge of the gravel drive, his eyes landing somewhere along the tree line that edged the Kansas River. It was the type of evening Castiel would always associate with breathing: humans seemed to instinctively stop, look up and around, and realize – if only for a moment – the wonder of their world.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm dreamin'," Dean said softly, not looking at his brother, his right hand held in his left, eyes unfocused and his gaze turned inward. "Not those bad dreams, either. I mean the kind I'm not supposed to have. I look at those two girls and I…," he shook his head and looked down. "I can't believe they're mine." He glanced over his shoulder at Sam. "You know?"
Sam simply nodded, his eyes full, body completely still.
"It's like we've been living on borrowed time. Like all of this is going to just…vanish."
"Aislinn said the driving lesson went well," Sam said, testing the waters.
Dean's grin was immediate. "That kid sure is a wonder." He glanced sideways at Sam. "She loves that car almost as much as I do."
"How 'bout that," Sam grinned back.
"Can't imagine where'd I'd be without her, y'know?" Dean looked out across the evening once more. "Either of them. Used to be just us. Just you and me, and that was okay. That was enough. But with them, I guess," he looked down at the ground, toeing the gravel, "I realized life could be pretty damn good. And I don't want to lose it."
"Why'd you get the knife out, Dean?" Sam asked softly.
Dean took a breath, still looking down at the gravel at his feet. "Had a hunter staying here. Name of Joe Hill. Didn't know him, but Rufus vouched, so…." He shrugged, cleared his throat, then turned to look at Sam. "Said he knew Dad. Knew when we found the Colt."
Sam lifted his chin. They rarely talked about their father these days.
"He knew where Dad had looked for the damn thing and was talking about needing it again," Dean continued. He headed toward where Sam was leaning against the workbench. "I looked it up in Dad's—hey, where'd it go?"
Sam drew the journal out from where he'd tucked it into his back waistband and held it out to Dean. At his brother's curious glance, he explained, "Thea saw it when she was here earlier. Thought it would help me with my stories."
"She read any of it?" Dean asked, frowning. Castiel understood his friend's concern: it was one thing for the brothers to inform their children of the truth; it was quite another for them to read it in their grandfather's history.
Sam shook his head. "Mainly just saw the pictures. Couldn't read Dad's handwriting."
"You think about him?" Dean asked, thumbing through the journal.
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "Occasionally. Mainly when I'm arguing with John. Kinda think Dad would see it as payback."
The side of Dean's mouth ticked up in a quick grin. "He wouldn't know what to make of Aislinn."
"Well," Sam huffed out a quick, amused laugh. "He thought her mother was a witch, so…."
"Sam," Dean said, his tone changing enough that Castiel took notice. He watched as Dean set the journal down, opened to one of the back pages, and pointed at an entry. An entry about demons. "Hill says they're back."
Sam frowned, confused. "What, demons?"
"Says he's heard reports of activity," Dean told him. "Sulfur, possessions, that sort of thing."
"Any idea…who?" Sam asked, looking down at the journal.
Dean shook his head. "He was acting…excited about it. Like he couldn't wait to have something decent to hunt. Old Marine looking to go to Hell and regroup, y'know?"
Castiel now understood what Aislinn said about the hunter sending Dean sideways. Dean had nearly died working to eradicate as many demons as possible. If they were back, the concept of someone being pleased about that would have twisted an invisible knife deep inside.
"We don't know it's true," Sam pointed out.
"We don't know it's not, either."
The brothers watched each other for a moment. Castiel felt time seem to slow as he rotated around the two, regarding each face, each expression. He saw the decision settle in Dean's eyes and the resignation in Sam's. He saw the memories of their time before and their knowledge of their time now.
He saw the secret fear blossom inside each that an enemy from yesterday would arise and destroy the today they'd worked so hard to build.
And as Dean drew in a breath, preparing to say the words Castiel knew Sam was bracing himself to hear, the words that would once more seal his fate and, as a direct result, the fate of his brother, Castiel interfered once more.
He literally paused time.
He stepped between the brothers and took several moments to stare directly at each of them, memorizing the lines on their faces, the scars they bore from the battles they'd selflessly fought, the constellation of freckles, the sweep of brows, the color of their eyes. He imprinted everything about them, his consciousness sluicing backward through time as he recalled every moment of joy, every burst of pain, every heartbreak and loss, every accomplishment and moment of appreciation.
He slipped back to the night their father gave his life for them. The night they lost their mother. The night each was conceived. They night their parents met. He saw the beginning of the plan for the two brothers who would be destined to host angels and defeat demons. He saw the design of the righteous man and of the carrier of a fallen angel.
Castiel saw it all, remembered it all, and he chose.
Demons may be walking among them again. And this time, it was not going to be the job of humanity to stop them from exacting a reign of terror over mankind. It was not going to fall to a man who had given more than his share of blood to eradicate evil. There was a debt to be paid; the angels owed these brothers. Castiel was an angel, and he had work to do.
No longer was he simply an observer, a passive guardian. He had been a Warrior of the Lord. He had stormed Hell's gates to lift Dean Winchester from the clutches of Azazel so that he could fulfill his destiny to save his brother and with him, the world. Castiel was done being a shadow, a whisper, a watcher. Wings stretching to their full span for the first time in years, Castiel smiled.
And time began once more.
Dean flinched, looking around him in confusion. "Sorry, man."
"For what?" replied Sam, equally as baffled.
"Think I, uh…," Dean was looking down, puzzled, at Jude, "checked out on you for a minute there. Haven't done that in a while."
The dog was standing, hair raised on his back, staring past Dean toward the corner the garage.
"If you did, I did, too." Sam was moving away from the bench, looking out toward the house. "And…I thought I heard something."
Dean nodded, stepping forward. "Yeah, me too. I, uh...I think I heard it before."
Sam shot him a questioning look.
"A long-ass time ago," Dean was looking at the ground, his eyes darting in thought and memory. "It was…that alley. In Detroit."
"When you were with Cas?" Sam asked, having written the scene for his book exactly as Dean recounted it.
Dean nodded. "I know it sounds crazy, but…it sounded like…wings."
"Wings," Sam repeated quietly. "You think…?"
Dean looked around, hesitating, then called out, "Cas?"
Nothing happened. No one replied. But it wasn't because no one heard.
Dean looked back at his brother. "Weird."
They shuffled around a few more moments, as if waiting to see if someone might simply materialize before them. Then, apparently excepting that whatever it had been had passed, Dean reached out for their father's journal and closed it, running his fingers along the smooth leather front.
"One guy, Dean," Sam said. "One guy doesn't mean they're back."
"Yeah, maybe," Dean replied softly.
"It's only been twelve years," Sam continued. "What you did…it's going to take them centuries to come back together after that."
Dean swallowed, nodding, but there was a familiar tension in his shoulders that betrayed his worry and doubt.
"You gonna be okay?" Sam asked, tilting his head inquiringly, his eyes soft.
Dean gave him a grin, one that both hid everything and exposed everything, depending on who was looking at the time. "Yeah, I'm okay."
If there were demons in the world again, it wasn't something they were going to be able to fix in one night. Or, perhaps, at all. Maybe this time, it would fall to someone else's shoulders to handle. But Sam knew they'd have to find out, and Dean knew they'd have to be prepared. The only thing they knew for sure, standing in Dean's garage, looking out into the soft night, was that however they handled this potential new threat, they'd do it together.
Sam looked at the Impala, then raised his eyebrows in his brother's direction. "Wanna go for a drive?"
Dean glanced at him. "What?"
"C'mon," Sam cajoled. "You spend hours working on this thing and rarely ever drive it anymore."
"I'm keeping her in shape for Aislinn," Dean explained. "And, apparently," he lifted an eyebrow at his brother, "for Johnny. Or so I've been informed."
"She's always gonna be yours, Dean," Sam scoffed. "The kids will never appreciate her like we did."
Dean looked affectionately at the Impala. "She took good care of us, huh?"
"She's the first home I can remember," Sam nodded. "And I've lost track of the times she saved our asses."
Dean bounced his head. "Our guardian angel. Of metal."
"Sounds like a Metallica song," Sam chuckled.
That time, Dean's grin was infectious. "Driver picks the music—"
"Yeah, yeah," Sam laughed, already heading toward the car and sliding into the passenger seat. "My cakehole is shut."
Looking toward his house, Dean's expression turned grateful, and Sam looked over to see Brenna standing on the front porch, watching them with a knowing smile. Tossing her a wave, Dean climbed into the driver seat, adjusting his leg, and backed out of the driveway.
Acceleration shoved Sam back against the seat as they headed down the road.
"Listen to her purr," Dean practically hummed, his smile curling upward to meet his eyes, reflecting a pleasure unique to Dean when he was behind the wheel of his baby.
Sam laughed and shook his head, his arm hanging out through the opened window like a teenaged kid, the wind running its fingers through his hair as his brother tossed his head back and sang to the radio. They pulled out of sight of the house, taillights glowing and the setting sun glinting off of the black body, a stark contrast of light and dark.
As the car grew smaller in the distance, Castiel left his post as observer to become the guardian they needed, knowing that the Winchester brothers would not only survive this world, they would leave their mark on it.
a/n: Thank you so much for following this story to completion. I have so appreciated each and every one of your reviews, favorites, and follows. I will be PDFing this story and posting it with my others on MediaFire, making it available on my LiveJournal. Once that's done, I'll being to reply to your reviews; thank you so much for your patience!
This story really could have been finished with Sam's final line in the previous chapter, but I felt for a number of reasons I needed to bring the story full circle. Sam's memoir excerpts were always going to be explained, and I felt it was necessary to show that this experiment of a normal life…while still being hunters…could actually pay off.
Now that I've completed this story, I'm stepping away from the longer fanfics. I can never say I'll completely stop writing fanfic; I love these characters too much for that. So, you know. You'll see some one-shots out there once in a while from yours truly, when inspiration strikes. *smiles* But in the meantime, I'm going to be working on my 'original' story, Kill Creek Road, featuring my character Noah Kincaid, who I introduced in the SPN fanfic Night of the Hunter. Logic states that if I put as much effort into that as I have into fanfic, I may even finish it.
So, I'll look forward to hearing from you on the occasional one-shot and hope that if I'm successful in this endeavor, I'll see some of you over in that world as well. Until then, it's been a helluva ride. And I have loved every minute of it. Slainte!