When Sam was seventeen years old, in his senior year of high school, he played the stage manager in a production of Our Town.
Lung cancer had to be the grossest of the cancers. It had to be. Because on top of all the regular cancer stuff, there was that gross cough, and there was blood. Yeah, that bloody cough – both literally and as in the expletive. Everyone had gotten used to it, though. It was – well, it wasn’t whatever, but it didn’t get to everybody the way it once did.
Dean didn’t like coughing around Jack. Didn’t want to scare him. It was nice, but stupid. He’d hold the grossest of it back as best he could and then basically throw it all up. when Jack left the room. Sam would pat his back and hold him over the trash can, and they wouldn’t say anything about it, and then Dean would sigh and go back to…watching TV, usually, sometimes simultaneously texting somebody or playing some stupid game on his phone with Mom or Donna or somebody, or sometimes he’d hook up one of his multitude of gaming systems and take out his rage that way. It was good to have outlets when you were once one of the most capable, fearful, awe-inspiring beings on the planet – maybe in the universe – but now you have cancer and need help pissing.
“Aw, fuck you, man.”
“Don’t hate the player, hate the game!”
“That’s not the saying! It’s the other way around!”
“Shut up, you’re just pissed I knocked you all the way back to eighth. God bless blue shells.”
“I hate you.”
“You can’t hate me, fuck you.” Dean made a few gross hacking sounds. “Fuck. You.”
One of the perks, Sam supposed, about these late nights when his brother can’t sleep due to…shit, a number of things, mostly his meds acting against him, is that they’ve gotten a lot of quality time to sit back and play a shitload of video games. Mostly Mario Kart. Sometimes NBA 2K or MLB or Madden because who doesn’t love realistic sports simulations. The games are fun, Sam will gladly admit that, but for the most part, his favorite part is that between the competition and the stupid banter, it feels like he’s really getting time with his brother. Finally. Just his brother, without the baggage and the cancer.
Just his brother.
One of the worst parts about all this, though, isn’t even the fact that they all know an end is looming – and that’s pretty damn bad. It’s that Jack hasn’t let go of the hope that Dean will make it through this. Before the change, Jack had been fully aware of the ramifications of Dean’s plan. But not this Jack, even though he was now twelve years old and had a full grasp on the concept of mortality; he just didn’t have a grasp on Dean’s.
Every time one of them tried to explain it, though, they failed.
They just couldn’t tell him.
“Okay, let me look at it.”
Sam waited for Dean to hook on his glasses before handing over the legal pad. Dean kinda looked like Jed Bartlett in them, and before he got all yellow-ish and blue-lipped, before his eyes had become sunken and red, before his cheeks started to hollow out and he stopped shaving, they made him look pretty dignified. Not that he looked ugly or stupid in them now – it was just that his current and final aesthetic was Sick Person™. Dean grunted a thanks and licked his thumb so he could flip through the pages, breathing heavily as he read as though it took that much energy.
Dean slowly nodded. “Yeah, looks about right. I just…”
He bit his lip. “I just don’t know where to do it, ya know? Used to be I wanted spread where Mom and Dad were, but now…”
“Now Mom’s alive,” Sam finished. “And it’s different. What’s so wrong with here?”
“Nothing,” Dean shrugged. “It’s just that…” He looked flustered. “It’s not like – like I’ve got one place, ya know? I’ve been all over this goddamn country.”
“There’s that burger joint in Maryland,” Sam tried, and Dean scowled at him. “Right, right. Probably unsanitary, point taken. Um. Not Lawrence. Are you sure you even want them spread?”
“Not like you need a reminder of me. Not that particular one, at least. C’mon, what would you do with an urn?”
“Maybe put it in the bathroom. Ya know, the first place you’d want your dead loved one watching over you.”
They both laughed, Sam’s high-pitched chortle drowning out what was left of his brother’s. Then Sam lit up.
“Ooh – here’s an idea.”
Oh – oh Dean liked that.
Dean’s will had to be one of the strangest documents in the English language.
“This is really what he wants?” Cas asked incredulously, sighing in exasperation. God knows what had been going through his friend’s head when he’d written this – Cas hoped it was just the result of his over-medicated brain.
“’Fraid so,” Sam laughed.
“He really wants hunters and the townspeople to be able to mingle?” Cas shook his head. “He’s sure?”
“It’ll be fine,” Sam shrugged. At this point, he was ready to give his brother whatever he wanted. Cas stared tiredly across the library table at Sam, and he stared back, their exhausted expressions meeting quietly in the darkness, lit by the table lamp’s warm, sickly yellow glow.
“This funeral…is going to be insane,” Cas breathed.
“I know. It’s gonna be fucking awesome.”
They laughed about it. Because it was either that or cry.
“’…maybe Dallas would see that there was some good in the world after all, and Mom would talk to him and make him grin in spite of himself….’”
Dean always tried to stay awake while Jack read to him. Didn’t want to close his eyes, couldn’t let himself relax and slip away with the kid right there. He didn’t want to miss a second of him, either. Jack would lean up against the headboard whenever he came in, either to watch their shows or to read to him, show him what he was working on, and even if he was too tired to vocalize it, too embarrassed, Dean loved every second of it.
Because as Dean had cried once to Sam,
“I’m never gonna see him again. I’m never gonna see Jack again, the way he was before.” It was one of those gross Lifetime movie moments, where he and his brother sat in the dark quiet of his room while Dean was in one of his more philosophical moods, which usually hit him in the middle of the night along with horribly bloody coughing fits, and Sam sat beside him and actually held his fucking hand while he cried – sobbed, really. “I’m never gonna see ‘im again, Sammy. I’m never – “
“I know,” Sam said soothingly. “I know. I hate it, too.”
I hate it, too.
I hate it more than you know, Dean.
I hate it more than you can even begin to fathom.
And sometimes, I even hate you.
Cas prayed a lot these days, though he wasn’t quite sure to whom. He had a gut feeling that Dean was going, hopefully, to a good place. But he still wanted to be sure of things. He didn’t bother telling Dean about this, but one night, with Sam preoccupied with something Cas can’t remember now, he’d taken up the responsibility of helping Dean out of bed so he could get ready to just get back in bed, and Dean said,
“You’ve got me in your prayers. Right?”
“Right,” Cas agreed. “Always.”
Dean had gotten sick so gradually, and then so, so quickly.
One day, they were all in Florida, about three years ago now, finally on that fucking beach they’d been looking for all their lives.
The next, they were back in Kansas, in oncology, receiving a diagnosis they’d seen coming, hurtling at them from the other end of the universe.
All for the greater good.
It was all for the greater goddamn good, and Sam couldn’t help but go out that night and stand in front of the bunker and scream at the sky and ask just where the fuck his greater goddamn good was, and when the fuck it would get here.
It was three years of this cancer bullshit.
Three years of stage three lung cancer, and a thirty-six percent chance Dean would make it the full five-year life expectancy. Dean had actually brightened at that particular bit of news, remarked those odds ‘weren’t so bad’, and then went home and immediately found a case in Michigan. Sam had been baffled, to say the least, because – again - even though they’d seen this coming, now it was here, and it needed to be dealt with.
“No!” Sam had said. “Hell no. Dude, we’re not working.”
Dean stood there in front of his brother, dumbly holding his tablet in his hands, completely taken aback by the force of the statement. “Uh. Why not?”
“Because you’re sick, jackass!”
“I know that.”
“Okay, so…so that means we can’t go hunting!”
“And why not?”
Sam wanted to explode. Instead, he went on a low-level tirade about how now that he was officially sick, he had doctor’s appointments and treatment options and radiation and medicine to take, and Sam could hear that he was having trouble breathing, he could hear it a mile away, and that cough of his would alert any supernatural being to their presence, and goddammit, Billie’s book didn’t say you died on a hunting trip while you had lung cancer, it said you died of lung cancer, and last time I checked, how the fuck else are we supposed to kill both you and Michael?
“We’re buying you time with this,” Sam said shakily. “Time. This is going to kill you, Dean, and nothing else. I’m just trying to keep you for as long as I can.”
“But it’s my fucking time,” Dean spat. “I can do what I want with it.”
“You sure can. Just find something else.”
Something else? What else was Dean good at that he also liked? What were things he could do while he was dying?
“Bowling. Cooking. Fishing,” Sam supplied, trying to be gentle now. “Those are real hobbies. Those are things you’re good at. Spend time with Jack. Spend time with us. There are others out there, Dean. We’ll put them on it.” Sam had to work to keep eye contact with his brother. “Focus on you. You’re sick, it’s okay to do that.”
Dean never fully believed him, but he tried. He did everything Sam said to do because the last thing he wanted to do in this final stretch was let his snot-nosed kid brother down.
But shit, if you’ve been reading along, you probably saw all that coming.
One thing you might not have seen was that in that final year, one of the rotating oncology nurses told Sam about a support group for people with ailing family members, family members that were going to die really any day now. She suggested it in a very kind and matronly way, very casually, very ya know….and Sam surprised himself by actually going. They met in the basement of the church, and usually there was coffee and sometimes donuts, and Sam couldn’t deny himself a Krispy Kreme. He went on occasion, and met some nice people in the community who knew him as Sam Campbell, brother to a terminal case of lung cancer who on the very first day delivered this monologue to introduce himself to the group:
“Okay, this is probably gonna be a little non-PC, but – I love my brother. You guys know Dean. Everybody knows Dean, he’s like…he can be the nicest jerk on the planet. But he’s fucking retarded. He…he is maybe the stupidest sonuvabitch alive and there are days where I can’t fucking stand to look at him. Because there’s a part of me that thinks – he did this to himself. So. He’s a dumbass. But there’s another part of me that won’t go away, the part where I’m like…looking for anyone else but my brother to blame because god, he may be a piece of work but he doesn’t deserve this, after all the good he’s put out there, and this is his reward? I call BS. B-fuckin’-S.”
Sam got a lot of understanding nods and a couple ‘amens’ and shit like that, and Sam decided that this should be a regular thing because if he couldn’t vent to his brother because his brother was the problem, then where else was he supposed to go? These people were nice enough. They’d do.
Well. His brother wasn’t exactly the problem. It was what was happening to him. What he had allowed to happen for, ya know, the greater…ugh. What-the-fuck-ever. Sam didn’t give a shit anymore.
Actually – wait.
He totally did.
Because three days before Dean died, he closed his eyes, and that would be the last time that –
An urgent whisper in the dark as someone shook Sam’s shoulder, trying to wake him up. Sam slowly came to, groggy and feeling his age as he creaked trying to sit himself up, squinting at his bedside clock to see that it was actually eight in the morning, not the middle of the night, and that was a testament to how little sleep Sam had been getting recently (recently being the last ten years or so). Sam had stayed up until Dean had gone to sleep, so probably sometime around two, because the poor guy had just been…yeah. Jesus. Nasty, bloody, phlegmy, breathless, scary. All of that. Sam blinked a few times and saw Jack.
“What’s wrong, Jack?” God, it was too early to even speak.
Jack bit his lip. “Dean’s not waking up.”
Well, if Sam wasn’t awake before!
Cas was already in Dean’s room by the time Sam had gotten there, sprinting through the bunker’s hallways, slipping on socked feet. Since Cas never slept anyway, sometimes he stayed up with Dean. He looked up at Sam helplessly, and Sam could feel his chest heaving, heart beating, head pounding, blood thrumming. This was it. It had to be.
“Cas?” It was a question in one word. Cas just sighed.
“He’s not technically dead, not yet.”
Sam stammered. “Well, what-what’s that mean?”
“It means he’s not dead yet. But he won’t be waking up, either.”
Cas didn’t cry as a rule, but God only knew that this situation was testing him, bringing him close.
“I could have saved him,” he had said countless times to Sam. To Mary. Even to Jody once, and another time to Claire. “I could – I could end this now.”
But for one thing, Dean had steadfastly refused, even when his skin was peeling with radiation burns and he was turning his insides out vomiting from the affects of chemotherapy. Cas had even offered to simply heal him of his side-effects, but Dean had just growled, pained tears in his eyes. No! God, no. No, I just want to stop. It’s just making me sicker, and it’s not like it matters anyway. I want to stop, Cas. Please, God, just let me stop. That had been five months ago.
"We knew we were just playing for time,” Sam had whispered, the two of them standing outside Dean’s room, Mary sitting inside with him as she let her grown son, fifty years old, lean against her chest and cry into it like he was a child again, not wanting Sam and Cas to see him break down like he sometimes did, wanting them to be able to pretend with him that he was taking all of this in stride. “He’s got to be so tired. The universe has been stringing him along for so long now. Maybe he’s just ready.”
Neither of them was ready, but then again, it really wasn’t up to them.
But both of them had words for Billie, and for Chuck, if they ever got to see either of them again.
It was like people just knew.
Mom showed up first, but that’s because they told her, and she brought Bobby with her. And then Donna came because, as she told Sam, Dean hadn’t taken his turn on Words with Friends, and that just wasn’t like him. And when Donna got there, she called Jody, who called Claire and Alex and Patience, and then Rowena just…showed up at one point, and seemed to take it upon herself to look after Jack, so Sam wasn’t complaining. Hell, even Garth stopped by. And then Sam suddenly had a full bunker and a dying brother that they all wanted to say goodbye to.
“I mean,” Sam shrugged, “if you’re up for it. He…he’s not gonna wake up. He won’t say anything back.”
“He might hear you,” Cas added. “A few words can’t hurt.”
No, they couldn’t. But they sure wouldn’t help.
“We didn’t come just for him, ya know.”
Jody leaned up against the kitchen counter, and Sam doggedly tried to avoid her gaze, just focused on picking up dinner. Sam didn’t remember tasting anything, but he remembered eating. Pizza. He could guess what that tasted like. “Right,” he whispered. “I get it.”
Jody put her hand on his elbow, and Sam finally looked at her. He wondered on what day she realized her hair had gone completely grey. Dean had never lost his, a small mercy to benefit his vanity even as the rest of him went, but it had been grey for years. And Sam wondered, too, when he’d turned forty-six, because didn’t that feel weird. Tried to remember every separate day he and his brother had decided to take these people along with them on this ride.
“You’ll stay for a little while. After,” Sam whispered, not asking her, but silently begging her. “Please, Jody.” Because he knew Mom would probably be here, Bobby would go in and out, and the girls, and Garth, and Rowena and Donna. They all had lives. Jody did, too, but Sam just had the feeling he was gonna need her around. “Just until the funeral is over. Please, Jody.”
And Jody just smiled and nodded. That was all she had to do.
“Say whatever you’d like to him, dearie. He can hear ya.”
Sam waited outside Dean’s door for Rowena and Jack to finish, not wanting to eavesdrop but not being able to help it. He could picture the two of them in there with his brother, Rowena’s hands on Jack’s shoulders. Jack must be speaking too quietly for Sam to hear what he says, or maybe he says nothing at all, but he can clearly hear Rowena say to him, “Safe travels, Dean Winchester.” And then Rowena is steering Jack, silent tears tracking down his face, out of the room. Rowena gives Sam one of her Rowena smiles.
“It’s funny,” she says.
“That there can be beauty in death – even in one as undeserved and ugly as this.”
At first, Sam has no idea what she’s talking about.
He can see the undeserved and ugly – actually, he can really see the ugly. Dean’s still hooked up to the oxygen, but once Sam’s done here, he’s gonna take it off and let nature take its course because all that machine is doing is prolonging his brother’s suffering. His chest is barely rising, his mouth is hanging partially open, the beard on his face covering the worst of the discoloration. But, yeah – yellowish skin. Bluish lips. Pinkish eyelids. Blackish under-eyes. There’s crud around the edges of his eyes and mouth. But Sam loves this poor man before him, so this doesn’t scare him. Sam pulls up the desk chair and sits beside his brother’s bed, and grabs one of his liver-spotted hands. The fingers on both of Dean’s hands had started to curl inward, wrapped around tightly-wound rolls of gauze, and Sam replaced one of those rolls with his own hand.
“Could say a million things,” Sam whispered. “Thank you. I love you. You were a great brother – the greatest. I’ll miss you. I hope you’re not hurting. You fought hard. Whatever.” He leans in, wanting desperately for Dean to hear this, even though he’s comatose. “But I’m not gonna say all that.” Even though he obviously just had. “Dean. Dean, I hope you get to Heaven. I hope you get to Heaven, or some good place, and you see Dad. That you can just stop worrying, and the two of you can shoot the shit and relive every gritty detail while you wait for the rest of us.” Sam took in a shaky breath. “And when I get there, the two of you better be waiting for me at the gates. Deal? Jerk?” Sam takes his brother’s silence as him responding in the affirmative (but a little part of him wanted to hear Dean whisper back bitch), and then he bends down and presses his lips to Dean’s hand – not really a kiss, but – yeah, he kisses his hand.
“Okay,” he sighs.
Cas shows up then.
Are you ready?
Are you ready, Sam? Everyone else has said goodbye.
I think it’s time, Sam.
“Alright. But you do it.”
Cas pulls the plug.
“When?” Mary asks.
Mary, Sam, Cas. And Dean. Sorta.
“Soon,” Cas tells her gently. “Soon enough. I’ll tell you.”
They sit and wait.
Sam and Mary look up at Cas. He’s got a defeated look on his face, but it’s also accepting. It’s been sort of a blessing having Cas around to get a real read on Dean’s physical state, but Sam figures it must be a curse, too, to know how he was really feeling. But now it seems that curse is lifted. Hours later. Hours of sitting in silence, of Sam alternating between reading and just staring at his brother, and Cas sitting in near-meditative probably-prayer, and Mary oh-so-gently trailing her fingers through Dean’s hair and the peach fuzz on the ear not laying against the pillow, and it’s over. It’s over. Ten years after they found out this would happen, and Dean’s gone. And so is Michael. But mostly Dean.
Mary’s got her ugly-cry face on, and she curls up beside her dead baby.
Cas just stares at his hands.
Sam waits for the inevitable moment that Dean pops up and laughs in their faces and tells them it was all a joke.
That moment never comes.
At sunrise – or, what they think is sunrise, because of the passage of time and all that – Mary’s asleep against her son’s dead body, Cas is fucking…praying again, and Sam says,
“Ten years and that’s it? Fucking disappointing. I’m underwhelmed.”
Get up, Dean.
DEAN FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET UP.
Eventually, it hits Sam that this is it. This is actually it.
He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t make any more stupid, bitter remarks that only he pays attention to. And he stops waiting for his brother to get up. What he does is he stands up and walks over to his mom and gently shakes her awake. She’s confused at first. Like she doesn’t know where she is and why Sam is touching her and why the son next to her is turning cold.
“Mom,” he whispers. “C’mon. Do you want a shower?”
She looks between her two sons, one very much alive and one very much dead. Mary starts to helplessly shake her head. “No…no, Sammy – “
“I know, Mom,” he soothes. “I know. It sucks, I know.”
I should be crying, Sam thinks to himself. I should be a wreck. Why aren’t I? Oh, because he can’t be.
“Sam, would you like me to tell everyone?”
Sam gently eases his mother away from Dean, who looks about the same as he did a few hours ago when he was still barely alive, but maybe a bit stiffer. Sam kinda has to pry her off him. “Would you, Cas? Please? That would be great.”
Cas doesn’t have to be asked twice.
It’s expected, but devastating news.
Jack cries so hard he throws up.
Somewhere in the Middle of All This
Dean’s been waiting for this day for a long time. Billie has, too, and now she’s sitting at his kitchen table, her hand extending towards him offering an olive branch in the form of a pack of cigarettes. Who is he to refuse? She smiles when he takes them and sits opposite her. He doesn’t light up, though. Not yet. Seems a bit too immediate after the fact.
“Billie,” he greets cordially. “How are you?”
“Fine, now that I know the universe isn’t going to be destroyed – at least not by you and Michael. You?”
“Dead,” Dean grunts. “How do you think I feel?”
“I don’t think you feel anything. Death is an absence. An absence of hurt and sick and everything you’ve been feeling these past few years. You’re welcome for extending your life warranty, by the way – most people in your condition and at this stage in the game barely make it a fraction of what you had.”
Dean smiles sarcastically. “Well, thank you, Billie. So much.”
“You’re so welcome.”
Billie watches Dean closely. Around them, things are happening. Not that they can see from here, but that Billie can sense; Castiel leaving Dean’s room so he can break the news. Jody Mills presses her fingers to her mouth, and Donna Hanscum cries in that silent, ugly way of hers and Bobby just shakes his head and the girls just sit silent in their clique and Jack just starts wailing, inconsolable, even for Rowena. Mary is taking a shower, trying very hard not to think about how her firstborn is dead dead dead, and Sam is still just staring at his brother, his dead body a sight he’s seen before, but never quite like this. This is the part of death - of grief, actually – that is the shortest. There’s no time to sit around and cry while a body starts to decompose.
“Everything and nothing.”
“What’s that, Dean?”
“Everything and nothing,” he repeats. “You are everything and nothing.”
“Or, I am nothing, and so I take…everything.”
Dean raises his gaze again, sad and defiant at the same time, ready to put up a fight and kick and scream while he does so, his style ever since he came into this world. But Billie isn’t here to fight. “Billie,” he whispers, in that reverent way of his, “you promised to tell me what I’m getting out of this. And it better not just be the smokes.”
Billie slowly stands, and Dean wonders how she can make herself…loom like that. Then she holds out a hand to him, inviting him, and Dean does not resist; he stands with her and takes her hand like he’s a child and she’s going to help him cross the street. He’s died a number of times, apparently gone to Heaven a time or two, but he doesn’t remember this part. The crossing over part. Well, he remembers Tessa. But only because she made him remember her.
“This is not the place to tell you. This in-between state of life and death is fragile.
Come with me, Dean.
You’re done here.
And there’s something awaiting you on the other side.”
But then Dean just shows up in her reading room.
“What, I’m gonna be your clerk for the rest of eternity?”
Billie smiles at him from behind her desk. “No, smartass. This is the last chance I’m going to get to speak with you. I don’t waste time in Heaven or Hell – they’re for the dead. I’m for the dying. I wanted to outline a few things for you.”
What Billie meant was, no matter how badly Sam fucked up the Impala, Dean couldn’t become a ghost.
And that there was no breaking out.
No communication with the living.
“This isn’t sounding too great so far, Billie,” he spat. “What’s next, you gonna stick me in a padded room for my own personal goddamn paradise?”
She smiled. “I think you’ll come to see that this is for the best when you see your arrangements.” She stands up and walks in front of her desk. “There are a few little surprises.”
“Woohoo,” and Dean gives her a half-hearted thumbs-up. Billie just shakes her head and says,
“You were a good man, Dean Winchester.”
And then Dean is sitting in a diner.
“It’s a good day for a funeral.”
Jack scrunches up his eyebrows. “What’s that s’posed to mean?”
Cas sighs and tries to smile at Jack as he straightens the sweater Jack picked out – it’s a light blue, and Mary told him he looked very handsome in it, and Dean had said it made him look sharp, so Jack thought it was as good a thing to wear to a funeral as anything else. Sam and Mary and Cas had all chosen to wear black. Jack wasn’t sure about everyone else.
“It means that the weather is good, and we’re with people we love, and these sorts of things are sad, but they can also be good.”
“How can they be good?”
Cas hasn’t been to very many funerals, but he’s watched Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Big Chill, and they weren’t entirely awful, but people always cry. At least they’d cremated Dean. That hadn’t been so fun. Cas and Sam had very carefully washed off Dean’s body, and Sam had shaved his face for whatever reason, and then they had wrapped him. Then they and everyone who had come to the bunker helped build the pyre and salt and burn him, and nobody said anything. Not a word. Jack hadn’t been allowed to go, per Dean’s wishes, so Rowena had stayed with him. Now it was four days after Dean had died, three days after he’d been cremated, and it was time for a funeral.
“Well…I’ve heard funeral food is the best food.”
Jack actually smiles a little. “Really?”
Cas holds out his hand, and Jack takes it, and Cas is glad that his son hasn’t outgrown holding his hand.
Everyone who attended agreed that Dean Winchester’s funeral was certainly…one of a kind.
It was the oddest mix of people – hunters and people from Lebanon mingling together, everyone having to pretend like there was no unnatural darkness out there, that those unnatural forces had nothing to do with this poor man’s death, that this was just lung cancer and nothing else (which…kinda), and that this was just a funeral.
It sort of didn’t help their case that there was a portrait of Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid at the front of the funeral home.
(And most people in attendance – not the normal folk, the other folk, the hunter folk – thought it strange that they were even in a funeral home to begin with, but Sam assured them that this was his brother’s wish.)
(And no, maybe it wasn’t Gary Busey and a choir and an open bar, but the things we want change.)
“That’s…Robert Redford,” Jody states, staring in confusion at the portrait, and Sam from beside her, hands held in front of him, nods solemnly.
“Looks just like him,” he breathes. “I think it captures Dean perfectly.”
Jody rolls her lips, and mentally smacks herself for wanting to laugh. “Oh, I agree. Yes, just like him.”
The picture really confuses people actually, and when people ask why there’s a picture of Robert Redford, Sam just says, “In my mind’s eye, that is exactly what I remember Dean looking like. It’s such a good likeness.”
(Sam desperately wishes his brother were here so he could throttle him for making him go through this piece of performance art, but if Dean were here, he wouldn’t have to be doing any of this, would he, now?)
But the thing people remember best is the eulogy from Sam. Dean’s not-so-little brother goes to the front of the funeral home, sees the autumn sun streaming through the windows, the dust motes swirling in the air, the abundance of flowers, the multitude of people. Yes, there are actually a lot of people here, Sam thinks, and he smirks. Oh, if Dean could see this. It’s a bunch of people in torn jeans and flannels that Donna and Bobby have been telling people are part of Dean’s old biker gang, his mother sitting in the very front row in a black dress with little cap sleeves, Cas beside her in a black suit, and a little boy next to him in an eggshell blue sweater. It’s a multitude of color. Rowena’s wearing bright green, for God’s sake (“Just like the lad’s eyes, eh?), and Donna wore yellow. Yellow! But what else would the epitome of sunshine wear to a funeral? Even Claire got in on it and brought pink wristbands for everyone to wear for breast cancer awareness.
“But I thought he had lung cancer?”
“Oh, he did. It’s just that all cancer sucks and these wristbands have a website for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and you should definitely give to them instead of Susan G. Komen because Susan G. Komen sucks.”
It was the most colorful funeral Sam had ever heard of, and Sam knew if Dean could see it, he’d probably fucking love it. For ironic reasons, and all that.
But back to the eulogy.
So Sam stood there in his black suit and looked out at everybody, and looked down at the pieces of paper in front of him and cleared his throat. And then he looked back up. And everyone was staring at him waiting for him to just start talking so they could get this over with and eat.
“Dean actually, uh, prepared something for me to read to you today. But when I read it, I realized it was actually just the entire Napoleon Dynamite script condensed so it could fit on a single piece of printer paper single-spaced, so I scrapped it.” People laugh. Honestly? Fuck Dean for getting laughs even after he’s dead. “Which meant that I had to actually…find something to say. And it’s not hard for me to find things to say about my brother. It’s just deciding what exactly to say so we’re not here all day. Um. Which is hard, ya know? Because I knew the guy for forty-six years, and I didn’t want to say the same old shit. I mean, was he a great guy? Of course he was. And he was a great brother. Anyone who knew him for even a day could figure out that he was just…a good guy. He liked to pretend he was some asshole, but it’s kinda hard to do that when you love Finding Nemo and wear novelty socks. Uh – loved, and wore, that is. And I think about how, the last time I talked to him – which was about a week ago – he was just miserable as hell, one of the things he said – not the last thing, but one of them – was that he was watching freaking…Food Network, of all things, and he wanted me to make this thing he saw for him just so he could see how I would fuck it up. Heh. And I think, too, about how his whole life, no matter how hard he pretended or tried to ignore it, he was this…gigantic softy? He liked cooking and fishing and bowling and cartoons and slasher flicks, and he just wanted to…slow down, and he had to get fucking lung cancer for that to happen. And how that’s not fair, and how so little of his life was. Just…huh. So little of his life was about him. As his brother, I don’t see how I could have let that happen. It’s inexcusable. He would give his life for a perfect stranger, for anyone in this room. And I feel like I sometimes didn’t do enough. I don’t…I don’t want to be a downer because this day already sucks, but I realized what I can do is I can remember how much he loved that stupid car of his. I can give him the funeral he wanted, even if I’m not going to recite Napoleon Dynamite word-for-word because…because. What I can do is hope that he’s in a good place, really and truly for once in his life, and that Heaven’s got bowling alleys and good bait and all the bacon cheeseburgers he can eat. I can do that now. And I can miss him like hell, and I know I will, and I know you all will, because goddammit – goddammit, he-he loved fucking Dory and Thundercats and-and dirty jokes and…and all of you, and we owe it to him to miss him. Not just remember him, but miss him because simply remembering him isn’t good enough for a guy like him. And I know I will. I know I will. I’m going to move on, and I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss him so…so fucking much. Thank you.”
He somehow didn’t cry.
The mourners mingle outside in the sun of one of the last warm autumn days. The world smells of the rich, earthly decay of foliage and the last few mown lawns of the year. Yes, yes it was a beautiful day for a funeral, Jack could see that now. There was sun shining on everyone’s faces and a breeze, and that was perfect because Sam had presented him with a kite that morning, a very unexpected gift, but Jack flew it with a few of the other kids in attendance, staring up at the colorful fabric and streamers sailing high up in the sky.
And yes, yes Cas had also been right that funeral food was some of the best food. Comfort food, which was, as Dean had once explained to Jack, easy and filling and made you feel like you were at home because people that cared had made it. There was even something called “funeral potatoes” that Ms. Rita had brought, and sandwiches of all sorts, and coleslaw and casseroles and various vegetables and fruits that made for perfect finger food. Jody had spent the past couple days baking pies, sometimes with Donna by her side, their loving fingers kneading dough and making fillings - productivity in the face of grief.
It was a good-ol’-fashioned pic-a-nic in the middle of nowhere, Kansas.
Sam wonders where his brother got such an idea.
“It’s like he knew,” Sam muses quietly.
Mary looks at him questioningly. “What do you mean?”
They’re sitting together under a tree, still able to shade them with its red and orange leaves. They’ve both got dead grass on their clothes, but it’s fine. It’s a beautiful day, and there’s good food and good people and only one thing missing.
“That unless he told us otherwise, we’d just sit around moping and drinking.”
“I’m not sure that’s not what I’m doing.”
They both laugh. It’s not their most boisterous, their most joyous, but it is startlingly genuine. Sam stares up at Jack’s kite – he’d given it to him knowing that a distraction, a colorful one, would be good, and what was a day like this good for if not for flying kites? At least, that’s what Sam thought a day like this was good for – he’d only flown a kite a few times in his life. Wasn’t really high up on the priority list.
“It is nice, though,” and she grabs Sam’s hand. “If I didn’t know better, it’s like he’s not gone at all.”
Sam thinks that was probably his brother’s point.
It was a beautiful funeral, the guests all tell them. A beautiful day and a beautiful funeral for a beautiful man (thanks, Marta). Sam almost doesn’t want it to end because that means everyone is going home, off in their separate directions. Bobby has a line on some minor occult thing, and Jody and Donna and Alex have to get back to work, and Claire needs to find…something to kill to take her heavy heart out on, and Patience has to get back to her psychic business, and Garth and his family have to get back to the parish, and Rowena and Charlie have decided to take a little road trip to recover from all of this, and there are hunts to go on and lives to get back to, and that leaves Sam and Mary and Cas and Jack to go back to a bunker that feels empty even though there’s only one of them missing.
Well, not missing – gone.
Sam had told Jack that Dean’s body had just been a vessel for his soul, and what was left behind was just a shell; that what they’d burned hadn’t been him, not really and truly. What made a person a person wasn’t what they looked like, not the physical confines of their body, but their mind and their heart. That was what made a person a person.
But those things were gone, too. It didn’t matter that they’d cremated Dean’s shell because what had made him him was still gone.
Sam placed Dean’s urn in the Dean Cave. Raised a silent toast to it with his mother and Cas after Jack had been put to bed.
Then three things happened very quickly:
- Cas got interested in real estate.
- Sam was sent an email from a teacher at the rec center.
- Sam received a voicemail.
Back in Heaven
You know that picture of the two Spidermans pointing at each other?
That was essentially what happened when Dean and John saw each other for the first time in almost twenty-five years.
Dean stands to attention at the sound of his father’s voice – a knee-jerk reaction. He looks exactly the way he did when he died. Exactly. Dean wonders if his own appearance is a shock to John, knowing how fifty is quite a ways off from twenty-seven, with a helluva lot of mileage in between. “Dad. Sir. Uh, Dad. Hi. Hey.”
They’re the only two in this diner. It’s dawn. Dean spreads his arms. “Number came up.”
John nods mutely. “Hunt?”
John’s frown deepens. “That’s worse.”
Dean quickly closes the space between them and hugs him.
As the sun starts to rise, a few heavenly waitresses and cooks wander in. They’re still the only customers. They order coffee, needlessly. Dean figures that he can just eat forever now, whatever he wants. John seems to have come to that same conclusion, but a long time ago. So they start on the massive task of Dean catching John up over pancakes and French toast and blueberry waffles, all of them drenched in syrup and whipped cream; sausage and bacon and home fries and grits and biscuits smothered in gravy and jam and butter; eggs every way you can think of having them; tall glasses of orange juice and the coldest, richest glasses of milk you’d ever taste in your life. You don’t ever get full. Dean’s voice doesn’t get tired, and he doesn’t run out of breath so easily up here.
And Dad is right in front of him.
Not Dad pulled from 2003, but Dad, Dad who told him to watch out for Sammy, or he might have to kill him. Dad, who sold his soul for him. Dad, who…who fucked up more times than Dean can count, but who he still loved with everything he had, and somehow knew the feeling was mutual.
And they had eternity to figure out just what the hell that all was.
A Little While After
“So…you want to leave?”
Cas sighs. “It’s not that I want to leave, Sam,” he says gently. “It’s just that I’ve been thinking…and maybe it would be best to get Jack into a different environment. So much of Dean is still tied to this place. He needs a change of scenery. In fact, I think it would be a good thing for all of us.”
Sam runs a hand through his hair. “I can’t abandon this place, Cas. We can’t let that happen again. There’s too much knowledge here, and there are hunters out there that need help, need its resources.”
Semi-retirement now that Dean was gone was making Sam antsy. When Dean was alive – sick, but alive – he had to focus on that. Now? He has nothing.
It’s not like he and Jack go far. Jack likes his school, so with a bit of help from Charlie’s hacking skills, Cas finds a little farmhouse with a bit of acreage about fifteen minutes’ drive time from the bunker. Over time, there are bees and cats and a big garden. Sam goes out one afternoon and helps Jack build a treehouse – Dean would have been better at it, but it still comes out pretty nice. The kite makes frequent appearances. Sam and Mary go over for dinner often, all three of them trying to figure out how to cook because they no longer have Dean around to do it.
“The black one is Batman,” Jack tells him. He’s telling Sam the names of all the cats, and there are a lot of them. “The one with the white paws is Socks. The orange one is named Tigger. And I don’t know where Bingo is, but she’s pregnant, so we’re gonna have a bunch more kittens to name. Would you like to name some of them?”
Sam nods once and smiles. “Yeah, I’d love to.”
Sam has always liked animals. He’s always wanted a dog, but cats are great, too. Dean had been horribly allergic to them. These cats probably wouldn’t be around if he were.
He’s finished up his bi-weekly newsletter and is going through his inbox when he sees one where the subject is just “Would Love to Hear from YOU!” from the rec center. Sam sighs and clicks on it to see if it’s some sort of membership renewal for Jack or something, but instead the message reads:
My name is Leigh Ann, and I teach drama courses at the recreation center and the high school. I was at your brother’s service a little while back. He was a wonderful man – I remember him bringing your nephew by. He was such a flirt! We all loved chatting with him and will miss him terribly, and would like to reiterate our condolences. But I emailed you because I remember being absolutely breath-taken by the eulogy you gave for him. You are a wonderful public speaker, I can tell, and I was wondering if perhaps you had a theatre background? I can always tell ;) I hate to dig up bad memories, but I was just curious because I believe there are some opportunities in the community that you should take advantage of. Just let me know if you’re interested.
Sam sits back and stares at the computer screen. Part of him thinks this is a little weird, with all its chipperness, and he wonders how Leigh Ann got his email in the first place. Another part of him is even trying to remember the day of Dean’s funeral at all because in all honestly, he’d kind of blocked it out. He was sure he could find that eulogy stashed somewhere in his desk, though. And then there was another, final part of him that kind of wanted to email Leigh Ann back because it wasn’t as if he was doing much besides answering calls for hunters and visiting the farm. The kittens were due soon, so he’d have a few names to come up with, but how long would that really last him? Ten minutes? And then what? Mope around the bunker like he’s been doing, answering more calls from newbies and pretending to be a G-man and a coroner and a cop and everything in between. Sometimes he watches Netflix, or some of his old DVDs. He’s been trying to read more for leisure lately, too, but even that gets boring sometimes.
He keeps staring for another minute, and then he starts typing.
Hi, Leigh Ann. It’s Sam Campbell.
Thanks for your email, and thanks for coming to the funeral. Yeah, that sounds like my brother – he was a chatty guy.
I’ve got a pretty free schedule right now, so if you’re looking for help with something, I’m more than available.
“I’m so glad you decided to come, Sam. I think you could be a big help.”
“No problem,” Sam shrugs. He follows her down the rec center halls to the room where she teaches a class on public speaking. “What is it you need help with?”
“Well, for starters, was I right?”
“Right about what?”
Leigh Ann smiles at him. “Was I right that you have a theatre background?”
Sam is startled into a huffy laugh. “Uh,” he rubs the back of his neck, “I did a little in high school, uh, acting and tech crew. I took a dramatic lit class at Stanford and helped out with a few productions, but that’s about it.”
“That’s it?” Leigh Ann repeats. “Sounds like experience to me! Anyway, we’re putting on a play, a community production of Our Town – “
“Yeah, I did that one in high school,” Sam interrupts, and he mentally smacks himself upside the head, imagines Dean doing the same if he could. “I played the stage manager.”
Leigh Ann lights up. “Really? Oh, that’s perfect….”
“Everyone, I’d like for you to meet Sam Campbell – he’ll be playing the stage manager,” Leigh Ann introduces at the first read-through, and by the way everyone sadly smiles at him, Sam gets the feeling they all already know who he is.
Or, knew his brother.
It’s actually pretty nice to have a new project. Sam finally has something to talk about with the family at dinner. Jack usually takes up the conversation with school talk, and Cas always has something to say about the bees or the garden, and Mary just likes to listen. Sam, though, now he has something to add. Now he has something for himself. Sure, the bunker still feels pretty lonely at night, especially after Mary and Bobby decide to go off on one of their trips, Bobby insisting that Mary needed to get out of town for a while – but still.
It was something to fill the time with.
“…Joe was awful bright – graduated from high school here, head of his class. So he got a scholarship to Massachusetts Tech. Graduated head of his class there, too. It was all wrote up in the Boston paper at the time. Goin’ to be a great engineer, Joe was. But the war broke out and he died in France. – All that education for nothing.”
It was easy. Memorized the lines – again. Got used to stage lighting – again. Got used to blocking and hitting his mark and patiently taking notes from the director – again. It was routine, and that, Sam figured, was just what he needed. The little community theatre was old-fashioned and charming, and Mom told him every time they talked on the phone how excited she was to see it, which made Sam feel a bit silly, but it was nice.
What Sam had forgotten, though, was the little things about this play. How it hit hard then, and it hit even harder now, the everydayness of it.
He tried to ignore that, though, as best he could. He just didn’t feel like attaching emotions to it right now.
Off left, the man playing Howie Newsome called, “Giddap, Bessie! What’s the matter with you today?” And Sam had to check back in and say,
“Here comes Howie Newsome, deliverin’ the milk.”
Oh, how even the most mundane of moments could make you hurt!
He misses the call because he’s in the shower, reciting lines to the wall like some sort of idiot, but he finds it helps. The acoustics in the shower room are actually pretty good, and he’s alone, so he’s not self-conscious, doesn’t have to worry about nosy brothers laughing at him, even if he wishes said nosy brother were still around.
The bunker was a pretty lonely place these days.
And Dean has been dead five months.
Sam gets out of the shower, checks his phone while he sits on his bed in his towel and air dries. Plays his messages. There’s three. Two are other hunters. One is…well.
“Sam Winchester? This is Eileen Leahy. I, uh, got this voice to text thing for phone calls? So I thought I’d try it using this number that at least used to be yours, and the voice thing picked up on your voicemail message and it said it was you, so…so if it is you, could you call me back at this number? Well, don’t call. I won’t hear the phone ring…I don’t really know why I got this thing anyway, but could you text me back? If this is Sam Winchester. Um. Bye.”
He sits frozen, phone in the palm of his hand, just staring at it. Eileen? No. No, Eileen was dead. He and Dean had seen her body, torn to shreds by that hellhound. She had to be dead! That had been her, unmistakably! But this was unmistakably Eileen’s voice that he heard on the message. Sam took a deep breath, feeling tears of frustration and confusion already prick at his eyes.
Against his better judgement, he texts her back.
Eileen? This is Sam Winchester.
He sat and stared and waited. He’d wait all night if he had to.
Yeah! You got my message?
I sounded stupid, didn’t I? I don’t know why I got this thing, but it hears what’s on the other line and turns it into text on this screen so I can read it, and it gives me cues for when to speak. It’s weird.
You didn’t sound stupid. Where are you?
I’m in Oregon. I called because I heard from another hunter about Dean and I was hoping you still used the same number. I’m sorry, Sam.
Sam squeezes his eyes shut for a moment; all of a sudden, he was saddened, and the shower he took felt like it happened years ago instead of minutes ago.
Thanks. He was pretty sick, and near the end he barely had any energy for anything but video games and crappy shots at me, lol. Hopefully he’s somewhere good.
Yeah, cancer sucks. Lillian didn’t do any treatment so she went pretty quickly.
Dean had lung cancer for three years. Only stopped treatment five months before he died. I guess we’re lucky he got that long.
I really am sorry, Sam :(
It’s okay, really. Were you on a hunt?
Yeah. Just a couple vamps, nothing serious
Sam takes a deep breath, gathering his courage, and then sends his last text:
Why don’t you come down here?
Eileen texts back almost immediately.
I’m on my way now :)
As always, it all happened so quickly.
When Eileen gets to the bunker, the first thing she does is stand in front of Sam and do all the tests – demon, shifter, what have you – and she’s clean. She’s clean! Sam then stands and stares at her, hands hung at his sides, jaw slack, looking like some sort of yokel. He didn’t even know where to begin. Eileen watched him expectantly, her expression growing sadder the longer he went without saying anything. It was just…he was just so…so flabbergasted. Or something like that.
“H-how?” He finally stuttered out.
They sat at the war table as Eileen explained how after she sent the letter and had received no response, no reply letter or email or text, she assumed the worst. She hadn’t even been in Ireland anymore by the time she heard about the raid on the British’s American base, and she heard that had also had high casualties. So she’d ditched her phones, even got a new email account, and started over up in Maine. The only reason she’d even been able to contact Sam was because she’d found an old scrap of paper in her journal.
“That’s not the only thing I kept from you,” she grinned, and Sam raised an eyebrow. “That story you wrote about your thirty-third birthday. On the typewriter. I still have it.”
Sam blushed a deep scarlet. “Oh,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck as Eileen laughed. That was the last time Sam had believed to have seen her alive; the morning she left for Ireland, Sam had given her that story, walked her out to her car, and she had kissed him. That he remembered very well. “I’m sorry, Eileen,” he said sincerely. “If…if I had known…I guess whatever we did see was some sort of shifter,” he said thoughtfully.
“Guess so,” she shrugged. She drummed her fingers on her beer, smiled again. “So what’s new with you?”
Sam had to laugh. He really, truly laughed. What was new with him?
“What, my brother dying of cancer isn’t enough?” He chortled good-naturedly, and because Eileen knew the pain of losing someone to cancer, too, she laughed along. And there was so much else, too. How was he going to explain Jack, for example? That was going to be a long story, for sure. “Uh. I’m in a play?”
There was a brief pause, and then they both cracked up at the absurd mundanity of it all.
“Ya know, Cas and Jack, they have Sunday dinner every week. You should come along.”
Eileen readily agreed.
“Well, that’s lucky,” Cas murmured as he and Sam did the dishes after dinner, casting a careful glance toward Eileen and Jack, who were petting on Bingo in her pregnant state. Jack had taken to Eileen quickly, especially after she promised to teach him ASL.
“What is?” Sam asked. Cas shrugged.
“Just that she never died to begin with. It’s a confusing situation, but she’s here.” He shrugged again. “If I recall, Dean told me – “
Sam rolled his eyes, already knowing where this was going. “C’mon, you know what Dean did – always playing things up. Just because he liked playing matchmaker doesn’t mean we…doesn’t mean we….”
“He said she seemed to really like you,” Cas said oh-so-casually. “And that you would stay up late sometimes not even researching but brushing up on your sign language.” Sam felt his face getting hot again. “You know, I do know every language ever known to man. I could teach you.”
“Thanks,” Sam said sarcastically, and wondered if Cas had decided to go ahead and become matchmaker now and take up Dean’s mantle. “Ya know, we didn’t know each other that long – “
“Sometimes you don’t need much time,” Cas said simply. “Sometimes you just know.”
Sam decided to turn the tables on him. “Oh yeah? And how would you know?” Cas turned quiet. He looked down at the sink, running his hands through the water and pulling up the drain. Sam realized that maybe he’d struck a chord. “Cas?”
“You have to promise me you won’t think less of me for what I am about to say.”
Sam sighed, exasperated. “Cas. Dude. Of course not. We’ve been through too much. C’mon, what is it? Or who?”
Cas bit his lip and looked shyly into Sam’s eyes, then said quietly, simply, too-casually, “Meg.”
And that was that on that.
Sam got a text from his mom later that night asking him about “this Eileen”, and Sam vowed to himself to never tell Cas anything about his love life ever again.
It was March when she said,
“I thought I might stick around for a while. It’s nice to be around people you know, and Jack needs practice with his signing.”
Sam wanted to ask her if those were the only reasons she was staying.
Sam invited her to stay in the bunker.
(He wanted to ask her to stay forever.)
(She wanted him to ask her to stay forever.)
“Do you write much anymore?”
Sam looked over at the old typewriter on his desk. He and Eileen were lounging around in his room, just drinking beer and talking, her helping him with his signing, just continuing to get caught up. They did this a lot, even though she had her own room – she always seemed to gravitate towards his. Sam smirked sadly and shrugged. “Not so much. You’d think being sorta retired I’d find time for these things, but between helping to raise Jack and Dean being sick, a lot of that stuff fell through the cracks,” he explained, signing what he could.
Eileen nodded thoughtfully. “Are you gonna stay retired?”
Sam thought about it. Thought about it a little more. “I guess,” he finally said. “I mean, I answer a lot of phones, answer questions, provide backup when people really need it.” Sam had totally become the new their-universe-Bobby. He grinned. “I’ve got a newsletter.”
“You’re kidding me,” Eileen laughed, and Sam shook his head.
“I am deadly serious. Uh. I don’t know, I guess I’m still helping with Jack and doing all that and…now I’m in a play.”
It had become a bit of a running joke, his being in the play. Eileen was excited to see it, though, even if it was sort of funny for her to think about. Everyone seemed to think it was sort of funny, actually; Claire, whose day job had become stage management after a foray into it when she was younger, called to tell him she was bringing the whole crew down to see him, but only so she could evaluate the tech work. Sam had told her he was looking forward to her critique.
Eileen twisted her mouth to the side. “Is there anything else to do here besides act in plays?”
Sam had never really thought about it.
Kansas was probably the flattest state in the union, but the farmland that stretched on for miles underneath the wide expanse of sky, surrounded by nothing but dirt roads and crops, meant that at night, the sky was pitch black, full of stars and streaks of the Milky Way. Sam and Dean used to do this all the time, just park the Impala, the car Sam had driven Eileen out here in tonight, and just stare. Sam appreciated the reminder of just how small he was. That at least the supernovae and black holes and tons of space junk weren’t his fault. He wondered what Dean thought of when he used to look up at this same sky, that same moon that Alexander the Great and Joan of Arc and Beethoven had looked at.
The Earth had changed, but the Moon was always just the Moon.
It was nice that some things didn’t change.
“Beautiful,” Eileen observed, and Sam nodded.
“Dean and I used to do this,” he whispered, then realized that with both of them looking up from their spot on the hood and her being, ya know, deaf, she wouldn’t have known what he said. He patted her shoulder and she looked over at him, and he signed it for her. Eileen smiled knowingly and nodded. Sam hadn’t talked all that much about Dean with her, just little things here and there, but it was hard still. Maybe he hadn’t cried, but the words…they just weren’t coming. Not yet. Eileen had suggested he write them. Sam told her that maybe he would, someday.
Sam looked back up at the sky. He remembered when Jack was little, at that stage where he had questions about just about everything on any subject you could imagine. The four of them went out on a night just like this one, Sam and Dean sitting on the hood, Cas sitting on the trunk with Jack in his lap. Dean had a cigarette, but that night, it made him look cool as he smiled up at the stars. Dean could insist all he wanted, but Sam knew – they all knew – that little things like watching the stars and hugging his mom just hit home for him. Jack was sleepily talking to Cas, asking his questions, and Cas answered question after question with the patience of a saint.
“Where do they come from?”
“Where do what come from?”
“The stars. Where are they from? How’d they get there?”
Sam and Dean listened, wanting to know the answer, too.
“They’re souls,” Cas replied simply. “Each soul is a star.”
“Mama’s a star?”
“Of course she is. One of the bright ones.”
That might not be true, but Sam hoped it was. He hoped Dean was a star. One of the bright ones.
Sam and Eileen stayed out there staring for what felt like ages. He could hear her steady breathing next to him, just so alive, and that sometimes struck him so intensely it hurt. All these years, she’d been alive. While Dean had been dying, she was living. Thinking that he and Dean were probably dead until she heard something to prove the contrary. Had she found what she was looking for? He wondered. Did Ireland have what she needed? Was it worth her leaving (him), worth the worry, worth the sorrow and the anger? It had all been misplaced, in a way, though it had motivated him, the same way his mother’s death had motivated his father, and that gave Sam pause for thought.
Cas’s words rang in his mind: “Sometimes you don’t need much time. Sometimes you just know.”
He thought of Dean, years ago, telling him his happy ending was Sam with a wife, and kids, and grandkids, and Viagra.
He thought of the video calls, how somewhere in the back of his mind he’d noted that she was wearing lipstick in them, had done her hair, but hadn’t wanted to think about what it meant. Thought of Dean saying, “That’s cute.”
He thought of all the nights that yes, he’d stayed up relearning how to sign. Just for her.
Sometimes you don’t need time. Sometimes, all you need to do is open your goddamn eyes.
“We should get married.”
“What did you say?”
Sam startled and turned to look at Eileen, who was looking at him. He wondered how long she’d been doing that, if the whole time he’d been looking up at the sky he’d been oblivious to her. Sam shot up suddenly, and Eileen slowly rose into a sitting position, the two of them staring at each other. She looked genuinely confused, though, so he figured she wasn’t just yanking his chain. Sam took a deep breath and repeated himself slowly, his mouth and hands working in unison to repeat his message.
“We should get married.”
Eileen looked from his hands to his mouth, and for just the second time since they’d met, they kissed.
And then they had sex.
“I’ll get you a ring,” Sam promised, kissing the finger it would go on.
“You better,” she said smartly, and they both laughed.
Yeah. Sometimes, you just know. But you know it in a quiet way, until one day, it just hits you.
(Wherever he is, he figures Dean is probably laughing at him.)
“Married? So soon?”
Sam shrugged, casually cutting into his chicken like it was no big deal. He was dealing with the interrogation from Mom and Cas while Jack and Eileen signed. Sam supposed it was convenient in a sort of shitty way that Eileen was deaf so that they could corner him while they still ate dinner together. When Mom had heard the news, she’d taken a few days and left Bobby to his own devices to get to the bottom of this. “Yeah. Sometimes you just know – right, Cas?”
Cas’s face softens. “Right.”
“I’m obviously happy if you’re happy,” Mom says placatingly, “I just want to make sure you’re not rushing into anything.”
But that’s what makes it great – they kinda are. It’s exciting! Sam’s actually got things to be excited about in his life even after his brother has died; he’s in a play, he named Bingo’s kittens, and now he’s getting married. Sam smiles. “We’re not,” he still assures her. “We know.”
Cas waves so Eileen and Jack can see that he wants to talk to her. “This is exciting,” he says, and she grins. “Have you two made plans?”
“Not much to plan,” she shrugs. “It’s going to be pretty small, so we know who we’re inviting, but we haven’t decided where to do it yet.”
“Do it here,” Cas offered, said simply like it should have been obvious. He said to Sam, “You know the spot, with all the wildflowers?” Sam turns and describes the area to Eileen, and she just sticks out her bottom lip and nods.
“Guess that settles it,” Sam says.
“Can I be the ring bearer?” Jack asks. As soon as he found out about the wedding, Jack became very excited about the whole thing. (“I’ve never been to a wedding before!” He’d said gleefully.)
“I was thinking of doing you one better,” Sam says slyly, and Jack eyebrows go up. “Jack, what would you say about being my best man?”
Sam doesn’t tell him that he and Eileen aren’t really going in for all the bridesmaids and groomsmen and ring bearers and all that shit, and it’s going to be pretty cheap and this is just a title for Jack to have fun with, but Jack’s eyes widen and he starts jumping up and down in his seat. “Really? Best man?”
“’Course! Why wouldn’t I want my kid up there with me?” He grins. Jack is delighted. Cas looks hurt at the perceived snub, but Sam and Eileen knew that would happen. What Cas doesn’t know is that with Jack’s promotion, he gets one of his own. “Cas, uh, we were wondering if maybe you’d…” He glances at Eileen, and she winks at him. “Uh. We were wondering if you’d…marry us?”
Cas goes from looking ready to go on a tirade to looking like he’s about to cry in .001 seconds.
Mary loves helping to plan a wedding, what little there is to really plan. Sam and Eileen want it to happen as soon as possible, before the play (for whatever silly reason the lovebirds had), so Mary stays a little longer to help. She’s really in her element, even if this isn’t a hunt but a wedding, and helps find some store-bought invitations and gets everyone in on the idea of a potluck dinner so they don’t have to pay any sort of catering service. Cas spends his time working on flower arrangements and working on what he’s going to say during the ceremony, staying up long after the sun has sunk, writing and rewriting until its perfect. Sam tracks down one of those big outdoor event tents. Donna and Jody come down and help Eileen find a dress. Jack takes his duty as Best Man very seriously, which doesn’t entail much besides being there at Sam’s side at nearly all times, which is just about all he needs from him, and sometimes a hug.
They all pray for good weather on the big day.
“…Well, - Now we’re ready to get on with the wedding.”
Eileen waves at him. She’s been helping him run his lines, eyes darting from the script to Sam and watching him closely, making sure he gets everything just right. “Don’t forget the clap after ‘well’,” she reminds him. “You have to have the clap.”
“Right,” Sam nods, taking a deep breath and starting over. “Well,” - he claps his hands together, holds them clasped – “Now we’re ready to get on with the wedding.”
Sam and his mother are standing inside the farmhouse. She’s fidgeting with his suit, making sure he looks just so. Sam nods. “Think I am,” he says, voice a little shaky, but sure.
“Wish your father and brother were here,” Mom says sadly. Sam nods.
“I wish they were, too.”
Eileen is upstairs. She insisted on not letting Sam see her in her dress until the big moment, the tease. The sun was shining. People were mingling about underneath it, Cas waiting underneath a trellis adorned with flowers, ready to carry out his sacred duty. There’s good food laid out in the kitchen, and big tables set out underneath the tent, waiting for the after party. Jack had been flitting about excitedly all day, making sure everything was just so. He’d said the same thing to Sam earlier, said, “I wish Dean were here. It’s a nice day for a wedding. It reminds me of his funeral day. That was a nice day for a funeral like this is a nice day for a wedding.” Sam had no idea where he’d picked up such a sentiment, but he appreciated it.
“You look so handsome,” Mary smiles, and Sam blushes and grins back shyly.
“I don’t know,” he shrugs.
“I know,” Mary nods once. “Both of my boys, very good-looking.” She winks. “Your brother even left a handsome corpse.”
They surprise themselves with genuine laughter.
“I’m ready,” Sam says, suddenly anxious. He wanted to get out there. He wanted to see Eileen. He was ready for her. He was ready for the rest of their lives. “I’m ready, Mom.”
“Then let’s get you out there, handsome.”
She wore a white linen dress. She had flowers in her hair. Simple, beautiful. Jack stands beaming next to Sam as everyone stands and turns to smile at the bride. Sam tries not to cry.
Sometimes, you wish you’d figured it out sooner.
(Because if you had, maybe your brother could be here, too.)
Cas signed as he spoke.
“Marriage is perhaps the greatest and most challenging adventure of human relationships.…”
Eileen never stops smiling.
Cas looks deep into Sam’s eyes. “Samuel, do you take Eileen to be your wedded wife, to live together in marriage? Do you pledge to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, for as long as you both shall live?”
Sam hears himself say, “I do.” She reads his lips. He hears Eileen do the same.
“Then what Fate hath put together,” Cas says meaningfully, “let no force put asunder.”
“Amen,” Jack says, deadly serious, and people laugh. Cas purses his lips to maintain his serious demeanor and looks between the bride and groom before smiling at Sam and nodding his head in Eileen’s direction.
“Sam - you may now kiss your bride.”
And boy, what a kiss.
“So what’re the honeymoon plans?” Donna asks excitedly. A lot of the guests from town have already left, but the core group is still here, still sitting under the tent, still eating. The cake’s been cut, Jack is lying asleep and all worn out on the grass under the trellis, Sam’s lost his suit jacket…it’s even more relaxed now, if possible. The sky is clear, and there are stars. Sam catches Cas staring up at them, and he wonders if he’s looking for the bright stars, for Kelly and Dean, maybe even Meg, on this good, good day, and wishing they were here.
“Arizona,” Sam tells her, and everyone at the table looks surprised.
“What’s in Arizona?” Jody asks.
“The Grand Canyon,” Eileen says, and she smiles at Sam.
Patience brightens. “Sounds romantic!”
Sam rubs the back of his neck. “Well…we’re, uh, not exactly going alone.”
A week later, Sam and Eileen get into the Impala, Cas and Jack and Mary following them to Arizona.
Two weeks after that, there’s a play to put on.
“Half of Kansas is out there!”
Leigh Ann smiles as she straightens out Sam’s costume, which is little more than a high-necked suit that makes him look like an undertaker, but he supposes that’s appropriate. He thinks of the people in that crowd that are there for him – Eileen, Mom, Cas, Jack, Jody, Claire – and tries very hard to not think about the fact that he wishes Dean were here, but that he probably wouldn’t even be doing this if he were. There’s a lot going on in his life right now that wouldn’t be happening if Dean were still here: the play, for one; Cas asked him and Eileen when they got back from Arizona if they might consider building a house on the property, and not abandon the bunker, but treat it as a place of work instead of a permanent home. Cas wanted them close, wanted them close to Jack.
“You could get a dog,” Cas had told Sam brightly to try and convince him. “There are already so many animals here, what’s one or a few more?” Eileen had been all-in. She was getting sick of living underground. It took some time to get out, but Sam’s hesitance came from not wanting to leave the last home Dean had ever known. Eileen had to explain to him that wasn’t what they were doing. They weren’t abandoning it. They were just giving themselves a little distance.
They were starting construction on the house next week. Sam had already determined that he needed one of every breed of dog. To compensate for his conflicted feelings.
He missed his brother. He missed him even more now than he did when he first died because all of these spectacularly mundane things were happening in their lives, and Dean was missing all of them.
They both sit down. “How was Arizona?” Leigh Ann’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Warm, I’ll bet.”
Sam takes a deep breath, knowing she’s trying to distract him from thinking too hard about the crowd. “Uh, yeah. It was. It went really well. I think Dean would have liked it.”
Leigh Ann smiles at him. “I bet he would have.”
And what was it Dean would have liked?
You might remember that Dean didn’t know where he wanted his ashes spread. Sam, however, barely had to think about it for longer than a moment before he knew what Dean would think was the perfect place.
Dean died. They burned his body. Sam and Cas and Donna went out and chopped the wood to build the pyre for the evening ceremony. They were silent as they did it, even though they had long ago gotten used to the idea that this day would someday come. Donna let Sam and Cas have their quiet even though she wanted to talk. Her family, when people died, they talked. Never a quiet moment. This was a little different, though.
Jack wrote a letter for Dean. He’d been upset that he hadn’t known what to say to him when he said goodbye, so Cas told him that if he wrote Dean a letter and let it burn with him, Dean would take the words with him. Sam slipped the letter into Dean’s pocket before he wrapped him up, wanting desperately to read it but not wanting to disrespect Jack’s privacy or his trust in him. The letter went up in flames.
Then came the funeral. Sam set Dean’s urn up next to the portrait of the Sundance Kid, like he had specified in his will. (The added touch of the amulet he’d given him all those Christmases ago was Sam’s idea.) After, Sam had put the urn in the Dean Cave for it to lord over, not able to let go. Dean had told him that it would be best to get it over with as soon as possible, but Sam hadn’t been able to.
He just couldn’t let go.
“It’s appropriate that Dean’s in the Dean Cave,” Eileen had said, but Sam just shook his head.
“It’s not what he wanted. I just. I don’t know. I haven’t got up the courage to do it yet.”
“Would you have it if we all went with you? It’s what he wanted, Sam. You have to honor that.”
She was right. Eileen said that they could go with him. Then they could book a suite at the Grand Canyon Lodge and fuck each other’s brains out. That sounded like a good deal to Sam.
“One last ride, old man,” Sam had said to his brother’s urn, to Dean, hoping he could hear him.
They set out in the Impala for Arizona.
Sam had stopped in his tracks. It was dusk, the stars just starting to come out in the late spring sky. They were all out in an undeveloped area of the park, near enough to the edge of the canyon that the ashes would drift down into it and not into some poor unsuspecting bastard’s campsite. Mom was standing off to the side with Cas, and Eileen and Jack were there, too, but Jack had darted forward to stop Sam.
“The necklace,” Jack said, pointing. It was still hanging around the urn. “Do you want…do you want to…?”
No, Sam realized. No, he’d promised Dean he’d spread his ashes. He wasn’t getting rid of the necklace, and if his negligence had led to him throwing it down the canyon, he never would have forgiven himself. Sam shook his head. “Jack, no, of course not…” A thought came to him, and, hand shaking and heart thrumming, he took the necklace off the urn, and put it around Jack’s neck. “He’d want you to have it.”
Jack grins and clasps one hand around the ugly little amulet.
It was a long way down.
Sam cleared his throat, eyes stinging. The new silver band on his left hand caught some of the final rays of sunlight, glinting in his eye, and he took that as a sign. Maybe from Dean. He decided to interpret it that way as he went towards the edge, ready to dump his brother into the Colorado River. He took it as a sign that Dean was sort of there, telling him that it was okay, that things were okay even without him around. That they would continue to be okay. That he had all these people, that he had a wife now and he had Cas and Jack and Mom and Bobby and Jody and Donna and the girls and Garth and Charlie and Rowena and more. And that maybe he wasn’t there, but they were. There was still a lot to live for.
“Safe travels, Dean Winchester,” Sam whispered, repeating Rowena’s words, and then he turned the urn over, and his brother’s remains spread out and floated down the canyon. He could hear a sob catch in his mother’s throat behind him as he stared down, watching the ashes for as long as he could, but he lost sight of them quickly; he just liked to imagine he could still see them, knew where they were going, knew they had arrived safely in the river. Sam imagined they had.
Sam turned around. His eyes were wet, but he smiled. Cas smiled back at him. Eileen smiled at him, hands clasped in front of herself so he could see the diamond he’d given her, and Sam grinned wider. The amulet around Jack’s neck winked and glinted, and Sam winked back, said in his mind, Alright, asshole. There you go.
“He’s okay,” Sam said. And he knew it, too. “We’ll be okay, too.”
That night in their room, Eileen kissed Sam and then put her hand to his cheek, rubbing the scruff with her thumb. Sam knew what she meant. He loved her for it. He showed her that he did.
“I think it’s go-time,” Leigh Ann said, and they stood up. She looked up at Sam. “You know, you’re pretty good at this.”
Sam laughed. “Thanks. Dean used to tease me about it all the time.”
Sam started making his way to center stage when Leigh Ann called out to him, “In another life, you could have been an actor or something!”
He laughed again. “Maybe! But this is the life I got.”
Meanwhile, Once Again in Heaven
Dean has the letter Jack wrote for him.
I’m really sorry I couldn’t say goodbye to you. I couldn’t figure out what to say and I was about to start crying really hard if I did talk and I knew you’d want me to be
tough brave so I just didn’t say anything. I feel bad about it though, so Cas said that I should write you a letter and that Sam will give it to you. I thought that was a good idea so that’s what I’m doing.
I just wanted to say thank you for being one of my dads. I guess I’m really lucky because I have three, but it’s not going to be the same without you around. I’m going to miss you a lot. I’m also sorry because you were really sick, but everybody is telling me that you’re not sick anymore in Heaven and I hope that’s true. Cas says that in Heaven where you and my mom are, things are just good and nothing is complicated. I remember a long time ago Cas told me that my mom was one of the really bright stars in the sky, and I think you’re going to become one of the bright ones too. Everyone is also saying that it’s okay to be sad, but not to be sad forever because I know you guys are up there and that you still love me and hopefully, I’ll get to see you again someday! But everyone is saying that I’m going to have to wait a long time. I think I can wait.
Also, I just wanted to say that since you’re not going to be around, I’m still going to try to do everything I can to make you proud of me. Cas and Sam say you’re proud of me already, but I just want to make sure, and I want us to have a lot to talk about
if when we do see each other again. But again, that won’t be for a long time. Sorry.
I’m still going to really miss you though. I don’t like thinking about everybody I know having to die someday, but Aunt Rowena says it is just a part of the natural order and that there’s nothing we can do about it, and that we just have to make the best of it. So that’s what I’m going to do.
“Kids, huh?” Dean says to nobody. Besides Dad, it’s lonely up here. They haven’t seen anybody else yet. Dean thinks they might, someday, but not yet.
He rereads the letter often. He wishes he could tell Jack that Sam and Cas are right, that he’s already proud of him, and every time he reads it, he recognizes the kid that came to them already fully-grown, recognizes his mind, and even though Dean’s never going to see that Jack again, he knows that’s who he’s going to become. He knows.
Dean’s glad he – and everybody else – already know he’s going to turn out just fine.
“Has it started yet?”
They’re in the Dean Cave. Dean’s lounging, waiting on Dad to bring more beer and junk food. They’re watching the big flat screen in the middle of the wall, waiting for this show to get on the road – one of Billie’s little perks for him. Maybe he wasn’t able to communicate with them, but she had made sure he and John could check in. This was how they did it. They’d watched the wedding on this TV, and one of Jack’s piano recitals, and the critically-acclaimed tearjerker that was Sam dumping Dean’s ashes in the Grand Canyon. And now? Now it was time for a play.
A window to the living world.
“It’s like watching the Paul Newman version,” John said as he came back into the room and sat down. Dean raised an eyebrow. “It was on PBS.”
“You watched PBS?” Dean sneers, and John just shakes his head.
“I’m allowed a few secrets.”
Dean scoffs. “Ha! Think ya got more than a few, old man.” John waves him off. Dean laughs. The ribbing came easier up here, when they couldn’t outrun each other or avoid each other. There was no time for that anymore because all of eternity laid out before them, and you can’t avoid your dad forever, especially when you don’t really want to.
Dad likes the Bunker, anyways. Dean doesn’t want him anywhere else. They’ve still got so much to catch up on.
But first: Our Town.
“He was the stage manager the first time around,” Dean says.
“I know. I was there.” Dean bites back a smart remark, his breath catching in his throat as the curtain slowly moves back and forth, each little movement making him more anxious for them to go up.
He misses them all so much.
But now – now – Dean can see. He can see the payoff. He can see what good was brought by him doing what he did. Dean may be dead, but the rest of his family is so alive. He checks in on them every day, just to see them. Sam and Eileen talk about the house they’re building, hands moving frantically – Sam’s gotten so much better at signing. Cas has his bees, his flowers. His mother hangs out with Bobby a lot, and even though it’s pretty casual, it still makes Dad jealous, and Dean laughs about it. Jack is just…surrounded by cats and kittens, and Dean cried when he saw his old necklace hanging around his neck that first time.
But mostly, he watches Sam. Sam wandered aimlessly at first, answering phones, providing backup, puttering around that empty bunker without anyone, without anything to do. Dean wishes he could meet this Leigh Ann and thank her for what she did for him, and he wonders if maybe it was some sort of divine intervention. It doesn’t matter. Dean’s just glad to see that Sam, for all the sadness behind his eyes sometimes, is living, well and truly.
He’s alive, and more than that, he’s living.
And that’s Dean’s happy ending.
“They don’t understand, do they?” Dean wonders aloud, hoping that every single one of them is as glad as he is that they’re alive, that they’re glad for it even on the worst days. John watches his son closely.
“No, son. They don’t understand.”
And then the curtains go up, and the (cosmic) play (goes on) begins.
Lebanon, Kansas, on an Ordinary Saturday Night in May
“Most everybody’s asleep in Grover’s Corners. There are a few lights on: Shorty Hawkins, down at the depot, has just watched the Albany train go by. And at the livery stable somebody’s setting up late and talking. – Yes, it’s clearing up. There are the stars – doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven’t settled the matter yet, but they seem to think there are no living beings up there. Just chalk…or fire. Only this one is straining away, straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain’s so bad that every sixteen hours everybody lies down and gets a rest.” Sam pulls a watch out of his pocket and winds it. The playhouse is so riveted, so quiet, you could hear a pin drop – they all get the feeling that the man saying these words knows what he’s talking about, feels them in a way maybe the rest of them don’t quite. He looks out at them with a kind face. “Hm…Eleven o’clock in Grover’s Corners. – You get a good rest, too. Good night.”
When Sam was forty-seven, perhaps brotherless but still with more love than he knew what to do with, he played the stage manager in a production of Our Town.