“Sometimes I think all I am is a Winchester,” Dean murmurs to Cas as he cleans the pistol in his hands. “Sometimes I think all I am is a gun waiting to be shot.”
Dean can’t recite Latin. He can read it just fine, but every time he tries to make his mouth fit around the dead language, he stutters. John hates him for it. Already Sam is better at this kind of stuff, and Dean’s the one who’s going out into the field.
“Regna terrae, cantate Deo, p… pas… paslate—”
John pauses his knife-sharpening to bark out, “Psallite, Dean. It ain’t that hard.”
He says it so quickly that Dean can’t understand, but he doesn’t want to ask his dad to repeat it. Next to him, Sam is laying down on their shared bed working on homework. He sees the look on Dean’s face and mutters, so quiet that John can’t hear, “Pss-ah-lee-tay.”
Dean gets through the first two lines again, this time with no screw-ups. Sam looks at him the way Dad should: proud and just a little condescending. Sam has been looking down on Dean long before he was taller.
“You know, Sammy, you’ve been gone four years,” Dean says while he fiddles with the radio dials, avoiding his brother’s eyes.
“Dean, I’m not having this argument again—”
“I’m not talking about fucking Stanford, okay?”
Sam pauses, shifting to face Dean. “What are you trying to get at?”
Dean keeps his eyes on the road, tapping his thumbs against Baby’s steering wheel. There’s a buzzing between the two of them, and Dean’s nauseous from nerves. He wishes he could just say things sometimes. Like when Sam left and called Dad a “manipulative bastard who used his own damn kids like weapons.”
Dean wouldn’t have had enough teeth left to apologize if he had said something like that.
“After we track down yellow-eyes… Dean, I’m going back. This life isn’t mine.”
“Dammit, Sam, that’s not what I’m not saying,” Dean snaps. “I just.”
He rolls his eyes at himself, thumbing the radio dials to drown out his words. “All I’m saying is I know that God’s name in Latin is Christo. You don’t need to teach me how to hunt.”
“Dean, there’s ten times as much lore about angels as there is about anything else we’ve ever hunted.”
“Yeah, you know what? There’s a ton of lore on unicorns, too. In fact, I hear that they ride on silver moonbeams, and they shoot rainbows out of their ass,” Dean snaps because Sam doesn’t get to be right, not about this. Sam didn’t pray on the floors of dirty motel rooms for years, and Sam can’t still hear their mom’s voice promising him that angels will always watch over him. If angels are real, then angels are douchebags.
Besides, isn’t Sam supposed to be the smart one?
The priest says that he believes in angels because it kinda goes with the job description and Dean wonders if everyone is really just defined by what pays the bills.
“Father, that’s Michael, right?” Sam asks, and Dean ducks out of the way of Sam’s gaze.
“That’s right. The archangel Michael with a flaming sword. The fighter of demons. Holy force against evil,” the priest says, looking up at the window.
What’s Sam need angels for? I do all of that, Dean thinks bitterly. He wants some holy father like I didn’t raise him right.
By the time the priest starts quoting scripture, Dean’s ready to run. There’s an itch building up somewhere behind his ribs that he wants to tear out, but it’d worry Sammy and scare the priest if he shoved a fist into his chest. Instead he makes cheap excuses and rushes down the stairs of the building. He almost doesn’t ask about the shrine at the bottom of the steps, but he’s damn lucky he does. Finally, Father’s starting to speak his language—violent deaths with no last rites.
“Look, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a skeptic, but since when are you all Mr. 700 Club?” Dean asks, and Sam scoffs. “No, seriously. From the getgo you’ve been willing to buy this angel crap, man. I mean, what’s next, are you gonna start praying every day?”
He turns to put the photo of the priest down, and he’s glad he’s not looking into his brother’s eyes when Sam says, “I do.”
Sam’s too much like their mom for his own damn good. Dean needs proof, he needs to feel a knife go into a chest before he knows he’s safe, he needs to see it with his own eyes to believe, and now Sam says that he has. It makes sense that if something holy was real it would reach out for Sam. Dean doesn’t believe, but it doesn’t mean he’s not jealous. So maybe he wants proof, or maybe he just wants to prove Sam wrong; he suggests the séance.
It goes exactly how he expected. He does prove Sam wrong. He proves to Sam that the only thing he’s got going for him is this fucked up family. He proves Sam’s eyes can get emptier than they already were, his shoulders lower. And Sam tells Dean that he’s just one person, that he’s not enough for Sam. Dean’s always known, but it’s bitter to hear Sam say. Dad, hunting, family, it’s never been enough for Sam because he could do better. Dean knows he’s settled.
“What, Dean. What did you see?” Sam demands, weary and holding back tears, and that’s what does it. Sam’s look reminds him too much of their childhood.
He lets Sam believe in God for the same reason he’d let him believe in Santa: maybe the old guy is real. He just doesn’t come to kids like them.
“Roanoke? Lost colony? Ring a bell? Dean, did you pay any attention in history class?”
Dean flinches a little because yeah, he did, but sometimes his stomach growled over the sound of the teacher’s voice and sometimes Dad yanked him out of class because it’s not like he’d ever use that kinda stuff anyway.
“Yeah,” he says defensively, reaching for the few moments of peace he’d had in classes. “Shot heard 'round the world, how bills become laws.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “That's not school, that's Schoolhouse Rock.”
He knows what Sam means: every textbook Dean’s ever had has been smeared with motor oil and blood.
If Dean was blindfolded and bleeding, he’d know how to load a pistol and aim well enough to give Sammy a head start. With lore books spread out on Sam’s bed and a dozen different browsers open on his shit laptop, it may look like Dean’s not the brightest hunter in the family. Thing is, he doesn’t need book smarts because he’s got survival instincts. He’d dug himself out of his own grave because he knows how to keep a cool head and roll with the punches that life and his father dealt them. Latin be damned, Dean knows the things that matter, like how to tell if he was close to getting a beating by the shade of bloodshot his father’s eyes were, or when the guy across the room was worth the risk of being found by some drunk jackass wandering into the men’s bathroom. Sam’s got instincts too, but he’s got powers and Dean’s starting to worry that if Sam relies on that psychic shit any longer, he’s gonna lose his edge. Or maybe he’s just worried Sam’ll prove to be better than Dean is even if he leans a little heavy on his mind powers.
Dean stands up, sighing at Sam, who’s too focused on an ancient mythology article to notice. He leaves the room, his eyes squinting at the red neon lights declaring the motel has vacancies. It’s tempting, and he thinks about getting into Baby and finding someone who’d last long enough to have a night with instead of a half hour.
Ever since he’s sold his soul, he’s had a hard time telling himself no. If he’s already going to Hell, there’s really no point in stopping himself from staring too long at a guy’s mouth. Damned if you do him, damned if you don’t.
He shoves the keys into the ignition, finding his way to a bar with shitty enough lights that he can’t make out his own reflection in the whiskey. Something about a determined expiration date makes everything headier, and he finds himself getting drunker easier, desperate for a guy from just a few sideways glances. It doesn’t take Dean long to see him in the corner of the bar, alone and with heavy shoulders that Dean thinks he can take the tension out of. Dean sends a drink his way and keeps his eyes on the TV, pretending he cares about the local teams while he’s really just thinking about the feel of stubble on his neck.
Dean waits a few minutes before risking a glance out of the corner of his eye, and he finds himself being watched intently. Both of them flick their gazes around the room, making sure they don’t attract attention. Dean shifts pointedly, lifting his foot up a rung on the bar stool to spread his knees apart. The man stands, wandering his way over like it’s not intentional.
“Good game,” he mutters, gesturing at the TV.
Dean licks his lips. This is what he knows. The practised measures of men who want each other bad enough they’d risk getting killed for it.
He wants to shower before they even start, but when the solid weight rests above him, Dean smiles, knowing that there’s at least one thing he’s good at.
He looks into Stanford before Sam even tells him he’s leaving because Dean knows how to read a room, and he knows how to read the tension in a motel even better, and despite what Sam clearly thinks, he knows how to read the college flyers that he finds stuffed into Sam’s binders that Dean definitely doesn’t go through to make sure he’s done all his homework.
He picks up every pamphlet and looks at the official website even though he might as well not even be able to type when it comes to computers. He looks at pre-law requirements like they’re wendigo mythology or written in Latin and his dad’s looking over his shoulder. By the time Sam throws on a backpack and jumps ship like Dean’s always been afraid he would, always hoped he would, he wants to clap him on the shoulder. Sam’s gonna be a lawyer. Dad’s angry, but Dean’s proud. He’s proud and he’s happy and he’s not bitter, and he tells himself that through his bloody teeth in the mirror like a summoning ritual or an exorcism. Burning the envy right out of his chest. It’s not like he stayed four years after he’d been able to get the hell out of dodge. It’s not like he’d given up everything for this family. It’s not like he used to fantasize about supporting Sam without having to be on the road or at a poker table or in an alley.
Even if Dean had tried, it’s not like he would have been let into any college. Sam doesn’t just want the apple pie life; he’s wanted by it. Rolling onto his side and clutching his ribs, Dean knows that Sam’s wanted bad.
One of those glossy brochures had boasted that the university was home to over 20 libraries. Dean hopes there’s not a damn page on monsters.
“Okay, look, I know you’re not all choirboy about this stuff, but this is becoming less and less about faith and more and more about proof,” Sam argues like the damn lawyer he could have been.
“Proof?” Dean demands.
He shakes his head in disbelief. “Proof that there’s a God out there that actually gives a crap about me personally? I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it.”
Dean looks at Bobby, hoping someone will understand. Hoping the closest thing he’s ever had to a father will tell Sam exactly what he needs to hear to crush this shitty fantasy that’ll lead nowhere but heartbroken outside a chapel in Providence, never able to look at Christmas decorations the same way.
Bobby doesn’t say anything, though, and Dean’s voice shakes from exhaustion. “Because why me? If there is a God out there, why would he give a shit about me?”
“Dean,” Sam says, rolling his eyes because he never heard John Winchester drunk and mumbling about the way his boy was born in sin.
“I mean, I’ve saved some people, okay?” he interrupts. “I figure that made up for the stealing and the ditchin’ chicks,” and dudes he leaves unsaid, “but why do I deserve to get saved? I’m just a regular guy.”
“Apparently you’re a regular guy who’s important to the man upstairs,” Sam says, smiling like he’s always known, and Dean frustratedly reminds himself that he has. If Sam’s right about this, then even when Dean’s running on proof and Sam’s running on faith, Dean’s the one who gets it wrong. And that’s how he knows it can’t have been an angel. There is nothing right, nothing righteous about Dean Winchester. His own father wouldn’t come calling when he died, so why would the Father?
Later, far later than they should be still arguing about this considering the dead were rising in ways they’d never seen before earlier, and Bobby’s gone to bed hours ago, Sam watches Dean organize the cupboards while they talk salvation. He doesn’t bring up the way Dean’s hands are shaking, but Dean’s not sure he notices in the first place.
“Why would you even want to believe in God? Why do you look around at all this and want to believe that someone’s controlling it all?”
“We have free will. He doesn’t dictate every word out of our mouths.”
“Oh, so He just, what? Made us and left? Wanted to watch us on the big screen and ignore our problems?”
“He’s not ignoring—”
“Well He’s sure as hell not listening. You still pray every night? When’s the last time He answered for jackshit?”
“I don’t know, how about when He brought you back to life?”
“God didn’t even do that, He sent His little soldier boy. And we still don’t know why, I might add.”
There was nothing left to rearrange in front of him, and Dean wishes they were having this conversation outside so he could work on a car. He misses his hands when they aren’t doing something.
“He raised you out of Hell, Dean! Why can’t you just accept it? This thing, this angel did what… what I couldn’t.”
“You were never supposed to raise me!” Dean shouts because he can’t help it, he can’t take this bullshit anymore. “Dad sold his soul for me, I sold mine for you, and I was supposed to rot down there and that would be it. This throws off the order of things, and nothing like this comes without a price, Sam. You fuckin’ know that.”
“Maybe God just thinks you’re worth saving.”
“Oh, shut up!” He closes the cupboard, careful not to slam it like his dad used to with doors. “He never has before.”
They’re both bleeding from the necks, and there’s no better time for honesty that’ll taste bad in the morning. Dean spits out that he can’t trust Sam anymore, that he’s scared they aren’t family, that Hell has buried itself so far into Dean that it’s seeping into Sam and he can’t stand to watch it. He growls it, feels it torn from his chest under the layers he’s been burying it under.
“Okay, fine. You know why I didn’t tell you about Ruby and how we’re hunting down Lillith?” Sam asks, low and careful and rational. “Because you’re too weak to go after her, Dean. You’re holding me back. I’m a better hunter than you are. Stronger. Smarter. I can take out demons you’re afraid to go near.”
Later, while Sam sleeps and Dean drives through the shaking of his hands, he wonders if Sam’s been waiting to say that since Stanford.
Zachariah sighs, exhausted. Dean flinches on instinct. “It’s you, chucklehead. You’re the Michael sword.”
And doesn’t that just make sense? Dean Winchester, a weapon in the hands of the Father.
“You’re agitated,” Cas says like it’s anything new.
“Of course I am!” he snaps. “Of course I am.”
Sam is out on a run, leaving Dean alone with an exiled angel in a motel room holiness does not belong in, but that’s not what’s got Dean on edge. It’s not even hiding out from Heaven’s soldiers that’s making him want to get into Baby and find the nearest cliff.
“Because I didn’t read the Bible,” he finally sighs. “Not all of it at least.”
Cas cocks his head like he always does, and Dean sits on the bed, tugging a hand through his hair. He’s tired, but the idea of sleeping makes his skin run hot like he’s still under flames, and he knows nothing he can say will make Cas understand.
But Cas sits next to him, straight and stiff, and Dean knows he’ll listen, which is more than most do.
“I’m not stupid, okay, Cas? I may not have been great in school, but I could make fifteen bucks last a week and a half between Sam and I when we were kids. And I know Baby inside and out. Can fix her better than even Dad could. I don’t read Bobby’s entire library for fun, but I know my way around a silver blade and I’ve managed to outsmart enough monsters to survive near thirty years as a hunter and I’m not the goddamn idiot everyone seems to think I am.”
He’s red in the face and his body’s shaking, but he’s got no way to calm himself down. He just waits, praying to nobody for everything.
“When I began questioning Heaven, I asked Anna for orders.” Dean doesn’t understand what Cas is saying, but he listens in the way that only the two of them can hear each other. “I needed them. Or believed I did. I’m not sure which. And she told me it was time to think for myself.”
He smiles, more bitter than Dean has ever seen him. “Dean, I had never been without a General. Not in my entire existence, which is bigger and more undefined than your human brain can even try to conceptualize without bleeding profusely.”
“Gee, thanks,” Dean says, but both of them know he means nothing by it.
“The reason I followed orders so well was because I knew nothing else. There was no choice. No free will. I followed you because I believed in you.” Dean’s eyes snap to meet Cas’s, and neither of them break away. “I trusted your judgement, your intelligence. I did not rebel for a Michael sword or for a soldier or for an idiot. I rebelled because you gave me faith in what was right again. Dean, I don’t care what you know about cars or monsters or bars. You know the difference between right and wrong while the rest of us just scramble to keep up.”