April 15th, 2011

free fall

BB2011 "Place at the End" -- Part 1

Title: Place at the End
Genre: Gen, pre-series and post-series (discounting 6x21/22), drama/angst/hurt/comfort
Characters: Dean, Sam, peripheral OFCs, peripheral John; Lisa, very peripheral Meg
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 27600
Warnings: The exchange of many soulful looks. But no, really. Possibly triggering material: suicidal ideation
Summary: In 1996, you realized one thing: you're either a hunter or you're not; some bridges can only be crossed once. Fast forward to 2021. What happens when that frontier starts closing?
Notes: For spn_j2_bigbang. Art by the amazing barbara_ger!


Collapse )
free fall

BB2011 "Place at the End" Part 2a

♦ PART TWO ♦


School wasn't interesting. Class, lunch, life driven by bells and hall monitors. Dean and Graciela indeed had one class in common, though not in the same period--English with a stunner named Mrs. Pokhart, who was about three hundred years old and knew dog CPR. Graciela loved her. Graciela wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up. Go figure.

This all came up because the spring quarter was just starting up, and Mrs. Pokhart's three English classes were starting their 'careers and vocations' unit. Ten pages, works cited in MLA format. At least one primary source interview, if possible (the guy who wanted to be an Egyptologist was shit out of luck on that one. He didn't seem too pleased when Dean suggested he be a high school teacher instead). Due May 16th.

Fucking fantastic.

Days passed. Dad shifted in and our of their lives, in timely increments that were familiar, and life was as normal. Dean only hoped that once Dad had tracked the thing, he'd bring them along for the hunt. He'd sent Dean and Sam on short research errands--library stuff (no interviews--Dean could fake twenty-one better than most twenty-one year olds, but thirty and over wasn't a go, especially when the venue wasn't in smoky half-light) mostly, some street casing. It was all the interesting stuff--mostly history, crime cases and whatever, not the centuries-old monster magic tomes that Dean hated so much. He didn't like libraries as a general rule, but he'd rather be researching the dead guys than the hypothetical monster that probably didn't kill them. It was so much harder to justify spending time on that; it really was.

Weeks passed. Sometimes Graciela would walk to school instead of being driven past them--after that first gas incident, and their one hundred mile trek up to the white Oceanside bridge--and Sam and Dean would know Veronica was out, too. It was strange to think that she didn't know. That she had no fucking clue what the world was up against. Well, she probably had a clue--if Veronica was as subtle as Dad was, even at his most secretive, it was pretty damn easy to tell when something was up. She wasn't an idiot.

But one look at her and Dean knew she was no hunter. She didn't have that hunger, or that kind of kicked look that sometimes saw in Sam, and felt in himself. That mixture of fear and the knowledge of weakness full frontal.

Because Dad said there was a cosmic lock on the whole hunting evil deal--Graciela must not know. She must not know or Veronica will shoot them all--most of Dean's conversations with her involved vague one-liners.


"Your mom's gone again, huh." He'd say behind her, when she kept walking briskly down the street without turning around or saying hello.

"So's your dad," she would reply. Silence. They'd keep walking. Sam would outstrip the both of them, then turn left to the middle school. They kept straight. The stoplights flashed their trichromatic ditty. "They took her car."

That was pretty much a conversation ender. Nobody really wanted to contemplate the possible benefits of Dad and Veronica's--or John and Mama's, depending on who you were talking to--not-quite-friendship to working relationship to who the hell knew what else.

At the one month mark, Graciela sprung a new topic on their morning routine and asked Dean what his career report was about. You know, that career report. Yeah, the career report he may have sort of forgotten about. "Oh, that one," he said. And Graciela continued: He hadn't really talked about, and she wanted to know if he wanted any tips, since he didn't have any experience with Mrs. Pokhart's grading style. ("Include pictures," Graciela advised solemnly. "Print them on the computer if you can. She thinks visual aids are the Second Coming or something. It's instant favor.")

Dean thought about his career project. It was at the bottom of his backpack somewhere. He'd meant to do it, he really had, he'd gone to the library and channel surfed, or whatever it was you called it for books. But he'd ended up looking through the paper archives and comparing news tidbits about an Arturo Francesco, so he hadn't actually read anything about firefighters. He hadn't read anything about bull fighters, either, which he figured would at least get him some pretty interesting visual aids.

--

Sam drew two lines from the same point, like the roof of a house. At the top, he put My Family Tree. Then he crossed it out, and wrote The Big Bang instead. He drew a line and named the first ten lifeforms his life science textbook mentioned. Some pre-cellular things. Then the cellular ones. Multi-cellular. He had tons of relatives.

Then he crossed everything out. This was stupid. This was really, really stupid. He crumpled up the piece of paper and tried to launch it into the wastebasket at the other end of the couch.

Failing that, he went in search of Veronica. "What’s up, kid?" she asked. Sam was always ‘kid.’

“You have a computer, right?”



Sam didn't know Mom's original name, before she was married. There were a lot of Mary Winchesters in Kansas, believe it or not. But there was only one Mary Campbell who'd died in a housefire in November 1983.

"That's your mother," said Veronica. "Mary Campbell."

She was survived by a cousin, Dustin Campbell, and his three daughters and two sons. The article didn't even mention that she'd been married, or that she had children. Sam guessed that Dustin must have been the Uncle from Iowa. A picture of a crinkled up obituary on a computer that was about an inch tall probably should not be an end-all for judging character, but it made Sam think that maybe Dad and Dean weren't actually exaggerating the guy. Sam had to admit, he was a little stung at not even being included in her memory. Like they weren't a big enough part of her life to even exist.

"Are you sure that's her?" Sam asked Veronica, though Sam didn't know how Veronica would possibly know. Childhood friend or not, in Sam's experience coincidences were known to happen at the least convenient times. And how was he supposed to trust this Internet thing, anyway? Maybe it wasn't even a real newspaper clipping.

"That's her," Veronica replied, lips tight. "That's definitely her."

"How do you know?"

"When you've met enough dead people, and you've read enough of these, you just know." Which didn't seem like any answer at all. "You don't know the whole story," Veronica continued. “Ask your dad what happened.”

Sam snorted. "He wouldn't talk about that if he'd been dead a hundred years. He just wouldn't."

"You'd be surprised how much your dad would be willing to tell you," said Veronica. "He's told you a lot."

Dad hadn't told him anything. Dean had. Sam had inferred, Dean had confirmed, and Dad had picked up from there. Dad had mostly assumed, and then ordered, and then expected. It wasn't the same thing.

It was like Veronica could read his thoughts. "At least he didn't lie to you."

That, Sam thought, was the biggest lie of all. The absolute biggest lie of all. At that moment, Sam decided they were done with lying.

"Can I keep looking on this?"

"Wouldn’t have brought you back if you weren’t allowed, kid,” said Veronica. "The stuff’s around. I know it is. You just gotta look and see what you can find.”



Sam found out that his grandma and grandpa were in a rotary club, and their names were Samuel and Deanna Campbell. Which was a precious bit of information, because Sam felt like it explained everything.

It didn't actually, obviously. He could imagine Dean blowing him off, like it was completely uninteresting. "So they're named Samuel and Deanna. So we were obviously named after them. Everyone does that. That's not all that important."

"That's just 'cause you're named after a girl," Sam knew he would respond. And then it would be lost. The information would be useless again, and Sam would be left back at square one. He couldn't do that. Even if there was a chance Dean didn't take it like that--and obviously he would, because when didn't he?--Sam couldn't possibly risk it. No. This was going to be his, and his alone. He scribbled down everything he could about Samuel and Deanna Campbell, mom's brother Dustin, the one in Iowa, and his children, which were only numbers.

At this point, he probably knew more about this entire family than anyone else alive. Because all he really needed to do was beat this mysterious Uncle Dustin and Dad. Dad didn't count, because there was tons of stuff he'd never ever know about Sam, about Dean; and Uncle Dustin doesn't count because as far as he was concerned Sam and Dean and Dad didn't even exist. Writing out history was automatic disqualification. So Sam won, because Sam always wins.

His eyes were beginning to water from staring at Veronica's screen as long as he had, grey-blue-green and white and pulsing. He figured he had enough to go off of. He could nail Samuel and Deanna to within at least a decade of their births, though he couldn't find the exact date. They'd died on the same day. And apparently together, in some kind of unexpected accident the newspaper didn't identify. Sam was hoping car crash, or tornado, or something good and normal like that, though he's pretty sure that this family couldn't possibly be so lucky. Maybe whatever had killed them had come to finish the job that night, the night Mom died. But Sam didn't want to think about that because that meant that whatever had gone after them was coming after them, coming after them the way Dad suspected and the way Sam adamantly didn't want to be true. Not because he didn't think they could take it--though he was pretty sure they couldn't. He was twelve, and Dean wasn’t anything he thought he was, and Dad--Dad was invincible, but he was still Dad. He was still human. And that meant he kind of lost, no matter what. Sam didn’t want it to be true because that meant that everything Dad had done, and everything he'd made them do, was perfectly justified. And Sam didn't think he could deal with that. The idea that all of the crazy and all of the moving and the training and the sacrifices were actually worth it seemed pretty nice in theory, but it also meant that the world was just as fucked up as Dean and Dad thought it was.

That nothing mattered, because how could it, when everything was that fucked up?

And Sam didn't think he could deal with that. Not in a million years.

"You know, I've always wanted to be a veterinarian."

While Dean charmed Graciela out of her library books, Sam idled on the cement step out front, dreamed up Papi's Dog. He could almost see her charging through the weeds in the front yard, dandelion heads snapped like so many necks, heads rolling. She was a desperate, furious thing, all hackles and bad teeth, wild eyes and secret dental fractures--and Papi is a great shadow of a man, to fit the dog. He doesn't use a leash. He can command her without rules, because he's Papi. That's power. And because there are no rules, no one else could ever own her. That's insurance.

And Sam thought that, maybe a little, he knows how that might be. Papi's Dog doesn't care what he has to do, so long as he can keep on being Papi's.

Sam took out his notebook and began to write.

It had only been ten, fifteen minutes, and Dean backed through the screen door, arms laded with a dozen books, lacquer-shiny, crisp, and new. "It's due tomorrow, you know," said Graciela. She followed Dean out the door as though she didn't quite trust him with her books. Her porch to the car. Car to their apartment. Up to the fourth floor. Back down. Sam could see the working in her eyes, tallying up the mishaps that tended to collapse around them, the carelessness of boys, Dean.

"How 'bout I come tomorrow and get the books in the morning? We can walk to the school together. I'll just take them, it's all right. I kinda wanted to look at them again, you know? Before the oral."

"I'm not gonna lose your books overnight." Dean stepped off the cement ledge backwards with a lurch.

"Then be ready early. I wanna show you something before school. And Sam, too. What time are you gonna get up?"

Dean said something vague and noncommittal which was probably supposed to be cool, and they were at the car and pulling away from the curb with well-practiced expedience.

Home was no different; the same filmy light flooded the living room in whiskey-amber shafts, unfurnished but for the bags in the corner, gathering dust, and the cardboard castle lurched up against the kitchen counter. Dad hadn't been there.

Sam leaned up against the kitchen sink and thrust himself sideways to try for a drink of water, and ran into Dean, checking the gun. It was still here, with the familiar rusty rods, the skeleton of had probably once been a scrub brush. Sam swallowed, and tried to disappear the water's hard taste. "What d'you think Graciela wants to show us?"

"Her new bra, I hope."

"That's gross."


"Don't worry, Sam. You're not gonna have to wear it."


At 7:30, Sam turned the kitchen light on, and Dean, squinting in the then-darkness at True Confessions of a Veterinarian, continued to squint under the pale fluorescence. Dinner passed without mention. Sam finished pre-algebra, then his family tree. He would have been done hours earlier, but the tree could not be rushed. He drew thin, spindly lines for branches, like the tree out of the picture Dad had in his journal. Dustin Campbell, born 1936. His eight children, unnamed but abundant, like fruit. Taller branches: A Samuel and Deanna Campbell, born 1912 and 1919. That's the top of the tree, but even lopsided and stunted as it is, it's the most Sam has ever known, and it's the most Sam has ever kept from his brother at any one time.

He's pretty good on not keeping things from Dean. Part of this was because whatever Sam's ability to lie (it's pretty good; without reservations Sam's sure it's really pretty good) to Dean he's always naked as a pin-up girl (to use Dean's example). Part of this was because he's never really had anything to keep. Dustin and his eight, and Samuel and Deanna, were small secrets, pixelated names on a digital page, but they were his.

The tree was probably the best thing Sam Winchester had ever put together. It was certainly the truest. He slid it between his pre-algebra and Theogony, into the dark flat safeness of his backpack.


"Cereal?" Dean asked, just past midnight. He was snapping up a handful of Fruit Loops, one by one. Sam nodded, caught the box Dean lobbed at him, though the cardboard crumpled in his grip. Sam looked to Dean's set up on his side of the living room. A page of sideways notes, written in deft block print. Items flying off in the margins scrawled in less formal penmanship. True Confessions of a Veterinarian was thoughtfully not dog-eared; instead, napkins feathered between every tenth page or so. He'd moved on to The Barefoot Veterinarian, though the other ten books, sprawled out in a broken rainbow on the grey-green carpet, appeared untouched.

Sam licked Fruit Loops off his fingers one by one, color by color. "How's it going?" he asked, though nothing in recent memory would have granted him any expectation that Dean would actually be all that keen on answering.

--

Sam clearly hadn’t expected Dead to boomerang the question, which made him feel strangely proud.

Sam looked up, vague expression on his face like he didn't quite believe he'd heard Dean ask what he did. "Not sure yet."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Dean gave him his best no bullshit frown, though according to Sam it wasn't the most convincing expression in the world. Again, whatever.

"We're reading some parts out of this book called Theogony," Sam explained, after he'd sighed, and closed the book. He gave Dean an annoyed pout. "It's a genealogy of the gods--basically a family tree."

"I know what geneaology means."

"Sure you do. But anyway, that's not my point. It's basically a family tree, so we're supposed to like, research our family and stuff and make our own tree."

Dean snorted. "Gonna be a pretty short tree, dude. Maybe a bush."

"I have to go back at least to my grandparents, she said."

'She' was an amorphous young woman of indeterminate description. Any time Dean had gotten more curious than that, Sam had shut right up. Probably meant she was young and hot as hell. Not that Dean really went for teachers. They tended to have this kind of sappy world mission that revolved around the plots of teacher movies, like that one about the Mexican kid, who'd been played by the Filipino kid. Then Dean shifted back to reality. "Well, that's gonna be kinda funny, dude, because I really don't think you're gonna get that information out of dad."

"I don't see why not," Sam challenged him. The defiance in his voice was oddly personal. Like Dean had actually said something wrong. "I mean, it's not like knowing the names of our grandparents, maybe even where they lived, what years they were born or died or whatever, is actually going to do anything to us. It's not like I'm gonna go off and live with them."

"Oh, really? You're not? You coulda fooled me," said Dean, though it was probably unwarranted. Sam had never threatened to actually run off. He'd mope outside, run up to the rooftop or some other emo punk thing like that, but he'd never actually threatened to leave. He wouldn't dare. He wouldn't want to. Whatever Sam didn't have with him and Dad, he knew what he did have, and it's not like he was going to throw that away just like that. No way.

"I just need to know for my stupid report," said Sam. "Do you know?"

"Yeah right," said Dean. "All I know of is that one uncle in whatever state that was, like Iowa or something? The one where Dad avoids the entire property like the damn plague, just because he's in it. Maybe he thinks if he stays away our Uncle Whosit'll be eaten by a vampire or something. Or better yet, he'll be turned and Dad will be able to off him himself."

Sam blanched. "Dean, shut up. That's not the reason. Dad wouldn't do that."

Dean shrugged. "Hell, to that guy? I would. You remember him that one time."

"He just wanted to know if Dad wanted an adjoining plot. He didn't say anything bad."

"He was asking Dad about his grave, dude. That's kinda bad no matter how you swing it. Do you know what passive-aggressive means? I'll give you a hint--you act it all the time. Bitch."

"Jerk," Sam started. "It's not like he was telling Dad to get inside the plot. It was a nice gesture. He was going to make sure Mom and Dad could be buried together."

"I don't think Dad's bones are going to give much of a damn whether they're next to Mom's in a hundred years, or not. They probably won't even have graves by then. We'll be living in pods, like in that one movie we saw that one time, in Arizona."

"Dean, you're doing it again."

"What am I doing?"

"You're being ridiculous."

"You're ridiculous."

"Seriously, Dean! You're being stupid. You're being really, really stupid."

And maybe it was true. But it was keeping him from being really, really stupid-er, because he kind of wanted to hit Sam right now. He wasn't sure exactly why, even a little bit, because it's not like Sam had really done anything yet--and Sam was perfectly capable of doing things, that was for sure--but the whole conversation just kind of hit frayed nerves or something, because Dean really was going to hit him. He really, really--

"So make it up. If it's just a stupid project, make it up. That's what you do every other time. Like that one essay about the chupacabra. You got on A on that for "creative application of outside research" or something, didn't you? With that one ostrich teacher?"

"I don't know which teacher you're talking about. I only know their names."

"There's no way you remember all their names."

"Why not? You do. You just never use them."

"That's not the point. What I'm talking about Sam is, just make it up. Hell, I'm gonna make mine up. It'll be easy. It'll be fun. Play God for a while and just make up a family tree for us, okay? And make it awesome. We have twin cousins three hundred times removed, just sayin'. As an example."

Sam refused to speak to him for the rest of the evening.

Made for a long fucking evening. Dean sighed, for the millionth time, and tried to concentrate on the page in front of him. It had been the same page for the past three hours

The college course requirements for pre-vets were all kind of drooling out of the book and swishing down the drain with Sam's toothpaste in the back room. It wasn't like he really cared, because it's not like he was going to go off and be a veterinarian--it's something he can honestly say he's never had any thought about before, ever in his entire damn life--and he didn't see why it had to be such a big deal. He should just screw the project and get on with life, because it doesn't really apply.

Sam tapped the handle of his toothbrush against the sink three times, as usual, and Dean tried to pull himself back to animal communications and bacteriology. He wasn't actually sure what bacteriology meant, outside of fun times with cheek swabs and microscopes, or long lists of 'invisible things that can kill you' and he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with all of this, since listing it the way it was in the book was probably plagiarism. And between the fake IDs and the pathological lies, you can't have that.

Veterinarians have to take a lot of classes in college, he wrote. They're mostly things about biology and for some reason, psychology. The he crossed it all out. He kept 'veterinarians.'

Maybe it would be better to start from the beginning. There was a prompt somewhere, hidden in the bundle of papers he'd managed to keep hold of up to this point.

What do you want to be when you become and adult?

Who will you be?

How will you get there?

Dean wrote that he wanted to be a veterinarian when he grew up because he'd always been really interested in stuff like the make-up of animals. What they ate, where they lived, whether they lived in packs or not... That kind of thing. His father, who was not a veterinarian, but an ex-Marine, had always made sure he and his brother kept track of that sort of thing. They moved around a lot so they saw all kinds of animals.

This, he crumpled into a ball and threw across the room. The ball was an eerie off-white glow in the dark corner by the window, a watching eye. Not that any of that was true. It just seemed kind of stupid. Candyass, or something.

What do you want?

To be done with this shit, for one. It was 1am. Sam had gone off somewhere, into the bedroom, to Yemen, Dean didn't know and knowing Sam it could very well have been either.

Every hour, the pages bled. Margins widened. The center of the page opened up into expansive white nothingness. Type your report, if you can. Write in cursive. Dean's wasn't typed, and it wasn't in cursive. This was mostly because it just didn't exist at all. At 4am it was really difficult to bullshit a reason Dean wanted to be a veterinarian--one that would fly with Sweet Valley or whatever the hell this school was called, in any case. He could think of plenty of reasons he'd want to be a veterinarian, provided he was a veterinarian in the sense that Sam was actually the Sam Winchester everyone--including Sam--seemed to think he was, and provided he was a veterinarian in the sense that Dad was actually a contractor, or a cable repair guy (what a riot--especially after the toaster incident), or a New Yorker journalist (who'd wandered into Nowhere, Tennessee for, what, the hell of it? on the offchance that there were some kind of dark evil thing that went creek in the dark?)

Yeah, Dean could be a veterinarian. In the same sense that this report could have actual words in it.

Dean Winchester
Mrs. Pokhart
English 11
April 14, 1996
Insert Title Here


Dean curled his toes into the carpet, and felt the grains of dry adhesive between them. He wasn’t sure where his socks went--at some point they became too moist, or too hot, or too stretched. They were off-white ghosts somewhere in the deeper corners of the barren living room, along with the now-multiplied balls of ruled paper littering the ground beneath the far wall.

Dean wrote

When he becomes a veterinarian--the family business; not his father, but his grandfather, and his father before that--he's going to set up shop somewhere far away from here. Some place that actually has animals that aren't wannabe Black Dogs.

Dean let his pencil deepen the tornado he'd started scribbling around one of the binder holes. It grew and grew until the storm covered the entire margin, started dipping down into the lowest third of the page. Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. He tried to imagine what it would be like to go into the same white stucco every morning, check the mail, be expected. He'd wear one of those white lab coats that make all doctors seem just totally friendly and familiar, Doc Martens, some kind of ridiculous tie--the shole shebang. Whole shebang. He rakes the top of his tongue with his teeth. Wow. Just--wow.

Whole shebang. And Sam would be his biggest customer, bringing in his girlfriend's labradoodle or something like that. Figures Sam would get a labradoodle. Dean screwed his eyes shut.

He's starting to lose it.

It wasn’t even that late; he'd pulled a million all-nighters and then some. This was nothing. All he'd done was sit here the entire afternoon, he's got nothing to complain about. Besides, what did he have to show for it? An impressive collection of paper snowballs. A dull pencil.

He dug his knife out of his pocket, delving into his stiff jeans with a grimace. It seemed like a lot of work to stand up, just to get the knife out. Finally, he pinned the handle between his fingers, extracted the knife, and flipped open the blade. He bent over to get at one of the other books he'd borrowed from Graciela while he whittled at his pencil tip. Splintery brown shavings fell into the carpet and looked pretty much at home. The room creaked as the building settled, and Dean pulled himself back from his rumination on the carpet, tried to throw his focus back on the veterinarian book. Or at least the pencil. He whittled at it absently, strained to follow the black serpentine text across the pages of the book. He wasn't as successful as maybe he could have been.

It wasn’t that late.

Didn't stop the head rush that nearly sat him back on his ass when he stood. The world dipped back sideways, fell into the tornado scribbled in the margin of his empty page, and didn't stop until it had come full circle. Dean blinked, shook his head. Okay, so the sink seemed like a pretty good destination. Even better than it had seemed minutes before.

He wasn't really sure how Sam managed to drink out of that, though. He could see the mineral buildup even when he was washing his hands. Whitewater in their own damn kitchen. But whatever. Dad hadn't really left them with much. Dean knew what to do with the money, but buying water seemed really stupid. Not that he had any idea what he was supposed to be buying with it, since Dad always seemed vaguely concerned by his choices whenever he returned, saw the receipts, or the refuse. At least, back when he'd actually asked for the receipts. Lately, he'd either started trusting Dean more, or he'd become preoccupied by more important things. Dean would be putting his money on the latter any day.

He shuffled back to his nest on the living room carpet and picked up a stack of his binder paper, and the prompt. Made a paper cone. He turned the faucet on, just barely, and let it fill the entire cone. Whitewater, like he'd said. "It's just air bubbles," Sam insisted, though anyone could tell the difference with one taste.

Uh huh, Sammy. And you remember those weirdass fountains in Colorado, right? That's called mineral water. This is. I don't even know--this is mercury-in-the-well water.

Sam said it came from an aqueduct in Los Angeles. They'd learned about it in California History last Thursday.

Dean closed his eyes--a welcome reprieve, since they honestly felt like they were made out of carpet gunk--and drank deeply. It absolutely wasn't worth it. Maybe a shower instead. Yeah, a shower. He could think about this thesis statement or something. Pokhart was always going on about thesis statements. If he could just figure that one out, he could probably bullshit his way through the rest of the report; historically it had worked pretty well.

He looked down at his paper cone. The innards were made out of his paper prompt, interrogatory, probing statements staring at him through a film of water. They were blurry at the edges, burning blue like a neck stuck in a noose.

What do you want to be?

Where will you go?


The remaining water at the bottom of the cone was started to stain purple from the ink dripping down. He threw the entire thing into the trashcan. It was disturbingly empty; generally he and Sam weren't all that good about taking it out, but it was gone now. The paper cone glowed white like a ghost, like all the ghosts. Dean tried not to look too hard at the living room as he stepped over his backpack and his books and his remaining stack of paper (and hey, it'd be pretty good progress if he'd actually written on the paper missing from the stack. It's far diminished from its too-damn-expensive-per-sheet status) and made his way to the bathroom.

He didn't bother turning on the lights. He wasn't actually sure if there was a bulb in the hall light, actually. He'd never seen it on. Sam was the only one who ever turned on the lights. He probably thought it was normal or something. But all Dean could think about was beacons. Beacons like they kind they'd seen on their way down here, driving all down the coast. It just seemed like a stupid idea. The white fluorescence wasn't too bad; it was basic, made everything a truck-stop kind of ghoulish clear. But Dean wasn't really feeling the honey glow of end table lamps, or reading lights, or the kind that sat in the fishbowl lamps that split the hall ceiling into thirds.

They reminded him of the holes in his binder paper, white and empty and tornado-making.

The bathroom rug was still wet from Sam's excursion, though there wasn't any standing water this time. Which was an improvement. He and Sam had tackled the tub over the weekend, plugging up the gritty, failing caulking with whatever they could find at the bottom of the pack. Looked like it had worked.

Except for the part where that had been the weekend and now it was, what, Friday? Jesus. Where the hell had he been all this time. He was pretty sure time just passed differently down here. Closer to the equator or something. It's not because Dad was gone, because when the hell wasn't he? And Sam was the same. And he was the same.

He was absolutely fucking tired, in the beat-all sense. He stared at the shower head grainy-eyed, teeth feeling like they were free-floating, their enamel some kind of gooey myth beneath his tongue. Undressing seemed like a lot of work. He unstrapped his watch. 4:47am. Maybe he'd just put his head under the sink faucet. Maybe he'd just put it under the sink faucet and never lift it out.


--


There was someone at the door. A woman. Maybe the woman, Veronica. He hadn't seen her in a long time, even when he stayed at Graciela's on Thursdays. It was raining.

Then he woke up. He woke up to the sound of the doorbell ringing, and water running. He scanned the other side of the room. Dean's sleeping bag was packed into the corner, piled up like a fat mound of flesh rather than a neat caterpillar roll. It hadn't moved all night. But the doorbell was still ringing.

It took Sam a few seconds to rise out of sleep and realize that if the water was running, and the doorbell was ringing, then Dean wasn't answering the door, their guest wasn't going away, and that meant he actually had to get out of bed.

Sam inched toward the door without disentangling himself from the inside layer of his sleeping back. Then he reached up to the doorknob and tried to pull himself out of the nylon and polyester mess. The living room was dark, even with the kitchen light on. He wasn't sure what time it was. It looked like Dean had been hard at work for a good while, though Sam didn't see anything that looked like triumph.

It was Graciela at the door. It was still dark outside. "What are you doing here? It's the middle of the night," Sam asked blearily. He wasn't sure if he'd actually woken up, or just returned to the dream. He was pretty sure they'd done this part before.

"It's 5:30," said Graciela matter of factly. "And I have something I want to show you. But we have to get an early start, because it's not gonna be too close."

She looked beyond Sam. "Where's Dean?"

Sam shrugged. "I don't know."

Graciela looked at him. "What is that even supposed to mean?"

Sam shrugged.

Sam honestly hadn't thought about that. It was one of those reflex answers, was his best guess. Since clearly he knew exactly where Dean was. It wasn’t like there were all that many choices, after all. But there you go. "Would you like to come in?" Sam asked.

Graciela came in.

She scrutinized their apartment appraisingly, though it wasn't as thought they had all that much to appraise. They only things they really had were in the fridge, the two sleeping bags in the back room, their school stuff, and a closet full of odds n’ ends. Piano wire, iron rounds, cat's eye shells. Those kinds of things. And that was in the closet. The back closet.

Graciela looked at her books strewn across the living room, pencil shavings making a mound on the carpet. Dean had left the knife. Impulse made Sam want to run and close the blade, hide it somewhere before Graciela could see, but Graciela had seen. The impulse didn't make that much sense, anyway; Graciela knew. Because Veronica knew.

"I haven't seen your mom around lately," said Sam, as casually as he could muster. He was about as casual as the Neighborhood Watch.

"Haven't seen your dad around lately," she countered. "Look, if he's not gonna come out or whatever..."

"Who's not going to come out?" Dean emerged from the angled hallway, combing his fingers through damp hair. It splayed out in limp spikes in every direction. He looked tired for a split second. Then he looked like Dean.

"It's about time. Look, I wanna show you guys something. How did your report go?" Graciela folded her arms around her, hugging her jacket tight. An ice breeze wafted in from the dark beyond the front door.

"My--" Dean started. "Oh. Right. That. Yeah, that was fine. You have some really...interesting research material. I can definitely see why you want to be a vet."

Graciela sneered, though her eyes held no vitriol. "You're an ass. Did you read any of those at all?"

"Of course I did. Bacteriology. Animal communications. Irish setters are beautiful and amazing."

"So what'd you write?"

"I said that I was going to be a vet for my kid brother's labradoodle."

Sam rolled his eyes. Figured.

"So what's this thing you want to show us at five in the damn morning? Some of us don't get up 'til six. If it's the sunrise, I swear to God--"

"We're going north, not east."

"Nor--"

"East, as in..the sunset. You know?"

"Yeah, I know. You know, jokes are a lot less amusing when the person feels like they need to explain them."

"It wasn't a joke."

Which is about when Sam tuned out. But they ended up in the Impala, with Dean gunning the engine loud enough to wake the entire block. They hit the 5 at six, just in time for the beginning of the commuter's traffic. Which meant there were about twelve other cars on the road, but apparently that was some kind of egregious sin in Dean's book.

"I don't see why California can't just have normal highways. You know, the good old American kind where you drive off into the sunset or whatever."

"Because if California drove into the sunset, they'd hit the Pacific first," Graciela answered absently. "Just keep on the 5. We've got like a hundred miles to go."

Sam jolted. A hundred?

"A hundred?" Dean said. "Where the hell are we going? Disneyland?"

"Oceanside."

Which was followed by some rumination on why the hell anyone would name a city Oceanside, when there were a hundred oceanside cities all up and down the--get this--the coast that were just as oceanside as Oceanside, if not more so. Sam rested his cheek against the curve of the door.

When he woke, they were turned out on a dirt shoulder, engine ticking. "Up and at 'em, dude," said Dean, jabbing him in the side.

"Next time I get shotgun," Graciela announced, she she climbed out of the back passenger door. "I want more leg room."

"Yeah, I don't think so," Dean answered, though he seemed more concerned by the scenery--or lack thereof, since it didn't seem like there was really anything all that remarkable about this particular stretch of highway--than the chatter that had mucked up the entire drive there. He still hadn't gotten around to fixing the radio.

"Why not?"

"Doesn't work that way. There's certain things you gotta be able to do if you wanna ride shotgun."

"Oh, really," said Graciela. Sam appreciated the gesture, but he wasn't sure what in the world Dean was talking about, either.

Dean shrugged. "That's just how it works. Shotgun's something you gotta earn. You wanna earn it?"

Hell yeah she did. Of course she did. Sam was beginning to think this was some kind of awful plot to get him to embarrass himself. Since that seemed like Dean's new thing and all. Or some thing.

"Rock paper scissors. Best two out of three." He winked at Sam.

Graciela frowned. "Oh, you're making that up. Here, we need to cross the freeway. It's on the other side."

Cross the freeway. Because it wasn't, you know, being painted shiny by steely hunks of metal doing 80 or anything. "That's why we had to get here early. My papi lived in Oceanside, so he always came from the other direction..."

But cross they did. They waited for the cars to thin, and ran straight out behind the puff of exhaust and the clatter of small pebbles and rocks and snapped up behind the cars. Sam kept his eyes shut, blindly slamming pavement the entire time. If he was going to get smacked by a car, he didn't want to see it coming. His imagination was working on overdrive as it was.

At the other side of the road, Graciela must not have stopped running, because Dean grabbed Sam by the shirt when they dipped down and jerked him sideways. Sam stumbled, feet working like crab legs in an attempt to sprint sideways, before he swung the rest of his boy around, eyes open, and, panting, tried to regain the ground that had spread out between him and Dean and Graciela.

"So what are we looking for?" Dean shouted above the highway wind. They'd slowed to a jog, trekking up the hills and down into the water-filled gullies beside the road.

"Just a place," said Graciela. "A bridge he used to visit all the time."

True to form, the bridge slid up beside the highway, out of the 6 o'clock glare, like a white skeleton.

"My papi used to come play here."

It wasn't that impressive. It was an old wooden thing, rickety and sun-bleached white. Deep cracks cut through the wood like old scars, split and wrinkled. It looked like one of those old mining structures you could find further inland. Sam didn't have any idea what it would have been used for when it was first made.

He looked to Dean.

"Hey, don't look at me."

Graciela turned to face them both. Great. Sam glared, mouthed 'thank you' at Dean, who was pointedly examining the bridge in a more tactile fashion.

"What'd he play?"

"I don't know. He never said. We'd just drive by sometimes, and he'd always point it out."

"You think if I looked hard enough, I'd see, like, some crazy carving with your mom and dad's name surrounded by one of those hearts with the arrow in it?"

Sam vanished behind a tall clump of grass, thick and sticky with morning wet and seedlings. It was quiet here. You could still hear the highway; it wasn't that kind of quiet. But there wasn't much else--just the wind and the cars and more wind.

It was nice. In that haunted kind of way.

Sam stumbled back through the grass just in time to hear Dean break the silence. He'd been kicking absently at the base of one of the bridge's supports when the whole thing lurched, swung slightly, just enough for the top to block out the rising run, cast shadows. A splintering groan, and one of the support beams fell. They all jumped back, but the bridge was silent again.

"Good job."

"Hey, nothing broke. Nothing important anyway." Dean looked pretty happy. “Lookit that.”

Dean pointed at the rotted beam. Geraldo will always want Veronica’s, it read. Veronica’s what, if there was a what, was lost to splinters and black mold.

Graciela’s nose wrinkled.

After a bit, when Sam would not deign to comment, Dean said, “That’s pretty kinky, right?”

Sam looked at him. Tried to implore him into silence.

“Yeah, that’s pretty kinky. I mean, now we know what kind of ‘playing’ he did here, right?”

“Dean, shut up.”

Dean punched a fist in the air and ran around to the other side of the bridge. “Dude, I love this thing. That was so much better than a cupid heart. So much better!”

Graciela, skin blush red under brown skin, like Arizona clay, turned back to the highway. “I think we should go back to school now,” she said. “Let’s go. Let’s go back to school.”

Dean crowed the entire way.

--

He must have been asleep, because the next thing Dean knows is someone prodding him in the small of his back with a freshly sharpened pencil. He edged awake, grabbed the edge of consciousness like a high ledge and pulled himself up out of the dark with a shaky heave. Fuck.

"Dean Winchester."

He mouthed something likely incoherent and probably not school-appropriate. Desks seats hurt like hell. He didn't understand how it was possible to make a chair that uncomfortable.

"Mr. Winchester. Your report."

"Affirmative."

"That's not funny. Where's your career report?"

Dean bent down and unzipped his backpack. He could feel thirty-two pairs of eyes all on him, not the least of which were Mrs. Pokhart's, behind her red-rimmed glasses and her fifty million pounds of facial cleaner stuff. There was a notebook folded at the bottom of the pack, which was pretty impressive, Dean thought. There was even a pen, a pencil. Some binder paper with actual writing on it. He vaguely remembered something about, what was it, rectal examinations? No, bacteriology. Irish setters. Labradoodles. All of the above. Jesus christ. He looked up with his signature crooked grin and shrugged.

"I didn't want to be a veterinarian, anyway."

Mrs. Pokhart's lips pursed together so tightly Dean could see the cracks in her lipstick where the foundations were splintering away under the pressure. "Well, then what, pray tell, would you like to be, Mr. Winchester?"

The class tittered. Somehow Dean didn't think it would help take the heat off of him if he gave everyone in the damn room some universal fuck off. Dean rubbed his eyes.

"I hope that long night was spent composing something of utter beauty that you will now share with the class in lieu of your report, Mr. Winchester."

Dean laughed. God, this woman was a riot. She was giving him way too much credit. "Are you sure about that, Mrs. Pokhart?" He looked up at her innocently. "Because it was pretty utterly beautiful, if you know what I mean."

The class tittered again, like some entire universal body of adolescent... well. He had to hand it to them. They were pretty much like they should be. "Utterly beautiful and. Supple. Nubile. Fleshy?"

Mrs. Pokhart reddened. Dean sat back in his desk and tried his best to look like he was about do dominate the hell out of Mrs. Pokhart's lily-white Puritanical ass. Way too much credit. "That will suffice, Mr. Winchester."

"Do I get an A?"

"Mr. Winchester. What, pray tell," she says again, as though she wasn't parroting herself, hadn't just said almost the exact same thing only moments ago. "Are you going to do with your life?"

Dean eyed her defiantly. But suddenly, he's not sure. He's really not. He's going to save people, hunt things. Be a goddamn hero. Be a goddamn hero like his Dad. Dad, who--for all the hell he knew--was off banging some chick, some chick who was Graciela's mother, and hunting evil from underneath semen-soaked sheets, bad room service, and way too many suspicious stains. But what did he know.

"I--" Dean started. The words catch in his throat. Suddenly this hands ache, muscle memory doubling back on the feeling of his pencil jammed between his fingers, before he'd whittled it down to nothing.

Mrs. Pokhart's mouth twitched, and she put her hands to her stomach, like she was trying to keep something from escaping from it. "Continue, Mr. Winchester."

"I don't want to be anything." Dean grabbed his bag, snapping the zipper closed, and slung it over his shoulder. When he moved to rise, however, Mrs. Pokhart stopped him.

"I don't think so, Mr. Winchester. Class isn't over for another 41 minutes by my count."

Again, the class tittered. They really were a bunch of hive-minded aliens. Fuck.

Dean's face felt hot, and a wet, uncomfortable itch worked its way across this shoulders like a ghost's touch. He hunched over his desk and folded his arms across its surface.

Mrs. Pokhart returned to the front of the classroom, but Dean didn't hear a word she said. He was betting not too many of the other dipshits in the room did, either, since they were too busy staring at him. One of the girls in the back row, Cindy Salk, said, "But that's worth half of our entire grade! She wouldn't let him turn it in late, would she? She wouldn't would she?" If Dean thought he could get away with it, he would have turned around and told Cindy Salk that, You know honey, you seem pretty overly concerned, babe. And maybe you should mind your own damn business.

But that seemed like a lot of work that would take a lot of maneuvering to get out of without Mrs. Pokhart giving his father a call home. Woman had a twitchier trigger finger than Jose, strung out and itching for a hunt. And Dean's all too familiar with what happens when a call home goes unanswered for too long, or a notice is sent home and a parent fails to materialize at the school for the meeting. For some reason, that seemed like a shit thing to be getting into over Cindy Salk and not wanting to be a veterinarian when he grew up.

Ernie Something-Polish threw an eraser at Dean's head. Dean ducked nonchalantly, and it hit Mario. Ernie, he really did flip off. But hell, Ernie deserved it. He really did.

Dean jerked his backpack open again, and it made a snapping noise as the stitches tensed. The zipper snagged on itself and only opened halfway, but Dean was able to feed his folded, vaguely water (or is that lighter fluid? Oh, it's definitely lighter fluid-damaged notebook out of the truncated opening, and even the pen, too. It was the one that skipped every fourth letter or whatever, but it's better than nothing. He opened the notebook to the cleanest page he could find and wrote in neat, block print:

HELLO, MY NAME IS DEAN WINCHESTER.

When I grow up, I'm going to be a serial killer.







Part 1 | Part 2a | Part 2b | Part 3 | Notes & Thanks | PDF (forthcoming) | ART!
free fall

BB2011 "Place at the End" -- Part 3

♦ PART THREE ♦


"You need anything?" Sam asked, the night of his fourteenth birthday. San Diego May had been 85 when they drove in, was 60 now. They’d been out of gas but now were out of money. No motel tonight.

Dean didn't answer immediately. He was sewing stitches across his knee. He squinted in the bare white of the gas station phosphorescence. The suture thread kept sticking to his fingers, sticky with blood. "More light."

"I can't do better than a floodlight, Dean." Sam sighed. "Do you want anything to eat? I'm going to Denis's. You know, the shop across from that apartment we had here last year. With the pink roof."

"Don't have any cas--" Dean stifled a yelp as he pulled the thread through. "--ssshit."

"I got that covered. And, uh--do you want any Tylenol or something? I think we're kinda out of the good stuff."

Dean exhaled sharply as he came back around for another stitch. "Nah, just the whiskey's good. Get it out of the trunk?"

Sam did, and Sam left. Denis's was blocks away, if memory served, but the streets were empty, and the traffic was lean. He wove through a hodgepodge of industrial yards with small yardless houses perched between them, new homes built in tracts. Last year they'd just been signs promising houses. Sam saw two men smoking on the front porch of one of them. In the windows of others, people arguing. So they must really be homes now.

Denis's was settled on the commercial-residential gap, part of a smattering of small shops and groceries that sold anything from kimchee to scrapbooking materials. Before he turned inside, Sam looked up and up and up to the eighth floor of their old place at the end of the street. He couldn't see their apartment exactly, nestled as it was in the middle of the building, but he wondered who was living there now. If they kept a gun in their scrub brushes, if they noticed the carvings Dean had made under the carpet, above the door. They'd sanded them down before they left, but they never went away. Not entirely.

"Buenos noches," Sam said to the woman at the counter, and exhausted half the Spanish he even thought he knew. But the woman smiled, so Sam figured it had been worth something. "What do you have for birthdays?" he asked, as he bent to peruse the insides of the glass cases.

The woman didn't answer him. She'd dropped her smile. Now she was just waiting. Sam recognized the flan, dulce de leche, sweet delicious things now partially sunken under their own weight. Plain fat buns sold three to a bag for three dollars--'teleras'. Sam sighed. That was probably more their style. "I'll take these," he said.


"Three," said the woman, and Sam gave her three.

Sam unwrapped the first telera on his way back to the gas station. He hoped Dean hadn't driven off without him. Sam didn't think he'd do it on purpose, but you never knew. Dean's focus had been kind of fish-eyed ever since they’d hit the county line. With this in mind, Sam stepped up the pace.

The first telera tasted like anticlimax.

Dean was where Sam had left him, asleep in the front seat until Sam tapped on the window. Then Dean jumped, wild-alert, with his heart in his eyes. Seeing Sam, he wiped a hand down his face, kneaded the bridge of his nose with his still-bloody knuckles.

Unlock the door! Sam mouthed.

"Jesus, Sam. You scared the-- don't do that!" Sam could see Dean's chest heave as he spoke, too much adrenaline running through his everything.

"Sorry. Here. It's bread."


"I can see that. And no, Sam, we need to get outta here," Dean objected when Sam started rounding the front of the car. Telera in hand, Dean struggled out of the front seat. The knee he'd been working on was stiff and crooked as he limped around the car and took the door Sam had opened for himself. "You need to drive."

Sam closed the door. "But it's the city, Dean. Everyone will notice. Do I look sixteen to you?"

"It's all about the lighting. Come on, let's go."

They went.

They crossed old familiar roads, hilly strips of asphalt crumbled with age. Intersections with a patchwork of lights, knit close the way only the big cities were. The boldly colored billboards filling the skyline still promised everything.

"Do you remember the place at the end?" Sam asked, as they waited for a light behind a large white truck.

"What?" Dean was slumped against the window, looking out at the taillights in the next lane.

"The apartment we had here. You always called it that."

"Oh. Veronica's apartment."

"It was ours, too."


"Don't get nostalgic on me, Sammy. It's only been a year. Besides, there's nothing to be nostalgic about. Turn left."

Dean led them to Veronica's house. The rose bushes were bare now, dark twigs against the little house, which looked as though it was standing interrogation under the streetlights. The sidewalk still read GC 1983. The door was locked.

Sam looked up at Dean. "Time ya."

Dean frowned. "Whatever." He stepped back, kicked the door in. He reeled with the effort, grabbed at the knee with the stitches. If Sam hadn't caught it, the door would have hit him on the recoil.

"What kind of genius plan was that?"

"Faster," Dean pointed out. 


"You've shaved four minutes off our day. Congratulations."

The house was empty. Not that Sam had expected anything more. The big tan computer in the back, piano decked with dolls and photos in frames, kitchen stuffed in unmatching chairs and foods Sam didn't know--these were all gone. Without them, it was just an empty building, like so many places they'd left before.

"Do you think you're ever going to go back to school?" Sam asked. He wasn't sure why he did; it was just the first thing that came to mind. He felt like he had to fill the room with something, anything at all, or it was going to swallow them whole.

"'Cause I did such a bang-up job the first time? I don't think so." Dean sat down against one of the walls and thumbed at his stitches. "Dad said there was some kind of test I could take instead. Figure I'll do that."

"But you could graduate, if you tried." Sam was thinking about college. He only had the vaguest notion of what it was, what it meant, but all the schools, and all the teachers--they were all speaking college, college, college. And Dean was talking about a test.

Dean shrugged. "Not anymore. I have to--"

"You don't have to do anything," Sam interrupted. "Look around you. Who's watching?"

"I am. Go get the salt." When Sam didn't move, Dean didn't bother repeating himself. He got up and limped down the steps, out to the car. Rock salt and weaponry. Sam watched as he stumbled through the darkened house, salting the doors and windows.

"You shouldn't keep walking on that. You'll pull the stitches."

"Well, thanks for the help, Sam."

"And you should be icing it. One of these days you're gonna screw it up for good."

"Again, Sam, thanks--"

"I would've got you ice if you'd asked me."

Dean folded his hands into the sleeves of his coat and crossed his arms. Tried to get as comfortable as possible on the living room floor. "I'm tired of asking you for things."

Never mind that he'd just asked Sam to salt the building. --Told. He'd told Sam. And maybe that was the difference.

After San Diego, Sam had joined a soccer team, played with them all summer. He'd been good. He only missed one tournament, and it was to hunt a nest of vampires. They'd wanted him back for the fall, and Dad had almost let him go. But soccer was money they didn't have and a tether they couldn't honor. That summer, Dean would have flunked out of his junior year if he'd attended enough classes to earn any grade. He took Incompletes in all subjects, like the year hadn't even existed, and dropped off the map.

He was part of the statistic Sam's teachers assured him he didn't want to be. More importantly, Dean was living out what seemed more like a sentence than a lifetime. And if it was a life, it was going to be a short one.

"The staring at me thing is kind of creeping me out, dude. You look like you're going to eat me."

Sam started. "I do not!" But he joined Dean on the floor, tried to arrange himself into a position that was comfortable and not too pathetic-looking. Dean jostled a boot at him, told him to find his own corner. He'd called dibs on this one. Because Dean was seven.

"I'm going to kick you if you don't go find your own spot. The entire house is empty, what the hell."

"No you're not," Sam retorted. "And you wanna know why? Because you didn't go get ice, so your stupid knee is probably too swollen to even move right now." Sam wanted to stick out his tongue, but he was older than seven. He had something called impulse control.

"Bitch."

"Jerk."

"Stop talking, I'm trying to sleep."

Dean could try, but Sam knew that whether he kept talking or not, Dean wasn't going to. Not the whole night through. He hadn't managed that in a long time. He took his days double time, and with every passing night, Sam swore he put a year between them. The thought made Sam reluctant to ever close his eyes. Maybe if he didn't need to sleep, he could keep the Dean he knew.

But Sam slept. And he dreamed them playing cards. They each had their hands, and they stacked the cards between them, one after the other. They built a wall. They built a wall made out of soccer balls and Winchester rifles and gauze and cleats and suture thread.

When he woke, Dean was on the phone. They'd acquired another one last March, when Dad stopped chaperoning them through entire cases. He'd work some while they researched, find new ones while they dug graves. Do whatever else he did when he disappeared, empty promises in his wake.

"Dad's at Graciela's new place," said Dean. "With her aunt or something, I dunno. But she won't talk to him. We need to go."

Sam didn't know what time it was, but he hazarded a wild guess. "It's three in the morning."

"It's four," said Dean. "Come on." Dean's limp was more pronounced now, stiff with cold, swelling, and overuse. Sam hadn't moved until Dean was well past the threshold of the front door--until he was sure Dean wasn't turning back--and Sam still beat him to the car.

Sam drove. Dean slept. Dean woke. Dean tried to sleep again.

Sam drove.

This was the first time they'd ever come back to old stomping grounds. But it was the first time Sam had ever really been aware of their failures, so maybe that was why. They weren't supposed to ruin things. They were supposed to help.

But the house was empty, the city had taken no notice, and someone had to.

Or maybe it was just the chupacabra they'd hit in Santee, and it wasn't about memorials at all. That did seem more their style. All Sam knew was they'd helped ruin something good, and it had torn them apart.

"I don't want it to happen again," Sam said suddenly, as arcs of bright headlight streaked across the windshield.

Dean was asleep.

"Because now I'm losing you."

--

Veronica's body will never be found.

Dad was gone by the time they'd got there; apparently he'd left right after he'd called them. Graciela sat beside her aunt and didn't look at them. She was still round, and dark, and pretty. Her hair was longer. She'd been in an out of a hospital, and she had the bracelet to prove it. They were helping her there. She'd made a lot of progress in group so far, said her aunt--call me Tia Melissa, she'd added--but that didn't mean a hell of a lot to Dean. Sure, he'd seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but Graciela wasn't Jack Nicholson.

Veronica's body would never be found, and Dean couldn't understand why the hell that didn't seem to mean anything to Sam. Dean couldn't understand why, and he didn't know how, but he was losing his brother.

The door had barely shut behind them when Dean said, "You're missing the bigger picture, here, Sam."

Sam didn't dignify the argument with a response.

"You said you didn't want it to happen again. Well newsflash, Sam--it happens. And it's gonna keep happening. And it sucks. That's not why we do things. I know it's gonna happen again. It'll probably be our fault."

Sam kept walking toward the Impala, arrow straight.

"The dozen times it doesn't--"

"Just stop talking, Dean."

"This is how I--how we--"

"Notice how 'this' hasn't actually solved any of your problems." Sam got in the driver's seat and slammed the door behind him.

Dean shouted. Stop fucking with my car, get out 'cause I'm driving, fuck off Sam--the list didn't end; it just recirculated.


"Let me know when you sleep through the night--just once. Let me know when you stop freaking out every time someone taps you on the shoulder. When you're actually happy," Sam hissed though the window, which was open just a sliver.

This was ridiculous. "I am happy. I'm always happy. Except right now, 'cause I'm pissed, and I'm about to hit you."

"I can take you."

Fury. Fury so hot it stuck, twisted like burn scars inside him. Dean did his best to swallow it anyway. "You really wanna have this fight?"

Sam kicked the car door wide open, so quickly Dean didn't even see it coming. It caught him in the knees first. Dean felt something jarring and bone-deep. It might have been pain, but hell, it could have been anything.

The next thing he knew, he was supine on the concrete, feeling the fog wet seep into his pants. Condensation dripped onto his stomach from the car door, sharp and deadly black above him. Forget feeling agony--his legs from the knee down where made of it. His curses fell to the back of his throat, and he just moaned.

Sam stepped out of the car and over him. He looked appropriately stricken. "Oh my god, Dean, I didn't mean to--"

Like hell he didn't. Dean twisted onto his hands and stomach, pushed up. He clung to the Impala. When he had enough breath: "Yeah, whatever."

Sam had known exactly what he was doing. He just hadn't thought it through. That whole Big Picture thing.

"What exactly do you think the big picture is?" Sam was incredulous.

Dean hadn't realized he'd been talking out loud. Sam helped him around to the other side of the car, but he didn't open the door. He actually wanted a response. "I can't just--"

"Papi's Dog is dead."

They both turned. Graciela stood before them. "Papi's Dog is dead. So she's gone now, too."

"I'm sorry," said Sam.

That is. Dean nodded towards Graciela, without breaking eye contact. That's the big picture. But Dean wasn't even sure if he meant 'people' or 'failure.'

It wasn't a question, where they would go. What they would do. Dean supervised as Sam bent under one hundred pounds of limp black dog and carried it to the trunk of the car, and wrapped her in the shroud they kept--dark green instead of black, now moth-eaten and everything else imperfect.

Graciela took shotgun.

"How's your knee?" Sam asked him, as he crawled into the backseat.

"It feels like someone threw a car door at it. Hand me the whiskey, will you? Should be in the glove box; never put it back in the trunk."

Sam frowned. "Is this going to be a problem?"

Dean snorted. "Please. I know what I'm doing."

They drove the long highways, black at first and then white grey in the fog that swept from the west, and the sunlight from the east. Dean skated in and out of sleep, but in his waking moments Graciela didn't say a word. It was liking driving with a ghost. She didn't tell any stories about games her dad had played on the bridge or about how much her dad had loved her mother. It was just a highway, just a bridge.

By the time they got there, it was six o'clock again. Dean watched from the car as Sam and Graciela hauled the dog across the freeway, dumped her unceremoniously beneath the white bridge skeleton, in the tall brown rushes that swallowed the both of them whole.

It was just a bridge.

And see, that was what Dean meant about the bigger picture. He had no illusions. It wasn't some symbolic crusade--save everyone, save the world, whatever. He didn't think the world was going to be ending any time soon; they wouldn't need to bother saving it. And if it did, it'd die slow and sick and wretched, and then there would be no saving it.

It wasn't about what you deserved or what any other poor bastard deserved; it was about what you didn't. It was about what you still had, and what you made of that. Dean knew what was out there in the dark. And he was going to kill as many evil sons of bitches as he could, because maybe, maybe, it'd make up the difference.

He watched Graciela throw her cross to the ground outside Tia Melissa's house, watched catatonic indifference bleed into hurt, and anger, and he knew.

The big picture was pulling the trigger and knowing that you were as close to winning as anyone was ever going to get. When you were alone, and desperate, that was all you needed.

And that was all Dean needed.

--

¿te fijas cómo el viento previene a los que escuchamos?

--


Empty house.

It always ended in an empty house.

Dean slept fitfully, but slept. Miracles, since Sam’s version of a makeshift bed was to spread a scratchy wool blanket he’d found in the trunk of his car across Bobby’s kitchen floor. Sam sat beside him cross-legged and waited.

The emptiness crept around him, in between Meg’s invisible hounds. (Those did not creep, but they skulked.)

The emptiness was louder.

Trying to get all that shit out and away, it was amazing what Sam had found. It was like the house was built out of cubic feet of memories, and not all good. But not all bad (or so he'd been trained to believe).

Sam was willing to believe in a lot of things. But right now, Sam mostly believed that the whole world could fit within the walls of this one house. The crooked two-story that rocked, that had steel plating on its basement door, and black magic carved into its ceiling. Nets of vervain in its chimney. This was the whole world. Because he’d seen a fair amount of it outside--all of America, one graveyard in Scotland--and contrary to popular belief, it was very small. There was a limit to what could be known, what could be had, or deserved. There was family. There was food. Bad movies. Noise some people thought was music. Bon Jovi.

Hell, after you stripped away the stories, the world could fit inside a fishbowl. Sam scratched at the ears of a Hellhound, was confronted with a muffled snorting and guttural moaning that was not entirely in opposition. The world could definitely be really fucking strange, he amended, but it was small. God knew where Meg was. Searching for the knife, probably. He didn’t have the heart to tell her she’d probably be searching forever. No one was gonna die like that. Not anymore.

“Dean,” he said. Dean moaned. Continued to dream. Of Hell, maybe--the ghost of Hell. Or of life, or of Heaven. ‘Nightmare’ was too generalized for Sam to properly know.

“Dean, wake up.” And he shook him.

Dean woke to pain, that much Sam could see. Would probably always wake to pain, because Dean was an idiot, and would always be one, and Sam would always be around to tell him so. And that pretty much assured that Dean would deny it forever. But whatever; Sam could accept that. Maybe.

“You can borrow the car if you want.”

What? Dean rasped blearily. He jolted upright, like he’d just realized he’d been lying down. He winced, rubbed at this shoulder. Goddamn.

“You can borrow the car. You can go to California. You can hunt your woman in white. Go be happy.”

“What?” Dean repeated. He looked around. Blanket on hard ground. Bobby’s ceiling above him. “Well, no wonder.” His face pinched. “Did you--give me? I feel kinda--”

“That’s called sleep,” Sam said. “You should try it on your own sometime.”

“Yeah, and fuck you too.” Dean shifted into as comfortable a position as he could manage.

“I want to show you this,” Sam said, and drew Ruby’s knife. It was snapped at the hilt.

Dean eyed him quizzically. “Is Meg--?”

“Meg’s fine.” She’s as fine as she’ll ever be. “I went to Wyoming to hunt something.”

Rage, at first. Then subsided rage. Then tiredness. “What was it.”

“I don’t know. Something Eve let out of purgatory. Biding its time all these years. The knife didn’t work, obviously.” Dean pitched forward and grabbed at Sam’s collar, brushed his hands down Sam’s torso. Sam stopped him. “This was weeks ago. I’m fine.”

“Why did you go?” --which really meant ‘why did you go without me?’ which wasn’t a real question. Not one Dean didn’t know the answer to.

“Because I thought it would help. It didn’t.” End of story. Sam lost his phone, gained a mild concussion, and re-sprained his bad wrist, but it didn’t matter, and it didn’t help.

“So how’d you end the thing?”

“Fire.”

“Attaboy, Sammy.”

“But it didn’t help,” Sam repeated. He wasn’t going to let Dean turn this into some kind of campfire story. “You have people who can. You have Ben, and Lisa. Hell, Lisa’s-sister-Barb. Mark--

Dean cut him off. “First of all, Mark isn’t even a doctor. He’s a physician’s assistant.

Sam didn’t quite see the relevance.

“This is some kind of intervention, right? Go see a doctor, take something, write confessional poetry; it’ll all blow over?”

“You have people who can help.”

“Then that’s worse.”

Ah, right. Dean logic. Sam waited for Dean to continue. There was something sedative about the floor, the one blanket. Bobby’s walls, his jacked up ceiling. He breathed evenly.

“It’s worse,” Dean said. And Sam waited. “Because all those people give you a goddamn free pass, a thousand free passes, and you still can’t--”

Dean rubbed at his shoulder. Sam waited.

“Before you got there, Lisa came in. She missed her class. She missed Mark. She missed her appointments. Fuck, she missed a call from Ben. She missed it all because she had to sit there in the goddamn garage and remind me to breathe.”

“But she didn’t mind. And she knew what to do. And she helped you.”

Dean barked. One of the Hellhounds growled. “Yeah, she knew what to do. And you wanna know why? Because it happened to Ben. After that changeling thing, it happened to him, and for a year he'd get these-- And if I hadn’t-- and that's why--

“‘And if you hadn’t’, they’d both be dead. You didn’t sic a changeling on the neighborhood, Dean. As much as I know you want to be the apple in the garden, you didn’t.”

Dean glared a fuck you, Sam. “And she still let me in her front door. And for fourteen years, and she didn't tell me a damn thing. I don't even know what I'm still doing there.” Whatever Dean wanted to say fizzled out, and he left it.

“It doesn’t matter how you found them,” Sam said, after he was sure Dean was done. “You have people.” Dean looked like he was about to open his mouth again, so Sam spat out his last two cents. “I don’t.”

The shadows on the floor shifted as the breeze moved the trees outside.

“I have you.”

Sam can almost hear gears turning. “I don’t know what the hell I’ve been doing. I don’t know why it turned out that way, but that’s what I have. I have you.”

Dean frowned. “So, now that you’re...alone and desperate, you want me to come boss you around.”

“Well, when you put it like that.”

“Gee, thanks, Sam.”

“But that’s why you followed Dad around, isn’t it? That’s why you came and got me at school.”

Dean looked like he was about to punch him if he didn’t keep talking, come clean about this. Not that Sam was afraid of that. He was more afraid of the words than anything else. He hadn’t thought it possible until the world came apart at the seams in his hands. And then he knew. The words were the glue. It's okay; it's okay. “I’m-- I don’t know where we go from here. But I know we have to go. And we can’t die, not yet. Dying is easy. We have too much practice.” Then Sam swallowed his fear, sewed it behind a wry grin. “You used to believe that, remember?”

Dean had apparently had enough of his. He groaned, made an off-balance play at rising from the ground, favoring both his left shoulder and his right leg. He pushed off from one of the boxes remaining in the skeleton of Bobby’s house. Slow but steady success. Now level, he looked at Sam, tinged pink with the sore afterward of vivid pain. When Sam offered no rebuke, no I-told-you-so, he turned his gaze to the end of the long hallway.

He knew. Sam knew he knew. There was no going back. Those stories had been told. But he and Dean--they couldn't just lurk between the pages and call that living new; that wasn’t going to cut it. Death wouldn’t either; they were of the few who could actually say they’d tried that.

Sam could see the knowing wrapped up in choked breaths and slick muscle, caught at the back of Dean's throat. Dean fingered his shoulder tenderly and swallowed the reality he could not yet speak. But he knew.


"What’s in this box, anyway?" he said instead. “The thing’s a rock.”

"The Winchester Gospel," Sam said plainly and without emphasis. If he offered anything more he didn't think he could say it with a straight face. Still, he tried to clarify for Dean, staring at him dumbstruck. "You know, all those Supernatural books. Chuck's life's work, key to the universe, et al."

"No, I know," Dean snapped. "It's just--" He thought for a moment, and regarded the box with a petulant frown. "Oh god, no. No. That's--"


"Awkwardly metaphorical?"

"--awkwardly fucking stupid. This is ridiculous. We are not taking these. We're not." Dean's eyes quested frantically around the shade-dark room, empty and unimparting. "We're gonna burn them. We're gonna burn them, Sam. Take 'em out back and burn them. I don't give a fuck what the sheriff says; these need to go. These need--"

Sam snorted. Following the break in Dean's miniature tirade, he said, "Did you know Becky picked the series up? Ghostwriting for the publishing company."

Deep breath. "She didn't-- She doesn't--?"

"One hundred percent outside of divine intervention."

Dean sighed relief. Then, "So what have we been doing instead?"

Sam shrugged. "Dunno. I only skimmed. More of the same, I guess?"

And then Dean looked inexplicably perturbed, offered a question in explanation. "You didn't skim through any, uh. Fiery, demonic..."

Oh.

"Yeahhhhh, I think I did. Or I might have. Maybe." The words came out in a harried flush, so quick Sam could feel the heat they left on his cheeks. "If was very heartfelt, if that helps."

Dean's mouth froze, O O O. Then: "N-- no, not really."

“I saw your notes. The page from Dad’s journal.”

“Okay,” Dean allowed. “Listen, if this confession involves anyone taking it up the a--”

“They’re all dead, huh? All those hunters.” Sam pressed on. “They’re gone.”

Silence. Then, “Yeah, they’re gone.”

“Then we’re just stories.”

A tch. “Yeah, I’m good. You’re the one who needs a doctor. We’re people, Sam.”

“And these are ghosts.” Sam held up the file, a slim neat collection of a woman on a dark deserted highway, killing faithless passerby. Then the page from Dad’s journal. “They are ghosts.”

“They were people,” Dean insisted. “They were good--some of them were good--mostly all right--people.”

It’s just a legend, a story. A legend we happen to know is based on truth, Sam added before Dean could object. And that’s the important part. You kill the source, you kill the myth. And you have nothing.

“You don’t kill the, the-- not-myth, and the not-myth kills people.”

That was Dean’s bottom line: People die.

“And some live,” Sam reminded him. They believe in the myth, and they fear it, and they live. They guide themselves by hear-tell and implication, and they live. “What does that sound like to you?”

“Yanni.”

“It’s done, Dean. It’s over. We’re done. Let her go. Let all the ghosts go.”

“Yanni,” Dean repeated, though the wisecrack was gone from his voice.

“Some of us have to live on the loose ends. Let it go.”

For a moment, Dean looked absolutely lost. Desperately, terrifyingly lost. Then he got up. Groaned. He slapped Sam on the knee. “And some of us have to live in Indiana. Up and at ‘em, Sasquatch. Time to go chase the roaches out of your new place.

“Got you a nice corner lot, a place at the end of the street. There’s a balcony for your planter boxes, or gnome collection, or whatever. Hot water, actual legitimate rent. I didn’t skimp,” Dean assured him. Because this is it, isn’t it. This is as far as we get, said Dean’s eyes, and looked to Sam for their assurance.

Dean could say whatever he wanted, pretend to hide in whatever platitudes or fantasies he dreamed. All Sam could see behind them, all he could see in Dean, was truth. This is the end. This is our grave. Our grave has planter boxes and rent.

This was the end.

Sam turned away. “Let’s go to California,” he said. “After we move Bobby’s stuff to the new place. Let’s go to California.”

Dean’s brow furrowed. He licked his lips as though trying to taste for sarcasm, lies.

“Let’s go to California,” Sam said again. He wasn’t even sure why he said it, he hadn’t meant to, he didn’t know what to say now that he had. He took a deep breath.

“...For the woman in wh--?”

"Women," Sam corrected. He could do this. He could say this. He could run with all of this. "White sand, white bathing suits." Before Dean could reply-- "And a doctor."

Dean rolled his eyes but played along. "Yeah, Doc Hollywood. That entire state, man, I--"

"Libraries."

"--Research?"

"Pleasure reading," Sam insists. "You know, I've never read Slaughterhouse Five."

Dean made an amused, alveolar sound, then jabbed his finger at Sam insistently. "Bonfires."

"--Salt?"

"S'mores." Crooked smile. “Help me with this?” And he nudged the box of books with his boot.

Sam picked it up while Dean supervised, and followed Dean out the door, to the front porch. “Trash?”

“Nah, put it in the trunk.” Dean tried to close Bobby’s door, but true to form the damn thing wouldn’t stay shut. Dean left it. “We can burn them later.”

Sam stepped off the white porch and into the rushes, grown too high without people to trample them down. The afternoon glared full into his eyes, made everything white-hot and almost invisible.

Four o'clock was leaking into his clothes, and it felt good.





end.






Part 1 | Part 2a | Part 2b | Part 3 | Notes & Thanks & Concept/Location Photography | PDF (forthcoming) | ART!
free fall

BB2011 "Place at the End" -- Notes & Thanks & Photos

♦ NOTES & THANK-YOUS ♦


Part 1 | Part 2a | Part 2b | Part 3 | Notes & Thanks | PDF (forthcoming) | ART!





+ A huge thank you to barbara_ger for putting up with me, and for creating such fantastic artwork--isn't she the best? She's the best.

+ Thank you to dayadhvam_triad for indulging my whining during the rough draft writing process. And to harwhon, viridian_magpie (lolol Ameripicking and five million grammar issues!), vie_dangerouse, and especially sistabro for the lightning quick, crazy thorough and (still-ongoing, because I suck) beta! Part 1 has been fully beta'd; in Parts 2 and 3, any issues are entirely my own and bear no ill-reflection and the beauteous abilities of all of these fine ladies. ♥

+ Note on locations: Sam and Dean are in a fictional San Diego which is actually comprised of the city of San Diego, Chula Vista, National City, and Lemon Grove. The bridge is up by Oceanside, in the direction of Orange County. The highway they're on, however, is modeled after US-395. Sorry, California. XP

Denis's (in National City, CA):


I highly recommend their teleras, btw. :)



On the permission of my artist, these are some some concept photos I used while writing. These are from the trashbin at the UCSD Photography Lab, credit unknown. I think it's a true testament to the skill and wonder of my artist that she not only conveyed the same tone I envisioned in this photos and in my writing, but made it so much better. The news article on the woman in white is from the Alameda County Library Local History Archives. Crediting as per their request.

+ Big Bang is, as always, a learning experience. Of the many things I learned this time around (time management eludes me still), I think this was the most important: The fic you write will never be the fic you planned to write. The fic you wanted to write will somehow manage to fall through the scenes of the fic you actually wrote. And the fic you realize actually works, and you probably should have written instead, outside of anything you planned, does not hit 20,000 words. All right, so this last point is not useful for Big Bang, but it's definitely useful for writing generally. And for that I am very grateful. :)


spn_j2_bigbang 2011. Written 26 April - 1 May 2011, and 13-14 June 2011. Thank you, all!
fandom text

absolutely pathetic

I almost forgot to watch Supernatural 6x17 tonight because I was busy watching Supernatural 2x21. How pathetic can I be??? And to make this better? I told my flatmate, OKAY WE CAN GO OUT TO DINNER BUT WE NEED TO BE BACK BY 9 SO I CAN WATCH MY SHOW.

Just absolutely pathetic.

eta: Not as pathetic as the Olympic jump my heart rate made at the end of AHBL 1 and beginning of AHBL 2. Because, you know, what happens just came as this complete surprise to me! But I just kept thinking, in lieu of 6x10 or thereabouts, this right here? Is one of Dean's biggest regrets. And it shouldn't be, or shouldn't have to be, but I really think it is.

/vagueness keeps things spoiler free!