edenbound: ((Dean) Don't fuck with me)
edenbound ([personal profile] edenbound) wrote2010-05-10 01:07 pm

SPN: Right Where We Belong

Fandom: Supernatural
Main characters: Dean, Ellen, Jo, Castiel, Sam
Background characters: John, Bill, Ruby, Lilith, Lucifer, Jimmy Novak
Pairings: None
Contains: Angst, AU, violence, a happy ending
Rating: PG13
Summary: When John dies, Dean ends up at the roadhouse and is brought up by Ellen as Jo's big brother. Growing up there is no protection, though -- not when the apocalypse is about to start.
Notes: I apologise for any inaccuracies relating to disability/sign language in this fic. The attitudes towards disability in the fic are those of the characters and not necessarily my own. This fic is also affectionately known as 'The One In Which Hugs Saved The World', and as further proof that I don't take myself all that seriously, my beta and I came up with a drinking game to go with it. Spoilers up to and including season four, despite the AU. Check the end of the fic for art and extras, including a downloadable .rtf file for people with vision issues, or if you want it for your ereader/collection/whatever.



Dean curled himself into a tighter ball. He had no idea what time it was and he didn't care. He hid his face in his arms and tried to just breathe, tried not to think at all. It was, however, six AM, barely light, and it was grey out. A sullen kind of grey, the air too hot and too still, the skies sulking and refusing to give up any of their rain. Inside, Ellen Harvelle was getting up, alerted by the cries of little Jo Harvelle to the fact that it was, in fact, morning -- depending on your definition of morning, which for Ellen Harvelle had become decidedly flexible.

It doesn't take her long to get downstairs, bleary with lack of sleep, leaving Jo sleeping again (a miracle worthy, she felt, of the Vatican's attention). It wasn't as if she could sleep in, even without Jo, but there's no ruder way to wake up, she's found. There's just no way any electronic alarm clock can compare to being jolted awake by the cries of a fussy baby.

So Dean didn't have to wait out on the step much longer after the light had started to creep back into the world. Ellen recognised him immediately, of course. He'd barely changed since the last time John had been by. She expected him to have grown, but then, it wasn't like he'd had the best atmosphere for growing up big and strong. If anything he looked thinner and more worn, and Ellen stood there looking out of the window at him dumbly, wondering... Word always traveled fast, among hunters, and that meant that it got to her as fast as they did. Word was that John Winchester might be dead, that he'd gone off the radar, but she hadn't worried unduly then. She worried now, looking at Dean sitting there all crumpled up, grey with exhaustion.

John Winchester was a shitty father, sometimes. But he had pride -- and he loved his boy. His boy was all he'd got left. He wouldn't just leave the boy sat out on someone's step awaiting pity and charity. Not in life.

Which suggested something pretty uncomfortable to Ellen, right there.

She went out, of course. There was no way she could do anything else, in good conscience. If she knew it was sealing her fate, doing that, she wouldn't have cared. She went out and crouched down by Dean, touching his arm lightly. His flesh was cold under her hand. "Dean, honey? What're you doing out here?"

He raised his head silently. His eyes were reddened, his face dirty. There were no tear streaks on his cheeks, though, which kind of surprised her, and clear even under the relative grime on his face were four long bloody gashes, as pointed as an exclamation mark. In every other way he looked like your typical waif. Ellen touched his hair lightly, a kind of caress, careful not to startle him -- because there was something of the wild animal in Dean just then, crouching low, hunted and hurt.

"You wanna come inside where it's warm? You don't have to talk just yet. Looks like you've been through a lot. Let's get some food in you -- and you can have a shower -- and then maybe you should get some sleep. We can talk tomorrow. Sound good?"

Dean nodded, still silent. Ellen hesitated for a moment and then carefully put her arms around him, lifting him up. He should've been too heavy for that, or getting there anyway, at his age. He was far too easy to lift. She took him inside, wondering if she was doing something incredibly stupid. She gritted her teeth a little at that thought, shaking it away. She wouldn't care if she was doing something stupid. She just wouldn't. Dean needed help. A little defenceless kiddy needed help. She'd be a monster if she didn't help him. She imagined her own little Jo, grown up a bit and just left like that, and there was just no choice. Anyone -- anyone halfway decent -- would do the same.

She put him down on the counter, letting him sit there for a minute, and went to look in her cupboards. She didn't have much in -- she'd meant to go shopping already -- but she found a box of some overly sugary cereal in the back. Didn't matter: the sugar couldn't do him any harm. She thought he probably hadn't eaten in a while. Anything would be good, but the sugar might help give him a bit more energy, maybe clear some of the awful deadness out of his eyes.

"This okay?" she asked, anyway, showing him the box. "It's a bit sweet for me, so you might as well eat it up for me."

He gave this little shrug, like nothing in the world mattered, least of all what he was going to eat. Ellen sighed and found a bowl, found milk, and poured it out for him: a generous amount, but not so much it'd be horrible for him to deal with if he hadn't been eating in a while.

"There you go, Dean," she said, lifting him down from the counter and pushing him to a seat, setting the cereal down in front of him. He picked up the spoon and stared at the dish in front of him thoughtfully for a moment, then -- to her relief -- took a spoonful of cereal and ate it, chewing it with a look more of dutifulness than enjoyment. She kept an eye on him while she found something for her own breakfast and washed up some dishes from the night before. He ate methodically, one spoonful at a time, and she thought he might be chewing each mouthful exactly the same number of times. He ate like someone who had to remember how with each bite. His eyes stayed dead.

It made her heart hurt, a deep ache that she couldn't shake off.

"You want to clean up now?" she asked, when he finally put the spoon down in the empty bowl. He was drooping with tiredness now, and on some instinct she leaned down and kissed the top of his head, mostly unsurprised by the affection she felt for him. "Come on, you," she said. "Time to get you cleaned up. I don't know if I've got any clothes to fit you, I doubt it, but I think you're going straight to bed anyway and I can get the clothes you're wearing washed by the time you wake up. With baby Jo, there's always washing to do."

He gave her a smile -- a pale shadow of a thing, and fake as a supermodel's tits -- but still, she thought, a smile.

"Sound good, then?" She picked him up again and this time his arms found their way around her neck. She couldn't help but smile a little. "Would you prefer a bath, or a shower? We can manage either -- the tub wouldn't be too cramped for you, even though it's on the tiny side."

A little shrug, this time. Ellen bit her lip.

"Why don't you say anything, Dean?" She ran her fingers through his hair, carrying him up to the bathroom. "You're safe now, you know. You don't have to say much, but you're worrying me, honey."

Dean didn't say anything. When she put him down in the bathroom and raised an eyebrow at him, he shook his head and just pointed at the shower. She sighed.

"Sure, you can have a shower. Let me find you a towel, huh? I guess a big boy like you doesn't need any help. And I suppose you'll talk when you're good and ready."

She found him a towel, and some soap and shampoo, and showed him how to work the shower. Jo was awake again, by that time -- it was truly nothing short of a miracle she'd slept that much longer, in fact, so Ellen shut the door to the bathroom and went to deal with her. She needed her diaper changed, of course, and she needed milk, and she needed some cuddling before she'd stop squalling. It was a wonder Ellen got her dealt with in time to go and make up a little bed for Dean.

She wasn't very surprised that when she went back to see to him, Dean was bleary-eyed and almost asleep on his feet. The marks on his face -- they looked like claw marks, now she could see him properly -- stood out livid against his skin, now the dirt was gone. She towelled him dry carefully, first, scrubbing at his short hair to get the worst of the damp out, and ended up pretty much carrying him to bed. She managed to manhandle him into the makeshift bed, and tucked him in carefully. She came back to clean out the wounds and put some ointment on them, found him already asleep. She tried to be gentle, tried not to wake him up again, but he stirred and whimpered as she wiped his face clean.

"Sleep well," she said, quietly, looking down at him when she was done. She thought she'd probably find tear-stains on those pale cheeks if she checked on him later. "Poor kid."

But there was, after all, work to do -- and no more time to muse on the fate of Dean Winchester. That, she thought, would just have to sort itself out, with time.

---


Dean spent most of the next few days sleeping, in a thick, heavy and almost dreamless sleep that didn't seem to want to ever let him go. Once he woke up to find Ellen leaning over him. He started, but her face went soft and her voice tender and he relaxed when she pulled him into her arms. She held him tightly and rocked him then, and though his eyes were dry and he didn't make a sound, the whole time his throat and chest were tight and they hurt, and somehow it exhausted him and he sank back down into sleep.

He'd remember, later, the sounds of baby Jo crying, now and then. He'd surface from a dream to hear it, hear Ellen going to her and looking after her, hear her quieting down, then he'd fall back into sleep again; the darkness swallowing him, not ready to let him go. Sometimes when he woke his lips would shape the name, the name he wouldn't let himself think about, the other crying baby he'd known, whose cries had disturbed his sleep. But he knew, he knew even in that heavy sleep, that it wasn't him and it never would be again.

He'd remember, later, the half-heard conversations between Ellen Harvelle and her husband, without ever having meant to have listened or remembered.

"I want him to stay here," Ellen had said, very firmly, one night -- or was it one morning? Dean had not opened his eyes. There had been some kind of grumble in response and then she'd said, "I don't care, he doesn't have anybody but us and damned if I'm going to give him away. He's been hurt enough. I think he trusts me."

Dean had thought about it, fuzzily. Did he trust Ellen? He thought he did.

Exhaustion had wrapped him up again in its soft, inescapable clutch, though, almost before he finished the thought, and he was asleep before Ellen came into his room and checked on him, that night.

---


There was fire. He could smell it. He could feel it on his skin, licking out at him -- and the flames became hands, searing hot hands, clutching at his arms, at his clothes, pulling him back. The baby in his arms squirmed, cried out, and Dean tried to shush him, tried to keep holding on and keep going. He was breathing it in, that thick and choking air, those flames, and it was inside him, and he couldn't -- he couldn't --

There was a cry and he knew, he knew, he'd lost the baby, he'd lost --

"Dean! Dean, honey, wake up. It's okay. You're okay." Dean woke with a jolt, woke to Ellen lifting him up, her arms around him. He shook with it, no tears coming, aching all over like it was tearing him apart, like the fire deep inside him was eating him up still. She held him tighter, rocked him a little, speaking soothingly, meaninglessly, just saying anything she thought might get through to him. "It's okay, it's okay. Whatever it is, I've got you. You're safe now."

He buried his face in her shoulder, heedless of pain, trying so hard to believe it, to believe her promise. She had her fingers in his hair, kept rocking him and holding him, and he wanted to cry, he wanted to cry, but he couldn't.

Ellen kept holding him until the tension in him slackened, kept helding him while he shook, kept holding him until he was through it and starting to drowse again. She kept holding him long after he'd fallen asleep.

---


"You're awake," Ellen said, in surprise, a day later, two days -- Dean had lost track of time completely. She smiled at him and came fully into the room, carrying a bundle of things. "I sent Bill out to get you some more clothes. Got the next size up from the old ones, so you'll have chance to grow into them. I bet you're gonna grow like a weed now." She spread the clothes out on the bed, showing him. "If you like 'em, we'll get some more, but I didn't have much idea what you'd wear."

Dean bit his lip. Ellen watched him carefully, reaching over to ruffle his hair so that it stuck up in all directions, the gesture seeming affectionate and easy.

"What's wrong, honey? If there's something wrong with the clothes, you just have to say so. We can return 'em and get you some you would like."

He shook his head and reached for a t-shirt, grabbed a pair of jeans, then looked up at her, waiting. She frowned a little and then nodded suddenly, getting what he meant.

"You want to wash up first? That's okay. I'm sure you know where the bathroom is by now. I left a towel out for you. You think you can reach everything okay?"

Dean nodded. He wanted to smile at her but the expression wouldn't quite come -- there was an empty ache in him where the smiles used to come from. He remembered feeling like this after -- after the fire, that hollow and deep aching, from which nothing had come, not even the tears that might have been a relief. She seemed to understand, though, gave him a little nod and then a little push.

"Alright, then. Come on down when you're done, and you can have breakfast, and meet baby Jo. I'm sure you've heard her, but that won't have given you the best impression of her. I'll want you to help me look after her, so I hope you'll get along."

Dean wanted to be glad for that, too. He remembered looking after that other baby, the way he'd held him so careful and the way that baby had looked up at him with the most trusting, adoring eyes. The way he was supposed to look after that baby (take your brother outside, as fast as you can). The ache in him intensified, made him want to throw up, because he hadn't -- he hadn't --

He swallowed it back and went out of the room quickly, so Ellen wouldn't see his face. She wouldn't want to think she'd made him sad. He had to -- he had to do what he'd done for him, try to be okay and not to complain, try to be good -- and, and take care of the little one. He could do that. He'd done it before. He went to the bathroom and found a facecloth, tried to scrub away the knowledge, tried to peel away some of the aching that seemed to be outside him, encasing him, as well as inside him. He didn't understand it, really, but it clung to him, made his throat and chest ache like before, made him feel weak and stupid.

All the same, his stomach gave a rumble. He could smell food from downstairs all of a sudden, and he wasn't quite so tired, and Ellen was downstairs waiting for him. He got dressed quickly, frowning over buttons and fumbling with them -- he got there on his own, of course: it had been a long time since someone had helped him dress or undress. He looked in the mirror, wanting to look tidy, wanting to look good, knowing that Ellen wanted to keep him and wanting to show her she was making the right choice.

Then he ran to find Ellen. For a minute, he felt the sickening and senseless rise of panic, the unformed spectre of an idea -- that maybe she was gone, like everyone else, that he'd get there and find her and baby Jo gone, gone somewhere he couldn't follow. But he carried on anyway, like nothing in the world could be wrong, like he could force everything to be right just by believing it.

Baby Jo was quiet, for once. She was throwing her bottle repeatedly down onto the floor and watching it bounce, though. Dean stood in the doorway for a moment and watched Ellen patiently picking the bottle up, patiently smoothing down the wild wispy tufts of Jo's hair. He thought about the other baby and the way he'd once thrown his food at the wall and their dad had been angry and then finally laughed and told the uncomprehending Sam that he'd just made good art.

Oh, Sam.

"Hey there, Dean," Ellen said, then, before the hurt really knifed into him. "Time for you to meet Jo. Who is not keen on breakfast today, it seems." It was like she'd known just the right moment to speak. Dean went toward her and she reached out and ruffled his hair. "How about breakfast? I bet you're starving. How about pancakes?"

Dean's stomach gurgled, expressively, and Ellen gave him a grin.

"Alright then. Won't take me long. I think I'll have some with you, 'kay?"

Dean nodded. His face felt stiff and strange, not just because of the gashes, but he tried to smile up at her and she smiled back.

---


The wounds on Dean's face were puffy and sore. Ellen sighed as she dabbed them gently, obviously trying to clean them without hurting him. It wasn't like Dean would let her know if she did hurt him. He'd just sit there and take it. "These are starting to heal up," she said, despite the fact that she must know by now that he wasn't going to reply. She was resisting the urge to touch them, knowing her touch wouldn't soothe -- kissing it better didn't work with Dean. He knew the lie of it, already, even so young. "Maybe there won't even be much of a scar."

Dean shrugged. He'd always just sit there, letting her do whatever she needed to. Shrugging, maybe, if she asked him a question. She sighed again, grabbing some antibiotic ointment and smoothing it over the healing gashes, hoping the coolness of it would be soothing. His skin felt too hot to her touch.

"You think you're ever going to be able to talk to me, honey?" she asked, gently. He looked up at her, feeling a little stab of panic. She saw it, though, touched his unmarked cheek lightly. "No, don't worry. I don't mind. It's okay. I just need to know, Dean. That's all."

She always got that tone with him. So soothing. He kind of liked it. He wouldn't let himself think about his real mother, about how she might have dealt with all of it, but still... He shook his head a little, hesitantly.

"Okay," Ellen said, visibly holding back her reaction -- anger? sadness? confusion? "Don't worry about it, Dean. I'm going to look after you, you know that, right?"

Dean nodded again. Ellen picked him up again and held him close.

"You're going to be okay," she told him, firmly, and he hid the undamaged side of his face against her welcoming shoulder.

---


Dean ignored the adults, mostly, except Ellen. She hadn't actually told him to help out, but it was a habit -- trying to see what his dad wanted, and doing it before he was asked -- so he'd just got right to it, found a cloth and started cleaning tables, collecting up glasses. He couldn't actually reach all the tables properly, but he did his best, crawled up on stools where he had to. The adults just mostly kind of ignored him, which he was fine with, and he was just fine with ignoring them back.

He tried to keep in Ellen's sight, though. There was a sort of tension in the air, and he didn't like it, and he was pretty sure she didn't like it either. It was pretty quiet -- had been pretty quiet for the last couple of nights -- and there were only three or four hunters there. But there was a wariness that hadn't been there, the other times, a wariness that Dean sort of recognised. He tried not to think about his dad, these days, but it was unavoidable. They reminded Dean of him, when he was on a hunt, when he was ferreting out his bits of information, closing in.

He'd always hated his dad's intensity, then, the way everything faded away. Not that he was unkind, but... he barely seemed to see Dean then.

Dean really didn't mind the way Ellen was keeping an eye on him. Some other kids, it'd probably have rankled, but not Dean. He was glad to know she was there, glad to know she was watching out for him.

There were a bunch of empty glasses in front of the hunters. Dean couldn't really avoid them any longer. The glasses needed washing, and the table needed a quick wipe if he could manage it, before it got too sticky. He went over there, trying not to look like he was hesitating, confident and thus -- he hoped -- unobtrusive. That was something he'd learnt quickly from his dad: you hang around, you hesitate, and you get conspicuous. He'd seen his dad just blending in dozens of times. It worked on his dad too, though. If he snuck around, Dad was bound to notice him, probably get a bit irritated. If he just did what he had to do, Dad barely noticed him at all. So Dean tried that, just walked up to the table and reached up to gather the empty glasses. He could only take two at a time.

He could feel their eyes on him -- right on him, not looking through him -- but he didn't look up. He gathered up the empty glasses he could carry, managed to balance a third, and decided discretion was the better part of valour when it came to a fourth. He took them over to Ellen, who took them from him absently. Her eyes were still on the group of hunters, gauging trouble in exactly the same way as Dean had seen John do, in bars, hustling or fighting or whatever.

He went back over to take the other glasses, figuring that once he'd started, he should just carry on. As he reached up for the next glass, though, a hand caught his wrist. It wasn't a harsh grip, but Dean cringed anyway, tried to pull his hand away, and of course the guy tightened his grip.

"Winchester," the guy said, looking down at him. "You're John Winchester's boy."

Dean hadn't even heard Ellen move -- his dad would've scolded him for not being aware enough of his surroundings -- but there she was next to him. "Let go of his arm," she said, in a tone Dean hadn't heard her use before, something with steel in it. "You let go of my boy's arm right now."

"I'm not hurtin' him."

"I don't care. Let go of his arm."

There was a pause, and then the guy let go, thrusting Dean's arm away a little as if in contempt. Ellen didn't relax at all. Dean didn't back off, even though he badly wanted to. You back off, you show a weakness. He stood there by Ellen. She might need his help, anyway. He'd help her. He'd do anything for her.

"You're John Winchester's boy, ain't you?" the man said, again, looking down at him. Dean didn't remember him, but most of his life had been a collage of faces that came and went -- some came and went more often than others, and those he remembered. The rest, they'd started sliding past in a blur.

He didn't answer, not even a nod or a shrug. Ellen touched his shoulder lightly. "He's nobody's but mine, now," she said, firmly, but there was affection there too, and a reassurance. This is where you belong, it said. Dean nodded to that.

"But he was John Winchester's boy."

"He's mine now. Dean Harvelle."

That was the first time she'd said that, given him her surname. Dean wanted to say it, or try to, anyway; he wanted to try out the shape of it, but not here, not now, not in front of them.

Dean Harvelle, he said, in his mind. He could hardly remember the sound of his own voice, but he thought Dean Harvelle sounded fine.

"You heard what happened to Winchester's wife? Why he started hunting?" the man asked, in a lazy drawl. Dean could tell he was acting, though. The not inconsiderable muscles in his arms were still tense. "You might end up the same way. Some people talk about the Winchesters bein' cursed."

"There ain't been any trouble like that here, and I'm not going to borrow any, either."

"Maybe you ain't safe."

"Maybe I'm not," she said, and shrugged. "None of your business, is it? Dean's my son now."

"Maybe we won't want to hang around here so much."

"Well, that's your choice, and a damn stupid one if you ask me," Ellen said, with a shrug. Dean couldn't help but bite his lip, though, worrying, worrying that he was going to somehow cause horrible trouble for her, because she was going to keep him. Ellen squeezed his shoulder again, gently. "Dean's been here a little while now and nothing bad has happened. It'd be crazy and superstitious to avoid my roadhouse just 'cause my adopted son was once involved in an accident that happened to involve the supernatural."

"Two accidents," the man said, quickly, and Ellen shrugged.

"Alright, two. Considerin' he was the son of a hunter, that ain't exactly surprising, is it? What I'm saying is, it's your choice if you want to stop coming here. But you know you'll be missing out on the contacts you can get here, the avenues of information. If you want to throw away all that, then fine. Be my guest."

The man looked down, and Dean sensed then that Ellen had probably won -- for now, anyway. He turned away as she did, slipping his hand into hers. She didn't look down at him until they were back behind the bar, and then she crouched down to look into his eyes.

"You okay, Dean? You don't believe what that idiot said, do you?" When he shook his head, she smiled and kissed him on the forehead. "That's good. And you don't mind being Dean Harvelle?"

This time he shook his head so enthusiastically, so comically, that she laughed again. He liked to hear her laugh, he realised. He hadn't heard people laughing, really laughing, in far too long. His dad hadn't laughed since, well, since everything happened back in their house in Kansas. He hadn't really noticed the lack of it, not until he had it again and was surprised to hear Ellen laughing. She had a nice laugh, though, and he thought she was beautiful when she smiled at him like that.

"Alright, Dean. Dean Harvelle it is. You want to go and get ready for bed? It's already getting a bit too late for you to be up. I'll finish up the cleaning up, or if I don't, you can help me in the morning."

Dean thought about going to his bed alone -- thought about all the dark nights he'd put himself to bed in a string of anonymous and cheap hotels, and how he'd lie awake and watch the shadows moving, feeling a horrible clenching dread low down in his stomach, unable to sleep. It wasn't like that here, he thought. He felt safe. For the first time since his mother had last tucked him into bed with a kiss and a ruffle of his hair, he felt safe. He nodded at her and Ellen gave him another quick kiss on the forehead.

"Okay. Bill will be home later, so he'll check on you then, okay? Sweet dreams, honey," she said, and he smiled up at her -- a real smile, even though it tore a little at the gashes in his face -- and scurried off.

---


Jo got everywhere. As soon as she learnt to crawl, there was no peace for anyone. Ellen fretted over it at first, but Dean knew what he had to do. Ellen had asked him to help her look after baby Jo, and that's what he'd do. He knew how to do this. He'd looked after that other baby, as best he could, always watched over him. And he wouldn't fail again, not ever.

Not even if Jo was particularly challenging.

"Dee," she said, indistinctly, around a mouthful of -- well, of something gross, anyway. Dean wasn't quite sure it really bore much thinking about. He sat down quickly, on the warm earth, and pulled Jo into his lap, trying to make her spit out the... whatever it was. He couldn't speak, the blockage was still there in his throat and in his mind and he just couldn't, he couldn't, it hurt to think about it. But he made a cautionary sort of noise and he coaxed and stuck his fingers into her mouth and coaxed some more, and finally she spit it all out and leant against him, apparently exhausted.

He wanted to talk to her, like Ellen did to both of them, tell her things. Tell her the names of things, like he'd told that other baby, what felt like so long ago. He wanted to tell her to be careful, to stay with him, let him look after her. He found that the way he held her in his arms was kind of like telling her that, and the way she leaned against him might kinda be like a reply.

He pressed his face into her hair, and baby Jo laughed -- laughed, and that hurt too, because he couldn't. He didn't even know what she was laughing at. She was reaching for a butterfly, fluttering past their heads, but Dean couldn't see what there was to laugh about there.

I'll look after you, he promised, silently, when she looked at him, and she laughed again, like she knew. Like, maybe, he didn't ever need to say it. He held her a bit tighter and then got up. Ellen would be worrying if they were out of sight for too long. It usually meant that Jo had got into trouble.

---


"You're gonna be okay, honey, you know that, don't you?"

Dean looked up. Ellen was just tucking his lunchbox into his bag for him. She looked tired, worried, and he bit his lip, waited for her to look at him. The handsigns didn't feel natural yet, not at all, and he had to go slowly so that she could understand them, too, but he managed it: 'Don't worry about me.'

"I always worry about you," she said, leaning down to kiss his forehead. "You're my son."

That always kinda made Dean's throat close up, but it didn't matter because he didn't need that to speak, and he wasn't going to cry -- he never cried, especially not in front of Ellen. He waited until she was looking at him again, until she was looking at his hands, and then started signing carefully. 'I'll be okay, Mom.'

She took a moment to recognise the sign. He could see when she realised: her eyes opened very wide for a moment and then she smiled, wobbly at the edges, and kneeled down to wrap her arms around him. She spoke into his hair. "Thank you for calling me that, Dean. I'm glad you think of me like that."

Dean didn't have the signs to tell her that it was he that should thank her, that it was inevitable, that she was the best mother he could imagine.

"You mustn't forget your real mother," she said, quietly, and Dean shook his head.

'I won't.'

"That's good." Ellen took a deep breath and straightened up again, zipping up his bag for him. "Okay, I think you're ready, unless there's anything else you want to take."

Dean shook his head again, not bothering to sign over something like that, and Ellen nodded.

"Alright. Definitely ready, then." He turned and she helped him slide the straps over his shoulders. She ruffled his hair a little. "Okay, kiddo. I warn you, this isn't going to be easy. Things like this never are. You're a new boy, you're old to be starting school, and you can't talk. If anyone bullies you, tell the teacher. She's been learning some sign language too, I'm told, and you're going to have someone to help you in class. If you need to come home, talk to the teacher or your helper, okay? I'm sure they'll understand if it's a bit too much at first."

Dean's smile was pulled lopsided by the scars on his face. 'I will, Mom.'

"Good. Okay." She smiled back at him, although she was plainly still a little nervous for him. "Go on then, Dean. Make me proud."

Dean nodded and headed for the door. The bus would pick him up from a little way outside the roadhouse, down the road a little. Ellen had walked with him to show him where exactly, but she was letting him walk down there on his own. He felt a little proud about that, that she trusted him, and also thought that probably she understood that he didn't want to have some tearful pep talk parting with her when getting on the school bus. Dean didn't know many other kids, but he'd watched tv and read books and knew that that would be just one more count against him. It wouldn't be a good idea.

It wasn't like he wasn't nervous. He was nervous as hell: his stomach kept flipping over and twisting into strange knots, and he felt kind of sick and regretted eating breakfast, and he kind of wanted to run back to Ellen and spend the rest of the day with her. He suspected she wouldn't have the heart to order him to go. Which kind of made him more determined, in a way -- determined to show her he could handle it, he could do this without her, without ever backing away from it.

The road was dusty, and the day was hot and overcast. His shirt was sticking to his back a little already, and the air seemed a little too thick. It wasn't like he was that nervous, not like he was going to have an asthma attack or something silly like that. It was just the heat, and the dust. Dean stopped when he got to the pick up point. There was no sign of the bus yet. He gripped the shoulder straps of his bag tightly and waited. He was gonna do this right. He had to.

---


Dean didn't normally run home. It was silly -- no reason to run, and it just got him all hot and sticky and dirty. But he wanted his mom, wanted her to be practical and kind and for her to ruffle his hair. Make everything that happened in the day go away, or make him feel like there was some point to all of it. If she wasn't there, there'd be Jo, or Bill, or one of the regulars. Someone to talk to. He had to talk to someone. He let himself in, dropped his bag with a thump. He wished he could call out to his mom, like a kid on the tv coming home from school. Mom, I'm home. Mom, I had a bad day.

Not that he'd tell her. Every day, if he could just make it through and go home, it'd all be okay.

But that wasn't going to work, so he went looking for her. She wasn't in the bar, which wasn't surprising. It was a sleepy time of the year, not many hunters coming through, for whatever reason. Maybe the monsters were sleepy, too, or maybe it was just the opposite and the hunters had no time to come in for a drink or to gather information. It wasn't that weird that the bar was empty, anyway.

It was weird, though, that his mom wasn't anywhere in sight. She was nearly always there when he got home, listening for him, ready with a rough hug and a cold drink and a snack and, usually, a couple of chores he could do to help her out.

There'd been a knot in his gut all day, a sickness that he'd hardly dared to acknowledge. He knew that the day of the fire, the day everything fell apart, he hadn't known. Everything had seemed like normal. So it wasn't like he had a history of predicting horrible things or something -- there was a guy in the roadhouse who did that all the time, and he was always right, although he didn't always make sense and he didn't talk to Dean much -- so there was no reason to really fear something. Still, all the same, he couldn't help it. His stomach cramped more as he wandered through the house and stopped in front of his mom's bedroom.

He never really understood what happened with his other mom and his real dad. He knew about the fire, when he had to carry Sam out... but his mind kind of skipped over most of it, and nothing was left but the heat of fire on his skin, the smoke in his lungs, and the baby in his arms. Even that was mostly a nightmare by then, and he had no idea what was real and what wasn't, out of that tattered web of memory.

Still, he remembered snatches of conversation, between his real dad and other hunters, between other hunters around the roadhouse. People still turned over the story of the Winchesters in their heads sometimes, probably because Dean was there. They'd have forgotten if he wasn't, he thought, a little bitterly. They'd just have forgotten all that pain. That's what people do.

He couldn't. He was standing at the door of his mom's bedroom, and he was thinking about the ceiling, oh god, the ceiling, and the blood, and the fire...

He just knew that as soon as he opened this door, he was going to see something he didn't want to see. Dean thought about running away, running as far away from it as he could get and not stopping, until it was gone.

He had a feeling he'd be running forever before that happened, though. He pushed the door open. Ellen was lying down on the bed, her face buried in the pillows. Dean took a hesitant step into the room, wondering if she was just asleep or something, but then he saw her shoulders shaking, caught the sound of a sob. He ran over to the bed then, all thoughts of blood and fire gone out of his head. He couldn't sign to her when she wasn't looking at him, so he clambered up on the bed and put his arms around her, buried his face against her back and just waited.

"Dean?" she asked, into the pillow, and he nodded, holding onto her tighter. She sounded choked up. He wasn't sure he'd ever heard her like this, seen her like this. She was still for a moment more, but he knew this stillness -- knew she was pulling herself together, readying herself to be strong for him, for Jo, for whoever needed it. He held on tighter, wishing he could say it was okay. He didn't know what was wrong, but it could wait. If she needed to cry, he intended to let her cry. She always told him he needed to learn to cry, needed to learn to let it out.

She couldn't push this down deep inside herself and let it fossilise under the weight and pressure. Not like him.

"Dean," she said quietly, again, and slowly he relaxed his grip and let her turn over. She pulled him into her arms, her breath ruffling his hair, and didn't say anything for a couple of minutes. He listened to her heartbeat and her breathing, felt the stuttery irregular movements of her chest, and wished he could say all those things she said to him all the time but especially back then: it'll be okay, you'll be fine, you're safe, I've got you.

The knot in his throat was drawn so tight it ached.

Finally, she exhaled shakily, like she was letting go of something, and loosened her grip on him a little. "Dean? I have... Something bad has happened."

Dean sat up quickly, so she could see his hands. 'Jo?'

She shook her head quickly. "Oh, thank god, no. Not Jo. I couldn't take it if it were Jo. No, it's... You know that Bill is a hunter, don't you?"

Dean nodded, trying not to feel impatient.

"Okay, well... something has happened to Bill," she said, quietly. "Bill won't be coming home anymore."

'He's dead?'

Ellen swallowed and closed her eyes, like she didn't want to see Dean's hands forming those signs. "Yes, honey. I was kind of... You know, when someone's a hunter, that someday something might happen. Hunters don't just get old and die peacefully. I knew that it might happen, but I didn't want to believe it..."

Dean touched her hand, asking for her to open her eyes, and then signed quickly. 'You know it could happen but you don't want to believe it. I understand.'

"I suppose you do," Ellen said, sighing a little again, and then wrapped her arms around him, hauling him close again. "We have to make sure everything carries on like normal, okay? We need the roadhouse. People are going to be rude about it, talk about us like we're not there or blame the Winchester family curse or... stupid things like that. We have to keep it together. You have to look after Jo, and..." She smiled wryly, even despite her tears. "You'll probably have to look after me."

'I owe you.'

"Dean, that's..."

'Everything is going to be alright,' he signed, determinedly, and then jumped up.

"Where are you going, honey?"

'Tea.'

Her smile was weary, this time. "That might help a little."

Dean wanted to tell her it wouldn't. He knew the void that came when things like this happened, how you could pour things into it for hours and days and weeks and months and years and it still wouldn't fill. How you'd be at it your whole life, filling it, trying to hold things inside yourself and keep them safe. How the bottom drops out of your world and you can't put it back. He didn't, though. He just went to fetch the tea, checking on Jo in the meantime. She was playing in her room happily enough, so he left her there, to be innocent and safe and whole just a little longer.

---


"Dean!"

Dean looked up when he heard Jo calling him, raising an eyebrow -- it was easier than signing, and she knew him well. She grinned up at him, coming over and putting her arms around his waist.

"Are we gonna play the games tonight?"

'Depends. Did Mom say we can annoy the customers tonight?'

Jo huffed. "Just because we beat 'em."

'They make stupid bets and we take their money. It's not like it's our fault. But people will blame us anyway, you know that.'

Jo huffed again, so that the hair that was falling into her face flicked up comically. Dean grinned at her and rubbed at a mark on her cheek.

'What've you been doing?'

"Tryin' to look like you!" she said, and when she said that, well, it became apparent. There were four streaks across her face, darker than the scars on Dean's own face, but recognisable. She bit her lip when Dean stopped. "Dean?"

'Nothing,' he signed. He'd found there was one very great advantage to signing that he seemed to be noticing all the time. People -- normal people -- when they talked, they couldn't always hide the way they were feeling. Their voices would crack. The boys in his school, the ones that were actually his age, not the ones he ended up with, their voices were all breaking, or had broken already. They sounded ridiculous when it was happening, when their voices would sometimes wobble and squeak, some of the time. Dean would never have that problem. And he'd never have to work hard to hide his feelings from his mom or Jo -- not when he was speaking, anyway.

Not that he did so well in any other way, either. Jo was peering up at him suspiciously. "I think they're cool," she said, a trifle defiantly. "I don't care what people say about them."

'Me neither. But they're not cool, Jo.' Dean hesitated, and then signed slowly, thinking it through as he did. 'They mean something hurt me, a long time ago. Nobody wants you to be hurt.'

"But you're okay now?"

Dean smiled his skewed, awkward smile, and nodded. Jo scrubbed at her face a bit -- mostly just managing to smear whatever it was all over her face -- and then smiled up at him.

"I'm not going to do that anymore. So you don't think about me being hurt."

Dean nodded again, smiling in lieu of bothering to sign. Sometimes he wished he could talk, could carry on conversations at the speed that Jo did, and go around asking questions of everyone and everything. He put his hand on top of her head, ruffling her hair, but she was already onto the next topic that was obviously close to her heart.

"Games?" she said, plaintively.

'We'll ask Mom,' Dean signed, after a moment. Hell, he could do with a bit of extra money.

---


'Let me,' Dean signed, when he caught Ellen's eye. She stepped back, shaking her head a little.

"I can still manage, you know. I'm not that old and decrepit yet."

He shifted the crate to where she pointed, setting it down carefully and then turning so she could see his hands again. 'Of course you're not old.'

"Flattery," she said, whacking the side of his head gently, "gets you nowhere."

'I like to help.'

Ellen sighed softly. "Yes, I know. You like to be useful. Look at you... All grown up. And I still remember the day I found you on the step like it was only a couple of years ago. And Jo's already talking about what she wants to do, about maybe going and hunting or something like that."

Dean bit his lip. 'I won't go.'

"I'm not saying you two have to stay," she said, a little sharply. "Dean, if that's what you're thinking I'm going to give you another slap upside the head. You don't have to stay round here, for me or for anyone. I'll miss you, and you know you're always welcome here, but I want you to have your own life someday too."

'This is my life.'

"It doesn't have to be. You could go to college."

'Do you want me to?'

Ellen sighed softly. "Let's go and sit down and talk about this, okay? I guess maybe we should have talked about it before, I just... didn't want to think about it. I mean, I'll survive you leaving," her tone is wry, and she gives him another little smile, "but I don't want you to. I'd like to keep you all to myself and never let you grow up -- both of you."

'I don't want to go,' Dean signed, but Ellen had already turned to go, and didn't see his hands move. Dean shook his head a little and followed her, got them both a drink when he passed through the kitchen. Ellen stopped and looked at him, when she heard him opening the cupboard.

"Dean, you don't have to..."

Dean shook his head and Ellen rolled her eyes a little, leaving him to it. Dean made them both coffee -- it was going to be a long day, he thought, and plenty to do. Coffee would be a good idea. And he liked the smell of coffee, liked the heat of a mug in his hands, even on a relatively warm day like this one. He followed Ellen to sit down when the coffee was ready, handing hers to her and finding a table mat for his own and somewhere to perch it.

"Sorry," Ellen said, eyeing the mess. "I told Jo to tidy up."

Dean shrugged. 'She was busy, Mom. It's okay.'

"And you're not? You always manage to do your chores."

Dean didn't have an answer for that -- not one he thought she'd like, anyway. Ellen narrowed her eyes at him a little.

"Dean? You're not going to tell me that all this time you're helpful around the house because you think you owe me, or something, are you?"

'I just want to be helpful, Mom.' He signed the last on purpose, watching for the softening around her mouth and eyes when he called her that. It'd never quite worn off for the two of them, not in the way that it had for her with Jo. Probably because the marks of how easily he might not have been hers were so plain on his face. You couldn't escape from them, ever.

Ellen reached over and touched the rough scar tissue lightly, as if she was reading his mind. "You know I love you, don't you?"

He squirmed a little. He liked thinking that she was his mom, liked having this, but still, sometimes... There was no need to say it. 'Yeah, you too,' he signed, reluctantly, not quite meeting her eye.

"Boys," she murmured, affectionate and exasperated, and let her hand drop. "Okay. So... Dean, you understand that you can leave, don't you? I'm not going to ask you to stay. God knows there's not much around here for a boy of your age, and I don't need the help as much as you think I do. You don't owe me anything -- never have done, not like that. Not in the way where I expect you to repay me. You understand?"

Dean hesitated. 'You're the only one who wants me.'

"That's not true," she said, instantly. There was a beat of silence and then she sighed. "I know people find you hard to deal with, Dean, but that's their fault, not yours. You're a smart boy, and a good boy, you do what you're told when it counts and you think for yourself when it's important. You should be able to get on in the world just fine, and anyone who doesn't want you to -- well, sue 'em, or something."

Dean made the little noise that for him was a laugh. 'Mom, I can't sue people for not liking me because I'm mute.'

"Well, they're idiots anyway."

'And you're not biased at all.'

"Oh, I'm plenty biased. See also: you're my son. But... the fact that you can't talk ain't you. It shouldn't be important to anyone, not... Well, obviously people should be considerate of you, but they shouldn't see you as less. Okay? You're just the same as everyone else where it counts."

'You're starting to sound like a Disney movie.'

"God forbid," she said, grimacing. "Had enough of those when Jo was a kid."

'She never watched Disney.'

"I know. That's my point. People shoving it in my face all the time, and having to say no, I didn't think Barbie Ariel was the best toy to pick..."

Dean grinned a little. 'She'd have killed anyone who bought her that.'

"Damn right. Never saw any reason why she should be brought up as a girlie girl if what she wanted was a pretend toolkit or something." Ellen bit her lip a little. "You didn't have many toys growing up, did you? Only time I remember seeing you play was with Jo."

'The best doll ever,' Dean said, the quirk of his mouth showing his irony. Ellen laughed again, but quickly grew serious.

"Dean, I'm serious. You know that, don't you? I want you to do whatever's important to you. You want to go off to college and be a lawyer or something, you do that. I don't need you here. You'll always have a place here and if you ever doubt that, I'll box your ears, and get Jo to do it too, but I want you to know there're other places, just as good or better. Plenty of places where people won't overlook you because you can't talk."

'I belong here,' Dean said, and Ellen sighed and pulled him into a hug. He winced a bit, just on principle, and then rested his face against her shoulder, just like he did when he was a kid.

---


The room suddenly hushed. The door hadn't opened, so Dean looked up quickly to gauge what was going on. Could just be one of those lulls in conversation you get, could be someone was about to break the silence by saying something stupid or embarrassing that everyone got to hear, but you couldn't be too careful. There'd been a lot of talk lately, lots of demon possessions, lots of supernatural activity, and a place where hunters gather... well, the more intelligent monsters might well decide that it sounded like a good way to get a bit of revenge.

A man was standing in the middle of the roadhouse floor, looking straight at him. He wore this beige trenchcoat thing, swirling around him dramatically, and some kind of suit underneath. His head was tilted a little to the side, and his eyes -- Dean caught his eyes and those eyes pierced him, so blue it hurt, so alive.

Ellen moved between them. "Can I help you?"

"I need to speak to Dean Winchester," the man said. His voice was a little gravelly, and Dean thought... he thought he could almost taste power on the air, like it followed the guy around in some kind of cloud. There was a murmur -- because the name Winchester never seemed to get any less gossiped about, even though it had been years. Dean bit his lip.

"There's no Dean Winchester here," Ellen said, firmly. Dean wasn't sure why -- maybe some sort of motherly instinct, he thought, with an inward smile that did not reach his face -- but she'd clearly decided that she wasn't going to make anything easy on this guy, whoever he was and whatever he wanted. Dean could get behind that. He didn't like the way the guy looked at him, through him, like he could see everything inside of him and was willing to spread it out over the table and dissect it.

The knot in his throat was suddenly tight and heavy, in a way it hadn't been for years. A body can get used to anything, and Dean had been used to speaking only with his hands and his eyes, with body language and quirks of the mouth. And yet he was, wanting to speak, wanting to voice something he didn't even understand. Maybe a shriek of fear, like that of a small boy.

He was definitely glad that Ellen had stepped in.

"That man is Dean Winchester," the man said, shaking his head. He took a step to the side and skewered Dean on his gaze again -- that's what it felt like, a jolt through him and then he was snared, couldn't look away. "My name is Castiel," he said, more gravelly than ever, and somehow it was like he was talking to Dean alone, like it was only them. "I need to speak to you, and I cannot take no for an answer. It is not advisable to talk here in front of these people."

'That's my mom,' Dean signed, quickly, not even caring if the guy couldn't understand his signs. 'She gets to hear whatever you want to say.'

"Your mother is dead," the guy -- Castiel, or whatever his name was -- said, puzzled. Tilting his head in that way he had. Like some kind of inquisitive animal. All the time he wasn't looking away from Dean.

"I'm his mother," Ellen said, firmly. "The only one who matters right now anyway. I don't know what you want, but I don't think I care. Get out of here and stop bothering my son."

It was strange, Dean thought, that no one had moved to help them, no one had even said anything. The guy looked round at them all, apparently serene, and they all just looked back at him, totally silent, like they were stunned or something, or like maybe that power Dean had sensed in him let him keep everyone shut up.

"I will go," Castiel said, carefully. "I will return at a better time."

Between one eyeblink and the next, he was gone.

The murmuring started up again immediately, like it had never stopped, except maybe a bit more hushed, a bit more furtive. Nobody wanted Ellen to hit them or something, but yeah, this was worth talking about. Dean suspected people who'd been there and heard it would be able to get drinks off it from other hunters for weeks.

Ellen did not meet his eyes.

---


"We need your help, Dean."

Dean jumped just about a mile. He knew before he turned, though, that it had to be the guy, the one who'd just appeared in the roadhouse, demanded to speak to Dean Winchester -- the name felt weird, now, like a shirt that didn't quite fit across the shoulders -- and then disappeared when his mom had ordered him to leave. The voice kinda gave it away, there was no one else Dean knew with that kind of a voice, but also there was that weird tang of power on the air.

"I'm not going to cause you any harm," the man said. "Please turn to look at me."

Dean turned. He almost couldn't help it, there was a command in that voice that couldn't be denied.

"Dean Winchester," the man said, looking at him like he was trying to look into his soul -- again.

'No such guy,' Dean signed. He spelt out the surname letter by letter. 'H-a-r-v-e-l-l-e.'

"You are still Dean Winchester. That's important."

'What do you want?'

"Your brother lives, Dean."

It felt like being struck in the face. It felt like being struck in the chest, like something just bowling him over. For a moment he thought he literally couldn't breathe anymore, and the tight knot in his throat hurt again, like it hadn't for years. His brother. His brother. His baby brother. Sammy. He hadn't been careful enough. He hadn't taken care of his brother. He'd failed.

"Dean," Castiel said, concern in his voice. He reached out to touch Dean's shoulder, and suddenly the pain was gone. Those bright blue eyes were narrowing, and then the guy's head tilted. "You could speak, if you wished to."

'Yeah, right. I haven't spoken in years. I've wanted to all the time.'

"I could heal you," the guy said, searching his face. "I could make it better."

'If it's gonna get better, I'll do it myself, thanks,' Dean signed, quickly. He didn't want this guy reaching inside him and messing him up. He didn't even know what this guy was, but he was sure as hell he wasn't human. He didn't feel demonic or anything like that, but mostly the point was that they didn't. If they did then you'd weed them out no problem, even ordinary humans, people who didn't know about the supernatural, would still know. There was no way he was a demon, the way he was acting, the way he carelessly let his power fill the room, fill the very air you breathed. Demons wouldn't be so damned obvious. But Dean was sure he wasn't human -- witches, warlocks, whatever, they didn't feel like that. Psychics and healers, the real ones, they didn't feel like that. And he'd met most friendly powerful people or things in his life -- you do, when you run a roadhouse. He's heard rumours of pacifist, non-murderous vampires, but he'd know if this guy was one of those. They do have a power, a charisma, horrible and mesmerising, but you know all the time that something's subtly wrong. Sometimes, if you have sense, you even run on time.

The point was, Dean sure as hell wasn't going to let some strange and supernatural being poke round in his head and try and fix things for him. There was no guarantee that anything he would do would actually count as fixing to a human, and no reason to trust him anyway.

"You clutch your pain tightly. I could heal you."

'Not interested. What the hell do you want? What has my baby brother got to do with anything?'

"Your brother isn't dead," Castiel said, and then waited a moment as if wondering if Dean would react with that gut-punched pain again. He didn't, so Castiel nodded a little. "Your brother has been brought up by a series of human families. Demons have been monitoring him, though. Teaching him. Feeding him poisonous lies. They told him that the night your father died, so did you. That you're both burning in hell right now."

'Is that true?'

"Obviously not, in your case. In your father's case..." A pause, as if Castiel was looking for words. "Yes. I am afraid your father is indeed burning in hell."

Had to hand it to the guy, he had tact. Dean tried to fight off the horrible stomach-rolling nausea, tried to fight off the voices hissing and whispering all together in his head that it was all his fault, his fault alone. He'd never managed to shut them up, so he -- and they, apparently -- had no idea why he'd be able to start now. The voice in his head sounds like a little boy still. I couldn't help it. I was only a kid.

"Dean," Castiel said, and Dean looked up again, still reeling, but apparently back with him. Another nod. "Your father breaking was bad enough. I grieve for all souls cast into hell. But it also caused something to happen. It broke... a seal. And now it could unleash the apocalypse."

'What has this got to do with me? With my brother?'

"I mentioned that your brother has been fed poisonous lies, by demons." Castiel's brows furrow a little. "He has been encouraged to take vengeance for what he believes has been done to you and your father. For the ruin of your family. He believes that the demon he should target is one named Lilith. However, if he achieves this, there is nothing we can do. He will unleash Lucifer."

'What the hell has this got to do with me? And who the hell are you?'

"I should provide you with proof," Castiel said, a little musingly. He straightened up a little, seemed to plant his feet more widely. The tang of power on the air grew stronger, the feeling that shit was about to get unleashed. And slowly, slowly, two huge black shadows started to appear behind him. The television started making this weird fizzing noise and Dean was sure all the electricity was going haywire and that clouds had fallen over the sun outside and quite possibly the world was ending, but he could not look away from those wings. "I am an angel of the Lord, Dean," Castiel said, almost gently. "And I believe you will be able to prevent this apocalypse, prevent all the death and destruction it will cause. If it comes to pass, the earth will be razed, the foundations of heaven will shake, and hell will spew forth over the world. And we do not know who will win."

If Dean had had a voice, he'd probably have been speechless. He was certainly scared shitless. But his hands moved anyway. 'I can't help you. I failed Sammy all the time.'

"You were a small child," Castiel said, even more gently, and the tone tore at Dean, because this was an angel -- no disbelieving that, with this guy standing there in his mom's living room with these massive wings curling just so so they could fit inside the room. Even as Dean thought that, they flickered out, and it was like he could breathe a bit better again. He realised he was sweating. His shirt clung to his back with it, and his mouth was dry.

'I can't help you.'

"This will not be the last time I ask," Castiel said. "I only ask you to think about it."

Pause. 'I'll think about it.'

The angel was gone between one eyeblink and the next, just like before. Dean could swear he heard the sound of wings.

---


Dean was clearing up the roadhouse when the angel came back. It'd been a rowdy night before -- some kind of argument -- and Ellen had gone to bed early with a headache, leaving Dean in charge. Which was all well and good, except he couldn't exactly make himself heard over the noise like her, and Jo had been busy with her own things... He was clearing up, anyway. It was his fault.

"I do not believe it is your fault if people become... rowdy," Castiel said, from just behind him, and Dean would've jumped a mile, but he'd known, somehow -- felt the power that seemed to surround the angel like a cloud. He didn't turn to the angel for a moment, took a silly satisfaction in ignoring him and just getting on with what he had to do. He thought he could fix this stool, with a bit of patience. It was battered and old but it should be good for a bit longer, if he was careful.

The angel waited patiently. Dean had this idea that Castiel would wait just as long as he had to, and wouldn't go away until he'd got to say his piece, so finally he turned around. 'What do you want? I'm not coming with you on some crazy crusade to stop the apocalypse, you know.'

"I need information," the guy -- the angel, but it was so much easier to pretend that away, pretend he was just an ordinary guy. So much easier. "I am not here to ask you to come with me. Not this time."

'What?'

"I need help with the current locations of several humans who were, like your brother... groomed to cause the apocalypse."

Every time he says your brother, it's kind of like a knife slamming through Dean's guts. If he'd been more careful, if he'd kept Sam safe, maybe the kid would be right beside him now, helping him clean up. Maybe bitching about it, but safe and with him and with a real home and a real family. Except he couldn't be much of a kid anymore -- he found himself realising that Jo wasn't much of a kid anymore, all the time, and that was just... weird. But he'd be there. Or maybe off at college or something, but still. He'd be around. He'd be safe. And it was Dean's fault he wasn't.

"Dean," Castiel said, in that ridiculously commanding voice, and Dean looked up again.

'Yeah, what? What do you want me to do?'

"I know that you have helped human hunters with... projects like this one. I know the names of the children I need you to find, and their birthplaces, and their last known locations, but they have been shielded from me -- from all the angels -- and I cannot find them in the ways I would traditionally use. So I turn to you."

'And if I say no?'

"I will somehow find someone else."

Dean exhaled slowly. Took another deep breath, mostly to gain time. 'You won't take me away?'

"I do not understand your reluctance, but no. I require your research skills only, at this point in time."

'Alright. Let's do this.' Dean let his hands drop to his sides for a moment, looking around at the mess, and then smirked. 'But only if, in return, you help me straighten this place up for my mom.'

Castiel blinked.

'Tit for tat, angel. You do me a favour and I'll do you a favour.'

"Alright," Castiel said, slowly, and Dean kind of got the idea he was savouring the strange words. "Tit for tat."

---


His mom came to tuck him in that night. She'd never really stopped doing that, even when he was getting way too old for it, and Dean still liked it, in a sort of half-embarrassed way. He liked to have her come and spend the time with him, especially if they hadn't had time to talk much during the day. A few minutes, just him and his mom. A part of him that was quiet but always there was always saying that he couldn't turn aside these offered moments, had to take whatever he could get, because it could be so easily taken from him.

He figured that part was right, even if he didn't like it, so he'd never told her to stop. This time when she came in, he was sitting up in bed, flicking through this trashy novel -- something of Jo's, but she'd said he should read it, and he mostly did what Jo wanted, because it was Jo asking. Telling. Whatever.

"Hey, kiddo," Ellen said, even though he blatantly wasn't a kid anymore, at all, and sat down on the edge of his bed. He nodded to her instead of signing, while he put the book aside. She reached up and ruffled his hair. "Jo's inflicting that on you, too, now?"

'You thought I'd be able to escape?' Dean asked, quirking an eyebrow. He couldn't help but smile at his mom, even though he felt the awkward tug of the scar tissue, and thought he probably looked ridiculous. Didn't matter, he was pretty sure his mom no longer saw it. Which was a plus in a world where most people saw it and couldn't look anywhere else, couldn't look beyond it.

Castiel looked beyond it. Dean wasn't sure he'd noticed it at all, even, really. He'd always seek out Dean's eyes, first, and look into them for the whole conversation, an unnerving gaze that got pretty hard to return.

"That guy was around here again today," Ellen said, quietly. It didn't have anything to do with what they'd been saying, but she had special mom telepathy sometimes, he figured. He nodded a little and Ellen moved closer to him. "I'm scared," she said, more softly still, and he frowned.

'The guy's an angel. Wings and everything. Nothing to be scared of.'

"Are you sure you believe him?"

Dean nodded, slowly. There was no way he could disbelieve, somehow, unless maybe there was some kind of mojo going on that would make a human gullible, make them go along with whatever the supernatural being wanted. That kind of thing was pretty common, and the roadhouse was loaded up with protection against that and every other kind of magic, but Castiel was like nothing Dean had ever come across before, ever. It might not even matter that the roadhouse was plenty warded, which was only sensible in a world where supernatural beings are real and you deal with the people who hunt them. There'd been monsters before strong enough to obliterate human wards, and there would be again. Hell, there were demons that could walk right into churches or whatever. No real safety.

But Castiel wasn't like that, Dean was sure of it. There was something about him -- the sincerity always shone through, and Dean could readily believe that Castiel never told lies, always told the truth as angels saw it. Not that that had to be good for human kind, in general, really. There was no reason why it should be. He'd already got the impression that angels did not wear white, never particularly had the urge to go and sit on Christmas trees, and did not stand around playing harps all day. Or fly around, for that matter.

"Okay," Ellen said, interrupting his thoughts. "If you believe him, I guess I do, too. I'm not afraid of him for that, though. Bring it on, we've dealt with everything in our time. Well, not me specifically, but... hunters. And there's always hunters around here to help us. I'm just scared that you're going to think that you owe him something. That you have to go off with him and try to fix something that was never really your fault in the first place. I've always known you blamed yourself for what happened to your brother, but... You barely even remember what happened to your brother, Dean. It needn't have been your fault."

'Even if it wasn't my fault, he's still my brother.'

"You are thinking of going with him, then?"

Dean thought about it for a moment. He wanted to say no, absolutely not, wanted to assure his mom that he belonged here and would always stay here. That was his kneejerk reaction. But the more Castiel looked at him like he was looking into his soul, the more Castiel had talked about the coming apocalypse, the more Dean started to wonder if his refusal might not be stupid and childish and completely selfish. Whether he should go. He'd lost plenty, as a child, okay. But that doesn't give you a free pass to ignore reality forever -- bad things just keep on happening, whether you like it or not. The universe owes you nothing. There's no reason why Dean should be allowed to just stay here.

'I want to stay here and protect you,' he signed, slowly. 'I need to know you're safe. If it's going to be the end times, I want to be with you.'

"But?"

Dean didn't reply for a long moment, and he didn't look at her face when he did. 'I don't think I'm going to go now. But you always said that you'd let me go, if I wanted to go.'

Ellen was silent for a while, and then she leaned over and kissed his forehead gently. "You do what you think is right, honey," she said, although Dean was sure that she was choking up, and he knew that if he looked up there'd be tears in her eyes.

'I won't go without saying goodbye and making sure you're going to be okay,' he signed, urgently now.

"You do what you have to do," she said, and then she turned away so he wouldn't see the tears on her cheeks.

---


Dean was outside when the angel came this time. It was another of those hot sticky days, and there was just no air in the roadhouse. Even outside the air felt soupy and even the insects were sleepy. Dean kind of just wanted to close his eyes and fall asleep right there.

Or he did until the angel appeared, staggering forward with bright blood blooming on the beige trenchcoat, on the white shirt, on his face. Dean gasped and surged forward, grabbed Castiel by the shoulders and tried to hold him up. There was no way that, like that, he could ask any questions, so he dragged Castiel into the relative shade and lowered him down to the ground.

"Get salt. Holy water. Anything you've got," the guy rasped. "Demons are following me."

Dean froze. 'I can't exorcise demons in sign language!'

"I can do it," Castiel said, and began a struggle to his feet. Dean pushed him back down and he slumped there, obviously too exhausted to get back up, the fucking idiot.

'I'll get us some protection. You can chant some Latin from inside a salt circle.'

"Hurry," the angel said, and closed his eyes. The cuts on his face were already beginning to close, which didn't really surprise Dean. Angel, after all. But it was apparent that the healing process was going to be slow, and that Castiel wasn't exactly all juiced up. Dean ran inside. They always had salt around, and some guns, and protective amulets and god knows what. Ellen was out, but Jo was somewhere -- she could read a fucking exorcism instead of a trashy novel for five minutes, surely? He barged into her room, ignoring her state of undress because demons, and signed quickly. 'Demon attack. Help me!'

"Here?" she asked, leaping to her feet. She grabbed some jeans, hauling them on, and he was amused -- even now -- to note that she grabbed one of his own big soft worn shirts that she'd stolen when he'd been about to discard them. She did it up with clumsy fingers.

'Obviously here, stupid,' he signed, and then was out of the door before she replied, grabbing all the supplies that might possibly help, everything he could think of.

"Wait for me!" she yelled after him. "Don't do anything stupid!"

Which, well, he'd love to reply and reassure her, but he had stuff to do. And Cas -- Castiel, the damn angel, whatever, he was outside, injured, not even able to get up. Dean tore back out there and started making a salt circle big enough for three people. The angel was standing, albeit shakily, and there seemed to be less fresh blood than Dean remembered. His voice was still rough as hell, though, when he started trying to talk. "I will be able to fight."

Dean put the container of salt down impatiently and turned to Castiel, signing hurriedly. 'Look, I can't exactly talk while I'm doing this. Get your ass in the circle and shut up. My sister will come and help us.'

"I'm here," Jo said, even as he finished signing, and grabbed the salt to finish making the ring. She grinned at him. "I've always wanted to be part of an epic showdown."

'Mom's going to kill me for getting you into this.'

"Nah, she'd kill me if I didn't help you." She looked over her shoulder at Castiel. "You deaf? Get your feathered butt in this circle."

"I do not -- "

Dean gave him a look that said just do it, and closed up the circle, stepping inside too. Jo was already kneeling down in it, dragging out weapons. "I don't even know what's gonna be any good against demons."

"I will be strong enough to fight them," Castiel said. "You simply have to protect yourselves. I would appreciate the back up of some kind of exorcism spell, though. I can burn demons out of human bodies, but I am vulnerable while doing so. A... distraction would be appreciated."

"Right, so I get to chant spells," Jo said, rifling through a book of exorcisms that Dean wasn't sure Ellen knew Jo had picked up.

"That one," Castiel said, looking over her shoulder. "Can you pronounce all the words?"

Jo frowned down at the page and then shrugged. "How do you do this word?"

Dean wandered away -- out of the circle of protection, actually, figuring that he could get back in there quick if the demons did start arriving, and that he could actually be useful if he scouted for them ahead of time. It wasn't like he could help with the exorcisms. He stayed within sight of the circle, of course, but it was no coincidence it was just out of hearing. He was going to be pretty much useless. What was he gonna do, throw salt and holy water at them? It wasn't like filling them with buck shot was going to do anything other than piss 'em off.

"Dean," Castiel said, from right behind him, and this time he did startle a little. Castiel was definitely low on juice -- the sense of power, the prickle of intuition, the way it would make the hairs rise on Dean's arms and the back of his neck, that was gone. He didn't turn, but then Castiel's hand landed gently on his shoulder. "You should come back to the salt circle, where you will be safe. I wish to teach you a ritual that will increase the potency of your sister's exorcism."

Dean turned slowly. 'And here was I thinking I was going to be useless.'

Castiel nodded gravely. "I know. It will require some bravery on your part. The rite involves blood."

'I need to cut myself?'

Another nod.

'Awesome, every emo teenage boy's dream. I'm in.'

"I do not understand what you're referring to, but I am grateful for your help," Castiel said, in that stiff way of his, and the look in his eyes was that semi-tender one, the one that made Dean feel like maybe whatever his sins were in this guy's eyes, he was forgiven.

'You mostly just want me back in the circle of protection.'

"That is true. I should not have lead the demons here. We need you, you are too important to heaven's plans to be risked. But..." Castiel actually shrugged a little, an awkward movement of the shoulders, which looked as weird on him as it would look natural on anyone else. "I felt... I knew that you would help me, so when I ran, I decided to run to you. I could not run to my brothers, or they would..."

'They'd say you fucked up.'

"Yes." Castiel's eyes warmed a little, and Dean suddenly didn't feel so much like Cas was trying to dissect him. "And they have concerns of their own."

'No problem, man. Back to the salt circle it is. Just show me what to do.'

---


When the demons came, they were ready. Dean and Jo were stood in the salt circle, but Castiel was stood just outside it. He was obviously beginning to get his juice back, Dean thought, because the air did tingle with power, and he stood much more surely on his feet than he was doing before. Dean knelt down when he saw the demons coming. It looked like a goddamn army, from where he was standing. Or kneeling, whatever. Okay, there was only twenty of them, but Dean had never even faced one demon before, not since --

Didn't matter. He hadn't faced any demons, not where it counted. He grabbed the bowl they'd got for the ritual thing, grabbed the knife and gripped the handle tightly. His hand was already slick with sweat, but he just gripped the knife even tighter, determined not to fuck this up. He couldn't fuck this up.

"I will tell you when to begin," Castiel said, quietly. There was something soothing about his tone, a sureness, even despite the fact that he'd run to the roadhouse for Dean's help. Despite the fact that when he did he'd been covered in blood.

"Is this going to kill the humans they're using?" Jo asked. Dean kind of hadn't had the balls to ask the question, but he wasn't much surprised that Jo had more balls than him, when it came down to it. Metaphorically, anyway.

"I hope not," Castiel said, and then the power in the air seemed to snap into a kind of focus and Dean felt, for a moment, a little dizzy. "Now," Cas said, and Dean sliced down his arm before he even had time to think about it. The blood poured into the bowl. He grabbed something to wrap his arm with, focusing on what he had to do and not on the sound of fighting, or on the sound of Jo's voice, uncertainly stumbling over the Latin words of the exorcism.

'Slow down,' he signed to her, when he had a hand free. The rag on his arm was already reddening with blood, and he'd not sure he'd done it tight enough. 'Take your time.' Which was about as much of a pep talk as he had time for. He grabbed the bowl and stood up. He dipped his fingers in the blood. Jo was looking at him, right at him, while she chanted the words. He carefully reached out and drew the symbols Castiel had shown him onto her skin. He'd said that this ritual only had effect if carefully prepared, if done with complete certainty, if done with the help and power of an angel.

Dean just prayed it would work, which was weird, because he wasn't ordinarily big on praying. Still, when your allies are angels...

He dipped his finger into the sticky blood again and wrote some kind of sigil on Jo's cheek, trying not to smudge it with the way her mouth was moving. She looked almost pained, like the sigils were burning her, but she kept on talking.

He managed to get to the last symbol before he collapsed, at least.

---


Dean woke up in his own bed, which was a nice surprise. It was dark when he woke, which confused him for a moment, and he felt pretty damn woozy. There was a bandage around his arm, nice and tight and clean.

"The angel said he could heal you, but I couldn't stand to let him touch you after what he let you do," Ellen said, from beside the bed. Dean wasn't surprised to see her there. "I got home shortly after the battle. I'll give him some credit, he stayed to make sure you would be alright."

'He needed my help,' Dean signed, not sure if Ellen could see him properly in the dimness of the room -- the light in the hallway was on, which was why it wasn't totally dark, but there were no lights on in his room.

"I know," Ellen said, reluctantly. "I know." Her hand was cool on Dean's forehead. "And you were right to ask Jo for help, too. You were very brave, Dean. I'm proud of you. But I'm still angry you've been dragged into this, that you've started this fight. It killed," she swallowed, audibly, but carried on anyway, "it killed John Winchester and Bill Harvelle, after all. Killed both the men in your life."

'I had to,' Dean signed. He wanted to put his arms around her or something, but he wasn't totally sure he wanted to move at all. He'd tumbled to the ground when he fainted -- which was embarrassing enough, bloodloss or no bloodloss, thank you very much -- and it felt like he'd bruised every inch of his body in the process.

"I know," Ellen said again. She took his hand and squeezed it gently. "I just -- I got home and saw you there on the floor and I -- "

He couldn't sign, with her holding his hand, but he didn't want to let go. There was the old echo of an ache in his throat as he squeezed her hand, longing again to tell her it was alright, it was okay, nothing was her fault and everything would turn out just fine. He squeezed her hand, which was a pathetic substitute, but it was something so it would do.

She squeezed back and then let go of his hand. "Shall I send Castiel in to speak to you?"

'If you've left anything of him,' he said, with an attempt at a teasing smile.

"A little bit," she said, somewhat grimly, and got up. "You sure? You can get some sleep first. I'll make him wait."

Dean paused for a moment and then shrugged a little. 'Make him wait.'

"That's my boy," she said, and leaned down to kiss his forehead. "Get some rest. I'll make him go stand out in the yard or something if he's not gonna sleep. He's creeping me out."

Dean laughed a little, but he was asleep again as soon as his head hit the pillow.

---


"You look well," Castiel said, the minute he set foot out of his room the next morning. Dean jumped about a mile this time and then glared at him fiercely. It was hard to express just how indignant he wanted to be with handsigns, but Dean could definitely manage it.

'Don't do that.'

"Don't do what?"

'Pounce on people!'

"I apologise. I did not intend to cause you discomfort." Castiel stepped back, biting his lip. Dean felt like he'd kind of kicked a puppy, which was ridiculous.

'Okay. I know you don't get people. It's fine. Thank you for hanging round to make sure I was alright.'

"You did very well." Castiel might even be smiling. "It did not take me long to destroy the demons. Your sister's exorcism was a worthy distraction, as well. She even sent one or two of them back to hell before I reached them. All with the help of the ritual you did."

'Yeah, well, no big. I need breakfast.'

Castiel didn't move.

'I need to get past you, dude. To the kitchen.'

Castiel blinked and then stepped aside. "I apologise -- "

'Yeah, just... Don't you want any breakfast?'

"I do not require food."

'Your loss.' Dean shrugged and headed into the kitchen. It was good luck the angel knew how to interpret sign language, really. The whole process would have been way harder if Dean had had to teach him to talk, his way -- and way weirder if there'd been some angel version of a Vulcan mind-meld, or something like that. He figured Castiel could probably speak whatever language he needed to speak, though. Not that it mattered just now, there were much more important things to think of. Like food. Dean went through the fridge determinedly. Ellen had been out shopping, so there had to be some good stuff. He was kind of hoping he could find enough bacon and eggs to feed an army -- he felt hungry.

It was a little weird that Castiel just stood there, watching him, but Dean could pretty much deal. Well. He could, up until the point he'd finished getting his eggs and bacon and was about to sit down and eat. He sighed and set down his fork.

'Quit staring at me. And don't apologise again, just quit.'

Castiel opened his mouth and then closed it again, which kind of made Dean smirk.

'What are you hanging round for, anyway?' he asked, and then picked up his knife and fork and dug in. He figured Castiel could carry the conversation while his hands were busy.

"To see if you were alright. I plan to stay for perhaps the rest of today, preparing." Castiel watched Dean for a moment and then cleared his throat. "I suppose your next question would be to ask what I was preparing for." Dean nodded, and Castiel carried on. "I am going to see your brother."

Dean didn't stop eating, but all of a sudden the food tasted strange and his stomach rolled over again. He wanted to scream. He felt that little boy scream building right up again and rammed it back. He shoved another forkful of bacon into his mouth and refused to look at Castiel.

Silence reigned for the rest of Dean's meal.

---


"I came to say goodbye," Castiel said, hanging around in the doorway. "I wanted to tell you what I have to do. I need to see Sam and try to convince him that he doesn't need to continue on the path he has chosen. That there is a way to turn back, for everyone."

Dean didn't look up.

"I want to tell him his family are still out there. One of them, at least. That his brother is alive, and not in hell. I want to tell him that you have a home and a family and everything you need. I will be able to tell him you are happy."

Dean still didn't look up. It was petty, but hell -- here was this angel, messing everything up, poking around in his life and in his head and not letting him just rest. He'd fought off a squad of the demon army the day before, for god's sake.

"Dean," Castiel said, irresistably, and Dean finally looked up. Castiel shook his head a little. "I do not wish to ask you to do anything you do not really want to do. I am simply telling you what I am going to do. I think your brother will be grateful to hear that you are alive and safe."

Dean bit his lip, hard, and then finally, slowly, started to sign. 'Tell him to come and see me.'

Castiel inclined his head. "Are you sure?"

'He's my brother, isn't he?' A shrug. 'Tell him to come and see me.'

"I will, then."

'Are you going now?'

"There is no point in waiting."

Dean took a deep breath. 'My mom's out.'

Castiel nodded. "I heard her leave."

'I can't tell her goodbye.' Dean looked up again, met Castiel's eyes this time. It wasn't so bad anymore -- it was kind of nice, actually, meeting those steady eyes and knowing Castiel would somehow understand everything that was on his mind. 'I told her I'd say goodbye, if I was going to leave.'

"She will understand."

'Jo's not here either. She'll kill me.'

"She, too, will understand."

'Can you promise to bring me back safely?'

There was a long pause, and finally Castiel spoke. "No."

Dean didn't answer at first. He knew that Castiel didn't even want him to, knew that Castiel wanted him to think this through and make the right decision. It was so damned hard. Since he got to the roadhouse, he'd barely left it at all. It'd become his home. Oh, he'd been to school and he'd gone shopping or whatever, but he'd never gone far. He had a suspicion that if he went with Cas, it'd be a hell of a trek back home. He didn't know how to handle the thought of being way out from home, away from his mom. Which was stupid, he was old enough, for whatever's sake, but...

He thought about the apocalypse. About the destruction of the world -- not just his home. Not distant images on the tv of places he'd never even heard of before. His home. Everywhere. All the people he knew.

No fucking contest then.

'Sounds like fun. What are we waiting for?'

Castiel actually smiled. "Let's go."

'How are we going to get there? How do angels get around, huh?'

"We fly, of course," Castiel said, and lightly touched Dean's forehead. Between one blink and the next, the roadhouse was gone.

---


'I think humans and angels have different definitions of flying,' Dean signed, still reeling a little, when he could scrape the necessary movements for signing back into his mind. Castiel lowered his hand.

"I apologise."

'I'm getting sick of that.'

"Who the hell are you?" another voice said, and Dean almost jumped this time, but, you know, he was getting pretty good at being snuck up on. He turned slowly. The guy who spoke was -- okay, he was huge, and Dean was no pixie but oh man, this guy had to be nearly seven feet tall, which, wow. He had this ridiculous haircut with his hair all hanging in his face, and his expression was intense. Or hell, just plain tense.

"This is your brother," Castiel said, quietly. "I spoke of him before."

"I thought that was just a dream," the guy said, while Dean was still doing another lot of reeling because he hadn't thought Castiel would land him right in it, no warning. Well, he'd given him a warning, but not enough of a warning. This guy is his brother, this guy is Sammy, his Sammy, and he's no longer a tiny baby, he's this great hulking man with obvious muscles and obvious emo issues and a bad hairdresser. Well, actually, Dean would not be surprised if the guy -- if Sammy -- cut his hair himself.

"Then why are you here?" Castiel asked. He was actually smiling, the dick, like he was enjoying the havoc he was causing.

"Yeah," some other voice said, and Dean glanced over in that direction to see some chick standing there, hands on her hips. "That's what I'm having trouble figuring out. Sam, this guy's an angel. I've told you about angels, remember? They're dicks."

Dean kind of felt useless, all of a sudden. Because of course... Sammy wouldn't be able to speak sign language. Nor would this chick, whoever she was. He kinda liked her, what with the agreeing with his opinions on angels. Or he would've liked her, but...

"A demon," Castiel said, with obvious distaste, but no apparent surprise. Dean figured it probably wasn't a surprise. They knew Sam had fallen into bad company, or however an angel would talk about that process, after all. No surprises there.

"I have a name. My name's -- "

"Shut up, Ruby," Sam said. He took a step forward, and now his eyes were only on Dean. "You're my brother?"

'The one and only,' Dean signed, and then, 'I hope.'

Sam blinked a little and then looked, unwillingly, at Castiel.

"He is mute," Castiel said, shaking his head. "He is using sign language. He said... 'The one and only. I hope.'"

Dean nodded a little, like maybe Sam needed the translation confirmed. Sam looked at him for a little longer, biting his lip. "Are you... are you okay, otherwise? Can you hear? Are you..."

'I'm not a retard, if that's what you mean, and I can hear you just fine. Obviously.' Castiel translated as Dean was going along, which was probably the right way to work it.

Sam winced a little. "I wouldn't call you that."

'Better not,' Dean said, with a bit of a grin. He squared up a bit, feeling like he was going to get neckache looking up at this ridiculous giant dude. 'Anyway, so I'm here to tell you I think that whatever you're doing is probably a bad idea if it's got the angels pissed off. This guy, he'll tell you his name, he's a good guy. We fought together against some of that bitch's kind yesterday -- no offence to the lady, but free speech and all. Demons are bitches. He says that you're gonna do something stupid that's going to wind up starting the apocalypse, even if that's not what the demon bitch has told you. Apparently you thought that I'd died and gone to hell. Well, apparently, our dad did, but I'm still alive and kicking.'

"Dean," Sam said, weakly, once he'd got that far. It kind of sounded like a question, but Dean just barrelled straight on.

'I don't know much about all this. I'm not a hunter or anything. I got adopted by an awesome woman, she runs a hunter's roadhouse and I've lived with her all my life since then. I didn't get tortured in hell and you're going to do something really fucking stupid. Does that about cover it?'

"You're going to get cramp, doing that," Sam said, and Dean snorted a little.

'Over to the angel right now. He'll explain everything. But he's a good guy, okay?'

"You're really my brother?"

Dean nodded. He stepped forward a bit. He kinda wanted to -- he didn't know what he wanted to do, shake hands or something. 'I'm sorry.'

"About what?" Sam asked, very quietly, and somehow they were getting all close like there was going to be a hug or something -- which, okay, but, yeah, also kind of embarrassing. He had to turn a bit so that Castiel could still see his signs.

'Everything. About not being there for you.'

"Not your fault," Sam said, sounding like there was a kind of frog in his throat, and Dean just had to grab him and hug him hard, because god, Sam, god, they were together again, and fucking hell nothing was going to take Sammy away again. He didn't care if hugs never fixed the world before. He was going to goddamn make sure they did this time.

---


Dean wasn't surprised at all when Castiel showed up, this time. He'd been expecting him for days. He turned right round to face him, and smirked a little when he saw the surprise in Castiel's own eyes -- surprised that Dean had known he was there, or something stupid like that. Dean raised an eyebrow, expressively. He hated the way he felt the pull of his scars when he did that, but whatever. He needed to know.

"We convinced Sam successfully," Castiel said, smiling at him. Which -- yeah, Dean had thought so, of course he had, but he hadn't... he'd hardly dared to hope it was really true, when he'd been dumped back at the roadhouse by an intense and terse Castiel.

'Hugs saved the world.'

"In a way," Cas said, actually looking amused. Dean was sure he was going to go into the small print now, or something like that, going to talk about how there was still a long way to go, and Dean just -- he didn't want that right now, no way. And okay, hugs were maybe slightly girly, but they fucking saved the world. He jerked the angel forward into a hug, wrapped his arms around him and squeezed tight. He tried to say a hell of a lot of things with that hug. He was kinda saying Castiel was still an asshole, but he was also kind of saying that was alright. And he was kinda saying that this was girly shit but what-the-fuck-ever, you're an angel, you don't care. He was kinda saying that he was glad -- glad that Castiel had barged into his life like that, glad that Castiel had found Sam for him and made him make things right.

He eased back slowly. 'Girly moment over.'

Castiel smiled a little. He looked ruffled, unsettled, and happy. "There is one catch, Dean, but I don't think it will spoil your happiness."

Dean nodded for him to go on. He was kind of mentally bracing himself, anyway, because angels don't get humans all that well sometimes and Castiel might just be plain wrong, after all.

"Sam cannot prevent the apocalypse from ever happening. He has... He has sent away his companion, the demon he called Ruby. He is a good actor. She believes that he is still on her side."

'Sure it isn't a bluff on his part?'

"You do not believe that."

'He's my brother.'

Castiel nodded. "I believe in him too, though. When he understood that angels really do exist, that there's a god who loves him... and that you're alive and willing to see him, well... It turned the tide. He's ready to help us. He has sent Ruby away and he is going after the demon Lilith. If he killed her, as they had planned, in revenge for what was done to your family, that would have been the final seal that had to be broken."

'What would have happened?'

"Lucifer," Castiel said, softly. "Lucifer would have been free. And he would have brought the apocalypse." Dean nodded for him to go on and Castiel sighed. "Lucifer's rising cannot be forever delayed. You have to understand that. But this rising, this is premature. Lucifer should not be free now. So your brother will seal Lilith away. I will help him. He cannot let her roam free, to continue this plan with another of the children who, like him, were raised to do this from the start. But he can seal her away so that for a thousand years, perhaps a thousand-thousand years, no one can reach her."

'How would someone reach her?'

Castiel shook his head. "It would be unwise to tell even you."

Dean nodded, reluctantly. There was sense in that. If only Sammy and Castiel knew, no one could try and make things happen too fast again.

'So it's nearly over?'

"Yes, Dean. It's nearly over."

---


The door swung open slowly and someone stepped inside. Someone tentative, not quite sure of their welcome. Some poor lost soul, maybe, with a car broken down or just a need to stop and no arsenal of weapons for fighting the supernatural stashed anywhere. Dean looked up.

It wasn't some guy with his girlfriend, or anything like that. It was Sam.

"Am I welcome here?" he asked, quietly, looking at Dean. Ellen came forward, glanced over at Dean.

"Who's this, Dean?"

The knot in Dean's throat was tight again, a horrible pain that made him think he was about to cry. It didn't matter, though. He could form the signs without letting anyone hear how close he was to tears. 'He's my brother.'

"Sam Winchester," Ellen said, almost in wonder. A beat. "My, how you've grown," she said, dryly, and Dean laughed his silent laugh through tears that came sudden and hot and stupid.

"Am I welcome here, Dean?" Sam asked, looking only at him. He didn't understand the signs, but he understood Dean's smile, despite the twisting pull of the scars on his face.

'Always,' he signed.

---


Dean was pretty sure that was about when someone said 'and they all lived happily ever after'. There'd be fumbling months -- probably years -- of teaching Sam sign language, there'd be problems with them not getting along, and Jo would probably be jealous that someone had come and stolen her big brother. But it'd be a happy kind of fumbling, fumbling towards some kind of contentment, towards family and home and belonging, for all of them, and Dean had no doubt it'd turn out great. It had to.

But there was one person missing, after all, so it couldn't be curtains yet. Not just yet.

Dean was alone out in the heat when the angel arrived. He'd known, somehow, that today would be the day. Call it intuition. He was holding two beers. Castiel gave him an odd look when he held one out, but he took it. Dean toasted him silently, toasted the happy-ever-fucking-after, and drank the rest of his beer in one long pull. Castiel gave it that curious, head-tilty look, and tried it tentatively. Dean huffed a laugh at the look on his face, and set his bottle down to talk. 'So this is the end, right?'

"I think so," Castiel said. The look on his face was still dubious. Dean wasn't exactly surprised when Castiel put the beer down beside his.

'Going back to heaven?'

There's a long silence, filled only with the sound of the breeze, and maybe a vague twitter of birds or whatever. Just background noise. Dean was content to wait, though. He could hear Sam singing, somewhere in the house, which he was so going to tease him about later.

"It transpires that I... was not actually supposed to prevent the apocalypse. That I've done my job a little too well."

'So the big guy's angry with you?'

"I do not know. I have been... reluctant to leave earth. I never explained to you that, like a demon, an angel requires a... vessel, did I?" Dean shook his head, eyebrows going up, and Castiel sighs. "He was a good man. He offered himself up for it. But when I leave his body, he will be dead. I do not want him to die."

'You asked him what he wants?'

"He does not care. As long as I take care of his wife and daughter, his body is mine to use." Castiel smiled again, just a little. "And he is reluctant for me to leave. He believes my brothers will be angry with me for what I have done. I believe that the Lord will protect me, but..."

Dean nodded.

"I do not want to go," Castiel admitted, softly. "At least not now."

'Then don't go,' Dean signed. 'Simple as that. Stay here.'

Castiel looked at him in surprise, but Dean didn't wait for it. He was already heading inside, to his mom and his brother and his sister. He left the door open behind him.




Art & extras:
-Fanmix by [livejournal.com profile] atomic89: My official art for this Big Bang! Thank you so much. ♥
-A Drinking Game: Late on in the writing process, and when I was editing, I started to notice certain themes cropping up again and again. Hence rules for a drinking game: drink every time you notice the same thing crop up again for the millionth time...
-Recs: I recced a handful of fics that also deal with disability, as a sort of companion to me posting this.
-Author's fanmix: A mini-fanmix!
-Download the .rtf of the file here. This is primarily so that anyone with sight issues can download it and adjust the font so that it's best for them, but if you want a copy for your ereader or to save to read later or whatever, you're welcome to it. It should be easy to make a PDF or change it into any format you need. If the link goes dead or you have some other downloading issue, please let me know.

Comment: Here on DW, here on LJ.
tanaqui: Dean Winchester leaning against Impala close up (dean impala close)

[personal profile] tanaqui 2010-05-10 02:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, this was great!

I just adored Ellen in this - tough and badass and tender and caring as well - and Dean dealing with his grief, and Cas being so very Cas, and.... *flails*

Umm, I'll try and come back and be more coherent after , but I just wanted to leave you some kind of comment letting you know how much I enjoyed it! *g*
killing_rose: Raven/corvid in the frozen surf (Default)

[personal profile] killing_rose 2010-05-10 03:35 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, my. This is such a rich story--and this is what I wish we'd seen. A Dean who might not be utterly well-adjusted, but who cares about humanity and his family. Who has a family that doesn't push him in one direction. And Sam, Sam who saves the world because of hugs.

This one's going to stay with me a long time. Thank you for writing it.
composed: (Default)

[personal profile] composed 2010-05-11 12:31 am (UTC)(link)
This was just fantastic. I loved it so much. ♥ I loved your characterization of Dean!
rhianona: (dean and sam)

[personal profile] rhianona 2010-05-11 12:56 am (UTC)(link)
I enjoyed this quite a bit. This is a tightly written and quite awesome au. I love that Ellen just takes Dean in and raises him as her own. Love that we don't quite know what happened to Sam and we never find out how John died. Especially like how Dean conflates his failure to protect Sam with protecting and taking care of Jo. Love how you bring Castiel into this, that Dean refuses to let him cure his inability to speak and how, in the end, he comes with Castiel to keep Sam from killing Lilith. Am thrilled that Sam goes to find Dean after it all and that Ellen welcomes him with open arms. And the end was fabulous.
yourlibrarian: Angel and Lindsey (SPN-JoEllenAwesome-amends_24)

Right Where We Belong

[personal profile] yourlibrarian 2010-05-11 02:20 am (UTC)(link)
Ellen makes such a great mom, and Jo and Dean make rather good siblings. It was interesting to see how his feelings of family transferred over to his new one.
enigmaticblue: (Dean)

[personal profile] enigmaticblue 2010-05-11 02:41 am (UTC)(link)
This was really great. I loved Ellen in this, and her relationship with Dean. And Cas was definitely worth waiting for.
indeliblesasha: Bright highlighter-pink tulips with yellow tulips in the background surrounded by bright green foliage (Default)

[personal profile] indeliblesasha 2010-05-11 03:14 am (UTC)(link)
*am supporting DW only content* I have you open in a tab awaiting a chance to read! I'm really looking forward to it. :)
indeliblesasha: Bright highlighter-pink tulips with yellow tulips in the background surrounded by bright green foliage (Default)

[personal profile] indeliblesasha 2010-05-13 12:14 am (UTC)(link)
This was a great deal of fun to read, I liked your twist of the characters. :) I love that you made your own drinking game LOL
amphetamine: Silver and Jim, Treasure Planet (Default)

[personal profile] amphetamine 2010-05-11 04:22 am (UTC)(link)
Oh man, this was fantastic! I loved every bit of this! Dean and Ellen's relationship, Dean's older brother relationship with Jo being different from Sam, Castiel popping in and slowly becoming friends with Dean.

Did I already mention that this was amazing? ♥
dossier: the ancient ancestor of Herbatus Unimoosis (Default)

[personal profile] dossier 2010-05-11 12:21 pm (UTC)(link)
I enjoyed this! Ellen as Dean's mom is awesome. And poor Cas, fired because he's an overachiever.
shirozora: Maxwell Trevelyan (Supernatural - Jensen)

[personal profile] shirozora 2010-05-11 02:54 pm (UTC)(link)
This is awesome. Oh wow, what a lovely, lovely AU.
crossroads: (RANGIKU → default)

[personal profile] crossroads 2010-05-12 12:40 am (UTC)(link)
This made me cry, just a little, but in a good way. A very good way. I'm full of warm and fluffy feelings right now, which I'm gonna need to stock up on.

Thank you for writing and posting this. ♥
anaraine: Sam Winchester leaning in through the door curiously from episode 1.01. ([spn] looking in)

[personal profile] anaraine 2010-05-12 06:42 am (UTC)(link)
♥♥♥

I'm finding it hard to say anything else.

Hm, I like that this story was less action packed, and focused on emotions and relationships. (Not that I don't like action! But. I think this story was stronger focused on people and not the apocalypse.)

Um. Yay Ellen & Jo! \o/ (And I have have a moment of glee whenever I see Bill show up in fic. So. *gleegleeglee*)

AND HUGS SAVED THE WORLD. ♥♥♥

(Also, I am not usually fond of Castiel. He usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But in this story? He was made of awesome. It is possible that you might have just written an excellent gateway drug into Castiel fic. *shifty look*)
evilinsanemonkey: Kiriya from Kamen Rider Ex-Aide (Default)

[personal profile] evilinsanemonkey 2010-05-12 07:42 pm (UTC)(link)
This is wonderful! I love it!
fizzyblogic: [Game of Thrones] detail on a map of Westeros (life; in the quiet moments)

[personal profile] fizzyblogic 2010-05-12 07:55 pm (UTC)(link)
This is SO FREAKING AWESOME, oh my gosh. SO FREAKING AWESOME.

I have this thing with Supernatural where, for fic, mostly what I want is AUs. Explorations of what could have happened, if X and Y and Z had changed. This is a totally fantastic example of the kind of fic I always look for with this fandom! Eeee, Ellen being an awesome mother, and Jo being an awesome little sister, and it was so awesome to have a really positive disabled protagonist. There's far too few of those.

Hugs saved the world! Cas was so Cas! I love this fic so much.
somnolentblue: statue of a woman from the waist up (Default)

[personal profile] somnolentblue 2010-05-14 07:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Hugs should always save the world! And what a lovely ending of happiness - it's not going to be perfect, but it's going to be good. (But it'd be a happy kind of fumbling, fumbling towards some kind of contentment, towards family and home and belonging, for all of them, and Dean had no doubt it'd turn out great. It had to. Exactly!)
Edited 2010-05-14 19:29 (UTC)
kogane: Tron: Legacy; Gem (Default)

[personal profile] kogane 2010-05-17 07:29 pm (UTC)(link)
every time anyone nearly cries
I hope this point in your drinking game doesn't include the reader, because, wow, I got teary eyed so often I lost count.

Gorgeous writing, loved the characters and the AU!universe you created here.
kogane: Tron: Legacy; Gem (Default)

[personal profile] kogane 2010-05-17 08:03 pm (UTC)(link)
It wasn't only the scenes when one of them was hurting; scenes when they were being a not-perfect but happy family also tugged at my heartstrings quite effectively. I probably would be able to be more specific if I had commented right after reading, but I needed some time to think about different things - like, how much I loved Dean saying "no!" to magical-angel-instant-healing, how Sam will fit into the family, what kind of adventures still await them... etc.

Sorry for the rambling! /blush

[identity profile] iamala.livejournal.com 2012-04-30 09:30 pm (UTC)(link)
I have just finished your story and I have to say I enjoyed it very much. At first I wondered a bit about some of the Dean/ Cas interaction, the waves of forceful and then kind, but by the end of the story I thought it had all come together really well and sort of needed to be so tumultuous for someone from Cas' back ground. And the last line- made me smile so much. :D