What Could Have Been

Chapter 22

Dean was going to die. Again. He had been alive for all of a minute and this demon was going to kill him. He was going back to Hell.

He should have known better than to get his hopes up that he could ever be free of that place. The universe did not want him to be saved.

Dean closed his eyes and turned his head away, unwilling to watch as his body was torn apart for the millionth time. Killing Alastair hadn’t changed anything. He had only made his situation worse. Now the demons had a vendetta against him, and since they didn’t need him to break any seals they could focus on pure payback. They were never going to let him stop screaming.

“Thanks for trying to save me, Cas,” Dean whispered, squeezing his angel’s hand lightly in a final goodbye. At least it was more than he’d had last time. And he got to see Sam again, even if it was only for a second.

Where had Sam gone, anyway?

“Hey!” a voice yelled from the doorway.

Three seconds later Dean was drenched by a massive bucket of water. After five years sweltering in the oppressive heat of Hell the impromptu shower was remarkably refreshing for Dean, but the demon screeched in pain. Dean chanced a look up and saw that, unlike the steam that rose from possessed humans when they were hit with holy water, the demon’s flesh was actually burning beneath the spray.

“Second wave!” Sam yelled. Dean caught a glimpse of his father holding a second bucket before he reflexively winced his eyes shut against the flood of water that was thrown over them.

The demon reeled back, shrieking, and its claws retracted from Dean’s skin. Dean felt his arm jolt in its socket as Cas hauled him out from under the demon. He used the momentum to scramble to his feet, though as soon as he was upright his damaged leg threatened to give out. Cas caught him and helped him hobble back out of the way.

“All clear, Mary!” Dad yelled.

Mom appeared in the doorway, but instead of the mother who sang gentle lullabies and made tomato rice soup for her children when they were sick, Dean was faced with a woman who looked ready and willing to kill. She raised her arm and Dean saw that she was holding a gun.

Cas pulled Dean against his chest and turned them away from the fight, curling protectively around him even as the loud report of a gun ricocheted off the walls.

There was the sound of crackling electricity, rolling thunder overhead, and then a solid thump.

Dean peeked out from the safety of his angel’s embrace and saw the demon lying dead on the floor, a bullet hole through its forehead.

“Nice aim, sweetheart,” Dad said.

Mom flipped her hair over her shoulder, a small proud smile tugging at her lips. “Yeah, I still got it.”

“We’re a whole family of superheroes!” Sam cried.

Dean huffed a laugh at his little brother’s enthusiasm and Cas stared at him.

“What?”

“I missed that sound,” Cas said simply.

Dean flushed and quickly diverted the topic. “So, uh, Mom, you just killed a demon with a revolver. Impressive.”

“And you just came back from the dead,” she said softly.

“Ah, yeah…”

Mom set the gun down on the table. She took one step towards him, then two. Cas retreated slightly to give them space and before Dean knew it he had been swept into his mother’s arms.

Warmth. Comfort. The familiar smell of her perfume. Home.

Tears welled up in Dean’s eyes and he hugged his mom back with all the strength he could muster, holding on with no intention of ever letting go.

He felt his dad’s strong arms encircle them both and Sammy’s arms wrap around his middle. Dean was surrounded by his family and it felt like love.

He wasn’t even aware of the moment when he began to cry in earnest but once he started he couldn’t stop. He didn’t know why. He had thought he was keeping it together pretty well all things considered. But after he had spent so long hurting and alone, to be back here with his family… he finally felt safe enough to let go. The pain, the fear, the loneliness, the misery, it all came pouring out of him. It hurt. It felt like he was breaking to pieces, like his barriers were crumbling down, like he would never be okay again.

But he was with people who loved him. And he knew that when he had no more tears to give they would be there to put him back together.

It was a long time before Dean’s breathing settled and he felt strong enough to pull back a little. He was not the only one who had been crying; Sammy’s eyes were red, Mom had tear tracks on her face and even Dad’s eyes were wet.

“It’s good to have you back, son,” Dad said gruffly.

Mom cupped his cheek and brushed away his tears with her thumb. “I’m so glad you’re okay, baby. We missed you.”

He couldn’t help it; he hugged her again. He had been sure that his family was lost to him forever. “I missed you, too,” he choked out. After five years down in the Pit he had barely been able to remember their faces; all he’d been able to cling to was the ache of loss and the knowledge that somewhere out in the world there had to have been people who had loved him.

Coming back, he thought they would look different. Older.

Dean frowned and pulled away to look down at his little brother. He looked like he hadn’t aged a day. “I thought you’d be taller by now.”

“It’s been like two weeks dude, I haven’t had the chance to hit my growth spurt yet.”

Dean stared. “What? Two…?”

“I’m sorry, Dean,” Cas said. “Time passes differently down there.”

Dean couldn’t breathe. Two weeks. He had only been gone for two weeks. His family had hardly had any time to grieve. They didn’t know – they didn’t know…

“Why? How long has it been for you, Dean?” Mom asked. “Dean?”

“Uh, longer… I just… look, it doesn’t matter-” Dean’s leg chose that moment to crumple beneath him. He sank helplessly to the ground and doubled over his stomach, suddenly horribly nauseous.

“Dean-”

He retched, back arching, bile splattering the ground. Sam leapt out of the way but Mom slipped behind him to place a soothing hand against his forehead and rub circles into his back.

“Easy, sweetheart, take it easy…”

He hadn’t eaten anything in years – or weeks – or maybe ever in this new body because the last one he’d had was puppy chow – so he had nothing to bring up but that didn’t stop his stomach from trying to expel its lining and maybe the rest of his organs while he was at it.

“Baby, I’m so sorry,” Mom said. “I’m so sorry. But you’re here now. You’re home. You’re going to be okay.”

Dean nodded weakly but he didn’t have it within him to stand again.

“Cas, can’t you do something about his leg?” Dad asked. It was a mess of blood and torn skin, but to be honest Dean could barely feel it. He was used to far more extreme levels of pain.

“It was all I could do to get him here,” the angel confessed. “I am afraid my Grace will not be much use for anything anymore.”

“Your Grace?”

“My power. It has all but burned out.”

“Sorry,” Dean rasped.

“I would do it again in a wing beat,” Cas told him. “You are worth any sacrifice, Dean Winchester.”

Dad tilted his head, looking at the angel curiously. “I was wrong about you. Thank you for saving my son.”

Cas inclined his head. He wasn’t expecting Sam to run up and hug him; he stood stiffly as the youngest Winchester tried to squeeze the stuffing out of him and looked to Dean as though asking what he was supposed to do.

‘Pat him on the back’, Dean mouthed. Cas did so, awkwardly, and Sam beamed up at him. “I knew you’d answer my prayers.”

Dean’s eyebrows rose. As far as he knew his family had never been very religious. “You prayed for me?”

“Yeah. I knew Cas would save you. He’s like the best angel ever!”

“I do not know if I even qualify as an angel anymore.”

“Well you watch over my son, and that is good enough for me,” Mary said warmly. “We really should do something about that leg, though. Does anyone know where Bobby keeps his first-aid kit?”

“Under the sink,” Dean said. Sam scrambled to retrieve it. “Where is Bobby, by the way?”

“Supply run,” Dad answered. “He’s gonna get the shock of his life when he comes back here to see his kitchen in this state.”

“Bobby Singer is well-accustomed to the sight of monsters,” Cas pointed out.

“Yeah, but I bet a person coming back to life doesn’t happen every day.”

“Well, this is our second resurrection in the family within a month,” Mom said. “And you’ve died once, John, and I suppose technically I have as well… We are a very strange family.”

“Ya think?” Dean quipped, a tired smirk curving his lips.

“Hush child,” Mom said, but for all her talk about wanting a normal life she was failing to hide a smile of her own. “You’ve got the kit, Sammy? Okay, good. I’ll also need some warm water and clean towels…”

Dean let himself slip into a state of semi-awareness as his Mom went to work cleaning and dressing his wound. He was used to his body being pieced back together in instants but he didn’t mind having to heal the slow way. It meant he was alive and human again.

In the meantime, Dad set about removing the demon’s corpse from the kitchen.

“Who or what was that thing, anyway?” Dad asked, washing his hands thoroughly in the kitchen sink after having salted and burned the creature in a shallow grave out back.

“A demon manifested in corporeal form,” Cas said.

“I don’t suppose it was Azazel?” Dad asked hopefully.

“No.”

Dad sighed. “Pity. But then that would have been too easy, wouldn’t it?”

“Based on what the demon said before your timely intervention, I suspect it was Lilith. She posed an equal, or perhaps even greater threat than the yellow-eyed demon. Killing her was a significant victory.”

“Well that’s something, then. And it is good to know that the Colt definitely works. We were looking for a test subject, so it was very convenient of you to bring one back with you. But please tell me that is the worst to come of this.”

Dean hung his head in shame. “Actually, Dad… I might have started the Apocalypse.”

He could feel the weight of his family’s gazes.

“Apocalypse as in…?”

“The end of the world. Pretty sure, yeah.”

“Um, okay – what? How?”

“It is a long story,” Cas said. “And not one that needs to be told right now. By killing Lilith we have bought ourselves some time. I doubt our enemies will be willing to let their plans be disrupted so easily, but it may take a while for them to come up with a contingency. We should let Dean rest.”

“I’m fine,” Dean tried to say, but Dad had already scooped him up.

“Come on, son, bed time.”

Dean couldn’t remember the last time his Dad had carried him to bed. The teenager in him should have been mortified, but the reality was that his leg was not up to much walking and the child who had grown up too fast was absurdly grateful to be in the safety of his father’s arms.

He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.


Bobby slowly pushed the bedroom door open.

He had come home from the grocery store to be greeted with the funky smell of a crisped demon, rushed inside to check that everyone was okay and found the three Winchesters sitting casually around his kitchen table. For the past two weeks the atmosphere of grief in his house had been almost tangible and it was noticeably missing when he walked in. As soon as Sam had seen him he had run over with a squeal of “Dean’s back!” and Bobby wouldn’t have believed it if the kid’s parents hadn’t backed up his story.

Even after they had told him everything that had happened, it still felt too good to be true.

Bobby was no stranger to loss. When his wife died a part of him kept expecting her to walk through the door and tell him that it had all just been a bad dream. Eventually he had been forced to come to terms with the fact that people couldn’t come back from the dead – unless it was as a monster.

Dean’s death had been a cruel reminder of that fact.

Everything within him had wanted to find a way to save the kid who had become like a son to him. Bobby had hardly slept since he was told the news; he stayed awake late into the night every night to do research, hoping against hope that he could find a way to break Dean out of Hell. But there was no way.

He drank when no one was around to see him, trying to numb himself to the reality of a world where innocent children could be butchered by monsters, trying to resign himself to the knowledge that Dean was gone forever.

So it was difficult to accept that Dean could really be home safe. Bobby had to see it with his own eyes.

The bedroom door swung open. Light filtering in from the hallway gently illuminated the mound of covers on the bed that was snoring softly.

Bobby moved closer until he could see the tuft of light brown hair and the smattering of freckles across his nose.

It was Dean. It was really him.

Bobby exhaled long and slow. He had never been more relieved to see someone in his entire life.

He sat on the edge of the mattress, giving himself a moment to soak in the sight of Dean alive and breathing and at peace. He absently smoothed the creases of the blanket and silently thanked God – actually, not God, Cas – for Dean’s safe return.

“You are welcome,” a deep voice intoned.

Bobby nearly leapt out of his skin. He had been so focused on Dean that he hadn’t noticed the angel standing in the corner. “Cas. What are you doing here?”

“Watching over him,” the angel answered simply. “I have no intention of ever again leaving his side.”

Bobby didn’t have to ask why Cas had ever left in the first place, because he knew the angel would not have gone willingly. He cared about Dean far too much for that. Besides, he had been the one to save Dean when no one else could and Bobby was damn grateful.

“How’s he doing?” Bobby asked instead.

“For now, he rests peacefully. Our connection is such that, even with my faded Grace, I am able to watch over his dreams and keep the nightmares at bay. He is not ‘okay’ by any human definition, but given time I believe he will recover from this ordeal.”

“He’s a strong kid.”

“Yes he is.”

Bobby gently ruffled Dean’s hair and he shifted, bleary eyes blinking open.

“Sorry, kid, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Bobby whispered.

“Bobby?”

“Yeah, kid.”

Dean sat up and threw his arms around him.

Bobby hugged him back just as tightly. “Welcome home, Dean.”

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