Word Count: 9,625
Author's Notes: Many thanks to elwarre for being an awesome beta!
Summary: For the prompt: "French Mistake" AU - for whatever reason, Sam and Dean cannot jump back into their own reality and have to stay in the other dimension instead. They think having to act is bad. But then they find out that they're expected to attend a con the following weekend - and it's NOTHING like the one Becky forced them to attend many years ago based on those blasted Supernatural books!
"We have to do what?"
Sam and Dean are pacing the floor in Jared Padalecki's study, agitation rolling off them in waves. First the spell they created to bring them back into their own world didn't work, then crazy angel Virgil managed to steal the key to the angels' weapons room and escape back into the real world, leaving Sam and Dean stuck in this bizarro-land world where their lives are a television show and everybody thinks Sam and Dean are actors named Jared and Jensen.
It's getting beyond annoying at this point.
"Yeah, but you're not actually going, are you?" demands the only female in the room.
Dean still can't get used to the fact that not only is fake-Ruby a real person in this universe, but she's apparently married to fake-Sam, which is all kinds of crazy that he just doesn't want to think about too much.
Yet here she is, little firecracker all worked up because fake-Castiel just died, along with that douche-bag Bob Singer and the show's creator and a bunch of other hapless crew members who just happened to be in Virgil's way. Now production has temporarily shut down on the show while the producers figure out what to do.
"I mean, Misha and Eric are dead!" fake-Ruby stamps her foot, and of course the waterworks are starting up again. "This is terrible! They have to shut down the show now. There's no way they can just keep going without Misha!"
"And Eric is -- " Dean looks to Sam, who frowns and rolls his eyes.
"The guy who created this show," Sam supplies irritably, and Dean nods.
"Right. The Chuck Shurley of this universe." He turns to fake-Ruby. "Well, like you people say, the show must go on, right? I guess there must be contracts and -- " He glances at Sam again.
"Paychecks," Sam provides, and Dean nods.
"Right. Paychecks," he agrees. "People have to get paid. There's a lot of people whose livelihood depends on this show..."
"Since when do you care so much about what happens to the people who work on the show?" fake-Ruby demands, and it's a little ghoulish because the crying has made her make-up run again and her cheeks are all streaked with black eyeliner. "And why do you keep finishing his sentences for him?" She's staring accusingly at Sam now. "What is wrong with you two?"
"Say that thing you asked about before," Sam ignores her question, redirects. "About the convention."
Fake-Ruby rolls her eyes and stamps her foot again. "You know, this is getting really worrisome, Jare," she says. "Maybe you should see someone. What about that guy your brother knows? The one who deals with post-traumatic stress disorders? Playing Sam Winchester has really gotten to you, I can see that, and you need to decompress. Maybe we could take a vacation..."
"Look, Genevieve, I know I haven't been myself lately." Sam puts on his most sincere talking-to-the-grieving-witness look. "But this is important. That convention is in Chicago, right? And it starts tomorrow?"
"Yeah, but you have to cancel," Genevieve says. "You can't seriously be thinking about still going after what just happened."
Dean frowns at Sam. "Yeah, Sam -- I mean Jared -- what are you thinking?"
"The Chicago Art Institute has a painting -- Edward Hopper's Nighthawks at the Diner," Sam explains. "In our world, there was a portal into another universe there. People disappeared into it."
"And you're thinking it's a door home for us?" Dean asks.
"All I'm saying is, it's worth a shot," Sam says with a shrug.
"Of course, there's no magic in this world," Dean says. "So the chances of that portal thing even working over here are..."
"Pretty slim, I know," Sam agrees. "But unless you've got a better plan..."
Dean takes a deep breath. "Looks like we're going to Chicago," he lets out the breath, notices Genevieve still there, staring from one to the other of them like they've just sprouted horns or something.
"I'm just going to pretend that whatever you two are talking about makes perfect sense," she says. "Because otherwise you're sharing some kind of mental breakdown and having the same delusions, and that's not possible. Is it?"
"No," Dean shakes his head, utterly confused. "What you said. Absolutely."
"Good." Genevieve nods, turns to leave the room. "Then I'll just go pack."
"Wait, what?" Sam shakes his head. "You're coming with us?"
"Well, I'd be a pretty irresponsible wife to let my brain-damaged husband and his trusty sidekick take off on their own without adult supervision, now, wouldn't I?"
Dean watches her flounce out of the room, then turns to look at Sam, eyebrows raised.
"Brain-damaged husband, huh?" he smirks, and Sam rolls his eyes.
"Shut it, Trusty Sidekick," he shoots back with a smirk of his own.
Early the next morning they're on their way to the airport, driven as usual by Clif-not-Clint, who apparently doubles as their bodyguard at these events, as he explains when they pull up to the departure area. He helps unload their bags and gets them checked in while a valet takes the car to long-term parking for them.
"Clif always comes with us to conventions." Genevieve shakes her head. "You know that."
"Right. Of course." Dean exchanges glances with Sam. "Because we need guarding. From potentially dangerous -- uh -- people. People who are potentially dangerous."
Sam rolls his eyes. "Let's get on the plane."
Dean digs his heels in, now that the moment has actually arrived. "Are you sure we can't drive?" he asks for what must be the tenth time since he agreed to do this. "I mean, driving would be so much more comfortable than being crammed into one of those flying tin-cans."
"Driving would take us at least two days," Sam reminds him. "We can't waste the time. Besides, they've put us in first class. Plenty of legroom."
"We're still in a tin-can, floating in the sky," Dean grouses as they walk along the lobby toward the security area. "It's not natural."
"Modern aircraft have jet-engines," Sam reminds him smoothly. "They're designed to stay aloft with a sophisticated combination of lift and velocity. It's science, Dean. Perfectly natural."
"Man was never meant to fly," Dean insists. "We're not birds."
"Are you guys running lines?" Genevieve asks, trying but failing to shoulder her way between them. They join the line to go through security, and it suddenly occurs to Dean that he's packing. He flashes back to the struggle on the set, when Virgil the Terminator Angel dropped his handgun the split second before flinging himself through the sigil-lit window and back into the real world. Dean had picked up the gun and slipped it into the waistband of his jeans almost as an afterthought, then high-tailed it out of the crime scene without a backward glance.
"Crap," he mutters, and Sam frowns.
Dean shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot, suddenly hyper-aware of the usually comforting pressure of the Glock's handle against his back.
"I'm carrying," he mutters to Sam, keeping his voice low, leaning close to Sam. Genevieve gives up trying to push her way between them and slides up on Sam's other side, lacing her fingers with his. Sam jumps a little, shoots her a startled glance, but lets her keep his hand anyway. Sam's being a pretty good sport about the whole fake-Ruby situation, all things considered, Dean thinks. He's not sure he could stop himself from stabbing her in the eye if she tried to hold his hand. Which might be a little awkward.
Sam's jaw tightens and he stares ahead of them at the security checkpoint, all the passengers unloading their pockets, taking off their jackets and shoes.
"Crap," he mutters.
"Hey, boys," Clif calls from behind them. They turn in unison to find Clif holding up a baseball cap and a beanie in each hand. "You forget these? Oops, too late."
Dean barely has time to wonder what the hell Clif is talking about, when they're accosted sideways by a group of girls, one of whom is wearing a tee-shirt with their faces on it.
"Hey, Jensen, we're so sorry about Misha," one of the girls says.
"Are you going to Chicago?" another one asks. "You're so brave to do that, after what happened."
"Do you mind if my mom takes a quick picture of me and you? Oh, hi Jared," says a third.
Clif herds them out of the line, hands them each sunglasses and the hats they were obviously meant to use as disguises, then goes off to talk to security to see if they can slip through ahead of the line.
Genevieve lets go of Sam's hand and stands off to one side while Sam and Dean do their best to pretend to be celebrity actors. Dean tries not to growl or stab anyone and Sam uses his best puppy-dog face, all sincerity and graciousness, covering easily for Dean's anti-social demeanor. Dean has to admire Sam's powers of concentration, because all Dean can think about is the gun in his waistband, and when one of the girls starts to slide her arm around his waist so her mother can take a picture of them together, Dean jumps away from her wildly, knocking her boarding pass and pen out of her hand in the process.
"You'll have to excuse him," Sam says to the girl, squatting down to retrieve her autograph materials. "He's really going through a lot right now."
"Oh, I can imagine," says the mother in a sympathetic voice. "We're so, so sorry about Misha, Jensen. It must be awful for you, losing someone who means so much to you."
Dean stares at her, trying not to glare, biting back the snarky response that comes first into his head.
"Yeah, it sucks," he says, which sounds reasonable to him, but Sam frowns. "It's sucky," he tries again, and Sam rolls his eyes.
"We're all set," Clif announces as he rejoins them. "Security will take you through over here." He points at a separate gate on the far left of the security area, starts to hustle Dean and Sam toward it. Sam smiles his goodbyes to the fans, then leans toward Dean.
"You need to get rid of that gun, man," he mutters urgently. Clif has Dean's other arm, and damned if Dean's pick-pocketing skills aren't just as good as ever.
"It's already taken care of," Dean assures his brother, then pushes ahead of him through the security gate. Sam follows, then Genevieve, so that they're already on the other side of the gate, putting their jackets back on and collecting their watches and cell phones when the alarm goes off.
They turn to watch as Clif is pulled aside by several security guards, who discover the handgun in his pocket and immediately switch into hyper-efficiency mode, patting him down and calling out orders to each other, shutting down the entire security line as their emergency protocols snap into place. Clif is shouting too, protesting that he doesn't know where the gun came from.
"Oh my God!" Genevieve cries, obviously winding up to go into a total freak-out. Dean catches Clif's eye and puts his hand with his cell phone up for Clif to see.
"We'll call somebody!" he calls out to Clif, who is now dealing with several airport police officers, all dragging him off for questioning.
"We need to do something!" Genevieve cries, but Sam and Dean hustle her down the hall toward their departure gate.
"He'll be fine," Dean assures her. "But if you're worried about him, you can stay and help, make sure he's okay. You two could come separately, meet up with us in Chicago. Right, Sam -- uh, Jared?"
"Uh, right," Sam nods. "That's a good idea. You know who to call, right? The show must have people who help when an employee gets into trouble."
"Oh my God," Genevieve says, tears starting to leak down her cheeks again. "This is terrible! All those people murdered, and now Clif's been arrested? What's going on? Jared? What the hell is going on?"
"Look, Gen, it's gonna be okay, all right?" Sam says, exchanging a desperate look over her head with Dean. "We just need to get to Chicago. Can you just stay here and explain everything for us? I'll call you as soon as we land."
"No, Jared," Genevieve shakes her head violently. "No, I am not leaving you. And you're not getting rid of me, either. I don't know what you two are up to, and that makes me crazy, but I'm not letting you out of my sight right now, so you can just forget about ditching me, if that's what you're trying to do. I'm coming with you, and that's that."
Dean and Sam exchange another look over Genevieve's head, and Dean shrugs. It was worth a try, he communicates silently to Sam, who shakes his head and lets out a long sigh.
"Okay, well, we'd better get on that plane before they shut down the whole airport," Sam says. He puts his arm around Genevieve as they get to the gate and she leans into him, drying her eyes and recovering a little as they hand their boarding passes to the attendant.
Dean purses his lips, scowling as he follows them down the gangway, taking his mind off the upcoming flight by considering how easily Sam could slip into the role of husband and bazillionaire actor, if Dean could just convince him it was a better life.
Somehow, Dean miraculously survives the flight to Chicago. (Who says there's no magic in this world?) Obviously, alcohol and heavy metal music help, but he's still shaking when they walk down the gangway and into O'Hare International Airport. All plans of slipping away, renting a car, and heading straight for the Art Institute are derailed as soon as they're spotted at customs.
It's another group of fans, all decked out in tee-shirts with logos and more drawings and silkscreens of their faces, which is beyond bizarre.
"This did not happen in the real world," Dean notes as they make their way through the group of girls, signing autographs and posing for pictures. "Even with the Chuck Shurley books, nobody knew what we looked like."
"You should've put your hat on," Sam comments as he manages to smile for another picture.
"I ain't wearin' no beanie," Dean growls, scribbling his name on the back of someone's boarding pass.
"I think the beanie was for me," Sam responds, obviously as bewildered by all the attention as Dean is, but doing his best to respond politely to every request.
The crowd around them has grown as curious onlookers join the throng, wondering what all the excitement is about. Sam and Dean are starting to feel a little squished as people jostle closer, right up against them, and Dean's about to blow a gasket when they're saved by handlers from the Creation Convention company who are here to pick them up. Genevieve has managed to find them in the chaos, and suddenly there are several security types crowding around Sam and Dean, elbowing fans and onlookers aside and hustling Sam and Dean toward the exit and into a waiting SUV, Genevieve between them.
"Wow," Sam comments as they pull away from the curb, looking back at the crowd still standing on the sidewalk, watching them leave. "It's like being rock stars or something."
"Stupid douchebag actors," Dean growls. "All they do is pretend to be us, and look at all the attention they get. It's sick."
"Wait till you see what's waiting for you at the convention center," their driver comments from the front seat. "The show's completely sold out this year. And now the media's there too, after they heard about the massacre in Vancouver. It's a circus."
"Good thing we're not going then," Dean says.
"Huh?" The guy looks confused.
"What?" Genevieve pipes up from her place squeezed between Sam and Dean. Sam shoots her a reassuring smile.
"Look, uh, John? Is that your name?" Sam squints at the name on the guy's visor. "We really need to stop at the Art Institute before we go to the convention. Could you drop us off there, please?"
"I don't know." The guy looks nervous. "I'm supposed to take you straight to the convention center. You've got a full day of panels and photo-ops and whatnot lined up."
"I know, and we won't be very long," Sam assures him. "We just need to make a quick stop."
"Well, okay," the guy says, "but just for a few minutes."
"What's going on?" Genevieve demands. "Why are we going to the Art Institute?"
"Look, Gen, I just need you to trust us on this, okay?" Sam improvises, glancing at Dean for confirmation. Dean rolls his eyes and shrugs his surrender. Whatever.
Sam barrels on, putting his most sincere face on, puppy-dog eyes and all.
"Dean and I, we really are brothers," Sam goes on. "We really are Sam and Dean Winchester."
He pauses, lets this sink in. Genevieve stares at him for a moment, then glances at Dean, then back at Sam.
"You're serious," she confirms. "So, this is some kind of method-acting thing? For the weird meta episode you're working on? That's what's been going on?"
"An angel sent us into this dimension to hide a special key," Sam goes on.
"Yeah, I know about that part," Genevieve nods. "I read the script, remember?"
"Yeah, but see, it's real," Sam says. "I mean, we're real. It's really us. Sam and Dean. It's just -- Virgil the bad angel took the key and slipped back into our world, and now we're stuck here, and we're trying to get home, and in our world there's this painting, at the Art Institute, which is a kind of portal to another dimension, so we're hoping that it works here. So we can go home."
Genevieve glances at Dean, frowns. She glances at the driver in the rearview mirror, who looks back at her with a shrug before locking his eyes on the road. Finally, she looks back at Sam.
"Okay, so who am I supposed to be in this? Don't tell me they decided to bring Ruby back," she says with a wince, and Dean has to give her credit. Gal's a gamer, that's for sure.
"No, no, no. Oh God, no," Sam shakes his head violently, shuddering. "You're just Genevieve Padalecki, innocent bystander. Wife of the actor who plays me."
"But I'm in it, right?" she clarifies. "I mean, they wrote me in. I've got a part?"
Sam shoots a helpless look at Dean, who shrugs, shooting back a look that says, Don't look at me.
Sam frowns, shoots back a look that says, Thanks a lot, with his most put-upon expression.
"Well, I don't know..." Sam says out loud. "Working with us can be pretty dangerous."
"I can be the look-out while you guys are trying to perform the spell," Genevieve suggests. "I'll make sure nobody else is around."
"Actually, that's not a bad idea," Sam nods thoughtfully.
Which is how they end up on the floor in the museum, in front of the famous painting, mixing the ingredients for the spell and painting it on the floor while Genevieve stands guard. She takes her role seriously, and Dean finds he's actually grateful to have her on board after all, even if she clearly still thinks this is all some kind of weird acting exercise. He wonders, not for the first time, whatever happened to this poor woman's husband, if he's been completely zapped out of existence, or if he ended up in (God forbid) Sam and Dean's world, frantically trying to survive until Sam and Dean can switch everyone back where they belong.
The spell doesn't work.
"Don't worry," Genevieve pats Sam's knee when they're back in the SUV, herded out of the museum by Creation employees who had been called by John the driver. "I'm sure you'll think of something."
Dean feels a little shell-shocked, actually. He'd had hopes for that damn spell, had even been willing to put his life at risk on a goddamn airplane, all for nothing.
Worse than nothing. Because now they're on their way to some fan convention celebrating the story of their lives, and they both remember how well that went last time.
"Well, at least there won't be any vengeful spirits trying to kill the guests this time," Dean states the obvious, doing his best not to accuse his brother of failure. Because really, it's not Sam's fault there's no magic in this universe.
"Hey, it was worth a shot," he adds because he can see how down Sam is about this, how he's blaming himself, and that's never okay.
"I don't know what else we can do," Sam whines helplessly. "I mean, we can hire a boat and sail out into the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, try a spell there...Seek out every other place on the planet where there's ever been a possible supernatural event, hope there's some residual magic left there..."
"Let it go, Sam," Dean directs in his best big-brother voice. "If we're stuck, we're stuck. There's worse places. You've got it pretty good here, seems to me. Beautiful wife, money, fame, fans..."
"Shut up," Sam grouses. "That's not what I want. I already told you that."
"Hey!" Genevieve protests. "Excuse me? I'm sitting right here, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Kinda hard to miss, Shorty," Dean says. He's feeling pretty pissed off, partly because he's beyond annoyed at the way Genevieve has to literally work her way between them all the time, like she's got a greater claim on Sam than Dean does, which is ludicrous, of course, since Sam's his brother, not hers. But it's also starting to worry him that they might be in for an extended stay in this hopelessly mundane version of reality, where there's no magic and the only evil sons-of-bitches are all human and therefore can't be killed. Dean's not sure what he'd do if they got stranded here permanently. He's got some skill with cars and all things mechanical in general, so he could probably find a job as a mechanic or as a handyman...He certainly can't go through life doing something as douchey and meaningless as being a t.v. star...
This line of thinking is starting to depress him, so he's almost grateful for the distraction when John announces they're here. The front of the building at the convention center is crowded with a long line of people waiting to get in, milling around, chatting in groups and ones and twos. Sam and Dean peer curiously at the crowd, and Sam notices one thing right away.
"It's mostly women," he says, surprised. "I thought the demographic for this show was 18-25-year-old males."
Genevieve snorts. "Yeah, like every science fiction show on t.v.," she agrees. "Like girls can't be nerds too."
The car turns a corner onto a side-street, where several vans from local media outlets are parked.
"Looks like we made the national news," Dean comments, and Genevieve nods.
"They're all acting like it happened in L.A.," she says. "As if the Canadian police can't take care of the investigation themselves. Now they're trying to call in the FBI to help find the shooter."
"Good luck with that," Sam mutters grimly.
John stops alongside the loading ramp at the back of the building, where a couple of security types are waiting to bring Sam and Dean in.
"What are we doing here, Sam?" Dean asks as they follow the guys into the building, Genevieve lagging behind a step or two.
"Well, from what I could tell from my research, these conventions are nothing like the one we attended for the Supernatural books," Sam says.
"Oh, ya think?" Dean grouses as they turn a corner and run slam bam into Balthazar.
"Jensen!" Balthazar exclaims and his hands are everywhere, rubbing up Dean's arms, pulling him in for a tight hug. "Oh, thank God you're okay!"
His voice is jittery and overly emotional, all the familiar sarcasm just gone, replaced by a kind of fawning sensuality that's downright creepy, if Dean had to define it, thank you very much.
"Balthazar, this is all your fault, you winged douchebag!" Dean thinks maybe if he can swing fast enough, he might be able to clip the angel in the jaw before he flaps into oblivion, but Sam's got ahold of his arm, knowing exactly what he's thinking.
"Dean, that's not Balthazar," Sam warns as he muscles his way around in front of Dean, hand on his chest to hold him back. "It's another actor. The actor who plays Balthazar."
'Balthazar' is still looking at him with the hopeful, devoted gaze of someone who wishes he could lick Dean's boots, preferably naked, and Dean takes a step back, glares furiously at the man.
"You stay away from me," he orders, pointing a finger at the actor for emphasis as he lets Sam guide him on down the hall.
In the Green Room, there are more not-angels. And God.
"Sam! Make them stop!" Dean knows he's whining, but it feels so wrong to be hugged by Gabriel, Chuck Shurley, and Lucifer. "You're all supposed to be dead!"
Sam's having his own issues with that last one, and he can't seem to stop staring, his face going all kind of colors before draining completely so that he looks like he might pass out.
"I'm gonna be sick," he announces, barely in time for people to jump out of the way before he hurls all over the snack table.
"Oh wow," Chuck says in the silence that follows. "He wasn't kidding."
"Come on, hon, let's find you a sink, let you wash up," Genevieve coos soothingly, pulling on Sam's arm and guiding him back out the door, leaving the bewildered actors and Creation crew to clean up. Dean follows without even thinking about it, muttering about being bad-touched, shuddering violently, as if he could shake off the feeling of being pawed at by dead people.
"They're all just actors," he mutters to himself, putting a hand on Sam's back when they're finally in the bathroom where Sam can wash his face and wash out his mouth. "It's not real. You hear me, Sam? That douchebag is just an actor here. He can't hurt you."
"Don't you think I know that, Dean?" Sam gasps when he finally raises his head, face dripping. Genevieve pulls paper towels out of the dispenser, starts to wipe his face for him but Sam takes them from her, does it himself. He gives her a weak smile, then glances at Dean in the mirror. "Doesn't seem to matter."
It's the haunted look of someone who's spent more time in Hell than one person should be able to endure, and Dean can't bear it. He knows what that's like. Except Sam was there at least twice as long as Dean, or at least his soul was, and he had two pissed-off archangels beating on him the entire time. Probably worse.
Dean looks away first, unable to deal with the wave of guilt pounding away in his gut. He will never be able to fix what happened to Sam in Hell, and that's not okay. Never will be.
Apparently they're supposed to wait for their cue, which was why they had been taken to the Green Room in the first place, because now there's a Creation dude sticking his head into the washroom tentatively.
"You guys okay to go on?" he asks. "Your panel was supposed to start twenty minutes ago. I can tell them you're sick, if you want. I think most people will understand..."
"No, I'm okay," Sam says sharply, swiping his hand over his face, then carding his fingers through his hair. "We can do it."
"Do what?" Dean's confused. "I thought this was a fan convention."
"It is," Sam nods. "The actors are the main attraction. There's also a costume contest, a dealer's room, photo-ops, autograph sessions, meet-and-greets..."
"Wait," Dean frowns. "You mean with us? With actor-us? They want us to -- what? Act?"
"I thought you knew this, Dean," Sam shakes his head. "I checked it out on-line, figured you must've too. We're supposed to let them ask questions. About the show. It doesn't look that hard, actually. I figured we could wing it if we had to..."
"Oh you did, huh?" Dean glares at his brother. "You just figured we could go up on a stage and pretend to be the douche-bags who play us? Is that it? Answer a lot of dumbass questions about a dumbass show about our lives? Why?"
Sam shrugs. "These people paid a lot of money to see their favorite actors, Dean," he says simply. "We have a responsibility to give them what they paid for.. "
"No, we don't," Dean protests. "They're not our fans. This is just entertainment for them. We don't owe them anything. We're not even the droids they're looking for."
"Actually, that's not entirely true," Sam says. "One of the actors they love has just died, Dean. Along with several crew members and the creator of the show itself. If I was a fan of this show, I'd be feeling pretty bummed right now. It's not just entertainment for them. For a lot of these people, this show is like a family."
"That's hokey bullshit and you know it," Dean shakes his head.
"No, Dean, it isn't," Sam insists. "Besides, we're the reason they're hurting right now. It's our fault those people got killed, just the same as if we'd pulled the trigger. Their deaths are on us! We have a responsibility here."
Dean stares in disbelief, trying to sort out in his head the layers of reality and fantasy, trying to decide if Sam has a point.
Then he notices the way Genevieve is watching Sam with adoration and pride in her eyes. She catches Dean looking and shoots him a scowl.
"What?" she demands, and Dean rolls his eyes.
"Look," Sam tries again. "If you don't want to do this, I can go on by myself, it's okay. They'll understand. They'll think you're overwhelmed by grief."
"That's just it, Sam, I'm not," Dean says. "I don't even know these people. Any of them. How am I supposed to pretend I care about some random actors and crew members I don't even know?"
"It's called acting, Dean," Sam says. "You know what it's like to lose somebody you care about, right? So use that feeling. That's what actors do."
"How do you know? Since when do you know anything about acting?" Dean demands.
"I did some theatre in high school," Sam reminds him. "And I had friends who were actors in college..."
"Hey, guys," the Creation dude pops his head in again. "You ready to do this?"
"Yes, they are," Genevieve announces. "They've just been rehearsing the most amazing scene, and they are so ready it isn't even funny."
Sam and Dean exchange a look.
"I can do this by myself," Sam says. "But I'd rather have you with me."
Dean clenches his jaw, stares his brother down for another moment, then drops his eyes in defeat.
"No way I'm letting you go up there by yourself," he growls. "We do this together, just like we always do."
Dean isn't sure if getting up on a stage in front of a bunch of fans of a t.v. show is really scarier than crashing a nest full of vampires, but it sure feels that way. He follows Sam and Genevieve out into the corridor, where a couple of other Creation employees are waiting to escort them to the main stage. As they enter through the double doors, Dean can hear Fake-Gabriel's voice, amplified, as he's announcing their entrance, then they're being hit by a wall of sound and the sudden change in air pressure that only happens in a huge room jam-packed with people. Dean has the impression of thousands of moving bodies, faces indistinguishable in the dark behind a flurry of flashing cameras, making his eyes hurt, making him wish he still had those sunglasses Clif had given him earlier. He follows Sam's back across the carpeted floor to the stage steps, stopping behind his brother so that Genevieve can give Sam a quick kiss on the cheek before letting go of his hand to fade off on the side as Sam climbs the stairs to the stage, Dean right behind him. Dean's aware of a deafening roar, enough to split his eardrums, as he reaches the top step and follows Sam across the stage, under blinding lights, toward the two tall chairs sitting dead center. He glances up, noticing the huge screen hanging over the back of the stage, over their heads. On it he sees Sam, staring out with a bewildered look on his face, and next to him Dean sees his own backside, staring up at a screen.
Fake-Gabriel is trying to hug him, has already hugged Sam, and keeps trying to hand him a microphone, so he finally figures it out and takes the thing, holding it awkwardly as Fake-Gabriel pats his shoulder and leaves the stage, and now Sam and Dean are alone, facing a crowd larger than Dean could've imagined, all cheering and stomping their feet and making so much noise it astounds him, makes him worry that the roof might come down.
They stand there for what feels like forever, with the flashing lights and the screaming people, until Sam puts his hand up in a little wave and the screaming gets louder, if that's be possible. Sam puts his hand down, exchanges a wide-eyed look of amazement with his brother, mouths the words "rock stars," then bursts forth with a dimpled grin that Dean hasn't seen for -- he suddenly realizes he can't remember the last time he saw Sam smile. That seems so wrong that Dean finds himself almost smiling back, raising his eyebrows and giving a little bemused shake of his head, wondering why it feels so long since he smiled at his brother.
The crowd responds like a fire that's had lighter-fluid thrown onto it. Stomping feet are now added to the roaring screams, which could not possibly be any louder, Dean decides. But there's no pretending the crowd's enthusiasm isn't infectious, and he can't ignore the little rush of adrenaline it gives him, an odd sense of excitement that's almost euphoria. So much approbation is dangerous, Dean realizes suddenly. It's distracting. There's something almost addicting about it, which makes his skin tingle.
"All right, that's enough!" he shouts, but of course he can't even hear himself over the crowd.
Sam helpfully points to his microphone, puts his own to his lips and says, "You have to use this," his voice booming out unnaturally over the sound of the crowd.
Dean frowns, lifts the microphone to his mouth, and says, "Okay, let's try that again." He can hear his voice resounding off the walls, but he can barely make out the words, so he speaks louder.
"I said, that's enough!"
This time, his voice resonates off the back walls, and it's disorienting, feels unnatural for his voice to carry that much power. It's a trick, a deception to make him think he's more important than he is, and Dean feels that funny tingling sensation on the back of his neck again.
The crowd is responding to his voice, quieting down a little, and now Dean can see into the audience and realizes how big it is, how packed the room is. They're all on their feet, giving Sam and Dean a standing ovation just for walking out onto the stage, and now Dean's skin is literally crawling.
"Okay, I said, that's enough," he booms into the microphone again, and the crowd obediently quiets down. Someone whistles, someone else yells, "We love you!" and a third person randomly calls out, "Misha lives!"
"Yeah, unfortunately not," Dean says. "And all those other people who died too -- just let me tell you, that wasn't supposed to happen."
The crowd is quieter now, listening, murmuring amongst themselves. Still taking pictures, though, which Dean finds beyond annoying.
"Do you have to keep doing that?" he asks, squinting into the glare of one repeating flash, which pauses for a moment, then gets going again as soon as he looks away.
"Look, we're not who you think we are," Dean starts again, aware that Sam's staring incredulously at him, so he throws his brother a reassuring glance before going on. "We're not some douche-bag Hollywood t.v. stars with big mansions and ginormous bank accounts and alpacas in our back yards. Well, he is," he motions at Sam, who rolls his eyes. "What I'm trying to say is, that's not important. Douche-bag actors who play hunters on t.v. are not worth this kind of -- " he gestures at the gigantic, enraptured crowd, " -- all this. Don't waste your time and money on these jokers, people, come on."
Sam jumps in, putting his hand on Dean's arm briefly. "I think what my bro -- what Jensen's trying to say is, when something like this happens, when tragedy strikes and people die, we're all trying to make sense of it. We're all trying to find the meaning in it. So maybe instead of us standing up here answering your questions, or trying to come up with funny things to say about the show, maybe -- maybe you can tell us what it all means to you. We'll listen, you talk. How's that?"
Dean frowns. What the hell? How's that gonna help anything?
But if anything, the audience is eager to participate. They've apparently been lining up at microphones set up for them on opposite sides of the auditorium for exactly this purpose, because as soon as Sam looks over at the first microphone line, a short girl with dyed black hair and tattoos up and down both arms starts talking, and it's like the floodgates have opened.
"Oh my god," she starts nervously, then takes a deep breath and starts again as Sam nods encouragingly. "I can't believe Misha's dead! This is so awful!"
She breaks down completely then, and people behind her pat her on the back, give her hugs, console her as she sobs and finally has to be led away.
"This is going well," Dean leans toward Sam, murmurs in a low voice only Sam can hear. "Great idea, Doctor Phil."
But the next two or three speakers seem more composed, and the testimonials pour forth. Sam directs the questions, looking back and forth from one side of the room to the other, and Dean's happy to let him take charge, finding it easier to stand back and listen than he had thought it would be. Maybe because what these people have to say surprises him, maybe because it moves him more than he's willing to admit. At any rate, Sam answers each speaker with a soft, "Thank you," before moving on to the next one, and he finds himself joining in without even realizing he's doing it.
"What you guys do -- bringing Sam and Dean alive for us -- that's so important, see, because Sam and Dean give us hope. They show us these misfit guys who had this miserable upbringing and all these awful things happened to them, but they survived, right? And more than just survived. They did some good. They saved some people. Hell, they saved the world! So, I guess I just need to say thank you."
"What you guys must be going through now -- losing Misha, Eric, Bob Singer, all those crew members -- all people you knew and cared about -- well, I just want to say, your courage in just being here, after that, it's inspiring. You guys are just like Sam and Dean. You persevere in the midst of tragedy. You keep going. It's so inspiring, and I'm so grateful for your example."
"Thank you. I've been through a lot on my life, and when I see Sam and Dean just going on, despite all the stuff they have to deal with, it gives me strength. And now, what you guys are going through now, and you're here to give us all strength and courage and -- Just, thank you."
The next questioner, like the first, simply bursts into turns, sobbing long and hard until two or three people around her put their arms around her, comforting her and offering tissues until she recovers enough to sob out, "I'm sorry!"
"Don't be sorry," Sam says sympathetically. "It's okay to be sad. We've all been there."
"How do you deal with it?" the next questioner asks. "What do you tell yourselves to keep going?"
Dean clears his throat, shoves one hand into the pocket of his jeans, shifts from foot to foot awkwardly. "We don't think about it too much," he answers honestly. "We get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other, and that's pretty much it. My brother and me, we're just doing our jobs, just doing the work that has to be done. Focus on the job, ignore all the crap. Our dad taught us that, and it works, mostly."
The crowd doesn't even seem to notice that Dean has answered the question in character; they seem to accept the character bleed as if it's a natural thing, which Dean isn't too sure he wants to think about very hard.
"You've got each other!" someone screams from the back of the room, and there's a weird lull in the noise level, as if everyone heard the screamer and were now hushed and waiting for the answer.
"That's right," Dean nods. "We've got each other."
He glances at Sam, who shrugs subtly because really, what's the big deal? Of course they've got each other. They're sort of the last thing each of them has, now that their parents are dead, along with so many of their friends. They've always lived in a kind of self-imposed isolation chamber, always moving around, never settling down long enough anywhere to form any lasting ties.
"But you've got each other, too," Sam reminds them. "You're all here because you share a common interest, something you care about. It draws you together, and you care enough to come together like this, to support each other. That's pretty cool, actually."
"We love you, Jared!" somebody shouts from the back of the room, and Sam hesitates. Dean can see the blush on his brother's cheeks, recognizes his embarrassment.
"You're not him," Dean says, into the microphone, so that Sam and everyone else can hear. "You're my brother, dude. You're not him."
Sam lowers the mike, turns and looks at Dean, really looks at him, considering.
"That's not you, Sam," Dean lowers his own mike, raises his eyebrows. "You're the man who took on Lucifer. And won. Remember?"
Which really shouldn't be just about the first time they've talked about it since it happened, but of course it is.
And of course they're interrupted by the low rumble of thunder, getting louder, so that it must have been rumbling for a while now but they're just now hearing it because it's suddenly louder than it should be.
Then the lights flicker, followed by a crash of thunder so loud it shakes the building. A few people scream, and there's a general rustle of nervous, wild-eyed audience members shuffling in their seats, looking up at the ceiling like they're afraid it might come crashing down on them.
"Everybody stay calm," Dean says into the mike. "It's just a thunderstorm."
Which is when another crash of thunder rocks the building and the lights go out.
More commotion and a couple of screams ensue as people light up their cell phones, and Dean tries to speak into the microphone, then realizes it's not working. In the dim emergency lighting Dean's suddenly aware they're not alone on the stage. Another crash of thunder accompanies a flash of white light, and a general gasp goes up from the audience as Dean feels a familiar hand on his shoulder.
"Oh my God!" somebody screams.
"It's Misha!" someone else screams.
Dean barely has time to turn his head, already sure he'll find a familiar figure standing between and a little behind the brothers, so close they can feel the brush of his trench-coat against their backs. Then Dean gets that odd feeling of vertigo that only angel-flight can cause, and suddenly they're standing in the Art Institute again, in front of Nighthawks. The sigil they drew on the floor in front of the painting is glowing red now, and the place is eerily empty, quiet except for the raging storm outside, muted to a soft rumble from inside the huge building.
It's dark here too, emergency lighting the only way to recognize where they are, and for a disorienting moment Sam and Dean stare around them in confusion.
"Cas?" Dean turns to the angel. "What happened?"
"Your spell opened a portal between dimensions," Castiel explains grimly. "Now the supernatural has been unleashed upon this world, and I was able to find you."
"Well, goody for you," Dean snarks. "So we can go home now?"
"Yes," Castiel nods. "I can transport you both back to the place you came through from our reality."
"Good, let's go," Dean closes his eyes and clenches his teeth, readying himself for that horrible feeling of seasickness again.
"Wait," Sam says, and Dean opens one eye, reluctantly. "When we leave, what happens to this place?"
"I am not certain," Castiel admits. "It may continue to exist, or it may wink out of existence the moment you two are gone. Alternate realities are not something I'm familiar with, generally. Traveling in and out of them usually requires an inordinate amount of power. I have known only a handful of angels who are capable of it: Gabriel, Zachariah, Balthazar..."
"Okay, okay, I get it," Sam interrupts. "It's just...Before we go, I want to say goodbye to someone. Would that be okay?"
"He means his wife," Dean growls, more irritated than he probably should be.
"Your wife?" Castiel frowns in confusion. "You got married in this reality, Sam?"
"No, no," Sam shakes his head, blushing and smiling awkwardly, making his dimples show. "She's not married to me, she's married to the other guy. But she thinks I'm him, and she..."
"Sam's been sleeping with her," Dean finishes for his brother, clenching his fists unconsciously.
"Oh, I see," Castiel frowns, clearly not understanding. "Very well. But we need to hurry. I have work to do in Heaven."
"Of course you do," Dean mutters.
Castiel presses his index and middle fingers to Sam's forehead, closing his eyes. Suddenly Genevieve is standing between them, her face a mask of shock as she stares around her wildly. Sam reaches out to steady her as she stumbles, and she stares up at Sam in confusion.
"Jared? What just happened? How did we get here?"
Then she notices Castiel and her eyes widen. "Misha! Oh my God, it's true! I thought I saw you for a minute on the stage, but then you all disappeared and everybody started freaking out..."
"Ruby?" Castiel frowns. "This is not Ruby."
"Thank you, Captain Obvious," Dean snarks with a roll of his eyes.
"Gen." Sam puts his hands on her shoulders, tries to get her to focus. "This is Castiel. He's an angel of the Lord. He's come to take us home, me and Dean. I just wanted to say goodbye first."
"What?" Genevieve stares at him, confusion furrowing her brow. "What are you talking about? How can Misha be back from the dead? What's happening?"
"Gen, listen to me," Sam tries again. "It's all real, where we come from. The supernatural, ghosts, angels. And now, apparently, it's been unleashed over here, thanks to us, so if a lot of weird things start happening, you'll know why. Okay? I just wanted you to know, since I probably won't see you again."
"What?" Genevieve blinks. "You're leaving?"
Sam nods, his face doing that sympathetic thing that makes all the witnesses tell him their life stories. "We have to go back to our world," he says. "All our friends are there. People over there are counting on us."
"But -- " Genevieve glances at Castiel, then at Dean, and finally back at Sam, and Dean has to give her credit; at least she's not crying. "Sam? You -- you're really him, aren't you?" She staggers back a little, far enough so she can shake free of Sam's hands. "You really are Sam Winchester."
Sam nods, hands hanging loosely at his sides, hunching a little. It's nothing like the jaunty confidence of the t.v. star Dean has seen in the videos he's watched of Jared Padalecki, and he can see Genevieve assessing Sam, admitting the differences for the first time.
"Yeah," Sam breathes. "That's right."
Genevieve gives her head a little shake, like she's rearranging reality in her own mind. "So it was you all along?" she asks.
Sam nods. "Since that day I brought Dean home," he says. "When you had your otter thing."
"And he's really Dean," she nods toward Dean, who raises his eyebrows and shrugs.
"In the flesh," he admits, trying not to smirk. He really shouldn't be gloating. It's bad manners. But it's hard to resist.
"And -- Castiel -- " Genevieve looks at the angel, just as a particularly loud crash of thunder sounds outside. She jumps, suddenly looking more than a little spooked, and Dean almost feels sorry for her.
"You're -- you're really an angel?" she asks, and Castiel nods shortly, then aims an intense gaze at Dean, who frowns quizzically.
"We really should go now," Castiel says.
"Wait," Genevieve stops them. "What about us? What about Jared? I mean, I guess I kind of knew all along that you weren't really him. I mean, he's not that good an actor."
"Heh," Dean snorts delightedly, and Sam shoots him a glare.
"And he and Jensen haven't gotten along very well for a while now, so it made no sense, the way you and him were obviously so close..." Genevieve looks at Dean again and frowns. "But what I don't understand is, if you're really Sam and Dean, where's my husband? Where's Jensen?"
Sam and Dean look helplessly at Castiel, who glances between them, then shakes his head. "That's not something I can answer," he says, turning his blue-eyed gaze on Genevieve.
"Well, I mean, when you guys leave, Jared comes back, right? Jensen too? Isn't that the way this is supposed to work?"
"It is entirely possible that when we leave, this world and everyone in it will cease to exist," Castiel says in his blunt way. "In fact, it is entirely possible that none of you existed at all until the moment Sam and Dean arrived."
"Cas," Dean hisses reproachfully, because this is harsh, man, even for him. "You don't know that. You said it yourself. It's above your pay grade."
"Oh my God, that can't be true," Genevieve starts to panic. "You're the fictional characters here. You're the ones who wink out of existence when the lights go off on the set every night. Not us. When you guys leave here, you disappear into oblivion. Duh!"
She looks wildly from Sam to Dean, then back again. "As soon as you disappear, we forget all about you," she insists, clenching her jaw determinedly. "It's like all of this -- you and the murders on set and the freaky supernatural storm that apparently brought Misha back to life -- it's all a mass hallucination, and we wake up as soon as you leave, safe and sound in our beds because it was all some stupid nightmare. In fact, maybe it's just my nightmare. One of those hormone-induced crazy-pregnant-lady dreams."
"You're pregnant?" Sam stares, shocked, and Genevieve shakes her head violently.
"Never mind," she says curtly. "It's not yours."
"Well, obviously," Dean huffs under his breath.
"We have to take her with us," Sam announces to Castiel, and Dean can feel his insides shrivel up and turn to ice, start to chip into tiny little pieces.
Castiel looks genuinely surprised, and Dean's giving him credit for that, because it's not easy to surprise Castiel. Confuse, yes. Surprise, not so much.
"Sam, I don't think that's possible," Castiel shakes his head, frowning.
"Well, we can try, can't we? I mean, we have to try." Poor Sam looks so agitated and upset all of a sudden that Dean almost feels sorry for him.
Castiel gazes at Sam intently, taking in his agitation and desperation, and Dean's suddenly proud of his brother. Sam's trying to do the right thing here, just trying to save lives, and it's noble. It really is.
"I don't know, Sam," Castiel hedges. "That might not be possible."
"Hey, excuse me? I'm right here." Genevieve puts her hand up, waves it in front of Sam's face. "This is my life you're messing with, and I think I get a say here."
"Of course you do," Dean nods, ignoring Sam's desperate, pleading glance.
"And I'm not going anywhere," she goes on firmly, ignoring Dean. Touché. "This is my world, my home. All my family's here, all my friends. And I'm gonna trust my feminine intuition here and insist that everything's gonna work out fine, as long as I stay right where I am."
She turns to Sam, takes his hand in both of hers, and stands on tiptoe so she can kiss his cheek. "Goodbye, Sam. You know, you really should've just told me. Before I cheated on my husband."
Sam blushes and smiles shyly, dimples showing again, as he lowers his eyes. "I know. I'm sorry," he murmurs.
She turns to Dean, shakes her head. "You two deserve each other," she says. "And I'm not even gonna get into how weird that is."
Finally, Genevieve turns to Castiel. She squints a little, like she still can't believe he's not a douchebag actor, miraculously resurrected. "Misha is probably the last person on earth I would've cast to play you, if it was up to me," she says earnestly. When Cas frowns in confusion, she says, "That's a compliment."
Castiel still looks confused, but he's obviously run out of patience with the entire situation. He moves up between Sam and Dean, placing a hand on each of their shoulders, and Dean gets exactly two seconds to worry about the vertigo. Then they're standing in Bobby's study, trying not to stumble, as rain and wind pour in from the open space in the wall behind them, where the window used to be.
"So..." Dean clears his throat, takes the lead, more relieved to be back in familiar territory than he dares to admit. "Virgil didn't get the weapons, I take it?"
"The weapons are with me," Castiel rumbles darkly. "It was with their power that I was able to locate and rescue you."
"Good," Dean nods. "That's good. So, no more Virgil problem? Cuz that dude was a serious pain in my ass."
"He has been dealt with," Castiel confirms. "Now I must return to Heaven. A war is coming, and Raphael must be stopped."
"Yeah, sure," Dean waves a hand at Castiel, dismissing him. "You go do your angel stuff. Me and Sam will see if we can find some plywood, cover this window."
The sound of flapping wings tells them Castiel has left.
"Friggin' angels," Dean curses irritably.
Sam knocks on the wall. "Solid," he says, breathing out a sigh of relief. "It's real. Nice."
"Yeah. Yeah." Dean nods. "Real, moldy, termite-eaten home sweet home. Chock full of crap that want to skin you. Oh, and, uh, we're broke again."
"Yeah," Sam agrees with another deep sigh, and Dean knows he's thinking about Genevieve, knows he's wondering if she made it, knows Sam will never mention her again.
"Come on," Dean says, crossing the room to clap a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Let's check the basement, see if we can find any dry plywood, try to fix up this window before Bobby gets back."
And just like always, they do what they have to in order to deal with the crap in their lives.
They get to work.