Word Count: 1k
Warnings: Character death (offscreen)
Summary: The house is quiet. It’s the first thing Dean notices.
The house is quiet. It’s the first thing Dean notices, standing in the wooded clearing that serves as its yard. The yellow exterior paint is peeling and the roofing is cracked and decayed. Dry leaves scrape across the porch on a low autumn breeze. The door is ajar.
Dean would almost dare to call it eerie, save for the smoke rising from the chimney, the soft glow of lantern light spilling through the windows. There’s a fire burning inside, and it smells warm.
His foot doesn’t creak on the stair.
Dean remembers some moments of his life better than others. His mom tucking him into bed and smoothing the hair back off his forehead, whispering about God and his angels. His dad, blood-soaked and whispering, fast and urgent, It might be too late. If he turns, you’ll have to kill him. Promise me, Dean. Sam, warm and heavy in his lap as a baby and slamming the door behind him as a teenager and collapsing into him with blood on his lips and a knife in his back, eyes rolling back into his head and…
And dying, of course. The dying sticks with him. If he had to choose, he’d probably say the first time was the worst. He’d been so afraid, and he’d lasted so long while the Hellhounds tore and toyed and chewed him to pieces.
But the last time, that was probably the most memorable. Sam’s hands skidding through rivers of blood, scrabbling desperately to compress, mend, heal while Dean spasmed and coughed and bled out on the hard ground. Billie, shaking her head and tutting at him. Dean, Dean, Dean. We discussed this. I told you there would be consequences. Now it’s time to pay up.
Dean spat in her face. As far as final living acts went, that one had ranked pretty high on the list.
He shuts the front door behind him to keep the draft out. A bristly entry mat bearing the faded image of a sunflower and the words Welcome Home lies just inside the door.
Dean wipes his feet carefully on the rug.
A few paintings are hung in the entryway, one of a cluster of tall trees like the ones outside, another of a sunset, pink and orange over the water. They look unskilled, amateurish, but vibrant and fresh.
Along the wall, two simple hooks hold jackets of worn denim and sturdy canvas. Dean touches one, feels the surprising warmth and softness there. There’s a splatter of paint on the elbow of the denim one, deep forest green.
In Kentucky Dean once called on a woman named Doris May. She and her husband of sixty years had been deeply in love until his death three months prior. They had no children, and she had been struggling to cope in his absence.
When he knocked on her door one July afternoon, Dean expected to be met with fear, or confusion. Instead, she smiled warmly and beckoned him inside, offered him a drink. They sat in the kitchen together and drank whisky for a while she told stories about her husband. He was a photographer and they traveled around the country together when they were young, sleeping on buses and in train stations, living hand to mouth.
“I used to do something similar,” Dean said, whisky warm in his belly. “Traveled a lot for work. Me and my brother.”
Doris set her empty glass on the table. She sounded wistful when she said, “I’ve been expecting you for some time now. But I didn’t think I’d appreciate the company so much.”
Dean extended a hand to her across the table. “You look tired,” he said. “Why don’t you lie down and have a nap? I’ll clean up here.”
She folded her fingers over his and squeezed.
In the kitchen, a wall clock ticks ten minutes out-of-time. There are a few dishes piled in the sink. The pantry contains meagre provisions—little more than bread and butter—and the fridge contains only wilted vegetables. There’s a fifth of Old Crow on the counter. The cap is missing but when Dean lifts the bottle he finds it still mostly full.
Through the window above the sink, a pond is visible. The water is still and smooth like glass. A lawn chair is set up on the rocky shore, a fishing pole leaning against it. Nearby, two swans lie asleep, white heads tucked under their wings.
There’s movement upstairs. Dean sets the bottle back down.
The first one’s name was Jamie. He was barely five years old when he wandered away from home one evening and was just starting to miss his mom when a distracted truck driver took a blind corner too fast.
By the time Dean got there the kid’s lungs were already filling with blood. He tried to make it as painless as possible from there.
After that, Dean holed up in a trailer park in Arizona and discovered he could still get drunk. He spent a year revelling in that knowledge, until Billie found him again.
It got easier with time. Like dying. And everything else.
There are three bedrooms in the upstairs of the house, but Dean doesn’t have to explore any of them. He heads straight toward the smallest one, at the back of the house with a window overlooking the pond.
Like everything else in the house, the room is sparsely decorated. It contains little more than a shelf with a few books, a desk, and a single bed. When Dean enters, the figure on the bed coughs and shifts under the blankets, struggling to sit upright.
He’s thin, and paler than Dean has ever seen him. His hair is still long, but it’s unkempt and shot through with grey. This year was his fifty-fifth birthday.
Fever-bright eyes meet Dean’s and go wide. “Oh.” His voice is a cracked whisper. Then he collapses back against the bed, shaking with illness and exhaustion. “Thank God,” he breathes.
“Hey,” Dean says. He kneels next to the bed and reaches out to brush the hair off his forehead. Even after all the years between them, the impulse feels as natural as breathing. “Hey, Sammy.”