Author: Regala Electra
Rating: PG-13 (violence)
Pairings: Dean/Carmen, Sam/Jess
Spoilers: S2, What Is and What Should Never Be
Summary: It’ll feel like forever. Dean hesitates before plunging the knife in and can’t quite let go of the dream. An AU Coda.
Word Count: 1737
Author’s Notes: Thanks to ignited for all the assistance. Title taken from Led Zeppelin’s What Is and What Should Never Be. Copious Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland references sprinkled throughout the story.
–It'll feel like forever.
Hesitation is natural. Getting stuck in the ribs has never been the way he expected to die. His mother’s hand reaches out to him, her eyes so full of all the things he’s lost.
The knife doesn't get past the first layer of his shirts. Blue light fills his eyes and he is momentarily blinded. Before the illusion rebuilds itself, as he crumbles into nothingness, he looks up at their faces as they watch him melt.
It isn't pity that he sees there.
Jess is many months pregnant and Dean has no idea how long, but it's definitely nearing the end. Her belly is a giant swell of promise, her hair still curly-long, tendrils sticking to her face as she sits Indian-style beside the garden in Mom's backyard. Her feet are bare, blades of grass sticking to her soles.
The first thing he did this morning, after eating Mom's perfect waffles, was mow the lawn.
Carmen's kneeling on the other side of the small garden, delicately manicured hands tearing out begonias. She deposits them in a wicker basket. Jess focuses on painting, a knobby old paintbrush in hand, brushing the petals of Mom's lilies until they're gilded in gold.
Dean looks down at his boots, the edges tinged in blackish red. Stains that can't ever come out, like graveyard dirt stuck under his fingernails and answers he doesn’t want to know.
Before he asks why, Carmen answers, –You shouldn't go walking in fields of poppies. Jess nods in agreement, as though it’s an old saying.
He smiles to hide the confusion, opening the cold beer she'd brought to him before she settled next to Jess, and squeezing in between them, he says, –I can help weed.
Jess takes his hand in hers, he can feel that her fingers are swollen slightly and sun-warm, skin streaked in gold paint that doesn't color his hand, saying, –Sam will be so happy. This is his birthday present. Don't tell him, it's a surprise.
And Dean isn't sure if she means the lilies or the baby.
A copse is just another word for corpse. No, that's wrong, a copse is a thick bed of flowers. It’s a secret hiding place where children wait all day to be snatched up by fairies, imagining a better life is just a wish away.
His mother is pleased by their work at the garden, protecting delicate skin under a wide-brimmed hat, she tilts her face towards Dean and he can pretend that smile is just for him.
–Sam will be so happy., she tells them, as she and Carmen help Jess up to take a seat at the porch swing set.
–But are you happy, Mom?
She blinks at him. –Of course, sweetheart. Why wouldn't I be?
Dean looks at the skeleton’s arms sticking out of the flowerbed and says, –Oh, no reason.
He and Carmen get a dog from the pound, a big old Labrador with a bark worse than her bite, and they name her Toto.
–Wasn’t Toto a boy?
Carmen laughs. –Yes, but he was also kind of a bitch.
Carmen notices the yellow in his eyes one morning, brushing her hand over his face, like she’s doing a magic trick. He picks up on a flash of white-gold on her left hand, and before she tells him whatever's got her biting her lip like that, he says, –When did we get married?
–You don't remember. Shattering glass has sounded less fragile. Pushing on, collecting herself, she says, –I think you have jaundice.
In the mirror, he looks healthy, maybe he should put on suntan lotion more often, because he's burnt underneath the tan, but other than that, he's fine. But when he goes in for a closer look, he sees, not the telltale signs of liver failure, but the pallor of corpse-grey, veins going blue-black across his face.
Carmen puts her hands around him, pulling him away from the mirror; she’s stronger than she should be. She stands on tiptoes to kiss him until he doesn't need to think anymore.
He gives up drinking in favor of saving himself from a liver transplant. Sam had offered a part of his liver when things looked bleak but Dean has shut that down. Instead, he went through his apartment and Mom's house, disposing of all the bottles of beer that had been stored up, at one point he'd thought he was living ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall but sure enough, he’d removed all the temptation. Even though he never felt like he was all that thirsty.
He's going to live, dammit, and see his nieces and nephews (–How many kids do you think me and Jess want? Sam had asked, smile crooking his face) grow up.
Carmen says it was a miracle, his recovery, and she takes him with her to church, kneeling in front of the altar to the Virgin Mary. He doesn't remember it, but they got married here, a wedding that had been full of Carmen's family, most of them out-of-towners. She ain't a Lawrence, Kansas kind of girl and she’s staying here for him.
He also wants kids of his own one day and their father isn't going to be a drunk.
When he finally shows up for work (or at least he remembers going to work, maybe he's been here before), he learns he's gotten a raise and to cap it off, he's in line for a promotion, and hell, he plays his cards right, he might just own part of the shop one day.
To celebrate, he calls up Sam, not surprised that it goes to voicemail, he's out on business on one of his big cases, ‘cause apparently even law firms even in Lawrence have the kind of jet set life that makes leaving California worth it. He considers heading off to see Jess and the little one, Jake, and Mom (as Jess and Sam having moved across the street from Mom), but before he can change out of his oil-stained clothes, Carmen rushes through the door, nearly jumping in his arms and he has to spin her around to keep from colliding into the furniture.
Breathless, she kisses him before whispering in his ear, –Seven months.
He hopes it's a girl. God knows what a pair of Winchester boys this generation would try to get away with and Dean knows he's a sucker for that face a kid makes when they're balls-out lying. Sam could’ve walked off with the Hoover Dam so long as he gave Dean those eyes.
Wait, Sam’s never needed to do that here.
Carmen kisses him harder and Dean forces himself to concentrate on his growing family.
Sam's being fast-tracked to Partner, he explains to Dean, so it doesn't leave much time for hunting. It’s just spare weekends in long gaps of time.
But they do have time to salt and burn the corpses of all the strange ghosts that keep on popping through, making themselves visible to Dean. Sam figures out the resting place for the ghost girl who's been haunting Dean all these years and together, they burn her bones and Dean never sees her again.
Dean feels a tingling in his arms, the left one in particular, but when Carmen inspects it, she tells him he's fine. She puts the bandages back on his wrists, he’s been getting weird bruises all around his wrists lately and as he joked, it sure as hell ain’t because of the bondage play they don’t have.
–Is it a heart attack?
–No, babe, it's not a heart attack. Do you want to feel the baby move?
Whirring little kicks of action inside Carmen's belly, like time’s gotten all jumbled up in there, impatient to be let out. Dean can distinctly hear that there are two moving in there, –We’re gonna have twins?
He's at a loss when it comes to picking out their names.
Dean wakes up to Mom standing over him, she's still so beautiful, and she says in her careful way, –Sam took Carmen to the hospital. Do you want to see your children?
–Why didn't I take them? he means to ask but the answer's clear when he tumbles out of bed, his right leg useless.
Mom helps him up into the wheelchair beside his bed.
–You and your brother really need to stop hunting.
His hair's going grey.
It's the twins' seventh birthday, and here he is, thirty-nine years old, and he can't even remember birthdays one through six. Can barely recall his children as infants or toddlers. His little girl is towheaded like he was when he was a boy and his son’s darker, like Carmen, but they’ve both got his eyes. He has to rely on pictures to fill in the blanks, seeing all the years that won’t stick in his head.
Carmen has to tell him that morning that their kids are called Johnny, after Dad, and Emma, Em for short. His nickname for his little girl is Auntie Em.
–You should've aimed better, you could have any guy, he tells Carmen, as he wakes up one morning, his vision nothing more than blurs and hazy shapes.
She says, –It's been a good life. Tears make her voice so thick it’s barely audible.
Dean can't remember any of it beyond fractured glimpses.
Sam's the last face Dean sees before he goes.
He's putting on a brave face, so close that his breath is hot on Dean's face. It's still Sam as he always has been this entire time: the hair the same messy mop, the years have been good to him, like he hasn’t aged at all.
Sam’s lips are moving, saying his final goodbyes, accepting that the time has come, but Dean hears different, a muffled noise like Sam's speaking at a great distance, –Dean, don't, please man, stay with me.
He would if he could, God knows.
–I'm sorry, he says, and means it because he isn't strong enough.
Heartbeat slows and the last of his blood drains out and he lets go of the dream.
Stubbornness, that stupid need for him to do the right thing, doesn’t fade because he failed the first time though. Dean breathes in the stench of death in the warehouse and opens his eyes.