It's a Wonderful Afterlife

By irismay42

 

“Will you just quit bitchin’ at me for five goddamn freakin’ minutes, Sammy?”

“I do not ‘bitch,’ Dean –”

“Bitch Queen o’ freakin’ Bitchville –”

“I do not ‘bitch’ –”

“Next dog you see is gonna hump your leg so hard –”

Dean –

“Before long, there’ll be a litter of adorable little Sambradors, all with shaggy long fur –”

“Dean!”

“– That gets in their big, sad, puppy dog eyes, soooo much like their mommy’s…”

“Okay, that’s it. Stop the car.”

“What?”

“Stop the damn car, Dean!”

“It’s snowing, Sam –”

“I’d rather freeze to death than listen to one more stupid, dumb insult come outta your stupid, dumb mouth –”

“Oh, that’s what this is about?”

“What?”

“You think I’m dumb, that it?”

“I didn’t –”

“’Cause I couldn’t do the Latin.”

“I never said that –”

“Well you’re the one who had a demon explode all over us, Sam –”

“That was a misinterpretation –”

“‘It’ll implode, Dean. Implode. You know the difference between implode and explode, right Dean?’ Dumb old Dean. Doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together –”

“Dean.”

“– Not like me ’cause I went to Stanford –”

“Oh, here we go with the Stanford thing again –”

“You think you’re better – smarter – than me, huh Sam? Just ’cause you went to some tight-ass college while I barely graduated high school? Huh?”

“Dean, I never said that. You just twist everything I say and –”

“I still have demon goo in my hair, Sam!”

“Yeah? Well at least you won’t have to use so much of that girlie hair gel you’re so fond of for a few days!”

“Oh sure, you’re giving me hairstyling tips, huh Goldilocks?”

“Will you quit bitchin’ for five goddamn minutes, Dean?”

Dean Winchester slammed both feet hard against the Impala’s brake pedal, glaring out at the snowflakes daring to land all over his baby’s shiny black hood. The big Chevy’s back wheels skidded slightly on the icy Montana road, throwing Sam forward in his seat, the knees of his ridiculously long legs smashing hard against the glovebox.

Sam didn’t just glare at his brother; Sam positively glowered. “What the hell, Dean?” he snarled, before adding, “And – ow!” as an afterthought.

“Okay. You’re mad. I get it,” Dean ground out between clenched teeth. “But it’s not my fault I screwed up the Latin –”

“And it’s not my fault you’ve got demon goo in your hair!”

“You’re just pissed ’cause of the swamp thing,” Dean said, refusing to look at his younger brother.

“No, Dean, that’s not why I’m pissed.” Sam closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. Which actually did very little to calm him at all. “Although, yeah, if you’d paid a little more attention when Pastor Jim was trying to teach us Latin –”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Here we go again –”

“– And a little less attention to his collection of throwing knives –”

“Didn’t hear you complainin’ that time I nailed that black dog that was trying to chow down on your skinny ass.”

“– Then maybe that gargoyle wouldn’t have gotten the chance to grab hold of me, fly off with me dangling from its claws for half a mile, and dump me thirty feet into a swamp where I nearly drowned!”

“And maybe if you knew the difference between ‘implode’ and ‘explode’ I wouldn’t have demon goo in my hair, genius!”

Sam’s cheeks reddened, and he folded his arms sullenly across his chest, glaring out of the windshield with enough intensity to melt the steadily falling snowflakes before they even had the opportunity to dissipate on the Impala’s warm hood.

“Some Christmas Eve this is turning out to be,” Dean huffed, mirroring Sam’s position exactly.

“You hate Christmas,” Sam pointed out tightly.

“Yeah, well,” Dean said. “At least I make the effort.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Ah, will you just…” Dean stopped suddenly, before adding, “Jump off a bridge.”

Sam frowned, finally returning his gaze to his brother. “Is that a suggestion, or…?”

“That guy.” Dean’s eyes had narrowed, focusing into the distance, to the looming silhouette of a decidedly rickety-looking bridge not fifty yards in front of them. A dark figure was clearly visible against the wintry-white night sky, teetering precariously on the metal railing running the span of the structure. “That guy’s about to jump off the bridge.”

Sam followed the direction of his brother’s gaze, eyes widening in alarm. “Well, we gotta stop him –!”

“Ya think?” Dean’s foot was already hitting the gas pedal before Sam had even finished his sentence, wheel-spinning the Impala quite impressively on the icy road, before taking off for the bridge like the proverbial bat out of hell.

Sam was out of the car before Dean had brought it to a complete stop, two long strides over to the railing where the guy was still standing, swaying slightly as he stared down at the water roiling beneath the bridge.

“Hey! Hey mister!” Sam yelled, slowing his pace as the figure bundled in a thick grey overcoat turned slowly in his direction.

He was maybe in his early sixties if Sam had to guess, thick silvery-white hair and eyebrows like cotton balls perched over dark little eyes that narrowed as Sam approached, one thick eyebrow quirking slightly as he took in his would-be savior.

“Hey, man, you don’t want to do this,” Sam said gently, holding his hands up in a placating manner. “Seriously.”

The little man on the railing just looked at him. “How do you know that?” he asked, accent somehow foreign, although Sam couldn’t place it. “Are you psychic or something?”

Sam opened his mouth and closed it again with a click, glancing sideways at Dean, who had rounded the Impala and was standing slightly behind and to Sam’s left, blinking snowflakes off his preternaturally long eyelashes as he gazed up at the old geezer with the attitude.

“Hey, we all know the holidays suck, dude,” Dean said with a shrug. “But even schmaltzy black ’n white Christmas movies on a busted-up motel room TV set are better than lungs full of ice water and a one-way trip to oblivion.”

Sam frowned, surprised, wondering whether that was how Dean had spent Christmas while he was away at Stanford. Dad, after all, had never been particularly big on the Festive Season either.

It’s A Wonderful Life was always my favorite,” the old guy was saying with a nostalgic chuckle that belied his precarious position. “Although that Jimmy Stewart – well…”

“Listen,” Sam interrupted suddenly, jamming his hands in his pockets as he longingly thought about the thick winter coat he’d stuck in the trunk earlier that day. “What’s so bad that you wanna jump off a bridge on Christmas Eve?”

The guy shrugged. “My job,” he sighed. “I really don’t think I’m ever going to be cut out for it.”

“A job ain’t worth dying over,” Dean commented, words out of his mouth before he was able to baulk slightly at their familiarity.

Sam shot him a wary glance, which he ignored with some degree of uncomfortable difficulty.

“Oh, there I have to disagree with you, young man,” the guy on the railing said, wobbling slightly as he turned towards the older brother, causing both boys to instinctively lurch forward a step in response. “Some jobs are so important that they often demand the ultimate sacrifice. Don’t you think?”

Dean could feel Sam’s eyes on him, but continued to keep his own fixed on the crazy little guy in front of him. “What’s your name?” he asked suddenly, before adding, “And if you say ‘Clarence’ I swear I’ll push you off this bridge myself.”

The man rolled his eyes upwards, vaguely distracted. “No, silly boy, Clarence was my uncle,” he said with a tiny chuckle. “I’m Edward.”

“Well, Edward,” Dean returned. “How’s about you come down off of there and we can compare favorite Christmas movies?”

Edward sighed. “Oh, I don’t think so,” he said, turning back towards the water.

“Wait!” Sam held out a hand, taking another step toward the older man. “Tell us – tell us about this job of yours. It can’t be that bad.”

Dean rolled his eyes at his brother. What, we gotta hear the old coot’s life story now?

Edward grinned sadly. “I’m a trainee,” he told them, not turning back, eyes still fixed on the water below him.

Dean arched an eyebrow. “What, like at McDonalds or something?”

Edward chuckled again. “Oh no,” he said. “Although I sometimes think that would be more fun.”

Sam and Dean exchanged a bewildered glance.

“No, no,” Edward said. “It’s a little more complicated than that. And I fear I’ll never earn my wings. Not at this rate.” He sighed again. “I just don’t think I’ve got what it takes.”

“How long have you been training, Edward?” Sam asked.

Edward glanced at his wristwatch thoughtfully. “Oh, about twenty-three years,” he said blithely. “Since the last guy got fired.”

“Twenty-three years?” Dean echoed incredulously.

“Give or take,” Edward confirmed. “My Supervisor assured me it would be a challenging position. Give me an opportunity to really prove my mettle. But I just wasn’t prepared for –” He turned back towards them, shrugging as he included them both in a wide sweep of his arm. “Well… You boys are just so darned hard to look out for!”

Dean’s eyes widened, and he cast another sidelong glance at Sam, who was just staring up at Edward, mouth hanging open just enough that Dean could see snowflakes landing on his tongue.

“It’s not my fault you boys nearly get yourselves killed every other day…” Edward continued, something akin to a pout creasing his narrow lips.

“Run that by me again?” Sam managed finally, shaking his head as if he must have misheard somehow.

Edward shrugged matter-of-factly. “It’s not easy being Guardian Angel to a Winchester,” he told them. “Let alone two of you.”

“Wait –” It was Dean’s turn to shake his head as his held up a hand. “You’re telling us you’re our –”

“Guardian Angel, yes,” Edward confirmed with a little smile, before shaking his head ruefully. “Toughest assignment on the board,” he added. “But I had to be a show off, didn’t I?”

Dean blinked. “So – So…You know who we are…?”

“Yes, Dean. I know who you are.”

Dean blinked again.

“And you’ve been watching over us?”

“Yes, Sam.”

“Since…?”

“The night It took your mother.”

Dean straightened, a skeptical frown furrowing his forehead. “Bull,” he said shortly. “You’re full of it.”

Edward tilted his head slightly. “You think you boys would have survived your childhoods without me? Made it to puberty? Made it to adulthood…?”

Dean tried desperately hard not to glance over at Sam, but didn’t quite manage it.

“That Rawhead in Albany?” Edward was saying. “The Shtriga in Fort Douglas?”

Dean’s eyes widened still further. “The Shtriga…?”

“Who do you think made your dad turn around and head back to the motel?” Edward asked. “Just in time to save you both from that thing…”

Dean swallowed. “You did that?” he asked in a small voice.

Edward nodded. “One of my better days. No one does ‘foreboding’ and ‘a sense of dread’ like I do, believe me. You should know, Dean.”

Dean squinted at him. “Huh?”

“The night Jessica died,” Edward clarified, causing Sam to start slightly. “What made you turn around and drive back to Sam’s apartment that night?”

Dean just stared at him, slightly open-mouthed, eyes darting in Sam’s direction. “I don’t –” he began. “I guess…a sense of dread?” he hazarded.

Edward grinned triumphantly. “Like I said.”

Sam shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “Sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job to me,” he said quietly, eyes downcast.

Edward shook his head with a sigh. “Oh, I’m not so sure,” he said earnestly. “I used to think so. But just lately…” he trailed off, wrapping his arms about himself. “Just lately I can’t seem to get things right.”

Dean succeeded in not looking at Sam this time. “‘Just lately’?”

Edward nodded, inclining his head to one side. “I don’t like it when you boys fight,” he said sadly.

Sam stole a wary look in Dean’s direction, his older brother busy spinning the silver ring on his right hand awkwardly. “We – we only fight when things – when things…”

“Go wrong?” Edward supplied.

Sam nodded. “We don’t fight about important stuff. Well. Not very often.”

“Your leaving for Stanford,” Edward said. “You didn’t fight about that, did you?”

Dean continued to stare at his fingers, while Sam tried to drag some words from his suddenly very dry throat.

“That was different.”

“It wasn’t important?”

“It was important,” Sam confirmed.

“But you didn’t fight. You didn’t even talk. For years. Sam, do you know how much danger you were in out there on your own?”

Dean looked up at that.

Sam bit his lip. “I wasn’t… I wasn’t in any danger…”

“Do you know how many things were hovering around you then? How many evil things? You all alone and unprotected?”

“I –”

“No. You don’t. Because you didn’t have any idea they were there. But your dad did. Why d’you think he got so mad when you left?”

Sam couldn’t answer, merely hung his head slightly.

“And you,” Edward continued, turning his attention to Dean, who straightened in surprise. “How many times did you get hurt while he was away?”

Dean shrugged stiffly. “No more than usual…” he began.

“I don’t think so,” Edward said. “Maybe you were just more reckless without another life depending on you. Maybe you just didn’t think your own life was as important. But you definitely let yourself get injured on a lot more hunts in those years than you did before, when you had Sam to look out for.”

“I didn’t ‘let’ myself do anything –” Dean protested.

“No?” Edward challenged. “Well, a lot more went wrong for you when Sam wasn’t there, didn’t it?”

Dean didn’t answer.

“Just like it has these past few weeks. The gargoyle? The exploding pus demon?”

Sam frowned. “You – you had something to do with that?”

Edward shrugged. “It was me who altered your little exorcism, Sam,” he said. “Just enough to make the demon explode rather than implode.”

Dean unconsciously ran a hand through his sticky hair. “Why would you do that?”

“Well,” Edward explained. “If I hadn’t, if the demon had imploded as it was supposed to according to the rite Sam was using, what do you think would have happened to you two?”

The Winchesters stared at him blankly.

“You would have got sucked into whatever Hell Dimension that thing belonged to, right along with it!”

“We – we would?” Sam looked decidedly perturbed. “I almost got us both killed?” His eyes flicked uncertainly towards Dean, who was staring at him fixedly.

Edward nodded. “Oh most definitely,” he said. “As with the gargoyle.”

Dean’s attention shot back to the erstwhile Angel. “Huh? You messed up my Latin?”

Edward shook his head. “No,” he said. “There was nothing wrong with your Latin, Dean. I just turned the page in your Dad’s journal while you were chasing the thing after it snatched Sam. Made you lose your place, that’s all.”

Sam frowned, cheeks coloring as he remembered his earlier diatribe on the inadequacies of Dean’s command of Latin.

Strangely enough, Dean didn’t look in the slightest bit angry…Not with Sam, at least. “Dude,” he ground out. “Again. Why the hell would you do that…?”

“Well,” Edward said slowly, pulling his collar further up around his ears. “If you’d finished the transformation incantation first time out, that gargoyle would have turned back into stone right as it was flying over the freeway – dropping Sam thirty feet onto concrete and asphalt and right into the path of an oncoming eighteen wheeler.”

“Ouch,” Dean muttered, as Sam’s breath hitched in his throat.

“By causing you to have to repeat the whole recitation from the beginning,” Edward continued, “by the time you were finished, the gargoyle was flying over a nice wet swamp. A much softer landing, I think you’ll agree.”

Sam took a deep breath, shooting a glance at Dean that was almost an apology – almost – before managing, “From what I can see, Edward, you’re a pretty fine Guardian Angel.”

“Damn straight,” Dean agreed. “You saved both our asses, dude.”

“No,” Edward said firmly. “I didn’t save your lives. You saved each others’ lives. I just helped you get there.”

The brothers exchanged another uncomprehending glance.

Edward shrugged again, modestly. “Sam, you remember what you did right before the pus demon exploded?”

Sam’s brows drew together thoughtfully as he cast his mind back to the unhappy event. “I –” he began slowly. “I finished the exorcism. And Dean blasted the thing with the sanctified buckshot. When the thing started to implode, that should have opened a portal back to its own Hell Dimension, while the buckshot should have pushed it back through –”

“But it didn’t implode,” Edward observed.

“No,” Sam agreed. “So –”

“You grabbed my collar and yanked me back outta the way just as the thing exploded,” Dean finished for him. “Landed on my ass with you doing that whole human shield thing on top of me.”

The boys held each other’s gaze levelly for a second, before Dean broke the awkward silence. “Not only are you freakishly tall,” he said. “But you’re also freakishly heavy, dude.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth quirked into a begrudging grin. “You’re welcome,” he said.

“And the gargoyle,” Edward put in, causing the brothers to snap their attention back in his direction. The alleged Angel proceeded to look Sam pointedly in the eye before the younger man reluctantly turned his gaze onto his brother.

“You pulled me outta the swamp,” Sam said quietly. “And…if I’m not mistaken, I think I remember you giving me mouth to mouth…”

Dean shuddered. “Some things are best forgotten, Sammy,” he said. “But you’re welcome, too.”

“And that was after he’d run flat out for half a mile screaming Latin at a gargoyle,” Edward put in.

Dean’s cheeks colored, and he became very interested in his boots all of a sudden.

“You see,” Edward said. “I’m happy to help out with the life or death dangers you boys face every day in this job of yours. But, to be honest, you really don’t need a Guardian Angel to watch over you that often in those situations: Not when you’ve got each other.”

Dean continued to stare at his boots, shuffling his feet awkwardly, while Sam stuffed his hands even deeper into his pockets and drew his shoulders up to his ears, as if the cold was the only thing bothering him.

“When things go wrong, when you fight,” Edward continued. “It makes you both that little bit weaker. When you don’t – what’s that phrase you young people use? When you don’t have each others’ backs – that’s when you’re at your most vulnerable. Both of you. To the things out there that are the most dangerous to you. So when I let that happen – when I let things get so bad you two don’t talk, can’t stand to be in the same room – the same state – as each other? Well, that’s when I let you down the most. Because that’s when you’re at your weakest. That’s when you’re in the most danger. The most important protection you boys have is each other. You just need to realize that.”

Sam coughed, and Dean shuffled his feet some more, before the two of them slowly looked up at each other thoughtfully, wordlessly.

Dean, as always, broke the silence first. “Don’t think this means I’m hugging you.”

Sam shrugged. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Just so’s we’re clear,” Dean nodded, before returning his attention to Edward. “And I’m not hugging you either, Clarence,” he added.

“It’s Edward,” the Angel corrected him.

“Right,” Dean agreed. “But maybe you could come down from there and we could talk about the relative merits of colorization in classic Christmas movies?”

“Or –” Sam added. “Maybe we could just say thank you?”

Edward frowned. “You don’t need to thank me for anything, Sam,” he said.

“I think maybe we do,” Sam insisted, his eyes sliding again to Dean’s. “For a lot of stuff.”

Dean nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe you’re not doing such a bad job after all.”

Edward sighed. “From your mouth to my Supervisor’s ears,” he said, before stepping carefully off the railing, descending in a slow, anti-gravitational hover and landing gently in front of the brothers, who both stared at him wide-eyed. “So you’re going to be good boys now?” he asked casually.

Dean frowned. “I’m not sure about that…” he began, before Sam elbowed him in the ribs.

“Absolutely,” the younger man promised. “Now we know what’s at stake.”

“No more fighting then?”

“Can’t promise that either…” Dean said, garnering another poke to the ribs. “Ow – quit it, Sammy –!”

“Dean…?” There was a definite warning in Sam’s eyes, which Dean quickly picked up on, turning an incandescent smile on Edward.

“Wouldn’t wanna get on Santa’s Naughty List,” he said.

Edward grinned. “Good,” he said. “In that case. I have a present for you.”

Sam’s eyebrows disappeared into his shaggy hair. “A present?”

“Uh-huh,” Edward confirmed. “It is the season of giving, after all.”

“Okay,” Dean said. “We’ll play along.”

Edward returned a smile even brighter than Dean’s. And a hell of a lot more sincere. “For one day,” he said earnestly. “Evil will not walk this earth.”

Sam blinked at him. “You can do that?”

“No,” Edward admitted. “But my Supervisor can. Just for one day.”

Dean frowned uncertainly. “You’re giving us a day off?”

“Just one day,” Edward confirmed. “Happy Christmas, boys.”

Sam and Dean just continued to stare at him.

“Well,” Edward said, staring back at them fondly. “My work here is done. Time for me to go.” The color suddenly started to drain from his features, his face and body becoming translucent, almost as if he were no longer solid, no longer standing there. “You boys take care of each other,” he reminded them, both of them nodding dumbly at him before he added, “Oh and Dean? Do you know you have demon goo in your hair?”

***

The drive to the little diner on the outskirts of the next frozen Montana town Sam and Dean encountered was silent, save for the soft pitter patter of snowflakes on the Impala’s windshield.

Pulling into the lot, Dean put the car into park, switched off the engine, and just stared straight forward, making no attempt to move.

“You know,” he said at length, shifting awkwardly on the leather seat. “You make a pretty good human shield.”

Sam snorted softly. “And your Latin’s not so shabby either.”

Dean shook his head. “God, I need some food. C’mon. I’m buying.”

“I think Mr. Cozy Powell’s buying, according to your credit card…”

Exiting the vehicle, Sam followed close as Dean crossed the damp lot, pulling his jacket tighter around him as the snow began to fall a little thicker.

Pushing open the diner door, a bell tinkled above Dean’s head, and he winced visibly. “You gotta be kidding me…”

Sam grinned brightly. “You know what that means, right?”

“You say it, Sam, and you’re gonna be sitting on top of the next Christmas tree I see, I swear…”

“…Every time a bell rings…”

“Sam, I’m not kidding…”

“…An angel gets his wings.”

Dean shook his head. “Eeurgh. Now you’ve put me off my food.”

“Looks like Edward got his promotion.”

Dean just looked at him. “You just keep thinking those happy thoughts, sunshine.”

“And we get a day off.”

“I’m still not hugging you.”

“And you still have demon goo in your hair.”


THE END

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