It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he’s visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God’s divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, “You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.”
But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded.
Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn’t love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die.
One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, “What ails you, friend?” The king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat.”
So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, “How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?”
And the fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”
—The Fisher King, Terry Gilliam/Richard LaGravenese
“Dean,” Sam said quietly when they were in the Impala, “take me to Dolores Street.”
“What’s there?” Dean started up the engine.
Sam was silent a moment or two. “A mission,” he said finally. “I think I need to do something . . . good. For a while.”
“And hunting’s not good?” Dean said, anger flaring, but he tamped it down when Sam turned agonized eyes to him. “Okay, Sammy,” he said gently and pulled out into the street.
“You’ll be okay,” Sam said as they drove. “You’re a survivor. And it’ll just be for a couple weeks, probably. I’ll call you or come find you when I’m ready to come back.”
“You’d better,” Dean said, and tried to look brave and supportive as Sam packed up a backpack of belongings and went into the mission.
Dean found himself a motel, not ready to leave the city just yet, and spent Saturday sleeping. His dreams were peaceful, as they’d been for the last few weeks, even when he took off the malachite amulet and put it with his other relics.
On Sunday he put on his best suit and went back to Grace Cathedral for the Easter services. The clergywoman noticed him and smiled hello, and Dean tried to return the smile. He didn’t linger to talk afterwards, but went out to the courtyard instead. The day was beautiful — the air was so clean and fresh it seemed to dance, and the park across the street was turning a deep, lush green in the clear sunshine. A few people were walking the labyrinth, their steps slow and steady, and he wondered if they’d feel any different about the place if they knew what existed there just beyond their vision.
He had no desire to walk the labyrinth himself but he didn’t want to leave the church just yet. There was a small sculpture garden beyond the labyrinth, so Dean went there. He sat on one of the benches, his elbows on his thighs and his head down.
He missed Sam. He missed Castiel. He had no idea what he was going to do tomorrow.
“You look like you could use a friend, son,” said a man as he joined Dean on the bench, and Dean grimaced.
“Are you sure about that? I’m told I’m a pretty good listener.” Dean looked at him — he was just a guy in a suit, probably one of the parishioners from the cathedral, about John’s age when he died. He looked something like John, too, dark hair and eyes and a sturdy build. “I’m good at keeping secrets, too,” the man added.
Dean looked at the sculpture in the hedge opposite and said, “I’ve just accomplished something I’ve been afraid I couldn’t do, and I lost two people I love in the process. I know it was worth it, but . . . I still feel empty. I don’t know what to do next.”
“As I see it, you have two choices,” the man said. “You can go on doing what you usually do, or you can try something new.”
“Very helpful,” Dean said dryly and covered his face with his hands.
The man patted his back. “There, there, son,” he said gently. “It’s okay. You’re still alive, aren’t you? Where there’s life there’s hope.”
“I don’t have much hope,” Dean said into his hands. He took a deep breath and looked up again. “I hoped . . . maybe, when all this was over, I’d have some kind of reward, you know? Something to say, Good job. You’ve earned this. Instead . . .”
“And the work itself wasn’t a reward?” the man said gently.
“I guess.” He frowned. “No. I mean, yeah, of course, because it was a good thing, but . . . I’d just like my friends back.”
The man chuckled, and then gestured to the courtyard, the cathedral, the city. “Look at all of this,” he said. “Bustling with life and activity, full of people who love each other, observing a day they hardly think about the rest of the year. But they’re extra grateful this year, even if they don’t know why.” He looked at Dean with wise, dark eyes. “But you know why.”
Dean narrowed his eyes at him. “Who are you?”
The man smiled, stood and kissed Dean on the forehead. “You did good, son,” he said gently, and walked down the garden path to the street.
Dean jumped up to follow him, but by the time he was at the street the man was out of sight.
Monday morning, Dean left San Francisco. He didn’t know where else to go so he went back to Bobby’s, arriving there late Tuesday. He told the story, ate the pancakes Bobby put in front of him, and slept like the dead on Bobby’s couch.
He stayed for a few weeks, going with Bobby to jobs or helping with the junkyard, and finally struck out on a job of his own when he felt he was straining Bobby’s patience. He knew he was always welcome, just not for quite so long.
The job was simple enough, just a salt and burn, and Dean thought maybe he could handle hunting solo for a while no matter how much he missed Sam. A few times at night he thought he heard the rustling of wings in his hotel room, but of course there was no evidence of a celestial visitor to be found in the morning.
He tried to pray a few times but he didn’t know what to say.