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Bridge Over Troubled Water

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Pain rockets through Dean’s arm, waking him up. It was just another stupid dream, warped and twisted into something the Mark enjoyed more than Dean. His fingers dig into the raised flesh on his forearm. He can feel that he’s sweat through his shirt. It would be hard to ignore, what with full drops of sweat rolling down his back as he takes slow and deep breaths to pull out of the nightmare. 

When his heart slows and his breathing is back to normal, Dean throws the blankets off and makes his way through the bunker to the bathroom. He locks the door and cranks the hot water before leaning against the sink, the porcelain under his palms cold under his grip. He stares into the mirror, silently reminding himself that he’s in control, not the Mark. He will not lose himself. Steam swallows his reflection.

With one finger, Dean draws what looks like a squiggle on the mirror. It’s the only Enochian symbol he knows. He had memorized it after Cas had drawn it for him. It wasn’t a present or anything. They had been curious about angel names and the human bastardization of their names. Well, Sam was. Dean just wanted another piece of Cas to cling to. 

His reflection shows through the Enochian spelling of Castiel before Dean swipes his hand through his drawing and sheds his sweat-soaked clothes. He holds his arm out under the too-hot water first, scorching the Mark. When his entire forearm is bright red, he twists on the cold water and steps the rest of the way in. 

Dean’s eyes close as he puts his face into the stream of warm water and all he can see is Cas’ true form from the short-lived glances he’d gotten when he was a demon. Blue eyes steal the show, melting away the angelic vision. The Mark, ever-present and more than willing to disrupt any peace that Dean feels, dull the blue eyes that Dean loves, sucking the life out and making Dean’s heart slam in his chest. His eyes flash open as he gasps and chokes on the water pouring onto his face. 

He rakes his nails down his arms, hurting the Mark right back, but it doesn’t do any good. It never does. Just like everything else Dean has tried so far. 

Dean finishes his shower quickly, hating to be alone with his own thoughts anymore. He steals Sammy’s hair products, lathering up his short hair in the much-more-than-quarter-sized dollop of shampoo and conditioner respectively. His own body soap is better than Sam’s though. Boy knows how to take care of his hair, but Dean obviously has the better soap. 

Dean dries off and pulls on the soft gray robe before wrapping the towel hat up over his hair. Dean takes comfort in the small things like his plush robes, expensive and stolen soaps, and the steam that surrounds him after a hot shower, the mist filling his lungs and softening his face. Dean can’t relax right now though. He tries, forcing himself to take a deep breath of the steam, but more than anything, he just wants to get dressed and go for a drive. 

Usually, Dean would stay in the bathroom, relaxing in his steam room as he groomed himself. Shaving, nail trimming, hair products, and if he’d brought cucumber slices, a full facial (not that he would ever admit to it) was what always had Sam banging on the door, reminding Dean that he isn’t the only one who lives there. Today, Dean leaves before Sam is even back from his morning jog. 

He pulls on his boxers and faded jeans, but as he reaches for his shirt, his phone starts to ring. He grabs his phone instead and checks the caller ID. Donna Hanscum. 

He hadn’t seen her since the vampire hunt a few weeks ago. The one that Jody said she could handle and Dean couldn’t stay out of. The one where the Mark wasn’t urging him to murder everyone in sight. The one where the sweet Sheriff that he’d met about a year ago at that fat-sucking spa was told that monsters are real. 

“Donna?” Dean picks up, grabbing his shirt now that his phone is pressed between his shoulder and his face. 

“Heya, Dean!” her bubbly voice answers. Dean can’t help but smile. She is a literal ray of sunshine. 

“What’s up? How ya been doin’?” He should have called her or Jody sooner to make sure she was doing okay after the vamp hunt. 

“If I had a tail I’d wag it!” They both laugh for a moment before she continues. “I was callin’ ‘cause our one-year friendaversary is here and, uh… See, before the whole ‘monsters are real and here’s a machete to chop off their head’ thing, I kind of got us some tickets to go to the spa together. Thought it would be cute seein’ as that was when we became friends. I don’t know if that’s awkward, though. What with the whole monster-spa bein’ what it was…” 

“What the hell is a friendaversary?” 

“Oh! That’s an anniversary for your friendships!” It’s ridiculous, weird, a little bit crazy… and adorable. 

“When’s our spa day?” Dean asks, yanking his shirt on and transitioning the phone into his hand. 

“Oh, uh, tomorrow. I got nervous and waited 'til the last moment. It’s okay if you can’t make it.”

“No, I’ll be there,” Dean promises, already on his way to the garage. 

“Great!” He can hear her grin through the phone and it’s contagious. This is the phone call he needed after last night’s nightmare. “I hope you don’t mind, but I was going to invite Sam on a different day so we had time, ya know?” 

“Perfect.”

“Great, I’ll text you the time and place!” 

“I’ll see you there, Donna.” 

“Bye, Dean!” 

He hangs up the phone, grabs his keys, and goes to the kitchen to grab a coffee while he waits for the text with an address. He leans against the counter as he hugs the mug between his palms. 

His phone buzzes and he reads the screen as he takes a sip of the caffeine. 

“You’re awake!” Sam says, announcing himself as he enters the kitchen. Dean pockets his phone and nods, playing sleepy as he lets his eyelids droop a little. He grunts into his mug to complete the look. “Or not,” Sam corrects himself incorrectly.  

Sam half laughs and grabs himself a glass of water. “What’re you doing today?”

“Am I still on research duty?” Dean asks. The research for the Mark is wielding no results. More frustrating than helpful, Dean has been confined to researching. Sam makes a face. “I think I need some fresh air,” Dean says before Sam can come up with another good reason why they should continue searching. 

“Oh?”

“Just going to go for a drive.” Dean finishes his coffee and washes the mug while Sam watches him. He thinks Dean doesn’t notice. He notices. He can feel Sam’s concern biting into him whenever he looks away. 

“I’ll stick to the books. Try to find something,” Sam promises. 

“Call me if you find anything,” Dean nods. 

“Have a good drive.” 

Dean nods again and leaves the kitchen, swinging his keys around his finger as he walks out of the bunker toward his beautiful car. He plops into his seat and runs one hand over the wheel as he puts the keys into the ignition. He can’t remember the last time he did anything for himself. He was going to have to thank Donna. 

The drive is the kind that should take about nine hours. Under Dean’s lead foot, it only takes six. He walks away from his car as gas pumps from the nozzle into the tank. He plays with his phone for a moment before dialing Donna Hanscum. 

“Heya, Dean!” Donna answers on the first ring. 

“Hey, uh. So I’m in town, grabbing some gas. Did you want to get this frienda-..? Anniversary friend thing?-”

“Friendaversary,” Donna supplies the strange word. 

“Friendaversary. Right. Did you want to grab a bite today?” Dean liked being around other people even if he was used to lying through his teeth. He liked helping people and on the special, rare occasions, connecting. Donna speaks his language. She’s goofy and easy to be around. And if Dean was being completely honest, he didn’t want to be alone right now. “If you don’t, that’s okay. I’ll just find a motel and see you in the morning.”

“Stop speakin’ nonsense! You’ll sleep here if you want to! I have the sleepovers in all of Minnesota, but don’t go checkin’ up on that,” she laughs. “We can grab some lunch! I’ll meet you at Brick & Bourbon! You’ll just love it!”

“Sounds good.” 

Dean had never heard of this place, but the name is promising. Anything with bourbon in the title is probably up Dean’s alley. 

He walks back to his car after looking up directions real quick and makes his way over to Main Street. It’s an adorable street lined with brick buildings. Cute stores have people milling from building to building. A few people sit in the ice cream place. No one has a care in the world. Why should they? They haven’t been researching ancient curses given to Cain by God. Their arms and hearts don’t ache. They weren’t recently murdered by an angel only to wake up, the fires of Hell burning within them and turning their eyes black. No. They’re happy, holding hands as they smile and laugh, pointing to cute shirts in windows or stepping into restaurants. 

And that’s exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s off-duty. He’s away for the weekend to have a spa day with his friend on their friendaversary. No research. No pain in his arm as he finds some parking. No fake badge or stiff suit. Just him, grabbing lunch like his life isn’t falling apart. Dean takes a deep breath. He needed this. 

Dean finds a small lot and parks next to a black Ford F-150 Raptor. From the looks of it, it’s the special edition. The license plate says D-TRAIN. Dean smiles to himself as he cuts his own engine. He has a feeling he already knows the owner of this truck. 

Dean walks inside and finds Donna. She gets up from her seat at their table to greet Dean with a grin and a hug. He smiles back as he walks over, hugging her tight before they part and both take seats. 

“It’s good to see you,” Dean says as he settles into his seat across from her. “You’re looking great!”

“Thanks! I lost six pounds.” She says it proudly, tilting her chin up and striking a pose with her hands on her hips. “Not because of any monsters this time, too!” Dean can’t help but laugh at that and she relaxes, sitting back. 

“Oh, hey Donna,” a waitress says as she walks over and hands them both menus. “Finally dating after Doug, I see.” She winks and Donna pales. 

“Uh, no. Not quite there,” Donna smiles uncomfortably. 

“I’m her cousin, Dean,” Dean interrupts with his best Minnesotan accent as he extends his hand and smiles. The waitress shakes his hand and has the good sense to look a little embarrassed. “Just visiting for the weekend.” 

“Well, it’s good to meetcha, Dean. Any friend of Donna’s is a friend of ours.” She smiles, still looking embarrassed. “I’ll leave you with the menus and be back with water in a moment.” 

Donna lets out a whispered laugh, leaning over the table. “She wasn’t expectin’ that, that’s for darn sure.”

“I hope that was okay,” Dean half laughs as he picks up his menu. 

“Oh, yeah. You betcha. That was great!” Donna sighs out the last of her laughs as she picks up her own menu. “I don’t even know why I’m lookin’ at this thing.”

“Why? What’s good?”

“They have a great charred caesar salad-”

“That’s a pass on the rabbit food. I tried it once.” Dean makes a face and Donna laughs. “What burger is your favorite?”

“I haven’t had a burger here in ages. Not since the divorce, actually. Hey, what do you mean you tried it once ?” 

“It’s a long story,” Dean says as he shifts in his seat. 

“Wouldja look at all the time I’ve got!” Donna sits back and crosses her arms to show she’s ready for whatever he’s got to say. Dean is sure she’s still not ready. She was just introduced to vampires. She might not be ready for any kind of backstory to Dean’s life, but he’s not going to be the one to decide that for her. 

“I was brainwashed into thinking I was someone else for two weeks by an angel named Zachariah —I call him Zach— whose goal was to get me to say yes to an archangel who wanted to use me as a meatsuit so he could end Lucifer and stop the apocalypse. Anyway, the person I thought I was for those two weeks was this weirdo health-nut who drank green smoothies and ate salads. When I snapped out of it I was starving to death. First thing I did was eat two burgers and drink a good beer.” 

Donna doesn’t say anything. Her mouth is wide open, her jaw practically on the table. Her arms had uncrossed, her palms flat on the table as she leans forward. Her eyes are filled with questions, curiosity, and maybe a little bit of fear for the way Dean has lived his life. Or the word apocalypse. She probably hadn’t know that was a thing a few years ago. 

“Wait, angels?” Oh angels is what she’s caught up on. “Apocalypse?” There it is. “This is a joke,” she says, a crooked smile attempting to change her face. 

“Nope. That was back in… uh, had to be 2009? Could have been 2008. I just know it happened after I used my get out of Hell free card.” 

“H-E- double hockey sticks!” The shock is back on her face. 

“Have you decided on what to order?” the waitress asks as she approaches the table. 

“Uh, yeah,” Dean says, looking back up at the waitress. “I’ll have a Wiseman Burger, medium rare, and your Rogue Choc Stout. Thanks.”

“Just the usual,” Donna says, handing her menu over with a small grimace. “With the Bent Golden Paddle IPA. Thanks, Lena.”

“Alright, coming right up!” 

“Okay, so how I told you was a little rough,” Dean admits. Donna nods. “You already know about vampires. You’ve got a great swing, by the way.” 

“Thanks.” Her face lights up at the compliment. Judging by her reaction, she hasn’t heard enough of them recently. “Jodes also told me about zombies, werewolves, all your basic horror flick monsters.” 

“Okay, awesome. So, you already know the movies are shit.” Donna nods seriously. “There’s other monsters too, though. Demons. Demons come with angels. Rule number one: angels are dicks. Well… Not all of them, but he’s a different story.”

“So angels and demons are real and one angel isn’t a dick?”

Dean thinks about it for a moment. He can’t classify Cas the same way he does all the rest. They get in fights. They have misunderstandings. They have fun, though. They talk and laugh and learn from each other. It doesn’t matter how mad he gets, he loves Cas. 

“Well, one saved me from Hell. He’s our friend.” Donna nods, accepting the exception to the first rule. “I guess not all demons are terrible either. There’s always exceptions…” He used to shoot first and ask questions later, but that had always been wrong. Just like people, monsters had stories. Not all of them were cold blooded killers. Benny had been the best vampire he’d ever known. Meg had gone above and beyond to help them. The jury is still out on Crowley. 

“I thought we prayed to angels. I thought they were on our side.” 

“You can still pray. They do listen. I’m not going to take that away from you. They just don’t make great movie companions, ya know?” Or conversationalists, friends, business partners… 

“Oh. Yeah.” The way she says yeah is more like yah . Her accent is intense and Dean loves it. It’s part of what makes her so bubbly and good. 

“Don’t worry, you’ll work your way up to hunting with time and cases of the basic stuff. It’ll be a long time before you end up facing any of these guys. Uh, that is, if you decide to.”

“Do you think I should?” 

“I don’t know about should. I just know you’ve got good aim and no hesitation. You’d be a rockstar.” She grins again and nods.

“Okay then!” Donna says this like someone else might agree to a big business deal that they’ve been working on for months and can’t contain their excitement. “Okee dokee,” she sighs with a grin, shrugging her shoulders all the way up before letting them fall. 

There’s always mixed feelings when it comes to recruiting a new hunter. On one hand, yay, new hunter. On the other, she used to be innocent. She was just a friendly cop who was helpful instead of hindering for once. Now, she had killed a vampire to save her friend and was on her way to becoming a hunter. Would the no friends rule apply to her too? She’s so excited, but she hasn’t yet met the demons that will haunt her. Anyway, she’s good at her job. Protect and serve to protect and save isn’t a far stretch and she already has friends in the hunter community, but Dean has a feeling she makes friends wherever she goes. 

“So, D-TRAIN?” Dean asks with a smirk as the waitress brings their drinks. 

“Darn tootin’,” she grins. “Choo, choo!” She pumps her arm twice and lets out a laugh. 

They pick up their beers at the same time and take a synchronized gulp. Dean has to force himself not to just chug the entire thing. He’s not always like this, but recently he’d been drinking his beer by the pack instead of by the bottle. Spa weekend. He was here to relax. He allows himself an extra sip before putting the mostly-full glass down on the table again. 

When the food comes out, Dean’s jaw almost drops when he sees the two sad dishes that are placed in front of his friend. A side salad and a single chicken slider. Dean looks at his own plate with the gigantic burger, delicious and mouth-watering. His eyes stray again, up to the pitiful platter in front of Donna. 

“What the fuck?” he asks simply, finding no other words. 

“What?” 

“Uh, is that a joke? Where’s your food?” Dean points to the slider, that maybe as an appetizer would have been delicious, but could never pass for a meal. “Is this about losing weight because of that douchebag?” 

Donna turns a shade of red that makes Dean’s stomach flip. He doesn’t want to hurt her, but she needs to let go of this insane idea that the weight she has is a problem. Dean, while not attracted to her, knows that she is beautiful. She doesn’t need to take shit from anyone about any kind of weight. This is ridiculous. 

“You’ve been doing great with everything. Coping with the divorce and working on yourself, but you and I both know that eating that isn’t going to help you. You’re allowed to enjoy your food. You’re allowed to eat real food and feel beautiful.” Dean switches their plates. 

“What are you doing?” Donna asks in a whisper, her brown eyes wide. 

“I’ll eat this...” Dean looks down at the salad with distaste. “Love yourself.” Dean gestures for her to eat his burger as he picks up a fork and stabs into the lettuce. 

Donna’s smile sneaks across her lips as she watches him take a bite. “Okay,” she agrees bravely, picking up the burger that requires both hands. She sinks her teeth in and smiles with closed lips as she chews the first burger she’s had in awhile.  

“How’s that?” Dean asks, smiling despite the healthy green flavor in his mouth. 

“Delicious,” Donna answers with her mouth full. 

Dean pushes the salad to the side and flags down the waitress. “I’ll have what she’s having,” he says with a wink.

Chapter Text

“Here it is: my humble abode,” Donna says as she leads Dean through the front door. The first thing Dean notices about the living room are the pictures. Propped up in their frames on the bookshelves and hanging on the walls are pictures of Donna and who had to be her loved ones. Smiling faces beam from the glossy paper out at the room. There’s one new one. Jody stands next to Donna. Everyone is in their uniforms. Jody has a crooked smirk which looks comical beside Donna’s look of absolute delight. 

Dean hadn’t noticed himself walking into the living room and right up to the photos to inspect them, but there he is, his nose practically pressed against the glass, his heart breaking. His photos are faded, torn, bent, and shoved into a drawer. When he had lived with Lisa for that year, she had had photos up around the house like this. She had invited him to put up his own, make himself feel more at home. When he didn’t, she didn’t ask questions. Instead, they took a few posed pictures on family picnics and dates so that there would be some that he could hang onto. He didn’t keep them. When they broke up, those photos were remade by Cas, Dean’s image fading from each one. 

Dean tears his eyes away and clears his throat as he takes in the rest of the space. Donna leads him around, showing him where the kitchen and bathrooms are. 

“So how do you want to do this? Slumber party in the living room or you can have the living room to yourself. If I can find the stuff for it, we can camp in the backyard.” 

“First one sounds good, I guess.” 

Dean had his own room at the bunker and that sacred space was his , but he hated sleeping in new spaces alone. He was used to sharing motel rooms with Sam, sleeping back to back with Benny in Purgatory, finding a one night stand to share a bed with when he was traveling alone, or researching through the night. Options a-d were out of the question and this was a friendaversary. Might as well have a sleepover and gossip until the early hours. 

“Oh for sure,” Donna beams. “Bring in your stuff then!” 

 

Dean returns only a few minutes later with his pre-packed bag that he keeps in the Impala. Both couches are set up with bedding and both look impossibly comfy. Dean plops his bag on the end of one couch and sits down to pull off his boots. 

Donna comes back into the room with two glasses of water. She sets them on coasters and sits on the second made-up couch. Dean notices the cartoon peanut butter and jelly socks that Donna’s wearing. Why don’t more men socks have cute food drawings all over them? Dean would wear some if they had any. 

“We can watch something and get drunk before playin’ games or the other way around,” Donna suggests. “What sounds good to ya?”

“The obvious choice here is to get drunk while watching Miss Congeniality.” Dean says it more as a joke than anything else, but Donna agrees immediately. 

“Get comfy in your jammies and I’ll bring the wine! We’re about to get white girl wasted!” Donna says excitedly, getting up again before Dean can protest or answer in any way. When she’s out of the room, Dean allows himself a smile that takes over the shocked expression he had been wearing. No teasing had come when he’d offered up some goofy rom-com. No questions either. Just a demand to get into his jammies and drink hard liquor. 

 Dean goes to his bag and pulls out a pair of gray plaid pajama pants and his black hoodie before heading to the bathroom to change. It’s only three in the afternoon and he’s putting pajamas on. He’s been chatting and having fun since he got here and his arm hasn’t bothered him once. He mentally marks the first half of today a win and bundles up his jeans in his arms before leaving the bathroom. 

When he gets back out to the living room, Donna isn’t back yet, but the coffee table is filled with tall bottles of wines and spritzers. Red, white, and rosé are all present next to a cheese plate with crackers and grapes. 

Donna returns in fluffy pink pants with a gray t-shirt. She looks excited, thrilled even. She goes to her DVD collection and grabs the movie of choice, showing Dean over her shoulder before popping it into the player and grabbing the remote. She takes a seat next to Dean on the couch. 

“Straight from the bottle?” Dean asks, noticing the lack of glassware on the coffee table. 

“Oh, yeah. You betcha!” Donna grins, grabbing a bottle and uncorking it. 

The movie starts and so does their quiet sips as they pass the bottle back and forth. The uncertainty of watching a movie for the first time with someone new keeps them from commentating or slouching into the couch. They watch each other for reactions to scenes until the wine loosens them up. 

Miss Rhode Island, describe your perfect date,” Captain Kirk of the beauty pageant says on screen. 

“That's a tough one. I'd have to say April 25, because it's not too hot, not too cold,” Miss Rhode Island replies in sync with Donna. Dean bursts out laughing and looks over at Donna who has joined him. 

 

Dean grabs some grapes and pops a few into his mouth before he pauses and looks over at his friend. “You know how they’re all like friends and whatever?” Dean asks.

“Yah,” Donna says slowly, looking over at Dean as she eats a cracker. 

“They teach her like all the makeup stuff and the hair and the… the stuff or whatever?” Dean says, waving his hand vaguely at the screen. Donna’s smile grows wider as she follows his train of thought. “So like, every time I joke about slumber parties, I always say we can braid Sam’s hair.”

“You can’t braid hair, can ya?” 

“Nope,” Dean shakes his head as he grabs another bottle of wine. Onto bottle number four. They had given up on sharing a while ago. She was still on her second bottle, nearing the end of it. 

“I’ll teach you, but you’re going to have to braid my hair,” Donna says, too smiley to come across as serious. They both start laughing and lean into each other to finish the movie off. They sing the song together as the pageant ladies ascend and descend their staircase together. They make kissy noises at the tv as the love interest finally kisses the main character. As the credits run, Donna gets up and does a strange run-slash-shuffle down the hallway to grab the hair essentials. 

Dean grabs his phone and dials the first number for pizza delivery that the Google on his phone offers up to his buzzed search. 

Donna comes back with a brush and two black hair-ties. She takes Miss Congeniality out of the DVD player and replaces it with The Proposal. She sits down on the floor in front of Dean, her back against the couch between his legs and hands him the brush and hair-ties over her shoulder. 

“I still don’t know what I’m doing,” Dean tells her as he starts to brush her golden hair. 

“After you finish getting the tangles out, split into three sections.” Donna pops a grape in her mouth and presses play on the movie. Dean works carefully, brushing out all of the knots before setting the brush aside and making three sections. 

Donna pulls the left section over her shoulder and tells him to hold the other two. “Now cross the right one over the middle one.” He does and she takes the middle-now-right piece to put it over her shoulder as she hands him the left one. “Same thing. Left over middle.” 

Dean does as he’s told and soon, he’s weaving the world’s loosest braid. He ties it off and proudly looks at the poofy mess. Donna pulls it to the side to inspect it. 

“Oofta. Good first try. Do it again, but pull tighter so it’s not so…” She giggles and shakes her head, dropping the braid. “Poof.” 

“Gottcha.” Dean says, taking the tie out and running his fingers through his previous work to start again. This one he does on his own, listening to the movie and concentrating very hard on pulling tight, but not too tight. It still turns out weirdly lumpy, the top of the braid tighter than the middle and then the tip regaining some structure. He may have gone out of order at one point too. 

The doorbell rings and Donna pauses the movie as Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds stand in their shared bedroom awkwardly. Dean gets up, stepping around her and going to the door to grab the pizza. Not bothering with wine glasses, they also don’t bother with plates. Dean sits on the ground next to Donna and balances the pizza box on their knees. 

“Beautiful,” Donna says, mock tearing up as Dean opens the box. They take their slices and take their bites at the same time. “Mmm…” 

“Mhm,” Dean answers, smiling.

 

“So, you braided my hair. Another slumber party classic is painting nails,” Donna informs him, slurring a little now that his sixth bottle of wine has a dent in it. Dean nods. “What color do you want?” 

“Me?” Dean asks, looking at his nails and considering the question. “I have no idea.” 

“I’ll get the colors!” She runs off down the hallways and Dean drops his hand and looks up at the movie again. When his friend returns, she has a box of potions. Bottles of every shape, size, and color fill the bin that she puts in front of Dean. 

“I was thinkin’ green to go with your eyes,” Donna suggests, grabbing a few different greens and putting them into Dean’s hands. The bottles clink as he looks at the different shades of green. 

“This one, but only my toes so Sam doesn’t see,” he says, holding out a sparkly dark green. Donna takes the bottle from him as he takes off his socks and turns to face her. 

Dean grabs a pillow from the couch and leans back on it as he relinquishes his feet to his friend, looking at the ceiling. He tries not to laugh as Donna weaves something between his toes to separate them. 

“Stop squirming!” Donna giggles.

“I am not!” Dean protests immediately, even though he had been wiggling at the strange feeling. He bites the inside of his cheek as he looks back down at his feet and sees tissue stuck between his toes. “Is it too late to change my mind?”

“On color? No,” Donna smiles wickedly. “On getting your little piggies painted… yep!” 

“Fuck,” Dean groans, covering his face to hide the smile. He’s sure she can hear it anyway. When he looks again, his toenails are becoming green and glittered. One foot is finished with the first coat. He watches as she carefully works on his left foot. 

“Don’t fudge this up,” Donna warns, her eyes catching him watching without raising her head. Dean stays perfectly still as he watches her work, waiting to wiggle his toes until she’s done. 

“Is it done?” Dean asks as she gets up to change the movie. 

“No, just dryin’. Lake House or While You Were Sleeping?” Donna asks, holding up the two movies in questions. 

“Lake House,” they say together. Donna grins as she puts the movie in and returns to Dean’s feet. He has the remote now. He waits for her to be situated before pressing play. 

“You’ve seen this one before, then?” Donna asks.

“Oh, yeah. You betcha,” Dean says seriously, nodding. 

“Shut up!” Donna laughs, smacking his leg gently. 

 

“Truth,” Dean says into the dark. He’s lying on the couch, his eyes open and fixed on where the ceiling would be if he could see it. The room still smells vaguely like pizza. 

“How did you become a hunter?” Donna asks from the other couch. The question, asked to any other person might have been innocent. It could have been a story of a parent taking their child out to a blind to look down a scope at some animals that were soon to become dinner. 

“Short version or the long version?” Dean sighs, putting an arm under his head to open up his chest that suddenly feels just a little tighter. 

“Oofta…” 

“Short version is that my mom was killed by a demon and my dad needed to solve it. Might take roughly fifteen years to tell the long version so I’ll leave it there. Truth or dare?”

“Truth,” Donna says with determination. 

“Are you done with killing yourself because of Doug?” 

“I mean dare,” Donna says quickly.

“Nope.”

Donna muffles her groan in the pillow. “It’s easier said than done,” she answers after a moment. “Yes. I haveta.” 

“Promise me.”

“I pinky promise.” Between the couches, they both reach toward the other and link their pinkies for a moment before taking their hands back. 

“Alright then,” Dean nods even though she can’t see him.

“Truth or dare?” 

“Truth. You’re not going to catch me taking a dare until you do.”

“Have you ever been in love?” 

Dean’s heart stops in his chest. Blue eyes flash in the dark as his face heats. Butterflies fill his stomach as his angel’s name threatens to cross his lips. 

Dean clears his throat and shuts his eyes tight as Donna gasps. He can hear the excitement and joy in the simple sound. “Once,” Dean admits. 

“Currently?” Donna asks eagerly. 

“No two questions in a row, cheater! Truth or dare?”

“Dare!”

“I dare you to burn everything you still own of Doug’s.” Dean smirks at his own fantastic dare. Dares are usually so hard to come up with. 

“Okay, in a minute. Are you currently in love?” 

“I haven’t chosen a truth or a dare yet!” Dean protests.

“Truth or dare?” Donna asks impatiently.

“Dare!” Dean bursts out, sitting up. 

“I dare you to tell me if you are currently in love!”

Dean covers his face with his hands and falls back onto his pillows. Every Hello, Dean keeps his heart beating. Every glance in the rear view mirror to meet those eyes keeps him moving. Every shoulder brush, missed reference, and squint fills his lungs with air. “Yes, okay? Yes. I am currently in love. Can we go burn a box of shit now, please?”

Donna squeals before turning on a lamp. Dean keeps his face hidden from her, the red in his cheeks still as hot as the fire in Hell. 

“Well, come on,” Donna says after retrieving her box. Dean sits up and follows her out to the backyard. There’s a fire pit that’s begging to be lit and a blanket above them, the constellations mapped out across it. 

“I’ll start the fire?” Dean offers. Donna presses her lips together and nods. “Look, if it’s too soon, I can give you another dare.”

“No. Two years is long enough. You’re right. I should be treating myself better. I will.”

Dean nods and turns back to the pit, building up a good start before whipping out the silver lighter. The lighter itself had done worse. Usually used in burning bodies, Dean imagined it was good to burn something normal once in awhile. 

Dean takes one step back so he’s next to his friend. She glances at him and then down to the box in her arms. She heaves a sigh and nods once, pulling a stack of letters out of the box. 

“He used to write me love letters. They stopped when we got married, but I held onto them,” Donna admits. She drops them into the flames and watches them burn for a moment before reaching back into the box. 

Dean watches her shoulders relax and her face become more calm as she unburdens herself of pictures, a stained sweater, his old business cards, and other useless items that belonged to a useless man. When she’s done, Donna leads Dean up to sit on the porch swing with her to watch the fire consume all of it. 

“Can I have a hug?” Donna asks softly without looking at him. Dean doesn’t hesitate. He pulls her close against his side on the swing and keeps his arms tight around her. He rests his cheek on top of her head. “Thanks, Dean.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, the living room is filled with the regretful groans of the hungover. Dean buries his face in his pillow as Donna sits up and stumbles off to find water and aspirin. Dean listens to her feet retreat and starts to doze again. He jolts back awake when Donna grabs his arm and presses the medicine into it. 

Dean does as he’s told and takes the pills, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. He hasn’t had a hangover with the Mark on his arm. It doesn’t matter how much he drinks, his would-be hangover is all crammed into the squiggle on his arm, bursting with pain.

“I’ll make breakfast,” Dean grunts. Donna nods into her water. 

Cooking in someone else’s kitchen has never been a problem Dean’s had. He can’t remember the last time he stayed at a home that wasn’t his. He finds the pots and pans, setting up the stove before he goes into the fridge to pull out the eggs, bread, and bacon. 

Donna comes in when the pans heat up and the smells start to circulate.  Donna’s braid, already a mess before she fell asleep, is a catastrophe now. Dean plates their greasy breakfast and they take their seats at the counter next to each other. 

“So, what was that? Ten bottles?” Donna asks after a moment. Sam does this to him. He knows. He knows he drinks a lot. He’s aware how bad it is. He’s also the one with this stupid mark on his arm. He’s the one who is currently weighing the pros and cons of amputation, not that the Mark would let that happen. He’s sure he tried that before. Before the demon thing. 

“Nine, I think,” Dean corrects her. 

“Thinking we’re going to stick to mocktails today.”

“Mocktail?” Dean doesn’t like the sound of it, but he knows she’s right. He puts his hands up in surrender to keep it light. “Okay, okay.”

“Good.” Donna nods once. “This is delicious, by the way,” she says around a full bite. 

Dean pretends to be humble for a full second before saying, “I know. My cooking is the best.” She bats at his shoulder and he tries to hide his flinch from the immediate pain. 

“What was that?” Donna asks, chewing slower. 

“Nothing. Where do you keep the towels? I need a shower,” Dean tries, getting up and backing away from her. 

“Dean Winchester, come back here,” Donna demands, getting up and following him. “Geez!” She succeeds in grabbing his arm and this time his face screws up before he can hide it. 

Worry clouds her face as she pushes his sleeve up and finds the raised and red brand on his arm. Dean yanks it back down as he wrenches his arm away from her. 

“What in the-”

“It’s fine, Donna. It’s nothing. I’m fine.” Dean watches her pale. “Look, I’m going to take a shower, get dressed, and explain. Alright?” 

She nods slowly and goes with Dean back to the living room where he sits her back down on the couch before she faints or falls. 

“It’s-”

“Don’t lie to me one more time, Dean,” Donna warns. It’s his turn to be stunned into silence. He sighs and agrees with a bob of his head. Donna grips his hand that’s on her shoulder, keeping him from leaving. 

“I don’t really know where to start,” Dean admits. 

“The beginning.”

“In the beginning, there were two brothers called Cain and Abel,” Dean offers. 

“That’s not funny,” Donna interrupts. 

“No, not really, but it’s relevant.” Dean sighs and readjusts. He does his best to explain the first Mark and how he came about getting it without mentioning his own death. “Sam and I are finding a way to get it off, though,” Dean promises weakly. “It just hurts sometimes. I really am okay. In pain and a little worse for wear, but I am okay.”

Donna throws her arms around him in a tight hug. He wishes he’d had an actual friendship with her before. They started out on good terms, but strangers. This is their third meeting, and she’s already this worked up and involved with his life. She cares. She also needs him as much as he needs her. At least, he hopes. Dean hugs back and doesn’t dare end it until she’s ready to break it. 

When she does let her arms fall away, she heaves a heavy sigh and slaps her knees. “Alright. No more of this. This is a good day.” 

They take turns taking showers. Dean goes first, and despite having grown up in motels using different shower knobs every other week, he still fumbles. He turns the heat on high and scorches the Mark as has become his ritual before actually washing himself. The heaviness from the morning drips down the drain as he covers himself in tropical smelling soap. 

He dresses in the bathroom and exits, his pajamas bundled in his arms ready to be discarded into the duffle bag. Donna is on the back porch, a cup of tea in her hands as she swings idly on the porch swing that they had watched the fire from the night before. 

“Shower’s open,” Dean announces, sitting down next to her. 

“Do you want to finish this?” Donna asks. Dean takes it from her and takes a sip. It’s not terrible, but it’s not coffee. “I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” she promises, patting Dean’s knee before getting up. 

Dean watches her disappear back into the house before looking back at the firepit and swinging gently. Ashes of her past fill the pit. He’s leaving after the day at the spa and she shouldn’t have to clean it up alone. 

Dean puts the now-empty mug on the railing before walking down to the fire pit and getting on his hands and knees, cleaning it out into the empty box that they’d left there. Unfortunately, he knows he doesn’t have enough time to make it perfect, but he can try. 

When the box is filled and the pit is empty, Dean takes the box to the trash. He grabs a few logs from the stack and makes a small pyre to be decorative until her next fire. 

Donna walks into the backyard to find Dean covered in black ash. She lets out a surprised laugh and he turns around with a guilty smile. 

“You’re goin’ to need to change and clean up again,” Donna laughs. Dean does as he’s told, changing into his hoodie and a new pair of jeans after washing the soot from his hands. 

“Car’s packed with essentials. Ready to go?” 

“You’re driving?”

“Darn tootin’!” 

Dean thinks about protesting, but it was her invitation. Dean doesn’t say another word about it as he follows her out to D-TRAIN. He hops into the passenger seat and feels excitement flood him. When was the last time he was at a spa to relax and unwind? Never. 

“Thanks for this,” Dean says as Donna starts driving. 

“Thanks for comin’. Wasn’t sure you would,” Donna admits as she smiles over at him. They both look back out at the road and watch as Stillwater fades away. 

 

The spa is already way too nice and Dean’s only made it as far as the front desk. Donna walks up, coupons in hand, to check them in. Dean inspects everything around them. Crystals and essential oils. Aroma therapy and expensive jewelry. The music playing is gentle and soothing. 

“And who’s checking in?” the receptionist asks kindly with a soft voice and a smile. 

“Donna Hanscum and Dean Hanscum,” Donna says. Dean spins on his heel and meets Donna’s wide eyes. She makes a face and he turns back around before the receptionist sees the silent conversation. “He’s my cousin,” Donna says quickly. 

“Fantastic. We have those reservations right here. Two full body massages, is that right?” 

“Yes,” Donna nods. 

“Alright. In a moment I’ll lead you two back to the locker rooms and get you settled. You’ll have full access to the pool before and after your treatments if you like. Make sure to fill these out,” the receptionist hands them both a page of questions. 

A small man in the uniform of the spa comes out to greet Dean and lead him away from the women. He waves to Donna and smiles when she waves back excitedly. 

Dean is lead to a room that he would never in a million years call “a locker room.” Sure, there are lockers. Lockers with fluffy robes and spa sandals. There’s also showers with over six showerheads for one person and a steam room. The steam isn’t just steam, either. It’s eucalyptus and lavender. The lounge where he’s supposed to be collected by his masseur has a row of plush chaise lounge chairs, a bar of crystal infused water, and snacks. What the fuck is this place? 

Once Dean is left alone, he strips and pulls on the fluffy robe. He’s already in love. He finds another water jug. This one is water infused with strawberries. He takes a cup of it and tries to sip it rather than chug. It’s so damn good. 

He turns his attention to the shower. He’ll be damned if he doesn’t turn on every showerhead at once. He takes off his robe and steps into the blissful shower, not allowing himself to turn it too high to scorch his Mark this time. This day is about him. This shower is for him. 

He wraps a towel around his hips and makes his way to the steam room, sitting down on the wooden bench and closing his eyes. The steam is thick and hot. The warning outside had said the room is set to 102 degrees fahrenheit and to stay no longer than fifteen minutes. Dean pulls in slow, meditative breaths of the scented steam. 

Dean only makes it ten of the allotted fifteen minutes, but he feels pampered regardless. He puts his robe back on, ditching the towel in one of the hampers and making his way to the men’s lounge. He grabs some of the crystal water and gulps his first two cups too fast, rehydrating after the steam room. His third, he sips slowly as he fills out the health questionnaire. 

“What areas to focus on?” Dean mutters as he reads one of the questions. “All of it?” He guesses, knowing full well he’s never had a real massage and lives a life that practically requires it.  He finishes the page and lets himself relax into the chair, wondering if Donna is doing the exact same thing as him. 

“Dean Hanscum?” a woman asks from the doorway. Dean sits up. “Time for your massage. Right this way.” Dean follows her to a dim room with one of those weird tables with a face hole near the top. 

Dean hands the woman the paper he’d filled out and she looks it over quickly. 

“Okay, so you’ve never had a massage and you still want deep tissue?”

“Trust me, sister. I’m going to need it,” Dean says. She smiles knowingly and nods. She shows him where to leave his robe and shoes in the corner of the room and asks him if he needs anything else. He shakes his head, unsure of what else he could possibly need. 

“Alright, I’ll give you a minute to get comfortable. Please lie face down under the sheet.” She steps out of the room and closes the door, leaving Dean alone in the dim room with nice music. 

He hangs his robe up on the peg and gets onto the table. It’s not something that looks comfortable, but in this case looks are deceiving. He pulls the sheet up to cover himself and rests his face on the strange donut hole, the sides pressed against his cheeks. 

The masseur knocks on the door gently. 

“Come in,” Dean calls. She steps back into the room and begins her work. He doesn’t fall asleep even though he had been warned he might. He feels knots under his skin loosen and dissolve. Her hands work at all the tension, trying to release thirty-one years of pain and hunting. 

When she’s finished, Dean feels better, but also vaguely like he’s been beaten up. 

“Thank you,” she says softly. 

“Thanks,” Dean says automatically. 

“Get up slowly whenever you’re ready. I’ll be outside with a drink for you. Would you like water, sparkling apple cider, or champagne?” 

“Sparkling cider,” Dean says, remembering his promise to stick to mocktails today. Not that champagne is his drink of choice, but alcohol is alcohol. 

He listens to the door open and close before he sits up and checks himself. There’s no visible bruises. His shoulders feel a million times better. He can move his head. He swivels his head around, letting it fall to either side to bask in the after-glow of having had a massage. 

When Dean finally gets up, he wraps himself up in his fluffy robe and opens the door. There she is, waiting with a flute filled with sparkling cider. 

He’s surprised to find that a full hour has passed since he went in. It didn’t feel that long. He finishes his cider before going to his locker to grab his swimming suit. He’d bought it on the way to Donna’s. He rips the tag off and pulls them on before walking outside to the pool. 

Donna is there already, sitting in a lounge chair in a cute bathing suit as she drinks water out of a champagne flute. Her hair is down for once, blonde curls cascading down her shoulders. Dean wishes she could see how beautiful and relaxed she looks right now. 

“Hey, stranger,” Dean says, taking the lounge chair next to her. 

“Hiya,” she grins. 

“How was your massage?” Dean asks as he stretches, still getting used to the feeling. 

“I would assume fantastic,” Donna says thoughtfully. “I fell asleep in the first five minutes. Hope she didn’t mind the roarin’ snores.” She laughs and Dean joins. She’s doomed to fall asleep during every spa treatment she ever gets. 

Dean leaves his robe and towel on the chair next to her and slides into the pool, standing in the water facing her. She makes a face when he motions for her to follow, but she gets up anyway. She walks in from the steps and Dean meets her, pulling her in by her hands. 

“Whoa there!” Donna laughs. 

“How else are you going to get in fast enough?” 

She splashes him with a small wave and he falls backward into the water as if he’s been shot. Well… as if he’s a civilian who’s been shot. She laughs as he cries, “Ahh! You cursed brat! Look what you’ve done! I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world what a world! Who would’ve known that a woman like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness! Oh no! I’m going!” Dean goes under the water and pushes the air out of his mouth for bubbles to replace him on the surface. When he hops back up, Donna is giggling. It’s a good thing they had early appointments. No one else is out here yet. 

“Okay, wicked witch.” Donna grins and Dean bows as if to an audience larger than one. 

A few other people walk out of the building and find seats around the pool. Everyone looks freshly rejuvenated. Blissful. Dean feels like he’s watching a movie. This is a club he’s never been invited to. Not before Donna. 

They both get out of the pool to sunbathe side by side. A waitress comes over to take any drink orders and Donna looks over at Dean to give him the first order. 

“Shirley temple, please. Extra cherry if you can.” 

“That sounds perfect,” Donna agrees.

“I’ll be right back with those,” the waitress says before walking away. 

Dean throws his arm over his eyes, having no sunglasses. The warmth from the sun feels good on his skin. Something about this place feels magical. He clenches his jaw and tries to force the idea away. This isn’t a case. It’s nice. That’s all. 

“Is there a backup plan right now or are you winging it?” Dean asks out of the blue.

“Backup plan for what now?” 

“Doug.” 

“Oh.” Donna is quiet for a moment. “I’m just going to roll with it. Leave him in the dust. No more Doug. Love myself.” Dean smiles at the last bit. “What about you? Who is the mystery person?” 

Dean chokes, having forgotten his admission from last night. He takes his arm away from his eyes and sits up. “Remember how I told you one of our friends is an angel?” Donna nods enthusiastically, her eyes brightening. “Well, his name is Castiel.”

“Does he know?” Donna asks. There was no room for hesitation. She skipped over the part where Cas is a guy. She skipped over the part where Cas isn’t even human. She leaped right over every worry Dean has ever had about coming out to anyone with one question. 

“No.” Dean shakes his head, his fingers laced together tightly. 

“How long?” Donna shoots back immediately, eating up the details.

“How long have I loved him or how long has he not known?”

“Isn’t that kind of the same answer?” 

“You’re right. Uh.” Dean pushes air out of his mouth through his lips, counting the years. “Maybe a little over six years.” 

“Oofta. That’s a big one.” 

Dean looks up at her and fights the urge to thank her. He knows she wouldn’t have it, so he keeps it locked up. No chick flick moments even though they had a marathon last night. 

“Would you believe I stabbed him when we first met?” Dean laughs, sitting back on his lounge chair. 

“No!” Donna gasps, turning to stare at him. 

“To be fair, at that point, he was the most powerful being we had come across.”

“And you thought stabbin’ the guy was going to do somethin’?” Donna clucks with her tongue and shakes her head. “I’m new and I know that’s worth a heap of dung.” 

“Well, okay. I tried shooting him with salt, stabbing him with a blade specially made for demons, and had drawn every sigil I knew around us to keep him away.”

“Sounds like you were meant to be,” Donna says with a sneaky smile. 

“Shut up,” Dean warns, his heart already locking her words inside to repeat in idle moments, the next time he sees Cas, and that second before he falls asleep. Dean’s finger draws the Enochian symbol for Cas on his thigh as he thinks. 

“What’s he look like?” Donna asks.

“He’s shorter than me. Bluest eyes you’ve ever seen. They keep every ocean and sky. If you look into them in the dark, the stars look back at you. Dark, wild hair. I think he’s been combing it recently. When we first met, it stuck out in every direction. He wears a suit and he usually wears a blue tie that made his eyes look bluer, I think. Except the tie is always backwards. It drives me crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just who he is. And he always, always wears a tan trenchcoat.” Dean pauses, swallowing hard. “He’s gorgeous and untouchable.” 

“You don’t know that.” 

“I do.” Dean nods. “But thanks.” He feels the heat in his cheeks and the tightness of his chest, but there’s a strange release to having finally told someone.

Telling Donna feels like one half of a weight lifted. He can’t tell Sam. He can’t tell anyone else, especially Cas. He keeps telling himself that he will. He’ll tell Cas someday, and if he dares to dream about a scenario where something comes of it, he’ll tell his family. Until then, he’ll have to live with the fact that one person on this planet knows, and she loves him just the same. 

Chapter Text

Dean wraps Donna in his arms as they stand beside the Impala in her driveway. His things are packed back into the car and a long drive stretches before him. Donna hugs back fiercely. He’s not sure she’s ever letting go. 

“Thanks for getting me up here,” Dean says, his cheek against the top of her head. 

“You betcha.” Donna’s voice is muffled in his chest. He doesn’t want to let go either. He doesn’t want to leave the place that seems cut off from the rest of his life. He has to drive back to worried looks from Sam and lying to Cas. He has to go back to poring over books, searching in vain for a cure against his own idiocy. He has to go back to drinking alone in his room to quiet the Mark. Back to hunting just to keep moving. Back to keeping his lips sealed on being currently in love. 

“Oh yeah, you betcha!” Dean teases and Donna giggles. They finally release each other and she looks up at him with a smile that says she knows he doesn’t want to go. “I’ll see you soon, hopefully.” 

“Safe drive, Dean.” She watches him get into the car as she steps to her lawn. She waves to him and he watches it in the rearview mirror until he rounds the corner and she’s gone. 

Once he’s on the empty highway, Dean picks up his phone and dials Sam. He’s probably worried him enough. The phone only has time to ring once before Sam picks up.

“Dean! Where are you?” 

“Miss me?” Dean teases. “I’m on my way home.”

“Where are you?” Sam asks again. Dean rolls his eyes. 

“I don’t know. Six hours away maybe. Don’t wait up for me. I’ll be there in the morning.” 

“Hello, Dean,” Cas’ voice interrupts. Dean’s heart screeches to a halt in his chest.

“Hey, Cas,” Dean answers, wishing he could reach through the phone. What he wouldn’t give to look into his mirror to find Cas in his backseat. 

 

His arrival at the bunker is a quiet one. Sam didn’t wait up, his worries quelled by the phone call. Dean walks through his home slowly, not wanting to sleep quite yet. His arm aches and he can feel the nightmares lurking. 

In the kitchen, Dean grabs a six-pack of beer before returning to a table in the silent library. He takes a swig and leans back in his chair, his face to the ceiling.  

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says, taking a swing at the silence and shattering it with the only sound Dean craves. Cas takes the seat opposite Dean.

Dean sits up, taking another gulp of the beer before looking at Cas. The angel’s face is drawn, tired worry etched into every line of his face. 

It had been easy telling Donna how he felt. It had been a dream to finally speak the words. On his drive home, Dean had tried to work his way up to maybe telling Cas when he got back to the bunker. With the love of his life seated across from him now, his mouth can’t find words. 

“Where did you go?” Cas asks as Dean continues to drink. 

“Out.” In his boots, Dean scrunches up his toes to further hide the polish. 

“For two days?”

“What are you, my wife?” Dean regrets it the second the words cross his lips, but Cas doesn’t react. “Forget it.” 

“Sam was worried about you,” Cas says. Dean scoffs, rolling his eyes and taking another sip. “I was worried about you.”

“Don’t, okay? I’m fine. Really, Cas.” If Dean were more affectionate, he might have reached out to Cas to hold his hand and reassure him with his lies. If the grass was greener, if the sky was bluer, if Dean had an ounce of courage to tell the man across from him that he was in love, maybe he’d be his. 

Dean pushes away from the table and gets up. Grabbing his beer, Dean heads to his room, avoiding Cas’ eyes as he does. When he makes it to his room, he closes the door and presses his back against it, closing his eyes and clenching his jaw through the pain in his arm and his heart. 

He slides to the floor and grabs his second beer. He listens as he drinks, half hoping to hear Cas coming after him while the other half is screaming to be left alone. 

Dean knew it was too good to be true when he told Sam that the Mark wasn’t controlling him. He’d known it was too good to be true when he was able to enjoy a slumber party and a spa day. That good luck has run out. 

His sleep is plagued with terror. Flashes of massacres chase him through his dreams. He’s the culprit, his hand shaking slightly as he grips a blood-soaked blade. His heart pounds, trying to escape the brutality maybe, but part of him wants it. He knows what part. The stain on his arm, marking him a murderer. Blood fills his vision, the gurgles of the dying in his head, Dean dreams on. 

Every knot worked out of his shoulders at the spa reforms as his nightmares build. All of his muscles tense under the skin, killing everything that moves in his dreams, yearning for more. Sweat rolls down his back and beads on his forehead. 

Dean sits bolt upright in his bed, breathing hard with adrenaline racing through his veins. The dark presses in around him. Three letters drip from his lips, a small sound of helplessness, “Cas.” 

Dean pushes his blankets away from him as he tries to reset his heart rhythm to something resembling normal. He tries to bleach away the blood in his mind. He makes it to his sink so splash icy water on his face. 

Less than twenty-four hours ago Dean was happy, drinking infused water and shirley temples poolside after his first massage. He’d been laughing and carefree and now he’s washing imaginary blood from his face in the dark, wanting to call out for help, but silenced by his own self admissions of being fine. 

He swallows the fear he has of himself and squares his shoulders. He’s fine.

He takes a shower and gets dressed, making himself look as much like himself as he can. Flannel, jeans, perfect hair, understated smile to hide the murderous cravings. He’s fine. 

Dean makes coffee and pours two mugs. He doesn’t bother making breakfast even though he’s starving. He really is fine. 

He laughs at The Three Stooges, forcing himself to smile like he’d learned from an old friend long ago. “Better than ever,” he promises Sammy without looking him in the eye. He devours the sandwich he’s brought, ravenous for every bite. He’s. Fine. 

He repeats those words to himself as he drives to Cas’ emergency call. He tells himself those words as his mind whispers of rage and violence. He’s fine. He’s fine. He’s fine. 

“There’s some stuff you’ve gotta let go. The ones you’ve let down. The people you can’t save. You’ve gotta forget about ‘em,” Dean advises his angel as he eats his burger. The tension is higher with Sam gone as Dean eats alone next to Cas. The fury that’s been building all night and all morning seems taught, making it harder to breathe as he thinks the words Donna had dared to utter: sounds like you were meant to be.  

Dean feels manic, unable to stop moving or talking or faking every grin, wink, joke, and laugh. He can’t stop or he’ll snap. He can’t stop moving, checking his burger more times than necessary. What’s there to even check? He’ll eat anything right now. He fidgets and squirms in his seat and just as Sam hadn’t noticed in the car, Cas doesn’t seem to notice now. His mouth keeps moving, filling the air with more words even when he’s in danger of choking on all of the food he’s taking in. Why is he so god damn hungry? 

“I ain’t exactly a role model,” Dean says. If he keeps talking, he’s going to end up spilling his heart onto the table and floor of this diner. He shoves more food into his mouth. 

“It’s not true,” Cas says seriously, his blue eyes steady on Dean. His jaw is set and there is no room for argument. Dean doesn’t know where to look or where to run.
The Mark on his arm reminds him of the murder that he’s actually hungry for. The food isn’t filling him because it’s not what he craves. He’s reminded just how awful of a role model he is by the strong pull he feels to murder everyone in the diner but his angel. He’ll stick to food. He can control this. He can keep moving, keep talking, keep eating and he’ll stay in control.

“How are you, Dean?” Cas asks.

“Fine,” Dean lies. He’s fucking fine. He’s fantastic. He’s never been better. He’s fine. Stop asking. He’s fine. He keeps repeating the words in his head, reminding himself how fine he is. 

It’s on the floor of a house that the words stop, after glass has been crashed over his head. Sam, Cas, and Claire are outside. Dean is alone when the words stop. Rage and nightmares wash over him like eucalyptus steam at a spa. He breathes it in and it feels like serenity. 

“You guys, you don’t want to do this,” Dean warns, but his own voice sounds far away. 

He falls to his knees in a sea of blood. The bodies of the ones he’s slain lay about him, covering this battlefield. Angry slashes adorn their bodies and clothing, red staining them, making them. The knife in his hand drips onto the floor. 

A scream wakes Dean. He looks up to find Castiel, his arms wrapped protectively around his vessel’s daughter. She was who he had been protecting. At first. That’s what this had all been about in the beginning. When did it turn into a slaughter? It had to turn into this. Dean craved this. He still craves it. There’s just no one left. 

“Dean!” Sam. “Tell me you had to do this!” Sam’s hands are warm as the grip the sides of Dean’s chilled face. 

“I didn’t,” Dean admits. “I didn’t need to.” He wanted to. So badly it hurt. 

“Tell me it was them or you!” Sam begs. His hands are all that’s keeping Dean up now. 

There is no cure for the Mark. There is no cure for Dean. His story started as a happy one. He was loved by two parents and gifted with a little brother. He had wanted to be a fireman and loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He was supposed to get good grades, find a girl, maybe go to college, have an apple pie life. He was supposed to go home to his parents’ house every weekend for dinner.

He was supposed to, but here he is on the floor of a house that belongs to bad men. They are his victims, their bodies still warm as their blood leaks out of them. They weren’t even the monsters he had been raised to kill after his mother died, his grades failed, he dropped out, fell in love with a man who can never know, and ran away from his picket-fenced life. They were humans with a bad agenda. Not his problem, but certainly an easy kill. 

Dean doesn’t deserve anything. Not his brother, who refuses to stop his search for a cure. Not his guardian angel. Not Donna. He didn’t deserve to leave for a weekend, enjoying his time away gossiping and relaxing. She would never look at him the same if she knew what he’d just done. The look of worry she had when she’d seen the Mark melts together with Sam’s and Cas’ as Dean loses consciousness in the front seat of the Impala, Cas’ distressed voice over his shoulder the last thing he hears. 

Chapter Text

Dean stares at his phone. Months of unanswered phone calls and texts glare at him. He flips his phone up into the air above where he’s stretched out on his bed and catches it before it lands on his face. He looks again. They haven’t gone away and they remain unanswered. He sighs, his cheeks puffing out as he lets his hands fall to his chest. 

It’s been a rough year. 

Dean taps Donna’s name and holds his phone to his ear, guilt running rampant through him as he listens to the phone connect and ring. The last time he had seen her was their one year friendaversary almost a full year ago. The last time they had spoken, they had both been happy and promising future visits and friendship. 

“Dean!” Donna answers. There’s no hint of anger or blame in her bubbly voice. She sounds like she spoke with him just the other day instead of to his voicemail about six hundred times. 

“Hey, Donna,” Dean smiles sadly, wiping his free hand over his face. 

“Uh oh, what’s wrong?” She asks as if she’s in the room and can see his smile falter. 

“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” Dean manages, his chest tight. The whole story is on the tip of his tongue as one gigantic excuse, but she doesn’t need to hear it. He swallows it down and clenches his jaw. 

“I figured we were both just busy. It’s been a big year,” Donna says easily, letting him off the hook. “There’s been budget cuts in Stillwater so I got transferred out to Larsen County instead. What a move that was, but I’m getting comfortable.” She goes on and Dean relaxes as she does. They’re still friends. “What about you?” 

“So many budget cuts,” Dean shakes his head and clucks his tongue. “I can’t believe it. They want to transfer me again . Can you believe it? They move me just about every damn week.” She laughs and he drops the joke. “A lot has happened. I’m just… glad it’s over. I mean, it’ll never be over, but that part feels packed away and sealed, ya know?” 

“Yeah,” Donna says understandingly. “Did you tell him yet?”

Dean sucks in his breath. Did he tell Cas he’s in love with him and has been for years and years? No. He beat him within an inch of his life, though. He looked into his eyes as he held an angel blade above his head and begged Cas to leave him alone in the most aggressive way he could. If there had ever been a chance, Dean had ruined it. 

“Everyone you love could be long dead. Everyone except me. I’m the one who will have to watch you murder the world.” Dean closes his eyes shut as Cas’ words run through his head again. Cas’ beautiful face, covered with blood where Dean had smashed it. Cas’ bleeding lips uttering, “Dean, please. ” 

Tears start to run down Dean’s cheeks as he fights the images in his head. There’s no hope for him after that. He doesn’t deserve to even be alive still. Cas has forgiven him, but Dean still can’t. 

Cas, who’s chained to the floor in the library with sigiled cuffs, cringing and possibly dying under Rowena’s spell. Cas, who might be dying because Dean wasn’t there to protect him when he needed him. He wasn’t there. 

“Dean?” Donna’s voice comes through the phone. 

He shuts his eyes tight and clears his throat. “No. That’s not happening any time soon.” He hears her voice, but he can’t make out the words anymore. The world feels far away as Dean continues to cry. “Sorry, Sam’s calling me,” Dean lies, his voice husky. “Call soon?” 

“You betcha. Dean?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s good hearin’ your voice.” The words are like a hug and Dean breathes out a slice of his guilt. He nods even though she can’t see him. 

“You too, Donna,” he manages before ending the call. 

Dean lets his arms fall and lets go of his phone, letting it fall to the floor with a thud before he brings his hands back to his face. He wants to curl in on himself, but he stays where he is. There’s no stopping the steady tears that have started in his silent sobbing, grieving the moments he can’t take back and can’t apologize for. 

“Okay,” Dean tells himself, pulling himself together and clearing his throat. He has Cas back. He’s alive… for now. Dean splashes water on his face before pressing a dry towel to his skin. He breathes into it, promising himself he will try to fix everything he had broken. 

Dean walks out to the library to find Sam already sitting in front of his computer. Cas is still chained, stuck at the next table over for fear that the spell Rowena put on him will make him attack them. He’s chained just out of reach of Sam’s table. Dean wants to grab his laptop and sit next to his angel. He wants to wrap his arms around him, holding him close until the end of the spell or the end of time, whichever comes first. 

He takes his seat opposite Sam. Technically, he’s still next to Cas, just at a different table. The research to find Rowena and the Darkness resumes. Cas continues to sweat and shiver under his thick blanket, teeth clenched tight. 

It feels almost back to normal. The focus is off of Dean. Conversation rolls without secretive glances around the room. Everyone is included, though Cas is worse for wear. The room is breathable without the Mark plastered to his arm. 

“I hate to point this out,” Sam sighs, looking between Dean and Cas. Dean’s heart rate spikes, ready to confess to it all and deny it. He didn’t know his frequent glances were that noticeable. He had hoped no one could tell. He’s going to be sick. The room is too hot and there are no windows. Why are there no windows? The bunker is underground. No windows in this stifling hot building that seems to be running out of air. “But you both know who we might need to help with the Darkness,” Sam finishes. 

Dean exhales. “Don’t even say it,” Dean warns his brother as he forces himself to continue the rather normal conversation to keep his eyes off of the angel. 

“He was God’s scribe. He did hear about everything.” 

“That’s just like saying it.” Dean’s stomach flips as he thinks about the last time he saw God’s scribe. Chained to a chair in their torture room, his face bloodied by Dean’s fists. Deep cuts in his skin that had shone with pure light as Dean had sliced into him. 

“Go darker!” Metatron had teased, not knowing just how far Dean would go. His smile had faded and by the time Cas had removed him, he wasn’t teasing anymore. There was no smile left under the torn skin. 

Cas starts to shake, his teeth audibly crashing together as he growls and jerks in his seat. Dean turns, ready to leap out of his chair, but it sounds like Cas is becoming Rowena’s attack dog again. He can’t leap out of his seat and soothe Cas. He has to watch from his just-out-of-reach seat. 

“Cas, you alright pal?” Dean asks, his hands clenched to keep him from reaching out. 

“It’s the spell,” Cas manages through his teeth. The moment subsides, allowing everyone to breathe. Dean has to move. He has to find an excuse to walk closer to him. He needs to be nearer to him. 

Dean finds busy work to do off of his computer. He looks through the library shelves, goes to the kitchen to grab a drink, and walks aimlessly as Sam talks to Cas and Dean. 

“Metatron is also off the grid,” Sam continues to work. “He stole your car in Blaine, Missouri, right?” Sam looks to Cas who mumbles a small “yeah.” Sam goes back to his computer, seemingly oblivious to Dean hovering by the angel. “Yeah. No accidents, incidents, violations, or remotely interesting involving a crappy ‘78 Continental Mark V.” 

“You think it’s crappy?” Cas looks between the two brothers and Sam looks at Dean for help. Dean looks at his pathetic lump of an angel, bundled up and learning that his ugly-as-sin car is what the Winchesters would define as crappy. 

“Eye of the beholder,” Dean says, nodding to Cas. Dean takes his seat again and allows the conversation to continue. It doesn’t go far. 

“Cas?” Sam asks, looking over at him, though Dean misses the look as he’s too busy taking him in. He looks sickly and weak, and all Dean wants to do is take care of him. He wants to hold him while he wipes the sweat from his brow and lets him rest his head on Dean’s chest. Cas looks up helplessly, lost in the conversation. 

“Places Metatron might hang out,” Dean supplies. 

“Um. I mean, he loves waffles,” Cas tries. “You could try places that have those.” 

“Okay, so every restaurant in the entire country,” Dean says sarcastically. Their witch and darkness hunt became an angel hunt which became a car chase with a side of waffle house locating. Dean would be lying if he said he wasn’t grateful for the lull of information that was keeping him planted at home instead of out slaying monsters. 

Cas begins to seize, his entire body contracting and jerking as he breathes and snarls through his clenched teeth. His eyes are shut tight and terror rips through Dean as he watches. 

“Cas?” Dean feels panic rising in his throat as he watches Cas fall to the floor, his eyes open but unseeing. “Cas? Cas, hey!” Dean doesn’t know when he left his chair, but he’s on the floor by his angel’s side now. Dean’s hands clutch desperately at Cas as he watches his eyes roll back in his head, the blue disappearing before the lids finally shut. “Cas!” Dean begs. 

Dean’s throat closes as Cas goes still. His chest is moving but barely, his skin hot to touch. He’s not okay. Dean gently eases Cas onto his back and leans in close. He can feel Cas’ breath on his cheek and his pulse under his fingers. 

“Dean?” Sam asks behind him. 

“He’s out cold,” Dean says, his voice steady even as his hands shake. He pushes Cas’ damp hair away from his forehead, letting his fingers linger at Cas’ temple. If he had the abilities of an angel, this touch is all it would take to heal him. This touch would unweave the spell from his being and wake him. 

But Dean’s touch is useless. He draws his hand away, his fingers curling into his palm. 

He watches as Cas’ eyes flutter open. His hand hovers at Cas’ shoulder as Sam asks the dumbest question in the world: “are you okay?” 

“Relative to what?” Cas answers, breathing heavily as he comes to. 

“You know where you are? What’s the date?” Dean asks, his hand finally landing on Cas’ shoulder and gripping gently. He could have lost him. He could still lose him. He wants to do more than hold his shoulder, but this will have to do. 

“Earth,” Cas says, his eyes steady on Dean’s. “Several billion years from the beginning.” 

Sam helps Dean lift Cas from the floor. As soon as he’s upright and back in his chair, Dean grabs his blanket from the floor and drapes it around his angel’s shoulders. It’s not much, but it’s the only thing he can offer. He lets his hand linger again, this time on his shoulder with a blanket, trenchcoat, suit coat, and dress shirt between the pads of his fingers and Cas’ skin, but it still feels magnetic and addictive. 

 

The touch Dean needs to heal after everything the Mark had done to him isn’t the whispered memories of the Darkness where she stole the Mark from his arm. It helped, but it wasn’t the one he needed to forgive himself. He’s face to face with self-forgiveness when he finds Cas. He managed to break free of the cuffs and out of the bunker. 

Dean interrupts Rowena’s attack dog of an angel before Sam and Rowena. It doesn’t matter how he’d gotten out. It doesn’t fully matter to Dean that he’s just saved a poor girl who would have died at Cas’ hand had he not shown up at that precise moment. The important part to Dean is that instead of that girl, Cas has his eyes on him. Cas grips Dean by the jacket and throws him. 

Crates and boxes break around Dean as he puts his arms up to protect himself. He’s lifted again and thrown into a fence. He grunts as he lands, but doesn’t have time to sit up himself. Cas grabs him and pulls him up just enough to punch him. 

He’s on his knees before his angel being beaten to a pulp. Two specific memories come to mind as the punches continue to come. The first is when this had happened what felt like centuries ago. In a crypt, ordered by a douchebag with wings, Cas had stood much like this as Dean had pleaded for his life. The second was not that long ago when their positions had been reversed. Dean slamming his fists into Cas, throwing him into stacks of books and tables. The only difference between the three fights is that the current one is the only one where an angel blade was not involved. 

The current beating stops with a word from Rowena’s sudden appearance. Three more words and Cas begins to shake violently. He’s either dying or the spell is retreating. Fear strikes through Dean’s heart as he watches.

Dean swallows the blood and spit in his mouth as he watches Cas fall to the ground before him. 

“Cas?” Dean doesn’t bother trying to keep the desperation out of his voice now. “Hey!” He lifts Cas’ head in his hand as his angel remains entirely limp. Dean’s heart stops and his stomach turns and then… 

Cas opens his eyes slowly. They’re clear and he looks exhausted and vaguely confused as to why Dean is cradling his face so tenderly. 

“Come on,” Dean says, helping Cas up. Once he’s up, Dean keeps his hands on Cas’ face, a gentle caress to sustain him in place of a soft kiss. Their eyes meet and lock and time seems to pass slower. It feels as though Dean sits there for eons with his angel, the blows he’s just taken healing his soul and paving the way for his own forgiveness. Dean’s thumb runs gently over Cas’ cheek before Rowena casts a new spell and the moment is lost to chaos as she locks them in so she can get away. 

 

“Dean, I... there aren’t words—” 

“You’re right,” Dean cuts Cas’ apology off. “There aren’t words, Cas. That’s ‘cause there’s no need. You were under a spell. It’s fine.” Dean picks up his ice pack and presses into his bruises and cuts.

The case continues. The witch they’d hunted is gone. The next item on their to-do list is capture the Darkness. Dean listens to Sam reassure Cas that getting him back was worth it, but Sam can’t say it all because he doesn’t know it all. If they had lost Cas, Dean doesn’t know what would have happened to him. He can’t imagine a world without Cas at his side. 

Dean removes the ice again and touches his lip gingerly. It still stings. He winces, but is glad for the pain. 

“Dean, I can fix that,” Cas says, standing and reaching across the table. 

“No, no, no,” Dean puts a hand up between them, freezing Cas. “No, no. It’s fine, Cas. Besides, I had it comin’.”

Their eyes connect and Dean dares Cas to tell him otherwise. Cas pleads silently, but Dean doesn’t budge. He needs this pain to forgive himself for what he did. As Cas sits, Dean turns away and presses the ice back into his face. Relief spreads through him, releasing his heart and lungs. He can finally breathe.

Chapter Text

When Dean’s phone rings and he sees Donna’s name displayed, he can’t help but feel just a little happier. “Well I’ll be damned,” Dean says before picking it up. “Donna! What’s shakin’?”

“Hiya Dean! I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time,” Donna answers brightly.

“Fat-sucker Donna?” Sam asks. Mild anger rolls through Dean at the unintentional insult. He waves Sam off and looks away. He doesn’t want that stupid nickname to stick to her. Sam never had the chance to become her friend like Dean had. To Sam, Donna was still just some random cop that they worked with twice. She had the misfortune to be part of the pishtaco case. Dean couldn’t see her like that anymore. They were friends. She cared about him. He’d braided her hair and let her paint his toenails. Donna was what Dean had always wanted in a best friend. 

“So, uh. I might have a case for you two. Strange things are goin’ on round here in Cottage Grove. Eh. We have a murder case… With a killer bunny.”

“What do you mean killer bunny ?” Dean asks. 

“Well, we can’t identify the killer on account we’re still tryin’ to get him into custody. It screams strange, though, that’s for darn sure. Does this sound like your kind of case?” 

“Sure does. We’ll be there as soon as we can. Hold tight.”

“Thanks, Dean.” He can hear her smile through the phone before he hangs up. 

“What’s up?” Sam asks as Dean turns back around to face his brother. 

“We’ve got a case in Minnesota,” Dean informs him before walking to his room to grab his FBI suit. “Get packed, Sammy!” 

“What? What’s the case?”

“Just get your g man suit and let’s go. No time to waste. There’s a killer bunny in lockup.” Dean smiles to himself as he says it. 

When they get in the car and Dean pulls onto the main road he turns down the music for a second and gives Sam a sideways glance. “Don’t call her that anymore, okay?”

“What?”

“Fat-spa Donna or fat-sucker Donna.” Dean shakes his head and gives his brother a warning glance. “I mean it.”

“Okay…” Sam says slowly, his eyebrows knit together. “Any reason why?”

“Her name is Donna. She’s going through a rough time and those nicknames,” Dean waves his hand vaguely, “aren’t helping.” 

“How would you know what kind of a time she’s having?” Sam asks suspiciously. 

“She’s my friend, alright?” Dean snaps.

“I thought we didn’t have friends.” 

“Look around, Sam. We have Cas. We have…” Dean chokes on Charlie’s name. They had Charlie. He’d lost her. “We have Jody. And guess what? I have Donna.” 

“Okay,” Sam says, backing off. Dean nods once and turns the music back up, satisfied with standing up for his friend. 

 

Dean almost drives straight to Donna’s house, but forces himself to pull over at a motel instead. They check-in, change into their suits, grab their badges, and get back in the car. Dean pulls up outside of the Larsen County police station and feels the giddiness that comes from visiting a good friend bubble up inside of him. 

“Psst, Sheriff,” Sam whispers as they walk into the room. Donna turns around and Dean watches her eyes light up when they find him. 

“You two are a sight for sore eyes!” Donna grins as she pulls them both in for a hug, forcing them both to stoop several inches. 

“You workin’ all ten thousand lakes now or..? This isn’t usually your beat.” Dean comments, worried about the station change. She’d mentioned something a few weeks ago, but she didn’t seem to be exaggerating. 

“Just Larsen County what with the cutbacks and all.” She shrugs, then brightens again. “For the most part, it’s been tater tots and lemon drops, except for this doozy. I mean when you get a call about a killer Easter Bunn you don’t know what to think.” 

“Well, you think crazy,” Dean agrees, nodding. 

“Guy’s real strong too. Lashed out at several officers. Took a whole team just to get him into custody, but that’s not the weirdest part.” She gives a conspiratorial look before going on in a lower voice. “Bunny head won’t come off.” 

“What do you mean?” Sam asks.

“Tried everything short of a chainsaw, but it’s really stuck.” Sam and Dean stay quiet, thinking of what it could possibly be and simultaneously running through their codex of monsters in their heads. “Who knows, could just have a big melon like my uncle Wally. But ever since I’ve seen what goes bump in the night, I’m not takin’ any chances.” 

“You did the right thing. For sure,” Sam reassures her as she nods. 

“Eh, maybe. Just not one hundred percent sure this is our kind of case. But, uh, if you’ve got a wild hare .” Dean watches Donna’s face break into a grin as he tries and fails to contain his own. She starts to laugh as he asks, “See what I did there?” 

“Good to see you too,” Donna manages through her laughs. 

“What’d you got there, Sheriff?” a man with a mustache asks. Donna’s face falls as she turns to talk to him, so Dean’s does too. 

“Gentlemen, this is Officer Stover. He’s the lead on the case.” Donna says, standing to the side. Stover smiles at Sam and Dean waiting for them to introduce themselves. 

“Agents Elliot and Savage,” Sam says, gesturing to himself and Dean. 

“Nice tuh meetchya,” Stover says. “And please, call me Doug.” 

Donna clears her throat uncomfortably and Dean purses his lips, his brain doing a doubletake on the name. Doug. Like Donna’s ex, Doug? What was it with Officers in Minnesota named Doug ?

“These two fine fellas are going to be helpin’ us out with the ol’ hippity hop.” 

“Oh. We’re goin’ to need it. Not that Sheriff Hanscum isn’t doin’ a bang-up job.” Donna grimaces and looks anywhere but at Dean. “We’re lucky to have her,” Doug says with a dreamy smile. Holy obvious feelings, Batman. Dean watches as Donna gives Doug an uncomfortable smile. No one says anything as the questions in Dean’s mind pile up and the tension in the room builds. “Well, I better get back to it,” Doug announces awkwardly. 

“Uh-huh,” Dean grins, nodding slowly. 

Donna turns on him. “What?” 

“Hey, it’s none of our business, but it looks like somebody might have a crush,” Dean teases, pointing after Doug. Actually, it’s all of his business. He takes his role as friend very seriously, obviously. If she’s allowed to say things like sounds like you were meant to be , then he was allowed to point out when someone very discreetly has a crush on her. 

“I was born at night, Dean. Not last night,” Donna says, her eyes glaring as he begins to laugh. It feels good to be around her again. He’s free to laugh and make jokes and breathe. 

“What’s the deal? He seems nice.” Sam interjects as Dean composes himself. 

“He is!” Donna insists.  “But he’s a cop… named Doug . I mean clearly, I have a type, but no, thank you, ma’am. Won’t be once bitten, twice Doug’d.” 

“All right.” Dean pulls the reins up on the teasing. They drove through the night to get here in time to work on this killer bunny case. They had to get to work eventually. “Where’s the wascally wabbit?” 

“I’m going out,” Dean announces. 

“Where?” Sam asks, though he should know by now that there’s no use in asking. 

“Not sure yet. Maybe a bar. Maybe a strip-club.” Dean bounces his eyebrows and swings his keys around his finger before catching them again. Sam rolls his eyes, buying the lie. “Don’t wait up,” Dean calls over his shoulder as he leaves. 

He slides into his seat and sighs. Today was rough. It’s never easy dealing with the death of an innocent kid. They’d failed in getting the mask removed from the kid’s noggin in time. It was harder to deal with it when Dean had seen Donna’s face. She isn’t used to this. He hopes she’ll never be used to this. 

Dean makes his way to Donna’s house with one pitstop. Her living room windows are glowing as he pulls into her driveway and parks. Grabbing the grocery bag on the passenger seat, Dean gets out of the car and walks up to the front door. 

The look on her face as she had lit the bunny mask makes Dean’s stomach flip. He’s in the right place. She doesn’t deserve to spend this night alone. Dean knocks twice and lets his hand fall to his side. 

The door opens to reveal a pajama-clad Donna. Her hair is tied up in the messiest bun Dean has ever seen and her face brightens, but not by much. “Oh! Hiya, Dean,” she smiles. “What’re ya doin’ here?”

“I brought ice cream and hugs,” Dean offers, opening his arms. 

“Just what the doctor ordered,” Donna says, her face crumpling as she walks into his arms, pressing her face into his shoulder. He closes his arms around her and holds her as she starts to cry into him. 

“Okay, you step backward while I step forward and we can go inside,” Dean says into her hair. She nods and steps with him without letting go. Dean closes the door and drops the bag with the ice cream in it to wrap her more tightly against him. 

“You didn’t have to come,” Donna mumbles into his chest. She pulls away to look up into his face. 

“Yeah, I did,” Dean says as Donna wipes the tears from her face. 

“How do you do it?” she laughs humorlessly as she leads him further into the house. 

“Sometimes, I don’t know,” Dean answers honestly. Donna grabs two spoons from the drawer in the kitchen and perches herself on a stool at the counter. Dean takes the lid off of the ice cream and takes a spoon from her, taking his bite after her. 

“It was so fucked up.” A few more tears escape and she bats them away. She eyes the salt on the counter and pushes it away from herself before taking a second scoop. “I was so scared, Dean. One minute, he was a monster who was about to kill me and the next… he… he was just a kid, Dean.” 

“I know.” Dean clenches his jaw. He wishes he could take that moment away from her and protect her from all of the evil in the world, but she’s stronger than that. She can take care of herself. She wants to take care of herself. 

Neither of them say anything as they take alternating bites until Donna stops. “I broke my diet,” Donna mumbles.

“It’s a cheat day,” Dean reassures her. He’s not sure that’s what a cheat day is. He’s never gone on a diet in his life, but the words do the trick. 

“I think I’m done. How about you?” she asks, setting her spoon down. Dean takes it and brings both spoons to the sink before throwing the ice cream into the freezer. 

“What do you need?” Dean leans against the counter. 

“Is it okay if I say I don’t know?” Donna hugs her arms around her knees. Dean nods and turns around to grab two glasses and fills them with water. He passes one to her and waits for instructions. “Are you staying tonight?”

“I’m stayin’ till you kick me out,” Dean promises. Donna smiles a little. “Come here.” Donna hops off her stool and goes back to Dean, leaning against the counter next to him and pressing into his side. 

“Did you even bother to bring your pajamas?” Donna asks after a moment.

“No. I’ll just sleep in my jeans.” 

“Men are so gross.” Donna laughs a little and Dean feels himself smile. 

Dean follows Donna to the living room and lays down on the couch he slept on a year ago. Donna throws a blanket over him and takes her spot on the other couch. 

“Dean?” 

“Yeah?” 

Dean listens as she frees her arm from the blankets and reaches toward him. He links their pinkies between the couches as a small touch of reassurance and strength. 

“I didn’t know it would hurt so much,” Donna confesses in the dark.

“It’s good that it does, though,” Dean sighs. “There’s a problem when it doesn’t.”

“Are you upset, then?” 

“Yeah.” Memories choke him as he looks into the dark. The innocent kid he’d shot who had begged for his life. He didn’t deserve to die. He didn’t deserve to be born into the monster family. He was just a kid. Dean feels a tear slide down his cheek, but he ignores it. 

They each take their hands back as they fall silent again, the connection enough to keep them both from letting their thoughts take over. They’re supported. They’re loved. 

“Thanks, Dean,” Donna breathes sleepily before snoring softly. The corners of Dean’s lips tug up at the sound and he finally lets himself sleep. 

The case wrapped up, the killer bunny, jester, clown, and deer all stopped, Dean looks out the window at his car parked at the curb. It’s time to leave. Time to go back to a table piled high with ancient Aramaic that will remain unreadable and probably unhelpful. Dean sighs and walks over to the doorway where Sam is waiting for him. 

“Time we gotta get out of here,” Sam says as Donna makes her way over.

“Here’s hoping something less murderous brings you back to Minnesota. Like Prince… or Cheese Curd Fest!” Donna grins at Dean, the hope radiating off of her like heat from the sun.

“You had me at curd.” Dean smiles, regretting the goodbye as it happens.

“I… I don’t know how you two do this. Day in, day out, figuring out who’s possessed, who isn’t. Your life’s one big poop storm isn’t it?” Donna’s smile dips as she catches onto Dean’s reluctance to go back. For him, this case was a breath of fresh air and she can feel it. While it was big for her, this was a walk in the park for them. He was trying to find God’s sister. She was hunting down haunted costumes. 

“Spoken like a true hunter.” Dean watches her face split into a wide smile. They’d talked about it before, what, a year ago? But, this felt more real. Telling her she’s a hunter on the wrap-up rather than over lunch. 

“Really?’” Donna squeaks. “Hunter?” Her big brown eyes bounce between Dean and Sam, looking for them to be telling her the truth, but maybe also waiting for them to pull the rug out from under her. There is no rug pulling. Before her stands only her very proud best friend. 

“Oh, yeah. I mean, with three cases under your belt, I think you earned it,” Sam nods. 

Donna throws her arms around Sam first with a small, “Yay!” Dean watches her excitement bubble over, his heart filled to the brim for her. When she releases Sam, she goes to Dean. 

He wraps his arms around her and pulls her tight. “There we go,” he smiles into her shoulder as she squeezes him. She lets go, taking a step back. Her eyes shine as she says her small goodbye. Dean walks out to the car and gets into the car, looking out the window up at the lit living room windows of the house. 

“What’s up?” Sam asks as he gets in, closing his door behind him. 

“Nothin’. Let’s go,” Dean says, shaking his head as he starts the car. His heart pulls, but their second-year friendaversary is coming up. He’ll see her soon. 

“So, how do you know Donna so well?” Sam asks after Dean pulls onto the highway. 

“What do you mean?” 

“Well, with the nickname—”

“The nickname wasn’t nice,” Dean interrupts before Sam can even finish the thought. 

“Okay, agreed, but when did you two become like… actual friends?” Sam asks, looking over at Dean. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this.” 

“Like what? Am I not allowed to have friends? Is it impossible to think I could have a friend?” Coming clean about the spa day and the sleepover comes to Dean’s mind, but those days are close to his heart and not ready to be shared. It’s not the kind of thing he wants to be out in the world to be mocked or made fun of. “She’s good people.” 

“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?” 

“For the nickname and not seeing how important she was to you before,” Sam says quietly. Dean nods, but doesn’t bother taking his eyes from the road to continue the conversation. The apology and acknowledgment are enough. 

 

When they park in the bunker’s garage, Sam rubs the sleep from his eyes and stumbles off to find his room. He’s too tired to pick up where they left off in the war room. They’d had a long talk in the car and he’d only slept for about an hour. He needed a few more winks and he’d be ready to go for his morning jog and annoy Dean out of his own sleep. 

Dean finds his way to his laptop, exhausted but needing to look something up before his dreams wipe it from his memory. He brings his laptop to his room and curls under his blankets, opening the laptop and typing out the best gift he could give to Donna: cheese curd fest.

The next one anywhere close to Minnesota is happening in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. There’s two days of festivities and all of it looks perfect for him and Donna. There's cheese curds, live music, brewskies, a classic car show, pancake breakfast, and all kinds of things to buy and eat. 

Dean grins, knowing it’s going to be perfect. He looks up the best hotel in the area. None of that flickering one-star motel crap. One room with two queens charged to his newest credit card, Dean falls asleep with the confirmation page up. 

Chapter Text

Dean plops down into a chair at the war room table and puts his feet up, crossing his ankles. Cas stops reading the ancient book he has in his hands and looks over at Dean. 

“Hello, Dean.” Cas lowers the book and straightens. His gaze makes Dean feel like his blood is too hot. 

“Anything?” Dean asks, clearing his throat and nodding toward the piles of scrolls in ancient Aramaic. Cas shakes his head and makes a face. He looks disappointed. “We’ll just have to keep looking.”

“We’re going to run out of time. She’s not going to remain a child forever. She may well have aged up by now and we’re just too far behind to even bother,” Cas huffs. “There’s nothing about her anywhere.”

“It’s okay, Cas. We’ll keep looking. Keep fighting. It’s not the—”

“End of the world? That’s exactly what it is, Dean.” Cas hangs his head. 

“Where’s Sam?” Dean asks, taking his feet off the table and sitting up. 

“He’s finding a cipher to use.” 

The floor is open. Sam is gone. Cas is standing there, just staring at Dean. All he has to say is that he appreciates him. All Dean has to say is how much Cas means to him and that maybe he’s in love. Not maybe. Just tell him. 

Dean opens his mouth and—

“So get this,” Sam says as he walks into the room. Dean clamps his mouth shut and watches as Sam and Cas bend over the cipher and mass of documents that Dean is no help with. Cas’ tie hangs down, brushing the table as he reads. 

Dean looks up at the ceiling, holding his breath as he spins slowly in the chair. Cas’ voice washes over him. The ancient language meaning nothing while the voice that reads it means everything. They continue to work, and eventually, Dean gets up and walks out of the room. 

He can’t help with deciphering anything. All he can do is be in the way and have no clue how to help track down or defeat the Darkness. He’s useless right now. 

Dean stretches out on his bed and opens his laptop. The confirmation page for the hotel he booked is still up. He glances at his phone before dialing Donna. 

“Hiya, Dean!” 

“Hey, Donna,” Dean grins. “Are you busy in, say, a week?” 

“Why?” Donna asks suspiciously, though her voice gives away her own smile. 

“Don’t tell me you forgot our second friendaversary is coming up!” Dean laughs as Donna squeals. “Alright, alright!”

“I didn’t plan anything yet this year.”

“That’s because I did. Pack your bags. We’re going to Cheese Curd Fest!” 

“What?!” Donna’s excitement rings through Dean’s ears. “Shut the front door!”

“I’ll pick you up on Thursday night, okay?” 

“Sounds great, Dean. See you then!” 

Dean finishes packing his bag for his trip and walks out to the garage, loading up his stuff and grabbing the empty cooler. He walks into the bunker, checking off in his head what he needs for his trip. Bag is packed. Hotel is booked. He has the correct fake cards with him. Last thing he needs is a cooler full of ice, beer, and peanut M&Ms and he’s ready to go. 

Dean walks into the kitchen and starts filling the cooler when Sam walks in. 

“Where are you going?” Sam asks, stopping with his hand on the pot of coffee. 

“Out. I’m not doing any good sitting ducks while you two nerd out and we have no other leads.” Dean shrugs. “I’ll be back on Sunday.” 

“You do realize it’s Thursday right now, right?” Sam looks worried. Dean has had enough of that look to last him a lifetime. He avoids Sam’s eyes as he pulls a few beer bottles from the fridge and sticks them into the ice. 

“Yes, Sammy. I know how to read the calendar. Where are the M&Ms?” 

“Where are you going?” Sam tries again as he reaches into the cabinet and tosses Dean the candy. 

“Thanks,” Dean says when he catches them. “Cheese Curd Fest is this weekend.” 

“Since when do you go to cheese curd fest ?” Sam smiles, clearly amused. 

“Since I was invited.” Dean grabs one bottle of water to finish off the cooler and looks up at his brother. “See you Sunday. Call me if it’s important.” 

“Wait, Dean.” Sam follows Dean out of the kitchen and through the bunker. “What if we need you?”

“You haven’t needed me for the past week. I’m no good with that translating shit you two do so well. If you do need me, I have my phone.” Dean holds up his cell before shoving it into his pocket again. 

“Have a good time, Dean,” Sam says, finally giving in at the door of the garage. Dean nods as he gets into the car. 

Sam and Cas are in good hands and more than occupied. The pile they started with only has a small dent in it. What they’ve read and ditched is in a box under the table. Dean had tried to help briefly but got in the way of their ‘process’. A short weekend away is the perfect break. 

Dean rolls down his window and cranks the volume knob, blasting AC/DC as he leans into the gas. Dean sings along, letting the loud music drown out his awful singing. He wishes he were better, but he’s stuck with the voice he’s got. He drums his hands on the wheel as he drives. The freedom to play his music as loud as he wants and sing at top volume makes the long drive a short one. 

 

“Long time no see,” Donna greets Dean with a hug. “What’s it been? A week?” 

“Just about,” Dean laughs. “Good to see you.” 

“Where are you comin’ from?” Donna asks as she grabs her bag and follows Dean back out to the car. Dean realizes that she knows the secrets close to Dean’s core, the name that Dean holds locked away in his heart, but not even the state that he lives in. 

“Oh, uh. Kansas.” Donna’s eyebrows shoot up. “Lebanon,” Dean supplies. That makes it worse. 

“Lebanon Kansas. That’s nine hours! Are you sure you want to drive again?”

“Well, I made it here in seven hours and we can make it to Wisconsin in a half-hour if I step on it.” Dean shrugs. Donna’s jaw drops and he laughs, shaking his head as he gets in the car. “Get in. We have a hotel to get to.” 

“You really went all out, didn’t’cha?” 

“Oh, yeah,” Dean nods exaggeratedly. 

“You betcha,” Donna says with him. She erupts with laughter as he pulls out of the driveway. 

“So, how did it go with Doug?” Dean asks after the laughter dies down. Donna fixes him with a look and sighs, twisting her mouth this way and that. 

“I apologized to him,” she admits after a minute. “You two were right. I wasn’t bein’ fair.” 

“Uh-huh. And?” Dean gestures for her to keep going. 

“And nothin’!” 

“So you’re not thinking about him at all .” Dean smiles as the silence stretches. “That was supposed to be a simple answer.”

“Well, what about you? Did you talk to him yet?” Donna shoots back. Dean goes red in the face before he can try to swallow down the blush. “Hah!”  

“Shut up. I’m getting to it, okay?” 

Getting to it. He’s been getting to it for too many years. It was on the tip of his tongue in the bunker. He could have said it so many times by now. He should have been saying it every single day because every day it was truer than the day before, but still, Dean is silent. 

“When do I meet this fella?” Donna asks teasingly, knowing she has Dean cornered now that his face is displaying his emotions very clearly. 

“Never.” Dean cracks a smile and she’s won. 

“Have you had dinner yet?” Dean asks as they get closer to their destination. He keeps his eyes on the signs, watching for his exit. 

“Nope.” Donna shakes her head. “What were you thinkin’?”

“Haven’t had pizza in a while.” Dean shrugs and glances over at her. She grins and nods.

Dean pulls off the main road and into a parking lot for a pizza place. “For here or to go?” Dean asks, looking over at Donna. 

“To go,” she says with a single nod. 

“Alright, hang tight.” 

Dean walks in, stretching his legs out and happy to stand after a long day in the car. Only about five minutes left and he’s at the hotel.  Dean just finishes ordering the pizza when his phone rings. 

“Cas?” Dean answers, worry crawling up from deep inside. Something had to be wrong. 

“Dean.” There’s no more to the sentence and he sounds calm. Dean swallows the preemptive fear of imminent war and death. 

“What’s up, buddy?” Ugh. Why did he keep using that stupid word? He shuts his eyes tight, scrunching up his entire face in discomfort. 

“You’re not at the bunker.”

“I know that, Cas.” Silence stretches out between them and Dean wishes he could look into his eyes. His heart pounds as he waits for Cas to say anything. He just needs to hear his voice again. “Is everything okay?”

“Still no sign of her,” Cas reports. “I’ve lost faith that the answers are in these scrolls at all, but Sam wants to continue searching. I don’t know where else to look.”

“I don’t have an answer for you.” 

Dean’s mouth feels dry as he imagines Cas calling him just to hear his voice. His throat feels tight thinking of Cas wanting him there by his side. If only Cas could see him that way. 

“When will you be returning?” 

“I’ll be back on Sunday,” Dean promises. Part of him wants Cas to ask for him to come back now, just to hear him say it. He waits, holding the phone tighter. The line goes dead and Dean’s heart slams. He takes a deep breath and pockets his phone. 

When the pizza is done, Dean grabs it and heads back to the car, hoping that any sign of his feelings about the phone call are gone. Donna takes the box from him and inhales the steam with a satisfied smile before she gets back into the car. 

The hotel looks nicer in person than it had online. Dean walks with Donna through the large glass doors at the front. The floor is waxed marble. The ceiling is high with lights hanging down. There’s a fountain in the middle of the lobby, surrounded by a few couches and chairs. This place is much too nice for a hunter. He grins. 

“How can I help you?” the man behind the desk asks. 

“Checking in,” Dean says, pulling out his credit card and matching ID. 

“Just a moment.” The man looks up the information, gives Dean two room keys and a parking pass, and wishes them a good stay. 

Dean goes back to the car and avoids the valet parking, finding his way to the opposite lot and putting the parking pass on the dash. 

Dean grabs the bags and cooler as Donna is unwilling to unhand the massive pizza already in her possession. She follows him through the hallways as the two of them gawk at everything in sight. 

“Here’s our room, I guess,” Dean says, sliding the key in and pushing the door open. 

“Wowza.” 

Dean tosses his bag onto the far bed and Donna’s onto hers. He sets the cooler down at his feet and dives onto his bed, landing with a soft puff . He rolls over, grinning as he starfishes out on the plush comforter. Paradise. 

“This is so nice,” Donna groans from her bed. Dean lifts his head to look over at her. She’s face down in the pillows. 

“How are we going to eat the pizza if we never move again?” Dean looks over at the food on the desk on the other end of the room. Donna looks over her shoulder. 

“More for me.” Donna leaps off the bed and goes back to the pizza, beating Dean there and grabbing the first slice. 

Dean grabs his slice and opens the cooler as he chews. He pulls out two beers and pops their lids off before handing one to Donna. They clink their glasses with a small, “cheers!” said through two mouthfuls of pizza. 

As they eat, Dean pulls up the movie selection and scrolls through the movies. Donna supplies her opinion with, “mmm!” which Dean guesses means that’s a good movie she’s seen or wants to see and, “mm-mm…” which is obviously a ‘move on, mister’. 

“Have you seen this one?” Donna asks. The cursor is over Inside Out. 

“Missed it,” Dean admits. 

“Okay, we’re watching it after we get into our PJs.” Donna grins before taking a sip of her beer. Dean shoves the rest of his pizza into his mouth before grabbing his pajamas from his bag and going into the massive bathroom. 

Unfortunately, no matter how fancy a hotel is, it will never have anything on Sammy’s shampoos and various other hair products. Dean uses them all anyway, showering off the drive before slipping into his comfy pajamas. 

Dean looks into the mirror as he dries his hair. The steam keeps him from seeing himself and he’s tempted to doodle on the glass. He draws a heart, big and cartoony, in the center of the mirror. In the center, he drags his finger in looping cursive, C-a-s-t-i-e-l. Dean watches the letters disappear under his hand before he leaves. 

“Hey, hedgehog,” Donna laughs. Dean claps a hand over his hair. “It’s cute!” she protests, getting up and pulling his hand away from his head. 

Dean rolls his eyes but keeps his hand away from his head. She digs in her bag and grabs her PJs before disappearing into the bathroom. Dean flops down onto his bed and picks up his cell.

“Just call me,” Dean whispers to his phone, holding it over his face so he can watch the display screen not light up. “Please, Cas.”

When nothing happens, Dean drops his phone onto his chest and sighs. He’s pathetic. He’s hopelessly in love with an angel. It sounds romantic put like that, which just makes it worse. 

His phone vibrates and he picks it up quickly. 

Words With Friends invitation from Continental78. 

“Really, Cas?” Dean laughs. Impala67 accepts. Dean looks at the board and his tiles. The first word played by Cas is home. Dean’s stomach flips as he drags his own l, o, and v onto the end of the word. He hesitates, his finger ready to press play, but moves to clear the board instead. He spells out hell and kicks himself. He can’t even play the word love in case Cas reads into it. He desperately wants Cas to read into it. 

Dean waits, holding his breath as he watches his screen. Cas uses one of his l’s to spell long . Dean adds the ing and practically throws his phone across the room after he presses play. He curls up, pressing his face into his pillow and groans. 

Chapter Text

Donna walks out of the bathroom with her damp hair tied up. A smirk on her lips, she looks like she has a secret. Dean watches her with suspicion as she plops down on her bed and stretches out. 

“What?” he finally asks. 

“Did you draw on the mirror in the bathroom?” Dean’s stomach flips and he clenches his jaw. He thought he’d wiped away his doodle. 

“No. Why?” he lies. 

“Strangest thing. I got out of the shower and the mirror was all fogged up.” Donna pauses for dramatic effect and it’s working. “Do you know what I saw?”

“No,” Dean lies again, his hands tight on the blanket. 

“A big fat heart with a name inside. You know, I didn’t think Castiel was such a popular name.” Dean buries his face in the pillow and curses. “You’re a big teddy bear, aren’t you Dean Winchester?” 

“Shut up,” Dean warns, his voice still muffled by the pillow. 

“Are you blushing?” Donna asks, joy filling her voice. 

Dean doesn’t answer, knowing full well that while his face doesn’t turn as red as a tomato, the pink in his cheeks is too big a giveaway. He doesn’t blush. He’s not a teddy bear. He’s a hunter and a soldier. 

“Yes,” Dean admits after the silence has drawn out long enough. Donna laughs gently. 

He hears her pick up the remote for the tv and the movie starts. He turns over and spots his phone on the ground a few feet away. The screen is lit with one notification. He tears his eyes away and looks up at the tv, pressing himself into the plush bedding. 

The movie is barely started, a small family driving into San Francisco, when Donna asks, “What’s the farthest you’ve traveled? Or craziest place you’ve been?” 

Without thinking, Dean answers, “Probably Purgatory? I don’t know if that’s farther away than Hell is, but it’s a lot more free range so definitely crazier. Heaven was insane, but that was just one fucked up day.” He turns to look over at Donna whose jaw has dropped slightly. “I mean...” Dean clears his throat awkwardly. “I went to Scotland once.” 

“You have not been to all of those places.” Donna tosses a pillow at him and he catches it. 

“I have. I don’t recommend it. Where have you been?” Dean throws the pillow back at her. 

“Haven’t really gone anywhere,” she admits quietly. “Homegrown Minnesotan. I’ve been here for Cheese Curd Fest a few times. Doug was supposed to take us to France on our honeymoon, but…” she trails off. “Better that I explore the world with someone who loves me, right?” 

“Cheers,” Dean nods, raising his beer to her and taking a sip. “Fuck him.”

“Already did that, unfortunately.” Dean almost chokes on his beer and looks over at her. When their eyes meet, they burst out laughing together. 

As Dean watches the movie, his insides turn. This little girl has all of her brain being run by Joy to the point that when Joy leaves, her life is thrown into chaos. Dean imagines his own Joy, a circle drawn around her in salt. Fear and Anger run his brain, dictating every move. Sadness stands guard of the circle, talking down to Joy. Whenever Dean’s Joy toes the salt circle line, Anger plays a clip from the past, usually one starring his father. 

“Who would run your brain?” Dean asks, though he’s sure he knows the answer. 

“Joy!” Donna grins. “Of course! Why?”

“No reason,” Dean lies, his hands balling the blankets into his fists. 

“No, tell me,” Donna insists. Her eyes are unteasing and shining with genuine interest. 

“Do you think everyone is?” Dean can’t look at her. He keeps his eyes on the animated adventure that’s tearing apart his heart. 

“No.” She’s quiet for a moment before she asks, “Who runs your noodle?”

Dean clenches his jaw. 

“Dean?” Donna presses, pulling his gaze from the tv. 

“Maybe Fear,” Dean says softly.

“You’re the bravest person I know.” It’s supposed to be reassuring. Dean isn’t reassured. 

His entire life has been ruled by the fear of losing Sam and failing his mission of keeping his baby brother safe. He feared for himself and his brother every time his father drank too much. Fear of disappointing anyone and everyone in his life remains the most prominent fear, though. 

“I’m not brave,” Dean sighs. 

“M&M me,” Donna says, turning toward Dean and opening her mouth. He digs in the bag and grabs a few. She laughs, keeping her mouth open as Dean aims. One blue one makes it into her mouth to both of their surprise. 

“Wait,” Dean orders her as she starts to move. “Got three more.” She stays still as one bounces off her tooth and the last two land in her mouth again. 

Dean tosses one up in the air for himself and it hits him in cheek. 

“And you were doin’ so well,” Donna chides as Dean picks up the offending M&M from his bed. 

“I know.” Dean lays back on his pillows again. “Are you going to give Doug a chance?” 

“We’re back on this, are we?” Donna plops down, lying on her stomach. 

“Well, you like him don’t you?” Dean waits for her to nod before continuing. “He obviously likes you. What’s the problem besides his cursed name?” 

“Well, he did give me permission to call him by his middle name.” Donna makes a face. “ Lonnie .”

“Eugh, no!” Dean matches her facial expression, scrunching up his nose and frowning. “Sticking with Doug, then?”

“Is there really any other choice?” 

“Apparently not.” Dean grins mischievously. “Oh, Lonnie !” Dean mock orgasms, throwing his head back in fake ecstasy. 

“Shut up!” Donna throws her pillow before following it over to his bed to hit him playfully. “No!”

Lonnie !” Dean continues, his laughter mixing with Donna’s as she beats him with her pillow. 

“His name is Doug!” Donna says over Dean’s fake moaning and laughter. 

“So, you gunna ask him out?” Dean raises an eyebrow and grins when she pauses, the pillow lifted above her head. She meets his eye and smirks. 

“I suppose I should,” Donna agrees, lowering the pillow. “When are you going to ask your angel out then?”

“When I’ve lost my senses because of him,” Dean sighs. “Sit up. I’ve been practicing so you can have a better braid this time.”

Donna gasps and grins, sitting up and pulling her hair out of its tie. She sits with her back to Dean and waits for him to start working on her hair before she says, “Of course, this means I have to paint your nails too.”

“My toes,” Dean reminds her. He twists her hair into a tight braid tying it off before sitting back to admire his work. Done sober and with practice, the braid actually looks decent. 

“Thank you,” Donna says, pulling the braid out to the side for inspection. “You have been practicing.” Dean watches as she moves off the bed, probably thinking she’s being stealthy as she reaches into her bag for the nail polish. “On what exactly?” Donna asks.

“Hmm?” Dean looks down at her where she’s now on the floor rifling through her bag. 

“What have you been practicing braiding on? Sam?” She grins at the idea and Dean laughs, shaking his head. 

“Uh, rope. I had to tie some anyway.” He shrugs and Donna bursts out laughing. 

“Pick a color,” Donna orders, spinning around and holding out purple and blue. 

“You can paint my toes.” Dean gives her a warning look as he picks the blue. The blue that she has no idea is making his heart race and his breath catch. A blue that seems oddly matched to an angel’s eyes that hold the sky and the oceans all at once. Dean holds up the blue polish wishing all of that could be contained in a bottle for him to carry around and paint onto himself, but that kind of blue is special, limited, ethereal. 

Donna plucks the bottle out of his hand and taps his knee twice. He lifts his leg, giving her his foot.

“Can I paint your nails?” Dean asks, watching her carefully brush the blue onto his nails. 

“You betcha! I’ll take purple.” 

“Truth or dare?” Dean asks, peering over his knees at Donna. She stops painting for a moment to think. 

“Truth.” 

“What’s your guilty pleasure?” Dean hugs his arms around his legs, resting his chin on his knees. 

“Is it really guilty if I don’t give a hoot if anyone knows?” Donna laughs. “Maybe Real Housewives or Dr. Sexy.”

“You like Dr. Sexy too?” Dean asks before he can stop himself. Donna looks up quickly. “I mean, you like Dr. Sexy?” 

“I guess I don’t have to ask what your guilty pleasure is.” Amusement gleams in her eyes. “Truth or dare?”

“Truth,” Dean says confidently.

“How did you know you were in love?” 

Dean’s stomach flips and he nearly chokes. “Hard hitting questions right off the bat, huh?” 

“You betcha,” Donna laughs. “Hold still or there’ll be paint all over your feet,” she warns him as he squirms. He settles and tries to think back. 

“How did I know I was in love?” Dean asks her question out loud as he mulls it over. “I knew when I was willing to give up my belief in nothing to pray to him. That, I think, was the first moment I knew I was in love and not just… wanting… him… I knew I was in trouble the first moment we met. I knew that I ached when he wasn’t in the room when I’d gone my whole life without feeling like that before I’d met him. And then I prayed. I prayed for the first time since I’d given up on God as a fucking kid.” 

Dean forces himself to stop talking and shrugs like nothing he just said holds any weight, though it's the heaviest thing he’s ever held. “Truth or dare?” 

“Dare.” 

“I dare you…” Dean thinks for a moment. “I dare you to swear,” he says when he realizes how clean her language is. She looks up from her painting job and raises an eyebrow like this is the worst dare she’s ever gotten in her life. “You don’t swear. I dare you to say one bad one.” 

“What am I supposed to say?” Donna asks. “Hell?”

“That’s a place, not a swear. Come on. Drop a fuck bomb.”

“I think the term is f-bomb,” Donna corrects him, laughing. “Okay, it’s no big deal.” She takes a deep breath and looks Dean in the eye as she squares her shoulders. It’s like she’s preparing herself for battle. “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.”

“Whoa!” Dean applauds. “Well done, George Carlin!”  

Her face splits into a grin. “Alright, that was the one and only, got it?” Dean nods and sits back against his pillows. “Truth or dare?”

“Dare.” 

“I dare you to call him and put it on speakerphone.” 

Dean chokes on the beer he had just taken a sip of and looks at his friend wide-eyed. She only smiles as he panics. Why should he panic? He’s called Cas tons of times.

“Is that it?” Dean asks suspiciously.

“Yep!” 

“Toss me my phone.” Dean points to it on the ground. Donna twists to follow his line of sight and gives him a look. “I threw it earlier. Don’t ask why.” She gets up and grabs his phone, lighting up the screen to see the single notification. 

“You play Words With Friends?” She tosses it to him and relief of Cas not using his name on that dumb game fills him. 

“Yeah. Sometimes.” 

“Toes are done. Just let them dry.” Donna sits next to Dean as he unlocks his phone and pulls up the dial pad. He presses down on the two and holds it until Cas’ name pops up and it rings. 

“Speed dial? This is serious,” Donna muses. Dean clenches his jaw, silently cursing himself for not just typing out the number or going through contacts. 

“Dean?” Cas answers, launching Dean’s heart into the stratosphere. 

“Hey, Cas.” Dean looks at Donna and mouths, what do I say?  

Donna shakes her head and mimes zipping her lips shut as Cas asks, “Is everything okay?” 

“Yep. Yeah. That. I’m fine.” Dean shuts his eyes, wincing at how stupid and strained he sounds. 

“You haven’t played—” Dean fumbles with his phone trying to figure out how to end the call with shaking hands. “Words With Friends. It’s still your turn.”

“That’s great. I’ll play. I gotta go, Cas.” Dean hits the end button and covers his face with both of his hands as Donna finally laughs. 

“He’s who you play with?” The smile is in her voice. Dean falls back onto his pillows and groans into his hands. 

“Truth or dare?” Dean asks pathetically through his fingers, his face burning. 

“Dare.”

“I dare you to go get ice for my face and powdered donuts because it’s time for dessert,” Dean mumbles. 

“Poor Dean,” Donna sighs, patting his knee. “He’s in love.” 

He listens to her get up and leave the room, the door clicking behind him. He holds his phone to his chest, but keeps his eyes shut tight, unwilling to look as his phone buzzes with a text he knows is from Cas. 

 

One package of powdered donuts later, the last one doused with Donna’s salt remains. The air conditioner is on, keeping the room cold enough for Dean to be under his blankets. All of the lights are off except the sliver of pale light coming from the bathroom. 

The clouds of pillows that he rests on are far nicer than what he’s used to. A voice in the back of his mind whispers that he doesn’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve the pillows, the blankets, the painted nails, or the friend. 

“Are you awake?” Her voice is already slow with sleep. 

“No,” Dean answers, closing his eyes. Another voice, smaller but growing, whispers that maybe he does deserve it. 

Chapter Text

The festival is packed. Minnesotans and Winsconsinites mingle at all of the tents, shopping and eating as music travels through the park from the stage. Donna keeps her arm linked with Dean’s so he doesn’t get lost in the crowd as she pulls them forward, obviously knowing how to navigate through the crowds. Her purple nails on his arm make Dean smile. 

They make it to the brewery tent where a few local breweries are battling it out… with cheese curd pairings. Donna knows exactly what she’s doing as she sips the beer and pops a large curd into her mouth. Dean copies her. They grin at each other as the curds squeak against their teeth. 

The IPA is Dean’s favorite of the contenders for best curd pairing, but Donna votes for the wheat. They each walk away with a cup of their vote and wander toward the stage to sit and listen to the music. 

“Wait here, I’ll grab us some poutine,” Donna says as soon as Dean sits down. She hands him her beer and walks toward one of the food stalls nearby. 

The music isn’t bad. A tribute band to the Beatles is playing, the classic tunes washing over Dean as he watches the crowds. He never has time to just watch people interact. He’s used to searching for the creature that doesn’t belong. Today, he watches friends laugh and gossip, families dancing together on the lawn, couples holding hands and sharing an ice cream. 

An old couple catches Dean’s eye. They look at each other with adoration as they share a quiet conversation. The woman stands from her seat and puts her hand out with a flourish eliciting a genuine laugh from her husband. He plops his hand into hers and stands with a grunt. They easily fit into each other’s arms, having spent the last eternity dancing together. They sway slowly, her head resting on his chest as his feet shuffle slowly. Her feet move with ease, but keep to his pace in a practiced sort of way. When the song ends, they don’t part or even seem to notice. 

Dean can’t take his eyes off of them, wanting so badly to have what they have. He will never have what they do. Hunters don’t live long and he’s already on borrowed time. Not to mention, the one person Dean wants is immortal and not allowed love. Dean takes a sip of his beer and looks up at the sky. Every cloud is a set of angel wings. 

“Poutine!” Donna announces behind him. Dean spins around and smiles. She hands him a dish that looks like a heart attack on a plate. Dean can’t wait to dig in. He hands her the beer as she gives him a fork. 

“What is this?” Dean asks, already stabbing into it.

“Delicious,” Donna answers, piling up a bite on her own fork. 

Dean doesn’t bother with more questions. Delicious was the only correct answer. The base of fries are the perfect kind: thick, the crispy outside protecting the molten fall-apart-in-your-mouth potato insides. The gravy on top is the perfect combination of not being watery, but having an oozing delectable texture and flavor. Between the gravy and the fries, though, are the cheese curds, warm and gooey. 

Dean groans happily. “Oh, man,” he says through a mouthful of food. 

“I know.” Donna nods contently as they enjoy their food. 

The band begins to play the first chords of “With a Little Help From My Friends” and Dean immediately puts down his fork and stands up. Donna raises an eyebrow and chews slowly, eyeing him suspiciously. 

“What would you do if I sang out of tune?” Dean sings, putting out his hand. Donna swallows her bite and lets out a soft laugh. “Would you stand up and walk out on me?” 

Donna takes his hand and he pulls her up to dance with him. 

“Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song and I’ll try not to sing out of key,” Dean grins. 

“Please don’t,” Donna teases. 

Dean knows two things about himself for sure. The first is that he’s a terrible singer and no matter how much he does it, there doesn’t seem to be any improvement. The second is he’s as bad at dancing as he is with singing. A third that he realizes as Donna dances beside him, giggling and having fun, is he doesn’t care about the first two things. 

On the last drawn-out note of the song, Dean takes Donna’s hand and spins her throughout the last ringing, “friends!” Donna whoops and giggles as she’s spun, her braid curled hair whirling around her. When the note ends, Dean lets her hand go and she grins up at him. 

“Who knew you couldn’t sing?” 

“Oh, my heart,” Dean groans, slapping his hands over his chest at the insult. “Want to head over to the car show?”

“You betcha!” 

They ditch their empty poutine plates and sip their beer as they walk over to the field of cars. It’s a kind of paradise that Dean knew he’d wanted, but never thought he’d ever visit. Neat rows of mint condition classics make Dean catch his breath. 

Dean had been taught about cars when he was little. Before he was ever meant to be a hunter, Dean had a father who loved him. Preschool only had half days and Dean used to beg his mom to visit the garage where his dad worked. They would go and Dean would look at the lot of beautiful cars that he was not allowed to touch. His dad would smile and tell him all about the makes, models, engines, speeds, and paint colors. 

Then those days were over. Dean was reprimanded for wanting to be a firefighter. He was slapped for asking to go back to the garage to learn about the cars. He was taught about one car, but more out of necessity than for fun. The shine in his father’s eyes was gone, the smile back at the garage. Dean was put behind the wheel of the ‘67 Impala years before he was supposed to learn to drive. He couldn’t see over the wheel of the car, but he was told he needed to know how to drive in case of emergency. The love of the cars remained in Dean’s heart, but what he learned, he had learned in a garage with a father who no longer existed, or in a junkyard with Bobby Singer. 

“This sweetheart came out the same year as my baby,” Dean says, his eyes set on a blue Buick Gran Sport. “She’s in perfect condition, too.”

“Should I give you two a moment?” Donna asks behind him.

“I would never cheat on my baby.” 

“You could have brought her,” Donna says as they walk away from the Buick. 

“Have you seen her?” Dean shakes his head, thinking of the arsenal in the trunk with his box of IDs and demon traps. “No. Not to mention, she used to be on a watch list. She had to stay locked up for a long ass time because she was too recognizable.” 

“How did you manage to survive it?” Donna mocks lightly.

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Dean says seriously. 

Picking up his car for the first time in six months feels like a century ago. Since then he’d gone through Purgatory, bearing the Mark of Cain, becoming a demon, and being saved from all of it by the same guy who brought him back to his car in the first place. The one with the filthy trenchcoat and heavy heart.

“The months away from her were worth the day I got to drive her again,” Dean says softly, remembering the first drive, Cas by his side. 

“Why was your car on a watch list?” Donna asks suddenly.

“Do me a favor?” Dean gives her a sideways glance. “Don’t run my name through your cop computer?” 

“Now I have to.” 

“Might as well arrest me now, Sheriff.” Dean holds his arms out to her, his wrists crossed. She shoves his hands away from her and laughs. 

“What’s this one?” Donna asks, pointing to a random car. 

“‘56 Chevy Bel Air,” Dean rattles off immediately. “This is a custom paint job, too. Looks near perfect, but this isn’t one of the original colors for the car.” 

“Why do you know this stuff?” Donna laughs. “What about that one?” Donna asks before Dean can answer. 

“Series 61? 1950 Caddie. Back wheel drive.” The hood is open and Dean dips his head to get a closer look at the engine. 

 

Dean follows Donna through the craft stalls, drinking a beer as he listens to the music that drifts over. Every once in awhile Donna holds something up for him to approve of. 

Dean looks at a bin of funny socks. They’re the kind Donna wears with little cartoons on them. He laughs as he picks up a pair with ramen on them. 

“Send Noods,” Dean says, holding them up for Donna to see. 

“How much?” Donna asks, taking them from Dean and holding them out to the vendor.

“What are you doing?” Dean hisses as she digs in her wallet.

“You need them!” She grins. 

“If you get me a present then I have to give you a present.” 

Donna presses the socks into his hands. “You brought me here.” She shrugs and walks to the next stall. Dean watches, waiting to find something perfect for her as he holds the socks tightly in his jacket pocket. 

“There’s an idea,” Donna says as they make their way back over to the stage to listen to the next band. “Have you given him a gift?”

“Like what?” What could Dean possibly give to Cas?

“Something personal,” Donna shrugs with one shoulder. “Oh! A mixtape! Bring it back to the 80s!” Dean groans, shaking his head. 

“Because Cas totally knows what giving someone a mixtape means,” Dean says sarcastically. “What would I even put on it?”

“Love songs. You could record your head-splitting singing and give that to him.” 

Dean shakes his head again, laughing this time.

“When do I get to meet Cas and all of your friends?” 

“What friends do you think I have?” Charlie’s face flashes in his mind and his stomach flips. Donna and Charlie would have been fast friends. They were both bubbly, happy creatures, their smiles bright and unwavering. Charlie’s gone. She’s gone and it’s all his fault. Dean takes a deep, shaky breath. 

“What?” 

“Nothing. We, uh… Friends…” Dean trails off, his mind spiraling tight around Charlie’s beaming face. “I, uh…” His nose burns, but he refuses to cry. “One of my friends used to do this thing called LARPing.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of that,” Donna nods.

“Well, she was a queen.” Dean looks down at his hands. “Charlie was smart and funny and this adorable little sister that I never wanted. I…” He half laughs, a tear making its way down his nose. “I had to flirt with a guy for her.” 

“Dean?” Donna rests her hand on his arm gently. 

Dean clears his throat and takes a sip of his beer. “Anyway. You know Jody.” 

 

The walk back to the hotel is quiet, Dean’s heart still heavy with memories. His hand stays in his pocket, the socks clenched in his fist. Donna holds onto his arm as they go, their arms loosely linked. 

“Promise me something,” Dean breaks the silence. Donna looks up at him as they continue to walk. “You won’t put yourself in danger for me. I won’t forgive myself if I lose you too.”

“You won’t lose me,” Donna says, her hand tightening on his arm, “I promise.” With her free arm, Donna holds out her pinky. Dean links his pinky with hers and they drop their hands at the same time. 

 

When they make it up to their room, Donna digs into Dean’s bag and throws his swimsuit at him. He catches it and looks at her with his eyebrows knitted together in an unspoken question. 

“We’re goin’ swimmin’.” She grabs her own suit out of her bag and runs into the bathroom. 

“Knock before you come out!” Dean calls through the door. He strips quickly and pulls his swim trunks on before searching for sandals to wear up to the pool. 

There’s a knock on the bathroom door as Dean slips his feet into sandals he stole from Sam. “Come in,” Dean calls. 

“Here’s a towel,” Donna says, tossing him one as she exits the bathroom. 

“Why swimming?” Dean asks as they leave their room. Donna doesn’t answer. She just leads him to the elevator that they take up to the roof. 

The view is gorgeous, and it’s not one Dean would ever have taken the time to look at if he were anywhere else. The night sky stretches out, the stars twinkling above. White string lights are wrapped around the fence, creating a perfectly lit night swim. 

Steam billows from the top of the hot tub, begging for Dean to sink into the hot water. He kicks off his sandals and steps into the hot tub, feeling his muscles begin to relax under the water’s touch. Donna follows him after turning on the jets. Bubbles surround them, the roar of the jets taking over the silence of the night as they sit across from each other. 

“Kiss, Marry, Kill?” Donna asks as Dean makes himself comfortable. 

“You mean Fuck, Marry, Kill?” Dean asks, a mischievous smile tugging at his lips. 

“Canoodle, Marry, Kill,” Donna continues. Dean bursts out laughing before nodding her on to start the game. “Dr. Piccalo, Dr. Wang, and Dr. Sexy.”

“Wow, starting tough.” Dean cups his hands and squirts water up. “Fuck- I’m sorry… Canoodle Dr. Wang, marry Dr. Sexy, and kill Dr. Piccalo.” 

“Reasoning?” 

“What? Since when do I have to explain myself?” Dean asks, squirting water at her. “Fine. I’m canoodling Dr. Wang because she’s sexy yet arrogant. She’s got to be right about being amazing, might be the bedroom. I would get tired of the arrogance in a marriage, though. I’m killing Dr. Piccalo because she’s too earnest for a one night stand. It wouldn’t end well. I’m marrying Dr. Sexy for very obvious reasons.”

“Are the cowboy boots part of your decision?”

“Hell yes.” Dean sinks lower in the water, letting the warmth bubble up over his shoulders. “Aragorn, Arwen, and... Sam.” 

“I can’t kill Sam!” Donna splashes Dean. “Oofta. I guess I’m boinkin’ Arwen, marryin’ Aragorn, and killin’ poor little Samwise.” 

“Can’t believe you would do Sam dirty like that,” Dean teases, shaking his head and earning another splash. 

“Dick Roman, Obama, and Bill Gates,” Donna says after a moment of thought. 

“That’s not fair. I’ve already killed one of them.” Dean ignores the look of shock on Donna’s face as he says, “I’m marrying Obama and fucking Bill then.”

“You killed Dick Roman?” Donna blinks a few times. 

“What did you think happened to him?” It occurs to Dean that he hadn’t been around when the news would have aired that Dick Roman was no more. He hadn’t bothered to look after spending a year in Purgatory either. 

“There was an attack on one of his labs and he disappeared, but no one could explain it…” Donna shakes her head slowly. “That was you?” 

“Well, not alone, no. Cas and I took down Roman together, but there was a whole team working together to get in.” 

“You commit murder on all of your dates or..?” Donna teases.

“Not a date,” Dean says, splashing her. “Lonnie, Jody, and Doug.” 

“What?” Donna tries to splash him back, but he’s already out of the hot tub going to the pool as quickly as possible. “His name isn’t Lonnie!” 

“His middle name is!” 

“I’m killin’ Doug, that’s for darn sure!” 

“Fuck yeah!” Dean cheers before cannonballing into the pool. The heat leaves his body all at once as the cool water surrounds him. He pushes back up to the surface, his head swimming from the temperature change. 

“I’ll knock boots with new Doug and marry Jodes.” 

“See, you already have cute names for your wife. I wonder how Lonnie will feel about this.” Dean ducks under the water again to escape Donna’s wrath. 

When he comes up, he lets himself float, staring up at the blanket of night above him. He feels the water ripple and hears the splash as Donna jumps in. The top of her head rests against his as they float and stargaze. He can feel her hair on his shoulders under the water. 

“Look at the stars.” Dean points, his fingertip connecting the constellations above them. 

“Look how they shine for you,” Donna sings to a tune Dean doesn’t know. “And for the things you do…” 

Dean lets her voice, muffled by the water, put him at ease as he continues to drift among the twinkling lights. The possibility of Cas staring up at the same star-studded sky is slim, but it still pulls at Dean’s heart as he hopes, dreams, and floats in a pool of night.

Chapter Text

Dean follows Donna into the house, carrying her bags for her. His least favorite part of the trip caught up to them and now he’s stalling the goodbye. 

“Next year’s on me,” Donna grins as Dean sets her bags down in the living room. He nods. Next year. Sometimes, with everything that happens in his life, he forgets to plan for next year. There’s only so many times that the world can almost end before you stop planning on a tomorrow. 

“Counting on it.” Dean gives her a half-smile. “Come here.” He pulls her in for a hug that will have to last him awhile. Between the Darkness and the most recent near-death experience that the world just had, he’s not sure when the next time he’s going to see her is. 

“Thanks,” Donna says, meeting his eyes as she steps out of the hug again. 

“For what?” 

“This.” She gives him one of her rosy-cheeked grins that scrunch her nose a little. “I like havin’ ya around.”

“You’re good people,” Dean says as he walks toward the door.

“Don’t be a stranger!” Donna calls after him as he walks out to his car. He nods and waves to her as he ducks into his seat and starts the ignition. Dean watches her in his rearview mirror, standing on her porch and waving to him. He waves out of his window as he drives until he can’t see her anymore.

 

Dean arrives back at the bunker late. Part of him hopes that Cas is there, but another hopes he’s elsewhere. That feeling is getting more and more common. He wants to be around Cas constantly. He feels alive when he’s close to him. That’s the problem though. His heart beating in his chest so loudly that he’s sure that everyone, especially Cas, can hear it. 

When Dean walks inside, the lights are dim. Sam is already in his room for the night. The War Room table is clear of all the research that Sam and Cas had been working on. Did they finish? Was Cas gone researching more? 

Dean walks through the bunker quietly, silently telling himself that this is what he always does when he comes home and this has nothing to do with looking for a certain angel. Every room is dark. Dean sighs out his disappointment and goes to his bedroom. 

After pulling his jeans off, Dean climbs into his bed and pulls out his phone. 

“Made it home. Night, D-Train,” Dean texts to Donna. He looks up at his notifications bar and sees the Words With Friends icon. 

He taps it and Cas’ most recent word glares at him. Gone. It’s just a game. Dean tries to tell himself that it’s just a game, but it doesn’t feel like it. He doesn’t want it to be just a game. He wants the words he plays to hold as much weight with Cas as they do with himself. No , Dean plays. He keeps the game open to see if Cas will answer now. When he doesn’t, Dean puts his phone on the side table and rolls over to go to sleep. 

 

Dean’s not sure what woke him up. He groans into his pillow and stretches. No alarm is set on his phone. No calls or texts. He sits up in the dark and rubs a hand over his face. He shoves his painted toes into some slippers and grabs his robe. The only full thought that he’s having is coffee

Okay, not that full of a thought, but it’s all Dean needs to get moving toward the kitchen where there will be coffee. Coffee. 

Dean turns to walk into the kitchen and stops. Sam is awake. He’s frozen in the middle of the kitchen. One hand is drawn back and ready to punch, the other is extended, holding an invisible attacker at bay. Dean blinks a few times and looks between the extended hand and the nervous wreck of a Sam. 

“This can’t be happening,” Sam says to himself, eyes wide and filled with disbelief. 

“Dude,” Dean finally says. “Who’re you talking to?” 

Sam looks over, panic all over his face. “Him!” Sam says, gesturing to the empty air at the end of his clenched fist. Between the weird visions of Lucifer, his past migraines with premonitions, and demon superpowers, Dean is much too asleep for this. 

“Are you having a stroke?” Dean asks, unable to come up with literally any other explanation. It’s a little late for schizophrenia and Dean is very done with his little brother’s boy-wonder powers. “Do you smell toast?” 

Before Sam can answer, if he was even going to, Dean’s eyes land on the table. Piled high are desserts of every kind. He feels his arteries close just being in the same room as that sugar rush. “What is all this crap? When’d you start eating this stuff?”

A silver platter of cheeze-its drizzled with hot fudge, tarts, chocolate cake, cheese puffs, a candy wonderland, and, “Is that marshmallows on nachos?” 

“This wasn’t me!” Sam tries. Dean’s not buying it. Maybe he slept-walked or some shit. Doesn’t matter. They have a junk food extravaganza on their table and there’s only two people who eat that live in the bunker. 

“It was me,” comes a new voice. Standing beside Sam is the happiest looking being that Dean has ever seen. Rainbow suspenders and a goofy hairstyle, he grins with his hands on his hips. Something about him reminds Dean of a cupid he met a long time ago. “And those are delicious,” the stranger says, pointing to the marshmallow nachos. 

Everything is drowned out as Dean takes in this character. There is no other word for him and his rosy cheeks and yellow striped shirt. He looks out of place and colorful and he definitely wasn’t here a second ago. 

“This is Sully,” Sam finally says after some stuttering. “M-my friend from when I was a kid.” His friend . His imaginary friend when he was little. Sam had always been a weird kid, talking about his friend Sully. When John had gotten mad about his imaginary friend, Dean had waited until they were alone to stand up for his kid brother. He’d waited because he knew that he’d take the heat and keep Sam and his imaginary friend safely locked away in what was left of a childhood for as long as he could. 

“You mean Mork from Ork here is your dumbass imaginary friend Sully?” Dean asks. He’s real. Or he’s having an aneurysm.  

“Yeah,” Sam says as Sully protests.

“Uh, I’m not dumb or ass.” 

If he’s real, he’s not some imaginary friend that kept Sam company. He’s a monster. He’s one of the things that they should have been hunting. He was the monster under Sam’s bed. Dean’s skin is crawling. He protected Sully when he should have been protecting Sam. 

“I’m gunna get my gun.”

“No, please!” Sully calls out. Dean doesn’t know what the fuck he just did with his hands, but he’s got them ready to karate chop this marshmallow monster in half. He feels sick. Every time he had told his father that Sully was harmless, he’d been protecting a monster who preyed on children. “Someone killed my friend.” 

His rosy-cheeked smile is gone. He’s deflated. 

“You mean your imaginary, imaginary friend?” Dean clarifies, not even trying to keep the edge and skepticism out of his voice. 

“First off, ‘imaginary friend’ is more of a descriptive term. How you just said it? That was a little… offensive, just to be honest. Secondly, we’re zana. Me…me and the victim were zana.” 

Zana. Doesn’t ring a bell. 

“We help kids,” Sully pleads. Dean bites his cheek to keep from scoffing and showing his disgust. “We’re the good guys. Sam, tell him.” 

All Sam can do is nod numbly. Dean watches the exchange and can’t tell if this is real or not. Zana, imaginary friends, helping children. Not monsters. Not murdering children. This is all too much. 

“You know what? I’m still trying to wrap my head around this whole you being real thing,” Sam says. Dean silently agrees. He’s getting whiplash from this morning’s events. 

“Aw! Yeah, no, no, of course! No, that’s okay! That’s okay! This is all really unexpected!”

“Yeah, that’s one word for it.”

“Just… I need your help.” He sounds desperate. “All right, you’re hunters. That’s what you do right? I mean you help people too, right?”

Saving people. Hunting things. “Yeah. Yeah, people . You are not that.” 

“In Romanian lore, zana are creatures who guide and protect lost creatures. Zana intentionally appear as figments of a child’s imagination allowing the child to move on with confidence once guidance is no longer necessary,” Sam had read. So it was decided. They would help Bing-Bong.  

Dean calls Donna as he packs a bag, angrily throwing shirts into a duffel. 

“Hiya, Dean,” she answers brightly. 

“I have a question,” he says. 

“Sure.” He can see her nodding along, waiting for the question and she’s not even here. 

“Okay so remember that movie we watched with the blue-haired chick and the sad one?” He can’t think of the name of the movie. It’s on the tip of his tongue. 

“Inside Out,” Donna supplies. 

“Right. Remember her imaginary friend, Bing-Bong?” Not waiting for a response, Dean continues, “So what if he was real with all of his weird hobo elephant-ness and he showed up and asked you to solve the murder of another imaginary friend?”

“Then I guess I’m solvin’ a murder,” Donna answers without hesitation. “That poor guy. Don’t pretend you didn’t cry when he sacrificed himself. I was there. I saw the tears.”

“There was one tear!” Dean protests. “I mean I don’t cry during movies! Shut up. I’m hanging up now.” 

“Wait! What would you do?” 

“I’m solving the fucking murder,” Dean sighs. “Talk to you later, Donna.”

“Bye, Dean!”

 

When Sam and Dean return to the bunker a few days later, the air is tense between them again. Sparkle the manicorn and Nikki the mermaid are two murders solved. Weems is saved and Sully faced his mistakes, but Sam… Sam wants to walk into the cage and have a talk with Lucifer. 

“Dean,” Sam tries again as they get out of the car and head into the bunker. Dean ignores him. They had their talk. Dean said no. Not happening. End of discussion. “Dean, we need to talk about this.”

“We did talk about this,” Dean says without looking at him. He knows he’s not being fair, but life ain’t fair. Standing by while his brother asks to go visit Lucifer for afternoon tea isn’t fair. “I need sleep.”

Sam makes a face but doesn’t continue with his protests as he wishes Dean a good night. Two doors close and the bunker falls silent. 

Dean plops onto his bed and sighs out the relief before grabbing his headphones and blasting Metallica as he leans against his pillows. He just needs to drown the world out for a little bit. The clock is edging closer to midnight and he’s been driving for hours. His eyelids are heavy and he doesn’t bother fighting them as they start to close. 

His phone buzzes. Dean cracks open one eye and lights up his phone screen. 

Cas.

Suddenly, Dean is no longer sleepy. Any trace of having ever been tired is gone as he sits up and opens the notification to their ongoing game. It looks less like a game and more like a conversation spelled out on the board in one-word plays. 

Home. Love, Hell. Long. Longing. Gone. No. Monster. 

The last word Cas played burns into Dean’s eyes as he reads it, trying to understand. Is it just a word in a game or does it mean something, anything? Dean clicks the “shuffle tiles” button repeatedly as he stares at the word. Cas isn’t a monster. 

Dean drags his letters onto the board. 

Cas is an angel. 

Home. Hell. Long. Longing. Gone. No. Monster. Angel. 

Dean’s heart pounds as Cas continues to play, his phone buzzing again with the new word. Green. Again, is it just a word? Does it mean something? Are those the only letters that worked in Cas’ tile tray or is he thinking about Dean’s eyes? Why does it have to be that? He could be in a garden. He could be surrounded by open fields. He could be in the middle of nowhere, holding his phone up for signal as he thinks about the green of Dean’s eyes and tells him through a stupid game. 

Dean spells out blue and hits send before he can stop himself. If Cas is thinking of his eyes, he’ll know that Dean is thinking just the same. Seeing skies and oceans meet in Cas’ gaze. Sapphires and cobalt weaving together to shine when he smiles. 

Dean jumps, dropping his phone when it starts to ring. He shoves his headphones off, not bothering to pause the music as he answers. 

“Cas?”

“Hello, Dean.” 

Why does the world spin when he speaks? Why does Dean’s stomach do a gymnastics routine full of flips and leaps when he says his name? It doesn’t matter. Not when the world also gets brighter. 

“What’s up?” Dean asks, heart leaping into his throat. 

There’s a pause before Cas answers, “The heavens. Millions of dead stars shining from the past. A waning moon.” Dean gets up and walks out of his room, quietly making his way out of the bunker. 

“Keep talking,” Dean whispers as he positions his phone between his face and his shoulder. 

“I didn’t think you were interested in astronomy,” Cas says. “Why are you whispering? Dean?”

Dean closes the door carefully behind him and turns around to see the blanket of night. “I was whispering because it’s night and I didn’t want to wake up Sam.” 

“What’s up?” Cas asks stiffly, copying Dean. 

“The sky,” Dean answers with a gentle laugh. “A ton of constellations that I don’t know the names of. A Cheshire cat smile.” 

“There’s a grinning cat?” 

“Forget it, Cas. Tell me about the stars.” Dean finds a spot in the grass and stretches out, putting one arm under his head as he gazes up at the same sky that Cas is looking at. 

“Do you know of Altair and Vega?” Cas asks. Dean shakes his head, forgetting that Cas can’t see him. Cas continues anyway. “The legend changes depending on who you ask. Vega was a young woman who appeared to be a simple weaver. She belonged to a family of demigods and was immortal. She fell in love with a mortal man.”

“Altair,” Dean says softly, searching the sky to see if he can find them among the stars. 

“Altair was just a farm boy, a cow herder. Their love was strong and grew stronger every day. Vega’s parents didn’t approve. They were against the love of mortal and immortal beings.” 

As angels are against the love between humans and angels, Dean thinks but keeps quiet. 

“Vega’s parents separated the lovers, carving a river between them. On one side of the river sits Vega’s loom. On the other is Altair and his cow herd. Between them is their river made of a full galaxy. One night a year, the lovers meet.”

“Where are they?” Dean asks.

“They’ll appear in a few hours, just before sunrise,” Cas says softly. “You need your four hours, Dean.’

“I can wait,” Dean protests. “Is tonight their night?”

“I believe so.” There’s a beat of comfortable silence as they stare up at the sky together. “I have to go,” Cas says, breaking the silence. Dean hears the reluctance, but he can’t tell if he imagined it because it’s what he wants to hear or not. 

“Night, Cas.”

“Goodnight, Dean.”

Dean pulls up their game and sees that just before calling, Cas had played joke . Dean arranges his letters to once again play love . He stares at it, ready to recall the letters again and find something else to play when he drops his phone. He scrambles to pick it up but it’s too late. The word has been played. 

Dean groans and covers his burning face with both hands. 

“Noooo,” escapes through the cracks of his fingers. He picks up his phone and calls the only person in the world he can talk to about this. 

“Dean?” Donna picks up. She sounds like she’s been sleeping. Oops.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“Wait!” she says as Dean starts pulling the phone away from his face to hang up. “What’s wrong?”

“Stupid stuff that can wait.” 

“Wouldja stop bein’ so thick-skulled and just talk to me?” Donna asks. He half-smiles and sighs. “Out with it! What happened?”

“Do you think that certain people read into the words you play on scrabble?” Dean asks, wincing at how dumb he sounds. 

“Depends,” she says slowly. “Is this particular individual also an angel?” Dean groans in response, his face heating up again. Donna squeals. “What did’ya do?”

“I’ll send it.” Dean takes a screenshot before sending it to Donna. He waits a few seconds and hears her scream of delight. He smiles despite his embarrassment.

“He better read into this,” Donna says when she’s finished celebrating. “You two have been flirtin’. ” 

“Have not!”

“Oh, yah. Big time, mister.” 

The night dissolves into laughter and blushes. The evil in the world seems far away as Vega and Altair draw closer. 

Chapter Text

Donna walks into the living room with a bowl of popcorn. Doug coming over to watch movies is still new. It’s a fresh transition from their weekly lunch or dinner dates. She had wanted to go as slowly as possible, still healing from her past, and Doug said okay. He let her set the pace and allowed her the space she needed to become comfortable enough to keep going. 

“Popcorn!” Donna announces. Doug turns and smiles, but Donna’s drops when she sees the tv. “I thought we were watchin’ a movie.”

“We are,” Doug says. 

“Then what do we have here?” Donna asks as she sits down next to him. Doug doesn’t have time to answer before the commercial ends and the bright red banner at the bottom of the screen lights up with breaking news. 

“The President of the United States has been found. He’s currently under observation. Kelly Kline, his secretary, remains missing. Efforts to find her and bring her back are looking hopeful again with the President’s recovery…” 

“Oh,” Donna manages, sitting back. The news has been strange lately. 

“The world’s endin’ one minute, the President gone and recovered in the next. What the heck is happenin’?” Doug picks up the remote and switches it over to their movie. 

“There was also that rockstar,” Donna says before Doug can hit play. He looks over at her and furrows his brow. “Three’s a pattern.” 

“Of what?” 

“Haven’t the foggiest.” She has the creeping feeling that this is Dean’s kind of strange. Something wasn’t right the night that the news reported the end of the world and it miraculously stopped and there’s something not quite right now. 

Doug presses play on their movie as Donna’s phone starts playing “Highway” by Wayward Daughter. Jody calling at this moment in time feels ominous, so instead of ignoring it like Donna has never actually done, she apologizes to Doug and picks up the phone. 

“Hiya, Jodes,” Donna answers, trying to sound cheery despite the churning of her stomach. 

“Watching the news?” Jody asks. Donna gets up from the couch and walks down the hallway out of earshot of Doug. 

“Caught the tail end just now. Oofta. It’s that side of weird isn’t it?” 

“I’m worried about my boys,” Jody whispers after a moment. “The last time I saw them was at Asa’s funeral. There was so much happening. Mary came back.”

“Mary?” 

“Their mom.”

Who knew one word could be so heavy. Donna knows that their mom died when they were both young, but not that she was brought back. How did Hitler make headlines and his mother didn’t? “Oh,” is all Donna can say. 

“You didn’t know either?” She sounds as shocked as Donna feels.

“Isn’t she…?”

“She was. I don’t know the details. Like I said, there wasn’t time to talk and Dean wasn’t exactly forthcoming.” Jody clears her throat and lowers her voice. “Something’s going on and I don’t know what it is. I’m scared for my boys.”

“You and I both know they’re gunna be fine,” Donna says, though the fear that she’s wrong seeps deep into her skin. 

“I hope so.” Jody sighs and Donna holds her phone a little tighter. “He just shut down when she walked in…”

“Why don’t you call him?” 

“I tried all of the Winchester numbers,” Jody laughs humorlessly. “No one’s home.” 

Every anxious thought and stray fear ball up tight together to form a stone in Donna’s stomach. She can’t find comforting words for Jody or for herself. She’s used to not hearing from Dean for weeks at a time as he hunts and does whatever it is he does in his spare time. She’s used to dealing with the idea that he’s probably in constant danger due to his line of work. She’s not used to news of the world ending, rock stars turning to dust on stage, Presidents being kidnapped, and a woman everyone thought was dead returning from her grave. 

“Donna?” Jody asks through the phone at the same time as Doug calls her from down the hall. 

“I have to go. Talk later, Jodes.” 

Donna heaves a sigh and sends Dean a quick text before squaring her shoulders and heading back out to movie night, determined not to drown in her own worry. 

 

Donna checks her phone. It’s been two weeks since the President was recovered. No word from either of the Winchesters. She knows it’s useless to call again. She’s called so many times and left so many messages. Some of those messages were of motherly scorn, others of a concerned sister. He’s not going to pick up and she’s just going to feel the knots in her belly tighten. 

“Pick up, pick up, pick up,” Donna mutters as she walks aimlessly through her house. She doesn’t have a picture of her and Dean on display in her living room yet. They’re still all on her phone. 

“Hello?” a deep voice answers. Donna stops, her hand falling from the bookshelf that she had been running her finger across. The voice is rich with emotion and even though it’s not Dean’s, she’s not entirely convinced that voice doesn’t belong to him. 

“Cas?” 

“Uhm, yes.” 

Donna bites down on her lip as she sucks in a lungful of air to keep from squealing with excitement. She’s talking to Cas. The love of her best friend’s life: Cas. The topic of many a conversation: Cas. 

“Dean isn’t…” He trails off and pushes out the rest of his breath. He sounds defeated. Donna feels her smile slip. 

“It’s okay,” she hears herself saying. “It’s not your fault.” 

“Was there a reason for this call? Do you need help?” 

There wasn’t a reason for calling except to check on Dean. She had already canceled their hotel reservations for another spa weekend away as she had crossed off their third friendaversary on her calendar.

“I was just callin’ to check in and see if we were still on to hang out.” She recalls asking Dean when she was allowed to meet Cas and he told her never. Then again, if Dean didn’t want her meeting Cas, he shouldn’t have let him answer the phone. “You could always take his place. Want to take a load off?”

“I probably shouldn’t.”

“Well, if you ever wanna talk, my door’s open. My phone’s on and I can send you my address.” She swallows, finding little comfort in the fact that he sounds as worried about Dean being gone as Jody and herself. “You’re not alone, Cas,” she promises gently. 

“Thank you.” He hangs up and Donna releases the tension from her shoulders that she hadn’t known she’d been holding. She types her address and sends it to Dean’s phone with little hope for any kind of a response. 

She barely has time to pocket the phone again before there’s a knock at the door. She glances at her calendar to make sure she’s not expecting anyone. The day is blank. Donna shakes her head, flipping through her friends list in her head to try to think of anyone who could be here as she goes to answer the door. 

When she opens the door she hears an echo of what Dean had once said to her when she had asked what Cas looked like. “He’s shorter than me. Bluest eyes you’ve ever seen...Dark, wild hair... He wears a suit and he usually wears a blue tie... Except the tie is always backwards... And he always, always wears a tan trenchcoat.”

The description is spot on, except for maybe the height thing. He’s a good five inches taller than her, but everything else is just as Dean had said. His blue eyes are sad and tired. 

“I accept the invitation, Donna,” Cas says. There’s something about the way he holds himself and speaks. He’s otherworldly. 

“Come on in,” she says, opening the door wider and stepping to the side as she tries to keep from staring. This is the angel she was told about. This is the being that has held Dean Winchester’s heart captive for eight years. 

“Thank you,” he says. “Your home is beautiful.” He’s looking into the living room, his intense eyes peering directly at the photographs just as Dean had done. 

“Can I getchya anything?” She’s not sure what she could possibly get an angel. He turns his gaze to her and tilts his head in question, his eyes squinting like he doesn’t understand. They’re on the same page. There’s no rulebook on how to handle houseguests from Heaven. 

“Dean has a reminder in his phone that just says your name.” Cas takes a few tentative steps into the living room and looks at the couches before opting to remain standing in the center of the room. “It went off last week.” 

“It was our third friendaversary.” His absence feels more real with Cas standing in her living room telling her things about him that she didn’t know. She didn’t expect him to set a reminder in his phone. She didn’t expect his crush to answer the phone. She didn’t expect to feel lost and left behind. 

“I’m sorry,” Cas says, his voice hitching for a moment. His shoulders sag and he looks defeated. 

“This isn’t your fault,” Donna says. She wants to hug him but she doesn’t know if she’s allowed. She finds herself going to him anyway. She wraps him in a hug, the type of hug that Jody always tells her needs a warning first, and is surprised when his arms wrap around her too. 

“I’m afraid it is,” is all he says after a long moment passes. “I don’t know where he is and that’s my fault too.”

“How is that your fault?” Donna asks as she leads Cas to a couch to sit down. 

“I’m the one who carved runes into his ribs to keep him hidden.” Cas sighs, his eyes dropping to his hands in his lap. “To keep him safe. I had to get a mobile device to keep in contact with him.” 

“What happened?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific.” He looks back up at Donna, quirking one eyebrow. 

“The end of the world is probably a good place to start if you know anything about it.” Something tells her he knows everything about it. Much more than Jody anyway. “Before that, Mary Winchester is back from the dead?” Cas winces at her name. 

“The two are connected,” Cas says awkwardly. “It’s a long story.”

“Wouldja look at all the time I’ve got,” Donna says, remembering that those words were the ones that led to the first story about Cas she had ever heard. 

“God’s sister tried to kill him, which began the end of the world. It was voted upon that a soul bomb would be built to kill her, but the only way to get close enough with the bomb was to send Dean in as the bomb. He talked her into taking God away with her and talking through whatever they needed to work through instead of killing each other and the world. In return, she let Dean live and revived his mother.” 

“You really know how to sugar-coat that God is real and everythin’ don’tcha?” Donna lets out a humorless laugh that borders on hysterical as she gets up. “I need a beer. Do you need a beer? I’ll just grab the whole pack.” 

Cas puts a hand on hers to keep her from going anywhere. It doesn’t take much. She’s not sure she can feel her legs. Donna plops back onto the couch as she watches Cas get up and walk out of the room. He comes back with a beer and sets the rest of the pack on the coffee table. 

“Should I continue?” Cas asks. Donna holds up a finger before drinking the whole bottle. When she’s finished, she puts the empty bottle on the table and nods at Cas. 

“No wait,” she says quickly as soon as he opens his mouth. He closes it again and waits. “God is real?” 

“Yes.” 

“Okay, continue,” she says, sinking into the couch. 

“I was instructed by Dean to take care of Sam, so after Dean left… We all thought he was dead. Sam and I returned to the bunker and a Woman of Letters used that moment to kidnap Sam and send me away. When I returned, Dean and Mary were there. I wasn’t expecting her return, but that moment was clouded with the immense relief from Dean’s return when we all thought he had died. That’s when he kissed me an—”

“WHAT?!” Donna shrieks. “What happened? Tell me everything! How did he kiss you? Did you kiss him back? WHAT HAPPENED?!” 

“I… yes. I kissed him back,” Cas says slowly. Donna feels all of her excitement bubbling up but keeps from screaming again because the angel looks alarmed. “He told me that he had almost died without telling me how he felt and that he loved me,” Cas chokes and his face crumples. 

Dean is missing. Dean is missing and Cas can’t locate him. It drops like a bomb in Donna’s stomach. 

“He kissed me when I told him I loved him.” Cas takes a deep breath that shutters. “And now he and Sam are gone. Lucifer’s child is gone. It’s my fault and I can’t fix it.” 

“Cas…” She wants to tell him he can stop, but he doesn’t seem to be stopping. Not yet. 

“You asked me another question. How did he kiss me? He kissed me like his life depended on it. He kissed me and made worlds collide and created new ones. Colors burst and walls broke down. Stars were born, exploding into light. He kissed me like a man in love and it was all I had wanted since I fell in love with Dean Winchester.” 

Chapter Text

The small world that Donna had lived in before had grown considerably since Cas had walked into her home. There was a time before she had met the Winchesters that there was no such thing as monsters and Heaven and Hell were both debatable. God existed in faith and as a vague notion, not as a person on Earth who had a sibling rivalry. People never came back from the dead and friends didn’t go missing without a trace. 

“How did you meet them?” Cas asks. They’re in the backyard now. She sits on her porch swing, a blanket thrown over her lap as Cas stands by the porch railing. 

“Sam and Dean? Well, they blew through town pretendin’ to be a couple’a agents. Had me fooled. Saved me from my first real monster.” Donna grins at the memory before hugging herself. 

“I wasn’t very good the first time I pretended to be an FBI agent with Dean,” Cas admits. Donna laughs. Picturing this man next to Dean with a fake FBI badge seems the least plausible of everything she’s found out today. 

“Are you a hunter then too?” Donna asks after a moment. It never occurred to her that an angel could be a hunter. Maybe witches and vampires could too. 

“A poor example of one, yes,” Cas says softly. “At least, I’d like to think I am. My family is.” 

“I have a question,” Donna says, bringing her knees up to her chest and hugging them to her. 

“I might have an answer,” Cas responds. 

“Do you ever wish you were human?” It seems like an odd question, but it’s just as hypothetical as asking another person if they’ve ever dreamed of being a mermaid or superhero. 

“I was for a short time.” He finally sits down next to her and looks straight out over her backyard. 

“Angels can become human?” 

“If their grace is removed, yes. It was painful, but I learned a great deal about humans in the process. I don’t envy humans, but I’m grateful for my temporary experience.” 

“What was the weirdest part?” 

“Urination,” Cas says without hesitation. Donna bursts out laughing and claps a hand over her mouth. She swears she sees his mouth twitch, but it could have been a trick of the light. “What’s your favorite part of being human?” Cas asks after a moment.

No one has ever asked her that. Why would they? She hums quietly while she thinks. “I don’t know what’s exclusive to humans anymore. My world’s been cracked open like a coconut. Angels and demons. Every monster and heeby-jeeby. What was your favorite?”

“The taste of food was dramatically improved. I couldn’t taste each molecule it was made up of. Have you ever had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” 

“All the time.”

Cas nods as if recalling a fond memory. Donna tries to think up the last time she enjoyed a sandwich that much. That was just her lunch if she ran out of time in the morning on her way to work. It was a nothing special kind of meal to her, but to him, it was his favorite thing about being a human. 

“You’re a police officer right?” 

“That’s Sheriff to you,” Donna grins. 

“If Sam and Dean were arrested, would we be able to look that up?” 

“Is this hypothetical?” Donna asks, straightening in her seat. Cas looks away from her and clears his throat. His hands are clasped in his lap, his knuckles white. “Fluffernutter, it’s not hypothetical. Okay, so when were they arrested?”

“They’ve been gone for two weeks and five days.”  

Donna can smell a coverup before she even looks. She gets up and leads Cas back inside. She has a work computer in her office and she already knows that she won’t be able to find a trace of the Winchesters. She logs on anyway and Cas hovers nearby as she searches. 

The first thing she searches for is arrests made. Dean had told her not to run his name through her computer. Part of her is scared to, but the search she’s on is too broad right now. Biting her lip, she types in Dean Winchester. 

She doesn’t know what she was expecting. Whatever it was, it wasn’t this. It starts bad and gets worse. Credit card and mail fraud, breaking and entering, and grave desecration start the list. Armed robbery and kidnapping. There’s an outstanding warrant for murder in Missouri and three murders in Arkansas. There’s a string of murders in different states. The mugshots are all younger, a Dean she never met. Eventually, there’s just snapshots from security cameras. According to the computer, Dean was never arrested almost three weeks ago. According to the computer, Dean Winchester is dead and has been multiple times. 

Sam’s list is much the same except that he’s listed as nothing more than a probable accomplice in a few of the murders. From the string of murders that took place across the country, he’s seen in the security footage right beside his brother, gun in hand. He’s also incorrectly labeled as deceased. At least Sam’s old mugshots have the decency to look upset by the situation he’s in. Dean’s all have an air of confident arrogance and amusement. 

Donna doesn’t have to say anything. She can feel Cas’ nervous energy dissipate into disappointment as he reads over her shoulder. 

“I’m sorry,” she offers weakly. She doesn’t know what else she can do, and from the looks of it, neither does Cas. He shakes his head, dismissing her apologies as they leave the room together. “Do you know who took them and why?” 

“Is the President back?” Cas asks in lieu of an answer. Donna narrows her eyes. 

“Don’t tell me that they’re the ones that kidnapped the President of the United States,” Donna says, pleading with everything she has that it not be true. Cas only presses his lips together. “No!” She sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Why? There had to be a reason.” 

“He was possessed by Lucifer and we needed to capture him. Lucifer, not the President.” 

“H-E- double hockey sticks,” Donna breathes, plopping down onto the couch. Today has been a big day in the way of information dumping. Her head feels like it’s spinning. “Can we talk about somethin’ else for a minute or two? I need to catch my breath.” 

“The buzzing that honey bees make is actually the sound of their wings beating 11,400 times per minute. I remember the day I learned that fact. I went out to the garden and listened. I stayed out there counting and watching their flight patterns all morning.” Cas sits next to Donna and traces a finger through the air. “Their patterns appear random but they’re actually calculated and mapped out meticulously. Using a dance to communicate, they share their patterns and multiple bees will take the same path.” 

His hand drops back into his lap and he looks over at Donna as if to check on her. She tries to imagine sitting in a garden and being able to count the individual wingbeats of a single bee. 

“Cas?” 

“Yes?” 

“Can we go to a garden?” 

Cas nods once and gets up. He holds out a hand to Donna and she takes it, allowing herself to be pulled to her feet. His grip is gentle and he drops her hand the moment she’s up. She steps into her shoes and grabs her keys as quickly as she can as her best friend’s angel walks back out her door. Part of her is worried that if she takes too long, he’ll vanish as quickly as he materialized. 

When she gets outside though, he’s there waiting by her truck. She unlocks it and they get in. She doesn’t have a specific place in mind, but she needs to move. She needs to step into fresh air. She’s surprised when she parks but tries not to show it. Cas follows her out of the car and down the path silently. 

“You have a garden?” Donna asks after a minute of silent walking. 

“No. The hospital I was a patient at had a garden.” Cas looks straight ahead. The blue skies make his eyes look more intense, yet softer somehow. “It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. It’s refreshing to be around someone who shows it.” 

“Why?”

“Sometimes it’s tiring to hear them say that they’re fine when the world is crumbling around them. They weren’t raised in a place where saying anything other than fine was acceptable. I understand that, I just find it exhausting. It’s a relief to take a break to talk about bees and walk through nature when it all becomes too much.” 

“Is anything too much for you though?” Donna asks quietly, trailing her finger over a leaf as she passes it. 

“Yes,” he says after a heavy sigh. “My burdens are great and I don’t always handle them with grace.” 

They fall into a comfortable, companionable silence again. The light breeze rustling through leaves and the sound of their footsteps in the dirt are the sounds that Donna listens to as she quiets her fears and relaxes her shoulders. 

Cas deviates from the path when he sees a bee. Donna doesn’t question it. She only follows. The bee inadvertently leads them to a small garden of wildflowers and clover. Cas sits in the grass and looks up at Donna, inviting her to join him. She takes her spot next to him and tries to focus on the bee that brought them to this spot. 

“The first time I spoke to Dean, I thought he would be able to hear my true voice,” Cas says softly, breaking the silence. “He covered his ears so I tried harder. The glass around him exploded. It was my first feeling of excitement. I had just rescued Dean Winchester from Hell. I had been the one to grip his shoulders and raise him up. I wanted to tell him that he was alive and well and that Heaven had done this for him because he was important. It doesn’t matter if Heaven has exiled me and Dean didn’t fulfill their wishes. He’s still important to me.” 

“Why’d they exile you?” 

“Because I chose him,” Cas says simply. “I choose him every time.” Donna leans against his shoulder for a moment. It’s the only kind of comfort and understanding she can offer him. He leans back, nudging her back.

Donna plucks a daisy and spins it between her fingers before passing it to Cas. He holds it delicately in the palm of his hand. Something about the moment looks like a painted masterpiece: an angel in a garden holding a daisy. 

She plucks two more daisies and weaves them together. “Tell me more,” she says as she gathers the flowers that poke up from the ground around them.

“Six months and fifteen days after Dean met me, he prayed for the first time in his adult life,” Cas begins. Donna tries to keep her face composed. Six months and fifteen days. That’s how long it took Dean to realize he was in love with Cas. “His voice was the clearest prayer I had ever heard before. It belonged just to me. In all of Heaven, I was the only one to hear Dean’s prayer. I had told him that praying was a sign of faith. But his faith in God and Heaven wasn’t restored. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. When he prayed, it wasn’t an open letter to Heaven. His prayers were only for me. He’s met God. He’s fought beside him and for him and still, he prays to me. Not God. Not Heaven. Me, an exiled angel. His faith belongs to an angel with singed wings.” 

Donna finishes weaving the flower crown of daisies and yellow bursts of dandelion. She stands up, holding the crown delicately, and faces Cas. He squints up at her as she drapes it over his head. His dark hair makes the flowers look brighter. She nods her approval and sits back down next to Cas. 

“I can’t make you a crown,” Cas says. 

“That’s okay.” Donna looks over at him as he looks between her and the single flower in the palm of his hand. He tucks the daisy she’d handed him behind her ear before looking back out over the garden. “Thanks,” she smiles. 

Some time later, Donna finds herself sitting next to a flower-crowned angel while they watch the sunset. It dawns on her that Hell isn’t just somewhere one ends up. It’s not like saying Dean went to Florida. Hell is somewhere you go when you die. It used to be more of a vague idea of a place bad people went when they died, but it was becoming more and more solid and real the longer Donna knows about the hidden world of monsters that Dean lives in and Cas comes from. 

“Wait, Dean died?” she asks a little too loudly and suddenly. Cas jumps and looks over at her with a strange look in his eyes. “You rescued him from Hell. He died?”

“Dean has died many times,” Cas says tiredly, his shoulders relaxing again. 

“I thought only bad people went to Hell?” 

“Good people can go to Hell when they’re desperate,” Cas says softly. “When Sam died, he was desperate enough to sell his soul. He was dead a year later, not that he didn’t live with reckless abandon during that year.”

“Oofta,” Donna breathes. 

“I need to find him,” Cas says, looking back out at the darkening sky. “Them. I need to find them.” 

“You will,” Donna says reassuringly though her worry is still there. 

They had parted ways the only way Donna knew how; with the biggest hug she could muster. She had punched her phone number into his phone and he’d called her while standing right in front of her so she had his number. 

“Don’t be a stranger,” she’d warned him. “You’ll find them.” 

 

That was weeks ago. Almost a month. 

Donna lays on her bed, starfished as she stares up at the ceiling. The last sliver of hope in her bones is starting to wane with the days. That sliver tells her that Dean is fine. Sam is okay. They will make it back from wherever it is they are. The much larger part of herself swims in dread, wondering when she’s going to get the phone call from Cas telling her that she has a funeral to attend. 

 

“Phone call, Sheriff,” Doug says, poking his head into the break room where Donna is pouring herself a cup of coffee. 

“Who could be callin’?” she wonders aloud. Doug only shrugs. His mustache slants with his mouth. Donna goes back to her desk and tries to swallow the dread as she stares at the blinking light telling her the call is on hold. “Give me a minute, wouldja?” 

“No problem,” Doug says good-naturedly before he leaves her alone in her office. 

She holds her breath for a moment, silently telling herself that it’s not the phone call she’s afraid of. She’s at work. It’s probably nothing. She picks up the receiver and lets out all of the breath before pressing the hold button and answering, “Sheriff Hanscum.”

“I have about a hundred missed calls from someone named Donna. I think I might have a stalker.”

“Dean!” Donna nearly screams. 

“That was my ear!” Dean groans. “I’m sorry I missed our day,” he says after a moment, his voice more serious. 

“You’re alive! You’re okay!” She feels herself start to cry, the relief flooding her entire being. 

“Please don’t cry. I’m fine. Sam’s fine. We’re okay,” Dean reassures her. “I’m sorry I couldn’t call sooner. I was a little held up.” 

“What happened?” 

For a silent moment, Donna thinks he’s hung up on her. “What’re my chances of getting through this phone call without answering that?”

“Slim to none.” 

“Donna? Is something wrong?” Doug asks, running back in. Donna wipes the tears from her face as fast as she can. 

“Yah, you betcha,” Donna nods. Doug’s brow furrows. 

“Are you cryin’?” He’s sweet when he’s concerned, but she can’t talk about this with him. Not yet. Maybe not ever. 

“My friend,” she has no idea where this sentence is going, “just called to tell me he’s cancer-free.” 

“So glad I dodged that bullet,” Dean sighs with mock relief in her ear. She bites her cheek to keep from laughing. “What kind of cancer did I have?”

“It was in his lungs, but he’s fine now,” Donna says. Doug gives her a smile and a congratulations to pass onto her cancer-free friend as he leaves again. 

“Weird. I’ve had stomach cancer. Never lung cancer. Glad I pulled through.” She can hear the smile in his voice and has questions about the stomach cancer, but decides it’s a conversation for another time. 

“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” Donna warns. “It’s so good to hear your voice, Dean.”

“Back atcha. Get back to work, Sheriff.”

Chapter Text

The phone rings. Donna groans into her pillow and rolls over. The phone rings again. She opens one eye and tries to make out the time. Her eyes are still bleary from sleep. She swipes randomly at her phone, trying to get it to shut up as she picks it up. 

“Hhhhmmmm?” she answers, closing her eyes again as she melts back into her pillow. 

A loud sob comes through the phone and Donna’s eyes snap open. She sits up, heart racing as she listens to Dean’s anguished cries. It sounds like his heart has been ripped from him. 

“Dean? Dean, what happened? Are you alright? Where are you?” Donna rushes with her questions. 

“Cas,” Dean manages before sucking in a harsh breath. 

 

Dean’s hands are shaking. He only notices when the phone he’s holding drops into the dirt. He doesn’t care. His entire world is shattering. He chokes on his name as he abandons his phone. He clutches at the lapels of his trenchcoat as a sob rips through him. 

“NO!” he screams. This can’t be happening. This really can’t be happening. 

 

“Cas!” He arrived late. He arrived too late to save him. The angel blade plunged deep into his abdomen and Cas gasped, his eyes widened as he looked to the Heavens. His eyes fell shut and he slumped, the blade sticking out of him like a pin in a pillow. Dean pulled the blade and used it to kill his murderer and immediately dropped it, the metal clanging as it hit the floor. 

“Cas,” Dean begged, his hands cupping his best friend’s face. He felt his heart shatter. “Cas!” Dean could hear himself breaking as he screamed. He was cold and limp, unresponsive and just… gone. “No.” 

Cas, one a powerful angel, died a human, killed by his own blade because Dean wasn’t fast enough. “Sam, he’s gone.” With a burst of light from the palm of an angel, he was back. 

“Dean.” His voice was and forever will be the sweetest sound. 

“Hey,” Dean breathed, relief flooding him. “Hey! Yeah.” He could feel himself start to breathe again as Cas’ deep blue eyes searched his. He was alive. He was back. He was okay. “Never do that again!” Dean warned. He couldn’t take it if he did.

 

His soul is being torn apart. He can hear his fractured heart shattering in his chest over the sound of his sobs. His lips are salty with tears. He runs a shaky hand down the side of Cas’ face, the chill of death already in his skin. 

“My love,” Dean chokes. “Ol hoath.” He drops his head to Cas’ still chest and weeps, the jacket curled into his tight fists as his entire body shakes with grief. 

 

Stepping through the forest, the light was low enough that Dean could barely see. He thought he could hear talking. He thought he had to be close to the road. Close to Cas. 

“Dean!” Cas’ voice hit Dean as he saw him for the first time in almost seven weeks. 

“Cas!” He felt his arms around him and melted into the tight embrace, nuzzling into his boyfriend’s neck. He checked to see that Sam and Mary were busy with their own reunion before pulling back enough to kiss Cas. His lips were soft and wanting, kissing back gently and urgently all at once. Their lips parted and Dean pressed his forehead to Cas’, looking into his eyes that hold the night sky in them. He had to say goodbye. 

For the first time, Dean didn’t ask for the keys. He didn’t want to drive. He slid into the backseat next to Cas. He wanted to spend his last few minutes with the one he loves. Their fingers twined together between them and Dean stared at the planes of his face, illuminated by the passing streetlights, memorizing every line. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t see the clock. He could feel it in his heart, pounding out the final minutes, seconds, moments. 

“It’s time,” Sam announced. Dean helt Cas’ hand tighter and tried to ignore the pained confusion on his face. Sam and Mary were the first ones out of the car as Cas wouldn't let go of Dean’s hand. 

“Dean?”

“I love you,” Dean whispered. “I had to see you one last time.” He untangled their hands and got out of the car. 

“What’s happening?” Mary demanded.

“Yeah, Dean,” Billie said, making Dean’s heart drop into his stomach. Time’s up. “‘Sup?” 

Dean looked across the car at Cas. Their eyes met and held as Billie delivered his death sentence. “Come midnight, a Winchester dies. Like, permanently.” 

 

“Dean?” Donna’s worried voice comes through his forgotten phone. 

“It should have been me,” Dean says, his voice flat. “I should have died in the fucking car crash when I was twenty-seven. I should have died and stayed dead when those hellhounds took me downstairs. If he hadn’t gripped me tight and raised me from Perdition he wouldn’t be— It should have been me.”

 

Cas grunted. The sound was wet with blood and took all of Dean’s attention. He sidestepped his mother and kneeled beside his angel., his name on his lips forcing his heart to race faster. 

“Hey,” Dean said softly. “Wow, you look like hammered crap.” 

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Cas managed through clenched teeth.  

“Let’s see.” Dean lifted his bloodied shirt to reveal the blackened cracks in Cas’ skin stretching across his stomach. He swallowed, trying to mask his frown, but his worry shone through. “Alright. Okay.” He pulled Cas’ shirt down again as his angel groaned through his pain. “You know what? I’ve had worse.”

“Yeah? When?” Cas gasped.

Dean’s mouth went dry. When had he had worse? He’d had worse when he was ripped to shreds by a hellhound, killed on the spot as he choked on his own blood. He’d had worse only when he’d died.  

“Dean, something’s wrong. I can’t heal myself. I think… I think the demon’s spear was poison. I don’t know… I think I’m dying.” Dean’s heart slammed. His ears started ringing. 

“No.” 

“No, you listen to me.  You… Look, thank you. Thank you.  Knowing you,” his eyes were steady on Dean and it broke his heart and melted his soul, “it’s been the best part of my life. And the things we’ve shared together… they have changed me. You’re my family. I love you. I love all of you.” 

 

He didn’t die then. He almost died and that was enough to make Dean’s world feel like there was no air left to breathe. Now? Now the color has been sucked from the world, leaving everything gray and lifeless. The air is too thin to breathe. The gravity has been set too high, pulling Dean down. Time seems to be passing around him, spinning around him and making him dizzy as he stays still, collapsed on top of the body of the man he loves. 

“I can’t do this,” Dean whispers, tears streaming down his face. He turns off his phone and falls to Cas’ side, staring up at the sky. 

“I fell in love with you,” Dean breathes. 

 

“Cas?” Dean spins. He’s gone, leaving Dean stranded in Purgatory surrounded by the snarling beasts in the shadows that surround him. He’s alone. “Cas!” 

“Where’s the angel?” he snarled. He was more monster than human, snarling, barking, and growling the only question that mattered. With no answer, another head rolled. Even with an answer, his blade was bloodied. 

Every night he prayed to and for him. Every day he thought he was too late. But then there was a stream. A river with rumors of the only angel in Purgatory. A glimmer of hope he didn’t deserve. 

 

He remembers laying in the grass outside of the bunker, his phone pressed to his cheek as he gazed up at the night sky with Cas’ voice in his ear. He remembers the blush in his cheeks and the pounding of his excited heart. It’s a stark contrast to the numbness that has filled him, the cold night air biting his cheeks as he cries. He stares up at the sky but Cas’ voice doesn’t tell him another story of the stars. 

The stars are quiet and dim. Cas held the stories. Cas held the light. Dean shuts his eyes tight, clenches his jaw, and listens to his heart scream. He wants to scream. He wants to rewind time and kill Lucifer long before this happened. Before this night. Before he ever convinced Cas to say yes. Before before before. 

 

“What’d he say, Dean? What was so important?”

“If I knew that, why would I be here?” The obvious fact was that Cas wasn’t okay. Electricity sparked from exposed wires. The room they were walking through looked as if a bomb went off. The longer they searched without a word from the angel, the lower Dean’s heart sank. “There was a fight here.”

“Between who?” Sam asked.  Dean shined his flashlight on a sigil. Written on the wall in blood was the same symbol that another angel had used. “So what? Cas was fighting angels?”

Dean hoped not. He hoped that he wasn’t standing in the middle of an angelic battlefield where the man he only recently realized he had feelings for is dead. They’d only known each other for a year and Dean wasn’t ready for goodbyes.  It was too short a time to get to know someone and fall so hard. 

When Dean spotted him among the rubble, he felt his body go cold. “Cas? Hey! Cas!” When he grabbed his shoulder, ready to pull him up and pretend that the short contact was enough, he heard him gasp. It’ wasn’t Cas’ low voice. When his eyes opened, they didn’t shine with all the stars in the sky and speak of a past that holds the future. They held none of the worlds that Cas had seen and they held no recognition of Dean’s face. 

“I’m not Castiel. It’s me. Jimmy.” And then Dean remembered. Cas was just possessing some poor bastard.  Some devout man who prayed for this. That man’s name was Jimmy and he had a family and a home. 

There shouldn’t have been relief when Cas returned to his vessel. Dean shouldn’t have felt the warmth spread through him. There shouldn’t have been a leap in his heart. But there was. All of it happened all at once as Cas opened his eyes again what felt like months later but was really only a few days. All of it happened as soon as he stood up and looked like himself again. Dean could breathe for the first time since he’d last been in the same room as that angel. That is. Until he said the words that stabbed into Dean deeper than any had before: “I learned my lesson while I was away, Dean. I serve Heaven. I don’t serve man, and I certainly don’t serve you.” 

 

Dean forces himself to get up. He feels the weight of a thousand worlds pressing him down, but he stands. He takes a few steps. And chokes, a sob tearing through him and making him cry out. He can see the light from the house shining. He can see the glint off a shined black shoe. He looks back at Cas. He remembers seeing him. He remembers shouting no as the light shone from his eyes and mouth. He remembers watching him crumple to the ground. He doesn’t remember falling to his knees. He doesn’t remember when he started crying. 

Black wings scorch the earth on either side of Cas. They’re impressive, spanning wide. Dean can see each feather. There was a time when he had seen them before. When they had proven to him that angels were real and that he had been saved by Heaven. He’d been saved by Cas. 

He kneels beside Cas and gently cradles him against his chest. Cas’ head rolls against his shoulder and it makes Dean’s stomach flips sickeningly. He presses his lips to Cas’ head, his tears falling into his thick hair. Pulling Cas tighter against him, Dean stands up. Cas’ legs hang limply over Dean’s arm. His tears stop as his heart goes cold. 

He walks into the house with Cas in his arms. He doesn’t know what to do. He can’t leave him outside lying where he… He can’t leave him outside. Standing in the middle of the living room, Dean hugs Cas to him one last time. 

 

“Castiel? Oh, he’s not here. He has this weakness. He likes you.”

“My superiors have started to question my sympathies… I was getting too close to humans in my charge. You.”

“When Castiel first laid a hand on you in hell he was lost.”

“I’d rather have you cursed or not.”

“I’m hunted. I rebelled, and I did it all for you.”

“You two have been flirting!”

“We’re family. We need you. I need you.”

“You’re my family. I love you. I love all of you.”

“Dean and I do share a more profound bond.” 

“Sorry, you have me confused with the other angel. You know, the one in the dirty trench coat who’s in love with you.”

“Sounds like you were meant to be.”

“Hello, Dean.”

“So, what? I’m Thelma and you’re Louise and we’re just gonna hold hands sail off this cliff together?” 

Dean eases Cas onto the dining table and smooths out his tie and coat. He rests Cas’ hands at his sides gently. He finds a sheet and delicately lays it over him, shielding him from the harsher, bleaker world. 

 

Mary was waiting in the library for Dean to pack what they needed before they left the bunker to rescue Sam. Dean poked his head out of his room when he heard Cas’ footsteps.  

“Cas.” His throat was dry, his mouth full of imaginary cotton balls as Cas turned and looked at him, his head tilted just so. 

“Dean,” Cas said gently as he walked toward him. Dean had pulled him into the room and closed the door, unwilling to share this moment with anyone or anything beyond the walls of his room. 

“I thought I was going to die,” Dean said simply. “I thought I was going to die without ever getting to tell you the truth about anything. I didn’t get to tell you how much I love you. That you make me crazy in every way. That you make me feel everything I never thought I could or was allowed to. That you make the fights worth fighting and the dreams worth having. I have loved you every moment since you saved me. I just didn’t know it until I prayed to you. I didn’t want to until I thought I lost you the first time you were dragged back to Heaven. You were lost when you put your hands on me in Hell, but I was found. I love you, Cas.”

“Dean.” His entire face had changed and Dean felt his stomach twist. “The first time I was dragged back to Heaven was because I had fallen in love with you. I have been tortured by my superiors for looking upon a human the way no angel is to look on any being. You made me rebel. You made my heart rebel. I felt joy and worry for the first time in my eons of existence. I felt love and fear of losing that love. I thought you died and the only thing that kept me tethered to this Earth was the promise I made to watch after your brother in your stead. I am and always will be in love with you, Dean Winchester. Cursed or not.” 

Dean doesn’t know what to do with himself. He needs to give Cas a proper burial. He needs to make sure Sam is okay. He needs to kill the kid that started this whole thing. He doesn’t care if it’s a baby. He doesn’t care if killing the most powerful being on the planet right now could kill him. Living isn’t on his list of things to do anymore. The light of the universe has gone cold and Dean can’t feel anything besides the shards of his broken heart ripping at his insides, lacerating and making him bleed out. 

Time moves differently now that Dean’s given up. It moves too quickly and too slowly all at once. It blurs together and he can’t tell how it still seems to be passing when his heart has stopped.

He doesn’t remember going up the stairs and pulling the trigger. He doesn’t remember how he managed to drive, but all of the sudden he’s praying to a god that isn’t listening for an angel that’s gone and he can’t feel the wood biting into his knuckles as he punches the stupid sign on the door. He doesn’t feel the sign break. He doesn’t care. He keeps punching, gritting his teeth as he tries not to scream. 

He’s numb when he finds himself sitting in a chair opposite a police officer. He doesn’t know what role he’s supposed to be playing and he really doesn’t care. His knuckles are still bloody and he’s wearing cuffs now. There’s a splinter embedded in the skin, but he just looks away from it and up at the officer. 

“My name is Dean Winchester. That big fella in there is my brother, Sam. We kill monsters.” 

“Monsters?” 

“Mm.” If he cared, he might lessen the blow. He might give the whole talk about things that go bump in the night and the shadow in the moon at night. He might have once. He can’t now. 

“Like…?”

“Have you ever seen a horror movie?” 

“Mhm.”

“Like that.” A horror movie that doesn’t end. The end credits never role even after the main character is killed by Lucifer. Rosemary’s Baby without Rosemary. 

“So, what are you? Some kind of superhero?” 

“I’m just a guy doing a job.” 

Dean tears the curtains. He’s never done this, but he’s read about it. The grieving widow, parent, child of the … of the… He tears another strip. The grieving widow will bind the body, protecting them in their shroud as they pass from this world. He pulls the knot and feels a stab in his gut. He closes his eyes and inhales deeply. Of all the moments for time to come to a grinding halt, this is not the one he wants to live in slow motion. 

He’s never done this before. He’s done too many hunter’s funerals, but never like this. His hands are shaking as he finishes the last knot. The only thing he knows to do now is to build the pyre. He doesn’t allow the help that’s offered. It isn’t anyone’s place but his. 

Dean doesn’t know how much time has passed. He doesn’t really know how he got all the way to a gas station or why Sam is the one filling the car. He doesn’t remember getting out of the car either, but here he is, standing in the grass trying to breathe. 

He turns on his phone. It buzzes with the frantic missed calls and texts all with the same name: Donna. He presses call and holds the phone up to his ear, wincing when she picks up on the first ring.

“Dean!”

“He’s dead,” Dean says for the first time. He swallows hard and closes his eyes tight. Tears still escape, sliding down his cheeks. He didn’t know he still had the ability after sobbing for so long. He takes a deep breath and on the exhale says, “Cas is dead.” 

“No. Dean, I… I’m sorry. I…” 

“He’s gone and I can still feel the weight of him in my arms. I can still see his eyes in the sky and hear his voice in the wind. I keep checking the damn mirror to make sure he’s there and all I see is the devil’s kid. I’m having a nightmare and I can’t wake up and I have to because I need him here with me.” 

“Breathe,” Donna says. 

“I can’t!” Dean looks over his shoulder and sees Sam is finishing up. He forces another deep breath that feels like needles are lining his lungs. “I have to go.”

“Be safe, Dean.” 

Chapter Text

Weeks passed in the same blur of angry, sad, numb moments. Moments of shouting, crying, and staring at every weapon like it’s the right medicine to cure his severely broken heart. The days slip by and the condolences are passed to him and all he can do is answer the texts that light up his phone every day. 

“Donna, I said I’m fine,” Dean says, after she picks up. 

“You haven’t sounded fine and still don’t.” She’s worried and she has every right to be. 

“I miss him,” Dean breathes. He clears his throat and sits up. “Look, I’m about to go out on a case.”

“A case? Shouldn’t you be letting yourself rest?” If it were up to her, Dean would be in the bunker with a big mug of cocoa. The liquor would be poured down the sink and he’d have hugs on demand. 

“I need to keep moving. I need to keep hunting. Otherwise, time stops and… I have a job to do,” he sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. He’s exhausted. He can’t keep moving. He has to keep moving. He finishes filling the syringes and packs them into the unassuming tin. 

“Call me after.” It’s a demand he doesn’t know he’ll be able to promise to. 

“Yeah,” he says noncommittally as he tosses his way out into his hunting bag and zipping it up. “Thanks, Donna.”

“For what?”

“Being here.” 

“Oh, Dean.” Fuck, he made her cry. “Just come back.”

“I always do.” He sighs. “Alright. Bye, sis.” He didn’t mean to say it, but there it is. He hangs up before she can tell that he’s really saying goodbye. 

 

“One needle stops the heart, the other one starts it up again,” Dean says quickly. What a weird time for time to slow down enough to be present again. He looks up at his baby brother who is shaking his head quickly. 

“No, no, no!” 

“Look, we can’t talk to ‘em on this side of the veil, so I’m gonna go to the other side. I’m gonna work my way through all these Caspers until I find out where this freak hid the bodies.” For the record, he hopes it works, but he’s fine if it doesn’t. He’s okay if it takes longer than three minutes and dies, like permanently. It has to be him. The world still needs Sam, but the world already chewed Dean up and was about to spit him out again. 

“Dean, you’re talking about killing yourself!” 

“Yeah? well…” Dean grabs his syringe. He’s ready for it to go south. “It worked before.” 

“Dean!”

Dean plunges the needle into his heart and gasps. Pain spreads through him and when he tries to breathe back in, his lungs don’t allow it. He can hear Sam, just barely, as he falls, calling his name. 

Waking up is the hardest part. Waking up and hearing Sam’s relief while feeling his own mild disappointment is the worst part. He has to live to see another day, another job, another apocalypse, another god damned second. 

 

His phone rings and he’s sure it’s Donna. He didn’t check in after the hunt. He had planned on it later when he was alone in his room and had let the long drive home wash the residue of his death off. He picks up the phone as Sam jerks awake next to him. 

“Yeah,” he says, not bothering to check the caller ID as he drives. 

“Hello, Dean,” Cas’ deep voice says. Dean freezes. He stops breathing and he doesn’t dare move his hand on the wheel. “Dean?” 

“What?” Sam asks. 

“Where are you?” Dean asks, trying to keep the tears from rolling as he chokes. He listens to the description carefully, clinging to the sound of his voice.

“What?” Sam asks again. 

“Stay there,” Dean demands. 

“Dean,” Cas says gently. It’s all Dean can hear. “Hurry. I love you.” 

“I’m on my way,” Dean promises breathlessly. He drops his phone onto the seat and pushes the gas pedal into the floor. His hands are shaking and he can’t make it stop. He feels like he’s going to throw up. The only thing to do is to go faster. 

For the first time since he held Cas against him as he wept, he feels rooted to this moment. He can’t hear Sam or the roar of the car over the pounding of his heart and the echo of Cas’ voice, “ I love you.” 

He only slows down when he makes the final turn into the alley that Cas described over the phone. He can see him standing by the payphone, lit only by a single streetlight. The car is barely in park before Dean flings his door open and gets out. 

“Cas,” he exhales shakily. Cas turns and it’s him. It’s really him with his blue eyes shining and his chapped lips parted as he lets out a breath he must have been holding. Dean runs to him. He doesn’t care that Sam is there. He doesn’t care that no one knows about them. He can not and will not go another second without his boyfriend in his arms. “Is it really you?”

“Yes,” Cas says as their foreheads touch. Dean’s hands caress his face as their eyes lock. 

“No, you died. You died, and I… You were… You died, Cas. I couldn’t…” Dean feels himself crying, but Cas’ thumb wipes away every tear. 

“Yeah, I was,” he says gently. “I’m sorry, Dean. I’m so sorry.”

“How?”

“I… I annoyed an ancient cosmic being so much that he sent me back.” 

Dean half laughs before finally kissing him. Their lips collide and Dean has never tasted anything so sweet. His lips are soft and his mouth is warm. He tastes like joy and home. He feels Cas’ arms around him, molding them together perfectly as to leave no space between them at all. 

“Cas,” Dean says it just to say it. Their lips are still connected, the name being swallowed up by both of them. 

“Dean,” Cas answers, their kiss finally breaking as Cas buries his face in Dean’s neck. Dean turns his face so his cheek is pressed against Cas’ head. 

“I don’t even know what to say,” Sam says breathlessly behind them. Dean reluctantly lets go of Cas and turns around to face his brother. He feels Cas’ fingers slide between his and he holds on hard, unsure if he can face having any of the conversations that are coming up. 

“I do,” Dean says, walking toward the car. “Let’s go home.” 

Cas slides into the backseat and stares into the rearview mirror to meet Dean’s eyes. “How long have I been gone?” he asks softly as Sam gets back into the front seat, still at a loss for words. 

“Too damn long,” Dean says. He’s not sure. Honestly, it’s probably been about a month, but it feels like it’s been years. For all Dean’s heart can tell, he’s been without Cas for centuries. 

“Where were you?” Sam asks, turning in his seat to face Cas as Dean pulls out of the alleyway and back onto the highway. 

“I… I was in the Empty,” Cas answers. 

“The Empty?” Dean repeats.

“It’s where angels and demons go when they die.”

Dean is expecting to wake up at any moment. Cas being dead was a nightmare, but him coming back is too good a dream to be real. It doesn’t feel real. None of it does. 

“What was it like?” Sam presses. 

“It was dark… and…nothing.” Cas’ eyes drop from the mirror to his hands in his lap and Dean forces his eyes back to the empty road in front of him. “It’s like… nothing.” It’s not unlike what Dean had felt. The world had gone dark and he had nothing. “I was sleeping and then I heard a voice that said my name and I woke up. I thought you had done something.”

Dean looks into the mirror again and his eyes lock with Cas’. The color is back and Dean is drowning in blue. 

“When did this happen?” Sam asks. 

Dean’s eyes drop from the mirror as his heart plummets into his stomach. He knows he did this to himself. Somewhere, deep inside, Dean still thinks he’s not allowed this love. He’s held it close to his heart, afraid to share it with anyone else. 

“Anyone going to answer?” Sam asks. He doesn’t sound mad, but that only makes Dean’s stomach twist. Sam isn’t the one who made Dean feel like he would never be loved. If anything, Sam had always been a sign of hope. Despite all that he’s been through, the kid still tries. 

“A year,” Dean mumbles. He should have told him sooner. He could have told him when he’d realized he had a crush, like brothers do. He could have, but he wasn’t ready then. He could have told him during the countless times they were alone after Dean and Cas had first kissed. He should have told him at some point between falling in love with Cas, and confessing it. He’d told Donna but still kept the actual relationship a secret. He doesn’t know why. Maybe once everyone knows, it’ll crumble. Maybe, right after Dean decided he was allowed to be with Cas, someone else would decide otherwise. 

“I’m happy for you,” Sam says. “About time,” he adds under his breath as he turns to look out the window. The knots in Dean’s stomach untie themselves as his face heats up. 

“Excuse me? What the fuck does that mean? About time ?” 

“It means the reign of terror is over. No more pining for each other silently. No more gazing across the table like you’re being subtle.” Sam laughs as Dean shoves him. He would have liked to do this sooner. “Who made the first move? There’s money on the answer,” Sam says after a moment. 

“Shut up,” Dean warns, though he can feel himself smiling. 

“Dean,” Cas answers from the backseat.

“Well, I lost,” Sam sighs. More seriously he adds, “I am happy for you two.” 

“Thanks, Sammy.” 

 

Dean knows it’s time. He had kept his relationship a secret for a year because he had been afraid that telling a single soul would somehow ruin it. They would be judged on multiple counts. An angel? With a human? It’ll never last. He’ll have to watch you die. Why would you do that to him? Two men? Together? Yes, two men together. It’s the twenty-first century. Dean Winchester is allowed to be bisexual or pansexual or whatever it is that allows him to love who he loves. If they weren’t judged, would they break up? Were they able to date in such a fucked up world? If they weren’t judged and didn’t break up, would one of them die? That. That had happened and Dean had never even told his brother he had fallen in love. The worst of the three catastrophes that had kept him silent had happened. It was time to tell his closest friends the truth. 

“Ready?” Dean asks, looking to Cas. Sam is back at the bunker with the kid. He agreed to spend time with Jack so Dean and Cas could pay Donna Hanscum a well-deserved visit. 

“Ready,” Cas answers, squeezing Dean’s hand tight before letting go and getting out of the car. 

Dean feels excited for the first time in a long time. He’s excited for Donna to meet the light of his life, the cause of his past heartache, his happiness wrapped in a trenchcoat. He’s excited to tell her that he told him how he feels, that he listened to her advice, that Cas loves him back. He knocks on the door and grips Cas’ hand. 

The door opens and Donna’s jaw drops. She looks from Dean to Cas with her eyes wide before she throws her arms around Cas, hugging him to her tightly. Cas lets go of Dean’s hand to hug her back. 

“I thought you were dead!” Donna says, her voice muffled in Cas’ shoulder. 

“Wait, what am I missing?” Dean asks. Donna lets go of Cas and grabs Dean before he can ask any more questions. 

“You’re okay!” Her voice is filled with relief, but her arms are tight enough that Dean is sure she’s never letting go of him. 

“I’m okay,” Dean sighs, relaxing into her embrace and squeezing her gently. He didn’t think he ever would be again, but here he is. He’s okay. 

“I was so worried, Dean,” she sighs. He was worried too. He doesn’t say it. That’s not what this visit is for. 

“You ever letting go?” He asks with a smirk.

“No!” She does step away though. “Get your butts inside,” she grins. 

“How do you two know each other?” Dean asks as she closes the door behind them. Donna isn’t very good at hiding her emotions. She might as well write the world guilt on her forehead with sharpie for the look she’s got on right now. 

“We met while you were in prison,” Cas says as if this was common knowledge. Donna bites her lip. 

“Was anyone going to tell me?” 

“Were you going to tell me you two kissed?” Donna asks, arms crossing over her chest as she fixes him with that look that says she knows more than he knew. Fuck. 

“Cas!” He groans. “Well, I was coming here to tell you that we are officially a couple and that I would like to introduce you to my boyfriend, Castiel.”

“I’m so happy for you two,” Donna gushes, hugging both of them to her at the same time, pulling them down so their heads are just above her shoulders. “About time,” she squeals. When she lets them go, she waves to the living room, offering them the seats there while she goes to the kitchen to grab drinks. 

“How?” Dean asks as he sits on the couch and Cas sits next to him. He sits so close, there’s no space in between them. He’s practically in his lap. Dean doesn’t move. 

“She was concerned about you and invited me over. She’s very persuasive,” Cas says evenly. “She’s also very easy to talk to.” 

Donna comes back in with two mugs of coffee and hands one to Dean as she takes her seat on the opposite couch. She’s grinning ear to ear and the sunlight she’s filled with seems to glow from her skin. 

“Are you part of the bet?” Dean asks, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Oh. You know about that…” She chews on her lip before taking a bigger sip than necessary from her mug. 

“Yeah, I know about that,” Dean smiles. He can’t help it. She’s adorable and Cas is holding his hand and the entire world seems to be bright and filled with color and beauty. “Who else?”

“Jodes and Sam are the only ones I know, but Sam said there were more bets in the pot.” 

“You did bet on me, right?” Dean asks. She better have bet on him. It was practically through her coaching that got him to be able to say anything. 

“I’m not a total goof, Dean.” Donna rolls her eyes. “I am going to need to know what the fudge happened though.” 

“I already told you about the kiss,” Cas says and Dean feels himself blush. 

“Oh, you’re red as a tomato,” Donna laughs. Dean ducks his head and scratches the back of his head, unsure of what else to do to hide his burning cheeks. “I mean, what the heck happened that I thought I lost both of you in one go, huh?” 

“Dean?” 

Dean can feel his heart beating. It’s a strange feeling. It’s usually something that goes unnoticed. Usually, he can only feel it pounding out Cas’ name as they stare at each other or feel it trying to leap into Cas’ chest when they hug or kiss. Right now, he can feel his heart. He can hear Donna’s worried voice through the sound of his sobs as he knelt beside Cas. He can feel the poison sliding through his veins in that haunted house. 

“Dean?” Cas asks again, his hand tightening. 

“I’m fine,” Dean says, grabbing his coffee and drinking the rest of it which is the entire mug minus the one tiny sip from earlier. “A lot happened.” 

“I gathered that much,” Donna nods. 

Why can’t he talk? He’s trying to tell her. He wants to tell her. Lucifer came back. All of his friends are dead. They adopted the son of Lucifer and his mom is dead. Again. When Cas died he’d given up on everything and he’s still got whiplash from the reunion. Why can’t he say any of it? He tried to kill himself. He did kill himself. Death just wasn’t having it and sent him back. Just say the words, Dean. His mouth is filled with cotton balls and the room is both too hot and ice cold. His knuckles are white as he clings to Cas’ hand. 

“Lucifer is back,” Cas says, breaking Dean’s spiral. Silently, Dean thanks him by relaxing his grip and taking a deep breath. He closes his eyes and focuses on the sound of Cas’ voice as he fills Donna in. He doesn’t know everything, but he knows the important parts. 

“Oofta,” Donna says when he’s finished. “Dean? You okay?” 

He looks up at her. There was a time when she was just another police officer standing in the way of an investigation, blowing their cover and trying to recover from a bad breakup. Now, this is his best friend. She’s killed vampires, brought him a case about haunted costumes, and takes the crazy shit he lives with in stride. She’s who he tells everything to. She’s who he calls when he’s at the top of the world, gushing about Cas, or laying in the dirt, beaten and broken. She is his ray of sunshine. 

“Aces,” he smiles. 

Chapter Text

Dean is stretched out on his bed with a book over his face. There’s no good way for him to face anything that’s happened recently. He had feared that coming out with his relationship would somehow doom it to fail or separate them somehow. Now Cas is missing.

He flips backward a page, having read through three pages without absorbing any of the story. Jack made it to the alternate universe where Mary is somehow still alive. The girl that made it possible? She’s dead. She died on a rescue mission for him and his brother. Cas had answered Dean’s phone call, but something was wrong and now he’s not answering any text or call. Something’s wrong. 

Dean sighs and starts the chapter over, flipping back a few more pages. Cas is missing, Jack is in another universe trying to save Mary, Claire is traumatized and it’s Dean’s fault again, and he ate a lizard. 

He sighs and gets up. Sam is usually up by now, banging around in the kitchen and stomping through the hallways before acting surprised that he woke Dean up with his general loudness. The bunker is silent. There’s no rush of wings to announce Cas’ return. There’s no sounds of Sam coming back into the bunker after a jog. Likely because there was never sounds of Sam leaving the bunker to go for a jog. 

“Yo!” Dean shouts through Sam’s door. “Makin’ pancakes! How many do you want?” 

With no answer, he sighs and walks away. He knows this is hard on Sam too. He just doesn’t know how to keep them both up without pretending. He can hear Frank’s voice in his head telling him to force a smile. He does smile as he makes the pancake batter. He can do this. He can smile and he can keep going. Cas is only missing this time. He’ll get him back. Jack is in another universe, but it’s fine. They’ll get him back too. It’s better than it was. 

Dean plops the first pancake onto a plate next to the stove. The first is always the fail, uneven and not perfectly circular. It’s still a pancake though so Dean eats it as he continues cooking, tearing off a piece here and there. He piles three onto his plate and turns off the stove, moving to the dining table. 

He sighs and tries not to focus on the empty seats that surround him. Sam should be sitting across from him. Cas’ knee should be touching his under the table. Jack’s place has been beside Sam. Now, Dean sits alone. He pours the syrup on and digs in, keeping his eyes on his plate.

He washes his dishes quietly before going back to the stove and starting on another batch. If Sam isn’t up by the time these are ready, he’s dragging that samquatch out of bed by the ankles. He looks at the box of pancake mix and frowns. There’s strawberries and raspberries and green stuff around the pancakes. Dean pulls open the fridge to see if they even have any of that frilly stuff that Sam probably likes. The empty fridge reminds Dean that they haven’t been shopping in awhile. He makes a mental note that they should probably do that. 

Sam walks in with his hair unbrushed and his pajamas still on. Not that Dean’s judging, but dude.

“Oh ho ho, there he is,” Dean says as he checks his watch. Ten in the morning. “Saved you a short stack.” 

“Hey, Donna. I’m here with Dean. I’m gonna put you on speaker.” Dean’s heart sinks and he pats his pocket. His phone is still in his room. He hopes it’s another weird case of haunted costumes or maybe an out of control vamp nest. “Why don’t you tell him what you told me.” 

“Oh. It’s my niece.” She’s been crying. She’s been crying and Dean didn’t have his dumb brick of a phone. If he had it his way, he would be there in a heartbeat. “She’s gone missing and the local cops don’t… I know it’s not your normal thing, but…”

“Text us the address, we’re on our way.” His protective instincts take over. It doesn’t matter if it’s his kind of thing or not. She’s family. He would march into Hell for her if she asked. 

“Thanks.” 

Dean immediately goes to his room to check his phone. Five missed calls from Donna. He swears under his breath as he unplugs it. The screen lights up with a new text from her.

“Be there soon,” he promises. He shoves his phone in his pocket and packs up some clothes. They’re going to need their fed suits for sure. He throws in some of his regular clothes and zips up his bag, ready to leave now. 

“Dean.” Sam stops him in the hallway.

“We’ve got somewhere to be,” Dean reminds him, pushing past to get to the garage. 

“Slow your roll. I haven’t showered and I’m not dressed.” 

“Not my fault you took a hundred-year nap, princess,” Dean says. “Throw on some clothes and let’s get moving. You can shower when we get to the motel.” 

“You heard her, man. This isn’t even our kind of thing. Are you sure we should be getting involved?” 

“Yes,” is all Dean says. He leaves Sam behind in the hallway and starts packing up the car. He makes sure they have all of their fake IDs and gets in the car. He waits impatiently, drumming his hands on the wheel and playing with the garage door. 

“Dude, how old are you?” Sam asks as he finally takes his place in the passenger seat.

“Never a—”

“Never ask a woman her age. Yeah, I remember,” Sam says, rolling his eyes. 

“That’s right.” Dean nods and starts the car. 

Dean had never expected to be the friend called in a crisis that didn’t involve some unwanted pest: a poltergeist, a ghost, vamp, zombie, whatever. He never expected to be the guy anyone would call for a personal crisis. He was a guy without any friends because friends were people you had to lie to. Friends died. Friends complicated the whole job of slicing and dicing monsters. Not this friend. This friend, Dean had reluctantly led into a vamp nest. This friend was crying and calling for backup from feds she knows aren’t feds. And Dean is going because she needs him. 

 

It’s only a few hours until Dean has them checked into a motel room. Sam is in the shower. He had been right to warn Dean before getting in the car. They’d kept the windows down the entire drive. Dean ties his tie in the mirror and tucks his FBI badge into his coat. 

Memories of Cas holding his FBI badge upside down start to creep in at the edges of Dean’s mind. He’s missing, not gone. He’ll find him. Dean repeats that to himself silently as he grabs his phone and calls Donna. 

“Dean?” 

“Hey.” He doesn’t know how to help her other than tell him that he will be there soon. He seemed to do okay with the hug when she was shattered after that kill, but this is different. There doesn’t seem to be anything he can say. “We’re changing into our fed suits and we’ll be there in a few minutes, okay?” 

“Thanks… Dean?” She sounds like she’s on the verge of crying again. She sounds like the sunshine she embodies has leaked out of her with the rest of her tears. She’s never sounded like this before and it breaks Dean’s heart. 

“Yeah?” 

“What if she’s already gone?” 

His heart feels like a stone sinking through him to land as a weight in the soles of his shoes. “She’s not. We’ll find her and bring her home. You hear me?” 

“Yeah.” 

“I’ll see you soon.” If he was the kind to end phone calls with “I love you,” he would right now. He’s not, so he stays on the line, silently, for the extra moment that it would take to say it. She doesn’t hang up either. He hears her take a shuttered breath before he ends the call. 

Dean bangs his fist on the bathroom door, ready to leave without Sam if he doesn’t turn that shower off soon. In response to his impolite knocking, Sam does turn the water off. 

“I’ll be out in a minute!” he calls. Dean rolls his eyes and sits on the edge of his bed to pull his shoes on. 


Pulling up, Dean can see her truck. She’s leaning against it in jeans and the brown coat she loves. Her hair is down, moving gently with the wind. The sky is gray, the sun hiding from the sad day. Dean parks and takes a deep breath before stepping out of the car. 

“Hey, Donna,” Sam greets her as they approach. She snaps to the present, her eyes focusing back in from where they had been looking into what if’s. 

“Hey.” She forces a small smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. She hugs Sam, going on tiptoe to get her arms around him even as he leans down. She looks to Dean and steps into his arms immediately after her hug with Sam is over. 

“How you holding up?” he asks as he wraps his arms around her. She presses her cheek against his shoulder for a moment before letting go and stepping back. 

“Oh, you know. Not great.” The smile slips and she presses her lips together. “I’m sorry for callin’ you guys, but Jody’s got her hands full with the girls…” 

“Hey. Never apologize for callin’ us.” He wants to apologize for not having been there to answer his damn phone this morning. He wants to pull her in for a hug that doesn’t end until her niece is safe. 

“So, what do we know?” Sam asks, stepping into his role. 

“Uh, staties found her car… side of the road. Signs of a struggle.” She’s not even his niece and he’s ready to tear whatever dirtbag took her to pieces. 

“And what was she doing out here?” Sam continues his investigation. 

“She was takin’ a gap year,” Donna says with mixed amounts of pride and guilt. “It’s, like, this thing where—”

“Take a year off, run wild before college?” Dean finishes for her. 

“Mhm. Yeah.” She nods and smiles a little again. “I used to tell her about how much fun I had when I did it. Well, she thought that sounded like an adventure. She thought…” Her voice cracks and she sucks in a harsh breath.

“Donna. Hey,” Dean says, rooting her to the moment. She looks into his eyes and he sees all of her fears mapped out in the tears that are shining there. “Whatever happened, it’s not your fault.”

“That’s what Doug keeps tellin’ me, but… I can’t help think—”

“Just focus on the case,” Sam interrupts the train of thought. She nods, but this isn’t her case. This is her life. She’s not here as a cop, wearing her blue uniform and tight ponytail. She’s here because of family. 

“Doug here?” Dean looks toward the open doors that he expects has the evidence and other cops. 

“Yeah. He’s in there, talkin’ to the locals.” 

“I’ll go check-in.” He leaves Donna with Sam as he walks into the massive room where her niece’s car is. The worst part is that the car doesn’t look like a monster took her. Monster’s he gets. Humans are crazy. There’s a spike wedged into her tire. Not the kind that’s any kind of accidental. It turns Dean’s stomach. 

“Hey!” a man shouts. Dean straightens and looks toward the noise. An older man is walking toward him, clearly agitated. “What’re you doin’?” 

“Oh, I, um…” Dean gestures to the car as he tries to find the right words. He’s here for a friend? He’s here on a case? He’s here and completely out of his element because this is the first time in a long time that he’s impersonated an officer in a non-monster case? 

“I asked you a question, son.” 

“First off, I’m not your son,” Dean says, standing to his full height and squaring his shoulders. “Second—”

“Whoa, whoa, easy!” Doug says as he walks over, ready to stand between them in case of a fight. “Agent Clegg, this is Agent Savage, FBI.” Doug is notably missing his own uniform. His mustache almost works with the puffy vest he’s got on. Almost. 

“Oh. Company man,” the old guy says. “Wow, you should’ve told me.” 

“Well, I didn’t get the chance,” Dean says with a smile as he bites the inside of his cheek. He’s ready to punch this guy. He doesn’t trust him and he doesn’t like him and he wishes he had the authority to order him off of his crime scene. 

“Uh-huh. And what field office are you out of? I’m just curious who I should call about you walking through my crime scene.” 

“Mm.” Dean looks to Doug and only sees a shocked face looking back at him. If Doug weren’t here, he might throw a punch. He’s not in the mood. His best friend’s niece is missing, his mom is in another universe, his boyfriend is missing, and his brother is depressed. Today is not a great day. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. Uh, I’m not here on official business. The victim, she’s family. She’s my cousin, so I’m just here to get some answers.”

“Oh.” The old guy’s entire demeanor changes. Yes, Dean remembers his name, and yes, it does feel good to only refer to him as an old man in his head. “I can respect that. All right, come on. I’ll fill you in.” 

“Yeah.” Dean takes a step to follow him out of the room, but Doug stops him. 

“Sorry,” he says as he grabs Dean’s arm. “You and Donna are related?” 

Fuck. He did say that, didn’t he? I mean, he’s called Donna a cousin, and sister, and now he’s referred to her niece as his cousin. He really needs to figure out his chosen family tree. “Yeah.” 

“So you were in Sioux Falls a couple'a weeks ago at the family reunion.” 

Family reunion? Sioux Falls? A couple weeks ago? “I was there.” Oh. When Jody called her to help find him and Sam after they’d fallen into the Bad Place. That was the lie she told? A family reunion? Close enough. She got to see Jody and the girls and when she’d hugged Dean, she had acknowledged his slip up of calling her his sister. “Yeah.” 

“Donna said it was a pretty wild time.” 

“It was wild.”

Poor Doug. Maybe she’ll let him in someday. Maybe he’ll be invited on hunts and then he can go to the actual family reunions. He’s good to Donna. He’s gone slow and let her take the lead. Dean has the texts to prove how much she cares about him. Dean’s glad he’s here. He’s glad that Donna is allowing him to be here for her. She needs all the support she can get. 

“Absolutely,” Dean says with a forced laugh as he makes his exit. Just wild.