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break the skin (to break the barriers)

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The first time she meets him, he's nothing more than an almost-missed appointment. 

 

It's a clear day outside, complete with the sun shining and the breeze brushing perfectly through the air. It's the best blend of warm and cool, every breath of air outside feeling fresh, and everyone wants to get out into it. That means the shop is busier today with an overflow of walk-ins, but that's on Dolly to handle, which is for the best. 

 

Debra comes careening around the corner of the doorway, wrapping both hands around it and swinging back and forth. "Mitzi, looks like your three o'clock is going to bail. You might get that extra half-hour you wanted anyway." 

 

"I just want to get to the next chapter of my book. Is that too much to ask?" Mitzi leans back in her chair, tossing her hands up. "It's a shame I can't read and ink at the same time." 

 

"Ooh, now that's an advertisement waiting to happen. We should invest in some books and start marketing for it. Call it Read it and Ink." Debra grins at her, waving one hand wildly like she's presenting greatness. "Get it? Like—like read it and weep? Tell me you get that, Mitzi." 

 

Mitzi sighs. "Obviously, I get that, Deb." 

 

Debra grins, but pauses a second later and swings further out into the hall. She looks like a little kid hanging off the doorway like that, her purple dreads swaying loose along her shoulders. She's so short, too. They couldn't look less like sisters if they tried. Sometimes, Mitzi wonders if she's adopted. 

 

"Gonna have to hold off on that extra break, Mitzi. I'm pretty sure your three o'clock walked in. Looks like some old guy," Debra tells her. 

 

"Oh, fun," Mitzi mutters, wrinkling her nose. She looks forlornly towards her book, practically calling her name, and then she heaves a sigh and hauls herself out of her chair. "Alright, go sign him in and send him back. I'll get everything set up." 

 

Debra gives her a small salute and bounds off, cheerfully calling out a hello, welcome to Stabs You Pay For, did you have an appointment? 

 

Mitzi heads around her little station to get her computer up and running. It's not unusual for clients to come in with ideas already set in stone, and that's usually how it goes. While she prefers to actually draw tattoos and do them, that's generally a rare occurrence. Either way, both processes require some talking about beforehand, but it's safe to go ahead and get the usual programs up just in case. 

 

At one point, Dolly comes marching into the room—she marches everywhere—and starts going through one of the drawers for some back-up wraps. She always forgets to restock her own station, so Debra usually has to do it for her. If Debra doesn't, then Dolly comes and steals from her instead. Their version of flirting is so weird, Mitzi can't stand it. 

 

"How's the walk-ins?" Mitzi asks idly, watching in vague amusement as Dolly scowls down into the drawer she's rustling through. 

 

"I've done three infinity symbols already," Dolly snaps, slamming the drawer shut behind her. "I actually had someone request the words live, laugh, love in—and I quote—pretty, flowery font." 

 

"Yikes." Mitzi grimaces, biting back a sympathetic laugh. "Well, at least you haven't had any chinese letters that don't mean what the clients think they mean, so there's that." 

 

Dolly huffs. "Give it an hour." 

 

Mitzi can't really stifle a laugh that time, and Dolly gives her a harsh look on the way out the door. But Dolly is always like that. She's grumpy about everything—well, everything that's not Debra, anyway. Mitzi has gotten used to it by now. 

 

About twenty minutes later, Mitzi is planted fully behind her computer, ready for the next client, when he comes in. Debra leads him in, giving Mitzi significant eyebrows, which means something. Likely something to do with the client being either an asshole, stubborn, or possibly a future problem. 

 

All Mitzi gets from him by just looking at him is that he's an older man who appears to be very sad, or exhausted. Well, that's how he looks anyway. It's in the lines of his face, the complete absence of a smile—even to be polite and friendly—and the hunched shoulders. He's a handsome man, sure, but he looks like he's been through a rough go of it. 

 

"Mitzi, this is Dean," Debra says, introducing them with a smile. "Dean, this is Mitzi. She'll be taking it from here, okay?" 

 

The man—Dean—just nods and takes the chair that Debra gestures towards before leaving. He sits in it a little stiffly, right on the edge, fists braced together between his knees. His gaze darts towards the doors in the room. Military? Mitzi has tattooed military people before, but this guy looks like he just stumbled fresh from a war. Last Mitzi checked, World War Three hasn't happened yet. 

 

"Hey there, Dean," Mitzi greets, giving him a nod and a smile. "Why don't we get started?" 

 

"Yeah, sure," Dean replies, and it comes out gruff and low—a deep voice, sort of curt, not a whole lot of warmth to it. He sounds tired, too. 

 

There's a whole process that goes into getting a tattoo, and it's not always a long one. Sometimes, people already know exactly what they want, and while that doesn't give Mitzi a lot of creative liberty, it can make things easier. Dean, for example, knows what he wants, and he even comes with it already drawn out. 

 

He isn't much of a conversationalist, and Mitzi isn't trying to push him to be. Still, she is surprised when he pulls out a small book from his jacket pocket. It must be a big pocket, because the book is bigger than his hand, though it's smaller than a novel you'd find on the shelves in a store. It's wrapped in worn, black leather with an additional strip that winds around it, keeping it closed. He tugs it loose with quick, familiar fingers like he does it often, and he thumbs to a page without really needing to search. 

 

Without a word, he holds the book out to her, looking at her expectantly. Mitzi leans forward and glances at him in askance when she reaches for the book, to which he gives her a nod. She takes it, making sure to be careful, and stares at the page. 

 

There's some kind of weird symbol on it, nothing like she's ever seen before. Now, she has seen some different things in her time as an artist and tattooist, but this is a little out there. It looks like some kind of cult thing, to be honest. 

 

But hey, it's not her place to judge. She has tattooed some pretty weird shit before, admittedly, so a few symbols she doesn't recognize doesn't really even compare. Seriously, she once tattooed a half-open door with a dick peeking out of it on someone, and they weren't even drunk. This? This is nothing. 

 

"Okay," Mitzi says, looking up, blinking in surprise to see Dean's shoulder loosen just a smidge. Well, hey, some people get embarrassed about the tattoos they want—he wouldn't be the first. He doesn't really strike her as the type to be embarrassed, but she's seen more shocking things. "If it's okay, I'm going to scan this to get it up on my computer. It's mostly line work with some fill-in, unless you want some color. Or is it in black?" 

 

"Black," Dean answers. He jerks his chin towards the book. "You can scan it. Um, you could scan the rest of the pages, too. I'm—I'm going to get all of them at some point. So, if that helps you…" 

 

Mitzi blinks, glancing down at the book again. She starts carefully and slowly flicking through the pages. Practically the whole book is filled with more symbols, some more bizarre than others. She can't really make heads or tails of any of them, but they all seem similar in a weird way. Some are almost exactly the same, just with different line placements. 

 

After a beat, she turns back to the page she kept with her thumb, glancing back to Dean. "I can go ahead and scan them if you want. Even if you go to another tattoo shop, I can always email the images over to save some time. I don't mind." 

 

"Thanks," Dean says simply. 

 

Mitzi smiles at him again, and world of wonders, Dean's face twitches like he might smile back. It's not actually that, not even a ghost one, but it's like the muscles in his face knew what it was to smile once upon a time, and he's at least remembering that. There's something incredibly sad about it. 

 

It's strange. Mitzi is the type of person who knows from experience what it's like to wake up exceptionally sad for no reason, and she's always bought into the idea, just a little, that people are assigned grief for strangers. Like there's someone out in the world that she doesn't know that deserves someone to mourn the tragedy of their lives, and she may as well be the one. After all, she can't complain about her life. She has no reason to be sad. 

 

But Dean? Well, he seems like he's never been assigned someone else's grief, as if he has enough tragedy of his own that burdening himself with someone else's would be too much. A smile can be contagious, but mourning and misery? That catches like a disease—get exposed to it, and you've got it, too. It falls off of Dean in waves. 

 

Mitzi tries not to glance back at him as she scans all of the pages. She scans the one she's doing today first, pulling it up on her computer to keep it at the ready, then she goes through the trouble of doing the rest. She doesn't really need to, because he might not even book another appointment with her, but she figures it's a small, kind thing she can do. He seems like he needs more small, kind things in his life, and also more joy all the way around, but she's not going to be able to give him that. So, this. 

 

After, she settles back at her computer and turns the monitor so he can see it. "Alright, so we've got sizing to consider, and that matters for placement. Also, I can try to cycle it through different fonts, but I don't...really know what that would look like." 

 

"No, leave 'em just like that," Dean tells her. 

 

"Sure thing. Sizing and placement? Do you have an idea where you want this to go?" Mitzi asks.

 

"Yeah, um, my arm. Here," Dean mumbles, reaching across his own body to grab his upper right arm. 

 

"We can adjust the size for the surface area, depending on how much of it you want to take up, or leave open," Mitzi says. A few clicks on her mouse duplicates the image, and she shrinks it and stretches as he watches. "We won't start it until it looks right to you, so we can try different sizes out."

 

"That—that looks good," Dean murmurs, his gaze fixed on the screen. When Mitzi stops and looks at him expectantly, he nods. "Yeah, that's fine." 

 

"Alright, cool." Mitzi pushes back in her rolling chair, moving over to start gathering what she needs, the printer whirring. "You ever got a tattoo before, Dean?" 

 

Dean clears his throat. "Uh, yeah, just one." 

 

"Any piercings?" 

 

"Oh. No, none of those. You do those here?" 

 

"Not me," Mitzi confirms. "My sister, Debra, does them. Dolly does some, too." 

 

"Mitzi, Dolly, and Debra, huh?" Dean mutters wryly, and when Mitzi glances over at him, there's a muted kind of amusement in his eyes. "Sounds like something from a sitcom." 

 

Mitzi chuckles, dragging the rolling tray with her as she comes swiveling around her little desk. "Yeah, my life feels like a sitcom sometimes. Three girls running a tattoo shop, all looking like a mother's worst nightmare and letting our own mothers down while we're at it. But hey, we're all characters in the show of life; might as well make it a comedy." 

 

"Sounds kinda nice," Dean says softly. "I reckon mine is a goddamn horror show. Blood and grit." 

 

"Well, that doesn't sound nice at all," Mitzi muses, rolling to a stop beside him, her eyebrows pinching together. He sounds so—bitter. 

 

Dean stares straight ahead. "It ain't." 

 

"Never too late to turn it around. Do me a favor and get out of that jacket. You don't have to take your shirt off. We can just roll your sleeve up." 

 

"Sure." 

 

Mitzi watches as Dean shrugs out of his jacket, then peels off an outer flannel she didn't see. He's wearing a black t-shirt underneath, and she can't see the one tattoo that he mentioned. Could be on his legs, or under his shirt. She isn't going to ask. 

 

"Alright, I'm gonna go grab the outline. If it's not the way you want it, just let me know, okay?" 

 

Dean nods at her, and she rolls away again. When she comes back and cleans his skin, she lets him check if it looks right, then holds it up to his arm. In the end, he wants it really straight and taking up most of his deltoid. It seems like he wants it really precise, which is fair. He's paying for it, after all. 

 

When she asks if it's good, he nods and says, "Yeah, thanks," and she carefully smooths it out on his skin, making sure it's exactly where he wants it. 

 

Mitzi still makes him look at it in the mirror, just to be safe. She's surprised when he stands there for a long time, just staring at the faint lines. The reflection of his expression is raw, cracked open, and it feels too intense to look at for too long. She averts her eyes, a small ache flaring up in her chest. 

 

She doesn't know what this guy's deal is, or what he's been through, but it's undeniably sad as fuck. He's a stranger, and she's hurting for him, not even knowing the details. Not even knowing his story, but understanding instinctively that it hasn't been a happy one, feeling it down to her bones that he's suffered in some way. 

 

A part of her wants to ask, and a part of her is scared to know, but maybe he wants or needs to tell it. People joke about tattoo-therapy, but it's kind of a thing. Some tattoos are deeply emotional for people, and this seems to be the case for him. 

 

"You ready?" Mitzi asks quietly once he's settled in again. He nods. "Are you scared of needles?" 

 

Dean wrinkles his nose, just a bit. "Well, I'm not their biggest fan. Not scared of 'em, though." 

 

"Well, you chose a good spot, anyway. Not a lot of pain here," Mitzi assures him, starting the gun up. It buzzes into the quiet room. 

 

"I have a high pain tolerance," Dean replies. 

 

Mitzi cracks a smile and scoots in close, flexing her fingers in her gloves. She tugs on the skin of his arm, spreading it tight to get focused on where the first line will go. "You'd be surprised how many people think that, then end up passing out in the chair. Here we go, stay relaxed for me." She presses in, and Dean doesn't even twitch. "Good, thanks. So, can I ask? What does the symbol mean?" 

 

"It's, uh—" Dean's voice cuts off quickly, and Mitzi hears him swallow thickly from where her head is ducked. She makes sure not to look up, letting him have his moment, fully expecting him to brush it off. But he doesn't. Instead, he exhales and says, "It's for angels. Kind of like an angel banishing symbol." 

 

"Huh." Mitzi blinks, keeping her hand steady, even as her eyebrows jerk up. Well, she sure as shit wasn't expecting that. "So, no angels in your life, huh? I feel you. Guardian angels suck at their jobs." 

 

Dean makes a small sound, something that might have been a chuckle once. "Angels don't, uh, really do any guarding. That's...not what they were made for. A lot of 'em were warriors for God. Soldiers." 

 

"I haven't actually read the Bible since I was, like, thirteen," Mitzi admits. "If I remember correctly, when they came to earth, they scared the shit out of humans with what they looked like, right? Eight different heads and wings of fire, or something like that. Am I getting that right?" 

 

"Something like that," Dean murmurs. 

 

"Well, that's as good of a reason to banish them as any, I guess." 

 

"It's—I mean, it's not that. It's kind of like warding against angels, or it was supposed to be." 

 

Mitzi hums, pulling back to wipe the streak of black ink away, checking over her work. "Well, if it's not that, what is it?" 

 

"You see that line in the middle?" 

 

"Yeah, I'll do it in a minute." 

 

"Take your time," Dean tells her. "But uh, that used to be where the banishing symbol went. It's what kind of...tied it all together, I guess. It's not that anymore. I changed it." 

 

"Oh, cool. So, what is it now?" Mitzi asks. 

 

Dean is silent for a long, tense moment, then he gruffly says, "It's not for banishing the angels. It's to summon them. So, it doesn't—it's not to get rid of 'em, but to draw 'em in." 

 

Mitzi can't help but glance up at him at that. His voice is so heavy with so much unexplained pain, and she doesn't understand why, or what angels have to do with it. She knows religion can impact people. She's very aware that it can get complicated, and that it can be a huge source of pain for someone, but Dean sounds grievously wronged, somehow, as if it's a truly personal thing. 

 

He's staring straight ahead, his gaze distant, his face doing that thing again. Just sort of...sagging with genuine pain, as if he's being bogged down by it. Seriously, it's a bitch to look at head-on. It makes Mitzi's heart twist in sympathy. 

 

She pushes through, focusing back on her job, clearing her throat before murmuring, "Well, I guess we all want angels to visit us sometimes." 

 

"Just the one," Dean mumbles. 

 

"Your guardian angel?" Mitzi asks. 

 

Dean breathes out, "Something like that. As close to one as an angel will ever get." 

 

"Met a lot of angels in your time, Dean?" Mitzi teases, desperate to lighten the mood. 

 

"Too many," Dean says a little solemnly, the mood not lightening at all. Damn. 

 

Okay, well, Mitzi can play along. "Alright, well, tell me about them. What are they like? Do they really have wings? Are they on fire?" 

 

Dean's head swivels towards her, and she glances up. He blinks, and she smiles, and his face does that thing again like he remembers he used to smile, even if he forgot how. "No, they're not on fire, but they do got wings. Or, they had 'em. That's a long story. Anyway, humans couldn't see the wings as it was, not unless it was like...shadows, or after they died. The imprint of the wings got burned into whatever surface they died on." 

 

"Angels can die?" Mitzi asks dubiously. 

 

"Yeah," Dean whispers, "they can." 

 

Mitzi clicks her tongue, going back to his arm. "I don't get why anyone would want to kill an angel. Aren't they supposed to be, like, love and light?" 

 

"Oh, yeah, no. Most of 'em are dicks." 

 

"Do angels even speak english?" 

 

"Huh?" Dean snorts weakly, more like a strong exhale through his nose. "Right, you think—well, angels have humans for vessels. They can possess a human's body, if only the human will say yes, and only if the human is compatible. If they're not, the human sort of just...explodes." 

 

"Well, at least they've got a grasp on consent," Mitzi drawls, amused. 

 

"Eh, not exactly. Lot of 'em would try and force somebody to say yes. Trust me, there are ways." 

 

"That's not very heavenly of them." 

 

"Yeah, well, Heaven sucks, too," Dean mutters. 

 

Mitzi hums. "You been?" 

 

"A few times," Dean replies dryly. 

 

"Well, it's got to be better than Hell, at least." 

 

"Not by much." 

 

"Oh, you've been there, too?" Mitzi asks. 

 

Dean does the not-snort thing again. "A few times." 

 

"Well, looks like I made a good choice to live my life to the fullest if all my options after death suck so much," Mitzi says, pulling back to wipe again, tilting her head a little to look at it. Drawing angels in, huh? She's still seen weirder. 

 

"Yeah, you made the right call there." Dean sighs and peers down at the tattoo, then looks away. "But, like I said, not all angels are that bad. I don't know if it's even their fault, really. It's just...how they were made, and not all of 'em figured out it was wrong." 

 

"But some did," Mitzi guesses, tapping her finger to the part of the tattoo she hasn't started on yet. "Or, at least one did." 

 

"A few did, over the years. But yeah, one in particular figured it out better than any of the others," Dean murmurs. 

 

"Hm." Mitzi ponders that for a moment, chewing over the idea that Dean might be, perhaps, just a few screws short in his noggin. Makes for interesting conversation, though. Again, she's seen and done weirder. "Sounds like you've got a crazy life, Dean. Angels, and Heaven, and Hell. Guess that would be a horror show, wouldn't it?" 

 

"You have no idea," Dean says. 

 

Mitzi smacks her teeth. "I won't until you tell me about it. Start talking, buddy, I'm invested now." 

 

"I wouldn't even know where to start. Besides, it's a really long story." 

 

"Well, we aren't exactly aching for time here, are we? The beginning is usually a good place to start."

 

"I think it would take longer to explain than it would to finish that tattoo," Dean tells her. 

 

"I don't mind an unfinished story," Mitzi lies. She knows how easily people exaggerate, and how they can pack a supposedly long story in the time it takes for her to finish a tattoo. 

 

Dean grunts. "If you say so." 

 

And, with that, he starts talking. 

 

Mitzi focuses on the tattoo, listening in increasing amusement. This guy could write books, it sounds like. He's got a not-so-cute story of his life going on here, starting with his mother burning on a ceiling when he's only four years old. Blood and grit, indeed. Talk about starting off with a bang. 

 

He talks about it all like he's laying out facts, but he also rambles on a little, getting hung up on a few details to make the story seem a bit more real. He's got a little brother, apparently, and he goes into depth about him. Sammy, he calls him, except he prefers Sam. Mitzi immediately thinks of Debra, her older sister by a year, bitching about being called Deb. It sounds like someone who would ask to speak to a manager, she would complain. Do I look like someone who would ask to speak to a manager? Nonetheless, the nickname stuck, and she's made her peace with it. 

 

Throughout the time it takes to do the tattoo, Dean strings together this tale of his life—a fantastical one that obviously isn't true, but entertaining nonetheless. Growing up with monsters, what sounds like a shitty dad—and hello, there's daddy issues here, Mitzi can feel it—and little moments where Dean says that ends up being important later, but we didn't know it at the time. Sam, apparently, ends up getting out of 'the life', as Dean calls it, except not for very long. And whaddya know? Sam's girlfriend dies just like their mother did, and boom, he's dragged right back in. 

 

"Bummer," Mitzi says, wiping at the tattoo again. 

 

"Yeah," Dean agrees glumly. 

 

Mitzi hums. "When do we get to the angels?" 

 

"Takes a few years. Gotta get through demons first."

 

"Angels are the boss fight?" 

 

"Oh no," Dean tells her, "that's God." 

 

"Of course it is," Mitzi says, nodding at him as if that makes complete sense. "What's life without a little pow-wow with the creator of the game, right? It's such a shitty game sometimes. Who doesn't want to go a few rounds with that asshole?" 

 

Dean glances at her, doing that not-smiling thing once more. "Punched him in the face once." 

 

"On the behalf of those who are done with God's bullshit, I thank you," Mitzi tells him, grinning as she rolls her wrist and leans back in. "Okay, so where were we? Sam's girlfriend dies. Your dad's still missing. What happens next?" 

 

"I guess that depends how invested you are. Do you really wanna hear about the monsters, too?" 

 

"Well, what kind of monsters do you have for me?" 

 

"Uh, you got ghosts, shapeshifters, vampires. All kinds of shit. Crazy-sounding shit." 

 

"Oh, yeah, lay it on me. The crazier, the better. Hey, better yet, give me tips on how to fuck 'em up if I ever run across them." 

 

Dean's cheek twitches. "You got it. Alright, so you ever heard of a Wendigo?" 

 

Mitzi hums noncommittally and listens as he starts talking. Again, most of it sounds insane, but it is entertaining as hell. Dean doesn't go lightly on her with this tale he's spinning, unafraid to make it dark and twisted, not shying away from death or the things that apparently go bump in the night. 

 

Truth be told, Mitzi is a fan of things like this. Things that would gross other people out, or even scare them, are kind of interesting to her. She listens to murder-mystery podcasts, and she watches TV shows about serial killers, and she likes a good, gritty story with lots of blood and gore. She's not really sure why—maybe because her life has exactly none of that. She's from a small town where nothing ever happened, and she's never once experienced the thrill of being genuinely terrified. 

 

Dean does a really good job, admittedly. He's got a whole plot figured out. Mitzi is sure that it would make for a good book, or a show. Maybe he'll end up doing it one day, and he'll be famous, and this tattoo will be her little part of that. She likes that idea a lot. There's something sort of romantic—and not in the hearts and flowers way—about leaving little pieces of herself around the world, contributing to the journal that people etch onto their bodies. They let her write their stories into their skin, trusting her to do it, and that's her favorite part of her art. 

 

In the end, Dean proves her wrong. 

 

As it turns out, the length of one tattoo is not enough time for him to tell the whole story he's got banging around in his head. He even ends on a cliffhanger, the asshole—with a car crash, of all things. But hey, at least they found their dad. 

 

Mitzi sighs as she wipes the tattoo and gets it ready to wrap, staring at the glossy symbol on his skin. His words trail off when she snaps her gloves from her hands, and she smiles at him. 

 

"As much as I want to hear the rest—and trust me, I really do—you're all good to get up and go look at it in the mirror." Mitzi rolls back a little, giving him some space. "Tell me what you think." 

 

Dean clears his throat and pushes to his feet, shuffling over to the mirror, holding his sleeve up as he stares at the tattoo from the side. He doesn't say anything, and Mitzi stares at his expression for as long as she can, feeling inexplicably like a voyeur. There are tears in his eyes. It tugs at her heartstrings to see it, to see the way he stares at the tattoo, like he's being torn apart by the mere sight of it. 

 

After a while, he blinks really hard and turns away, his throat bobbing as he moves back over to the chair. "It's—" His voice comes out hoarse, so he swallows and tries again. "It's perfect. Thank you."

 

"I'm glad," Mitzi says softly, and she is. She doesn't know his story, not his real story anyway, but this is clearly important to him. "Alright, I'm going to handle the rest and tell you how to take care of it, and then I'll let you get out of here. Sound good?"

 

"Yeah," Dean mumbles. 

 

So, that's what she does. Dean doesn't talk the whole time, but she can tell he's paying attention. That pleases her, because a lot of people ignore the importance of taking care of a tattoo after they've gotten it. But he listens attentively, so that makes her feel a little better. 

 

Afterwards, as he's shrugging back into his jacket and letting her lead him up the hall, she admits a little sheepishly, "I won't lie to you, Dean. It's a damn shame that you didn't get to finish telling me about your life." 

 

"Who knows?" Dean says. "Maybe I'll come back. I still want to get the rest of those tattoos." 

 

"Well, if you do, I'm looking forward to it." Mitzi smiles at him again. "But, in case you don't, at least tell me if the angel you're looking for is likely to find you with the tattoo." 

 

Dean's expression splinters for a second, shattered for one breath that hitches in his throat, and Mitzi has never regretted asking a question this much in her life. He blinks, then his expression smooths out, and he says, "No, it—it doesn't work like that. You'd need blood, first of all. This is—I mean, at most, if an angel got close, they might be able to sense it. Kinda like slapping a neon sticker on your chest. They'd notice, but it wouldn't do much. Besides, I'm not looking for him. I already know where he is." 

 

"Oh," Mitzi says. "Well, thanks for not asking me to tattoo you in blood or something. I appreciate it." 

 

"Anyone ask you to do that before?" Dean asks, his eyebrows twitching up. 

 

Mitzi snorts. "Not yet, but it wouldn't surprise me."

 

"If anyone does, run for the hills. They're crazy," Dean tells her, apparently serious about it. 

 

"Oh, yeah, sure," Mitzi agrees. "Right, you're the expert on the extra crazy stuff. Duly noted, Dean. Alright, get out of here, have a good day, okay?" 

 

"Yeah, you do the same, Mitzi," Dean says, nodding and doing that once-remembered not-smile again. Then, he turns and heads out into the lobby. 

 

Mitzi watches him go before shaking her head, heading back to her book because she's got the time, and at least she can finish one story. 

 


 

 "You got yourself a regular." 

 

Mitzi glances up at the doorway and smiles as Debra leads Dean into the room. He's already got his book out, tapping the leather to the palm of his hand. He nods at her in greeting and recognition, and Debra whisks away with a wink. Mitzi can hear her calling out to Dolly, off to go bug her, no doubt. 

 

"Well, look who's back," Mitzi says, rolling over to her computer to start pulling up the files with all Dean's future tattoos in them. 

 

"Kinda figured I would be," Dean tells her, like it's an admission of some kind. He sinks down into the chair, the lines of grief in his face still so very prominent. She doesn't think he'll offer anything else as she clicks away, but he does. "My brother saw my tattoo last week. He said it looked good. You, uh, did a good job, so thanks." 

 

Mitzi smiles and ducks down to pull out the drawer of her filing cabinet, feeling around for the binder she always keeps on hand. "To be fair, it's pretty simple work. Here, look through this while I get these files up. These are some of the more complex tattoos I've done—my pride and joys, so to speak. They're good enough that I don't feel weird boasting about them a little."

 

"Oh, hey, these are good," Dean says a few minutes later, swiping through the pages, his own book resting on his knee. "Damn, some of these are really cool. Is that...what I think it is?" 

 

"Yeah," Mitzi tells him, not even needing to look up to know what he's asking about. "That is a vagina made out of flowers. Pretty, right?" 

 

Dean makes a small, surprised sound. "Actually, yeah, it is." 

 

"So, your brother liked the tattoo, then?" Mitzi asks idly. "Did he not have, like, a psychic vision of you getting it, or something?" 

 

"Oh, nah, he doesn't really have visions like that anymore," Dean replies. "He did like the tattoo, though, yeah." 

 

Mitzi hums. "That's good. So, what are you getting today. Could you show me in your book?" 

 

"Yeah, here," Dean says, pausing in flipping through her binder to open his own book, juggling them both in his lap a little precariously. He gets to the right page and holds it out to her. 

 

"Thanks." Mitzi takes it and starts searching for the file that matches. It takes a few moments because there are so many and some resemble each other. She has to double-check that she has it right, then she turns the screen towards Dean. "This one?" 

 

Dean glances up from the binder. "Yeah, that's the one. Still in black." 

 

"Placement?" Mitzi asks, closing his book and passing it back to him, taking her binder when he gives it back. She duplicates the image and starts resizing it as he leans closer. 

 

"The back of my shoulder," Dean tells her, reaching around to grab at the back of his right shoulder. He watches her fiddle with the size, then holds up the book, waving it. "Yeah, that's good. Uh, a little bigger. There. Thanks." 

 

Mitzi nods. "Alright, we're going to get you outta your shirt today, it seems like. We'll have to stand by the mirror to make sure it's the way you want it. That okay with you?" 

 

"S'fine," Dean says with a lazy shrug. He tucks the book into his pocket and starts tugging his jacket off, not seeming uncomfortable in the least. 

 

Mitzi rolls over to the printer as it spits out the outline, humming under her breath. It's been a pretty slow day today, mostly relaxed. She's done one tattoo so far, and the poor girl cried. Mitzi tried to warn her that tattoos on the feet would hurt, but she had insisted. Pain in exchange for art—Mitzi knows that deal well. She would, seeing as she's got tattoos all over her body, including the one on the side of her head where she keeps her afro shaved. That one hurt like a bitch, to be fair, but it was worth it. 

 

When she rolls back to her desk and turns with the outline in hand, Dean is already standing by the mirror, shirtless. She sees the tattoo on his chest that must have been his first, another symbol that she doesn't recognize. It's a little faded, but it's kind of pretty in an artistic way. The star in the middle tugs at something in her mind—devil worship? It's got to be satanic in origin, right? 

 

"What's that one mean?" Mitzi asks as she moves over with her hand-mirror. She gestures to the tattoo on his chest as she passes the mirror to him. 

 

Dean glances down at it. "Oh, that's an anti demon possession tattoo. Keeps the demons from jumping into my meat-suit. Highly recommend it." 

 

"Might look into it if I've got the space," Mitzi says, lips twitching as she moves around behind him and holds up the outline. "Alright, hold the mirror up. I'm gonna step to the side, and you let me know where exactly you want it." 

 

"Little higher," Dean murmurs as she moves it around at his guidance. "Kind of level with the one on my arm. I dunno. I like…" 

 

"Symmetry?" Mitzi suggests, lifting the outline until its right in line with the tattoo she did on his arm. They won't touch, but they're next to each other. 

 

"Yeah," Dean agrees. "That's perfect." 

 

Mitzi grins. "Cool beans. Alright, into the chair, a quick cleaning of the area, then we're off to greener pastures. The headrest comes off the chair if you want to rest your chin on your arms when you're turned around in the seat. Go fiddle with it while I get everything set up for you." 

 

"Thanks," Dean says simply, and he wanders off to do exactly as she said. 

 

He does end up pulling the headrest out, leaning his chest against the front of the chair as he rests his chin on his crossed arms. The way his skin bunches up wrinkles the tattoo she first gave him, permanent and flowing with the movement of his body. It healed really well, so he definitely listened to her instructions, which brightens her mood. 

 

Mitzi moves over once she's got everything she needs, then cleans the skin before making him dangle his right arm so she can get the placement of the tattoo exactly right. Once she smooths it out, she directs him to get comfortable again, then presses down on the lever to crank the chair back a little, bringing him forward and lower just a little, enough that she can scoot in close and have full range to do her work with minimal strain for either of them. 

 

"Here we go," Mitzi warns him. "Stay relaxed for me, okay?" Again, he doesn't so much as twitch or tense up when she gets started, not even a small jump. "Great. How's your day been?" 

 

"Long," Dean says simply. 

 

"Didn't have any ghosts to put down?" 

 

"Not recently." 

 

"Wanna finish your story?" Mitzi asks, curious despite herself where he'll take it. 

 

Dean sighs. "Where'd I leave off?" 

 

"You, Sam, and your dad got into a car wreck. A truck hit you," Mitzi reminds him. "Which, did that actually happen?" 

 

"Yeah," Dean says, and it sounds like a fact, a simple statement, sort of bland like a car wreck isn't a serious thing. "I don't remember it. I think the driver who hit us was a demon." 

 

"Damn. Did you, Sam, and your dad make it out?"

 

"John. My dad's name was John." 

 

"Ah," Mitzi murmurs. "John. Okay, did you, Sam, and John make it out okay?" 

 

"Not exactly," Dean mumbles, then starts talking. 

 

Mitzi listens as she works, and keeps her comments to herself. Obviously a lot of this is exaggerated and mystically enriched, but she doubts that the weird quality to Dean's voice when talking about his father is faked. Now, she's come to some of her own conclusions about this man, John, even outside of the whole play-pretend world of monsters. 

 

It was just too real the way Dean talked about raising Sam. He'd known things that only someone who has been abandoned, who has gone hungry, who has blatantly mistreated would know. She's pretty damn sure that Dean didn't even go into all the details, and half the things he did talk about going through were spoken like they were normal, or excusable through the lens of a world of monsters and demons. Mitzi isn't sure a world like that would even be an excuse at all. 

 

Growing up, she didn't have any issues with her parents, outside of microaggressions. Her parents never let her and Debra go hungry, and they've never put a hand on either of them, and Debra sure as shit never had to raise her. The closest they come to anything like that is their parents being god-fearing people who don't agree with the tattoos, and colored hair, and gay tendencies—for all that Debra likes to ignore that she has those, but Mitzi knows. 

 

Her and Debra were only a little over a year apart, so they grew up close. They went to college together. They opened up this shop together. They left home and the frequent talks about their steady decline into debauchery and Hell, and they did it together. But, outside of that, their parents weren't so bad. For all that they're a little judgemental, they still call on holidays and birthdays to say I love you, and they would take them in if they needed it in a heartbeat, no questions asked. It's not perfect, but it could definitely be a lot worse. 

 

Hearing Dean talk about John reminds her of that. 

 

However, Mitzi doesn't add her opinions, because she has no right. Most of this story is fantasy anyway. Maybe this is just how he copes with the traumatic shit in his life. 

 

In a weird way, Mitzi is a little annoyed that Dean and Sam—in this fake story—went through all of that, and then their dad died. But hey, at least he did one good thing by trading his life for Dean's. He apparently couldn't even do that right, though, because Dean explains that John told him that he had to either save Sam, or kill him. 

 

Inexplicably, Mitzi is annoyed on Sam's behalf for this. Ah, hell, she is getting too invested, isn't she? For all she knows, Sam's actually a terrible person, even through Dean's perception. Maybe Dean just sees him differently. She wonders what Sam's point of view on all of this would be. 

 

When new people get introduced, Mitzi has to bite back the urge to ask if they're actually real people, or just characters Dean's making up for the story. She believes Sam is real, if not his mystical powers and stuff, but Ellen and Ash and Jo? Dubious. 

 

Nonetheless, as she pulls back to wipe some of the ink away, she admits, "I like the sound of this Ash guy. A mullet? The balls of steel he must have had." 

 

"Yeah, he was pretty great," Dean agrees, and there's a real fondness in his tone that can't be faked. So, a real person then. Good to know. "He came in a pinch, too. Wicked smart, lemme tell ya." 

 

"Sounds like it. Okay, get back to the people with psychic powers like Sam. This Andy dude. He could play mind games with people?" 

 

"Pretty much. He was kinda chill, actually. He killed someone to save my life. I think he was high." 

 

"I want some of what he was having," Mitzi says, lips curling up as she goes back to the tattoo. 

 

Dean hums. "Me and you both. Anyway…" 

 

And so it goes. Mitzi continues to listen, and Dean continues to talk, and the story continues to get wilder by the second. She's so invested. 

 

It might have a little something to do with how Dean tells the story. It's like it's actually real. There's emotional beats that flesh it out, that add something that feels like truth to it. Of course, she's not going to buy into the zombies, and ghosts, and werewolves, but some of the other stuff? The comradery between the 'hunters' they run into, the apparent guilt Dean felt over his father's death, the fights between families—all of that feels real. The way he talks about it gives it life, like something he can remember, like it once was. 

 

Despite this clearly being a story, there are moments that Dean sort of just—clams up. He says well, I ain't going into much detail about that, or all you really need to know is that this happened, or things like that's a whole other story. When he doesn't want to explain something, or seemingly can't, his voice gets gruff and tight as he breezes right past it, like it's actually something he doesn't want to relive. 

 

She's got to give him props for sticking to the bit, but she's also got the sneaking suspicion that he's using places he skips in the fake-story to avoid genuine problems in his past. Maybe there wasn't a demon he doesn't want to talk about, but maybe there was a regular person who hurt him, and he just doesn't want to revisit it. She can respect that. After all, she's not about to go airing out all her dirty laundry either, though she has. 

 

There is something about getting a tattoo. For some people—for her, and Dean, apparently—it can draw things out of you that you didn't think you'd ever talk about. Something about the pain, something about the way feelings can be skin-deep sometimes, and how getting a tattoo can crack you open a little, especially if it means something to you. It's this weird trance where it hurts, but there's some safety in it as well. Mitzi herself doesn't really understand it, or how it works on certain people, only knowing that she, too, has fallen prey to it. 

 

Plus, she prides herself on being an easygoing tattoo-artist who helps her clients talk, if that's what they need. Every tattoo can be an experience for both her and the client if she works at it hard enough. Really, tattoos are what you make them, and she always intends to make the whole process a special interaction all the way around. 

 

Mitzi always tries to end on a high note, but once again, that doesn't seem to be the case today. She's getting close to finishing, and she actually has to swallow a gasp when Dean admits, in clipped words that betray age-old hurt, that Jake stabs Sam in the back and fucking kills him. 

 

"Wait, are you serious?" Mitzi blurts out, despite knowing that it's not actually true. Obviously Sam doesn't die, because Dean talks about Sam now, so he's alive. But who knows? Maybe Sam was actually stabbed, and it was close. Jeez. 

 

Dean grunts out a gruff, "Yeah, Mitzi, I'm serious. I didn't, uh, handle it well." 

 

"No shit," Mitzi can't help but mutter, grimacing. She doesn't even let her mind wander towards Debra. She can't even imagine. Debra broke her arm in the fifth grade, and Mitzi cried about it harder than Debra did. "But, you know, he was fine, right?"

 

"Sorta," Dean mumbles. "Not really. I made sure he was, in the end. Sold my soul to bring him back." 

 

"Damn," Mitzi says softly, finishing the last line with a small frown. "I mean, I get it. If my sister went through all that, I'd sign on for ten more years just so she could have a life. I hate her, but I also love that bitch, so I feel you." 

 

"One year," Dean corrects, sounding faintly amused, though Mitzi knows by now that he doesn't really remember how to smile, or laugh. 

 

Mitzi cleans the tattoo, eyes narrowing. "What do you mean one year? I specifically remember you saying deals with demons were ten years. I think I found a continuity error, buddy." 

 

"Usually, it is ten years. Well, eh, the lines get blurry later, but back then? Yeah." Dean heaves a deep sigh and shifts a little. "But I was desperate, and the only way they'd bring him back was if I took a year." 

 

"And you took it?" Mitzi asks, snapping her gloves off and rolling backwards. 

 

"Sure did," Dean confirms, rolling his shoulders as he sits up straighter. "I mean, it kinda felt right anyway. I was supposed to die before my dad sold his soul for me, so. One year didn't really seem like a bad trade-off for Sammy's life. Still don't regret it to this day, if I'm being honest." 

 

Mitzi raises her eyebrows as she watches him click the headrest back into place. "I bet that went over well with Sam. God, Deb would cut my fucking throat if I ever did some stupid shit like that for her. Wait, actually, I'm the younger sibling, so it'd be her doing it for me. Oh, yeah, I'd lose my shit." 

 

"Yeah, Sam had a field day," Dean says dryly, standing up and turning towards her. 

 

"Bet Bobby did, too." Mitzi points at him as she moves over to grab the hand mirror again. "I like him, by the way. Bobby, I mean." 

 

Dean looks like he's about to smile, except he doesn't know how anymore. His face does soften a little, though. "Well, you got a good judge of character, then." 

 

"Glad to hear it." Mitzi passes him the mirror and jerks her head towards the bigger one, waving him over. "Alright, tattoo review time. Have a look, tell me what you think." 

 

"You gonna ask what this one means?" Dean asks as he shuffles across the room to inspect it. 

 

Mitzi starts putting away her things, getting the wrap ready. "I mean, if you want to tell me, you can. You don't have to, obviously." 

 

"It's Enochian. A language originated from the angels," Dean says quietly, swapping between peering into the mirror and craning his head to try and see the tattoo more directly. 

 

"A name?" Mitzi asks, withholding a wince. She doesn't really like doing tattoos in different languages, especially if she doesn't know it, because it can make for some very unhappy customers in the future. Names, though… Well, people tend to regret those, and it can sometimes be like asking for things to go sideways at some point down the line. 

 

Dean makes a low, soft sound. "Not exactly. More of a representation. It doesn't have power, or anything. It's for my mom." 

 

"Oh," Mitzi blurts, blinking as she heads over with the wrap. Well, a mother—especially a dead mother, who might have died violently, if not by burning on a ceiling—is a whole different story. "Well, I hope you researched the language, because I don't know the first thing about how to speak angel." 

 

"Trust me, you don't want to," Dean says, lowering the mirror. "When they speak it, the way it sounds, it's enough to blow out eardrums. Angel radio is not the holy singing you think it is. But yeah, I know exactly what the language is." 

 

Mitzi nods, taking this in stride. "Okay, sure. You want me to take a picture of it on your phone before I wrap it? Just to give you a different angle." 

 

"Oh. Uh, yeah, thanks." Dean fishes his phone out of his pocket and swipes it open, revealing a picture of a very nice car. 

 

"Woah. Sorry, I wasn't trying to be nosy, but is that your car?" Mitzi asks, leaning in a little, which is unprofessional, but she can't help it. 

 

Dean does that thing again where he looks like he might be able to smile, and this time he gets pretty close, but still can't quite manage it. "Yeah, that's my car. She's a beauty, right?" 

 

"Really nice," Mitzi agrees in approval, amused by the fondness and pride in Dean's tone. 

 

She takes the phone once he opens the camera, then gets three different pictures from three different angles, then hands his phone back to let him look at them. She wraps his fresh tattoo quickly and ushers him back over to the chair, giving him a quicker rundown on caring for it, since he's already done it once. He listens as he puts his shirt, flannel, and jacket back on, nodding along seriously. He doesn't complain when she tells him that he'll need someone to help since he won't be able to reach, and when she assumes that it will be Sam, he just nods to confirm it. She carries on. 

 

"Thanks, again," Dean tells her as she leads him down the hall towards the lobby where he'll pay, and likely tip. Not everyone does, but he did last time, which was nice of him. 

 

Mitzi smiles at him. "Hey, no problem. I'm assuming I'll see you back for more tattoos and the rest of the story. Still no angels. I'm on my toes, here." 

 

"They're not too far off now," Dean says, his throat bobbing as he looks away. 

 

"Looking forward to it," Mitzi admits. 

 

Dean glances at her, eyebrows furrowed. "You actually mean that, don't you? What's so interesting about all this? Seriously, I don't get it." 

 

"Well, it's—ya know, it's demons and angels and monsters." Mitzi shrugs. "I guess if this is really your life, it's not nearly as fun for you." 

 

"You could say that," Dean mumbles, shaking his head. "I don't even know why—" He cuts himself off, then heaves a sigh, a world-weary one. "It doesn't make sense when I look back on it. Everything, all of it that happened, and I wasted so much time. It all got so...complicated, and then it was too late, and what was the point, you know?" 

 

"Not really," Mitzi says, because she doesn't actually know. Not that she could know, because half the stuff he's talking about is bullshit anyway, but still. Even the stuff that could be real, she doesn't know. She's never experienced loss or tragedy like he has, like she knows he has, because there's no denying it just by listening to him. "Maybe there's not really a point to anything. Maybe we've got what we got, and that's all we're ever going to get." 

 

"I really fucking hope not," Dean murmurs.

 

Mitzi's heart clenches at the genuine despair in his tone. "In your case, I really hope not, too. Instead, maybe there's no point until we make one. We get what we get, but that doesn't have to be all that we have. Maybe there's more." 

 

"Maybe," Dean allows, but his voice is dull and lifeless, like he doesn't really believe it. He glances over at her and clears his throat, offering her a quick nod. "Anyway, I should—I'm sure you've got shit to do, and I gotta get out of here, so I'll see you for the next tattoo. Thanks, Mitzi." 

 

"You're welcome," Mitzi says, smiling. "Have a good day, Dean." 

 

She watches him go yet again, leaning against the wall, mind churning in circles. He's such a sad man. It sort of breaks her heart. 

 


 

Debra and Dolly are doing their weird flirting again. Mitzi swings wildly between being amused by it, or flat out annoyed. Sometimes, she wants to smack their heads together, and other times, she gets genuine enjoyment out of watching them be stupid. 

 

"You pull on mine, I pull on yours," Dolly says, tugging on one of Debra's dreads, because Debra just pulled on her ponytail. Literal children, the both of them. Dolly smacks Debra's hand away, and Debra squawks in offense. 

 

Mitzi watches in vague amusement as they get into a little bit of a smack-fight, swatting at each other's hands, and then it gets irritating when it continues to drag on. She's a little relieved when the bell toggles over the door as it opens. 

 

Debra shoves Dolly's face away and calls a very cheery, "Welcome to Stabs You Pay For! How can we—oh! It's you again. Dean, right?" 

 

"Uh, yeah," Dean says, bobbing his head as he shuffles in, his hands shoved into his jacket pockets. His shoulders are extra hunched today. He blinks and rears back a little when Dolly wrenches Debra around by her hips, trying to throw her off balance. 

 

Debra takes this with the ease of someone who is used to being yanked on, bracing her hands on the edge of the counter, grinning like an idiot. "Glad to see you back. Mitzi's hiding over on the couch if you want to say hi. She's finishing up her break now. You're just a little early." 

 

"Right. Sorry, I can wait. I just got here a little quicker than I expected. Traffic was good," Dean says, giving Debra and Dolly an odd look as he shuffles over to the couch where Mitzi is. 

 

"Hey," Mitzi greets easily, gesturing to the spot beside her on the couch with her elbow. Her hand is stuffed in a bag of chips. After she pops one in her mouth, she offers it towards him. "Want one? It's Cheddar and Sour Cream if you're a fan." 

 

"No, I just had lunch," Dean says, "but thanks." 

 

"You said traffic was good?" Mitzi asks, leaning forward to grab her coke. "Where are you coming from? Downtown, or out near the fields?" 

 

"Lebanon, actually," Dean tells her. 

 

Mitzi blinks at him as she swallows a mouthful of soda. "Lebanon? Seriously? You drive nearly three hours for a tattoo?" 

 

"This place has good reviews. Besides, the name? Stabs You Pay For? Come on." Dean shrugs slightly, giving her a look like that explains why he drives three hours for a tattoo. 

 

"Huh." Mitzi chews thoughtfully on another chip. Well, she knew he was crazy already, but this really drives that point home. "Hey, whatever floats your boat, I guess. More power to you, and I definitely won't complain about the business. The name, though. That was all Debra. We opened this place up together, but we couldn't decide on a name. Eventually, it came down to leg-wrestling, which is how we settle most disputes. I usually win because I'm taller, but she was determined." 

 

"What did you want to name it?" 

 

"Ink Envy." 

 

"Ah, come on," Dean says, "that's a little weak. Stabs You Pay For is good." 

 

Mitzi sniffs in offense. "It's a little too literal for my tastes. Anyway, it was worth it to get to choose the furniture in the lobby. She wanted a pink couch." 

 

"It would have added character," Dean tells her, and there's a little bit of teasing in his tone, though it's kind of flat and tired. It's like he's trying so, so hard and struggling without even meaning to. 

 

"We're going to have to agree to disagree," Mitzi replies simply. She knocks back the rest of her chips, leaning over the arm of the couch to stuff the crinkled bag into the trashcan. After that, she downs the rest of her coke and tosses that, too. "Okay, give me two minutes, and then you can head back." 

 

"No rush," Dean murmurs. 

 

Mitzi smiles as she hops to her feet. "Well, my break is over now. Let Deb set you up. Hey, how'd your other tattoo heal?" 

 

"Good. Yeah, really good. The itching was a bitch, and it's always weird when it peels, but it's good now," Dean assures her, also standing up. 

 

"Perfect." Mitzi gives him a thumbs-up and pauses by the front desk, smacking her hand down on it to get Debra and Dolly to jerk apart, apparently having forgotten other people existed. "Hey, get Dean ready, then send him back. Be nice, Dolly." 

 

Dolly glares at her. "I'm nice." 

 

"You're my favorite angry person," Debra teases, scrunching up her nose at Dolly, who pretty much immediately loses her glare, face softening. 

 

Mitzi rolls her eyes and sweeps off, leaving Dean to suffer through their idiocy. She washes her hands, then gets a headstart on getting the files pulled up on the computer. By the time she's setting up her tray and station, Dean is escorted back by Dolly, who likely got bullied into it by Debra. Dolly is scowling, making her look like an angry, punk troll—like, one of the actual troll dolls with their hair sticking up everywhere. Dolly has a wide, bright red mohawk and at least five different piercings on her pale face, so when she scrunches her face like that, she looks ugly-cute, though Debra seems to think it's just cute. Either way, Dolly can look very intimidating, and Dean seems a little rattled when she drops him off and marches away. 

 

"Don't worry, she's all bark and—" Mitzi recalls how Dolly once kicked a man twice her size out of the shop, and in the literal sense. She actually kicked him, right where the sun doesn't shine, then shoved him out the door. "Well, she only bites if she has a reason to, so you're probably fine." 

 

"Her girlfriend called her a ray of sunshine, and I don't think she was joking," Dean informs her, most definitely bemused. 

 

Mitzi snorts. "God, please say Dolly is Debra's girlfriend to her face, I'm begging you. Also, Deb definitely wasn't joking. She thinks Dolly is the sweetest person in the world." 

 

"Oh, they're not—uh, sorry…" 

 

"They are, but they just haven't figured it out yet. My sister is kind of a dumbass." 

 

"Huh." Dean raises his eyebrows, then gives a little shrug. He shifts in his seat to pull out his book, flicking through the pages. "Okay, so it's this one this time. Black ink again. It's always going to be black, unless I get something that's not a symbol. Um, on my chest this time. Basically right in front of the last one." 

 

Mitzi watches as Dean taps his chest below his right collarbone—back to the symmetry again. It would be right across from that demon possession tattoo, and it would fit in well with the others. By her guess, it would look like a small wrap of symbols from his chest, around his arm, to his back. It'd be neat and clean, nothing really out of place. 

 

"We can definitely do that," Mitzi says, taking the book to use as a reference as she looks up the file, glancing back and forth between the screen and the page. "Have you thought of getting a tattoo that's not just a symbol?" 

 

"Lately, yeah," Dean admits, glancing off to the side with a small frown. "I mean, these make me look like I'm in some kind of cult, and I… Well, there are things I could get for other things. Like my car. My brother. I didn't think I'd like 'em this much."

 

"What? Tattoos?" Mitzi asks, pausing to glance over at him in surprise. 

 

Dean blinks at her. "Yeah." 

 

"They can get kind of addicting," Mitzi agrees, lips twitching. She waves her free hand at herself a little pointedly. She doesn't really have a free patch of skin to show. "They don't all have to mean something, either. A lot of people ask what the point is if they don't, but maybe you just like them. There's nothing wrong with that." 

 

"Hey, I ain't arguing that," Dean murmurs. "I just never really gave it a lot of thought. Maybe I will." 

 

Mitzi goes back to looking up the file. "You can get two, you know. It doesn't have to just be one every time. Depending on what you get, I mean." 

 

"What, today?" Dean asks. 

 

"Sure, if you've got the funds," Mitzi says, letting out a soft aha as she finds the file. She double-checks, then swings the monitor around. "This one?" 

 

"Yeah, that's the one." Dean frowns. "I have the funds. Just not...an idea." 

 

"You want it to mean something?" 

 

"This time, yeah." 

 

"For somebody, or your car, maybe?" 

 

"Baby would be easier, probably. My car, I mean. '67 chevy impala."

 

Mitzi huffs a laugh. "That's her name?" 

 

"She's my baby," Dean says, a little defensive, muted amusement mixed in there somewhere, too. 

 

Mitzi hums, turning back to the computer. She narrows her eyes, finding her way to Google. A beat later, she's rolling away to go in search of her sketchbook. Dean watches her without a word, eyebrows raised as she goes careening around the room in search of pencils. 

 

"Would you want the actual car tattooed on you?" Mitzi asks, pencil flying away, scratching into the silence of the room. 

 

"Where would we even put that?"

 

"Depends on what scale you'd want it. We could fit it on your forearm, depending on what angle you'd want it from. If not, we could always do the impala symbol—you know, the impala in the circle. It has the word impala in that sort of small, boxed script, but we could put the name Baby instead." 

 

"Are you—" Dean sits forward a little. "Are you drawing the car?" 

 

"Yeah," Mitzi says, gesturing lazily to the monitor. Dean turns it towards him again, then leans forward some more to watch her. "It's a rough sketch, but the model is the same, right? No modifications?" 

 

Dean huffs a quiet sound, a little stunned. "No, I keep her classy. Well, I mean, she's got some things on the inside that's a little different, but you're not gonna tattoo that. Jesus, you're a good artist." 

 

"Thanks." Mitzi frowns and erases a little furiously, then goes right back to it. "This is just an idea. I'd clean it up if you wanted to do it, and we'd have to do it in the next session, but still. I'm just giving you the options now." 

 

"I'm supposed to choose?" Dean blurts out. 

 

"Decisions aren't your strong suit, huh?" 

 

"Not by a long shot." 

 

"Well, we'll get there when we get there. Give me a little more time. There's a vending machine in the lobby if you want to snack while you wait, if you actually want me to do this," Mitzi tells him. 

 

Dean hums. "Yeah, no, go right on ahead. I'm fine hanging out for a little bit." 

 

"Why don't you pick up where you left off last time? You sold your soul, right? What happens next?" 

 

"Well, all those spirits escaped from the Devil's Gate, and we weren't just gonna let that fly," Dean tells her, sighing. "Kind of a big task back then, but what else could we do, ya know? We couldn't just ignore it, and I only had a year left. I figured I'd go out living life to the fullest. Sam was trying to figure out a way out of the deal, but if he did anything like that, he'd—well, he'd go back to being dead, so that was out. Bobby had news about another issue. Basically we had to fight the personification of the seven deadly sins. It was messy, and that's when we first met—ugh, Ruby." 

 

"Oh, we're not a fan of Ruby, are we?" Mitzi asks, eyebrows jumping, even as she continues to sketch. 

 

"She plays a role," Dean mutters, scoffing. 

 

"Go on," Mitzi urges casually, and Dean does. 

 

And so, Dean talks about that year of his life. It is as fucked up as the ones before it, and a lot of it continues to be made-up, but Mitzi has been fine with that this whole time anyway. 

 

She listens like it's an insane bedtime story, both zoned in and out, focused on her drawing and what he's saying. Mitzi can always tell when someone of importance is being mentioned—like Lisa and Ben, for example. Dean's voice goes soft and distant when he talks about them, and there's something else in there as well, yet more tragedy mixed in that goes unexplained so far. Mitzi doesn't push, because she can take cues, and Dean keeps on going. 

 

Bobby's around a lot, which is nice. Mitzi likes Bobby. The way Dean talks about him suggests that he was good to them, almost like a father, a better one than they had. She doesn't say that, either. 

 

Bela is introduced, and Mitzi instantly likes her, much to Dean's disapproval. 

 

"What?" Mitzi asks, pausing with her pencil poised over the sketch. "Come on, she sounds amazing. A hot thief with a smart mouth like that? She sounds like an independent woman who doesn't need a man, turned to a life of crime because she's a badass. Kinda like catwoman." 

 

"She stole my lottery tickets," Dean says miserably, huffing. "I won so much money, you have no idea." 

 

"Shouldn't have left them lying around. Finders keepers, Dean. That's one of the first lessons we learn as children, you know. Or, even better, sharing is caring. I'm sure Bela felt very cared for." 

 

"You and her would have gotten along." 

 

"I'm honored," Mitzi teases, and Dean's face softens a little like he might laugh, except he can't. She goes back to sketching, and he goes back to talking. 

 

Gordon ends up getting turned into a vampire, then ends up getting his head cut off by Sam with a razor wire. Mitzi makes a huh face at that imagery, and Dean clicks his tongue before continuing on, like he thinks she's not taking this seriously enough. Hypocritical of him, since he's turning his whole life into a crazy fantasy. Don't throw rocks in glass houses. But it's a nice rock, so she allows it. 

 

More things happen. Ruby shows back up, Sam has some kind of destiny, Bobby falls into a coma, Bela steals the colt from them. So on and so on, the hits just keep coming. 

 

The worst thing, Mitzi thinks, is the way Dean talks about admitting that he didn't want to die back then. There's some kind of gallows humor to it, like he's looking back and making fun of himself for wanting to live. She's pretty sure this is a thinly veiled metaphor for his mental health, and she worries about it as she draws. She doesn't mean to, not really, but she does find herself concerned anyway, even though this is just a story. 

 

She's come to like Dean as a client, and the sorrow that seems to shadow him wherever he goes actually hurts to see. He's clearly a creative man, and a kind one to boot—the way he talks about his brother and Bobby are enough proof of that. He cares very deeply and doesn't even seem to realize it. 

 

And then, just when she's really worried, he turns around and spins a tale about getting stuck in a time loop where he dies every day for at least a hundred days. It's radical and, from his perspective, not something he really has a point of view on. In his words, he didn't even notice, and it's Sam's burden to bear—courtesy of a trickster named Gabriel, who must be important for later because Dean's voice gets funny when talking about him. 

 

Mitzi figures his mental health is definitely in question, but with stories like that bouncing around in his head, it would have to be. 

 

Dean continues, and Mitzi actually stops drawing when she finds out about Bela's deal. Dean blinks and says, "What?" 

 

"Please tell me she doesn't die," Mitzi mumbles. 

 

"Ah, sorry," Dean offers, grimacing a little. "I get it. She wasn't—it sucked. She told me what she could about Lilith, but she didn't get out of her deal." 

 

Mitzi sighs, shaking her head. "Why do all the women die? Jeez. Okay, so you obviously killed Lilith and got out of the deal. How'd it happen?"

 

There's a beat of silence as Mitzi puts the finishing touches on the rough draft, and she looks up when it stays quiet. Dean is looking at her with a strange expression, eyebrows crumbled together. Stupidly, Mitzi feels her heart lurch in her chest. 

 

"No," Mitzi says. 

 

"Yeah," Dean replies, semi-apologetically. He shrugs one shoulder. "It didn't happen. I mean, we tried. We really tried, but it—in the end, the deal took me just like it took Bela." 

 

Mitzi stares at him. "You're telling me that hellhounds came and dragged you to Hell." 

 

"They did," Dean says. He blinks and looks away, lips twisting. "Trust me, it wasn't a fun experience. Tore my chest to ribbons. Hurt like a bitch, but Hell was… Hell was worse." 

 

"Well, that's just—that's…" Mitzi trails off, her voice weak. She sits her sketchbook aside and frowns. She has no idea what this could be a metaphor for, but Dean is treating it like it actually happened, like it still haunts him, just a little. Again, stupidly, her heart twists in her chest. This story fucking sucks, as it turns out. She clears her throat. "Okay, well, on that note, I'm gonna need a break before I cry." 

 

"Cry?" Dean echoes, glancing over at her in genuine surprise. "Why would you—" 

 

"I'm invested, okay? Shut up." Mitzi huffs and snatches the sketchbook back up, holding it out to him with a sigh. "Here, how does that look?" 

 

Dean looks at her for a beat longer, then leans forward to take the sketchbook. He blinks down at the drawings, and Mitzi's stomach squirms with nerves for a split second like it always does when someone is about to react to her art. No matter what's not real in his stories, his response to this will be, and it's kind of daunting. 

 

In the end, there's no point in being worried, because Dean's eyes widen a little and his lips actually twitch. It's the closest he's come to smiling since she's known him, and it makes her chest pulse with warmth. See? Art is so important. All her math teachers can suck it. 

 

"Mitzi, this is awesome," Dean tells her, sincere about it, and she can tell by how there's a trace of enthusiasm in his tone—only a hint, but there nonetheless. He flicks his gaze between the two sketches. "Son of a bitch. I gotta choose? Not to make your job harder, but...both, maybe?" 

 

"I could incorporate both together, yeah, sure," Mitzi says, beaming at him. It won't be that hard. It's just a rough sketch of the car, as well as the logo with baby in the font impala usually would be. It's from a side angle, only just showing the width of the car, so she can put the logo underneath, maybe as the lines on the road she wants to add in the final draft. She'll figure it out. "Uh, you're okay with some creative liberty, right? Again, if you don't like something, make sure to tell me." 

 

"No, yeah, this is great," Dean tells her, eyebrows still raised. He holds it back out to her, staring at the sketches until he can't anymore. "You clearly know what the fuck you're doing." 

 

"It's not the first car tattoo I've done, so that helps a lot," Mitzi admits, sitting her sketchbook aside and writing a reminder on a sticky-note to finish it later. 

 

Dean hums. "It shows. Sam's gonna shit bricks." 

 

"I thought he approved of the tattoos?" Mitzi asks, rolling back over to her computer to pull up the symbols Dean wants today. 

 

"He thinks they're good," Dean corrects. "He doesn't have a problem with 'em, exactly. He's just really—well, right now, he's worried about me. I've never been one to go out and get tattoos, so it's not my normal behavior, and anything that's not normal behavior is…" 

 

"A red flag?" Mitzi suggests. "A sign to worry? Kind of like cutting off all your hair after a bad breakup?"

 

"I guess. I don't always know what's going on under all his stupid hair. He frets a lot." 

 

"Sounds to me like he cares, is all." 

 

"I know he does," Dean murmurs, looking down at his lap, throat bobbing. 

 

Mitzi sighs quietly and gets the printer running, rolling back to go get the outline. "Well, you tell him Mitzi said that tattoos are not automatically a sign of delinquency or a decline of mental stability. Besides, if you've already been to Hell, what's a few tattoos anyway, right?" 

 

"Got that right. I've been hitting him with that whole my body, my choice thing. Shuts him up every time," Dean says, sounding vaguely amused again. 

 

"Ooh, is Sammy a feminist?" Mitzi asks, waggling her eyebrows as she comes rolling back towards him, reaching for gloves. 

 

"Through and through," Dean confirms. "His girlfriend would chew him up and spit him out if he didn't believe in equality anyway." 

 

"Have I met the girlfriend yet?" Mitzi asks. 

 

Dean shakes his head. "She comes later." 

 

"Don't tell me. I wanna guess." Mitzi tugs on her gloves. "Alright, lose the threads, Hell-boy." 

 

"Don't make that a thing," Dean says, grimacing as he starts shucking his layers. 

 

"Until you tell me how you got out of Hell, it's going to be a thing," Mitzi warns him. "I'm going to need you laying back for this one. Pull the lever on the side and get horizontal." 

 

"I might fall asleep," Dean muses, doing as she says and getting comfortable. 

 

Mitzi rolls around him, only to come to a halt and blink as she stops near his left shoulder. There's a faint scar-like handprint draped across his arm, barely noticeable at all. "Hey, what's that?" 

 

"What's—" Dean cranes his head, complete with double-chins, then freezes for a moment before rolling his head back. He stares straight up, his throat bobbing on a thick, audible swallow like there's a lump he's fighting against. "That's, uh, kind of part of the explanation for how I got outta Hell. It didn't used to look like that. Used to be red, stark, and it stuck out. Faded over the years, but I doubt it'll ever go away." 

 

"It's not a tattoo," Mitzi notes, because she knows her tattoos, and that certainly isn't one. She swivels around the rest of the way, tugging her tray along with her. "Are you going to get it covered up?" 

 

"No," Dean says sharply, almost vehemently, a strong burst of emotion that startles her a little, just because she's never seen him that animated. His jaw clenches, and he shakes his head. "No, that's—it stays where it is." 

 

"Okay," Mitzi agrees simply, reaching out to clean the area she'll be working with. After, she hands him the hand mirror. "Same deal as before. You tell me where you want it, but relax your arm so everything is laid out correctly. There ya go." 

 

"That's good," Dean tells her as soon as it's where he wants it. His voice is sort of dull again. 

 

Mitzi carefully places the outline, then gets situated where she needs to. "Alright, so is it a scar?" 

 

"Sort of." Dean closes his eyes, exhaling when the gun starts buzzing. "Um, so I was in Hell for four months in earth time, but for forty years in Hell time. Thirty of those years, I was—" He pauses, voice catching. Mitzi can see his face in careful detail from this vantage point. He's flinching, just a little. "You don't need to know the details of that. Really, all you need to know is that I spent thirty years dealing with literal Hell, and then I...got a chance to stop if I put others through that same kinda Hell. And I took it." 

 

"Sounds rough, buddy," Mitzi says as casually as she can, mentally trying not to imagine what actually happened that he would equate to Hell. Three months of it, no doubt, and not thirty years. Then a month likely lashing out on others because of that pain. She doesn't ask. "I can't believe I'm in the presence of a geriatric patient." 

 

Dean's face smooths out. "Shut up, I'm in my prime. We don't count those years, just for my sanity." 

 

"Of course we don't," Mitzi agrees reasonably. "So, four months or forty years later, what happens?" 

 

"Someone pulled me out," Dean croaks. 

 

"Of Hell?" Mitzi checks, pulling back to wipe at ink, staring down at his face. His eyes are still closed, but his face is sagging again, raw with pain. 

 

"Yeah," Dean confirms. 

 

Mitzi frowns and ducks back in. "Who?" 

 

"An angel," Dean whispers. 

 

"Oh! We're at the angels now," Mitzi exclaims, unexpectedly excited about this. It's like coming full circle, really. She's been waiting. 

 

"Yeah, we're at the angels now. They're a pretty big deal for a while," Dean murmurs, his expression a mixed bag of fond and aching. "But the first one… Castiel. That's who saved me." 

 

"Castiel," Mitzi echoes, tasting the word in her mouth, mulling it over. She likes it. "Okay, so Castiel saved you from Hell. Sounds like he's doing the lord's work. Give him an award." 

 

Dean does that not-snorting thing, his eyes springing open as he looks at her, a trace of amusement in his gaze. "Cas didn't get an award for it. He got stabbed in the chest." 

 

"A demon?" Mitzi guesses, clicking her tongue. "Was it Ruby? She would." 

 

"It was me," Dean says, watching her almost curiously. "When I met him, I stabbed him." 

 

Mitzi tsks at him. "Now, why would you go and do something like that? The guy just pulled you out of Hell. You could have thanked him, at least." 

 

"I actually did thank him," Dean tells her, his eyes fluttering shut again, his lips twitching for the second time, "and then I stabbed him." 

 

"I'm gonna need you to walk me through your thought process for that, Dean. Some angel pulls me out of Hell, and I'd offer him my firstborn." 

 

"Well, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. In my defense, anything that could drag my ass outta Hell was bad news. That was some big power, ya know? Anyway, I woke up in my own grave and had to dig my way out, which was a bitch." 

 

"Starting to get why you stabbed him. He couldn't drop you off in an Arby's, or something?" 

 

"Preaching to the choir. I was confused as shit, obviously. I found the handprint. Cas tried to communicate with me before he had his vessel, so shit went sideways pretty quick. TV static, windows shattering, lights flickering. He always knew how to make an entrance, but he damn near killed me just to fucking say hello." 

 

"So, he didn't have a vessel yet?" Mitzi asks. 

 

"He did, sort of, but wasn't in it at the time. He eventually shut the hell up when I was curled up on the floor clutching my head, and not a moment sooner, the asshole. So, I hopped up and went to Bobby's. Figured Sam would be there, too." 

 

"Sam wasn't there, was he?" 

 

"No, he wasn't. When I got to Bobby's, I had to prove I was really me. Lots of holy water to the face, things like that. Bobby and I were pretty worried about what had the juice to yank me outta Hell. I mean, it wasn't an everyday thing back then."

 

"Okay, I get that. Plus, everything else turned out to be a big deal, so I get the caution." 

 

Dean hums. "Right. So, we eventually found Sam. He was...with a woman. A brunette." 

 

"Why does it sound like this woman has a role?" 

 

"She does. Wanna guess?" 

 

"The girlfriend?" Mitzi tries. 

 

"Not the one he's with now," Dean says. "Anyway, I had to prove I was really me to Sam, too. He was different. It was only four months for him, but he had—changed, somehow. Not just how he acted, but how he looked, too. He wasn't such a scrawny kid anymore. I remember cracking jokes about laying off the spinach, but fuck, I didn't even really know…"

 

"What, steroids?" Mitzi balks, wiping away more ink and adjusting the lamp a little before moving into the next line. "Tell me Sam was not on steroids." 

 

"He wasn't on steroids," Dean tells her wearily. He heaves a sigh. "Different as he was, he still helped us look into whatever thing pulled me out. We met up with Pamela—this psychic, who was fucking great."

 

"A psychic like Sam was a psychic?" 

 

"Eh, no, not really. Kinda, sorta, but also no." 

 

"Huh. Actually, where did Sam's powers go? He just stopped having visions?" 

 

"Probably died with Azazel. I dunno. That became background after a while, and anyway, Sam might have stopped it, but he wasn't exactly powerless." 

 

"Right," Mitzi muses, frowning. "Okay, so Pamela."

 

"She ended up using the, uh, handprint to get in touch with Cas, like...psychically. We didn't know he was an angel at the time. He told her not to look at him, but she did anyway, and...well, it was his true form," Dean mutters. 

 

Mitzi bears her teeth in a grimace. "Ah, shit, humans freak out when they see it, right? Did she, like, go instantly crazy?" 

 

"Well, no. She literally couldn't look at it. When she tried, her eyes burned out," Dean says. 

 

"She went blind," Mitzi whispers. 

 

"Yes," Dean confirms, "but also, her eyes actually burned out. Like, charred. It was bad."

 

"Okay, I get why you stabbed him," Mitzi allows. 

 

Dean hums. "Yeah, so, if that wasn't enough reason, it gets worse. See, we got a name. Castiel. Turns out, Bobby knew a thing or two about angels, and Cas turned out to be the angel of Thursday." 

 

"Sounds...mundane," Mitzi admits. 

 

"He wasn't," Dean murmurs, his face twitching, eyelids fluttering again. He swallows. "We figured out a way to summon him. Put up every goddamn ward and protection symbols and traps we knew. We had the demon blade. We were prepared." 

 

"Let me guess," Mitzi says dryly, "you weren't actually prepared." 

 

Dean's lips twitch again, just a bit, and Mitzi feels a little warmed to see it. "Yeah, we were way in over our heads. Cas did show up, though. I mean, he just swept on in. Like I said, he always knew how to make an entrance. Not a bullet we put in him could slow him down, and I remember being fucking stunned, ya know, because lightning was flashing, and I just knew—I could just tell that he was the most powerful thing I'd ever encountered at that point. I wasn't...scared, exactly, just…" 

 

"Shook," Mitzi suggests. 

 

"Sure, let's go with that," Dean allows, huffing out a breath—closer to a laugh, so close. "So, Cas showed up, and he knocked Bobby out so we could have a one-on-one, I guess. He just touched his forehead, and Bobby crumbled. That freaked me out." 

 

"So, you stabbed him," Mitzi muses. "Yeah, okay, I get it. At least you thanked him first." 

 

Dean hums. "It was like poking a bear with a toothpick. He just—pulled it right back out. Back then, Cas was… He was…" 

 

Mitzi's eyebrows shoot up as Dean struggles for a moment, his eyebrows folding together. His eyes are still closed, but there's a strange expression on his face, like he's trying to describe something that there aren't words for. The unfathomable. Incredible, in the truest sense of the word. 

 

"You said angels were dicks until they learned to be different—or some of them," Mitzi murmurs. "Was he a dick to start with?" 

 

"You have no idea," Dean breathes out, and oh, his voice is so fond. And there, just like that, he's smiling for the very first time, small and flickering, but there. Real. "He was like a machine. A robot, kinda, but an alive one that was confused about humans and the world in general. He was this force, ya know, but he was also—he was—" Again, he struggles for a moment, his smile still there, just at the corners of his lips. "I don't know. It was terrifying in some ways. I mean, angels? We'd never dealt with angels. I didn't even really believe in 'em, if we're being honest. It was crazy, and he was so freaking powerful, but he'd do this—this thing where he'd tilt his head and squint his eyes. I mean, he did it the first time we met face-to-face. Ya know, cocked head, kinda like a bird or something. It was cute. Weird, but cute." 

 

Mitzi lifts away from the tattoo, dabbing at the ink, staring down at Dean's rapidly fading smile. "You mean to tell me you met the equivalent to an eldritch terror, and you thought it was cute?" 

 

"Well, he was in his vessel," Dean says defensively, a small dust of pink streaking across his face. 

 

"You thought he was cute, and you still stabbed him," Mitzi mutters, snorting. "Well, that's one way to handle an inappropriate crush." 

 

"It wasn't—I didn't have—" 

 

"Relax, I'm kidding. I'm sure Cas was very cute. Continue, please." 

 

Dean huffs. "If you must know, I didn't trust Cas to begin with, okay? I thought he was worse than a demon. In a way, he was. He just—it wasn't his fault, not really. He didn't know. He had to learn, I guess, and go through the growing pains of figuring shit out. It's a really long story." 

 

"We've got time," Mitzi assures him. "There's a lot of this tattoo left. I'm listening." 

 

 So, Dean starts talking. 

 

Mitzi stops interrupting and zones in on the tattoo, making sure to stay focused. It's incredibly hard to do with Dean transforming into a very different man right before her eyes as he tells the story. 

 

It's sort of amazing to see, if only because it's so different. When talking about Cas, Dean smiles. He sounds fond. He even huffs laughs and chuckles throatily. He keeps going off on tangents about little details pertaining to Cas—his eyes, the way he talked, how low and deep his voice was, his sloppy trenchcoat and messy hair. He doesn't even seem to realize he's doing it, getting sidetracked and meshing a future Cas she doesn't understand yet with the one she was just introduced to, like they're different but the same, and Dean adores them both. 

 

His tie was on wrong, Dean would say, and he stopped wearing it altogether for a while, but I guess Claire liked it, so he put it back on. Who's Claire? Mitzi couldn't tell you. The story starts flowing out in fractures, things connecting to something she hasn't learned yet, Dean backtracking and losing the thread of other things. It's like as soon as Cas entered the picture, the story started revolving around him in Dean's mind, and he can't follow along properly. 

 

Eventually, Dean seems to get a hold on it, backtracking a lot and introducing seals and an approaching apocalypse. How he managed to skip over that, Mitzi has no idea. 

 

So, she follows along, humming in all the right places, unsurprised to find that it's all batshit insane again. Dean doesn't struggle so much when talking about the bigger, heavier things. His main problem now seems to be with describing Cas, because it appears he can't quite figure out how, like articulating Cas is the equivalent to stepping foot on the sun—an impossible feat, unimaginable, yet something so instinctively awe-inspiring that it really goes without saying. Mitzi gets the feeling it'd probably kill him to just say Cas was hot. 

 

Sam, as it turns out, was not on steroids. No, he was just guzzling demon blood like it was his morning juice. Mitzi does not know why she's disappointed. Obviously, Sam didn't actually do that—for one, demons aren't even real—but it does tug at her, nonetheless. She gets it, though. In this whole fantasy, Mitzi can understand why he would. 

 

All that they've been through and suffered, to have a power like that, to try and use it for good… She thinks she might have done it, too. How does demon blood taste? If it's flavored cherry, she can't say she'd turn it down in his position. Ruby, though? Mitzi clicks her tongue in disapproval, because she's been instinctively disliking Ruby from the moment Dean said her name like it was poison. 

 

Also, Lucifer. Whew, buddy, that's a big one. The devil, huh? Mitzi does not know where Dean pulls these ideas from, but his imagination is to die for. Satan is the original bogeyman, after all. 

 

All the while, Dean spins the tales of angels and demons, and that constant running commentary on Cas being a walking enigma. This angel who has doubts, who gets in trouble for liking Dean, a human, and who ends up defying his superiors in the end anyway. What a rebel. 

 

"First of all, Zachariah can choke," Mitzi declares as she finishes the last line. "Second of all, Cas is definitely the type of person who would stop in the middle of the road and help a turtle across. You were basically a flea to him, and he just like yeah, sure, gonna help this flea out, why not? I mean, there was more to it, obviously, but still." 

 

"Zachariah gets what he deserves, trust me," Dean assures her, opening his eyes and peering down at the tattoo as she rolls back a little. "And yeah, there was a whole helluva lot more to it." 

 

Mitzi hums and starts cleaning the tattoo, grabbing the mirror after. "So, did you guys stop Sam from killing Lilith in time?" 

 

"Nah, we were too late," Dean says with a sigh, taking the mirror when she offers it. "I busted in while Ruby was talking shit, though. Killed her." 

 

"Oh. Nice," Mitzi tells him, appraising. "But does that mean the devil got out?" 

 

Dean passes the mirror back, grunting. "Yeah, that's exactly what happened. Broke free from his cage, just like that. Boom, on the fast track to the apocalypse. Sam didn't mean to, though. He didn't know. Ruby tricked him, and he thought he was basically saving the world—not ending it." 

 

"Hey, I'm not going to hold it against him. The world's still turning, isn't it? He didn't fuck up irreparably, and that's all that matters," Mitzi teases, grinning as she starts wrapping the tattoo. 

 

"M'gonna tell him that when I get home." 

 

"Ask him what the demon blood tasted like." 

 

Dean stares at her incredulously. "What? Mitzi, no." 

 

"Ah, come on, I'm curious," Mitzi needles, then rolls her eyes when he continues to be appalled. As if demon blood is even real. "Alright, well, I'm calling it. I can't hold you hostage anymore, at this point, but I fully expect an explanation for how we narrowly missed the end of the world. Until then, I will finish drawing up those sketches, and I'll have a few options for you when you come back. Good?" 

 

"Great," Dean says, lips twitching a little. Not quite a smile, not like when he's talking about Cas, but close enough. 

 

It makes her grin, and she continues to do so as she tugs her gloves off. "Alright, now sit there while I tell you how to take care of your new tattoo." 

 

Still almost-smiling, Dean does. 

 


 

Over the next few months, Dean keeps coming back for more tattoos. 

 

Sometimes, he gets symbols. Other times, he gets different things. He's got his car, a jumping-jack flower in purple and yellow near the handprint for someone named Jack, a humanoid face with horns that is tattooed below the hollow of his throat, like where a necklace would sit—for Sam, Dean tells her, and confirms it's the amulet he mentioned before. He lets her talk him into getting something a little silly, because tattoos are fun—a detailed slice of pie on this inside of his right arm, above his elbow. Alternatively, he gets a large feather on the inside of his left arm, above his elbow, right across from the handprint—it's black and possibly one of the most detailed feathers she's ever done so far. 

 

Between that and the symbols, Dean is slowly littered with tattoos all over his arms and chest and sides, even on the back of his shoulders. He never really gets words, not outside of baby in the logo script for Baby. So far, Mitzi's favorite tattoo is the sword he gets down his spine—he'd given her a lot of creative liberty with that one, only requiring chainmail involved somehow, and a crown. A tribute to Charlie, who—once Mitzi learns about her—is quickly a favorite. 

 

Throughout, Dean tells her the not-so-true story of his life, and it always seems to get wilder when she thinks that it can't. It's whacky and insane, but entertaining, and she really hopes he writes a book someday. It could be about anything, because he's clearly got some good ideas, even if the execution isn't always that great. Because yeah, there are times that the story gets kind of bad, but she's chalking that up to beauty and the beholder, so to speak. 

 

By the time Dean gets to Purgatory in the story, Mitzi knows deep down in her soul that this man is head over heels, pathetically, irreversibly in love with Cas. Whether he knows that remains to be seen, but by god, it is so obvious, holy shit. 

 

Just the way Dean talks about Cas is enough evidence. He can't articulate shit about him, to be frank. The poor guy can barely string two sentences together to describe him, and he's usually just left struggling under what's clearly an overload of feelings. Always about the weirdest things, too. The way Cas rolls his eyes, how bitchy he can be, how gentle he is sometimes, his weird humor that Dean insists is funny but Mitzi finds herself doubting. It's kind of embarrassing how quickly he overheats when trying to explain Cas in any capacity. 

 

Cas, it seems, is the thing that draws him out of his sorrow—or talking about him is, even if he sucks at it. Dean always shows up to the shop with that permanent exhaustion and grief weighing on him, but he'll leave smiling—even just a little—as long as he gets to talk about Cas. It is simultaneously adorable and heart-wrenching. 

 

As for the story itself, she rides the highs and lows of it, way too invested without meaning to be. When Bobby dies, she actually needs a fifteen minute break to go into the bathroom and cry. Her red eyes, upon emerging, don't fool Dean at all, but he has the decency not to call attention to it. 

 

She gets introduced to people, forms opinions fully knowing that they're influenced by how Dean talks about them. Jody, for example, is someone she decides she likes with iron-clad certainty, if only because of the way Dean chuckles when first talking about her. In the same vein, she has something of a love-hate relationship with Crowley, a crush on Benny because of how Dean talks about him, and one of the few people she really ends up liking that Dean doesn't is Cain—who, she feels, doesn't really deserve the hate. Okay, so he's the first murderer, but the guy was a beekeeper and he did what he did for his brother. Dean has to get that, right? Wrong. Dean doesn't like Cain, but considering the man gave him the mark, she can understand why. 

 

There are things that happen that actually, genuinely pisses her off or ruins her whole day. Cas swallowing the Leviathans and then dying? Oh, Mitzi fumes about him being dead the entire time until he comes back. Meg getting kidnapped by Crowley? Yeah, that one frustrates her. Meg also is someone that she likes that Dean doesn't, but she suspects that's just because Dean's secretly jealous. He does sound pretty bitter when talking about the thing Cas and Meg had going on. Oh, and Dean doing what he did to Sam with Amelia? Okay, she doesn't have an opinion on the woman, but Dean crossed some lines with that one. 

 

Mitzi gives him props for owning up to his shit, though, because Dean sure does. He admits his wrongs with a guilt that seems to stick with him, like no mistake he's ever made will fade from his mind, like they may as well be tattooed in his memory for how they linger. And anyway, tit-for-tat. Sam does that thing with Benny that's fucked up, and Mitzi gets annoyed by that, too. 

 

A big one is when Cas becomes human and Dean kicks him out. Mitzi has never been so shocked to hear something in her life. 

 

When he tells her, she blurts, "Tell me you're joking. You didn't actually kick him out." 

 

"I did," Dean counters with a sigh, guilt as fresh as if it was the day it burrowed into him written all over his face. It's hard to be angry with him about these things when they're a) fake as fuck, and b) causing him to look like that. 

 

"But he just died, though. Killed by that Reaper. How's he going to get by as a human? He's never been a human before," Mitzi complains, unable to stop herself because, again, way too invested. 

 

Dean swallows. "I don't actually know how he managed to do it. I wasn't—I should have been there for him, but things were so complicated. Everything was so… And Ezekiel, you know?" 

 

"Yeah, fuck that guy," Mitzi snaps. 

 

"Sam would have died." 

 

"And did you ask Sam his opinion on these things, Dean? Hm?" 

 

"That's not fair," Dean mutters. "Hindsight helps no one. At the time, I was...trying my best." 

 

Mitzi concedes with a sigh. "Fine. This is insane. I wish Deb would let an angel ride around in me without me knowing. That's creepy, Dean." 

 

"I know, Mitzi." 

 

"And Cas." 

 

"I know, Mitzi," Dean says, strained. 

 

Mitzi groans in frustration and mumbles, "Fine, fine, carry on. I'm listening," and Dean does. 

 

When Charlie dies, Mitzi barely realizes it because Dean speaks so stiffly and sums it up in three short sentences. The whole thing, like if he says it quickly and concisely enough, he doesn't have to wallow in it. Once she finally does understand what he said, she has to take another break in the bathroom. 

 

And so it goes, continuing on, the hits just keeping on washing in. There are some things that Dean just doesn't go into detail about. Him being a demon? There's not much said about it. Him losing control because of the mark of cain? Explained in broad statements, the details kept to a minimum. Other things, like little side stories where they first find the Bunker, or they get zapped to a world where their lives actually are a tv show, or they get the random case that's more fun than horror...those are all things that Dean will spend time talking about. 

 

And then, things can get weird. God has a sister? Okay, that's just out of left field. That makes no sense. Where Dean gets that one, Mitzi isn't sure. She tries to imagine it, but she can't. God, having a sister, please. Not Mitzi's favorite part, admittedly. 

 

Chuck turning out to be God is a huge plot twist for Mitzi—the nervous prophet, really? But alas, it would seem so. She comes armored with the knowledge that he ends up being the boss fight, so he gets automatic distrust, much to Dean's approval. 

 

And Lucifer? Oh, Mitzi cannot stand him. Now, listen, she makes jokes about knowing she'll be chilling in Hell with Satan with the best of them, but this version of the devil? He's like a cockroach. Unwanted and hard to get rid of. He possesses Cas, and Mitzi nearly fucks up the tattoo she's doing at the time—the feather—when Dean reveals it. 

 

"What? No," Mitzi declares sharply. "Cas would have to say yes to that, right? Why would he say yes? I get that his body is his body and not a vessel anymore, but that doesn't mean he should let the devil use it!"

 

"Yeah, one of his dumber decisions," Dean agrees, sounding fond—the lovesick fool. "I guess, at the time, it seemed like the only option. Everything always seems like the only option, ya know?" 

 

"There's never just one option," Mitzi argues. "That is why they're called options. You have multiple." 

 

"Oh, trust me, I wasn't happy about it either," Dean grumbles, wrinkling his nose a little. 

 

Mitzi huffs. "Tell me you at least got the devil out of him. You didn't hang him out to dry, right?" 

 

"Nah, 'course not," Dean murmurs, his lips curling up. "Sam might've, but I wasn't having it." 

 

Sam is a practical man, and you're the one in love, Mitzi thinks, but she keeps that comment to herself as Dean picks the story right back up. 

 

Only to turn right back around a little bit later to sputter, "Wait, your mom? The one who burned on the ceiling when you were four? That one?" 

 

"The very same," Dean says with a sigh. "Imagine my fucking surprise when I saw her standing there. Believe me, you can't." 

 

Mitzi once again has to remind herself that Dean's imagination is out of pocket. God having a sister is bad enough, but mothers dead for decades coming back to life? There comes a point where the suspension of disbelief goes too far. This? This is way, way past the point of too far. 

 

That day, when their session ends, Mitzi calls her mother to tell her that she loves her. It's the only way she's able to get any rest that night. Her mother responds in kind and also asks that Mitzi will stop coloring her hair green. So, same-old, same-old. 

 

The next session has more of Lucifer than she wants, and once again, Dean's mind is a place she doesn't think she'd ever want to visit. 

 

"You mean that Lucifer possessed the president? Jefferson Rooney? That president?" 

 

"Yep." 

 

"Well, that would explain a lot. Only a republican would get possessed by the devil," Mitzi muses. 

 

Dean eyes her in amusement. "Republican or not, he didn't deserve it." 

 

"We're pro-choice in this house, okay?" Mitzi raises her eyebrows. "Rooney? He was pro-life. Looks like he couldn't be trusted to make choices anyway." 

 

"His girlfriend, Kelly Kline, was—" 

 

"Wait, seriously? They were together?" 

 

"A well-kept secret," Dean admits. "Oops." 

 

Mitzi narrows her eyes. "Don't bullshit me, Dean. Politics are not a joke." 

 

"This is less about politics and more about Lucifer knocking Kelly up with his baby, though. Definitely not a joke," Dean says. 

 

"He what?" 

 

By far, that's one of Dean's worse ideas. Mitzi is not a fan at all. She gets too hung up on the logistics of it, spending way too much time tossing questions at Dean, as well as reasons why that's one of the most fucked up things he's told her so far. To Dean's credit, he isn't a fan of it any more than she is. 

 

In the end, Mitzi gets distracted once Dean gets distracted—talking about Cas again. The fondness for him has grown to a smothering point. Dean can barely say his name without his eyes lighting up and a smile curling his lips. And the mixtape. Sweet baby Jesus, the fucking mixtape. On some level, Dean has to be aware, because he blushes and stutters through that whole explanation, trying to defend himself without making it seem like that's what he's doing, except he can't defend himself at all about this. It's so bad, and he's so obvious. Hell, even when he talks about Cas running around trying to keep Kelly away from them, Dean is head over heels. 

 

It's a good session to introduce Jack, because that's when Mitzi is doing the flower for him. It's not a good session by the end of it, though, because Cas dies. Again. He does that a lot. 

 

"You're not going to run off to the bathroom about that?" Dean asks her skeptically as he's shrugging back into his jacket. 

 

"No," Mitzi says, "Cas always comes back." 

 

She says it because it's true, based on the road so far. She knows immediately that she will never say it again, because the way Dean's expression shatters makes her heart drop to her stomach. 

 

The resounding silence after she's said it is heavy and laden with grief so thick that it chokes her. It's not even her own. Dean turns away like he's trying to hide it, but she's already caught it. She can feel it, just how fucking consumed by despair he is, and she knows—like a shock to her system—that Cas doesn't always come back. Not every time. Not this time. That much is obvious. 

 

Dean leaves that day more desolate than he arrived, and Mitzi has to go cry in the bathroom again. 

 

In a way, it helps to remind herself that none of this is actually real. At the same time, she knows that there is truth to it. That pain and grief and loss? That's real. Cas may not be an angel who dies and comes back a lot, but he is clearly someone that Dean no longer has. It makes the fact that Dean is so evidently in love with him that much more tragic. 

 

When Dean comes in for his next tattoo—more symbols this time—he doesn't come alone. 

 

Mitzi is getting everything set up, knowing Dean is coming, when Debra leads in Dean and a man she doesn't recognize but immediately knows. She takes one look at the man who is criminally tall and has long hair, and she grins. 

 

"Sam," Mitzi says, needing no confirmation. 

 

"Yep," Dean confirms anyway, managing a small smile that has nothing to do with Cas for the very first time. "Sam, this is Mitzi." 

 

"It's nice to meet you," Sam says, just a touch awkward but mostly earnest. He wants to shake her hand, so she lets him. 

 

"I've heard a lot about you," Mitzi admits, leaning forward on her elbows. "I have this question that's been burning for months now." 

 

"Mitzi," Dean mutters, "if this is about—" 

 

"What does demon blood taste like?" Mitzi cuts in, raising her eyebrows at Sam. 

 

Sam blinks at her. He blinks again. "Oh. Um, just kind of like...blood, I guess?" 

 

"No flavor?" Mitzi asks, strangely disappointed. 

 

"Uh, no," Sam says, staring at her like maybe she's the crazy one here—not the two men who apparently like to spin tales of their lives. 

 

Mitzi clicks her tongue. "Well, how'd you stomach it, then?"

 

"The taste didn't really matter. It was kind of more about the, um, rush I got from it," Sam tells her, clearly uncomfortable about it. Maybe this is a reference to drug addiction. She shouldn't pry. 

 

"Makes sense." Mitzi breezes past it and rolls around to drag an additional chair over, waving them to their seats. Dean's already peeling out of his stupid amount of unnecessary layers. They've got this down to a routine at this point. "Alright, Dean, I've got the files up. You know, there's only a few more left. You might actually get them all." 

 

"Damn right," Dean says, fishing around for his book and finding the page, passing it over. 

 

"Your tattoos are really good, by the way," Sam murmurs into the quiet. 

 

"Thanks," Mitzi chirps, smiling at him. "You can book an appointment with Debra if you're feeling inspired. No pressure, though." 

 

Sam huffs a quiet laugh. "I might, just to see what all the fuss is about. Dean talks about getting tattoos like it's some form of therapy." 

 

"It can be," Mitzi informs him, mostly serious. "I would know, trust me. You don't have any?" 

 

"Anti demon possession tattoo," Dean sing-songs, giving her a significant look. Mitzi sticks her tongue out at him and starts the printer.

 

Sam tugs down his collar to reveal it, one to match Dean's perfectly. "Yeah, they come in handy. But we got them pretty young, before...everything. It's been years since, so I can barely remember it now." 

 

"Well, if you want me to jog your memory, you let me know." Mitzi flashes him another smile, then focuses on Dean as she rolls over to the printer to grab the outline. "As for you, don't think bringing your brother is going to get you out of telling me more about your whacky life. There's a baby now, and I'm a sucker for kids that aren't my own." 

 

"Told you," Dean says, glancing at Sam. 

 

"You actually—" Sam's eyebrows crumble together as he looks at her, genuine confusion marring his face. "Wait, so you're...actually listening to him?" 

 

"Yes, of course," Mitzi replies. 

 

"Oh." Sam's voice is soft, and he looks at her for a moment, a flash of pure gratefulness in his eyes. He says thank you without uttering a word. 

 

For the very first time, Mitzi considers that Dean has some kind of health problem. She doesn't want to make assumptions, but there could be a genuine medical concern for why he comes up with the stories that he does. Not just coping, or making metaphors. Maybe he actually believes it. 

 

If that's the case, Sam might not be in on it; he might just know it because he's exposed to it. Like with Alzheimer's patients—their delusions are reality to them, and it's not a kindness to try and tear that all down. She can't know for certain, and she doesn't think she really wants to know. She'll continue as she has been, along for the ride, being the ready ear Dean wants her to be. 

 

"So," Mitzi says softly, "tell me about Jack." 

 

Having Sam here makes things a little stilted at first. Mitzi can tell that, for all that Dean clearly loves his brother, he struggles to open up around him. She can also tell that he's trying, that there's a point to bringing Sam here, like he's doing his best to prove that he's okay—or, at the very least, getting by. 

 

She does her best to dissolve the tension, cracking jokes, even when it's hard. The beginning of this part of the story isn't great. Cas is, like, dead. Seemingly permanently. Mitzi is on pins and needles waiting to figure out if it really is permanent, even though her gut tells her it isn't. Not this time. 

 

It helps when she actually starts tattooing Dean. He's always a little at ease under the gun, the bite of pain like a pick chipping away at his walls. Sam makes a joke about Dean needing to hold his hand, and Dean swats at him lazily, and things get easier after that. 

 

Sam being here does disrupt the story, though. Mitzi doesn't mind, personally, because he's cutting in to give a different perspective on things. Whereas Dean will say that he was drinking a little extra, Sam interrupts to correct that to Dean getting absolutely wasted. Dean says one thing, Sam clarifies another, unafraid to go a little more in-depth. Mitzi figures that's only fair—after all, Dean didn't mind telling her about some of Sam's crazy shit. Karma. That always comes around, sooner or later. 

 

That being said, Sam does add the story in ways that isn't just bickering with his brother. He talks about things that Dean wasn't around to see, or he explains why he did something when Dean wouldn't have known, because he's not him. Sam is a little awkward about it, admittedly, his words halting and unsure, but the more than Dean does it, so does he. 

 

Jack, as it turns out, quickly becomes one of Mitzi's favorites. She doesn't want kids, ever, but she loves when kids come into the shop. It's a rare occurrence because this is a tattoo shop, and a slightly radical one at that, but it has happened before. She has a ball with them, and loves even more that she gets to give them back to their parents. Dolly loves kids, too. She's genuinely good with them, despite the fact that she's usually grumpy all the time. Debra, however, doesn't like them. To her, they're noisy and loud and messy, and they don't listen well. 

 

But Jack sounds adorable. Sam and Dean both speak of him fondly, loosening up even more like parents do when they're proud of their kids. It's cute. 

 

What's not cute, and what absolutely appalls Mitzi, is that Dean's first interaction with Jack was the desire to kill him—which, fuck, she doesn't think there's enough time in the world to unpack that. She's hoping that little tidbit is played up from the story, willfully turning a blind eye to how grim Sam is about it, and in turn, how guilty Dean is. It makes it more true, and Mitzi doesn't want to think about it too hard. God, Jack is a baby, right? Cas', by the sound of it, and Mitzi doesn't believe for a second that Jack grew up the moment he escaped the womb. 

 

But, unsurprisingly, Dean apparently does a one-eighty when Cas does, thankfully, come back. 

 

When Sam catches Dean smiling as he talks about Cas, his whole face goes slack with shock, eyes wide, lips parted like he's witnessing a miracle in action. He looks at Mitzi like she might just be the miracle-worker. By his response, she's guessing that Dean doesn't talk about Cas to him much, and he probably hasn't looked this happy around Sam in a while. Mitzi has learned by now that Dean's happier when it comes to anything to do with Cas. 

 

Mitzi can also tell that Sam knows Dean's gone on Cas, because the depth of emotion in his face when listening to Dean ramble about Cas tells it all. He knows, and it breaks his heart, and that? Oh, that breaks Mitzi's heart, too. 

 

There's other things going on, of course. Jack goes missing, and it's the rush to find the misplaced toddler. They're still trying to get Mary back from some other world. Claire turns out to be gay for a girl named Kaia, who can walk in dreams—that sounds like it ends in tragedy, with Kaia jumping in front of a spear for Claire. Rowena turns out to not be dead, and Mitzi takes a moment to rejoice this, warmed by the way Sam grins at her visible delight. 

 

Lucifer is sprung from the other world, somehow, and Jack ends up there. Mitzi is completely zoned in, listening to them tell the tale, but she's smacked completely out of it when Scooby-Doo comes up. 

 

"You're shitting me," she says, jerking her head up to look between them incredulously. 

 

"We are not," Dean says, sounding pleased in a way he only usually is when talking about Cas making a funny joke that's not actually that funny. 

 

Sam chuckles weakly and scratches at one of his raised eyebrows, leaning his head to the side as he looks at her. "Yeah, we're not. Our lives are kind of… Well, you get used to it." 

 

"Yeah, but come on. Scooby-Doo?" Mitzi blurts. 

 

"Yup," Dean confirms. "The mystery gang in the flesh. Or, well, in drawing. Still. Still. It was awesome, Mitzi." 

 

"Did you guys look like cartoons, too?" Mitzi asks, receiving nods. She flicks her gaze to Dean, then winks at Sam. "Did Cas look good?" 

 

"He looked so much like himself, but like a cartoon," Dean tells her, absolutely shit at saying what he clearly means, because—by the way he sounds—he definitely thinks Cas looks good, both as a real person and a cartoon. He's so bad at this. 

 

Sam ducks his head, smiling, but there's some sadness there, too. It fucking sucks. 

 

A little bit later, the good thing about having Sam here as well as Dean becomes even more apparent. While Dean's off gallavanting in another world with Ketch—who Mitzi is completely neutral about, despite Dean and Sam leaning towards not really liking him that much—Sam is with Cas, reconnecting with Gabriel, who is, surprise fucking surprise, not actually dead. Mitzi isn't Gabriel's biggest fan, likely due to the fact Dean isn't, and this becomes clear because Sam seems to have a touch of fondness for him—if not genuine friendship, at least an appreciation for Gabriel's help. 

 

Mitzi gets two different stories at once, and by the end of both, she's softened a little towards Gabriel and found herself upset about Charlie all over again. 

 

The story continues with more Lucifer than she would like, especially when seeing the discomfort on Sam's face as he talks about him. Poor Jack, too. He was being tricked, except the others weren't standing for it. Good on them. 

 

In the end, so much shit happens that it's insane. Mitzi actually finishes with the tattoo a little early, but she won't let them stop right in the middle of all the action. The next stopping point turns out to be Dean saying yes to Michael, and Mitzi swats at him with the gloves she's already taken off. 

 

"Why? Why do you guys always do the stupid things?" Mitzi practically whines. "It's like you're all asking for things to go wrong." 

 

"Hindsight," Dean tells her, which is like a buzzword he uses to combat her complaining at this point. He shrugs. "What's that thing I tell you about options, and how there never seems to be any?" 

 

Mitzi grumbles under her breath as she tosses her gloves in the trash. "Yeah, but do you know what this means, Dean? It means you let the douchecanoe end up being right. What was it that Zachariah told you? You'd say yes eventually. And what'd you do? Hm? You said yes. Ugh." 

 

"In his defense," Sam says lightly, "people were going to die if he didn't." 

 

"That's how they get you," Mitzi mutters with mock seriousness, shaking her head. "Alright, let's get this show on the road. Next time you're in here, I want to know how badly Michael screws things up." 

 

"You don't even know the half of it," Dean tells her with a sigh. 

 

Mitzi hums. "But I will, and when I do, I'm going to hit you with my gloves again. Come on, let's get you guys out of here and away from my judgement." 

 

Again, as always, Mitzi makes Dean sit through the speedrun of what he needs to do for his newest tattoo. She marvels at how many he has now. While he's wearing his many layers, you can't really tell, but out of a shirt? He has them up and down his arms, on his chest, on his back and shoulders, covered in them. He walked in here once a blank canvas, and now he's a walking story, and he just so happened to choose her calligraphy, so to speak. She can't help but be proud. 

 

After she waves them off to the lobby to have to put up with Debra at the desk—Dolly is piercing a mass of ears for a group of girls at the moment—Mitzi rolls around in her chair and cleans up before her next appointment. She hums under her breath, enjoying the quiet, and it takes her a second to notice someone hovering in the doorway. 

 

"Hey, sorry," Sam says, grimacing slightly when she jolts, startled when she catches sight of him. "I didn't mean to make you jump. I was just, um… I guess I wanted to come and say—thank you. I know that may sound a little weird, but Dean hasn't really been… Well, you may have noticed that he's been in a pretty bad spot. I've been worried, but I think the tattoos and getting to—to talk, I guess, really helps him. So, just...thank you. Seriously." 

 

"You don't have to thank me. I'm happy to do it. Working with Dean has been…" Mitzi blows out an explosive breath. "Well, it's been interesting, to say the least. He's a good man. I know he probably doesn't say it, but I can tell he's thankful to have you, especially right now. He loves you a lot, so don't go thinking you've failed in helping him just because tattoo therapy works wonders." 

 

Sam gives a rueful chuckle. "Wow, it's almost like you know me." 

 

"Kinda feels like I do, a little," Mitzi admits. "Um, can I ask something?" 

 

"Yeah, sure," Sam murmurs. 

 

Mitzi takes a deep breath and holds his gaze. "It's Cas, isn't it? He's the reason—he's dead, isn't he?" 

 

"Yes," Sam whispers, swallowing harshly. He blinks and releases a slow breath, glancing over his shoulder, then meeting her gaze again. "Dean hasn't been the same since. Two weeks after Cas died, he came to get a tattoo. I don't know if he told you what it means, but it's basically an altered angel banishing symbol. It's changed to something else, like a summoning, but not in a demanding way. A question. He got a tattoo asking Cas to come back." 

 

"I'm sorry," Mitzi says softly, her eyes stinging and her chest feeling too small and her heart aching, because that might be one of the most distressing things she's ever heard in her life. 

 

Sam gives a tight, pained smile. "Me too." 

 


 

The thing is, chokers do go with Mitzi's outfits, but this one? Well, it's itchy as fuck. It takes her nearly all day to figure out why. The inner seam has been frayed where Debra no doubt played with it too much when she stole it and wore it last week. Mitzi wishes she was an only child so badly sometimes. 

 

Sighing, Mitzi unclips the choker and drops it down on her small desk with a thunk, just as Dean pokes his head into the room. 

 

Mitzi blinks. "Hey, Dean. You're early." 

 

"Traffic was extra good today. I've been in town for an hour," Dean tells her, easing into the room with a few bags in hand. "You're on break, right?" 

 

"Yeah," Mitzi says, knowing he only knows that because he's aware her breaks come right before his appointments. She watches him plop the bags down on the desk and start pulling out plastic trays. 

 

"You had lunch yet?" 

 

"Not yet. I was gonna make do with snacks from the vending machine. My earlier appointment ran a little later than I was expecting." 

 

Dean hums. "Well, now you don't have to. I can scram, or we can eat those burgers you were telling me about from that shop in downtown." 

 

"Pally-wags?" Mitzi gasps, surging forward to snatch the tray from his hands, popping it open and nearly crying at the glorious sight before her. She looks up at him, beaming. "Oh my god, Dean, you're the fucking best. You're officially my favorite." 

 

"My crowning achievement," Dean says, sighing as he plops down into the chair. 

 

Mitzi makes a small, excited sound as she stuffs a few fries in her mouth, then makes sure to swallow before speaking. "So, what's the occasion?" 

 

"Well, this is—" Dean waves his half-unwrapped burger around, clearing his throat. "I'm pretty sure this is my last session. I've got two more from my book, and you can do both today. So, I just… Well, I figured it'd be nice to go out with greasy burgers, I guess. Plus, you praise Pally-wags a lot, so I wanted to try it in case I don't come through town again." 

 

"Oh," Mitzi says softly, surprised by the pang that gives her to hear it. She frowns down at her burger, then takes a big bite out of it, chewing for a long time, thinking. After she swallows, she looks over at him. "You don't get to leave for the last time until you finish telling me your life story." 

 

Dean huffs what can't really be a laugh without the aid of Cas in the conversation—but close. "You got it, Mitzi. Is that your actual name, by the way? Sam and I were debating it." 

 

"Miriam," Mitzi tells him, heaving a sigh. "Mitzi is a nickname for Miriam."

 

"Mitzi fits you better," Dean murmurs.

 

Mitzi hums, pleased. "Yeah, I thought so, too. Call me Miriam, and I'll cut you." 

 

"Noted," Dean says, then takes another bite. 

 

"So," Mitzi muses, "you can get a headstart on where we left off. Talk and eat, sword-boy." 

 

Dean frowns at her. "Sword-boy?"

 

"Yeah, because you're Michael's sword, and you left off on him walking around in your shoes. Literally."

 

"Sort of. He gave me a makeover when I wasn't looking. He wore a funny hat, but he wasn't very funny himself." 

 

"What's it like?" Mitzi asks. "Being possessed by an angel? An archangel, even." 

 

"It's…" Dean looks down at his burger, staring at it for a beat too long. He clears his throat. "Noisy." 

 

"I'm imagining airplane engines." 

 

"Louder." 

 

"Speed of light breaking the sound barrier?" 

 

"Still louder." 

 

"And you didn't die?" Mitzi blurts out. 

 

"I was made to fit him perfectly," Dean tells her, lips twisting bitterly. He takes a ruthless bite of his burger, chewing with a scowl. 

 

Mitzi tsks. "Well, fuck that noise. How'd you kick his ass out?" 

 

Dean tells her. As they eat, he takes her through the whole journey involving Michael, and it is, as with everything else, a very long and stressful one. 

 

There are so many different nuances to it, different people to think about, different versions of events that Mitzi won't ever get to know. What she would not give to pick at Cas' brain for some of this, truly, and Sam? Well, it sounds like Sam was putting together a whole operation while Dean was walking around like the fashion line's latest suit for sale. 

 

When Dean does finally get back into the picture, it's not very long before Jack is dying, by the sounds of things. Mitzi is on the edge of her seat as she listens to it all unravel, getting worse and worse. She eats slowly, taking it in with wide eyes, distractedly chewing. Too invested. Still too invested. 

 

So invested, in fact, that when Jack does die, Mitzi is already half-out of her chair because she's going to need a bathroom break for this one. 

 

"It was fine," Dean says quickly, then grimaces and looks down at his burger. "I mean, not—not really. He came back. I never knew how, exactly, it happened. Not really. I didn't know that—" He swallows, his jaw working as he puts his burger down and fiddles a little mindlessly with the wrap underneath it. "I didn't know. I never knew…" 

 

Dean won't clarify what he didn't know, and as much as Mitzi wants to know, she refrains from asking. It puts a strain around his eyes, skin drawn tight with pain, like it's been carved into him and keeps showing up when he least expects it. He pushes past it, letting out a shuddering breath and continuing to talk. 

 

The thing is, this is apparently hard for him to talk about, the stuff with Michael and—for some reason she doesn't understand—the mere mention of his mother. It seems to get harder and harder for Dean to explain most of anything, every new mention of Jack and Mary coming out rougher and rougher. Mitzi thinks she understands, because things with Jack continue to get more and more complicated, and Dean doesn't seem to want to revisit the whole thing with the Ma'lak box—cool name, still sounds terrifying—and it's not like he's been that good at talking about his mom so far anyway. 

 

What seems to be the easiest things for him to talk about are the things like taking Jack out when he was sick, teaching him to drive. That, and the made up bar in his head that Michael let him be happy in to keep him trapped. And then, briefly, his dad shows back up for a little bit, which is—for some reason—a good thing, rather than a bad one. 

 

Mitzi can't help but ask, "So, it went okay? Like, you were...relieved about your dad being back?" 

 

"I think it was good 'cause it felt like closing a chapter, is all. One I didn't even know was still kinda open," Dean admits, considering his fries with a frown on his face. "I mean, if he was a permanent fixture, it would have been—uh, worse. But I was glad for what we got with him there, because getting to see him and Mom together… I dunno. I guess it made some of the shit we went through seem a little more worth it, just to get that chance to be what we never were before it all fell to shit." 

 

"Wasn't it a little awkward, though?" Mitzi presses, leaning into something she hasn't dared to so far, unable to let it go. "I mean...some of the shit you went through was—well, it was his fault, right?" 

 

Dean flicks his gaze up to stare at her, then blinks rapidly. "Yeah. Yeah, it was. Look, I know he was a shitty dad, okay? I get that. And a part of me did want to just—tear into him, just tear in and say fuck you, because how I turned out? The things that I've done—the good ones—and all the ways I've changed for the better? He doesn't have a hand in any of that. He doesn't get to be proud of who I turned out to be, 'cause the best parts of me would have never existed if he still did. So, yeah, there were things that I—that we, really, Sammy and me—could have done, or said, that wasn't sitting down and being a happy little family for a little while. But we never—we didn't get that before, and it was there, and we knew it wasn't gonna last. We got what we got, and we decided to go a different route with it. 'Cause at the end of the day, Dad was still gone, and Sammy and I were just fine without him. Even better, maybe." 

 

"Yeah," Mitzi says softly, "that makes sense. Parents are—they can be complicated." 

 

"I'm well aware," Dean replies, averting his eyes as he stuffs a fry in his mouth. 

 

And so it goes. 

 

The more Dean talks, the worse off he sounds. In his defense, things continue to get worse in his whacky story. But still, even talking about Cas doesn't really seem to help all that much. At the most, it can draw a tiny smile out of him, but that's all. 

 

It becomes clear, in the end, why this is. Mary dies again, and Jack? Well, Jack's the one who kills her. And jeez, doesn't that bring forth a conundrum of sorts. Someone kills your mother, you fucking hate them, right? But what if it's your kid? What if there eight bazillion different extenuating circumstances? What do you do in a situation like that? How do you fix it? Is there a proper way to handle that? 

 

Again, Mitzi finds herself thinking that Dean's brain needs to be quiet for a little while. By far, this is one of the things she hates the most. She just doesn't like it. She's partial to Jack, and she sort of has this hero-worship thing going on for Mary, who's basically a walking miracle in this story. And, while Mitzi can see that Mary is flawed, she has also been heavily influenced by Dean's point of view, and therefore her heart breaks when Marry dies. Again. 

 

Dean is clearly embarrassed and massively guilty about the next part, which is, admittedly, very rough and not a good look for him. Back to the whole trying to kill Jack thing again. Trying to stuff the kid in a box behind Cas' back was bad enough, but actually letting Chuck get into his head and put a gun in his hand? Not his best moment, admittedly, but at this point, he's made enough mistakes in this story—they all have—that Mitzi is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

 

That doesn't mean she isn't going to complain about it, even with him looking ridiculously guilty—which is, once again, dedication to the bit. Obviously he didn't actually do these things, but still. 

 

"You actually...you know," Mitzi says, raising her hand and making a gun-shape, pressing her fingers to the middle of her forehead. 

 

Dean grimaces. "Yeah." 

 

"Oh, Dean," Mitzi murmurs, swiveling her ice around in her cup, listening to the slush and slide of it as the coke and ice melts together. 

 

"I thought—I was just—" Dean cuts himself off, looking down as he scrapes his fingernail over his straw, bending it back and forth. He swallows and shakes his head. "It didn't matter. There ain't no excuse for it. I can never—there's nothing I can do to take that back." 

 

Mitzi clicks her tongue. "Well, you didn't do it, right? I mean, obviously not because you'd be dead, too. That is how the gun worked, isn't it?" 

 

"Yeah, uh, that's how it worked, basically. I wanted it to be me, if it had to be done. Not Cas. Not Sam." 

 

"Seemed like the only option, huh?" 

 

"Always does," Dean croaks, weary and worn. 

 

"But you chose something else," Mitzi reminds him, her voice softening. "You didn't do it." 

 

Dean grunts. "Yeah, I lowered the gun, but that didn't do much good. Chuck was pissed. He killed Jack when I wouldn't." 

 

"No," Mitzi bursts out, eyes bulging. "In front of everyone? Just like that?" 

 

"Yeah," Dean says gruffly. 

 

Mitzi pauses for a long moment, then pushes to her feet. "Bathroom break," she mumbles before darting off again. 

 

Another fifteen minutes dedicated to crying. 

 

When she comes back, Dean has tossed all their trash and shucked his jacket, the book open on her desk with the last two tattoos to get already open. He looks at her face, her likely red and puffy eyes, and he says nothing as he looks away. He's always like that about vulnerability, as if it's more respectful to leave her alone in it than acknowledge it, like it doesn't cross his mind to comfort her, not about this. Maybe he thinks he wouldn't be able to comfort her, or maybe he thinks that these things are so bleak that no comfort could help. 

 

Whatever it is, it's incredibly sad. It makes her sigh as she plops down at her desk and fumbles for her eyeliner. She needs to correct one of her spiky wings. By now, she's learned to invest in leak-free and water-proof makeup, but she wore regular makeup today. A mistake, clearly. 

 

Mitzi ponders the story as she goes about getting the last files pulled up and printed off. They're going on his left arm, on the back of it, just below his elbow. Maybe some overlap. Might hurt a little, but she knows by now that Dean won't even flinch. His pain tolerance is high, as it turns out. 

 

"He's okay, you know," Dean murmurs, staring down at his hands with a frown. "It's a little bit of a spoiler, I guess, but Jack's okay. He—he made it back after a while." 

 

"You talk about him sometimes, so I guess I knew already. Thanks anyway. It still sucks that he—" Mitzi offers a weak shrug. "Well, you know." 

 

"Yeah, I do," Dean agrees. 

 

"Alright," Mitzi declares as she rolls around to get everything ready. "So, basically, Chuck floods the world with all these monsters. You and Cas are fighting. Jack's dead. Sam's got this weird bullet wound from where he shot God, which is so badass, by the way. And there's, like, zombies now. In other words, things are fucked. What happens next?" 

 

Dean starts telling her, his voice a low, stilted stream of semi-background noise as they get situated. He turns around in the chair to brace his arm on the headrest, giving her the best vantage point to do the tattoos. It puts her on the other side of the chair, face-to-face with him as he talks, and she gets to see his every expression in close detail. 

 

It's a painful experience. 

 

There's so much grief in it, in every single thing he says, even in talking about Cas. Especially talking about Cas. Now, it seems like it sucks any joy he might have had right out of him. It doesn't make him smile or laugh anymore, and in fact, it seems to make him ache even more. 

 

His voice comes out hoarse and pained when talking about how he and Cas were fighting. Mitzi can sense how deeply he regrets it, how he's beating himself up for it. He gets a little stuck on that part. 

 

"I was just so angry about everything. Angry at Cas, at my mom, everything, my whole goddamn life. And I was—I was so harsh on him," Dean chokes out, closing his eyes and ducking his head to press his forehead against his arm, his words escaping muffled and broken. "I was angriest at myself, and I wasted so much time. I could have been—if I had known what was going to—" 

 

"Dean," Mitzi cuts in firmly, "you're a human being. We're flawed. All of us. I'm not condoning it, but you've got to ease up on yourself a little. God, if we won't be gentle to ourselves, what will? This world sure as shit won't. There is defiance and rebellion in being kind enough to forgive ourselves, because being so hateful and harsh is too normalized. Listen to me, whatever your mistakes—whatever they really are—you can't let them keep you from doing better when you get the chance. Like, nihilism? Fuck that, okay? Life is what we make it. We can choose to make it as good as we can, so fucking romanticize the blooming flowers, and cheer yourself up with how cute humans can be, and forgive yourself. Be kinder to yourself, Dean, and it'll be so much easier to be kinder to others once you have." 

 

Dean lifts his head, blinking at her. After a beat, he rasps, "What's nihilism?" 

 

"Sort of the belief that life is meaningless," Mitzi murmurs. "Believing that there's no point." 

 

"Is there?" Dean asks. 

 

"If we believe there is," Mitzi says, believing that down to her bones. 

 

"Do you?" Dean mumbles. "Seriously?" 

 

Mitzi nods, wiping some ink away from his skin, giving him a tentative smile. "It doesn't have to be a selfish thing, if that makes it easier. You know, just the other day, a woman came in here to get her very first tattoo. She always wanted one, but her ex-husband wouldn't let her, and he put it in her head that she was too weak and scared to be able to actually do it. That, and he said tattoos were ugly. She cried the whole time she got her tattoo, and not because it hurt her, but because it made her feel strong and beautiful. That? Things like that? There's a point to it. There's meaning in it." 

 

"There's beauty if you know where to look, huh?" Dean says softly, swallowing. 

 

"Exactly. And it can be selfish, too. It should be, sometimes. That feeling you get when you hear your favorite song. Getting a compliment from a stranger. The way the breeze feels on a good day, and the simplicity in the small things. We get all these days in this considerably short life of ours, so we should find the point in it." Mitzi smiles a little brighter and ducks in to start on the next line again. "I mean, obviously we're going to have the hard times, too. Times when everything seems to go wrong, and we can't find the point in anything. That's okay, I think. We're supposed to stray and struggle and get lost, because finding the way through can be the point."

 

"That sounds like something someone who's had a really good life would say," Dean tells her. 

 

"I have," Mitzi replies. "My life has been great. Not perfect, but not terrible. The greatest loss I've suffered was my grandpa, and that still stings, but he was old and ready to go. My parents make mistakes, but I know they love me, and I've never doubted it. I have a good family, a good sister, good friends. I'm financially stable. I go to therapy, but I don't have mental disorders like PTSD, or depression. I don't struggle with addiction. I've never been destroyed by a relationship, and all my heartbreaks have healed. I'm happy more often than I'm not. I have had a really good life, but that doesn't entitle me to happiness more than someone who hasn't. That doesn't mean I've earned it, or I can get it because I've always known it, and those that haven't don't get to have it, too. Maybe it's harder for others, but they still deserve it. You still deserve it, Dean." 

 

"I don't think I'm even aiming for happiness anymore," Dean admits in a croak, averting his eyes as he blinks hard. "At this point, a little bit of peace would be really fucking nice." 

 

"I can't give that to you," Mitzi says. "You can't give that to me. I think that's something we have to find within ourselves on our own, as individuals." 

 

"I don't even know where to start," Dean whispers. 

 

"I think you already have," Mitzi replies. 

 

Dean glances at her, his eyebrows folding together. He exhales slowly and says, "Cas and I had to go to Purgatory, and I forgave him. I think—I think a part of me forgave myself, too. But so much happened after, and I don't… I can't even remember what that felt like, to just let go a little. It was easy with Cas. So many things were hard, but the way I was with Cas sometimes, it felt as easy as breathing." 

 

"There's a reason, I think, that other people are so important, why we're such social creatures. We need to lean on people sometimes when we can't really stand on our own," Mitzi tells him. 

 

"Yeah," Dean chokes out. "Yeah, exactly. I feel like I hit my knees and I can't get back up." 

 

"Hope is a strong motivator. Try a little." 

 

"It's not always that simple." 

 

"No, it isn't," Mitzi agrees, "but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. It's okay to get tired sometimes. We need rest. We're creatures of endurance, not speed. We go at our own pace because it's easier for us to keep going than it is to push ourselves too hard. Take your time. There's no rush." 

 

"Jesus Christ," Dean mutters, releasing a slightly broken laugh that comes out rough and cracked, like he doesn't remember how to do it right. "These really are like therapy sessions, huh?" 

 

"It's the pain." Mitzi jerks her chin to the tattoo gun. "Or, that's my theory, at least. I think it's easier to let shit out when there's another hurt to focus on. Breaking the skin like this can break barriers." 

 

Dean huffs his little not-laugh, lips twitching into that ghostly flicker of a ghost of a smile. "I'm glad you've had a good life, Mitzi." 

 

"So am I," Mitzi admits. "I'm sorry you haven't, and don't say it's okay, because it's not." 

 

"Okay." Dean nods. "Wanna hear more about it?"

 

Mitzi chuckles. "Yeah, I'm listening." 

 

So, Dean talks, and Mitzi tattoos. 

 

She listens as Dean tells the whole tale. She listens as Dean takes her through the mess with the demon who jumps into Jack's body, which is horrifying in more ways than one. Dean and Cas are on the rocks, and when talking about it, Dean sounds so ashamed and so, so fucking hurt by it. Eileen comes back, which Mitzi rejoices, much to Dean's amusement. 

 

She listens as Dean tells her about Rowena dying, and the tragedy that was. It upsets her, and she works very hard not to cry into his tattoo. But later, as it turns out, Rowena ends up being the new Queen of Hell, and Mitzi can't think of anything more fitting. Crowley would be proud, she's sure. 

 

She listens as Chuck gets stronger and things get harder, as Dean and Cas fight, then make up. She listens as Jack comes back, as Kaia turns out to be alive, as they have a bright spot in the midst of everything—speedrunning holidays with a wood nymph. She listens as Chuck causes more problems, as Jack goes through changes, as Sam and Dean struggle to come to grasp what's real and what's not, finally understanding that the path they're running leads nowhere, just a hamster wheel they haven't found their way off of yet. 

 

She listens and she listens, and Dean talks and talks. And somewhere, somehow, there's a gap. There's a carved out space where something is missing, where things don't exactly add up. It has something to do with Billie, how she dies, Cas' sudden disappearance from the story, and how—with a hitched breath and an abrupt rush—Dean skips past something like perhaps it never happened at all. 

 

"And so," Dean says, "Chuck was handled, and the kid—well, the kid's God now. So, that's—that's the whole story. The final boss got beat, and it's been a life of freedom ever since." 

 

"Freedom, huh?" Mitzi asks quietly. "And what does your freedom look like?" 

 

Dean clears his throat. "Hunting with my brother. Sometimes with Eileen. Sometimes with both. I got a dog named Miracle. Jack visits every now and again when he gets the time. And I—I get tattoos."

 

"Not what you were expecting?" 

 

"Thought I'd be dead by the end." 

 

Mitzi sucks in a sharp breath, and he grimaces as he looks away. Voice low, she says, "Well, I'm really glad you're not, Dean. But if—if you're not happy with your freedom, have you thought about trying something different?" 

 

"I dunno what I'd want to do, and things aren't ever going to be—" Dean's voice catches. His jaw works, and he looks at her with hard eyes, setting his shoulders like he's bracing for something. "Why haven't you asked about Cas? You love hearing about him. But you—you haven't—" 

 

"You'd tell me if you wanted to," Mitzi murmurs. 

 

Dean swallows. "I haven't told anyone." 

 

"Do you want to?" Mitzi asks. 

 

"I don't know where to start," Dean admits. 

 

Mitzi takes a deep breath and stays silent as she finishes up the last of the tattoo, putting her gun down. "Well, why don't you start where you last mentioned him? You said that you and him were being chased by a dying Billie, right? Then you just said she got handled and skipped ahead. There's something missing there. What is it?" 

 

Dean doesn't say anything for a long time as Mitzi cleans his tattoo. She gets the wrap ready, but she doesn't put it on, letting him take as long as he needs. His face is starting to turn a little red from strain, the skin around his eyes tight, his breath coming out short and choppy. He looks exactly like he did the first day he walked in here, but worse, like he'll never know how to smile again, like he's cracked open and raw, as if he's a walking nerve left exposed, suffering consistently and constantly. 

 

"See, the thing you gotta understand is," Dean rasps out, "Cas was—he was prone to doing dumb things for the ones he loved, too. Just like us. You remember when Jack died the first time, and he came back? It was too good to be true, but I didn't know at the time. I didn't—I didn't know that it came with a price." 

 

"What did he do?" Mitzi whispers. 

 

"He made a deal." Dean looks to the side, scoffing a little, though it comes out choked. He stares into the distance, his gaze foggy and glittering. "He made a goddamn deal with the Empty. Himself for Jack, but the catch—the catch was, the Empty wouldn't take Cas until he was truly happy." 

 

Mitzi can start to feel the rising sense of dread in the pit of her stomach. "So, he wasn't happy."

 

"No, he wasn't. Not really. Ain't that a goddamn shame?" Dean asks, hanging his head for a long moment, looking up a few minutes later, blinking really hard. "He never got to be happy. He never—"

 

"Dean," Mitzi says when his voice cracks, because suddenly, she's almost terrified for him to continue, and it seems like it's killing him to say it. 

 

But Dean keeps going anyway. "Billie was after us. Guess she decided she wanted to go out with a bang, 'cause she meant the last thing she'd ever do was kill us. We were—our backs were pretty much up against the wall. Nowhere to go, and we still had so much left to do. And Cas… He—he—" 

 

"The deal," Mitzi breathes out. 

 

"Yeah. The crazy son of a bitch turned the deal into a weapon, a sacrifice." Dean lets out a hollow laugh that's worse than him not knowing how to laugh at all. It's a little wet, and the breath he sucks in shutters and shakes, like he's got ridges to catch against on the inside, as if he's been carved into. "I didn't know what was happening, because it didn't make any sense. Billie was banging on the door. I was—I was thinking about Sammy and Jack, and then Cas just—" His eyes flutter shut, face scrunching up. "He knew the deal wasn't gonna pose a problem, 'cause he was never gonna be actually happy. He knew, 'cause the thing he wanted was something he thought he couldn't have." 

 

Mitzi's eyes sting, her chest feeling like it's caving in. "You," she whispers hoarsely. "He wanted you." 

 

"He told me—he said—" Dean rears back, heaving out a harsh breath that splinters, making it more of a whimper, like he's been gutted. He ducks his head, hiding, and Mitzi watches in absolute devastation as tears drop on his arm. "And he just—he just loved me, you know? He loved me, and just doing it and telling me was enough." He makes a low, tortured sound. "And then he was gone. He said goodbye, and the Empty came and snatched him up, right along with Billie. Just like that, he was—and I didn't even say—I never got to tell him that I—" 

 

"I'm sorry. Honey, I'm so sorry," Mitzi says softly, horrified, not at all surprised by the way tears well up in her own eyes and fall over. She just keeps saying it over and over, unable to stop. I'm so sorry, Dean, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. 

 

She reaches out and takes his hand, squeezing it, and he clings to it. His face is pressed into the crook of his elbow, and it doesn't do much to muffle the way he sobs. Right there in her chair, Dean breaks down in front of her. It sounds painful. The way he weeps is genuinely distressing, alarming her, so deeply emotional that she could be a perfect stranger and still feel the agony in it—even then, her sympathetic pain wouldn't even compare to his. Knowing what she does, knowing Dean and hearing this story, even now, her pain can't compare.

 

There's so much grief. It's like witnessing something that rocks you to your core and selfishly makes you grateful that you don't know destruction like that. 

 

And, for one moment, Mitzi wishes she never met this man. She wishes she didn't listen to his story, because what sits before her now is only worsened by having the context. It's like being exposed to the horrors of the world, losing some innocence you didn't even realize you still had. She doesn't get to come out the other side of this moment the same person, and she can't even imagine what Dean is dealing with, what he's going through. 

 

With this, watching it, Mitzi—with sudden conviction—believes him. 

 

She believes him. 

 

All of it. Every single crazy, insane, whacky part. It's real, and she knows that now, because this? This isn't Dean's imagination. This isn't something any brain in the world—even the most fucked up—would imagine for themselves. Dean is not lying. 

 

He's not lying. 

 

For a long time, Mitzi stares at the top of Dean's head, her eyes wide, a sheen of tears still over her vision. She blinks rapidly, the tears falling, streaking her makeup. Slowly, achingly slow, Mitzi comes to the realization that it's real. It's all real—the monsters, the close calls to the end of the world, Heaven and Hell and everything in between, Lucifer and God, and this man. Dean. 

 

How are you still standing? Mitzi wants to ask, but her lips tremble and her breath comes out shaky. She realizes that Dean's only just standing at all, that he's suffered so much and lost so much that he's struggling to keep going. In part, she's a little terrified, but mostly… Mostly, her chest is aching for this man, for all the people she's heard about, and her heart feels broken and reshaped. 

 

It's not so hard to adjust to it, to let it sink in. She remembers some things. She remembers Dick Roman when he was a big man on TV. She remembers the unexplainable meteor shower, apparently angels falling. She remembers hearing about the strange things that happened with President Rooney. She remembers that, one day, she woke up and felt a day late and a dollar short, off in an unexplainable way, like maybe she slept an extra week. She remembers the shift in the world after, the sun seeming to shine just a little brighter, the colors of the world not nearly as muted as before. There are things that tie Dean's story—his life—into truth. 

 

She wishes it were a lie. Not because of the monsters, not because of how scary some of these things sound, but because of this—right here and right now. This. The way Dean is crying and crying in front of her like he doesn't know how to stop, crushing her hand in his grip because he's holding on so very tight. She wishes it were a lie. 

 

But it's not. 

 

It takes Dean a long time before the crying stops. She knows when he's exhausted himself with it, his hand going slack around hers, pulling away. She murmurs something short and gentle, rolling away to go grab her water bottle off the desk and bring it back, nudging the top of his head with it until he's willing to lift his head and take it. 

 

He's a mess, but so is she, so she doesn't have room to judge. He clears his throat and won't meet her eyes as he takes the water with a rough, "Thanks."

 

"It's fine. What's not is that I chose today to skip the water-proof makeup," Mitzi says with a weak laugh, dabbing at her face with a paper towel. It breaks the tension, and Dean tips a little puddle of water into her paper towel, holding the hand mirror so she can fix her face as best as she can. 

 

"That's why I skip the eyeliner," Dean tells her, lips twitching a little. "It's a bitch to get off." 

 

Mitzi gives a watery smile. "You would look fucking great in eyeliner." 

 

"I wanted to go through an eyeliner phase, 'cause Led Zeppelin wore eyeliner and I thought it was cool, but my dad woulda lost his shit," Dean says. 

 

"It's never too late to go through an eyeliner phase, Dean. Live your dreams." 

 

"Nah, I got these designer bags to carry around. Really makes my eyes pop." 

 

"You have nice eyes," Mitzi agrees with a soft smile. "Even red as they are right now." 

 

Dean makes a low sound, sniffling and pushing his lips to the side. "Yeah, well, I ain't cried like that in a while. Not my best look, I know." 

 

"People shouldn't look pretty when they cry. It's not fair to everyone else," Mitzi mumbles. 

 

"You're tellin' me." Dean clears his throat and scoots his arm forward, looking away. "Cas cried before he—before. He looked—" 

 

"Pretty," Mitzi fills in for him, because Dean can never figure out how to say it. 

 

"Wasn't fair," Dean murmurs. "None of it." 

 

Mitzi hums somberly as she changes her gloves and starts wrapping his tattoo. "No, it definitely wasn't. How long has it been since…?" 

 

"Little over six months now," Dean tells her. 

 

"Would he like the tattoos, you think?" Mitzi asks, then surprises herself by chuckling at the way Dean's face goes slack, like he never even thought of that. He blinks rapidly, stunned. "Oh, Dean, you poor thing. Sometimes, you amaze me." 

 

Dean still looks a little dazed. "Thanks. I think?" 

 

"Can I ask you something?" Mitzi murmurs, growing serious as she finishes up and tosses both pairs of gloves. She starts in on putting her things away as Dean gets back into his jacket. 

 

"Yeah, sure," Dean replies. 

 

Mitzi chews her lip for a long moment, going back and forth on whether or not it's a bad idea to say this, especially knowing that all of this is true now. She wavers, but then can't keep it in. "Do you remember me saying life is what we make it? And that there's always more than one option?" 

 

Dean blinks at her. "Yeah." 

 

"With that in mind," Mitzi says carefully, "why haven't you tried to get him back yet?" 

 

Dean grinds to complete halt, his head jerking up as he stares at her, eyes a little wide. He stares at her and keeps staring at her, lips parted, so many expressions flitting across his face that she can't catch them all. She catches a few—shock and awe linger the longest. He seems to be holding his breath, and it eventually explodes out of him. 

 

"What do you mean?" Dean asks, finally. 

 

Mitzi swallows. "I mean… Well, Dean, you've done all that you've done, and you still haven't seemed to figure out that you deserve to be happy. You think you don't have other options, but when that seems to be the case, you make them. You're free now, right? Free to do whatever you want, and if you want to get him back, why not try? You've done so much. Why not do this for yourself?" 

 

"I don't know if it's possible," Dean whispers. 

 

"Would you ever be able to forgive yourself if it is, and you didn't try?" Mitzi asks. 

 

Dean blinks hard, throat bobbing. "I'll never survive it if I try, and it isn't." 

 

"If it isn't…" Mitzi takes a deep breath and leans forward, putting her hand on his arm, staring into his eyes. "Dean, if it isn't, then there's nothing you can do about it but learn to survive it. Learn to make peace with it, and learn to stand again. But...maybe the first step to getting back up is finding out one way or the other, because living suspended in this after where Cas is missing… It's not helping you. There will come a day where you will run out of skin to cover, but the things that haunt you? They'll still be there. I don't know what will happen, but I do know that you've suffered so much that you didn't deserve, and all I can do is hope." 

 

"I don't know," Dean says, but Mitzi can see the way his eyes start to light up, the cogs no doubt turning in his brain. He frowns, a thoughtful one, and she can tell that—just like misery—hope can spread and ignite, because hers is catching. He flicks his gaze away, then back, exhaling. "Maybe." 

 

"Okay," Mitzi says, lips curling up. She squeezes his arm and leans back. "Now, you sit right there and let me tell you how to take care of your newest tattoo." 

 

Dean laughs—a soft one but genuine, like maybe he's remembering how to do it, and hope truly is a magnificent thing. 

 

A few beats later, Mitzi walks Dean down the hall, all the way to the front desk, waiting while he pays and leaves a truly huge tip. But shit, he's got that weird credit card with infinite money, doesn't he? Courtesy of Charlie Bradbury. Mitzi thought it was bullshit before, but now… 

 

Dean doesn't complain when she follows him outside to actually see his car in full for the very first time. When she asks, he shoots her a look but still opens the trunk to let her see inside it. In the false trunk, Mitzi is met with more evidence of this being the truth, and she stares down at the weapons and abundance of salt and devil's trap with wide eyes. 

 

When she looks over at him, he's wearing a wry grin. Mitzi knows instantly that he has been fully aware she didn't actually believe him this whole time. She wonders if he knows she worked it out before, or if he thinks he's surprising her fully right now. 

 

In the end, Dean says a very soft, "Thank you, Mitzi," and hugs her before getting into his car and driving away. Mitzi watches him go until Baby disappears from her sight, and then she turns around and goes back inside. 

 

"Deb!" Mitzi calls as she moves down the hall. 

 

"What?!" Debra shouts back. 

 

"Get Dolly set up, I want some ink," Mitzi says, sticking her head into her sister's office. 

 

Debra grins. "Ooh, you're getting a new tattoo? What are you wanting?" 

 

Mitzi smiles as she says, "It's a symbol," and goes off to get her sketchbook to draw the anti demon possession tattoo. 

 


 

Three months later, Mitzi is leaning against the front of her desk, her back to the door with her head bent forward. She's flipping through her sketchbook to find her latest drawing, eyebrows furrowed. 

 

Maxine from the county over has just sent her a recent email requesting that the wings on the fairy tattoo she wants have flowers on them. Maxine didn't specify what type of flowers, just some unconventional ones. Mitzi has ideas of Trachyandra Tortilis, but possibly in something other than green, if Maxine will let her. 

 

She makes a quick note of this before sighing and reaching back to palm at the top knob of her spine, just where her neck meets her shoulders. It's become a habit at this point. There's a tattoo underneath her fingers, but there usually is, no matter where she touches. This one, though… 

 

Well, she's demon-free, that's for sure. 

 

Funnily enough, Mitzi actually managed to bully Debra and Dolly into getting the tattoo as well. They've put it in the binders out front for the people who don't know exactly what they want. Mitzi does them for half-off and makes sure to offer it to as many people as she can, even though Debra thinks she's a little crazy for it. But hey, if this is a way Mitzi can contribute, why the hell not, right? 

 

A lot of people do end up getting it, funnily enough. They like the design, or they just can't pass up on a deal. More and more people leave Stabs You Pay For with protection they're not even aware of. Weirdly, Mitzi is proud of it, more than glad to do it. 

 

Mitzi rolls her eyes when Debra sing-songs, "Oh, Mitzi, you have visitors," from the doorway, sounding way too cheerful, as always. It's a little worse now, because her and Dolly have finally gotten their shit together. Mitzi didn't know they could be more idiotic about each other, but they live to prove her wrong and annoy the shit out her. They're already talking about wedding dresses versus suits, and it's only been two weeks. 

 

By the time Mitzi swings around, Debra has disappeared from the doorway, and in her place, instead, there's Dean. 

 

He's grinning. A full, lively grin that transforms his face and makes him look mischievous and youthful, flashing the incisors of his teeth, eyes sparkling. He looks great. He looks happy. 

 

"You got him," Mitzi chokes out, first thing, not even needing an answer, knowing it in her heart. 

 

Dean laughs as he says, "I got him," and shuffles into the room, leaving the space to tug in—

 

Embarrassingly, Mitzi takes one look at him and bursts into fucking tears. She's smiling and laughing, but she's also crying a little stupidly, but she can't help it. The swell of relief and delight sweeps through her fast and hard-hitting. It's okay, though, because she's wearing water-proof makeup today. She has learned her lesson. 

 

For all that Dean struggled to actually describe Cas outside of short-circuiting, Mitzi still instantly recognizes him. The blue eyes. The trenchcoat that isn't as loose and lopsided as she was picturing. His hair isn't messy, but it's dark, and there's scruff on his face. His lips are chapped, which she wasn't expecting because Dean never mentioned Cas' lips, probably because it would have made him shut down entirely. Cas is handsome, admittedly, but to her, he just looks like some guy. Through Dean's eyes, you'd think he was an angel. 

 

Well, he is, but still. 

 

Cas isn't the last to be led in. There's a long line of people that come parading in from the hallway, some she doesn't recognize, some that she does. Sam, of course, is instantly recognizable, and Mitzi would guess the pretty girl following behind him, holding his hand, is Eileen. 

 

Following behind them are three younger people. Two girls, one with blonde hair and a slight resemblance to Cas, one with dark hair and dark eyes and a shy smile. Claire, Mitzi thinks, and maybe her girlfriend, Kaia. Maybe. The third is a boy, and he beams as he comes in, only to cock his head when he sees her crying. Jack. That's Jack, she thinks. 

 

Sure enough, he holds up his hand in an awkward greeting and says, "Hello, I'm Jack. Are you okay?" 

 

It's sort of like meeting celebrities, in an odd way. Mitzi is panicking just a little, not knowing what to do or say to these people. She flaps her hands and turns away, shuffling around her desk to find paper towels to clean her face with. Dean is laughing at her. It's not funny, but she doesn't even mind, happy to hear it, the care-free tone lifting her spirits. 

 

"I'm okay," Mitzi says, eventually. She clears her throat and scrubs at her face, shaking her head as she beams at everyone. "Sorry, I just…" 

 

"I'm guessing you've worked most of 'em out yourself," Dean says, chuckling. He gestures down the line. "Cas, obviously. You know Sam. That's Eileen. Beside her, probably rolling her eyes, is Claire. Then Kaia, then Jack. Everybody, this is Mitzi, the lovely lady who decorated the temple that is my body. Everyone say thank you." 

 

"Thank you," Cas says almost immediately, and Jesus, his voice is deep. 

 

No one else says thank you. 

 

"It's good to see you again, Mitzi," Sam says, smiling at her, eyes crinkling with it. 

 

"Yeah, no, this is great," Mitzi replies sincerely, possibly a bit too earnestly. She lifts her hands, signing along as she speaks, and Eileen grins. "Really, this has made my day, you all have no idea. I just—I have an appointment in, like, five minutes, so I can't really—" 

 

"Uh, actually, we're your appointment," Sam tells her a little sheepishly, gesturing at everyone. 

 

Mitzi blinks. "Oh. Wait, all of you?" 

 

"Yup," Dean confirms, popping the end of the word. He waggles his eyebrows at her. "You're about to make bank." 

 

"Well, usually I do individual appointments, not by group," Mitzi mutters, clicking her tongue. The basic equivalent to your everyday heroes or not, they can't just bend the rules and get special treatment, except she's pretty sure she's not going to refuse. Ah, shit, she has a soft spot for these people. 

 

"Don't worry," Jack says cheerfully, "the tattoos are small. They're for a case!" 

 

"Should I even be agreeing to tattoo the three year old?" Mitzi asks, darting a glance to Dean. 

 

"I'm four now," Jack corrects. 

 

"Happy belated birthday," Mitzi says. 

 

Jack beams at her. "Thank you!" 

 

"It's necessary," Dean tells her, rolling his eyes. "I would say wait to the legal age, but he's kinda God, so. I mean, at what point do you let things go?" 

 

"Fair point," Mitzi concedes. Her gaze darts back to Cas, almost involuntarily. He's a little weird. Cute, but weird. Kind of intense, too. He's standing, like, super close to Dean, practically right up on him. Well, good for them. "So, it's for a case? You're not using tattoos to jumpstart the next apocalypse, are you? I don't really want to be involved in that." 

 

Claire snorts. "Oh, I like her." 

 

Mitzi struggles not to wriggle in pride. 

 

"It's complicated," Dean says. "The less you know about it, the better. Don't worry, it won't come back to bite you in the ass." 

 

"Fine." Mitzi sighs and cocks her hip. She flicks her fingers at Dean and Cas. "Help me get the chairs set up. I got some more stacked in the closet." 

 

Dean makes a sound of amusement as he trails after, snorting. "Heh, back into the closet I go. Been a while since I've been in here." 

 

"I hate when he makes gay jokes," Claire grumbles. 

 

"Bisexual!" Dean calls back cheerfully, clearly having had this exchange before. 

 

Mitzi looks back over her shoulder as she passes back a chair, just in time to catch Cas rolling his eyes fondly. There's a small smile playing at the corners of his lips, one that doesn't seem to want to go away—a sign of persistent happiness. It makes Mitzi's heart swell to see it. Dean, when he sees it, makes a pleased noise and winks at Cas before carting the chair off to pass to Sam. 

 

"It's really nice to meet you," Mitzi tells Cas, trying her best not to be so nervous. He is a little intimidating, actually. "I feel like I know you a little, in a really weird way. Dean talked about you a lot."

 

Cas hums, the smile growing. "He told me. He spoke warmly of you and mentioned that you helped him while I was dead." 

 

"Well, I...did what I could," Mitzi admits. She gives him a lopsided smile. "Do you like the tattoos?" 

 

"Very much," Cas says, a light flickering in his eyes almost too quick to catch—a little naughty, actually. Oh. Yeah, he likes the tattoos. 

 

"His favorite is the first one you ever did for me," Dean informs her as he ushers back over for another chair, still grinning. "His eyes nearly rolled out of his head the first time he saw me shirtless." 

 

"That tattoo is very romantic," Cas murmurs, a touch defensive, mostly pleased. He follows Dean with his gaze, warm and loving and still sort of fixed, intense about it. Weird? A little. Cute? Definitely. He's got love slapped right across his face, naked and blatant as the day you're born. 

 

"He found me because of that, you know." Dean jerks his chin towards his arm, where the first tattoo she gave him is. "When I went to pull him out the Empty, that tattoo—it helped draw him in." 

 

Mitzi finds her eyes getting a little misty again. She swallows and looks away, smiling. "I'm glad I was able to do that for you, then." 

 

"Dean says you're the one who gave him hope when he thought all was lost," Cas murmurs as Dean walks away with another chair. He glances back at her, his face softening. "Thank you." 

 

"Thank you for coming back to him," Mitzi says softly, moved in a way she can't describe. 

 

"There's nowhere else I would go," Cas replies. 

 

"He really, really loves you, Cas," Mitzi admits quietly, hauling the last chair out once Cas has taken the one before it. "He truly does." 

 

Cas smiles. "I know. He tells me." 

 

"I'm so glad," Mitzi says, choking out a laugh, her chest warm. Simply grateful. Happy for them. 

 

A few minutes later, Mitzi has something of organized chaos to deal with, getting everyone lined up in chairs. She has to set up her tray, get her computer up and running, always rolling around in her chair. She listens as the group before her interact, bickering and laughing and talking. She doesn't mind fading to the background. 

 

She gets to watch as Eileen teases Sam, as Claire and Jack shuffle away a little to whisper together like they're planning something, as Kaia watches them do it with a grin. She gets to see Dean and Cas sitting next to each other, Dean kicked back in his chair and chattering away at Cas, who watches him avidly and doesn't look away once, like there's nothing else in the world worth looking at. Cas says something, and it makes Dean laugh loudly, the bright burst of laughter boisterous and echoing around the room. Dean nearly folds in half to catch Cas by the tie to reel him in, kissing him like he does it every day and still can't get enough. 

 

They're a family. They're happy. All of them. 

 

"Alright," Mitzi declares as she rolls back up behind her desk. "What tattoo is everyone getting?" 

 

Dean detaches from Cas with a small sigh, eyelashes fluttering, grinning all over again as if he can't remember how to stop. He draws out a familiar leather book and opens it up, eyes bright as he offers it to her and says, "It's a symbol."