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The Airmail Experience

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Then

Dean liked to flatter himself that he was pretty good with first impressions. He was a pretty personable guy. He knew the cheekbones and nice teeth didn’t hurt, either—they’re what helped him get the job. After the skywriting fiasco much later—or was it the skywriting success?—he’ll be man enough to realize he hadn’t exactly hit that introduction out of the ballpark. In his defense, it was April Fools’. And the station had a tradition. Not to mention the guy was so laughably short.

His producer, Anna, had caught him hovering with Benny, the sportscaster, by the proverbial water cooler and gestured to the man at her left, practically at her elbow.

“Dean, Benny, meet our new co-anchor. He used to be with Channel Six. This is—”

“Newbie,” Dean had said, already moving in for a handshake. “It’s so nice to meet you. And to pass that name along. It sucks being the bottom of the food chain.”

The guy gave him an unreadable smile. “I guess now I’m Newbie, then.”

“You guessed right. You came on the busiest day of the year around here,” Dean said. Newbie looked at him curiously. So did Anna, with a faint cast of dread. “Come on, April first? It’s—”

“The first day of the month,” Benny said. He threw a wink over at Dean. “Obviously. Around here, we take the first of the months seriously.”

The man looked between them. “…Right.”

“Don’t worry, Newbie,” Dean said, throwing an arm around his shoulder. “We’ll go easy on you.”

Now

Dean has a routine. He gets up and contemplates going on an early morning run—doesn’t. Ends up brewing coffee and cinching on his bathrobe. Opens the door to find the newspaper on his front stoop. Flips to the comics, recycles, takes a quick shower. He spends most of the morning and afternoon running errands or tinkering around the house. After all, he doesn’t need to be at the station until three, slated for the hourly evening newscasts. Anna let it drop that the community has never been so interested in weather as it has in the last three years since Dean was hired. Dean enjoys thinking that he’s on thousands of TV screens citywide, from the highrises across town to the pleasant suburbia of his neighborhood. Being good at his job is one thing; being recognized and liked for it is another.

This morning, the sky is a clear vibrant blue, with the kind of stillness that hints the day will be real scorcher within a few hours. Probably already a little warm out for coffee, but Dean takes his mug with him to retrieve the paper from the front stoop.

He hears a whining drone, like that of a horsefly, and even sees a quick, flying shape cross his vision before he realizes it’s a plane. Flying quite low, actually, and even though it’s some distance away he can tell it’s small. One of those horrible shuddery biplanes, probably held together with tape and luck. Dean remembers the birthday a few years back when Sam had called up some connections and found a buddy with a pilot’s license and free time to take Dean on a flyby of the city. Like all of Sam’s gifts, it was thoughtful. Dean had just graduated, already had been hired by Channel Twelve, and Sam thought what better gift for a weatherman than to put him in the sky.

Dean discovered that he preferred to be put back on the ground, thank you very much, approximately one second after liftoff. The wheels never even left the tarmac; Dean demanded that the flight be grounded immediately. Spent the rest of the night feeling like his tongue was still glued to the roof of his mouth.

He’s pulled out of his birthday memory when the whine of the plane’s engine abruptly cuts off. For a moment he tenses, watching the plane nosedive, but even before he can think what he could possibly do to help the plane loops around gracefully and climbs. He watches a trail of white exhaust plume from the tail of the plane.

Dean leans against the jamb of the door and watches, bemused, as letters sprout out of the blue. It takes a while; he admires the plane’s dogged persistence. At least there’s little wind today. Although some of the smoke smudges in the curves, like ink touched before dry, the end result is fully legible, if a little puzzling.

DW♥TSWIFT.

“DW loves…T Swift. Taylor Swift?” Dean shrugs, watching as the plane grows smaller in the distance; the size of a bird, a freckle, finally nothing at all. “You do you, DW,” he says, gulping the last of his cold coffee. Not that he’d ever admit it, but he finds some of Swift’s stuff pretty catchy. He finds himself humming “Shake It Off” as he washes the dishes—by then, already forgetting all about the plane, the message, his mind as wiped clean as the blue sky outside.

**

“And with that, let’s turn it over to Dean with the weather,” Lisa says. She smiles at the camera before her feed is cut, switching over to Dean, standing in front of his green screen with a suit and a smile.

“Hi, good evening,” Dean says. “Looks like we’re in store for some mild sunny ones over the next few days. We deserve it after this past winter, huh?” He gesticulates over the screen. “Tonight we have a low of 65 in Topeka, even 61 down in Emporia. Clear, calm skies, high visibility, which is shaping up well for tomorrow. See that? High of 73, with nary a cloud in the sky. That’s the luck of the Irish for you, just in time for St. Patrick’s day.”

He hears Anna and Lisa and Newbie and Ash, the camera man, all groan under their breaths at his lame joke. He just smiles more broadly. “Enjoy your holiday and the next few days, folks, they’re looking beautiful. As always, have an awesome night. I’ll send you back Lisa’s way.”

And that’s wrap on his final forecast of the night. He wanders offset to the table where the donuts and coffee are, even though everything’s been pretty picked through and stale by now. He takes a minute to look around at everyone. The full cast isn’t there. The morning anchors, Linda and Bartholomew, are probably sleeping, as are the reporters—Rufus, who’s covered the crime beat for the last thirty years, and Jess and Meg. These people are like a second family to him. They’re part of why he loves his job so much.

He hears the closing theme play, hears the sound of people wrapping up. He know it’s only mid-March, but what’s family without a little fun? He makes a mental note to catch Benny alone tonight. They need to start discussing who their next target will be.

**

Dean wakes up the next morning feeling decidedly below the weather. Most of the night crew had gone out for drinks after work—their way of celebrating Saint Pat’s, since they’d be working all night on the actual day of. The only place still open had been a dive bar Ash had somehow known of, the kind with dusty two dollar bottles and a scarred pool table. The only problem being that Dean isn’t as young as he used to be, which means even a few drinks give him a hangover like none other. Plus a weird taste in his mouth that he can’t account for. It’s vaguely…sugary, even though he can’t think of what, besides beer, he’d had last night. He groans and rolls around in bed a bit more before sitting up.

With some delay, Dean gets back to his routine. Contemplates going for a jog. Doesn’t. Cinches on his bathrobe, brews some coffee, rummages around in a cabinet for some Tylenol. New day, new paper. He opens his front door just in time to see a tiny, buzzing plane put the finishing touches on a message that reads,

DW♥ PPLNURPLS

“Huh,” Dean says. He had kind of thought the sky writing from yesterday had been a one-off kind of thing. Now it’s back, with more things DW loves, and this one much more obscure.

“People n your please,” Dean says aloud. “Papal nur plus.” The letters don’t arrange themselves into any order that makes any sense. Well. It must be a message meant for DW alone to decode. Maybe some kind of inside joke. Dean can’t be expected to bat .500 on everything that appears written in the sky.

When he arrives at the station later most of his hangover has worn away, but Tracy still seems to spend some extra time putting concealer over the bags under his eyes.

“Hey, Dean, didn’t get enough beauty sleep last night?” Benny calls. Dean just holds his middle finger aloft. Like Benny isn’t next in line for Tracy to brush some foundation on.

Benny’s voice comes closer. “But for real. I’m surprised you look so up and at ‘em. Those drinks really seemed to do a number on you.”

Lisa comes to Benny’s shoulder. “Oh, yeah, Dean. You were wired.”

Dean can’t turn to face them, so he lets his confusion color his voice. “The Budweisers? I’ve had worse. Maybe they were skunked.”

“No, man, those special drinks the bartender made. I forget what they were called.”

“It rhymed,” Lisa says. “And I think there was a color in there somewhere.”

“I’m sure I would remember that,” Dean says, very unsure.

“Maybe they were green. Something to do with Saint Paddy’s,” Benny said. “Green…machines?”

“No, it was gibberish,” Lisa says. “Yellow schmellows, something like that.”

“Hey, Newbie!” Benny calls. “You remember those drinks Winchester had last night?”

“It was a color like…blue, or violet,” Lisa’s saying. “Lavender? Magenta.”

“You know, that just doesn’t sound very much like me,” Dean says. For some reason, he’s suddenly desperate to get out of the chair. Just in time, Tracy leans back and pronounces him all finished. He looks up and sees Benny, Lisa and Newbie  looking at him, as if for an answer.

“Oh, it was you all right,” Benny says.

“Indigo mindigos,” Lisa says, who seems to be having fun with it now.

“I think…,” Newbie says. “I think I remember it being pur…” He stops and considers, leaving the silence suspended. Dean suddenly knows the answer is purple, and he suddenly very much knows he doesn’t want to hear Newbie say it. He feels a finger of dread in his stomach.

“…Perfectly normal,” Newbie finishes, after that weird long pause. He gives Dean an encouraging, complacent smile. “The name, I mean. A Long Island Iced tea, maybe, nothing that wild.”

“Huh,” Dean says faintly.

“Hmm,” Lisa says. “Yeah, maybe. For some reason…well, I can’t remember at any rate.”

The three of them disperse. Dean, feeling slightly put out, leaves to graze the donut and muffin table.

**

Thursday morning Dean wakes to the faint drone of the airplane and, foregoing his routine entirely, runs to the window and whips up the shade. The dramatic effect is somewhat lessened through the grid of the screen but he can read the message clear enough. Today’s is rather short and concise.

DW♥

What follows isn’t a word, but a picture. The barest sketch, really. But its intention translates well.

“DW loves women’s underwear,” Dean reads aloud. Although he’s still staring at the message in detached horror, his mind has already traveled to the second drawer of his dresser. Could someone have…? No, that would be impossible. Surely there are plenty of people with the initials DW who (secretly)  love Taylor Swift and fruity purple concoctions and women’s lacy underthings. None of those things were crimes, okay? None of those things could explicitly be tied to Dean Winchester,

“Son of a bitch.”

**

Within an hour Dean learned several things. One, that there was only one skywriting business in all of Topeka. Two, that sky writing businesses even existed in the first place. Three, he could get to this business in just under half an hour. That was all well and good.

Four was where his learning spree stopped, because four was meeting Cas Milton, the apparent receptionist, sole pilot, manager and CEO of Milton Skywriting, whose complete and absolute hotness—and Dean’s talking army-green flightsuit, aviators, and fuck-me-sideways hair—was only surpassed with the man’s complete and absolute refusal to give Dean any information.

To rewind, Dean had found out that Milton Skywriting had a small and rather messy office in a business park somewhere near Sam’s house. Dean was all bent on walking in there with a mix of righteous indignation and a I’m-willing-to-settle-this-out-of-court ingratiation, but the wind was taken out of his sails when he realized that there was no one there. The sign in the door was flipped to CLOSED, the lights were off. When Dean shaded his eyes and looked through the windows, he saw stacks of paper covering a desk and the nearest chair, as well as several small model planes hanging from the ceiling.

He’d heard an engine—not a plane engine, this time, but the dull roar of a motorcycle. A slim black bullet of one, which neatly nosed into the space next to Dean’s Impala. The motorcyclist’s helmet came off, although the flightsuit and hair stayed exactly where they were (Dean was appreciative of that, at least), and the man had looked at Dean speculatively over the handlebars.

Introductions went quick. They went something like,

“You work at this Milton Skywriting place, yeah?”

“I own it.”

“Oh, great. So you must be…Milton.”

“Yes.”

“Okay.  Hi. My name’s Dean, and I wanted to discuss with you the, uh, possibility that some of your messages could have been—”

“I can’t tell you anything,” Cas had interrupted, and then walked past him to unlock the front door of his office.

Which leads Dean to now.

“Look,” Dean wheedles. “I understand you have customers. Customers have protections. You shouldn’t just be giving customer information out willy-nilly. But I’m sure you have to understand my position—”

“Dean,” Milton says. He has a very steady, blue gaze. (He’s staying Milton in Dean’s head, as a formality, although by now he’s seen the pilot’s license on the wall with  the name CAS J. MILTON in plain view.) “We both obviously know how a business works. I get customers by fulfilling the requirements of their order and respecting their privacy. You have no proof that any of those messages were about you, specifically.”

“Of course not,” Dean says, with a forced laugh. “I mean, of course those messages have nothing to do with me.”

“Of course,” Milton agrees.

Dean leans forward. “But if they did, for some reason, have to do with me, it would be nice to know who’s looking to put a flame under my ass, so to speak. If you could just look the other way…”

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” Milton says. It’s still rather brusque, but Dean thinks that maybe he is a little sorry. He’s starting to get a handle on this guy’s personality. “I know that’s not the answer you want to hear, but I don’t have any others to give you.”

“Right,” Dean says. “Well. Maybe I was just being paranoid, anyway. You wake up and see fifty foot high letters outside your window, you get ideas.”

“Twelve hundred foot letters,” Milton says. He has a small smirk on his face. “Approximately a mile wide.”

Dean lets out a low whistle. “Well, you would know,” he says. “Good work on those. Very… legible.”

“Thanks,” Milton says. He smoothes his hands down the front of his flight suit. The action is distracting enough, but it makes Dean wonder if the guy’s nervous. Sweaty palms, and all that. “I appreciate you coming by.”

Dean takes the hint and stands up. He holds out a hand for Milton to shake. “Yeah, any time.” Expect it’s not  any time, it’s just this one time, and Dean is internally kicking himself already.

Cas wordlessly takes his hand and gives him an efficient, businesslike shake. His eyes rove over Dean’s face.

“Take care, Dean,” he says, and only a few seconds later Dean’s passing by the cool glint of the motorcycle so he can unlock the Impala. Through the windshield, he can make out Cas—Milton—surveying the piles of paper on his desk, looking a little woebegone. But Dean doesn’t want to be caught looking so he palms the key into the ignition and slides away.

**

“…So we’ll be looking at temperatures in the high seventies for tomorrow and the day after. If you have any plans on Saturday, though, keep in mind we have possible rain showers throughout the day.” Dean waves his hand over the green screen so viewers can see the green and yellow colored spots blipping in from the west on the radar. “Look for those to start in the early morning hours. As for tonight, though, perfect night for stargazing. As always, have an awesome night, and I’ll send you back over to Lisa.”

Dean’s cheesy white smile grows smaller and more realistic as soon as Ash isn’t filming anymore. He lets out a yawn into his fist. The day today seemed awfully long, but maybe because it’s one of those days where he stepped out of the routine, did something different, like driving a half hour out of his way to beg that hot pilot for a name. Obviously a waste of time, unless Dean’s gonna count getting his name—Cas Milton—as something worth being put in the success column.

He hears a ripple of laughter from the news desk and wanders over to see what Lisa and Newbie are closing up with. Now that all the serious news pieces have been covered, maybe they have time for some fluff pieces.

“Some curious viewers have reached out to Channel Twelve to crack the case—who is this mysterious DW?” On the monitors, to Dean’s chagrin, is a blurry cellphone shot of the first message, from three days before. “We at Channel Twelve are just as curious. This one appears to say, DW loves Taylor Swift. Nothing to be ashamed of!” There’s some off-set tittering, probably because for a brief moment the monitors had flashed to a picture of the most recent sky message before hastily pulling it.

“No, not at all,” Newbie agrees. “She’s got some catchy tunes. I’m sure these messages are all in good fun and, for the record, sky writing can be used for any old message, to any one besides this DW!” He winks to the camera.

“That’s right,” Lisa says. “And it’s definitely something that we’ve been getting used to waking up to. We may not have seen very much of it in the skies above Topeka, but there’s a new business in town called Milton Skywriting, and if it’s worth a few thousand dollars to you—”

Dean leaves, suddenly feeling too impatient to listen all the way through. Of course this lame story about sky graffiti would make it onto the local news. But of course he has no reason to be upset about it, anyways. He’s honestly surprised, looking back, that he had jumped into the car and driven over to Milton’s in the first place. Such a spontaneous action, especially when those messages had absolutely nothing to do with him.

**

The day dawns golden and warm and wonderfully, blessedly, silent. Dean cinches on his bathrobe and wanders downstairs. Brews some coffee. There’s a part of his brain focused on outside, on the possibilities written in smoke against the open slate of blue sky, but he refuses to look.

Finally, he can’t resist the tempation anymore. He practically flings open the front door. He glowers at the empty patch of sky.

“Nothing to see here, folks,” he mutters.

But then, an hour later, when he’s finally tackling the lawn, he’s mowing a circle around the  trunk of a tree and happens to look up and—

Well.

HV A ‘AWESUM’ DAY!

There it is, and he’s looked up just in time to see Milton dot the exclamation point with what feels like unneeded flourish. He watches the plane do a lazy spin and slowly accelerate away. Imagines Milton in there—imagines that fully sized human in the tiny speck of plane far above him—and his stomach knots uncertaintly. Dean looks back at the message instead.

The spelling is just atrocious. But it has nothing to do with him—with DW, rather. He looks away. He looks back. That’s weird about the quotation marks, though.

But really, he should be feeling nothing but relief. By the time he’s finished mowing the lawn, only the exclamation point remains.

**

Well, maybe he spoke too soon.

“And we’ll be seeing some scattered rain showers starting in the early AM hours,” Dean finishes. He turns to face to the camera. “As always, have an awesome…”  Something clogs his throat. He coughs. He feels his face turn red. “Ahem. Back to you guys.”

The camera stays fixed.

“What was that, Dean?” Lisa calls, all innocence.

“Have an awesome night,” Dean grits out, smiling. “Now back to you.”

He hears Lisa start talking. “Goddamnit.”

Later, Anna will call him into the office to discuss cursing during live broadcast. Specifically, audibly cursing while still micced up. He has to sign and initial some forms reminding him of appropriate language on-air. He hopes Anna doesn’t look too closely at the letters inked alongside the date. DW. Over and over again.

**

Saturday morning is the best day Dean could have hoped for. It’s wet and miserable outside. The sky is scabbed over with dark gray clouds. It’s a miracle.

Dean gets up and dresses and drives directly over to Milton Skywriting. He isn’t sure if Milton has Saturday hours, so he’s pleased to see the curves of the black motorcycle parked directly in front of the door.

Milton’s engrossed with paperwork when Dean enters, and when he looks up he doesn’t exactly look surprised to see him.

“Hi, Dean,” he says, watching with a bemused expression as Dean clears the chair off where he sat yesterday; it’s already repopulated with paper. Dean goes to lay a thick sheaf of files on Milton’s already overfilled desk and risks a look into his face. He’s immediately caught out—Milton, like last time, is giving him a laser-beam focus—but Dean’s able to play it off by thusting his fingertip right next to the guy’s bristly cheek.

“Got a mark, there,” he says helpfully.

“Oh,” Milton says, absently rubbing his jaw.

“Pen, or something,” Dean says. He mimes where it’s scrawled on his own cheek.

“Okay,” Milton says, but he doesn’t do anything to remove it. He’s got bags under his eyes, Dean sees, and endearing crinkle fanning away from them the corners of his eyes. He looks like he could use a cup of Dean’s special home brewed coffee. Dean decides not to mention that.

“So I’m, like, one hundred percent positive that those sky messages are about me,” Dean says, kicking back in the chair across fro mMilton.

“You are, are you?”

Dean nods. “Have an awesome—day. You know who says that? Me. It’s like my catchphrase. I say it on TV every night, 365 days a year. It’s kind of hard to miss.”

Milton clasps his hands together over his desk. “All right,” he says seriously. “I take your point.”

“Thank you,” Dean says, vindicated. “So where do we go from here?”

Milton looks faintly alarmed. “Nowhere. I take your point—you say that a lot. So do plenty of other people.”

“Oh, come off it,” Dean says. “I know what’s happening here. I’m the local weatherman, right? People, like, already subliminially associate me with the sky, and sooner or later people are gonna put two and two together and realize that—”

“That Dean Winchester likes purple nurples?” Milton says drily.

“This is—this is someone coming after me. Someone hired you to—to write slander over Topeka—”

Milton holds up a hand and, at that moment, a telephone starts ringing. Dean falls silent. They both look around, perplexed, as to where phone might even be before Milton unearths from next to the computer monitor.

“Hello?” Milton’s voice is equally perplexed, like he’s not used to answering phones in his own office. Maybe he’s not. So it’s kind of nice to see Milton turn over one of the papers on his desk and start scribbling there with a little nib of a pencil, murmuring things like, “Each letter takes a few gallons of gas, so the length of the message affects the price,” and “I can call you back with a quote.”

When Milton hangs up the phone, he looks faintly flushed. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m—that was a customer.”

“Yeah,” Dean says. “I can tell.”

Milton picks up his scrawled note and tucks it into the breast pocket of his flight suit. He does it very carefully, precisely folding it away. It reminds Dean of the way his mom, Mary, carefully hung the first dollar she made in a glass picture frame by the register at her café in Lawrence.

“Big sale?” Dean asks.

“My first real customer,” Cas says. “If they like the quote I give them. They want me to fly over Golden Giants’ games later in the spring. ‘Prewitt Cooling,’” he says, even giving Dean the benefit of air quotes with his fingers.

“Yeah,” Dean says. “Sure. Nothing like a hot day at the ballpark to remind you that you need some icy AC back home.”

Cas—and he is Cas, now, with the boyish, excited flush in his cheeks—nods his head in agreement. “The, um, other messages I’ve been doing have helped to drum up some interest. Hopefully some business, too.”

“Hang on,” Dean says. “What did you mean before about your first real customer? What, have these other messages just been for fun?”

Cas carefully schools his smile away. In its place, his eyebrows knit together in a frown. “Nothing. It was just a figure of speech.”

Dean sighs and leans back in his chair.

“This is ridiculous. Fine, don’t tell me the name, but someone’s out there just taking the mickey out of my name, my reputation,  just because they can, just because it’s fun, just because—”

He stops. Two thoughts abruptly clunk together. “Oh. I see,” he says suddenly.

“See what?” Cas sounds apprehensive.

“It’s a prank. Oh, I see now! It’s someone at the station, isn’t it?” Dean says. Cas continues to stare at him. “You see, we always do these prank wars at the station for April Fools’—seeing what we can get away with on-air. That’s why you’ve had such a stick up your ass about telling me, isn’t it? And of course everybody’s been acting like they haven’t even noticed it. Hardly even mentioned the skywriting! It’s been making me so paranoid…”

He stops. Cas looks caught out but he still doesn’t say anything, just looks across his desk at Dean. “Now I just have to figure out who it is. Everybody can’t be in on it, can they? That would just be unfair. And there’s still a few weeks to go before April Fools’. Someone must be starting early.” He narrows his eyes at Cas. “And you can’t even give me a hint, can you?”

Cas shakes his head. “I’m really not at liberty to say,” he says.

“Well, I’ll just have to figure out a way to turn this around in  my favor,” Dean says. “It’s rainy the next few days, you know. You’re not going to be writing anything in the blue yonder anytime soon.”

“Yes,” Cas agrees solemnly.

“Well, thanks for helping me out, man,” Dean says, standing up. “They really almost got me this time.” He shakes his head.

Cas stands up, too. “Have an awesome day,” he deadpans, a ghost of a smile playing at the corners of his lips.

“Hey!” Dean says, waving a finger at him. “Don’t get cheeky with that.”

They grin at each other before Dean leaves with a jangle of keys.

**

The next few days, like Dean forecasted, are dreary and drizzy. He spends a lot of time indoors watching Netflix. When he goes into work every afternoon he tries to act the same as before—vaguely wary, suspicious—so people don’t know that he knows.

What exactly does Dean know? The shine of victory’s worn off a little bit; he was mostly just excited he got one over on Cas. He knows that someone from the station is paying the big bucks to write messages that vaguely implicate Dean over Topeka. He knows that the person is managing to get those messages some live airtime just to make Dean squirm. As for the end result, he doesn’t know. Surely the person has more messages planned in a lead-up to April Fools’. They’re probably even similarly vaguely embarrassing, in that they’re things Dean doesn’t necessarily want viewers to find out about. So how does Dean get in front of the situation? Start singing Taylor Swift and wearing women’s lingerie onscreen, just to show he isn’t fazed by any of it?

He’ll have to think more on that. In the meantime, he considers his list of suspects. Benny has a flair for the dramatic, but he and Benny had been making plans to really get Bartholomew this year—they’re sick of that smug face—and he’d be surprised if Benny doublecrossed him like that. He can’t put anything past Linda, the other morning co-anchor, because she plenty of dirt on him, but to his knowledge she’s saving her money to send her prodigy musical son to Juilliard. Writing letters in the sky isn’t practical, money-wise. There’s Anna, and Newbie, the reporters and camerapeople—there’s Lisa, who he’s told people before, plays both of the field, managing to always be involved in the station’s pranks without ever managing to be the butt of one of them.

When Dean’s woken on Monday morning by the sun practically poking his eye through the blinds, he knows he’s in for something. He shrugs into his bathrobe and stomps down the stairs and throws open the door, ready to face today’s message head-on. He’s ready for it. Bring it on.

Today’s message reads,

DW HAS FRECKLES

Dean reads it again, carefully, seeing if there’s some space or letter he’s missing, some message he’s not getting. But no. It’s just a statement of fact. Dean Winchester does, indeed, have freckles.

Dean goes back indoors and starts the coffee and then goes to the door to peer at it again. The DW has gotten smeared but it’s still pretty readable.

Dean pours his coffee into a thermos. Time to make another trip to the other side of town.

**

Cas is scribbling something on the back of a Post-It when Dean walks in. How Cas will find that Post-It amonst the four or five other ones littered across his desk—skytyping need 4other  pls./pilots afford? and a silly doodle of a smiling plane and 15 letters max/aerial banner option 15+—Dean doesn’t know, and doesn’t ask.

He takes the time to look around Cas’s office. It could benefit from a plant, maybe some magazines. There are some glossy brochures that weren’t there the last time Dean came around—two morning ago?—and Dean snags one to flip through. His heart makes a funny flip, too, when he opens the brochure and sees the picture taking up the middle pane—Cas leaning on the wing of his plane, his flight suit pulled taut against his body by the wind. His smile is small but earnest.

Dean finally tears his gaze away and refocuses it on Cas, who seems to be making a concentrated effort not to return his look. His head is down, angled over the desk, but Dean can see the bridge of his nose is turning a little red.

“You have to know why I’m here,” Dean observes. Cas doesn’t say anything so Dean leans over the desk.

“Your mysterious benefactor has really been digging up the dirt on me,” Dean says. “So I have to ask—freckles? Is that supposed to be a surprise?”

“I don’t know,” Cas grumbles. “I’ll make sure to ask—the person.” He puts his pen down. “And,” he adds, too late, “There’s nothing to prove that these messages have anything to do with you.”

“Sure, Cas,” Dean says easily. He snags the pen from Cas’s lax grasp. “If I can find an unwritten Post-It somewhere, I’ll give you some more dirt on  me. We’re talking height, weight, the really juicy details.”

Cas isn’t giving as good as he gets today. He seems a little wary. He watches Dean root around in his paper mountain for a little bit and finally says,

“Do you want to get out of here?”

Dean’s eyebrows climb in altitude. “What?”

“It’s—it’s lunch time,” Cas says, a bit sternly, like Dean was questioning it. “I was going to put the sign up anyway and go grab something to eat. Do you want to come or not.” He says it flatly; it’s not a question.  Despite the lack of enthusiasm, Dean knows it’s an invitation.

“Yeah, okay,” Dean says. “Whatever makes you happy.” He realizes he still has the brochure clenched in his left fist. Cas seems to realize it at the same time.

 “You can keep that one. Then I can have 39 of them instead of 40.” Easy, like he doesn’t care either way.

“Sure,” Dean says, like it’s no big deal, and folds it away into his pocket.

They take the Impala to lunch since the motorcycle and two grown men seems impractical. Dean tries to remember spots around here he’s gone to meet Sam for lunch while trying to make it seem that he normally has cute pilots sitting copilot, ones with crappy conversational skills and a perpetual smell of ozone and exhaust. He taps his fingers on the steering wheel to the tune of his Zep tape, working out nervous energy.

They end up at a café a ten minute drive away, more of a brunch spot, reminding him of Mary’s place back in Lawrence. He tells Cas about it after they order.

“I swear you can’t find a place with French toast anywhere else in Lawrence—in Kansas, for that matter. They always have cream cheese and some kind of seasonal fruit in there. They’re—” he kisses his fingers for emphasis.

“Those sound good,” Cas says. “Maybe we should have gone there.”

“It’s not that far, all things considered,” Dean says. “Could be a date trip—day trip, I mean.”

Cas smiles and looks down at his water. Dean considers running out of the restaurant.

“Your mom’s café,” Cas says after a few moments. “Does she do omelets?” He tilts his head. “I’m more of a savory person myself.”

Dean appreciates being bailed out of his self-served humilation. “Oh, does she ever,” he says, and starts in on the mix and match omelet options. Cas makes an approving noise every time Dean names an ingredient he’s partial to.

“And you dad, what does he do at the cafe?” Cas asks.

Dean makes a sour face. “He does nothing,” he says. “My mom didn’t even open the place until after she left him. Not too much of a stand-up guy, him. Mostly watched from the stands while my mom helped Sammy and me through college.”

“And you became a meteorologist,” Cas says. “and Sam…?”

“Sammy,” Dean says cheerfully. “Sammy became a lawyer. Works at one of the best firms in Topeka. Gaurentee he won’t be around for long. He’s got bigger fish to fry.”

“That’s great,” Cas says. “You’re both doing very well for yourselves.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, and rubs the back of his neck. Cas has a way of making a statement of fact morph into a glowing compliment. He gestures at Cas. “Enough about me. What got you into the sky-scrawling business?”

Cas looks uncomfortable. He doesn’t like to talk about himself, or talk himself up, Dean can tell. “There was an…opening,” he hedged. “I took it. And now I’m kind of making it up as I go.”

Dean smiles at the waitress as their food gets placed in front of them. “An opening? Come on, dude, you gotta give me more than that. It’s not like I’ve got tons of information on the professional skywriting field.”

Cas grimaces, plucking at a seam in his flight suit. “Well, I got my pilot’s license. Didn’t really enjoy working for the airlines. Glorified chauffering, ferrying people from place to place. I saved up for my own.” A look of pride passes over his face. “She’s a ’54 de Havilland Chipmunk. She’s beautiful.”

Dean glances out the window at the Impala. “I know the feeling.”

“I bought her from a couple who professionally skywrote. They were retiring, and there’s not very many companies that do it anymore. They were kind of leaving the entire Midwest completely up for grabs. I’ve been modifying the Havilland’s smoke oil system to be more competitive—be able to write longer messages, and so forth. And I taught myself.”

“You taught yourself what?” Dean says.

“Skywriting,” Cas says mildly. “It’s not like there’s a place you can go that will show you how. So I taught myself.”

“But how?” Dean asks, who’s so truly interested he hasn’t even taken a bite of his meal yet.

“Practice,” Cas says simply. And when Dean pulls a face at him he elaborates, “Lots of flying in the middle of nowhere. It’s a very precise technique. It depends a lot on the weather.” He gestures at Dean. “Wind. Time of day. Length of the message. By the time I felt prepared, a lot of the couple’s former customers hadn’t exactly stuck around. I have to build up my own base. Hopefully I’ve been catching eyes in Topeka, but hopefully I’ll also start catching eyes elsewhere. Other cities, other states. I can only hope.”

“Wow,” Dean says. “You’ve put a lot of work into this.”

“Yes, well, that’s why I appreciated your compliments the other day,” Cas says. When Dean looks confused Cas gives a soft huff. “You told me it was legible,” Cas says. “It’s the only feedback I’ve gotten.”

“It’s good, Cas,” Dean says. Cas shrugs his shoulders in embarrassment but Dean presses on. “That’s what I meant. It’s really good.”

**

“You’re in a good mood,” Lisa observes, as Dean sends the six o’clock news segment back her way.  

“Yeah,” Newbie says. “You’re in too good of a mood, if you ask me.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Dean says. “Maybe I had my daily vitamins today.”

“Does he seem peppy to you?” Lisa says. Dean assumes it’s a rhetorical question, but then she turns to Newbie. “You seeing this? Have any idea what it’s about?”

Newbie carefully scrutizines him. “Hmm,” he says. “Yeah, you’re looking pretty sprightly there, Winchester.”

“Thanks,” Dean says. “What can I say? Sometimes everything just turns up Dean.” He smiles winningly to the camera.

They take up their closing comments. Dean looks back over his evening report and starts smiling. The next three days are sunny and clear.

**

Turns out Dean’s routine can be cracked as easy as an eggshell. Each morning comes with a different annoucement, written across the sky like it was written by the hand of God. That is, if God felt it necessary to inform the world, or at least the wider Topeka area,

DW IS KIND

DW ♥ CLASSIC ♫

DW MAKES ME LAUGH

The last one gives Dean a strange twist in the stomach. Cas is the one who writes these messages, he knows, in his beloved Chipmunk or whatever, and from here on earth it looks so effortless, like ballroom dancing, the way Cas pivots across air.

But the mysterious messenger, this “me,” had never been mentioned before. Dean wonders who it is. Dean wonders at this turn from the the impersonal relation of Dean’s personal details to this.

The drive over to Cas’s office becomes more and more of a necessity. Sure, Cas is a little surly in the morning, even after his early flight. He seems a bit taciturn, even avoidant of Dean. But eventually he’ll cave.

“So now this person from the station is…flirting with me,” Dean says. “Didn’t seem like that at first, but now…” He shrugs. “I just can’t see the angle, to be honest. Either someone at the station does like me, or they’re pretending to.”

Cas doesn’t seem to be a fan of the conversation. He shifts in his chair. “Yeah, maybe,” he says. “Or maybe they’re…something else.”

“Something else?” Dean says. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Cas shakes his head. “Just that  you, you know, still seem to think this is all part of a prank. That the messages aren’t more honest than that. Something else.”

“Well, you’re still getting paid for it, aren’t you?” Dean says. He’s surprised to find a tinge of nastiness in his voice where there wasn’t before. Cas looks taken aback. “Aren’t you?” Dean persists.

“Yes,” Cas says. “That’s how it started.” His eyebrows hang low like thunderclouds. Dean ends up leaving early that day.

The next time Dean shows up, he doesn’t bring up the mystery prankster at all. He decides to steer clear of that completely.

“How come your messages are so legible all of the sudden?” Dean says, after he’s finished making a paper airplane out of one of Cas’s miscellaneous business reports and flying it into Cas’s left ear. “More legible, I mean.”

Cas looks up, half annoyed, half pleased. “I perfected my smoke oil system,” he says. “I can write up to twenty five characters now.”

“Wow,” Dean says. “That’s really impressive. Congrats.”

“Thank you,” Cas says seriously. And then, “Do you think I should take on this new client? It’s for Richard Roman’s new  car lot, but it means writing TAKE A LOOK AT DICK over the Topeka skyline.”

“Um, yes,” Dean says. “You should most definitely take on that new client.”

The days are cloudy over the next week  and a half, late in March. There are no new messages, but Dean stops  in anyhow.

He starts to learn things about Cas—it’s not easy to, either. Not that Cas is a secretive person, but he’s not very share-oriented, either. Give Dean an opening and he’ll talk to you about his favorite Kansas City Royals players of the last fifteen years. Cas, though, not so open.

He knows Cas is one of several siblings. Originally by way of Boston.

He knows Cas’s mind is just as scattered and unorganized as his desk, because besides the notes concerning business he’ll often find papering Cas’s office he’ll also find doodles, grocery lists, scraps of song.

He knows that Cas doesn’t have a significant other, because when he asked Cas flushed red and started stuttering about the Havilland’s fuselage.

He knows Cas is a pretty quietly confident guy over all, but for some reason, in the face of Dean’s juvenile attempts at flirting with him, that confidence scatters fast enough to take Dean with it.

Take this afternoon, for instance.

“That a new pilot onesie?” Dean asks, when he enters the office and finding that Cas still hasn’t bothered to change out of his flight suit; he’s wearing navy from the waist up.  

Cas gaves Dean a narrow-eyed look. “It’s not a onesie.”

“Whatever it is, really shows off those baby blues,” Dean says. “Looking good, Cas.”

Cas give him a quick side-eye and rubs the back of his neck. “Thank you.”

“If you don’t have any flybys today, maybe it would make a good day to drive out to Lawrence,” Dean says. “You know. For that date trip we talked about.”

Cas takes in a long breath that keeps on going and he stares up at Dean with such an unsure, panicked expression that Dean feels bad for even bringing it up.

“Or not,” Dean says, trying to sound unaffected.

“No, no, I mean, yes,” Cas says. “But not yet. There’s something I’ve been wanting to do—you’ll see.The timing isn’t right yet. Soon. I had a plan.”

“Soon,” Dean repeats. “Yeah, sure. Whatever makes you  happy.” He can’t help but deflate a bit. He’s been practicing that coolly unaffected, just-came-to-mind “date trip” line for a week straight. Cas reaches a fist across the desk and pulls Dean’s fingers into  his grasp, quickly, like he doesn’t want to overthink it. His hand warm and broad around Dean’s.

“I promise,” he says. His grip loosens but Dean’s holding hands with the guy now, so there’s so way he’s letting go now. Cas uncertaintly shoves some papers into a file, one-handed. He powers up his laptop. He bends over to retrieve a business card from the floor and Dean admires the lean lines of his back, his shoulders, in that new navy temptation straight out of Dean’s dreams. Cas’s ears are a little red, but eventually he relaxes. His shouulders drop.

“There,” Dean says, in satisfaction. “That’s not so hard, is it? You act like you’ve never held a guy’s hand before.”

“Not really,” Cas admits. “Not often.” At Dean’s expression he says, “I’ve been busy!”

“Dude, I don’t know where a guy like you gets off,” Dean says. “Smoking hot pilot, small business owner, motorcyclist—and you’ve just been keeping those hands to yourself all these years? Practically criminal.”

“Maybe I just need practice,” Cas says, a little stilted. In a surprisingly G-rated turn of events since Dean walked in and saw the navy flightsuit—since Dean walked in weeks ago, and called him Milton—they do just that. Practice. Dean’s palm against Cas’s, their skin clammy and slightly sticky where it touches. Dean reads through some emails on his phone. Cas punches something into a small calculator. Dean’s fine with it. That’s all he needs, that little point of contact with Cas, in order to feel content. Judging by the small smile on Cas’s face, Cas feels the same.

**

In the last few days of March Dean has his routine upended again by Cas, who says he’s tired of his messy office, and tired of meeting Dean in his aforesaid messy office. He asks if Dean has any interest in seeing his Havilland.

It’s not a day to write home about—overcast, a bit cold—so it’s not a day for any sky-writing, etiher. Dean isn’t really sure what to expect so he invites Sam along.

“Who’s this guy again?” Sam asks on the drive over. “I didn’t know you had any friends named Cas.”

“Only met him recently,” Dean says. “You’ll like him, I promise.”

Sam’s been so tied up with work that he’s been too busy to watch Dean report the weather, too busy to watch the news. Not to mention he’s up before dawn and he doesn’t get back after night. Dean’s rather pleased that his brother is entirely clueless to the DW mystery, and plans to keep it that way.

The Havilland is kept at an airstrip hidden in the  miles and miles of fields that surround it. When Dean gets there he drops Cas’s name and gets access to drive back to the hangar. Cas is standing on the wing, wearing the navy flight suit Dean likes so much, and leaned into the cockpit inspecting something; Dean watches as Cas shades his eyes—even with the overcast day, the silvery plane reflects the light—smiles at them, and easily slithers down to the ground.

“Wow,” Sam says, sounding impressed.

“Sammy, meet Cas,” Dean says, as Sam clasps Cas’s hand with a warm expression. And then, “Baby, meet Cas’s Baby.” He gestures between the Impala and the Havilland.

“I hope they get along,” Sam mock-whispers to Cas, rolling his eyes at Dean.

“I’m sure they will,” Cas says. He’s got his aviators on, but Dean can still his his laugh lines. “After all, there’s no competition.” He pats the wing of the Havilland smugly.

Dean snorts. “Yeah, okay,” he says. “My Baby’s a well-known American classic, not a tin can with wings that some Canadians named after a squirrel.”

Cas cocks his head. “This flying tin can was winning dog fights over the Pacific before your Baby was even on a drawing board.”

“Well, age before beauty,” Dean says, gesturing at the plane. “Have you managed to buff out all the bullet holes yet?”

“How  many years does it take before the Impala can hit sixty miles per hour?” Cas snipes back.

Dean opens his mouth for a hot retort but Sam waves his hands, groaning.

“Guys, guys,” he says. “Do I need to separate you two? Jesus.”

Cas laughs. “Sorry…guess we’re both a little protective.” He looks between the  brothers. “So. Anyone up for a ride?”

Dean immediately dives behind the closest seven foot body shield, also known as “Sammy.”

“Dean?”

“What are you doing?” Sam asks, trying to turn around, but Dean pushes him forward.

“Sam would love to go on a ride,” Dean says. “Wouldn’t you, Sammy?”

“I mean, I’d love to,” he says. “But don’t you want to—?”

“I’ll wait here,” Dean says. “No worries. Go on, then. I’ll just be right here.”

Sam rolls his eyes. “Still scared of flying, I see.” Past him, Cas is looking at Dean with narrow-eyed thoughtfulness. When Dean meets his eyes, Cas’s face softens.

“You don’t have to, Dean,” Cas says. “It’s just an offer.” Dean just grimace-smiles back, uneasy.

Cas prepares for the flight while Dean stews. He wishes he could be braver. He feels bad, worried that Cas is disappointed. He was probably eager to share his Baby with Dean, especially since it’s kind of the reason they met in the first place. Cas’s pride in the Havilland is bright enough to blind, and Dean doesn’t want to do anything to puncture that. But he also doesn’t want to do anything that’ll put his feet and the ground farther than two feet away from each other.

By the time Cas steers the Havilland do the airstrip, Dean feels like a real chump. He perches on the hood of the Impala and watches as Sam, loose-limbed and boyishly excited, clambers up the wing and slides feet-first into the seat behind Cas’s. Somehow he pretzels himself in there; his knees are probably knocking into his chin. He hooks a headset over his ears and then looks out through the window at Dean and gives him a cheesy thumbs-up. Dean weakly returns it.

Cas, whose been clearing the flight in the office, comes jogging down the airstrip. He salutes Dean briefly and then he gracefully leaps into the cockpit. Dean watches as he adjusts his headset and says something into the the mic; whatever he says makes Sam laugh. Then the engines are kicking on, loud enough to drown out all other noise, and the Havilland slowly moves forward, gathering speed, until its wheels leap from the ground and, with a blast of wind, it races past Dean and up into the sky.

Dean perches his elbows on his knees and watches. The plane drifts away, small as a pin in the sky. It makes a lazy loop, up and around,  that makes Dean, even on the ground, queasy. He can imagine Cas, relaxed, confident, shouting facts about the Havilland through the headset as he eases the plane the clouds, wings cutting through like butter. He can imagine Sam whooping in excitement as the plane lists sideways on a steep curve. The only thing he can’t imagine is himself in exactly that same position.

Sam’s hair is a wind-mussed tangle when he leaps out of the Havilland after touchdown.

“Dude!” he calls to Dean. “That was amazing. You can see all of Topeka from up there! You can see clear to Lawrence.”

“Hey, yeah, that’s great,” Dean says. He sees Cas coming up just behind his brother and holds up a finger. “Wait just a second, will you?” To Cas, he says, “Can I talk to you for a second? In private?”

Cas nods and lets Dean take the lead. They walk a few paces beyond Sam before Dean wheels around to face him.

“What’s up?” Cas asks.

“I guess I just—just wanted to say. Thanks. For inviting me out here, and taking Sam for a ride. I probably should have told you that I’m just, you know. Not  a fan of flying. That’s putting it mildly—it scares the shit out of me. Sorry for the wasted trip.”

Cas looks affronted. “It’s not a wasted trip.”

“Okay, sure,” Dean says, frustrated.

“Dean,” Cas says. “It’s not a big deal, I just wanted to—”

“It is a big deal, though. You wanted to share something with  me and I just, I can’t do it. And it’s such a huge part of your life and I, I just can’t be a part of it. You know what, never mind. I’m not making sense.”

Cas catches his arm. “Don’t say that, Dean. I get it, and you’re wrong. You’re not not a part of my life because of this.”

“It’s stupid,” Dean says.

“It’s not.”

“If there was a way for me to get over it—”

“You don’t need to get over anything.”

“I’ll sit in the thing, okay? Let me just sit in the goddamn thing. I can do that much, at least.”

Cas’s hands hold fast in his sleeve. “Hey—”

“It’ll make you happy, won’t it?” Dean says. Cas’s jaw hardens.

“You say that a lot,” he says. “I don’t especially care if it makes me happy.”

Dean doesn’t back down, just keeps looking at him, until Cas relents and jerks his head in the direction of the plane. Sam watches them go by with a bemused expression on his face. Cas clambers up first and reaches down a hand, which Dean takes before he can overthink it. Takes a steadying  suck of air. Drops down into the bucket seat behind Cas’s. It smells old, like vinyl and oil. They’re not even moving but Dean’s breathing fast all the same. The plane creaks as Cas climbs in.

“Are you all right?” Cas asks in a low voice.

“Peachy,” Dean says. Cas doesn’t say anything else, but after a second he sticks his hand back, over his shoulder, and Dean grabs it. He knows his palms are sweaty as hell.

After an interminable time of staring at his knees, clutching onto Cas like a lifeline, Dean lets out a long sigh. He looks around. He’s sitting low enough that he can’t even see the airstrip, or Sammy, or the surrounding fields. In front of him there’s Cas’s seat and the back of his head, hair teased into cowlicks by the wind. He cranes his head to see gauges and gizmos and the control stick arrayed in front of Cas.

“Okay,” he says, hand flexing in Cas’s. “That’s, uh, that’s not too bad. What would happen next?”

Cas turns his head so Dean can hear him. The corner of his mouth has a slight lift to it. “You’d put your seatbelt on, of course. And besides that, you’d do nothing.”

“Smart ass.”

“The engines would come on. So it’s loud, incredibly so, and the seat is vibrating beneath you. I would advance the throttle forward,” Cas says. “Nice and easy. And I’d use the rudder pedals to keep us on a straight course on the runway. We’d start to accelerate. I’d adjust the yoke at a gradual angle so the nose is pointing at the horizon.” His hand glides over the controls in front of him, mimicking what he’d be doing. “You might feel a slight lurch, and then—liftoff. The wheels come up. We’re flying.”

Dean leans back in the seat. Reclined like this, just seeing the gray clouds through the windows around him, he can pretend that’s where they are. Him and Cas and the wide open sky.

When they come out of the plane, Sam has a knowing look on his face. He falls into step with them. “What was that all about?”

Dean remembers the steady, warm assurance of Cas’s hand.

“Practice,” he says.

**

DW IS SMART

DW IS BRAVE

DW HAS AN INNER LIGHT

 “Say, Dean,” Benny mentions in passing. “You know this DW craze over Topeka? You don’t think that’s about you, do you?”

“Hell if I know,” Dean says, smiling broadly. “But I wouldn’t exactly be complaining if I was.”

Benny mulls over that for a moment. “So you do wear women’s underwear, is what you’re saying.”

“You know what, on second thought, it’s definitely not about me,” Dean says loudly.

Dean’s definitely been on cloud nine, so to speak, which is why when he drives up to Cas’s office on April Fools’ and sees a familiar car parked there next to Cas’s motorcycle, in what he’s come to think of as his spot, he’s just confused, at first.

Things start sliding into place for Dean as soon as he recognizes the figure sitting with Cas in the office, laughing at something. It’s Newbie. And it’s April Fools’. And Dean’s still at the butt of the joke, he can tell.

**

Then

Newbie had immediately been taken under Benny and Dean’s paternal wings.

“First of all, why are you wearing pants?” Benny questioned.

“Um, I’m pretty sure that’s just standard procedure,” Newbie quipped.

“Right. Well I don’t know how you did it at Channel Six, but around here we have a rule. It goes—no view? No pants.”

“No view, no pants,” Newbie repeated.

“You and Benny both get to give the news behind desks,” Dean supplied. “You know, only the top half showing. So whatever’s beneath—well, you can freeball it.”

“I’m not sure my co-anchor would feel comfortable with that,” Newbie said.

“Oh, I’m great with it!” Lisa called from the other end of the room.

“Great,” Newbie said, his hands on his hips. “She says she’s great with it.”

**

“So it’s a bit of a stormy April Fools’ overall, but hopefully today will still be plenty of fun,” Dean summarized. “As always, have an awesome night. Back to you.”

“Hey, thanks, Dean,” Lisa said sunnily.

Newbie squinted at the teleprompter. “Yes, thanks. And now we’re going to head over to Dean Winchester with an update on the weather.”

There was an awkward silence. “No, man, I just gave the weather,” Dean said.

Newbie’s face was red by then. “Yeah, I’m sorry, teleprompter glitch,” he said. His eyes scanned over its screen and he sat up a little straighter, licking his lips. “This is a breaking news story,” he said. “This just in: We have multiple reports of a, quote, little man breaking into homes on the North side. Authorities have been notified by several homeowners who claim that the suspect has been caught entering their childrens’ rooms by their windows. The suspect has been described as carrying a sack filled with children’s teeth and little wings—” Newbie cut off, realizing that Lisa was shaking with silent laughter next to him. “I’m describing the tooth fairy, aren’t I.”

Those backstage burst out laughing. Newbie begrudgingly smiled as well.

“Yeah, you really got me,” he said.

“Sorry, Newbie,” Dean said. “April Fools’ Day, you had to know something was coming.” As he spoke, he came over from the green screen, trailing a cameraman behind him. Newbie scrambled to roll his chair away.

“No, wait,” he said. “Dude, what happened to no view?”

Dean took pity on him, turning to block the camera. Benny came to stand next to him, wearing a button-up and Superman boxers. “Well there you have it. Happy April Fools’ Day, from all of us at Channel Twelve.” The closing theme played. There was laughter and applause backstage.

Newbie, who was practically under the desk at that point, stuck his head over the edge. He was giving Dean a speculative look.

Dean stuck out his hand for Newbie to shake. “All in good fun, man.”

Newbie slowly took his hand. “No hard feelings. You guys are pretty into this, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, well, it’s a tradition that predates me,” Dean said. “Benny and I normally try to get each other. Lisa plays both sides. You in?”

Newbie gave a beatific smile. “Oh, pranks?” he said. “I like to dabble.”

**

Now

Dean doesn’t really want to go into work, but he also doesn’t want to be a baby about it, so in he goes. He hasn’t seen or talked to Cas all day, not that he should expect to. After all, he’s pretty sure by now that Cas was more in on this charade than he originally anticipated. Maybe the prank had less to do with the skywriting itself—although it did manage to broadcast his initials over the greater Topeka area—than the man writing it. Maybe Cas wasn’t a middleman. Maybe Cas was supposed to be Dean’s stumbling block the entire time.

By the time Dean’s at the station, he’s worked himself up into such a froth he’s sure that Cas isn’t even a pilot, the office is just a front, and Cas is really just a happily married man with three kids who was hired to make a fool out of Dean. He’s so deep in his sulking that he hardly even cracks a smile when the festivities start early with a pie in Anna’s face, then a pie in the camera’s face. He’s still trying to figure out how and when the humiliation will start.

 “You feeling all right, Dean?” Ash asks.

Newbie comes over. He sighs in a put-upon way. “Hey, Dean,” he says. “Let’s talk.”

“Hey,” Anna calls after them. “Hey, not a second longer than two minutes!”

Together they walk out into the hallway.

 “You gotta lose the long face, Winchester. I really thought I had you this time. That skywriting thing was certifiably gold, and Cas was giving me a discount, too. I had you going for the first week, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, you sure did,” Dean said. “Women’s underwear? As if, right?”

“Anyways,” Newbie says. “You figured it out pretty early on and he gave me a call. You know what happened then, Winchester?”

“What?”

“I told him to drop it. If you already knew it was someone at the station it lost all its fun. I knew you would find a way to spin it in your favor. So I scrapped the plan, and swore him to secrecy so you wouldn’t know I was planning to get you good this year.” He held up a finger. “But even though I changed my mind, I’d already paid Cassie through April Fools’. Any messages that happened after you figured it out? They were from him, not me.”

Dean’s head jerks up. “But—really? But I saw you today with him—”

 “Stop getting hung up on the day, numbnuts,” Newbie says. “All those things written about DW? Wildly erotic and forward catcalls, by my brother’s standards—yeah, that’s right. My half-brother. If you’d hung around long enough today, instead of hightailing off, we could have explained to you that sometimes brothers visit each other for reasons that have nothing to do  with you, you egomaniac. He didn’t have to air-scribble another single line, you know? Especially not about you. The plan was off. But he wanted you to keep coming around. Was hoping he would see you again.”

So maybe that’s why Cas had been so hesitant, so nervous when Dean asked him out. Maybe he was worried that Dean would misconstrue it all, like Dean already had. Maybe he was waiting until it was clear that there was no funny business, nothing behind the scenes. Maybe he wanted to make sure Dean realized that Cas liked him back all the same.

“My brother’s basically been writing love letters to you in the sky over Topeka,” Newbie says. “Do you really have to doubt his intentions?”

 “Oh,” Dean says. He can feel a dopey grin spreading over his face. He thinks of Cas, observant, patient. He thinks how only Cas could write facts about Dean—his likes and dislikes, his personality and qualities—and make them into soaring praise, works of art. “Yeah, that’s really, that’s, yeah.”

 “Consider yourself lucky, Dean,” Newbie says. “You know all the gold I’ve been saving on you since last year? But my brother got all soft-eyed on you and I chose not to use it to my own advantage. I’m a saint.”

“Yeah, thanks. Can I—”

“Yes, you can. Start by calling me my name, for one,” Gabriel says. “I don’t care if we don’t hire someone new for another five years, I will murder someone the next time I hear someone call me that.” He checks his watch and gestures to the stage door. “Okay. We need to get back. News starts in five, bet Anna’s frantic looking for us.” Dean salutes him and turns to the door, pushing it open. “And Dean, watch out for the—”

A surprising amount of liquid engulfs Dean from above—Dean, spluttering, coughs the water out of his lungs. Christ. Even his underwear is wet.

Gabriel shrugs. “Well, never mind, you found it. Get a move on!”

Dean’s squelching when he walks. The station isn’t exactly cold, but nonetheless he knows his nipples could cut bedrock. Nonetheless, he’s smiling ear to ear. Everyone backstage whooped when the bucket came pouring down over him, and a barrage of laughter and applause carries him in front of the green screen. Ash, shaking his head, trains the camera on him.

“Hi, everyone, Dean Winchester here, and believe it or not, it’s not raining tonight,” he says.  He hears Gabriel snicker as he starts gesturing towards the green screen. “It’s a beautiful evening tonight, folks. Upper sixties, might drop a few degrees overnight. As you can see, we’ve got some fog coming in during the early AM hours, but the skies now are clear.”

He sees movement out of the corner of his eye and sees Anna mouthing something slowly at him. “In fact, let’s switch over to our Channel Twelve Skycam to give you a peek.” Dean can’t see anything on his blank screen, but whatever is there, it must be beautiful, because he can hear giddy squeals from backstage.

“Aww,” Lisa says from the news desk.

“Well, if that isn’t just adorable,” Benny mutters.

Dean, confused, looks around for a monitor. Is the downtown traffic view just that lovely? Did the Skycam somehow pick up the prettiest sunset ever seen on channel news?

No. In smoke exhaust letters that have become as familiar as Cas’s own cramped scrawl, writ high on a clear blue scrape of sky:

DW LET ME MAKE U HAPPY BRUNCH?

So, yeah, basically anyone who cares to know and watches the news knows that Dean is DW now. But Dean isn’t thinking about that. He’s thinking about Cas, maybe in front of a TV somewhere, nervously awaiting Dean’s reaction to his big gesture. He’s thinking that tomorrow he’s gonna introduce Cas to his mother, he’s thinking how goddamn handsome Cas is gonna look on the other side of the café booth, he’s thinking he’s probably gonna end up leaning over his French toast, smearing whipped cream all down his front, just because he can’t wait another second to cradle Cas’s face in his hands and kiss him. Because that is what Dean wants to do whenever he’s around Cas. Because that’s what makes Dean happy.  

Dean’s aware the camera is still trained on him. Gabriel’s nudging Lisa, rolling his eyes, and everyone’s waiting with bated breath.

“You know what?” Dean says, dripping wet and grinning ear to ear. “It’s a date.”

**

One Year Later

Cas isn’t there when he wakes up. Dean’s groggy mind slowly comes to life. Cas had some early-morning job over Wichita. Or maybe it was Omaha. You couldn’t expect Dean to keep track anymore.

Dean trudges downstairs to switch the coffeepot on. The kitchen table’s a mess, because Cas is so goddamn messy. Screws of paper and dashed-off notes on the backs of any conceivable empty surface and diagrams and blueprints of plane parts that Dean never knew existed. He sighs and slowly leans over to pick up a small pile that had slid to the floor.

There’s a little drawing of a smiling airplane with a messy-haired pilot within—Cas wants Milton Skywriting to have a more personalized logo.

There’s a note that simply says PUFFS of air, written in an urgent, cramped hand.

There’s an old receipt from months before, some lunch he and Cas went to, and Dean goes to crumple it up but stops.

There’s something written on the back. The letters are small. They’re not thousands of feet high, the words are not miles long. And pencil lead is just as likely to eventually smooth out, fade away, as letters written in air. But he knows by now that the size of the words doesn’t always belie the truth of them.

DW ♥ CM

And Dean does. He really does.  

The front door opens and rattles shut again as Dean digs around for a fridge magnet. He’s just putting the receipt up when Cas comes in—that familiar smell of ozone and exhaust, his arms tight around Dean’s waist, rubbing a smile into the back of Dean’s neck.

“Morning,” Cas murmurs. “You been outside yet?”

Dean doesn’t even need to look outside to know—it’s going to be a beautiful day.

**