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Smells Like Roses

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There’s a distant beeping penetrating through Dean’s muted, languid thoughts. He’s not quite asleep, not yet awake, drifting through some kind of abstract dreamscape that leaves his entire body feeling heavy and numb. His neck burns, but it’s not entirely unpleasant. The tingling heat prickling through his spine and pooling at the base of his skull is familiar, an anesthetizing blanket that warms and soothes the slightest hint of panic swelling in his chest.

Dean moves his fingers first, nails scraping against stiff fabric that barely bends beneath them. He notices then that his mouth is unreasonably dry, almost pasty, his lips parted around slow, noiseless breaths. He can’t tell if he’s extremely hung-over or in the hospital, but years of experience with both tells him it’s probably one of the two. Either that or he’s been kidnapped and sold into the sex trade, waking up on a dirty mattress with hungry-eyed men leering over him like that Liam Neeson movie.

Even zonked out and barely clinging to reality, he can snap out a witty joke or two. Too bad Sam wasn’t hanging around in Dean’s head for that gem.

As consciousness becomes more tangible, Dean senses that at least one of his presumptions is correct. Hunting has honed a particular skill that tells him when he’s being watched, and if the prickling hairs standing at attention all over his body are anything to go on, someone is staring at him right now.

“Dean?” Someone breathes, followed by the tell-tale squeak of rubber-soled boots on linoleum. Hospital, then, unless Dean got drunk in a gymnasium somewhere. He highly doubts it, but it wouldn’t be the first time.

He licks his lips, which is much harder and tastier than it should be. His tongue is slow and thick, practically unresponsive to the commands his brain is shouting at it, but there seems to be a glossy layer of something sweet coating his lips. It feels wrong, and sticky. Dean’s worn his fair share of lip gloss, but only during his evening trysts with sexy little things that get a bit too excited over his mouth. It’s not like he’s going to refuse a kiss just because some chick is wearing fuck-me red lipstick, after all, but it’s become an old habit to clean off his face afterwards for this exact reason.

Strawberry chapstick, he thinks idly, or maybe it’s watermelon.

Someone calls for a nurse, and several bodies shuffle near him in an effort to get closer.

Definitely the hospital.

Stupid Sam must have brought him here because he’s too much of a damn wimp to fix Dean up himself. That or something really bad actually happened and he’s merely too drugged out to realize it. He lets his mind reach through the last fleeting memories he can muster - which, as expected, aren’t all that vivid or clear.

At the very least, Dean hopes his little brother ganked the damn Djinn that put him here. And, while he’s letting himself be hopeful, it would be nice if Sam didn’t tease him for needing the back-up he insisted wouldn’t be necessary.

It’s not until someone grabs his hand that Dean considers opening his eyes, and he does so with an almost violent conviction. He half expects, half hopes to see a cute nurse with some cleavage or enough lip gloss to explain the excess on his own lips, but as the blurred edges of reality sharpen and the room around him begins to take shape, it becomes readily apparent that the person holding his hand isn’t a woman.

“Dean,” the man says, awed and a little shocked, “thank God.”

The voice is familiar, deep and rough with worry. He recognizes the tone and the underlying mixture of fear and relief, but it’s off somehow; not making sense. It’s not Sammy’s voice, not Bobby’s or John’s either – not that his dad’s voice would have been comforting, considering he already took the last train to Glory a few years back – but it’s someone he knows, he’s sure of it.

Dean blinks a couple of times, letting his field of vision sharpen and narrow on the figure beside him.

He takes in the man’s features in pieces, letting them fall into place as his brain works out the puzzle.

Dark, ruffled hair. Blue eyes. Lean frame.

Hideous trench coat.

“Cas,” Dean croaks, surprised by the angel’s presence, then by the raspy sound of his own voice, “fuck’s goin’ on?”

A gaggle of people in hospital greens and blues poke and prod at him for a minute, asking him the usual mandatory questions which he rebuffs with practiced ease. One of the nurses smiles at him and assures him the doctor will be in to see him soon. Dean doesn’t say much; the less he says to these people, the better.

“Thank God,” Cas repeats, his voice wavering a bit over the vowels. He pulls his chair right up to the side of Dean’s bed and rests his arms on the guardrails, leaning over and getting right up in Dean’s business. Personal space, he wants to say, because the angel never seems to remember, but then Cas’ fingers make their way to Dean’s hair and it’s too much social awkwardness than Dean can pretend is okay.

“Whoa there, Peeta, don’t go fallin’ in love with me in the line of duty. Close enough,” Dean complains, trying futilely to sit up in the bed. He needs to investigate himself apparently, since he’s still not sure what’s going on and wants to get out of the hospital like now. Cas’ expression goes all sad-face and mopey, and Dean can’t help the flit of laughter that makes its way up his throat. Angels aren’t exactly empathetic creatures. “You gonna zap me outta here, Cas? Just heal me when we get out of here or whatever, okay?”

Then Cas is giving him a really strange look; his skin goes pale, his eyes go wide like a cartoon character blinking in the dark, and the fingers running through Dean’s hair go still and stiff.

“What?” Cas asks, more of a breath than a whisper. “What did you say?”

Growing more and more impatient by the second, Dean groans. “I said use your fucking angel mojo magic and get me the hell outta here. The fuck am I doing in a hospital anyway? Where’s Sam?”

“He’s here,” Cas says, tentatively, leaning back in his chair as his eyes narrow, “he should be here in a few minutes, I think.”

“Let’s hope he’s not as useless as you are,” Dean snaps, feeling angrier than he probably should. He squeezes his eyes tight against the setting sun beaming through the unshaded window, wishing the steadily growing pain throbbing in his skull would stop. It’s kind of amazing that he didn’t notice it before, that he didn’t wake with the sharp pulse of pain drumming against the right side of his head.

He lifts a hand on instinct, feeling for the most painful spot on his head that he can palpate with weak, ungainly effort. His body is strangely uncooperative.

Cas looks like someone slapped him across the face. He recoils at the bite of Dean’s words, folding in on himself and biting his lip. Stupid angel should really know by now that nothing Dean says is personal, but come on; Cas is just sitting there like a useless rag doll and not exactly contributing in any meaningful way.            

Then Sam walks in with heavy, thunderous steps. His eyes are a bit wild and his hair is much shorter than Dean remembers it: perhaps he cut it in an effort to look professional for this particular costume. After all, there’s only one doctor who can get away with long hair, cowboy boots, and conveniently timed make-out sessions in broom closets. Sam ain’t him.

“Hey doctor,” Dean says, more sarcastically than he intended, “if I hear you say ‘I told you so’ I’m gonna make you walk to the next case, got it?”

Sam pauses, but barely longer than a few seconds. He exchanges a wary glance with Cas, then starts in with the same crap the nurses were trying to pull. He’s poking and prodding and checking Dean’s vitals like any of it really matters, like he’s actually playing doctor rather than trying to bust them out.

“How are you feeling, Dean?” Sam asks, pulling up a chair and sitting beside the bed. He’s staring intently at Dean’s head, right at the spot where it hurts the most, and it’s starting to make Dean feel self-conscious.

And confused. Mostly confused.

“How am I – no, come on Sam, can we just go please? It’s bad enough that Cas is doing his best impression of the brainless scarecrow,” Dean says, tilting in Cas’ direction. The movement sends another jolt of pain through his skull; Dean hisses and clutches at the sides of his head, groaning at the sudden wave of nausea crawling up his throat.

“You’re not going anywhere, Dean. You had a pretty nasty fall, and quite frankly you’re lucky it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” Sam insists, scooting closer and flashing a stupid light in Dean’s eyes. Then his massive basketball hands are all over Dean’s head and that’s it.

He shoves Sam away, protecting his weakened bubble. He’s alarmed at how clumsy he feels, how dizzy and violently ill he’s sure he’s about to be.

“Take it easy, okay?” Sam scolds, holding his hands up in defense. “You woke up, and that’s huge. Big victory today, but you’re kind of talking nonsense and we gotta make sure you’re going to be alright in the long run. You need to stay calm so we can check you out, got it?”

Sam keeps eyes narrowed and steadfast on Dean’s, waiting for a reply. When he doesn’t get one, he repeats, “Got it?”

“Whatever,” Dean dismisses, falling back into his hospital bed. He opts for pretending he didn’t hear that waking up wasn’t something they thought Dean was going to do.

He’s probably injured a lot worse than he realized, especially if the lightning strikes bolting around in his brain and the wounded, puppy dog eyes on Cas’ face are anything to go by.

Shit. Maybe that’s why Cas hasn’t done anything to help. Maybe Dean’s got something not even angelic powers can cure.

That’s pretty fucking unsettling.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Sam asks, pulling a clipboard into his lap and clicking the heel of the pen. Dean might be dying of some kind of supernatural disease, but he still doesn’t get why Sam is playing the role of doctor so seriously.

“Not much,” Dean admits, scratching absently at the back of his neck, “Djinn came outta nowhere, knocked the damn blade outta my hand. Everything went blue and then I’m wakin’ up here next to your bright, sunshiny faces.”

“Gin? You were drinking?” Cas says, mouth falling agape.

Dean shakes his head, pinching the bridge of his nose with a deep sigh. “No, you fucking idiot. Djinn. You know, the tattooed assholes who glow and send you to some fancy dream world? Drink your blood and get all pervy on your unconscious body? Give me a break,” he groans, turning to Sam. He expects to find a knowing look on his brother’s face, some kind of acknowledgement that yeah, Cas is being a real pain in the ass, but that’s not what he gets.

Sam is staring at him just as dumbfounded as Cas is, taking little notes on his board with that irritating chicken scratch sound that’s pissing Dean off.

When no one says anything, when the silence and awkward glances become too much, Dean scowls. “What?”

“You fell off the roof, babe,” Cas says, cautious, “you don’t remember? I wasn’t…I wasn’t paying attention, and you slipped and fell. You hit your head so hard, and you wouldn’t wake up,” he explains in quiet detail, tearing up and wiping away the heavy drops that spill.

“What fucking roof?” Dean challenges, then, “did you just call me babe?” 

Cas’ chin trembles. There’s a long, uncomfortable pause while Cas tries to keep himself from outright sobbing, but it doesn’t quite work. He rises from his chair, clumsily patting at his trench coat as if looking for something, then heads toward the door. He trips a bit over his own shoes and hitched breath, whimpering and mewling like some kind of kicked kitten, then closes the door behind himself.

“What the fuck is going on, Sam? Jesus, Cas is like Mr. Magoo and you look like daytime soap opera Moose M.D. or some shit.”

“Dean,” Sam snaps, and the mood of the room changes to something dark and sour.

There’s a quick flash of blue, a bright light that strips away everything for a bleak second before returning to normal. The room reanimates with a flash, and Sam is still sitting there staring with anger and concern on his face. Did his brother really not just notice the way the world blipped in and out of existence?

“Did you see that?” Dean asks, his hands groping over his own arms and legs, checking to make sure he’s real and not going crazy. “What was that?”

“You have what’s known as a traumatic brain injury, Dean. You hit your head quite hard, and you’ve been unconscious for a couple days. This is why I need you to stay calm. You’re saying some things that are really concerning, and we need to get your brain checked out. You’re confused, and that’s normal, but your memory seems to be…” he pauses, searching his brain for the right word while he rubs his chin, “…off.”

It turns out to be the understatement of the year.

Dean spends the entire rest of the day undergoing a series of tests, mouthing off when he can get away with it and flirting when he can’t. He and his brother have gone through some similar things before, but not quite to this extent. He’d been hospitalized, saved miraculously from death more than once, and even spent a less-than-pleasant 40 years in Hell before waking up in a pine box and having to dig his way out to fresh air and freedom.

He doesn’t know what Sam is getting at, doesn’t know what kind of game everyone seems to be playing, but Dean has had to assume roles much more quickly than this before and it’s all part of the job. Obviously there is something going on that he doesn’t know, and he’s got to follow suit if he wants to make it out of this hospital in one piece.

He’s getting the sense, though, that neither his brother nor Cas managed to kill the Djinn. There’s very little that Dean hates more than an unfinished job, but wearing a hospital gown while going through medical tests like a hamster on a wheel is one of them. Whenever he’s allowed to finally leave, he’ll have to go back and finish the job himself.

With backup this time, though.

Dean’s got a complete diagnosis by the late evening: a mild brain injury they labeled as post-concussion syndrome. Memory loss, nausea, irritability, confusion – the list of symptoms seemed endless as much as it was pointless. He’s got a headache the size of Mount Rushmore and he just wants to get back to his motel room and sleep it off. He doesn’t understand why something as simple as a brain bruise is too much for Cas to cure, doesn’t get why Cas was all meek and in tears a few hours earlier. Maybe there’s something they’re not telling him.

Except Sam and his “team” keep throwing around words like therapy and recovery and brain damage, treating him like some kind of invalid who’s going to need long term care. Cas has wisely stayed out of the way, choosing to sit in the waiting room until Dean was given the green light to go home. That part was kind of confusing too; he’s spent plenty of time in emergency rooms and had more damage to his head than he cares to admit, so he’s pretty sure it’s hospital protocol to keep patients under close watch after something like this.

None of it seems right, actually. The testing went by too quickly, everyone listened to Sam like he was an actual employee of the hospital, and now they’re letting him go home even though he was apparently unconscious for more than 48 hours and only woke up earlier today.

Suspicious, but not enough to stop him from leaving when they hand him the discharge papers.  

҉҉҉     ҉     ҉

It’s not until they pass the first road sign that Dean starts to realize something is up.

Ogallala is not the name of a town he’s familiar with. He’s heard of it, he thinks, but he can’t pinpoint where exactly it is and he knows for sure it’s not where he remembers being last. The Djinn had been hiding in a row of dilapidated buildings in the podunk town of Malta, Montana, just outside of a small lake where the thing had been plucking off campers like berries from a bush.  

They’re not in Ogallala though. That’s where the hospital was he had been in, and they’re heading west towards…somewhere else. They’re surrounded by nothing but vast fields of knee-high corn and spotted cows and horses that don’t mind traffic. Malta at least had the decency to be green and florid, secluded and inhabited by people who kept to themselves.

Sam is driving them all in a piece of shit silver hybrid that makes Dean’s skin crawl. He doesn’t know where they’re going, but Sam assured him repeatedly that his Baby was safe and sound at home. Another word that hasn’t made much sense since Dean woke up. There’s no need for code words anymore, no need for secrecy or convoluted conversations that leave him feeling like he’s missing a pretty damn big piece of the puzzle.

He thought all the weirdness and inconsistency was due to Sam’s poor acting skills, but every minute they spend in the car without clarification only seems to redouble the oddness of the situation. Dean remembers the last time he and his brother had to endure the folly of someone who liked to play make-believe, and Sam had been slapped in the face and whammied in the balls for his efforts. His brother can make anyone feel comfortable and open them up like weathered book, a useful tool when they need more information on a case, but throw a trickster into the mix and Sam can’t act to save his own life.

Dean still teases Sam about the genital herpes thing.

Cas is crying like a war widow in the back seat. It’s the single most annoying thing that he’s ever heard, which is fairly amazing considering the crazy number of sounds he’s heard on the job. Rugarus, ghosts, ghouls, Hellhounds, Rakshasas, Wendigos – none of them sounded particularly pleasant, but he’d take any one of them over the sound of Cas’ unbridled tears.

He doesn’t count the noises in Hell, though. Most of which probably came from himself.

“Can you take it down a notch, Cas?” Dean finally begs, scraping tired fingers over his eyes. “For the love of all that is holy, put a cork in it.”

“Dean!” Sam squawks, his eyes bugging out of his skull.

“What?” Dean shouts back, his heart picking up pace, “He’s being ridiculous, Sam, look at him! He’s been weird all day, hasn’t tried to heal me once, and he’s just crying like an idiot.”

“Hasn’t – what?” Sam stammers, gripping the steering wheel tighter until his knuckles are blanched. “Tried to heal you? What does that even mean?” Sam is practically screaming, clearly close to his breaking point as well. He steadies himself with a deep breath, stays silent until he’s turning left into a small farming community, then says, “I’m sorry, I know you’re recovering from the fall and things are still confusing for you, but you’ve been treating your husband like shit from the moment you’ve woken up. This has been hard on him too, okay? Just give him a break and let him come back from the last few days of hell he’s been through. You don’t know how worried we’ve all been.”

Dean’s brain finally does something it hasn’t all day: work.

“Husband?” He questions, darting a glance back at a red faced Cas before dropping his eyes to his own hands.

There’s a ring on his finger that sure as fuck wasn’t there before.

His head throbs and aches with a sudden rush of understanding. Dean’s been through this before, he remembers the strangely lucid feeling he had the first time this happened, the colorful quality of a constructed dollhouse which has no doors or windows through which he can escape.

Dean tries to think back at his time in the hospital, but everything is blurred and only comes in fragmented bits and pieces. They were just there, weren’t they? It’s like trying to recall a dream after waking up, but the details slip and slide between faulty neurons and drift into the void, unreachable and soaked up somewhere in the grey matter. He remembers little pieces of the tests, remembers Sam and his fancy white coat and the wounded look on Cas’ face. He doesn’t remember the spaces in-between, doesn’t remember anything but the highlights like a Hail Mary pass on replay.

“Fuck,” Dean mutters, holding his head in his hands. Everything hurts; each beat of his heart sends another round of raw, vibrating pain up his spine and through each one of his aching bones.

The Djinn must have got him. It’s so obvious now, so blatantly clear that Dean doesn’t know how he missed it. Even his last memory was of being attacked and blinded with blue light – how did that particular tidbit escape Dean’s notice? Why didn’t he see the strange anomalies for what they were?

Except this time, it’s all wrong. Must be some kind of special nightmare genie that sends people into their darkest infernos. Of course, the creature would be no match for the time Dean already spent in old Beelzebub’s sandbox, so naturally it sends him into the second worst thing it could think of.

Married to a weird angel dude, out somewhere in the middle of bumfuck America in a stupid hybrid.

With Cows. Lots and lots of disgusting cows shitting all over themselves and just begging to be tipped.

“For chrissakes, Dean, he was at your bedside the entire time and even kept chapstick on your lips so they wouldn’t dry out. Go easy on him at least, will you? He loves you,” Sam urges, oblivious to the flaring pain and white flags sprouting up all over Dean’s skin, turning down an isolated dirt road just on the other side of the bantam village they passed through.

“Jesus,” Dean moans. He can’t believe this shit is actually happening. He knows what this means, knows that his body is suspended somewhere in one of those old broken down buildings and his real brother probably has no idea where he is. Sure, he told Sam where he was going to be and what he was hunting, but his brother was pretty engrossed in research and may not have been paying close attention.

Malta, he thinks. I was in Malta and Sam was still forty miles away at the Reservation doing research.

Dean mocks himself using his best bitch-faced Sam impression, frustrated. “Are you sure you don’t need backup, Dean? You remember what happened last time, Dean? Blah blah frickety blah.”

Sam and Cas both go quiet, watching him warily like they’re not sure whether he’s about to spontaneously combust.

“Don’t worry,” Dean says, glaring at them both as best he can, “you’re just a figment of my drug induced imagination. Not like either of you have real feelings to hurt.”

Cas continues to cry. Sam continues to glare.

In fact, neither of them have anything else to say for the final five minutes of their drive.

Dean does kind of feel like a dick, but he’s more furious and embarrassed than remorseful. He doesn’t know how he could have been so stupid to completely ignore the signs, especially since this isn’t his first time being bent over a table by a Djinn. He needs to figure out where he is, needs to drive back to Malta and kill the son of a bitch so he can wake up and return everything to normal.

No, wait. That’s not right, is it? What did he do the last time?

Dean desperately searches his brain for the answer, does everything he can to delve into the forgotten parts of his memory to find the missing piece, but it’s not there. Was there a spell? Did he have to kill something or pray to Cas?

A violent flash of blue, bright and blinding, then nothing. He forgets what he was thinking about, forgets about Malta and his time in Montana altogether.

After that, he doesn’t notice when other things begin to go missing, too.

Dean shakes his head and rattles it like an empty can, confused and feeling sick to his stomach. He knows there had been something on the tip of his tongue, something he was about to do or say or think, but it’s gone. His head throbs for the umpteenth time and he just wants to sleep or drink or both.

They pull up in front of a battered yellow house trimmed with dirty, dusty white beside a worn down, separate garage. It’s just outside the little town he didn’t catch the name of, alone and guarded by thick lines of leafy trees and a neglected fence he could scale in one easy leap. It’s two stories, has a large bay window jutting out from the right, and is plopped down on enough land that he could probably dig a pool in the yard and still have enough space leftover for a shooting range.

Dean’s not really sure where those thoughts came from, so he ignores them for now.

Sam helps him out of the car, being slow and careful and generous with his time. Dean wants to shove him away again, but something nags him in the back of his mind not to do so. He knows this Sam isn’t real, knows this is all some kind of dream or nightmare or hallucination, but it’s still his brother and Dean’s never really had it in him to be cruel to the guy.

Cas, on the other hand, was just a friend; not even a reliable one at that. Maybe if he’s mean enough to this one, the real angel will pop by for a visit and fly them both back into reality.

There’s an extended ladder leaned up against the side of the house and a toolbox left on the roof. Dean stops to analyze them, feeling angry about their existence, knowing how thorough and elaborate the Djinns can be when it comes to this sort of thing.

“See?” Cas says, edging closer to Dean than he’s dared to be in the last hour, “that’s where you fell.”

Dean just huffs and darts an annoyed glare in Cas’ direction.

The inside of the house is much more beautiful and well-kept. He’s greeted with dark hardwood floors and light blue paint, stainless steel appliances and limestone countertops, and there’s even a flat screen television in the living room mounted on the wall in front of an enormous leather couch.

As much as Dean wants to sit and drool over the amazing detail the Djinn added to make this false world seem more appealing (since the tactics they used with Dean’s family last time weren’t quite as effective) he finds himself helplessly gawking at all the pictures hung on the walls and perched perfectly along every surface.

They’re all of Dean and Cas. Kissing. Holding hands. Getting married. Holding someone’s baby and smiling at the camera. On vacation. Kissing some more.

So many pictures, each different and yet all so much the same. Different times, different locations, but so much love and endearment in each one. The pictures tell an elaborate story of love and commitment and happiness: things Dean doesn’t know anything about, doesn’t remember.

“You were so happy when Leah was born,” Cas tries, letting a small smile creep over his face, “you held her first, right after Sam of course. Begged me for one of our own.”

Dean reaches out and trails a finger over the frame, the one surrounding the picture of Dean holding a fresh little baby with Cas looking down over Dean’s shoulder. It’s simple, sweet, and sends a pang of guilt, sadness, and heartache through his chest. It wraps around his heart and squeezes tight, and this time when the world flashes blue, he doesn’t notice.

“Leah,” Dean says, the name sitting heavy on his tongue. Something about it makes him feel a sense of loss; he knows without asking that the little girl in the picture is gone. “She’s dead?”

Behind him, Sam sighs. It’s heavy and long from practice, a well-worn reaction to the question he’s undoubtedly heard too many times. “Turner Syndrome. Her heart failed.”

A rush of new memories swarms him and clouds his vision; Dean has to take a step back and rub at his eyes, blinking away the sudden fog creeping around his periphery. The single memory of Leah’s death triggers a rush of synapses that alight and flood his brain with more, a domino effect of people and places and things he knows must be false.

Leah’s birth, death, and funeral. The flowers he placed by her headstone every year. Jessica’s refusal to have more children. The year Sam took off work to recover.

Dean remembers them like they really happened, remembers the way each moment made him feel, the way things sounded and tasted and smelled. He had brushed away the tears on his husband’s face with the pad of his thumb when Cas couldn’t decide between lilies or orchids on the first anniversary of Leah’s death. Dean had held his brother for an eternity while Sam cried in the lobby of the hospital, blaming himself for not being able to save her.

Dean had cried too, so much more than he dared in front of his family or friends, curled up on the couch with a glass of whiskey as he tried hard not to forget what it felt like to hold his baby niece in his arms.

“I remember,” he says, unable to refute the new memories blooming over the old ones. He knows this world is fake, knows that the sharp twinge in his heart is a mere symptom of the Djinn’s handiwork, but he can’t ignore how real it all feels either; how right.

“You do?” Cas asks, hope trickling in over the weakness of his vocal chords, “Sam said being around familiar things would help, you know.”

“Yeah,” Sam agrees, patting Dean on the back, “they let me take you home ‘cause I’m a doctor and all, but you still have a long way to go.”

Dean’s heart jackrabbits in his ribs. Something is scratching just beneath the surface, something relentless and nagging and so damn insistent that he can’t ignore it. He’s got to get out of here as quickly as he can. He’s got to leave and go back to…to…

Wherever he’s supposed to be, it’s not here. He has to find a way out of this nightmare before he gets lost in it.

“No,” Dean says, but there’s no conviction behind it. He’s not even sure what he’s denying, not sure what it is he doesn’t want to happen, but the fear and panic is swelling so rapidly that he thinks he’s going to burst. He searches his mind for the third time and comes up empty handed: he doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know where he’s supposed to go, and can hardly distinguish between which memories are real and which ones are just in his head.

“Just think about it logically, Dean,” Sam says, guiding him toward the dining table to sit down. Cas brings him a glass of water from the kitchen, and they sit on either side of him like bars around a cell. He’s trapped, caged like an animal between two imaginary people and there’s nothing he can do about it. “You keep saying we’re not real, and a bunch of other stuff that hasn’t made any sense, but look – you remember Leah, right? Don’t you think it’s possible that if you try hard enough, you’ll remember other things, too?”

Dean looks at his brother, really looks at him, and he gets the creepy sense that it’s not actually his own mind that’s coming up with this stuff.

It’s like the Djinn is speaking to him directly, telling him to accept his fate and give the fantasy world a try.

“You’re not real,” Dean insists, knocking back the glass of water with one swig. “My brother’s gonna come gank your ass and then I’ll be back to my old self. I’ve dealt with your kind before and there’s no fucking way I’m letting you trick me again.”

Sam’s eyes narrow and hone in on Dean’s, black pinpoints of focus burning into his flesh. “We’ll see.”

Before Dean can comment on how disturbing that is, Cas reaches out and takes his hand, gently, smoothing his fingers over Dean’s rough skin.

A second flood of memories, tinged with blue and sunny bright, sprout in the empty spaces of Dean’s mind and fills them.

The first time he held Cas’ hand. The way his perfectly nimble fingers feel slicked with oil as he rubs out the knots in Dean’s back, how they smell of citrus and mint after he makes lemonade, the tingle of warmth they leave on Dean’s skin when he traces the cupid’s bow of his lips.

The undeniable happiness Dean felt when he slipped the gold band onto his husband’s finger.

He blinks, confused and overwhelmed.

Dean can’t miss what he doesn’t know is missing, can’t tell that there are gaps where there used to be images of his real life. They flit away with the subtle silence of butterfly wings, one by one, so slowly that he doesn’t realize it’s happening.  

And yet so quickly that he puts up no resistance when Cas wants to take him on a tour of the house.

By the time the tour is over, when he’s seen and touched every piece of the faded yellow house, all memories of the life he had before are gone.

His entire world has been reduced to the small Midwestern town, the man guiding him carefully to bed, and the heavy gold band wrapped tightly around his finger.

҉     ҉     ҉ 

“I don’t think so,” Dean says, trying to subdue his laughter, “just because I have brain damage doesn’t mean you can pull one over on me that easy.”

“I swear!” Cas insist, giggling, wrapping his legs around Dean’s, “I’m on top, you’re on bottom, that’s just how it’s always been.”

It’s been about a week, give or take a few days, and most of the world Dean lives in has been constructed beautifully and without flaw. His life is charmingly simple, easy to navigate, and with Cas by his side helping him trudge through the bits of confusion and loss, he’s made incredible leaps of progress.

They live in the small town of Big Springs, Nebraska; born and raised, corn fed and home grown. He’s married to his high school sweetheart, has been since the month they both turned eighteen and hasn’t had any regrets since. They moved into the cute yellow home just outside of town after the death of Cas’ parents, fixed it up just how they like it, and spend most of their free time fucking like a couple of horny, Viagra-fed rabbits.

Not since Dean’s head injury, though. Cas has been cautious to guide him through the process carefully and slowly, reintegrating him at the pace Dean sets for himself.

It’s only been a day since Dean touched the soft jersey knit fabric of their sheets and remembered a multitude of nights he’d spent getting fucked raw into the mattress, from their very first time on their honeymoon to the morning Dean had fallen off the roof, when he’d waggled his eyebrows at a still-sleepy Cas and sweet-talked his way into his husband’s green, plaid boxers.

Dean thinks he’s ready, feels ready, but even armed with the rock-solid memories of his reluctance to top, he still gets the sense that something is off about it. Every now and again, he feels the seed of doubt germinate and attempt to bloom into more, but he pushes the nagging uncertainty aside and allows his husband to reassure him of the truth.

This is the first time that the seed made its way past infancy and grew roots, clenching tightly to Dean’s spine and sending wave after wave of panic and unease to his brain. You’re not gay, it says, though the strength of the tendrils growing upwards make it feel more like a scream. You don’t love Cas, it shouts, over and over again. This isn’t real.

“It’s just because you’re scared,” Cas says, gently kissing Dean’s forehead with soft, chapped lips. “This is a big step, and we don’t have to take it yet. Whenever you’re ready.”

“So, I’ve never topped? Not once?” Dean jokes, because he knows there’s so no such event in his memories. He’s already searched them once, twice, and ten more times after that to be sure.

“What can I say,” Cas laughs, trailing languid fingers over Dean’s thigh, “you’re a bottom, and an enthusiastic one at that.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Dean challenges, nipping at Cas’ ear. He has no specific memory of doing so before, but he can tell it’s a practiced move, one he’s done before many times without reservation.

Cas doesn’t respond to that particular jest, not exactly. He sighs, pulling Dean a little closer despite the lack of space between them. Dean can feel through his own boxers that Cas isn’t hard, isn’t pushing for something Dean probably isn’t ready for, but there’s a steady hum of energy flowing around them – he can feel it. He’s filled with want, undeniable desire, but Cas’ mind has roamed elsewhere.

“You okay?” Dean asks, his eyebrows knitting together with concern and worry. Cas has taken on a weak, humbled expression, one that makes Dean feel a little scared and insecure. Did he do something wrong?  Did he say something offensive?

Cas sucks in a sharp breath, squeezing his eyes shut as his fingertips dig into the sensitive flesh of Dean’s hips. He knows from experience that this is Cas’ way of trying not to cry, he remembers with sudden clarity all the years of his husband doing the exact same thing during moments of emotional turmoil or family crisis. Cas is warm, sweet and sensitive, and never had much of a wall to protect himself from the cruelty of the world.

“You came back to me,” Cas whispers, sniffling a bit in the silence, “When you woke up and had no idea who I was, I thought I had lost you forever. I thought you’d never look at me and see me again.”

Dean’s heart skips a beat, just as romantic and cliché as every rom-com his husband begged him to watch in the late hours of the evening before bed. He looks at Cas with longing, with love and fright and such a powerful empathy that it hurts. Dean only vaguely recalls those early days when he first came home, even though it was barely a week ago, but he does remember all the times he left Cas in tears when Dean couldn’t remember something; when he thought the final fleeting memories of his brain damage were still real.

“Not gonna leave you,” Dean says, keeping his voice as merciful and calm as he can, “I’m nothing without you, you know that? Can’t get rid of me that easily.”

Cas laughs, Dean smiles.

There’s a beat of silence, a moment when there’s nothing but the two of them touching and exploring and caressing, then, “I know babe, I know. Never letting you go.”

It sends a chill down Dean’s spine, one that feels more like a warning than excitement, but he pushes the unease aside and presses his lips against the softness of his lover’s, sinking deeper into the beautiful life that surrounds him.