Beneath the canopy of an ancient oak tree stood two angels of the lord: One great archangel believed to be dead, and one fallen seraph. Neither would’ve imagined it would come to this.
A calamitous decision was about to be made. Pasts would be completely erased. Lives entirely rewritten.
“Are you sure?” Gabriel asked, staring at his brother in sorrow.
Grief twisted Castiel’s reply. “No. But we’re doing it anyway.”
“You know he won’t remember you, right? Like, at all.”
There was a long silence that hung in the air. Only the sounds of paper-thin leaves rustling together gave texture to the arrested conversation. It was, for all intents and purposes, his moment of silence for something lost. Or on the verge of being lost, as it were.
At last, Castiel gravely answered, “I know. But it’s worth it. They’re both worth it.”
“Alright, kiddo.” With a snap of Gabriel’s fingers, a dark-haired young man appeared beside them. All three shared equal expressions of a moment’s uncertainty. There would be no undoing what they were about to do.
The newest arrival, appearing no older than mid-teens held out his arms. “Every memory?”
“Every single one.”
“We still going as far back as we discussed?”
There was a weighted pause from Gabriel, who faced his brother with concern. “We could go further… “
“No,” he maintained. “What we’re doing is complex enough and we have no way to know what would happen if we erased that much time. This is enough, it brings everything back to a stable point in time. And by giving them new identities, new memories, they have a chance Gabriel. They have this one chance to have a life. I owe them that.”
Gabriel nodded and they both turned to their companion.
“Consider it done,” he said, his young face stiffened in concentration, eyes closed to block out everything else.
The world lurched beneath their feet.
“Hold on to something little bro, shit’s about to get interesting,” noted Gabriel, looking around nervously.
In the distance, a storm brewed. The wind whipped in from all directions, every current flowed like a magnet to where they stood. They felt the accumulation of time drawing in towards them. The world beneath their feet began to shake—the command forced on it stronger than anything that had come before.
A slow fog rolled in from the building shadows. It wouldn’t be long now.
A fresh start was coming and though many things, including things dearest to him, would be erased, it was for the best.
In the last second before the entirety of many years were gone into the void, Castiel had one thought.
“Please forgive me.”
“Sir! Are you okay?” an agitated female voice broke the silence, reaching through the blackness behind his eyes.
From further off, a grumbled cantankerous reply shot back, “That all-American model better not be dead on my floor, Nina.”
“Oh my god, Dad, call 9-1-1!”
Dean Campbell groaned. “No, no. It’s fine. I’m okay.” He gave his body the right commands to get moving, but clearly, getting vertical wasn’t happening just yet.
God, why did this keep happening?
Wincing from the barb of agony twisting inside his skull, Dean forced his eyes open to find dirt-treaded beige tiles staring back at him. Right, he’d gone to the nearest Gas’n’Sip for a few groceries. And now he was gazing at floor tiles.
Looking down towards his feet he saw the gooey exploded shells of a dozen eggs.
“Sir! Sir, are you sure you’re alright? You don’t look alright.”
Squinting up to a young woman with thick black hair, her dark brown eyes widened in panic, Dean tried to smirk as best he could. “All good,” he croaked. “Sorry about the mess and, uh, the whole… seizure business.”
Very slowly, Dean pushed his body up off the floor and miraculously managed to get himself on two feet. Granted, the woman bolstered under his armpit helped.
“Do you need me to call anyone?” she asked, her head angled up to him from her small stature tucked under his arm. “You had a pretty violent seizure—I really don’t think you should be driving.”
Dean glanced at her shrewd stare and then over at the counter where her father rested his eyes on the local newspaper without a care. The front page showed the latest drama in politics. Was there an election coming up? He had no idea, decided he didn’t care.
“Nah, I’m good. It’s just this thing I have, but uh, I’ve got meds so I’ll be good.” All lies. Dean had no idea what was wrong with him. He wondered what the trigger was this time.
Before the world had gone spastic he was sure he’d been about to pay for his meagre roundup of staples. Searching the overlit, cramped checkout area, his green eyes found their way to a small white figurine glued to the top of the cash register.
White, small, and one-hundred-percent innocuous.
But he knew, staring at its tiny shape with its tiny wings curled to its back, that it was the reason for his most recent impression of a fish out of water. A hot wave of nausea rolled in his gut, and some other feeling he was hesitant to name.
Dean brushed off the woman as quick as he could without being rude, paid for his groceries (even the ruined ones) and marched out of the store into the late summer afternoon air. Taking a deep breath, he mentally reset and crossed the shallow parking lot towards the gleaming black lines of his car. Just as he was coming up to it, he sensed something, a prickle on the back of his neck.
He spared a short glance over his shoulder, and thought he saw someone walking away. A man in a tan coat, but the image was fuzzy, his brain blocking it out. And he wondered if he was seeing a ghost. The harder he tried to see the details, the more his head hurt... so he stopped trying and turned back towards the car.
Awesome. He was fucking seeing things now.
The moment his ass hit the driver’s seat of the vintage Impala, his fingers moved to the twin leather cords around his neck. He touched the velvety smooth texture, tracing their path towards his chest, where two charms hung. The smaller one had been a gift from his younger brother, Sam. Some protective trinket in the shape of a deity’s head the kid had bought at a flea market. Dean loved it.
And the other? Hanging a bit lower was a glass ampoule with an unknown substance inside. Its radiant nature reminded him of glowsticks at drug-ridden raves. It must have belonged to one of his parents, but he can’t be sure. All he knew was that he found it one day tucked into the back groove of the bench seat in the car.
Dean had put it on and never took it off except to shower. Even then, it had to be within sight. So he’d installed a hook on the back of the bathroom door and that was where both necklaces hung when they weren’t on him.
Some hidden unrest shifted inside him and he began to wonder if he did have a brain tumor. Though, he didn’t feel sick. He felt … displaced.
Which made fuck all of sense.
Reaching into his jeans pocket, he pulled out his cell and hit speed dial ‘1’ for this brother—Sam Campbell, a Teacher’s Assistant at Stanford University in his last year of Grad School.
Fancy schmancy, Sammy.
Dean smiled when his brother answered, “Hey Dean, what’s up?”
“Not much, you?”
“On my way to class. Oh hey, a new burger joint opened near my place and I know how much you plan to eat yourself into an early grave so we should check it out.”
When he smiled, it was half-hearted. He wanted to tell Sam what had happened, but he always hated putting a damper on their conversations.
“Yeah, sounds great,” he said. Each word sounded grim. Not exactly his normal reaction to an offer of burgers.
“Dean.” Sam’s lowered tone implied he was on to the ruse.
It was best to fess up now instead of five minutes later after hearing Sam whine. “Um, so it happened again.”
A punchy exhale blasted through the line. “Christ, Dean! I told you before, you need to go to the doctor! Promise me you’ll go. I mean it, Dean—right now.”
Oh yeah, he already regretted this conversation. Dean hated doctors and hospitals. Basically anything that reminded him of the day both his parents died.
“Sammy, I’m fine, I swear. Honestly I’m, like, eighty-percent positive it’s about Mom and Dad, like just some psychological-whatever.”
“Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. Either way, if you don’t go to the doctor I’ll kidnap you and break into the Department of Radiology and give you an MRI myself.”
“Dude, you don’t even know how to use it! You’d probably give me cancer with an overdose of radiation or something. I don’t need my own brother nuking my nuts off.”
“Great. So you’ll go.”
Dean groaned and bowed his head. “Fine. I’m hanging up now. Happy teaching.”
“Hospital. Now, Dea—”
Rolling his eyes, Dean hung up the phone and tossed it beside him. He glanced up at the Gas’n’Sip through the windshield and noticed the woman fixated on him through the window. The moment she caught him staring back, she averted her eyes and pretended to be checking the ceiling for bugs or cracks.
Man he hated it when people looked at him like that. All pitiful and wondering what the hell was wrong with him. He wished he knew too, but not bad enough that he’d subject himself to being prodded and analyzed like a lab rat.
“Sorry Sammy, no hospital today.” Besides, he was fine now. Good as fucking new.
Dean started the car, smiling reflexively at the low rumble of the engine. It always pulled him back to his early years; remembering fond late-night drives with his dad at the steering wheel.
By the time he made it back to his third floor apartment, Dean was zonked and dreading the bar shift that night. Why the hell he’d decided a second job was a good idea was anyone’s guess.
He supposed it was better than sitting on his ass watching Dexter for eight hours straight.
After putting away the milk, crackers, and peanut butter, he headed to his room to peel off the shirt and jeans he’d worn for his day job at Camden’s Auto. Before getting under the spray of the shower, he padded down the hallway barefoot and naked (kudos to the benefits of living alone) and sought out the Costco-sized bottle of Advil. He downed two with a glass of tap water, hoping his brain would stop trying to tear itself apart.
By the time the hot spray of water hit his shoulder blades, he was already getting over the whole seize and conk-out ordeal.
Surely, if he were dying from brain cancer, there would be far more symptoms. But it wasn’t rational thought that calmed him into putting off the doctor visit, it was the innate feeling buried deep in his gut. Dean wasn’t necessarily all about the psychological trauma BS, but in this case, he was betting on the issue being elusive, and of the kind of thing that a cocktail of Zoloft and Clozapine could probably fix.
Warmed from the shower and feeling sluggish, he checked the time and realized he still had a few hours before he was needed at the pub so he heated up a few burritos in the microwave, grabbed a beer from the fridge and parked his ass on the well-loved couch to zone out before he had to shovel booze to the greedy alcoholics of Palo Alto.
It was two in the morning by the time Dean got back to his apartment. On the plus side, his headache was long gone. But he was exhausted and stank of stale Budweiser. He debated a second shower but found himself ambling towards his bed, clothes being shucked off with his eyes at half-mast.
With his back sinking into the mattress and the sheets still settling over his naked skin, he brought his hand up to his chest and tangled his fingers into the leather cords. Capturing both the voodoo looking head and the warm glass in his fist from each pendant, he relaxed from the day and drifted off for a short six hour sleep.