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Escape (What’s Inside Me)

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It was a quiet evening in the bunker.

Sam’s brother, Dean, and his angel, Castiel (who was not officially his brother’s angel but a guy could dream, right?) were accommodated in the couch in a way that could only be described as cuddling, even though neither of them would admit it later. Meanwhile Sam opted for using the sofa, seeing that his brother was prone to what he referred as “Gay Panic Lapsus”, where he would suddenly realize after hours of close proximity with his best friend that the looks and touches given and taken were just a bit too much on the not-so-friendly-side, and push said best friend as far as socially possible (In this case; the end of the couch).

Yep, the eldest Winchester was completely gone on the angel, not that he would ever admit it. Especially, Sam thought, in the middle of Lord of the Rings marathon while he was in the same room. While that would be a wish coming true for him, as a loyal shipper, it would also throw off the balance of the relationship in a direction in which, none of them were prepared to face.

Also, it would most certainly ruin their day off with unnecessary amounts of angst, so yeah, it was probably for the best that he didn’t mention how if Dean moved his hand just a little to the left he would be touching Cas’ thigh. Instead of that, Sam decided to enjoy this evening.

A kind of evening that was actually way too calm, to even be considered natural in the life of the Winchester brothers. So much, in fact, it was only natural that within a few seconds in Aragorn’s speech at the Black Gate the elder Winchester’s phone rang obnoxiously loud in what Sam Winchester could only guess, was an old rock song.

Dean reached out for his phone in his back pocket only to look at the screen with confusion and a hint of anger.

“Who is it?” asked Sam as he put pause the film before the battle started.

“It’s… mom” and there it was. The only thing that could ruin a perfect day more efficiently tan unnecessary angst was unnecessary family angst. Without even bothering to hide his emotions Dean proceeded to answer the phone “What’s up mom? Bored yet of the British assholes? … No, incredibly my opinion hasn’t changed that much in the past week… I see… Well, that sucks but I’m actually not that surprised… What about Ketch? …Sure… Yeah … Goodbye.”

Dean hung up the phone and stuffed it back without even looking at it, which would’ve been amusing if he wasn’t so angry while doing so.

“She says she’s on a hunt. A salt n’ burnt in South California, which is enough to keep her away for a few weeks, apparently, but at least she says Ketch isn’t involved in this one so, in my books that are a win for her”

Sam knew he should’ve put the movie back on the moment Dean stopped talking, but of course he spent exactly five seconds deliberating if this should be a topic to talk about as a family and by the time he came to a decision (which was a simple “It’s not worth it”) Castiel had already made mind of his own.

“Do you want to talk about it, Dean?”

“About what Cas? ” Dean’s tone was nothing but a warning that the issue should NOT be pushed further and it was Sam’s duty as a good friend to inform this to Castiel. But, on the other hand, he knew that their day off was pretty much ruined beyond repair at this point and was kind of curious as to where would his conversation led to…

“Dean, I know you are not comfortable talking about your mother’s decision regarding her enrollment with the British Men of Letters but…”

“‘But what Cas? What can you say that can possibly excuse all her actions? Or all her lies? Huh? You almost died a few weeks ago and it was all her fault or did you forget that?'

You can’t honestly expect me to swallow all her crap about how this is for the best? Those bastards tortured Sam, they could’ve killed you and you think this is something we can just look past to… fuck, I don’t know… have a nice relationship with her or whatever. That’s bullshit Cas, and you know it!”

“I know it, Dean, but she’s your mother. Shouldn’t you at least give her the benefit of the doubt?”

“Sure” Dean snorted “’Cos that worked so fine the last time.”

“Dean…”

“Save it Cas, I don’t want to hear it” at this point Dean was barely (if not unsuccedenly) controlling his anger and, to Sam relief, instead of yelling some he just stood up from the couch and marching to the exit.

“Where are you going” one of this days, Sam seriously should teach Cas how to keep his mouth shut in Dean’s presence.

“Out. Don’t wait on me” Dean called from the next room and a few moments later they heard a door shut signaling that Dean was out throwing his tantrum in his car.

And now, that left Sam and Castiel alone in the bunker with nothing more than the awkward tension that could’ve been avoidable had one of them decided not to be stubborn. So yeah, Sam’s day off has officially ended.

With a badly suppressed sigh, Sam got up from his seat to the TV and turned the thing off without even bothering to eject the DVD. It was Dean’s anyway and honestly, if he wanted it he could just go get him himself. For now, all Sam wanted was a beer that would help him put up with his brother when he, inevitably, calls a few hours later asking for a ride home.

“I suppose you are also opposed to having a conversation about your mother” Cas’ voice called from the couch where the angel has seemingly made his mission to become one with it if the way he was slumping in it was any indication.

“Look, Cas” Sam started, ‘cos he knew this needed to be addressed now and never be speak of ever again. “The thing is, well, this is sort of a hard topic. You’re right she’s still our mother and we can’t really avoid her forever but what she did was wrong, you get that, right?”

“Of course I get it. But still, it can’t possibly be right or even healthy for all of you to just ignore everything that’s going on. Sooner or later you’ll have to fight along with her again, and I’m afraid either you or Dean, actually… especially Dean… will do something he’ll regret just because he refused to clear things with his mom”

“Wow, Cas that’s… that’s actually a pretty good point but um… maybe you should wait a couple of days more before bringing it up again. You know? let things cool off a bit and give Dean some space to think things over”

“You mean at the bar?”

Sam couldn’t help but wince at this statement. If Dean’s feelings for the angel could be seen with a simple glance at their direction, Castiel’s utter love for his brother shone so brightly it couldn’t be missed in a 50 miles radius. The angel wore his heart on his sleeve (I mean, come on, the poor guy literally confessed his love on his deathbed, and then proceeded to be unacknowledged in the most cynic way by his brother), so it didn’t come as a surprise to Sam that every time for the past few weeks whenever his brother tried to flirt with a busty waitress, Castiel’s eyes started to shine with unshed tears.

Cas, after all, wasn’t stupid. He knew pretty well what Dean was looking for at the bar and it sure as hell wasn’t time to meditate his life choices.

Still, Sam held a flame of hope for Dean. In his last few trips to the nearest pub, his brother had managed to come home smelling solely of buzz and not any kind of perfume, and the last time he called him to pick him up instead of doing the stupid thing and drive while drunk.
Maybe, just maybe, Cas confession hadn’t fallen on deaf ears and his brother was making an actual effort to be good for his angel. That was progress. Then, of course, tonight’s fight might be kind of a step back on said progress but still… His brother was trying, and for now, that had to be enough to soothe Castiel’s heart.

“You know…” Sam started, considering telling Cas about his inner monologue briefly before deciding against it. It was not the right time “You know, I don’t think he is really mad at you.”

“He seemed pretty mad when he exited this room.” Cas retorted while looking at his shoes. Of course, Dean would fall in love someone with a guilt complex even bigger than his own; those two were made for each other.

Sam sighed. As much as he would like for them to just pull their heads out of their asses and make out, there were things like this that made that scene a far cry from home. Damn those two morons and their incredibly low self-esteem.

Nevertheless, the youngest Winchester had a duty as a sibling and as a friend, and if that included comforting a heartbroken angel after a fight with his brother, then so be it.

“You know how Dean is, he can be an asshole sometimes but he never stays that way. He’s probably more concerned with you trusting mom and ending up wrapped in something worse than severing ties in our family right now.”

Castiel nodded, and for his expression, Sam couldn’t tell if he understood his point at all or not. Ok, maybe the angel was an open book concerning Dean but when it came to everything else he was still a Little short on the emotional side.

“Thank you, Sam,” he finally said, “this talk has been really helpful.”

Sam smiled, feeling as he truly had made a difference within his brother and Cas’ relationship. He didn’t even feel as he needed the beer anymore! In fact, he kind of felt bad for stopping the marathon. Maybe Cas wanted to watch it though, so he asked him if he wanted to continue movie by himself.

“It’s ok Sam, I was eager to see it but most of it was due to your brother’s own excitement. Watching it without him just feels…odd, if that makes sense.” For Sam, nothing made more sense in that moment than his friends’ statement. “But, if you don’t mind I would like to stay right here, at least until Dean arrives.”

The angel didn’t give more explanation than this, and he didn’t need to. Without another word, Sam simply smiled down at him and Castiel smiled back, knowing full well that he was welcome in the bunker anytime.

Sam left him there to go to his own room. Knowing Cas, he would spend the rest of the night Reading something in the bunker’s extensive library until either Dean came home or Sam went looking for him. In either case he would be gone as soon as Dean confirmed he was safe and if well, it saddened the brother’s (especially Dean) a little every time Cas was gone, at least the time lapses between his visits was shorter every time, while the visits themselves were steadily becoming longer.

Maybe Dean wasn’t the only one making progress.

*

In his room, Sam took his laptop and settled nicely on the bed. Perhaps he was going to finally be able to get caught up on the new Sense8 season on Netflix (‘cos it didn’t matter what Dean said, the show was good and Sam was still sure his resentment came from that time Cas commented on how Hernando was good looking).

His plan was to watch a couple of episodes until Dean called or until he fell asleep, so you can imagine his surprise when within the second episode, just in middle of Lito and Capheus’ shared speech (seriously, what’s up with phones and speeches this day?) his ringtone for Dean flooded the room.

“Dean? What’s wrong? I thought I wouldn’t hear from you until at least another 2 hours of solid brooding…”

“Ha ha, bitch, very funny. Now listen, pack your shit and take my duffel out of my room, I found us a case.”

“A case? Dean, what are you talking about? What kind of case needs up so much to jump headfirst into it without researching it first?”

“Ok, ok… I know how it sounds, but from what I hear time is the key for this case and we can’t waste any more. I’ll explain more in the road there.”

“Ok, just… wait a second.” Sam put his phone on speaker just in time for Dean’s “Hurry up, bitch” to be Heard in the whole room. He put the device on his night table and proceeded to pack some flannels and jeans in a bag “What kind of place are we going to anyway?”

“A desert.”

“A desert?!” Sam wasn’t even sure he had clothes for a desert. He shrugged defeated and continue packing his stuff. Even at this point, he knew this case was going to be a total pain in the ass. “Fine, I’m all setup and going to your room.”

“Don’t even think about touching my stuff. Just grab my duffel and get out”

“Whatever jerk. Can you at least tell me where is this desert so I have a decent response when Cas asks me where are we going?

There was a silence in the line as if Dean wasn’t sure if he should say this on the phone or not. Finally, Sam heard a small intake of breath before his brother spoke.

“Night Vale.”

Dean hung up as soon as he finished the name, like the words themselves burned his tongue…

Night Vale, Sam repeated in his mind. He never heard of a place called like that before… maybe he could get some research done before his brother arrived. He was pretty sure there was muffled music in the background of his call, so he was probably still at the bar. That gave him at least 20 minutes of research before his brother arrived. Maybe even less…

Sam was going to take his laptop from his room to the main room before deciding to pack it with the rest of his stuff. After all, why bother to pack it later if there was so little time anyway? An idea formed in his mind, the only thing better than the internet was an angel who could round the earth in less than a minute.

The Winchester threw his bag over his shoulder, while carrying Dean’s in his forearm, and started walking towards where he left Castiel.

Chapter Text

Dean Winchester didn’t sulk, ok? Let’s make that clear from now on, ‘cos even though everyone in the bar may think otherwise, seeing him all alone staring at his beer as if it had personally offended him he just wasn’t sulking. Nuh uh. That just didn’t happen.

“Do you want a refill sweetheart or you finally decided you don’t want to get smashed tonight?”

And that was just another thing to add to his list of ‘Reasons Why Dean Winchester Is Most Definitely NOT Sulking Tonight’ the bartender had started flirting with him almost as soon as he sat on the bar. Any other day her attentions would have been welcome, if not encouraged, but tonight…

“A refill would be alright but I’m sure I’ll find a reason to not pass out later tonight” he finished his sentence with a flirty wink that made the woman beam and blush at the same time.

Damn, she so was his type… Mile long legs, big boobs, tanned skin… not to mention those beautiful dark locks and incredible blue eyes…

“Are you sure you’re still thinking of the bartender?” His buzzed brain ‘thankfully’ supplied.

Stupid brain.

If he was being honest with himself his lack of excitement for the opposite sex may not be an issue of today but rather a pressing matter for the last few weeks… or months… Who was counting anyway?

And that train of thought did nothing but bring him back to the very thing he was trying to forget; his fight with Cas.

Cas who confessed he loved him and then never acknowledged it ever again (“To be fair, you didn’t mention it either” “Shut up, brain”); Cas who was his best friend; Cas who, sometime in the last year, he realized was the subject of some of his feelings (“You mean of your love?” “I hate you, brain”); Cas who was caring, compassionate and deserved so much better than a hunter life; Cas who almost died multiple times on their behalf; Cas who was just trying to reconcile him with his mother even though he almost died because of her…

Ugh! Fucking Cas and his fucking bleedin’ heart.

This time, when the bartender refilled his drink, he didn’t even bother with trying to suppress his frown. The poor bartender probably thought she had offended him somehow, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Looking her up close she wasn’t really that pretty, you know? Sure, a year or so ago he would’ve been willingly dragged to her bed but now he couldn’t help but notice how she just wasn’t…enough.

Her hair didn’t look as soft as Cas’, her eyes weren’t as bright and intense as Cas’, her lips weren’t as pink as Cas, her smile wasn’t as beautiful as Cas, she wouldn’t fit as well in his body as Cas' would. She just wasn’t Cas.

So yeah, Dean Winchester was sulking about his angel, (who was technically NOT his angel) got any problem with that?

At this point in the night, he realized that maaaybe he overreacted a little back there in the bunker, but could you really blame him? He had his best friend, who was becoming more and more of a crush with each minute, talking about his mother, who seemed set on saying things that would make him hate her every time they spoke. It was conflicting, to say the least.

And ok, he could admit that much. But if the choice came to either talk about all of this in a family fórum or just get drunk while trying to forget all the shit that has become his life… Well, then there wasn’t much discussion. Alcohol wins. Always.

“Hey May, could you pass me the today’s News?” Came a voice from Dean’s right.

When Dean arrived at the bar an hour or so ago the man was already there, so he couldn’t really tell how long the man had been there. He didn’t look drunk or even buzzed like most of the clients. In fact, Dean was pretty sure he hadn’t touched his glass in the entire time he’s been there. He just sat there looking lonely and… empty.

The bartender, May presumably, reached below the bar for a copy of today’s newspaper. It was still on a roll as if no one had even bothered to read it. Dean couldn’t say he was surprised, who even came to a bar to read the news anyway? Well, this man, apparently. He supposed since he knew the bartender’s name and wasn’t about to be kicked out for not ordering anything, the guy must be a regular here, although he couldn’t understand why.

He looked out of place in an immaculate clean lab coat with a black suit under it, not to mention the guy looked old enough to be his father.

When the man opened the paper, he gasped like he had seen a ghost and his face changed to a gray almost ashen color. The very image was enough to send Dean on alert mode but it was the bartender who reacted first to the dude’s obvious distress.

“Luis, what’s wrong? Do you need me to call your wife?”

“It’s… it’s him…” said the man, desperately pointing to the paper in the bar.

“Him who, Luis?” asked the girl, without even bothering to look towards the direction Luis was pointing.

“It’s him… It’s Carlos…” The man was practically in tears now and that was all that Dean needed to not go and try to console him. He was the living face of someone broken beyond repair, a face that he was awfully familiar with.

Finally, the bartender seemed to notice the open paper right in front of her. On the front page, there was an image of a guy who couldn’t be much older than Dean, with dark skin and brown curls dressed in a lab coat similar to the guy’s, with the exception of a small logo right over his right breast that read “University of What It Is”. He also had black rimmed glasses that accentuated his almond eyes almost enough to distract from his smile. The guy was an Adonis in every fiscal sense, which made the headline above him sound like something impossible.

“INNOVATOR OR MAD SCIENTIST?”

Local Teacher Makes 12 Years Since Supposed Disappearance

“So it’s been twelve years, huh?” said the bartender with a glint of amusement in her tone.

“I know what you think May, I know what everyone thinks. But Carlos was not crazy when he went to that investigation, I accompanied him myself as a supervisor, and some of the stuff we saw in that town was enough to scare even the bravest hearts.”

Now, this sounded interesting, but…

“Luis you are like, what? 60, 70 years old? I read that the human brain starts deteriorating from 45 years onwards, so excuse if me the tales of an old man don’t seem very realistic.”

…Yeah that.

“May, there’s something wicked in that town. How else would you explain that when I returned 10 years had already passed when for me was just one?”

“I already told you Luis, your brain…”

“To hell with my brain! The university thinks Carlos has gone crazy just because his last report included hooded figures and a house that didn’t exist!”

“No, I’m pretty sure the university thinks Carlos is crazy because his last report was 10 years ago, and included hooded figures and a house that didn’t exist.”

The woman talked with the patience of someone explain a five-year-old why it wasn’t appropriate to eat dirt, and the man was starting to actually sound like a five-year-old heartbroken over all the dirt he couldn’t eat.

May sighed, took the glass in front of the man (which was still full) and emptied it in one go.

“Honestly Luis, the only reason I haven’t kick you out of here yet, is because you were my favorite professor all through college. But college was 15 years ago. You can’t just appear after 10 years of radio silence…”

“One Year.”

“… and expect me to believe that you and Carlos and the rest of the team were in a working in a town with flickering lights in the sky, and a whispering forest, and freaking dementors or some shit.”

Luis looked suddenly smaller than anyone older 40 years old should look. Dean couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for the guy when he spoke again, this time barely above a whisper.

“They were not dementors… they were hooded figures.”

“Very well then, hooded figures” May was probably regretting this whole conversation, and Dean couldn’t blame her. Still telling an old man that his friend was most certainly running crazy in God knows where in the anniversary of said friend’s disappearance? Not cool.

Luis didn’t say anything more and May went over to the other side of the bar where a dude had spent the last few minutes gesturing for a refill. Before turning away she spared one last glace towards the old professor’s direction, filling the air between them with a mix of exasperation and pity.

“I know what you’re thinking boy” the man spoke as soon as May was out of ear shot. Dean looked around the bar to figure out who he was talking to before Luis opened his mouth again. “I’m talking to you freckles, the one who’s right beside me and has done a shit attempt to pretend he was not eavesdropping.”

Dean blushed, being caught in his obvious act, but before he could properly apologize the man continued.

“Carlos was not only my colleague, he was also my friend. We spent one year together investigating all there was to investigate in that damn city and believe me, it was a lot. I wouldn’t have left him alone in there if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.”

Dean knew he should have stopped the conversation here. Perhaps go back to his home to Cas and Sammy, or simply change seats anywhere else in the establishment. Anything instead of fueling an old man’s fantasy. But there was something in his voice, something that he only ever heard from hunters while telling the most horrific stories over a big glass of whiskey.

He should’ve told the man to go home and forget all about this place, wherever it was, but he didn’t. What he did was asking the man the reason why he left, which earned him a chuckle from said man.

“I received a call from my wife; she told me she was pregnant. I was mad, obviously. I had been away for almost a whole year it was not possible for the child to be mine, but she assured me that it was. In fact, her exact words were: ‘Luis what are you talking about? It’s barely been a month since I last saw you. Of course the child it’s yours’’

“It wasn’t viable, but after all the stuff I witnessed… perhaps a time anomaly wasn’t as crazy as it should’ve been. So I packed my backs and traveled back here.’

“That was 2 years ago. When I arrived I was surprised to see my lovely wife had aged about ten years, but even more when I looked in a mirror and discovered myself looking at an old man that vaguely resembled the me I remembered. My wife told me it was because of the ten-year lapse since she last saw me, but I knew better… These lines aren’t of old age, but of someone who has seen things beyond his comprehension. You should know that... you have the same ones around your eyes…”

Ok, now Dean was officially freaked out but also a little intrigued. The man didn’t sound at all like someone in over his head but rather… well… an actual scientist. Someone who weighted his words before saying them out loud, as if calculating the impact they may have on the receiving end.

That was probably the only thing that kept Dean from running away to the nearest exit.

As the man spoke his voice was regaining confidence but he still wasn’t yelling. By the time he continued Dean felt as he was listening to himself in a few years down the road, and wishing he actually lived long enough to see that day.

“You know? I can see it in you. Years and years of horrors upon your shoulders, things you wish you could forget…”

“How do you…?” Dean started only to be immediately cut off by the man before him.

“One cannot live in Night Vale without noticing this kind of things” Night Vale, Dean mimicked in his head. He never heard that name before but he felt as if he should’ve “Now listen, I wouldn’t be telling you this if I didn’t believe there was a chance of you not thinking I’m crazy. Do you believe I’m not crazy?”

Dean blinked two times and nodded once, even though he wasn’t completely sure he did believe what the man was saying. Also, he was starting to regret the beers he had taken previous to the conversation, but that was probably an unrelated problem.

“Look man” Dean finally said after a bit of silence “those things you said, they’re messed up sure but, what good does it make you dueling on them right now.”

(“Sure, as if you’ve ever followed that advice before” “Now it’s seriously not the time brain”)

The man looked at Dean straight in the eye as if he personally offended him and, for all he knew, maybe he actually did. But his next words weren’t angry or hurt but calm like an ocean before a storm. Dean feared that last statement to be truer than anything else in this conversation.

“Carlos is still in that damn town. Everyone things he’s gone crazy but I know better, Carlos loved science more than he loved any living creature and he wouldn’t have just quitted his research because he started believin’ in nonsense, on the contrary! He would’ve made a thesis so good in that nonsense that everyone in that college wouldn’t have any other option than joining in his beliefs… So what changed?”

Dean wasn’t sure if the man wanted an answer since he waited a bit before carrying on, but he finally took a deep breath and continued

“It was that radio host, I’m sure of it. I never learned his name, tho. It just didn’t seem that important at the time, but now I see… He always had a weird obsession with Carlos, and the poor bastard thought he was harmless. I guess he wasn’t in the end. He must have finally broken down and done something to Carlos, what else could have provoked this absence?”

Dean was at loss for words. One thing was talking about hooded figures and lights in the sky… but this guy was talking about downright kidnapping or worse…

“This… guy, the one you think did something to Carlos, how was he? You know physically?”

Luis took a moment to consider his answer.

“He was not tall or short. Not thin or fat. Olive skin, I think, although maybe that could just be ‘cos he lives in a desert.”

“A desert?”

“Yes… and he had white hair.”

“Like white blonde or…?

“No, no like completely white. Natural, although he doesn’t look older than 40 years old. And covered in this weird looking tattoos…”

“You see, the problem with that is that description fits any average man having a mid-life crisis.”

“But…”

“And I still don’t get how you came to the conclusion that this guy was a threat.”

There was silence. Perhaps Dean should head back home now… It was earlier than he was used to but at least there wouldn’t be old people talking about strange towns and weird dudes with tats there…

“Do you believe in the supernatural boy?”

“Huh?”

“Do you believe in the supernatural? More specifically in sirens?”

“You… think the guy we’re talking about is a siren?”

“I can’t be sure what he is. All the things I’ve told you come from the only time I saw him in person, nothing really eye catching as you said except for his voice. It wasn’t like anything you’ve ever listened to… the only time I met him I shook his hand and he told that I should be honored to work along with Carlos in our project, I already told you he had a weird obsession with that boy. Next thing I know, I’m on my knees thanking Carlos for letting me work with him… I know it was him, who made me do that, with just his voice. Someone who can have that kind of control over people’s wills just can’t be human.”

Dean considered this information for a moment. The voice thing definitely sounded like a siren, but the description seemed too vague and too specific at the same time, nothing like any siren he’s ever met…

He took one last glance at the article while assessing the situation when a word in the paper on the booth caught his eye.

“Angels?” He asked out loud.

“Yes…” responded the older man. “It was one of our last investigations together, and one of the last he sent the university before disappearing completely. Ten feet tall beings with great black wings and an unnatural shine around them.”

That kind of sounded like Cas true form, or at least the glimpse he caught of it while he was a demon… If it was actually angels working in whatever that city had going, plus a possible siren on the loose… that seemed like just the right case he needed to clear his mind of all the Cas-Mom shit storm that he had going in his head.

“Mister, what if I told you I could go bring your friend back from the supposed siren?”

The man smirked and for a moment he looked 10 years younger than before.

“I would tell you that Night Vale is within a road trip distance. And warn you that you should bring someone along with you, that place is somewhere you wouldn’t want to face alone.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I have just the perfect guy for the trip.” Dean said smugly as he took a sip from his beer. He then proceeded to grimace at the warm flavor. Yep, he should’ve drunk this about forty minutes ago. “Actually, Imma call’im right now”

He could barely contain his excitement while looking through his contacts. Sure, he was going to spend the next few days in a desert town fighting angels that for some reason didn’t have a vessel and a man who may or may not be a siren… but on the bright side, he wouldn’t have to think about his mother in that time.

“Hey, can I ask you, if this Carlos is that important to you why did you never go looking for him?”

“Well, I tried. That is the only reason the university didn’t kick me out, probably. I convinced them to go look in the same coordinates we went the first time. We did this several times and by the end of it the college was sure it was some kind of error in numbers and we spent 10 years lost in the desert, hallucinating all the stuff that happened. But I knew the town; I lived in it for a year. That town didn’t want to be found, not by us at least… but somehow, I got the feeling that you won’t have that much trouble. Actually, I still remember the coordinates I’ll write them down for you right now.”

Luis took a pen out of his lab coat and wrote some numbers down a piece of the newspaper only to tear it a second later and pass it to Dean.

The hunter read the numbers at the same time his phone started dialing his brother’s number.

“Dean? What’s wrong? I thought I wouldn’t hear from you until at least another 2 hours of solid brooding…”

“Ha ha, bitch, very funny. Now listen, pack your shit and take my duffel out of my room, I found us a case.”

And with that, it was official. The Winchesters were going to Night Vale.

Chapter Text

“If, now, added to all these things, we add also the condition of the room, we have put together the following ideas: strength more than human; wildness less than human; a murder without reason; horror beyond human understanding; and a voice which made no sound that men could understand. What result, then, have you come to? What have I helped you to see?”

A cold feeling went up and down my back as Dupin asked me the question. “A man…someone who has lost his mind,” I said. “A madman!! A madman!! Only a madman could have done these murders!”

“I think not. In some ways your idea is a good one. But madmen are from one country or another. Their cries may be terrible, but they are made of words, and some of the words can be understood.’

“Here! Look! Look at this hair. I took it from the fingers of the old woman. The hair of a madman is not like this. Tell me what you think it is.”

“Dupin! This hair is…this hair is not human hair!!”

“I did not say that it is. But, before we decide this matter, look at the picture I had made here on this piece of paper. It is a picture of the marks on the daughter’s neck. The doctors said these marks were made by fingers. Let me spread the paper on the table before us. Try to put your fingers, all at the same time, on the picture, so that your hand and its fingers will fit the picture of the marks on the daughter’s neck.”

“I cannot!”

“No. But perhaps we are not doing this in the right way. The paper is spread out on the table; the human neck is round. Here is a piece of wood about as big as the daughter’s neck. Put the paper around it and try again. Go on! Try!”

I tried to put my fingers around the piece of wood, as if it were the girl’s neck! But still my hand was not large enough to equal the marks left by the killer. “Dupin! These marks were made by no human hand!...”

“Hey Cas, do you have a minute?”

The angel looked up from the book he was reading to the youngest Winchester briefly, before putting his bookmark in the middle of the page and closing it softly.

The book was a collection of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous stories that dated back to the first half of the 19th century. It probably wouldn’t be considered as interesting as some other materials in the Men of Letters bunker, but to Castiel, it was kind of a small treasure hidden in the middle of an island lost in time. The book was just for mere entertainment, it didn’t belong among the lore and artifacts and other things that were truly useful.

But still it found its way there and for that, Castiel couldn’t help but feel anything but thankful.

After setting the book on his lap the angel assessed the look of his friend, half excited and half dreading… Had the Winchesters managed to find a new hunt in the last few minutes?

“Of course Sam, I’m always happy to assist you in whatever way you may need.”

Sam arched an eyebrow to his phrasing but still made himself comfortable on the sofa next to him. He swung the bag he was carrying over his shoulder to put it on the floor alongside another one which Cas recognized as Dean’s.

So the Winchesters had indeed found a new hunt. He supposed he couldn’t be that surprised, those two always had trouble coming after them and could barely stay calm for too long. The angel sometimes worried that the brothers unconsciously tried to look for danger, that they could not simply accept a reality where they could be calm and happy.

Sometimes he could see a glimpse of that in Sam’s eyes, a hint of yearning that had been long lost in the mist of the hunting life.

It was in moments like this where he could see that curiosity and desire for knowledge creep into the features of the youngest Winchester that he thought that, perhaps, in another life, he could have that very same energy directed to books in government and law enforcement. Not in monsters and lore and things to do with heaven and hell…

The angel supposed everyone had their way to adapt and Sam’s was burying himself in books and knowledge, even if it wasn’t the type he wanted.

And Dean? Well, Dean was a completely different case that Castiel gave up on understanding years ago. It wasn’t just as if the eldest Winchester couldn’t have a normal life, but also that he didn’t want it. Being a hunter was second nature to him, one of the many reasons why Castiel… You know what? Never mind. Nope. Castiel wasn’t gonna enter that train of thought. Not after admitting his feelings and have them being pushed aside by certain hunter with incredible green eyes, and freckles that resembled galaxies and the most beautiful soul the angel has seen in all of his existence…

Ugh… He was screwed.

Luckily, before he could entertain himself in more potentially embarrassing thoughts Sam, (bless him), interrupted him by speaking his own.

“Are you sure you don’t mind? You kind of zoned out on me for a minute…”

“I’m fine” Castiel responded rather quickly.

 If Sam noticed the equally fast reddening of his cheeks, Castiel was grateful he didn’t comment on it. He did, however, eyed the angel for a really long time which, by the way, only served to worsen the heat accumulating in his face.

“Are you going anywhere?” The angel blurted desperately to change the subject.

“Yeah, actually that’s what I wanted to talk to you about” Sam conceded “So get this, Dean phoned me a moment ago and apparently, there’s this place called Night Vale…”

“Excuse me, did you said Night Vale?” This time, Castiel interrupted.

“Well… yeah. Do you know it?”

Castiel, in fact, knew Night Vale. He’s known of its existence since its foundation several years ago, although he hadn’t actually visited the city until merely 20 years prior. It was, after all, not of his concern. Neither hell nor heaven had any say in Night Vale; it was out of limits, under the protection of an ancient being of which he had only heard in legends as a fledgling. The good and evil didn’t have any jurisdiction in Night Vale, and that alone should’ve made the town a limbo of debauchery and profanity… but it didn’t.

Night Vale in itself was terrifying, full of abnormalities and experiences that no one should ever cross upon. But its people… they were good, even under the influence of a semi-totalitarian government, they managed to find the equilibrium between what was correct and what not… Sometimes they failed (most of them were only part human, after all) but they tried, and that was more than most people were willing to do. In Castiel’s book that was one of the highest qualities, a human could achieve.

So that begged the question, what was going on in Night Vale to catch the Winchesters’ attention? Sure it wasn’t the most common town, but every information that the outsiders manage to get from it was quickly shut down by their common sense (that and Night Vale’s uncanny ability to force people to forget about it unless they “deserved it”, but those tended to be a really small margin of people).

If Sam and Dean somehow found about Night Vale, it could either mean that something terrible for Night Vale standards had happened, or that it was about to happen with the Winchesters arrival.

Fuck. Night Vale was the home of one of his dearest friends, and either way, he was probably doomed if the Winchesters had any said on it…

“You cannot go to Night Vale,” Castiel said without hesitation.

The curious smile in Sam’s face dissipated to place a weird sort of frown. To his favor, Cas’ could’ve been more sensitive about the topic. In the other hand, he could think of a thousand reasons why Sam and Dean Winchester should not go to Night Vale.

“I’ll take that as a yes. And why can’t we go to Night Vale?”

Ok, so Castiel should definitely have been more sensitive to the topic, and just because he could think of a thousand reasons they shouldn’t go, that didn’t mean he could say them out loud. Still, he supposed he owed the younger brother an explanation, so, here goes nothing.

“Bad things happen in Night Vale” he could almost hear Dean in his head saying sarcastically ‘Nice save, Cas.

“Yeah, I gathered that much from Dean, but it still doesn’t make sense what you say. You know we hunt bad things for a-livin', what is so different in this case?”

Cas bit hi slip as he pondered his answer. He had to tell them the truth about Night Vale, ‘cos otherwise they would jump in without the slightest idea of what they were getting into, in a typical Winchester fashion. The problem was that they also, most probably won’t listen to him and go anyway risking their lives and… you know what? That sounds like it’s actually part of that same Winchester fashion.

“I’ll tell you when your brother arrives” the angel finally responded.

“Why?”

“Because I think you both should hear me at the same time. I don’t want neither of you to misinterpret what I have to say.”

 Sam didn’t look very convinced about this but he nodded anyway indicating that he was accepting the angel’s request. Without further ado, he pulled out his phone and started typing something.

“You won’t find anything useful on the internet, I can assure you that.”

The younger man glared at him and gave a long frustrated sigh before locking his phone. He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the angel as if waiting for some kind of explanation he knew would never arrive.

They stayed like that for about 15 minutes in uncomfortable silence. Enough time for Castiel to think of a semi-good excuse as to why they should not go to Night Vale, for when Dean arrived. And he fully intended to do it, of course. It wasn’t his fault that he spent those 15 minutes, trying to think of a way to describe Night Vale, without raising suspicion about Night Vale.

It shouldn’t have been hard; the town wasn’t that strange, really. So when Dean finally slammed the door, Castiel should at the very least have some sort of excuse formed in his mind. Instead of that, the moment Dean entered the bunker this is what happened:

“You ready, Sammy?”

“You and Sam are not going to Night Vale.”

Yep, Castiel was screwed.

*

Dean predicted this. Well, not this as in; ‘the angel has an apparent grudge on Night Vale’, but this as in he shouldn’t have told Cas about the case in the first place because that could mess things up. Not with the case, but with his head… maybe… Crap.

When Sam mentioned Cas in the telephone, an alarm shot through his head because he knew telling the angel about the case that he took to get his mind out of said angel could only end badly for him. Either Cas decided to join the hunt, (which would only mean a distraction to his distraction) or he bailed on them till Chuck knows when (which still hurt, even though he would never admit that out loud).

He anticipated hurt, not… confusion.

“What is that supposed to mean? Do you know something about this place?”

Castiel looked uncomfortable, fidgeting with the end of his trench coat and biting his lower lip, and a part of Dean felt sorry for him. The other part was still caught on the ‘what-the-fuckness’ of it all.

“Can you just take my word when I say Night Vale is not a place for you?”

“Cas, buddy, I don’t know if you got the memo but we don’t exactly work in nice places…”

“No… I know this, but…” The angel slumped his shoulders and buried his face in his hands, and in that moment Dean wanted to hug him and tell him that it was ok, that they would listen to him…ugh.

Fucking feelings. This is exactly what he was worried about when he thought about Cas and the hunt.

Finally, Castiel looked up and his eyes locked with Dean’s. The hunter could spend hours admiring Cas’ eyes, trying to figure out the exact shade of blue that colored them or simply getting lost in them. The only thing that held him from doing that, in that moment, was the sound of his younger brother clearing his throat.

Dean broke the eye contact to look at his brother, who looked in equal parts annoyed and amused. He didn’t know whether to punch him or thank him.

“Cas” Sam started, “You said you would explain once Dean arrived. You know you can tell us whatever bothers you about this place and we’ll listen to you, however, if there’s something wrong in this place we can’t promise you we’ll just let it go.”

“Yeah Cas… what he said.”

Out of the two brothers, Sam had to be the one who was, actually, eloquent enough to make Cas talk, because now it turns out that Dean can’t form coherent thoughts around the angel.

Speaking of, this seemed to break Cas out of his weird angel trance and answer them.

“I have to show you something.”

Chapter Text

The brothers looked confused at the angel’s statement but nonetheless followed Castiel as he made his way to the bedroom they spared for the occasions when he stayed at the bunker. The angel led them silently and Dean couldn’t help but feel as if he was about to learn some dark secret of the angel. God, he hoped it was anything but that.

When they arrived at the door, Castiel hesitated for half a second. It was enough for the eldest hunter to imagine Cas, opening the door and revealing a crime scene or something. But the door opened up, and it didn’t.

The trio walked to the edge of the bed when the angel got down on his knees to reach something under the mattress. His hand came out with a couple pieces of paper. No, not that, photographies.

“I used to take one every time I visited Night Vale, to help me remember in case I wasn’t accepted by the city…”

“Did you just said accepted by the city?” Sam interrupted and Dean had to admit that Cas’ wording seemed a bit weird. Almost like the town was sentient…

“That town didn’t want to be found, not by us at least.”

That’s what Luis said when he talked about it, at the time. And now with what Cas just said, could there be a possibility that this may be true?

“Cas, is the city alive or something?” Dean asked.

The mentioned angel only snuck in a sharp breath, and that was all the confirmation Dean needed. He gulped as he took in the reality of the situation. Cas wasn’t looking at him anymore and he couldn’t blame him.

A city that was alive. That wasn’t something they have ever encountered before. Could this have something to do with that Carlos guy disappearance?

“What were you saying about the pictures Cas?”

“Something you got to understand about Night Vale is that it’s got a temper. It doesn’t take kindly outsiders snooping around and trying to disrupt its peace. If you plan to go on a hunt where you may find something you’ll regret.” He paused, and Dean pondered for a moment about Cas’ relationship with the city, and more importantly, with the people in the picture.

“Can I?” He asked. Castiel gave a short nod and handed him the pictures.

The hunter didn’t know what he expected. Cas with his arms around some dude, laughing at a joke he didn’t really understand? Or maybe standing next to a pretty girl while smiling shyly at her? Maybe. The pictures would’ve seemed innocent enough, if not for the fact that all of the faces were blurred out.

Photo after photo, filled with bodies of men and women with the only outstanding feature being where their faces were supposed to be there was a big dark splotch as if someone had spilled ink in each of their faces.

“I don’t know the reason their faces cannot be seen by strangers outside of Night Vale. I suspect it has something to do with the city’s self-defense” Cas said in response to a question neither of the brothers dared to ask. “They’re not much, but they help me remember the town and its people. These pictures are a constant reminder that good can flourish, even in the worst circumstances.”

“So, you’re saying that the people are good, but the town is bad?” Sam finally spoke after a moment of contemplation. Could’ve been a second, or a minute, or several minutes, Dean wasn’t sure. He was still trying to make sense of the images before him.

“In a way, yes” the angel extended his hand towards Dean as if asking if he could have the pictures back. When Dean handed them, he could feel a part of him was left unsatisfied for not finding in the photos a clue in the mystery of Castiel and whatever he had to do with Night Vale.

Castiel pulled out a picture from the bunch. It looked even worse than the other ones, as if whoever had taken it couldn’t stop shaking. Upon closer inspection, Dean realized this couldn’t be true. The background was clear, a building with the letters NVCR engraved on its front, the only thing blurred was the figure of, what Dean assumed, was a man in the middle of the picture.

He couldn’t make out a single feature of the person before him, and that thought sends an uncomfortable feeling to the pit of his stomach.

“This is Cecil. He is what you may call, my ‘contact’ in Night Vale. The last time I left I made him promise he will call me if anything unusual happened there but… if he hasn’t called and you think there’s somehow a danger upon the city, it can only mean one of two things: Something really has happened and Cecil may be in danger…”

“Cas, I don’t know about this Cecil dude, but there’s a person missing and…”

“That my point Dean, people always go missing in Night Vale.”

“What?”

“It’s not uncommon for people there to face life or death situations. They deal with it and move on. It’s not ideal, but this place works under no laws but its own.”

“Oh well, it’s all dandy then. We’ll just let innocent people fucking die, ‘cos this weird ass city has a mind of his own, right Cas!?”

“You are not listening. This is something that happens all the time…”

“And that makes it all right?”

“Of course not!”

“Ok, that’s enough!” Dean was startled by the volume of his brother’s voice. He almost forgot that he was there in the middle of his screaming match with Cas “Dean, for the love of God, calm down. And Cas, you still haven’t answered why can’t we go to Night Vale.”

The angel casted his eyes down. He looked very much like a kid, who was reprimanded by his father in front of all of his friends. Dean supposed he didn’t look any better himself.

After a moment of deliberation, Castiel opened his mouth, his words carrying a dark tone that send shivers down the hunter’s spine.

“As I said, things like going missing in Night Vale, are very common. This is because the town operates on its own, without the interference of Heaven or Hell. Whenever there’s something wrong there, the town fixes it. Now, what I just told you it’s important for the sole reason that if a problem within there has found a way to circulate into the rest of the world, it means that there might be a more serious thing that the town can solve.”

“Well, yeah. That’s kind of the point we’re trying to make here.”

“You still don’t get it. These things are common, Dean. Death is common. We’re talking about a town that once was overtaken by Lucifer’s dog.”

Did you just say Lucifer’s dog?”

“Stay focus, Dean.”

“Ok, sorry. Go on.”

“The city has taken everything, from a government overtaken to collective mind control but the habitants always find a way out. If you heard from it now, that only can be because the city wanted you to find out.”

“Ok, that’s ridiculous, see? I learned about it from a guy at the bar who needs help to find his friend. Ok? They worked together there, and now, dude’s been missing for years…”

“If the city wanted to kill him, he would have died within his first week there. So, no, there’s a reason the city casually let go of a man who could tell everyone what happens there, it needs help.”

“In that case, what are we waiting for? Whether it’s some scientist who was abducted or an actual citizen, lives are obviously in danger, Cas…”

“Why do you want to go there so much?”

“Why don’t you want us to go?”

“Because it’s dangerous. If the city needs help it’s because there’s a major threat that it can’t control, and I’m afraid you will try to control it and end up hurting yourselves. Night Vale it’s outside Heaven jurisdiction, and if something happens to you there, there won’t be anything I can do to protect you.”

Dean gaped at him for a moment. There were so many feelings swirling inside of him, that he wasn’t sure which part of what Cas just said to address first.

“The guy who told me about Night Vale, he was a scientist there. At first, I thought he was crazy. I guess with what you said right now I know he was saying the truth, but that’s not what convinced me to go. He talked about angels, Cas, he even described them. And I know that he was legit ‘cos I remember you from…”

Dean choked up. They all knew he was talking about his time as a demon, but that was still a wound that never had time to heal properly. They never could catch a break. There was the mark, then the darkness, then his mom… That’s what cases like this were something he craved, something the angel couldn’t understand.

He looked up to the angel, prompting him to explain what was now in both of the brothers’ minds. If Heaven didn’t get a said in Night Vale, how come there were angels roaming free, letting themselves be seen by any dude.

“Those are not exactly angels. But I guess that’s the closest approximation you can draw without delving in the hierarchy of angels. Essentially, they are the souls of deceased beings that were chosen to become angels, but due to their mortal nature couldn’t quite finish the process. They have the same powers, but to a lesser extent, and they don’t need vessels ‘cos their true forms are not as pure as that of a real angel.”

“And they are there, why?”

“They like it there. The last time I heard news from them, they had established a friendship with one of the locals, an elderly woman named Josefina, who’s a dear friend of mine too, might I add. Also, since they chose to stay in a land outside of heaven, anything they do won’t be a concern for the angels. So, you see, they are common in Night Vale. Not enough of a reason for you to go there.”

“Cas, why don’t you want us to go. I know you said that it was dangerous, but there’s gotta be something else” Castiel stayed silent, and Dean had to continue pressing the matter until he had some kind of answer to his friend’s weird behavior. “You said at the begging there was another thing that could be happening, Cas. What is it?”

The angel didn’t budge or even dare to look into the eldest hunter’s eyes. His sight was set on the picture of the man, Cecil, in front of him. He looked sad, almost regretful. He had to see that look in the angel’s eyes many times, hell, he had been under that look most of those times, and watching him give it to someone outside of their family felt… Wrong.

“Dean I want you to look at this picture. You too, Sam. Focus solely on it and tell me what you see”

“What?”

“Trust me, just try.”

“Ok…” and Dean did try, really. He took the picture and started to look at it intently, looking for anything unusual besides the obvious blurriness that took away any reliable feature of the man. Ugh, he could feel a headache coming of all of this “This is stupid, I don’t…”

“Wow” Dean took a sharp intake of breath. He didn’t even notice his brother was also looking at the picture over his shoulder until he spoke: “What the hell was that?”

“That was Cecil. Pictures, much like everything else, work differently in Night Vale. You can only see the people on its habitats if you previously knew their existence, and even then you have to concentrate really hard…”

“Then how come the only thing I see is a headache coming?”

“That’s good, it means it’s working. It’s a little harder for the people without… such an open mind, we might say. Just keep looking.”

“I don’t think it’s gonna…”

“Dude, look at the man. Don’t focus on anything else, ok?”

“Ok, ok, geez. I get it.”

He looked again, this time focusing solely on the man in the middle. His headache was gaining weight by the second, and he was about to call it quits again when he saw it, the picture was changing before him.

The edges were getting sharper and he could finally make out the figure of him.

It was, in fact, a man. Not tall or short, not thin or fat. With tanned skin, probably a product of living in the desert for such a long lime and an average face which only outstanding mark was that it was framed with a mop of white hair that looked strangely natural…holy shit.

“Cas, I think this is the man who kidnapped the scientist.”

The angel looked defeated but not surprised at all. Did he know his friend was a possible siren?

“I was afraid he might be involved in whatever this is.”

“Whatever…? Cas, this is a felony we’re talking about. The guy I talked to thinks he is a freakin’ siren for fuck's sake!”

“Cecil is not a Siren, although I understand the confusion. He can be very persuasive, especially when he concentrates on getting his voice in the right frequency” Ok, that didn’t sound weird or sexual, at all. “But I can assure you, Cecil is not something you’ve ever encountered before.”

“The way you say it doesn’t really help his case here…”

“I know” Cas sighed. “Believe me, I do. Cecil is not a siren; however, he is not completely human either. His father is a creature whose name is only spoken about in whispers among the bravest warriors in Heaven and the praised by the most ignorant in Hell, who can’t even fathom the repercussions their words might bring…”

“Still not helping, Cas…”

“…However, Cecil is not like him. He is kind-hearted and loyal to his town and innocent in a way that is weird for this day and age. He kind of reminds me of myself the first time I came to earth, always curious and eager to see everything for himself. For a long time, he was the highest concept I had of humanity, even though he wasn’t completely human. That’s the reason I don’t want you to go to Night Vale. If something happens to him, regardless if it is by his own account or if we bring it upon him, I would be devastated.”

Dean was speechless. He couldn’t even find a point to start to comprehend everything the angel had just said, but his mind was sure to provide some ideas that constituted mainly of: ‘Holy shit, Cas was totally in love with this dude’ ‘Maybe is all a really awful misunderstanding and Cas didn’t have a sort of crush on weird-kidnapper-dude’ and ‘Cas is worried we’re gonna hurt his friend-slash-possible-ex.’

“Dean, I realize now that there’s nothing I can say to convince you of not going to Night Vale, and you have a rightful reason not to trust Cecil but, for the love of my Father, if you come across him do not attack him. He’s been through a lot, even for someone living in Night Vale. Promise me, Dean, that you will not harm him without giving him a chance.”

“Cas… the guy is a monster, he kidnapped someone.”

“You don’t know that.”

No, Dean didn’t know that, and wasn’t that just the icing on his cake? How could he say no to Castiel when he obviously cared for this guy so much?

“Please, Dean” oh, damn it.

“Look Cas, the thing is this guy’s a suspect. Whatever relation you may have with him, we can’t just let it get in the way of the investigation. I get that he’s your friend or whatever but if he really did what the man accused him of we’ll have to do something” as the words poured out of his mouth, the crestfallen expression of the angel grew and the moment the sadness reached his friend’s baby blues’ he knew he was about to do something really stupid. “I guess we could give him a chance, tho, just to see what he has to say for himself?”

“What?!”

“Are you serious?”

Dean took a small pause to see both surprised expressions respectively. His brother looked as if he just said to give Lucifer a chance of forgiveness, which ok, was completely understandable. But Cas… Cas looked so relieved, and Dean realized that he would probably regret this decision later but couldn’t bring himself to care when Castiel was looking at him like that.

“Yes, I’m completely serious” his brother glared at him from his position near the door. “Hey, if Cas trust this dude the least I can do is give him the benefit of the doubt.”

 Said angel beamed at his words and Dean couldn’t help but give a subtle smirk in return.

“Ok, so what is the plan now?”

Dean considered this for a second.

“I guess we can assume you comin’ too?” The eldest hunter asked looking at the angel, to which he received a short nod as an answer. The whole point of going as soon as possible was to avoid the dram but he guessed it was a little too late for that. “I guess there’s no point in rushing this anymore. We’ll just leave tomorrow first thing so we arrive there by the afternoon of the next day. ‘Sides I could use some shut-eye, before drivin’.”

“Ok, sounds good. Welp, since we’re not going anywhere, for now, I’m gonna go ahead and rest a little. Night, guys.”

“Good night Sam.”

“Night, Sammy.”

As the younger brother exited the room, only Dean and Castiel were left in the former’s room in what very well should have been an uncomfortable silence. Instead, it was just peacefulness and a sense of accomplishment that felt weird since technically they haven’t even started the case.

“Dean?”

“Yeah Cas?”

“Thank you. For trusting my judgment I mean.”

“Just don’t make me regret it, angel.”

It was meant to be a teasing tone, but the truth was underlying every word of it. The angel looked at him a long moment and then started walking towards him, disregarding any possibility of personal space (not that he was any good with that in the first place).

For a moment Dean thought Castiel was going to kiss him and panicked thinking about what his reaction to that should be. Should he stop him or kiss him back? Would it be ok if the angel starts the kiss or would it ruin their friendship anyway?

“I promise you, Dean, I will do everything in my power to prove you that what I’m saying is the truth. I will even interrogate Cecil myself as soon as we arrive at Night Vale.”

Yeah, of course. Thinking Castiel, Angel of the Lord was about to kiss him? Dumb idea. Also, the name Cecil pronounced in his angel’s lips worked like a bucket of cold water on him. They were going to Night Vale to investigate the potential kidnapping involving one of Cas’ friends and possible romantic interest. Yep, he shouldn’t really be thinking about the angel in anything more than a friendly setting right now.

“Well, it’s late. Why don’t you go to sleep and we’ll talk more about this tomorrow, huh?”

“Dean…”

“Yeah, I know ‘angels don’t sleep’ and all that jazz.”

“Well, yes. But also, you’re technically in my room right now.”

“Of course… I knew that” Dean responded awkwardly as he fumbled his way to the door. “I’ll just, yeah… See ya tomorrow, Cas.”

“Good night, Dean. Sleep well.”

With that, Dean exited the room and closed the door behind himself, sparing one last look at the angel now sitting on the edge of the bed.

The good news was if the city didn’t kill him, the sexual tension probably would.

Chapter Text

As soon as they woke up they packed up and started driving to their newest and most vague case yet, which Sam would’ve mentioned if he didn’t know it would potentially stir the conflict of the night prior and although he was still offended that Cas didn’t trust them to run the case, he could also see why after his little speech.

Cases were always more tricky when there were emotions involved and, for the way Cas talked about that Cecil dude, he could tell that he was more than a little biased on this one.

At some point, he even wondered if said feelings were more than pure friendship and admiration, but that couldn’t be possible. Right? Cas would surely tell them if he once was romantically involved with a possible murderer… right?

Damn it.                                                               

Also, by the way, his brother kept throwing glances through the rearview mirror he could tell the same thoughts were assessing his mind, which was yet another thing to worry about. See, he could deal with pining Dean, even with emotional Dean, but a jealous, pining and emotional Dean? That was another thing entirely.

True to his promise tho, Dean got them to the Sonoran desert around noon the next day, which was impressive even considering they only stopped twice for food and spent the night in a motel just outside New Mexico. That’s not to say the trip still felt freaking endless, between the usual amounts of sexual tension mixed with the new conflicting feelings of jealousy courtesy of Dean.

By the time they arrive at the motel last night, Sam was so ready to hit the hay after a long day of being on the road, only to find out that there was only one room with two twin beds. That would’ve been fine. After all, only two out of three people there needed to sleep, but since he was stuck with Deedle Dee and Deedle Dumb an inevitable discussion about how Cas couldn’t just ‘watch over them’ took place.

At that point, Sam couldn’t have cared less if said angel decided to watch them sleep the whole night like the creeper Dean claimed he was but, of course, the argument was not his but his brother’s and the angel’s so all he could do was bury his face in the mattress and try to ignore those two. It turned out that was the wisest thing to do.

He didn’t know at what point at night those two stopped arguing, how the argument ended or what happened to Cas after that and, frankly, he didn’t care. All he knew was that by the time he woke up his brother was already up looking in equal parts well rested and flustered meanwhile the angel looked like his usual stoic self. All in all, the night could’ve gone worse.

After a quick breakfast in a nearby diner, they hit the road again. Sam didn’t ask how the things ended the previous night and he could almost hear his brother’s silent thank you as they entered the Impala.

It wasn’t the best road trip experience but, all together it was far from the worst journey they had.

At least it wasn’t, until around 2 o’clock when they had already spent two hours driving through the vast nothingness of the Sonoran desert without any indication of civilization in sight.

That how both Winchesters found themselves in a screaming match in the middle of the desert.

“How could you forget the coordinates the guy gave you?”

“I didn’t forget them, I already told you.”

“Then how is that according to you we should’ve arrived like an hour ago?”

“I followed the directions the dude gave me. Not my fault the GPS decided to crash when we were about to arrive.”

“Dude, admit it. We’re lost.”

“We’re not lost, Sammy, I’m sure we’ll see a building at any moment.”

“May I please turn the radio?” the angel inquired from the backseat, which earned him a bitch face from both brothers. “I guess that’s a no…”

“No shit, Cas. I’ve told you: driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole.”

“I know but…”

“Then it’s settled. Hey, look. I think I see something up front.”

Effectively, from this distance Sam could see too, although barely since the colors seemed to mix with those of the sand around them, a big yellow sign with a black city painted in the background to contrast with the big letters: Welcome to Desert Bluffs.

The sign was not in the direction they were supposed to go. In fact, is deviated from their way completely, but maybe it was worth going in there just to ask for some sort of directions or at the very least a map.

“What do you think?”

“I think is our best shot, Sammy.”

“I don’t think we should go in there.” Cas objected.

Sam almost forgot Castiel was in there with the relief of finally finding a trace of civilization. The angel looked annoyed but also concerned. Dean must’ve noticed too, from a glance through the mirror cause he slowed down the car enough to face Castiel and not run the danger of hitting his precious car with a cactus.

“Why?”

The question was addressed for the angel, but it resonated in Sam for a moment before looking at his friend who swallowed almost unperceptively before speaking.

“The last I heard from this city, it was run by Strex Corp and its ties to Night Vale were no precisely on the friendly side. I ignore if that rivalry still remains but, perhaps, it would be for the best if we avoid any political conflict they may have.”

Ok, Sam thought that sounded reasonable. Although it still creeped him out a little knowing his friend was more knowledgeable in this city and its citizens and now, apparently its rivals. Speaking of which…

“Hey Cas, you said you’ve been here before, right? Can you, I don’t know, tell us where it is? Or at least if we’re getting any closer?”

“I would love to, Sam, but for my vast knowledge of the city a couple of years ago I can tell you where is exactly right now.”

“Huh?”

“The city changes positions constantly. Normally you can find in the same place you first entered it, but since neither of you has been there before and I’ve only gotten there flying, the best option we have right now is waiting until the city decides to accept us in.”

“And how long will that take?”

“Could be hours, although if it’s more than a day is probable that the city just doesn’t want us and that would be our cue to leave.”

“Well shit, Cas. Don’t you think that information would’ve been nice a few miles ago?” said Dean, now continuing to drive to the desert in spite of his recent argument.

“I guess… but there’s something we can do.”

“What?”

“We can turn on the radio.”

“Oh no. You’re not getting your way after this.”

“Dean, if you would just listen…”

“Listen to what Cas, there’s nothing in miles. The only thing it’s gonna receive is static…”

Without waiting for the hunter to finish his statement, the angel reached from the backseat to the stereo only to have his hand slapped away by the hunter.

“I told you, Cas. No means…”

His statement was cut off by the sound of the static filling the car. Both of them looked over at the passenger seat where the youngest Winchester was barely repressing a smug grin, as he accommodated himself in his seat once again.

“What?” Sam asked innocently.

His brother looked at him with annoyance and reached to stop the radio muttering what sounded like “Bitch” under his breath only to receive the same treatment as the angel before him.

“Ouch!”

“Eyes on the road, Dean.”

The eldest Winchester didn’t say anything and decided to instead sulk while glaring daggers at the road. As the static sounded in the background Sam wondered what was that all about. He mostly did it just to piss off his brother for dragging him to the middle of nowhere, but the angel in the backseat looked as pleased as if he had tricked Dean himself.

Sam was about to ask what was the plan now since their fate rested on the city’s apparent sentiency when he heard it… The static was clearing to make space for something else, a voice.

It was faint and dissonant, but as they drove he swore he could picture the man behind it, with his tanned skin marked with a bunch of tattoos, his white hair nestled over his forehead and deep eyes that transcended the confines of a picture…

He looked at the radio, knowing full well that his brother and his friend must’ve been doing the same ‘cos, how could they ignore that voice that just begged to be listened to?

Finally, at three o’clock, they heard it clear as water. No more static, no more distractions. Just a sweet baritone that seemed to pull you in and they were so concentrated in that voice that they didn’t even notice the purple sign at the side of the road that welcomed them to their newest case.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times… well, we both know no one can come back to death that many times, don’t we?’

Welcome to Night Vale”

Chapter Text

As soon as they arrived at Night Vale, Dean knew they weren’t precisely guests of honor. Call it gut instinct, or the fact that as soon as they exited the Impala they were surrounded by an angry mob pointing at them, yelling ‘Interlopers’ but he knew they weren’t gonna win any popularity contest in this city.

By the time they parked he had already heard the dude on the radio talk about hooded figures in the dog park, imaginary crop, a house that doesn’t exist and an announcement for the campaign of a literal five-headed dragon… His exact words.

So by the time they reached what looked like a somewhat decent place to eat he was torn between asking Cas what the hell was wrong with the town, and avoiding the subject entirely since he was 90% sure it was their guy talking on the radio ‘cos A) There’s no chance a voice like that can be human and B) Cas should not be smiling like he was, while listening to a potential criminal.

The decision was pretty much made for him when the aforementioned mob surrounded them outside of a building with the sign “Big Rico’s Pizza”.

“Now what?” He asked to no one in particular as the multitude got closer and he saw his brother shrug helplessly in the other side of the car. He was considering asking Cas to fly them out of there when the angel stepped in front of them at the same time to look at the mob. In that moment, as if on cue, an old lady with dark skin and hair tightened in a bun over her head mimicked the angel’s actions accompanied by two tall figures with wings behind her. Angels.

As soon as she stood up front, she faced the rest of the people and with a simple hand gesture, everything got quiet. It may have helped the two angels flanking her sides looked every bit as intimidating as you would imagine. The multitude slowly started spreading around, leaving each trio to face the other respectively.

Then, she looked at them and her eyes landed on Castiel in front of their group. As she got closer she extended her arms towards the angels face. The woman wasn’t really tall, even for an old lady, and she carried herself with a certain amount of effort but Dean couldn’t help but notice that even that gave her a sense of power around her.

She reached Castiel and took the angel by the cheeks pulling his face towards her and looking straight into his eyes. Even if Dean could get away of whatever trance that woman put him under he wouldn’t dare to come between her and her objective if he had to be subjugated to that look she had.

Finally, a mischievous smile formed on her lips as she spoke to their angel.

“Well Erika, you look way better than I remember.”

“Josie, I already told you. I don’t go by the name of Erika that one is only for your friends, the ones who live here.” Castiel responded and… was that a smile Dean heard in the angel’s voice?

“Nonsense. You are here, you are my friend, and therefore you are an Erika.”

And as if things couldn’t get any weirder the old lady put her arms around Cas’ neck bringing him closer to her and… he hugged her back.

“I missed you, Josie. I’m happy to see you’re fine.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say fine, but I manage. I missed you too, Erika. But somehow, I don’t think this is a simple visit to an old friend.”

Castiel retreated enough to look at the old woman’s (Josie, apparently) form, while still having his hands planted firmly on her shoulders.

“No, you’re right” he took a step back so Josie could see the two brothers on both sides of the black slick car. “These are my friends, Sam and Dean Winchester. They… look into the supernatural for a living and got a word about Night Vale.”

“Are they like Carlos?” asked the old lady, interrupting Castiel. Dean’s head perked up at the mention of that name.

“Who?”

“My, Erika. You’ve really been gone a long time if you don’t know who Carlos is, but don’t worry. I’m sure Cecil will fill you in as soon as you see him.”

Ok, that was it. Dean stepped into his friend’s conversation. Not that seeing Cas reunited with someone who was not actively trying to kill him wasn’t nice, but this had just confirmed that, at the very least, Cecil knew about Carlos and was possibly involved in his disappearance.

He took the angel by the elbow, making him drift his attention from the old woman to himself, and whispered in his ear what he hoped came in equal parts imperatively and discreetly.

“Cas… excuse me, lady. Cas, the name of the guy we’re looking for is Carlos.”

“Sure, sorry Dean” the angel responded even though he looked more exasperated than sorry. “We’re actually looking for Cecil, Josie. I suppose we can find him in his usual place?” he asked turning once again to the mysterious woman.

“If you look for him at his old place, I’m afraid to tell you he moved out a few years ago. I can you his new address, but I don’t think you will find him there. You know how he is with his job, dedicated to the point of unhealthiness. I swear he and Carlos were made for each other in that aspect. You’ll probably have more luck looking for him at the radio station”

“I should’ve figured. We just catch a bit of his program but I could’ve sworn it was a rerun.”

“That’s because it was probably a rerun. He’s only doing live shows on the evenings now, for the sake of delivering actual news instead of going off the charts. Not that he’s stopped, but at least he tries. Last week we only had 30 minutes of him ranting about Steve Carlsberg.”

“Oh, good for him.”

“Cas!”

“Well, thank you for your help Josie, I’ll be sure to pass by after we finish our business here. I do, have missed chatting with Erika and Erika…No offense Erika” the angel added looking apologetically at the two tall figures behind Josie. Dean wanted to pull out his hair.

“Don’t worry” said the lady “they know you always got along more with those two. Anyway, you better make good on that promise, Erika, we’ll be waiting for you. Now, if you excuse me I’ll be on my way. The Erikas only brought me here to see the new outsiders and now that I know is you, I can relax knowing you’re not gonna cause any trouble in here. You don’t even have to worry about the rest of the town, I’m sure once Cecil knows you’re here you’ll be under his protection.”

“Thank you, Josie.”

“Goodbye, Erika.”

And with that, the old woman turned around along with the angels that flanked her proud at her sides and started walking down the road. Dean stood dumbfounded for a moment before turning to his own angel friend, who was smiling in a way that he would’ve found beautiful if he wasn’t so frustrated.

“What the hell, Cas?!”

“I believe I arranged a meeting to ‘catch up’ with a long life friend. I hadn’t seen Josie in a long time before I even had this vessel in fact; I’m surprised she recognized me.”

“I’m talking about you letting a possible complicit go!”

“Well, if it bothers you so much why didn’t just ask her about Carlos yourself? I’m sure she wouldn’t have minded answering any questions.”

The angel talked so calmly that you wouldn’t have guessed they were discussing a possible kidnapping case by a monster. His steady tone suggested an obviousness that only fueled Dean’s annoyance so, with a long frustrated sigh; he pushed past the angel to go after the lady that held more answers than his friend was willing to give.

“Hey, lady, can I speak…” there was no one in the street, just the three of them and the people inside the restaurant who somehow managed to stay oblivious through their whole ordeal.

Dean was still looking intently at the street trying to find some trace of the old woman, who couldn’t have just disappeared out of nowhere. Although she did have angels with her, was it possible that the angels just teleported her to avoid any conflict?

He was pulled out from his thoughts by a familiar hand touching his shoulders.

“Dean, we should go inside. It’s getting late and we haven’t had a decent meal for hours” his brother spoke softly, not wanting to stir any more conflict and Dean was thankful for that. He nodded and let his younger sibling lead the way to the door when he noticed only the two of them were walking.

“Cas, you comin’ with us?”

“Actually, I think I’m gonna head up and start asking around town about Carlos. Maybe I’ll go ahead and visit Cecil at his place of work, see what he can tell me.”

And ease his way before meeting the Winchesters. Castiel didn’t have to say it out loud, but Dean knew with one look at his friend. He desperately wanted his friend to be innocent, and that conviction was starting to rub off in Dean too.

“I’ll text you his work address when I finish talking to him, you should have no problem finding it.”

“I’m sure.”

“And Dean, be careful. Remember what I told you; anything that could be dangerous in this city will be even more so for you and Sam.”

“Right, gotcha’”

They stood there for a moment just looking into each other’s eyes and Dean felt as if he should’ve said something. But he didn’t. He broke his glance first and this seemed to be enough for the angel to go on his way.

“I’ll see you later, Dean.”

Dean heard the familiar flutter of wings and in the blink of an eye, the angel was gone.

He looked back at the restaurant and found his brother at the door looking at him with a weird expression on his face, that he was not ready to deal with. He had actually forgotten his brother was still there.

Without interchanging something other than looks and a short nod, both Winchester’s entered to the restaurant ready to see what the city would bring upon them.

*

Carlos was having an amazing day. How could he not, really?

He spent the morning with his boyfriend in their cozy apartment, taking advantage of the Wednesday being canceled to allow them both to arrive late at work.

He drank a big cup of coffee, that Cecil made just the way he knew he liked it and cuddled on the couch as his beautiful lover carded his fingers through his hair, and they watched a mindless comedy on Netflix till it was time to leave (at least Cecil thought it was a comedy, Carlos could’ve sworn they were watching a documental on the middle ages but it wasn’t like he was paying much attention).

Even his day at the lab had been awesome. They finally got some actual results in the radioactivity around Radon Canyon and nothing exploded at the lab today… Do you get it? Science actually made sense in Night Vale for once and it didn’t backfire at all, what else could he ask from life?

“Here you go Carlos, a single gluten-free pepperoni pizza. This time, without scorpions in it.”

“Thanks for remembering Rico.”

And that was yet another thing, Rico remembering he didn’t eat scorpions like the rest of Night Vale. At this point, no one even looked at him when he ordered his pizza scorpion-free, but sometimes Rico still thought he was pulling a joke and served him those arachnids anyway. Not today, though.

He didn’t want to overstuff himself since he was set in surprising Cecil after work later and taking him out for dinner. He may not be the most romantic person, but he knew his boyfriend appreciated these little details every now and then. Also, what better way to finish this day than having a romantic dinner with the most important person in his world?

There wasn’t.

He was about to take a bite from his pizza when he heard the doorbell ringing. Usually, something like that wouldn’t even catch his attention, if it weren’t for the silence that took over the pizzeria completely. A silence that signaled the calm before the storm, a stern void of sound that he’d only heard a couple of times since moving to Night Vale.

Then a voice rose, from behind his back. He didn’t even have to look to know it was Big Rico who had just let hell break loose in the restaurant.

“Interlopers.”

Yeah, Carlos good day was probably over.

*

As soon as he heard the first ‘Interloper’ Carlos knew what he had to do. Doesn’t mean he had to like it tho.

Before a mob could properly form around the two guys that looked terrified and more than a little exasperated, he rose from his seat and pulled rushed to their side.

“It’s ok, it’s ok Rico. They are just the new scientist they sent to work for me. They aren’t a threat, see?”

Carlos hoped that his words sounded convinced enough; because he risked a glance at their most recent visitors only to find that they did look kind of threatening.

“Scientist, you say? Then why aren’t they wearing a coat?”

“Well, because they are not that kind of scientist, you know? They don’t really need the coat for the job they do so, they don’t want to seem presumptuous by wearing one when they don’t really earn it, you see?”

There were a hundred things wrong with that explanation that could easily be discussed if someone was paying the tiniest bit of attention to see he had completely bullshitted that excuse.

“Oh, I see. In that case, what can I offer you sirs?”

On the other hand… this was still Night Vale.

“They’ll take the same order I did. Don’t forget to avoid the scorpions. Put it on my tab and I’ll pay you later.”

“You got it.”

Rico made his way to the kitchen while ushering patrons who still looked at the newcomers suspiciously. Carlos couldn’t tell if Rico actually believed his excuse or he just didn’t want to look ignorant about science. Probably both, mixed with the fact that he was dating The Voice of Night Vale, and one of Rico’s longtime costumers.

With a sigh, Carlos made his way to his table where his pizza surely had gotten cold. When he noticed the two strangers were not actually following him, but rather staring at him dumbfounded he made an exasperated sound.

“If you’re going to survive here, you could at least go along with the guy who just saved you guys,” he said, loud enough for them to hear him, but not enough for the cameras he knew the Sheriff Secret Police had in the pottery of the place. It was kind of tricky, but you get the hang of it after living in Night Vale for so long. Also, he didn’t mean to sound too aggressive, but honestly, was it too much to ask a peaceful day just once?

The two guys shared a brief glance before following him to the table where, effectively, his slice was already cold.

The two were taller than him, the tallest one surpassing him for a head. The way they moved indicated proximity, but not quite as intimate as that of lovers. Maybe they were friends? Family? Siblings? They didn’t look much alike but, to be fair, he had a couple of cousins who were paler than anyone else in his family.

They weren’t particularly eye-catching. If Night Vale weren’t such a small city where everyone knows everyone, he probably would’ve thought they were just some residents that he never got the chance to meet.

As they settled on the table he could make out more details on the men before him. Like the long hair of the tallest one (seriously, it was even longer than his own and he hadn’t been allowed in a barberry in months) and the freckles in the shorter one’s face.

“You’re Carlos, right? Carlos Vega Santos?” the shorter one with the freckles asked.

This startled Carlos. No one had called him by his full name since he got here; in fact, the only ones who knew were Cecil, Dana and his team of scientists, no one else. Maybe these people from the outside world were familiar with him? But that was impossible; he hadn’t heard news from the outside since… Oh god.

“Carlos, you don’t have to be afraid, ok? We’re here to help you.”

Carlos gulped audibly and looked at the stranger’s green eyes, trying to project everything that was going through his mind in his words. He imagined those times Cecil had convinced him to speak on the radio and tried to convert that feeling in the instant that it took him to finish his statement.

“Listen to me. You’re gonna tell me two things; how do you know me and what are you guys doing here. After that, you’re gonna go through whatever medium you came here with and you’re gonna leave Night Vale and never come back.”

Chapter Text

“Wait, what the hell do you mean by that? We’re here for you, dude.”

“I get that, and I appreciate it. But I don’t need to be rescued. What I need is for you to answer my questions. What are you doing here and how do you know who I am?”

Dean sighed audibly. He had been beyond surprised when he recognized the face of the man that made his way through the crowd at the pizza place, even more so when he discovered that the guy was actually trying to help them out.

He figured it had something to do with not been native of the city. Maybe, Carlos even knew that they were there to help him, or at least he had some kind of suspicion about it. Hey, he was a scientist; those people were smart, right?

It also helped that he looked exactly as the, supposedly, younger version he saw on the front of the newspaper two days ago. With the exception that his hair was longer and with a hint of grey in the temples which, somehow made him look a lot more attractive (Not that Dean kept track of that kind of stuff on dudes). Also, he was a lot shorter than he imagined and he looked like he couldn’t quite fit into his lab coat (probably due to lack of physical work). But with a face like his, he more than made up for it.

At least until he decided to open his mouth and fuck over their entire mission, within the span of two sentences.

“I mean it. Night Vale is no place for strangers, the only reason I’m not pushing you out the door right now is that I need to know what’s going on, who sent you. Did the university put you up to this?”

Dean gaped at him. The guy sounded… upset? He was actually upset with them for trying to do him a solid and get him at of this crazy land.

Luckily, since Dean didn’t deem himself capable of forming a coherent sentence that wouldn’t sound like ‘what the fuck, dude?’ at the moment, his brother took the lead to the conversation.

“Look, we were not sent here by your employers, but by a friend of yours: Luis. You remember him? My brother here met him a couple of nights ago at the bar and he was really worried about you. He thought you’ve been kidnapped and that’s the reason you haven’t returned yet from your stay here.”

Carlos actually looked taken aback for a moment. His jaw visibly clenched and the lines in his face seemed to turn even harder somehow. He slumped in his seat and carded a hand through his hair with a soft groan.

He looked almost as tired as Dean felt.

“Well, as you can see, I’m fine. I’m here by my own volition if I wanted to leave I would’ve done so years ago.” The scientist finally said, taking a long look at both brothers, as if assuring that his point came across

“But why?” retorted his brother

“You mean besides being in the most scientifically interesting community in the US?” Carlos answered with a hint of amusement in his voice. “I’m a scientist and there are just so many phenomena to explore in this city. I get why Luis left, really, he had a family to take care of and he wasn’t that enthusiastic about the city to begin anyway, but I was. I still am. Even more so, now Night Vale is my home, can you just tell him that and move on with your lives, please?”

“That’s precious man, but doesn’t explain why no one has heard from you in almost 12 years.”

Carlos didn’t even look fazed by this statement. He shrugged his shoulders in a non-committed way while focusing his eyes solely on Dean.

“Time works differently in Night Vale. By my calculations, I’ve been here for a little more than four years now, though a year or so ago I had a… sabbatical if you will. It was even more difficult to calculate time there than it is here, so I can’t tell you exactly how long is been since I last visited. But I keep sending the reports of my work and someone still sends enough money to finance us, so I don’t know what would be the problem here.”

“The problem is you’ve been gone for twelve years, dude.”

“Maybe for you I have, but that is another fascinating thing about Night Vale; time anomalies are not that strange here. My team and I have gathered more data in wormholes over these last few years than the highest paid scientists at NASA over the last decade.”

“That’s the thing, man. For us, you are the last decade, don’t you get it?”

The scientist drew a steady breath, before speaking loud and clear, enunciating every word perfectly and looking straight into Dean’s eyes.

“I see, you don’t get it. I can’t expect that of you, I guess. It’s weird, it was also weird for me at the beginning. But this is my home now. Even if I went back to the real world I wouldn’t have anything holding me there, not like I do here. I have a job, a life, tons of people who are important to me here. I can’t just go because an old colleague thinks the worst of the situation.”

At this point, Dean was just plain mad. They went all this way to save a guy who apparently, didn’t want to be saved.

God dammit, he should’ve listened to Cas. He was probably god knows where preparing his friend for an interrogation that… wait.

“So, you’re here at your own free will, right?”

“Yes.”

“Without any ulterior motives, other than that you love your job and you like your life here.”

“That is correct.”

“Then you have no ties to someone in this town named… what’s his name? Sessil? Ceece?”

“Cecil?”

“Yes! That’s it. You wouldn’t happen to know the guy, would ya?”

Carlos shifted in his seat, clearly uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had.

Bingo! Dean thought. Nice guy, my ass. If the guy had been truly innocent, Carlos wouldn’t look so uncomfortable talking about him.

He had heard the guy’s voice in his car. Even if he wasn’t a siren, a voice like that must’ve had some sort of supernatural power imprinted on it for not making him able to turn the radio. It wasn’t a stretch to think that a voice like that could make you do some things, things you wouldn’t do otherwise. Things like staying purposefully in a desert far away from your home and convince you that you are enjoying it.

Jesus, this Cecil dude truly was a sicko.

“Listen, whatever you think it’s happening with Cecil, I can assure you it’s not, ok? Cecil is not the reason I’m staying here, or at least not the only one… perhaps the main one… it, it doesn’t matter, ok? Just don’t bring him into this, my job affiliations are still a sore topic in our relationship…”

“Huh… and what sort of relationship is that?”

“He’s a… friend. A very dear friend who I may have kept in the dark in the past and may still be a little hurt about that… it’s complicated.”

“I’m sure.”

“Look, my break time is almost over and I wish I could stay and convince you that I’m in fact happy here in this town with everyone, including Cecil. But well, science, you know?”

With that, the scientist was gone.

Dean wanted to throw his arms in the air, whether because of the residual frustration of this little meeting, or the gleefulness of finally having an actual lead in this case.

Carlos and Cecil did know each other, and Carlos started acting weird (or weirder, considering the state of normality in the conversation hadn’t been so high, to begin with). That could only mean that there was information that Carlos was withholding from them, or perhaps information that he couldn’t tell, even if he’d want to.

Dean turned to face his brother, who was absorbed looking at the slice of pizza that Carlos left on the other side of the booth.

In that moment a big guy came holding two similar slices to the one in the table, with the exception that these ones had animals crawling on top.

“You’re Carlos’ new scientists, yeah? Pizza’s on the house. Well, not exactly… pizza is on Carlos but since he comes here to pay every Friday so feel free to order whatever you want.”

This seemed to pull Sam out of his own thoughts enough to flash the cook his puppy dog eyes and get them out of eating apparently living scorpions.

“That’s very generous of you but I think we’re fine. We’ll be on our way out now.”

“It’s the scorpions, isn’t it? I can’t tell when you interlopers are serious or not about them, they are the best part, why would you want to leave them out? Anyway, doesn’t matter I’m gonna charge Carlos anyway.”

“Thank you so much.”

“I’ll just bring you guys the check, so you can tell Carlos how much he owes me this time.”

“Oh, we’re actually not…”

Before he could finish, the guy just walked out on them and back in the kitchen. What was with people in this town just backing out of conversations? First the old lady, then Cas (well, that wasn’t anything new but still!), then Carlos and now the weird cooking dude.

“So, what do you think?” Sam asked as the cook got out of sight.

“He’s lying, or at the very least hiding something from us. It’s that obvious.”

“Do you think so?”

“Dude got weird when talking about his stalker and then wanted to play it off as ‘being friends’, I just don’t buy it. There’s something about that Cecil dude that’s just off.”

“Can’t argue with that logic” his brother retorted, rolling his eyes. “But that’s all the proof with got on him, other than his shady relationship with Cas.”

“There’s no relationship between him and Cas! Ok?! He’s obviously managed to manipulate him in some way.”

“Sure…”

“Why are you not more worried about this?!”

Sam took a deep breath and looked at him in a way that made Dean feel uncomfortable. Like the way you see a child who’s been throwing a tantrum over a rag doll only because he doesn’t want to share it with other children.

“I do think he’s hiding something, but I’m not sure it has to do with Cecil, at least not completely. He was very insistent on making us leave, but also adamant about going out himself. He looked scared up until we told him we weren’t from the university. I think he was afraid we were going to force him out of Night Vale…”

“As if that would be so bad.”

 “…Also, if he was able to take a sabbatical elsewhere, that means he could get out of here. Why come back if not by choice?”

“Because he’s been brainwashed, dude. By Cecil!”

“Maybe… but I’m still not fully convinced. Besides, you saw how he talked about him.”

“Yeah… like a friggin victim, who was afraid to talk about his stalker.”

Sam stared at his sibling for a bit with a confused face.

“You mean, you didn’t see it?”

“See what?”

“Nevermind, of course, you of all people wouldn’t notice it…”

“Whatever, bitch. I don’t even know what…”

The two brothers got silent as a girl who couldn’t be more than 20 years old walked near their table, talking loudly on her phone. Loudly enough, they both heard the name that was slipped in her conversation.

“No, I just don’t want to see Cecil, Michelle… Why? Because I’m still mad at him… Yeah, I know you don’t like his music taste but I can’t convince him to change the weather, I don’t even work for him anymore…”

The way she talked made it clear that she was not on good terms with the subject matter. If well, she could be talking about any person named Cecil, somehow Dean had a hard time believing a town this small could hold a lot of people with that name.

His doubts were cleared as the girl kept talking.

“Well, for starters he never gave me my recommendation letter. That bastard… Yeah, exactly… he works on the radio, believe me, he had time to do it… Ugh… whatever… and that time he with that weird orange juice… yeah, no wonder so many interns have died in that station… I bet is the voice, tho, you know how annoying he can be when he wants to… Hold on, Michelle. Can I help you with something?”

The girl put her hand on the speaker and looked pointedly at the Winchesters who were caught, clearly, eavesdropping her conversation.

“I’m sorry miss…”

“Maureen.”

“Maureen…?”

The girl raised an eyebrow at Dean’s approach.

“Ok, you’re just Maureen then.”

“And you are a couple of interlopers.”

“Why does everyone keep using that word?” Dean asked to no one in particular which, of course, only served to earn him another raised eyebrow from the teen before him. “Anyway, that doesn’t matter.”

“I think it does.”

“No, just… Listen, we couldn’t help but listen to your conversation…”

“I could tell that much.”

“… and we noticed a name…”

“Seems logic since you were eavesdropping.”

“Will you let me finish?” at least, the girl didn’t throw a witty remark at them. “  Thank you, and now you said a name: Cecil. Care to tell us who that is, and how do you know him?”

“Why do a couple of interlopers want info on my ex-boss?”

“That’s classified information.”

“Then so is Cecil.”

Dean was about to retort another response that would’ve most certainly, taken the conversation back into a circle when his brother interfered.

“Look, miss. We’re not here to cause this guy any harm, we’re just worried about his ties to a member of our community, Mister Carlos Vega. We are afraid he may be distracting Carlos from his work here and Night Vale and fear that if we go with him directly he may be a little biased in the topic.”

The girl stopped to consider this for a second. To Dean it seemed more than a little suspicious that she was about raging against their suspect just a minute ago, accusing him of fucking murder, and now she was adamant to share information about the guy. Could she be in his control too?

Finally, she looked at them in a way that reminded him of Claire, Cas’ kind of adopted child who had been forced to grow up too fast. He supposed a town like this could do that to people.

“Look, I’m not going to rat out The Voice of Night Vale just over anything, ok? Even I know that Cecil may be a complete asshole when he wants to, but deep down he’s not bad. He cares for the city more than anyone I know.”

“But you said interns died at his station.”

“That I did.” And with that she turned on her heels and walked out the door (seriously?), seemingly resuming her conversation with whoever was on the other line.

Dean was beyond frustrated with this new development. Why was everyone in this city trying to protect a possible kidnapper?

“In the other hand, maybe you were right about Cecil.”

“No shit, Sam.” The eldest brother almost shouted. “Everyone in this town is crazy and we’re still on square one. We have two possible victims who refuse to talk.”

“Yeah, Carlos seemed pretty adamant to talk about Cecil. And I don’t think he’s that open about whatever is going on with anyone, really.”

“Thanks, Captain Obvious.”

“But Maureen was pretty ok with ranting about anything with that Michelle, person she was talking to.”

“Good, we’ll just have to find Michelle then.”

“I don’t think they will be more open to us than Maureen was, to be honest.”

Ok, now Dean wanted to scream.

“Ok so, we got nothing… Again.”

“Dean, think about it. Who hears more teenager rants than anyone else and would be willing to share information to ensure their security.”

An idea was forming in Dean’s head as he started to see where his brother was going with his speech. At the same time, Rico came again with their bill.

“Here you have it, folks. Anything else I can help you with?”

“Do you, by any chance have a phonebook of the town? We got someone we’d like to visit.”

“Coming right up.”

The two brothers shared a look, as an identical mindset set over their heads. Maureen’s family was about to get a visit from the Winchesters.

 

 

Chapter Text

Sam was not gonna lie, finding Maureen's family had been quite tricky without a last name. They tried to ask Rico if he knew her and he just laughed big and booming and said: ‘Of course.’

So yeah, not really helpful.

They also tried asking other customers around the store but were only met with annoyed glares, pointed fingers and people calling them ‘interlopers’ before resuming with their food.

By sheer luck, they found themselves in the Impala half an hour later when they finally found a lead in the phone book. “Leader of the army of strangers or whatever” situated next to a photo of the girl they had seen in the pizzeria holding a beagle next to a boy in a hoodie with a haunting look in their eyes. Sam wasn’t even impressed at this point.

However, he was relieved to see two cellphone numbers, as well as two private ones and two addresses which he supposed, were for the guy and the girl respectively. There was also a smudge that read something like ‘Mud womb’ but Sam decided not to think about that.

Deciding to try their luck, both brothers drove to the first direction, which led them to a house near the downtown area.

As they drove they planned how to talk to the parents (or parent) in case they were also adamant to cooperate or if they didn’t answer or if they closed the door in their faces. The eldest even prepared a heartfelt speech in case the parents were worried about their daughter’s safety. Sam was actually really impressed by this.

They imagined a dozen of different outcomes; however, nothing could’ve prepared them for the woman behind the door.

As soon as the door opened, barely a few seconds after the bell rings, a woman who couldn’t be much older than them stepped out. She kind of reminded Sam of their friend Jody actually, with her hair cut short only a few shades lighter than Jody’s and a stern look that read a no-nonsense woman.

Maybe, they had a chance of a normal conversation with this woman.

“Oh God, did Maureen die again? I had already told her to stay out of trouble. I just can’t make another funeral for her.”

Nevermind.

*

After a beat of uncomfortable silence the eldest brother asked to come inside to clear things up, and although the woman still eyed them warily she led them in without much of a protest.

As they walked, the woman introduced herself as Johan Johnson and was the proud mother of Maureen Johnson, one of Night Vale’s longest living radio interns. The way that she said living sent a shiver down Dean’s spine.

They were led into a brightly lit living room with a couple of weird markings in the walls that Dean had never seen in his life, (and that was a lot to say considering the lifestyle he had). There were also a lot of papers made into tight balls and scattered around on the floor. This place looked more like the home of a toddler than a teenager.

Also, as they accommodated in the little sofa, the elder Winchester thought that perhaps they shouldn’t have changed their outfits to their fed get up, before leaving the pizzeria. Maybe that way they wouldn’t have sent an alarm over the woman’s head about her daughter possible demise if they had contented with their plaid and jeans.

“I’m sorry about the mess. The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In My Home has taken up origami and every time she gets mad over a figure she either throws it on the floor or sets it on fire” she shrugged in a ‘what can you do, right?’ type of way. “At least she only sets things on fire on the bedrooms so I only have to worry about the ashes in the beds and clothes.”

Dean nodded, what he hoped looked sympathetically, but on the inside, he was screaming: ‘what the fuck is wrong with this city?!’ A side glance at his brother made him realize he wasn’t alone on this thought.

“Look, Mrs. Johnson, we’re not morticians or anything of the sorts. We’re from the FBI, we’ve come to ask a couple of questions about your daughter’s relationship with…”

“FBI?” she said slowly as if she’d never heard the acronym before “It’s like the Vague Yet Menacing, Government Agency?”

This time, it was his brother who talked some sense into the conversation.

“Sure, however Mrs. Johnson, coming back to your daughter I assure you she is fine. As far as we know she was still alive when we last saw her about an hour ago.” The youngest hunter tried to calm her down.

The woman visibly relaxed at these words.

“Oh thank The Glow Cloud. The last time we thought she was gone it was just too much for us. The funeral, the mourning, and then she just came back as if she hadn’t been swept away by a tornado a couple of days earlier.”

Dean hummed and nodded, balancing his options for this conversation.

“You say ‘the last time you thought she was gone’ had there been another time something similar had happened? Maybe something to do with a mister Cecil?”

She looked perplexed and Dean could almost hear the alarms going off in her head.

“Cecil… Cecil Palmer?”

The whole name sounded familiar to him, although he hadn’t heard it till now. Maybe Cas had mentioned on the way here and he simply had been too distracted feeling jealous to care, or maybe it had something to do with the guy’s creepy mojo, who knows.

Dean nodded as Mrs. Johnson sucked in a breath and stared at them alarmingly. Her hands started shaking from their position in her lap; in fact, her whole body seemed to be trembling with a mix of nervous and anticipation.

“Look, what I’m about to tell you can’t leave this room, ok?” she waited a bit, eyeing both brothers until they both nodded their response “Good. A couple of years ago, my Maureen was an intern at the Night Vale Community Radio. I was proud of her, working in there seemed good for her, you know? And then, one day I was listening to the radio and I heard as Cecil Palmer told the whole city how my daughter just flickered out of existence after drinking some weird orange juice. Cecil didn’t do anything to help her; he just stood there and narrated as my baby got taken away from my life.”

The pain in the woman’s words was unbearable. Dean had lost quite a few people in his life to know that, even though they could come back, there would always be a pain in your heart as a reminder of what could be lost.

And the fact that the guy did nothing to protect the girl that was working for him? Jesus, how could someone just ignore that kind of thing.

“If you don’t mind me asking” his brother interrupted the silence that had taken over the room “how did your daughter come back if she… ceased to exist?”

“It’s kind of difficult to explain. She didn’t really stop existing; she just… stopped existing in this dimension? She tried to explain me once, but I was too busy checking if she was alright to bother. Basically, a lot of people ended up in the same dimension she was and then came back with the help of this scientist guy.”

“Carlos?”

“Maybe, I don’t really pay attention to that. As I said I was more concerned with other stuff, like how Maureen decided to return to work for Cecil and less than a year later I lost hear again while she working on a job Cecil commanded her to do.”

By this point, Mrs. Johnson voice had been raised to the point she was almost screaming at them. Dean couldn’t blame her, he would be mad too if something happened to his family just because some weirdo couldn’t do his job right.

After taking a few steady breaths, the woman calmed enough to proceed with her story. She looked at them and her eyes no longer held the fury of someone seeking out revenge but an underlying sadness that seemed to have pooled over their entire conversation.

“I don’t blame Cecil for what happened to Maureen. I couldn’t even if I tried to. I’ve lived my whole life in Night Vale, same as him. His sister and I were actually in college together before she dropped out. I’ve seen Cecil grow from a lanky child to a teenager, to a full grown adult, to the Voice of Night Vale. He’s good and brave for what it’s worth, and he loves his town more than anyone I know. But that doesn’t mean he’s completely innocent either. I’ve lost track of all of the friends Maureen had lost in that job: Chad, Jerry, Leland, Rob, Brad, Stacy, Richard, Paolo, Dylan, Vithya, Ziv… all people who’ve worked for Cecil at one point.”

Dean felt sick. What did this guy even do? Hypnotize teenagers into working for him and then getting them killed? So many people couldn’t be just accidents, right?

“So you would say that Cecil Palmer is guilty of negligence of his employees if not outright abuse?” the elder brother asked firmly, to not let any space for doubt in the case. These were lives they were talking about, for fuck's sake.

Mrs. Johnson fidgeted a moment before answering with the same determination.

“Yes, yes I would.”

That’s all Dean needed.

He turned at his brother and he could see the same cold determination forming on his face, as ideas started to connect in his head.

“Thank you very much, ma’am. That would be all.”

“That’s it? I thought you would have more questions, like when the Sheriff’s Secret Police comes to do their rounds of forced invasion of privacy.”

Dean shook his head. He didn’t even have time to deal with that sentence right at that moment.

“We’re just gonna, enter this data into our base and see what can we do to improve Night Vale mortality rate, isn’t that right agent Wheeler?” Dean said looking at his brother. They had a whole lie, planned to tell the family in case they questioned their motives, but seeing the way Mrs. Johnson reacted to hearing FBI, he had a feeling that may be quite a bit unnecessary if not overly suspicious in a town like this.

“Sure, sure agent Byers. We actually should get going now, before the sun comes down. Those… reports won’t fill themselves.” Sam answered looking a bit taken aback but, ultimately, accepting this course of events. “Thank you, for all your help Mrs. Johnson. I’m sorry we took so much of your time.”

As the youngest Winchester extended his arm to stretch the woman’s hand, he was surprised to be caught around the wrist by that very same woman who suddenly looked a lot more worried than before.

“Just promise me, whatever you do with Cecil you’ll remember what I said. He may not the most innocent person in Night Vale but his heart is in the right place.”

“People keep saying that as if his big heart could overcome the fact that he’s a murderer” Dean’s brain supplied.

A soft gasp was heard in the room and Dean wiped his head where both, his brother and the woman they just interviewed, looked at him scandalized. He realized then that he probably said that last thought out loud, rather than to himself. Good job, brain.

“I would never accuse Cecil Palmer of something like murder. If I think he could be a better employer is another thing entirely. But he’s not a monster, ok? I once saw him stop a radio article just to pet a kitten down the street. So please, please, whatever you do, remember that, ok?”

Dean wanted to say a thousand things. Like how the fact that you like animals doesn’t automatically make a good person, or emphasize the fact that murder by negligence was still murder. Instead of that, he turned to the woman and with the calmest voice he could possibly manage, he bid farewell, not even bothering to check if his brother was following.

Once he was out of the house, he felt that he could breathe better. His muscles relaxed and he could feel the blood flow freely in his limbs upon releasing the tight fist he hadn’t realized he had, until setting food into the street. Jesus, this case was really getting into his head.

The guy was a murderer that much seemed obvious. He just wondered how anyone couldn’t see that, including Cas…

Oh God, Cas! He was with that weirdo at this very moment, probably being brainwashed or something. And to think that Dean was jealous of that dude a couple of hours ago, he had probably also brainwashed Cas into liking him.

He needed to get to Cas fast before the freak did anything to his best friend.

Dean got in the Impala, at the exact moment a text came into his phone. He checked it quickly and saw an address typed in a text coming from his best friend’s phone.

In that moment, his brother decided to finally exit the house and enter the passenger seat while he glared at Dean as if it was his fault all those children were dying.

“Care to tell me what’s going on? You left more quickly than I expected you to. Mrs. Johnson thought she was going to get in trouble with the Sheriff’s Police or something like that.”

“Forget Mrs. Johnson, Sammy. And take this” Dean pushed the phone into his brother’s hands. “Tell me where to go; we have a bigger fish to catch than that woman.”

“You mean Cecil?”

“You still think he’s innocent?”

“No… I think he has something to do with all those teenagers who are gone now. And that whatever it is, is probably linked to Carlos somehow.”

“Good.”

“So, what now?”

Dean started the engine and before starting to drive, he reached out to the duffel bag in the back seat, which contained their guns, blades and various other weapons which would be more than enough to kill a wannabe siren.

He passed the bag on to his brother, who took Ruby’s knife and stared at it as understanding dawned on him.

“Now Sammy, we go to Cas and kill this son of a bitch, before he kills any more people."

The Impala roared as Dean drove through the city in the dusk of the sunset. He thought by tomorrow morning, the case would be over and both Winchesters would be back in the bunker, along with their angel.

Little did they know that meeting Cecil Palmer would be just the beginning of something much bigger than the town had ever seen.

Chapter Text

“Kareem, do you have the notes for today’s show? I already checked on my desk but I can’t find them anywhere.”

“I left them on the first drawer in a folder that says ‘notes’ on the front, boss” answered intern Kareem from the other side of the radio studio, without even taking his eyes off of his phone.

Teenagers, right?

Cecil huffed out a laugh for himself at this thought and proceeded to look for the notes in the place Kareem instructed. He could’ve sworn he had already looked for the notes in the drawer, but one last look couldn’t hurt.

Effectively after he rummaged through the drawer for a few seconds he found the folder under a pile of pictures he had over there, which were probably the reason he had been too distracted to actually look at the folder then.

He scanned the pictures briefly before pulling out the folder. Some of them were newer ones he had with Carlos and the rest of his family; some of them were extremely old, like one he had in his uniform of the boy scouts along with his friend Earl when they were around 10 years old. Other didn’t seem really that old, but they didn’t seem that new either. Those were mostly after his mother left him and Abby on their own… He wasn’t really a particularly enjoyable person at that time, much less someone you would’ve liked a picture of.

All those were the pictures he once had on his desk at the Night Vale Community Radio, but he had to take back in order to make space for the most special photos. Like one at his sister’s wedding, and one of Janice’s last baseball match.

Maybe he should take all these photos home. He could start a photo album that was official of his whole family, including his sister and his niece and Carlos… And Josie. He had completely forgotten about Josie until a photo caught his attention. One of him, around ten years ago, along with Josie in the bowling alley, surrounded by a bunch of Erikas.

Hmmm, one of the Erikas he had actually not heard from for a long time, ever since angel laws were passed on Night Vale. Cecil wondered what could’ve been of him.

He has pulled abruptly out of his thoughts with a gentle sound of tapping in the glass of the recording booth.

“Boss, sorry to interrupt you, but we gotta start the show.”

Cecil cleared his throat and smiled at the figure of the newest radio intern, behind the glass.

“Thank you, Kareem. I’ve got the notes, we’re ready to start.”

Kareem gave him a thumbs up and went on to press some button out of his field of vision. On cue, the red light that indicated he was live on air lit above his head.

Now there were just Cecil and the rest of Night Vale.

“Have you ever wondered in which circle of hell would you be? But truly, have you...?  Welcome, to Night Vale.”

*

The angel knew he should’ve been asking about Carlos, but around the third time someone yelled interloper at his face he came to the conclusion that visiting Cecil would be perhaps more productive at this point.

And so, a Castiel drew walked to the radio station he could hear the start of Cecil’s radio show in his head though it was really faint at first as if he was listening through a concrete wall. The closer he got the clearer the sound got, to the point where he could listen to the program loud and clear even though he was still outside of the NVCR building.

He always assumed this ability to hear Cecil’s program was due to his own nature as an angel and a supernatural being, but for the past few hours, he’d been wondering if maybe it had more to do with Cecil’s. After all, Castiel’s never been less of an angel than he is now (with the exception of that one time that he was actually human).

Sure he still didn’t need to eat or sleep but now he rather enjoyed these activities the way no angel should’ve. He still had his wings but they were but a shadow of their former glory, a constant reminder of what he wasn’t anymore. And above all, the ultimate sign that showed he wasn’t a full angel anymore were the feelings he’d developed in his time on earth. Angels were supposed to be warriors of heaven, stoic and calculating, not letting themselves be manipulated by the desires of the heart. That was a battle he’d lost a long time ago, around the time he first gazed upon a soul so bright it could outshine the whole world…

His thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the sound of a door opening right in front of him.

“Can I help you with something?” asked a teenage boy eyeing him suspiciously. Castiel felt himself blushing upon realizing he’d probably been outside the building longer than it was socially adequate.

“I’m sorry; I’m looking for an old friend, Cecil Palmer. I know he works here, may I have a few words with him?”

The teenager continued to look at him with a disbelieving eye and a raised eyebrow. As the angel stared back, he noticed the bright purple shirt the boy was wearing. Cecil had a similar one the first time they met.

“If Cecil’s occupied with the show right now I can wait in the staff room and take a cup of the station’s coffee, that is if it still serves that good invisible mocha that Cecil convinced me to try once. I’m sure Station Management won’t mind as long as I don’t distract Cecil from his job which, frankly, is kind of hard giving his ability to distract himself from almost anything.”

The teen snorted to the last part, and Castiel could tell that he was already gonna be let in.

“Look, man, you obviously know your way around here, and if you know about the existence of that invisible coffee the boss seems to like so much you must've been here before. Any other day I would’ve let you in without a problem but the thing is, I just received a call from someone very close to the boss saying that some outsiders were in looking for him, probably to do something bad to him. I don’t know if it’s true but I’m not about to risk the boss’ safety, you know?”

The angel was surprised, to say the least, of the eloquence of the young man before him. He was also concerned because he had a growing suspicion of who may be the people looking for Cecil. Finally, he spoke; he looked at the eyes of the young man, hoping his intentions were made clear through this act.

“I’m not here to hurt Cecil, but I’m afraid somebody else will. So, if it makes you feel more comfortable, I’ll wait over here and you can tell Cecil that Castiel wants to talk to him as soon as he has a break. If anything, I want to keep him safe as much as everyone else in this town.”

The young man gave him one last looked before finally sighing and nodding his response.

“Fine, I’ll be right back, Castiel. But I can’t promise anything.”

“Thank you very much.”

The teen nodded once more before disappeared through the station’s door. Castiel waited patiently for a few minutes, entertaining himself with memories of his time in Night Vale. The city hadn’t changed that much over the few years he’d been gone, although that may have to do with the time anomalies that seemed to be a constant around here.

The angel reminisced the way Cecil would act around him, always open with his emotions, saying whatever may come to his mind. Cecil was an open book in a way that he’d never encountered before, or after for that matter. Topics that others may find invading or embarrassing Cecil boarded them with ease.

Castiel always thought that if well Cecil’s voice was a special factor in his relationship with people, it was ultimately his personality that really won them over. It was a talent that the Angel never learned how to imitate.

Through all his years establishing a friendship with Cecil, Castiel never got any better in partaking in social occurrences or being able to charm people with his open heart. He was okay with that. He had the Winchesters now and so, he could let them take over the charm part when taking cases. Except that one of them wasn’t really open-hearted.

Dean was the antithesis of everything Cecil was respecting feelings, guarded with his emotions, always trying to cover up everyone’s mess. When something bothered him Cecil talked about it, Dean avoided it. It’s what they did.

Castiel briefly wondered how he could be friends with such a different people before he was once again interrupted by a car passing by loudly in the street.

He shook his head, noticing the sun was already going down in the distance. How much time had he been there?

He checked phone and saw that there were no new messages from the brothers in the last few hours… hours?! He’d been waiting longer than he thought, or maybe it had been Night Vale, once again, messing with his time perception.

With a quick glance at the building, he decided that it was better if he at least let the Winchesters know where he was, hoping that they had somehow decided not to go after Cecil as a suspect.

In the moment that he sent the message at the same time someone cleared their throat behind him.

“You can come in if you’d like.”

*

“Finally a couple of outsiders have been reportedly seeing wandering through Night Vale, asking for multiple directions while cruising in a black muscle car that reminisces a past none of this strangers seem comfortable with.’

“Now, listeners, I know we’ve had our fair share of visitors in Night Vale, some of them good, with beautiful hair and a perfect smile and teeth like a military cemetery… and some of them… not so good. I don’t know why these strangers have decided to visit us, what are they looking for? How did they found us? But, what I do know is that Night Vale is a close community, and that whatever comes our way, we’ll be ready to fight it. Whether it is some elder God that has resurfaced after years of silence to punish us for our faults… or some strangers in a black car.’

“This has been: traffic.’

“And now, a message from our sponsors.”

With that Cecil pressed the pre-recorded message and took off his headphones with calm, taking time to arrange his hair on his forehead. Kareem told him once that he got nervous when his third eye observed him while he worked, and he supposed that since he’d been such a model intern he at least could try to ease him by covering it.

Speaking of, Kareem had been giving weird looks and vaguely interpretative hand gestures since he received a call from someone at the beginning of the show. It got worse after he went to the entrance claiming someone was outside the door.

Cecil thought this was weird since most people just walked into the station without a major problem. Maybe Kareem has told whoever it was to wait or maybe whoever it was simply enjoyed being outside the station during the show… Meh, it wasn’t really his place to judge.

He exited the booth, figuring he might be well could check what has Kareem so nervous.

“Kareem are you ok? If this is about the notes from earlier…”

“No, that’s ok boss… There’s actually someone waiting to see you outside.”

“Oh,” Cecil responded, it wasn’t unusual that sometimes people came during his work hours mostly to check up on him in case of a catastrophe (Carlos) or people who came in to bring some important news (most people in the town). “Well, who is it? Why didn’t you invite them in?”

“That the thing boss, I don’t know who he is… well, I still don’t know everyone here, but I’ve never even seen him before so I think he might be one the guys that came here in the morning.”

Cecil thought about this. He couldn’t blame Kareem for not letting a stranger into the station, especially given the recent events… 

“Ok, so why did he want to talk to me?”

“I… also don’t know that,” Kareem admitted. Cecil tried to not show his annoyance at this Kareem was great at reporting big events but they still had to work on him looking into the finer points of his stories, like people. “He only said that he wanted to talk to you, he seemed to know the station pretty well and he even knew about the mocha thing the coffee machine does that you like so much…”

Cecil stared. That was a little more specific. The coffee machine could’ve been a wild guess, but only a bunch of people knew about his affinity for a sweet cup of mocha in the morning.

“He also said his name was Castiel if that helps for something,” Kareem said offhandedly.

Castiel?...Castiel!

Cecil, ran quickly to his studio not even bothering to close the door before himself. He put his headphones just the moment the pre-recorded message came to an end.

“Listeners, one of the strangers seems to be visiting me here in the building. If he is who I hope he is then I can assure you the interlopers are good people so please, don’t harm them. I’ll tell you more of this as soon as I meet up with who I hope is an old friend, but in the meantime let me take you… to the weather.”

He pushed the button for today’s weather and sprinted towards the building’s exit, disregarding Kareem’s look of confusion.

As soon as he reached the door, he stopped and tried to compose himself, remembering how Earl told him once that he could be a little overbearing when his emotions got to him. This was after all; only a longtime friend he hadn’t seen in years, and he wasn’t gonna risk scaring him away.

So he opened the door and was greeted with the sight of a man with ruffled black hair and blue wearing a tan coat that reminded him of Carlos’ own coats. He was staring intently at his phone so Cecil decided to clear his throat to catch his attention.

As soon as the man turned his head back to him, Cecil’s third eye gave him one long look, effectively confirming the man’s identity.

 “Hello, Cecil. It’s been a long time.

Screw composure, Cecil thought as a smile tugged the corners of his mouth, and he reached out to hug his old friend.

Chapter Text

After a quick explanation of why he was here, which came out sort of like: ‘My friends hunt things for a living and somehow they think you’re a kidnapper and I’m trying to prove them wrong, and I’m so sorry you got dragged into this mess’ Cecil assured him that whatever it was with the Winchesters he would cooperate, but first he had a show to make.

Castiel got comfortable on the couch of the employee lounge room as he listened to the last bits of Cecil’s program, which included an update on Hiram McDaniel’s’, a literal five-headed dragon, trial and a brief note on how he just reunited with a friend, who definitely was not an angel, since angels didn’t exist.

Castiel couldn’t help but smile at Cecil’s enthusiasm over this last thing. He hadn’t changed a bit since the last time he saw him, except that maybe he looked happier than ever. Whether that had something to do with the angel's visit or it was a result of Cecil’s personal life, he didn’t know but also didn’t particularly care. The important thing was that Cecil was happy, even though he had just told him that there were two hunters out there possibly out for his head.

Now that he thought about it, maybe it wasn’t the best thing to text them his location until he was sure they weren’t out for Cecil… Crap. He needed to talk to Cecil soon. He was sure this whole thing with Carlos had just been a misunderstanding but he doubted the Winchesters would care so much about that without actual proof.

“Hey man, I’m sorry about earlier.” Came a voice from the entrance of the room, it was the teenager from earlier.

“It’s ok. You were worried about your boss, I can understand that” Castiel responded, hoping to sound reassuring.

“Yeah well, I heard you guys earlier. Is it true that your friends want to kill my boss? I mean sure, I’ve heard he was not the best employer a couple of months ago but he isn’t a bad person… He even lets me watch YouTube videos when I’m supposed to be editing.”

“Does he? Really?”

“Well, no. But he agreed to let it pass as long as I don’t tell anyone about his stash of fan fiction on the station’s computer.”

“That does sound like Cecil” Castiel snorted, thinking about his friend’s knack for writing. He wondered briefly if he had heard of the Winchesters’ Gospels, and if he’d written anything on that. Dean would probably be furious about that.

Castiel pushed these thoughts aside as he focused once more on the youth before him.

“To answer your question, I’m not entirely sure but Cecil is a dear friend and I’m gonna do anything in my power to protect him.”

The intern rolled his lip between his fingers before asking nervously.

“And you guys only came up to town today, right?”

“Well, yes. Why? Has somebody else come into town on these last few days?”

The teen looked at him worryingly. He stole one last look at the studio, probably to make sure Cecil was still occupied with the show, and then he entered the room closing the door behind him and approximated the angel in a voice that was firm but quiet.

“A couple of weeks ago Cecil sent me to investigate some noises near the dog park. When I arrived there was a person dead on the ground with a shot in his head. I wrote a story about it, Cecil was quite impressed. Apparently, there has never been people shot by a gun in Night Vale. He started reading it when our signal got locked and the Sheriff’s Police entered the building, they didn’t want us to go through with the story.’

“Cecil got mad, of course, but agreed to not mention it again. And he didn’t, but he’s been doing his investigation on his own. We think there’s someone, probably an outsider that killed that person. Maybe even more than one but the City Council doesn’t want the public to know.’

“So yeah, you and your friends came at the right moment to be a part of a possible murder investigation.”

Castiel meditated this for a bit. Murders in Night Vale were not really common. Death by many unforeseeable circumstances sure, but murder? That didn’t add up, and he suspected the reason why he and the Winchesters had come to the town had something to do with it.

“Thank you for telling me this. And I assure you whatever’s going on me and my friends will get to the bottom of it.”

“Your friends that also hunt things for a living?”

“Well, yes.”

The boy seemed to think about this for a moment before saying “cool,” As he was standing up the door of the lounge room opened and Cecil’s head poked from behind it.

“Kareem you can go home now, I’ll review the story you left on my desk tomorrow. For now, I want to catch up with an old friend.”

“Thanks, Boss.” Kareem said as he exited the room happily “See ya guys and take care.”

With that, the teenager was gone and only the two old friends remained in the room.

“Cecil we need to talk,” said the angel finally breaking the silence.

To his surprise, Cecil didn’t look surprised or conflicted or with any kind of doubt in his gaze. He looked determined, the same way he did when looking for a new story.

“I know.”

Cecil closed the door behind him as if he was worried someone might come close, even though they were as alone as it could be in the building. Good. Castiel took his place in the sofa and started telling from the begging how he ended up here and in return, Cecil filled him up with all the information he needed to convince the Winchesters of his innocence.

He hoped it was enough.

*

As it turned out the drive to the radio station was trickier than expected since it was getting considerably darker and they barely knew the town… the good thing was that they weren’t actually yelled at by anyone while asking for directions so, Dean would call that progress.

After a while, they finally arrived at the station at the same time a teenage boy was getting out of there. Dean considered hurrying up and try to talk to him, but he guessed it was better to not press his luck.

As the teenager got out of sight Dean got the impala closer to the radio station, parking it just in front of the building.

“You ready to go Sammy?” Dean asked his brother, while he charged his gun.

“I am, I just hope Cas is fine.”

Dean swallowed hard as he evaded his brother’s eyes. He knew Cas would be pissed that they already decided Cecil’s fate without him, but he was almost sure the angel had some sort of connection with Cecil (he refused to call it relationship or bond since that was just their thing, ok?).

He couldn’t let his friend get any more involved with this, and if that meant he had to ambush him as he was having tea or whatever with a monster then so be it.

As the brothers exited the car, they were welcomed with the cool air of the desert night. Dean hadn’t even realized how late it was until now. For him, it was almost as if no time had passed at all and at the same time it felt like they had arrived an eternity ago… Was this what Cas meant when he said time was different here?

Dean shook his head. He would have time to ask about that later when Castiel was safe.

He approached the building and was surprised to find that the door was unlocked. Either this guy was way too confident or way too careless or both, considering how he seemingly had half of the city at his feet.

Carefully, the eldest hunter opened the door and risked a peek inside, noticing instantly that the hallway was clear. With a quick nod to his brother, he entered the dimly lit building followed on cue by his sibling.

The hallway was fairly big and connected itself with what Dean guessed was the studio to the right. At his left, Dean saw some other doors, which he assumed led to the bathrooms, labeled with the words WOMEN, MEN, and ETHEREAL BEINGS in a big bold font that seemed to change slightly every time he blinked. He decided to not think about that…

Next to the studio door, there was another that seemed to lead to a smaller room labeled Station Archive, and right across from it another one that Dean couldn’t quite read properly. He considered for a moment to ask his brother for the flashlight before discarding that option, they didn’t need to alarm the suspect of his whereabouts just yet.

“Dean…”

“Shhh…” Dean whispered to his brother. They were getting more and more into the building and he knew any noise could alarm Castiel of their presence. They also didn’t need the angel tattling them. Besides, he needed to get closer to the door to read its message… He was already there, but he couldn’t quite see it clearly in the darkness, mixed with the fact that the words were thorned and smudged...

“Dean, look. The door at the end of the hall is lit.”

The eldest was about to protest again when he noticed that, in fact, there was a light glow at the base of the door. It was barely there, with the door almost touching the floor and not allowing any more light to show, but in the darkness, Dean wondered how he could’ve missed something so evident.

Bingo.

“Well Sammy, this is the plan: I enter first and make sure Cas’ ok and then you…”

Sam never had a chance to figure out what was he supposed to do in Dean brilliant plan. Instead, he found himself being scared half to death when a horrible screeching sound came from the door Dean was inspecting just moments ago.

The screech was promptly followed by numerous thuds as something big and heavy slammed against the door. The sound, reminded Dean of the souls being tortured in hell mixed with the screams of some of the creatures he saw in purgatory, most of which he couldn’t name. It was a horrible cacophony made by something that shouldn’t be roaming the earth nowadays, but somehow found its way to that Radio Station.

Now that room was also lit, and behind the small window, the hunter could barely make the shadow of a creature, or mix of creatures, with several limbs that made a disgusting wet sound with every bang of the door. The creature was trying to escape.

“Dean! Let’s go, now!” his brother urged him to run, as he seemed to be stuck in place.

By that moment, the creature had managed to sneak a limb through a small opening in the door and… oh, god. Was that a tentacle?

The elder didn’t waste any more time as he and his brother leaped to the hallway and into the door at the end, which was of course closed.

“Sam, hurry the fuck up!”

“I’m trying but it’s locked, ok!”

Dean was growing more impatient by the second. The thing at the other side of the door continued its screeching and slamming, making it impossible for Dean to think. God, what if that thing got Cas and Cecil…? What if that thing was Cecil?

Cas did kind of confirmed, he was something of the supernatural. Could that be the reason Cas didn’t want them to meet him? Because he was some major demonic shit? God, he really shouldn’t be thinking about that, moments away from his dead…

Suddenly the door opened to show Castiel looking equally surprised and annoyed.

“What the…?”

Dean didn’t give him the chance to finish his question as he and his brother pushed past him into the room. As soon as they were inside Dean put the lock in the door, doubting that that would be enough to stop whatever thing they left in the hallway. For now, it had to suffice tho.

“You wanna tell me what the hell are you both doing?” asked the angel, in an irritated tone.

 Dean didn’t really feel like speaking until his heart rate reached a normal velocity, but seeing that his brother was white as a sheet and looking almost petrified he guessed he didn’t really have an option.

“That thing… whatever it was… wanted to kill us…”

“He didn’t want to kill you, at least, I doubt it” interrupted a voice that sounded far too familiar, even though Dean only heard it a few hours ago for the first time. “Station Management probably thought you were me and wanted to question me for the stories of tomorrow. Either that or punish me for talking about my personal life on air too much… In any way, you’re safe here. Station Management doesn’t like going in here, they probably think it’s unprofessional to socialize with the staff. Don’t tell them I said that though.”

Dean looked forward to seeing the man that had been plaguing his thoughts for the last few hours. He had seen his picture before, but nothing could have prevented him from the sight before him. It was a man, yes, but definitely not a human.

It wasn’t his hair white as snow, or his teeth that were slightly sharper than those of a normal human, or even his tattoos that moved (yes, moved) seemingly by their own accord around his neck and arms, exposed over a pristine white shirt. No, it was his eyes. Eyes with irises of a deep purple color that, much like Cas’, looked as if they were able to see around one’s soul.

“Oh, excuse my manners. You’re Castiel’s friends, right? The Winchesters. I’m Cecil Palmer. Let me be the first to welcome you to Night Vale.”

As the man said this, he extended a hand to Dean, as a peace offering. The hunter reciprocated by pointing his gun directly at the guy’s head, right above his third, slightly bigger and slightly deeper, purple eye.

“You have exactly one minute to explain yourself before I blow your brains out, freak.”

*

Castiel first instinct when he saw the gun was getting Cecil and the Winchesters out of the way of the weapon. A second later, his brain realized that one: guns shouldn’t be able to work in Night Vale, and two: it was one of the brothers who was pointing the gun at Cecil.

So, in that moment, Castiel did what he deemed better and put himself between the two of them, which earned him a confused yet grateful smile from Cecil and what could only be described as a growl from Dean.

“Stay away from him, Cas!”

“Dean, I don’t know what you may have found this afternoon but I assure you: it’s not what you think. I’ve been talking with Cecil and…”

“Like hell, Cas! Just wait until I tell you what we found out about your weirdo of a friend. He’s not a good… whatever he is, ok? Just stay away from him.”

Castiel could feel Cecil tensing behind him. He knew his friend was more than capable to handle himself while fighting, but he also knew how Cecil would hate to do it, even more, if he was forced to use his tentacles… oh god, his tentacles…

Cecil had them out as soon as they heard the noises in the hallway but hid them again on Castiel’s insistence since the angel knew they would be just another thing the Winchesters would hold against him, (not that he’d tell that to Cecil). His tentacles would probably be itching on Cecil’s skin, eager to get out and act as a defense.

The angel extended his hand to Cecil in order to reassure his friend, which seemed to work as his friend gave him a light squeeze and relaxed a little. However, this also proved to be another wrong move as the eldest hunter followed his hand movement with a scowl. Then, he proceeded to take another step towards them, in a possible attempt to intimidate Cecil further.

If only he knew…

“I’m not gonna ask again Cas, I know you can heal yourself and I’m not afraid to shoot over your shoulder.”

It was a lie. Castiel knew Dean wouldn’t pull the trigger as long as he was in the way. Still, it hurt him that his friend wasn’t willing to even let Cecil explain himself, even though Cas had asked him to. Had Dean had that little trust in him?

The night was quickly turning into a disaster. A few minutes ago, he and Cecil were talking peacefully about the reasons he and the Winchesters were here and now, his best friend was holding a gun to one of his dearest friend’s head.

He threw one desperate look at the younger Winchester, hoping to find some kind of support since he’d been standing quietly next to his brother during the whole exchange. Instead, he was met with a deep frown that didn’t sit quite well over his face.

“The guy’s a creature, Cas, and we have reasons to think he’s responsible for numerous murders.”

Cecil tensed, again. Castiel squeezed his hand for the second time, but this time with no effect on him.

“It has to be a mistake... I know Cecil, he’s a good person and…”

“Yeah, yeah… You’ve already told us Cas” interrupted Dean. “You just forgot that your little friend is a freaking monster!”

Cecil was shaking now, in an incredible attempt to control himself. He probably thought the same as Castiel; if they thought he was a monster now, he didn’t know how they would act when they saw more of Cecil…

“You don’t know that you have no proof.”

Dean didn’t answer.

Castiel wondered for a moment if his friend would really pull the trigger. If he really felt so bad about Cecil that he would just rather end his life here than give him a chance…

Was what the brothers found out about Cecil so terrible? Perhaps, they figured out who Cecil’s parent is, although Cas wanted to think the hunters were wiser than letting themselves judge someone over their species. After all, was Cas himself any more different than Cecil...?

He opened his mouth to try to reason once again with the eldest brother when the said man dropped the hand that held the gun and hurried to his said.

“Cas, get away from him!”

That sentence was bizarre enough to distract the angel a fraction of a moment… He barely had time to react as Dean took his arm and pulled him away from Cecil, whose own hand went limp as Castiel went to the hunter’s side.

He was confused for a full second before turning back and looking at what made the hunter freak out so much.

There, before him, Cecil’s eyes had gone wide with a bright light violet glow. He was having a vision. Even more than that, his tentacles were now visible after the great amount of pressure that Cecil put to keep them concealed.

And he was also standing completely still, without Castiel to protect him.

The angel saw in the corner of his eye how Dean was ready once again to direct his gun Cecil, when the latter came back to his senses, looking straight at him if nothing happened.

 “Cecil, are you ok?” Castiel asked with the calmest voice he could muster as he took the hunter’s hand on his own, trying to force him to lower his weapon slowly. Surprisingly, it worked.

“There’s been another one. We need to go before the Sheriff’s Secret Police arrives.”

Castiel sucked in a breath. This was one of the things they were talking about previously, and the possible reason Night Vale wanted the Winchesters in…

He glanced at the brothers who looked confused and annoyed respectively. They must’ve wanted him to explain what was going on but Castiel didn’t have time for that. If Cecil’s vision was true (and it most certainly was) they only had a few minutes before the police arrived, there’s no way Cecil would get there in time unless…

“You want me to take you?” he asked.

Cecil looked at him with a sort of frown that the angel knew it meant he was remorseful for the situation he was putting the angel in.

“If the police arrive there first, they won’t let me take a look. I’m a journalist, after all, I can’t not report this.”

There were so many words that Cecil left to be unsaid… How he knew he wasn’t really appreciated by the Winchesters, how he felt that reporting this was his responsibility to the town…

But he didn’t need to, Castiel could get that.

With a little last glance at the brothers he realized he would need to do a lot of explaining later, but for now, Cecil needed him and he was sure once this whole thing was cleared up they would understand that… Dean would understand that…

“I’ll see you guys in a few minutes,” the angel said, facing the hunters before turning back to Cecil. “Where are we going?”

“To the entrance of Grove Park, do you remember where it is?”

The angel nodded and put a hand on Cecil’s shoulder, ready to transport him away from the station.

“Wait a minute, Cas…”

The last thing the angel heard before flying away with Cecil was Dean’s voice calling his name. After that, there was just a light flutter of wings and the only sound in the Radio Station was the soft shrieking of Station’s Management.

Chapter Text

Of course, Cas ran out with the weirdo criminal… Of. Fucking. Course.

Because the universe hated Dean and wanted him to suffer, whether it was taking him to hell, turning him to a demon, making him face the Darkness or giving him a stupid crush on an angel who was now besties with a freaking Eldritch Abomination.

Of. Course.

“Dude, you need to calm down” his brother tried to ease him, as if though they hadn’t just seen Castiel disappear with his hand on the shoulder of a possible murderer.

“I don’t need to calm down; I need to figure out where Cas went with that weirdo.” Now, as they were standing outside the station (they made a run for it as soon as that other thing stopped making noises), Dean couldn’t help but notice the bitch face his brother was giving as if it was his fault that the lunatic escaped. “What the hell is your problem?”

Sam let out a short sigh that turned to mist as soon as he let it out. They had underestimated how cold the desert could get at night.

“What if we were wrong and Cas was right?”

“Nice theory, here’s another one: what if that weirdo casted some spell on Cas like he did with the rest of the town?”

“Would you hear me out for a second?” said Sam rolling his eyes. “You saw him, right?”

“Yeah, he had a freaking third eye. And tentacles!”

“Which he didn’t use. Or his voice, for that matter, which makes no sense considering it’s his most powerful weapon… why?”

“Maybe he wanted to take us by surprise? I don’t know, Sam.”

“Maybe or maybe he didn’t want to freak us out more. He didn’t look intimidating or secure at all, but… scared. Especially after you called him a monster…”

“Oh, boo hoo. The murderer’s feelings were hurt. Or are you going to argue that he isn’t a killer either?”

This seemed to make the youngest stop and think for a moment.

“I’m not sure he’s completely innocent. He was also really tense, but that could be him containing himself… Anyway, Cas looked like he wanted to protect him and the only one I’ve seen him defend so fiercely like that is, well, you.”

Dean stared at his brother with a look of utter revulsion. He didn’t want to be in the same category as that guy.

“Ok, but that still doesn’t explain… uh…” Dean tried to find something, anything else against Cecil. There was some dirt on that guy and he knew it.

“Carlos?”

“Yeah! Carlos!”

“No Dean, Carlos. He’s walking towards here.”

The eldest glanced where his brother was pointing and found that, effectively, Carlos was walking towards the station with the same rumpled clothes he was wearing earlier that day (including his lab coat) and a deep scowl on his face as soon as he located them.

“What are you doing here? I thought I told you, whatever it is you think Cecil is doing…”

“Is curious that you are mentioning that guy,” interrupted Dean “considering he just went away vanished taking our friend.”

“What?!” Carlos screeched as he pulled out his phone from his coat pocket. “‘Carlos, I’m heading out of the station, I must investigate something’… Of course, he does.”

The scientist pulled his glasses over his head as he ran a hand over his face, looking entirely way too tired for someone who worked in a laboratory. To be fair, it seemed that he had walked from there to here, which seemed a little too suspicious to Dean.

“What are you doing here, anyway? Did your friend convince you to come here over telepathy?” Dean was joking when he said those words but as they left his mouth he couldn’t help but wonder if they held some truth in them. He quickly pushed that thought out of his mind, seeing the stink eye he was receiving from the scientist.

“I was here to surprise Cecil, like… friends do. But he’s gone to investigate something, apparently. What happened anyway to make him leave the station so suddenly?”

This time it was Sam who responded.

“Our, um, friend, well… he’s an old acquaintance of his. They were catching up, and when we arrived your guy said he had to be somewhere else.” That was a very censored version of the facts, taking into account that Dean pointed a gun at the guy, but for now, it was probably for the best that Carlos was kept in the dark about that.

“And do you know where he went?”

Sam shrugged his shoulders and Dean supposed it was his turn to cooperate with the discussion. If only he could remember the name of where they went… It was something like… Groovy?

 “He, um, he mentioned something about a groovy park?” Dean contributed.

“Grove park?” provided the scientist.

“Yes! That’s it!”

“Ok, well. See you later. I gotta go find Cecil.”

“Wait!” Dean shouted as the guy was already turning to leave. “Our friend is with him, we need to find him too?”

“So, you want to come with me?”

“If you wouldn’t mind” inputted Sam. “We don’t really know where it is that park or anything in this town for that matter.”

Carlos eyed them both cautiously before releasing a long sigh, which also turned to mist.

“Look, you guys didn’t really give me the best impression back at the restaurant…”

“Debatable” interrupted Dean.

“… and I’m still not sure I trust you, especially concerning Cecil. But I’m always telling him he should give people the benefit of the doubt, so it would be a bit hypocrite of me to not do the same for you. Besides, I guess there’s not really much I can do to stop you from following me, at least this way I get to watch over you.”

“Thank you. We promise you we won’t do anything funny with Cecil. We’re only looking for our friend” Sam prompted before Dean could open his mouth.

“For your own good, I hope so,” Carlos said as he turned back where he was heading before Dean stopped him. “Please follow me close. I don’t think your friend would appreciate if you guys wandered off and end up becoming shadow people.”

Dean couldn’t tell if the guy was joking or not but nevertheless, he followed him along with his brother through the wide streets of Night Vale.

After a few minutes, they arrived at the entrance of a big park that read “Mission Grove Park” in a big arc. Coincidentally, at the same time, they found Cecil and Castiel taking with someone rather fervently if the way the radio host was shaking his arms was anything to go by.

Carlos and the brothers crossed looks with each other before hurrying up to where their respective friends were standing.

*

“Are you sure you didn’t see anything?” Asked the person who still had his back on Carlos and the Winchesters.

“Nope” answered Cecil. “Absolutely nothing that’s worth torturing, re-education, blood rituals or banging my head repeatedly with a rock until I forget the most recent events in my mind, sheriff.”

“Uh…” the sheriff retorted not feeling quite pleased “And what is Over Coats’ deal over here? I don’t think I’ve seen you around before. Are you one of the interlopers that came to town earlier?”

“His name is Castiel, he’s an old friend Sam…”

“I wanna hear it from him, Cecil” the sheriff cut him with a hand gesture as they directed their eyes towards Castiel. “Now, what’s your deal?”

Castiel visibly gulped as he looked helplessly at Cecil, who in turn seemed as uncomfortable as the angel felt.

“I’m an angel of the Lord” Castiel answered as calmly as he could.

“What did he say?!” the sheriff retorted angrily which, along with Cecil’s panicked expression; let the angel know he had said the wrong thing.

“Nothing, he said nothing” tried to conceal Cecil.

“You know that angels don’t exist Cecil.”

“I know that.”

“Then why is this one saying he is one.”

Cecil cleared his throat and spoke in the smooth rich tone he used to give important news on the radio. Castiel would’ve been lying if he said he wasn’t a little impress over this.

“He’s joking obviously. After all, if he were a creature who is definitely not an angel he would be named Erika, like those friends Josie has who are also not angels, not something as inconspicuous as  Castiel. What kind of name is that for a non-approved-non-existent-celestial- entity?”

It wasn’t really a strong argument but Castiel crossed his fingers wishing the sheriff listened to the Voice of the city.

“Hmm, I guess you’re right” the sheriff conceded as Castiel let out a breath he didn’t notice he was holding. “Still…”

“Cecil, honey, there you are” came a voice from the street.

A handsome man stepped towards them holding Cecil’s hand on his own as soon as he was within his reach. That must’ve been Carlos the scientist, Castiel thought as he inspected the man closely. The angel also noted that right behind him were the Winchester brothers, who seemed somewhat relieved to see there but also kind of irritated.

He would have to deal with that later.

“Oh, sheriff I didn’t see you there,” said the new man as he seemed to notice them for the first time, even though he pretty much pushed them out of the way to get to Cecil.

“Is he with you, Carlos? I thought he was overstepping a confidential business.”

“Oh yes,” answered Carlos “he offered to help me take some samples for the lab. Talking of which, have you met my new lab partners? They all arrived this morning.”

The Sheriff took a long look at Castiel and them at the brothers, who waved awkwardly at them.

“All of them are your subordinates?”

“Yes.”

“And you were only collecting samples?”

“Pretty much.”

The sheriff eyed all of them warily and, for a moment, Castiel thought they were about to get busted and he’d have to fly the Winchesters away from Night Vale. But then, the sheriff let out a long-suffering sigh and moved ahead without even bidding them farewell.

“Well, that was close” Carlos commented letting go of Cecil’s hand and passing his vision through every one of the people present. “Now, can someone tell me what the hell is going on here?”

*

Dean felt it was his responsibility to answer, you know? Since he was apparently the most unbiased person there, but when he looked where Carlos was standing next to Cecil he saw Castiel, the angel of the Lord, giving him the most intimidating glare he’s seen in his friend, like a warning to keep his mouth shut.

Which worked up until the radio host-slash-supernatural being started talking.

“I had a report of someone getting murdered, again. This time just outside of the park, can you believe that Carlos?”

“It is quite intriguing,” said Carlos before shaking his head abruptly. “But you can’t just go around to investigate these things alone Ceec, I was really scared. Sam has been watching your back for weeks and I don’t want you to go through re-education just for this…”

“Aw, Carlos, that’s really sweet of you. But I’m fine, see?” retorted Cecil gesticulating wildly at his body with his tentacles (geez, Dean had forgotten about them for a second). “Besides, I was not alone. Oh, by the way, this is Castiel…”

“The non-angel, I heard” Carlos seemed now a little calmer seeing Cecil was, in fact, ok. “Thank you, for taking care of Cecil. Any friend of his is a friend of mine.”

Carlos extended his hand to the angel who, to the hunters’ surprise, returned the handshake with enthusiasm and a sincere smile.

“The pleasure is mine, I’m glad to see Cecil has found someone that cares so deeply for him.”

Carlos blushed heavily but smiled nonetheless, giving a small nod to the angel as he relished the moment of silence.

So, naturally, Dean had to intervene with a precise yet thoughtful comment to assess the reality of their situation.

“Dude, are you really friends with that monster?” he asked only to be hit in the arm by his brother as soon as those words came out. “Ow! What the fuck Sammy?! What was that for?”

“Seriously Dean?”

“Excuse me, did you say friend?” piped Cecil, breaking whatever fight may have ensued with the Winchesters.

“Uh… yes” responded Dean, not getting the reason of the amusement in Cecil’s voice or the rich laugh that followed his answer.

“Friend? Carlos is my boyfriend. My sweet, intelligent, perfect boyfriend” he punctuated that sentence by throwing his arms around Carlos, earning him another deep blush from the scientist. “Carlos, my dear, have you been denying our relationship to other people?” asked Cecil, pretending to be hurt when his voice was the plague with amusement.

He probably thought he was blind to not see that fact and, to be fair; Sam and Cas were both sporting faces that screamed ‘really Dean? Didn’t you see that coming?’ Also, suddenly Sam’s commentary in the pizzeria made a lot more sense… Jesus, he had been jealous of a taken guy during this whole trip (and yes, now that his brain was thinking with more clarity he could admit that he was jealous but that doesn’t mean he trusts the guy just yet).

“You said Luis had sent you, right?” Carlos asked breaking the silence and pulling Dean out of his thoughts. Suddenly, the night seemed even colder and Cecil’s smile faltered to place a look of clear concern.

For the first time since they met him an hour or so ago, the radio host looked actually guilty. He could probably interrogate him now and have some actual results but he was kind of curious where Carlos was trying to get with this question.

“Yeah, so?” he finally answered.

“He was a good scientist and even a good friend, at least for a while” Carlos was wearing the same nostalgic expression he had when they mentioned his colleague at the restaurant, only this time Dean could notice something else; an underlying bitterness surrounding the words. “But then, Cecil started making advances at me which were completely flattering, by the way” he added looking straight at his boyfriend who beamed at this statement. “Anyway, long story short, Luis was less than ok with any possibility of a relationship that could’ve arisen between me and Cecil and, well, I was afraid you would be the same as him.”

“I still don’t get it” Dean stated.

“Dean…” his brother reprimanded, sending him a warning look that Dean didn’t understand.

“It’s ok… I, um, well…” Carlos seemed a lot more nervous now, and a lot more uncomfortable as if he was talking about a personal topic… had been Luis comments being that bad if they weren’t even meant for him?

The scientist let out a shaky breath and stared straight at Cecil as if looking for a source of strength within his boyfriend to follow the conversation. In return, Cecil squeezed his hand as he offered Carlos the tiniest and most encouraging smile he could muster.

The eyes of the radio host seemed softer somehow, Dean noticed. The deep purple orbs were shining now with a sentiment so pure and so intense that he forgot for a moment that there were three of them instead of two.

Finally, the two lovers tore their eyes from each other to face the brothers, never once taking their hands apart as they stood as a united front.

“Luis basically started telling everyone in the lab degrading comments about Cecil and when I defended him, he started doing the same with me saying that he was turning me into… well… his exact words were ‘brainwashed faggot’” Carlos finished his sentence looking at the eldest brother. “He probably thought he was helping me but… he crossed a line and everyone in the lab knew that, so when the opportunity came to get him out of the team we took it.”

Dean felt like he’d been punched in the gut with a baseball bat. The scientist hadn’t faltered once in his entire monologue, but the hunter could still notice the bitterness behind his words.

When he met Luis at the bar he thought the man was a little eccentric sure, but the way he talked about Cecil and Carlos never made him think there was further reasoning, other than; Cecil is a monster. Did the man truly believe Cecil was a siren or did he just trained himself to believe so instead of accepting what Carlos was talking about?

And Carlos? Jesus Christ, Dean knew how shitty it was to have a figure of authority constantly spewing nonsense over yourself, making you feel like crap for something that wasn’t your fault. His father, for instance, had made sure that he had taken years to accept the possibility of a relationship with a man.

Still, even though Carlos had been so clearly bullied by Luis, in his words there was something that didn’t quite add up for Dean…

“I admit, vengeance wasn’t the highest road to take, but can you blame us?” Carlos continued “I wasn’t even the only one targeted. There were a couple of scientists, María and Scarlet, back then who had to hear his homophobic ramblings telling them they were going to hell for their relationship. So yeah, he could’ve been a friend a long time ago, but once he showed his true colors that possibility went away. Not to mention that he decided that somehow Cecil was at fault for this.”

Cecil… Luis said something about how Cecil had brainwashed him. If that was truth… Was that still a valid point?

“Now, that you know this I hope you’ll finally listen to me” Carlos brought their attention back to him. “You have to get out of Night Vale. You’ve seen that I’m ok but we can’t guarantee it would be that way for you. The city doesn’t take kindly its interlopers and, with all that’s been going on, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sheriff’s Secret Police had already a target on your back.”

“The Sheriff’s Secret…are you serious? is that really a thing here?” Dean wondered out loud, earning an exasperated look from everyone.

“Is that all you picked up from what I said?”

“Yes, I mean… no. I mean…ugh. Look, it doesn’t matter ‘cos we’re not going anywhere” Dean stated. “There’s something weird going on in this town, and even if you guys don’t agree it’s our job to get to the bottom of this… right, Sam?”

“He’s right” agreed his brother. “We’re already here, would it hurt that much if we try to help with whatever’s going on around here?”

Carlos sighed. He was tired and only needed a little push to give up and let them stay. So naturally, Dean had to go screw it up with what would realize later, was possibly the worst argument ever.

“Besides, I’m still not sure I trust your murderous boyfriend over here.”

As soon as he finished speaking, he could see all the progress they had made with Carlos slip as the scientist’s eyes clouded with anger… probably accusing his boyfriend of homicide was not the best way of going about this but it was not like he could take that back now. Besides, they still hadn’t explained all of those kids dying at his station and the possible mind control of Luis.

To his surprise tho, it wasn’t Carlos the first to jump at Cecil’s defense but Castiel, who had been quiet for the most part of the exchange.

“What is that supposed to mean? Are you still so hell-bent on not giving him a chance that you can’t even try to understand the situation? Cecil is not a murderer…”

“His friend Maureen seemed to think otherwise!” the hunter yelled, and this time Cecil at least had the decency to appear guilty. “Yeah, we talked with her and her mother. They both agreed that even if this guy didn’t directly kill his interns it was his fault that they died, those kids were at his charge.”

“Dean you don’t know what you’re talking about…”

“What the hell, Cas? You know what? If this had been anyone other than your friend, you would’ve smitten him hours ago!”

Something in the angel snapped. Dean could see it the moment the muscles in Castiel’s jaw stiffed and his eyes turned cold and distant.

“So, you’re saying Cecil deserves to die?”

“Well, yeah… I guess that’s what I said.”

It was too late for Dean to back up now. He could feel the glares from his brother and the scientist prickling his skin after his words, but the only one he was focused on at the moment was the angel. He looked angry and… hurt.

“Why?”

“Besides the shit ton of children, he let die?”

“I admit omission can be seeing as a sin, depending on the circumstances, but there has to be something else. What is it, Dean?”

“Well…” Dean thought for a moment before glancing at Cecil, who was doing a terrific effort to hide behind Carlos and avoid any eye contact. Except for his third eye, that one was looking straight at him unblinking, taunting him. “How about the fact that he has freaky tattoos that move on their own, and tentacles sprouting from his back like he’s some Japanese monster or a friggin’ third eye?”

Castiel’s eyes had become murderous, their blue irises getting darker with every word coming out of Dean’s mouth. When he finally spoke, his words held and icy edge to them that sent shivers down his spine.

“So, Cecil is not human and unknowingly caused the death of many… is that reason enough for him to die?”

“Frankly, yes.”

“Very well Dean, if that’s the case I’m afraid I too deserve to be killed.”

“What?”

“I’m not human. My true form is only concealed by this vessel but in reality, I’m arguably as terrifying as Cecil. Plus my actions in the past had led to the deaths of many of my brothers and sisters, isn’t that reason enough for me to die Dean?”

The air in the entrance of Grove Park went chiller if that was even possible. The tension between everyone in there was palpable and Dean knew most of that was directly his fault. The silence that followed fell upon them, so heavy and taxing had seemed to last an eternity instead of just a couple of seconds.

The hunter was at loss for words. He never, for one second, thought of comparing the angel to the radio host but yet, the similitudes were right there. And no, Castiel didn’t deserve to die. All the things the angel had done were him trying to do what was best, whereas he assumed the motives of the other man weren’t as pure.

It wasn’t a fair comparison by any means, but Dean knew the angel well enough that it wouldn’t matter to him either way.

Now, the hurt look on the angel’s face, his obsession with proving Cecil’s innocence made more sense. He was defending a friend who he felt was a mirror of himself…

The eldest hunter was pulled abruptly from his thoughts with the sound of his brother clearing his throat, effectively cutting through the silence.

“By all means, I assure you my brother doesn’t speak for the both of us. We’re here to help however we can and Cecil, you mentioned something about someone being murdered, again.”

Dean wasn’t at all surprised his brother had been the level-headed one in this whole situation, in fact, he was grateful that he had taken the attention away from him, even though he also subtly called him out on his bullshit.

Cecil, for his part, had been leaning into his boyfriend during the whole conversation, seeking the comfort he had given the scientist a few moments ago. But when Sam asked him about the murder, his eyes had sparkled with determination and his voice turned deeper as he spoke, using what Dean assumed was his ‘radio voice’.

“Death is not an unusual topic in Night Vale. I’ve witnessed many of my friends facing potentially dangerous situations on a daily basis; I’ve even encountered myself in those situations many times. I’ve been notified the man I love was dying in the middle of my show, had been attacked in the middle of my show, without any way of coming to his aid. And still, of all the deaths this city has seen through the years, these last few days may have proven to have the most eye-catching ones of their own.”

“Eye-catching how?”

“They weren’t natural. Someone used a gun to kill that people” Cecil stated as if he was talking about some underground conspiracy.

“So?”

“Guns don’t kill people” supplied Carlos.

“Is that another weird thing they believe in this town?” Dean commented offhandedly, not expecting an actual response.

“No, it’s literal. Look, hand me yours and I’ll show you.”

“How did you…?”

“I saw it at the radio station. You guys aren’t as slick as you think you are, just because it’s tucked under your shirt doesn’t mean it’s invisible.”

Dean grumbled but gave the scientist his gun anyway, expecting the man to shoot at a nearby tree or something. Needless to say, he was more than a little perplexed when Carlos held the gun against his own head and pulled the trigger.

“Wait!” the hunter screamed, waiting for a loud boom that never came. Instead, the weapon broke down the moment Carlos pulled the trigger, like a plastic toy.

“So you see,” said Carlos, passing the remnants of the gun back to Dean “Guns literally aren’t capable of killing people in Night Vale. I’ve been meaning to make some experiments on that for a while now but never got around to do so. Perhaps this is the ideal time to start.”

“So, you have any idea who could be doing this? Or why?” asked the younger Winchester.

“Unfortunately not. Night Vale isn’t that big of a town but everyone here pretty much knows each other, and treat each other as family. I can’t imagine anyone here killing their neighbors over anything, so it’s most likely someone from the outside. Perhaps somebody from Strexx Corp.?” wondered Cecil.

“I don’t think so,” pondered Carlos “The only one that I can think from there is Kevin, but I’m around 87% sure he wouldn’t do anything. Last I heard of him he was still busy building the New Desert Bluffs.”

Cecil rolled his eyes at the name but didn’t comment on it any further. Instead, he returned his attention to the others and came back to the topic at hand.

“The Sheriff’s Secret Police may know something about this but they aren’t going to share it anytime soon. They agree with the City Council in that the public would render in chaos if the news gets out, but it’s my duty as a journalist to get to the bottom of this. And as a citizen, I need to try to prevent it from happening again.”

“And how will you do that?”

“I… don’t know” Cecil turned his attention to the angel, and started pleading with his eyes before the words even left his mouth “That’s why I need your help. This time, we were only late because the Sheriff was close, next time I’m sure we could get here on time if you come with me and maybe once I know who is doing this, I’ll be able to stop it. I know is a lot to ask for you to get involved in all of this, but there are a lot of lives in danger here.”

“Cecil, you don’t have to ask” responded the angel “You are my friend and I’ll do everything in my power to help you and the city.”

Cecil smiled and pulled Castiel into a hug before the angel could protest. It seemed natural, like two old friends reuniting for the first time after years of being apart, Dean supposed it was like that in a way. Also, there was nothing of Cas’ usual stiffness when it came to contact with other people.

It made Dean’s stomach swirl with something ugly, but he supposed he had nothing to worry about after all since the dude’s boyfriend was barely a few inches from them looking content with seeing Cecil so happy.

Perhaps Dean should follow the dude’s example.

“You know what” Dean started “if Cas’ in, I’m in.”

Everyone turned to him. Astonished at his sudden change of heart and Dean couldn’t blame them.

“Are you sure?” asked the radio host, while eyeing him warily. He had called this man a monster, mere moments ago and now he was forming an alliance with him, so Dean supposed his doubt was justified.

“Yeah, sure. As you said, many people are in danger here, and saving people is what we do, right Sammy?”

“Of course” his brother agreed. “If there’s someone hurting people in this city we have a better chance to catch them together.”

Carlos still looked unsure but to Dean’s surprise, Cecil showed a small smile at the brothers.

“Thank you so much. You don’t know how much your help means to me.”

He looked so happy and innocent, that now it was Dean’s turn to feel guilty about accusing him. He’d never seeing someone as passionate about their hometown as Cecil was. He talked about the city with admiration, and childlike wonder, and a sense of duty that Dean could definitely feel related to.

He still didn’t know if he could trust the guy, but for the people and for Cas he was willing to try.

Carlos sighed heavily.

“I guess I could run some tests in the lab. See if I can figure out why guns don’t work here.”

“Really?”

“Yeah well, I guess my boyfriend would appreciate the help, you know? And at least this way I can keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t get himself captured” Carlos smiled  gently “You guys can come to the lab tomorrow morning and so we discuss where to go from here.”

Cecil beamed at the scientist and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

Cecil’s smile was big enough to show his teeth, that was just a tad too sharp for a human but also fitted somehow nicely in his face. Seeing him so happy and at peace at Carlos’ side was an experience abnormal itself, like interrupting two lovers being intimate, even if they were only staring at each other.

Carlos was still blushing heavily but otherwise seemed content with Cecil’s behavior, returning the smile with as much enthusiasm as his boyfriend.

Looking at them, one would think they were a normal couple sharing a moment, except maybe for Cecil’s tentacles which were now curling lovingly around Carlos. Even then, they fitted perfectly together and Dean couldn’t help the pang in his chest as a deep longing settled deep within the hunter.

He side eyed Cas’ briefly before returning his attention to the loving couple in front of him. They seemed so perfect together, that Dean wished he could trust Cecil just so Carlos wouldn’t suffer for him.

Only time would tell if that wish came true.

Chapter Text

Cecil was static, to say the least…

He had put on his best poncho and matching khakis, and even brought some desert flowers in his way to visit Carlos and his team at the lab next to Big Rico’s, in hopes the object of his affections would finally accept his offer of coffee.

Of course, Carlos had made very clear that the invitation to his lab was not for personal reasons but to run some tests on him, or whatever, but he couldn’t help but feel a glimmer of hope.

After all, Carlos had told him he was the first citizen to be invited to the lab and if the scientist said it, it must be true…

Entering the lab, all heads turned to Cecil with a kind of stricken look. He had seen the team of scientist work before and even talked to a few of them, but all during his job gathering information. He supposed their shock must’ve come from seeing him out of his work clothes, the same way you feel when walking into a co-worker outside of the office.

“Hi Cecil, I umm… I’m glad you came.” Cecil beamed looking at Carlos who had walked from the far corner of the room to receive him at the entrance. “What are those?” he asked pointing at the desert flowers in Cecil’s right hand.

“Oh, they are for you. I picked them up on the way here; I know they aren’t much, but…”

“They are amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a species like these, would you mind if I run some experiments on them?” Carlos questioned while cradling the flowers delicately in his hands, meanwhile, Cecil was just happy his gift turned out to be useful for the scientist.

“Of course not. They are for you after all.”

Carlos seemed to blush, upon noticing the implications of the gift but didn’t comment on it, opting for leaving the flowers on a nearby desk to focus his attention once again on Cecil.

“So, umm, as you know we’re gonna conduct some minor tests on you. Only the standard; blood tests, sight, cardiac rhythm… If you are uncomfortable at any time you can tell me and I’ll make sure to do anything to help you.”

“Sounds great” Cecil smiled “Shall we begin?”

“Sure, just follow me over here.” Carlos guided him through the lab and onto a small room at the back.

Cecil noticed first the little observation table that looked far more comfortable than those used during the re-education sessions, second the various charts and machines in the walls. Finally, the last thing he noticed was the old looking man, crunched over a small table scribbling something furiously.

“In conclusion, we can state without a shadow of a doubt that the house doesn’t exist, even if it looks like the opposite… Jesus, they’re gonna think we’re crazy when they read this…”

“Luis, we’re here,” Carlos said loudly, calling the older man’s attention.

In return, Luis looked up from his work, eying Cecil with a mix of curiosity and disgust.

“Well, if it isn’t the fairy.” He finally said with a glint of amusement.

Cecil didn’t respond, knowing full well that it wouldn’t make any difference in Luis vision of him. His sexuality wasn’t something he ever bothered to hide in Night Vale, it had been something he’d known since he was very young and he had been lucky enough to grow up in a community as tight as the city, where everyone was aware of issues like this and yet no one judged him.

That was not to say he was a stranger to the topic of homophobia. Night Vale was found by enough interlopers every so often that the views of the outside world, while not often accepted or even acknowledged in public, were something definitely known.

He knew there were places where his family would’ve cast him out for his preferences and while his relationship with his sister was far from a perfect model, he was at least grateful that he had never had to hide who he was from her.

That being said, he had heard enough stories from the outside to know that people like Luis rarely changed their opinion over a single conversation, so Cecil drew a breath and resigned himself to be a model volunteer and not cause any trouble, if only for Carlos' sake.

“Luis, we’ve talked about this. You said you would be professional.”

“Carlos please, if I didn’t know you any better I would say you’re one of them with the way you defend this fag.” Carlos semblance turned colder and colder with every word that spewed out of the other scientist’s mouth and Cecil could see the colossal effort he was doing to control his emotions.

“Luis, can you go for the materials to run the tests while I talk with our volunteer?” Luis shrugged, completely oblivious to the hard edge in Carlos' voice, and when he finally left the room, the younger scientist took a long sigh before looking back at Cecil “I want to apologize. He begged me to let him help on this investigation and promised he would be completely professional about it… evidently, he lied. I’d understand if you don’t want to help anymore. I mean, I promised you I would do anything to avoid your discomfort and then I brought you right into my bigoted co-worker…”

“Carlos, its fine” Cecil assured him “I’m more concerned about you, to be perfectly honest.”

“About me?” The scientist seemed startled at this “Cecil, he called you… that word. I don’t know if the semantics are the same in this town, but where we’re from that word’s meaning is…”

“I know Carlos, it’s just…” Cecil bit his lower lip and he could see the scientist’s attention focusing on his teeth as he did so. “How can you work with someone like that?”

Carlos gave a long-suffering sigh, taking his glasses off his face to rub the bridge of his nose.

“It wasn’t my idea. My employers, the people financing our investigation, sent him to supervise our progress. I had worked with him before so I didn’t think much of it at the time. I had even starting to consider him a friend you know. Then the closer I worked with him, the more I started to notice how much of his conduct was inappropriate, especially towards some of our female co-workers who are together in a relationship… Some days are harder to ignore than others, and I’m sorry you had to experience that first hand.”

Cecil pondered on this information for a moment, before finally speaking in the softer voice he could muster.

“Have I made your life more difficult? You know, since…” Since your official in command is a homophobic jerk, and I’ve been telling everyone I loved you since the first day I saw you?

The words were at the tip of Cecil’s tongue but he couldn’t bring himself to speak them out loud, and face the reality of what they brought upon Carlos.

“No, God no. Cecil, it’s not your fault my boss is a jerk, ok? He probably would’ve found out my sexuality sooner rather than later anyway, so don’t blame yourself for this, ok?” to his surprise, Carlos spoke rapidly taking his hands in a fraction of a second where Cecil swore he felt like an eternity.

His hands were oddly callused for a scientist but Cecil found quickly that he liked the feeling against his own.

For an instant everything was perfect. For an instant, Cecil believed if he were to ask Carlos out, the scientist would actually accept his offer… An instant later, Luis entered the room and the moment was gone.

“Hey, get your hands off him!” Luis screamed as soon as he entered the room, effectively making both Cecil and Carlos jerk away in surprise. He went immediately over Carlos, pushing Cecil as he did so “I swear Carlos you got to be more careful, or that freak will be turning you into a faggot like himself.”

Cecil saw the start of a protest forming in Carlos' face before dying quickly. He also knew that talking sense into Luis was out of the question.

“Cecil, would you please take off your shirt and sit on the table? Unless of course, you don’t feel like doing this anymore…”

Carlos looked at Cecil earnestly as he said those words, and the radio host understood that he was giving him an out before it was too late.

Cecil only response was to strip off his poncho and shirt and sit on the table as a plan slowly formed in his mind.

At the end of the day, Cecil had an enormous headache that was completely worth the two straight hours Luis spent kissing Carlos shoes, while the scientist handsome face contorted itself with the most amused and beautiful smile the radio host had ever seen.

Almost as good as giving Carlos his personal number after the incident in the promise of arranging another session and explaining what he had done to Luis, over a slice of pizza.

*

The Winchesters and Castiel arrived at the motel around eleven p.m. barely a couple of hours after meeting the mysterious Cecil Palmer, whom Sam now though more as a dorky guy than a vicious threat.

He could understand his brother’s resistance to the man, seeing the proof they had against him was pretty strong that afternoon. But when he glanced at him for the first time in that small radio station, he felt the weaves of guilt and apprehension that surrounded him. It was difficult to ignore those things when he had spent a great part of his life feeling them as well.

The tentacles were a surprise tho. They sprouted out of Cecil like branches reaching for the sunlight, mesmerizing and powerful. Sam had seen enough wildlife documentaries to know those things could’ve snapped his arm in half but they didn’t, in fact, the radio host seemed to retract them a little if only for the brothers’ sake.

That’s why the moment he had enough time to think about it, he noticed it. The eyes of a man who had too many regrets in his life but was still willing to do the right thing, the eyes that stared back at him in the mirror every morning.

Deciding to trust him was a wistful thought that paid up in the end, even if his brother couldn’t see that.

The eldest Winchester was way too caught up in his initial impression of the man to see things like the way Cecil scrunched at every mention of the word monster or how Carlos talked about Cecil back at the restaurant. A part of Sam thought his brother would feel a glimpse of empathy for those situations, to which he was very well accustomed. Another part wasn’t even surprised his brother couldn’t draw the parallels, considering his history with feelings.

After all, he could understand his brother’s resilience to work with a stranger, especially if said stranger turned out to be a creature, but at the same time he couldn’t help but feel identified with Cecil especially after Cas’ words: “I’m not human… my actions had led to the deaths of many… isn’t that reason enough for me to die?”

And wasn’t that the million dollar question? Were their actions, all of their actions, worth the damage they had caused in the long run? That hopeful feeling was the reason he and his brother kept going on through all the shit that were their lives, but as they grew older and lost more people it was getting more difficult to believe it.

At the end, Sam thought they all could’ve managed the situation a little bit better instead of yelling at one of their leads that he was a murderer when his boyfriend and only other lead was present.

Which brought them to this point, where they were in a motel room unpacking their stuff in uncomfortable silence while pondering individually about the events of that evening.

At the end, Sam thought they all could’ve managed the situation a little bit better instead of yelling at one of their leads that he was a murderer when his boyfriend and only other lead was present. Especially since after all that Cecil had acted like an actual mature person and given them directions to the nearest motel along with the offer of walking them there, although the hunter suspected that his composure had more to do with his friendship with Castiel than actual good nature with the brothers.

Either way, they had to decline in order to look for the Impala they left at the radio station but the encounter still left Sam thinking about their demeanor. He could see why Castiel liked Cecil so much, he was open and passionate about the things he cared about, ergo, the city and Carlos. Which reminded him…

“I can’t believe you didn’t notice that Cecil and Carlos were a thing” Sam mused glancing at his brother.

“Oh, shut up. They were pretty seclude about it” Dean argued. “It’s not like they gave any signal of being a couple or something, they were acting like normal friends would do.”

“You mean like you and Cas?”

“Well, yeah.”

“I see” Sam mused, enjoying the way Dean’s face turned pink upon realizing what he just said.

“I mean… you… you know, what? Bite me, Sammy.”

The youngest hunter rolled his eyes at his brother’s lack of argument as he pulled out a pair of sweats and a t-shirt to spend the night.

“Sure, whatever Dean. Are you gonna use the bathroom before I take shower?”

His brother made a non-committal grunt that Sam took as go ahead, before gathering his stuff and leaving Dean to unpack his things with Cas.

“I actually kind of agree with Sam, Dean. It was pretty obvious they were together romantically, they exhibited all the signs of being in a relationship like prolonged eye contact and constant closeness between each other.”

“Shut up, Cas”

Sam was pretty sure those two heard his laughter even behind the closed bathroom door.

*

After Sam left the room and Dean made sure to cut a conversation he was not having Cas after the shit show that was their day, the hunter and the angel fell in a somewhat uncomfortable silence, which was unusual since Dean was very used to hang out with Cas without it being awkward.

He could admit that most of it was his fault and that some of the stuff he said back at the park was uncalled for. Still, it sucked having his best friend giving him the cold shoulder.

He supposed now was his time to try and remedy that.

“Cas, can we… what are you doing?”

The angel was putting one of the burgers they picked out at the Arby’s in their way to the motel, in the edge of the window along with some a delicious, very untouched plate of fries.

“I thought I might share some of my food with the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Our Hotel Room. I don’t know if she will like it tho, but at least that will evade possible conflicts privacy wise.”

The angel spoke like he was talking about the weather and not entity that was apparently real since this was the second time Dean heard about it. The hunter shook his head and resolved to ask about that later after he and Cas had an actual discussion of what happened in the park.

“Cas, listen to me, please” this finally pulled the angel’s attention away from the food and into the hunter’s eyes “I’m sorry for what I said back in the park, it was totally out of line and I admit that. You know I’m the last person with any right to judge you man, and all that stuff about letting people die doesn’t apply to you…”

“But it applies to Cecil.” Castiel cut off Dean Mid-sentence.

The hunter didn’t know if the angel wanted some confirmation or negation of what he just said so he opted for closing his mouth. Castiel gave a long-suffering sigh to fill the silence Dean had made so obvious.

“Dean, while I appreciate the sentiment I don’t think it’s me you should be apologizing to” once again, the hunter kept his mouth shut, prompting the angel to keep on talking. “I know that this is difficult for you, to trust someone you barely met to help you on a hunt, but Cecil’s my friend and a good person.”

“So you keep saying, Cas.”

“I’m in no position to judge Cecil’s mistakes. The least I can do is to try to understand him; can you do that too, Dean?”

“I’m trying Cas. I offered him help with whatever’s going on in this town, didn’t I?”

“Yeas, yes you did” Cas sighed “I guess I just hoped that once you saw how Cecil really was, you would actually give him a chance. After all, you and he are more similar than I first thought.”

Dean was about to ask the angel what did he exactly mean by that when the bathroom door opened and there stood the interrupting moose, in pajamas drying his hair.

“Hey, there’s still some warm water. You should take a shower Dean, you stink of sand and sweat” his brother supplied helpfully before claiming one of the beds.

“Fuck you” Dean answered before immediately grabbing some clean clothes and a towel. His brother was kind of right but there was no way he would admit that over to the jerk.

He paused before going to the bathroom to look again at their angelic friend, who was busy once again arranging the food at the window.

Dean considered going on and tell him the conversation wasn’t over or even directly asking him what he saw in common between his weirdo friend and him but ultimately decided against it.

After he took a quick shower he found that his brother was already sound asleep in one of the two beds of their motel room while Cas was sit in a corner reading an old looking book.

“Are you gonna stay there all night?”

“Angels don’t require sleep Dean, you know this,” he said without even looking up from his book. “Besides, I thought you would find this a preferable alternative than me watching over you at night. I was going to leave so you could turn off the lights to sleep but Sam advised me that I should probably let you know first.”

Dean cringed a little, in part because yes it was kind of creepy when Cas did that whole watching you while you sleep thing, and in part because he was starting to miss it.

“Well, thank you Cas. And by all means, suit yourself. I’m gonna hit the hay before the moose here starts snoring”

“My pleasure Dean, good night.”

“Night Cas.”

The angel took the book in his hands and started walking towards the door.

When Dean was getting himself into bed, the angel took an abrupt pause and turned to face the hunter once again.

“And Dean, please think about what I told you earlier. Cecil is not our enemy, you of all people should be able to see that” and with that the angel was out of sight once again, leaving Dean with a hollow feeling in his chest he wasn’t sure he could pinpoint.

That night Dean felt asleep thinking of the events of the day, only to be woken up a few hours later in the middle of a dream full of blue eyes and purple extra limbs.

Chapter Text

Dean didn’t know what he had expected when visiting an actual scientific lab. Maybe quiet place numerous lab tables and tubes with string thingies that connected them with each other… you know, your standard movie lab.

In a way, Carlos’ laboratory was like that and so much more.

First of all, there wasn’t the quiet you would expect in such a serious setting. He and Sam had visited forensic labs before, but the seriousness of the atmosphere there didn’t permit the kind of chatter most of the scientist did here in Night Vale.

A lot of them seemed to be talking mindlessly while doing their other chores like writing frantically in a chart or mixing substances of different colors in various tubes. Dean even heard some girls talking about where to celebrate some anniversary while feeding some kind of thing in a small cage, which vaguely resembled a pink flower with fangs instead of petals.

“I’m sorry, can I help you with something?” came a voice from beside Dean when he noticed the three of them had spent way too much time standing in the entrance of the lab.

The trio looked startled at the source of the sound, a petite girl with dark skin and bright amber eyes who seemed exasperated with attending some strangers at the door instead of being somewhere else doing science.

“We’re umm, looking for Carlos?” Sam thankfully supplied. “My name’s Sam, this is my brother Dean and our friend Castiel. Did he mention us or something? It’s kind of important.”

She eyed them for a long moment, before finally giving a curt nod.

“You are the interlopers” she declared.

“Can you not say it like that?” Dean asked earning an eye roll from his brother and an amused look from the scientist.

“And you really have a lot to learn about the town, it seems,” she said, turning around and not really responding to Dean’s question. “Follow me.”

The trio simple shrugged and decided it was best to just follow her and try not to question it too much since apparently, even the normal people in this town were shady as fuck…. Ok, maybe it was only Dean who did that last thing, but who could blame him?

They walked around the lab, watching as various people in lab coats working with some potentially dangerous stuff while talking about yesterday’s weather. No kidding, he even heard a snippet of a conversation which, he was pretty sure, involved “radioactive waste”.

Eventually, they arrived at a small room at the far end of the lab. Once again, Dean wasn’t really surprised to see Carlos hunched over a table, looking intently at something through a microscope. However, what he didn’t  expect (even tho he probably should’ve) was Carlos’ boyfriend propped up on the same table, playing with the scientist’s hair while this one worked.

“Carlos, you have visitors.”

Immediately the Cecil and Carlos looked up from their respective tasks and came up to receive their guests.

“I see you guys have met Andy. Thank you so much for bringing them in, by the way.”

“It ok, Carlos. They were just kind of standing there at the entrance” Andy explained.

Dean could feel the heat rising on his cheeks as the three town residents raised their eyebrows in amusement, at their embarrassment.

“To be fair, he only told us we could just come in. We didn’t know he’d be working when we arrived” the hunter attempted to justify.

“Well science never stops, so we have to be in a constant movement if we want to catch up with it. After all, diligent is the fourth thing a scientist is” Carlos explained. “Speaking of which, Andy, could you excuse us a second, please?”

The girl simply nodded not questioning Carlos motives for secrecy. Dean supposed when you lived in a town like this, that kind of behavior it was something you get used to.

You could instantly feel the shift in the atmosphere of the room, as soon as Andy left the room. Gone was the good demeanor and smile on Carlos' face, replaced with a cold calculating shine that you would expect from a scientist.

“Now, you guys have to see this,” he said without even waiting for a response, as he approached the microscope he was examining earlier.

The hunters and angel glanced and Cecil for some kind of explanation that never came since the radio host was looking excitedly at his boyfriend.

“So, is Andy your assistant or something?” Sam asked as he made his way to Carlos, trying to sound as laidback as possible.

So now, Dean guessed, Sam had taken interest in the cute scientist girl. He couldn’t wait to see how that would turn out once this whole thing was solved.

“More like a second in command, really” commented Carlos, oblivious to Sam’s intention in favor to adjusting his microscope. “After the whole Luis thing I needed someone else to help me get everything in order around here, she’s probably the one reason this building hasn’t fallen to shreds. Now, would you guys come over here and look at this.”

Dean could see his brother was considering asking more while he, himself, was debating if that last part was more literal than figurative, but decided against it.

As he approached the small table, he could hear Cas talking with Cecil as they were left last in the group.

“I have to admit I’m a little surprised to see you here, Cecil. I thought you would be already preparing for today’s show.”

“Yeah, well. I already went earlier to leave the notes for today, and the show’s not until the evening so I thought I could come and make Carlos some company” even while watching the microscope it was clear Carlos was listening, due to the heavy blush that colored his face the moment he was mentioned. “Besides, we thought perhaps it’s better if none of us stay alone for long periods of time, after…”

After yesterday.

Dean didn’t hear Cecil complete the phrase but he didn’t have to. It was obvious that the radio host and the scientist cared deeply for each other and probably didn’t want the other to face whatever’s going on with the town, alone.

He could relate to that, the feeling that embraces you after being so close to death, the clarity you get once you realize how easy it could’ve been someone very close to you in your place.

He thought back to a couple of weeks ago when Cas had been so close to dying he even confessed his love for all of them. Dean remembers how after that he had been all over the angel, insisting of having him rest constantly, and bringing him food and just generally fussing over him to the point Cas had exasperatedly reminded him he was an angel and he didn’t need to be watched over like a baby.

Easy for him, since he hadn’t been the one watching the love of his life die before his eyes, after confessing his love for you, only to be up and dandy a few minutes later.

So yeah, he could understand that the two lovebirds didn’t want to risk it with everything that was going on right now. Still, it was kind of uncomfortable being in the same room as Cecil after all the stuff that happened yesterday.

The hunter decided to break the heavy silence that fell after Cecil’s incomplete thought, by laying a simple message of empathy towards the situation.

“Well, that sucks…” smooth, Winchester.

In response, Cecil eyed him through the glasses Dean was pretty sure he didn’t have yesterday. What use could a person with three eyes give to a pair of glasses anyway?

Luckily for Dean, before Cecil or Cas could form a proper response to his comment, Sam called him out from his spot beside Carlos.

“Dean, you should come take a look at this.”

His brother was looking at something through the microscope and urging him to do so as well.

He would’ve liked to say he had a sudden revelation while looking at the material under the lent like suddenly this whole case was seeing in a new light thanks to the discovery Carlos had made. Instead, Dean found himself looking at a shape that vaguely resembled some rocks scattered over downhill while trying to think of a reason to be looking at it.

“I don’t understand” he finally said. “Is that… gunpowder?”

“Yes!” Carlos responded excitedly “You see Night Vale has a unique magnetic camp. I think that could be the reason guns break down as soon as you pull the trigger, they just can’t support the energy they’re put through, so they just kind of disintegrate. And, look!” he said overjoyed as he pushed another coverslip without asking Dean.

The older Winchester glanced at him weirdly before focusing once again on the objects on the microscope, which now had formed a very well defined circle around a small dot in the center.

“That on the center is the metal of the gun you had yesterday in liquid form. See how it repels the gunpowder. It doesn’t even make sense, in any case, this should amplify the bullet’s kinetic energy by the time it gets out but it doesn’t” the scientist explained with a big smile that made Dean understand why Cecil was so smitten with him.

Carlos may be more the quiet type most of the time, but the way he behaved in his own environment was confident and energetic with a childlike wonder dripping from his voice. Dean would’ve considered that cute if it wasn’t for the subject of said wonder.

“So, is that a good thing for us?” Dean ventured to ask.

“Huh? Oh, no. It’s terrible” the scientist answered. “I have no idea how it works. Science is kind of tricky here, so it might take me a while to understand how the guns work.”

“Great. So we’re pretty much back to square one.”

“Not so much” Carlos answered quickly “Whoever is behind all of this must have a deep knowledge of physics in Night Vale to actually manage to do make the guns act normal. So, that at least gives us a profile for the murderer.”

“Someone who knows of Night Vale but isn’t actually from here, and who it’s smart enough to manipulate the weapons” Sam supplied.

“Exactly.”

“That still isn’t much to work on” Dean prompted, giving a long-suffering sigh.

The eldest hunter looked at everyone in the room, effectively confirming what they were all thinking: they were still stumped on the spot.

“C’mon, there must be something else. If someone from outside went to so much trouble to get here and do this, there must be a reason or a pattern or something” Dean declared before posing his eyes in Cecil and Cas who had been quiet in contemplation during the discussion, which was pretty common in the angel, but Dean guessed not as much on the radio host.

“You,” the hunter said pointing at Cecil, “how did you know there was a murder? Did you use your weird juju or something?”

Cecil contemplated him a moment, seemingly evaluating his next words before answering.

“I received a report,” he said, as of that explained everything.

“Dude, there was literally no one there but us, and we definitely didn’t go and tell you about…”

“Cecil, calls his visions reports” Cas explained before Dean could finish his sentence (and probably because he was afraid of whatever may come out of Dean’s mouth).

“Oh, really?” Dean asked, looking again at Cecil, who simply shrugged in response.

“Well, yes. Station management told me to do it that way. Apparently is easier that way, since I don’t have to explain how it works.”

While saying ‘it,’ Cecil pointed out his third eye straight in the middle of his forehead.

“So, wait a second” Sam interrupted “Is your eye how you get to see the stuff that’s going on elsewhere?”

“Yeah, pretty much. It actually makes my job a lot easier.”

“So, that means you can see the face of the killer, right?”

“Well, no” Cecil’s face fell down. “It doesn’t work like that. I can’t really control what I see, or even when I see it.”

“Maybe we can find a way to trigger it” Dean suggested. “You know, what’s the worst that could happen, right?”

Cecil visibly paled just thinking at that prospect.

“I’m not certain that’s such a good idea. I mean, I guess I could try but I’m not really sure if I’d be able to control it.”

“Haven’t you tried before?” Sam asked.

“Yes. Once, I think, when I found out I was going to be The Voice of Night Vale.” Cecil started explaining with a far-fetched look in his eyes, as he got closer to the group and leaned in the lab table.“I wanted to see what I could do, how much I could see at once if I even could see things beyond the city. I never really found out. I passed out and woke up a few hours later at the Night Vale General Hospital, with my sister by my side. She was pretty mad, so I promised I would never try to push my powers again and I kept my promise.”

After Cecil finished his explanation, the room felt a lot colder somehow. Even the tattoos decorating the radio host’s arms became still. Carlos reached out across the table to cup his boyfriend’s hand in his own.

Even Dean knew it wasn’t the time to make a joke, so it was a surprise when his brother was the one who broke the silence.

“So, hold on, are you the Voice because of your powers or were your powers given to you after you found out you were the voice.”

“I… don’t remember” answered Cecil. “Maybe a bit of both, I guess. I remember Abby used to complain about my tentacles when we were children, but I’m pretty sure I had my third eye surgery when I was like thirteen… fourteen, maybe.”

Cecil talked as if he was remembering a particularly bad visit to the dentist and not a traumatic event from his childhood that he had probably blocked out from his memory.

“Huh, …you would say I’d put more attention to those things.” Cecil’s smile was full of sharp white teeth that reminded Dean of the Jaws movie, but at least the guy didn’t seem to be having an existential crisis anymore, so Dean counted that as a victory.

“Ok, so Cecil’s superpowers are out of question” Dean concluded, even though they hadn’t technically discussed it beyond Cecil giving his explanation he was pretty sure that everyone was with him on this one. “What do we do now?”

Everyone was quiet. Figures.

“Maybe, we’re thinking too outside the box” Sam supplied. “Maybe what we’re looking for is simpler than that.”

“I’ve been living here for years now,” Carlos interrupted “believe me, thinking outside of the box is what keeps you alive in here.”

“No, I know that but… maybe this isn’t as different as any other case me and my brother have worked on” Sam paused briefly to look at his brother. “You said something earlier about a pattern.”

“Yeah, hate to break it to you but without bodies, it’s kind of hard to establish any kind of pattern unless Cecil here remembers all the victims.”

Cecil shook his head.

“I’m sorry; most of them were just quick flashes, as I told you I can’t really control what I see. I can only recall three faces: Vincent Rivers, from the school board; Isabelle Woods, a nurse at the hospital; and Maria Rosas, a college student. Different ages, races, social condition… I’ve gone through every possible thing I could think of but they had seemingly nothing in common. Which is not a lot, considering   there are probably even more murders the police is hiding.”

“Yeah, there’s also that so, in conclusion, no pattern Sammy.”

“Ok, but get this. Carlos said the killer must be someone who knows of Night Vale enough so they get to use guns here. What is the easiest way to prove something when you don’t know how to do it?”

“Trial and error?” the scientist wondered out loud.

“Exactly!”

“It… makes sense” Carlos mused. “I mean, the scientific method establishes that one must test a hypothesis by doing an experiment. It is possible the killer may have been gathering data for months, even years now, and only gotten the results they wanted now.”

“Or in any case, it could be a copycat” Sam complemented. “Either way, our guy must have some kind of background to perform with.”

“It would explain, how the murderer seems to know exactly what they’re doing with their weapons” Castiel pondered.

“It’s brilliant,” Carlos said.

“I knew it was a good idea for you guys to be here” Ceil provided.

“Now we have to find out if this theory is true. But how?” the scientist continued.

The brother crossed looks for a bit. The research was always the most boring part of any hunt but it was still necessary, even more so now.

“We have to dig in the town to see if there’s any case like this in the last previous years” Sam explained.

“That’s going to be a little difficult” Cecil winced. “See how the sheriff doesn’t want me telling this on the radio? I’m pretty sure any possible lead we could have in previous cases it’s been destroyed by now.”

“We could try the libra…” Dean hadn’t even finished his suggestion when he suddenly had both, Cecil and Carlos yelling ‘no’ at him. When the latter was sure Dean wasn’t gonna follow through with his suggestion, he cleared his throat and explained:

“Libraries are not really ‘useful’ or ‘safe’ here so trust me, it’s not worth it.”

Dean wanted to argue that there were lives depending on them and whatever it was the library in this place, was possibly worth them. But he also saw how Carlos, probably the sanest man in the entire town, seemed pale at the sheer mention of the library so he decided to drop the topic.

“Ok, so: no library” Cecil and Carlos gave a visible sigh of relieve as Dean continued. “I guess interviewing people is out of the question?”

“That is correct. I don’t doubt that if anyone even remembers something, they’ll probably be too afraid of the Sheriff’s Secret Police and City Council to tell” concluded Cecil.

“Well, there must be something” Sam insisted. “Cecil, you know the city, is there anywhere we could get this info? Or anyone that could help us with it?”

Cecil scratched his head as if trying to force the information out of his brain.

“Well, the Hall of Public Records contains most of the important information of the city, there may be a chance it has a section dedicated to criminal records. I know it’s somewhere around the second level of the basement. I never really entered tho, since they seemed a little upset to find me wandering over there the last time…”

“Wait a minute” Carlos interrupted. “Cecil, were you snooping around in the city hall on purpose?”

“…no…”

Dean had never seen anyone looking as exasperated and worried like Carlos in that moment.

“Cecil…”

“I was fine, you see? If anything it was Kareem’s fault we got caught, he was supposed to give me a heads up but he said something about ninjas dressed in bright red suits threatening his life, can you believe that? Everyone knows that the Council Ninjas only wear blood orange…”

“Can we get back to the topic at hand, please?” Sam stopped the conflict. “Is there any chance the City Council may let us take a look at those files?”

“Not likely.”

Dean slumped in defeat. They could go on and on with this case, but without a proper lead, it would take them weeks to find the killer.

“But maybe someone else can get us in…” Cecil continued and Dean perked up at this. “It’s a long shot. I mean, there’s a possibility that she will say no, or have a mental break down and start eating dirt again, but still…”

“You mean?”

“Yes.”

Dean didn’t understand what was going on with Cecil and Carlos said, but couldn’t help but feel a glimmer of hope when the former pulled out his phone and called someone with the friendliest voice Dean has heard from Cecil.

“Hey, Dana… Yeah, hello it’s Cecil... Yes, it’s been a long time… Hey listen, can I ask you a favor...? If someone was to hypothetically sneak into the city hall again but this time with some other friends, would you give them a hand?”

Chapter Text

Castiel hadn’t met mayor cardinal the last time he visited Night Vale. It made sense, since around that time the mayor was Pamela Winchell and Dana Cardinal was a toddler of around five years of age. Still, the way Cecil talked about her on their way to the city hall made the angel smile, knowing Cecil was letting people make such an impact in his life.

After all, as much as he loved his friend he knew he tended to let superficial impressions get to him easily (even though he swears his conflict with Steve Carlsberg is not the case). Castiel was actually surprised he seemed to accept the Winchesters so smoothly into his life, especially considering their disastrous first meeting.

It wasn’t like it was difficult for Cecil to like people and be liked in response, he was friendly and charming to an extent, and had a way with words that most people couldn’t help but soak into. No, the problem Cecil had was the same at the Winchesters; he knew a lot of people and considered friends most of them, but very few got to know him truly if it wasn’t strictly necessary.

“I don’t get why Carlos and Sam didn’t come” came a voice from the back seat of Cecil’s car.

Dean wasn’t used to being in the backseat and was clearly annoyed by this and the fact that they had decided to take Cecil’s car and not the Impala.

“Well,” started Cecil “Carlos still has work to do in the laboratory and your brother was kind enough to offer his company since we’re going over to see Dana. And by what Castiel has told me, I’m sure that those two are more than capable to handle themselves.”

The only response from Dean was a grunt and pout from what the angel had glimpsed in the rearview mirror.

So it was true that Sam had offered to stay behind with the scientist. Even tho Cecil didn’t say it out loud, he could see that his friend was grateful towards the younger Winchester to keep Carlos company, if only for the sake of the two not having to face whatever was out there alone.

Also, he figured Dean wouldn’t be able to spend five minutes alone with the scientist before putting his foot in his mouth. The angel wasn’t even sure that Dean would be able to do so now but at the very least he was there to soften whatever may leave the hunter’s mouth.

Perhaps Sam decision had been less a thoughtful act and more an instinct of self-preservation.

“So,” Dean tried to start the conversation once again, “I thought that all of your interns died, but this one became mayor somehow?”

If Sam had been there, the angel was sure he would’ve smacked his brother in the head. Castiel, himself was considering that when he got distracted by Cecil’s rich laugh filling the car.

“That is actually a fun story, you see? Dana wasn’t technically supposed to be in the election, but…”

“Is this story going somewhere or you’re just gonna drag it out without reason?” Dean interrupted Cecil.

“The pulses coming from Hidden Gorge elected her” the radio host concluded with a rough edge in his voice.

Castiel could see that his friend was doing a great effort to not snap at the eldest Winchester brother. Cecil was used to letting out his words in almost every manner and he was sure the only reason he hadn’t done so yet, is because he didn’t want to give Dean the satisfaction of knowing he had been affected by his words.

The angel turned his head to glare at Dean, who was just a little too slow to avoid eye contact so when their eyes met, Castiel was sure he saw a glimpse of guilt within the hunter.

Finally, Dean sighed.

“Hey man, I’m sorry” he started “I shouldn’t have snapped at you and… also, I shouldn’t have said a lot of the stuff that I did yesterday.”

The hunter didn’t give any further explanation, but even this was enough to make Cecil look taken aback by this.

“It’s… it’s ok, I guess” Cecil answered “I’ve been called worse, to be honest. But… just… for your information, not all of my interns die, some just get transformed into different beings or transported into another dimension.”

“I’m not sure that really helps your case here” Dean commented.

“What I’m trying to say is radio is a dangerous profession. I’ve experienced some of that myself. However, I’ll admit that perhaps I could be more careful where I send my interns. But, those who survive I couldn’t be more proud of.”

“And you think that justifies it?”

“I don’t know, will you tell me if you find out?”

Cecil’s voice was casual but Castiel could feel the sharp undertone in it and he was sure Dean felt it too. Cecil was not as naïve as he seemed, the angel knew his friend was as observant as anyone else in Night Vale and more. He could tell Cecil didn’t exactly feel antagonism towards Dean but he was definitely getting infuriated with the hunter’s constant blame trusted upon him.

The angel knew Cecil enough to realize his friend felt guilt with every one of Dean’s words but he was also, too proud to let him just talk him down.

Cas sighed, supposing it was his duty to act as a middle point in the situation.

“Are you sure your friend won’t have trouble attending us?” he finally asked, changing the topic.

“Of course, Dana is one of the smartest people I know and she knows that even if she doesn’t help I’ll find a way to enter anyway. At least this way she can say that we were under her supervision.”

Cecil smiled with enthusiasm while talking about his friend and the angel couldn’t help but share his own smile.

His friend was volatile at best, quick to change his emotions. But damn if he didn’t deserve it.

The car was wrapped in a comfortable setting for the first time in the whole trip and it stayed that way until they arrived at the City Hall a few minutes later.

*

In all of his life, Dean had seen his fair share of creepy places, but none of them had left him a dreaded feeling as the Night Vale City Hall. The hunter didn’t even know how a building could look so simultaneously hideous, terrifying and depressive at the same time.

Even the garden at the entrance looked more like a cemetery than an actual garden.

“The mayoral office is in the third story” Cecil announced as he exited the car. “Dana must be already waiting for us in there.”

“Actually, she relocated a year or so ago after an incident with a dragon. After that, it seemed a little risky being in a considerable height from the ground” came a voice from the parking lot.

As they turned around they saw a young dark-skinned girl with wild curls and a casual outfit walking over to them. Surely it couldn’t be…

“Yeah… have I said I’m sorry about that, yet?” Cecil asked rubbing his neck in a shy manner and… blushing?

The radio host was actually blushing for the first time in front of Dean and all because of this young woman. No, girl. She couldn’t be older than 24 or 25 years old. And Cecil was scrunching himself like a toddler after been scolded recently, and the girl was only staring at him with a look that Dean couldn’t quite decipher.

After a while, in which Dean thought the girl was going to punch the radio the radio host, she came up to them and closed the distance between herself and Cecil with a big hug that he carefully returned.

“I figured you wouldn’t be able to pass the city hall after the last time, so I decided to wait here for you” the girl explained with a gentle smile that made her look even younger than she surely was.

“Well Dana, it depends which time you are talking about…”

“Last week, when you and Kareem tried to sneak into the Public Records” Dana responded with an amused smile. “I thought this time you would bring Janice, you did a good job sneaking her in last time.”

Cecil looked suddenly nervous, the smile in the corner of his mouth completely gone and replaced with a sort of worried line across his features.

Dean had a lot of questions; how is that a young girl was the mayor of a whole town? What kind of history did her and Cecil share? And why did the radio host look so nervous at the mention of the other person, Janice? Could she be another one of Cecil surviving interns?

“I… don’t really want to get Janice involved in any of this” Cecil explained.

“Really?” Dana asked looking confused at Cecil before glancing at the rest of their group, seemingly noticing Dean and Cas for the first time “Cecil, those are the new interlopers.”

 She said that discreetly as if she was sharing a secret with Cecil even though Dean and Castiel were right behind him and hearing everything she said. She didn’t sound surprised or distrustful like most of the other citizens. She just seemed perplexed, like she had never seen someone like them before.

“Yes, Dana, they are actually the reason I need your help,” Cecil said as he pulled the young girl’s attention back at him. “Is there anywhere we can talk without being overheard by the city council?”

As he asked this, the radio host put his hand on his ex-intern shoulder, and Dean could see the girls gaze pass from the hand to Cecil’s face, to his own. She was calculating the situation. It made sense, she was in the same situation he had been just last night. Trusting a complete stranger in the name of one of his own friends.

Even though Cecil wasn’t especially tall, he was definitely taller than the girl by a head or so. But even then, while looking down at her, the hunter could see that they were at the same level. They were just a couple of friends considering a favor, and Dean could tell if the girl denied it Cecil would accept her decision.

He prayed for it not to happen.

Dana was looking at him and the angel with a hard calculating gaze, and for the first time, Dean was completely sure this girl could handle whatever the city may throw at her.

Finally, when she spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper.

“We can go to my new office. The City Council and the Sheriff’s Secret Police have been postponing putting cameras in there for months now. And there you can tell me what’s going on.”

Dana didn’t quite smile but Dean guessed it was probably the closest thing that she could muster.

With a simple nod, they started following her without much words required to the city hall, which suddenly didn’t felt as immense and horrific as Dean originally thought.

*

“So, let me get this straight” the mayor said after a bit of silence that followed Cecil’s short explanation “There is a murderer on the loose, who you believe is an outsider, and you decided to contact three outsiders to help you?”

“Well… not as much contacted. Castiel and the Winchesters kind of popped in yesterday.”

For a second Dean wanted to protest that Cas had an actual introduction while Cecil kinda pilled him and his brother up, but his argument died at the righteous fury the small woman directed at him at that moment.

“Cecil, you say these guys hunt the supernatural. That’s approximately half of the town, aren’t you a little worried about them?” asked Dana, not even looking away from them as she did so like she was talking about some dog or particularly annoying insect that couldn’t understand her.

“We are right here, you know?” Dean said irritably. “It’s not like we can’t hear you.”

This only served to deepen the mayor’s frown and Dean worried he had said the wrong thing (yet again) when Cecil intervened.

“Look, I know how it sounds ok? Night Vale has had its fair share of bad strangers but it also has had some good ones, like Carlos and his team… and Castiel over here who is actually a longtime friend of mine.”

The mayor seemed to ponder about this for a moment, in which Dean took time to appreciate the office they were in. It was kind of a mix between the war room and the library back at the bunker, although most of the bookcases were empty of books and filled with photographs. Not exactly something you would expect in a mayoral office.

He wished he could take a closer look at them but he felt like there was a reason she told them to sit at the table in the center of the room.

From his position, the hunter could only make out some people in the pictures; who he assumed was the girl’s family. A young guy who looked a lot like her, hugging a woman who was like an older version of her, a photo of a man who looked like it had been taken years ago. He even could make some pictures of Cecil and Carlos, and that strange lady that greeted Cas when they arrived yesterday.

The room was not arranged to be an actual office, even though it was obvious that had been its original purpose judging by the imposing desk and the big strategy table in which they were sitting at that exact moment. Dana had probably put as many items as she had been allowed to, to make it feel homier.

Dean wondered briefly how old was the girl exactly. She didn’t look that much older than Claire for that matter; she had to be at the very last in her early twenties. How did she even become a mayor of a whole town at such an early age?

“Ok, Cecil I trust you” the girl finally decided, pulling Dean out of his own thoughts.

“Wait, really?”

“Yes, you are my friend and I trust you if you say the interlopers are good people” she declared with an air of confidence and Dean could see something shift on Cecil’s face.

The radio host opened his mouth as if was about to say something but cut himself abruptly by standing up from his chair and smiling down at his friend.

“Thank you, Dana.”

Dana winked the slowest weirdest wink Dean had seen anyone do in his life (and that was saying a lot, considering the angel that was sitting right beside him).

Just when he thought that was it for the topic, Dana reached out above the table to hug Cecil, in an awkward embrace due to the height difference, the distance of the table and the fact that Cecil wasn’t hugging back, at least not at the beginning.

For a guy that seemed so confident with his movements as well as his words, Dean got the feeling that the radio host wasn’t really used to showing real affection.

Slowly Cecil lifted his arms to hug back his friend when Dean saw something creeping behind Cecil to reach to Dana as well.

“Jesus Christ!” the two friends parted at the sound of surprise Dean had realized he made, just after registering the object, or objects, reaching behind Cecil were his tentacles (Jesus, had he had them out this whole time?).

“What’s wrong?” asked Cecil, sounding genuinely concerned to which Dean’s only reply was a vague hand gesture to the extra limbs that surrounded his body.

Dean could feel a light kick in his leg, and he realized it was Castiel way of saying ‘Don’t be rude’ but it was too late and he had already pretty much called the attention of everyone in the room with his outburst.

Although to be fair, Cecil didn’t even look fazed by this. He examined his tentacles quickly as if trying to find something to worry about, besides the fact that his body had extra limbs, and when he returned his eyes to Dean, the hunter could see the limbs were already cowering behind Cecil.

“I’m sorry if that startled you” Cecil started “Most of the time I can control them, but they tend to act on their own when I’m … emotional, let’s say.”

“It’s ok, Cecil. You have nothing to apologize for” the angel assured him. “Right, Dean?”

“Mhhh? Oh, yeah. Sure… they’re just…” Dean struggled to find an adjective that wouldn’t offend Cecil “Nice?”

“Well thank you” the radio host beamed. “See, Dana. They are cool with this; they even reacted better than Carlos did.”

“How did he… you know what? I don’t even wanna know” Dean cut himself well enough before Cecil opened his mouth to start another probably nonsensical story. “So, this means you’re gonna help us?” he said looking at Dana once again.

The girl stared back at Dean with eyes so thoughtful and deep that for a moment Dean thought he was looking at a grown woman trapped in the body of a young girl. It would certainly explain why the girl was in charge of a whole town, or how she was so ok with all of this. Even tho he knew that wasn’t the case.

Dean remembered Luis’ words: ‘You know? I can see it in you. Years and years of horrors upon your shoulders, things you wish you could forget…’ Then, the hunter had no idea what the weird old man had meant with that but now he could see it. He could see it in the eyes of the Nigh Vale mayor, Dana Cardinal.

She gave him a slow nod and the barest hint of a smile.

“I will help you” she confirmed.

Her voice was gentle and not quite as calming as Cecil’s, but almost. Dean could see his angel cracking a small smile and felt the corners of his own mouth twitch as well. Cecil, for his part, was absolutely beaming.

For a moment there, the same doubt had clouded everyone’s minds and left them wondering if they really had the mayor’s help. Thankfully, now they all could go on with the investigation.

“Well, better get going. Can you take us to the archive then?” Dean asked, to which his only response was a full laugh from Dana and a light chuckle from Cecil. “I’ll take that as a no, then.”

“I’m sorry, but we just can’t go into the archive, we gotta be discreet” Cecil explained, “Dana here will create a distraction so we can sneak in…”

“Actually” Dana interrupted the moment she got her laugh under control. “Cecil and I are going to create a distraction while you two go to the archives.”

Cecil looked at her offended.

“What? No, I have to go with them…”

“I’m sorry Cecil but the last time you came here the City Council almost caught you, and I’m sure at this point they’re just looking for any excuse to get you.”

“But…”

“Besides,” Dana said before Cecil could interrupt “Carlos would kill me if I let something happen to you.”

Cecil sighed audibly. He took his glasses off his face to rub his forehead, avoiding carefully the third eye in the middle of it.

“Fine, but you guys have to give me a report on everything you see,” Cecil said, directing himself to Dean and Castiel. “Do you know how long I’ve wanted to investigate down there?”

“Didn’t you have that opportunity like a few weeks ago?” Dean deadpanned.

“It was different” he simply responded, “Then I had Kareem, now I have you.”

“Well, technically, now you have no one since you’re staying.”

Cecil drew his lips in a thin annoyed line and if Dean hadn’t seen him mad before he would’ve thought he had crossed a line there, but he could see there was no real anger behind the radio host’s face, only some annoyance.

“C’mon” Dana said before they could continue their little feud. “I’m gonna give you instructions on how to get to the archive while Cecil and I go meet the council upstairs.”

“I still don’t get how I’m gonna be more help up there than down here…”

“Well it’s really simple Cecil” Dana explained. “You are gonna do what you’re better at: talking.”

Dean couldn’t help himself and busted out laughing at Cecil’s offended expression.

Chapter Text

“This is not gonna work out.”

“Of course it is. Dean, tell him.”

“Actually, I agree with him on this one Cas. This is not gonna work out.”

The angel glared at both of his friends who were both crossing their arms and staring stubbornly at Dana and him.

“Look, all you gotta do is deactivate the system, avoid falling down the stairs and evade the lasers to the room,” Dana explained, “easy.”

Dean looked at her incuriously. She looked so pleased with herself that Dean almost felt bad for criticizing her plan, but well…

“Yeah well, easier said than done. I get that you people have to fight every day to survive but we can’t just mission impossible our way into the basement…”

“Dean, don’t be rude” Cas chastised him. “Mayor Cardinal, I assure you we’ll get those files, without a problem.”

The admittedly young mayor smiled at them before turning at Cecil who was standing by her side with his arms crossed and a pout on his face. Even his third eye looked as if it was frowning even tho that should be impossible.

Dean reasoned the guy was probably angrier at the fact that he was being left behind of the action than anything else.

“Cecil you know what to do” Dana urged him, taking his arm and forcing him towards the stairs, where they are supposed to meet the City Council.

From what Dean gathered from their short planation their council was some kind of merged mutated being of some sorts… (Cecil had actually tried to explain it but frankly, Dean was starting to give up hope of comprehending anything in this town).

“Yeah, yeah” said the radio host as he let himself be led to the upper floors, “distract the City Council with something about Station Management birthday, even though they’re technically an entity that is centuries old with no clear record of ever being born but rather just existing before the concept of time itself, got it.”

Dean almost wanted to laugh at how bored Cecil sounded, especially taking into account how excited he can get about most other stuff. The dude looked like he would rather talk about anything other than his bosses and at that thought, Dean couldn’t help a small chuckle from slipping through his lips.

At the sound, Cecil whipped his head so fast Dean was sure he could hear a distinct pop from his neck.

“It’s not funny. I’m a radio professional, not just some guy who talks a lot and serves as a distraction. What am I even going to do if the City Council finds out what we’re doing?”

“Cecil, one time I heard you talk about Carlos’ hair for two hours straight in the show, to cover the fact that you forgot to print your notes” Dana deadpanned. “Believe me, you’ll be fine. Besides, since when are you so worried about the City Council?”

“Since you told me that if I die, I won’t even be able to see how the archive is inside.”

Dana rolled her eyes with fondness before forcing Cecil to keep walking.
“We’ll meet you at my office when you’re done. Be careful."

With that, both she and Cecil disappeared up the stair in the main floor of the Night Vale City Hall.

Dean looked back at the angel who was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs at the other side of the room, which led down to the basement.

“Well, I guess we’re doing this” the hunter stated looking at the seemingly endless pit of stairs that awaited them. “Can you just like transport us or something?” he asked, not willing to admit the slight feeling of nausea that overtook him just by looking down.

“Unfortunately, I can’t. Even from here I can feel the power of some sigil at the bottom of the stairs and from there nothing. It’s like the room doesn’t even exist. Whoever guarded down there must have been thoroughly prepared for any kind of intrusion.”

Dean huffed.

“So we have to do it the human way, then.”

“Not necessarily,” Cas said exhibiting the closest thing the angel could muster that resembled a smirk, “The room is locked down for the supernatural, but the controls that hold the mechanic defenses are certainly not.”

“You mean…?”

“I cannot transport us directly into the room or anywhere beyond this floor really, but I can try and clear the path for us. I just need a moment to fly around the building, see if I find a way to make any of the technological stuff shut down.”

Dean smirked as he glanced over at his friend.

“Cas, you’re brilliant.”

“Well, as I said, there’s little to nothing I can do about whatever sigil is preventing me from entering, but the least I can do is assure we have a safe and discreet search.”

The hunter wanted to say it was more than that. In moments like this, he realized how Cas could be a good hunter, thinking about every detail in advance. He also couldn’t deny he was kind of relieved that, if this worked, he wouldn’t have to face lasers and whatever the rest of the overly complicated system of the building implied.

In the end, he only nodded his head as he put a hand on the angel’s shoulder, hoping to somehow transmit all of those feelings in one lingering touch.
“Be careful, buddy.”

“Don’t worry Dean, I’ll be back in a few minutes. Just wait here.”

Before Dean could respond he heard the familiar flutter of wings fill the room as the angel disappeared before his eyes. He sighed somewhat wistfully; he was already used to his friend’s abrupt departures.

He took the time to think about their situation. He still had a lot of questions about the city and its inhabitants and everything that was going on in here. He wasn’t sure he could fully rule out Cecil out of the equation but there was something about him that reminded him of Cas, (something that may or may not had been brought upon his friend’s remarks the day prior).

The guy could be terrifying sure, but he was also friendly and easily excitable. And also an accomplice in a bunch of deaths, which weren’t really his fault but still…

Ugh, Dean should really stop thinking about Cecil unless he wanted to give himself a massive headache. Yesterday they were hunting the man and now they were breaking into a city hall for him. No, for the people, Dean reminded himself. Normal people like the mayor and Carlos, who for some reason like Cecil.

And there  comes the headache.

He still couldn’t wrap his head around the mystery that was Cecil Palmer. On one hand, there were some obvious issues between him and much of the city’s inhabitants, but on the other, he seemed to be at least in ok terms with most of them. At least on the surface. He still wasn’t sure why he kept apologizing to Dana every time he got but at least she didn’t seem to have a vendetta against him, and as for Carlos…

Well, he wasn’t gonna lie, Carlos was a fairly attractive guy, what with his curls and pearly smile Dean wasn’t surprised Cecil was so smitten with him he just didn’t understand how did that work in reverse…

“Whatever you’re thinking you should stop” Dean gave out a sharp intake of breath after hearing a voice behind him, only to notice a second later it was his best friend back from whatever he went.

“Dammit Cas, what have I told you about that?”

“I assure you I didn’t enter your thoughts, Dean.”

“I was talking about appearing out of nowhere but yeah, also that. How did you know I was thinking about Cecil.”

“I didn’t, I just assumed seeing you had that same face every time you’re thinking about someone you don’t like and I wasn’t about to take my chance and let you start a conflict with Cecil, again.”

Dean rolled his eyes; it wasn’t as if he was the only one at fault. I mean, yeah, he may have been the one to start it and Cecil may have only been defending himself and... Ok, maybe the fault was primarily his but he wasn’t about to admit that to Cas.

“It’s not like the guy can hear me anyway,” the hunter commented offhandedly, not really expecting an answer. However, the silence that followed made him do a double check at his angel friend who was decidedly not looking at him. “Cas, he can’t hear me right? Cecil can’t really listen to my thoughts right?”

“I believe same as his visions, his telepathy is not intentional. Mostly is just another requirement for his job.”

“Require… Cas, the dude reads minds! He could’ve been listening to what we’re thinking this whole time.”

“He hasn’t or at least, I believe he hasn’t. You probably would’ve noticed if he had.”

Dean pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling the aforementioned headache coming back in full force. Honestly, he didn’t have the energy to deal with that right now.

“You know what?” he started “Forget it. Just tell me if your plan worked.”

“Oh, it did. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to go down for now.”

“For now?”

“I have no idea how much Cecil will be able to distract the city council.”

“Doesn’t the guy talk the ears out of the city for a living? I’m sure he will be fine” Dean stated, earning himself a huff from the angel.

“I’d rather not risk Cecil’s safety and our own, Dean. Do you have any problem with that?”

“Well, no…”

“Good” and with that, the angel led the way to the seemingly endless pit of stairs.

Dean gave a barely audible gulp but followed his friend nonetheless. The staircase seemed to go on and on, to the point he doubted that even Cas with his angelic vision would be able to see the end.

As the two descended, the hunter found himself unwilling to start a conversation with the angel, especially since he could still feel the friction after his lasts conversations with the said angel. The fact that he was two words and one glance at the void away from spilling his, albeit light, breakfast was also a major reasoning in his mind.

The angel was walking a little over ahead of him since the way was barely wide enough for a single person to go through it. The only light in the narrow space came from dimly lit torches way up above their heads although, due to the distance, it barely made a difference for Dean since he still couldn’t see more than three steps ahead of them.

The walls were dark and moist, so much that the hunter didn’t even want to imagine what his skin was touching at that exact moment. Perhaps it was just moss, although the substance was much more viscous than some caves he and his brother were forced to go to. It kind of reminded him of the substance that some creatures expelled minutes before being killed.

He really wanted to think of it like that, not because he was a fan of walking a long ass set of stairs surrounded by monster’s goo but because the alternative had to do with the thick scent of iron that engulfed them more and more as they descended.

Dean blinked a few times to try and pry away the sting of the cold air in his eyes. And they were still going, still descending.

As the time passed he couldn’t help but feel annoyed at all those little details that surrounded them, however, his mind kept going through them like a twisted mantra. Everything around him was a well-thought trap, consuming him, enveloping him…

Later he would vaguely remember trying to change his train of thoughts. He remembered thinking about Cas, barely a few steps ahead of him, so close he could feel his heat in the cold. He could picture himself talking the angel’s hand as they descended deeper into the endless darkness…

The darkness… it engulfed him from head to toe but his mind was brighter than ever since they arrived in the city.

For some reason, he could also vaguely remember seeing Cecil in all of his normal glory. No tentacles or tattoos or an extra eye on his forehead. He pictured him with his hair combed neatly over his head in a color that could actually be considered natural. He looked like the picture perfect of an average man. Not attractive nor ugly, not old nor young, just a man…

Then the glitches started, like cuts from old television shows. The tats, the extra limbs… they were back and for whatever reason, they seemed even more menacing than before. They didn’t fit.

And behind Cecil, there was a figure… someone familiar. Someone that didn’t belong next to Cecil, holding a gun to the back of his head… the hunter suddenly heard a voice in the distance and he identified it immediately as the voice of the person holding the gun. And then a single shot.

He was brought abruptly to reality by a hand on his shoulder, though saying that might be a stretch. He didn’t feel back, not completely. The mist around his head was still clouding his mind so he didn’t really felt fully conscious. It was as if his mind was swimming throughout time, jumping from their reality to another one without him being able to control it.

He could hear Cas’ voice in between sudden moments of clarity, it was like listening to static only to catch brief glimpses of actual sound. The angel's hand was on his shoulder and he was saying something about stairs and height.

Sure, they were still going down the stairs. No, that didn’t seem correct. They must have stopped at some point since now Cas was facing him with his hand on his shoulder close, oh so very close, where the angel’s handprint once was… 

How long had they been going anyway? How long was it left?

He felt like it had been hours since they started going down. For a moment his body suffered the exhaustion of the past days completely crushing him all at once. It only lasted a second thought and then he felt nothing at all as his head hit the cold and viscous bricks at his left side.

Chapter Text

Cecil was good at talking. In fact, one of the things he was most proud of was his voice, (only surpassed by the act of calling Carlos his boyfriend). When his mother sat him down and gently explained to him he was going to become the voice of the city when he grew up he had been static, knowing that he would be able to work on radio and share his thoughts with the whole town.

That very same day, she also broke a mirror and told Cecil to never again get close to one or else he would die. His mother was a sweetheart, Cecil concluded.

However, he hadn’t always been the good, confident, radio host that he was in that moment. He could clearly remember how his sister would get annoyed when he tried to report everything in their lives as if he already was the voice of Night Vale. She would also tease him, saying his voice wasn’t good (or in her words, too squeaky) for radio.

It’s true that it had taken him years to reach his current baritone, but she didn’t need to remind him every time they had dinner together (especially when Carlos was right beside him, hearing every bit of his embarrassing childhood stories).

In short, he was good at talking, yes. But that was something that came after years and years of practicing on the radio, telling stories and news relevant to the public. Over the years, Cecil had learned to talk his way out of many situations but there were still some things even he knew to not mess with, and on top of that list were the City Council and Station Management.

So, it was only natural the only idea he had to distract the City Council, involved Station Management.

“…And because of that, I think you should really give more consideration to Station Management’s birthday gift. It’s not a matter of romanticism, no, but a matter of honor.”

Another thing, Cecil loved about the radio is that he didn’t really need to see anybody, and by nobody, he referred specifically to a certain multi-bodied entity that held the entire safety of the city, and more specifically of his family, between their limbs. An entity that was currently looking down at him, as if he suddenly decided to carry around a flag of Dessert Bluffs while eating some wheat product.

After he finished his small speech about how the City Council should seriously consider making a birthday party for his employers, Cecil could feel a vague uneasiness creeping down his spine as the silence grew imposing in the City Council’s second office. Never their actual office, Cecil learned that after his first trip to re-education years ago.

He alternated his vision between the City Council and Dana and the wall behind Dana and noticed how the mayor was trying her best to melt herself in that very same wall, by the looks of it. Well, some help that was.

In his studio, Cecil could control exactly when he paused and when he moved on with a story, whether a certain event was worthy or not of a long explanation or a single worded remark. Here in this room, Cecil could feel nervousness and anxiety creep in his body starting from his throat, which tightened itself in a way that was unfamiliar to the radio host.

He didn’t if it was just the danger of the situation taking over his body or a natural response at being exposed to the odor of the City Hall for too long. Either way, Cecil was certain of one thing: he did not like not being in control of his own voice.

Dana had brought him here with a very well detailed plan in mind; however, said plan didn’t take into account the fact that out of the list of things that seemed to be immune to Cecil’s voice, the City Council was the first one.

After what Cecil felt like an eternity (which was more of a probability than any other explanation in the city, to be honest), the City Council raised a single arm (or at least a thing that resembled an arm) and began speaking in a collective voice.

“We’ve heard enough” spoke the voice in a chill-inducing way. “Our relationship with Station Management as much as it is a public affair, should not fall into the societal norms that follow normal interactions. At least not until we reach further acquaintance with them.”

Cecil didn’t know how to respond immediately to that. Was the City Council saying… they weren’t that into Station Management yet? Cecil would’ve been able to sympathize with that feeling of uncertainty in a relationship if it weren’t for the fact that he was on a mission here.

“Yes, well. Take it for personal experience, sometimes you gotta take a leap of faith, you know?” Cecil considered following his comment with a slight elbow movement to the stomach, only to realize halfway through it that the City Council didn’t really have a chest. The action didn’t go unnoticed as he was left with his arm halfway through the air at an unnatural angle.

Dana covered her face lightly, whether it was to cover a snicker or second half embarrassment, Cecil wasn’t totally sure. Although he supposed her reaction was closer to the second thing since he was pretty sure even the City Council felt his shame at this point. They didn’t even have eyebrows but if they did, Cecil was certain they would be raised at his awkwardness.

God, how he missed his studio.

“Cecil,” the City Council began after a pregnant pause, “is this one of your gimmicks to distract us from your snooping around?”

The radio host opened his mouth in what he hoped was a somewhat convincing hurt expression. He risked a look at Dana as if asking her ‘can you believe this?’

“Gimmicks? Me?” Cecil took his half-raised hand into his chest as a sign of offense. “I would never such a thing. I’m a radio professional and I’m frankly quite offended that you would assume I’d just sneak around here with no reason whatsoever only to extract a story that might not even exist.”

As he delivered his words he could feel himself regain some of the composure that was left since he started with his first faux story. He was the voice of Night Vale, after all. He could do this…

“In that case, Cecil, you wouldn’t mind if we release the extra defense mechanisms down the Record Halls, would you.”

On the other hand…

“Excuse me?”

“You know, ever since you last attempt at breaking in we’ve being forced to employ other measurements to make sure the city’s archives would be safe, of course.”

“Of course” Cecil repeated, not really putting much energy on the words.

His mind instantly went on thinking how could he evade said traps for a journalistic investigation and a chill went down his spine upon realizing the more urgent matters his mind had seemingly decided to push back.

That wouldn’t do him any favors at demonstrating his innocence to the eldest hunter, who was currently going through some apparently new traps designed for him.

At last, the radio host cleared his throat, trying to regain some of the composure he lost.

“So, just out of curiosity… what kinds of traps are we talking about?” he asked, pushing as much influence in his voice as was possible without raising suspicion, to which he only received an screeching laughter from the collective entity before him.

Somehow that was even worse than their silence.

“Are you afraid Cecil?” the City Council asking in a tone that managed to be both, mocking and menacing.

“Of course not. It’s a legitimate question, you know? For journalistic purposes” Cecil concluded, although he could feel his voice faltering a little in his last syllable.

“Cecil, you know you can’t talk about it on your show.” The collective voice replied.

“Well, in that case, you won’t mind sharing some information with an old pal, would you?”

The atmosphere was tense and Cecil knew he was pushing his luck by moving on with the conversation, but he couldn’t care less knowing now that not only the City Council was putting the city in danger by withholding information. They were making a statement, indirectly telling Cecil to mind his own business, not realizing he was already at a point of no return.

He could already see some of the semblance of the city council breaking before him and he let himself for a moment believe he was making progress.

“You know Cecil,” the voices relented with renewed disposition, “it’s a good thing you didn’t come with anyone else this time. You are a though citizen, we’re sure you would be able to survive most of the new equipment. Now let’s say… your interns or even, your family… they’re another story.”

Cecil clenched his fist almost unperceptively, but he could feel Dana’s gaze lowering where his nails had already drawled blood.

His voice, he reminded himself, he had to put all his energy in his words.
“Well then, that is awfully convenient don’t you think? Cause, you know, if something happens to an intern while on duty I’m legally required to tell the community and to do that I’d be granted access to all the details behind his death.”

The various eyes of the City Council stared directly at his, specifically at the one in the middle of his forehead. Perks of being The Voice of Night Vale, Cecil supposed.

“Luckily for your supposed intern, the venom in the air isn’t lethal unless of course, they’ve inhaled it for too long,” the City Council said pacifically and Cecil took it for what it was, a small victory.

Cecil flashed a brief polite smile as he stood up to leave when his phone started ringing. The radio host caught a glimpse of a well-known number before shoving the phone once again into his pocket. It was the station’s landline.

“Cecil, who’s that?”

“No one” he replied too quickly, before realizing it was already too late.

“Don’t be rude Cecil, put it in speaker. Let us all hear whoever is on the line.”

Cecil was pretty sure they already knew who was on the other side but nevertheless he complied, trying to keep some semblance of composure. He picked up the call and raised his arm enough so Kareem’s voice could be heard by everyone.

He gave up on trying to hide the number, chances were it was already too late for that what with the multiple eyes all around the City Council’s body.

“Hello?”

“Boss? Listen, about the story I left at your desk…”

“Kareem, you’re on speaker” Cecil blurted out before his intern could continue, hoping he would get the plead of silence he was trying to convey. He wasn’t sure if Kareem was talking about a regular story for the show or the particular case they were currently working on, but regardless he wasn’t about to risk it with the City Council.

“Oh. Ok then” Kareem paused slightly on the line as if evaluating his words. “Well, I just, er… wanted to tell you that the corrections were done, so… all set for today.”

“Very well” Cecil retorted trying to keep his voice as unnerved as possible.“Thank you, Kareem.”

“Sure. See you in a few, boss.”

The line went dead. Cecil took his time putting his phone back in the pocket, dragging as much as possible before finally looking up at the City Council.

“Very nice young guy” the collective entity commented, “that’s your newest intern, isn’t that right Cecil?”

“Yes.”

“And he’s currently your only working intern at the station, right?”

“Yes,” he repeated unwillingly, knowing that there was no point in lying to the City Council since they most likely knew the truth from his shows in the last few months.

The City Council didn’t have mouths. They had ill-shaped orifices all around their body that barely could pass for mouths but for Cecil, those were enough to picture a smirk that sent a chill down his spine.

“Very well, then. You better get back to him; I think your show should start any minute now.”

With that, the City Council raised a weird looking limb, indicating the exit. Cecil gritted his teeth, a protest dying in his throat. He knew whatever they did next they had to do it fast, for the sake of Castiel and Dean, probably still descending the pit of stairs to get to the Hall of Records.

Cecil glanced at Dana and she gave a curt nod before heading to the door, not even bothering looking at the City Council. As they reached to end of the room they were interrupted by the slithering voice of the multi-faceted entity, still located beyond the enormous desk.

“Oh, and Cecil” they started as the radio host slowly turned his head to face them, “Make sure to say greetings to your family for us.”

Cecil slammed the door so hard on his way out, that he was surprised the frame didn’t break in half.

*

As soon as they exited the room Dana turned to face Cecil, whose face was scrunched up in a rare display of blankness. Cecil was not a person who ever withheld his emotions. For all the things her friend was, a good actor was never one of them. He was sentimental, raw. He never bothered to hide what was going through his head and the fact he was doing that right now had her worried.

“Cecil, is everything ok?” The mayor asked, at last, breaking the silence.

Cecil didn’t respond instantly, instead, he seemed to be deep in thought about something. That was something else.

It would be negligent to think of Cecil as someone naïve; he had lived his whole life in Night Vale after all. He could be as quick and slick as everyone else in the city it was just the fact that he wasn’t externalizing those thoughts that freaked her out.

She was so used to listening to Cecil’s train of thought that not hearing it right now felt like a premonition of something awful.

“I need to go to the station,” Cecil stated. “They already know Kareem’s not here and since that was the only leverage we had, I’d be suspicious if I stay here.”

“Are you sure?” Dana asked eyeing her friend warily.

It was weird seeing Cecil so guarded. Only his eyes were currently giving a sign of emotion, tiredness beyond his years. The radio host was usually an open book when it came to feelings and his calmness denoted something dark behind it.

Finally, Cecil answered after a long dragged silence and the exhaustion in his eyes extended to the rest of his features.

“I don’t know. But if I stay longer I’m sure the City Council will know something’s wrong…”

“And they’ll hurt your friends,” Dana finished.

The radio host nodded as a shadow of something Dana couldn’t quite identify crossed his features.

“Dana, do you think I’m a monster?”

The mayor stared bewildered at Cecil for a moment. The question seemed to come out of nowhere but she now started noticing a pattern in her friend’s behavior. Was that what had Cecil so distracted?

“Cecil, what would you think such a thing?”

“It’s… it’s complicated” Cecil sighed. “Nevermind is not really that important.”

Dana wanted to protest, if something had Cecil doubting his existence enough to question his own morality it couldn’t be just anything. However, before she could protest he continued.

“I just… I need you to go help Castiel and Dean” he said, uncertainty dripping from his voice. It almost sounded as if he was asking for a life or deaths kind of favor which, to be honest, he kind of was.

“Cecil…”

“Please, just… if something happens to them… I don’t think I could ignore what I am anymore.”

Dana wanted to protest, to say that nothing he said made sense (which would be a first for Cecil) but the pleading look in the radio host’s eyes had her sighing in defeat. Cecil was her friend and despite the stumbles in their past she didn’t want to see him hurt.

She gave a long tired sigh and rubbed her temples before finally looking at Cecil.

“You said Castiel is an Erika, right?”

“Yes?”

“Ok, then it’s probable the gas of the City Council won’t affect him, but the other one…” Dana bit her lip in contemplation. “If you really want me to go, I will. But I can’t promise it will be of any help.”

“That’s understandable,” Cecil concluded. “Thank you, Dana.”

“Don’t mention it. Now, hurry up to the station before the City Council catches you.”

With a nod, Cecil went ahead to the door of the city hall, whereas Dana headed to the entrance to the basement. She was the mayor so technically she had the right to be there, no matter what the City Council said, and she knew whatever the City Council filled the air with she would be immune to it (one of the perks of working on the city hall was that everyone was forced to get a shot against possible city transmitted viruses).

However, none of that seemed to matter as she faced the endless pit that led to the basement.

Chapter Text

“Dean, please wake up… please…” Castiel pleaded to the figure of his friend that laid sprawled on the floor, knowing full well that it would be of no avail. The hunter looked ill, freckles sticking out against the pale skin. Normally Cas would gaze upon them with admiration, counting them as if they were stars in the dark sky, now tho, the sight made him want to vomit.

It was a weird feeling, to say the least. He was an angel; he wasn’t supposed to feel nausea or disgust. However, he also wasn’t supposed to feel anything such as love and yet here he was, cradling the man he loved in his arms as the first time they met when he rescued Dean’s soul in hell.

They had been lucky in a way. Castiel had turned around to tell Dean they had reached the end of the stairs, just in time to see the hunter with eyes unfocused and skin growing rapidly green by the second. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t stop his friend from collapsing above him and hitting his head in the process.

Fortunately, the angel had been fast enough to catch his body and strong enough to carry it for the remnant part of the stairs.

When they finally reached the end, Castiel laid the hunter gently on the floor and checked for any injury. Right now, his friend had started growing a lump in the side of his head that collided with the wall, it didn’t seem like the injury was worse than a swell but without access to his grace, the angel didn’t want to run his chances.

At least Dean was still breathing, Castiel thought, although it would’ve been infinitely if the hunter was also awakened.

 The worst part was the angel couldn’t even use his powers to cure Dean. He had hoped that whatever sigil was preventing him from flying directly into the basement was only limited to that but, by the looks of it, his grace was stuck far from his reach.

It was kind of frustrating, really. He could feel it within him, clawing to get out and save Dean but to no avail. It was like his grace was locked in a cage, close enough to feel it but not to use it.

Right now that didn’t matter. He had to wake Dean up fast, with or without his grace.

He was debating what to do based on his experience watching the brothers during hunts when he was pulled out of his thoughts by the sound of footsteps coming from the stairs. He quickly got up from his kneeling position next to Dean to act as a barrier between the hunter and whoever was coming.

As the angel drew his blade from his sleeve he put himself in position to defend his friend if necessary. The shadow of the intruder got bigger as the steps grew louder.

Finally, a voice drifted from the stairs that managed to make Castiel relax a little from his position.

“Boys?” the voice of the mayor carried over to where the angel was before he could see her face. “Oh, there you are.”

She sounded casual as if Dean wasn’t passed out on the floor behind Castiel.

“Miss Cardinal? Why…?”

“Cecil convinced me to come” she interrupted before the angel could finish his question. “And what do we have here?” she asked pointing to the figure of the hunter sprawled on the floor.

“I- I don’t know. He was fine for the whole way down and when we got here he simply… he fainted” Castiel tried to explain as fast and clear as he could. “It’s been a while now and I’m afraid he hasn’t yet woken up. We have to take him to a hospital.”

“That’s probably not a good idea. I don’t even think they have an antidote for the poison the City Council uses for the ventilation of this place”

“Poison?”

“You’re an Erika, right?” she asked, completely disregarding his question. “Have you tried healing him?”

“I can’t, there’s a sigil somewhere around here that is obstructing my grace” he explained with desperation dripping from his voice, to which Dana reiterated by looking as unconcerned as humanly possible.

“I see,” she said before passing straight past Castiel and into the wall behind the angel.

Until that moment Castiel hadn’t paid much attention to their surroundings. He knew there was a sigil somewhere that impeded him from using his grace but he assumed that whatever it was, it was carefully hidden.

The whole room was dark, the only light coming from the torches way above their heads and Dana’s cellphone, which she pulled out as she examined the massive wall behind them. The wall was completely covered by a sticky thing that vaguely resembled moss if this was as disgusting as the rest of the dark room.

Actually, it appeared the hideous substance was covering every possible surface in the room, he noticed as he moved to glance at Dana and his shoes made a squelching sound. He briefly considered moving Dean off the floor and to the stairs but decided ultimately against it, in order to avoid causing more damage.

The hunter would simply have to deal with the icky stuff when he wakes up because he will wake up, Castiel thought.

Around the room, he couldn’t see any doors or any kind of entrance for that matter. It was a round thing that made the angel feel as if he was inside the pot Dean would use to cook sometimes, from its dark damaged interior to the unbearable heat that was crawling on him. Every millisecond felt like an eternity to him, an eternity of boiling and suffocating misery… and Dana was still rummaging her hands across the wall as if searching for something.

Castiel couldn’t go to her, he couldn’t bear to leave Dean’s side. The hunter’s breaths were getting shallower by the moment and the angel was afraid beyond measure.

The mayor had mentioned poison in the air, the reason the hunter was in such state. Castiel felt utterly useless knowing he couldn’t do anything for his friend at the moment, with his grace locked up within him…

“Erika, can you help me over here?” Dana’s voice came from somewhere the angel’s left side.

Castiel whipped his head where the sound came from and saw the mayor barely a few steps away from him. Even though she had started her search around the middle of the wall and now she was crouching far in the left side of the room, seemingly reaching for something in the wall out of the angel’s line of vision.

He gawked at her for a few seconds before returning his side at the limp form of his friend in the floor.

“He’s going to be ok” the girl assured him, sensing his distress. “Unless, of course, you decide to not help me for some reason, in which case he probably won’t be ok.”

She talked calmly and the angel couldn’t tell if she was trying to reassure him or if she just lacked enough interest in the situation. Either way, it didn’t matter.

In a moment of decision, the angel turned around to make sure Dean wasn’t disturbed before getting up and reaching for Dana.

“What is the problem?”

“Do you have anything sharp on you? Like a pocket knife or something?” she asked, not even tearing her gaze from the wall before them. Her eyes were fixated on an especially moldy stone that, upon closer inspection, the angel realized had some deeper spots in it that weren’t on the other tiles.

As for the girl, now that he was up close, he could notice a semblance of something similar to worry on her face, although the angel couldn’t be sure if it wasn’t just an effect of the lack of lightning in the room. Dana had left her phone on the floor in favor of using one hand to reach for the wall and extending the other one in his direction, the effect produced by the artificial light of the device made her expression even more difficult to read.

“I have my angel blade” he finally answered, taking said object out of his coat, even though he couldn’t figure out of what use that would be, especially since the darkness impeded him from studying whatever was encrypted in the stone. As he kneeled beside her, he started thinking, that perhaps the mayor would use the blade to take it out completely and open another passage in the room…

“Thanks,” she said as she took the blade from his hand in one swift motion and proceeded to make a gash in the angel’s hand. In retaliation, he let out a hiss of pain and noticed one second later he wasn’t supposed to feel any kind of pain whatsoever.

“What did you do?” he asked out loud, pulling his hand away from hers as soon as possible. The pain was spreading from the wound and invading every nerve in his hand.

“I’m afraid I underestimated the reach of the City Council’s resources,” she winced slightly “I’m sorry.”

“That doesn’t answer my question” Castiel deadpanned while trying to apply some pressure to wound with the cuff of his coat. It seemed that he couldn’t even heal himself without his grace at his reach.

“I know, I know,” the young mayor conceded worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. His angel blade was still in her hand “Sorry, it’s just… my old Sumerian isn’t as good as my new Sumerian and it wasn’t until I read this I realized why you couldn’t access your power.”

She gently placed his blade on the floor near him and picked up the phone. The moment she pointed the light directly at the strange symbols on the wall, the angel noted two things; the unreadable expression the girl wore earlier was actually more akin to something like shame (probably due to her slight misconception earlier), and whatever was written on the wall was a language the angel recognized but somehow couldn’t bring himself to understand.

“It’s ok if you don’t get it” Dana assured him guiding his hand gently to the wall “It’ll all come clear. Just press your hand against the wall.”

“Why?”

Dana didn’t answer, instead opting for giving him a pointed look that made him understand the pressure of the situation. He turned his head back, Dean was still lying motionless on the floor and Castiel couldn’t hear his breathing. This worried him because either his senses weren’t nearly sharp enough to hear his friend, or… he’d rather not think about the other option.

With a small exasperated sigh, Dana finally got tired and pressed his hand flatly into the wall, producing another hiss of discomfort from the weakening angel. The wall was as mossy and disgusting as you would expect and even with his angel senses as low as they were, Castiel could almost feel the millions of bacteria crawling into his bloodstream from the dirtiness of it all.

 “Are you ok?” the mayor asked as if she wasn’t the cause of the angel’s pain in the first place.

Before Castiel could point this out he felt a sudden familiar pull inside of him, a bright feeling that could utterly destroy everything around him if he didn’t conceal it. His grace was unlocked once again and it seemed to be flowing and filling every inch of his vessel.

Before he could process what was going on, he got up and ran towards Dean. At least now he could hear his breathing, although shallow and almost inexistent. Also, the hunter’s pulse was fading rapidly.

With a surge of grace, Castiel placed to gentle fingers of his friend’s forehead and that’s when he felt it, the energy within the hunter that was burning him up from the inside. In the midst of a single second, the weird energy left the hunter’s body, only leaving enough for the angel to feel afterward. He would have to talk Dean about that later.

For now, he pressed firmly against his friend’s forehead and used his recovered grace to clear his system of any trace of poison left from the city hall’s defense.

*

The first thing Dean saw when he woke up was blue. Only a little, almost entirely consumed by the darkness around it, but still an unmistakable shade of blue that seemed to plague his dreams even in that damn city… Jesus, when did he turn into such a girl?

“As far as I can tell your gender is still the same Dean” the angel whose eyes Dean was so intently seeing said as he tilted his head, only then the hunter realized he had spoken that last thought out loud.

Dean broke eye contact first, hoping his best friend hadn’t noticed the pink rushing to his cheeks in the midst of the darkness surrounding them. At this, he noticed that he was laid on the floor a little bit further from the stairs he didn’t remember ending. There wasn’t an ounce of light in any corner of the room. Actually, there were no corners at all.

However, once his sight grew used to the strain of the obscurity, he propped on his elbows and he could see there was indeed a light, only it wasn’t pointing at his direction rather than the wall… when did the city’s mayor come down here?

“A little over 10 minutes?” she answered without even taking her eyes off the wall.

Dean winced a little. His brain felt fussy and his limbs heavy. He wasn’t even sure if what was happening was real or not, and on top of that, it seemed that he couldn’t even control what was getting out of his mouth.

“It’s probably a lingering effect of the poison in the air” the angel explained looking at Dean, “Your brain must be still getting used to being in control…”

“Yeah I- I get it, Cas” Dean snapped trying to put his mind blank. The last thing he needed was his mind wandering over all the possible ways that could go wrong.

“Good news is I don’t think you’ll need to get vaccinated against the building as well,” came the voice from the mayor at their side. It took a few seconds for Dean to notice she was speaking to him. “I’m pretty sure that Erika’s protection should be well enough against possible diseases. At least from this building.”

“What is she talking about?” Dean asked Castiel as the angel offered his hand so he could get up.

“The city has… a unique way of vaccinating” said the angel once Dean was on his eye level. “Instead of taking shots, people here put whatever they’re warding against directly in their bloodstream.”

“How…?”

Before Dean could finish his question, Castiel raised his palm to show a reasonably deep gash, surrounded by the filthy substance that seemed to cover every single surface in that damned place.

“Ok, one; that still doesn’t answer my question and two; what the fuck were you thinking? You wanna get a friggin’ infection?”

Castiel rolled his eyes but nevertheless gave him a brief summary of whatever the hell had happened to him.

It turned out; even the fucking bosses of the city were against their little mission and sent the building out for them. Sure, why not? The kicker was that the fucking thing had fucking sentient walls or something, designed to send toxins into the air strong enough to knock him out. And to make him hallucinate a meeting between Cas, the local radio-weirdo and… somebody else… apparently. Although he sure as hell wasn’t gonna mention that while the city’s Mayor was a few feet away.

Whatever that had been, he would discuss it later with Sam and Cas in private. For now, there were more pressing matters, like the revolting new wound in Cas hand. Ok, so, the instead of taking shots like normal, sane people, the whole city decided it made more sense to just take a jab of their flesh and rub it against whatever could infect them, which in this case was a wall full of moss with toxins.

That sounded… unsanitary, not to mention gross. Also, it didn’t make an ounce of sense but hell; at this point, Dean had given up on finding any sense in that damn city. And Cas was still babbling, trying to explain whatever fucked up situation they had gotten themselves into. Dean could feel his previous headache coming over.

To summarize, whatever the building had done had turned off his system and Dean was a hundred percent done with the whole ordeal.

“You know, Cas?” Dean finally said as he started walking towards Dana after the angel finished his explanation. “What-fucking-ever, this could’ve been way worse. At least you were here and…”

The hunter stopped himself upon realizing that the angel not only was completely silent and unmoving but also looked rather uncomfortable.

“What is wrong Cas?” Dean asked with worry slipping from his voice.

“Dean, I had to be ‘vaccinated’” Cas quoted with his fingers. “I was affected by the building as well, only it took a little longer for it to truly inflict damage.”

Dean knew where Cas was going with this and he didn’t like it one bit. Cas was going to blame himself, to say it was his fault somehow because his powers weren’t at full. Sometimes, the angel was even more of an idiot than he was, and that was saying something.

Dean opened his mouth to stop Cas, from whatever self-deprecating rant he was about to go on when a voice interrupted him.

“You’re wrong, you know?” Dana had apparently gotten impatient and moved from her spot near the wall, to a little closer to them.

“What do you mean?” the angel asked, going from worry to confusion in a matter of seconds.

“The toxins that affected your friend aren’t the same that affected you.” She explained, looking directly at the angel. “The poisonous gas was meant for Cecil’s intern, a human. You’re a creature, an Erika, something strong enough to damage you, should have killed him and me in a matter of seconds.”

“Then how…?”

“There were two types of toxins in the air: one meant for humans, the one the city council warned me about, and the other…”

“And the other made for creatures,” Castiel finished up.

“Exactly.”

“Wait, a second” Dean interrupted, finally catching up on what was going on, “you saying, someone spread poison in the air, designed specifically to kill the supernatural?”

“Maybe just one supernatural…” Dana said pensively. She didn’t need to say anymore, both Dean and Castiel knew exactly who she was talking about.

“That… doesn’t sound right” Dean responded after a moment of contemplation. “Why would the council want him dead? I mean, sure the guy’s nosey and weird but…”

“I don’t think they’re trying to kill him” Cas interrupted. “Whatever is in the air seemed to only block my grace, not destroy it. Perhaps they only wanted Cecil unable to use his powers the same way, to get to the Hall of Public Records.”

“So whatever’s there…”

“It’s most likely something the City Council is really worried about if they’re willing to put The Voice of the city in a vulnerable position,” Dana concluded the statement. “Cecil’s after all, the Voice. Without Voice, there’s no city. It makes sense that they would want to weaken him just enough to get him out of here. No matter the… causalities.”

Causalities, like Dean, almost was. Like anyone non-powered enough to survive the damn building. Dean pondered on that thought for a moment. Sure this whole thing could just be the city’s council trying to keep some important files safe, although it seemed way too harsh to kill people off, he couldn’t shake the feeling that wasn’t the main problem here.

Dana said that without Voice there’s no city…what the hell did that even mean? Dean had the feeling the answer resided there… somewhere.

He took a look at his surroundings and a sudden realization hit him in the midst of all the confusion.

“Where are we guys?”

“In the first basement,” the mayor responded. “The Hall of Public Records should be nearby.”

“Hate to break it to ya, but there’re no doors here. This looks more like a dungeon than a basement.”

“That’s only because this is a façade,” she answered simply. “The real thing is below.”

“And how the hell are we supposed to get ‘below’?”

She didn’t answer him. Instead, Dana gave a small almost imperceptible nod to the angel next to Dean that looked far more sinister in the dim light of her cell phone.

“Erika, I think you know what to do.”

Castiel nodded back before placing one hand on Dean’s shoulder and the other in Dana’s. The hunter flinched instinctively at the contact, plus the fact that he wasn’t exactly assured by the silent exchange of the other two.

“I do. With my grace back I can give us safe passage to the second level.”

“What the hell does that…?”

Without even finishing up his sentence, Dean felt the familiar pull of his stomach at being transported by angel-cab. It wasn’t a pleasant experience by any means, most time it left him feeling like he had a bunch of stones on his stomach and like everything else was moving more rapidly than him. Not that any of that seemed to matter to Castiel, apparently.

When he felt the release from his arm he was ready to chastise the angel until he looked around to face the new room, filled with seemingly endless hallways and bookcases that reached the admittedly high ceiling.

The whole thing reminded Dean of that scene in Harry Potter (don’t tell Sam), only instead of an endless supply of crystal balls illuminating the room, there were binders, lots and lots of them. They seemed to emit a strange unnatural sort of light. It was as if the archives themselves were pulsating with energy.

It was captivating… and creepy.

“Mr. Winchester,” the mayor said in a gentle voice, drawing Dean’s attention to her, “may I welcome you to Night Vale’s Hall of Public Records.”

Chapter Text

“So, how long have you been in Night Vale?”

“Excuse me?” The scientist raised her head from the small table she was sitting in, clearly not noticing she had an audience until that moment. Not like it matter since almost immediately she went back to her work.

Sam cursed himself silently, not for the first time that day. Meanwhile, Dr. Andrea Rodriguez was looking at him as if he’d grown another head. No, actually, that sounded like something completely plausible on Night Vale. She just looked at him as if she would rather see someone else spontaneously grow another head.

“I- I mean, Carlos said that you came here after Luis- nevermind.”

The only response he got back was a barely audible hum.

He could feel warm flooding on his cheeks and a small voice in the back of his head, which sounded strangely like his brother’s, making fun of his rather awkward attempt at small talk. Or the only thing that was worse, the awkward silence that followed.

It wasn’t that he was bad at talking, his brother had always been the more sociable of the two (if you counted a long string of one night stands as a social convention), but Sam wasn’t lacking in conversation skills either. And no, it wasn’t because of the “cute scientist” as Dean so gently teased him on his way out. It was because, well, the fact that someone normal, like her and Carlos, were willing to stay and live their lives on the death trap that was the city.

Last night while he was showering, the water decided to turn pink and leave a rash on some rather uncomfortable places. This morning, while they were having crappy motel breakfast, his omelet decided to produce a surprised screech every time he probed it with his fork and now Carlos had asked him for some privacy to answer a call from his boyfriend.

That was fine, Sam could understand, except that the scientist had sent him out the security of his private office and onto the main lab. Same lab in which a few seconds ago, a thing that straight off belonged to The Little Shop of Horrors tried to bite the rash out of him.

So yeah, Sam was more than a little dumbfounded to find out people were doing, surviving, stuff like that every day and hadn’t yet run off to the nearest madhouse. It would be admirable if it wasn’t so horrifying at the same time.

So while Andy Rodríguez was definitely not bad to look at, his amazement at her had more to do with the fact that she was currently hunched over one the desks, rapidly scribbling in a piece of paper while Audrey II was nibbling her right hand.

It was truly a sight to behold.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” he asked half not expecting an answer.

“Not as much as it looks” she explained without even looking up. “She is mainly all gums right now, not like her mother.”

“Mother?”

“The one who attacked you like a minute ago?”

“Right,” because how could Sam forget that.

At this point, he was sure that ninety percent of the city was trying to kill him while the remaining ten percent laughed at his misery.

“You can take a seat, you know?” Andy said pointedly while giving a slight nod to the chair on the other side of the table. “Unless, of course, you prefer to go check the rest of the lab.”

A choice between staying with the girl who could take a plant swallowing her hand or venturing to whatever those other scientists were doing with a deer-sized ant at the other end of the lab. Sam took the seat, silently praying the furniture wouldn’t become sentient while he was on top of it and literally try to bite his ass.

“Four years by the way,” the scientist said after a bit of silence.

“Hmmm?”

“You asked how long have I been here. It’s four years,” she said clearly, finally looking up from her paper. “At least a think that’s how much it’s been. Time is…”

“Weird in Night Vale” Sam finished. “Yeah, I get it.”

And then, to his surprise, the scientist’s mouth contracted in a small smirk, the closest Sam had seen with a genuine smile since their arrival there.

“I know how it looks like, believe me, I do,” she said nodding slightly at the plant on her hand. “But nobody is forced to stay. Some of us just… like it here.”

 “Yeah…no – I, I get that, it’s just…” Sam struggled with his words for a moment. At his right, there were some scientists putting some kind of silver dough in what looked like a very rusty microwave and at his left… well, he didn’t dare to see what was on his right but it sounded terrifyingly similar to a banshee’s scream. “I… just can’t imagine living like this every day.”

It wasn’t a lie, not entirely at least. In Sam’s mind, there was a difference to risking his life for the greater good, and doing it out of…what? Pure scientifical indulgence?

“Well you guys came with an Erika,” she commented while raising an eyebrow. “I’d say we’re even in the weirdness aspect.”

“I’m sorry what?”

“An Erika, I think his name was Castiel?” she said cautiously before leaning slightly as if she was about to tell him a secret. “We’re not legally allowed to call them angels.”

“Sure, I understand,” he didn’t.

Her smirk grew slightly before transforming into a full smile and Sam couldn’t help but smile back. In any other person in the city, that gesture would be frightening to him, but now it just looked nice, purer than everything else in the Night Vale. He still didn’t get why a girl like Andy would be willing to stay in there but also he didn’t particularly care.

So of course, it was in that moment that banshee guy had decided let out a scream signaling the end of their little bonding session.

“ANDY! CAN YOU GET THE ANTIVENOM?! THE ACID BUTTER IS ACTING OUT AGAIN!”

“Carlos was the last one to use it!” she yelled back, in complete disregard of Sam’s eardrums.

“WELL, CAN YOU GO GET IT?!”

“I can’t! Seymour Jr. is teething!”

“Seymour Jr.?” Sam asked, assuming she was talking about their little carnivore plant, currently biting her flesh.

“We thought calling her Audrey would be a bit too obvious,” she explained with a small shrug. “Listen, if it’s not much to ask, can you go get Carlos for the anti-venom, please? He was running some experiments with it yesterday and he always forgets to give it back.”

“Well, he kinda kicked me out earlier,” Sam explained while rubbing the back of his head. “Besides, isn’t he gonna come out eventually?”

“Doubtful. Cecil’s show it’s almost on, and Carlos prefers to listen to it in private. You know, what with the constant praise and love declarations Cecil does, is really easy to tease Carlos afterward.”

While saying this, she threw Sam another one of the mischievous smirks that quickly turned into a genuine smile.

Sam sighed and raised up from his sit, he could perfectly picture his brother laughing at his weakness but quickly pushed the thought aside. It wasn’t that he was too lazy to go, it was just that he valued his life too much to pass in front of Seymour Sr. (Sr…a?) again.

Sensing his hesitance, Andy chuckled.

“I think Pablo already fed Mama Seymour. It should be safe for you to go by now.”

Sam gave a small, insincere nod but started walking nonetheless. The little laugh Andrea released was almost worth his humiliation.

*

Sam entered Carlos’ office without knocking; it was a habit that he got by living in such a close proximity to his brother over the years. Whenever one of them wanted privacy, they either banished the other from the room beforehand or, most simply, went off on their own to another place.

It wasn’t a perfect system but it was theirs and, aside from a few incidents, Sam had been lucky enough to never have to see his brother’s bare ass more than a handful of times over his life. However, one of the greatest faults of their method was that it completely ignored the other, more tender forms of intimacy.

He had lost count of how many times he had entered a room only to see Dean rapidly cleaning up whatever tears he had been crying over someone they lost or getting up quickly after hearing bits of the end of a prayer to Castiel. Actually, most of the moments the other hunter shared with Castiel were up on that list too.

There were times in which Sam had inadvertently interrupted one of those staring contest his brother and the angel had. At first, he thought they were amusing, now he felt guilty at the possibility of being the reason behind the “almost” in many of their experiences.

Every time he felt like an intruder, a voyeur inside a love story that wasn’t his own. Much like the feeling, he got when he entered Carlos office and the scientist was still talking with Cecil.

“Yeah… yes, I trust you, Cecil, it’s just… Yes, of course, I trust Dana, that’s not the problem… I’m just saying the whole point of all of this was for nobody to be left alone…”

To his credit, he didn’t sound mad just… worried. It wasn’t anything like the explosion of emotions of his brother or the calm but firm voice of Castiel, it was something different, a kind of worry that was entirely its own thing.

Sam was aware he shouldn’t be surprised by that but still, he was. He guessed he just hadn’t really stopped to think about Carlos and Cecil as they were. They were their own individuals; they didn’t move in synch with each other or were as overly affections as you’d believe. Cecil would share a lingering touch with Carlos and the next instant he would retract.

That didn’t mean the love between them wasn’t evident. It wasn’t in their actions but in their looks, in the way they talked to each other and about each other and in that moment, Carlos’ voice dripped with a tender kind of worry, too different of what Sam was used to.

“I know, It’s your job, what you love doing and I wouldn’t want you any other way… doesn’t mean I don’t worry though… just promise me you’ll take care of yourself…” Carlos features softened as he said this, at least from the angle Sam was seeing. The scientist had yet to notice the hunter had entered his office. “…I love you too, Bunny. Good luck with the show.”

When the scientist finally hung up the phone he turned around and found himself startled with the view of the youngest Winchester.

“Oh, Sam, I- I didn’t notice you enter,” Carlos said as a light blush colored his cheeks. “How, um, how much did you hear?”

“I- I didn’t- I just got in” he answered quickly. It was a lie and they both knew so but still, Carlos nodded, grateful he got to keep the small moment with his boyfriend to himself. “Andrea wanted the anti-venom, for… acid butter?”

“Oh, sure, I had it right over… here” the scientist said as he dug into his desk’s drawer and extracted a small jar filled with some fluorescent pink goo. As he walked over to Sam to give him the object, a thought occurred on the young hunter’s mind.

“Thank you,” he said as he took the vial and inspected it lightly. “Uh, so Cecil’s at his job right?”

“Yeah, he had to go to the station. Something about Station’s Management Birthday? I’m not sure…”

“So, did Dean and Cas go with him?” Sam asked casually, not wanting Carlos to feel interrogated. God knew the last thing they needed was to make enemies of the only people in the town who didn’t want to kill them.

“No, they had to stay in the city hall, to look for the records” Carlos explained. “But don’t worry, they are with a close friend of ours and she promised they would be just fine.”

Carlos' voice was just quick enough for Sam to believe him. Although he would have preferred to at least have met Carlos’ friend before trusting her with his brother and his friend’s lives, he still gave Carlos a firm nod and a brief smile to show his acceptance of the situation.

It was in that moment that Sam realized something important. He trusted this girl he never met, just out of the fact that Carlos trusted her. And he trusted Carlos way more than he should trust someone he just met the day before. Not only that, he felt that he’d known him and the city for years now, all his previous uneasiness removed temporarily from his head. It was as if in that instant, his body had experienced a hundred years of time passage. Was this what they referred to when they said time was weird?

Sam shook his head to get rid of those thoughts. He liked Carlos well enough to work with him and the thought of asking Andy out crossed his mind, but he knew better than to expect any kind of everlasting relationship from this. They were outsiders, just like him, but they had made the choice to stay in Night Vale for a reason.

Carlos had Cecil, and Andy had her job. Once the hunt was over that would stay that way and he and Dean would be on their way out of the city forever. And at the end, it didn’t matter how much he trusted Carlos or Andy. They were there for a job and they had to do it.

That, and if something happened to his brother while on Carlos’ friend’s watch, were the reason none of that trust mattered.

For the first time since arriving there, Sam understood the danger his brother was worried about. They decided to put their lives in the hands of strangers; they might as well have given a lunatic an angel blade for themselves. And so, Sam was stuck in there, in a limbo between trusting the city and being completely terrified of it.

It was in that moment of epiphany that Sam’s phone ringed with the same ringtone that had started this mess. And with an apologetic smile to Carlos, he picked it up, hoping his hands weren’t shaking too much to be noticeable.

“What’s up, Dean?”

Chapter Text

They searched for hours for what they looking for, at least Dean felt like that was the case. While the binders were all bright and pretty they had little to no use to their situation and were also a pain in the ass to look at. Because, of course, just because the things glowed in the dark, whoever wrote them thought putting the name at the front would ruin their aesthetic.

By the time the hunter reached this conclusion, he had already read roughly over 30 different binders, half of which consisted of the town’s residents’ diet regulations. He also discovered that he could’ve lived without knowing how much jalapeños these people ate on a yearly basis.

It wasn’t until a few food groups later that Dean heard the cheerful voice of the city mayor, calling over them from the end of the third row.

“Guys, I think I found something.”

Sending a silent gratitude to whichever entity decided to spare him from reading more binders; Dean quickly closed the one on his hand and hurried over to where Dana’s voice came from. He could hear Cas’ quick steps echoing his own a few rows behind.

Effectively, he and the angel arrived roughly at the same time to see Dana holding a folder considerably bigger than the rest, and Dean thought that was saying something thinking on how each was at the very least the width of his fist.

“What did you found?” Castiel broke the silence that Dean hadn’t even realized had fallen upon them.

“If I’m correct, this should have all the criminal records on the history of Night Vale,” she explained while handing the book over to the hunter. “There’s everything from the foundation of the city up to some… other stuff.”

Dean eyed the mayor warily as he passed through the pages of the binder. The whole afternoon the girl had been anything but shy and having her acting like that all of a sudden didn’t sit well with the hunter at all. It was also a bit weird that while some other information of the city had volumes and volumes worth of data, the crime register only had one binder, no matter how big it was. However, Dean was learning to not question that kind of stuff there.

He skipped the whole thing up until the last page. Figuring that whatever had bothered Dana must’ve been something in a more present time. Out of the corner of his eye, Dean could see her raising her hand lightly and letting it hover in the air like she was deciding if she should stop him from reaching his end.

When he finally got to the page he was looking for, he was surprised to find instead of a regular police report, some kind application filled by the victim herself describing her experience during the whole thing. Dean’s mouth went dry as he read the very vivid description of terror surrounding the whole thing, written by none other than Dana Cardinal.

“Is this… I mean, is it…?”

“Yes, it is the dragon incident from a few months back,” Dana gently explained, before Dean could finish forming some sort of coherent sentence. It was a noble sentiment but she must’ve felt there was still more of Dean’s curiosity as she sucked in a breath and continued with the story. “It is also the reason Cecil and I had a kind of falling out.”

Dean didn’t know exactly what to do with that information. He could see effectively in the report that there was a long list of witnesses during the whole thing and that Cecil’s name was at the very end of it, but apart from that, his part in the ordeal was unclear for him.

The hunter knew that it wasn’t his place to ask for the story, nor it was Dana’s to tell something that was very obviously a personal matter between her and the radio host. Still, Dean found the words falling out of his mouth before he could even begin to process them.

“What happened?”

He regretted the question as soon as he finished. Seeing the way the girl crossed her arms as if trying to protect herself should’ve been enough of a warning to him, but as soon as the question was out in the open he could almost feel Dana’s mental walls making and small fort around her.

After all, Dean was holding the report in his hand. He had read everything that happened that night from Dana’s point of view, from the sudden and terrifying realization of the danger she was in, to the ice-cold fear in the midst of the moment. And still, he was sure there was something missing and that something was Cecil Palmer.

Dean was about to take back his words when Dana’s posture changed abruptly. Her stance was firm and her eyes showed the same determination he saw back in her office. Although the lines of worry still crossed her face, they seemed to make it somehow scarier. Dean was suddenly afraid of whatever may come out of her mouth next.

“It’s a long story. The short version is that, for a while, Cecil thought I was controlling him, using him as a human shield every time one of them would try to attack me,” the way she spat the word ‘them’, as if it’d burnt her tongue made Dean unconsciously turn back to the report, specifically the part where Dana described her attackers: a literal five-headed-dragon and the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lived in Her Home.

One by one, the pieces started to connect and as her voice filled him with the details of that night, Dean found himself seeing her and Cecil on a new light and the events were quickly creating a story on Dean’s mind.

Cecil thought he was being used. He was not. He got mad and blamed Dana. Dana got mad and stopped trying to convince Cecil. The whole assault happened. Cecil tried to protect Dana but she didn’t let him. Cecil was being used, just not by her. He felt guilty for his accusations and she felt guilty for inadvertently endangering her friend.

In the end, the whole thing had obviously left a pretty nasty scar on Cecil and Dana’s friendship.

Jesus, Dean almost felt like he was hearing a low budget episode of his own life.

He put himself in Dana’s place and understood immediately that he’d have probably reacted the same way under an accusation like the one Cecil did, that is being rightfully mad although if it was a friend of his, he would have done the same to protect them. Then, much to his surprise, he found himself imagining being in Cecil’s situation.

He could perfectly picture the feelings of hurt and fear, a product of the betrayal from a close friend. That’s why, Dean couldn’t be upset, because he knew he would’ve probably reacted the same way Cecil had.

The thought of actually having something else in common with the radio host made the hunter want to puke.

Actually, Dean was well on his way of spilling his guts right then and there when something caught his eye at the end of the document. It was a picture of Cecil. The text below said that it was taken as evidence by Member #70B of The Sheriff’s Secret Police. Dean decided not to question that.

 The first thing that caught his attention was the radio host’s suit (or at least something that resembled a suit) all glittery and with a weird pattern that reminded Dean of a can full of worms. The second thing was the way his arm was twisting in a way that would be painful for any human, in an attempt to get rid of the handcuffs placed that tied his right wrist with the arm of the seat he was in. There were people all around him running, trying to get away from a danger that was off camera.

He looked… scared. No, it went beyond that, he looked savage, like a wild animal confined in a cage just a second away from exploding. There was also something else, a feeling that Dean couldn’t quite identify but that seemed to make the radio host’s eyes shine even in the small, blurry picture.

 A part of Dean knew he had to be afraid of that kind of look with someone like Cecil, but instead, he found himself pitying the guy.

“He was going to move out, you know?” the mayor’s voice pulled Dean abruptly from his thoughts.

“What?”

“Cecil was going to move out of Night Vale. That night, when Hiram and the Faceless Old Woman attacked the opera, was suppose to be his last before moving out of the city with Carlos,” Dana explained and even though her face was as calm as ever, Dean could see her eyes shining with contained emotion.

“I thought, well, I thought he loved the city,” real eloquent Dean, he thought as he mentally facepalmed himself.

“He did, he does,” she corrected herself. “But that year was… hard on him. You already know he thought I was using him to protect me, but there’s more than that.”

A sudden realization hit Dean. He looked at the picture again and then at Dana, and then he spoke softly, fearing the impact of his words may make everything collapse around them.

“You said he was moving with Carlos, but he wasn’t here, was he?” with a barely visible nod, Dana confirmed the small epiphany Dean just had. “This was the year Carlos took his sabbatical.”

It wasn’t a question, just a plain statement. Somehow, that knowledge made the words weight even more in the hunter’s tongue.

He hadn’t forgotten that Castiel was still there, mere inches from him, but if he had he would’ve been immediately reminded upon feeling the scorching heat of the angel’s glare. He didn’t even have to look back to know it was true, he could perfectly picture his friends giving one long reprimanding look that said: “seriously Dean?”

The whole scenery was made even tenser by the small weak and bitter laugh that left the mayor’s mouth at that moment.

“Sabbatical, that’s a way to put it. Carlos was away and Cecil… he was devastated. Sometimes I wonder if Carlos knows how it was... if Cecil realized how he was. But in the end, I don’t think it even matters. The night Cecil found out Carlos was gone he called me; I’d never heard him sound so… broken. The next day, he started the show at the same hour, gave the news with the most perfect professionalism I’ve ever heard from him and at the end he told the whole city his boyfriend was trapped in another dimension.”

Dean’s jaw went slack at the mayor’s words. For the first time, he turned around to take a peek at the angel’s face, only to realize he was wearing the exact same expression he had. So Carlos wasn’t gone, he had been trapped. He didn’t know what to do with that information and he was rethinking every word Carlos had said until that moment.

“Carlos was the one who said it was a sabbatical,” Dean finally managed to said. “How – why would he say that if it wasn’t true? If he hadn’t been there willingly?”

“You don’t get it,” Dana said while shaking her head. “He was there willingly, at least for the last few months. That’s what hurt Cecil so much.”

Dean’s head felt like it had come to a halt after hours of spinning. This new knowledge left him in kind of a shaking ground and he didn’t like that one bit.

“I’m not telling this so you can judge either of them. They both made difficult choices in that year and they’ve both talked through them,” she said with one stern look towards Dean. “The only reason I haven’t stop this conversation is ‘coz I think you should know that Cecil’s as human as you and me. He makes mistakes, he gets hurt, and he feels more than any other person I know…”

“I wasn’t…” he started saying but a weight in his arm stopped him enough to turn and face the angel that had gripped his shoulder before he could get the lie out of his mouth.

Castiel’s face showed the same firm resolution that the mayor had, only amplified by the fact that he knew that he was about to bullshit his way out of the whole thing. Dean felt a pang of shame filling him before he retracted his stance, that he noticed until that moment was defensive.

He was still holding the book open and Cecil’s picture seemed to be looking straight at him, judging him. He wondered briefly if he had told Dana about what happened last night at the radio station, about the hurtful things that came out of the hunter. About how he called Cecil a monster and the radio host flinched at the mere mention of the word.

“Perhaps we should go back to the task at hand, shall we?” Castiel spoke softly, in a poor attempt to lessen the tension of the environment. Dean thought it could’ve worked if the angel in question hadn’t delivered the lines with the awkwardness that was familiar from him.

Although, much to his surprise, his friend’s voice had seemed to have a calming effect on Dana. Maybe it had to do with his gravelly tone, although it was far from Cecil’s smoothness it held the same calm and collectiveness as that of the radio host. Dean supposed it was a nice change after she spent the last few minutes listening to his voice getting more and more agitated.

With a firm nod, the mayor stretched her arms in a silent ask for the register book. Dean was almost tempted to tell her it was her who gave it to him in the first place, but he finally elected to keep his mouth shut and hand the book over.

Once his hands were empty, he felt like the weight of the collective crimes in the binder had been lifted off his shoulders. He turned to see the angel, giving him a tight smile as if saying either “Good job, you moron” or “Thank God it’s over now.” Frankly, Dean didn’t know which of the option he preferred.

Meanwhile, the mayor was flipping through the pages as fast as she could while simultaneously making sense of what she was reading, which was not very fast, to be honest. The only sound filling the room was the pages turning one by one in the mayor’s hand. Dean had half a mind to repress the audible sigh that signaled his frustration before finally snapping.

“Listen, I’m sorry. I don’t know what Cecil told you, but it was probably something I did say and I regret it completely.”

This seemed to catch the mayor’s attention as she slowly lifted her head and closed the binder with a loud thud.

“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.”

God dammit. He wasn’t even looking at Cas at that moment but he just knew that at the mayor’s statement, the angel was responding with a sardonic smirk that screamed “I told him so,” at the wind. That bastard.

“Yeah, I did apologize. Kinda… sorta… Anyway, I know he’s your friend and everything but…”

“You’re right” she interrupted before he could dig himself into a bigger hole. “Cecil is my friend, and he’s a good one at that. I don’t know if he was much of a good employer, but I do know that he is one of the best people in the city. And messing with him is just asking for the city to get you back.”

Dana’s voice was the one of a leader, and Dean felt himself swallow even though his mouth had gone dry. He turned back once again to see what the angel was thinking in this situation but his friend’s face was a canvass of nothingness, similar to how it had been the first few months of their acquaintance.

That’s how Dean knew how he’d royally fucked up on this one.

“I was, umm… I was just gonna ask if we couldn’t take the book back with us…? You know… just so we don’t get caught in case someone comes…?”

Nice save, although his original speech had been something more along the lines of “frankly, it’s not your business what happened, but we need to get it behind us so we can keep on the research.” But, you know, what he said had also worked.

Much to his surprise, Dana’s face softened and she almost looked calm now. Almost.

“We can’t take the binder. The City Council will realize it as soon as it’s gone, and they will most certainly go after Cecil.”

“Ok, then…”

“Then, we have to hurry. And you’re right we don’t have much time,” she sighed and then glanced at the binder cover with an unsure look on her face. “You know while working for Cecil one of the things I had to do most was research. I would never give Cecil an article to read on the radio before I was a hundred percent sure it was verdict.”

Dean wasn’t sure where Dana was heading with this but he nodded nonetheless, expecting the mayor to follow on whatever string of thought she had.

With a deep sigh, she straightened her posture and looked at Dean in the eyes.

“I didn’t want to get your hopes up in case what we’re looking for wasn’t here, so I gave it a quick read before shouting out to you guys. I think the city really does want you to uncover whatever’s going on here, ‘coz I opened the binder and there it was… the one and only case on gun violence in the city of Night Vale, about twenty or so years ago.”

“Twenty or so?”

“Time is difficult to calculate in Night Vale,” she explained. “The exact day might be impossible to figure out in the outside world, but here I calculate something over twenty. Maybe twenty-two or twenty-three…”

“Right.”

Dean’s first instinct was to say it was impossible that the city had done that instead of it being pure good luck. His second instinct was to be annoyed because holy shit had she know that all along and just been stalling them? Why would she…?

Holy shit…

“Can I – uh, can I see?”

Dana nodded, this time a mere shadow of the firm and secure gesture she had done before. She opened the binder just around the middle and handed it to Dean.

“Just remember what I said about Cecil.”

Dean nodded and read quickly to the file. The date was, effectively, something that for him and his time hasn’t happened yet and most of it was smudged with humidity and moss. Still, Dean could make out the general idea of the whole thing.

As he suspected, it was a fairly similar situation to their own. Around 12 victims documented all of different sexes, ages, status, etc; the homicide weapon was a gun and they never caught the murderer. All of it looked like a standard open case but it wasn’t what Dean was looking for.

His eyes flew over to the section where he knew the witnesses were and he found two names: one he’d never heard in his life and one he was too awfully familiar with.

Without even thinking, he balanced the heavy binder with one hand while the other reached into his pocket for his phone and dialed his brother’s number.

*

Dana had been honest when she said that she trusted Cecil, she really had. But she would’ve been lying if she said she trusted Cecil’s memory.

She knew her former boss had been in more re-education sessions than the average Night Vale citizen. She knew from past radio shows there were patches of Cecil’s memory that were perhaps better left behind, even for him. Hell, he had even confessed that he didn’t have a memory of what happened that night at the opera before he regained control of his body.

That by itself wouldn’t be so bad, not if Cecil hadn’t been such a prominent part of the town.

She hadn’t understood that when she enrolled in his internship program at the radio station. At the time, she had only seen him as her goofy boss who sometimes let her choose the weather for the shows. But under that, there was a power that Dana couldn’t ignore after he had (unwillingly) saved her life on multiple occasions.

However, a power like that plus a fragile mental stability could only cause trouble sooner or later. Not that Cecil was fragile, of course, he was one of the strongest people Dana knew, but even the strongest were bound to break sometime.

Dana suspected Cecil’s breaking point was getting closer and closer that year. Carlos had been gone, their friendship was broken, and so he must’ve truly felt he didn’t have anybody. But somehow, Cecil endured it all with a straight face. Dana was more than a little astonished by that.

After that, there came a weird kind of calm, at least for Night Vale standards, and it had been a while since Dana feel worried about whatever it was that held Cecil together being broken to pieces. At least that is until she read those two names on the witness section of the case.

So yeah, she had maybe stalled it a little. She needed to convince the outsider that Cecil had only so much power over his own life, even since before the whole thing with Lot 37 happened. She also needed time to remind herself that Cecil’s terrible at lying, so it’s probable that whatever happened years ago was forgotten rather than omitted.

Not that it would matter tho, Cecil would still be furious when he finds out who are the only two surviving victims of what was the first Night Vale gun attack in history.

Reading his own name on the document would be difficult for him, but it will be even more so reading the name of the other person. Someone who was there the night of the attack and by all means should have as little memory of the event as Cecil, although that would do no more to calm Cecil’s anger.

After giving the book to the interloper, Dana avoided his eyes choosing to instead focus on the Erika. That, however, was proven to be an even worse choice as the celestial creature’s eyes widened in acknowledgment while reading the page. Without even asking, she knew that Erika was thinking the same thing as her.

Reading Earl Harlan’s name at the bottom of the archive was possibly one of the only things truly capable of breaking Cecil.

Chapter Text

Carlos should already be used to getting out of work early to deal with Night Vale related emergencies but somehow, he found himself surprised every time by the city’s uncanny ability to create a new threat every week or so.

That wasn’t even the most frustrating part, oh no, it was the fact that his boyfriend (his semi-physic, news reporter boyfriend) had a tendency to know ahead of this kind of things and still waited until the last possible moment to announce the danger publicly on the radio. And ok, to be fair Cecil didn’t always knew ahead of time… but when he did, the least he could do was call Carlos before venturing for himself into something reckless.

The truth was that Carlos worried, probably more than it was healthy for a guy his age (or any age for that matter), not only for the town but for Cecil. He knew his boyfriend was not helpless by any means. In fact, he suspected Cecil might outlive everyone in the town, but that didn’t do anything to ease the anxiety whenever he heard the radio host saying the words “I must go investigate.”

That said, if there was something more worrying about Cecil announcing the next big bad evil on the radio, it was Cecil not having any idea what that big bad evil was.

So yeah, maybe he could’ve reacted better at what the youngest Winchester told him after ending the call with brother. But to be fair…

“What do you mean Cecil was attacked?!”

“Well, it was 23 years ago, so…”

“It doesn’t matter when. You mean to tell me my boyfriend received a gunshot and then…”

Carlos had to interrupt himself by this point in order to regain some kind of order over thoughts. So, according to Sam, Cecil had been one of the surviving victims of a situation similar to theirs a little over 20 years ago. He wasn’t even going to question how that happened because a)It probably did not, and b)Even if it did happen, chances were the government had already taken measures to make him forget.

Overall, the scientist had come to love the city over the years, but that didn’t mean the law enforcement it had didn’t make him wanna pull his hair.

He took a deep breath and started to picture himself in his lab, well, technically they hadn’t left the lab yet but that didn’t matter. He pictured himself in front of a Bunsen burner, turning a substance from one color to another and scribbling his results on a nearby notebook.

That calmed him down a little. Science was something he could do. And as a scientist, his duty was to gather all the data he could find and make conclusions about it.

“Ok, let’s start from the beginning, shall we?” he asked, finally facing the tall man standing rather awkwardly in the middle of his office. “What exactly did your brother say?”

The younger man winced a little and Carlos could tell that whatever it was the older hunter had said, he was going to get the censored version of it.

“He… um, he said Cecil is listed on the report they found as a surviving victim of the case. Besides that, it seems we don’t have any other lead. The other victims are dead and the murderer was never found.”

Carlos sighed and ran a hand through his hair, Cecil told him once he looked sexy doing that although he had trouble concealing those two things in the same sentence.

“I take it from your tone your brother’s words were a little bit harsher than that,” Sam pulled his lips into a thin line and nodded. Somehow the gesture only fueled Carlos frustration over the whole thing. “Look, Cecil isn’t a liar. Whatever it says in that binder must have something left out of the whole thing.”

“What good would that do to the case?”

“What good would it do to bury it for years in the first place, Sam? Stuff just doesn’t make sense in Night Vale.”

“Well then, what is your explanation for Cecil casually omitting he was a key witness of the first line of murders.”

Carlos bit his lip. He didn’t feel comfortable talking about the ins and outs of what re-education entailed, not even if it wasn’t something he had a memory of experiencing. What he did remember was Cecil’s reaction upon realizing he must certainly had experienced it at some point. That alone was enough to send a cold shudder down his spine.

Before he could form a coherent thought in his head about it, there was a knock on the door and Carlos let out a relieved sigh upon the sound.

“Come in,” he called expecting it to be Andy or some other scientist looking for materials. Instead, and much to his discomfort, the eldest Winchester came through the door looking every bit as annoyed and bitter as that morning.

“How did you get here so fast?” Sam inquired to his brother, quickly grabbing his attention.

“Angel express,” he responded simply in a sardonic tone. “Cas insisted on leaving me here, he doesn’t want me making bad decisions.”

“And Cas?”

“He dropped me off here and went ahead with Cecil. He said something about not wanting me to ambush him, can you believe it?”

Carlos could, in fact, believe it but somehow, that wasn’t what caught his attention in the hunter’s words.

“Wait, what do you mean ambush him?”

The eldest brother looked down at him. At some point in his conversation with Sam, he had felt the need to sit down and now he was deeply regretting that decision, if only for how small it made him feel in that moment.

“Oh well. you know since apparently, your boyfriend has been withholding information from the case I considered an interrogation might be needed.”

“Cecil’s not withholding anything, ok? Whatever it is you found, I’m sure it has some explanation…”

“Uh huh, when you find out what that is, tell me would ya?”

Carlos let out a frustrated sigh. People like Dean Winchester were the main reason he was having grey hair in his thirties.

“It’s not my place to tell.”

“How convenient, your friend Dana said the same thing when I asked her about this.”

Carlos brows shot up at the mention of the young mayor.

“Dana… did she…”

“She had to stay behind, doing her duty, covering our tracks… doesn’t explain why was she covering the fact that our main lead was our primary suspect just yesterday.”

“Are you back to calling Cecil a suspect?”

“That’s because he is.”

“You don’t get it.”

“Well, explain it to me then.”

At some point, Carlos had shot up from his seat and now he was directly in the face of Dean Winchester. Had his brother not been present he might have punched him then and there at that moment. Hell, he might even do it nonetheless.

Carlos closed his eyes. Now he was in front of a blackboard solving a very long equation, he was at peace. When he opened his eyes again, he came to the crushing realization that there was only one way he was going to convince the hunter to back off Cecil’s case.

“Mister Winchester, has anyone told you anything about re-education during your stay here?”

*

After Carlos finished explaining what re-education entailed (in way to vivid detail, may Sam add) he could see even his brother was shuddering at the prospect.

“And you think they did this to Cecil all those years ago?” Carlos nodded slowly and grimly. He looked tired beyond belief and Sam couldn’t really blame him. “Jesus, if it’s true, no wonder the guy’s such a nut case.”

Carlos huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. Before the day was over, Sam was gonna have a talk with Dean about stuff not to say in front of the scientist.

“I didn’t tell you this so you could make fun of him, you know?”

“No, I – I get it,” at least Dean had the decency to look embarrassed at this. “It’s just… are we sure this is truly what happened.”

Somehow, Carlos managed to scowl even deeper than before. So, wrong thing to say, again.

“It’s not the first time something like this has happened to Cecil. Although, I’m still doubtful of the veracity of the file in the first place. You said he was placed as a victim, right?”

“Yes, and according to it he was passed out for a few hours after they found him and after that, he got into a near catatonic stage, so…”

“I’m gonna stop you right there and say this once and for all: Cecil is not a suspect.”

“Hey, you’re the one who doesn’t believe he was a victim.”

“Because…” Carlos started and stopped himself while blushing furiously.

“What? Why can he be a victim, according to you?” Dean said triumphantly while Sam was connecting the dots his brother had evidently missed…oh God.

Carlos' face was a bright red color as he stuttered the words, decidedly avoiding the brothers’ faces.

“I… um… I would’ve noticed if there was a… bullet scar… in Cecil’s body.”

Dean’s jaw went slack as his own face went a rosy color. In other circumstances, Sam would’ve found the situation hilarious.

“Ok, that’s… fair,” Dean said, avoiding the scientist's face. “But, um… you know… they don’t specify what happened to him, so maybe he was just… threatened by the murderer…”

It was a long shot but by far the weirdest thing they’ve ever encountered. Sam could see that, coupled with Carlos explanation of memory loss, been the scenario of the crime. He would’ve voiced these thoughts if the tension of the room hadn’t been at its peak.

“Yeah, ok that makes sense… it would also explain how Cecil’s not dead, unlike the others,” Carlos said, without taking his eyes off his shoes.

“It also leaves us back in square one,” Dean grumbled, trying to ease off the tension in the space.

“Maybe we can still talk to Cecil” Sam suggested. “Not interrogate him, just talk and see if we can trigger his memory somehow.”

Carlos worried his lower lip between his teeth. He seemed deep in thought until he finally released a sigh and nodded.

“I suppose it’s the better option we have. I just implore you, let me handle it. It’s bad enough your friend is the one easing it off to him instead of me, let me at least be the one to deliver the news.”

“Sure, but I don’t think Cas has told him all that much. He mostly offered to go to the station so Cecil won’t have to come over here alone later.”

Carlos gave a weak smile that was enough for Sam to notice the sincere appreciation behind it.

“I’ll have to thank him later then. But perhaps it's better we’re the ones going to the station. If we’re going to do this to him, it may as well be in a place he’s comfortable in.”

The brothers nodded absently. With a few more exchanged words they hurried up out of the lab and into the Impala. You could tell the mood was somewhat sour since Dean hadn’t yet made a comment on how he missed his Baby.

Sam sat in the shotgun seat while Carlos made himself comfortable at the back. Through the rearview mirror, Sam could see the scientist gaze lost somewhere in his seat. He looked oddly small, like a child who knows he’s done something wrong and has to tell his parents before they find out for themselves.

Sam could relate to that, somehow.

“Hey man, you ok?” Sam called out, pulling Carlos out of his thoughts.

“Yeah, I just… I guess I just wish none of this had happened in the first place. I know you guys find it hard to believe, but Cecil’s really the last person who deserves this happening to him” after the silenced that followed, Carlos added with a small laugh. “Well, at least to me, he is.”

Sam stayed in silenced for a beat after that. His brother was still driving but he could tell the tension in his shoulders was a sure sign he was listening and thinking the same as him. Carlos truly loved Cecil, not in an “Imma overlook all your faults” kind of love, but an “I’m willing to work with you, even with them.”

He had a feeling, the sentiment was mutual.

An ugly part of him felt somewhat jealous, jealous that these two very different people managed to find each other on what Sam had denominated the earth equivalent of purgatory. Jealous because hunters like him and his brother rarely got a chance to have anything like that. Well… at least he did, his brother was mostly just a moron that could have the same thing Cecil and Carlos had, with Cas but he elected to ignore it.

Sam sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He was tired as hell and he hadn’t even done that much throughout the day, he couldn’t even begin to imagine how his brother was. He hadn’t yet told him about whatever happened prior to finding the unsolved case file. A part of him was actually scared to ask.

He glanced at his brother and found him oddly concentrated on the road ahead of him. Either he was that tired that he didn’t feel the necessity to engage in witty banter or…

“There’s something wrong with you, Dean?” Sam asked, already fearing the response.

The older hunter swallowed visibly and even Carlos was looking at him now from the backseat, probably noticing the weird quiet around them.

“Well, Sammy that depends on what you consider wrong…”

“Dean…”  Sam interrupted in a tone he was sure would’ve to make Castiel himself proud.

The eldest hunter growled in frustration and slowed down the car a little before answering.

“Fine,” he said, before locking eyes with Carlos through the mirror. “There was another survivor besides Cecil that night?”

“What?!” the scientist said, surprisingly loud. “And you didn’t think convenient to tell this to us back there at the lab?”

“I did, I just… wasn’t sure how” Dean answered as Carlos took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look, I asked Dana about the other guy but she just murmured something about asking Cecil and I thought that was a little suspicious, all right?”

“How considerate of you,” Carlos deadpanned and his eyes shone even more without his glasses. “And who’s this person that apparently only Cecil can talk about.”

“I didn’t say he was the only one who could talk about it. Cas seemed to know him too.”

“What a relief.”

“Hey, it’s not only my fault, ok? Cas told me he wanted to talk to Cecil about this dude alone. Said we were gonna be biased or some shit, can you believe that?”

“That makes no sense, why would I be biased?” Carlos said out loud to no one in particular.

“Dunno,” Dean shrugged. “Maybe is a friend of yours?”

“Difficult to know without a name.”

“Fine, fine,” Dean finally conceded. “Crap, what was the dude’s name?”

“Are you serious?” Sam asked, ‘coz by this point even he was done with Dean’s shit.

“It sounded like Harlem,” Dean pondered, ignoring his brother. “Harlem… Har…har…”

“Harlan?” Carlos interrupted. “Was it… Was it Earl Harlan?”

“Yes!” Dean shouted triumphantly. “Do you know the guy?”

Instead of answering him, Carlos buried his face in his hands and said with the most sinister voice he had produced as of yet.

“This is going to end so badly.”

Chapter Text

Ok, let’s make something clear, Dean didn’t dislike Carlos. He was actually kinda impressed by the guy. Anyone able to survive a life with the ball of energy that was Cecil Palmer was deserving of an award. Oh yeah, and also surviving life in Night Vale in general, although Dean wasn’t going to go there just yet.

And yes, he may not have the best opinion on Carlos’ boyfriend but that was mostly due to a lifetime of learning not to trust the supernatural and Cecil was the textbook image of all of that.

Still, he was willing to admit (not to Sam or Cas, but at least to himself) that neither part of the couple was so bad. Cecil was eccentric and loud and if Dean hadn’t been worried about the way his third eye seemed to stare at him as he walked, he even would’ve found the guy entertaining. Carlos, on the other hand, was more of his brother’s type of friend, kind of nerdy and quiet but nice enough to have a good chat with.

That is, of course, if you’re Sam (or hell, Dean suspected even Cas would have better luck than Dean in cracking the guy), however, if you’re Sam’s brother it may happen that everything you’ve said so far since you’ve arrived here had done nothing but angering the scientist. And guess who Sam’s unlucky bastard of a brother was?

So yeah, at this point should know better than to dig his own grave with his words, but…

“So is he like… Cecil’s ex or something…? Ouch, what the hell Sammy?”

His younger brother only response after punching him in the arm was bitch face number 23, ‘seriously, Dean?’

To his credit (and Dean's relief) the scientist didn’t look offended at the question, only slightly confused, alternating his eyes between the bothers and the road from the backseat. Dean was still steadily driving to the radio station, although not as fast as Dean would’ve liked.

After he had incidentally dropped the game changer of another possible lead on his brother and Carlos, the later went on a clip notes version of who the guy was. Cecil’s friend, possibly… Cecil’s ex? Dean had a hard time picturing how the weird radio host had won the heart of one guy, let alone two. Then again, Carlos hadn’t yet answered his question so he couldn’t be a hundred percent certain.

“I’m… not really sure,” the scientist finally answered, while awkwardly rubbing his neck. “Cecil never told me and I’ve never asked. And I’ve never really talked with him without Cecil being present so the only things I know about him is what I’ve heard on the radio.”

“Really? Weren’t you even a little bit curious about him?” Dean asked, holding Carlos gaze through the mirror.

“Of course I was, but I know Cecil. I trust him. Even if there was something in there in the past I don’t see how it matters right now.”

“He was with Cecil the night he was attacked,” Dean retorted. “Is that reason enough for you?”

Carlos huffed in response before glaring at Dean for what felt like the twentieth time that day.

“How was I supposed to do any of this would happen, huh?”

Dean cursed under his breath. He knew he was being unfair to the scientist but the stress of the past days was starting to get the best of him and at the moment he couldn’t focus on anything other than how much he would’ve liked a beer at that moment.

“Ok fine, you got a point. But that brings us again to the fact that none of this really matters.”

“Dean’s right,” Sam intervened in his brother’s favor. “Even if he was there that night, it’s probable that he remembers as much as Cecil.”

Sam’s words seemed to somewhat calm Carlos down. The scientist leaned back on his seat and relaxed his shoulders a little, although he still looked a bit tense as he glanced at the window of the Impala. It was already night outside and the moonlight seeping in the car accentuated his facial features and gave him an air tiredness around him.

Dean couldn’t help but feel for him and, for a brief moment, also for Cecil, who was probably waiting patiently with Cas at the station after they sent the angel a message to stay where they were. He didn’t have any idea of what they were about to do, burst in and tell him a fraction of his life was a lie.

Also, the fact that Carlos was freaking out about the whole Earl Harlan thing was probably a bad omen of what was to come. He didn’t think the scientist was the particularly jealous type, he and the radio host seemed to have a mature healthy relationship, the type where you talked and communicated with the other person (not that Dean would know how one of those worked), so whatever it is that was bothering Carlos most run deeper than that.

Dean could only wonder…

“Is it so bad that this guy was involved that night?” Dean asked tho he wasn’t sure he wanted an answer.

Carlos snapped his head at him and stared at nothing in particular while contemplating his answer. In the end, he exhaled a small puff of air and responded in a calm objective tone.

“In theory you’re right, it shouldn’t matter. He probably remembers as little as Cecil which is not nearly enough to help us with the case.”

“But?” Dean inquired, fearing where the conversation was going.

“But,” Carlos continued, “the way I see it this can only end up two ways. One, he really doesn’t know which will only serve to worry Cecil even more. If the government was willing two erase the memory of two young boys to cover this whole thing up, what else are they hiding? Why was it so important that they felt the need to cover it up no matter what?”

Dean pondered on the scientist’s words for a moment. It hadn’t occurred to him to think about Cecil as a teenager. The guy looked around his age, so he must’ve been what, 15, 16 when he was attacked? Just barely a child when everything happened.

He remembered the photo he saw of him in the file for Dana’s case, the wild, unnerving look on his purple eyes that seemed to make him even more dangerous at sight. For some reason, he didn’t have any trouble imagining that same look in a younger version of Cecil, complete with a little baby fat on his face and some acne that was a trademark for teenagers.

That mental image actually disturbed him more than the original picture.

A sudden thought crossed his mind and he directed himself at Carlos yet again.

“What is the other option for what could happen?”

The scientist stared at him for a moment. He was fiddling with the end of his lab coat in a way that reminded Dean of Castiel in his crazy days. The memory sent a pang to his chest and he quickly pushed it away as he waited for Carlos answer.

“The other thing that could happen is Earl actually remembering some of the stuff that happened that night.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad,” Sam said as Dean felt it was his turn to glare at his brother. Carlos sounded more worried at this prospect than the first one and Dean was getting a good idea of why.

However, Carlos, instead of giving an outright explanation, stared at Sam and asked him in a detached tone.

“So, you’re telling me if your brother had decided to keep a key event of your past from you, even if it was to protect you, you wouldn’t be a mad at all?” Neither brother responded. Carlos had no idea how close he hit to home, but the brothers did and they got his point. “I know for you guys is difficult to understand but I know Cecil, I’ve seen him scared, sad and on the brink of a breakdown. If he finds out his childhood best friend knew they were attacked… if he knew they took Cecil’s memory again and didn’t tell him, he will be devastated.”

The car was consumed by silence, the only sound being the gentle rumbling of Baby’s engine. Dean thought back on what Dana told him at the city hall, how Cecil had being so horrified at the thought of someone controlling his body without consent and on top of that not remembering any of it. And now this…

“Well,” he spoke in a weak attempt to lighten the mood. “As you said dude, maybe he really doesn’t remember anything, just like Cecil.”

The scientist stared at him and, to his surprise, gave him a weak thankful smile for the first time since they arrived.

“Yeah, maybe.”

Dean returned the smile and although he wasn’t sure he and the scientist were on good terms just yet, he felt a new kind of appreciation towards him. He obviously loved Cecil, more than any words were able to express, and it was needless to say the feeling was returned. He still didn’t get how or why but he came to the conclusion that he didn’t need to.

He remembered when Cas told him how Naomi had brainwashed him into being the perfect soldier, breaking him and molding him time after time. Even after all this while, the memory of Cas’ face while confessing to him made him want to go to Naomi and punch the bitch right in her face for messing with his angel.

So yeah, at least to a level Dean understood Carlos wanting to spare Cecil as much pain as possible, but also the duty of being the one bringing the bad news. God, he almost wished he could make it easier for the both of them… wait a minute…

“Maybe you don’t have to tell Cecil about Earl, you know?”

His words caught the scientist attention. He rose slightly from the back and some curls fell over his face.

“What, you want me to… lie to Cecil?”

“No! God, of course not” Dean reassured quickly. Chuck knew how well lying worked for the Winchesters. “I mean you don’t have to be the one to tell Cecil…”

“I’m sorry but I’m not understanding, do you want to tell Cecil or…?”

“No, no I mean…ugh…” 

Dean knew what he had to do, although he wasn’t exactly happy about it. They had finally arrived at the radio station and Dean parked a little over the entrance, behind Cecil’s car. If he was really going to this he had to do it now.

With a tired sigh, he pulled his cellphone from his pocket. He could feel his brother and Carlos stares burning him as he searched through the gallery and was utterly conscious that once he revealed yet another truth bomb on him, the scientist would be mad at him, again. But in the end, he trusted that after the whole thing had blown up, he would appreciate it as a peace gesture.

When he finally came across what he wanted, he passed his phone to the scientist with a barely audible ‘here’ and no other explanation whatsoever. Carlos took it while eying Dean warily and then proceeded to inspect the image the hunter took of the case file while at the city hall.

“You had this… the whole time?” Carlos said and although his voice was calm, Dean could hear the sharpness on it.

“Yeah…” he finally answered, avoiding the scientist gaze.

“Again, you didn’t think convenient to tell this back at the lab?”

“No…?”

The truth was that at the time Dean wasn’t even sure if he should’ve taken the pic in the first place. He expected a time in which both, Dana and Castiel hadn’t been looking to do it, conscious that there was a world of difference on seeing the private government archives with the mayor present, and taking a photo of them for private reasons.

But, to be fair, when had law stopped him?

He wasn’t sure why he did it. Maybe it was to have proof in case Cecil was lying, or Carlos didn’t believe them. It wasn’t until later when they said their goodbyes to Dana that the phone started to feel like a heavy rock in Dean’s pants. He could feel it as if it were burning coal, an evidence of a crime Dean felt responsible for (and yes, he could see the irony in all of that).

That’s the moment when he started thinking, what if he was wrong, what if everything had been a mistake, and he felt like an idiot for thinking that way. He was supposed to act as a hunter, objective, detached; but the events of the last few hours were whirling in his head still and so, he had to take a decision.

He elected to keep the pic to himself and show it to Sam and Cas later. Partially because he was afraid he had made a mistake although another uglier part of him was afraid Carlos and Cecil would notice he had made a mistake.

But then Carlos had told them about the city’s weird witness protection thing (or whatever the hell re-education was supposed to be) and Dean started picturing Cecil in a small room, tied up and afraid of whatever was coming to him. Dean made not be a big fan of the guy but he wasn’t a goddamn monster, you know?

So, he elected to give Carlos something to work with: the fact that Cecil wasn’t alone that night. He knew he should’ve told that from the beginning but he was also worried that the scientist would latch onto that fact to justify Cecil’s involvement. By the time he confessed this little fact, a part of him hoped the scientist would actually do that instead of yelling at him… oh well…

All the while, his phone had been burning his tight through his pocket but he convinced himself to just wait until they had talked with Cecil, to wait and see if he could get away with all of this. And then, he saw Carlos face. 

The guy looked a mess, with his hair stuck in odd angles and bags under his eyes, barely concealed by the thick frame of his glasses.

He was worried although not for himself, but for Cecil. And Dean couldn’t take it anymore. All that love, all that devotion... So he showed Carlos the pictures with a clear intention in mind, even tho he could think of a hundred different ways that could explode right on his face.

“Just show it to him,” Dean explained to no one in particular. “It is the most clean way he can find out, you don’t have to be the one to break the news and he won’t have to listen to his boyfriend telling him.”

“Plus, it will give him time to take it at his own pace,” Sam concluded. “Instead of, you know, just dump everything on him.”

“Exactly.”

Carlos looked between the two brothers, his face an unreadable mask. Dean could almost hear the gears running and stopping in the scientist's brain multiple times, before finally settling for a weird kind of march as they went.

He chanced a look at the phone, almost as if he was hoping that it would disappear at any minute now. But it didn’t. 

Then he looked at a fixated point across the Impala’s window, where the image of the radio station was now covered by a light mantle of fog that decorated the crystal. Dean wasn’t sure how long had they been at the car but by the looks of it, it had been a while.

The chilly air was seeping through a small crack in the window and he could feel his teeth tattering, but he was nowhere near admitting that.

Finally, Carlos shut the phone off before placing it in the breast pocket of his lab coat. He ran a hand through his hair in a valiant attempt to tame his wild curls and adjusted his glasses with as much dignity as he could manage. Then he looked straight at Dean and spoke with a gentle voice that somehow seemed more dangerous than before.

“Cecil’s show must be about to finish, we should get in.”

Without even waiting for an answer, Carlos reached for the door and got out. Dean almost expected him to close the door with a bang on his way out but the scientist was the image of professionalism, closing gently but firmly and waiting for them outside.

The brothers exchanged a look. Neither of them spoke. Sam was the first to follow Carlos and Dean complied shortly although still confused.

The three men walked silently to the front door of the radio station and once they were there, Carlos took a small set of keys out of the front pocket of his jeans. Dean thought about how just yesterday the door had been unlocked and thought about commenting that to Carlos but finally, he digressed.

To no one’s surprise, the door opened without any resistance and soon they were in the same hallway he and his brother had been scared to death just the night before, only now it was illuminated. Cecil’s deep voice carried over from someplace near the studio and although he couldn’t make any particular words, he somehow felt at peace just listening to the radio host.

He wondered briefly if that was how everyone felt when everyone listened to Cecil talking, just… calm.

A couple of figures stood in front of the window of the studio. Dean recognized the same guy that had been leaving yesterday just when he and his brother arrived, only now he was wearing a heavy looking pair of headphones while typing rapidly on a keyboard.

The second figure was even more familiar although seemingly more confused by their arrival.

At that moment the teenager stopped typing an took a look at the newcomers, studying them with a weird expression on his face.

“Hello, Carlos…and…?”

“Sam, Dean, what happened?” Castiel asked before Headphones could finish his question.

“It’s a long story,” Carlos helpfully provided to the angel, before any of the brothers could speak. “Good evening Kareem.”

Carlos acknowledged the guy, Kareem, with a gentle nod that resembled nowhere the calm stoicism of a moment before.

“Ummm, do you want me to bring Cecil or give him a message?” Kareem asked awkwardly. “We just came back from the weather and were about to wrap it up but if you want to…”

“It’s ok Kareem,” Carlos assured him. “We can wait over here if you don’t mind. Actually, maybe you should get going, I’m sure Cecil can finish the program well on his own.”

“Umm, actually I was gonna pass him some of the corrections for tomorrow but…” Kareem stopped himself, looking around nervously at all the adults crowding the room. “Unless this is about… you know… the thing.”

Dean wasn’t sure if they were talking about the same ‘thing’ but Carlos nod reassured him nonetheless. The teenager nodded back and got up quickly from his seat behind the desk and started to gather his things.

Dean caught a glimpse of the bold white letters in front of the teens purple shirt: Night Vale Community Radio, Intern: Kareem R.

“Ok, so… see you later guys,” the farewell wasn’t directed to anyone in particular but still Dean found himself nodding at the guy, who looked as if he was about to say something before shaking his head and leaving.

An awkward silence fell over all the presents, only interrupted by Cecil’s voice in the background. Dean felt the urge to say something, but a sharp look from Carlos made him keep his mouth shut. Finally, it was Castiel who broke the silence by directing himself at them.

“What’s going on? What did you need to see us here? Is there…”

Dean could see there was other stuff the angel wanted to ask but he fell silent when the scientist raised a hand in a civilized interruption. He then spoke with a pleading voice that made Dean think that perhaps Cecil wasn’t the only volatile one in the relationship.

“I know, I know, just… please, can we wait until Cecil’s here.”

The angel glanced briefly at the brothers before settling his sight in Carlos again. His plead only seemed to cave more into the Castiel’s intrigue but nevertheless he nodded and stepped back so they could see through the large window of the studio.

They stepped in slightly, almost afraid of what they were about to watch (ok, maybe that was just the brothers but still), but they only Cecil being his usual self only this time, while on the radio. He was leaning into his microphone, happily rambling about something or another to the willing public listening when he noticed them looking.

“Well listeners, our newest visitors have just arrived at the studio along with a certain handsome scientist that has promised to take me to dinner sometime this week,” Cecil winked at Carlos direction and, even though the scientist was still visibly tense, his boyfriend’s words seemed to work on making him smile if only a little.

“In any other occasion I would offer our guests a seat right next to me in the booth but sadly, we’re out of time,” Cecil continued with a slight decrease on his voice that Dean was certain was practiced. “Stay tuned next for a G note being played a thousand times, as the promise of a song that shall never be heard on the radio. And as always: good night, Night Vale, good night.

Cecil pushed a button and a small red sign that was lit up inside the booth suddenly turned off.

With a calmness only he was able to have in a moment like this, Cecil took off his set of headphones and made his way to the hallway all of them were waiting for him.

Dean could feel Carlos trembling next to him as Cecil opened the door that separated the studio from the hallway and smiled at the group bright, goofy and full of sharp teeth.

“So,” he asked, “how did everything go?”

Chapter Text

Cecil’s hands were trembling as he read and re-read the case file on the small screen of Dean Winchester’s phone. A feeling that was all too sickly familiar to him was rising in his chest as the stranded words filled his mind. Forest, gunshot, victim, survivor… Cecil.

Nothing made sense in his head. He knew the process of re-education all too well, but the prospect of facing that at the age of… what? Fifteen years old? It seemed like another thing altogether for him. Not even the City Council was allowed to re-educate a minor without their guardian’s consent. Had Abby let them do that to him? Had his mother?

Cecil knew it was around that time his mother had left them but had she still been there when everything happened, had she given the government allowance to mess with his head?

A long chill crawled on his spine as he remembered a similar event, years ago when he found that damn box of cassettes filled with traumas he wasn’t even sure were his own.

He wanted to scream, to kick and punch and demand an explanation that wouldn’t leave him feeling as if they took something from him. He felt like an utter fool, an outsider inside his own skin, living a life that was not his own and he wanted to get an explanation on why. And the worst part was that he should’ve known.

He should’ve known the moment he exited the booth and Carlos didn’t smile back at him, when Castiel casted him a pitiful look under his lashes and when the brothers avoided his eyes at all cost, almost as if expecting him to combust at any moment. But he was still there, holding the small device in his hand.

It would’ve been so easy to break it, to deny any of that was real and just bury it the back of his mind like it was intended from the beginning. But he didn’t, firstly, because unlike the cassette tapes on that time, the phone wasn’t his to break and secondly, because he knew that between the small rectangle and him, he was the one that was most fragile at that moment.

He felt his throat drying and got the feeling that if he were to talk no words would come out of his mouth. He felt small, helpless. And his boyfriend was still looking at him as if he was a wounded animal, hell, at this point maybe he was. A wounded, broken animal, a helpless little thing that was bound to lash out at any given moment.

His eyes darted through the file again as he thought to himself that maybe this time it would make sense. Maybe this time he would remember what happened and be able to laugh at it and mock it the same way it was mocking him right then.

There were a bunch of names he didn’t recognize, people who had actually been killed while he was only attacked. Names of people he never got to meet, who would be living in the city right now, listen to his show, abide by the same rules as him, had they not met their fate. Cecil felt a bitter pang of guilt at realizing how unfair all of that was for all of them.

His name was the second last one listed. The only surviving victim… No, that was not true. Earl Harlan’s name was just below his on the report. He had apparently been there with him when everything happened… Jesus, had they done the same to him…? had he…had his memory been wiped as well? It must have been right, ‘cause there was no way he would have kept something like this from Cecil…right?

“Cecil…” Carlos' voice floated over to him and Cecil clang into it like a lifesaver. His boyfriend’s eyes were wide and full of concern and Cecil wanted nothing more than to lose himself in them and return only when he was ready to face the world.

Carlos lifted his arm in an odd gesture that Cecil felt comfortingly casual. He was asking for permission, permission to touch him, to ground him now that his walls were down and hug all of his broken pieces back together. Cecil could only nod in response and in a second Carlos’ arms were around him.

He buried his head in his lover’s neck like they’ve done too many times but Cecil couldn’t remember a time that hurt as much as this one. Not even the night when Carlos had come back from the dessert otherworld when he felt as if he’d let go, the scientist would’ve disappeared. But this he was the one in danger of disappearing, of losing himself in his own mind if Carlos let go.

He felt a dampness pressing in his cheek, he wasn’t sure when he had started crying but he didn’t care. Everything felt like too much and the only thing that kept him from imploding was Carlos firm body against his and his arms surrounding him. His hair smelled like his own shampoo and his lab coat was soft under his touch.

Carlos was something familiar, and something he craved right at that moment. No, something he needed.

He couldn’t tell how long the hug lasted or who pulled apart first or how he felt losing his lover’s touch. What he did remember was Carlos’s eyes, staring at him behind his glasses as the scientist took off Cecil’s own glasses to wipe his tears away. He remembered the slight brush of Carlos' fingers against his skin and how glad he was at not putting contact that morning, cause crying with them on was a feat on to itself.

“Shhh, it’s ok cielo,” Carlos whispered as his fingers traced his cheek. “Te amo, te amo tanto Cecil. Estoy aquí para ti, cariño, ¿Si?”

Cecil nodded and managed to give Carlos a weak smile. Carlos didn’t talk often in his mother language, which was understandable but Cecil always found it endearing when he did so. Once, during one of their late-night talks, he even confessed that he found it calming in an odd sort of way, almost like Carlos had this part of him that was secret and only Cecil got to see it.

Ever since then, the scientist had taken a shine on talking him in Spanish whenever Cecil was stressed, be it cause of work, Steve Carlsberg or anything else the city had decided to throw at him that day. He’d come home, and they’d cuddle on the couch as Carlos whispered sweet nothings in Cecil’s ear.

At first, Cecil didn’t get a single word but over time, he had started to pick up some words like “cariño” and “te amo.”  Nevertheless, hearing them still made him feel warm and fuzzy inside, even in times like this.

Finally, he took a deep breath and washed some of the tear's strikes away with his hand. He did his best to straighten his now rumpled shirt and conceded Carlos another smile before turning to face the rest of the newcomers. He was fully conscious that, despite his best attempts, he was still a mess. He felt an itch in his eyes that indicated the sure puffiness in them, and he was pretty sure his face resembled a tomato.

He didn’t care that much, to be honest. This was by far the worst state he had ever been in, and even tho he was really embarrassed at been seeing in such vulnerable state, he sure as hell wasn’t gonna let that show. No, Cecil was on the radio and, dammit, even tho he just spent the last five minutes or so sobbing on his boyfriend’s shoulder, he was gonna be a professional.

“Cecil…” Carlos’s sounded weak and full of pity, the same way he would to a wounded child or, God forbid, an animal. Cecil knew his boyfriend had the best intentions, but at that moment the shame of it all was too much for him to handle.

Instead of trying to summon some strength to his voice, Cecil decided to let himself talk with an honest amount of brokenness. Carlos would probably notice if he tried to do that, anyway.

“I’m fine… well, actually, I’m not but it’s not like I can do anything about it, is it?”

Cecil could see the start of a protest die on Carlos’ mouth. The scientist wanted to be logical about the whole thing, perhaps as a way to keep him grounded, and while he appreciated the sentiment, they had a task at hand. And Carlos was still looking him with the same piteous look.

In fact, at that moment everyone was looking at him like that.

A few hours later, he would ponder on the whole situation and recognize that perhaps the pity was only in his head the whole time and the glances he received were more akin to a deep sentiment of worry. Right then, tho, he was disposed to do everything to prove those imaginary stares otherwise.

“I’m serious,” Cecil reiterated, still not bothering to hide the raspiness in his voice. “I know what you think, that I’ve lost my mind and hell, maybe I’ve had but that won’t stop me now. I wanted to dig into this thing… and I can’t regret it, now.”

He felt the stares like little spikes, itching onto his skin. Had he mentioned before how good that is no one can see him on radio…? Because it is.

There were a million emotions surrounding his mind. He knew he didn’t sound convinced himself, but he was aware that sounding confident in all his red-faced glory would only sound like a blatant lie. So, what else did he have? Honesty.

So yeah, he was a mess and he was well aware of it. But whatever he felt at the moment was insignificant to a greater purpose: Defending Night Vale.

He half-expected Carlos to protest. Actually, he expected some kind of argument on behalf of his mindset by any of the presents in the room, except the one who talked at that moment.

“Cecil…” the eldest Winchester spoke with the softest voice Cecil had yet heard from him.

At first, Cecil wasn’t even sure he was the one talking considering, well, all the events of the last few hours. Also, when he finally risked a look at the hunter he could see he was very clearly avoiding his gaze. Figures. Cecil almost came to the conclusion he only heard the voice in his head when the brother spoke again, this time with more conviction.

“Cecil, man…” now Winchester was rubbing his neck and avoiding his gaze. He probably wished he was anywhere other than the station and Cecil could relate to that feeling.

Everyone was looking between the two of them as if a fight were about to break at any given moment. Cecil’s hand were trembling and he tried to make them into fists to control their shaking, he found the reason Dean was trying to catch his attention.

“Oh,” he said as he realized the phone now warm in his hand. “H-here, um… here’s your phone.”

He reached to give the hunter his phone back and noticed Dean’s hands were also trembling although not as terribly as his own. When the small device was once again in his owner’s hands, the eldest Winchester stared at it for a moment too long as if trying to comprehend its secrets.

“Thanks, man, but… um…that’s not…” the hunter started saying something but was cut off when everyone’s stare was now directed at him. Cecil, for his part, was just glad the attention was momentously taken from him. “You, um… you don’t remember him.”

Perhaps, Cecil had celebrated all too soon.

“Dean,” Sam’s brother chastised him. “C’mon dude, let the guy have a moment.”

Cecil knew the younger Winchester had a good intention in his mind, just as Carlos, but still Cecil didn’t appreciate people talking as if he wasn’t even in the room.

“I was just saying,” now the older hunter spoke, although (and maybe this was just Cecil’s delusion) he could hear the tiniest bit of shame in his voice. “Besides, maybe it’s better this way. The fastest we do this, the fastest we can leave it all behind us.”

“He’s right,” Cecil surprised himself with how firm his voice sounded, even if it was still weak… “We need to do this now, but…”

And then everyone’s attention was back at him. Well, he supposed, it’s now or never.

“I don’t remember any of this,” he admitted pathetically. “I’m trying, I really am, it just… it feels like walking through fire. I can’t see anything, everything’s filled with smoke, I can’t breathe and I feel like I might pass out any second.”

Even as he spoke, he felt like an idiot stumbling through his words. Carlos offered his hand discreetly and he had no option but take it, in case he passed out halfway through his explanation. The scientist’s hand was warm and a bit sweaty and it fit perfectly against Cecil’s.

“Cecil, man, it’s ok if you can’t do this right now. We can wait until tomorrow, and…”

“You don’t get it, there won’t be a tomorrow,” Cecil interrupted the younger Winchester and received a quizzical look in return. He sighed heavily, realizing he had to elaborate on his small outburst. “When they re-educate they don’t just erase a single memory, they take whole chunks of your life. They readjust and re-accommodate your brain until…”

“Until you lose yourself,” now it was the angel who finished his statement. Cecil glanced back at him and Castiel returned the look with the barest hint of a nod. He would have to dig into that later, but for now, he felt grateful for having someone who understood.

He also noticed he was squeezing his boyfriend’s hand a little harder than intended and even tho he didn’t show, he could tell the scientist was uncomfortable by his rigid posture. He let go of it a little and Carlos offered him a light thank you squeeze in return.

With a small glance, he noticed the brothers were still confused about the whole thing and gathered some strength to get to his conclusion fast.

“Whatever they… took from me all those years ago, it’s most likely going to stay that way. This is not the first time it’s happened and trying to remember… never works well for me.”

An apprehensive silence fell over them. Cecil was conscious that he wasn’t making things easy but, a part of him (a very, very selfish part) just wanted to crawl under his desk and leave this whole thing in the hunters’ hands, just forget all of this ever happened. He was trying to remember, but every time he felt like something was scratching his mind a red flare shot up on his brain.

He was afraid of what would happen to the city if he didn’t remember, but he felt as if everything came back to him, it would be his end. And now, a familiar wetness was traveling across his cheek, when had he started crying again?

“Maybe, you don’t have to remember. Not by yourself at least,” Sam’s voice rose again, and Cecil felt like he was listening below water. He gave the youngest Winchester a long glance before conceding him an answer.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, you weren’t the only person there that night.”

No, Cecil thought, Earl was there too, his childhood best friend and his first crush. He had tried to push his face aside of the whole thing for a moment but now his name seemed to tattooed on his retinas and he could picture it clear and just below his own in that damn report.

“He won’t remember,” Cecil assured, although he wasn’t sure if he was speaking to the brothers or to himself. “He must have gone through re-education as well; it says it on the report.”

“Yeah, we get it but…” Sam paused a bit, calculating his next words. “I don’t know, maybe you can help each other. Fill the gaps the other has…”

“I don’t have gaps. I just don’t have anything from that day.”

“Well, maybe he does,” Sam said, completely unaware of the implications of his words.

Cecil could take being lied to by the city and having Earl being in the same situation at the very least made him feel he wasn’t alone. But if Earl remembered, even if it was only the tiniest bit about that day, and decided to hide it from Cecil… No, that was a train of thought he wasn’t gonna entertain. Earl was his friend and he wouldn’t just do that, not when he knew Cecil’s thoughts about this sort of stuff.

“I-I…” Cecil was out of words. He wasn’t used to that feeling, and he didn’t plan on getting used to it any time soon, and yet…

“Cecil it’s ok,” the gentle voice of his boyfriend flew to his ears and seemed to soothe him if only a little.

“But, the case…” Cecil turned on his left to face the scientist, who was looking at him a bare concern on his expression.

“If you can’t remember, we’ll find another way,” Carlos interrupted him. “And if you don’t feel ready to face Earl, you don’t have to. I want to help the city as much as everyone else, but we can’t do that at the cost of your sanity.”

Carlos was right of course he was. Cecil gave a long sigh. His eyes were starting to get really blurry, a combination of the fact that he had spent who knows how long crying and that he had yet to put his glasses on again. He chanced a glance at the rest of the group.

Castiel, of course, gave him solemn nod full of comprehension. Dean was, for once, actually looking at him and gave him a tight-lipped smile, the kind you dedicate to someone you barely know when you encounter them on the street. It was the closest thing to affection the elder Winchester had shown him since his arrival, and Cecil returned it cautiously.

His gaze finally fell on the younger brother. He looked embarrassed and confused; as if he wasn’t sure he’d been the one to almost force Cecil into going to his old friend. He gazed at his brother and friend and then back to Cecil, assessing the situation.

Cecil had to admit that he was surprised by him being the incenting one this time and not his brother, and all his uneasiness came flooding back when Sam gave him a tentative nod. That was weird. He had been told multiple times that his own mood swings could be scary when so abrupt, and now Sam had a look in his eyes as if he wasn’t entirely sure he had just acted the way he did.

Cecil had to wonder…

“You see, Cecil?” Carlos' voice pulled him out of his thoughts abruptly. The scientist extended his arm and cupped Cecil’s face into his hands gently and for a moment Cecil felt safe. “You don’t have to do this, the decision is entirely yours. Just say it and we’ll start looking anywhere else.”

Cecil nodded slowly. His boyfriend was looking at him with an amount of love that shouldn’t be possible by any human standards. He knew that he was being honest, and the moment Cecil decided so, he would be out of the line on this one.

The radio host glanced once again at the rest of the group and his eyes fell upon the youngest Winchester, and his concerned expression seemed to be the last thing he needed before making a decision. He knew what he had to do.

He took Carlos’ hands in his own and gave them a light squeeze once more, before dropping them and turning back to face once and for all the truth of the situation.

“If we want to catch Earl today, we should get going. I think his restaurant is just about to close right now.”

Chapter Text

“Ok, Sammy, what the fuck?”

“I – I don’t know,” Sam’s voice sounded weak even to himself and if hadn’t been embarrassed enough for the way he acted a few minutes ago, he would’ve been definitely been in that moment.

“Bullshit,” Dean retorted angrily. “You all but called me out there, and then you went and did the same thing.”

“I know, I know… I didn’t mean it to sound so…so…”

“Douche baggy?”

“Shut up, jerk. Like you’re one to talk.”

“Make me, bitch…”

“Dean, eyes on the road,” the angel interrupted the small feud form his position in the backseat of the Impala. “You almost missed the turn there.”

“Cecil’s driving right in front of us, Cas. It’s kinda hard to miss that.”

The angel rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner, but Sam could see the barest hint of a smirk forming on his lips. For all the social cues the angel tended to miss on a daily basis, he was getting really good at defusing fights between the brothers. When he slumped on the seat, he turned his head as to avoid their gazes and that was all the confirmation Sam needed to know he was smiling. He didn’t know how he was able to do that after the day they just had.

After confronting Cecil at the radio station, the radio host had agreed to guide them to Earl Harlan’s working place so they could see if together they could remember something about… the incident. Cecil had been uncharacteristically quiet during the whole ordeal, almost hollow. Like a dead man waiting for his own execution.

 Seeing him like that was more disturbing than Sam would’ve anticipated. In the last 48 hours he had grown accustomed to the radio host’s mannerisms, always bursting with feeling and barely repressed energy and now, seeing him in such a vulnerable position made something recoil inside Sam, although not in a manner he would’ve expected.

The way Cecil’s tentacles had appeared from his back, almost subconsciously, as his eyes scanned through the picture on Dean’s cell phone shot opposite messages on Sam’s brain. On one hand, this was a guy who had way more power than any living creature should be allowed to. On the other one, he looked like he was five seconds away from having a mental breakdown.

He felt stupid taking pity towards Cecil, and a moment later he felt like a dick for thinking of Cecil as pitiful in the first place. And then he had to go and push him into going to interview his former best friend.

The guy had been on the verge of having a panic attack and Sam had to go throw him further into the maelstrom of his past. Hell, for all he knew, Cecil had PTSD or something and Sam had triggered it by insisting on meeting Earl…

And now, Cecil’s car was slowing down in front of them, finally stopping at the entrance of what looked like a fancy restaurant, or as fancy as Night Vale could get. It was illuminated nicely and even from the front Sam could see it was huge. There were still some people inside and he guessed if it weren’t so late at night already it would probably be packed full.

As the Impala came to halt behind Cecil’s car, Sam saw the doors open up at the same time. Cecil stood there, unmoving, in front of the restaurant and Carlos hurried to his side. Cecil’s tentacles were gone, now replaced with his boyfriend's arm wrapped tenderly around his shoulder. They seemed to be talking about something that Sam couldn’t really hear.

“Well, no more stalling now, I guess,” Dean said and even though his tone was relaxed, Sam knew his brother well enough to realize that he wasn’t more comfortable with making Cecil do this than he was. He actually looked… guilty. Sam could definitely sympathize.

Without even bothering to respond, Sam opened the door and headed where the couple was. He had made a decision on the way over. He would apologize to Cecil and if possible drag Dean with him too, ‘cause God knew the radio host deserved that at the very least.

As he approached Cecil and Carlos he caught a glimpse of the conversation they were having. They were both at the entrance of the restaurant but Cecil’s head was turned on him and his body was covering the sight of his boyfriend.

“…just say it, and I’ll text him. Tell him to forget it, and we can go home. You know Earl would understand”

“Carlos its fine, besides he already got my message. He should be out any moment now. It’s too late to back out now.”

“Ceec…”

Sam cleared his throat in an attempt to grab the couple’s attention. If Cecil’s words were true he had a few seconds to make his apology. Great, so, here came nothing.

As soon as their conversation was over, their heads whipped to face Sam. Cecil’s eyes were red and puffy, even worse than how they were at the radio station. Sam realized he must’ve been crying on his way there. A new wave of guilt rushed over him and he had to force himself to look away in shame.

His sight landed on Carlos, just behind Cecil, who was looking at him with the curiosity you put on an especially big slug. And now his eyes were back at Cecil…

He could hear his brother and Cas approaching them, waiting for him to make the first step. Cecil was looking at him, looking through him with those bright purple eyes that held way too much emotion, as if waiting for Sam to give him the answers he didn´t have. Sam wished that he could actually do that instead of emitting a half-assed apology to calm his own conscience.

When he finally gathered the courage he took a deep breath and looked at Cecil in the eye as he opened his mouth to recite the well-known words the radio host deserved to hear. However just in the middle of the ‘I’m part of ‘I’m sorry,’ he was interrupted by the sound of a bell in the entrance of the restaurant.

“Cecil, I got your message. What’s wrong?”

Earl Harlan was there.

So much for Sam’s apology.

*

Earl couldn’t remember a lot of things. For example, he couldn’t recall exactly when exactly he met Cecil Palmer. He knew it must’ve been when they both were practically babies since he couldn’t remember ever not knowing Cecil, but that wasn’t much to go on, considering he also wasn’t sure when that part of his life happened, or any to be honest.

There were a bunch of things that passed as a blur in his life, his childhood, what was for a while a period of seemingly eternal youth, and his unplanned (and extremely sudden) entry on parenthood. However, there was always a constant there and that was Cecil. Cecil with his too white smile and twinkling eyes…

He remembered his own words a few years back when the possibility of Cecil and Carlos together seemed like no more than a mere infatuation of the radio host. He had told Cecil they could’ve had something and he meant it. He still did, even if he was constantly forced to face the facts that his former best friend was in a very committed and very solid relationship with the scientist.

He knew thinking this kind of thoughts made him perhaps a not so good friend, and definitely a terrible person. However, some days were more difficult to remind that to himself than other, especially when you remembered that less than two years ago he found Cecil outside of his restaurant, more than a little drunk, sobbing uncontrollably about how he missed his boyfriend that was stuck in an alternate world.

That had been a rough year for Cecil and for the city in general. That night he had been forced to remember the last time he saw Cecil in such a state. Twenty-three years ago, the day Cecil realized his mother had left for good, a day he had a particularly nasty fight with his sister, a day that... Earl had tried so hard to forget about.

It was easy at the beginning… they made it easy. Re-education was still a fairly new thing back then but the government had no qualms on testing it on children at the time, especially when one of those children happened to be the future Voice of Night Vale.

He couldn’t recall Cecil making any particular remark about the procedure, although that might have to do with how his voice was still recovering from the crushed windpipe that man, (that monster),  provoked on him. Earl on his part was just glad there was a way they both could forget that experience.

Painful (so very, very painful) operation aside, things worked for a while. They reprogrammed their brains to make them think Cecil had a recent case of tonsilitis to justify his voice, and that he had fallen off his bicycle and the bruises on his back were because of that.

Perhaps he should’ve known better but he didn’t want to.

Fast forward a few years later, after he and Cecil had a fallen out and went each to pursue their respective careers. Earl as a scoutmaster and Cecil as radio host of the community station. They were both happy, or at least Earl thought so that way.

You see, when he realized he was to be stuck on a nineteen-year-old body for the rest of his life Earl was static. Really, even Cecil told him how jealous he was he was never going to get a grey hair in his life while comically pointing at his own already whitening locks. Life was good until it wasn’t.

He didn’t have to grow but instead, he had to see his best friend growing, maturing and, most importantly, gaining a voice that definitely didn’t make Earl weak on the knees the first time he heard it on the radio. It wasn’t just his appearance it was Cecil that was changing. Soon, they both had things to do and were too busy to even worry about each other.

And then Carlos arrived. Carlos with his perfect hair and teeth like a military cemetery. At the time Earl hadn’t wanted to admit it, but he could see how Cecil had crushed so hard on the scientist tho at the time, he had also been sure that was it: a crush. The radio host had had a ton of them before, so Earl was sure this one would not be different. However that day, the day he reminded Cecil of what could’ve been, there was a detail he had missed in Cecil’s eyes at the moment.

They no longer looked at him with mischief or happiness, but pure stoic professionalism. Of course, they were. The gaze full of love and affection Cecil used to throw at him when they were children now belonged to someone else, someone with glasses and an immaculate white coat. Earl hadn’t wanted to see it at the time but his best friend was already in love while he was stuck forever in a nineteen-year-old body.

For the first time that afternoon he wished he could grow old and, more importantly, grow old with Cecil. Whoever was listening to his thoughts that day must have a pretty messed up sense of humor ‘coz next thing he knew he was being dragged into the forest by those weird mute children and waking up fully aged up with a wife, a son… and a full stock of memories he didn’t know had been taken from him.

In retrospect maybe that was the reason he couldn’t remember whatever happened when those children kidnapped him: a life full of memories in exchange for another. Whether that was better or not for him, Earl sure as hell didn’t want to find out.

And so, he found he had to make a decision: whether or not to tell Cecil about his missing memories.

He tried, he really did, giving subtle nods here and there, trying to coerce Cecil into remembering. Not just about that night but things he had forgotten through his whole life, his first job as an intern, various times he has used his powers, their prom night… They all seemed to be things Cecil remembered vaguely and very altered, all of them except that night.

That night was something Earl did not dare to touch with his friend, on principle because it wasn’t technically his place to do so, but Abby’s. She had been, after all, the one who had given permission to perform the treatment on her brother and also…other stuff. The truth was Earl wasn’t coward by any means but he couldn’t deny his inability to tell Cecil the truth, knowing what effect this one would have on him.

Among the things he could remember in his life, was a vivid image of Cecil. Cecil crying, Cecil suffering, Cecil wiping away his tears as if it was no big deal… The night he found his friend on the street, bawling about his misfortune in love, Earl made a decision: he would never be the one responsible for that sullen expression on his friend’s face and if that implied being stuck harboring a bunch of secrets for the rest of his life, then, so be it.

After Carlos came back, a few months after that particular incident, things had been not better but steady in a way. Earl got to know his wife, who still barely talked to him and sent weird looks on his way every time he as much as tries to touch her, and Roger, his son whose relationship with him was slowly but surely getting better.

As for Cecil, he and Carlos made up, as was expected. Last Thanksgiving day, they even invited him and Roger to spend the day with their family. As much as it pained him to admit it, Earl could see the connection between the two clear as the day. Cecil was happy, and Earl would be damned if he ruined his friend’s happiness over pure pettiness.

And so, the secret’s of their past stayed with him. He still pushed now and then to see if he could prompt a memory out of Cecil but for the most part, he let his friend be. It was a good system, and thanks to it, he hadn’t thought of the particular memory he was trying to avoid in months.

Images of him and Cecil as children had been pushed aside for other more urgent things, like Cecil’s way of smiling fondly now as an adult whenever he talked about his boyfriend or the way Janice and Roger seemed to get along so well during the last Thanksgiving. Overall, Earl was just happy he could be part of Cecil’s life again and he could finally bury those memories on a dark corner where they belonged.

Now though, he had a problem. Now he was looking straight at a report that was evidence of what happened, evidence of his own lies.

His mouth went dry as he scanned the page. Everything was there, or well, almost. Saying they omitted how severe Cecil’s injuries had been at the time was an understatement, they didn’t even mention them further than establishing Cecil had been a victim. Earl supposed ignoring the fact the future Voice of Night Vale had temporarily been mute was the government’s way of dealing with the situation.

They also omitted the fact that more than half of the population’s memory had been wiped just like theirs. Well, not exactly like theirs but close. Only those who were listening to Leonard Burton’s show that night and caught the name of the murderer as he pronounced it live on the radio… Earl had been fortunate enough that the attacker had left him unconscious at the time The Voice had decided to manifest itself on young Cecil’s body.

Still, it left a sour flavor in his mouth never been able to put a name in the monster that scarred him and his friend all those years ago. He never saw the point of asking Cecil at the time since with the re-education and all it would’ve been nothing short of useless. But now…

“You remember,” Cecil’s baritone carried over in the chilly wind. He wasn’t questioning him but affirming what he knew, what he realized at that moment.

Earl didn’t know what gave him away. It may have been how his whole posture had been oddly relaxed during the whole thing or how his eyes widened in recognition, it didn’t matter. Cecil was looking at him with big desperate eyes, almost begging him to contradict him, but he couldn’t, not now when all his omissions were displayed so brightly in front of him. Not now that he’d broken the promise he made to himself all those months ago.

When he finally found the courage to speak, he found he couldn’t look at his friend in the eye.

“I’m sorry, Cecil.”

It wasn’t a confirmation per se, but it felt like it. His own words felt bitter in his tongue as if he was admitting to a crime he had committed years ago, in a way, he supposed he was… He, although inadvertently, had taken from Cecil the opportunity to know the truth, and the way his friend’s gaze felt on his shoulders was a worse punishment than all the re-education he could ever endure.

He looked up to meet Cecil’s eyes and had to cast them down immediately. His friend didn’t appear sad like that night when Carlos wasn’t there, or even angry like when he ranted about Steve Carlsberg. No, there was something beyond in Cecil’s eyes, he was hurt, betrayed. Somehow, Earl’s actions had managed to tip him off to a point where he couldn’t even trust his best friend…

God, he had really fucked up.

“Why?” Cecil sounded weak; Earl almost broke completely at the sound.

He was trying to find the words within him to explain, to try and make Cecil understand even though he knew his friend had the right to be mad at that moment. He had almost succeeded when a sudden beep came from the front pocket of his trousers.

The tension rose almost instantly as he pulled out his phone and checked it. When he read the text on the small screen he cursed under his breath.

“I – I gotta get back to work,” it was the truth, very conveniently so but truth nonetheless. “I’m sorry Cecil, I really am, but I have to go.”

“Earl…” Cecil started but was cut off by a voice on Earl’s side.

“Are you serious? Are you just gonna go like that? The least you owe him is an explanation on why you hid this from him.”

Earl’s head wiped so hard that he was surprised he didn’t break his neck.

He had noticed the interlopers upon his arrival, it was kind of hard not to. The tallest one was standing close to Cecil and Carlos and had been clearly having a conversation with them when he got out of the restaurant. The other two were a little further back, near a slick black car that Earl had never seen in the city.

Carlos said they had come with them and one the guys near the car stepped up and gave him the phone with the picture already showing before returning to his position next to the one with the trench coat. At first, Earl hadn’t thought much of them, but now…

Cellphone Guy was the one who spoke up and Earl was more than a little surprised. In fact, everyone was.

The guy was an interloper, so it was improbable Earl had seen him before. Still, he spoke so indignantly about the situation and… ok, yeah, Earl could see how he had that one coming… However, there was something about his posture, the way he carried himself that spark a sense of uneasiness on Earl.

He gave the guy one long glance over and he stopped in his torso.

The jacket…  It looked familiar… It made Earl remember something that was beyond words. How did these guys know Cecil and Carlos, anyway?

He decided at that moment he didn’t trust the guy but he had a point: he owed Cecil an explanation at the very least.

With a defeated sigh, Earl turned to face his old friend once more, offering what little he could.

“The restaurant closes in about forty minutes. Just wait until the last patron leaves and go in, I’ll tell the chef I’ll be closing today. I promise I’ll explain everything as well as I can.”

Cecil was still looking at him as if he had kicked him, but his features seemed to soften a little as he considered his answer. He glanced over at Carlos as if asking for a confirmation and only received a small encouraging smile from the scientist. Not a nod or a shake, but a smile. Although this seemed to be enough for Cecil as he returned his gaze at Earl and gave him a soft nod.

Earl returned the gesture, although with even less enthusiasm than his friend. He glanced over at the interlopers with a question hanging from his lips.

“They stay with us,” this time it was Carlos who spoke up.

“I wasn’t…” Earl had to cut himself. He was going to say something to them, even if he wasn’t sure what.

He shut his mouth and gave the scientist a firm nod.

“Very well, I’ll see all of you in forty minutes,” he said and turned to leave.

He started walking to the restaurant without letting space for anyone else to comment on what just happened. There would be time for all of that later.

When he reached the door he stopped and considered apologizing to Cecil once again, even though he knew all the apologies in the world wouldn’t be enough for his friend. He glanced over his shoulder and found an image that was awfully familiar to him.

Cecil was clinging at his boyfriend’s neck as if trying desperately to melt into one. Carlos, for his part, was caressing Cecil's head and whispering something inaudible on the radio host’s ear. He didn’t get to see what the interlopers’ reactions to the scene were and he couldn’t bring himself to even care.

He entered the restaurant and shut the door with more force than strictly necessary. And if a few patrons turned to look at him as if he’d gone mad, well, that was none of his business.

Chapter Text

The restaurant, which Dean had been told is called Tourniquette, was nice. A bit too fancy for his own taste but he could see why was the restaurant was popular in the city. On other circumstances, he might have felt the desire to make fun of it to hide how utterly out of place he felt with his dirty boots and old leather jacket.

Today was not a usual day, tho, even by Winchester standards.

After the last patron left, they made their way inside and settled on one of the tables near the kitchen. Supposedly Earl Harlan was there cleaning up the kitchen before joining them. He was also probably planning how the fuck he was going to explain how the fuck he remembered being attacked and never told Cecil.

Speaking of which…

“How are you, man?” Dean directed his question at the radio host who, was currently crunched over the table and looked at the verge of a panic attack. “I mean, I know you are not fine, but how are bearing not being fine?”

Cecil looked up at him. At some point in the night, he had passed from silent crying to complete disassociation. His eyes were vacant as he stared at the hunter through his glasses and when he spoke, it was a softness that denoted a deep hurt within him.

“I honestly don’t know. I – I guess I should’ve known, but I didn’t. Earl and I had been friends since forever and it didn’t even occur to me that he knew more than me. I mean, ever since he came back as an adult he had been more… insistent about some stuff of our past but… I assumed he was just about as lost as me. Evidently, I was wrong.”

“Came back as an adult?” Sam questioned from Dean’s left.

Dean resisted the urge to kick his brother under the table. After all, he also kinda wanted to know what the radio host meant with that. Meanwhile, Cas was sending them disapproving looks from his position at Dean’s right, as if he knew what they both were thinking. Knowing the angel, he probably did.

“It’s a long story,” Carlos chimed in, sparing his boyfriend the explanation. “Basically, he used to be eternally on a nineteen-year-old body until these mute children kidnapped him and then he was no longer nineteen years old because… Night Vale?”

As the scientist talked, he seemed to realize how little sense he was making. He took off his glasses and made a vague gesture that Dean concluded it meant ‘I don’t even know.’

“Look, it’s late and I’m tired. I don’t think I could even science if I wanted to,” before Carlos could finish explaining, a light chuckle was heard from Cecil at his side. The scientist looked at him as if he had gone mad. “What?”

“Nothing,” Cecil said with the barest hint of a smile. “It’s just I’ve never heard you said you don’t want to do science.”

“Huh… I guess you’re right,” Carlos mused. “Don’t get used to it, though. I didn’t drink my coffee this morning, it’s probably that. I just don’t have enough caffeine in my system to think at this hour.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“Yours, truly, if you had woken up earlier…”

Cecil’s tired laugh cut him off but Carlos didn’t seem to mind. He was smiling cheekily at his boyfriend and the radio host, for his part, was smiling for the first time since they showed him the case file. For the smallest fraction of a moment he seemed to forget what they were in the restaurant for, and then he stopped and looked at his surroundings as if he’d noticed them for the first time.

In a second the tension that had somewhat dissipated with the two guys light flirting, came back in a rush as everyone paused and stared at Cecil as if he were to break at any second. To everyone’s surprised he just chuckled again and turned back at Carlos.

“You know how long I’ve been trying to get a reservation here?”

“Last time, you told me we could go on a date here on about three years,” Carlos retorted, not really answering Cecil’s question.

“Yes, and that was after I asked Earl to move influences for me. That was like two months ago.”

Carlos paused, doing imaginary calculus on his head and his mouth gaping like a fish out of water. Finally, he asked with a hint of emotion in his voice.

“You mean?”

“Yeah… when he told me he couldn’t get a table in here for our anniversary I was disappointed, to say the least, but things turned out ok.”

“We made that picnic outside of the town limits and somehow you convinced me to stay there and sleep in the car,” Carlos reminisced with a smile.

“I admit it was not my best idea, but what followed was good…”

Dean had to clear his throat loudly to remind the lovebirds that they were not, in fact, alone in the restaurant. As… endearing… the flirting was, there were some details Dean really didn’t need to know and he was sure whatever happened on that car was one of them.

They still looked tired beyond words and Cecil’s eyes were still wide and puffy, but at least he didn’t look like he was going to break down at any given moment. For a moment, it was obvious for Cecil only existed Carlos and vice versa. For a moment they were happy on their little bubble and Dean almost resented being the one to break it for them.

The couple blushed as they looked at the rest of the presents on the table but kept smiling nonetheless and joined their hands over the table. They seemed to have a silent conversation and then turned to look at them with a sliver of determination for the first time that night.

“I don’t think I ever answered your question,” he said to Dean. “You know, about dealing with being un-fine.”

“Oh,” Dean responded eloquently. “You, um, you don’t have to…”

“No, it’s ok,” Cecil said as he scanned a hand through his hair. At some point of the night his hair had fallen on his forehead and now with the hand gesture, the radio host pushed it back allowing his third eye to look straight at the hunter as he talked. “As you said I’m not fine but for now, I don’t need to. I’ll find a way to be fine, it’s what we do in this town.”

He squeezed Carlos hand as he said this. Dean had to give it to the guy; he wasn’t pretending to be ok or stable by any means. He was still a walking time bomb but at the very least he recognized that and he was actually willing to work with that.

It was in that moment Dean recognized how truly different Cecil Palmer was from him. Not because he had tentacles, or a third eye, or sentient tattoos, but because how he chose to deal with his issues. He was head-on, even if a little resigned, and Dean was sure that if it had been him in Cecil’s place, he would’ve already drowned his sorrows in the nearest bar…

“For all it’s worth,” Cecil continued, “I know this is my mess and I’m sorry I brought all of you into it.”

“Cecil, this is not your mess and in any case, we’re happy to help,” Castiel spoke for the first time, sending a weird look on the brother’s direction. Oh, right.

“Yeah, he’s right dude,” Dean hurried to say. “In any case, we should apologize.”

“Really?” Cecil responded with a raised eyebrow. Ok, Dean supposed that was fair.

This should’ve been the moment he truly apologized for everything he had said up until that moment. However, since he was Dean Winchester, what came out of his mouth was:

“Yeah, I mean shit follows us wherever I go. Like, I’m pretty sure things are automatically ninety percent worse as soon as a Winchester is involved.”

It wasn’t the better thing to say, by far, but it seemed to work as Cecil emanated a small smile in his direction.

“You underestimate Night Vale’s ability to bring shit to itself,” at Cecil’s swear Carlos gave a small, clearly exaggerated, gasp and the radio host turned to take a look at him. “What?”

“Nothing,” Carlos said with a small smirk. “I can’t remember hearing you swear in public before.”

“Well, don’t get used to it,” Cecil responded with a smirk.

“Oh, get a room you two,” Dean said in a teasing tone. Somehow it seemed natural to make jokes at that moment and neither Cecil nor Carlos took the comment with bitterness. Instead, they both laughed and shared a smile that made them look like accomplices on an inner joke.

Their laughs seemed to lift the mood of the table again and soon both of the brothers was laughing with them and even Cas gave a small chuckle.

For an instant, everything was good until Earl Harlan entered the room through the kitchen’s door.

*

Earl was used to feeling like a stranger, a stranger with his friends, with his family and even a stranger in his own body. Going from nineteen to thirty in a few months would do that to you. But he had never felt more like a stranger than the moment he entered the Tourniquette’s big dining room and found his childhood best friend laughing with his boyfriend and the most recent interlopers on town.

He wasn’t sure when he had been relegated to be a secondary character in his friend’s life. Nevertheless, he had promised Cecil something and he was determined to go through with it.

As soon as he entered the room, the emotion seemed to be sucked out of it. He made his way to the table where the visitors were sitting and presented himself with all the professionalism he was allowing himself to show.

“I believe I didn’t make the best first impression. My name’s Earl Harlan, I work here as sues chef and I’ve been friends with Cecil since we were children.”

As he said this he extended his hand to the guy that gave him the phone outside the restaurant and he shook it with hesitance. The guy introduced himself as Dean, and the tall guy beside him as his brother, Sam. The other interloper presented himself as Castiel, an Erika with a human appearance. Earl had a vague memory of Cecil introducing them years ago before Erika had a vessel.

“Well, I suppose there’s no getting back now,” he said half to himself as he sat down at the table and faced his probably now ex-best friend. “You sure you wanna do this?”

Earl observed Cecil’s apple bobbed on his throat as he gave a very visible swallow. Nonetheless, his friend nodded firmly and bored his purple irises into Earl’s own.

“Very well.”

And so, Earl launched himself into an explanation on what happened that day.

He recounted how they were in a part of the old Night Vale withering forest (not to be confused with the Whispering Forest) when everything happened. It was on the outskirts of the town and the scouts used to go there sometimes for camping. However, as the government’s policies grew more severe they decided to ban the place for reasons of safety that totally didn’t have to do with a party bunker in the middle of it.

Cecil and Earl must’ve been fifteen at the time of the incident. It had been an early morning after a particularly nasty fight with his sister and they had gone there looking for a place to talk away from the city. And so they talked for hours about various things. Cecil’s mom, Abby, how Cecil had just recently gotten his tentacles and was static to show them to Earl…

“Wait, hold on,” Cecil interrupted as Earl began the story. “I’ve been having these for as long as I can remember,” he signaled the appendices coming out of his back. “How is it that I just showed them to you then?”

Earl grimaced, thinking of the best way to break this to his friend.

“Cecil, I think maybe that’s part of the memories they changed during your re-education. I honestly can’t remember you having them before that day.”

He saw the hurt slowly clouding his friend’s face only to disappear a second later. Cecil looked like he’d been slapped but chose to ultimately nod and make a gesture for him to continue. Earl took a deep breath and decided to rip the band-aid off at once.

He described how they heard a noise and decided to investigate. Cecil was, after all, gonna be a reporter for the city and Earl himself was the top scout of their troop, it was their duty or so it seemed. And then everything happened so fast.

The man who attacked them was about six foot tall, strong, strong enough to almost choke Cecil at least. With dark hair and eyes that were soulless as he took Earl by the collar and slammed him into a tree the moment he tried to defend Cecil.

Earl didn’t notice he had been crying until he felt his tears hitting his arm as he subconsciously reached for the place a bullet grazed him on his right forearm. He once thought the scar had been from a fall on his bicycle, now he knew there had never been such a thing.

He shook his head and wiped his tears away quickly. He didn’t deserve empathy from any of the presents and much less wanted it.

When his hands returned to the table Earl felt a small pressure on his wrist. Cecil had taken his hand off his boyfriend as was looking at Earl with a sense of understanding. Whether they wanted it or not they had been together that day and now they had to deal with it however they could.

Finally, Earl took a deep breath and finished his story. He recounted how he lost consciousness after being slammed by the man, and woke up only to be escorted out of the woods by a member of the Sheriff’s Police while they explained him with detail the ins and outs of re-education. And finally how he didn’t see Cecil for days until the day the process was executed. At the end, Earl wasn’t crying anymore, he felt numb as if his entire body had been covered in ice.

He hadn’t realized how much the story had weighed on him until he was finally able to let it out and now he was stuck with a gaping hole in his chest that sucked the energy out of him.

“So, is that it?” the interloper, Dean, spoke. “I’m sorry man, but that’s barely more than what the report gave us in the first place.”

“Dean, leave him alone,” the other brother interrupted. “The guy already gave us a description, is more than we had this morning.”

“Yeah, I guess that should work for something,” Dean agreed somewhat begrudgingly. “Still, I guess I expected more, something that would get us some kind of clue on what to look for next. Dark hair and brown eyes are something but still not enough to rule a considerable amount of people out of the equation.”

Earl frowned as he considered his next words carefully. He turned to look at the interloper and asked in the most casual tone he could muster.

“Where did you get that jacket?”

The shorter brother sent him a funny look before glancing down at his piece of clothing.

“This one?”

“Yes.”

“Dunno, maybe a hand me down…. or a thrift shop?” he said while taking the lapels in his hands nervously, avoiding Earl’s sight. “I don’t really remember. Our line of work doesn’t precisely allow fancy suits or anything, you know?”

“And what was your line of work, again?”

The guy shut his mouth abruptly and avoided his gaze quickly. Earl was about to make a remark over this when Carlos declared in place of the guy.

“They are scientists,” he said. “They were sent from my bosses outside of Night Vale.”

“And what does science have to do with this?”

“What does a jacket?” Carlos retorted with a small shrug that would’ve looked meaningless if it weren’t for the circumstances.

Earl knew what it meant and was forced to explain after exhaling languidly.

“The man who attacked us that night had a jacket just like that one,” he explained.

A strange sort of silence fell upon all of them. It was heavy and oppressing, the kind that barely left you enough room to breathe. Carlos was surprisingly calm as he looked at Earl earnestly.

“There are tons of jackets like that one. Can you be sure it’s that exact one?”

He paused to consider his answer and finally had to shake his head.

“You’re right, I can’t be sure but I’m only telling you what I remember. After the attack, the murders stopped and the police left the case unsolved.”

“Yeah, we already got that,” Sam chimed in, to no one in particular.

Meanwhile, Cecil had become rigid in his seat and was decidedly avoiding Earl’s gaze. At some point, his hand had left Earl’s wrist and was now trembling slightly over the table.

“Cecil, I’m sorry,” Earl said this and he meant it.

His friend looked up at him and his eyes were starting to well up with tears, again. He had always been the more sensitive one of the two.

“Why?” he asked. “Why hide this for more than twenty years? Why didn’t you think I deserved to know?”

“Because I didn’t know, Cecil,” Earl answered calmly. “At least I didn’t at first. It was only after those mute children kidnapped me and I came back as an adult the memories came back.”

“And after that?”

Earl sighed. There was really no avoiding this.

“After that, there was that year. You know which one I’m talking about.”

Cecil tensed and so did Carlos beside him. They both knew which year Earl was talking about and neither of them addressed it further than a soft nod of their heads.

“I thought I was sparing you more pain,” Earl continued. “And then things went back to normal and you were happy. I couldn’t take that from you, Cecil.”

He was almost begging at this point but he didn’t care. Not when Cecil was still looking at him like that. After a long pause, his friend swallowed and looked away, as if Earl’s eyes were burning him, and spoke.

“I think we should go now. Earl already told us everything he knows.”

“Cecil…” Earl tried to convince him to stay but stopped himself. He had no right to ask Cecil anything.

“Wait, Cecil, maybe we can work with this,” the younger Winchester tried to argue. “Maybe we can try and trigger some memories between the two of you.”

“He already has the memories. I’ve heard them and I can’t remember a thing.”

“Maybe if we go through the story again…”

“Sam, leave it at that…”

“This is important; there are lives in danger…”

“This is not your choice to make.”

“Is not yours either, dude, I’m just saying…”

“Lay off Carlos, Sammy.”

“Shut up, Dean.”

“Would the two of you calm down?”

“I agree with the Erika.”

“Shut it Cas, and you too Harlan.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

“Everyone shut up!”

The room felt in silence again, this time not by their own wills. Earl felt as if his tongue had gone numb on his mouth and his jaw was set firmly in place. Earl had seen Cecil use the Voice before, but it had been a while since he used it on him.

Cecil's hands flew rapidly over his mouth as if he could try and swallow his own words. His eyes passed on every person at the room and they were all staring at him in horrified confusion.

“I – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry,” he drawled a deep breath a spoke with gentle deliberation. “You can talk.

The two brothers went immediately to move their mouths as if that could get the strange feeling out. Earl knew from experience that wasn’t the case.

After that, the elder brother looked at Cecil accusatorily while pointing a finger at him.

“What the fuck was that?”

Cecil shook his head as if trying to dissipate the recent event out of his mind. When that didn’t work, he faced the rest of the group and spoke.

“I – I’ll be in the car,” he excused himself before hurrying out of the restaurant.

Everyone else stayed there, no one really knowing how to proceed from there.

“To answer your question,” Earl finally found the words to say. “That was The Voice of Night Vale.”

Chapter Text

Cecil was startled by a slight tapping on the window of his car. When we whipped his head on the noise’s direction he expected to see the angry face of Dean Winchester glaring at him accusatorily. Instead, he found Carlos staring with big eyes full of an emotion Cecil couldn’t quite decipher through two layers of glass. He almost preferred that it had been Winchester.

“Can I come in?” the scientist asked as if he hadn’t driven the car all the way to the restaurant.

Cecil gave a shaky nod and scooted over to the passenger seat so his boyfriend could take his place behind the wheel. When Carlos entered and shut the door behind him, the tension spiked to the point Cecil felt like moving a muscle would cause a spark to happen.

He looked down at his hands in an attempt to avoid his boyfriend’s gaze and noticed even his tattoos had become still. It felt odd not having the ink move and swirl around his skin but it didn’t particularly bother him. There were other things he was more worried about at the moment.

“I’m sorry,” Cecil finally said. “I know you don’t like it when the voice comes out, it was an accident. You know I would never do it to you on purpose. I... I panicked, everyone was yelling and…”

“Cecil, I know,” Carlos reassured him. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s never pleasant when you do that, but I can’t blame you. You are tired, we all are. And I know you tend to, you know, being less in control when that happens.”

Cecil sighed and rubbed a hand on his face. ‘Less in control,’ that was a way to put it.

“Nobody blames you for what happened, Cecil,” Carlos continued and Cecil had to suppress a snort.

“I don’t think the Winchesters would agree with you on that.”

There was a bit of silence before Carlos spoke again. He took Cecil’s hand on his own and talked softly.

“Cecil, what happened?”

What happened to make him lose control? Carlos didn’t say it but Cecil knew it.

“I thought I could take whatever Earl had to say,” he answered honestly before turning to look at his boyfriend. “And I lied, Sam was right.”

“Huh?”

“I did remember something when Earl was telling us what happened,” he confessed with a soft voice. “I remember fighting with Abby the night before.”

“Are you sure?” Carlos asked cautiously, unconscious of the weight his words carried.

In a way, it felt as even Carlos doubted Cecil’s grip in reality and to be fair, he probably had every right to do so. 

The rational part of Cecil’s brain was rationalizing that the scientist probably made this question out of worry towards him, just so he wouldn’t give himself false hope. It was the same part that was sure of his memories and that somehow, in the midst of everything that was going on in his mind, managed to keep talking despite the ache in his chest.

“I guess it could’ve been any other fight we had. Abby and I fought a lot back then and I can’t even remember what we were fighting about. But… there’s just something telling me this fight in particular was important. I really believe it was the one we had just before the attack.”

Cecil chanced a glance towards Carlos, seeing his boyfriend was nodding encouragingly at him. That small action gave Cecil enough impulse to go on with his discourse. 

“I also remember the sound we heard in the forest, it was a shotgun. Or at least I think it was. I can’t remember the man’s face but I remember the fear. I… think I tried to use the voice on him but it didn’t work. I was helpless… and so was Earl. We were fifteen years old…”

“Cecil, its fine if you…”

“God, we were so young,” Cecil continued, immersed in his own thoughts. “We were barely older than Janice. I can’t imagine –.”

“Cecil it’s ok,” Carlos interrupted him, effectively pulling him out off of his mind. “You don’t have to tell me. I get it.”

“I know,” Cecil said and swallowed a bit before continuing, “but we’re together and I love you. And I don’t want to keep this in silence but I couldn’t – I couldn’t say this there, in front of everyone. Does that make me a coward?”

“It makes you human,” Carlos answered simply and waited a bit before he kept on talking. “Cecil, I love you too. And just like you said we’re together in this, that’s why I want you to understand that you don’t have to go through this alone. Sam was right, there are lives in danger but it won’t do any good for the city if you lose yourself solving the case. Night Vale needs you and... so do I. So, please, promise me you will tell me if something’s wrong.”

Cecil opened his mouth but no sound came from it. Carlos was worried, that much he could tell. This was no regular investigation were he could get away with a few broken bones. It was just the first day and his brain already felt like it had been battered in his head. For the first time, Cecil understood how serious this case was for the city and for himself.

“I promise I’ll tell you if everything gets to be too much for me. For now, I just needed some time for myself to think about everything. I’m better now, I mean not better but just… better. I just…” he had to pause himself before proceeding. When the words came out, they tasted like lead in his mouth. “I thought of Janice.”

“Janice? What about her?”

“How can we know someone won’t go after her? Just like they did so with me? She’s too young to go through that and I can’t –” he shuddered at the prospect of what he was saying but continued nonetheless. “I can’t protect her if I’m like this. I can’t do anything for the city if I’m like this.”

He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He was sure the only reason he hadn’t shed a tear during the whole exchange was that he cried himself dry before. He felt a small pressure on his shoulder and when he looked up he saw Carlos rubbing small circles with his thumb. The touch felt oddly intimate and Cecil allowed it without thinking.

You don’t have to do anything. We are gonna do this together and we’ll make sure that neither Janice nor anyone else in the city goes through what you did. I promise you, Cecil, we’ll come through this.”

Carlos took his hand off his shoulder and found his way into Cecil’s face, cradling it like it was a treasure. With a tentative nod, the scientist asked for permission of something only the two of them knew and Cecil responded by leaning in gently and pushing his lips into Carlos’ own. It wasn’t a passionate kiss of the kind you imagine for a couple in love. It was short, sweet and it lasted entirely too little, and it was theirs.

When their lips separated, Cecil rested his head on Carlos’ shoulder and inhaled deeply. He was at peace.

“Cecil?”

“Hm?”

“Were you and Earl ever… you know… like, something?”

“Are you jealous?” Cecil responded with a light chuckle as he detangled himself from Carlos to look at his lover’s face.

“No, I’m curious,” the scientist responded honestly. “The Winchesters asked me and I didn’t know what to say.”

Cecil chuckled and took both of Carlos' hands into his own and guided them gently towards his chest.

“I’ve had some relationships in the past. Earl Harlan was not among them,” he said. “Even if he was it wouldn’t have lasted. He was never someone I could imagine spending my life with, partly because he was stuck in a nineteen-year-old body at the time, but…”

Carlos took his hands away from Cecil just to give his boyfriend a playful slap on the shoulder. Soon they were both laughing, releasing the tension of the past few hours.

“And how about me?”

“How about you?”

“Can you imagine spending your life with me?”

“You know I do.”

Some people (namely his sister) had told Cecil he could change moods way too quickly for people’s liking (she also told him he should’ve laid off caffeine years ago, but he chose to ignore that). He didn’t know if that was true but he never felt that way with Carlos. Everything about him felt natural and just generally nice. It was a kind of calmness that Cecil welcomed happily on his life, no matter the circumstances.

Carlos seemed to weigh on his words for a moment while fiddling with the pocket of his coat. His face scrunched as if the scientist was trying to solve a particularly tricky question before finally, smiling with resolution, almost to himself. He stopped his movement and turn slowly towards Cecil

“That’s… good to know.”

Cecil felt the necessity of saying something but ultimately decided against it.

They stayed like that together in silence for a short while, before the Winchesters arrived with their first real lead for the case.

*

“So that’s what the voice is. It’s uh… it’s cool.”

“Not the word I would use Sammy.”

After Carlos left to calm Cecil down, Earl Harlan had given them the explanation on what they came looking for the first day. What could Cecil do? As it turned out, they got to experience Cecil’s powers for themselves and, at least from Dean’s perspective, found out how utterly uncomfortable they were.

As soon as Cecil uttered the words it was like his mind had gone blank. He had wanted to obey him, to please him and that thought made an ugly feeling revolt on his stomach.

Now more than ever he could say that no one should have the kind of power Cecil did, no matter how nice the guy was.

“I don't think he did on purpose,” Earl said as if he hadn’t spent the last five minutes rubbing his mouth. “He was under a lot of pressure and he's usually great at controlling that sort of thing.”

“Good for him. Still not an excuse for using us as freaking puppets…”

“Dean, don’t be like that,” Cas said softly behind him. Easy for him to say, seeing as he was the only one who couldn’t be controlled by the radio host. “Cecil’s emotions are tied to him; it makes sense that he wouldn’t be able to repress himself after a day like this. I’m actually impressed by how long he was able to suppress his powers, he’s getting better.”

“Don’t tell…”

“C’mon Dean,” now it was Sammy who talked. “Give the guy break. If what they say it’s true, we can’t really blame him for cracking a little. It was... actually less horrifying than I expected.”

“That’s probably because that was only a fraction of what Cecil can do,” Earl intervened again. “We are lucky he only asked us to shut up.”

“Again, lucky ain’t exactly a word I’d use for this case.”

Earl frowned but didn’t respond anything.

He was glaring at Dean the same way he did when he inquired about his father’s jacket. Dean had known where the clothing article had come from of course but somehow, he felt before admitting that out loud, he ought to have a talk with Sam and Cas about it, along with whatever hallucination he had at the city hall. He put a mental pin on that and resolved to take this case one internal crisis at the time.

A renewed silence fell upon them. This time it felt somewhat heavier, even more so than the one provoked by Cecil. Dean pondered on this as he shifted his weight awkwardly from one foot to another. After the whole thing with Cecil, he had to get up from the table just to make sure the radio host’s juju hadn’t affected anything further than his mouth.

“You think Carlos’ done with Cecil yet?”

“I don’t know,” his brother answered. “Cecil looked pretty bad when he left and it’s only been a few minutes.”

“I would wait for a little more if I were you,” Earl inputted from his place. “I know Cecil, he’ll want some privacy before facing you.”

Dean hummed in acknowledgment, although he wasn’t sure to what extent should he trust the guy on this one. He did know Earl and Cecil went way back but a part of him still wondered how far…

Looking at the guy he could tell that if Cecil had really dated him, the radio host went with his complete opposite with Carlos. Earl was tall, not as tall as him or Sam but definitely taller than Cecil, with a gruff complexion that showed off years of manual labor. The guy said he used to be a scoutmaster and Dean had no intention of doubting his word.

Still, there was something off about the way he acted around Cecil like he was restraining himself. It might've had to do with the secrets he was hiding from his friend… or something else.

“So, you and Cecil, huh?” Dean asked in the most casual tone he could muster. Sam sent him a questioning look but he could see his younger brother was as curious as himself.

“Uh, yeah,” Earl said rubbing the back of his head. “Since we were kids he has been my best friend… or at least he used to be. We had a falling out the last couple of years.”

“Why was that?” the chef threw him a questioning glance and Dean raised his hands in mock surrender. “I’m trying to make conversation, man. You were the one who said we should wait before going after the lovebirds. If you want to we can go back to weird uncomfortable silence.”

Earl winced slightly when at the words ‘lovebirds’ and shook his head before speaking.

“No, it’s ok I guess. It’s just I’m not really sure how to answer your question. We grew up, I guess. We changed. Cecil had his career on the radio and I had my troop. There really isn’t much to say there.”

“Right, so, you guys never…” Dean started asking but stopped himself, feeling something like shame curl on his stomach. It really wasn’t his place to ask but Earl was already raising an eyebrow at him in question.

“We never what?”

Oh well, too late to back off now.

“You know, you never got together. As in more than friends…”

“Dean!” Sam and Cas chastised him but it was too late and the words had already come out of his mouth.

Earl looked like a weird mix of mortification and righteous answer. Dean started to go back on his question when the other man raised a hand on his direction and started explaining.

“Cecil and I are good friends, nothing more. And yes, there were times where something could’ve grown there when we were children, but it didn’t. And even if it had, it’s none of your business.”

“No, I know. I’m sorry, man.”

They went back to the silence when another thought crossed Dean’s mind. He already knew he was on Earl’s blacklist (just like with every other resident of the town) so he decided that another question wouldn’t hurt but still, he had to proceed with caution.

“Can I ask something else?”

Earl exhaled long and deep, and Dean got the impression the guy was doing everything in his power to not get up and punch him in the face. Dean appreciated the effort.

“That depends on what are you asking?”

“You said we only saw a fraction of Cecil’s power. Is there anything else he can do? I mean, we know he gets these weird visions and we were thinking that maybe if we triggered him…”

“I’m going to stop you right there,” Earl interrupted him. “I’m not going to pretend to know how The Voice works, but I know straining it can’t be any good. Cecil has been training himself his whole life since he found out he was gonna be the next voice of Night Vale. If someone knows his limits it’s him…”

“Wait, hold on,” Sam chimed in. “What do you mean the next voice of Night Vale? Is it a title you pass? Was there someone before him?”

“As I said, I don’t know how it works, exactly. When we were children it was prophesized by the city itself that he was going to be the next Voice of Night Vale.”

“And his predecessor?”

“Leonard Burton,” Earl answered. “He was The Voice before Cecil took his place.”

“I remember him” Castiel commented. “He worked on the radio at the time Cecil got in as an intern. It took a while before Cecil got to have complete control of the show.”

“What happened?” Dean asked already fearing the answer.

“He retired to spend time with his family and died a few years after Cecil took over,” Earl explained. “His spirit shows up from time to time when Cecil can’t make the show.”

“And is there a way to. I dunno, summon him or something?” Sam asked only to receive a curt shake of the head from Earl.

“Night Vale is the one who calls upon him, so unless you can control the city, it is doubtful.”

Dean cursed under his breath. It seemed like whatever direction they went with the case, they ended up in a wall.

“Why did you want to know?” Earl questioned as he lent in on the table and Dean noticed that the guy’s eyes were a deep, unnatural, red color. He supposed you had to have at least one weird detail on yourself to be part of the city.

“Cecil… wanted to put a name to the man who attacked him but he can’t reach it. I thought maybe if there was another psychic like him in the city he could help us out.”

Earl stared at him weirdly for a moment. They hadn’t told him about how the city may be facing a case similar to their own, nowadays. Dean concluded it wasn’t up to him to decide if the guy should know that information or not, he would have to talk Cecil and Carlos about that later.

Finally, after a bit of awkward silence, Earl shook his head looking sadly at the table.

“I don’t think Leonard would be able to help you even if you found him,” he paused and considered something before looking up again. There was something else in eyes then, a motivation that was lacking on the last few minutes. “Although, maybe you’re not as far off as you think.”

“What do you mean?”

Earl licked his lips and made another pause to think, determination dancing fervently in his eyes.

“Well, I was unconscious during the attack, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what Cecil did to survive but the authorities believed it had something to with the Voice. At first, they thought he had ordered the man to leave but he didn’t have much control of The Voice yet, to use on people for long periods of time. The other option was way more unorthodox but still a plausible. The Voice told Cecil something, possibly even the man’s name, and this was enough to get the guy freaked out and running.”

“That’s good,” Dean said. “Except that you heard Cecil, he doesn’t remember anything.”

“Maybe he doesn’t need to,” Castiel mused from his seat.

“So what other option we have?” Dean questioned, not quite convinced. “Summon the other guy? Burton?”

“No, of course not but,” Cas said, picking his words carefully. “But Leonard was The Voice before Cecil and he handled the show before him. If The Voice really was able to tell Cecil the name of the guy, maybe it worked the same for Leonard.”

“It did, or at least I think so,” Earl agreed quickly. “I remember the Sheriff’s Secret Police had to re-educate half of the population of Night Vale. Everyone who was listening to Burton’s show that day heard what happened. Maybe even the name.”

“So everyone’s as lost as Cecil, fantastic.”

“No, Dean, this is great,” Sam said triumphantly. “Earl can’t tell us what happened to Cecil during the attack, but maybe Leonard can.”

“We just established the dude’s dead Sam.”

“Yeah, but he described the attack on the radio, Dean?”

“So?”

“So…” Sam turned carefully to look at Earl, who was leaning in, seemingly invested on where Sam was going. “Remember when we arrived here? We went to see Cecil at the studio, and…”

“And we were attacked by an earth Kraken.”

“No, well, yes but also there was this door…”

“There were a bunch of doors, Sammy.”

“Dean…”

“The Station Archive?” Cas interrupted before the brothers could continue bickering.

“Yes, exactly,” Sam said enthusiastically. “Do you know what’s in there?”

“It holds the recordings of every Radio Show in Night Vale,” Cas explained. “It’s one of the only archives that are not a property of the government. They belong to the Radio Station and everyone working there.”

“So, if Leonard told everyone about the attack on the radio…” Dean started.

“The recording of that must be in there, somewhere,” Sam finished.

Dean felt like he could cry from happiness. They were actually making progress in the case.  For the first time, he felt like they could do this like they could really help the city.

“We have to tell Cecil and Carlos,” Cas said. “This may just what we needed…”

“To help Cecil?” Earl interrupted before the angel could reveal too much.

The trio exchanged looks, trying to decide what to tell him now and finally, it was Dean who spoke up first.

“Yeah, um, listen, thank you for your help. We’ll tell Cecil how much you helped us but now, we got to go. I’m sure you understand…”

“Wait,” Earl stopped them as they stood up to leave the restaurant. “I don’t know what you’re doing, or where did you get that file, or what does science has to do with all of this, but…” he paused and sighed, before gaining the courage to look at them. “Cecil’s my friend, I care about him. Whatever you have going on, you better make sure Cecil doesn’t come out harmed in any way…”

“Sure, man,” Dean said dismissively before turning to leave, only to be stopped again.

“I mean it,” Earl reiterated. “You take care of him, or you’ll deal with me.”

Something dark crossed over the man’s face and for a sliver of a moment, Dean felt like he was truly in danger. He decided that among the people who had threatened him and his brother over Cecil, Earl Harlan was high on the list.

“Believe me, man” Dean reassured him. “If something happens to Cecil, you’ll have to get in the line behind everyone else in the city.”

“Oh, I know,” Earl responded. “But not everyone in the city has a badge in archery and let me tell you, I still have my old bow and arrow somewhere in my garage.”

Dean waited a second before making a retort. He regretted his words as soon as they came out.

“No guns? After what you guys went through?”

Earl raised an eyebrow in what could either be defiance or confusion. Dean realized at that moment the guy had never mentioned a gun in his story.

“I have one, I made it for my reconstruction badge but I’m not an idiot,” Earl said as he stood up and headed to the kitchen. “Guns don’t kill people, everyone knows that.”

Chapter Text

“So, remind me again how is this going to help?” Cecil said as he rummaged through the boxes of The Station Archive.

The room, as it turned out, was comparatively smaller to the other ones at the radio station. Still, it seemed that every time Cecil, or Cas, or Dean moved a box, another one appeared to fill its place. It was as intriguing as it was annoying and Dean was really starting to lose patience with the radio host as he pilled box after box labeled ‘Leonard Burton ’with a permanent marker.

“Well,” Dean started to explain. “If what your friend said its true, this could be a big lead on the case. Whatever happened there could tell us who your killer was.”

“Let me reform my question,” Cecil replied without taking his eyes from the boxes before him. “How is this going to help now? Even if we find out who the killer was, we are no closer to find who is making the attacks nowadays.”

“It will help us look for suspects. Our guy might be someone related to the first guy, or at the very least someone who knew their modus operandi,” Dean said smugly. “I thought you were a reporter, aren’t you guys supposed to know these things.”

Cecil huffed and finally emerged with another box full of cassettes for their investigation.

“I know that it’s just…” he sighed and placed the box next to the other ones. “I’m not used to investigating my own life. It feels… wrong, somehow, like seeing myself through a mirror.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“It is when you spent your childhood listening how you were going to die because of a mirror.”

Dean didn’t have a response to that. So he just nodded in what he hoped was an understanding way. It wasn’t like he could exactly relate to being afraid of your own reflection (unless you counted that one time with the reaper who looked just like him) but Dean supposed that after night Cecil had yesterday, he might as well give the guy a win.

“So,” he said before they could get stuck in an uncomfortable silence. “How many of those boxes are left. I feel like we have enough to listen for days.”

“Must probably, you do,” Cecil commented offhandedly while looking through some more boxes. “Good news is, it seems that was the last box.”

He turned to face them again and Dean could note he had somehow remained free from dust after spending the last twenty minutes or so with his head up on some boxes that looked ancient as balls. The only signal of his recent activity was the way his hair now stuck on odd angles on his head and his crooked tie.

Dean was so busy pondering over this that he didn’t notice the stretched silence until he heard the muffled noise of the tapes moving around one of the boxes as Cas rummaged through it. The angel had one of those squinty concentrated looks on his face that meant he was thinking hard on something. (It also made him look kind of adorable, but Dean didn’t have time to dwell on that).

“None of these tapes have dates,” the angel said matter-of-factly.

“Well no,” Cecil winced. “I should also tell you now that I’m not sure how are they divided. You may find tapes with decades between them in the same box, for all I know.”

“What kind of organization system is that?” Dean questioned with a hint of annoyance. “How are we expected to find the tape we are looking for here?”

 “Listening to them, I guess,” Cecil said with a shrug of his shoulders because of course, he had a show to make and wasn’t about to spend the next day (or maybe even days), listening to old radio recordings. For once, Dean was actually jealous of the bastard.

“Whatever. Just saying, dude, you could find a better way of organizing this shit, you know?”

“Oh, I don’t organize this,” Cecil said. “I used to have my interns do that until that thing that happened with intern Valery… Anyway, I’m not even sure how these tapes are created, they just kind of generate spontaneously after every show.”

“Right,” Dean responded trying not to think too hard on what he heard.

He wondered briefly if it was worth it to ask Cecil to elaborate but shook the thought quickly out of his head. They had a long day ahead of them and couldn’t lose much time. Especially since the only pair of ears that were going to be listening to the damn things were his and Cas’, now that his brother decided he liked the lab a little too much.

Dean had a suspicion that it had more to do with a certain scientist that received them at the entrance along with Carlos, that morning when they left him at the lab. His hypothesis had proven to be true when she told them that something called Mama Seymour had missed Sam and his brother only smiled in the way Dean knew was just for show.

Dean concluded his brother was most certainly terrified of whatever Mama Seymour was, but was willing to pretend and look brave in front of the scientist lady. Dean had to make sure to remember that for later…

In the meantime, he and the angel were stuck listening to the old tapes in the tiny room of the station. Whatever, it was fine. It wasn’t like Sam was going to be much help anyway. They agreed yesterday that keeping a low profile was key and if the police found they were onto the case, the consequences would be dire.

Dean wasn’t sure what did that mean but he sure as hell wasn’t gonna find out.

For that reason, they were gonna go through the tapes on headphones. Cecil was pretty sure the radio station was one of the only places where the government didn’t have secret microphones on the walls but still, the risk was too big. Especially if considered the mental state of Cecil the previous day, the last thing the guy needed was the police coming to his workplace.

So, in conclusion, they only had two pairs of headphones so yeah. Either way one had to sit this one out and evidently, it was Sam who jumped at the possibility of avoiding the radio station. The jerk even refused after Carlos offered to buy some more headsets, arguing the scientists shouldn’t spend his money on them.

Sure. What-fucking-ever.

“I’ll be outside if you need anything,” Cecil said, interrupting Dean’s train of thought. “The show isn’t on for a few hours but I still have some notes to prepare for it. If you need anything you can ask Kareem. I trust you know how to use these things.”

As Cecil talked he pulled out the two small cassette players from one box and handed them over, headphones and all. They were old, with dust coloring the smallest bits, making it look like something that belonged on an old man’s house. No, that was wrong. An old man would use them from time to time, those things had a more of a place on a museum that wasn’t especially well preserved.

Dean lamented he hadn’t brought his own player to the city. To be fair, how was he supposed to know this was going to be the one time his music taste was gonna pay off?

They also considered using the player on the Impala but, as Dean discovered quickly, his baby’s slick black interior was the perfect place for a make-believe oven. Stupid desert.

Finally, he had to swallow his pride and allow Cecil to give him the players. They were old as balls and could break at any given second but Sam had been right when he told Carlos those things were expensive. Not to mention, really fucking hard to find nowadays even in a place like Night Vale.

“I’ve never seen one that old but I’ll manage,” the hunter said taking the devices from the radio host’s hands and passing one to the angel. “And you don’t have to worry about us so much, ya know? We’re not freaking babies.”

Cecil eyed him warily and Dean wondered briefly if he had said something wrong. He had noticed that the radio host’s demeanor had gotten better from last night but that wasn’t saying much. Also, he had a slight suspicion Cecil could be pretending for the sake of progressing on the investigation.

Upon a closer inspection, he noticed the deep bags under his eyes that were completely exposed without the frame of his glasses and his face was unshaven, giving the slightest hint of stubble that would grow harder to ignore given a few days. Seeing him like that gave Dean an idea of what Dana had told them about Cecil. About that year the guy had been a wreck… He was surprised at how that thought genuinely terrified him.

He had seen yesterday how Cecil could be affected by this whole thing and, more importantly, how that affected his powers. The guy could make anyone do his will by the sheer power of his voice and Dean knew very well how that alone was a questionable thing. However, Earl said Cecil’s powers were connected to his feelings and God knew what kind of choices people did while emotionally vulnerable. Dean could only speak from experience but, yeah, the general picture wasn’t that good.

It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Cecil… ok… maybe it was… a little.

In all honesty, he was working on that but there was a long way to go after yesterday’s incident. Dean had a general rule on being wary with people who could control minds, you know? And no, it wasn’t something he pulled out at the restaurant but that event had definitely been a nice reminder of the rule’s existence.

So, he was a little bit uneasy with Cecil’s appearance, yes. But, surprisingly, he was also worried about the guy.

He couldn’t imagine what could be going in his head after yesterday. They had practically ripped a part of Cecil’s life from him and the guy had taken it as well as you would expect. Dean couldn’t exactly blame him for his actions, but he also couldn’t down his guard around him.

While he was thinking all of this, he didn’t notice Cecil was speaking something that he didn’t quite hear.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat it? I was thinking of something else.”

Cecil gave him a questioning look though he didn’t make any comment on it. Instead, he limited himself to repeat what he had already said.

“I said that I trust you and I don’t want to put you in danger more than we already are. If Station Management finds that I’m not doing my job and that you have to do with that, things could get… messy. And that’s at best.”

“Are your bosses really that bad?”

“Only when they are angry, which is like eighty percent of the time I’m here, but what can you do, right?” he said dismissively with a shrug. “Besides, you already met them. I think that gives you a pretty good idea on how are they like.”

“Oh, right.”

Dean had almost forgotten that Cecil was employed by yet another supernatural being, that just so happened to attack him and his brother the night they arrived. He decided to change the topic quickly.

“Well, in any case, we should be ok ‘round here. Right, Cas?”

“Of course,” responded the angel before turning to Cecil. “If we find something we’ll let you know. For now, I think we should get starting with our task.”

Cecil nodded decisively and turned to leave without further comment, which honestly surprised Dean. Once he closed the door behind him, Dean made himself comfortable in the small stool on one corner of the room and set on to find the mechanics of the small device on his hand.

It was fairly simple, much like the one that rested comfortably on his bedside table back at the bunker. The main differences were the comparatively larger buttons and how these ones made a hollow click every time he pressed them.

“Cas could you pass me some of the tapes over here?”

He looked up and saw the angel carrying one of the boxes in his direction. There were seven in total, Dean noted, which left him wondering just how much they would have to listen to before finding what they were looking for. Perhaps they should revisit the idea of finding more cassette players later, just for the sake of doing this more quickly.

“I believe this should suffice for now. It is improbable we’ll get to finish all of these in one day.”

“You mean it is downright impossible?”

“I didn’t want to be too pessimistic, Dean.”

The hunter had to chuckle. He could notice the dry wit on the angel’s voice that so many people fail to recognize when talking with Castiel.

He put the tape inside the player and placed the headphones on his head while he observed the angel doing the same.

“Don’tcha wanna sit down, Cas?”

“I’m fine here, Dean.”

“I know Cas, but it makes me feel weird. Humans don’t usually like spending their time standing for no reason.”

“I’m not a human, Dean.”

“I know Cas. C’mon, just sit down over here.”

The angel looked around as if to find where the hunter was talking about.

“There’s no other stool here, Dean.”

“Use the floor, there’s plenty of that.”

“That would make me feel weird.”

Castiel huffed in indignation at this, while Dean rolled his eyes at the angel’s antics. Honestly, his friend could be as extra as him and his brother sometimes. Maybe they really were a bad influence on the angel.

“Whatever princess, see?” Dean said as he left the stool aside and dropped himself on the floor. “It’s no big deal. You can use the stool if you want to or lay on the floor. Just sit down, will you?”

The angel paused, as if considering his options, and then nodded and followed Dean’s example, placing himself on the floor next to Dean. They were not quite touching but still, the hunter could feel the body heat coming from the angel. Had this been any other time, he would have probably reminded the angel about personal space but right now, he kinda missed spending time with his friend, even if they were only doing so for the case.

Dean shook his head before he could get too out of track with his thoughts and cleared his throat to get the angel’s attention.

“You figure how to use that yet?” he said pointing at the device on the angel’s hands.

“I’m not a toddler, Dean. I believe I can manage a cassette player without much trouble.”

“Ok, sunshine. I was just making sure.”

“Besides, this one seems to work just like the one you gave me,” the angel commented while putting the headphones on himself.

“Right,” Dean responded, slightly touched that the angel remembered his gift from a few months back, although not really sure what else to say.

With that, he and Cas took on their tasks of finding Leonard Burton’s show, in which he described the attack on Cecil and Earl.

He had assumed there were two possibilities when it came to their task. Either, some of his suspicions were proven correct and he would have to confront Sam and Cas about some of his personal clues, or the whole ordeal would be boring and altogether a waste of time

However, much to his chagrin, Dean found himself invested in the recordings within a few minutes. The way the guy, Leonard, described the stuff going on in the town during his time was alluring and he wondered briefly if that was a requirement to work on the radio on this town.

The way he told the news sounded like a fantastic story that just kept going on but never stopped being interesting. It was investing in its own different way and Dean found himself devouring the recordings with ease.

He could tell Castiel was also enjoying their little activity together, even if they were only listening to tapes. In the small moments that it took him to change the recordings, Dean risked some glances at the angel and noticed every time a variant of some expression on his friend’s face. Amusement, sadness, concern… They danced on the angel’s eyes with every new story he heard and sometimes Dean could even distinguish a small intake of breath that could either be a gasp or a sigh. His friend was just as invested in the tapes as he was.

He didn’t even notice the passage of time until he felt a small vibration coming from his phone. He paused Leonard’s show and pulled out his phone, and was instantly made aware of two things. One, his brother’s long line of texts saying he was going with some of the scientists outside of the lab (yeah, right). Two, there were already six on the afternoon, meaning they had spent already a good chunk of their day on the recordings.

“Jesus Christ!”

“Did you said something?” Cas said startled as he paused his own device and took off his headphone.

“No, nothing, Cas,” Dean responded, trying to sound as unbothered as possible. “I just didn’t realize there had already happened so much time.”

He showed the small screen to his friend and watched as the angel’s eyes bugged comically in his face. He must’ve been as surprised as Dean.

“It is remarkable how fast the time has passed. I feel like I just started hearing the tapes.”

“Right back at ya.”

“I mean, I knew The Voice of Night Vale tends to be mesmerizing enough to captive the entire city. I just never considered that property would pass on even if the Voice wasn’t…”

“Alive?”

“I was gonna say present, but yes. That works too.”

Dean grunted in confirmation. His ass felt numb for sitting so long on the floor and his back was killing him. He chanced a glance at the box in front of them and noticed with even the whole progress they’d done that day, the damn thing wasn’t even half empty.

“Alright, I’m gonna take a break,” he said while standing up. “You know if Cecil has some food in here?”

“There’s a small fridge on the break room. I don’t think Cecil will mind if you pick some of his stuff.”

Dean nodded although he wasn’t sure how true that statement was. It wasn’t like he knew the guy enough to know if he was picky about his food or not. He considered asking him but remembered the time and realized Cecil must be halfway through his show by then. At that moment, his stomach grunted loudly and earned him an amused snort from his friend still on the floor.

“Just go, Dean. I’ll keep listening to the tapes. In any case, you can tell Cecil I told you to go,” the angel said as he relocated the headpiece on his ears. His hair had been ruffled by this and Dean felt a pang of affection curse through him as he nodded.

“Ok, but if he gets mad and orders me to regurgitate the food, is on you.”

The angel rolled his eyes and nodded dismissively as he made a vague gesture with his hands that Dean interpreted as ‘just go already.’ He left the room quietly as Cas seemed to immerse himself in yet another recording of Leonard Burton’s show.

Once he closed the door, he sighed audibly. As entertaining as the recordings were, they weren’t really helping with their case. Most of them described other worrying things happening to the citizens, but most of them were resolved within the span of the show. Dean wondered if that was what Cecil’s shows were like. He had heard snippets of them ever since he arrived at the city but he had yet to hear a complete one.

He suspected some of them, must be guarded on the same room he was a few minutes ago and felt tempted to look for them before continuing with Leonard’s.

However, his stomach gave in that instant a second, much louder grunt of protest, as if sensing his course of thoughts. Right, food first, deciding the tapes later.

He walked towards the break room at the end of the hallway, making sure to be quiet as he passed in front of Station Management’s door. He really hoped whatever Cecil kept on the fridge was worth his trouble.

*

“Oh, hey man. Didn’t see you there.”

Dean was surprised to see the young man that received them yesterday standing at the break room’s door. His name was Kareem and he was Cecil’s newest intern, Dean remembered as he lifted his head from the sandwich he was about to take a bite of.

“I wouldn’t eat that if I were you,” signaling the food.

“Is it yours?”

“Not really. I don’t leave my food in the fridge, see. The spiders tend to hide inside, you know?”

“You're shitting me,” Dean declared and only received an amused look from the teen. “What is the point of bringing food, then?”

“I think Cecil doesn’t mind insects with his ham and cheese.”

“Of course he doesn’t.”

Dean rolled his eyes and set the sandwich aside on the coffee table. He considered opening it to see if there were, in fact, any arachnids hidden between the leaves of lettuce but decided against it, not to mention he had already plopped himself on the couch. Standing up then would’ve felt like a defeat against the teen.

“I have some cookies in my backpack. You can take them if you like,” Kareem nodded to the chair next to Dean as he entered the room. In return, Dean eyed him cautiously and then at the bag.

“You sure ‘bout that?”

The teen nodded non-committally while going beside the couch towards a medium sized box filled with water bottles. He took two at once and Dean figured one was for the guy’s boss and the other for himself. The water inside them glowed a bright orange color and no matter how thirsty Dean was being in the middle of the desert, he decided upon seeing them that the tap water from the motel would have to do for their visit.

“It tastes just like normal water,” Kareem declared.

“Huh?”

“The bottles,” he cleared. “I know they look weird, but you’re sweating and the boss told me to make sure you and your friend didn’t die. I suppose he was talking about not letting Station Management finding and killing you, but I don’t think he would be too happy if dehydration had a go first.”

“Whatever,” Dean said as he reached for the water bottle Kareem offered him.

He uncapped it carefully, almost afraid the thing would explode on his hands, and sniffed it. It had a slight scent that reminded him of the earth after rain but besides that, nothing else seemed to be out of place. He took a tentative sip before giving up and gulping the whole thing down. He hadn’t realized how thirsty he was until the first drop touched his tongue.

When he finished, he gave a long sigh of satisfaction before his actions hit him.

“This is not going to make me turn orange, right?” Dean asked Kareem warily while pointing at the now empty bottle.

“Not that I know of,” he responded and added after a moment of thinking. “But, if I were you, I’d check out for any new mole that may appear on your skin in the next twenty-four hours.”

Dean opened his mouth, already worrying about the consequences of drinking the stupid bottle when he noticed Kareem’s subtle smirk.

“You’re a little shit, you know that?” Dean asked only half joking.

“What can I tell you, man?” Kareem replied, now with a full smile. “It’s nice not to be in your place once in a while.”

Dean took a moment to process what the teen just said. After that he looked at him, dumbfounded, trying a reasonable explanation for what the teen just said.

“That means…”

“That means not knowing what can or cannot kill me in this city.”

“No, I get that…I mean – Does that mean you’re not from here?”

Kareem eyed him for a second as if to say ‘isn’t it obvious?’ To be fair, he just had with the guy the most normal conversation since arriving at the city so Dean couldn’t blame him.

“Not really,” the young guy finally responded. “I’m from Michigan. I only moved here a year or so ago.”

“Because of?”

“College.”

“Right.”

Dean realized the young guy probably thought he was an idiot for being afraid of the freaking water and everything else in the city. He must’ve been half the hunter’s age and he lived here, seeing things like fluorescent orange water and men with three eyes and tentacles, and doing so like it was the most normal thing…huh…

“So, didn’t you have any other option?”

“For college or for an internship?”

“Both?” Dean said unsure while shrugging his shoulders.

“Well, yes,” Kareem responded.

“Then?”

“I don’t know,” he retorted pensively. “I guess I was curious. I had just received a rejection letter from one of my last options and I was running out of colleges to apply to. I knew I didn’t want to stay at home so I started searching and somehow Night Vale came up. The rest is history.”

Dean nodded. He could understand the guy’s necessity for leaving home, not that he had really a “home” growing up but still… Kareem didn’t look like he wanted to share any more information with a stranger and Dean wasn’t about to push him on that.

“And what about the internship?”

“It was the easiest one I could find,” Kareem responded with honesty. “Actually, don’t tell the boss this, but I’m thinking of changing my major so I probably won’t be here long.”

“Oh,” Dean supplied not really knowing what else to say. “Is it because of… you know…”

“I didn’t hear about the intern mortality rate until months after I started working here. I figure that if anything bad was to happen to me, it already would’ve.”

“Well, one can never be sure.”

“I guess not,” Kareem said after a moment of hesitation. “You really don’t like my boss, do you?”

Dean was startled for a moment, not really knowing what to do or say. By this moment, his stomach had gone hollow with something completely unrelated to hunger. Hell, he wasn’t sure he could take a bite of anything anymore.

“It’s ok,” Kareem added after a silence that felt a tad too long. “I’m not judging you or anything. I’m just surprised he hasn’t ripped you a new one on the radio, yet.”

“Yeah, well… I guess we wouldn’t be much help with… our investigation… if everyone in town was chasing after us.”

Kareem snorted and gave him a funny look.

“I think you’re thinking way too much of the city,” he said as he started to leave. “I should be going know but good talk man, it’s nice to talk from someone on the outside now and then.

“Wait!”

Dean spoke before his brain caught up on what he was doing. He knew what he wanted to ask Kareem but he wasn’t sure if he should’ve. The teen gave him an inquisitive look that was the final thing that made Dean said ‘what the hell’ mentally.

“Mind if I join you?”

Chapter Text

Carlos had heard from multiple sources about his issue with “twitchiness,” as his lab partners told him. This was when he was working at the lab his movements were fluid and certain, just as a scientists' should be. However, as soon as he was thrown out of the comfort of his laboratory, he tended to get angsty, tapping his foot, clicking his fingers, wriggling his toes… You name it and he has probably done it in a moment of quiet desperation.

It annoyed him nonstop how long his friends could tease him about that and he had tried to quit, to retain the professional stoicism that a scientist should have at all times, but he couldn’t.

For the most part, he was aware of how truly insignificant his behavior was to others. Most people had little fidgets and habits. Andrea liked to chew gum when stressed, Dana had that whole eating dirt that Carlos wasn’t even gonna touch, Cecil clicked his tongue while writing and so on… It wasn’t a big deal, really… So he got a little squirmy outside of work, he could live with that.

That was, at least, until he couldn’t.

You see, Carlos had a tendency to worry about a lot of things, like his co-workers, and his boyfriend and the city in general.

Most of the time, this wasn’t something he couldn’t handle. Whenever a new crisis aroused he tended to take all that nervous energy and focus it on saving the town from whatever new threat was facing at the moment. However, Carlos had lived in the town for over four years now so even he had to admit that sometimes there were things that were way out of his reach, situations that, no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t solve with science.

Take for example the set of murders that had been happening across town, or the fact that the love of his life had apparently being attacked in a similar fashion years ago. He had known one of those situations for weeks and the other one for a day, and he was no closer to solving either of them. So yeah, he was frustrated and now that frustration was bleeding into his work.

He was currently pacing through the lab, waiting for his computer to spit some results on his latest centrifuge experiment over gunpowder, and he wasn’t even excited about it. That’s how bad his anxiety was at the moment.

He was hoping whatever the computer concluded would help him get one step closer to understanding the strange attacks in the city but held no more hope than the last twelve or so trials he had done over the damn thing. Hell, not even the normally soothing voice of his boyfriend had managed to calm him over the phone call he had received a few minutes prior.

 If anything, he had only been reminded of how vulnerable Cecil had appeared last night and how much Carlos had failed on appeasing him. Even though they had gone to sleep in relative calm, he still couldn’t help the feeling of helplessness as he held his boyfriend tight on their bed. He knew there was something he could do to ease their situation; he just had to figure out what. And if to do that he had to go through every scientific method ever known, then so be it.

“Carlos, I know you said we shouldn’t ask you stuff when you’re pacing and thinking but this is the third time you pass this table and the last time you almost knocked over Nilanjanna’s talking sunflower.”

Andy’s voice waited a second before registering in Carlos’ brain. He stopped his walking for a moment and turned to look at Andy and then at Nilanjana (who was gathering the dirt that fell out of the small pot and putting it back again). He decided to pay for her next slice at Big Rico’s, before turning to face Andy again.

“I – I’m sorry,” he finally said, quietly. “There’s just this really important experiment I’m working on and I’m waiting for the results but they’re just taking too long. I just really need to get this done and I’ll calm down.”

His coworker in response gave him a look that he couldn’t quite decipher. It could either mean “it’s ok, I get it” or “what the hell is going on,” but Carlos wasn’t about to ask her. Thankfully at that moment, the alarm in his phone went off, indicating the results of the experiment must’ve been ready.

“I gotta go but I promise I’ll be more careful, ok?”

“Sure,” Andy responded not quite convinced. “Just remember you’re not the only scientist in Night Vale, ok? If there’s something we can help you with your…experiment… just tell us about it, ok?”

Carlos nodded, afraid of whatever could come up from his mouth and headed to the far corner of the lab, where his machine was waiting, although, it technically wasn’t a complete machine, per se, the prototype for one. A relatively big, should-be-impossible prototype for a centrifuge of his own making that, with a couple of updates, may even get to be a mini particle accelerator one day.

Before moving to Night Vale, he believed a machine like that was decades ahead of their time; however, once in town, it had taken him and his team a little over a year to develop the prototype. The magnetic camp around the city made for an ideal placement for the thing, and due to its properties, given the time the even need the normally large set up could be avoided (which was excellent, considering how the city council might reach to a giant tube encircling the city).

And so, against all known laws of physics, the centrifuge-slash-maybe-an-accelerator prototype was born. It still needed to be tested in an environment with a normal magnetism (i.e. anywhere outside of Night Vale) before it could reach a definite title, but nevertheless, it was still more than Carlos and his team could ask for and it had yet to disappoint any of them.

That is, at least, until Carlos read the results over the gunpowder he managed to save from Dean Winchester’s gun. They were inconclusive, just like the last few other ones.

Carlos groaned and buried his face on his hands after piling the small sheet full of numbers that for all accounts, should make sense to him, with all the others. He knew not all experiments worked out, failure was part of being a scientist as much as everything else, after all. However, when his life and the lives of every one of his friends and family were on the line, he couldn’t help but get mad at the flakiness of science in the city.

“Hey man, you ok?” Sam’s voice startled Carlos enough that he was forcefully pulled out of his own misery.

“Yeah, it’s just an inconclusive result, again,” he said while waving at the direction of the small pile of papers that had been growing throughout the day.

“Maybe you should take a break,” Sam suggested and Carlos could tell instantly the words didn’t come from him, but rather someone from his team that forced Sam to go confront him. His suspicion only was confirmed when he turned to scan the lab and saw the quick movement of heads throughout the room, pretending they weren’t staring through his breakdown.

“Look, I’m fine, ok” the scientist started, trying not to think about the fact that apparently nobody in his team trusted him. “You can tell the guys I’ll be in my office, doing further research on an experiment and there’s nothing to worry about.”

“They just worry about you, you know?” Sam said while nodding in a somewhat understanding manner. “You look like you’re about to pass out at any second and I guess that wouldn’t be such a good idea in a place like this.”

“Yeah, well, Cecil and I barely slept last night.”

“Oh,” Sam said, avoiding eye contact. It was at that moment the scientist realized the implications of what he just said.

“I meant because of everything that happened yesterday with Earl and…”

“No – yeah, I get it. I guess my brain is kind of fried as well,” Sam responded with an awkward smile. “How is Cecil by the way? He looked pretty beat yesterday.”

“He is good, considering everything. He told me he needed time to deal with this stuff on his own.”

“And you aren’t worried he’s closing off on you?”

“Not really,” Carlos frowned. “I know Cecil, the moment he’s ready he’ll tell me. Or he’ll tell everyone on his show and then we’ll talk about it. Either way, I’ll be there for him for whatever happens.”

“Huh,” Sam responded, seemingly in deep thinking. “That sounds like a really mature way of thinking.”

“Comes with being in a relationship for over three years,” Carlos reiterated, not knowing what else to say. “By the way, Cecil called. He said your brother and your friend had been listening to the tapes the whole day. It’s doubtful they’ve found anything useful, tho, at least for now.”

Sam sighed and his shoulders visibly slumped. Come to think of it, he also didn’t look like he had that much sleep either.

“This sucks,” Sam declared. “But I guess it could be worse. We have a lead and each other, it’s most than Dean and I get sometimes.”

“Tell me about it,” Carlos retorted while rubbing a hand through his hair and looking around the lab.

It seemed his conversation with the younger outsider managed to appease some of the uneasiness of his coworkers, who were now back to their usual tasks all throughout the room.

Carlos hadn’t told any of them about the murders if only of fear of one of them saying something the police and ending up on re-education, but he had the suspicion they knew nonetheless. Everyone in his team was smart, remarkably so, and they knew what kind of stuff you talked and avoided here. Still, it was good knowing they were there for him, even if none of them could say it out loud.

He still felt fidgety and angsty, but he guessed Sam was right. It was nice having people to count on.

“Hey, um, sorry to interrupt,” Andy said suddenly at their side. He had been so deep in thought he hadn’t even noticed when she approached. “Sam, are you going to come with us? We are leaving in a few minutes, so…”

“Sure, I’ll see you at the entrance,” Sam responded with a sweet smile, which Andy returned as she left.

They stayed in silence for a few minutes watching the other scientist go. Or at least Sam was, Carlos, on the other hand, had a sudden though upon hearing about the apparent trip.

“You’re going with Andy?” he finally asked, breaking the silence between them.

“Yes?” Sam responded, looking a little embarrassed. “I didn’t know if I had to ask you or not. We did agree we should stay together but I figured you were gonna stay here all day and Andy said we should be back before sunset so…”

“I’m not mad,” Carlos assured. “I’m just thinking. Where are you going?”

“I’m not sure, she said something about a canyon? We’re supposed to meet with someone there to run some experiments.”

“Phil,” Carlos cleared. “His name is Phil, he’s the head of the nuclear science department.”

“That’s good.”

“You guys are going to Radon Canyon.”

“That’s cool.”

“You don’t know what this means, do you?” Sam’s silence was enough to answer for Carlos. “Radon Canyon is the most radioactive place in the whole city. I have to go with you guys. I’ll tell Andy and we can leave right now.”

“Dude, really, it’s ok I can take care of myself.”

“I know that,” Carlos rolled his eyes. “But I’m thinking that I’ve been trying to solve this whole gun thing the rational science way when perhaps I should’ve gone straight with the unconventional way.”

“You think there’s a possibility the gun used for the crimes was radioactive,” Sam said half to himself.

“It’s a long shot, but it’s possible,” Carlos explained, hoping he sounded more convincing than he actually was.

Sam seemed to think for a moment and then turned to look at him with a determined glint in his eye. The young Winchester nodded and Carlos went off to his office quickly to pack his equipment, hardly noticing how his fingers were still twitching from barely contained energy.

*

Dean couldn’t believe himself, but he was actually kinda excited to watch Cecil broadcast, even if it only was out of curiosity. He hadn’t missed the way the shows he and Cas had been listening to all day seemed to pull you in a supernatural kind of way. It wasn’t like you couldn’t stop hearing them, you just didn’t want to. The radio host’s voice was like buzz entering his system, smooth, relaxing.

The hunter could only imagine what effect Cecil’s voice would have in comparison. Sure he had listened to bit of his show here and there but after spending the whole afternoon with the other guy’s tapes, he had come to the conclusion that there was a world of difference between hearing and actually paying attention, especially when the only thing between he and the radio host was the crystal window that showed him inside the recording booth.

Speaking of which, he was currently watching as Kareem gave Cecil his water while his one eye glanced him curiously through the glass while sipping the bottle. The intern was asking for permission on his behalf to stay there, and he supposed he earned it as Cecil gave him one last glance before nodding and shushing the teen out of the room.

Kareem closed the door just as Cecil put on his headphones and the small red sigh above in the studio’s wall shined red with the letters: “On Air.”

“Listeners, I have an update on the group of scientist spotted working on Radon Canyon. It appears they are taking samples for a succession of experiments on nuclear energy, or so Carlos told me on a series of text a couple of minutes ago. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure how one thing relates to the other but who am I to question science?” Cecil asked with a nervous chuckle that didn’t sound quite sincere to Dean.

“And going back to our main story for today: Marion Mitchells, a Night Vale’s Community College English professor gone missing, has been reportedly found after hours of arduous work from the local authorities.”

“Huh, this is weird,” Kareem said beside Dean, pulling the hunter's attention.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know, I guess he doesn’t sound as peppy as always?” the teen responded while shrugging his shoulders, clearly resting importance to the whole thing.

Of course, Dean had noticed the radio host lacked the usual enthusiasm he used for most of the other stuff, but it wasn’t like he could blame him after the whole fiasco that was last night. Kareem probably didn’t know his boss had discovered an awful secret about his past less than twenty-four hours ago and it wasn’t Dean’s place to inform him that so he just shrugged and nodded along.

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Dean conceded without tearing his eyes from the window. “Still, it sounds pretty interesting what he’s saying.”

“I guess,” Kareem agreed, going back to the desk and leaving Dean to his own.

The teen probably thought Dean was lying but it surprised the hunter to find out that he wasn’t. As much as it pained him to admit it, listening to Cecil going off about some poor bastard found half-naked under some bleachers was almost relaxing. By this point he wasn’t even paying attention to what was going on inside the cabin, instead choosing to focus solely on the sound of the radio-host voice.

“…And finally, Marion has been asked on his whereabouts on the last few hours, to which his only response has been a series of slurred words that we can only guess, referred to the break-up with Miss. Jackson, the dean of admissions of the university, who is now being released after spending this whole day under interrogation for possible kidnapping. Now that that theory proved wrong, she’ll reportedly go back to the apartment she shared with Marion to burn the rest of his stuff.

“Now, listeners, this is probably the moment I should give a PSA about the dangers of drinking and whatnot. Now, honestly, I myself am not one to say no to a drink or two after a particularly tiresome day like one of Station Management’s employee revision or a visit to my sister’s house but…”

Cecil paused for a second, setting his gaze in a point somewhere in the wall, and Dean knew the next words that came out if his mouth were chosen carefully, even if in a split moment.

“Listeners, Marion is probably on the police station with a massive headache, wishing to the void he hadn’t spent the last few hours in a state of drunken stupor if only so he could fill the formulate Sheriff Sam must’ve surely given him by now. I don’t know what led him to the decision of spending a day in a hazard of blurriness and booze but I can tell you that most times the hangover is not worth it.’

“Whatever Marion was trying to erase with the alcohol is going to still be there after everything is over, no matter how hard he tries to forget it.’

“The past is something weird, listeners. It not here anymore but it is, in a way. The past doesn’t define us, but it certainly contributes to where we are now. It is what shaped us into the people we are, whether that is a half-naked professor running away of his ex-girlfriend, a humble radio-host talking to a hopefully listening audience, or you, who are listening to me right now.”

Cecil made another pause but still wouldn’t look at Dean. In fact, the hunter was sure that at that moment Cecil was in a universe that was entirely his own, talking to a public that may or may not be listening to him. It didn’t matter, tho. Cecil’s words were something that was meant for himself and if an entire city happened to be listening to him, that was just a plus.

Suddenly, Dean’s train of thought was cut short when the radio host returned talking, this time with a more upbeat tone that reminded Dean of their first conversation.

“Now, on a more cheerful note, the Night Vale’s football captain made a declaration on…” Cecil stopped. Not paused, stopped. His eyes shined through the glass as his whole posture became stiff. Dean heard a small gasp that was surely unintentional and understood at that moment that whatever vision Cecil wasn’t anything good.

When he finally came out of his trance, he turned and looked straight at Dean for the first time in the broadcast. His eyes were wide with panic and his face had lost its color, making the dark bags under his eyes stand out in a sickening way. It seemed like he had lost his words for a moment but somehow Dean knew exactly what he wanted to ask.

In a quick movement, he turned to Kareem and noticed the teen was looking concerned as well as out of place like he had no idea what to do in that situation. Make that two of them, Dean thought.

“Go get Cas, now” Dean ordered the teen and watched as the boy went off quickly to retrieve the angel. After that, he turned to Cecil, who seemed to have regained some of his composure and was talking again.

“Listeners I – I’ll have to cut this show short. I just received a report that a man has been spotted near Radon Canyon… bl – bleeding to death. There’s no one near the crime scene so, we can’t be sure who it was but he was wearing a lab coat and – and – Oh god,” Cecil looked like he was about to either cry or throw up. He took a breath to steady himself and go on. “Listen, I can’t get into details of what happened but, listeners, for the love of God, don’t go near the canyon, ok? A – And if you hear any noise akin of a regulator exploding on the street just throw yourselves and the ground and don’t make questions.’

“I’m not legally allowed to talk about any of this but please, trust me and…” it was in that moment that Castiel came running down the hall with Kareem right on his heel. Cecil made one last valiant attempt to talk before running out of the booth to meet the angel. “Stay safe, Night Vale.”

And with that, no more questions needed to be answered. As soon as Cecil exited the studio, Castiel put his hands on his and Dean’s shoulders respectively and Dean gave Cecil a solemn nod before the angel transported them at the edge of Radon Canyon.