A mind wants to forget, but a heart will always remember
The smell of fresh snow was lying heavy in the air, mixed with the fragrances of the ranch. Dean had always thought of it as a soothing combination. The feeling of home that was associated with this place was only intensified with the clean and earthy scent the newest layer of snow had left. Breathing in this air – especially at night – was usually able to calm him down.
Not tonight though.
Staring down at his phone, Dean tried to make any sense of the feelings battling inside of him. It didn’t seem rational, having such a strong reaction after the phone call from half an hour ago.
Still, here he was, outside in the cold, sitting on his front porch in the swing he’d installed for his daughter three summers ago. Contemplating. Thinking. He should be inside, making sure Grace was really asleep instead of taking advantage of him being outside to sneak some extra reading time.
“Cas is coming home. I just thought you should know.”
Michael’s comment had sounded so innocent, and looking back, Dean was pretty sure he’d been able to sound convincing when he’d thanked his friend and then played it all down. Actually, there hadn’t really been anything to play down. At that moment, it really had been alright.
So Cas was coming home.
That was great, no big deal.
Until Dean had hung up and really let the information sink in.
Cas was coming home.
He would be back in Stars Hollow in just a few hours.
After thirteen years.
Devastated blue eyes.
“Dean, please … please don’t do it!”
Taking a deep breath, Dean tried not to remember that moment all too closely. Then again, he hadn’t thought about it in a long time. He thought about Cas now and then, thought about how he was doing and what had become of him. If he was happy. But it was never much, only little stray thoughts. Now, with Michael calling just to let him know that his little brother was coming back to Stars Hollow for the first time in thirteen years … it seemed to have opened a floodgate.
More shreds of memories came floating back and Dean realized: the longer he sat here, the deeper he would drown in them.
Getting up, Dean put the phone into his jeans pocket and went back inside, quietly closing the door just in case Grace was already asleep. Seeing the faint glow of light from under her door, however, told him that it wasn’t the case. Grinning, he took off his boots and hung up his jacket before tiptoeing over to the hallway and to Gracie’s room, not bothering with any light. He listened for a moment, before suddenly opening the door.
His daughter nearly dropped the book resting against her bent knees, the flashlight in her right hand falling on her bed, her first reflex obviously being to shut off the light and any evidence. “Dad … it’s not –”
“Please don’t say ‘it’s not what it looks like’. You’re way too young to say that.”
“Huh?” Grace replied, sounding confused.
Dean flinched, thankful that the room was completely dark. And that with her twelve years, Gracie apparently still didn’t get all the ambiguous jokes. Thank God. “Forget I said that. Shouldn’t you be asleep, young lady?”
“But … Daaaaad …”
“How many more pages?” Dean asked, sighing deeply. Was he the only father in the world not immune to his daughter arguing like this? The room might be dark, but it wasn’t as if this was the first time they had this conversation. Dean knew exactly what Gracie’s face looked like in this moment. This moment when she pulled out her But Daaaaad-card.
“Three?” Grace replied, her voice turning hopeful. It had long since become a tradition between them that Gracie would be allowed to finish up to the next chapter break. After all, Dean wasn’t unreasonable. He was a bookworm himself and he knew how terrible it was to leave a story in the middle of a scene. However, chapter breaks didn’t always guarantee reasonable breaks.
“Are we at a scene where a cliffhanger might happen?”
Dean sighed again, and Gracie probably knew she’d already won. “Three pages, no more.”
“I’m going to the bathroom now, and when I come back –”
“I know, thank you, Daddy.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he replied, switching on the lights in his daughter’s room. “And put away that flashlight. It’s only hurting your eyes.”
Gracie complied, switching off the torch and putting it aside. Her nose was already back in her book before Dean had even turned around.
He took his time instead of rushing through his nightly routine as he usually did if only to give Grace some more minutes to read. Washing his face with cold water, Dean finally looked at himself in the mirror, tracing the droplets with his gaze before staring into his own eyes.
“Get it together, Winchester. Cas coming back is a good thing. Be happy for Chuck and for Michael. Your best friend is happy to have his brother back.”
Best friend …
Cas used to be his friend as well before … well, before it had all turned weird somehow and then even weirder and –
Realizing that his thoughts were spinning once more, Dean dried his face and finally left the bathroom, closing the door behind him. Immediately, he heard a book being closed and put away and then the rustle of blankets. Just as he turned around the open doorway, Grace closed her eyes and lay completely still.
“You know, this would be way more believable if your light had been switched off as well.”
One eye cracked open and his daughter grinned cheekily at him. “But I know you were going to do it anyway.”
Rolling his eyes, Dean stepped up to the bed and gave his daughter a kiss on her forehead, letting himself be hugged. There was no use in admonishing her for being just as cheeky as her old man.
“Sweet dreams, Pumpkin.”
“You too, Daddy. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Switching off the lights on his way out, Dean made his way over to his bedroom. Kissing his fingers, he pressed them to one of the framed pictures on the bedside stand. “Good night, Lis,” he whispered, sitting down on the bed and switching off his own lights as well. “Wherever you are.”
When he lay down and let the silence engulf him, it took all of two minutes for the first memories of Cas to come back to the surface. Groaning, Dean settled in for a long, sleepless night.