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out, damned spot

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There’s ash on the ground, dark and unforgiving. As he sinks to his knees, he notices it, the size and imprint of those tar-black wings, feathers he’s only ever seen as stark shadows, not meant for his human eyes to perceive. They’re larger than he remembers them, somehow, or maybe it’s Cas’ body that seems smaller without that sky-tall soul of his inside it. Even with the distance between their bodies, he can feel the warmth that still clings to his shell, stubbornly refusing to fade. Of course, Dean knows that it takes a while for a body to cool down, to stiffen, but the handful of minutes that have passed since Lucifer crossed back into their own world, took Cas and Mary -- it feels almost like an eternity. He knows that feeling too, knows it and the empty faces connected to it intimately, but you never quite get used to it.

There’s a moment when he can’t bear it anymore, looking at the all too familiar face, seeing those blue eyes without them seeing him in turn. He’d always felt seen by Cas, even when he was human, like looking wasn’t just something you did to Cas, but something fascinating, something to be treated with reverence. Dean’s eyes trail over the outline of Cas’ burnt-out wings instead, black dust settling between the blades of dry grass. They’re frizzled at the edges, as though feathers were broken and missing in those places. The scars of battles on some other plane, perhaps. Dean wouldn’t know; he’d never cared enough to take a close look at imprints like these. A small gap gapes by the junction of one wing, where the imprint meets Cas’ body, almost rectangular, but not quite. Like something, or someone, took it from him.

He’d let him fall. When Lucifer had rammed the blade through Cas’ heart, Cas had gurgled and choked and staggered and Dean had hurried to catch him, only just gathering him against his chest before Mary made a run for Lucifer, leaving Dean caught between two different terrors and dragging his attention away from Cas for long enough to witness them both falling back through the rift between the universes. He’d barely processed that before he’d felt the blood running slowly over the back of his hands where he’d wrapped them around Cas’ chest to hold him up. His rib cage had been heaving underneath Dean’s palms, glowing slightly against the night as his grace slowly seeped from his vessel, dissolving and detaching itself. Cas had craned his neck to look up at Dean, and the pain and regret in his eyes had been enough to make him shake under the weight of it. He’d never forget the intensity of it, nor the grating voice with which Cas had directed his last words at him: I’m sorry. Then the light of his grace had flared one last time, intense enough to throw Dean off and let Cas slip from his grip.

There’s still light flickering inside the house, and he can feel it passing over his cheek, strangely cold -- or maybe that’s the chill of the night, sending shivers across his skin. He tears his eyes away and staggers to his feet; there’s still work to be done.

It’s dark inside the house when Dean calls out for Sammy. The soft, worn wood beneath his feet muffles his steps as he climbs the stairs. With bated breath, he listens for… something. Sam’s voice. A baby crying. Maybe even Kelly, against all hope.

One word cuts through the fog in his head when he enters the room at the end of the hallway -- Jack’s room. Father. Its speaker sits half-hidden in the corner, and it’s definitely not a newborn child. It never was, not a real child anyway, but this -- this makes Dean shiver. Fear and adrenaline mix, rushing through the chilled blood in his veins. He can’t risk Sam getting hurt by this faux-child, not Sam too, so he shoots.

Jack is gone, the sun keeps shining and Dean comes to with a roaring headache. He is angry when he hits the road, furious with himself, Jack, Lucifer, the world at large. His knuckles are pale against the steering wheel, skin rough where his hands scraped across the floorboards when Jack sent them flying. Sam keeps sending him those looks, caught between anger, sympathy and worry, and he hates that expression. Always has, ever since his little brother was old enough to make him hurt instead of laugh. Especially when he mentions Mary, mentions Cas, heck, even Kelly who they’d barely spoken to.

They fight.

Dean looks through the windscreen. Not to avoid conversation, of course, but because he’s on the look-out. Finding a couple hours old naked dude running down the road shouldn’t be that hard, now should it? Not if he keeps his eyes open and his guard up.

"What about Cas? Is he really dead?" Sam asks, and he sounds sickeningly hopeful.

Like there’s any way -- any -- for him to still be alive. He’s seen the imprints of wings on the scorched ground, seen the angel blade tear through his chest, the way his grace flashed in the dark. Every time he’d died, every time he’d come back, it had been a matter of moments. Besides, Chuck isn’t there anymore and which other bastard up there would ever bother, ever care?

And yet, Dean doesn’t say any of this, merely spits, "You know he is."

Sam doesn’t have to know how his throat burns when he says it. Maybe it would be better to say nothing from here on out. There’s a restaurant by the roadside and it already looks like a safe haven.

All he wants is two minutes of peace and quiet after he prays, yells, pleads. It’s quiet inside the joint, so they must have missed Jack, and this might be the last chance he gets in a while, to just sit down and rest his head in his palms. Instead, there’s a woman drunk off her ass, asking about his bloody knuckles. She talks about Becky, posters and punching the walls, but her eyes keep fleeting down to his chest. The smile on her lips makes him shiver, and not in a pleasant way. She’s not checking him out, but she still likes what she sees.

Shit goes down at the police station. Alright, they may have seen weirder, but there’s little that can reach the crapton of weird that is watching the son of Lucifer stuffing his face with nougat. Now, licorice, that Dean would be able to understand but --

Anyway. He’s now got the ungrateful task on his hands of informing the officer of who they are, what happened and, oh yeah, the world might be ending right here and now. That depends on Sam’s ability to talk reason with nougat-boy over in the jail cell.

The officer’s eyes flitter across his face nervously, go back to his still slightly bloody knuckles. There’s a moment of hesitation before she fixes her gaze on his chest, in the same place the drunk chick had aimed for.

“You got somethin’,” she starts, and points towards his jacket, “right there. That got anything to do with the -- uh -- boy?”

He caught a quick glance of it earlier and it’s dirtied towards the top. Maybe it’s a result of Jack’s powerwave throwing them down. Nothing unusual in his line of work. He’s had vamp, ghost bones and even leviathan smudged across his chest, but he gets how it might freak out a woman who expected to pick up a nudist, not a nephilim.

She looks at him expectantly so he clears his throat. “Uh, right. Let me check that out.”

Dean doesn’t intend to do that -- he’s planning to hurry right down the hallway to where Sam is reasoning with Jack -- but when he steps outside the office, he catches his own reflection in a mirror hung in the hallway and it feels like a fist to the stomach. The dark smudges across his chest aren’t smudged at all. They’re clear and stark against the green fabric -- shockingly defined outlines of wings. Dean reaches up to touch them, ignoring how his throat closes up when he feels nothing but the canvas of his jacket.

His fingers come away ever so slightly gray, but not enough to make the ash come off. The burn in his throat won’t back down, either. It hurts like choking on whiskey, but with none of the promise of forgetting when you’re drunk on enough of it. It just hurts.

Hurts because it’s Cas and because he should’ve known when he saw that gap between his wings on the ground next to his body, and because it feels, in some odd perverted way, like an embrace, resting against his chest.

And then the moment shatters, as it always does, with a muffled scream.

"Why didn't you bring it up?” Dean asks, when they’re sitting outside on the hood of the Impala. “That I got... dead Cas smudged all over me."

Sam sighs and for a moment it seems like he’s going for the honest heart-to-heart, but then he decides that he knows better and shakes his head. “Dude, I thought you got eyes of your own?”

“Just seemed like the type of thing you’d want to be an ass about.”

“I’m not trying to be an ass, Dean, I just really think that talking about things helps sometimes. It might even make you feel less like a colossal idiot.”

“Okay, Dr. Phil, why don’t we stave off that topic and focus on what’s really important and really messed up here, which isn’t me by the way?”

Sam deflates next to him and rubs a hand across his eyes before looking over at Jack, who is sitting all timid and small on a bench across the street, as though he couldn’t hurt anyone, when he’s already taken everything from them.

He’s still evil, still a threat and Dean carries the mark of that knowledge around with him. Some part of him wants for Jack to hurt him, even if it’s just to prove him right.

God isn’t listening, so Dean won’t pray again. It’s as simple as that, despite how tempting the idea of folding his hands and averting his eyes like a good boy is. He bites the inside of his cheek instead, to keep the words in that would certainly escape otherwise.

With a grip that’s far too tight, he tugs at the bed sheet covering Cas’ body until his face comes free. Dean’s heard the faces of the dead described as serene before but that’s not what it is. This is not what Cas’ face was ever supposed to look like. Dean doesn’t know how exactly it was supposed to look, but he imagines something earnest. Can’t allow himself the thought of a smile. He can’t look at him either, not when he sees a happy Cas in his mind’s eye, a Cas who isn’t dead and hasn’t left his mark on Dean yet again. He’d take the handprint over this any day, start all over again at a point in time where he knows what to do, where he hasn’t lost the people he loved yet. He and Sam are on their own now.

So he turns his back on Cas and tears the curtains off the rail, rips them apart so he can wrap them around his body, fix the sheet in place like it’s supposed to. It’s meant to be diligent work -- they’ve all heard stories of what happens to bodies that aren’t wrapped up and shrouded properly, and while it shouldn’t matter when you burn them, some stories leave behind an unshakeable impact -- but it’s hard to do when your hands are shaking.

For a moment, he lets his hand linger on Cas’ shoulder, clasping it in a final goodbye. Or rather, an almost final one. The last traces of him will be gone whenever the ash fades from his clothes.

The pyre burns. It flickers, red, orange, bile-yellow in the night. Dean can feel the way the heat is reaching out to singe his eyebrows, can smell the stench of gasoline and flesh that has become familiar far too long ago. Fire, destruction, it’s a part of him so old that it almost feels innate. Slowly, the curtains wrapped around Kelly and Cas’ bodies are turning to ash. It dances on the air, settles on his cheeks. It doesn’t feel the way the ash on his jacket does. Less like a guilt-charged burden.

Night turns into day, and grass turns into the road. It’s unusually hot for a morning this season, and Dean strips off his jacket without second thought. He tosses it into the back, where Jack eyes it with a curiosity unbefitting of a freaking jacket, and climbs into the front. His bones hurt, an ache dull and deep, the way only stress that leads to losses instead of liberation can pain you. Sam shoots him an odd look, and Dean can hear the compassion dripping off the implicit question, and he hates it, he hates it, he hates it so much…

“You gonna start driving?” Sam says in the end, and Dean grits his teeth.

“Do you want me to drive?” Sam asks, and Dean ribs him in return.

It almost feels normal, but then Sam has to bring up Mom and it’s not. It’s not anywhere near alright or normal, and, considering their luck, it never will be again. They’ve got the son of Lucifer in their backseat, sleeping like the days-old baby he’s supposed to be, and they can’t know when the switch will flick again.

At some point, Dean agrees to pull over and take the next exit, leading them down the road towards the edge of a small down. It has something rundown and hopeless about it, but they manage to find a decent motel close enough to a decent fast food place and, in accordance with Sam’s cautious but ever so clever suggestion, a not entirely suspicious looking tattoo parlor.

The three of them crash for a while before Sam goes out to get food and Dean watches the way Sam interacts with Jack. He doesn’t like it, the benevolence in Sam’s voice and the empathy written all over his face. Sam’s always been weak for a sad story, the orphan boy in particular.

Jack’s face falls after he watches Sam leave and he shoots Dean a look he can’t decipher.

“Keep on reading,” he tells the kid. “I’m not going to explain it all to you.”

“Yes,” Jack says, earnest and eager to please. “I will.”

With a snort stuck between bitterness and cold amusement, Dean picks up his jacket and turns towards the cramped bathroom.

The soap nearly breaks under the force of his hands when he scrapes it across the fabric, and it scratches like the sob stuck in his throat. An itch that needs to bleed to give relief, but doesn’t. Not for him, never for him.

From time to time, muffled words ring through the door, like Lord, shalt and, for some reason, goats. At least that means that Jack is still there and he doesn’t have to worry about him right now. It’s just him and the sink and those ugly-ass orange tiles.

The water turns ever so slightly dirty between his sudsy hands, but that might just be the grime his clothes tend to collect on the job. The ash from the pyre, dirt off the ground, apocalypse world dust, what have you. Soapy foam clings everywhere when he drags a palm across his forehead and yet, it doesn’t feel satisfying at all, doesn’t feel clean.

By now, the fabric is soaked under the running tap and Dean figures, what the hell. He can’t exactly go and scrub until his hands come away bloody, and if that crap comes off with cheap motel soap then it will be gone by now. If it doesn’t, well, they got a laundry machine back at the bunker.

The door to their motel room falls closed and Sam noisily drops their take out on the table. Yeah, definitely, time to stop. Last thing Dean needs is Sam walking in on him having a moment over the goddamn sink.

“Hey, Jack. You good?” Sam asks on the other side of the door, all soft.

Jack pauses for a moment, probably to put down the bible he’s still reading. “Yes. This... is fascinating.”

Dean bites his lip, to keep the frustration in. Jack sounds almost like Cas used to, all this time ago.

So Donatello is back. Alright, at least someone who isn’t dead. Funnily enough, that doesn’t change anything about the anger boiling underneath Dean’s skin.

Jack’s words still bump around in his head when he hunkers down at the bar around the corner after their little stunt at the tattoo parlor, and not even a couple of drinks make them go away.

Pain is a part of the complete human experience. Accepting it is a sign of maturity.

Yeah, fuck maturity, he thinks, as he downs another drink. The waitress is giving him an odd look, of the mother hen kind. Dean can’t wait to get out of this town as soon as possible.

“Thing is,” she says, picking up the very thin threads of their conversation again. “Even if the child’s messed up, there’s going to be someone who knows what to do with him.”

Dean snorts against his glass. “Yeah. Only problem is, the guy who knew what to do died.”

In retrospect, having a heart to heart with Asmodeus was a little weird, but not any weirder than anything else that happens out there on the field. Sam tries to convince them that what happened was an accident, that Jack was tricked by the idea of a false Donatello because he’d been told he could trust the guy.

They’re not on the same page at all. Sam doesn’t want to believe that Mom is gone and he believes that Jack can be saved and those things are just… not true. They can’t be. It’s not the way their world works.

So he keeps on driving because that’s the only thing he knows how to do right now.

Sam makes him switch when the bunker’s still an hour and a half away. He takes one look at Dean and knows that the only thing his brother wants is to hit the pillow already, and if that’s the only concession Dean has to make today, then he’s not going to put up a fight.

Jack’s asleep again in the backseat, worn out after whatever the hell it was he was trying to do with his powers. Dean watches him for a moment, and when he decides that Jack is in no danger of waking up, he reaches into the back to retrieve his jacket. He doesn’t like the idea of letting his guard down, but his head is heavy and his arms are cold, so he slips his jacket back on like a protective blanket and leans against the window.

“Look,” Sam says, interrupting the soothing sound of the motor purring, a noise that has gotten Dean through worse before. It must have. “I wasn’t about to ask. But.”

Dean sits up straighter again, rubs a defensive hand over his face. “What, Sam? Just spit it out, I’m tired of this.”

“Okay. No need to lash out. I asked Donatello not to say anything but -- don’t you think it’s a bit weird that the wing print hasn’t come off?” Dean raises a brow at him but Sam only rolls his eyes. “Don’t give me that look. You think I didn’t notice that thing dropping all over the floor?”

“So what, Sam? All it needs is some detergent and not that motel soap crap,” he snaps and he can see that muscle jumping in Sam’s jaw. It gets a lot of exercise these days, with how many bitter words he’s biting down on.

“Yeah, alright. But isn’t it freaking you out? You’ve got… a constant reminder of what happened to Cas, and to Mom and -- and Dean, he basically died on you. And you see that every time you look down at your own chest. How can you deal with that?”

“Y’know what, Sammy? I can just stare straight ahead instead. Or get some shut-eye. Solves problems like anything.”

And so he rests his head against the window again, staring straight past the side-view mirror, doing his best to avoid Sam’s concerned frown. He wants to get out of this misery but the wing print is still there, mocking him, even in his fitful sleep.

Dean jolts awake when Sam pulls up to the bunker, and it doesn’t take much arguing before they agree that, while Sam handles setting up Jack in a room of his own where he can’t come up with any dangerous nonsense, Dean will hit the showers.

He takes his time, tossing his bag into the corner to be dealt with later, and takes a look in the mirror. Nothing there that won’t heal given a little time. The deeper wounds hide on the inside only. They’re almost out of laundry detergent, he notices absentmindedly when he walks over to toss his stuff into the machine, stripping down clothes he’s worn for far too long.

And then he’s left standing, bare feet on cold tiles, with the jacket cradled to his chest. He didn’t even realize he was doing it -- but it’s not a lifeline, it’s not good. It’s a tarnished piece of fabric. Fucking fabric, not Cas he’s pressing to his ribs. This is idiotic. Dean is a sentimental idiot.

First step to overcoming his sentimentality? Tossing the damn thing into the machine already.

The water is hot against his skin as he soaps up his hair and listens to the rotations of the machine. It’s soothing, but he doubts that it’ll make him feel clean. There’s something about being marked up by that ash, and the inability to get the stain off. It reminds him of a play they’d seen a couple years back, when they’d investigated a haunted theater. Apparently, there was a certain irony in this play being “cursed”, and they had to see it three nights in a row, so of course Sam got way too into it. And yet, there had been a part that stuck with Dean -- Out, damned spot! Out, I say! What, will these hands ne’er be clean? He’s forgotten the part in the middle, but he remembers enough of the plot. It should be more Sam’s type of thing, but yeah, he’s remembered it, and it resonates with him. Kinda. As a shower thought, y’know.

Dean doesn’t sleepwalk but he has those dreams, dreams of Cas pushing him up against a wall, disappointment and fury fighting on his face, whispering you failed me. They feel just like falling off a tower, only for him to jerk awake and find himself toppled out of a shitty motel bed after a fitful sleep or banging his head against the car window. He’s had dreams like this before, too, but never quite like this. There had been other people who’d haunted him.

And yet, purification was never the thing that Dean wanted; it’s always been Sam clamoring for it in the middle of the night when he thought no-one could hear him. He doesn’t need fire to cleanse him, doesn’t need the burn. The only thing fire’s ever done is destroy him, body by smoldering body.

When he steps out of the shower, looks up at himself in the mirror, he realizes that the burn has gone deeper than he first thought. It’s settled underneath his clothes, ugly and dark and in the form of gray wings. It’s Cas’ final goodbye; a swan song he never got to sing, written across the expanse of Dean’s skin. And Dean will carry it with him, wherever he goes.

And isn’t it funny, how the angel’s first hello and his last goodbye were etched onto Dean’s body, when words had failed to express what needed to be said.

Sam waits for him in the kitchen with a well-deserved beer after they’ve unpacked their bags and taken care of their weapons. It’s the strangest thought, that some of that gear has been to an entirely different universe, but it’s not a thought he wants to explore any further, not when everything connected to it makes him worry more. The things they’ve seen on the other side… they were terrifying. So instead, they talk about things they’re familiar with. Yellow eyes and saving people.

They fall silent after a while, when they’ve run out of safe topics to talk about. Dean knows what Sam wants to talk about, little armchair psychologist that he is. But Sam doesn’t say anything. Not about Cas, not about the wings burnt into the fabric of Dean’s clothes.

And yes, he’s mad at Sam, unreasonably mad. He’s jealous of how well Sam is handling all this, how he can put the thoughts aside and keep his anger bottled. (The kid has learnt, he has, he has!) How he can forget, and still keep the faith in things turning out alright in the end. He’s got unwavering faith in the idea that they do deserve good things and that, someday, they’ll come around to stay.

“We’re running low on food,” Sam says two days later, when he checks the fridge for another beer. He hesitates for a moment before he adds, “How much do nephilim even eat? You think we’ve been feeding him enough?”

Dean runs a hand across his face. “No idea. Doesn’t exactly look like he’s starving, though.”

“Figures. We’ll do a grocery run in the morning and see how it goes,” Sam huffs and closes the fridge door, and when Dean extends a hand that is met with nothing, he continues, “Don’t frown at me like that, we’re all out.”

“Right. So you’re saying, the sooner I hit the pillow, the sooner I can wake up and get some beer?”

Sam makes a show of sighing like he still can’t believe that his brother is the most obnoxious person in the world (feeling’s mutual, of course), and flicks off the light in the kitchen.

“That’s not at all what I was saying, and you know that. We’re going to buy vegetables and--”

“Right. God beware the son of Lucifer lacks his nutrients.”

They’re shuffling down the hallway towards their rooms when Sam clears his throat to bring up a different topic. “Before we leave tomorrow, you’d better take down the wash. It’s been what, three days? I want to put mine up too.”

“Oh, come on, Sammy, I’m barely even using half the clothesline. If that’s not enough for you, I suggest cutting down on the fashion shows.”

At this, Sam scoffs, but all the simple playfulness disappears from his voice, and for a moment, Dean is starting to get a little worried. Just a bit. “You can’t keep putting it off forever.”

“Oh really, Sam?” he says, like he means try me, bitch, when in fact he feels backed into a corner.

Sam, of course, pays him no mind. “Yeah, really.” He hesitates for a moment, already reaching for his door knob, and then he asks, “It’s not about the jacket, is it?”

Dean runs a hand down his face, if only to make his reaction harder for Sam to read. “I hate that freaking thing.”

“What, because it’s like -- like a cenotaph or something? An empty grave? Here lies Castiel, gone but not forgotten. Died because he was failed by his friends? It’s really not, Dean. It’s not your fault that -- that things went like that, you hear me?”

“Yeah, Sam. I hear you,” Dean says, bitterly.

He passes those words off as a goodnight and makes his way down to the laundry room after all. Of course, Sam means well, but that’s not going to change things. Dean still feels like they could’ve done something differently, and hearing such biting words out of Sam’s mouth doesn’t make it any better.

So he gathers his clothes in the half-dark, thinking that if he hurries, he’ll have to spend less time thinking about why he’s here, apart from the fact that Sam is being a bitch, of course. Then, however, his eyes settle on the jacket, and he sucks in a sharp breath. It’s crinkled and shapeless from the wash, but the wings are still clearly there.

All right. He can deal with that. It doesn’t change anything. Even if he didn’t have the visual reminder, he’d still have the sadness, the feeling of being lost, and the anger, oh the anger that’s settled deep inside him. All he needs to do is steel himself and he’ll be fine, more or less, like he always is. This can be good, can’t it?

Maybe it’s not a cenotaph. Maybe it’s a parting gift.

“It literally takes twenty minutes if we just pick up everything on the list, Dean,” Sam grits, done with their argument. “The bunker is warded and Jack is asleep. Besides, if he really wanted to run off, I think he’d have no problem knocking us out again.”

Dean has a feeling that Sam doesn’t want him to go on his own for reasons other than picking up fresh vegetables. What’s he going to do, drive off and leave Sam alone with the freak kid? That’s ridiculous.

“Okay,” Dean says in the end, putting up his hands in surrender. “Get in the car and we’ll get this done. And then we’re going right back to the bunker.”

“Alright,” Sam says and gets in the car, slamming the door closed behind himself. “Jeez, Dean.”

“Jeez, Sam,” he mocks and pulls onto the road that’ll lead them to Walmart, eventually. All roads lead to Walmart.

They pass the time in silence for a while, and Dean is already considering putting some music on to dispel the awkwardness when Sam clears his throat and throws him a look that manages to be both distinctly worried and pitiful at the same time.

“You’re wearing the jacket again.”

Dean takes a second to roll his eyes and stiffen his shoulders. “Yeah. Don’t look at me like that, it won’t come off.”

He brushes over the outline on the fabric a couple of times to demonstrate that his hand comes away clean and that it won’t smudge, no matter how often he tries to stroke over the wings. Sam, however, frowns at him, looking vaguely confused.

“You hated it, and now you’re wearing it with pride,” he says, almost accusatory.

Dean steels himself for what he’s going to say next, because he knows it has to sound convincing. If he convinces Sam, then maybe he can convince himself along the way.

“Yeah. I got over it.”

Scoffing, Sam shakes his head. “You clearly didn’t, but whatever you say.”

“No, Sam, it’s like you said. It’s just a-- a thing. It doesn’t change anything if it’s there or not.”

Sam squints now, trying to understand, and immediately drops the expression when it reminds him of Cas, who had mastered that particular face like no-one else ever could. “Okay, I get it. I mean, it’s not like it’s left a mark on you. You can shed it when you don’t want to see it, which, I guess, is better than just having the thought on your mind where you can’t do anything about it.”

It takes all Dean’s got in him not to break out into bitter laughter at that. He might not be able to see it now, and Sam won’t either, but his skin is still bruised where it came in contact with whatever angelic force is responsible for burning their wings into whatever they leave behind. Maybe it will fade someday, but it hasn’t yet, and that’s another cruel thing to know and stow away.

“Sure,” he says. “Even more effective when you drop that Freud thing.”

“Ew, Dean, Freud is that weirdo with the mothers.”

Dean chuckles to himself. Sometimes, Sam’s nerdiness is the funniest thing he’s seen all week, and paired with that I-just-bit-into-a-sour-lemon-face it almost makes him feel a little lighter, genuinely.

Sam smiles softly when he hears that chuckle, even if it only makes it out half way. “I think it’s a good thing, you know. Life goes on, and the sooner we accept that, the better for us. All of us, really.”

And life does go on, as it must. It goes on at Walmart, it goes on on the road. It goes on with wounds healing at an excruciatingly slow pace, and it goes on as the mess it has always been. And Dean is still angry, he is still heartbroken, he still hates Jack for bringing all this upon them and he still hates himself for not stopping things when he still could.

Until, one day, the imprint on the jacket disappears, and the phone in its pocket rings.