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You Can Keep Holding On

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Here's an S11 hiatus fic for you all. This one's not a plotty epic like my usual hiatus fics — it's more an intimate character study (more in the style of my winter fics, like Winter's Tale, Most Important Thing, Twenty Dollars). I usually write a plotty epic in summers and an emotionally intimate character study in winters, but I was just in northern Alaska in the middle of snowy blizzards for the last several weeks and so I am in a wintry frame of mind. :)

 


 

"She only stayed for like, two minutes, tops," Dean says over his cell phone to Sam. "She barely even had time to say anything."

Sam's totally silent on the other end of the line. Cas doesn't say anything either (Dean's assuming Cas is standing there next to Sam listening to everything — because, Dean asked Cas to look after Sam, and that means of course Cas will look after Sam). But Cas hasn't said a word yet. And now Sam's gone silent too.

Dean's been walking along a deserted footpath in whatever park Chuck and Amara have stranded him in. He really has no idea what direction he should be going; once he found the path he picked a direction at random. (At least he finally managed to get a cell signal — which was a huge relief, because it meant he's still on Earth.) It's a nice enough place — the footpath's now taking him past carefully tended beds of roses, and lilacs and hedges and neat gravel paths that branch off here and there. Some kind of arboretum, maybe. But where the hell is he?

And what the hell just happened?

Chuck and Amara had vanished only a half hour ago, the long-estranged siblings twining together like some kind of hybrid alien smoke-monster (and, Dean thinks, there was definitely something kinda weird about that sibling relationship, but... whatever). The sun — the friggin' sun!had healed right up in no time flat. And then, as if that whole scene hadn't been batshit-crazy enough, all of a sudden there'd been the brain-bending, soul-searing discovery that Mom had been somehow resurrected. Or had ghosted down or something. And was wandering around the very same park. Dean had been thrashing his way through some trees trying to get a cell signal when he'd heard her calling for help.

She'd looked confused at first, even frightened. But as soon as Dean had said "Mom?" she came to her senses.

She stared at him for a long moment, and then it seemed everything flooded back to her. Her face lit up, and at once she seemed to know who she was. And who he was. She called out, "DEAN!" and actually ran to him, wrapping him in such a tight hug he could barely breathe.

Dean had seen her a few times before, in his adult life. Sorta. Kinda.

There'd been her ghost, eerily wreathed in flame, in their old house in Kansas. There'd been Dean's made-up version of Mom in the weird hallucinatory djinn dream-world. There'd even been the time travel, and a few other strange sightings.

But all of those had involved a very altered version of Mom, not the one Dean remembered from his childhood. This time didn't feel like any of those. This time, as Mom grabbed him and wrapped her arms around him, Dean knew immediately it was the Mom he remembered. Mom for real, Mom here and now, Mom with all her memories and her soul intact.

She'd even frickin' smelled the same. Dean had never even known he'd had any memory of her scent, but once he had his nose down on her shoulder, with her long hair brushing against his cheek, he breathed in some mix of... what was it? Some 1980's shampoo of hers? Her perfume, her hand lotion or something? It was a soft, slightly citrusy scent, and at the first whiff of it Dean was absolutely flooded with memories. Memories of being cradled by Mom; of scrambling into her lap on Sunday evenings for a snuggle when they watched TV; of being swung up into her arms when he'd been just a little kid.

It was really her. She was real, and her hug was real. And Dean's hug back was real too, and the way his breath stopped, the way his eyes stung with tears... All real. All real as hell.

But then...

"She only said a few things and then she just kinda wafted away," says Dean to Sam. Dean has to close his eyes as he says this, and he even presses his free hand to his eyes to try to block out the empty path before him, he's focusing that hard on the sharp image of Mom, actual Mom, right here in this very same park just minutes ago. As if he could call her back to him somehow, summon her back into being, if he just concentrated hard enough.

Sam repeats slowly, "She... wafted away?"

Sam sounds pretty confused. Sixty seconds ago he'd been overjoyed to hear Dean's voice. (Actually he'd been almost overwhelmed, swinging between weepy and triumphant, saying over and over, "I knew it, I just knew it, I knew you'd pull through somehow!") But now he just sounds kind of shell-shocked.

Dean knows the feeling.

"So... what did she say?" asks Sam.

Dean has some trouble answering. What Mom said is actually crystal-clear in Dean's mind, though. In fact every word's still echoing in his ears, like it's been permanently engraved on his brain. But his breath has seized up again, as he remembers it all, and it's surprisingly hard to talk.

 


 

I've only got a few minutes, Mom had said. Just enough time to tell you this: I love you so very much, Dean.

She released him from the hug, and stepped back half a pace, as if to get a good look at him, both her hands still on his shoulders. She went on:

I love you so much. You and your brother both. I love you both SO much. I've known what's been happening, you know. I'm not sure where I was exactly — I was in the house for a while, and then I went... somewhere else, I don't know. But, somehow I knew what's been going on. I wept, Dean, I cried for you; I knew when you were in Hell, and I wept. I wept for Sam, too, so many times.... I wept when you took the Mark. I wept to see it change you. I thought my heart would break all over again when you died. I've wept for you for so long. But NOW.... (A huge sigh here.) I'm so grateful that you both have your lives back at last. You can just live now.

She shifted both her hands up from Dean's shoulders to cradle the sides of his face. Dean stood breathless, transfixed.

I want you to know that I'm proud of you, Dean. I'm SO PROUD. (She gave each word its own deliberate weight.) You took such good care of your brother, all along. You always have. Since you were little. You grew up long before you should have had to. It broke my heart to see it. But you grew into such a fine man. So did your brother. And the two of you saved the world.

She paused, gazing up into his eyes, still cradling his face in both hands.

Will you do one thing for me? she said.

"Anything," Dean murmured, almost too stunned to speak.

Mom smiled, and she said, still cradling his face:

Let yourself be happy now.

Dean blinked, and she continued:

Let yourself be happy. Sam too, of course, but you're the one who fights it most. Don't fight it anymore. Let yourself be happy. Believe you deserve it, because you DO. Let yourself be happy at last. Do that for me.

She stood up on her toes to kiss his cheek, smiled at him one more time, and then she simply disintegrated into a cloud of blueish-white sparkles. They floated up into the sky, fainter and fainter, and then there was nothing up there but the evening sky.

Dean stared up after her for a while. The sun had set; the stars were out, crisp and clear against the velvet sky.

She was gone.

 


 

Dean tries to summarize all this now to Sam as, "She said that she loves us. That she's proud of us, and she wants us to be happy." It isn't quite a full description, but it's the best he can manage, and his voice goes rough as he says it. And Sam's gone dead silent again.

Dean starts walking along the footpath again, half-heartedly still trying to figure out where he is. Mostly for lack of anything else to do.

"It was really just two minutes?" says Sam.

"Yeah. She warned me right at the beginning that she didn't have much time. I never really got to say anything back," says Dean. It's dawning on him now that if Mom had only hung around a few minutes more, Sam could've got to talk to her too! Sam didn't get to see her at all, and Dean did; it seems awfully unfair, and Dean knows that's got to sting for Sam.

Why was the visit so short, anyway? Why hadn't they had even a little more time? Dean glances up at the sky again. The moon's starting to rise. The stars are clear and bright.

No Mom.

"Did she say why she'd come?" asks Sam.

Dean says, "I think it was some kind of last gift from Amara. Right at the end, Amara said something about, she wanted to give me what I need the most."

"What you need most is two minutes with Mom's ghost?" asks Sam.

Dean has to laugh at the way Sam summarizes it. And sure enough there's something off about the idea. First off, two minutes is indeed ridiculously short — hardly satisfying at all. But also... truth is, Mom died when Dean was four. Obviously Dean's missed Mom terrifically over the years, but Dean's a grown man now. He's been without his mother nearly his entire life. He's long since accepted it; he's adjusted. He's been standing on his own two feet for a very, very long time.

He's built his own little family, in fact. Him and Sam and, increasingly, Cas. They take care of each other, the three of them, they've been doing that for years, and... it's okay.

It's good, even.

Getting to see Mom again is something Dean knows he'll always cherish to the end of this days, but it actually doesn't feel like the thing he "needs most."

"Yeah, I don't get it either," Dean says to Sam. "I mean, I miss Mom a ton, of course, I always have. I wish we'd gotten to grow up with her, but...." Dean trails off. Finally he says, "It just seems kinda off."

Sam says, "Well, Amara's gifts always were a little twisted. A little dark."

"Dark, right," says Dean.

Suddenly they're both laughing.

It's incredibly wonderful to hear Sam laughing again. It seems like something Dean hasn't heard in a very long time.

Dean realizes at this point that he still hasn't heard Cas's gravelly voice, and that it would be really nice to hear that voice too, so he says, "Hey, can you put Cas on?"

"Oh! Cas got zapped away!" Sam says. "I totally forgot to tell you! What with you being alive and all. This English girl broke into the bunker and zapped Cas away and shot at me."

Dean's just turned down a different winding footpath, still hoping to find a way out of the damn park, but at this news he freezes in mid-stride, staring blankly at the curving gravel path ahead of him.

Dean finally says, "Don't we get even an hour off?"

"Apparently not," says Sam, with a rueful chuckle.

"What happened?" says Dean. He starts walking again, more briskly now. It suddenly feels a lot more urgent to figure out where he is and get back in action. "Where's Cas? He okay?"

"I've been trying to call him but he hasn't picked up since he got zapped. It's been a couple hours and no word. I'm thinking he went somewhere out of cell range, like you did for a bit? Hopefully he'll call soon."

I gotta find Cas right away is Dean's first thought, and Cas must still think I'm dead is the second, and third comes the memory of Cas's hug.

 


 

It had definitely been a night for chick-flick moments. There'd been a baker's dozen of them at least, and at the top of the list had been not one but three hugs, each heartbreaking in its own painful way. There'd been Mom's hug, there'd been Sam's too of course, but first of all there'd been that unexpected hug from Castiel in the cemetary. Dean had somehow been taken by surprise, for Cas had never before really given him that kind of one-on-one heartfelt hug.

For Dean, the hug had unfolded in several successive waves of understanding that had hit him almost like tiny little punches. At first Dean thought it'd be one of those super quick pro-forma guy hugs, not a real hug really. But then he realized it was lasting a hair long, and then it seemed maybe it was one of those Cas-awkwardly-mimicking-human-interactions moments, that Cas maybe didn't quite understand the nuances. But then Dean felt Cas's arms really tighten on and then Dean realized Cas actually had a perfect grasp of this particular human interaction and its nuances, and that he really meant the hug. Every moment of it. And a split-second later Dean realized that Cas was actually, truly, grieving....

Dean had already known that by dying, he'd be abandoning Sam. But it hadn't fully hit him, not till right that moment, that he'd be abandoning Castiel as well. That Cas might actually need him too.

So many things Dean wanted to say to Castiel then.

He wished he could tell Cas about all the sleepless nights. All those desperate hours, trying to find some way to evict Lucifer. He wanted to describe how much he'd longed to hear Cas's voice again, instead of Lucifer's eerily different (and indescribably disturbing) voice... how terrible it had been to see that beloved face distorted and changed by Lucifer's horrible mannerisms. (How was it even possible for the very same vessel to look and sound so different?)

Dean wished he could somehow convey how very much he'd missed Castiel.

Earlier, during the car ride to the liquor store, Dean had tried to tell Cas some of this. He'd managed to get some of it out, the "you're our brother" part at least, before Sam had called and they'd had to rush back. The "you're our brother" part was, of course, true, and it was important. It was very important. But it was not at all the whole story.

Now, feeling Cas holding on so tight, and then feeling him reluctantly let go, Dean found himself wishing he could pause time somehow, just in order to sit Cas down and tell him the whole story. Tell him all the things Dean had never told him.

But all Dean was able to say, in the end, was a totally incoherent "Okay... okay... all right."

"I could go with you," Cas had said next.

That, of course, had actually been an offer to die at Dean's side, and Cas had said it so friggin' casually. Like it was no big deal.

 


 

"— and I took her down pretty easy after that," Sam's saying, and Dean has to struggle to refocus. Sam's talking about the English girl. "I don't know if she's just a crappy shot," Sam goes on, "or didn't expect me to dive like I did, or what, but, c'mon, it's not like it's the first time I've been shot at, right? I dove at her knees, she missed, we wrestled, I won. Then we had a discussion." (Dean knows this means Sam had her tied up in a chair for a while. Maybe with her own gun trained on her too. A discussion, Winchester style, as per usual.) Sam continues, "I think I convinced her that we're on the same side. I pointed out how the sun's healed and the Darkness is gone and Lucifer is gone — she hadn't really realized everything was fixed. And then I let her go, which seemed to totally surprise her. Anyway, long story short, now she thinks we're just 'wayward rather than irredeemable,' is how she put it." Sam chuckles. "Then I showed her the library and we talked some more and now she thinks I need 'proper training'!" (Sam puts on a posh British accent here, pronouncing it "pro-pah.") "Says I missed my calling! Heh. I told her I'd think about it. She's headed back to London to argue with some other Men Of Letters, or Women of Letters I guess, about taking us off the hit list. Anyway, crisis averted."

"Okay," says Dean vaguely, who hasn't bothered trying to follow all this except the part about crisis-averted. "But I gotta find Cas now."

"Uh-huh, agreed," Sam says, "I'm gonna call Verizon and see if I can get a location ping off his phone. And I gotta come pick you up. Where the hell are you, anyway? Where did the big Chuck-Amara reunion go down?"

"Some garden," says Dean. "Kind of a park. I'm not sure where. I've been wandering around all these paths —" and at last the path he's been following opens out at the top of a hill, and Dean finally gets a view. He's on a wooded hillside looking down at a medium-sized, nice-looking city by a river. There are lots of bridges, and a neon sign of a leaping deer. And... the moon seems to be rising over a volcano, of all things, a volcano that's squatting on the eastern horizon all by itself, its snowy slopes bathed in the silvery moonlight. There's not a single other mountain in sight.

Well, that narrows it down.

"Portland," Dean tells Sam. "I'm at that rose garden in Portland, Oregon."

 


 

Sam's already hit the road while Dean's still hitchhiking down to the Portland suburbs and looking for a beat-up car to steal. By noon the next day Dean's coaxing an incredibly underpowered old Dodge Colt through the Idaho Rockies, while Sam's already reached Salt Lake in the Impala. By nightfall they finally connect at an all-day-breakfast trucker joint in Tremonton, Utah, where Dean ditches the tiny Colt.

They've been touching base on the phone throughout their respective drives, so it's not like they haven't talked, but just the same it hits them both hard to see each other in person. There's another hug, and it's a doozy, and about ten thousand times happier than the one the previous night. Dean finds he can't even make himself do the back-thumping thing (the "okay, we're sort of hugging, but really I'm just pummeling you" standard guy hug). Instead he's grabbing on tight to the back of Sam's head with one hand, and just hanging on with the other. Sam's doing something similar.

"It's a damn good thing I like chick flicks," mutters Dean as they finally separate. Sam gives a choked laugh; he's wiping his eyes, totally unable to hide that he's gotten all teary-eyed again. And of course so has Dean.

"We're bawling like little girls," Dean points out, as they both try to regroup.

"Yep," says Sam, who's even having to wipe his nose on his sleeve. "Even though I already knew you were alive."

"Cas doesn't know, does he?" says Dean. "That I'm alive? He got zapped before I called, right?"

Sam's eyes widen. "Shit," he says. "Damn. You're right." He gives a sigh, and adds, "You know, he was tagging after me like a puppy back to the bunker. Like, all of two feet behind me and showering me with words of support nonstop. I guess he was trying to be helpful but I couldn't even talk then. But later, after you'd called and I got a little more settled down, I realized he was probably tagging so close because he was upset."

"Also I asked him to look after you," Dean confesses. "Asked him to make sure you didn't do anything stupid."

"Oh," says Sam, and as the "anything stupid" phrase registers, he repeats, "Oh. Right. Damn." He pauses. Dean is watching him, and he knows immediately, from the evasive look in Sam's eyes, that Sam might indeed have done "something stupid" if he'd had more time alone.

"Well, he was certainly trying to keep an eye on me," says Sam. "Till he got zapped, anyway."

They're both quiet a moment.

"Let's go find him," says Dean. Sam nods and grabs his laptop, and they head into the trucker breakfast joint.

 


 

"So Verizon still can't get a ping," says Sam once they're at a table, hunched over his laptop while Dean scarfs down a late-night order of pancakes and bacon. "I've been trying to call him, too, off and on, every time I stopped for gas. Straight to voicemail every time. I'm hoping his phone battery's just dead."

"Or he's in the middle of nowhere," says Dean. "Stranded in the wilds of Montana or something. Somewhere with no service."

"Or Antarctica," says Sam. "Or some foreign country where his phone doesn't work."

"Or Mars," says Dean. "Or Purgatory or something."

Now they're both getting depressed. Dean tries to think optimistically, and he says, "Look, it may just take him a few days. Remember that time when he got zapped when he carved that sigil on his chest?"

Sam grimaces. "Like I could ever forget that scene."

"Well, it took him weeks to get back in touch after that, remember? We thought he was dead but he turned up fine."

Sam nods. "He'd ended up on a fishing boat, right? Offshore somewhere? And then in a hospital?"

"And he was in a coma!" says Dean, brightening as he remembers the details. It really had taken Cas quite a while to get in touch. "Remember, he said the doctors thought he was brain-dead? And it took him a while to revive, or reboot or whatever it is he does, and wake back up. But he did wake back up in the end."

"I always wondered if God, I mean Chuck, had something to do with that," says Sam. He looks pensive, and after a moment Dean realizes why.

It's kind of disturbing to realize that a lot of Cas's unlikely-survival moments have probably been due to Chuck resurrecting him.

The reason it's kind of disturbing is because Chuck's gone now.

"I don't think we can count on any more magic resurrections," says Sam slowly.

Dean's just reached the same conclusion, but he can't accept that Cas might actually be dead. That's.... that's simply unacceptable. He puts the thought right out of his head, sets his fork down to focus, and counters with, "But, remember, that was a sigil carved on his chest, like, it might have blown Cas right out of the vessel. That was a special case. What happened yesterday was just a regular sigil-zapping, right? The sigil was on a wall?" Sam nods, and Dean says, "A sigil on a wall usually takes him a couple days to return from, right?" He's trying to remember other times the angel-banishing sigil has been used on Cas. "Let's see, Cas got zapped once by Anna in that barn; I used it on him once in Bobby's panic room...." (Dean still feels a little bad about that one.) "A couple more times, too. Like when Hester was threatening us, remember? Cas ended up at that dog track in Australia, right? I guess he popped back from that one pretty fast but he could fly then; he had pretty good power. It's usually been a few days before we hear from him again."

"Yeah, it's been longer when he's low on power," says Sam, nodding. "The time when he ended up in a coma he was pretty low-powered. And ended up with zero power after. Does he have any power right now?"

"I don't know," says Dean, realizing he'd forgotten to check with Cas about this. During all the end-of-the-world doom and gloom yesterday, it had seemed much more important just to get to that liquor store. Cas had seemed more or less okay (if a little quiet) after Lucifer was blasted out, but, come to think of it, that Lucifer-getting-blasted moment, during the fight with Amara, had actually looked pretty rough. Cas had already been fairly low-powered before the whole Lucifer possession; could he possibly be at no power now? Even before getting zapped?

"He said Heaven's been sealed again," Sam points out. "Whenever that's happened before it's always meant Cas loses power, remember? Something about power flow, about him not having access or something."

"Okay," says Dean slowly. "So he might be low power. Or even no power. But he's not gonna be dead." (This is just not possible.) "But he might be out cold like happened with the sigil-on-the-chest. And he might have ended up in a hospital again. Let's... Here's an idea. Let's check for John Does. John Does who are in comas at hospitals. There's a national network for unidentified patients, isn't there?"

Sam's nodding, and he's already started tapping away on his laptop.

 


 

Sam gets into the John Doe registry (which also covers Jane Does, it turns out), but soon discovers it's going to take a while to go through it all, so they get a motel room for the night in Tremonton. It's a dive, with threadbare bedsheets and lukewarm water, but it'll do. They spend the evening completing a first pass through the entire John & Jane Doe registry (which is surprisingly large). But there's nobody who sounds like Cas.

"Maybe he's not in North America?" Dean suggests.

"Or he might not have been found yet," points out Sam. "Or at least might not have been entered in the registry yet. Looks like sometimes hospitals take a day or two to conclude that a patient is really an unknown John Doe. We should check again tomorrow."

Sam starts trying to ping Cas's phone again. Dean, meanwhile, starts a long round of phone calls to all their hunter contacts. But nobody's heard anything.

A half hour later Dean's gotten desperate enough to call Crowley, who hasn't heard a thing through his demon contacts either.

"At least that means he's not in Hell," Sam says, when Dean relays this news to him. "And I guess not in Heaven either, if it's really been sealed."

"There's still Purgatory," says Dean glumly as he tosses his phone onto his motel bed. Crowley had been his last idea. He eyes the motel room's minifridge; he's already emptied out the one miniature Jack Daniels bottle that was in there, and a liquor store run is starting to sound like a great idea. Never did get to the one last night, he thinks, remembering the conversation with Cas.

Sam is watching him, and he says "Way ahead of you," reaching into a brown paper sack that he's got tucked under the motel room's little table. He pulls out a sixpack of beer, adding, "Got this when you were checking us in. Figured you might need something, and you work better on beer than on liquor." Sam pulls a can off the plastic rings and tosses it to Dean, who grabs it gratefully and cracks it open.

Sam adds, "You said it yourself, he's usually gone a few days after a zap. We gotta be patient. Here, I brought your laptop — why don't you start in on North America news item searches, I'll start on the international ones, and we'll check the John Does again tomorrow."

Dean nods, takes a swig of beer and gets to work.

 


 

They still haven't found anything by the next morning and reluctantly they start the drive back to the bunker. Sam continues searching for new news items on his phone, looking for anything about mysteriously appearing people, or strange visitors in comas. And he checks the day's newest John Doe entries. Dean drives, making a few calls on his cell whenever he can; he's broadening his phone-call effort to include some witch and psychic contacts.

There's still nothing.

They're both a little quiet when they finally get back to the bunker.

"It would finally all be over," Dean points out, as they spread out their stuff in the library, "if we could just find Cas." Sam glances up at him from his laptop with a questioning look.

"I mean, think about it," Dean says. "God, the Darkness, Amara. The Mark of Cain. Metatron. Lucifer. All of it. It's over. It's been years, Sam. One damn thing leading directly to another damn thing, for years, and never a frickin' break, but now it's.... all.... I can't even really believe it...."

Words actually fail Dean, but Sam gets it; Sam's nodding, and he says, "Everything's actually fine for once."

"Yeah," says Dean. "Except no Cas."

"We'll find him," says Sam. He's got a thoughtful look on his face, and he adds, "Hey... so... now that Amara's gone, can I ask, um, do you still feel that... pull toward her? That, uh... attraction thing or whatever?"

Sam's tripping over his words, but Dean knows exactly what he's referring to, and he says "No. NO. It's gone." And best of all, he discovers, as he says it, that it's true! That weird pull he'd felt toward Amara, the half-attracted, half-fascinated (and more-than-half-brainwashed) sensation that's been driving him nearly insane for months, is simply gone. Erased as if it had never been.

Dean almost gets a little dizzy as he realizes this. He sits slowly down in one of the bunker chairs (Sam's watching him). Very deliberately, Dean makes himself think of Amara. He's trying to see if he can elicit any of that strange forced-attraction feeling that he used to always feel whenever he thought of her.

He makes himself picture her face; he pictures her wearing that ever-present slinky dress, with the bombshell cleavage. He pictures that way she used to look at him (that freaky stalker-ish stare she had, and the way he could never seem to look the fuck away). He pictures her lovely eyes, and her cascade of soft dark hair. And he feels... nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

He's elated, and he says to Sam, with a big sigh, "It's gone. I picture her and I don't feel a goddam thing! I swear to God — to Chuck, whatever — I swear it's gone. It's been eating at me for a solid year! Ever since the Mark got off me." He's never even wanted to talk about this before, but now that it's gone, it's suddenly much easier to talk about. Dean looks over at Sam and adds, "It was so friggin' weird, Sam. She just had this freaky hold on my mind somehow. It was like a Mark-hangover that I just couldn't wake up out of."

"Like a... spell?" suggests Sam, a little slowly.

Dean thinks about that. Sam might be on to something. "Something like that," he agrees. "Not normal magic, I think, but it definitely wasn't voluntary, not for me. It never really felt natural. It didn't feel like it was coming from me, not really. It was like she'd tweaked me, re-made me the way she wanted or something, forced me to feel how she wanted me to feel. But now I finally feel back to normal. Like now I can feel like I want to feel. First time in two frickin' years, actually."

Sam's smiling, and he says, "Glad to hear it."

For some reason, all this makes Dean think of Cas again. Maybe because of all those Amara staring-contests. Cas was always the original king of the long stares, of course, long before Amara showed up. But with Cas, those staring contests actually had felt real, like they meant something. Like there was an actual friendship there, some kind of mutual respect.

Amara had wanted to absorb Dean. To devour him alive. Cas, in contrast, had offered to die at Dean's side.

Hell of a difference, thinks Dean.

He pulls out his phone to make another call, saying, "Let's get back to work."

 


 

The next morning, Dean's doing his first daily check of the John Doe registry (he checks three times a day now) and as usual there's a few new entries. "Four new John Does today," says Dean to Sam, who's sitting across the table doing his own morning check of the news websites.

"What's the descriptions?" says Sam. He doesn't even bother looking up; there's new John Does all the time, and there's been nothing even close to a match.

Dean takes a sip of his coffee and starts clicking through the descriptions of the various new John Does that have turned up at hospitals across the country. "Guy in his twenties in Mobile, Alabama... nope, he's black. One in Chicago, nope, female.... One in Seattle... nope, teenager. Guy in Flagstaff...whoa. Whoa." Sam finally looks up, and Dean reads the description. "Caucasian male, six feet, slender build, dark hair, blue eyes, late 30s or early 40s." This could be a lot of people, of course, but so far it's a match, and Dean's heart's starting to pound. He reads further: "Tattoo! Tattoo on the abdomen! Cas has one there, right? That one that wards him from angels finding him?" He looks up at Sam, who's now looking back at him wide-eyed.

For the first time in days, Dean feels hopeful.

"It sounds right," says Dean. "Doesn't it?"

"Alive?" says Sam quietly.

Dean nods; he's only been checking the "alive" listings in the mornings. (He only looks at the "dead" listings once a day, at night. Really just for completeness — it's not really necessary to check those more often, since, of course, Cas can't be dead.) But Dean doublechecks the listing just to be sure and reports, "Alive and in stable condition! But unresponsive, it says. I bet he got knocked unconscious, just like we thought. He's probably just still rebooting."

"Any photos?" Sam asks. "Of the tattoo, or of the patient?" He's already tapping something into his own laptop.

Dean shakes his head. "They haven't uploaded any photos yet. Looks like they found him a few days ago but only logged him into the system now."

Sam's focused on his own laptop now. "Got it. Check this out. I just searched Google News for Flagstaff news items from the last three days, and here's a news item on a man found — oh shit, Dean, found in the Grand Canyon! It's a press release from the National Park Service. Man found unconscious down at the base of the canyon. Damn, I really hope he didn't fall all the way down there...."

"Maybe he can still fly a little?" says Dean hopefully. (Cas has never really explained much about the state of his wings; all Dean really knows is that Cas "can't fly" and "misses his wings.") "He always wanted to see the Grand Canyon."

"Well, he may not have got much of a view yet, since apparently he was unconscious the whole time and they had to airlift him out. Helicopter rescue, the works. The park service is calling him an 'unprepared hiker.'" Sam starts to chuckle. "There's a whole thing about how he didn't even have a water bottle. Oh man, LISTEN TO THIS, Dean, they describe the guy as wearing a trenchcoat! The park service is all pissed off about it. Here's the quote: 'We want to remind the public that a trenchcoat, business attire and dress shoes are entirely inappropriate clothing and footwear for hiking the Grand Canyon'." Sam looks up with a wide beaming smile.

"That's our angel!" says Dean, slamming both hands down on the table in triumph. He flips his laptop closed and jumps up; Sam's already jamming his own laptop into his shoulder bag. The rest of their stuff is already in the Impala. (They've been ready for days to head back out at a moments' notice.) Dean checks for the Impala keys in his pocket; they're right there, and the feel of the keys in his hand gives him a tremendous boost of energy.

As they get into the Impala and Dean revs the engine, he feels like he's practically got his very own wings. He feels that elated, that free, like an anchor's dropped away from him and he's soaring up into the sky. He pulls the car out onto the road, Sam is in the seat beside him, and they're going to get Cas, and the future is stretching out bright and expansive before them.

It's all clear as day in Dean's mind how it'll be. They'll collect Cas, who will probably have woken up already by the time they even get there. Cas'll be fine. They'll bring him back here to Kansas. He'll ride in the back; maybe he'll ride shotgun sometimes. Maybe Dean will even let him drive a bit! Cas'll be low-powered, so he'll need to eat, so they'll stop at lots of diners and buy him burgers and feed him up, and he'll be fine. And they'll get back to the bunker and all live together and...

They'll just... live.

They'll eat pizza, and watch movies. They'll do a hunt now and then.

And there'll be no Darkness, no Amara, no Mark, no Cain, no Lucifer, no Yelloweyes, no Leviathans, no Raphael, no angel wars, and no Apocalypse. Nobody will be possessed. Nobody will be soulless or crazy or brainwashed or under a spell or anything like that. It'll all be over.

They can just live.

Just like Mom said: "You can just live now." Then Dean remembers Mom's strange, sweet request about "Let yourself be happy," And he remembers Amara's last words too, and he thinks, You got it a little wrong, Amara. THIS is what I needed most. I needed THIS family back together. Not one from the past, but the one I have now: Me and Sam and Cas.

The whole world seems to be shining as the Impala speeds down the highway. Dean shoots a grin at Sam, and Sam grins back, flipping on the radio, and music starts playing. It's a classic old Doobie Brothers tune, "Listen To The Music", and they're going to get Cas, and everything's gonna be all right. Dean's on top of the world.

A little voice in the back of his head is whispering, It's never that easy, but Dean ignores it.

 


 

 

A/N - So I was working on this in Alaska. First fiction writing I've been able to do in months and it felt so good! Have been itching to start posting it! And then when the S11 finale aired I thought "This would actually fit PERFECTLY after the S11 finale! ....if I just completely disable both S11 cliffhangers in about 5 minutes of conversation in chapter 1", lol, so that is what I am doing.

Update schedule: I'll be aiming for my usual Friday updates. However, chapter 2's not written yet and I have to drive some sea turtles around the country this coming week - I'm currently wrapping up an insanely busy science job that ends the last week of July, and then going to Brazil and then moving cross-country, so it's kind of nuts, but I'm nonetheless optimistically aiming for weekly Friday updates. (If I won't be able to get an update posted on Friday, I'll at least post an edit in the previous chapter's A/N about when it'll be up.) After chapter 2, chapters 3-6 are already done, and that'll get me through end of July when the job ends, and then I can just write for a few months.

I hope you enjoy this fic!  Please drop a comment if you have a minute! And if there was something specific in this chapter that you liked, please do let me know.