PROLOGUE: JANUARY 24, 2010

Laurel's room was a modest thing. That was putting it mildly. She expressly forbid any mirror to be placed in her living area while she remained at the facility. The walls were entirely bare, except for a single image of two men: one was a bit taller than the other, with a squarer jaw and longer hair. The other man was less-heavily built, with a sharper jaw line and piercing eyes. The photo was black-and-white. They were mug shots. Because of course they were.

She vaguely remembered the year of her life that thing had stolen from her. That demon. Demons. Heaven. Hell. Angels. God. Laurel still couldn't believe all of it was real. Sure, she was a regular churchgoer, a good Methodist girl who believed in the Good Book, but she never really considered that all those supernatural things appearing in it were real. It was as big a shock to her system as one could possibly endure, and that combined with losing a year of her life to the demon/former witch who called herself Ruby only made it all the worse. It wasn't that Ruby was a bad person, quite the opposite. Everything Laurel learned about demons in Sunday School seemed wildly inaccurate when it came to describing Ruby. The ex-witch was kind, if a little abrasive, and helpful in her own way. She sought to make Sam better, even if her methods were somewhat unorthodox. What else did she expect from a demon? But then said demon was forcibly returned to hell and she was inhabited by one even worse, one truly worthy of the title 'evil': the crossroads queen, Lilith. Lucifer's first child. Darkness and malice dominated that demon's existence. Laurel could hardly stand it, as the sadistic being had forced Laurel to be semi-aware when she possessed the then-law student.

She was pulled from her thoughts upon the opening of her door. Still a little out of it from a night of fitfulness and flashbacks, it required a moment for the blonde to figure out that one of the men in her pictures was standing in the doorway. The taller one? No, the shorter one. Dean. His electric green eyes smiled down at her; she was still huddled on the bed in a semi-fetal position, her back to the wall.

"Hi Laurel," he smiled, pulling up a chair beside her bed and gently touching her shoulder. "How ya doing today?"

"I heard you shot Satan in the face," the patient smiled back.

"Didn't take, unfortunately, but we haven't seen him in over two months."

"Happy birthday," she muttered.

Dean came to see her on his birthday last year too, and the year before that.

"Thanks. I'm, uh, 32 this year."

"Looks good on you," she mumbled. Dean smiled that big toothy grin that had always been nothing but endearing to her, even when Ruby was in her driver's seat.

"I looked for you, you know. I found Sam and Bobby. They told me you had died?" Her tone was confused, as well as hoarse from underuse.

"You okay, kiddo?" Dean asked, referring to said hoarseness. "Long story."

"I remember it all," Laurel was doing that whole stream-of-consciousness thing again. She always did that when she was delirious. Sleep-deprived as she was, Laurel was lucid enough to recognize Dean and his innate kindness hidden behind that gruff, boozy exterior. "She wasn't that bad," she muttered of Ruby. "I bit rough around the edges, kinda like you. "Part of me wishes you could've gotten to know her better."

"And the other part?"

"Wishes it wasn't me she picked. Maybe some other poor schmuck. Does that make me a bad person?"

"What? Sweetie, no. Is that why you're in here again?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it is, Dean. I just couldn't take it. Losing so much of my life, and what I lost before the possession. Maybe it's better this way."

"What about the law degree, DL? What about CNRI? You're a lawyer, now, just like you always wanted"

"Meh," she shrugged.

Dean hated this, seeing her give up. He might not know Dinah Laurel Lance that well, but the 24-year-old was about as resilient as they come. She'd lost her sister and the man she loved in a yacht accident as well as simultaneously discovering their affair. His heart absolutely and without question shattered for her each time he thought of the emotional trials Dinah Laurel Lance had experienced in the last three years alone. He'd lost Sam once and it nearly broke him, crossroads deal not withstanding.

"I just want the pain to stop," was the first fully present thing she said the whole visit. Dean immediately gathered the blonde into his arms and started brushing her hair with his free hand. "Shh-shh-shhhh, it's alright. It's okie-dokie," he said, hoping the childish turn-of-phrase would soothe her as it had in visits past. No such luck this time. Laurel was a sobbing, shivering mess in moments. This was her rock bottom, Dean knew it. Good idea he chose to come today, spend his birthday with his young woman he barely knew. There was something to her, though, a sense of kinship and understanding that even he and Sam had not managed to cultivate.

For her part, Laurel felt a connection to Dean. They were both recovering alcoholics (though recovery was a term that waxed and waned for the both of them), the pair were much more introverted than either cared to admit despite being quite open with each other, and she appreciated his company during his brief visits to either Starling or Midway. She loved her vacations in Midway City, or to Opal. Dean's first visit was when she was staying with a family friend in Opal. That was neither here nor there, though, as he was chasing a suspected Rougarou at the time. A solo hunt.

"I heard you have some new fine-feathered friends," Laurel chuckled once her crying spell had ended and she pulled back, wiping at her eyes and nose like a little kid.

"Friends is a loose term," Dean admitted. "There's only really one and he's as good a friend I've ever had."

"Castiel? I've heard whispers. What's he like?"

"Interesting," Dean replied and that sufficed for Laurel. "I just wanted to come say hi. Any ETD?"

"I'm hoping soon," she admitted, her earlier reticence to leave now gone in the presence of Dean Winchester.

Maybe in another lifeā€¦ Laurel pondered.

"Maybe once I'm out you can teach me hunting?" She inquired.

"I don't know if-"

"Dean. I lost a year of my life to Ruby, and then an extra night to Lilith. I know how to kill demons thanks to Ruby. I can be valuable."

"Starling needs you and your generosity and kindness. The road would just muck all that up. I just-"

Without warning, Laurel leaned forward and kissed Dean softly on the lips.

"Oh" was his reaction.

"I'm sorry, was that inappropriate?"

"No, no. It- just unexpected is all. Here," he pulled out her pen and pad and jotted down his number. "For when you get out," he smiled and kissed her cheek. "I gotta go. Sam and Cas need me."

"I'll be right here waiting," she giggled. Gotta find the humor in something, right? "I promise I'll be better when you visit next."

Dean just smiled at Laurel, hugged her, and exited.

Call me crazy, she thought, but I could see myself marrying that man.