The doctors were all writing papers about him. Every day it seemed like new specialists with too many letters after their names showed up, examined him, shook their heads and started muttering fancy words that all translated to holy shit. Sometimes he got one that seemed offended by Dean's very breathing, as if his being awake and talking were personal insults. Messing with those guys was always fun.
None of the doctors could wrap their minds around how Dean didn't have any brain damage, how the next day after months in a coma he was up and talking and walking around. There wasn't even any atrophy from lying in the bed for months, no need for physical therapy, nothing to show that Dean had woken up from anything more than a quick nap. He'd had major brain surgery and didn't even have a scar. And no one could figure out how he'd done that.
Dean let them come up with their theories. He knew they wouldn't believe the truth.
He'd tried to tell Sam. That second when Sam walked into his hospital room was the best moment of his life, and the look on Sam's face when Dean jumped up from the bed and hugged him was what Dean had been waiting to see all that time he'd been dead. It wasn't until they sat down and tried to go over what had happened that Dean realized how screwed he was.
If he told Sam about seeing him shoot the crossroads demon, or about that wendigo fight or anything else that involved the two of them, fine. It was only when he tried to tell Sam something about Castiel that there was any problem; it was like the name couldn't stay in Sam's head. He would go into a story about he and Cas tearing it up at Cold Oak and Sam would sit there nodding, doing that active listening crap they'd taught him at school that always drove Dean nuts, then as soon as there was a break in the conversation he would blink at Dean, saying "Wait, sorry, what were we talking about?" Dean knew this is why Castiel had never let Sam see him, that it would be harder for it all to fade if they both had memories of him. Dean was going to wrap his hands around his stupid angelic neck and strangle him when they saw each other again.
Because they were going to see each other again. Dean was going to make sure of it.
Every spare second he could scrape up he spent writing in the notebook that kid had gotten him (a nice one, too, one of those leather journal things he was pretty sure she'd swiped from one of the other coma rooms). Everything he could remember he wrote in that journal, putting enough time in that Sam started making cracks about him keeping a diary. Everything from that first night on the road to that storm in Lawrence had to go in there. That way even if he did forget – and he still didn't believe he ever actually could - it would be down in writing and he could remind himself.
The edges were already getting blurry, even if Dean refused to admit it to himself. He realized one night while writing that he couldn't remember the color of Castiel's tie. (Blue, he remembered a week later while he and Sam fought their way through a kobold nest. Dark blue, darker than the eyes. The answer hit him with so much force he didn't even care when one of the freaky little things shredded up his favorite jacket.)
He knew Castiel had been right, that if he'd known what helping him would have meant for Castiel he would have asked him to save Sam anyway. Would have asked him to save his dad. He would have felt like shit about it but he would have done it, because he didn't have limits when it came to his family. That meant it was his fault, his job to make it right. Castiel was counting on him and Dean wasn't going to let him down.
Two weeks later Dean realized he couldn't remember what Cas had been short for.
Sam noticed that he didn't bring girls back to the motel as often. Sam approved, of course, because as far as Dean was concerned Sam had never been a big fan of his having fun, and when Sam put out the theory that Dean's brush with death was finally making him take life more seriously Dean let him run with it.
He could never admit out loud that hearing someone say I love you more than I love God took some of the shine off random hookups.
Every so often he met some chick in a bar with eyes the right shade of blue and picked her up anyway. Those eyes never looked at him the right way, they were never the right eyes, but sometimes Dean could pretend it.
Dean made a point of reading the journal every night, no matter how tired or beat up he was. It was the only way to keep the memories where they belonged, and every night he found something new that had slipped out of his mind. Sam said he looked like he was studying for a test and Dean guessed that in a way he was.
Then one night he got his clock cleaned by a shifter with a mean right hook and he barely remembered the drive back the motel. Sam dropped him on the bed and he passed out in seconds.
When he woke up in the morning he knew he'd forgotten to do something the night before but couldn't remember what. He figured it must not have been too important.
Night by night the memories slipped away no matter what he did, like he was trying hold onto the rain. Finally there was nothing left but a deep, empty ache, the knowledge that something was missing but not knowing what. He finally he decided he just missed his dad, that traveling around hunting with Sam, looking for Yellow-Eyes, it was just bringing all that back.
And even if he knew deep down that wasn't really it, well, that's why God had invented whiskey.
One day they were over at Bobby's investigating some demon sign when Bobby gave him a strange look. "You know, Dean, something I've always wondered."
"What about?" Dean pulled out another dusty book and almost had the whole pile come down on top of him. "Christ, Bobby, we're going find you buried under all this someday."
"It's only a problem when idjits don't put things back where they belong," Bobby countered, snatching the book from Dean's hands. "Anyway, back when you were ghosting around you showed up in a dream and told me to go after Sam at Cold Oak."
"Yeah? You know I don't remember any of that."
"I know, but it's just been bugging me. You said that "we" were going to go help out Sam, and you didn't mean you and me. Who the hell did you have helping you out?"
Just then Sam called from the other room, saying he'd found something and Bobby got up to check it out.
Dean didn't even notice him leave. He couldn't stop shaking the rest of the day.
"Dude, I still don't believe the chupacabra ate your phone."
"Shut. Up. Sam."
"At least we could still track it by your ringtone."
"I said shut it. When we get back to the hotel I'm gonna drink until I forget this hunt ever happened."
The sales clerk finally came back from the back room, smiling the fake cheery smile of someone who worked on commission. "Okay, Mr. Waters, Mr. Gilmore, we approved your valued customer warranty claim and I have your new phones all ready!" She ended all her sentences like that, like the excitement of the job was about to overwhelm her. It would have driven Dean up the wall if she hadn't been so cute. "Would you like me transfer your old numbers?"
Sam said yes immediately – he always did, it was easier than having things forwarded – but when Dean looked at the pre-programmed number he was suddenly overcome by deja vu. "No, I'm good," he said, the words coming out before he knew he was going to say them.
She smiled at him as she bagged everything up and Dean kicked himself for not getting her number before Sam hustled them out of the store. "Why'd you keep that number?"
Dean frowned, staring down at the phone. "Don't know. Think I've had it before."
Sam quirked an eyebrow. "No you haven't."
"Well, I've seen it before. I like it. Shut up."
"You're seriously weird today, Dean."
The strange looks didn't stop when Dean decided to let him drive. Dean ignored Sam and stared at the phone.
No matter what Sam said, Dean knew this wasn't the first time he'd seen that number. He just couldn't remember when.
Dean presses his hands over the bloody wound in the man's chest. "You hang on, you son of a bitch. You stay with me." The man's shaking under Dean's hands, blue, blue eyes staring up at him. "You're gonna be okay." All Dean has to do is keep up the pressure. The man's hand is around Dean's arm, the grip weak but even through the pain there's total faith in the man's eyes as he looks up at Dean. He knows Dean won't let him die. Dean made a promise. Except Dean's shoulders are starting to ache. As the minutes slip by his strength fails; the blood comes faster, hot under Dean's hands, the shaking worsening. "Don't do this," Dean whispers. This is his fault. He has to make it right. He has to. The man mouths Dean's name, confusion clouding his eyes. The grip on Dean's arm goes slack. Dean blinks and there's blood on his hands but no one's there. There was never anyone there.
All Dean has to do is keep up the pressure. The man's hand is around Dean's arm, the grip weak but even through the pain there's total faith in the man's eyes as he looks up at Dean. He knows Dean won't let him die. Dean made a promise.
Except Dean's shoulders are starting to ache. As the minutes slip by his strength fails; the blood comes faster, hot under Dean's hands, the shaking worsening. "Don't do this," Dean whispers. This is his fault. He has to make it right. He has to.
The man mouths Dean's name, confusion clouding his eyes.
The grip on Dean's arm goes slack. Dean blinks and there's blood on his hands but no one's there. There was never anyone there.
Dean lurched awake, tumbled off the bed and threw up all over the filthy motel carpeting. "Jesus, Dean," he heard Sam say from somewhere above him. "That was a bad one."
Dean just nodded, sitting on the floor away from the mess. "You could say that."
"That's the third time this week. What was this one about?"
Dean shook his head. "You know I never remember them, Sam."
He couldn't escape the feeling of something slipping through his fingers.
Packing up to move on after a hunt Dean found a battered journal in the bottom of his bag, one he didn't remember buying. He opened it up and was startled to find the pages covered in his own handwriting, the writing so close there was barely space between the words. THIS IS REAL. THIS HAPPENED was scrawled across the tops of the pages.
Dean felt his heart pound as he started to read. Impressions trickled in with each word; the press of lips against his palm. Blue eyes staring at him under dark, dripping wet hair. He turned the page and saw a delicate, intricate drawing of wings, corrected over and over like he'd been trying to get it right.
Everything came back in a sick rush. He shut the book and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "Castiel," he whispered. "Castiel, Castiel, Castiel, Castiel." He repeated the name over and over, focusing on every new memory that brought up. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten all of that after everything, but it couldn't happen again. As long as he knew Castiel's name, that meant Dean remembered him, and if he remembered him that meant he must have existed. Something that existed had to be somewhere, and then Dean could find him. "I'm gonna save you, Cas. I'm gonna fucking save you."
"Dean? You ready to head?" Dean looked up, startled to see Sam suddenly filling up the doorway. "Hey, you okay?"
Dean looked down at the closed book in his hands. "Yeah," he said, frowning. He put the book back in his pack. "Yeah, I'm good."
"You sure? You usually pack up faster than me. What were you doing?"
Dean shrugged. "Don't know," he said, zipping his bag up and throwing it over his shoulder. "Wasn't that important."
Dean picked up the phone on the third ring, balancing it against his shoulder as he slammed the Impala's hood closed. "Go ahead." There was silence on the line and Dean sighed. "This is Winchester, go ahead." Dean shook his head. "Sam, swear to God, if this is you your next words better be that you've found a fucking lead..."
"Is...is this Dean?" The voice was rasping and soft, so soft Dean could barely hear it. There was something about the voice Dean couldn't place. "Dean Winchester?"
"Who is this?"
Dean almost hung up. He was never sure why he didn't. "How did you get this number?"
"I don't know. I just dialed it."
Dean leaned against the car. His heart was suddenly pounding like he'd run a marathon. "Say something else."
"I don't...what do you want me to say?"
"Anything else. My name."
There was a long pause. "Dean."
Dean felt like his mind was on fire. There was a word he wanted to say, a name, something he couldn't quite force out. What came out came out instead was, "You deserve to be saved."
He heard a soft breath on the other line. "Why did you say that?"
Dean thought it should be raining. "Cas."
Another harsh, ragged breath. "Why did you say that?"
"'Cause that's your name. Well, it's what I call you, anyway." Dean sat on the pavement against his car, not trusting his legs to keep him up. "Where are you?"
"I...I don't know. I was in a hospital and then I left."
"Okay. You're okay. Calm down"
"When I woke up the only thing I could remember was your name. Why could I remember your name and not my own? Who are you?"
"We'll talk that out when I get there. Give me some idea of where you are, a newspaper, anything."
"Will you stay on the line?"
Dean almost laughed. "Cas, you got any idea how long I've been looking for you? I'm not going anywhere."
Dean counted the seconds until he heard that voice again. "Indiana. A place called New Harmony."
"Okay, good. That's not a big place, I'm gonna find you. I'm on my way."
"I still don't know who you are."
"Cas, I need you to trust me," Dean said, his mouth dry as the weight of impossible memories almost crushed him against the ground. "Can you do that?"
Dean remembered another time when he'd waited for an answer to that question. "Yes."
"Then stay right where you are. I'm on my way."
The memories started sliding away from him again halfway through the drive. Dean pulled over and grabbed that journal out of his bag, tore out one of the few blank pages, wrote his destination in huge letters and taped it to the dashboard.
Then he pressed the gas pedal to the floor and sped the entire rest of the way. Other than Castiel's name, his only other thought the entire way was God help any cop who tried to pull him over.
Later he would wonder if the connection Castiel had created between the two of them had still held through Dean's resurrection. He couldn't see any other explanation for how he could pull into park on some random street, get out of the car to start looking and see Castiel across the street, huddled under an awning to stay out of the building rain. All those missing memories slammed back with so much force Dean staggered back a step and he somehow knew that he wouldn't have to worry about losing them again. He grinned; forget Heaven, Dean Winchester had just been stubborn enough to make reality blink. "Cas."
Dean wasn't sure Castiel would hear him over the rain but his head picked up, his eyes going wide as he stared at Dean. He was dressed in thrift store clothes, not his suit, but the second he moved toward Dean he knew he there'd been no mistake. When he tilted his head to the side Dean felt his heart almost stop. "I know you," he whispered.
"Get over here, you son of a bitch," Dean growled, reaching out to pull him into a kiss that staggered them both back into the car. There was a second of surprise, then Castiel grabbed two handfuls of Dean's shirt and started kissing him back.
"I remember this," Castiel said, shaking as he looked up at Dean.
"Yeah. Yeah," Dean said, pushing his wet hair out of his face. "I make an impression."
This time Castiel kissed him, aggressive and needy at the same time; Dean slid one hand under his shirt, feeling that long, vertical scar down his chest and pulled him closer, shaking himself. Dean didn't know if he was still an angel or had come back human or something else entirely and didn't care. All that mattered was the he was back in Dean's arms. And Dean was going to every damn thing he could to make sure that never changed again.
"This shouldn't be happening," Castiel said slowly, as if he knew it was true was wasn't sure why. "This shouldn't be able to happen. I shouldn't be here."
"Shut up," Dean whispered, cradling his head in both hands. "You're exactly where you're supposed to be, you hear me? Right here is where you're supposed to be." He ran one hand along the threadbare shirt Castiel was wearing. "Where the hell did you get these clothes, Cas?"
"I found them in a room at the hospital." A hard edge crept into his voice. "I woke with your name on my lips. No one would help me find you. They said you were dead."
Dean winced. "Yeah, I still might be, legally. Had some problems with a shifter a while back."
"I knew it wasn't true. I knew it." He sagged against Dean, as if once the surge of energy left him he didn't trust his legs to hold him.
Dean wrapped his arms around his waist. "I'm sorry it took me so long to catch up with you, Cas," he murmured, kissing his forehead. "I'll get you some better clothes, okay? Make it up to you." He smiled. "Get you a trenchcoat, maybe. Bet you'd like that, huh?"
Castiel tilted his head to the side again, his brow furrowed. "I would."
Dean laughed. "Okay, so that's the first thing we'll do. Then we're gonna get go back and I'll introduce you to Sam, and we're gonna teach you the family business. How does that sound?"
Castiel kissed him instead of answering. He still tasted like rain and lightning. "You're wet," he said, as if he'd just realized the rain was pouring down.
"That's okay. Rain's kind of our thing."
"Do we have to go now?" Castiel whispered, his breath hot against Dean's lips. "I like this. I don't want to stop yet."
Dean traced his fingers down Castiel's stomach and felt him shiver. "Fine with me, Cas. No rush." He wiped away a drop of rain clinging to Castiel's lips before kissing him again. "We've got nothing but time."