-o-

ii. and if this little finger doesn't have the strength

-o-

But he's always thinking about something, like it or not, thinking about her in that Victorian the last time that he saw her, the flick of her white dress as it caught the warm wind as she turned and ran.

He lays on his back, his fingers tightening into the pillowcase. Waking up has been like this for a while.

And yeah, really, it's time to let it go. Put the fantasy out to pasture. He knows that. He'd known her long enough and well enough to be able to read the way the exhaustion was cutting her up, how everything in her snapped to focus when she saw the house restored and heard the other Cas' voice; no, he wasn't blind. He knows that getting to rest after fifty-some years of unconsciously murdering whoever crossed your threshold was what she deserved, what he wanted and still wants her to have.

And he knows she's happy. He heard it in her laugh, caught in the middle of two separate conversations, one with him and with another version of himself.

It's unfair and petty, but in the mornings after a hunt like this he wishes she'd turned back, chosen instead to burst into the Order of the Beedak Doo's basement, scared the shit out of Colin Burke and all his druid cronies with her black hair unfurling around her like a proud war standard, and then... well, gone back with him. He hadn't planned it much further than that, other than being with him.

And he meant this him, the one who hunts ghosts and who's had to be careful with the way he moves his torso lately or else he'll open the stitches holding his gut together after he sank a knife into it, the one who has to take vitamin supplements to keep repairing his liver after a run-in with that bad intestinal juju from the Obeahman, the one who had walked straight into Hell for her and who, if given the chance, would do it all over again.

Not the Cas who was at that house.

Yeah, he feels like a grade-A jerk. Given the choice between a Cas Lowood who hunts ghosts and has to live with the consequences and one who can enjoy a regular high school life with his friends and his suddenly-not-a-ghost maybe-girlfriend, he's not sure if he'd chose differently. He's actually pretty flattered. She could have had anything in her afterlife, and she chose, well, him.

And here I thought you just liked me for my roguish good looks and killer moves with the athame.

She's happy. And he's happy she's alright. But goddamn it, if this was such a happy ending for everyone involved, then why is he still laying awake like this just before sunrise, breathing so fast and panicked that everything swims?

He's never going to see her again.

The subtler pain is how it's getting harder and harder to remember her: the delicate, sarcastic twist of her mouth as she laughs, her eyes and hair dancing like ink in water. Even the sound of her laugh is slipping away in a slow vanish, a cassette tape that he's slowly been wearing into muteness by listening to it too much, and the inevitability of waking up like this one morning and being unable to remember anything about how she sounded hits him like a punch to the gut.

Suddenly, he hates himself for forgetting the smallest details. Wasn't this important enough to him to have been seared into his mind? How the hell can he forget anything?

He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. He can hear his mother moving around downstairs, making breakfast. Get a fucking grip. No memory can last forever. Not many things do.

But damned if he won't hold onto this for as long as he can.

-o-

"Hmph. I thought the ghost busters were on vacation." Morfran brings out a plate of muffins and cocks a weary eyebrow at him, Thomas, and Carmel clustered around the table near the back of the shop. "Something about some idiot stabbing through several of his own vital organs and needing to recover. Or maybe I'm thinking of another idiot. The one who still hasn't be able to ditch his neck brace after getting gnawed on by a corpse."

He purses his lips as though wondering who these idiots might be. Cas rolls his eyes. You'd think one of North America's most powerful voodoo men would have better material on hand than this, but no, no he doesn't.

"I kinda wish," Carmel says, taking a bite out of a muffin, "you'd said it was a bear attack, like I did last time. We could have gone down in Winston Churchill's history as the only bear-fighting couple alive to attend Homecoming."

Thomas snorts into his coffee. "I am so sure you don't want to be immortalized as a bear fighter, even as Homecoming Queen."

But Carmel flaps her hand as though to dispel this ridiculous notion. "Don't jinx it, we haven't even had the elections yet. I might not get it."

Cas and Thomas exchange a look. Carmel Jones, queen bee of Winston Churchill and the center that all the cool kids and families in Thunder Bay gravitated to like planets orbiting a sun, not win a popularity contest? Fat chance.

Thomas pours himself a second cup of coffee. Or maybe a third. There've been at least a few, judging from the way his hand twitches as he sets the pot down. "Well, we've only got two weeks left of summer left before senior year. How are we gonna spend them?"

Trying to forget her and not forget her. Trying to lock all the parts of his life that remind him of her into a safe room in his head, a place that he can shut away until he needs to remember everything perfectly.

Thomas and Carmel probably want to go on another hunt, and Cas knows he'll have to check through his sources again to find another site that's likely to have a lead, which means avoiding his mother's curious eye and clearing his search history. He's glad they're willing to come with him. With the athame pulsing its voodoo beat through him, lighting him up, sometimes he forgets how small the space between a successful counter and adding to some ghost's body count really is.

Sometimes one of them will give him a raised eyebrow after a close call, almost asking did he really mean to do that? And most of the time, he shrugs it off. Of course he knows what he's doing. He's a professional, been doing this for years.

Still, until now the opportunity to bow out has never seemed more tempting. Anna's gone, there's another athame in the world, someone will get the ghosts that he can't. His father is avenged; the thing that killed him is well and truly gone. All the obligations that he's fought for since he was fourteen (and longer than that, since he first knew he would take up the athame) are fulfilled and the one person he found more captivating even than them is gone, too. So what the hell is he supposed to do now?

But then he thinks about his mom. And Thomas and Carmel. And hell, even Morfran, that old coot.

The chances were probably pretty slim that he'd make it to the right Victorian anyway.

He's not paying attention until Thomas suddenly turns to him, eyes wide. Hell, psychic kid has struck again. Cas clears his throat. "Sorry, I was asleep. What are we doing?"

Carmel, not understanding Thomas' abrupt focus or Cas' reaction, rolls her eyes as though to say boys, and then repeats herself. "My parents have a huge, end-of-summer Gala every year, sort of like the grown-up version of the Edge of the World party. Except that it's at my house and the most exciting thing that happens is somebody's parents getting a little too tipsy and falling into the pool while everyone else pretends not to laugh. Naturally, you guys are invited."

From the way she says it, the invitation doesn't seem to be optional. Carmel holds his eyes steadily for a moment longer than normal to let the mandatory nature sink in. But whatever. His mom will be glad that he's getting out of the house to do something other than kill ghosts or pick up fresh litter for Mercutio.

"And I want to experiment with more of that medium stuff." Thomas adds. "The library's had weird hours, but I think I finally have what we need to at least take a stab at something."

Morfran's rough bark of laughter resounds from within the kitchen, and Cas watches with fascination as the tips of Thomas' ears slowly turn bright red.

"What's up?" He asks. "Some secret psychic in-joke?"

"Oh, it's laughable, that's for sure." Morfran says and returns, this time bringing with him his own coffee mug. He notices Thomas' sour look and holds up his hands blithely. "What do you want me to say? I taught you enough about magic to know better than this, boy."

Thomas takes in a breath and holds it, pressing his lips together and clearly trying to keep his opinions on the matter to himself. Cas whistles. Witchy disagreements, who knew. Luckily, someone is at the door to the shop, and Morfran, more awake and mostly presentable, goes to offer his antiquing and/or occult services. After making sure that his grandfather is occupied with a potential customer, Thomas seizes the opportunity and Carmel sighs.

"This isn't going to help anything." She says, looking directly at Thomas. "And I'd like to make it clear at the start that I don't think this is going to be the cure-all you think it will. But, I also know you're not going to stop until you try and that you better not try it without me."

"Try what?" Cas asks, genuine concern seeping into his voice. Carmel hasn't been this adamantly opposed to any ghost business since, well... they tried contacting Anna.

"Well, as you know, I am slightly mediumistic," Thomas preens, like it's this big accomplishment. Seeing no reaction from Cas, he adopts an exasperated look. "Hey, remember? Come on, Anna and the Lappish drum? I found her beat and brought her to it. Remember?"

It's true. But he doesn't see how much good a medium is going to- oh.

A grin starts to spread over Thomas' features. "It might not work, since it's offbrand magic, as Morfran likes to call it, but I figure it's still worth a shot. I was researching mediums, and while a lot of it is obviously fake there's some stuff that rings true. I mean, I'm not completely sure if it would work- usually spirits who are happily at rest want to stay at rest, and Anna was happy, right?"

Cas nods, numb.

"Right," Thomas agrees, "so maybe nothing will happen, but we also don't have anything to lose. It's not like she's going to break a pentacle and rip out our- hey!"

A rolled up newspaper smacks into the back of Thomas' head. Morfran's expression is amused, but his eyes have a cagey sternness glinting in them. "Give it up. 'S a waste of your time."

But even as Morfran goes back to the front of the store to help out another pair of weekend shoppers, Thomas and Cas exchange a look of confirmation. It's happening. Carmel sighs, but it's not altogether without a smile.

"You guys do this party for me, and I will help you summon or medium or whatever all the ghosts you want. But for crap's sake, if she doesn't want to be bothered, you have to leave her alone." This time she's looking right at Cas before she sighs. "I feel like all this is going to do is hurt you more, but since you're so determined to do it, count me in."

She checks her watch and excuses herself; she's got to meet Cait Hecht for coffee and to plan Homecoming. Thomas watches her like he's watching a monarch make her departure, transfixed until the silver Audi streaks out of the parking lot in a regal blur.

It doesn't surprise him anymore, but Cas still shakes his head, trying to wrap his brain around how much Thomas is sticking his neck out for him. He wonders if the witch has known about how he's felt about Anna for a while. It's clear that this has taken a lot of planning and Cas is actually pretty embarrassed he didn't figure it out sooner.

"Thanks, man." It sounds like cardboard in his mouth, rough and serrated at the edges, but he means it.

Thomas looks away from the door and shrugs, a little awkward. "It's not a big deal. This is what best friends do, right? Come on, but seriously, how cool would it be if it works out?"

Cas admits that yeah, it would be pretty cool. And yeah, this is what best friends do.

He's known this for a while, but it feels shocking that this friendship is one of the few things still holding him together. A year ago, when he first came to Thunder Bay, first heard about Anna Dressed in Blood, he would never have imagined it would end up like this. And even though it's tearing him up, he wouldn't change a thing.

Well, okay, maybe one thing. He would have kissed her one more time.

-o-

Sometimes she remembers, but mostly she forgets.

It seems like forever since she's had time by herself to think. Cas said that he'd drive over after he talked to his mom and then they'd do their history homework together at the park before the sun sets. She smiles and then taps her pencil against the desk, and knocking off a few math problems as a breeze winds its way through the open doors of the Victorian.

She likes it. It's maybe a little cool for now and it's reminding her of something that she can't quite put her finger on, but she wants to go out it in, go somewhere. Somewhere where it's even windier. She stares out at the trees outside the front door, the leaves slowly putting on their autumn dresses.

She gets the feeling that she and Cas used to meet up at her house and talk in the living room about everything, but now they travel all across town. Sometimes everything feels so familiar, other times so foreign. She can't remember when they first met. She suspects she's always known him.

But there was something about a job, right? Her brow furrows. Cas did something before that he doesn't do now.

The word floats to her on a cold breeze and then she remembers: ghosts. She sits up, back very straight, and walks out of the house, pace brisk and shivering. She doesn't want to be in there anymore, even though it's bright and clean and white. She needs to think. What happened to his knife? What about Thomas and Carmel? She'll have to remember to ask them why Cas doesn't go out and hunt ghosts anymore if Cas doesn't tell her himself. Her brows are knit into a swarm of confusion. Why hasn't he talked to her about this before? She can't recall him ever mentioning it.

She resolves that she will ask him and goes back to finishing her math. The tree is turning red, red, red and it's so bright she can't help but stare. Thunder Bay's autumns are intense and quick, a splash of ink in water before it dissolves. Pretty soon they'll have snow, and she laughs at the thought of Cas and her running around and making snow forts.

Later, Cas returns and they talk and go out to get ice cream. She doesn't ask him about the ghosts because it's slipped her mind, as easily as the red oak leaves snap off their branches and fall out of sight. They stay out late and talk about everything in her living room, and only when she's getting ready to fall asleep does something trouble her, something pesky she should know, should get taken care of because it is important and she really ought to be able to put her finger on it, but she sighs and decides to leave it for the morning, because here sometimes she remembers, but mostly, she forgets.


Author's Note: Thanks so much for reading and thanks for the kind reviews! I'm going to try to update this more frequently- I'm on twitter (hisluckyaxe) so if you want to say hi, go for it! Next chapter should have more action, and if my outline is right, a meeting between two people who haven't seen each other for a while (ooh, foreshadowing).

-cy.