welcome to...

Song Remains the Same
by River Winters

Opening Notes: Welcome and thanks for stopping by! If you're like me you like to know what you're getting into (committing to, even) at the beginning of a fanfic (especially one that is two million words plus), so here we go with some info: Song Remains the Same begins right at the end of season three and stays fairly close to canon (at first) while including my AU addition of Alex Winchester—Dean and Sam's younger sister (Sam's twin) who has recently and inexplicably been cured from her lifelong condition of mutism.

Even though the story focuses on Alex as the protagonist and Castiel as the secondary protagonist, there is plenty of Sam/Dean/John stuff as well (in further chapters especially)—I love Supernatural and all the characters and as such, this story is not 'just' a romance (but trust me, there's plenty of romance to be had!). The relationship between Cas and Alex is everything from painful to fluffy to angst-ridden to dark at certain points of the story. I don't like to skimp over important emotional content and I really like to explore the way emotions work in all kinds of relationships. This story is definitely evidence of that. Speaking of which: this story may or may not have lethal amounts of feels (okay fine, it does have lethal amounts of feels). Strap in if you love angst and pain because it's about to get intense up in here. As this is a novel/series-length fanfiction that spans a very long television show, you can expect many ups and downs for Calex and constant growth/development as they progress. You can also expect more and more AU storylines and material as the story gets to Season 7, 8, 9, and 10.

If you hate Mary Sues, you're in good company and won't find one here (though at first you may wonder, because there are a lot of unanswered questions about Alex but please rest assured... I reveal the answers gradually as I build the story and as more is explained about Alex's character, background, etc). She's what you'd expect out of a Winchester: tough as nails and a real fighter but with a million emotional issues under the surface and a stark vulnerability hiding behind her jaded exterior.

I would say the story really gets off the ground and running around chapter four, takes off in ten, and gets freaking insane around chapter twenty. A lot of new readers ask me when the romance begins and honestly the slow build starts as soon as Cas and Alex meet a few chapters in. They're drawn together whether they like it or not. I do however take the time to build realistic emotional connection between them because I typically dislike when characters fall completely in love right off the bat (especially characters like Castiel, who is learning emotions and characters like Alex, who doesn't trust easily).

Readers, I hope you enjoy the story that follows. Please read and review/PM/email me; I loveeee hearing from you :-) This story has been an absolute labor of love to write and I've put my heart and soul into it. My thanks to the folks behind Supernatural for creating and producing such an amazing universe and story that has captured me so completely. SRS will always be a huge part of my life and I daresay so will SPN.

Now, go check out winchesteralex dot tumblr dot com and you can see pictures of Alex as I envision her (as played by actress Astrid Berges-Frisbey), manips, questions & answers, Calex shipping mania, as well as other stuff from the fic. The tumblr blog does contain spoilers for the story and the show though, so please be forewarned. Cheers & happy reading! #SPNSRS :)

Story Details:
Song Remains the Same
Rated M for violence, language, adult material such as drug use, and sexual content/darker subject material in later chapters.
Disclaimer: Supernatural and all of the characters therein do not belong to me. This story is for fun only, no profits are being made... only tears.
Spoilers/Warnings: Spoilers for all seasons, eventually. The story begins in 3x15 but does include flashbacks into previous seasons. Story includes family drama - overprotective Dean - Sam and Alex at odds - Alex working to overcome a complicated and painful past - Castiel learning how to deal with emotions and feelings - epic romance between Cas and Alex and many ups and downs between them throughout the seasons as they grow and change together - some dark subject matter here and there - very LONG chapters as the story progresses (to my ADD/dyslexic readers, you have my apologies).
Pairings: Castiel/Alex Winchester, Dean/OFC, Sam/OFC, a few other side ships.
Special thanks: This story would not be possible without the help of several gals who have helped me edit, brainstorm, and perfect plot points. Seriously Jess, Briana, Melissa, Kaylah, Stevie, Elyse, and Callie... without you, I couldn't have gotten as far as I have! Thank you.

Story Tags (for the reader who wants to know even more about what's ahead! Warning, spoilers follow): Alternate Universe, Plot Twists, Winchester Sister, Sam's Twin, Overprotective Dean Winchester, Black Sheep Sam, Abusive John Winchester, Protective Castiel, Winchester Family Drama and Feels, Fallen Castiel, Human!Castiel, Guilty Castiel, BAMF Castiel, Het, OTP, Forbidden Love, Loss of Virginity, Uncensored Sex Scenes, Family Feels, Angst, Fluff, Non-Con, Violence Typical of Fandom, Original Female Characters, Original Male Characters, Secret Marriage, Original Episodes/Chapters, Angel and Bible Lore, Angel/Human Relationship, Drug Use, Depression, Suicide, Prescription Drug Abuse, Strong Language.

A STATEMENT ABOUT TRIGGERS: This story is not lightweight. Read at your own risk. I do include trigger-warnings on a few chapters with especially touchy content matter, but please know that this story is intended for adults and if you're sensitive about any of the above tags, please be careful!

Song Remains The Same

Chapter 1 / Born to Run

"We face the path of time... and yet I fight."
- Alice in Chains

Every story has a marked beginning. Mine begins thousands of years ago at the dawn of time itself. I was created, not born; created to be a warrior and messenger of God. My task was to watch over God's children, to carry out the purposes of my father; a father I never knew but always believed in. I was obedient, I was faithful, I never questioned my role or my father. Not until them. A little broken family of three seemingly small and insignificant human beings: two brothers and their sister. This is where my story changes. For the better or worse, I'm not entirely sure. However, I suspect it's for the worse.

The Winchesters taught me about free will and choice, two things that were once foreign concepts to a being like me, an angel of the Lord. I was drawn to this idea of being free to make my own choices, of choosing my own fate—but now I realize freedom is a great and terrible burden. If I knew then what I know now, perhaps I would choose a different path. Perhaps I would take it all back. I don't know.

If you told me a few years ago that I would be in the dilemma I am in now, I doubt I would have believed you. At that time, I couldn't have fathomed that I would be capable of the things I so clearly feel today: remorse, agony, confusion, pain… love. It's difficult to reconcile who I was with who I've become. I'm not sure that I like who I am, honestly.

The centuries I lived through, the wars I saw waged, the rise and fall of kingdoms I've observed... none of it prepared me for being put into the body of a human man, for being thrust into the midst of emotions and feelings and the responsibility of being completely in charge of my own actions. Even after watching humans century after century, I had no idea how to be anything like one. Not at first.

I've tried to make the right choices. I've tried to protect these fleeting and fragile human beings who have become so important to me—especially her, always her—but perhaps I've failed. I think I have.

And of all the people I've failed, I've failed her the most.

- Four Years Ago -
Late April 2008
Just Outside of Erie, Pennsylvania

Alex slowly woke from another snatched few hours of sleep to the familiar growl of the Impala's engines. Van Halen was crackling on the radio. Groggily, she wondered why she'd gone to sleep at all—as usual, there had been the normal assortment of nightmares. She'd slept, but not restfully. Awkwardly crammed into the back seat with only her arm as a pillow, she stiffly sat up and grimaced as she tried to knead some soreness out of her stiff shoulder muscle. Ouch. Dammit. Between kicking ass, getting her ass kicked, sleeping on crappy motel mattresses or in the car, she couldn't remember ever not feeling sore. She gave up on the shoulder, squinted into the bright light streaming through the car's windshield. The sun was low in the sky—sunrise?—and it shone directly into her heavy-lidded eyes. In the front seat with one hand on the wheel and dark shades on, her oldest brother Dean acknowledged her with a slight turn of the head.

"Morning, sunshine." His familiar gravelly voice bordered on either sarcastic or good humored... Alex couldn't tell. She mumbled back a halfass greeting, trying to force herself into consciousness—it wasn't easy, as her body and mind were both desperate for more rest.

Being exhausted all the time kind of came with the job title of hunter and she knew that... but she didn't have to like it, did she? Maybe someday she would sleep more than three or four hours at a time, but right now was clearly not that time. Alex glanced at her just-slightly-older twin brother Sam, who was at the moment snoring softly, his giant head lolling onto his shoulder in the front seat—the dude could sleep through a hurricane. Lucky.

The car slowed, rolling to a stop at a dingy gas station. Dean punched his sleeping brother in the shoulder, who started from sleep and said something like "huh, wha!?" to Dean's clear amusement. "Enough with the shut eye, Sammy. Rise and shine!" Dean got out of the car and began fueling it up, leaving his two sleepy siblings to themselves.

Sam turned around, his slightly confused I-just-woke-up expression mirroring how Alex was feeling at the moment. "Hey," he mumbled, and looked at her for only two more seconds before asking "nightmares again?" Her eyes flicked up to him. He saw through her like that sometimes—maybe it was part of being twins. Maybe it was because he had nightmares, too.

"Uh, a few," she replied with a forced shrug, downplaying it. "It's no big deal." Alex looked away from him, tried not to remember the dreams of yellow eyes, crunching bones, a dark world where she was stuck in chains as horrible clawed hands dragged Dean away to his death... she shivered a little, suddenly wide awake and somber, once again remembering the reality they'd been running from for the past eleven months. The reality of Dean's quickly closing in death.

Sam didn't look like he bought her attempt at casual indifference. "You sure about that?" He asked, looking at her with eyes that were filled with studious concern.

Meeting his gaze, she withered and felt the vice-like grip of fear gripping her all over. It made her voice go weak and made her veins cold when she thought about it. "I mean... no." She gritted her teeth, looked down, trying not to sound as freaked out as she was. "It's... Dean's time is almost up, Sam," she said, barely above a whisper. Alex looked at her older brother, desperate for an answer to the question that harrowed her night and day. Desperate for someone, anyone, to give her reassurance. "What are we gonna do?"

Sam went blank at her words, then his jaw tensed and he was quiet for a couple heavy beats. "We… we still have some time," he muttered, distracted and upset. He turned away. "I, uh, I need some coffee." And just like that, he exited the car, heading in his trademark long stride toward the convenience store. Alex stared after him silently, not sure if she should be pissed or sad or what. After all, what could Sam have said to make it better? No words could change what was coming.

Ever since Dean had made the crossroads deal to bring Sam back from the dead, they had lived it up wild and free, Dean style—basically doing whatever the hell Dean wanted in between jobs. There had been a lot of booze, women, and bad burger joints in between the hunts they found. But the Winchesters had never really talked about the approaching day that they all knew was coming: the day Dean would have to make good on his soul deal. Dean refused to talk about finding a way out of it, said that if he so much as tried to get out of the deal, Sam would die again. Still, Sam and Alex? They'd been trying to figure out a way. However all of their research and inquiries had come up luckless. Sam was beginning to avoid the subject matter completely when she reminded him of the coming day... like he had given up or something; like he couldn't face the subject at all, had to ignore it.

Dean had avoiding reality down to a science by now... he'd always been like that though. He'd never been able to tolerate sitting around, instead he preferred to always be moving forward. Moving and doing gave him something to focus on besides the crazy crap the three of them lived through and called their life. Right now was actually a good example of Dean's penchant for not wanting to give a single thought to his future—they were on the way to investigate a possible zombie outbreak. And Dean was literally days away from being brutally murdered by Hellhounds. To Alex, it was really beginning to feel too late, and whenever she actually thought about it, she was overwhelmed with the worst fear and panic she'd ever known. So she tried not to think about it. They always found a way out, right? So maybe this time would be the same. Maybe something would come to them in the eleventh hour.

She glanced out at Dean who was bobbing his head along to the music playing in the car as he gassed up the Impala. He was off in his own little world, and she wondered how he could be so relaxed and fine about everything. She wanted so bad to just go out there and shake him and demand for him to do something please! about what was about to happen. But if you tried to talk to Dean about what was coming in just a handful of days—you'd better prepare to be bitch slapped verbally.

Alex slid out of the backseat and headed into the store, needing the bathroom, needing to get out of the damn backseat for a few minutes. It was cold outside even though it was April. Her breath made little puffs of water vapor as it hit the air, her worn out combat boots crunched against frost on the cracked pavement. She wrapped her arms around herself, deep in thought. She wondered about how other families might deal with what hers was having to face. How did normal people handle knowing that they were losing someone? What did functioning families do when a loved one had a certain amount of time to live? But of course, the Winchester family was anything but functional. They barely held it together as it was.

The gas station restroom was a dank little tiled room with a cracked toilet and a foggy, water damaged mirror. Seeing herself in that mirror for what might have been the first time in days, Alex was taken aback. She looked so tired and harrowed, old... beaten down. Her hair was completely bedraggled and her tank top had some kind of stain on it near her hip—did that happen when they tortured that demon last night for information? Alex yanked a few fingers through her hair, trying to tame the long brown mess—it didn't really work and she gave up. She had thought of cutting it all off before, but had never gone through with it. She glanced at her face again in the mirror, wondering if the dark circles were temporary or permanent—had they always been that dark and pronounced? She couldn't remember.

Alex pulled her army-green jacket around her closer to cover the stain on her shirt then shoved her hands into the pockets as she exited the restroom. Outside, through the glass door of the gas station, she saw Dean and Sam leaning against the Impala. She felt a stab of pain, unintentionally letting herself fear for the day when Dean was no longer there. He'd always been there, always. How the hell was she supposed to live without him? An agonized feeling in her chest and throat came at the thought and she shut it down, refusing to grieve yet. Dean was still here, and they had work to do. They could save him somehow, she knew it. They had to. She walked out of the gas station, stone-faced, trying to look like she was okay. Sam smiled one of his half-smiles at her and held up a cup of coffee in her direction. Alex accepted it when she reached them, cupped it in her hands for warmth, giving it a sniff through the little hole where you were supposed to sip. Gas station coffee was always so hit or miss. This particular brew had the aroma of burnt rubber. She wrinkled her nose. She'd drink it anyway.

The Winchesters hit the road again, Dean doling out the plan for the day—get a motel room, suit up as feds. The brothers would go to the morgue to see what they could find out while Alex went to the hospital and interviewed the victim of the strange 'kidney-napping' as Dean put it.

"Make sure you remember to find the nurses or doctors who treated the guy and ask them all about what they saw, if there was anything weird or—" Dean was saying to Alex, but she cut in.

"Dean, I know I'm sort of new at the whole interviewing thing, but I've got this. I've done it before, I've watched you do it a million times... I know what to do." She gave him a pointed look and her oldest brother conceded, if a little reluctantly and with a little attitude.

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered gruffly. "I know it's been a few months, but I can't get used to it. The whole you-having-a-voice-thing."

Alex's eyes snapped up to the rearview mirror, where Dean was looking at her with watchful, narrowed eyes. She looked away. "Me either," Alex murmured, her mind turning to the many questions she had about that. She could feel Dean still watching her in the rearview, but she avoided looking back at him. Dean and Sam shared a significant glance. Dean frowned and shook his head. Unsolved mystery number one: how Alex had suddenly and inexplicably gotten her voice back after being silent since she was six months old.

Dean remembered Alex had been a normal baby until that night—the twins' six month birthday. Up until then, she'd cried, babbled, and screamed like all babies did. But after the fire, after Mom died... nothing. It was like her vocal chords had just quit working. Doctors couldn't make sense of it and after a few years, the Winchester family had just accepted the fact that little Alex would never speak.

The silent one, volume zero, freak. At every new school, she would earn cruel nickname after cruel nickname. Her inability to speak or make any sort of sound made her a target for bullying and estrangement by her peers. Sam agonized over it, Dad had blamed himself, and Alex cried silent tears when she thought no one was looking. And Dean—well Dean had always taken it hard. Real hard.

As they currently sped toward their destination, Dean's mind wandered into an old memory. Sam and Alex must have been about twelve at the time. He remembered it like it had been just a few days ago...

Dean came in alone into the motel room with canned chicken and some instant noodles—the fixings for what would be their dinner for the night. Dad was not there, as per usual. Sam was sitting on the bed with Alex, his arm around her, his face twisted in concern. Sniffing and breathing heavily, Alex was in tears.

"What happened?" Dean demanded, throwing down the groceries on the motel table and going over to where his siblings sat.

"Kids at school were making fun of her again," Sam said angrily, clearly frustrated that his twin was hurting and he couldn't do anything.

Dean sat on the bed on the other side of Alex and put an arm around her. "Hey, chin up kiddo. Don't listen to those losers."

Alex bent and scrawled in her little worn out notebook—she took one with her everywhere and wrote in it countless times a day to communicate. None of them knew sign language. Dad hadn't wanted Alex to learn it because he was going to 'fix her' soon, just you wait and see. Well, Dean was tired of waiting. And he knew Alex was too.

They said I'm weird and a freak.

Dean felt a familiar righteous anger thump in his heart as he looked down at his kid sister. If he could get his hands on those freakin' bullies... but he needed to focus on calming Alex down now. He squeezed her shoulder gently and spoke to her firmly. "Well, you're not a freak or weird. You're awesome, okay? You could kick any of their asses from here to Tuesday. Do any of those punks know how to gank a ghost? Or hunt a werewolf? Have any of them ever helped their dad research how to finish off a wraith?"

Alex shrugged miserably, sniffing as another fat tear rolled down her cheek. She quickly wrote something else.

I'll never have friends :'''(

Dean tried to keep his voice upbeat, even though the frowny face with multiple tear drops just about did him in. "Sure you will, baby girl," he soothed. Dad used to call the twins baby girl and baby boy. He didn't anymore. "And no matter if you have friends or not, you'll always have me and Sam, okay?" Dean patted her roughly on the back. "It's gonna be okay." Dean gave his sister a light and playful punch in the shoulder, as he cracked a no-nonsense grin. "Now. You and Sammy need to help me make dinner. No being down in the dumps allowed."

Alex nodded halfheartedly, giving the 'okay' hand symbol.

How many times had they had that same exact conversation? Dean wearily thought of how many hard, lonely nights he had helped his brother and sister through. Alex's muteness had caused her to become an outcast, and Sam was picked on too for varying reasons. Neither of the twins had made many friends, actually. Alex and Sam had been joined at the hip, pretty much, until the high school years, which is when things had gotten a little less cozy in the family. Sam had tried harder to be quote unquote 'normal' and Alex hadn't been into that at all (or capable, really). And then when Sam decided to go off to college... she'd taken that really hard and personal. Things had never been the same between any of them since. The whole college thing, in Dean's opinion, had royally screwed the Winchester family. He was still pissed about it, honestly.

He'd always felt very protective over both of his siblings, but especially over Alex because he saw her as being really vulnerable. Yeah, she was a good hunter and Dad had raised her just like him and Sam: to be capable and resourceful, strong and smart—but up until her unexplained healing a few months ago, Dean hadn't ever wanted to let her out of his sight. Too much risk out there. He feared she would end up trapped somewhere or hurt badly—unable to even make a sound or call for help. Dean had always held out hope they would find some voodoo, some spell, some something to get Alex her voice back. She'd always been so unhappy, so lonely, so off to herself, so undeserving of the crap fate had dealt her. Sometimes her frustration and anger came out, mostly in her teen years, in random and unexpected bursts of violence or acts of aggression. She'd broken stuff in motel rooms, gotten in fights at school, Dean had caught her spray painting school property before.

But see, he couldn't be too mad at her. He got it, he did. She felt weird and freakish and was mad at the world. But more than mad, she was alone and lonely. Even if she were in a room full of people, she was alone, off to herself, in the corner or sitting, watching, quiet whether she wanted to be or not. Dean had always felt responsible for trying to make her feel normal, at least a little bit. He wasn't sure it had ever worked though. Anyway, were any of the Winchester family normal? He really didn't think so.

Dean's mind again wandered into his memories, this time a more recent one...

It was 2004 and Dean and Alex had just reunited with Sam a couple weeks ago after Dad went missing. The sibling dynamic was off, period, maybe because they'd been apart for years, maybe because Sam was mourning the death of Jessica, maybe because Alex was kind of withdrawn and weird with her twin suddenly back in the picture. Either way, Dean was a little extra pissy because nothing was going according to plan and because Dad was proving impossible to find.

They'd stopped in Lake Manitoc, Wisconsin, to investigate a series of suspicious drownings. The deaths had been ruled accidental, but Dean hadn't been so sure. They'd found the wife and son of one of the most recent drowning victims. This boy named Lucas had seen his dad drown—and the poor kid had been stuck out there, floating in the cold water all alone for hours—he hadn't spoken a word since. The second Dean had learned that this kid had gone mute after watching a parent die, he'd been deeply affected and empathetic. After all, that's pretty much exactly what had happened to his little sister.

At a local park, Dean had tracked down Lucas's mom for the second time to talk to her. He wanted to talk to Lucas some more, see what the kid had seen when his dad drowned. Morbid stuff, but someone had to do it. Lucas was off by himself at the park, so Dean and Alex had gone over to try and see if they could get him to talk. Sam hung back with the mom. Lucas was sitting alone, bent over a park bench coloring. "Follow my lead," Dean said, maybe a little unnecessarily to Alex, who gave him a semi-amused look that clearly said I always do, don't I?

Yeah. She did.

"How's it going?" Dean asked Lucas as they approached, then crouched down across from the kid. Alex knelt at the end of the bench, folded her arms over the wooden slats. The little boy didn't acknowledge either of them, just kept coloring. He had colored construction paper stacked next to him and some untouched plastic army men scattered across the bench, too. Dean and Alex exchanged a glance, Alex shrugged almost imperceptibly, and Dean picked up a toy soldier.

"Oh, I used to love these things," Dean said conversationally, and swung the little plastic piece around making cheesy gun and explosion sounds. Alex shook her head, hid a smile. Lucas kept coloring, ignoring them, and Dean tried again. "So crayons more your thing?" Dean asked, watching Lucas carefully. "That's cool. Chicks dig artists."

Alex had picked up the drawing on top of the little pile of drawings Lucas had next to himself. She looked at it thoughtfully—the drawing was of a big black swirl. Dean glanced between Alex and Lucas, struck by the fact that this kid Lucas reminded him painfully of his sister in a way that surprised him. Lucas had to be five or six, and Alex was twenty-two, but they had the exact same sad, alone, haunted eyes. They had the same lonely-in-a-world-full-of-people kind of slouch to their shoulders.

Dean caught himself in his thoughts and refocused, soldiered on—this was no time to get all jacked up on sad feelings. He flipped through Lucas's drawings. "Hey, these are pretty good," he said, looking at the one of a red bicycle. He got an idea, glanced at Lucas. "You mind if I sit and draw with you for awhile?"

No response from Lucas. "I'm not so bad myself," Dean commented, going ahead and picking up the stack of paper and a crayon, standing up. Alex had her hands together and under her chin and she watched silently, mostly observing Lucas, but looking at Dean from time to time. Dean glanced at her briefly as he sat down on the empty end of the bench, then addressed Lucas again.

"You know Lucas, I'm thinking you can hear me, you just don't want to talk. I don't know exactly what happened to your dad, but I know it was something real bad." He glanced at Lucas, who was still unresponsive. "I think I know how you feel. When I was your age, I… I saw something." He paused, stopped drawing for a second, grew deeply thoughtful and pensive, thinking of what he remembered about that fateful night: flashes of fire down the hallway, Dad shouting, the roar of the flames, baby Sam wailing, Alex wide eyed and screaming and silent. Dean had run outside, stared up at the window of the nursery from outside as he clutched the twins just barely—they had been so heavy in his arms. He hadn't understood what was happening, not at first. Their nursery window was lit up soft orange by the fire—how could Dean have guessed that Mom was burning alive just beyond those panes of glass?

Sobering a good deal, Dean took a deep breath, glanced at Alex, who was watching Lucas draw. Sometimes Dean wondered if she remembered anything. She'd just been a baby, after all.

"Anyway," Dean looked at Lucas, gathering himself and forcing his mind out of the dark places. "My sister Alex here? She doesn't talk cuz of what happened. Just like you. She saw something so bad that it just… made her voice go poof, I guess." Alex's jaw had tightened a little at the subject matter, but she just stared down at the bench neutrally, took a deep breath. However, Lucas did stop drawing a second and glanced Alex's way before returning to his scribbles.

"Listen," Dean said to the kid. "We understand and we wanna help." He returned to drawing as he talked. "Maybe you don't think anyone will listen to you, or, or believe you. I want you to know that I will. You don't even have to say anything." Alex peeked up at Dean from underneath her lashes and he attempted to give her a little smile. He was used to these one-sided conversations after a lifetime with her. And she knew it, too.

"You could draw me a picture about what you saw that day, with your dad, on the lake," Dean suggested, refocusing on Lucas. When he got no response, he nodded. It had been worth a shot. "Okay, no problem. This is for you." Dean held out the stick-figure drawing he'd done. "This is my family." He pointed to each stick figure individually. "That's my dad. That's my mom. That's my geek brother—" he smirked, glanced Sam's way, "my kid sister—and that's me." A pause, and Lucas still said nothing, just colored his little rocket ship drawing, off in his own little world. Dean gave up, but kept his voice friendly and calm. "All right, so I'm a sucky artist." He stood, put the drawing down where he'd been sitting. "I'll see you around, Lucas."

Dean started to walk off but when Alex stayed put, and he stopped, looked at her, waited—but she shook her head slightly, motioned for him to go on and go. He hung back, but watched, curious. Lucas came out of his fog, picked up the drawing Dean had left, stared at it curiously, then looked at Alex and then back to the picture, then back at her again. He was scrutinizing her kind of suspiciously. She smiled just a little—she had a way of smiling really hesitantly, sort of grimacing, holding her mouth in a stiff line and testing the waters before really smiling for real—but today she smiled for real and right away at the little kid as she tapped the stick figure on the sheet that symbolized her. She then tapped herself on the chest, close to her shoulder. Lucas looked at her a long time, trying to decide something maybe. Alex took a piece of paper, a crayon, wrote something down, held it out in front of herself for him to read. I see you.

Lucas tilted his head to the side just slightly, thoughtfully, then reached out and accepted it from her. Dean watched with increasing interest… usually Alex was a total disaster with kids—she just didn't know what to do with them and they didn't know what to do with her—kids liked loud people, entertaining people. Alex was easy to miss if you weren't looking for her. Maybe that's why Lucas seemed kind of fascinated by her, because he wasn't a typical kid. He had taken out his own his own blank piece of paper and was writing on it. Lucas handed it to her and Dean could just make out the words I see you too.

Alex read it, took it, raised her eyebrows and tilted her head, her eyes flickering over Lucas's face. She smiled a little then, and the kid's chin moved up, he looked at Alex thoroughly. Dean swore the two of them were having an entire conversation that only they could understand.

And then Lucas got out a new sheet of paper and began to draw a house—they didn't know it at the time, but that drawing would help them solve the case.

Dean remembered watching the two of them together, those silent kids with world-weary eyes and knowing there was hope for Lucas that he might speak again someday, but knowing deep down in his heart of hearts that Alex would remain silent forever. So imagine his surprise, shock, and disbelief when a few months ago, out of nowhere, Alex had stubbed her toe on something and yelped out loud in pain. All three of them had been totally shocked at the sound, the first sound out of her mouth since she'd been a baby. At first they had all been beside themselves with disbelief and overwhelming happiness—but then they had all stopped, suspicious, wondering how—why—and who? They still didn't know of these answers.

The first few days, Alex hadn't been able to speak too well, stuttering a lot and getting overwhelmed and frustrated with her newfound ability. But these days, you'd never know she'd ever been mute. She spoke easily, argued a lot, joked, laughed, snarked off as if she had always been able to—which was another mystery, something that bothered Dean deeply. She'd caught on fast. Too fast. It had to be supernatural, however she'd been fixed up and Dean knew that—but didn't have a clue how to find out who or what was responsible. He thought maybe, maybe Dad had done it somehow from beyond the grave, but he had no way of knowing that for sure. For a moment, Dean thought how much he would like—no, how much he needed—to stick around a few years more, if only to find out who had fixed her and why. But soon, the Hellhounds would come. Dean's expression darkened and he gripped the steering wheel tighter.

In the back seat and lost in her own thoughts, Alex was also thinking about her newfound voice. Being inexplicably healed of a life of silence, of the inability to make a single noise didn't sit well with her. The having a voice part was great, the not having a clue why was what ate away at her. In her experience, good things didn't just randomly happen to her. Ever.

For her entire life, Alex had lived in her own internal world, watching life happen and not feeling part of it. She'd spent a lot of time imagining her responses to conversations she was never a part of, giving grand monologues inside her head for hours at a time, wondering what would change if she could speak, respond, and participate like everyone else could.

If she tried to look at her muteness from a positive angle, all she could come up with was that she'd gotten really good at writing fast and clear since she usually used notepaper to communicate. Sometimes she'd used morse code, too, since Dad made them all learn the military-method of communication. She never learned sign language though... not much anyway. She knew a few basic signs and the alphabet but Dad had always insisted, sometimes really angrily, that she didn't need to learn 'that crap' and how he was going to find a way to fix her. Well, he never had. Throughout the years, some kindhearted teachers had insisted on sign language classes for her a few times but Alex had never really put any effort into learning it. She'd known her brothers and especially her dad wouldn't have the time to learn it, and they were the only ones she really cared about communicating with. That and as soon as she'd be enrolled in the class, it'd be time to change schools again, anyway. They traveled—a lot—and school had been a big, stupid blur. She hadn't been like Sam, good grades and Mr. Honor Roll.

It had always seemed like a cruel joke, that a girl like Alex—in a family that lived to hunt down and killed the undead—would have an extra thing holding her back. She was already in the minority, being a girl, being the smallest, being the youngest. So being mute was the cherry on top of the crappy ice cream sundae. She had overcompensated, trying to prove to Dad and herself that she wasn't weaker and that she wasn't any less of a person. She'd obsessively worked on her marksmanship until she was the best shot of either of her brothers, she'd studied Latin on her own instead of doing homework, she'd taught herself to look at something for just a few seconds and remember details, she'd tried and tried and tried. But still, she'd felt overlooked by Dad. After awhile, she gave up on pleasing Dad.

But for years, she tried and failed, and sadness from the disappointment of Dad never being proud of her still remained. Her brothers were her saving grace in all those hard moments of sadness and being let down by Dad, but especially Dean. Dean who had always gone out of his way to look out for her, comfort her, stick up for her, protect her. Dean who had seen the ways she worked hard to please Dad and patted her on the shoulder, told her good job when Dad had said nothing. Dean who had stuck by her side, even when Sam left the family, even when Dad disappeared for weeks and months on end. Dean who had never let her down, not even once. Dean who couldn't die, who couldn't leave her here alone. He was her best friend.

Alex felt desperation bubbling up inside her, and helplessness at the same time. You couldn't just break a soul contract. No one ever had, not that they knew of. She looked out the window, tears pricking her eyes. Don't cry. Don't let them see you cry.

She steeled herself, breathed in deep, cracked her knuckles one by one and forcibly made herself think about anything other than the soul deal, but not before reflecting miserably that maybe she was more like her brothers than she thought: avoiding the stark reality that was staring her down the barrel.

Author's Notes: And so concludes chapter one! In case you're wondering, Castiel's monologue at the beginning is from right around Man Who Would Be King (Season 6).