Dean has been so cagey lately.
The bunker is a big place. You’re both constantly discovering rooms and levels and hallways, which makes for some pretty epic episodes of hide-and-seek, like the one you’re currently undertaking. Your brother’s been weird – weirder than usual – and ever since… certain events, he’s taken to disappearing to some unknown corners of your. Your. Home? Yes, home. You feel like you’re traversing miles, calling for him without success, but you need to talk to the bastard about the angel-tracking system Charlie so lovingly implemented, whether he feels like facing the world today or not.
At first you chalked his new strangeness up to him being shaken at your close call with the trials. He looked at you strangely those first few days, but, hey, you figured he’d just been worried, the perpetual resting state of your big brother. Although, and you won’t tell him this, because it’s nothing, probably nothing, but you’re a little grateful for his predicable concern right now. You feel… you feel good, in a way you haven’t in a very long time. You feel light and full in a way that you can’t put your finger on, and it’s probably due to the fresh memory of the pain you had to live with during the trials, but this feeling is so foreign it’s making you a bit unsteady, your head a little foggy. But then he stopped watching you so blatantly as you both had gotten distracted with Abaddon, and the angels, and Oz, and Cas. Oh, Cas.
You wonder now if his concern for you, and the whole situation with Cas’ sudden departure, is just too much for him to deal with, as though he’s an engine that’s been running on fumes for too long. You wonder if he feels like you do, like you’re missing some punch line. But it’s more than that, with him. Maybe you just feel that way because you can’t figure out what’s going on in that big dorky brain of his. It’s just. He’s being strange.
It isn’t just the way he won’t meet your eyes these days, like he’s got his hand in some mysterious proverbial cookie jar, or the way his voice takes a funny turn whenever you talk about Cas. Because, let’s be honest, when it comes to Cas, that tends to happen anyway. No, it’s the way you can feel him stare at the back of your head in anxious anticipation, like he’s expecting you to suddenly short-circuit or reenact a scene from Alien, and he’s just poised and waiting to deal with the aftermath. It’s in the way he the way he stutters around explanations, Just got lucky, Sam, I guess, a roomful of demons and destruction scattered around him, like he’s the eye in your three-ring storm. Or Cas just split, said it was better that way, shifting on his feet, dull eyes fixed on your shirt collar, his voice gruff and low.
And never mind the other stuff; he only hits that particular register when Cas is dead, or missing, and both of those things did happen, yes, but like a true Winchester, Cas takes a licking a keeps on ticking. Which, you suppose, isn’t a novel occurrence, as Cas has the mysterious resurrection thing down to a science, better than you and your brother combined. What was a new addition to that routine, though, was that he didn’t disappear afterward. You had him in your hands, the both of you, he was in the backseat (you offered him shotgun, but he just shook his head and smiled, brushing a hand over your shoulder as he slipped past to open his door), where he belonged, where he’s always belonged.
And Dean – god, Dean. It was like someone opened the floodgates; he just wouldn’t shut up on the ride back to the bunker, a goofy grin plastered on his face, like his exhaustion evaporated with Cas’ first careful grip on his hand as Dean had hauled him out of that (ruined) chair. Not that you’re complaining, not at all. You’d preferred to be nodding in amused solidarity with Cas rather than relive those long hours you spent looking for him, anxiety and frustration crushing Dean into a tense silence behind the wheel. And whenever your brother remembered to breathe in between the Where’s the coat, Cas? and Is there really an angel named Clarence? and Dude, wait ‘til you hear about how Kevin saved our asses and Sammy doesn’t get to teach you about food, ‘cause you’ll spend half of your life reading labels, you’d catch him looking in the rearview mirror with this soft, incredulous look on his face, and yeah, you got it, because you’d bet everything you had a similar look on yours.
Because, here’s the thing: you love them both, with a ferocity that is greater than you’re even comfortable admitting to yourself some days. And, okay, sure, you may not have the “profound bond” they have (and yeah, you certainly remember that Cas-ism, and have made it one of your life’s missions, right behind preventing worldwide chaos, to make sure Dean never forgets either), but Cas is your friend too, is family, and maybe that’s why you get so angry with him sometimes. And you are, now, you’re a little pissed off.
Maybe it’s irrational, because it’s not always Castiel’s fault that he’s not around, or maybe it’s just the easy irritation that accompanies such a confident companionship. But, you know, you’re the one that always handles the aftermath of Hurricane Cas, gusting in and out of your lives with deadly precision; FEMA doesn’t have anything on you. You’re the one that sees Dean Winchester leveled and broken. You’re the one that clears away the detritus and checks to make sure he’s still breathing, makes sure he damn well stays that way. You’re the one that deals with the aftershocks of anger, the downbursts of grief, and the empty, eerie silences. So when you see Dean drinking like the bottles are Cracker Jack boxes and he’s just looking for the big prize, or recklessly flinging himself into danger, or now, right now, sitting alone amongst boxes in a gloomy corner of an archive, murmuring to himself, that protective anger just flares high in your chest and Damn it, Cas, you asshole, why the hell did you leave us again?
Dean hasn’t turned around, is just sort of sitting there, head bowed, which means he hasn’t heard your approach, and you’re a little grateful. The atmosphere of the dim, isolated room, the way he has the boxes and files stacked around him, it all feels very private, like you’ve unintentionally walked in on him doing something no one else should see, and as quickly as the anger hit you, you’re suddenly uncomfortable. You back out of the room quietly, intent on making more commotion when you plod in for the second-first time, and have backed across the threshold when Dean’s deep, melancholy sigh makes you freeze just outside the door.
He begins talking again, his voice barely more than a rolling rumble, but if you press against the door frame more closely, you think you’ll be able to make out what he’s saying. You’re torn between doing just that and walking away, letting him come find you when he’s ready, but with the way he’s been acting, well. Your stomach twists guiltily as you inch closer, peek through the crack between the hinges, hold your breath and concentrate on that resonating voice that you know better than anything else in the world. He pauses, scrubs both hands roughly over his face and through his hair, before he drops them into his lap and clasps them loosely. You know what he’s doing half a second before it truly registers. You suddenly feel nauseous, and you lean against the cool concrete for some relief, but it doesn’t stop the sharp sting of tears in your eyes as you listen to your brother pray to a former angel that no longer has working reception.
He says things you already know, has said to your face, Nobody wants you here more than me and You’re family and I wish things were different, but he sounds wrecked in a way you’ve seldom heard, and it brings up memories of sitting on the shoulder of an empty stretch of road while he sat with his back to you, choking out confessions of Hell. He says things you already know he feels, but he has never told you, and probably never will, I need you and All I do is let you down and I miss you and I want you here with me. And, you don’t understand this, but I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to make you go, I’m sorry you didn’t understand and I couldn’t tell you, I’m sorry I lied, one day I’ll be able to tell you why, and maybe you won’t hate me and Sam won’t hate me and we can just be a team like we’re supposed to be. His voice gets rough and jagged, syllables fracturing as they tumble from his mouth, and you shut your eyes in a wasted attempt to give him privacy, when you should really just move away, but you can’t. Cas, I had so many plans for us and I changed the damn sheets in your room so it’d be ready and I cleared out a drawer in mine, just in case.
You press your palms against the smooth cement, sadness for your brother, for Cas, hell, selfishly, for yourself, making it difficult to breathe. You want to march in there, shake him, tell him, Just call him, you idiot, tell him to come home! Talk to him, for once. He’s safe here, make him believe it, and why are apologizing when you said he wanted to go, left on his own? Like everything else with Dean’s behavior lately, it doesn’t make sense, nothing does, and you thought you were confused enough, but then he continues, and now he doesn’t sound quite as mournful. His tone is uncertain, and a little heated.
You told me I could trust him, Cas, but I’m not so sure.
But he saved Sam, and he saved Charlie, and god, he saved you, and I didn’t even have to ask him for that, he just did it, and thank fuck he did.
What is he talking about?
But if Zeke’s such a good guy, why does it feel like he’s holding Sam hostage sometimes? Why did he make me send you away, if you’re supposed to be buddies? What is he hiding from? Why is he scared of the angels? Why does it feel like Zeke might be lying to me?
That name again. Zeke, Zeke.
All I want to do is talk to you, dammit, I need you here – but the rest of it is drowned out by the noise in your head.
Zeke. You’ve heard Dean call for this person before, with Charlie, and what does he mean, holding you hostage? God, the more you think about it, it’s like something just simmering beneath the surface, right there, close enough to touch, there, and you’ve almost got it. There is light, dim but still somehow so bright, and power, raw and ancient and yes. Oh. Yes. Zeke. Ezekiel –
You jolt in your chair, and the scrape of its legs against the floor echoes harshly through the library. There’s an open book in front of you, your and Charlie’s notes spread across the table, and you shake your head, disoriented and strangely foggy. You must have fallen asleep, even though you had more than enough the night before, and if anything you feel more tired than you had earlier. Huh. There’s something playing on the edges of your mind, something you feel like you’re supposed to remember, but the more you chase it the more elusive it becomes. Maybe just a dream, then. Before you can think on it further, Dean walks in with a handful of files, footsteps heavy, eyes a little puffy. He drops into the seat directly across from you and lets the papers fall to the table with a slap before he squints and shoots you a quizzical, worried look.
“You alright?” His voice is a little hoarse, like he’s been talking for hours.
You spread your hands against the scattered papers, allow yourself a couple of breaths before exhaling, “Yeah. Uh, yeah.” It’s nothing. “Good timing, man. I was just going to go looking for you. I want to try something with the angel tracking thing and I’m gonna need your help.”
Dean grunts in acknowledgment, but he’s got his hands folded across his stomach and he looks like he’s worlds away. He looks weary, old, and it’s your turn to ask: “You alright?”
“Hmm? Yeah, fine.” Everything about him contradicts that statement.
“Are you sure? You just seem – “
He meets your eyes then, pushes up and away from the table before leaning toward you. “Said I’m fine, Sam,” forcing a grin. Dean turns away, retreating in the direction of the super-computer, and tosses over his shoulder, “Don’t we have work to do?”
You want to push, but that’s never gotten you anywhere with him before, so you let it go. It’s just par for the course these days.
Dean’s just been so damn cagey lately.