If I lend my soul-shaded mind
To the other me in the mirror
Then I would become a human
Reflection of my authentic being
[Fragment, by Changming Yuan]
Dean awoke to the smell of rain and ozone, knew Castiel was in the room without opening his eyes. He sat up, annoyed by the interruption and still half-asleep. The room had the gray, grainy quality of the middle of the night, silent with the absence of Sam's breathing's noises. He looked left, the bed next to his was empty, the cover wrinkled, but the bed itself untouched, not slept in. That woke him up for real.
He stood up, shivered at the cold air on his naked back and from the cold linoleum floor under his bare feet.
"Dean," Castiel called.
He turned. Castiel was sitting on the far side of his bed, and Dean noticed that the mattress didn't bend where Castiel was, as if he were weightless, as if he weren't really there.
Castiel didn't move. Just stared, such a bright intensity in his eyes Dean wondered if there was a source of light behind the orbs.
"Cas, where the fuck is Sam?"
"Sam will be back, Dean." Castiel's tone was resigned, weary. He held himself stiffly still, Dean noticed.
"What's going, on? What the hell is going on?"
"The time has come," Castiel said.
"Well, whatever the fuck this means, I'm going after Sam." He turned to pick up his clothes from the chair and when he straightened Castiel was in front of him, stupid angel's trick.
"Don't try to stop me, Castiel, or I swear--"
Castiel cocked his head. "I am not trying to stop you, Dean. I can't. You… you are not awake."
That sucked the breath out of him, and, jeans in his lap, he let himself fall on Sam's bed so he wasn't forced to see the emptiness of it.
"You're in my dreams again? I thought we were done with these fucking games."
"I'm not supposed to be here. This was the only way."
Dean thought he detected a hint of defensiveness in Castiel's tone and he tried to calm himself, remembered that Castiel was trying to help. In his freaking twisted way, he was trying to help. He looked between his legs. The space was dark, and he couldn't see anything but the pale skin of his ankles. He thought uselessly that if he closed his eyes he would go back to his sleep, out of this dream Castiel was controlling. Back to a room where Sam wasn't away in the middle of the night doing whatever he did when Dean wasn't watching.
"What does it mean 'the time has come'?" he asked.
Castiel inhaled loudly, and Dean looked up. His head was thrown upward, like he often did. Was he looking for inspiration? For guidance?
"Soon," Castiel said in a whisper, "someone will come to you. The war is at your door, Dean. I can't say more than this."
"Can't say or don't want to?"
Castiel watched him helplessly and then averted his eyes, gaze fixed on a point behind Dean's back.
"What I see," he said, "what I know, what my brothers and sisters know, is like watching a storm. I can see the path it's following, but I can't foresee the change of wind that'll stray its course or blow it away." He focused on Dean. "You and your brother are the wind. The future isn't written, Dean. But the future is written."
"You keep talking in riddles, Cas." Dean tried to edit the bitterness out of his voce, but it bled through. "You're not helping much."
"I know," Castiel admitted, candid sincerity in his voice. "And I am sorry. I know I can't offer much, but I'm here and what I have, I offer."
Castiel's tone was frightening with its hopelessness, and Dean was tired of being afraid, had been afraid for too long. A thought occurred to him suddenly.
"Sam isn't sleeping in this bed, is he? I mean, for real, he isn't here."
Castiel sighed. "I had hoped he would be, but," he opened his hands, palm upward, "Sam, too, is following his path."
That Dean knew. Sam had spelled the concept to him in the last ten months, stubborn bastard that he was. Dean didn't need no freaking angel to tell him. "Have you guys given up on him? Have you?"
"I am sorry. The stakes are way higher than the destiny of a single man."
Dean shook his head. But he's the only one who counts, he thought. The only one.
"I cannot interfere any more than I should be here now."
"But you are. Why?"
"Do you trust me, Dean?"
Dean raised his eyebrow. He wanted to laugh because no, fucking no. He didn't, despite it all, he couldn't.
Castiel seemed taken aback, but he nodded. "It is fair."
Dean felt sorry, a little. "What do you want?" No harm done in listening to what he had to say.
"I-- I don't want anything. We've taken enough from you, from your brother and your family And more will be asked of you."
The matter-of fact tone of Castiel made Dean shiver. He didn't have anything else that was his to give, and still he was bound, he knew that like he knew he owed God and his angels each of his living breaths.
Castiel bent his head sideways. "I didn't want to upset you, Dean. But you have to understand. I'm not a priest, I'm not a prophet, and God didn't choose me. He made me to be His warrior, to be His to command. I have nothing but my obedience and my love for Him."
Dean didn't understand, no. "I can't be like that. I'm sorry, I can't." No matter how much he'd wished it since he'd come back. No matter how much he would have liked to have someone tell him what the fuck he was supposed to do. Even God, if God was out there. Even God, if He'd shown he cared about Sam as much as Dean did.
"I know. I am not asking you that. I just want you to understand. When I found you, in Hell, you fought me. Do you remember?"
Dean felt the tremors start in his hands, muscle memory that Hell recalled. He didn't remember, no. He didn't want to.
"Castiel--" Dean trailed off, hated how his voice broke to reveal the depth of his terror.
Castiel raised his hand in a shushing motion. "I know. I'm not…. I had orders to follow and you were tainted, your skin sizzled where I gripped you." Castiel pointed with a straight finger at his right bicep, and Dean felt a burning sensation, tightened his fingers around the denim in his hands to keep himself from touching the mark.
"I had my orders," Castiel continued, "and I brought you back, healed your body and left you to rise in your sepulcher."
Dean stood. "Why are you saying this now?" He never thought of waking up in the dark, six feet of earth above him. He never thought of his heart exploding with that first heartbeat. Men weren't supposed to remember coming to life.
Castiel stopped the dangerous flow of his thoughts with his quiet voice. "I have regrets, Dean. I did not know you, then. I did not like you. You were my job, the object of my order. My brothers had died for you during the siege. I was not prepared.
"But I am, now. I know you feel Hell's taint. I know you, now, Dean. And what I'm offering--" Castiel was staring at his hands now, like he could read something into the lines of palms that weren't his to start with. "I cannot undo what is already done." He looked up, straight at Dean, eyes so wide Dean couldn't see anything else. "And I cannot un-taint you, I cannot take that away from you. I cannot administer a sacrament, for my hands are full of the blood of God's enemies. But there's something my brethren do before the battle to clear the road and invoke success. And if you want, only if you want, I would like to do that for you."
Castiel stretched his left arm, hand open. "It will not take long."
Dean's fingers moved seemingly without any will on his part, and he was reaching back. He was vaguely aware of his jeans falling on the floor from his limp hands, of the room fading into darkness when he took Castiel's hands, and then the dizzying sensation of flying forced him to close his eyes.
When he opened them, it was still dark, but the room was no more, and his feet were wet. He was standing on a lakeshore, and the water lapped lazily at them. Castiel was at his right, apparently heedless that his dress shoes were in the water.
"Where are we?" he asked, found he could only produce a rough whisper. But Castiel seemed to have heard it.
"I have to work with what I have," he said.
Dean explored his surroundings. The lake was more of a pond, really, the opposite shore close enough that he could see the rocks that lined it, pale in the moonlight. It smelled of mould and stale water. "This? Really?"
Castiel didn't answer while he walked inside the water. "It's a rain-pond. What were you expecting?" He didn't wait for Dean to answer. "Come," he said.
Dean shivered, realized he was only wearing his briefs, felt more than naked, bared. "What do I do?"
"Nothing," Castiel said simply.
The water was colder than he thought when he followed Castiel into it.
"Would you close your eyes, Dean?" Castiel asked, and Dean nodded, closed his eyes, feeling ridiculous standing in a lake semi-naked and thigh-deep, in the company of a dude wearing a trench coat and a tie. He was lucky Sam wasn't there to see it, to see him. No. He was fucking sorry Sam wasn't there to see him and laugh while trying to be serious. He missed Sam. Had been missing him for so long, only a vague idea of him was left.
"Why haven't you brought Sammy here?" he asked. Castiel's position was revealed by the water sloshing; he was behind Dean, now, so his voice coming from that direction didn't surprise him.
"I prayed I would find him asleep, tonight."
Dean accepted the answer, and then had to force himself from flinching when Castiel's cold fingers touched the spot between his shoulder blades.
"It was Michael who did this for me the first time, when I was but a child." Water trailed on Dean's spine from Castiel's hands, traced a straight line down to his ass, soaking through the cloth of his briefs. The difference in heat raised goose bumps on the skin of his arms, made the hair there stand straight as needles. He tried to imagine a young Castiel and had no reference for it, only the wide-eyed stare of his Vessel to go by.
"How old are you, Castiel?"
Castiel repeated the movement twice before answering. Dean kept immobile. He was starting to feel the coldness of the water work its way upward. Wind blew steadily from his left, cold when it hit the wet skin of his back.
"Age isn't the same for us at it is for you," Castiel said from his right, close to his ear. "We are not born. We are created, we are given a name and knowledge and love for our Lord. I've always been me."
Castiel made a sign with wet fingertips around his bicep, on his collarbone. Circles and lines. More water followed, drops of it spilled on his chest, tickling him. He felt his nipples pucker and his dick and balls shrink, he was so cold. When he tried to speak, his lips were trembling and he bit down on them.
"Tell me about Heaven."
The silence in the darkness behind his eyelids was only broken by the quiet splashing of the water around his legs. Castiel put a hand on his chest, north of his heart and above his tattoo, kept tracing his mysterious symbols with water: on his neck and throat, on his chest, around his nipples. His touch was feather-light but never hesitating. Dean forgot he'd made a question, hypnotized by the monotony of it.
He jumped when Castiel finally spoke.
"It feels so long since I've been home, I barely remember it. But even if I did, I would find it difficult to explain."
It was all so confusing, Dean could never hope to understand. It didn't matter, anyway. He was curious, but angel's company or not, he didn't think he'd ever get to see Castiel's home.
Castiel was at his left, his hands never stopping, tracing paths on his elbow, now, and flank. Dean had been in the same position for so long, he couldn't even feel the sand under his feet. Only Castiel's touch grounded him down. That and the cold that had numbed every muscle in his body, made his limbs too heavy to lift even if he wanted to move.
Finally, after a long time, Castiel completed the circle. "We're nearly done," he said with a voice that seemed to come from afar. Castiel rested a hand on the back of his neck, palm warm on Dean's frozen skin. Left it there until the warmth started spreading everywhere from that single spot, unclenching his muscles, unclenching something hard and solid in the center of Dean's chest.
"I bless you, Dean Winchester," Castiel said simply
Dean squeezed his eyes to keep them from opening, stared at the filaments of false light behind his eyelids as the sensation that spread to his body, until he felt hot like midday in plain summer and sweat erupted from his skin, mingled with the water. He tasted the heat in his mouth when he breathed in, on his tongue. Felt the pressure of that warmth building high and higher until he was tempted to open his eyes. Knew he'd see Castiel's face – his true face -- if he did.
But everything ended abruptly, and Dean felt the acute loss of that warmth and of Castiel's hand on his neck when he retracted it.
"Your kind is worth fighting for, Dean," Castiel whispered against his back. "Your fight is worth fighting for," he said. "Go back to your brother."
And those were the last words Dean heard before he fell back into the oblivion of sleep.