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And Grace Will Lead Me Home

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Slumping down against the wall, Dean scrabbles for a hold against the brick. His fingers are numb, though, bloody and unresponsive, so Dean slides downward and hits the floor with a loud thump. His borrowed angel-mojo had never been meant to last, he'd expected it to burn out hot and fast like a flare; he hadn't expected it to feel like this. He is hollowed out, empty and with his insides scraped raw; the pain in his side feels as if he's been run through.

"Sammy," he tries to say; it comes out as barely a wheeze. His chest tightens painfully, squeezing even more air from his lungs.

"Dean?" Sam gasps, eyes widening as he looks down at his brother. "Dean..." His eyes take in the sight, the blood, the sharp glittering knife still clasped in his hands.

Dean stares at him, trying to shrink back, trying to get away. But it's not Lucifer standing in front of him, he realizes, when the knife falls from Sam's hands to the ground with a clatter. It's Sam, it's really him, it's his baby brother panicking and looming over him; Sammy's not just a meat-suit for Lucifer. Not anymore.

"Shit, Sammy," Dean says, reaching out to grip Sam's arm. "Did you see me? I wasted that bastard, smote him right off of this plane of existence. You okay?"

Sam makes a pained noise that was maybe supposed to be a laugh. "Dean... you're-- you're going to be fine, okay? We just... Don't move. We'll get you. We need -- Cas? Castiel? God, okay, fuck; dammit, Dean, it'll be okay..."

This was probably where Dean should have tell Sam it was all right, tell him that this was all part of the plan. Hey, Sammy, don't worry, I'll be okay after a few minutes and maybe a fifth of rye, but Dean blinks through the pain, holding back tears. His side is on fire, but the pain's fading so fucking fast he knows he's not going to make it. There's only the white-hot pain, warm blood spilling over his belly and a bone-deep cold everywhere else.

He isn't going to lie to Sammy. Not now.

"Sammy," he hisses through gritted teeth. "Hey, Sammy. You know ... you're going to be okay, Sam. Where's Cas? I've gotta talk to him." He closes his eyes.

"Dean?" Sam whispers. His cheeks are wet, but he doesn't know why. "Dean, it's going to be okay." He strips off his sweater, tries to put pressure on the wound. There's a lot of blood, a lot of blood all over, coating his hands and puddling on the floor, but Sam can't think about that right now because Dean's in front of him, Dean's on the ground.

"You're okay, right Sammy?" Dean whispers. "Dad'll be pissed at me if you got hurt. Just get up, okay? You'll be fine."

Sam can feel tears sliding down his face, falling to mingle with the mess of bloodstained cloth over Dean's wound. "It's okay, Dean," he says again, mostly to himself. "It's going to be fine. You're going to be okay," and he keeps saying it, over and over, because he can't let Dean die. Not this time. Not when it's his fault. "You'll be fine, Dean."

"Dad's gonna be so mad at me," Dean slurs. "S'okay though, Sammy, I'll get you fixed up. We have Batman Band-Aids back at the motel, okay? Just lean on me 'til then, I've got you."

"It's okay, Dean," Sam says, pressing his face into Dean's shoulder, trying not to sob. "It's okay -- I'm fine, I won't tell Dad a thing."

"Thanks, Sammy." Dean's eyes flutter shut, his breath ragged.

"It's going to be okay," Sam whispers. "Dean... it'll be okay, hold on, just a little longer, Dean."

But Dean's eyes stay closed, short wet struggling breaths and blood slicking everything. Sam's hands are covered in it.

"Please," Sam begs. "Dean... please don't leave me." It seems like it's been forever since Sam last prayed, but he prays now, for Dean. Dear God, please don't let this happen. Save him. Save Dean. Please.

Dean takes a very long time to die.

It takes another moment for Sam to collapse, in pain or grief, but Castiel is there to catch him.

--

Sam sits obediently, his eyes wide and empty as Castiel takes care of him. The younger Winchester is like an empty vessel, unresponsive and silent, alone in his grief.

Castiel, on the other hand, finds himself cold and furious, wrathful as he's never been before. He does his best, though, stripping Sam's bloodstained clothes and putting him in the shower. He prepares Sam's food for him and leads him by the hand as he would lead a child.

As long as Sam needs him, Castiel will care for him.

The first night, Sam's eyes lay open, his breath shallow but even. He doesn't sleep, doesn't settle or shift or do one of a hundred thousand things that sleeping humans ought to do. Castiel takes off his shoes and coat, sitting on the bed next to him. He is not accustomed to offering comfort, he does not know what will be accepted and what will not - but Castiel carefully wraps one arm around Sam's waist and draws him close. It's an awkward hug, but Sam returns it, burying his face in Castiel's chest and wrapping both arms around Castiel.

They lie on the bed, but neither of them sleeps for a long time.

--

Sam sits around, mostly, eyes wide and empty as Castiel takes care of him. Castiel, on the other hand, finds himself cold and furious, wrathful as he's never been before.

Anna appears to him the next day, perched on the end of Sam Winchester's bed while the young man dozes in fitful half-sleep, and Castiel's mood is dark when he turns to face her.

"How are you holding up, Cas?" She asks him.

"You do not get to call me that, " he snaps, anger and frustration welling in his voice. He knows that he is being irrational, for once, Castiel doesn't care. "You do not get to call me that -- you are not my friend, Anael. Leave. Get out of here-- and --"

He doesn't know what he is trying to say.

Anna looks at him, sadness on her face, shadowing her soul. Her grace, too, is obvious to Castiel's eyes, even though he has none of his own left to him. It is a cruel, heartless blow to his pride that she were to appear now, when her presence is useless. Castiel does not need her help, Sam does not need her help. And Dean is past helping.

"Did you see his soul?" Castiel asks, when Anna does not respond. "Do you care who has possession of him, now that there is no longer a war that must be fought?"

Few angels feel emotions, fewer still could identify them. Anna feels guilty, though, and Castiel feels a smug sense of satisfaction at the sharp spike of hurt that his words send through her.

"I'm very sorry, Castiel," she says. "I wish that things had not--"

"You wish nothing," Castiel snaps. "You and your kind -- unfeeling, unthinking, unworthy. Leave, Anael. You are not needed here, and I do not want your pity."

Sam wakes up. "What's -- who're you talking to?"

Anna is gone.

Castiel turns to Sam, the only Winchester he has left, the only friend he has. "It was nothing, Sam," he says. "Go back to sleep."

Sam blinks up at him, blearily. There is a hole, a gaping emptiness in his heart, and Castiel does not know how to fill it.

"You should sleep, too," Sam says, turning over.

The room is dark. Neither one of them sleeps.

--

Castiel does not know how to arrange for a funeral. He isn't sure that there is anyone left to attend Dean's. Sam doesn't help him. Instead he stays in his hotel room and doesn't sleep while Castiel calls Bobby Singer, over and over, never hearing anything other than the incessant ringing on the other end. It never cuts to the answering machine, and Robert Singer does not pick up the phone.

This is less surprising than it ought to be. The last time Dean died, the old hunter had not taken the news lightly.

--

They give Dean a hunter's funeral -- not Sam, who is still in his hotel room, lying awake with Dean's necklace wrapped tightly around his fingers. Not Bobby, who Castiel finds drunk at the bottom of the stairs, his wheelchair upturned and his eyes glassy and pained. Not Ellen or Jo, who are both gone.

Castiel digs the pit by himself, builds the pyre as best he can, and lights the fire alone.

"Not much of a funeral."

"Go away," Castiel says.

"Oh, come on, no hard feelings, little brother." Gabriel drops down onto the cold, wet grass, pats the earth beside him invitingly. "You can't keep pushing people away. Not if you wanna stay sane, I mean."

"And you are... sane," Castiel says, doubtful.

"Well, no, I'm six fries short of a happy meal and loony as a toon," Gabriel huffs as sarcastically as ever. "Look, if you can't learn from my example I doubt that anyone will."

Stiffly, not quite sure what he is supposed to do, Castiel removes his coat and places it on the ground. After a moment, he sits down beside Gabriel, who manifests a chocolate bar out of nowhere and begins to eat. "Why are you here?"

"Just checking up on you, bro," Gabriel says. "It's not easy, is it, losing someone you care about?" He is staring at the fire, not looking at Castiel at all.

"It is not."

"Well, if I give you advice, you're just going to ignore it, right?" Gabriel asks. "I mean, I don't blame you if you do."

Shrugging, Castiel avoids Gabriel's gaze as well. "What good will your advice do?" he asks. "Will it bring Dean back? Will it heal the hole in Sam's soul? Will your words give me back the lost and fragmented shards of my grace, brother?"

There is an awkward silence.

"Well then," his brother says. "Forget about it."

Anna appears as well, but her face is shadowed and she does not approach them where they sit. She stands on the other end of the pyre, watching Dean's corpse reduced to charred bone and ashes.

When the fire has died down a little, smoking and looking nothing at all like the man Dean Winchester was, Gabriel sets it alight again with a wave of his hand. "Nice seeing you, little brother," he says, patting Castiel once on the shoulder, the gesture awkward and surprisingly tender. He disappears, vanishing in the same instant that Anna does, the same instant in which Sam finds Castiel and stumbles to a stop.

"Hey," Sam says. "Cas--"

Dean's funeral ends with Sam in tears, burying his face in Castiel's shoulder and sobbing like a child. "I can't--" he gasps, wet tears staining Castiel's shirt. "I can't do this again, not again, Cas -- I can't, I can't."

Castiel remains silent.


Dean's Funeral Pyre

illustration by [livejournal.com profile] sleepwalker1015

--

Michael is the first to appear to him, decked out in all of his glory like the angels of myths and legend. Castiel squints at him over the neck of his beer bottle and says, "Can you tone that down? You're hurting my eyes."

Michael's unearthly glow (and beauty, he always was a vain one) dials down a notch, and then he says, "I am sorry."

This is the stupidest apology he has ever received, and Castiel has never received a single apology that wasn't stupidly ill-timed and ill-thought-out. "Yes," he says, and turns his head back to the television. Dr. Sexy, MD is playing. It is a horrible show, but Cas feels obligated to drink Dean's favourite beer and watch his favourite show, until Sam returns with the pie.

It's a better memorial than anything else Castiel could think of, and Sam shines brighter when he has something to do.

In the corner of the room, Michael is not used to being ignored. "Castiel," he snaps.

And hell if it isn't impossible to keep his eyes on the television. Castiel can't help but obey, the command in Michael's tone overwhelmingly insistent, and he has half-risen from his chair before he catches himself. "Michael, I accept your apology," Castiel says.

"I meant--" and Michael frowns, as if this meeting isn't going according to plan.

It isn't, of course, because two years with Dean has taught Castiel plenty about being an irritating pain in the neck, and a prolonged exposure to Sam has taught him how to be passive-aggressive about it, too. "That's okay," Castiel says. "I get it. You were more concerned with your own ego -- your own pride, older brother -- than with saving seven billion souls from a lifetime of pain and suffering."

"I was trying to save their souls," Michael protested.

It's ridiculous that Castiel should have the upper hand so quickly. "Their souls did not need saving, because He did that two thousand years ago," Castiel says sternly. "Or have you forgotten Yeshua ben Yosef so quickly?"

Michael blanches.

"I forgive you," Castiel says. He feels gratified when the words make Michael flinch.

"You cannot return," Michael says, awkwardly. "I have-- made a request. That you be allowed to do so. But. You may not return."

"Ah."

"Ever."

"I see."

Scratching his nose, Michael looks pained for a moment, as awkward as any adolescent teenager in out of his depth. He seems, to Castiel's discerning gaze, almost human.

"Sorry," Michael says.

Raising his beer bottle, Castiel tips it at his brother in a flippant, irreverent salute.

--

They are broken, the two of them, and Castiel does not know how to fix them. He cannot fix the hole in Sam's soul, he cannot fix the hatred and anger in his own. He does not like feeling helpless, feeling lost.

When Dean had been alive, it had always been simple to look to Dean for guidance, for faith, for a reason to believe in humanity or in the rightness of what he was doing. With Dean he had a mission, a goal, a charge to protect.

Now he has Sam, and so Castiel swallows the lump in his throat and spreads his wings to fly.

"What do you want?" Sam snaps when Castiel appears to talk to him. He is doing something intricate and perplexing beneath the hood of the impala, and he looks up for a moment, turns his head to glare but does not move from his hunched-over position.

The vehemence behind his voice is startling, and Castiel steps back, studies the rage in Sam's hazel eyes. There is just enough green in them to be painfully reminiscent of Dean, but beneath the surface, behind the flecks of green, is a sea of self-loathing and despair.

Castiel opens his mouth to respond, but Sam interrupts him with a harsh, violent wave of his hand. "What do you need, Castiel?" he snaps, his body rolling back as he stands up strange.

Sam is a large human, solid and muscled, and Castiel knows that other humans find him intimidating. Castiel is not intimidated, however, he has never before found Sam to be particularly frightening. Now, though, the anger and callousness in him is enough to make Castiel tremble.

"I do not know," Castiel admits, truthfully, and Sam makes some soft, derisive noise.

"Bullshit," he says. "Just tell me what the fuck you want, and then get lost."

Castiel has no family, he has no friends, he has nothing in his life -- no orders, no mission, no rules, no guidelines. He used to have Dean, the Righteous Man, used to have Sam as well, and now he stares at the man in front of him, and Castiel remembers what it is to feel.

He feels angry.

"Get lost?" he repeats, his voice very low. "Get lost? You dare-- You impertinent, ungrateful, selfish human." He steps closer to Samuel, grabs him by the shirt collar and shoves, hard, feeling a fleeting pang of regret when Sam is thrown back, skidding over the ground as he lands on his back.

Anger is not an emotion that Castiel remembers, it is not one that he has a lot of experience with, but he decides that he likes it.

He likes the empowering rush of energy, likes the hard, throbbing beat of his heart in his chest. He likes the way it drowns out the rest of the world, all of his hurt and pain and sadness until there is nothing but cold, icy rage.

Castiel steps forward, crouches over where Sam is lying prone on the ground, his eyes wide and stunned. "You tell me to leave you," he says, and he barely recognizes his own voice within the snarling, furious tone. "Tell me, Samuel, where am I to go? Perhaps I ought to have left you before, when you were insensible staring at your brother's corpse. No, I stayed, I stayed with you as you grieved for your brother, stayed with you as you grieved the remnants of your broken family. I held you up and held you together, kept the fragmented pieces of your soul from scattering like dust on the wind. And this -- this is how you show me that you are worth my time and attention."

Sam doesn't say anything. He stares up at Castiel as if he is a stranger.

Castiel shoves him down, a hand on Sam's chest, pinning him to the ground for a brief moment in which he can feel Sam's heartbeat, can feel Sam's breath as he inhales, and it occurs to Castiel that he could press just a little bit harder, crush Sam's ribcage, extinguish his life with barely any effort at all.

It's this thought that leaves him numb, anger dissipating like mist, and then it is simply Castiel crouched over Sam, both of them breathing hard and angry.

There is something else in Sam's eyes, though, something else that Castiel realizes he'd never seen in Sam before.

Fear.

Castiel swallows hard, and he flies away, retreats to a small stone temple in the Sahara Desert, and he kneels on the cool stone floor, presses his forehead against the ground, and he prays for deliverance.

There is no answer, but after several hours, Castiel returns to Sam.

He stays in the shadows outside of the motel room, cloaking himself with invisibility, and when Sam finally pulls the covers over himself and goes to bed, Castiel sends him to sleep. He doesn't need to stay, but Castiel has nowhere to go and he feels lost without a purpose, so he stays. He leans against the wall, breathing in the night air and guarding Sam's dreams, until the sun rises.

--

Castiel spends two days with Gabriel.

He hadn't spent a lot of time with his Trickster-brother before, and now he finds himself in the unique position of having absolutely nothing in common with someone he ought to have a lot in common with. Gabriel doesn't seem to know what to do with himself, so he spends his time sculpting intricate castles out of ice cream, using his angelic power to prevent it from melting.

Castiel has nothing else to do, nothing but the words ringing in his head: Sam's voice, saying 'Get Lost' over and over. Those words hurt more than he can possibly say, because it is Sam saying them. He doesn't have anyone else, and even Gabriel is no substitute.

It's Gabriel who distracts him, who hands him a trowel and tells him to build the northern tower. Castiel can pay attention to detail, and he drowns himself in the details now, carving ice cream like marble, intricate stairwells and turrets, dipping a finger into the ice cream and licking it away.

It takes two days for them to sculpt the castle, and then it takes four hours for them to eat it.

--

"Sam."

Turning over in his bed, Sam opens his eyes and sees the Trickster -- sees Gabriel, standing at the foot of his bed. "What do you want?" he asks, dully. He's not in the mood for a fight or a game.

"You really can't guess?"

Sam almost shrugs, but he really doesn't have the energy. "I don't care," he says, finally. It's the truth. He doesn't give a fuck about what the Trick- about what Gabriel wants. Gabriel can go fuck himself.

"That's not very nice," Gabriel says, and then he snaps his fingers.

"Wait --"

--

They are standing in a sea of blankness. Everywhere there is nothing but blank white space, and for a minute Sam thinks he's been blinded. When he turns around and sees Gabriel, Sam's immediate thoughts are of overwhelming relief -- he couldn't deal with being blind -- and then he gets really pissed.

"What the fuck?" he yells.

"I'm going to teach you a lesson, Sam," Gabriel says, smoothly. "But you seem to be more stubborn than most, so I'm going to have to think of this one really, really carefully. Or you're gonna go out and do the opposite of what I say, and start the damned apocalypse all over again." And his expression invites Sam to join in on the joke.

"Not funny," Sam says shortly.

"You really need to loosen up," Gabriel says, pouting. "Whatever... let's get this show on the road."

He doesn't snap his fingers this time. Instead, they are suddenly gone, somewhere else in the same moment, and it's a movie theatre. A large, empty movie theatre, and Sam is holding a popcorn tub full of M&Ms and a large Coke.

This is the most surreal experience of his life. Which is saying a lot.

Casting a sidelong glance at Gabriel, who is settling himself into a seat and patting the empty chair beside him, Sam figures he might as well play along. This might be a particularly fucked up dream, but knowing Gabriel, it's not. Sam knows for a fact that if he does anything that seriously pisses off the archangel-turned-demigod, he'll be reliving the worst Tuesdays of his life all over again instead of sitting in an empty movie theatre with enough candy to feed a small country.

Gabriel puts his feet up, grabs a handful of M&Ms, and pops them in his mouth. "So," he says. "Let's watch the movie, shall we?"

Sam sits down awkwardly, his legs far too long to prop up like Gabriel. The tub of candy goes in his lap, and Gabriel leers at him when he reaches in to get another handful. For a moment, Sam is terrified that this is an actual date, and then the lights in the theatre dim and the screen lights up.

It takes ten seconds for Sam to decide that this is not a dream, and it is also most definitely not a date.

--

"We are losing the war... perhaps the garrison is being punished."

"You think our father would--"

"Maybe our father isn't giving the orders anymore. Maybe there is something wrong."

Uriel stands. "Well, I won't wait to be gutted."

--

Sam drums his fingers on his knee, impatient. "Why are you showing me this?" he asks, bored. "I already know that Uriel's the traitor."

Gabriel slaps his hand from his knee, turning to Sam with a look of incredulity on his face. "That's the point, Samuel," he says, and even his tone seems to be implying that Sam is stupid beyond all belief.

"So why should I care what--"

"He was our brother," Gabriel says, coldly. "He was Castiel's friend." And he turns back to the screen. "You don't understand what it means, Sam, for an angel to voice his doubts. Castiel spoke to Dean, first. And he spoke to Uriel. Don't you dare act like that means nothing."

Sam doesn't know why he feels guilty, but he turns his attention back to the screen.

--

"I'm considering disobedience,"

"Good." Anna replies calmly.

"No." Castiel says. "It isn't. For the first time, I.. feel..."

--

Sam watches in silence as Castiel struggles with his emotions, as he begs Anna to tell him what to do. He doesn't say anything when Cas confronts Uriel. Gabriel sits beside him, tossing chocolate into his mouth like popcorn, crunching merrily away as if this is a not-particularly-interesting film, something he'd seen a thousand times before.

Sam doesn't want to pay attention, doesn't want to think about it, but he can't help himself. His eyes are riveted to the screen, to where he can see it on Cas' face when his heart breaks when Uriel says, "I only killed the ones who said no."

It hurts to watch Castiel being beaten up. Sam flinches every time Uriel's fist connects, and Sam tries not to look at the expression on the angel's face when he stares down at Uriel's body.

Sam hadn't known about any of this.

Now that he does, he kind of wants Gabriel to take it back.

"Why are you showing me this?" he asks again.

Onscreen, Castiel waits at Dean's bedside, spends hours waiting for him to wake up. In this version, Sam can see the outline of his wings, curled protectively around himself and around Dean as well. It's sad, and vulnerable, and Sam can't take it, so he closes his eyes and waits for it to be over.

"You're not paying attention," Gabriel says, sadly.

--

The fight between Uriel and Castiel had been so ridiculously one-sided, Sam assumes that Castiel was never much of a fighter. He's seen the angel in action, after all, but this was something else. Castiel in the warehouse wasn't just fighting Uriel, he was fighting others -- four of them, and he was kicking their asses, trapping them and banishing them with runes he'd drawn in blood, throwing them through walls with practiced ease. It was still a one-sided fight, but in the other direction. This was a desperate Castiel fighting four angels -- and winning. Easily.

Winning, until Zachariah interferes. Until the fight is five-to-one, and Castiel is bound and gagged, dragged from his vessel and into Heaven. Sam can see this, too, because Gabriel did something, changing them into figures Sam can see without dying, and so he watches the flutter of dark wings, sees the angels pull Castiel out of his vessel even as he heals all the damage done to Jimmy's body.

And Sam almost expects things to stop there, because he knew what happened on earth when Castiel wasn't around. He knows all about Jimmy Novak and his family, about the fight with demons and Castiel's return.

But the invisible camera follows the lightning-winged figures up, and up, and Sam realizes that Gabriel intends to show him what happened to Cas in heaven.

For a minute he can't breathe.

He gets the feeling that even this isn't really explaining to him what happened up there -- gets the feeling that this can't really compare, because his meager human mind is incapable of understanding. But it's not a stern talking to, it's nothing like that, and everything like what Sam has imagined Hell would be like.

He imagines that this is what Dean had to endure for forty years, and the only difference between Heaven and Hell here is that when Castiel breaks, he's sobbing and begging for forgiveness. For redemption.

Gabriel fast-forwards through half of it, saying, "This is boring," and pressing the button on the remote. Sam doesn't know if the Trickster-angel is actually bored, or if the sounds of Castiel being tortured are really just getting to him. Cas is his little brother, in a way.

On the screen, Sam watches Castiel begging Zachariah for forgiveness, watches him pledge his obedience over and over, watches Castiel screaming in agony as he watches Jimmy Novak's life torn apart.

Zachariah gives Castiel permission to go back to earth and the screen goes blurry. Sam blinks, confused, and when he looks down his vision clears enough for him to realize he's dripping tears into the M&Ms.

--

When Gabriel shows Sam Castiel's death, Sam finally asks him to stop.

"I don't want to see this," he says. "Just -- stop it. Leave me alone. I get it, okay?"

"You don't," Gabriel snaps back, coldly. His eyes crackle with intensity as he stares Sam down. "You pretend understanding, Samuel, but you don't get it. This isn't about you." And he turns back to the screen.

Sam closes his eyes. He doesn't watch Castiel remade, doesn't watch Cas kill angels to save Sam and Dean. He keeps his eyes closed, wishing that he could cover his ears, but the only time he tries to, Gabriel does something and Sam can still hear everything clearly.

"Watch," Gabriel says. "Sam. Please." And Sam has always been a sucker for that, so he opens his eyes.

He sees Dean on the screen for the first time.

Everything else has been Castiel when neither Sam or Dean has been around, but this has Dean, and Sam couldn't close his eyes again for the world. It's his brother, larger than life, and smiling on the screen, in turns bitter and sarcastic and funny.

Dean makes a stupid joke and Sam laughs, because fuck -- he hadn't been able to enjoy Dean's sense of humour when all his jokes had been at Sam's expense, but Dean had been -- funny, actually funny, and so he watches Castiel fumbling and incompetent as he pretends to be a federal agent. He laughs at Dean's antics, at the way Dean's subtly encouraging and supportive of Castiel while still being himself. He smiles sadly when Dean talks about his own search for his father, and he rolls his eyes and groans when Dean starts in on Cas about losing his virginity.

There's a tight knot at the base of Sam's stomach, twisting and curling in on itself, because he maybe doesn't think the same way Dean had, but he still thinks there's something inherently wrong with Castiel's solemn acceptance of his fate. Sit here, quietly, and Sam glares at the scene the whole way through, watches some blond whore putting her hands on Cas, kissing him.

Castiel's face is vulnerable and scared and Sam feels sorry for him, and then of course he starts talking and she starts screaming and Sam laughs along with Dean onscreen, not even finding it in him to be jealous that Dean is okay without him. That had been the point, Sam gets it now, Dean had gone thirty years on earth and forty years in hell trying to take care of Sam, and this was the one time Dean had lived for himself.

But he didn't just live for himself, he did that and took care of Cas, too.

He's got a small smile on his face when Dean and Cas drive away from the brothel, when Dean pulls over to the side of the road and climbs out. Sam leans forward in his seat, eager to hear Dean's voice again when Castiel sits down on the hood next to him. Dean had an ability to inspire people, to make you hope and believe even when there wasn't any hope, and Sam kind of wants to know what Dean would say to Cas when he thinks Cas is going to die in the morning.

But instead of talking, Dean leans against Castiel, wraps an arm around him -- Sam can see where this is going and it's like watching a train wreck, Dean's hand sliding over the line of Castiel's jaw, Dean leaning in so very slowly until they're nose-to-nose.

And when Dean finally closes the gap, when he presses his lips against Castiel's and fucking kisses him, Sam is almost overwhelmed with sudden, white-hot fury.

No.

Not anger.

Jealousy.

"Oh, Sammy," Gabriel chuckles, beside him. "You're not even paying attention, are you?" And Sam really is paying attention, he's trying not to but he can't help but see the way Dean's hands are tangled in Castiel's shirt, the way Dean leans into him almost desperately. It's Dean the way Sam has always wanted him, Dean that Sam never got to have, and at this moment he hates Castiel with every fiber of his being.

Except Castiel pulls away from Dean, Castiel breaks the kiss, and Sam is immediately repentant, guilt eating away at him. Because he knows he's always wanted Dean, always been a little bit in love with his older brother, but for all of that, for all that he would have given anything for it to be him instead of Cas sitting on the Impala with Dean in his arms --

Fuck.

Because the look on Dean's face when Cas pulls away is shattered, it's broken, it's like Castiel is taking away the only thing Dean has ever cared about. And it might be, Sam realizes, Cas might actually be the only thing in Dean's life that mattered other than Sam.

And as selfish as he can be, he wants this for Dean, wants him to be happy -- even if happiness means that he is with Castiel instead of Sam.

But onscreen, Castiel's face is shuttered, his eyes half-lidded. He doesn't kiss Dean, he doesn't tell Dean he loves him. And Sam hates him for entirely different reasons.

He hates him right until Castiel leans forward again, when the angel rests his head on Dean's shoulder, wrapping his arms around him and holding him close. And Dean pets his hair, makes soft murmuring noises, and it isn't until several minutes of this has gone by that Sam finally understands what's happening. Cas is crying.

Sam keeps watching, even when Gabriel runs out of M&Ms and stops crunching, slurping loudly at his drink instead. He feels as if there's a weight on his chest, something indefinable and soul-crushing, and then Gabriel fast-forwards through Castiel's life.


The Theater

illustration by [livejournal.com profile] sleepwalker1015

--

Castiel faces off against Lucifer. In hindsight, it was kind of a dick move to blame him for Ellen's and Jo's death, so Sam has to feel guilty about that, too.

"You -- You are not taking Sam Winchester. I won't let you."

--

"I don't want to watch this," Sam says, because Dean looks tight-faced and broken, and Castiel beside him looks exhausted.

"Shut up," Gabriel says fondly, conjuring up an ice cream cone.

--

Sam doesn't want to watch, but he does. He watches Castiel offer up his own life to save Sam, watches Dean go flinty-eyed and dark. Dean says no, and Castiel says, very softly, that he wants to help Dean save his brother.

Dean still says no.

--

It's Crowley who comes up with the solution, Crowley who arranges to find the sword that can kill Lucifer, and Crowley who brings it to him. And Sam turns his face away from the screen, because he can't watch Dean die again -- Gabriel has made him see his brother's death enough.

"Stop," he says, glaring at Gabriel.

Gabriel is slurping obscenely at his ice cream cone, expertly fellating it as he raises his free hand and snaps his fingers, returning Sam to his motel room. Sam lands hard on the bed, feeling as if he's spent a week curled up into a not-that-comfortable movie theatre seat eating nothing but M&Ms and Coke, and his stomach rolls uncomfortably.

"I'd ask you if you'd learned your lesson," Gabriel says. "But I doubt you'd tell me the truth." He pauses. "You still haven't learned the first two, Sam."

"Those weren't lessons," Sam groans, rolling over onto his stomach and stretching out his arms.

"Don't push Castiel away," Gabriel says, his voice hard. "Don't hurt him, Sam. He spent millions of years as an obedient soldier, just another piece of the machinery of the universe. And he betrayed everything he'd ever known, everything he cared about, turned his back on his family and his friends and his certain future. He gave up Heaven for you and your brother, don't forget that."

"He gave up Heaven for Dean, not for me."

"Bullshit," Gabriel scoffs.

Sam turns to glare at him, but the room is empty.

He falls asleep soon after.

--

When Gabriel says he has business elsewhere, Castiel leaves him to it. He takes a quick tour of the pyramids to restore his composure, and once he feels more like himself he flies to Pontiac, Illinois.

The girl-child Claire is sitting in her bedroom, the open Gospel on her lap. She looks up when Castiel appears, and her smile is a balm to his weary heart. "Castiel," she says, sounding pleased. "You came to visit."

Castiel shifts his weight forward onto the balls of his feet. "I promised your father that I would take care of you," he says, even though that is not entirely why he has come. Claire, although she was his vessel for only a very short time, is always a presence in the back of his mind. In one way, it is a comfort. In others, it is a reminder of his duty on earth.

She closes the Gospel, laying the book onto her bed. She's quiet, sitting there in her room, and doesn't ask Castiel questions he doesn't know the answers to.

Finally, he shifts back onto his heels, walking towards her. He sits on the bed, carefully tugging the paperback book towards him. "Does your mother know that you are reading these?" he asks.

Claire giggles. "You sound like my dad," she says.

Castiel doesn't smile, but Claire giggles again.

"Does she?" he asks, because Amelia would not approve of Claire reading the Winchester Gospel, not with the amount of horror that Sam and Dean had to experience. It is, perhaps, a bad idea to give a young girl the knowledge necessary to summon a demon of the crossroads.

"She knows, but she doesn't like it," Claire answers dutifully. "It was my choice, though. She told me that I could choose."

Castiel nods, and Claire holds up the book she is reading. "There is only one more," he tells her.

"I know." She frowns down at the book in her hands, creasing the pages with her fingers. "I want to know what happens next," she admits, and Castiel is sad for her. The next book in the Gospel is the one that explains to her what happened to her father, why her family is now a broken thing. But the books written by the Prophet Chuck have not yet been published, and Castiel does not know when they will be available.

"Don't worry," he promises. "You will read them soon enough."

--

When Sam wakes up the room is dark around him. Groping around for his cell phone, he finds it underneath a pile of questionable-smelling laundry and squints at the time. It's too early, he thinks, but he rolls out of the bed anyways. His mind spins with thoughts and memories from the night before; the surety in Castiel's eyes when he told Lucifer that he couldn't have Sam, the pain in the set of Cas's shoulder while Dean held him as he cried, the twist of Gabriel's mouth when he told Sam he wasn't getting it.

And he hadn't understood, not then, and maybe he doesn't understand now. He wants to, though, because what he'd realized sometime in the middle of the night is that Castiel had given up absolutely everything, his family and his friends and his home, everything he'd ever had and everything he could have had. All for them, for humanity, for Sam and his brother and now he had nothing. Nothing but the friends he'd made on earth -- and Dean is dead.

That leaves Cas with next to nothing. That leaves him with Sam.

Flipping open his phone, he dials Castiel's number, waits for the familiar crackle and then the rustling noise of wind. Opening his mouth, Sam says, "Castiel, I..." He has so much to say but nothing comes out. He tells Castiel where he is.

Castiel is standing behind him before he snaps the phone shut again.

"Hello, Samuel." Castiel says, formally. He doesn't come any closer. "I... I understand that you are unhappy. If you want me to leave you alone, I will. You need only to tell me."

Sam turns away from him, and stares out the window for a moment. "No, Cas, that's not why I called you here. I wanted to say something."

Castiel says nothing, just waits for Sam to continue.

"Look, I think I get it." Sam looks at his hands and tries to remember how to make sentences. "Gabriel was here, last night. He showed me -- " Sam stops. It is almost impossible to get these words out with so many false starts and echoing words. "I'm sorry, Cas. I'm so so sorry. We're pretty messed up right now, I guess, because of Dean. I didn't realize you -- I mean, I should have realized. You're so far from home and your friends... Uriel and Anna and Michael and the rest. Your family, I guess I meant. Dean was family." He sits heavily on the bed. Castiel sits next to him.

Sam continues after a moment. "Dean was my family and he was kind of your family too and now he's gone and we're both alone."

Castiel stares at his own hands for a very long time. "Dean was your brother," he says. "He wasn't mine. He wasn't my family, Sam---" and then Castiel is at a loss for words, desperately searching even though he knows all the languages on earth and some lost to it.

"I get it," Sam says, running his hand through his hair. "He was your friend," but Castiel starts to shake his head immediately.

"No," Castiel says, forcefully. "He was not my friend, Samuel. He was so much more than that -- he was, he was my world," and Castiel's breath hitches, his hands clenching tightly into fists as he stares down at the ground. "He was never only my friend, he was... infuriating, and noble, and strong, and beautiful, and so very broken. I wanted to help him, I always wanted to help him-- I wanted him to know that he was worth saving, that he was not something worthless to be cast aside. And so I did... I did everything that I could, I tried so hard," and he looks at Sam, pleading, as if he thinks that Sam could make it all better.

"Cas," Sam says, and his voice is hoarse.

"It wasn't good enough," Castiel says, and his lower lip trembles, chin wobbling even though he clearly doesn't realize it. "Nothing I did was good enough, and I was helpless, I was confused. Dean told me to think for myself and I learned to do it, because I thought that maybe -- that maybe if I was better... if I was better, then I would be able to help him..." and Sam can hear it, in Castiel's voice, the slight shaking tremor that betrays his calm.

"You were always good enough," Sam says softly.

Castiel shakes his head in disagreement. "I wasn't. I should have-- I was going to -- and then Dean, Dean did something, he spoke to me and then I had to make a choice. I had to choose between Heaven and Earth, and I chose Dean. I broke my oaths and betrayed Heaven, and I failed in my task. I couldn't stop it, I couldn't do anything-- and then I betrayed Dean, and he hated me, he hated me and I couldn't stand it. It hurt in my chest and in my grace and every time he looked at me like I was something horrible, it hurt worse than anything they'd ever done to me, worse than fighting a thousand battles, worse than the siege in hell."

Not knowing what to say, Sam lays his hand onto Castiel's shoulder and squeezes.

"I was never good enough," Castiel mumbles, tightening his fists in his lap. "But I... I loved him, Sam."

"Yeah," Sam says, and he's a little choked up but he tries to bottle it up. "Of course you did, Cas. That's what family is."

Castiel turns to him, then, and his eyes are impossibly blue, his lashes spiky and wet with tears. "Then why does it hurt so much?" He asks. "I've lost brothers in battle, Sam. I've lost... so much. Why does this hurt so much more? Why won't it stop?" and a tear drips from his face, falling onto his hand.

Raising a hand, his fingertips brush over the wet trail of his cheek, touching the damp skin with something akin to fear. "What is happening?" Castiel asks, his voice trembling. "What is this, Sam?"

"It's okay," Sam says, helplessly.

"It's not," Castiel mutters, his hands wiping at his face. "It's not okay, Sam. Dean is dead and I am alone."

"Yes," Sam says, and his voice breaks. He smiles, knowing it looks terrified and hollow. "But we're alone together, right?"

Castiel nods. "That's really the truth of it." Silent tears are still falling from his eyes, sliding down his cheek and dripping softly down from his jaw.

Sam rests his hand on Cas's knee, comfortingly and in apology. "I'm sorry, Cas. I didn't want you to leave. I only wanted some time alone, some time to.... I don't even know. I was just. Hurt."

"I couldn't," Castiel assures him. He drops his head to Sam's shoulder, curls an arm around Sam's waist. "I tried, but I have a very keen sense of direction."

Sam is pretty sure that means Castiel forgives him.

A silence stretches out between them, but Sam thinks it's not so uncomfortable, until he realizes Castiel is shaking with the force of his tears."How do you do it," Castiel sobs, so softly that Sam can barely hear him. "How do you go on?"

He doesn't want to think about it, doesn't want be selfless, doesn't want to think that Castiel's hurt might exceed his own. But the broken, terrified line of Castiel's shoulders and the helpless pain in his voice is familiar, it's something Sam remembers vividly, something he sees in the mirror when he thinks about Jess, something he remembers in his father's eyes when they spoke about Mary. But he knows the difference between losing a friend and losing a brother, knows the difference between losing a brother and a losing part of yourself.

It's awkward because Cas is still pressed against his shoulder, holding on tightly, but Sam manages to squirm enough to fit both of his arms around Castiel, tucking the angel's head under his chin as he pulls him close. "Cas, please, it's..."

He is going to say it's okay, or it is going to be okay, at least, but Sam decides that is a ridiculous and stupid lie, especially as he is so damn unsure about it himself. He lies back on the bed and lets Castiel curl into him, pliant and warm in his despair.

Sam breathes a few soft encouragements to the top of Castiel's head, but he hates the way his voice sounds, full of false surety and confidence, and so he shuts up instead.

And then he does nothing, simply lies still and lets the angel cry himself to sleep.

--

His head feels heavy and weightless all at once when he raises it from Sam's shoulder. Sam is still, his breathing soft in the otherwise silent room. Castiel feels the heavy, solid weight of his heart as it beats in his chest, the thrum of blood through his veins, and the pain that never goes away, deep in his chest, unrelenting and unending. It is sharp like a knife, like a sword, and like being punched in the gut. It is the place left empty and open when Dean died, and there is nothing in the world that can fill that space.

"I'm sorry," Castiel says, and his voice sounds strange in his ears, muffled against the fabric of Sam's shirt. "I failed, I have failed -- over and over again, I have failed,"

And Sam is clutching at his back, fingers digging into the flesh of Castiel's shoulders as he drags the angel upwards, holds him tight. "It's not --" Sam says, but his voice breaks on the words.

Castiel cannot cope, he cannot deal with this eternity without Dean, he cannot fathom an existence without his Father, without his Orders, without Dean. And he meets Sam's eyes as the younger Winchester comes to the same realization.

They are both lost, without him.

The first kiss is an accident, a ghosting caress of lips against lips. The second is not an accident, it is intentional, it is Castiel drawing in a breath as he leans forward, it is Sam making a small soft sound as he realizes what Castiel has done.

But Sam kisses him back, he opens his mouth and lets Castiel taste him, lets Castiel push him back down onto the motel room bed. He tastes human and vulnerable and weak, and Castiel has never tasted anything so wonderful.

The ache in his chest intensifies, but Castiel is an angel of the Lord and he knows that Sam is his friend -- Sam is his friend, the only one Castiel has, the only person in the universe who understands. And Sam is broken as well, he has that same hole in his soul, the same empty place as Castiel, and he kisses back with the same desperation.

It's not gentle or soft, it's harsh and too fast, too rough, Sam biting at his lips and growling into his mouth. Castiel tastes blood, lets it fill his mouth as he shoves Sam down onto the mattress, tears at the faded t-shirt covering his chest.

"Please," Sam says, lifting his hips, and Castiel moves to straddle him even as Sam is kicking off his jeans. He drops kisses to Sam's jaw and shoulders, quick biting kisses that leave raised red marks behind, glistening with saliva.

Castiel kisses him again, revels in the taste of something other than pain. This is what it means to be human, he thinks, Sam's fingernails digging into his back, sharp flares of pain that trail down his flesh. This is what it means to be alive -- the flash of pleasure and pain, mixed together, desperation and heat and sweat beading on his brow as Sam's deft hands pull at his clothes.

"Please," Sam gasps again, and they twist on the bed, fighting for dominance and to divest Castiel of his coat, his shirt, fingers tangling at his belt until he tears it in half in frenzied desperation. Castiel reaches for Sam again, trying to lose himself in the kiss, shuddering when Sam grinds down against him, hard cock jutting against his thigh.

It's impossible to contain the moan when Sam bites at the juncture of his neck, and Castiel's hips jerk when Sam grinds down again.

"Let me," Castiel orders, hands tugging at Sam's boxers as Sam tries to rut up against him.

Sam mumbles against Castiel's shoulder, soft words that are meaningless in the empty air. They kiss again, harder, teeth and tongues and a filthy wet mess of mouths and lips, Castiel swallowing Sam's groans. He wraps his hand around Sam's erection, trails fingers over the soft skin, feels the muscles of Sam's body contract as he thrusts into Castiel's hand.

"More," Sam grunts, and Castiel squeezes him, gently, even as he tastes blood -- his own, and Sam's -- in their open mouths. Castiel thrusts his tongue into Sam's mouth and tastes copper and salt and life, and he drags his thumb over the head of Sam's cock, tastes the sweetness of Sam's exhalation against his lips.

His hand moves gently, slowly, coaxing Sam slowly towards the edge. Slowly, because Castiel does not want this to end; slowly because he can feel Sam's pleasure, feel it spiking in his own body as he brings the other man towards completion.

Sam is quiet now, gasping and breathing hard, his eyes squeezed shut tightly, lips forming words against Castiel's mouth. More, Castiel thinks, and he bites desperately at Sam's lips, sucks on his tongue, tries to crawl into his mouth and live there. He would give anything to drown in this, to live with the desperate hiss of breath as Sam's hips jerk, with the way the entire world fades away, the way there is nothing left but Sam's skin and his mouth and the tiny, wounded noises he makes every time Castiel's hand twists softly around his hard, leaking cock.

He wants more, he wants this to last forever, he wants everything and nothing --

And Sam jerks once more, his mouth falling open, and he moans into Castiel's mouth, loudly, his fingers clenching and digging in so hard it hurts, a deep hurt that Castiel wants more of.

"Oh," Sam sobs, "fuck, fuck, yes, please, I like --" Thrusting into Castiel's fingers, hips speeding up even as Castiel keep his touch gentle. "Oh, oh, fuck, Dean, Dean," and he comes, spilling into Castiel's hand, warmth and wet and Castiel jerks back, appalled.

Sam's soul is dark with shame, lying beside Castiel on the bed. Castiel is still hard, still aching, but the haze of lust has dissipated as if it were never there, and he looks at the depraved, intoxicating line of Sam's body, half-naked with his boxer shorts shoved down his hips almost to his knees, semen spilling over the curve of his stomach. It's the same semen dripping over Castiel's hand --

And for a moment it's too much, too agonizing to think about.

Castiel leaves in a rush of wind and wings, pauses atop a mountaintop before he remembers to dress himself, to wrap himself in a thin barrier of fabric and leather in order to protect himself from the world.

He stands on top of a mountain and stares at the sky, letting the cold air bite at his skin, letting the temperature leech the last of the warmth from his body.

Dean, he thinks.

Dean.

--

Dean does not have eyes to open, but when he comes back to himself and sees where he is, he screams. It is his worst nightmares a hundred times over, it is every fear he's ever had, it is an eternity of suffering back down in the Pit.

"No, no, no," he chants, but he is surrounded by black-eyed demons, and they do not seem to care.

The pain starts.

This time, they do not ask him any questions.

--

Things after that should be tense, fraught with emotion and confusion and whatever else could possibly muddle up the shiny, new friendship that had been growing between Sam and Castiel. Or at least, things that should be tense aren't. They are good at it, both of them, pretending that nothing has changed at all. Sam pretends that he can't remember the taste of Castiel's mouth, the way he'd been able to taste Dean on the angel's tongue. Castiel pretends that he isn't vulnerable, isn't scared, isn't waiting for the moment when Sam will leave him alone without anyone else in the world.

And so, Sam studiously ignores everything about Castiel that doesn't fit in with the way he's supposed to view angels, and Castiel practices the art of denial by pretending that everything is okay. It works, weirdly enough, they manage a functioning semblance of ordinary life.

There's still too much between them, hurt and despair and need; somehow, those very reasonable things manage to hide the fact that there's also a weird kind of attraction -- and Sam can't figure out how much of it is because Castiel is as lost as he is, without Dean, and how much of it is the fact that Castiel is... well, he's himself.

So he does the one thing he's always been good at, and throws himself into planning. The apocalypse is over, it's finished and done and they're never going to have to deal with this shit again. He could -- he could go back to school, or maybe just settle down somewhere. They could have actual lives, normal lives.

(As normal as it could be, with a retired monster-hunter and semi-retired Angel of the Lord.)

--

They have a lot of conversations in diners. Sam pores over newspapers, squinting at the small print and mumbling under his breath. Castiel sits beside him at the table, takes a small bite of waffle. He isn't sure if he likes waffles, but Sam had insisted that he try them.

"You're going to need to get a job," Sam says.

"No," Castiel disagrees.

"Seriously?" Sam gives Castiel a frustrated, upset expression that Dean would have called his bitchface. "We're going to need to find somewhere to live, and--"

"I do not need to work," Castiel insists.

Sam politely disagrees.

The two of them bicker over the logistics of finding a job, and finally Sam concedes that it would be difficult to get a job without any documentation, experience, training, education, or other credentials. Castiel's refusal to let Sam create fake credentials is a point of contention.

"You could wait tables, or something," Sam suggests.

Castiel considers this. "No," he decides. "I would not enjoy that."

--

During the daylight hours, Sam pretends that everything is normal. During the night, he drinks. And drinks. And sometimes (but not often) he manages to drink enough alcohol to forget about his nightmares, to forget about the solid ache in his chest, to forget about the warm place in his soul where Dean used to be.

Sometimes. But not often.

--

The sunlight glaring through the thin curtains on the motel room's window manages to pierce straight through Sam's skull, sending pain rattling around his head. He feels as if his brain has been scooped out and filled with rusty nails, and every time he tries to move, the damn things scrape against the inside of his skull. He hasn't been this hung over since his twenty-first birthday, when he'd gone out for drinks with Jess and somehow been shanghaied into doing more shots than he could remember.

His mouth tastes foul, his eyes are bloodshot, and his hair is greasier than it had any right to be. Stumbling into the shower, Sam has to wait under the spray for a few minutes before his spinning, aching head will let him move without threatening to spew his guts out onto the tile.

"This fucking sucks," Sam says, closing his eyes. He doesn't actually remember the last time he took a shower, it was probably a few days ago. It feels good to be clean, though. For a minute, he thinks he hears Dean's voice, Jesus, take a shower, Sammy, you smell like ass. But there's no sound in the motel room, and when he steps out of the bathroom and pads, barefoot, back into the bedroom, there's only one bed in the room, only one duffel lying on the ground.

"Yeah," Sam says.

He's only just gotten dressed and is considering breakfast when Castiel appears in the room, his expression grave. "Sam," he says, and for the first time, Sam witnesses Castiel's Serious Business Face.

"What's going on, Cas?" he asks. The words sound forced, awkward, not nearly as cheerful as he would like.

Castiel looks at him, really looks at him, and Sam stares into his too-blue eyes for a moment before the angel finally responds. "We have work to do," he snaps, and then he turns around, looking disparagingly around the motel room. "Get your things," he says, and Sam feels like he's thirteen years old, being yelled at by his father to get his ass into gear and his bag into the trunk.

"Hold on just a minute," he says, trying for 'calm' and instead sounding 'irritated'. "What's going on? You need to talk to me, Cas. What exactly are we up against?"

The expression on Castiel's face isn't one Sam has ever seen before. Spinning around, Castiel's eyes are almost black as he glares at Sam. There is nothing friendly in his expression, nothing gentle. Castiel looks like Dean had when he'd faced down Azazel, and Sam is suddenly reminded of how much fucking power the angel has at his fingertips. Cas can pick him up and toss him twenty feet in the air with no more effort than Sam puts into picking up a cup of coffee, and the Castiel he is looking at is most definitely considering doing it.

He shouldn't be scared of Cas, but fuck, he really, really is.

"Just... let me..." Sam grabs his duffel, shoving his dirty clothes in with the clean stuff and not bothering to gather up any of the scattered detritus around the room. He shoves his gun into the bag as well, grabbing Dean's old .45 and tucking it into the waistband of his jeans. "Where are we going?" he asks, and yeah, this was exactly like being a thirteen-year-old who wasn't allowed to get out of the car unless Dad said so.

"Pontiac, Illinois," Castiel says.

--