"Between the twilight and the dark
The lights danced up before my eyes:
I found no sleep or peace or rest,
But dreams of stars and burning skies."
- George William Russell, The Fountain of Shadowy Beauty
"I'll miss this," Castiel says, suddenly.
Dean makes a vaguely inquiring noise around his spoon, eyes closed to better savor the rich creamy goodness of his sundae special.
"You know. This," the other boy repeats, waving a hand at the water, the people streaming past them on the bridge, the raucous noise of seagulls. The world's gone gold and soft as the sun slides into the canal behind them, and heat bakes up from the concrete in slow lazy waves.
"Summer's not even half over," Dean points out absently, more concerned with chasing the last bits of fudge around the bottom of his cheap plastic cup than their conversation.
"I know," Castiel sighs, poking idly at the remnants of his own sundae. "I'll just miss doing this."
He's looking at Dean, but Dean's still not really paying attention. "What," he says, "you're ditching me for the rest of vacation?"
"It's not like I could smuggle you in my suitcase," Castiel says with a small smile, and finally, Dean looks up.
"Suitcase?" he asks.
It's not like Dean's forgotten his best friend is leaving the country. Possibly for forever.
He didn't forget. He just sort of... started tuning out whenever Cas talked about it. It just sounded like such a complete and utter fantasy, you know? What sixteen-year-old moves to freaking Venice to study glassblowing?
"Dean! I know you're home, I heard you come in!"
"Dude, seriously? Come on!"
"Sam, it's alright—"
"No, it isn't, I can't believe he's—okay, what the hell, Dean? Where are you?"
And Dean doesn't know what to do.
The Winchesters and the Novaks have been neighbors since he and Castiel were seven. Their apartment buildings lean on each other like elderly aunts, easily the oldest houses on the block by a couple decades. Both families live on their respective top floors, but the building where Castiel lives is one story higher. When Dean was a kid, it was always such a drag to walk all the way down the stairs, over, and all the way up the stairs when he could see directly into Cas' room from Sam's. And half the time Mrs. Novak would say Cas was studying or practicing violin or something equally stupid and Dean would have made the whole trip for nothing. He solved this problem one intensely boring Sunday afternoon when he discovered the attic access hatch on the ceiling of his closet, and never used the stairs again.
It's hot as hell in the summer, and Dean has to kick off his jeans or die once he pulls himself up, but here he's completely alone in a way he can't be anywhere else. And if he ever gets tired of being alone, well, the edge of Castiel's balcony is a foot away from the eastmost window.
Sam's still stomping around downstairs in a snit (little shit's hit his teen years with a vengeance and hasn't stopped sulking since), but Castiel's long gone.
And is leaving tomorrow.
"Fuck," Dean says into his arm, curled up on his side on the rough plank floor.
Dad's home. Ear pressed to the warm wood, Dean can hear low murmurs from the television and the thick metallic thock of the fridge door opening.
He flops back on his back, staring at the wide patch of sky visible through the wavy glass panes of the dormers. It looks like it's on fire, clouds like smoke billowing up from the dying wreck in the west.
Castiel is leaving. Tomorrow.
Less than ten feet away from where Dean lies, Cas is probably sitting on the edge of his neatly made-up bed, bags packed and piled tidily in the corner of his spotless room, plane tickets set at right angles to the edge of his desk. Cas isn't anything like Dean, stiff where Dean is lax, smooth where Dean is sharp. He's smart, and fiercely loyal, and doesn't take shit from anyone. He probably understands why Dean is—not hiding, because Dean is not hiding, but why Dean is... currently unavailable.
Cas is kind of terrifying that way. Like the way he'd looked at Dean when Dean blurted, "You can't be serious," and meant you can't leave me: sad, and determined. "You'll be fine," he'd said. Then, "I'll email you every day—"
Right about then, Dean had started running.
Below him, the fridge door closes, and heavy footsteps pad from the kitchen into the living room. A few seconds later, there's the creak of the recliner as his father stretches out in front of the television. He'll be asleep in fifteen minutes flat.
Dean stares at the ceiling beams gone dark and shadowy in the gentle twilight, and thinks, What am I supposed to do without you?
A sudden faint scraping noise catches Dean's attention, and he blinks into the settling dark. Cranes his head back to look at the dormers.
There's a kitten on the windowsill.
Dean closes his eyes tightly, opens them again.
The kitten stares down at him, wide-eyed and tiny. In the light from the street, it's little more than a fluffy silhouette, sitting on the casement just in front of the cracked window. Funny, Dean doesn't remember opening it.
"Hey, little guy," he says softly. "Where'd you come from?" They're four floors up, how the hell did this cat even—?
"Mew," it says a bit plaintively, and turns to squirm back out the open window.
"Hey, hey!" Dean calls after it, shoving himself to his feet and then crawling onto the crowded table jammed into the dormer alcove. He knocks his knee against an old sewing machine and curses, hauling himself to his feet using the sill. Old paint flakes off in droves under his palm.
The hinges of the window shriek as he wrenches it open, and the kitten is poised with one paw on the railing of Castiel's balcony, head tilted just so as it looks over its shoulder at Dean.
"Oh thank God," Dean says, letting his head fall against the casement. He stretches out a careful hand towards the kitten, waggling his fingers invitingly.
"C'mere, stupid," he coos, glad Sam isn't here to hear him. The kitten is kind of sickeningly cute, coal-black and fuzzy as a dust bunny. In the fiery evening light, it's eyes are a clear deep blue, and it stares back at Dean with the insipid astonishment of very young animals everywhere.
"Merrow!" it comments, and turns and begins a determined, wobbly progression up the slanting peak of the Novaks' roof.
"Just— no, no, what the hell, cat?" Dean sputters, heaving himself halfway out the window. "Get back here!"
Dean has jumped the short distance between the attic windows and Cas' balcony hundreds of times. Sure, it's a forty-foot drop to the pavers below, but Dean's not worried as he vaults over the edge, manages to army-crawl up the slope of the roof right over Castiel's bedroom. He sits up then, straddling the roofline.
"Here, kitty kitty," he tries. "Come on, you little—"
The kitten slips, slides down the side of the roof with a startled mew, and Dean swears and scrambles after it.
In this part of the city the buildings are nestled tightly together, overlap each other, get build on top of and all around each other like particularly intricate puzzle pieces. Because of that— nearly three hundred years of that— the city rooftops hold a lot of unique spaces, sunken courtyards, lush fairy gardens, ice-blue pools and cool green ponds, coarse gravel and mossy slate and twining vines. Some of this Dean knew existed— hell, one of their neighbors keeps freakin' bees on their third-floor patio; with the kitchen windows open you can hear their drowsy buzzing on hot nights. Cas is infatuated with them, spent the whole of fifth grade eating, sleeping and breathing beekeeping. They've always annoyed Dean immensely.
Here, the roofs have gone wild and strange, overgrown and unfamiliar to him. The air is cooling as the sun dies a vicious red death on the horizon, throwing up long bloody streamers of light into the gathering darkness. The kitten flounders on, over sticky tar and thick kudzu and balustrades, up rain gutters and into the sparse canopies of the weedy cottonwoods that grow up through the narrow alleys.
"Are you fucking crazy, you little asshole?" Dean yells after it, struggling to keep his footing as he swings clumsily into the branches. On the other side is a raised vegetable garden, tomatoes fat and ripe in their trim little cages, and the kitten paws tentatively at the loamy soil before bolting up the wire towards the leading edge of a gable.
Dean wonders where they are, how far they've traveled. He has the sense that they're gradually moving up, climbing more than falling. His fingers sting as he gropes along the edge of a rough stone wall, and his legs burn from the exhaustion of running and jumping after this—God-damned mother-fucking cat who just would not give up—
Dean pitches forward, and his fingers close around air as the kitten launches itself into empty blue oblivion.
"Oh, shit," Dean whispers, because he's overbalanced, and the kitten is falling. It's falling, and so is Dean. The massive clock face of the city's central square looms huge and yellow over his shoulder, the main canal dark and wide some two hundred feet below.
They're both going to die, but Dean can't help but reach for the cat, even as the bottom drops out of his stomach and the wind begins to roar past them. He reaches out, spreading his fingers desperately, and the tips just barely graze its back.
The kitten's fur feels like feathers.
At the touch it explodes, massive black appendages snapping out from nowhere and Dean's dropped past it and is twenty feet below before he realizes they're wings.
Above them, the sky is huge and dark and endless, the western rim engulfed in vivid raging flames and the stars so achingly bright against the indigo night the tiny points of light prick his skin like needles. He's falling back, away, whole vision consumed by the lustrous gleam of the waning moon and the wings spread across it like a spill of ink.
Help, he tries to say, but it comes out "Cas," and Castiel smiles, a curve as mysterious and alluring as the sickle moon behind him.
"Dean," he answers.
"Cas," Dean murmurs, and drops like a stone towards the water.
He doesn't feel the impact, because he wakes up with a shuddering gasp and Castiel sitting next to him, gazing down at him with a soft, unreadable look on his face.
Dean's still for a moment, and stares back, too caught up in the moon and wings and rooftops. "Wha?" he says, intelligently.
Castiel very deliberately plants his hands on either side of Dean's head, leans down, and kisses him.
In the apartment below, Sam's playing angry emo songs and their father is snoring like a walrus with a headcold. In Castiel's apartment, Mr. Novak is probably making cheeseburgers for the fourteenth night in a row and Claire is feeding them to the dog, also for the fourteenth night in a row. In the tenuous space in between, Castiel kisses Dean, a little too hard, a little too rough, and there is no technique or artifice to this. Castiel kisses Dean and it's perfect, and Dean remembers that Castiel is leaving, leaving, and then Castiel draws back to run his fingers through the sweat-damp hair at Dean's temple.
"I know it's going to be hard," Cas says, and kisses Dean's closed eyelid. "I know it will hurt."
"Don't go," Dean whispers miserably, feeling raw and exposed and aching with it. Fucking dreams. Fucking Cas.
"I'm going," Castiel says against his lips. "Dean, I love you."
"Cas," Dean says, and wraps his arms around Castiel's shoulders, pulls him down. He buries his face in Cas' thin t-shirt and Castiel drapes himself over him, warm hand stroking over his side.
"I love you," Castiel breathes across his ear, words soft and secret in the dark. "You love me. That means I'm yours, as much as you are mine, always. What's a few years to forever, Dean?"
Dean can't, not when Cas starts with shit like that. He makes a noise like he's dying, like Castiel is killing him.
"Dean," Cas says, and fuck him it sounds like he's laughing. Dean lifts his head, ready to call him an asshole and push him away, but Cas is kissing him again and it's so good. God, he loves him so much. How can Castiel do this to him?
"Email," Castiel says as they separate, lying back against the attic floor and bumping his hip against Dean's. "Skype. Old-fashioned snail mail—"
He goes on, and Dean stares at his profile in the dark, at his blue eyes, Roman nose, the slight shine on his lips from Dean's tongue.
Castiel leaves tomorrow. He'll probably never come back to this city, may never even come back to the country. He'll live out his whole life in fucking Venice and blow glass and raise bees.
Well, Dean hates real bees but the little glass ones Cas makes are starting to grow on him. And he's always liked Italian food. Plus, Sam speaks fluent Spanish, which is almost the same as Italian, right?
It'll take most of the year to save up enough for a plane ticket, but it'll be worth it.
Cas will always be worth it.