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Up With the Birds

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All he knew to do was to keep going.

Dean’s fingers dug into the dirt, his muscles, long exhausted, pulled and pushed as he desperately crawled to his brother’s side. Pain scorched throughout his body, a liquid fire seeping into every vein. Suffering echoed in his tired bones, old wounds pulsing in time with every movement of his strained limbs.

But he had to keep going. He had been for years; continuing when he was needed. And he would still go, until his last damn breath. 

He reached Sam’s side, his body shaking with every laboured inhale of air. His blurring eyes scanned over his brother’s broken body, the bruises examples of beaten flesh, the blood a drape of red. Sam’s chest rose fractionally, the evidence of crushed lungs whispered from his dry lips. Dean placed a trembling hand on his shoulder.

“Sammy....”

Sam swallowed, wincing as his bruised throat contracted. He stared into Dean’s eyes, and he was a kid again; laughing as he and Dean lounged on the couch during Saturday morning cartoons, scowling as Dean snatched the last piece of apple pie, intent as he listened to Dean recount the way Dad defeated a skinwalker that was impersonating a politician. Dean latched a little tighter onto his shoulder. He wasn’t ready to let go.

Sam drug his eyes to his left, managing to point a weak finger at a crumpled figure laying beside him. Dean, his chest a twisted cyst of turmoil, caved inward as he grasped at the dirty trenchcoat covering the still form. He turned the figure over from his stomach to his back, blood streaming down the shattered, jutting bones of the man’s face. As Dean stared into lifeless, crystal blue eyes, he felt his throat turn raw. He shouted, his lips forming silent protests to his deafened ears, but he knew that Castiel would not respond.

A soft tap on his arm directed his gaze back towards Sam, who mouthed unspoken words:

“He’s gone.”

Dean nodded slowly, his vision shifting as he collapsed onto the ground between the two defeated bodies, his own body fading. He laid still on the cold ground, his heart beating erratically as it attempted to propel his body forward; urging him to keep going.

But he couldn’t.

He stared out into the dark expanse of sky above him as he waited, feeling death’s shadow steadily swallowing him. Dean’s vision shifted again, changing the scenery around him. His life would flash before his eyes, he thought grimly. He prayed, knowing it would probably do no good, that he could only watch the happy moments; however close to happiness that they got.

However, as he looked at the scene around him, he couldn’t remember being there before.

He was sitting up in a bed, tousled sheets entwined in his legs. The sun peeked through the curtains on the window, allowing slivers of light to decorate the room in stripes of yellow. Castiel appeared in the doorway, dressed in jeans and a faded shirt. He smiled at Dean, and Dean felt himself smile in return.

“Come on, Dean. They’ll be here any second.”

Dean complied, climbing out of the bed. He crossed the room, collecting various items of clothing as his feet padded against the hardwood floors. He dressed and cleaned himself up, leaving the bedroom to find the smell of bacon cooking. He inhaled, hustling down the stairs to reach the kitchen. Laughter filled the air around him, brightening the already lit room, and he glanced around to see Sam and a dark haired woman, who was carrying a small toddler in her arms.

“I told you he would come running,” Sam joked, sending a smile towards Dean. The toddler squirmed in the woman’s arms, mumbling as she struggled to get down.

“Let me see him!” She demanded, arms outstretched towards Dean. Dean felt himself step forward, collecting the small girl in his arms. Her soft hair brushed his cheeks as she hugged him tightly. “I’ve missed you, Uncle Dean!”

“I’ve missed you, too, kiddo!” Dean replied, planting a light kiss on her cheek. She giggled, her smile reminding him of Sam. Suddenly, she began squirming again, her arms stretched out towards the kitchen.

“Let me see Uncle Cas, now!”

Dean set her down on the ground, and she toddled across the room, falling into the open arms of Castiel. He picked her up, spinning her around, and her laughter spread throughout the room, leaving no empty spaces.

“Look, Daddy, I’m flying!” She squealed, spreading her arms out to mimic wings. Sam laughed, hooking his arm around the woman’s waist as they watched their girl.

“That’s because you’re an angel,” Cas explained, finally setting her back down onto the ground. “A beautiful one.”

The girl giggled once more, skipping away into the living room. Her parents followed her, but Dean’s eyes remained on Sam, a lightness that he hadn’t felt in years filling his chest. He turned to face Cas, the man hard at work on the stove. He caught Dean’s stare and smiled, before setting the cooking utensil onto the counter. He stepped up to Dean, his hand sliding up his arm until it rested on the handprint residing there, forever a reminder.

No words were exchanged as they stared at each other, a fondness in Castiel’s eyes making Dean’s heart skip a beat. Cas tilted his head, the familiar action causing a grin to break across Dean’s face. Cas leaned forward and kissed Dean softly, tenderness in each glide of their lips. Dean whispered Cas’ name, but Cas simply inhaled the words and pressed stronger, a silent plea to never let go. There was no way in hell Dean was going to do that.

He couldn’t.

Darkness returned to his vision, the presence of Sam’s laughter and Castiel’s touches gone. Dean felt the cold creep up his legs, his heart pounding in any rhythm to keep him alive. Whatever could have happened, if there was ever a happy future for them in store, it would have never lasted. It never did.

As he laid between the only two people left that he loved, the pain slowly ebbed away, replaced by cold. He reached a trembling hand to cover Castiel’s, pathetically wishing it would move to entwine with his. Dean strained to turn his head to look at Sam, who was watching him with glazed eyes, slowly blinking as the color from his skin drained. Dean laid there, with his hand resting on Sam’s head, and watched the light slowly leave his eyes. The light full of hope, kindness, and intelligence was gone, and Dean would never see that light again.

His lips trembled as he brushed a strand of Sam’s hair, stained with dried blood, out of his pale face.

“Goodnight, Sammy.”

The whisper echoed in Dean’s head as every feeling in his body began to dull, tears sliding down his battered cheeks. All he had was gone, and soon, he would be, too. Pain faded into nothing, and soon his whole body was numb. All he could see was the darkness before him, the only sound carrying him into the unknown being his own laboured breathing.

Dean was in Darkness. That was all he knew. That was all he was.

Dean heard the faint sound of a harmonica being played.

As he opened his eyes, the sun blazed down onto him, the light briefly blinding him. The heat was bearable, but a slight breeze made it comfortable. Dean sat up and inspected his body; no wounds, no blood, nothing. He felt relaxed; almost at peace. He scanned his surroundings; he was sitting in a field next to a highway, the tall grass swaying in waves of green and gold. His Baby was gleaming in the sunlight, and Zeppelin’s “Bring It On Home” was filtering through her speakers.

Dean stood up and walked towards the Impala, bending down to open the lid to a cooler. He grabbed a beer from the ice, uncapping it before taking a long swig. He sighed and smacked his lips as the liquid slid satisfyingly down his throat. He then heard footsteps behind him, the feet shuffling against the asphalt.

“Dean.”

Dean turned to see Castiel, dressed in his usual attire, complete with trenchcoat. But...alive.

“Cas. Where am I?”

A small smile played at Cas’ lips. “Heaven.”

Several questions sped through Dean’s mind, but one triumphed the others. “Where’s Sam?”

“Here; not too far away. You will be able to visit him soon.” Before Dean could reply, he continued. “All of your loved ones are here, Dean. Waiting for you.”

Dean stared into Cas’ eyes, moving closer. “Dad? Mom?”

“Yes.”

“Bobby?”

“Yes.”

“Jo and El-”

“Everyone, Dean.”

A laugh escaped Dean’s lips, bubbling over as his heart seemed to lift. He looked up at the blue sky above their heads, birds gliding across it as their wings caught the breeze, before returning to Castiel.

“I thought you were gone.” He swallowed. “For good.”

“I was, for a time,” Castiel admitted. He, too, looked up at the sky, the expanse of blue reflecting the brilliant color of his eyes. “But my Father returned me, here, in this form.” He glanced down at his body. “I suppose I am used to it.”

Dean laughed, and Castiel laughed with him before clearing his throat, his smile turned solemn. “He returned my wings to me, Dean.”

Dean stopped, his heart thudding hard against his ribcage. “You’re an angel again?” Castiel nodded once. “Then...we’re not finis-”

You are finished, Dean. You and your family, as well as the others. You all have sacrificed so much, and now you may finally know peace.”

“So...” Dean paused, shuffling his feet. “You’re leaving?”

Castiel stared at him for a while, his gaze unwavering in its intensity.

“He gave me a choice. I may return to watch over Earth....or I may stay here, with you.”

After all that had happened in Dean’s life, he was finally at the point where everything could be...okay. No monsters, no hunting, no betrayal, no pain. He could get what he had always desired for his family: happiness. He wasn’t about to screw up, when so many opportunities were ruined before.

He couldn’t.

He approached Cas, closing the space between them. Their noses touched as Dean inhaled every breath from the angel’s parted lips. He brushed his lips against them before sealing the kiss, and something clicked inside Dean. He knew what he wanted.

“Stay,” he said against Cas’ lips. The angel smiled, his arms sliding around Dean’s waist. Dean melted into the embrace, the promise of eternity erasing the past, finally allowing it to be left behind.

“Of course.”