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Such a Heavenly Way to Die

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There’s something wrong with Castiel. Of course, Sam thinks he’s nuts. “There’s nothing wrong with him, man, he’s probably just not used to having to sit in a car with your annoying ass for eight hours a day.”

“Sam,” Dean tells him, peering around the kitchen to see Castiel sitting on the couch and staring. Just staring. “I’m being serious, man. There’s something wrong with him.”

Like he’s just now realizing the severity of the situation, Sam shifts his position on the bar stool he’s sitting on and sets his coffee on the counter. “Like what?”

“I woke him up last night.”

“So? Pretty sure most old married couples end up doing that at some point.” Dean wants to hit him with the newspaper, but that’d just reinforce Sam’s idea of them--ugly house in the suburbs, a newspaper subscription, and a full-time nine-to-five job at a mechanic shop, Dean’s really living the life. The hunts with Sam on weekends are killing him, but he’s tried the no-hunting-whatsoever life. He feels like he’s missing a part of himself when he isn’t hunting.

“Sam,” Dean says, looking him right in the eye. “I woke up an angel from a nap last night. What part of this isn’t weird to you?”

“Look, man, I’m sure he’s fine. You probably bored him to sleep with all of your--”

“I wasn’t home, I had to stay late to wait for some asshole to drop his car off at ten.”

Still, Sam doesn’t seem as affected by this as Dean would like him to be. “I’m sure he’s fine, Dean,” he says again, awkwardly patting Dean’s shoulder. “Seriously, just--if you’re worried, talk to him about it. He’s kind of bad at lying to you after Purgatory.”

He doesn’t want to talk to Cas about it, though. “The last time Cas was sleeping was when you were gonna say ‘yes’ to the devil,” Dean says, “and I’m pretty sure we all remember how good of news that was.”

With a snort, Sam stands up from the bar stool. “Not everything has to be ‘end of the world’ big, Dean. Seriously. Just talk to him, all right? And--I dunno, call me, let me know what’s up.”

“What, you have somewhere to be? Where the hell did you find a hunt in the last twelve hours?”

Sam laughs, smiling at the floor. “A date, actually. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

Dean’s trying to make his mouth work around the words, “Careful, don’t sleep with her if you want a second date!”, but they get tangled in his throat; it’s probably a good thing. Sam has a hard enough time with the ‘everyone you sleep with dies’ thing, and Dean’s concern doesn’t need to make life harder for Sam. From the living room, Castiel calls out a goodbye, and Dean downs the rest of his beer before he heads to join him.

“Hey,” he says, trying to mask his concern. After dropping a painfully awkward feeling kiss to the top of Castiel’s head, he asks, “You all right?”

Castiel looks up at him, eyes wide, and for a long, agonizing moment, Dean wonders if he’s going to say, “No.” But the lines smooth out across Castiel’s face, and he has the softest hint of a smile when he says, “Yes, Dean,” and pulls him down into a kiss.

--

Two days later, and Dean’s not fooled anymore. “You slept for eight hours, Cas,” he says, when Castiel’s nursing a migraine at the kitchen table. “You’re an angel, you aren’t supposed to sleep.”

Castiel keeps rubbing his forehead. “I’m not sure what’s--”

“Bullshit,” Dean says. He’s rough, and his tone stings his own ears, but it gets Cas to look up at him, at least. “You knew what was happening the last time you actually had to sleep. So you’re gonna tell me what the hell’s going on before anything else happens.”

They hold each other’s gaze for a while. Dean’s heart beats heavily in his chest, thumping against his ribs almost painfully, and when Castiel sighs and pulls his hand from his forehead, Dean feels like throwing up.

“I believe I’m losing my Grace.”

Relief is the first thing Dean feels. “What, that’s it?” He laughs. “C’mon, man, you’ve lost your mojo before, you’ll get it back.”

He’s turned around to get another cup of coffee before he has to go to work when Castiel sighs again. “Not like this.”

The words themselves aren’t really what sets the fear in his stomach. It’s the way Castiel says it, like it’s a death sentence. “What d’you mean, ‘not like this’?” He swallows around the sudden lump in his throat.

“That time was different. And surely you remember Anna’s Grace being ripped out. This isn’t similar. It’s--more of an immediate pain than this, that’s for certain.”

If he’s being honest, Dean doesn’t see the connection to Anna at all. “So? She found her Grace, she was fine. Whatever’s going on with you, we’ll do the same thing, find it and get you back to normal.”

Castiel shakes his head. “It’s not--it won’t be that easy.”

“What do you mean it won’t be that easy?”

“I’m afraid there’s no way to stop this, Dean.”

He laughs, not because it’s funny--not by a long shot--but because there’s nothing else to do. “Cas, you said the same thing about the apocalypse. You got the Winchesters on your side; you’ll be fine.”

“This isn’t something--”

“You’ll be fine,” Dean says, roughly. The way Castiel immediately shuts up is a little painful, but he stops it, at least. “Maybe it’s temporary. You got your mojo back last time you lost it, so maybe you’ll get it back again.”

From the expression on his face, Dean thinks Castiel doesn’t believe that for a second, but he’s unwilling to keep burdening Dean with it. “Maybe I will.”

But Castiel gets food poisoning the next afternoon, when he isn't even supposed to need to eat. He gets nauseous, irritable, cranky in ways he never has before. By the third day, Dean's thinking maybe there is something to it, that maybe they need to start researching earlier than he’d expected.

"Okay," Dean says finally, after watching Castiel suffer all day and not knowing what to do about it. "What the hell's going on with you?"

"I'm losing my Grace," Castiel says again. "I'm--I’m becoming human."

"And why is this such a bad thing?" Dean tries not to feel offended. Humanity isn't always pretty, but it isn't always this bad. "Man, it's like you're being pelted with "fuck you" rocks."

Castiel frowns, but for the most part ignores him. "This is one way for it to happen. Anna's was very quick, very painful."

"So why isn't God fixing it?" Dean asks, dropping next to Castiel on the couch. "I mean--He likes you, right?"

With a snort of laughter, Castiel curls against Dean. It's stupidly nice to be able to have moments like this together, especially with Cas as out of it as he has been for the last week or so. "I'm not sure if "like" is the right word. I should have died many times over, Dean, and instead I have been punished with reincarnation, with making mistakes, to essentially live as... Human. I'm not sure that’s something my Father would do if He liked me."

Dean shrugs. He says, “What’s so special about you?” after Castiel goes quiet. “I mean, God must like you on some level. He never brings back any of the others, so why does he keep bringing you back?”

"Perhaps I’m an underdog.”

"Huh?"

Castiel's eyes droop closed. "You are supposed to root for the underdog, are you not?”

--

For the most part, it’s easy to pretend that Castiel’s not really dealing with something serious. They’ll find a way out of it, Dean tells himself. Castiel’s taking it way too seriously, like he does with most things, and Dean’s sick of having the world shit on them, so he grabs the optimism and doesn’t let go.

Just when Dean thinks things can't possibly get any worse, that he's done with the bad news, Castiel drops another bomb on him.

"Dean, I haven't been completely honest with you."

Everything feels cold, all of a sudden, and Dean swears he feels his heart stop. "What else is there?"

"When Anna's Grace was ripped out, and she fell... She was essentially reborn as a new person."

"So, what, you're going to--to die, be reborn as a new person?"

Castiel shakes his head, reaching forward to turn off the stove. It's so old-married-couple to be making dinner together, but Dean's surprised at how much it calms his nerves. Since he and Castiel have been cooking instead of ordering out for the last few nights, he hasn't felt quite as pissed off as he was before. Like therapy, he supposes, then snorts at the thought.

"No," Castiel says, reaching forward into the spice cabinet after consulting the recipe. "I don't believe so. In this case, I imagine things will happen fairly quickly. That's not what I meant, however."

"What did you mean?"

"It's customary for an angel losing Grace to lose their memories, as well."

Absently, Dean pokes at one of the carrots cooking in a pan on the stove, and says, "So? You lost your memories when you were pretending to be Emmanuel. You got them back, though."

"While that's true, I doubt this situation is similar in any way, Dean."

He's not really interested in cooking anymore. Castiel really has bad timing about this entire ordeal. "So--So is it all at once, or gradual, or--" Because he's not sure if he can handle watching Castiel slowly forget memories only to wake up one day with Castiel terrified because he doesn't recognize Dean.

"At once, I imagine. When my last shred of Grace leaves me. It's not without flaws, my theory, but it's the best I've been able to come up with."

Dean feels like passing out. He can imagine it now; the two of them doing something inane, like watching a movie, or driving down the interstate to meet Sam for a hunt, or even just standing in their kitchen and doing exactly what they're doing now, and Castiel's gone; completely gone. "All right," he says, trying to get his breathing back on track. "Any idea how long you have?"

"Not very," Castiel says. He could at least sound a little more disappointed about it, at least for Dean's sake. "A few weeks, perhaps. I wish I could tell you more, but my knowledge is almost as limited as yours.”

"All right, so why can't we just find your Grace and get your memories back?"

"My Grace isn't being taken from me," Cas says, finally turning off the stove and stepping away. "I'm losing my Grace. Things are a little... different."

Dean remembers hearing about the Castiel from the 2014-future-from-Hell losing his Grace because the Garrison disappeared, and something like fear comes right at him. "Why? I mean, why are you losing it?"

"Fallen angel," Castiel says, shrugging his shoulders. Dean would never admit it aloud, but it's one of the more adorable things Castiel does. Human gestures always are, with him. "My assumption is that they've come to the conclusion I won't be rejoining the ranks, which is true."

Dean feels like he has thousands of questions, uncertain about everything and nothing, because there's a voice at the back of his head going, "You're going to lose him, just like you lose everyone", and Dean silences it with the rest of his beer sitting next to the stove. Castiel watches him do it, but says nothing. "So they're being whiny dicks about it?"

With a sigh, Castiel goes back to dinner. "As you always describe them, yes. They're being "whiny dicks" about it."

"So they see a fallen angel and give him enough time to see if he's going to rejoin the Holy Army, and if they don't, they just rip him to pieces?”

"...Figuratively speaking. There's no actual ripping involved.”

Dean almost laughs in spite of himself.

Sam says he’ll get to research, starting with what remains of Bobby’s collection of books. “I’d ask Cas if there’s a place he knows of, too, but--I don’t want to overwork him.”

He’s fine, Dean thinks, but doesn’t say, because Castiel’s been off all morning, and he’s not going to risk it if they end up getting stranded, or if Castiel never comes back as Castiel.

Chapter Text

Things don’t stop getting worse. Castiel develops a cold that turns into a sinus infection he can’t kick, and ends up going to the clinic to get it sorted out. Dean glares at the walls of the waiting room, glares angrily at the doctor when he asks if the two of them are brothers, glares angrily at the pharmacist, and by the time he finally snaps at the poor waitress at the diner they go to for dinner, Castiel’s caught on.

“Are you all right?” he asks, and he sounds miserable. Dean’s alternating between wanting to scream at anyone or anything that will listen and planning how he’s going to make it up to Cas. “You’re angry.”

“Yeah, I am angry,” Dean says, shoving his food away. He’s not hungry. He wasn’t to begin with, but he’s definitely not now. “I’m angry because you’re--you’re dying, Cas, and you’re acting like there’s nothing that can be done about it.”

“There is nothing that can be done about it,” Castiel replies. “I’m sorry, Dean.”

“Don’t--no. I don’t want an apology from you, Cas, I want you to fight it.” Castiel doesn’t respond, so Dean keeps going. “It’d be nice to see you back to your old self, giving a damn even when there wasn’t anything left to give a damn about.”

Resting his hands in his lap, Castiel glances up at Dean wordlessly. Dean’s sure he knows what’s going through Castiel’s mind, and it’s probably a good thing Castiel doesn’t say that he’s lost the fight, that it’s time to deal with it.

They eat dinner mostly in silence. When they leave, their waitress offers her condolences and Dean has a hard time not being an asshole about it.

He gets sent home from work on his next shift. His supervisor says it’s because he’s distracted, because he’s being snippy with customers and they’re known for their kind workers, and Dean almost blows up in his face just for implying Dean’s not on the ball today. Whatever the truth of it, it’s annoying as hell.

Luckily, his supervisor just tells him to “get your shit together, Winchester” and sends him home for the day. He doesn't give Dean any shitty monologues about looking into yourself to find the problems that are plaguing you, or even getting help, or talking about his feelings. He just tells him to suck it up and deal with it, and Dean respects that, so he tries.

"Tries" turns into "ripping the house to pieces", though. Nothing is left unscathed. One moment he's standing in the kitchen, drinking a glass of water, and the next he's hurling the glass at the wall. Two of the kitchen chairs end up broken beyond repair (and Dean feels like shit for it, because Castiel had made them himself), the fridge doesn't close right, half of the cupboard doors are ripped from the hinges, and that's just the kitchen.

The living room looks much, much worse. The couch is shredded, thanks to the help of the knife in his right boot, and pieces of the fluff are scattered across the room. The glass from the end tables ends up shattered, and the curtains look like a rats nest by the time Dean's finished with them. He remembers the curtains, remembers the entire fucking day, when Castiel decided that they couldn't keep living in a house that looked as empty as theirs, when the blinds became too plain and Castiel found a thousand interior decorating books at the local library. They're the color--or, as close as they can get--of Dean's eyes. By the time he's ripped one apart, Dean’s decided he has to rip them all apart; he's already going to feel like shit when Cas gets home, he might as well let out the rest of his anger.

Curtains aren't supposed to be something that Dean Winchester resents. Curtains are just curtains. They don't represent anything, or they aren't supposed to. They block the light from coming in the windows, they're decor, they aren't supposed to make him feel like a hellhound's ripping at his chest. They aren't supposed to be a stupid reminder of "happily ever after", and more than anything, Dean feels fucking ridiculous for thinking that he could be a hunter and have a life with a fallen angel and still be happy. Something always has to go wrong; it's the Winchester way.

He leaves their bedroom alone. He hasn't been able to go in for a few days, hasn't been able to walk in on Castiel sleeping or doing any one of the other human things he's picked up lately, and Dean thinks it's absolute SHIT that Cas has to learn how to be a human before he can forget everything. It's not fair. He's not going to remember the pain he's gone through, or the pain that Dean's gone through. If he's really going to lose his Grace, his memories, then what’s the fucking point in this suffering?

The bathroom, the garage, the spare bedroom, they all get trashed. Dean's got bloody knuckles from breaking the mirror when he caught sight of himself, puffy-eyed and red-faced, and when Castiel gets home, he's sitting on their shredded couch with an old t-shirt wrapped around his left hand and a cold beer in his other.

He expects Castiel to give him crap about it, why would he rip the house to pieces like an untrained animal, why would he waste time hurting, or holding it all in, when they don't have much time left together, and all sorts of other touchy-feely-let's-talk-about-our-feelings shit that Dean can't and won't deal with right now. But Castiel doesn't say anything. He looks around the living room, the kitchen. Dean hears him head upstairs to check out the damage up there, and when he comes back down, he's got a bottle of whiskey in one hand, a first-aid kit in another.

What hurts more, Dean can't figure out; the fact that Castiel's silently going about cleaning and bandaging Dean's knuckles, or the fact that Castiel isn't fixing it with a touch. It's a question he really should answer, but not one he can find the words for at the moment. After handing Dean the whiskey bottle, Castiel slowly undoes the bloodied t-shirt and inspects his hand. There are pieces of the bathroom mirror embedded in his skin, even some large ones for shards of glass. Instead of speaking, Castiel licks his lips and grabs the tweezers from the first-aid kit, setting to work. Just like a human, just like Dean would if he wasn't out of his mind.

They sit in silence for a long, long time, until Castiel's pouring alcohol over Dean's hand, holding the t-shirt underneath to catch what drips off, and Dean clears his throat when Castiel starts wrapping the bandage around it. "I would have preferred to heal you faster," Cas says without looking up, intent on putting things back in the kit and not looking at Dean, "but given the situation, I'd rather wait for something more serious."

Eyes closing, Dean twists his hand in Castiel's so he can hold it, tight. He doesn't open his eyes when Castiel says his name, just shakes his head and squeezes his eyes against the tears he feels forming, and thinks, I don't deserve him. With a shaky exhale, Dean pulls him into an embrace, and tries not to listen to the part of him that's screaming that Dean doesn't deserve any happiness, for any amount of time, and that's why people he loves keeps dying. It's not a punishment for Sam, or Castiel, it's a punishment for him. And it's selfish, painfully selfish, but he swears that's what it is.

"You are worth far more than you believe," Castiel says to him, voice soft and soothing against his neck, and Dean will deny it until the day he dies, but he lets out a choked sob and pulls Castiel so close he can barely breathe.

"I'll order pizza," Castiel says after a while, and disentangles himself to disappear into the other room. Dean stays sitting on the couch, staring at the destruction in front of him--movies thrown across the floor, tables overturned, the TV balanced haphazardly on the edge of the stand, the bookshelf completely tipped over--and lets the anger course through him again.

Meanwhile, Castiel hasn't had any fit of rage. Instead, he's the complete opposite; he's calm, collected, like he's already well beyond accepting it and he's hurting only for Dean. It's bullshit, and Dean knows better than to believe it. Castiel learned a lot more from him about being human than Dean would have liked him to.

He hides things, he lies; maybe not always and he feels a hell of a lot more guilty about it than Dean ever has--must be all the angelic Grace shit--but he still does it. Dean's not always great at catching on, but Castiel does have his tells.

A delivery man arrives half an hour later--not that Dean’s feeling particularly hungry--and while Dean’s picking at his dinner, Cas starts picking up the wreckage with the same sullen silence he’d had when he was patching up Dean’s knuckles.

That night, he enters their bedroom again. If Castiel’s surprised, he hides it well, just changes into an old t-shirt of Dean’s and a pair of pajama bottoms that are well-worn and soft, and pulls Dean in close.

In the darkness, Dean has a hard time believing the horrors of the daylight exist. He’s dealt with monsters his entire life, he’s stopped the world from ending a dozen times over, and all he wants is to be able to spend time with the people he loves, the people he’d sell his soul for--and has--if the situation presented itself, and the world can’t even give him that. He’s pissed, through and through, and he’s tired.

“Dean,” Cas says, resting his hand on the back of Dean’s neck. “Things will be fine.”

“Why the amnesia?” Dean asks. “I mean, you’re losing your mojo, isn’t that enough?”

“It’s a policy.”

“Policy? No offense, Cas, but does Heaven realize that when people start spouting stuff about being an angel and hearing voices and that God talks to you, we throw them in a mental institution? There’s no question about whether you’ll be believed, because people don’t believe it. Even believers don’t normally buy it unless they’re radical, ‘kill-all-the-non-believers’ religious fanatics.”

“I am not one to question God’s rules, Dean,” he says, and oh, isn’t that fucking great?

Pulling himself out of Castiel’s embrace, Dean says, “But you’ll rebel against Heaven? What the hell happened to you?”

He can barely make out Castiel’s form moving in the darkness, just from the little amount of moonlight shining in their bedroom window. He’s facing Dean, propped up on his elbows. Dean wishes he could stop being angry, but deep, calming breaths almost make him that much more pissed off. “That was different.”

How was it different? Explain it to me, Cas, ‘cause I have no idea.”

Their room goes quiet, and Dean’s getting chills. Whether it’s from his shaking anger or the temperature of the room, he’s not sure.

“I don’t want to fight with you, Dean.” His voice is soft, quiet, and he looks swallowed by the darkness, and Dean feels his fight leave like it’s bleeding out of him. “It just is. Believe me, if there were a way to stop this from happening, I would have found it. Someone would have found it.”

There's no reason to lie about that, as much as Dean would like to believe it, so he stops talking. He rubs his hands across his face, and tries his best to calm back down. Dean doesn't want to fight, either, and it's killing him to have all this anger, and he just wants it to stop.

"Yeah, all right," Dean says, and lets Castiel wrap his arms back around him, relishing in the way Castiel feels against him, and hating everything.

He doesn’t sleep, but Castiel’s snoring in minutes.

Chapter Text

He tries to call the angels, or God, or anyone from Heaven first. He screams where he’s at, lets it be known in every possible way, but nothing, nothing comes for him. He’s standing in his front yard alone, in the middle of the night, with one of his neighbors staring at him from their kitchen window, and nothing comes for him.

And he’s pissed, he’s still pissed. He’s pissed at God for not stepping in again, he’s pissed at Castiel for not trying to fix it, and for not caring enough about himself to fix it, and he’s pissed at himself because he can’t do anything about it. So he turns to Heaven. Appeal to the people that are causing the problem in the first place, right? Why move to drastic measures if something else will work better? It’s not normally--ever, according to Sam--the first thought on his mind, but Dean’s trying to do things right. He’s trying to go about everything logically, to think things through before he ends up with consequences he’ll never be prepared for. Dean’s not the only one at stake in this situation, and for once, he’s going into it with that knowledge in hand.

“I know we’ve had our differences,” Dean says, staring up at the sky. There’s not much to see; the stars aren’t visible because of city lighting, instead just an eerie glow. He wonders if it would make a difference at all. “But this is Cas. I know you guys like him, or you wouldn’t have been so pissed off when he fell, you wouldn’t have tried to keep him on the “right path” or whatever the fuck you tried to do with your brainwashing.”

He thinks he sees the streetlights flicker, but he can’t be sure. “You guys aren’t this cruel. Cas didn’t do anything wrong, not this time.” In the eyes of Heaven, Dean thinks, he probably has. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting free will, and the fact that they’re punishing him for doing whatever the hell he wants is--annoying, to put it lightly. Dean feels personally offended. Castiel’s a big boy angel; he can do what he pleases, when he pleases, and with whoever he pleases. He’s been more faithful than any of the other angels Dean’s had the displeasure of meeting. He’s still faithful, even if it isn’t about this.

“You guys are losing angels pretty quick, aren’t you? Even still, after the whole Leviathan, Purgatory mess. The least you could do is stop the ones you already have from dying.”

The streetlights are fine. Not a flicker in sight, and Dean shakes off the anger as best as he can, which isn’t much at all. “I played your damn game,” Dean says, voice just an angry whisper. “Maybe not the way you wanted it, but I could have been a lot more childish and a lot more of a pain in the ass. I stay out of your way. You bastards can’t even stand behind your brother, your family when he’s suffering, and you say I have a fucked up sense of family? You guys kill anyone that doesn’t agree with you.”

Dean’s not sure if there’s just no one listening or if they just don’t care, but this is a waste of time, just like it always has been.

-

Research sucks. Absolutely sucks, and Dean hates doing it more than he hates doing most things. But it kills the time and he feels like he's getting something done while Castiel snores upstairs in the bedroom instead of spending time wishing he could do something. Besides, research means they’re looking, it means there’s a chance they might find something

Sam's moved on from Bobby's research, empty-handed except for something about an old library in Italy that might help. There's not a lot of communication between them when Sam's not at his computer, not that he has much good news to share when he is available. A few old, outdated and badly researched spells might do the trick, but the costs far outweigh the benefits and Sam doesn't think that it'd help long-term anyway. “It sounds like it’d be worse in the long run. I mean, maybe a few of them could be worth it, but it’s not--I mean, the quality of life alone.”

“Yeah, all right,” Dean says, flipping another book closed. There’s still a pile beside him, books in languages he’s not even sure he’ll be able to read, but he’s going to try regardless.

He's looking through everything they've got left, every book, piece of paper, hell, even notecards that they have from Bobby's, and there’s nothing so far. “Keep trying?”

“I’ll do my best,” Sam tells him, and ends the video call before Dean can say anything else. He’s still got a few favors he can call in, maybe get other people looking into the possibility, but--the Winchester name has long since been tarnished. If it isn’t a name that brings on fear, it brings on disgust.

So, he and Sam, they’re doing this on their own.

When Castiel wakes up the next morning, hair mussed and the blanket wrapped around his shoulders as he stumbles down the stairs, he finds Dean still sitting at the kitchen table and flipping through books. “There’s an Enochian library somewhere,” Cas says through a yawn. “Of course, I highly doubt there’s anything of use there anymore. Angels are rather thorough in their destruction and are more than often unwilling to help.”

“No kidding,” Dean says, slamming the book shut. “Sam’s coming home tomorrow. Nothing helpful in Italy, either.”

Castiel hums in recognition.

"I'm willing to help if there's anything I can do."

Surprised, Dean lifts his gaze from the text of another book and looks at him. "I thought you were all 'this-can't-be-changed-might-as-well-accept-my-fate' about it?"

After pressing a kiss to Dean's forehead, Cas sits in the chair next to him. "I am. However, as I understand it, couples often do things they otherwise would not to make their spouse happy, so." Castiel flashes him a smile. "It's important to you, Dean. You're important to me."

Instead of speaking, Dean hauls him forward by the blanket and kisses him.

They don’t find anything in any of the books.

--

“Come on!” Dean screams at nothing, his voice echoing in the emptiness. He’d driven for an hour and a half to find a crossroads far enough off the beaten path to not be noticed, ignoring Castiel and Sam’s numerous phone calls and blasting music so he doesn’t feel as guilty about it. He’s fairly certain they know what he’s doing, but he’s gotta try it anyway. He just has to. This is Cas, the angel that rescued him from Hell, and if Dean can’t even try to help him, if he can’t make something Castiel’s sacrifices, then what’s the point? “Come on, you little bastard,” Dean says again.

“Ooh, a Winchester. And you aren’t even drunk!”

Not bothering to waste time with pleasantries, Dean says, “Fix him.”

The demon actually has the balls to look surprised. Clicking her tongue, she circles around Dean a few times. “You Winchesters,” she says, crossing her arms and smiling, “never quit, do you? You know, we have running jokes about you in Hell.”

“I don’t care. You fix him, now, or--”

She rolls her eyes. “Or what, you’ll kill me? Dean, sweetie, no offense, but if I fix your precious angel, I’m gonna die either way. So I might as well die at the wrath of Heaven.”

“He’s dying anyway,” Dean says, talking right over her correction of ‘not dying’, “what the fuck does it matter to Heaven if you interfere?”

Chuckling, she stops in front of Dean. He wants to punch the smile off her face. “We don’t exactly do deals with angels involved. They’re dangerous to my kind.”

“Danger--I’m dangerous to your kind, bitch.” She at least has the decency to look halfway scared. “Whatever it takes, all right? You fix him. I don’t care if he’s human or if he’s a fucking goldfish, just--” Just don’t make me lose him, he doesn’t say, because it hurts too badly.

“Oh, sweetie. It’s so adorable to watch you do this!” Dean just sets his jaw and holds his ground. She’s trying to get a rise out of him, and yeah, if she’s good at what she does, it’ll work anyway, but what’s the point if she’s not going to deal? “Every time there’s a death with you Winchesters, you come to us. You really must hate yourselves, offering to spend a lifetime in Hell just so someone else can drink themselves into oblivion. We were pretty pissed to see you go, you know.”

“Then take me back. I know you can do it, so just shut your trap and take me.”

“I lost a lot of family in the battle that took place when the angels rescued you from Hell. A lot of family. And all because of you. We’d love to have you back, Dean, believe me, but there’s no way we’re going to risk that kind of destruction again. Not over some puny, lame little angel that can’t even get it up long enough to save your ass.”

He doesn't even make it past the first word of Latin before she's gone.

Sam's back when Dean returns home, his car parked on the curb outside their house. Castiel's standing in the yard, looking at the sky. He turns around before Dean's even aware it's him.

It's still hard to believe how much smaller he looks when he isn't wearing his ridiculous coat.

Castiel just stands there until he gets out, looking at him with a pained expression in his face. Dean has complete intentions to walk right past him, to find Sam and see if there's anything else he's figured out, but Castiel stops him by grabbing his arm.

"Please." His voice is scratched and raw, and absolutely nothing like him. "Dean, not--Please tell me you didn't make a deal."

Dean wishes he could say he did. He's still pissed, though for different reasons, and Castiel hasn't done anything; hasn't blown up, hasn't expressed his frustration, nothing, and Dean doesn't believe for a moment that it doesn't bother him as much as it's been bothering Dean. It'd be nice to finally get some emotion out of him, no matter what it is, but he didn't make a deal, and he's not going to be an asshole and tell Castiel that he did. "She wouldn't take it," Dean says. "I offered everything. She wouldn't take it."

The kiss that gets him is desperate, Castiel's hands clinging at Dean's shirt, the place on the back of his neck where his hand fits right into place, teeth and lips and tongue, an added bite to his lower lip that Dean swears is Castiel's way of telling him he's being an idiot. All Dean can think is, finally, because it's been a while since he's seen this kind of emotion from Castiel. It's been a while since he's seen any emotion from him.

"Why would you do that?" Castiel says when he pulls back.

"Had to," Dean says. "Even if it didn't work, I had to try." He doesn't say it often enough, but he loves Castiel. He'll be lucky if he manages to stay alive once he's gone. Maybe he can--no. It's still too early for that, for what might happen after Cas is gone, and Dean can't focus on it. "You aren't doing anything, the research keeps coming up empty, and--"

"Dean--"

"How can you just stand there and do nothing, Cas?" he says, and when Cas doesn't say anything, continues with, "Don't you give a damn about what we have?" Because Dean hasn't seen that lately, and he's not sure what he can say to get across how much Cas means to him, and yeah, that's a big fault of his, but--Castiel has to know. He has to.

"I'm not--"

There's so much he wants to say--'I don't want to lose you and I am' and 'I don't know how to fix this' and 'I'm scared, Cas', but he can't get the words out, not like they need to come out. “Don’t you care about losing me?”

The emotion that swells across Cas's face is exactly what he's been looking for--anger desperation, and fear, and Dean feels guilty that his first reaction at seeing Castiel so completely human is relief.

"Do you think I haven't considered begging you to kill me before everything is taken from me?" He's not crying, but Dean can tell he's right on the edge and holding back, because his voice his cracking and his eyes have that look to them, glazed, almost, before he does start crying. "If I die, I could keep my memories. I would remember you in my final moments. I will lose everything, Dean. I won't even recognize you. You don’t need to see me like this.”

"I'm sick of watching you waste away, Cas." Which is exactly what he's doing. Watching an angel fall like this, yeah, it’s like watching him waste away. He's getting desperate, but he throws words he's heard Castiel say to him a thousand times before back at him, "You're not worthless, Cas, and you don't deserve to die. Fight it."

"I can't, Dean."

"So you're gonna lie down and take it?"

"I have tried to look for a way out. I knew what was happening before I told you, and I have searched everywhere. I spent every possible moment looking for a way out. Heaven wouldn't answer me, and there are few other resources at my disposal. It's not from a lack of wanting a way out," he says. "It's from a lack of there being a way out. If there was anything I could do about it, believe me, I would have done it already."

When Castiel looks back up at him, his face is wet and the look of angry desperation has settled into something far closer to misery. "Cas..."

"There's nothing I can do about it except--not lose sight of what's important. You don't need to see me like this, Dean. Not when you're going through the exact same thing and there's nothing that I can do to make any of this hurt you less."

Maybe what hurts is how much of himself Dean sees in Castiel; when Dean sold his soul for Sam, he wanted out, but there wasn't a way out. He searched, he tried, but there wasn't one. And he knows Sam wanted to beat the hell out of him for it, even if Sam never said it, but Sam tried and tried to get him to fight it, but Dean had accepted it long before Sam had. It didn't make the end any easier, not really, but... Castiel has a similar outlook. Dean's still pissed about it, but he can understand it.

He leaves Castiel in the front yard in search of Sam at Castiel's request. "Mrs. Norberry across the street is staring. Maybe another time would be better to talk about this?"

Like always, Sam's concerned and angry and hides it terribly, and the first thing he does, aside from hand Dean a beer from the still-broken refrigerator, is say, "Nothing in Italy. Wasted money, wasted time, wasted trip."

It's not exactly unexpected. Dean ignores him and downs his beer while Sam stares. He can feel Sam's eyes on him while he searches the cupboards for whiskey, but of course they don't have any.

Castiel's still outside, so Dean asks, "What?" in the hopes that this will be a quick conversation.

“You tried to make a deal,” Sam says. Most surprisingly, there’s a lack of anger in his voice; there’s barely any disappointment, just something closer to pity and pain.

Dean rolls his eyes. “I didn’t make a deal, Sam.”

“I know how you are when you’re looking death in the face, okay? So maybe you didn’t make a deal, but you tried.”

He downs half the bottle of beer before he pulls back. “I did try,” Dean says, running a hand over his face. “I tried to make a deal because I’m sick of looking at books that aren’t doing shit for us, and I’m sick of wasting my time wishing that I could help him when all I can do is--” He sighs. “Man, holding his hand and telling him everything’s going to be okay isn’t gonna do anything.”

“It’s going to help you.”

“I’m fine.”

Damn his brother for being able to read him. Sam’s almost pitying look intensifies as he steps closer. “No, you’re not. Dean, Cas isn’t going to be around to see what effect this has on you after he’s gone. Ignoring it isn’t going to help either of you.”

“I’m not ignoring it. It can’t be ignored, Sam. Most mornings when I wake up, if I even manage to pass out the night before, Cas is still sleeping. Or he’s wishing he was. Or he’s eating, or he’s--Sam, he’s human, and even if I didn’t know what it all means, what it’s going to lead to, I’d still be terrified, because it’s Cas. And there’s nothing I or anyone else can do about it.”

And it’s hell to admit that, because there’s still the little part of him that’s thinking ‘he’ll be fine, he’s going to get more time,’ and he still half believes it. Or if he doesn’t get more time, he’ll come back, he’ll remember. It’s not permanent; Dean refuses to believe that.

“Dean, there’s still time.”

“Yeah, but not enough.”

Chapter Text

“You’re drinking again.”

“I am,” Dean says. He hasn’t slept in a week, and he feels sick to his stomach constantly, and he can’t bring himself to feel guilty about this, not now.

Castiel just blinks, watches Dean open another beer as he throws the empty bottle on the floor. Absently, Cas picks it up as he says, "I suppose we'll need a story."

"What do you mean, ‘story’?" This is the first time Dean's heard anything about a story. It seems like the more time that passes, the more he learns about this whole 'fallen angel losing Grace' thing.

"Being that we will not be able to see each other again, we'll need a plausible story for you to tell me when I lose my memory."

Castiel still seems almost completely unaffected by the entire situation. To say it’s frustrating would be putting it lightly. "What--what do you mean we won't be able to see each other?"

"I'm under the impression you'd rather I live. ...Am I wrong?"

Dean rolls his eyes, grabbing at Castiel's wrist before he can continue picking up the mess Dean's left surrounding the couch. "Cas. You haven't told me we can't see each other."

Frowning, he says, "I thought that was implied."

"No! What the hell?" He feels like he's going to throw up, and not because he's drunk too much alcohol. He's lightheaded and on the edge of hyperventilation. “Why?"

"There's a high chance it would kill me."

"What, from remembering you were an angel? Anna remembered. Look, are you seriously just fucking with me, or--"

"I have said this before, Dean; the situation is not similar to Anna's. Certain aspects are, of course, but Anna's was very different."

"They're memories."

Castiel grabs Dean's hands before Dean even realizes they're shaking. "It's extremely dangerous."

His gaze flickers down just long enough for Dean to see it; Castiel's scared, and that puts an entirely different spin on things. "What else?"

"There isn't--"

"What. Else?" When Cas says nothing for a few moments, Dean adds, "Cas, come on, you're gonna give me a heart attack, here."

"Your safety would also be at stake. You, Sam, anyone in the vicinity should you tell me. I will still be protected, in a sense. Angels would very likely see that as a threat."

Swallowing, Dean leans back into the couch. "So... really a bigger deal than you've let on."

"I'm sorry, Dean."

"No, man, I get it. Not like I would’ve told you that much." With complete honesty, Dean can say he would've kept it in until either someone beat it out of him or until the day he woke up in a strange house, with strange people. And yeah, with that in mind, Dean can see why it's dangerous to tell someone about it. "Anything else?"

Castiel shakes his head. "Nothing. If you have any other questions, I will do my best to answer them."

What else is there to ask? He can't see Cas, Cas won't even know who he is, won't remember anything they did together, won't even remember that he went against some of the cruelest beings in existence to save a bunch of people he'd never even met, and there's no fighting it. He’s pissed, all sorts of pissed, but... “No, Cas, that’s it.”

So he drinks. There's not much else he can do at this point besides pore over the Internet looking for anything that might help, and drink. He's told his supervisor that his partner's dying, and he'd told Dean to "take the time you need, we'll be here when you can come back." Dean's both pissed and relieved. On one hand there's very little for him to do besides wallow in grief, but on the other hand, it's given him more time to spend looking for a way out of this. And Dean needs to find one, somehow. Even if it takes until the last possible moments, because the way Castiel describes it, once he's lost his memories, that's it, there's no coming back from it.

A lot of nights, Castiel heads to bed around midnight, falling asleep next to Dean on the couch after a night of watching bad television, and Dean helps him upstairs after a few hours of just letting Cas lean against his shoulder. He has every intention of leaving once Castiel's comfortable in pajamas and under the sheets, but instead, he sits next to him on the bed and watches. And yeah, it's creepy, and he feels terrible, but one day, soon, he won't have it anymore. Castiel's become even more human, and even avoiding using his Grace hasn't helped as much as either of them thought it would. Sam's stopped calling for Dean's help on hunts--and he's only taking the ones that are nearby, just in case--and Dean's going out of his mind.

Castiel wakes up a few nights and catches Dean watching him, but he says nothing. He just intertwines their fingers and goes back to sleep, like he senses how much Dean needs it.

He's drunk most of the day, and every morning, it's harder to keep going. The few times he does pass out, it's for a few hours at a time, and he feels worse after each one. In order to combat the headaches, Dean drinks more. He's wasting money and time, and it takes him a good week to get out of the habit of drinking himself into oblivion.

"I've been an ass," he tells Cas one night, sitting next to him in bed after Cas had thrown his back out trying to move the refrigerator for the new one.

"You're grieving," Castiel tells him, eyes closed in pain. The meds Dean's been giving him all day have hardly worked at all, and every so often, Dean has to watch his face tighten when one of his muscles objects to the smallest of movements. "Grief is a process, Dean, and there's no need to apologize for it."

But it's not just grief, it's a thousand things all rolled into one and Dean feels all the more guilty about it because he's been ignoring Castiel to try to find something to help, and there’s nothing to be found. "Yeah, well. Look, I--I want... I don't want to stop looking," he says, so Castiel won't get the wrong idea, "but we should, y'know. Do something."

Castiel cracks an eye open. "Do something?"

"Yeah, you know. Like--" 'Dying wish' is the first thought that pops into Dean's head, but there's no way he's going to say it. "Like a vacation, I guess. There's gotta be some place you wanna go, right?"

"...I've been many places, Dean."

Of course he has. Dean's doing a terrible job expressing his wants, again, so he just sighs and buries his fingers in Castiel's hair. "Yeah, never mind. Stupid idea."

After trying to sit up, Castiel spends the next few minutes in pain, clenching his jaw while Dean rubs at the top of his shoulders gently. When he finally finds it in himself to speak again, he says, "Dean, that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to experience those same places with you. Though I think it would be unwise to travel too far. My Grace likely couldn't keep up with the demand."

Dean really could care less about where they went; he'd go see the world's largest collection of mud, or a crappy musical downtown, almost anything provided Castiel's with him. “Wherever you wanna go, Cas.”

Chapter Text

Over breakfast one morning, Sam hands Dean a packet of papers contained in a large, yellow envelope.

"What the hell is this?"

Sam clears his throat. "Copies of birth records, of social security papers, school reports, college degrees, tax information, credit information... Everything Castiel Novak needs to continue his life."

"What do you mean, 'Castiel Novak'?" Dean asks, picking at the bacon Castiel's made before shoving it away.

Pulling Dean's plate towards him, Sam says, "Well, he's going to need an identity once he loses his Grace. Figured something that was a little more familiar to you would be easier to sell him"

"Easier to sell," Dean repeats.

"There's a chance the name would feel familiar, at least the 'Novak' name, and would be easier to believe."

"So why don't you just assume Jimmy Novak's identity? I mean, the guy's basically a missing person, and I imagine it would've been easier to knock that off the record than to make a brand new one.”

"I called in a few favors," Sam says, watching Dean flip through all of the papers. "And Cas wanted the name, so... I went with it."

Dean turns to Cas. "You wanted it?"

His eyes glance to Sam for a moment before he says, "Well, we figured 'Winchester' was a little too... noticeable."

That's definitely one way to describe them. One of the nicer words, too, though Dean’s pretty sure that there are other people in the world named Winchester. Somewhere. “Right. All right. So, why’s this--Why’s this Castiel guy got amnesia?”

It’s all in the file. For the rest of the day, Dean reads through it, listening to Castiel’s offhand remarks about his story, and Dean almost thinks he sounds into it. As much as he can be; it doesn’t sound like excitement of a new life, just the excitement of telling a story he’s worked hard at creating. And it doesn’t sound unbelievable. Castiel Novak’s life is very much so the white-picket-fence life that a lot of people long to have.

But it doesn’t hurt any less to know that once Castiel’s gone, he’s going to be happy. Cas won’t deal with the aftermath of leaving Dean, not like Dean will. The way it sounds, the only interaction the two of them will have is the immediate moments after Castiel loses his memories. After that, Castiel’s gone, and Dean’s left to deal with the rest of his grief on his own.

He's stopped drinking. Not completely, he is still Dean Winchester, but the heavy amounts, he's done with those. Sometimes he'll catch Castiel watching him, with a helpless look on his face, and it's impossible to ignore these days.

There's plenty of time for alcoholism after Cas is gone. Besides, he already feels like he's drugged constantly, the reminder of Castiel Novak hanging over his head like a death sentence. Castiel's hurting, too, there’s no doubt about it, but the least the guy could do is show it so Dean doesn't constantly feel like he's overreacting to--hell, to losing one of the best things he's ever had.

He appreciates Dean cutting down on drinking, though, Dean can tell that much just by looking at him. Castiel sits closer, turns into him more, and gives him half-smiles when he thinks Dean isn't looking. Dean just wishes he hadn't wasted so much of his time drunk instead of trying to make the most of what they had left together.

It's all bullshit, how they can't see each other, how Castiel's going to live a different life, away from Dean, and likely never see or think about him again once he gets settled in, how he has to lose his memories in the first place. It's all bullshit, and Dean's not sure when he'll ever get over being pissed at Heaven for enforcing that.

Sam stays out of the way, for the most part, and Dean thinks that he's made relative peace with it--or he's trying to, and he's handling it a hell of a lot better than Dean. He keeps himself busy, still looking for ways out of it, and makes the most of their time left together.

Dean never thought Cas would be the first to go. He'd told himself so many times he was going to die young, without children, and completely alone, and when he and Castiel finally bought a damn house together, he'd thought he at least wouldn't be alone. He'd have someone, and Castiel would be waiting for him wherever Dean went after he died. Not that Castiel would let Hell have him; Dean doesn't doubt Cas would get him out of there in a second.

But it's the opposite. Dean sees himself growing old and lonely, losing Sam early because of a bad mistake on a hunt, and eventually getting too old to hunt, and then too old to care beyond monster-proofing his home. And the bright and shiny future Dean’s fooled himself into thinking he can look forward to doesn't exactly look so bright and shiny anymore, without Cas and Sam.

 

One night, Dean is sitting on the hood of the Impala with Cas, out past city limits in an old cornfield, watching the stars. Dean’s been feeling it all day; woke up with an ache in his chest and stomach when the first thing Castiel did was kiss him good morning like he kisses him goodbye.

"Not long now," he says. Dean's not sure how he can look so fucking at peace with the idea. Castiel drops his gaze with a sigh. "I wish it didn't have to end like this."

His voice is rough, scratchy, and it hurts to use it, but not as much as the last few weeks have hurt him. "...Me too." It's unfair, really, after all the hell Castiel's gone through, after everything he's given, that it has to. But it has to, and Dean's already shouted at angels and archangels and Heaven and God long enough. Every moment spent praying to deities that aren't there or don't care is time wasted, even if he can see himself doing it all over again after Cas is gone. "So, uh... How bad is it gonna be?"

He knows the answer to that question, knows Cas knows he knows, but he can't help but ask, the tightening in his chest be damned. "It will be painful," Castiel says quietly. "Angels have said that is what kills you."

"It's bullshit."

"Dean."

"What? It is." He's pissed, and at the end of his rope, and there's nothing he can do. He might as well be going to hell again. "I just wish--hell, I wish they'd get it over with."

Castiel sighs, leaning into Dean a little more. "Humans generally prefer the slower approach to the death of a loved one, do they not?"

“Cas, we don’t really prefer the death of a loved one at all.” Dean feels like he’s been through them all; he’s seen the almost-immediate death with Sam, he’s seen what was a stretched out beyond belief one with John--no one can tell him the man wasn’t basically dead after his wife died; seeing him in the past, before he had kids, gave him that insight--neither of them were pretty. Dean’s just sick of watching his friends die when he’d rather... “Seriously, man, neither of them are good. Either you spend your time wishing you had more time, or you’re hopeful you’re going to get more, and neither ends pretty.”

“I see,” Castiel says. “For whatever it’s worth, Dean, I’m--I am glad I will not have to see you die.”

Dean says nothing. Eyes closed, he pulls Castiel closer. There are thousands of things he wants to say, but it’s not the time. It’s never been the time, and now it never will be. Instead, he just says, “Thanks, Cas,” because it’s a nice sentiment, in a way, even if it feels like it’s planting a seed that will kill him from the inside out.

"Perhaps you should leave," Castiel says. A moment passes where Dean wonders if Cas doesn't want him there, if he'd rather be alone, but before Dean can speak, Cas continues talking. "Angelic interference often comes with collateral damage."

Dean shakes his head. "We've talked about this. No."

"Do you think that's wise, Dean? There's nothing to gain by you risking your life."

"Yeah, well. No pain, no gain, I guess." He's not leaving Cas here, not now, even if whatever happens when Cas's Grace finally dies kills him, too.

By Castiel’s projections, there’s not a lot of time left; no time for sex or any of the stories Castiel’s been interested in retelling lately, but there’s time. Not a lot, but there’s time, so Dean tilts Castiel’s head towards him and kisses him.

It’s not like any of the ‘goodbye kisses’ Dean’s ever had before, not like any of the one’s he’s given Castiel before they’re certain one of them is going to die fighting off something they’re not ready to take on. This one’s slow, gentle in a way it never has been before, and Castiel’s hand is warm and comforting on his neck, not shaking at all. Dean’s barely able to hold himself together, his own hands shaking so much he’s surprised Castiel hasn’t commented on it. He’s grateful that he hasn’t, of course, but it’s noticeable and it draws attention to why they’re shaking in the first place.

When he pulls away, rests his forehead against Castiel’s, he says--or maybe he just thinks it, that sounds more likely, but Dean’s not sure what he’s been saying and what he’s been keeping to himself these days-- “Fuck it, Cas, I love you,”

The silence is too empty, too awkward, and Dean pulls away, starts to ask what’s wrong, when he catches the look on Castiel’s face.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and his voice is just the this side of all wrong, “I don’t--I don’t remember how I got here. Who are you? No, wait--who am I?”

He's entertained the idea of telling Cas everything, once he lost his memory, but faced with the moment, Dean can see why, beyond their inevitable death as a result, why he shouldn't tell him. This Castiel, without his memory, looks fucking terrified, but--Castiel's safe, now, without the knowledge of being an angel. If it's true, if anyone that tries to tell him is essentially setting off a bomb, there's no concern about him being useful to demons or anyone or anything else.

So he tells him. “Your name is Castiel Novak,” he says. With every bit of his being, he hopes Cas believes him.