It was a Thursday when Dean decided he'd finally do it.
His mother had died in a house fire when he was four; his father had died in a car accident when he was twelve; his rebellious little brother got involved with the wrong crowd - and one woman in particular; Ruby - and had eloped on a drug-crazed sex-binge, never to be heard from again. The only family he had left was his Uncle Bobby - or more correctly, long-term friend of the family but "friend" didn't convey the solid familial bond the two shared and was actually more of a father figure than anything else, but that was a bit long-winded, so Uncle would suffice. However, despite their close bond, Dean couldn't bare to be around his Uncle any longer. He couldn't stop blaming himself.
He'd just gotten home from a frankly terrible day at work and hadn't even had chance to jump in the shower when two suits knocked on the door.
"Are you one, Dean Winchester?"
"Yeah? Who's asking?"
"Federal Agents of the United States. Do you mind if we come in? We have some news."
Dean balked, his mind racing and his pulse throbbing so loud he was sure the two men in front of him could hear; "is this about Sammy?"
"Please, Mr Winchester, can we come in?"
Dean found it hard to absorb the news of his brother; his little Sammy having killed someone. Of course he'd been hopped up on class-A narcotics; and of course fucking Ruby had been behind it all; but his innocent little brother had stabbed a woman to death - Linda, or Lilith her name had been, Dean hadn't been paying attention at that point. After the Feds had left, Dean indulged in the Winchester brand of coping; skulking off to the nearest dive to drown his feelings in alcohol. Bobby had heard about Sam and frantically tried to call Dean, finally getting through at some time past midnight.
"I'm at Lloyd's Bar, obviously."
Dean could practically hear the eye-roll Bobby gave him down the phone; "don't you move, boy. I'm coming to get you."
He didn't remember falling asleep, but he certainly didn't expect to wake up in a hospital bed attached to IVs. On a bathroom floor in a pool of his own vomit, yeah; in his bed at Bobby's with a glass of water and two aspirin on the bedside table, maybe; but not here. He shouted for a nurse, demanding answers.
"You're being treated for acute alcohol poisoning," she replied calmly. "You had a lot to drink last night, Mr Winchester, but you should be discharged tomorrow morning."
Dean huffed loudly; "fine. Can I call my Uncle?"
The nurse suddenly frowned; "would that be Robert Singer?"
"...I'm afraid to tell you he's been in an accident."
"He's alive, but... He'll never walk again. He's paralysed from the waist down."
"What? What happened?!"
"I'll um, get one of the officers."
Whilst the nurse scurried out of the room, Dean wondered if anything good would ever happen to him. He'd only ever received bad news for as long as he could remember. A policeman cautiously entered the room, a solemn look on his face.
"Mr Singer was involved in a violent altercation in the parking lot of Lloyd's Bar. The attacker stabbed Mr Singer in the lower back, severing major nerves cutting off all sensation in the lower half of his body. The attacker drove off in Mr Singer's car but crashed it not too long afterwards - he was at least 10 times over the legal limit."
"...He stabbed Bobby for his car?"
"We believe so. He's currently in a coma so we can't question his motives."
"He'll spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. I'm sorry."
He offered Dean a sad smile before slinking out of the room; several moments later Dean's resolve finally broke, tears streaming down his cheeks. It was all his fault. If he hadn't gone out to drown his sorrows Bobby wouldn't have had to come and get him. He wouldn't had been stabbed. He wouldn't be paralysed. If he'd been a better brother, Sammy wouldn't have turned to drugs. He wouldn't be in prison because he wouldn't have stabbed someone. He burdened all the guilt on his own shoulders; all of the stress, all of the negative emotions, and he'd cracked.
He did his best to be there for Bobby, rearranging the house so everything he needed was on the ground floor. He sold his apartment and moved in to his uncles, taking up more hours at the garage to make enough money to get by. He'd tried to get a visitation order so he could visit Sam in prison, but his brother had refused.
It was a Thursday when the pressure of the world crushed Dean Winchester. He figured he brought nothing to the world except pain and suffering, and decided to put and end to it. Put and end to the pain.
Put an end to himself.
It was the anniversary of Gabriel's death, and Castiel was feeling particularly raw on the drive back from the cemetery. Every year for five years he'd gone to the cemetery just outside of town to pay his respects, laying chocolate florettes at the foot of the headstone, because it's what his brother would have preferred. It got easier with time for Castiel to come to terms with the fact he'd never see his brother's cheeky smile again; never see that glint in his eye as he concocted another dastardly plan; never fall prey to his frequent pranks. Because it meant he'd never have to see the pain that his smiles tried so hard to conceal; never notice that it wasn't a glint in his eye but a tear; never have to lie awake listening to him cry himself to sleep in the next room. It was probably for the best Gabriel was dead. It didn't mean Cas didn't miss him, though. He'd always feel like a part of himself was missing.
Castiel had just made it on to the bridge crossing the river that separated the farm-land from the city when he thought he saw something just ahead. Slowing down slightly, he squinted to try and get a better view; a lump caught in his throat as he slammed on the brakes, not caring if anyone went in to the back of him. Fumbling with his belt he bolted from his car over to the dark figure hanging precariously from the bridge's barrier. The young man had a firm grip on the railing behind him as he stared down in to the freezing, raging water beneath; his feet were half on the edge of the bridge, half off. One tiny slip and he'd be falling to his death. Castiel made it over to the man, grabbing his shoulders roughly and pulling him back so he was more on the bridge than off it.
"Don't! I know that you're thinking, and don't!"
The man scrunched his eyes shut, already being lulling to a sense of security by Cas' rough voice; "please, let go of me."
Castiel dug his fingers harder in to the man's shoulders; "I'm never letting go. Don't do this. It's not worth it."
"What do you know?"
"I know!" Cas plead; "I was here, in your shoes four years ago! Please, there are other ways out of what you're feeling. Trust me."
The man chuckled humourlessly; "trust you? How can I trust you? I don't even know your name."
"It's Cas. Castiel. Please come back on to this side of the barrier."
"Tell me Cas; have you ever lost everything that meant something to you?"
Castiel could feel tears prickle his eyes, focusing on keeping a tight grip on the man; "yes."
Memories of Cas' father walking out of the front door and never coming back flashed in Cas' mind; "yes."
A quiet sob left Cas' lips; "I lost three."
He could feel the man stiffen, his head slowly turned around. Watery blue eyes met piercing green.
"Please. Please come back to this side. Don't do this. People care about you."
"No one cares about me."
"You don't know me."
"It doesn't matter! I don't need to know you to care. I'm here for you, like someone should have been there for my brother when he ended his life. Like someone was there for me when I tried to jump from a bridge."
The two men stared in to each other's eyes for a prolonged moment before the man's body relaxed in Cas' hold, and he allowed himself to be manhandled over the barrier. Tears streaked down both of their cheeks as Cas cradled the man in his arms.
"I'm... I'm Dean," the man chocked out as he buried his face in to Cas' chest.
"Shh. I've got you, Dean. I'm not letting you go. I've got you."
Castiel bundled Dean in to his car which was miraculously still in one piece. He even noticed in all of his panicking he'd actually managed to pull over to the curb slightly and put his hazard lights on. Dean was predictably tired from his ordeal, slumping down in to the passenger seat, Cas throwing his trench coat over him as a blanket before rushing around to the driver's side. He drove home as quickly and as legally as he could, always keeping a watchful eye on the man napping beside him. He never thought he'd be one to save a life and he was determined to see it through to the end. He wasn't going to leave Dean to continue with his life alone, he was damaged and needed someone to be there for him, to dedicate time and effort in to helping him realise life was worth living. He knew from first-hand experience.
Dean made it easy for Cas to pull him out of the car and in to his house; allowed himself to be stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers and tucked in to a large warm bed. He only really noticed when he felt a warm body curl around his, an arm coiled around his waist pulling him back against a hard chest. He noticed because for the first time in a long time he felt safe. He felt warm and cared for. He burrowed back against the solid warmth, his eyes fluttering shut as he drifted off to sleep.
Castiel exhaled in triumph as he felt Dean fall asleep, he was worried the man would kick out and reprimand Cas for climbing to bed with him and curling up with him, but he hadn't. He'd just curled back in return. Cas knew that sleeping next to someone was always comforting, feeling the warm press of a body against one's own gave a great sense of security, and he knew Dean needed that. Hell, he needed it too. Memories of his past haunted him as he tried to drift off to sleep himself.
The next morning Dean woke up alone in a strange bed, confused. Everything from him crossing over the barrier on the bridge was one long blur. He vaguely remembered someone, a man, and he'd been convinced to not jump. He remembered a warm presence and a soothing voice. He tried his best to remember burrowing further in to the soft sheets he was surrounded by. His head shot up when he heard someone clear their throat.
"Dean? Are you awake?"
It was that voice. Dean looked over the man stood in the doorway, flashbacks from the previous night played through his head.
Castiel smiled meekly; "I'm making breakfast, but I thought you'd like to have a shower first?"
"Come on, it'll make you feel better."
Dean nodded, throwing the covers from his body and padding over to where Cas stood before following him across the landing to the bathroom. He motioned to the shower and explained how to work it.
"I'll get you some towels and a change of clothes. I should have breakfast ready by the time you've gotten out."
Dean frowned; "why? Why are you helping me?"
Cas smiled; "because you need help. Because other people either didn't see or didn't care. Because maybe one day you could be inspired by my act of kindness and save someone else's life."
"You... You said that you'd been stood in my shoes... Did... Did someone-"
"-We can discuss it over breakfast. But for now, Dean, take a shower and try to relax. You're safe."
Dean managed a small smile and lingered in the bathroom, looking around whilst Castiel fetched the towels and clothes for him. Whilst he showered he thought about his new circumstances and what he was going to do. He could either take a hold of his life and do something positive, see his failed suicide attempt as a wake-up call that he's meant to do something. Or he could wallow in self-pity and self-destruction until he finally ends it for good, without interruption. He was spurred more towards the former, especially given that Castiel had been so hospitable and kind; he didn't want to throw it in the man's face, and he didn't want to unearth the issues he clearly had.
He quickly dried himself off and got changed in to the clothes Cas had provided before following his nose down to the kitchen. Castiel was in there cooking a whole feast. But whatever it was smelt good. He cleared his throat to announce his presence; Castiel spun around, a warm smile on his face.
"Dean! Come, sit down."
Nodding, Dean cautiously padded through to the table, sitting down as Cas returned to cooking. The kitchen was small and homely, definitely lived in. There was a distinct lack of electrical appliances, only a microwave and electric kettle; there were farm-yard animals on tiles around the worktops; the walls were a weird shade of not-exactly-cream but not-exactly-yellow, somewhere in-between.
"Um, what's for breakfast?" Dean finally asked.
"I've cooked a variety in case there's something you don't like; grilled sardines, poached eggs, there's bread for toast, cereals, and I have a choice between orange juice or green tea."
"Oh... Um... Orange juice, I suppose."
"I know it's not terribly exciting, but it's my diet."
"No it's... It's cool... What are you on a diet for, anyway?"
"It's not a lose weight diet, it's a keep a healthy mind and body diet...
Castiel set a glass down in front of Dean and a jug of orange juice; "you wouldn't think it, but it's very helpful. You don't realise how poisonous red meat and chocolate are until you stop eating them."
"You're not... One of those, who-"
"-Oh no. I'm not going to lecture you on your diet; but whilst you stay with me I'm going to be feeding you the same things as I eat, it'll help clear your mind."
Dean's brows knitted together; "I'm staying with you?"
Cas smiled, squeezing Dean's shoulder softly; "I appreciate you had a life, Dean. A family maybe, a job, but all I see is a scenario which you were so desperate to take yourself out of. You're not exactly a picture of mental health, I want to help you. You wanted out; you're out now. You're not in your old life, but you're not dead either."
"...My Uncle. He's disabled. He needs-"
"-No, Dean. You clearly thought he was capable to look after himself when you were ready to fling yourself off a bridge."
Dean looked down at the table, his mind wrecked with guilt; "but-"
"-Dean. Please trust me. Let me look after you. I've been where you are. This very table actually. My saviour was one James Novak. 86 years old; he lived here with his wife Amelia. He dragged me down from a bridge, brought me home with him and helped me get back on my feet."
"...What happened to him?"
"He died. Old age. He left this house to me."
"Didn't he have any family of his own?"
"Amelia died two years prior to him; they had a daughter - Claire. She'd died a long time ago. Cancer."
Cas hummed, moving back over to the stove to finish cooking the breakfast. Dean took another look around the kitchen, understanding why it looked so lived in; it was about 70 years old. Castiel quickly completed the breakfast and set the plate in front of Dean, sitting himself opposite.
"Don't feel obliged to eat it, I can find you something else that's more to your taste..."
Dean shook his head, picking up the fork from beside his plate; "no, it looks good, and... I like eggs, and... I don't think I've had sardines before..."
The two men sat in an amicable silence as they ate; Dean ate the sardines slowly, pushing them around his mouth with his tongue to assess whether he liked the taste. After deciding he'd tasted worse, he ate the fish and eggs fervently, as if it was his last meal. Castiel smiled back at him.
"So um... What's your story?" Dean asked, reaching for a piece of toast from the plate in the middle of the table. Cas paused, watching Dean spread low-fat margarine on his toast before taking a deep breath.
"Well, it's quite a long story, but I'll try to spare the details and get to the point... Um... Well... I come from a pretty broken family - don't we all. My dad just left. Without a word. Gone. I can't remember ever actually having a mother. Obviously I was born but... There was never a mother figure in my life. All I really remember is me and my brothers. All older; Michael, Lucifer - yes, I know - and Gabriel. And life was just... Problematic. Michael and Luce fought for dominance, fought for our attention and love... After years and years of fighting it got too much for Gabriel. He hated their fighting, he felt like he was stuck in the middle... And... He... He uh... Hung himself..."
Dean frowned as Cas trailed off, looking solemnly at his plate, taking a long breath. Dean fidgeted in his seat.
Cas sniffed loudly, rubbing his eyes; "sorry. Sorry... It's just... Yesterday was the anniversary of his death, and..."
Dean leapt from his seat; "oh shit, I'm sorry!"
He rushed around to Cas, body on auto-pilot as he pulled Cas in to his arms. Castiel chuckled weakly, wrapping his arms back around the larger man.
"Thank you, it's okay. I'm dealing... Not very well admittedly but... I'm dealing... Anyway... Uh..."
Dean cradled Castiel in his arms for a few moments longer before going back around to his seat; grabbing the chair and pulling it around to sit next to Cas.
"So uh... After Gabriel's death, Michael and Lucifer fought even more, and even harder. Mainly about whose fault it was. In the end they kind of... Ended up killing each other... They were driving home. It was night, and it was raining heavily. They got in to another argument and began to fight... The car swerved off the road... Michael died instantly, but Luce got rushed to the hospital. He was doing well but... I don't know. There was some kind of complications with his injuries..."
"I'm so sorry, man."
A single tear fell dramatically from Cas' eye; Dean reached over and took Cas' hands in his, rubbing the skin with his thumb. Castiel forced a wobbly smile.
"It's okay, Dean. It was four years ago. Obviously I uh... Went through a pretty rough time. My job was draining, physically and emotionally. I had to bury my remaining family... I was in a pretty dark place which led me to the top of a bridge..."
"Sorry for bringing up all this crap..."
"It's fine. It does one good to talk about it... James was strolling home one day. Just... Getting some fresh air when he found me. He had some strength for a pensioner; he literally wrestled me down and talked some sense in to me. Brought me home with him and he and Amelia were just wonderful. They were there for me. Complete strangers who had no qualms helping someone in need...
"They treated me like one of the family, giving me my own room, feeding me, helping me realise my dreams... I didn't feel so helpless. I felt... Appreciated, and loved... When Amelia died I was there for James, I became his rock. And when he finally passed, he left me everything. The house, the car, any money they had... They saved my life and helped me create a totally new one. And how can you end your life when someone's done so much for you? Even now they're gone, it'd be disrespectful to their memory to throw it back in their face..."
Dean managed a smile; "is that what you're trying to do to me?"
"Not at all. I just want to help you; I don't want you to feel obligated to stay alive, it's just... Nothing will come of it, Dean. You have family, right?"
Dean nodded, a guilty look on his face.
"Trust me when I say it hurts to lose a family member. Even if you're not close, it really, really hurts. Physically. There's an ache in your heart and there's no stopping it. You move on with your life, but when you're lying awake at night and you're all alone, it haunts you."
"I get why people say suicide is selfish..."
"I suppose in a way. But it's your choice, I suppose. If you feel you have no other choice... But I know you do. My life was saved, your life can be saved too. This dark place you're in, I want to help you get out of it. I promise I'll do what I can to help you get back on your feet."
"Don't you... Have a job? Responsibilities?"
"I'm a writer. I work from home, and the only responsibilities I have are feeding the fish. Besides, I think it'll do me good to have some company."
"Even suicidal company?"
"I hope to change your way of thinking."
"...I kinda hope you do too."
Castiel pulled his hands out from Dean's, swapping the situation and clasping his hands over Dean's; "so... Do you wish to tell me about yourself? About how I came to find you on a bridge, ready to jump?"
Dean began fidgeting again; "I don't know. My mind stopped, it just... Seemed like the only option."
"You don't have to tell me now if you don't want to, you can come to me at any time..."
"Well uh... I don't know where to start, y'know? Things kind of started going wrong for me when I was four..."
Cas' eyes widened; "four?! How old are you now?"
"Twenty-three. Nineteen years of just... Shit piling up. You know?"
"-I know, I know... I'll give you the abridged version, because if I get in to it I'll just... I don't know... Fucking cry or something..."
Castiel just nodded, softly rubbing his thumb against the back of Dean's hand, waiting for Dean to begin. Dean took a prolonged pause, glancing around the kitchen again, his gaze landing on Cas' eyes, searching for any reason to not tell him his story. Castiel was a stranger; but a stranger who'd saved his life. Castiel had his own laundry list of problems; but he hadn't hesitated in sharing them with Dean. Taking a deep breath, he looked down at where his hands were covered by Cas'.
"When I was four we had a house fire; my dad woke me up, shoved my little brother in to my arms and told me to run. He came out ten minutes later covered in ash or soot or something, coughing up a load of smoke and I remember him wrapping his arms around me and Sammy, and I was just waiting for mom to come out too... But she didn't. It took a while for me to understand, you know? That I'd never see her again. Dad was all right for a little bit, he had to look after me and Sammy... We moved up here to live with Uncle Bobby.
"Seeing as we had a semi-permanent guardian, my dad took the opportunity to drink himself in to oblivion. I rarely saw him and when I did he was drunk.
"I was twelve, Sammy was eight and we were playing in the yard with a ball or something and we threw it at something by accident, y'know? It smashed. I can't even fucking remember what it was, I know it wasn't a big deal, a window or something, but my dad was already drunk. He stormed in to the yard, his face fucking red! Sammy was terrified of him - we both were, but what can a big brother do if not take the wrap for his little brother? So I said I smashed the thing, and dad... He blew a fuse, like, I'd never seen him so angry! He started shaking me to within an inch of my life, shouting at me for fuck knows what. I think he was abouts to hit me when Bobby yanked me away. They started arguing; Bobby told me to take Sammy inside and get a drink or something. We'd just made it on to the porch when Bobby punched my dad in the face and told him to sort himself out if he wanted to be welcome in his house, and if he didn't he wouldn't let him see me and Sammy. My dad sort of just, stumbled over to his car and drove away; I think Bobby was too angry to try and stop him."
Dean paused to look up and gauge Cas' reaction; he looked vaguely horrified but was trying to remain calm, and not butt in. Dean smiled meekly, hooking his thumb around Cas'.
"Well, I don't think it was any surprise when the cops came around that night to say he'd crashed and died on impact. Five times the legal limit or something, Hulk levels of angry... I was kind of beat up; I lost my father, but he was never really my dad, so... But Sammy. Sammy freaked! Out! He kept blaming himself, saying it was all his fault.
"He blamed himself for years, started drinking when he was thirteen. Like seriously! He'd get older kids to buy it him, or steal Bobby's... When he was fifteen he shot right up, he was taller than me, and looked older, and this girl took an interest in him. She was... Nineteen I think? Twenty? Anyway, she was older. And dangerous. She got him in to all sorts. I was busy trying to keep everything together; making sure Sam was fed, clothed, had enough money for things, got his homework done... But I had my own shit to do too. So I didn't find out he was shooting up with this bitch Ruby until he was seventeen. I caught him shooting up in the bathroom, and I shouted at him so fucking much. I seriously channelled my dad or something... Sam was gone the next day. Left a note saying he and Ruby weren't coming back, not to look for them... It's been me and Bobby ever since.
"I suppose it wasn't all bad. I worked for Bobby at his garage, I kind of got over everything. Well no, I didn't get over it, I just... Dealt with it. Until a few week ago... The Feds knocked on my door and told me Sammy's doing life for stabbing a woman to death."
Cas audibly gasped, his hands tensing around Dean's. Dean nodded and looked up against in to Cas' eyes.
"I know. They said if he takes the rehab program then it may not be life and could get a chance of parole, I mean... It was obvious he wasn't in his right mind. And according to some witnesses or something Ruby was manipulating him, goading him on and stuff... But... My little brother, dude. He fucking killed someone! And well, I couldn't fucking deal with it; and the Winchester brand of coping is to just drink. So that's what I did. Went out to my local dive and just got fucking wasted. Bobby was having none of it though; he came to get me but, uh... He got mugged. Stabbed in the back, hit some major nerves and well... He's in a wheelchair now. Never going to walk again."
Castiel frowned; "you blame yourself, don't you."
"Of course I do! If I'd been there for Sammy then... And if I hadn't gone and got drunk, Bobby... Of course I blame myself, how could I not?"
"Because it's not your fault, Dean. You didn't stick the needle in your brother's arm, you didn't stick the knife in your uncle's back... Shit happens, Dean. Good people suffer with bad things, some more than others. You don't deserve all the things that have happened to you, Dean."
Dean sighed, looking down at the hands again; "but why me?"
Castiel paused, shaking his head and looking up at the ceiling; "I asked the same question. Jimmy said God was testing me. Testing my strength, my resolve... My ability to pull through. If I can live through all the bad things in life then I can make it through anything. We're born to survive, we're not supposed to give up, no matter how hard things get... And at the end of the day, what can you take from a man who's lost everything and managed to come through it all?"
"That's supposed to be rhetorical and profound, right?"
Cas smiled; "Jimmy liked using phrases like that. But they worked. I saw the light."
Dean grimaced; "light as in... God?"
"No. Light as in: light at the end of the tunnel? Good things to come?"
"Good. I can deal with the meat-less, chocolate-less diet, but I can't handle the hooey God crap."
Cas snorted; "I couldn't either. I went along with it, but... Anyway, that wasn't very... Abridged."
Dean smiled; "yeah, well... I can trust you, right? You took me in, you fed me, you plan on fixing me. Need to admit there's a problem before you can fix it, right?"
"Something like that."