He does it. He never thought he could, but he does it. Maybe it's Dad's voice ringing in his ears, maybe it's Sam's own remembered voice, but something gives him the strength to go ahead and kill the thing that isn't Sam any longer. The thing that looks like Sam.
He kills Sam (although it isn't Sam, Sam's gone – it's Lucifer, wearing Sam like a second-hand suit) and saves the world, and then he turns the gun on himself, blinded by tears, and squeezes the trigger.
Nothing happens because he's a hero, and he's saved the world, and suicide is a sin – unlike murder, apparently. Unlike killing your brother (when he isn't your brother any more). And so the angels want to save him from himself, and to reward him for his loyalty. He pledged himself to their cause, because Cas asked, and in the end he followed through, and apparently that counts as loyalty, even if he didn't give a shit about their cause. Even if he was doing it for Sam – killing the fucker who killed his Sam, killing the thing that was walking around in Sam's skin, smiling Sam's smile, laughing Sam's laugh. Never mind all that. They want to reward him. Castiel is standing there with some stupid, awkward, pained expression torn between guilt and pride, and it's Castiel's miserable silence, more than Zachariah's smug grin or his facile congratulations, that gets to Dean in the end.
“No,” he says coldly, cutting through Zachariah's glib patter. “You can keep all that shit. I just want a little alone time with Cas here, in that fancy Green Room of yours. No interruptions, just him and me. Whatever I want. Can you do that?”
He sees Castiel's eyes widen with confusion, as Zachariah leers, and winks. “No problem,” he says.
And then they're there, and Castiel is blinking, and looking around warily. “Dean,” he begins, and Dean punches him in the face. And this time it doesn't feel like punching a steel plate. This time it feels like punching a guy in the face. Dean had been kind of hoping that Zachariah would get that part, even though he hadn't come right out and said it, and as he watches Cas stumble back into the ornate table, his blue eyes wide and shocky, he finds his mouth curling into something that almost looks like a smile. Dean can't really imagine ever feeling happy again (and he's not expecting to have very much opportunity to find out, because suicide may be a sin but he doesn't give a shit about that stuff, and as soon as the angels fuck off and leave him alone, he's going to blow this popsicle stand, and join Sammy), but this still feels oddly satisfying.
“You said you were going to help me,” he says, pacing towards Castiel, his voice low and deadly.
“Dean, I am truly sorry for your loss,” begins the angel, and Dean hits him again. He doesn't try to fight back, and there's blood trickling from the corner of his mouth – and Dean should maybe feel bad about that, but he really doesn't. He'd been thinking of Castiel as a friend, damn it. He really had. Kind of felt like they were both in the same boat, both getting fucked over, both doing their best. He's over that now. Castiel played him. Castiel made him kill Sam.
He killed Sam.
“Dean,” begins Castiel again, and Dean's fist smashes into him again, and again, and then Dean's just whaling on the guy like he's a punching bag – because this is personal. Zachariah's a dick, and Dean never for a minute thought otherwise – but Castiel? He thought Cas was better than that. He thought Castiel actually gave a damn.
He doesn't fight back. Castiel isn't the best fighter Dean's ever seen, terrifying powers of angel-fu notwithstanding, but he usually gives it the old college try. He's usually a game one, even if he gets his ass kicked by most of the other major league supernatural bastards he tangles with. But he isn't raising a hand in his own defense right now, isn't trying to hit back or even shield himself. He's just staring up at Dean with an expression that Dean doesn't know how the hell to interpret. It's not pity, but it's something too like pity for Dean's liking, and so he punches Cas again just to see it vanish for a moment while Cas winces at the pain.
“You didn't save him,” says Dean, from between clenched teeth. He's shaking. “You didn't fucking save him.”
Castiel is on the ground now, and there's crimson spattering the pale fabric of his coat. He spits a mouthful of blood onto the floor, and looks up at Dean sadly. “I am afraid that Samuel was too far gone to save,” he says, and Dean's heart clenches painfully in his chest. Cas tries to raise himself up off the ground, and Dean kicks his levering arm away and feels a vicious little spike of pleasure as Castiel hits the floor with an audible thump.
“Bullshit,” Dean says, and kicks him in the rib for good measure.
“You know I speak the truth,” says Castiel, evenly, looking at him. He makes no more effort to rise. And he ought to be getting mad by now, damn it, ought to try to fight back, bringing some of that terrible do-not-fuck-with-me mojo into the game, some of that I-can-burn-the-eyes-right-out-of-your-sockets,-frail-mortal stuff – but there's nothing. Like he's a fucking robot, or something. Like this isn't really touching him. Like he can't even be bothered to get his smite on.
“Get up,” he says. Castiel cocks his head and looks at him in silence for a very long moment, and then he pulls himself rather shakily to his feet. And he still doesn't try to shield himself – like all Dean's blows aren't hurting him, like Dean's punching a fucking mannequin. “Can you feel anything?” Dean asks, instead of landing another blow, suddenly wrung with the sheer pointlessness of this. He has never felt so impotent, so powerless, so useless in his life.
(He didn't save Sam.)
He is surprised by the way that Castiel's eyes darken. “I can feel everything,” Castiel says, levelly. He leans back against the table, his weight on his hands, and his breathing is noticeably hoarse. “I have ensured that Jimmy Novak does not feel your blows, but I feel everything.”
Christ. Jimmy! And here's a whole crate of fresh guilt, because Dean honestly hadn't given Jimmy an instant's thought. He's been pounding the poor guy into hamburger – or, well, he could have been, if Castiel hadn't protected him. Castiel protected him. But he didn't protect Sam. Dean closes his eyes for a moment, half-afraid that the horror of it is going to swallow him whole. He couldn't save Sam. He wraps his arms tight around himself, pointlessly cradling someone who isn't there, and turns away for a moment, and just breathes.
“Dean, I am truly sorry for your loss,” says Castiel again, and he sounds like he means it.
“Fuck you,” says Dean, raggedly, without opening his eyes.
He isn't expecting the angel's hand to close tentatively over his shoulder, and for an instant he almost punches the guy again. But when his eyes snap open and he meets Castiel's pained blue gaze, Dean suddenly recognises the expression for what it is; and it's not pity after all. It's compassion, which is something else altogether, and something he didn't think Castiel had in him. It's caring. And that warms Dean unexpectedly, for all that he thought his heart had turned to ice in his chest - but if Castiel dares to say he's sorry again, Dean's still going to hit him, because he cannot bear this.
Instead, Castiel very carefully steps closer, and cups the side of Dean's face with one hand, and Dean closes his eyes again and shudders. “You were not to blame,” Castiel says, very gently. “This thing was not your fault, Dean.”
Fuck. He's not going to cry. He's not going to cry, because he isn't a fucking pussy, and he doesn't have any tears left in him at this point. But – fuck. Dean bites his lip, and when he opens his eyes again Castiel is the only thing he can see, with his torn mouth and his wet blue eyes, and, damn, he's looking at Dean like he really does give a shit after all. Like he'd give anything to make this better, in his stupid, inhuman way.
“He's gone,” says Dean, almost choking on the words. “He's really gone.”
Castiel's hand tightens on his shoulder, and the angel nods. “He is in Heaven, Dean, safe now from any harm. He is at peace.”
“He's gone,” snaps Dean, like Castiel hasn't understood the word.
Castiel nods. “Yes,” he says. And Dean didn't even know that he'd been hoping for some kind of Hail Mary pass, some kind of last minute get-out-of-jail free card, some kind of 'No, actually we saved Sam's soul and it's all going to be okay somehow' surprise, until he realises that it really isn't going to happen. He draws in a hiss of shocked breath, and then he's pulling Castiel towards him in a desperate embrace, feeling all the ways in which this body isn't Sam's body and crushing it tightly anyway, as if he could somehow make it become Sam just by willing it so. First Mom, then Dad, then Sam – Dean has nothing left now. Nothing. And he pretty much expects the angel to kick his ass for this, even if he didn't bother reacting to the blows, because he knows this is out of line – but he's still holding on to Castiel like Cas is his only lifeline, like he's the only scrap of driftwood on the sea. And, oddly, Castiel is letting him; hell, Castiel is hugging him right back, for all the world like Dean hadn't just spent five minutes trying to punch the living daylights out of the guy.
“You are not at fault,” murmurs Castiel. His thumb is rubbing soothingly against the nape of Dean's neck, and he feels deceptively warm and human right now, and Dean can't remember the last time someone held him like this, other than Sam – oh, God, other than Sam. But this isn't Sam, and it isn't some one-night stand either; this is Castiel, who knows everything he's done, and whom he's just finished pounding on, and all he's feeling from the guy is forgiveness. The unexpected tenderness of it just about kills him, and in spite of himself he holds on tight, and lets the tears soak silently into the collar of Castiel's stupid overcoat.
“He's dead,” says Dean again, a long time later. He isn't looking at Cas, and that maybe helps; they're welded together in an urgent embrace, chest-to-chest and thigh-to-thigh, and he can feel Castiel's pulse reverberating through his own skeleton, feel the guy's stubble against his neck, feel the unexpected pressure of Castiel's hand rubbing tentative circles on his back, like he's a little kid or something. Like he matters. “Sammy's dead.”
“Yes,” says Castiel sadly. “But it really was not your fault.”
Which is a crock of shit, obviously, but Dean lets it lie for now, because it's almost comforting. His head aches. He has saved the world, and he honestly doesn't know whether or not it was worth it.
“I can't live with this,” Dean says, after another long pause. “Without Sammy. I can't do it.” He doesn't come right out and say what he's planning on doing instead, but he figures Castiel knows him well enough to read the subtext. He's done here. That's all she wrote.
And that, apparently, is what it takes to make Cas mad. The violence didn't do it, and the inappropriate embrace didn't do it, but this does. Castiel pushes Dean away and holds him at arm's length, glaring so fiercely that Dean almost flinches.
“Yes you can,” says Castiel, in a seriously-not-taking-any-of-your-bullshit kind of voice. “Sam will still be waiting for you after everything.” His mouth is a tight little line, and his eyes are blazing. “Unless you commit suicide – then you return to Hell, and lose him for all time.”
Dean gapes, and relief floods him at that point, because that means... “Sam's not in Hell?”
“Sam has gone to his reward. He is not trapped in Hell.”
Not that this helps all that much, because Sam is still dead, and the horror of this is still overwhelming, but Dean had been so sure that Sam was down there, enduring all the torments that Dean remembers in excruciating detail, and that had been eating away at him. That had been driving him mad. This – this still sucks worse than just about anything Dean can imagine, but at least he knows Sam isn't suffering. And that's actually pretty huge, because Dean has not been able to endure the thought of Sam being slowly flayed apart by demons.
“So – Heaven, hey?” he says, awkwardly. “That's - well, I suppose that's cool.” It doesn't feel cool. It feels fucked up. He wants Sammy here. But still – it beats Hell.
Castiel is still fixing him with that same searching gaze. “You must choose life,” he says, and, wow, Dean didn't think he had any laughter left in him, but it turns out that he does, because this cracks him up.
“Choose life? Fuck, Cas, where do you dig up the platitudes? You guys got some kind of inspirational posters on the wall up in Heaven?”
“There are no walls in Heaven,” says Castiel mildly. “It is not a material realm.” He frowns, but this is the old, puzzled-by-you-crazy-humans frown, rather than the I've-got-your-number-buddy frown he'd just been directing at Dean. Apparently Dean knows how to distinguish between Castiel's myriad different frowns now. “I do not understand the cause of all this levity.”
“Choose life,” repeats Dean, shaking his head. “Fuck. Are you even listening to yourself?”
Castiel cocks his head, looking thoughtful. “I meant just what I said. The world still needs your help, and it behooves you to go on. You are a gifted hunter, Dean, and monsters walk the earth.”
“Right. So that's all I get?” Dean swallows. “I don't – I mean, look, Cas, I know there's still lots of bad things out there in the dark, but – I'm done.” He turns away. “Seriously. This – it's been my whole fucking life, Cas, and that was okay, that was fine when it was – when I had – but, I can't do it alone. I can't. I don't want to.” His heart clenches in his chest. If he can't kill himself, if killing himself is going to ensure that he really does never see Sam again – then he has no idea what to do with himself. Dean knows hunters. And, okay, Bobby's awesome – but mostly, the lone hunters are crazy, vicious or miserable as sin, or all three. You don't get into this gig unless you're already pretty fucked up, and if you're all alone, nobody at your back, nobody knowing how fucking brave you were, or helping to patch you up, or teasing you for slipping in a puddle of slime – man. Dean can't even think about it. He knows that it's still a worthwhile job, he knows that it would be the right thing to do, but he doesn't have it in him to be that guy. He was always sure he'd buy it before Sam. He has no idea how to be a survivor. “I can't do it alone,” he whispers again, staring across the room at one of the fancy oil paintings. The fancy, lying oil paintings. Lucifer didn't look like the thing in the painting. Lucifer looked exactly like Dean's baby brother, with light pouring out of his eyes. “I don't want to,” he says. “I know that makes me – I know I'm being a loser, but I just – I don't...”
And that's when Castiel takes his hand and pulls him close again – and this time there's nothing brotherly about the embrace. This time Castiel kisses the hell out of him.
Dean's so thoroughly startled that for an instant there he just stands frozen like a freaking statue, staring at the angel's eyes an inch or two from his own, shocked and mesmerised and completely at a loss. Castiel's mouth is slightly rough against his lips, and his fingers are buried in Dean's short hair, cupping his skull like it's something precious, and he feels warm, and strong, and human, and here. And so after a baffled moment or two Dean thinks: “Oh, what the Hell,” and just goes with it.
Turns out that Castiel? Is either a very fast learner, or else this is not his first time around the block. Dean Winchester has only made out with guys a couple of times, when he was drunk and cocky and in his teens, and he sure as hell didn't see this coming, but – damn. Damn. It does feel good, quite amazingly good, and not least because it's somebody who does (and Dean can't help believing he does) give a damn. Someone who knows exactly who Dean is, and exactly what he's done – knows more than anyone else, more than Sammy did, even – and who still gives a damn. Still wants to kiss him. And that's got to count for something, even if the someone in question isn't a hot chick. It's a pity that Castiel didn't end up taking a hot chick for a vessel, really, because then this would be much – oh, fuck.
“Hey – what about the guy? Jimmy?” says Dean, quite a lot later than he should have done. He's hard by this point, and breathless, and has actually been wondering whether second and third base might be on the cards (hell, whether he might get some much-deserved, honest-to-God sex) when he suddenly remembers that it's not just the two of them in the room. “Shit!” And Dean jumps away then as if he's been burnt, and stares at Castiel. “That's – that can't be right. This isn't really you, this is some poor schmuck you possessed. I don't – we shouldn't do this. This is creepy.”
Castiel's mouth is wet, and his lips are very pink. He's standing perfectly still, and looking remarkably composed. Pure Mr Spock. Well, maybe slightly debauched Mr Spock. Actually, now that Dean takes in his expression properly, maybe a shell-shocked and panic-stricken Mr Spock is more like it. “Cas?” Dean says, cautiously.
“That was most inappropriate,” says Castiel. His voice is shaking slightly. He swallows hard. “It was not my intention to abuse either of you.” He blinks, and then his eyes widen. “No!” And that isn't addressed to Dean – that's clearly not to Dean, so maybe it's to Jimmy? But then again, maybe not. “It is not fitting that we use a human vessel thus,” he says – apparently to thin air. Or, more likely, to Angel Shortwave Radio, which apparently has a thing or two to say about what they're getting up to.
Dean looks around at the rest of the room. “Er – Cas?” he says, and then stops short when Castiel rounds on him, his eyes burning.
“Say that I may go.”
“What? Why would I – what?”
“I cannot leave this place until you grant me leave to go.” Castiel is sounding a little frantic now. “This was the boon you wanted, so I am bound to stay in here until you set me free.”
“Oh. Right.” Which – okay, when he'd wanted to knock ten bells out of the guy, that had seemed fair enough. But now everything is suddenly weird and Dean doesn't know what he wants. But it's pretty damn clear what Castiel wants. And it shouldn't hurt Dean's feelings, because – hello, angels are dicks, and he already can't believe he just made out with a guy, so the sooner Castiel gets his angelic ass out the door the better. “Okay.” There's a lump in his throat. “You can go.”
And with that, Dean finds himself alone.
It's stupid that he can still feel Castiel's kiss, and that he already misses the angel's embrace. He came here with the intention of kicking the guy's ass, for fuck's sakes, not with any idea of getting all gayified. And he isn't going to dishonour Sam's memory by wasting any tears on Castiel; Dean's got plenty enough to be miserable about, without starting to moon over the damned angel.
“I want to go home,” he says, softly, wondering whether he ought to click his heels together three times – but before he can try it, he finds himself sitting in the driving seat of the Impala. And it's so damned normal, so comforting, that for half a heartbeat he honestly believes that he'll see Sammy sitting in the passenger seat when he turns.
But when he turns, he's all alone.
Dean's on his third day without Sam, and he still hasn't driven himself off a bridge, or slashed his wrists, or sold his soul to a crossroads demon. But he's come pretty fucking close. He's driving with no purpose in mind, just driving, listening to music, and staring blankly out at the world. Watching all the people walk by, oblivious to how close they all came to Armageddon. How close they all came to knowing what Dean knows about pain. He tries very hard to remind himself that the good guys won, and that there are kids playing in back yards and moms baking cookies right this very minute, because of Sam and Dean. Because they took down Lucifer. That should count for something, right? It really should.
But Sam is still dead. Dean's taken to talking to him anyway, in case maybe Sam can somehow hear him. In case maybe Sam knows. He kind of hopes Sam might come back and haunt him. He'd be okay with that, he thinks. Maybe.
Still, it's good to know that Sam's in Heaven. Dean knows for a fact that Hell exists, and if Heaven is the opposite of Hell – well, that would be outstanding. That would be like one, long, nonstop orgasm, pretty much – pure bliss, pure transports of delight. That's something that Sammy deserves, after all the shit he's been through. It would be really fucking selfish to want him back.
So maybe Dean's really fucking selfish. But he's trying not to be. He's taking it one day at a time.
He's kind of preoccupied, though, which is why it takes him a while to notice the girl on the side of the road. Hitchiker. Which, knowing Dean's luck, probably means demon, or ghost, but at least she isn't wearing white. And they really are in the ass-end of nowhere, and Dean's hardly seen another vehicle for hours – and he's already real tired of the emptiness in the car. So he pulls over, and watches her walk up to the car.
She's pretty. Real pretty. Dark skin, hair a soft mass of brown curls – she kind of reminds him of someone. It takes him a minute to remember Cassie – Jesus, that was a lifetime ago. But this chick looks kind of like Cassie, yeah, and that gives him a warm little glow. He pulls on a charming smile as she reaches the door.
“Hi there, miss. You need a ride?” he says.
And then his mouth falls open, because she cocks her head in a way that is totally familiar, and gives him this look that he knows perfectly well.
“Fucking – Cas?” which is even more jarring, considering who she – he – she looks like. “Castiel?”
It can't be. But apparently it is.
“May I join you, Dean?” She's got a real nice voice too, a warm alto, and her eyes are huge and hopeful.
“Castiel?” he says again, still gaping. “What the fuck?”
She bites her lip, and looks down, and then looks up again through her thick eyelashes, and, oh, shit, Dean suddenly realises with a sinking sensation that he is in So. Much. Trouble. “You should not be alone,” she says, awkwardly. “It is not right, not after you did so much – not after you saved everything. I would like – I want to help you. If you'll have me.”
Dean looks her up and down, incredulously, and then he gets out of the car himself, and walks around to see her properly. Still very much a girl. “And who the hell are you wearing this time?” he demands, feeling shaken in ways that he doesn't much want to think about right now.
Castiel – because it is Castiel, no question – looks down at her hot new body with an expression of uncertainty. “I am not possessing a mortal vessel,” she says. “This body is my own. I had some help in fashioning it – I hoped – do you not find it pleasing?”
Dean is still gaping. Dean is starting to think he might be gaping for the foreseeable future, in fact. “Cas, you – for fuck's sake, dude. You had a freaking sex change? For me? What the hell?”
“No!” She blinks again, and it's just so weird, hearing Castiel's intonations and seeing his gestures in this hot chick. “No, Dean – angels do not have gender as you think of gender. I am neither male nor female. Was neither male nor female. Now I am a woman.” She swallows. “I thought it would be best. I mean no disrespect to the memory of your brother – I do not want to take his place. But – you should not be alone. And – and I would like to be with you, Dean. If you'll let me.”
A sudden suspicion is beginning to blossom in Dean's mind. “Cas, is this – did you – you didn't go and Fall, Cas. Did you? You didn't Fall for me. Right?” Castiel looks like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar. “Oh my fucking God. You did. You Fell. Are you insane? Are those fuckers going to be after you now?”
“No!” She stands up straighter, and sticks out her chin and crosses her arms, and, God, she's lovely, and Dean is in So Much Trouble that it doesn't even bear thinking about. “I have received permission to become incarnate thus.” And that sounds more like Castiel, kind of aloof and snotty and defensive. Kind of like Mr Spock – although right now, Dean can't help noticing, Cas is looking a hell of a lot more like Lieutenant Uhura. “I do not need to hide myself from Heaven, Dean. I have not lost my grace, merely relinquished it for a time.”
“How long a time?” asks Dean, eyeing her narrowly.
“I thought perhaps fifty or sixty years,” she says, looking back at him – and now she sounds less sure of herself, more tentative. “I will not be a burden to you. I know many things about the unhallowed creatures of the earth, things never consigned to page or scroll. And I can hold my own in battle.”
“You're lousy in battle,” says Dean, easily. Castiel bridles. “Look, no, really – you may be a kick-ass warrior in your natural form, but in a human body? You're not all that. Sorry.”
After a moment, her shoulders slump slightly. “What you say may well be true,” she concedes. “Fighting in two dimensions has never come easily to me. I miss my wings.”
“Your – fuck. You've lost your wings, right?” She nods. “This is – look, fuck, Cas, it's not that I don't appreciate this, because it's one hell of a gesture, but, seriously – this is too much. I'm fine. I don't need you to give up your, your species and your gender and lose your fucking wings just for me. That's – I mean, that's really something, but I don't...” his voice trails off. Castiel, Dean is realising with a sinking heart, can do the whole Puppydog Eyes thing every bit as well as Sammy ever could. Damn it.
“You don't want me?” she says, and there's a little catch in her voice that undoes Dean, and before he knows it he's taken the three short steps towards her and caught her – him? - her up in his arms.
“Well of course I want you. What am I, stupid? You're a babe, and you're my – you're my friend. More than my – oh, fuck, stop looking at me like that.”
And this time, when they kiss, Castiel's lips are not dry or chapped, and Castiel's body does not remind him even slightly of Sam. But it's still one hell of a kiss.