How could Castiel ask him for more?
The Righteous Man had done everything, given up everything, and he had the chance to quietly exist for another thirty or forty years: a life without hunting, a peaceful life, a normal life, and a natural, late death. How could Castiel ask anything of him, especially with the reality of his awful failure twisting within him?
But Dean’s shoulders suddenly stiffened in the act of raking leaves. His head tipped to the side, as though he was listening hard for movement.
“Cas?” he asked, his voice gruff. “You there?” He turned to look behind him, directly at where Castiel stood. It was an inane nickname, Castiel thought, but it warmed his being to hear it; it warmed him, too, to see the faint flicker of hope in Dean’s green eyes, the temporarily softening lines in Dean’s face.
Castiel didn’t choose to appear to Dean; it was an impulsive act, less of a choice and more of a longing that manifested to reality. Dean’s eyes widened, and something that Castiel knew was relief appeared on his features, saturating them painfully for a moment before a strange smile broke on his lips.
“I knew it,” he said hoarsely, already striding forward, his arms stretching out. Castiel remembered their last encounter, fleetingly, and remembered that Dean was angry, but not with him, just angry, angry, angry—Dean was always angry—but not now, not when his arms closed heavily, staccato, around Castiel. “I knew I heard you, man,” he said, voice muffled by Castiel’s shoulder.
This unnerved Castiel, who had only rarely been touched by Dean, who was very particular about his personal space. This was doubly unnerving because, no matter how much Castiel longed to see Dean, he had been fairly convinced that Dean would not want to see him. Dean was supposed to be out. Retired. Done. Dean was supposed to be living—what had the Winchesters always called it? An apple pie life. But Dean was relieved to see him, and Castiel remembered Dean’s mind, the idea that lingered there: a hunter is never done.
Dean pulled back from him to clap a hand on his shoulder, just when Castiel remembered that he was supposed to put his arms around Dean and awkwardly half-raised them to do so. Dean laughed heartily. “Look, man, I know your people skills aren’t the best, but…” The smile melted from his features as he looked into Castiel’s face properly for the first time. “Cas?” he asked uncertainly.
Castiel’s hands dropped back to his sides, useless, but Dean’s hand remained on his shoulder, the warmth of it seeping through his trench coat and suit jacket and shirt. It felt like salvation. Castiel felt weak for interrupting his old friend’s new life, but Dean would know what to do. And Dean would forgive him.
“Hello, Dean,” he said finally.
“Yeah, Cas. Hey. Hello. What’s wrong?” Dean demanded, his voice rough and urgent, and Castiel nearly smiled, because Dean still knew him better than anyone or anything. Dean looked past the impassive features of the vessel and saw Castiel’s true unease with one, simple look. It was remarkable, really, how well Dean could read him. Castiel often wondered if it was because of Hell.
“I’m in trouble, Dean,” he said at last, and guilt and fear rent through him, just for a moment, before he buried those confused and terrifying emotions again. “I’ve made a mistake.”
Dean’s features were already smoothing and hardening, crisis-mode on, ready to handle whatever it was. One man. One human. Ready to handle the missteps of an angel. Castiel had known he would react this way. Dean was reliable. Dean was solid. Dean was his friend, and Castiel felt relief just being here.
“I thought the Apocalypse was over,” Dean said, with the weary, half-hearted note in his voice that meant he was—joking, Castiel thought.
“A faction of the Host has decided that it must be restarted,” Castiel told him, and Dean stared back at him, horror flooding his green eyes.
“They can’t,” Dean protested. “Lucifer and Michael are locked in the box. Without them, no Apocalypse.”
“They mean to break Lucifer and Michael out of the cage.”
“Son of a bitch,” Dean exploded, casting a glare skyward.
“They do not yet know how to re-open it,” Castiel said, though it was little consolation; it had been done once, and it could be done again, perhaps more easily this time. “Raphael is leading them,” he added.
Dean rubbed his hand—the one that was not on Castiel’s shoulder, because that hand was still there, strong, firm, strangely comforting—over his mouth, trying to get his bearings. “Okay,” he said. “Okay. They can’t do that. They can’t be allowed to do that.” His gaze rose to meet Castiel’s. “Thought dear old dad brought you back better than ever. Didn’t he think this might happen? Give you the juice to take them?”
Castiel’s eyes fell to Dean’s shirt. “Improved, yes. With enough power to win a fight with Raphael…no. I have been told that I will swear allegiance to him, or I will die.”
“Well,” Dean said forcefully, squeezing Castiel’s shoulder. “You will not do either of those things, you got me?”
Castiel was not sure how he could truly stop himself dying—again—but he nodded.
“We’re going to see Bobby,” Dean said, “and we’ll figure this out. How much time do we have?”
“Tomorrow,” Castiel said. “The Holy Host has been called to assemble tomorrow.”
Dean’s lip trembled, just barely noticeable, before it quirked, momentarily, into a forced smile. “Left it a little late, didn’t you?”
“Angels move quickly,” Castiel replied. “My…conversation…with Raphael was five minutes ago.”
Dean’s hand fell. Castiel immediately missed its reassurance on his shoulder. “Okay,” he muttered. “Okay. We’re gonna fix this. Give me five minutes to say goodbye to Lisa and Ben.”
“Dean,” Castiel said, eyes lifting, finally, to Dean’s face. “I am sorry.”
A flicker of confusion crossed Dean’s face. “Sorry? For what, Cas?”
“For bringing this...problem...to you,” he replied honestly, sadly. “I wish I did not require your assistance. You are supposed to be done. I regret asking more of you.”
“Don’t.” Dean stabbed a finger into Castiel’s chest, and the angel felt the raw insistence behind it. “Cas, you’ve got a problem, I’m here to help. That’s the way it works.”
Castiel tilted his head, puzzled. “The way what works?”
Dean shook his head, gripped the beige trench coat, and straightened it with a jerk. “Friends, you mook,” he growled. “You raised me from Hell, rebelled for me, and died for me twice. I think I can handle one pissy archangel.”
“There’s something else,” Castiel said, the words falling from his lips like a confession.
“One pissy archangel, and…?”
“Sam. It’s Sam.”
Dean stilled; the hardness in his face tightened. “What about Sam?”
Castiel would beg for forgiveness, if that was the result of this conversation. He deserved nothing more. “I tried to get Sam out of Lucifer’s cage,” he said. “I knew…what it would mean to you…but I failed, Dean. I raised him, but he isn’t…his soul is still in the cage. I was...arrogant...to believe that I could raise him properly.”
Dean blinked once, then blinked again, and Castiel allowed himself to be saturated in Dean’s pain, anguish, guilt, though it rent his own being in two; his Grace tremored with it.
“Sam is topside,” Dean said, his voice taut, and Castiel’s own guilt threatened to swallow him whole.
“Yes and no,” Castiel replied.
Dean stared at him for a moment, lost: it was the expression he wore when he first met Castiel, when the angel first pried him from the rack. But as then, so now, his expression hardened, transformed, and Castiel’s respect for him bordered on reverence. Dean Winchester always got up, no matter what leveled him. He always rose again.
“You will fill me in on the way,” he said now, staring hard at Castiel, and it was unmistakably an order, one that Castiel would obey unquestioningly. “And we are not flying. Now just...go to the garage, sit in the Impala, and wait for me. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“I am sorry, Dean,” Castiel said again, because for now, the apology was all he had to offer.
Dean rested his hands on the angel’s shoulders, gripped him tight. Castiel could feel Dean shaking. “I’m not sayin’ I’m not angry,” he said, in a rough and strained voice that gave that much away on its own. “But you tried, Cas, and I know...I know you meant well.” He released Castiel and turned toward the house. “We will fix this,” he said, and Castiel watched his back straighten with purpose, his exhaustion bury itself deep. “Five minutes.”
“Thank you,” Castiel said quietly, but Dean was already out of earshot.