When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
Could it be worse
— Coldplay, Fix You
The flames create a perfect circle around them. Dean feels their heat at his back, watches the orange light flicker over Cas’s face and if he never sees Cas trapped in holy fire again that won’t be a day too soon.
“Just do it”, Cas says. He has his eyes shut tight and his fists clenched on his thighs. They kneel face to face, Cas like a man at prayer and Dean like a convict waiting for the firing squad. When Dean stretches out his painted arms, the protective sigils itch on his skin. His hands hover inches from Cas’s chest.
Dean flinches and opens his mouth but no sound comes out. He swallows, tries again and this time speaks the invocation Cas has taught him. Enochian summoning words, designed to sink into angels like hooks into fish.
The spell works. Pulled by Dean’s voice, Cas’s grace emerges from his body and solidifies between Cas’s chest and Dean’s hands like glowing strings of taffy. Dean had clung to the hope that the expulsion would be at least bearable for Cas but it’s not. The pain tears him apart though he tries to control it. He clenches his jaw but the groans escape anyway. His eyes light up under his lashes and flicker like dying signal fires. When he opens his mouth, that’s filled with light too. His screams are mute at first and then they’re not. It’s like listening to Sam howl and weep in the panic room all over again.
Dean doesn’t know how much longer he can take this, doesn’t remember why they’re here, but the words keep coming.
There’s a sound like trees uprooting and bones cracking, like fuses popping and sail lines snapping. The light separates from Cas’s vessel and suddenly Dean’s hands are bathed in Cas’s grace; he’s steeped in it up to his elbows. Horrified, Dean stares at his haloed arms and the protective script that already fades from his skin.
What have they done?
Cas, hunched over and breathing hard, begs Dean to finish it, but Dean can’t. This is Cas in his hands and he could no more harm his grace than he could drive a sword into Cas’s chest.
In the end, it’s Cas who picks up the incantation and although his voice cracks on the words and his breath gives out before the end, he completes the spell, lifts his grace from Dean’s arms and flings it into the holy fire where it blows up like a quarter stick in a fireplace.
All around, the fire roars and rises and Dean’s ears fill with the screeches of an animal trapped in a furnace. Radio static rises to the nth degree, climbing to ultrasonic heights until the circle of fire explodes in a flare of white light and the shockwave blasts out the windows.
When Dean next opens his eyes, the flames are out, the warehouse is dark and Cas lies on the ground, curled into a ball.
It takes all Dean has to move. But move he does, pushing forward like a man through heavy water.
Ed the psychic’s as different from Pamela as you can possible get. He’s a corduroy-wearing recluse with a desk job and a tank full of expensive fish. At the moment, he’s also bleeding from his nose and yelling at them to get out of his house.
“Look at this,” he shouts. He wipes at the blood on his face and points a finger at Cas. “What the fuck kind of a freak is he?”
“Just shut up,” Sam barks at him.
“Look at my fish,” Ed begins but claps his mouth shut when Sam glares at him.
Dean brushes glass from his hair and tries to shake the whistle that’s ringing in his ears. The room’s a mess, chairs and table flung into a corner, pictures crashed on the floor and Ed’s aquarium in pieces. The carpet’s soaked with water and Ed’s veiltails flop among the shards.
Cas sits slumped against the wall, clothes and hair rumpled from the shockwave. Ed had pulled a name from Cas’s subconscious and the second Cas spoke it, the room exploded. The table whipped across the room and Cas crashed into the wall.
While Ed tries to collect his fish from the wreckage, Dean crouches down in front of Cas and takes hold of his shoulders. Cas, still dazed from the hypnosis, stares blindly at the floor.
“Cas,” Dean says. “Cas, hey!”
“All this time,” Cas mutters. “All this time I reported to her. I told her everything. About you, about--” He stops, his face turning white as a sheet.
“You didn’t know,” Dean says and grips Cas tight. “It’s not your fault.”
But the horror of what he’s done takes over Cas' whole body and there’s nothing Dean can do. No, not what he’s done: what’s been done to him. Naomi took Cas’s free will, the one thing he values like nothing else, the one thing he fought and fell for. Took it away like she would pick up a pebble on the shore. It had been that easy.
Cas makes a broken sound at the back of his throat and Dean flinches. He turns back to Sam for help but his brother looks as helpless as Dean feels.
“Look at this,” Ed repeats and cries over the suffocating fish in his palms.
Pine trees surround the cabin but the sea shows blue between the trunks. When Dean or Sam walk up from the shore, their shoes drag sand and pine-needles into the house.
Families come here during the summer but now it’s March and only the caretaker makes the rounds. Retired from the hunting life, seventy-year-old Janice still sleeps with a jar of salt and a shotgun under her bed. Bobby used to butt heads with the old crow but Dean and she always got along fine.
‘We need a place to crash, Jan.’
‘Bring your own bedsheets.’
Dean smiles over the rim of his coffee mug. He has never owned a single bedsheet in his life. Janice didn’t ask any questions but when they arrived here, a box full of supplies and a medkit waited for them on the table. The cabin’s a two-room shoebox with a blue door but it’s off the maps and that’s what they need.
Sanctuary for an angel-turned-human.
Cas sits on one of the abandoned swings, hands curled around the ropes and his trench trailing on the ground. Dean watches him from the landing outside the cabin’s entrance, sipping at his coffee and listening to the swing creak under Cas’s weight.
‘Jesus, he’s cold as ice.’
‘Thank you, Captain Obvious.’
‘Should we take him to the hospital?’
‘The hell should I know?’
Dean remembers the night they carried Cas home from the warehouse. Trucks roared past on the highway and the light from the street lamps cast the shadow of the blinds into the room. Cas was on the bed, his body too still and his face too pale. His fever came and went, his skin switching from ice cold to hot as coals. Sam went out for Tylenol and Dean pulled the bedspread up to Cas’s shoulders. He sat by the bed, felt for Cas’s temperature and smoothed his sweat-matted hair back from his forehead.
Talk to me, buddy. Please.
Off to the left, a car door bangs shut and Sam returns to the cabin to say goodbye.
Dean swallows another mouthful of coffee. “Ready to take off?”
“Yeah,” Sam says. “How is he?”
“Pining for Meg Ryan.”
Sam exhales through his nose. “I checked the wards around the place,” he says. “It’s angel proof.”
“Dean...” Sam looks away, his face set. Like part of him wants to fight but his better sense is winning by a nose.
Dean can’t help but smile. “What, you’re too grownup to call me a jerk?”
Sam looks at him in surprise before he gives Dean a crooked smile in return. “It’s implied.”
“Imply this.” Dean flips him off and Sam laughs.
Raising his coffee to his mouth, Dean wonders when was the last time he made Sam laugh. It’s been a while. “I mean it, Sam,” he says. “Thanks.” He salutes Sam with his coffee mug and Sam relaxes.
“Do you think the angels noticed that they can’t bag and roofie Cas anymore?” Sam asks.
Dean shrugs. “Don’t know. But if they could find us, they would have by now.”
“Yeah you’re right,” Sam agrees. “Guess we’re fine for now.”
They both look at Cas who hasn’t moved in an hour. His silence has a weird effect on Dean, plants Simon & Garfunkle songs in his head. I am a rock, I am an island.
“You’re going to be okay?” Sam asks.
“We’ll be fine.”
Sam shifts the Impala’s key in his hand. “I’ll be back in two weeks,” he says. “You call me if anything comes up.”
Dean nods. “Good luck.”
Sam winces and for a second he looks fifteen years younger. Like the kid who refused to meet friends after school because Dad would move them in a few weeks anyway. Dean has watched Sam retreat but he’s also seen him look after kids running off to the park with naked longing too.
Always on the outside, looking in.
“Thanks,” Sam says.
As he walks over to the swings to say goodbye to Cas, Dean goes inside to top off his coffee with a cup of Jack. He already has his hand on the whiskey bottle before he reconsiders. He rubs his thumb over the label, then stashes the booze and calls Garth.
“Hey, man. Those books we talked about. Could you send them?”
The books Dean wanted arrive four days later. So does Sam. Dean’s just returned from the post-office in town when the Impala rolls up to the cabin. Sam gets out, wearing a blue shirt Dean hasn’t seen before, and releases a dog from the backseat.
Dean waits until the two of them come up to the landing before he steps into Sam’s path.
“Dog. In my car.”
“Suck it up,” Sam retorts and shoves past Dean to open the door. The dog runs inside without so much as a how-do-you-do.
Dean takes in the bag over Sam’s shoulder. Four days isn’t two weeks. “What about the girl?” he asks.
“Her name is Amelia,” Sam tells him. “You know, if you really cared you could meet her.”
Dean swallows, his chest clenching like it always does when Sam mentions his girl. It’s instinct but he’s working on it. “Give me some time, okay?”
“Yeah,” Sam huffs. He hauls his bag into the cabin and adds, “Actually that’s what I said to her.”
Slowly, Dean follows his brother inside. When Amelia called a week ago, Sam didn’t share much of what she said. Dean knows they have unfinished business and that there’s a husband involved but he can’t bring himself to ask for the details. Not that Sam’s eager to share them anyway.
Dean breathes out. One thing at a time.
“Where’s Cas?” Sam asks.
The dog flits around the room before he trots over to Dean. Dean takes a step back to avoid him. “Down at the beach.”
Sam drops his bag and looks at the books Dean has piled on the table. “So you’re going through with it?”
Sam leaves through the book on top. “It’s a long shot”, he says.
Dean shrugs. “What else is new?”
“I can’t avoid Naomi, not as long as I’m an angel. So we separate my grace from my vessel and we destroy it.”
“We do what?”
Cas fixes Dean with a look that’s way too calm for what he just suggested. “It’s the only way.”
“Dude, isn’t that going to kill you?” Sam asks.
Cas nods. “Maybe.”
Indifferent as fuck. Dean turns away before he does something drastic. Like break his fist against Cas’ chin. Outside the motel, it’s raining and sleet spatters against the window. The light from the room illuminates the window pane and Dean sees the blurred reflections of Cas sitting on the edge of the bed and Sam standing next to him. He drags a hand over his mouth, struggling to put a lid on the tirade that wants to climb up his throat.
“So what?” Sam says. “You rip out your grace and you come back as a human child?”
“No,” Cas says. “That was Anna’s choice.”
“What will happen then?” Sam asks. This time, Cas doesn’t answer.
“He doesn’t know,” Dean says. He turns around and Cas meets his eye, steady as anything.
You stupid ass, Dean thinks, wishing Cas could hear him.
“Cas,” Sam tries. “Be reasonable. The risk of this...”
“...is better than slavery,” Cas finishes for him. His eyes don’t leave Dean and now Dean can see the tension around Cas’s mouth, the desperation in his eyes. Damn it. Damn him.
“We have to do it fast,” Cas says.
Now that he's back at the cabin, Sam teaches Cas everything human. He shows Cas how to use the internet, drags him out to the shore for daily runs to build up his strength, explains shaving and other bathroom routines. Dean’s content to work in the fringes: He’s bought a stack of clothes for Cas and left his mp3-player on the table after he noticed Cas slept better with some background noise.
They’ve spread out across the cabin, scattered newspapers on the table, stacked four bags of coffee next to the coffee maker and throw their dirty laundry in the tub.
Dean’s in charge of the kitchen because Sam can’t cook worth shit. Flipping eggs is a good distraction, though, it keeps his hands busy. He’s trying not to count the days since he’s had a beer but of course his mind keeps track.
Eight days. He’s been going without alcohol for longer than that.
It’s just been a while.
One of Garth’s books lies open next to the stove and Dean’s skimming passages he’s already read. Sam’s dog lies on the floor behind him, head resting on his paws. He should be tailing Sam but, no, the Disney-eyed fleabag has made it his mission to become Dean’s shadow. Dean looks back over his shoulders and the dog flicks his ears.
Gritting his teeth, Dean goes back to his cooking. He hums under his breath, repeating the incantations in Garth’s book over and over.
Cas wakes up kicking and screaming the third night in a row. Sam pins him down and Dean holds his head until Cas’s eyes focus on him. Terror’s written large on his face, too many emotions, too many sensations, and no filter. It’s worse when sleep robs him of his self-control.
Dog cowers in the corner of the room, trying to make himself as small as possible.
“It’s okay, Cas,” Dean whispers. “Hey, come on. It’s okay.”
You cannot save people. You can only love them.
— Anaïs Nin
The first time Dean tries the ritual, he overreaches and comes home bleeding from his nose and ears. Cas is sleeping on the couch and Sam’s snoring in the TV chair so Dean sneaks past them into the bathroom.
He takes off his clothes and steps into the shower. He thought he’d be quick about it but he ends up with his head against the tiles, his body shaking even though the water’s steaming hot.
For long minutes he’s on the brink of crying for no good reason. The tears don’t come but his eyes sting and his muscles cramp like he ran for miles. The water turns pink as it slides down his face and swirls down into the drain.
Dean sits on Cas’s swing and strokes Dog’s head. The smooth fur under his palm doesn’t feel too bad. He scratches Dog behind his ear and smiles when he pushes his head into Dean’s palm. That dog’s too easy to please.
From the corner of his eye, Dean sees Cas leaving the cabin and walking up to them.
“You two seem to have become friends,” Cas says.
“I guess I don’t mind him that much,” Dean admits. He pats Dog’s head and looks up. “How did you sleep?”
“Better,” Cas says. It might even be true. Cas still looks tired but Dean knows he’s been sleeping through the nights. No more panic attacks. He wears the clothes Dean’s got for him: a pair of sweatpants and a grey hoodie.
“No shoes?” Dean asks.
Cas looks down at his bare feet as if he realizes only now that people don’t leave the house without shoes. “I prefer running barefoot,” he says. “It’s easier on the sand.”
“What’s wrong with taking your shoes to the shore and leaving them there?”
Cas hesitates. “I don’t like the feel of sand between my toes when I have to put them back on.”
Dean smiles and closes his eyes. For the last hour, he’s done his best not to puke. The aspirin barely numbs the headache but perhaps the throbbing behind his temples will stop if he breathes enough fresh air.
He can believe in miracles, why the hell not.
“Dean,” Cas asks. “Are you all right?”
Dog buts his head against Dean’s leg and Dean goes back to kneading the ruff of fur round his neck. He waits until Cas leaves before he pulls the book out from under his jacket. It’s small and bound in leather – from which skin Dean doesn’t want to know.
That night Cas conks out early while Sam and Dean work under a lampshade that’s printed with daisies. The room smells of macaroni and meat-balls; they’ve shoved the empty plates to the edge of the table to make room for their books.
Sam’s switching back and forth between the 1930s memoirs of a Boston Rabbi and a Hebrew dictionary. He’s tapping his pencil on his notepad and holds back his ridiculous hair with his other hand.
“You know,” he muses. “It might not be all that bad, Cas going human.”
Surprised, Dean looks up at Sam. Why the hell is he blushing?
“You guys could take some time off,” Sam goes on. He sounds so casual that Dean knows Sam’s thoughts are anything but. “Shack up somewhere,” Sam says. “You know. Figure things out.” That’s the point when he can’t look Dean in the eye anymore. Dean, however, has no problem staring at his brother.
His voice sounds pretty steady, considering. “What the fuck, Sam?”
Sam raises his hands in surrender and goes back to his research.
Dean turns a page in his book, too, but his concentration’s shot to hell. One time. One time when he’d been drunk off his ass, he’d told Sam that if he had to spend the rest of his fucked-up life with someone he wouldn’t mind if it was Cas. He’d meant it as a joke but then Sam had looked at him funny and whatever Dean had wanted to say next had dried up in his throat. That night he’d been sick like he hadn’t been for years, panic rushing up to his brain like a flashflood.
He hadn’t known Sam remembered that awkward episode. They’ve never brought it up, not until Sam points two hands at the elephant in the room.
Figure things out. Sam’s suggestion is more scary than it’s anything else. Figure what out? Every time Dean contemplates touching Cas in a way that’s not the usual clap-on-the-shoulder-buddy way his brain pretzels. It’s too far away from everything he thought he knew about himself, too far from everything he’d been raised to be.
Dean scratches at the nape of his neck, staring at the print on the page without reading.
Would it be so strange though? Get Cas into the car and drive someplace, due south maybe. Take some time off, visit Mexico while Sam sorts out his deal with that Amelia girl. They could pick a hotel near the Atlantic and— what, book one room, two?
Shack up. Impossible. Too big. He needs to start small if he has to start at all.
Sam’s making notes on his pad but the steep line between his brows says his brain’s still stuck on Dean’s refusal to deal.
Finally Dean gives in and says, “It’s not that simple.”
“Understatement,” Sam mutters.
Dean grits his teeth and decides to keep his mouth shut. Two minutes later the words slip out anyway.
“He doesn’t know, man.”
Sam looks up and this time it’s Dean who doesn’t know where to look. He can’t believe he’s even said this much but now that he’s started he wonders if he can’t air some of the doubts that have been weighing him down. “To figure things out you can’t just give yourself up,” he says. “You’ve got to take a little too. You’ve got to want stuff.”
Sam frowns and waits.
“He doesn’t do that,” Dean explains. “He doesn’t know how.” It’s just the facts so it’s surprising how hard Dean’s stomach twists at the words.
“Maybe he’ll learn, given time,” Sam suggests. “One thing humans know is how to need.”
Dean licks his lips and bites his tongue because what can he possible say to that?
He’s convinced the conversation’s over when Sam adds, “Maybe if you explained.”
Dean just raises a brow.
“All right, all right,” Sam says. “All I’m asking is, are you sure you want to see this through?”
What Sam doesn’t know: Dean already tried to explain. Not in so many words but yes: Purgatory peeled back some layers. Put a mirror to the parts he ignored in daylight.
‘You sweet on that angel, brother?’
‘Shut your trap.’
Only once the question’s out it can’t be unasked.
When Dean told Cas that he needed him Cas had thought Dean asked for an extra fighter.
Not what he had meant.
Once. Once Dean had been honest. Down in Purgatory where crap didn’t matter and everything boiled down to instinct and his instinct had been to keep Cas by his side, no matter if they fought their way out of Purgatory or deeper into the lion’s den.
He remembers sleeping back to back with Benny keeping watch. Resting on the road with his head against Cas’s shoulder. Cas pulling him into his arms, bracing his broken body before he heals him, holding Dean a little longer than necessary. Or maybe that was just Dean’s impression.
I need you.
He’s said it the only way he knew how, the one way that seemed clearest to him.
Cas had still misunderstood him.
The third time he takes a stab at the ritual he’s too careful and nothing happens at all, except that he kneels in the cold and gets a crick in his back. Who is he kidding, he doesn’t have the first clue what he’s doing. Angry and impatient, Dean jams his notes back into his pocket. The day’s been nothing but a waste, he might as well go home and watch TV with Cas.
When he gets back to the cabin, Sam looks up from the couch. “Anything?”
“No.” Dean looks around for Cas but Sam tells him he’s locked himself up in the bedroom.
“Bad day,” Sam says. “Better let him be.”
Dean clenches his jaw, walks up to the sink and pours himself a glass of water. Drinks it in one go and thinks of Cas in the dark room, abandoned by his family, wings clipped.
Nothing but a waste.
Dean wakes with a start, jack-knifing up from the bed and gasping for air. It’s the middle of the night and he’s drenched in cold sweat, the t-shirt clinging to his back.
“You had a nightmare,” someone says and Dean jumps just about clean out of his skin. “You’re safe.”
Pulse racing, Dean rubs a hand over his face. The room comes into focus, the pale square of the window, the moonlight on the blanket that Dean has kicked off his legs. Cas sits at the foot of the bed, both legs pulled against his chest. He looks at Dean with an expression Dean can’t read at all, sitting there as if he did this all the time.
“Cas. What the hell—” Dean begins but can’t finish. What does Cas want, why is he here: It’s too much to sort through with his head spinning and the hollow feeling in his stomach.
The clock on the bedside table says it's twenty minutes past three. Hiding his face in the crook of his elbow, Dean sinks back onto the mattress. He sleeps too much now there’s no case. Four hours have served him well in the past but the nights up here suck him in, dig up the monsters at the back of his head and let them lose.
Cas shifts on the bed and the mattress dips. Dean breathes out, tries to relax, hears his mom’s words like an echo from days past.
Angels are watching over you.
He wants a drink so damn much.
The next morning, all the bottles are gone from the house, even the emergency one Dean hid under the sink.
Dean walks out of the bathroom, toweling his hair. Outside, it’s pouring buckets, rain spattering against the windows and drumming on the roof. Sam’s on a supply run and the cabin’s quiet, but the light from the daisy-lamp fills the den with a homey glow. Jonesing for a cup of coffee, Dean walks into the kitchen and finds Cas at the sink. He must’ve been caught in the rain because he’s drenched and his clothes are a mess, spattered with dirt and grass.
“Did you go on a mudslide?” Dean jokes before he looks past Cas’s arm and sees the blood. Cas holds his hand under the running tap and the water gushes over his shredded palm, red rivulets slipping down Cas’s arm.
“Jesus, Cas.” Dean curses and snatches Cas’s wrist.
“It’s just a scratch,” Cas says.
“What did you do?” Dean pulls Cas’s hand closer, sees the torn skin and the blood welling and his stomach turns. “What the fuck did you do?”
The wound’s ragged and dirty, black soil rubbed into the grooves of Cas’s palm and stuck under his fingernails.
“Jesus,” Dean curses again, squeezing Cas’s wrist.
Cas clucks his tongue and pulls away his hand. “Would you calm down?”
“Shut up,” Dean barks. “Hold up your hand.” He tears open one of the hanging cupboards and pulls out the medkit, searching through the contents until he finds the antiseptic wipes.
“Here, give me your ‘scratch’,” he snaps, and yanks at Cas’s wrist again. “You can get Tetanus from this shit.”
Cas clenches his jaw but doesn’t stop Dean when he sets about cleaning the wound. “I’m aware.”
“Oh, you’re aware,” Dean mocks. “That’s awesome Cas, real awesome. You’re aware.”
He dabs at the wound, not careful, and not caring. He knows Cas is biting his tongue right now and he knows he should shut up himself but he can’t.
“You don’t care, do you?” Dean goes on. “You don’t care if you’re hurt or if you’re torn to shreds. Is there any fire you haven’t thrown yourself on?”
“I don’t know,” Cas shoots back. “Maybe you can teach me how to keep my body sound and healthy.”
“Fuck you,” Dean grits. “What are you doing, huh? Risking blood-poisoning to make up for your body count?”
Cas pulls himself up, back straight and shoulders tense. “You have no idea what I did.”
“I know enou—”
“You know nothing,” Cas snaps. He glares at Dean, his face white with anger. “I’ve laid waste to Heaven. I killed hundreds, my brothers and sisters, my family.”
Dean makes an angry, wordless sound because it’s like Cas keeps missing the point on purpose. “And I don’t hurt myself on purpose,” Cas adds coldly. “I know very well that no amount of pain will earn me forgiveness.”
“Newsflash, Einstein,” Dean returns, and by now, he’s yelling. “You don’t earn forgiveness, you just get it. And you know what else? If a person forgives you, you don’t throw it back in their face, you don’t—”
Dean stops. The world tilts and he’s back in Purgatory, back at the rim of the portal and Cas pushes his hand away.
You don’t let go. It’s on the tip of his tongue but Dean catches himself and shakes the memory from his mind. He’s breathing hard by now and it takes a lot of effort to ease his grip on Cas’s wrist. Cas, on the other hand, has grown very still. He stares at Dean with wide eyes, all the indignation drained from his face.
“Dean,” he says, his voice rough and chagrined.
Dean feels the heat climb into his cheeks. “Hold still,” he mutters. He tosses the antiseptic wad, grabs the iodine and goes back to fixing Cas’s hand.
By the time Cas’s hand is cleaned and bandaged, Dean feels pretty damn stupid. He can’t take back his outburst, though, so he grumbles past it.
“Running water,” he says as he closes the medkit. “If you cut up your hand, you disinfect that mother. What’s Sam teaching you anyway? Jogging and internet porn?”
Cas inspects the bandage, flexing his fingers until Dean finishes his rant. “You’re such a drama queen.”
“Excuse me?” Dean freezes with his hand on the medkit, too shocked to even close his mouth. And damn, if it doesn’t look like Cas is holding back a grin. Dean stares at the dimples on Cas’s cheeks then double-takes as Cas’s face lights up with a full-fledged smile.
“Come with me,” Cas says. “I want to show you something.”
Dean doesn’t ask any questions, he’s too baffled. Cas takes him outside and leads him around the cabin, passing the picnic table and the water tank. The rain has stopped but the trees are dripping and the ground squelches under Dean’s boots. When they reach the back of the cabin, Cas steps aside and makes a sweeping gesture with his arm, inviting Dean to look.
It’s a garden. A small square of flower beds and herb patches that had gone wild seasons ago. Tall weeds grow along the cabin wall and clumps of nettles sprout between wooden crates. It looks like a wire-mesh once protected the greens from rabbits but the fence has collapsed and bindweed smothers the twisted remnants.
Cas has already cleared half of the garden, pulling dandelions and ragweeds, dragging the snares and snags of the wire-mesh off to the side. That’s when he must have cut his hand.
Dean looks down at the freshly bared earth, the piles of uprooted weeds. It dawns on him that while he’s been cooking eggs, Cas has found his own project, something that fights off the despair and occupies his hands. Something earthbound, something that grows. The solution clicks in Dean’s head because actually? It’s perfect.
Standing on the muddy back lot, Dean imagines Cas in another garden, one big enough to grow tomatoes and beans. The image unfolds like a paper envelope: There’s Cas with a worn-out t-shirt and his hair going grey at the temples, the sun striking down on the rows of seedlings and the beer coasters he uses as labels. He goes a step further and adds himself to the picture, bringing Cas a bottle of water and kissing him slow on the mouth. Like people do.
Dean draws in a breath and notices that Cas waits for him to speak. Shaking his head, Dean shoves his hands in his pockets.
“Yeah, I get it.”
Cas smiles again. When he gazes over the garden, he looks happier than Dean has seen him in a good long while. He claps Cas on the shoulder and turns around.
“Come on inside,” he says. “I’ll make you soup.”
Later that night, Dean and Cas sit on the couch together, watching Battlestar Galactica reruns on SyFi. “That lieutenant looks remarkably like Benny,” Cas says, while he raises his bowl of tomato soup with his good hand. When he blows on his soup, his cheeks flush and Dean smiles to himself.
If the Word was God, then angels were the language.
— gabbysilang, the breath and the power
One day in Purgatory, the snow falls and doesn’t stop. Thick flakes tumble from the sky like down, coating the trees, burying the ground. It’s a twilit winter and with it comes a new silence, a world muted by the color white, washed out and suddenly, unbelievably, pristine. Dean stands with both feet in a snowdrift, his face growing cold as he listens to the trees creak. His breath leaves his mouth in white clouds, a stark reminder that he is, in fact, still breathing.
He tilts back his head, hesitates, sticks his tongue out and tastes the wet flakes.
Snow crunches and Cas appears at Dean’s side. He shares a look with Dean before they both turn their gaze back to the clearing.
“It’s beautiful,” Dean says. “Didn’t think it could be.”
Cas stands still while the snow settles on his hair. “Neither did I.”
The rain has come and gone over the last week but today it’s been a steady shower, water rushing down like Niagara Falls. Dean sits on the narrow bench outside the cabin’s blue door, his back against the wall and his feet up on the bench. The rain taps on the peaked roof above the door and dribbles into the jars that are lined up on the railing.
It’s the first day Dean has woken up without a headache and when he felt actually hungry enough to eat some breakfast. He breathes the cool, fresh air and soaks in the absence of pain. His head’s clearer than it has been in years and there’s a lightness to his bones that almost feels like peace.
The rain hits the glass jars, a steady pling and tink. The air’s rich with the smell of wet earth and pine green, the boughs of the trees trembling like wings.
Dean picks up one of the jars and tilts it in his hand, contemplating the two inches of rainwater that have collected at the bottom on the jar.
Clear water. A clear mind.
It might be worth a try.
The sixth time Dean tries the ritual, he succeeds. He kneels in the woods, the same place he’s come to for four weeks and his knees sink into the soft, moist sand. He turns over the glass jar and catches the rainwater in the hollow of his hand. He’s used holy water before but this seems purer, better. It’s the first change in his routine and it makes all the difference.
Dean says the first word, five Enochian syllables that translate roughly as air or breath. He feels the effect immediately, a soft tremor in his palms and wrists. Easy now.
Five years ago, when Cas and the Holy Rollers first dropped into Dean’s life, Dean read every text about angels that he could find. During their race against the apocalypse, he steamed through dozens of texts, sifting through the common theories and the obscure. When Cas decided to deep-fry his Grace, Dean remembered a myth, one of those hard-to-believe-even-for-us rumors. The story went like this: In the late eighteen-hundreds, either in Poland or Russia, a wood carver built a wooden angel to heal his sick son. People called him crazy but some said that the carver talked to the angel and the angel talked back. They said the creature stood up and healed the boy. They said the carver filled his wooden angel with Grace.
Dean raises his hands to his mouth. Garth’s books say the ritual requires ‘the liquid of a living body’. Dean doesn’t want to use blood and other ‘liquids’ are equally out of the question so he spits. He lowers his hands, speaks the second word. Water. Flow. Balance. Now comes the tricky part: He has to summon the substances that will fit Cas. The first time around he called for wings, power, a storm, a bright light. It all jarred though, the components fit the idea of an angel, but not Cas.
Dean breathes out, clears his mind of all the angel lore he’s read and starts from scratch. When he closes his eyes, he hears the pines rustle over his head and the crush of the sea down on the shore. The trees creak and shiver.
Dean breathes. The sound of the wind combing through a field of barley. That’s Cas.
The rustle of a page turning in a book. The click of the Impala’s door when it shuts on the shotgun side. The clank of one sword against another. The murmur of a creek in Purgatory. The low chatter of cartoons on the TV.
The taste of blood on Dean’s split lip. That’s Cas too.
Dean talks without pausing, forming word after word with a steady voice. He can’t shout, he tried that and had a blood-vessel pop in his nose. He can’t compel, he can only encourage, gently persuading the water in his hand to become something else.
Sound. Taste. The rain coming in over the sea. Fingers digging into wet earth. The worn fabric of the trenchcoat, smoothed down as it is folded and put away.
In the end, Dean’s no longer speaking words, he’s speaking things; his voice turns into breaking waves and sand trickling over the forest ground. He raises his hands again, blows into his palms and the water glows.
The sun sets when Dean returns to the cabin. He’s okay until he climbs the steps to the front door and sees the light in the kitchen. When Cas moves behind the window, Dean flinches out of sight. By the time he puts his hand on the door-handle, his courage has gone up in smoke.
Holding the jam jar in one hand, Dean opens the door and eases into the house. The main room’s deserted, Sam must’ve gone for a walk with Dog. Heart pounding, Dean stands still enough his feet might’ve been welded to the floor. Cas clanks around in the back of the kitchen, doing the dishes or playing a drum solo on the frying pans, it sounds about the same.
Clearing his throat, Dean looks down at the jar in his hand. A murky substance sloshes around at the bottom of the jar, caught halfway between fog and liquid gas. It glows dark green, a bit like the pines that shed their needles outside. It’s no comparison to the radiant blue of Cas’s original grace. Shit, it’s butt-ugly, much like the EMF meter Dean once clobbered together from spare parts and he wonders what the hell he’s been thinking. He can’t give this to Cas.
The tap starts running in the kitchen and Dean swallows, closes his eyes, wishes Bobby were here to call him an idiot. He leaves the jar on the couch, goes out to the Impala and drives.
December 11, 1790
letter archived April 16, 1902
cotswold parish, recipient unknown
My dear friend,
You ask me whether a person can create an Angel’s spirit, not summon it from the Heaven’s, but make it whole from nothing. My answer to you must be no, it can’t be done. I have read the arcane writings that seem to suggest otherwise but can’t in all conscience credit them. Your curiosity commends you as a man of science but consider this: God made His Messengers by sending his breath into the fires and waters and holy airs of this world. Would it not be preposterous to believe that any mortal creature can accomplish a feat even remotely similar to the Great Creator’s divine machinations? Surely such thoughts must be the most damnable form of hubris for which, as we all know, even an Angel has fallen.
To fulfill the task you speak of, one needs to behold the shapeless, to look upon the formless with love and say: Be. Man is not made in that manner. Our tongues are blunt instruments and although our souls be immortal, our flesh, ‘ this muddy vesture of decay’ makes us deaf and mute.
So I beseech you, my dearest friend, to lay your ambition to rest. Put it out of your mind and don’t tempt your restless spirit any longer. It can’t be done.
It takes three hours and a whole lot of miles until Dean remembers he’s got balls. Two of them, actually. Even so he sits for five minutes behind the wheel before he gets out of the car.
When Dean walks into the cabin, Dog runs right up to him with his tail wagging. Sam’s nowhere in sight but the light’s still on in the kitchen. Dean pats Dog on the head and crosses the room.
Cas sits at the kitchen table, holding the jar in both hands. The makeshift grace glows green between his fingers. When Dean enters, Cas turns his head, fixing Dean with a wordless stare.
Dean shrugs. “I didn’t tell you because I figured you wouldn’t be disappointed if I messed up.”
“How long did you try?”
“Couple of weeks.”
Cas looks back at the jar. His face betrays nothing but his hands hold the glass very gently, as if a careless touch might break it.
Dean exhales a furtive breath and sits down at the table. “It’s not much yet,” he apologizes. “The rest is up to you. You’ve got to grow it, make it what you want it to be.”
It’s raw material, all that Dean could manage. It’s okay though. The way he sees it, he’s not giving Cas back his old mojo, he’s giving him a choice. He thinks Cas deserves that.
Only Cas doesn’t react and it’s starting to make Dean nervous.
“Listen,” he says. “I don’t know if it’ll give you back your wings but the book said something about hearing the music of the universe, I don’t know.”
“Why would you—”
“And that Naomi chick won’t recognize it,” Dean ploughs on. “It’s, uh, different stuff than the other angels. They can’t bind you through it. So.”
By the time Dean’s running out of words, Cas is staring at him.
“Don’t,” Dean cuts him off. “Just. Don’t.”
Cas frowns and Dean wonders if it’s too late to leave the kitchen. In the end, though, Cas doesn’t say anything. Lips pressed into a thin line, he takes the lid off the jar and pours the grace into his palm. The moment the grace touches Cas’s hand, its glow increases, taking on a softer hue like grass under afternoon sunlight. It’s shifting, curling, uncoiling like vines made of vapor. The light reflects in Cas’s eyes and maybe that’s the only reason why they’re brighter than usual.
“I know the ritual,” he says. “It should be impossible.”
Dean smiles. “Guess we’ll find out.”
beta by eretria & auburn