The clock on the shelf won't stop ticking.
Dean scrubs his hands through his hair and hunches closer to the table. He sucks in a breath, but it catches halfway down, aching there like it's trying to claw its way out of his chest. A noise shudders in his throat. He reaches for his beer ─ his fourth, maybe his fifth. All that's left is the bottom of the bottle. It goes down like lukewarm piss.
It's been about an hour since ─ fuck. Since. He's having trouble keeping his eyes open. He rubs at them until gray spots buzz behind his eyelids. He sucks in another breath, and then another. Then he pops the cap on a fresh beer. The bottle is wet from sitting out. He wipes the sweat-ring off the table with the palm of his hand.
The clock is still ticking. Dean drains the neck of his beer and replays the last two days in his head. He thinks about the snacks he bought, the music he listened to, the route he took to St. Paul, the greasy spoon he stopped at for lunch. Somewhere in there, he must've made a bad decision. Knowing him, probably more than one.
He shouldn't have cracked so many jokes about Sam's hair. He shouldn't have flirted with the waitress at Denny's to get a bigger slice of pie. He shouldn't have rambled about football so much. He hadn't meant to; being in Minnesota had reminded him of how much he hates the Vikings.
Mary hadn't liked the motel. Dean hadn't been thrilled about it either, but it had been the only flop in their price range that had been close to the crime scene and still had a vacancy. Dean had offered to get Mary her own room, but Mary had suggested the rollaway bed. Money is always tight, and Dean had liked the idea of having her close. He hadn't wanted to leave her alone. Maybe he should've just blown the extra fifty bucks and given her some space.
He should've trusted her hunting instincts. He should've listened to her about the case. A myling hadn't been a bad first guess ─ they're Scandinavian child-snatchers, and Minnesota has Scandinavian roots ─ but it only fit about half the facts they had. It didn't explain the frozen hearts, or the hand-prints, or why the kids' ghosts were still hanging around. He should've closed his fucking laptop and let her talk it out. He should've shown her how to use the internet instead of shutting her down.
Dean's beer is empty, but he doesn't remember drinking it. The clock is still going: tick-tick-tick. Dean huffs out a sigh and pushes himself to his feet. The room tilts a little. He holds the back of his chair until he gets his sea-legs, then shuffles over to the liquor shelf and grabs the Devil's Cut. He takes a shot and a half straight from the bottle.
"Time," he mutters. He helps himself to another shot and grits his teeth through the burn. "Fuck." It's not like he hasn't heard that shit before.
Cassie had wanted time, but then she'd called and said they were done. Cas asked for time once too; Dean left him at that old folks home with Fred Jones, and that's when Heaven got its hooks into him again. Sam had said he'd needed time when he headed out for Stanford. He was gone for four years, and he wouldn't have come back if Dean hadn't dragged him away.
John hadn't said anything about time after Sam left, but he'd sure as fuck taken it. He'd spent two weeks blackout drunk, passed out on the bed or the couch or the floor while Dean hustled pool to buy cheap hamburgers and keep their room afloat. John had puked on himself more than once, but he took a swing at Dean the only time Dean tried to drag him into the shower. Dean probably should've cut him off, but buying a fifth of Jim Beam every other night had been easier than arguing. It had been easier than dealing with the cold, disappointed look on John's face ─ the one that said Sam would've stayed if Dean had done things differently, if he'd been a better brother.
When John finally sobered up, he'd barked at Dean to find them a job. Dean had tracked down two ─ werewolves in Fargo and a haunting in Sallisaw. John had tossed Dean the keys to the Impala and told him to call when the ghost was salted and burned. That was the first time John let Dean hunt alone. A good five or six years went by before Dean realized it had been a dismissal, not a promotion.
The floor creaks. Softly, Sam says, "Dean. You ─? What are you doing?"
"Beer before liquor," Dean sing-songs. He tosses back another shot, but it floods his mouth so fast that half of it slops down his chin. "Looks like I'm making myself never sicker."
"Dean." The floor creaks again ─ quietly, like Sam is fidgeting, shifting his weight. "Mom wouldn't ─"
"Mom ain't here."
Sam sighs under his breath. "She's coming back. You get that, right? She just ─"
"Don't." Dean's gut gives a lurch. He sets the bottle down but doesn't turn around. "Don't. Just ─ just get outta here."
Dean slams his fist on the shelf, making the bottles jump. "Damn it, Sam. Just leave me alone. Don't make me kick your ass."
"Dude. You're so drunk you couldn't kick your own ass."
"Yeah?" Dean turns finally, but he doesn't really look at Sam. He can't. Mary had hugged Sam before she left. Dean had flinched when she reached for him, and she hadn't tried again. "You really wanna test that out?"
Sam just watches him for a couple of seconds. Then he sighs again and holds up his hands. "No. I want ─ you should go to bed."
"Yeah. I'll get right on that." Dean's gut is on fire, but he takes another shot out of spite. "Now get out."
Sam mutters something Dean can't hear; the bourbon has his blood rushing in his ears. After a moment, Sam walks out of the library. Dean doesn't watch him go. He stares at the Devil's Cut ─ at his white-knuckled grip on the bottle. Tick-tick-tick. His eyes sting. A hot clutch grabs him under the jaw and squeezes. He can't breathe.
He hurls the bottle at the wall. It shatters with a sharp, wet sound that just puts his teeth on edge. Bourbon drips to the floor. Dean blinks at the broken glass and flexes his hand. Tick-tick-tick. Snarling, he snatches the clock off the shelf and throws it across the room. It hits the floor, bounces a few times, then wobble-rolls under the table.
Dean grunts and sways on his feet. His knees buckle. The room spins, and his gut lurches again. He tips his head back against the wall. He stops trying to open his eyes.
Dean wakes up to his phone ringing. His head is pounding, and a bourbon-burn is grating the back of his throat. He has a mouthful of carpet, which means he's in his room. He must've crawled there himself; Sam would've at least dumped him on the bed.
His phone cuts off. After a short pause, it's starts ringing again. Dean leans up on his elbow and glances around. The room swims so badly that he almost pukes. His phone is lying on the floor about three feet from his face. By the time he grabs it, it's stopped ringing again.
He has nine missed calls from Cas. He thumbs the screen unlocked, but he can't make himself push the redial button. He can't ─ fuck. He closes his eyes and breathes through the nausea roiling in his gut.
Cas had stayed at the bunker the night before Dean left for St. Paul. He'd slept in Dean's bed. He'd fucked Dean sweet and easy and slow, curling his hand into Dean's hair as he whispered impossible things into Dean's skin. Things Dean had half-believed until he woke up in an empty bed. Cas had only stayed long enough for Dean to fall asleep, and he'd split in the morning without looking back.
Dean's phone rings again. He watches Cas' name flicker on the screen a few times before answering it.
"Dean. Are you all right?"
That's ─ yeah. Dean rubs his face. He puts the phone on speaker so he can rest his forehead on the carpet. "What d'you need?"
"I don't need anything. I felt ─" Cas cuts off with a soft noise. "What's wrong?"
"I said I'm good." A knot is burning in Dean's throat. He takes a couple of deep breaths and asks, "What's the word on Lucifer?"
Cas hesitates. "He's... off the grid for the time being."
"Great. Now what?"
"Now, I'm coming home."
"Home." Another spike of nausea stab through Dean's gut. "You sure about that? I mean, I can't ever get you to stick around more than two or three days."
"'Cept that time you were sick. But you ─" an ugly laugh rattles in Dean's throat. "Every time I talked to you, you sounded like we were holding you hostage."
"And the other morning ─ Hell. You couldn't get outta Dodge fast enough." Dean squeezes his eyes shut and digs his fingers into the carpet. "I said I'd go with you, but you ─ you ─ fuck."
"Dean." This time it's gentle, but that's not what Dean wants. He wants Cas to get angry. He wants Cas to yell. Admit that he only tolerates Dean because he can't go back to Heaven. That he only fucks Dean from time to time because Dean is dumb enough to let him. "I went to Cleveland alone because I didn't see the point in ─"
"In having backup against the Devil?"
"I wasn't certain Lucifer was even there," Cas insists. "I didn't want to involve you and Sam on a... wild goose chase. Not when your mother seemed ─"
Cas pauses. "What?"
"She left. She ─ she said she needed time to, uh ─ I don't know. Work stuff out."
"I'm sorry," Cas says, sighing. "I sensed she was troubled, but I didn't think ─"
"She left," Dean says again. His throat is closing up. He digs his knuckles into the carpet until it burns. "She fucking left. She ─"
"Dean, this isn't your fault."
"She said we ain't her kids." And ─ fuck. Now he's crying. "We ain't the kids she remembers. She ─ she ─ she, um." He sucks in a wet breath. "She misses those kids. She misses my dad."
Dean's shoulders shake. He bats the phone away and hiccups out a thin, pathetic noise he hopes Cas can't hear. He tries to swallow the next one, but it shudders out anyway. So does another one, and another one, and then he's fucking sobbing, his hands clenched into fists and his forehead pressed to the carpet. He just stays like that until his chest aches and his throat feels scraped raw.
Once his ears stop ringing, he hears Cas asking, "Dean? Dean?" in a tinny, distant voice. Dean rolls onto his side and rubs his gritty eyes. Then he grabs the phone and grunts, "Yeah, I'm here."
Cas huffs out a relieved sigh. "I'm approaching Omaha now. I should be there in four hours."
"It's okay. I ─ you don't ─"
"I want to."
"I want to," Cas insists. After a pause, he adds, "I left the other morning because it was Lucifer. If I can return him to the cage ─ permanently ─ I can start building a life with you without constantly looking back."
"You ─" Dean shivers. "Cas."
"I'll be there in four hours. Go back to sleep."
"Yeah," Dean mumbles. He takes the phone off speaker and tucks it against his ear. "Talk to me."
"I don't care."
Cas hums quietly to himself. "Did you know the blue whale is the largest animal that's ever existed?"
"No," Dean says, yawning. "I ─ no."
"Their hearts are the size of a small car, and their tongues weigh more than an elephant. One hundred people could fit inside their mouths, and..."
This time, Dean wakes up in bed. He's still dressed; his wallet is a hard lump at his hip and his collar is jabbing him underneath his chin. He's lying on his side and tucked against Cas' chest. Cas is stroking his hair and murmuring in Enochian. Dean doesn't understand it, but it still makes something warm and bright unfurl inside his chest.
He presses closer and breathes Cas in. "You trying to fix me with angel hoodoo?"
"It's just a prayer." Cas slides his hand down to the back of Dean's neck. "It's supposed to bring contentment."
"Good luck with that," Dean says. His jeans are twisted around his knee. "You coulda stripped me."
"I had a hard enough time getting you into the bed," Cas counters. "You weren't exactly cooperative."
Dean ducks his head a little. "Sorry. You ─ I mighta had something to drink."
Cas is silent for a few moments. Then he kisses Dean's forehead and says, "Your mother loves you."
"She ─" Dean bristles. "She said we ain't her kids."
"That was... unkind," Cas admits. "But I doubt she meant it the way it sounded." He squeezes the back of Dean's neck, then brushes his fingers back into Dean's hair. "I assume she's having difficulty reconciling her memories with the men you and Sam have become."
"Yeah," Dean says, snorting. "Killers."
"Hunters," Cas corrects. He kisses Dean's forehead again. "You and your brother have saved thousands of lives. You've stopped the world from ending three times. Once she knows you, she will be proud of you."
"She ain't gonna know us if she ain't here."
"She needs time. I believe you do, as well. You admitted that things had been... awkward."
"Yeah." Dean hides his face against Cas' throat; his eyes are starting to sting. "I ─ um. I don't wanna talk about this."
"Go back to sleep," Cas says, pulling him close. "I'll be here in the morning."