Scrapings line the floor but Dean doesn’t care. There’s a sizeable pile of them mixed in with the dust bunnies and the bits of rock and pebble that fall of his shoes when he tosses his boots at the end of the day.
Scratching away at the brick wall, day-by-day, tick-by-tick, was something he picked up during his all-too-long foray into prison life earlier in the year. He escaped that mind numbing cell and yet, most days it doesn’t feel like it.
It’s not even most days, it’s every day. Every single day for the past 53 days Dean has existed in this prison of his own making. Of course, he wasn’t the one wielding the blade that fell his best friend, but he still feels responsible.
If Dean wouldn’t have given Cas his keys, Kelly wouldn’t have stolen his car, fleeing headfirst into danger. If Dean would have been stronger, Castiel wouldn’t have felt like he always needed to play protector. If Dean wouldn’t have left Cas behind in the rift. If Dean would have pushed Cas out of the way of Lucifer’s blade. If Dean would have just said something, anything Castiel would still be here living his life and Dean would have maybe told him how- eh, no he wouldn’t have. Dean’s a coward. He wouldn’t have done a damn thing differently if Castiel was still alive.
But Castiel isn’t alive. Hasn’t been for 53 nights. The first seven or so of which are a blur to Dean’s memory. Sleep deprivation dragging him down into darkness, anger burning hellfire red through his every thought, sadness stronger than he’d ever felt before painting his waking moments deep blue. The next 46 days weren’t that different honestly.
Now, in the dark, in his room, lying on his side on a too-big mattress, Dean can’t help but endlessly count the tick marks on the wall. Repetitive counting is supposed to put a human to sleep. At least that’s what we’re led to believe if counting sheep is any indicator. Yet, Dean has counted these marks, counted the days, counted the times he failed Castiel in life over and over and over until the numbers blur together and his headache rages and he can’t possibly cry a single tear more. This is how he drifts off to sleep, when he drifts off to sleep, which is maybe an hour or two here or there, this day or that day.
Sam, for his part, has left Dean alone. Knowing that this time, this death, this member of their little found-family isn’t something Dean can suppress and move on from. Not yet, maybe not ever, but Dean’s thankful at least that Sam’s not prodding him to get up, get out, get on with it. Because he’s not ready to face any eventual future where Castiel isn’t a part of it. Even that hellish version of 2014 that Zachariah showed him years ago had a version of Castiel that, while it wasn’t his own, was at least something he could have worked with.
This version, this reality, this existence is a place where he closes his eyes and sees a brighter light, except it’s coming from Cas’ eyes and mouth. And when he presses his thumbs into his closed eyes to make it go away instead of dark spots, replacing rings of color, he sees burned angel wings seared into sand on the ground before him.
This was likely always supposed to be his fate. Living alone in solitude, or dead in Hell. But he didn’t realize before 53 days ago that there was a third option. Living in Hell.
And he wants to say he’s just being dramatic. He’s gotten over countless deaths, his own mother died before him and is now missing in another dimension and yet- Castiel meant something different. There was always a chance he’d come back before. Always a deal or a favor to call in. Then there was Chuck, even before he knew him personally, or even Amara. But now- Dean’s exhausted all his resources and no one even knows what happens to an Angel when they’re killed. Where do they even go?
When Dean was in prison, sure it felt a lot like this. A perpetual state of suspension. The key difference now, aside from this being self-imposed, was Dean has a certainty he didn’t when he was in that cell. Now, when he finds himself muttering softly to no one in particular. Finds himself whispering all the things he wished he could say face-to-face. Finds himself begging, pleading for another chance. A last chance, from anyone who will listen. He knows with 100% certainty that Castiel isn’t hearing those prayers.
All those nights in Purgatory when things seemed hopeless, he prayed. All those nights in that high security cell all alone, he prayed. And there was hope in that. Knowing that even if he didn’t know where he was, or how to get out, Castiel was listening, understanding, working towards a solution.
And Dean let it all go to shit.
This particular night. Night 53. Was one of the bad ones. They happened occasionally, when Dean would try to venture out of his room for basic necessities, in this instance food, occasionally he’d find himself on a completely different floor of the bunker than the kitchen.
Earlier this very evening, he had his hand on the doorknob leading into the cellar before he even realized where he was.
They debated for a bit during those first few hours after it happened, what to do with Cas’ body. It was Cas’ body after all. Jimmy long since vacated, this had become something Dean thought of less and less as a vessel holding his friend and more as an extension of him.
Sam ultimately decided, when it looked like Dean was completely unable to function in the immediate aftermath, to bring the body back to the bunker and use a little magic to preserve it until they could figure out what to do.
Initially, Sam assumed they’d put Cas’ body in his old bedroom. It made sense to him that’d be the place to keep the shell of the being that once inhabited that space. But Dean, in the doorway of the room, took one look at Cas’ lifeless form and, well, if he’s being honest with himself, he had a meltdown.
Something about the juxtaposition of his memories of a living, breathing Castiel in that very same bed. Light from the Netflix show playing in the background bouncing off the walls while he sat cross legged immersed in reading a book flashed before Dean’s eyes, and his brain couldn’t make sense of the dull lifeless version of Castiel strewn before him now.
Sam ushered Dean out of the room that day, back to Dean’s own, then took Cas’ body down a level to the cellar where it could be laid gently in a place undisturbed.
Dean hasn’t stepped foot back in Cas’ room since that day.
But he has found himself inexplicably drawn to the cellar. It’s like sleepwalking except he’s very much awake, and besides, it feels more like a nightmare than a dream. Earlier this evening, he’d opened that door, taking a full step inside before even reaching to flip on the light.
He’s never sure what he’s expecting to find when he does this. Cas’ body is always in the exact same place, in the exact same state, magical wards holding up just fine, keeping it safe from the dangers of the natural world.
Dean walked to the head of the table Cas was laid out on, still not really looking down at the body. Until, inexplicably, he had to look. It was a humming under his skin, calling out, telling him to face the horror he’d created.
You did this.
He’s like this because you were stupid, you were weak, you were selfish and wrong and now Cas is paying the price.
And there’s nothing you can do about it.
The voices of Dean’s subconscious are vicious. They never cease. He doesn’t know if he wants them to. He deserves this guilt, this hurt, this madness. Even if he knows Castiel would tell him he doesn’t. His angel isn’t here to say those words. Which is kind of the point.
Dean found himself as he often did in this room with his elbows propped up on the table next to Cas’ head. Dean’s own face hidden in his palms as endless tears fell through his fingers dampening Cas’ trenchcoat. The coat that still had flecks of dirt and sand and blood smeared on it. Except some of that dirt was smeared in miniature riverbeds created by the repeated falling of Dean’s tears.
He still hasn’t really brought himself to reach out and touch Cas. It’s bad enough seeing him lifeless like this, but to feel it might just be the last straw. Today though as Dean began to straighten up and pull away, something drew him closer and he found his fingers just ever so gently brushing a stray piece of hair off Cas’ face.
It took him a moment to realize what he was doing but by then it was too late. He’d grazed the skin of Cas’ forehead and felt the cool-to-the-touch clamminess of death and his brain screamed wrong
as he ran in a cowardice retreat back to his own bed, slam of the cellar door echoing in the halls behind him.
And that was hours ago, and here he still was. Tears long since dried up, numbness replacing it for the interim. He never ate but he wasn’t really hungry anyway. That’s how most of these 53 days have gone. He’s surviving. Barely, but he’s alive.
Maybe one of these days. Before he runs out of wall space or drowns in the piles of brick shaving on his bedroom floor, he’ll figure out a way to bring Cas back. But for now, he looks at the clock. 12:01am. Dean slowly rises from bed, back over to the wall he’s been staring at from afar.
Pulling out his pocketknife, he adds another tick mark to the line.
Day 54, maybe this one will be different.