Dean's a little surprised to find himself sitting on the dock again. He shouldn't be; it's not like he'd never dreamed of it before Cas showed up in his head that one time, and it's not like he'd never dreamed of it again after. And yet—it's been a while, since he's had a dream this peaceful. Since he found himself just sitting here, fishing rod in hand, bottle of beer just within reach. He watches the waves roll ceaselessly over the surface of the lake. Listens to some kind of bird calling in the distance
Maybe, he thinks, this dream got bound up in Cas, somehow, after that time—after we need to talk and someone could be listening and go now—became less a dream about peace and more a dream about Cas's worried eyes and the way he'd tried—stubborn, self-sacrificing idiot—to warn them all before it was too late.
He turns his head and yep, there's Cas, standing behind him, looking just as serious and harried as ever. Cas turns his eyes onto Dean, all that laser-like focus, and for a second Dean is reminded of the old Cas, the one who was all righteous fury and heavenly orders and the earnestness of belief. Dean remembers that Cas—the one who'd once faced him down in a dark barn and said, in utter seriousness, this is your problem, Dean, you have no faith. Back before Dean took faith away from Cas, and later on, everything else. He's even dressed the same—that long coat, that dark blue tie. His hair is disheveled and his face is focused and relieved and a little apprehensive all at once.
"Dean," says Cas.
Dean half-smiles, feeling the name like both a benediction and a sharp blow. He wasn't expecting to hear his name in that voice again—not ever again. It's a reality he'd been trying to face, in between copious amounts of alcohol, and hearing it now is not helping.
"Hey, Cas," says Dean. He turns back to the lake, reaches down for his beer. The first few nights, he'd dreamed of Cas again and again, but always too late—always with Cas's eyes bursting silver, going out like stars, always with Lucifer grinning behind Cas, pulling the angel blade out with a bloody snick—so hell, this dream is an improvement.
"Dean," says Cas, all urgency—typical, Dean thinks—"Dean, it's me."
"Yeah," says Dean. He toys with the label on his beer. "I can see that, buddy." He can, too—he'd seen all the details, in that one glance before he'd made himself look away: the folds in Cas's coat, the flyaway bits of his hair, the hint of a five o'clock shadow that would never grow into more, the sharp blue of his eyes. He wonders what it would be like to reach out and grab a handful of Cas's coat—if it would feel real, solid to the touch, if Cas would be warm, living, underneath the fabric. He wonders when Lucifer will appear, crash-landing into the dream and driving death up between Cas's ribs like a promise.
"No," says dream-Cas, "I mean, it's really me, I'm back—Dean, I don't know how, but I'm—"
Dean laughs a little. "You're back, huh? Wasn't expecting you for another few months at least. How's it been?"
Cas hesitates. "Confusing. I wasn't—expecting to return. This time. And things feel...different. I'm not sure how yet."
"You're telling me," says Dean. He thinks of how things feel different now—the cold, hateful dread in his stomach when he looks at Jack, the sharp thing in his chest that constricts and twists when he passes the empty bedroom in the hall, with its door shut.
Cas is still talking, looking out at the lake. "But. I'm also...glad. In a way I haven't been before, when this would happen."
"Yeah?" Dean allows himself to look at Cas again. God, he misses Cas. The way his emotions slide across his brow as clear as day, the way his thoughts stay opaque, like snow hidden in thick cloud.
"Yeah," Cas affirms. Something that's almost a smile plays over his face. "I wasn't...I wasn't ready to go. I'm glad I found my way back. To...to all of you. To you."
Dean snorts past the sudden hot lump in his throat, the burn behind his eyes. "Damn, dude. Steady. I know this is my dream but you don't gotta tell me what I want to hear."
Cas's face falls; he frowns. "You don't...you don't believe me. You don't believe I'm real."
"I mean, I wasn't gonna be rude about it," says Dean. "Dream you is better than no you. Since you went and..." —left me, you fucking left me— "...kicked the bucket. I'll take what I can get, you know?."
It's true, and he kind of hates himself for it because even he can tell that this isn't how you move on from something. But yeah, he'll take dream-Cas—shit, Dean will take whatever fragments of Cas his subconscious cares to dole out, and he'll be goddamn grateful, because it's this and only this, until he dies.
He scrubs at his face with his free hand, clears his throat. "I mean, I'm not delusional or anything, I know I'm dreaming. I did have to burn you, you know." His eyes are filled with tears, suddenly, and he makes an effort to blink them back before thinking, what the hell, and giving up. It is a dream, after all.
"Dean," says Cas in dismay, "I'm real, listen, I can prove it—"
"Let me guess, this is where you tell me something only the real Cas and I would know." Dean says. "Dude, everything you say is part of my subconscious. Obviously I know what I know." He thinks about that statement for a minute, trying to decide if it makes sense. It doesn't really, but then, a lot of things haven't been making sense lately. He pointedly mulls this over, not looking at the angel standing next to him.
Don't think about him dead, he tells himself. Don't think about the last time you saw him, really saw him. Don't think about the smell—
Dream-Cas is reaching forward with a hand. "No, I can wake you up, Dean. I'm with you already, I can wake you up."
Dean leans away, evading Cas's touch. "It's fine, Cas."
Cas pushes forward, insistent. "Dean, I can—"
Cas pulls up short, his expression vulnerable. Dean looks away. He doesn't like remembering the things his his subconscious must have drawn from. He doesn't like remembering all the times Cas has looked vulnerable. "Just...dude, come on." He swallows. "I don't want to wake up right now, I just—can you just—just be here, okay? For a little while longer. Just—sit with me." He realizes that his face is wet; the breeze feels cold, playing over it.
Cas blinks and lowers his hand. He slowly sits down on a second chair that Dean's sleeping brain helpfully creates out of thin air. Dean takes another gulp of beer, then sighs and sets the bottle back on the dock.
They sit in silence for a minute. The only sound is the slopping of waves against the dock, the faint rushing of wind in the trees behind them.
"I miss you," Dean says quietly, into the pearly air.
"Dean," Cas starts, but Dean shakes his head.
"Just," he says, and has to stop and collect himself, because this is not enough, this is so hollow and pointless, but this is all he's got—all he's got is a dream Cas cobbled together from memories and hopes and burnt endings, and it's not enough but it's all he has. "Just let me get some of this off my chest, buddy, okay? I didn't say any of this shit before it was too late, and I guess now it's never, but—"
He shrugs, fiddles with the fishing rod.
"I miss you. And I need you here, man, I need you here with your stupid plans and your recklessness and your goddamn worried face following me around like a conscience, you know? I need some of your fucking strength, Cas. Stuff is—" he shrugs, considers how to put into words all that's happened over the last few days, then shrugs yet again, and decides why bother, they're all inside his head anyway— "crazy, like it always is, but more so, and I wish...I wish you were here. I kinda...always did, even when you were, you know...alive. Things were always..."
He swallows. His voice is thick. Stupid dream. "...better," he says. "When you stuck around."
"I was always better when you stuck around," he adds, so quietly he thinks maybe Cas doesn't hear it. "You made me better, Cas. So...thanks, for that, and...for all the other shit. Falling for us. Fighting for us. Dying—dying for us. You know. Everything."
Cas doesn't say anything.
"Wish I'd told you," Dean says softly, in the direction of the lake. "In real life."
He glances sideways again and Cas is suddenly closer, much closer. Cas is suddenly right there, at his elbow, leaning in, his eyes impossibly wide and intent, his face warm like Dean's just given him the gift to end all gifts instead of a cold serving of might-have-been, barely warmed over.
"Thank you," says Cas, hushed, awed almost, "for telling me now."
He's looking at Dean with a look of such open admiration and warmth that Dean would've sworn up and down his own dreaming mind could never have manufactured such an expression and directed it at himself—or he would've, if he didn't know damn well that he'd seen that look on Cas's face a hundred times. And Dean knows it's a dream, but maybe that knowlede just spurs him on, and Cas is so close, he's right there, his eyes are brilliant, his smile is a blessing unto itself—
Dean leans forward, closes the gap between them, few inches that it is. Thinks, again, what the hell, and kisses Cas. Carefully at first. And then, when Cas leans into it—harder, desperately, like there's no tomorrow, because there isn't, not for them, there wasn't a today, even.
They break apart, just enough to breathe. Dean inhales the smell of Cas—earth, spruce, lightning. The real Cas had started to pick up human scents—coffee, aftershave, the inside of that stupid pickup—not enough to obliterate the smell of night and ozone, just enough to temper it, conceal it with traces of humanity. So that you might think, briefly, if you were just glancing at Cas or walking past him, that he was just a regular person.
This Cas smells like none of that. Just earth and wind and power, nothing to mask it. As if he's been minted, new, straight from Heaven itself. But he looks at Dean the same way that the real Cas always did, human scents or not.
Cas runs his thumb over Dean's cheekbone. Dean forces himself not to lean into the contact. He's trying to steel himself to pull away, to wake up and face the goddamn cold truth of reality again.
"Why are you crying?" says Cas softly.
Dean chokes out a faint laugh. He thinks he might break in two. "You're me, you know why."
"Dean," says Cas, love and command coloring his voice in equal measure, "wake up."
The motel room sheets are bunched under his curled hands, tangled around his legs. The grip of his pistol is poking out from under his pillow and digging uncomfortably into his neck.
Dean wakes up.
From the foot of the bed, Cas says, "Hello, Dean."
Dean tries to speak. Nothing comes out. He tries again, can only manage a ragged, disbelieving breath.
Cas smiles, soft and warm.
"What were you dreaming about?"