The freshness in the breeze, the crunch of dirt beneath his feet, the horizon dotted with a hundred twinkling lights; this is Cas’ home now. And though he does not yet have a particular base, hasn’t figured out where he’s going to try and belong, being able to breathe deep and fill his lungs in true peace is more grounding than he ever imagined it would be.
This, his life now, his human life, this is his true start over. There have been so many of them in the past intricately tied with him, but this one, this one is purely for himself. No more holding on to one last hope of Dean figuring things out about how he feels about him. No more wishful thinking that the whispers he used to be able to hear in Dean’s prayers meant he would finally do something about the way they felt for one another. No more hoping, only to have that hope crushed over and over, having to paste on a neutral expression, pretend he doesn’t feel a single thing.
It hurts. That the one person Cas has ever fallen in love with can’t bring himself to love him back. That Dean does love him back, so very much, yet isn’t able to cross that final hurdle of saying it out loud, doesn’t want him enough to risk all those things he’s fearing to even try to be with him. It hurts even more that Cas has waited so long, given so many chances, opened himself up to Dean in so many ways, and it’s all been for nothing.
But there’s nothing he can do about any of that now.
Cas is human now, and it hurts that he’s ended up alone all over again, it does. And it hurts even more that his human family, while giving him so much in the past, can’t be his family now. But he can’t be around Dean and wait any longer; a human existence means a finite amount of time, and Cas is done wasting that time on someone that refuses to love him because of whatever the latest reason is that he's using to convince himself to do nothing, nothing at all, to resolve things between them.
Stop, Cas commands himself, coming to a physical stop where he's walking, and letting his head fall forward for a second, pleading with himself to stop thinking in circles.
Cas lifts his head, takes another deep, shaking breath, acknowledges the sting of tears in his eyes while knowing he’s cried enough already to know there’s no more that will fall just yet. Perhaps later, when he’s stopped moving, when he’s found a place that he thinks he can be in for at least a short time. Perhaps then he can allow himself another moment of grieving, fool himself into believing that it might be his last.
The credit cards Dean has given him in the past he’s withdrawn all the cash he can on, and Cas has a healthy cushion to at least have a few weeks to figure out what’s coming next. The cell phone he used to spend hours staring at willing Dean to answer him, to get his words out, to get in contact just because he wanted to, is probably ringing out in the trash can he dumped it in before changing buses. Along with those cards, and everything else there is to remind him of his old life.
There’s a part of him that still wishes Dean might try to follow. A tendril of hope that Dean might be brave enough to care. But Cas knows, deep in his beating, human heart, that Dean can’t do either of those things. Certainly can’t give him the things he wants Dean to give him. Is it more selfish sticking around and hoping one day he can, Cas asks himself, or walking away, making himself his only priority for perhaps the first time in his long, long existence? But then decides that he doesn’t care about that anymore, because he has to do this. He has to do this for himself.
Should he be angry, Cas asks himself for not the first time, should he be furious at Dean’s unintentional stringing him along, keeping him around for so many years when he is useful, then discarding him the moment they get too close? No, Cas tells himself then with a slight shake of his head; Dean’s life, his upbringing, even his outlook makes things difficult. Not too difficult to change, of course, but far too difficult if he’s not even sure he wants to try.
Cas is tired of waiting for Dean to try for him, of waiting for Dean to want to try for himself. And whether human, angel, or that in-between existence he experienced for a few years, all of Cas’ experience involving Dean is underwritten by so much waiting, and wanting, that the kindest thing for them both really is to walk away.
There is no way back to being an angel. He’s cut too many ties, done too much damage to be welcomed back in any capacity. But anyway, Cas doesn’t want to be an angel. He wants a human existence, full of the small things that he once observed in bewilderment, but now can’t wait to have to deal with for himself. Choosing laundry detergent, having a day when he has nothing to do and is listless for it, weighing up the choice of one more episode of his favorite show and how tired it will leave him in the morning; the simple things that he’s had glimpses of, but now will make up the essence of himself.
There are fresh tears to shed for Dean brimming in his eyes, and Cas asks them to wait until he’s got some privacy. He can’t stop loving Dean just because he knows he has to for his own sake. He can’t stop daydreaming about the things he wants to experience with him, but knows he never can. He can’t stop the loneliness that seeps into him repeatedly, and has done since long before he made this decision to leave. But he also can’t go back to that life of constantly feeling he has to prove something, to give something, to be accepted as he is. And to give his all, over and over, no matter what it costs him, yet not ever be accepted at all.
He’s emailed Claire, said he’ll be in contact once he’s settled, and if there’s anyone from his former life he truly can’t let go of, then it is her. And he knows, deep in that beating human heart of his, that of all the people he has known, perhaps she is the one who will most understand his need to disappear. Perhaps the only one who will respect his choice and keep his new life secret, wherever he starts it, however that new life pans out.
This time, it’s going to be different. He is not the helpless, fallen angel he was when he stumbled into that job at the Gas N Sip so long ago; Cas knows he has skills he can use as a human, and how to bluff his way into and out of things without the official paperwork to do so legally—skills the Winchesters have taught him well over the years.
Cas knows he should be thankful to both Sam and Dean Winchester, and he is, he truly is, in so many ways. But at the moment it is so very painful thinking of either of them, especially Dean, that he’s having to chase away thoughts of them whenever they surface, in case missing them gets too loud, and in his weakness he attempts to go back.
Cas knows he’ll be okay, despite everything, in spite of how much he’s hurting, how much he desperately wishes Dean’s Impala will come speeding along the road he’s walking, with Dean leaping out and wrapping him up in his arms, apologizing for all the things he’s never said, or done. The thing is, Cas thinks, finding himself staring into the traffic for a second in case those familiar headlights do happen to appear, he doesn’t want Dean’s apology. He doesn’t want anything from Dean that he can’t freely give him, and since Dean doesn’t want the things that he wants—or at least, isn’t ready to try and have them, Cas has to let go of those thoughts, for his own peace of mind.
He’s hungry, Cas realizes, and his eyes fall immediately to the familiar kind of diner he has spent so many hours in with Dean. So he deliberately walks past it, keeps walking until he finds a cafe that he likes the look of. Sits at a table with his back to the wall so he can people watch, orders food he’s never tried before, and coffee with milk for once. Adds sugar. Decides he likes the flavor a whole lot more like that. Smiles at the waitress. Decides the man at the table beside his is cute. Wonders what love there is going to be in his future—because he will know love, he is determined.
It’s not that Dean doesn’t love him, Cas thinks to himself again with a sigh that’s more dejected and resigned than mourning for his loss. It’s that he won’t ever stop hiding it, won’t ever not dance around his words, won’t ever stop putting up a wall. And that wall is built of so many buddys, brothers, and belittling statements, so many lingering looks that are so much kinder than the words coming out of his mouth. So many more unspoken things that Cas has always had the feeling Dean expected him to just get, yet have also left him torn between certainty that Dean really does love him, or thinking that Dean is just happy to have a friend.
It’s better this way, anyway, Cas thinks, stretching a little, the sadness that has weighed him down for days beginning to lessen now he’s stopped moving. If Dean no longer has to worry about him, then he can focus on his constant mission. Perhaps one of those waitresses he loses himself in every now and then will become more of something than just the distraction Dean sometimes needs from himself, from hunting, from everything going on around him.
Cas is glad he won’t be there to see it when someone does eventually catch Dean’s eye. Knows the agony of watching Dean love someone else openly might make him a worse version of himself than any of the incarnations he has been up to now. So it really is better this way, he thinks, stepping back outside and breathing deep, swinging the small bag of clothes he bought from a thrift store up over his shoulder and resuming his walk again. Gets used to the weight of a lighter jacket than the trench coat that’s been a part of him for however many years.
By the evening, when he’s found himself a motel for the next week, observed a number of adverts in store windows, and the thing he’s most proud of, figured out the job search engine on his cell phone, Cas is feeling even better than he’d hoped he would. Dean is going to be a sting in his heart for an indefinite period, far longer than he would like him to be, Cas knows that. But that’s good, he decides; loving someone as much as he loves Dean is not something a person is supposed to get over easily. And it’s good to be able to step back and acknowledge him and Dean are something that won’t ever be; it gives him peace for the perspective, no matter how cold the bed is when he first climbs into it, or how empty the room around him looks without two Winchesters bickering over what to watch on the crappy TV, who left a towel on the bathroom floor, and who needs to go for a beer run.
It’s quiet. But it’s not too quiet, Cas realizes, reaching out to put his cell phone on to charge, then rolling over on to his back and staring up at the ceiling in the dark. And though Dean will no doubt visit him in his dreams, Cas is prepared to wake and be without him. Ready to get up in the morning to a brand new start.
Cas snuggles down beneath the comforter and lets out a sigh. Stretches his limbs out along the sheets. Reaches out to rest a hand over his beating human heart. And closes his eyes.