Dean shifted on the white leather couch. Jack sat, content, in the center cushion, contently sipping whatever new-age tea sat on the coffee table. Dean rolled his neck uncomfortably. Kid didn’t get the concept of giving a guy some space. Last time Dean had been in this waiting room, Sam had the decency to sit as far down the sofa as possible, while Jack was planted in a nearby chair.
“You wanna get some air?” Dean hinted to Jack.
“I’m comfortable here, thank you.” The kid gave him one of his half smiles.
Damn if that wasn’t endearing as hell. Dean felt his chest twist; gritted his teeth, looked away.
The problem was, he couldn’t deny Sam anything. After this last hunt, his brother had arrived the next morning with snacks and coffee and said “Hey Dean, you know that grief counselor?” Real casual, Sammy, thought Dean. “She really helped Jack. I wanna go back.” Sam obviously thought Dean was too thick to catch his careful sideways look.
Dean grunted from his laptop, already scouring his alerts for a new case. Hunting. That’s what he needed.
Sam continued after a beat. “And I want you to come.”
Dean looked up at him. “What?” he snapped, suddenly belligerent. “Um, no thank you.”
Sam pressed on, sitting across from Dean at the research table. “You were right. I know you want me to ‘keep the faith’ or whatever, but…I’m not dealing with Mom’s…well, we’re both not dealing too well. I really think it could help. Please? For me.”
And so Dean was screwed because of course he was gonna go. Whatever bickering song-and-dance went on from there on out, it ended up with him here on the couch, babysitting the son of Satan while his brother got his kumbayayas out with a shifter therapist. Dean drummed his fingers on the couch cushion with the arm stretched out behind Jack, who startled, then relaxed. He seemed to be getting more comfortable with Dean since the hunt. Sam had been right about that one, at least for now.
Dean jiggled his leg impatiently, then stilled. He didn’t know why he was so nervous. They were here for Sam. Sam was the one who couldn’t admit it, face it, accept it.
Yeah, Dean said he needed his brother to keep the faith, for the both of them. But if Sam wanted freaking ‘catharsis’ far be it from him to keep Sam from it. He tried not to think of that thing appearing as their mother, in the next room, hugging it out. Dean wondered if she was telling Sam all the happy lies he needed to hear.
Sam emerged some time later. His eyes were a little watery but otherwise he seemed lighter, freer, happier. Mia Vallens waited in the doorway, her brown eyes wide. She raised a slim arm, inviting Dean into the office. “Are you ready, Dean?” she asked. For a woman so recently stalked by her emotionally abusive ex-lover, in Dean’s skin nonetheless, she seemed remarkably calm. Counselors, man.
Dean stood and shook out his jacket, patting one hand to Sam’s shoulder as he passed.
“Thanks, man,” Sam said quietly, and caught Dean’s hand with one of his own. He fixed Dean with those soulful eyes that Dean could never refuse. “Seriously,” he added, with an intense look. “I hope she helps you, too.”
Dean just nodded. Once the door was closed behind him, he whirled on Mia. “So, how’re things since we ganked Buddy?”
Mia narrowed those wide eyes of hers at him. “Your need to be in control is pretty transparent Dean.” He shrugged. A guy’s gotta try. She smoothed her flowy skirt with one hand. “But,” she nodded once, “I’m fine, thanks for asking. Your brother’s worried about you, though.” She tilted her head.
“Yeah, Sam worries too much.” He raised his chin. “I just want you to know, I’m only here for him. Before you go…” he waved his hand indistinctly “doing your thing, you should know: I don’t need you to.” Dean continued, pacing. “I already made my peace with Mom.”
Dean turned around to find Mia had already exited the room while he had been talking. “It’s okay, Dean,” Mia’s voice came from the upstairs hallway. “Sam already showed me what you need.”
Dean opened his mouth to protest, but nothing came out. Dress shoes and slacks were stepping down the stairs behind the white bannister. A tan trench coat fluttered over a crisp white shirt. That nerdy blue tie. A hint of dark stubble. Dean’s heart clenched, cold, in his chest.
“Hello, Dean.” A dark rumble, so familiar. It’s not him, Dean forcibly remembered. His heart beat frantically, disobeying orders.
“No.” Dean’s voice shook, betraying his lack of control. He wanted to strike fear into this shifter’s heart. To make her feel afraid, the way all monsters should. “Don’t be him. Be you.” His syllables were clipped. He swallowed, mouth dry. He looked at the floor, blinking back the tears that had suddenly appeared in his eyes.
“Dean.” The soft growl insistent. “Look at me.” Dean’s eyes rose, unbidden, to regard the familiar features of Cas’ face; firm jaw, tousled hair, icy blue eyes. His heart burst open.
“How fucking dare you?” Dean exploded. He was shouting now, drops of spittle escaping his lips. “Be you.” he shouted. “Don’t be him. You cut it out right now, you hear me?” He crowded into the shifter’s space, bristling as big and as threatening as he could get.
The shifter was uncowed. “All right, Dean. But ask yourself,” the shifter tilted Cas’ head. A perfect imitation. “Is it really me you’re mad at?”
Dean made the mistake of looking at its eyes. He told himself he just wanted to see, you know? Could he tell it wasn’t Cas in there, looking out at him? Was there something to give it away, like the lens flare on camera? But it was too much, like it always was. Looking in Cas’ eyes was looking at something so pure and beautiful it hurt. Dean’s heart broke.
He grabbed Cas by the lapels of his dirty trench coat, shaking him. “You moron! You goddamned idiot! So the son of Lucifer tells you it’s all cool and you just believe him?! Really, Cas?” Dean shoved and the shifter flew across the room. That was enough to startle Dean out of the illusion. Cas wouldn’t break so easily.
The shifter rose to its feet, but it was Cas who stared at him, panting. Dean couldn’t help it spilling out of him now. “You’re so naive, so trusting, and what does it get you?” Dean was echoing his tirade to Sam back in the bunker. “It got you dead! And I need you. I need you, Cas, you selfish prick! Did you ever think of that?”
Dean knew he was too far gone to stop now. “No! You try to fix everything and you just make it worse every time. Leaving me alone with Sam to pick up your mess.” Dean crowded into Cas’ space as he spoke, backing him up against the wall. “You chose him.” Dean’s voice was low and dangerous. “You chose Lucifer’s son over me. You fucking played me. And I hate you for it.” His voice broke.
Cas put a hand on Dean’s chest. Far too gentle, Dean remembered. This wasn’t Cas, angelic strength and righteous fury. This was a fake. “Is it really me you’re mad at?” Cas repeated.
Dean drew back sharply, shaking his head. “No.” The outward rage twisted inward instantly, like the cold steel of a knife sliding into his gut. “No, I’m not. Cas. I’m sorry.”
Dean crumpled onto the floor, holding his head in his hands. “I’m so stupid. I never told you…” he ran a hand over his face. “…what you meant to me. And now you’re gone, and you’ll never know.”
Cas sat on the floor beside him. He put a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “I knew, Dean.” he said. “I always knew.”
Dean huffed a wet chuckle. “C’mon, I know you’re not really him.”
Cas looked at him earnestly. “I talked to Sam. If even a fraction of what he told me was true, I knew, Dean.”
Dean sighed, a heavy thing full of regret. “I thought knowing if you didn’t feel the same way would be the worst.” He smiled a tiny smile. “But now…” Dean nodded, certain in his hopelessness. “This is worse. You’re gone and now I’ll never know. Never knowing is worse.” Dean looked at the shifter Cas, who still had a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “You can’t give me that, no matter what Sam thinks.” Dean flashed back to yelling at Sam in the bunker, lost and desperate: “Cause right now I…right now I don’t believe in a damned thing.”
Cas put a hand on Dean’s face. Dean closed his eyes. It was how Cas had healed him. It was also exactly how Dean had fantasized about finally, finally, being held, drawn close, kissed.
Cas’ deep voice broke Dean’s reverie. “I hate seeing you like this, Dean. I lived and died for humanity, at its best and its worst. For free will. For you. Is this what you do with it? Give up?” Dean’s eyes flew open, stung. “I want you to live. I want you to be happy.” Cas’ tone brooked no argument.
“What show have you been watching?” Dean scoffed and gave a grim laugh.
Cas sighed “Seriously, Dean. Not butterflies and rainbows happy. Just living, the way I always wanted, if we ever got the rest of it figured out. If I can’t have that, I want you to have that. For me?” Cas placed his other hand on Dean’s face, and reverently pressed his lips to Dean’s.
Dean knew, in a million different ways, this wasn’t real. The shifter didn’t smell like Cas; wasn’t as warm, and the air didn’t crackle with the electricity that always buzzed between them. But this Cas had lips as soft as Dean had ever imagined. This Cas was holding him like he was precious; like he mattered.
Some time later, Dean emerged from the office to find Sam and Jack playing a game on Sam’s phone. Their questioning faces snapped up in unison. Dean inhaled, putting on his armour once more. “Let’s roll,” he ordered.
Mia appeared at the doorway of the office behind him. “Don’t forget what I said, Dean.” She adjusted one of her bracelets, and gave him an encouraging smile.
Dean returned it with one of his own, a genuine one. “Yeah, yeah,” he groused. “C’mon, Sammy. I’m hungry. Let’s grab some more of those hot dogs.” Jack’s eyes lit up at that. The kid liked to eat, Dean would give him that. Jack hurried ahead to the Impala.
Outside, Dean drew even with Sam on the front stairs, catching his arm. “Hey, Sam, uh,” Dean hesitated, unsure. “Listen, you were right, ok? I did need that. I mean, I guess what I’m trying to say,” Dean looked off into the distance. “Thanks, man.”
Sam wordlessly clapped a hand on Dean’s back and walked him to Baby.