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I want you to be happier

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-“What did it cost?”
-“Everything.”
~Gamora and Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

 

Jack’s return was a ray of sunshine on the bunker.

Sam’s eyes shined with contentment more. Dean smiled more. The bunker inhabitants were happier.

But Castiel felt nothing but dread.

He would never be truly happy again. Not after establishing this deal.

There was nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. The endgame was impossible to swerve past, or avoid altogether. There was no getting out of this one, as far as he knew.

Castiel quickly got used to the pain.

————

Dean didn’t help matters one bit.

Ever since Michael, Dean had changed. They were minuscule things at first: shoulder touches that lasted a second too long, a shine lingering within green irises like he wanted to open his mouth and say something important, — but he never did — showing more consideration for Cas as a whole whenever he did speak.

But then they became bigger things. Like calling Castiel every day and asking concernedly if he was okay. Like having his eyes settle on Cas’s face for minutes at a time without speaking during beer breaks and burgers. Like allowing himself to smile more whenever he saw Cas, willingly bearing his emotions more than he ever had.

After he made the deal, Castiel shut himself down every time his thoughts lingered too long on Dean.

Such thoughts would, quite literally, kill him.

————

Dean tried to initiate a game of footsie with Castiel under the table one night.

Cas felt Dean’s socked foot nudge at his ankle, and didn’t reciprocate. Focused extra hard on what Jack was talking about. Some sort of Star Wars cartoon. He was going on about his hatred for Anakin. Cas had seen the prequels, so he thinks he understands.

Stupid Anakin. Destroying the galaxy for love. Not truly understanding the love he had thrown away until it was too late.

Stupid Castiel. Destroying Heaven, Hell, and Earth for love. Not truly understanding the potential love he had doomed until it was too late.

————

It is Jack who noticed first.

“Dad,” he murmured as Castiel finished reading Jack a Harry Potter book — The Chamber of Secrets, to be exact — one night, “is something wrong with you and Dean?”

Castiel closed the book slowly, the hard cover letting out a puff of air as it hit the final page. He set it on Jack’s nightstand and leaned his head against Jack’s headboard. “Why would you think that?”

Jack frowned, glancing at Cas’s drawn profile, locked up tighter than a convicted felon. “Dean seems...sadder. Happy, but sadder.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Jack,” Cas said neutrally.

Jack left it, and shrugged. “Maybe it’s just me.”

————

It wasn’t just Jack.

The team was researching in the war room when Castiel realized it.

Sam was, as usual, on his laptop. Preoccupied with searching online databases on lore. The screen lighting up his face. Jack was curled up in the most comfortable chair, — Dean had willingly given it to Jack, a parental gesture that didn’t go unnoticed — a blanket cast around his shoulders and a large yellowing volume open in his lap. His head was bowed as he perused each page and the fading ink.

Castiel felt a hand brush across his shoulder, the back of his neck. Goosebumps. Warmth on fingers.

And Dean acted like he hadn’t just done that. He stood a foot away from Cas’s seat and picked up a book, flipping it open. Pretending that he didn’t see Cas’s confused glance in his direction.

Castiel pushed it down.

————

“Hey, sunshine,” Dean said as Castiel stumbled into the kitchen. He grinned far too brightly than was necessary, a sizzling pan in his grip. Cas caught a glimpse of bacon frying inside it, crackling and browning. “Want some?”

Castiel pushed it down. “No.”

Dean laughed, a full one that only came out in the rarest of occasions. “I was kiddin’!”

Castiel pushed it down. “I understand jokes now, Dean.”

Dean only grinned wider, which was exactly what Cas didn’t want. “Course you do.”

Castiel pushed it down, down, down.

————

“Whoa!” Dean’s eyes widened as he looked through a kiosk of travel books. “Sam, we’ve been to, like, all these places.” He smiled. “Cool!”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Okay, Dean. Glad you’re having fun in literally the dullest convenience store imaginable.”

Dean smiled at Castiel on instinct. Cas wore his best uncaring expression.

It was imperative that Castiel push it all down.

————

Castiel was wearing his preferred mask one day when he caught it.

Dean was smiling at him, but Cas turned his head to the side. Reading an article off of Sam’s laptop.

Dean’s smile wilted. His entire face fell, whenever he thought Cas wasn’t looking.

Cas saw it. He saw what Jack had mentioned all those weeks ago.

Happier, but sadder too.

And Castiel made no mistake: he was the reason.

It was all his fault.

Castiel would have rebuffed Dean’s advances if he hadn’t made the deal.

But if he had known about this beforehand, Cas would have never made the deal in the first place. Jack would still be dead. They would all be broken. Irreparable, even.

The fatherly side of Castiel warred with his desires.

Castiel had made the right decision, in the end. It wasn’t a particularly good one, but it brought their light — Jack — back home. In a way, Cas was glad he didn’t know what he did now.

But also, Castiel was distraught and crushed. He wasn’t all there, anymore.

Goodbye, happiness. He hardly knew ye.

Goodbye, Dean. They would never be.

————

“Okay,” Sam’s eyes were full of blue fire as he sat across from Cas in the kitchen, “what’s going on with you?”

Shit. Sam had noticed too.

“Nothing,” Castiel replied.

“Bullshit.” Sam shook his head. “I’m concerned about you. You’re my friend.” His eyes sharpened into a steel knife. “Something’s happened that you’re not telling us. What is it?”

Castiel thought about standing up and leaving the room altogether. But the look in Sam’s eyes meant that he wouldn’t let the subject rest. Sam would pursue Cas until he gave an answer.

Castiel said vaguely, “a curse has been laid upon me.”

Sam’s eyebrows shot up. “A...curse?”

“I would rather not discuss this, Sam,” Cas said shortly. “It is not pertinent information compared to tracking down the spear or Michael.”

Sam read something between the lines. Castiel had revealed a fissure. If he wasn’t careful, it would begin to seep. He couldn’t have that.

Sam said, “you matter to us, Cas. Whatever this is, you can tell-”

“No, I can’t,” Cas deflected.

Sam recognized Cas’s expression tighten. Locking into place. His neutral mask.

Sam beseeched, “you realize that Dean is pining after you, right?”

Castiel nodded numbly. His jaw clenched. “That’s why I’ve been deterring him.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “But you...I mean...you love him back.”

Castiel didn’t like how easily Sam knew that. Was he really that transparent?

God.

“Why are you doing this?” Sam demanded.

Cas matched Sam’s tone. “Because I have to.”

Castiel set his palms on the tabletop and pushed himself upright, whirling away and leaving the kitchen.

————

“-at to do, Sam. What did he say when you asked him?”

Castiel flattened himself against the wall. He rested his cheek on the doorframe, listening inside Dean’s bedroom as the Winchester brothers talked.

“He didn’t confirm nor deny it,” Sam replied to Dean.

“Nor.” Dean snorted. “Leave your college words outta this. You’re saying he,” Castiel winced at the hopefulness in Dean’s voice, “has feelings for me too?”

Cas finally realized what this was. Dean was too cowardly to confront Cas himself. He had planted Sam in his stead to find out what’s been going on with Castiel.

Had their relationship always been this childish? Full of potential? Had they been growing? Maturing all this time?

Sam replied, “yes.” He emphasized, “but,” he paused, “he says he’s deterring you purposefully.”

“Why would he...why?” Dean sounded near tears.

Castiel pushed it down, down, down.

“He said he has to,” Sam said. “Whatever that means. Then he got mad and left.”

Dean sighed. “What does that mean, Sammy?”

“It means he’s not telling us something,” Sam replied ominously.

Castiel made the mistake of glancing quickly inside the room. Dean had his head bowed, resting in his hands. Sam had a hand on Dean’s shoulder to steady him, but it didn’t seem to help.

Cas went back the way he came. He pushed his emotions down, down, down, down, down.

————

Mary and Bobby’s return to the bunker gave Castiel the excuse he needed.

He willingly faded into the background, like he did when Dean was possessed by Michael. He let himself blend into the chaos once more, leaving him to his thoughts.

But Jack was as observant as ever.

Castiel was reading The Goblet of Fire aloud when Jack mentioned it.

“The deal has taken its toll on you,” Jack said.

Cas slid a bookmark — a folded piece of paper that Jack had drawn animals on — between two chapters and closed it. “Remaining vigilant is tiring, Jack.”

“You should smile, Dad,” Jack murmured.

Castiel sighed. “Smiling leads to happiness.”

“It will come when you’re happiest. Not when you’re happy.”

“I understand that. I’m not risking it.”

Jack sat up on the pillows and faced Cas as much as he was able. “Dean wants to be with you.”

Castiel pushed it down. “I know. That is the one thing I cannot risk.”

Dean’s safety. Him getting hurt. Seeing that heartbroken look on his face.

Castiel pushed it down.

Jack launched himself into Cas’s arms. Cas sank into the embrace, letting himself feel free for the shortest moment.

Then, Castiel pushed it down.

————

He couldn’t push it down anymore.

That’s why he found himself at a goddamn karaoke bar at midnight on a Monday.

Castiel got on stage and sang.

...I know that it’s been written before, but up until now couldn't find the words ‘cause ain’t nobody gotten through to me, nobody else but you to me. Nobody else can turn me inside out inside myself...

Castiel let his pain flow through him like a gorge, spilling out onto the floor and infecting the air. Cas’s voice nearly broke on the next line.

...And I can’t take it when you look me in my eyes...

This was supposed to be a love song. It didn’t feel like one, though.

...Ain’t nobody gotten through to me, nobody gotten through to me. Nobody gotten, nobody-body got through, but you. Ain’t nobody gotten through to me, nobody gotten through to me. Nobody gotten, nobody-body got through, but you...

Cas sensed a crowd form, but they weren’t a danger. Just curious humans, gawking at his pain.

...I wanna be yours, and you wanna be mine, and everyone else been wasting my time. I know that it’s been written before, but I wanna let you know that I adore you. You’re the only one who makes me feel so high, but I won’t crash and burn this time...

Maybe they weren’t gawking. Cas heard them whisper in the back of his mind. They were awestruck.

...And I can’t take it when you look me in my eyes...

Their eyes were wide, and full of sympathy. They understand his pain. Not completely, but an inkling of familiarity was there.

...Ain’t nobody gotten through to me, nobody gotten through to me. Nobody gotten, nobody-body got through, but you. Ain’t nobody gotten through to me, nobody gotten through to me. Nobody gotten, nobody-body got through, but you...

Castiel felt stupid for baring himself like this. It was too raw. Too much.

...I wanna be yours, and you wanna be mine, and everyone else been wasting my time. Ain’t nobody gotten through to me, nobody gotten through to me. Nobody gotten, nobody-body got through, but you. Ain’t nobody gotten through to me, nobody gotten through to me. Nobody gotten, nobody-body got through, but you...

Castiel was glad when it was over. He heard genuine applause, but he paid no mind to it.

This was supposed to make him feel better. Now, Castiel didn’t know what he felt.

————

“-so concerned, why don’t you just ask him?”

Castiel flattened himself against yet another wall. The people inside that room, he realized, were talking about him again. Dean, Mary, and Bobby, to be exact.

Dean replied to Bobby, “he stormed off on Sam, so I’m told. What makes you think he won’t do the same with me?”

“You won’t know until you try,” Mary said encouragingly. “He’s your best friend.”

Dean huffed out a laugh. “Haven’t you been listening to me?”

There was a silence. Castiel resorted to pushing it down.

Mary said softly, “okay. He’s not just a friend to you. You’re worried about him, as you should be. My advice is to wait for the right moment.”

“I’ve been waiting!” Dean said exasperatedly.

“Wait longer,” Mary said. “As long as you have to.”

“You said he’s hiding something,” Bobby said. “If that’s true, he’ll eventually snap.”

“‘Snap’ isn’t the right word,” Mary chastised.

Bobby amended, “explode. Blow his top. The point is, the weight of it all will crumble down on him. It’ll come out when he’s had enough.”

Castiel took it as advice. Still, he pushed it all down.

————

What Bobby said was prolific. Occurred faster than Castiel thought it would.

He could push it down no longer.

It was almost as if hearing it sped up the process. Made it happen faster than Castiel wanted it to.

Dean was grinning at him when it happened.

Castiel crumbled. “Stop that,” he hissed. He closed his blurry eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. He tried to center himself. He was standing in the kitchen. Dean was cooking pasta on the stove. Castiel could feel boiling water prickle his skin, a wave of heat penetrating his face. They were alone in the room, thankfully. Small miracles were what really mattered. Cas muttered, “you’re not making this any easier.”

Castiel opened his eyes just in time to see Dean’s face fall. Dean’s voice softened. “What’s wrong, Cas?”

“Stop smiling at me,” Cas said bitingly. “Stop touching my shoulder. Stop looking at me like,” he clenched his jaw, “like I’m,” he said through gritted teeth, “someone you want. You’re making it hard to resist, and I have to!”

Dean absentmindedly clicked off the stove burners, covering up his boiling water pot. Dean’s eyes were impossible to read, but he held himself with a confidence Cas wasn’t used to seeing. He stepped closer, until they were a measured foot away. “Why do you have to resist, Cas?”

What Bobby said came true. Castiel was sick of lying. Keeping this secret. Forcing Jack to withhold this information.

Castiel replied, “because I made a deal to save Jack, and Heaven, from the monster that I awoke.” He was transported back to that fateful day in Heaven, Kelly protecting Jack while he bargained with the Empty. “The monster wanted Jack. The sacrifice was easy. My life for his.” Cas sighed. “But it won’t collect yet. Not until I’m happy.” He said bitterly, “not until I get everything I ever wanted.” Castiel leveled his gaze to meet Dean’s, which was tumultuous. “Do you see why I can’t be with you, Dean? Because being with you the way I want to,” Cas heard his voice getting choked up, his eyes watering, “only leads to my death. I don’t want you to see me get taken away. I want to spare you from that pain.” Castiel blinked a few times to clear his vision. “And I don’t feel sorry for doing this either. I did this for Jack. My son! And I will always put Jack’s happiness above mine. Every time.” Castiel swallowed a lump that formed in his throat, and fell silent.

He had said his peace. Now he had to get out of there.

Castiel spun on his feet, preparing to exit the kitchen. As he put his first foot forward, Dean grasped his wrist.

Castiel whirled back around, his eyes filling with tears again.

Dean was torn into pieces. Exactly what Cas didn’t want to happen. What he didn’t want to see.

Dean was on the verge of crying too. He managed, “we’re going to find a way.”

Castiel tore Dean’s grip away from his wrist. “We need to find the spear. And Michael.”

Dean shook his head, a tear escaping, trailing down his cheek. “This is our top priority. Michael can wait.”

“I’m fine, Dean,” Cas said numbly. “I’ve been handling it.”

“No you haven’t,” Dean whispered, sniffling. “You’ve been living in fear for weeks.” His tear dropped from his chin, splotching on the kitchen tile. “I want to see you smile again, Cas. I miss it. The way it,” he hesitated, “lights up your face.”

Castiel shook his head. “This being is ancient and, as far as I know, immortal.”

“Anything can be killed,” Dean soldiered on between tears. “Everything has a weakness. We will find its weakness, and we will kill it. Whatever it takes, Cas.”

Castiel sighed. He wouldn’t get anywhere by bickering. Dean was stubborn. “We’ll see.”

————

Four Months Later…

 

“This is going to work.”

Castiel walked alongside Dean. “If you say so.”

“Cas,” Dean said fondly, “this is gonna work. Have some faith, huh?”

“You’re one to talk about faith.”

Dean chuckled. “There’s the guy I know so well.”

They rounded the corner, entering the war room. Sam and Jack had set up all the supplies they needed, as well as wards in case of emergency.

Today was the day the plan was being carried out. It will either result in precisely what Castiel didn’t want, or everything he had ever desired.

There was no way around this eventuality, either. Perhaps the Winchesters will find a way to pluck him from the Empty. But until then, Castiel might have to wait a long while, suffering in his own eternal damnation.

It didn’t scare Cas where it once would have. He would go to his death willingly. No regrets.

If things went his way, though, Castiel would become the happiest angel alive.

Dean and Castiel stood in the middle of a large symbol staining the wood floorboards. They watched Sam gather bowls and ingredients and matchsticks. Jack held the lore book open, prepared to recite the spell.

Dean and Castiel looked at one another, into each other’s eyes, not tearing their gazes away for less than a second. Dean allowed a small smile to reach his lips.

Castiel allowed himself to smile back.

Dean gathered Cas’s face in his hands, his eyes roving over him adoringly. “Ready?” Dean asked Sam, without looking away from Cas.

Sam cleared his throat awkwardly, amusement reaching his voice. “Whenever you are, lovebirds.”

Dean stuck a hand out, pointing an accusatory finger at Sam. “Shuddup.”

Sam and Jack chuckled.

Dean brought his hand back to Cas’s face, cupping his cheek. “It’s gonna be okay,” he murmured to Cas. “Are you ready?”

Castiel nodded with determination.

Dean brought his face forward, tipping their foreheads together. Dean’s lips touched his tentatively, their noses brushing cheeks. It was Castiel that matured the press, their lips meeting fully, their eyes fluttering shut. Dean kissed him like they were drowning, trying to swallow his oxygen until they breathed as one. Castiel felt his heart open up completely, the darkness that had overwhelmed it finally dissipating. Castiel allowed it to happen, allowed his reinforcements to chip away, allowed his shields to fall, allowed his impenetrable walls to collapse brick by brick.

In place of Cas’s defenses bloomed something new. Something delicate. Something as innocent and gentle as a newborn baby.

Castiel was filled with light. Hope, and promises, and a supernova of brightness.

This was what he was warned about.

That sobering thought was what made Castiel pull away from their kiss.

It was time to go to work.

And then, there it was.

Castiel turned away from Dean, observing a wave of black muck charging towards them. The tendrils ate up the distance, but were halted upon touching the red paint protecting them from it.

Cas realized that he and Dean were still holding each other, too frightened to move, to look away from the monster as it took shape.

It took the form of Castiel.

Cas clenched his jaw and he looked at a copy of himself. The Empty tapped on the invisible shield that protected him and Dean from harm.

Empty-Cas grinned menacingly. “What a clever boy,” it purred.

Castiel absentmindedly heard Sam and Jack’s voices from the hallway, chanting from a safe distance. Empty-Cas swiveled its head and snarled.

Before it could take a step towards Sam or Jack, the spell was complete.

The Empty was vulnerable.

Castiel and Dean shared a look.

Dean slipped a blade out of the back pocket of his jeans. A special blade he bartered for at an auction a month previously.

The only blade that could wound the Empty.

In one swift motion, Dean drove the blade into Empty-Cas’s chest. As the Empty stared in shock, Dean ripped out the blade with gritted teeth.

The Empty returned to its liquid state, black muck retreating.

Dean took a few breaths. “It worked. We hurt it bad.”

“It’s not over yet,” Cas said.

Sam and Jack returned to the war room, reciting the spell that would put the Empty back to sleep.

Forever.

Dean and Castiel held each other within the symbol as it occurred. Black goopy tendrils cried out in pain as the Empty slinked away. Sam and Jack’s words sank the entity into cracks in the floorboards, its hisses falling silent.

It slept, and fell back into its regular plane of existence.

There was a moment of silence in the bunker.

Then, Dean buried his face in Cas’s shoulder, arms squeezing his sides. “We did it,” he murmured in disbelief. “It’s gone. It’s over.”

Castiel hugged back, holding Dean gingerly. It almost didn’t seem real. Like he couldn’t have this.

But he could.

Castiel rested his chin on Dean’s shoulder, squeezing his eyes shut.

The sun shined on his face.

And there were finally no consequences.