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Through The Smoke

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September 17, 2021

CASTIEL

A breeze blows through his hair as bright yellow peddles tickle his fingertips. Laughter floats to his ears but he’s not sure if it’s his own or someone else’s—he doesn’t really care, either. Dean is behind him somewhere, talking to Tessa, but their words don’t carry this far, and even if they did, they’d whirl around his head before leaving again with nothing left behind but the memory of Dean’s voice and a soft warmth in his chest.

He tilts his head up to the sun and soaks in the warmth of the day, feeling Luna in his lap without really feeling her. His eyes snap open and a smile stretches across his cheeks as he searches frantically for the source of the buzzing. It’s…it’s…there! A bee! He squeals in delight and wheels around, catching Dean’s gaze and pointing at the bee. Dean needs to see, too! And he does. Cas can tell by his grin and the way he nods.

Oh! Another one! He chases it, pushing his controls harder and harder to catch up. Luna chases behind but stays out of the way of the wheels as Cas sets all the focus he possibly can on the bee, but after a while, he forgets what he’s chasing; all thoughts of that one bee drifting away as he’s left blank-minded in the middle of the lawn. 

He just sits for a minute; not really trying to remember what he was doing, but more just enjoying his time in the space between his thoughts.

It’s in this space that he starts to think about his life. About the things he remembers and the things he loves. He doesn’t remember the big things—not the pain of paralysis or the terrifying seizures—it’s all the little things. He remembers the softness of Luna’s fur under his fingers, and water on his cheeks as the sprinkler reaches a little too far—he loves that, even if it has Dean fretting about colds and pneumonia. And Dean…his most favorite to remember. 

Just the thought of Dean calms his frazzled and broken mind, clearing away the smoke and letting him think without the frustration of torn away thoughts.

It’s the fingers on his stubbly jaw that pulls his mind back to the world. He closes his eyes as a smile stretches across his face and he tilts his head into the touch. Lips press into his hair and the whirling chaos settles into steady clarity and heart-lifting joy. 

He loves Dean. He loves him, he loves him, he loves him. It’s the only thing he ever really knows—the only thing he’s always sure of, no matter the state of his mind.

Fingers trace his jawline until Dean’s arm wraps around his chest and his lips press against Cas’s cheek before he whispers in his ear. “We’re taking a little trip, Angel. Let’s get you in the van.” It takes a moment for the words to sink into his swirling thoughts, but when they do, excitement bursts in his chest and he squeals in delight, gazing up at Dean and not even knowing to hide his joy—not even understanding why anyone would want to.

And when he sees Dean smiling back down at him, it’s all he feels—it’s all he ever feels when Dean’s around—so powerful that it explodes out of him in another excited squeal.

Dean only smiles wider as he straightens up and grabs onto the handles, pushing Castiel over the grounds with Luna trailing behind.

Castiel doesn’t know where they’re going—has practically forgotten they’re going on a trip—but he doesn’t care. As long as Dean is with him, he’s happy anywhere.

~*~*~*~

It starts with a gurgling in his stomach—a churning that only gets worse as they drive on. Cas doesn’t know how long it’s been, but he knows he hates it. He feels so bad and doesn’t know why. His head is a mess and his lips pull down at the corners with every passing second as tears prick his eyes.

Dean seems so mad…he yells out the window and won’t look at Cas, even when his nose starts dripping and tears leak from his eyes. He wants to go home. He wants to be better. He wants Dean to not be so angry.

He tries to watch the rain, but the bending trees and bumping roads turn his stomach even more until he’s whimpering and squeezing his eyes shut tight. 

He can’t feel that his hands are shaking, but they are. They are, and so is his bottom lip as his stomach jolts over a particularly big bump. 

He tries so hard to focus but it hurts his head, and his thoughts won’t sit still, and he feels so sick…

“Shit! Fuck, shit!” Dean yells from the front seat, making Cas jump. Then it’s all coming up. All over his lap and the floor and his chin. It smells—it smells so bad—and he feels so bad, and he just wants Dean to stop being so angry. 

Now he’s crying and he can’t stop because it’s all just so awful and his head pounds harder and now Dean is looking back at him, but he closes his eyes as sobs shake him in his chair.

“Damnit,” Dean snaps, but he doesn’t stop for a while, looking around and making lots of phone calls while Cas cries. Dean doesn’t seem to notice the mess, except now he looks even more worried; turning in his seat to look at Cas and driving even faster. 

All the while, Cas cries, feeling wretched and upset until he gets himself so worked up that he vomits again. He coughs as it dribbles down his chin and into his sweater, soaking through the thick wool and coating him in the sticky, putrid mess.

He wants it to go away. He wants to be somewhere else. He doesn’t know where, but he just doesn’t want to be here. Dean keeps talking and he knows he’s talking to him, but the words are all just a jumble of incomprehensible sounds swirling around in his head and upsetting him more because he just doesn’t know why. 

The van pulls off the road and Dean slams it into park before getting out, saying something to Cas that he doesn’t understand through his gasping sobs. His head pounds so hard he can’t see straight and snot drips from his nose.

Where’s Dean? He just wants Dean! He wants to go home!

Then Dean is back and his words are so soft. He’s running his fingers through Cas’s hair but Cas is too upset by now to calm down. He doesn’t register any sounds except the crashing thunder as Dean pushes his chair through the downpour and inside. 

Cas can’t stop crying—crying and shaking and hurting—and there are mirrors in this elevator, too, but Dean turns him away—he doesn’t make faces in these ones. Dean is angry.

But he leans down to kiss the crown of Cas’s head as he continues to cry, so maybe…maybe he’s not mad. Cas’s sobs calm a little.

He closes his eyes as tears continue to drip down his cheeks, and, when he opens them again, he’s looking into a mirror, but it’s not the one from the elevator. Dean isn’t behind him anymore, but his voice carries from somewhere else, before he’s back again, smiling in the mirror as he gets Cas out of his soiled clothes and into his shower chair. 

The water rains down on his head, rinsing away the vomit and tears as Dean washes him with his special soap—his honeybee soap—and it brings a tiny smile to his face.

When the tears and mess are washed away, Dean turns off the shower and dries him with a thick towel. He doesn’t bother putting him in his chair but lays him right down on the bed before dressing him in his most comfy fuzzy socks—his favorite socks—t-shirt, and sweatpants.

He watches his motionless, black-and-yellow-striped toes as Dean leans in and presses his lips to Cas’s forehead, smoothing back his damp hair and whispering in his ear.

“Don’t you go running off on me, now; I’ll just be in the other room.” But Cas isn’t listening because the TV is on and…and it’s…it’s Scooby-Doo! Scooby-Doo is on and he feels so happy again. Not much of what happens on the screen actually registers in his mind, but he laughs when they run from the monster, and when Shaggy and Scooby eat their giant sandwiches.

He hardly even notices how long Dean is gone.

When the show ends and he’s still not back, Cas starts to notice. “D-Dea…n?” The shower is still running and steam floats through the open door into the bedroom, warming Cas’s normally chilled skin.

He jumps when something crashes in the bathroom before Dean’s head pops around the corner, water dripping from his hair as he blinks his puffy, red-rimmed eyes. 

“I’m here, Love. I’ll only be a few more minutes.” He tries to smile and Cas doesn’t notice how forced it is—not even when it falls from his face just before he disappears again.

 

Dean thinks he’s sleeping. He’s not sleeping—he’s listening. Or rather, trying really hard to listen. 

With his eyes closed, it’s easier, but his mind still drifts away from Dean’s words after a while; their meaning becoming nothing but a mixture of sounds that he recognizes as Dean.

“…I don’t know, Sammy…No, no, we’ve driven this far; I’ll be fine…Yeah, he threw up. A few times, actually…I don’t know. He could’ve just been car sick…He’s good now, yeah…” 

Cas doesn’t know what he’s talking about; only that his voice is worried. He doesn’t like when Dean worries—not one bit.

“We’ve only got about a half day's drive to go…No, I wanted to make it there today. We're almost at the Massachusetts border so we'll probably get there tomorrow and go to all the book museum things the next day...I wanted to make it, but the weather is so shitty…fucking coast,” he laughs. Cas likes that sound better.

He settles deeper into the pillows as Dean’s voice slowly lulls him into a dreamless sleep.

~*~*~*~

Today is sunny. Castiel likes sunny days. He likes the warmth and the bees and the sunflowers. Castiel likes the color yellow. Everything is yellow.

Dean looks back at Cas every now and then to make sure he’s okay, but Cas doesn’t notice; he’s too caught up in all the yellow. After a while, Dean starts to relax as Cas hums happily. It’s not any recognizable tune, but a soft passing of air that lets Dean know all is good, even when not a whole twenty-four hours ago, it wasn’t.

The trees and hills and valleys turn to beaches and open ocean as they drive up the coast. The salty air makes Cas’s nose wrinkle, but not in an altogether bad way. Just…different. Just new. He blinks hard against the glare of the yellow sun on yellow sand. It’s so nice, he thinks. It’s the clearest thought he’s had all day.

Dean catches his gaze in the rear-view mirror and Cas holds it for longer than usual—longer than he’s normally able. His eyes are steady and his mind more focussed and he notices…green. Dean’s eyes are green. Castiel loves green.

They drive for a while longer; Cas’s thoughts flitting by almost a quickly as the world outside the car. It comes, then it goes and is never thought of again. The world outside the window holds most of his attention, but occasionally—and more often as the beaches start to lose their day crowds—his eyes drift back to Dean; his world within the windows. 

He loves to think about Dean. Even if all his yesterdays’ are whispers of feelings, and sense memory and nothing more, he always knows Dean. Every day, he knows Dean.

He starts getting hungry some time before the sun starts to set, grunting his discomfort loud enough for Dean to hear.

“Just a little longer, okay?” Cas’s frown only deepens as Dean pulls off the road and drives towards the water. Cas is distracted by it for only a moment. Blue…he loves blue. But, his stomach rumbles and his bottom lip sticks out in a pout.

He’s so caught up in his discomfort that he’s startled by the lips on his cheek as he’s wheeled backward out of the van and into the cool evening air. He hunches his shoulders against the cold just as Dean wraps him in a blanket before pushing him through tufts of grass and dirt to a table under a tall tree.

He sets Cas up with a bib, pushed right up to the table’s edge, and puts his plate down in front of him. Cas hums and licks his lips as he watches Dean cut his burger into bite-sized pieces, barely waiting for him to pull his hands away before he reaches for a piece and shoves it in his mouth. 

Dean chuckles beside him, unwrapping his own burger as Cas practically inhales his—well, inhales what makes it past his lips.

“Slow down or you’ll choke!” Dean laughs, wiping at some mustard smeared on Cas’s cheek. He slows only a little, chewing what’s in his mouth and swallowing before shoving more food in, humming happily with every bite.

Cas doesn’t feel Dean’s eyes on him like he used to—doesn’t even know he ever could—but they’re there all the same. Watching with so much love and devotion that, if Cas had any sense of what they were, he’d be moved to tears. The old him would’ve been, anyway.

Because, even if their entire world has changed in so many ways, Dean still loves Cas with everything he’s made of. He graduated early—top of his class—to be here for these moments. To be here for this.

“You’re my favorite person, you know? Of all the people in the whole wide world, you’re my favorite.” The words are only a whisper, and their meaning eludes Cas, but the smile on Dean’s face when he glances up tells him everything he needs to know. Dean’s here. Dean will take care of him. Dean won’t ever leave him.

Cas’s grin only widens when Dean pulls out a tiny cupcake with a single candle lit in the center. “Happy Birthday, Angel.” 

Cas squeals, practically vibrating with excitement as joy radiates from him. He leans forward as far as he can and doesn’t notice how Dean blows out the candle when he can’t quite manage. He claps when the flame goes out and Dean hands him the cupcake with a fond smile.

When Cas is finished—chocolate icing smeared all over his mouth and fingers—Dean wipes his face and hands with a wet cloth before brushing off his clothes and packing everything away. They don’t get back in the van, though, as the sun starts to sink into the ocean.

Dean pushes Cas through the trees, coming out on the other side on top of the world. That’s how it seems, anyway; with everything below them, and only sky above. 

Cas sucks in a deep breath, the cool air waking him up and setting him free. He reaches for Dean’s hand, his own fingers trembling as Dean wraps them in his. 

His heart pounds hard and fast with excitement as the sky bleeds from blue to pink, to orange, to red. The red is his favorite. Castiel loves red.

The wind whips at his face as his eyes open impossibly wide to the beautiful ocean. It stretches further than his eyes can see, and something deep down in the forgotten depths of his mind awakens—stretches its wings and lifts them to the wind—as Dean stands behind him with one hand wrapped around his and his other arm wrapped around Castiel’s chest. His chin rests on top of Cas’s head as they stare at the wide-open world in front of them.

He feels entirely alive in this moment—in this place. A feeling as foreign to him as the dirt beneath his wheels, and yet, as familiar as the man holding his hand. Foreign, yet familiar. And so dearly loved.

Cas tugs at Dean’s hand, wanting him closer to say the words on his mind and in his heart. “De…Dean…” He tugs again, this time more insistently, and Dean crouches down in front of his chair.  

“What’s up, Cas?” The fingers of his free hand reach out, stroking across his cheekbone and brushing away a stray strand of hair that keeps tickling his forehead.

Cas struggles to stay focussed, using all his mental strength to concentrate on shaping the words in his mouth and letting them roll off his tongue in comprehensible sounds.

“I…I lo—love,” he pauses, swallowing thickly. “Y-you…”

Dean smiles brightly, his eyes shining as something like deep, inner peace settles in them. He looks away as he swipes at his cheek, emotion pouring out of his eyes from words he hasn’t heard in almost three years. He kisses Cas’s fingers and stares up at him through wet lashes, but makes sure Cas can see his smile. 

“Ditto.”

And Cas laughs, not knowing what the word means, but loving the sound of it. Loving the way it makes Dean smile with him.

As the sun sinks behind Dean’s head, an old, forgotten tune seeps through the haze of his memory, digging up feelings from a life so far gone, he doesn’t know where they came from, but they bring a joy so profound that there must be something good in them—there must be.

And I-I had a feeling that I belonged. I-I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone…