Despite what Dean might think, Castiel has never liked leaving the Bunker. But this time, when the metal door closes behind him, the weight of it hits him harder than it ever has before.
Save perhaps one other time, when he was cast out, sent out into the wider world when his own humanity was fresh and terrifying and unfamiliar. He had had nothing, and the people—person—he had thought he could count on had said he couldn't stay.
He should have learned.
He should have known.
Even when Dean explained after the fact that it was to save Sam, that it was because he had been lied to by the angel possessing his brother, Castiel should have realized. Dean would never have space in his life for him, despite everything they've been through.
At least this time his leaving is his own decision, though the knowledge is bitter and provides little comfort.
He stands outside the Bunker, the Kansas night air warm and still. It's far too early in the season for crickets, but there's the promise of hot summer days on the breeze. Castiel breathes deeply, taking in the damp, earthy smells. He doesn't need the breath, but he finds the action soothing, grounding. Closing his eyes, he trains his hearing towards the Bunker. The small flicker of hope that he'd kept aflame that Dean would come after him sputters and dies in his chest. At least he hasn't heard any crashes of breaking furniture.
Either Dean is sulking quietly and drinking his way into oblivion or he has forgotten Castiel already and has returned to comfort his brother.
Castiel isn't sure which scenario he prefers to believe, but he tells himself it doesn't matter. It's time for him to leave. The Winchesters have always been a blip, chronologically speaking, in his very long life. And yet he had always thought it was something more, that they were building to something more…
Apparently he was wrong.
It wouldn't be the first time. And isn't that what Dean had said? That everything that goes wrong eventually came back to him?
Castiel isn't so broken to believe that entirely—he had done his best, and it wasn't as if the brothers were blameless themselves—but that kernel of truth…
It's time. Maybe it had been time for him to close this chapter of the book for a while, but it is clear now: there is nothing left for him to stay for, no matter how much he wishes there to be.
The gravel crunches underfoot as he walks down the path to where he had parked his vehicle. He resists the urge to run his hand down the Impala's frame as he passes, as a goodbye. If he did, he wonders if he would be able to go through with this, even if he knows it's for the best. He tries not to let his eye linger on the seats, tries not to picture Sam in the passenger seat, himself in the back, as always. This isn't about Sam, this isn't Sam's fault.
In his own car, he stares out the windshield, the engine idling. His angelic senses can see farther down the dark driveway than the headlights illuminate, but there is nothing there. Just dusty gravel and tufts of early spring grass.
He shifts into drive. Time to move on.
The diner's harsh fluorescent lights do nothing to help the tacky 1950s decor. Dean would have loved it, Castiel muses. He pushes the thought away and instead surveys the tables. Only a few have occupants, and most are dressed in jeans and work shirts or flannel. Anael stands out easily by comparison. She sits with one leg crossed, her floral skirt stopping just below the tops of her brown boots. Her deep green jacket is a stark contrast to the light beige vinyl of the booths, and her reddish hair cannot be dulled even by the horrible lighting.
She smirks at him as he approaches and slides into the seat across from her. "You look like a kicked puppy, Cas."
"Hello, Anael. I—" He's cut off by the arrival of a waitress in a pink dress. "Black coffee, please."
"You got it, hun. Anything for you?"
Anael shakes her head, barely disguising her disgust with the place. "No. Thanks."
The waitress nods and returns to the window between the dining area and the kitchen.
"It's rude to stay at a table without ordering anything," he says.
Anael raises an eyebrow. "So? I'm not paying for something I don't need or want. 'Sides, you're the one who wanted to meet here. You can do the social niceties."
Castiel regards her. "Why did you agree to meet? It isn't as if you particularly like me."
She shrugs. "Had nothing else on my calendar. And as much as I don't want to get involved with whatever drama you and the Dynamic Duo are in the middle of, I like knowing what's coming down the pipe." She leans forward, drumming her nails lightly on the table top. "Of course, if you're looking for my help with something and you're willing to pay…"
"No. That's not...that's not what this is." The waitress returns with a thick white mug of pitch black coffee. He thanks her and assures her they require nothing else. "I'm not looking for help. I'm not on a mission. That's over now."
"So tracking down God or whatever worked? I thought that necklace was a bust."
Castiel closes his eyes, but immediately regrets the decision. All he can see is Dean pointing the gun at Jack, Chuck burning out Jack's soul and grace, Belphegor and those stupid sunglasses, the charred remains of Jack's body…
He opens his eyes, but can't meet Anael's. "It wasn't a 'bust.' Chuck—God—he came back."
"He actually came back." The derision in her voice is nearly palpable. "'Bout time he finally gave a shit."
He can't help but laugh bitterly. "The opposite, really."
In a low voice, heavy with grief, he tells of Chuck's return and his manipulations to reenact Abraham and Isaac for his own entertainment.
"God—Chuck—has been toying with us all along," he ends with. It's not the whole story, but what happened next is still so raw, he needs to steel himself for the telling. He wraps his hands around the mug, desperate for some comfort.
Anael snorts at this revelation. "Not a shocker."
He eyes her. "I thought you were of the belief that God was gone and we could do what we want."
"Fine, I thought he was gone gone," she says, rolling her eyes. "But we've never really been able to do what we want. You of all people know Heaven's not exactly known for free will. That's why we both fell. And I don't mean when we all took a nosedive from Heaven."
Castiel frowns. "I didn't fall, I—"
"Sauntered vaguely downwards? Wrong show, Cas. And we both fell, in the ways that matter. I asked questions, I got demoted. You bucked the system, you got your brain wiped again and again and again. And when push came to shove, you sided with the humans."
She isn't wrong, though he has no idea what show she's referring to, but the irony of the last part stings. But unwilling to deal with that at the moment, he instead addresses what he can.
"The world would have been destroyed. I wasn't—"
"Hey, dude, you don't have to defend yourself to me. You see me heading back to the Pearly Gates any time soon?"
"Last time you did was following Lucifer." As if he really as any right to make that sound as accusatory as it comes out.
"Aka. the biggest free will rule breaker we had. Well, 'sides you." She leans back and crosses her arms. "And yeah that didn't work out, but I got out of there on my own terms."
Castiel looks away for a moment. "It seems we have more in common than you think."
Anael peers at him, clearly replaying the last bit of the conversation in her mind until it clicks. "You gave Heaven the middle finger a long time ago, so that's not it. You finally tell your boyfriend you're breaking up? That it's time to see other people?"
He bristles, uncomfortable with how close it is to the truth. "Dean—I mean, that's not—" She isn't the first one who has made those kinds of comments about him and Dean, and usually he can just deflect or ignore them. But today, his inner turmoil gets the better of him. He is less than reassured by her knowing smirk, her recognition that he just admitted more than he wanted, confirming her suspicions. "It wasn't like that."
"Close enough." She leans forward, threading her fingers in front of her on the table. "C'mon, Cas. Juicy deets?" He glares at her. "You're no fun. You can't deny it, though, whatever it was going on with you two."
He deflates. He's tired of fighting, denying. "Is it really so obvious?" He had assumed for years that it was just a common ploy his opponents used to get under his skin, but maybe it wasn't just that.
Anael lets out a genuine laugh. "Oh come on. Cas, honey," she says, gesturing to herself. "I got a rockin' bod—well, Jo did before she let me have it—and your red-blooded American boy toy has never given me even a hint of interest. Especially when you're around. And I heard through the celestial grapevine way back when that he had a thing for red-headed angels."
Castiel takes a long overdue sip of his coffee, just to have something to do. Instead of addressing the topic at hand, especially the thought of Anna, he sidesteps, focusing on something else she said. It's never a delicate topic of conversation, but he is curious.
"Jo? Is she...is she still in there?" While he regrets what happened to Jimmy Novak and Claire and Amelia as a result, he has always been grateful that Jimmy's soul is in Heaven, that he has not been 'riding shotgun' in his own body all this time.
Anael shakes her head. "I found her on a bridge, about to jump."
He blinks. "And you let her die?"
"Not everyone can be saved, Cas. If I hadn't asked her to let me in, she would have died anyway—if not that night, then another. At least this way, she didn't feel any pain. She hit the water, I kept my grace away from life support, I let her live in a dream until her soul departed." She purses her lips as she looks at him. "But this isn't what you're here to talk about." She shakes her head. "I can't believe I'm asking this. You owe me for the therapy time. Something big and sparkly."
"I'm sure I can find something."
"You better. So what happened? What caused the divorce of the century?"
The words come out haltingly, but Castiel goes through it all. Mary's death, Jack's death, Belphegor, the ghosts, Rowena, his departure from the Bunker.
"And that's why I called you."
"Because you had nowhere else to go? Thanks." She shakes her head and lets out a low whistle. "Rough week, huh?"
He looks at her flatly. "Yeah. Rough." He wonders if this was the best decision. Why seek out Anael? It isn't as if she cares.
She frowns, and he can't tell if it's genuine concern on her face or if she's just very good at pretending. She did have a lot of practice from her time as a faith healer. "Human emotions aren't really my thing," she says by way of apology. "And look, I've never had anyone I really cared about, but I'm sorry for your losses and all." She shrugs. "But screw Dean, man. I dunno why you stuck it out as long as you did."
"Because…" He trails off. Because what? None of the excuses he can think of work, because that's all that they are. "Because I couldn't bear to leave. Because I was alone and they were all I had."
"You sound like every abused wife that came through the church doors," she muses.
"I'm not an abused wife."
"Tomato, tomahto." She twists one of the bracelets on her wrist absently. "You ever tell him?"
"I… No. I tried." Did he, though? Or did he just hope Dean would understand?
She arches an eyebrow. "And I thought I was bad at human relationships and stuff. Well," she says, "I say you make him grovel. Ball's in his court. Meantime, I dunno, go on vacation. Go shopping. You know, a break up is a great time for a wardrobe change."
"I hardly think new clothes are going to rectify the situation."
"Probably not, but it'd be fun. Get you out of that terrible suit and coat."
Castiel shakes his head wryly. "I'll have to take a weather check. Rain check."
"Your loss." She shrugs, then reaches beside her to take her handbag. "Anyway, it's been fun. Call me when you find that something sparkly. Or to cash in that check." She stands up, slinging the strap of the bag over her shoulder. "Later, Castiel."
He watches her go, barely noticing when the waitress comes over with the bill. He drains his cup, puts some cash on the table, and heads out to his car.
The enormity of the question looms like it never has before.
For now, he drives.
The door closes with awful finality behind Cas and Dean clenches his jaw. He lifts the tumbler halfway to his lips, pausing to contemplate it. His fingers tighten on the glass. He knows he could shatter it, knows that he would barely notice the inevitable cuts on his fingers and palm. The glass would break easy against the wall, too, litter the floor with shards and spilled whiskey.
He does neither.
The whiskey would burn in throat—the good burn, the familiar burn. If he drank enough, the store of alcohol in the Bunker, maybe, the edges would dull.
He doesn't drink.
The edges cut, deep, and he lets them. He tells himself it's so he can be there for Sam.
The glass clinks softly on the wooden table top behind him. The Bunker is quiet, save for the low ever-present hum of the lights and air ventilators. But the closing door echoes in his mind.
He pushes himself off the table eventually and trudges toward his bedroom. He considers checking in on Sam again, but figures his brother just wants to be left alone right now. No matter what Dean says, Sam will believe that it was all his fault that Rowena is dead.
His skin itches, tells him to take off his boots and jeans, to put on something more comfortable. He settles on his bed without changing, ignoring the complaints of his back as he sits against the stiff headboard.
The headphones and music do little to drown out his thoughts. He doesn't move until dawn.
"Any coffee left?" Sam asks as he wanders into the kitchen the next morning. Dean nods over his own cup.
Sam settles down with a mug across the table from Dean, and they both drinking quietly for a few minutes.
"You sleep at all?" Dean finally asks.
Sam shrugs. "Not really. Kinda dozed for awhile. I kept seeing…" He trails off and shakes his head. "Yeah."
"Yeah." Dean might not have seen it all, but the image of Rowena stumbling towards the rift in the earth, the blood bright on her pink dress, was not one he'd soon forget. And to get a wound like that? Christ. That wasn't something that happened from afar.
Sam puts his mug down on the table, two fingers still curled around it and through the handle. He frowns as he looks at Dean. "Did you sleep?"
"Like a baby," he says into his coffee.
He looks up. "Fine, I didn't sleep either."
Sam nods. "What do we do now? Should we… I mean, there's nothing left of-of Jack, or Rowena…"
It doesn't feel right, not having some sort of hunter's funeral. But with no bodies to burn, it all seems so pointless. Dean shrugs. "I dunno."
"What does Cas think?" Sam's brow furrows. "Where is he anyway?"
"Gone." He gets up from the table, taking his mug over to the sink. He braces his arms against the edge and takes a breath, knowing he'll have to turn around and face his brother and his questions eventually.
"What do you mean, 'gone'?"
"Exactly what I said, Sam. Gone. Buh-bye. Peaced out. Fucked off."
"Did he give a reason why?" It's not really a question. Sam's a smart kid.
Dean doesn't answer, just stares at the drain and the drops of coffee around the rim.
"You kicked him out, didn't you." There's an ugly scoff in Sam's voice.
He turns, facing his brother, who sits with his arms crossed and his eyes hard. "I didn't kick him out. Dude left on his own."
"You didn't stop him."
You blamed him, didn't you? You made him think there was nothing left for him here. Mom, Jack, Rowena, all of it— It wasn't his fault and you know it, Dean. You fucking know it.
Sam doesn't say it, but Dean hears it anyway.
"What was I gonna do, Sam? Tie him to a chair? Throw him in the dungeon?" He lets his hands fall back to his sides. "He said it was over and it was time for him to move on."
"I fucked up, ok? You think I don't know that?" He collapses back against the counter, shoulders slumped. He runs a hand over his face. "Let's just… I don't know. Find a case. I dunno. Something."
The silence stretches until finally Sam nods and runs a hand through his hair. "Right. Yeah. A case. Solution to everything, right?"
Two hours later, they're in the car, roaring down the interstate.
"Sounds like a hell of a story."
Dean smirks bitterly at his old friend. It's been over a month since everything went down with Chuck, but the memory hasn't scabbed over yet. He'd talked for almost a solid twenty minutes and he's barely scratched the surface of all the shit he's seen since he last saw Lee Webb. But he got through the highlights. Most of them at least.
"Yeah, one way of putting it." Together they down shots of whiskey. "Well, you know how it is. Not like this life was ever rainbows and puppies."
Lee nods. "And even when you're out of it…" He looks around the destroyed bar. At least the bodies had been cleared out and burned hours ago. Now it's just a wreck of broken chairs and tables. "Shit, it's gonna be a nightmare putting this place back together."
"What're you gonna do now?"
Lee shrugs. "Not the first brawl this place has seen. More bodies than usual though, I'll give you that." He pours out another two shots that they drain. "Real question is, what're you gonna do?"
Dean twists the glass on the bartop. "How d'you mean? Not like it fucking matters, right?"
Lee shakes his head. "Look, man, even when I was a hunter full time, God was way above my paygrade. Way I see it, though, if what you say is true, that God's been fucking with you, with all of us, for our whole lives, then what you choose to do is the only thing that matters."
"It's all a damn game, Lee. It's his entertainment. He gets his fucking rocks off watching us muddle through all the shit he throws our way." He pours himself another shot, and motions silently to Lee's glass. Lee turns his upside down. Whatever, more for him.
"Exactly. It's the one thing he couldn't control or predict: what you'd do next." He crosses his arms across his chest and leans sideways against the bar, facing Dean. "Now, call me crazy, but that sounds to me like you got a leg up on freaking God. And I like those odds."
He's got that look on his face, that don't-give-a-shit self-satisfied smirk that Dean remembers so clearly from the first time they met, almost twenty years ago. Back then, Dean's swagger had been a cocky act, one that'd gotten him into more than his fair share of scrapes and bar fights. But Lee, just a few years older, had never had to act. Everything about him said that he knew who he was, what he was about, and that he would and could kick the ass of any man who had a problem with that.
"Yeah, well, I'm fucking tired of playing the odds." Dean's about to pour himself another shot, but Lee stops him, pulling the bottle away. "What, you worried about my liver? Ship's sailed."
Lee ignores him and looks again around the room. "Fuck it. Guess I'll worry about this tomorrow." He eyes Dean. "You got a place to crash for the night?"
Dean hadn't had a chance to stop at the motel by the highway and book a room before shit had hit the fan. "I'll figure something out."
"I got space." He says it calmly, casually, but his eyes roam over Dean.
His gut twists. "That's, uh. That was a long time ago, Lee."
Lee frowns and exhales. "Right. Yeah. Should've figured."
Dean wishes he could kick his twenty-something-year-old ass. "No, I mean. Hey, I was a fucking dumbass back then."
Lee huffs a wry laugh. "Trust me, I remember."
"Fuck you." The grin is a little pained, but the tension eases.
"Your dad's dead, Dean," Lee says quietly after a moment.
"Yeah, I know." The memory of what he'd said to Sam when Dad had come back for that one evening, when the world tried to rewrite itself, resurfaces. He'd meant it then, and still does: he's ok with who he is, despite it all, despite John's lingering voice in his head. The voice has gotten quieter over the years, but he still hears it now and then. But it's only when he hears his father coming out of his own mouth that worries him now. "That's not why I can't."
"Someone else?" Dean wishes he could say yes, wishes it was that easy. But he ends up not having to say anything; Lee must read it all on his face because he gives a wan half-smile and says, "Complicated, huh?"
Dean rubs his eye. Christ, he's tired, and this topic of conversation ain't exactly a breezy one. "Understatement. They, uh, left."
"Sucks, man." His tone is neutral, obviously unsure of the history, which Dean appreciates.
"Yeah, well." He considers the bottle of whiskey in front of him but decides against it. He sighs. "I was angry at-at everything, and I said some shit, and then I didn't say some shit…"
Lee scuffs a boot on the floor. "Sounds familiar."
"Never said I was a saint."
"No, no you didn't." He pats Dean on the shoulder. "Couch is still yours, if you want it. No pressure, no strings."
"Thanks." And he means it.
They make their way out of the bar, nearly slipping and tripping a few times from the broken glass and furniture. Lee's pickup is just around the back of the building, out of sight from where Dean parked, and Dean smiles at the sight of the familiar '56 Ford truck. He's about to make a comment about the truck when Lee turns to face him.
"Actually, there's one string attached."
Dean blinks. "Whaddya mean?"
"Call 'em. Whatever you did or didn't say… Call 'em." Lee shoves his hands in his pockets, gestures with his head towards the dark road. "It's a ten minute drive over to my place. You need more than that, I'll leave the porch light on and the door unlocked. You decide to head out, that's fine, too."
He would protest, but Lee stares him down. Dean nods. "Yeah, alright."
In the car, Dean twists his phone in his hands, almost unaware of Lee's truck rumbling past. He starts up the engine and steers out onto the road. Being in Baby is grounding and he breathes slowly and deeply. He can do this. It's just Cas.
He swipes his thumb over the screen, holds the phone up to his ear.
He closes his eyes for a second and takes a breath. "Cas. I, uh….I—"
Cas sighs on the other end of the line. "What do you want?"
"Nothing. I mean, not nothing. I just…" Breathe in, breathe out. "I'm-I'm sorry. I fucked up."
The silence is deadly. His heart is in his throat. He probably shouldn't be driving. The tires crunch on the gravel shoulder as he pulls to the side of the road. This was a stupid fucking idea, why would Cas listen, this is just—
"Dean?" Cas' voice is still cautious, but it's laced with more warmth than before.
"Yeah?" he manages to choke out.
He's never wanted to hear those words more in his life. The tightness in his chest loosens. Things aren't fixed, they might never be fixed, but maybe they can put some of the pieces back together.
"Yeah, uh, I'd like that," he says. "There's some things I gotta say, but not like this. Not over the phone."
"I think we both have things that need to be said. Or that should be heard."
He winces. He's earned that. "Yeah, I know."
"Tomorrow." Dean's taken aback by the firmness of Cas' voice. "It's late. We'll meet tomorrow. I'll text you where to meet."
"Yeah, yeah ok. Tomorrow."
"Good night, Dean."
The phone call cuts out and Dean rests his head on his hand against the steering wheel.
Tomorrow. His last chance.
And this time, he'll get it right.