What else is right, and so pure
I’ll save a lifetime of love for you
But you don’t care
Fourteen missing people. And Dean had finally managed to run.
Dean was walking down the street from the bunker and towards a half-hidden bench about a five minutes walk away. It stood surrounded by two massive cottonwood trees that wrapped around it like a house.
Each of his steps went away from home and towards a secret shelter that was only his, and it was both relieving and unnerving how the night’s silence washed over him like a shower. It wrapped around him like those trees around the bench and somehow it cleaned him of whatever his stains were.
And isn’t it weird how many different kinds of silence there are? How one silence can soothe the pain and the other press down on you until you can’t bear it any longer? How one silence is quiet the way you know quietness and the other is so naked that you hear for the first time how a nothing sounds. How it sounds when there’s no sound at all, how naked and bare a silence can be, so absolute and complete that it’s almost loud.
Now, the silence Dean experienced there outside in the night on an empty street was neither nothing, nor was it loud. It was fast. It washed and waved and whirled around him and it pushed him towards some destination and it sped up and accelerated and hit him with its pace and his heart joined its speed.
Until, when he reached his bench and the cottonwood trees, it turned into the type of silence that calmed him. He opened his beer that he’d brought along outside and took his first sip. It was dark and lonely there and then and that was why it was so perfect.
The bunker was his home and in fact it did a good job protecting them and serving as a shelter and some sort of base camp. Yet, sometimes, like tonight, even with all the lamps and all the light inside it, it was still darker than the night outside. And it felt cold in a way, because it failed now to keep him warm. Like this damp piece of wood he was sitting on and that cold bottle of beer he was sipping from.
He calmed down. His list had done the trick again. No matter how old and yellowed the paper was already and how the words were barely even readable anymore, it still worked. And when his eyes had flown over it and chosen his favorite, he’d felt relieved. The way you feel relieved when a burden falls off of your shoulders.
The entire day he’d felt triturated by the bunker’s atmosphere. By that gloomy frustrating air swimming in it and that pair of eyes that kept seeking his. Crushed and stared down. Like some kind of abyss he’d thrown himself into, the calamity that was his life.
In the very back of his head, though, was still lingering that nudging reminder of failure. Going home after a job always felt kind of strange, but going home before he finished it was so much worse. It felt like an itch he couldn’t scratch. Like a picture hanging askew. All wrong and suffocating, and Dean knew he couldn’t make it right. He didn't understand his decision to leave either, he’d reacted without thought. And now he felt like a coward, running from the problem without even considering that the problem might follow him.
So instead of trying to justify his own actions, he did what he did best. Drink. Drink the frustration away and calm the fuck down. Cas was still back in the bunker. The only thing needed were the stares or how he looked away or hovered over his shoulder like the little angel he was. Or wasn’t. Dean didn’t know why that made him so mad, he only knew that it did. He wished his brother was here, so he could focus on him, but Sam was still with Bert.
And that wasn’t right.
Working that case and researching his brains out was all fun and fine and Dean could handle himself without Sam. But he couldn’t handle Cas. There was no one there to keep him from doing something stupid and god knew Dean couldn’t do that himself.
It was the middle of the night and Dean was out there freezing and drinking. He should sleep, he was exhausted to the bits and bones by the long drive here and by fighting off his own thoughts. But how was he supposed to sleep when he had an angel watching over him?
The past had proven to him that even when Cas always meant well, Dean was still an asshole. It would, at some point, escalade, because it always did. He was barely holding it together. The monster inside him was already clawing and pushing its way out. It was the calm before the storm.
He downed the last sip of his beer and looked at the bottle. The label was still intact, which was an odd thing for him, but it was also a good sign. He exhaled deeply and closed his eyes and tried to steady his heartbeat and inhaled into his stomach. In and out and in again. The night was colder than he’d expected, and damp somehow and it smelled like rain. He stretched out his arms on the backrest of his bench, hearing the green and red and yellow leaves above him rustle in the wind and through the silence, and he tried to think of anything but their latest case. Anything but the bunker. Anything but Cas.
And he failed miserably.
The collapse of his exploding will rained down on him. You can do what you will, but you can’t will what you will.
Then he felt the air beside him shift and opened his eyes to a tan trench coat. In a quick movement he removed his arms from the backrest and folded his hands in his lap. There goes the calmness.
Cas cleared his throat, then reached a bottle towards him, avoiding his eyes. “I thought… you would want another one.“ He said in almost a whisper.
Dean couldn't help the thought that sometimes Cas was like a good little housewife, with him starring as the violent husband. He took it, though, the beer, and by that brushed a few of the angel’s fingers. The fingers that he’d held down and kept from getting near himself. A flashback of stifled groans and tensing muscles, as he pushed his thigh into flesh and against bones, and his own shaking hands.
He shook that memory out of his mind, opened the cap of the beer, and swallowed down what felt like too much, as though he was trying to drown himself. Or he wanted to drown out his loud thoughts and the guilt and his never ending idiocy. Because that’s what he was, an idiot. A tight-lipped smile landed on his friend and he started fumbling with a corner of the label on the bottle.
That burning something rose inside his chest and he rubbed the back of his neck, as though that way he could communicate with it. He needed to remember who he was and what he felt and why he was angry. And when he shook his head again and cleared his throat his voice was hoarse when he said, “What are you doing out here?“
Castiel stopped his staring at one very interesting spot in the grass and looked up at him. “Bringing you a bottle of beer.“
“No,“ Dean gave back. He almost, just almost, had to smile. “I mean, why are you out here?“
“To bring you a bottle of beer.“
The angel looked puzzled, scanned Dean’s face, and he seemed to find something there that made him look away and bury his fingers into the fabric of his trench coat.
“To see what you are doing.“ He breathed shyly.
“Leave me alone.“ Dean snarled, looking down at his hands. “You ruin everything.“
He crossed his arms and leaned back. Another Everything he didn’t understand. Some moments passed and the silence inside them started haunting Dean again. So he looked to his right, against all reason, and found an abashed frown.
“You gonna cry now?“ he spit. “I meant it, Cas. You ruin it. The alone time I’m trying to have here. Don’t be a baby.“
Cas nodded and looked at his black shoes. His lower lip started trembling and then he whispered, “Why don’t you come back inside?“
“Go away, Cas.“
The angel made a sound like a hick-up. “Dean?“
“Go. Away. Cas.“ Dean growled through gritted teeth.
The figure beside him rose to his feet, turned, then stopped. A shaking hand settled on Dean’s shoulder, a soft touch, an encouragement maybe. A pushed button. But before the Winchester could turn to him and turn on him, the hand was gone and so was Castiel.
It had been an hour and twenty-three minutes and Dean was still outside. It was no unsolvable mystery why, Castiel knew that the hunter gave his best to avoid him. Around him was the pure quietude of their bunker. It was solacing in a way, but nonetheless bone-crushing.
He couldn’t make sense of why Dean was acting this way around him. For years and years, he’d been joking and laughing and smirking his way. He’d talked to him about his problems during the day and about his thoughts during the night. He’d told him everything. And then, at some point, Dean had started acting weird and tense. With one feral explosion their world started shattering. It hadn’t been their first fight, but it had been the first one to make a change.
Many of those fights followed and sometimes Cas made himself believe it helped Dean cope with his stress. And sometimes he thought it was only an expression of his stress rather than the cure for it. But he let it happen and never complained. He knew he couldn't give him any more than this. Soon he would be of no other use, as he and all he’d ever been was vanishing into thin air.
Thin air, Cas thought right then, that must be the problem. The bunker was well ventilated and there was enough of healthy air. But somehow the air still felt poisonous these days, and it came to him that that could be the reason why Dean had left to sit around outside. Or maybe the place wasn’t what mattered, maybe it only mattered that Castiel wasn’t there. Maybe it was his presence that made the air in the bunker so thin.
He could leave. But then, he couldn’t. Not only for his promise to Sam to stay with Dean and look after him, he had nowhere else to go.
So Castiel was here with Dean, and yet without him, and he tried to kill some time with reading in books written in languages neither one of the Winchesters spoke. It was calming in a way, and time did pass, but his mind only wrapped around one thing. Was it sick that he didn’t want to leave?
As he turned the thirty-sixth page of an ancient book about fangs, written in some Russian dialect, he felt energy starting to stream through tiny wires. Gear was coming to life, as a fraction of a millisecond later the bunker’s wards switched themselves on in alarm.
All entries locked, all light vanished, save for the emergency lighting. Everywhere the red warning lamps flashed their rhythmic cry of something happens.
The bunker went into lockdown. He moved into the war room. His eyes darted around over the human technic devises and the human alarm system, and all of a sudden, streaming through him in unison, was all the human panic. He touched the apparatus and closed his eyes, as though to talk to it. There was a thunderstorm outside, a violent one. And then it hit him.
Dean was still outside.
Right then a blustering knocking came from the main entrance above him.
“Cas?“ he heard.
“Dean?“ He ran up the stairs and pushed his ear against the dark metal of the door.
“Why can’t I open the door?“
“The bunker is in lockdown,“ Cas confirmed. “I think there is a thunderstorm outside.“
“Yeah, I know that, idiot. I am outside.“
Another bit of time was killed, while Cas thought about a solution, still waiting for an order that wouldn’t come. He was cut off heaven, a world that was no longer his, and now a simple storm cut him off his other world, too. And that frightened him.
“I cannot open the door.“ He said, his voice too shrill. “Dean, I can’t do anything.“
“Can’t you just fly out here and get me inside?“
“No, I can’t,“ Cas answered, his hands on the door clenching to fists. “The wards won’t let me.“
There were scratching sounds and a clinking in the lock then, followed by a dammit.
“I’ll call Sam.“ Dean announced.
It was only a thunderstorm and not the end of the world. But Cas could hear the howling winds and violent rains that smashed against the entrance from outside. And somewhere in the background there was a charged crackle and the promise for thunder. This was no average storm, it felt dangerous like a monster on the hunt for human flesh.
Dean was shouting into his phone.
“I mean, I can’t fucking get into the bunker, it’s in lockdown,“ Dean yelled. “You know how to turn that off?“
“You can’t turn it off, Dean. It’s there to protect until the danger is gone.“
“Yeah, protect my ass.“
“What were you doing outside anyway?“
“Picking daisies,“ Dean snapped. “What am I supposed to do now?“
“I don’t know.“ Sam heaved a sigh, an annoyed one, not a shaky one. “I’d try the garage maybe. Maybe it’s not warded by the lockdown. You still won’t get into the bunker, but at least you’re not out in the storm then.“
Dean hung up, and without informing the angel he left the main entrance.
A little while later, Dean was standing outside the door to the bunker’s garage. It was on the other side of the area, a secret hidden door lowered in the ground, four concrete steps leading down. He drew his lock pick kit from a pocket of his jacket and started his work. Funny enough, this door didn’t have a special lock.
Several failed tries and half an hour later, he gave up. This lock might not be special, but it was a fine son of a bitch. He looked around and found nothing but dark grass and concrete steps. His eyes fell onto the railing lining the stairway as he blinked away raindrops from his lashes.
The rain was merciless and thrashed down on him, soaked him down to his boxers. Again and again his hands slipped off the iron bar of the railing he was trying to loosen. But eventually, he managed to get a grip on it and ripped it off, playing on his dripping lips a victory smirk.
He put the bar in between the door and the wall holding it, giving his best to push it off its hinges. A CLICK and the door lifted and fell away.
A small waterfall swam over him and his boots and colored the hem of his jeans a darker shade. He went inside and discovered it rather assembled a swimming pool now. The brownish flood water covered the entire concrete floor of the majestic hall and reached up to every door of every vehicle inside. Oh no.
Dean’s eyes bolted to his beloved Baby that stood in the middle of the garage, surrounded by water that was coming from who knows where. She looked like a lost piece of a sunken ship floating in the ocean.
He waded through the water towards her and his boots got heavier with the gathering water in them. When he was there, he touched her roof and looked inside. She seemed fairly dry. He petted her black frame with his wet fingers and cursed a silent sorry to her.
After another look around his eyes focussed on the door leading to the main part of the bunker. He waded on through the massive puddle and a little mud, his jeans soaked up to his knees by now. He hated storms, even more so when they involved flooding.
“Yeah, I’m here,“ he called back, wondering how the angel knew that.
A quick tearing at the door handle made clear it was locked as well. He worked his lock pick again, then the self-made jimmy, but this door just wouldn’t open.
“Dean,“ he heard again. “The door is locked.“
“Yeah, I know that, genius. I’m trying to unlock it.“
“I don’t think you will manage to.“
“Well, thanks for the cheerleading, feather ass, you suck at it.“
That aching burn in his chest started pounding again and shooed away all the calm he’d had before. His inside made demands to be released, urged him to yell it out and push through the door.
“Dean. The bunker is warded. You won’t get inside.“
“You know what, Cas?“ Dean snapped. “If you won’t do anything to help me, why don’t you go fuck yourself?“
“I didn’t mean to— I… I’m sorry.“
Steps confirmed the angel’s leaving. Great. He ran a hand through his dripping hair and dropped the iron bar. It splashed into the water and sank down to the ground. As slow and definite as his willpower. Fucking great.
Meanwhile, Sam smiled. Now, it wasn’t a happy smile, or a pleased one. It was the type that hides away another emotion. He didn’t want to talk about his brother and his angel, but at the same time he really did want that. He needed a break. They were annoying and weird and they didn’t function the right way anymore.
“Dean usually doesn’t just run away like that,“ he answered. It was kind of too late to change the topic now.
Bert nodded, setting down his book, then asked the mother of all questions. “Why d’you think he did it then?“
Why did Dean do anything? Often, Dean did what he thought was the right thing. Sometimes he acted on his gut feeling. But sometimes, Sam thought, Dean’s actions were plain unreasonable. Sudden thoughts and impulses, or throwing a Hail Mary, driven by determination and by feelings he claimed not to have. And sometimes Dean just didn’t seem to care.
Sam scratched the back of his head and shrugged, unable to think of an answer.
“Makes you wonder what he’s running from,“ Bert said.
“Yeah,“ Sam gave.
That was when the buzz of his vibrating phone in his jeans pocket made him jump. It was a text message from Dean.
Bunker’s still on lockdown, garage’s flooded.
With its wide walls and its high ceiling that hung above him like a canopy, with the lamps as stars, the room around him felt kind of empty. There was still water around him, a peaceful ocean, and the distant ripple of more water coming down and inside somewhere and the blustering noise of rain onto ground from outside mingled into a soothing melody.
Dean had his eyes closed as he was dozing off his tiredness and the lack of anything else to do on top of a car roof. His arms were crossed over his steadily rising chest and he was in some state of peace. All relaxed limbs and no challenging thoughts.
Another type of silence. Dean remembered lying on the roof of the Impala with Sam when they were kids. Looking up into the night sky and watching stars without talking. In those moments they’d seen the same world. In those moments they’d had the same childhood, the same life. Then in other moments, they’d been as separated as they could be. Their father had done that. He’d always pull Dean away and treat him differently and raise him to something else entirely. Always making everything Dean’s fault.
Don’t fear me, Dean. He’d say when Dean would shrink away from him. Fear is a weakness and you can’t have weaknesses in this job. Fear makes you lose the fight.
When he sighed and shifted a little on the metal of the pastel-colored 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air, he felt that something was wrong. His backside felt wet. At first he thought he was sweating, but then he remembered that it was pretty damn cold in here.
He snapped his eyes open and realized that it wasn’t sweat at all but the pool of rain water around him. Sitting up, he found the garage already filled with it to car roof level. And then he saw his Baby, drowning where she was helpless against the rising water. His stomach clenched.
“Cas!“ was his first instinct move. “Cas!“
Panic rose inside him like a never departing companion, even when it didn’t make sense to him. No one was in danger.
A little reluctant, he slipped off the Bel Air and into the water. It was so much colder than it looked, reached up to his chest, and he was soaked completely within seconds. Suppressing a shiver, he moved towards the door, a hint of dark iron against the stone wall.
He was wading through the water in almost slow-motion, careful to avoid the sinking cars and the floating tools and instruments around him. It all looked like a ship had gone down, all kinds of things swimming around and about to sink down to the bottom of this ocean.
“CAS!“ he called again as he reached the door. No answer. In fact, no sound at all.
He turned, his eyes wide open and his breathing wild and his mouth on the verge of telling himself some bullshit about how everything was going to be alright.
He needed to get out of here. Fight, if he must. He wasn’t fighting for his life, of course, this place wouldn't be life-threatening for a while. Unlike the cars he could swim and hold his head above the surface until he’d reach the high ceiling. Yet, it wouldn’t get any more pleasant here.
His feet struggled to keep on the ground as he fought his way back to where he’d come from. There was still no door at the hidden garage entrance and much of the water was still streaming outside into the night, only that it wasn’t enough to keep the garage from flooding.
Once his leg found the iron bars of the stairway’s railing, he exhaled and inhaled a couple of times, preparing himself for ice cold water coating all of his body. Then he sucked in enough air to make it through what now resembled a tunnel underwater more than a simple exit. He dove down and froze together with his nerve endings, adjusted his eyes. Then he started to swim the few feet down and forward and up again.
A harsh gasp erupted from him as his head came out through the surface of the water on the other side. The water was fucking cold. He heaved himself out of it and onto the rain-soaked grass. The muddy earth gave in under his shoulder and he was shaking so much that he didn’t even feel his heart’s pounding. His lower lip was dancing a tremor as he wrapped his arms around his middle in a protective, if useless, embrace.
With a look around and while he deliberately ignored the increasing agonizing coldness, he found nothing but the dark grass and wet grounds again. The wind was howling through the night and piercing into his eyes and burning on his bare skin. There was roaring thunder somewhere and then a lightning bolt struck the roof of the bunker only a few feet away from him. Bright white light blinded him and disappeared as fast as it had come.
And then there was that abandoned power plant building over the bunker. It looked huge from where he was lying in the grass, if a little putrid, towering over the area like a monument. Dean knew he needed shelter. The rain was on his skin and in his hair and in every fibre of his clothes that clung to his body and weighed him down. He felt so fucking cold, he couldn't stop shivering. So he stumbled to his feet and dragged himself towards the power plant.
Inside it smelled like rotten rats and mildew. But at least it was dryer than outside. He found himself a corner with a lonely sheet that smelled funny, thrown to the dirty floor. He wrapped himself in it, no matter the stink and rough fabric of it, because he was desperate to warm up. It helped, a little.
He leaned his head back against the frigid wall and pulled his knees close to his body and shut his eyes. Tremors were still thundering through him in the helpless attempt to form heat in his muscles. He bit his lip to pull himself together.
It’s okay, he told himself. You’ve done this before.
Abandoned buildings had always been a part of his life. Sometimes he would find monsters hiding in them while on a hunt with his dad. Sometimes he would hide from monsters while his dad wasn’t there. But the good memories were those involving him and Sam spending the night in some ramshackle warehouse. Sometimes their father would decide it was time for another survival training unit and send them out into the woods or wherever else to stay alive by themselves.
Dean would lead his little brother through the night, an arm resting on Sam’s shoulder to make him feel safe and comfort him in a way their dad never could. He’d always find a shelter for them, some sort of cave or an old hut or an abandoned factory. And he would set a nice place to sleep for his brother and tuck him in and stay up the entire night to watch over him. His pocket knife always in his hand and ready to attack anything that came too close.
Dean smiled. His little brother had been such a pain in the ass sometimes and he would whine on and on about how unfair all this was and how can Dad do this to us? And Dean would gently squeeze his arm and say, He’s not doing it to us, he’s doing it for us.
And look where it had gotten him. Able to find a place to sleep and be safe from the storm outside. A+ parenting, John Winchester.
Even inside the power plant he could feel the wind and hear the rain’s rat-ta-ta-tat on the roof and smell the damp air and earthy fragrances in it. The scent of storm. It smelled nice like a good memory and felt safe like home. And for the first time in a long time, even if only for now, Dean didn’t hate storms.
The bright blue light in his eyes flickered out. With a look around he found the old cars askew on their spots and the bikes to his right toppled over, everything still dripping of rain water. The water had washed about tools and instruments, as well as quite an amount of paper. The white cabinet against the far wall had its drawers and doors open and all the items usually on it or hanging on the wall above it were gone.
He looked up at the ceiling and across the high walls where small streams of water were still rushing down towards the ground. There, in the upper left back corner, there was the source, the hole in the ceiling where the rain had found its way in.
He made a few steps into the hall, the hem of his trench coat soaked and dirty. His eyes fell onto the shiny black car Dean loved so much. The Impala seemed fine, drenched a little, but he couldn't find any damages. As he stopped next to her, he found her interior had gotten a bit wet as well. There were small puddles gathered in the leg room and on the leather benches. Dean wouldn't like that. In fact, he was sure, if Dean saw her like that, he would lose it.
He put a hand on the Impala’s roof and in an instant she was dry. Then he went on to the back corner, reached out his hand and fixed the hole in the ceiling. That was when he heard steps behind him. Some part of him wished it was some stranger, or even some demon or angel. But please not him. He wasn’t finished fixing the mess, he wasn’t finished at all, he needed more time to fix this and make everything alright.
“Cas, I— oh wow…“
Castiel turned and found Sam in the doorway, his eyes trailing away in the chaotic and wet state of their garage.
“Hello, Sam.“ Cas said, relieved and nervous all at once.
“This is a mess,“ Sam announced.
“Yes. I’m cleaning up.“
“Oh cool, that’s cool.“ The Winchester looked around again and found every loose item this room contained at the exact wrong place. “Wait… where did all the water go?“
“Well, I banished it, of course.“ Cas stated, as if that was obvious.
“Of course.“ Sam ran a hand through his hair, remembering suddenly that there was someone else supposed to be here. “Hey, where’s Dean?“
“I would assume your brother is still outside.“
“Outside?“ Sam asked, surprised. “Why?“
The angel sighed. “He came in here, but I assume when the water rose he decided to spend the night outside. I’m sure he’s fine.“
Sam nodded. “Why don’t you go get him, Cas? I’ll make some coffee.“
Sam wasn’t so sure why he’d felt the urge to check on them. He’d left a still unsolved case that swallowed up people every day, and also a just as helpless Bert. Something inside him had told him he needed to see for himself that they were okay.
Not even five minutes later, Cas stood in the kitchen, his eyes wide and his face concerned.
“He’s not there.“ He stated.
“Who’s not where?“
“Dean. He’s not where he’s supposed to be.“ Cas urged. “I could sense that he slept in the power plant, but he’s not there anymore.“
Something about Cas’ tone shook with warning and Sam’s heart jumped straight to alarm. “What d’you mean, he’s not there? Did you look everywhere?“
“Sam,“ Cas said, “I can’t sense him anywhere near.“
Sam’s jaw dropped, his stare fixed on the air between them. He clenched his fists and his breathing turned heavy. He felt sick, so suddenly it hurt, as naked horror invaded his mind with images of his brother tied to a chair and taking a beating by this week’s monster. Because, hell, they just never got to get a break, did they? His mind was racing at full speed, around and around and back again, then stopped.
He fell back into the moment and felt stupid. The choice of maneuver was obvious, but his voice still sounded taut when he said, “I’ll try call him.“
It rang for an endlessly long minute, until his brother finally picked up.
“Dean!“ Sam cried into his phone, a little too shrill. “Where are you, man?“
“At the diner a few streets over,“ answered his brother. “What’s with the girl voice? You okay?“
“Am I—? Sure, I’m okay, are you?“
“Dean, we were worried about you. I drove here and then we couldn’t find you, and I—“ Sam’s voice broke.
There was a pause on the other end of the line then. “Well, I was starving. Don’t worry, I’ll bring some food for you, too.“
“That’s not what I was worried about.“
After annoyed glares on both sides of the line that neither of them could see but by some kind of miracle both could feel somehow, they hung up and Sam shoved his phone back into his jeans. He shook his head and felt silly. Then he poured some coffee into two of the cups on the kitchen table and beckoned the angel to sit down with him.
Cas smiled thankfully. “I’m glad he’s—“ His voice broke as he swayed a little and braced himself on the table, his eyes squeezed shut.
“Cas, you alright?“
The angel sat down opposite to him and gave him a thin smile.
“Yes, of course,“ Cas said. His face wasn’t quite pale, but he looked somewhat stressed. “I just… I believe it was some effort to clear the garage from all that water. I just need to rest, it’s fine.“
Sam had cleaned up the garage alone. He was a little worried about Cas, so he had ended up ordering the angel to sleep it off. As he walked down the hallway back to his room, he passed a door that was standing open. His eyes darted inside and found their friend. It was one of many bedrooms in the bunker, but some weeks ago they had decided that it was now alone Castiel’s room.
He entered and saw him sitting on the bed. He looked stiff and somehow out of place. His shoulders hung like those of an unused marionette and his face was blank, as though he was in his own kind of lockdown.
After Cas noticed him and smiled, Sam sat down by the small desk and watched the angel. The Seraph. And what was left of that powerful being now? He looked weary, to be fair, his features drawn and his trench coat now dry but still dirty. Cas folded his hands in his lap and he was swallowing over and over again, as if he was trying to get rid of a lump in his throat.
“Hey, Cas,“ Sam started after he’d considered what to say. “You wanna know a secret?“
Castiel looked up to him, both surprised and glad to start a conversation. He nodded.
Sam cleared his throat. “So uh… there’s these dreams I keep having. Lucifer, mostly. Well, actually they’re always about Lucifer.“
“That makes sense.“ Castiel said when the Winchester paused. “You have been trapped in the cage with him for a very long time, Sam.“
“Yeah.“ Sam rubbed the back of his neck and exhaled. “It’s just that… they’re not bad dreams, you know? They’re not nightmares. They actually feel kinda good.“
Then he waited. For the reaction, for the mere horror and disbelief, for a shocked what’s wrong with you, which for some reason echoed in his imagination in the shape of his brother’s voice. But this wasn't his brother, it was Cas.
“Why?“ he simply asked, not any hint of judgement in his voice, only something like curiosity.
“In these dreams… I feel like… I feel powerful… invincible… I still remember what it felt like to be… him. To be able to do things. It’s kinda like when I had… my own powers.“
Cas nodded. He didn't say anything for a long while. Then he looked Sam right into his eyes and it appeared like a lock was opening. “I know what you mean. I know what it feels like to be powerful. And I remember what it feels like to have no powers at all. Yet…,“ he focussed back on his folded hands, sighed. “Yet, I’m afraid. Now that I lose my powers… again… I feel weak, Sam. Helpless… useless.“
“But you still have them, Cas.“
“But I still have them.“ Cas repeated, though it didn't sound convinced. It sounded defeated.
“SAM!“ they heard from somewhere outside, the deep voice of the other Winchester echoing in the bunker like an alarm signal.
They found Dean in the war room, resting on the large map table a bag of take-away food. He looked grumpy.
“There you are,“ Dean almost snarled. For only a split second, his eyes flickered to the angel and his expression turned even more annoyed. His clothes looked awfully muddy with dried dirt, his hair stood up in all directions, but he didn't seem to care.
“Well, you’re a bag of sunshine,“ Sam commented.
Dean made a strange sound, then barked back, “You sleep outside in the cold for a night with soaked clothes, let’s see how that improves your mood.“
“We were worried about you,“ Cas threw in quietly, earning one of the darkest glares Sam had ever witnessed on his brother.
“Well, at least you were all cozy and warm in here, right? Glad one of us made it through the night without finding a rotten rat corpse in their blanket. Now enough with the mothering crap, I’m fine.“
That came out more harsh than planned and Dean knew it. He meant it, he was serious, he was glad his friend hadn't had the same night he’d had. Yet, once again, his words had come out like an accusation. But why oh why did they have to keep talking about this? He’d gone camping for a night, so what? It wasn't like that had been the first time he’d slept in uncomfortable positions in a piss-soaked rat hole, he wasn't some princess with high-class needs and standards. Besides, if there was one thing he didn't deserve, it would be Cas worrying about him, him of all people. And he didn't like all the attention on himself either.
“I’m sorry, Dean.“ The angel said.
“What you’re sorry for? It’s not like you could’ve done anything about it.“
“I’m sorry.“ Castiel said again.
“Stop!“ Dean yelled. He ground his teeth and exhaled a sharp breath. “Just stop it, Cas. I’m not a fucking kid, I can take care of myself. It’s fine. I’m fine.“
“But something could have happened to you.“
“But it didn’t.“
We need you to be safe, Dean could feel them thinking, as he looked back into those blue puddles of sorriness and worry that were Castiel’s eyes. He couldn't stand it. They all needed him to be something, always. They needed him to be safe and needed him to keep them safe as well and needed him to talk to them, but kept quiet themselves. He had to be father and protector and leader and guide and brother and nanny, whatever the hell the situation required. And he, he only wanted to be Dean.
Whoever the hell that was.
He tried to be everything they needed him to be, safe and strong and gentle and understanding, he really did. But who understood him? Who was there for him? Who cared about who he was and who he needed to be? No one did, Dean knew that, and he couldn't even blame them, not even he cared.
And also, he failed at it. He failed over and over again, because he wasn't strong enough. Because he wasn't strong as Sam and powerful as Cas. He never would be. He wondered if all the years on end that his father had raised him a hunter, of survival training, shooting exercises, close combat and knife handling, all that time his father had tried to make a man out of him, a man to be proud of, a man that couldn't only survive in their world but also keep others safe, he wondered if all that had been for nothing. Because he couldn't be what they needed him to be. He could only be himself. A man, broken on the inside, and scarred over and aggressive on the outside. A man, who knew the best strategy was violence and the best way out was fighting. A monster hunting other monsters.