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say you'll haunt me

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Dean used to have nightmares about his time in hell. When he was first topside after Cas 'gripped him right and raised him from perdition', he couldn't close his eyes without seeing the chains, without hearing the screams, without smelling the sizzle of burning flesh.

Needless to say, he didn’t sleep much for those first few months. And when he did, it was torture all over again, remembering who he was down there, the things he did. 

Like always, he pushed it deep into the recesses of his subconscious, let it out piece by jagged piece, little pockets of anger here and there until it became too much to bear.

It was around then that his nightmares started to recede - it was working, Dean thought, the anger - especially when his blood-soaked nightmares were replaced with soaked-through dreams of another variety. 

There was that one with the stripper angel and devil, except interrupted by a literal angel, and Dean much prefers the one in the dirty trench coat and wonky tie anyways. 

Over the years, his nightmares and anger have come and gone in waves. Usually in tandem. 

He never made the connection. 

But then Cas told him he loved him and let himself get taken away again and Dean’s been living a waking nightmare ever since. 

‘I know, I know how you see yourself, Dean. You see yourself the same way our enemies see you. You’re destructive and you’re angry, you’re broken, you’re… you’re daddy’s blunt instrument. And you think that hate and anger, that’s, that’s what drives you, that’s who you are. It’s not. And everyone who knows you, sees it. Everything you have ever done, the good and the bad, you have done for love.’ 

He takes Cas’ words to heart. All of them. They were his dying declaration, after all. When it comes to destroying Chuck, Dean Winchester the ‘ultimate killer’, Hell’s premier torture apprentice, opts to do it the emotionally mature, you-live-a-long-and-insignificant-story-trapped-in-the-pages-of-your-own-book way. 

Because Cas told him that he’s full of poetic-justice-love, not homicidal-rage-hate. 

Dean just wishes he could’ve told Cas that it was because of him that he knew what it was to be loved and love in return before he was gone forever.

 

***

 

In the wake of Chuck’s defeat, Dean drinks harder than he ever did on his return from hell. His dreams though, are just a blank wall of pitch-black nothingness. Deep in REM sleep, he begs Cas to come to him, prays to him, screams into the void that he loves him too. 

It’s no use. It’s too late.

 

***

 

Since Dean is mostly a personality that’s grown like scar tissue over the wound of himself, he doesn’t tell Sam about Cas’ declaration or his own feelings. What good would it do? Especially when Sam's busy navigating his own trauma as well as whatever he and Eileen might potentially have.

Dean mourns inwardly, but outwardly, he’s jovial about pie, and dogs, and other superficial shit, because that’s who he thinks he should be. 

Not who he is. Not who Cas sees - saw - him as. 

Like he’s stuck in some time loop from fifteen years ago; perpetually twenty-six, even though he’s forty-one and his left knee creaks when it rains. 

He briefly considers that this is some kind of trickster prank, but he’s pretty sure that not even Gabriel would be this cruel. 

Maybe in his heyday, but the fucker grew fond of Dean and Sam toward the end there. 

Shit. They’ve lost a lot of people, haven’t they?

All of them mattered. Every single life lost stole a sliver of Dean’s four-year-young, half-orphaned, shattered heart. 

But then Cas took the core of him, hollowed him right the fuck out. 

Cas took everything Dean had left and then he left.



***

 

It’s six months after Cas’ death when Dean dreams again.

There’s nothing special about the day. Sam and Eileen’s not-quite-puppy-love flirting is masquerading as baking and Dean doesn’t mind, he really doesn’t. The mess of the kitchen looks like Mrs. Butters’ worst nightmare, but that’s a problem for Sam and his girlfriend.

Yeah, Sam’s got a girlfriend again. The first since the mutually-destructive disaster with the vet, and Dean’s both proud and pleased. Even as his heart aches for something he'll never have.

He had his shot at happiness with Lisa. 

He loosely wonders how she’s doing these days. Ben’s gotta be an adult by now, right? 

When Dean tumbles into bed that night, he’s still thinking about it. Not strictly about Lisa and Ben, but lost love and family. What it all means. How he’s supposed to go on living without ever having said the words aloud to the one person who needed to hear them the most. 

He stares up at the bland, off-white ceiling, counting thin cracks in the plaster rather than sheep. 

Miracle curls up on the end of his bed. 

When he finally gets pulled under by bone-deep exhaustion, he dreams. 

It’s nothing at first. Just more darkness, but then he hears the cautious steps of a gait he instantly recognizes.

“Cas,” Dean breathes, tears burning hot at the back of his eyes, heart throwing itself against the cage of his ribs.

“Hello, Dean.” 

Cas doesn’t look any different. Exactly as Dean remembers him, watching him with assessing, kind eyes and an open soul; a livewire that Dean’s always been a little skittish about getting close to. 

But not anymore. 

Dean collapses the distance between them like it’s nothing, like it never was, and blurts, “I love you too,” overjoyed to finally have the chance to say it, and not wasting precious seconds this time. “I should’ve said it back then and I’m sorry that I didn’t. I was overwhelmed, and you were–” he gestures loosely, limply, “–about to die.” As an afterthought, he adds, “Thanks, by the way.”

Cas’ half-smile turns whole. “Anything for you, Dean Winchester.”

Dean swallows around the lump in his throat. Now that he’s said what he’s been carrying around in his chest like an extra organ, he doesn’t know what else to do. Where to begin what they should’ve started twelve years ago.

It feels like a momentous task, so instead, he asks, “Where are you? Are you okay?”

“I’m in the empty,” Castiel says, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. It’s a movement out of sync with who he is and it jars something in Dean’s brain, jamming there. “It’s… not pleasant.”

Dean never suspected any different, but it still sucks to hear.

“How are we talking right now?”

“I have a sliver of grace left. I haven’t forgotten all of my angelic tricks. It just took me a while to get to grips with them.” And get back to you.

“Are you gonna visit me every night?”

“If that’s what you want,” Castiel hedges. Like he’s unsure. And that’s what it is. Castiel’s unsure that Dean loves him back, like that.

“Yes.” Forever and ever, until the day I die.

It answers both the voiced and voiceless question. 

 

***

 

After that, Dean’s dreams are filled with Cas. They mostly talk about inane, every-day shit; about Sam and Eileen, about Miracle chewing up Sam’s shoes, and for the first time since Cas rescued him from hell, Dean doesn’t dread falling asleep. 

In fact, Sam’s starting to get suspicious of Dean’s eagerness to be in bed without a warm body accompanying him. 

 

***

 

“Can Jack rescue you?” Dean asks one night. “Bein’ god and all. Surely, he can just stroll in and haul your ass outta there.”

It's occurred to him before. It's one of the very first things, in fact. But what Dean knows about how the empty works could be written on the head of a pin.

“I made a deal, Dean,” Cas tells him sternly. "We don't know what the empty will do if I attempt to break it." But underneath that steely determination, Dean senses the sorrow, the agony. Cas would never regret giving himself over for Jack, especially not when the kid saved the world, but it doesn’t mean he has to be happy about his own fate.

Dean certainly isn’t.

 

***

 

In Dean’s dream, he and Cas are sitting on the same bench where Cas first told him that he had doubts about God's plan. The seal broke, but they saved the town. That seems significant, somehow. “Hey, how 'bout we Krueger you outta here?”

Cas slants him a sly look, wrapped up in faux-outrage. “Are you talking about the paedophilic serial killer who was burned alive in a fire?”

Sometimes, Dean forgets that he made Cas watch a horror movie marathon.

Sometimes, Dean also forgets that Cas has spent twelve years around Dean and picked up some sarcasm and sass. Though Dean suspects a lot of that dry sense of humor came in his factory settings, settling deep into that crack in his chassis. 

Dean pretends to be annoyed, but really, he lives for these interactions. It’s the only time he knows for sure that his heart is still beating. “Yes, but not like that. Nancy pulls him out of her dream into the real world. Could we try something like that with you?”

Cas considers it for a long moment. “Stranger things have happened,” he concedes. 

Yeah, for them, it’s called a Tuesday. 

 

***

 

The next night, before Dean falls asleep, he sets an alarm for an hour. That should give them enough time to find each other. 

 

***

 

It’s not. Damn.

 

***

 

The night after, Dean sets an alarm for an hour and a half. Lies back on his pillows. Then, just to be safe, he rolls onto his side and changes the alarm to two hours.

 

***

 

Cas is there in his dream.

“Are you ready for this?” Dean asks, fists in the lapels of the ugly-ass trench coat he carried around in the trunk of Baby for months. Cas’ palm burns hot on Dean’s shoulder through his thin sleep shirt. They’ve been this close to one another plenty of times before, but the context is different now. 

“Of course, Dean,” Cas says and his eyes glow that ethereal blue, burning brighter and brighter, until it fills Dean’s vision and that familiar high-pitched squeal rings out, crescendoing into something that feels like it’s gonna burst Dean’s eardrums at the same time as the blue blinds him. Cas’ voice is gravel-rough and strained around the edges when he orders, “Close your eyes.”

Dean’s alarm goes off and he’s sitting up in bed like the fucking Undertaker. Cas is nowhere to be seen in the gloominess of his bedroom. In his hand is a scrap of the trench coat lapel, yanked right from Dean’s dreams into reality.

He wanders barefoot around the bunker, searching, hoping, just to be sure that there wasn’t some kind of inter-dimensional glitch or whatever. 

Nope. He’s really not here. 

Fuck.

 

***

 

The next night, Dean falls asleep with the piece of fabric clutched tightly in his palm. He searches high and low in his dreams for Cas. 

He’s not there.

"Cas," Dean pleads with the vast nothingness. "Please don't leave me again. I need you.”

 

***

 

The night after is the same. 

 

***

 

And the one after that.

 

***

 

Dean doesn’t give up. He's let Cas go one too many times, it’s not gonna happen again.

 

***

 

Another few weeks pass before he gives in and prays to Jack. 

Nothing. Seems like different God, same bullshit.

 

***

 

Sam and Eileen talk about moving out. An underground bunker with a gazillion cursed objects and a possible clown car of nymphs living in the pipes ain’t no place to raise a child. 

Dean agrees. But he doesn’t move out with them. This is home, Cas’ name is carved into that fucking table, Dean’s not going anywhere until Cas finds his way back here. 

 

***

 

During the day, Dean reads up on lore, prays a little. During the night, he sleeps a little, dreams a lot. 

Still no Cas.

 

***

 

It’s nine months and eighteen days since the empty took Cas. 

Dean’s sitting at the kitchen table chewing on toast that he may have had to pick the bits of mold out of before shoving it into the toaster. His five o’clock shadow is now its own sentient person and the last time he washed up was to get rid of the weird milky film at the bottom of Miracle’s water bowl. 

His phone - charged, because the last time Dean let it go flat, his brother sent a search party - vibrates on the table with an incoming call. 

Probably Sam checking in. Dean glances at it, prepared to let it go to voicemail and call Sam back when he’s done chewing on his dry-as-a-bone toast. 

Except, it’s not Sam’s name lighting up the screen.

It’s Cas’.

Now. He’s fallen for this before and that got him Lucifer’d. He’s pretty sure the dick is dead, but Dean knows better than anybody that things that should be dead don’t always stay dead.

In fact, he’s kinda counting on it.

He slides his thumb across the screen, leaving crumbs in its wake. “Cas?”

There’s a crackle on the other end. Then, “Dean?” 

Dean brushes the crumbs off his shirt and lap, onto the floor, where Miracle is more than happy to play vacuum. He slides off the bench seat, rises to his feet, glancing around, bracing for Lucifer to pop out at him. 

“How are you calling me right now?”

“Well, I have some help.”

The reception in the kitchen is kinda patchy, so he makes his way outta there, up the stairs, and into the crow’s nest, coming to a grinding halt a few feet from the war table. His phone almost slips from his grip, but he catches it a split second before it clatters to the tiled floor.

It’s like in his dream, but this time it’s real. Cas is real. He’s right here in the bunker, on the wrought iron stairs, still holding the phone up to his ear, like the endearing, socially awkward weirdo he is. Jack’s standing just above and behind him on the catwalk grate, dressed all in white like Morgan Freeman or Alanis Morisette. He raises his hand in greeting, but remains silent, sensing the moment.

Kid’s gotten real savvy since he became God, apparently. Real good at dealing with the Empty too. 

“Cas,” Dean breathes, wide-eyed and so in fucking love that he feels heartsick with it. Is this a dream? Or is he dead, face-down on the kitchen table, poisoned by mold, with Miracle eating his extremities in order to survive? Is this his heaven? Is this where he gets to spend all of eternity, under that blue-eyed stare? He can’t even pretend to care, ‘cause Cas is here. With him. Where he never should’ve left. “ Cas ...”

“Hello, Dean.”