Dean didn’t know what to do, after.
He had never thought there would be an after, not for him. There would be for Sammy, he’d make damn sure of that. But for him? He had always known, with a solemn certainty deep in his chest, that he would die young and he would go down swinging. He’d told Sam that, ages ago, back before there were angels and when demons were above their pay grade.
The concept is laughable now. He used to wish, back when Zachariah and everyone else hounded him day in and day out, back when Gadreel walked around in Sam’s body and when they’d first found out Lucifer was going to have a child, that none of this had happened. That he would wake up and everything would be simple again, that angels wouldn’t exist and the only thing on his and Sam’s plate would be finishing off a pesky vampire nest.
He doesn’t wish that anymore.
Not because he likes this new reality. That would be too much, no one could like the things that have happened to him. Not the Mark of Cain, not watching everyone around him die, and die again.
It’s more that he had gotten used to it. Waking up in the morning to find out a celestial being had it out for him personally? Just another Thursday. But somehow, he’d built a family among it all, him and Sam and Cas and Jack and so many others along the way.
Now that it was over, he didn’t know what to do.
Sam did. Sam had always had his shit figured out, back when he was putting in his application to Stanford, and he still did now.
Of course, he stuck around for a while. While Dean drank himself stupid until Sam threatened to put him in the panic room to detox. While he stared day in and day out at his computer, trying to find cases only to be greeted by a call from Jody, from Charlie, hell, even from Garth telling him they were already on it.
“Eileen’s coming over for the weekend,” Sam said, poking his head inside the library. “That ok?”
Dean looked up from whatever book he hadn’t really been reading. “Yeah. It’ll be good to see her.”
This was a lie. It’s not that Dean didn’t like seeing Eileen. He did, and he was happy for her and Sam. But when she was over, or when Sam was at her place and the bunker echoed empty around him, he was reminded that Sam had a future, had happiness, and he didn’t. He had a car that he couldn’t possibly work on any more and a dead best friend who had apparently been in love with him and nothing to hunt.
He took a deep breath and went back to the book before him. It seemed to be an explanation of some counter-curse measures for protection from witches. Dean hadn’t faced a witch in over a year.
He tried to bring Cas back, once. Found a portal spell to cut a hole between worlds and set it up down in the dungeons. (Not the one where Cas died. He couldn’t bring himself to even look at the door to that place.) The spell traced a bright line through the air and fizzled out.
Dean couldn’t even bring himself to be angry. Sam had hidden all the alcohol during Dean’s original grief-fueled benders and he didn’t have the energy to buy more, so he just sat there, numb and hurting, until he passed out.
He did find a case eventually. Nothing he couldn’t handle - a vengeful spirit in the nearest corner of Wyoming.
He didn’t tell Sam. Instead, he packed a bag and drove away, sending Sam a quick text when he was far enough away from the bunker that turning around would have been stupid.
On a hunt. Should be back in a couple days. Don’t wait up.
He switched his phone off and kept driving.
Hunting was different, in the after. God was powerless and his kid was God and what was even the point? Dean drove, the fields gradually changing to a dry scrub the further west he got. Kansas was empty, just miles upon miles of corn and wheat fields, with a barn or a silo or a pasture full of cows cropping up occasionally. It was beautiful. It was what he knew. Wyoming was empty in a different way, the desert harsh outside the Impala. It still looked like it went on forever, but this was the type of forever that promised blisteringly hot days and freezing nights, promised getting turned around and the desert not letting you find your way back.
He didn’t turn on the radio, probably wouldn’t get signal out here anyway. Briefly, Dean dug through the glove box for tapes, but the first one he pulled out wasn’t his. Not really. “13 Best Zepp Tracks” glared at him in his own handwriting, and Dean shoved it back in the glove box. He wasn’t thinking about Cas. He was on a job, and if he let himself think, he wouldn’t get it done. So he kept the radio off and drove into the blazing sun of Wyoming in silence.
The hunt was easy. Sure, it was annoying not having Sam’s gargantuan self helping him dig up the body, but salting and burning was just as easy solo as it had been with two.
Sam texted him, and the notification sat on Dean’s lock screen, mocking him.
He didn’t know if that meant Sam didn’t think he was capable of hunting by himself or if he was just hurt at being excluded, but it didn’t really matter. This was going to be Dean’s life now. Sam had Eileen, and they were happy. Sam had never even wanted to be a hunter anyway, and now he wouldn’t have to be. But for Dean? It was all that he’d ever known.
The body - an 1880s frontiersman who kept hijacking trains, of all things - crackled in front of him. It wasn’t cold, but he stood near the fire anyway.
Yeah. Took care of it, be back tomorrow.
So what if he replied to Sam almost a day late? He wasn’t dead, and he didn’t need any help.
The motel room that night was empty. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did. Dean splurged on a room with a queen bed and stretched out across it, still in his dirt-covered jeans and dusty flannel. The ceiling was the kind of white that hadn’t been repainted since maybe the 90s and had a bit of water damage, but Dean stared at it like it was the most interesting thing in the world.
He fiddled with his phone for a while, flipping it between his fingers, before realizing there was nobody to call. There were no demons anymore, all locked in Hell, angels were in Heaven, and the frequency of monster attacks had drastically dropped. Pretty much all the hunters he knew were settling down, keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior but mostly just living. Dean wasn’t sure he knew how to do that.
He didn’t want to talk to Sam and he couldn’t talk to Cas (because he was dead, a fact Dean managed to push out of his mind until it rammed into him like the semi that had killed him the first time), so Dean ended up praying.
“Hey, kid,” he said, unsure of himself. It seemed so strange to be praying to his son, even if that kid was God. “How’s it going up there? That is, if you are up there. I dunno.”
Jack didn’t appear, didn’t send any kind of a sign to let Dean know he was listening, but that was okay. He trusted he could hear him.
“I hope it’s good. I hope being God is what you wanted. Things down here are… hell, they’re so much better. I can’t say thank you enough, really. For bringing everybody back. I haven’t seen Sam so happy since… well, since before Dad went missing. And I know it’s unfair of me to ask anything else, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to live on my own.”
Without Sam, who he knows is going to settle down in the white picket fence life he always should have had, he doesn’t say. Without Cas, who sacrificed himself over and over for Dean without ever letting on why, not until it was too late.
“So if you could just send me a sign, or however you’re doing it. I know you said hands-off, and I don’t expect your help, but… please.”
There was nothing, and Dean sighed. He should really get up, wash the dirt of the hunt off, but he couldn’t bring himself to. Instead, he closed his eyes, still on top of the sheets, and fell asleep.
“Do you wanna come on a walk with me?” Sam asked, sticking his head into the living room a couple days after he got back.
Dean looked up from where he had been watching reruns of The Sopranos (sue him, it was interesting). “I’m kinda busy,” he said.
He was not busy. He had been sitting in this exact spot on the couch for four or so hours now, and the burger he’d bought still sat, uneaten, on the table in front of him.
“Come on,” Sam said, and it wasn’t optional.
The thing about taking walks when they lived in the bunker was that there was nowhere to walk. This wasn’t a neighborhood where they could go around the block a couple times, and it wasn’t near a park where there were trails to follow. There was just a two-lane highway stretching off into the distance and empty fields on either side.
“I’m moving out,” Sam said when they were a good distance from the bunker. “And you are too.”
“You kicking me out, Sammy?” Dean said jokingly.
“Eileen and I have been talking, and I’m going to move in with her.” In Des Moines , were the unspoken words. Far from here.
“Good for you,” Dean said, and he meant it. Sam was happy with Eileen. They deserved each other.
“You shouldn’t stay here by yourself.”
This was true. The bunker was massive, and even when Sam was there, Dean’s footsteps echoed then stopped, the sound eaten up by the seemingly endless space. It had been a home, but only with all of them there. Sam, Dean, Cas, and Jack. Even with just him and Sam, there was a tangible sense of emptiness. By himself, Dean knew he wouldn’t do well. But there was nowhere else to go.
“Well I ain’t moving in with you.”
Sam laughed in the way that acknowledged Dean’s attempt at humor while not going so far as to say he thought it was funny. “I’m not asking you to. But you should have a place. Somewhere you can live, not just a place to sleep.”
“I’m living just fine here.” Dean didn’t know why he bothered arguing, he knew Sam was right.
Sam raised his eyebrows.
“Okay, okay. But I don’t know what you want me to do.” Dean shoved his hands in his pockets and pulled his jacket a little tighter around himself as though that would somehow ward off emotional vulnerability. “It’s not like I have a girl waiting on me.”
Sam’s shoulders were hunched in that way he does when he’s trying to make himself smaller, and Dean hates that he’s doing that here, with him, because he’s afraid of upsetting him. Things shouldn’t be like that between them.
“Your future doesn’t have to be a girl, you know.”
Dean glared at him.
Sam raised his hands in surrender. “I’m just saying, you can just… be you. By yourself, if you want. Make some friends, I don’t know. But if you’re here, you’re going to isolate yourself, and we both know that won’t end well.”
“Yeah, okay. But where am I supposed to go?”
“Where do you want to be?”
Dean had no idea.
It turned out, one meeting with a real estate agent later, that while Dean didn’t know where he wanted to live, he did have some very strong opinions about where he did not want to live.
“What about this place?” the agent had asked, pulling up the listing of the second-floor apartment in a duplex just over the border, in Hastings.
“I am not living in a city,” Dean said resolutely.
The agent did not comment on the fact that Dean considered a town of 25,000 people a city.
“What about here?” She pulled up a listing for a small house on the outskirts of town. It was one story and had a small but neat front yard. The second picture on the listing showed the street, a row of houses that all looked pretty damn similar.
This was how Dean ended up driving his exhausted, exasperated real estate agent on a creaky back road out to a property that seemed to be her last resort. Her name was Susanna, and she was in her early 30s. Young, but everything about her suggested professionalism and that she had every aspect of her life under control. Except, apparently, this driveway.
“The main attraction here is the property,” she said, subtly holding onto the door for support when Dean hit a particularly large pothole. “Forty acres, all untouched. Used to be a farm, years ago, but the family fell on some hard times.”
Dean nodded vacantly. Sure. Whatever. He’d been on so many of these goddamn trips that he was, if possible, even more done with it than his agent was done with him. Usually, Sam and Eileen had tagged along, but they were back in Des Moines this week, celebrating some friend of theirs’ birthday. How Sammy had made friends that fast, Dean had no idea.
When they pulled up at the house, Dean got why that wasn’t the main attraction. It looked like it had been nice, once. But it certainly wasn’t anymore - the paint was peeling, a window was broken, and the boards on the porch were warped.
“How long ago did you say they moved out?”
Susanna tapped her perfectly manicured nails against her slacks. “Fifteen years ago.”
Dean gave the house a once-over. It didn’t look like it was falling apart per se, it was just… old. And he had lived in the men of letters bunker for years. He knew old.
“So are we gonna go inside?”
Her eyebrows lifted what would have been an imperceptible amount if Dean hadn’t spent his life reading people. She had been expecting him to take one look at this place, he realized, and drive away. But weirdly, this was the first place they’d looked at that he actually wanted to see.
“So it’s three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms,” Susanna said as they stepped onto the porch. “There’s a barn over that way-” she pointed, and Dean thought he could see another ramshackle building a good ways away, “but a storm hit it hard a few years ago, so it’s not in the best shape.”
She opened the front door, the hinges creaking in a way that made Dean want to grab some WD-40 out of his trunk, and stepped inside.
Dean bought the house on the spot. It would take some work, but it was nice, in its own way. Everything about it was just a little bit broken, and Dean thought that’s maybe why he liked it, because he was a little bit broken too.
Susanna did a good job of concealing her shock when Dean asked her how much the property was going for, but she didn’t manage to stop her eyebrows from jumping up when he said “I’ll take it.”
So here he was, owner of a creaky old house and forty empty acres, and maybe it wasn’t a future like Sam had, but it was something.
“You did WHAT?” Sam asked when Dean called.
Dean stood on the porch of his new house, splinters stabbing his feet through his socks, and looked out at the darkening fields. “I bought a farm.”
“Like, with crops and stuff? Do you have to milk cows or something now?”
Dean chuckled. “Nah, Sammy, it’s not a real farm anymore. Just a house in the middle of nowhere.”
Dean can’t see Sam over the phone, but he can practically hear him narrowing his eyes. “We already had a house in the middle of nowhere. The point of you moving out was to interact with people.”
“I interacted with my realtor.”
“That is not what I meant and you know it.”
“Yeah, I do.” Dean drummed his fingers on the porch railing absently. He was going to have to stain and seal this before it got any more water damaged. “But it’s… it’s good, Sam.”
“Eileen and I are coming to visit.”
“You are not going to drive three states over just to check on me. I’m fine. Really.” It surprised Dean that for once, he wasn’t lying. He didn’t know what to do with himself anymore, but this was a start. Almost everyone he had lost was back - and if he had asked Jack a time or four to bring Cas back too, nobody needed to know - and he was doing closer to good than he had been in a very long time.
“Can’t I visit my own brother, no ulterior motive necessary?” Sam was kidding.
“Sure you can. Just not yet. Gotta get this place fixed up first.”
Dean had been on the end of Sam’s disappointed sigh far too many times, and he almost laughed when he heard it this time. “You bought a fixer-upper?” Sam sounded disbelieving, and Dean didn’t know why. This was the best decision he’d made in a while.
“I sure did,” he said with a smile.
It did turn out to be a good decision. Fixing the house came with the manual labor and long hours of hunting, but without the danger and the shitty motels. Dean ordered a mattress online, something he felt absolutely no qualms about using the fake credit cards for, and sat it down in a second-floor bedroom. He would get a bed frame eventually, but for now, it didn’t seem like the most important thing. What was important shifted from day to day - getting the gas for the stove replaced so he could cook, bringing a repairman out to make sure the furnace wasn’t going to kill him when he turned it on for the winter. Installing a new window he bought, and then installing it again when he realized he had accidentally put the latches on the outside.
He was alone, but it wasn’t lonely. There was an easy feeling of getting lost in hard work that he hadn’t been able to get on a solo hunt. Hunting was all about knowing the monster’s every move, trusting someone to watch your back. Sanding the splinters out of the porch was about buying an electric sander and spending two days in the sun on his hands and knees smoothing out the rough patches. The only thing he’d killed since moving in was a snake that had thought slithering under the front door was a good idea.
Still, sometimes it got to be too much.
About two weeks into his stay, he was climbing down from the roof after locating the leak that had forced him to keep several buckets in the attic. It hit him, as he stepped off the ladder, that there was no one there to hold it. Not that he would have let Sam steady the ladder for him if he was there, because it was set up pretty firmly. But the fact that there was nobody, that he hadn’t seen anyone except for store employees in two weeks, made everything feel like it was crashing down around him.
He called Sam.
“You and Eileen can come out now, if you still want to,” Dean said when Sam picked up.
“Course we do.” Sam stopped talking for a moment, presumably having a conversation with Eileen. “Next Wednesday okay?”
Dean sat there in his yard, not saying anything, but unwilling to hang up the phone.
“Hey, are you okay?” Sam asked after a moment.
That wasn’t an attempt to evade the question. Neither of them were okay. They couldn’t be, after what they’d been through. But they were each trying, in their own way.
“That’s different,” Sam said softly. “I got Eileen back. You didn’t get Cas.”
Dean sighed. He was done telling Sam what him and Cas weren’t, or hadn’t been. Cas was dead, and there was apparently nothing even God could do about it, so it didn’t matter much anyway.
“It’s not just Cas.” A lot of it was, though. “I just don’t think I know how to start over.”
“It seems like you’re doing a pretty good job of it.”
Sam didn’t say what both of them are thinking, that Dean fixing up a farm was a much better way to cope than the grief-fueled benders and angry hunts he’d gone on the last several times Cas had died.
“One of these days I’ll run out of shit to do here. And I don’t know what I’m going to do next.”
“Life isn’t just a series of jobs, Dean,” Sam said. “That’s what we did before.”
“What, are you gonna tell me to live in the moment or some shit?”
“Do I have to?”
Dean paused. “No, I guess you don’t.”
“Good.” There was a loud clanging from Sam’s end, like he’d dropped a pan on the floor. “Shit. I’ll see you Wednesday.”
On Monday, Dean finished fixing the hole in the roof. On Tuesday, he drove into town and bought groceries, including vegetables because he knew Sam would give him hell for pretty much only eating breakfast foods and burgers at every meal. On Wednesday, he realized he didn’t have a mattress or a bed frame in either of the spare rooms and ended up driving all the way up to Hastings, strapping a mattress on the roof of the Impala, and hightailing it back before the clouds could ruin his brand-new purchase. He barely managed to get everything set up before they arrived.
“So,” Sam said, stepping out of his (small, hybrid) car. “This is the place.”
Dean, who had seen them coming down the long driveway and waited on the porch, nodded. “Home sweet home.”
Dean hadn’t gotten around to painting the outside of the house yet (or, for that matter, the inside), so the faded, peeling paint that had been on there when he bought it was still there. Looking at it from the driveway, it didn’t look like much. Still falling apart a little, but now the porch wouldn’t give anybody splinters. It was, in his book, a success.
Then Sam hugged Dean, and he hadn’t seen that coming at all, and afterwards he said “I’m happy for you.”
“Yeah, yeah. You too.” Dean didn’t think at all about how he hasn’t touched someone since the last time Sam hugged him goodbye. Because he wasn’t lonely.
And then Eileen got out of the car, and she signed “If your house falls down on me, I’ll kill you,” and hugged him, and it had only been a few weeks but Dean had missed them so much.
They only stayed a few days. Dean hadn’t expected them to stay that long, really, but he was glad they did. He made Sam mow his yard, or what he was accepting as the ‘yard’ part, and not the general ‘unused field’ part. Eileen bullied him into keeping a good supply of food in his fridge and helped Dean re-screen the door to the porch. It was good. This was what he’d been missing - having people around, seeing his brother.
“Are you doing anything with the barn?” Eileen asked him on their last day. The two of them had walked out across the field to take a look at it, and aside from being way too full of spiders to be normal and being generally abandoned, it wasn’t as bad as Dean had thought.
He’d been avoiding it, given that him and Cas met in a barn and he hadn’t been in one since and Cas was dead, but Eileen had asked him to walk out here and it seemed stupid to avoid a part of his own property anyway.
“What the hell am I going to do with a barn?” He didn’t quite have the hang of sign language yet, but he tried to sign as he spoke. He needed to get an internet connection out here so he could keep learning it for the next time she came to visit.
She shrugged. “You live on a farm, dumbass.”
Dean did not do anything with the barn. What he did do was spend an exorbitant amount of time haggling to get an internet connection in what was admittedly the middle of nowhere and, when that finally went through, use his spotty internet connection to learn everything he could learn about raising chickens.
Back when he first started hunting, Dean had hated research. That had always been Sam’s thing, and Dean had mocked him mercilessly about it. But over the years, he’d gotten pretty good at it. Good enough that, after several days of research, Dean was fairly confident he knew how to raise chickens.
Building the coop wasn’t hard. What he gathered was that chickens can live in pretty much anything (he had seen pictures of some crazy-looking coops on the internet), but he’d never cared about aesthetics much. So a few days later, Dean ended up with what was practically a miniature house in his backyard, complete with a large fenced-in outdoor area, all decked out for chickens to live in. Looking out at it from the porch, he laughed - Sammy might have a doghouse in his suburban backyard one day. Dean had a chicken house.
Raising the birds wasn’t all that hard, either. Aside from birdseed and water, they pretty much took care of themselves. Yeah, he had to collect eggs every day, and shovel manure, but it wasn’t that much work. After literally fighting God, nothing really was.
He still didn’t see people often, with pretty much all of his human interaction coming via phone calls with Sam or brief conversations with the grocery and hardware store cashiers in town. And though raising animals wasn’t a perfect substitute, it was pretty damn good. There was no way he could just lie in bed on a bad day, he had to get outside and take care of them. And the way they swarmed out of the coop to the edge of their private yard when they saw him coming? Sure, maybe it was just because he held the feed bucket, but it warmed something inside his chest anyway.
One day in August, Dean was taking a walk around the edge of his property. He’d just gotten off a Skype call with Sam and Eileen - they were going to Jody’s for Thanksgiving, and apparently he was too. Dean thought it was crazy to be thinking that far ahead, but then he remembered that there wasn’t really much chance any of them would die or be swept up in another apocalypse in the next three months anymore, so maybe planning ahead was okay so long as Sam did it and he didn’t have to.
It was a hot day, but not humid. This was the kind of day Dean loved - bright and sunny, a beautiful Kansas summertime. There was a small pond on his left, just big enough to fit in this vast landscape. He hadn’t noticed it before.
“Hey, Jack,” he said. The field around him was quiet, and Dean knew absolutely nothing lurked in the woods a few hundred yards off. Everything was still.
“We’re going to Jody’s for Thanksgiving. Me and Sam and everybody.” Everybody really did mean everybody - from how it sounded, Jody was going to have her hands full. “I know you’re busy being God and all, but if you can come… You’re still a part of this family. We still want to see you.”
Dean waited for a moment. Jack didn’t appear and neither did any random wildlife, but a warm breeze blew for a few seconds before settling back into the still air, and Dean thought that was probably as much of a sign as he was going to get.
“I hope you’re doing good, kid. We miss you down here.”
He didn’t have a rooster, so the chickens didn’t wake him up at the crack of dawn, but Dean still rolled out of bed before 8 most days. He had the time to sleep in, but decades of sleeping whenever he could catch a few hours mean that he still had trouble sleeping for his full eight hours. Every day was pretty much the same - he got up, made himself coffee and put a disgusting amount of sugar in it, and drank it out on his porch. He marveled at that, that he had a porch he could drink coffee on like a normal person and not somebody who had died more times than he could remember and been possessed and who knows what else.
The sun was up, so before the day could truly get hot, he would head out to the chicken coop to collect the eggs. Dean had a grand total of five chickens, and four of them were absolute angels, even if they did shit everywhere. (Better than angels, really, because the only angel who wasn’t an absolute dick was fucking dead.) The fifth… well, Dean had named her Bastard for a reason. She seemed to make it her mission to trip Dean up when he came in to clean up, standing just in front of him and refusing to move. The crazy thing was that he didn’t mind. Bastard would go about her business of messing up his day and he would just shake his head and work around her.
He’d even realized that Sammy hadn’t been overselling the health foods thing - these eggs were miles above the ones from the grocery store, though he couldn’t be sure that wasn’t just an effect of him appreciating his own hard work.
Like he’d thought, Dean did eventually run out of things to fix on the house. It took him a while, and the barn was still ramshackle at best, but he did it. And he still didn’t know where to go from there.
So he did what anyone would do - dove back into research. This time, on goats. Because what the hell.
Six weeks later, a large amount of land behind Dean’s house had been converted to a goat enclosure, fenced in and with a sturdy little hut. There was even an illegitimately-sourced monster truck tire for them to climb on.
Dean was getting to know the farm supply store people a little better than he would like, given the frequency of his trips there, and he even (tragically) had to drive a car that wasn’t the Impala. It was, instead, an absolutely ancient pickup truck of indeterminate brand that, before he’d had a long weekend to work on it, belched black smoke like it was a Victorian factory. But the pickup had what the Impala did not, a tow hitch, and so Dean found himself one early October day with the windows down and a trailer with four goats in it hooked onto the back.
He let the goats out in their enclosure and leaned against the fence, watching them walk around and carefully kick or headbut every individual part of the fence, hut, and tire. This was really damn weird. He’d told Sam he didn’t have a farm, just a house, when he moved in. He was pretty sure this counted as a farm now. He had never been more at peace.
The goats were a handful. He’d known they would be, but damn. One, a brown thing with scruffy white patches around her eyes, he named Patience because of how severely she tested his. (This was not a comment on the human Patience, who he didn’t really know but thought was a pretty good kid.) Only four days after he’d brought them home, Patience figured out how to open the lock on the fence gate from the inside, a fact which he only found out after she joined him in the kitchen while he was making lunch. He wasn’t proud to say he’d almost jumped out of his skin.
The others weren’t so bad. Dean even thought that the gangly black one he’d named Bebe might have talked to Jack at some point, because one morning near the end of the month, when the landscape looked barren and cold instead of vibrant and alive, had lain her head on his knee when he sat down heavily on the monster truck tire.
Bebe looked at him with huge eyes, and Dean felt like they saw right through him.
“Yeah,” he said. “I know. I just miss everyone, that’s all.” He scratched her head.
Everyone was alive. He was going to see everyone in a month. But not Cas, because it had been six months and yeah, Cas had been dead for longer than this before, but not when God was dead.
She kept staring at him, slowly nudging her head into the side of his leg.
She nodded as if to say “You’re welcome” and promptly began eating the alfalfa he’d left for her an hour or so ago.
On the first day of November, Dean woke up, as usual, to the sun just starting to shine into his bedroom window. It hit the wall above his head since he still hadn’t bought a bed frame, and he squinted out the window.
Dean took his sugar-filled coffee out to the porch and promptly dropped the mug. It shattered on the ground, splashing hot coffee over his socked feet. Because there was Cas, standing in the door to the goat enclosure, looking very much alive.
“Dean?” Cas said. “She is chewing on my coat.”
Dean slowly looked down and to Cas’s left, where Patience stood, the tie to his trench coat firmly in her mouth.
“You’re dead,” Dean said.
Cas tilted his head to the side in the way he always did when he was confused. “I don’t feel dead,” he said.
“I watched you die,” Dean said, slowly walking toward Cas. His socks were already soaked from the coffee, and now they were cold from the dew on the grass. “And now you’re standing here like nothing’s happened, letting my goats out.”
The goats were indeed out. Bebe was still sleeping in the hut, and Patience was engrossed by trying to eat Cas’s coat, but Adam (who was a girl goat, but seeing as his brother Adam had chosen to work in Heaven with Michael and hadn’t even called, he didn’t think he’d mind) and Bobby (Bobby hadn’t come out to meet the goat who had taken his name yet, but Dean had introduced them on Skype, and the goat had immediately tried to headbut Bobby through the screen, so he figured that was good enough) had made it halfway across the yard. Adam had lingered by the chickens and seemed to be in a staring contest with Bastard through the fence.
“Sorry,” Cas said.
“What the hell are you apologizing for?”
“I let your goats out.”
“You fucking died for me, you think I care that you let my goats out?”
Dean absolutely could not deal with this right now. Not with Bobby hightailing it really fucking far away, and not with Cas standing right in front of him, looking for all the world like he really didn’t know if Dean wanted him there.
“You,” Dean said, marching forward and tugging the coat out of Patience’s mouth, “are going back in there.” With some difficulty, he pushed the gate closed. “You,” he said to Cas, “are coming with me.”
The Empty had taken Cas from right in front of him, and Dean didn’t think he could take it if he turned around and Cas was gone again. He also couldn’t let his goats run rampant. So he grabbed ahold of Cas’s arm (not his hand, he very intentionally did not hold his hand) and practically dragged him across the field after Bobby the goat.
“This might be easier if you let me help,” Cas said.
Dean disagreed. There was no way in which him letting go of Cas’s arm would make things easier, even if, practically speaking, it would probably help him get the goats back inside faster.
“Can’t you just magic them in there or something?”
Cas didn’t say anything, so Dean kept his hold on Cas’s wrist with one arm and successfully, albeit roundaboutly, herded Adam away from Bastard.
“D’you want coffee? Or water or something?”
They were back inside, goats successfully rounded up, and Dean couldn’t take his eyes off Cass, couldn’t believe even with his hand still on his wrist that he was really there.
“I’m not going to disappear the second you look away,” Cas said instead.
“No,” Dean agreed. “Last time you disappeared while I was looking right at you.”
“That -” Cas started to say something, no doubt about how that was his duty, his deal, whatever. Dean cut him off.
“It’s not gonna happen again.”
They stood there for a moment, Dean still in his wet socks, in the kitchen. The tile floor was cold.
“Dean, you can let go of me,” Cas said. It wasn’t a request.
“Oh.” Dean dropped his arm. “Sorry.”
Cas retreated to the table, a small but sturdy thing Dean had bought from a neighbor. The chair squeaked as he sat down. Dean didn’t move.
“How are you alive?”
Cas shifted in his seat. “The Empty… it’s complex, and very, very specific. It’s only for angels and demons.”
Dean raised his eyebrows. “And you’re an angel.”
“What the hell do you mean, not anymore?”
“I thought I was going to be in the Empty forever, Dean. And I was okay with that.”
Dean remembered. He could still see Cas’s face like it was yesterday, tears running down his cheeks and that fucking smile being obscured by the black goo. Even with Cas sitting right in front of him, it still made him so goddamn angry.
“And then Jack came. We found a way out, and I had to take it. And it was hardly even a sacrifice, knowing I’d get to live again.”
“Cas, what did you do.” If he made a deal with another cosmic entity, Dean would kill him. No, he wouldn’t. He only just got Cas back. But he would be mad as all hell, that’s for damn sure.
Cas smiled lopsidedly. “Jack took my grace. And once I was human, the Empty spit me back out.”
“In my backyard.”
“Jack had something to do with that, I think,” Cas said. “I can go, if you want.”
Thank God for that kid , Dean briefly thought, and then he remembered that aside from Jack, there wasn’t a God to thank. He still couldn’t get used to that.
“Don’t.” He said it too quickly, and it took Cas by surprise and Dean saw his eyes widen. “I mean, stay. If you want to.”
“Are you sure? Before… Before I died, you seemed…”
Dean didn’t know what words Cas had meant to finish that sentence. Shocked? Definitely. Taken aback? Yeah. But offended? Disgusted? No way.
“You were dying, Cas, it’s not like I had much time to react.”
“So you’re not mad?”
“What the hell would I be mad for?” Dean had known many people who would be mad if their best friend of the same gender (Did Cas count as the same gender as him? Did wavelengths of celestial intent even have genders?) seemingly out of the blue confessed their undying love. His father certainly would not have taken it well. But he wasn’t his father, and he hadn’t been mad. But he didn’t know what to think about it, and it hadn’t seemed like something he needed to think about when Cas was dead. (He’d tried, once, and ended up sobbing in the corner of the bunker’s library.) So he hadn’t, and now Cas was back and he’d had six months to think about it and he still didn’t have an answer.
Cas made a hand-wavy gesture that implied that Dean knew very well what he meant.
“Look, I’m not mad,” Dean said. “I just… I didn’t know what to think. And I still don’t.”
“That’s okay. You don’t have to think anything different. It was the only way to save you, so I don’t regret it.”
It was, Dean decided, way too early for this.
“Okay.” He waited a moment. “If you’re human now, do you have a place to stay?”
Cas shrugged. “I’ve only been human for a few hours. I’m sure I’ll find one.”
“It’s a big house.” Dean tucked his hands into his pockets, mostly as something to do with the nervous energy that had suddenly filled him. “You could stay here, if you want.”
The smile on Cas’s face was so bright that he never wanted to look away. “I’d like that.”
Dean put Cas up in the spare room Sam had stayed in and went outside to tend to the chickens. Every few seconds, he was hit with the incredible temptation to run back inside and check if Cas was still back, but he resisted. He would be there, he knew he would be. And this chore needed to be done.
When he came back in an hour later, smelling of chicken manure and carrying five eggs, Cas was sitting in his same chair at the table.
“I’m not going anywhere, Dean,” he said with a soft smile.
“Do you want lunch?” Dean asked, holding up the eggs.
“This tastes a lot different as a human,” Cas said after his first bite of the omelet Dean had made him. “Better.”
Dean made a ‘hm?’ noise as he cooked his own eggs.
“Before, food just tasted like molecules. I remember eating when I was human before, years ago, but it wasn’t anything like this.” Cas poked at his food with a fork. “I can taste the eggs, and the cheese, and it’s all different.”
Cas nodded and took another bite. “Does food always taste like this?”
Dean shrugged. “Sometimes.”
“Thank you,” Dean said to the empty sky later that afternoon. He knew Jack probably hadn’t done this for him, that Jack had been - was? - far closer to Cas than he had been to Dean, but it still felt like a miracle. “Just - thank you.”
The next morning, Dean stumbled downstairs for his coffee like he did every day. He didn’t make it to the kitchen. Cas sat, trench coat laid over himself like a blanket, on Dean’s couch.
“You’re up early.”
Cas didn’t look at Dean. His gaze was fixed on some point in the distance Dean couldn’t see. “I didn’t sleep.”
Cas had never slept when he was an angel. But- “If you’re human now, don’t you need to sleep?”
This was nothing short of concerning, so Dean trudged over to the couch and sat down beside Cas, carefully leaving a few inches of space between them. “What’s going on?” he asked softly.
Then, Cas did turn to look at Dean. His eyes were haunted. “The Empty… all it is is sleep. Eternal sleep.”
This explained very little, but Cas seemed to think it explained a lot, so Dean said “Okay.”
“I’m afraid if I go to sleep, I won’t wake up.”
The way he said that was Cas all over. Blunt truths said without hesitation. But Cas was human now. Dean could see the fear in his eyes.
“I’m not gonna let that happen.”
“As though you would be able to stop it.”
Maybe he couldn’t, but Dean would fight to his last breath before he let the Empty take Cas away from him again.
“You said you’re human now, right? So it can’t take you anymore. You’re safe.”
Cas sat quietly for a moment. “I spent so long dreaming there. I don’t want this to be just like another dream.”
Dean took Cas’s hand from where it had been clenched in the trench coat and threaded his fingers through it. “You’re here,” he said, squeezing Cas’s hand. “This is real. It can’t get you anymore.”
“Thank you,” Cas said. He looked exhausted.
Maybe he should call Sam, Dean thought as he was changing the goats’ bedding the next day. Cas had been back for two days, and he was Sam’s friend too. Sam deserved to know.
Cas had followed Dean outside, and Patience had resumed her attempt to eat his coat. Dean shook his head with a smile as he walked past, pushing the wheelbarrow of dirty hay out of the enclosure.
Returning from the compost heap with an empty wheelbarrow, Dean paused just inside the gate to the enclosure. Cas sat on the edge of the tire, Patience on the ground before him. He was tugging his coat tie out of her mouth, telling her very seriously “You know you’re not supposed to eat that.” The seriousness was somewhat offset by Bobby the goat standing behind him on the tire and licking his ear.
Dean smiled at the sight. He could call Sam tomorrow.
Cas adjusted pretty well to being human. It had been a few years since he’d been human the first time, so Dean hadn’t been sure (and then, he’d been living in the storeroom of a Gas N Sip, which wasn’t exactly model human behavior), but he was doing okay.
Dean did eventually give in and call Sam. Eventually.
“You sound happy,” Sam said.
Dean raised an eyebrow, though Sam couldn’t see it. “All I said was hello.” He stood on his front porch, tapping on the railing that, after his careful work, wouldn’t give him splinters anymore, and looked out at the world.
“So you’re telling me you aren’t happy?”
“You shoulda been a lawyer after all, Sammy,” Dean chuckled.
“I have been thinking about going back to school,” Sam said, like that wasn’t a huge bomb to drop. “I still might be.”
“That’s great, Sammy. That’s really great.”
“So what’s got you so busy you couldn’t call for two weeks?”
Dean winced. It’s not that he had been purposely avoiding calling Sam, and there was no way he could frame ‘I wanted to have Cas to myself’ in a way that wasn’t super selfish.
But he had to say something, so he said “Cas is back,” as though that wasn’t a much bigger revelation than Sam’s had been.
“What? Really? That’s awesome.” Sam paused for a moment. “How?”
“I dunno. But he’s - he’s human now. Jack did something, and now…”
“Yeah.” Dean was very grateful Sam didn’t choose to mock him for how ridiculously happy he sounded. Because he was really fucking happy, for the first time in a while.
“So is he coming to Thanksgiving? Or do I have to drive to you to see him?”
“He’ll be at Thanksgiving, don’t worry.”
“I’ll be where?” Cas called from inside.
“We’re going to Jody’s for Thanksgiving,” Dean called back, holding the phone away from him so he didn’t blast Sam’s ears. “And don’t eavesdrop on me.”
“He’s there?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, he, uh, he’s been living with me.”
Dean can practically hear the suspicious eyebrow raise in Sam’s voice when he says “He’s been? How long has he been back?”
“Um. Two weeks.”
“Shit, man.” There’s a smile in Sam’s voice, and Dean’s just glad he isn’t mad about being kept in the dark. “Can I talk to him?”
Dean held the phone away from him again. “Sam wants to talk to you!” he called.
Cas couldn’t teleport anymore, but it still seemed like he appeared out of nowhere sometimes. This was not one of those times - Dean was treated to the sight of Cas, clutching a cup of coffee like it was a lifeline (once he had started sleeping, he slept in much later than Dean) shuffling out to the porch. He’d given up on wearing a suit everywhere, as it just wasn’t practical out here, but there wasn’t anywhere to shop either, so he’d ended up in Dean’s flannels and jeans as they waited for his Amazon purchases to arrive. Right now, though, he wore the singular pair of fuzzy pajama pants Dean owned, and something in Dean’s chest felt strangely warm at the sight.
Wordlessly, he held out his hand for the phone, and Dean gave it to him, retreating inside.
“Hello, Sam,” he heard as he pulled the door closed behind him.
“Sam seems happy,” Cas said when he gave Dean his phone back.
“I think he is. Him and Eileen, they’ve got a good thing.”
Cas tilted his head to the side. “Are you happy, Dean?”
Dean smiled with one corner of his mouth. “Yeah, Cas. I am.”
He walked away, and Dean wondered what that had been about.
It wasn’t long before Dean was throwing a bag into the trunk of the Impala - the first bag he’d packed since moving in, and there was something about that stability that made him both happy and nostalgic. It wasn’t that far up to Jody’s, not compared to the distances he and Sam used to drive for hunts, but it was still far enough to eat up most of a day.
Cas dropped his bag in the trunk next to Dean’s. His clothes had finally arrived a few days ago (shipping speeds were, apparently, really fucking slow living where he did), so he had exchanged the borrowed flannels for button-ups. Dean had been trying to convince him to at least roll up the sleeves - “You’re not working in an office , Cas” - but so far, he hadn’t succeeded.
“Are you sure Jody wants me to come?”
Dean scoffed. “Sure she does.”
“She didn’t know me that well, before.”
This was a fair point. Jody was also, however, a very nice person who wouldn’t want Cas to stay by himself on Thanksgiving, which was what she’d told Dean when he’d called her a few days ago and asked if Cas could come too, since he was alive again.
“Then you can get to know her now.” Dean closed the trunk. “C’mon.”
Driving was different, after, too. This wasn’t like when he had driven out for that one solitary hunt he’d done before hanging up his hat either. The road was still endless in front of him, but he wasn’t going to a shitty motel room and a quick salt and burn. It didn’t feel like it would swallow him whole, like he could keep driving forever.
This drive was happier, the knowledge of the family he was driving to and the fact that he wasn’t alone in the car making the time fly. He turned up the classic rock station and just drove.
“I know this one,” Cas said about an hour into the drive. The radio had just started up a Led Zeppelin song, one of the ones Dean had put on that mixtape he’d given Cas a couple years ago.
“It’s a good song.”
Cas nodded and continued staring out the window.
“It’s beautiful,” Cas said, a long time later.
Outside the car was much the same scenery as had been there all day - endless fields and scruffy forests occasionally punctuated by a power line.
Jody greeted him with a hug that evening when he finally rolled up to her place.
“It’s been too long,” she said.
“You didn’t come see me either,” Dean pointed out. “And do you know how hard it is to find someone willing to watch chickens for the weekend?”
Jody raised one eyebrow.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll call more.”
“That’s what I thought,” she said with a smile.
Cas climbed out of the car, standing awkwardly in the driveway. “Hello,” he said.
Jody walked around the car to hug him, which Cas clearly hadn’t been expecting, since it took him quite a while to hug her back.
“Dean says you’re human now,” Jody said when she pulled away.
“How d’you like it?”
Cas tilted his head to the side. “It’s nice,” he said eventually. “Strange.”
Dean grabbed their bags out of the trunk and Jody led them inside.
“You’re the last to arrive,” she said, “so you’ve got last pick of bedrooms. We’ve got Alex on the floor in Claire’s room, and Kaia’s in there too, and Charlie and Stevie are in Alex’s room, and Sam and Eileen got the spare. Which means you two get the couch.”
Dean looked at Jody incredulously. He might not be the tallest guy, but that didn’t mean that both him and Cas could sleep on one couch.
“It’s a pull-out bed,” Jody said.
Dean glanced at Cas, who shrugged.
“Sounds great,” he said. “Thanks.”
“Cas?” Dean asked that night, lying on the pull-out couch bed and staring determinedly at the ceiling. He and Cas were close enough that if either of them reached out at all, they would be touching. Neither did.
“I’m glad you’re here.”
Dean didn’t take his eyes off the ceiling, because expressing any form of genuine emotion was way easier when he didn’t have to look at the person he was talking to.
“Here on this couch, or here as in on earth?” Cas asked. This was the sort of thing Cas did, ask questions that no one else would think or care to ask.
Dean very much wanted to hug Cas. But they were in bed (the same bed, and why wasn’t that weird), so that wouldn’t be a hug but would be cuddling, and Cas was in love with him-
“Yeah,” he said.
He still didn’t look, but he could hear the warmth in Cas’s voice when he said “Me too.”
After six months of interacting with pretty much nobody, being in a house with so many people was… difficult. Dean loved them all, he really did, but there was always someone in every room all the time. He could ignore that, though, at the dinner table, when everyone was talking across the table to everyone else and he got to stuff himself with as much food as he could fit on his plate.
“This is a very strange holiday,” Cas said at the beginning of the meal. He was seated between Dean and Claire, who had nearly started crying when she saw him. “Are you aware of its origins?”
Dean waited until he no longer had an exorbitant amount of mashed potatoes in his mouth to say “Yeah. And we ain’t celebrating that. This is just about family.”
Cas nodded. “That part of it is very nice.”
Jack popped in while they were clearing the plates. He couldn’t stay long, he said, but he gave everyone a hug and he even had a slice of pie before blinking away to do whatever God did whenever he wasn’t interfering with the course of the universe. It was a testament to how weird their lives were that God himself could just pop in, but hey, he was a part of the family too. And besides, he wasn’t there as God - he was just Jack, an awkward kid who, despite everything, saw the best in the world.
Sam cornered him after dinner. Dean was stuffed, eyeing the apple pie and considering whether he could eat another slice while still being able to walk, when Sam walked into the kitchen to grab a beer. Instead of leaving, though, he leaned against the counter and looked pointedly at Dean.
“So, you and Cas, then,” he said, popping the top off his bottle.
“What do you mean, me and Cas?” Dean decided he couldn’t have another slice of pie yet - maybe later - but he could have a beer. “You wanna pass me one of those?”
Sam reached back into the fridge and grabbed another beer. “He lives with you.”
“I got a big house.”
“And that’s all it is?”
Dean grabbed the beer from Sam and narrowed his eyes. “Sammy, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Alex asked me if you two had gotten married.”
And, well. Of all the things that could have come out of Sam’s mouth, Dean thought that was the one he was the least prepared for.
“No, we haven’t gotten married,” he said as though this was obvious. And it was. Sure, they lived together, and Cas had once confessed to being in love with Dean, but they hadn’t talked about that and they weren’t even together.
“I know that,” Sam scoffs. “If you had, I would have been invited.”
“Then why’d you ask me?”
“I’m just saying. If you were together…” Sam shrugged. “It wouldn’t be a big deal. I’d be happy for you.”
Maybe, Dean thought, it was time to quit bullshitting himself. He wanted to say something, but he couldn’t form the words, so they just stood there for nearly a minute until Sam turned to leave.
“He told me he loved me,” Dean said, and he was pretty sure the only reason he was able to say it is because Sam’s back was turned. “Before he died.”
Then Sam turned back to him, and Dean’s ability to speak vanished once more.
“Okay.” This was the kind of ‘okay’ Sam said when he was working out what to say next, and Dean did not want him to keep talking.
“We haven’t talked about it.”
Sam raised his eyebrows. “He’s been living with you for a month and you haven’t talked about it.”
“Uh. Yeah.” Dean was well aware he should have talked to Cas about it, but he just couldn’t. It wasn’t something he wanted to bring up, not when he didn’t know how Cas meant it (he was pretty damn sure) or whether he still felt that way (it hadn’t been that long) or how he felt about it.
“Are you going to?”
Dean had, in fact, been planning on never having that conversation. This was not the correct thing to tell Sam.
But Sam figured it out from the look on Dean’s face, because he said “And why not?” like he was waiting for Dean to draw some kind of conclusion from this conversation.
“It’s really easy like this,” he said quietly. “I don’t want anything to change.”
“Not even if it’s a change for the better?”
“Okay,” Sam said, and that was the kind of ‘okay’ that meant he was done with the conversation, which Dean couldn’t have been happier about. “D’you want to see if Claire is good enough to beat you at poker now?”
Dean followed Sam out of the kitchen, back to the insanely crowded living room, where Charlie had insisted on having the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special playing, even though she didn’t seem to be watching it, instead having been caught up in the hubbub that was most of America’s best hunters coming together for the holiday.
The next morning, Dean woke up on the pull-out couch stiff from the springs poking his back. There was something warm on his right side, and he opened his eyes to see that Cas had curled into a small ball while asleep and somehow ended up with his back pressed against Dean’s side. Dean raised an eyebrow and closed his eyes again. It wasn’t early enough to be awake.