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The Shape of Things to Come

Chapter Text

When tomorrow is today
The bells may toll for some
But nothing can change the shape of things to come

 

Dean wakes in a brilliantly white room.

Not sterile-white, hospital-bright, but—clean and homey. Against the wall are white bookshelves lined with photographs, all flooded with natural light and bathed in sun. He shifts on thick, cream-colored cushions, turns to blink at the windows, bright behind gauzy white curtains.

His mind feels fuzzy—from some nightmare he was having, he thinks. In the moment before he opened his eyes, it was like he was reeling—both in pain and numb, simultaneously drunk and hungover, victorious and defeated. Beaten, overcome. Broken. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

It sticks to him, like a bad taste in the back of his mouth. Dean can’t quite remember what it was about, but he’s pretty sure it was dire. Like, “worse than his recurring dreams about Hell” levels of bad.

But that’s all over now. The nightmare is gone, and Dean is awake, half-lying on his mother’s sofa.

It’s surprisingly nice; his back doesn’t even ache from the strain of sleeping on a sofa, as opposed to those motel-grade pull-out couches that he and Sam frequent. For a split second, before the sunlight clears away the last dregs of his nightmares, Dean actually thinks this is his childhood home.

But no, that had burned down, of course, long ago. When his mom died.

Dean’s mind slowly works its way backwards, like piecing together a puzzle in reverse, or maybe systematically taking one apart—it had been a little silly, choosing to sleep on the sofa, but Dean guesses a part of him is still a little nostalgic, sentimental about one of the times in his life when he’d been happiest: when he was four.

But then, his mom must be the same way, a bit, sentimental for that all-too-brief time in their lives. She’d chosen a house that so resembles his childhood home it’s almost uncanny. And in Lawrence, no less. After his mom had spent so much time seemingly running away—from him, from Sam, from her past and who knows what—her choice of house had come as a surprise to him. But Dean is so not complaining. Just like when he was four, it’s a place perpetually full of light.

Especially the kitchen. It’s full of that golden glow when he rolls off the couch and drags himself there in search of coffee, still shaking his head as that dull, fuzzy feeling clings to the edges of his mind like dryer lint. He just needs to wake up, he figures.

His mom is already in the kitchen, Dean discovers, her back turned to him, silhouetted by the shining windows as she waits for the coffee to brew. At least, she must be, because he can smell it, and it’s so sharp, so immediately distinguishable as grocery store coffee. She faces him and smiles, and Dean goes to her, hugs her like he hasn’t seen her in months.

“Good morning,” Mary says into his ear, that smile still in her voice.

“Mornin’,” Dean replies, pulling back from the embrace to look at her. She looks just the way he expected, hair a little shorter than the Mary of his childhood, face a little more careworn, because this is the real her. Not the Mary of his memories. But, after a long time of struggling to get to grips with that…he thinks that’s okay.

“You slept in, didn’t you.” Mary chuckles, obviously not minding that he did. “The others should be along shortly.”

Oh, that’s right. They will be. Dean nods, immediately recognizing her statement to be true.

They sip their coffees in tandem, facing each other in an easy silence as they lift their mugs to their lips, lower backs leaning against the counters. When he can see the bottom of his mug and there’s nothing but sludgy dregs left, he gives it a quick rinse in the sink before telling Mary he’s going to go get ready.

In the guest bathroom, there’s some ’60s station on the radio, and he leaves the dial where it is, listening to golden oldies as he brushes his teeth. Dean vaguely recognizes this song. The Supremes.

Baby, baby, where did our love go? He mouths along, automatically, as he takes a shower. But now that you got me, you wanna leave me behind…

After, his hair still a little damp, Dean glances in the mirror, and it’s not the person he’s used to seeing. His face doesn’t look tired; amazing what finally getting a good night’s sleep, more than his customary four hours, can do. He cleans up good, he muses in surprise, a thought he hasn’t had about himself for probably ten years.

Even after he’s finished up in the guest bathroom, Dean checks his watch and sees he has some time to kill. He roams around the house a bit to see what his mom has done with the place since moving in.

Clearly, she didn’t replace much of the wallpaper—most of it is dated, flowers and damask, but that, too, is reminiscent of his first home, so Dean finds it more charming than tacky. Not that he would ever admit this aloud. If anyone else were present, he’d probably nag his mom about updating the place and losing its grandma-chic aesthetic, just for the sake of keeping up appearances.

Wandering the living room, surveying its walls of pink flower buds on ’70s green, he takes in the family photos on the shelves. There are several of him and Sam, of course. Even a couple of them as kids, copies of Dean’s own thumb-creased photographs that he’d gotten printed for her recently. Irrepressible warmth blooms below his breastbone when he spots that shot of just the two of them—Mary embracing a very blond, four-year-old Dean, her face pressed up to his cheek, her long hair cascading down—now newly encased in a dark silver frame.

There are recent photos of Mary, too, her hair cropped at just above shoulder-length, the way it is currently. There’s even a photo of everybody together: Mary, him and Sam, Cas, and Jack, taken back at the bunker on one of their rare nights of total, carefree relaxation, when they were having dinner, laughing around a table.

She’d stayed with them at the bunker for a while, though oddly enough, their relationship seems to have strengthened more since she moved out, since she moved in here. Mary still hunts on occasion, though she’s mostly just trying to figure out what she wants to do in the future. But then, aren’t they all.

Dean’s eyes flick over a few more snapshots. One of him and Cas that almost looks like a selfie, but Dean doesn’t immediately recognize where they are, the background blurry and out of focus. One of them with Bobby the day they surprised him with the condo they’d all chipped in to buy—Bobby had been madder than a wet hen, of course, royally pissed off at them, but he’s now (grudgingly) enjoying the nice retirement that they’d had to drag him into kicking and screaming. And here’s one of Sam with—

The doorbell rings. Dean raises his head at the sound, heading out of the living room to go answer the door, Mary on his heels not a moment later.

In come Sam and Eileen. That’s right—they said they’d be getting here around this time. Dean hugs them both in turn, thrilled to see them—despite the fact that he just saw Sam probably no more than two or three days ago. They don’t live particularly far away.

He watches his mom hug them, feeling a brief wave of something weird at seeing Mary and Eileen together, acting so buddy-buddy with each other. But the feeling quickly passes. It must be because this is still kind of new, but Dean’s pleased beyond words that his mom has gotten to know Eileen so well. And the way Mary looks at Sam, knowing he’s happy—it’s the same look Dean frequently gives his little brother, too.

“How was the drive?” Mary asks them.

“Not bad. It really didn’t take that long,” Sam tells her, hoisting up one of the bags he’s carrying. “So, we brought presents, but—”

“Right, those are for later,” Dean says immediately, before he even realized he was going to speak at all. “I have it all planned out, it’s a thing.”

“A thing, huh?” Sam chuckles, raises his eyebrows.

“Hey, don’t mock my plan.” Dean grins. “It’s a good plan.”

Sam holds up both hands in faux-alarm, like he’s under arrest. “Nope, no mocking the plan. God forbid.”

Next to Sam, Eileen laughs brightly, signing something a little too quickly for Dean to catch—he’s learning, but it’s a process. He can just about manage when she deliberately slows it down for him. He’s working on it.

Mary turns to look up at him reassuringly. “Thank you for putting all this together, Dean. You didn’t have to.”

“Yeah, but I wanted to.” Dean shrugs, but he really means it. It’s partly that she let him do it, that she seemed to want him to when he offered, since neither of those things had really been a given.

Time seems to devolve into a weird, disjointed series of moments, passing both quickly and at a crawl, as they all chat and catch up. The space around Dean feels oddly muffled, fuzzy, the way it had this morning. It’s not exactly unpleasant, and after a while, the feeling passes.

Eventually, Mary comes over to fix Dean’s hair, which must have dried funny, reaching up to fuss with it in a very motherly sort of way, when he hears the doorbell again. Waving Mary off, he goes to answer it.

It’s Cas and Jack. Everybody hugs again, of course, Dean included, even though he’s seen them both even more recently than he last saw Sam.

While the others get caught up in a flurry of greetings, off to the side, Dean finds himself still standing in the doorway, face to face with Cas. Just staring at one another. Which they always tend to do, for whatever weird fucking reason, but—for no reason that he can name, he suddenly feels off-balance, like he’s taken a blow to the head. It’s that damn groggy feeling he had when he woke up this morning, mind clogged with sleep, shaken from his recent nightmare. Maybe he hadn’t slept as well as he thought.

Dean shakes his head, trying to clear it, but he can’t seem to stop making eye contact with Cas, because if he stops— If he stops— Something desperate rises up in his chest, something verging on panic as he stares into Cas’ eyes—

“We bought everything on your list, but they were out of kale,” Cas informs him, a little apologetically. “Actually, I’m not sure the store even carried kale.”

“Probably because the store was normal,” Dean snorts. “That’s okay, it was for Sam anyway.” He side-eyes his brother, who is currently in conversation with Jack. “Thinks he’s too good for regular salad, but he can just deal with it, slum it with lettuce like the rest of us heathens.”

Briefly, Sam glances at him, hearing this, and rolls his eyes.

Dean grins when Eileen looks at him, too. “You’re cool with cabbage, right, Eileen?”

She signs yes, grinning back. “I’m very cool with cabbage.” He loves it when Eileen sides with him against Sam.

“I’m cool with cabbage, too,” Jack pipes up, smiling, obviously just parroting the words because he can tell they make Dean happy.

“See?” he asks pointedly, turning back to Sam, who answers with his best bitchface.

And just like that, Dean is perfectly fine.

Gradually, they all move away from the front door as they talk, trickling back into the house. Cas is still up in Dean’s personal space as Dean goes through the groceries, but what else is new. At least his mom isn’t giving them any odd looks like she used to, back when she was first resurrected and barely even knew Cas.

But then, Cas and Mary had an unexpected rapport almost from the start, an understanding born out of the fact that both once felt like the outsiders of the group, and both no longer do.

“Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you two,” Mary says, distractedly, ducking into the hall closet and rifling around, detouring on her way to the living room.

Dean can’t tell who she’s actually addressing here. The room is pretty full right now.

When she turns around, carrying a shopping bag of her own, she heads straight for Dean. “Here.” Mary pushes the bag into his hands, and he blinks, taken aback.

“You don’t have to give me anything, mom. I mean, it’s your birthday.”

Because—oh, right. Yeah, it is. Hence Sam’s earlier armload of presents. With a frown of confusion, Dean looks down at the box inside the bag—

“It’s that coffee machine,” she explains.

“What coffee machine?” His head snaps back up, no less confused.

“I told you, it’s like the one in there.” Mary gestures back towards the kitchen with her thumb. “It’s very—modern.” Pausing, looking a little confused herself, her gaze slides off into the middle distance. “It took me a while to figure out how to use it, but I’m sure you’ll catch on more quickly.”

“Not likely,” Sam snickers. “Dean still has cassette tapes, Mom. He has VHS tapes. You’re living in the 21st century more than he is, at this point.”

Mary shoots Sam a mildly scolding look before focusing back on Dean. “It can even make cappuccinos,” she offers, helpfully, though also sounding a little doubtful. “Not that I’ve actually tried to make any myself.”

Dean’s gaze jerks back down to the box, his frown turning to one of irritation. “Is this a damn Keurig?”

“Those can make tea, as well,” Cas interjects, out of nowhere.

Dean whirls on Cas, still annoyed. “How the hell do you know that?”

Cas shrugs. “I enjoy tea.”

“I saw your coffee maker the last time I visited the house, Dean,” Mary continues, totally unfazed by the bickering. “It barely functioned. The coffee tasted like—” Gaze drifting off again, like she’s reliving an unpleasant memory, she shudders.

“Motor oil?” Sam suggests, a bit too gleefully for Dean’s liking. “That coffee maker is gross, Dean. I was about to throw it away myself before I moved in with Eileen. If I’d known you were going to keep using the thing, I would have.”

“It gives the coffee character,” Dean protests, sounding half-hearted about it. This conversation is so amazingly stupid, he doesn’t even have it in him to maintain that level of annoyance. He has to admit, he’s practically enjoying it, for fuck’s sake.

At this, Mary finally scoffs at him and turns away, facing Cas instead. “Will you make sure he uses it?” She points at the box in Dean’s arms. “Please? And throw the old one out, if he doesn’t. I don’t want you two using that thing ever again.”

“Wait,” says Dean, because wait. Hold the phone.

What. The. Fuck. He lives with Cas?

In a house?

What happened to the bunker?

His head is feeling foggy, full of cotton, and by the time Dean turns back to face the room at large, the conversation has moved on. Everyone is happily chatting amongst themselves.

Everyone, that is, except Cas.

“Wait for what, Dean?” Cas questions him, that patented look of concern etched into his face, blue eyes tilted at that imploring angle.

Dean blinks before, once again, his gaze fixes on Cas’ face, freezing there like he’s incapable of looking away or even so much as blinking a second time. “Uh—nothing.” He barely even remembers saying wait anymore. Why had he said that…? “I’m good.”

“Good.” This seems to convince Cas, because—

Even though they’re all still talking and no one’s really looking at Dean, he’s still in full view of everyone when Cas suddenly leans in, closing that last tiny distance between their faces, and kisses him, warm, on the mouth.

Shock floods him like an actual jolt of electricity.

He almost jerks back from it when, just as rapidly as it had arrived, the shock fades. It turns to a pleasant, almost drug-like warmth, suffusing him.

Oh. Of course. His muscles relax. And Dean can feel himself blushing a little, but it’s nowhere near as much as he used to whenever Cas did that without any advance warning….

He’s just still a bit fuzzy-headed; that nightmare must have really fucked him up, for him to still be feeling kinda out of it. But it’s all becoming clearer now.

The bunker is still a thing, it’s too useful to abandon, they just don’t live there fulltime.

He and Cas have that house—a little like this one, but more eccentrically designed and decorated. It has a lawn, and Dean mows it when the weather is nice, which seems important for some reason.

That house was the blurry background in the closeup photo of him and Cas that he saw earlier in his mom’s living room.

At some point, Deans set the coffee maker box aside, because now he’s headed for the kitchen, passing through another one of the house’s wide, overarching doorways.

“Everything is set up for you in the kitchen,” Mary tells him as she walks with him and Cas. “I just need to take the trash out.”

“I’ll do it.” Dean beams, speaking too fast, like he’s jumping at the chance.

Cas raises a skeptical brow. “You…want to take the trash out?” Because Dean may be a bit of a cleanliness freak at home, but he still likes to get out of any chores that involve directly touching actual germs.

“Hey, you want to shut up?” he quips back, but he’s still smiling.

Mary chuckles as the two of them step into the kitchen, and she turns to leave them to it. “You’d think your entire life isn’t already devoted to household chores,” she mutters dryly as she walks back to the gathering in the living room.

Dean starts unpacking the groceries, with Cas’ help, lining up all the ingredients he’s going to need—until abruptly Dean finds himself crowding Cas up against the counter. The impulse flashes through him, and then he’s just done it.

Cas doesn’t attempt to move, only leans his hands back against the counter behind him. “Dinner isn’t going to make itself,” Cas murmurs, eyes sparkling in a strangely mischievous sort of way that Dean rarely sees—yet knows he sees all the time.

“Yeah, well, you made me late getting here,” Dean mutters back, a smirk playing on his own lips. “Payback time, pal.” Remembering what had happened right before he’d left for Mary’s house, setting the scene as he pictures himself in a sunlit bedroom—

—Barely able to drag himself out of bed, still tired from the night before, and Cas had the audacity to start it all right back up again. Lips and hands on him, all over him, clinging to Dean when he’d tried to extricate himself and get up.

And Dean had simply grinned sleepily, lazily, like a cat stretching in the sun. “Didn’t get enough of that last night, huh?”

Cas didn’t even flinch when he replied, without hesitation, without a hint of self-consciousness, “Never.” Nibbling Dean’s ear, pressing up against him. “Never enough.” His tone was so earnest, not even the hint of a tease that time.

Dean bit his lip against the frighteningly big feeling welling up inside him, then just rolled back over, happily, to face Cas, kissing his jaw, feeling the rough scrape of stubble against his own face, then sliding down Cas’ body, moving lower, lower…

Shit, then that happened—it had slipped his mind, somehow, but now it all comes back in stark, delicious, mind-blowing clarity. And even though Dean is pretty sure that he still sucks at doing that—sucks, heh, no pun intended—Cas seemed to have no complaints whatsoever.

Dean thinks about that, now, as he keeps Cas pinned against the kitchen counter, pressing their hips tightly together, and a slight shiver runs through him.

“I gotta start cooking eventually,” Dean murmurs, voice still low, their lips almost touching.

“I’m not stopping you,” Cas says, amused. After all, Cas is the one trapped between Dean and the counter, not the one doing the trapping.

“Sure you are.” Dean’s smirk comes into full bloom, hands on Cas’ waist as they meet in the middle in another kiss, both of them leaning in, both of them entirely to blame. Dean doesn’t stop, and before he knows it, Cas’ tongue is in his mouth, shockingly new yet achingly familiar, and his fingers are tangling in Cas’ dark hair.

A moment later, he feels Cas’ thigh slip between both of his. Suppressing a strangely high-pitched noise that rises in his throat, Dean speaks, barely audible: “You fucker,” in a sickeningly fond tone.

“What?” Too innocently. Oh, Cas knows exactly what. Not that Dean can really do anything about it, make anything of it, not in a semi-public area with nearly their entire family milling around the house.

Still, since they are entirely alone in here, Dean takes the briefest fraction of a second to push back against Cas’ thigh—which, by the way, feels really fucking strong between his legs, good god—curling his fingers into Cas’ shirt as he hears his own breathing pick up speed.

From safely outside the kitchen, not in the room with them, Sam’s voice comes through loud and clear. “Hey, you two, I don’t hear cooking noises.” Mockingly, a smile in his voice.

Oh, yeah, that’s right. He and Cas annoy Sam like this pretty often, don’t they.

Dean grins against Cas’ mouth, calling back to Sam without pulling away, without having to actually stop the makeout session. “Since you can’t see me right now, you should know that I’m flipping you off.” He isn’t, actually. Both hands are still firmly on Cas.

He can hear Sam’s laughter in the hall.

Cas pulls back infinitesimally, angling his head towards the door to call to Sam himself. “Don’t worry, Sam. I’ll ensure he starts cooking dinner.” Slipping back into Dean’s hold then, his lips brush against Dean’s. “Eventually,” he rumbles, lower and meant for only Dean to hear.

Dean chuckles, so fucking fondly. Suddenly, even his entire body doesn’t feel big enough to contain the strength of whatever emotion he’s currently feeling.

But, right. Cooking.

A lot of cooking. And this is a basic kitchen, almost quaint compared to what he had to work with in the bunker, and honestly, probably just as antiquated. But like he told Sam, Dean has it all planned, and he starts dragging out pots and pans and baking dishes. Switching on the radio as he goes along.

It’s tuned to that same ’60s station he was listening to in the bathroom—maybe his mom likes it or something, reminds her of her childhood. As he did this morning, Dean leaves it on. He actually knows most of these songs, too, and he hums along as he methodically slices and dices and stirs.

Where oh where can my baby be?

The Lord took her away from me

She's gone to heaven, so I got to be good

So I can see my baby when I leave this world

Dean sings along unthinkingly and under his breath, seemingly oblivious to the lyrics, even those damn tragedy songs of the ’60s unable to put a dent in his mood as he blithely chops peppers and onions.

Cas watches him with unnerving focus as the wooden surface of the cutting board steadily fills with pieces of green pepper. “I don’t understand. Why would you need a board to cut? You just cut.”

“Jeez, Cas, I don’t know, why don’t you go bother Sam for a while?” He only half means it, but even though Cas has become a little less literal these days, the angel proceeds to leave anyway. It’s okay, because Dean knows he’ll come back.

Dean’s mixing together some kind of marinade when static starts to crackle over the radio, the signal going in and out. He frowns up at it, wiping his hands—the radio has an antenna, go figure, it’s not satellite radio or whatever the shit—and he pokes at the antenna a little, adjusting it. White noise surges as other stations start to bleed in, too many voices, talk radio and advertisements, annoyingly garbled and loud. He considers asking Cas if this is what angel radio sounds like, whenever Cas comes back in here.

And then, abruptly, while he’s still trying to fix the radio with half his attention also on the food, his ears full of noise, he hears—

Dean!

Twisting to yell over his shoulder and into the hall, Dean’s frown deepens. “What, Sammy?”

No reply.

Grumbling, Dean fiddles with the radio until the music cuts back on, perfectly clear again. Satisfied, he goes to poke his head out the kitchen door. “Sammy!”

Distantly, from the living room, “What, Dean?”

“Whaddya want?”

“Huh? I don’t want anything.”

“Then stop interrupting me!”

“I didn’t interrupt you, Dean!”

Shaking his head, grumbling to himself even more about irritating, lying little brothers, Dean trudges back to the stove and resumes making dinner.

It takes forever, but then, it’s a fucking big dinner. He doesn’t know the last time he cooked for so many people. Meanwhile, those people filter in and out: he sees Eileen conversing happily with Cas. Sam comes over to steal a taste of something on one of the burners, and Dean swats his brother’s hand away with a ladle. The next time Dean looks up from the stove, Cas appears to be showing Jack how to do something—is that the damn coffee machine?—in a very fatherly way.

The sight makes Dean think of Claire. They ought to invite her over to their house soon, he realizes. He misses the kid, though she’d never let him hear the end of it if he told her that in so many words. And if he misses Claire, he figures that must go double for Cas. Yeah, he’ll have to call her tomorrow.

As hours pass, evening arrives, and the light of the kitchen gradually turns from white gold to something deep and burnished.

As Dean’s wrapping up, nearly ready to serve the food (and Cas is in there again, but Dean can’t risk any distractions now, not when his perfectly timed series of side dishes are all about to finish, so Dean reluctantly keeps his hands to himself), the radio starts to go out again. When he reaches up to jimmy the antenna around, he flinches sharply, suddenly clutching that hand with the opposite one.

“Ouch. Dammit,” Dean mutters to himself, petulantly, rubbing his wrist. Actually, now that he’s started, the other wrist seems a little sore, too.

“What is it?” Cas asks, getting closer and peering down at Dean’s hands.

“I dunno, wrist cramp.” Shaking out both hands, he waves Cas away so he can get back to the food. Dean doesn’t want to think about this now. When Cas continues to stare at him questioningly, Dean snaps, “I’m fine, okay? I’m just really fuckin’ old, I guess.”

It’s the best explanation he can come up with, anyway. He’s reasonably sure people can get arthritis at forty. Whatever. That’s a problem for another day. And predictably, Cas looks like he’s about to argue the “old” remark and tell Dean that’s not true, so Dean shoves a pair of oven mitts in Cas’ hands and gestures at the oven door. “Bread pan. Make yourself useful.”

Dean’s determined to make the table look like all those Thanksgivings they never got to have as kids, rivalling the one that little Sammy had spent with someone else’s family, and by the time he’s done setting everything out, he’s fairly sure it was a success. Everyone sits down to eat; time crawls while also somehow speeding up while they have dinner.

By the time everyone’s cleaned their plates at least once and he’s gone for seconds and thirds, Dean isn’t sure why he feels a dizzy surge of something like déjà vu when Sam and Eileen mention that they have another surprise for Mary’s birthday, and Eileen promptly presents the back of her hand, showing off a lovely, sparkling ring.

Everyone is thrilled. Congratulatory remarks circle around the table. Fuck, his little brother is really getting married, after all this time. Dean can’t stop smiling; his cheeks ache from it.

As everything winds down, Sam pushes his chair out from the table, and Eileen follows, claiming that they will take care of the dishes, accepting no arguments, stopping Dean from doing them since he cooked.

They stay in there a while, and it’s too quiet.

Dean cups a hand around his mouth and points it towards the kitchen. “Hey, you two, I don’t hear dish-washing noises.”

Beside him, Cas rolls his eyes at the continuation of the brotherly bickering from earlier that, evidently, had never really stopped. Dean hears Sam, in the kitchen, repeat the words to Eileen. Then comes Eileen’s uproarious laugh.

Jack catches Dean’s attention by persistently staring at him, blankly, innocently. “I don’t get it.”

“I’ll explain it to you later,” Dean drawls, following a whim and grabbing a leftover dinner roll, shoving it into his mouth.

Cas shoots him a serious look. “You will not.”

“Hey, I didn’t mean tomorrow.” He grins around his dinner roll before pushing it to the side of his mouth, cheek bulging as he turns to address Jack again. “I mean when you’re older,” he clarifies.

There’s a brief silence as Jack looks up at the ceiling and ponders this. “Technically, I’ll be older tomorrow than I am now.”

It’s such a literal reply, and it reminds Dean so much of Cas in his early soldier-of-Heaven days, back when they first met, that it just makes him ache. Jack is so much Cas’ son.

Across the table, Mary chuckles softly, giving Dean a knowing look, as if shrugging and saying “Kids” in a conspiratorial tone. A stray thought crosses Dean’s mind, wondering if Jack reminds her of what it was like raising young children—well, raising Dean, cruelly brief as that was. She never really got a chance with Sam. That old wistful, mournful feeling rolls through him like a fog, right on cue—but then, things have changed. They’re okay now. They’re all okay, and together. They’re a family, and the sunlight of that feeling burns off the fog. It just…dissipates.

They got a second chance. All of them.

That’s when Sam comes back in, smiling at his phone. “Charlie just texted. She said, and I quote, ‘Congrats on the engagement, bitch, ilu’.” He spells it out letter by letter, I-L-U. “Did you tell her?”

Proudly, Dean leans back in his chair, stretching his lower back and lounging there. “Yep. Texted her while you were doing the dishes. Or, not doing them.” He looks up at Sam, who pretty much towers over him when Dean’s sitting down, and winks. “Bitch.”

True to form, Sam dons his bitchface. “Dean, you’re forty-one.”

“Yeah, and?” When Sam doesn’t reply, Dean turns away in satisfaction. “Right. S’what I thought.”

Funny how Cas manages to look at Dean like he’s the most exasperating thing he’s ever seen, yet simultaneously the most precious thing in the world to him. Dean sees that look on Cas’ face, and it gives him honest-to-god fucking butterflies. Forty-one, indeed.

“Jerk,” Sam mutters, after almost a full minute of apparently resisting to do so, and Dean couldn’t be more pleased.

 

 

Night has fallen by the time they head home—it takes Mary at least an hour to open all her presents, but it’s time well spent—and they roll along to the steady purr of the Impala, Cas riding shotgun. Dean has begun to think of that as Cas’ permanent spot, rather than Sam’s, whenever Sam’s not here.

It’s just the two of them in the car now. This is one of those weekends when Jack gets to go stay at Sam and Eileen’s. Dean hopes, for their sake, that they’ve already taken some time to celebrate their engagement. He snorts at the thought of them trying to do that with a kid in the house.

Dean pauses at a stoplight, the red glare painting both their faces, dropping his hands from the wheel to absently rub his wrists again. He’s actually a little dizzy, too, but that’s probably due to lack of proper sleep. Yeah, the nightmares and everything. It’s getting late, so naturally he needs some shuteye. He hears the words It’s later than you think, running through his head in almost a sing-song, like there’s supposed to be a melody behind them, and he’s not certain where he’s heard that before, or why it seems to be mocking him in some way.

Peering up into the red light, Dean keeps rubbing his wrists, much the way he would after getting handcuffs removed.

“Really fuckin’ bothering me,” he mumbles, mostly to himself, even as Cas stares at him, eyes limpid with worry as Dean alternates between rubbing each wrist. “Never happened before.”

Flipping on the radio, he hears that same station. Golden oldies of the ’60s. He entertains the idea of putting on some Led Zepp or maybe Metallica, but ultimately sticks with this. The stoplight is taking too long to turn, red in his eyes, and Dionne Warwick belts out,

I was born to love you

And I will never be free,

When there is always something there to remind me

He’s considering just running the light when finally, finally it changes to green. Before him, through the windshield, the road unfurls, and unfurls, and unfurls, and it’s like he’s going nowhere at all.

 

 

At home, things are beginning to feel a little…strange.

Dean doesn’t know how else to put it. He can’t put his finger on it. It’s kind of like when his hunter instinct is trying to tell him something—

The Impala is sleek and jet-black in the moonlight when he parks her out front, and they walk into the house, their house.

When he reaches the kitchen, his first impulse is to grab a beer from the fridge, but— No. He doesn’t think he needs it. He leaves the El Sols where they are. Right now, he’s blurry enough around the edges as it is. When he looks at the walls of his house, striding from the living room to the kitchen to the bedroom, the details seem to escape him, forgotten the instant he looks away.

Dean goes through the motions of getting ready for bed, but it doesn’t go away. It’s like the feeling he’s had all day, constantly trying to shrug off sleep and the clinging remnants of nightmares. But that’s not exactly it, either. Dean can’t arrange it in words, not in any way that makes sense.

Standing on one side of the bedroom, he toys with the clasp of his watch and looks across the room at Cas, and it’s like he’s starting to think in words that aren’t even his own. He feels his own gaze zoom in like a camera, drawing him closer to Cas, compelling Dean to go over there until Cas is within touching distance.

They fall into bed again. (Their bed, their, the word rings inside his skull like a bell.)

And, shit, it strikes him all at once that Cas is so innately, unfairly beautiful, and it’s like Dean has never actually had that conscious thought before, even though surely he must have that thought all the damn time, these days.

It’s so blindingly obvious that Cas is beautiful on some elemental level that Dean really should have been able to see all along, should have been able to see for years. Cas is made of starstuff—didn’t Dean hear someone say a phrase like that, once? (Maybe on TV?) Or maybe Cas made the stars themselves, he’s a friggin’ angel, older than the stars, so it’s humans that are made of stars, isn’t it—and angels probably made the stars, just like Cas remade him, pieced him back together from broken fragments in Hell.

And when Cas touches him now, bare skin on skin, it’s the same hands that rebuilt him from the ground up when he was at his lowest, the same palm that seared its mark indelibly against his shoulder. Cas put him back together; he could break Dean again just as easily. Dean pushes his tongue past Cas’ parted lips and thinks he can taste the fabric of the universe.

And, what the fuck.

Dean is starting to think he’s getting a little delirious.

Dizzy, kinda like when you try to stand up after getting off a fairground ride, or after losing a lot of blood.

The dangerously big emotion in his chest, below his breastbone, behind his ribs, has a name, and it’s like he’s always known what that is, but is also finding it out right now for the very first time. He feels so much, it’s like it could shatter him into a million pieces, and that’s okay. He can’t contain it all. He contains multitudes. (Where has he heard that before? Not on TV.)

Dean thinks: this must be what Cas feels, all the time, to be made of so much light it could fill this whole room and more, containing fucking multitudes, and to somehow fit it all down inside a tiny vessel. A fragile, beautiful, resilient human vessel, stronger than anything Dean has ever known or seen, simply because it belongs to Cas.

He murmurs, “Cas, Cas….” Over and over, against his angel’s skin. (His angel, but the word doesn’t belong to him. Theirs, that word has never belonged to him.) Whispering, hushed, into his ear, “Castiel,” the only time Dean ever speaks his full name, and it’s like a benediction, and Cas shudders beneath him—and even though Dean doesn’t believe that he himself has ever been righteous enough, or pure enough, or good enough, if anyone deserves to be blessed, anointed, revered, it’s Cas.

After, when Dean finally drifts off, it’s to a dreamless sleep.

 

 

Dean wakes up in his own bed. With Cas. The scene is too perfect. The room is too perfect. The walls of their house are too perfect.

Today’s plans rewind in his head, the pieces clicking into place as he remembers: ah, of course. Sam is coming over to the house today. It’s still early morning, so Dean has time.

Dean gets up—throwing on some plush robe, and he has the errant thought that he misses his dead-guy robe, but that thought doesn’t seem to belong here—and he gets ready, and it’s so easy that before he knows it he’s standing in the kitchen. He’s already had his coffee, too, though it doesn’t actually feel like it helped clear his head.

The guitar riff that serves as his ringtone goes off while he’s in his kitchen waiting for Sam. He palms his phone and answers it.

Dean!

And, clear as a bell this time, it’s exactly what Dean heard Sam shout while he was fixing the radio in their mom’s kitchen yesterday, right before Sam claimed he hadn’t interrupted Dean at all. The exact same intonation, and unmistakably Sam’s voice.

“Sammy?” The line crackles, so he sticks a finger in the ear not pressed to the phone’s speaker, making sure he can still hear Sam.

Dean? Dean?!

Well, Sam apparently can’t hear him.

“Sammy, what? You’re cutting out.”

The call cuts off in a wave of static. The signal officially sucks, he guesses. Weird that he would’ve picked a house in a dead zone.

As Dean pockets his phone again, it starts to creep in, that off feeling that clung to him yesterday even hours after waking from his nightmare. He reaches out to brace one hand on the wall, feeling unsteady. But when he does, shit, his wrist screams with pain this time, and it shoots down all the way to his shoulders.

“The hell?” Muttering, rolling one shoulder. Then his phone goes off again. Distracted, he fishes it back out and holds it to his ear. “Hello? Sam?”

Dean? Dean!

“Again with the ‘Dean, Dean,’ what the hell is going on, Sam?” Rolling his eyes, he drawls into the phone with mild annoyance at his brother’s increasingly hysterical tone—which, okay, maybe should be cause for alarm, but Dean knows there’s no emergency, Sam texted literally less than five minutes ago to say that he was almost at the house, and they’re not even on a case right now, so Sam’s safe.

Dean, can you hear me?

Yes, Jesus, Sam, I can hear you, that ain’t the problem.” He’s more or less talking to himself at this point, he supposes, since Sam can’t hear him on the other end of the line—

Dean!

And at that moment Dean sees, through the front window of the house…Sam in the goddamn driveway.

His brother’s face is calm as he climbs out of his car, and he is decidedly not on his phone.

Phone still clutched to his ear, Dean freezes.

Dean, please!” Sam begs through the phone. 

In front of him, Sam strolls peacefully down the driveway, mouth closed. 

Suddenly it’s like Dean can’t even feel his own body as he looks on, numb, muscles locked into place. 

Come on, Dean!” Sam implores into his ear. “Please!” Meanwhile, the Sam he’s looking at says nothing.

When that fuzzy-headed sensation hits him again, this time it feels like vertigo.

The phone falls from his hand, but he can still hear Sam screaming on it, even as he watches Sam through the window.

Fear. Not the same kind of frightened he might get on a hunt gone wrong, familiar as an old shoe and navigable. No, not a familiar kind of fright at all. He doesn’t hear the phone hit the floor, too busy stumbling away from the window, trying to get out of this room, leaning on the wall, clawing against it for balance.

He sees Cas, right in the doorway where Dean wanted him to be. It feels like his knees are about to give out as Dean goes to him, practically falling against him. Naturally Cas catches him, trying to steady him, just like Dean somehow knew he would.

Dean leans against him heavily without meaning to, his hand on Cas’ chest, curling into his shirt as if he’s hanging on for dear life, wringing the fabric between his fingers, breathing too fast.

“Cas,” he says, his voice small and shrinking down. Barely recognizable as his own. “I don’t think this is real.”

Some part of Dean’s mind registers that the lights in the room have gone out. There’s blood on the wall. Dean isn’t even wearing the same clothes anymore. But that’s not the focus of his attention; everything else is just background noise to him now.

And he looks up at Cas with a terror rising inside him that he can’t even describe. Because he’s not holding onto Cas anymore, not even touching him, Cas is standing across the room, just looking at him, but there’s—emotion on his face, some emotion Dean can’t read.

Dean stares, and wills the image of Cas to stay there, stares like he thinks this will be the last look he’s ever going to get. Like—

Like something’s about swallow Cas up, take him away, until Dean can’t see him anymore.

He doesn’t know how he knows this.

He can’t stop this from happening.

He can’t move anymore.

He can’t even speak.

It feels like—

Like—

Something terrible bangs at the back of the room, in the back of his head, smashing into a wall somewhere behind him with a cold metallic echo, about to break it down, like—

He stares, and wills the image of Cas to stay there, because he can’t let this happen again.

The terror feels familiar, now. Like he’s seconds away from—

From—

Goodbye, Dean.

 

*

 

Sam cuts the ropes that bind his wrists, that kept him suspended from the ceiling, and the skin underneath is raw, bloody.

There’s a single red lightbulb suspended above his head, which must have had some specific purpose back when this empty building was a factory.

Even as Sam’s hands come up, trying to support him as they move into his field of vision, Dean crumples to his knees. Head leaning forward, gaze on the hard concrete floor beneath him. He feels like he can’t even breathe, and his jaw is clenched so tightly that it aches. A growl slips from between his teeth.

“God fucking damn it,” he grits out, voice shockingly rough, and not just from disuse over the last day, before it cracks at the end.

Eyes almost squeezed shut, the floor a dark blur in front of him, he’s distantly aware of the wetness on his face, in his eyes, as tears slowly ooze out, feeling more like blood as they leak thickly onto his cheeks.

And Sam is kneeling at his side, looking far more concerned than he did a moment ago when he was cutting Dean free and slipping him the antidote. Sam’s face goes pale with alarm when he hears Dean finally speak, when he hears this version of Dean’s voice.

Yeah, well, Dean doesn’t recognize this version of his voice, either.

And so Sam rescues him.

Now he’s woken up, to the nightmare that is his life.