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For some reason, Mary's car won't restart after Cas kills Billie, no matter how hard they try.

They notice first when it starts to rain. They're all still standing on the bridge, breathing heavily and glaring at each other, when it starts: real downpour shit, sudden and heavy. Freezing fucking cold and the last thing any of them want right now.

It has them all climbing back inside to the most awkward carful of people Dean's ever had the privilege to experience—a fucking high bar if there ever was one. It's tense and miserable and cramped and loud, raindrops seemingly the size of golf balls banging on the roof. Mary recovers enough to slap the heat button, turning the key again and again, but it doesn't come, and nobody's willing to get out when they know they'd be getting back into a cold car soaking wet. To top it all off, when they do—when the downpour comes to as sudden a stop as it did a start—the collective mechanical knowledge of three Winchesters and the cosmic power of one angel aren't much help. They are dead over the water.

None of them can figure out why. Maybe it's because Billie is no longer available to turn it back on. Maybe this is one of those cosmic consequences. Or maybe it's just a plastic piece of shit because the future fucking sucks and that's their fucking luck.

Mary says as much, seething, while kicking its bumper until it falls off. Sam flinches at the noise it creates, echoing wonkily down the stream they were in the middle of bridging. This makes Mary deflate miserably, which is somehow worse.

Cas sets his hand comfortingly on her shoulder, which is Dean's first real clue of how much has changed while they were in lockup. For all that he's been totally stoked whenever they, two of his favorite fucking people ever, get along, he's also aware that that's not the status quo as he left it. So this—Mary accepting comfort at all, let alone from Cas—is jarring, and kinda sad, and it sparks some dormant feeling, a little kid pressure-comfort, like being wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket by someone else more tightly than you ever could yourself.

Dean savors that last bit before it's quickly overwhelmed by the gross aftertaste of remembering what just happened. It's still there when he offers to scout for the nearest parking lot ("This is still technically a national park, right?") to hotwire a car, still there when Cas gives him this look, half desperate and half pissed off, before volunteering to come with.

And Dean is more than half pissed, but Sam is sitting more than leaning against the side of the car and Mary has this twitchiness to her that Dean knows the feeling of all too well, and...

Well. He's pissed, yeah, but also sickly grateful, and he hasn't— It's been a minute since Cas did something so stupid to save Dean, but more than that, it's been months, and as angry-slash-freaked out as Dean is, having that familiar Cas shape in the corner of his eye will always be grounding.

So.

"Alright, fine, then let's get a move on," Dean says, moving back to the car to grab the borrowed knife he left in the backseat when Billie arrived.

The handle is cool; the sun will start rising eventually, but for now it is dewy and dark. Somehow, only an hour has passed, but it's an unseasonably warm March. Or maybe it's been longer. Maybe it just feels like ages. Who knows. Between the however long it really was that he spent counting every three meals as a day and then the mad rush of the now-moot countdown to midnight, his internal clock is completely screwed.

"Fine," Cas echoes. He's staring straight at Dean's face even as Mary recovers enough to hand them both flashlights from the trunk. Dean doesn't take the bait, just like he didn't every day in there, holding back from praying to Cas until he had any info that would make it less than complete torture.

They walk off into the woods, each step both one more than Dean thought he'd ever get again and simultaneously excruciatingly infuriating. An hour ago, when he was about to permanently die, he was squeezing the hand that's holding a flashlight three steps ahead, and now he's glaring at the back of the head that goes with it. Figures...

The little road they'd been following stretches ahead, blandly and almost eerily paved, an incongruous bit of civilization in the middle of all this wilderness. It's asphalt, not concrete, but it's still making Dean itchy. At least running through the woods it was all different enough to remind him yes, they were in the world again, grass and blue sky and running water. He's sick of smooth surfaces, but here they go anyway.

Or they don't, apparently, as Cas is off the road almost as soon as they're out of sight of Sam and Mary.

"Uh. Hello?"

"It'll be faster if we go this way," Cas says, shining his flashlight into the woods. He glances up like he's getting his directions from the stars or some shit, even through the opaque clouds. Like any of them still get heavenly guidance, let alone listen to it.

"Yeah? You wanna try that again?"

He sighs and pauses but doesn't turn back to Dean. "The road doubles back on itself in a mile. I thought that rather than walk all that way for nothing, we would cut through the woods. You know. Since we've both already been walking all day."

Oh, that's what they're doing: that thing where Cas is pissed and reverts back to factory settings doucheangel mode. It's a withholding thing, which isn't out of the question for their usual back and forth, two friends bitching at each other, but is noticeable. There's no sense that this is an act, that they're still buddies beneath. This isn't ribbing. No, this is a Cas that's genuinely pissed. Fine. So is Dean. Hey, look at that! They're on the same page for once.

"Great." Dean infuses it with so much sarcasm even Cas can't miss it. "Great communication, buddy. Maybe next time I'll even get to hear the plan before you go right ahead and do it."

The ambient noise of the wet woods is starting to ramp up as the dawn slowly approaches, but it's still not enough to cover Cas's heavy sigh. It's a familiar fucking sound, to say the least. Dean knows it well.

"Here we go," he mutters mutinously under his breath where he knows Cas can hear. He's rattled and angry and tired as hell, he's allowed.

"I'm not sorry," Cas says pointedly. "I would do it again. Knowing you, I'll probably have to. I won't apologize for that."

"Of course you won't." Only Cas could make the declaration that you'd die for somebody sound like an insult. "You know, it's been long enough that I kinda forgot how much of a stubborn asshole you can be."

"I learned from the best."

Cas shines his flashlight between a few trees and picks a lane to the right, not responding to Dean's indignant scoff.

"Damn right," he mumbles, begrudgingly following in Cas's footsteps.

Now that they're on it, Dean can make out a thin path, barely walked, the kind you can only see if you know to look for it. A squirrel skitters ahead of them, apparently knowing. It stops, looks at Cas, and continues on its merry fucking way. Dean's almost jealous, though he's not exactly sure of what: the fact that the thing knows where it's going or that it's capable of looking Cas in the eye.

"Doesn't mean it's not still annoying as hell," Dean adds after a few feet. He doesn't know why exactly. Picking a fight, probably, or talking just to hear someone else talk back. Just cause he's pissed doesn't mean he's suddenly forgotten about being locked up in a box.

"Well, I'm sorry for annoying you." The ground beneath them starts to slope up, but Cas's steps don't slow, just come down heavier in the mud. "What can I say. I guess it's my specialty."

"'Annoying' ain't exactly the word I'd use for it. Reckless. King of stupid decisions."

Cas cuts in, "Making a blood pact with a reaper isn't a stupid decision?"

"The biggest pain in my ass since the world started ending for the first time." He smacks away the springy branch Cas lets go of a second too quickly.

"Seeing as most of my stupid decisions have led to saving your life, you'd think you would be more appreciative."

Dean slips for a second in the uphill mud when Cas catches him by the elbow. Their eyes meet, just for a second, but long enough for Dean to see Cas still isn't any closer to apology. Fine. Neither is Dean. "You just make my life so easy, huh."

"No," Cas says flatly, letting go of Dean but not moving away. "I guess dying would be the easy option. For you."

"Cuz why not add 'cosmic consequences' to the whole search for Lucifer's son?"

Cas rolls his eyes and opens his mouth, but Dean, on autopilot, steamrolls ahead.

"Sounds like a classic Winchester recipe for disaster. Welcome to the family, bud. Guess you really are one of us."

Like a cartoon character running off a cliff and motoring back towards the edge when they realize a second too late, Dean is scrabbling to get the words back even as they're leaving his mouth. Too late: the floor drops out beneath him, made worse when he looks over and sees himself in the mirror, hands on the trapdoor lever.

Even then, the devastation he feels at saying it pales in comparison to the look on Cas's face. He looks like he's been stabbed in the back—like he's been stabbed in the front, where he can see Dean is the one doing it, and unlike when they first met, he needs that heart to live. Unlike when they first met, he uses that heart, kind of a lot.

"Cas—"

"Don't." He turns back to the path, even further out of reach than Dean's symbolic raised hand could touch. "Just—"

"I didn't mean—"

Cas is picking up the pace when he stops completely, whirling back around, fast enough anyone else would fall over. "And how would that make it better? Not only do I make stupid decisions, I don't even get to be family for it?"

"That's not—" Floor, again, falling out, plummeting him down another level so he's choking on the heart in his throat. "No, Cas. That's not what I meant."

There's a second where it looks like Cas wants, desperately, to let it lie, but it doesn't stick. "Really? Because that's what you said."

"Yeah, but you know I'm not..."

Cas's face goes soft at the edges, but not enough. He knows exactly what Dean means—knows Dean, all too fucking well—but no life preserver is incoming. No one's coming to untie the life boats for him. Dean's on the deck of the Titanic and Cas is both the iceberg and the rescue ship still miles away.

Air rushes out in cold swirls around Cas's face as he deflates. The morning has grown cold in that darkest-before-the-dawn way, making Dean's fingers cramp around the knife. He doesn't mind, though—if anything, he welcomes it. Anything but the controlled tepid nothing of his cell.

"I know," Cas replies to this silence. "I just don't understand why you have to say something hurtful instead."

It's not cruel, but it's not kind either. It's not an out.

And all Dean can say is, "Road's this way?"

Cas nods, seemingly grateful for the change in subject. That, at least, Dean can definitely do, so he steps ahead and continues up the slope. He was already eager to burn everything he's got on, but he's grateful now, at least, that it's not his boots he's getting absolutely caked in mud and mulch. He can't wait to get out of them, to have a shirt not attached to his pants, to have something else to feel, some other texture, and his own goddamn bed, and—

Dean gets about a yard or so before he notices the only footsteps are his.

"Hey." He turns, flashlight swinging, and spots Cas only a few steps from where they'd started, staring at the ground with his hand spanning his forehead. "Cas?"

"Don't," Cas says flatly. He drags his hand down his face and starts walking again, but something's off about it. For as long as he's been away, Dean's not rusty enough to miss that.

"Hey—"

Cas stomps past him, shoulders tight. "No, Dean."

"C'mon, man, really?" As shitty as things have been, as pissed as they both are, he kind of thought things were half a step better. "I said I was sorry."

"You actually didn't," Cas snaps, voice brittle and higher than usual, "but that's not the point. Leave it alone."

"No, hang on. Leave what—?"

"Me!" Cas whirls, and the sun must have started to rise in earnest at some point because it's just bright enough that Dean doesn't need the flashlight to see the tears in his eyes. "Leave me alone."

"What the hell?"

"No."

Cas stalks away into the forest, somewhere between where they came from and where they were supposed to be headed. Like an asshole, he cuts off his flashlight to make it harder to follow him, which is a real dick move, except Dean can't stop thinking about the way his eyes shone, the frantic, pissed off slope of his eyebrows.

"Cas, come on."

"Just stop talking, Dean."

"No," Dean tells his back, because Cas was right, he did learn how to be a stubborn asshole from the best.

"Yes."

"No, Cas, come on, what—"

It's not funny. It's really not, except for how it would be, if it were happening to anyone else, or even them at any other time, because one second Dean has his eyes trained on the back of Cas's head and the next all he can see is thin air.

He figures out why in another half second when his own foot makes contact with a patch of slippery leaves and tilts him just enough off-center to go careening down the hill after Cas.

It still has the audacity to hurt, slipping and sliding his ass over all those rocks and roots. It's steep, but it's not far, going by too quick and in too many tumbles of the blinding flashlight to see much of anything. Still, when Dean manages to skid to a stop, he can see Cas lying back in the dirt a few feet away.

There's a split second of fear before Dean's eyes readjust to the shadow and he can see the look on Cas's face. He doesn't look cut up or in pain. No, he's staring up at the sky with the bleak, blank look of a man who's accepted life is just gonna keep getting worse.

Dean knows that face. He invented that face. He pushes himself up into sitting. "Cas..."

Like that, Cas's face folds in on itself, eyes shutting like even the smallest reminder of Dean's presence is enough to give him an instant migraine. "Please, Dean. Please."

He knows what Cas is asking, but he still says it again. "Cas."

Cas sighs, covering his face with both hands. His flashlight is somewhere else, but it's dark anyway. The only light is the brightening sky and Dean's Maglite, facing off somewhere else.

"Don't."

Dean gets up on his knees as Cas sits up, the blankness falling onto his face again. He still won't look anywhere near Dean, eyes trained on his own knees, the dirt beyond them, somewhere else.

"Tell me."

"What do you want to hear?" Cas snaps. He finally looks at Dean and God, Dean really wishes he wouldn't. "Because it won't be an apology. I'm not sorry, Dean. I don't see a point in saving a world that doesn't have you in it."

It's funny, the things you don't notice happening until they've already happened. That's how Dean found out he was in love with Cas—years ago, but still after the fact. That's how he realizes now how much Cas has changed since they met: how human and vulnerable and contradictory, all a person is. Like now, with his hands thrown up at his sides in human fidgety exasperation, and his eyes sad but accepting, like he knows the joke is on him and he's fine with it. The knot in his tie is wonky. There's a leaf plastered to the toe of his boot. He's so far from the person who blew the lights out in that barn a lifetime ago while managing to still be the same. And yeah, Dean does love him—both versions, and everyone in between.

After the fact is also how Dean realizes now that's he's tired—so fucking tired—of lying to himself and everyone else. And so Dean stands, holds his hand down to Cas (who doesn't need it but will take it anyway), and says, "Sorry."

When Cas looks up, Dean drops his hand and clarifies, "About not praying. I mean, all of it, but that I coulda done and I just... I didn't have any info to pass on and didn't want to annoy you."

Annoy—still—isn't the right word, but Cas knows what he means. Still, he deflates, almost laughs, "It wouldn't have bothered me to know you were alive."

"Yeah." Dean shrugs, lame but genuinely contrite, and offers his hand again. "Guess I didn't think about that part."

This time Cas takes it, letting Dean lever them both up into standing at the bottom of the hill they came crashing down what feels like hours ago. He brushes wet, limp leaves from his coat as Dean retrieves his flashlight.

As they start to walk again, Cas admits, embarrassed and pissed off in equal measure, "It probably wouldn't have gone through anyway. The area is very heavily warded—old Enochian magic, a lot of it disguised. Lucifer must have given them instructions or done it himself. I would guess it only didn't work on Billie because Death is the only thing to predate angels. I just—"

When he cuts off this time, it isn't because of an obstacle in their path or the wildlife or some suspicious sound in the distance. It isn't because he's crying either. The ground is flat. The trees around them are mostly quiet, with only a few rustles here and there in the trees from waking birds and shit. Cas's face is dry and uncovered. They're still walking, but Cas is quiet: Cas is not saying something for some internal reason that Dean now desperately wants to know, if only because he's so sick of only his own thoughts for company, of never having anything unknown, of never having, well, Cas.

He keeps his eyes low on the barely necessary beam of his flashlight. Curled leaves cast shadows across themselves in two directions, cast by both their flashlights now. "What?"

"Nothing," Cas says automatically, but then Dean swings the flashlight to catch his eye. Not that it's hard.

"What?" Dean repeats.

"Just... It would have been nice to hear another voice, I guess. Even if you had nothing real to say. The bunker is very quiet." Cas glances at him askance, rueful and sad, then laughs, "It's been a hard few weeks."

Dean drops his flashlight and knife easily, not even listening for the soft thump of them hitting the forest floor. He doesn't need to carry them. Cas can guide them through the dark. Cas can...

"Okay." Forehead to forehead, hands heavy against Cas's neck, Dean breathes with his whole lungs for what feels like the first time in months. He pushes closer, lining up their noses and pressing in enough to feel cartilage compounding, his own breath rebounding off Cas's face before him. "Okay."

Cas goes unnaturally still, but he doesn't pull away. The sky is lightening on the other side of Dean's closed eyelids, the pale pink of dawn dissipating until there's only blue, cool and weightless, the opposite of the blue Dean knows he'd see if he opened his eyes.

"Hey." He reels back half an inch to bonk their heads together again, which seems to knock something loose in Cas, bringing him back to life. "Yeah?"

"What, okay? " Cas is clinging back now, hands around Dean's elbows, and he's pissed again but he's not going anywhere. He never was. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"That— I don't know. We'll figure it out."

"Are you still mad at me?"

"Are we still being honest?"

This time Cas bonks Dean, but there's a laugh somewhere in it. Maybe in the way his nose digs into the side of Dean's. Maybe just silent in the air between them.

In response, Dean tucks their heads together, cheek to cheek. They've never touched for this long before, and Dean can now see why: it's very hard to let go. 

"Yeah, we're probably gonna have to fight about it more," he continues, though he's starting to believe they won't if they just stay here like this forever. "Wouldn't be us if we didn't."

"Sometimes I find our dynamic very frustrating," Cas grumbles, his cheek barely moving against Dean's. His voice fills Dean's ear in beautifully lopsided stereo. "Not that I don't value your friendship above all else, but..."

"Could probably do without the cosmic consequences," Dean finishes.

"Yeah." Cas's hands slide up protectively over the back of Dean's neck. "It would be nice if the world stopped ending just because one of us had to save the other from their own stupid actions by doing something even stupider."

"Well, maybe if you quit throwing yourself in front of bullets for me..."

It's supposed to be just another volley, but Cas's face falls as he reels back, hands gripping on Dean's shoulders, to look him in the eye. He's got that wild, angry look again, like he did after killing Billie, but it's more than dismayed or worried underneath—it's just sad.

"You can't ask me that," he says. It's not a plea but a statement of fact, one that leaves Dean helpless but to obey. "Dean. You can't."

"Okay." He squeezes Cas's hand on him. "Okay."

"I won't do this without you."

Dean should probably ask what "this" is, but he just nods like he knows. Of course he does. It's that big everything, too big for any other word. He nods like he knows what it means because he does, even if he can't translate it, and he knows because he feels it too.

And it'll be funny, later, how easy it is when Dean now darts forward to kiss Cas, brief and familiar, but for now it is unthinking and barely more than the quick comfort it's intended as. It's a hundredth kiss, in a way, despite its newness, but in a way that only makes sense: recasting years of previous interactions as unspoken, intangible prologue.

The kiss starts out intense but chaste, just the two of them pressing lips as close as possible. Cas's hands are hesitant to reach out, like he's afraid Dean will disintegrate under his touch, but when he doesn't, when his ribs are solid if emaciated, when it's clear that this is Dean and Cas and it is real, something unleashes.

Like that, Cas has Dean pushed up against the nearest tree, mindful of the harshness of the bark and the impact but earnest nevertheless. Dean can't do much but hold on as Cas kisses him again and again, deeper and deeper, and it's good, it's the best he's felt in not just weeks but years, cared for and wanted and missed all at once. Cas is covering him, shielding him from the chilly forest they're lost in, and it's warm. Dean can't remember the last time he actually felt warm down to the tips of his fingers. 

When he comes back to Earth, he realizes Cas is saying something over and over against Dean's skin wherever he can get it. "I won't. Dean. I won't."

It takes Dean a long second to remember what it's a continuation of. With Cas breathing in, onto, all around him, it's hard to remember anything could be so dire.

"I got it, I got it," he breathes back. "Not so fun being the one left behind, huh?"

Rather than argue the point, Cas just kisses him again, probably for the best. It's like stepping in a hot bath. It's a full body rapture. Cas kisses him again and there's nothing left.

Eventually, Dean knows, they'll have to go back to wandering the woods. Eventually they'll have to get back to finding a car, getting the hell out of Colorado, stopping Lucifer's baby, plus those ominous sounding cosmic consequences they've gotta deal with on top of it all, but now—

Now the sun is rising pale purple through the trees, though the cold air doesn't stand a chance against the warmth of their bodies against each other. Now Dean can hear the familiar sound of not-so-distant tires speeding down blacktop, though not it's not as sweet as finally another heartbeat in his ears other than his own, itself no match for the fact that it's Cas's: Cas's hair flattened against his, Cas's arms hanging heavy comfort over his shoulders, Cas's fingers curled securely over his nape.

A long line of fuck ups led them here, to this moment of quiet comfort in the woods. In a way, this too is a cosmic consequence of their actions. Sometimes, stars align.