It was the last place that Dean wanted to be, but he knew that Cas would want him be there, and he was only doing this for Cas. He had never met anyone from Cas' family, and he had only spoken to his brother, Gabriel, on the phone. There had been pictures, but mainly they were of Rachel, Cas' favorite sibling. His father was dead, and he had never heard much about his mother. He already felt out of place and they hadn’t even left for the cemetery yet.
Sam was seated on the couch with Abigail, kissing her face and laughing when he went downstairs, and Jess approached, coming to rest her hand on his chest. She smiled softly and adjusted his tie, stretching to kiss his cheek.
"You look handsome." She touched his shoulder and pulled away, smoothing her hands down her dress.
He smiled at her and Sam got off of the couch, Abigail tugging at his hair as he held her. Jess took her from him, and Abigail calmed down, quieting as Jess gently swayed with her.
"Are you sure you want us to come?" Sam questioned, resting his hand on Dean's shoulder, squeezing. Dean breathed and smoothed his thumb over the collar of Sam's shirt, nodding.
"Yeah. He would've wanted it."
Jess handed Abigail back to Sam, and he smiled when he took her, nosing at her face. She squealed and patted his cheeks, and Dean smiled. Jess went upstairs, saying that she needed to make sure her hair looked nice before they left. They had time. The funeral didn't start for another hour, and the cemetery was close by.
Abigail calmed down and tugged at the collar of Sam's coat.
"It's crazy, huh?"
Dean nodded, scrubbing a hand down his face.
"He was doing so well. I just thought that maybe - maybe-" the last words fell offand Dean pressed his fingers against his eyes. Sam grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him toward him, and Jess appeared from the stairs to take Abigail again. Dean clutched at the lapels of his coat as Sam wrapped his arms around him, completely surrounding him and holding him against his chest.
Sam hushed him and smoothed his hand along his back. Dean knew what he wanted to say. He's in a better place, he's not in pain anymore. He didn’t. Dean didn’t believe in those sorts of things. The hopes of God and Heaven were the luxuries of men who hadn’t seen boys die. Who hadn’t held them and watched them suffer at the hands of a random and reckless fate. He’d buried those things with Adam, and now, more of him would be buried with Cas. Sam just hugged him close and hushed him until he knew he could control himself.
Dean pulled back and pawed at his face, rubbing the tears away.
"God." His voice broke, and he swiped at his nose with the back of his hand. "I don't know-"
"Dean." Sam stopped him before he could start, hands resting on his shoulders and holding him at arm's length. "You're going to go. You have to go. You know Cas would want you there."
"But his family's going to be there."
He wanted an out. He couldn't do this, he wasn't strong enough to do this. After the hospital, he wanted to give up.
"I don't care, Dean. You're stronger than this, I know you are."
Dean lifted his hands and curled his fingers around Sam's wrists, pulling his hands away and nodding. He had to do this. He didn't care if Cas' family was there, and he didn't care if they didn't want him there. He was going to go, and he was going to see Cas off. He was going to do it right.
"Yeah, yeah." He smiled weakly and rubbed at his eyes. "Let's go."
They got into Sam's car, and Dean sat in the backseat with Abigail. He tickled her toes and she squealed, kicking her feet at him. He laughed softly and stroked his hand over her head, her thin hair tickling his palm, and she cooed, yawning and closing her eyes, leaning back in the car seat. Dean smiled and shifted, turning to look out of the window. Sam and Jess' neighborhood was nice, full of large, beautiful houses. Cas would've loved them; he always enjoyed houses that looked vintage.
He patted his pocket and the paper inside made a soft crumpling sound beneath his touch. He pushed his hand into his pocket to fish it out, and when he pulled it out, he unfolded it, smoothing it against thigh. It was an old photo that he had managed to find in his stuff. He didn't remember taking it when he left, but for some reason, he felt the need to keep when he did find it. The date on the back said it was from 1969, the year that Dean was drafted and shipped out. It was a photo of him before Dean's birthday was called on the television.
It was a lazy Sunday, and Cas had gotten new film for his camera. Dean had bought it for him the previous day, surprising him with it. He was always so excited when he got new film for his camera, because he loved taking pictures of everything. It made him so happy, made him smile so wide, and Dean loved when he was able to make Cas smile. It was hot, all the windows in the apartment were open, and neither of them were wearing shirts. Cas' hair stuck to his forehead, and Dean smoothed it away every chance he got. Cas would laugh and pull away for a moment before moving back in peck Dean's lips.
They stayed in the apartment that day, and some point in the haze, Cas had snapped a photo of Dean, laughing and being happy. He hadn't had any idea that Cas had taken until he heard the camera whirr and spit the picture out, but it was a picture that he actually liked. Cas immediately wrote the year on the back of it, and after Dean was drafted, he had told Cas to keep it with him, always. To look at it every chance that he got.
He smoothed his thumbs over the edge of the photo, looking down at a much younger version of himself. The version of himself that was in love and much more happier, because he was able to wake up every morning with Cas beside him. He was able to kiss him anytime that he wanted in the comfort of their home; eat dinner together and watch television together. Laugh together. He swallowed thickly and folded he photo back up, pushing it into his pocket.
…and there, right there beside me, that was you…
Sam and Jess didn't say much as they drove to the cemetery. He could see Jess nervously smoothing her hands over the front of her dress, looking in the rearview mirror at him every chance that she got. He caught her eyes once, smiling softly, and she smiled back, turning her attention away to mess with the radio, changing the station until she found a song that she liked. Dean clenched his fists and then unclenched them, smoothing his palms along his thighs, the material of his slacks coarse beneath his touch. He looked back out of the window, and he could hear Abigail stir in the car seat beside him. He turned and looked down at her, and she smiled up at him, stretching her arms up.
He touched her hand and she curled her tiny fingers around his index finger, kicking her feet.
"You look just like your mama," he whispered, to her and she blinked. The car came to a halt and he looked out of the window. There were a few cars parked near the cemetery, and he could see a small mass of people near a casket in the distance. He closed his eyes for a moment, paralyzed by the emotions welling in him. It was happening. He was actually there. They were actually burying Cas today.
He hadn't realized that Sam and Jess had gotten out of the car until the back door opened and Sam reached in. He jumped and opened his eyes, and Sam smiled at him as he helped Abigail out of her car seat. He smiled back, even if it was a little shaky, and opened the door, stepping out and walking to the other side of the car.
"You didn't have to come, y'know."
"Moral support," Jess said as she moved to stand beside him, taking his hand in her own and squeezing.
They were stopped by a blonde girl before they even made it halfway to where the ceremony was being held. She stood in front of Dean, arms crossed across her chest, narrowing her eyes. For a moment, he didn't recognize who she was, but then he remembered the photo that Balthazar had showed him.
"You must be Dean." Her whole body relaxed, and Dean saw she was clutching tissue in her hand. Her mascara was blotchy and caked at the corners of her eyes, but she didn’t seem to care. "Cas told me about you at my wedding," she added, shaking her head in disbelief. She brought the tissue to her mouth, and Dean could tell she was trying not to cry as her throat bobbed.
"Did he?" Dean laughed shaking his head. God, Cas had really talked about him to his family, even after everything that he had done?
"He wouldn't shut up about you!” she laughed, the sound jerking out of her, muffled by the tissue and her hand. Dean’s fingers twitched. She sounded just like Cas.
"He would never shut up about anything,” Dean amended, and she laughed harder, but the sound broke into something else. Dean’s smile wavered and she closed the distance between them, wrapping her arms around his back, pressing her face into him. Her shoulders shook and Dean froze before he automatically lifted his hand to the back of her neck, bending his face to her hair, returning the hug. She gave him a squeeze before she pulled away, moppingher eyes with the tissue. Her cheeks were cherry red from crying and her lipstick was hazy, but she was just as beautiful as Cas had made her out to be.
“I wanted to thank you,” she continued, “for…for taking care of him. I know you must think little of me.” Her lip trembled, “What sister would abandon their brother to something like that, but, I took one look at him and I couldn’t – ” She cut herself off. “He didn’t want me to see him like that,” she cried, composing herself. Dean nodded, touching her shoulder.
“Cas thought the world of you,” he murmured and she nodded. “And I think he really wanted you to be happy in a way he couldn’t be, and if that made him stay out of your way, it wasn’t because he didn’t love you.”
She agreed with him.
“I told him I loved him,” she breathed, dabbing at her cheeks with the damp tissue. “I did. I told him I loved him before I left, so he knew.”
“He knew,” Dean assured her.
She was quiet again, fidgeting, and Dean knew she was about to say something else.
"Michael won't be happy to see you,” she whispered, “But he promised me he wouldn’t do anything inappropriate. He’s all about appearances, anyway, so I don’t think you have anything to worry about. I don’t know about Gabriel…he’s - he’s very confused by all of this.” She patted her skirt nervously and then glanced at Dean with an expression he recognized as shame.
Of course they wouldn't be. They were the reasons that Dean didn't want to come in the first place. He knew they weren't going to be happy. He didn’t want dwell on it.
"This is my brother," he motioned to Sam, and Rachel turned to smile at him, shaking his hand. "And his wife, Jess, and my niece, Abigail." Rachel and Jess exchanged few words, and then she was leading them to where the ceremony was being held. It was small, just the five of them, Gabriel, and Michael. Of course they weren't thrilled to see Dean, but they ignored him through it for the most part.
The ceremony was short, and once it was over, Michael and Gabriel took their leave without a word. They didn't seem to want to stay long enough to watch Cas' casket get lowered into the ground, but Rachel didn't leave. She stood beside Dean as he brushed his hand over the casket, pulling it away to fish the picture out of his pocket.
"What's that?" she asked quietly, and Dean unfolded it and showed it to her.
"He kept it while I was away in ‘Nam, and I just wanted him to have it now."
She smiled and nodded, gently touching his arm before turning away. He folded the photo back up and pushed it into one of the crevices of the casket before it was lowered down. Sam slipped his arm around his shoulders and pulled him back, and Dean walked back to the car with him. Jess was already situated inside, and Dean climbed into the backseat, pressing the heel of his palm against his forehead. Jess turned around in her seat and took one of his hands, holding it between both of hers.
"It'll be okay, Dean."
He wiped at his eyes with his free hand.
"Yeah. I’ll be okay."
He hadn’t known what to do with the box at first. It had sat on a shelf in his apartment for days before he finally took it down and opened it again.
He read the letters. They stretched back to 1971, most of them written in the thirteen months Dean had been in active duty, but there were a few peppered between those and the last. It was so odd how clearly he could hear Cas’ voice in his head, and, coupled with the pictures, see him, but for a long time he didn’t know what to do about them other than let them sit idly on his bookshelf.
For Sam and Jess’s anniversary they had asked him to come down and watch Abby while they went to La Jolla for the weekend, and Dean hadn’t even hesitated, packing up bag as soon as he was off the phone. He adored his niece and he could think of nothing he wanted to do more than have her to himself for a few days. As he was packing he found his eyes kept wandering to the box, and after a half hour of glancing at it he finally took it down and placed it beside his things.
He’d bought Bobby’s old truck from him after Cas’ died. It just was more convenient now that he wasn’t riding constantly, and he liked it.
Sam and Jess’s house was in the suburbs, and passed right by the cemetery where Cas was buried, and it took no thought to decide to stop off on his way up there. He hadn’t been in a few weeks with work, and he wanted to make sure the flowers he’d brought last time weren’t worn out.
Hiking up the grass towards his grave, he caught site of a woman wearing a yellow Macintosh standing there already, her dark hair blowing slightly in the wind.
“Tessa?” Dean said as he came to stop and she turned, her delicate hand over her face.
“Dean!” she exclaimed, facing him, her skirt swirling around her knees in the wind.
“I’m sorry if I scared you,” Dean rushed, clearing his throat and glancing at Cas’ grave. “You’re just the last person I’d expect to see here.”
“I can’t believe we ran into each other – I’m just up here for a few days. My cousin wanted me to come visit her new house, and I hadn’t gotten the chance to come visit Cas yet.”
She looked towards the plot, tucking a sliver of hair behind her ear.
“They keep coming in, you know,” she murmured. “Boys just like him.” She played with her purse absently, her voice taking a lower tone.
“We lose them every time.” Her hair moved as she shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Dean remained silent.
“Thank you for calling me,” Dean said suddenly. “After everything.”
“I figured you could have used someone who had been there. Thank you for telling me where he was buried. You didn’t have to do that.”
“He adored you,” Dean shrugged. “You were some heavy competition.”
Tessa rolled her eyes.
“He just had something about him, I don’t know what it was. Like the glory had reached out and touched him,” she said after a pause. “Even when he was so sick…I don’t know. You could just see it in him. There were times I thought I saw his soul.”
“But you knew that,” Tessa added, and Dean laughed sadly.
“Did he tell you how it was love at first sight?”
“No!” she grinned, her hands folded into the pockets of her Macintosh.
Dean grinned back and then they both looked at Cas’ grave again when it dawned on Dean.
“Would you like to see pictures of him? Before?”
Tessa’s eyes gleamed.
“That would be absolutely lovely,” she said softly. She followed Dean down to the truck, and Dean opened the cab door, pulling the box towards him and rifling through it. He pulled out a few of the numerous photographs and moved to stand beside Tessa as he showed them.
“This is at a race…that’s him and Sam,” Dean pointed and Tessa raised a hand to her mouth, gently taking it from Dean’s hand, looking towards the next one.
“He was so cute,” she whispered and Dean smiled.
He insisted she take the photos with her and Tessa’s eyes welled with tears when she held them.
“I know it may not seem like much,” she said gently, wiping a few tears away, lifting her head to look at Dean, “but I don’t think people like Cas ever really say good bye.”
Dean hugged her.
“People like Cas say ‘see you then’,” he whispered into her ear and Tessa hugged him harder. They parted, and Dean drove on to Sam’s house. Jessica gave him the list of do’s and don’ts, but Dean knew how to handle his Abby, and Jessica thanked him approximately a thousand times as Sam dragged her out the door to the car.
Dean helped Abigail wave bye-bye at the window as Sam and Jess pulled out of the driveway, Jessica waving back at them.
He bounced Abigail against him and she laughed, hiding her face in his neck and laughing when he tickled her. She was so precious, her little blonde pigtails tied up in red ribbon, her big green eyes framed by long pretty lashes that cast shadows on her rosy cheeks.
Dean put her on the floor to play with her toys, watching her from the kitchen table while he warmed up a bit of casserole for himself, watching her go about her business.
She wiggled and jabbered at the blocks and little colored balls and soft plush lamb, sitting on her square blanket, clapping her hands every once in a while.
Dean smiled at her, and chattered back at her when she chirped, delighted when he could make her smile.
“I love you sweet Abby,” he smiled and she giggled, tapping two blocks together happily. He looked the box sitting next to his bag on the couch and tapped his fingers on the table. His eyes drifted back to Abby and he scratched a hand through his hair, thinking.
When the chair scraped across the tile, Abigail looked up and then resumed her play, talking to herself in an unintelligible language. Dean sat back down at the table, staring at the piece of paper and the pen he had collected from Sam’s desk drawer in the study, one room over.
He swallowed and heard Abby laugh again, the sound bright and good and wonderful. Later he’d feed her dinner and give her a bath and dry off her little wiggly body. He’d sing to her and put her to sleep and watch her, standing by her crib, as she slept, her dreams sweet and soft.
She would know how loved she was, even when she grew up. Even when she was older and wasn’t big enough to fit in his lap or ride on his shoulders. He wanted to tell someone about all this, but he wasn’t sure how to go about it. But he had promised someone he’d try.
He was going to keep his promises from now on.
Dean tapped his pencil against the table and looked down at the blank sheet. The lines waited patiently for him to fill them in. There was a lot to catch up on.
He rolled the pencil in his fingers and then carefully brought it down, hesitating a moment before he finally wrote two words on the top line.