Actions

Work Header

Love You 'Til I'm Dead

Work Text:

Well maybe there's a God above

But all I've ever learned from love

Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.

Well it's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.

- Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley (original lyrics Leonard Cohen)


Sometimes Dean slams his head into his pillow in the middle of the night when he remembers that Cas is dead. He punches his stomach and his legs and every inch of himself to try to override the pain, to shove the physical forward and dampen the mental, but all it does is bring tears to his eyes, and he's allowed to cry for the pain in his body, but not for the spaces in between his fingers and in his bed which he'd hoped Cas would fill one day.

He never wakes Sam, never makes a sound, just mouths fucking son of a goddamn fuck damnit into his skin and his mattress and anywhere that will listen until his body is as bruised as his soul because Dean without Cas is not Dean, it is simply Dean-without-Cas. (It's basic mathematics, really. You take something away from something else, and the something else is not the same. Unless the something was nothing. But Cas was not nothing.)

If Sam's noticed a change in his emotional state, he hasn't mentioned it. He probably just thinks that the reason Dean's been a lot more self-sacrificing lately is to feel worth something and in control, seeing as this is his go-to strategy for dealing with loss. But, at four a.m. when he's drowning in everything he's holding back, Dean knows that he wants to die.

So when Cas comes to Dean in the middle of the night, needless to say, Dean hugs him and tries to keep his crying under control. So when Dean wakes up and realises none of it was real, needless to say, Dean hugs his knees to his chest and cries uncontrollably.

Dean falls into a sort of routine: one hour's sleep for four nights, then sixteen hours the next night. Unless it's a night hunt, in which case, Dean doesn't sleep at all, choosing instead to drink too much 'Irish' coffee and take too many aspirin. Of course, Sam keeps trying to talk to him about it this "lifestyle". There's a tone he uses when he's about to say something serious – an octave higher than usual, his eyebrows knitted together – that gives Dean just enough warning to quickly change the subject. He's not six, he can deal with his problems on his own, Sam doesn't need to crack open the Häagen-Dazs every time one of their friends dies.

But it sucks, not gonna lie. It really fucking blows. It's emotional torture. Dean has never considered suicide before, and even now, it's not a reasonable option. Angels don't have souls. Cas is gone for good. That's it. Kaput. Lights out, Huckleberry Finn.

Yeah. It fucking sucks.


Dean checks his phone. 2:13 a.m. Sam has been snoring Dean's ears off for thirty-four minutes now, so Dean figures he's safe. Already fully clothed, he rolls silently out of bed, grabs his keys and a few beers, and closes the motel room door behind him.

The ride in the Impala is quiet and uncomfortable, with awkward tension between himself, his memories, and what he's about to do. He reaches into the (so empty) passenger seat and cracks open a beer can one-handed. He's half drunk already; no freaking way he could do this sober. Driving under the influence isn't really one of his biggest concerns. If he can wake up each morning and get out of bed, he can do fucking anything.

If only he were driving without knowing where he's going. Sadly, he knows exactly where he's heading to.

After forty five minutes and two of the eight beers he brought, he reaches the lake. Hands minutely shaking, he turns off the engine and rests his head on the steering wheel. Swearing under his breath, he grabs the rest of the beer and the coat and gets out.

It takes him a brief stint with wire cutters and eight strides to reach the edge. He hates it. He hates how beautiful it is. Dean finds himself looking at a wide expanse of water, black in the darkness, silver in the moonlight, and a million shades in between. How dare it shine. How dare it look at him like nothing's happened. How dare it even exist anymore, especially in his presence. How he wishes it didn't exist, never existed, oh Cas.

He doesn't cry. He's too angry to cry. Everything is so quiet and he needs to change that. He throws an empty beer can in the lake, causing a small splash and a bird to fly off in the distance. "Goddamnit," he says, then shouts it. The silence that follows is almost offensive, taunting, so he keeps yelling just to piss it off, because he can do that, and maybe if he yells loud enough Cas will hear him. Maybe he can yell loud enough to reach four months back in time to when Cas walked into this lake and didn't walk out.

Dean's breathing is speeding up and he leans on his knees for a moment, regaining control. He didn't just come here to shout like a damn kid. He's going to bring that son of a bitch back.

He picks up a branch from under a tree and gets the note from his pocket. Following the drawing, he carves out an Enochian symbol in the soil, reading words off the paper as he does. He finishes the symbol and, still chanting the spell, he picks up the folded trenchcoat and places it in the middle of the symbol. He pulls his lighter from his back pocket, flicks it on, and throws it onto the coat, synonymous with the end of the spell. The coat catches fire, blazing red and blue and purple all at once, the flames reaching three feet in the air, straight up. Dean slices into his palm with his knife and throws his hand into the fire, letting the blood fall onto the coat through flames he cannot feel.

Suddenly the fire goes out. The coat is undamaged. There is nothing.

And –
Then –
There's –

"Cas?"

A warm smile greets him. "Hello, Dean."

"It worked?" he stutters, dropping the knife and the piece of paper and everything, just everything, oh.

"It seems likely." He moves towards Dean. "How have you been?"

Dean can only stare. It shouldn't have worked. It was a pathetic attempt by a pathetic man. He never dreamed...

"What the hell," is his way of voicing his concerns.

"I was in Heaven," replies Cas. Cas. "You summoned me."

"You... were in heaven?" Dean says, almost an accusation.

Cas holds up his hands. "Let me explain." He takes a moment to recover from his surprise as Dean actually stops and lets him explain. "When I went into this lake –" he sweeps his hand out, gesturing, "- I wasn't completely dead, therefore I was returned to Heaven upon my destruction. Needless to say, they weren't happy with me." He looks down a little, aware that Dean could still be angry. He leaves a small pause for Dean to say anything if he needs to. But Dean only stares in awe. Cas.

"Upon my return to Heaven, I was put in a 'jail'," says Cas, making air quotes with his fingers on the last word, causing the side of Dean's mouth to tilt up. "I was told I would be serving my time for my crimes. It mostly involved doing research and writing gospels. That was where I was a few moments ago." He smiles again. A shiver runs through Dean's whole body. "You broke me out, Dean. Thank you."

"I didn't think it would work." It's the only rational thought he has.

"Under usual circumstances, it wouldn't. But I was studying an old Enochian object at the time, which must have boosted the signal somehow, enabling my escape." He hasn't stopped staring at Dean. For once, he doesn't complain. For once, he stares right back, as he's been longing to do for God knows how long.

He knows Cas's reasoning is shaky, but he doesn't care. There are about two yards in between them, and all Dean can think about is closing that space and wrapping his arms around his angel and threatening God that if he fucking thinks about taking Cas away again he's gonna have the wrath of one angry-fucker-with-nothing-to-lose on his tail.

"We have much to talk about," says Cas, breaking the silence. It's been a few minutes since either of them has spoken. "Not here. Somewhere inside."

"Why?"

"I... are you not cold?"

"No," Dean says automatically, then realises that he can't feel his hands. "A little, maybe. It doesn't matter." He notices for the first time that Cas is wearing his trenchcoat, yet the one on the ground hasn't moved.

"Dean, please." Cas gives him a look, his eyes so big, so blue, so here, so Dean sighs and agrees. "I'll meet you back at the motel." He starts to move towards the car.

"No," Cas says immediately. Dean stops and looks at him.

"No?"

"Sam is there. Not Sam. Not yet." He looks uncomfortable. Dean can read Cas pretty well – the trick is looking past the innocence and the eyes and the vessel to the actual spirit inside that may as well have three heads or six bladders in its true form – and Cas is hiding something. He can recognise this look. It's the one he gave off every time they were together when he was working for Crowley. Then, he didn't know what it meant. But he does now.

"Cas, what's going on," Dean asks in a low voice, regretting leaving his knife on the floor.

Cas sighs, looking around, over Dean's shoulder. Instinctively, Dean also looks over his shoulder. Nothing, only trees and darkness. When he turns back, Cas is standing two feet in front of him. His eyes are lazy, gazing into Dean's. Dean cannot speak. He involuntarily makes a small noise in the back of his throat. He coughs.

A bird sings in the distance. Something jumps in the lake. Cas tells Dean that it's not right, not right now, but he'll be back, and then leaves, his presence echoing in the sound his wings cause.

Dean falls to his knees, praying that he's not in a dream. But usually, his dreams go a lot differently. He's not sure if he's got Cas back at all.

Who cares. He's alive.


The alarm goes off at 5:30a.m. Dean throws out his arm and knocks it off the table. But Sam heard it, and he's up, and he's shaking Dean, little bitch, ugh, get off. Sam chuckles and mutters, "Make me," under his breath. He slaps Dean's calf and swans into the bathroom to shower.

Dean rolls onto his back and stares up at the ceiling. He can remember driving home, walking through the door, lying down to sleep, finally giving in to it at 4:45. It wasn't a dream. Cas is back.

Should he tell Sam?

He won't tell Sam.

Cas is alive.

He grins, and it fades a bit when he remembers what was said last night. He could have handled it a bit better. Maybe said more to Cas. Maybe confessed how much he's missed him. But Cas said he'd be back. No point dwelling over something out of his control.

So he hauls himself out of bed, pulls on his jeans and yells at Sam to hurry the fuck up cos he really doesn't want to be alone with his thoughts right now.


The day passes as usual. Three hours on the road to Sioux Falls, a minor case from Bobby, two hours to Colorado, four hours to track down the demons and gank their sorry asses, an hour to the closest motel, four hours of research (laptop for Sam, whisky for Dean), two hours refilling bottles with Holy water and filling rounds with rock salt, until Sam decides to crash at 11 and Dean finds himself sitting on the floor of the shower, hating himself for being such a damn cliché, trying to breathe and silently praying to Cas.

After he turns off the water and wraps himself in a towel, he wipes the steam off the mirror to look at himself. His eyes look into themselves, noticing how tired and dark they've become. Has he always had those bags? Has he always been that pale?

No, of course he hasn't.

He gets dressed in his boxers and t-shirt and walks back into the bedroom, placing his shirt and jeans on the crappy motel chair. The room is silent and dark, and Sam's steady breathing tempts him closer to sleep. But Cas said he'd come. Why hasn't he come?

"Dean?" Sam whispers.

Oh, that's why.

"What?" Dean says, voice harsh against the previously silky atmosphere.

"What're you doing? You've been standing there for – what, ten minutes?" Sam's voice is heavy with exhaustion; presumably he can't sleep with Dean's looming presence making him uncomfortable.

"Just thinking, Sam, go to sleep."

There's a pause of a minute or so as Dean listens intently for Sam's breathing to slow down. He curses under his breath as he hears Sam sit up. Moments later, he turns on the bedside lamp.

"Dean."

"Fucking go to sleep, Sam."

"Dean, come on. I know when there's something wrong with you. I've known it for weeks now. I wanna help."

Dean laughs without humour. "There's nothing wrong with me, okay? Nothing to worry about."

Sam sighs, bitchy as ever. "I'm gonna worry whether you tell me to or not, man. May as well give me a reason."

He just sits there, waiting for Dean to spill his soul and fucking braid Sam's hair. No. He doesn't want to deal with this right now, Sam's still awake, meaning Cas won't show up for some goddamn reason, what the hell is going on with him anyway, but fuck does Dean want to see him more than anything, and certainly more than he wants to deal with Sam right now.

"Right, well, you sit there working on that problem, I'm gonna go get a drink." Dean pulls on the rest of his clothes, grabs his car keys and slams the door on Sam's high-pitched yells of protest.

He crosses the practically empty car park, footsteps not as fast as his heartbeat as the wall of work that had been holding back the tide breaks down, and a sea of Cas fills his mind. He tries not to drown in it, but he thinks he might want to.

After a few miles of pointless driving, his senses come back and he remembers that Cas is an angel and he's gotta summon him. It's just been so long since he's done so – gonna be hard to break back into the habit.

"Cas, I'm alone," he prays, looking to the ceiling of the Impala, keeping both hands on the wheel. "I don't know why that's important, but I am." He hesitates, before adding, "Please."

"Hello, Dean."

Dean swerves into the next lane, causing a trucker to honk loudly. "Fuck, Cas. How many fucking times." He looks over at the figure beside him, looking him up and down. Trench, tie, hair. It's all him.

"I'm sorry." Cas looks right into his eyes again, nearly causing Dean to lose control once more. Of the car, that is.

The side of Cas's leg is resting dangerously close to Dean's. Taking his eyes off the road, Dean pores over the image of Cas's hand; such a simple thing, so much more than he could have wished for. So many possibilities in the palm of that hand. Shut up.

"Are you alright?" Cas asks, turning his head and most of his body to Dean.

"Yeah, yeah."

"No, Dean. I mean, have you been alright?"

Dean doesn't look at him. He doesn't think he'll be capable of lying while looking into those eyes, not now. "Sure. I've been fine. You know me. Handle anything."

From his peripheral, Dean sees Cas frown, his brow furrowing, his full lips pursing. "Right."

"So. Wanna give me some answers?"

"Like what?" comes the confused reply.

"Like, why the hell won't you see Sam?"

Cas sighs, the sound too world-weary for someone who spends most of their time in Heaven, albeit as a prisoner or whatever. "It's complicated."

"I'm listening."

"Dean, I can't –" He sighs again, and Dean's taken back to Sam's bitchfest a few days previous, when he'd found his documentaries deleted from Bobby's DVR to make room for Dean's more recreational documentaries. Of the Busty Asian kind. Dean smiles to himself, keeping it only on the left side of his face so Cas doesn't see.

"Is this really important?" The change in his tone makes Dean turn to him immediately. Seeing the pleading, desperate look on Cas's face, he pulls over and switches off the engine.

He raises his eyebrows, motioning Cas to continue.

"Dean, I haven't seen you for months. Excuse me if I don't want to talk logistics." His voice is lower, gentler, with a slow and simple vulnerability that takes the fast lane to Dean's heart. "I haven't been able to watch over you, all this time. You have no idea how uncomfortable that made me, trapped in my body, blind. I couldn't..." Sigh. "I couldn't come when you called. I didn't know if you were alive at times. It was..." He trails off, running one of those hands through that hair. "I suppose you could call it torture, though that wasn't the intention."

"You heard me praying?" Dean says, voice hoarser than it was a few moments ago. He takes his hands off the wheel and reaches out to Cas's shoulder. Cas flinches away. Dean drops his hand.

"Yes, I heard you. I was nearly ripped out of my vessel, I tried so hard to get to you."

"So that means you heard everything... everything I said?" He's stating the obvious now. But to be specific means to ask if Cas heard his 'I love you'.

"Yeah. Everything." Cas looks up from his hands in his lap to look at Dean. He watches as Cas rakes his eyes over the planes of his face, down over his shoulders – no longer drooped in defeat – his chest – no longer deflated, the pain inside almost healed – and back up to his lips. Dean is almost brought to tears, his longing is so bad.

"So, uh." Dean coughs, forcing Cas's eyes up to more appropriate places. He regrets it immediately. He's his own goddamn personal cockblock. "What would you prefer to talk about?"

Cas smiles nervously. "I have a reply for you."

"A reply? Well, that's not vague. A reply to what?"

Cas places a hand on the dashboard to steady himself, and looks out the front window to the vast expanse of stars overhead. "You know," he says, almost to himself, "I've never been anywhere but Earth."

"You and me both," Dean grumbles, annoyed at the change of subject.

"I've heard stories about other places, other planets, other civilisations, but I've never been out there."

"Why not?"

"Never been allowed. Never wanted to until now." His eyes narrow a little as he squints, as if he could make out the entire universe from looking out the window of some car on some planet with some guy who loves him. "But I can see the appeal. Earth keeps getting itself in trouble."

"At least Earth's got us," Dean says. Well, means to say. It comes out as no more than a whisper. He can hardly hear it himself, though he doesn't doubt that Cas can. There's so much space out there, so much emptiness, but not here. Right here, finally, Dean thinks that maybe he's starting to heal.

Cas chuckles, making Dean's heart ache. What a rare sound that is, the laugh of an angel. His angel. He'd once thought it was gone forever. Now it seems it is simply, once again, limited edition.

"That's right." Cas turns to face Dean, pouring his non-existent soul into his words through the look. "Earth's got you."

Oh. That reply.

"Cas, you don't have to say it. It's okay."

"We both know that you can't tell me what to do, Dean." There's humour in his voice, and Dean smiles, in spite of himself. Cas reaches his hand up to touch Dean's face but, a few inches away, he stops, and drops his hand back in his lap.

"I want to say that I love you," says Cas, dropping his eyes to Dean's neck, tracing his eyes delicately along the structure of his jaw. "But I'm afraid of what it would entail."

"What are you talking about?" His voice sounds so damn stupid, like a lovesick teenager. He winces when it comes out of him. Him.

"I..." Cas shakes his head, leaning away from Dean. "I could be recaptured at any minute. I could be found out, and we could never see each other again. I don't want to do any irreparable damage."

Dean makes an annoyed sound, rolling his eyes. "Is that it? Dude, who are you dealing with here. You know what shit's happened to me. You were there for half of it. You think I can't take another load of heartbreak?"

"I think you're capable of anything, Dean. But that's not the point. I don't want to add to your suffering. At all. Ever." His mouth moves for a few seconds, trying to form more words, until he seems to decide something in his mind, resting his left arm over the seat and facing Dean. "You people, humans, you're always leaving your mark on things. It's like you want to brand yourself onto the world, create your own scar. You don't realise that scars are bad things, always bad things. Sure, they tell stories, but you put enough scars together and there's nothing left of the skin." His eyebrows knit together, making him look so lost that Dean reaches out to him again. But Cas stops him, saying, "No, Dean. I don't want to do that to you. I can't add my own slash to your soul."

Oh.

"You've seen my soul," Dean recalls.

"I did more than see it. I held it."

"You... you saw it, and everything on it, and, what, you think it's too shitty?" He's getting pissed off now. Dude's being too cryptic, it's giving him a headache. Why can't he touch him?

"No, Dean. Nothing like that." Dean swears he sees Cas's eyes sparkle with the beginnings of tears, his voice sounding so broken and far from home. "I think it's beautiful. I treat it with respect, and frankly, awe."

Well if it isn't another cliché. Cas has fallen in love with his soul. And it's really fucking hot.

All he wants to do is kiss him. But Cas won't touch him.

"Why won't you touch me, then?" Dean says, feeling exposed with his cards on the table. "Man, you have been staring at my mouth ever since you got back. I can't help but notice the mixed signals."

Cas shakes his head again, letting out a low groan as he looks helplessly around him. "Dean, I can't answer your questions, I just can't."

"Why not?"

"For your own good," says Cas firmly, turning his glare to Dean, voice hardening while the softness in his eyes remains.

Dean eyes him. "Yeah, you always say that. What about your own good, huh?" He shuffles as close to Cas as he can without touching him. "Is someone controlling you again? We can get you in the panic room, it's safe there."

"Dean, please. Please, let's talk about something else." Actual tears have come to Cas's eyes now, threatening to spill over. His hands flap about in his lap in panic. "How's Sam? Cut his hair yet?" As if he doesn't know the answer to that question. Dude's turning from Ken to friggin' Barbie.

Dean snorts. "No, Cas, you're not changing the subject. What aren't you telling me?"

In response, Cas reaches over and opens the passenger door, climbing out and walking a few steps out into the night, trenchcoat flapping around him, enveloping him as Dean's arms should be doing.

"Hey!" Dean calls, getting out to follow him. He's parked at the entrance to a field somewhere, and Cas is walking all over the crops. Dean follows him, leaving a trail of destruction behind him, unlike Cas, who's left everything pristine in his wake. Perks of being an angel.

"Hey, what the hell!" Dean reaches out to spin Cas around by the shoulder, but he's disappeared and his hand grasps at thin air.

"I'm sorry, Dean," comes Cas's voice from behind him. Dean turns to find Cas hunched over, head in his hands. "I'm sorry. I thought I could... I thought this would be enough, but it's not, it's not. I can't be enough for either of us." His voice is thick with answers, but it's coded and Dean hasn't been told the formula, because Cas is fucking keeping everything from him. But he's not mad. Looking at this man, the man he's missed and loved and screamed for, looking helplessly at him tearing himself apart, of course he's not fucking mad anymore.

"Cas, please," he begs, squatting down slightly to try and catch his eye. "Please, man. Let me help you."

Cas doesn't reply.

"We fucking stopped the apocalypse, man. We stopped the end of the world! We can stop anything this place throws at us! I feel like she owes us a favour, you know?" He laughs, a pathetic sound. "C'mon. C'mon. Come on."

Cas raises his head. "I'm so sorry, Dean. You can't touch me."

The rush of feathers in Dean's ears is so loud he flinches. When he looks up again, Cas is gone.


Sam throws the bottle at Dean's head, and misses by about a foot. "Dean, for God's sake, I'm doing this to help you!"

"And for the last freakin' time, I don't need your help!" Dean throws his hands up in the air, glaring profusely at his brother, standing at the other end of the motel room. It's been about a week – Dean's struggling to keep track of time – and they're on the third case since the demons in Colorado and, consequently, the third motel.

"Studies have shown that anti-depressants can help twenty-five percent more than alcohol, and common sense hints at it too," Sam says in the know-it-all voice that's been plaguing Dean since Sam's reading level overtook his when they were six and ten.

"I'm not taking your fucking pills," snaps Dean, picking up the bottle and striding towards the bathroom. Sam darts over to try and stop him, but by the time he gets there, every pill is in the toilet. "Yipee kiyay, mother fuckers," Dean mutters, jabbing angrily on the flush.

"That was uncalled for."

"So was this." Dean brandishes the (newly empty) bottle.

"The lengths I had to go to to get those when we're not even legal citizens," Sam breathes, running his hands through his hair.

Dean snorts. "Well, how about next time you wanna embark on a quest to save the princess, you ask her first whether she needs to be saved. Spoiler alert: she's fine."

"That was a pretty messed up metaphor."

"Shut up." Dean throws the empty bottle into the toilet just for dramatic effect, bumping into Sam on his way back into the bedroom.

"It's affecting your hunting, you know."

Dean stops. "What did you just say?"

They're back to back now. He hears Sam breathe quickly out his nose in a quiet huff. "This depression. You're sacrificing yourself more. You leap in front of me for no reason. You run into nests with only the knife. Don't tell me this is nothing, Dean." He turns to his brother. "Don't say that to me."

"Listen, man." Dean slowly turns himself around, using as little energy as possible, pouring the rest of it into his voice. "We deal with shit every day. Monsters. Demons. We kill people. We see people get killed. And you wanna tell me it doesn't bother you?"

"Of course it does, Dean, but this isn't about that. I can tell that you're missing –"

Dean holds up his hand to stop Sam from talking, from saying his name. He looks up into Sam's eyes. "I'm not..." He sighs, runs his hands over his face. "I'm not depressed, Sammy. Because I can feel. I fucking feel it all." He drops his eyes to stare over Sam's shoulder, at the mirror in the bathroom, where he can't see himself, thank god. "And you know what else I feel? I feel that it's not your goddamn problem."

"Dean –"

"You got enough crap on your plate without me adding a whole bunch of brussels sprouts." He points to Sam and himself in sequence as he says, "You deal with you, I deal with me. Everybody wins."

Sam puts a hand on Dean's shoulder. Dean feels the warmth radiate from it, how he can feel the connection to his brother through the touch. Goddamnit, Cas. "Dean. You know it's never been that way with us."

Dean steps backwards, out of the embrace. "Yeah, well. Maybe it should be."

Sam bridles, frowning. He stares at his brother for a moment, waiting for him to take it back. But he doesn't. "Fine," Sam says, voice steeled. "Fine."

He turns the light off and they both climb silently into bed. That night is a bad night for Dean.


Lightning. Thunder. Torture. My hands – blood. My blood? No. Her blood. My doing. Hell. Hell. Hell. Red.

Dark. Clear. Breathe. Okay, okay. Where? Sky? No; Cas. Outside - soon. Wake up.

Dean gasps as he sits up in bed, sweat running down his back, panting and looking around him. The motel room is dark and cold and still, except for Sam's light snoring next to him. Oh yeah. Dean's still pretty pissed. Stupid college boy, thinks pills can help anything. What is it that Bobby says? "Just cos it kills your liver, don't mean it ain't medicine." Give him beer over Prozac any day.

He swings his legs over the side of the bed, standing up slowly. He starts to shake. Fuck. Pictures from his dream start swimming in front of his eyes. Fuck. Speaking of beer –

When he's put two drinks' distance between him and Alastair's snooty little face, sitting on the floor, leaning against the bed, he starts to think about Cas again. And then he remembers the dream.

Cas. Outside.

Silently, he gets up, pulls on his clothes and slips out the door.

"Fuck," he says as he steps into a bedroom in broad daylight.

The first thing he notices is the walls, painted soft, mute blue. The colour of the sky at 4p.m. The colour of his mother's eyes.

Then his eyes flit to the stuffed animals and baseball gloves and he mutters "ah, crap" as he realises where he is.

"Hello, Dean," comes a voice from behind him, causing him to spin around and knock a lamp over. He mumbles a pathetic "sorry"; he's been a hunter for too long to not worry about lamps having feelings, or vendettas.

"Cas, what's going on?" Dean yells, before noticing how decidedly crumpled Cas looks. His trenchcoat is stained and dusty, his suit growing threadbare, his hair looking ever so slightly grey. Even his face screams defeat.

"You're dreaming," Cas tells him, as if it's obvious, and his voice is higher than usual, weaker.

Dean peers at him incredulously. "I'm not dreaming. I just woke up."

"Dean, this is the same dream," Cas sighs. "I brought us here within your mind so that we'd have a relaxed environment to... discuss some things."

It doesn't make sense – since when can Cas take them places in dreams? – but it's not the thing he wants to argue about. Better cut to the chase before Cas flies off again.

"Okay, uh..." He claps his hands together in front of him. "How about what the fuck is going on?"

Cas looks down at Dean's feet. "Maybe you should sit down."

"No, I'll stand."

"Dean."

"For God's sake, Cas, cut the foreplay and tell me."

Cas takes a deep breath in, clenching his jaw and balling his hands into fists by his sides. He avoids Dean's eye as he says, "I'm still physically in Heaven. I've manifested a version of myself on Earth similar to the way I was able to show you a version of my wings. The spell you performed only let me back through a small crack."

"Bullshit," Dean says, cos that's what it is. That's what his every instinct is screaming at him. Cas is hiding something, still, and he won't look him in the eye, and he looks so much older now, more like a tax accountant than a TV detective.

Finally Cas manages to drag his eyes up to meet Dean's, but it seems to take physical exertion. "I'm telling the truth."

Okay, revise earlier statement. He's mad.

Dean feels the anger fill him up, spreading like ice cold fire to the tips of his fingers. How many times has Cas lied to him? For over a year he was working with Crowley and he never once said anything. They could have killed the son of a bitch and saved thousands of lives in the long run, but instead Cas put the needs of the "greater good" in front of common sense. He's always fucking doing that. Dean finds it's getting pretty hard to not picture Cas with an ulterior motive for everything.

"You listen to me –" Dean starts, before Cas cuts him off by holding up his finger and saying, "Dean." There's a low rumbling noise coming from under their feet, gradually growing louder.

"Cas, what are you doing?" cries Dean, looking around himself, and picking up a baseball bat for comfort.

"That's not me," Cas says quietly.

"What are you talking about? You brought us here!"

"Dean, you need to calm down," Cas yells suddenly, and there's an urgency to his voice, a sudden authority that hasn't been present for so long.

Dean shakes his head in confusion, because, from his perspective, everything's a giant fucking mess. "Cas, just get us out of here!" The rumbling is louder, and he has to shout.

"I can't, Dean. You brought us here."

"What?" Dean can barely hear himself talk, so he figures he must have misheard what Cas just said.

"Dean, calm down, or something bad will happen, and I don't know what." The room starts to shake. Pictures fall down from the walls.

Fuck. Fuck, this is ridiculous. How could he control his dream? How could anything bad happen inside a dream? Why can't he just wake up?!

But the look on Cas's face is so profound that he swallows his doubts and concentrates on his breathing. He closes his eyes and hums Metallica and steadies himself. After a few moments, the shaking stops. The noise grows quieter and quieter. Dean opens his eyes.

"What just happened?" he whispers.

Cas has buried his head in his hands, shaking it side to side. "No, oh, no."

"Cas, what the hell just happened," Dean repeats, struggling to keep his voice steady, lest the hurricane return.

But Cas just stands there and shakes his head and repeats "no, no, no" under his breath and Dean's getting angry again and goddamnit he deserves some answers by now and he strides forwards and holds his arm out and moves to knock Cas's arms away –

"No Dean stop –"

- And his hand goes straight through him.

(You know how every time you discover something big, something game changing, there's always that moment when you just stop and stare at it and your mouth starts to say "What?" but it can't because your brain is too busy freaking out to help you find the words? So you just stand there, eyes huge, mouth slightly open, for a few seconds, before everything kicks into gear again?

Yeah. Well, that.)

Dean stares at his hand. Then Cas. Then his hand. He looks back at Cas as he says, "What."

Cas has always worn his heart on his face, and Dean watches it break.

No more lies. No more minor breakdowns. This time, Dean knows he's gonna get the truth. He tightens his posture, folding his arms across his chest to help with the pain, to help hold himself together, stop anything falling out.

"You brought us here," Cas says, looking into Dean's eyes, hardly blinking. "Why else would we be in your childhood bedroom in Lawrence? This is your safe room, before anything bad happened. Just being in here gives you comfort. Just listen."

They both stop talking and for the first time Dean notices the sound of Hey Jude playing softly in the background, the song that his mother used to sing to him. She also said that angels were watching over him. Not anymore.

Dean knows that what Cas is saying is true, but still – "So why lie? Why say it was you bringing us here? And, furthermore, how?"

"Allow me to explain," Cas continues, voice a monotone. "We are not in a dream."

Pins and needles prickle Dean's neck. "What? Of course we are."

"No, Dean. You are in your bed at the motel room, yes. But you're not asleep."

"This is- I don't-"

Cas moves a few steps closer to Dean so their chests are roughly a foot apart. "I'm very sorry, Dean. I did hope you would never find out."

Dean can only stare and wait.

"I'm not real."

Dean can only stare.

"Your mind created me as a hallucination, a comfort. You cannot touch me because I'm not here. You cannot take me to Sam because he wouldn't be able to see me."

Dean cannot do anything but stare.

"Currently we're in a place created by your mind. I can't say entirely how this is possible – maybe the time travel broadened your capabilities, maybe that African dream root broadened your mind. The point is, I am a fiction, a figment." His voice breaks. "I am in your head, as I have always been."

Outside the window of the room, the sun sets rapidly. Within thirty seconds, the sky is pitch black and the moon is missing. There are, of course, no stars.

"So the spell. The spell didn't work?" Dean isn't really sure he's talking. But it wouldn't matter if he weren't, right? Cas could read his thoughts because Cas is made of them.

"No, the spell didn't work."

"Okay. Alright." The overwhelming pain he feels inside means that his body is practically numb in comparison, so he's oblivious to the tears running down his cheeks. "Answer me this. Please. The real you. He still alive?"

Cas shakes his head. "I don't know. I only know as much as you. Exactly as much as you."

"But – why?" Dean says, and it comes out as something close to a growl.

"Aren't you glad?" Cas asks, frowning.

"No! No, I'm not fucking glad!" yells Dean. He doesn't hold back. There is no reason to anymore. "This is cruel! This is cruel, and torturing, not to mention sadistic! Why the hell would I do this to myself?!" He turns to the child-size desk and knocks the books onto the floor. One of them flies right through Cas.

"You -" Cas looks Dean up and down as he thinks. "You were close to self destruction. Suicide," he (wrongly) redefines. "You were emotionally torturing yourself night and day, mostly night, as I'm sure you remember. If you don't, I'm sure there are a few dozen bruises that could remind you." He raises his eyebrows in pure concern.

Dean feels himself start to hyperventilate, but angrily shoves it back down with sheer force of will. "But what the fuck comes out of this? It's gonna be even worse now that I..." He shakes his head, clearly still uncomfortable with expressing deep emotion to anyone that isn't Cas, even if it's to himself. In many ways, the latter is so much harder. "Now that I remember what I lost."

"It is regrettable that you found out so soon –"

"Why are you still talking like him? Why do you still look like him? You don't have to pretend anymore, I know that he's gone." He shuts his eyes for a few moments, passing it off as a long blink.

Cas looks at Dean with pity in his eyes. It makes Dean feel sick. "I can't suddenly turn into something else. I'm Castiel because you want Castiel. Even now." Dean flinches each time this thing says his name.

"Big fuckin' surprise, Dr. Phil," Dean mutters, then looks up again. Cas's eyes are so piercing and blue that he almost starts crying (he still hasn't realised that he is).

Cas continues, "It is regrettable that you found out so soon that I'm a fiction; in the long run this was meant to nurse you slowly back to health – a placebo, if you will. Just because this is in your head, that doesn't mean it's not real."

Now Dean knows for certain that Cas is telling the truth – there's no way the real Castiel has read the last Harry Potter, and that was practically a direct quote.

"But Dean, if you learn anything from this, it should be that you have to keep going. Because just look at how powerful you can be. Look at what you can achieve." He spreads out his arms, referring to the environment around him as well as himself.

Bam, it hits him.

"You say that like it's over." His voice is strangled, something he doesn't recognise. "Like you're leaving."

"Dean, I have to. You're never going to look at me the same. It's no longer of use for me to be here."

"Don't." The air is so still now, completely and purely silent. "Don't leave."

"Dean –"

"No. I won't lose you again. I won't." His voice is certain, steeled, wrapped in barriers. Cas looks at him with his head tilted sideways, studying him with removed curiosity, wrenching at Dean's heart. All he can think about is how he will never see the real Cas do that – or anything – again.

Cas walks closer to Dean with two careful steps. His previously raggedy appearance has been replaced by the usual, and Dean feels the energy seeping from him slowly. He stands so close to Dean that he can make out the pores on Cas's face, the cracks in his lips, each individual eyelash. If he concentrates, he can almost feel his breath on his face. But he knows he's making that up. (Then again, he's making everything up, isn't he?)

Looking briefly down at the lack of space between them, Dean sees that they are about five inches apart at the closest point – their chests. God, it's killing him. He stares into Cas's eyes, knowing that his reproduction of them is perfect due to all the time he spent staring into them when Cas was alive. Still, he tries to commit them to his short-term memory: blue, like the sky after rain; rimmed with darker blue, deeper and more complex than the sea itself; little flecks of paler blue, the shade comparable to the walls of the room they're standing in. Little touches of home in his eyes.

So close. So damn far away.

"Dean, I can see it in your face." Cas talks, and Dean watches the way his pink mouth sounds the words, still curiously, as though every sentence is new to him. "I can see it in your every moment, every word, every thought. I can see it in your eyes." Dean snaps his eyes back up to meet Cas's.

Cas places a hand on Dean's shoulder, the left one, fingers landing precisely over the old scar left when Cas raised him from hell all those years ago, and Dean's not supposed to feel it, but he does. "You love me. I hope, for your sake, that I love you too."

There is no rush of wind, no flap of wings, when Cas leaves. All there is is a man, curled up in a cold bed in a motel room, thinking that the world is so big and he is so small and not knowing how this much pain can fit in either of them.


He sleeps for fifteen hours, and Sam lets him, most likely because he doesn't want to imagine how pissed off Dean would be if he woke him up when they were still mad at each other. When he opens his eyes at 8p.m., everything is muted. The colours are toned down, the sheets feel like a copy of a copy of a copy against his skin. He hears a noise, but it's muffled. He thinks Sam is talking.

"What?" he says, pushing back the bedsheets and sitting up.

"I said, good morning. Even though it's eight."

"In the evening?" Dean asks incredulously, immediately getting out of bed and looking around for his jeans before realising he still has them on.

"You're welcome." Sam's sitting at the crappy little table, typing away at his computer. Dean strides over and slaps it shut, earning a glare and a disgruntled noise.

"The fuck did you let me sleep that long for?"

Sam sighs, losing about three inches in height. "You needed it. Besides, I've just been doing research for the last twelve hours. I've replenished the Holy Water, made twenty salt rounds and got our next three cases lined up. You didn't need to be awake for that."

"I could have helped," Dean sulks, seeing as Sam is implying that he gets on a lot better without him.

"Dean, we both know you would have sat on that bed" – he points – "and read skin mags until 5, whereupon you'd go off to some bar for the rest of the night. I thought this was a nicer alternative. And you're gonna need all your energy for tomorrow, here, check this out."

He opens his laptop back up, hitting a button to wake it. "Right here." He looks up at Dean. "Dean?"

Dean stands in front of him for a few moments before giving up, shaking his head a little and going to stand behind Sam. "Here," Sam says, pointing to the screen. "You know how in Salem, Massachusetts, there were all those witch hunts in the 1600s?"

"Yeah, yeah."

"And there was a group of girls doing the accusing, even though they all knew it was bullshit? They got all these people accused, and some of them killed, out of spite, and cos they didn't want to get in trouble." He looks to Dean for confirmation. Dean nods. "Right. But there was another reason, wasn't there? They were being controlled by the leader, Abigail Williams."

"Yeah, and? What's your point?"

"Well, Abigail was only eleven at the time, and she was doing it because she had sex with John Proctor and wanted to kill his wife."

"Woah woah woah." Dean raises his eyebrows. "How old was this guy?"

"Around thirty, thirty-five."

"Eurgh."

"I know, that's where it gets interesting. Couple years ago, this guy Edward Frank got arrested in Salem for abusing young girls. He was married at the time. And about a week ago, he was suspiciously killed in jail. The suspicious part is that the warden swears he saw an eleven year old girl appear and beat the guy to death."

Dean wanders over to the small kitchen, pulling out a beer. "Okay, so, routine bone burning."

"Ah. But get this." Sam has that look on his face that he always gets when he finds something interesting. His eyes get so intense, jeez. "Rumour has it, Abigail turned up years after the witch trials as a prostitute in Boston."

"So she didn't die at eleven."

"Exactly."

"So why did she look eleven?"

"I don't know. That's what we gotta find out."

Dean drinks his beer and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. "Right. Massachusetts, that's what, six hours from here?"

"I guess." Sam goes back to his computer.

"Alright, we'll leave in the morning. I'm going out."

"Wait, Dean – DEAN!"


He wakes up at 7a.m. and doesn't know where he is, only that his entire body is covered in sweat and dirt and cheap bed covers and bruises (again) and there's a pounding in his head that alcohol will fix (right?).

So little space between him and this kindred broken soul, so much honesty as they avoided each other's eyes in a fit of blurry mistakes, knowing even as the moment was being written that it was destined to be a regret. He leaves her asleep. She has bruises, too. They are not done by her own hand.

His jeans are by the door. His shirt is draped over the dressing table. His shoes are tangled in amongst the covers. He picks them out slowly, thinking about Jenga as he plays. Fucking metaphors. Hate the damn things. He shoves his shoes on, laces tangled under his feet. Don't think. Don't think. The tower is falling down. He leaves some money on the dresser for the room, and a little extra in case he was supposed to pay for her.

You can always tell a sleazy motel room by the amount of noise the door makes. Luckily he's picked a bad one; it opens silently, allowing him a smooth getaway. The narrow corridor seems to be closing in on him as he picks the stairs over the elevator to get some feeling back into his bones.

The morning air doesn't hit him hard enough, running down his back and under his skin. He walks towards the rising sun, singing Zeppelin's Travelling Riverside Blues quietly to himself. A small knot builds in his stomach, gradually growing, so slowly, but he can feel the minute difference with every step he takes, because he's never walking without purpose these days, is he? He's not getting lost, is he? He wishes he could, but he can't. Because he's realised where he is. Because the knot grows, poisoning his blood, making him sick as well as broken.

Now he understands Sam's hesitation over this case, his hurry to move on to the next one, and why he left Dean to sleep for hours, not wanting him to leave.

He finds the Impala quickly – like he always does, man, they have a connection – and drives off into the sun, and no, that's not symbolism. The sun is rising, but that doesn't mean Dean's gonna be okay. All it means is that another day is starting that he has to stumble through.

It takes him two hours to drive to the lake, and it's exactly as he left it. For all he knows, Cas's body could be in there. At least he knows where the trenchcoat is.

He kinda wishes he'd brought another spell with him or something, another attempt at bringing Cas back. He still hopes, sure. He still wants Cas back. He just doesn't have the right kind of fight in him anymore. There's really not enough of him left to hold himself up.

He's struck by how empty it is. Flat land, flat water. Nothing in it, nothing around it (nothing in him, no one around him, oh god Cas –). So much space, so little to fill it. (Dean finds he and the lake have much in common. They both also wish to consume Cas.)

The coat is in his hands and he doesn't remember picking it up. He's never worn it, that wouldn't be right, and besides, he can't risk contaminating what's left of Cas's smell with his own. There's not really much to do now, seeing as he doesn't have a spell. God, why did he even come here? What's it gonna do? What's the use? Sentimental son of a bitch.

Oh. He's sunk to his knees. That's rational.

Now his head is in his hands that's really manly Dean.

Why is he shaking? Does he even know that he is?

His knot-poisoned blood has made his limbs heavy. It's all he can do in the world to bury his face in Cas's smell of rain and warmth and the dust on old record sleeves because it, too, is an endangered species. The pressure of the sheer mass of everything he's refusing to feel splinters his skull and he clutches the pieces in his hands, trying to hold them together, needing the glue, the strongest glue he's ever known, the glue that walked into this fucking lake holy shit.

Dean lifts his head from his hands and observes the morning sun on the lake. It throws silhouettes onto the surface of the water; he sees the outline of trees, gates, power cables. Everything seems black in the shadow of the sun. Now there's a metaphor he can get on board with.

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Dean Winchester playing the role of Dean Winchester!

"Cas, you child," he says, shaking his head. "Where are you, man."

A stunning performance, truly. You'd never guess that he wants to scream and die and rip into himself with his own fingers, just tearing and tearing until he finds something he can use.

He stands up somehow, but one of his legs gives out and his knee hits the ground hard and oh he's down on one knee that's fucking great.

"God fucking damnit." This time he knows that he's crying because of how it makes his eyes explode. "Cas, come back. Any of you. All of you. Just, one of you." His voice worms its way through everything that is piled on top and comes out broken and battle scarred, but terrified, too, like he's still in the middle of the war.

He looks around himself. Now who said Dean has no faith?

He's not himself anymore; he has dissolved and devolved into something subhuman, and he's so ashamed, but he doesn't even notice that emotion amongst the swirling pool of everything else. God fucking damnit the worst part is that he knows that he would be hurting so much more if he'd told Cas how he feels, if he'd been honest and they'd become something infinite. And he yearns for it. He yearns for the memories, even though he knows the pain that would come with them would be unbearable. He yearns for pain that means something.

Oh yeah Dean feel sorry for yourself that's gonna do something goddamnit you're pathetic this is ridiculous you're acting like a child and Cas would be disgusted but he isn't because he's dead you're stupid this is stupid what the fuck are you doing –

There's nothing to pull him out of this downwards spiral, this slow sticky fall into himself that only he is observing. Where is his mind now to protect him? Where is this Cas he thought he could love? In the end, his mind was only trying to love itself. Naive son of a bitch.

He feels the, well there's no other word to describe it but sorrow, not in his mind or his chest or his fingertips but in his throat, in his breaths and his swallows, and somewhere outside his body, somewhere next to him, something ghosting on the edge of his perception. He tries turning towards it, but it moves with him.

And then he moves with it, picking up the coat from where he's dropped it on the ground with it, from where it had slipped from his watery grip, and they're standing now, rising, he walks towards the lake with it, runs, running now and the coat doesn't flap because he's holding it so tightly in his hands out in front of him and he reaches the water's edge and pushes, using his strength and it's strength and some more from somewhere and he hurls the trenchcoat into the lake and it still doesn't flap, bound so tight together it flows almost gracefully in an arc before placing itself down on the surface of the water.

Here, finally, the material unfurls, spreading out like the blackness in every direction, sleeves and buttons reminding him of endings, so little space between the coat and the water, so little space between the water and Dean. And now, immeasurable space between Dean and the coat.

He is not sad. He is not angry. Emotions aren't that simple for him anymore. It's not sad, it's sad-and-without. It's not angry, it's angry-and-without. It's not Dean. It's Dean-without-Cas. Here we are again.

But –

Oh.

Electricity runs beneath his eyelids as for one shining moment, suddenly, "what?", his eyes must be fucking kidding cos that's Cas, right there, floating face down in the water, filling out the empty coat with his warm, with his coffee, with his medicine soul, but he's dead. He's face down in the water and it's been months since he drowned or whatever and he's...? Dead? Can angels drown? Don't be stupid, anyone can drown in anything if there's enough of it.

He tries so hard not to blink because every time something amazing happens and he thinks he might be dreaming it and then he blinks it always goes away. So he holds his eyes open until the image of Cas just fades away, instead. No sudden disappearance. No blink-and-you'd-miss-it tricks.

Fading is such a human thing to do.

This is the only thing reassuring Dean that he himself is still human at all.


Weeks pass. Months pass. Dean picks up his old rote: fight, flight, drown. Instinct.

More months pass.

Sam grows ill. Can't sleep. Keeps looking at something behind Dean. Someone. Every time he does Dean winces as he remembers what that used to feel like. He hopes Sam feels special. Lucky bastard.

Lucifer's haunting him or something. Sam gets admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Dean calls and calls but his phone is starting to feel like a brick in his hand and his thumbs are becoming clumsy and his movements are slowed down by worry and his list of contacts is growing shorter as he crosses off name after name after name with a permanent black line. He doesn't want Sam to die. It would be a shame for neither of them to live.

And then –

"There's this guy. Goes by Emmanuel. Kinda roams. First started hearing about him a couple of months back. That he was healing the sick, curing the crazy? ...something about milk... blah blah, something about eyes and traps... he passes the tests. There ain't nothin' weird about this guy. Except... he's the real deal."

"What do you mean?" Dean asks, wondering what's for dinner. Sam's not around, so it's probably gonna be pie for five for one again.

"He touched me, and my eye was fixed."

Dean's face freezes. His eyes lift from the floor. Finally, the punchline. He hangs up, thinks about it for a few seconds before deciding there is practically no harm that this could do and maybe,

"I'm Emmanuel." "Dean, I'm... Dean."

just maybe,

"He betrayed you, this 'dude'. He was your friend?" Pause. Staring. "Yeah, well, he's gone."

there's the potential

"Honestly, I don't know if he is dead. I just know that this whole thing couldn't be messier." Wince. "You know I used to be able to just shake this stuff off. Whatever it was might take me some time, but I always could."

for a hint of green

"We're... friends? Am I Cas? ...I had no idea. I don't remember you, I'm sorry." Dean looks down, away.

or the edge of a leaf

"Hey, I know you. You're dead." "Yes, I've heard."

to be shown growing

"I remember you. I remember everything."

up between

"We didn't part friends, Dean." "So what?"

the concrete slabs of pavement.

"I can't possibly fix it. So why did I even walk out of that river?" "Maybe to fix it." 'Fix me,' he doesn't plead. The words have already been said.

Worried-and-with. Happy-and-with. Dean.


Everyone knows about the Trojan horse, right? So the Trojans were in some war and they couldn't get into enemy territory to attack because of the walls or something. Then the Trojans built a big wooden horse and sent it to the enemies as a peace offering or whatever, and as giant wooden horses go, it must have been pretty sweet, cos the enemies took it in. It sat there, in their city, their home.

But the horse was hollow, with Trojan soldiers inside, waiting until it got dark to attack the city they'd just been let into. There was a massacre. The Trojans won the war.

Go ahead and interpret that as you will.


For the first few weeks, Dean can't stop staring. Cas doesn't seem to mind, though. Most of the time, he stares right back. But he always did that.

He puts his hand on Cas's arm or shoulder more frequently, just to check that he's still there, that it's still him, not another trick. When Sam talks to Cas, it gives Dean full body chills.

When the angels had shown up and cured Sam on the same day that Cas came back, Dean had said he'd needed to pee and gone to cry in the bathroom. The two things that had been plaguing his life for so long, both finally resolved. He'd never been happier, more relieved. He'd never felt more safe.

Team Free Will's reunion tour has been taking place in Rufus's cabin since then, living off potato chips and liquorice from the convenience store down the road. Cas still doesn't sleep, so he flaps off when Dean turns the TV off at 2a.m., requesting his four hours. Sam mostly keeps out of their way, still working on the whole Dick conundrum, while Dean and Cas scour the news for cases, driving to interrogate anything that looks suspicious. So far, nothing.

Except –

Dean can't help but look through Cas sometimes. Call it aftershock, but he still can't wholly believe that he's back. Is there really no catch? Is he really not a demon, a shifter, the Mother of All? How can he be so lucky to have Cas back, whole and living, beaten but never to be broken?

But Dean has faith. It's the little things that give him hope. The fiction version of Cas simply repeated to Dean things he already knew. This version of Cas – god, let's hope no one ever hears him say that – has new information. Personal information.

They sit on the hood of the Impala one night, not meaning to bother with a motel, simply planning to drive back through the night. Dean grabbed six hours last night, anyway. He can go another day.

The beer in the back seat of the car is warm, but Dean grabs one anyway, sitting back next to Cas and taking a long sip. He offers it mockingly to the angel, tipping the bottle towards him and raising his eyebrows in invitation. To his astonishment, Cas accepts, drinking the remainder of the bottle. Goddamnit, full of surprises. Still a mystery after all this time. How's a man supposed to resist?

"Hey, slow down there, Courtney Love," Dean chuckles, grabbing the rest of the case without taking his eyes off Cas's face. "Since when do you drink beer?"

"I've acquired the taste," Cas says, looking forwards, stars in his eyes. "Maybe it was the time I ingested a liquor store, but I quite enjoy alcohol now. It doesn't have much of an effect on me. I just like the taste. It's a very honest beverage," he muses.

"Damn, the philosophical bullshit's meant to be a result of the beer, not a reason for it." They clink their bottles together. Dean's left thigh is resting on the edge of Cas's trenchcoat. He can feel the raised seam through his jeans.

"Dean, are you alright?" Cas asks suddenly, with no change in his face, body language or tone of voice. Dean glances over quickly before answering.

"I'm fine. I'm more than fine, actually, what are you talking about?"

Cas frowns now, squinting into the night. "You've been acting strangely towards me. Different."

Dean swallows, feeling each small movement in his throat. "Well, I haven't seen you for almost a year."

"That's not it." He's focused now, body turned slightly towards Dean, concerned eyes tracing his face. "You didn't see me for a year after your brother fell into Lucifer's cage. When I returned, you treated me the same."

"Shouldn't have," Dean mutters, attempting to change the argument via guilt.

Cas doesn't fall for it. "When I told you I hadn't heard your prayers, you got angry with me."

"No I didn't."

"When Hey Jude started playing on the radio, you kicked over the coffee table."

"That was because of something else. Did you not see the season finale of Doctor Sexy? I'm tellin' you, there's more death in that fictional hospital than there is in real ones."

"Dean, when I walked through a crop field without damaging anything, you drove off and left me there."

"Man, it's a cool trick, I'm jealous. You really gotta teach me how to do that."

"Dean," he says loudly, commanding as hell, and Dean jumps, spilling some of his beer down his front. He glances briefly at his shirt, dropping his bottle to the ground beside him, before looking back up into Cas's eyes. The gaze that he meets is so intense, so much more powerful than anything his mind could have created. This connection isn't a loop, it's a direct line, straight from Cas's version of a soul to his. Dean feels something he hasn't felt in a while.

Fear.

"I'm worried about you. You look at me like a widow looks at her son. Like I remind you of someone you've lost. Tell me what's going on." It's an order, there's no doubt about it.

They've never been able to tell each other what to do, but Dean wants to do this, actually, yeah, he does. There's really no better way of telling Cas how he feels than this.

Voice shaking with nerves and fear and how Cas's knee rests against his, Dean says, "Read my mind."

Cas visibly starts. "Dean?"

"Read my mind." He reaches out and grasps Cas's hand in two of his. Cas is still in shock, mouth hanging slightly open. He's becoming more like himself every day.

"Dean, you don't have to – are you sure you – I don't mean to make you do anything you don't want to." Cas curls his fingers into a fist inside Dean's loose grip.

The fear pressing down on his temples eases up a bit as Dean remembers just how much Cas cares about him, how much he's done for him. He'll be damned if he isn't going to give him this.

His fingers slide into Cas's palm, pulling the fist apart. He slowly lifts Cas's hand to place the outstretched fingers against his forehead. He closes his eyes.

And then Cas is in his head, as he has always been.

It's not as harsh as Dean thought it would be, his thoughts simply turning into water which Cas sifts through with soft and respectful fingers. No flashbacks. No more figments. His mind feels like his heart does when Cas smiles at him.

When Cas pulls his fingers away, Dean stays with his eyes closed for a few seconds, unwilling to see Cas's reaction. He knows everything now. But how much of everything?

He looks at Cas. But Cas isn't there.

"God fucking damnit," Dean says to himself, but he's scared again, scared that Cas was always in his head, that this is some kind of cruel replay, that maybe Sam isn't real either, is Sam dead? Did he die? Is he in denial? Is Dean dead? Oh, god, where even is he, which way is home?

But Cas returns next to him within a minute, holding a shopping bag gingerly in two hands like you'd hold a bomb. He puts a hand inside, pulling out a plastic container of blueberry pie.

"Seriously?" Dean says, laughing.

"It makes you happy, doesn't it?" Cas shoves the pie at him, verging on aggressive. "I don't know how much you usually need; given the extent of the damage, I thought it'd be best just to get it all..." He trails off as he looks over to the ten other shopping bags sitting on the ground by the car.

Dean wipes tears from his eyes, grinning. "Jesus christ, man, you're really something else."

They finally make eye contact again and it doesn't stop.

"I'm." Cas deliberates for a few seconds, his lips hovering over the words, trying to unscramble his feelings. "I'm not sure how to respond to what I just saw."

"Cas, it's okay –"

"Except that I'm sorry." He places the shopping bag on the ground, putting his hand on Dean's shoulder, the left one, exactly where the scar lies. The tiniest whisper of a moan falls from Dean's lips. "I'm so sorry, Dean. I didn't mean for this to happen. If I'd have known..." He looks down to where his hand sits. "I'd have acted differently."

"It's not your fault," Dean says loudly, trying to make the moment less of a 'moment'.

"No, but it was," says Cas seriously, thumb absently rubbing up and down on Dean's arm. "I do, you know."

"Do what?" Dean says (whispers).

Cas doesn't reply.

"Are you fucking marrying me? What do you do?"

Cas rolls his eyes.

"I do love you, Dean."

His heart is a hot air balloon and he is in the basket. Pull the strings, he lifts higher. Break them, he falls in flames.

"Yeah, okay," he dismisses. Too much experience with jumping to conclusions, to emotions.

"No, truly." Cas sounds kind of pissed off about it, too, like Dean should just believe him like that after everything he's been through.

Dean turns to him to tell him that he can't trust him, that the fiction said that he loved him too, and so did Sam and his dad and his mom and Bobby and it seems that everyone who does it either betrays him or dies or both, that it's 'kill or be killed' in the Dean Winchester Fanclub, he turns to tell him all of these things, but he ends up turning to do something else when he finds Cas has moved so their faces are mere centimetres apart.

"Would you allow me to prove it to you?" says Cas, voice quieter than usual, and higher, with something between worry and anticipation, the usual gravelly tone catching hurriedly in his throat.

Dean blinks. Cas's eyes are knives of ice, melting.

"Uh. Yeah, okay," Dean stammers, heart clapping fervently in his chest (applause seems appropriate).

Cas nods slightly, a jerky downwards bob. He licks his lips slowly, unsure of himself. Pizza man probably doesn't do kisses like this. Poor bastard.

For a few moments, neither of them move, simply search each other's faces with curiosity and wonder, before Cas drops his eyes down to Dean's lips, pushing himself forwards with where his hands rest on the hood of the car, catching Dean's breath with his own, finally closing his eyes, and Dean does the same, and then there's just the wait, waiting for Cas to just close the space that doesn't exist anymore.

Oh.

His heart is a bird with a crappy voice that's trying its goddamned best. It's a hot air balloon and a children's puppet show and a stuffed animal collection and the earth and the sun and the sky and no, he's getting his heart mixed up with who owns it. Cas has eclipsed his life.

Their lips meet as their hands do. Delicate, hesitant, certain. Cas presses his lips onto Dean's for a few moments, both of them savouring the warmth and the sensation and the requitedness of it all, before Cas pulls back a fraction, just enough so they're no longer kissing, just really close to it. Dean opens his eyes to see Cas staring at him, brow furrowed, looking for his response. Dean responds by grabbing Cas's neck and pulling him in again.

He deepens the kiss by starting to move his lips, and his hand tightens on Cas's when he feels Cas start to move his lips back, perfectly in time, perfectly in sync, God, just perfect. Cas's other hand is still on Dean's scar, and when he grips him even tighter, Dean just moans into his mouth, the love that surges through him being poured into Cas through every point they are connected. Cas smiles slightly. It feels good to feel that, Dean finds.

Dean almost falls off the car when Cas's tongue trails its way into his mouth; Cas has the annoying ability to go from cute and innocent to deliciously predatory in a split second. He grabs Cas around the waist for support, finding that it's not good enough to feel him through the coat, he's had enough of this damn coat getting in the way. He snakes his hand under Cas's suit jacket, feeling the muscles in his back move as Cas shifts his position to bring them closer together. Dean wraps his hand around Cas's waist and pulls, bringing him down over him as he lies back against the windscreen. He untucks Cas's shirt and probes his fingertips along his spine, feeling first up to the bottom of his ribs then down to the top of his pants.

Cas has one hand beside Dean's head, propping himself up awkwardly, and the other on his shoulder still. He swipes his tongue in and out with every kiss, varying the intensity, and Dean's never had anything like this. He's never let himself be surprised. He's vulnerable to how Cas makes his body feel, and it feels good.

Small (but manly) whimpers are running from Dean's throat, but Cas has remained annoyingly silent. Dean, determined to change that, grabs Cas's ass with both hands, pulling their hips together. Cas lets out a yelp, jerking forwards helplessly and clashing their teeth together.

"Sorry," Cas mumbles as Dean laughs, lifting Cas up by the waist, prompting him to move. Cas gets the message for once – maybe he'll understand movie references if Dean kisses them into him – and straddles Dean, all of his weight resting on Dean's lap. "That's better."

Dean opens his eyes suddenly, and Cas stops leaning in again. "I'm really glad you're back," Dean says. Cas grins mischievously, so Dean elaborates. "No, I mean it. In case you hadn't noticed, I kind of missed you. Or whatever," he adds. Nice save.

"I'm here, now." Cas leans his forehead against Dean's. Dean breathes in the smell of the stars. "I'm never going anywhere again. You have my word."

Dean looks at him with awe.

He's drowning again. He never wants to resurface. And he never will.