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my soul to keep

Chapter Text

 

 

Castiel awakes with the first wave of pale grey light reaching into the mouth of the cave. The air is humid and stinks of phosphor and sulfur, and the acrid smell of recent death. The bodies of three rage demons still lie a few feet from the entrance. After fighting them off he and his crew had been too tired to burn the mauled corpses.

He sits up, lets the raddled blanket fall from his shoulders, and stretches. There’s a hole in his right wing where the sword of a demon punctured it and he has a few nasty gashes on his left forearm that burn with every motion. A dull ache sits behind his sternum. Must have been one of the blows he traded with the leader of the attackers.

The gashes will heal on their own in a few hours if he gives his vessel some rest. The wing will take longer but he will still be able to fly so he’ll just have to live with the pain. He can do that.

Castiel stands and walks over to the entrance, stepping over the sleeping forms of his lieutenants, Naomi and Raphael, to meet with Anna, his second in command who is currently guarding their base.

Anna looks up from a spear she took from one of the now dead demons and stops sharpening it with her knife. “Commander,” she acknowledges and lets her gaze drop again before it snaps back up. Her brows knit together while she focuses on his chest. Castiel looks down too, certain to see another wound, but he only finds scarred skin, the two black leather straps that cross over his chest and around his wings on his back. The holster keeps his various blades and guns in place as it did for the last years. No fresh bruises or bullet holes.

“What?”, he barks when Anna doesn’t stop staring. The ache is back and he’s getting irritated by the uncomfortable pressure behind his ribs.

Anna’s eyes meet his for a brief second. Her position forbids looking her superior in the eye, and normally Castiel would remind her of that, but he lets it slip.

She swallows and turns to look over the plane stretching on the other side of the entrance. “I thought I saw… it doesn’t matter. The night has been quiet. The human camp was busy for a while. A few new arrivals, but no serious numbers.”

Castiel growls a hasty command to stay alert in her direction and steps out to have a look for himself. Sick grey skies are hanging low over the dead landscape. Methanol fires mark the spots where rotten plants and animals and bodies were remade into gas. The world is black and grey and pale red.

In a sudden flash another vision of this place flickers over the scene: a lake, surrounded by tall green trees whispering in the breeze. He can make out a small white house on the other side, a road, a rocky beach before the image ripples and disappears. What’s left is the hollow where the lake used to be, and a few dead stumps are all that’s left of the forest.

A sudden need to cross the valley and search for the little white house buzzes under Castiel’s skin. He tries to squash it. Maybe his wounds are more severe than he thought. Some angels weaken after a few years on earth, they get susceptible to human diseases, infection, fever. That could be an explanation for his symptoms. He’s been stationed here for ten years now and hasn’t been back in heaven for three of them. He should inform Anna as a precaution. Instead he tells her he will patrol the area, checks his blades and jumps down from the plateau. His wounds make a graceful flight impossible, but he lands on his feet with two powerful beats of his wings.

He sets out north and will give the place where he saw the house a wide berth.

 

###

 

The trap snaps shut between two charred tree stumps. Castiel realizes his mistake the second he hears the soft click . A net emerges from the sand and yanks his feet from under him, and when he blinks again, he’s hanging upside down between the dead trees. He jerks around to free his hands and go for his blades, but before he reaches them, a figure clad in rags appears in his line of vision, automatic gun pressed to a burly shoulder.

Castiel knows the humans have mold bullets from the silver of stolen angel blades. He stills. This is not the moment to fight, even if every single one of his cells begs him to defend himself. The figure nods and a few more humans emerge. One cuts the rope that keeps the net up and Castiel falls to the ground, landing on his wounded wing. When he can’t suppress a short shout of pain, one of the men laughs and tells him that it will be his pleasure to make him scream some more. Castiel says nothing.

They bind him with handcuffs full of sigils that burn his skin and put pressure on the gash on his arm. He’s bleeding again. The leader of the group rips the cloth from his face and tells him calmly that they will take him to their camp. The pulse in Castiel’s chest flares at that and he knows the name of the man a second before the leader tells him: Bobby Singer. Castiel shakes his head and tries to clear his thoughts. A tug on his cuffs sends sparks of pain through his whole body. Then they start walking.

 

###

 

The human camp is an old military compound five miles west from the cave Castiel and his soldiers chose as a base a few weeks ago. Their mission was to gather information on a larger group of demons under the command of Lilith, and they found out about this place the day after they arrived. Contrary to the human legends and myths, angels didn’t come to earth to slaughter their kids. When attacked, Castiel has no qualms to kill a human, but his mission lies elsewhere. He does not condone unnecessary violence.

Castiel and his captors are greeted with mostly dull faces of people going about their daily chores – pumping water up from the ancient well, tending to the plants in an old warehouse, repairing gear – and a few sneers and prompts to just kill the fucking winged rat and be done with it . They won’t, though, Castiel knows. They can tell his rank from his black wings and the tattoos on his shoulders. They will try to torture valuable intel out of him. And then they will kill him.

A hard push between his wings almost brings him to his knees. He regains his balance and ignores the nasty chuckles behind him. “Stop staring and move,” the man grunts and Castiel keeps walking, deeper into the camp, to a massive building with broken windows and steel doors that hang from rusty hinges. He’s pushed again to go inside and this time he turns to bare his teeth and hiss at the human. The man, he seems to be quite young, takes a step back, then catches himself and chuckles.

“Easy there. No need to get all worked up. Yet.”

There’s no sudden recognition this time, no name floating up from somewhere in his mind. Castiel turns and steps into the half-light. He might as well try to find out more about their strategies before he breaks himself free. He’ll make sure that one of the humans will not survive his escape.

 

###

 

The green-eyed man is sitting on the other side of the table and picking the label from a bottle filled with a honey colored liquid. His hands are full of scars and Castiel is sure he knows how to use them to kill. He’s an enemy, a human, a hunter. But when Castiel looks down at his own hands, he finds them curled around a bottle, too, instead of the handle of an angel blade.

Even in the soft light, the room is full of colors. Warm browns in the table and the chairs, yellow spilling from the lamps, the green of the man’s eyes. It’s disconcerting.

The man talks. His voice is low and deep, and Castiel can hear a tone in it that he hasn’t heard in a long time. It sounds like familiarity and trust and friendship .

 

###

 

“Hey!”

A rough hand on his shoulder jostles him awake. Castiel finds himself eye to eye with his hateful guard.

“Morning, sunshine”, the man chirps with false amicability. “Let’s get this party started.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Pain is one of the many things he had to relearn after he got his permanent vessel. In his true form, he can feel pain, yes, but it’s direct – cause and effect. Someone cuts you, you hurt, you bleed, you heal, the hurting stops. A blow with a specific force hitting a specific point on your body leads to a specific amount of pain.

When he found the dying body of James Novak, he had just gotten his order to fight on earth. As a Seraph of the Seventh Choir, he had overlooked the proceedings from heaven and pushed his soldiers here and there like chess pieces on a board. After 67 of them had fallen in the siege of hell, his punishment had been immediate: a lower rank and fighting in the field.

Now pain is relative, conditional, vague. After hours of being beaten and punched and cut open, he can’t differentiate between the sources anymore. His legs are numb. His back feels ripped open. His left arm is broken and lies at an awkward angle because of the cuffs. Some kicks he feels, others only juggle his body but don’t translate to his nervous system.

He always marveled at the feeling of detachment when a vessel gets close to dying. It’s as if human bodies have a natural limit for pain and shut off when it’s reached. Through the fog of exhaustion he tries to concentrate on the never-ending monologue his keeper is spitting out, in case he’ll slip and tell him something useful. They’ve been at this for hours, since the man has woken Castiel and brought him from his cell to this larger storage room. The man keeps ranting. So far it’s mostly hate-filled insults, the ramblings of a delirious believer.

“… should kill all of you on sight, fucking monsters. Angels, hah! Some nice propaganda. You’re nothing better than those demons, worse if you ask me. Arrogant bastards. You never did anything for us…” he drones on and punctuates every curse with well-placed kicks to Castiel’s stomach and his head. He closes his right eye. The left has been swollen shut for a while now.

The man isn’t even trying to get Castiel to talk anymore, just uses him as an outlet for his rage. Castiel has no idea what angels did to him to warrant this kind of hate, but knowing his brethren, he is quite sure there’s some truth in the vicious allegations thrown at him. He’s heard and seen the impact this war had on each side – no one could claim innocence anymore in the face of the various atrocities committed in the name of a higher goal.

He tries to retreat in his own mind, chases the fleeting memory of the dream he had last night. He had felt an unusual bond with the green-eyed man and now he wonders how his mind had conjured that image. He had never met anyone looking like him, he’s sure he would remember, and he knows he’s never felt close to a human being before.

His heart beats steadily in his chest, pumping his blood slowly through his vessel’s veins, to the places where the life is dripping out of it. He could leave this body, he muses, leave earth behind and go back to heaven. He would have to admit that he failed, but maybe that would be a small price if he would never see this bleached, dead world again.

A foot meets his kidney, again, and he can feel something rip deep inside his intestines. The pain is constant, with sudden spikes that send fire along his nerves and make his limbs twitch in agony. He hopes it will be over soon, that he will either lose consciousness or the man will get tired.

The door creaks to his right and it sounds off. His right ear isn’t working. A gasp follows the first noise.

“Cole, what the fuck?” It’s a man, too, and Castiel turns his head to look at him. His dark blonde hair is long in the back and falls in short strands over his forehead. He gapes at Castiel’s beaten body, takes in the blood on the floor and finally focuses on “Cole” again.

“What does it look like? I’m working this asshole over so he spills some intel on his pals.” Cole makes it sound like it’s the most logical thing in the world.

“Bobby said to talk to him, not break his every bone and kill him!” The newcomer’s voice gets higher with his anger, and Castiel almost believes that he is genuinely shocked to see the work of his fellow fighter. The man sighs and drags his dirty hands over his even dirtier face. Water is a luxury that’s not wasted on personal hygiene. “Go. I’ll take over from here.”

Cole starts to argue, but a cold look from lanky long-haired man stops him. “Okay,” he grumbles and leaves without looking back.

Castiel take a deep breath. He hopes they’ll give him a few hours so he can heal his most severe wounds. A hand on his shoulder startles him. The eyes meeting his are kind and sad. “I’m sorry, man. I’m sure you won’t believe me, but we don’t usually treat our prisoners like that. Can you stand?”

Castiel nods, although he’s far from positive that his broken leg will hold his weight. The man grips his arm and helps him stand. Castiel’s wings drag over the dusty floor, limp and useless. They walk slowly out of the room, back to Castiel’s cell. His captor is chatting the whole way, promising to get him bandages for the wounds and disinfectant, assures him he will tell their leader about what happened. Castiel only listens with half his mind. He has to concentrate on walking and not falling over as sharp pain shoots through his leg with every step.

The wounds make him weak, they make him feel human, and some part of him recounts that feeling, as if he experienced this before – the hopelessness and the way the pain heightens every emotion as his grace is fighting to keep his vessel alive. This shouldn’t feel familiar, though, because he’s never been in this position. He shakes his head to clear it. The strange sense of déjà-vu struggles with his rational knowledge and it makes him dizzy.

They reach the cell. Castiel stumbles inside and falls onto the small cot. He groans when the movement jostles his leg and his wings.

“I’ll be right back. The name’s Ash by the way. You can ask a guard to send for me if you need anything.” He hovers in the door frame as if he waits for an answer. Is Castiel supposed to supply his name too? Does the man, Ash, wait for him to say thank you? He opens his one still working eye and stares in Ash’s direction.

“Alright,” Ash says, “whatever. I’ll see you soon.”

Castiel closes his eye and lets beautiful darkness envelope him, drag him under, and he doesn’t hear the door fall shut before he’s losing consciousness. His last thought is that he hopes to see the man with the green eyes again.

He doesn’t.

Instead he hears the man’s voice, rough and strained, full of sadness and desperation, asking an absent God for one more chance, one last divine interference. He’s begging, he’s threatening, he’s bargaining, but from what Castiel can gather, he doesn’t get an answer. Castiel waits with him - silent now - for a sign, and his whole being hopes that the man will be heard, even if he does not know what he prays for. Some part knows that the outcome is important for him too, and that same part can feel the man’s pain as if it were his own.

Castiel wakes up with a sob still stuck in his lungs. He wants to reach out and soothe the pain he heard in that voice, even more than healing his own wounds. Something feels broken inside him, something that goes deeper than his bones and even his grace.

Castiel thinks he might be losing his mind.

 

Chapter Text

 

His wounds heal slowly.

The cell and the whole complex are heavily warded, as are the cuffs that bind his wrists. The sigils put a constant pressure on his grace, and weaken him with every day of exposure. He sleeps a lot. Before he had been captured, he gave himself around three hours a night – a concession to the human vessel and spending so much time fighting – now he sleeps for eight, ten hours and doesn’t feel rested in the least.

The dreams keep coming, and they are disorienting and draining. In some of them he is dropped into scenes that feel way too real to be dreams, more like memories. In some of them he fights alongside the green-eyed man and another, taller one. In others he is alone, in a car or in strangely decorated rooms that stink of sweat and loneliness.

And one night he’s back at the dimly lit library, he sits at the same table, opposite the human, and they talk about a hunt they did together. It’s not the realism of it that’s unsettling, or the idea he would be fighting side by side with a human, but the fact that this room feels like home, more so than heaven ever did.

He wakes up with tears streaming down his face and he wipes at them angrily until the skin of his cheeks feels raw.

Awake, the dreams don’t vanish like cloudy visions, but expand, and his mind supplies details he hadn’t seen before. His head hurts with it, as if there isn’t enough room for himself and the new/old memories, and he lays down again to sleep. Even though he never met him, he misses the green-eyed man fiercely.

Dean .

The name floats up from somewhere deep inside him, and Castiel whispers it tentatively, afraid someone will hear and take it away from him.

 

###

 

Cole doesn’t come back. Instead Ash appears once or twice a day to bring him food. Castiel doesn’t touch it for almost a week. His stomach grumbles for the first time after the sixth day. On day eight, he gives in.

The food feels odd in his mouth and he chews carefully. It tastes like mud. But he gets some of his strength back from it, so he eats.

Ten days after his capture, Ash is back and opens his cell. “Bobby is back. He wants to talk to you.”

Castiel shuffles to his feet, disgusted by the little pitiful sounds he makes when he puts weight on his leg. The bones have started to knit themselves together, but he’s still sore. His wings are healing too, but he’s sure something isn’t set right because he can’t control the left one. He will have to break the hollow bones again before he will be able to fly.

He drags his wings behind him and tries to ignore the stab to his pride. He must look like a broken doll, a warrior not worth the name. His brethren would likely leave him behind if they found him like this. He’d be a liability. Shame rises up to his throat and he straightens his spine and tries to lift his wings a little bit higher. He has not yet given up.

Bobby Singer is waiting behind a desk in the same wide room Castiel saw him last. The tables around him are full of books and weapons. Five men stand on the far side near the broken windows, deep in conversation. They all wear sturdy boots and solid army clothes in grey and beige and green, patched up and full of dust and specks of what Castiel guesses is old blood. Their faces are hard. Cold, calculating eyes land on him when he enters with Ash.

Singer clears his throat with a cough. “I heard what Cole did. Can’t say I blame him, but he acted against my orders. How are your wounds?”

His words are rough and Castiel doesn’t find an ounce of empathy in his eyes, but Singer seems genuinely interested, so Castiel forces himself to say, “Better.”

Singer huffs. He stabs his finger down onto some paper. Castiel can see from his vantage point that it’s a map. “Me and a few of my men were after that bitch Lilith and her horde. Chased them to the mountains before we lost their trail.”

Castiel inclines his head to show that he his listening. He had been chasing Lilith too and has to admit that the fact these humans are still alive spoke highly of their prowess in the field.

“Before we went out, we found a… let’s say we found a source. I don’t know yet how reliable. Word is that we might have an even bigger problem at our hands. I tried to get to Lilith to learn more about it, but since she slipped through my fingers, I’ll have to ask you.” The old man narrows his eyes and his bushy eyebrows drop low while he scratches his beard.

Castiel doesn’t know much about human body language but he is pretty sure Singer debates if and how far he can trust his captive. To Castiel’s surprise, the decision seems to be made in his favor. Which is odd. Singer has no reason to trust him with even the barest information. As a fact, Castiel’s surprised they let him live that long.

“What do you know about Lucifer?” Singer watches him closely as Castiel weighs his answer.

The war had started when the gates of hell were opened and the angels came down from heaven to fight on earth. Both sides split up in factions – because on both sides they lacked a competent leader. Hell would have united under Lucifer, but he was still locked in a cage that no one could open. The demons had tried anything to free him, but until now, they hadn’t been successful.

Castiel tells the humans what he knows: “He was an archangel and he fell. He’s locked up in hell, in a cage that can’t be opened.”

Singer’s eyes turn to slits. He doesn’t answer.

The door opens and the men fall quiet. Singer’s face contorts into a resigned frown. Castiel turns to find a blonde woman standing in the doorway. The silence stretches on. Her eyes are huge and she takes a shocked breath. Recognition flows over her features, and is followed by pure joy.

“Castiel!” She closes the distance between them and cradles his face in her hands before the men can react. Shouts fill the air, and Singer’s hand lands on his desk with a deep thump . “Shut up!” he barks. Then, softer, “Mary.”

Her gaze wanders over Castiel’s face and to his shoulders where the tops of his folded wings can be seen. She lets her hands fall down and takes a step back.

“It’s not him,” Singer murmurs, and he gets up to stand behind Mary to put his hand on her shoulder in a soothing gesture.

“I thought…”, she starts. “For a moment I thought…”

“I know. But he’s not the person you know and we can't be sure if we can trust him.” He leads her to a table on the far wall and beckons her to sit down on one of the chairs.

Castiel feels like falling, like he has lost all sense of direction. He knows that woman, and he doesn’t know her. He wanted to turn his face into her touch and shove her away. He wants to never see these people again. He wants to ask them what’s wrong with him, how they know them, who they mistook him for. Where do all these emotions come from? His stomach heaves as the anxiety builds inside him and he regrets having eaten their food. Did they maybe poison him? Is this a spell?

The room goes black and Castiel falls to his knees, hard, his bound wrists no use to catch his weight. Pain shoots up from his kneecaps all through his thighs. He lists to the side and slides to the floor, bangs his head on the concrete, and he’s almost thankful for the blow that drowns him into blissful unconsciousness while the room around him explodes in a cacophony of voices.

He never told them his name.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The vast plain stretches towards a horizon that’s nothing more than a thin line between one shade of yellow grey and another.

They’ve left the camp the day before. Castiel had been carried back to his cell where he came to a few hours later. Ash had told him they would set out again to find Lilith, but that hadn’t been the whole truth. Since the humans had asked him about Lucifer, Castiel had a bad feeling.

And he has questions, so many questions. But telling his captors about the visions and the dreams is a risk he can’t take. Even if they find some kind of common ground and work together against the same enemy, he can’t trust those people. He wouldn’t trust his own unit with it.

The strategic thing to do is to play along and find out where the sudden interest in the first fallen angel stems from. That other part of him, the one he slowly learns to accept even if he doesn’t understand it, tells him to help Singer and his crew. For once, both voices in his head point in the same direction, so he decides to follow.

The sand bites into his skin and grinds in his wounds, it gathers under his leather and under the cuffs. Castiel tucks his head down low to keep it out of his eyes. If he could, he would fly. His wings are still useless though, and the sigils stop him from using much of his grace.

Most of the men seem to accept his presence and while they keep their eyes on him, he’s left alone. Castiel uses the time to order his thoughts and sift through his newest “memories”. It’s still just details, puzzles pieces that don’t form a larger pattern.

The blonde woman was Mary Winchester, the mother of Dean and Sam Winchester. He repeats their names in his head, waits for the swell of emotion and the images that follow. He has never met them, and yet, he knows them, knows them better than most of the angels he calls his brothers and sisters.

If he closes his eyes, he can hear Dean’s voice, gruff or teasing or tired. Castiel can conjure his smell – leather and motor oil and citrus and human – and thinking of it brings back that tightness in his chest. He has never heard of anything that could explain these symptoms.

If his vessel was still alive, Castiel could access his memories, but since James Novak was gone, he couldn’t be the source. Some angels started to show signs of human weaknesses the longer they stayed on earth: their grace faded, they slept and ate and developed other human desires. Were those images in his mind another sign of his weak grace? Did all humans have hallucinations like this? He would know about that, surely? He doesn’t dare ask Ash about it, but he’s tempted.

 

###

 

When the sun begins to set, Singer falls in step beside him. They don’t say anything for about a mile before Singer speaks up.

“Word is, Lucifer came through a crack into another dimension. Their Lucifer. Ours is still locked up I hope.”

Castiel turns to get a good look at the leader of this rag-tag army. He seems like a level-headed, well-read man, so Castiel resists the urge to call him mad. His mind is working furiously. He’s heard of other dimensions even if he’s never been to one before.

Singer carries on as if Castiel had answered. “There’s a rift that opened with the birth of a Nephilim.” He points at one of the mountains in the distance. Castiel looks over and concentrates on the area.  He tries reaching out with his grace, but he can’t sense anything. He’ll have to take Singer’s word for it.

“I’ve seen it. I’ve seen people come through it. Mary came from the other side.”

Castiel has a thousand questions, but he asks only one. “Why do you tell me all this?”

Singer grunts. “In that other dimension, angels and humans work together from what I hear. I met… one of them. Not gonna lie – we could really use your knowledge and your power in this fight.”

Castiel is aware of the second of hesitation. And he thinks he knows which angel Singer met. It had to be another version of himself. Why else did Mary react the way she did when she first saw him? How did she know his name? But if that was the case, why didn’t that other Castiel come over to help in the pursuit of Lucifer?

Singer waits for an answer. “I’ll think about it,” Castiel says.

Singer claps him on the shoulder. “You do that.” And with that, Castiel is alone with his tumultuous thoughts again.

 

###

 

The next morning, the group of men that scouted area comes back whooping with victory. They half-carry a female demon with black hair and round features that waver over her real face. Cuts and bruises cover every part of her visible skin. Despite himself, Castiel feels for her. He spots Cole between the men. He wouldn’t wish his worst enemy to be helpless in that man’s hands.

When the group passes Castiel, the demon straightens and looks right at him, then struggles to stop and stare. “And what are you?” she drawls through a busted lip.

“Never seen an angel?” One of the men laughs.

She ignores him, eyes locked on his chest, and he sees curiosity and something like jealousy in them. “Where did you get that?”

He looks down to where she’s focusing and sees nothing. “I don’t… what do you see?”

She lifts her head and quirks a brow. The motion feels familiar. “Oh, honey, you don’t know? You’re glowing. I’d advice to get that fixed as soon as possible, it’s only gonna hurt if you keep it.”

The men push her forward and leave Castiel behind, stunned.

What did she see?

Castiel looks around at the men surrounding him and tries to see them like a demon would. There are about twenty men and women with them. Some are so bundled up in fabric to keep out the sand that he can’t tell their gender. Different ages. Different skin tones. He’s indifferent to all of that though he learned those details were important for the humans and therefore important when dealing with them.

He only cares for what’s behind the skin and the bones. He perceives only shadows of their souls in his current state, but it’s enough to confirm what he sees with his vessel’s eyes. Some souls are grey with sadness and fatigue, some of them red with rage and hate. And some, like Ash’s or Singer’s, shine a warm yellow with purpose, loyalty, friendship.

They glow . What –

Ash appears next to him. “Don’t listen to that one. Those demons mess with your head just for the fun of it. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just a bit frayed around the edges.” He smiles and lifts his hand to cover his eyes and scan the horizon. “The demon spoke of whispers that the Lucifer from the other side is assembling an army.”

“An army against whom?” Castiel follows Ash’s gaze but sees only desert.

Ash chuckles. “Hell if I know. But I guess whatever we stumble into, at least we’ve got an angel with us.” He bumps Castiel’s shoulder amicably.

Castiel stumbles a little, caught off guard, and Ash looks down at his cuffed hands. “I’ll talk to Bobby tomorrow about the shackles.”

“Thank you.”

When Ash leaves him, Castiel has the distinct feeling he learned something even more important than the fact that Lucifer was free. He shuffles on, bone tired all of a sudden, heading into a war alone and weak and obviously going crazy.

Chapter Text

 

Dean stays next to Cas‘ body for hours. His mind stumbles around the truth, reaching around blindly, disoriented. Between hasty desperate prayers there’s long stretches of black nothing.

The cold seeps into him, from the ground into his legs and from Cas’ skin into his hands.

Sam’s voice drifts over now and then. He comes out to tell him he found Jack. Then he’s there again to tell Dean he called Jody. Dean blinks and swallows. He doesn’t answer.

The night wears on. And then the lake’s ablaze in orange and pink. Another day starts.

The first one without Cas.

 

###

 

Jody sits down beside him and touches his hand before she tries to loosen his fingers where he grips Cas’ trench coat.

She takes Dean’s hand and straightens it to bring the blood flow back. She rubs circles into his palms and life comes back with pins and needles. He opens his mouth to tell her to stop but it’s too dry and he can’t make his vocal cords work.

“It’s okay, honey,” she says. “I’ll stay here. Take your time.”

She leans her head on his shoulder and waits with him.

 

###

 

Dean must have fallen asleep. He awakes on the ground, a blanket over him, pillow stuffed under his head, and blinks against the clear blue sky.

He doesn’t have to turn to know he’s lying next to the none-presence of Cas’ remains.

Dean clears his throat. “I have to bury him.”

He’s not sure if anybody’s around to hear him and he says it more to himself anyway. But Sam’s voice is there, steady as a rock.

“I’ll help you.”

 

###

 

They dig the grave a good distance away from the lake, on a clearing behind the house. Little blue flowers dot the meadow, and Dean doesn’t know their name but he’s sure Cas would have liked them.

He’s drenched in sweat by the time they’ve dug deep enough, despite the chill air. Dean puffs white clouds that dissolve before his eyes. When his breathing slows down, he steels himself.

Sam stands back as Dean walks over to the lake and lifts Cas’ body. It’s heavy and unyielding, and Dean has to stop for a second to adjust the weight.

He doesn’t look down all the way, concentrates on the path instead, and then he sinks to his knees next to the grave, mind racing. How is he supposed to let go?

Cas will tumble down into the earth and he will be gone.

It’s not right.

It’s not fair.

Sam’s hand lands on his shoulder and at first Dean thinks he’s shaking him, but it’s his own body that trembles and jerks with sobs and panicked, heaving breaths. It’s ridiculous really. As if he’s new to losing loved ones. His nose is running, and his eyes burn from the many times he wiped the tears away. He’s a mess. He shakes his head and chuckles without humor.

“Let me,” Sam says, and he takes what’s left of Cas and lays it gently into the ground. Cas, the otherworldly being, the cosmic wavelength, is nothing more than meat now.

And it’s on Dean. It’s all on Dean.

Jody helps to fill the grave while Dean sits there and watches the lifeless features vanish.

 

###

 

It takes him two days before he can eat. For two days he only drinks and sleeps and cries. For three days after that, he sits quietly and drinks and sleeps.

Jody and Sam take turns in sitting with him and looking after Jack. From what Dean hears, the nephilim is fully grown by now and has to learn about his heritage and the world and his powers. Like Kelly said, he’s not evil. But he doesn’t know what it means to be good either. Dean thinks Jack won’t find a better teacher for learning about that than his brother.

He drifts to the surface of the real world in slow and lazy circles like a leaf in the autumn breeze. Numbness gives way to crystalline realization and leads back to that cold hollow place in his chest.

Grief has always been like that for him. Yeah, there were times when all he felt was anger, and he experiences brief episodes of that now too, but mostly it’s resignation that once again he’s been left alone.

Once again, Cas left.

 

###

 

“Has Mary come back?” Dean asks on the sixth evening.

“No,” Sam says, and if he’s surprised that Dean talks again he doesn’t show it. His voice is gentle. “The rift’s still there. I’m guessing she is over there with Bobby and looks for signs of Lucifer.”

“I should go too.” Dean fishes for the glass next to him and swallows the last of his whisky.

Sam stays quiet. Yeah, Dean knows he’s in no shape to fight, but he’s gotta do something . And having his mom in that other dimension, alone, does not sit well with him.

And here he’s getting antsy. The clearing with the little blue colors is too close. The dark cloud in the back of his mind looms and threatens. While he knows Cas died, he’s not ready to face the truth that Cas is gone . He’d rather hunt the devil than to work through that.

Maybe Sam sees it.

“Maybe you should go,” he mumbles, face all scrunched up in worry and sorrow. He lost him too , Dean thinks, and his heart clenches.

Dean stumbles to his feet. “I’ll catch a few hours of sleep. I’ll go in the morning.”

 

###

 

The weird arena where they landed the last time is still there and looks exactly the same. He can tell the spot where Cas confronted Lucifer.

Stupid son of a bitch .

Dean lets the duffel with a set of spare clothes, lots of weapons and his father diary fall to the ground next to him. He had to drive back to the bunker to get some of the stuff which had delayed his plan to get here profoundly.  

Dean takes a look around. Bleak yellow light lays over the scenery like an ugly filter. Dean coughs. The air is full of dust and fine sand. No wonder the inhabitant cover their faces. Speaking of.

A small huddled figure struggles to stand on the other side of the field, between the massive stone pillars. Dean sees a gun emerge from the layers obscuring the whole person. He drops his duffel and grabs his own gun.

“Who are you?”, the other one asks.

Dean has heard the voice before. “Garth?”

The face is unveiled and a thin face appears. “How do you know my name?”

Dean feels a small smile on his lips that falls away immediately. “I… I know you on the other side.” He points behind him.

Garth’s eyes flicker over to the rift and then back to Dean. “I’ve been told to wait here in case one of the Winchesters comes through or the angel’s back.”

Dean flinches.

“The angel won’t be coming back,” he says and tries to keep his voice steady. Then he tugs his gun back in his belt and offers his hand. “I’m Dean.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Dean follows Garth through the grey world. Where he came from the weather would count as a sandstorm and Dean coughs and works hard to keep the fine kernels out his eyes. Garth doesn’t seem to mind. He trudges on and Dean is glad he leads the way. Dean would be lost in seconds without him.

They reach the compound after about two hours. Low, practical buildings huddle around each other in a way that makes Dean sure most of the structure lays underground. Under the sickly grey sky and surrounded by lifeless desert, the vista could be taken out of a dystopian movie. Dean already misses the colors of his own world.

Garth beckons him to a slightly bigger building with cracks concrete and busted windows. “Come in,” he says, and enters through the metal door.

Inside, Dean blinks the dust out of his eyes. He hears his mother before he sees her.

“Dean!” She hugs him tightly and Dean stops wiping his face to hug her back. He gives himself a moment to just sink into her embrace, but when the emotions well up, he takes a step back and clears his throat. He has to remember they haven’t got time for this.

Mary touches his cheek and smiles a little. “What are you doing here?”

“I…” his voice cracks, and he starts again. He’s just not ready to say it yet. “I wanted to bring you back safely.”

“Honey, I’m fine.” Mary turns to a guy he doesn’t recognize. “Could you bring us some water?” She goes over to the big table in the middle of the room, covered with maps and notes. Dean sees Mary’s handwriting on some of the papers.

“I would have come back tomorrow. I just wanted to share some of my knowledge with Bobby and the others to help them fight. Lucifer is still on the loose.”

Dean tries to focus on the problem at hand and swallows the searing rage that twists like a snake in his gut when he hears the name. It works. Cold determination takes its place. He will find Lucifer and kill him. His hands twitch with the need to close them around that bastard’s neck, and he clenches them, tight enough for his nails to leave marks in his palms.

Mary doesn’t notice his stiff posture. Or maybe she chooses to ignore it.

“But there’s not much else I could do. Bobby led a few of his fighters to search for Lucifer, but I stayed back because I wanted to come back to you first.” She underlines something on a sheet in front of her, distracted, before her head snaps up and her eyes twinkle with excitement. “Oh, I totally forgot. I met their Castiel! He’s an angel warrior, you wouldn’t recognize him.”

Dean’s knees go weak and a buzzing starts in his head. He can’t hear Mary’s voice over the sound. He can’t breathe. In a desperate attempt to get himself under control, he turns and stumbles into Garth.

“You okay man?” Garth holds him up with a hand on his shoulder, concern written all over his face. “You’re not gonna puke, right? Bathroom’s just down the hall.” He points, and Dean follows the directions.

When the door falls shut behind him, he leans back and slides to the floor. Dumb and pathetic, is what this is. He knocks his head down on his knees, and wipes his eyes angrily, grinding the sand even deeper under his lids.

Deep, trembling breaths.

Counting to ten.

Suck it up.

His throat is still much too tight. So he counts to ten again, and waits until the coldness of the floor creeps into his bones and the tears rinse the sand from his eyes.

He stands and washes his face with yellow water from the rusty faucet. The porcelain is stained and full of cracks that filled with grime over the years. Dean follows the rivulets bending this way and that on their way down the drain, and he feels dazed and hollow.

A knock on the door echoes through the small room.

“Dean? Everything all right?” Mary sounds worried. Some young and small and needy part of him wants to open the door and tell her everything, curl into the embrace of her arms and cry on her shoulder. He’s dead, he’d say, I lost him. And she would know, or maybe she already suspected all that those words would mean. And she would run, he thinks, she would be just as unable to deal with my shit as I am. So what’s the point?

“Yeah, mom. Out in a sec.” With a last look at the nearly blind mirror he steels himself and opens the door. He puts on a forced smile that makes his jaw ache. It’s the one he uses when he talks to relatives and tells them everything will be alright even if he’s 99 percent sure he and Sam will find the missing person long dead in a ditch. “Let’s talk some strategy.”

 

###

 

They part ways two miles from the bunker. Mary sets out with Garth in the direction of the rift to go back to Sam. Dean and the fighter he met that first day, a scrawny guy who goes by the name of Danny and doesn’t talk if he doesn’t have to, will follow Bobby’s trail. His group has a head start of a day, but Dean’s sure they will be able to catch up.

Mary had pestered him the whole evening before he finally broke down and told her about Cas in short, clipped sentences, as if he recounted a case, just the bare bones of the events. She had looked at him for long moments. And then she had told him she was sorry. They had hugged and Dean had bitten the inside of his cheek to keep the unsaid words from tumbling out. Mary had awkwardly patted his back and muttered soothing lies, before she had told him – haltingly – about the version of Cas in this world.

A stone-cold warrior, she had said, nothing like our Cas.

Our Cas.

It had warmed his heart a little to hear that. Mary didn’t form bonds fast or lightly, and it meant a lot to him that she had accepted Cas into their weird family.

Now he looks at her fading form as she makes her way up the hills next to Garth. He will head out east with Danny, over to Olympia, and kill the devil. He tries to ban the news about the angel from his thoughts, but fails miserably. It’s a version of Cas that never met Sam or Dean, most likely never really interacted with humans.

Dean had often imagined how Cas had been before, when he was a soldier, a leader in heaven’s armies. He remembers the other-worldy coldness, the detached stare of Cas when he had first met him, the smooth façade that had crumpled with every action of free will until Cas had been unfit for the heavenly host.

Dean had always planned to ask Cas about the old times, when they had time for things like that, when they would share meals at the bunker and buy a couch and swap stories. His heart clenches. He will never get to ask him now.

This other angel – he wasn’t Cas and couldn’t be. He’s just a pale copy, Dean thinks, a replica. He fiercely hopes he won’t have to talk to him or even face him, afraid the bottled up rage behind his ribs will explode and let him tumble into the darkness he can feel lurking and pacing since Cas sank down in front of him, since Dean had gone to his knees on that beach. He will have to keep a safe distance from that danger.

Not thinking about how pale and quiet Cas’ face looked in the moonlight takes all his willpower as it is.

“So tell me about your side. You still have cars?” Danny seems to have enough of the silence. Or maybe he’s feeling Dean needs a distraction. Dean takes it, grateful to untangle his thoughts from the nightmares and the grief.

“Oh yeah, we have. You should see mine.” He smiles a small smile that feels fake but Danny returns it genuinely. They delve into stories about cars; Danny tells him how the oil fields and the refineries and the stations stopped working after the first wave of angels vs. demons and how everything went to shit after. They pass husks of burned out and stranded cars now and then, stripped of everything useful, silent and constant reminders that this world is nothing like the one Dean left behind. Danny seems wistful but he is starved for stories about a better place, eager to tell him about the time before when he had a boyfriend and a family and they met to eat burgers and beers.

Dean indulges him. He closes his eyes briefly to drench up a few images of his home. He talks about the best pie he had and how he gets his burgers just right and the sound Baby makes when they drive along a nice stretch of highway. And Dean can see how Danny forgets about the war and starvation and hopelessness. As he dives into his stories they both forget why they’re here for a while.

When the evening comes they rest for two hours before they set out again. Day and night bleed into each other here, never really dark, never really bright. They’re on the deserted highway now so they can find their way in the dim half-light of the full moon. The yellow-grey clouds obscure its contours, but their eyes adjust to the gloom that trickles through. When the sky gets slightly brighter again, they can see the outskirts of the city.

Olympia.

A fitting place to fight the devil.

 

Chapter Text

 

They meet in a field of death.

Blood, Dean finds, is so much redder in a world of grey, as if painted with a careless brush over the dust and the grime. Two angels lie at his feet, wings burned into the dry ground. He just wiped his blade on the jacket of one of his opponents when he looks up into the blue of Castiel’s eyes, the same blue, stark and deep and other. Castiel is in shackles, left behind by his guards. He stands in the midst of the chaos like a marble statue.

Dean’s breath catches in his throat, and his heart beats against his ribs like a drum, from the adrenaline of the fight and the shock of finally meeting the angel he heard about. The unmoving figure looks magnificent. Dean hadn’t anticipated the flash of sheer yearning that pulses through his veins as his eyes travel over the tanned, dirty skin wrapped in leather and tight black fabric. The black wings, tucked neatly behind his back. It’s Cas, but it’s not and his mind struggles to accept what he’s seeing. He takes a deep gulping breath and trembles as it wheezes out of his lungs again. Around him, the battle goes on, but Dean can’t do anything but stare. His hand lifts as if it wants to reach out and his body screams at him to move, wrap his arms around the silent angel and never let him go.

He stays put. It’s the angel who moves first. His steps are slow. Dean looks down to see his feet are shackled, too. The sounds of metal clashing and people dying gets drowned by the furious pounding of his heartbeat in his ears. Castiel closes the distance between them, a look of wonder transforming the features Dean knows like the back of his hand.

“It’s you,” he murmurs, and he reaches out with his bound hands as if he wants to touch, to make sure Dean is real. Dean’s stomach heaves.

It’s not him. It’s not him, he thinks, again and again, while his heart breaks, because he would give anything, anything to be able to trust his eyes.

The hiss of a bullet breaks his stupor. Dean ducks, and Cas hands shoot out to grab Dean’s blade and twist it from his grip. Dean’s mind is taken back to a moment years ago, and he sees his own hand bury a blade in Cas’ chest. It’s only fair, he thinks, that he will die by that same blade, by Castiel’s hand. He closes his eyes as he straightens again, knowing that he doesn’t stand a chance against a full-powered angel.

A voice cries out.

The air shifts with the energy blast of a dying angel.

When Dean opens his eyes again, he sees Castiel crouched by the lifeless body a few feet away. With sure hands, he twists the blade out of the chest of the dead angel that tried to shoot Dean. When the warrior that isn’t Castiel comes back to him, holds out the blade for Dean to take it, something in him just … falls apart. He’s shaking, in shock most likely, the still working part of his brain points out, thank you Mr. Obvious, but he can’t stop the violent trembles that wreck his body any more than the tears that stream down his face. The drops fall down from his bowed head onto the blade, washing away the blood.

The blade falls to the ground. Bound hands reach up slowly until a thumb meets the skin on his cheeks to wipe away another tear. Feathers rustle and Dean blinks through his tears to watch them expand and twitch behind Castiel's back.

“Dean,” Not-Castiel says, and it’s his voice, that same low rumble that makes Dean feel safe and loved like nothing else in this or any other world. And he knows, he knows, he knows he can’t and shouldn’t and that it’s stupid and weak, but he leans forward into the touch and forward still until his forehead leans against a strong shoulder. A startled gasp is the only reaction he gets. The angel stands still, hands held awkward between them, and he says nothing while Dean cries. Castiel’s scent envelopes him and Dean takes deep breaths between sobs. It’s leather and dirt and, underneath it – Cas, thunderstorms and rain on sun-warm asphalt, a scent Dean didn’t realize he missed like limb until now.

When the tremors slowly subside, he steps back, unsure if he should apologize. He meets Castiel’s gaze through the blur of tears. Something moves in the blue depths, and for a second, Dean is fooled, lets himself be fooled, and he reaches out and cradles his palm around the angles of a too-familiar jaw. The stranger with the face of Castiel inhales sharply at the touch, his eyes go wide, and Dean lets his hand drop.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, because he has no right to touch him in a way he has always been too afraid to touch the real Cas. His Cas.

He bends to pick up his blade and stumbles away without another word, in the direction of the battle. He doesn’t turn around, but he feels the presence on his back, the bewildered stare, as he scans the field for a new enemy to kill.

The fight drags on until the weak sun settles behind the horizon. They have won, but at a high cost. A dozen fighters dead, twenty injured. Lucifer is still holed up in the city somewhere with the largest part of his army. Dean slumps next to Ash and takes the offered bottle without asking what it is. Battery acid, from the smell, but Dean isn’t picky. He forces down the booze, lets it burn his throat and warm his stomach.

He puts the bottle on the ground between them and offers his palm. “I’m Dean”.

“I know. Heard a lot about you. The name’s Ash. Saw you fight today.” He grabs the bottle and drinks before wiping his mouth and burping.

“You held yourself well,” Ash says. He looks like death warmed over, a large gash still oozing blood over his left eyebrow. Dean sees traces of his old pal in him, but a lot of the good-natured sass is replaced by cool strategic efficiency. “Not sure we would’ve made it without you.”

Dean huffs his thanks. He can’t remember much of the afternoon, just the feeling of his blade ripping up stomachs and gliding through ribs to find the heart, the stench of blood, the momentary blindness after watching grace leave a vessel. Every time it happened, Dean was sent back to that beach by the lake and saw familiar blue eyes flash instead of those of a stranger. Every time, he grit his teeth and moved on.

The strain of the day weighs his shoulders down, his muscles ache with fatigue.

Murmurs whisper through the troop of tired fighters when a figure shuffles its way to a spot just outside the loose circle. Castiel's wings are stretched out to balance where his bound feet can't. Dean watches as Castiel lowers himself gracefully unto the ground, face pointed away from the humans as if he’s scanning for enemies.

Ash follows Dean’s gaze. “You met him?”

Dean nods. “He… is very different from his version in our world. Is he on our side?”

Ash shrugs and takes another pull from the bottle, swallows the harsh liquor without flinching. “I guess. He’s not like the other angels I’ve met. I think something happened to him. He doesn’t seem to know what happened himself, but he told me about strange dreams he had lately. And then one of the demons we captured acted strange around him, as if he carried some kind of disease.” He shrugs again, his bony shoulders going up to his ears. “I sure as hell wouldn’t mind to have him fighting with us, but the others are wary. That’s why he’s still in shackles.”

Seemingly done with scanning the surroundings, Castiel turns and looks in Dean’s direction. Dean still can’t wrap his head around the fact that he exists, in Jimmy’s vessel, so much the same and still so much other than his Cas. He doesn’t look away, lets himself be studied by the stranger, and studies him in turn. He always joked about Cas’ stoic composure, but now he realizes how much more expressive Cas has become over the years.

This Castiel reminds him of the early days, with his unblinking, cool expression and the calculating squint. This is a Castiel that never learned to smile or laugh, that didn’t pout or smirk, because in this world, there’s no Dean to teach him. The thought hurts more than anything. It’s not just Dean that lost something irreplaceable on that day. Cas lost the chance to so many new thing he still could have experienced, so many ways to grow into the person he wanted to be, away from heaven’s duties and hell’s schemes. Did this Castiel carry that rebellious streak, too? Would he break away from the host to follow his own moral compass, given the chance?

Dean thinks back to their meeting on the battlefield. For some reason, the angel recognized him, didn’t he? Did someone tell him about Dean? In that moment, Dean had been too shell-shocked to ask about it. Now the question burns in the back of his brain, insistent like a buzzing fly. It’s you, Castiel had said, and called him by his name. Dean stares at the lonely figure as if he can coax the answer out of him. How do you know me? Who are you?

Something moves over Castiel’s face just then, something warm and longing that makes Dean’s heart beat faster and his palms sweat. But it’s gone as soon as it came and Dean’s not sure if it was just a trick played by the dying light of the day.

He snatches the bottle from Ash again.

“You should talk to him,” Ash muses, “I’m sure you can find out more about his motives.”

From a strategic point of view, that’s a good idea.

If the goal is for him to keep his sanity, it’s a bad, bad, bad idea.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

As it turns out, Dean doesn’t get the time to talk to Castiel.

When he comes to, he finds him self in a dimly lit warehouse. Of course it’s a warehouse. Concrete and steel, abandoned years ago, the usual. The weak sunlight filters into the building through busted windows. Dust motes dance in the long streaks. The air smells like mildew, dust, metal and blood.

Dean tries to open his eyes, but finds them caked shut. Bits and pieces of the last days come back to him. Snippets of the fights on the outskirts of the city. Squirmishes against small groups of demons and angels. Cries. Screams. Dark laughter. The sulfur smell of dying demons. Blasts from snuffed out grace. The gurgling sound of blood gushing out of lethal wounds.

And in between, stretches of quiet anticipation.

This war isn’t like anything he ever experienced. The lines are unclear, the factions seemingly fighting for the sake of bloodshed, a constant rage pulsing thought he empty streets with no clear goal or gain. Angels against the demons, against their own kind, and the scattered humans smack in the middle, trying to get rid of both invading armies. Dean has only been here a few weeks, but the desperation and the hopelessness of their endeavor already seeped into his very bones. He’s got no idea how Bobby, Ash and the others find the strength to keep going. And Lucifer’s arrival just tipped the scales even farther down on the wrong side.

A familiar voice sounds through the room. Speaking of the devil.

Right, they got themselves captured yesterday by a bunch of demons. Who, as it turns out, work for an old acquaintance of Dean’s.

Lucifer chuckles. The sound runs down Dean’s spine like ice.

“Well, well, if that isn’t the cheap copy of the angel Castiel,” he taunts.

Dean hangs his head and tries to open his eyes again without drawing attention to the fact that he’s conscious again. His head thumps like someone planted a jackhammer in his skull, now worsened by the familiar rage brought on by Lucifer’s ridiculous antics.

“Lucifer”, Cas’, no, Castiel’s, familiar voice grunts out.

“You have no idea how convenient it is that my trusted minions found you roaming the streets. I am in a weakened state, you see. So I’d appreciate it if you could help me out a little.”

The only answer he gets is a snarl.

Dean smiles at that and winces when a deep gash on his bottom lip opens from the motion. His lids part slowly, and he blinks a few times to open his eyes fully. His hands are bound, so he can’t rub the grime from them. A quick inspection confirms his suspicion. They took his gun, his angel blade, his knife. It’s ridiculous who naked he feels without them, seeing that they wouldn’t do him much good anyways.

When he looks up, he wishes he hadn’t. Castiel is shackled to a wall. His wings hang limp and broken down his back. Deep gashes on his chest, barely closing in his weakened state. Dean swallows his gasp at the sight. His stomach turns.

Lucifer has his back to Dean and a blade to Castiel’s throat, Dean’s blade. Castiel strains against the shackles, tries to get away from Lucifer, but he’s got only so much room to maneuver. Still fighting, even when he’s completely outgunned. Some things never change.

Castiel’s eyes flick over to Dean, a glimpse only, but the warning is clear in his eyes, before he trains his gaze back on Lucifer.

Dean catches the hint and lets his eyes fall shut again. He listens to the sound of Lucifer turning, and shudders when a new tone enters that godforsaken voice that never fails to make Dean grind his teeth.

“Oh, is he awake? Should we tell him then? That you let yourself be captured to save him? Cas, you’ve always been way too soft for your own good. Those animals, they’re not worth our time. And that one, he’s certainly not worth your loyalty, trust me. I had really hoped in this world, you’d be a little less stupid.”

Dean’s heart does some weird things in his chest while Lucifer talks. Why would this Castiel save him? He’s got no reason to trust Dean and the other soldiers after what they did to him. Oh yes, Dean had found out about Cole, and he can’t say he’s surprised that he’s a scumbag over here, too. He wishes he could kill him with his hands, but Ash told him a demon had already taken care of that.

Lucifer, ignorant to the turmoil in Dean’s mind, goes on.

“That’s always been your problem, Cassy. Too much heart. It’s a good thing you’re both going to die here. It’s kinda romantic, don’t you think?”

The shackles clank loudly through the vast room when Castiel struggles again, and a low growl echoes from the derelict walls. Dean doesn’t agree often with Lucifer, but it does have a certain ring to it. Poetic justice maybe. If their lives were a story, it would be fitting that he’ll die in this world with Castiel by his side.

“I see you’re still not the talking kind.” Lucifer sounds disappointed. He sure likes to hear himself talk, but without anyone swallowing his bait, he loses interest quickly.

“Let’s get to it, then.”

Dean opens his eyes again, just in time to see Lucifer slash his blade over Castiel’s throat until a small rivulet of grace trickles out. Castiel, being the warrior he is, doesn’t even flinch, but Dean knows it must hurt.

Lucifer holds a simple whisky hamper under Castiel’s throat, not the a golden trinket that’s used for this kind of ritual on the other side, and it bugs Dean for some reason, as if it’s an insult to Castiel. When there’s two finger of grace filling the glass, the flow slows until it’s only a trickle. The wound closes.

Lucifer throws back his head and empties the glass, as if it’s cheap tequila, while Castiel watches him, horrified. Like this is going a step to far, even for the fallen archangel.

Lucifer smacks his lips and tips his nonexistent hat. “Thanks for the power-up,” he drawls, sluggish as if he’s high from the new power running through his veins. His eyes glow a deep red. Dean’s so, so close to puking.

“Gotta go. I’ll leave you two love-birds to it.” He walks out of the room with a spring in his step, winking at Dean as he passes him. “I don’t know what you did to him and I don’t wanna spoil the big surprise, Dean-o, but he,” Lucifer licks his lips again, “tastes almost as rotten with nasty human emotions as your pal on the other side.”

Dean, with his hands bound and unable to posture sitting on the ground, does the next best thing and spits on Lucifer’s blank black shoes.

Lucifer just laughs. “Really, Dean?” His chuckles can be heard a good long while as he’s leaving the building. When he’s finally, blessfully gone, silence settles over the room.

“What the hell did you do?” He doesn’t look up when he asks. The ground between his legs is scattered with bits of paper. He can make out numbers and a few words. This had been a factory for car parts, it seems, but the machines are long gone, scavenged for pieces most likely.

“We were separated from the rest of the group,” Cas starts, but falls silent again.

“Yeah, I remember.” One moment, Ash had been by his side with a couple others, the next, he found himself alone with Castiel, standing in an empty alley with a snarling sound behind them and nowhere to hide. “But you could have fled.”

They had opened Castiel’s restraints the day after he had saved Dean’s life. Dean had vouched for him and promised that he would take full responsibility. He still doesn’t know what made him do it. Apparently, he can’t help but trust Castiel, no matter the world they find each other in. He didn’t look to closely at the way his heart leaped in his chest when Castiel sighed in relief after Ash had opened the cuffs, when Castiel looked up to stare right at Dean in a silent thanks.

“I couldn’t leave you there,” is all Castiel says, and while it is an answer, it’s not a satisfying one. While Dean has reasons, even if they are stupid, that make him want to help Castiel, the angel doesn’t carry that kind of baggage. To this Castiel, Dean’s just another human, short-lived, nothing more than a blink in his existence. He’s got no reason at all to put his own life on the line for Dean.

Silence falls between them again. Dean is drowsy, likely from a blow to the head, and he reminds himself to stay awake. He blinks when Castiel speaks up again.

“Do you love him?” His voice is guarded.

“Who?”, Dean mumbles, although he knows exactly who Castiel is talking about. He just needs to buy some time, clear his head, and then, well, then, he still won’t know how to answer that question.

“There’s another version of me on the other side–“, Castiel starts, but Dean interrupts him.

“Was,” he grunts through clenched teeth.

Castiel seems to ponder that, and you had to know that face like Dean does to see the wheels turning behind his steady gaze. In the end, Castiel tilts his head in acknowledgement. “Was.” And then, “I’m sorry.”

They fall silent again. One step forward, two back. Dean feels Castiel’s eyes on him like a physical touch, intrigued and curious, but careful. This is new terrain for him, too, and he doesn’t want to make a wrong motion.

“There’s nothing for you to feel sorry about. He got himself killed – I guess you’re aware of that impulse you get to play knight in shining armor since you just pulled the same stunt. Cas,” it hurts to speak his name, but Dean pushes it out from his chest, “he had that dumbass hero complex, too.”

There’s a crease between Castiel’s brows, and Dean is catapulted back in time, when he first met Cas, and Cas was so very other, unfamiliar with a lot of human things he later came to love and share with Dean. Movies. Burgers. Cars. Dean’s throat is tight with the well of emotions such a simple expression can draw to the surface. He wonders if this Castiel would love burgers, too, but quenches that line of thought immediately.

Castiel speaks slowly, sets down each word with care, so dry and deadpan and Cas that Dean’s heart aches with it. “The same could be said about you.”

Dean chuckles. Because he’s got to find some outlet for what he’s feeling. Because if he didn’t laugh, the burn in his eyes would lead to tears, and he can’t have that right now. If he breaks down, he will stay down.

“Yeah, there’s a few people who would agree with that.”

He shuffles back against a beam, grateful that the rope allows him that much range, and leans against it with a heavy sigh.

“Why don’t you tell me what you know about this goddamn war,” he suggests, and Castiel, after a long pause, complies.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Hours stretch into what feels like days. The dark and the cold seep into Dean’s bones, while his mouth dries out like parchment in the sun. A day or two, he muses, before he’ll be too dehydrated to do anything but give in and lose consciousness. At this point, it almost sounds like a blessing.

Lucifer comes and goes. He takes Cas’ grace, leaving him weakened and desolate. Sometime, he ignores Dean and his hoarse threats, sometimes he takes the time to kick him in the ribs on his way through the hall, smirk down on him and tsk as if he’s disappointed in Dean’s lack of manners.

What Lucifer does when he’s outside remains a mystery, until the second night turns into dawn. The difference between night and day in this world is nothing more than the difference between pitch black darkness and enough weak light to make out contours. Dean’s never imagined he would miss the sun this much, but it’s like he can feel the lakck of vitamin D on a physical level. He’d give a non-essential limb to stand outside in his world and bask in the warmth of a mild summer sun.

His ribs hurt. Lucifer might have cracked a few, and every breath brings with it a stab of pain that sears through his whole right side. He’s much better off than Cas, though, who slips in and out of consciousness and lost the ability to hold himself up in his restraints somewhere between nightfall and now.

“Talk to me, Cas,” Dean murmurs, finally giving in to call the angel by a name he dreaded to speak again, “any idea how we could get out of this?”

Cas blinks open his right eye – the left is swollen shut after a blow from their captor – and glares at Dean from the distance. There are thoughts swirling in that dark blue gaze, and Dean realizes how much he wants to learn what Cas is thinking. It’s an urge embedded in the core of his being after all he’s gone through with the angel by his side.

“If I had, we wouldn’t still be in this predicament,” Cas rasps, and that sounds like his Cas alright, indignation, ire and condescension all rolled into one statement.

Dean can’t help neither the huff of laughter nor the sudden pang of loss at hearing it.

“Can’t you radio your crew?”

The question earns Dean a raised eyebrow. Right, Cas doesn’t know what he means, so Dean opens his mouth to explain –

“I lost contact to them since Lucifer first took my grace.” So Cas does understand, and isn’t that odd, when the Cas he knew took years to get Dean’s idioms?

Dean wants to ask about it, when a loud bang rattles the walls of the building. The earth shakes underneath Dean. A wave of pressure blasts through the room, picks up pieces of paper and debris and takes them with it. Dean’s ears are ringing.

“What the hell?”

“Something happened,” Cas provides helpfully.

Dean can’t help but shoot back. “No shit,” but Cas shakes his head, tips his head as if he’s listening to a sound only he can hear, so Dean shuts up.

The doors burst open ten minutes later, and in strolls a very self-satisfied Lucifer. Dean’s hands clench with the urge to wipe that grin off his face. Lucifer squares his shoulders and shakes himself like a boxer after the final blow.

“Now that was fun,” he singsongs and walks over to Cas, blade already in his hand. “Too bad we don’t have champagne to celebrate. I’ll settle for next best thing, though.” He slices a new wound into Cas’ throat without the slightest hesitation, and it makes Dean sick to watch it. The old wounds don’t close as well as the first one, and Dean can see the tissue around the cuts redden with infection. Cas won’t make it much longer.

Lucifer taps his foot while he waits for the grace to trickle out, impatient, because it’s taking longer and longer. Dean decides to play along, if only to prevent Lucifer from hurting Cas again to reprimand him for his failing body.

“What has you in such a good mood?”

Lucifer spares him a sideway glance. If he’s surprised by the sudden interest in his plans, he doesn’t show it. “I’m glad you ask, Dean-o. See, for all its bleakness and pitiable lack of entertainment, I’ve grown fond of this place. A whole world just waiting for a king to bring order to its chaos, a strong hand to teach those crawling hordes a little respect. It’s like hell, but with so much more possibilities, you know?”

Dean has feeling Lucifer doesn’t expect an answer, so he doesn’t give one.

“You’d think Lilith and her demons would have welcomed me with open arms and swear fealty to me. I’m their rightful king, am I not? Imagine my surprise when they declined my offer. So –“ he’s finally satisfied with the amount of grace in his chipped glass and swallows it with a disgusting moan, before he wipes his mouth and smacks his lips, “– with the help of you boyfriend here, I regained enough power to make them see the light.”

“So Lilith is dead?”

“Yep,” Lucifer grins. “As is most of her kind. This is my world now,” he turns with his eyes glowing a deep red, “and I’ll do with it as I please.”

Cas hangs limp in his shackles. Dean clenches his jaw to stow the rising anger and the terror at seeing the powerful angel reduced into so much meat. Cas’ chest still rises and falls, but his eyes are closed and the agonized crease between his brows is a permanent fixture.

Lucifer follows Dean’s gaze and lifts Cas’ head with a fingertip, as if he wants to keep physical contact to a minimum, as if Cas is an appalling yet interesting insect. Cas doesn’t open his eyes, and when Lucifer tugs back his finger, Cas’ head slumps back down. That’s when Dean gets really worried.

“Leave him alone,” he grates through gritted teeth.

Lucifer laughs. “Ah Dean, always getting so attached to hopeless cases. I’d thought you learned something from the last time I killed your precious angel.” He shakes his head, still smiling that disgustingly sweet smile.

“He’s not my angel,” he shoots back, and it sounds like a lie even in his own ears. Somewhere between shoveling the dirt onto Cas’ remains on the other side of the rift and rubbing his wrists raw to get out of these shackles, this version of Cas did become his in a way. An ally and a comrade in arms, but also something more that Dean can’t quite put a name to.

Lucifer’s booming laughter brings his focus back to the here and now. “If only you knew how very wrong you are.” Lucifers strides over and crouches down in front of Dean, squashes his chin between his fingers and turns his head until Dean can’t not look at Cas. “Have a good look at him. I’ll bet he won’t make it to sundown. Did he tell you about his dreams, Dean? Did you notice that he seems to remember bits and pieces of his life on the other side?”

Dean shakes his head, more to get Lucifer’s hands off him than to negate his questions. He’d rather die than let Lucifer know he’s asked himself those exact questions. Considering the grim outlook he’s facing, he might just get his wish.

“Tell me, Dean, in all the years you and your annoying brother studied the supernatural, did you find out what happens to an angel’s soul when they die?”

Rage bubbles just under Dean’s skin, clouds his mind and makes his hard to think. “What the fuck are you talking about? Angels don’t have souls.”

“That’s right, and thank dad for that. It would only be a nuisance in my line of work. But it has come to my attention that a few of my brethren have had the questionable pleasure to grow one, for lack of a better term. For instance, when they lost their grace. Or died and came back from the dead. My father, you see, has a wicked sense of humor.”

With that, Lucifer rises to his feet and wipes his hand on his slacks. “Just something to think about while you watch him die,” he points to Cas. “I’ll leave you to it.”

“What about me?” It’s really no use to get Lucifer to talk about his plans, now, Dean will die here one way or the other, but a tiny part of his brain is still clinging to his training. Find your opponents’ weakness, find out what he wants and exploit it, John Winchester whispers in his ear. Don’t let them see what you think, don’t let them see what you feel. You’re a soldier, Dean, act like one.

“Without food or water, you’ll make it a few more days I guess. Enough time to ponder your decision to follow me here, and every step that led to this ending. When I’m strong enough to conquer our world, I’ll make sure to let your brother know you didn’t even die in a fight, all alone and like the pathetic loser you are. And then I’ll kill him, slowly.” He winks and walks out of the room, wriggling his fingers goodbye over his shoulder, ignoring the insults Dean hurls at him at the top of his lungs.

Dean screams and screams until his throat is raw and tears are running down his cheeks, dripping onto the dusty floor beneath him.

Cas doesn’t wake up once.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Dean slips in and out of consciousness. Whenever he wakes up, he hesitates to look at Cas, whose face is ashen and whose limbs have lost all tension. Dean concentrates on the slow rise and fall of Cas’ chest. He wonders if Cas will still be breathing the next time Dean opens his eyes.

The events of the last days are a jumbled mess in his mind. He tries to sort through the new facts he learned but his thoughts are hazy and sluggish.

There’s the fact that this Cas knows things he shouldn’t know, knows Dean’s vernacular and stuff from their world. And there’s the fact that Cas looks at Dean as if he knows him. He looks at Dean as if he cares. Dean chews on the inside of his cheek and watches Cas as he hangs in his shackles and gets paler by the minute.

Where was he? Right. Lucifer told Dean that some angels have souls. Dean had wondered about that when Cas first fell and became human. If his grace was lost, there had to be something inside him that still made him Cas. Even then, his brain had hurt thinking about it. Right now, he’s in no shape to untangle the metaphysical implications, but what if Lucifer – for once – wasn’t lying? Where did an angel’s soul go when the vessel died?

Sam would eat that shit up, Dean thinks, and smiles a little, careful not to reopen the cut on his lip. For all the years he spent hunting monsters, Dean was never one to ponder the theoretical ins and outs apart from what he had to know to kill something. Of all times to start diving into it, this was definitely not the best one.

His head pounds relentlessly. It takes a minute or two to realize the noise he’s hearing come from outside his body.

A deep rumble sounds through the open doors. Dean closes his eyes and wishes for a thunderstorm and rain. Maybe he can catch a few drops falling through the busted roof. It might give him another day full of fruitless philosophical musings, another hopeless day to watch Cas die. Again.

The rumble grows louder. It sounds familiar, but Dean knows it’s his dehydrated mind playing tricks. The rumble stops just outside the building. The telltale thud of heavy doors falling shut.

Then: Lucifer’s voice.

“You don’t wanna do that, son.”

Dean tries to turn around to see what’s happening, but his neck is stiff and his shoulder hurts like hell.

“Don’t call me that.”

A younger voice. Dean heard it before. Where did he hear that voice?

“Ah Jack. You shouldn’t listen to them. What did they tell you? That you can use your powers to do good? Look at what they accomplished with all their good intentions!”

Dean has a feeling that Lucifer is pointing at him and Cas, because Jack – Jack the Nephilim, his mind supplies, Lucifer’s freaking son – gasps audibly. Yeah, well, he guesses he doesn’t look much better than Cas.

“You are a monster. I am a hunter now. I stop monsters.” Jack’s voice is brittle but resolution drips from every word. He sounds a lot like Sam when he was eleven and not yet old enough to join John and Dean on hunts.

“What? You gonna kill me? Your own father?”

A soft yellow light illuminates the walls, paints shadows on the crumbling bricks. Turn around, kid, he thinks. There’s nothing to gain here.

“No.” The light grows stronger. Dean blinks his eyes. “I’ll send you back where you belong.”

The light explodes, searing Dean’s vision with a brightness so absolute he’s not sure if he’ll be blind when the world turns back to its sick grey baseline.

A touch on his shoulder. Dean opens his eyes slowly.

“Dean?”

“Sam?” It’s nothing more than a croak, his throat is so raw.

Strong hands work on his constraints. Muttered curses. With his vision slowly coming back, Dean can make out a figure over by Cas’ side. Deft hands opening the shackles. Cas’ lifeless body falls into waiting arms. Jack’s arms.

Sam is back in his line of sight, blocks the view. Hands him a flask. “Slowly,” he warns, as if Dean doesn’t know that. As if Dean hadn’t taught him that. He snatches the bottle with shaking fingers and forces himself to take small sips.

“What happened?”

Sam sits back on his haunches. He watches as Jack leans over Cas’ body on the floor. A crease builds between his brows as Jack’s hovering his hand over Cas’ chest and sends a warm light into him.

“Jack.” Sam says it with a fond smile. “He grew stronger every day. At first, I could hold him back, but one day he came to me and told me he knew where Cas is, that he needs to save him.” Sam shrugs. “I didn’t believe him at first, so we went to Rowena. She came over through the rift with us and located Cas with a spell. And then Mary told us that you two went after Lucifer.” He doesn’t say why he made the decision to take the kid and come after him, but Dean knows anyway.

Dean doesn’t say thank you. He claps his brother on the back, much weaker that he would like, and uses the leverage to get on his feet. Sam acts like he doesn’t know Dean needs the support, but he stands up slowly so Dean can hold on to him. Once they stand, Sam turns and hugs him tight.

Jack and Cas stand a few feet away. When Jack reaches out his hand, Dean shakes his head. Sam might trust the kid, but even if he got rid of Lucifer, Dean is not yet ready to trust him, too. Jack’s arms sinks slowly. Dean nods. His wounds will heal on their own.

“Thank you, Jack.” He wobbles on his feet and grips Sam’s shoulder. “What did you do to Lucifer?”

“He’s back in the cage,” Sam says. “He won’t hurt us anymore.”

“Good, that’s good,” Dean murmurs absentmindedly. He looks his brother in the eyes. “You said you located Cas…” He lets the sentence hang there, but Sam knows what he means. His eyes are wide and he doesn’t blink once when he answers.

“When he – when he died, his soul… Cas had a soul and it – it found a new vessel. It went through the rift, Dean.”

Dean nods, slowly. He turns and he looks at Cas. The same blue eyes, the same chapped lips, the same unruly hair. And the same careful, deep stare that always used to make Dean so very uncomfortable, made him feel so very seen.

“Cas?”

His mind might be playing tricks and he might be gone mad over the last few days. All of that are possibilities he has to consider. But in a world turned upside down, and after all the times they played against the odds and seldom won, this might be the one time his cards are actually worth something. A tiny smile curls Cas’ lips, just like it used to when Cas ate his first PB&J sandwich as a human, just like it used to when Dean explained a plot twist in a movie to him.

“Hello, Dean.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

They stay at the lake house. Cas keeps to himself at first. He takes long walks around the lake, clearly enamored with the trees and thriving nature around them.

Dean watches him from the front porch, a book or his laptop forgotten in his lap. The black patch where he burned his friend is still visible halfway between house and shoreline. The sight brings with it a stab of grief and then a mix of guilt and shame. He hasn’t quite wrapped his head around the fact that Cas lives on in another person. Who happens to look exactly like him.

The lore is sparse for this special tweak in the supernatural world. Angels don’t have souls, because they are made, and made eternal. Their essence is their grace – without it, they are nothing and go back to nothing. That’s the general stance in most of the literature Sam and Dean (let’s be honest, mostly Sam) unearthed, and it’s confirmed by Cas. But they know that’s not true, or not the whole story – because they met angels who lost their grace and still existed, still were the same person they were before. Cas was living proof of that loophole.

And now Cas might be living proof of not only having a soul, but of the possibility that a soul can inhabit a new vessel.

The hunters from the other side came with them to get patched up and regroup. A few days ago, Sam went back with them, through the rift that Jack holds open with the sheer power of a Nephilim. Dean still isn’t sure he trust the kid, but even he can’t deny that his heart seems to be in the right spot. Jack promised to rebuild the alternative world as much as he can, clear the debris of the battles and bring the landscape back to life. When Dean had started packing his things to join them, Sam had stopped him.

“You need to recover, Dean. And Cas needs you here.”

Dean could have fought his brother on that, but Sam was right. He needed a break. It says something about the state of his mind that he acknowledged that fact.

Cas walks up the small path that lead from the tree-line over to the porch. They went shopping the other day – not a great idea to walk around the tiny village clad like a medieval warrior – and contrary to his former self, this Cas sticks to the tight fits. Black jeans, grey t-shirt, solid boots. He looks like a manifestation of Dean’s wildest daydreams, even more so with the sunlight playing in his windswept hair and the small smile curving his lips.

Even after all they’ve been through, want curses through Dean, fresh and sharp and sudden like the first time he saw Cas. At least he packed away his wings, he thinks, while a soft tug in his gut tells him he didn’t really mind the sight of Cas with his newly healed wings stretched out beside him.

His heart beats with the rhythm of Cas’ steps, thump-thump-thump, and Dean lets his eyes linger on him while Cas comes closer. Cas doesn’t break eye contact and the smile stays firmly on his lips.

He smiles more easily, now that Sam explained the soul-travelling to him and he can make sense of the memory flashes that seem to come more often and get clearer by the day. Sam thinks it’s because Cas doesn’t fight the intrusive thoughts anymore but accepts them. It’s weird to watch that transition. One minute Cas is not!Cas and surprises them with recollections of battles they weren’t a part of, or cocks his head like he’s waiting for a message from his squadron before realizing he can’t hear them. Other times, Cas asks about what happened in Game of Thrones while he was gone, and for a moment, it’s like he never left.

It will take time to get used to it, for all of them. Dean can’t help but be grateful it happened, even if a part of him is still weary – after all, who knows if all of Cas’ soul was saved? Who knows how different he is because of the part of him that’s still there and not-quite-Cas?

“I remember the night I went on a date when I was human,” he starts as soon as he’s near enough for Dean to hear him.

That’s how conversations start between them most of the time now.

I remember the time in the mental hospital

I remember when Gabriel taught me to fly

I remember the movie we watched together about the cowboys …

Cas never shared so much about himself before… before that night. Dean loves to hear stories about his life before they met, always meant to ask about it, but the moment never seemed right. Now Cas tells him about it without prompting, and Dean can spend hours just listening.

“Yeah, what about it?”

“You told me how to dress and to open the button on my shirt, because you thought I looked better that way.”

“Well, Cas, that vest wasn’t doing you any favors.” Dean smiles, a little strained perhaps, because he remembers that night and can recall the fervent wish that Cas would dress up for him, to go out with Dean instead of some lady he worked with.

“And the other day in the store, you picked out clothes for me, and when I put them on, you told me I looked handsome.” A crease lodges itself between Cas’ brows, as if he wants to solve a puzzle, and his gaze is sharp on Dean. It makes Dean wriggle a little in his seat. He takes a sudden interest in his cuticles, plucking a non-existent speck from his nails.

“I might not have encountered that memory yet, but I think I should know: Are we romantically involved?”

Dean’s head snaps up. “What? Why would you think that?”

It’s Cas’ turn to look away. “It’s disconcerting to have so many different emotions inside me. I should feel like two different beings, but it’s not as simple like that. I know that I used to be different – in both … lives, you might say, but now I’m only me. And at the same time, I don’t fully understand what I’m feeling–“ He sighs and rakes a hand through his already messy hair. “I wish to understand what connects us.”

Dean swallows the rising panic in his throat and takes a deep breath to calm his stumbling heart. Cas needs his help, and however uncomfortable that makes him, this isn’t about him. Seeing how close they are … were … whatever, it might be understandable that Cas has questions about the nature of their relationship.

“No, Cas, we are–,” come on, Dean, get yourself together, “we are not involved.” The last word tastes sour on his tongue.

“But you–,” Cas squints at him. Dean knows that look. It’s the squint that says he’s peering at Dean’s soul and right into his thoughts.

Dean stands and throws up his hands up as if to shield himself. “Woah there, Cas. I told you that’s not okay. No invading other’s minds and picking their brains! Stop it!”

“But then how do I know what you think? Humans are lying all the time!”

Dean remembers all too well the first time they had this conversation and chuckles despite himself.

Cas is not amused. He stands in front of Dean with his arms crossed, his eyes unfairly blue and his biceps bulging in that godforsaken t-shirt. The laughter wheezes out of Dean.

“Now is not the time-,” Dean starts weakly, but Cas’ expression hardens even more.

“I think now is exactly the time. In fact I think it’s been time for a while now. The first memory that came to me was of you, and with it longing like I never experienced before and the desperate need to find you again. Before I remembered anything else, it was your face I saw wherever I looked.”

Dean’s throat tightens with every word. His clothes feel too small all of a sudden and he tugs uncomfortably on his collar as if it’s choking him. A bird sings in the nearby trees, between leaves that start to yellow with autumn approaching.

“Cas, I-,“ Dean shrugs. “I don’t know what to tell you, man. Ever since you plucked me from hell, there’s been a, I dunno, a special bond between us.” Goddammit, this shouldn’t be so hard, he tells himself, but he feels like a schoolboy confessing his feelings to a crush instead of a grown man talking to a celestial being he’s been through literal hell with. “I guess, if you’d want to call it that, from an outside perspective, it could be interpreted as …”

“What?” There it is. That demand to be honest, thrown at Dean in a way the old Cas would never have dared, and Dean is too weak to deny him.

“Romantic,” he croaks and doesn’t meet Cas’ eye.

“I see,” Cas murmurs.

A hand touches Dean’s shoulder, warm and heavy and so choke-full of implications that Dean shudders under it. “Well then, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.”

It does, too, when it comes. Dean gasps when Cas’ lips meet his and throws up his hands to Cas’ shoulders, maybe to push him away, but his body reconsiders halfway and instead his fingers curl into the soft cotton of Cas’ shirt.

The first sweep of Cas’ lips is sweet and careful. Dean’s heart thunders against his ribcage. Cas is right, he thinks, as the last weeks fall from his shoulders like a heavy weight. Maybe this was inevitable. He’s long ago said goodbye to the idea that what happened to them had any rhyme or reason to it, that there was some kind of plan behind the suffering and the sacrifice. But here, where one world ends and another begins, it feels like their paths lead to this exact spot.

It’s only when Cas leans back and strokes a thumb over Dean’s cheek that Dean realizes he’s crying.

“I lost you,” Dean chokes out, half explanation, half accusation.

Cas’ eyes are huge and full of knowledge and emotion far beyond Dean’s understanding, but they’re focused on him and right now, that’s all that matters.

With his hands framing Dean’s face, Cas leans in again, until he’s whispering right against Dean’s lips. “But I found you again.”