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I.

When Sam first hears about Castiel--well, hears about Castiel firsthand--it's from Bobby. Dean sits out of the narration, the line of his shoulders pressed against a shelf of Bobby's cabinet and his fingers toying agitatedly with the silver band on his finger while Bobby gives Sam the blow-by-blow.

First and foremost, after hearing it, Sam has to sit down. He plumbs his hands through his hair, once, twice, and takes deep breaths, trying to absorb it all.

"Angels?" he eventually echoes when he's digested it to some extent, which earns him a scowl from Dean. "Like…actual angels?"

Bobby shrugs and arches one skeptical eyebrow. "That's what he said, anyway. Or at least, according to Dean."

Sam turns his eyes to his brother with his breath held, treacherous hope taking root in his chest. "Dean?"

"Like fuck was he an angel," Dean says, crossing his arms as his brows furrow together in a displeased frown. "He was probably lying to get me on his side, or--Sam, don't fucking look at me like that."

"I told you," Sam breathes, jumping up when Dean starts to protest loudly. "No, Dean, I told you angels were real. And now you have hard proof, which you said you wanted, remember? You have hard proof, right here, in front of your eyes, that an angel exists. I mean, shit--an angel saved you, Dean! What more proof do you need?"

Dean shifts uncomfortably and grimaces. "Right. Whatever. We still don't know if he wasn't lying."

"For Christ's--what is it gonna take you to believe, Dean? Fluffy wings and a halo?"

"There were wings," Dean concedes, grudging, and when Sam attempts a triumphant reply, Dean quickly interrupts with, "Which could've been, you know, a trick. Who knows, maybe I didn't see it right."

"What was he like?" Sam asks, trying to keep the awe out of his voice for Dean's sake, but he can't quite because holy shit, angels. Angels, after years of monsters and vampires and hell and demons. Something from above, maybe something that could help them. Angels, like the ones that Mom had prayed to, like the ones he saw depicted in the kids' bibles he and Dean carried around growing up. "Was he…holy? You know, like powerful?"

"Um." Dean scratches a thumb along his jaw and squints his eyes. "More like a scrawny Columbo with really bad bed-hair."

Sam purses his lips and tilts his head in irritation.

"What, Sam? I'm serious. There was really nothing…I dunno, heavenly about him."

"He was kind of a dick," Bobby supplies from where he's perched at his desk, shoes kicked up next to a pile of books and a half-glass of whiskey.

"Total douchebag," Dean agrees, and looks to the floor.

"I still can't believe you summoned him without me." Sam swallows back the prickly feeling of guilt before it can articulate itself into words and pour out of him--that the real reason he hadn't been with Dean and Bobby the previous night wasn't quite as innocuous as a late night burger-run. But Dean doesn't need to know that. He'd just be pissed. He wouldn't understand, even if Sam went blue in the face trying to explain his intentions.

"Yeah, well." Dean pushes off the cabinet and plucks up a tattered book from Bobby's cluttered desktop. "You didn't miss much. Trust me."

Sam sighs and rolls his shoulders, trying to mask his disappointment with Dean's usual hard-nosed…Dean-ness.

"If we're lucky," Dean says, "it'll be the last we see of him." He cracks open the book and fixes his eyes downward.

 

 

II.

"Dude," Sam snaps when Dean finally swings open the front door of the Impala. "Where the hell have you been?"

"I, uh." Dean bundles down into the seat and shifts onto the leather with a familiar squeak. He shuts the door and drums his fingers on the wheel for a moment, as if lost in thought, before starting the car.

"You what? I've been in here for like a half an hour."

"I was just taking a breather. Nearby park, was just…you know. It's nice to put faces to the people you've saved. Especially kids."

"Yeah," Sam replies, still looking at Dean strangely. "Okay."

It's the day after Halloween, the day after they'd stopped Samhain, stopped the angels from destroying a small town. Sam still feels…twitchy, like he's endured a really harsh sugar high but can't quite come off of it. His eyes feel gritty, and his fingers keep twitching spasmodically; he reminds himself to call Ruby when Dean's not with him.

"I still can't get over the angels," Sam says with a derisive snort after Dean says nothing for several moments; he leans back into the seat and watches various segments of suburbia crawl by. "I should've listened to you. They're assholes, every last one of them."

He expects a vehement affirmation by Dean, and is surprised to hear his brother hesitate.

"Well." Dean rubs one hand along his jean leg, and then his knee starts to jiggle, almost like a nervous tic. "I mean, yeah, they're dicks, don't get me wrong. But…maybe some of them are alright, you know?"

"Ha. Haha. You mean like Uriel?"

Dean's mouth curves into a reluctant smile. "Yeah, right. But I mean…Cas, Castiel's an okay dude."

"What?" Sam asks, taken aback. "I mean...okay. If you say so."

"Seriously. He's…decent, considering."

"Ah, yeah--sorry, but I guess I'm not exactly seeing where the change of heart happened. I thought you hated him."

"I don't." Dean shifts self-consciously, then spares the road a glance to glare at Sam. "I'm not saying I like him, alright? I'm just saying he's alright. He's not like Uriel, or the other angels. He's…he's different."

"Really? Because he seemed like the exact same to me."

"He's not."

"He did threaten to have me killed," Sam points out. "In case you forgot. So he's not exactly on my warm and fuzzy list. Also, are we calling him 'Cas' now?"

"Just." That's definite embarrassment. "Just shut the fuck up, Sam."

"No," Sam says in dawning surprise and realization. "You like him, don't you?"

Dean makes a sharp, scoffing noise. "No! No. You think I'm an idiot? He was ready to go Raiders on this whole town yesterday." He repositions his hands on the steering wheel and tightens his fingers. "I'm just saying there might be more to him than we think."

"Yeah, okay. Whatever, Dean." Sam turns to look out the window again and puts thought of Castiel out of his mind. It's not like he really means anything, anyway.

 

 

 

III.

There is one time, when they're fighting demons shortly after Anna disappears, that Castiel shows up to help.

Sam is so high in the moment, Ruby's blood buzzing like electricity through his veins, that he almost misses the way Dean helps Castiel up from the sprawl of smoking demon corpses around them--almost misses the way Dean's hand slides down the sleeve of Castiel's jacket, and the way Castiel grips onto him for balance and looks at him like Dean is a center of gravity bounding him to the earth, like Dean is the most fascinating creature he's ever seen, like his blood-soaked, riddled-with-cuts brother is a sun fallen from the heavens.

He almost misses it, but he doesn't, and he thinks, sluggishly through a haze of demon blood igniting his veins, That's new.

 

 

 

IV.

Sam starts the apocalypse. Ruby is dead and Dean won't speak to him, can't look him in the eye, and Sam is in pieces, in shambles. His body aches with the loss of Ruby's blood, burns and thirsts and gasps for it, and his heart clenches painfully every time Dean pointedly won't look his way. He, Sam Winchester, has single-handedly brought everything tumbling down into ruin. Even when he thought it wasn't possible anymore, he remains baffled by his own capability of destruction.

They get to Chuck's house, and they find out Cas had been killed in action. Sam thinks, despite everything, That's a damn shame, because he'd been kind of warming up to Cas, all things considered, and he knew that Cas and Dean had a weird friendship or alliance or something. And Dean doesn't often get to keep friends, when he makes them.

So he's somewhat surprised to hear Dean mutter, "Cas, you stupid bastard."

"Stupid?" Sam asks, sort of aghast by Dean's callousness. "He was trying to help us."

"Yeah, exactly." Dean looks away from him, and his jaw works and constricts, his throat bobbing. His fists tighten and unclench, and he surveys the destroyed kitchen in a broken kind of way, and that's when Sam realizes oh. Oh.

 

 

V.

Shortly after that, after Castiel returns, Sam starts to realize he'd missed something between Dean and Castiel, maybe while he'd been in cohorts with Ruby, maybe when he'd been looking the other way. He likes Cas well enough, mostly because Dean likes him and that's usually sound enough judgment for him, but he's more bemused by Castiel's relationship with Dean than anything else. He doesn't pay it too much attention, either way--he's currently distracted by other more pressing things, like trying to repair his shattered relationship with Dean, and like being Satan's human booty call.

One night, shortly after his and Dean's squabble and subsequent make-up (Dean had had this strange haunted look in his eye when ever he looked at Sam or Cas, and mentioned something about Zachariah fucking around with him), Sam walks into the motel room to find Dean and Castiel stretched out on one of the motel beds, watching Lord of the Rings, of all things.

"Heya, Sammy," Dean calls out in a forced, cheery voice, and Sam winces at the dissonance of it. Still, he plays along and smiles back at Dean and notices that Cas' shoes are missing.

"Hello, Sam," Castiel says without waiting for a greeting; his eyes are squinted on the screen as if in deep concentration, his arms folded across his chest and his backwards tie flipped to the side. He seems shockingly naked without the oversized trenchcoat draping over his shoulders, and Sam's surprised by how small and human he seems without it.

"Hi, Cas. Um, what are you guys doing?"

"Return of the King was on and Cas stopped by so I figured I should educate him. You know, crash course in the basics of humanity," Dean says without looking at Sam, taking a long swig of beer. Cas' drink is sweating on the bedside table, unopened and untouched.

"You are welcome to stay," Castiel says, still without looking at him, seeming fixated by whatever speech Aragorn is delivering passionately on the shitty motel TV screen, and Sam is almost miffed enough into replying that he knows he's welcome to stay. It is his motel room, after all.

"No, it's fine. I'm actually gonna head out." He almost adds, give you two some alone time, just to spite Dean, but figures it'll only exacerbate things, after all the shit they've been decking at each other lately.

"See you," Dean says, and still won't meet his gaze as Sam grabs his jacket and ducks out the door.

As Sam walks to the nearest gas station for a bag of chips and a soda (and maybe a pack of smokes, although he quit before college), he wonders what it is about Dean that makes an angel of the Lord want to hole up in a run-down motel room and marathon Peter Jackson films. What it is about Dean that prompted Castiel to flip the bird to his own species in the first place.

Which, you know, alliances for the apocalypse and all of that. Castiel rebelling in heaven, fighting on the Winchesters' side against angels trying to nuke the planet. But…

Sam, the entire way back to the motel, can't shake the mental image of Dean and Castiel's socked feet, close enough to touch, their toes curled as if in some great and unworded contentment.

 

 

 

VI.

Dean and Castiel start to fight. A lot. They squabble and bicker and pick at each other every time they're together, which usually involves Dean cracking lewd jokes he knows Castiel won't understand and Castiel tongue-lashing Dean out of irritation from Dean belittling him in ways they both know he won't fully grasp. Then again, Dean picks fights with everyone these days; he and Sam, they're both downbound trains, highways to hell and all of that. They both know, in every glance they share, that they won't come out of this on top. Castiel knows it too. It makes things…tense, like every conversation is a careful tiptoe on glass.

Even more so when Castiel slowly starts to lose his grace. There isn't a day that goes by where Cas doesn't show up with some new scratch or scrape or bruise, and as much as it sucks for Cas, it's another complication for the Winchesters, to have their once powerful ally untrained, graceless, and weaker by the day.

A few nights after Gabriel's death, in their hunt to find Pestilence, they run headfirst into two demons tailing them. By the end of the fight, Castiel is in poor shape, bleeding from scratches all over his body, his nose and lip practically gushing; Dean hauls him into the backseat and snaps at Sam to drive, which he does without resistance. He flicks glances up into the rearview mirror and is surprised to find that Castiel has fallen asleep with his head nestled on Dean's shoulder, a trickle of dried blood crusted on his lower lip and his hands twisted uncomfortably in his lap. Dean, as if unconsciously, is stroking a soothing hand on Castiel's leg, as if it'll heal the damage somehow. As if it'll smooth over the ragged stitches between them.

Sam finally pulls into another motel for the night and Dean drags a half-conscious Castiel in behind them and settles him on the nearest bed. Sam watches, half-disgruntled, half-fascinated, as Dean smoothes hair away from Cas' damp forehead and asks Sam, quietly, "Could you grab some water?"

Sam does so before leaning against the doorframe of the bathroom and watching in unabashed curiosity as Dean tends to Castiel's wounds; every time Cas stirs, Dean talks to him in a quiet, consoling voice, makes him sit up to drink water, chats about trivialities until Cas drifts again. Sam is silent the entire time Dean stitches up Cas' arm, and when he finally finishes, he turns wearily to meet Sam's inquisitive gaze.

"What, Sam?"

Sam shrugs and juts out his lower lip. "Nothing, it's just. I didn't realize how much you cared about him."

Sam can practically see Dean's hackles go up, and he answers, too quickly, too haughtily, "It's not like--"

"Dean," Sam says, not unkindly. "I'm not saying it's a bad thing. You don't have to be defensive with me, not about Cas. I get that the guy means a lot to you. I just didn't realize how much."

Dean shrugs and scuffs his toe in the grubby motel carpet. "He's my friend. Our ally. And he's got no one else besides the two of us."

"Yeah." Sam nods. "He's lucky to have us." Lucky to have you.

Dean scoffs. "Psh. Yeah. Right. Lucky to have us; a fucked-up post-hell headcase and the guy who kickstarted Armageddon."

Sam winces, although the words don't have have as heavy as an effect as they once did. Sam's raked himself over the coals more than Dean possibly ever could, and it's numbed him to the effects of Dean's belligerent jabs, whenever they happen.

"Still," Sam says. "You clearly mean a lot to him, too. It's just…it's nice, to see you guys as friends, when we don't really have much of those left anymore." He laughs, and it sounds humorless to his own ears. "And while the world's going to hell in a handbasket around us."

Dean smiles, just as mirthlessly. "I guess."

"You want me to take the floor?"

"Nah, I'll bunk with Cas. As long as he doesn't sleep-smite people."

Sam smiles reluctantly and toes off his shoes; pads over to hit the lights and says, "Night, Dean," as Dean crawls into bed with Cas, stretching out alongside him under the covers, two formless shapes in the dark.

"Night, Sam."

 

 

 

VII.

Sam goes through hell. Literally. And loses his soul while he's at it. But this particular story isn't really about him, not really.

Dean and Castiel are not in a good place during Castiel's civil war in heaven. No one's in a good place, really, but no one talks about it; Sam and Dean and Bobby keep things bottled up, chained up like heavy anchors in their chests, each afraid that once something comes rushing out, the rest will pour out like a deluge. And they really, frankly, don't have the time to assess that kind of damage.

Still, Dean and Castiel fight bitterly with each other, sometimes to the point of yelling and shoving and cursing. Dean's pissed--and hurt--by Castiel's time away from them in heaven, his evasiveness on the purgatory topic, and his failure to come through on things Sam and Dean need him for. Castiel is angry with Dean's selfishness, his failure to understand the gravity of the chaos in heaven; and things chafe rawly between them, come loose and fall apart at the seams. Sam can taste the acidity each time he's in the same room as them, can feel the two drifting apart like ships being pulled in opposite currents. It saddens him, but it's sort of unavoidable and certainly not his first priority, so he leaves it to Dean and Cas to quibble like an old married couple.

There is one night where Dean bitches incessantly about Cas, most notably after he's downed four glasses of whiskey. Sam listens attentively, patiently, to Dean's rants and is relieved when Dean finally passes out on the couch, still fully clothed and his fingers still gripping the rim of his whiskey-glass. Sam sighs, flicks out the light, and clambers up the stairs to go to sleep.

At one point in the night, Sam wakes up gasping from a nightmare he can't quite remember, but his face is hot and his eyes are dry and on fire, like he'd been crying but hadn't realized it. Parched, he stumbles out of bed and heads for the staircase for a glass of water (or maybe five), careful not to wake Bobby or Dean.

He freezes halfway down the stairs when he spots, over the wooden railing, a dark figure hovering in the living room, directly above Dean, and he crouches, adrenaline spiking through him.

The figure leans over Dean and Sam tenses, ready to attack if need be, but the stranger shifts into a shaft of moonlight from the windows and Sam realizes, by the untidy sheaf of dark hair and the distinct overcoat, that it's Castiel.

Sam holds his breath, suddenly feeling like he's intruding on something very private--sacred, even. Castiel watches Dean for a long time, unmoving, arms hanging loosely by his sides, and Sam is just as still, irrationally terrified at being caught in this strange intimate moment.

Cas crouches down next to Dean and gently, almost lovingly, palms his jaw before carding his fingers through Dean's hair, and suddenly Sam feels tight and achy all over in ways he can't explain.

Dean stirs and Sam thinks, this is it--this is the moment Dean will come to, will yell at Cas for showing up; maybe he'll shove him backwards, maybe he'll leap up and half-drunkenly grind out his grievances into the dark.

Dean's voice, when it comes, isn't loud or angry--but soft, sleepy, slightly confused. "Cas?"

"Dean," Cas murmurs, as if that's all that needs to be spoken in explanation.

Dean, instead of shying away in anger or disgust, hums something low, almost warm, in his throat and tilts his cheek into Cas' hand as if seeking solace, his heavy-lidded eyes dropping further. His hand, seemingly of its own accord, reaches up slowly to grip the lapel of Cas' coat.

"Cas," he says with a low, heated sigh before his head drops back to the couch, asleep again.

Sam is frozen; half in shock, half in amazement by what he's witnessed.

Cas bends down slowly and murmurs something that Sam can't hear, but he isn't sure it's even English. Cas drops a chaste kiss onto Dean's forehead and smoothes his hand through Dean's hair once more before he stands to go; Sam chooses that moment to flee as silently as he can up the stairs, his head spinning from all he's seen, all that he's certain he wasn't supposed to see.

 

 

 

VIII.

Sam's wall breaks, Cas becomes God, and Dean and Sam lose Castiel again. Dean handles it pretty well, given the circumstances--if handling it well means refusing to speak about it and amping up his alcohol intake to near-death proportions. But he never says Cas' name or speaks of what happened in the reservoir, or before, and if it weren't for Dean refusing sleep and the extra shots he sees Dean sneaking in the late hours of the night, Sam would think Dean was actually…okay.

They're not okay, either of them. But they pretend to be, for the other's sake.

Sam is…grateful to Dean, for holding things together when he can't. It's hell on both of them--the Leviathans ravaging the earth, Sam's hallucinations, Cas' betrayal and losing them in the way they had--but Dean handles it so that often, Sam can pretend that nothing's wrong, at least on Dean's end. Often, he's kind of…relieved, that Dean isn't taking Cas' death harder, after all the times he's lost him. He knows fully well that Cas' betrayal was a large factor in that; there's an unshakeable feeling that hangs grimly over Bobby's house like Cas' grisly end was inevitable, somehow, if only to make themselves feel better about it.

But still, it would take an idiot to think that Dean isn't grieving, in his own, quiet, fucked-up way.

There is one night where Sam dreams that his entrails have been staked and set on fire, that his eyeballs have been plunged straight through with hot iron pokers, and he wakes up choking on blood, which he finds his not blood at all but his own panic. He untangles himself from his sheets, soaked through with sweat, and stumbles down the stairs, out of Bobby's house and into the auto yard, the gravel stinging against his bare feet.

He stops and ducks behind the nearest car when he sees that Dean has already beaten him out here; there's a small fire that's been struck up by a cluttered heap of old car parts, and if Sam peers closely enough from behind his hiding spot, he can see that Dean's got something clutched in a white-knuckled grasp.

With a stab of something he can't identify--maybe pain, or surprise, or sadness--Sam realizes it's Castiel's old, bloodied, water-damaged trenchcoat.

Dean pours whiskey onto the small, sputtering flames and they belch higher, snapping and crackling in the cold air, and Dean dangles Castiel's coat over the flames, his fingers loosening in the fabric. Sam can see, even from this distance, that Dean is shaking.

"Goddammit." Dean's voice cracks, a splintered sob, and it echoes hollowly across the yard. "Goddammit."

Dean drops the coat on the gravel and in a moment of blind rage, picks up the whiskey bottle and chucks it at the nearest car; it shatters loudly in the quiet but is drowned out by Dean's anguished yell of, "Fuck you, you son of a bitch! Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!" Dean drops to his knees as if in prayer and pounds his fist into the gravel twice, a single, racking sob torn out of him before he says, hoarsely, his voice cracking on the word, "Fuck."

Sam doesn't realize he's holding his breath until he finds himself lightheaded and dizzy, and he sags against the metal frame of the car, tightening his fingers against the cold metal.

Dean's fingers, bloodied by the gravel, twist into the trenchcoat and he bends over it as if trying to fold himself in half, and Sam hears him whimper, "Cas, Cas, you son of a…how fucking dare you, Cas, Castiel, please--I can't, please--"

Sam wonders in a sickening jolt how many times Dean tried to burn Castiel's old coat but never quite could, never could quite relinquish the last remnant of his old friend to the flames, and with something like a suppressed sob resonating in his chest, he makes his way quietly back inside, Dean's unanswered pleas ringing the loudest in his ears.

 

 

 

IX.

Cas comes back and heals Sam; and Dean loses him again. So it goes. (He thinks Dean might appreciate that bit of narration.)

Then Sam loses them both to Dick Roman. He breaks apart, tries to move on, tells himself he does, and then Dean is back (from purgatory, no less) without Cas and he doesn't say a word about it other than a vague, clipped explanation. 

Sam would think nothing was amiss if it weren't for Dean crying brokenly in his sleep.

 

 

 

X.

Dean and Cas find each other again, in an aqua-walled motel room bathroom. Sam is thrilled that Cas is back, but Dean? Dean's over the moon about it. Not that he'd ever show it, or even speak of it, but the dark shadows Sam's seen gather like bruises under Dean's eyes slowly dissipate; the grim twist of Dean's mouth softly evens out over the next few days and weeks. Dean's coldness, his brusqueness, his jumpiness from post-war purgatory doesn't exactly disintegrate on the spot with Castiel's reappearance, but he relaxes considerably. 

Sam starts to wonder if the hellish PTSD Dean had endured after purgatory spat him out was from the warfare there or from losing Cas to it.

 

 

 

XI.

Cas falls off the grid for a while--Sam doesn't notice too much, with the brunt of the trials and the sudden and overwhelming discovery of untapped Men of Letters lore, but Dean certainly does. Sam can see it in the way Dean's constantly checking over his shoulder, as if Castiel is going to somehow materialize behind him; and of course, the night Sam walks by Dean's room and hears him praying softly, almost as if he's talking to himself.

Then there's Castiel's reappearance and Meg's death, and the fight in the crypt. Dean won't speak to Sam the entire hour's way back to the motel, and Sam knows something's happened because Dean's eyes are misted over and his shoulders are hunched like his body is aching.

"Dean," Sam says quietly after he's shut off the car. The engine ticks in the silence between them. "What happened back there?"

"Nothing happened," Dean says with a dismissive sniff. "Cas picked up the tablet and took off. Not exactly a new one, given it's Cas."

"No, something happened. Between the two of you."

Dean glares at him sharply, as if in accusation. Sam holds up his hands in gentle surrender.

"Dean. I'm just trying to help. Please, can you just….tell me what happened? There's no point lying to me about it. We're done with that, remember?" Again, with the hypocrisy and the guilt. Sam can still taste blood in the back of his throat, from where the trials are tearing apart his insides and ejecting pieces from his body.

"He beat the ever-loving shit out of me," Dean says with a hollow laugh, and he squints off into the dark out the Impala's windshield as Sam gazes at him in shock.

"He--he what? Cas wouldn't, he would never--" Sam has a sudden, vivid recollection of watching Cas bend over Dean all those years ago, his hand on Dean's face gentle and unquestionably affectionate, Dean murmuring, "Cas?" into the dark and Cas kissing Dean's forehead like a benediction.

"Yeah, well, he did," Dean snaps. "He said some angel named Naomi has had him mind-whammied since he popped out of purgatory. Apparently she was the one who was making him do it, but--" Dean cuts himself off and stares broodingly out the window, drumming his fingers on the sill, refraining himself forcibly from saying more.

"But it still hurt," Sam finishes for him, and Dean makes a disgusted face in his direction but doesn't deny it. "Of course it did, Dean. He's your best friend and he hurt you. Doesn't matter if someone else was behind it; it was still Cas whaling on you."

"He just fucked off," Dean says with sudden fury. "He just fucking left, after all that shit happened, all the shit I said--"

"What did you say?" Sam asks out of curiosity, and Dean's jaw locks shut and the rest of his sentence derails instantly like a train off the tracks.

"Nothing." And he clams up at that, shoving his way out of the car with a grunt and slamming the door behind him.

Sam is left alone for several minutes, blood a bitter tang in his mouth, wet behind his teeth.

He takes a deep breath, as if steeling himself, and twines his hands together.

"Cas," he says after several moments of silence, and bows his head because he thinks it's appropriate. "Castiel. Please. If you can hear me, please…just. Dean's…not doing too well. I'm sure it would be fine if you two just talked for once. But nothing is ever gonna get better if you two keep…I dunno, dancing around each other." Sam lowers his voice, as if Dean will hear somehow. "I know how much you care about my brother. I know seeing him hurt hurts you. Please, just please drop by tonight; try to see him. I know you're under pressure with the tablet shit, but so are we. You're…" Sam sighs, leans back into the seat and swallows uncomfortably because this is definitely more Dean's area of expertise than his, before he continues, more awkwardly, "You're family, alright, Cas? It would kill Dean to lose you again, even if he'd never admit it, so please, for God's sake--for Dean's sake--just talk to him. Please."

Sam ends his prayer with a short, curt nod and ducks his way out of the car to follow Dean into the motel.

He doesn't know quite what he expected, but Cas never shows.

 

 

 

XII.

What else is there to say? After the trials, after Cas becomes human, he hits the road again. Sam is saddened but unsurprised when Dean comes to him and says, with all the neutrality of a hidden land mine, "Cas is taking off in the morning."

Sam sighs. "Is he sure? I mean, the thing with April was a pretty close-call, and he's not exactly up to--"

"Sam," Dean says so viciously that Sam stops and practically balks at him; Dean's fingers are knotting against the edge of his jean pocket, fist working slowly, jaw clenching. "Let him go."

"No," Sam replies, suddenly seized with irritation and desperation and just. Fucking frustration. "I won't just let him go, and you shouldn't either. Because you know why, Dean? You always let him go. And you're never happy."

"Stop talking."

"You guys are always so fucking intent on staying apart from each other when it really just makes you miserable, the both of you. So who is this for, Dean? What, is it for Cas' sake? For yours? Please, if you could enlighten me."

"I said stop talking, Sam."

"Please just talk to me, Dean, for once in your life--"

"He can't stay!" Dean finally breaks, his fist coming down in a shattering pound on the table, his voice ripping in a loud echo throughout the bunker. Surely both Cas and Kevin can hear. It doesn't really matter, either way. 

Sam surveys Dean calmly; watches his brother's chest heave, his eyes glass over, his shoulders tremble and shake.

"He can't stay," Dean repeats in a hollow, choked voice, eyes lowered, "and you can't ask why. He just can't, Sam."

Sam doesn't say anything; just nods, fighting the urge to grab Dean by the shoulders and shake him until his brain rattles into the right alignment. 

"Whatever you say, Dean," Sam says, pushing up from the table with a loud, groaning scrape of the chair's legs against the floor. "I mean, you're his best friend, after all. You know what's best for him." He lets those words sink in, watch as they fall on Dean like physical blows. "Don't you?" He claps Dean on the shoulder and heads off, brushing past where Cas is holding himself very still and silent out of sight behind the doorframe, and heads to the library for some peace and quiet.

 

 

 

XIII.

Cas leaves in the morning. The farewell is quiet, unarticulated; Dean gives Cas a Ziploc bag of cash, three fake credit cards, and some of his own clothes. Sam gives him a few books for the road because he thinks Cas might need some distraction when he's spending his nights alone. Kevin nods a goodbye and scurries off, sensing the tension in the room.

"So," Dean says with forced joviality, clapping Cas on the shoulder. There's always some strange physicality between them, whether it's Dean's contrived pushes or shoves or the soft glides of Dean's hand down Cas' forearm, or gently ruffling his hair when he walks past. "This is it. Sending you out into the great unknown."

Cas just looks at him sadly, tucks his lower lip under his teeth, and bites down slowly.

"Listen, man," Dean says, his voice softening, "you'll be fine out there, alright? And if you get into any trouble--seriously, if you even think there's gonna be trouble--just give me or Sam a call. I mean it, Cas. Okay?"

Cas nods, straightens his shoulders, and fixes Dean with a firm look. "Yes. I understand. This is for the best."

Dean swallows and rasps out a weak, "Yeah."

"I'll stay out of your way," Cas says quietly, and Dean begins to protest, "No, Cas--" but Cas interrupts him with a gentle but firm, "Goodbye, Dean." He looks briefly at Sam, his mouth flicking into a sad smile. "Sam."

Sam thinks Dean might have hugged him, might have held him close for just a few moments more, but Cas breezes out the door without a glance backwards, Dean's jacket hoisted over his shoulder and the borrowed money crumpled in his fist. The door closes behind him with a hollow bang.

Sam turns to look at Dean and finds Dean braced against the wall, his forehead pressed against his forearm, his shoulders shaking.

"Dammit," he chokes out, edging on a soft whimper, shaking his head. "Goddammit."

Sam decides not to mention what he'd seen the night before as he'd headed off to bed--Cas and Dean, curled up asleep on the couch, facing inwards toward each other like two closed parentheses, their foreheads touching, their socked feet tangled together. Their chests rising and falling together, as if they'd never been apart.

Sam finds that he can't speak at all.