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what is and what always will be (unless it’s not)

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Castiel watches from the corner of the room, silent as Dean and Cas speak softly. These two have had seven additional years together compared to him and his Dean, and it shows. Dean leans into Cas’ gentle hand where it rests on his side as they talk, he doesn’t complain about personal space or bitch at Cas about anything. He just nods in agreement at whatever Cas mutters, and turns to Castiel.

“Cas says you’re legit. You’re really...past him.” Castiel braces himself for the ‘but I’m not so sure.’ It never comes. “I figure, if it’s good enough for Cas, it’s good enough for me.”

Castiel glances at Cas, expecting him to look surprised at Dean’s easy trust. He doesn’t even blink.

“Naomi sent me here,” Castiel explains. “She wants me to see what the world will become if I continue down the path of rebellion.” Dean and Cas share a look and a silent conversation passes between them. Castiel can’t help but feel envious of the natural intimacy. He’s only seen glimpses of it in his own time, lingering hands and wandering eyes, before Dean shuts down again.

Dean opens his mouth as though to say something, but then Chuck bursts through the door and starts shouting about a riot in the square. Dean curses, half out the door before he turns back and looks at Cas.

“It’s alright,” Cas assures him. “We’ll be here when you get back.” Dean leaves, the door slamming shut behind him.

It’s disconcerting to literally be alone in a room with yourself. Castiel feels exposed.

“What happened to us?” He gestures at Cas. “We’re clearly human. And…” he tilts his head as he takes in his future counterpart. “Stoned?” Cas smiles easily, sitting in a chair at the scratched table.

“Our grace failed. Dean did everything he could, but he had so much more going on, what with Sam being Lucifer’s meatsuit and all. We told him to drop it. That’s right about when we broke our leg.”

Cas talks about it with distant indifference, but Castiel knows better. To lose one's grace, the mental toll is far beyond the physical.

“It never quite healed up right. Dean introduced us to the wonders of painkillers, and that’s when we realized that drugs work to dampen humanity as much as pain. They numb us out,” Cas says. “Leg doesn’t hurt so bad anymore, it’s just a stiff fucker.” Castiel flinches at the sound of profanity falling from his own mouth, but Cas just casts him a lopsided grin. “But we kept askin’ for the drugs.”

Castiel feels sick. How far he has fallen...This is beyond defiance of unjust orders, this is sacrilege. He searches wildly for a change in subject.

“And Dean?”

“What about Dean?” Cas meets his gaze evenly.

“I still-we still…?” Cas doesn’t bail him out. He’s going to make him say it. “You love him?”

“We do,” Cas answers without hesitation.

“And-and he lets us stay? Even though we’re useless?”

“Ouch.” Cas plants a hand over his heart in a mockery of taking offense. It’s human, something he’s seen Dean do hundreds of times. “Of course he lets us stay.”

Castiel feels his lips part in surprise at the certainty in his voice. Of course. His Dean barely lets him hang around now, with his grace fully intact.

“Oh,” Cas says, tipping back in his chair, amusement touching his features. “I’d forgotten. Dean isn’t so kind to you, is he?”

Castiel shakes his head.

“Give him time. He’ll come around,” Cas assures him. “Right now, you’re still a reminder of everything he’s lost and everything he’s going to lose. You’re still ‘them’ rather than ‘us.’”

“But now he-“ Castiel likes his lips and tries again. “He loves you?” Something passes over Cas’ face, but he just tilts his head to the side.

“Not that he’ll ever admit it out loud.”

That’s as much of an answer as Castiel gets before Dean is throwing the door open and falling into the chair next to Cas roughly.

“Becky took an extra serving of mashed potatoes,” he groans into his hands. Cas smiles gently, resting a hand on Dean’s arm.

“Well, that’s enough cause for a riot.” Dean sighs something that sounds like ‘hmphglr.’ Castiel shifts uneasily at the hand that Cas leaves on Dean’s arm. Dean doesn’t shrug him off.

Not that he’ll ever admit it out loud.

Dean pulls Castiel from his thoughts by resurfacing from his hands and considering him for a long moment.

“We could use your grace in the next raid,” Dean tells him.

“No,” Cas cuts him off. “No, he needs to live. Or you won’t even make it to this point in his timeline.” Castiel’s fingers fidget. Dean doesn’t yell. He drops his gaze to the table and nods his head a little.

Castiel ponders the certainty that he would die in the raid. It’s a suicide mission, and both of them know it. He looks at Cas, but there’s nothing in his gaze that suggests he won’t be following Dean to the ends of the Earth.

“You’re right. I figure I’ll be coming for you any minute anyway.”

Before Castiel can object, he feels his feet start to lose the ground beneath him.

“Castiel,” Cas calls. “It took me five years to tell him. Do better.”

His feet slam into solid ground and despite his working grace, the only thing that keeps him from stumbling into the asphalt is Dean’s hand on his arm. Dean. His Dean.

“Hey, I’ve got ya. Easy.” As soon as he straightens up, Dean drops his hand back to his side.

“You got me back,” Castiel says intelligently. Dean smiles a little.

“‘Course I got you back, dumbass,” Dean replies, not unkindly. “What’d you figure out?”

Castiel looks at him for a long moment, at the strong jaw that he’d caught Cas cupping when he was zapped into the future, at the scar above his eyebrow, at the broken curve of his nose.

“We made some mistakes,” Cas tells him. “But I think I know where we went wrong.”