Dean had barely left Cas’s room in two days. He was still wearing that jacket. Castiel’s blood had no doubt stained the fabric beyond redemption; soaked and dried against the very fibers. They guessed Dean wanted it that way. That handprint, a literal burden on his shoulders - a reminder of what he, they had lost. A reminder that Dean would no doubt interpret and twist in his own, self-loathing way.
Sam and Jack barely talked - they were both grieving. The bunker was quiet, dull, the air hung heavy with loss. Nobody dared go into the room it happened, and they steered clear of that entire hallway, the atmosphere made it feel like Castiel’s ghost lingered there - weighed down like a fog, trapped between words unspoken.
At first, Dean couldn’t bring himself to move. He stood, just in front of the door, staring at the room. It was emptier than the others and mostly untouched. There were little things, scattered around the room, that you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for them. Dean was.
There, on the nightstand, sat the dog-eared copy of War and Peace Cas had been working his way through when he stayed at the bunker. Which wasn’t often, towards the end.
Dean’s realization felt like a punch in the gut.
His legs carried him to the lone, paint-stripped shelf he’d found in the storage room. He had offered to paint it, of course - the thing was ruddy looking, and Cas deserved to have nice things in his room. Even if he didn’t spend much time in it. Cas had declined, saying he liked it better that way. Dean thought his chest was going to explode from the swell of his heart.
There, sat atop the mostly bare plank of wood, was a chunky little crocheted bumble bee Dean had spotted in a shop in New Orleans. Of course, he’d dragged Sam into the tiny wooden shack, he could barely see two feet infront of him through the haze of all the incense smoke and Sam had to nearly fold over to fit in. Regardless, he’d made a bee-line (heh.) to the stupid adorable little tchotchke and plucked it up, carrying it proudly to the register. The woman, an older lady draped in chunky turquoise jewelry sized him up and winked, ringing up the ridiculously over-priced thing.
“Dude. Twenty freaking dollars for a tiny bee. Are you serious? You know we’re operating on like, two hacked MasterCards, right?” Sam complained as they climbed out of the shop.
“I don’t wanna hear it, Mr. Twenty-Step Hair Routine. It’s a gift for Cas, now zip it.”
“Cas doesn’t even have a birthday. He’s older than time.”
“You shut your face! Don’t think I won’t hand your yeti ass to you in the middle of this street.”
Dean handled the thing like it was precious - which it was, to him. He tucked it away safely in his duffel, with more care than Sam had ever seen Dean practice on anything apart from his Baby. And maybe his gun.
When Dean next saw Cas, he tossed him the trinket without so much as a second glance. But Sam caught him staring intently at Cas’s face as he struggled to undo the wrapping paper (which was 90% tape) while his brother steadily nursed a beer. When Dean had finished said beer, and Cas was still methodically peeling the tape off, Dean had stormed over and ripped the paper off.
Cas wasn’t surprised by Dean’s reaction, but when he was handed the round little bee his face lit up and he beamed over at Dean, who was looking everywhere but his friend.
“Dean. It’s a bee.” He grinned, thumbing the soft material of the wings. Dean shrugged and scuffed his boot against the floor.
“Yeah. I know you like ‘em, or whatever. Call it a...uh,” Dean looked up at the ceiling, rubbing at the back of his neck. “A birthday present. I know you don’t really have one but...today can be your birthday.”
“Today is September the eighteenth,” Cas announced, looking at Dean warily, who tentatively met his gaze. Dean shrugged and nodded.
“Uh. Yeah, I guess it is. Happy Birthday, buddy.”
Cas had smiled - a blinding and gummy smile. His nose scrunched up and his crow-eyes were more pronounced. Dean had to check his pulse to make sure his heart hadn’t stopped- and announced he knew exactly where to put it. He proudly and gingerly placed it center-stage on that stupid ugly shelf, eyes shining brighter than the sky on a summer morning.
Dean was selfish, he realized belatedly. He let Cas think that he was nonchalant about the whole thing. He let Cas think he didn’t really care, and - lo and behold - Cas thought as much.
His words replayed like a blaring siren in his head.
“Something I know I can’t have,”
But, what he didn’t know was that Cas had Dean. Ever since that day at the barn. September 18th. And, the gaping hole in his chest told him that Cas still had him, and always would.
Dean sat down on his bed. The sheets and comforter were crisp from being made up for so long, the mattress cold and unforgiving without the weight and heat of a body to imprint it. He lay a hand on the pillow as if it would be different somehow, as if he might feel a hint of his warmth, his mark - still on the pillow Cas hadn’t touched for years.
It was desperate, pitiful; but Dean didn’t care, couldn’t. He leaned forward, pressing his face to the spitefully cool fabric, and inhaled. And again, and again. He breathed so fast, so deep - the scent that he was likely imagining, the scent that would hang briefly in the air around Cas. Dean had yet to sleuth out where it came from, since angels didn’t need to shower and Cas rarely had occasion or the chance to. It didn’t smell like any of the soap in their bathroom, and yes, Dean had thought about it a lot. Why not admit it, now that it was too late anyway?
He was suffocating himself, he realized, and sat up with a heaving breath. The pillow was damp, and if his face was too, he didn’t know or care.
Something caught his gaze, there, poking out from under the pillow. A black plastic corner. Dean swallowed and took the edges of the case with trembling fingers.
Deans Top 13 Zep Traxx
He squeezed his eyes shut and caught his head in his hands. It was conceited, really, to assume that Cas had just kept it with him, tucked away somewhere in his stupid, ugly trenchcoat that always looked so warm. That Dean always wondered what would be like to wear, with Castiel’s warmth still clinging to it.
He didn’t even have his trenchcoat to remember him by, this time. He didn’t have anything. Anything but this cassette tape that Cas didn’t even like. Didn’t understand the meaning Dean tried to convey as best he could.
He glared down at that fucking square of plastic, hard and unforgiving between his fingers. It was all he had left.
Dean turned it in his hands and frowned at the piece of paper than hung off the back - taped, folded. He peeled it off, carefully, and unfolded the paper - then folded it back. He couldn’t read this. He couldn’t...he couldn’t relive that speech again.
There was a knock at the door. He wanted to turn them away, he didn’t want anyone to see him like this, he didn’t want to face reality just yet. Or ever.
Sam opened the door, poking his head through the door, with a sad and hopeful look on his face. Dean didn’t meet his eyes, training them on the rumpled comforter. There was a sigh and the soft click of the door. Sam sat down across from him, leaning forward, elbows braced on his knees.
Dean didn’t make any indication that he’d heard, but Sam carried on.
“That...is that from Cas?”
Against his will, Dean heaved a sigh and unfolded the paper. It was childish, but his brother’s presence gave him enough courage to do it.
His heart hammered in his chest and his lungs constricted. He recognized the hand-writing immediately, the neat print, that was just slightly slanted.
I made a deal. I think you will know by the time you read this. I am writing this in case I have to go before I’m able to tell you. Though, I can’t imagine any true moment of happiness I experience could be without you. I wanted to tell you that I need to do this, and I want to. I loved your gift, Dean - but it’s time to pass it on. I won’t have much use for it where I’m going. I’m aware this it...too much of me to ask, but, I’d like you to Ramble On, Dean - for me.
His heart seized, the word crossed out before “Castiel” was nearly illegible, scribbled out so hard and forcefully. But, it still sent his mind reeling and he let go;
His eyes welled up with tears, and he looked up at his sympathetic brother. He licked his dry lips and gripped the cassette tape like it was his salvation.
“I loved him, Sammy.” His voice was scrubbed raw with emotion, so quiet, so broken.
“I know, Dean.”
Castiel, angel of Thursday; warrior of God, who gripped him tight and raised him from perdition, and never let go; wanted Dean to Ramble On - to keep going.
No, that didn’t sound right...
Cas Winchester. The love of his life.