When Cas appeared, heralded by the gentle rushing sound of wings, Dean was seated on the hood of the Impala, peering up at the stars. He had a beer in one hand, but it was still mostly full. As Cas sidled up beside him, his gaze slipping over the car, Dean glanced at him.
“How’d you find me?” he asked.
“Sam’s phone,” Cas answered. “It has your precise location under your contact information. I imagine he turned that on after the last time you disappeared.”
With a frown, Dean picked up his phone, scrolling through settings, and muttered, “Thought I turned that off…”
Cas leaned against the hood of the car as well. “Would you prefer to be alone?” he asked.
Dean glanced at Cas, then put down his phone. “No,” he said, shortly. “You’re good, Cas. Didn’t know you’d be back tonight. Good to see you.”
“Yes,” Cas agreed. “It’s good to see you too, Dean.”
Cas let out a small sigh, looking up at the inky black sky above them. “Not much better than it ever is. But not much worse, either, so that’s…something.”
Dean nodded, then took a sip of his beer. “Sure is.” There was a short silence, them both peering up at the star-studded sky. Then Dean asked, “It’s nice, isn’t it?” When Cas looked at him, he gestured skywards. “Bunker’s close enough to the middle of nowhere that you can really see the stars out here. Nice and clear.”
“Yes,” agreed Cas, following the direction of Dean’s gaze. “It’s very clear.”
They sat wordlessly for a while, watching the stars.
“I remember,” Cas began, tilting his head slightly towards Dean, “when these galaxies were made. I was very young then,” he added. “Wasn’t allowed to touch the starstuff.” He looked up at it, then grimaced. “I probably would’ve dropped something.”
Dean let out a little chuckle. “Weird to think of you as a rugrat.”
“Well,” said Cas, reasonably. “Rugs, as a concept, had yet to be invented by humans, but, yes.” Dean did not respond to this, so after another minute or two Cas asked, “Why are you out here alone, Dean?”
But Dean did not answer right away: he took a deep breath, then cocked his shoulder in a half-shrug. “It’s been a weird week, Cas.”
Cas turned his head to look at Dean. “Yes,” he said. “Sam told me about the...artifact you found. The pearl.”
“Yeah,” muttered Dean. “You picked a helluva night to be busy.”
“I’m sorry,” said Cas, and Dean’s gaze actually flickered over to him, taken aback. “I think I would have liked to meet your father, Dean.”
For a moment Dean considered this, skating his teeth over his lower lip. Then he took another sip of beer. “No you wouldn’t,” he said shortly. “He was a crusty old bastard. And he sure would’ve hated you.”
Regretfully, Cas nodded. “I understand he...wasn’t fond of anything that wasn’t human.”
“Yeah,” grunted Dean, tipping the rest of the beer into his mouth. He set the bottle down on the ground next to the car, and then he glanced at Cas, catching his gaze. Cas watched him gently. Dean looked back up at the stars. “Seein’ you and me would’ve killed him, Cas.”
This did not seem to surprise Cas. “Well. In that case it’s almost better that he died before we met.”
“It’s not almost ,” said Dean. “It is. He wouldn’t have believed all this angel crap anyway, not even if you guys kicked him in the ass. My father never had that kind of faith. Hell I didn’t either, but Dad…” He shook his head, biting his tongue between his front teeth. He took another deep breath, eyes peering into the dark distance. His voice little more than a whisper, Dean said, “Dad saw evil everywhere he looked. Evil, and death, and...hate. He was so full of it. Rotting him from the inside out.” He shot Dean a tight, unhappy smile. “Think that’s what killed me so much about the way he went. Could’a gone out fighting. Wanted to throw himself in front of a bullet since me and Sam were kids. And in the end, it was just a deal. And for what?” Dean finally tore his gaze away from Cas, shaking his head. “For the kid he never cared about in the first place.”
“Dean,” said Cas. He had not looked away from Dean since Dean caught his gaze, no longer interested in the stars. “Your father did care about you.”
Dean grunted out a laugh, his eyes shining in the night. “Don’t you go defending him. Not you. Not now.”
“Of course not,” replied Cas. “The man was not a good father, Dean, not by any stretch of the imagination, but he did care about you. And he was right to save you.”
“Was he?” asked Dean, his voice throaty and tight. “Hell if he’d let me die in that hospital I never would’ve made that deal for Sam and I never would’ve started the Apocalypse, original flavor. Would’ve all been over before it began.”
“No,” said Cas, quietly. “If anything, the only thing that would have achieved would be to kick it further down the road. Your father did the right thing.”
“Yes,” answered Cas. “Because if he hadn’t made that deal, I would never have met you.”
Dean sniffed a little, then wiped at his nose with his sleeve.
Then, without acknowledging what Cas said, he continued, “It’s not the deal that gets me, not really. He was just waitin’ to die, I knew that. But - the crap he dumped on me? About Sam? That was…” he trailed off, his eyes peering at something far away, his expression contorted into something like a wounded animal.
Cas could fill this in. “It was cruel,” he said, quietly. “Selfish. He left it with you so he wouldn’t have to do it.”
This was exactly it, and it filled Dean with hate and with pain, which he grimaced against, struggling to keep it at bay. “You know,” he began, his voice trembling, “my whole life, I never saw him lay a hand on Sammy, not once. No matter how much he drank, no matter what Sam said to him. Not even the night he left. I thought he was gonna hit him,” he said, and it was with the rushed urgency of someone confessing something terrible, something they had never spoken aloud before, “I really thought he was gonna, that night. But they just screamed at each other. All these years and I’ve never seen Sam like he was that night.”
Cas said nothing to this. Dean was lost in memory, somewhere else, a long time away.
He seemed to come back to the present. He wiped roughly at his eyes, then glanced around to Cas. “That’s what Sam was thinking about,” he continued. “With Dad. I could tell. He just felt sorry. And man, Cas, I wanted to tell him - you don’t have to apologize to him . He was our Dad . He was supposed to be lookin’ out for us. Takin’ care of us. But he was never really - it was never about us . Sometimes I think the only reason he kept us around was ‘cause he knew he’d put a bullet in his brain if he didn’t have us. And that’s not fair to do to a kid, Cas. It wasn’t about us. It was always just him.”
“Dean,” said Cas.
Dean sniffed again. “Yeah?”
“You are a thousand times the man your father was,” he said, honestly. “You’ve done more than he ever did, you’ve done more than he ever wanted to do. Everything you do, is - selfless. Out of love, for other people. Not out of grief for yourself.”
Despite himself, Dean let out a jaded little chuckle. “Yeah,” he muttered. “I’m sure Jack sees it that way too.”
“Jack looks up to you,” Cas told him. “Profoundly.”
“Yeah, well, that’s exactly how I felt about my dad. I gave him everything, did everything he ever asked, all of me. Everything I had. And you know what he left me with?”
Cas cocked his head slightly. “A lifetime of abandonment issues?”
Dean turned to look at him. The hurt in his face lifted just enough to fix Cas with a familiar glare.
“Sorry,” amended Cas, awkwardly. “Did you mean the car?”
“Nothing,” said Dean, abruptly. “Nothing, Cas. That’s what he left me with. Nothing to show for it at all, except this - anger , inside of me, and I know… I know I take it out on you, I know I take it out on Sam, and Jack, and I know that ain’t fair. And it scares me, Cas. When I think about - all the things I was prepared to do to Jack. Hell, the things I wanted to do. The things I almost did.” He looked down now, at his hands. “He’s been dead for fifteen years, and I still feel like the kid I was, just tryin’ to do what he wanted.”
“For what it’s worth,” Cas said, matter-of-factly, “I know the feeling.”
There was a long silence. Dean scrubbed at his face.
“Jack,” he began, pointedly, his voice stronger now, “isn’t even my freaking kid. You know, not mine. But God damn it, Cas, I feel - hateful for the ways I treated him. Really evil. Seeing my dad reminded me. Doesn’t matter who they are. No kid deserves that.”
“Yes,” agreed Cas. “But Jack is a nephilim, Dean. And you aren’t the one throwing a beer bottle at his eleven-year-old son’s face.”
All at once, Dean seemed suddenly exhausted. He rubbed at his eyes, elbows on his knees. “It was a liquor bottle,” he correct, his voice rocky. “Can’t remember what. Johnnie Walker, maybe.”
There was a long silence then. Cas moved closer to Dean, still leaning against the Impala. He looked up at the stars above them, the Milky Way exploding into a billion pinpricks of beautiful light, almost as bright as the moon.
“You’re right,” he said quietly. “No child deserves that.” He turned his head to look sidelong at Dean. “You were a child too, Dean.”
He did not push Dean to say anything more. He looked back up at the stars, admiring them twinkling down, hoping that he did not catch a shooting star. Most were merely celestial bodies of gas and minerals, unspecial and unlovely. This did not matter: they still tugged at Cas’s heart, making him ache with grief the way that he imagined Dean did when he thought of his father.
Dean slipped forwards on the Impala’s hood. When Cas turned to look at him, Dean leaned in, and he pressed his mouth against Cas’s, gentle, sweet.
“He would’ve hated you,” Dean murmured again, their lips brushing against one another.