Two and a half days pass before Sam makes a mention of it. Dean knows it’s coming because Sam has that face, that stupid face with the eyes and the pout and the tightly-drawn shoulders that means he's trying himself look smaller.
“I called Cas,” Sam says cautiously.
“Yeah?” Dean keeps on cleaning his sawed-off. “Google failing you again?”
He shrugs. “It’d be good to have some help on this case.”
“That’s what we got Bobby on for.”
“Yes, of course, but—”
“Cas is busy, Sam.” Dean flashes his brother a quick smile. “Let’s not bother him with the petty details, all right? He’s got his own stuff to worry about.”
Sam turns away, lips pursed around a quieter, “Good thing he didn’t pick up, then.”
Dean’s got about ten minutes while Sam's in the men's room brushing his hair or whatever. The diner is noisy enough that no one cares when Dean pulls out his phone but he feels self-conscious anyway, buttons harder to press than usual under his thumb.
“—I don’t understand why, why do you want me to say my name—”
“Hey, Cas.” That’s good. Not too friendly, not too distant. “Sam said he’d called you but you didn’t pick up. He doesn’t want to spam your voice mail but he... Just call back, okay? You've been charging your phone like I showed you, right? Right. So, yeah, call back whenever you're... whenever.”
Dean grimaces, but it’s not like Cas knows what awkward babbling sounds like anyway.
Bobby only asks because he needs a translation. “You mean he hasn’t been picking up?” His eyebrows almost disappear up into his cap. “He hasn’t been answering you?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Dean snaps. “He’s probably dropped his phone, that’s all.”
“Sure,” Bobby drawls, “if we’re talking about the same angel that dragged the packaging and manual around with him for weeks because he was afraid that he’d lose something important—”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Bobby.” Dean sinks into the couch, taking another long drag from the beer bottle. “C’mon, you’ve managed without him before.”
Dean braces himself, but Bobby and Sam don’t point out that that’s not the issue here.
“If you’re playing the silent game because you’re mad at me about – about what happened, just don’t, okay? It’s not fair to any of us. It’s definitely not fair what we’re trying to fight for here. You’re the big picture guy, right? Call me, Cas.” Dean pauses, the silence on the other end stifling. “Be okay.”
Sam’s driving, both his hands conscientiously on the wheel. Dean's half-leaning against the door, eyes unfocused on the scenery racing past.
The radio is on but the volume’s turn way down. The atmosphere in the car is weird – not tense, exactly, because they’d left tense a couple hundred miles back. Now it’s all dead space, eating up their words and leaving them hollow. The swallowing click of Sam’s throat is loud, but he knows better than to open with the sure-fire crowd-killer: I’m sure he’s fine.
“We should get some laundry done,” Sam says instead. “Next town?”
“Sounds good. Let’s do that.”
When the itch under his skin gets too annoying, Dean blurts out, “We’re not…” He winces. “Me and Cas are not like that.”
Sam nods. “Yeah.”
“No, I mean, we’re really not—”
“Dean, I know.” Sam must know what Dean’s talking about, because he holds Dean’s gaze as he says it. His smile is warm and a little sad. “I get it, really. And it’s okay for you to be worried about him. I am, too.”
It doesn’t make Dean feel better.
This should be familiar, Dean thinks. If you counted all the hours/days/weeks he’d spent not knowing where Dad or Sam were or even if they were okay, then you’d have... a lot of time. A decently-sized chunk of Dean’s life on Earth, anyway. He should be used to it. Nerves scrubbed raw and all that.
It’s not even like Cas owes them anything. Cas goes places the Impala can’t follow, fights battles that Dean can’t imagine. That kind of creature doesn’t need a goddamned keeper.
“He used to disappear for weeks – months – at a time on you, right?” Sam says. “This is, like, normal for you guys, isn’t it?”
What’s normal with Cas, anyway? Dean never knows where he stands with the guy, one minute he’s threatening to throw you back into Hell, the next he’s shouting that he’ll hold them off, hold them all of, but after that he's cutting you off at the knees for being flawed and human. It’s frustrating, Cas is a pendulum of extremes because he doesn’t know how to just be. He keeps pushing himself to that extra mile of horizon and so expects people to do the same, but Dean’s just human for Chrissakes, and if Cas wants him to stop swearing he’s going to have come here and tell Dean off himself.
By the time Dean looks up, Sam’s attention has turned elsewhere, the question forgotten.
There is a monster on the road.
Not a ghost, since ghosts rarely turn corporeal like that in full daylight. This thing, whatever it is, has chosen the visage of blonde, slender gal, attractive in a Corporate Board Room sort of way. Probably Sam’s taste.
There’s nothing on this stretch of road for miles in either direction. The creature doesn’t react when the Impala screeches to a halt, nor when Sam and Dean step out, casually armed to the teeth.
“I am Rachel,” she says. “A friend of Castiel’s.”
An angel, then. One that’s as humorless as the others they’ve met, though the fact that she hasn’t started preaching about Apocalypses and destiny is a point in her favor.
“You know where he is?” Sam asks.
“I am to pass this to you.” Rachel holds out her hand, and in it rests a familiar leather cord.
Dean hesitates before he reaches out, tugging one end of the thong until the amulet swings free. “Where is he?” he asks. “Where’s Cas?”
Rachel’s tone goes down to sub-zero when she declares: “Don’t mistake me for an ally, Dean Winchester. I don’t stand for his cause, or for yours. I only returned that to you because Castiel never asks for a favor unless it means a great deal to him.”
“Hey!” Dean says. She can glare at him all she wants, but Dean’s been glared by the best. “Cas is our friend, too. If he’s busy, fine, I get it, there’s a war on. But if he’s in trouble, we need to know. Is Cas in trouble?”
Dean relaxes fractionally. “Can we see him?”
Angels are cold-hearted bastards, all of them. Rachel’s eventual willingness to put her hands to Dean and Sam’s foreheads proves that she’s as big a dick as all her brothers. One thing’s for certain, though – Cas belongs at the very fucking top of that list.
“When?” asks Sam, who is the first to speak.
“A few days,” Rachel answers. “I had other matters to see to, and then I had to find Bobby Singer. Castiel said that only he would know how to find you.”
If Dean squints a little, he can imagine that Cas is asleep. Not that he’s ever seen Cas sleeping – do angels even sleep? But if Cas did sleep the human way, he’d probably look like this. Eyes relaxed behind their lids, mouth parted just slightly, head tilted to a slight angle thanks to a pillow that doesn’t give enough support.
Sam starts, “Uh, Dean—”
“It’s fine,” Rachel says. “He can touch the vessel. The flesh cannot be corrupted once it has housed one of us.”
Wings are spread out on either side of Cas. From a distance they look like they’re made of water, but they’re glass, fused right out of the sand where Cas had fallen. Don’t angels have more than one pair of wings, though? The patterns here indicate one pair, and it isn’t even a big pair – certainly not the shadows Dean had seen the first time they’d met. It’s almost artistic, how they’re splayed out away from Cas like that, one curving upwards as though he’d been shielding himself, or trying to use it in an attack maneuver.
Sam clears his throat. “Um. Who…?”
“Maion.” Rachel makes a disapproving sound. “He should not have done that. We promised to listen to what Castiel had to say.”
It’s like some fucked up picture in a fairybook – the kind Dad used make Dean read growing up. Along with wings made out of glass and flesh that doesn’t decay, you've got totally fucking random leafy vines sprouting out from miserly sand to curl delicately around Cas’ neck and wrists and legs. His Grace has to go somewhere, even in death. Dean doesn’t need Rachel to tell him that. A flower has bloomed right over Cas' left ear, the petals almost close enough to brush his eyes.
He really does look like he’s going to get up at any moment.
“Dean,” Cas had said, the last time they’d seen each other. “There is a course I hadn’t considered. It’s risky, but after what happened with Anna, I think the benefits would be worthwhile.” Allies, he’d said. Surely there must be other angels who are as appalled as Cas about Heaven’s insistence on allowing the Apocalypse to proceed the way it is. Cas has friends, and surely at least some can be reasoned with.
“Worth a shot,” Sam had said. Dean hadn’t disagreed, and gave Cas his blessing to proceed, if that’s what Cas had wanted.
But maybe that wasn’t what Cas had gone there to ask. Maybe the thing he’d come for was what he did after: how he'd stepped deeper into the personal space Dean knew Cas knew to watch out for, hands on either side of Dean’s face.
The kiss had been dry, chaste, awkward. Also tender, sort of, in the second before Dean balked and snapped his head back. “The hell?”
“Apologies,” Cas had said, though he hadn’t sounded apologetic at all. “I just needed – never mind. I’m going now.”
The last thing Dean said to him had been an automatic, “Yeah, okay.”
“Did he have any last words?” Sam asks.
“No.” Rachel is impatient now, almost bouncing on her feet in her eagerness to take them back. “All he asked me to do was to return the amulet.”
Cas doesn’t carry much on him beyond a few items of Jimmy’s: tissue paper, ticket stubs, a pin. One of the things that actually is Cas' is the cellphone in the upper pocket. The battery is burned out, the screen cracked. Dean drops it as soon he smells the sharp tang of metal.
“Dean,” Sam says.
“I know.” Dean stands up, slipping the amulet back around his neck. There is nothing appropriate he can think of to say for an angel’s last rites, especially for Cas, who apparently hadn't had any last words of his own because he was – what? Prepared to die? Had no unfinished business?
Was Cas afraid when he died? Was he at peace? Was he content to have done what he could? Did he want to do more? Did he forgive Maion in those last moments?
Dean squeezes out through gritted teeth, “You stupid son of a bitch.”
That’s all he has. Everything else is not for Rachel’s ears. Or even Sam’s.
Dean nods. “Let’s go.”
Round and round and round they go, until there's a point when Dean can’t take Sam’s face anymore. “People die all the time,” Dean snaps. “Hey, we’re making it tradition now. How many people have we buried now, huh, Sammy? Might as well ask Bobby when he wants to close up shop, can’t have that loose end wandering around.”
“Stop acting like you’re alone in this!” Sam shouts back. “You think I don’t see Jess in my sleep anymore, huh? There are ways to fix this, Dean. You don’t have to take all of it by yourself—”
“What good is it doing us right now? What good is any of this? You can’t change what I saw in your Heaven, Sam. I know what you’re thinking, I know what you want.”
“And I know what you want.” Sam visibly regrets it the moment he says it, but it’s too late.
Turns out Dean was wrong. There are ways to track an angel.
Dean can’t do it, but Michael can.