After the angels had fallen, to say Cas had been depressed would’ve been an understatement. He had actually looked worse than Sammy, and that was saying something. Dean had tried everything, save from hiring a prostitute, to cheer him up, but nothing seemed to work. Sometimes, he felt Cas watching him though, his face suddenly so at ease, something almost like a soft smile playing along his lips. It would disappear as soon Cas saw Dean watching him, but it gave Dean hope.
One day, when he had come out of the shower, he had heard Sam and Cas’ voices in the other room. A strong feeling of relief had run through him, knowing they were still there, alive and kicking. It made Dean want to kill his little brother for his next words, rocking that shaky foundation it had taken them weeks to build.
“But, I mean, it wasn’t like you haven’t fallen before, right? I know it’s not the entirely the same, but you knew about the consequences then. And you were willing to risk them. Is it really that different now?“
The answer was so softly spoken Dean would’ve mistaken it for silence if he wasn’t desperately waiting for it. “I am not mourning my own fall, Sam. I have chosen my fate long ago. My brothers and sisters however… they did not choose this. They didn’t have a reason to fall, like I did.”
“It can become their reason.” Dean heard his brother argue quietly. “Freedom, free will.”
It was silent for so long Dean thought the conversation had ended, but as he stepped out of the bathroom, Cas gave him that look again, that small smile.
“I’m not sure I feel comfortable sharing.” He had murmured, and that had been the end of that.
Now, soft snores were filling their motel room, and Dean couldn’t help but envy his brother and the fallen angel for their ability to sleep. He himself had been twisting and turning all night, his body as restless as his mind. They had just finished a case of witches going way over their head by accidently summoning a demon, and to say his body was tired was one thing. To state his mind was exhausted was nothing less than an understatement. Still, sleep did not claim him, and it annoyed the shit out of him.
Dean sighed, giving up every pretense of sleeping by throwing off the covers, and sitting on the edge of his bed. He quietly made his way across the room where he had left his jeans, before digging around in one of his pockets. He fished out a small vial and was staring at it doubtingly, before a particular loud snore startled him out of his musings.
With a self-deprecated snicker he shook his head and slowly made his way back to the bed. As he sat down, the vial firmly clutched in his hand, he gave it a disbelieving look.
Once the witches knew what they had caused, they had done everything in their power to fix things. Of course, it had taken Sam and Dean to guide them in the right direction, but in the end, it weren’t bad people. Some of them even had a touch of real power, such as the youngest one, Catherine. Her eyes had been a brilliant blue, and they had sparkled mischievously as she had pushed the vial in his hand. “To make you see.” She had whispered, as if that was an actual answer. But for some reason, to Dean, it seemed like it was. He shot the small bottle one last doubting look before uncorking it and downing it all in one go.
Suddenly the world started spinning around him, the classic black tunnel with the white light waiting for him at the end. The light brightened at first, forcing Dean to look away, before fading into images, people.
Dean watches himself as he rakes the leaves in Lisa's back garden, and he realizes he is watching through Cas' eyes. He didn't even remember this, the moment so insignificant, so ordinary, but for the fact the angel had been there. Had this been the first time Castiel had watched him from the shadows? The only time?
Not calling out to Castiel had been the hardest task that year. Dean had wanted to pray to the angel almost every day, for no other reason than to see or hang out with him, ask him how he was doing. Every single day he had almost closed his eyes and prayed. But he had made a promise to Sammy, and when he found out he couldn't get his brother back, that really was the only thing he had left. A promise. The promise to lead a normal life, away from werewolves and vampires, and mother fucking angels. Away from Cas. Little did he know he had more, he had his brother, Cas had made sure of that. Dean remembers the anger seeping through him like poison, like acid making his blood boil when he found out Sam had been alive all along, and they decided to keep it from him.
But now, as he saw Cas turn and follow Crowley into the woods, he could feel the angel's desire for Dean to fulfill his promise. Not for Sam. But for Dean.
He could feel the angel's insides recoiling, every instinct telling him to turn around, back towards Dean. He could feel Cas loathing himself for doing what he was about to do, knowing deep down it was wrong, whatever the reasons. But there was a voice inside him, a mantra etched into his very being. 'For Dean', the overwhelming sensation of it powerful enough to send Dean reeling back by sheer force. Dean remembers telling Cas he should have come to him, telling him he was right there and all the angel had to do was reach out. To know now Cas had been so close but hadn't, to respect what he saw as Dean's perfect life, to not ask any more of him when he had already sacrificed so much.... It stung.
He saw Cas watching him, Sam and Bobby from the shadows, invisible as he plotted with Crowley. He felt the shot of betrayal as the angel stepped into the ring of Holy Fire, the pang of guilt as he saw the same betrayal etched onto his own face. The loneliness as he prayed to his father for a sign. Any sign. He relived their conversation in Bobby's living room, the garage, that slaughter house. He felt more than heard his own words directed at the angel, regretted before they as much as left his mouth. “We were family once.” How that cut deeper than any knife or angel blade ever could. And suddenly Dean felt himself, or rather Castiel being filled by something that felt so utterly wrong, so twisted, the angel almost got sick.
Dean swirled down Castiel's staircase of emotions and for one second he forgot who he really was. Suddenly, he was Castiel. He felt himself school his features, put on that emotionless angelic mask he wore so well and turn towards the brothers. He heard himself say things he didn't mean, things to get them away from him. To keep them safe. Because the hunter may not know it yet, may never realize it, but he was doing this for him. For Dean.
It was the entire reason he broke the younger Winchester's wall to begin with, no matter how much he despised himself for doing so. He had hoped it would slow them down, make them keep their distance, away from the danger. He should have known Dean wouldn't back down, always desperate to save the world, to make up for some kind of mistake he once made, some taint on his soul only he saw. The godlike creature, the abomination Castiel had become had that thousand fold: the overwhelming desire to do good, to clean house upstairs.
And then he felt the pain, the crippling shame as he realized his mistakes, the fact this entire thing had felt wrong from the start but had been necessary not enough of a comfort as he dragged himself back to the Winchesters. Back to Dean. The turning of his stomach as he realized he would need to pull them back into the line of fire to fix his mistakes. And then blackness as the Leviathans took over.
Selfishly, Castiel had been happy. Because he had been tired. So tired. He had welcomed death and oblivion and the inability to see that look of disappointment and betrayal on Dean's face ever again. But then the realization had set in that meant not seeing Dean 's face at all, not being able to protect him or save him from the mess he'd left him in. And Castiel wasn't sure that was a sacrifice he was willing to make. So before the darkness could swallow him wholly he found himself being thrown back into the world, back into the trouble he created, though he did not realize it at the time.
The woman that took him in was perfect in every way he knew, calling him her husband for safety's sake, because for some reason she of all people knew he was meant for more. All he knew was that something was missing, something that used to settle somewhere near his chest and left an empty, aching void and a feeling of restlessness. He should have remembered the moment that man stepped up to find help for his brother, the moment he felt a piece clicking into place, like a puzzle. He should have known as soon as he felt pulled towards the hunter, as soon as the restlessness disappeared in favor of being able to help him. Maybe it had been his last selfish attempt to have it both ways: see Dean but not that look on his face, knowing he was responsible for putting it there.
The moment he smote those demons the memories flooded through him, thousands of repressed or forgotten years, orders, mistakes, feelings, almost drowning him. And then he was facing Sam, because even though the younger brother was where he was because of him, facing Lucifer because of him, it was still easier than facing Dean. He took Sam's place without much conscious thought. The motivation behind all his actions still branded into his very being. For Dean.
Nothing could have prepared him for the terror afterwards. When it was all over Castiel had told Dean he would have done it anyway, even if he had known, but here, deep into Castiel's soul - because there was no other way Dean could describe this as a soul- he saw the truth. It was not himself he was worried about. If he were anything less he would have jumped into it either way, head first. But no matter what he had done, no matter how unworthy he was of his father's powers, he was still an angel. And if he had known he might lose his mind, not realize the destructiveness his powers could bring, he would not have done it. Dean probably would have hated him for it, never wanted to see the angel again, but he would have been relatively safe, Castiel watching over him nevertheless. And as much as Castiel liked Sam, not unlike the way he had liked some of his brothers, all gone and perished now, Dean always came first.
Dean had not wanted to think about that option, the fact they could have unleashed yet another ruthless god-like creature onto the world in exchange for one human. For Sam. No...For Dean.
And with that realization Dean was back into Castiel's head, his heart, his soul. Things felt different this time however, images, moments he had already witnessed filtering through his head, like a film on a never ending loop. Suddenly Lucifer was lurking in a corner as Cas watched the brothers in Bobby's house. “You look sad when you think he can't see you, little brother.” The Devil sneered, and Dean could feel the way the words cut into Castiel's heart. “Because you know he wouldn't approve. No going back now either. We both know what you did next, where it made you end up.”
And all of a sudden they were at the hospital. “It made you end up alone, baby brother. You really though they would forgive you for everything you have done? You really thought it would be this easy? You see now, don't you, Dear Castiel? They left you, alone. With me. They. Don't. Care.” The words hurt, but it was nothing he hadn't expected once he realized what had happened to him. After all, he knew his brother's methods. The cutting, tearing, and clawing came later. It wasn't real of course. It was all happening inside his head, but the way his brother gnawed and tore at his wings and sliced through his flesh,… It felt real.
At first Castiel thought it to be a short reprieve when his brother let him wake from his comatose-like state. Knowing Lucifer, he should have known better. The only times he let him wake was when Meg felt it necessary to brief him on their status: no, the Winchesters still hadn't called in, or informed about him in any other way. Yes, the world was still crowded with daddy's worst nightmares, and oh, Daphne had been killed on Crowley's quest in search for Castiel. Despite the fact she had never really been his wife, this knowledge saddened Castiel greatly. And so Lucifer had another regret to feed off.
Even worse than the torture or the short times of consciousness were the dreams. He didn't know whether his need to sleep was real or another form of his hallucinations, and it didn't really matter. It was real to him. He saw Sam and Dean dying, black ooze dripping from the blades of their last stance. Sam and Dean, eyes pitch black, or face contorted into a million teeth. Sam and Dean laughing over a beer, seemingly haven forgotten about the angel entirely. And though the dreams hurt Castiel more than he let on, it was nothing compared to the flaying pain the angel felt as Dean walked into the room, a disgusted smirk lacing his features. The face he had worn in hell coming to the surface as the hunter blamed him for everything, from being born to Bobby's recent death as the knife and Angel Blade danced across his body.
Sometimes Lucifer would play it differently, would make it so believable, make the brothers come for him and make Dean act so characteristically Dean, that the angel thought he was saved. Those times were always the worst. Eventually, it was Dean who broke him. They were already halfway to the impala when the hunter turned on him and his fist connected with Castiel's body. It wasn't the first time Dean had turned on him halfway, changing into the Dean that would torture him hours on an end.
This was yet a different kind of torture. Apart from the evident reason that Cas had thought the hunter had come to safe him. It was the fact Castiel was free, not bound in any way except for his own restrictions, his promise he would never hurt Dean again. The little that was left of his grace and he was still able to reach out for, had kept him alive until now, but with every sickening blow Castiel felt himself slipping away, his last coherent thought of green eyes twisted in anger. For Dean.
And suddenly Dean didn't know if he was still Castiel, or back to being Dean. He felt a hand connect with his shoulder, and suddenly a bright light burned his eyes. He heard Castiel's voice inside his head, curious, not-understanding. “You think you don't deserve to be saved?” He asked, his eyes widening slightly. And as Dean looked into those eyes it felt like he was falling. He felt himself being ripped apart and then slowly, carefully, like he was some precious gift, put together again. Molecule by molecule, atom by atom. Castiel held the hunter's soul in his hands, every selfish desire, every single mistake laid out, and still the angel thought Dean to be worth saving. Not just then, but every time after that. He still saved their lives. He still saved the world. He still always came when they called. He still rebelled. He had still been hunted. He still fell. For Dean. All of it for Dean.
And now, he still looked at Dean of all people for some kind of forgiveness, proof the hunter still cared. After all the shit Dean had pulled, that celestial being still looked at Dean with hope and admiration. It was too much and too little at the same time.
Dean gasped as he felt that familiar handprint burn into his shoulder, his eyelids fluttering open and meeting familiar blue eyes. Dean couldn’t help but lose himself momentarily in that sparkle, the depth of a million solar systems and the knowledge of a thousand years. Only now, as his mind caught up with the world of here and now did the hunter truly understand what the angel had meant when he had once told him he had done it, all of it, for Dean.