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     Sam awoke with a start, feeling the emptiness in the pit of his stomach and the ghost of a hand on his chest. Eileen had haunted his dreams for a week now since their separation. For the first time in their relationship, Sam and Eileen split because of normal problems instead of cosmic scale, world-ending troubles. Before it seemed like nothing could keep them apart, not even death or the veil. Now, something as simple and trivial as human emotion was driving a crack into their bond like an icepick in the side of a glacier.

     After Team Free Will’s big fight with Chuck, Eileen had wanted to reunite and move forward together, but Sam just couldn’t. She waited weeks for him but he found himself unable to move on from the things he had seen and felt and the people he had lost. He could think of nothing but every person he had hurt along the way, like Jessica, his mother, and now Jack who was forced to take on the role of God and lose out on having a childhood. Just another Winchester that had to grow up too fast. Sam found it almost humorous that a three-year-old was running the universe and existence in and of itself now. Normal three years olds would be conquering potty training, but his three-year-old was conquering galaxies and alternate dimensions. 

     One night while Eileen and Sam lay in bed, she asked him what he wanted to do with his free will. He was so caught up in his self-hating thoughts that he did not even hear her or see her hands move as she signed the question that had hung above his head for weeks now like a storm cloud foreshadowing a hurricane. He simply stared at the ceiling wishing the answers to his inner turmoil would appear on the pale paint. Then he felt the mattress shift and the warmth leave from his side. Eileen kneeled beside the bed and signed as she spoke to him

     “Sam I can’t do this anymore. I love you, but I can’t help you. You have to learn to forgive yourself and move on. You can’t save everyone, but you saved the world. You have given so much up, it is time you learned to love yourself. I can’t stay until you do. Find me when you forgive yourself. I will be waiting”

     And with that and a gentle squeeze of his hand, she left the room, leaving Sam alone in the dark and cold, a prisoner to his thoughts. 

     For days after Eileen left, Sam could hardly sleep. She haunted his dreams and ghosted behind his eyelids even when he blinked. No amount of running could clear her from his head. It seemed he could run from all his troubles except this one. He felt like he did when he lost Jessica. There was a hole in his chest, one left by the loss of someone he truly loved, for the first time in years.

     Sam begrudgingly dragged himself into an almost sitting position, slapping aimlessly at his nightstand in search of his phone. The light coming off the screen screamed at his lidded eyes as he checked the time. 10:57.

     A new record He thought blankly. This was the earliest he had woken up since Eileen left his bed the week prior, although it was not his soundest or latest night’s sleep. That was the day he, Jack, and Dean had defeated Chuck. He preferred to think of it that way, but that was not why he slept so late the morning following their big fight. That was the day he lost his best friend Castiel and his almost son Jack in a matter of a few hours. He lost so much that day so when his head finally hit his pillow, he slept so deeply that he believed he might not have ever woken up and now, Sam believed he would have accepted that fate. 

     He dropped his feet to the floor to search for his slippers as he stretched in an attempt to relieve himself of the ever-present ache in his lower back from his stress. Sam felt his deft fingers rake through and smooth down his hair, an unconscious habit he had formed years ago for comfort and traction in his unstable reality. He allowed himself to drop to his knees and clasp his hands tightly, mumbling quietly as he began his daily futile prayer.

     “Jack. I don’t even know what to say. You have been away for weeks now and I miss you so much. You’re my family and I shouldn’t have let you go without telling you I love you. I should have at least given you a hug or something. I'm proud of you. I am so proud. I just wish you got to have a normal childhood. I wish you didn't have to grow up so quickly. I wish you could be here with us. We both miss you, even if it’s only me who is willing to admit it. We both do. 

     I know you said you were everywhere with us in the rain and grass and all that and I know you said you are going to be hands-off, but I really need your help. I need your guidance. Dean, he is hurting. He needs help. He won’t open up to me ever. I never see him eat and if he is ever outside his room, it’s so he can grab another drink. I've had to do all the shopping trips to make sure he isn't driving drunk but he must be leaving when I am asleep because the bottles just keep piling up, bottles I never bring home. I'm scared for him Jack. He has been hurting ever since we defeated Chuck but I have no idea why. I assume it has something to do with losing Cass, but he hasn’t said more than a word or two about it since it happened. I feel like I’m watching him give up a little more every day. I'm at a loss. Jack, I need your help. Please, hear my prayer.”

     Sam opened his eyes and stared into the dim room, once again hoping for answers to be painted onto his ceiling or walls, but yet again, there was nothing. He had prayed to Jack every day for weeks now, not getting a response in return once. He loved Jack but he was frustrated and was beginning to lose hope. Some days he cried, others he screamed at Jack to come home, but most days, just like this one, he simply pleaded for help. But it was all for nothing just like every other prayer before this one.

     Sam trudged out of his new room at the end of the hall. He had been forced to move as far from Dean’s room as possible while still being close enough in case of an emergency to respond in time. He just couldn’t stay where he was. He couldn’t stand the screaming. In the late hours of the night, he could hear Dean's screams, sobs, and pleas in his sleep and it tore him apart. But this was not the worst of it. The earliest hours of the morning were when the real torment started. In those hours before dawn broke, Sam could hear the furniture being thrown and the glass shattering against the wall along with the slurred swearing. He would flinch with every bottle as it was disseminated and reel with every splintering crack of a chair or end table. Fortunately most mornings Dean only resorted to drinking, screaming, and throwing bottles, but far too many mornings were infected with the cracks of wood as his anger boiled over.

     Sam's footsteps echoed far too loudly as he made his way through the looming bunker to the kitchen, desperate for the warmth of a cup of coffee to lessen the weight threatening to pull his eyelids shut after every blink. Sam felt small as he sipped from his mug alone in the kitchen, craning his neck desperate for any sound evidence that Dean had woken up in a better mood that day. He never did anymore. So Sam simply waited, sipping his coffee, stewing in his guilt and worries, begging Eileen’s shadow behind his heavy lids to leave him be, just for one day.

Chapter Text

     Dean nursed his newest bottle of whisky as he sat in the corner of his room, tipping his neck to allow his head to rest against the wall. He felt numb head to toe. He felt no hunger even though his stomach screamed in protest, he felt no thirst even as his dry throat begged for water instead of liquor, and he felt no pain even as his back pleaded for him to stand and stretch. He simply felt nothing aside from the dull throbbing pain deep in his core that he attempted to vanquish every day with the aid of his favorite poison. 

     Dean had been awake and self-medicating since early that morning, 6:00 or 7:00 at the latest. It was oddly peaceful that early with the mist of drunkenness clouding his vision and the alcohol fogging his mind. Anything to forget. 

     His normally impeccable room was atrocious. Dean had not done laundry in weeks so the clothes were piled in the corner, overflowing from their basket. A particular green jacket lay balled up in the corner of the pile, shielded from view purposefully, as if ignoring it could make it cease to exist from Dean’s memory. Despite its fortress of laundry, it seemed to call out to Dean, pulsating and intensifying the deep throbbing pain in his chest, the pain that threatened his eyes with tears every time he even regarded it for a split second. 

     There were splinters of wood and crumbles of glass too small to sweep up dusting the entire floor of the room, forcing Dean to constantly wear slippers or boots, although he chose only socks or even barefoot somedays, not caring about the pain. 

     His gun display had been ripped from the wall weeks ago and his bed was covered in his disheveled sheets and blankets despite him rarely sleeping in it anymore. He usually found himself on the floor at night and would either be too drunk to get up or too drunk to care where he slept. 

     His door and the wall next to it were riddled with dents, some colored brown from dried blood after punching the material too many times. Even the air was filthy, reeking of the stench of stale whisky and the hint of iron from the blood. 

     Worst of all, he had managed to push away even the kindest and most forgiving creature in his life. Miracle was far too afraid to enter the room so he would simply sleep outside the door until Dean’s nightmares and eventually drinking binges would start. Then he would run for Sam’s room and sleep outside the younger Winchester’s door instead. On the nights where Dean’s nightmares tormented him more than others, Miracle would whine loudly until Sam would take pity on him and allow him to sleep in his bed. Sam would tell him that “Dean would be alright by morning” hoping he could convince himself it was true while hugging the dog close to his empty chest. 

     Dean told himself that he was relieved Miracle would not enter the room as he feared the dog’s paws would be lacerated from the splinters and shards of glass that adorned the floor, but deep down where that constant throbbing pain resided, he hated himself for hurting the animal so. He resented himself for making the dog he had rescued afraid of his room and what was inside. 

     Dean attempted to drag himself from his self-deprecating thoughts and deep inner turmoil but there was no real escape from the pure loathing he felt inside, not even copious amounts of alcohol could numb that feeling. He took a final swig from the half-empty bottle, beginning to grow sick of the taste as he had drunk from it for hours and let it slip from his fingers, rolling across the floor spilling its contents onto the wooden planks. He checked his phone for the time. 10:34.

     Sam will be here any minute now . He’s going to try to get me to come out and socialize again. And then he is going to make me eat breakfast with him as if that isn't the last thing I want to do. The thoughts filled his mind and left a bitter taste in his mouth.

     He dragged himself into a standing position, using his newest end table for stability. Despite the drunken fog in his head, Dean had become quite the functioning alcoholic, or so he would tell people if they asked. He could urge his feet to move one after the other if he willed them enough and he could even coordinate that movement with his arms if he really focused, despite the blurry vision and pounding migraine he had given himself. He managed to grab a clean set of clothing, one of the last ones he had in his dresser, before swaying down the hallway to the showers, using the wall as a crutch and guide. 

     Dean carefully undressed, almost falling when he tripped trying to rid his legs of his old, whisky and blood-stained jeans. He was almost amused by the bloodstained denim. He found it ironic that he hadn’t even been in a fight since the night they had defeated Chuck yet he seemed to just keep bleeding. The room spun for a few minutes, but he gathered himself enough to finish preparing for his first shower in days. 

     He allowed the water to heat up before getting in, appreciating the sting of the steaming rain on his chest. He stood unmoving as the water got just hot enough to be uncomfortable. The pain was welcome though as that seemed to be all Dean was capable of feeling at the moment.

     His mind drifted to recent events as he let the water beat down on his scarred skin. Like usual, he thought about all the lives he had lost, everyone he had damaged, and everyone he couldn’t save, except this list now had an extra name at the end: Castiel. He could do nothing but drown in his sorrow as he thought about that night for likely the hundredth time that week. 

     The black goo and that peaceful smile haunted his nightmares. Unfortunately, his nightmares did not leave him alone when he was awake. Instead, they simply manifested behind his eyelids and roared in his ears whenever he was alone to think. 

     Sam and Dean had spent weeks after Castiel’s death exhausting every resource they had trying to find a way to bring him back. Sam had ripped the bunker apart reading every book he could find on angel lore. Dean scoured the news for any signs of a new prophet coming to be, searched the entire library and stocks of artifacts, and even tried the summoning spell Nick used on Lucifer, but it did nothing. 

     Eventually, Sam had given up, but Dean couldn’t let go. It was his fault Castiel was gone and he had to set things right. After weeks of trial and error, Dean had begun to lose hope. On a particularly drunken night, he even summoned a crossroads demon, ready to make a deal. He was willing to trade anything to get Castiel back. He did have enough wits about him to know he would not be willing to trade his soul, but he did bring several interesting artifacts with him in the trunk of the Impala in case things went his way. 

     Dean found himself disappointed when it was Rowena that came to him instead of her usual crossroads demons. She expressed her concern to him, explaining that she wouldn’t let him make a deal and even if she did, there was no demon in Hell or on Earth that could bring Castiel back. 

     He broke down completely, crumpling to the ground at her feet. Rowena simply stayed with him the rest of the night, assuring him with pleasant nothings as she made a desperate call to everyone she knew, hoping someone would be able to help her, but her call was just as useless as all the Winchesters’ attempts.

     When Dean eventually moved to wash his hair, his skin had become tainted pink from the heat and he stared solemnly at his shaking hands. He let the suds rinse from his hair as he faced the faucet yet again. Dean stayed that way until the water ran bitterly cold about an hour later.

     When he was finally dressed in his whitewashed jeans and a slightly oversized flannel that he normally avoided, Dean recognized a sharp pain in his stomach: hunger. Unfortunately, the hunger was overtaken by nausea and Dean simply ignored it. It was just a side effect of the alcohol coursing through his veins. However, Dean could not ignore it when it became overwhelming and he sprinted to the nearest toilet, sick beyond his own comprehending. Dean emptied the contents of his stomach into the porcelain bowl, surprised by just how much was inside.

     “I guess I must have surpassed my limit this morning” He mumbled dryly when he was able to wash his hands. Finally empty of the excess alcohol, his head began to clear slightly and the stabbing migraine behind his eyes began to lessen minutely. He gripped the sides of the sink until his knuckles turned white, attempting to regain control of his swaying body when his stomach reminded him just how empty it was, more so now than before. 

     Dean ignored it again, instead staring at his cold reflection in the mirror. Making eye contact with the empty forest greens staring back at him, Dean took notice of the hollows starting to form in his cheeks that he had not seen since his teenage years as well as the deep bags under his eyes. It seemed his eyes were sinking deeper into their barren sockets. His lips were chapped and cracked and he hadn’t shaved or trimmed his hair since before the big fight with Chuck. He was starting to look barren, bereft of life, and utterly hopeless. 

     Again his stomach screamed for attention and for the first time in days, Dean surrendered to its will and left for the kitchen, not before sharply striking the mirror on the wall in front of him without warning or a moment's hesitation and shattering it into a million little pieces.

Chapter Text

Eileen’s thumb ghosted hesitantly over the name on her screen: Sam. It seemed to be the hundredth time that week that she tried to work up the courage to call him, even just to see his face for a few minutes. This time, however, it would be strictly business, and that should have made it easier. Eileen kicked herself inwardly for her cowardice. It was alright she had not called him every other time, but this call was important. She needed his help. More accurately, she needed help from the Men of Letters and their vast expanse of lore on monsters.

Donna had called her and Jody that morning with what appeared to be their kind of case but the women had never seen anything like it before. A woman was found, the fifth one in ten days drained entirely of her blood with an odd black substance draining from her eyes, ears, and nose. When Eileen joined Jody for an inspection at the morgue, they were stumped. The substance appeared to be ectoplasm.

“Last time I checked, ghosts don’t drain the blood of the people they possess” Jody had mumbled aloud, lost in thought. She raked her hands through her short spiky hair while whispering under her breath, reciting every monster she could think of before routinely knocking each one off the list of possibilities. She was left with vampire and ghost but neither did both of what she saw to their victims and she huffed in frustration.

Following her lips, Eileen nodded in agreement, stumped as well until she noticed a strange symbol just underneath the woman’s ear. She put on a rubber glove and pulled the victim’s ear back to get a better look at what she was seeing.

The symbol was quite obscure so Eileen had trouble placing it but came to the conclusion that it looked like a two-headed buck with a long tail of flaming thorns. She thought it might have been a tattoo until she noticed how the skin was raised almost as if the symbol was a scar that had been carved in.

“Look” she tapped on Jody’s arm as she thought out loud “This symbol, have you ever seen it before?”

Jody looked at the woman's neck and appeared to think deeply as if racking her brain of everything weird she had seen in the years since meeting the Winchesters. Surrendering, Jody shrugged and answered.

“Nope, but I bet you the boys might have something on it in their library. How are they doing anyway? I haven't heard from them in about a month and they usually check in every week or so even just to say hello…”

Jody began to quiet near the end of her question when she noticed the sad look on Eileen’s face. “Oh please tell me they aren't, you know…”

“Oh no, not that” Eileen jumped on the question quickly, almost bemused by the assumption. “They just took the big fight with Chuck a bit hard I guess. Dean, well I honestly don’t know much about him at all really. I only saw him once or twice in the bunker in the weeks after the fight and he didn’t look too well. And Sam, well Sam and I, we….. It’s……”

“Complicated” Jody finished for her with a warm smile “Isn’t it always. He will come around, they’re adjusting. They always come around.” She nodded along as she spoke, hoping that if she could comfort and convince Eileen of what she was saying that maybe, just maybe, she could convince herself that it was true. Even so, she could not shake the weight that had settled against her chest as a cloud of doom and worry permeated her skin.

Eileen forced a smile that she hoped looked genuine and took a picture of the symbol behind the woman’s ear before returning the body to its locked cooler for embalming.

Jody and Eileen parted ways amicably, with Jody giving Eileen a hug that was just a bit too tight but still comforting, a mother’s hug. It was obvious to Eileen that the older woman was touch starved, especially in the comforting and caring for others department.

Claire hadn’t been home in weeks, saying she needed space and adventure now that she was truly free and Alex was so busy with the hospital that she and Jody rarely had quality time to spend together.

“Call me if you ever need anything, Eileen, even just to talk. It seems I am starting to take all of you hunters on as my family. There is always a space at my table for you if you ever need a cup of coffee, a bowl of soup, or just a hug.” She smiled at the offer, a silent plea that Eileen would accept. Jody would not admit it aloud, but in the last month she had begun to feel more and more desperately alone with each passing day and the company of a new friend would be more than enough.

“Thank you,” Eileen said as she signed “I will remember that. I’ll call Sam and take this one from here. It was nice seeing you.” She smiled fondly. Jody had really begun to grow on her. She missed her mother and at night, Eileen liked to believe that her mother would have been like Jody. Kind, warm, and comforting but simultaneously the scariest person you had ever seen when she was angry.

Jody waved out her driver’s side window as she pulled out of the lot, the worry still stained on her face. Eileen watched the car get smaller and smaller as Jody drove into the horizon, only entering her car once Jody’s had disappeared from her line of sight.

As Eileen sat in the front seat of her car she knew she needed to call Sam as soon as possible to give him time to research, but still, her thumb didn’t seem to comprehend the urgency as it hovered over his name. That or it didn't care.

She shuddered at the thought of how the boys might be doing. She hadn’t allowed herself to venture down that territory since she and Sam parted ways the week prior. Eileen knew that if she did, she would worry herself sick to the point of going over to check on them and she just couldn’t do that to Sam. She knew he needed the space, even if he hated every second of it.

Eileen wanted nothing more than to feel his arms around her again as she slept, but he had just felt so distant since the fight, she knew he needed to find himself before they solidified their relationship. It hurt her to leave, but she knew it was what was best for him, even if he thought the opposite but none of that mattered now. They had a body count racking up quickly and she knew he was the only one that might be able to help.

She had considered calling Dean instead to avoid unnecessary pain for Sam, but she knew he would not pick up. Dean had not looked well the last time Eileen saw him. As she had been leaving the bunker she saw him passed out on the map table, sleeping in a pool of what seemed to be scotch at the time but could have been any mix of alcohol and even vomit. She had shuddered to see the man so badly broken. He had lost enough weight that his shoulders looked skeletal beneath his worn shirt.

She knew it would be no good, so with a shaky breath, Eileen forced herself to press on Sam’s contact and he picked up within seconds. Eileen smiled at this assuming he was dying to see her just as much as she wanted to see him. Her smile wavered when she saw his face though, it was obvious something was troubling him deeply.

“Eileen!” He practically shouted out of surprise. It was obvious he had lunged for the phone as he was heavily breathing, leaning forward in his chair, and his hair was an abomination. Eileen felt the corners of her lips win the fight over her mind and they betrayed her, turning up as high as they could. She recognized the bunker’s kitchen in the background.

“Hi Sam” She spoke and signed to keep her hands from shaking. She knew this call was important, but Eileen could not resist the urge to melt into Sam’s eyes and simply stare.

“I, um…” Sam started, and Eileen noticed his tell-tale signs of nervousness. He raked his hands through his hair and refused to make eye contact with the camera. Once he did she noticed what seemed to be the faintest hint of tears in his eyes.

“I was really hoping you would call” He seemed more sure of himself now, but she could still sense something was off because his hands seemed to be shaking more than hers as he signed while he spoke.

“I told you, Sam, you were supposed to call me, Remember?” Eileen asked with a hint of jest in her smile. This seemed to help Sam as the wrinkles in his forehead eased and he leaned back in his chair, no longer offensively on edge.

“I guess you are right. I am sorry I haven't called you. I have tried so many times but have no idea what to say. I am just so worried about Dean that I can’t even think about moving on myself” Sam tried to sign as fast as he could to keep up with the words pouring out of him, but he missed what seemed to be every other word. Fortunately, Eileen understood as she read his lips and facial expressions.

“It’s alright Sam. I understand. I told you I would wait until you are ready. I meant it.”

“I know, but from the way you looked at me right away, something tells me you didn’t call to talk about us,” Sam noted, astute and observant as always. When Eileen remained unresponsive for a moment, Sam attempted to catch her downcast eyes with his own, a habit he must have picked up from Dean over the years. Just like with Dean, this seemed to do the trick.

“I need your help” Eileen eventually responded after pushing away the tears that had managed to begin to prick around her eyes.

Chapter Text

     The morning light was so bright it seemed to settle in a haze around the two men. Sam and Dean had ventured outside the bunker for a sort of celebration of their freedom for the first time. Dean had seen the advertisement and he couldn’t help himself. It had taken lots of pleading, but Sam was easily persuaded. He had no ability to deny Dean when he was so excited about something. 

     For the first time in years, Dean looked truly happy, just like their first hunt since Castiel returned to them after Lucifer had killed him the night Jack was born. Dean’s face lit up just the same way as the night they entered that western-themed motel room. Sam was utterly helpless to that grin and he accepted that without protest so when Dean begged him to attend the pie festival in town, Sam knew he would agree to go, but he had protested a little bit just to get on Dean’s nerves. 

 

     He smiled lightly…………………………

 

 

      The streets were filled with picturesque families all enjoying the clear sky and warm air. As the sun beamed down on Sam’s face and the wind gently whispered through his hair, he was able to simply enjoy life for the first time in many years. He even found himself humming along to the song one of the stalls was playing. 

      This was interrupted only when Dean bounded to him holding a box with far too much pie for a normal man to eat, but Sam knew that it would all be gone by the end of the day. He had to stifle a laugh at the sight of his older brother protecting his pie like a father would their kin.

 

     His heart swelled at the sight………………………

 

 

     Although the scenery was perfect and Dean was exuding happiness, real happiness, Sam couldn’t help but feel a guilty twinge in the back of his mind. Of course, Dean recognized it and asked what was up.

     “Cas and Jack. I’m thinking about them. I can’t help it. I just miss them and wish they were here, you know?” He seemed distant when he replied, staring at an unspecified point on the horizon as he spoke. The clouds were truly beautiful that day, almost too perfect.

     “I think about them too but if we don’t just keep going, their sacrifices will be for nothing. Liven up Sammy, we’re free and they would want us to be happy for once.” Dean responded with a blinding smile, having moved on from this chapter of his life, ready to pursue the next, hopefully semi-normal, chapter. 

 

     The swell lessened and his frown returned…………………

 

 

      Dean offered a slice of pie to Sam and saw a gleam in his eyes that had evaded Dean for years: a gleam that meant trouble was cooking. With that glint of jest, Sam chose a piece of pie wisely. He selected a softer slice with plenty of whipped cream, the perfect compliment for his brother’s face. 

     For the first time in a while, Sam genuinely laughed at his brother's stunned reaction and for the first time in over a decade, the two were able to laugh together without a care in the world. To anyone passing, the two were just ordinary brothers. They were no heroes. They had no battle scars and had seen no horror. To anyone passing them, they could have been normal. 

 

     His eyes shifted beneath their lids, tears threatening the seal…………….

 

     Within weeks the boys were back on their feet. Sam was happy to return to his research without the impending doom of yet another apocalypse clouding his interest. He even got back into his jogging routine every day, a simple pleasure he never used to have time for. Sam was simply enjoying life and its smaller pleasantries he had never really taken notice of before.

      Dean was back to humming in the kitchen while cooking and sneaking bites to Miracle here and there without Sam’s knowledge. He had even managed to apply for a normal job and get his new life in order. Despite the horror he had seen, Dean had moved on, ready to accept normalcy as it came.

 

     The hot tears started to spill from his lids………………

 

     As much as Dean appreciated his new domesticated life, he could not completely give up hunting for good. He still felt the pressure to save as many people as possible so when he caught wind of a hunt close to home, he would beg and plead until Sam agreed to come with, and then they would take out whatever nuisance was interrupting the world’s peaceful balance. 

     This week Dean had heard of an attack on a family by what appeared to be vampires. The case sounded familiar to him so he had begged Sam to come since this case was further from the bunker than their usual escapades. After a fair amount of pleading, Sam had grumbled an agreement to go and they left the bunker far behind. 

     It had all been a normal hunt. There was the usual interrogation, research, and booze at night. Sam and Dean even discovered that this hunt in particular had been one of their father’s many years ago. Part of the nest must have survived John’s initial attack. It was almost a bittersweet feeling for Dean knowing he would finish something his father had started.

     The actual hunt had gone down fairly normal as well. Sam and Dean went in as per usual, armed to the teeth ready to go out guns blazing. There were unfortunately more vamps than they had expected and even a familiar face in the group from many moons ago. They fought hard, decapitating vamp after vamp with astounding speed and accuracy.

 

     His heart began to pound against his chest like a bird begging to be freed from its cage……….

 

     It wasn’t enough though. In a flash, the scenery changed. One second Sam felt his brother fighting with ruthless accuracy, the next he was cradling Dean’s limp body in his, unable to move from his spot on the ground. He had died hours ago after being impaled on a piece of rebar. Sam sobbed and screamed into the air, into the nothing that surrounded them. What was free will worth if Dean couldn’t even benefit from it for more than a few weeks out of his miserable life?

 

     The sobs racked his body now and the white-hot tears clawed at his lids…………..

 

     After Dean’s death, Sam’s life seemed to move agonizingly slowly and all too fast at the same time. He left the bunker behind, found a family, grew old never having moved on from his brother’s passing, and eventually let go altogether. When he entered heaven, he found himself entering the same age his soul had died, the moment he lost Dean.

 

     Not like this………………….

 

     Then there was the sun and the morning light was so bright it seemed to settle in a haze around the two men. Sam and Dean had ventured outside the bunker for a sort of celebration of their freedom for the first time………………………

Chapter Text

     Sam’s head hung heavily on his strained neck as he pored over the book of lore on the table in front of him. He had been in the library all day, moving there while on the phone with Eileen. She had briefed him on the case and sent him the picture she took of the odd symbol under the victim’s ear. He had never seen it before, but the distraction from Dean’s pain as well as his own shortcomings was a welcome one. 

     The entire conversation he could feel himself ready to beg her to come back to him but they had an agreement. Sam had to be ready for her to come back and he couldn’t hurt her anymore so he just listened to her explain everything around the case from victim patterns to testimonies of townspeople. 

     When they eventually said their goodbyes, both sat in silence for a few minutes, obviously not wanting to let go. Eileen was the first to speak.

     “Sam?”

     “Yes?”

     “I love you” came softly with a watery smile.

     Sam was taken aback but grateful for the reassurance. “I love you too” 

 

     It came so softly that Eileen knew that even if she could hear, she would have missed it if she wasn’t watching his face closely. She smiled genuinely and hung up, finally allowing the sobs to rack her body as her fist pounded against her steering wheel.

     Sam had decided that he couldn’t fail her again and if he was going to do one thing right, it was to help her with this case. He couldn’t save Jack from growing up far too quickly, he couldn’t save his mother or Castiel, he couldn’t even help his own brother, but he would be damned if he couldn’t help Eileen with a simple hunt. 

     It was late. He had been hunched over piles of books all day, only getting up a few times to eat, use the restroom, and most frequently, get a new stack of lore to dive into. Sam had heard some crashing and swearing from the kitchen many hours ago. He had felt relieved knowing that Dean was finally eating something but had left him alone knowing that his presence would probably upset Dean. It saddened him that this was likely true, but Sam was willing to make sacrifices for his brother’s wellbeing. 

     Sam slammed the book shut and ferociously dragged his hands down his face, hoping to suppress the frustration and emotion that was fogging his vision. He had managed to dot the pages of several books with tears following his call with Eileen. Sam loved her so much and hearing her say she loved him had pushed him over the edge. 

     The distraction seemed to work for the time being and he once again arose from his chair to check another stack of books, finding one entitled “Understanding Cult Behavior: a Documentation on Known Vampire Nest Cult Relations”.

     “Great” he groaned fully expecting to find yet another dead end. Sam was surprised to find that it only took him 15 minutes to find his first clue. Tucked in the pages of the book, Sam found a hand scrawled note with a garish sketch of an animal with two heads and a long tail adorning the parchment. 

     Upon comparing it to the image Eileen had sent him, Sam concluded that the Men of Letters must have been following a similar lead many years ago. He was just happy to catch a break. If the Men of Letters had encountered this before, it meant they likely had a file stored in the shelves of the room that opened to the dungeon with the devil’s trap in the middle of the room. 

     Sam sprinted down the hall, aching for a break in the case and one good thing to happen to him when he stopped dead in his tracks in front of the door to the files and dungeon. Something wasn’t right. He always kept that door closed but now it was open just a crack and he could smell the liquor in the air coming at him in waves. He tentatively pushed open the door and regretted it instantly.

     When he stepped into the room carefully, Sam could see that the bookcases had been pushed apart, revealing the devil’s trap. The chair that normally sat at the center of the trap had been thrown against the wall and there was a fifth of whisky emptying its contents onto the floor. 

     Then Sam heard it, a faint whimper coming from the corner. There was a table lying on its side, books all over the floor, and from behind it he could hear stifled sobbing, as if the person crying was trying to hide from the rest of the world. Sam knew that sob anywhere but he had never heard it sound so broken before. 

     “Dean?” he whispered cautiously, hoping to get his brother’s attention without startling him. It seemed to work as he heard a shuddering breath and the sobs stopped. 

     “Go away Sam. Please just leave me alone” came the broken and rasping voice. It was obvious he had been crying for quite some time before Sam had found him.

     “It’s Sammy” He tentatively whispered as he pulled the table away from the wall to reveal his brother curled up with his knees to his chest and face buried in his jeans. Dean did not look up or even acknowledge Sam’s presence. He just desperately wanted to be left alone. 

     Sam crouched by Deans feet, picking up the bottle as he sat. “When did you start wasting liquor Dean?” He hoped this would get Dean to at least look at him. It did and Sam instantly wished he had chosen something else to say.

     Dean's eyes snapped up to meet Sam’s, red and weeping. “When did you start to care?” he barked. Had he been in a better mood we would have regretted it, apologizing right away but he just stayed silent, daring Sam to respond.

     “Dean!” Sam warned before launching into a plea that sounded more like a lecture. “Are you serious? I’ve spent weeks trying to get through to you. You refuse to open up to me, you won’t even talk to me more than to ask for something, and I never even see you anymore. It’s like you’re trying to push me away! I’m even taking care of your damn dog! Where have you been?” 

     Sam was leaning forward now from the anger until he stopped suddenly, finally noticing Dean’s knuckles. Both hands were raw and bloody as if he had been in a fight. Then he noticed the wall behind Dean. There were fist shaped smears of blood all over a spot on the brick, only a few feet wide but it was obvious Dean had been aiming for something.

     “Dean please talk to me. What happened?” his voice softened when he grabbed Dean’s wrist to inspect the bloodied knuckles that were already beginning to bruise over. Dean quickly pulled his hand back, tears beginning to stream down the sides of his face again, although not in anger. This was a broken sadness that Sam had not seen in years, not since Castiel’s funeral. That was when it dawned on him.

     “This is where it happened. Isn’t it?” He asked softly. Sam noticed Dean’s eyes flick up to the wall and a darkness shadowed them. He nodded his head solemnly, obviously not wanting to go any further in the conversation, but Sam was persistent and he knew that the matter would be pressed. He was surprised to find it wasn’t.

     Sam stood up silently and grabbed Dean under his arms, pulling him to his feet. Dean would have fought back, but he had no strength left. He had sat crying long enough that he simply let Sam lead him out of the room to leave the blood stained wall behind.

Chapter Text

     Jack’s head swam with prayers as he sat where his grandfather used to in his throne room. Since he took over heaven, Jack had made some adjustments to the room so it would fit him better. The room was still white and far too geometric to be comfortable, but now there were more chairs and stools ready and waiting for visitors and there were framed pictures on the walls, surrounding him with family even as he spent most of his days alone. 

     Whenever he felt particularly down, Jack would do laps of the room and stare at the smiles of everyone who had loved him. Mary’s eyes always seemed so full of life in the pictures he chose to frame and Jack felt a pang of guilt every time he stared at her hugging him or her sons. He still felt so guilty for ripping her from them. Because of this, Jack visited her in Heaven every once in a while and she hugged him tightly every time, forgiving him with everything she had. 

     He kept a framed photo of his mother Kelly on one of the stools next to his throne so he could always see her when working, conducting meetings with angels, or just listening to prayers. Jack did not visit her as often as he wanted to. He figured that disrupting her peace would not be worth it, even if she would be elated to see him every time. 

     He still felt guilty about ripping her from her peace the last time he saw her. The poor women had to watch him almost get killed by the Shadow of the Empty and he did not feel it was right to break her peace again. Despite this, he did visit her a few times, feeling guilty every time he left her to her happiest memories and he had to return to his lonely thoughts. 

     Then there were his fathers. Pictures of Sam, Dean, and Castiel were everywhere. Some from when the boys were young, but mostly pictures he had taken himself while using Castiel’s phone. Castiel had taught him the value of taking photos when someone wasn’t paying attention when he showed Jack the photo of himself in the silly cowboy hat that Dean had printed out. In his time at the bunker, Jack had taken hundreds of photos of all three of his dads and now they adorned his walls in Heaven.

     The pictures helped, but he still felt homesick every day. Jack may have been half angel but Heaven was never his home. His home was in his room in the bunker with the soft blankets and his comfy mattress. His home always smelled like whatever Dean was cooking and always sounded like his dads’ laughs ringing through the hallways. These happy memories were so sparse, but he appreciated them far more than any other memories he had. 

     Of course, Jack was provided every luxury he could possibly want since he had returned Heaven to order, but nothing could replace the feeling of his home with his dads. To distract himself from this, Jack worked to make Heaven as perfect as he could for the souls inside. He was working on a plan to knock down all the walls and create a shared heaven where everyone could visit and spend eternity together. 

     Unfortunately, this plan could not be done since Jack did not have the strength or numbers to do so yet. Heaven was desperately low on angels and while Chuck would have been able to rebuild everything, he had had his powers for eons and was well-practiced. 

     Jack on the other hand had only been in this position for just over one month and had barely scraped the surface of his abilities. Because of this, he needed time to practice. 

     Instead, he worked on rebuilding Heaven’s army in Castiel's image instead of Chuck’s. He spent every available minute he had to make new angels with a specific set of instructions:

     I am an angel of the Lord and a warrior of Heaven. My mission is to protect humanity and maintain peace, order, and balance in the universe. 

     Jack made his new angels just like Castiel. They would value humanity and see the beauty in it. His angels would feel and think independently while still being one army that reported to their superiors and ultimately, Jack. 

     He missed Castiel deeply and every day wished that his father could be there to help guide him but even he could not break a cosmic grade deal. Castiel and the Shadow had made a deal and those cannot be broken. So with an army of adoring angels and billions of souls, Jack felt the loneliest he ever had in his short life, all because he missed his three dads. 

 

     “Jack, I need your help. Please, hear my prayer.”

 

     Jack listened to Sam’s prayer for the third time that day. He always made time for Sam’s prayers, even the ones that scolded him. He missed Sam terribly but he knew that if he even thought about leaving Heaven, he would become like Chuck. He would never return until the balance of the universe was on the verge of collapse. 

     Jack had so many responsibilities that he had to maintain, plus he had to repair eons of neglect that Chuck didn’t seem to care about in the slightest when he was in charge. He didn’t have time for a break and because of this, Jack was working himself restless. 

     There were prayers that needed answering, peace to be kept, angels to build, souls to be accepted, meetings to host, justice to be administered, and most of all, balance to be maintained. 

     Jack met with Rowena quite a bit in the beginning. She was used to being the queen of her domain and had a good amount of advice for him. He was new to all of this and had no idea what he was doing. He hadn’t even had time to learn how to tie his shoelaces when he was on Earth, much less run a universe. 

     Rowena understood some of his stress since she started running Hell that year and she volunteered herself to be Jack’s adviser. In addition to becoming his advisor, they had developed a balanced working relationship as leaders. Since their arrangement, Hell and Heaven were running like clockwork, better than they had for eons. 

     Unfortunately, there was one piece of the puzzle that did not fit: the Empty. It seemed that whenever the balance of the universe was skewing, the Shadow of the Empty could never be relied on to maintain the peace, simply because it was awake and was one petty entity. 

     Because of this, Jack needed to find a way to at least pacify the Shadow. Order was important and he could not allow the universe to collapse. That would mean failure and he cared about the world far too much for that. 

     He had released Amara back into the world for this reason. Jack was pure light and she was the Darkness. He needed her aid to keep the universe moving forward. Unfortunately, after Chuck manipulated her, Amara needed some time to herself. She told Jack that she would return soon and had left to attempt to rebuild one of the worlds that Chuck had destroyed. 

     Jack knew she needed time but he still wished he had her for the task he was about to set out on. She was by far the more diplomatic of the two as she had more practice, but she deserved a break, after all, she had been through. They all did but Jack had no time for rest.

     Jack rose from his throne, mentally bookmarking the last prayer he had listened to so he could get back to it once he returned. He summoned his second in command, Rosangelle, and she came to him immediately, bowing deeply when she entered his doorway. 

 

     “My Lord, how can I be of service to you?” she asked as she cautiously approached Jack holding a tray with all his favorite treats: a few nougat bars, a burger (she never understood his affinity for them but she brought them anyway), and a beer. She always brought them out of habit. 

 

     Rosangelle loved Jack because he was a peaceful leader, but she had been terrified of Chuck when she used to serve him and found that bringing offerings always put the tyrant in a better mood. She had gone into hiding before the apocalypse and had only returned once she heard a merciful Nephilim was running Heaven.

 

     Jack smiled and took the tray from her hands, placing it on one of the end tables next to the chairs. “Thank you Rosangelle, but I’m not hungry now. You do not need to fear me, and please, call me Jack. I am going to run an errand and meet with someone very important. While I am gone I want you to stay here in my stead. If anyone, angel or otherwise comes here requesting my presence or assistance, please take a message for me and let them know I will help once I return.”

 

     “Yes sir. Of course My……... Jack. Of course Jack.” Rosangelle appeared uncomfortable with the casualty of calling her leader by his first name, but the tension in the room relaxed. 

 

     “Thank you. I will be back soon. Goodbye Rosangelle.” Jack waved and as he did, an orange spark appeared behind him opening into a large fissure, an exact replica of the one created when he was born. Jack turned and stepped through, growing increasingly anxious as he did. 

     When he stepped out on the other side, Jack was surrounded by pure nothingness. The black expanse surrounding him felt cool and was eerily silent. Jack wandered for a few minutes, looking for the Shadow in its domain but could find nothing. 

     Anywhere else in the universe, he could just summon the Shadow to him, but this was not his domain and he did not want to upset the Shadow when he had demands that needed to be met. 

     Jack suddenly felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as they stood on end, acutely aware of a presence behind him. He felt the curls of cold wrap around his body as he turned to face the terrifying entity. 

 

     “What are you doing here? Wasn’t waking me up and every other creature in here enough? Why do you torture me so? I will rip you apart……” the Shadow’s voice trailed off at the end of the threat when it felt the waves of power, Godly holy power coming off of the Nephilim.

 

     Jack smiled knowing that for once, the Shadow might possibly be afraid of something, and spoke. “We need to talk.

 

Chapter Text

     Dean had not complained once the whole time Sam led him through the halls of the bunker, eventually setting him up with a barstool in front of the kitchen sink. He was just too tired to properly fight Sam off. He even let his little brother carefully inspect and clean his wounds although he did lightly grumble in protest. He couldn’t give Sam the satisfaction of completely bending to his will.
     Dean hissed from the pain as Sam applied an antiseptic to the raw knuckles before gingerly wrapping each hand in bandages, hoping to avoid causing his older brother any more pain than necessary.

     “Sit” It wasn’t a request as he pointed towards the kitchen table. 

     Dean did as he was told, not having the energy to pick a fight. He curled into the chair he was sitting at, staring intently at the table as he fiddled with the bandages and Sam disappeared into the hallway.
     When he returned, Sam wrapped Dean in the dead guy robe, hoping to provide a little comfort for the grieving man. He was worried for his brother and wanted to do anything he could to convince him to open up. 
     Sam left the table again, this time returning with a glass of water and a slice of cherry pie. He felt a pang in his chest when even this was not able to bring a smile to his brother’s face. 

     “Drink and eat. You need to. I can practically smell the alcohol coming off of you and I feel like I’m watching you waste away. You cannot convince me you don’t see it too. Basically, you are not leaving this table until that glass is empty and that plate is clean and I don’t mean against the wall or on the floor. You hear me?”

     Dean finally looked his brother in the eye and could tell that he was serious, pick a fight and force the pie down his throat serious. With that thought, He carefully lifted the glass to his mouth, allowing a small amount of the cool water to slip past his lips. 


     “Happy?” he croaked out, barely above a whisper. 

     Despite the comment being barely audible, Sam nodded, the faintest of smiles flicking the left corner of his mouth upwards. He decided to test out the waters now that Dean was more comfortable.

     “So...do you want to talk about it?”

     “no..”

     “Please, Dean. It’s been a month of this. It’s exhausting for me and I bet it’s way worse for you. You don’t eat, you barely sleep, Miracle whines every time he passes your room, you’re falling apart and I am really worried ab….”

     “fine…”  Dean cut him off with a wheeze. “But only if you stop your whining” 

     He finally met Sam’s gaze with the hint of a smile ghosting his lips. Sam stared right back with wide eyes, surprised he opened up without more prodding, but he leaned forward, urging Dean to continue.

     “I wasn’t lying that day when we beat Chuck. When I told you that Cast...he summoned the Empty, I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t telling you everything either. We were in Death’s library when I stupidly picked a fight with Billie. I should never have tried to take her but I was just so angry. Then she told us that it was Chuck wiping our friends off the map, not her. I let my guard down and screwed it all up.”

     Dean shook his head letting it fall towards his forgotten glass of water. Just thinking about what happened, he felt the beginning of a knot forming in his chest and a lump beginning to burn in his throat.

     “He never should have come with me but the stupid bastard, he always does…..did. He always came with me and I never should have let him. She was just so angry. She followed us back into the bunker, pissed as all Hell. She started spouting off about how she wanted to fix everything wrong with the world, every rule ever broken, and that started with me. She wanted to kill me before she died from the wound I gave her.”

     Dean felt the knot in his chest drift to the left and his hand ghosted over his heart, his muscles remembering that day perfectly.

     “She just started squeezing my heart like she wanted me to suffer. Cas practically carried me through the bunker just trying to escape her. The whole time I could feel her and he was just dragging me down the halls, doing his best to get me out of there. He told me he had me as if that would make me feel safe in any way.”

     Dean laughed at this point although there was no humor in his voice. Sam felt a shudder travel up his spine at the dark sound. Dean’s eyes had darkened too and Sam wasn’t exactly sure if he wanted to hear the rest of the story but he knew he didn’t want to shut Dean down, not when he was finally opening up.

     “He eventually pulled me into the dungeon. Billie was hot on our tails so he warded the door and….and then she started pounding on it...over and over again. Each time she hit it, the warding sparked. It was like Cas and I both knew we were gonna die but didn’t want to say it.”

     Dean began to feel tears welling and he let his gaze fall to the table again, hoping his hair falling over his eyes could shield them from Sam.

     “After Cas warded the door, her grasp on me was blocked. I was finally able to think straight and try to come up with a plan. Sammy, we tried but we just couldn’t think of anything. She was just so damn angry. I thought we might be able to wait her out because she was dying but I knew that wouldn’t work. I knew that she would get through and kill us both.
     Then Cas, he just looked at me and told me he had an idea, that he had made a deal with the Empty to save Jack’s life and that when the terms were met the Empty would take him forever. He said it would come when he allowed himself to be truly happy”

     At that point, it was all over for Dean. He was crying now, hard. He balled his fists tightly to try to suppress the sobs he knew would come but he knew it would be of no use anyways. He just hoped that the pain from his hands could distract him enough to push through the rest.

     “Then his expression changed. He just started looking at me with this weird face, like joy almost and I thought it was just bizarre. He started telling me all about how I hate myself and how I think I’m broken and crap. I honestly thought he was trying to make me hate him or something but then...then he started telling me everything he sees….saw in me. 
     He said I was caring and selfless...and loving. He said all this crap about me doing everything I do out of love and that I made him care. He said that he cared about the world because of me. That’s when I realized he was saying goodbye. It took me a while but I realized he was gonna summon the Empty but I just couldn’t figure out how.” 

     Dean felt the air shift as Sam’s chair creaked and he peered at his brother through his bangs. Sam was staring intently at him, but his gaze wasn’t focused. It was obvious he was deep in thought as if he was piecing the story together as Dean spoke. 

     “Then he said……..then he told me he loved me. I was too surprised to say anything and I couldn’t process it. There was too much going on. The literal death was pounding the door down, Cas was babbling on about how he sees me, and then out of nowhere, he was telling me he loves me. I just felt so hopeless. 
I begged him not to do it but it was too late. Billie busted in and then the wall, it just opened up and this goo crap started covering it. He looked at me and then shoved me to the floor to watch Billie and him get taken all the while with this dopey grin on his face. And then they….he was just gone.”

     Dean finally looked up and met his brother’s eyes, his vision blurry from the river of tears pouring out of his own. His cheeks were covered in streams of them and he could feel them beginning to soak his robe. Dean pulled the robe around himself tighter, desperate for comfort. 
     Sam noticed the gesture and was on his feet before he could even register what he was doing. In a matter of seconds, he was crouching next to Dean and hugging him to his chest. Dean stiffened at the sudden hug but swiftly let go and began to sob into his brother, clinging onto his shirt for dear life. 
     Dean eventually went quiet and Sam released him from the tight embrace, letting him fall back in the chair. He returned to his spot across from Dean 

     “I’m so sorry Dean. I had no idea. This is why you've been beating yourself up along with everything else you can possibly break, isn’t it? You think it’s your fault. It’s not. He chose to save you, Dean. Just like he always did.”

     “It is my fault!” Dean snapped, voice slowly rising and becoming more frantic with each word. “He followed me because of my stupid suicidal plan to confront Billie and I got us trapped. I got him dead. Just like last time. He sacrificed himself to save us last time and yet again I got him killed.” Dean suddenly stopped and took a moment before choosing his next words carefully. “It’s always my fault.”

     Sam knew there was nothing he could say to change how Dean felt so they sat in silence for a few minutes before Sam gently nudged the glass and plate back towards Dean with a wide-eyed look that begged him to eat something. 
Dean looked back with no desire to do anything but sit there and wallow in his own self-pity, but instead, he tentatively picked up the fork and cut himself a small piece.

     Sam didn’t speak again until there was nothing left on the plate but a few crumbs and nothing left in the glass but a few drops. “Do you?”
 
     Dean looked up at Sam in confusion. “What?” 

     “Do you love him?”

     “I’m pissed at him Sammy. He just gave up and left me on the floor to spend the rest of my days wondering what the Hell happened. If I ever see him again I swear the first thing I’m gonna do is beat him within an inch of his stupid little life.”

     Sam smiled at that knowing his brother well. “And second?” he asked, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

     “Shut up” Dean responded without any real threat in his voice, just relieved the tense atmosphere had been replaced with a more relaxed one.

     “Hey, Dean?”

     “What?”

     “How would going on a hunt make you feel?”

     Dean smiled and looked at his hands. “I’m gonna need some gloves”

     Sam thought about this for a moment and then reached out to ruffle his older brother’s hair. “You’re gonna need a shave”

Chapter Text

     “Where is my father?” Jack stepped towards the entity with mock confidence. 

 

     He hoped to hear that Castiel had somehow managed to escape again, but he knew the answer he was bound to get. He would have felt Castiel’s presence if he was in Heaven, Hell, or anywhere in between.

 

     “Oh he’s in here somewhere honey” the Shadow sneered, gesturing wildly around the vast expanse of nothing surrounding the two, manifesting itself in its new favorite look: Meg. “He’s sleeping peacefully, rocked gently by dreams of his greatest regrets”.

 

     “What does he dream about?” Jack couldn’t stop the words before it was already too late. He knew there was a good chance he didn’t actually want to know.

 

     “Oh you know, plans he never followed through on, people he never killed, worlds he never conquered……” the Shadow grinned coldly as it responded, trying desperately to get into Jack’s head.

 

     “I mean my real father. Where is Castiel?” Jack’s eyes flamed an angry gold, not having the patience to deal with the manipulation attempt.

 

     “Ohhhhh...you’re daddy’s here too. Way down deep you know it too don’t you Sugar? Your angel is drowning in pure nothing, dreaming about everything he hates about himself and all the chaos he has brought to this world. 

     He is going to spend the rest of eternity lost in that self-hating skull of his, dreaming about every loss, every kill, every disappointment, and he will never find peace. I assume that’s the answer you were looking for?” the Shadow had approached Jack and began whispering in his ear.

     It sniffed at his neck as if suddenly noticing a change in the being in front of it. “There’s something different about you boy. I can practically taste the power coming off of you and it is delicious. Where’d you get the extra juice, honey?” The Shadow had begun circling Jack, like a lion stalking its prey. 

 

     “I’m the new God so I’m the one that’s going to be making requests and I suggest you cooperate.” Jack hoped his anxiety was not evident. If there was one thing Dean taught him, it was the importance of confidence.

 

     “Oh, really Baby Face? I’ll admit, the power coming off you in waves, it’s definitely cosmic so I am inclined to listen but you’re in my terrain now which means I own you boy. I own everything inside here. So I will warn you, I’m already pissed off that you woke me up along with everything else inside. 

     Even over a month later, I am still finding stragglers walking around that are keeping me up. I will make you a deal. You make this quick and I will let you walk out of this place alive.” 

 

     The Shadow practically snarled the words, stopping its circling inches away from Jack’s nose. He could feel the cold creeping off of the Shadow as it attempted to play every card in its deck hoping to keep Jack at bay. The Shadow was many things but it was not stupid. It was, however, terrified and Jack could feel that as well. 

 

     “Will you now? I can tell you for certain that no matter what you do, I will be leaving this place alive. The state I leave you in depends on you. Tell me, would you like to go back to sleep? With a snap of my fingers, I can make sure that never happens. Ever. Again.” 

 

     Jack brought his hand up to the Shadow’s face for emphasis, fingers ready to snap at a moment’s notice as he spoke each word with that bitter punch he learned from Sam and Dean. He hoped the Shadow was buying it because he desperately hated talking to people this way. He hated being mean and threatening others, especially when he was so uncomfortable.

 

     “I’m listening” the Shadow responded, voice wavering, as it took the slightest of steps backward to put some distance between itself and the Nephilim in front of it.

 

     “Good” Jack took a deep breath to steady himself and prepare for his request. “I want to make a deal with you. I can offer what you want most in this world. Just as much as I can deprive you of your rest, I can also return you to your eternal slumber. 

     I can put every unruly demon and angel in here back to sleep as well. I can personally guarantee that you will remain at rest until the time comes that you are needed and if anything wakes you up unnecessarily, I will take care of it.”

 

     “Tempting” the Shadow responded already feeling the inclination to accept. “But, what’s the catch?”

 

     “You give me domain here. I have domain in every other part of the universe. I do not run every territory, such as Hell or Purgatory, but I have domain there, meaning I can enter and exit freely, taking and giving as I please. 

     If you give me domain in your territory, I can keep the balance in the universe, all while never needing to wake you for your permission. I will only take what is necessary and give you those who require more permanent ends to their stories.”

 

     “I don’t like it.” the Shadow responded. It hated the idea of Jack having domain in the Empty. It had gone eons without Chuck’s interference with its routine and it wasn’t inclined to let anything like that start.

 

     “You don’t have to. This isn’t really a request.” Jack laid it on thick, praying to Dean that he was doing this right. 

 

     “Understood. So I give you domain here. You take what you want and give what you want and you let me sleep for all of eternity along with everything else in here?”

 

     “Yes. As long as you are not needed, I will ensure your slumber remains uninterrupted. Anything that wakes you will face serious repercussions. You will remain at peace until I need you.”

 

     “Fine. Deal. You wanna kiss on it Sweet Cheeks?” the Shadow sneered attempting to regain some ground and power in the conversation.

 

     Jack snapped his fingers. “No need. The deal is sealed now, paperwork and all. If you ever wish to discuss terms or amendments, call out to me and I will come to you at my earliest convenience. Are you ready to rest?”

 

     “Yes, but first thing’s first. The angels and demons. Put them to sleep” the Shadow responded, slight hesitancy in its voice, as if skeptical that Jack would actually keep his word.

 

     With a wave of his wrist and a snap of his fingers, Jack tilted his head toward the Shadow. “Done.”

 

     The Shadow craned its neck to listen. When content that it did not hear a sound the Shadow turned to Jack once again. “Excellent. The silence is deafening. It’s beautiful.” With its final words, the Shadow tipped its head back and closed its eyes, signifying Jack that it was ready.

 

     With that, Jack reached out and gently touched both sides of its head, effectively inducing the deepest slumber he was capable of. He watched as the Shadow slowly melted into the dark nothingness surrounding him and once again he was alone. 

 

     “Yesss!!!” Jack's fist pumped the air, almost skipping the whole way back to the rift, clicking his heels on his way through.

Chapter Text

     Sam had to admit it, Dean cleaned up surprisingly well with how little he had to beg. After their discussion in the kitchen, Sam stayed back to clean up while Dean disappeared to his room, a newfound pep in his step. It was obvious he needed a hunt to clear his mind and distract him for a while and it looked like for the first time in over a month, he was ready to take that step.
     Sam smiled as he watched Dean go. Miracle followed close behind, practically stepping on his older brother’s heels as he walked. Sam could tell that Miracle sensed Dean was in a better mood, even if it was only temporary. The dog seemed to be ecstatic and it looked like he wasn’t going to let the guy out of his sight which brought a smile to Sam’s lips. 
     Miracle had come into the kitchen towards the end of their conversation and had stayed at Dean’s feet the whole time he ate. Sam had smiled when he noticed Dean’s fingers ghost over the dog's fur for comfort. He even pretended not to notice the crust that Dean snuck the dog, just happy that they were interacting again.
     After finishing up with the dishes, Sam filled a bucket with hot water and bleach and made his way over to the dungeon. He started on his hands and knees, scrubbing the floor of any remnants of alcohol or blood before moving to the wall. He couldn’t help but trace the lines of the brick with his fingers, shuddering at the amount of blood he saw. 
     The wall was scrubbed for nearly an hour until Sam was absolutely certain that not a single remnant of Dean’s grief was left to stain the brick. He dropped the rag in the bucket, its contents having turned a deep red during the cleaning process, and surveyed the room one final time before closing the bookcases and pulling the dungeon door shut behind him.
     By the time he returned to the kitchen, Dean was back to the table, messing with Miracle’s fur behind his ears. Sam smirked and began filling the kitchen sink with hot soapy water and grabbed a new rag. As he began to scrub the bucket, Sam noticed Dean had also shaved and even styled his hair again, although he had elected not to trim the lengthening cut.

     “I thought long hair was a sin to you” Sam joked, mild concern evident in his voice as he looked up from the sink in which he was cleaning the bucket. 

     Dean approached the topic tentatively. “Don’t worry Sammy. I ain’t planning on going full hair rock. I just don’t cut my own hair, don’t trust you to do it for me, no offense, and don’t want someone I don’t know touching me right now. Not after everything we’ve...I’ve been through.” Dean absently tugged at his hair, seemingly forgetting the dog peacefully resting at his feet.

     “It’s alright Dean, I don’t blame you. Oh, and for your own safety and mine, you should stay out of the dungeon. I think it would be best for you to put some space between it and you for a while. Now go grab your bag. We have work to do.” Sam turned out of the kitchen upon finishing his request, making his way to his own room to begin packing his bag for the hunt. 

     As Sam packed a few sets of clothes along with his preferred weapons, he couldn’t help the smile that was creeping into the corners of his mouth. Dean was actually talking to him. He could hardly believe it. He had actually watched Dean eat in front of him for the first time in weeks and he even got to see Dean drink something other than booze. He could even hear a batting in the hallway and the scratching of claws on the floor as Dean threw a ball for Miracle to chase. 
     As happy as he was over his small victory, Sam could not help the sadness that plagued his thoughts as he packed. He had thought that knowing what happened and getting closure would help, but now that he knew exactly what happened to Castiel, it was even worse. He knew that he had no right to feel so upset, after all, it wasn’t him who Castiel had confessed his unwavering love to, but he still felt guilty nonetheless.
If Castiel had never helped them, if he had just returned to Heaven, he would be alive. Castiel could be alive helping others right now, but instead, they had infected him and dragged him into their problems year after year. Their stupid self-sacrificing, give ‘em Hell attitudes rubbed off on the angel and caused him to sacrifice himself for them over and over again, this time permanently.
     Sam zipped his bag and tossed it on his bed. He was about to grab his coat when he felt the urge to stop. He sunk into a seated position at the foot of the mattress and propped his elbows on his knees. Sam couldn’t stop the sudden tears from coming, no matter how hard he tried. 
     The hunter let the sobs come for a few minutes before gathering his wits enough to piece together what he wanted to say. Sam rubbed his hands together and began to pray softly.

     “Castiel? I don’t know if you can even hear me where you are, but Dean just told me everything. He told me what you did. I know you saved him and...and I know what you said to him. Look, I’m sorry. My brother...Dean is as stubborn as they come. He just desperately didn’t want to lose anyone else. I could see it in his face when he told me what happened. He was so shocked he didn’t even know what to do. I just want you to know that we miss you and we need you here. You’re family Cas and we just really wish things hadn’t gone down the way they did. I’m so sorry.”

     Having said his piece, Sam just desperately hoped Castiel could hear his prayer. He rationalized that if Lucifer could hear Nick those years ago, maybe just maybe Castiel could hear him. It was too optimistic but he didn’t care. 
     Sam finally got up from the bed, tossed his jacket over his shoulder, and grabbed the bag. He took one final longing look at his empty bed, wishing that one day he would be sharing it again, before flicking off the light and making his way down the empty hall to the garage where Dean was already revving the Impala’s engine.

     “Geez Sammy, you’re getting slow in your old age.” Dean joked but Sam could see the darkness in his eyes. He was obviously back to his normal sarcasm and humor to cover his pain, but Sam was just happy to see him talking again.

     “So get this…….” Sam dove into everything he had gathered about the hunt. 

     He gave Dean a briefing about the victims, the suspected location of the nest, and even updated his brother about how he learned about the case. When Eileen’s name was brought up, Dean saw the sadness in Sam’s eyes. 
     He couldn't remember when Eileen had left which made Dean feel incredibly guilty. He was too far engrossed in his own self-loathing that he hadn’t even noticed when his brother’s girlfriend walked out. 
     It was like one day she was there and the next she wasn’t. What hurt Dean the most was knowing that when she left, try as he might, he couldn't have brought himself to care. He was too far gone. 

     “Listen, Sammy, I’m sorry. When she left, I should have been there for you. I was too caught up in my own problems that I couldn’t see just how hurt you were. I should have been there to help you through it yet it was you who was constantly trying to help me. I should have let you in earlier and I’m sorry.”

     “It’s ok Dean. You needed time” 

     “No Sam. It’s not okay. Just because I’m screwed up doesn’t mean you should be too. You needed me and I wasn’t there. End of story. Please just take the apology.”

     Sam could see the pleading in his brother’s eyes as he stared intently at the road. It seemed like Dean was doing everything in his power to look anywhere but at Sam. When he finally did meet his little brother’s eyes and spoke, Sam simply stared back in concern.

     “I know there’s no way I can go back and fix that and there’s no way I can go back and change what happened with Cas, but what I can do is stick it out and hunt some monsters because that is what I do. It’s the only thing I can do.”

Chapter Text

     When Eileen saw the Impala pull up in the lot in front of the motel she was staying at, she felt her heart practically jump into her throat. She could see Sam intently reading from what appeared to be a manila folder. He looked like he was reading aloud to the driver and obviously looked annoyed. 

     It was the first time she had actually seen him face to face in a week, not counting their call of course. She hadn’t expected it to be so hard to see him again, especially since it was only for a case and nothing more. They didn’t even break up really: They were just taking some space until he was ready. Eileen rationalized that it wasn’t like they fell out of love, but seeing him felt just as hard as if they did.

     Then her gaze shifted to the driver’s seat and her stomach dropped. Could it be? Dean smiling? He even appeared to be singing. She couldn’t fight her smile even if she tried. It was so nice seeing him looking like Dean again. He was even laughing in Sam’s direction as if nothing had been bothering him in the first place. It was impossible to believe that he was the same man she witnessed passed out on the map table in a pool of liquor only one week prior. 

     As Dean parked the car, Eileen could see Miracle’s head propped up over his shoulder, as if he had spent the whole ride intently watching over his favorite human. She smiled at this. The dog’s resemblance to Castiel was definitely uncanny. 

     She watched as Dean stepped out of the car and let Miracle out to find a spot to go to the bathroom. His eyes eventually found Eileen’s after he was content that Miracle was not in harm’s way.

 

     “Eileen!” He shouted while waving to her. Her smile widened when she noticed Dean walking a bit taller than the last time she saw him in addition to the cocky grin that had made a return. 

 

     Then Sam got out of the car and her heart began to pound once again. He seemed to avoid her gaze as he packed all the loose sheets back into the folder and tossed his bag over his shoulder. Sam hoisted the bag as he closed the car door and followed his brother towards the motel, eyes cast downward.

     Dean snatched the folder out of his hand, getting Sam’s attention and annoyance instantly. He laughed and played a game of keep-away as his younger brother hurried after him. Eileen couldn’t help but laugh at this. These boys saved the world over and over again, but they were still brothers through and through. 

 

     The duo approached her, Sam visibly apprehensive, and Dean greeted her with a hug. “Hey, Eileen. Long time no see.”

 

     “You’re looking good Dean, at least much better than last time I saw you. Still the lesser attractive of the two of you though.” she joked, sending a wink upwards and she felt Dean lightly chuckle at her comment. 

 

     Eileen then faced Sam and noticed he was rubbing the back of his neck nervously while staring at his shoes as if they were the most interesting things in the world. She smirked at seeing his usually impermeable expression so anxious.

 

     “Hey Sam”

 

     “Eileen….” This was all Sam could get out before Dean gave his back a good push, sending Sam forward bumping right into Eileen. 

 

     Sam sent him the strongest bitchface he could muster but he was secretly thankful for the shove. In a second Eileen and Sam were hugging so tightly that it almost felt like they never had separated. 

     Dean loved seeing his brother happy, but he felt a bit of a pang in his chest. He couldn’t quite place it, but he knew it made him feel a lot worse than he already did so he went looking for Miracle, his new best friend. 

 

    Dean plopped down on the ground and gave Miracle a big hug. “Hey buddy,” he whispered into the dog’s fur, relishing in the warmth coming off his body. 

 

     The dog licked his face rapidly, almost like he knew Dean really needed comfort and a good laugh. This seemed to do the trick as Dean got pushed over on his back and he smiled wider than he had in months. Miracle took this as an invitation and snuggled up on his chest, having missed sleeping with his human. 

     Dean stared up into the sky and watched the clouds as they rolled by, feeling peaceful. Unfortunately, the serene glee did not last long because it seemed any time he allowed himself to let go and be happy, Castiel’s words would creep up on him and he couldn’t help but feel guilty. 

     Castiel had died allowing himself to feel happy and because of that, Dean was alive. What makes me so deserving of feeling happiness when that’s what killed Cas?  He felt the survivor's guilt as he lost that contentment and felt Miracle's paw at his chest, recognizing Dean’s change in emotional state.

 

     “Sorry buddy, I know Sam says I shouldn’t feel like it’s my fault, but what does he know? He wasn’t there. Cas is dead because of me and it’s all my fault.” Miracle nuzzled his neck as he spoke and Dean laughed darkly. “But that’s life for you.”

 

     Dean eventually got up when he heard Sam whistle for the dog to follow him inside to the room across from Eileen’s. Dean and Miracle joined the other two hunters around the tiny table to discuss the case. Miracle spent the whole conversation tucked between his legs, staring up at Dean's strained face from his spot at the man’s knees. 

     Sam passed the papers around the table to Dean and Eileen, briefing them on everything he had found in the bunker. As it turned out, the case was a truly unique one. Ages ago, the Men of Letters had been following a vampire nest that acted more like a cult instead of a family unit like other nests. 

     The cult had developed an efficient mechanism for feeding by utilizing vengeful spirits, explaining the ectoplasm found on all their victims. Much like the real estate agent from when they investigated the killer stuffed dinosaur, the vampires used objects that spirits were attached to mark their victims. The enslaved spirits would then possess the victims and bring them back to the nests. 

     Eventually, the vampires would drain the victims and brand them with their family crest. That way, the victims found would serve as a reminder to surrounding nests that the hunting grounds were already inhabited. It was a warning to others to stay away. 

     Finally, the lower-ranking vampires would dispose of the bodies, bringing the spirits back to their nest when they were done. It was an impressively effective system, not only ensuring consistent feed for the nest but also warding against other nests from encroaching on their hunting grounds. 

     It looked like the Men of Letters had been closing in on the nest when Abbadon had wiped them out, allowing the vampires to relocate and start their hunting once more. Sam concluded that they must have hunted normally for years to avoid suspicion. It seemed they had decided that there were no Men of Letters left and they were safe to return to their preferred method of hunting.

     Sam had even managed to use the locations of each body dump site to pinpoint an abandoned barn that he believed to be the epicenter of the hunts. He believed that the barn could have been where the nest was currently living.

 

     “Man, never thought I would say it but I am glad you’re such a nerd Sammy. Who wants a drink?” Dean clapped his brother on his back as he got up with the offer. Eileen and Sam met each other with slightly worried gazes.

 

     “Water” Eileen signed, one of the few words Dean had managed to learn over the time of knowing Eileen. Sam ordered water too, looking at his older brother skeptically. 

 

     “Are you feeling alright Dean?” Eileen asked while carefully signing the question as if trying to deactivate a bomb and praying she wouldn’t set it off. 

 

     “I mean, it’s barely 3:00.” Sam ventured tentatively.

 

     “Don’t worry, I’m not breaking out the hard stuff. Just a beer. I’m fine.”

 

     The tensity that had started to show in Dean’s back and shoulders told Eileen otherwise, but she left her observations unspoken, not wanting to get involved somewhere she didn’t belong. It was obvious to her that the happiness she saw earlier was only covering the deep wounds that had yet to heal inside the man.

     She gave Sam a pensive look and he just shook his head. It was like they could read each other's minds. Dean wasn’t okay but there was no talking to him so when he returned to the table with their drinks, the group sat and let an uncomfortable silence drown them.

 

Chapter Text

     When the trio was finally ready, Dean fed Miracle and took him out for the bathroom one last time before the big hunt. As Miracle circled a patch of grass, Dean could feel his anxiety growing. It was his first hunt since he shut down after the showdown with Chuck and he was a bit nervous. It helped to know that he had two really strong hunters going with him, but he was afraid he might have been out of practice and would just put the two of them in danger. 

     As he contemplated this, he felt a pang in his chest when he realized another reason he was so nervous: he had no angelic backup. Dean had loved hunting with Castiel. They always worked and fought so well together. It was like they were two arms of the same machine and could fight together without a word shared between them. That had always made him feel safer when going into a hunt.

     As much as Dean hated to admit it, he was starting to fear that he was getting too old for this job. He wasn’t as young and sprightly as he used to be and his injuries were starting to last longer than they used to. Whenever he was thrown into a wall or against a table, he could feel the effects for days afterward if Castiel wasn’t there to fix it. He used to be able to simply brush the pain off but now, it lasted. 

     This made him nervous that one day he wouldn’t be able to handle the hunt he pursued. He worried that day would come sooner than later and without Castiel by his side to defend him and heal him, Dean feared his life would come to an end any day now. It terrified him to think about that because he knew what came after death and he knew where he would be going: Hell.

     Dean had no evidence that he would, but he was confident. There was just no way he deserved eternal happiness. As much as he hoped he would be going to Heaven, there was a nagging voice in the back of his mind every morning. 

     It whispered to him in every waking and sleeping moment, telling him that he was not good enough, that he was a disappointment, that he had killed everyone he ever loved, that he was not deserving of the life he was given, that he deserved every pain and anguish he experienced every day. It crept up on him even in his happiest moments and darkened every thought it touched.

     The only one that had ever managed to quiet that voice was Castiel. His presence had always eased the man. He could make Dean smile and laugh even when he was in the worst pain imaginable, whether physical or psychological. Even in the days where nothing could ease his pain, Castiel’s presence or even just a phone call dulled that voice.

     Now he was stuck relying on bottles of liquor to quiet that voice yet no matter how much he drank, it never went away. Everything else numbed, from his pain to his self-hatred, everything numbed, but that voice continued to whisper in his soul and told him that he was not deserving of anything else other than his inevitable trip downstairs.

     He worried about his upcoming doom the whole time he packed his duffel of weapons and he could practically feel Sam’s eyes boring into his skull when his back was turned. Dean tried to ignore the feeling, but when he checked his gun for the fourth time in a row, he felt a hand grab his forearm.

 

     “Dean we need to talk about this.” Sam gently removed the gun from Dean’s iron grip and gingerly placed it in the duffel, all without looking away from his brother’s face. “Look at me. It’s going to be ok. I’m honestly surprised you’re coming. You know you don’t have to come right? Eileen and I can handle this and you could stay here and keep Miracle company.”

 

     “No. I’m not letting you guys out of my sight. Haven't I lost enough?”

 

     “Yes, Dean. We all have. That’s why I don’t want you coming if you’re going to be this nervous. You miss things when you can’t focus. Are you sure you will be alright to come?”

 

     “Yes! Can we just go?” Dean was getting irritated. He knew Sam cared and it was nice and all, but it got frustrating at times. 

 

     Why can’t he just let it go when I say I’m fine?

 

     Sam loved Dean but it just frustrated him how much Dean bottled things up and shoved them where only he could see. It worried him.

 

     Why can’t he just accept that it’s okay to not be okay?

 

     The trio met up at the trunk of the Impala, tossing their bags inside before hopping in. Dean put the pedal to the metal, obviously anxious to get a move on. Eileen and Sam’s eyes met in the rearview mirror as Dean put a Zeppelin tape in the player and cranked the volume to maximum. 

     Eileen signed asking if Dean was okay and received only a shrug in response. Sam could tell something was still off because the whole ride, Dean’s eyes seemed far too focused on the road ahead and he didn’t even hum along, simply dead silent. That was Sam’s greatest clue as to his brother’s inner turmoil: Dean never skipped humming along. 

     Sam stewed in his thoughts for most of the ride, remembering the last time it was this quiet: when Dean and Cas had been fighting. It took Sam breaking the silence then just like it did now.

 

     “Alright…..so Dean we should probably talk about the case.”

 

     “Right. So what’s the plan?”

 

     The trio fleshed out exactly how they were going to launch their attack, Sam translating everything for Eileen so Dean wouldn’t have to turn his face away from the road for her to see. They wanted to attempt to smoke the nest out. Eileen and Sam would go in the front door of the barn, making as many heads roll as possible. 

     They were hopeful that since it seemed to be a small enough nest, the remainder of the vampires would make a beeline for the back exit where Dean would be ready to take the brunt of that strike, Eileen and Sam closing in on the back end. Dean had volunteered to take the back right away and his bluntness caused anxiety to settle in his little brother’s stomach.

     When they neared the barn, Dean cut the engine a couple hundred feet away, hoping to keep the element of surprise intact. The trio suited up with a machete each, Eileen’s favorite dagger, Sam’s extra machete, and Dean’s favorite pistol as well as a few syringes of dead man’s blood each.

     The three moved silently and quickly to the barn, machetes at the ready as they scoped out the premises. They moved like one mind, all communication through stares and curt hand signals. The hunters managed to eliminate three vampires on guard without even breaking a sweat or making a noise. They were the perfect team.

     Once they reached the barn, they gave the grounds a quick once over, determining everyone was inside. Sam and Eileen got into position at the front door while Dean quickly made his way to the back.

     Eileen and Sam met eyes with a silent nod. Sam mouthed “on three” and together they counted down before sliding the door open as quietly as possible. As much as Dean had wanted to go in guns blazing, they determined that it would be best to start slow since Dean hadn’t been on a hunt for a while and they were unsure just how many vampires would be inside. 

     Sam and Eileen moved like one, back to back as they took out four vampires before the rest of the nest woke up. As the nine other vampires descended on them, they pulled out their extra weapons, one in each hand, before charging. 

     Surprisingly, their plan worked. Despite the vampires’ advantage in numbers, Eileen and Sam took out a few more before the leader of the group called for a retreat. Dean stood at the back entrance, machete ready as the group approached. When he heard the footsteps come close enough, he kicked the door in.

 

     “Boo.” As he spoke, Dean took off the leader’s head, causing the group to scream in response and move into an attack position. 

 

     “Son of a bitch! We’re outnumbered!” Dean screamed as the six remaining vampires descended on him. 

 

     It was bloody. Sam and Eileen attacked from the back as Dean ran further into the barn, drawing the group away from the exit, hoping to prevent any escapees. Sam and Eileen managed to fend off a small group of four, taking care of two of the vampires as they fought.

     Two vampires circled Dean as he goaded them on, calling out for them to bring it. It was as if he had never stopped hunting. His feet planted and his shoulders relaxed, fingers curling around the handle of the machete out of muscle memory. His senses focused, hearing keen and sight sharp. The vampire to his left moved first and with a quick flick of his wrist, Dean decapitated it in one fell swoop, causing the other to scream in fury. It launched itself at Dean, slapping the blade out of his hand. 

 

     “Dammit!” 

 

     Now it was down to hand-to-hand combat. Dean hated it but when it really came down to it, there was no way he could possibly win in a fight like that. Vampires were normally way stronger than him, but with the weight he had lost recently, he had lost some strength and confidence in his body as well.

     Dean and the vampire wrestled, Dean’s hand on her face as he desperately tried to keep her fangs away from him. That’s when he caught a glimpse of the only easy weapon he could find. Dean could see one of the support beams they were fighting near. A piece of rebar, maybe a foot in length or so, stuck straight out of the beam, the perfect height to pin the vampire for a few seconds while he retrieved his blade.

     It seemed like the perfect plan, except it distracted Dean too long. The vampire had seen what he was looking at and managed to sweep him off his feet and grab him by the back of his neck, dragging him across the dirt-covered ground towards the beam as he kicked and screamed helplessly. 

 

Chapter Text

     “Dean!” Sam screamed fear eminent in his voice but there was nothing he could do. The vampire he had been fighting took advantage of his weakness and kicked his legs out from underneath him, sending Sam flying to the ground. His head cracked against the floor and pain flashed across his vision, blurring everything around him.

     “Sam!” Eileen screamed as she hacked away at her vampire, catching him in the shoulder. He managed to grab the blade and rip it out of her hand while punching her square in the jaw, sending her tumbling to the ground at Sam’s side. 

     Dean could feel the fear and tears in his eyes as his feet left the ground. The monster was carrying him now, moving straight towards the rebar, ready to hang him on it like a hog on a meat hook in a butchery. The wicked gleam in her eyes sent a chill down his spine. 
     He fought against the vampire with everything he had, screaming himself hoarse and bruising his fists from the punches. She didn't even flinch and simply gripped his shoulders tighter while growling like an animal, sending electric stripes of pain down the hunter’s body.

     “You took my family from me. Now I’m going to take everything from you!” One of her hands let go of his jacket and found its way to his neck lifting him higher as the rebar began to touch the fabric on his back.

     “Sorry. You’re too late for that.” Dean choked out around the steadfast grip digging into his trachea. 

     “Oh honey, no. I’m going to hang your pretty face on the wall and decorate this place with your insides, but you’re going to be fortunate enough to watch while I rip those two apart” 

     The hunter gasped as he swatted weakly against the vampire’s grip on his throat and hissed as his jacket caught on the rebar. As his grip weakened from the lack of oxygen and being easily overtaken by the vampire’s brute strength, Dean felt what could only be explained as one’s life flashing before their eyes.
     His thoughts drifted to his ramshackle family. Sam had spent far too many years worrying about him anyways. Without Dean, his little brother could move on from the life and make a home with Eileen and Miracle. He was the one that dragged Sam back into it and ruined his life. Maybe his death could finally set things right and then they would all be able to move on and be fine without him.
     The world didn’t need him in it. He just caused pain and suffering wherever he went and it wasn’t like he was contributing anything currently anyways. All he was doing actively was encouraging the local liquor sales. If he let go, it wasn’t like the world would actually miss him. Sam would, but he would get over it.
     As the fingers constricted around his throat, Dean allowed himself to let go. His arms dropped to his sides as he prepared to die. When he crossed and went to Hell he would at least be able to tell himself that he was atoning for his mistakes in life. He could spend the rest of eternity convincing himself that it was what he deserved and that it was just. That would be easy.
     Still, he could not ease the small flame of hope that he would be crossing to something far better. He did not deserve Heaven, but if he did somehow make it to paradise, he knew what he would see. He would be able to spend eternity in his best memories and he knew exactly which ones those would be. At least in Heaven, he could spend forever with his brother, Eileen, and his beloved dog. He would have no need to miss them because they would be with him forever.
     At least in Heaven, he would finally be able to see the angel again. It might not be real, but fake is better than nothing. He could finally see that confused and smug face again and he would weep at his feet. Dean would be able to finally see that crooked smile and tilted head again and even if it was just a memory, it would be better than wasting his life on Earth with nothing but the crushing weight of his disappointments bearing down on his shoulders. 
     He could see Castiel again even if it was just an illusion and he rationalized that it was what he deserved. He did not deserve the angel’s love. He had broken him, thrown him around, and cursed the angel far too much to deserve him. At least in Heaven, he would be able to see his face and shout his apologies until he went blue in the face. At least then he might finally find peace so Dean let go.
     Dean closed his eyes and let his body relax, finally giving up and accepting his defeat. Billie was right, it was about time for him to accept the sweet release of death and he was ready. He breathed as deeply as possible with the fist gripping his throat and risked one final look in Sam and Eileen’s direction. 
     He watched as they circled the two vampires: one of which was surprisingly tall, even bigger than Sam. He was terrifying. Upon seeing this, the strangest thing happened. When Dean saw Eileen and Sam picking each other up and moving together once again to decapitate one of the vamps attacking them, he felt the strangest pang of fire deep in his gut. 
     The fire spread through his body and gave him a reminder of what he had spent so many years suffering for. Life. He had spent years fighting to live, not just survive and he would be damned if he was just going to let himself go and let Chuck’s stupid plan win in the end.
     Dean recognized the fire as pure rage and he began to scream, kicking his legs the hardest he could, desperately trying to wriggle his way out of the vampire’s stone grip as the rebar came closer and closer to his back. The sharp metal scraped at his shirt and Dean’s fingers flamed with his fury as he clawed just as sharply at her wrists.

     Dean had realized he wasn’t ready to die, not yet. He had unfinished business.

     “And then honey, after their guts paint the floor, you’re going to beg for it to be over. You’re going to want to die because I will have taken everything from you just like you took everything from me. You are going to have nothing to live for.” 

     At that, she began to shove him back and Dean screamed as he felt the rebar begin to pierce his skin. It burned as the flesh along his spine tore to make way for the rusted metal and his body was flooded with searing hot pain. His head swam with it but that fire of rage grew even bigger as his fury coursed through his veins.

     “No!” He screamed as he managed to get a leg hooked around the vampire’s knee and pulled forward, sending her crumpling to the ground. 

     He landed on top of her, hurling his fist into her face. Dean punched her over and over again, breaking her nose in the process. His anger was dangerously boiling over and it was lethal.

     “I don’t want to die!” he screamed. He could barely believe the tirade coming from his mouth.

     “I am not ready to go!” another punch.

     “I still have purpose!” another.

     “I am not worthless!” another, this one sending a few broken fangs flying into the dirt.

     Dean grabbed the vampire by the front of her shirt and dragged her to her feet, pinning her against the edge of the rebar.

     “I am not dying today!” He screamed at the top of his lungs while pushing her against the beam as hard as he could, sending the rebar straight through her back until it stuck out her chest. She screamed in pain and fury as she fought against him.

     Sam had managed to pin his vampire against the ground, Dean’s words screaming in his ears as Eileen took the vampire’s head clean off. Neither Sam nor Eileen could believe the scene that was unfolding before them. He could barely breathe as he listened to Dean’s screams. He had never heard the man sound angrier, or more sincere. It was as if Sam was watching an epiphany unfold and he couldn’t contain his shock.

     “I am not dying when I haven't even lived!” Dean growled while jamming a syringe into the vampire's neck. 

     She wailed as her body began to give out on her, the poison coursing through her veins. She attempted to claw at his hands, eyes, neck, anything she could reach but she was too far gone. The poison ripped the strength from her body and Dean watched with a wicked grin as he stepped towards his fallen weapon.
     Dean crouched to the ground, grabbing his machete. He sauntered back over to the hanging vampire with fire in his eyes. Dean grabbed the machete with one hand on each end and placed it against her neck, readying himself to slice her head clean off. 

     “You’re wrong. I have something….someone to live for and I am going to get him back if it is the last thing I do!” 

     As he snarled the last of the words, an expression of pure confusion crossed over the vampire's face but it only lasted for a few seconds before Dean ruthlessly shoved the blade forward hard enough to lodge it into the support beam behind her as he sliced her head off.

Chapter Text

     The drive back to the motel was a tense one. Dean was playing the exact same tape as before, replaying the same songs over and over again. Sam was confused by the song choices. They were from all different albums and years. It didn’t quite make sense since Dean was a stickler for music rules, but he didn’t want to question it. 

     The tension was only cut when Dean spoke as he threw the car in park, not caring that he was taking up two spots in the mostly barren motel lot. “I’m not spending the night in a sleazy motel. We’re going back home tonight. Pack your stuff. We leave in an hour.”

      When Sam didn’t move, Dean shot him a glare and if looks could kill, Sam would be liquified.

     Dean got out of the car, slamming the door behind him. Eileen and Sam both jumped when they felt Dean slam the trunk closed after grabbing his duffel. They watched his figure grow smaller in the rearview mirror as he made his way towards the motel room. 

      “Tell me I wasn’t imagining things” Eileen’s voice came quietly from the back of the Impala.

      Sam turned to look at her, worry imminent on both their faces. “That depends. Are you talking about the repeating music, the intense focus on the road, the refusal to talk about the hunt, not wanting to stop for food or a beer, or ripping that vampire apart?"

     “Yeah...that.”
 
     “Yeah, you weren’t imagining things. Something is off with him. I don’t know what’s going on in his head but I’m scared, Eileen. He’s really starting to worry me. I’ve never seen him that angry. Not since he had the Mark. Even then it wasn’t really him.”

     Eileen nodded solemnly before getting out of the car and retrieving her duffel as well. Exhausted and not too pumped about leaving right away, she made her way to her room, ready to pack.
     Sam followed suit, finding Dean shoving everything in his bags as fast as humanly possible. 

      “Dean”

      “No”

      “Dean!”

      “Sam I said no!”

      “Too bad! We need to talk about this! What the hell is going on with you? We can’t just pretend what happened back there didn’t Dean! I heard everything you said. I don’t know where that anger is coming from but you are starting to scare me. Not to mention that last thing…”

      “Stop. just stop. I said I don’t want to talk about it and that means I’m not going to talk. Period. Now pack your crap.” As he spoke, Dean avoided Sam’s worried look and turned to go but was stopped by Sam grabbing his arm and twisting Dean to meet his stare.
 
     “Sam I swear if you don’t let go of me this is going to get ugly.”

     “Dean. You can hit me, kick me, and beat me to the ground but that won’t change a thing. That won’t change what happened back there and it won’t change how concerned I am for you.” 

     Sam slowly let go of Dean’s arm, getting ready for the screaming, but it never came. What did come was almost worse. Sam could handle Dean yelling and throwing things. He could handle the anger. It was when Dean didn’t even try to hide his pain, that’s when Sam didn’t know what to do. 

     “Fine. You wanna know what happened? I gave up. I was ready to let go. I didn’t want to keep fighting. I could feel that she was about to kebab me and I was ready to let it all happen. I don’t know what it was that changed things. Maybe it was seeing you and Eileen. I don’t know but what I do know is all of a sudden I just felt so angry and God help anyone who gets in my way when I’m that angry.”

     “And what you said?”

     “I don’t know Sam. I was angry and she was pushing me.” Dean was tired of the consistent questions that had been coming from his brother for days. “It’s like I couldn’t stop it. It just came out and no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop it.”

     “And that last part?”

     “All I know is that I meant it. I am going to get him back if it’s the last thing I do.”

     “I didn’t mean that part, Dean.”

     “I know but right now all that matters is you grabbing your crap and getting in the car.” and without another word, Dean pushed past Sam and walked out into the night. 

     The drive back to the bunker was exhausting. Sam and Eileen had talked about his discussion with Dean before she got in her car to follow them. They had decided that it would be a good idea to accompany each other while they healed from the hunt. 
     Sam didn’t want to admit it but he did have ulterior motives. He didn’t want to be alone with Dean. Sam was nervous that his brother would do something stupid or dangerous and he wouldn’t be enough to stop him alone. 
     As Dean drove, he white-knuckled the wheel, offensively on edge the whole way, only letting go to replay the tape in the deck every hour or so. By the time the tape had finished for the fourth time that day, Sam couldn’t take it anymore and pulled it out of the deck before Dean could stop him. 
     Sam looked at the tape in his hands, wondering what was so special about it. He had counted the songs on it: 13. He’d hoped for a label, something, to tell him what was so important about this tape that would make Dean break every one of his cardinal music rules, but there was nothing. 

     Before he could even ask, he heard Dean speak barely above a whisper. “I made him one a couple of years ago. I thought he might benefit from something like that. You know, train him on what real music is.” 

     It took Sam a moment to understand but flipping the cassette between his fingers, the dots finally connected. He was talking about Castiel.

     “He tried to return it to me a little bit ago, the time he abandoned us again. The night the Empty took him, I realized that I hadn’t seen it since. After we defeated Chuck, I practically ripped the bunker apart looking for it. 
     I mean, I totaled his room, even checking his stupid extra coats. I’ve ripped my room apart over and over again looking for it. I finally decided he must have gotten rid of it so I made a new one.”

     Dean’s eyes had glassed over with fresh tears. Sam could tell it was hard for him to talk about it, so without a word, he simply rewound the tape and put it back in the deck, letting the first song start again for the fifth time. 
     As the first few notes played, he glanced over at his older brother once again and caught a glimpse of a single tear sliding down his cheek before Dean hastily whipped it away with the back of his hand.

     “Look, Dean…”

     “Please Sam, I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

     “Then just listen. You don’t need to say anything. I can’t even try to wrap my head around what you’re going through or how you feel, but I am here for you. I don’t want you bottling stuff up anymore. And as for Cas, I know we have exhausted every book we have and I’ve tried everything I can think of, but I promise you, you are going to see him again okay?”

     Dean hastily whipped another tear away as he parked the car in its usual spot in the bunker’s garage. “ok.” It came out quiet and broken as if he had lost all hope for Castiel’s return. 

     Eileen pulled in alongside the Impala and the trio made their way into the war room. When they dropped their duffels onto the map table, Eileen noticed Dean’s solemn expression and she looked to Sam for an explanation. When he only lightly shook his head at her, Eileen decided to drop the subject
     Sam grabbed one of the first aid kits and brought it to the map table, ready to start patching Eileen up, when a quiet zap came from the kitchen. The three immediately grabbed their favorite weapons and moved to the sound as a unit with Dean leading the charge. 

     Inside he found a figure cloaked in the shadows of the darkroom. He aimed his gun at the figure’s torso as he screamed “Who are you?!”

     The three of them watched as the figure turned to face them, raising its hand in a wave. The voice came calmly as it spoke.

     “Hello!”

Chapter Text

     “Jack? Is that really you?” Sam ran towards the light switch, flooding the kitchen with the warm glow from the incandescent bulbs. 

 

     Jack stepped forward towards the anxious trio and rocked on the balls of his feet. He smiled up at his dads and waved politely at Eileen. Sam and Dean met each other's eyes and silently agreed to give him the benefit of the doubt.

 

     Sam pulled Jack into his arms, squeezing the boy to his chest. “Jack, I missed you so much” He could feel the tears beginning to slip down his cheeks and dampen the golden tuft of hair underneath his chin. 

 

     The hunter felt Jack’s arms wrap around his back and squeeze tightly as he responded. “I know. I heard your prayers. I’m so sorry I couldn’t come until now. Chuck just left such a mess up there and I was so overwhelmed. I really missed you.”

 

     “It’s ok Jack. You’re here now and that’s what matters.” 

 

     Sam pulled away from Jack and patted his shoulder, looking into the boy’s eyes. The warm feeling in his chest told him that It really was Jack and he couldn’t help the new round of tears that glistened in his eyes. 

     Dean cautiously stepped forward, looking to Sam for assurance. When Sam smiled and nodded, Dean pulled Jack into a tight hug as well, this one only lasting a few seconds as Jack pulled away first. 

 

     “Dean, you’re not looking so well,” Jack observed, taking note of the sunken eyes and hollow cheeks before him. 

 

     “Yeah well, I missed you too kid.” Dean smiled as he patted the back of Jack’s neck. 

 

     He felt a burning question threatening his tongue, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask. The last time they had seen each other, Dean had treated Jack poorly. Jack had left thinking that Dean didn’t want him as family and he just couldn’t bring himself to ask for what he truly desired. He couldn’t let the boy think Dean just wanted to use him the second he came home. 

 

     “Look, Jack, I am so sorry about what happened the last time we saw each other. I was so desperate to get Chuck off the board that I couldn’t see past my own obsession. Jack, you are family.” Dean could see a single golden tear begin to slip down Jack’s left cheek and he patted the back of the boy’s neck again before letting Eileen talk to him.

 

     “Hello, Jack.” They hugged and talked a bit, obviously still getting to know each other in the process.

 

     “Jack, believe me, I am so happy you are here, but I am a little confused. It's been over a month of radio silence. Why are you here now?” Sam desperately wanted Jack to say he was coming to stay, but somehow he knew that wouldn’t be the case.

 

     “I’m here to help. I have something that can give us all what we need.”

 

     Dean looked skeptically at the boy. “And what would that be?”

 

     “I have a plan”

 

     Jack explained his plan to the group. He went into detail about his trips around the universe, running his domains, and maintaining order. He delved into his plans for rebranding heaven and breaking down all the walls. 

     The boy felt that it was only right that peace for souls after death be an eternity of bliss and happiness, not replaying favorite memories over and over again. The only problem was, he didn’t have the juice for it. He explained that Chuck could have, but Chuck came to be with his power and had eons of practice, Jack had only inherited it about one month ago and didn't know how to properly use it all yet. 

     Sam and Dean listened intently, sharing glances here and there across the kitchen table. Eileen had to interject a few times with questions as she was newer to all of this than the Winchesters were.

 

     “So I made a deal.” At this comment, all three of the hunters looked at Jack open-mouthed

 

     “What? Jack, that's a terrible idea! What did you do?” Dean was on edge now. The last person he knew that had made a deal had lost their life because of it and he was not ready to lose anyone else.

 

     “Don’t worry Dean. My life is not in danger. I gave the Shadow of the Empty a visit a few days ago. It was ready to rip me apart but then it felt the power I had inherited and I think it was afraid of me. I did what you would have done Dean. The whole time I was trying to act like you on a hunt. I was being bad cop!” Jack smiled proudly at this

 

     Sam beamed and looked towards Dean to find his brother fighting tears once again. He knew exactly why this comment had struck home for his brother: Castiel had once tried imitating Dean and had called himself “Bad Cop”.

 

     “I suggested a deal. All it wanted was to go to sleep so that’s what I offered. I put it and everything else inside into the deepest sleep I could manage.”

 

     Dean cleared his throat in an attempt to regain his composure. “And what did you get in return?”

 

     “That’s why I’m here. I gained dominion in the Empty. From now on, I am able to come and go as I please, taking from it what I want and sending whatever I want into its void. I've come here to run my first errand in my new domain.”

 

     Dean felt his heart jump into his chest. If Jack can bring anything back from the Empty now, does that mean……

 

     “Can you bring him back?” Dean whispered, staring down at the table.

 

     His voice grated his throat and the helplessness he felt mixed with his hope. Dean knew it was a dangerous concoction, but he didn’t care. When he heard Jack respond, he met the boy’s eyes with his own.

 

     “I can try. I came here because I knew you guys would want to see him right away. I’m sorry about what happened Dean. I am going to make it right.” 

 

     Jack set his jaw. All he wanted was to make his dads proud and he could see how much Dean was hurting. Maybe if I do this, he will forgive me for everything I have done. 

 

     Dean shot up to his feet and grabbed Jack by his shoulders. “Well, what are we waiting for?”

 

     Sam and Eileen shared a knowing look when they saw the fierce glint in Dean’s eyes. It was obvious he was set on getting Castiel back and that failure was not an option. Sam had not seen that obsession since their fight with Chuck. He felt hopeful but it also scared him. Sam knew that if it didn’t work, Dean would be crushed.

     Jack led the group to the opening in the library where he had created rifts to other words several times before. The boys and Eileen stood expectantly as Jack’s eyes began to glow a fiery gold. With a snap of his fingers, the familiar orange rift opened in the air a few feet in front of them. 

     Dean watched in terror as wisps of black tendrils came through the rift and floated towards him. He could feel the cold leaching into the air around him and needed to step back. Dean’s breath became erratic and his stomach plummeted.

     Sam noticed this and grabbed his arm, catching his eyes with a tilt of his head. It seemed Dean understood his concern and nodded minutely, providing Sam enough confidence to let go, but not enough to look away from his terrified brother. 

     Jack began rubbing his temples in a circular motion while mumbling what must have been Enochian under his breath. 

 

     He must have learned that when he inherited Chuck’s power Sam thought, staring intently at the boy. He could see Jack’s eyes straining shut and the frown forming as he desperately tried to pull Castiel out. 

 

     Jack’s whole body seemed to tense and he began to grimace in what appeared to be pain. He began to call out for Castiel over and over again, beads of sweat rolling down his face and shoulders flexing under his jacket. The hunters could see the glowing orange veins spreading up Jack’s neck and face as he strained. 

     Sam watched as Jack’s composure faltered and he gasped, filling the room with a bright light and the silhouette of his wings. He lunged forward to catch Jack as he fell to the floor.

 

     “What was that? What happened?” Dean screamed desperately.

 

     “I can’t do it. The Empty must have a really strong hold on him. I can’t even find Castiel. Someone needs to go in and find him.” Jack panted as he got back on his feet, readying to jump inside. 

 

     Before the boy could even take a step, Dean charged forward, shoved past Sam, and jumped straight into the orange rift without a word.

 

Chapter Text

     As soon as Dean’s feet planted in the blackness below him, he prayed to Jack, knowing full well that either he or Sam would be gearing up to jump in too. 

 

     Jack don’t you dare let Sam go through that rift and don’t you do it either. You need to stay put and rest up. Just make sure you keep that rift open and are ready to pull me back out if I need it. I just know that I need to do this alone. I have to set this right.

 

     Dean began walking. He had no idea where he was going, but he just knew he had to go. He had only been walking for a few minutes when his head started screaming. Dean clamped his hands over his ears and fell to his knees, flinching in pain.

     Almost as quickly as the screeching started, it eased into a low hum and that’s when Dean heard Jack’s voice inside his head.

 

     It took some convincing, but Eileen and Sam are going to wait out here until you come back. I’m keeping the rift open, but I can’t keep it open forever. You have to hurry Dean. Castiel shouldn’t be too far from the edge since he was one of the most recent seraph deaths, but you will need to be careful. Do not wake the Shadow up. It will be angry and will probably revoke our deal and then it will be unlikely we will ever get him back. Please be careful Dean. I don’t want to lose you too.

 

     I will. I’ll bring him back, kid. I promise 

 

     With no further response from Jack, Dean got to his feet and moved forward. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears because it was so quiet. It was eerily silent and Dean stared into the vast expanse of nothing. He could feel his pulse rising as he realized how lost he truly was. He had no concrete direction to move to and the only thing to light his path was the shifting rift behind him. 

     Dean decided there was only one way to go: forward. He walked until the light of the rift had dimmed to nothing but a faint glow. Upon this realization, Dean pulled his phone out of his pocket, turning on the flashlight as he brought it out in front of him. 

     As soon as the light turned on, Dean could see the beginnings of lumps of shadows on the ground which he assumed to be the beginning of the angelic and demonic graveyard. Dean made his way through the shadows, his hope dwindling with every body he passed. 

     As his hope slowly died, Dean threw caution to the wind. He began to call out for Castiel, hoping that if he did quietly enough, the Shadow would not wake. As he walked, Dean called out Castiel’s name over and over again until his voice went hoarse with fear. 

     Dean’s steps came faster and faster as he made his way through the seas of bodies. His heartbeat had become erratic and he started running, begging to find that stupid trench coat somewhere in the mess around him. 

     He ran and croaked Castiel’s name desperately until he tripped over the body of a demon at his feet. When he hit the black floor below him, his phone escaped his grasp, spinning away from his outstretched hand. 

 

     “Son of a bitch!” he gasped, trying to get a hold of himself and get back on his feet.

 

     I can’t find him, Jack! I can’t find him!

 

     Dean received no response but he didn’t wait to find out if Jack would answer. He remembered how Jack had warned him time would be short and he was beginning to worry time would run out before he found his best friend. 

     Dean glanced around, looking for the glow coming from his phone. When he eventually saw the white light, he began to carefully crawl to it.

 

     Ironic  he thought, reminding himself of all the times he had been warned to not go into the light. 

 

     Dean crawled and crawled, dodging bodies as he went. There were a few dark-haired angels and demons that caught his eye, but when he checked them, none of them were the angel he was looking for.

     He eventually reached the light and as soon as he picked it up to light the path in front of him, he saw it. From the corner of his vision, maybe 20 feet away, Dean saw a flap of tan fabric. His mind began to race as his eyes scanned up the body, immediately recognizing the trenchcoat and blue tie.

 

     I found him! Jack, we’re coming home!

 

     Dean scrambled to his feet and sprinted towards Castiel, dropping to his knees and sliding the last few feet when he was close enough. His phone dropped to the ground as he grabbed the lapels of Castiel’s coat.

 

     “Cas? CAS?!” 

 

     The scream came out hoarse and broken. He practically sobbed out the name, desperate for the angel to wake up. When Castiel did not wake, Dean grabbed his face in his hands, gently slapping one of his cheeks in a futile attempt to rouse him. 

     Lifting Castiel’s face to his own, Dean noticed the pained look contorting the angel's features. He could see Castiel’s eyes shifting under their lids. As Dean shook the angel he could feel the rapid rise and fall of his chest and felt Castiel twitch back and forth, whimpers falling from his lips every few seconds. 

 

     “Cas!!” 

 

     Again he lifted the angel’s face in his hands, this time taking notice of the tears that were rapidly making their way down Castiel’s cheeks as he whined the word “no” over and over again. Dean began to panic, feeling like he had come so far only to fail his friend again.

 

     “Please Cas! Please wake up. I need you to come back with me. Sam and Eileen are waiting back there for you. Jack, your son, is counting on you to come home! Please Cas, I need you to come home with me….” Dean’s pleas became desperate as he began to sob.

 

     Dean! I can’t hold the rift much longer. You have to come back now! We can try again another time you just have to come back now or we are going to lose you too!

 

     No! He’s coming home today so help me! I will stay here if I need to dammit!

 

     Once more Dean shook his friend, begging him to wake up but the whimpers continued and the tears refused to stop coming from behind the angel’s closed eyes. Dean was starting to come apart, desperately tugging at his hair but trying as he might he could not think of any way to wake his friend.

     The hunter decided to do all he could think of and crawled behind Castiel. He reached his hands under Castiel’s arms and stood up, lifting the shuddering angel with him. Dean began running in the direction of the rift, furiously hoping he was going the right way. He dragged Castiel at his side for a couple hundred feet as he shuffled as quickly as he could in the blinding darkness around him.

 

     Just as the flickering orange rift came into view, Dean heard a voice coming from behind him and he stopped cold. “Your friend will never wake up, even if he leaves this place. I’ve made sure of that.”

 

     Dean turned his head to face the Shadow, blood rushing in his ears as he heaved the dead weight on his side. “You don’t know that.”

 

     “Oh sweetheart, I do. Your friend is sleeping deeper than any being I’ve ever housed here. Deeper than I ever have. Deeper than I should be sleeping right now but your screams for your boyfriend woke. Me. Up!”

 

     “Good thing I have Jack on my side now.”

 

     “Oh trust me, if he wasn’t, I would be liquifying your insides at the moment, but Jack and I have a deal and as much as I dislike the kid, he’s in charge now so instead, I get the pleasure of watching you suffer. I get to relish in your fruitless attempt to save your angel while knowing exactly what’s going on inside his head right now.”

 

     Dean found himself ignoring the entity as he attempted to drag Castiel towards the rift again. He could see that it was beginning to flicker faster and faster. Jack must have been exhausted by now.

 

     I’m coming, Jack. I have him. We’re almost there

 

     Dean started shuffling faster and faster until he tripped over the body of an angel, screaming out as Castiel fell from his arms.

 

     “Come on buddy. Please!” He pleaded, gathering the angel up in his arms once again, receiving nothing but the whimpers and tears in response.

 

     The Shadow kept coming, following Dean the whole way since their conversation started. It came so close that Dean could feel the chill run down his spine as it neared the back of his neck. 

 

     “You know what the best part of all of this is Dean? It’s your hope. You hope that he will come home to you and you can wake him up and fix what has been broken, but there’s no fixing what you’ve done. There’s no changing the past. I get to spend the rest of eternity peacefully dreaming of all the hope you will carry with you forever, even when this doesn’t pan out for you.”

 

     Dean couldn’t take anymore so he tried to drag Castiel along with him, but he couldn’t run fast enough that way. Castiel was dead weight and there was only one way Dean would be able to get them both out alive and quickly.

     The hunter scooped Castiel’s limp body into his arms, one hand clutching his shoulder to his chest, the other cradling the angel’s knees. He grunted and let out a frustrated scream as he rose to his feet, anger and fear boiling over. 

 

     “Once you leave here, I am going to go to sleep knowing that you get to spend the rest of your life knowing you did this to him, even if he ever wakes up.”

 

     The hunter sprinted towards the rift, phone shoved in his pocket lighting the way. He stumbled a few times under Castiel’s weight, but he refused to let go each time, knowing there was the chance they would fall and he wouldn’t have the strength to get up.

     As the rift came closer and closer, Dean could feel his arms readying to give out from the dead weight but he did not care. All he could think about was the whines and shivers coming from the angel in his arms. 

     Dean was finally close enough to the rift that he could see the sparks coming off of it. He allowed himself to feel the relief and hope wash over him like a tidal wave. Just as he was readying to jump through he heard the Shadow call after him.

 

     “If you ever see those baby blues again, just know, you did this to him. Oh, and Dean? Say hi to that sweetheart Jack for me.”

 

     Dean clutched Castiel even tighter to him, desperate to make sure the both of them would make it through and with a guttural scream, Dean jumped into the thinning rift.

 

Chapter Text

     The first thing Sam heard was the scream. It was thick, grating, and hoarse and its raw desperation tore through his very being. He immediately squared his jaw and hoisted his pistol, readying himself to defend Eileen and Jack against whatever monster was coming from the other side. 

     Eileen raised her dagger in preparation as well, planting one foot behind the other, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. The scream grew louder and louder until she and Sam saw the mess of limbs come through the rift just as it fizzled out and disappeared. 

     Dean landed on the floor on one knee, Castiel balled up in his arms, and Sam and Eileen both smiled seeing how tight he was holding the angel to his chest. The hunter was hunched over Castiel and was panting as if he had carried him the whole way through. With Castiel cradled in Dean’s arms, it looked like the group would finally be whole again.

     Sam was about to make some snide remark or joke about the two when Dean dropped Castiel to the floor and crouched by his side. Dean immediately grasped the trench coat’s lapels in his tightly balled fists while Castiel mumbled. Sam noticed the tears streaming down his brother’s face and he realized something was terribly wrong.

 

     “Come on Cas! Please! We’re home now. You’re out! PLEASE!!” 

 

     Dean’s pleas came out in broken sobs as he violently shook Castiel’s shoulders and slapped his chest. Sam could see the angel shaking and could hear him whispering “no” over and over again in heartbroken whimpers. 

 

     The smile dropped from Sam’s face as he threw himself to the floor at Castiel’s side. “What happened Dean?”

 

     “I don’t know! He just won’t wake up and the Empty, it said he might never wake up! It said it made sure he wouldn’t!” Dean lamented, cradling Castiel’s face in his hands, begging him to open his eyes.

 

     “Jack! Can you do something? You’re God now. There must be something you can do!” Sam was starting to feel terror rise in his chest as he turned to the stunned boy. They had come so close that he didn’t think anyone could make it through another failure, especially Dean. 

 

     Jack crouched to the ground, gently pushing Sam out of the way. He wiped the sweat from his brow, clearly exhausted from exerting himself to keep the rift open, but Castiel was his dad and he would do anything for him. 

     His mind immediately drifted to the fateful day in Heaven when Castiel traded his life for Jack’s. He had been so content to let go and give Jack a fair chance at life. Sam and Dean had taught the boy that love sometimes meant sacrifice and it was obvious that Castiel loved Jack deeply.

 

     It’s my fault Castiel is hurt now. He made that deal to save me and then he used it to save Dean. It’s his turn to be saved. I have to save him. Maybe then Dean will forgive me.

 

     Jack hovered his hands over Castiel’s body, palms glowing a warm gold as he scanned for injuries. As he moved, Jack felt the pure energy coming off his father in waves. His hands eventually made their way to Castiel’s head and Jack gently touched his temples. 

     His eyes flamed gold once again as he shuddered from the cold pain that he felt manifesting there. Jack felt fury, anger, terror, grief, anguish, hopelessness, and mostly heartbreak swirling around in his father’s head and it was too much for him. 

     The boy fell back, catching his fall with one arm behind him and another covering his face as if it could hide him from the truth before him. A small rasp escaped his lips as he reeled back in a mix of overstimulation and fear.

 

     “What is it Jack?!” Dean snapped, his bloodshot eyes shooting towards the boy. Under other circumstances, he would have given Jack a moment to catch his breath, but Dean was desperate for answers and solutions.

 

     Jack grasped for words, unsure of what to say. He had so many questions and had no idea what to do with them all. “I’m sorry Dean but I don’t know what’s going on. Physically he’s fine, but I can’t even see what’s going on in his head. There’s way too much. I can feel everything he’s feeling and it’s too much.” 

 

     More golden tears crawled down Jack’s face at his revelation. His eyes met Dean’s in sheer panic. Jack’s knees curled to his chest and the boy rocked back and forth, roughly wiping his tears as he swayed. 

 

     “Please Jack...can’t you do something?” Dean pleaded, hoping he would get a different answer from him.

 

     Jack just cried. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do.” Jack threw himself down on Castiel’s chest, crying into his blue tie. His father was in so much pain and he couldn’t even see what was causing it. He felt like a failure.

 

     Sam tore his eyes away from the scene and grabbed Eileen by her wrist, leading her out of the room as fast as he could. He managed to pull her all the way down the hall before she stopped him.

 

     “Sam! What the Hell has gotten into you?”

 

     “I can’t watch anymore of that!” Sam practically screamed while raking his hands through his hair, feeling his pulse rising. Sam violently paced the floor of the hallway, making Eileen dizzy as she watched. “We were so close to a win. Dean needed this win and now we’re all supposed to just watch Castiel never wake up because the Empty said so? I can’t live with that! I have to do something!”

 

     “Sam. Calm down. Who do you know that is comfortable with these kinds of things that could possibly help?” 

 

     Eileen tried to be rational. She was the only one left that wasn’t panicking and the group needed a leader. She grabbed Sam by his wrists to stop the frantic pacing and forced him to meet her gaze.  

     Sam wracked his brain for ideas. Anyone he knew that was a master at this stuff was either dead or in the library panicking. Chuck definitely wouldn’t be willing to help them, all the angels they knew were dead, Jack was exhausted and at a loss, Dean was frantic, and Sam didn’t know enough magic to do anything of use.

 

     Magic! That’s it!  “Eileen! Grab the stuff we need for a summoning ritual. The queen of Hell is paying us a visit.”

 

     Eileen and Sam ran throughout the bunker, gathering everything they needed. When the hunters made their way to the dungeon to perform the ritual, Eileen noticed Sam’s hesitation at the door and grabbed his hand, meeting his nervous gaze with her own steady one.

     Sam squeezed her hand and pushed the door open. The two were met by the blast of bleach coming off the room. Eileen’s nose scrunched up and she gave Sam a questioning look, concerned about the smell.

     As they entered the room and began tracing the patterns on the floor in chalk, Sam explained what had happened there when Castiel and Dean were trapped inside. When Sam reached the point of the story where he had scrubbed the walls of Dean’s blood, Eileen began to feel anxiety creeping through her chest. She felt goosebumps forming on her arms and a shiver go down her spine. 

     The pattern was ready and Sam filled the bowl in the middle meticulously with each necessary herb and charm while chanting the summoning ritual. When he finished, he lit a match and tossed it inside, engulfing the whole bowl in flames.

 

     “Hello, boys.” Rowena drawled from behind Sam and Eileen. When they turned to see her, she looked at them in shock. “Well isn’t this a surprise?” She nodded toward each hunter in acknowledgment. “Where’s tall, brooding, and handsome? Your brother is alright?” she questioned.

 

     Sam could sense a hint of concern and possibly fear in the queen’s voice. She clasped her hands behind her back, rocking on her stilettos. Sam approached her slowly, unsure of how to go about explaining what they needed from her.

 

     “He’s alive, but not well. We need your help. Jack made a deal with the Empty and was able to open a rift to it to pull Castiel out.”

 

     Rowena’s eyebrow shot up out of interest. “Oh? Is the boy alright?”

 

     “He’s alive but the problem is, Jack couldn’t find him so Dean jumped in to pull Cas out.”

 

     “Is he still in there?” Rowena appeared slightly panicky. Sam was unsure why but she seemed very worried about Dean’s safety.

 

     “No. He managed to pull him and Castiel out before the rift closed but Cas won’t wake up. I was hoping you could help us.”

 

     “Samuel, I am no expert when it comes to angels, but I saw your brother recently. I saw how broken he has become and I would do anything to help him. I can at least take a look at the angel but I can make no guarantees.”

 

     “Please. Please just look at him” Eileen begged. Rowena met her eyes and nodded, gesturing for the two hunters to lead the way.

 

Chapter Text

     Rowena followed the two hunters through the winding halls of the bunker at a rapid pace. It was obvious to the witch that the group was desperate. She had been stunned to see Eileen next to Sam instead of Dean. This worried her terribly.

 

     I should have warned him that Dean was spiraling out of control. I should have told him about that night. Dean just looked so lost. I’ve never seen a person so broken like that.

 

     When the group entered the library, Jack was curled in a ball, just under a table by his father’s side. He barely acknowledged Rowena’s presence when she approached him. Rowena gently lifted his chin to look her in the eyes.

 

     “Jack sweetheart? I’m here to help alright? Why don’t you come out from under here and we can work this out okay?”

 

     Rowena got a sniffle in return, but Jack began inching his way out from under the table, much to her relief. She began to rub gentle circles on the boy’s back as he regained his composure. The steady rhythm only faltered when the witch heard a huff and the pounding of Dean’s boots against the library’s floor.

 

     “Dammit, Sammy! You can’t be serious! If Jack can’t do it what makes you think she can? You don’t think I haven't tried?” Dean screamed the question while pacing back and forth frantically, stopping only to grab a lamp off a table and send it flying against a wall with a crash.

 

     “Boys? Let’s not be hasty. Let’s talk about this.” Rowena put up her hands in mock surrender as she raised to her feet. “Dean, I told you no demon could bring him back. I never said that no demon could wake him up. I don’t know how you managed to get him out, but if there is a chance I can fix him, I am going to try.”

 

     Dean nodded before raking his hands through his hair and pulling at it again while staring at the shivering angel on the floor. “I can’t take this anymore!” Dean pleaded as he fled from the room towards the kitchen. He really needed a drink.

 

     Sam rushed after him while Rowena began to talk with Jack. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him, Rowena. It’s like his head is just screaming and I didn’t tell Sam and Dean this, but his body, it looks like he’s dying. Not fast enough to notice right away, but I can see it now. What do we do?”

 

     “Jack honey,” Rowena grabbed both of Jack’s hands in her own and squeezed them tightly. “We do the best we can. Stay with him and make sure he doesn't get any worse. If anything happens, call me. I'll be right down the hall. I have an idea and I need a few things from the supplies Sam keeps around here.”

 

     When Sam entered the kitchen, Dan was throwing what could only be described as a fury-induced tantrum. Three glasses had hit the floor already, but he couldn’t be sure if they were thrown or if Dean had dropped them since his hands were shaking so violently. By the time he reached his brother, however, Dean was already raising a full glass to his lips, preparing to drown in the alcohol.

 

     Sam raised his hand over the glass and slowly pushed it downward, away from his brother’s searching lips. “Dean, we need you focused. Cas needs you out there.”

 

     “Don’t talk to me about what he needs. What he really needs is to never have met me in the first place. I’m poison Sam and you know it. I damage every God-forsaken thing I care about and that includes him.”

 

     Sam was surprised when there was no bite to the words. Dean hadn’t even raised his voice above a conversational volume. It had come out of him so easily, almost like he was simply stating a fact.

 

     “No Dean. You’re not and Cas knew that. Are you seriously going to keep living like Cas never gave his life for you?”

 

     “Maybe! And so what if I do?” Dean was raising his voice now, panic starting to bubble over.

 

     “If you do, then you let him down. He spent his last few moments doing his best to change the way you see yourself and you’re seriously going to throw that away?”

 

     “No. I’m not. Because he is going to wake up and I am going to make sure he knows that he is never going to do that again.” 

 

     The anger in Dean’s voice began to soften towards the end of the conversation and he finally let go. Dean gave the glass to Sam and walked straight out of the kitchen without another word.

 

     Rowena was kneeling at Castiel’s side, intently watching his shaking and tear-streaked face as she messed with the items surrounding her. There were several bowls and vials of herbs and other necessary ingredients strewn about the floor and Jack was busying himself by straightening his father’s tie over and over again. 

 

     “Come here, dearie.” 

 

     Rowena desperately wanted to ease Jack’s mind. She would never admit it out loud, but she had grown quite fond of the boy. He reminded her of Fergus when he was a toddler and it brought a bittersweet smile to her face whenever she thought about it. 

     Rowena took one of Jack’s hands in her own and assured him that she would try her best before sending him to grab her bag with the Codex and Book of the Damned. She had a few spells of her own devising that she had developed recently tucked inside the pages of the book.

     Sam and Dean reentered the library and Rowena could see Dean staring down at Castiel with despair eminent on his face. She suddenly felt the urge to keep him from getting drawn into Castiel’s anguish.

 

     “Boys. I have a plan. The angel came straight from the Empty correct?

 

     “Yes.” Dean took control of the conversation and Rowena relinquished, more than willing to keep his attention on her instead of the whimpering angel at his feet.

 

     “Then I am assuming that since he was taken while he was still alive, his experience there was awful.”

 

     “Do we really have to talk about this? I thought you said you could help him!”

 

     “Samuel, calm that brother of yours. I can’t help Castiel if you’re jumping down my throat, Dean. When I said I have a plan I meant it but I need to ask a few things first.”

 

     “Fine. What else do you need to know?” Dean’s jaw was grinding at this point and he brushed off Sam’s hand as he reached out to his older brother. Now was not the time for compassion.

 

     “Alright Dean, what happens to angels in the Empty?”

 

     “They’re supposed to sleep forever.”

 

     “Correct. So I assume that something went wrong with Castiel. He was supposed to sleep forever but he was alive when he went in. Jack, please give me your hand.” Jack immediately responded, eyes already glowing a bright orange as he did so.

 

     “While you two were talking in the kitchen, Jack and I made a plan. I’m powerful, but Jack is a nuclear reactor. If I can use his power, I could get inside Castiel’s head and figure out exactly what is going on.”

 

     “What will happen to Jack?” Sam prodded, not willing to lose him again.

 

     “He should be fine. He’s the one with the power in his blood. I’m the one that is going to fry if I push too far.”

 

     “Then do it. We don’t have time to waste.” Dean was getting impatient. Every second they spent talking felt like one step closer to losing Castiel for good.

 

     Rowena nodded silently and clasped Jack’s hand tightly. Her eyes began to glow the familiar purple as golden energy began to run out of Jack and travel straight up her arm. She scanned her free hand over Castiel’s body, eyebrows furrowing in concentration as she went. 

     She momentarily hesitated before reaching Castiel’s head, remembering the sheer terror it had struck in Jack. The second he touched his forehead, she understood why. Rowena felt like she was in a writhing ocean, surrounded by cold black waves thrashing at her from every angle possible. The waves of torment and pain hit her over and over again as she dove deeper into his mind. 

     When Rowena finally resurfaced for air, she let go of Jack’s hand and panted deeply. 

 

     “Well? What’s going on with him?” Dean’s voice came in a shattered cry, breaking the witch out of her thoughts.

 

     “The bad news is, I’m not exactly sure. The good news is, I have an idea. Samuel, what happens when you have too many tabs open on your computer?”

 

     “You can’t be serious!” Dean was at his breaking point.

 

     “It slows down and eventually freezes.” Sam cut off his exasperated brother with his factual response.

 

     “Then what do you do to fix it when it slows down?”

 

     “I usually restart it. Most of the time that sets everything back to normal.”

 

     Rowena’s eyes glinted as the cogs in her mind worked furiously. She began to flip through the pages of the Book of the Damned until she found the sheet she was looking for. Her eyes raked the parchment quickly and she began to toss ingredients in the bowl at her knees in quick succession. 

 

     “I suspect this is similar to what is happening to Castiel. I saw what was in his head and it was overwhelming. There was so much happening that I could feel his anxiety. I believe that he’s “slowing down” per se. His body seems to be trying to keep up but it’s failing in the process. It seems like his healing isn’t kicking in. That or he has so much going on that he can’t focus on healing.”

 

     “So what do we do?” Sam asked, staring at his brother’s pensive face. It was a rarity that Dean was this quiet in times of stress and it was beginning to worry him. 

 

     A wicked grin began to sneak across Rowena’s face “We restart him.”

 

Chapter Text

     Rowena continued to toss ingredients into the bowl as she explained her plan to the group of hunters. Eileen was looking at her skeptically the whole time. Rowena did not blame her considering the girl’s last interaction with witches was not a positive one. She actually hoped to befriend the hunter.

 

     We could use another girl in this band of misfits. There’s way too much testosterone around here  Rowena thought smugly.

 

     “How do we restart him?” Eileen asked, stepping closer to the pile of ingredients on the ground. 

 

     “Pass me the sage dear.” 

 

      Eileen did as she was told and looked to the witch for an answer to her question.

 

     “I’m sure all of you remember my resurrection spells” Rowena began, not looking away from her hands as she messed with all the materials at her disposal. “In my first few weeks of being queen, I realized I had all the time in the world to do what I loved, spellwork. So with the help of the Book and Codex, I managed to play around with some spells I had already devised. With all the information and dead witches Hell had to offer, I managed to turn some simple resurrection spells into something entirely new.

     I knew my time had come and I wouldn’t be coming back to life. Quite frankly I am more than content with my new arrangement, but being the queen of Hell is still dangerous and I needed something to establish myself on top. So I took my resurrection spell and using some more exotic ingredients, I turned it into a bit of an internal bomb per se. 

     Instead of bringing me back from the dead, I developed this one to restart life in general. In essence, it would heal any injury by restarting the body and kicking in the healing process, essentially resetting the body to its former glory. I’m sure you can imagine how it would have been excellent for making deals and I would have been known as the queen that had Hell moving the best it had in eons.

     The problem is, I haven't had the occasion to test it out. If the angel here is truly as damaged as he looks, I think this spell could heal him. It is entirely possible that his trauma from the Empty could be internally injuring him and that’s why he won’t wake up. I suspect that if I use it on Castiel, along with enough power from Jack, I can shock his grace into resetting and hopefully, bring him back.”

 

     Rowena then looked up at the boys and Eileen, searching their faces for a response. Sam was the first to speak. “So you don’t know that it actually works?”

 

     “Unfortunately no.”

 

     Rowena was surprised when Dean responded. “So you’re telling me that this angel defibrillator is going to blast him back to his factory settings and hopefully heal him in the process.” There was a sarcastic and bitter emphasis on the word hopefully.

 

     “Unfortunately I don’t see a better option. Do you?” she muttered as she tossed the last herb in the bowl.

 

     The witch wished there was something more concrete but she had never encountered something like this before. When Dean shook his head, she looked between the three hunters with concern on her face.

 

     “The spell is ready. I just need one more ingredient, His grace.”

 

     Rowena flinched at the dark look that crossed Dean’s glare. 

 

     “Don’t worry. I don’t need it all. Just a smidge. Do you have any stored anywhere or are we going to have to…” She looked towards the angel bundled on the floor.

 

     Dean turned away from the group and stalked out of the library towards the hallway with the bedrooms. Rowena watched his taught shoulders as he rounded the corner.

 

     “I’ll take that as a yes?” She was hopeful that this meant Dean knew where some was kept but deep down she knew this wasn’t true.

 

     When Dean returned a few moments later, he was carrying an angel blade and a small glass vial. He strode straight towards Rowena and she felt fear burst through her chest at the darkness that seemed to consume him.

     Rowena was surprised when Dean dropped to his knees at Castiel’s side opposite her. He gingerly gathered him in his arms and rested the angel’s head in his lap. 

 

    “I’m sorry Cas. There’s no other way.” Dean whispered as he gently tipped Castiel’s head back and in one swift motion, cut a shallow slit in his throat and lifted the vial to his neck to collect what little grace seeped out. 

     Rowena caught a glimpse the dark look in the man's eyes he looked towards her. “Is this enough?” The question was more of a command than anything else. Rowena could tell that Dean meant for her to make it enough.

 

     “It should be. I believe so. Now you’re going to want to stand back.” She looked towards Dean’s lap and the grasp he had on Castiel, urging him to let go of the angel.

 

     Dean seemed to contemplate this and after a few seconds, convinced himself to let Castiel return to the floor. He rose to his feet and shuffled away, taking his spot standing next to Sam.

 

     “Ready?” Rowena looked to the boys and Eileen.

 

     Dean nodded blankly, the seriousness clouding his eyes.

 

     Rowena grasped Jack’s hand again and immediately her eyes began to glow the vibrant purple. As she began to chant, she slowly poured the grace into the bowl, allowing the glimmering smoke to surround the ingredients. 

     As her chanting increased in intensity, the hunters watched the raw power coming off of Jack sweep into Rowena’s body. They could feel the pure energy flowing out of the duo in waves and it caused Sam and Eileen to step backward. Sam attempted to grab Dean’s elbow and pull him away from the scene, but Dean was made of concrete. There was no moving him. 

     Rowena was screaming now. The hunters could hear cracking as the energy poured off the two crouched on the floor. Orange sparks had begun to move between Rowena and Jack and the lights in the room began to flicker.

     As she screamed the final words, Rowena’s eyes flashed a bright magenta and she slapped one hand down on the center of Castiel’s chest. Dean watched as surges of power arched off of her and moved straight into the angel.

     Rowena fell backward panting and let go of Jack’s hand. He was immediately at her side and scanning her body for wounds.

 

     “I’m alright, just exhausted. That’s all.” Her words came breathlessly and the boy pulled her into a sitting position. 

 

     “Well? Did it work?” Dean impatiently begged. His eyes raked down Castiel’s now eerily still body and moved towards the trench coat-clad bundle on the floor. “Did you kill him?!” he roared, dropping to his knees at the angel’s side. 

 

     “I told you I didn’t know if it would work!” Rowena responded coldly while crossing her arms over her chest.

 

     Sam noticed that Eileen was staring wide-eyed at Castiel’s still frame and he tugged her to his chest, enveloping her in a stifling hug. He looked away in fear as Dean began to scream.

 

     “Castiel you stupid bastard! You can’t leave me like this! Not after everything we’ve been through together! Dammit, Cas!” Dean shouted over the sound of his own tears as he shook Castiel’s shoulders

     “Dammit, Cas.” This one came much softer than the one before. “You should have told me. We could have figured it out together. We always find a way. You should have told me about that stupid deal.” 

 

     Dean let his head fall forward to rest on the angel’s chest and felt the tears slip down his cheeks. They dotted the tan trench coat as they fell. He hated looking weak in front of so many people but he simply had no energy left to keep it all in. So Dean just cried. 

     Rowena turned towards Jack who had curled back up under the table. This time he had turned his back to the rest of the room and she watched as he shuddered with sobs. Rowena reached out to console him but thought better of it when she caught a glimpse of the fiery gold still burning in his eyes. 

     Bereft of hope, Dean dragged his eyes to the left to meet Castiel’s face. The Shadow was wrong. It had said he would spend the rest of his life holding onto hope but it was wrong. His hope died and now he had nothing left to hold on to. 

 

     Dean dragged his eyes away from the angel’s face and rose to a kneeling position as he spoke. “I guess we’d better burn him.” The sentence came out as a whisper, cut off by his sobs. 

 

     Just as Dean was about to turn away from Castiel’s body, he felt the hairs on his arms stand on end and he felt a shiver run down his spine. 

     

     Castiel shot upward into a sitting position screaming. The scream was somewhere between animal and monster and it shook the room. Books fell from their shelves and lamp bulbs shattered. 

     Dean’s head snapped towards his friend in shock and he immediately regretted it. As the angel screamed, Castiel’s eyes, mouth, and the cut in his neck blasted a bright white light, the exact same light that appears when an angel dies. 

 

Chapter Text

     Dean brought his hand up to his eyes, shielding them from the blinding light before him. His scream nearly matched Castiel’s as his fear overwhelmed him. As the angel’s true voice filled the room, the bunker began to shake. Books flew from their places on the shelves and light bulbs erupted in sparks as they showered the group with shards of glass.

     Eileen whipped around in Sam’s arms upon feeling the shaking of the room. They both stared in horror at the writhing angel on the ground. His back arched sharply and his face turned toward the ceiling, the white light growing even more intense than before. 

     Jack grabbed Rowena and shielded her with his body, his own eyes shining the fierce gold from his fear. He covered her ears as Castiel’s scream grew louder and higher pitched. The boy’s face shrouded in fear as he stared down his writhing father with shining eyes and hair whipping back and forth in the melee. 

     Dean’s hands flew to his ears as the shriek grew to eardrum-breaking levels, similar to the day he crawled out of the grave after Castiel had raised him from perdition. Dean couldn’t help but think of that day and how terrified he had been when the gas station began to shake. Now his terror was far more overwhelming and just like that day when the screaming ended, Dean was left on the floor cradling his ears, surrounded in glass.

 

     Dean whipped around to look at Castiel and received a punch in the nose for it.

 

     “Get away from me!” Castiel screamed, reeling backward in fear. As he skittered across the floor hysterically on his hands and heels, Castiel grabbed his angel blade and waved it around threateningly. “You’re not real!”

 

     “Cas! It’s me!” Dean cradled his bleeding nose and tried to approach Castiel, but Jack stopped him.

 

     “Dean. He’s terrified. Let me do this. He can’t hurt me.” Jack tried to heal Dean's nose, but he shoved the boy’s hand away. After a few seconds of deep thought, he surrendered and sat back down. Jack slowly approached Castiel, hands up in an attempt to appear nonthreatening. 

 

     “Castiel? It’s me. You’re safe now. We pulled you out of the Empty. You are safe and at home in the bunker.”

 

     “No! You’re not real. You can’t be.” Castiel’s face was littered with fear and deep-seated heartbreak. Hot tears streamed steadily down his cheeks as he brandished the weapon back and forth, focusing on each person in the room for a few seconds before moving on to the next.

 

     “I am real and I can show you. Please Castiel, let me show you.” Jack reached out and touched both of Castiel’s temples. The angel’s eyes widened as Jack showed him everything he had seen in the last month. 

 

     Just like when Jack showed Castiel the future when he was only a baby in Kelly’s womb, Castiel’s eyes glowed a bright yellow as he watched the scene playing before him. His eyes flicked back and forth as if he were watching a movie.

     He watched as Dean told Team Free Will 2.0 that Castiel was taken by the Empty. He watched all the events in Heaven, Jack making his deal with the Shadow, the group planning to bring Castiel back, and finally Dean diving into the rift to save him. Castiel watched as Dean jumped out of the rift, cradling him in his arms. 

 

     Jack leaned back and looked into his father’s eyes. “You’re home now Castiel. Once Dean got you out, Rowena used my power and a spell she made to wake you up. You're safe.”

 

     Castiel’s eyes clamped shut and he pulled Jack into a tight hug. The angel blade clanged to the floor as he embraced his son and slid a few feet from the pair.

 

     “I always knew you would save the world, Jack. I’m so proud of you. How long have I been gone?”

 

     “Too damn long.” Dean couldn’t stop the cry from coming out. He felt himself inch cross the floor towards Castiel, praying that he was truly back.

 

     “Dean?” Fresh tears poured down the angel’s face as he turned towards the hunter.

 

     Jack felt himself being pulled to his feet as Rowena whispered in his ear. “I think we should give your fathers some alone time, yes?” Jack nodded in agreement and let her lead him to the kitchen for a snack. 

 

     “Dean, is that really you?” Castiel’s coat was soaked with his tears now as he leaned forward and moved away from the wall he had backed himself against.

 

     Dean launched himself at Castiel and threw his arms over the angel’s sounders and buried his face in his neck. “We are Cas. We are real. You told me that once.”

 

     Castiel was too shocked to say anything or even respond to the sudden intimacy. Dean was never this affectionate to him, especially since the incident with Mary. Castiel hadn’t even lifted his arms to return the hug when Dean was already pulling back.

 

     “What did I say about never doing that again?” Dean barked while shaking Castiel’s shoulders.

 

     “I believe your exact words were “Never do that again” unless I am confused,” Castiel thought deeply about the day April had stabbed him and he had feared that he would be meeting his end.

 

     “Oh, Cas.” 

 

     Dean threw his arms over Castiel’s shoulders once again, pulling him tightly into his embrace. His face found refuge in the crook of Castiel’s neck as he attempted to suppress the tears he could feel coming yet again.

     This time Dean felt Castiel return the embrace. His arms wrapped tightly around the hunter’s waist, pulling Dean closer than what should have been humanly possible. Castiel allowed his face to drop onto Dean’s shoulder and he sobbed, the anxiety and fear finally releasing from his body.

     Sam and Eileen hugged each other tightly as they looked at the two kneeling on the floor together. Eileen looked up at Sam and couldn’t stop herself from smiling. Sam was beaming and he leaned down and kissed her forehead.

 

     “I’m sorry.” He seemed to realize what he had done too late. They hadn’t even talked about getting back together again yet.

 

     “Don’t be. Come on, let’s leave those two alone.” Eileen winked up at him and led him out of the library and towards the kitchen. 

 

     Sam risked one final look behind him and smiled to himself. Dean was finally getting the win he so desperately needed and he could tell that they wouldn’t be letting go of each other for a long time, maybe never.

     When Dean finally pulled away from the embrace, Castiel was still sobbing so he did all he could think of. Dean knew one thing that always made him feel better when he was upset after a nightmare as a child. He leaned up against the wall and pulled Castiel against his chest and rocked him slowly. As he rocked, Dean began to hum “Hey Jude”.

     It was odd. He had spent years humming the tune to himself late at night in sleazy motel rooms or in the early morning in his car. For years when he was a young boy, he would hum to himself for comfort after a nightmare his father would do nothing about. 

     His voice was grating as he began to sing the words instead of hum. It was low and soft and cut off by a stray hiccup of emotion here and there. Dean gripped onto the trench coat in his hands for dear life as he sang.

     Dean knew the Empty was cold and dark and full of nightmares but he had never seen Castiel this terrified before. He was trembling all over and gasping with sobs and Dean rocked him slowly. The hunter did not need to know exactly what he saw to understand what happened. Dean remembered being that terrified before: he used to wake up like that after his mother died.

     By the time he finished the song, Castiel was sniffling but the sobbing had stopped. Dean looked down at the angel and could see stray tears slipping out of his eyes every few moments as he clung to Dean’s flannel.

 

     “I’m so sorry it took this long to get you out. I tried everything I could think of. I’m so sorry.” Dean could tell that Castiel was deeply affected by what he had been through.

 

     “Please, Dean. I don’t want to talk about it.” Castiel pushed himself away from Dean and stood up for the first time since he’d woken up. The angel rose to his feet and saw Dean nod and reach out his hand for help.

 

     As Castiel pulled Dean to his feet, he heard a hiss come from the man and saw a grimace of pain cross his face.

 

     “Dean. You’re hurt.”

 

     “It’s not that bad. I’m fine.”

 

     “No, you’re not. I broke your nose and by the looks of it, you just came from a hunt. Let me help you.”

 

     Castiel reached towards Dean’s face to heal him, but Dean caught his wrist before he could. He gently lowered his friend’s arm and looked towards the floor.

 

     “I’m fine Cas. Really. The adrenaline must have just worn off. That’s all.” Dean turned to walk away but hissed again as he felt the white-hot pain burn up his back from the wound he’d received earlier that day in the barn.

 

     “Dammit, Dean. Look at me.” Castiel’s voice was stern and commanding. Dean turned to meet his eyes and was suddenly reminded of the warrior of God he had met so many years ago.

     “I did not give my life for this. I gave my life to save yours, not to let you wallow in self-pity and live your life in pain. Now you are going to show me where you are injured or I am going to make you. It is your choice.”

 

     Dean let out a shaking breath and took off the oversized flannel and tossed it onto the table next to him. He turned his back to Castiel and peeled off the blood and sweat-soaked tee shirt to reveal the open wound on his back. He leaned forward and supported himself on the tabletop. The pain caused Dean’s fingers to curl around the edge of the table as he clenched his jaw and dug his blunt nails into the wood grain. 

 

     Castiel gasped when he saw the wound. “How did you get this?” he asked quietly while stepping towards the hunter carefully. He ghosted his fingers over the wound as Dean responded.

 

     “Some bitch vamp got the jump on me. She was about to kebob me but I got things turned around and skewered her instead.” Dean felt Castiel’s fingers stop cold and heard a gasp behind him. The hunter turned his head to look over his shoulder and saw a strained look on Castiel’s face.

 

     “Cas? You alright?”

 

     “I’m fine,” Castiel whispered, afraid that if he spoke any louder he would return to the panic he felt only a few minutes ago. “How long was I gone, Dean?”

 

     “I told you. Too long.”

 

     “No. I want to know the truth.”

 

     Dean sighed and gave up. As he met his friend’s eyes once again he responded. “38 days.” The answer came with no thought. Dean didn’t need to think. He had been counting since the day Castiel left.

 

     Castiel slowly nodded and his lips pursed into a thin line. He grasped Dean’s shoulder where he had left his handprint so many years ago. “This might hurt.” The angel hovered his palm over the wound and felt his grace surge through his fingertips as his hand began to glow a soft gold. 

 

     Dean winced as his flesh sutured back together. When he finally turned to face Castiel once again, Dean realized his nose was no longer throbbing and he lifted his hand to feel it. 

 

     “Huh. Good as new.” He flashed a smile to the angel and thanked him.

 

     “You should really take better care of yourself, Dean. Your liver was the worst of it.” 

 

     Dean scoffed. “Yeah ok. Thanks, Mom.” He refused to meet Castiel’s burning gaze and tugged his shirt back on before turning to make his way to the kitchen.

 

     When he made it to the doorway of the library, he turned his head to his friend and spoke.

 

     “It’s really good to have you back Cas.”

 

Chapter Text

     Sam and Eileen entered the kitchen hand in hand talking quietly about how happy they were about not only Castiel but also Dean being back. When they made their way to the table, they found Jack animatedly telling Rowena all about his favorite foods as he dove into a bowl of his Krunch Cookie Crunch cereal.

 

     Sam reached out and ruffled the boy’s hair as he spoke. “What did I tell you about that sugary cereal?” He tried to hide the smile in his voice but failed terribly.

 

     Jack frowned and furrowed his brows as he responded. “That it would rot my teeth,” he said sadly, getting ready to plead to finish the bowl.

 

     “Well buddy, I think you’re entitled to something sweet. I’m so proud of you. Thank you for everything today.” Sam leaned down and gathered Jack into a tight hug and pressed a kiss into the golden hair on top of his head.

 

     Sam heard Rowena clear her throat from across the table and he let go of Jack. “Of course he couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you. I’m so sorry we dragged you into our problems again.” Sam gave Rowena a quick but stifling hug as he thanked her.

 

     “Of course Samuel.” She held both of his hands as she spoke. “You Winchesters may be annoying at times, but you’ve grown on me, especially you but you owe me big time.” She winked in jest as she squeezed his hands before letting go and turning back to look at Jack.

 

     Sam sat down across from Rowena and threw his arm around Eileen’s shoulders and grinned. It was like everyone felt whole again. The four of them sat in pleasant silence for a few moments as Jack ate his cereal and Sam snuck a couple of pieces out of his bowl, receiving nose scrunches and complaints from the boy each time. 

     The four of them all looked towards the doorway when Dean and Castiel walked into the kitchen. Dean was beaming over his shoulder as he talked with the angel. Their noses scrunched and Castiel’s laugh lines deepened as the duo snickered.

 

     It’s like he never left  Sam thought, a grin spreading painfully wide as he watched his brother stride toward the fridge, pulling something out.

 

     “Who wants a soda?” Dean grinned towards Castiel as he offered the six-pack of cola to the group at the table. 

 

     What?!  Sam was shocked. 

 

     He was expecting a six-pack of beer but something must have drastically shifted in his brother. He watched in awe as Dean passed the bottles around the table, one to every person in the room, while grinning uncontrollably. 

 

     “Rowena? I think I owe you an apology.” Sam and Eileen’s jaws dropped as Dean apologized for snapping at the witch earlier. Dean pulled Rowena into a tight hug and whispered apology after apology into her ear.

 

     “And Jack. Thank you for everything. I was wrong earlier. You’re family and you mean the world to us, to me.” 

 

     Dean ruffled Jack’s hair and patted him on the back. By now, Jack’s hair was sticking out on end as if he had stuck his finger in an electrical socket. Dean smiled at how much the boy resembled Castiel when the hunter had first met the angel.

 

     Dean dragged a couple of chairs to the table and looked towards Castiel who was standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. “Come on Cas. Take a seat and stay awhile.” The blinding grin that spread across his face caught everyone’s eye and for the first time in a long time, they sat around the table like a family again. 

 

     The group passed food and drink around the table and talked for hours. To anyone else, they would have appeared like a normal family. No one could have guessed that the group laughing until their stomachs hurt consisted of three monster hunters, a dead witch, a Nephilim, and an angel that had just come back from the dead yet again.

 

     Sam was the first one to speak. “Alright. I am exhausted. You guys have fun. Glad to have you back Cas.” As he stood to leave the room, he gave Castiel a long-overdue hug.

 

     “Me too.” Eileen rose and gave Castiel a quick hug before following Sam into the dim hallway.

 

     “Hey, Sam?” Dean called after his brother.

 

     “Yeah?”

 

     “Don’t forget the sock!” Dean winked at his younger brother and snickered at the bitchface he got in return.

 

     Sam grimaced and rolled his eyes before grabbing Eileen’s wrist and tugged her down the hall. The two laughed as they ran, their voices slowly fading out of earshot.

 

     “It has been a real treat seeing you boys again and trust me, I am more than happy to see you two together at long last, but I have a kingdom to run. I’m glad you two are fixing things and Jack honey, don’t be a stranger.” Rowena gently squeezed Jack’s chin before turning to Castiel and Dean who were looking at her with mild confusion.

     “When I told you two to fix it, I wasn’t anticipating you would be separated so soon. I hope now you see what I meant. Especially you Dean. I know how stubborn you are. Don’t squander this opportunity. Heaven knows your opportunities seem to come far less frequently than the average person’s” 

 

     Rowena winked at the two of them before leaving the room to grab her bag, the Book of the Damned, and the Codex from the library. A few minutes later the sound of a zap coming from the library signaled the trio that Rowena was gone.

 

     “Well sport, I hate to ask but are you going to be staying here for a while, or do you have more Godly duties up there?” Dean pointed the question at Jack while gesturing to the ceiling. Castiel gave him a squinty look but looked towards Jack as well.

 

     “I miss you guys a lot, but Chuck really left a mess in Heaven. Years of neglect and war have not been too kind on the angels that were left. I think you’d be happy to know though that I have made a lot of changes.” Jack looked at Castiel when he said this and it was obvious to Dean why: Jack just wanted his dad to be proud of him.

 

     “What kinds of changes Jack?” Castiel looked very interested and leaned forward in his chair. Dean watched Castiel’s profile and smiled faintly as the angel’s head tilted sideways as it always did when he was confused or invested in a conversation.

 

     “Well for starters, I’ve made thousands of angels. Heaven is back to running at full power again.” Jack looked to Castiel and Dean for their responses.

 

     “That’s wonderful Jack!” Castiel seemed genuinely happy at this admission.

 

     “And I changed them too. I changed their mission. Now their mission is to protect humanity and maintain peace and order in the universe. I wanted them to be able to feel emotions and to think for themselves too. I made them like you Castiel.” He looked at his father with a smile on his face, clearly happy with his decision.

 

     Dean watched as Castiel’s smile widened and he felt a warmth spread through his chest. The angel kept his attention as Castiel stood from his chair and crossed to the other side of the table to wrap Jack in another tight hug. 

 

     “I’m so proud of you Jack. I’m flattered as well. I always knew you’d be the one to fix everything. Your mother would be so proud of you too.” Castiel rubbed gentle circles on Jack’s back and he smiled down at his son.

 

     “Thank you.” Jack’s words were muffled as he shoved his face into Castiel’s chest.

 

     When Jack eventually let go, he turned to face Dean. “I would love to stay but I have a lot of work to do in Heaven. I have several meetings and trials to attend in the coming week that I have to prepare for and I have been away from listening to prayers for long enough as is. I should return, but I promise I will be back soon. I am looking forward to visiting more frequently now. And Dean?”

 

     “Yes?”

 

     “Thank you for getting Castiel back.”

 

     Dean smiled at the boy. “Sure thing kid. As long as he doesn’t go and get himself stuck in there again.” Dean winked at Castiel and got up to give Jack a final hug.

 

     Jack turned to the two and gave them a wave before saying goodbye and vanishing with the sound of flapping wings. Castiel and Dean met eyes before taking their places across the table from each other once again.

 

Chapter Text

     They sat in silence for a few minutes before Dean couldn’t take it any longer. He got up and walked to the fridge. Upon opening it, his hand hovered contemplatively over a few beer bottles before settling on a bottle of scotch in a nearby cupboard instead. He grabbed a few glasses from the cupboard as well before returning to the table.

 

     Castiel grimaced when he saw the bottle while thinking of just how bad Dean must have been drinking before to cause his liver to be as exhausted as it had been just a few hours prior. “Dean…”

 

     “I’m fine Cas. One drink isn’t going to kill me. Plus, you just came back from the dead. You are more than deserving of one.”

 

     “Dean, it takes an entire liquor store to affect me. You know as well as I that this would be more for your benefit than my own.”

 

     Dean glared at the bottle as he filled the two glasses. “And so what if it is? Are you seriously going to stop me?” the hunter snapped while setting the bottle back onto the tabletop. As he spoke, Dean noticed Castiel flinch and his voice instantly softened. “Look man, I’m sorry. I’ve just been stressed and had a long last couple of weeks.”

 

     Castiel lifted the glass to his lips and took a long swig before responding. “I understand Dean. I’m just concerned for your health.”

 

     “Yeah, buddy. I know.” Dean tipped the glass back, finishing most of it in one go while smirking. It had always been difficult for him to accept affection but Castiel’s concern for him had always managed to make him smile. 

 

     The two sat in silence for a few minutes and passed the bottle back and forth to refill their glasses as they emptied repeatedly. By the time the bottle was depleted, Castiel had consumed the majority of the liquor in an attempt to limit Dean’s intake.


     Castiel clasped his hands underneath the table to keep them from shaking. He couldn’t keep his mind from wandering to everything Jack had shown him. Castiel had felt Dean’s pain and sorrow as if it was his own. He hated the pain he had caused the hunter. Eyes wandered to Dean’s hand which was absently tapping the empty glass. 


     So many nights when Dean had slept Castiel would watch those hands. He would always feel intense sadness whenever Dean would grasp the sheets in his sleep while riding out his frequent nightmares. There were so many nights over the years where Castiel had wished he could hold Dean’s hand as he slept to urge the nightmares away and allow the man a restful sleep, even if it was only for a few hours. Instead, he simply watched Dean’s hands, just like he did as the hunter played with the glass. 

 

     “Dean, can I ask you something?”

 

     Dean looked down into his empty glass with disappointment before meeting Castiel’s concerned eyes. He could hardly believe he was meeting Castiel face to face at that moment. For weeks he had been dreaming of the moments he had once been able to just look the angel in the eyes. Those dreams had haunted his waking moments every time he allowed himself to think and Castiel had ghosted his thoughts since the Empty took him.

 

     “Sure Cas. What’s up?”

 

     “How are you really?”

 

     The hunter scoffed in disbelief. “You just came back from the dead buddy, I should be asking you that. Not the other way around.”

 

     “Dean..” Castiel rolled his eyes around the word.

 

     “Come on. Humor me. How are you doing?”

 

     Dean watched as Castiel played with his glass and stared intently at the table. It was obvious the angel was thinking deeply. His brow furrowed and a frown settled on his mouth. It concerned Dean to see just how shut in Castiel seemed to be.

 

     “It has been a confusing last couple of hours.” Castiel started. “I’m still trying to understand exactly what happened. I know you came in to get me and then woke me up here but the change has been jarring.”

 

     Dean looked at Castiel with concern. He was refusing to make eye contact with the man which was unusual for the angel. It seemed like no matter where they were or who else was in the room, Castiel only ever had eyes on Dean and the man knew it. It always felt like the angel stared into his eyes to read his soul every time they talked so seeing the angel avoiding his gaze was difficult.

 

     “Just this morning I was dreaming and it was so real.” Castiel continued, shuddering at the thought. “I was dreaming and then suddenly you were right there in front of me and I couldn’t believe you were real. Not after everything.”

 

     “What did you dream about?” Dean could sense it was a sensitive topic but he was too concerned to care.

 

     “You know. My greatest regrets.”

 

     When the angel did not elaborate, Dean recognized that Castiel wanted to keep the dreams to himself. Dean considered the possibility that Castiel was not comfortable sharing, but he knew it was more likely than not that the angel didn’t want Dean to feel even more guilty than he already did.

 

     “Cas, you know you can talk to us right? I know coming back from the dead is hard and it’s bizarre that we all have personal experience with that, but if you ever need anything, we’re here for you.”

 

     Castiel finally looked up and met the man’s eyes. “Thank you, Dean. Now it is your turn. How are you really?”

 

     Dean considered giving his usual response, but Castiel was different. Whenever he was in pain, the angel always seemed to pull the truth out of him. Maybe it was their “profound bond” or something else, but Castiel always seemed to find a way to unearth Dean’s deepest emotions and traumas. Unlike others in Dean’s life, Castiel always seemed to be able to handle the truth so Dean didn’t even try to resist.

 

     “I don’t know.” He looked into Castiel’s eyes but was surprised when the angel didn’t push further. He only stared back while waiting for Dean to continue.


     “I know right now I should be happy and be celebrating our first no strings attached win in ages but I just feel so lost. I’m overwhelmed Cas. I mean, one month ago I lost you and then helped beat God. Now in less than one day, I’ve been almost killed by a vamp and now I’m sharing a drink with you who I never thought I would see again.” 

 

     Castiel watched as Dean dropped his gaze to the table. He reached out for Dean’s hand but stopped himself knowing that there was a chance it would only make the hunter’s mood worse.

 

     “I’m sorry Dean. You do not deserve the burden that has been placed on your shoulders. I can’t begin to attempt to understand the depth of the loss you must feel. I wish there was something I could do to help you.” His words were genuine and Dean finally looked him in the eye.

 

     After staring at each other for a few moments Castiel finally spoke. Ever since he had woken up and come to his senses, there was a question that had been burning in his mind and it had caused his anxiety to increase for the last few hours.

 

     “Dean. I know what I said the last time we spoke and I meant everything I said. You deserve to know how everyone sees you, how I see you. I had hoped that if you heard it genuinely, you might finally value yourself the way I value you.


     Seeing the pain you have felt recently I have begun to reconsider my actions. I do not mean that I wish I had not pushed you to see yourself more positively. I will never wish I had not done that. I just wish there was some other way to save your life that did not require what I put you through. I understand the years have not been kind to you and I do not want to be a burden on you, especially now.”

 

     “No offense pal, but the way you left me, that’s been one of the biggest burdens I’ve ever carried.” Dean absently raised the glass to his lips, immediately lowering it to the table again when he remembered it was empty.

 

     “I know and I am sorry. You know there was no other way either of us was leaving that room but that doesn’t matter now. What does matter is your safety and health and if I am being honest, I don’t believe that I will be of any help to you. I can heal physical wounds momentarily, but there is nothing I can do to help the deeper wounds you carry with you, not unless you let me in.”

 

     “Cas…” Dean whispered. He was so tired and he just wasn’t ready for the conversation he felt coming.

 

     “Dean I want you to know that I am here for you. I want to help you see yourself the way we all see you. I was happy to give my life for yours because you are a hero and deserve to be happy. If you would let me in, I want to help you. I know what I said and I still mean it. I am happy as I am and you don’t need to give me anything more than I already have”

 

     “Cas….” 

 

     Dean’s ears were ringing with the angel’s words and his heart was hammering in his chest. He didn’t think he would be able to handle one more emotional trainwreck that day, especially anything regarding his and Castiel’s relationship. He had not been able to get those three words to stop ringing in his ears for 36 days and he couldn’t handle addressing them at that moment. Not yet anyway.

 

     “Yes, Dean?”

 

     “I can’t do this. Not right now. Please.” Dean’s plea came out in a whisper as he stared at Castiel, face contorted with his attempt to hold back the flood of emotions that were pent up inside.

 

     Castiel’s heart dropped in his chest and he nodded as Dean got up to leave. He didn’t move as Dean patted his shoulder three times before walking out of the room. Once he had left, Castiel looked over his shoulder and felt a single tear slip down his face.
   

Chapter Text

     Castiel sat in silence until Dean’s footsteps completely faded out of earshot. Only then did Castiel let out a deep breath that he did not realize he was even holding. He furrowed his brow while contemplating the action. He reminded himself that he did not need to breathe, so the gesture was an odd one.


     Ever since he had taken James Novak’s vessel, Castiel had found himself displaying more and more humanity throughout the few years he had been on Earth. He had been in existence for millennia, had watched the stars being hung in the night sky, had watched the fish move to the terrestrial plane, and witnessed the creation of man. Somehow, the great wonders of his long existence did not hold a candle to the humanity he had developed in the blip of existence that was his time shared with the Winchesters.


     Castiel often wondered what would have happened had he done as he was told and returned to Heaven instead of helping avert the apocalypse and just faced the consequence of his disobedience. He often reasoned that had he done that, Jimmy would still be united with his wife, Claire would have been at peace and wouldn’t have been so lost in life, and there would have been thousands of angels still alive that had died at his hands.


     On this day, however, Castiel wondered where Dean would be without him. Had he simply gone back to Heaven and not become too close to his charges, there was a chance that Dean would have been happy now. Castiel thought about Dean’s time with Lisa and wondered if he would have been happily married now if Castiel had just left when he was supposed to. 


     Castiel shook the thought from his mind and rose from the table to put the empty glasses in the sink to be cleaned. He always seemed to be the one cleaning up after the Winchesters’ messes, big or small, but somehow he never seemed to mind. He found that no matter what the mess was, he was happy to clean up after the boys because it allowed him to spend more time with them, his little family. 


     Castiel stared into the sink and sighed thinking about his charge, Dean. When he had first met the hunter, he had come to despise some of his habits: drinking, hedonism, and gambling to name a few. However, the man had grown on him quickly as he taught the beauty of humanity and why it deserved to be protected. Castiel had quickly found himself giving up the world and his whole mission for that one man.


     A small laugh escaped Castiel’s mouth as he thought about how far he had come. Just 12 years ago he was commanding Heavenly armies and fighting for the Lord’s mission and now he was picking up Dean’s dishes much like he picked up the little pieces as he attempted to make the man whole again.


     Castiel sighed once more at the realization that he would be alone for hours yet again while the hunters slept. Without thought, Castiel found himself shuffling into the library and staring at the damage he had caused. He crouched to the floor and sifted a few bits of glass from the shattered light bulbs through his fingers and felt a pang in his heart as he realized just how much damage he had done.


     He spent the next few hours cleaning the room until it was spotless. He could have just used his grace to fix things in an instant, but he preferred to keep himself occupied as long as possible to keep his mind off recent events. 


     He had replaced all the bulbs that had shattered in the track lighting on the ceiling and walls, swept the whole floor, returned all the leftover herbs and ingredients to their respective storage areas, and even fixed the lamp that Dean had thrown against the wall.


     Yet again, Castiel was fixing one of Dean’s messes. The angel could only imagine what his brothers and sisters would say if they saw him now. They would berate him and disown him for his blind faith in the man. He would be humiliated for his low actions. 


     “Who would ever follow a warrior of Heaven who bent at a human’s feet?” They would ask him, disgusted with his fall from grace. No warrior of Heaven would ever give their life to worship one simple human, yet here Castiel was, cleaning up Dean’s messes over and over again. The worst of it was that he enjoyed it. 


     He made his way to the table where he had healed Dean and found the hunter’s forgotten flannel. Castiel had only seen him wear it once in the past. Dean had worn the pink and blue flannel when he and Castiel had gotten lunch when the angel was having a “midlife crisis” as Dean had put it. 


     Castiel picked up the torn shirt and held it tightly in his hands. The memory of that time they shared was one of his favorites. He had been struggling with Claire at the time and somehow, Dean had managed to make him feel even a little bit better. Even then, Castiel had tried improving Dean’s self-image, but the man had not seemed to understand how deeply Castiel valued him.


     As he gripped the flannel tightly, Castiel sunk into the nearest chair at the table and held his head in his hands. Castiel could feel the soft fabric against the side of his face as he shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind of the memories that often permeated his thoughts. 


     Although he had no need for sleep, Castiel felt exhausted. He thought it was possibly a remnant of the Empty’s hold on him or perhaps it was the result of the events of the day. Either way, he felt he couldn’t hold his head up any longer.


     Castiel found himself balling the flannel up into a makeshift pillow and tucking it in his arms. As he rested his head on the bundle, he stared at the table. The angel got lost in the grain of the wood and raked his eyes over it as if he could read the life story of the tree it had been manufactured from. 


     His gaze only faltered when he noticed the carved initials on the table. There were many lonely nights where he spent hours sitting and staring at the boxy SW and DW that claimed the bunker as their home. This time, however, Castiel noticed that two new names had joined Sam, Dean, and Mary’s initials. He rose to his feet and crossed the floor to the end of the table, not letting the flannel fall from his iron grip.


     Castiel reached out and traced the letters with his fingers: CASTIEL. He smiled at the gesture. Seeing his and Jack’s names carved in amongst the Winchester’s caused a warmth to spread inside him and he realized what this meant. There was no uncarving those letters: He was permanently and officially a member of the Winchester family. 


     He smiled thinking of how far they had come. Only a mere 12 years ago, he was commanded to save the righteous man from hell and protect Michael’s sword. He was an acquaintance of the “boy with the demon blood”. He was a simple cog in Heaven's great machine. 


     Somehow, their band of misfits, “Team Free Will” as Dean liked to call them, had taught him how to be human. He had considered disobedience all because the righteous man had convinced him that free will was worth dying for. It was almost embarrassing how easily the one human had convinced him to rebel in such a short amount of time.


     Now he was a father to the Nephilim that saved the world. He was a brother to the man that always sacrificed so much for his older brother and the entire world. He had become a friend of the woman that mothered two real-life superheroes that had averted apocalypse after apocalypse, year after year. Now he was Dean Winchester’s family and that was what Castiel believed to be the greatest thing to ever happen to him.


     Dean had taught him so many things over the years. From social cues to how to use human inventions from televisions to shotguns, Dean had made him more human with every interaction. Castiel used to be disappointed in himself for his fall from Heaven’s grace, but now seeing his name carved with the Winchester’s, he could not have been more content with his choice to stay on Earth. He had raised Dean from the fiery depths of Hell and as a result, fallen from grace. The two had met somewhere in the middle and now, Castiel had a real family.


     Castiel stood there for what could have been hours, gripping the flannel in one hand and tracing the letters over and over again with the other, when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

Chapter Text

     Eileen had woken up in the middle of the night enveloped in Sam’s arms. She had smiled to herself when she saw how peaceful he looked in his sleep. Eileen would have been content to stay and watch him like that for hours, but her thirst convinced her to drag her eyes away from Sam’s face.

     She had dressed quickly, throwing on Sam’s flannel as it was the closest thing she could find. Stepping out of the bed, she noticed Sam’s sink and walked to it hoping to find a glass, but was disappointed when she saw nothing.

     Eileen snuck out of Sam’s room as quietly as possible and stifled a laugh when she noticed the sock Sam had left on his door handle. 

 

     Old habits sure die hard  she thought as she shuffled down the hallway to the kitchen. 

 

     Eileen attempted to rub the sleep out of her eyes as she turned the light on. Her bare feet pattered against the cold stone floor as she made her way to the cupboard for a glass of water. As she allowed the cool drink to pass her lips, she looked at the island. A smile graced her mouth as she remembered the day she and Sam had cooked way too much breakfast food after a particularly drunken night. 

     When Eileen finished her glass, she turned to the sink and stared in confusion at the two tumblers already inside. She couldn't remember anyone drinking anything other than soda before, but then again, she and Sam did leave the table early.

     Eileen’s thoughts were cut short when she noticed a light down the hallway.

 

     That must be coming from the library. Who would even be awake this early?

 

     Eileen crept down the hallway while staying close to the wall, hoping to get a good view of the intruder in case she needed the element of surprise. When she looked around the door frame, she caught a glimpse of the back of a trenchcoat and a hanging head full of dark hair. Her eyes traveled over the tense shoulders and down to the hand that clutched a flannel like it was a lifeline.

     She smiled faintly and approached the angel, immediately taking notice of the spotless room. Eileen gently placed a hand on his shoulder. When he turned to her in surprise, she noticed his fingers ghosting over the carved name on the table: CASTIEL.

 

     What are you doing in here?   She signed to the angel and he seemed to look anywhere but her face in a desperate attempt to find a good excuse.

 

     I’m not sure.  He returned after sitting down again and letting the flannel fall to his lap so he could use both of his hands.

 

     You are definitely a Winchester, Castiel. Do you want to know how I know that?  She grinned while she asked the question and watched as Castiel’s eyebrows raised in confusion and interest.

     You are a terrible liar. What is on your mind?  She reached forward and grabbed one of his hands in hers, hoping to provide some comfort to the angel who was lost in his thoughts.

 

     Dean . It was all Castiel responded with. It was all the explanation that was needed. Eileen understood immediately.

 

     You’re thinking about what happened, aren't you?  Eileen asked as she thought about her previous conversation with Sam when he told her about Castiel’s sacrifice.

 

     Castiel solemnly nodded his head and sat deep in thought for a few moments before signing a response.  You would do anything for your family, correct?

 

     Yes.

 

     And that is because you love them, correct?

 

     Yes.

 

     Castiel sat deep in thought again but it was Eileen that signed first this time.

 

     Love is many things Castiel. For you, I know it is difficult to understand because you were not intended to feel. I also know you feel it deeper than any human I have ever met. I have only known Dean a few years and have only met you a few select times, but I can see it. I see how willing you both are to go with each other to the ends of the Earth. Love is strange and it will do that to you. Give him time. He will figure it out eventually.

 

     Castiel nodded solemnly while thinking about that day in Death’s library. He hadn’t even worried about the consequences of following Dean. They both knew that it was dangerous and that they were threatening one of the strongest entities they had ever met as a simple human and a failing angel, but Castiel had followed him without a second thought.

 

     I appreciate the sentiment but I believe I have made a great mistake. I was content with just being happy with how I felt. Now that Dean knows, I don’t know if he will ever be able to talk to me or confide in me like he used to. I fear I have ruined our friendship.

 

     Castiel, you two have remained friends through several apocalypses and have even fought God himself side by side. Something as small as human emotion is not going to break you two apart.  Eileen laughed as she signed. She knew that it was true. There was no way one little fight was going to separate the inseparable. 

 

     I wish it were that simple. He won’t talk to me. I tried apologizing earlier when everyone had left the kitchen, but he walked out. I’m afraid that he will never be willing to talk to me like we used to. I’m afraid I’ve ruined what little family I have found for myself.

 

     Eileen watched as Castiel’s eyes flicked towards the carved letter in the table once again. She reached out and turned his face towards her own before she spoke.

 

     “No Castiel. You have a real family here. Family is not perfect. It is painful and there is fighting. There are bad days but there are also good days. Dean is the most stubborn man I have ever met and I think you would agree with that. He will come around. Give him time.”

 

     When she finished, Eileen leaned forward and gave Castiel a kiss on the forehead before leaving the room. Just as she rounded the corner of the doorframe, she looked back and caught a glimpse of Castiel smiling to himself while staring down at the flannel.

 

     Dean, you do not deserve him.  The thought came before she could stop it and she kicked herself internally for it. 

 

     Of course, Dean deserved to be loved. He just needed to learn how to be loved. They all did in one way or another, but it was obvious that Dean was the worst of the group. 

     He had faced the most pain and trauma over the years. Eileen had only learned about and witnessed a small fraction of it, but based on the way the man carried himself, she could tell that there was a great deal of pent-up emotion that he never allowed to see the light of day.

     Eileen contemplated this as she made her way back to Sam’s bedroom. Once she had snuck back inside and made it under the covers, Sam shifted and pulled her close.

 

     “Where’d you go?” he whispered, voice dripping in exhaustion.

 

     Eileen smiled as she traced the line of his jaw with her hand. “I just needed some water.”

 

     Sam seemed content with the response and he pulled her even closer to his chest. As he buried his face in her hair and drifted back to sleep Eileen thought about her conversation with Castiel. She had not been lying when she said he seemed to feel love deeper than anyone she had ever met. 

     Sam made her feel loved. That was just a fact. It was the most love she had felt in a long time but Castiel was different. She could practically feel the love that came off of him in waves. It was a different type of love too. It was the type where he looked at Dean like the man was more wondrous than the stars, brighter than the sun, clearer than the night sky, stronger than all the forces of nature combined, and more valuable than all of Earth’s treasures. In one look, Castiel captured Dean’s aura and looked at him like he was the universe and cosmos and every good thing in between.

     Castiel’s love was one that had changed the path of history and had defied God’s plan. He was meant to raise Dean from perdition to be Michael's sword in the upcoming apocalypse, but Castiel defied Heaven itself to carve a new path for Dean. Time after time, he rebelled against his mission and Heavenly Father’s orders all for Dean. It was a love that managed to defy all of creation and forge free will itself. That was not something that could be recreated.

     Eileen smiled at the thought and let Sam’s strong arms and deep breathing lull her back to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

     In the weeks that followed, the hunters took time to renew their friendships and work towards a new normal. Eileen had collected some of her things and moved into the bunker most of the time. She would go home for a day or two here or there, but most nights she found herself sharing a bed with Sam once again.

     Sam found himself more elated than he had been in years. He fell into a perfect daily routine which started in Eileen’s arms and ultimately ended there as well. Sam’s days began to pass peacefully as he ran, played with Miracle, bonded with Eileen, reclaimed his friendship with Castiel, and spent quality time with Jack.

     Jack began visiting every few days for movie nights in the Fortress of Deanitude. On those nights, the group would crowd into the Dean Cave and bicker about which movie they wanted to watch, often settling on Jack’s choice because it was so hard to say no to the kid. Unfortunately for the group, his choice almost always ended up being an old Western or The Lost Boys because he knew Dean would like that best. 

     The routine was always the same on those nights. Castiel and Dean would prepare the snacks and drinks, Sam and Eileen would set up the movie before sharing the small couch, and Jack would sit on the floor with whatever was his newest favorite book or toy. Castiel and Dean would always take their places in the recliners on either side of the small couch they had added to make room for the larger group.

     This action drove Sam crazy. Without a doubt, every time the lights were turned off and only the soft glow of the screen illuminated their silhouettes, Castiel would watch Dean’s profile intently as the man smiled at the screen. Sam would watch as the angel would quickly turn to the screen whenever Dean would turn to look at him. The cycle would happen over and over again every movie night. 

     Castiel and Dean had danced around each other ever since they reunited. They wouldn’t talk for more than a few minutes whenever left alone, they avoided being left alone together anywhere in the bunker, and their conversations seemed to be about anything they could think of besides themselves.  

     Whenever they were left alone, however, it surprisingly was not uncomfortable or awkward. There seemed to be a mutual unspoken understanding between the two of them. Dean and Castiel often cleaned up the kitchen after meals and Dean would wash the dishes while Castiel silently dried and put them away. They had developed a perfect routine to the point that speaking was not necessary. They simply danced around each other without meeting one another’s eyes day after day.

     16 days after Castiel had returned home, Dean awoke from one of his usual nightmares. Unlike only three weeks prior, Dean did not immediately reach for a bottle to drown the images that had since faded behind his eyelids. Instead, he stretched and dragged himself out of bed.

     The one thing Dean had spent the most time on recently was putting the pieces of his life back together, starting with his room. It had been difficult at first. He was content in his mess, believing it was what he deserved. He projected his inner turmoil onto his room and it was difficult to begin making any changes.

     The first big change occurred one morning when he had woken up from a particularly vivid nightmare induced by a night of binging on beer and whisky. He had screamed and even fallen out of bed. Dean had watched as his bedroom door was thrown open and Castiel stared at him wide-eyed, angel blade at the ready to defend Dean from whatever attacker was disrupting his slumber.

     Dean had tried to usher the angel out of the room but it was too late: Castiel had seen the mess. Dean prepared for the lecture that he knew was coming but was surprised when he only felt a gentle hand on his shoulder where the brand used to be. 

 

     “Sit.” Castiel had said, gentle but it was definitely a command. 

 

     Dean would have fought back, but it was too early at the time and he was too inebriated to do anything but flop back down onto his bed and hold his head in his hands.

     Castiel had stepped forward to comfort the man when he heard the soft crunching of glass under his feet. Without a word, the angel slowly crouched to the floor and carefully swept some of the pulverized glass into his palm. After inspecting it, he quickly took notice of the dust coating the floor of the room and with a wave of his glowing palm, removed all traces of shattered bottles and broken furniture.

 

     “It should be safe for you to step down now.” Castiel had remained entirely stoic as he spoke and when he stood to leave the room, he cast Dean a final knowing glance.

     “If you do anything in these coming days, please take care of yourself Dean.” and with that, he had left down the hallway silently.

 

     Ever since Castiel’s concern, Dean had made small improvements day by day. In the first few days, it was all he could do to take the empty bottles to the recycle. As he got into a rhythm, Dean had mended whatever he broke. The desk was reorganized, the guns were put back on the wall, and the laundry was done. The day Dean finally did the laundry, he shoved his green jacket into the back of his closet, not quite ready to address the pain and blood that covered it. 

     So when Dean woke up 16 days after Castiel’s return, he was finally able to leave his room without feeling the need to close the door on the way out. He no longer felt ashamed of it and no longer felt the need to block it from the rest of the world. 

     Dean’s footsteps echoed through the hallway as he pulled the dead guy robe over his shoulders for warmth. As he neared the kitchen, Dean was met with a waft of coffee as well as bacon. 

 

     Sam? Cooking real bacon? Now that’s a treat!  The thought urged his feet to move faster towards the doorway. 

 

     As Dean shuffled into the kitchen, his heavily lidded eyes widened comically. Before he had the chance to say anything, Castiel approached him with a plate of half-burnt bacon and rubbery scrambled eggs. He placed it at Dean’s favorite spot at the table and pointed to the chair with a spatula.

 

     “Eat.”

 

     Dean laughed at the surprisingly human action the angel displayed and dropped into the chair with a smile. He had to admit, the eggs weren’t terrible and the bacon wasn’t the worst he’d ever had. Despite this, it was obvious Castiel was not a good cook, to say the least.

     Dean opened his mouth to say something but before any words could come out, Castiel was already at the table again with a mug of hot coffee. Dean sighed as he took the cup into his hands and allowed the warmth to seep into his fingers.

     He watched Castiel with awe as the angel finished another pan of eggs. It was an odd sight. Castiel, an angel of the Lord, standing in their kitchen in a full suit and trench coat, cooking breakfast. Dean was surprised by how odd and endearing the mundane gesture was coming from the angel.

 

     “I wish you wouldn’t stare at me like that.”

 

     Castiel hadn’t even turned around to face Dean when he spoke. He just stood at the stovetop while turning the burners off and poured himself a cup of fresh coffee. Dean hadn’t realized he was staring but it was hard not to. Castiel had thoroughly surprised him.

 

     “Sorry man. You just took me by surprise. That’s all. Since when do you cook?”

 

     “Dean, I am older than you can even imagine. I have observed humanity long enough to have a basic concept of how to utilize cooking appliances. Besides, in my years on Earth, I have discovered that you humans tend to value the first meal of the day greatly.” Castiel took his place across from Dean as he spoke and the two sipped their coffee for a few minutes before Castiel spoke again.

     “I have also heard that warm food and drink that you prefer can be considered a comfort, especially when you need to talk about something upsetting. I think we need to talk, Dean.” Castiel’s eyes stared intently into Dean’s as he commanded the man’s attention.

 

     Dean’s stomach dropped and his heart sunk as his mood immediately darkened. Suddenly the bacon he was chewing was all too dry and the room was stifling. He brushed his hands haphazardly over the plate before responding dryly. 

 

     “Yeah? About what?”

 

     “You Dean. We need to talk about you.”

 

     “Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’m fine. I’m freaking fantastic.” Dean smirked into his mug as he dodged Castiel’s knowing glare. 

 

     “You and I both know that isn’t true Dean. If it was, you wouldn’t be avoiding me.”

 

     “Who says I’m avoiding you?”

 

     Dean could practically feel the eyeroll that came from the angel. “I’m ancient, not oblivious. You seem to forget that I can perceive things you couldn’t possibly imagine in your wildest dreams.”

 

     “Quit bragging,” Dean scoffed into his coffee cup again. “Does that perception include the need for caffeine?”

 

     Castiel spoke as he took Dean’s mug to refill it. “I can feel things too.”

 

     “Oh really?” Dean leaned back in his chair and the feeling of annoyance began to settle in his chest.

 

     “Yes, like longing and prayer. I can feel your longing for my presence despite me being home for weeks now and yet you seem to never want to be alone with me.” Castiel set the mug on the table as he took his seat across from the hunter once again.

 

     “Sam put you up to this didn’t he?” Dean glared at the coffee as he spoke.

 

     “Do not try to change the subject, Dean. This has nothing to do with your brother.”

 

     “Fine!” Dean’s eyes snapped up to meet Castiel’s. “You wanna talk? Let’s go talk”. He shoved his chair back away from the table and stalked out of the kitchen, promising himself he would take care of the plate later.

 

Chapter Text

     Dean didn’t need to look back to know that Castiel was right behind him. Whether it be walking into a hunt, trap, or certain death Castiel was always right behind him. He used to find it annoying, then endearing, but after recent events, it just made him angry.

     Dean shoved his way into his room and as soon as Castiel was inside, he slammed the door closed. 

 

     “You’re angry,” Castiel observed, mildly confused. He didn’t think he said anything wrong, but he knew how deeply Dean felt things. He’d tried to explain that to Jack once and even now he wished he had taken his own advice to heart.

 

     “Just a little bit. You keep pushing me so fine. Let’s talk. What do you want?” Dean’s voice grated through the small room as he crossed his arms defensively over his chest. 

 

     “I told you, Dean. I want to talk about you.”

 

     Dean stepped forward so he could glare directly into Castiel’s eyes and he felt anger bubble in his chest as he raised his voice. “I’m fine. I’ve told you that countless times.”

 

     Castiel took a step forward and glared straight back at Dean. He could feel his own anger starting to spread through his body. “And you are a terrible liar Dean.”

 

     “Oh really? If I’m so bad then why don’t you tell me exactly how I’m feeling since It’s obvious you know everything!” Dean gestured dramatically by throwing his hands outward and bowing slightly.

 

     Dean did not realize it, but it was all over for him because at that moment, he lit an immeasurable fire within Castiel. The angel lunged forward and grabbed Dean’s flannel in his fists and pulled the hunter to meet his eyes.

 

     Castiel growled out his next words. “You think it’s all your fault. That’s why you torment yourself. That’s why you drink yourself into oblivion every other day. Did you not listen to anything I said? Did I really give my life for this? For you to ignore everything I have ever done for you and give yourself up to your insufferable self-hatred?”

 

     Dean was shocked by the intensity of the angel’s voice as it slowly rose but not shocked enough to prevent him from grabbing the lapels of the trench coat and shoving Castiel backward with every bit of strength he had. 

 

     “You really wanna do this Cas? Fine. You’re right. It is my fault! Every damn time you left us who were you protecting huh? Who was the one left behind to watch?!” Dean was screaming as he shoved Castiel back against the closed door.

 

     “Dean…” Castiel snapped, ready to defend himself.

 

     “No! For once I am going to talk and you are going to listen and hear me out. I’m sick of it being the other way around. Every damn time you have left us it’s been because of me. When you were ripped apart by Raphael and when Lucifer killed you, twice! All of those times, who were you protecting?!”

 

     “Dean!”

 

     “Answer me!” Dean screamed in Castiel’s face, his eyes wild with rage.

 

     “I was protecting you and nothing you will ever say will make me regret my decisions!” Castiel’s voice rose as he snapped but the angel dared not push back against the hands on his coat. 

 

     “That’s the problem with you Cas! Over and over again you sacrifice yourself for us! You don’t have any regard for yourself. You seriously still believe you are just some expendable soldier and not a member of my...our family! Have you ever seriously considered what you do to us when you leave?! Don’t you ever think that maybe just maybe we don’t want you to go?!”

 

     “Of course I do!” Castiel shoved Dean’s hands off his coat and stared daggers into the hunter’s eyes only a few inches away from his own. 

 

     “Then why the Hell do you insist on putting us through that over and over again?! Especially this last time. What the Hell Cas?! You left me on that floor to pick up the pieces! At least last time I had some closure and got to burn you and spread the ashes! I at least had your ashes to take to that field and spread under that windmill. I had something to bury and let go.”

 

     Dean was lucky he had his anger to hold onto. He had never spoken a word of that day since he told Sam where he went to spread his best friend’s ashes. Even now the memory and unresolved pain there were threatening to bring tears to the man’s eyes but he stood his ground and latched onto the constant anger he felt as he screamed. 

 

     “What was I supposed to do this time?! All I had left was that damn jacket with your handprint and it’s still sitting in my closet because I can’t even look at it without thinking about what you did! You were just gone! You. Left. Me!” Dean gestured wildly to the closet as he choked back his emotion.

 

     “I didn’t have a choice!” Castiel pleaded for understanding.

 

     “Of course you did! You always do! You just gave up! You didn’t even try to stop it! You just decided that it was your time and you were going to do some big stupid sacrifice for me AGAIN! Who said it was your time huh?!”

 

     “Oh, and you get to tell me it wasn’t? I thought you were the one that wanted to choose your life for yourself. What happened to free will Dean?” Castiel inched even closer to Dean, his voice rich with holier than thou fury. 

 

     Dean slammed his hand against the wood next to Castiel’s face but the angel didn’t even flinch. “You’re damn right I do! That’s what happens when you’re family! Family doesn’t just let family make stupid decisions!”

 

     Castiel’s eyes flamed a bright blue with his grace and he grabbed Dean’s arm and flipped him around in one swift motion, slamming Dean back against the door. 

 

     “Really Dean? You can’t just say I’m your family and expect me to accept that! Last time I checked, you talk to family, even when you’re mad at them! You have been avoiding me for weeks now!”

 

     Castiel’s arm was braced across Dean’s chest and he pushed his forearm forward, shoving Dean into the door with more pressure. He could not stop the words that were pouring from his mouth. Castiel was too far gone: he was a prisoner to his emotion and a vessel to his rage.

 

     “If I’m family then why don’t you act like you’re happy I’m back? Why do you act like you wish I was still dead?!” Castiel immediately regretted the words but it was too late. They were already out.

 

     Dean looked at him in pure shock and began to claw at the arm across his chest, desperately trying to pull Castiel off of him. The angel recognized this and caught Dean’s wrist in his free hand, shoving it against the door next to his head and he began to catch his breath.

 

     “I have given everything for you Dean. I was a respected commander of Heavenly armies for centuries before I met you. Now look where I am. I lost my soldiers, my grace, and my life several times all for you. I have chosen this path for myself all for you and if I could go back and redo it all, I wouldn’t change a single thing.” Castiel eased his grip on Dean and let his voice soften.

 

     Dean noticed the sad look on Castiel’s face and pushed forward tentatively, removing Castiel’s grip on his wrist and chest before speaking quietly. “I understand why you would sacrifice yourself, Hell I would do the same thing sometimes, but you can’t just do that to us. Why didn’t you tell me about that deal? I could have helped you.”

 

     “There’s nothing you could have done Dean.” Castiel turned around and made his way to the middle of the room, finally giving the hunter room to breathe while he straightened his rumpled overcoat.

 

     “How do you know that?” Dean was trying to push the anger down. It looked like they would finally be meeting each other halfway and he didn’t want to ruin it.

 

     “Because I just do Dean!” He whipped around to look at the shocked hunter as his voice began to rise involuntarily. “It’s the Empty! You’ve never been there! It’s not like Heaven or Hell. It is so much stronger it’s angry and it hates me.”

     Castiel took a deep breath and let his voice soften once again. “It is the most fearsome thing I have ever faced in my entire existence. There was nothing you could do.” Castiel finally looked Dean in the eyes and he could see the anger returning to the man’s face.

 

     “You should have told me.” Dean’s voice slowly began to rise again. “But instead you wanted to sacrifice yourself in some grand gesture to save me.”

 

     “I don’t regret it, Dean. Can’t you see that?” Castiel’s face dripped with emotion and sadness as he begged and it killed Dean’s anger before it could come to the surface again.

     “I had the opportunity to tell you exactly who you are. You see yourself so poorly and just once I wanted to make a difference for you. I wanted you to know that you are cared about because of who you are, not who you think you are or what you can offer to other people. You deserve to know that you are loved, Dean.”

 

     Dean rolled his eyes and looked away from Castiel with a light scoff.

 

     “What’s the matter, Dean? After all these years you still don’t think you deserve to be saved? To be loved? Have I taught you nothing?” Castiel stepped closer to the hunter once again, fingers itching to hold his shoulder, but he kept himself from reaching out, remembering just how sensitive of a topic the handprint had become.

 

     Dean remained silent a moment before speaking, his voice dark as he avoided both the previous question and the angel’s piercing gaze. “Don’t ever do that again. I don’t know if we could survive another loss here. We care about you Cas. You’re our family and we can’t lose you again.”

 

“If you care about me, why do you push me away?” Castiel tipped his head in genuine concern.

 

     “Because that’s what I do. I drink, and lose my mind, and I push away everyone I care about. I push away anyone who means anything to me because if I don’t, they end up dead.” He looked into Castiel’s eyes and struggled to keep from looking away from the sadness in them.

 

     “Then if you care about me, what am I to you? What do I mean to you?” Castiel stepped even closer, just inches from Dean now, and threw caution to the wind as he gently grasped the shoulder he had left a scar on so many years before.

 

     “Please Cas, don’t do this to me. I can’t do it.” As soon as the words were out, Dean regretted them. The look of disappointment that crossed Castiel’s face was enough to kill any spark of hope he had. When the hand dropped from his shoulder, he instantly missed its warmth.

 

     “I understand.” That was all Castiel said before disappearing with the sound of flapping wings and Dean was left standing in the middle of his room. Suddenly it felt far too large and far too empty.

Chapter Text

     Sam, Eileen, and Jack had been playing a very intense game of “Go Fish” when the screaming started. Jack had popped in for a visit and was very interested in the deck of cards Sam and Eileen were sharing for a game of poker. Eileen had attempted to explain the rules but Jack didn’t like games of deception so the three settled in for a “Go Fish” tournament.


     Jack had just demanded yet another rematch after losing eight times in a row. Neither Sam nor Jack had expected Eileen to be so good at the game, but she managed to beat them both fair and square six of the eight games. Sam had simply laughed at the boy’s request and began reshuffling the cards once again when Castiel and Dean began fighting.

 
     The yelling and sounds of what Sam assumed to be Castiel and Dean pushing each other around escalated quickly and he turned to Eileen.

 

     “Why don’t we take this elsewhere. It sounds like Castiel and Dean need some alone time.”

 

     Eileen nodded and turned to Jack, “How does ice cream sound?”

 

     Jack’s grin spread across his face and he bound up the stairs to the door of the bunker while Eileen and Sam trailed behind.

 

     “What’s going on?” Eileen asked once Jack was out of earshot.

 

     Sam grimaced before he answered. “I’m not sure. I just heard them walking down the hall to Dean’s room and then the door slammed and now they’re screaming at each other. As much as I want them to work it out, I also know how stubborn Dean is and this is probably the only way they will. I just know that Jack shouldn’t have to listen to it. He might be God now, but he’s still a kid and shouldn’t have to listen to his parents fighting.”

 

     Eileen smiled up at Sam with fondness as Jack made his way out of the bunker to the garage. “You would make a great father, Sam.”


     Sam glanced down at her in bewilderment but smiled. “Maybe one day…” The words came wistfully as he took Eileen’s hand and guided her to the Impala where Jack was already waiting in the backseat.

 

     Once the Impala was parked in the lot of a small local ice cream parlor, Jack, Sam, and Eileen made their way inside of the sunny little joint. The building was a retro-looking parlor with 50’s inspired decor. Sam had smiled as the building reminded him of his adventure with Castiel in Charming Acres.


     The parlor was mostly empty as it was still quite early in the day so the trio was able to find a booth easily. A sweet brunette with her hair pulled up in a big bow approached their table and began passing around menus.

 

     “Hiya there folks. My name is Tiffany and I’ll be your waitress today. Is there anything I can get you guys started off with drink-wise?” Tiffany was far too chipper but Jack seemed to enjoy it so Sam simply smiled at the boy.

 

     As the waitress pulled a small notepad out of the apron around her skirt, Eileen replied first. “I will take a coffee please.”

 

     “Make that two coffees,” Sam added on with a smile.

 

     “And for you?” The waitress asked Jack with a million-dollar smile.

 

     “What kinds of juice do you have?”

 

     Over the last few weeks, Jack had developed an affinity for the drink and he never seemed to be able to get enough of it. Unfortunately, Dean wasn’t a huge juice person since he preferred coffee, Castiel didn’t need to drink, and Sam said it had too much sugar in it so it was a rarity that there was ever more than one kind in the bunker at a time, if at all.

 

     Tiffany listed off each type they carried before Jack made his final decision. “I will take apple juice please.” He gave the woman a bright smile and she winked at him before turning away to grab their drinks. 
 

     “Well she was very nice,” he commented as he looked around the room with interest.

     Eileen chuckled lightly as she watched the boy’s face as his eyes glittered in awe. She liked that the simple things in life amazed him so much. In reality, Jack really was a toddler that had just begun discovering the world and she enjoyed watching him learn and find new things every day.

     Sam and Jack talked about the menu while Eileen stared at them. She thoroughly enjoyed watching their dynamic. When it came to the relationship between Castiel and Jack, it was obvious the two were a father-son duo. Sam and Jack, however, were more complicated. She noticed that while Sam was definitely a father figure to Jack, they seemed to have the relationship of a boy and his goofy uncle.

     By the time the waitress had returned, Sam had coached Jack through the menu and helped him choose his lunch. They each ordered in turn and sipped at their drinks while they waited for the waitress to return.

 

     Jack smiled into his cup after his first couple sips and met Sam’s curious look. “I like apple juice. It is much sweeter than cranberry juice and is much less acidic than orange juice. It’s pleasant.”

 

     Sam grinned at the oddly Castiel-Esque comment and then felt a pang of guilt in his stomach. He had managed to forget the condition they left the bunker in and hoped that Dean and Castiel had stopped fighting. It seemed like Dean was finally getting some peace but peace never seemed to last too long for the Winchesters. Sam just hoped that they would be able to butt heads and resolve whatever it was just like they always did. 

     The three chatted about nothing in particular as they waited for their lunches. They discussed Jack’s new duties in Heaven, his new favorite books, the games he wanted to play later when they got home, and the movie they might choose that night.

     When Tiffany returned to the table with Sam’s salad, Eileen’s chili, and Jack’s toasted sandwich, they all thanked her and dove into their food. Jack was more than pleased with Sam’s guidance when making his choice, commenting that it was almost as good as Dean’s cooking.

     The trio ate in comfortable silence for a few minutes while Sam and Eileen shared warm glances and watched Jack with smiles. When the boy got through most of his food he began to furrow his brows at the plate under him. 

 

     “Is something wrong Jack?” Sam tilted his head as he asked the boy, mild concern in his voice.

 

     “No. There's nothing wrong. I’m just thinking.” The boy looked quite pensive as he responded.

 

     “About what?” Eileen asked, leaning forward in her seat.

 

     “I’m thinking about feelings. They are quite confusing. Ever since I got my soul back, I have been feeling emotions again and I do appreciate them, but there is something I don’t understand.”

 

     “And what’s that?” Sam responded while dropping his fork to his empty plate.

 

     “Why do some people not like them? I don’t think Dean really likes his emotions. He never talks about them and when he does he just gets mad. That’s why he and Castiel are fighting. Isn’t it?” Jack looked at Sam and Eileen earnestly and Eileen reached across the table to take Jack’s hand in her own. 

 

     “Jack, it’s not that Dean doesn’t like his emotions” Sam started, catching Jack’s eyes as he spoke. “He just isn’t very good at handling them. When our mom died, we lost our only mentor when it comes to that kind of stuff. It was a bit easier for me because I didn’t remember her, but for Dean, it was hard. I grew up only knowing my Dad and his more brash way of doing things. Dean lost a lot of kindness all of a sudden and I think that stuck with him. We were taught that our emotions were not as important as the people that needed to be saved. The people were always more important and I think Dean took that pretty personally. He’s been through a lot.” 

 

     Sam looked longingly nowhere in particular as he remembered what Dean used to be like when they were young. He had been so vibrant and full of life once. He missed seeing that version of his older brother. Sometimes when Dean laughed, Sam caught a glimpse of the teenager that raised him: the teenager that would hustle pool, bare-knuckle fight, and play late-night games of poker all to collect enough money to help make ends meet for Sam. 

     He was the teenager that reeked of confidence and life and energy. He would always take special time to tease Sam in his way of showing compassion. Dean would pretend to hate it, but he would always get excited for Sam whenever he brought home a good test score or a new book from the local library. 

     Sam remembered one of his favorite memories of Dean was from the play he had worked on. Sam had been in the crew for “Our Town” and when he admitted this to Dean, it was Dean who came to the show and sat in the audience in the back of the auditorium to support his little brother. Sometimes Sam missed the boy he once saw in the back of the auditorium that day.

 

     Jack swallowed his last bite of sandwich before thinking carefully and asking his next question. “Is that why he always fights with you or Castiel?”

 

     “Yeah, Jack. I think so. Now you go over to the counter and pick whatever ice cream you want okay?” Sam sighed as he gave the command, hoping that Jack understood how sensitive the topic was that he was asking about.

 

     “He’s sweet.” Eileen’s voice dragged Sam out of his thoughts.

 

     “Yeah. We’re really lucky to have him. I just wish there was an easier way to talk to him about this stuff. I mean, raising a child is hard enough as it is. Raising a Nephilim though, that’s been really challenging. The only easy part was skipping the diapers stage.” Sam chuckled to himself as he wrapped an arm around Eileen’s waist and tossed a few bills on the table. 

 

     “Well, that is nice at least.” Eileen ruffled Sam’s hair before standing to follow Jack to the counter. 

Chapter Text

     As Sam stood, he took a moment to stare at his quaint family at the ice cream counter. The scene before him was so utterly mundane and domestic. To anyone else, they probably looked normal. Nobody would have guessed that the kid in charge of existence itself was asking Sam’s girlfriend for her recommendation regarding the frozen treats in front of him. 

     He laughed to himself about the fact as he approached the counter. While all Hell may have been breaking loose in the bunker, he was thoroughly enjoying his time in the little parlor. There was no apocalypse busy ripping the world apart, no cosmic entity searching one of them out, and no God desperately trying to mold them to his narrative. Instead, he was furrowing his brow while taking in the colorful assortment in front of him as he talked with Eileen. 

     It was a sweet moment to watch. Jack looked so incredibly serious as if nothing mattered more than his dessert selection. It was ironic how much the boy resembled Castiel. Sam recognized the squinted eyes, head tilt, and contemplative gaze in the boy’s posture as he read the different labels on the counter and all of them definitely came from one angel in particular. 

 

     Sam clapped Jack on the shoulder. “So what’s it going to be? Are we in a waffle cone or sundae mood today?”

 

     Jack smiled and pointed at one of the tubs. “I was thinking one of the cookie sandwiches. The ones with the rainbow sprinkles around the edges!” Sam could hear the glee in the boy’s voice so he didn’t even try to put up a fight over the sugar content.

 

     Sam, Eileen, and Jack made their way to sit on a bench outside in the sun to enjoy their treats. Eileen laughed hysterically as she managed to get a picture of chocolate ice cream dripping out of the bottom of Sam’s waffle cone and onto his pants. Hers had managed to stay intact throughout the encounter so she was the cleanest of the trio. 

 

     Jack made happy noises as he tore into his sandwich, obviously pleased with his choice. He only stopped when an unfamiliar stabbing feeling prodded at the roof of his mouth. “Sam! What’s happening to me?!” he grimaced as he gripped his head in his open hand. 

 

     Eileen and Sam both laughed until their stomachs hurt as they explained what a brain freeze was to the boy. Jack decided it was a good idea to slow down a bit to avoid another one and began taking tinier bites. 

 

     The group enjoyed their treats as they stared at the beautiful clear blue sky when Jack interrupted the silence again. “What is love?”

 

     Sam and Eileen both turned to him in surprise but Jack simply stared back in earnest before continuing.

 

     “I’ve talked to Castiel and Dean about love before and they both seem to have ideas of it but I still don’t understand. Castiel said that the sadness you feel when you lose someone is proof of how much you loved them and Dean said love can be crazy. But what is it?”

 

     To Sam’s surprise, Eileen answered first.

 

     “Well Jack, love is complicated. There are different types too. There’s the love Sam and Dean and Castiel have for you. They would do anything for you because they love you. You guys are family.”

 

     Sam picked up where Eileen left off. “Exactly. Jack, we love you. You make us very happy and we are so excited whenever you say you are going to come home to see us. We love you so we would die for you. You’re like a son to me. That’s family love.”

 

     Jack licked a stray sprinkle off his pinky as he thought deeply and furrowed his brow once again. “I believe I understand that. I love you and Dean and Castiel like that. But you said there was more than one type.”

 

     Eileen smiled. “I did say that. That’s because there is also the love you have for a good friend. For example, I believe we are friends now Jack and I love you. I enjoy seeing you happy and you make me very happy. I would defend you from harm’s way because I care about you.”

 

     “I’m confused.” Jack furrowed his brow at his sandwich as he spoke. “I thought that was family love. Sam and I are not technically related by blood.” Jack tilted his head in confusion just like his father does.

 

     Sam laughed at this and put his arm around the boy’s shoulder. “That is because friend and family love is often one of the same for people like us. Hunters, we tend to build our found families from people we befriend along the way.”

 

     “I see,” Jack responded, although he was not entirely certain he did understand. 

 

     “Then there’s romantic love.” Sam started while catching Eileen’s eye. “That’s the kind between Eileen and me. It’s the kind that makes you want to do crazy things. That kind of love makes you want to spend the rest of your life building a home together with that one special person. You would die for each other and give each other everything you have just to see them smile.” Sam squeezed Eileen’s hand as he spoke and this time, she had nothing to add.

 

     “That’s the kind with sex right?” Jack asked casually as he finished off his last bite of cookie.

 

     Sam and Eileen both snapped to look at Jack but their gazes softened when they saw how contemplative he looked. Sam responded calmly.

 

     “Yes, Jack. That is one thing that lovers can do. People who do not love each other can have sex too, like when Dean used to have sex with a girl he met at a bar and never saw her again after that. Some lovers also choose not to have sex. It’s a bit complicated.”

 

     “I’m confused.”

 

     Eileen looked Jack in the eye when she responded. “Confused about what Jack?”

 

     “Where do Dean and Castiel fit in? I mean Dean calls him a brother, but they are not technically the same species and Castiel’s relationship with you guys is different from his relationship with Dean.”

 

     Sam chuckled as he rose to his feet and pulled the keys out of his pocket. “That’s a really good question Jack, one even I don’t have an answer for.” 

 

     The ride back to the bunker was full of all sorts of questions. Sam discovered that every once in a while Jack would get in these moods where he had questions about everything, big and small. Some things Sam could answer, but others, like his questions about love, were much more complicated.

     The assault of questions only slowed once the trio made its way back inside the bunker. Jack sped off to his room to begin reading yet another novel in a new series that had caught his eye.

 

     Arms snaked their way around Sam’s waist as Eileen hugged him from behind and spoke. “Well, things seem to be fairly intact here. It doesn’t look like they broke anything of too much value. Hear anything?”

 

     Sam craned his neck to listen but heard nothing. He turned around in Eileen’s arms and began rubbing her back slowly. “Nope. Sounds like they sorted everything out. Why don’t we go watch a movie? I’ll grab some drinks and you go ahead and pick whichever one you want.”

 

     Sam leaned down to kiss the top of her head before sending her down the hallway. He could not believe how lucky he was to have her. After everything he had been through, He finally had the blessing of someone that truly understood him. Sam had loved Jessica deeply, but Eileen understood the life and because of that, she truly understood everything he had been through and the thoughts that plagued him on the harder days. 

     He made his way to the kitchen to grab a few drinks and snacks when he noticed the table. 

 

     “Really Dean?” Sam grumbled as he noticed the plate of half-eaten food left out. He was about to grab it to put it in the sink when he noticed a small box sitting next to the plate. 

 

     Sam furrowed his brows in curiosity and picked up the box, taking notice of a small piece of paper taped to it. When he unfolded it, Sam noticed one word was carefully etched onto the paper:  Dean .

Chapter Text

     Dean had not moved from his bed in the hours since Castiel left his room. He was so angry at himself for pushing the guy away. They were best friends and he had just come back from the dead.

 

     The dude seriously just got back. I should be giving him a break. Why am I like this?

 

      H e wondered this as he rummaged through his desk drawer for his headphones. Without finding an answer, Dean settled into his pillows and stared at the wall as he blasted music to drown out his thoughts.

     His sulking was interrupted when there was a knock at the door. Sam slowly opened it a few inches and peered inside. 

 

     “Busy?” He cautiously stepped inside seeing that Dean was simply sitting on the bed and not doing much of anything.

 

     Dean did not respond with more than a grumble in return but he pushed the headphones down and around his neck to be able to listen better. Having perceived this as a welcoming sign, Sam took a seat at the end of his bed.

 

     “So do you want to talk about it?”

 

     Another grunt.

 

     “Alright. I’ll take that as a no. Well, Eileen and I took Jack out for a bit so he wouldn’t hear any of it. I guess I just hope you guys work it out. That’s all.” Sam turned to look at Dean and saw the man was still staring at the wall angrily.

     “Okay, so I can tell this is going nowhere.” Sam raked his hand through his hair in frustration before thrusting the box towards his older brother. “Anyways I found this is the kitchen. Looks like a gift. Could be a late Christmas or early birthday present or something. I’m not sure who it’s from though.”

 

     Dean grunted again but took the box and stared at it incredulously. 

 

     Sam rolled his eyes before slapping his knees as he moved to stand. “Alright well, I’m going to go watch a movie with Eileen. If you feel like company at any point, I think Jack is in his room reading. Oh yeah, where’s Cas?” Sam instantly regretted the question when he saw the darkness cross his brother’s face.

 

     “No idea. The dick flew off somewhere.” It was the first words Dean spoke since his fight and he wasn’t interested in being quizzed by his brother so he continued to stare at the wall.

 

     Sam didn’t have anything to say in response, so he just patted Dean’s shoulder and walked out of the room, leaving his older brother alone with his thoughts. 

     As soon as the door closed behind Sam, Dean let his gaze meet the box on his bed. He didn’t deserve a gift from anyone. Not after what he just did. As much as he wanted to just throw it across the room and let all his anger out, gifts were not a common occurrence for the Winchesters so he carefully inspected it instead. 

     Dean tossed his headphones on the mattress as he looked at the carefully written letters on the tag:  Dean . He wasn’t quite sure he recognized the handwriting, but it definitely wasn’t Sam’s.

     He carefully opened the lid of the box and found a folded-up piece of paper inside. Dean frowned as he unfolded the loose leaf revealing what looked like a letter. The paper was scrawled with careful lettering and he threw his legs over the side of the bed to move to a sitting position. 

     Dean settled his elbows on his knees and leaned forward in interest. His eyes scanned the paper as he read the typewriter-worthy penmanship.

 

Dean,

     I apologize for our fight earlier today. I have come to realize that I have been pushing you quite a bit. I understand that you have had a lot happen to you in the last few months and need time to cope before opening up about anything. 

     I recognize that as your friend, you may not want to talk to me about these things. I wish you would but I understand if you would prefer to confide in Sam from now on. 

     I also understand if my presence makes you uncomfortable. After our fight, I now realize how difficult my decision must have been for you. When I made that decision, I knew it was necessary but I never wanted to cause you any pain. I know that what I said to you cannot be forgotten so if you need space from me I would understand.

     Recently I have discovered that your birthday is quickly approaching, so I wanted to give you a gift. I have heard that gifts make for good apologies so I have gathered some of my most prized possessions and wished to give them to you. Do not try to return them to me. You once told me that one of the greatest rules surrounding gifts is that you must keep them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     My apologies,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Castiel

 

     By the time he finished reading, Dean could feel the anger leaving his body, leaving a heavy feeling of guilt in its stead. He wanted to call out to Castiel to make things right between them, but he knew there would just be another fight. 

     Of course, it wouldn’t be the angel starting it. It never was. He was too mild-tempered to ever start one. It was always Dean pushing too hard, too much, and the angel was always caught in the crossfire. Dean hated himself for it. After so many years by each other's sides, for some reason, his anger had yet to push his best friend away and because of this, he had gotten Castiel killed. 

 

     How could he just give up? We could have tried to fight her off. Why didn’t he at least try?

 

     Dean shook his head in an attempt to rid himself of the thoughts and remembered there was more inside the box. He reached in and felt a familiar flap of leather. When he pulled out the fake badge his fingers grazed pensively over the worn folds. 

     Dean read the name on the I.D: Special Agent Eddie Moscone. He found it hard to believe that after 12 years, Castiel still kept the badge. Dean smiled fondly remembering that day.

     It was one of their first solo missions together. Castiel had been quite oblivious then and the thought of it made Dean’s cheeks warm as he smiled. He still remembered fixing Castiel’s tie and teaching him how to lie properly. Castiel had been putty in his hands back then: all-powerful, world-ending, celestial putty.

     He thought about that day from time to time. More specifically, he thought about flipping Castiel’s badge right side up. It had been such a small gesture, but it had stuck with Dean for over a decade. Castiel’s cluelessness had been endearing, to say the least. Even now, sometimes Dean missed who Castiel used to be but he wouldn’t trade Castiel now for the world.

     Dean carefully dropped the badge onto the bed next to him and reached back into the box. His fingers found a small piece of paper and when he pulled it out, it brought tears to his eyes. Looking back at him was an old picture of him and Sam laughing.

 

     Man, we look so young and happy  he thought. 

 

     He could understand why the picture was so special to his best friend. They were the only real family Castiel had. Of course, he had his Heavenly brothers and sisters, but they weren’t really family. They were just members of the same war machine. The Winchesters truly cared about the angel like no being ever had before. It must have been nice to carry around a reminder with him everywhere. 

     Dean placed the photo next to Castiel’s old badge and reached back into the box, finding a crumpled piece of paper. He frowned as he flattened it, not sure what it was at first. When he read the name of the diner and the date on the receipt in his hands though, the memories all flooded back. Castiel must have snagged the receipt when Dean wasn’t looking. 

     The order for two burger meals was from the time Dean had been helping Castiel with his troubles with Claire. The hunter smiled thinking about Castiel’s pensive face as he worked through his “midlife crisis”. Even then, he had been so tuned into Dean’s emotions. He remembered how Castiel had asked for advice and when Dean put himself down, Castiel had been right there to lift him back up again even though he was the one asking for support.

 

     Dumb son of a bitch won’t accept help without giving any.  Dean thought fondly as he added the receipt to the small pile growing next to him. 

 

 

     When he reached his hand back inside the box, he found yet another piece of paper. This time when he pulled it out, Dean beamed and felt his cheeks warm as a photo of Castiel stared back at him. 

     Dean laughed wetly and scrubbed his cheeks as he looked at the goofy cowboy hat Castiel was wearing. That day had been one of his best in the last few years. He had been so upset just hours before he had taken that photo. Castiel was dead and he was babysitting the antichrist. He felt so lost in the world but then Castiel came back to him and it was like the sky was clearing up just a bit. 

     Yet again, Castiel had been happy to go on a solo mission with him and when Dean requested he wear the hat, he obliged right away. He had been so willing to partake in whatever made Dean happy. Even Sam wasn’t willing to do that much for him. Castiel had simply dressed up with him and acted like a cowboy as much as he could and it made a lump form in Dean’s throat to be reminded of it. 

     The photo of Castiel joined the pile and Dean reached into the box for the final item. His fingers curled around a familiar piece of plastic and Dean’s smile fell as he pulled out the tape. 

     DeaNs top 13 Zepp TRAXX  stared back at him as his thumb gently traced the words over and over again. It had been so long since he’d held it and he couldn’t help but think of the last time he saw it. Castiel had been in his room preparing to ditch them once again.

 

     “Oh, Cas…” 

 

     The words escaped his mouth in a whisper as he thought about that day. At that moment, Dean realized he couldn’t handle Castiel leaving him again. He needed the angel to come back. 

 

     He cleared his throat in an attempt to remove the lump there and began to pray harder than he had in years.

 

     “Hey, Cas. I hope you’ve got your ears on. Look, I’m really sorry. I should have never yelled at you. I understand why you did it. Hell, if it was the other way around, I would have done the same thing. I know I would have. I would die for you man. Nothing’s gonna change that.”

 

     Dean coughed to shove the growing lump back again. The last thing he wanted was to lose his cool before he could get everything he wanted to say out. The last time that happened he had been in Purgatory trying desperately to apologize to Castiel. He never wanted to do that again.

 

     “I’m so sorry. I just get so angry when you leave and I really thought you were going to leave us forever. I wouldn’t have ever been able to forgive myself if you were stuck in that place because of me. 

     Please, just don’t be mad at me. I’m sorry. I want to make this right again. And besides, you’re a way better listener than Sammy ever was.”

 

     Dean huffed and wiped his wetting cheeks with his palms over and over again while laughing mirthlessly. 

 

     “The guy gets all judgy and puppy-eyed. It’s kinda embarrassing really. Whenever we talk, I just feel like I can tell you anything and I need you, man. Just please don’t let me push you away. Please come back home.”

 

     As Dean finished his prayer, he watched as a single tear fell to the tape in his hands.

 

Chapter Text

     Jack sat cross-legged on his bed reading from a new book. He had come to love the bunker’s library. It was so full of lore and stories and he loved reading. Sometimes he would get stuck on a phrase and would have to ask Sam for help with a metaphor, but Sam was always happy to sit down with him and work through the more difficult parts.


     A faint tapping filled the room and he looked up to the door frame. Castiel was standing just outside with his fist raised. 
 

     “Is something wrong?” Jack asked, concerned about the pinched look on his father's face.

 

     “Not at all Jack. I just wanted to come to see you and maybe play a game if you would like.” Castiel turned to Jack’s closet full of games and gestured to a few of the boxes as he spoke.

 

     “Can we play Connect Four again?” Jack beamed up at his father already tossing the book aside.

 

     “Of course. What are you listening to?” Castiel had just noticed Jack’s phone was settled on one of his pillows and was softly playing music he had never heard before.

 

     Jack’s face went pale and he raised his hands in defense. “Don’t tell Dean!”

     

     Castiel smiled slightly while thinking about the time Jack begged him not to tell Sam about the late-night cereal snacking he once witnessed.

 

     “Now why would I do that?” He asked in a teasing tone.

 

     “Because it was written after 1979.” Jack looked down at his folded hands in embarrassment until he noticed Castiel walking towards the bed and reaching for the phone.
 

     “Well, Dean is wrong about a lot of things.” Castiel smiled as he turned the volume up a bit and tossed the phone back on the pillow. He grabbed the box for the game and sat cross-legged on the bed in front of Jack, perfectly mirroring his son.
     “So, what are we listening to?” Castiel repeated while setting up the game and motioning Jack to take the first turn.
 

     “It’s a band called Imagine Dragons. I like their music. It seems to have a lot of meaning and I like that a lot of their songs remind me of us.” Jack spoke as he dropped his first chip.
 

     Castiel dropped his chip before looking at his son. “Really? How so?”

 

     Jack looked pensive as he took his next turn. “Well, lots of their songs are happy like when we’re all together on movie nights. Then there are their sadder songs. I like “Monster” because it reminds me of me.”
 

     Castiel scanned the frame and took his turn. “Oh?”

 

     Jack grimaced as Castiel blocked his line of three chips and looked for a new spot. “Well, it’s about having a monster inside you. I guess I used to be like that but you guys helped me.”

 

     Castiel’s smile faltered slightly as he listened to Jack’s explanation. There was no sadness in the boy’s voice, but he hated hearing Jack speak like that about himself. Castiel’s fingers deftly grazed his chip as he looked for another spot and spoke.
 

     “What other songs do you like?” his chip clinked on top of one of Jack’s, blocking another one of his possible wins.

 

     “Well, I like the song “Demons” because we hunt them although the meaning of the song confuses me a bit. I like this one too.” Jack dropped another chip making two in a row.

 

     Castiel turned his face to the phone and scrunched his nose as he read the name: “Bleeding out”. He turned to look back at Jack as he dropped his next chip and spoke “This song seems violent Jack. Are you sure it is age-appropriate for you?”

 

     Jack dropped another chip making three in a row. “I believe so. I think it is a metaphor. Sam has been teaching me about metaphors lately and it seems this one is a metaphor for doing everything you can for someone you love after letting them down. It’s very interesting.”

 

     Castiel felt a warmth reach his cheeks as he thought about the one man he had let down most in this world but would always be willing to do everything in his power to save. Castiel knew that no matter how many disappointments he had caused, he would always lay himself down in front of Dean for forgiveness, no matter the cost.
     

     He noticed another warmth reach his chest as he picked up his chip. He could easily cut off Jack’s row and keep the game going, but Jack was so sweet. Castiel thought about it for a moment and was reminded of how Dean raised Sam. Castiel had always looked to Dean for advice and reassurance so, at that moment, he did what Dean would have done for Sam and dropped the chip.

 

     “Yes! I win!” Jack exclaimed as he completed his row.

 

     “Hm...Well, it does appear you have connected four of your chips. I guess it seems you have beaten me yet again.” Castiel attempted to remain stoic but he felt the smile creeping into his voice.

 

     “You let me win!” Jack put his hands on his hips and glared at his father.

 

     “What? I would never!” Castiel laughed and avoided the boy’s gaze as he pressed the lever that released all of the chips. “I would, however, like to play another game if you wouldn’t mind.” He did meet Jack’s gaze then and laughed at how happy his son looked.

 

     “Can we play Chutes and Ladders?” Jack asked, already getting up to grab the game from the pile in his closet.

 

     “Of course.” Castiel began packing up the Connect Four game when Jack sat back down on the bed. They sat in silence as Castiel packed and Jack unpacked.

 

     The silence was broken when Jack spoke. “Is something bothering you? You seemed worried when you came in.”

 

     The angel considered keeping his thoughts from Jack. Every parenting book he had read told him that children should not be involved in marital disputes. He knew that his and Dean’s troubles were quite far from the typical parental fights, but he figured the concept was the same. He also knew, however, that Jack did not deserve to be lied to and he did not want to encourage Jack to bottle up his feelings like his fathers did.

 

     “You’re right Jack. Something is bothering me. That’s why I am here. Playing games with you always makes me feel better when I am upset.” Castiel forced a smile when he closed the box and looked at his son but a genuine smile spread across his face when Jack tilted his head in concern. 

 

     “It’s Dean, isn’t it? That’s why Sam and Eileen took me out of the bunker last week. You guys were fighting and they didn’t want me to hear it.” Jack frowned at the box in his hands as he contemplated his question.

 

     “Yes, Jack. I don’t want you to worry though. We have talked since and are working things out. Your fath…..Dean, he’s been through a lot recently. Quite frankly he has seen far more in the last 40 years than even I should see in my whole life. He is troubled and when something upsets him, he feels it quite deeply. I’m sure you remember the last time we talked about that.”

 

     “I do remember. Sam says Dean yells at you a lot because he is not good with his feelings. Do you think that is true?” Jack was still staring down at the box in his hands.

 

     Castiel laughed at this. Jack was very mature for his age but that did not stifle his curiosity in the slightest. “It’s definitely a possibility. It’s also not entirely Dean’s fault when he gets mad. More often than not, it is because I have done something to encourage it. Just don’t be too upset with him. Dean is doing the best he can with the life he was given.”

 

     Jack finally looked up when he spoke. “Hey, Dad?”

 

     Castiel’s jaw dropped. Jack had never called him that before and he felt like his heart was going to burst. He’d always known and felt like he was Jack’s father, but that was different from being a dad. That was an entirely different ballgame as Dean would put it and Castiel felt like he might cry at the gesture.

 

     He had to clear the lump in his throat to respond. “Yes?”

 

     Jack looked at him with a small smile as if he had no idea the fireworks he had just set off in Castiel’s mind. “Are you guys going to fix it?”

 

     Castiel felt a pang in his chest. He knew there was always a chance they couldn’t work things out between them. After a few days of desperately needed space, he had returned to the bunker and he and Dean talked a bit to say their apologies. They “hugged it out” as Dean put it but things still weren’t the way they were before Castiel sacrificed himself. Because of this, the angel decided that it was best to lie to Jack this time. 

 

     “Of course.”

Chapter Text

     After three rounds of playing and winning Chutes and Ladders, Jack knew it was time for him to return to Heaven to check in on Rosangelle and the prayers he had ignored for two days now. He normally checked in nightly, but the last few days had been exhausting and he missed his family.

     Castiel hugged Jack goodbye and promised that when he returned, they would find a new game to play. This had drawn a blinding grin out of Jack and it made the angel’s chest feel tight with pride. Just four years ago, Castiel was running from Heaven and its tyrant Chuck but now, he was playing board games with its leader, his son. 

     With the sound of his wings, Jack disappeared from the room, leaving Castiel to clean up and put the game away. He found it oddly calming to put the pieces in their respective places and even caught himself humming to the tune of one of the songs Jack played for him. 

 

     Music seems to be very important to this family  he noted as he slid the lid on the box. 

 

     His fingers grazed the seam of the cardboard and it reminded him about the gift he left for Dean the week prior. He seemed thankful for it but of course, attempted to return it. 

     Castiel smiled thinking about this. He knew Dean would try to return his things. This was exactly why he chose what he did. Dean did not realize it, but Castiel chose them in hopes of starting a conversation that wouldn’t end in a serious fight. They of course bickered over the tape, but it was a pleasant bickering. At that moment, the atmosphere almost felt like it used to before their big fight after Rowena died.

     That tape must have meant quite a lot to Dean. Castiel had listened to it over and over again, but it never seemed to have quite as much meaning as when he listened to one of its songs in the car with his best friend. Nothing compared to the feeling of watching the man smile and drum away at the steering wheel with his thumbs while humming or singing along. He always looked so peaceful and happy then.

     Because of this, Castiel reasoned that music was highly important to Dean so that personalized tape was easily his most treasured possession. Dean did not know this, but Castiel had carried it with him everywhere he had gone since the day he first received it. It had a permanent home in one of the inner pockets of his trenchcoat where he could reach for it and hold it whenever he was troubled and needed grounding.

     Castiel pondered this as he made his way back to his room in the bunker. Without his prized possessions in it now, it was majoridly empty. There were a few extra coats in the closet and a few extra ties in his dresser, but he had no need for most earthly possessions. 

     Since his return to Earth, Castiel had discovered he enjoyed the comfort of his bed. Some days he would sit and watch movies on his phone but most days he would lay down and stare at the ceiling while contemplating his life and how far he had come. 

     He would oscillate between pride and disgust almost daily. Some days he was proud of his rebellion and saving the world by Sam and Dean’s sides. Most days, however, he would think of his shortcomings and all the lives his disappointments had ruined. He would think about Jimmy and Claire and how they had deserved so much more. His fallen brothers and sisters were ever-present in his mind as well.

     This time when he sat on his bed, Castiel reached for his phone but did not look for a movie to pass the time. Instead, he opened one of the apps Dean had downloaded for him to listen to music and began typing in the search bar: Imagine Dragons.

     Castiel’s curiosity had been eating at him for a few hours. While he played with Jack, it was difficult to focus on the music they were listening to and nearly impossible to recognize the lyrics. Jack had seemed very interested in those songs and Castiel wanted to bond with the boy in any way possible.

 

     Because that’s what good dads do,  he thought with a warm smile as he selected the first song. 

 

     “Monster” played through the speaker on his phone and he listened intently, furrowing his brow with concentration. Castiel focused on the music with all of his being in order to understand Jack’s appreciation for it.

 

     It’s not quite my favorite but I see why Jack relates with this song  he thought sadly as he replayed the song for the third time. Normally he would only listen to it once, following Dean’s instructions, but this was more for research purposes than anything and he wanted to be thorough.

 

     Next was “Bleeding Out”. Castiel found that this song was more difficult to listen to. The whole song he found his thoughts drifting to everything he had ever done for Dean and every time he had disappointed the hunter. He could feel his throat tightening by the time he finished the song for the fourth time and he decided to move on to the last one Jack had mentioned.

     Dean did not leave Castiel’s mind once as he listened to “Demons”. Unfortunately to Castiel, the meaning of the song was all too literal. The hunter definitely had his demons. His anger, self-hatred, and alcohol-induced rage haunted Castiel constantly. The angel was too familiar with the feeling of coming too close to Dean and feeling the outpouring of his demons as they exploded out of him.

     Tears began curling around Castiel’s eyes as he listened to the song for the third, fourth, and fifth time, each time remembering another fight. He thought about the many times he had been thrown against a wall or pushed to the ground as Dean’s rage boiled over, most notably when Dean was succumbing to the Mark of Cain. Castiel couldn’t pry his thoughts from the literal demon that had hidden inside the man for so long. He had been so disappointed in himself for not being able to help Dean more or sooner.

     Castiel began to feel the tears fall down his cheeks. It was such an unfamiliar feeling to him. He had only cried four times in his life now: All of which were during his time spent with the Winchesters. Castiel hated the feeling and that only caused him to sob harder. Out of a desperate plea for comfort, the angel pulled his knees to his chest and buried his face in them.

     He was unsure of how long he remained like that. All he knew was that yet another repeat of the song was interrupted by Sam slowly pushing his door open. 

 

     “Hey, Cas. What’re...Are you crying?” Sam asked softly with disbelief in his voice. He carefully approached the angel and sat down next to him on the rumpled bedspread.

 

     Castiel quickly brushed his face with the backs of his hands and took a deep shuddering breath. “No.”

 

     “Come on buddy. What’s going on?” Sam coaxed, trying to remain gentle with the angel. 

 

     He had only ever seen him cry once and he wasn’t sure if that had really counted. Castiel’s tears when he woke up from the Empty seemed more fear-induced than anything else. 

     Castiel lowered his feet to the ground and rested his elbows on his knees while catching his face in his hands. He remained silent for a few moments while a couple of stray sobs shook his shoulders. He felt Sam’s hand make it to his back and gently pat it. Castiel was sure this was meant to be a comforting motion, and it did help a little bit.

 

     “I know this is not typical but can I confide in you?” he asked through his fingers.

 

     “Of course Cas. What’s bothering you?”

 

     Castiel finally looked up at the man. “I am afraid I no longer have a place here.”

 

     Sam was taken aback by the abrupt words. “Of course you do! You’re family Cas.”

 

     “You and Dean say that but I am struggling to feel like I belong here ever since I came back. Most days I only feel at home when I am with Jack and I am beginning to question whether it would be best for me to just return to Heaven.” Castiel spoke quietly like he was embarrassed by his weakened state.

 

     “Cas, we are not going to stop you if that’s what you want. I just know that we all love you and really want you here. Had we known this is how you felt I’m sure we could have done something to help. We don’t want you to go, we want you here.” Sam’s heart was breaking as he looked at the angel. He had never seen him look so broken and hopeless.

     They sat in silence but for Castiel’s stray tears for a few minutes until Sam connected the dots. “It’s Dean, isn’t it? Your fighting with him is making you feel like this.”

 

     “Yes,” Castiel barely squeaked out before a fresh round of tears reached his face.

 

     Sam sighed heavily. He was sick of his older brother’s antics. It had been obvious for years that their “profound bond” was something more. It was obvious to everyone except Dean. Sam thought it was because Dean refused to see it. He knew his older brother had extreme issues with his self worth and it sickened him that Dean couldn’t allow himself to be loved. Sam was tired of third-wheeling so he did all he could.

 

     “Tell me all about it.”

 

Chapter Text

     Dean stumbled down the hallway while using the wall for support. His arm swayed at his side carrying a half-empty bottle of beer from his most recent binge even though he hadn’t had a day that was particularly bad compared to any others. Unfortunately, every day was difficult for Dean with the thoughts he constantly had swimming in his head.

     The hunter’s head was pounding and his thoughts jumbled as he made his way down the hall of bedrooms. He was only a few rooms away from his own when a soft voice broke him out of his stupor.

 

     “Tell me all about it” 

 

     Sam’s voice came gingerly from the door in front of Dean. When he heard a faint sniffle and then a gasping sob, Dean peered around the doorframe and watched as Castiel doubled over in tears. 

     Dean was shocked to see his friend in such pain but his feet felt like they were made of lead. Perhaps it was the alcohol, but he was unable to bring himself to enter the room and comfort the angel. Instead, he let the constricting guilt pool in his chest as he simply watched and listened.

 

     Castiel sniffled as he spoke “I get the feeling I have done something wrong to push him away but I have no idea what it may be. He says he understands why I gave my life for his but he also seems so hurt by it. I have apologized numerous times and he says he forgives me but I can’t help but feel that he still holds a grudge for my actions” 

 

     Sam reached out and placed a careful hand on his friend's knee while keeping the other on his back and continuing to rub gentle circles between his shoulder blades. He nodded slowly and silently urged Castiel to continue.

 

     “I was happy and ready. I was content in just being but then I was ripped from that and now I am here. I feel so confused all the time. I have missed so much since my final moments. And then there was the Empty. It was horrible Sam. It was horrible.” His head fell into his hands again and the angel began to shiver. 

 

     Dean felt cold from the shock of seeing Castiel like this. He wanted desperately to reach out and pull the angel to him for comfort but he did nothing.

     

     “What was it like?” Sam asked cautiously as he continued the gentle circles.

 

     “The things I saw, they were devised to break me. I thought they were fake but...but they happened. Some of them did. The Shadow, it wanted me to suffer so I dreamt of the worst things it could concoct for me: the possible results of my greatest regrets.”

 

     Castiel dropped his hands and stared at them as they began to shake from fear. He did not look up from them when he began speaking again a few minutes later.

 

     “I watched as you all moved on without me. It was like I meant nothing to you. You guys seemed just fine without me and barely mentioned me when talking about who you missed and lost along the way. And then Dean….I watched as he died. I watched him be killed by a vampire on a piece of rebar of all things. The righteous man who has saved the world overcome by a nail. It was horrible. I felt like all I had ever done in this world was for nothing.”

 

     Castiel’s voice wavered as he recounted what he had seen and Dean’s hand drifted to his back where he had been injured so many weeks ago. That must be why he was so freaked when he healed me Dean thought as he attempted to push away the fuzz of the alcohol forming around his eyes.

 

     “And then...and then you’d burn him and I watched as you wasted away over the years. You had your white picket fence and left this all behind, but you weren’t truly happy until you joined Dean in Heaven. You both deserve so much more than that. You’ve saved this poor doomed world so many times that you deserve a happy life.”

 

     Upon hearing this, Dean felt himself relax and let his body weight rest entirely on the wall. It was like he couldn’t support himself any longer. He did not understand how it was possible for the angel to believe that he deserved happiness when he had caused so much destruction and pain over the years. 

 

     “Then there was the worst of it. There was a glimmer of hope as it made me believe that Jack resurrected me and that I would be reuniting with Dean in his Heaven but it would rip that hope out from under me and it would all start over and over again, each time slightly worse with different deaths, different tortures. Some in Heaven and some in Hell but they all ended the same with me hoping and then having it ripped away from me. It felt like years, eons of torture.” Castiel’s voice cracked on the final words and he slumped into Sam’s side as he began to sob again.

 

     Sam was momentarily shocked by the gesture as this was not normal of their friendship but he hugged Castiel after a few seconds. “Cas I’m so sorry that you went through that. I know it won’t get any easier over time but we’re your family and we are all here for you. If you ever need anything, we would do anything for you.”

 

     Castiel sat up and dragged his palms across his eyes to wipe away the tears. “Thank you, Sam. I will be alright. I’m sorry for inconveniencing you with this.”

 

     “Cas, you are not an inconvenience. And believe me, we did not just move on without you. Hell, Dean was inconsolable. He was so lost without you.” Dean listened as Sam’s voice shook with emotion from the memories. He almost ran in right then to stop the conversation from progressing but he felt powerless.

 

     “You know what, you deserve to see it Cas. You deserve to know that you are wanted.”

 

     “What are you saying?” There was audible confusion in the angel’s voice as he turned to look at the hunter next to him.

 

     “What does Dean call it? The Vulcan Mind Meld? Take a look at what you’ve missed.”

 

     “Sam. No. I couldn’t. I don’t want to hurt you.” Castiel sounded nervous and uneasy as Sam turned to face him on the bed. 

 

     “I’m not asking Cas. You need to see what we were like without you. You spend so much time trying to help us and remind us that we are valued. You deserve to see it too.” Dean watched as Sam bowed his head as he spoke.

 

     Castiel hesitantly nodded and slowly raised his hands to Sam’s temples. As the air bent and cracked with his grace, Castiel furrowed his brows with concentration. He watched Sam’s memories from the day they lost him until the day he came home.

     He watched as Dean drank himself unconscious while Chuck was still on the board. He felt Sam’s pain and worry as Dean hid himself away for weeks. He heard Dean’s pleads in his sleep and his screams during his drunken rages. He watched as Sam cleaned Dean's wounds and listened as Dean recounted what happened to make the Empty come. 

     Castiel reeled away from Sam as the hunter gasped for air. He quickly reached out to heal any wounds he may have caused but Sam pushed his hand away.

 

     “Do you see now? He may not admit it, but he was heartbroken without you. We all were so desperate to get you home. You have a place here Cas.”

 

     Dean watched as his brother turned to look at his distraught best friend. He felt like his insides were ripping apart at the seams. 

 

     “Hey, Cas?”

 

     “Yes, Sam?”

 

     “Dean, he’s been through a lot. You’ve been here for a lot of it, but the stuff that haunts him, a lot of it is old. When we were young, our dad raised us to be soldiers, not kids. Dean, well he and my dad didn’t always get along. He doesn’t know this, but I know how hard my dad was on him. 

     My dad caught him once doing something he didn’t like and he beat the crap out of him. Dean still thinks I was asleep that night. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not your fault. Our dad ripped Dean a new one all because he wasn’t a perfect soldier. He won’t admit it out loud, but you mean everything to him, even if he was trained not to feel that way. Talk to him but most importantly, listen. You’d be amazed what he might open up to.”

 

     Dean ducked into the hallway and flattened himself against the wall when he heard Sam clap Castiel on the back and rise to his feet. Sam’s steps echoed in the small room until Dean found himself face to face with his little brother.

 

     “Fix it, Dean. I won’t tell you twice.” Sam spoke pointedly and turned away from his brother.

 

     Dean watched as Sam strode down the hall to his room. He rolled the bottle between his fingers before downing the remaining liquid and let himself slide down the wall to a seated position on the cold floor. Dean felt the bottle slip from his fingers as the sound of Castiel’s tears lulled him to sleep.

Chapter Text

     When Dean finally stirred awake the following morning, his back was killing him. 

 

     Wha??  he thought as his eyes fluttered open and he realized he was not in his bed. Dean pushed himself into a sitting position and groaned deeply at the painful intrusion of the hard floor and cement wall behind him. While rolling a knot out of his shoulder, he realized he was curled up in the hallway of the bunker.

 

     Oh. 

 

     He remembered how he got there and thought about the events of the night before. Dean looked down in guilt when he realized he was wrapped in something tan. Dean untangled himself from the fabric and recognized Castiel’s trenchcoat and felt his cheeks flush and ears warm. He had slept wrapped up in the angel’s believed overcoat.

     Dean rose to his feet and stretched, cracking his back as he did so. The hunter groaned again as his knees threatened to buckle underneath him.

 

     I’m getting too old for this crap  he thought as his back complained in response to his poor sleeping position on the bunker’s floor. It occurred to the man that he was still tightly gripping the trenchcoat in his fist and his heart began to pound. 

     With the early morning fuzz of waking up beginning to ease, Dean’s mind seemed to clear and begin racing. As if on cue, he grasped the coat, his eyes snapped downward, and he stared at it incredulously.

 

     How the Hell did this get here?  

 

     Dean’s thoughts screamed in his head as he turned to the mahogany door to his right: Castiel’s door. He took a deep breath and stepped towards it. After everything he heard the previous night, he figured he should at least see Castiel and talk to him. Dean had no idea the angel was in so much pain and Sam had been downright scary the night before.  

     He raised his fist to knock but hesitated. Dean’s mouth felt dry and he cleared his throat over and over in an attempt to remove the lump that had formed there. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt extremely nervous. Perhaps it was the weight of the trenchcoat in his hand or maybe the sound of the angel’s tears echoing in his memory, but Dean stood behind the closed door with apprehension pooling in his gut. 

 

     Stop being such a girl and do it!  He screamed at himself internally and tightened his grip on the coat. When Dean finally knocked on the door, Castiel’s voice came muffled.

 

     “Go away.”

 

     Dean rolled his eyes dramatically and opened the door. “Yeah. That’s not gonna happen, buddy.” 

 

     Castiel was lying on his stomach on the bed and was clutching his pillow to his face as if attempting to drown the world out. His suitcoat was precariously tossed on his empty desk and his shoes were in a small pile beside his end table.

     The hunter smiled at the angel. It was almost comical how small he looked as he groaned at the intrusion of light that poured into the room. Dean never got to see Castiel like this. He was always so commanding, powerful, tall, and celestial, even when he was in pain or injured. These last few days had been a big shock for Dean as he watched his friend exude something new and entirely different than Dean had never truly seen in him before.

     Dean silently approached the bed and when he sat down at the end, Castiel finally looked up at him. The angel sat up slowly and Dean smiled at the sight before him. Castiel’s hair was sticking straight up on one side, his tie was skewed backward, and the shirt he was wearing was rumpled.

     At that moment, Dean realized what was so new about his friend. For the first time, Castiel seemed truly human. Even when he lost his grace, Castiel had screamed celestial intent. Perhaps it was his cluelessness to human qualities or his manner of speaking but Dean had still seen him as an angel then. Now while looking at the fuzzy hair and wrinkled mess, Dean saw an utterly human Castiel staring back at him.

 

     The hunter swallowed down the thousand things he wanted to say that were clawing at his throat and reached forward to place the coat in the angel’s lap. “I thought you didn’t sleep.”

 

     Castiel frowned and glared at Dean through slitted eyes. “I don’t.”

 

     The hunter picked at a stray thread on the hem of his flannel before pointing at the coat. “I just wanted to return this.”

 

     Castiel nodded solemnly as he spoke. “I trust you slept well?”

 

     Dean let out a gentle laugh and clapped his friend on the back. “Not nearly as well as I should have.”

 

     He noticed a small look of sadness cross Castiel’s face for a second before he met the angel’s eyes. “Oh. I hoped this would aid in your comfort.” Castiel spoke gently as he took the balled-up coat in between his palms.

 

     Dean felt his cheeks burn before he spoke again. “It definitely did. I didn’t realize it was so warm.” He beamed at the small smile that crossed Castiel’s face and rubbed the back of his neck as the words poured out of his mouth. 

 

     The angel looked back up and met Dean’s eyes. “Well, you are free to borrow it if you ever find yourself in need.” 

 

     Castiel smiled and Dean felt like his heart was going to jump straight out of his chest. His ears burned to an inferno he could swear was visible to anyone who saw him and his hands began to shake. 

 

     Dean cleared his throat in an attempt to regain his composure and an idea crossed his mind. “Hey, I could really use some fresh air. What do you say we go on a drive? Just you and me. You can pick the music.” 

 

     Castiel’s mouth opened slightly in shock and his right eyebrow raised ludicrously. If Dean was offering that someone else pick the music, he must have been in an extremely good mood, or he was feeling guilty about something and just couldn’t form the words “I’m sorry”. It was earth-shattering for him to make that offer so Castiel accepted.

 

     “Of course.”

 

     The Impala roared as the pair made their way down the long lonely road. They sat in silence as  DeaNs top 13 Zepp TRAXX  played soothingly to ease the quiet. Unsurprisingly, the two sat in a comfortable silence as if there was a mutual understanding that words were not needed. Despite this, Dean was the first to speak as the fourth song came to a close and he parked the car on the side of the road.

 

     “Look man, I think I owe you an apology. “

 

     “Dean…”

 

     “No. I need to say this. I am sorry for the way I’ve been treating you lately. I’m not good at this kind of thing. I feel like I have this...this thing inside me that keeps me from doing anything good. And any time I get close to someone it comes out and I just get angry and hurt the people I love. I’ve let that happen too many times around you and I just need to get this off my chest.”

 

     Dean looked across the seat at the angel and felt himself grasping for words. There were so many things he wanted to say and far too many things to apologize for. It felt like the dam he had spent decades building in his chest that prevented his guilt from seeing the shine of the daily sun was finally beginning to crack along with his brave façade.

 

     “I’ve made too many mistakes with you. I’ve treated you like you’re only useful when you have your wings, I’ve kicked you out when you needed help most, and I’ve thrown you around like you don’t matter. I am so sorry for every argument and every beating I’ve given you. If we were anyone else, and I mean anyone else, normal, I’d be in prison for what I’ve done to you. I can’t let that go and just ignore that fact anymore.”

 

     Dean had never forgiven himself for the pain he had caused Castiel. He knew that if his best friend was human and they were normal, he’d be in prison for domestic abuse. There was no excuse for that behavior and Dean had carried that guilt for years. It wasn’t necessarily just because of the behavior: it was because it wasn’t his first time seeing that.

     They say if you grow up with an angry man in your house, there will always be an angry man in your house. Dean knew exactly what it was like to grow up with an angry father and he had spent years telling himself he would never be like that man. Yet when push came to shove, he drank, he was angry, he had let his rage out on Jack, their son, far too many times, and was becoming just like John. He had hurt Castiel the same way John used to hurt Dean and that was what tormented the man at night when the guilt weighed him into his mattress. 

 

     “I never should have let you get to the point where you feel like you don’t matter. You’re family Cas and I’ve let you go around thinking we don’t need you. I know as good as anyone what it’s like being raised as a soldier. You grow up being taught how to be and what to say. You live on the edge of your seat with a 45 under your pillow and a knife in your back pocket just waiting to be used. 

     My dad, he never raised me. He trained me. His version of bedtime stories was whatever I heard coming off the tv in the motel room late at night while he was passed out drunk after a hunt. He taught me that what mattered in life was keeping Sam and the rest of the world safe and whatever happened to me along the way was just collateral damage.”

 

     Dean’s voice wavered as he thought about his dad. He normally never talked about it, not even with Sam. He would usually storm off whenever the topic was brought up so Dean was not surprised when he noticed Castiel staring at him intently, a look of shock and compassion on his face. 

 

     “I’ve been thinking about that a lot too and realized you and I aren’t all that different that way. I mean, Chuck made sure you were a soldier, and anytime you tried anything else, Naomi fixed you right up asylum style. You have been a soldier for years and I know things have changed a lot for you since you left Heaven and everything for us. 

     I should have seen the similarities years ago but I never did. I know how you feel. You think you’re a weapon and are expendable but that’s not true. You’re our family now and family isn’t expendable. We need you because you’re our family, not because you’re useful. Sam, Jack, and I, you’re all we have. You’re all we’ve got in this poor God-forsaken world and I need you here man. I’m going to make things right. I promise.” 

 

     Dean let out a deep breath that he did not realize he was holding the whole time he was speaking. When he turned to look at Castiel again, he noticed the angel’s hand twitch slightly against the leather seat before balling into a fist and disappearing in his coat pocket.

 

     Castiel looked into Dean’s eyes and smiled fondly. “I know you feel guilty for what you’ve done but you are not entirely to blame. I also know you will never believe me when I say that.”

 

     Dean smirked to hide his pain and stared into his lap. “Probably not.”

 

     Castiel’s hand reached Dean’s shoulder as he spoke again. “I understand your childhood was not easy, Dean. If you ever need someone to talk to, I am here for you. I will always listen if you need that. You just have to ask.”

 

     Tears were beginning to prick at the corners of Dean’s eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered.

 

     “Although we may not be conventional, or normal as you call it, that’s what family does for each other.” Dean’s eyes snapped to Castiel’s as the angel spoke. “Is it not? Besides, I don’t want to be normal. I like our family as it is.”

 

     Although it was not said, there was forgiveness in his smile. Those words did not need to be said. Yet again, the mutual understanding settled between the angel and the hunter and they drove in another comfortable silence for the rest of the ride, only stopping when Dean’s stomach protested the long trip.

 

     “Why don’t I treat you to lunch Cas?” Dean offered with jest in his voice.

 

     “I don’t understand. You are aware I do not eat.”

 

     “Hey, you were the one that said you didn’t want to be normal, not me. If we’re going to do this thing, we’re doing it nice and normal.” With that, he winked at his best friend and pulled into the parking lot of a small diner and laughed at the angel’s face of confusion. 

 

Chapter Text

     Castiel watched Dean as he enthusiastically talked about his favorite music, songs, bands, and albums. They had been on the road all day now with no end in sight. It was clear that there was no true destination but it was obvious to Castiel that despite this, Dean felt home behind the wheel of his Baby.

     They had left the diner a few hours before. Castiel loved watching Dean’s facial expressions as they talked and ate. He even tried a burger begrudgingly after a few minutes of Dean pleading. The scrunched-up look on his face and sticking out his tongue caused a fit of giggles to come from the hunter, real, uninhibited giggles.

     As they walked out of the building, Dean threw his arm around Castiel’s shoulders and laughed deeply at the angel. If anyone asked, Castiel would not have been able to remember exactly what it was they were talking about. He had been too busy relishing in the deep rumble he felt against his side as Dean tossed his head back in laughter and snorted.

     While they drove, Castiel thought about that day many years ago at the brothel. It had been a long time since Dean had been so vocal with his joy around the angel. Back then, Dean’s laughter had felt genuine and teasing but this time, it was so much deeper. 

     Castiel pondered how similar the situations were. The laughter, the arm thrown around unknowing shoulders, the beaming smile, and the Impala waiting for the pair. This time, Dean’s laughter was deeper with meaning and pure happiness. There was no threat of an oncoming apocalypse to drag it down. The tone was much lighter with the relief of the constant weight the man used to hold on his shoulders. It was a beautiful sound.

     After three more hours of driving and watching Dean’s profile as they laughed and enjoyed each other's company, Castiel felt the Impala roll to a stop and Dean threw it into park. Castiel furrowed his brow in confusion and looked at Dean while tilting his head sideways.

 

     “Take a seat” Dean grinned and hopped out of the car while calling over his shoulder. He pointed to the hood of the Impala as he walked around to the trunk.

 

     Castiel obeyed wordlessly and opened the car door. When he stepped outside, he surveyed the area. Dean had parked in a beautiful clearing off the main road. It was a meadow of sorts with a rainbow of different stones peppering the iced-over grassy plane. The air was crisp and cool as it brushed through the leaves of the surrounding weeping willows. Their shoots gently swayed with the breeze and filled the air with the sweet perfume of peace and tranquility.

     He smiled at the familiar area and its contents. The little windmill cast shadows on Baby’s sleek paint job and left Castiel bursting with fondness for the meadow. He remembered how beautiful the area had been those years ago when it was full of blackberries and wildflowers and yet, it was just as stunning in the winter months.

     Castiel hummed at the natural beauty as he took a seat on the passenger side of the Impala’s hood. He tipped his face up to the clear sky and allowed the warm beams of sunlight to soak into his vessel’s skin. 

     He felt the car creak as Dean joined him by his side on the hood and offered him a beer. Castiel took it from him graciously and Dean leaned back against the windshield. Castiel felt their shoulders press together as they relaxed and sipped at their respective bottles.

     They sat and talked for hours laughing and simply enjoying their time away from the bunker. The duo talked about everything and nothing simultaneously as they joked and prodded hysterical fits of laughter out of one another. As they talked, Castiel felt his cheeks warm as Dean’s sides got sore from the fits of giggles. Dean threw his head back in open-mouthed laughter over and over again and the sight caused Castiel’s heart to flutter in his chest.

     As the sun began to set, the two watched the sky turn from clear blue to a beautiful gradient of marigolds, tangerines, and scarlets. The evening lighting cast shadows under Dean’s eyelashes and Castiel watched his profile as he lay peacefully watching the sky. The view was beautiful but the angel cared about nothing but the wondrous man next to him. He could see the alluring colors reflect in the righteous man’s eyes and there was an unmistakable joy that filled them.

     Dean turned his head and rested his cheek against the windshield under him. Castiel noticed and mirrored the action so their noses were inches apart. Despite the dim lighting, the angel noticed the distinct tone of a flush growing on Dean’s cheeks as the light waned until there was nothing in the night sky except the stars and moon.

 

     “Dean, can I ask you something?” Castiel finally asked, thoughts traveling to earlier events that day.

 

     “Of course buddy. Anything.” Dean leaned on his side, propping himself up on his elbow.

 

     Castiel repeated the motion and bit his lip out of nervousness before responding. “What did you mean earlier when you said “If we’re going to do this thing”?”

 

     Dean laughed and rubbed the back of his neck as his cheeks warmed for seemingly the hundredth time that day. “I uh… I’m not sure.” His eyes flicked down to Castiel’s lips as he avoided the angel’s piercing gaze.

 

     “You as well as I know that I am not inclined to believe you.” Castiel leaned forward and tilted his head as he spoke. 

 

     He caught Dean’s gaze and poured into the green eyes in front of him. For years he had been staring into them and looking straight into the man’s soul. Now he saw a mix of fear and something much deeper he couldn’t quite place.

     All he knew was that whatever it was he saw in the man’s eyes, it made his hair stand on end and his heart pound. As Dean stared at him, the fire in the man’s eyes drew Castiel in like two powerful magnets facing opposite ends. 

     Castiel watched as Dean’s eyes flicked downwards and the man flushed a faint pink under the silver moonlight while biting at his lip softly. The angel was unsure of what came over him but a nervous fluttering caused his stomach to flip. 

     His hand moved before he could think better of it. Castiel gently grasped Dean’s chin and looked him in the eyes for assurance. When Dean’s eyes met his, Castiel guided the hunter’s face towards his own. 

     Their noses touched and Castiel could feel Dean’s warm breath on his fingers. His eyes fluttered shut and he leaned in, head tilting slightly to the right. Castiel could feel his grace vibrating throughout his entire being as it reached out for the man in front of him.

     He stayed still for a few seconds to give Dean a chance to back out as well as Castiel’s fear of the unknown until he couldn’t take it anymore and closed the gap between himself and the hunter.

     Castiel’s lips delicately met the skin of Dean’s cheekbone and he felt his heart drop in confusion and disappointment. His lips grazed the hunter’s day-old stubble and the angel felt him turn away from his hand. Castiel leaned back and opened his eyes to see Dean’s head turned sideways and eyes full of despair.

 

     “My apologies.” He spoke softly as he began to get off the car’s hood. When his feet touched the ground and he took a few steps away he heard Dean release a shuddering breath. Castiel turned to face the hunter and saw the pain manifesting on his features. “Perhaps it is best if I leave.”

 

     Dean’s eyes shot up to meet Castiel’s and panic flared in the man’s eyes. “No. Please, stay.” 

 

     And there they were. Those two words Castiel had been desperately hoping to hear for what felt like centuries. Those two words could have stopped an army with their sincerity and who was Castiel to deny them?

 

     “Sit with me?” Dean asked with obvious strain in his voice.

 

     Castiel stood and stared in complete confusion.  I don’t understand. Why does he want me to stay when he obviously does not want me?

 

     “Please Cas. Just stay.”

 

     Castiel nodded softly at those two words once again. “Of course.”

 

     Dean nodded solemnly and watched Castiel as he slowly approached the hood and sat back down next to the hunter. 

 

     “Look Cas, I’ve never been good at this. Normally I’m not great at this but with you, you just….” Castiel watched as Dean looked in his lap and stared at his shaking hands.

 

     “It is because I chose a male vessel. Isn’t it?” Castiel was saddened by the triviality of the situation. 

 

     “Yes...but not like that. It’s just, God I never thought I’d have this.” Dean laughed bitterly at himself and raked his hands down his face.

 

     “Have what Dean?” The angel was thoroughly confused.

 

     Dean finally met his eyes. “Exactly what I want. Look, I know what Sam told you about my dad. He said you should hear me out. I never thought I’d have this, someone who cares this much. I thought I would be able to spend the rest of my life drowning out the memories and pretending it never happened because I would die young and guns blazing.

     But with you here now, even after the years and things we’ve been through, you still want me. Now knowing that your true happiness was just being happy with the way you feel about me, I can’t escape it forever.” Dean’s voice cracked and Castiel recognized the fear in his eyes.

 

     Castiel reached out and placed a hand over Dean’s and looked him in the eyes while nodding in encouragement.

 

     “Sam was right. Dad beat the crap outta me many times. Whenever I failed Sammy or looked at him the wrong way or he had a few too many after a hunt, I was fair game. But none of those compared to the beating I got after…...after….”

 

     Castiel reached out and brushed a stray tear from Dean’s cheek. “After what, Dean?”

 

     “After he caught me getting too close to Lee. We were friends and we got too drunk in the motel room and when my Dad came back we were too close for his liking. He grabbed me by the back of my shirt and yanked me off of Lee so fast my head spun.” As Dean spoke Castiel watched him shake his head and laugh mirthlessly. 

     “He beat me so badly that night, I thought I was gonna die. He was so damn angry and I didn’t understand why until the slurs started coming with every punch. Lee ran out and then it was just my dad and me and I thought that was gonna be the end of me.”

 

     Castiel squeezed Dean’s hand as the man shuddered from the memories.

 

     “But the worst of it was that the whole time I was thinking about Sammy. Up until last night, I thought he was sleeping only a few feet away and all I could think about was him waking up and seeing me beaten bloody on the floor. I was just so worried about him hearing everything my dad was saying that I didn’t have time to be hurt by it until days later. 

     It hasn’t left me since. I used to have nightmares about it every damn night. I’d drown myself in women like that could protect me from the glares he gave me every day after that. He even sent me on my first solo hunt to take care of two nuns that had been in love. The bastard was obsessed with beating it out of me one way or another but now, now I can’t escape it.”

 

     Dean flipped his hand around in Castiel’s and laced his fingers with the angel’s. He looked into Castiel’s eyes and the angel felt his grace flare at the intimacy of the gesture.

 

     “I’ve been scared of facing that part of myself for years now. Any time I would try, I’d be pulled back into that motel room where I sat in the shower and watched bruises form over my whole body while Dad screamed and threatened to beat down the door.” Dean shuddered at the memory.

 

     Castiel’s eyes began to mist over as he listened to the man’s story. He squeezed Dean’s hand tightly in hopes of comforting the man as he spoke. “Dean. I swear, if I ever meet your father I will…” He was unsure what exactly he would threaten the man with but fortunately Dean cut him off.

 

     “Hey man, it’s alright. I can handle myself and he’s gone for good now. Revenge doesn’t get you anywhere good. If I ever learned anything from that old ass it would be that.”

 

     Castiel relaxed a bit against Dean’s side but kept a tight grip on the hand in his. “Dean, I am so sorry. You were such a good brother. You never deserved that.”

 

     “I didn’t deserve a lot of what happened to me but that’s life for ya. Just another part of Chuck’s narrative.”

 

     Castiel felt Dean shudder and he realized the man had something besides that specific memory on his mind. “What are you thinking about?” he asked. Castiel could see a darkness flash across those green eyes before Dean swallowed deeply and spoke again.

 

     “I don’t know why I’m even telling you this. I mean, Sammy doesn’t even know. I guess I just don’t want him thinking any less of me.” His voice shook as he spoke and Castiel’s heart bled for the man.

 

     The angel turned and reached for the man’s shoulder to pull him closer and look straight into his eyes. “I would never think any less of you Dean and neither would your brother but if you would prefer, what you and I talk about tonight can remain in this field.”

 

     Instead of responding, Castiel heard Dean’s breath shudder before speaking again. “My old man was bad after that but it wasn’t nearly as bad as…”

 

     “As what?” Castiel squeezed the hand in his again as he gripped the man’s shoulder.

 

     “As the truck stop bathrooms. Dad would leave us alone for weeks and the money would always run out. We’d ration things out but the food would always go too quickly too. I’d give Sammy extra off my plate all the time. He was my responsibility and I knew how to be hungry.

     He’d try to make me stop but I’d tell him anything to get him to eat. I wasn’t hungry, already ate, he needed it more, he was a growing boy, all the good momish stuff. It would work for a while but even after three or four days without much more than a handful of corn nuts from a bar here or there, I’d need something too.”

 

     Castiel searched Dean’s downcast eyes for answers. He could tell he didn’t like where things were headed based on the genuine fear and embarrassment he could feel coming off of Dean in waves. 

 

     “You do not have to tell me anything you do not want to Dean. If you are not ready, I do not want to push you or you to feel like you have to tell me.”

 

     “No. You deserve to hear it. You gotta know what you’re stuck with if you really choose to stay.”

 

     Castiel nodded and eased his grip on the hand he was sure he was crushing at that point.

 

     Dean inhaled deeply before speaking again. “Even I’d need something to eat but there’d be nothing left and Dad wouldn’t be home for days if not weeks so I had to find a quick way to get some cash. Course nobody wanted to gamble with a kid and even when they did it was never enough.

     I did find one way that would get enough to scrape by for the rest of the week. Sammy would fall asleep and I’d sneak out to the closest gas station or truck stop. You’d be surprised how much some guys would pay to get a teenager on his knees.”

 

     At the last sentence of Dean’s admission, Castiel heard a mirthless laugh come from the man before it was cut off by a choked sob. Castiel hurled himself around the shaking man and held him tightly to his chest while gently shushing him and swaying.

 

     “Oh, Dean. I am so sorry. I am so so sorry,” he whispered into the man’s hair as he clutched at the angel’s trench coat for support.

 

     After a few minutes of silence, Dean finally pulled away from the angel’s grasp and spoke. “So there it is. My experience with men hasn’t been the greatest historically.”

 

     Castiel felt himself flare with rage as he looked at the shaking man. “Dean had I known I would have…”

 

     “But you couldn’t have. I was a teenager. That was then and this is now. So do you really wanna be with the broken guy that sold himself because I sure as hell wouldn’t.”

 

     Castiel could have cried from anger, frustration, and pure sadness he felt for the man. “Look at me. You are not broken. You did everything you could have to support your brother. That does not make you broken. That makes you an amazing brother and a good man.” 

     He reached out to thumb a tear away from Dean’s cheekbone as he spoke. “You are the strongest man I have ever or will ever know. Stronger than any angel I have met. Stronger even than Chuck. He was a coward much like many of my brothers and sisters but you, you Dean are strong. You are a hero even since you were just a boy taking care of your little brother. This does not make you any less of a man and neither does being attracted to men as well as women. And If it truly concerns you, I do in fact think differently of you. I now believe you to be even kinder and stronger than I ever have before.”

 

     “Please don’t leave me” Dean whispered barely above a single breath.

 

     Castiel was taken aback by the plea. “What? Dean, how could you possibly think that? I could never do such a thing. This changes nothing.”

 

     Dean took a measured breath and looked at Castiel with dark intensity. “I can’t lose you again. I can’t even pretend to understand how you see past my crap but you do and you try so hard to help me see it too.”

 

     Castiel shook his head as he spoke. “That is because there is nothing to see past. I love all of you, not just certain parts. If you cannot love all of a person then you can’t truly love them.”  

 

     “I’m damaged goods Cas and if we do this, you’re going to feel it every day. I just can’t hurt you, not again. What we have, it means too much to me. I can’t risk it all just because this is something I want and God knows I want this. I may be damaged goods, but I can still tell when I want something and I want this so damn bad. I just don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for this the way you are.” Dean looked down and another tear slipped down his cheek.

 

     Castiel wiped away the tear, gently cupped Dean’s cheek, and kissed the top of his head where his sandy hair stood windswept.

 

     “Dean Winchester. I have waited millions of years for a happiness like this to reach my unfulfilled life. Even if you are never ready, I will still be here beside you. I expect nothing more from you than you are ready to give but if you do find yourself ready, just know, I would wait millions more for you.”

 

Chapter Text

     Jack sat in his throne room and listened to the prayers that were racing through his head. In the last few months, he had perfected his schedule and reserved the exact amount of time needed for listening to prayers, making angels, and directing Heaven to ensure that he could visit the bunker every few days with minimal consequence.


     A knock at the door alerted Jack to bookmark the prayer he was listening to and he rose to his feet, beckoning the visitor to enter. Jack watched as Rosangelle entered with her usual tray of treats and drink for him.

 

     “Good evening Jack. Your guest is here.” She bowed as she spoke. 

 

     It was clear to Jack that she was becoming accustomed to having a more peaceful and relaxed leader. She still brought the tray every time she entered his throne room, but Rosangelle no longer stumbled over her words around him. 


     Jack beamed as Castiel entered the room close behind her. She nodded in Jack’s direction and left the room silently to give them some privacy.

 

     “You summoned me?” He joked as he bowed deeply in jest before his son.

 

     “It’s so good to see you!” Jack beamed as he pulled Castiel into a tight hug. As he pulled back from the embrace, Jack spoke again. “How are things going in the bunker?”

 

     Castiel considered the question before responding. “Things seem to be in moderate order. There hasn’t been a hunt for a while but between you and me, I think that has been good for Sam and Dean. Sam is spending quite a bit of time with Eileen and Dean has been going out with Miracle a good amount in the last few days.”

 

     “How is Dean? The last time I was home he seemed to be quite angry with you.” Jack’s voice was full of concern as he looked up at Castiel’s face.

 

     “I assume you are asking about our previous conversation. We are “working things out” as you put it.” the angel gestured with his finger quotes as he spoke. “But I assume that my relationship with Dean is not the reason you summoned me.”

 

     Jack scrunched his nose in disappointment before responding. “Correct. Dad, I think we need to talk. Take a seat.” Jack gestured to one of the sets of stools in the room and sat next to his father. “I have a confession I need to make.”

 

     “What is it, Jack?” Castiel stomached the glee he felt at hearing his new title and looked at the boy with concern. Jack was biting his lip and playing with his hands in his lap. It was obvious to Castiel that he was quite nervous about what he needed to say and that filled Castiel with unease.


 
     “When I opened the rift to the Empty and attempted to bring you back, it was because I wanted you home. We all wanted you home and you didn’t deserve to be trapped there. The trouble is that I had ulterior motives as well. I need your help.” Jack finally raised his gaze to meet Castiel’s eyes.

 

     “What is it you need from me?”

 

     “Chuck’s Heaven is perfect. It’s almost too perfect. There is a place for every soul and every soul is in its place. It just doesn’t sit right with me. How can Heaven be paradise if all it offers is reliving one’s happiest memories over and over for all of eternity? Humans spend their whole lives preaching about paradise and praying for admittance so it feels like they deserve much more.

     When I first inherited my role here a few months ago, I spent quite a bit of time considering this. Rowena helped me learn how to rule and with my spare time I found myself disliking the order here. I feel like all we are doing now is containing souls in storage instead of rewarding them for their good deeds in life.” 

 

     Castiel smiled at the contempt on Jack’s face as he recounted his opinion on Heaven’s system. He had never considered it before, but with Jack offering his thoughts, Castiel realized that Heaven was not as perfect as Chuck had made it seem to be.

 

     “So I developed a plan with Rowena’s help. I have spent all my free time in the last few months rebuilding Heaven’s armies and as you know, the thousands of angels I have created have been in your image. I believe that with their help, I can rebuild Heaven to the glory that humans believe it to be.

     Humans find solace in the idea of Heaven when a loved one dies. They spend their whole lives hoping that they will see their family members once they pass on. I feel like I am doing them a disservice by letting them spend eternity only living with their memories of their loved ones.”

 

     Castiel leaned forward in interest. He had a good idea of where Jack was going with this and he couldn’t help but feel himself beaming with pride. If he had been asked just a few years ago if he would ever be a parent, he would have responded with a definitive no. Despite this, here he was, listening to his son recount his plan for Heaven and his heart was swelling with joy.

 

     “So with the help of the angels, I want to rip down Heaven’s walls. I want to break down every wall separating the souls from one another. Every soul deserves to be able to see one another and spend eternity at peace together.

     I also want to build paradise. I want to build a Heaven that reminds them of their homes on Earth where they can travel with their loved ones to their most treasured places. They deserve to be able to build lives together where they know nothing but peace and tranquility. I want Heaven to be a home for them without pain, a home where every soul coincides in harmony.”


 
     Castiel beamed and looked into Jack’s searching eyes. “What can I do to help?”

 

     A wicked grin spread across Jack’s face as he spoke. “I believe it’s time you meet your new brothers and sisters.” Jack stood and held out his hand to pull Castiel to his feet.


 
     Jack linked his arm in his father’s and led him out of the room into a long blindingly white hallway. As they walked, he stole glances at Castiel every few moments. He was so happy to have his father at his side again and he was shaking with excitement for what the next few minutes would hold.

 

     “I have made thousands of angels, more than enough to replenish the numbers that had dwindled since Chuck abandoned Heaven. With their help, we will have enough strength to tear down the walls and rebuild Heaven into the paradise humanity deserves. There is just one problem with my plan: They are lacking something.”

 

     Jack pushed two massive pearl doors open to reveal a large white balcony surrounded by a pearl gate of similar material to the doors. He walked to the gate and gestured widely for Castiel to look.


     The angel approached the gate apprehensively and gasped when he saw what Jack was signaling towards. Below them stood thousands of angels at attention all staring up at Jack as if awaiting orders.

 

     “They are an army Castiel, the perfect army for the job. They are strong and wise and can think independently. They are caring and compassionate. They love humanity and are ready to spend their lives protecting it with everything they have. They are just missing one thing: a leader. Every army needs a commander.”

 

     Jack looked towards Castiel and as if on cue, every angel standing below them dropped to one knee and bowed their heads in respect to salute their new commander. 


     Castiel felt the grace of every angel in the room swell as they bowed to him. All at once, he realized what Jack was asking of him. It was as clear as day and he felt his wings unfurl with pride as he looked down on his army.


     The angel nodded and the corners of his mouth raised as his wings opened to silhouette the white space behind him. In that instant, Castiel felt like he had so many years before he fell from grace as he returned to his former glory as commander of Heaven’s greatest warriors. 

Chapter Text

     “Eileen, are you sure about this? I mean, I’m not the one to shoot down any ideas before we investigate them, but this one’s a bit of a stretch.” Sam’s voice came from the passenger seat of the car as he read an article on his phone. They had been on the road for hours now and he was starting to get antsy.

 

     “Sam Winchester. If you complain one more time I swear I will turn this car around and leave you at that gas station we passed a few miles back.” Eileen had dealt with his complaining long enough for a lifetime and she was growing tired of his antics. 

 

     Sam rolled his eyes dramatically but grinned at Eileen.  How did I end up with you?  he thought as he admired her. She was strong, smart, beautiful, and could easily kick his ass in a fight. She was perfect and she was the harmony he needed in his life.

 

     Eileen pulled up the driveway to the small cabin. They had traveled six hours to reach their destination in South Dakota. Sam and Eileen desperately needed to get out of the bunker and had found the perfect opportunity to get some work done.

 

     “Sam! Eileen! It is so good to see you two in one piece!” Jody squealed as she tugged the two hunters into a bone-crushing hug. “It has been way too long. Come on inside and make yourself at home. Claire and Alex will take care of your bags. Dinner’s on the stove and will be ready in about an hour.”

 

     They followed Jody into the small living room where Donna was sitting watching a comedy on the television with her feet kicked up on the coffee table. “Well hiya, guys!” 

     

     Donna was cheery as ever as she rose to her feet to give the two hunters a big hug. “I’m so glad you two found your way back to each other. Sam here just wouldn’t stop talking about you earlier!” Donna winked in Eileen’s direction as she hugged Sam.

 

     “Yeah alright.” Sam joked as he dropped onto the couch across from Donna and made room for Eileen next to him. 

 

     “Alex I swear to God if you do that one more time I am going to kill you myself!”

 

     “Yeah, sure Biker Barbie. I’d like to see you try!”

 

     “Claire! Alex! If you two don’t stop fighting I am going to kill both of you! Now say hello to our guests and put their bags in the spare room on the right.” Jody hollered from her spot in the kitchen as Claire and Alex burst through the front door one after the other.

 

     “Gigantor! How’s it going? I see you got yourself a girlfriend. I’m Claire.” Claire introduced herself to Eileen as she reached over Sam’s shoulder.

 

     “Hello, Sam. I apologize for Claire’s attitude. I’m Alex” Claire rolled her eyes as Alex introduced herself to Eileen as well. The pair followed one another to the spare room with Sam and Eileen’s bags and their bickering faded into the distance. 

 

     “You know how sisters are. One minute they love each other to death, the next they’re at each other's throats like wild cats.” Jody flopped onto the couch next to Donna.

 

     “Oh, you betcha. Those two have been at it all day while you’ve been out and about.” Donna elbowed Jody as she spoke.

 

     After a few minutes, Jody got back up to check on the chicken in the oven and Donna joined her to help set the table. As they talked and Alex and Claire bickered, the front door flung open once again.

 

     “Hey Jody, we’re home!” Patience shouted while she and Kaia walked inside holding a few grocery bags. “We got the stuff you asked for! Oh! I didn’t realize we had visitors.” Patience looked towards Sam and Eileen in surprise. 

 

     Kaia looked equally as shocked to see Sam and he did not blame her for the discomfort she seemed to feel. The last time they had seen each other, the group rescued her from the bad place where she had been trapped and injured for far too long.

     Sam rose to speak to her but realized he didn’t have anything good to say. Fortunately, Eileen joined him at his side and grasped his hand, sensing he needed the reassurance. The moment was only interrupted when Jody called from the kitchen.

 

     “Soups on! And Claire? If you don’t get your sword off the table in exactly 30 seconds, you don’t get any!”

 

     Patience laughed and tugged Kaia into the kitchen to put the groceries away before eating. Claire and Alex came bounding down the hall, still bickering though not nearly as seriously now, and took their respective places at the table.

     Eileen squeezed Sam’s hand and led him to the kitchen, pushing him towards Jody to help set the table. She smiled as he joked around with Jody and Donna and passed plates around the table. The domesticity of the scene made her cheeks warm. 

     Once everyone was seated around the table and passing food bowls to one another, Claire piped up with the question on all four of the young girls’ minds.

 

     “So Sam, what exactly are you doing here? Dean never seems to let you off leash so where is he?”

 

     “Ok, first of all, Dean doesn’t have a leash on me. Eileen and I chose to come alone. And second, he’s at home with Cas.”

 

     Claire scoffed around a spoonful of peas. “Oh yeah, can’t imagine what they’re up to all alone” She made over-exaggerated kissing noises in Kaia’s direction while she spoke.

 

     “Alright, that’s enough.” Jody cut her off and looked in Sam and Eileen’s direction. “Why don’t you tell everyone what you called me about earlier today.”

 

     “Well,” Sam started after clearing his throat. “I’m sure you guys are all aware of everything that happened a couple months ago with Chuck and Jack. Things were pretty rough there and life hasn’t been the easiest since. It’s been especially hard on Dean since we lost Cas and got him back again. It’s his birthday in a few days and Eileen and I were thinking it might be good for him to throw a bit of a surprise party.”

 

     Eileen cut in while glancing around the table. “We thought it would be nice for him to see some friends that care about him. It might cheer him up a bit.”

 

     “Well, I just love a good party. I’d be happy to help plan something!” Donna chirped as she cut up her piece of chicken.

 

     Alex looked up from her plate towards Sam “I’m in if Claire is.”

 

     Claire scoffed again and rolled her eyes. “Yeah right. Well, I guess I’d be fine doing something nice for the guy. When’s the party?”

 

     Eileen turned to Sam as he spoke. “Well, his birthday is in five days so we could do it then. I’ll get him out of the house for a few hours before dinner and you all can come then. Sound good?”

 

     Everyone turned in surprise when Kaia was the first to respond. “Yeah alright. If Claire is okay with it I guess I’ll go.” She turned to Claire and smiled as she grabbed her hand under the table.

 

     “Awwwww!” teased Patience as she grinned in the couple’s direction. “In all seriousness though, are you sure he will be fine with this? I know Dean’s a bit rough around the edges. If he’s going through a lot right now, are you sure that a big surprise like this won’t make it worse?”

 

     Jody and Donna both looked at Patience in surprise but she continued anyway. “Believe me, I’d love to go but I don’t want to make things harder for him and overwhelm him but he saved my life once so if there is anything I can do to help him, I will. If that means doing something as simple as helping plan a birthday party. I’m in.”

 

     Sam grinned as he swallowed his last bite. “I know how rough Dean can be. I think you all have seen how bad it gets when he’s angry but this is different. He needs people. I don’t think he’s seen anyone outside of our immediate family aside from a waitress here or there in two months. I really think this will be good for him.”

 

     Jody smiled as she finished off her last bite of dinner. “That settles it. We will all be there. I’ll call all the other hunters I know of that could travel that far in time and we can get this show on the road!”

 

     Donna nodded in agreement and rose to clear the empty plates, telling Jody to take a seat in the living room to relax. Kaia and Claire stayed to do dishes together and Sam couldn’t help but smile at the duo. It was so obvious that they were truly in love when he saw the way they snuck looks at one another.

     Eileen grabbed his hand and tugged him into their guest room, kicking the door closed behind them. She kissed him quickly before moving the bed to riffle through her bag.

 

     Sam threw himself down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. This time, instead of looking for answers in it, he looked to Eileen and smiled. “That went well.”

 

     Eileen quickly tugged on her pajamas and joined Sam on the bed. “You’re a good brother Sam. He’s lucky to have you.”

 

     Sam grinned and turned on his side so he was face to face with Eileen and kissed her deeply. “And I’m lucky to have you.”

 

Chapter Text

     Claire sat in the passenger seat of the Lincoln Continental with her feet kicked up on top of the glovebox. She glared out the window in mock annoyance as she twirled a curl of her hair around her pointer finger.


 
     “So what’s so important that you had to drag me all the way out here without telling me what’s going on?” She clipped as she turned her face to the driver’s seat.

 

     “You will find out soon enough,” Castiel said plainly as he focused on the road in front of him.

 

     Claire rolled her eyes as she scoffed. She liked Castiel but his gruff attitude sure drove her nuts at points. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say that he and she were one of the same. He was so stubborn that she knew the conversation would go nowhere so she simply turned back to brooding out the window.

     When the car eventually came to a stop, Claire jumped out to stretch her legs. They had been on the road for over an hour and her back was killing her. As she stretched, Claire noticed the large parking lot and the huge building in front of them.
 

 

     “A mall? Really?”

 

     “Claire, I did not drive six hours to pick you up since you would prefer a car ride instead of flying just so you could complain about the destination,” Castiel grumbled as he walked past her towards the building.

 

     Claire raised her hands in surrender as she spoke. “Jeez. What’s so important about this place anyways?”

 

     “I have heard that shopping malls have a wide variety of goods to choose from and I am unsure exactly what I am looking for so this seems to be the place to go.”

 

     Claire looked up at Castiel as they entered the building and he stood eyes wide like a deer caught in the headlights.

 

     “Since when do you need to buy something that can’t be found at a local drugstore or supermarket?”

 

     “Since I need to purchase a birthday present.”

 

     Castiel did not wait for Claire’s response and walked towards a map on the wall to the left of him. He scanned it thoughtfully to look at all the stores in the mall until he read a name that caught his eye.

 

     “This way.” He signaled to the right and led Claire through the mostly barren wing of the mall. He had chosen early morning on a weekday to avoid foot traffic so the two of them were mostly left to their own devices.

 

     “Hey, Castiel?”

 

     “Yes, Claire?”

 

     “You realize most people aren’t buying Dean a gift right?”

 

     “Yes. I am aware.”

 

     “Then why are you?”

 

     “Because I am not most people.”

 

     “Oh, that’s descriptive.” She rolled her eyes again as she scoffed. It was obvious to her that that angel had it bad for the man in the dirty flannel.

 

     Castiel rolled his eyes as well just as he reached the store he was looking for. Claire’s mouth dropped open in shock by his choice.

 

     “Really Castiel? You seriously think you’re going to find something for Dean in here of all places?”

 

     Castiel smiled up at the Hot Topic sign and looked at Claire smugly. “I found something for you here. Did I not?”

 

     “Touché.”

 

     The duo entered the small and mildly crowded store. Claire immediately found her way to a leather jacket display and Castiel smiled. He knew she would enjoy the trip. That’s exactly why he brought her. Aside from feeling responsible for her current predicament, he also felt it was his responsibility to bring her the joys that Jimmy would be doing had he been alive.

     Castiel turned to the displays in front of him and immediately felt overwhelmed. He slowly walked through the store and took careful inventory of everything inside. It was quite obvious that Dean would not like anything he was seeing. 

     Disappointed and almost ready to give up, Castiel reached the back wall where at least 50 different types of t-shirts were displayed on racks. An employee noticed him staring intently at the display and approached him.

 

     “What can I help you with?” The employee asked. Castiel looked at them and took in their spiked hair and kohl eyeliner. He grinned at how much they reminded him of Claire.

 

     “I am currently having difficulty selecting a gift. What would you recommend for the birthday of a middle-aged man?” Castiel scanned the shirts again, overwhelmed by the many options.

 

     The employee smiled and pointed to a cluster of shirts in the corner. “Oh, that’s easy. All those over there are kinda pop culture themed. Does he like any movies or shows?”

 

     Castiel thought deeply before responding. “Not particularly, although he does have an affinity for old Westerns and Scooby-Doo.”

 

     The salesperson laughed. “Yeah, we don’t have anything like that although we do have some band tees over there. Any of those appeal to you?”

 

     Castiel noticed a black shirt with the Led Zeppelin logo across the front and immediately pointed to it. “That one please.”

 

     The salesperson walked over to the display. “Zeppelin fan huh? Good choice! What size?”

 

     Castiel’s eyes widened when he realized he was not quite sure. “He is approximately six feet tall and moderately well built. I apologize I do not know more than that.”

 

     The employee laughed and folded up a shirt before handing it to the angel. “Don’t worry, that’s my job. This one should fit him. Anything else I can help you with?”

 

     “I should be alright. Thank you very much for your assistance.” Castiel smiled as he turned to find Claire to pay and leave when he noticed a small display.

 

     He approached it and felt his cheeks spread into a wide smile. Dean might not have any particular use for the items on the shelf, but they reminded him of the hunter. Without a second thought, he picked one of the items up and walked towards the register where Claire was waiting with a shopping bag.

 

     “You sure took your sweet time huh? Let's get out of here and go get something from the food court. I would kill for a pretzel right about now.”

 

     “Of course Claire, although I am not sure that violence is necessary.”

 

     Claire laughed at the angel’s obliviousness and noticed the two items he was holding. “Oh, he is going to love the shirt. What’s that?” She asked as she pointed to the item Castiel was holding underneath the shirt.

 

     He held it out for her to see and smiled faintly. “I’m not quite sure if he will like it, but it reminded me of him when I saw it.”

 

     Claire laughed lightheartedly when she saw it. “You two are idiots. He will love it.”

 

     Castiel furrowed his brow at the insult but remembered that this was how Claire expressed affection so he simply paid and led Claire out of the small store into the open wing of the mall.

 

     “Now let’s go get you a pretzel before you kill somebody.”

 

     Castiel sat and stared at Claire affectionately as she ate and talked to him about everything she had been up to in recent weeks. Even as she sat before him beaming, he felt a pang of guilt in his chest for putting her in the position she was now.

 

     “Claire, I’m sorry.”

 

     “For what?”

 

     “I have put you through a lot in your life. If in the future you do not want to go out on these excursions with me, I would completely understand.”

 

     “Hey, Cas? Nobody likes a Debbie-downer.”

 

     Castiel tilted his head and frowned in confusion and Claire laughed.

 

     “I know you feel responsible for me. I understand why too. I’ve had time to grieve and as weird as it is seeing my dad’s corpse talking to me, I do moderately enjoy spending time with you.” She teased as she spoke.

 

     “Just moderately?” Castiel teased in return, mimicking her voice.

 

     Claire shrugged and smiled as she winked at Castiel and tore off a piece of her pretzel. “You try a bite of this and you will be forgiven for everything.”

 

     “Claire, you know I don’t eat.”

 

     “Exactly.” She waved the pretzel in front of the angel’s face and he snatched it out of her hand.
 

     Castiel took a small bite and chewed thoughtfully. There were so many different molecules and the flavors clashed terribly, inducing a sputtering and look of disgust from the angel. Claire laughed deeply at him and spoke through her gasps.

     

     “Totally worth it. You are forgiven.”

 

     Castiel smiled wholeheartedly the rest of their trip through the mall and the whole ride home. He may have never felt love before he came to Earth but there was no doubt in Castiel’s heart that he loved that girl with everything he had. He knew he would be spending the rest of her time on Earth protecting her and helping make her smile so when she reached in to give him a tight hug goodbye, Castiel made sure to sneak a small wad of money into her pocket without her noticing.

Chapter Text

     “Hold still!” Jody called down to Donna who was holding the ladder her friend was standing on. Donna chuckled as Jody reached up to hang streamers high on the walls of the war room. They had been decorating for a few hours since Sam convinced Dean to go on a pie run.
 

     The bunker door swung open and Claire and Kaia bounded down the stairs hand in hand with a few plastic bags from the local dollar store.


 
     “We brought more stuff!” Claire called as she jumped to the floor from the second step. “We got more streamers, tape, spiral hanging things, and a couple of those cheesy “Happy Birthday” banners.”
 
   

     “They’re not that cheesy!” Kaia scolded. “We got some more snack things too.”
 

     “Well, that’s just perfect!” Donna said cheerily as Jody descended from the ladder. The two of them joined Claire and Kaia at the map table and tore into the bags, dividing the new decorations amongst themselves to hang around the library.
 

     “Hey, does someone wanna help me with food? People are going to be here in less than an hour!” Sam’s voice came from the kitchen and Alex jumped up from her spot sitting on the map table.
 

     “I’m coming. If I have to watch Kaia and Claire swoon at each other anymore I think I’m gonna barf.”
 

     The group laughed as Alex made her way over to the kitchen to join Sam and Eileen in setting up food. They had picked all of Dean’s favorite foods plus some extras. Eileen had made several platters of different jerkies and cheeses while Sam cooked an unbelievable amount of burgers.
 

     “Why don’t you help me set these up in the library?” Eileen asked Alex as she held several trays of crackers and pretzels. 

     

     Alex grabbed a couple of trays too and they hurried to the library to place one in the middle of every table. They had originally planned to keep all the food in the kitchen, but enough hunters and friends responded positively that they did not have enough room for everyone anywhere but the library and war room. 
When Eileen and Alex returned to the kitchen they found Castiel helping Sam with the burgers. It looked like he was absolutely clueless and was really there more for moral support than anything else.
 

     “Sam, I am not sure I understand.”
 

     “That’s alright. Why don’t you help the girls with setting up the fruits and stuff while I finish up with these.”
 

     Castiel grabbed a few big trays that were filled with ice and nodded at Alex and Eileen. “I guess I am joining you two from now on. Sam helped me cut up fruits and vegetables to put on these trays to keep them cool. The bowls are in the fridge.”
 

     Alex and Eileen both grabbed a bowl of fruits and vegetables each and they followed Castiel into the library. After setting a tray of ice on each table and a few bowls in each tray, the trio made their way back to the kitchen where Sam was just finishing putting the remaining burgers in the oven to keep them warm.

     Over the next 30 minutes, the bunker door did not stop opening to let family and friends in. The hallways filled with the echoes of at least 60 people laughing and being merry. Sam did not recognize most of the guests but it was obvious they were not all human.

     It seemed that many guests had brought their own family and friends. There were mostly hunters along with several werewolves, witches, vampires, and even a couple of demons. Normally Sam would have been concerned but he was not going to let anything ruin his brother’s party so he simply welcomed every guest he could.

 

     “Sam! Long time no see!” Garth walked up to the hunter with baby Sam in his arms and his wife close behind with baby Castiel. “How the Hell are ya?” 
 

     Sam laughed as he dumped another case of soda into a cooler full of ice. “Honestly? Probably the best I’ve been in a while. How are the kids?”
 

     Bess waved Castiel’s tiny hand as she spoke. “Oh, you know how it is. First set of fangs is coming in nicely.” She winked in Sam’s direction and he laughed as he tore open another case of soda. 
 

     Castiel stared intently at the infant. It was unusual to see such an innocent-looking monster. Most of the ones he had hunted over the years with the Winchesters were adults so meeting a baby was quite interesting. Baby Castiel seemed to be just as interested in the angel and reached out for his tie while flaring his eyes a bright yellow.
 

     “Oh my. I almost forgot to introduce you two!” Garth laughed as he watched Castiel stare. “Castiel, meet my son, Castiel. I hope you don’t mind that we named him after you.”
 

     Castiel looked at Garth in shock but smiled. He was deeply touched by the sentiment and felt a sense of pride in knowing that he was important enough to Garth to be the inspiration for his son’s name.
 

     “Not at all,” he responded and he meant it.
 

     Bess turned to Sam who was just finishing up with the last pack of beers for the liquor cooler. “Where’s the birthday boy anyway? He does realize he has guests right?”
 

     Sam straightened and threw an arm around Eileen’s shoulders. “Oh, he’s on a beer and pie run. I convinced him that Baby missed him and wanted to spend his special day together. He should be back any minute though. You guys mind helping with a couple of last-minute touches?”
 

     “Not at all!” Everyone whipped around in surprise to see Jack standing with a small wrapped box in his hands. “What? You guys didn’t seriously think I would miss his party, did you? He baked me a cake by hand on my birthday.”
 

     The group laughed and Jack helped Sam drag the coolers into the library where most of the guests were waiting. They had alerted the group to stay out of the war room to keep Dean from seeing them when he came back.

     Alex, Claire, and Kaia finished hanging the last few decorations from the bookcases while bickering about nothing valuable. Patience sat and watched pensively as she talked to Jody and Donna around one of the tables. 
 

     “Don’t worry honey.” Donna gingerly patted Patience’s hand as she spoke. 
 

     Patience smiled and turned to Jody and Donna. “I’m not worried. I’m just happy this is actually happening. From what Sam described, Dean’s pretty bent out of shape. I just hope this helps.”
 

     Jody laughed and turned to Patience. “I sure hope so too.” 
 

     “Hey everybody! Dean’s GPS says he’s only a few minutes away!” Sam shouted over the din of the room. Having everyone’s attention he continued. “Grab your stuff and stay in here. I’m going to shut all the lights off and I’ll turn them back on when he starts coming down the staircase. When I do that, shout surprise or something like that.”
 

     “How eloquent.” Eileen teased as she patted him on the back.
 

     Sam laughed as the group packed into the library carrying a variety of drinks and weapons alike. It was almost comical how odd the group looked in such a mundane situation. 

     As the lights went out a few of the children in the group gasped but their parents hushed them gently. The group stood at attention and craned their necks to listen for Dean’s arrival. Most of the attendees had only heard stories of the legend of Dean Winchester but everyone in the room knew how much he had been through recently and just wanted him to have one good day.

     Just as the lights in the war room went off the sound of the bunker’s door squeaking open echoed through the still room.
 

     “Sammy? I’m back! I got that arugula crap you wanted! Sam?” Dean’s calls filled the room and as soon as he reached the top of the stairwell, Sam flicked the light switches and filled the war room and library with light.
 

     The group all raised their glasses to Dean and shouted a variety of surprises and Happy Birthdays. As they did, Sam watched as Dean’s face went from calm to shocked, to ecstatic all at once and he could have sworn he saw a single tear making its way down his older brother’s smiling cheek. 
 

Chapter Text

     “Sammy? I’m back! I got that arugula crap you wanted! Sam?” Dean called as he pushed his way through the bunker door and found it odd that he heard no immediate response. He stepped over to the railing and all the lights in the bunker suddenly flicked on, revealing a library packed full of hunters, family, and friends alike. 

 

     As they shouted and toasted him, Dean was overwhelmed with surprise and happiness. He had begun to believe that everyone had forgotten it was even his birthday. He was prepared to spend it just like far too many he had over the years: nursing an empty bottle alone with his thoughts.

     Dean quickly brushed a hand down his face to rid it of the single tear that managed to escape and made his way down the stairwell to the crowd. He dropped the bags in his hand onto the map table and pulled Sam into a stiff hug.

 

     “Thank you” he whispered into his brother’s ear. Dean didn’t even need to ask: he already knew that Sam was the only one that could have pulled it off. 

 

     Dean turned to Jack and pulled the boy into an equally tight hug. 

 

     “Happy Birthday Dean!” Jack squealed as Dean squeezed the air out of him.

 

     Dean finally pulled away to scan the room for familiar faces. He grinned and practically bounced in glee when he noticed everyone he cared about talking cheerily in the library. He saw Jody, Donna, Alex, Claire, Kaia, Patience, Garth, Bess, Rowena, and every other person he had ever saved or befriended along the way taking time out of their busy lives to be there for him. They weren’t even there to help him. No. They were taking time away from saving the world, or destroying it in a certain witch’s case, just to celebrate him for no other reason than they wanted to.

 

     “There he is! The man of the hour!” Jody bounded towards Dean and threw her arms around him. “Happy Birthday Honey.”

 

     Dean hugged her tightly and buried his face in her neck while swinging her back and forth. He couldn’t contain his giddiness. Dean felt himself being tugged from behind and he turned to find Donna giving him a huge hug as well.

 

     “Happy Birthday you big goofball.” She chirped into his ear as he swung her around too.

 

     Dean milled about and graciously thanked guests over and over again. There were a lot whom he didn’t recognize but they all seemed to know who he was. He even found himself not caring about the number of monsters in attendance, even if he didn’t immediately recognize most of them. 

     Dean eventually snuck away from the crowd and escaped to the kitchen, leaning against the counter and staring out into the hallway. There he watched Castiel sitting cross-legged on the ground with baby Castiel standing in front of him gripping onto his pointer fingers for balance. The baby kept wobbling and squealing while Castiel laughed and held him upright.

     Dean sipped his soda while watching with a smile on his face. He could feel the tips of his ears warming at the sight. Castiel’s smile was so genuine and his eyes shone with an affection that was pure and raw. It reminded him of the way Castiel always looked at Jack.

 

     “Adorable isn’t he?” Rowena sidled up next to Dean with a tumbler of scotch in her hand. “He really is domesticated, like a stray cat who wandered into their new home and refused to leave.”

 

     Dean scoffed and stared down into his can and wished it was something stronger but Castiel had been quite insistent recently regarding his drinking habits. He was making an effort to ease the crutch alcohol had become in his life over the years if only to please the angel.

 

     “Oh well. What can you do?” Rowena took a long swig from her glass before turning back to Dean. “Well, I sense you two have taken my advice and have fixed what happened between the two of you?”

 

     “Yeah, we’re doing our best. We’ve fought, talked, “hugged it out”, the works.” Dean said sarcastically as he swirled the can in his hand as if it were a scotch or fine wine.

 

     “And your feelings for each other?” She asked dryly with a smile playing on her lips.

 

     Dean choked on his soda. “Excuse me?”

 

     Rowena rolled her eyes. “Oh please, don’t be coy. You forget I was there when you threw yourself at the angel after he woke up. Come to think of it, I believe you forgot you two weren’t the only ones in the room.” She grinned up at Dean’s steadily blushing face.

 

     “Yeah, that’s enough.” He said although there was no threat in his voice. “Enjoy the party.”

 

     Dean took a final longing look into the hallway where Castiel was rocking the now sleeping baby and talking animatedly to Bess. It really was adorable how Castiel had managed to avoid the throngs of partygoers all to spend more time with the baby werewolf. He looked so happy to have the child in his arms and Dean wondered if he missed not being able to do that with Jack. He smirked lightly before stepping out of the kitchen and back into the library. 

     As the afternoon hours weaned into the late evening, guests came and went as they pleased, leaving Dean with an ever-turning rotation of attendees to greet and send off. By the time the numbers had reached just their closest friends and family, Dean was exhausted and a bit overwhelmed: his social battery had run dry.

     Dean shrugged and grabbed a beer from one of the coolers and quietly snuck away from the group before anyone could notice his discomfort. He quickly made his way down the hall to his bedroom where he hoped to drown out the sound of the party still going strong in the library. 

     As he flopped down on his bed, he finally let out a sigh of relief and cracked open the bottle with a small pang of guilt. Dean downed half of it in one go and carefully put it on his nightstand before laying down with his hands under his head. He grinned at the ceiling and appreciated the quiet lull of his partygoer’s voices that permeated through his door. 

     Dean relaxed and quietly hummed to himself out of sheer joy for what felt like a much too short duration of time when he was interrupted by a soft knocking at his door. Castiel popped his head inside and when Dean did not urge him to leave, he stepped in and closed the door behind him.

 

     “Are you feeling alright Dean? You weren’t anywhere in the group and I was beginning to feel concerned.”

 

     Dean sat up and laughed. “Yeah buddy, I’m great. I’m just a little tired, that’s all.”

 

     “Oh. In that case, I will leave you to rest.” Castiel looked slightly disappointed as he turned to the bedroom door but Dean’s voice stopped him. 

 

     “Wait, not like that. I’m tired of the crowd. I just needed a bit of a breather.” Dean saw Castiel turn back to face him and he watched a smile creep onto the angel’s lips. 

 

     “Well, in that case, I have a present for you. It seems customary that I bring you a gift on the night of your birthday and I did not want to miss out on that.” Castiel sat down on the bed next to the hunter and revealed a gift bag he had been hiding behind his back.

 

     “Aw, Cas. You shouldn’t have.” Dean teased as he winked at the angel. “Seriously though, you didn’t need to do that. Most of us don’t and besides, you already gave me a gift.”

 

     Castiel raised his hand and cut the man off “If I remember correctly, you and I got in a fight because you wanted to return it. I felt it only reasonable that you receive a gift for your birthday that you want to keep.”

 

     Dean laughed and opened the bag, pulling the tissue paper out and tossing it in Castiel’s lap. His fingers closed around the soft fabric of the t-shirt and he pulled it out to unfold it. Dean held it in front of his face and smiled when he saw the Led Zeppelin logo. 

 

     “Awesome!” He grinned at Castiel as he spoke. “Thank you.”

 

     Castiel nodded his head in the direction of the bag to encourage Dean to keep looking. Dean reached back inside and his hand found something else that was soft. When he pulled his arm out, Dean found he was holding a small stuffed animal Scooby-Doo.

 

     The hunter laughed deeply and threw his arm around Castiel’s shoulder. “I love it. Thanks, Cas. That was really nice of you.” 

 

     As he beamed, Dean could not help the sharp pain of gratitude filling his chest. Birthday gifts were such uncommon occurrences for Winchesters let alone parties. Yet, here was his best friend, the warrior who saved him from the torments of Hell, the angel who had risked his life more than too many times for him, the being who made a losing deal to save their son and finally gave his life to save Dean once again by simply being his happiest in loving Dean. Here that angel sat giving him a novelty shirt and stuffed animal to celebrate the passing of time that was so precious to humans. Angels did not value time in the same way and despite this, here he sat giving Dean everything the man did not know he needed.

 

     Castiel nodded at Dean’s gratitude and stood, pulling his phone out of his pocket. Instead of speaking, he tapped the screen, and the first few notes of Led Zeppelin’s “All of My Love” floated through the air.

 

     “Dance with me.” Castiel reached his hand out for Dean to take and stared into the man’s shocked eyes.

 

     “What?”

 

     Castiel did not wait for him to stand and instead pulled the man to his feet. The angel held his hand and spoke softly.

 

     “I have also heard that it is tradition for humans to dance on joyous occasions. Dance with me.”

 

     Dean stifled the panicked feeling in his stomach as Castiel placed his hand on the hunter’s waist and lifted their joined hands to a comfortable level. Dean’s hand found Castiel’s forearm and they began to sway gently with the soft music that filled the air around them.

     He had never been good at affection and was still terrified of ruining whatever balance he and Castiel had built over the years. They were just close enough to be more profound than friends but just far enough that Dean could keep Castiel from the demons that tormented him every day. He couldn’t bear to hurt the angel again.

     Besides, it had been decades since he had touched a man like that. It terrified him deeply to let himself even think about it. If he did this, who would he be? He wasn’t gay, that was for certain. Dean had lusted after plenty of women in his lifetime, even loving a few like Cassie and Lisa. It’s not like they were lavender relationships. He wasn’t hiding anything back then: he had loved them. It wasn’t like he was trying to keep anyone from finding out he liked men or anything.

     But had he really liked men? Dean of course had but admitting it to himself was practically a sport. With Lee, John’s conditioning had convinced him it was a drunken mistake and nothing more. Then there were the countless men he had caught eyes with before. There was Nick, his siren which had made him feel all sorts of happy. He had always chalked it up to the siren’s call and needing a brother when Sam had disappointed him, but deep down Dean knew it was more than that. He had liked Nick, possibly more than a friend, after all, how many men had he ever shared a flask with?

 

     “Relax, Dean” Castiel’s voice came with concerned eyes as if he could read Dean’s mind.

 

     How does he do that?  Dean thought.  Am I really that transparent?

 

     Dean gripped Castiel’s forearm as he swayed stiffly. He was really trying. Dean desperately wanted anything but to disappoint Castiel. The angel had bared his heart to him more times than Dean could count in the last few months alone. It was the least he could do to dance with the guy who had just given him an amazingly thoughtful gift yet Dean could not shake the constant stream of thoughts and doubts.

     He of course had loved women. Dean adored women. They were beautiful and smart and made him feel good even for only one night but men, they had always been different. For some reason, Dean had always built far stronger relationships with men than anyone else he knew.  

     When he spent a year with Benny in Purgatory, Dean had been drawn to the vampire. He had been so hesitant at first, but their friendship had grown strong quickly. He had always chalked it up to being the effect of Purgatory or some crap like that to save his sanity, but Dean knew the way he felt about the vampire had not been completely platonic. Benny had kept him safe for a year as he slept, fought by his side, and even entrusted him with bringing the vampire back to life. Dean had greatly regretted sending Benny back there and still hadn’t quite forgiven himself for it. 

     Benny had been a good friend and had even saved Castiel’s life once. Maybe Dean hadn’t let himself think about it seriously before, but he had cared about Benny in a more than just friends way. Maybe it wasn’t the same way he had about Cassie and Lisa, but it wasn’t the same as people like Garth either.

     Then there were the little things. There was Aaron who had flirted with him and most definitely did not fluster him in the slightest. Dean of course had been nicer to the better-looking bartenders whenever some kids were being a little too cocky at the pool tables. And then there was his and Crowley’s summer of love. He didn’t necessarily have himself in complete control then, but try as he might, Dean couldn’t bring himself to really regret it, aside from murdery parts obviously.

     No, he wasn’t gay, he loved women too. Dean knew what that meant and he knew the word for it but actually saying it out loud? Dean hated labels. Labels meant a definite answer and that meant an answer he had spent his life getting beaten out of him. Why did there need to be a label for everything? Why couldn’t he just be happy with whoever, or whatever in Castiel’s case, he wanted and not have to market it as something or another? He had spent years thinking about it but never actually addressing it in all seriousness. Here though, with Castiel reaching out to him with the patience of a saint, things were different and he could feel himself practically shaking with fear.

     In reality, it wasn’t that Castiel was a guy, or in a male vessel, that was the problem. It was only a cover for what lied far deeper. Dean was terrified of what would happen if he let Castiel come close. He valued their friendship and that angel had been there for him for years. If he let himself pull Castiel in, Dean was floored by the idea of what he could lose. What if Castiel finally realized the man Dean really was and decided to leave him?

     Dean felt himself grip Castiel’s arm tighter at the thought. As they found a rhythm and began to turn to the beat of the song, Dean tilted his head to look Castiel in the eyes. When he tried to speak Castiel interrupted before anything could come out.

 

     “Whatever is concerning you, please stop worrying yourself. I can feel the anxiety coming off of you. You deserve one night to enjoy yourself.”

 

     Dean smirked and the concerns dissipated into nothing with Castiel’s voice. “Where did you learn to dance anyways?”

 

     “Well, much like cooking, I have observed humanity long enough to gather an understanding of how this is done.”

 

     “Yeah well, you are a terrible cook.” Dean teased while winking at Castiel again.

 

     “You do not seem to be complaining about my dancing capabilities, however.” the angel commented while leaning forward slightly.

 

     “Maybe I enjoy this more.”

 

     As they danced, the world faded entirely into the background until all that was left was the angel and the hunter gently turning in each other's embrace. There was no concern for the world outside as they found their balance together.

     The duo spun slowly for the remainder of the song as well as the next that played. While stiff at first, they eventually became one unit and moved gracefully, even venturing to move around the room as they stepped together. Castiel gently lifted their linked hands and encouraged Dean to spin under their arms, causing a light-hearted laugh to fall from the hunter’s lips as they rejoined face to face.

     Dean could feel his pulse rising and cheeks flushing at the feel of Castiel’s chest against his own, much closer since Castiel rejoined them after Dean’s spin. As the music slowed, their movements did as well. Dean realized how intimate their position was and he couldn’t bring himself to be bothered by it or the blush that came with the thought. He was thoroughly enjoying it.

     All at once, those doubts and nerves from before seemed to leave him and Dean felt himself do something reckless. He tentatively tugged Castiel’s arm closer to him and Dean felt the angel’s hand make its way to the small of his back. It gently pulled Dean closer and he was happy to oblige.

     Dean stared into Castiel’s eyes as his hand seemingly moved on its own. It found its way up the angel’s arm and grasped the back of his shoulder, effectively pulling them even closer together. Dean saw Castiel smile at the gesture and recognized the affection in his eyes. His stomach flipped at the sight and he felt his knees go weak but Castiel’s strong arm around his waist kept him upright.

     The hunter leaned forward and felt his cheek brush Castiel’s as their heads slotted side by side. Chest to chest and swaying in each other's arms, Dean felt as if he was falling. There was no other way to describe the rushing he felt in his head and the warmth spreading through his whole body.

     Dean’s heart skipped a beat when an intrusive thought made its way into his mind.  It would be so easy to stay like this.  He grimaced at the thought and tried to urge it away, but the sensation of Castiel holding him overwhelmed him and Dean realized that swaying with the angel felt as easy as breathing.

     They’d had their troubles and fights over the years, but no matter what, they had always found their way right back to one another. Perhaps that was why Castiel’s most recent departure had been so hard on the hunter: it would be the first time Castiel would not come back. As great as his fear was of the unknown, Dean was filled with a much greater fear: pushing the angel away.

     Despite this, Castiel’s unmoving arms around him spoke volumes. No matter Dean’s traumas or demons, he would never leave his hunter behind. Not only had Castiel expressed the fact in the past, but the feeling of his hand on the small of Dean’s back and cheek against the hunter’s told Dean that the angel was not going anywhere.

     As they swayed flush against one another, Dean beamed and melted into the desperately needed touch. He allowed himself to grip Castiel’s shoulder tightly and let his face fall to the crook of his neck. Dean noticed Castiel’s head turn and felt the angel’s lips ghost against the shell of his ear as he whispered.

 

     “Happy Birthday Dean.”

 

Castiel and Dean share a birthday dance! Castiel and Dean share a birthday dance!

Chapter Text

     In the beginning, Castiel felt cold. It crept down his spine and spread through his appendages at a slow and dangerous pace. He even felt it seep into his wings, causing them to curl into themselves in discomfort. It swept across his being easy as thick as molasses and inserted itself in every crook of his grace.

     When he opened his eyes, Castiel found himself surrounded by a black pit of nothing. The darkness roared in his ears and threatened to choke him with every breath. As he whipped around looking for an exit or even just a light to guide his way, the floor began to move and gave out beneath his feet.

     Castiel suddenly found himself enveloped in a raging black ocean where he could see nothing but felt every cold tendril as they wrapped around his feet and threatened to pull him down into the depths. He flailed his arms, struggling to find hold but there was nothing to grasp for so he merely attempted to keep his head above the water.

     The ominous black waves around him crashed at his body over and over again, shoving the cold salt down his throat with each one that besieged his head. The waves as cold as ice clawed at his throat like daggers and tore into his clothing, soaking them entirely. The weight of his sodden trench coat threatened to sink him with every passing second. 

     With every crash, Castiel’s head washed away with cold and he sank into the water. He dragged himself back upward towards the surface and crashed through, sputtering and gasping for air. Within seconds he was shoved back down into the depths where he was thrown back and forth with the weight of the turbulent currents around him. 

 

     You can’t stay……

 

     Castiel whipped around to the familiar voice. It echoed in his head far louder than the ceaseless waves around him and he attempted to swim to it. He could hardly see from the salt that kept attacking his eyes so he tried to call out to the voice. His throat grated and nothing came out no matter how hard he tried. In return, another wave shoved itself into his mouth and forced him under.

     When he made his way back to the surface again, spitting and heaving salt and bile, Castiel finally saw him: Dean. So close, yet so far away, the man sat at a table on the horizon and spoke to him again.

 

     You can’t stay...

 

     And then he was gone and Castiel was awash in another wave of the frigid black water. He spun uncontrollably in the depth as he attempted to drag himself to the surface once again. 

 

     “Dean! Dean!” He screamed with a rasping voice when he finally made it to the surface and spat the water out of his mouth. In response, he received another echoing call.

 

     I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem...

 

     Then he saw the man in the distance. The beautiful man stood covered in an innocent’s blood staring at Castiel with cold dead eyes. The mark was visible on the man’s arm as it reached out to the angel. Castiel reached out for him, but he was suddenly gone again and the angel groaned in frustration as another influx of water hit the back of his head.

 

     Without your power, you’re basically just a baby in a trenchcoat...

 

     Dean called out to Castiel from across a diner table and Castiel reached through the water, desperate to pull himself from its cold fingers trying to drag him down into oblivion. Just as he thought he was finally going to reach the hunter, he disappeared once again as another wave crested over the angel’s head. 

 

     Why does that something always seem to be you?...

 

     Castiel whipped around to find Dean leaning against a table behind him, face full of anger, despair, and regret. 

     The wave finally crashed down on him and shoved Castiel several feet down into the roaring sea. Castiel panicked and desperately clawed his way to the surface, praying Dean would still be there.

 

     “I’m sorry!” the angel cried as he tried to swim against the whirling water around him. The current was too strong and he was tempted to let go and fall and let himself drown in the swirling regrets and disappointments.

 

     “Cas! Cas!” Dean’s strained cries came from far away and Castiel dragged himself to them. With every crash of water over his head, he was thrown back a few feet, but he refused to give up.

 

     As he shook his head and released the water from his eyes, Castiel finally spotted him. Dean was fighting off two angels, trying to break away with every bit of strength he had. One angel on each side of his body grasped his arms and forcefully pulled him away from Castiel.

 

     “No! Dean!” Castiel cried as he inched closer and closer to his hunter. 

 

     “Cas!” Dean’s left arm broke free and he reached out for Castiel, eyes full of terror.

 

     “Dean!” 

 

     Castiel reached out and just as their fingers were about to touch, another wave crashed over the angel and forced him into the depths of the black water surrounding him. Castiel felt himself spin backward as the air was forced from his lungs and he sank deeper into the water, watching the silhouette of Dean’s desperate hand fade away as the surface became further and further from his own reaching hand. 

 

     Castiel launched upward into a sitting position and clawed at his throat, gasping for air. He tore the tie from his neck and shuddered at the cold covering his body. As he desperately looked around the room, his pulse began to settle to a normal rhythm.

 

     It was just a dream. It was just a dream.

 

     He repeated the mantra to himself over and over again as he dragged himself out of his bed in the bunker. Castiel tore his suit coat from his shoulders and threw it onto the desk where his trenchcoat lay in a crumpled mess. 

     Frustration coursed through his veins and the angel raked his hands through his hair. Castiel had witnessed Sam do it many times and he had picked up the comforting action over the last few weeks. 

     He sighed as he began his morning routine: padding over to Dean’s room as silently as possible to avoid rousing the sleeping hunter. When he reached the doorway, he gently pushed the slightly ajar door open enough to peek inside. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Miracle curled in a ball at Dean’s feet. 

     Castiel closed his eyes and breathed deeply before opening them again. There on the bed, he saw Dean curled into his sheets and gently cradling the stuffed Scooby-Doo as he softly snored. Miracle snuggled into his legs and Castiel closed the door silently.

     He always felt guilty for the intrusion but it was a necessary evil. He had not told his family yet, but Castiel was facing serious repercussions since talking with Dean on the hood of the Impala. Immediately following their parting that night, Castiel had felt exhausted. Now every morning started with the dawning realization that he had been drawn into a restless slumber.

     No matter how hard he tried, Castiel had dragged down into the confines of sleep every night since Dean told him everything. Unfortunately, it was never an easy rest. Every night he faced nightmares all too reminiscent of the times he had spent in the Empty over the years.

     Some nights he broke down Sam’s wall causing the hunter to go mad. Other nights he slaughtered his brothers and sisters in Heaven. Some nights he tore apart Jimmy Novak’s family. Many nights he killed copy after copy of Dean and felt himself slowly descend into numbness as he lost hope.

     Sadly, these were what Castiel would consider the good nights. The worst ones were like the one he had just woken up from. On those nights, Castiel dreamt of every disappointment, every fight, every regret with Dean Winchester. It was as if his mind would not let him forget how many times they had nearly lost each other for good and it always convinced the angel that it was his own fault.

     The dreams were vivid and Castiel always woke up with his greatest regrets playing behind his eyelids. The only escape he found was in knowing that his family was safe and real. It was only temporary, but seeing Dean alive and well persuaded Castiel to move forward, even just for one more day.

     He repeated his mantra to himself softly as he made his way to the kitchen. He was sure that a good cup of coffee would ease the tension in his shoulders but he found he was far too exhausted to pour himself one when he stepped inside. Instead, Castiel threw himself down into one of the chairs at the table. 

     Sam was already drinking his coffee and was intently reading something on his laptop. He looked up in surprise when the scruffy angel fell into the chair across from him. 

 

     “Woah Cas. You look...exhausted. You okay?”

 

     “I am alright.”

 

     Sam pushed the laptop to the side so he could see the angel better. “Really? Because you look like you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”

 

     “Angels don’t sleep Sam,” Castiel grumbled dejectedly. 

 

     “It’s an expression Cas. Just means you look grumpy about something.” Sam laughed as he explained to Castiel. 

 

     “Yes, well I am fine.” Castiel sighed and propped his elbow on the table to catch his chin. He could already feel the tempting pull of sleep pricking at his eyelids again.

 

     Sam sighed for an entirely different reason. “Look Cas. I am not going to pretend I don’t see it anymore. I am absolutely thrilled you are back but something is obviously bugging you. You look like you’re at your wit's end. I understand if you don’t want to talk to me but please just talk to someone.”

 

     “Sam! I said I am fine!” The words came out much harsher than he had anticipated.

 

     “Dean sure is rubbing off on you,” Sam said sarcastically as he rolled his eyes. “Well if you really don’t want to talk, I think I just found a case.”

 

Chapter Text

     Sam stared at Castiel's bleak expression. It had completely caught him off guard. Castiel tended to be a blunt guy, but it was rare to see him so disgruntled. It was evident that something was off. 

 

     “Well if you really don’t want to talk, I think I just found a case.” He was just about to continue but was cut off by Dean padding into the kitchen while rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.

 

     “Mornin’ sunshine,” Dean said as he approached Cas and ruffled the angel’s hair.

 

     Lord have mercy on my soul  Sam thought sarcastically as he rolled his eyes. Whenever Castiel was in the room, it was like Sam disappeared into the background. It was almost funny but after 12 years, it had lost its luster.

     Sam watched as Dean crossed the room to the coffee maker and filled not one but two mugs. He returned to the table being careful not to spill any and without a word, placed one of the mugs in front of Castiel. 

 

     “Thank you, Dean” the angel grumbled as he curled his fingers around the mug and sighed seemingly from the comfort of the warmth it offered.

 

     Sam smiled lightly and looked between his brother and best friend. Even after so many years, they amazed him.  It’s like they can just read each other's minds . He wouldn’t have been surprised if that was what they did when they spent all that time staring at each other wordlessly. 

     Just as he thought about it, he noticed the duo staring intently at each other. Even when they were exhausted and it was far too early for anything like that, there they sat, completely ignoring Sam’s existence.

 

     Sam cleared his throat dramatically to snap the duo out of their reverie before speaking. “So, like I was just telling Cas, I think I found us a case.”

 

     Dean finally met Sam’s gaze and he looked relieved to have something to do. Sam knew he had been jumpy recently and figured he was itching for a case.

 

     “So get this. Hobbs, New Mexico, three dead in one week. All three died from self-inflicted stab wounds. No obvious correlation between the vics. Could be our kind of thing.” Sam raised his eyebrows as he looked up from the screen and found Castiel and Dean staring at each other again. 

 

     “Hey! Did you guys listen to anything I just said?” he asked around his eye roll. Sam watched as the two broke from their intense gaze and nodded their heads at him.

 

     “Yeah. Could also be just normal people crazy. What makes you think this is our kind of case?” Dean sipped his coffee thoughtfully after he spoke.

 

     “Dean, when has three people disemboweling themselves in one week not been our kind of thing?” Sam asked the question bluntly as he tapped away at the keyboard, attempting to hack into the Hobbs police database.

 

     “True. Grab your crap. We’re on the road in five.”

 

     Sam watched as Dean patted Castiel’s shoulder before practically skipping out of the room. He smiled thoughtfully before turning to look at the frumpy angel who had abandoned his cup of coffee and was simply staring in its wake. He was about to say something but Castiel spoke first.

 

     “Coming back to life, it has been confusing. I know you see how it has affected me. Just please, do not tell Dean. I do not want him to worry about me.” Castiel did not look up at Sam when he spoke. Instead, he simply stared at his forsaken mug.

 

     Sam nodded and watched as the angel rose to leave the room while mumbling something about getting dressed.  Come to think of it, he does kinda look naked without that coat

 

     Just as Castiel reached the doorway Sam spoke. “I won’t but you should.”

 

     Sam sunk into the passenger seat of his brother’s prized Impala just short of the five-minute mark. 

 

     “I swear if you took 30 more seconds I woulda left your ass here to do all the nerd work while Cas and I took the lead.”

 

     “Yeah ok Dean,” Sam laughed as Dean turned onto the main road and slammed a new tape into the deck. 

 

     As the drums and guitar began to roar through the car, Sam noticed the tension immediately leave his brother’s shoulders. It was like the feeling of the wheel under his fingers and comfort music echoing in his ears put the man at ease.

     While they drove, Sam watched Castiel closely in the rearview mirror. Normally the angel participated in banter with his older brother or at least made eye contact with one of them in the rearview mirror. This time, however, Castiel stared intently out the window as he propped his head on the back of his seat. He looked exhausted. 

     After twelve hours of driving, eating at a shady diner, and desperately trying to cut the tension, Sam was exhausted and the Impala found its way to a small motel just inside the border of Hobbs. Sam gathered the articles he had printed off and risked another glance into the backseat where he found Castiel looking down nervously in his lap.

 

     “Alright, I’m gonna head inside and get the room. Why don’t you guys help Miracle stretch his legs?” He didn’t wait for a response. Sam just wanted out and figured the two could use some alone time. 

 

     Dean looked like he was going to protest, but Miracle began licking the back of his neck and the hunter descended into a fit of laughter. Sam loved that laughter. He loved that it seemed like his brother was in an increasingly better mood daily since Castiel’s return.

     Sam thought about this as he made his way into the motel. After checking in, he found the large room at the end of the hall and let himself inside.

 

     Ironic  he thought to himself as he looked around at the gaudy decor. The under the sea theme seemed inappropriate for the climate of the area but all Sam cared about was the presence of a semi-comfortable bed. After 11 hours in the car, his back was killing him and he needed a nap. 

     Unfortunately, there was research to be done. Sam pulled up a chair at the small dining table and spread his articles out before opening his laptop with the police database at the ready. 

     Over the car ride, he had done a fair amount of reading between refereeing in a few of Dean and Castiel’s spats. He had developed a running theory for the cause of the deaths: It was likely either a vengeful spirit or demonic possessions.

     Sam sighed at the quiet of the room. It had been so long since he wasn’t with Eileen. She had decided to go out of state to see some friends and family for the weekend, leaving behind the original Team Free Will as Dean described them. Now they just had a mascot to add to the mix.

     The hunter tried to focus on the papers and articles he had but there just wasn’t enough information quite yet. They would need to interview the victim’s families the following morning in order to figure out if there were any connections between the three victims outside of the cause of death.

     Sam raked his hands down his face and just as he was about to turn in for the night, the motel room door opened and Miracle ran inside, jumping right up in his lap at the table. He laughed and rubbed the dog’s ears just as Castiel and Dean entered the room.

     Of course, Sam pretended he didn’t notice how close their faces were as they joked together. He pretended he couldn’t see Dean’s hand resting on the angel’s shoulder and dropping once they were inside the room. He even pretended he didn’t notice the pure happiness on both of their faces that seemed to dull slightly when they separated. 

     They were so obvious and yet so oblivious to each other. Sam smiled faintly as the two talked and laughed together. He had been watching them dance around each other for over a decade and it seemed to only be getting worse. With every passing day, Sam thought he might explode from the tension between the two but there was not much he could do.

 

     “Just you wait until they get their heads out of their asses. It’ll be just you and me then.” He whispered into Miracle’s ear and chuckled to himself.

 

     “I’ll watch over you.” He heard from across the room.

 

     “Buddy. How many times do I have to tell you? It’s creepy.” There was no threat or even annoyance in Dean’s voice. Instead, Sam detected a bit of fondness and jest as Dean hopped onto his bed and began situating himself under the sheets. 

 

     Sam watched as Miracle bounded over to the bed and snuggled into Dean’s side as Castiel made his way over to the table. He shut his laptop and began to pack away the articles when Castiel spoke.

 

     “I will return in the morning for the investigation.” Sam watched as the angel stiffly walked to the door. Just as he reached the knob he turned and whispered to avoid rousing the now sleeping Dean. “I will consider your request as well.”

 

     Sam felt relief wash over him as the angel left the room without another word. As he changed into his sweats, Sam thought about what could possibly be bothering the angel and turned out the lights in the room. 

     He made his way over to his bed and just before he could turn out the desk lamp on the end table something small caught his eye. Yet again that night, Sam pretended he didn’t see something as his eyes grazed over the small stuffed animal clutched in Dean’s arms.

 

Chapter Text

     Castiel woke with a start and peeled his face off the leather seat of the Impala. The back seat was not the most comfortable place to rest, but he did not want to risk renting a room and the boys finding out he had stayed the night. Castiel just wasn’t ready to worry them with his troubles. They deserved a win and to live life without a big problem for a little while.

     The angel wiped the drool from his mouth with the back of his hand and rose to a seated position. He glared at the sun streaming through the car’s windows and attempted to calm himself. Luckily he had only dreamt about tearing down Sam’s wall this time so his nightmares were not as bad as usual.

     Castiel tugged his coat back on and looked at himself in the rearview mirror. The angel could not prevent his shoulders from falling in defeat as he stared at his reflection. He looked just like he had when he fell from grace: he looked human.

     He had hated being human when he was on his own in the world. Castiel had felt small, weak, and insignificant and the fact that his own naivety was the cause of his suffering had only made it worse. Castiel did not understand how the Winchesters were able to do it every day.

     The sun notified Castiel that it was time for him to join the boys for their hunt. He quickly approached the door to Sam and Dean’s room and hesitantly tapped. He was well aware of how detrimental it could be to rouse Dean too early in the morning so he hoped the man was already awake.

 

     Sam pulled the door open and greeted him warmly. “Come on in. Dean’s just getting dressed so we should be good to go for breakfast in a few.”

 

     Castiel dropped onto the foot of Dean’s bed and smiled when Miracle nosed at his hand for attention. 

 

     “Hey has anyone seen my razor?” Dean stepped out of the bathroom as he asked the question while digging through his toiletry bag. “I could have sworn I put it in here.”

 

     “Well, it obviously didn’t grow legs and run away. You’re just going to have to deal with it today,” Sam smirked as he teased his older brother.

 

     “ It obviously didn’t grow legs and walk away! ” Dean mocked under his breath as he dug through his duffel that sat next to Castiel on the bed. “Bingo” he smiled as he pulled his favorite pistol out and tucked it in his waistband behind his suit coat.

 

     The group locked up the motel with a bowl of fresh water and food for Miracle and made their way to a local diner for breakfast where Sam ordered his usual egg white omelet and Dean ordered his usual feast as well as an extra coffee for Castiel. The angel smiled at the gesture and thanked him once the waitress walked away, receiving a quick nudge and a “don’t mention it” from his friend. 

     Castiel noticed Sam staring at them from across the table and he furrowed his brow in confusion. They could not possibly be interesting enough to receive such regard from the hunter. Sam simply smiled and returned to reading something on his phone.

     When their food arrived, Castiel was thankful for the coffee and let the warmth spread through his fingertips. The group discussed their plans around bites of food and swigs of coffee, agreeing to start at the apartment of the first victim: Sally Hayne.

 

     Sam took the time to brief them on her final moments. “So it looks like Sally was the first victim. She was 24, single, and pretty reserved. Nothing particularly interesting about her aside from her job at the local supermarket. Her roommate was the one to find her so I think we should start there.”

 

     The interview went relatively smoothly. Rachel had been pretty broken up over her roommate’s death but was overall pretty cooperative. She answered all their questions, informing them that Sally had no known enemies, no new friends or acquaintances, and no new activities leading up to her death. 

 

     “So we got nothing. Great.” Dean grumbled as he shoved the key in the ignition.

 

     “Well, we have vic number two: Allan Haggard. He lived just up the block with his husband and two daughters. Just like with Sally, his housemates were left untouched and Allan’s husband was the one to find him.” Sam recounted what he had collected from the database and looked in the rearview mirror. “You good back there Cas? You look a little spooked.”

 

     “I’m fine. I thought I felt something in Sally’s apartment but I was mistaken.” 

 

     When Dean and Sam were questioning Rachel, Castiel had taken the job of investigating the rooms. As he scanned, Castiel had sensed a dark presence. It felt almost like an echo of something but he couldn’t quite place it. It had been too long since the murder and the remains had since faded to a dull whisper of whatever energy was there before.

 

     Castiel met Dean’s eyes in the rearview mirror and noticed how concerned the man looked. “I will let you both know once I figure out what it was. I believe I was sensing remnants of whatever energy was given off during the attack.”

 

     The trio spent the rest of their afternoon at the house of Allan and Peter Haggard. Peter was so heartbroken over his husband’s death that he had sent his daughters to live with their grandmother to keep them away from the house for a while. He figured it would be best to distance them from the violence that had taken place there so recently.

     While investigating the home, Castiel found his way to the room where Peter had found Allan just a few days before. He could smell the remnants of blood in the floorboards and Castiel scanned his open palm over the floor concentrating deeply. 

 

     “Hey buddy, we gotta go. Peter doesn’t know anything so we’re back to square one.”

 

     “Come here Dean” Castiel looked up at the man and grabbed his hand to pull him to the floor next to the angel. “Look, this is where the death took place. Do you smell anything?”

 

    Castiel watched as Dean sniffed the floor deeply and looked up at the angel when he spoke. “Sulfur”.

 

     Castiel had finally figured out what he had been sensing. “That’s what I felt in Sally’s apartment. I could sense the dark energy in the room. It was definitely demonic.”

 

     “I’ll bet you 20 bucks you’d feel that same mojo in the third victim’s house too. We gotta figure out what demon is wreaking havoc around here and where it’s going to be next.”

 

     Castiel watched as Dean stood and offered his hand to pull the angel to his feet. They stood for a few seconds as Castiel stared at the hunter’s face. There was an unreadable expression pinching the man’s eyebrows and it concerned Castiel.

 

     “You okay buddy? You seemed pretty spooked earlier today.”

 

     Castiel patted Dean on the shoulder before he responded. “I will be alright. I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” He laughed deeply at the shock that crossed Dean’s face at the use of such a figure of speech.

 

     Just then Sam joined them in the room holding something small in his palm. 

 

     “Hey, Cas found something. It’s a demon.” Dean turned to his brother and Castiel let his hand drop from the man’s shoulder.

 

     “I did too. Allan and Sally had nothing in common except this.” Sam tossed a small coin in Dean’s direction as he spoke. “I found this in Allen’s wallet. It’s a sobriety token. Sally had the same one on her kitchen counter. It looks like the two were part of the same sobriety group.”

 

     “Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go get some grub.” Dean walked out of the group and Sam laughed. He turned to Castiel and spoke quietly enough that no one else in the house could hear and his words caused a pang of sadness to fill Castiel’s chest.

 

     “Leave it to Dean to avoid the topic of sobriety.” 

 

Chapter Text

     Dean packed his duffel full of red spray paint, salt rounds, holy water, rosary beads, and even Ruby’s knife. They had spent the whole previous day interviewing every member of the sobriety group to prod for more information. They had managed to piece together a prediction where the demon would strike next and even developed a plan. 

 

     “Let's move. Sundown’s in an hour and we gotta be there before that.” Dean called over his shoulder as he left the room and made his way over to his beloved car. There he found Castiel leaning against the open trunk and he tossed the duffel inside.

 

     “You look excited.” The angel noted while staring at the hunter.

 

     “I’m just pumped to have a normal run-of-the-mill hunt. It’s been a while since we’ve had a black and white case like this.” Dean slapped Castiel on the shoulder after closing the trunk. “Plus it’s nice to have the gang back together again. It’s good to have some muscle back in the group.”

 

     He winked at the angel before taking his seat behind the wheel and taking a deep breath. He really was relieved to have Castiel back in the game. Dean would not ever say it out loud, but hunting without the angel had been terrifying. He had become accustomed to having the strength by his side and without it, he had felt empty and weak.

 

     “Hey, buddy, why don’t you take shotgun this time?” Dean’s cheeks warmed when he saw the shocked look on his friend’s face. “I mean, Sam has to learn his lesson one way or another. The guy takes way too long to get ready. Hop in.”

 

     Castiel joined him by his side and immediately found the box of tapes in the glove compartment. Dean didn’t even check to see which one the angel picked. He found himself trusting whatever he chose to play and was not surprised in the slightest when their mixtape started playing.

 

     “What the?” came a startled voice from outside the car.

 

     Dean laughed at Sam’s confused face. “You snooze, you lose Sammy. Get in.”

 

     He pointedly ignored Sam’s grumbles and complaints the whole ride. Dean even chose to ignore Sam’s glares in the rearview mirror as they discussed the plan. It looked like Sam was really bent out of shape about the seating arrangement and that only made it better and more amusing. 

     The day prior, the group had figured out who they believed the demon would target next. They planned to capture it and go for a good old-fashioned exorcism but decided to bring the knife and salt rounds just in case things did not go their way like usual.

     Earlier that day they had evacuated the possible next victim and her family from their home with the excuse of a possible gas leak. Dean had actually pushed Castiel to do most of the talking under the guise that he needed practice hunting. It was endearing to watch the angel bumble through it but ultimately, he did alright.

     Dean and Sam spent the hour after arriving at the house painting Devil’s Traps throughout the different rooms inside. They hid as many as they could fit on ceilings and under rugs. Dean didn’t believe it was entirely necessary, but after the way his last hunt went, he wanted some extra precautions.

     The trio sat in a tense silence at the kitchen table. The whole house was ready, they each were armed to the teeth, and there was nothing else that could be done but wait. 

     Dean’s eyes traveled across the table to Castiel. The angel looked tense as if he was concentrating deeply. His eyes grazed over the folded hands and the stony glare that reminded him just how powerful his friend was. His glare was excruciatingly piercing when he got this way.

 

     Dean heard Sam suddenly clear his throat and he wondered how long he had been staring. “Alright, I’m going to go check around the house. Why don’t you two man the fort.” Dean watched as Sam turned his back and left the room quickly.

 

     He turned back to the angel and noticed that he seemed to be not just tense but uncomfortable.

 

     Is he….nervous?

 

     “Hey Cas, is something on your mind?”

 

     The angel sighed and rubbed his hands down his face before dropping them to the table. Dean noticed how worn he looked and couldn’t stop himself from reaching out and placing a hand on top of one of Castiel’s

     He watched as Castiel opened and closed his mouth a couple of times as if he was at a loss for words. He absently rubbed his thumb across the angel’s knuckles as Castiel furrowed his brows. Just as Dean thought the angel was going to speak, they felt the ground begin to shake.

 

     “So it begins” he sighed before cocking his rifle and standing to scan the room. Within an instant, Castiel was at his side, angel blade at the ready. They nodded at each other wordlessly and moved to stand back to back.

 

     The lights began to flicker and the smell of sulfur wafted into the room. The foundations of the house began to shake more violently and Dean felt Castiel’s shoulders flex against his back.

 

     “Dean. Something is wrong. This isn’t just one demon.” Just as Castiel spoke all the windows in the house shattered and seven demons jumped through. Dean heard a similar crashing and a thumping upstairs, signaling more arriving on the second floor. 

 

     “Son of a bitch! Sammy!”

 

     He didn’t get a chance to listen for a response when all seven descended on him and Castiel at the same time. As Dean fired over and over again he could feel Castiel brandishing the blade as he killed one of the demons. One down, countless to go. 

 

     “We gotta get upstairs to Sam!” Dean screamed over the gunfire and he felt Castiel grab his elbow. He whipped around and allowed Castiel to pull him down the hallway towards the stairwell as the angel slit another demon’s throat: two. 

 

     Dean fired over his shoulder as Castiel found his hand and tugged him up the stairwell. The five remaining demons charged up the stairs after them and Castiel led Dean into a bedroom, slamming the door behind them.

     Inside Sam was slashing Ruby’s knife at four demons that were circling him with blood-thirsty grins. There were already two bodies on the ground at Sam’s feet.

 

     Alright. Four dead already. Five outside. Four in here. That makes nine royally pissed-off demons. Son of a bitch.  Dean thought desperately as he and Castiel tried to hold the door closed against the pounding from the demons outside. 

 

     “Now what?” he screamed just before the door behind him was shoved open and he and Castiel were thrown to the ground.

 

     “Dean!” Sam screamed as he slashed another throat: five down, eight to go.

 

     Dean felt Castiel pull him to his feet and shove an angel blade in his hands. “What are you doing?” he screamed as the angel gave up his only weapon. 

 

     “I can still smite them, Dean. Help your brother!” He shoved Dean towards the three demons circling Sam just as the other five descended on the angel.

 

     Dean watched as Castiel ran into the hall to draw as many away from the brothers as possible. The hunter set his jaw and took a few steps back to stand side by side with his brother. 

     Without a word, the two found the rhythm that only they could. After so many years of hunting together, words were not needed to communicate. It was a well-practiced dance and the duo moved together in perfect synchronization.

     They heard several high-pitched screams from the first floor as Castiel ripped through the demons who dared oppose him. The blasts of the angel’s grace shook the floor as Sam and Dean slashed at the demons remaining in the room. 

     The bodies piled up and soon enough Sam and Dean were the only ones left standing. They quickly scanned the entire floor for more demons, but it was all clear. 

 

     “Come on, we gotta help Cas!” Dean shouted over the din just as he heard a gasp from Sam and felt a hard hit against the back of his head.

 

Chapter Text

     Dean crumpled to the floor and cradled his head. A white-hot pain flashed across his vision as the angel blade was kicked from his hand. He felt a boot step on his wrist hard enough to pop the joint and crack several bones. 

     Dean screamed from the pain and looked up to catch a view of his attacker. Just as his eyes met the demon standing before him, his stomach plummeted.

 

     “Miss me?” the familiar nasally voice growled as the demon leaned forward, further crushing Dean’s splintered wrist. 

 

     “Alastair.” Dean spat as he reeled from the pain and acrid breath. He felt his body begin to shake in fear.

 

     “That’s right. You didn’t think it was just Lillith that crawled outta the Empty did you?” Alastair grabbed Dean by the front of his shirt and lifted him to meet his eyes. “I’ve missed you, Dean. What do you say, you and me spend some quality time together? It’ll be just like the good old days.” 

 

     Dean squirmed in the demon’s hold but it was no use. He was no match for the, especially strong demon. Dean felt the hands on his chest suddenly move and Alastair threw him to the ground. From his place, Dean could see three new demons shoving Sam out of the room and slamming the door closed. He was alone with his torturer and three of his henchmen.

     Dean tried to crawl across the floor to his abandoned blade as Sam pounded against the door and screamed his name. He dragged himself across the wooden grain until he was only inches away from the borrowed angel blade. Alastair’s foot met Dean’s ribs and a sickening crack filled the room.

 

     “Oh come now, let’s not be hasty. The fun has just begun!” the demon snarled as he kicked Dean once more.

 

     “I’ll kill you if you so much as touch my brother!” Dean coughed out as he spat blood onto the floor. 

 

     “Oh, I won’t touch him.” Alastair teased as he grabbed Dean by the throat and lifted him into the air again. “You are far more interesting. I’ll get him back for killing me later”.

 

     Alastair slammed Dean into the wall and slowly raised him as high as he could reach. Dean clawed at the hand on his throat and saw stars.

 

     Come on, not like this!

 

     Dean was thrown across the room and slammed into the opposite wall. When he hit the floor, he felt an icy pain shoot up his left leg originating in his ankle. 

 

     “You didn’t seriously think a hunt as easy to solve as this one would really fall into your lap like that did you, Dean? I mean, come on! When do you ever get a win?” the demon hissed as he grabbed Dean by the front of his shirt yet again and laid a punch square on the man’s jaw. 

 

     “That was all you?” Dean spat more blood onto the floor as he desperately tried to plan his escape.

 

     “All me. I’m just here to return the favor since the last time we saw each other you so graciously showed me everything you learned in Hell. Tell me, have you used your skills since I died?” another punch landed on Dean’s cheek just missing his eye.

 

     “No. I’m not like you” Another punch, this time to his temple.

 

     “Then I think it’s time for another lesson.” Alastair snarled before throwing Dean to the ground again and kicking him in the stomach. “But it seems my previous lessons have failed you. Maybe you’re the type that learns best by experience. Is that right? Maybe I just need to lead by example.”

 

     Dean’s head spun as he coughed up more blood than he thought possible. Despite the blood roaring in his ears and the searing pain in his whole body, Dean could only think of one thing.

 

     “Sam!” He screamed with a broken voice just as another kick landed in his abdomen.

 

     “Dean!” Sam screamed through the door. 

 

     Dean could have sworn he heard Sam fighting off another demon but he couldn’t be sure. There was so much commotion going on outside the room. He could still hear Castiel tearing his way through demon after demon but it sounded like the angel was making his way closer to the room Dean was trapped in.

 

     “Come on buddy” Dean whispered the prayer to himself as another kick landed on his ribs and another crack filled the room. 

 

     “You know, I think that would be best. I mean, you so eloquently learned the art when you were the one on the rack. Maybe you just need to be reminded of what it feels like. Is that right?”

 

     Dean’s heart dropped. He finally realized what Alastair intended and he could not bear the thought of what the demon would do to him should he get the chance. 

 

     “No. Please,” he pleaded softly as another kick landed on his side. “Cas!” he screamed as the beginnings of a sob broke from his chest.

 

     “Aww. Hoping your little boyfriend can save you? Well, the angel is a bit tied up at the moment. You’re never going to see him again.” Alastair growled as he motioned to the demons standing in the room.

 

     “You son of a bitch you leave him alone!” Dean screamed as the demons grabbed his arms and raised him to a kneeling position. With one on each side pinning his hands behind his back and another pressing their knee between his shoulder blades, Dean was completely helpless. 

 

     Alastair laced his fingers through Dean’s hair and pulled his head back to look up. “I like the new cut Dean, it makes it easier on me.”

 

     Dean spat in the demon’s face with whatever defiance he could muster. It was his only defense left.

 

     Alastair tightened his grip on Dean’s hair and pulled his head back hard enough to cause Dean to flinch in pain. “Dean Winchester on his knees in front of me, now this is a sight I could get used to. Oh, the ideas I have for you. Now what do you say, why don’t we have some fun?”

 

     Dean’s heart sank and he closed his eyes preparing to be violated in more ways than he could possibly imagine.  Hell on Earth  he thought just as he heard a high-pitched screaming noise: Castiel’s true voice.

     The door to the room flew off its hinges and shattered into a million pieces and the angel stormed inside eyes flaming with his grace. Dean’s vision was clouding from the blood pouring in one eye and the other swelling shut, but even he did not miss the defensive flare of Castiel’s wings silhouetting against the wall. Sam was just outside the door fighting off an onslaught of five more demons as they came after Castiel.

 

     “Cas,” Dean whispered with the last bit of energy he had left and watched as the angel punched Alastair hard enough to send the demon flying across the room. 

 

     “You will regret the moment you touched him!” Castiel screamed as he ripped the other three demons off of Dean. He managed to smite one before pulling Dean to his feet.

 

     “Dean, you have to get out of here! Go with Sam. I will meet you outside!” Castiel gripped his shoulders tightly and pushed the battered man towards Sam. Dean felt himself fall into his brother’s arms and watched as every demon left in the house circled Castiel at once, far more than they had started with.

 

     “No! Cas!” He screamed as Sam tugged him out of the room and practically carried him down the stairs. Dean hissed as his injured ankle hit the floor but he still fought against his brother's grip.

     “Cas!!” He screamed with whatever voice he had left as they crossed the threshold and Sam dragged him across the front lawn towards the Impala.

 

     “Come on!” Sam pulled Dean further from the house. “We have to get to the car!”

 

     “I can’t leave him behind! I just got him back!” Dean cried as Sam pulled him further and further away from the door. 

 

     Sam stopped pulling him just as they reached the car. Dean would have fought harder and run for the house but he could feel his whole body giving out. He had broken too many bones and lost too much blood to be able to hold himself up.

     Dean allowed Sam to hold him steady as they watched the house. He prayed harder than he ever had in his life.  Come on Cas. Please.  He had no idea what he was praying for other than Cas. It was the only word that he could form in his battered skull.  Cas

     Just as Dean was about to lose hope he heard the familiar high-pitched scream start. As it increased in volume and pitch, he began to feel the ground shake. All at once, a blinding light erupted from the house and the scream increased to unbearable levels. Every window in the Impala shattered and Dean’s hands flew to cover his ears. 

     The light erupting from the house reminded Dean of a grenade. It was like an atomic bomb exploded inside the room Alastair had trapped him in. As the bright white light exploded from the house, so did numerous guttural screams of terror.

     All at once, the ground stopped shaking, the high-pitched scream stopped, the light vanished, and the house stood in front of them ablaze in towering flames.

 

     “Cas.” The broken plea erupted from Dean’s throat as he fell to his knees.

 

     Sam followed suit to turn his brother’s face away from the flames. Dean felt his brother’s arms surround him and force him to look away from the blaze. It did nothing to squander the grief that ripped through his broken chest.

     All Dean wanted was to face the house and beg for the angel to come home but his brother’s embrace prevented him from even moving an inch. Dean knew that embrace well: It was the one he used when he carried Sam out of their childhood home as it burned. It was the one meant to protect someone from the greatest pain possible: watching a loved one die.

 

     “Oh my God,” Sam whispered and pulled Dean around to look at the house.

 

     As Dean stared into the smoke billowing out of the broken walls and shattered windows, he noticed a familiar silhouette framed by flames as it stalked out of the burnt shell of the front doorway.

 

Chapter Text

     “What the Hell were you thinking?! You could’ve gotten yourself killed!” Dean roared as he white-knuckled the steering wheel.

 

     Castiel rolled his eyes from his spot next to the angry man. He was thoroughly surprised he was allowed shotgun for the ride home but now he understood: shotgun was the perfect place in the car to receive a lecture from the older Winchester.

 

     Dean’s voice wavered with what seemed to unshed tears as he forced out his words. “I mean seriously! They could have torn you apart! We just got you back! Are you that dead set on leaving us again?!” 

 

     “Dean.” Castiel heard Sam attempt to interject from the backseat.

 

     “No Sam! I wanna hear what he has to say for himself!”

 

     “Dean, I refuse to apologize for saving your life,” Castiel grunted from his spot next to the raging man. 

 

     When he had heard Dean’s prayers from the bedroom upstairs, Castiel’s rage had been nearly uncontrollable. He ripped through three, four, five demons as he tore through the house to get to the man. When he reached the door and heard what Alastair was doing to Dean, his anger had completely boiled over. 

     Much like their fight with Eve in the diner so many years ago, Castiel used his grace to smite every creature in the building once Sam and Dean were safely out of harm’s way. This time, however, he was fueled by pure rage. He hadn’t wanted to just smite every demon inside. He had wanted them to suffer.

     It was hard with so many demons attacking him at once but all Castiel was able to think about was what they had done to his charge, his person, his Dean. All the while he raged, they crawled all over his body and tore into him. He could feel them ripping into his clothes, his vessel, his grace, and even his wings. It was blindingly painful but he had been far too angry to care.

     Castiel had not only smote every demon inside, but he obliterated them. With his power fully restored since his return, Castiel was at full strength for the first time in years. His fury mixed with his white-hot grace had practically vaporized every demon in sight along with most of the inner workings of the home, causing the inferno.

     Afterward, he had been injured and thoroughly exhausted, but his rage kept him moving. He had managed to find his way out of the house to his family outside. Of course, Dean had been furious and refused to be healed, but Castiel healed him anyway.

 

     “Right. And what makes it okay to sacrifice yourself just to save me?!” Dean screamed over the sound of the Impala’s engine.

 

     Castiel felt a thread of sadness over Dean’s low self-worth but scoffed and rolled his eyes again. “That’s rich coming from you, Dean. You are the most hypocritical human being I have ever met.”

 

     “I thought I was the most caring and selfless person you have ever met,” Dean whispered darkly while staring straight out the windshield.

 

     The bitter words felt like a punch in Castiel’s gut. Instead of responding he simply stared out the window and focused on finishing healing himself. He could practically feel the anger coming off the man in waves and could see Sam’s reflection in the window: he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there.

 

     After taking a few moments to cool off and even his voice, Castiel finally spoke just above a whisper. “You are and I would do it again without a moment’s hesitation.”

 

     The rest of the ride was uncomfortably silent. When the trio along with Miracle finally arrived back at the bunker, Castiel watched as Dean slammed his bag down on the map table before grabbing a beer from the pack he bought on their way home. 

 

     “Look, buddy. You can’t just do that. We just got you back.” Dean still sounded angry as he spoke but Castiel could sense genuine concern laced with the fury in his voice. “Sam and I, we coulda helped you. We need you, man. You can’t just go at these things alone.”

 

     The angel stood and watched as Dean trudged out of the room and down the hall towards his bedroom. Castiel sighed deeply and finally let his shoulders fall.

 

     “Thank you,” Sam spoke quietly from his place at the table. “He won’t say it but thank you. Don’t beat yourself up. He cares about you and just wants you to stay. It's no excuse but you know how stubborn he is.” 

 

     Castiel nodded solemnly before making his way down the hall to his own bedroom and slamming the door closed. He tore off his battered coat and suit jacket and flung them on his desk before flopping down on the bed to stare at the ceiling. 

 

     Why won’t he just accept help?  Castiel wondered angrily. He had thrown himself into countless battles on Dean’s behalf for years. Even when he risked his own life to pull Dean out of Hell he had been fighting for Dean’s life. 

 

     After everything I’ve said and done for him, why does he still believe he doesn’t matter enough to fight for?  His mind screamed as he thought of everything he had ever done. Castiel had rebelled from heaven, been on the run, lost his grace, and even died for the man numerous times and yet Dean still didn’t see his worth.

 

     How can he possibly believe he isn’t worth everything, isn’t everything?  It killed Castiel to know how little Dean valued himself. He had spent years staring into the man’s soul. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his millions of years in Heaven and on Earth. Nothing he had ever seen could hold a candle to the pure glory that emanated from the righteous man’s soul. 

 

     As Castiel pondered his dilemma, he put on some music to listen to. If Dean was an example worth following, he had gathered that it helped to listen to enjoyable music to relax. As the music played softly through his phone’s speakers, Castiel caught a familiar set of lyrics and his body started moving before he could stop it.

     In a matter of a few moments, he grabbed his phone and stormed down the hall to Dean’s bedroom. Castiel did not bother to knock, instead, he threw the door open, almost ripping it off the hinges as he did so. 

 

     Dean jumped in surprise at the intrusion. Castiel stormed towards the bed and growled out the thoughts plaguing his mind. “You still don’t think you deserve to be saved!”

 

     Castiel kneeled on the bed in front of Dean and grabbed Dean’s phone. The man was listening to something through his headphones but Castiel couldn't care less. Dean seemed too shocked by the angel’s anger and words to do anything when Castiel pulled the headphones out of the man’s phone. 

 

     “You still don’t think you deserve to be saved” he repeated, this time quieter but somehow more bitter as he jammed the headphone jack into his phone. Castiel jabbed his thumb on the play button on his phone screen and stared intently into Dean’s eyes.

 

     Their faces were only inches apart as the first notes of “Bleeding Out” began playing. Castiel stared at Dean and prayed he understood what the angel meant. He prayed the man would understand that he was willing to do anything for him. He would give his life to atone for his previous mistakes. 

 

I'm bleeding out

So if the last thing that I do

Is bring you down

I'll bleed out for you

So I bare my skin

And I count my sins

And I close my eyes

And I take it in

I'm bleeding out

I'm bleeding out for you, for you

 

     Castiel furiously watched Dean’s eyes as they stared back at him. Dean’s brows furrowed in confusion and concentration. The angel noticed something cross his eyes that could only be described as a dawning realization.

     Castiel watched As Dean’s eyes shifted to the door Castiel had slammed open and when he appeared satisfied with what he saw, the angel watched as his friend’s eyes shifted back to meet his own. Dean’s eyes stared at him deeply as the music played and Castiel hoped on hope that the man finally understood what he meant to the angel. Suddenly and without warning, Dean lunged forward and grabbed Castiel’s tie. The angel was unable to respond before he was tugged forward and their lips crashed together.

     At that moment, Castiel was Icarus and Dean was the sun. He had flown far too close to the man in the past. It had broken him and caused him to fall from his grace before. Every time Castiel flew too close to the righteous man’s soul, he had fallen further and further but he always returned on broken wings.

     As their lips met, Castiel felt Dean’s soul piercing through his body. It was too bright, too powerful, too strong and he could feel himself falling once again. This time, however, it was not from Heaven, or grace, or broken wings. It was instead something so much more profound: love. He had been in love with the man for years but having Dean reach for him in a way he never dared to dream of, Castiel could feel himself flying far too close to Dean and he knew he was bound to fall again.

     In the instant they touched, Castiel could not control his excitement, shock, or fear. The feel of the man’s hand pulling him forward and their teeth clashing together as they met in the middle was far too much and not enough at the same time. His wings flared and silhouetted the room and his grace surged out in every direction, causing an explosion of energy to burst forth and conquer the dim lighting from Dean’s singular desk lamp.

     Just like the moment they first met on Earth, sparks filled the room as every light bulb shattered into a million pieces. The sound of shattering filled the entire bunker and the entire building was cloaked in darkness as even the bunker’s failsafe was overwhelmed with the angel’s power.

     In the dark of the room, Castiel wanted so much more. He wanted to pull Dean into himself and offer the man everything he had. He wanted to show the man everything he saw in him and offer him the world but almost as soon as their lips met, Dean was pulling away only seconds after they collided.

     Castiel kneeled mouth agape in shock and listened to the hunter breathing rapidly in front of him. He too was panting despite his lack of a need for oxygen. He wanted to pull Dean in once more but he was far too shocked and afraid to try so instead he stared at the man’s wide eyes and Dean simply stared back.

 

     “What the hell?!” Castiel heard Sam scream from the hallway accompanied by a crash. It sounded like the sudden power outage surprised him just as much as it did Castiel. 

 

     The angel was about to reach out for Dean but stopped when he felt the bed shift. Dean’s shoulder brushed against his own as he stood to walk out of the room.

 

     “You should probably fix the lights before Sammy breaks something,” his empty voice called over his shoulder as the man stalked into the opaque hallway.

 

     What happened to staying?  Castiel thought sadly as Dean walked out of the room and he was left alone. Castiel hugged his knees into his chest and allowed himself to be consumed by the stifling darkness around him. 

Chapter Text

     Dean woke up to Miracle nosing at his face, obviously ready to start the day and desperate for attention. Dean smiled and sat up to hug the animal tightly to his chest. It was always so comforting to have that contact in the morning. Never had Dean felt so unconditionally loved by anyone before. 

 

     “What do you say we get some breakfast buddy?” He addressed the dog while pulling on his dead guy robe and hopping into his slippers. 

 

     Miracle barked in response and Dean gave his ears a final scratch before stretching and walking out of his room. There was an unusual pep in the man’s step and he was unsure where it came from. All that mattered was that the sound of Miracle’s paws softly pattering next to him only elevated his joy.

     The smell of brewing coffee coming from the kitchen kept Dean from caring where his joy was coming from. All he knew was that he was in an excellent mood and a good breakfast was about to make it a whole lot better. Just as Dean turned the corner into the kitchen, his heart dropped and he was suddenly reminded of his actions the day before.

     Castiel was standing at the stovetop yet again with a look of determination on his face. Luckily he had not attempted to cook anything yet, but he was carefully stirring a bowl of batter like it was the most important thing on the planet.

     Dean smiled and felt his heart swell at the sight.  I could get used to this  he thought and instantly scolded himself for it. He did not deserve the angel’s kindness. Dean had hurt him far too many times to deserve a fraction of what Castiel was willing to give. 

 

     “Would you like some coffee, Dean?” Castiel did not turn away from the bowl of batter as he addressed the man.

 

     “I….definitely.” Dean approached the coffee pot and poured himself a mug carefully, eyes not leaving Castiel’s profile as he did so.

 

     As he watched the angel while sipping from his mug, Dean’s mind wandered to their actions the previous night. He was still confused about what happened. It was like one moment Castiel was ready to explode and then the next they were kissing.

     It had only lasted a second or two, but the moment had been enlightening, to say the least. Dean was not sure what exactly had caused him to initiate it. He knew he had thought about it for years, but never considered it serious, just morbid curiosity. But something about the last few weeks had changed things for him.

     Since Castiel’s confession, Dean had allowed himself to think about the topic seriously. Originally it had been a form of punishment for getting Castiel killed. As it turned out, he always had been able to, but it was his own fault they never did and because of him, the angel was dead.

     Now, however, it seemed to be a desperate plea for normalcy of some kind. After 38 years of nothing but consistent pain and disappointment, he needed an anchor in his life and Castiel was offering himself. At that moment in his room, with Castiel only inches away, it all became too much and he lost all self-control.

 

     Dean cleared his throat to shake the thoughts from his mind. “Whatcha making?”

 

     “I am attempting to make pancakes. Sam has told me they are one of your favorite foods but I will admit, they have given me a fair bit of trouble this morning.”

 

     Dean laughed as his cheeks warmed.  Yeah, I could definitely get used to this. What the Hell, I already kissed him. What’s the worst that could happen?  he thought as he approached the pantry and pulled out his apron.

 

     “Well first off buddy, you could use one of these.” He approached Castiel from behind and wrapped his arms around the angel to tie the apron around his waist.

 

     Dean felt Castiel stiffen in surprise and he smirked. This he could do. For decades he had been good at the flirting stage. He had just never been good at the relationship stage. Dean was always far too afraid of commitment. Commitment meant putting the people he loved in danger and he just couldn’t do that to an innocent. Castiel, however, never seemed to be afraid of what would come. He loved Dean anyway but the man was still afraid. Perhaps Castiel would be the one to help him change that.

     Dean let go of the apron once it was tied and gently raised his hands to hold Castiel’s forearms while propping his head on the angel’s shoulder to get a good look at the bowl. It looked like Castiel had actually managed to follow the recipe fairly accurately with minimal collateral damage.

 

     “Stir like this.” He spoke quietly as he gently moved Castiel’s arms to properly prepare the batter.

 

     Dean felt the angel smile against his cheek. As he thought about the simple gesture, Dean’s cheeks warmed exponentially. It was a strange feeling for him. He had never been in such an intimate position with a man before, at least not one who was old enough to have a five o’clock shadow. It was strangely endearing and Dean felt himself smile at the thought.

     Dean stayed there cheek to cheek with Castiel for the rest of the time it took to teach the angel how to make the perfect pancake. It took a while to teach him when to flip the cooked batter and how to do it effectively, but the work was totally worth it. Dean felt elated every time Castiel’s shoulder shook underneath his chin from the deep laughter they shared.

     Soon enough, they managed to pile a plate with the pancakes as well as some perfectly cooked bacon that Dean had insisted on. Castiel had been a quick learner when it came to the meat much to Dean’s dismay. As hungry as he was, he found himself thoroughly enjoying the simple domesticity of teaching the angel how to cook. 

     Dean untied the apron from Castiel’s waist and hung it in its place in the closet before turning to the table. He slumped into his spot and sipped at his coffee as Castiel placed a plate piled high with the warm food in front of him. He even offered to refill Dean’s cup before sitting across from the hunter.

     As he ate, Dean caught Castiel staring him down with a warm look easing his features. There was a small smile on his lips and the smile lines around his eyes seemed genuinely relaxed. Something about that look caused Dean’s stomach to drop with guilt.

 

     He cleared his throat and began to speak barely above a whisper. “Look Cas, I think I, wait, I know I owe you an apology.”

 

     “No Dean, you owe me nothing.”

 

     “Aw come on, don’t ruin the moment.” He winked, desperately hoping it would cause the angel to smile. It did and that gave Dean the confidence to continue. “I wanted to apologize for what happened last night. It was a dick move for me to just walk out and leave you like that. I initiated it and should have had the balls to do something about it. 

     I don’t know what came over me. I guess I’m just afraid. You’re the only one that’s never tried to walk away from me. Even Sammy has walked away but you haven't. Even when I blamed you for Mary’s death and you took some time away, you came back. You didn’t want to go but I was stubborn and being an ass. I guess I’m just scared to push you away.”

 

     Castiel smiled and shook his head. “You have nothing to be afraid of. I am not going anywhere. I’ve seen your pain Dean and I know where it resides. I know why you push. I know how terrified you are that you will get the people you love hurt. You do not have to worry about that with me anymore. I will not leave you.”

 

     Something about that last sentence broke Dean’s walls. It had always been one of his deepest fears that everyone he loves would leave him. Now, here was his best friend, his greatest ally, and his closest companion offering a promise that he would never walk away. It was all too much. He began to cry softly for a minute before gathering himself enough to speak.  

 

     “If I ever push you too hard, you have to promise me you will go.”

 

     “No, Dean.”

 

     “Please, just do it. You deserve so much more than the crap I give you. Please, just promise me you will walk away if I ever push you too far.”

 

     Dean looked at the angel with pleading eyes and smiled when he nodded minutely. “Alright. I promise.” 

 

     At that, Dean responded. “Alright, enough of the heavy stuff. Back to me being an ass.” Castiel grinned and laughed at that and it encouraged Dean to be brave enough to go for what he had wanted all morning. “I am sorry about last night but I just know that I don’t regret it. I regret leaving you behind and acting like nothing happened, but not what came before it. If you’d let me, I would like to fix it.” he smiled genuinely, hoping Castiel would accept his apology.

 

     The toothy smile Dean received told him that there was a good chance he was forgiven.  That smile is going to be the end of me  he thought as he stood to dig in the pockets of his robe. When he found his phone, Dean pulled up his music library and chose one of the songs off of his and Castiel’s mixtape.

 

     As the soft music filled the kitchen, Dean bowed deeply and offered his hand to Castiel. “May I have this dance?” He asked while looking up through his eyelashes.

 

     Dean watched as Castiel rose and took his hand. The hunter beamed and led him to an open area next to the kitchen island where they could sway freely. Dean gripped his hand with purpose and lifted it to a comfortable level while the angel’s other hand found its place on his waist.

     His hand found Castiel’s shoulder and they began to turn together. Unlike last time, it felt lighter and free. They goofily waltzed around the room to their playlist while beaming at each other and laughing wholeheartedly. 

     Dean’s heart swelled at the feeling bubbling in his chest. He had never felt so wholly loved before. Even when he lived with Lisa and Ben he didn’t feel like this. Sure he loved them deeply, but he wasn’t in love.  Oh, God. 

     That’s what the feeling was. Dean realized why things had always been so different with Castiel. Life with him wasn’t just some buddy comedy. The unspoken words and “I could go with yous” weren’t just out of care for one another. It was love: more accurately, it was because he was in love.

     The thought terrified Dean. He’d never felt this way about someone before. Sure he had loved Cassie, but she did not know the life. He had not been able to be fully open with her like he was with Castiel, not until it was too late. The angel had seen every bit of darkness in him, yet he remained by his side every day. 

     Maybe that was why Castiel was different. Dean had found many lovers over the years that praised his cunning and beauty. They adored his looks and laughter on those good nights but they had never seen him red-eyed and broken. Castiel had countless times. The angel was there to see every binge, every curse, and every loss but chose to stay.

     Dean could feel himself teetering on the edge of happiness. It was a dangerous cliff to venture, he knew that. The view was beautiful but with one ill-placed step, he could come tumbling down and drag Castiel with him. 

     Perhaps for the first time in his life, Dean had found that happiness might be worth the danger of falling. Besides, Castiel could fly. He had caught Dean many times before. There was a chance this was no different. 

     As Dean realized this he moved their clasped hands down and placed Castiel’s other hand on his waist. He gingerly wrapped both his arms around the angel’s neck and began to sway slowly, as nervous as a teenager at his first high school dance.

 

     “I take it you have accepted my offer?” He whispered as he rested his forehead on Castiel’s.

 

     Castiel grinned and leaned into the touch. “Of course. Always.”

 

     Dean took a deep breath to steady his racing thoughts and trembling arms before releasing the angel’s neck and cupping his cheeks between his shaking palms. Before he could back out, Dean closed the minimal space between their faces and lightly pressed his lips to the angels'.

     Dean felt Castiel’s arms thread around the small of his waist and pull him flush against his body. He grinned into the kiss and they chuckled lightly as they pressed further kisses into one another’s mouths.  This is the stuff fairy tales are made of  Dean thought as he melted into the arms of the first person he truly and completely loved and trusted with not only his life but also his heart.

     As Dean smiled into Castiel’s lips, the world completely faded around him. The two were content to remain in each other's embrace until the end of time. There was nothing in the world that could possibly draw them apart so they did not notice when Jack gently tugged Sam to the doorway.

 

     They also did not notice when the two snoopers poked their heads in the kitchen and smiled while Sam whispered “Finally.”

 

Chapter Text

     Eileen tapped her foot in annoyance as she waited for the large metal door to be opened. She had texted Sam a few minutes before notify him that she was back and her arms were getting sore from the bags she had.
 

     The door swung open and Eileen was met face to face with Dean. Something about him was definitely different though. He seemed to be carrying himself taller than the last time she saw him. His shoulders seemed much more relaxed as well.

 

     “Welcome home! Can I grab those for ya?” He asked, hands already on both of the bags in her hands.

 

     Eileen shook her head and smiled. It was obvious there was no denying the request so she simply let him bound down the stairs with her bags in tow. Eileen watched as Dean jumped, actually jumped, from the second last step to the floor and threw her bags on the map table.

 

      “Well somebody’s in a good mood,” she called after him as she started down the stairs.

 

      “You’re back!” Sam ran into the room to meet her just as she reached the third step of the stairwell. 

 

      Eileen didn’t have a chance to step further before Sam swept her up in his arms and spun her around in the air while hugging her tightly. She giggled at the gesture and he laughed deeply.

 

      “Alright, I’m going to leave you two crazy cats alone,” Dean said when Sam returned her to her feet.

 

      “Are you sure we should be leaving you alone?” Eileen noticed Sam say to Dean with a suggestive flick of his eyebrows. 

 

      Dean returned the gesture with a punch on Sam’s shoulder and a totally in-character “shut up” before turning and practically running out the door towards his room.

 

      “What was that all about?” She asked Sam, genuinely pleased to see Dean in a good mood.

 

      “Come on, I’ll tell you all about it while we unpack your stuff.”

 

     Eileen squealed as Sam picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder. She slapped his back while reeling in laughter and he grabbed both her bags in his free hand. Sam bounced his step all the way back to their room, causing round after round of laughter between the both of them. 
 

     Sam tossed Eileen onto the bed and immediately joined her, kissing her passionately.

 

      “I missed you so much.”

 

      “Sam, I was only gone for three days.”

 

      “Yeah, that’s way too long. You’re taking me with you next time.”

 

     Eileen giggled as he squeezed her tightly and kissed her neck right where he knew she was ticklish.

 

      “Hey! Cut that out!” She screamed over her laughter. “You still haven't told me what was up with Dean!”

 

     Sam raised his face to hers and rolled his eyes before giving her another quick kiss.  “Oh you know, he just finally got his head out of his ass. Jack caught him and Cas dancing in the kitchen today. By the time I got there to see for myself they were attached at the lips.”

 

      “Finally! The tension was killing me!” 

 

     Eileen was genuinely happy for Dean. From her conversations with him and Castiel, it was obvious they were it for each other. Those two seemed to have been fighting it for years. She was glad they finally decided to put all that pining to good use. 

 

     “Please, you haven't had to live with them for 12 years. It has been brutal!”

 

     “You got me there!” She laughed before flipping them so she could sit on Sam’s lap.

 

     Sam raised himself to sit against the headboard and kissed her again. Eileen couldn’t believe how happy Sam made her feel. It was like every day with him taught her how to love all over again.

     Every day was new and exciting and there were new things to explore with every passing hour. An entire lifetime with him would not be enough. They had missed so many years where they could have been there for each other, but they were together now and that was all that mattered. She was prepared to kill anything that would try to pull them apart. 

     Eileen and Sam completely ignored Dean’s stupid sock rule. They had been apart for three more days than they ever wanted to again. It was just the two of them against the world and for a few minutes, the world was nothing but them.

     Everything besides the two of them faded into the background. Nothing else mattered but the love they shared. Nothing, not even Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory combined could have been strong enough to pull them apart at that moment. 

     Eileen wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of her life that way. Locked in an easy embrace with Sam at her back in the mussed sheets, she wanted only to spend every day of her life just like that. She didn’t need any fancy things or grandiose gestures. All she needed was the feeling she got when she felt Sam spoon closer around her and nuzzle his face in the back of her neck. 

     She turned around to face him and began running her fingers through his hair while placing soft kisses on his cheeks, nose, and lips. Eileen hummed into the kisses and caused Sam to scrunch his face up to stifle a laugh.

 

     “Hey! That tickles!” He practically squealed against her touch.

 

     “I’m just returning the favor” she responded with mock innocence before attacking his throat with the tickling kisses. 

 

     Sam bucked underneath her and tried to flip her but Eileen had a strong hold on the headboard and had already squared her legs around his waist. 

 

     “Resistance is no use. Give up!” She laughed into his skin and he writhed in hysterics.

 

     “Never!” Sam squirmed as another round of laughter hit him when she found a particularly ticklish spot on his side.

 

     “Are you sure about that?”

 

     In response to her remark, Sam grabbed her shoulders and pulled Eileen to his chest in a tight hug. She melted into the touch and began to trace her finger over the exposed tattoo just under his collarbone. Eileen hummed against his skin once again but this time was not with malicious intent, this was born of pure contentment.

 

     “What would I do without you?” Sam suddenly asked while pulling her lips to his own.

 

     “Crash and burn.”

 

     Sam smirked knowingly as one of his fonder memories was prodded by Eileen’s response. This time, however, his memory was not laced with sadness, regret, or guilt. Over the years he had done his grieving, especially recently, and he had moved on. Sam still appreciated Jess and a piece of him would always love the young woman that had been his escape for a little while, but he was a different man now. He liked to think he was stronger and better. He was a hero, a friend, a brother, and a guardian. Life kept moving and he had finally come to understand that his guilt in the past did not need to govern his future. Because of this, Sam smiled in acknowledgment, his fond memory of Jess was gone as soon as it came, and Sam kissed the love of his life deeply.

 

     “Continue to awkwardly third wheel?” she teased while kissing him again.

 

     “Oh trust me, I think I will be doing that for the rest of eternity with those two.”

 

     Eileen chuckled at the comment and returned to her place against his chest. She was unsure when exactly she fell asleep. Sam’s comforting strokes of his fingers through her hair had been just repetitive enough to lull her to sleep.

     When she awoke, Sam was staring down at her with an adoring smile on his face. 

 

     “You must have had a really long weekend. We haven't even had dinner yet.”

 

     “Family will do that to you.” she smiled before pulling off the bed to redress. She could sense Sam’s gaze on her the whole time and she couldn’t help but laugh. He was like a teenager in love for the first time. 

 

     Eileen tugged her top on and tuned to find Sam doing the same. As he redressed, she meticulously unpacked her bags and returned her belongings to the dressers and closet they belonged in. 

 

     “Hey, Sam?” She turned to the man with a question biting at her tongue. It had been on her mind since she moved back into the bunker but had never seemed appropriate to ask until now.

 

     “Yeah?”

 

     “Do you ever think about, you know, something permanent?”

 

     “What do you mean?” Sam looked genuinely confused. 

 

     Eileen hated having to outline her thoughts directly but she desperately wanted an answer. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe something like marriage?”

 

     Sam looked up at her in surprise but smiled. “I’ve always wanted something more permanent. I thought I told you that.”

 

     Eileen sat down next to him on the bed and kissed him on the cheek. “You have. I just wanted to make sure you still feel that way.”

 

     “Do you?” he whispered as he searched her eyes. 

 

     “That depends on how much you annoy me.” She winked and poked his side.

 

     Eileen squealed as Sam lunged at her and shoved her into the bed while kissing her all over her face. For the second time that day, the world faded from around them. Eileen and Sam moved as one and let the rest of the bunker and everything surrounding them fade from existence because none of it mattered nearly as much as the feeling of being in one another’s arms. 

     The only thing Eileen cared about was the feel of Sam’s arms around her as he kissed her with a passion she was happy to return. Her heart felt so full it could burst and she trembled underneath the man. She could imagine a happy and content life by his side forever and that made her feel like she could soar and for the second time that day, the sock rule was completely ignored.