What's this? I actually did things... a year later? Wow. Go me.

Castiel knew he had to choose his words carefully.

One wrong slip and Dean could be putting that box into the hole in the crossroads and that would be the end of it. He'd taken an accidental step in that direction already.

On the other hand, he couldn't take too many steps back either, because that would result in Dean giving up completely and ending his own life.

The angel took a deep breath before continuing. "It's… Dean, it's beyond words. You endure so much, so much suffering and anguish that no being should ever have to shoulder." His words held an almost motherly understanding. "You're betrayed, plotted against by virtually everything. Almost everyone you or Sam has ever loved is dead. And I… I don't want that for either of you." Castiel seemed sad, despairing, and Dean swallowed thickly, saying nothing and still staring up at the sky, almost as if he thought that his gaze could pierce the heavens and he'd be able to see whether or not Sam was okay.

"He's happy, Dean." The angel implored softly, voice thick with emotion. "You have it on good authority that he's in Heaven right now, and he'll be waiting there for as long as you need him to."

As long as I need him to, Dean thought, meaning as long as it takes to eat a bullet.

"Dean," Castiel seemed chastising, "your brother would not want you to end your existence here on Earth simply because he's not with you for as long as you have left to endure."

Dean wondered if angels could somehow read minds. Considering all the crazy shit he'd seen in his life, it wasn't totally unbelievable.

"Is Sammy really that much better off…this way?" He whispered brokenly. He couldn't even bring himself to say 'dead'. Dean's thoughts began wandering to Sam lying cold and pale on the mattress, how stiff and wrong it looked for his little brother to be anything but alive and bubbling and eating salad and constantly asking questions and Sammy no Sammy please please don't be dead I can't do this without you little brother I can't I can't I can't I don't want to I won't–

"I'm sorry, Dean." The Winchester, eyes bright with unshed tears, turned back to face Castiel, who looked genuinely sad and regretful. "I'm so, so sorry. But yes, it's for the best."

For a minute, Dean couldn't breathe. He didn't want Sam to be better off without him. He sure as hell wasn't better of without Sam, no matter what this 'Castiel' said. Come on, a future without Sam? What, was this guy nuts? How could that be the better choice? Even with all of this information of the future, Dean still couldn't believe that he and Sam could be miserable while they had this baby, the open road, and each other. For 23 years, Sam was all he had, and he was all Sam had, and that's the way he liked it.

Yeah, Sam left him for Stanford, which still stung a bit and the pain of those years alone still lingered, but despite the separation, Dean was still Sam's big brother. And being a big brother comes with rights and responsibilities.

Responsibilities, Dean, responsibilities, a little voice in his head chided, you're responsible for giving Sam the best possible future he can have, and right now, the best choice is leaving him in heaven. Are you really going to be so selfish as to pull him back into this life again? Are you going to put the rights above the responsibilities?

Dean winced. That was true, but… what about him? What was hegoing to do without Sam?

And besides, how did he know could he trust this guy? In his grief he hadn't even given a second thought if something had tried to attack him, but now… what if he was really a demon trying to sabotage him out of this, knowing that the Winchester boys were stronger together?

Dean definitely wasn't trying to convince himself that making the deal was the better choice here.

Because he had always and would always know what was best for Sam.

After all, who had taught Sam how to tie his shoelaces? How to drive a car? Read him bedtime stories when he was a kid? Fallen victim countless times to the kid's puppy dog eyes into giving him the last of the Lucky Charms? Took him out for ice cream when he brought home straight A's? Took him out for ice cream anyway, whether or not there was actually a legitimate reason? Helped him get his first date? Been there for him when Jessica died? Been there when he started getting visions? Been there his entire life?

This guy right here.

So who was most entitled to the right of doing what was best for Sam?

Damn straight it's me.

And was he really going to trust this guy with Sam when he rarely even trusted his own father with the kid?

Hell nah.

And if my choices are a future without Sam or having to cope with a shitty one with my little brother, barely scraping by, there's no comparison.

And despite not knowing yet that he and Sam were to share a heaven, he couldn't help but feel his big brother senses tingling.

Sammy's scared.

Sammy's lonely.

Sammy's sad.

Dean had been silent for a while, still facing away from Castiel and staring with shimmering eyes up into the sky. The angel really didn't mean to invade Dean's privacy and read his thoughts, but sometimes Dean just projected them so loudly that they couldn't not be heard.

And he definitely heard Dean's protective radar going off.

Castiel did not voice it, but he too had seen the look in Sam's eyes that screamed he was missing something, a last piece, and the place he was in wouldn't truly become Heaven until that missing piece was there. His mind wandered a moment in the silence, remembering the content but not quite fulfilled or at peace look that the younger Winchester sported as he took in his surroundings.

Heaven was wherever the soul wanted it to be. Castiel was sure that Sam had visited many other places in his short stay; the beach with Jessica, his mother, his father, but at that moment, the Winchester Heaven was Bobby Singer's house, and Sam was leafing through a book that had been his grade seven favourite, Where the Red Fern Grows. The young man looked to have no intentions of getting up. He sat on the couch with a blanket on his lap, sandwich on a plate, and the book in his hands. He was comfortable, and yet extremely not. Castiel could feel confusion and anxiety radiating off Sam like waves.

Where's Dean?

Castiel would have told Dean how uncomfortable Sam had felt, not knowing where his brother was, but it would have shattered all hope at getting Dean to change the course of the future.

Or maybe, the angel mused, it would have simply shattered Dean, and Castiel didn't have the heart to do that.

The angel couldn't hold it in. A ghost of a sad smile appeared on his face, his heart clenching painfully again for the two souls he viewed above all humanity, for the sacrifices they shouldn't have had to make, yet remaining impossibly pure and true and always with the best interests and intentions of the innocent at heart.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, a traitorous voice in Castiel's head sneered, and the smile disappeared.

The angel looked up to see a cascade of emotions running across Dean's face. Grief, anguish, helplessness… contemplation?

Surely he couldn't be… considering putting himself and Sam through all he had just shared?

Oh no, Dean...

"I know you may think that you'll be able to handle it," Castiel spoke up quickly, wanting to put an end to Dean's indecision, "but let me tell you that, in my time, neither you or Sam have been carefree whatsoever for a very, very long time."

Dean shook his head slowly. "I don't believe you." He growled, jaw set.

"You Winchesters…" The soldier of heaven sighed, his lips quirking up into a wobbly smile as he closed his eyes briefly and remembered Sam's soul radiating pure need to be with his brother/best friend/life long constant/only source of comfort. …no matter what the consequence or cost, you two always seem to choose each other.

The hunter was silent for a long time, and Castiel wondered if he had just succeeded in his task.

"But… me and Sam, we're fighting this thing together?"

His eyes flicked up to meet Castiel's.

"Worth it."

He dropped the box into the hole, and Castiel vanished.