Dean jumped out of the truck before it had come to a halt, rifle over his shoulder and an expression on his face that told Cas it had been another bad day.
"Did you find Lucifer?" Cas asked as Dean swiped his bag from the back of the truck.
"Does it look like I found him?" Dean spat, without turning to look at him. With the smallest of gestures, Dean summoned the other three men from the truck and they hurried in to the briefing room. At least that's what they called it, it was really just another of the small wooden cabins of Camp Chitaqua which had become their makeshift compound, surrounded by high chainlink fences, the only thing separating them from the Croatoan virus that had annihilated everything else around them, reducing the streets to empty, burnt out shells.
Cas watched Dean disappear in to the briefing room, and he stood watching long after he was out of view. Eventually he returned to his own cabin where several men and women were lounging on the floor. Cas sat down to join them, rolling and lighting a cigarette, adding to the smoky haze that already filled the room. Only a few minutes later, Cas's conversation was interrupted by the sound of Dean's raised voice from two cabins away, and what sounded like a chair being thrown across the room, and Cas knew that meant they were no closer to finding Sam and freeing him from Lucifer.
A moment later the door banged open and Dean filled the doorway, far more muscular than he had been when Cas first met him, and far angrier.
"Cas. With me." Cas stood up and followed him out in to the cool autumn air, walking behind Dean for the short distance between their personal cabins. Dean snatched the cigarette from Cas's lips where it had been hanging lazily. "I told you not to smoke that crap."
Dean unlocked his front door and strode inside, immediately throwing his dark green jacket in to the corner and kicking off his black leather boots which had grown soft and faded after so many long, failed missions. Cas sat himself down on the bed, cross-legged, watching Dean calmly.
"So how was your day?" Cas asked.
"Take off your pants."
Cas just smiled serenely. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I said take off your pants." He watched Dean for another few seconds, wishing for more of a response, but when Dean continued undoing his belt in furious silence, Cas did as he was told.
Cas turned on to his side to face Dean, hoping to talk to him before he got back out of bed and stormed off on another rage-fuelled mission, but when he looked over to him, he saw that he was asleep. It was the first time in months that Cas had seen him sleep; he normally slept alone in his own cabin or didn't sleep at all. Cas stared at him in wonder, drinking in that familiar face that he hadn't seen in almost three years. He felt like he was looking at a different person, there was no angry frown scorched permanently in to his forehead, his jaw wasn't stiff, he wasn't grinding his teeth in almost unbearable frustration as he tried and failed every day to rescue Sam. He looked peaceful, he looked like the Dean he used to know, the Dean who sang along to Taylor Swift and cried at the end of Marley and Me, the Dean who needed nothing but a slice of pie and a couple of beers with his little brother to be happy. But Cas hadn't seen that man in a long time, and just for a few seconds as he watched him sleep, he felt like he was being taunted by a glimpse of the past, an irretrievable memory of the Dean he had fallen in love with.
Dean began to stir, softly at first, then suddenly sat bolt upright as though someone had screamed in his ear. He turned to look at Cas, trying to steady his breathing, and for a split second, Cas thought he saw the old Dean in his green eyes. But only moments later his gaze hardened and he pushed himself out of bed, pulled on his clothes and headed for the door.
"Dean -" Cas began, but before he could utter another word, the door slammed and he was alone.
Cas looked up at the murky, polluted sky, trying to guess the time. Dean had refused to let him accompany him on their supply run, so he had spent the day bored out of his mind, sitting around his cabin getting stoned with fourteen other people, yet feeling completely alone. He squinted at the sun and decided that it was almost four o'clock and, right on schedule, Cas heard the scrape of the gate and the growl of three engines returning from their search. Several people had gathered to see what supplies the soldiers had acquired on their run, many of them hoping for coffee or toilet paper or alcohol but Cas was only there for Dean.
Dean was first to jump out of the front truck, closely followed by a young man who had been riding shotgun with him, Dominic Avery. He had been only seventeen when he came to the compound and since then he had become a good and loyal soldier and, with a little guidance from Dean, an expert hunter too. As everyone else climbed out and set about unpacking their supplies, Dean drew his gun, turned and shot Avery in the head. There were screams of surprise from the onlookers as the young man fell to the ground, a halo of blood spreading out around his brown hair.
"Consider that a warning," Dean said to the crowd, his quiet, emotionless voice carrying easily through the frozen air. "He knew he was infected with the Croatoan virus but was stupid enough to come back here. He could have jeopardised this entire colony. This isn't the first time I've had to do this but it damn well better be the last. If any of you get infected, man the hell up and do whatever you need to do to make sure you're not a danger to this group. I don't care if you stab, shoot or hang yourself. Just get it done, because this operation is bigger than any single person here, and I won't let one person be responsible for the death of everyone else."
No one said a word, except for one man behind Cas who leaned toward his friend.
"Hypocrite," he muttered. His friend murmured in agreement and Cas looked around to deliver a biting retort, but he stopped when he realised that they might be right. Two other soldiers watched Dean carefully as they edged forwards to collect Avery's limp body, but Dean paid them no attention, he just strode off towards his cabin.
"With me," he said as he passed Cas. "Now." Cas didn't move for a few moments, taking one last look at Avery who was being dragged away by two of his comrades, a lengthening trail of blood connecting him to the spot where he had died. When Cas looked around again he saw that Dean was already out of sight so he wandered after him until he reached his front door which was lying slightly ajar. The curtains were drawn and Cas couldn't see anything as he took a step inside. Then he was plunged in to darkness as the door slammed behind him and he felt someone throw him roughly against the wall, their lips catching his in a rough kiss. Cas almost gave himself up to the feeling of Dean's mouth on his, his strong hands gripping tightly to his arms, but then he thought of Avery and he opened his eyes.
"Dean, stop," he said, but Dean didn't seem to hear him. "I said stop," he said again, pushing Dean back. "We can't go on like this." He could only see the outlines of Dean's face, illuminated by the daylight filtering under the door, but he looked frustrated. "I am happy to be your punching bag and whatever else you need me to be, but you can't keep using sex to avoid your feelings."
"Right, I should just sit around and get stoned like you," he said acidly. Cas didn't say anything and Dean continued. "I didn't ask for your stupid Psych 101 advice. There are plenty other people in this compound I can fuck without getting a lecture along with it."
It felt like Dean had punched him and it took everything he had not to show it on his face. "I'm sure that's true," Cas said, "but that's not what this is. You can act as heartless as you like but the truth is you're scared and lonely and you just had to kill another one of your friends. So yeah, you could go screw anyone you like, but you don't, you come back to me after every failed mission, every setback, because you know that I'll love you no matter what, and you know that I'm the only person in this compound who understands how much you love your brother."
Dean just made a noise of exasperation and turned towards the window, pulling open the curtain and looking out at the rest of the survivors, busying themselves with various tasks, all looking sombre as they skirted around the pool of blood from the latest casualty of the demon war.
"I know things seem bad," Cas said, "but we've survived this far. We can still beat Lucifer and win back the world. It isn't over."
"Dammit Cas," Dean said, turning on him. "Would you shut up with the optimistic shit for once? You're driving me insane. Get your head out the sand, we can't save the world so take your rose-tinted stupidity elsewhere."
"Sam is dead," Cas snapped. "How's that for optimism? Your brother is dead." He had tried to hold back his temper but he couldn't help it, but when he saw the shock in Dean's eyes he immediately regretted his words. Cas braced himself for more yelling, he even expected Dean to throw a few punches, but instead his eyes went blank and he walked slowly to the opposite side of the room.
"Dean," Cas started, with no idea what he was going to say. "I… I shouldn't have…" He trailed off lamely and Dean continued staring emptily at the wall. Cas stood awkwardly, wanting to apologise but he had forgotten how to handle Dean when he was anything other than angry. At last, Dean spoke.
"It's his birthday," he said in a cracked whisper. "He's supposed to be turning 30. But instead he's - "
"I know," Cas said, reaching out to touch Dean's arm but he pulled away.
"I'm not giving up," he said, finally lifting his eyes to look at Cas. "There's a way to save him, there's always a way and I'll find it. Even if I die in the process."
"Dean… It's been almost two years since Lucifer took over Sam's body - "
"So?" Dean snapped. "Jimmy Novak could have lived forever in the same vessel as you if you hadn't gone and lost your powers. I know Sammy's still in there and we're going to get him back."
"But I wasn't an archangel. And I'm not Lucifer," Cas said. Dean paced restlessly, turning his back on Cas to stare out the cabin window again, but Cas persisted, following him and pulling him around by the shoulder. "You know as well as I do that Sam is long gone," Cas continued. "Even if it was the strongest man in the world, even if it was you trapped in there… there's no surviving that. Watching your own hands do unspeakable things as you're forced further and further out of your own mind -"
"Shut up, Cas," Dean yelled, advancing on him, his face just an inch from his. "Just shut up." Cas stared him down for a long moment, keeping his gaze calm and level against the burning fury in Dean's eyes. Cas held his breath as Dean's fists clenched by his side, but he seemed to rein in his temper as he shoved past Cas and sat down on the edge of the bed, running his hands through his short hair. "I'm not giving up," he said. "And neither is Sam. He's still in there and I'm going to find a way to save him."
"Dean, you need to let him go," Cas said, kneeling in front of him. "I'm sorry, I am truly sorry, but he probably only lasted a few days with Lucifer, if that. And if there is any of him left in there, he'll be too badly damaged to be saved. He won't be Sam anymore." Dean was almost doubled over, his face buried in his hands as Cas kept talking. "You can't save Sam now. But you can still stop Lucifer and save the world."
"I can't do any of this without him" he choked.
"You can," Cas said, moving up to sit beside him, forcing Dean to look at him. "You have been. Dean, you are the strongest person I know, you'll get through this just like you've got through everything else in the past, and I'll be here the whole time." Cas could almost see something inside Dean crumble as every attempt to hold himself together fell apart. Before Cas knew what was happening, Dean was sobbing, his whole body shaking as the realisation hit him that he had lost his little brother. Cas put his arm around him again, and Dean tried to pull away, but Cas held tighter, pulling Dean against him. He fought for a few seconds more before his entire body went limp and he wept uncontrollably against Cas's chest.
Cas didn't know how much time had passed but the room took on a dim greyish hue as night fell. Dean had long fallen silent and still, but he remained where he was, his head resting on Cas's chest, Cas's arms around him.
"I'm sorry," Dean said, after almost an hour of silence. "I couldn't have done any of this without you and I've treated you like crap. You didn't deserve that."
"Don't apologise," Cas said. "I know how much you're hurting. What I'm feeling doesn't matter."
"Yes it does," Dean said, sitting up at last, his eyes shiny and bloodshot. "You matter. And if by some miracle we actually survive, I swear I'm going to spend the rest of my life making it up to you."
Cas smiled as Dean took his face in his hands and kissed him with more affection than Cas had felt from him in years, and they both held tightly to each other for a second, as though they expected to be torn from one another at any moment. Dean kissed him one last time before he headed for the door, zipping up his jacket and running his fingers through his hair.
"Hey Cas," he said, looking back as he pulled the door open. "Don't you dare tell anyone I cried."
The door clicked shut and Cas's hollow smile fell as he found himself sitting alone on the bed once again, staring at the closed door, wishing for a little more time with the man he loved. This war had destroyed Dean, but instead of feeling sympathy for him, Cas couldn't help the selfish grief that was carving away at his insides. Yes, Dean had lost Sam, but somewhere along the line, Cas had lost Dean too.
A/N Thanks for reading, they aren't all this depressing, I promise. Although one or two definitely are! I hope you enjoy the rest of these oneshots, please take a minute to leave a review if you have the time.