"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."

Antoine de Saint Exupéry, The Little Prince

The horse and water

Behind a wall or two, Springfield burns. Dean passes the piano room, grabs the wannabe vase glass on his way. Throws the water and the flowers out. That will leave a stain on the carpet for sure, but Dean's too busy not catching a glimpse of the sight outside of the windows, where bright, hot and furious, the city dies in tongues of fire. He tries not to think how this isn't exactly what he had in mind, thinking this shit hole could use a warmer weather. But even his idle staring and contemplating his position from the days before have turned against him. Everything did and, fuck, he should have seen it coming. He tries not to think, for the sole purpose of keeping the remains of his sanity, about anything at all. Not that he'd change his mind. The alea is iacta as fuck, no taksies backsies. He tries not to think, above all things, how tomorrow, because of him, entire Illinois will be fucked.

Well. If the darling is as wrathful as it is sentimental (and obviously is, considering the current misadventures of Springfield), that's how it's gonna roll.

Illinois's done nothing wrong. For once, Dean doesn't care. He's done nothing wrong either. Sometimes people just get screwed, no matter how hard they try. Like him. He tried so damn hard. He reasoned, he explained, he apologized, he excused, he believed. He begged, he broke down, he put those pretty gifts on, down to the gold wreath-shaped necklace (which Cas insists is not a collar). He even sucked dick like he meant it (that is a miracle since he really, really did not). First for Cas, then for Sam, lastly for what formerly was the Russian Federation and is now about to be "Dean's Garden". And this is a very shitty name because:

a) the term "garden" requires human involvement, which is something this huge-ass part of Eurasia now lacks in the most fundamental way since there apparently are no more people there, last time Dean checked on the TV (two days ago),

and

b) this is the exact catastrophe he tried to prevent with all he had and much, much more, and Cas knew it, so naming the result of the fiasco after him is fucking uncalled for. And rude. And also a bitch-slap.

Like, if he was given the right to choose, he'd go with something honest, simple and elegant, like "fuck." But no, he always only had the illusion of a choice and it was on a totally different subject, so it was up to Cas. His doing, after all. And as warped as his little marbles are, he most likely considered it a celebratory name, because he finally, finally got to eat his cookie (and fuck you, Cas. If you eat a cookie then you don't have one). This makes Dean's plan D, for dick ride, a double failure.

But wait, there's more: he fucked up for the third time in a row because he shared his disappointment with the class, whereas he was supposed to be fucking thrilled. Thankful? Proud? Ecstatic? There was none of this, thank you. Which is probably why Cas is very busy today, really not wanting to try to interact with him right now (great, like literally once in a lifetime opportunity great) and also why he supposes Springfield taking it up the ass was up for yesterday's agenda (bad). Frankly, he just wishes the sweetheart would cope with that lack of gratitude through the traditional fist to face kind of conversation instead of burning everything around their domestic dream into ashes because Lincoln's fucking house really didn't deserve this and five million other reasons Dean doesn't have it in him anymore to count. At the same time, he's super convinced the fucking statues are going to outlive the city and remain the last damn things standing and that will make a horrible view, but in Dean's eyes still won't prove Cas's point, whatever it fucking is these days. So yeah, a punch would be a better plan. God, sometimes he wishes Cas would just hit him cause that's at least normal. But the fist went elsewhere. The memory draws an involuntary shudder. Nausea follows. There's really no time or no point for this, he reminds himself. He has no way of telling when Cas is coming back, so pro-health puking is out of options. Also, it's absolutely counterproductive.

Technically, he could turn the TV on and see where the omnipotent and merciful currently is, but hey, he doesn't care and that aside, he'd prefer to avoid the sorriest sight of publicists and reverends discussing the fascinating and hope-lighting miracle of the betrothed (that's him) saying yes and giving himself (also him) unto the endless care and "agape" or "storge" or "philia", since that varies depending on the day and the church and what not (that's not true, either way) of the Lord (fuck you, Cas). This would inevitably lead to talking about the Garden again, about how wonderful it's going to be and how thoughtful a gift to the world it is. And then some grand communion marriage talk. He wouldn't even be pissed anymore, or disgusted. He's too drained. Everything has been already discussed in the media, the question of what he'd be wearing on that special day included. He could, just for kicks, call them and say all of their guesses are wrong (they are, especially Dean's favorite ones coming from the folks who still speculate that he might be a chick, since he's currently ensuring they will stay in the wrong). But he doesn't care. The indifference is a bliss, some kind of unfathomable freedom he's allowing himself for the first time. There's gonna be no marriage. True, Cas never even mentioned it to him, not openly, but apparently he did everywhere else, and it fits the modus operandi of calling him "a friend" here and "the bride" amongst the believers, fucking doesn't it. All the talking on the TV channels he shouldn't have but does, has made Cas's intentions clear. He's just stalling, that's what he's doing. Sooner or later there would come a white veil to his white, ivy-embroidered and scratchy clothes. Who knows, maybe he already swallowed some kind of a tiny-fonted contract with his ass or with his mouth.

Well, today's him saying no to the brightest of all futures. There's gonna be no more briding, or friending, or courting, or buddy-paling, or taming, or guiding or loving or keeping him around. This is Dean's me-time. This is his fucking swan song, and it goes like:

fuck you, Cas.

Having this in mind, he goes to see Sam, leaving the motherfucking stupid piano room and the TV and all of this mess behind, Springfield included. Sets himself free of this flowery choker garbage and puts it on the piano, where he found it first (he hopes the gesture conveys fuck you, Cas well enough). He takes the glass with. His hands don't take idleness that fine.

Sam's, well, the usual. Deadlike unconscious in this great, white bed, in this great, white room. His face calm, sun-lit (or rather, burning Springfield-lit, but let's keep this romantic or at least non-threatening for a damn second, Dean tells himself). He looks like he's at peace. He's actually getting better, no matter how slowly. Every day, he notices the change. It always shows on his face, on his now skinny palms. He doesn't scream in his sleep anymore, his brow doesn't furrow in pain, his hands don't grasp at the sheets until his knuckles match them in white. He just sleeps. Is. Something. Well. 'S gotta be good enough for now and if even Cas the God says it can't be done faster, then it can't be done faster. This much at least, he believes. He sits down in his chair, cherishing the fact that Cas isn't here to accompany him this time, and he holds Sam's hand. Says he's sorry. Says he never wanted for things to turn out like this. Says if he had known falling for Cas would've brought them here (all three of them; Cas was a good guy once), he would've stayed in Hell. He'd have done everything not to ever meet him, not to lay an eye on him. He apologizes for having done literally everything in the opposite direction. He apologizes for loving both of them, but this one goes mostly to himself (Sam can't hear him anyway). Doesn't accept his own apology, of course. What's the point. Says "Bye, Sammy." And if he cries, there's luckily no one to see it.

Wiping the tears and the life off his face, he makes his way to the bathroom. He locks the door behind him. Then he outdoes himself in futility and barricades the entrance with the washing machine. Why not? Funnier like this. He pours holy oil over the barrier he just made and puts it on fire. Gonna call it 'lil Springfield, he thinks. Useless probably, but at this point it's go big or go home. Besides, it will only speed shit up for him. The bathroom isn't claustrophobically small – nothing in this house is, there always is too much empty space and the house screams with it all the time (just look at the fucking piano room. Dean still doesn't know why it's even there). It is, however, modest in size enough that the fire will help quite a lot. Especially with the hot bath he's now running. A while ago he even considered applying some relaxing oils, but it occurred to him that it's also pointless. He's already starting to feel good. Hell, he feels giddy about this. He thinks about undressing. He goes for a compromise in the end, keeping his boxers on for future terms of aesthetics reasons. So he's prude at the most awkward times (as Cas would point out sometimes, but fuck you, Cas), sue him. He stares at the stupid glass, considers its existence in the context of utility, and goes nah. No need to overdramatize. He already sees this as a diva from a burned down theater kind of a deal, so he better not make it even more stilted than it is. So okay, he fills it with water instead. Tastes foul but it doesn't matter. He's spent half of the last night drinking so much it even got Cas's attention. But fuck Cas and his attention. That's the whole problem, isn't it.

He gets in. The water is just this side of scorching, but manageable. Now not to fuck it up, cause it's gonna be embarrassing if he does. There's a handful of easier and faster ways, but the luxury of having the option isn't given to him. First of all, if there's anything on this planet that is a waste of a bullet, that's his stupid brains. With his naivety, there's no contest. Secondly, there are no guns in this house. Dean's been informed he doesn't need them anymore. Divine protection is supposed to be enough, but he guesses there's a different reason beneath that explanation. Of course there's nothing he could do to Cas with one, but there are other things he might be dangerous to. Like himself. The only reason why he has this silly, little knife is because he insisted he doesn't need people to peel his damn apples for him and he can do that on his own, all four and what not. It requires a lot of effort to hurt something with this little bitch, but luckily, Dean is always full of determination. All right. Excuse for a knife in left hand, he goes down his wrist deep and fast, careful not to fuck his tendons up cause that would be stupid and twice as stupid if he's unlucky enough to survive. Repeat with hand right. Lie down. And now we wait, he concludes.

He's like seventy something years old and he's never been this relieved. This is it, this is freedom. This is going home, where there's Sam, where his mom is, where Cas isn't God (if he is at all; after all he's done it's debatable), where the world stays how it was. He's free. The water reddens over time and he feels like he's floating soon enough. Despite the bath, he gets cold. Doesn't matter. Springfield doesn't matter. He's about to become one with Russia. He's gonna be fucking Anna Karenina. So he waits. Content. Anxious. Content again. This is so funny. This is – wait, what was so funny? Never mind. What's important is why the fuck do they have a piano room? Cas the God commanded let there be a piano room in this fuck up house. And golden chrysanthemums in a crystal glass (where even is the glass?). What the fuck. What an idiot. He's sleepy.

There's pounding on the door now. He's kind of trying to breathe here and that's interrupting the process even more than the process itself. Yeah, maybe he should stop that, too.

"Dean!" he hears. And the same plea slash demand all over again. More pounding. He didn't hear a "honey, I'm home," but it's the son of a bitch alright. Dean guesses his spidey senses were tingling.

He wonders if Cas is gonna respect his autonomy and wait or assert his authority as his God by coming in anyway. Doesn't matter. Fuck you, Cas.

Cas sounds furious.

"Dean – Schmean," he offers politely in exchange and laughs, a serene sound coming right out of his belly.

He's happy. Hasn't laughed like this since… since he was with Cas at the brothel, which is kind of sad, outcome considering. Whatever.

Now he thinks, still laughing, that his final words should actually be "fuck you, Cas." Somehow, he can't manage to force them out.

It's shortly past eleven in the morning and Springfield continues to burn when the bathroom stills in quiet.

Castiel isn't exactly sure what Dean slurred at him last, but as the echo of his cackling wilts abruptly and unnaturally, he goes to hell with his non-aggression and privacy respect policy once and for all. He undoes the door with a thought and rushes towards the tub, untouched by the fire, eyes already filling with tears. In pink water, Dean lies pale and cold. Just when the last noise of pulse drowns beneath Castiel's shaking fingers, he denies death its final right. Carefully, he takes Dean out of the water (he's still not breathing).

"You're not Ophelia, Dean," he murmurs softly. That's as much a threat as it is reassurance. Such recklessness will not go without reprimand.

As he carries him through the hall, he passes people, his most devoted servants. They all freeze in horror at the sight. There's going to be panic. There are going to be rumors. He'll deal with this later. He'll also have Dean watch, in said reprimand. This is more than convenient.

Lain in their conjugal bed, Dean is left alone (not breathing yet, Castiel's rational mind tries to supply). Castiel needs air and time before he approaches him again. His anger needs to simmer down. By the time he's back, Dean's probably going to be awake and sulking and hissing like a cat thrown into a shower. This is going to be a hard conversation. Upon taking his leave, he commands for his betrothed to be properly taken care of.

He doesn't stay away for long. Intuition is telling him that something's wrong. The message of he wasn't breathing finally gets through. What he sees as he returns only confirms his suspicions. Someone had Dean covered with a white sheet, like a corpse. Castiel finds it extremely offending, so he tears the cloth off, furious. He takes Dean's pulse. It's barely there, only he in all his power can feel it deep under the surface of silence. His organs, as he checks them, appear to be stagnant, but not entirely shut off. Dean's body is waiting on stand-by, fully healed, warm and rosy again – no paleness, no bloody wounds on his wrists. And Castiel has no idea what is stopping him from opening his cold, distant eyes. By all accounts, he should. Castiel made sure to catch him before he dies. He still senses Dean's soul, although it appears to be mangled. Then again, Castiel thinks, it already was when he met him.

He wonders if Dean can hear him. Petting his hair, he starts with, "how dared you," which unsurprisingly doesn't earn him a response. "I don't understand," he says and he thinks don't understand again. "I always gave away everything to save your life, Dean. Even if you hated it, even if you failed to see good behind my reasoning. All for you. And you give me this," he huffs. Leaves bitter give me nothing unspoken. "I need you here," he sighs instead, so tired with this unruly child of his.

He lies down next to Dean in silence. His friend doesn't wake up to watch the sunset this time. Night falls over the ashes of Springfield and he waits.

At dawn, he whispers to himself mournfully, Dean still unresponsive in his arms:

"And three days ago you were mine."

But a kiss on a temple doesn't bring Dean back to him.

At the beginning of a new day, there are threats. At first subtle, like:

This world doesn't deserve to run without you,

I don't know what to do with my hands all alone like this,

Many people are going to find your lack a very bad thing,

I still can make you regret not being here,

There's no abandoning God, Dean. Remember what my Father did when his people turned their back on him,

Everything I've done for your sake. And everything I can undo.

Dean remains an indifferent, deaf statue. Like the ones Castiel erected all over the world.

Later, he decides to hit closer to home:

Don't make me burn down Battle Creek, Dean. I will, if I have to. Dean, and I will make you walk through the cinders and ruins. I will watch you weep.

Dean doesn't seem to care at the moment. Castiel decides to remind him of something else entirely. Should work. Has to work, he muses. No matter how many broken bones, he always crawls back to Sam. And, in fact, the more broken he is, the faster he manages to crawl, that amazing little thing.

Remember, love, that Sam is under my care. I told you I can undo everything. Be wise about something in your life just once.

Dean chooses not to. Somehow, he doesn't crawl back here. Astounding, Castiel thinks. To think he's suddenly developed autonomy. Definitely worth praising. Definitely bad timing.

Castiel goes to the piano room and drinks Dean's whiskey, holds the myrtle wreath necklace thinking how a few days ago, Dean was his. He was clay in his hands, warm sand into which he sank; he was bendable and willing; he was the heat of the sun, he was air; he was sweetness of milk and of honey; he was all fire and his body was cathedral arches; he was prayers, he was thanks and he shone; an instrument and a sacrament carefully put into palpable, malleable flesh that Castiel swallowed and swallowed and drowned. Dean was beautiful, ethereal. His. All his: every move was his, every breath was his, every shudder. No Cicero, no heavenly war, no pride held them apart. Now Dean's on his bed, not exactly in the right context. So desperate to not be his anymore. To say that it hurts doesn't even begin to describe it.

Eventually and with bitter resignation, he goes to Sam's room and simply fixes him. No effort. It never was. He doesn't wake him up. Not that he cares about Sam's possible anger, he just doesn't want to deal with it yet. Not when Dean's, well, is not.

"I fixed your brother, Dean," he announces, standing by the bed, where Dean's chest still doesn't rise and fall like it should. "Now come back to me." Bitterly, he thinks, crawl.

Hours pass, the world breathes while Dean doesn't, but for the time being he lets it corrupt itself further. There is still no sign either of life or of a solution and he's holding Dean's hand, his forehead on Dean's arm, where the handprint, the claim, once lied, mistakenly taken back merely a year before:

"Or at least come back to him."

Next stage, apologies:

I didn't mean what I said,

I will bless Michigan three-fold, I promise,

I will love you better if I have loved you wrong,

I will love you more if I haven't loved you enough,

If in your eyes I've ever nailed you to a cross, know I've only done it so you wouldn't fall.

He thinks, desperation blooming blisters in his hearts, all of them broken: I love you, I love you ad nauseam. He offers: I'll crawl.

But Dean knows no mercy in not being here. Like with Christ, the whole tempting doesn't quite work. At this point Castiel is becoming annoyingly aware that no matter how many crowns and kingdoms and un-destroyed Russia's he'd offer, it's not going to do anything to help Dean change his mind. Because Dean isn't that much of a materialistic man, obviously. Because this is about some kind of principle now. Because something else also, but Castiel fails to decipher that one. Frustrated, he wonders what kind of pieces he's missing.

Out of both ideas and ammo, he binds Death.

Death shows up by their bed with a bag of dried apple slices in hand and a truly loathing smile on his face. "Charming," he throws dryly after taking the situation in, it being a restless, tired-faced Castiel occupying a chair next to a Snow White spread Dean Winchester. Not exactly surprising, but pathetic nonetheless. "Silly, little thing. You had the audacity to bring me here because you broke your chew toy?"

"Watch your words," Castiel growls. "He's not a chew toy."

"Yes, the betrothed is how you call him," Death hums. "But the outcome and the intent are quite the same, aren't they?"

"This was an accident," Castiel insists.

"No," Death smiles patronizingly. "An accident was you finding him. Both this time and the first time, Castiel. Don't feel so entitled."

"I don't feel entitled," he snaps. "I'm God. And he's mine. His heart's already been in a while," he reassures himself. "He belongs with me."

"Foolish brat. You're just a mutation with too many teeth inside and too wide wings. They won't take you as far as you'd like. And you won't get to eat the whole world. These fangs will turn back on you."

"It's not my concern now."

"While it should be."

"You can see my priority lies in this bed. I don't ask for your advice regarding who I became," Castiel says curtly. "Just tell me what's wrong with him."

"You, I think," Death lets out a humorless chuckle. "Have you finally told him you want him as his bride? Is that why the infamous Dean befriended the knife?"

"He didn't know yet. I haven't told him what the agreement entails."

"What a humanitarian you are. Coupled with him and spared the truth for as long as possible. Lying is the perfect foundation to marriage," Death tsks. "Even better one for a burial."

"He's not dead."

"How unfortunate for him," comes a mocking pout. "He's in a lot of misery with how he is right now. I can only imagine how much pain it is to have a shattered and dislocated soul."

"This shouldn't be a problem. I can mend it."

"How? Some of the pieces are already out of his body. Coming back anywhere, not to mention back to you, is the last thing they want to do."

"You don't know that," Castiel snarls.

"Oh, but I do. You've been calling him for days. With the bond you had, he could have given you a sign anytime he wanted. He didn't."

Castiel stares at Dean in hopeless anger and has the word 'had' ringing in his head. "Dean," he mutters almost voicelessly, betrayed.

"A part of him prayed to me instead, you know," Death muses. "Funny how calling yourself God doesn't exactly have to take you to a pedestal," he laughs. "He asked me to end this, to take him, even back to Hell, if it means being far away from you. That was a few days ago. Now it's quiet. My guess is he's deteriorating, a broken soul can only exist for so long."

"I won't let that happen," he states.

"If you're half as merciful as you claim to be, you let him go."

"That's nonsense," Castiel huffs, standing up. "My Father created the whole world. I can recreate one man."

"Ah, yes? Just look where your prides and creations have taken you both," Death spits.

Castiel's only comment is to snap his fingers and unbind him. "I'm going to be busy and you don't really care anyway, so..." He shrugs. "Leave."

"You always make a bigger mess than you can clean," Death warns.

"I'm cleaning the primordial one."

Death glances at Dean again. "Doesn't look like it at all," he comments. "Unless this," he points at the man, "is what you call him, too."

Looking at Dean fondly, he smiles. "I wouldn't be wrong, would I," he sighs. "My poor, little mess," he adds with evident pity. "You understand that I must put him back together before he hurts himself, don't you?"

Death only shakes his head. So he doesn't understand. "Before he hurts himself?" he echoes in disbelief. "You lead the horse to water and it drowned instead of drinking," Death huffs.

"Just to annoy me," Castiel seethes. "It's nothing permanent," he concludes, softly brushing a thumb down Dean's cheek. "It's childish anger cause he didn't get what he wants." He tries to regain composure and fails at that spectacularly. Tired, he only achieves the opposite. "I don't even know what he fucking wants," he adds, resigned. "But I'll extract that information."

"And will you comply?"

"That depends. Would you comply to something stupid?" Castiel counters.

"Which is exactly why I find what you're trying to accomplish ill-advised and I'm warning you not to do that. You're not going to like what gets out of there once you yank it out," he comments instead.

After that, to Castiel's satisfaction, he disappears. Unbothered, he lies down next to Dean once more and trails his fingers up his ribs until he reaches the heart. He sinks his almighty hand down inside smoothly and easily, as if Dean's chest was made of water; his flesh gives way like it gave before. He's going to raise him from perdition again. He's aqua de vida. The horse has to drink.