Note: This story wasn't supposed to end the way it did, but I just couldn't leave it and I ended up adding to it. I'm still not sure I like where it went, but so be it. Reviews are always welcome, so feel free to tell me what you think. The added ending or should I have left it alone...
He stood, box in hand, thoughts of the past clouding his head, making it so he couldn't concentrate on anything other than the pain. Pain, he almost laughed. Pain was something he was used to, this just didn't compare. It tore him in pieces, shattered him like a broken mirror. Slivers dug in, ground into his soul, but still managed to cast his reflection back in way that made him unrecognizable, even to himself.
Self-loathing. He thought maybe he finally understood what that meant, but he couldn't be sure. Maybe there was a way to hate yourself even more than he currently did. He shrugged, pushed the door closed, pulled his sunglasses from his pocket and hid his eyes. It didn't matter anymore. He'd lost everything. It was gone, forever. He moved, slowly, one foot in front of the other creeping in a slow ascent up the grassy hill.
The beauty of the day wasn't lost to him and he thought about the irony of the darkness of his soul juxtaposed onto the blue sky and cotton-ball-cloudy day he was currently experiencing. It did matter though; he had one thing left to do. Just one, and he'd do the job well, finish it and be done. Free.
He sighed, glanced around and nodded. Here was good. There was nothing to disturb him, nothing to interrupt him. He leaned his back against the old oak tree and sighed. Heart heavy, near to broken, soul so damaged he wasn't sure if it was possible to ever go back to who he was, what he had been. It didn't matter. One request left to honor.
He'd fallen so far, so far from where he once was. Hero, best friend, confidant, fixer of problems, kicker-of-evil-ass, big brother. He'd promised he wouldn't regret anything, wouldn't dwell on the reason for doing what he'd done, but he couldn't help it. You don't do things like that and walk away unchanged, you don't stay the person you were; you can't.
Slowly he slid down the trunk of the tree, until he sat beneath it. Hand gripped the old wooden box, fingers tracing the carving almost reverently. A single tear. He pressed his head against the tree, stared up into the branches and watched as the wind moved them in a gentle, almost tender way; back and forth. He listened to the wind whisper around him. A soft rustling sound, peaceful, but he found no comfort in it.
He dropped his gaze from the sky and looked around the small clearing. "It's pretty here, you know." His voice gave out, became a whisper as his throat tightened with emotion he could no longer control. "An oak, a good sacred tree, Sammy." Another tear, a breath, "There's moss, a nice soft carpet of the stuff. I'm sure you'd tell me something special about it if you were here." Half a laugh. A swallow, more tears now. "Guess you kinda are, huh."
Fingers slid across the box, over the runes and symbols, over the Latin blessings and bindings. "Said I wouldn't keep you in here. Said I'd make sure you found some peace." Dean wiped at his face. "I said a lot of things didn't I? Wish I would have kept other promises."
Hands fisted around the box, white knuckles aching from the pressure. "I can't do this, Sammy. I can't offer you the blessing you deserve after doing what I did." Dean was sobbing, his words coming in bursts between bouts of grief. "My fault...couldn't keep you safe, Sam...I didn't deserve you...I failed you...hurt you...God, Sammy I fucking killed you..."
Dean pressed the box to his chest. He was beyond words, simply lost in pain, drowning in guilt and wanting absolution. Dean slid to his knees and raised his face to the sky once again. He screamed, primal pain emptied into the open space around him. It was far more expressive, far more honest than if he'd used a million words.
A shadow fell across his face and he felt him, knew who it was without looking; knew it because of the quiet, the calm that extended from the man, if you could call him that. "Castiel."
"Do you have answers for me? You here to tell me about the big plan, how things always work for good. Have faith and all the rest of that crap?" Dean slid his eyes, blazing with anger and grief to the "vessel" that contained the angel.
Castiel cocked his head to the side as if listening to an unseen voice. Hell, maybe he was. "You speak the truth, but you don't believe it."
Dean spat and forced himself to his feet. His arms wrapped around the box. "No. No plans on believing it either."
"After all you've seen, all you've experienced, you still have no faith. Why?" Castiel closed the distance between them, stood less than a foot from Dean. "I don't comprehend your disbelief when there are people who have no knowledge, have never seen a miracle yet they believe. They have faith that moves mountains and changes lives."
"What I've seen? What I know?" Dean laughed. "I know that evil things, truely evil things exist and they want to hurt people. I know that God and his angels only interfere when something the big guy deems as important, is on the line." He leaned closer to the perplexed angel. "Sure, show up for the "end of the world" but what about the people who had their world end because some demon posessed them and used them up? What about the parent, wife, or brother who has to kill the one they love? Those people lost their world and what did you do about it? Nothing! You and whatever he choses to call himself," Dean waved his hand toward the sky, "sat back and watched. Watched those people die."
"Dean, you lack understanding." Castiel's answer was soft.
Dean was angry. He'd attempted to piss the angel off time and time again without result. Sure, Castiel occasionally threatened, but he never raised his voice, never once lost his temper. He laughed.
"What you did was part of God's will. It was necessary."
An angry snort and Dean stepped forward into the angel's space. "It was necessary? Necessary that I kill my own brother?"
Castiel inclined his head. "Yes. There is a plan."
Dean's eyes flamed with anger and pain. "It was his plan to let the evil into the world. It was his plan that my grandparents and parents die at the hand of that demon. It was his plan for that same demon to use my brother for evil? It was his plan that every one of my family members die? It was his plan that I be left alone?" Dean's voice rose, panic crept in, as despair raged.
Castiel frowned and his eyebrows drew together, his expression empathetic and concerned. "Dean, you are a child of God." Castiel's hand rested on Dean's shoulder. On the imprint his hand left when he pulled the man from hell. "You are blessed, Dean. Given an honor very few are given."
Dean felt the raw power pulse through him, humming through his veins, singing in his ears like a thousand voices in harmony. It was beautiful. Peace settled over him as every negative emotion fell away. Peace, hope, joy, kindness and love filled him. No guilt, no distrust, no pain, no grief...no doubt.
"You will be rewarded, Dean. Like Job, you will be given back everything that was taken and then tenfold more. There is beauty in your brokeness." Castiel lifted his hand to Dean's forehead. "Fear not and rest safe, Dean."
He woke, dappled sunlight on his face, a soft breeze blowing through the leaves and a soft, green material beneath him. Voices. Voices he knew. He sat up, swaying in the hammock as he rubbed at his neck and frowned, trying to recall the dream that was still lingering.
"Hey man, you alright?"
The voice startled him and he spun, sending the hammock rocking almost dangerously, "Sammy? What the hell?"
"Dude, you gonna join us?" Sam pointed out into the clearing.
Dean followed his hand and tears were suddenly in his eyes. He slid cautiously to his feet and pulled his brother into his arms.
Sam chuckled, but returned his brothers embrace. "Seriously, you alright?" Sam pulled back and watched Dean's face. "You look a little off. Better not let mom see you that way." Sam shoved Dean's shoulder playfully, "She'll be all over you."
"Mom?" Dean looked back out into the clearing where a picnic table was spread with food. A brick barbecue set to the side, smoke billowing from its chimney. A large white house loomed behind the clearing. Dean cleared his throat. Memories suddenly filled his head; little league, wrestling, proms, girlfriends, weddings, a wife... "Tara..." Dean said quietly.
"She's with Jess, they went back up to the house to get Dylan." Sam glanced down at his brother, "You sure you're okay?"
Dylan. More memories, pouring into his head, they filled his senses. He stood, slightly confused as he stared at two blue lines on a plastic stick. The plain and inexplicable joy of knowing a life was growing inside his wife, fear and joy at his birth, skinned knees and bumped heads. Kisses, hugs, messy fingers and rides in the Impala. Dean suddenly smiled. "My son."
"Yeah, your son." Sam rolled his eyes. "How much of Dad's punch did you drink?" Sam cocked an eyebrow at his brother.
Dean shook his head and smiled. "Don't remember, Sammy."
Sam laughed. "Come on. Jess and I have an announcement to make."
Sam loped off toward the table, leaving Dean to meander behind.
Dean caught sight of his mother as she set something down on the table. Dad moved behind her, wrapping her in his arms as he kissed her cheek. Something he said made her laugh and then she was shoeing him away. As he got closer, he could hear bits and pieces of their conversation.
"Get a room..." Sam said playfully as he pulled a celery stick from the table.
Dean watched his mother blush and he smiled.
Dad smiled wide and slapped Sam on the shoulder. "Hey kiddo, don't be jealous because your father still has it." John winked at his wife.
Mom blused again.
Sam looked to Dean, big puppy dog eyes begging, "Help me out."
Dean shook his head and then pulled his mother into his arms, giving her a bear hug. "Love you mom."
"Love you too honey, but your hugging a bit tight..." She kissed his temple and patted his face. "Help your father with the steaks will you?" She rolled her eyes, "He always cooks them too long."
"I heard that. Hey, grab me a beer will ya buddy?" John asked as Dean passed the cooler.
Dean grabbed two, opened them both and handed one to his father as he drank his own.
"Thanks." John watched as Jess and Tara came from the house. "I ever tell you how much I like that wife of yours? You and Sam, both of you do me proud." John slung his arm over his eldest's shoulder. He pointed his beer toward the women. "Dylan reminds me of you at that age." John took a drink. "Curious, stubbon and cute as a button. Better watch out for that one."
Dean stood, soaking it all in.
This was his family, this was more than he could ever dream. This was everything he ever wanted and more. Fear swirled in his gut, memories of the Djinn. The fear that it wasn't real made his breath catch in his throat, but he watched Jess settle by his brother's side. He watched them both laugh and smile and it felt different. The Djinn's vision felt wrong, but this, this easy love between them felt right, it felt real.
When Tara reached his side, she slid her arm around him and the little boy, almost two, all but flew from his mother's arms into his.
"Hey Dylan, you have a good nap?" Dean nuzzled his nose into the little boy's hair.
Green eyes met his own, "Uh-hu. An Jess and Mama woked me up for to eat."
Dean smiled and hugged the boy, kissing his dark hair and catching his wife's eyes. He pulled her tight against his side and tried not to cry.
Dylan squirmed. "Down, Daddy...wanna help Gama."
Dean lowered the boy to the grass and watched him run to Mary, who stooped down and lifted him onto the bench of the picnic table.
Tara smiled at him, a hint of concern in her bright, blue eyes. "You okay?"
Dean pressed a brief, soft kiss to her lips, and then nodded. "Better than ever."
Tara kissed his cheek and then seeing Dylan's hand hovering above the pie on the table she rolled her eyes and moved to the table, "Dylan Samuel Winchester, don't you dare..." She reached him just as his pointer finger made its way through the crust, "...too much like your father, little man." She laughed as the boy buried his cherry coated finger in his mouth with a big smile.
Dean smiled and then turned to his father, "Okay, old man, you burn those steaks and mom's gonna kill me."
John laughed. "Kill you and leave me high and dry tonight, she already warned me." John waved to his wife. "That woman takes her beef seriously."
Dean laughed, "Spare the details, Dad...please." He held the plate as his father piled the meat onto it. He handed it to his father and then bent to turn the gas off and as he did he glanced back toward the tree.
Castiel stood there, leaning against the old oak, head cocked to the side watching.
Dean turned and nodded as emotion rolled over him; safety, peace and maybe a little bit of faith. Afterall, there was at least one angel watching over him.