It's done, finished, over with and I'm grieving a little bit. This fic has been a driving part of my life for the last couple of months and I'm going to miss it.
I just want to send out my thanks to all the people who read, everyone who reviewed, all the alerts and favourites and the phenomenal amount of support I've had from everyone who has been reading. I never imagined this fic would get the number of hits and reviews that it has. (Listen to me, I sound like I'm winning an oscar or something).
Also, massive thank yous out to Punky (as always) for letting me bounce things off her when I get really stuck, believe me this fic would never have happened without her constant support.
Chapter Eighteen: Epilogue.
Twenty Eight Years.
For twenty eight years Dean is watched over by an angel, in the very literal sense because even if he does not have his wings anymore, Dean always thinks of Castiel as his angel. The very fact that Cas has had his wings clipped so that he can stay with Dean has only made the hunter love and cherish him more over the years.
As time passes they learn that relationships take a great deal of work, even one such as theirs. The first few months, as Dean expected, are blissful. Both are so happy, so overjoyed that they get to be together, that agreements are easily reached and arguments are few and far between, resolved quickly and quietly. Both men, however, are stubborn and even with Sam around a lot of the time in the early days to act as something of a buffer, they still have some fights.
For the first time, Castiel discovers the effectiveness of slammed doors and raised voices and Dean rediscovers it. They are together when they discover the joys of angry sex and make up sex, of frantic, desperate sex and the lazy sort of early morning sex that both come to agree is their favourite.
All the while, Sam is there and that is something that Dean is profoundly grateful for, not sure how he would have been able to face up to some of the early fights without the support of his younger brother. He suspects that when Sam rolls his eyes heavenward he is actually praying for either strength or a two by four and when he is alone, Dean sometimes asks God to make sure that Sam gets it. Sam gives Dean and Castiel something to focus on that is not hunting, research or each other, and Dean thinks that is what stops him from burning out the relationship before it has really begun.
That all changes when they meet Caroline Davey.
Caroline is tall, blonde and athletically built, a high school teacher in a town and on a job that they would usually forget with ease but for the fact that for Sam it is obviously love at first sight. It is the same for her as well and for nearly two years Dean watches his younger brother struggle with a long distance relationship. Finally, after he and Castiel have been together for five years, Dean tells his brother to stay with Caroline for as long as he likes and to call when he wants to go back on the road.
Sam never makes that call. He stays in touch, certainly, and he puts them on track for hunts, but otherwise he gets himself a job in a local bar, lives with Caroline and builds himself a life that is halfway normal. Dean and Castiel stop in whenever they can, and stay to take care of the house for two weeks, four years after they went their separate ways, when Sam and Caroline go on their honeymoon. For the hunter and his angel this is something of a vacation.
Things go slightly wrong about three years later, and when asked about it by Sam and Bobby, Dean will never be able to say exactly what they were arguing about, just that he and Cas had a big fight on the way to see Sam after a hard job and he had done something stupid. He had stopped the car at the side of a road and told Castiel to get out.
Even though he was angry with Castiel, Dean was still certain, at the time, that this would go the same way that their other more vicious fights had gone, with one or other of them calling a few hours later and apologising, Dean would collect Cas from where ever he had wound up and they would have make up sex in either the first motel they came to or the back of the Impala if they could not wait that long. This time is different, this time Castiel does not call and it takes Dean a day to figure out why, to find the cell phone that belongs to the fallen angel in the pocket of the jacket he had removed and tossed onto the back seat.
Dean spends three weeks searching for Cas in the area he left him, hoping that he will hear from his lover soon, that Castiel bothered to memorise his number so that he could get in contact if something happened to his phone.
The hunter does not hear from Castiel for eight months, not through lack of trying, and he learns later that it was in part due to the fact that Cas was genuinely hurt beyond measure at the words Dean had flung in his direction, and the rest of it was simply down to Castiel not being sure that Dean would even want to hear from him. They find each other through sheer luck, Sam telling Dean about a job in a town where Castiel just happened to be working the same job. Neither remembers what they fought about, just that words they exchanged were more harsh than they used to be. They know how to really hurt each other and neither is pleased with that outcome.
Once Castiel is back in the car with him, Dean realises just how much has been missing from his existence in the last months. He resolves never to fight in such a way with Cas again. This does not mean that they do not fight, that in itself is a given, every couple does and every healthy couple will for the rest of time, it simply means that in the back of both of their minds they can remember a time when they were apart and eaten away with guilt and sorrow and shame at the things that they flung at each other.
Sometimes, Dean has noticed, he will find Castiel in a church. Generally these are the small ones in little towns that are left unlocked late into the night because no one really cares, because the community is too entrenched enough in it's religion, even if it does not completely believe it, and there is too little of actual value in the church to bother with locking it. He only asks why Cas goes there once and the heart worn look he receives in return stops him from ever asking again. He knows that Castiel does not want to willingly go home, just as he knows that Heaven was still Cas's home and he had been cut off from it for over a year even before he fell. Dean thinks the fallen angel does it so that he can feel close to his family for a while, close to his Father, and does not bring it up after.
When Mary Louise Winchester is born, Dean and Castiel are in the thirteenth year of their relationship, Dean is in his mid forties and Castiel looks like he is probably somewhere in his fifties even if the soul inside the shell is infinitely older. It takes them three months to leave town, three months where Castiel discovers what it is like to hold a child in his arms for the first time, something that Dean learnt at age four, and where neither uncle wants to leave for fear of missing something. The nursery is discretely decorated with protection symbols from across the world, from across even time, from the day of Mary's birth and Castiel makes certain that there is a net all around the house to protect not just from demons, but from angels too. When they do finally move on and return to the lives they have built for themselves, it is with a heavier heart, the gradual aches of increasing age beginning to make themselves known.
Dean is forty nine when he and Castiel go to a church in deep south Louisiana one night, the door unlocked, the building empty but for the lingering presence of God that Cas swears he can feel. This is one of those things that Dean does not question, one of those things that he accepts because if anyone has a right to feel the vague remnants of his deity's passing by, it is Castiel. This is the anniversary of the day that Castiel was allowed to stay, eighteen years that they have been together and while it seems an odd time for this to be done, that maybe they should wait for the twenty year mark, this is the time that they have chosen. In the silence of that church, without the presence of pastor or witness other than the faint sensation of eternal eyes upon them, both make quiet promises. It is not romantic, it is not legal and it is not sealed in blood, but to them it is necessary, a confirmation of that which they have always known.
When they leave the building, closing door behind them and pausing for a moment so that Dean can catch Castiel in a heated kiss that is all promise and love, moonlight catches off of silver bands on their fingers, silver that has been engraved with symbols of love and protection. They are together.
Nine weeks later they get a call from Sam. Bobby has been found dead in his home, the old hunter was in his late seventies and this was a death by natural causes, rare among their kind. Dean and Castiel make it to South Dakota in time for the funeral, a hunters passing with salt in the coffin. As Bobby burns they all take a moment to think of the people that they have lost over the years, John, Jo, Ellen, Rufus, even Eden was killed during a gas station robbery gone bad. Now Bobby, one of the few remaining hunters alive who knew that truth about the dark time when Lucifer ran free. They stand in silence, Dean with his arm around Castiel's shoulders and tears shining freely in his eyes and Sam holds his obviously pregnant wife and daughter. They are all the family that Bobby had left and they intend to make the old hunter proud.
Bobby leaves Dean and Castiel the bungalow and for a long time Dean debates simply selling it and continuing to move on, but he and Cas are getting older now and the hunt still has not caught up with them, so one day they are going to need a place to go when they have to stop. They keep the bungalow, filled with old books and relics, make ammunition with fingers that gradually become a little more unsteady over the years and Castiel gets them a name as the 'go to' people in the hunting community, with his seemingly endless knowledge of the supernatural underworld and Dean's ability to dig a hunt out of anywhere.
Dean always thought that he would not live long enough to grow old with Castiel, to find an old bungalow to live in where Sam and Caroline can bring Mary, Richard and Emily to look around their crazy old uncle's home. Dean likes having the children around, sometimes wishes that he and Cas could have had their own, but for the fact that they are hunters through and through and there should never be a child in a hunting family.
Dean likes to watch his lover, in the evenings when the fallen angel still pours over the journal he started to keep twenty eight years ago in the weeks after he first fell. The hunter looks at the book from time to time, sees symbols and sigils for many things that he had thought lost and forgotten, sees the exorcism for succubi and incubi in there somewhere near the beginning, though mostly it is organised, and remembers Castiel telling him that it would likely never be finished in this life time, not even if he spent every minute of every hour of every day of his time on Earth working on it. Part of Dean feels sorrow at the wealth of knowledge that will one day be lost, a larger part of him just decides that it is time to distract his fallen angel and distract each other they do.
By the time Dean is fifty nine they have almost completely retired from the hunting part of their world, Cas looks like he is pushing his mid sixties and though Dean still loves him as though he only discovered the feeling yesterday, the hunter still fears the day that his fallen angel passes from this life, it never occurs to him that he might go first because that is not that way that his life has played out. Nor does he think of the remote possibility that they might die together.
Year Twenty Eight: Thursday.
Dean is driving them back from California, from visiting his brother and sister-in-law as Castiel half dozes in the passenger seat. The fallen angel has had a trying day, from the moment he woke to this one, on a road somewhere between the place he now calls home and the place Sam lives.
He did not wake as he usually does, with Dean arms wrapped around him and the hunters sleeping breaths gentle against hair that is still thick, but is now steel grey. Instead he woke to the feeling of Dean's hands shaking him, to the worried calling of the hunter's voice and the feel of tears still wet on his face. He is still half sobbing when he sits bolt upright, when he pulls Dean into a kiss that is meant to reassure him of the fact that the hunter is still alive rather than the gentle, warm, morning greeting that he usually gives.
When Dean asks him about the dream, however, Castiel does not know what to say, does not know what to tell him because the details and the images, brilliant as the once were, are fading from his mind. All he remembers is the blinding flash of crimson and the warm feeling of blood on his hands and body. It could be a memory, it could be a standard nightmare, but somehow Castiel is not convinced of that, and he knows that Dean is not either.
It is when he gets into the shower that he understands the full implications of the dream, when he feels the sudden uncurling of something buried for so long that at first he thinks that he is imagining it, imagining the warmth, the power and the whisper against his mind. He ignores it, goes to breakfast with the man that he loves and tries to bury the lingering memory and the overwhelming fear that it brought to his mind in some deep dark place. Every time he does, he brushes against something else, something that is not human, not mortal, not supposed to be there.
Dean notices, of course he does, they have been together for twenty eight years and it is not a surprise that Dean can read him like an open book. This does not mean that they talk about it, not here, not on the road, they have learnt all about having arguments in the car and how quickly they get out of hand when one or the other of them cannot walk away, and usually it is Castiel who does that, the only one of the two of them who does not care about walking away from a battle.
By the time it is dark, Castiel knows that he cannot ignore the grace that has been returned to him any longer, even if it is not blanketing out all the emotions that he has been given to feel over the years that he has been human. He turns to tell Dean and that is when he sees the truck speeding in out of nowhere, lights brilliant and there is no time to stop, no time to move, all he can do is wrap his arms around the man that he loves and close his eyes against the brilliant white that fills the car and the sharp agony that shoots through him until, for a long moment, there is nothing.
His eyes are still closed, however, and when he opens them he recognises the place before him, though he has not been here fully for nearly thirty years. He recognises the faces of his brothers and sisters too and he knows that he is home. Castiel looks at his arms, sees them wrapped around the soul of Dean Winchester, a soul that now burns with a grace as brilliant and as joyous of his own and he smiles, he laughs, and the halls of Heaven still at the sound. Then they are alone, and Castiel wants to explain, to tell Dean what has happened because his lover is clearly confused and more than a little concerned, but they are not as alone as they thought, because Castiel turns his head as they both stand, hands still clasped, and sees his Father watching them.
"Welcome home, my sons," he tells them both and Castiel remembers only the indescribable beauty of his face, the love of his voice as he looks at them both, an angel that would be human, and a human who stood firm in the face of the joined wrath of Heaven and Hell.
"Father," Castiel breathes and hisses a silent thank you, a habit that he knows it will take a long time to break, for the fact that Dean remains silent, still to shocked to do anything Castiel thinks. "Where are the archangels?" He asks it because it is rare for his Father to speak to any of them without one or other of the three at his side.
"Learning," comes the response. "I cannot have archangels who do not know what it is to be human leading my children to paradise. So they are being educated, as are many of your brethren and subordinates, and so shall it continue until I feel they understand."
"Cas, what's he talking about?" Dean hisses and though his body may have aged, Castiel only sees the beauty of the soul he fell in love with.
"Michael, Raphael and Gabriel have been made human. My Father has left the legions of angels without leadership." Castiel supplies and he hears a joy filled sound from his Lord.
"Of course not, my two new archangels are stood right here. I believe you have some work to do."
Am I in trouble now? This was the way that it was always going to end, I've had this whole part planned and waiting from day one. Will you click the little button? One last time?