Spoiler warning: Spoilers for Season 5, with special emphasis on Episodes 4 (The End) and 10 (Abandon All Hope)
Warnings: harsh language
Author note: I do not warn for character death in any of my stories, since I consider it a plot spoiler. If character death is an emotional trigger for you, I urge you to avoid my work. Thank you for understanding.
Disclaimer: All characters from Supernatural are the intellectual property of Eric Kripke, Warner Bros. Television, and Kripke Enterprises. I make no profit from this fanfiction.
A Thousand Small Cruelties by Aenisses Thai
It's not really the sound of feathered wings flapping, nothing that earthbound or normal. It's more the lack of sound, as if a black hole had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, sucking up background noise and peripheral light until, finally, Earth physics reasserts itself to push heavenly energy into matter with a faint whoosh.
Frost and lightning, thinks Dean, automatically shifting over on the stoop to make room for the angel. His invitation goes unanswered, so he twists around.
Castiel stands several feet behind him on the porch, taking the concept of personal space to its furthest limits. He appears absorbed in studying the nearest tower of stacked wrecks in Bobby's junkyard, their jagged edges softened with a thin coating of snow. "Hello, Dean."
It's the same greeting every time they meet, but somehow it sounds flatter, more tentative than usual. Dean frowns. "What's wrong?"
Castiel's eyes flash to Dean's, then downward for a brief moment before he goes back to contemplating the wonder of rusting metal. "Nothing. You asked me to come. I'm here."
Dean opens his mouth, then shakes his head. "Whatever. Pull up a seat, grab a beer."
Castiel glances around the porch, currently empty of either chairs or alcoholic beverages, then at Dean, his eyes wary and lips parted in what Dean has mentally dubbed Castiel's "Babelfish on the fritz" expression.
Dean sighs, a soft exhalation of steam in the chill air, and thumps his boot against the stoop, trying to make his invitation clear.
"What do you want?" Castiel remains standing, hands now shoved in pockets.
His deliberate distance, both physical and emotional, starts getting to Dean, sending little cracks scrying across his outward joviality. "Do you know what today is?"
"Thursday. Is that all you needed?" Castiel removes his hands from his pockets, and suddenly there's a slight pressure on Dean's eardrums, a gust of wind as if the air itself is shifting, a portal opening—
"Wait! No! That's not the point! It's Christmas Eve, Cas—you know, the night before the Big Guy's son's birthday? Frosted cookies, caroling, midnight mass with people singing about angels all night long? Though this year, they oughta be singing, 'Dicks with Wings We've Heard on High, Bringing On the End of Days.'"
The quip falls flat, his voice too laced with bitterness to draw any humor out of the words. Makes no difference; Cas doesn't get the joke, anyway, and his silence is accompanied by another "broken Babelfish" expression.
But Dean is nothing if not stubborn, so he grits his teeth and carefully paints a smartass grin across his features as he stands up to face Castiel. "Dude, you have to get with the program. What's God gonna say if he finds out you dissed his favorite kid's birthday celebration?" His voice sharpens. "By the way, how's the almighty mission going? You find Him yet? And can I have my necklace back?"
Dean's starting to get pissed off, not so much at Castiel's refusal to return the amulet, but at his uncommunicative attitude. All right, fine, Dean knows damn well who's to blame for that, but it doesn't make him any less irritated. It does, however, make him bite back another pointed jibe. No need to dig the hole any deeper.
"Cas, I called to ask if you wanted…look, me and Sam drove out here 'cause it's Christmas Eve, and we didn't want Bobby to be alone. And I thought that maybe you didn't want… that you might like to, I dunno, do the whole 'chestnuts roasting on the open fire, presents round the tree' thing with us."
Shit! What is with him and his compulsive quoting of carol lyrics all of a sudden?
At least Castiel's finally looking at him, a line between his brows as he works the lyrics through his English-to-Angel translation program. "You wish me to get you a present."
"No! Shit, Cas, I'm not angling for swag! I just thought…you know, chestnuts…" Oh, for Chrissakes, stop with the damn lyrics already!
"You want chestnuts."
This would almost be funny if it weren't so damn pathetic. Dean takes a step towards Castiel, and the angel takes a step back. Suddenly Dean's temper flares. If Cas wants to act like a chick with a grudge, so be it, but he'd better not expect Dean to play along.
"Look, if you don't want to spend Christmas with us lowly humans, that's fine! Go do whatever angels do on Christmas—gank a demon to hang on your tree or something!"
The screen door slams open behind him, and he jumps, cursing out loud. Just what he needs, his brother chiming in with some smartass remark. In the slight commotion, Castiel does a runner, leaving the porch empty except for Winchesters. Dean sets his jaw, ready to take on whatever shit Sam decides to dish out.
Instead, his brother just stalks past him holding a whisky bottle. He unscrews the cap and silently pours the amber liquid over the rail onto the icy ground below.
Dean hears a string of curses echoing from within the house, and cocks an eyebrow at Sam. "Waste of good Jack."
"s'not Jack," says Sam. "Cheap crap good for nothing but bad hangovers. I told Bobby he wasn't spending Christmas drunk and alone."
"For which he's grateful, I'm sure." The curses fade to a discontented grumbling accompanied by a squeak and thump of wheels as Bobby takes his temper out on his furniture.
Sam shrugs. "Family trait, gratitude. Speaking of, I'm guessing that was Cas you were just yelling at."
"Yeah, and?" Dean scowls, not liking what Sam's getting at with that crack about gratitude.
"And I kinda wished I caught him. We haven't seen him more than ten minutes total for the past few weeks, not since…not since Carthage."
Goddamn Sam and his goddamn need to 'talk things out', like he's on fuckin Oprah twenty-four-seven. Dean doesn't want to hear about Carthage, he doesn't even want to think about that godforsaken hellhole, not until, well, ever (but that doesn't stop Carthage from haunting his dreams every goddamn night).
He scowls harder and turns away to lean on the railing, but his brother doesn't get the message and keeps on yakking. "I would've liked to have wished Cas a Merry Christmas, all things considered."
"Since when have you and Cas gotten so chummy?" and Dean does not sound like a jealous bitch, not in the least.
"Oh, I dunno. Maybe since Carthage. You know, that time he saved my ass from Lucifer." Sam's not even bothering to try to hide his sarcasm; hell, he's even scratching his head sarcastically (and yeah, it's possible to scratch one's head sarcastically, 'cause he's seeing it with his own two eyes). "Come to think of it, he saved your ass from Lucifer, too."
Two can play at this game. "Come on, Sam, don't hold back. Tell me what you're really thinking."
Sam turns to face him, and Dean's startled by the fierceness of his expression. "I overheard what you just said, how you basically told Cas to throw himself under a bus. What is your problem, man? I mean, I know what your problem is, but why would you take it out on Cas?"
"Whoa, whoa!" Dean gets right up in Sam's face. "What the hell are you talking about? I never—"
"You told him to go gank a demon when you know damn well he can't do that anymore! What an asshole thing to say! If he takes you literally—and we both know how literal Cas is—you just told him to go risk his life. What were you thinking?" Sam suddenly grabs Dean's arm. "Hey! What the hell, Dean? You just went dead white!"
Dean knows he ought to shake off Sam's hand, but right now, he's not sure his legs will hold him up. "What do you mean?" he asks in a hoarse whisper. "What makes you think Cas can't gank demons? Since when?"
"Since the night after Carthage. Listen, maybe you'd better come inside and sit down; you look like you're about to pass out."
"'M not a chick, goddamnit!" This time, Dean pulls away from Sam's supporting hand. Good thing the porch rail is right behind him. He leans as casually as he can against the rail and crosses his arms (to hide his trembling hands). "So spill. What's all this shit about Cas and demons?" He's proud that his voice sounds halfway normal instead of freaked out.
Sam rubs his hands up and down his flannel-covered arms, his shirt scant protection against the evening's chill. "Can we go inside to talk about this?"
"Fine. I talked to him right after Ellen and J—that same night, when he brought us back here. He told me Lucifer had trapped him in one of those fire circles. Lucifer left Meg to guard Cas while he went to do the Death-summoning thing, and Cas somehow managed to knock her into the circle, where he tried to gank her the angel way. Didn't work; seems that heaven has cut off that part of his mojo."
Another chill runs through Dean, and he can almost smell the stale, burnt air of 2014. "So how did he get out?"
"He was kind of vague about that; said something about the size difference between male and female humans, and a demon making an unexpected bridge to salvation."
"Hah!" Dean gets a clear picture, and feels vicious satisfaction at the thought of Cas stomping the bitch that set the hellhounds on Jo…on them. Still wishes he'd done it himself, but this is almost as good.
"Dean." Sam is shivering, but he keeps his voice steady in spite of the cold. "I don't know what happened between you and Cas, but it's clear that something's wrong, and has been since the night Jo and Ellen died. I'm not going to lecture you, but I'll say this much." He jabs a finger in Dean's chest. "Fix it. Cas is not only twenty-five percent of our pathetically small Save the World Club," Sam makes a jerky gesture indicating the house and porch, "he's still the strongest of us, even at half-mojo. So pull your head out of your ass and catch a little daylight for once."
He slams back into the house, provoking another round of curses from Bobby, the word "idjit" reaching a particularly high volume. However, Sam's apparently suffered enough fools for one night, because he yells right back that Bobby is only allowed either tea or cocoa, so he should just shut up and choose.
"Merry fuckin Christmas," Dean mutters to himself as he fumbles for his cell. He hates it when his little brother's right, but he has no time to indulge his stupid pride; he's got to get Cas back here pronto.
'Need to talk to you. Stay away from demons. Get back here ASAP.' He pauses, firmly shoves his ego down, and finished the text message with, 'Please.'
He sets the phone to both ring and vibrate, and places it in his inside coat pocket. Leaning over the porch rail, he clasps his hands together and thinks back to five weeks ago, when things had gone so disastrously wrong.
It's the dead of night, and that phrase had never before seemed so appropriate: Jo dead, Ellen dead, Bobby dead-drunk, and Sam dead to the world, exhausted by his latest confrontation with Lucifer.
Dean had wanted to know what kind of shit the Devil was flinging at his brother to get him to cave, but Sam wasn't talking. "For God's sake, Dean, you think you can give me a little space to mourn Ellen and Jo before you start in on our trust issues again? Fuck!" With that, Sam had pulled his pillow over his head and drawn his knees up so his feet quit hanging off the end of the twin bed in the room they'd shared as kids. Dean got the message.
So he spends the next twenty minutes trying to fall asleep, but each time he closes his eyes, red flares behind his eyelids: the thick, pulsing red of blood gushing from a gut wound, the searing red of a nighttime explosion.
His entire life is painted in shades of hellfire.
Giving up, he throws off the covers and stumbles out of the room, needing to get distance from his nightmares. The floor undulates lazily beneath his feet in the nauseating No-Man's-Land between drunkenness and the oncoming hangover.
The rhythmic clicking is coming from Bobby's kitchen downstairs—too sharp and distinct to be a dripping faucet, too regular to be a foraging mouse. Dean retrieves Ruby's knife from the bedroom, then moves hunter-silent down the old staircase.
He'd really love to find something to kill right now, maybe that bastard Crowley or smirking Meg. Maybe even goddamn Lucifer himself. None of those are likely, though, not with the wards Bobby has encircling his house, both inside and out.
So he's not all that surprised to see Castiel sitting alone in Bobby's kitchen. Nah, it's not Castiel's presence that punches the air out of his lungs—it's his actions.
Castiel is wiping the liquid sheen of a tequila shot from his lips with the back of one hand before setting the shot glasses upright in a row (snick-snick-snick-snick-snick, the sound of crystal meeting wood) and pouring the liquor across all five glasses in a smooth motion even Ellen would approve of. Yet there's something in the set of his shoulders, something lost, defeated (eerily familiar) that makes Dean want to scream.
"What the hell?" he snarls instead, grimly satisfied when Castiel startles and misses the last glass, splashing liquor onto the table. Wide blue eyes rimmed with red meet his—and Dean loses it.
His vision blurs, and suddenly he sees Cas sitting before him, grubby and unkempt, boots up on the table and glass in hand as he flashes that empty, mocking grin, his eyes bleeding, bleeding (blue rimmed with red) loss, pain, loneliness, despair. Dean's gut clenches, and fear turns to terror turns to anger and accusation as words erupt from his throat like acid, like knives, like sharp-edged chunks of bile. He barely knows what he's saying: something about Why did you leave them? and left us facing hellhounds alone! and Now they're dead—
—and he wishes he could shut himself up, because this is all so pointless. The fucking Colt doesn't fucking work and they've got no Plan B, other than dying bloody. Even that would almost be acceptable, except it wasn't them who died bloody but sweet Jo and fierce Ellen, and where the fuck is the justice in that, huh? What's God's master plan—for me to watch every single person I ever cared for blasted the fuck out of existence? Well, fuck that and fuck God, and fuck you too, Cas, if you're just gonna sit there and let it happen!
But Castiel isn't really sitting with his boots up on the table; he's standing military straight in his crisp tan trenchcoat, jaw tight and eyes staring past Dean, like a soldier getting dressed down by his superior officer (like Dean getting yelled at by his father). Suddenly Dean is thisclose to breaking down, and it won't be controlled tears this time but big, girly sobs, and he doesn't want Cas to see, so,
"Get the fuck outta here," he chokes, and Castiel does.
It isn't until Dean gets himself back under control that he finally focuses on the table before him. The first things he notices are two tequila shots placed across from the five that Castiel had poured for himself. He vaguely remembers some kind of drinking game going on last night (two lifetimes ago)—Jo's carefree laugh, Ellen's sardonic drawl, the low rumble of Castiel's reply, attentive and curious—and he realizes that what he interrupted wasn't a binge, but a memorial service for two lost friends.
"Cas," he whispers, but the angel is long gone.
Time limps by one dragging second after another, and still Castiel doesn't appear. Dean is past being merely cold; he's numb, his fingers stiff inside his old wool gloves, his exhalations growing thicker in the frosty air. But he sets his stance and glares into the darkening sky, determined to wait outside until Castiel returns.
Yeah, it's true that there are anti-angel sigils painted on the outside of Bobby's house, sigils that must be broken before Castiel can enter the house and re-painted immediately afterwards, but that's not the reason Dean's staying put. After all, Cas could simply phone him if he found himself locked out.
Maybe part of this is a weird need for penance for his behavior towards Cas that night five weeks ago, but mostly, he wants to stay here because it's quiet and dark, and he needs to think things through.
There's been precious little time for him to think about anything these past few weeks, hell, this past year. From the time he dug his way out of his grave to now, his life has been nothing but reacting to all the shit that keeps coming at him, an endless river of shit that keeps him flailing just to stay afloat—and if that sounds like a crap analogy, just try living it.
However, if there's one good thing that's happened to him, it's Castiel. No, Dean's not going all girly Hallmark card. If the angel had done nothing other than drag him out of Hell, it still would've been more than anyone else in his life has done for him, including his father.
Castiel didn't stop with that one favor, though. He's saved Dean's life a number of times since then, protected Sam for him, and lost everything he ever knew for their sake—and for his trouble, he's received a shitload of backtalk and mockery, a handful of 'thank you's', and a total of zero apologies.
Dean stops in the middle of blowing a stream of warm air into his cupped hands. Has he really never apologized to Cas, not even once? That's fuckin weird. Not that apologies are ever easy, but he doesn't seem to have much trouble saying, "I'm sorry" to Sam or Bobby, even if those guys share part of the blame for whatever he's apologizing to them for.
The realization hits him like a blow. That's exactly why he's never apologized to Cas. Whatever he's done to Cas—calling him names, denigrating his Father, getting him killed—Cas has never deserved it. It's shame that keeps Dean from owning up to his mistakes with the angel…and if it's taken him this long to realize it, then Castiel must be even more in the dark. So why does he put up with Dean's behavior?
Because he doesn't know he deserves any better.
It's all fucking there, and Dean can't avoid it any longer, the memory of that painful conversation, a dark night five years in the future.
I'm human…practically human. I mean, Dean, I'm all but useless…
Now I'm powerless. I'm hapless, I'm hopeless…why the hell not bury myself in women and decadence? Right? Sad, maybe…but that's what decadence is for.
Dean's still not sure what that vision of 2014 really was—a construct made just for the purpose of mind-fucking him into obedience? A possible real future, one out of a hundred possible futures? The one and only unavoidable conclusion to his story?
No, he's not accepting that last one; if he's gonna give in to that possibility, he might as well take the Colt and shoot himself in the head right now. But the one thing he can't deny is how right Zachariah had gotten some things, probably without even realizing it.
Yeah, Dean's pretty sure that Zach was pleased with his fucked-up version of Castiel; that pompous douchebag would like nothing better than to see his former subordinate brought so low. But there were other truths about Castiel in 2014 that seemed too deep for Zach to have grasped: the fact that Castiel hadn't deserted Dean, no matter how bleak things had gotten. The fact that he didn't hesitate to stand by Dean, even if he thought the plan to kill Lucifer was stupid and suicidal. The fact that he always put Dean's well-being first.
Are you coming?
Of course. But why is he? I mean, he's you five years ago. Something happens to him, you're gone.
Dean paces up and down Bobby's porch, dragging his hand over his mouth again and again, trying to keep from…something.
He's been so goddamned obsessed with the Sam and Luci Show that he couldn't see the other disaster bearing down on him, the disaster he's personally bringing to pass. Sure, Sam's the most important thing in his life, but he's not the only thing.
And while Dean knows full well that Castiel v.2014 is something that haunts his nightmares, until now he'd thought that drugs and women and angels deserting the earth were what would bring Cas down. He never thought it would be himself.
It's so goddamn clear. It's not one big thing that could make Castiel think so little of himself, value himself only as a weapon and not as a person or a friend. It's a thousand small cruelties—mocking him for not knowing pop culture, treating his faith with disdain, denying him thanks or apologies, assigning blame to him for things that Lucifer brings about—it's those cruelties that will eventually drive Cas into becoming the lost, lonely creature Dean met in 2014.
Still loyal to him, though. Still so fuckin loyal, even after everything. Even unto death.
A gust of wind sends ice crystals swirling through the air, and Dean wipes tears from his face, gloves rough against his skin. Wind-tears, that's all they are, from the fuckin ice and snow. He's not crying, 'cause he's got no reason to cry. None of that shit is gonna come to pass. He'll stop it, just like he'll stop Sam from giving in to Lucifer.
It'll be simple with Cas; all he has to do is think before he speaks. Quit lashing out at the one he knows will never desert him. Quit being so damn scared of friendship, of caring, of lo—
Quit being so damn scared.
The gust of wind strikes him again and he shivers, feeling his ears pop.
Something in him releases, and he lets it happen, lets the smile spread across his face, warm and wide and genuine, as he turns around.
To be continued