A/N: This story was written over at Livejournal as part of deancastiel 's Renegade Angels fic exchange for hells_hikari. The prompt used was: Something based on a myth (preferably greek mythology, but not necessary) or a fairy tale. The fic is very loosely based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche and really only the first bit of it. The title is taken from C.S. Lewis's novel of the same title, which is a retelling of the Cupid/Psyche story.
Here at the end of all things, Dean sees.
His sword of fire pierces the vessel and into the being inside. Light pours from the wound, sears into Dean's eyes and for the first time, he is not in danger of having his vision torn from his eyes by magnificence he can't comprehend. The vessel's face is shocked as he falls to his knees. His hands close over Dean's on the sword and together they hold the sword in place as Lucifer's twisted grace explodes away from the body.
Dean is not hurt.
When the vessel slumps to the side, empty and used, Dean lifts his eyes and sees the world as he never has. It's similar to what he saw under the threat of hell hounds years earlier. Similar, but so much more. He sees an ocean of spirits. Ghosts and demons and wraiths. Ugly, gnarled bodies. Sightless eyes. Long brittle fingers, reaching for him, grasping at his sleeve, touching his face.
Dean ignores them. His attention is caught. Before him, he sees four luminous beings, pillars of brilliant dazzling white. Dean stares, enthralled, and he's spent the last two years pissed at archangels, but now he can't feel anything except childlike awe. When they draw nearer, Dean is surprised to understand that he recognizes at least one of them.
"Raphael," he says. He wonders what happened to Raphael's vessel, the middle-aged single dad that worked so hard to put his daughter through college. Dean hopes he's been returned safely.
"It's time for us to leave." His voice is soundless, a sonorous echo inside Dean's mind. Deep and melodic and so different from the high pitched whining he's used to hearing from angels. "We thank you for your service."
Even in this form, there's a hint of Raphael's typical sarcasm sliding into his tone and Dean knows he's going to be seriously annoyed later, but all he does is nod and let Raphael's gratitude wash over him.
"As promised, your life is now your own," Raphael continues. Behind him, the other archangels, ones Dean doesn't recognize, begin to fade away, their forms slowly dissolving into nothingness. The only thing Dean can think is that if any of the three are the ones that nearly destroyed Castiel so long ago, then good riddance.
"What about Sam?" Dean's first duty as always. Raphael smiles and it's genuine, affection reflected in his dark golden eyes.
"Sam will be safe," he promises.
Relief blooms through the fatigue in Dean's chest and if he weren't in the presence of one of God's angels, he would have fallen to his knees and wept. It's over then. Truly over. Sammy is free and safe. It's been almost seven years since it all started and Dean's finally done what his father asked him to do.
But there is one last question, one that is in ways both more and less important that the one about Sam.
"My brother was already forgiven, Dean," Raphael reminds him. "I believe there are two parts to your question. I can only answer the first part. He won't be harmed by any of the Host. As for the second part, that is his decision."
Dean frowns and finally feels a whisper of irritation. One thing he won't miss about archangels is the ease with which they read his mind.
"Yeah, okay. Thanks."
And then, like that, Raphael is gone.
Dean turns without a backward glance and walks away.
Sam is waiting for him by the car. For some reason, Dean feels laughter bubbling up in his chest. Three year of apocalyptic battles, three years of living from one moment to next, never sure if that moment will be their last and through it all, his beloved car has stayed the same. It's silly to think of a car as faithful, but Dean can't help comparing the Impala to a trusty horse from a Western film. Dean's ever present steed and now they can ride off into the sunset.
It's Sam rather than the car that Dean hugs. There's no need to talk. Sam saw what Dean did. But Dean thinks Sam knows what he means when he extends the hug, holding Sam just a little longer than strictly comfortable. He must understand because when Dean begins to tug away, Sam holds on.
They always hold on.
"Where's Cas?" Dean asks when Sam pulls away.
Sam nods off in the distance, back towards the city park where the final battle occurred.
"He said he was going to sit alone for awhile," Sam explains. "I think he was trying to make sure he wasn't, you know...intruding."
Dean appreciates the thought. It's been a long time since Dean's thought of Cas as an interloper, but he started this journey alone with Sam. It feels good to have a moment to celebrate its end alone together.
"They said they were going to stay the hell out of our lives," Dean tells Sam. "I'm done with them and they're done with you."
"Seriously?" Sam's shocked disbelief is written on his face. It's hard for either of them to really believe it's over. It's never easy to accept when you get the one thing you've wanted more than anything.
"Yep. Our contract is up. It's, uh...well, I have no idea what we're going to do now, but it sure as hell ain't gonna be working for fucking angels."
Sam snorts and the moment is so normal that it almost gives Dean a sense of vertigo. The world tipping from crazy fucked up back to the normal levels of messed up and for the first time, Dean wonders how he goes from the fate of the world resting on his shoulders to just being another guy.
"I saw them," Dean blurts, sudden and surprising. Sam's frown is one of confusion, so Dean clarifies. "The archangels. I saw their...you know, I got the real deal."
"How?" The word is drawn out, colored with amazement.
Dean shrugs. "Guess saving the world has privileges."
"What'd they look like?"
"Glow worms," Dean answers immediately because it's much too close to the surface to take seriously just now.
"Shut up," Sam says and he elbows Dean. It's so warm in his chest. He could sit there for hours, leaning against his car, pressed alongside his living and fully human brother. Maybe he will. He has all the time in the world now. Time stretches out in front of him, a path without signs. It feels good.
"Did you see Cas?"
Sam's question startles Dean. He hasn't seen Castiel since before Lucifer trapped Dean inside that bloody circle. The way Castiel had sounded when he cried out Dean's name, desperate and enraged, echoes in Dean's mind and he shakes himself.
"I haven't seen him in awhile," Dean says. Some part of his mind was always monitoring Cas though. Dean knows he would have felt it if Cas had died. He imagines it would have felt something like the pain that seared across his scar when the archangels wounded Castiel.
"No, I meant...Dean, I meant, did you see his real self?"
Sam sounds part exasperated, part nervous. Dean's stomach bottoms out. The thought hasn't even come close to his mind. It's been so long since Dean really thought of Castiel as an angel. Nothing has changed about Cas. His movements and facial expressions are as alien as ever, the sense of power Dean feels captured within Castiel's now empty vessel is still present, the way Castiel looks into Dean's heart and sees good hasn't ended. But Castiel has becomes such a permanent fixture in Dean's life. Something that Dean needs to feel normal. He isn't an angel. He's just Cas.
"Um, I mean, no, he wasn't one of those four," Dean mumbles.
"Do you want to?" Sam asks, gentle.
"I hadn't really thought about it." The words are tumbling out of Dean's mind, but his mind is far from them, away onto imagining how Cas must look. Would he still have blue eyes? Would he still be shorter than Dean or would his real self tower over Dean like Raphael had? Would Dean recognize him in the same way he did now?
"I think you should," Sam says quietly. "I think you deserve to know what he really is. After all this time and, you know...the way you feel about him."
Dean doesn't deny it. It would be stupid at this point and insulting to Sam. Dean's been in love with Castiel since Cas held him against a wall in a fake room and asked him a silent question. They've been waiting through the tension of the apocalypse, waiting till they could think of anything other than survival and revenge to be together. Dean never imagined he'd have the chance to confess his feelings to Castiel's true face.
"Yeah, maybe," he allows, thinking hard.
They sit in silence for a long time until Sam finally claps him on the shoulder.
"Dean, I just...um-" He cuts himself off with a self-deprecating smile. "You know...just thank you."
Dean jerks his head in a parody of a nod. Everything he's been carrying around, all the massive amounts of shit they've had to deal with, wells up and Dean is so close to crying that it rips pain into his throat.
"Yeah," he manages. He is not surprised when Sammy turns into him, pulls him into another hug. His own arms come up around his brother's waist and he lets Sam hold him up for awhile.
Sam is sniffing suspiciously when he eases out of the hug. "I'll be back at the room," he says. Dean doesn't protest when Sam climbs into his car. He'd rather ride off into the sunset with Cas anyway. He watches Sam drive away and though he feels a little stupid, he can't help the whisper that falls from his mouth.
"I did it, Dad."
Castiel is sitting on a bench underneath a gigantic tree when Dean finds him. Much like the car, Castiel is unchanged. Same stupid coat. Same messy hairstyle. He doesn't look up when Dean approaches, but Dean can tell that his gaze is as intense as ever. He must have battled as hard as Dean, but there isn't even a scrape on his skin or clothes.
"Hey," Dean says as he joins Castiel on the bench.
"So I saved the world," Dean says. For his effort, he earns a glimmer of amusement turning the corners of Castiel's mouth.
"Are you proud of me?"
Like with Sammy, a sense of normality settles over Dean like a warm blanket. This is what he wants now. He wants to bait and tease Castiel, wants to spend his life finding ways to draw those smiles Castiel only allows against his will.
"You must be relieved. I mean, a four year hunt. You must be tired," Dean comments and brushes the dirt off one knee.
"I don't feel fatigue," Castiel reminds him. "But I am relieved this is over. It's difficult to keep one Winchester alive, much less two."
A hundred memories flash through Dean's mind like a TV montage on crack. Every time Castiel saved Sam's life, every time he disregarded his own safety to make sure Dean wouldn't be left alone again. All of a sudden, it all wells again and Dean wonders if this is how Sammy felt when he thanked Dean. But words belong to Sam. Dean's never had the right ones, not really.
"I know, Dean."
Dean doesn't mind so much when Castiel reads his mind. But then, Castiel's always been Dean's favorite exception.
They are quiet for a time. The park in which they sit is destroyed, burnt and ragged, but Dean remembers how it looked before and he knows it'll take a lot of work to make it look that way again. He realizes then that this is what they now must do. They saved the world and now they would rebuild it.
As he watches, the ghostly beings he hadn't been giving attention finally start to fade away like the archangels did. It occurs to him that he might be losing the ability to safely see Castiel's true form and the thought spurns him into action.
"You know, I saw Raphael," he says lightly and finally turns to look at Castiel's face. He doesn't miss the flare of apprehension in Castiel's eyes.
"What did you think?" Cas asks carefully.
"I don't know," Dean says and it's the closest answer to the truth that he can get. "It was something else."
"Raphael is one of my most magnificent brothers," Castiel says. He meets Dean's eyes. The apprehension is still there, but it's drowning in other emotions that make Dean glad he is sitting down already. "You've been given a great honor."
"Sure," Dean says absently. "Look, Cas, you know I love you right?"
Castiel nods. "Yes."
Dean waits through the pause and when nothing happens, he sighs. "This is normally when people say whether it's mutual."
It's not that he needs the words, but he wants them.
"I've been yours for many years now. You know that," Castiel answers and it's so very like him that Dean can't resist reaching over to take his hand.
"Yeah, but it's nice to hear."
"It is," Castiel agrees and he threads his fingers in and around Dean's. Always finding a way to wrap himself around Dean. Giving himself completely to Dean. He's never had all of someone, not really. Nor has he belonged so fully to another. He wants so much, but most of all, now that he can, Dean wants to see Castiel. He wants to look as far into Castiel as Castiel has always been able to see into Dean. It's only fair.
"Cas, will you...?"
Sadness fills Castiel's face. "I wish you hadn't asked me that, Dean," he says, voice so soft that Dean has to lean forward to hear him. But that doesn't stop the words from hitting him hard in the chest.
"Why not?" Dean doesn't want to get angry at Castiel right now, but he wouldn't be surprised if he did. He's never met anyone as aggravating as Castiel.
"The way you think about me," Castiel says. He squeezes Dean's hand and looks at their entwined fingers. "I don't want to stop being your 'Cas'."
"And you think checking out your real form is going to do that?" Dean brings Castiel's hand to his mouth, kisses his fingers and somehow it makes sense that the first time he kisses Castiel isn't the way he thought it'd be.
"You know me better than that. You know how easy it is to change my mind," Dean says with a smile that isn't returned.
"I don't want you to fear me," Castiel confesses. He sounds so serious, so vulnerable and dejected that Dean can't make fun of him. And it's true that he once feared Castiel and Dean knows Cas still struggles with his guilt over threatening Dean early in their relationship. But that's all been forgiven and forgotten.
"I won't," Dean promises. "I couldn't. Not anymore." He knows Castiel would never hurt him, not for anything. Not even to save the world.
"I'm not saying I don't like this package," Dean continues and he lifts his free hand to cup Castiel's cheek. Castiel leans into his hand. "As matter of fact, I'm pretty damned anxious to get it somewhere private and unwrap it," he says with a leer. The skin under his hand warms and turns red.
"But you know, the first time we ever met, I was..." Stripped bare. Laid open. Worthless. "You've seen everything, Cas," he says around the lump in his throat. "I want that. I don't like you hiding from me."
Their eyes meet again and Dean doesn't back down. Castiel can stare with the best of them, but Dean's no slouch. He lets Castiel see how important this is to him.
"I'm not...Raphael is much more impressive," Castiel stutters and that's how Dean knows he's won.
"Yeah, well, I ain't in love with Raphael," Dean says. The fact that Castiel is even worrying about that is almost more endearing than Dean can handle. "Just promise me your brothers won't make me do bunch of random shit after I see you."
Castiel cocks his head, clearly confused and Dean laughs. He wonders if Castiel is thinking to himself that Dean is so confusing, the same way Dean thought to himself that Castiel can be so aggravating. In some ways, Dean thinks they love each other because everyone else is too easy.
"Never mind. Should I...stand up or something?"
Castiel shakes his head. "No, I will."
"Hey, what's going to happen to...?" Dean gestures vaguely to Castiel's human body, to the vessel that used to be Jimmy.
"This body is mine now," Castiel says. "When I take my true form, it'll be with me."
Dean doesn't really know what that means, but he lets it go. "Alright, I'm ready."
He's not really ready, but he can tell the ability to see Castiel is slipping through his fingers. The ghosts and spirits in the park are nearly gone. A few moments more and the chance will be gone forever. Or at least as long as Dean walks this Earth.
Castiel stands before him, letting Dean's hand fall away and takes a step back. His eyes shut and he turns his hands out as if receiving a message from above. The edges blur, his body becomes indistinct and a warm light begins to glow. Dean tries not to blink, but even so, he misses the moment that Castiel's human body disappears and his true form takes its place.
Dean can't breathe.
He is smaller than Raphael, but taller than Dean, taller even than Sam. His hair is honey brown and flows down over his shoulders. It looks so soft that Dean's fingers itch to reach out, to stroke and touch. He is clothed in a long robe, stunning white and over either shoulder, Dean sees a huge feathered wing. The wings are bigger than he remembers from the shadowy impression he saw the first time they met and they are not the same color black. Instead, they are a steel gray that Dean would have never imagined, a dense silver that Dean can't tear his eyes from for a very long time. Castiel waits patiently as Dean stares, flapping his wings several times to show Dean the way the feathers stretch and ripple with motion.
He is the most beautiful thing Dean's ever seen.
Like Raphael, Castiel's voice is more of an idea than a reality. Except this time, the sound resonates in his heart instead of his mind.
"Cas," Dean gasps. He struggles to his feet and lifts his hand, unsure of his welcome. For some reason, he can't help but worry that Castiel will disappear if Dean dares lays a hand on him. But like always, Castiel eases his fears by reaching out with one pale hand and taking Dean's. He brings Dean's hand to his face, presses Dean's palm against his cheek. His eyes are the same silver-gray as his wings and if Dean thought that he'd never see a more intense stare than Castiel's, he never realized what it would be like to look into Castiel's true gaze.
"Your eyes," Dean chokes out. He doesn't even know what he means to say, but Castiel obviously understands because he smiles and Dean thinks he sees the relief there.
"You like them," he says and it's not a question, but Dean answers anyway.
"I like everything."
Castiel leans into Dean's hand again and it's so much the same as his Cas in his silly trench coat that Dean has to swallow back a strange giddy sob.
"Can I touch, please, I wanna touch-"
He is babbling, he knows. Castiel takes charge of the situation, clasping Dean's hands in his own once more. Dean relaxes and lets Castiel guide his hands to the large wings now folded against his back.
They aren't like regular feathers. Not stiff and scratchy like bird feathers, but almost fluffy like down. When Dean's fingers slides over them, the feathers shiver and Castiels makes a sharp surprised noise in the back of his throat.
"What's it like?" Dean whispers as he moves closer, pressing against Castiel's body. He curls his fingers around a handful of feathers and strokes them. "What's it feel like when I do this?"
"No one," Castiel gasps. "Never before." It's just a few words, but Dean grasps the meaning and he feels such a surge of possessive joy that it nearly knocks him to the ground.
"Yes," he sighs. It's a connection deeper than Dean expected. More than romance, greater than friendship. This is Dean marking Castiel the way Castiel marked him. This is his scar on the shoulder.
Dean grips Castiel tight.
"Cas," Dean moans and he pulls Castiel down to him. Always finding a way to pull Castiel to his level, greedy and in love and he kisses him. One hand stays buried in Castiel's odd soft wings and the other plunges into his hair. Castiel's arms clamp around Dean's waist, frightening in their strength and Dean revels in it. Dean thinks he understands in a distant way that Castiel can't really respond to Dean in the same way in this form, but it doesn't stop Castiel from exploring Dean's mouth, tasting and teasing him until Dean is panting.
Around him, he sees the light fading. The power to see is slowly fading and Dean is surprised by the stark grief that fills his chest. He clutches at Castiel's wing and says goodbye with his fingers and his lips, sighing a quiet 'I love you' into Castiel's mouth.
Then Dean is kissing his familiar old Cas and his fingers are clenched around tan trench coat, threaded into short dark hair.
"Dean." Castiel's voice is gruff in his ear and Dean feels it in his heart just like before.
"Thank you," Dean mumbles into the kiss. "Thank you." Another kiss. "I love you."
Castiel's gentle laugh gets inside Dean, warms him from the inside out. "You're welcome."
"Told you I wouldn't be afraid," Dean can't help saying as he finally lets Castiel's mouth go. This isn't the place to continue as much as it physically hurts to stop kissing Castiel.
"Forgive me," Castiel says so seriously that Dean shakes him a little.
"It's ok. You can make it up to me later," Dean says and then it really hits him how true that is. "We have the rest of my life."
Castiel smiles and he's still the most beautiful thing Dean's ever seen.
"I look forward to it."
"Come on. Let's go."
Dean takes Castiel and together they walk out of the park onto their new path.