A/N: This fic crosses Supernatural with His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I've only borrowed the concepts of the daemons from Mr. Pullman. I hope you enjoy!
Dean is only nine years old when his daemon settles. His father tells him he is proud of Dean's maturity, but Dean knows it's weird. There just isn't time to play anymore. One night Celeste changes into a wolf to sleep curled protectively around Astrid and when morning comes, she doesn't change again. When Sammy asks him why, Dean tells him it's because he's the big bad wolf and no one will ever mess with him now. It's not until years later that Dean realizes the real reason is because Astrid slept better with Celeste's hulking presence at her back.
It doesn't take Dean long to get used to Celeste's new look. Her bright white fur makes it easy to see her in the darkness of their numerous motel rooms, but it's ok because her dark green eyes and pointed ears alert him to anything hiding in the shadows. No one and more importantly, no creature can sneak up on Dean. It's easier to make new friends when they change schools because the other kids are fascinated by the huge shaggy wolf loping at his side.
Astrid also likes Celeste's new form. She likes to change into something small and light and ride around on Celeste's shoulders. Dean's never quite sure what he'll see in the morning when he rolls over towards Celeste and checks Astrid's latest form. Sparrow, bat, squirrel, cat, rabbit. Astrid's been them all and more. Sam's curiosity shows itself in Astrid's always changing form and Dean senses it when John begins to worry that Astrid won't ever settle.
Sam doesn't notice it though. He won't admit it, but Dean knows that Sam believes deep down in his heart that John cares more about his hunt than his kids. He can see how it begins to affect Sam and John's relationship, notices it when Astrid starts sleeping burrowed into Amanda's side less and less. Dean remembers a time when Astrid wouldn't allow herself to be taken away from their father's brindled boxer daemon for more than few moments. But by the time Sam is six years old, Astrid almost always ends up piled atop Celeste in their shared motel bed. Celeste doesn't mind having Astrid close by; she prefers it in fact. But things are awkward with Amanda and Astrid dancing around each other so cautiously. Especially during those years when Celeste still wanted to curl up next to Amanda's soft warmth half the time herself.
But whenever Sam needs him, Dean is there. And so is Celeste. Sometimes it's easy, like when Sammy wants something to eat and Dean has to make him another can of spaghettio's. Other times, it's much harder. Like when Astrid asks Celeste to talk about their mother's daemon. Dean isn't good with words and neither is Celeste, but they make an effort because Sammy deserves to remember.
"He was awesome," Celeste says when a five year old Sam asks for stories yet again. She changes herself into a doe, taking care to imitate the color as best she can and although it's a good likeness, Celeste isn't nearly elegant enough to do him justice. "Like this, you know? Only prettier and shorter. He used to jump into my bed with me and sit while Mary told Dean stories."
Astrid reaches up with cat's paws and pats Celeste on the side of the face. "Did he love me too?"
"Of course, dummy," Celeste says, nosing Astrid's paws. "Ethan loved everyone in the whole world, but us most of all. And Amanda too."
A cloud passes over Astrid's eyes. "Does Amanda miss Ethan as much as Daddy misses Mommy?," she whispers and Sam shifts in his chair, embarrassed by the question. Celeste changes into a beagle and Dean gathers her to his chest.
"Yeah," Dean answers. "Pastor Jim told me that sometimes when people fall in love, their daemons fall in love even harder."
"Why?" Sammy asks, wide-eyed.
Dean shrugs. "I guess because daemons aren't as good at hiding stuff," he says, but really he doesn't know the answer. He determines then and there not to ever fall in love because he doesn't want Celeste to be as sad as Amanda.
Sammy is almost fourteen when Astrid finally settles. John thinks it's because Sam doesn't want to grow up and face the life they lead. But Dean knows it's because Sam's mind works too hard. Astrid doesn't like the idea of being only one thing for the rest of her life. He doesn't blame Sam, but everyone has to settle sooner or later. When Sam asks Dean how it feels, he tells him honestly that he'll love whatever form his daemon chooses more than he ever imagined.
The next morning, Astrid hops down from Sam's bed as a red fox and never changes again.
Ghosts don't have daemons.
Dean thinks this is the scariest part of their job. Almost everything else they hunt has some form of daemon, even if it's a sick twisted version. Even demons have them because their hosts are still alive. But ghosts are dead and daemons always disappear when a person dies. When Dean is seven, he asks his father where daemons go when people die. John tells him that they go to heaven, but Dean can tell he doesn't really believe that. Dean doesn't believe in heaven either.
Seeing a ghost wandering helplessly, lost without their daemon, is awful. Their sightless eyes bear horrible pain and loss. It always reminds Dean of the time when he was eight and accidently got locked out of their motel without Celeste. Waiting for his father to return while Sam crouches beside him is one of the worst experiences of his life. Hearing Celeste scratch at the door and knowing he couldn't reach out to touch her felt like his heart is being ripped out of his chest. By the time John returned, Dean was curled into a tight panicked ball and Sam was sobbing hysterically. He doesn't want to go through that ever again and can't imagine how terrifying it must feel to be stuck like that forever.
Ghosts make Dean unspeakably sad and he is always the most satisfied when they put one to rest. Every time it happens, he always sits a little closer to Celeste's side on the ride back to their motel.
Dean's first kiss happens when he is fifteen years old. The girl's name is Blair and her goose daemon is named Aaron. Dean swears Blair is the prettiest girl he's ever seen with her shining black hair and dark blue eyes. Celeste thinks the same thing about Aaron and for two weeks solid, they do nothing, but talk to each other about the both of them. Sam threatens to punch Dean, but he doesn't care. Especially not when Blair lets Dean put his arms around her waist and press his lips against her mouth behind a school gymnasium in Phoenix, Arizona. The feeling of her firm wet lips makes Dean flush hotly and it just gets worse when he feels Celeste nuzzle the side of Aaron's neck.
Dean's not stupid. He's seen cable TV. He knows things always heat up when the daemons start touching each other, but it's so much more extreme than he realizes when he feels the light soft feathers of Aaron's wings brush and caress Celeste's fur. It sizzles up Dean's spine, making him feel electric with pleasure and when Celeste lets out a growl, Dean matches her with a moan against Blair's mouth.
It is only one kiss, but for the rest of their lives, Dean and Celeste show a distinct preference for daemons with wings.
Sam leaves them when he turns 18.
It's easily the worst day of Dean's life up to that point. It's bad enough that Sam, his Sammy, is leaving them. Celeste is beside herself, her voice deepening with distress as she begs Astrid to reconsider. But Sam is adamant. He didn't choose this life, he says. He wants something different, something stable. The kind of life where he can have his own home and maybe even his own kids who will grow up knowing their father loves them.
Dean won't ever forget the look on John's face. Angry isn't a strong enough word. Anger is the only way John knows how to show hurt and Sam's words hurt worse than just about anything, Dean reckons. John and Sam face each other across a room, both standing rigid with Dean helpless between them. They shout hurtful words back and forth, arrows that know their targets exactly. Amanda's fur bristles a dark line down her back and Astrid's tail hangs low between her legs as she growls continuously.
When John tells Sam not to come back if he walks out the door, Dean knows that's exactly what will happen. Sam turns on his heel and storms out without a second glance. Astrid follows, but she stops for the briefest moment and looks back. Not at Celeste, but at Dean. Their eyes meet for a split second and Dean sees Sam's devastation as clearly as if he'd written an essay about it.
Then her fluffy red tail whips around the corner and for the next four years, Dean only sees Sam twice.
Celeste cries herself to sleep that night, but Dean only stares at the ceiling, eyes dry and mind blank.
Amanda isn't the same after that. She was never an excitable daemon, but after Sam leaves them, she seems even more lost. Always ready during a hunt, of course, but despondent and unapproachable otherwise. John talks to Dean like nothing happened. He smiles and jokes as much as he ever did, but Dean can see his unhappiness in Amanda's slumping shoulders, in her tired green eyes.
John throws himself into his job, into his search for the yellow eyed demon with more fervor than ever before. Soon enough, Dean is given more responsibilities, is even sent on a few hunts by himself. It's not a conscious decision necessarily, but Dean starts to follow the letter of John's law with precision he never attempted previously. Not to show Sam up, but rather to relieve John's guilt about dragging his kids into this life. He shows John with his every move that this is a good life for Dean. That he excels at the job and wouldn't choose anything else for himself.
Dean is a hard worker and a devoted son, but John Winchester has two kids and Dean just isn't good enough to make up for the both of them. Whatever happiness John feels about Dean's decisions can't erase his pain over Sam's.
This is when Dean realizes for certain that John loves his kids.
He's just not sure if John loves them for who they are or because they are all that he has left of Mary.
Dean is twenty-three the first time he makes love.
It's not his first time having sex, of course. Dean is far too curious about the mysteries of sex to wait for very long, so his first time ever comes at sixteen. Her name is Catie and she is more cute than beautiful, but Dean doesn't care because she doesn't say no when he starts pushing his hand up her skirt in the basement of her parent's house. It's almost over before it starts because Celeste wants to be involved and Catie's not quite ready for that. This is when Dean learns that just because you are sharing your body with someone doesn't mean they want to share their daemon.
Dean is very careful after that and if it ever feels like there's something missing, Dean just buries it deep down and concentrates on his next conquest.
Then he meets Cassie and everything changes.
She's unlike any girl Dean's ever known. She's smart and confident and when they fight, it's even more fun than the sex he has with other girls. When he spots her sitting at a bar, stroking her fingers through her gorgeous swan daemon's feathers, he only means to add her to his list of one-night stands. Three weeks later, they are still together and Dean finally knows what's been missing. When he is with Cass, Celeste is just as welcome with Eric. It's not just sex anymore. It's love and it's real and for the first time in his life, Dean finds himself telling a girl everything.
Even after she breaks his heart, Dean dreams about her soft curves and full lips and long gentle feathers brushing over Celeste's fur.
It's three years before Dean really moves on and even then, sex isn't quite the same.
The first time Dean sees Sam after he left, Sam doesn't see Dean.
While John follows a weak lead on the yellow eyed demon, Dean gives himself the task of investigating some demonic activity that just happens to be very near the college Sam chose to attend. He tells himself he won't go near Sam. Celeste agrees. If Sam doesn't want to see them, they won't go near him.
It's not really Dean's fault that the trail of demonic activity leads him on campus. It's not like he can let some poor bastards get killed because Sammy's too much of a bitch to stay in contact with his family. Dean's not entirely sure where Sam lives anyway, so it's not like he'll have to work on avoiding him.
So, it's really really not his fault when he spies Sam coming out of the library in the late afternoon.
Actually, it's Celeste that sees him first, but she doesn't have to say anything to Dean. He can tell by the way she tenses up, by the mixed shot of excitement and dread that raises the fur on her back. Dean almost doesn't want to turn his head to look. He's not sure what he's more afraid to see, Sam miserable or Sam happy. He doesn't do cowardly very well though and so he turns.
His breath catches in his throat. Sam is walking along beside a few other kids. A short dark-haired guy with glasses and a monkey daemon crawling over his shoulders. A beefy jock type with a hilariously small sparrow daemon perched on his shoulders. And most of all, Dean figures, a hot chick with long blond hair and a pretty classy looking greyhound daemon trotting along at her heels.
He takes them all in an instant, and then his attention belongs only to Sam. Who is smiling and joking and...carefree. Perfectly at ease and apparently unaware that the 'accidental' death a few buildings over was no by means an accident.
"Astrid," Celeste whines. She trembles with the desire to bound over the nearby bushes to Sam's daemon, but she won't go. And neither will Dean.
Let Sam stay carefree. Dean has work to do.
Dean is 24 the first time he has sex with a guy.
He's never been comfortable with that part of himself, the part that sometimes notices guys the way he notices girls. He feels it first in middle school when he accidently develops a crush on this stupid little music geek named Brent. It's bad enough he feels this way about a guy; Dean is mortified that his crush is on a total dork. This isn't something he could ever live down, so Dean squashes his feelings as best he can and flirts more than ever with the football team's cheerleaders.
The pattern continues as he grows older. He always notices girls first, but at each new school, there's one boy that catches his attention. Usually, he is quiet or soulful or dorky and the ones that really occupy Dean's mind are all three at once. Dean never acts on it. Even when he's truly tempted, he just imagines what his father would think and walks the other way. He wonders, sometimes, if Sam can tell, but Sam never says anything and for that, Dean is extremely grateful.
After Cassie leaves him, Dean meets Alex on the campus of a college in Missouri. Dean is walking into the history department with a fake name ready to use on a professor interested in local legends. He knows John will bitch at him if Dean dawdles and he knows he'll probably regret finally giving into these frightening desires, but he is still hurting from Cassie and he just wants to feel good again. So, when he sees Alex coming out the building's front door, a calico curled up in his arms, Dean strikes up a conversation.
It's not love; probably wouldn't have been even if Dean had the time or desire for commitment. But Alex has a shy smile and big brown eyes and it's intense attraction. That's enough for Dean. They promise to meet up at a local bar and later that night, after the spirit's been laid to rest, Dean finds out how good it feels to relax and let someone else lead for once. Because Alex is quiet, but he's forceful in the bedroom and it's so exciting, Dean is almost ashamed of himself.
He doesn't go to bed with men very often after that, but every time he does, Dean remembers every detail in perfect clarity.
Dean sees Sam one more time before they start hunting together. This time around, it's completely unexpected and not a little awkward.
John sends Dean on ahead to investigate a strange disappearance in Bay City, Michigan while he ties up loose ends on a lengthy hunt in Kentucky. Dean takes half a day to annoy his way through most of the cops and half the residents in town with his faked FBI badge before he concludes that there's nothing particularly supernatural about this case. But he knows he has to wait for his dad to confirm, so he decides to spend his one free night getting drunk in a local bar and maybe finding some willing person to come back to his motel with him.
He chooses the bar with the most beat up sign hanging over its entrance and walks up to the hottest bartender, asking for a beer.
That's when he hears a familiar and very unexpected voice several feet down the bar from him request another round of shots. It's like a moment from a movie. Dean hears him, his head snaps to the side, then suddenly everyone standing in his way clears out, leaving him a perfect view of his stupid little brother.
"Sam?" he says without thought.
Sam's head snaps the same way Dean's does and he stares, unable to reconcile who he's seeing.
Dean gets to his feet and faces his brother, expression neutral and Sam follows his lead. To his dismay though, their daemons give them away. Celeste bounds up to Astrid and unceremoniously starts licking her face while Astrid squirms with pleasure. Through Celeste, Dean's senses fill up with Sammy Sammy Sammy. His throat closes off and he only just keeps himself from shutting his eyes against the deluge.
"What..." Sam falters as Celeste lifts a paw and flicks Astrid's ear the way she always used to when they were kids. "What are you doing here?" he tries again after a moment.
"Gotta hunt," Dean grunts. "You?"
"Spring break," Sam answers, shifting with discomfort. "My friend, Derek. He...His family's got this cabin on the lake and we came up here..."
"Yeah," Dean says and all he can think is that Sam has people in his life that Dean doesn't know. It's just wrong. They used to share everything and now there's so much about Sam's life, about Sam, that Dean just doesn't know.
"What kind of hunt?" Sam asks, his tone suddenly worried.
"The kind that's a bust," Dean offers, willing to put Sam at ease, but not to go into details. Sam's not the only person who can keep his life to himself.
They say nothing for another moment. Sam's eyes flick over the walls and they may have been apart for the last two years, but Dean can recognize when his brother is trying to think of something to say. He's seen it enough times when Sam tries talking to their father. It occurs to him then that he might as well be talking to a stranger, except for the way their daemons are huddled together on the floor, quietly relearning each other while the humans speak awkwardly. It's times like this when Dean envies his own daemon and her ability to communicate with touch.
"I thought all the cool kids went to Mexico for Spring break," Dean blurts, just to have something to say. "Not that you're cool," he adds, which manages to draw a little smile from Sam.
"That was last year," he says. Dean doesn't miss the hint of pride in his tone. He wonders if this is Sam's way of telling Dean that he can take care of himself, that he can make friends and travel and have a life all by himself. Even if it isn't, Dean gets a little pissed. That's not the point. Dean always knew Sam could be and do whatever he wanted. What he doesn't get is why Sam thinks he has to do it without his family.
"Well, that's just peachy, Sammy," Dean tosses off. He takes a swig of his beer and then slams it down. "Glad you're having all kinds of fun."
"Dean," Sam starts, impatience in his voice, but Dean just shakes his head. He doesn't want to hear it and quite frankly, he's already tired of this conversation.
"Never mind, Sam," he says before taking another gulp of his beer. Dragging up a crumpled five from his pocket, he lays it beside the half full container and kicks at Celeste's tail to get her attention. She doesn't want to leave, not really, but if they stay, it'll just end in a fight and Dean's not in the mood. "Look, Dad's coming in tomorrow morning. I'm guessing we'll be gone by tomorrow night, so I'd hang out at that cabin all day if I were you," he warns. "See ya around, Sammy," he says and turns to leave, Celeste trailing after him.
"Dean, wait," Sam calls after him, trotting up and grabbing his arm to turn him. Dean shrugs him off and glares. "Look, you don't have to leave. I know things are weird, but they don't have to be." Dean snorts. "No, seriously, man. It was Dad I had that fight with, not you."
"Yeah, but you walked out on both of us, so you know, I'm just trying to give you what you wanted," he says through clenched teeth. "A normal life doesn't include me."
When he turns to leave a second time, Sam doesn't stop him and Dean walks all the way back to his motel room alone, barely seeing anything along the way. His dad joins him the next morning and they are gone by nightfall. Dean doesn't tell John about Sam and it's another two years before his sees his brother again.
What happens at their next meeting changes both their lives forever.
It turns out the hot blond with the greyhound daemon is Sam's girlfriend, Jessica. Dean only meets her once before she ends up pinned to her bedroom ceiling, fire blossoming out around her broken body. As he drags Sam away from the bed, screaming his rage and grief, Dean sees her daemon explode in a shower of golden sparks and knows that Sam won't ever be the same again.
Dean always thought that Sam was nothing like their father. But he quickly realizes it's just because they always wanted two different things from life. When Jessica dies, Dean sees their father in Sam, in Sam's grief, in the way Astrid stares off into nothing and cries at night over the empty space beside her. He sees their father in Sam's relentless determination to find what killed Jess. It's Sam and it's John, so Dean doesn't question his decision to help Sam hunt down the bastard, but Dean secretly happy he broke things off with Cassie. This here, the way Sam looks and feels, this is why Dean always promised himself not to fall in love. He renews that childhood promise and throws himself into the hunt.
There's no time for love anyhow. Without their father there to make decisions, Dean and Sam stumble across bigger and scarier hunts than either have ever encountered. Through it all, Dean watches Sam sink further into himself, cutting himself off from the hurt and all he can do is keep the kid alive.
Then the dreams start and Dean knows he's way out of his league. He needs John's experience. He needs his support and most of all, Celeste needs Amanda's comforting presence. But John stays stubbornly hidden and Dean fumbles through dealing with Sam's growing problems.
When John finally shows up, he's dead less than a week later and it's literally Dean's fault.
When Dean realizes the deal that John's made on his behalf, he is angrier than he's ever been before. This isn't how it was supposed to end, not for John. Dean always knew John would go down fighting, go down killing something evil or protecting lives or both. Not like this, not by giving up and giving himself, offering himself right into the hands of the evil motherfucker that John's been hunting almost Dean's whole life. He is angry because John deserves better and because anger is easier than guilt.
When his mother's daemon puffs out of existence, Dean is running out of their home, clutching Sammy to his chest. When his father's daemon disappears, Dean is there to see Amanda's eyes turn to him one last time, to see her pain and her love and her end.
Weeks later, Dean finds out that John's suffering in hell and if there really is a heaven for daemons, it wouldn't matter because Amanda is simply gone. Celeste walks closer to Astrid; the two are inseparable because Dean and Sam can't talk about John without fighting and it is only through their daemons that they find comfort. Dean is no longer surprised when strangers assume that he and Sam are lovers. Celeste and Astrid always touch and for a solid year, Dean is poured into Sam and Sam into Dean.
So, it is with no regret or hesitation that Dean makes the exact same deal for Sam that John made for him.
It is Celeste's idea. Her eyes, ragged with grief, implore Dean as she crawls into his lap, all sixty pounds of her and begs him to save Astrid. She only has to ask once before Dean is heading to the crossroads. Celeste knows what she is asking him. It is Dean that will suffer when they die. But Dean doesn't care. He needs to protect Sam.
He needs Sam.
The deal is only a year and it's shitty and Dean feels nothing, but relief when it's settled.
Hell is the absence of God.
Daemons are a gift from God. Dean's heard the old sayings. Daemons are God's way of saying He loves us.
During his last year, Dean imagines hell as fire and brimstone and lava.
But hell isn't flame and burning flesh and physical torment.
Hell is being without Celeste.
After forty years of anguish and torture, Dean drags himself out of a shallow grave and finds Celeste staring down at him with wide eyes and a crimson mark streaked through the pure white fur on her shoulder.
In retrospect, Dean is glad they are alone because after his legs clear the dirt hole, he is on Celeste, kneeling in the broken grass and rocking her in his arms. There are questions, but they wait. For now, there is only the feeling of finding and being found.
Dean is scared out of his skull when he meets the love of his life.
There's plenty to be scared about just then. Some god-awful motherfucker's pulled him from hell, no doubt for some extremely evil and uncomfortable purpose. Said god-awful motherfucker's very presence is shaking the windows and roof nearly off the barn where he and Bobby are squatting. For the first time in his many deaths, Dean's about to be pulled apart and ripped to shreds without Sammy at his side and he's not ready to say goodbye to Celeste after endless years without her.
Then the doors blow open and he walks in and just like that, Dean knows whatever this is is more powerful than he ever imagined because only the truly powerful creatures can pull off looking that bored while strolling past protective symbols that should keep out anything Dean's ever known.
Dean's thought is confirmed when bullets pierce his body without so much as making him flinch and punctuated when Dean plunges Ruby's magic knife into his chest and the being just smirks before knocking Bobby out with just a touch of his fingers.
All this is not what truly terrifies Dean. It's that he does it without a daemon at his side.
He walks without a soul.
It's not like ghosts with their dead blank eyes and wispy incorporeal bodies. His eyes gleam with intent and his mouth speaks words that send icy waves down Dean's spine. He tells Dean he is the one who saved him from hell and that he is an angel of the Lord. Dean doesn't believe him for a second. If God were real, his angels would be beautiful with round smiling faces and golden blond hair and huge white wings sprouting off their backs. They would be accompanied by daemons of purest light like in all the images of angels painted by great masters.
They would not wear tattered trench coats or have dirty soot-colored wings or be without a familiar companion.
Angels don't have daemons, Castiel tells him. Daemons are made of emotion. They are God's gift to humans, a gift that angels don't share. He tells Dean this form is not his and the vessel's daemon sleeps with her human.
Dean doesn't really know what that means, but he doesn't like it. And he doesn't like when Castiel tells him that God had work for him. Castiel is just scary enough for Dean not to tell him to fuck off, but his stubborn silence must get the point across because a second later, the angel is gone and Dean is alone with Bobby unconscious on the floor. He desperately hopes he never sees Castiel again.
It's less than a year later that the same thought scares the fuck out of him.
Dean's never been as attracted to anyone as he is to Castiel. In many ways, he is exactly what Dean's always craved. Reserved, intense, nerdy as hell. Dean figures that if Castiel was a regular person and had gone to high school, he'd have been in something incredibly dorky and hot like Latin Club or Choir or Math-letes. He'd have been the boy that Dean followed around that year and when they left, like they always did, Dean would have been seriously depressed.
As it is, he feels a twinge of regret every time Castiel flaps away without so much as a goodbye.
But Castiel is not a person. The body he wears belongs to someone else and he is still empty to Dean. Celeste watches Castiel, regret and sadness in her gaze because she likes Castiel as much as Dean does, but she can't touch him. Won't touch him. No one's ever touched Celeste, not even Sam and so she can't understand Castiel. She can't feel him.
Not that they could really ever have anything, since Castiel is a freaking angel, of course. Even if it weren't six kinds of wrong, Castiel says he doesn't have any feelings. At least not feelings outside of love for God and a desire to serve. Dean believes him because he's got too much to worry about with Sam's descent into darkness and besides, why would an angel lie?
Eight months after they meet, Dean stands with Castiel in a room and watches Castiel turn his back on everything he's ever known, on Heaven itself, to ally himself with Dean.
That's when he learns angels can lie. Even to themselves.
The apocalypse never happens. At least not in Dean's lifetime. Lucifer does rise, but it doesn't end the world.
Dean's not disappointed, of course, but after weeks of battle and sleeping where he falls with his arms curled around Celeste, it is somewhat anticlimactic when a group of angels so powerful they don't have a word for them swoop down and throw Lucifer straight back into hell.
Throughout those last months, Dean goes back and forth between worrying about Sam and about Castiel. Sam, who sunk into the emptiness of guilt and became consumed with killing enough demons to make up for his role in bringing the battle to Earth. And Castiel, who is so injured during his lonely fight against the archangels that he can't use his powers for days. Dean forces Castiel to stay with them, in sight, where Dean can protect him. When Sam learns what Castiel has done, he becomes just as protective.
Dean stops pretending that his feelings are just a crush. But he never says anything to Castiel. He never tempts him into falling, tries not to allow his feelings near the surface when Castiel is around to pick up on them. It is hard sometimes though, like when Castiel falls asleep next to Dean, his forehead resting against Dean's collarbone or when Castiel shouts out to draw away the attention of four demons that surround Sam.
Castiel stops pretending he doesn't have feelings. But he never says anything to Dean. Words aren't necessary when his actions speak so very loudly.
One night, near the end of the battles, Celeste lays her head on Dean's stomach and growls contentedly when Dean strokes his fingers over Castiel's mark over her shoulder.
"I wish I could love him," she whispers and sadness weighs on Dean. He is doomed surely. There is no moving on from this and if Dean survives the war, he will end his days alone.
He is in love with Castiel and Celeste is not.
During the final battle, Dean and Castiel are separated. He doesn't have time to worry about him though, as demon after demon attacks. At least Sam manages to stay by Dean's side and it is how he imagined they would die. Like how he imagined John would die. Fighting evil. Side by side with his brother. Celeste and Astrid shine brightly against the muck and the blood and the dead bodies as they strike and kill possessed daemons. Gold sparks catch Dean's eyes, tugging at his gaze time and again as more and more daemons perish.
His last glimpse of Castiel before it's all over is of the angel coming face to face with Zachariah. His stomach clenches and a burly black-haired demon nearly succeeds in gutting Dean in his distraction. Somehow, he knows he won't see Castiel again and it hurts worse than he could have ever imagined. He throws himself into the fray, rage fueling his killing instincts and even Sam's eyes widen at Dean's wrath. Astrid tries to touch Celeste, to calm and steady, but Celeste shakes her off. They are soldiers, avenging warriors and they will kill as many demons as it takes to make up for Castiel's demise and they will know it's never enough.
When it's all said and done, Dean figures he shouldn't have underestimated Zachariah's lack of understanding.
The battlefield is littered with corpses. The entire western half of Illinois is gone. Thousands have died and Dean is searching desperately through the wreckage for a glimpse of a familiar trench coat. Sam is beside him, wordlessly helping. Dean knows he is being unreasonable. It is a miracle that he and Sam survived. But he won't stop until he sees a body and knows for certain.
"Dean!" Astrid calls out, spots him first. Before Dean can see where she is looking, Celeste is galloping away. He runs after her, trusting and she leads him to where Castiel lays under a bowed, but not quite broken oak tree. His trench coat is closed around him, as if someone had wrapped him in it.
"Castiel?" Dean gasps out. Castiel doesn't open his eyes and Dean's heart stops. It's really true, he's really gone, but before Dean can react, can even think to react, Castiel's coat stirs. Sam and Astrid arrive at their side, staring. Castiel's coat wiggles more.
"What in the world," Sam murmurs.
Celeste's body turns rigid and her breath stutters in her throat as the edge of Castiel's coat falls away to reveal a snow white dove.
Confusion muddles Dean's already tired mind. He can't decide why Castiel's corpse is being watched over by a bird, but then Celeste lets out a quivery growl and Dean instantly gets it. His confusion is blown away by amazement and relief so powerful, it brings him to his knees.
"Oh Dean, oh...oh she's so beautiful," Celeste moans.
Dean watches his daemon fall in love.
The dove cocks her head at Celeste and hops across Castiel's stomach.
"Celeste?" she coos deeply.
The empty spaces fill in. This is Castiel's soul and she is new and strong and gorgeous. But it isn't what Dean wanted, not if it meant that Castiel couldn't be an angel anymore. He reaches out and shakes Castiel's shoulders.
"Hey, wake up," he says, gentle, but urgent. Castiel's eyes open and he stares blankly into the branches overhead. "Cas?"
"Dean," he says to the branches, then finally turns to look at him. "What happened?"
"You...I don't know exactly," he says, hating himself for how shaky his voice sounds. "Your...I think you lost your grace," he whispers and looks down. It's the first time Castiel notices the bird, the daemon, on his belly.
"Hello," he says simply. They contemplate each other and it was almost funny how calm they are, though Dean didn't feel like laughing.
"Hello, Castiel," his daemon says.
"I remember now," Castiel says. Sam helps Castiel sit up and they all listen with horror as Castiel explains how he fought with Zachariah, how he wasn't strong enough to defeat him and how Zachariah wanted to do more than end Castiel's life. He wanted to punish him for his insolence. He wanted to punish Castiel by allowing him to live and know exactly what he'd lost. He'd torn Castiel's grace from his body, leaving him a shell and sent him down, trapping him in Jimmy Novak's body while allowing Jimmy to finally go home. Castiel can't remember how he went from an empty body to a person with a daemon.
For the first time in his life, Dean really truly believes in God.
"Cas," Dean says, hands shuddering with the desire to touch Castiel. "I'm so sorry, man. I can't believe that bastard took your grace."
Castiel stretches one finger towards the dove, mouth parting in surprised pleasure as he strokes the soft feathers of her head. "But what I have now," he says, voice choked. His hands cup around the dove's body and he lifts her to his face, nuzzles her. "My own Grace."
Celeste whines softly, drawing Castiel's attention and he offers Grace to her. Sam's abruptly leaves with a simple pat to Dean's shoulder and that's how he knows this will be a significant moment. Sam always picked up on those so much easier than Dean.
When Grace's feathers touch Celeste's fur, a cascade of hot shivers shudders down Dean's body and he sighs, murmuring nonsense words. He is touching Castiel, truly touching him, touching love, feeling love and it's never been like this with anyone else. This is why Amanda was never the same after Ethan and why Dean will never be the same and without thinking, he reaches out and rubs the back of his knuckles across Grace's left wing. It's more than intimacy, closer than familiar, deeper than claiming. Castiel gasps, blindly reaching out to bury his fingers in Celeste's fur.
Dean pouring in Castiel and Castiel pouring into Dean.
When Dean is 31, he breaks his childhood promise not to fall in love and he never once regrets it.