A/N: Hello there, fine reader! If you've read any of my stuff before, you know that I usually do pretty humorous fics. This is not one of those fics. There will be humorous moments, but this... this is a more serious story. It's set right after the season finale, and you saw that. It was damn sad. That being said, I make you a guarantee: things WILL end well. I'm not Kripke; I don't like sending my beloved characters to hell and back. That's why I write fanfiction, really - I like giving them the happy endings they can't have on the show.

Heh. Happy endings. Double entendre, eh? *wiggles eyebrows, then has decency to be ashamed of self*

It's Dean/Cas, all the way. Rated T; it should probably actually be M because of the f-bombs, but all the actions depicted are totally T, so I left it there. You guys can handle some swears, right? It's gonna be lots more chapters when it's done, though most will be shorter than this one. If you read this and you like it, please review. It'll tell me that people are reading and actually care what comes next. If you don't like it, please also review and let me know what bugged you, and I'll take it into consideration for future chapters. Please remember that this first chapter is pretty bleak, but things will get less messed up... eventually. Thanks, and on with the show.

When the apocalypse was said and done, and humanity was allowed to continue ruining itself in the same fashion it had for millennia, Castiel told Dean he was returning to heaven, and he meant it.

A part of him had wanted to stay. The earth was wretchedly beautiful – breathtaking and horrifying at the same time. Murderers lived beside mothers, new lives were born and others ended abruptly, and all its inhabitants were bound together in a metaphysical spiderweb of love and hate and grief and hope. In short, it was endlessly fascinating. If Castiel was honest with himself, he found one human in particular more fascinating than all the rest.

But he knew his place, and more importantly, he knew Dean's place: here, with Lisa and Ben, carving out a more typical existence for himself. No grand reward, no heavenly sidekick, just – a new beginning. Castiel had regained his ability to read unguarded emotions and thoughts when he'd been restored, and he'd seen the plans in Dean's head. For once, he'd understood Dean's reasoning.

Lisa wasn't Dean's soulmate. Ben wasn't Dean's son. But they could have been. If circumstances had been different, if Dean had been different, they could have fashioned a happy life together. Lisa was just his type: pretty, brunette, fun-loving, and kind. Ben was eerily similar to any son Dean could have hoped for: tough, bright, looked out for others first and had Dean's taste in music. If Dean had been the man he felt he was meant to be, they would have been the family he'd always wanted.

But instead, his mother had died in a horrible blaze, and his father had raised him on the road, and he'd grown up taking care of his baby brother, and he'd never stayed settled in one place long enough to marry a nice girl like Lisa, and so he'd ended up with a much different family than the nuclear threesome so often depicted in home furniture advertisements. Lisa wasn't Dean's soulmate; his real soulmate had been torn from him so completely, so permanently that even when Dean died and went to heaven, he'd be reliving his old happy memories alone. Ben wasn't Dean's son; the only child Dean had ever raised, doted on, taught how to be a man, and loved more than his own life was writhing in the pits of hell.

In Sam's absence, Dean had decided to make do with the next best thing, to build a new family in the ashes of his old one. Even though it paled in comparison, it was better than being alone. Castiel knew Dean would recover, someday. Human beings were easily damaged, but very resilient. They lost family members and loved ones every day, but they kept on surviving. Castiel knew Dean would survive this. It would simply take time and patience.

So when he found himself watching Lisa's house in the night, he wasn't sure what he was doing. He just had a nagging feeling, a gnawing sense that something was not right, that Dean was not alone. There was something following Dean, a dark presence he couldn't discern. Castiel felt that the memory of their temporary partnership alone was strong enough to warrant him warning Dean, telling Dean not to sink into complacency in his new life. Then he could return to heaven, his conscience clear.

However, when Castiel came to Lisa's house, silent and invisible in the dark, his heart lifted somewhat in the anticipation of seeing his comrade one last time. He wasn't foolish enough to think Dean would be glad to see him, but he wanted to see Dean. Make certain that he was truly alright, no matter what presence lurked in the shadows. Castiel stared at the house, peering beyond its physical foundations to see where Dean was.

At that moment, Dean stepped out onto the patio, sliding the glass door closed behind him. He was dressed in sweatpants and a dark green t-shirt; the night was warm and thick, and the shirt clung to his skin. Castiel was strangely absorbed by the sight, forgetting for a moment that he should appear and speak to Dean about the important reasons he had come up with for seeing Dean.

Dean padded out to the railing and stared out into the backyard, rubbing one hand over his mouth and jaw. His gaze was absent, faraway, like he wasn't seeing the backyard at all. He bent over, rested his forearms on the rail and suddenly – his entire body sagged, liked the weight of holding himself up had suddenly become too much. His shoulders hunched up to his ears and he sunk his face into his arms and shook, noiselessly.

Castiel knew with terrible certainty that Dean was not alright. Not in the least.


Dean had been kind of pissed at the way Castiel took off, but he wasn't pissed about the fact that he was gone. Because yeah, Dean figured he deserved a little more than a mid-sentence disappearing act like he usually got (because who was Cas anyway, the goddamn Batman? Give a dude a little freaking warning, especially considering the whole "we just ended the end of the world" thing), but such was the nature of their relationship.

It was your classic Breakfast Club scenario. They weren't the kind of guys who would be friends or even acknowledge each other under normal circumstances. Neither of them had wanted to work together (okay, maybe Cas had at first, pulled Dean out of hell and all, but he'd figured out what a belligerent bastard Dean was eventually) but circumstances had necessitated it. They had gritted their teeth and borne it, and realized that hey, this other guy ain't half bad after all, learned life lessons, discussed their virginities, etc, etc, banded together against the greater evil and somehow come out alive. Now detention was over, and even though they'd shared something no one else would ever understand, they had to go back to the real world now. And in the real world, they both knew they were going to pass each other in the hallway and not say a damn word. Or some shit like that.

So yeah, when Cas had fucked off while Dean wasn't looking one last time (the flying bastard, probably did it just to make up for all times he couldn't do it during his brief stint as a human), Dean knew he wouldn't ever see him again. And honestly, Dean really didn't care. There was a hole in his heart too big to mourn the loss of one measly angelic asshole. Half of Dean had been torn away, and the wound just kept on bleeding, and bleeding, and bleeding.

It had never been this bad before. Dean had grieved before. He'd watched his mother go in the ground, but he was too little to really understand the implications. It hadn't sunk in until he'd kept asking for Mommy, and she never came, and Daddy was there but it wasn't right, he wasn't Mommy. He'd been sad then, but it was so long ago, his fuzzy child-memories had smoothed over the rough patches of his pain.

And then Dad died. And that hurt like a motherfucker, but if Dean was honest, it wasn't so much that he was gone that hurt. The man had been gone for months at a time, a lot of those months right before he died. Dean had already learned to live without him. No, it was the knowledge that he was never coming back, and the fact that Dean was old enough to comprehend everything that that meant, coupled with the horrible burning guilt of knowing it was because of him that Dad would never come back. He'd been in pretty bad shape when Dad died.

And now Sam. Sam had died before, messed up Dean pretty well. And now he'd gone and died again, and this time he wasn't coming back, not ever, not for all eternity. It was un-fucking-just. For the last five years Sam had been Dean's right arm, his left leg, his shoulder to lean on when he got hurt, always ready with a gun and a steady aim, always nagging Dean to eat better and take care of himself and not have a deathwish and right now, it seemed like Sam had been some kind of sick sadistic bastard who had wanted Dean to live forever without him. And hell if the sadistic bastard hadn't made him promise. Made him promise not to break the cage or die trying, made him promise to go back to Lisa and live some cheap knock-off imitation of a normal life.

Dean kept his promise.

Lisa, God bless her, took him right in. No questions, no expectations of payment or reimbursement. She pulled out her futon and opened her and her son's home to Dean. He'd made some noises about getting a hotel, told her he didn't think he'd have the money to rent a decent place for some time, tried to hint that if she let him stay she'd never get rid of him. She'd brushed him off and asked him how he liked his coffee.

She was curious, he knew, about exactly what had happened, but it took awhile to work up the courage to tell the tale. He knew she deserved to know, but for the first couple days he was tight-lipped, tense and quiet, feeling like he was holding his intestines inside himself with his hands and he was one slip away from all his organs falling out and spilling on the floor. Then one night, she put Ben to bed, opened up some booze, and it all tumbled out in a wet, hiccupping, embarrassing flood.

Over the next few nights, he cried some more, just broke down and sobbed like a baby, and Lisa was comforting and patient with him, rubbing his back and just – just holding him like he hadn't been held since he was a kid. She understood what Dean needed and gave it to him without hesitation. Dean would have thanked God for her profusely if he and God weren't on such crappy terms. Instead, he did stuff around the house. Fixed a loose porch step, learned how to use the lawn mower properly (he still loved mowing, couldn't figure out why everyone hated it so much), did the dishes and trucked Ben around (which Ben frigging loved, and why wouldn't he? He thought Dean's car was awesome, and told him so, and damn if that didn't nearly get Dean's waterworks going again, but there was no friggin' way he was bursting into tears in front of a Little League team, so he held it together).

There was only one problem, and that was Dean's anger. He was so angry about Sam's death that he could scream sometimes; it would overtake him in the odd, quiet moments, pounding in his head and making his vision go black at the edges, and all he could do was clench his fists and breath in and out until he got it under control again. He didn't know what else to do with it. There was no goddamn way he could take it out on Lisa, he knew that for sure. In the old days, he would have hunted down some evil son of a bitch and killed it into next Tuesday, but that wasn't him now. Normal people didn't do that. Normal people got a stress ball and went to therapy.

There was no freaking way Dean was seeing a shrink. The stress ball was a toss-up.

At night, after Lisa went to sleep, Dean found himself taking an axe out of the back of the Impala (really, he needed to get rid of that shit but he just couldn't, an absurd part of him whispering that he might need it someday) and he hiked into a little grove nearby and hacked the shit out of this tree. The tree didn't deserve it, but Dean figured better a tree than a person, and he was pretty damn close to hacking up people. It was somewhat therapeutic, but it wasn't enough. Nothing could ever be enough when Sammy was still down there, jammed up nice and tight with the devil.

Tonight, he slipped out onto the patio to get some fresh air, half itching to get out that axe again and chop up another evil sapling, half wishing he smoked just so he'd have something to do. That's what I need, he thought, leaning up against the railing. I need a cigarette. I'm not hunting anymore, I should take up smoking.

Yeah, Lisa sure will appreciate that, Sam's voice answered in his head, unbidden. God, Dean, you want Ben to die of lung cancer? Seriously, you must have gotten concussed one too many times. Friggin' jerk.

And that did it. Something in Dean snapped, and he was suddenly bone-deep exhausted, and it was all he could do to keep standing. He ground his face into his arms, biting his lip and sobbing silently, trying to keep the rolling waves of grief under control because if he let them loose he wasn't sure they would ever stop.

He heard a soft noise on the patio, like a footstep. Lisa. He jerked himself upright, hastily wiped his face, and turned around.

Castiel stood there, staring with his sad blue eyes like he was the one with a fucking dead brother.

"What the hell do you want from me?" Dean hissed, trying to keep his voice down. Lisa and Ben were sleeping inside, after all. "Thought you were going back to the pie in the sky."

Cas didn't flinch, didn't blink. "I came to warn you, Dean. There is something nearby, watching you, a dark presence." He turned his head to gaze out into the night. "It doesn't seem malicious, but it's hiding itself. I can't make out exactly what it is. You should be cautious."

For some reason, that only pissed off Dean even more. "Well, thanks a million, buddy old pal. You don't know what it is, you don't know what it wants, you just thought you'd drop by and give me a little peace of mind. Guess what, doucheface? I don't do the hunting thing anymore." He realized he was getting loud and checked himself, just barely. "If Lisa and the kid weren't in there, sleeping," Dean growled, jerking his head towards the house, "I'd give you a real piece of my mind."

Lightning quick, Cas reached out his arm, and a familiar ground-dropping-out-from-underneath-him sensation gripped Dean's stomach, and they were in an empty motel room. One he recognized, one he'd stayed in before.

Cas stood there, stock still. "Then give it to me."

Dean was boiling mad now, fuming, and there was no reason to hold anything back. "Okay, you want me to give you a piece of my mind? Is that what you want?" he shouted. "For starters, if there's some 'dark presence' following me, why don't you just take care of it? You think you can drop into my life, drop some cryptic shit on me and fuck off again? It doesn't work that way, Cas, hasn't for a long time, and I am done fucking fighting. I'm done! So if that thing is bugging the hell out of you, go kill it yourself. Otherwise, let it come and get me."

"Stop lying," Cas replied in that gravelly monotone, face hard. "You're anxious for a fight. You're trying to start one with me, right now."

"I'm the one starting it? Oh, that's rich. You came to me, short bus." Bitter, hysterical laughter bubbled out of Dean, and he struggled to reign it back in, turning it into a snarl. "Stay out of my life, Cas! Stay out of my head, stay out of my dreams, and stay the hell out of my goddamn backyard!"

Cas cocked his head slightly. "It's not really your backyard, is it?"

That was it. Dean lunged at Cas with a wild noise and started pummeling him in the chest, too furious to care that it didn't move Cas an inch, that Cas was an angel forged of freaking steel. He just kept pounding and pounding, bloodying his knuckles on Cas's iron ribcage.

"Stop," Cas said calmly, as if Dean weren't actively attempting to destroy him. "You're hurting yourself."

"I don't care!" Dean rasped, and he was mortified to find his eyes blurring up. The physical pain was so much purer and rawer and cleaner than the infected ache in his heart. He could handle this kind of pain. This kind of pain was his old friend.

Then Cas snatched his wrists in a vise-like grip. "Stop." And then the pain was gone. The bloody knuckles were clean again, the skin unbroken. The goddamn bastard had healed Dean.

"So this is how it is?" Dean demanded, incredulous. "You can beat on me, but I'm not allowed to beat on you?"

Cas's eyes flashed cold and dark. In an instant, Dean was pinned up against the wall by his shoulders, Cas's face a hair's breadth away from his own. A chill ran up his spine. Oh yeah, Cas is full-on angel again. He can fuck me up good.

"I don't beat on you," Cas growled, sharp and dangerous, so close to Dean that he felt the rumble of his deep voice as much as heard it, felt hot breath on his face. "It was one time. You were being a reckless, ungrateful idiot and needed some sense talked into you. It's no fault of mine that violence is the only language you seem to understand." He held Dean's eyes with his own for a moment longer. "You provoked me, and I lost control. For that, I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

And maybe it was that promise, or threat, or whatever it was, sounding like a challenge; maybe it was the way Cas's body was pressed against his own, screwing with his brain. Maybe Dean had finally cracked. But in that moment, all he could think to do was kiss Cas. He figured Cas would flip out and let him go, fuck off without a word and let him be. So he jerked forward to close the inch gap between their lips and shoved his tongue down Cas's throat, forceful and violent, prepared for an outraged fist to the face.

He wasn't prepared for the way Cas moaned and pressed him tighter against the wall, kissing him back and sliding one leg between Dean's, rolling his hips and fuck if that didn't make Dean hard, more aroused than he'd been for weeks. Dean kissed brutally, angrily, using his teeth way more than necessary, and he groped Cas roughly, not sure how long it would take Cas to give up and go home and greedily trying to get the most out of the moment. Cas just groaned and panted, "Give me a piece of your mind, Dean." It wasn't until he bit Cas's neck, hard, hard enough to leave a mark, and saw it heal before his eyes, that he understood.

Cas was an angel. Cas could take it. Dean could take it all out on him.

So Dean did.