A/N: Okay, guys. I know it's been far too long since the last update on this fic, but I SWEAR my techie friend had been trying to post this chapter for DAYS, but for some reason ffnet just wasn't having it.
The first thing he was aware of was warmth. Mostly along his right side, but smoldering in his chest, too, like the ember of a fire not quite extinguished.
With great effort, Dean opened his eyes and tried to get his bearings. In a bed. Wood-panel walls. Cabin. The heat next to him Castiel.
Dean rolled his head and looked over at the angel. Castiel was out cold, curled on the bed with his back pressed to Dean's side. There was something more than sleep to his stillness, but Dean lay there long enough to see him breathing. That was a relief, at least.
Dean turned his attention to himself. He brought up a shaky hand and laid it on his chest. Fuck, it hurt in there. Next time he'd ask Castiel not to go in there with a fucking bear trap to fetch something he'd left. The feeling in his chest reminded Dean of the hellhounds ripping him to shreds, only this time without the signs of trauma or the lakes of blood. His torso wasn't actually ribboned, merely felt like it was.
But beyond the agonizing pain, he concentrated on how he felt. He felt like himself, mostly. He didn't feel whole, not entirely Dean Winchester, but he hadn't really felt intact since before Hell, so that wasn't really an unfamiliar sensation. Castiel had put him back together admirably, but the scars of Hell were impossible to ignore.
But this time there were definitely pieces missing… he felt their absence like a victim missed the flesh and organs blow away by an explosive round. Though honestly, the only time he'd felt anywhere near to complete in the last several years was while he had Castiel's grace within him, filling in the holes.
So in that respect, at least, he felt much like he had before he'd taken in Castiel's grace.
But he felt something else, too. Light. Warmth. Everywhere that he was dying, the light was patching the wound. It was still there… that sliver of Heaven. Just as Dean ached, the grace searched out the pain and soothed him. That amazing, unearthly bit of Castiel inside him healed him, just like Castiel had healed Dean. Every pain that harboring and returning the grace had cost him was worth it knowing that it was his now, Castiel's, but his. However long he lasted, it was with him for the rest of his life.
He shouldn't like that idea so much, but the plain truth was he did. Whether that made him inhuman or not, time would tell.
Releasing a huge sigh, Dean turned his head again to look at Castiel. The angel was oblivious, lost in his own healing process. When Dean felt fondness for the angel, the grace inside him swelled… it grew from an ember to a tiny flame. There was darkness in Dean, Hell-borne, and the fire beat it back.
Thinking the proximity thing might work the same for Cas, too, Dean rolled up on to his side, into Cas, and threw his arm over the angel. Dean's front pressed to Castiel's back, warm and solid. The grace in Dean was starting to rejoice at such close contact, celebrating softly at first with a joy steadily growing stronger.
He had no idea how long he'd been out, but the cabin seemed unchanged from before the extraction procedure, so he let that stand as evidence that they truly were safe. For the time being. He didn't know how long Castiel's healing would take, but Dean wasn't troubled by that, either. The war in Heaven was over, and they'd be greedy and take the time they needed, for there was no telling when the next crisis would snatch peace away from them.
Dean closed his eyes and fell back into the blackness of his own head. Black but for the diamond of angelic light buried inside him.
The angel needed more time to recover than Dean did… for Dean, it was just staunching the flow of blood from a ravaged soul. Castiel, on the other hand, had to rebuild himself. Watching the angel sleep was fun for all of ten minutes, then Dean started to get stir crazy.
He found himself out on the dock a lot. The fishing gear he'd dreamed wasn't there, but he pulled off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants, and let his feet dangle in the water.
He thought about everything. About what he was now, as a man with a permanent hunk of angel in him. Castiel had said inhuman, but that didn't really feel true. Or, at least, not the best way to describe it. He felt more superhuman… still human, only now even more than he'd been before. Or maybe that soft feeling of content and peace now inside him was normal, what normal people felt, and it took a piece of angel grace next to his heart for Dean to know what that was like.
He wondered how he would tell Bobby, because the old guy was like a father to him, and if this was who Dean now, for the rest of his life, then he had to tell Bobby the truth. Bobby had been ready to accept Dean if he loved another man… would he be just as supportive of Dean being more than just a man? Dean hoped so. Bobby hadn't turned Sam away, even when Sam was drinking demon blood, so why wouldn't he be okay with Dean having a little bit of a supernatural good thing in him? It made sense, but still Dean was a little nervous.
And what about Castiel? What did sharing pieces of their soul and grace make them? Friends… that seemed like a pitifully inadequate way to describe them. Brothers… not really. They both had too much grief caused by their brothers for that word to befit what Dean and Castiel were to one another. Lovers… no. Not in the physical sense, anyway. Did Dean love Cas? Sure. Hard not to feel more than friendly feelings for the guy who'd left a hunk of his grace inside you. But even before that, there was something indescribable when it came to him and Castiel. Dean sometimes thought he could remember snatches of his rescue from Hell… only pieces, but he dreamed sometimes of a tight grip, of the embodiment of ferocity and purity shielding him and protecting him… he remembered rest, for the first time in so long that he'd forgotten what it was to stop suffering. He knew that that respite so long awaited was because of Castiel.
Maybe soul mates would encompass their relationship best, but if Dean said that to anyone else, they wouldn't understand half of what Dean meant. How could anyone comprehend what it was like to know Castiel was close by because of the warm fuzzy puppies feeling in his chest? How could another human being ever understand what it was like to literally drop because his other part of him, on another plane of existence fighting angels, was dealt a vicious blow? Human beings had no language for that kind of connection for Dean to even begin to make them understand.
Who else would know what it was like to simply think the other's name and have that person appear on the wind with a flap of unseen wings?
Dean sucked in a breath and grinned when the feeling in his chest swelled five-fold.
The next second was heralded by the flutter of ethereal wings just behind his right shoulder.
"About time you woke up," Dean teased. He craned his neck around to look at Castiel. The change was remarkable. Castiel's eyes were alive, back to their brilliant, vibrant blue. His complexion was healthy again, no longer pale and ashen. He looked like he'd put on ten pounds, his bones no longer the defining lines of him. But it was his presence most of all. It was immense and overpowering and good. There was no trace of that surly, moody Castiel that had been overtaking the angel as the corruption of his grace slowly overwhelmed him. He looked like the Cas that Dean had grown to care for as something inexplicable, more than friends or mere colleagues.
But he was still barefoot, wearing jeans and a plain white shirt. Which was just about perfect.
"How are you doing?" Dean asked gently.
Castiel paused in thought, looked at Dean with his feet in the water, then moved to sit on the edge of the dock alongside him. Dean scooted over to give Cas room, grinning when Castiel methodically rolled up his pant legs and then dropped his feet into the water. He seemed fascinated by the sensation of the cool water on his naked feet a moment.
"I am much better," Castiel finally answered.
"I was able to save it. There is still some purifying to do, but my strength is growing every hour. I predict it won't be long before I'm back to my old self."
"That's great." Dean kicked, sending a small arc of water over the lake surface. Castiel stared at the ripples that resulted. "What about the bits of Dean Winchester in there?"
Castiel took a longer time to think about that answer. He seemed to be looking inward, searching for those very pieces and examining their fit.
"I thought their addition would be awkward or uncomfortable… that I would require a great deal of time getting use to the changes they had on me," Castiel finally said.
The angel looked truly baffled… or maybe astounded. "They feel natural as a part of me."
It might not have been intended as a compliment, but Dean felt a rush of warmth at that all the same.
Castiel cocked his head and glanced at Dean. He looked speculative.
"What?" Dean asked.
"I'm trying to understand how we blended in the first place. It shouldn't have happened."
All Dean had to offer was a shrug. Hell if he knew.
"I wonder if it is our fondness for each other that eroded the boundaries between us," Castiel mused. Dean made a face. He wasn't sure if he preferred 'fondness' or 'profound bond'. In quintessential Castiel fashion, the angel saw no taboo in addressing open affection between two dudes, and Dean realized he was so used to it from Castiel that he didn't even bother chastising him. "Perhaps the walls were primed to fall long before you harbored my grace." Castiel looked over thoughtfully at Dean. "Or maybe it's you."
"Yes… maybe your soul was never content to exist alone."
Which made Dean sound clingy and incapable of existing happily in isolation. Dean shifted uncomfortably because there was probably too much merit to that. "Yeah, well, what about you? I mean, your grace ends up in a human and settles down real damn quick."
The defensive rejoinder was lost on Castiel, who merely took Dean's words into consideration. "It wasn't prone to do so with just any human; I never tangled myself with Jimmy Novak." But even still, Castiel frowned in thought. "But when the human was you…" Dean was going to have to hold an intervention if this conversation got much girlier. "You may be right…" Castiel concluded, "we should consider the possibility that neither of us was designed to be without close companionship."
"Or, you know, we could not consider anything." Dean huffed out a breath. "Why can't it just be what it is, Cas? Why do we have to pick it apart?"
Cas frowned slightly and dropped his eyes to the water's surface around his ankles. He kept his mouth shut, but Dean could tell the angel was no where near finished analyzing their new coexistence. Whatever, as long as Cas kept the mushy sentiments to himself… if that was even possible. Time would tell just how much they would learn to read each other.
"So… what now?" Dean finally asked, breaking a comfortable silence that had fallen between them.
Castiel looked up and his expression hardened into determination and resolve that Dean knew all too well. "We devote our full attention and all our energies to our next mission."
Already, Dean was feeling resistant and weary. Couldn't they ever just stop and catch their breath? "Yeah, and what's that?"
Blue eyes met hazel-green, powerful and unrelenting. "Returning your brother's soul to its rightful place."
Dean's mouth dropped open. After this long, he'd all but given up on that. He hated to admit it to himself, but the cold hard facts had made it look pretty much impossible to fetch Sam's soul from Lucifer's cage.
To Dean's shocked look, Castiel continued, "When I was at war against Raphael and his followers, I could not spare any effort toward saving your brother. Despite what you thought, I regretted that deeply, but at the time there was nothing I could do to change it." Castiel's look lifted, filled with the flush of victory after a long and grueling fight (even if it still had some of that sorrow of having lost brothers and sisters). "But the war is over now… and I won't stop until Sam is returned to his former self." Castiel, the angel that marched into Hell and pulled Dean out, was bright in his eyes and strong in his presence. "You will have your brother back, Dean… if we have to move Heaven and Earth to do it."
And Castiel fucking could, that was the mind-blowing part.
For the first time in months, hope began to blossom in Dean. Hope for the perpetually damned Winchesters. His brother… Sammy. They could get him back. With an angel on his side, committed completely to the mission, Dean couldn't imagine how they could fail.
Dean began to grin and totally did not get misty-eyed in the least. He'd slug anyone who suggested otherwise.
"Thank you, Cas," Dean croaked.
Castiel brought up his arm and put it around Dean's shoulders. It wasn't stilted or uneasy like Castiel's forays into human gestures usually were, and Dean wondered if that would be one of his gifts to Castiel… comprehending the human need for physical contact. The necessity of basic comfort. If so, this sharing parts of themselves was going to kick so much ass.
Dean felt himself coming to life in a way he hadn't in ages. He felt decades younger. Stronger. He felt like himself again… like Dean Winchester going out to give the world a pounding for fucking with his little brother.
Only this time, he'd do it with an angel by his side.
Note from the techie friend: FanfictionDotNet is still having some kind of technical issues. I can't access the 'edit story properties' page to change the story status to 'completed', but please note that it IS COMPLETED. Fortunately, I found a workaround in one of the forums that finally allowed me to post this chapter because originally I couldn't access that either. Hopefully they'll have the 'edit story properties' page errors resolved soon. Enjoy!