There are four people waiting for him when he tumbles through the mirror, but he's only seen two of them before. DeAnna and Samantha peer at him with wide eyes. They stand between two other women. One is older, in her mid to late-50s with a strong jaw, dark hair and hazel eyes. The woman on the other side is tall, black-haired and gazing at him with oh-so-familiar crazy blue eyes.
If Dean isn't very much mistaken, he's looking at the female versions of himself, his father and Jimmy Novak.
Oh god, this Castiel is even more epically hot than the blond woman. It's not the generous curves or the soft waves of black hair falling around her face or the hilariously adorable short female version of Castiel's trench coat. It's those eyes. The exact same curious eyes Dean sees in his Castiel's face and he must be a sucker for blue eyes because without the hang-ups Dean's finally learning to drop, he would have been fucking this version of Castiel before he knew he could even trust her. His heart squeezes. All that time wasted.
Goddamn, he misses Castiel.
"I said, hey!"
DeAnna's voice finally penetrates Dean's mind. He tears his gaze off Castiel to meet DeAnna's annoyed gaze. Clearly, she's not happy with the way Dean's ogling her girlfriend.
"Sorry," he grunts.
"Who are you?" DeAnna asks, probably for the second or third time.
She's caresses the gun at her side, but not yet pointing it at Dean. Probably because Castiel hasn't made a move. Dean's...mother? His Dad mom. Whatever she is, she takes a step forward to be in front of DeAnna. Dean smiles. Yes, that's his father.
"My name is Dean Winchester. I'm you from another world. A world with a greater distribution of dick in my family, apparently."
"What's that supposed to mean?" his Dad mom asks.
"My parents were John and Mary Winchester and they had me and my brother Sam," Dean says with a nod in Samantha's direction.
His Dad mom draws her gun and points it at Dean's chest. Dean doesn't move. He's not really afraid this woman will shoot him. Not with Castiel here. But he doesn't want to spook her and if he knows anything about his father, it's that John Winchester didn't trust anything easily.
"Do I shoot it, Cas?" she asks.
"I wouldn't advise it," Castiel answers in a predictably low sexy voice that send chills up Dean's spine. "He carries a mark similar to the one I gave you."
Gave her? Dean's eyes dart between them. Confusion flickers in Dad mom's eyes, but the tension eases out of her body and she lowers the gun. Castiel shows nothing more than intense curiosity. DeAnna and Sam both gape at him.
Huh. A world where John ended up being the righteous man after all. Dean wonders how this must have changed the relationship between DeAnna and Castiel. Without that special connection, had Castiel managed to worm her way past DeAnna's defenses the way Castiel had his?
"I can only imagine he tells the truth," Castiel continues.
"Well, damn," his Dad mom says. She shoves the gun back in its holster. "I gotta say, I was hoping I wouldn't have to shoot you. You look too much like my kid."
"I'm glad you didn't either, but uh...for a different reason," Dean answers. "What the hell do I call you?"
She snorts. "Kinda hard to imagine myself as a man. You can call me Jane."
Jane Winchester. That tickles Dean. He wishes John were still alive back home. He'd get a kick out of this story. Or at least Dean would get a kick out of telling it.
"What happened to you?" DeAnna pipes up. "I mean, why'd you get Cas' mark instead of...whatever, your dad?"
Definite jealousy underlines DeAnna's tone and Castiel flicks a glance in her direction, one so brief that Dean nearly misses it. The second she sees Dean watching her, she snaps her attention back to him, her expression turning wooden. Like defenses slamming shut. He blinks. What the hell is going on here?
"Dad didn't break," he says bluntly. "I did. So here I am, with Cas' mojo stuck in me."
His words ripple shock through the group, but each one quickly recovers. Dean can only imagine they've had the same experience taking blows as he has. However, he does notice Castiel move closer to DeAnna, as if she'd heard that something terrible happened to DeAnna instead of her counterpart.
Jane and Sam don't appear to see it.
Suspicion grows in Dean's mind. Something's off here. The way DeAnna and Castiel look everywhere except at each other, yet are clearly drawn to the other's side. DeAnna's jealousy of Jane for Castiel's mark. Not to mention her irritation at Dean's gawking. Okay, so maybe they aren't together yet. But why is Castiel trying so hard to hide her feelings? His Castiel still hasn't learned how to hide his feelings.
"My other self obviously didn't realize what he was doing," Jane says.
Her tone is not unkind and Dean understands what she means, but it doesn't stop him from feeling defensive. John couldn't have known what he was doing and Dean would never change that it happened to him instead of someone else. He opens his mouth to say as much when it hits him.
John would have never understand Dean's feelings for Castiel. The Dean who hadn't gone on this mirror journey would never have felt brave enough to tell his father that he'd fallen in love with a man. It doesn't matter that Castiel isn't technically a man. It doesn't matter that Dean loves Castiel as much as John loved Mary. John wouldn't have understood and Dean wouldn't have wanted to disappointed him. He can so easily imagine it. His heart beating faster each time John caught him staring at Castiel. Dreaming of Castiel only to wake up with the certainty his fantasies are written on his face. Unconsciously teaching Castiel to avoid drawing attention to his obvious preference for Dean.
Then there's the Dean he is now. The one that's traveled through a dozen worlds and learned nothing matters more than being happy. Dean won't forget other Dean's warnings that he won't like the looks people give him and Castiel. And he's never going to be a poster child for Gay Pride.
But the message remains. Nothing matters more than being happy. Than being with someone who loves you for exactly who and what you are.
"I guess not," Dean says.
He smiles. His heart and mind are both clear.
"Look, I gotta go. My family is waiting for me in my own world." He looks at DeAnna. "Hey, if you love her, go for it. She's right there," he says, nodding to Castiel. "You have no idea how huge that is. Nothing else matters."
Without waiting a reply, Dean touches the mirror once again.
Dean never thought he'd dislike having Castiel's hungry eyes on his face. When Dean pops into the next new world, he sees other Dean on his knees kissing at Castiel's stomach and slowly unzipping his pants. The shock on Castiel's face quickly turns to an eager sort of desire. Normally Castiel's pants hanging open and his underwear pulled down enough to show off gorgeous sharp hipbones would pool heat in Dean's belly. But the look in Castiel's eyes ruins the effect.
"Oh wow, um...sorry, I'll just go-"
Other Dean sits back on his thighs and wipes at his mouth, watching in bemusement as Castiel pulls his pants back into place and surges into Dean's personal space. His confusion deepens into anxious worry when he sees his copy standing beside the mirror.
"You are Dean Winchester," Castiel says happily. "Not my precise Dean Winchester, but another."
"Yeah." Dean edges away from Castiel and his manic joy. "I'm looking for my world and uh, yeah, this obviously isn't it, so I'll-"
"You can't go."
His joy flattens into the dark commanding tone Dean often wants to obey without thought. But not this time. The only reason Dean doesn't escape right then is because Castiel's hands clamp around his elbows and he holds Dean in place with frightening strength. Over his shoulder, Dean sees other Dean's worry exchange for sadness he doesn't understand. He tries not to sigh. Fatigue drags at Dean. He needs sleep, not this mess.
"You're the solution. It's perfect."
"Solution to what?" Dean asks in a calm reasonable tone because you speak softly to crazy people. Only Castiel's never been crazy before. Not even the unhinged future version of Castiel from 2014 was crazy. The fervor in this Castiel's stark blue eyes scares the shit out of Dean.
"We need our third," Castiel explains. "But I don't want any of the other humans. They disgust me. The idea is intolerable. But Dean needs his second." He reaches up to touch Dean's face. "You could make us both happy."
Whoa. Dean's too freaked to move as Castiel traces the curve of his cheek with trembling fingers. He's gotten tossed into some kind of...threesome universe? With a disturbing version of Castiel who's willing to kidnap people and a sad meek Dean who's curled into a ball on the floor as his boyfriend propositions another man.
"Please," Castiel pleads quietly. "People are starting to ask questions. Sam keeps trying to send us on dates with strange humans. He and Sarah and Jess won't stop worrying."
Not a good time to snort, but wow, Sam hit the jackpot in this world.
"Right, uh. Are you sure he wants that?" Dean asks, nodding to other Dean hugging his knees to his chest.
"Of course. All humans require two partners," Castiel says without hesitation.
"They don't," other Dean whispers.
"You must..." Castiel trails off when other Dean's words finally penetrate his mind. To his credit, he immediately releases Dean to kneel by other Dean's side. "What are you talking about?"
Dean wonders what made this other Dean so shy. It's difficult to watch. He can barely get the words out to murmur softly to Castiel. Dean catches a few here and there. '...weirds me out' and 'please don't' and 'only you.' Speaking of being weirded out. Dean really doesn't like this world.
He backs away until his back hits the mirror. The electric zing that signals traveling curls around his body, a brief twinge of pain and then Dean is falling backwards into a pair of warm strong arms. A familiar spicy scent fills his nostrils and Dean relaxes. Even if he's in the wrong world, he's home for a moment.
A shaky intake of breath, Castiel's arms wrapping around Dean's front, holding him so safe and close.
"Dean," he sighs, voice wrecked and oddly, full of tears. "You're here."
Hope explodes in Dean's chest. Oh god, could he really be home? Back with his own Castiel? There's a part of him that wants to stay like this forever. In Castiel's arms, hope not yet destroyed again. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply, memorizing everything he senses. Castiel's long slender fingers clutching Dean's shirt into his fist. His hot breath puffing against Dean's neck, drawing goosebumps across every inch of his skin. The way Castiel rolls his hips against Dean's, settling the curve of his groin against Dean's ass.
But another voice echoes through the doorway, breaking the moment.
"Cas? What's...oh my god."
Dean reluctantly pulls away from Castiel and turns. Sam stands in the doorway, wide eyes glued to Dean's face. He gets a sinking feeling. There's fear in Sam's eyes. Fear and panic and nothing makes sense. Dean doesn't want to look at Castiel, but he can't help himself. His eyes turn to Castiel's face and he can almost hear his heart breaking.
He's never seen such devastated grief in his life.
"How are you here?" Castiel asks wonderingly. "You're dead."
"What's going on, Cas? What is this?"
Sam's in the room and pulling Castiel against his side before Dean registers his movement. Details Dean had missed in those first moments filter into his brain. Castiel wears his trench coat, but the blue suit has been replaced with a pair of dusty blue jeans and a white t-shirt under a green button-down Dean recognizes from his own wardrobe. His hair is flat and messy as though he'd slept on it. But Castiel isn't supposed to sleep. Not if he's still angelic.
"Are you human?" Dean blurts.
"What are you?" Sam demands, stepping around Castiel to hide him partially from view. The innate protectiveness of the action is almost enough to make Dean smile. But the growing anger on Sam's face stops him. Dean knows better than to provoke Sam when he's pissed and confused.
"I'm Dean, I swear. I'm from another dimension." At Sam's incredulous snort, Dean holds up his hands and nods. "Look, I know it sounds crazy, but I swear to god, I came here through that mirror. I'm just trying to get back home."
"Stop it, Sam," Castiel says. He lays calming hand on Sam's shoulder and Sam instantly relaxes, practically melts at the touch. "I can see he's telling the truth. There's enough grace in me for that if nothing else."
Well that answers one of Deans questions. Not entirely human, but almost there. Unfortunately, that doesn't even begin to cover the whole story.
"The truth? You mean...I don't understand," Sam says weakly. "It's really Dean?"
Something's wrong. There's so much broken in this world. While Castiel's eyes shine with joy, there's a depth of hurt in Sam's that Dean can't stand seeing. A smile turns up the corners of his mouth, but Dean knows it's not real.
"Dean, I can't believe it," he murmurs.
He should leave. Too many undercurrents Dean doesn't understand in this world; he's bound to screw something up. Except...the happiness on Castiel's face tugs at Dean. His grief lingers, but the pleasure is very real. Dean can't imagine stealing it from him by leaving this Castiel to his pain without at least trying to help. His exhaustion weighs heavier than ever and suddenly, Dean understands. Maybe he's not really getting a message from anyone, but he knows without a doubt he needs to stay in this world. At least until he can sort out what's happening.
"Yeah, it's really me. Um, look...I know it's a lot to ask, but I've been going through these worlds for I don't know how long. Would be alright...could I catch a nap at your motel?"
Castiel leaps forward and grabs one of Dean's hands.
"Of course. Yes, of course you can," he says eagerly.
Please don't let this be a mistake, Dean thinks as he lets Castiel lead him out of the room, Sam's narrowed eyes following them every step of the way.
"If we'd known you...well, of course, we couldn't have known," Castiel babbles, sweeping a pile of fast food trash off the table in their motel room. "We would have cleaned up more."
The room is the same Dean and Sam were sharing in his world. One bed is neatly made like Sam always does it in the mornings. The other is a disaster, the blanket skewed almost sideways. A wall of pillows line the center, obviously so Castiel won't feel alone in the bed. Dean winces. God, he had no idea he held the power to so completely destroy someone.
"Hey, don't worry about it," Dean says, his voice a gentle tone he's never heard from his own mouth before. "Looks way better than I would have it."
"Yes, I remember," Castiel says fondly.
Sam stalks into the room behind them and plops down in a chair.
"Are you hungry?"
"Not really," Dean answers.
His attention fixes on Sam. Dean recognizes that expression. The pursed lips. The refusal to look up. The flared nostrils. Sam is seriously pissed at someone and Dean strongly suspects he's that person. Irritation bites at Dean. Okay, so Dean's here stirring up shit, but Castiel's clearly not healed. Maybe he needs to say goodbye. Maybe there's some stuff he never got to tell the other Dean. Hell, maybe Castiel just needs to give Dean one good punch for leaving him. Anything to get some closure. And even if it doesn't work, Dean can't help that the universe dumped him here. There's no reason for Sam to be that angry.
"Right, well, then you probably want to rest," Castiel says, walking to his bed to straighten the covers. "You can use this bed. We'll just let you have some quiet. Unless...unless you'd like some company?" he asks so hopefully that Dean's already thoroughly battered heart squeezes in his chest.
He means to tell Castiel he'd never refuse him anything, but Sam jumps from his seat, snagging their attention.
"Are you fucking kidding me, Cas?" he demands. "This isn't our Dean. God, Cas, you were just starting to get over him and now you're acting like he's back from the grave?"
"Hey," Dean says, frowning.
"Fuck you," Sam spits. "You were already here. You're always here, man. Why couldn't you have just moved along?"
There's no chance to answer. Sam pushes past him and out of the room, slamming the door on his way out. Worry springs to Castiel's expression and he's at the door in an instant, tugging it open to shout down the hall. "Sam! Sam, don't, please."
Dean catches Castiel's arm before he can follow Sam. "What's going on here?"
"I don't know," Castiel says, honestly confused. "I need to go talk to him. He's been in such pain since you died."
"Well, forgive me if I disagree," Dean says. "He doesn't need comfort. He needs a good kick in the pants."
"Hey, you trust me, right?"
The worry doesn't exactly fade, but it does ease under the glow of such profound love Dean forgets where he is for a moment. He captures Castiel's face between two hands and presses their foreheads together. Castiel's hands settle on his hips.
"Yes," Castiel says on a deep exhale.
"I don't know what the hell is going here, but I'm going to fix it, okay?" A stupid thing to say, an impossible promise. But Dean hears love makes people stupid. "And then I'm going to take a fucking well-deserved nap and you're going to stay with me."
"Okay," Castiel agrees quietly. "Please help him, Dean. I can't lose him too."
The words knock around in Dean's brain, touching on something he can't quite understand yet. He tucks it away for later. Right now, he's got a brother to fix.
"Wait for me."
Dean finds Sam in the parking lot, sitting on the ground on the far side of the Impala. His arms loop around the knees drawn against his chest. The moment he sees Dean, he tenses and looks away.
"I'm sorry," he mumbles.
"I know," Dean says.
Settling on the ground beside him, Dean leans against the car, his baby's smooth metal still warm from the ride over. Sam's breath hitches in his lungs.
"No, you don't. God, Dean, you have no idea."
The edge of panic Dean saw in Sam earlier returns to his tone and Dean wonders if he can get Sam to talk before he runs. These two must have been holding on by a thread. There's no telling when they would have snapped. He feels a bolt of irrational anger at the other Dean for dying.
"I don't know how it happened here, Sammy, but I know exactly what it's like to lose a brother," he corrects. "And I thought I'd die. I wanted to die. I wouldn't have made it this far without you. It's okay to freak out, but you're scaring Cas and he doesn't need that shit."
"Don't I know it," Sam says bitterly. "Cas needs Dean, but he's not here. But then you appear out of nowhere and get his hopes up."
"Cas knows I'm not staying-"
"In his mind, maybe, but I haven't seen him that happy in months." Sam rubs his fingers into his eyes, a gesture of fatigue meant to cover tears. "Fuck, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Something changes in Sam. A realization that drags his shoulders down and when he speaks again, Dean can definitely hear the tears in his voice.
"I miss him so fucking much. I should be ecstatic to see you, but all I could think was that Cas had been getting better. You don't know. God. You weren't here when he died. I honestly thought Castiel would lose his mind. He begged the angels to bring you back, but they wouldn't and then...then he was just gone," Sam says, voice hollow. "He was blank. If I hadn't been there, I don't think he'd ever get up in the mornings. But then it started changing. He would talk to me, you know?" Dean nods, his throat too thick for words. "I started seeing his personality again and he...he tried to cheer me up. We'd talk about you for hours and hour, but sometimes, it would be...it would change to just us. You were still there, but not as much. I'm sorry, Dean. I didn't...I never wanted. I didn't mean to."
At first, Dean has no idea what Sam is talking about. But he sees the guilt lining those familiar hazel eyes and the truth strikes him so hard, he sucks in a sharp breath.
"Oh my god, Sam, are you in love with him?"
The tears Sam had been holding back spill down both cheeks, but he meets Dean's eyes and nods.
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
Dean has no idea what to feel. He's numb for a long moment as Sam finally looks away and buries his face in the crook of his arm. In all those worlds, there'd never been a hint of romantic feelings between Sam and Castiel. But Dean had always been there. Maybe that's all it took. The impossible weight of shared grief, a heightened protectiveness, being left alone together. Sam's heart broken by Dean's death, finding comfort in the most obvious place.
"Sam," he says before he even realizes he wants to talk. He lays a hand Sam's rigid shoulder. "What did you think I would think?"
"You're not exactly the sharing type," Sam lifts his head enough to say.
"Yeah, but I'm dead." When Sam jerks with shock, Dean sighs. "It might be easier on you both if you'd accepted that. He's dead, Sam. Yeah, if you were sniffing around Cas while he was alive, he'd castrate you."
The comment draws a reluctant puff of laughter from Sam.
"Draw and quarter me, more like," he grumbles.
Dean grins and squeezes his shoulder, sweet heady relief lightening his insides.
"They'd never find the body," Dean agrees. "But hey. Look at me."
He waits until Sam's damp reddened eyes lock onto Dean's face. Dean places his hand against Sam's collarbone, his thumb sweeping lightly over Sam's pulse point, the way he used to do when they were kids and Sam would cry about whatever the hell kids cry about. Some of the tension drains out of Sam's body.
"I'm not him, but I know how he thinks. He wouldn't blame you for it. It'd be pretty fucking hypocritical of him."
"But it's weird-"
"So?" Dean interrupts. "Who gives a shit? That's not more important that being happy. Trust me, Sammy, I've been stuck away from my Cas long enough to get that now."
"Are you telling me to go for it?" Sam asks in faint surprise. "I don't think Cas even knows."
Sam's right. It is weird. Dean's not exactly comfortable telling his baby brother to horn in on his territory. But he's also not wrong. This Castiel is alone. He needs Sam. And if it helps Cas stop being miserable, Dean would tell his worst enemy to go for it, much less his Sammy. Come to think of it, there's no one in the world Dean would trust more with Castiel than Sam.
"I'm saying you're both really fucking unhappy right now and there's no reason for it."
"But what if I tell him and he can't handle it?"
"He's stronger than that," Dean assure him. He slips his arm over Sam's shoulder and pulls him close. "Enough talking. I know you want to cry on me like a little girl."
"God, Dean," Sam says, turning into the embrace and hiding away against Dean's neck. "I miss you so goddamned much."
And this time, when Dean says it, they both know it's absolutely true.
"I know, Sammy. I know."
"Where's Sam?" Castiel asks worriedly when Dean gets back.
"He's getting his own room for the night. We need to talk."
"Talk? I thought you wanted to sleep," Castiel says, sounding nervous.
"Oh god, you have no idea how much I want to sleep," Dean says. "I'm so tired I think I'm legally drunk, but I won't sleep until we get this straightened out." He collapses on Castiel's bed. "Sam and I had a long chat. He told me some interesting stuff."
"Oh?" Castiel turns away and begins fussing with the order-in menus laying on the table, pulling them into neat stacks. "What did he say?"
Dean's heard Castiel trying to lie before. He sucks at it. This overly casual tone stands out because of how convincing it sounds. Somewhere along the road to humanity, Castiel's picked up some pointers. Dean watches his restless hands, catches the troubled expression in his eyes.
"Oh holy hell, you know," Dean breathes.
Castiel's hand clenches hard around one menu, crushing it and his eyes slam shut.
"You know," Dean repeats. "You know how Sam feels about you. Why haven't you said anything to him?"
"Because it's wrong," Castiel snaps.
Dean reels back from Castiel's harsh tone. The shock of realizing Castiel knew washes away in a flood of anger. Okay, yes, he adores this man, but he also loves his brother and Sam can't help the way he feels. His emotions have been screwed all to hell for who knows how long. He shouldn't be blamed when they settle onto a positive feeling for once.
"What do you mean, wrong?" Dean snarls. "It's not like he can help it for pete's sake." When Castiel doesn't answer, only stares at his ruined menu, Dean climbs off the bed and stalks over to him. "I can't believe you'd blame Sam for this! You were the only thing he had left. He couldn't-"
"I'm not talking about Sam!" Castiel leaps from his chair, nearly overturning it. "I'm talking about me!"
Dean's heart stops. For two long impossible seconds, time halts and Dean's thoughts clog in his mind. Understanding wavers on the edge of his brain, but he can't allow it. Not quite yet. Before him, Castiel whirls around, pacing across the room and back, words falling off his tongue with surprising ease.
"You've only been gone for a little over a year, did you know that? One short year and if not for Sam, I don't know what would have happened to me. I can't imagine what it cost him to care for me like that." Castiel reaches one end of the room and then turns back. "It's not like before. Not like you."
That elusive understanding slams into Dean with such force that he stumbles backwards, sitting hard on the edge of the bed. He suddenly understands what Castiel meant by not losing Sam.
"You love him too."
Castiel pauses, his eyes glued to the ground, his body so still that Dean wonders if he's even breathing.
"I hate this," Castiel mutters. "I hate feeling this way. You deserve better."
"What? No." Dean rises on shaky legs and takes Castiel's hand. "What are you saying?"
"How could I forget you so quickly?" he asks, his voice breaking.
"God, Cas, if there's one thing you're not doing, it's forgetting me," Dean says with a weak laugh. He pulls Castiel into his arms, sighing heavily when Cas melts into his side, his eyes wetting the edge of Dean's collar. "Do I really have to have this conversation twice?"
"What?" Castiel asks, the question muffled.
Dean leads them to the bed and climbs atop the covers, scooting and shuffling until he's comfortable and then he drags Castiel down beside him. He settles into the space at Dean's side, a perfect fit. Dean digs an arm under him and wraps it around his back. When Castiel throws a leg over one of Dean's, there isn't an inch of them that's not touching. Dean kisses Castiel's temple.
"You didn't do anything wrong."
"How can you say that?"
"Because I'm smart," Dean teases.
"Dean," Castiel says, tone long-suffering.
"Well, it's true. I know how your Dean would feel about you being alone and unhappy without him," Dean says, his lips grazing Castiel's hairline. "I know how annoyed he'd be with both of you for letting a ghost come between you. We fight ghosts, Cas. We don't let them control our lives."
"I don't want to fight you," Castiel confesses.
His fingers dance across Dean's chest up to the bare skin of his throat. His touch warms Dean's body. Probably more than Dean should allow. But he doesn't speak. Just lets Castiel trace his jawline, over his cheeks, down his nose.
"You are so beautiful," Castiel says, his blue eyes heavy with memory. "I would do anything to have you back."
Dean catches Castiel's hand, presses his lips to the palm.
"He would do anything to come back." Dean's free hand cups Castiel's face. "But he can't. You have to let him go."
For a moment, Dean thinks Castiel will resist. He sees the denial tucked away in his gaze, feels the way Castiel tenses against him and Dean can't blame him. He's never been good at letting go of people he loves. It's unfair of him to ask Castiel to do the same. But there's also no choice. Not if the other option is Castiel and Sam staying in pain.
"You really don't mind?" Castiel's voice is so small Dean can barely hear him. "You're really okay with it?"
"It's not the most comfortable thing I've ever done," Dean admits because Castiel deserves honesty. "But your happiness is more important than anything."
Until he says it, Dean hadn't realized the depth of that truth. Dean loves Castiel so much, he'd do anything to see him happy, even if it means pushing him into the arms of another man. His own brother. The realization is both shocking and fucking amazing. Dean wraps his other arm around Castiel's waist and pulls him atop his body, smiling when Castiel relaxes fully, draping himself languidly across Dean.
"I'm afraid," Castiel says against Dean's neck. "If I love Sam, I'm afraid I'll lose how I feel about you."
"I don't think it works like that," Dean says. "Your feelings don't have to be the exact same for both of them."
"It's not the same," Castiel says again, his tone fierce. He lifts his head to gaze into Dean's eyes. "Not even close. Doesn't Sam deserve more?"
"You're not going to get me to say Sam could do better than you," Dean jokes to lighten the mood. To his relief, it works. Castiel shakes his head at Dean, but he's smiling.
"I don't know why I'm asking you these questions. You're hardly a relationships expert," he says as he settles back against Dean.
"No shit. I'm just saying, it doesn't matter why it started or if it's exactly perfect."
Castiel draws a deep breath and blows it out, seeping warmth under Dean's tee.
"It hurts every single day," he comments, almost idly. "The only time I'm not miserable is when I'm with Sam."
Dean kisses his temple.
"Then you should always be with Sam."
Dean doesn't wake up until late into the night. The clock says 11:49. The maybe six hours of sleep aren't nearly enough for Dean, but he needs to leave.
A light groan tickles his throat.
"Dean?" Castiel lifts his head, confusion and then clarity transforming his features. "You're leaving."
Castiel gets up without complaint and waits by the door as Dean uses the restroom one last time. When Dean steps up to him, Castiel takes his hand and squeezes it once before letting go.
"Are you going to be okay?" Dean asks.
"I don't know," Castiel admits. "But I suspect I'll have a better chance now than before." He hands Dean the keys to the Impala. "I'd like to say goodbye now, if that's alright. You can take the car back to the house. We'll take a taxi to pick it up."
"You're going to talk to Sam, aren't you?"
Dean keeps expecting hesitation or melancholy. Jealousy or anger. Anything other than profound relief, but it won't come. As Castiel nods and leans up to press a gentle close-mouthed kiss to Dean's lips, all he can think is Wow, I really fucking love him.
"I hope you find him soon," Castiel says. "And when you do, you must promise me to be careful."
"I will," Dean says as he opens the door. Castiel tries to turn away, down towards Sam's new room, but Dean's grip on his wrist stops him. "I love you."
Castiel's expression crumbles and he's back in Dean's arms without another word, clinging, holding him so tight. In a moment, Dean will have to let him go. Send him to Sam and start his journey back to the mirror, back to his never-ending quest.
But for now, he's right where he needs to be.
Stupid mirror. Dean hates that he needs the thing. Before he touches the glass yet again, Dean allows his mind to sweep him into a very pleasant daydream of taking a baseball bat to the mirror. The satisfying Crack! and subsequent shattering of the glass into a million jagged shards gives Dean a real thrill.
His life is pathetic. But he's leaving behind another person who's getting a chance at happiness and Dean's jumping into this fucking mirror yet again. In light of that, he's probably allowed to be a little pathetic.
"See ya, Cas," he says as he lets his fingers fall onto his only current constant.
Castiel is watching him from the doorway of the mirror room when Dean shakes off the zap of energy. His confusion has Dean lifting his hands, palm up.
"Don't shoot," he jokes. "It's me. Well, not your me. I'm from another world. I came through that mirror."
He's never seen Castiel's eyebrows raise that high before. Luckily, this Castiel is clad in his boring old trench coat and blue suit combination, his hair styled in his perfect Heavenly sanctioned look. He should be more than powerful enough to tell that Dean's not lying.
"Check me out. I got your mojo in me, I swear. Is Sam here?" Right now, more than anything, Dean wants to see a regular Sam who's not in love with his angel. As much as he needed to help those two, he wants things back to normal. "Please tell me he's around somewhere."
"He's downstairs," Castiel says, frowning. "We've both been looking for you."
"I'm sure I'm around here somewhere," Dean says, peering past Castiel into the hallway. "Knowing me, probably hiding in a closet," he says, snorting at his own bad joke.
"Dean..." Castiel narrows his eyes at him. "Are you unwell?"
"You're not making sense."
Dean sighs. Castiel usually catches on to the situation much faster. Thank god he got some sleep last night. His brain can handle the questions.
"I know it's weird, but it's true. That mirror is sending me through dimensions and I'm trying to find my way back to the right one-"
"Dean," Castiel interrupts as he walks right up to Dean, reaching out to curls his hands around Dean's shoulders. "I have no idea what you're talking about. You are not in the wrong dimension."
"No, but see..." Dean pauses. "No because I've been...all over...what?"
"I promise you, I would recognize you anywhere," Castiel says. His hands press harder into Dean's flesh, probably bruising him. Anchoring him, holding him to this world. Everything about this Castiel is familiar. The right clothes, the right hair, the same subtle distance in his eyes covering a vast unimaginable amount of affection. Dean's legs weaken and he grabs at Castiel's elbows.
"What?" he repeats stupidly.
"There is no other Dean here. You are my Dean," Castiel declares, voice deep and possessive.
For a moment, only a second, Dean stares, too amazed to move. There's no question of belief. Besides Castiel's inability to recognize Dean as from another world, Dean knows that tone. It's Castiel's 'Do what I say or I'll fuck you up' voice. Believing anything said in that tone is too ingrained in Dean's psyche to do anything other than accept what Castiel says as the complete truth.
It sinks in suddenly and Dean snaps.
"Fuck, yes," Dean groans, struggling out of Castiel's grip to throw his arms around Castiel's neck. "Oh my god, Cas, I thought I was never going to find you again. You have no idea. It sucked so bad and I was a girl and you were a girl and fuck, I love you."
"What?" Castiel says, his turn to be startled. He pushes Dean away enough to look into his face, his eyes lit with shock and hope Dean's seen before, but never here. Not in these eyes. His Castiel's eyes. Dean knows he should answer him. Should explain his journey and spell out exactly how much Dean loves and wants him, but for the first time in a dozen worlds, he's with his Castiel and he's officially tired of holding back.
Dean kisses him. Full on the mouth, tracing Castiel's lips with his tongue, eager to taste and connect. Castiel opens to the kiss, his chest hitching with a surprised moan that Dean immediately wants to hear again. He walks Castiel backwards until they hit the wall and presses hard against him, unable to get close enough.
"Dean?" Castiel gasps when Dean pulls back to draw breath. "What happened to you?"
"I don't know," he says, one hand sweeping down to palm Castiel's chest. "I left and you were always there. But I couldn't have you." Dean's aware he's babbling, but he can't find a way to stop. "There was always another me. God, it drove me nuts, Cas." He kisses along Castiel's jaw. "Wanted you so bad."
"Did you..." Castiel releases a short gasp when Dean bites down on his earlobe. "Did you always feel this way?"
"Yeah, too stupid to see it. Sorry, so fucking sorry," Dean says distractedly, more interested in the way Castiel's shaking apart in his arms than on his words. "Always loved you, Cas."
"Dean," Castiel sighs, tipping his head back and rolling his hips like his last counterpart had, only this time, it's intentional and Dean can feel Castiel's hardening dick against his own.
Holy shit, that's amazing.
"Swear to god, if you don't stop, we're fucking right here-"
Dean's forehead drops onto Castiel's shoulder. Of couse. Sam. The inter-dimensional cockblock. He appears in the doorway and jerks back in surprise at the scene before him.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Dean loves me," Castiel says dazedly.
His utterly bewildered tone reminds Dean how much he'd missed him, his own Sam. The only Sam Dean knows inside and out, the only one with the exact same past as him. With some reluctance, he releases Castiel and gives Sam a less pornographic version of the enthusiastic hug he'd given Castiel.
"Goddamn, I missed you, Sammy."
"What is going on?" Sam demands, although he does return the hug, giant hands patting at Dean's shoulder.
"You know what," Dean says as he steps back and takes Castiel's hand. "It's a long story. And I'm tired and I wanna fuck Cas."
"Wow, okay," Sam says, holding up surrendering hands. "I'll ask later."
"Yeah, ask me..." He eyes Castiel thoughtfully. "Tomorrow morning. And get your own room."
"Definitely," Sam says, nose wrinkling with disgust.
Dean ignores him in favor of turning to Castiel and once again, laying his forehead against Castiel's. Except it's entirely different. Because Sam doesn't want to think about Cas and sex in the same sentence and Cas isn't a girl and he's not human and he's doesn't belong to some other Dean.
He belongs only to this Dean.
"Take me home?"
And so Castiel does.
Dean watches Castiel sleep. The angel doesn't need to sleep, of course, but it'd taken very little to talk him into making his Grace retreat and letting the human body he now owns take over. A decision Castiel's particularly enjoys when Dean's mouth closes over his erection and Dean works him to what he suspects is Castiel's first orgasm. Definitely the first with a partner. It's going to take Dean awhile to get used to giving blow jobs, but watching Castiel completely lose his control is well worth the effort.
He places a palm in the center of Castiel's bare chest, smiling at the gentle beat that thrums against his skin. Just an hour ago, Dean had been buried deep inside Castiel's body and leaning down to press a kiss to his pulse point, noting even in the heat of urgent pleasure the way Castiel's pulse beat rapidly against his lips. Dean still has so much to learn about Castiel. Both in bed and out. Though truth be told, he's more eager for the bedroom lessons. After nearly four years, they have a lot of catching up to do in that department.
To think he almost missed this. Dean knows he won't let go of that what-if very easily. If not for a freaky mirror, Dean might have settled for less than love. Dean doesn't believe in soul mates, but after that trip, he certainly believes in the universe nudging you in the right direction. He can't wait to tell Castiel about all the bizarre worlds that brought him to this very moment.
"I got the message, thanks," he says quietly.
Dean nearly jumps out of his skin. Only instinct developed over years of dangerous situations keeps Dean from screaming like a little girl. He flips away from Castiel, making sure to put his body between Cas and whatever is speaking to him.
Even in the dimness of the room, Dean immediately recognizes his visitor. Recognizes, but can't quite believe is here.
She smiles and crooks her finger, beckoning Dean towards the door to the room. Curiosity has Dean hurriedly tugging his pants up his legs and stumbling after her. His Castiel peacefully snores on, not a care in the world. Once Dean joins her in the hallway, this Castiel turns to him, her dark brown eyes glittering with some emotion Dean doesn't recognize.
"I wanted to say goodbye and explain myself."
"What the hell is going on?"
Dean finally understands how the people in those other worlds must have felt when he turned up out of nowhere.
"You have a lot to talk about with your Castiel in the coming days," she says, brushing a lock of her long blond hair out of her face in an oddly human gesture. "I knew the why would eventually bother you too much for true peace."
"It was you," Dean guesses, not any closer to understanding than before she showed up.
"It was," she agrees.
"But why? And how? How are you even here? There's already a Castiel here."
She cocks an eyebrow and gives Dean the classic 'no duh' look. Which, really, he probably deserves. But none of this makes any sense to him. All he knows is that this woman is Castiel. He can't mistake that fond exasperation any more than he could if he were looking at the man laying in the bed in the room behind him.
"I'll make this as brief as I can," she says. "In my universe, the war took nearly all my brothers. When they were gone and my Father returned to create order from chaos, he bestowed upon me the title and powers of archangel. In my existence, I had never wielded that kind of power. So much power that I found I could break through the barriers between worlds. But even so, I couldn't bring them back."
Her sadness breaks Dean's heart all over again and he wishes he'd just gone to sleep when Castiel did. He hates seeing Castiel in pain. Any Castiel.
"Them?" he can't help asking.
"Sam," she says and for the first time, her voice wavers as she continues, "And Dean."
"They died? And your fuckhead Dad wouldn't bring them back?" Dean asks, though he's not even surprised anymore. "What a douchebag."
"Yes," Castiel says simply.
That surprises Dean. His Cas believes so faithfully in the good of his Father. Even after everything that's happened without God interfering. Dean wonders if this is the line. Losing him and Sam. Doesn't really want to know, but he knows he owes it to Castiel to listen to her story.
"I think He knew I'd be here now," Castiel says, her tone now even and accepting. "Telling you why I sent you into that mirror."
"Because of me?" Dean murmurs, eyes wide. That's way too much for Dean to shoulder.
"You and others like you. I've been traveling for longer than I can remember." Her smile returns, so human that Dean aches to see it. He hopes his Castiel never has to learn how to be anything other than a dorky angel. "You're not always so difficult to teach. But you're also not the worst. Not by far."
"Gee, thanks," Dean says, more out of habit than true irritation. "So what, you're jumping in and out of universes and finding Deans to screw with? What's the point?"
"The point is, someday I'll find one I can keep."
Dean can't begin to fathom it. His journey times a million, except she doesn't know if there's a world out there for her, not like Dean knew his Castiel was waiting. How could anyone have that kind of patience? How is it possible for this creature to love him so fucking much?
"God, Cas," he breathes. "How can you stand it?"
"I have faith," she says. "And I'm very stubborn. That's why it's such a difficult task. Finding a world where my counterpart isn't clinging to your side has proven very trying."
"I don't know what to say," Dean says, utterly helpless in the face of her immense devotion.
Her smile grows and she reaches up with both hands to cup Dean's face.
"Just say you'll be happy."
There has to be more he can do. There has to be more for this Castiel than just giving happiness to others. Dean could barely handle it for a few days. Who knows how many years she's been searching for her own Dean? He wants to do more for her. It hurts too much to think he can't.
"Please," she says, eyes dark with emotions Dean could never deserve. "Just promise me you'll be happy."
He covers her hands with his own.
"I already am."