Part V: Life Still Goes On
Sam woke up with a crick in his neck. Again.
Wincing, he swung his legs to the floor and sat up, reaching for the ceiling in a bone-cracking stretch and yawning before flopping his arms back down with a sigh. He probably wouldn't be so stiff if he'd just sleep on the floor, but he'd hated doing that ever since they'd been squatting in an empty house outside of San Antonio when he was ten and he'd woken up to find that a bull snake nearly as long as he'd been tall had crawled into his sleeping bag with him.
He'd screamed like a girl just from the shock of it; Dean had been no help at all and instead had just rolled on the floor laughing his ass off and leaving Sam to deal with the thing himself. He hadn't been scared of snakes then and still wasn't now, but the whole experience had rather soured him on sleeping on the floor. He occasionally lied to himself by saying that he liked to stay up off the floor because it was easier to get to his feet in an emergency, but the truth of it was that he just didn't want anything with too many or not enough legs crawling in bed with him.
Sam didn't bother pulling on his socks; he just pushed himself up off the sagging cushions and made his way towards the kitchen, his bare feet slapping against the equally bare floor.
But he paused just inside the doorway, awash with a vague feeling of déjà vu—the kitchen table had a single, slope-shouldered occupant sitting with his back to him just like yesterday morning.
Only not quite—the narrow frame and the omnipresent rough canvas coat meant that it couldn't be anyone but Castiel sitting there. Sam moved into the room, coming round the table with a casual, "Morning."
Cas looked up; Sam wasn't sure if he'd surprised him or not, not with his motions that were always so deliberate, his features always so neutral. "Hello, Sam," he said quietly, and then turned his head back to stare out the window at nothing.
Sam leaned down to better see his face; it revealed nothing, of course. "You all right?"
He felt compelled to ask, and not just because he could still see half-healed cuts on the few parts of him that his suit and coat didn't cover, abrasions that no doubt continued down all over the rest of him. No, he had to ask because of yesterday.
When Dean oh-so-subtly fled the room with his tail between his legs when Cas showed up, he left the angel to watch him go with soulful eyes and Sam and Bobby to look at each other with no little discomfort.
Bobby broke the silence by roughly clearing his throat and then pushing his chair back with a loud scrape and standing up. "So, anyway—breakfast."
"Yeah, sounds good," Sam answered, and Bobby shambled his way over to the pantry. The room was in short order filled with the clattering of pots and pans, the crinkle of plastic, and the grind of a can opener. Sam would have offered to help, but anyone who tried to mess in Bobby's kitchen while Bobby was in it always got the stinkeye, so Sam stayed put and, a bit unwillingly, found himself studying Castiel.
Sam still didn't know exactly what had happened yesterday. Dean was still uncommunicative and even worse than usual this morning. Trust Dean to completely ignore whatever earth-shattering cataclysm he'd survived in the course of saving the world in favor of tying himself in knots over his…other issues. Cas had looked like shit warmed over when they'd dragged him home, beat to hell and bleeding all over the place. But this morning he'd been in much better shape. His clothes were clean, courtesy of Bobby, if oddly ragged and singed in some places. Plus, Dean was a good field medic, so Cas himself had been scrubbed up and most of the cuts on his cheeks and neck and lip had already scabbed over. If he'd always been human, Sam would have said that he looked pretty good.
Thing was, he hadn't always been human, and seeing Cas all banged up and not just instantly healing himself was weird.
Sam was indeed relieved and happy and grateful to have his friend back when Dean had finally done whatever he did to make Cas release the souls he'd been holding onto. But this morning, now that the relief had worn off…
Yeah. Sitting alone at the table with the psycho who had been trying to kill him for the past year was more awkward than the morning after a drunken one-night stand.
Sam had no idea what to say; truth be told, he didn't really want to talk to Cas, even though he tried to tell himself that it hadn't really been the Cas they knew who'd been after them. The real Cas was here now and he knew it, but it was still hard. He found himself rather painfully identifying with Bobby a year and a half ago right after he got his soul back. Didn't matter how much you cared about someone, it was still hard to get over them going full-on Jack Torrance and trying to kill you.
As such, they just sat in strained silence until Bobby stumped back over with bowls of fried baloney and beans—hunter staples. The two of them dug in with a right good will, mostly just to not have to look at or talk to anyone—specifically, to Cas.
Both of them had been eating for a minute or two at least before they were finally forced to acknowledge the fact that Cas wasn't eating. Instead, he was staring rather dully at the bowl in front of him.
Bobby was the one who finally decided that was enough of that and roughly demanded, "Well, are you just gonna sit there starin' at it?"
Cas looked up, and then quickly looked away. He started fidgeting and shifting in his seat until finally he looked up again. His eyes darted between Sam and Bobby before he finally said in a very small voice, "I…owe you both…an apology."
Sam and Bobby just stared at each other, and then Bobby gave a rough snort. "No shit you do," he said bluntly. "What the hell were you thinkin'?"
Cas was looking at the table again, and Sam could only marvel at how his expressionless face still managed to convey such misery. He looked up at them both again, his eyes still cutting away, and wetted his lips and haltingly said, "I…uh…'fucked up'."
Sam couldn't help the single rough laugh that escaped him. "Yeah, I'd say you did," he agreed.
Cas had picked up his spoon and was prodding the beans in the bowl in front of him. "I was…I was trying to keep you safe…you had all given so much, and I…I couldn't ask you for more. I thought I could handle it myself." The spoon clattered to the table and he looked up. "But I…lost sight of that, and then…" he trailed of rather helplessly.
Sam felt a sudden, reflexive twist of sympathy in his middle, the first he had for Cas since they'd gotten him back. "Yeah, well, you're not so special, there—I did the same thing," he said. "Almost destroyed the world because of it, too." Cas looked up, his brow furrowed, Sam gave him a wry smile in return. "We all have our fuck ups now and again—some are just bigger than others. But, I fixed it, and put things back, and now so did you—so it's fine," he finished with a dismissive shrug, and then went back to polishing off the remains of his breakfast.
Cas was still just staring at him, and his expression could only be called one of disbelief. "How—" he started, and then he had to stop and swallow, and Sam could almost swear that there were tears in his eyes. "That you can just…forgive me, after what I did…it…" He looked away. "You all remind me daily why humans truly are the greatest of God's creations," he said quietly.
Sam found himself vaguely uncomfortable with the level of near-veneration in his voice. Bobby, of course, wasn't fazed at all and just made a growling sound in his throat. "You make a habit of that kind of crap and you'll find we won't be so forgiving next time," he informed him. Cas looked at him briefly, and then nodded.
"Here." Sam picked up his spoon and put it back in Cas's hand. "You're one of us now—have to live like us. Eat up," he instructed.
After a moment more, Cas rather stiltedly took a bite—and then promptly shoveled the rest in with alarming speed, Bobby and Sam watching him in surprise.
"Hungry?" Bobby asked dryly as he scraped his bowl.
"Yes, I…believe so," Cas answered in all seriousness.
Bobby just gave Sam a look and then heaved himself up to deposit their used dishes in the sink.
"Did you save some for Dean?" Sam called over his shoulder to him.
"Pfft—I know better than to come between that boy and food," Bobby retorted. "But if I didn't, it'd be his own fault for runnin' out like that."
And it had been then, as Sam turned back around in his seat, that he spotted Cas's expression dropping like a bad soufflé. Oh, he'd been all contrite-looking before, but at the mere mention of Dean, his face had taken on the look of a wet weekend.
Oh, crap. What had Dean said to him?
Whatever might or might not have been going through his brother's head last night after Cas's little…display, Sam knew for a fact that first and foremost Dean had been pissed. And with Dean's virtuoso skill in putting his foot in his mouth and the way he'd been on the edge of a complete meltdown this morning…well.
"Did—ah—did you—talk to Dean last night? About—that?" he asked Cas with forced casualness as Bobby sat back down across from him. "You know, apologize to him, too, and everything?"
"Yes." Cas's flat tone was not at all encouraging.
Sam's eyebrows lifted, and he looked at Bobby before asking Cas, "And…are you two…okay?"
"I don't know." Cas's face was doleful. "I apologized, and he said that he had forgiven me…but I think he's still angry."
"Well, you did stab us all in the back pretty damn good," Bobby said dryly. "We'll forgive ya, but it takes a while to forget."
"But…" Cas was struggling. "He said that he didn't care about it, because we…because I was family."
Sam blew out a breath through his nose. "You are, Cas," he assured him. "I wouldn't worry about Dean. He just…he needs a little time," he hedged. "But he's…not all that complicated. If he says he forgave you, then he did. That's just the way he is."
Cas looked up at him with a troubled expression. "I thought so too," he said, and Sam was appalled to hear him continue with, "but then he got so upset and left so abruptly after we—"
Sam jumped at the sudden loud squeal of chair legs on the floor. "Well!" Bobby was saying with false brightness as he stood. "I need to get back to work; Cas, if anyone can help you sort things out with Dean, it's Sam, here—I'll be in the basement if you need me."
Sam's jaw dropped. No—he wasn't. He wouldn't.
But he was! The miserable old turd was bailing on him, leaving him here with Cas wanting to talk about his brother and—Jesus Christ!
Oh, and he knew exactly what he was doing, too—Bobby couldn't resist peering over his shoulder as he scuttled through the basement door, and as Sam stared disbelievingly back at him with his jaw clenched in outrage, just before he disappeared Bobby smirked at him.
That sorry, moth-eaten old bastard.
And so here they were, Sam frozen with indignation and hideously uncomfortable with Cas looking at him with anxious eyes and wanting to talk about Dean.
He was pretty sure that this counted as all the punishment he might have ever racked up for every bad deed he'd ever done in his life, up to and including almost destroying the world.
Sam closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, and took a deep breath before opening his eyes to face Cas. "You—you still think Dean is mad?" he tried for openers.
Cas's eyes dropped down to the tabletop again. "I don't know," he said. "He seemed angry, but he said he wasn't, and when I tried to apologize he just became angry again, and I…" He trailed off, looking lost.
Jesus—one emotionally repressed idiot and one emotionally stunted idiot. The possibilities for disaster were endless. And here Sam had to try to unravel them. Thanks, Dean, he thought wryly. "Did he—did he say why he was angry?" he asked delicately.
Cas's brow furrowed. "Not really," he said slowly.
Sam dropped his head, took a fortifying breath, and without looking up, asked in a flat voice, "What did you talk about?"
Cas was silent, and when Sam dared to look up, he was alarmed to see that Cas's apparent depression was warring with something like panic. "He said," he started, faltered, and then tried again. "When I tried to tell him that I…couldn't be trusted with free will, he said that…no one will tell me what to do. That I—that I have to accept the responsibility for my actions…for as long as I'll live." His Adam's apple bobbed, and he looked up at Sam with a frightened expression.
Huh—and here I thought Dean had forgotten all the serious stuff in favor of his own personal crisis. It didn't take a genius to realize that Cas had lapsed a bit with regards to his championing the cause of free will. And after the shit he'd gotten up to in having it, Sam couldn't entirely blame him. But that didn't mean that there was an easy out. "Well," he said, trying to keep his voice gentle despite his blunt words, "he's right."
Cas's head lowered again, and he just stared at his hands, not speaking.
Sam gave him a moment, and then prompted, "And…did you fight about that?"
"No—we didn't…fight," he said. He licked his lips. "I—Dean was angry with me, for…for not wanting to—to take the blame when I act wrongly, but I…I understand now." Cas looked up suddenly, his eyes wide and pleading, and his next words came out in something of a rush. "But he said that you would help me—help me when I don't know what to do—"
"Hey, easy!" Sam said, putting a hand on his shoulder without thinking about it. "Sure we will. Don't worry about that—of course we'll help you out. It's okay."
Cas quieted, looking at him with a distressingly grateful expression, and Sam clumsily patted him before pulling his hand away. "So," he said bracingly, "I know Dean probably did get mad if you said you didn't want to, you know, have free will anymore, but if you've got it now, it'll be okay. He won't stay mad."
"He didn't," Cas agreed, and Sam's brow furrowed.
"So he wasn't mad after that?" he asked.
"No." Cas's expression was thoughtful. "He just told me that you would help me because we—we're family."
Sam felt a surge of rough affection for his brother; once you had his devotion, nothing could shake it. Didn't matter if you let loose the Devil or tried to style yourself as the new God—if you came crawling back to him, he'd take your sorry ass back every time.
But that still didn't explain why Cas was convinced that Dean was mad at him—and Sam had an awful suspicion that the reason had nothing to do with Cas's bad trip and a whole lot more to do with what he and Dean had talked about this morning before Cas had woken up. Steeling himself, he asked, "Did you talk about anything after that?"
A furrow appeared in Cas's brow, one that Sam found himself oddly pleased to see—somehow seeing that again instead of that creepy-ass wooden serenity of his did more to set him at ease, to reassure him that this was the Cas he remembered, than anything else thus far. But then he opened his mouth and Sam stiffened, expecting the worst—but all he said was a slightly bewildered, "No. He left shortly after we finished talking. Only he was upset again."
Well. Okay, so they might not have talked about anything to set Dean off—but there was no way in hell Sam was going to ask what they might have done to set Dean off.
Casting around, Sam finally tried, "Uh, did you fight about anything else? You know, before that?"
Cas was still and quiet for a moment, his brow creased, and then he finally said, "We didn't…fight…but Dean did shout at me." The wrinkles in his forehead deepened. "He was particularly angry when I apologized…and when I said that I loved him."
Oh, Jesus! Sam's spine went rigid. Okay, now we're getting too much information, here—
But before Sam had a chance to tell him to stop right there, Cas went on, sounding confused again. "But I don't understand why. What I…what I did, even before I was under the influence of the souls, was wrong, and I needed to apologize." Sam relaxed minutely, only to stiffen again when Cas went on, still perplexed. "And I still don't know why, if he cares for me as family, why he should be so displeased that I care for him too."
Sam blinked, and then—oh, no. Oh, no. This—this was bad. This was very, very bad. Now everything suddenly made a whole lot of awful sense. Of all the crap that Cas had pulled that was all his fault…this one wasn't. This one was all on Dean, because Cas hadn't—but Dean had—oh, boy.
Now at least he knew why Dean had been about to go nuclear earlier. Dragging a hand over his face, he found himself once again praying for patience (which he knew was a useless endeavor) before girding himself to ask, as delicately as he could manage, "Cas…do you know…do you understand…how Dean feels about you?"
Cas looked at him as if he was expecting a trick question. "He…cares about me," he said slowly.
Oh, God. Sam looked skyward and could only ask, Why me? He really hated Bobby right now—and he was starting to hate Dean, too; one way or another he always found a way to draw Sam into his…entanglements. Since he wasn't finding new and creative ways to make sure that Sam caught him in flagrante delicto, he had apparently moved on to a new form of torture: forcing Sam to put on his tichel and play Yente the Matchmaker. With a guy.
Pursing his lips, Sam took another breath and said, "Yeah, he does, but it's not quite like family." At Cas's concerned look, he went on. "There are different ways humans can care about each other. And Dean—he does care about you, but—" dammitall— "he's confused."
And he wasn't the only one. Cas was looking at him like he was speaking Esperanto. "He's confused," Sam tried to clarify, "because…he normally only cares that way about women."
Cas stared at him. "I don't understand."
Oh, hell. See, this? This was not funny. "Well, you're not a woman, Cas."
Cas seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. "No," he said after a moment.
"You're a man, Cas," Sam said flatly.
Cas's brows knitted. "No."
Shit. "Yeah you are," he said firmly.
Cas was shaking his head. "No, I'm not," he insisted. "My vessel is male. I'm not."
"You know that," Sam said, pointing towards him, "and I know that," he went on, pointing at his own chest, "—but Dean doesn't. And the rest of the world won't know that, either, 'cause you're stuck in that vessel, so that's pretty much you now. For all intents and purposes, you're a man." He held out his hands. "That's just the way it is. So you'd better get used to it."
Cas looked at him, and then looked down, clearly turning this notion over in his mind. And then, almost as if he'd flipped a switch, Sam suddenly saw in his eyes that he was beginning to connect the dots. "And…Dean doesn't care for men?" he asked.
"Not like he cares about you," Sam said, relief beginning to fill his chest. Finally, he was getting somewhere.
"Then…he doesn't normally kiss men?"
"No!" Sam shouted, recoiling and waving his hands wildly. And we are done here! "No, he doesn't, and that is all I ever need to hear about what Dean does or doesn't do with you, Cas!"
I am going to kill Dean!
Goddammit, he did it again! He wasn't even here, and yet Dean still found a way to fill up Sam's brain with all kinds of images that made him want to stick a fork in his ear! He buried his head in his hands with a pained groan.
You know what? Killing Dean was first on his list, but killing Cas would be nice too. And then Bobby, of course, for leaving him here with him. He looked up, only to find Cas looking at him with a distressed expression. Now just what in the hell does that jolly little prick have to be upset about? Sam groused. He wasn't the one who was going to have to go out and set himself on fire to get rid of the pictures that were running through his head—pictures that Cas had put there in the first place, he might add!
"Is—is there anything I can do?" Cas asked suddenly, sounding troubled. "I don't want Dean to be unhappy."
Sam stared at him, and then all his outrage flowed out of him in a rush. He gave a heavy sigh. "I don't either, Cas," he said tiredly. "But—I really don't think there's anything you can do, not this time."
Cas stared at the table for a moment before looking back up at Sam. "Would—would Dean have been happier if I was in a female vessel?" he asked unsurely.
Sam gave a not entirely humorous snort. "I dunno about 'happier,' but I won't lie to you—things definitely would've been easier for him." He looked down at his hands dangling between his knees, and when he looked back up at Cas, he managed a small smile. "But I don't think he's unhappy—he's just—he's just gonna need some time to get used to it, is all."
Cas turned to look concernedly down at his hands again, licking absent-mindedly at his split lip, and as he did another uncomfortable thought occurred to Sam. He fidgeted in his seat, trying to think of some way to ask it without feeling like he was passing notes in fourth grade. Eventually, remembering Dean's state of crisis this morning got him to open his mouth. "So, uh," he started, "…you don't…have a problem, or anything, with Dean…caring about you like that?"
Cas looked up with his patented puzzled expression. "Why would I have a problem with that?" he asked blankly.
Sam held up his hands. "No reason," he said with a tight-lipped smile. "Just asking." He looked down and shook his head, and then back up at Cas. "Just…just let Dean work through things on his own…and I think things will be okay."
Cas worried at his lip for a minute more, but then he nodded. Sam smiled again, but then Cas's eyes slipped past him and were abruptly riveted on something outside. Sam turned around to look and spotted his brother slinking between the cars out front, clearly doing his best not to be seen.
Sam glowered out at him. There, Dean, he thought irritably. I've cleaned up another one of your messes and paved the way for you to take over—now the rest is your problem! And he had better not screw it up again—he had just better get himself sorted out and all the rest of this resolved, and without Sam's help. And then Prince Myshkin and Chance the Gardener could live happily ever after—and so could Sam, 'cause he wouldn't have to hear about it ever again!
That had been the plan, anyway. But now, finding Cas down here by himself in the early hours of the morning and Dean nowhere to be found…Sam's instinct to try to derail his brother's emotional train wrecks was just too strong. So even though he really didn't want to know, he found himself asking, "Everything okay with you?"
The quiet, monosyllabic answer was not terribly reassuring. "Did—did you and Dean…talk, last night?" he queried further. "Get things—sorted out, at all?"
Cas looked up at him, and Sam just stared before his stomach tied itself up in a panicky little knot and tried to crawl up his throat. Cas's eyes were bright, almost starry, and Sam's traitorous brain leapt on that and just ran with it, and then Cas was opening his mouth, dear Jesus, he was going to talk, he was going to tell Sam all about it, and he braced himself—
And then he simply turned back to the window.
Sam blinked. And—that was it? What, he wasn't going to blithely drop all sorts of TMI on him?
After a moment longer, Sam realized that he was standing there bitching over the fact that Cas hadn't tried to scar him for life, which was ridiculous. So he just shook himself and, after considering the matter, told Cas to come on over to the stove and Sam would show him how to cook his first meal.
Cas obediently came to stand beside him and listened with far more seriousness than was warranted as Sam showed him how to crack the eggs, told him what Dean had taught him, that a little milk mixed in always made them fluffier, and then Cas stiffly but precisely scrambled the eggs in the pan until Sam told him they were done. A little sprinkle of grated Cheddar on top later, and Sam congratulated him on his first successful breakfast.
They ate in silence, Cas with all the oddly mechanical gusto of the previous day. Sam took care of the dishes; Cas seemed happy to just sit in his private little reverie, looking out the window with that contented expression.
After putting away their plates, Sam wandered across the room, pondering a shower. Cas's hair was damp; clearly he'd already done so this morning. Really, he looked pretty good today—already a sight better than yesterday. Maybe it was just the way he seemed to be sitting up a little straighter, but he just didn't look so beaten down this morning. Considering that he'd vomited up the souls of every dead monster since the beginning of the world to date just two days ago, he looked better than he had any right to. The cut on his lip was already healing, the scratches on his cheeks and forehead were scabbed over and not so red, one of the bandages that had been on his neck yesterday was gone, and that dark bruise behind his ear—
Sam squinted at it without thinking. Was that—were those teeth marks—?
He spun on his heel and charged out of the room like a shot.
No. He was not going to go there. It did not bear thinking about. He was just going to go upstairs, have a shower, and then he and maybe Bobby were going to take Cas into town for some clothes to replace that beat-up suit, and that was all. He was not going to think about anything his overactive imagination might or might not try to insinuate. Ever.
After thudding up the stairs and taking a quick detour to the back room for his bag, he made his way to the bathroom. He flicked on the light, and to his annoyance found some familiar clothes sitting in a small pile right in the middle of the room.
Great—of all the bad habits he had to pick up from Dean, this one just had to be the first. Irritated, Sam leaned down and scooped up the old shirt of Dean's that he'd dressed Cas in last night and folded it up. He'd given him a pair of Dean's shorts, too, but Cas was such a scrawny little beanpole that when he'd come out of the bathroom, he was literally holding them up to keep them from falling down; Sam had taken pity on him and given him a pair of his longer but narrower shorts.
The same ones that he now leaned down to pick up off the floor. He frowned when something dry and flaky scraped across his fingers, and he brought them up close to look—what was that, had he bled on them or something? There was something crusted on the waistband and the front OH DEAR GOD JESUS FUCK NO!
With a helpless shout of horror, Sam launched the shorts across the room, and in the next second was scrabbling at the tap on the sink, yanking on the hot water as far as it would go and then scrubbing wildly at his hands with the soap.
Fuck fuck fuck get it off—
Sam slammed the water off, and then flew across to the tub and jerked open the taps full blast. He peeled off his clothes like a banana skin, twisted the knob to turn on the shower, and then leapt into the tub. The water was too hot, but that was just fine by him 'cause he didn't just want to scrub himself clean, he wanted to peel off the outer layers of his skin, too, to eradicate any trace of what he'd just put his hand in! And then he was going to take those shorts out back using the fireplace tongs and salt and burn them—and then he was going to exorcise the ashes!
Fuck you, Dean! Just FUCK YOU!
Sam grimaced as he furiously scoured his hands with a soapy washcloth. He was gonna get his brother for this if it was the last thing he ever did. For God's sake! No matter what, no matter where, no matter who—Dean always found a way to make Sam see something he didn't want to!
He moved to stand under the spray, screwing up his face at the sight of the lather washing down the drain. And then he could only blow out a breath, halfway between a resigned sigh and a tired laugh as he tilted his head back under the sluice of water. It didn't really matter how things changed, that Dean and Cas were…whatever they were—because things still pretty much stayed the same.
It seemed that even then, life for Sam and his brother would still manage to go on like it always had—and like it always would.
Author's Note: And there you have it. Just a short (for us, anyway) attempt by us to write how we thought both Sam and Dean would react to Dean getting together with Cas. Originally just a small idea to show how we thought Sam would feel about it, but we decided we wanted Dean's POV, too, and it just kind of went from there. We hope you've enjoyed the fic. Big thank you to our betas, as usual, and a big thank you to the readers! This is Mervin and Hyde, signing off.