Chapter 11: and one thing he didn't lose: Good love

'Look people, I know that Dean's a jolly good fellow, but it's Jess' birthday too. My girl is turning 22,' Sam interrupted the singing. Dean didn't mind. The only one who could sing was Pamela and she was hardly audible over the combined ruckus over the others' attempts at singing. Dean was staring at Castiel, but he realised he was being rude and maybe needed to focus a little on his baby brother's proposal, so after a quick smile he turned away and zeroed in on Sam and Jess.

'Are you my girl?' Sam asked. Jess was obviously still mad and if Sam thought asking her in a room full of people would change that he was wrong. She merely raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms. Williams let out a nervous giggle.

'Because I'm your guy,' Sam declared. Someone in the back, Dean was pretty sure it was Jo, whispered that Sam was whipped. That led to another round of giggling from Williams. Jess seemed marginally appeased and waited for what Sam was about to say next.

'I've been thinking about doing this for a while now and even how scary you look now won't deter me. You're amazing and intelligent and beautiful and interesting. I don't think I'll ever get tired of talking to you. I'm sorry for not giving you a present earlier, but this one cleaned me out. I love you, Jess, and I want to marry you. Will you be me wife?' Sam asked as he got down on one knee and presented the ring to her. For ten agonising seconds – that's what they felt to Dean, so he couldn't even imagine what they must have felt like to Sam – Jess said nothing. Then her face broke out into a smile and she launched herself at Sam.

Covering his relieved face with kisses, she unearthed the ring from its box. Dean was glad to see that it received the nod of approval before she slipped it on her finger. Dean congratulated Jess and Sam and moved back into the small crowd, looking for Castiel. Behind him someone was rubbing against his ass. He looked around and was a bit disappointed to discover it was Pamela.

'Sexual intimidation,' he whispered to her. She threw up her hands in studied indignation.

'Blind woman's prerogative,' she said and added, 'I've sampled quite a few fine asses this way. Though your ex doesn't have much of an ass to speak of.'

'Do you know where he is? I don't see him.'

'Me neither.'

'That's hilarious. It really never gets old,' Dean replied and Pamela lightly slapped his cheek. And not the one on his face.

'He left your present on the kitchen table, then I felt him up a bit during the singing and I think he might have left during the proposal. I did hear the door close,' Pamela offered and Dean was already making his way to the door. Luckily, no one tried to stop him. He raced down the stairs and out of the building. There was no one there. Well, there were people there, but none of them was Castiel. Frantic, Dean looked around and saw a familiar trench coat round the building and disappear out of sight.

'Cas!' he yelled and started to run. It was embarrassing. He was not a gracious runner. Plus, he was tired. The fighting and the being forced to talk about his mother's death; everything had drained him of energy. He was panting by the time he reached the corner and leaned against the wall to catch his breath.

'Yes?' Castiel asked. Dean was startled to find him standing right in front of him. He signalled that he couldn't speak yet and if Castiel wouldn't mind waiting a second. Castiel looked summarily uninterested

'Sam invited me. I told him it wasn't a good idea, but he can be very persuasive,' Castiel apologised. No matter how hard he tried, some of that old shyness still shone through, especially when he explained that he'd already bought Dean the gift for Christmas, before... His voice trailed off and Dean felt his chest tighten. Eventually, he straightened up and looked at Castiel.

'I want to talk to you about something,' Dean began. Man, this was hard. There wasn't a way in which he could frame what he had to say so it wouldn't be a shock, so he just came out and said it.

'I cheated on you. Nothing really happened, I think, but not for lack of trying,' he admitted. After Dean had said it, he realised that it could be construed as kicking a man when he was down. As in, 'not only did I dump your ass without giving you any reason, I also cheated on you before that; in your face!' and that wasn't how he meant it at all. Damn Sam for talking him into doing this. However, Castiel didn't seem hurt. His hands were deep in his pockets and he stared intensely at Dean, but there were no signs of pain. Maybe he's moved on, Dean thought, and he simply doesn't give a shit anymore.

'Why?' Castiel asked. Dean imagined he would question his students like that. In a detached, yet faintly interested manner. 'What was your motivation for choosing this particular topic?' he would say, and the student would falter under his scrutiny and professionalism. Dean had trouble trying to think straight. The question probably didn't refer to why nothing had really happened, but why something had almost happened in the first place.

'Because I was drunk,' Dean said.

'And why were you drunk?' Castiel responded, in that curiously removed tone of voice. It was not a voice Dean had heard before. Perhaps it was reserved for people who called him James. So, this was it. The big one. I can do this, Dean told himself; I already told Sam and Jess in excruciating detail. Just give him the cliff notes version.

'That evening a mother of two sons had died in a fire. My mother died in a fire too. It fucked me up,' Dean confessed. There was no pity in Castiel's eyes; for which Dean was grateful. There was only... Was 'underwhelmed' a word? Because that was what Castiel was: underwhelmed. Entirely unimpressed by Dean's difficult admission.

'Clearly,' he dryly replied.

'That's all you've got to say?' Dean asked, amazed.

'What did you expect me to say? Am I supposed to instantly forgive you, because you are fucked up? Everyone's fucked up, but most people try to deal with it,' Castiel snapped. He sounded angry, which was to be expected. Yet, he seemed angrier about Dean's mother dying in a fire than about Dean cheating on him. Or it was a combination of those two: Dean using his mother's death as an excuse for the cheating.

'What does that mean?' Dean demanded.

'My mother died giving birth to me. My father had already left her. I spent the first years of my life in an orphanage. When I was eight I went into foster care. My second mother beat me; the third was nice, but not able to take proper care of me. It wasn't until the fourth one that I found a family that loved me, that made me feel safe.'

'I'm sorry,' Dean muttered, embarrassed. That was worse than what had happened to him. Or maybe not worse, but also bad in a different way. He'd never asked about Castiel's parents or childhood. Not even after the lock picking. He had been too focused on his own issues, on steering the conversation away from his own parents, to think of asking about Castiel's. Fuck, he was an asshole. Castiel sighed, annoyed at Dean's apology.

'That's not... I'm not telling you this in a bid for your sympathy. I dealt with my past. I don't go around screwing people over, because, boo hoo, my childhood was hard,' Castiel harshly remarked.

'I tried...' Dean began, but Castiel interrupted him.

'No, you didn't. It got difficult and you took the easy way out. That's what you did,' Castiel said. He turned around to walk away, but Dean grabbed his arm. They stared at each other, until Dean let go.

'You're right. I'm not just saying that. Since we broke up, I've realised that I use it as an excuse. Everything bad that happens to me, everything I screw up; I trace it all back to that night. It's not healthy. I'm... I'm going into therapy,' Dean told him. At this, Castiel seemed less hostile towards Dean.

'You realise that you're going to have to talk about it then?'

'Yeah. I'm sorry about hurting you. You were pretty much the only good thing that ever happened to me,' Dean confessed. Castiel's face lit up and Dean smiled. They leaned closer and Dean kissed him. Dean thought it was supposed to be a goodbye kiss, but it didn't feel like one.

'Dean, you're a complete and utter asshole, but I love you. So, if you want one I'm willing to give you a second chance, but I'm warning you. This time it's going to be different. I can't not care if you go missing for almost two days. I can't shrug it off if you sleep with someone else. You have to open up and tell me when something is bothering you. I can't keep guessing. I won't.'

'Who are you? You're like a fucking angel,' Dean said. He meant it. No one else could have put up with the shit Castiel had put up with and still love him. It reminded him of seeing Castiel before they properly met. At the fires. It still puzzled him why Castiel had been there.

'More like a stalker,' Castiel quipped, as if he'd read Dean's mind.

'You've told me something, now it's my time to tell you something. The first time I saw you, this was about two months before we met, and you were at a fire. I drove by on my way home from work and stopped. Disaster tourist, I'm aware. It was one of those new buildings. All glass and steel; the kind of thing you don't think could ever burn, but it did,' Castiel explained. He was more elaborate than usual. If there was something Dean appreciated about Castiel, and there where a whole lot of things, it was the other man's unfailing ability to get to the point, but this time Castiel appeared reluctant to broach the actual subject.

'Everyone was out of the building, I think. One girl was crying like the world was about to end and you went over to her. You asked her questions, asked her if she knew whether someone was still in the building. She said no. You asked her why she was crying then. She said she'd left her boyfriend's birthday gift in the apartment,' Castiel continued. Something sparked in Dean's memory.

'I remember her,' he said. She had been very tall and thin, like a reed in the wind. Long, blond hair waving in the wind. It was a painting. She had made a painting for her boyfriend and now it would be gone. It had reminded Dean of the glass statue and he had reacted like an idiot.

'You asked in which apartment and where it was and told what I assumed was your boss that she was crying about a dog and went back in before anyone could inform him that pets were strictly forbidden in the building. You came back out with the wrapped gift and she thanked you profusely. Afterwards, your boss berated you for a full five minutes. I remember thinking, who is this guy?' Castiel finished. As he looked at Dean, Dean felt warm inside. He fought the feeling. This was long before they even met. He had been so blinded by the hotness that he had ignored the stalker aspects.

'So?'

'So, I fell a little bit in love with you that day. I drove over to fires in the hopes of seeing you again. Somehow you always looked so sad. I thought I could save you, but I was too shy to approach you,' Castiel admitted. Well, wasn't that convenient?

'And Sam just happened to invite you to the party where we met?' Dean asked, incredulity straining his voice.

'Yes. I swear I didn't know he was your brother. I didn't know your name; I didn't know where you lived. All I knew was that you were a fire fighter and that I'd developed an ill advised crush on a stranger,' Castiel persisted. It was a bit like fate, Dean thought. Not that he believed in crap like that. It was irony; the good kind. That one fire had taken away someone he loved and another fire had given him someone he loved. If they had met at the party, the professor and the fireman, without that glimpse into Dean's idiocy, would they have kissed? Would they have fallen in love? Dean didn't want to know.

'You wanna come up?' he asked and Castiel smiled and took his hand. The next moment Dean was shoved up against the wall and Castiel's tongue was in his mouth. The professor bit Dean's lips and Dean moaned. He could feel himself starting to harden, but Castiel pulled away abruptly.

'I missed this. I missed you,' Dean admitted and Castiel simply nodded, breathless. Their hands linked of their own accord and that felt better even than the kiss.

(***)

Two months later.

'I did some research on fires. On the web, because we all know how reliable the internet is, and I've talked to a few firemen. Last time, we did the word association game...' Dr. Summers began, but Dean shifted uncomfortably in his chair and interrupted her.

'That I hated,' he protested. Next thing he knew she was going to break out the inkblots and ask him what he saw in them. He still couldn't believe he was really sitting here. With an actual therapist, actually discussing his issues. The worst thing perhaps was that he liked Alex. He tried to keep calling her Dr. Summers, but it was difficult. Damn her agreeableness! She reminded him of Jess, though she was of Indian descent and had short cropped black hair. It was the feistiness; the zero tolerance for bullshit.

'...which you hated, but we did get the one interesting admission,' Alex agreed. Clearly, she thought his rude interjections were amusing. Trying to ruffle her feathers was like trying to wrestle with water: a hopeless endeavour.

'Depends on what you call interesting,' Dean huffed. In the first few sessions he had tried to derail her by describing his sexual activities, but she bore every sordid detail like a trooper. Throughout she had taken notes and afterwards, when he had asked her what she had written down, she had said some of the things he had mentioned were worth a try. That was when he knew he had liked her. However, Dean still wasn't going to go gently into that good night. That was Castiel's fault; dude had him reading poetry. Poetry.

'I said 'mother' and without even thinking you said 'guilt,'' Alex said. Her notes were in front of her. Sometimes she pretended to consult them when Dean knew that she didn't really need them. It was a distancing technique she used. You're not my only client, it was meant to convey. I am not emotionally involved, it said. Dean appreciated the gesture, because it was hard enough having Castiel sit there in the corner listening to everything they discussed. Even though Dean was the one who from the very first session had asked Castiel to accompany him.

'So, I have been trying to discover whether you are guilty,' Alex said casually. Dean's gaze left Castiel and rested on her. He frowned.

'You have been trying to figure out whether my mother's death is my fault?' he asked, struggling to keep the shock out of his voice.

'Yes.'

'I don't even know what to say to that,' Dean stammered. He looked at Castiel for support, but Castiel remained dispassionate. It was nice to have him there. Nice and hard. At least Alex had the luxury of going home and forgetting about Dean's shit. Castiel remembered. Often what came out in the sessions bothered Castiel far more than it did Dean. Especially the stuff about John. Probably because Castiel had assumed that both Dean's parents were dead and it came as a bit of a shock to him when he learned that John, like Castiel's own father, was mostly absent from the life of his sons.

'Well, that's a first,' Alex replied. She seemed to change the subject then, but Dean had come to know her and a shift was never really a shift with Alex. So, he was weary when she gave him one of her hypothetical situations.

'Let's say you respond to a fire and in an upstairs bedroom there's a person,' she said.

'I know what you're doing,' Dean accused and he narrowed his eyes at her. Over time it had become easier to discuss his mother and her death, even in front of Castiel, but his feelings about the event had remained unchanged.

'Of course you know what I'm doing; you're not an idiot,' Alex replied, impatiently, but she winked at Castiel. She shuffled her notes and fished out a relevant piece of paper. Dean recognised it. It was crumpled and riddled with barely legible notations in between neat handwriting. It detailed the sequence of events the night his mother had died. His hands started to tremble slightly. They still did that; it was mildly annoying.

'That's one thing we agree on then,' Dean snapped, sourly. The disapproving gaze of Castiel stung his back.

'Why the hostility, Dean? You're in front of the door. Heat is coming off of it. What does that mean?' she asked. She might as well have been a surgeon, asking him where it hurt, asking him to describe the pain, while an axe was buried up to the hilt in his shoulder.

'There's a fire in the room behind the door,' he supplied, reluctantly. She wrote something down on another piece of paper, purely for the appearance of it, Dean suspected. He also didn't believe she needed the glassed that were perched on her nose, since she was always staring at him over the rim of them.

'Alright, there was an investigation after you mother's death, right? What was the point of origin of the fire?' she queried. Her pencil was ready to take down details. Details.

'An electrical heater short circuited.'

'It was in the bedroom?'

'Yes.'

'So, the fire started in your mother's room. Alright. I've thought about the smoke,' she said and she sounded pensive. Dean watched Castiel lean forward in his chair. His boyfriend looked at Alex, as if she was going to uncover something. But if something was going to be revealed Dean knew that he was the one who would provide it. And it would involve dragging up shit that he had spent 22 years trying to hide.

'What about it?' he asked, with a resigned sigh.

'Doesn't hot air go up?' Alex pondered in a puzzled voice. It was an act, Dean knew. She was not puzzled; she was one of the smartest people Dean knew and that meant a lot since he also knew Sam and Jess and Castiel. If she went on the internet and spoke to firemen, she had absorbed the available information like a sponge. She knew.

'Usually.'

'Then why did the smoke come from under the door?'

'Did it?' Dean asked, trying to sound bored. He knew it did. The only thing his mind had made up about that night was the bubbling paint. Of course, also the scenarios where he had opened the door and his life would have turned out completely different. The actual memory was tainted by only that one example of a youthful and overactive imagination; paint bubbling on the wall.

'You said it did,' Alex said and she tapped the crumpled paper, where she had written it down. Mercilessly, she continued, 'What kind of smoke was it? Wispy and grey or thick and black?'

'Black,' Dean provided.

'Why did it come from under the door? Was the door shut so hermetically otherwise that it couldn't seep through above the door, but only under the door?' Alex asked and Dean glanced at the clock on the wall. The hand counting down the seconds was hardly moving. They had been talking for about five minutes. Dean thought it felt more like half an hour.

'It could have been,' Dean grudgingly admitted, though it was more of a lie. A lie Alex naturally caught.

'But it wasn't?' she pursued.

'No, it wasn't. Smoke was coming through every available gap, but the gap underneath the door was the biggest, so most of the smoke came through there,' Dean muttered. The light tremor in his hands worsened and he squeezed his hands between his knees.

'What does that mean?'

'It means that the room was probably filled with smoke.'

'Which means; what exactly?'

'I don't know.'

'What does that mean for the person inside?' Alex asked softly. The person: Mary, his mother. Dean hated the way he felt. Like the walls were closing in, like he was alone. How could he feel like that when Castiel was sitting right there?

'Carbon monoxide poisoning.'

'Alright, and what about the heater? Was there something close to the heater that could have caught fire?' Alex went on, but at the same time she left him a little breathing room. She was good. Dean trusted her. No matter how much he resisted, he knew that Alex would never push him too far. She set the pace, but whenever she felt he wasn't ready, she waited.

'It was standing on the carpet,' Dean remembered. He hadn't thought about the heater in ages. Mostly, he went over waking up and not saving his mother. Over and over. That's one of the reasons why he didn't like to think about it. It was like a carousel that, once you were aboard, you could never get off. It just went round and round. Only, instead of wooden horses there were doors he should have opened and things he should have done.

'Something else?' she prodded.

'The... The bed,' Dean said.

'If someone was in the bed, sleeping, would the fire get to her?' Alex asked. They were hovering between the hypothetical fire and the fire that killed his mother. Dean appreciated the vague in-between space, because it allowed him to ever so slightly view it as an adult. View it from the viewpoint of a 27 year old, instead of being there and seeing it happen.

'It was not a big room.'

'In what way wasn't it a big room?'

'She slept with the windows closed. The oxygen would have run out pretty fast.'

'So, she would be unconscious or...'

'Dead. Yes,' Dean admitted and he was surprised at his matter-of-factness. This was pure speculation. What if he had opened the door and she was still alive?

'What if you had opened the door?' Alex tried and Dean glanced at her. His wrists were starting to hurt from the continued shaking. What he really wanted to do was flee from this room. Open the door and leave, but he had promised Sam. He had promised Castiel.

'I should have,' he said, aggressively.

'I'm not saying whether you should or shouldn't have. The fire started in Mary's bedroom. Black smoke was coming from under the door. I'm asking, what does that tell you as a fireman? Would it be wise to open the door?' Alex calmly continued.

This was breakthrough time, right? But he didn't want to have a breakthrough. For over two decades he had dealt with that night the only way he knew how and it hadn't been so bad. Sure, sometimes he needed to get drunk to forget and he constantly pushed people away. Jess and Castiel were the only people he had formed a meaningful relationship with in that time and that was only because Jess loved Sam and took Dean in too. And Castiel, simply because he was too good for this world.

Dean might be an idiot, but he knew there was stuff under there. Underneath the guilt. He had been so sad after his mother died, until he accepted the guilt. The guilt had served him well. It was a good excuse to hide behind and it kept away all those other things he didn't want to feel.

'I should have,' he stubbornly repeated.

'Who's answering, Dean? I'm asking an experienced fireman. What would have happened if you had opened the door?' Alex insisted. Swallowing, Dean extracted his hands from between his knees. They were trembling uncontrollably. Alex pretended not to notice as she gazed at him. Dean balled them into fists, then stretched his fingers and formed fists again. They didn't stop shaking. He pressed his short nails into his palms, so he could breathe.

'It would have fed the fire. The sudden supply of oxygen might have led to a blast,' Dean said. Satisfied that she had gotten him to say that, Alex changed tactics.

'Does your father feel guilty?'

'Maybe. He has not handled my mother's death well.'

'You have mentioned this. He is a lawyer.'

'Yes.'

'He sues people or companies that he deems responsible for fires?' Alex asked, consulting her notes. What was this? From mommy issues to daddy issues? The time was still not up and Dean recognised the look in Alex's eyes. She thought she had only scraped the surface and she was going to dig deeper, while Dean felt that he was already fucking bleeding.

'Yes.'

'Is that out of guilt, you think?'

'Maybe,' Dean noncommittally answered. He really didn't know. John didn't talk about that night and only mentioned their mother sporadically. Wouldn't that be a bitch? If all those years John had been thinking that it was his fault and Dean thought it was his fault. The Winchesters were certainly good at holding onto their shared misery, without actually sharing it.

'Because he wasn't there?'

'Could be.'

'Do you think he should feel guilty?'

'He wasn't there. If he was he probably would have died too,' Dean said. He didn't think that night would have gone any differently if John hadn't been working. They would have lost both their parents, instead of losing Mary and slowly losing John. In effect, Dean thought, his father did die that night. He couldn't blame him for not being there. Unlike Sam, Dean couldn't even blame him for not being there after their mother died.

'What about your brother? Does Sam feel guilty?' Alex asked, jotting down something.

'No, I don't think so. Why should he?' Dean asked. He couldn't think of someone less responsible for what had happened that night than Sam.

'Taking care of a baby is exhausting. Maybe if she hadn't been so tired, she would have woken up in time,' she suggested.

'That's stupid,' Dean snapped and, when Alex chuckled, he asked, 'Is that funny?'

She shook her head and apologised. Behind Dean, Castiel moved and his chair creaked. Both Alex and Dean looked at him. Embarrassed and colouring slightly, Castiel mouthed 'sorry,' but Alex's gaze stayed fixed on him.

'Can I ask Castiel a couple of questions? Do either of you mind that?' she asked after a sort pause. Dean looked at Castiel, who shrugged. Dean gestured for Alex to go right ahead. She leaned forward and smiled.

'Dean has told me about you. Your mother died during childbirth,' she bluntly began. Dean glanced at Castiel, but he didn't seem to mind in the least. Well, he didn't know his mother, Dean argued, so maybe that's why he doesn't care. Also, while Dean was a mess, Castiel was a well-adjusted man.

'Yes.'

'Do you feel you have caused her death?' Alex asked and Dean's head snapped up to protest her hurtful question. However, before he could say anything Castiel answered.

'No,' he said. Dean stared at him. How could he not feel that? His mother had died giving birth to him. Technically, Castiel had caused her death.

'Do you feel you should have died too then?'

'No.'

'You may be entitled to survivor's guilt, but you don't have it. Would you like to try for tuberculosis instead?' Alex joked and Dean felt a little lost. He was used to feeling shackled to one spot during therapy, because he felt he couldn't move; he couldn't escape. Now, he was almost drifting through the room and no one noticed. What where they talking about? Was this some sort of fellow academics talk that he didn't understand? Like a secret handshake? He had one with Castiel, but it only involved one hand and it wasn't something you performed in public.

'Vonnegut?' Castiel guessed and Alex nodded. At least, Dean was relaxing and breathing. His hands were almost still.

'What's with the ridiculous questions?' Dean said and he realised he sounded tired. Alex looked at him and seemed to like what she was seeing. Shuffling her notes together, she put them into one file. The file was thicker than Dean would have expected, yet also thinner. One inch for one night, but also one inch for 22 years. She leaned back in her chair and took off her glasses. Dean felt this was a bad sign. Not once in the ten past sessions had she taken off her glasses.

'What if and if only; those are ridiculous questions. Not for you, but in the grander scheme of things. You suffer from a posttraumatic stress syndrome, Dean,' she announced. They had received training about how to deal with PTSD victims at the station. People who had seen their loved ones die, screaming. Dean accepted that fires were traumatic, especially if you lost someone, but those people had usually witnessed something that was forever seared in their memory. Not just a closed door with smoke billowing from under it and a frightening silence.

So, that couldn't be right, Dean thought. Survivors from the Holocaust, soldiers returning from war, rape victims, parents who had seen their children engulfed by flames; they could suffer from PTSD. What he had been through was horrible, but somehow it didn't qualify. He hadn't seen anything. His mother hadn't even screamed. But then again, didn't he always think the silence was worse?

'Yes, you do,' Alex said, to his disbelieving face. She started to tick off symptoms. He avoided stimuli associated with the trauma. He relived the trauma. He had an alcohol problem, which luckily was less severe than it could have been. He reacted with anger or denial when anything related to the trauma was mentioned. His work and relationships were affected by the trauma.

'I didn't know it was diagnosis time,' Dean said. His throat was dry. It was the feeling he usually had before he had a drink. Except now he was almost an alcoholic and that put the desire for a drink in an entirely different perspective.

'You've already come a long way. We are able to talk about what happened, though I have to drag it out of you. You've discussed it with other people. People you trust. That's something a lot of people suffering from a PTSD can't do. However, you still have a violent reaction to the trauma and your first impulse remains to repress it.'

'I'm sorry I laughed. It's not funny, it's sad. It is because you don't think your brother or father should feel guilty. You admit that your mother was dead; either killed by the smoke inhalation or by the lack of oxygen, long before you were standing by her door. Yet, you think that you could have changed the outcome of that night. By opening the door or giving your address to the emergency services,' Alex said. It didn't make sense. But a lot of things didn't make sense and at least he was living. He was a functioning member of society.

Barely; Sam would have said.

'Dean, it was not your fault. There was nothing you could have done. Can you accept that?' Alex asked.

'It was not my fault?' Dean tried. He hadn't meant it to be a question, but it was. Nor did it sound terribly convincing.

'That doesn't sound like you believe it,' Alex objected. Dean sighed. He knew others believed it. No one blamed him, except Dean himself. Castiel could smother it with kisses and make him consider the possibility that he was not responsible. Sam and Jess could quell the truth with compassion. At the end of the day, though, Dean carried the same burden.

'Sam told me. Castiel tells me, but it doesn't change the way I feel,' Dean admitted.

'Well, there is something called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it's the common treatment for PTSD. We'll examine the way you feel and how you react right now to the trauma and we'll try to replace those thoughts and actions with healthier ones. And we're going to work towards you believing that it wasn't your fault. I'm good, you're cooperating, and you've got a bunch of people who love you and support you; we're going to get there,' Alex reassured him. The session was nearly over, Dean saw. He straightened up in his chair.

'Yeah, I hope so.'

'You will have to mourn her, though. Have you been sad over her death?' Alex probed. She was like some freaky mind reader. Like she knew that the guilt had covered up all these feelings that Dean had also suppressed.

'I... For a short time,' he stammered.

'You were too busy feeling guilty?' Alex guessed. She smiled at him and he appreciated her light hearted tone. He could feel Castiel behind him, watching his every move, and he nodded.

'Well, that's all going to come up. Everything the guilt has been obscuring. Sadness, anger, love; you name it. It's not going to be pretty. PTSD can be emotionally numbing. The other emotions that you haven't allowed yourself to feel could be much more painful,' Alex prepared him with a cheery voice. Dean didn't think he'd ever been as afraid in his entire life.

'More painful than thinking I basically killed my mother?' he joked, but it was too soon. His hands stayed still, but it was too soon.

'You loved her. You should have been heartbroken and you skipped that. It's going to hurt like hell, Dean,' Alex warned him. She got up from behind her desk and shook his hand. It was a formal thing they did after every session. No matter how much she had dug through his most private and painful feelings, they maintained the gesture. After two sessions she had asked him whether he still wanted the handshake and he had nodded eagerly. It made it easier, somehow. In a way, it enabled him to leave behind most of what he had said, because it was just a business transaction.

He talked, she listened. She asked questions, he paid her. Castiel shook her hand too. Dean liked him there, like a sort of anchor. Something that he could hold on to when he felt he was drowning. Something that reminded him of why he was there in the first place; subjecting himself to this curious form of abuse.

(***)

However, when they were in the car, Dean's hands started to shake again. There was nothing there. The Metallica CD was in his apartment, no cigarette, not even gum. Booze, he guessed, was off limits now. Either way, that wasn't there either. There was only Castiel. He sat next to him, watching how Dean searched for something.

'Perhaps you should let it come,' he suggested. Dean glared at him. He fisted the loose fabric of Castiel's sweater between his hands and twisted. Castiel didn't do anything. He didn't move. He didn't say a word. Panting, Dean untangled his fingers and grabbed Castiel's shoulders.

'I can't feel it,' Dean said. Castiel shook his head. Dean's fingers were digging into Castiel's flesh. It hurt. It hurt Dean, so it must definitely hurt Castiel. Still, he just sat there.

'You don't... I don't want to feel it,' Dean groaned. The shaking was spreading. He could feel it in his stomach. This was one of those violent reactions, he thought with scorn. Violence was good, so it was either fighting or having sex. He tried to kiss Castiel, but Castiel evaded his mouth. Dean pushed him back against the seat. Suddenly, Castiel wrenched Dean's fingers from his shoulders and shoved him away.

'I'm sorry, but no,' he said. Fighting it is, Dean decided. He raised his fist. Castiel stared at him, immobile, and Dean couldn't do it. He lowered his fist. His shoulders started to shake too.

'You've gotta... Please, something,' Dean pleaded. The shaking hurt so much and he felt so tired. He had a head ache and his eyes were burning and he felt as if he was only half there. Had he known; Dean wondered. That little boy; had he known? That it was too late? Had he somehow always known? That couldn't be true.

All those years of punishing himself and lashing out at everyone. He couldn't have known, because otherwise, why would he have done that? Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he didn't make a sound. Dean turned away from Castiel and leaned against the door. His vision was blurred; he couldn't make out the dashboard. He remembered taking the record from the trunk of the car and hiding it. That was the moment.

(***)

22 years ago.

They had been staying with Bobby for a short time. It was a week after the fire. Bobby and John had been talking in the kitchen and Dean had listened to their conversation.

'It's no one's fault,' Bobby had said. John hadn't said anything. His father's shoulders had been shaking and he had been making weird noises: he had been crying. Bobby had patted his shoulder and he had looked singularly unhappy too. Dean had gone straight for the car and had taken the record. His father hadn't looked in the trunk. There was nothing to put in there, anyway. Everything had been destroyed in the fire.

Dean had gone upstairs, to an empty room in Bobby's house. He had hidden the record in a closet. That had reminded him of the glass statue and he had started to cry too. He missed her so much. Too much. It was too big. He tried to play with Sam like before, but it didn't work. Since his mother 'went away,' like dad kept saying, Dean was so sad.

He had trouble sleeping and didn't feel like eating. He had nightmares about that night. It was cold, but when Bobby had tried to light the fireplace Dean had completely flipped out. He had screamed and thrown himself to the floor trashing his arms and legs. When Sam started to cry, Dean would start violently and shiver all over his body. John hardly seemed to notice that anything was wrong with Dean, but Dean knew his behaviour worried Bobby and it disturbed Sam. Sam with his weird baby mojo was able to sense Dean's moods and cried more often.

So, he had tried to be normal, but it seemed that no matter how hard he tried, something was missing inside. It was not a feeling he had wanted to experience for the rest of his life, so that day he had stopped crying. He had hidden the record in the closet and he had hidden all these feelings that he had, because they were useless. They made him unhappy and they made Sam unhappy. Something about what Bobby had said had struck a chord, because John always said that if you looked long enough you discovered someone behind it all.

Sam was a baby and John wasn't there, so Dean was to blame. He had tried out that feeling and it had felt a whole lot better than being sad and wanting to cry all the time. In fact, the feeling fit him like a glove. He had believed it and it had become true. From that day on guilt was the feeling he felt when he thought about his mother's death, but he steadily got better at not thinking about it.

(***)

'Cas,' Dean breathed. Castiel touched his shoulder gently and Dean faced him. He clutched the other man's shoulders and buried his face in the wrinkled sweater. Spasms of grief were convulsing his body as he leaned into Castiel's embrace. The outpouring of sorrow exhausted Dean, but his body refused to stop. His breathing was laboured and loud sobs filled the car. After what seemed like an eternity, Dean felt worn out by the too long suppressed emotion. Slowly, he felt himself relaxing in Castiel's arms.

'I miss her. I miss her so much,' he whispered with his lips against the soft cotton. Castiel rubbed his back and murmured that he knew.

'How do you know?' he asked.

'I miss my mother and I didn't even know her,' Castiel explained. Dean pulled out of the hug and used his sleeves to dry his eyes. The skin around his eyes felt raw and the rest of his face must be streaked with red and tears. Again Castiel didn't do anything, except look at him. He was probably the only person in the world who could look at Dean and make him feel loved. Dean might feel lonely, he might feel alone, but all Castiel had to do was look at him and he filled a void.

A void that Dean had long forgotten was there. Until he broke up with Castiel and discovered that something was missing inside. Again. It worked both ways, however. Castiel loved Dean and that was wonderful, but loving Castiel somehow also filled the void. To allow himself to love someone was scary, yet he did. He loved Castiel.

'I'm not a cause,' Dean warned with a hoarse voice, 'I don't want you to save me; I just want you to love me. Because I love you.'

He struggled to keep his composure and eventually managed to croak out a strangled, 'So, you wanna fuck?'

'Why don't you tell me about your mother? And then we'll make love,' Castiel responded, but, after reconsidering his words, he somewhat abashed added, 'That didn't come out exactly the way I had intended it.'

'Like really creepy foreplay?' Dean joked.

'And your father? Will you tell me about him? It occurred to me that he didn't come to your birthday party,' Castiel continued.

'Well, you can't have everything,' Dean said, but that wasn't entirely true. Castiel was pretty much everything, at least to Dean, and Dean had him. And he had no intention of ever letting him go. Not now that Castiel had set fire to his heart. Good irony, good fire, good love; apparently, good things do happen.

The end.

(***)

Do not go gentle into that good night is a poem by Dylan Thomas

''You may be entitled to the Survivor's Syndrome, but you didn't get it,' she said. 'Would you like to try for tuberculosis instead?'' is an excerpt from the novel Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut.

'Good things do happen, Dean,' is what Castiel tells Dean in Lazarus rising, the first episode of season 4 of Supernatural.