Dean can't stop praying to Castiel.

Well, sometimes it's Castiel. Other times it's Cas, or God, Lord, His Holiness, Morgan Freeman, Inspector Godget, Smitey McSmiterson, or whatever he can come up with at the time.

At first he thought it would really change something. No matter how Cas had changed, if Dean could just get through to him he could fix things. He could talk him down, force him into the twelve step program for soul junkies.

Dean knew Cas was there, knew he was paying attention because of the hunts.

Even with Sam knee-deep in hell fire and miracles popping up on local news across the country, the Winchester boys kept moving, determined to fight off whatever evil their new God left for them. They fought through three months, Dean praying every time Sam wasn't looking. At the end of the third month Dean hadn't picked up a single scratch, bruise or broken bone since being tossed around the room by Crowley.

In the fifth month he prayed because he was angry. There were wounds on Sam that he could bandage and ones he couldn't, but they were all there because of Castiel as far as Dean was concerned. He was showing his face to people left and right, saving Dean from scraped knees and papercuts, but he was leaving Sam to rot. He didn't even have the nerve to answer Dean's prayers.

So Dean prayed every day. He prayed to his bacon, prayed in the shower, prayed when he saw a kid fall down in the park, prayed as he swung his fist into a guy's face at the bar, when he pumped a poltergeist full of salt, and when he went to bed with blood under his nails. He prayed when Sam was there or when he wasn't because he just didn't give a damn anymore.

He stopped hunting because he couldn't stand the silence anymore. Not when he could feel Cas that close all the time.

He kept praying because it had become like thinking to him. There wasn't force behind it, there wasn't reason. He just had to do it.

Dean prayed so much he couldn't remember all the things he'd prayed, or he could only remember them half way. He drank himself stupid while praying for God only knows what.

He woke up next to a girl without a clue as to where he'd picked her up. A week later he finally started to remember what had happened. The only thing more awkward than remembering that you'd prayed after sex was knowing that the girl you'd had rough, drunk sex with had dark, kitten-soft hair and baby blue eyes.

Sam called him emotionally constipated, but they were both breaking into pieces in ways neither wanted to talk about.

It's a Sunday when Dean wakes up on a bed in the Sioux Falls hospital with a cast weighing down his right wrist.

He shakes himself into consciousness, head pounding sullenly. Everything is sharp with disinfectant and the sweet smell of age and illness that Dean can't stand. There's a rough line of stitches running into his hairline on one side. Dean turns at the sound of pages flipping to find his brother in a chair next to the bed, the curtain for the next bed over pulled shut behind him.

"What the hell happened?"

"You got drunk and fell of the porch." Sam says like he's said it a million times. He doesn't look up, just keeps flipping through the worn copy of People in his hands.

"Damn."

"You went outside because you thought you'd get better 'angel radio reception' if you could see the sky."

So Dean associates praying to Castiel with satellite internet when he's drunk, and Sam is beyond angry. Alright.

"Wow," he says, because he's pretty sure making a joke would just piss Sam off more.

"You tried to order a pizza."

"What?"

"You asked God for extra onion," Sam answers. He appears to be reading an article about Katie Couric's love handles.

Dean clears his throat, glances around the room for his clothes before sitting up.

"Man, I was so far gone I probably would've asked a rougarou for a seltzer water if I'd had the chance." The tile floor is ice cold under his feet and he's quick to grab his jeans and drag them on. He sits back down to pull on his socks and shoes. Behind him he hears Sam drop the magazine onto the side table with a smack. He engages himself with the complex task of getting his shirt over the cast while Sam steps around the bed. His head gets stuck while he's waiting for his brother to paint the room with emotion, but by the time he finally sees light again Sam is already gone. He has to check himself out and hitch a ride back to Bobby's.

Dean wakes up on the couch the next morning after a sober night of Jackie Chan movies to find "IDIOT" scrawled thickly across his cast in sharpie. He reads it in Bobby's voice, but doesn't feel any better about it.

The next thing he finds out is that Sam stole his pain pills and he's headed to Louisiana on a hunt.

"I WILL MURDER YOU," he texts after a few hours, when the pain in his wrist is reaching critical.

"idjit," is Sam's witty reply. Dean decides that he'll be pissed if Sam dies on the hunt and this is their last conversation.

The pain in his wrist makes it hard to stay sober, but Bobby looks murderous every time Dean tries to get a beer out of the fridge or goes anywhere near the whisky in his desk. He catches himself beginning to pray to Cas eight times over the course of two days, but knows he needs to get a handle on it. There's no real plan behind his actions, just the knowledge that he's dangerously close to falling off the deep end. If he was God (or Cas), he probably wouldn't listen to the prayers of a rambling drunk either. Still, the urge to keep praying is almost overwhelming.

He's out on the porch the morning after Sam gets back, leaning over the railing and watching the scrapyard shimmer with dew, fog rising in the distance. It's beautiful and peaceful, but he's not thinking about that. He's hearing the wind howl and glass shatter, feeling the heat of holy fire on his face and the icy beat of rain on his back. His heart is flooding with pride as he watches Castiel leave his asshole brother trapped in an empty wreck of a house. There's all the time in the world, because Cas might still be a virgin, but they both survived the night. There's time, and there's hope.

"So much for that," he mutters to himself. Then, because there's nobody around to hear him, "Hey, Lord. Still got your cherry? Smite once for yes, two for no." A bird calls in the distance and Dean hangs his head, smiling to himself because sometimes you just can't feel any sadder.

"You've asked this before." The voice is calm, amused and Dean doesn't want to turn around just to find that he's imagined it. He turns anyway.

He almost jumps back, because it seems that draining a keg of souls hasn't done anything to improve Castiel's understanding of personal space. It looks like Cas, but not the same way that he's always looked like Jimmy Novak, or the way he looked like a shade of himself in 2014, high and hopeless. For a bare moment, he looks like the Cas Dean almost prayed to a million times after he lost his brother, the one whose eyes sparked when he silently dared Dean to do what was right, who smiled when Dean told him to never change.

So much for that, too.

"Cas," Dean says, because after months of saying his name into the silence, he finally has the chance to look at him while he does it.

Cas dips his head and smiles, and it's damn awful.

Dean has a hundred things to say, things he hasn't even said in prayers, but it seems hollow to say anything he's already planned for this moment. He ought to say Fix my brother, you ass. He already knows, though, looking at Cas—but not Cas, and not Castiel, someone just shy of either—that none of what he ought to say is likely to do a damn thing.

He takes a step forward and slides his arms around Cas' shoulders, pulls him tight and holds on for all he's worth. Dean buries his nose in the collar of Jimmy Novak's stupid trench coat and squeezes his eyes shut. If the stiff body beneath his fingers disappears, he's going to pretend it's there for as long as he can. If Cas decides to burn him up from the inside out, he'll let the end come just like this.

When he feels warm hands spreading over his back, pulling Dean even closer, all he can think is, I hate you so much.

Of course, because he's God he thinks the thought is funny, and he hums his amusement into Dean's hair.

"I've heard too many of your prayers to think that's true, Dean."

"I'll fix this, Cas. I promise."

Dean knows the moment he's alone because he begins to pray.

"Ding dong, Avon calling." He stops there. Cas wouldn't get the reference anyway.