"You sure this is gonna work?" Sam asked.
"It should. You said Cas said it would, didn't he?" Dean said, though he looked a little doubtful.
"It sounded like there was something else, though."
"Something else? What do you mean, something else?"
"I dunno," shrugged Sam. "I wish I knew, but Cas passed out before I could get anything else out of him."
Dean reached into the back of the Impala and pulled out the trench coat. He looked at it for a couple of moments before throwing it at Sam.
"I'll grab Cas. You bring the coat."
Sam did not question his brother. He paused to grab a couple of weapons from the trunk of the Impala before catching up to his brother. Sam stopped short a couple of feet behind Dean when he caught him standing at the water's edge, holding Cas, talking to him.
"Cas… uh, I know you can't hear me right now. Hell, it's probably better that way," he said with a weak laugh, "but I don't wanna let you die again. Not unless I can tell you something. I… need you here, Cas. I don't know what I'm gonna do if I lose you again. It was bad that day, but, son of a bitch, it just got worse every day after that. I did everything to deal with this shit, but they're all gone. All those sons of bitches are back where they should be, but they're still hurting us. They took Bobby, and now they're gonna take you again. Just… don't go again. Got it?"
Dean did not finish his sentence. Sam sighed slowly, watching his brother's shoulders hunch. He always had a guess about how deep Dean's love for the angel ran, but this was more of an admittance of love than he had ever heard out of his brother's mouth for Lisa or anyone else for a long, long time.
Sam looked away, his fingers tightening on the trench coat. Making sure Dean was still lost in his world with Cas in his arms, Sam looked up at the sky.
Help us. I don't know if you can hear me, but you've saved us before. You've done a lot for Cas, too, but … this is for us, too. Dean's not the only one who's gonna be hurting if Cas is really gone. I never thought he was gone for good… but if we see him actually go… I don't know what's gonna happen to us. We lost everyone—you can't be so cold and let us have Cas back for a few hours and just take him right back—
"Sam! You done watching the clouds or what? Help me get the coat on Cas."
"Right—sorry," he said, hurrying forward. Dean helped Cas onto his feet and held him upright as Sam started to pull Cas's arms through the sleeves. Dean was watching intensely. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," he said, not tearing his eyes away from Cas's face.
"Dean… if he goes down in the water, the coat's just gonna drag him down. You know that, right?" Sam said as he finally got Cas's arm through the sleeve. He started working on the other arm. Dean continued to watch with such rapt attention that Sam had to say his name several times to get his attention.
"I had a dream, Sam. This—all this happened."
"You mean like a psychic dream?" frowned Sam. "That's not—"
"No, no… it wasn't like what your demon mojo did to you," said Dean, shaking his head. "It didn't happen exactly like this. Cas'd been back a few days, but he was just like this… weak, human, dying because he didn't have enough grace holding him together. And it wasn't enough, the grace in the tree. But there was the last bit missing and it was in the coat…. We put it on him and he went back in the water, and—I woke up."
"Was Cas okay?" asked Sam. Dean did not respond immediately.
"Woke up before I could tell. Still… I know it's in the coat. Hell, I think the coat's the thing that's telling me—I had the dreams when I was using it as a pillow."
Dean stopped and looked up at the tree. It was the same as in the dream, only still upright. It looked ready to collapse, yes, but it was in one piece. The storm was still on the air, but it had not struck yet. The first drops fell as they finally got the last of the trench coat on Cas's body. His head rolled from side to side.
"Damn it, Cas," whispered Dean, his wide eyes fixed on Cas. "You were supposed to wake up."
"What are you—?"
"Go get dad's notebook."
"Why? There's nothing in there."
"Just go," barked Dean, not looking up from Cas's bent head. "I, uh, put some papers in them. Need 'em."
Sam did not object this time. He understood. Sam turned and left the lake, looking back only when he reached the gate. He watched Dean wade through the water. He could have sworn he saw Dean's face bend down over Cas's, but he was too far away to know for certain.
"Cas," Dean breathed, lowering his head as he stopped walking through the water. "You better be right about all this."
Cas's head moved ever so slightly. Dean's eyes widened. Under the water he could see Cas's hands move and his fingers flex. Dean dipped Cas's head under the water for a second or so, but he still was not awake. Dean did this two, three times more before Cas sputtered and opened his eyes.
"The water… Dean, let me go."
"You're gonna drown. No. Not gonna happen," Dean said, shaking his head, holding on tightly to Cas's body. Cas gave him a little smile.
"I'll be fine. I can do this."
"Oh, where've I heard that one before, Cas?" snapped Dean. "No."
"You're being unreasonable. I'm awake… but I'll die here in your arms, Dean. Just let me go."
"I can't. Cas—"
Cas, in a burst of unexpected strength, broke out of Dean's grip and dove under the water. Dean stood, staring as the waves hit him. Rain began to pour harder.
"—I need you to come back, Cas! Got it? Just get your ass up here as soon as you're done!" yelled Dean, kicking at the water as he trudged to shore.
He kept cursing under he breath, shaking the water out of his boots, until he heard the crunch. Dean spun around. The tree was crumbling, falling in massive, irregular chunks into the murky water. He watched the massive trunk splinter; Dean could see the other side of the lake through a growing hole in the wood.
"Dean!" came Sam's frantic voice. Sam appeared at his side. "Come on—it's gonna fall—"
"Cas is still down there, Sam. I'm not leaving him!"
The sky erupted with lightning, flashing in every direction. Dean and Sam ran toward the Impala, but not soon enough—they still caught the moment that the lightning struck the tree and split it cleanly down the middle. The whole lake was illuminated, but not in a blinding sort of way or in a way that indicated that the water was full of hot electricity. No, there was something else down there that the lightning had freed.
"It's Cas," Sam breathed with an insuppressible smile forming on his face. He looked at his brother, whose face was chiseled into a frown. "Dean, that was it—he got the grace!"
Dean watched the water, which was still glowing and turbulent.
"Maybe, but something's not right, Sam. Come on."
Dean ran back down to the water's edge. He threw his shoes and his jacket onto the ground; Sam did the same and they waded into the water. It was cold as ice all of a sudden. Dean dove under the water and swam around, searching, but when he came up for air, he found nothing. They swam closer to the middle of the lake and the water became colder and colder. They could see their breath linger over the surface of the lake.
Right where the tree had split, deep beneath the water, there was something glowing and turbulent and strong. Against the brightness, they could see a figure, trapped between the roots. Instantly, Dean and Sam dove under the water. Deeper and deeper they swam, fighting through dead branches that wove around them like walls of a maze. Sam could hardly fit through a couple of spaces, but they managed.
Finally they reached the clear of the bare base of the trunk before the roots. Even there the tree was split right up to the actual base. There, right where the roots spread and flowered in a tangled mess of unyielding wires, holding together the last of the trunk, was the ball of light—the grace. It was less of a ball and more of a galaxy of revolving bits of starlight concentrated at the bottom of the lake.
The only thing missing was Castiel.
Dean, heart pounding with worry, lungs pounding for air, swam around to the mess of roots and almost breathed out in relief. There was Cas, stuck in the tangle of roots. He waved at Sam and they took Cas by a shoulder each. It took some careful maneuvering and tugging, but they freed him from the roots. Dean pressed his fingers to Cas's neck—there was a very faint pulse that he very nearly missed. Cas's eyes fluttered and fixed on Dean for a moment before his head fell forward.
Dean and Sam swam hard back to the other side of the roots. When they reached the grace, they lowered Cas to it, still careful not to let him float away and holding him by the shoulders.
The light was suddenly blinding. Cas disappeared. The water ran hot and Dean and Sam were propelled through the water to the surface. They gasped for air, hardly able to keep themselves from passing out. They swam to the shore and collapsed on the gravel. Dean looked over at his brother and saw that he had passed out. He raised his head ever so slightly to get a look at the lake, but it was too much. His head cut open with pain, his hand stung as though he had been burned, and his sight went black.
They were moving. Dean slowly opened his eyes and raised his head. His hand slid over the familiar upholstery of the Impala, which was steadily moving. He blinked a couple of times and looked out the window at the rapidly passing farmland. Dean looked over—Sam was driving. He sat up and his head gave a nasty throb.
"Morning, sunshine," grinned Sam.
"How long was I out?" Dean asked groggily, still holding his head.
"An hour or so. We didn't leave that long ago," said Sam. Dean shifted around. The trench coat fell out from behind his head. His heart sank hard and fast. He picked it up and noticed that his hand—the one that had gripped Cas's shoulder—was red and raw.
"I had the weirdest dream, Sammy," said Dean, staring at his hand. Sam looked over and Dean. He shifted his grip on the steering wheel, flexing his one hand.
"Looked like it was a good one."
"Yeah. I'm going back to sleep," Dean said, rolling over toward the window.
"You don't want to stop for pie? There's a diner coming up," suggested Sam.
"No. I'm good," Dean said quietly, staring at the lock on the door.
The gun on the floor of the car caught the gray light from the rainy sky, as did the side view mirror. Dean caught his reflection for a second and a glimpse into the back seat. He looked once, but he had to look again—there he was, fast asleep on the back seat, dressed in the old holy tax accountant outfit.
"I know. Not a dream, bro. Feels like it," he said, "but it's not. I told Cas not to wake you… didn't seem like you were getting much sleep lately. We figured you needed the rest. Oh, and he let you sleep on the coat. He said you needed it as much as he did."
Dean turned and looked into the back seat, watching the resting angel for a long moment. He felt a throbbing ache shake him, but it was one of happiness, and that is why it felt so strong and so wrong. He was Dean Winchester. Happiness was not a real option, not after all the shit he and Sam had been through. But here he was and, even for a moment, even if it was all in a dream and this was just another one of many mindfucks, he was happy.
"Yeah. I guess he was right."