Dean doesn't quite believe it.
He hears the words. Over and over and over again. But...he doesn't believe it. It's not like he thinks it's a lie, or a shitty joke that's being played on him.
He just doesn't know how he's suppose to know.
It takes...too many repetitions, too many hands on his shoulder, too many direct, pitying looks into his eyes before he realises – shit, it really is true.
But he still has trouble believing it. It's like...believing in God, or love, or atoms, or air.
Believing in something you can't see, is hard.
He walks out on Lisa a week later.
She comes home, and he's just finished packing a bag. One bag, because really, he doesn't need to take any of his crap with him. Just some clothes, toothbrush, a towel and some pictures that he can't bear to leave.
He comes downstairs and finds her in the kitchen, slicing up lemon icebox pie. She's just talking away, like everything's normal. And he knows that he can't take it. That it'll be so much harder if he stays. He loves Lisa, but...deep down, deeper, deeper even than he can stand to look, he knows that she's always loved him just a little less.
Dean's not judging, it was enough love to get married on, to build up this life.
But it's not enough for this.
So he stands in the doorway, bag in hand, and says, "I need to not be here for a while."
Lisa knocks the pie into the sink, where it spatters, septic yellow and ruined.
Dean trades in his Prius and spends half the money on the first month's rent of an apartment over a bowling alley.
With the rest he buys an old, black muscle car. A Chevy Impala. He's wanted one since he was eighteen, and this one is a warhorse with loose upholstery and a transition that sounds like hippos mating. But he can fix it.
Sam calls him and tells him that he is an asshole for leaving Lisa like that.
Dean agrees with him.
Sam tells him that he's ashamed of him, and that he hopes Dean isn't screwing around with someone on the side.
Dean says that he's ashamed of himself, that no, he isn't sleeping with anyone. He just wants to be alone.
Sam hangs up the phone.
Dean quits his job.
He's always hated working for someone else, even though he loved the garage where he worked.
So he quits.
He spends the long, hot days of summer on the tiny balcony of his apartment, drinking beer after beer and relaxing, in his boxer shorts, on a rusty lounger.
Sam calls again.
"Are you ok?"
"Sure I am, don't I sound it?"
Sam is quiet after that.
Dean stops looking at his mail. He just tosses it into the garbage on his way to the store to get beer, nachos and snow peas.
He starts to get a little lonely just going to the store, then sitting at home.
Dean goes to the library and sits there reading all the books he never had time for when he was growing up. Most of them are just about as crappy as he thought they would be, but some of them are surprisingly decent. He was never dumb, but he had little patience with characters who didn't act like regular people.
Still, he supposes there's no real way of knowing how real people are supposed to act in the first place.
He goes to the movie theatre until he's seen all the movies. He arrives after the trailers on purpose. There's no real point in watching them.
Sam calls round.
He looks at the bare apartment, the mattress on the floor that Dean sleeps on, the clothes hanging in the closet, the only things in the bedroom. There's a bag of nachos on the counter, a six pack cooling in a bucket of water. Nothing else.
"What is going on with you?" Sam asks, looking at his older brother, who's sitting on the floor with him, drinking a beer and rubbing at the stubble on his face.
"Nothing. I'm just...taking a little vacation."
"Life." Dean smiles a little. "C'mon, I'm due...and, I just need it Sam. I need...time."
"To do what? When are you going to talk to Lisa?"
Dean looks down at the floor. "Lisa's gonna be glad we didn't talk, trust me...she'll find someone else."
"Your wife, is gonna find someone else...and that doesn't bother you?"
Dean blinks at him. "It'd be a bit selfish of me if it did, now wouldn't it?"
Sam has no idea what else to do.
Dean has no idea what else to say.
Eventually, Dean gets so lonely that he can't stand it.
He needs noise around the place, it's too quiet, even with the bowling alley downstairs.
He wonders about getting a cat, or a dog or something. But that seems a little unfair, to take it in, take care of it and then just up and leave it with no one.
So he does the next best thing.
He finds a man living in a dumpster behind a Wal-mart. He's a sunburnt, stubbled mess of a human being, always lecturing random passersby about recycling and how they're SUV's are destroying the earth.
Dean approaches him and asks him if he'd like to come stay with him for a while, that he has a balcony going spare, and he wants someone to talk to, and that the guy can have his clothes and mattress when he leaves the apartment.
The guy blinks at him with bright blue eyes, and tells him that would be, 'Quite pleasant.' And then he offers him a pair of shoes made from old car tyres.
Sam and Castiel don't get on.
When Sam comes to visit, he finds Castiel sitting on the floor in the kitchen, sewing up a cut in his own leg, made when he fell against the side of the dumpster that he had previously called home.
Sam stops, frozen in the doorway. "Aren't you that...homeless, guy from..."
"I'm voluntarily nomadic." Castiel tells him. "My people were committed to stewardship in the name of the Lord."
They blink at each other for a few moments.
"Dean!" Sam shouts.
"Out here." Dean calls from the balcony.
Sam goes out to him, finding his brother once more basking in the sun, beer at his elbow, a new tattoo covered in plastic wrap on his chest.
"Tattoo?" Sam asks.
"Always wanted one." Dean shrugs.
Sam sighs. "Tell me, ok? Just tell me...what it is. Because this, is not you. This has never been you. What happened Dean? What changed?"
Dean looks up at him sadly.
"This is me."
"This has always been me." Dean says, talking over him. "Nothing's changed...I just...don't like it anymore."
Sam can't think of anything to say to that. Instead he asks. "Why is there a homeless guy in your kitchen?"
"Castiel? I got lonely...pets need dependable owners...I figure, a guy that doesn't care about me, won't really mind when I...move out."
Dean shrugs. "Sooner or later."
Castiel appears at Sam's elbow, holding a plate with what looks like grass and roots on it. He sits down on the tarpapered balcony and starts munching, rabbit-like.
"He's eating weeds." Sam mutters.
"Wild food." Castiel informs him. "Far better than the processed trash your brother eats."
"Live and let live Cas." Dean mutters. "At least I recycle."
Dean first has sex with Castiel when there's nothing to do on a Thursday afternoon.
They're both just lying on the balcony, which is where Castiel sleeps each night. When Castiel rolls onto his side and puts and arm over Dean's bare chest, his own naked skin already tanned deeply. After a while he hums to himself, and kisses his way down Dean's chest, fingers touching him with mild fascination.
Dean hasn't been with anyone since before he left his wife, his home behind him.
It feels good.
They do it twice. Then again the next day, and the day after.
By the third week they've given up actually putting clothes on, and Castiel sleeps with Dean on the mattress on the floor.
Sam thinks the gay thing is the reason Dean left home.
Dean tells him that he's not gay, just because he accepts a little attention, and a little pleasure from someone who just happens to be a guy.
It hits with almost no warning. Suddenly, he belives in what they were trying to tell him before. And it's not because of some...epiphany, Jesus on a piece of toast, a seminar on particle physics. It's because he can feel the thing that was, up until right then, a purely psychological presence. It hurts, and Dean goes back to the room he promised himself he'd never end up in again. It hurts too badly to stay away.
They tell him that they can do something. But something is not the right thing – the miraculous thing that would fix him.
It'll give him some time though.
And...maybe he wants some more time. Just a little more. Just until he can open his mouth, and tell someone, anyone, that he's going to die.
Dean finds himself watching Castiel a lot more over the next few weeks.
Castiel, who is almost like a stray cat – curious, sometimes needy, sometimes hungry. But for the most part hardly deigning to acknowledge Dean's existence.
Castiel would probably leave in a heartbeat if he found a better place to stay, somewhere he could...grow cress and weave his own shirts.
Dean is just a perk of the arrangement. One that will soon be unavailable.
He's going to be sad to see Castiel go.
But it had been fun while it lasted.
And fun was what he'd wanted.
He was almost sure of it.
Dean's on the bathroom floor, throwing up for the fifth time.
Fucking. Chemo. Fucking, life ruining, depressing, shit, ass, fuck.
He wanted to be able to do stuff, not lie around feeling like he was ten seconds off the end of his life. He retches again, feeling his throat burn, his empty stomach convulse. His back arches and tears flare up in his eyes as thin, noxious bile scorches his mouth and nose.
He leans against the toilet and pants, trying to get some breath back before it starts again.
Something thunks down next to him, and he chances a quick look to see what he's knocked over.
It's a steaming mug of tea. Upright and intact. Minty steam wafting upwards.
Castiel comes and crouches next to him, and when Dean starts retching again, he smoothes his back.
"Drink it when you're ready." Is all he says.
"How long have you been sick?" Castiel asks, sitting on the bathroom floor with Dean's head in his lap, stroking his hair thoughtfully.
"Found out seven months ago."
"What kind do you have?"
"Melanoma, stage 4, metastasized to my stomach." Dean shuts out the light of the bathroom, pressing his face against Castiel's flat stomach through his worn t-shirt. He's so tired, and he still feels weak and sick, but the tea at least made his mouth stop tasting of bile.
"You doing chemo?"
"Are you going to tell me that I'm a first world...health care, whore?" Dean asks, trying for belligerence.
Castiel just shushes him, and keeps stroking his hair. "I just thought...you might need someone to drive you home afterwards."
"I don't want to tell him."
"Well, I'm going to do it for you." Castiel tells him. "And I'm going to get you some better food to eat, no point making yourself sicker than you have to be."
Dean looks up at him.
Castiel looks guileless.
"I thought you'd...leave. I mean...this isn't...like a serious, thing." Dean mutters, clumsily.
Castiel tucks him a little tighter against his body.
"I love you, you silly ass...I don't come inside for just anyone."
Dean holds onto him, and Castiel sighs."You were so sad...I couldn't just let you wander off. I had to take you in."
And Dean had thought Castiel was his stray.
Sam is furious that Dean didn't tell him that he was sick. It's kind of hard to tell though, because he can't stop crying.
Sam drives Dean to chemo, and home again. He even sits with him during. He's helping with the medical bills. And he comes by to see Dean and hang out in the evenings.
They don't talk about Lisa, who's getting lunch regularly with some guy from her yoga group. Dean's happy for her. She needs someone who's enough, who doesn't need things that she isn't willing to do. It would only make her feel guilty – that she couldn't cope.
Castiel isn't that great at coping, and neither is Sam. But the difference is...they want to help, and at no point do they reach the end of what they're prepared to give.
Castiel might be strange, but, he's a comfort. He shaves Dean's head for him, and takes care of him when he's sick. At night he curls up with him, and he doesn't seem fazed by any of it. He takes what's there, at all times – when Dean is too sick for sex, Castiel doesn't ask. When he just wants to yell and throw things, Cas doesn't judge him. And somehow, whenever Dean needs someone to hold his hand, when it's two-am and he's throwing up again, Castiel is always there.
Dean's starting to wonder how he managed to find an angel in the garbage.
Castiel tells Dean that he likes living with him.
That he likes the songs Dean sings to himself while he works on his car.
That he likes the way Dean's skin tastes, after they've had sex in the shower.
Castiel tells Dean that he loves him.
And Dean loves him back with a kind of ferocity he's never known before.
Even though he can't say it, he knows Castiel understands.
Castiel travels all the time.
He's walked and cycled all over America, taking back roads and hitchhiking on highways. He goes from town to town, city to city. Living wherever he can, off of whatever he can find. Nothing is his, and he knows it. His clothes fray and have to be replaced at the discretion of whoever offers him charity. He harms nothing on earth for his food, or for his shelter. He's made a promise to God on that.
But, when Sam takes him out for a beef burger and fries at a chain restaurant, Castiel figures God can maybe let him have this, just this once. To make the worst day of another person's existence just a little more bearable.
They eat their burgers, and Sam tells Castiel all about Dean, and how much Dean loved this place when they were kids.
Then he cries for over half an hour, and Castiel changes sides of the boot so he can put his arms around him. Castiel's suit gets rumpled, but Sam's doing the rumpling, and it's Sam's suit anyway.
Castiel didn't own anything black.
They do the same thing every year.
The burger place. Two bacon cheese burgers and a shake each.
And they just talk.
Sam tells Castiel about his life, about what he's been doing – working mostly, but also dating. Then marriage, a kid, two kids. A boy and a girl. Dean and Rebecca. A new house, a dog.
Castiel tells Sam where he's been, the things he's seen – the grand canyon, Americas biggest ball of yarn, about twenty 'mystery spots' and an AC/DC concert. He doesn't really know why he does these things, but he likes to tell Dean about them, privately, when he's just about to go to sleep, and looking up at the sky. He doesn't tell Sam that of course. Sam already knows.
And then, they talk about Dean.
It's weird that, even though he's not around anymore, and they don't see him (Castiel doesn't even have a picture, his memories mean he doesn't need one) it still feels like he's there.
Like one of those things you have to believe in, to really know.