Hard to believe it's finished. *cue dramatic reveal* Some of you figured out what was happening, and I applaud your perception! If there's something I don't explain in this chapter that you want to know, feel free to message me for clarification.
For Mems, who gripped me tight and raised me from Perdition.
Dean sat straight up in bed, heart racing. Panic flooded through him, although he wasn't sure why. "Cas?" he called, and then felt like an idiot. Why had he expected Castiel to be there?
"Oh, good, it looks like my lesson is sinking in then," said an annoyingly cheerful voice from what sounded like the sofa. Dean couldn't be sure because of the darkness, but it sounded a Hell of a lot like Gabriel. He reached for the bedside lamp, but before he could flip the switch, it turned on of its own accord—or, rather, the archangel's accord as he snapped his fingers.
"'Lesson'? You son of a bitch! What are you doing here?" Dean demanded.
Gabriel finished off his candy bar and crumpled up the wrapper. Dean was about to tell him not to throw it on the floor—because that's what it looked like he was about to do—but when the archangel held up his hands, they were empty. He'd simply mojoed the wrapper out of existence. "Well, technically," Gabriel said in a patronizing sort of way, "I'm sitting here, talking to you. What I'm really doing here… well…" He grinned and a sucker appeared out of nowhere. "That's another matter entirely." He popped the sucker in his mouth and waited. For what, Dean didn't know.
"Okay, then, what are you really—" he started, but Gabriel held up a hand. Dean stared, his expression growing more puzzled as Gabriel put down one finger, then another. When he'd counted down to one, Gabriel pointed to a spot on the floor, about halfway between the bed and the sofa, and, as if on cue, Castiel appeared. Immediately, he turned toward Gabriel.
"What have you done?"
"Wow," Gabriel said, raising his eyebrows in mock offense. "You try to help a guy out, and this is the thanks. You know, you should really be grateful—it's not often I use my powers to help other people. Although I suppose I would be lying if I said I'm not reaping any benefits from this." When both Dean and Castiel fixed him with half-suspicious, half-perplexed looks, he sighed and leaned back. "Okay, fine, since you two muttonheads are still too dense to figure it out on your own.
"You two are kind of becoming a massive pain in the ass—and not just my ass, either. Sam's ass, too." He grinned, pulling the sucker out of his mouth and waving it for emphasis. "Bobby's, too, I suppose. And pretty much everyone else you come in contact with on a regular basis. I mean, it's freaking annoying, being around the two of you. So Sammy and I—well, mostly me, but he gave me the idea—we made this plan. Yeah, the 'dreams' you had—both of you—yeah, they weren't dreams. Not really. I threw you into ten alternate realities, okay? I could have done more, but I'm assuming by now that I've made my point. Only the three of us know what happened in these alternate realities—Sam and everybody else, they don't know what happened because they weren't actually there. The other people you encountered, they were basically just copies. The two of you, on the other hand, and me, we were actually there. I changed basically nothing about either of you two—in fact, all I changed about you was making Castiel human, and that was only after what happened with the first alternate universe. That was too easy, keeping him an angel. Apart from that, though, I only changed the circumstances." He paused, popping the sucker back in his mouth. "Please tell me you see what I'm getting at here."
Dean's whole body heated at the memories that came flooding back. All those kisses, all the times he'd felt Castiel's body arching beneath him or spreading him open from above, how fucking hot it had been, how it always felt like they were made for each other… That had actually happened?
Apparently Castiel was more skilled at holding back those memories, because he was still capable of coherent speech. "Gabriel, you need to stop. The ramifications of such a relationship—"
Gabriel scoffed. "Ramifications? Really? Castiel, newsflash: I exiled myself for millennia. Screwing a human or two… thousand," he added quietly, and then picked up again at his normal volume, "is probably the least of my crimes. If Daddy doesn't care that one of His favorites is down here romancing Lucifer's vessel, which, I admit, is messed-up on more levels than I care to admit, I highly doubt He'd care if you did the same." He pondered what he'd just said for a split second before adding, "But with Michael's vessel. In the great scheme of things, there's a lot worse you could do."
While Dean sat there stunned, the golden-haired archangel went on. "Look, I changed your circumstances. I threw a lot of other people in both of your paths. Dean, you even got married to someone else. But no matter what happened, you were always miserable until you found each other—and you always eventually found each other. You always ended up together. Every freaking time, okay? Hell, by the end there, I was kind of hoping you wouldn't, but you did. So, now that it's all out in the open, you two have some…" Gabriel grinned, "talking to do. I'll be on my way."
Before Gabriel could vanish, though, Castiel held out his hand, seemingly rooting the archangel to the spot. He probably could have shaken it off as the more powerful angel, but he stayed anyway. He did sigh loudly, though. "Okay, what now?"
"You were there?" Dean asked before Castiel could even open his mouth. "Every time?" He knew he'd seen him once or twice, but there was no way he'd been in every single one of their realities—at least, not that he ever saw.
Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Yes, muttonhead, I was. Scene one: A beautiful day at the end of summer. Three little kids playing at a park—or, rather, two playing and one watching. Guess what? That one little kid watching, that was me. Scene two: It's the middle of the school year and Dean is dangerously close to failing math. Castiel agrees to tutor him at his house, and who answers the door but Castiel's devoted, slightly agitated older brother? That was me. Scene three: The beginning of the hottest summer on record. Dean and Castiel meet by chance at the local ice cream shop, and can you guess who the cashier was?" Gabriel threw up his hands. "Me, of course. Four: Senior prom. On the decorating committee? Me. Five: Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes. Division 175's Assistant Recruit Chief Petty Officer? Recruit Speight, AKA this guy." Here, he pointed to himself. "By the way, that one was particularly annoying. I wanted to squish those RDCs like the bugs that they were. Six: The first college party either of you attended. Who's in charge of pouring drinks? Yours truly. Seven: Dean moves into his brand-new apartment, and guess who installs the cable? Me. Eight: At work at the newspaper, and look who the managing editor is. Me. Nine: Castiel is a freaking rock star, and who's his band's bass guitarist? If you haven't figured it out by now, you're not listening. Ten: Shortly after Dean's divorce, he stops at the only gas station left that still pumps your gas for you, and I'm the one who pumps your gas." At that, there was something strange and sad behind his eyes, but it quickly disappeared. "Come on—I was there every freaking time, okay? Watching, waiting. But I never pushed you, never set anything in motion. I just wound the gears and let the clock tick, and no matter what I did…" Gabriel shrugged. "Like I said, by the last few, I was hoping that maybe you'd miss each other, especially with that rock star one, but you never did. A million chance encounters, and they all ended up the same."
"So that wasn't actually Michael and Lucifer there?"
"Oh, come on! Even if I had the juice to hold one of them, there's no way I could hold both. And even if I could, I'm not stupid enough to actually put them in the same reality—which, if you'll remember, I did. Three times. Yeah. Even if they didn't manage to bust out, they could still cause some serious damage on the inside. They—well, Lucifer, anyway—would have killed one or both of you. Or me! If you were killed by one of them, you'd be really dead. I mean, I probably would have been able to bring you back, Dean, but that would have made your thing with Castiel a little less special. And if they'd killed me, well… you'd be worse than dead. Try to wrap your heads around a million atomic bombs dropping at once. Then imagine that your entire existence—past, present, and whatever future you may have had—is blinked out. Never happened. No Dean Winchester, demon hunter. No Castiel, the sexiest angel in the garrison. So, yeah. I wasn't about to let them make that a reality. Everyone besides the three of us was just a copy, a duplicate, each subtly tweaked to neither push you together nor pull you apart.
"Now, can I go?" He crossed his arms and bit down on his sucker.
"You and Sam?" Castiel asked, raising an eyebrow.
Suddenly, Dean realized what Gabriel had said a few minutes before: "I've been romancing Lucifer's vessel." What the fuck? He knew that Sam was Lucifer's vessel, but that part somehow hadn't quite sunk in when he said it.
"Oh, for the love of—yes, okay? Me and Sam. And don't give me that look, Dean. Your brother is a grownup and he can make his own choices. If he chooses to date an archangel, that's on him. But for what it's worth, I have no intention of making him regret it. Now are we finished with the third degree yet? I'm really trying to get out of the blast radius here."
"Blast radius?" Castiel asked, looking utterly confused. Dean, too, was a bit puzzled.
"Yes." He appeared smug as he explained. "From the truth bomb I just dropped on you guys." When neither Dean nor Castiel answered, Gabriel rolled his eyes and vanished with a snap of his fingers.
For several long moments, they were both silent. Dean didn't look up at Castiel even though he knew the angel was staring at him. It shouldn't have been a surprise to him—he'd felt something for Castiel when they first met, something he couldn't quite identify. Why wouldn't Castiel feel it as well? Hell, he'd probably put a name to it a long time ago.
"I apologize for my brother," Castiel said quietly. "I was unaware of what he was planning. If I had known—"
"Cas." Something in Dean's voice shut him up. Dean finally raised his eyes to meet Castiel's gaze. "He's right. Gabriel, I mean. He's right." He hated admitting that Gabriel was right about anything, but the archangel was right and there was no getting around that. After all, wasn't that why they consistently ended up together at all? He thought back to those other realities, how the only thing about him that really changed was that he couldn't remember his real life. Every time he first saw Castiel, there was that flash of recognition, of belonging, like something had been pulling them together. He still felt it, although identifying it and throwing it into the light of his real life made it a little more difficult to swallow. But that didn't make it any less true, right? "I mean, you're the one who's always going on about this 'profound bond' stuff. You know he's right, too."
"Yes," Castiel admitted. "As… flawed as his delivery might have been, it's impossible to declare that he doesn't have a point."
"So now what?" Still looking up at Castiel, Dean drew his legs up to his chest and hugged his knees. Castiel remained standing awkwardly, looking down and no longer meeting Dean's gaze. The hunter was pretty sure that this was how certain angels fidgeted. "I mean, what happens between us?" After all, now that the barrier had been broken down, the catalyst had initiated this reaction, it was impossible to deny. Now the only question was where to go from here. They could ignore it, pretend it never happened, but Gabriel probably wouldn't let that one go.
"I don't know."
Stupid freaking angels. "Look, basically, it boils down to two options. We can either go back to the way it was before… before this, or…" They both knew what the other option was. They could choose to not forget about it and actually let themselves be what they'd been from the start. Dean had been Castiel's from the moment he laid his hand on him in Hell, and Castiel had been his from that same moment. They belonged to each other. "I don't know, we can at least admit that there's something there, right? I'm not saying that we, y'know, have at it right now, but we both know that there's something there."
"So what would you prefer to do?"
Dean knew what he was doing. He was allowing him a way to get out of this, but that was the thing—it didn't matter anymore. "Come on, Cas. I think I've made it pretty clear that I can't just forget about this. And I'm pretty sure you can't, either." He was also sure that Castiel had known what this was a long time ago. He'd just been waiting for Dean to come around.
Castiel nodded slowly. "Yes. That would be correct."
"So, can we agree that this is something we should pursue?" He kept looking up at the angel's face, willing those celestial blue eyes to fix on him again. As if Castiel had heard that thought, he finally looked back at Dean.
"Okay." He swallowed. "Alright. Then I guess we should talk about this more in the morning." He wasn't quite sure what had startled him out of sleep in the first place—maybe it was simply Gabriel snapping him awake, but now that he was thinking about it, he should have been suspicious when Sam got them two separate rooms last night—but it really felt like he'd lived those ten other lifetimes and he was exhausted. It was a lot to take in all at once.
"Would you like me to leave?"
"No." He'd said it before he could really think about it, but he quickly realized that he really didn't want Castiel to leave him. He'd gotten so used to falling asleep next to him—who honestly cared if it didn't actually happen? He thought it did, and that's what counted—that he actually wasn't sure he could go back to sleep without Castiel there. Automatically, he reached out for that trench coat and pulled the angel toward him, wrapping his arms around him and resting his head against Castiel's stomach. Castiel seemed surprised at first but he relaxed into the embrace, gently running his fingers through Dean's hair.
"It was nice, to meet you when we were both human. We didn't have the Apocalypse looming over our heads. We could just be us. We were happy."
"Sam was happy, too. He always ended up happy." Dean smiled faintly against Castiel's coat. "That's one good thing your brother did. He didn't completely wreck Sam's life."
"I believe Gabriel's actions, though questionable, were actually admirable. I believe he could tell that we would be happier admitting this out loud."
Dean tugged Castiel to sit next to him. "Yeah. Even though he went about it like a douche-nozzle, he did know what he was doing. So maybe he deserves a thank-you. Although tomorrow I'm telling Sam to tell him that he's not allowed to interfere in my life anymore." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a small smile flit across Castiel's face before disappearing. Oh. That simple twitch drew all of his attention right to Castiel's lips and Dean suddenly wondered if they were as soft as they looked. Of course, he knew—they'd kissed thousands of times before, in ten separate lifetimes—but he didn't really know. But he wanted to. "Cas, can I—?"
Dean snorted. "You don't know what I was gonna ask."
"Yes, I do."
"Then what was I gonna ask?"
"You were seeking my permission to kiss me."
"And you're saying yes?"
"Of course. From my time as a human, I gathered that it's what two people who care about each other do in such a situation."
Dean smiled, turning their faces toward each other, and took one last look into his angel's eyes. He pressed a brief kiss to Castiel's lips, just long enough to confirm what he suspected, what he remembered from before—they were just as soft and sweet as he remembered in those dreams. He brushed his thumb over the crest of Castiel's cheek and pulled back. "That wasn't weird, was it?"
Castiel shook his head. His eyes almost seemed to shine and he stared unblinkingly at Dean. "No, Dean. It wasn't weird. It was…" He seemed to be searching for the appropriate word.
Dean felt himself smiling. "It felt right, didn't it?"
Castiel thought it over before nodding. "Yes. It felt very right."
Dean's smile widened. When he finally did go back to sleep a few minutes later, it was with Castiel snuggled up behind him, their fingers laced together. It felt like every other time they'd fallen asleep together, but better. This time, it was real.