A/N I wrote this on request of a friend of mine (username Thomas Watson), and, to be honest, when I started this fic I thought it would be 5000 words on the high side. Probably more like 4000. But, nope, it somehow ended up over 9000. I've got no idea how that managed to happen, but oh, well. More to read, right? ;3 Anyways, please do review, I'd really appreciate it!
Rated T for alcohol use and language
Disclaimer I don't own Supernatural or any associated characters, events, etc.
"Is she gonna be okay, Dean?"
He knows the answer, and Ben does, too, even if he won't admit it. Doesn't want to admit it. He looks to Dean, though, for meaningless reassurance, because despite everything, despite the fact that the hunter has proved himself time and time again to be the weakest imaginable replacement for any sort of father, the boy can't help but look for a fatherly figure in him, and now he's going to be left as the only parental unit at all that the kid has.
That much is obvious.
They're not allowed in at this point—that's how bad it is—but he can see her anyways, just barely through a frantic swarm of doctors and the slight warp of the glass window dividing the rooms. Her face is paler than he's used to, the bottom half obscured by an oxygen mask, her figure horribly shrunken, usually lush hair stringy and greasy against the crisply hygienic white casing of the pillow.
It all happened so fast.
"She's got to be," Ben repeats, his dark eyes shining desperately in his small, round face. "She wouldn't leave me—she wouldn't leave me behind."
Dean doesn't respond, just keeps his jaws tightly clenched together so that the tears building up inside of him aren't allowed to escape. He doesn't blink, ignores the moisture welling up in his eyes, because that's hardly residual of sadness—it's from his eyes not staying damp enough, his body working to fix it, and that's good, that's material, it's something that he can deal with here and now, not something that'll pull at him for ages, never really let him go—yet another weight in his chest, joining all the people and creatures that he's killed over his lifetime… joining Sam.
But, God, he can't think about Sam right now—Sam, who wanted this life for him—because everything's falling apart well enough without the memory of his brother, gone for seven months and sixteen days (of course he doesn't count, that would be ridiculous, stupid) now…
"Don't just sit there like that!"
"What else am I supposed to do, Ben?" he demands, his voice coming out harsher than intended. He bites down on his tongue immediately to counterattack the tears—they've taken the advantage of his throat opening up to dart to the front of his eyes, threatening to gather around the corners, but he takes a deep, shaky breath, swallows and blinks several times—manages to ward them off again, just barely. Slowly, he continues to speak, but his voice is softer, and he doesn't dare look the kid in the eyes—instead, he keeps them fixated on the floor, the horribly generic blue-and-white tile pattern, scuffed up with a hundred footprints. "I don't know what's going to happen. At this point… I have no idea. That good enough for you?"
"You're lying." Ben's voice is escalating in pitch and volume, and Dean hears rather than sees that he jumps out of the molded plastic chair that he's been twitching in for the last hour, runs over to the window and stands as close to it as he can without fogging the glass up from his breath. "I can see her! I'm not blind! I'm eleven years old, okay? I know when someone's dying."
Dying. The word itself is almost a physical blow, and it freezes Dean's lungs for a second, forcing him to exhale heavily. Dying. No use denying it at this point.
Sickness was never how he imagined he'd lose her. It wasn't as though he didn't ever think about her death, because he did, almost constantly. Pictured a thousand different creatures, angels, demons, how they could tear her apart so easily, so effortlessly—
But sickness. It's so mundane, so stupidly, cruelly mundane, and he can barely even process that it's happening. It came out of nowhere—one morning, he woke up to the sound of her vomiting violently in the bathroom—imagined that she might be pregnant, even, and he wasn't sure whether the twist in his stomach at that point was horrified or anticipatory—but as soon as he took her to the hospital, the practical opposite was confirmed. Some lengthy disease that he still can't pronounce the name of, that they had to drug her up for so thoroughly that she'd only been fully awake once since their arrival two weeks ago, and still not fully lucid.
"You'll take care of him, right?" she'd asked, her eyes wide and pleading, breaths shallow and rapid, a thin layer of sweat standing out against her usually lovely but now chalky caramel-toned skin. "You'll take care of him if I don't make it?"
"Don't talk like that."
"Just promise me…"
He shakes the memory aside, twines his fingers together and leans forward, his shoulders hunched so that he can better avoid the accusing gaze that he knows Ben has turned in his direction.
"Are you afraid of it?" the boy challenges, and Dean can hear the suppressed sobs in his voice, such an awful accentuation to his usually bright speech. "Afraid to say it? I thought you'd seen plenty of death. That's what you told me. Were you just making that up to impress her? Are you scared, really? Too scared to even tell me that my mom's going to die?"
They both know that the words are nonsensical, have no base in reality, but Dean can't quite get himself to object. He wants Ben to yell at him, if that will help—because, more than anything else, more than his own misery at her dying, he feels guilty, twistedly, endlessly guilty even if sickness isn't his fault, is the one thing in their life that's not.
Ben's going to be alone.
The creaking of the door causes him to spring up, his head and torso jerking into an attentive posture as a nurse steps into their little waiting room, her delicate face and light, springy blonde hair seeming to hang down as if weighted by solemnness.
"I'm sorry," she begins softly.
"…God," Dean whispers, instinctively looking towards the window. He can't see Lisa at all anymore, flocked as she is by scrub-clad doctors and nurses, but they're all standing very still all of a sudden, none of them working, none of them so much as moving.
"N-no," Ben chokes out, and Dean's standing up, stepping forward and pulling the little boy in closer to himself, wrapping his arms strongly and roughly around the small shoulders, cupping a hand around the back of his head and holding it against his chest. Ben's figure quivers with sobs, and his fingers wind themselves up in Dean's jacket as he shakes, wailing wordlessly into the fabric. Disregarding the nurse who's still standing in the doorway, looking slightly anxious, Dean murmurs quick words into Ben's ear, still not looking away from the crowded room through the window, even as the tears finally burst out, filling his eyes and immediately starting down his cheeks, dripping off his chin and onto Ben's head.
"It's okay. I'll take care of you. I'll take care of you, I promise. It'll be alright. Everything'll be alright."
"How can it be alright?" Ben demands, and Dean doesn't have an answer.
He's alone in the kitchen, his elbows resting on the cold top of the dining island, heels of his hands pressed hard into his eyes. Of course he's not crying—Ben's still up, his own soft whimpers audible even from downstairs, and Dean can't afford to show any of his own emotion when the equivalent of his son is around.
Because that's what Ben is now, little as he wants to think about it. My son. There's nothing legal about it, but there probably will be, in time. The kid doesn't have any other parents, after all.
Dean doesn't know the first thing about being a parent.
You're just going to have to figure it out. You can't run off, right now—he's eleven years old, for God's sake, he can't cope on his own…
It's too much, really, just too much from so many directions, all at once. Losing Lisa—losing Lisa, he hasn't even begun to process that yet—having Ben's grief to deal with, having Ben himself to deal with… how long is he expected to take care of the kid? Until he can live on his own? That's years, and suddenly Dean feels chained down, less free than he has in all his time as a part of their family.
This is what they have to deal with, you know. All those poor people whose relatives get killed in your and Sam's stupid endeavors… anyone a demon possessed, anyone a werewolf bit, anyone a Wendigo murdered… for every single person killed, there's a whole empty house left behind, and you never even thought about it, did you, never even stopped to consider that someday it might happen to you—
The soft, practically noiseless whoosh of wings brings him out of his downwards spiral of negative thoughts, and he glances up in surprise, his gaze slightly blurred from the multiple bottles of beers he's downed over the course of the night's first few hours (the most recent of which is sitting in front of him, half-full and beginning to lose the misted chill of the refrigerator). Sure enough, the familiar trench-coated angel is standing in the empty kitchen, his sapphire eyes dark and his mouth even farther downturned than usual, though Dean knows better than to think that he's expressing any sort of emotion.
He hasn't seen Castiel for months, not since the day when Sam—not since the day when Lucifer was defeated. Best as he can tell, the angel hasn't changed a bit over that time; he still has the same lean figure, the same slightly scruffy dark hair, the same light stubble and the same liquid blue stare. His coat even hangs over his shoulders in the exact same way, open in front to expose the usual white shirt and blue tie.
"Get out," Dean says immediately, springing off his stool and pushing away from the island. He doesn't think twice about his words—doesn't stop to consider if he really means them—just hisses them out, glaring fiercely and hoping that Ben's finally managed to cry himself to sleep, that he won't have to deal with hearing this from upstairs—or, worse yet, come down himself. He tries to keep his voice down, anyways, but still makes sure that it's low and harsh.
"I don't care what the hell you want, Cas. You don't belong here. Get out."
"I don't mean to—"
"Anything that you want me to do for you, and little—little heavenly tasks—"
"Because I think we've made it pretty damn clear that I'm done with this shit. I'm done with the angels and demons and Lucifer and Michael and whatever. This is my family now, and I don't want you here. You just bring back all the bad memories." For some reason, he's getting angry as he speaks, choking through the tears that are breaking through his defenses for the first time in hours. It helps to see the hurt in Cas's face—the angel flinches with every snarled word from Dean, his eyebrows drawing together in a confused expression that might be some form of damaged feelings.
"Just seeing you—I don't want you here, I don't want any of this… I just want to live a normal life, is that too hard?" Disregarding the fact that he hasn't given Castiel the opportunity to speak a single full sentence of his own, Dean continues to increase the frustration in his voice until he's near-shouting, no longer caring whether or not Ben hears. "Is that so fucking hard? Whatever your boss—like I even know who the hell that is at this point—wants, I don't care, I'm done with this bullshit, get it? I don't want to see you in my house. Not now, not ever. I'll say it one more time: get out."
There's a long moment during which the air seems to hum with stunned silence, tension gripping it. Dean realizes that his hands have worked themselves into fists, and he doesn't bother to relax them, just scowls furiously as Cas's stare finally drops down to the ground, his shoulders sagging slightly.
"I… I'm not here under orders," he finally mumbles, and the voice is low and rumbling just like Dean remembers, smoky but somehow pleasant.
"You—you're not?" Caught off guard, Dean pauses, the infuriated expression slipping from his features for half a second.
"I'm here to…" Cas swallows, glances up again so that Dean can see the quiet confusion in his eyes. "I'm here to… assist you. With him. But if you don't want it… never mind, I suppose."
"No—wait!" Dean demands, holding up a hand just as the angel straightens up in a clear preparation for departure. "Hang on a moment. You're not here for—for anyone? Not for your dad… or any of your brothers?"
"I came here entirely of my own accord," was the confirmation. "You seemed… upset. And I didn't like seeing you that way… I wanted to try and help."
"Of course I'm upset, dumbass, Lisa just…" He trails off as the second sentence sinks in. "…Why should you care if I'm upset?"
Cas's head tilts, and he frowns as though such a thing should be obvious. "Because you're my friend, Dean. Isn't that what friends do? Worry about one another?"
"Worry about…" Dean doesn't know how to react, in all honesty—why the hell should Castiel show up out of absolutely nowhere, after months of silence, saying that he's worried, that he wants to help? "You worried about me?"
"You're reckless. I know that. Even if you've managed to… settle down… the fact remains that you don't know the first thing about being a father."
"I—what—and you do?" he settles for snorting, unable to bring up any sort of denial. "You're the angel here. Sorry, but my guess is that I'm a bit better at it than you."
"His name is Ben."
"…Ben needs two parental figures. He deserves two, and… I don't have anything else to… this is the most important thing that could occupy my time right now. It's for my own good that I should be staying out of any large conflicts between Heaven and Hell right now, in any case."
"So being Ben's mommy is more important than leading an angel army."
"There are no armies to be led," Cas growls, leaning forward across the granite-topped island and maintaining uncomfortably strong eye contact with the hunter, who crosses his arms and looks away self-consciously. "It's the calm before the storm right now. You can practically feel the lightning in the air."
"Getting poetic now?"
"I'm being literal, Dean. Angels and gods—weather doesn't control itself, you know."
"Ah… right, then."
"In any case, I'm widely identified as the… initiator of the chaos, if you will. The apocalypse may have been averted, but Heaven's ranks aren't happy. Everyone knows that it's not over… not yet. My only hope is that it might die down, and it won't do that with me there. People see me as a rallying point… I'm dangerous."
"Bad boy, now, are you?" Dean scoffs. His odd moment of slight flattery has long passed. "So you need somewhere to hide out, and you decide to take advantage of the fact that Ben and I just lost the woman in our lives. Nice try, but we're perfectly fine without you."
"You talk about it so casually," Castiel muses, narrowing his eyes in apparent puzzlement. "She's dead… but it's almost like you forget about it, when you begin talking about something else… has it not struck that deep? Or are you just desperate for distraction?"
Dean can feel his skin heating up for some reason, quick and fast, like a fire's lit under it, and he stares pointedly at the wall. He has a point, you know. She is dead. How long are you going to deny it? "Look, Cas," he mutters, "could you… stop looking at me like that, dude? It's a bit…"
Nodding slightly, the angel leans back, rising up to his full height again and lifting his chin. "You don't want my assistance, then. You want me to go back to the place where everyone fears and detests me? Where I'm a… a loner?" His eyes flash with surprising pain, and Dean's brow furrows.
"Do you mind?"
Castiel's jaw tightens, and his next words are dragged out through gritted teeth. "I am a person, Dean. I have feelings, as… difficult as that may be to grasp."
"Well… sorry, but I have to say, those feelings are probably pretty freaking insignificant compared to the shit I'm going through right now. So if you would mind not whining around me—"
"I am an angel who turned against my people. I've killed many of my own siblings—not just lived through their deaths, though that's happened, too. I killed them by my own hand. You had a brother, too. Can you even imagine what it's like to murder one of them yourself? Just because I have many doesn't mean that I love them any less than you do Sam. And this is all just in the past couple of years. I've lived since far before the start of your pathetic humanity. I've seen civilizations rise and fall. I've seen species rise and fall. I've seen tragedy that you cannot comprehend, so before you call my history insignificant next to the death of your girlfriend, I'd suggest that you take a moment to appreciate the fact that I'm here for you at all."
He gets this all out in practically one breath, and then there's suddenly a horrible, sickening guilt in Dean's stomach, because, out of nowhere, Lisa does feel insignificant, insignificant next to this man, this angel, this remarkable creature whose life, in the scheme of things, is probably worth more than those of all Dean's relations and associates combined. Not to say that he specifically cares about him any more than he does her—or even as much as—but that doesn't give him any excuse for degrading him.
"Sorry," he gets out. "I didn't mean… I'm sorry."
They both turn at the same time, and there's Ben, standing in the doorway. His eyes are damp and red, his pajamas hanging limply off his frame, and he blinks in confusion, adjusting to the harsh lighting of the kitchen. "Who… who's that?"
"I…" Cas frowns and looks towards Dean for help.
"This is Castiel," Dean explains after a brief, frustrated hesitation. "He… he's a friend of mine, and he's here to help us. You know, help us with your mom. He's going to be staying with us for a while, just to make sure that you get taken care of and everything."
"He's replacing Mom? No one can replace her. He'd better not try to."
"No, of course not," Dean promises quickly, taking a few hasty steps forward and reaching out a hand to squeeze Ben's shoulder awkwardly. "He's just… giving me a hand. Now go on, get back to bed… I know it's hard, but you'll feel way worse tomorrow morning if you don't sleep."
"Bathroom cupboard, pills in the biggest bottle, they'll knock you right out. Don't take more than one."
"…Thanks." Ben gives a wavering, hollow sort of smile, then turns around again, shuffling his way up the stairs. Cas watches him go, his lips pressed tightly together, then turns to Dean as soon as he vanishes around the corner of the landing.
"You're good at taking care of him."
Dean laughs bitterly, raising his eyebrows in incredulity. "Man, I hate to break it to you, but that was a perfect example of sucky-ass parenting. If you think that's good, you're gonna be freakin' awful."
"You're allowing me to stay, then?"
He looks down once more, giving a small shrug and trying to keep his words light, careless. "'Course I am. You need it… I probably need it. Just a mutual favor sort of thing, you know?" Then his voice grows a bit firmer. "But don't think you're replacing her, because you're not. Not at all."
"I know," the angel murmurs, ducking his head. "I… wouldn't expect to."
Cas glances up, catching his gaze. "If I'm going to be a part of this household, that means I'm allowed to care about your well-being, as well. And you look exhausted. You need sleep as much as him."
"Cas, please. I'm an adult—"
"That doesn't give you any right to stay up all night drinking and mourning. You deserve rest."
"I'm not gonna get rest."
They stare at each other for a long collection of seconds, and the room is completely silent other than the soft, rhythmic ticking of a clock. A thousand arguments fly through Dean's mind, but they all seem immediately quelled when faced with that word—please. In Castiel's voice, too, a voice that he isn't used to hearing say such gentle things.
"Fine," he agrees after what feels like forever, unsure why he's complying. "I'll… I'll give it a try, okay? But I can't guarantee anything."
Dean reaches out for his beer bottle, intending to take it up to bed with him, but suddenly it's not there. He looks up to Cas, who's actually smiling—well, not exactly smiling, but at least the ghost of a smirk is teasing at the edges of his lips.
"I think you've had enough for tonight."
"Son of a bitch," he retorts, but, unbelievably, he himself is grinning just the slightest bit as he turns and starts up the stairs, the lights of the kitchen flickering off behind him.
Castiel's presence in the house is a difficult thing to get used to, and Dean and Ben both struggle with it over the next couple of weeks—on occasion, the former can't help but wonder whether it would have been easier to deny his offer after all. Despite his claim of trying to lessen the pain of Lisa's departure, Cas being there really only accentuates it. Dean doesn't allow himself a break from work, but Ben takes a week and a half off of school, time spent at home in the company of Cas, who, as Ben is quite unafraid to grumble, isn't really company at all. He doesn't seem to know the first thing about how to deal with human emotion, and he genuinely looks at a loss every time the tears will creep up on and consume the eleven-year-old.
Once Dean came home to just that—Ben curled on the couch, sobbing, while Cas looked on in apparent confusion—and the best he could do was sit next to the kid, give him a nervous pat on the back and try to offer him some sort of comfort. It ended up with screams from Ben—"You two are pathetic! You'll never be anything like her! You suck at this, you suck at all of it!"—and his running upstairs and locking himself in the bedroom for four hours straight, not even coming out for the halfhearted dinner of the sort that Dean managed to come up with each night.
That was one of the things that stood out to him the most about Lisa's absence—her cooking. Those were the worst parts, really, the little things. No smile when he came home from work, no warmth next to him in bed at night, generally tasteless dinners and a gaping, empty space in the closet where she used to keep her clothes.
Her clothes are gone—all of her personal possessions, or at least the ones that didn't have any meaning. (Dean keeps the most important ones—the necklace her late mother gave her, the rusty but sentimental pan that she always used to fry Ben grilled cheese sandwiches, the hairbrush that still had a few rich ebony strands woven through it.) He sold most of them, packed away the rest, and it was a hard process—at one point, Cas walked in on Dean crouching on the floor, holding one of her favorite shirts up to his nose and inhaling her scent, tears running down his cheeks. Neither of them spoke—just locked gazes for a time that seemed endless before the angel finally exited the same way he'd come in, his head hanging just a bit lower.
Cas has been respecting both of their grief, in general, and Dean appreciates that. He doesn't try to make it better, doesn't interfere at all, just watches and attempts to help with any practical duties when he can. Which is rare.
Her funeral comes along at one point, and it's hard, incredibly hard to deal with the relatives, the accusatory looks and whispers—"Wasn't he one of her old sweethearts? None of them ever seemed very trustworthy, if you ask me… he looks the weird type… reckon he'll be able to deal with the kid on his own?" Some of them are supportive, though, and that's good, felt nice. It's closed-casket, on Dean's own request, and goes by rather quickly, if torturously. Once it's over, he can't claim to feel better—in fact, that's the first night he really cries, and also the first night he learns just how valuable Cas is, after all.
It starts when Ben retires to his room almost immediately after they arrive home at eight, despite his nine-thirty bedtime, and doesn't make another appearance the rest of the night. Dean stays up, sitting in the same seat that he did the night of Lisa's death, downing bottle after bottle of beer and lining them up on the counter as he does. He drinks without thinking, without caring, just blindly knowing that he wants to wash it away, wash it all away. He's drinking to get drunk, and it's frustrating just how hard it is to get there—he's adapted to so damn much alcohol, it's ridiculous. He's considering getting some of the stronger stuff out when he feels Cas's eyes on his back, senses the angel's presence in the back of the room. He doesn't need to turn around, doesn't need to speak. It's perfectly clear to him that Castiel disapproves, and he can't say he cares at this point.
At least, that's what he tells himself. But the truth is that guilt begins to poison his insides with every swallow, until he's finally too laden with it to take in any more, and he slams the bottle down against the granite countertop, perhaps a bit more forcefully than he would in a totally sober state. The ringing sound reverberates through his mind, and it strikes him that he might have gotten a bit farther along than he'd initially thought, a suspicion reinforced by the fact that he can't quite count the number of bottles lined up there.
"Dammit," he mumbles, turning around to glare at Castiel's shadowy figure standing next to the wall. "Why d'you have to be so… why d'you have to make me feel so bad?"
"I just wanna get drunk, Cas," he states bluntly, slurring slightly on the name so that it comes out sounding more like cash. "I jus' wanna be able t'forget about it. Not think about it. Shouldn't be this hard, shoulddit? But you… jus'standing there, with your… you make me feel bad, it's not… not fair. Just want to be able to be drunk again, t'not care."
"I… I think you are drunk, Dean."
"Not drunk enough, then. Still hurts."
"It's always going to hurt." He advances a couple of steps closer, his eyebrows drawing together concernedly. "No matter how much alcohol you drown yourself in, it's still going to hurt… you know that, right?"
"S'not fair. Shouldn't work like that."
"I know it shouldn't," Castiel murmurs. "You shouldn't be doing this to yourself, though… you're wrecking yourself. This isn't right for you or Ben."
"Don't give a shit 'bout what's right at this point. Don't fucking care."
He can feel the tears sharp in his eyes, and his throat is clenching up, pressing in on his lungs and forcing out strangled noises. "Why'd she hafta die, Cas? Why her? She didn't dessherve it, she was… she was so nice…" He's standing up, and the ground is wobbling beneath him and damn, he must be drunk, but he doesn't care, is past caring about anything—which is good, because that's what he wanted, right?
"Dean, you're—you're crying…"
"I don't care!" Dean bellows, and Cas's eyes widen, he freezes up like a scared cat. "If I'm crying then I'm crying! Doesn't matter if it looks weak, maybe I am weak—I am, aren't I, I'm weak…" He stumbles into Cas, grips him by the collar of the trench coat, breathes heavily, the odor of cheap beer filling the distance between them. "Tell me! Say it to my face, tell me I'm weak for caring, you coldhearted bastard…"
"You're going to wake Ben up." Castiel's voice is remarkably steady, and he seems entirely unperturbed by the fact that Dean's face is centimeters away from his own.
"So then I'll fucking wake him up! Then he can see, he can see who he's really stuck with, who his goddamn daddy is—see that he's just as fucked as the rest of us, that we're all good and damn lost now that mommy's dead, aren't we?"
"Dean." Cas takes ahold of him by the upper arms, steady and firm, the exact opposite of Dean's wavering, noisy uncertainty. "Please, try to calm down."
The angel stares at him for another eternally long moment, then gives a tiny nod—or maybe it's just Dean's vision of him doubling up. Everything seems gray, shaky. One of Cas's hands falls from his shoulders, and he's lifting it up, purposely raising two fingers and directing them towards Dean's forehead.
"The hell are you doing?" Dean demands roughly, trying and failing to pull away.
"Helping you," is the murmured response.
Then the soft fingertips brush against the space between his eyes, and he's suddenly wonderfully, exhaustedly sleepy. He can feel darkness closing in around him, his legs growing numb, and the last thing he's aware of is slipping forward, falling into the warm, strong hold of Castiel's waiting arms.
When he wakes up the next morning in bed, the covers tucked around his shoulders, he only remembers fragments.
"I don't want to go to school today," Ben announces at the breakfast table.
Dean pauses midway through pouring a glass of orange juice, looking up with a slight frown spread across his features. "Come on, dude, you've been doing so well the past week. Why stop now, when everyone's so glad to have you back?"
"The funeral," he replies simply. He isn't eating a bite of the cold cereal sitting in front of him, but rather fingering the handle of his spoon and looking generally miserable. Light shadows under his eyes illustrate the fact that he clearly didn't get much sleep last night. "It was… hard."
"Ben," Castiel begins quietly from the chair that he's sitting in, "we can't keep you home forever. Your friends… they'll get worried about you."
"It's hard to have to try and talk with people. I hate it."
"It's a distraction, though," Dean points out. "Right? You can't tell me that it doesn't help at all to hang out with your buds. They're your friends. It's their job to help you get through all this crap."
"That's your job," Ben mutters back, but he seems to know that the argument is never going to be won. Sighing, he dunks his spoon in the full bowl of cereal and hops off his chair, scooping his backpack up from the floor and shuffling out of the dining room.
"Hey, where're you going? The bus doesn't come for ten minutes."
"Then I'll be early."
The door opens and shuts with a loud slam, and Cas sighs, sending a look of clear disapproval towards Dean, who lifts his hands helplessly. "What am I supposed to do? The kid has a mind of his own. If he wants to be crabby—"
"You're supposed to help him, Dean," Cas murmurs. "That's what he's looking for, you know. When he complains… he's trying to get you to offer him some comfort. It's actually quite obvious… I'd be surprised if you couldn't tell. You can, can't you? You know that's what he wants. But you're avoiding him anyways, because you yourself are so insecure…"
"Slow down," Dean demands, glaring. "What the hell leads you to think that I'm insecure? I'm dealing with all this a whole lot better than he is, that's for damn sure."
The angel hesitates for a moment, his mouth open as if to object, but he closes it slowly, turning his stare down towards the tabletop. "Never mind. I just think… he needs someone to be there for him. And I'd try to be that person, but he doesn't trust me, doesn't like me. It's obvious enough."
"Well—no need to talk like that, he's just having a hard time adjusting…"
"No. You don't see the looks he gives me behind his back… I think he blames me somehow, in a way. She leaves, I arrive—he makes a connection between those two events, whether or not he does so willingly. I'm a… a symbol of her death, if you will."
"That's just ridiculous." Finally putting down the orange juice bottle, Dean perches on a chair next to Cas, settling his elbows against the table and winding his fingers together. "You haven't done anything but help ever since you came here."
"I've upset him on multiple occasions."
"Well, just—" That's when Dean realizes just what about this conversation is bothering him, and he tries to speak the next words as strongly as possible in order to communicate their importance. "Just don't think it means you have to leave, alright, Cas? You being here… it's helped me. A lot more than I expected it to. If you left, we'd probably be back to square one. He'll have to get used to you eventually… whether or not Ben likes it, you're a part of our family now, I guess. Neither of us can afford for you to ditch us."
Castiel sighs, his blue eyes dark. "Of course I won't leave. I'm not sure I could if I wanted to, at this point… "
Dean opens his mouth to ask whether the angel is referring to danger on the outside or the pull of he and Ben themselves, but Cas doesn't give him an opportunity to. Instead, he steps down from his chair and stalks into the next room, not so much as speaking a word of farewell.
"Fine, then," the hunter mutters to himself, sipping his orange juice. "Be like that, crabby bastard."
It does get better, over time. At one point, Ben actually cracks a smile at Cas, saying hello to him when he gets home from school, and that's the breaking point—from then on, it seems to be all uphill. The two gradually grow closer, until, at one point, Dean walks in on them in Ben's room, hunched over the computer while the kid tries to educate Cas on how to play World of Warcraft.
"But… why do I have to kill the boars?" the angel is asking, looking genuinely puzzled, but so fixated on the screen that he doesn't even notice Dean in the doorway. An animated landscape is spread out before him, in the center of which is a large-muscled figure holding a broadsword and an oversized shield. "If the man wants their meat, he should be able to do it himself. These trivial tasks seem below the level of someone as powerful as this character."
"Well, they're tough boars," Ben explains intently. "They'll get you a lot of XP, and then you can get up to an even higher level, so that you can start going for the really strong stuff. Y'know, like dragons and undead things. The bad bad guys."
"Still, he seems perfectly able to kill his own boars…"
"You two want pizza?" Dean finally calls through the grin spreading over his face. "I think it's about time we got a halfway decent dinner."
"Yeah, that sounds great!" Ben replies eagerly, not looking away from the screen. "Thanks, Dean!" Cas doesn't make a sound, focused as he is on slicing apart a pixelated wild boar.
"'Course. I'll call in for pepperoni, it should be here in a half hour."
"There!" Ben calls out in excited triumph, patting Cas on the tan-coated back as he grins at the computer. "See? You leveled up, now you can go get that quest with the spiders!"
It's a bad night. Dean's not sure why—it's been pretty steady going ever since Cas settled in better, and he didn't think that things would creep up on him again like this.
He guesses that it's the fact that he went to bed early. He was aware from the get-go that it was a bad idea—he hasn't turned in early since he and Lisa shared a bed, on the mutually tired evenings when they'd remind Ben to get to sleep before nine-thirty before trudging into their room, perhaps snuggling for a brief while, then drifting off in each other's arms.
There's no one to share the bed with now.
And the hollowness under the covers seems to seep into him, emptying his stomach and chest, and he's forced to curl around himself, biting at the pillow to hold in sobs that paralyze his lungs. But they manage to leak out anyways, so that his chest shakes with their force, and it hurts his ribcage to try and keep them relatively silent, so as not to disturb Ben several rooms away. Breathe, breathe. Yet every regular lungful is trembling, scrapes against his throat and just hurts, making it even worse.
She's gone, she's gone, she's gone, oh God, she's gone, you're alone now.
And he won't be able to undo his loneliness, because he has Ben to contend with—he's on his own, he's going to stay on his own, he has to stop flirting with every woman he crosses paths with… and he hates himself, hates himself for working himself into this situation, so that he's trapped, unable to forge new connections.
Sam is gone. Lisa is gone. You can't go back to Bobby at this point. Cas is—
Cas isn't gone.
He whispers the name, then, against the tearstained pillowcase that he clenches fiercely between his fingers. Softly, frantically. "Cas." And he hates how weak it sounds. So pathetic, so whimpering, so lost.
The muted flap reverberates through the air, and he can suddenly feel the other presence in the room, outside of the suffocating wrap of too-cold sheets. He half-springs up, bracing his arms against the mattress. His crying is suspended momentarily as he strains to find the angel's figure in the darkened room, but he can't see anything, until a weight settles down next to him, and the sound of a soft exhalation fills his ears. He doesn't back away, but rather lets his eyes drift shut, pressing his lips together and raising a hand to his forehead.
"I came… you called, and I came," Castiel rasps. "Like I always do… what do you need?"
"… Jesus, Cas," and he's turning in the direction that the angel's voice comes from, reaching out blindly until he feels the firmness of his back and shoulders. "Just…" Leaning in, he wraps his arms fiercely tight around the angel, gripping the fabric of Cas's coat, pressing his eyes into the fabric above his collarbone, gasping with tears. "God, don't—don't leave me, okay? Don't you fucking ever leave me, understand?"
"Of… of course not. Why would I ever… Dean…" He seems at a loss, silenced by the tears soaking his shirt, and he suffices to stroke the hunter's shoulder blades and spine quietly, the motion soft and sending unwilling chills through Dean with its lightness.
"Just… stay with me tonight, please… please stay with me," Dean's mumbling through the salty moisture on his lips, and Cas is whispering back—yes, of course, I will, if that's what you need.
He keeps crying until he can't remember why he is in the first place, gripping onto Castiel as tight as possible, reminding himself that even if Sam's gone, even if Lisa's gone, Cas isn't—Cas came back for him, intends to stay with him, is practically impossible to kill and won't dare to leave of his own accord. And at this point, the tears feel good. They aren't an expression of pain anymore. His wordless whimpers are just pure emotion, shaking through his chest as he pulls Cas in even tighter, quivering with desperation. Minutes creep by, and exhaustion begins to sneak up on him like a massive wave, soaking into every pore of his body until he's sagging in Castiel's hold, his thoughts blurry and his head pounding with tiredness.
"Need to sleep," he mumbles, the words slurring. "Work tomorrow…"
"Don't go," Cas implores. "Dean, you're a wreck… you haven't given yourself a single day off since she died. You deserve rest, time on your own. It's not fair to do this to yourself…"
"Maybe…" Thoughtlessly, Dean's arms slip from around Cas, and he falls back onto the pillows, turning on his side and bringing the blanket up to his ears. "Don't want to think about it right now…"
"Are you alright now? Are you… feeling well enough for me to leave?"
"You aren't allowed to leave. You promised." Sleepily, he reaches up until his hand finds Cas's wrist. Then he pulls the angel down next to him, exhaling with quiet relief when he feels the warm body settle down beside his own. "I'm not going to sleep alone anymore… can't stand it."
"…Alright." Cas sighs, then pulls Dean into his arms again, tucking the hunter's head down by his shoulder. His hold is warm and solid, all-encompassing, and Dean hasn't felt this relaxed for months—even when Lisa was alive, sleeping beside her wasn't quite like this. It felt comfortable, sure, but never quite this… right.
"Thank you," he whispers. And he falls asleep that way, wound up in Castiel as tight as he can manage, his lips pressed to the angel's shoulder and his hands joined around his lower back, for once not even trying to forget Lisa—because what he has here, right now, is a thousand times better than all the moments he ever shared with her.
He does skip work the next day, and is glad for it—the hours to himself are nice, even if they aren't really to himself at all. Cas lingers around the edges of the room as he goes about his business. The first part of the morning is spent actually attempting to be productive—cooking Ben a halfway decent breakfast of toast and bacon, ushering him out the door, cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming the carpets—all the little things that Lisa used to take care of, that he never really thought twice about. The work is good, too. It takes his mind off of things, forces him to concentrate on physical exertion (who knew that rinsing a bathtub was so exhausting?) rather than letting his missing of her well up inside of him again.
At one point, he pauses, midway through scrubbing at the kitchen sink, and looks up, out the window situated directly above it. The neighborhood stretches out before him, sunny and wide, mostly clear what with everyone being at school or work. It's all clear lawns and pale pavement, the perfect image of a quiet suburban street. No one would ever imagine that the house he's in contains a demon hunter and a rebel angel, or that the woman of the home so recently died, leaving her little family alone and broken.
Cas has fixed that brokenness, in a way. Whether or not that was his intention in joining them—and Dean guesses that it wasn't, that he didn't mean to do anything more than physically assist him with caring for Ben—he's melded into the family dynamic, become a parent as much as Dean ever was. His departure, at this point, would be at least as damaging as Lisa's, if not more so.
They've come to rely on him, really.
Dean realizes that he's staring blankly, and he quickly forces his aching arm to pick up pace, rubbing a damp washcloth repeatedly over a dark spot on the metal of the sink before it finally dissolves, leaving the expanse of gleaming silver sparkling clean.
Balling up the cloth, he throws it onto the counter with a sigh and lifts a hand, running it through his hair. Enough work for now; he deserves a break. Following the murmuring noise of the television, he wanders into the living room, where Cas is sitting on the couch. The angel is frowning slightly at the TV screen, and Dean glances over to see that it's flicked onto some stupid-looking ghost hunting show, one where the subjects have no earthly idea what they're doing. He and Sam always used to laugh at them—well, to be more accurate, he would laugh and Sam would sigh and roll his eyes.
He misses Sam.
But that doesn't matter as much as it could, as much as it used to, because at least Cas is here. He steps over to the angel now, lowering himself onto the couch and watching the attempted drama of shaky camera movements playing across the widescreen before them.
"Didn't think you were the type to sit around and let your brains be fried by shit TV," he comments after about a minute.
Cas's eyes narrow, and he doesn't look away from the screen. Finally, when the pathetic suspense breaks for a series of commercials, he drops his gaze, frowning at his lap. "It's strange… that people spend their whole lives creating things like that. They're faking it… why would they want to fake it? They do know that ghosts can be much more deadly than they choose to portray them, don't they?"
"Honestly? I don't think they do," Dean admits. "Trust me, Sam and I have been wondering since just about the beginning of time why the hell people think that kind of crap is actually fun…" He trails off abruptly, watching as Cas looks up, the puzzled frown heavier than ever on his features.
"Do you miss him?"
"Sam? 'Course I do."
"As much as Lisa?"
"More," he sighs, lifting his arm and draping it over the back of the couch. "…Way more. I shouldn't, I know that I'm a jerk for it, but… she was…" Biting his lip, he reaches for the TV remote, pressing the mute button so that his suddenly soft voice isn't entirely lost in the blaring noise. Silence seems to settle over the two of them like a blanket, and he continues to speak, swift and fast. "She wasn't exactly to me what I was to her, if you know what I mean. She… she was a girlfriend, I guess, and I've had tons of those. They lose their meaning, after a while… become less special. I liked her plenty, but I think she was really just company… just someone that I could keep close to me, so that I wouldn't be totally alone."
"Like me," Cas muses.
"No—no, not like you at all. That's… that's my point, sort of." What are you even saying? Dean's heart is starting to pick up pace, and he forces himself to breathe evenly, his eyes flickering up and down Castiel's figure without quite meeting his intent blue eyes. "You're way more than she was, Cas… you've helped me a hell of a lot more than her. She didn't understand it all, not really. She tried, but… she just didn't get it. You get it, though. You've been through as much as I have—hell, you've been through way more than me, but you've never asked me for help, you just take care of us, of me and Ben… how do you do that? How are you so selfless?"
At this point, he's just speaking aloud, wondering to the empty air that Cas's hearing just happens to be connected to. And the angel is looking slightly alarmed as he goes on, but not in an entirely bad way.
"I don't want you around to help me get over Sam and Lisa, Cas… I just want you around for you."
They're close together, somehow less than a cushion away on the wide, long couch, and Dean can't look away from Cas's eyes—his vision is suddenly fixated on their warm azure shade, their wideness, their deepness and their curious wisdom.
"I… I don't think I understand what you're trying to say," Cas finally murmurs.
Dean shrugs, laughing slightly. "Honestly, I don't, either. Sorry, I just… let myself go there for a second. Are you hungry? I could pull together some lunch…"
"No… wait," Cas whispers, and his voice is oddly commanding. Dean pauses, halfway risen from the couch, and drops back down again, the frame of the furniture bouncing slightly below him.
In a slow, anxious sort of way, Cas's hand rises from the arm of the couch, drifts over closer to Dean and brushes along his arm lightly, as though dusting it off. Dean's gaze locks onto the hand as it lingers along his shoulder, then moves to his chin, his cheek, slowly cupping the side of his face. Cas tilts his head, his lips pressed tightly together, looking rather confused at the actions of his own arm.
"Cas," Dean murmurs, "what are you…?"
The muscles in the angel's jaw and neck stiffen as though he's internally preparing himself to jump into an icy lake, and suddenly he's leaning forward, tilting his head even farther so that he can ever-so-lightly brush his lips along Dean's, a nervous sort of motion that clearly conveys the fact that he has no idea what he's doing. Dean himself freezes in surprise, and then Cas is already drawing back, his hand falling from Dean's chin and his cheeks colored a deep magenta as he turns his stare down shamefully. The silence between them hums with intensity, teetering on the brink of something unidentifiable but massive.
"I… I'm sorry, I just… wanted to see what that… was like."
"…You know what that means, don't you?" Dean questions softly, and it's surprisingly hard to speak through the hammering of his heart and lungs against his ribcage, an inexplicable eagerness that consumes every bit of his mind and body. "When you kiss someone. You realize the… significance of that?"
Looking more ashamed than ever, Cas gives a tiny nod. "…Yes… like I said, I'm—"
"Don't you dare apologize," he whispers, a grin spreading across his face as he ducks in again, not even thinking twice before he crushes his mouth against the angel's. Cas seems initially shocked as Dean winds his hands around his neck and back, then he begins to relax by degrees, shyly kissing back, tiny movements of lip and tongue that send sweet tingles through them both. The commercials come to an end on the TV, but neither of them are paying attention—they're too wrapped up in each other, both literally and figuratively, and the seconds stretch into minutes as Dean pulls his legs up onto the couch, gathering Cas up to him and just holding his strong, lean body in place as he kisses him over and over, the gestures ranging from gentle to fierce. Finally, after an indefinite span, he pulls back, to see that Castiel's face is completely scarlet, his throat quivering as he takes in several deep, almost frightened breaths.
"You alright?" Dean checks.
"That was… you…"
"I'm good, I know," he teases, flicking a bit of dark hair off of the angel's forehead. Leaning in to give him one more light, quick kiss, he rises to his feet, stretching his arms and giving a short yawn. He can't keep a smile off his face, and even the thought of Lisa—even the thought of Sam—can't quite shake it off. The last few minutes felt more right than anything he's experienced for ages, his whole life, even.
If you're going to replace her, might as well do the job thoroughly.
The sentence crosses his mind, but he knows how ridiculous it is. Cas is far from a replacement for Lisa—if anything, it's the other way around: she was a stand-in, a way for Dean to bide his time while his true feelings had a chance to make themselves known, ever so quietly and subtly, creeping up on him until, now, he can't imagine ever seeing Cas in any way but this one.
For the first time since Lisa's death, he can genuinely see a future forming before him.
"So," he begins finally, "what about lunch?"
The angel's eyes flicker first downward, then up, before finally meeting Dean's full-on. He swallows before talking, hesitant and unsure. "Well… first, if you don't mind…"
Understanding completely, the hunter raises his eyebrows and gestures to the spot he previously occupied on the couch, the corner of his mouth quirking up. "More of that?"
"If you—if you don't mind, more of that would be… it would be nice… I enjoyed it quite a bit."
"You got it," Dean promises, not hesitating at all before settling back onto the sofa, reaching out and pulling Cas in close so that they can start all over again.