My computer is consistently trying to autocorrect Dean to "Dan" and Castiel to either "Castle" or, weirdly, "Bastille".
SO, holy crap, we're here! This is it people, the last chapter. Thanks so much for following/reviewing/favorite-ing this story. This is officially the longest fic I've ever written. It was tough. Took a darn long time too (sorry about that). But I'm so glad I got to rope you guys in all those thousands of words ago. I can't tell you what it means that you've stuck with it and been so generous with your support.
I hope you're satisfied with where it's ended up. It's not perfect, but I like it. Besides, like Lucifer says, if it's too perfect then it isn't believable.
...Aaaand that's the last advice we take from Lucifer...
But sincerely, you guys have been amazing and I'm really thankful that even one person got something out of this.
So, here's the last one, for the road.
Chapter Thirty Two
Sam understands that sometimes his brother and Castiel need their space to recreate themselves their own little jungle. And strangely, he doesn't really think it's that weird. Granted, he tries not to think about the fact that they are most likely having ridiculously epic, animalistic man-sex the entire time they're out of sight... but still, he's cool with it. He knows they need to lock themselves away to preserve something important. And that's ok, because he's glad Dean has something important to preserve in his personal life for once.
And Sam just has to come to terms with it. Afterall, maybe one of these days he'll find someone to be his better half and then he can rub it in Dean's face with a shit-eating grin when he comes out of his bedroom in the morning covered in hickies. And bites... Add that to the list of shit Sam never needed to know - Castiel is a biter. In fact, they both seem to like roughing each other up, if the constant new (harmless) bruises are anything to go by. Sam's not really into that, but he thinks he might understand.
Love is love. Even if it's weird.
And if that means that sometimes you have to sleep in the car so as not to hear your brother and his superhuman boyfriend literally destroying the house with the ferocity of their... passions...
Love is worth it.
Definitely, seeing Dean come back to life is worth it.
Dean feels unusually strong. As though he'd forgotten what it meant to be able-bodied, what an undeniable advantage it is, to be clear-headed, to feel sharp. He doesn't come out and say it, because he doesn't want to jinx it, but he feels...
Cas knows - Dean knows he can sense it - but he has been kind enough not to say anything. He behaves as he always has, not bringing attention to the blatant absence of terrified trembling in their bed at night. Dean hasn't needed to be pulled from the riot of his own mind in... it must be over two weeks now.
Some days Dean wakes up, the angel there beside him still asleep, and he actually feels better than he had before Purgatory. He feels sated and calm and strikingly affectionate. Like he's one with himself, knows himself better now, as new-agey as it sounds.
On this morning he looks over a Castiel, sees his face half-pressed into a pillow, his hands folded up by his chest, and he almost want to laugh. He'd been a virgin once. And an enemy. A liar, and a fool. Protector. He's all of those things still, Dean supposes, in that you never really lose your past. Dean can remember all of it. But he can't remember not loving him. Can't fathom it.
He's careful not to wake Cas (who needs his sleep these days) and goes to the kitchen, stretching on the way, to cook breakfast while his brother is out for his morning run.
He doesn't imagine the heartbreaking look of baffled relief the first time Sam comes home to find his brother upright and functioning normally without anyone's help. But Sam is kind enough not to voice out loud the apparent tentative equilibrium Dean has reached.
It makes Dean all the more determined to keep it. He's going to become the brother Sam needs, the person Cas wants, a little more everyday until he has become consistently, undeniably, himself again.
Castiel has grown accustomed to feelings. It is bizarre, and he frowns more often than not at the barrage of sensations his foray into pseudo-humanhood has rained on him. But the frown isn't sincere, it's just easier. Being more of a person than ever has Cas suddenly understanding why some men hide what they feel, especially when they feel it so deeply. A trait shared by all Winchester men. It used to confuse him, but now he understands. It's contradictory, yes, but it's starting to make sense.
He frowns at the onslaught of feelings and sensations, because he can't handle the thought of crying in front of Sam and Dean. Not when he can barely understand the desire to cry at all let alone from something that isn't sadness. It defies all logic. It is utterly human.
He frowns, as though working out a particularly difficult scientific equation, because it is an easy cover for how shaken-to-the-core he truly is, how overwhelmed. It is easier to pretend to be put-out than to admit what he really feels...
An overwhelming relief.
Cold, hot, hungry, tired, horny - it's all fucking beautiful. It's so much sometimes that he thinks he'll just scream, but he cherishes it. Every moment. Every sting of too-hot water, every blissful night's sleep, every ache that tells him he's pushed this body a little bit farther. Perfect. Invaluable. And what he's always wanted.
If he ever dared let all of his feelings come to the surface, he fears he might cry, for hours, with baffled relief. With gratitude.
So he frowns, to better keep it to himself.
Of course, Dean knows the truth. And he shares in Cas' every slip, the times when he lets his pleasure and relief and unrelenting emotion get the best of him. Dean knows what that studious frown hides. He knows Cas doesn't have the words for how confusing but appreciated it all is. Which suits him, because Dean doesn't have the words either.
Sam sighs - here we go again.
"That's not the point!" Dean argues loudly.
"The physics is impossible," Castiel counters evenly.
"It's a movie Cas! It's not about the physics! It's about John McClaine being the average, every-man, blue-collar badass hero who can nut-up and ruin this whole terrorist plot with nothing but a handgun and an attitude. Who cares about the physics?"
"Because it makes the entire situation implausible!" Castiel argues.
Dean growls and throws his arms up in exasperation.
"If one is supposed to draw inspiration from this John McClaine's ability to foil an evil plot, the it stands to reason his methods must be logically sound, or else his heroics are easily dismissible-"
"Hey! No one dismisses John McClaine!"
"A human man cannot clutch to an elevator shaft by his fingertips from a dead fall! It is near impossible -"
"Ha! Near impossible huh? I thought you said it was completely impossible -"
Across from the living room, sitting at the kitchen table, Sam rolls his eyes, dropping his face into his hands. He is glad his brother is feeling better, but this is the third Classic Action Masterpiece, as Dean calls them, that he and Castiel have bickered over in the past week. It starts out with the two of them snuggling close on the couch, apparently not really giving a crap if Sam is there or not, and then moment by 'implausible' moment Castiel's suspension of disbelief is completely crumbling until he and Dean are arguing about the point of it all and the likelihood of a bus going a minimum of 55mph jumping over a several hundred foot gap in the highway and landing both upright and undamaged enough to still drive being a 'gravitational impossibility'.
Sam started to wonder on day three of this film education if maybe Cas was riling Dean up on purpose, making him all angry and indignant intentionally. Cause Sam is pretty sure most of those arguments end in what Dean has infuriatingly and disgustingly named the 'angry handy'.
At least they leave the room. Or wait for Sam to get irritated and leave first.
But after a straight week of listening to them bicker and then work it out in Dean's bedroom, loudly, Sam wants to put his boot through the television screen. Granted, in a way it's blissful to have them behaving so normally. And he's glad, he is, to have them both talking and joking and finding the world livable enough to busy themselves arguing about Keanu Reeves. But Sam can't help but feel like their babysitter. He rubs his eyes, trying not to let their stupidity filter in...
"Perhaps you would like me to take you somewhere very tall and drop you - then you may attempt to prove your theory!"
"Maybe you'd like me to kick your ass!"
Sam sighs audibly. Great, so they're officially at t-minus five to 'angry handy' time.
When his cell phone rings he is so thankful for the distraction he jumps up and answers it halfway through the first ring. He's out of the room before the words are fully out of his mouth.
"Yeah - hello?"
"Sam Winchester?" a familiarly feeble voice asks.
"Uh... yeah. Who's this?"
"It's Kevin - Kevin Tran."
"Holy crap! Kevin? How - how are you even -"
"I got away from Crowley, and I stole the tablets, and I've been hiding, but I think he might know where I am and I'm hungry and I haven't taken a shower in like three weeks and I'm pretty sure I'm gonna die so I really, really, really need some help here."
"Ok, ok," Sam tries to say soothingly. "Where are you?"
"I'm in Colorado Springs," he whispers suddenly.
"Are you safe?"
Whispering still, "I'm in a bomb shelter. Some old farmer dude's. He doesn't come down here, I don't think he has since the Cold War. Thank god for political paranoia right?" He gives an awkward laugh. "I've got it all decked-out with devils traps and everything but... Sam..."
Sam winces at the creak in his voice. Poor Kevin is clearly at the end of his rope.
"They're gonna find me, I know it. And he said he's gonna use my guts for garters - I don't even know what garters are. But I don't want that, I really don't want that -"
"It's ok Kevin, just stay where you are. We're gonna figure something out." And then it occurs to Sam - "Wait, did you say tablets? As in... more than one?"
"Oh, uh, yeah," Kevin says somewhat reluctantly. "There's an angel tablet too."
Sam's heart drops with a sickening leadenness. After months of being out of the game, the reality of how big their troubles were, are, comes crashing down on him. If a Demon tablet tells you how to kill and lock away demons, then an Angel tablet... His hands shake. He doesn't know if the existence of such a thing is great, or terrible.
Kevin's nervous voice floats back through the haze and Sam clears his throat, trying not to sound shaken. "Listen, don't call anyone else. Don't move from that spot. You got it?"
"Alright, I'll call you soon."
Sam hangs up with a kind of guilt twisting in his gut. This kid needs him. Needs them. And Sam is... reluctant. He knows that every fight could be their last, and he's only just gotten Dean back. But he also knows that his conscience won't let him leave poor Kevin in the lurch, or force Dean to unknowingly do so.
But he can't help feeling, as he pockets his phone and tucks his hair behind his ears, that he's about to ruin the tenuous happiness his small family has reached.
When Sam comes back to the kitchen, Dean is watching from the couch, boots up on the coffee table nonchalantly. Castiel is very obviously not there and Sam tries not to think about whether he's cleaning up after Sam's momentary absence gave them the opportunity to get a little handsy. Because Dean looks smug, relaxed, and a little flushed.
"Who was that?" Dean asks, trying to sound normal about it.
"Uhh," Sam considers lying, but Dean's already onto him before he can string the words together, so he just goes for the truth, "Kevin Tran."
Dean's eyebrows raise.
"Yeah, I know. I thought he was a goner, what with Crowley taking him. But, he got away. He's... asking for help."
"Then we'll help him," Dean says a little too defensively.
Sam starts carefully, "Dean-"
"No, Sam. He's a kid. He doesn't deserve this crap any more than we did. If he wants to get disappeared, then we can help him do that."
"It's not as easy as that."
"Of course it's not easy-"
"No, I mean," Sam takes a breath, "he can't disappear, he wants us to help him with the tablets."
Dean's eyes narrow, "Tablets? As in multiple?"
Sam nods. "This is big. Like heaven-versus-hell-two-point-oh stuff."
Sam watches carefully as his brother's brow furrows, his eyes lowering while he thinks, Die Hard playing absently in the background. After what feels to Sam like an hour of gut-wrenching silence Dean finally turns back to the tv and says, "Well, I guess we better get our asses in gear then."
Sam doesn't know what to say, so he just stands there, cellphone heavy in his pocket like the embodiment of everything they've had on their shoulders all their lives. He's kind of liked this not hunting, living together in relative peace. Granted it came at the hefty price of Dean being a complete wreck. But he gets a tight knot in his stomach thinking about going back to the war and leaving their relative safety behind.
But he knows, like he knows his own name, that they will go back to the fight. They have to.
Just inside the door of Dean's bedroom, Castiel stands stock-still, eyes open but unfocused, listening.
So, it's over. Their reprieve has come to an end and by this time tomorrow they'll be back in the thick of it all - blood, war, responsibility, obligation, constant striving.
Castiel closes his eyes and hopes - so hard does he hope, that he thinks it might be a prayer - with all his heart he hopes that Dean is strong enough to survive. He prays that he himself is strong enough to protect the Winchester boys in the coming peril.
On that last night before they go back to war, Dean and Castiel share something no less intense for its familiarity. It might be their last chance for awhile, so they make it count.
Sam doesn't sleep in the car that night, and they keep it down for his benefit. But he knows what's happening nonetheless. And it isn't as grossly uncomfortable as usual, because he's too distracted by the sad feeling of regret that Dean can't have a life like this with Cas forever, that their Honeymoon as he'd teasingly called it earlier, was ending. His sympathy-dampened mind mostly tunes them out, but every once and awhile he can still hear the breathy sounds and whispers of their last night together without anything between them.
He hopes they remember it, when they inevitably argue in the future. He's got faith that they will. He's realized, that he needs them to last just as much as they do.
Despite the solemn mood of the night before, when the morning comes all three men are in strangely pleasant spirits. Castiel is indulgent and quietly pleased as Dean teases and jokes and slides back into a version of himself that neither him nor Sam have seen since before hell - all quips and smirks and innuendo. So much spark, so much undeniable personality. And it isn't forced, Dean feels good about going back to work, with Sam and Cas at his side.
Sam feels oddly light too, as though the pain and trepidation of the past several months is maybe finally getting buttoned up and left behind.
Their lives are once again packed up into the Impala; everything they have fits inside their duffels, Cas sharing with Dean until they can get him one of his own from the Army Surplus. Along with some not-strictly-new new clothes.
Dean found it bittersweet to pack up the only room he's ever grown so accustomed to. He's leaning against the car, looking up at the barely-standing house and thinking about all they've felt, been through, learned while they've been here. He finds himself wondering absently if the house will still be there, should they ever again happen through.
He hopes it is.
When Sam comes out, squinting into the daylight, he heads over to Dean with that look that Dean's grown used to - the one where Sam is not successful at all in hiding his examination of his brother.
"Well, it was nice while it lasted," Dean noted cheekily, causing Sam to also look over the ramshackle property they'd been calling home for some time now.
Sam chuckles, "Yeah, if you like cold showers and thin walls," he jibes.
Dean shrugs, pushing off the Impala easily. "Still," he starts lightly, "one vacation in thirty years isn't so bad."
Sam laughs in one abrupt eruption of air and sound, his eyebrows shooting up in disbelief, "Vacation?"
Dean jolts one shoulder in a gesture of nonchalance. "I hope you enjoyed it Sammy, cause it's over now. We got big-mouths to gank."
"Wow. Just like that, huh?" He follows Dean's slow path beside the car.
"What - you want me to say something deep and existential about looking into the abyss?"
Sam pauses and cocks his head at his brother, "Did... you just reference Nietzsche?"
Dean rolls his eyes, "Gimme the keys, I'm driving."
Sam stops, and holds in place, forcing his brother to take a moment and really look at him.
Dean does, and then glances around uncomfortably, rolling his eyes as though the whole thing is stupid. He knows they're having a moment, he knows he should say something.
Dean shakes his head and looks down at his boots for a minute, before glancing back up to Sam. He says, quietly, "Whatta ya say, Sammy? You've been doin' all the driving lately. Why not lettin' me do some of the heavy-lifting..."
Sam's eyes dip down, he isn't sure what he's feeling. Dean says a lot, by not saying a lot. It's always been his way. Sam is glad for the familiar evasive tone of it.
"I'll drive," Dean offers again, and his voice is light but there's weight to the offer.
Sam drops the keys into his brother's hand, and he is surprised to find that it feels like he's dropping months of concrete weight off his shoulders.
Dean holds the keys tight, giving Sam's shoulder a gentle tap and a squeeze - as close to an acknowledgement of the weight of the moment as Sam is going to receive.
A moment later Dean tosses the keys up and catches them, winking at Sam with a ridiculous smirk, before running around to the driver's side door.
Shaking his head with affection for the brother he finally has back, Sam reaches for the passenger side door handle - but he pauses. He looks away to the left, seeing Castiel meander out of the house, giving it a last stoic gaze before heading toward the Impala.
Sam looks down at his hand on the door handle. Absently he registers Dean yelling for them to hurry their asses up so they can hit the road. Sam makes the decision. He takes his hand off the handle and reaches instead for the back door, opening it and stepping toward the backseat.
Castiel stops right beside him, looking at him with those see-everything eyes, and Sam offers him a small smile before ducking into the backseat.
Castiel hovers for a moment before reaching out for the passenger side door and climbing in.
There's a quiet moment where it seems they all silently and individually take stock of the shift in their dynamic, the addition of Castiel to the family, the willingness of Sam to literally take a backseat to Dean's relationship with Cas. Maybe not always, and certainly not diminishing Sam's presence in Dean's life or in his heart, but still... he's allowed for them to make room for another.
In lieu of having something apropos to say, Sam decides to act like Dean and go crass.
"No road-head," Sam demands loudly, nestling into the back seat using his coat and duffel as a pillow, and surprising the crap out of his brother.
Dean can only splutter out a short shocked laugh before looking at Cas' perplexed expression and watching it dawn on him what that means.
The angel tilts his head to the side and gives and intrigued Hm, as though the thought had never occurred to him before this moment.
Dean smirks to Sam in the rear-view, his lips pulled down in the corner, giving a comic shrug.
Sam groans and gives a healthy Ugh for good measure, legitimately concerned that he may have given Castiel ideas, before closing his eyes. It's a long ride to... actually, he doesn't remember where they're going. But he's not really worried. His brother is on his game, and they've got an angel riding shotgun.
Dean feels the sunlight warm on his skin, laying his forearm against the windowframe of the cardoor to soak it up. There's rock n roll playing on the radio, softly because Sam is sleeping in the backseat, and the Impala purrs at his deft handling. It all feels good. Familiar, but better than it has in years.
Dean looks in the rearview at Sam; his little brother is passed out in the back seat getting the first good rest he's had in months. His gaze moves across the front seat to Castiel, sitting quietly just an arm's reach away, his grace humming contentedly between them.
Without a thought for hesitation Dean runs a heavy hand none too carefully through Castiel's hair, then holds onto his ear for a moment. It's a blissfully comfortable expression of affection. Cas smiles.
Dean thinks about all of the horrible things Cas had done that made him crazy and ultimately sent them to Purgatory; he thinks about how evolved the angel is now. How strong, individual, deep. He looks pretty damn put together for a guy who nearly blew up the world. Dean gives Cas' ear one last stroke with his thumb and pulls his hand away, chuckling. He feels Cas look at him and Dean shakes his head with a chuckle. Cas' head tilts to the side in question.
"Hell of a long way to go just to get laid, Cas."
Castiel rolls his eyes shakes his head, trying to be angry, but he can't. He just can't. He's too thankful.
"You could have just asked me out," Dean smirks at him.
"No," Cas starts, looking easily out the windshield at the open road, "this way was much smoother."
Dean laughs at Cas' impeccably-timed, dry-as-the-sahara humor.
"Excellent planning on my part," the angel deadpans, "having us sent to Purgatory, tortured, nearly killed. Suffering excruciatingly in each others' absence... It was much more romantic this way."
Dean can't help his grin. He shakes his head in disbelief. "Now he's a joker," he mutters under his breath, unable to stop smiling.
"I wouldn't take any of it back," Cas says quietly. Dean's smile fades as his heart surges, and he waits, listening carefully. Cas' voice is small but certain, "Knowing that it leads here... I wouldn't do it differently." Then impossibly quieter, "Selfish though it is."
Dean swallows hard. He reaches his hand across the seat to Cas', lacing their fingers, their entwined hands resting on the seat between them.
Cas looks at him, and he looks back.
They love each other, that much is clear. But as of this moment, they start something new. The bond started in Hell and forged unbreakable in Purgatory remains, and is stronger than ever. But the resentment of past mistakes, the bitterness of lies told, chances missed, advice untaken and unspeakable pain, is finally behind them. They no longer feel like broken pieces that fit together, but like whole people, always meant to be an indivisible set.
The road in front of them is bright, and the grass is green and Sam sleeps lightly in the back seat. Leviathans run loose in the cities, Demons are headed by a ruthless King who knows their weaknesses all too well, poor Kevin Tran is out there in the world with the weight of everything on his shoulders and they've got Holy tablets loose on Earth, so they are in no shortage of trouble, which is the usual.
But they both know they will handle it all differently now than they have in the past. The cycle of disappointment and bad-timing is broken. Life isn't easier per se, evil and hardship hasn't left their lives. But something new, and stronger has come.
So for the first time, things are good despite it all. For the first time in a long time, they really believe they can win.
That night they will arrive at their destination to discover Kevin Tran, haggard and so pleased to see them that his huff of relieved laughter possesses a touch of hysteria. All three of them are glad to have found the poor kid alive, against all odds, and not merely bait in some horrible trap of Crowley's. Dean feels like he's back to doing the best part of this job - saving people.
Later they will come up with a rudimentary plan to battle the evil facing them, and then bunker down in an old house. Kevin will say nothing when he sees Dean lead Cas into the bedroom, one finger very comfortably latched on the beltloop of the angel's trench. Kevin will merely look to Sam, who will shrug easily and not entirely be able to contain his amusement at the look on the boy's face.
Castiel will lay down beside Dean, watching and feeling him slip into sleep for what feels like the millionth time, and he will realize, with an aching pang in his gut, that he has fulfilled his destiny. He does so every day he stays with Dean. He has finally kept his promise, to save Dean Winchester.
He never expected the man would save him in return.
Dean rolls over and tightens his arms around him, and Castiel breathes deep, falling asleep to the feeling of Dean's breath on his neck, and a smile on his lips.