Title: Renegade Atlas
Rating: M
Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Spoilers: through seasons 4 and 5, tiny tiny parts of 6; it's mostly canon
Warnings: insane!Dean, violence, gore, language, torture, thoughts of self-harm/suicide, angst, angst, more angst, and probably a giant bastardization of angel lore
AN: See end of chapter.

Castiel isn't sure what he expected from this whole being human thing. He learns the pressing need of his bladder very quickly, and the harsh pain of hunger not so quickly. Dean teaches him all of it, even how to shave, because it gives him something else to focus on—something that isn't Sam saying yes to Lucifer.

And when he and Dean have sex, it's different. It's not better or worse in any way other than Castiel likes it but isn't certain what to make of it. It feels dirtier, slicker between their bodies and wetter when Castiel comes inside him. There's the issue of the handprint, though, and Castiel knows it's because he doesn't have enough grace left to make the connection.

The look Dean gives him when he figures it out is full of pity.

The air feels different, too, but Castiel thinks that has more to do with the reality of the final battle looming over their heads. It makes electricity crackle in the air, dry and static, and it fills Castiel with a sharp longing for his home, for Heaven.

But the worst part is that Castiel is powerless. He is weak, physically of course, and mentally when he catches himself unable to remember how many freckles are on Dean's left hand. Castiel has never had trouble knowing that before, not since he first counted them and started keeping track of the fluctuation in their numbers from season to season. It's because his brain is becoming human, losing connections between neurons because that's what human brains do—they forget. Castiel has never forgotten anything that wasn't stolen from him.

He quickly becomes obsessed with recounting the events of his life to himself, but it is too long and he is too old, and there is an entire chunk of time missing during the Jurassic Period—thousands of years, maybe, where Castiel has nothing. He makes it to the present day once, but when he goes back to do it over again, Castiel can no longer remember how the Earth began and the story started.

The memories from Gabriel still shine brightly, though. Castiel took those in after he became human, after he lost his grace, and they are embedded within this body the way his other memories were rooted within his grace. They have found room in his human mind.

Castiel has never felt this old before. Again and again, he replays the memories Heaven stole when losing the other ones becomes too much and he realizes it's not a continuous length of time. They cut in and out, and some holes Castiel can still fill.

He walked with a human who had no name for twenty-three years, birth to death, long before the concept of a year was even thought of. Humans didn't name themselves then, and once he died, Castiel spent three years singing praises in Heaven. He remembers the three years from before, but the twenty-three are new, spent with Balthazar because the humans they walked with had been each other's mates. Dean Winchester's distant ancestors, and it's funny how his eyes have survived in his family line for that long.

Castiel used to be mesmerized by the color of his nameless human's eyes—so green and bright and utterly unlike the muddy browns and grays Castiel was so used to. The first green-eyed man with a green soul to match, he thinks, and he wonders if his Father did that on purpose.

But now as he walks with a human—one who can speak and understand and grasp concepts that Castiel had never in his wildest imagination thought about—he is bound to the Earth. He is trapped. He doesn't necessarily long to fly back to Heaven right at this moment, but the idea of not being able to even if he wanted to is heartbreaking.

Dean will be the last of his line, the final bright, pure green-eyed, green-souled boy. It's only fitting he drag the angel who guarded him down too.

Because there are no more chances after this. Michael will take his vessel and the Earth or Lucifer will take his vessel and the Earth, but there will be nothing else left. Paradise for the winner and the whole human race gets fucked.

Castiel can hardly wait.

Dean wakes up in the morning with a dead smile on his face. Castiel is already awake, watching him shamelessly from the other side of the bed. He's recounting Dean's freckles, though it's frustrating because Dean moves frequently in his sleep and he keeps losing track of the number.

Possibly he's at forty-six right now. It could just as easily be forty-three, and Castiel absolutely despises the inaccuracy of his number.

"Hey, Cas," Dean says. His voice is rough with sleep and his eyes are only half-lidded, but Castiel can tell he's faking the smile. It doesn't reach his eyes, doesn't make the corners of his eyes crinkle up in warmth, and it's all wrong. Castiel doesn't want to see it.

"Good morning," he says instead. "Did you sleep well?"

Dean makes an 'mrph' sound and widens his eyes, stretching his arms out in front of him until they hit Castiel's chest. "Yeah, actually," he mumbles. "You?"

"Well," Castiel says, even though it's a complete lie. He slept for about two and a half hours in the very early hours of the morning, but his head has been plagued with thoughts and warnings ever since then.

"Good," Dean says, and he closes his eyes briefly before he rolls off the bed, standing tall and stretching his arms up to the ceiling. His knees crack while Castiel's eyes trail over him and Dean twists his back around and rotates his neck, and Castiel can't believe there was ever a time when he had enough knowledge to put all of Dean's body back together again.

Dean ducks into the bathroom across the hall without speaking again, a barely-there hitch in his steps that Castiel knows he put there, and he sighs as he stands up as well. He'll probably need a shower and definitely cleaner clothes. In the meantime, Castiel brushes his teeth with Dean's toothbrush because going to the store for toiletries hasn't been the highest priority lately.

He hesitates for a moment after rinsing his mouth, watching the shower in the mirror. Dean is completely silent. Usually, he hums to himself and sometimes he even sings outright when he thinks he's alone, and while his voice isn't necessarily his best quality, Castiel can always read the emotion through the off-key notes.

The decision happens in a split second before Castiel can actively make a choice, and then he's stripping off his flannel pants and pulling back the shower curtain. Dean's just standing under the water, watching Castiel with lifeless eyes. He doesn't move as Castiel draws their bodies together, Dean's skin warm from the water but uninviting from his tears, and Castiel presses his thumbs against Dean's cheekbones to wipe them dry.

"What happens next?" he asks, pulling Dean to him, closing the last few inches until his arms are around Dean's waist and his feet are stepping between Dean's legs, and he can feel the exact moment Dean stops resisting and melts into him. Castiel rests his chin on Dean's shoulder.

"We get Sammy ready," he says dully. "We need, what, demon blood? Bobby'll have somethin' for us. I'll figure it out."

He sounds so tired. It's not strange or surprising, considering the man he's holding in his arms is the one who's felt the weight of the fate of the world for far too long. Letting go of that has to ache.

"We'll figure it out," Castiel corrects gently. He rubs at the base of Dean's shoulder blade, pressing in and up against the knot there. In another life, he would lay Dean out in a different moonlit room and work every kink out of his body, head to toe, while they forgot about demons and demon blood and the whole damn apocalypse, but they don't have the luxury of that world.

Castiel starts when Dean's fingers slide into his hair, massaging his scalp rhythmically until Castiel realizes Dean is washing his hair. The smell of drugstore shampoo surrounds them, folding into the steam rising from the water, and Castiel sighs into it, tilting his head for a better angle.

He knows this is Dean's way of saying goodbye.

"Two demons, in a warehouse 'bout seventy-five miles west," Bobby says again, pulling his hat off to wipe the sweat from his brow. "I can lead you boys there."

"Warehouse, awesome," Dean says, hefting his bag up higher on his shoulder. "Rufus said it should just be standard?"

Bobby nods. "Couple of low level demons, practically nothing compared to the shit we've been swingin' at lately. He's been doin' recon on them, anyway, said they're usually around in the afternoon, but they go out at nights."

"Easy enough." Dean glances sideways at Castiel as Bobby wanders back to his truck, cursing under his breath. "First hunt as a real live human," he says. "Ready?"

Actually, Castiel will never be ready for the feeling of knowing that he could legitimately die on this hunt. If something goes wrong, if Rufus's information is two shades off the truth, Castiel could be dying far sooner than planned, and he wants to spit in Dean's direction that he's never going to be ready. He has no power, just a shotgun Dean stuffed in his hands and told him not to shoot unless he absolutely needed to.

"Yes," he answers instead, tongue thick in his mouth. "When are we leaving?"

"Now," Sam says, slamming the trunk of the Impala shut. "We should be able to get enough, uh." He pauses quickly and then promptly continues. "Well, we have enough jugs, I think. Just need to fill them."

"Alright," Dean says, pulling the keys out of his pocket. "You ready, Bobby?"

"Idjits better gimme a minute," Bobby huffs, turning back to go into the house. Dean shrugs at his retreating figure and gets in the car anyway.

Castiel can't even skip using the door.

Dean starts up the car and something blares out of the speakers at an ungodly level that makes Castiel flinch. Sam doesn't bat an eye, just sighs and reaches to turn the volume down as Dean starts drumming on the steering wheel. He doesn't sing along, though, just stares at the rusted truck in front of them.

The drive is tense. Castiel doesn't know how else he could possibly describe it—Sam tries to make conversation a handful of times, both with Dean and Castiel, but Dean is unresponsive beyond a handful of grunts and Castiel just doesn't know what differentiates a good car from a poor one. He can feel his muscles clenching up in the tension, but each time he makes a conscious attempt to relax, he forgets himself quickly and loses all of his progress.

The radio volume inches up, too, with each aborted attempt at conversation Sam makes, and before long, AC/DC is playing so loudly that Castiel is slightly afraid the speakers in the Impala will short out. Each guitar riff makes him jump, the bass lines make him quiver, and his head pounds in time to the drums, and Castiel is definitely learning the less exciting parts of being human as he digs his fingers harder and harder into his knee to keep himself from shouting at Dean to turn it the hell down.

Sam seems to notice, tossing him a sympathetic glance over the seat. Castiel suspects his scowl only deepens further, but he's too busy bemoaning his ability to shut the noise out to care about Sam's hurt feelings.

When Bobby signals to turn off the highway, Dean turns it off. Castiel bites his tongue to keep himself from swearing angrily, because the silence is so sudden and painful that he's not sure that it's any better.

"You got the knife, right?" Sam asks quietly.

Dean nods tightly, right hand brushing against the inside pocket of his jacket. "How many jugs did you bring?"


They glance back at Castiel together, perfectly synchronized now that they're on a hunt. "You're on the devil's trap," Dean says, looking back to the road. "We'll figure out where to put it and me and Sam will get the demons into it. You good?"

"I am," Castiel says. Useless, is what he is.

The building is nondescript, nothing more unusual than hundreds of other warehouses scattered across the American Midwest, except this one has demons. Castiel's palms are sweating and adrenaline floods his veins, and it's a miracle humans can get anything done when they're flushed with chemicals like this. Castiel feels lightheaded, stomach roiling unpleasantly, and there's a vague thought in the back of his head that he's not very well protected here.

Dean hands him chalk once they stop. It's his only weapon Castiel truly knows what to do with.

Face set grimly, Bobby nods at them from his truck as Sam grabs a shotgun and the jugs from the trunk, and Dean slams it shut. Even the damn car sounds despondent, as if she knows what Sam is about to do and doesn't like it,

Sneaking into the main building is impossible as the door squeaks loudly in protest after Dean picks the lock, and it slams shut behind them when Castiel tries to leave it propped open. He receives two glares for his efforts, but at least the demons have been drawn out of hiding.

They move swiftly to somewhere in the middle, into an open room where Dean inspects the ceiling critically and looks at Sam for confirmation.

Dean gives Castiel his cue while Sam drops the jugs off to the side, taking the safety off his gun and propping the end up on his shoulder. His gaze travels around the room like a seasoned soldier's, and Castiel spares half a second to be proud of the tiny garrison he's fallen into. Powerful or not, they are deadly competent, and it slows his jumping heart and calms the stupid fears in the back of his head.

This is hardly the difficult part as Castiel marks a circle into the floor, connecting the points of his pentagram and going over all the lines against to make sure they are not broken.

He waits in the center while Sam and Dean sweep out to catch the demons. Castiel has to admit this part of the plan is almost foolproof—the demons cannot cross the line without being trapped, and should they cross it anyway, Castiel only has to step out. He doesn't know what happens if there are two demons, though—perhaps he shouts for Dean and attempts to get off a shot from his gun. He isn't worried.

It isn't fifteen minutes until Dean is back, dragging one of the demons with him. Ruby's knife is pressed to its throat as Dean growls into its ear, "Don't move, I told you not to fucking move."

Castiel steps back as Dean shoves it into the trap. The demon looks just like any other human would, except for the black eyes—Castiel cannot see the true form lurking just underneath the skin, and its last act is to snarl as Dean stabs it in the chest.

"You could have done that before you brought it here," Castiel says as Dean drops the body to the floor.

"Easier to make it walk than carry it," Dean says, shrugging. "You seen Sam?"


Dean jerks his head back at the trap. "Back inside for you, then, until I find him."

Castiel counts the seconds until they return. Twenty-one minutes or so because he loses track once or twice.

This demon doesn't come quietly. It's positively cackling in glee, heedless of Dean's warnings. "—really, big boy, take me. It's all going straight to him—I'll do whatever part I can in this," it says, mouth grinning so wide it looks like it might snap its whole face in half.

Sam is dead silent, shotgun still cocked over his shoulder. "How many times do I have to tell you to shut up?" Dean says, jerking the demon so the blade cuts into its neck.

"Shush, darling, the grownups are talking," it says, patting Dean's hand on its shoulder almost pleasantly. "How does it make you feel, Sammy, knowing you're about to deliver salvation to the demons? Probably not so great since we got your mommy."

"Shut up," Sam grits out, jaw clenching.

"What're you gonna do?" the demon says, laughing as Dean pushes it into the devil's trap. Castiel steps out with no small amount of distaste. "Kill me? Baby, I'm happy to die for the cause, I mean, Lucifer's gonna—"

Sam snaps, yanking Ruby's knife out of Dean hand and stabbing the demon through the heart. It dies with a smile on its face, laughing in delight at Sam's pain.

"Get the empty jugs," Dean says quietly while Sam stares down at the body, and Castiel obeys without comment as Dean pulls chains down from the wall and helps Sam to tie the demons up by their feet.

Castiel soon understands why a warehouse is an optimal place for this. Sam steps over to a panel of switches on the side of the room, flicking at them until the chains rise into the air, lifting the demons upside down. Easy, then, as Dean pulls a knife out of his boot and Sam drops two large funnels into the openings of the jugs. They do one at a time, slitting the demon's throats and positioning the jugs beneath when they see where the blood is dripping out, and Castiel has to marvel at the simplicity of the operation.

It's clearly not the first time they've drained bodies, either, as Dean glances at his watch, sighs, and drags out a rusted metal folding chair to sit on until the jugs need to be exchanged for empty ones. Sam leans on the wall with his phone out, probably messaging Bobby to know the plan went off without a hitch.

Funny how there's nothing like two dead bodies hanging from the ceiling to make Castiel feel like one of the family.

"We're doing this," Dean says, so quietly that Castiel isn't entirely sure he means to say it aloud. "He—we're actually gonna say yes to the devil."

Sam is behind the Impala, trunk flipped up so he can drink down his demon blood and pollute his body. Castiel is only glad that he can no longer smell the different between demon blood and any other kind.

"I thought you had gotten past this part already," Castiel says, tucking his hands into the pockets of his coat.

Dean lets out a half-hysteric laugh, cutting himself off quickly before he can say anything too loudly. "How the fuck am I just supposed to get past any of this?"

Castiel shrugs one shoulder. "I heard what Sam said to you in the car," he admits, even as he wishes he had truly been sleeping through that whole conversation. "You leave the cage alone, you go to Lisa's. Maybe you work past all of this or you don't, but you learn how to keep living, Dean."

"It's not that easy," Dean protests, but he's looking at the ground and leaning back against the car as if he knows he's already lost.

"No," Castiel says. "It won't be."

He watches as Dean and Sam leave, and he thinks derisively to himself, Take care of Dean and Bobby. Sure, if Bobby wasn't already closing off and Dean wasn't about to snap in two again. Castiel doesn't know if he can pick Dean back up this time—there are no virtues that teach you how to cope with your brother's death, no quick fixes to get over the fact that he's not really even dead, just trapped in hell forever. Castiel will do what he can, but he can't spend forever keeping Dean's wrists away from razor blades and his skull away from guns.

Castiel isn't here to do a job anymore. He's just trying to survive, same as everybody.

Castiel isn't exactly surprised when Sam fails to overpower Lucifer. If he's honest, he never had much faith in that plan to begin with, but he supposes it's much easier to resign himself to death now that he knows the Apocalypse will truly be carried out as God willed it. Dean seems—struck by the whole thing. He never quite wrapped his head around the idea of Sam losing the fight any more than he got around the fact that Sam could win the fight.

There is nothing left for either of them. Castiel is a human like Dean now, and when the time comes for Lucifer to meet Michael on the battlefield, he will die with the rest of the humans. It's inevitable, really.

He watches the news with Dean and Bobby, the meager footage of disaster and distress that has made it onto the airwaves, and it's so obvious—Lucifer is having fun right now. He's out and about and finally in a body that can contain him with ease, so now he's playing with the world until he has to show up to fight Michael. Castiel thinks he used to do this back when he started to rebel and that's why he knows what Lucifer is doing, but he can't remember for sure anymore.

His mind is so broken, and he wants to drown himself in alcohol to get out of it. It always seems to work for Dean.

Bobby heads back to his truck after a bit, shoulders slumped and head down, and Castiel is left alone with Dean, staring into a store window watching the end of the world.

"There's gotta be something we can do," Dean mumbles again. "Cas, we can't just let him go."

"Dean, you promised you would let him go," Castiel says, shifting closer to him. Dean glances the other way, away from Castiel and the televisions. "There is nothing else we can do now. It's over. We've lost."

Dean rounds on him. His face is tight with anger, hands shaking as if he wants to wrap them around Castiel's throat and shake him, and the look he gives Castiel is full of so much despair that his fury almost looks like the last call of a broken man. "I don't care how many times I have to sell my soul," Dean spits, his eyes flashing with rage as he invades Castiel's space. "I don't care how many times I have to die or how many times I have to break in Hell—I will do whatever it takes to keep him safe. He—he is my one fucking job, Cas. I'm not letting him go."

"Taking care of Sam isn't your only job, Dean," Castiel says, taking a deliberate step back. "You are capable of—"

"Yeah, I guess you wouldn't get it," Dean snarls at him. "You don't take care of your brothers; you just dick them over."

Castiel knows Dean doesn't mean it, but it still hits him like a punch in the gut. Dean is angry and upset, but that doesn't mean he has to right to say that to Castiel. He wants to shove Dean against the wall, put an arm across his throat and press down while he explains exactly why Dean is wrong and should back down now before he loses his head, but Castiel—he's too tired. He's too fucking tired to even bother, so he just looks at Dean and refuses to answer. There's nothing to say, not really.

Dean deflates. "Someone has to—Chuck."

Castiel's gaze snaps straight to Dean. "Chuck," he repeats, the pieces falling into place. "Dean, no. Even if he did know, you can't—"

"Sam's there and Chuck will know where it is," Dean says excitedly. "And—fuck, even if I can't save him, I'm gonna be there for him, Cas, I have to."

Closing his eyes, Castiel takes a deep breath. His tongue feels heavy in his mouth as he says, "I can't—Dean, I can't be there with you. I won't watch you die when I can't do anything about it."

Dean nods once, and then again as if to remind himself. Castiel still feels tired.

"We should follow him," Bobby says, staring at the road Dean disappeared on.

"We'll be torn apart."

"That ever mattered to you before?"

And—no, it really hasn't.

Castiel feels it the moment he dies, and this time the feeling of great hands all around him isn't possibly a product of his imagination. It's warm and alive and very much there, and Castiel breathes in the feeling of his Father's love all around him. It's nearly foreign, he hasn't felt it in so long, but it's just as strong and calming as it ever was.

Then there is light—there is light all around him, inside him, burning the scars off his true body and making him whole again, as if he never was taken apart beneath Rahab's rage and pleasure. Everything is made right as Castiel's grace, his power, flows back into him, setting his limbs to buzz with Heaven's fury and roiling furiously under the skin of his vessel, and it feels like Castiel is breaking into the air and taking his first breath after too long underwater.

He's not in Heaven when he opens his eyes. Well, it could be Heaven, but Castiel has spent enough time there to know that this, while beautiful, isn't Heaven, and the man standing before him is holy and more than Castiel ever could have imagined.

"Castiel," God says from the prophet Chuck's mouth, smile soft and benign from where He stands under the shelter of an apple tree. He is clean-shaven and dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, free of stains, and in His hands he holds a bright red apple, surface so smooth it shines in the sunlight.

"Father," Castiel breathes, Jimmy Novak's stolen voice cracking under his wonder. He can't help but feel that it is wrong to be in his Father's presence in a body that isn't his own.

"I'm not going to let you die," God says. "I believe you deserve to go back."

"As an angel," Castiel says, hope fluttering wildly within him at the pleased way God says it. "Father, I—"

"You have a choice," God says, cutting him off as He holds out the apple. It shines in the sun streaming down from the too-bright sky, and Castiel understands it is a promise of falling. "'By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return.' Or," He says, and He quirks a smile that reminds Castiel of the prophet. "Or you may return to Heaven and rebuild. They will need leadership, now that Michael is gone, and I fear that Raphael will not be able to lead the Host of Heaven on his own."

"You're not coming back," Castiel realizes, throat suddenly dry and the excitement sucked out of him. God shakes His head.

"I don't know," He says.

Castiel closes his eyes against the regret lining his Father's face. "I will do as You command me, Father. I will—always do as You command."

"But you haven't," God says, voice closer now, and Castiel's eyes snap open to see him standing so close. "I am proud of you for that, Castiel. You did what you believed was right." He takes Castiel's hand from his side and presses the apple into Castiel's palm. Castiel expects there to be a feeling of power beneath God's skin, but there is nothing except the sensation of brushing another human hand. Castiel's fingers curl around the apple as he searches God's face for a clue what he's supposed to do.

"As I understand it, you have a human back on Earth who loves you almost as much as he loves his own brother," God says softly. "You love him back."


Castiel ducks his head. "I don't understand what You want, Father," he says, frustrated. "You tempt me just as Lucifer tempted Eve with an apple, yet—"

"Castiel, I am not casting you into damnation," God interrupts, laughing. "I am giving you another choice, not unlike the ones that have led you here, and now what happens is up to you. You have nothing but freedom ahead of you. The apple, it's just...symbolic. It brings the story full circle."

Looking from the apple to his Father, Castiel says, "If I eat this, eventually I will die."

"Angels are not made to die, Castiel."

Castiel finishes, "But humans are."

God nods, looking at Castiel with love in His eyes. "I have an ending to write, Castiel. The Winchester Gospel is nearly complete, and I have to attend to it."

Castiel looks speculatively at the apple, considering. "I could not eat this," he says, sounding the words out loud. "I could not eat this and remain an angel on Earth. You wouldn't stop me."

God flat out grins at Castiel, radiant and bright as he nods. "I would not. If you wanted, you could even stay in this garden forever, locked outside of time in your own world, Castiel. You see how freedom works—once you have it, you can choose anything."

"I don't want to disobey You," Castiel says nervously, shifting his weight around.

Shrugging, God says, "I have no orders for you. It is not disobedience so long as no one gives you a path."

It's true, Castiel supposes. He has disobeyed every step of the way to get to this point, but now the only wrong he can do is to himself.

"I don't know what to do, Father," he admits, turning the apple over in his hands. "I fear I will not make the right choice."

"You will," God says, and in the space that Castiel takes to blink, He disappears.

In the moment as Castiel's fingers press against Dean's face, he feels everything—all the atoms that make up Dean's body and the soul within it, scarred and beautiful. On instinct, Castiel searches for that thread of himself he left with Dean when he raised him from Hell, hoping against all odds that there's still something there even when he knows there won't be.

He erases the handprint because it doesn't mean anything without the grace inside it.

Bringing back Bobby Singer is nothing like bringing back Dean Winchester. Bobby doesn't fight, for one, just comes back to life and his body as if nothing ever happened, completely unlike the way Castiel dragged Dean kicking and screaming out of Hell. It's easier to do it this way, but Castiel aches for the time when he knew his plan of action.

He wants to ache instead for a time when he did not love Dean and his job was simple, but that time doesn't truly exist because Castiel has always loved him. He has guarded Dean from birth, guarded his ancestors even longer, and now, the sight of Dean with his face swollen from their brothers' fists still fresh in his mind, Castiel knows that he cannot guard Dean anymore. This, here, with Sam gone, means that Dean is alone and Castiel has not done his job, letting the most important thing in Dean's life fall into the pit with Lucifer trapped inside him.

His choice is obvious, suddenly. The apple sits heavy in the pocket of his trench coat, and Castiel brushes the back of his hand over the lump as Dean asks him if he is God. It's flattering that he could think so.

Castiel stands back while Dean and Bobby say words to each other over where the hole to the pit closed up. Dean is composed when he turns around, but Castiel can see that his eyes are rimmed with red and there are barely dried tear tracks still running down his face.

"You best call me, boy," Bobby grunts, hauling Dean in for a hug. "Don't you dare disappear on me."

"Of course, Bobby," Dean says, honest-sounding enough, but the way he holds onto the hug just a little bit longer than he normally would is a dead giveaway. "You take care."

Bobby turns to look at Castiel one last time before he leaves. Castiel can't decipher the exact look on his face, but he seems resigned, not quite angry or happy as he starts his truck and throws it into reverse.

He and Dean watch it leave.

"C'mon, Cas," Dean says, pulling the Impala's keys out of his pocket. "Let's hit the road."

Sitting in the car with Dean now feels like all of the other times Castiel has ever sat in the car with Dean. It's slow, slower now that he can feel his wings twitching against his back, and loud when Dean cranks up the radio to drown out his thoughts.

Dean never asks him to stay. Castiel doesn't hold that against him—he understands that Sam is Dean's entire life, that Dean feels more than worthless knowing that Sam has died on his watch. He can never begrudge Dean his brother.

It still hurts. It stings like—well, like a motherfucker, as Dean would say, and Castiel wishes he could change this, but he's figured out there are some things he cannot fix. He can't erase Hell or the parts of Dean that make him hate himself. His morals, his virtues, they don't mean anything in the grand scheme, because there is no virtue that covers the feeling of loving a man so wholly that it could make an angel fall from Heaven.

That's why he doesn't really say goodbye. It's easier to leave without it, without a final scathing look from Dean that inadvertently blames everything that has happened on Castiel. Dean is angry; that's understandable. It doesn't mean Castiel has to suffer for it.

Maybe they'll meet again. Castiel can't imagine never speaking to Dean again, on Earth or in the afterlife, however it works out. This isn't the end, here; it's a beginning of something different. It's the beginning of a time where Castiel no longer has to resist the want to lean in and softly kiss Dean's cheek, if only because Dean will no longer be around. It's not better, like he told Dean, it's not worse. It's just more of the same in a different setting.

This time the setting is Heaven, where Castiel tosses his apple into the air and destroys it without a second thought. This time, Castiel is not here to take orders or to attempt to escape, partially human, with only half of his grace still intact. He is here to rebuild. If Dean calls him, he will go to him; if Castiel wants to speak to him, he will go to him. Until then, Castiel will do his best to mend his broken heart.

They are the man who held the world on his shoulders and the angel who fell to save him. It isn't the story his Father planned, this grand story of family and rebellion that they've written instead, but just because it's grand doesn't mean it has to have an ending in paradise. They've proven that.

It just happens, sometimes, that love isn't enough. And that's okay.

Author's Note

I apologize for the month's absence. I won't bother explaining—it's long and boring and filled with too many excuses. I'm sad to finish this. Now that it's done, it's over, and I hope to god you're not praying for a sequel because the sequel is seasons six, seven, and eight of Supernatural. That was my goal the whole time, to weave another story in and out of the one we already had, and other than a few relatively minor tweaks to canon, I think I did alright.

Beyond that. I want to thank every single reader, reviewer, and person who clicked on the first chapter and was immediately turned away by the sheer amount of gore (I can see them in the hit counter). I want to thank Rose for editing the first half or so of this fic before I started cranking chapters out two hours before posting. Everyone who has spoken to me about this or silently appreciated it from afar deserves a thanks.

This is the single longest thing I've ever written. It's also the most complete. It's not perfect. I'm still really fucking proud. Currently, I'm batting around three major ideas for my next story. Not sure what I'll pick quite yet, but I've got some interesting ideas.

You can follow me on tumblr to see my spastic blogging slash crying-over-fictional-characters and participate in fun things like Smut Sunday where I write you all smut for a day. My URL is abaddonless dot tumblr dot com. I'm also pumpkinless on AO3, if you're interested, but I must warn you that my tumblr account is the only one of these three that has writing that I haven't uploaded anywhere else. It's exclusive or something!

And finally, again, thank you. Thank you so, so fucking much. You're awesome.