Endings are hard. Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can. The fans are always gonna bitch. There's always gonna be holes. And since it's the ending, it's all supposed to add up to something. I'm telling you, they're a raging pain in the ass.
"Now I lay me down to sleep, our Father who ain't in Heaven. . . you know what, I don't care who's up there right now. . . can you hear me?" Dean's voice is a low, rough whisper in the dim room, his head bowed now and hands clasped around the cheap motel Bible.
The motel lobby coffee in Sam's hands is weak and flavorless, treebark colored water that scalds his tongue as he takes a seat next to Bobby in the front of his van, looking out over the parking lot towards the railed walkway of the Sail Inn, and he shakes his head silently without knowing whether Bobby is asking about Dean or about Castiel. Either way, the answer is the same. Both men are precisely where they had been when Bobby disappeared to make a supply run.
His brother still sits mute and angry at the motel table, one hand folded over the other fist at his jaw, exhausted and bleary eyed and stubborn in his denial and his pain and his undeniable anger at the entire world.
Castiel still lays limp and lifeless across the motel bed before him, the blankets drawn up over him as if it's simply the chill from the lake and the rain that have put him there.
"I've seen him bad off, Bobby. Pretty often. But I've never seen him like this before." Sam confesses, watching the door to their motel room as if waiting for it to open, to admit both men back into the bright morning sunlight and a verdant world: the color in everything had seemed to saturate in startling greens and placid blues overnight with the rain as Castiel had grown more gray, as Dean's vibrancy had faded.
"I have." Bobby sighs, and seems to carry the weight of all his years as he looks to Sam, pulling his flask out of his bluejean jacket and offering it to him to fortify his coffee or ease his mind. "When you died."
It's a warning sign. The first indication.
Dean Winchester is willing to do a lot of things for the people he loves.
Accepting sacrifice is not one of them.
"You don't owe us any favors. I've got no markers left to call in with you guys, and he doesn't either. I know it." Dean can taste the salt of his own tears on his lips as he presses them together, trying to find the words to offer, some deal or negotiation or trade he can make that will open the lines of communication with Heaven again. Each moment that passes silently, with no answer from Heaven and no bargaining tool from himself, has angered him. He has declared war on Heaven and Hell both, and the only person to ever answer his prayers even when he had nothing to offer in return now needs some sign that anyone else up there would get off of their feathery asses to help.
He might be suicidal. This might be just calling the attention back down to them of people Castiel had just kicked to the damned curb.
But it was better than watching Cas wither away, an empty vessel without his soul or his Grace or any spark of awareness.
"You know, I wondered about you two. I mean, you can't really do that much intense staring without something going on behind the scenes, you know what I mean?" The voice intruding on his peace pauses, the cheeky smirk nearly audible in his voice as he clicks his tongue. "Well obviously you know what I mean. But really, all that build up and your Heaven is the cuddling? I'm kinda ashamed for you right now, bro. Or Heaven's just a lot more boring than our neighbors. I dunno, it's been a long time since I've been back in the old neighborhood. Say what you want about them being crazy, but Valkyries, for instance? Whew. They were babes. Bit of a sex/death fetish thing going though, but I guess you gotta expect that."
"You talk too much." Castiel answers without lifting his head, eyes still closed. He is at peace, head resting on Dean Winchester's chest, listening to the steady thump of his heartbeat, and until moments ago he was dozing comfortably as he had been in the memory upon which this was constructed, sometime before the dawn on his last day on earth.
And then Gabriel had invited himself to sit down on the edge of the bed and offer 'constructive criticism.'
"It has been said once or twice. You know, if you're going to make me sit here and talk at you all tangled up in a sweaty pile of human, I'm going to get bored, and then here you are, sleeping your way through the afterlife while your man-toy here assaults my delicate sensibilities with his creative interpretation of prayer. How is it that nobody's smote him yet?"
"Not for lack of trying." Castiel finally sighs wearily, sitting up and turning his stare on Gabriel who sits on the edge of the bed smirking back at him. "You killed him several times yourself."
"Two hundred and thirty eight, but who's counting? Other than me. I counted. What else are you supposed to do to while away a boring Tuesday afternoon, am I right?" Castiel watches him flatly, until Gabriel sighs, throwing up his hands. "Does no one up here have a sense of humor?"
"So what do we do?" Sam asks, leaning back against the headrest of the van, eyes closed, his limbs leaden and eyelids heavy. "We can't let him keep doing this. But what do we do, do we just. . . dump Cas off at a hospital somewhere?"
Shaking his head slightly, Bobby swigs from the flask as he weighs his words. These boys, they were his family. Closest thing he'd ever have to sons. Castiel, well, there was history there. . . he respected him, but he wasn't ever going to be accused of being the feather-duster's biggest fan. He'd accept that he was important to Sam, and most significantly to Dean. He didn't claim to understand it, but he had eyes and he'd known Dean nearly his entire life. He knew exactly how much Cas meant to the boy. And for that, he would grieve, too. "He won't last much longer. Even if we left him at a hospital and they stuck tubes in him, kept him plugging along a little longer. . . that's no way for a man to live, Sam."
Sam's eyes open, and Bobby can see the spark in them, the heat, the anger waiting for an outlet. "What're you saying, Bobby?"
"I'm saying whatever else he was, the man was trying to be a Hunter, was a Hunter's angel, and he oughta have a Hunter's funeral. Or who knows what'll parade around in his bones. Made a lot of enemies that don't care whether you're alive or dead."
"You know what? Fuck you guys. Fuck all of you, you miserable junkless sons of bitches. We were right, and if you weren't such fucking tight-assed apocalypse now egotistical bastards you'd realize that we're just. . ." He can't do it any more, he can't stay sitting by, he can't stay calm and watch this. The Bible goes crashing into the wall, its binding snapping, pages spilling from the leatherized cover, and Dean stalks to his duffle bag.
". . . Trying to do the right thing!"
"Why are you here?"
Gabriel shrugs, looking away, straightening the cuff of his jacket. "Figured I'd stop in, see how my brother was doing? What, family can't just. . ."
"We are not that caring of a family." Castiel counters before he can finish, cutting off another long spiel before it can gain momentum, and Gabriel concedes the point with a faux-considering look.
"No, we're really not. And you're not even my favorite brother. 'Course, the lot of you are a bunch of stick-up-the-ass . . ."
"Why are you here?" Castiel repeats, with the same tone and inflection as before.
"Hmm. Let's see. 'Why am I here'? Maybe because you decided that you weren't just content with tearing up the whole Book of Revelations, you wanted a rewrite, to expand the cast, and pretty much fuck up everyone's plans? You think I want to be here, Castiel? Do you know what I went through to get away from this place?"
"Yes." There is nothing condescending about his response to the final question posed to him. Castiel, perhaps more than anyone, knew precisely how much it took to get away from Heaven's grasp. He just had never managed it as successfully as the archangel before him.
"Yeah, I guess maybe you do. So imagine my surprise when you drag yours-truly back from the great beyond, or wherever we end up when we bite it, and dump this crap on me. Someone went and smote himself a bunch of angels and left no one around to stand in for Dear Old Dad around here except . . ."
"How did I get here?" Castiel interrupts once again, and Gabriel raises his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug, unperturbed by the interruption. This one he'd been asking himself.
"Hey. Don't look at me, kid. I don't make the rules in this place. Apparently being a humorless rebellious violent human-loving pain in the ass makes you Daddy's favorite son now." Castiel's head cants slightly to the side and Gabriel rolls his eyes, arms folding as he presents the evidence. "You keep showing up places you shouldn't be. Beating people who, let's face it, you just didn't have the juice to take on. Cojones, sure, but not the power . . . not 'til you cheated, which shoulda burned you out in the first place. And you're the only one of us who's gotten the Divine Intervention treatment in how many millennia? Couple of times now. A lot. All recent. Apparently including tucking you away here to be this sorry son of a bitch's snugglebunny for eternity. What's He supposed to do, get you a Hallmark card? Do they make one for 'Sorry I skipped out on you for eternity. Keep on making waves, kiddo. Love, God.'?"
"I don't know. . ."
"None of us know, dumb-ass. That's the point."
"But I died." Castiel remarks evenly, confirming what he has suspected since he found himself warm and comfortable, too practical-minded to accept Heaven at face value. Gabriel whistles in disbelief and incredulity, shaking his head.
"Wow. No flies on you, bro. Yeah. You kicked it. Soul did, at least. . . Grace seems to be looong gone too, you shoulda quit while you were ahead but you just couldn't resist me." Gabriel waggles his eyebrows, and Castiel just looks uncomfortable and annoyed at the teasing. "But that body's still plugging away down there, sucking air and drooling. Not your most attractive look, but then again. . . vessel. Wasn't ever really you to begin with. So, I'm left with a stumper. Since I'm apparently supposed to be the responsible big brother-you've fucked them all over with that plan, and don't act like it wasn't a plan, I know you figured your big finale was sticking my sorry ass back here in Cloud City-I get to figure out what we're going to do with you."
Castiel watches Gabriel silently, over the solid, sleeping memory of Dean Winchester.
"What, no suggestions?"
"What happened to the souls?" Castiel asks, and this time Gabriel does seem annoyed by the tangent, the insistence on directing the conversation.
"How the hell should I know? I figure me, the humans you resurrected, the other two angels you popped back on earth, we're all at least 95% recycled material. Very Green. Eco friendly. Lot of souls go into one Grace, and you didn't content yourself with staying in your weight class, you had to go for me too. Voila. Last of the archangels, and I am chock full of converted soul and a generous heaping of your Grace. Outside of that? Beats me. Few hundred new monsters on the earth, fresh from Purgatory?"
"Send me back." It's an answer to the question, a request, a suggestion rather than a demand, and Gabriel reaches into the pocket of his jacket, pulling out a Hershey bar and unwrapping it delicately, before taking a decidedly indelicate bite from it.
"Man, you just do not beat around the bush, do you, Castiel?"
"You're not checking out on me, Cas. You hear me?" The books hit the table in a pile, and Dean addresses the still form on the bed, fixing him with a glare that he cannot reciprocate, and an inherent threat that he does not register. Shuffling through his supplies, Dean's hand hesitates, and he moves past all the mixings he'd need for a Crossroads deal. One potential avenue closed. He will not deliver Cas to Crowley, and he might as well gift wrap him, chosing that option.
The spell. The spell Castiel used to talk to him in his Heaven, to direct him how to escape. If he can find out which direction he went. . .
"You don't get to just pack it in, and I'm not leaving you to those bastards, whichever ones got their hands on you."
"Technically, he got his hands on you. It's all very touching. You get the double entendre there? Puns? Huh? No? Heathen. I get no respect."
Gabriel grins as he stares down the barrel of the gun instinctively and unwaveringly aimed between his eyes, and takes another bite of his chocolate bar, waving in greeting at Dean. "Hiya, Toots."
Castiel's voice is grave, and his expression earnest. "I unleashed that on them. Any deaths from those creatures. . ."
"You mean, like if either of the Winchesters bite it dealing with them? I mean, they will probably be the ones stuck cleaning up the mess." Gabriel watches Castiel, and as he takes a bite of chocolate on Earth he does so in Heaven as well. And people thought they were multitaskers. They oughta try being him sometime, see if they could function on multiple planes of existence at once. It was all in the illusion.
Castiel's silence answers him.
"I mean, that's what this is all about, isn't it?" He points at the memory of Dean with his chin, jaw working as he chews on the candy, speaking around it. "Him."
"You know, I'm not entirely sure I approve of my little bro here's taste in men. You're a rude pain in the ass, aren't you?" Gabriel asks Dean, as he comfortably settles himself on the edge of the bed next to Castiel's limp body, foot bobbing in the ADHD jiggle of someone unable to sit still as he rests his ankle atop his other knee, for all the world as if Castiel wasn't even there.
Dean thumbs back the hammer on his gun, and it's pain and desperation that answer the angel.
"Bring him back."
Gabriel's eyebrows come together, rising into an incredulous point, and he can't help the laugh. "Seriously? We're not past this yet? Didn't we play this game before? You seriously think a gun, which can't hurt me and you know it, and a command's going to make this go your way?"
Dean draws the angelic blade, retrieved from Storm Lake, and sets it on the table between them as well, indicatively, an unspoken threat, and repeats himself with a bitter edge to the final word, for a miracle he cannot expect from this being whom he'd cajoled into making the stand that killed him.
"Bring him back, please."
Gabriel rolls his eyes.
"Yes." Castiel finally grates out, his eyes straying to the sleeping figure, and he knows from memory that right now, were he in his place there in the bed, Dean would be unconsciously tugging Castiel to his side, tangling them closer together. There's no way to hide this, no answer he can give that will negate the truth of what is here.
Gabriel has invited himself into Castiel's Heaven, and it makes him uncomfortable to know that he has been revealed. There are no denials here.
It's not sexual, his Heaven. It was about belonging. About finding some measure of peace for himself, and giving it to someone who needed it just as desperately.
"Everyone leaves him. I can't. Not yet."
"I am not going to lose him too." It's a promise, to Castiel, to Gabriel, and to himself. Dean will cut a deal. He will make his own miracle. He will do something, one way or another, to right this. Castiel did this for him. He knew the fear that had driven Cas away from that power, knew he would never have accepted it if Dean hadn't gotten himself killed, again. If he hadn't dragged him to that lakeside.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm getting it in stereo, cupcake. You two are giving me a headache. I'm only going to say this once." Resting his candy bar on his knee, Gabriel raises his hand, snapping his fingers, and the two realities resolve for him. He is sitting on one bed, in one place, having the one conversation, with the one conscious Dean, and the one conscious Castiel, and these two chuckleheads can shut up and listen to him.
Castiel's eyes snap open on the bed.
Dean freezes, a tremor running through his hands as he registers it.
Gabriel continues as if nothing has happened, all gestures and emphasis.
"Here's the deal. There are no more deals. You stick me in this crappy ass job, you're stuck with what I say, and what I say is this is it. No more crying to Daddy or the Devil for a redo, and sure as hell no begging me to pull your asses out of the fire. You live, you do your thing, you die, the end. You two fill in the details yourselves, because I'm done." Picking up his candy bar, Gabriel rises to his feet as Castiel sits up on the bed, dropping his feet to the floor and meeting Dean's shocked stare. Part way to the door, Gabriel jabs a finger into Dean's chest, barely drawing his attention. "Oh! And the same goes for your brother, too, you hear me? Less I see of the three of you, the better, because I'm already cleaning up one mess for you."
Oh, now they're not talking. Gabriel shakes his head, torn between amusement and exasperation, sure it won't be the last he sees of them after all, but hey. A man can dream. And at least they weren't boring.
If nothing else, the looks on their faces were worth a laugh. He winks, clicking his tongue against his teeth and flashing them a leer as he does.
"Don't worry. I'll see myself out. You two do. . . whatever it is that you two do between the staring and the spooning."
(Heaven was going to have to learn to have a sense of humor.)
"Cancel the funeral plans, boys." With a whisper of wings, Gabriel has his arms thrown over the backs of both front chairs in the van, dangling his chocolate between his fingertips by Sam's ear as he leans forward from the back seat, chin level with their shoulders, looking up at the motel room he had just left.
Sam flinches back in surprise, both hunters instinctively going for a defense. "Holy. . ."
"Yep, that's me." Gabriel confirms, smirking. "I am all about the holiness now. It's a pain in the ass. But like I was saying. Cancel the funeral plans. But if I were you. . .?"
Gabriel sits back in his seat, taking his last bite of candy. "I'd book a different hotel room."
He's gone before the candy wrapper has time to hit the floorboards.
It is not a fairytale ending. A fairytale ending, everything fades on a kiss and they live happily ever after. No complications. The Winchesters aren't built that way, and for all his experience, Castiel knows that it's not in his nature either. They have made too many enemies, collected too many nightmares and old scars, are all too stubborn and independent to coexist peacefully at all times, too inextricably tied together to pull apart, and they have left too many other loose ends.
But you expect loose ends. It's how you know you're not finished yet.
For now, it's the drive they have to look forward to: greasy-spoon diner food, watching each other's backs, stolen moments in crappy motels, running for their lives, saving people's lives, hunting things, being hunted. And they will do it together. Castiel knows how rare peace is, and he knows now that it'll be there at the end of the road.
He plans to put on as many miles as he can, before then.
Author's Note: And that's a wrap on our season premiere! After considering it, I just wasn't able to let this story go-as I said in the first revision of these rambling author's notes, the beauty of Supernatural is that there's always something else just around the bend! For this verse (currently titled the "Before the Fall" 'Verse because I'm shockingly unimaginative for a writer) that means the Shippier Ending "Afterwards" and tag-along story "Incarceration" for my Destiel fans, because I love you and I promise I don't always have to torture the boys (just. . . y'know. Usually). For another full-plot story, check out the currently in-progress second episode of this 'season,' "Some Sin for Nothing' co-written with Mrstserc, to follow our boys on the road to San Antonio, the most haunted city in the US-where some old nightmares and new fears are dragged to light.
Now, for the absolutely massive and completely, completely deserved shout-out. I want to thank Elz, for staying with me even when it's not your ship, along with Bluecats and Nickle and Haruka, thank all of you being wonderful and supportive and fantastic throughout the story in your comments. Tayzer, LittleSadEyes, and Chaos, you have been with me from the start, and every one of your reviews helped push me on, kept me going. Liza, Phoenix, Lillz, Tashiya, Pinkskyline, Meriadeth, Sinthija, Sekhem, thank you so much for reading, and I really and truly hope that every one of you enjoyed the ride.
Thank you all for sticking with me, and for welcoming me so warmly into the fandom. This was my first Supernatural fic, and I was terrified it wouldn't pull together, or be well received. You lot are absolutely amazing for giving me a chance!
And for all of you who come here now that we're wrapped—please, let me know what you thought, and I hope you too enjoyed it!
(Even the ending. Though I agree, Chuck. Endings ARE hard.)
Love to you all.