Author's Note: Now, this is technically a one-shot follow-up to my story "Before the Fall," and anything you DON'T recognize comes from that. However, it can be read as a stand-alone if you know Cas ripped out his grace some time after playing God and there was some fairly traumatic backlash and throwdowns involved in keeping Cas human.
Written for Bluecats and Nickle, while I was handing out candy for Halloween—I figured I should give you two the Destiel ending! Happy Halloween, hope you enjoy it! I may touch back on this 'Verse from time to time with little stories, but this one is more a study in how their relationship works. If you want to see anything in particular, my dears, don't hesitate to PM me and prompt! I got into the habit of writing daily, now I figure I should keep going.
Anyways. Enjoy! Please, please review!
Blonde tresses fan out across the surface of the water, catching each small ripple of the turbulent surface of the lake, drifting and separating and floating suspended in weightlessness, Fate's golden thread unraveling from the skein and spilling around a porcelain face that is frozen forever, twisted in horror and pain and fear.
Fear of him. The sword feels weightless in his hands, and this time she is powerless and he powerful.
Her fate had been decided with such a simple motion. The turn of her wrist, and she had broken three men utterly.
In his mind's eye, he can see her from above, arms outspread, fingers curling into her palms, body weightless, blue eyes unseeing. As the lightning chases the sky, casting all of the horrors below in stark relief, an Angel's blood seeps through the shallows of the lake, spreading scarlet wings.
He knows this place.
This is his home. His prison. He crawls back into this space each time, curled within it, a reminder: this is what he is, and what he was, and what he cannot let himself be again.
Hester turns her wrist, and Dean Winchester dies again.
And again, Castiel finds her here in his memories. And again, he murders her.
"You're a monster."
But at least he was a thorough one.
The walls between sleeping and waking are fragile, and Castiel flits through them soundlessly, smoothly, never sure in this state where one ended and the other began. The familiar, faint rumble of pavement beneath the tires, the gentle feeling of motion, he can hear Sam in the front passenger's seat, breathing deeply, slowly. As a car passes them from the opposite direction, the headlights sweep across the interior of the car, and he can see Dean watching him, the brief moment of light illuminating summer green eyes in the rearview.
He knows. Castiel can tell, simply from that small picture-frame portion visible to him, Dean knows he was back there again.
Somehow, he usually does.
"You okay?" He keeps his voice low, for Sam's benefit, letting him get as much sleep as possible.
There's an inherent trust, here, that is somehow humbling and gratifying at once. Driving the car along distant back roads, the two most important people in his world asleep and dreaming in their places, they put their lives in his hands every time he gets behind the wheel and they do it without hesitation. The concept that Dean would lead them astray, or lose control, is dismissed if it's even considered at all. His entire life he has loved to drive, but it was never the same when he was doing it without his little brother, and now his angel. It's not about the road, it's only secondarily about the car (though he does love her), it's about the responsibility. Here, he can take care of them both.
He just wishes he could steer their dreams to safer destinations as well.
"I'm fine." It's the most common lie among them, to the point where it's no longer taken as an answer to any posed question, and more accepted as the connotative equivalent of 'drop it, I don't want to talk about it.' And for the most part, Dean can respect that. He uses it as much as any of them—hell, he probably coined the term among the three of them—and it's become customary that whoever challenges an 'I'm fine' is subjected to the same scrutiny they put on others: if you push an issue, be ready for it to be pushed back at you, and everything you're 'fine' over will be dragged out as well.
For now, Dean lets it go with a slight nod, turning his eyes back to the road, but he begins looking at the exit signs for a likely motel. He probably could hold out another hour or so driving, but he knows what's plaguing Castiel, has dragged the truth of his nightmares out of him before, and even in the dark, unable to make him out clearly, he can see Cas won't be shaking this one right away.
The nightmares of all three of them tend to linger, and they all have their triggers. The last case was a straightforward exorcism all told, but they'd been smacked around a bit, and the hell bitch had sent Crowley's regards before crashing Dean into a window with a flick of her wrist. Dean was getting rather resigned to the fact that he had a sign painted on him encouraging just such a reaction to his presence, but it had been enough tap back into the nightmares that seemed to swim below the surface of their thoughts, waiting to take center stage in the subconscious.
When Dean wakes Sam with a smack to the side of his knee and a gruff order to check them into the motel he's easing the car up to, Sam doesn't need to ask what kind of night this is. There are one-room nights, where all three of them collapse on their beds, sleeping like the dead (better than most of the dead they come across, actually) until in the morning, or when there's research to be done and something to hunt, or where they're offering lessons in humanity to the fallen angel ranging from movies to hand-to-hand methods, to poker lessons, to tools, to the specifics of how to hunt, use the computer, and how to lie (he's still terrible at it, which is reassuring to some insecure part of the boys that remembers how well he misled them), until well into the night, with laughter and drinking and confused and annoyed expressions from Cas. And then there are two-room nights, where Sam books his own room next to theirs, puts in his headphones, and pretends that motel walls are made of sterner stuff.
Sam's come to recognize when to make himself scarce, and when his brother needs the two of them in his sight. Castiel is staring off out the window again, awake despite looking exhausted, and Dean's pulling over before midnight. It's a two-room night, and he doesn't resent it.
Sam hands Dean the second motel key in the lot, and Dean shoots him a look of thanks, and that's all the discussion his brother is willing to have about the relationship. Sam stopped questioning it. He hasn't found his brother drinking alone in the dark since Storm Lake. There was something always bitterly understood, made perfectly clear by Dean ("I'm fine.") in every way he could—Dean Winchester expected, from the start, to end up dying young, alone, and angry. This changes that, all of it. They may not discuss it (Sam doubted even between the two of them), but whatever this tangled up mess is between his brother and his friend, it's okay in his book.
Dean's never been the holding hands in the park type anyway, and Castiel. . . apart from the one a kiss with Meg, before the Fall, that was awkward as hell to play audience to even then . . . he's never really expressed interest in anyone but Dean. He doesn't think he's imagining the look of appreciation Castiel shoots him, seeing that second key, but Castiel can be hard to catch expressions on at times, and it's gone quickly as the fallen angel takes up both his and Dean's bags, leaving Dean free to open the door.
As soon as the deadbolt is locked, Castiel finds himself pinned up against the back of that door, hands still tangled in the straps of their bags and Dean pressing that advantage as if to provide incontrovertible evidence that he is alive.
In the beginning, Castiel accepted each touch and kiss and moment Dean spent with him like an unexpected gift, quietly celebrated as a minor miracle. Now, after a months on the road with the Winchesters, Castiel has learned that he can be greedy. He can take, and want, and it's human. It's encouraged. Dean can be very encouraging.
He never feels so human as he does with Dean.
There are still days where everything reminds him of it, the power he burned away. There are times when the cold, dispassionate feeling steals over him, numb and empty purpose.
Somehow Dean always knows.
It's not a great mystery. Castiel has been able to tell when the Pit was on the forefront of Dean's mind, as well. He had been there, he had seen it, and he knew what it meant to be the one with the blade in his hand, broken and lashing out to escape pain and inflict punishment. Perhaps as much as anything, this ties them together—they have seen each other at their absolute worst, pushed past the breaking point, drowning in their own hell and despair and shame and guilt-and they have forgiven it of each other, even if they're slow to forgive themselves.
And so when they crash together, each fighting for control now, evenly matched and cheating however they can for the fleeting upper hand they can win against the other, that concept of "I'm fine" becomes irrelevant. There is a sense of absolution to being accepted by someone who truly understands the depths of your flaws.
And perhaps they're both the tragic heroes in the literary sense, brought low by those fatal flaws and sins—by their pride and their wrath and their self-imposed martyrdom that drives them to throw themselves down to save the ones they love. Perhaps Castiel ignored wisdom and flew too close to the sun, to crash to the earth. Perhaps Dean was twisted by destiny, tricked the gods to deliver mankind from their whims and suffered for it. But they can find joy in the wake of their tragedies, and they know the story isn't over yet.
Life is still full of awkward moments, of missed references, of nightmares, of flashbacks and regret. It is fighting against the odds, and always being the underdog, bruises and aches and drive-through burgers, laundromats, and cheap motels, Sam's teasing and Dean's blustering, learning pool, losing at poker, misunderstanding plotless movies, arguing methods, blowing their cover stories and having to spend a night in a backwoods county lockup listening to Dean cajole him for it. And at times, it is the ache when he can hear his brothers and sisters, reminding him of what he was and never will be again, power and purpose and lack of doubt, and absolute conviction.
Humanity is full of pain, and anger, and confusion, and guilt, just as Castiel told Dean years ago.
And it is beautiful.