It's a Thursday in April of 2013 and Castiel is perched on the edge of a bed in a cheap motel drinking the whiskey that Dean's given him. "I keep thinking about the first time we met," he says, surprising Dean, who turns from his chair by the window to look at Cas.
"What, you mean when I stabbed you?" he says, shutting the laptop in front of him.
"No," says Cas, and he's not meeting Dean's eyes. "The first time. In Hell." Dean doesn't say anything but there's a sharp intake of breath and Cas knows he doesn't want to talk about it, but for some reason- maybe it's the alcohol, maybe it's the pulsing renovations in his brain courtesy of Heaven- he keeps going. "You were… torturing when I arrived." He doesn't need to look to know that Dean is pursing his lips and nodding slightly, like whatever admonishments Cas has about the torture, he deserves them and more. "You… you probably don't remember this. I pulled you away, and as soon as I had you away from the souls, you started to cry. You kept saying, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry', and I put my hand on your shoulder and…" Here he pauses as if he's waiting for Dean to punch him or storm out, but there's no objection. "And I just said, 'I forgive you'."
Dean squints at him. "What, are you saying it doesn't matter? What I did down there?"
"No," says Cas, "I'm not saying that, not now, not then. And back then, I wasn't saying that those souls forgave you, or that God did, or Sam, or even you. I was saying that I forgave you." Dean waits like he's going to say something else, but Cas just turns to look at him.
"Why're you bringing this up now, Cas?"
"I suppose," he says, "because I wanted you to know. That the moment I met you I forgave your every fault. And I wanted you to know… that I'm grateful. I'm grateful that you've always proven me right, in the end." And Dean can't stand to see how small Cas looks in that little motel room so he crosses the thin carpet to sit on the bed opposite him.
"Cas," he says. "We're gonna figure out what's wrong with you. You know that, right?"
Castiel just sighs and looks down at his hands and the empty glass in them. "I need to go away for awhile. There are things I need to take care of, things I need to do."
"You don't have to leave."
"I have to keep you safe," says Cas frankly.
"You don't have to."
"Well, I want to," he answers with the ghost of a smile. "I'm going to fix things. But… really this time." And Dean looks a little skeptical, like he doubts Cas but also like he doesn't care, he just wants his friend back.
It's a Thursday in May of 2013 and Castiel is coming at Dean with a blade in his hand and a pounding in his head. He throws his best friend against the wall like he did once years ago, but that was before the souls and Purgatory and Naomi, before all that choice and freewill he learned was replaced with obedience, orders, and a mandate. Now he lives like a silhouette in his own skin and looks on the other man's face with dead eyes, the words in his head reverberating.
Kill him kill him kill him kill him kill him kill him kill him.
"Cas," says Dean, no fear in his voice, just pleading, "she's making you do this. This isn't you." He's not looking at the angel blade gripped in Castiel's hand, but directly into his eyes, trying to find the angel he knows, and there's a thin trail of blood leading out of Cas's eye, then his nose, leaking like he's about to explode.
She's yelling at him in a white room that never used to be there in Heaven and she doesn't stop yelling and he can't stop hearing, can't stop listening, can't stop following orders. Kill him kill him kill him kill him.
"I…" Cas ekes out, blade twitching in his palm. "I can't… stop it." And then Dean sees it- exactly how hard he's fighting the command, how it's killing him, how resisting the urge to ram that blade forward is the hardest thing Castiel has ever done and it's tearing him apart from the inside. "Dean."
It's the fear in Cas's voice that hits him, that reminds Dean of why he used to call the angel a child, and he reaches out and puts his own hand on the angel blade and steers it upward until it's poised directly over his own heart. "Do it." Words he'd said before, words Cas hadn't listened to then.
"Dean," he says again, scared and shaking, but when Dean releases the blade he doesn't move. "Dean, no… I don't…" His lip quivers and blood drips from his eye as Dean goes to grip the lapels of that old trench coat.
"Listen to me," Dean tells him, his voice thick but sure, "listen to me, Cas. I forgive you." He takes a deep breath and there's a blade on his heart and Cas is supposed to run him in with it and it's all that's in his head, kill him kill him kill him kill him. "I forgive you," says Dean again. "For this. For all of it." A tear slides out of his left eye but he doesn't take his eyes off of Cas and the angel's grip on the angel blade tightens. "You remember that, okay? I forgive you."
And then there's a flash of light, quick like static electricity, and for a moment, for a single second, Dean's not aware of anything except the fact that he's not dead, and then he looks down and sees where Cas has driven the blade into himself to let the life and grace drain away.
It's a Thursday in November of 1977 and Castiel is standing in an unfinished nursery with a woman he's never met before, not really, but he knows her for the crinkles by her eyes and the unborn child under her maternity dress. "Mary Winchester," he says, startling her as he steps forward, stumbling against the crib when he feels the wound in his chest. She reaches behind her like she's going for a gun and he holds his hands up, revealing the red seeping across his white shirt. "Don't be afraid. I'm trying to help."
She notices the blood and asks, "Are you okay?"
"I'm, uh," he hesitates. "Well, no, I'm dying. But it's going to be okay." And he really believes that, because for the first time in what feels like years, he's free and he can't feel Naomi in his head. He knows what's happening. What's happening isn't necessarily good, but at least it's not a lie. "I need you to get a message to Dean," he says, and he watches her hand fly to her pregnant belly.
"How did you-"
"It's going to take longer to explain than I have to live," he says, and shrugs it off like dying is nothing- which, to him, it usually isn't. This time is different and he knows it. "I'm from the future, and I'm dying. This-" he gestures to himself- "is a sort of… imprint in time. But it's fading, and I don't have much longer, so I need you to tell Dean something for me."
And she should have been freaked out and confused and lost, but she's Mary Winchester and so she stands up a little bit straighter and looks the strange man straight in the face. "What do you need to tell him?"
Castiel sighs. "I'll be dead. But Naomi has others, other associates and others like me who will be keeping Dean under surveillance. He's not safe. He needs to know that the angels are watching over him." Mary's not really understanding a word of this, but she can tell it's important to the man so she nods and remembers.
"I'll- I'll try to tell him," she promises, but the words are just leaving her mouth when he vanishes like the ghosts she's learned to fight.
It's a Thursday in January of 2007 and Castiel is watching two men cross a parking lot, and he can tell it's pre-Hell because Dean's shoulders are lighter than he's ever seen them. He wants to run after them, to say goodbye and to hang onto them and laugh with them one last time, but he can feel himself wearing thin, this last night of the soul coming to a bloody close.
And he thinks it's a decent enough farewell tour, and one he never thought he would get, and he hopes it counts for something and that he could help Dean. Sam and Dean walk farther and farther away from him, and he knows he never really could have run after them. It's enough to watch them, to remember them, and so he does until he can't see them anymore, and then he's gone.
It's a Thursday in May of 2013 and Castiel is dying. Dean can't stop saying his name- "Castiel, Castiel" – hands running over his blood-smeared face like he can heal Cas the way Cas healed him. Castiel smiles because he can't hear Naomi anymore, but it's also getting harder to hear Dean, and he reaches out in one last action, and he dies with a smile on his face and a hand on Dean's shoulder.
It's a Friday in May of 2013 and Dean is gripping an old trench coat like a lifeline and praying until he can't think anymore.