Dean's halfway through his bottle of Jack, sprawled across the cabin's moth-eaten couch, thighs splayed and joints loose and easy. The TV plays footage of some football game at a quiet hum while the buzz of inebriation fills him. It's oddly peaceful.
He dozes, warm and relaxed as he can only really be when he drinks.
Dean struggles to wake, his usual reflexes dulled, when he hears Cas's voice. What he sees when he rubs his bleary eyes and opens them has him alert and on guard, sobered up at the state Cas is in.
"Cas, what the hell happened?!"
Castiel's trench coat is torn, practically shredded in places. His tie hangs loose, and blood drips from his nose and a gash on his forehead onto the grubby collar of his shirt. But it's the hand clenched tightly across his gut that has Dean worried the most. The other still holds his blade, from which more blood falls to the carpet.
Dean's already leapt up and helped Cas into the other room to one of the beds. When the angel blade has been stashed on the bedside table and Cas is lying down, Dean tries to pry the angel's hand away from the gut wound, Cas seizes his wrist tightly with his other hand but not before Dean sees the blinding silver light leaking from the gash that can only mean one thing.
"Cas, is that—" he chokes out, cold dread replacing any warmth left over from the booze.
"My Grace, yes, I can't—" Castiel winces and lets out a quiet whimper of pain. "—I won't be able to heal this."
"What d'you mean, of course you can, just mojo it better!" Dean's already panicking, his body realizing what his mind is trying so hard to ignore.
There's the sound of a key in the door, and Sam comes in with food, only to drop it carelessly when he sees Castiel and Dean. "What happened?! Cas, are you all right?"
Before Castiel can answer, Dean does. "He's hurt bad, Sammy. Get the first aid kit and a wet cloth, we gotta get these cuts cleaned up." He doesn't mention the worst injury, but Sam can see it plainly, can read the wide-eyed terror on Dean's face.
"Is he— is it—"
"Just get the stuff, Sammy!" Dean barks at him, half-pleading.
Sam goes to their bags, digging through them for the kit and a clean t-shirt. Dean takes them and reaches for Castiel's shirt to unbutton it, to move the angel's hand, but Cas stops him again, gasping as the movement jostles him.
"Dean…it's too late. There's nothing you can do."
"What, Cas, no—there's gotta be—" He looks frantically from Cas to Sam, who's wide-eyed in shock. Two minutes ago he was doing nothing, just watching some stupid game, and now Cas is…now Cas is…
Castiel is watching Sam. "Sam, I—I need to speak to Dean."
Sam hesitates but sees something in Cas's eyes that has him nodding. He clasps Cas's hand where it grips Dean's forearm, and steps away. He shuts the door behind him quietly, ignoring Dean's quiet mantra of "No, no, no…"
Dean's attention is yanked back to Castiel when the angel's fingers dig painfully into him. "Cas, man, you just gotta—"
"Dean." A single silver drop oozes from between the angel's fingers, rolls over his skin and the fabric of his shirt like mercury, until it flares blinding bright and finally soaks in, fading to nothingness. The sight makes Dean choke, his eyes suddenly blurry as his body realizes what his mind refuses to admit.
Castiel's other hand, the one not holding his Grace inside, slips down from Dean's forearm to entwine their fingers, and Dean squeezes back with what's probably a painfully hard grip. "Cas, man, you can't just—"
Cas shudders, and a few more drops of Grace-blood leak out, tinged red with the mortal blood of his vessel. "Dean, please—"
"—we can't do this without you, I can't do this without you—"
"Dean!" The name is half cry, half sob, and Dean falls silent. The angel raises their entwined hands so he can brush his knuckles against the rough stubble of Dean's cheek, an unutterable fondness in his blue eyes. Eyes that have started to haze over and fade, Dean is horrified to notice.
He's never seen an angel…not so slowly. He hadn't been there for Gabriel, too busy running, and the others had been quick, instant, explosive. This is torture to watch. And there's nothing he can do except watch.
"Dean, I've never seen a soul like yours. You didn't think you deserved to be saved from Hell, and I know," Castiel says slowly, painstakingly, "you still don't, sometimes. But you—" he grips Dean's hand back hard enough to hurt, but not nearly hard enough, "—you are so very, very worthy. Worth the trip so dearly paid for. So very dear…to me."
Dean inhales sharply. This can't be happening, because it's been there between them, whatever this thing is that they don't mention, don't name, but if Cas is saying it now…
But before Dean can say anything else, Castiel squirms upright against his pillows, slouching and panting heavily. He lets the other man's hand go to wrap his arm around Dean, pulling him closer. His mouth presses against Dean's own trembling mouth, kissing first one lip, then the other, gentle and slow like they have all the time in the world.
Dean gathers him close and kisses back. They gasp each other's air as their lips meet and part, in increasingly frantic touches. Dean's cheeks are wet, but there has never been a time in his life that he's cared less.
Castiel pulls back just far enough to murmur, "Close your eyes, Dean," but keeps moving back, practically pushing Dean away now, but Dean just clings closer as he closes his eyes.
He feels the body against him sag.
There's a blinding light behind his eyelids, followed by a pain so sharp he screams like he hasn't since Hell.
He hears the door open, hears Sam say something, but he keeps his eyes closed, keeps his arms wrapped around the body that used to be his angel and doesn't let go.
They bury Castiel outside of the cabin, in a small clearing where clusters of snow drops push out of the frozen ground.
It's two months before Dean can wear anything with sleeves—then he won't wear anything without long sleeves. It's another months before Sam gets him to leave the cabin and go on a hunt, something simple—just a quick salt 'n' burn two towns over.
It's been ten months when they get a call from Chuck. He's had a vision, just bits and pieces, but he wants to see them. Sam looks over to where Dean sits reading a dog-eared Vonnegut paperback on the couch where he now sleeps. He gives Chuck directions to the cabin, and says something non-committal when Chuck asks how Dean is doing after Castiel. Chuck had seen what was going to happen, minutes before it had occurred, and tried to call but gotten Sam's voicemail. Sam deleted the message without telling Dean.
Chuck tells Sam he'll be there late the next day—Sam is surprised to find out just how close the prophet lives to the cabin—and says goodbye.
He asks Dean what he wants for dinner and gets a shrug and a reply to "make whatever," so he heads to the kitchen to make spaghetti.
It's been two months since they stopped looking for ways to bring Cas back. They'd pored over so many books even Sam's vision had started to go blurry, tried contacting God and Crowley and everyone in between, with mixed but disappointing results. After a while, it had been too painful to see the hope Dean probably didn't even realize shone in his eyes crushed time and again by dead ends and cold trails.
They eat dinner quietly. Sam heads to his room while Dean bundles up in a quilt and hopes for a dreamless sleep.
Chuck finds Dean out in the clearing, staring at the marker they'd made. Dean had chiseled Castiel's name in English and, underneath in smaller letters, Enochian. The stone, a smooth, flat grey slab they'd found by the banks of the creek, had been tough to carve, but Dean had ignored the cracked nails and bleeding fingertips until the job had been done.
The stone should be invisible under the few inches of snow on the ground, but someone—Dean—has dusted it off, smoothed the snow away as he let his fingers trace the letters of the name. Chuck knows this, just like he knows what Castiel's last words were to Dean, just like he knows Adam's last words to Eve, just like he knows the shape and form of the universe and all his creations.
He knows the taste of Dean's grief, even as the man tries to hide it when he sees Chuck approach.
"Hey, uh, Sam said I'd find you out here."
"Hey man, I was just talkin' to Cas."
"You talk to him? Not that there's anything wrong with that! I mean, it's totally cool if you do."
Dean looks back down to the headstone and moves his hands in his coat pockets. "I always used to think it was stupid, that there wasn't any point because it's not like they can hear you anyway. But it makes me feel better, sometimes." He clears his throat.
"I used to pray, too, to him, even to God sometimes."
"What did you, uh, say?"
Dean just looks at him for a moment, like he's about to tell Chuck to fuck off because it's none of his business, but then his frown smooths out just a little bit and he tells Chuck. "I like to think I've done a hell of a lot for the world, for the frigging universe, without asking for much. I don't have a lot besides Sam and my baby and…and Cas. Not since Bobby died. And I told him, told that absent son of a bitch, is it too much to ask to get to keep them?" He's angry now, tears streaking his cheeks, but Chuck just listens. "I asked for Cas back, what the fuck do you think? Because I want something back, just for once. Because I need him back."
"You need him? Just need?"
Dean looks at him like he's said something strange. "What? What are you talking about?"
Chuck just smiles at him. With a snarl, Dean shoves him up against the nearest tree, ignoring the snow that rains down on their heads.
"What the fuck are you smiling about, you creepy fuck?"
"You've crushed the snowdrops." Chuck smiles wider, and then it's like a switch has been flicked, and suddenly Dean sees. He drops the man and backs away, eyes wide.
"I've heard your prayers, Dean. I was surprised, at first, but I really shouldn't have been, should I?" He watches the confused, defensive man in front of him. The Righteous Man. Michael's chosen. It's no wonder Castiel had been so drawn to this dazzlingly vivid soul, one of his finer creations. He watches and he sees.
"We looked everywhere for you! We spent months—no, fucking years, you son-of-a-bitch—"
"And you knew where I was. Well, where Chuck was."
At that, Dean falls silent, mouth opening and closing soundlessly as he fumbles for words.
Chuck leans down, caresses the air above the flattened snowdrops until the flowers perk back up. "Always did like snowdrops. Not my favorite but definitely in the top ten."
He straightens, dusting snow off his shoulders, and looks back at Dean. "You're right, you know Compared how much you give, you and your brother ask for relatively little. And Castiel never once asked for anything for himself, you know."
Dean barely breathes enough to speak his next words. "Is that—are you—"
Then he blacks out. The last thing he remembers is the sound of Chuck's joyful laughter ringing through the bare trees.
Dean startles back into consciousness propped against the same tree he'd pinned Chuck against.
The thought of Chuck startles him up onto his feet, but thoughts of the scrawny man (no, more than that, so much more) are banished when he sees the figure curled on the snow.
He can't breathe as he approaches cautiously. The man is sleeping—even this far away, Dean can see the even rise and fall of his chest. His skin is pale, tousled hair dark against the white ground, face smooth and free of stubble. His lips part slightly as he breathes, pink like his cheeks and the nipples Dean can see on his bare, hairless chest.
Dean falls to his knees, cradles Castiel to his chest, and cries tears that freeze onto his cheeks.
When Castiel wakes, he's tucked in bed under layers and layers of blankets. He's alone in the room, but he can hear Sam speaking in the living room and he smiles a small, secret smile as he turns his head to look out the window. It's snowing again, but he's warm here, in Dean's bed. He watches the flakes fall until there are footsteps, and then Dean is standing in the doorway…and then Dean is by his side, brushing strands of hair from his forehead and letting his eyes take in the sight of Castiel, reborn and whole.
"Hello, Dean," he says, just as he always has, every time he comes back, because he'll always come back to Dean.
Dean doesn't answer, just kisses him until they can't tell whose breaths they're breathing or whose tears wet their cheeks.
Later, after Sam had come running and seen them entwined and for once, not said a damn thing; after they'd gotten Cas to eat some toast even though he'd reminded them that he still doesn't need human nourishment; after he'd heard their stories of the last ten months and healed a nasty cut on Sam's arm from one of their latest hunts; after it's dark and time to sleep, Dean comes to stand by the edge of the bed where Castiel is sitting and stops his hands where they roam over Dean's stomach and start to move higher. The angel cocks his head as Dean moves to take his shirt off, but his eyes widen with realization just before the marks are revealed. Raised, shiny burns cover Dean's upper arms and sides, where Castiel's wings had charred and singed the skin as he'd died.
He tries to choke out an apology, but Dean shushes him, gathers him in for a kiss, pushes him back onto the bed, clambers up to kiss and caress and pull hungry, needy noises from his angel, whispers "I missed you" and, finally, "I love you." And when, many minutes later, he comes with Dean deep inside him, his wings—invisible to his lover—wrap to cover the marks, soothing them with cooling brushes of Grace feathers over the injured skin.