The first time Castiel visits him, Dean is three hours dead and furious about it. You son of a bitch, he snaps at him, ignoring the stricken look he receives in response. Get out of my sight, he says, and Castiel listens. That's one thing the angel always did, that his siblings thought themselves above: he listened.
Castiel doesn't shows up the next time he prays. Ash arrives instead, dragging him back to Heaven's Roadhouse, and when Dean asks how the man found him so quickly, Ash just pours him a shot of whiskey and calls it divine skill.
Being dead ain't so bad, Ash tells him. There's a lot to do with a brain like his. But Dean hears Pamela mutter under her breath; his "divine skill" this time around had more to do with "that dick with wings" than his own preeminence.
Dean pretends he doesn't hear.
The second time Castiel appears, Dean is four months dead. His mother is taking him on a walk him through the neighborhood, like she used to and how she does again, pleasant but blurry memories. His legs are sprawled out on rough pavement and a trickle of blood drips from his scraped knee, bits of black dirt mixed with red. He wonders how messed up he must be, that one of his Heavenly memories involves pain, but Mary dabs at the torn skin so gingerly the wound barely registers. She pulls another wet wipe from her purse.
"Oh, sweetie. You're so brave," she praises, smiling up at him. Several strands of blond fall into her face, wisps fleeing from the hair band's confinement, glowing in the sunlight like the finest, golden thread. "I know it hurts, but just a little longer and I'll be done cleaning it."
The blood smudges, turning pink and then disappearing altogether as she finishes, leaving broken but clean skin. On hunts, Dean remembers stitching gashes with only the grit of his teeth, and he basks in the comfort, thinking that a soft towelette certainly beats a cup of alcohol over it. He opens his mouth to tell his mother not to worry, it barely stings, but then there's a distinct tremor in the air and a rustle like feathered wings.
Knowing all too well who his visitor is, he takes a moment to turn, his face going deliberately blank. He doesn't know whether he wants to forgive, or whether he should. Or maybe he knows he shouldn't, but he will.
"What are you doing here?" he demands, standing up while his mother continues speaking; she addresses empty air, her performance unalterable. She pauses, listens for Dean's response, and laughs out loud despite his silence.
It's just a memory, after all. But Castiel isn't part of it.
The angel studiously avoids Dean's gaze, instead watching the echo of Mary Winchester as she speaks to her invisible companion, an invisible Dean, and suddenly he feels self-consciously dead. He knows his memory of Mary can't compare to the real thing, but Cas—vivid, living Cas—reminds him with tortuous clarity how lifeless Heaven truly is.
"I have no right to ask you any favors," Castiel says, breaking the tense silence with obvious trepidation. He holds eerily still, and Dean wonders if angels breathe.
"No," he replies, sharp, standing from the pavement. His mother is offering him ice cream, and she doesn't notice that he walks away from her, off the path and into the trees, not glancing back. If he needs to have this conversation, he doesn't want to talk over her.
"Dean, let me explain—"
"Explain what?" Dean cuts him off flatly, leaning back against a large oak deliberately, his voice carefully controlled. "You killed me, Cas."
"I—" Castiel starts, meeting Dean's eyes pleadingly for the briefest of seconds before his face crumples and he drops his eyes. His next words are quiet, repetent. "I was under Naomi's control. I'm still under her control."
"Exactly," Dean snarls, lips twisted down and jaw rigid, and he stops before continuing. When he speaks again, it's cold, but level. "I'm not doing you any favors when you're asking for her. And I'm not talking to you when you're not even trying to fight against her orders."
"What, Cas?" Dean cuts him off mercilessly, still not shouting, but his voice contains an unforgiving facet that bites nevertheless. "You said you needed to protect the angel tablet. You said that, not Naomi. So are you going to tell me that you're sorry for using me to get it? Or for beating me to death? You've got to be more specific, Cas, because for all I know, maybe you're just apologizing for betraying me, again."
"Yes," Castiel says, hurt but nonetheless earnest. "All of it. I'm sorry for all of it, Dean, please—"
"You didn't even resist, did you," he demands, the statement phrased like a question but not spoken like one. "I told you we were like family, and I bet you made that next punch the fatal blow on purpose, you heartless dick."
Castiel flinches, utterly stricken, his expression more agonized and tortured than when his faith in God was crushed. Dean turns away so he doesn't have to see, so that he can watch the memory of his mother, fake and hollow, reminding himself he wouldn't be stuck in this neverending loop if it weren't for Cas.
His resolve renewed, he turns back to Castiel, braced to continue where he left off, but the angel is already gone.
"There, all better," he hears his mother in the distance. She smiles, so bright, so unreal, a small bandage placed tenderly over his wound. He falls back into the script.
Several memories later, Ash turns up and invites him to the Roadhouse for a drink, as if sensing Dean's need to escape from the loop. Pamela shows up too, and she greets him as they all settle around the bar, exchanging Heavenly gossip. The conversation shifts to Castiel, however, and he falls uncharacteristically silent, telling himself to keep his mouth shut and not snap at people who don't deserve it.
"They're saying he keeps resisting Naomi," Ash looks up from his laptop, and that's when Dean knows this conversation is serious. "Ever since he killed you, he keeps going through 're-education'." He air-quotes the word.
Dean brings his shot glass to his lips carelessly, gulping the entire drink down before continuing. He has a sinking feeling in his gut, and he doesn't want to hear this: he doesn't want his guilt to outweigh the feeling of betrayal.
"Poor baby," Pamela agrees, rather apathetically, clinking her glass to Dean's as he picks up his second. She never completely forgave Castiel for burning out her eyes, fair warning or not. Still, she feels no rejoice at his potential suffering, and if he's being honest, neither does Dean. In fact, he feels rather sick, and he doesn't want to ask but he does.
"Re-education? You don't mean they're torturing him?" he manages.
"Well, angels ain't exactly known for their open minds or civil political debates," Ash shrugs. "And for Naomi to have clawed her way to the top, she'd've needed skills besides a persuasive speech, if you know what I mean."
Dean tenses, noticeably enough that Ash drops the subject with a frown, and the rest of their time together passes with flippant stories of Meadowlands and deliberating whether or not David Bowe sold his soul to a demon. Ash belts out "Bring Me The Disco King" and insists that he can't find the guy anywhere upstairs, while Pamela argues just for the sake of arguing.
But Dean's heart isn't in the conversation, his mind unwillingly flickering to Hell, and Heaven can try to erase its mark but it can't. He remembers blood dripping from his eyes, ears, mouth, stomach, like buckets and buckets of sticky juice had been upended over his head and then seeped down to his missing toe nails. He recalls metal hooks that dug into his spine and barbs buried in his spleen, and he remembers how it took him forty years to break.
Time in Heaven doesn't pass any faster than in Hell.
He wonders how long it took to break Castiel.
The third time, Castiel is silent when he arrives, and he stands five or six paces away, awkwardly peering at Dean and nervously gripping a cardboard box in his hands. Dean doesn't ask what he's doing there, and he carefully doesn't look at him, but his movements grow stiff and jerky as he tosses a football with a twelve-year-old Sam.
Castiel disappears when Dean isn't watching, but he leaves behind the box, and inside there's pie and a Busty Asian Beauties magazine. The issue must have come out after Dean died, because he's never seen it before.
Dean closes the box without touching either and follows the road to his next memory.
It's Castiel's last visit. If Dean loses his temper now, the angel won't come back. Dean can tell, he can read it in Castiel's eyes, the way they're exhausted and broken, a shattered blue like a portrait of the sky ripped to shreds.
Dean pauses and edges out from underneath the impala, snagging a filthy rag from the hood of the car and wiping the grease from his fingers. The sun beats down on his neck—he remembers this day was uncomfortably hot when it actually happened, but in Heaven his senses are dulled, so he only feels a dead imitation—and gravel crunches under his feet.
"Dean," Castiel repeats, anxious and uncertain. It's been a long time since his last, failed attempt to apologize.
"You're shameless, you know that?" Dean asks, unrelenting even when Castiel's shoulders slump hopelessly. "After what you did, you still show up here and think you can ask me to forgive you."
Castiel closes his eyes. A surrender, waiting for Dean to burn whatever remaining pieces there might be left of him, because it's in his right.
Dean almost obliges. He viciously wants to sear Castiel with the same agony he felt, the same betrayal. He wants Cas to suffer while knowing it's his fault they're like this now, he started it and Dean won't stick around to be screwed over again. He wants him to keep begging for forgiveness, like Dean had pleaded Castiel not to let out the leviathan, to stop playing God, to heal Sam, to let himself be saved from purgatory, only to be denied.
He knows Castiel will accept that blame. The angel may have persisted with the guilt of destroying Heaven, but betraying Dean will be the last straw, and Cas will wallow in that final crime until he dies. Maybe he'll end his life himself. Maybe he'll take his own silver sword and plunge it into his chest.
As if the passing, vengeful thought was some sort of cue, suddenly Castiel isn't the one burning: it's Dean. He gapes, uncomprehending, because Castiel is right in front of him and holding out his angel's sword, the handle facing Dean. If Dean was still alive his heart would pound, except dead things don't have hearts, so instead his mouth thins and his eyes widen. His chest feels like it's being compressed, squeezed until he's suffocating, as if his body understands the situation even though mentally he's drawing a blank, because Castiel can't be asking him that, he can't.
"Cas? What are you—" Dean asks, trailing off with unpleasant bewilderment. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" Castiel's voice is steady and determined. His eyes are still apologetic, but instead of desperation to be forgiven, Dean only sees resignation.
When Dean doesn't move, frozen in place with his hand still automatically lifted to grasp the blade, Cas lets out a sharp, impatient exhale. The metallic sword feels cool compared to the Arizona sun, where he stands beside the highway, next to an angel waiting for death. Dean wonders with hellish curiosity if an angel in Heaven would have warm blood or none at all, whether Castiel brought his human, bleeding vessel with him, whether the metal will still be this cold if he plunges the sword into Castiel's chest.
"Dean. Naomi has me under her control, and I can't fight her," Castiel says matter-of-factly, sounding reasonable to a fault. "You should kill me."
Except Dean can't seem to move, his fingers closing more tightly around the sword when Castiel drops his hold on the other end, and now he should either lower the weapon or strike, but he doesn't do either, his arm suspended indecisively between them. The point digs into the angel's chest, not breaking the skin, but the implication there. He feels nauseous.
"I killed you," Castiel says sensibly, seeming perturbed by the delay but still businesslike. "Why are you hesitating? I'm worse than any of the monsters you've hunted."
Because I'm the one who killed you for the final time, are Castiel's unspoken words. Dean's grip on the sword tenses, and he could do it. Fair is fair, Castiel killed him, he could return the favor.
But no. He wants to hurt, not kill, not damage beyond repair. Abruptly his rage rushes out of him, leaving him achingly tired, and his arm drops to his side, the sword dangling with the end pointing at the ground. He angles his head away, hiding his eyes.
"Shut up," he says sharply, turning to the open trunk of the impala, tossing the sword in with a violent clatter. "You fucking prick."
He snatches two beers from the cooler and slaps Castiel's hand away when he reaches to retrieve the weapon, slamming the trunk down before the angel can make another grab. Setting one on the trunk next to Cas and popping off the cap of the other, he silently takes a swig, lifting the bottle until it's vertical and taking several long gulps. When he finally lowers it, Castiel is watching him with confusion, the second beer untouched.
"I don't understand," he starts, but Dean just picks up the other bottle and shoves it at him, glaring until he takes it and then looking away as soon as he does. He glares down the highway instead, leaning rigidly against his car.
"Just drink the damn beer," Dean says, and they don't say anything after that. Castiel takes a tentative sip from his bottle and Dean relaxes minutely.
They drink in silence, strained and uneasy. Castiel stays for a long time, staring at Dean while they stand, simply existing, not talking, not performing any duty for Heaven. Just staying with Dean.
The angel sword remains firmly locked in the trunk, the offer there but untaken.
I might write more for this, I might not. I like the idea, but it seems to work as a one-shot, too. Que será, será. Comments? :D