Characters: Sam, Dean, Castiel
Warnings: Light cussing and a potentially terminal illness
Summary: The boys have settled in Sioux Falls for a less-than-glorious reason: cancer. And they get a holiday visitor.
Notes: This is a coda to Wishbone, and I highly recommend you read it before 'Good-byes' or the experiences just won't be as deliciously sappy! As per usual, hugs and kisses go out to monicawoe for alpha-reading and keeping my Dean-voice in line, and to tesserae_ for once again, being the most brilliant editor and beta-reader a writer could want. She sees the patterns and symbolism behind what is mostly intuition for me. She makes my ramble actually mean something. Any remaining mistakes are purely my own. Mine mine mine. And all concrit welcomed!
Dean stared. His breath vapored white in the biting air and though a small porch protected the apartment’s entry, big fat clods of snowflake caught on the wind and landed on Castiel’s shoulders, in his disheveled hair.
The angel hadn’t changed even a little, from the rumpled trench coat to the three-day stubble … the same almost-frown and weird, bottomless stare.
“It’s customary to ask a person in when the weather is inclement,” Castiel said.
The same rough-shod voice, too. Had grace shredded Jimmy Novak’s vocal cords when the angel first crammed himself inside, or was it a reflection of Castiel’s job: bad-ass soldier of the Lord? Dean used to wonder. Now he just bought it, though it was still mildly disconcerting.
He felt a squeezing in his chest, and it wasn’t fondness or even hope; Dean had long since lost any use for hope. It was something awful and uncertain. Regardless, he stepped aside and allowed the angel passage. If there was any trace of personhood remaining in Castiel, anything of the human vessel, Heaven’s war and Purgatory and all the other crap Dean knew nothing about had surely burned it away. But they shared history, this angel and the Winchesters. A metric ton of it.
They used to be friends.
Castiel tracked melting snow across the salt line at the threshold and paused in the crossroads of the hall, where it split off to the bedrooms and the rest of the house. His gaze flickered across a handful of early holiday cards taped to the wall around a framed picture of Sam, Dean and Dad. Bobby had taken the photo in the summer of ’95, just before Dean’d dropped out of high school, a lifetime ago.
“You have a nice home.” The angel’s smiles were always awkward.
It wasn’t often that Dean was at a loss for words. Nice home. The only reason they had this ‘nice home’ was because his brother was slammed with a fucking terminal illness and now they were just waiting to die. Break out the twenty-year old bottle of scotch, hoorah.
Dean cleared his throat, fighting the constriction in it, and managed to speak. “Take off your coat and stay a while?” He flapped a hand towards the living room, even though he half-wanted to throw punches, release the fist around his heart and level it at the angel’s face. Dean surprised even himself with the sudden boil of bitterness, but it would accomplish nothing except broken knuckles. Maybe surrendering hope wasn’t as clean a stunt as he’d fancied.
“No, thank you.” Castiel moved from the tiled entry but Festus, easily the size and demeanor of a bear trap, arched and spat. His tail brushed fat and the cat had no intention of letting Castiel past.
The angel narrowed his eyes at Festus, tilting his head. He reached a hand out toward the cat and was met by a flurry of clawed swats and a howl that barely qualified as feline. Straightening upright, he fixed Dean with the same considering look.
“Cas, he—” He’s Sam’s cat and Sam’s dying and where the fuck have you been all this God-damned time?
Undaunted, Castiel leaned down again and this time, managed to land two fingers on the cat’s head between his flattened ears. The animal dropped like a rock.
“There. Better,” Castiel decided, clearly pleased with himself.
Dean huffed, swiped a hand through his hair. “Well, that’s awesome. Why are you here, Cas?”
Castiel’s expression wilted, his brows tugging downwards. Dean didn’t want the pity and shouldered away, going for the Johnnie Walker Black he’d abandoned in the living room. Castiel trailed him, stepping over the sleeping attack cat, and stared as Dean sank onto the couch.
(click to enlarge)
“I … I heard, Dean. I did.” The angel held up his left hand, a broken bit of wishbone caught between his fingers.
“What, they run out of reapers? Or is this what angels are doing these days?” Dean unscrewed the cap and took a slug of whisky, let it burn down his throat.
“Sometimes,” Castiel said frankly. “But that’s not why I’m here.”
Dean coughed out a mean laugh. “I thought you said you heard my wish.”
“And I did.”
The angel sat in Sam’s recliner by the window, hands set patiently upon his knees. “I cannot grant your wish, Dean.”
“But not because it isn’t Sam’s time to die—”
Dean pinched his eyes shut. His heart threatened to climb up his throat in a desperate bid for escape.
“—but because it isn’t your time to die.”
Awesome. He couldn’t even have his own death the way he wanted it. Dean’s entire life, he’d been dedicated to everyone but himself—one particular person, actually—and now, as it was all winding to a close, he wasn’t allowed to write the finale to his own story. What was it that Cas had asked him, years before—after the second, and theoretically final, time he’d lost Sam? What would you rather have: peace or freedom? Yeah, so much for that. The answer was: neither. It wasn’t his decision to make, apparently.
Dean waved the bottle noncommittally, staring out the window beyond Cas’ head. Frost on the glass made the streetlights fracture into a thousand tiny diamonds. “Whatever,” he murmured, taking another pull.
Castiel leaned forward, shifting his posture ever so slightly. “Sheriff Mills, however, was the one with the bigger piece of wishbone. I shall honor her request.” He stood up and made straight for the bedrooms.
Dean found himself briefly paralyzed, stunned by the angel’s sudden purpose. His knees ached. The long day spent cooking, eating and drinking had sapped his energy, and fuck, but Cas could book when it suited him. He heard Sam’s door creak open—it made a particular sound that Dean was far too attuned to—and sore knees or not, Dean pushed himself to his feet and left the whisky behind.
The angel was parked in the doorway, watching.
Sam had turned onto his back, a fragile hand resting over his heart. The neck of his sweatshirt hung wide and lop-sided around ridges of collar bone and the light from the hallway cut across his closed eyes, the lids thin and softly blue. Gently breathing. He was bald as a baby, a dusty shadow of new hair surfacing like velvet.
Even though he could still see the pulse of life at his brother’s temple, could see Sam’s eyes flicker beneath his papery lids, Dean was sourly reminded of all the bodies they’d examined in morgues, in the myriad no-name towns he and Sam had visited throughout their lives as hunters.
“He’s dreaming of fireworks,” Castiel said softly, and stepped into the room.
The old mattress complained when he lowered himself carefully onto the edge of the bed. He placed a hand atop Sam’s and the gesture was so tentative, Dean would’ve thought the angel was touching something imminently breakable. A moth’s wing instead of flesh and bone.
The glow was weak at first. Just a flicker, a spark. But as it brightened and expanded, it illuminated the flesh between Castiel’s fingers, warm and full of life, and rolled fog-like over the bed. The covers shivered as though pushed by a breeze and in the silence, Dean could hear the blood pounding in his own ears.
Then, Castiel’s grace flared around them. Dean knew that’s what it was, had seen it operate frequently enough. It smelled a little like cut grass, a little like heat, when dust was burning off hot coils. The knot that had been stationed in his chest since Cas’ arrival began to release. Dean squeezed his eyes shut against the glare and when he opened them again, the angel was gone.
The house groaned as the wind kicked up and battered the old siding.
Sam sighed. He rolled towards the doorway, where the light was still cutting into the room, and cracked one eye. “Shit, you’re creepy, Dean. Go ‘way.”
Dean laughed to himself, feeling old and foolish. “Shut up. I can check on you if I wanna.” He folded his arms across his chest and leaned on the frame, hovering out of spite.
“You too, Cas.”
The hair on Dean’s nape prickled. “What?”
But Sam’s eyes were already closed again, and he didn’t answer.
Dean kept staring, had to. He was afraid if he moved, his knees might cave. There were traces of wet shoeprints on the wooden floor beside Sam’s bed and the faintest smell of springtime in the air, soft and green.
He bit the inside of his cheek, hard, as he watched the steady rise and fall of Sam’s chest. Finally, Dean let his gaze drift out the window, at the snow coming down in fatter, faster clumps to pile on the sill.
“You still suck at good-byes,” he whispered.
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*art notes: Tesserae made mention of liking that first image so I HAD to give it a try. I probably should've attempted a different vantage point, though. Inside, looking at Cas, because Dean ended up a tad droopy. Hmm. Maybe next time. And re. the second doodle, I just HAD to see what Sam looked like, nigh-hairless. Like Michael Stipe, apparently. Ha! Anywho, PS7 with a million different photorefs. As per usual.