His life for Jack’s? There is no question; there is no choice to be made. It’s his son. It’s their son.
Castiel watches Jack choke around a mouthful of beer, and he shakes his head fondly. Sam let him have the drink; an indulgence to celebrate the boy’s first return from the dead, like a true Winchester. Dean laughs and thumps Jack’s back while he sputters, green eyes crinkling, and Cas is happy. His favorite people, his family, are alive. His son, his best friend, the love of his life. He waits, eyes closing in anticipation.
Nothing happens. The Shadow, the Empty — it promised it would come when he was at his happiest, and this is the happiest Castiel has been in a long, long time. Yet it doesn’t take him.
He supposes he’s never been happy enough. He wonders if he ever will be, now that his doom hangs permanently over his head. Castiel wonders if that’s such a terrible thing.
Weeks pass. Jack is anxious about Castiel’s deal, but he keeps his promise. Sam and Dean don’t know. And if Castiel chooses to stay near them, hunt with them more often — well, they think he’s simply soaking in all the time he can get with Jack after his close call. That wouldn’t be wrong. It’s just not the whole story.
It’s playing with fire to continue to work with them, live with them. Every night spent sitting next to Dean in a shitty motel, every case researched alongside Sam, every story told to Jack is another chance that Cas takes. He feels as though he‘s always inching closer and closer to his happiest moment and thus his inevitable demise. Every time Sam makes him laugh, every time Jack surprises and delights him, every time he even looks at Dean — that’s a time Cas risks it all.
I want to change this deal, he can’t help but think one day as he and Dean are driving together on their way back from grocery shopping. Dean is drumming his fingers on the wheel and singing to one of his tapes. Dean turns to him and mouths lyrics Cas doesn’t really hear, singing to him. Cas smiles, but in the back of his head he thinks, Is this it?
It’s not, but the moment feels degraded anyway.
Cas is struggling. It’s difficult to enjoy life when enjoying your life means it will end.
Sam and Dean have noticed, now. They don’t know what’s wrong with him, why he’s so anxious and distracted all the time, but Cas knows they’re worried. He’s heard them whispering about him, noticed Dean is even more attentive than usual. It’s not helping.
”You have to tell them,” Jack says, wringing his hands. He’s too young to carry this secret alone, and Castiel knows it, but he can’t imagine ruining the time he has left with the Winchesters by telling them the truth. “They know something is wrong.”
”They don’t need to know,” Cas says, and he knows it’s a lie.
“You’d tell me if something is wrong, right?”
Cas wishes Dean wouldn’t ask him things like that. He wishes he could tell Dean everything. I made a deal for Jack. If I let myself be happy, the Empty gets me.
“Yes, Dean,” he says instead, and Dean’s eyes narrow. “I’m just — still adjusting. Losing Jack was...” He can’t even finish the thought.
”Yeah, I know.” Dean sits next to him on the bed, their legs brushing. Dean invites Cas to hang out in his room more and more often these days. Cas takes this as another sign Dean’s worried about him. “It was fucking awful. But he’s back, and you’re back, and we’re all together. Man, I gotta say, these past couple years—” Dean looks down at his hands and takes a steadying breath, considering his next words. “Back when you died, Cas, I lost it.”
Cas closes his eyes. He can’t bear to hear this, can’t bear to witness Dean’s pain when he knows it will soon be repeated.
“I did,” Dean continues, as if it’s something he has to convince Cas of. “I fucking lost it. And I was terrible to the kid, ‘cause I blamed him. And then you came back and Jack became family and losing him, too, just when I realized how much he meant to me... I just can’t take much more of this shit, you know?”
Cas can barely speak. “I know,” he says, and his voice is thick with tears.
”Hey, look at me.” Cas looks at Dean because he must, must give this man everything he wants before he goes, and he’s surprised to see there are tears in Dean’s eyes, too. “I know it was a nightmare, but we made it, okay? It’s over, Cas. And I know what it feels like, livin’ while waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t want that for you.”
”Dean—” He knows, of course he knows, Jack must have said something—
“You deserve to be happy,” Dean continues, and Cas feels like someone has reached into his chest and pulled out his all-too-human heart. “I want you to be happy, because I love you. I — I have to say it; you need to know. I’m in love with you.”
Castiel doesn’t get the chance to say it back. The Empty keeps its deals.