“Well, I’m not going first,” Dean said. “You go.”
Cas glared at him.
It had seemed such a routine case – a series of suspicious disappearances in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico; rumours of a strange, white-clad woman who flickered in and out of view; several leads which the boys had traced back to an old house on the outskirts of town.
“The Truth Shall Set Ye Free,” Cas had said as they stood together by the front door, reading the words etched into the grey bricks above their heads. He remembered Dean throwing him a strange look, and then saying gruffly,
“Sam, you take the basement. I’ll take the first floor, and Cas can search upstairs. Yell if you’re about to die, meet you back here in ten.”
Inside, the house had been surprisingly light and spacious. There was no furniture upstairs of any kind, except in one room, where there were two large hourglasses sitting on a rough wooden table. Cas had taken his time inspecting them, sure that they must have something to do with the haunting.
“Cas? You OK?”
“In here,” Cas called, hearing Dean’s footsteps creaking across the slatted wooden hallway.
“You’ve been longer than ten minutes, Cas, we don’t agree on meeting times like that just for kicks. You’ve got to –”
Bam. The door had slammed shut behind Dean as he entered the room, and in front of them a beautiful, dark-skinned woman dressed in white had flickered into view.
“Good morning,” she’d said, with a wicked grin. “My name is Veritas, goddess of truth. Welcome to my home. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
“Uh, hey,” Dean said, levelling his gun, aiming and firing once. Veritas shivered slightly, but did not disappear.
“That was a nice try,” she said. “Unfortunately, you can’t kill the truth. It just keeps coming back.” She smiled again, her eyes wide and strange, the irises such a pure grey that they were almost white.
“You’re the one who’s been killing people in the town,” Cas said, moving around, distancing himself from Dean, trying to confuse her. She tracked his movements with a bright, hard look in her eyes.
“I haven’t enjoyed it,” she snapped. “I did what I had to do to survive. Truth has never been easy to find in this world, and I’m starving for it.” She did look thin, Cas noted, her dress clinging tightly to her skinny waist. “All these stories, adverts and books and movies… lies that people tell themselves and each other, trying to escape me. It’s infuriating! I’m reduced to using the last weapon, the ultimate truth, to have my fill.”
“The ultimate truth?” Dean demanded.
“Death,” Cas guessed. “All men must die.”
Dean scowled at Veritas.
“What, so you find a liar and go all Game of Thrones on ‘em to get your meals?” he growled.
“I need truth to survive,” she said simply. “Speaking of which, I’m glad you’re here. It saves me the trouble of going out for lunch. Maybe I should always order in.” Veritas moved closer to Dean, her steps unhurried, but Cas drew his blade and stepped into her path. He glared at the goddess wordlessly, the sheen of his weapon speaking for him.
“I see,” Veritas said, and the colour rose slightly in Cas’ cheeks. “Well, there’s one downstairs anyway, all on his own. I think I’ll have him first, and come back for you two later.” She began to fade.
“Stop!” Dean shouted, and she paused. “You don’t lay a finger on my brother! I’ll – I’ll die instead, or –” Dean bit his lip. Cas frowned.
“Didn’t you say you hated killing?” he demanded of Veritas, his eyes narrowed. “There must be another way to satisfy you.”
Veritas tilted her head to one side.
“Why, yes, of course,” she said, snapping out of view and reappearing behind the table with the two hourglasses on it, one hand resting on each. “It’s simple. The left hand glass is a timer. The right hand glass measures truth. Every time you say something true, the sand will fall through. Fill the bottom of the Truth Glass before the bottom of the Time Glass, or the man downstairs will die. If you succeed, I will let you all go. No, I’ll go one better – I’ll stop killing people altogether. This is more fun, anyway. I’d almost forgotten. Killing people does become a habit after a while.”
“You’re supposed to serve justice,” Cas said furiously. “What does killing people have to do with justice?”
Veritas’ expression darkened.
“The truth serves no one,” she said coldly. “It is its own master and slave. A word of advice,” she said, as Dean started to snarl a response. “The sands of the Truth Glass won’t shift for just any truth. It’s best if it’s something no one else knows. The harder it is to tell, the more you’ll be rewarded.” She started to move towards the doors; as soon as she lifted her hands away from the glasses, the sands in the left hand one started to trickle through.
“What? Where are you going?” Dean demanded.
“Oh, it’s far too easy with me here, an impartial observer,” Veritas laughed, continuing to walk away. “It’s got to be difficult, remember?” The doors slammed behind her.
“So, the truth really is a bitch,” Dean said. “Who knew?”
For a few moments, the two of them stood in silence; Cas stared at the moving sands in the Time Glass while Dean looked awkwardly around the room, taking in the white walls that seemed to emit a soft, sunny light. There were no windows.
“Reminds me of that time you trapped me in Heaven with your buddy Zachariah,” Dean said, half-joking. Two grains of sand moved from the top of the Truth Glass to the bottom.
“So I suppose we simply state as many truths as we can come up with,” Cas said slowly, “and hope that it’s enough.” He looked over at Dean.
“Well, I’m not going first,” Dean said. “You go.”
Cas glared at him.
“Fine,” he snapped, facing the hourglasses, Dean standing next to him, shoulder to shoulder. “My name is Castiel.” A single grain of golden sand fell.
“My name is Dean.” One more.
“I am –” Cas began, and then stopped. What was he, angel, human? Neither? “I like burgers,” he said instead.
“I like beer.”
“I like the night sky.”
“I like fireworks,” Dean said, and when Cas threw a sidelong glance at his profile, he could see Dean’s smile.
“I like even numbers,” said Cas.
“I like movies.”
“I like the Pacific Ocean.”
“I like Led Zeppelin.” Cas smiled, thinking of that morning, when Dean had made breakfast whilst humming Ramble On.
“I like waking up in the bunker,” he said, and Dean turned slightly to face him, his eyes twinkling.
“I like your bedhead,” he said, teasing; he always scrubbed his hand roughly through Cas’ hair in the mornings, making it stick up at the back even more.
“I like your coffee,” Cas replied. Dean’s expression darkened slightly.
“I…” he threw a glance towards the Truth Glass; barely any sand had moved. “I put more sugar in that coffee than I should. It’s not healthy.” Sand fell: a little more this time.
Cas swallowed. They weren’t moving the sand fast enough with “I likes,” and Dean had started the confessions thing, so…
“I still have no idea how to shave without cutting myself, so I steal Sam’s electric razor,” he said, looking at the floor. Dean had tried to teach him to shave with a blade, but he could never get the angle right.
“Uh, I. I also do that,” Dean admitted, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. More sand fell as Cas met Dean’s eye, smiling at their shared secret. “OK, wait, that doesn’t count as one, though. I just pinched yours. Hang on, uh… oh, yeah. Um. You remember that time we got back late from a hunt, and Sam had that cut on his arm and I was tired from driving so you made us an omelette?”
Cas nodded, with trepidation.
“I, uh, I threw half of it away.” Dean looked at Cas, squinting in apology. “It was gross.”
Cas nodded solemnly.
“I threw all of mine away,” he replied. “It was a complete catastrophe. I do not understand cooking at all.”
Dean clapped Cas’ shoulder.
“It was a good try, though, man,” he said gruffly, with that mischievous twinkle back in his eyes.
Cas held his gaze for a grateful moment, then transferred his attention to the hourglasses. There was far more in the bottom of the Time Glass than the Truth one. If they continued at this rate – small admissions, unimportant secrets – they’d lose Sam. Dean was watching him figure it out, a slightly desperate look in his wide green eyes – he was asking Cas to begin it, Cas realised. Dean knew that they had to go deeper, but didn’t want to, and couldn’t start it off. Cas felt a lump rising in his own throat at the thought of saying half of the things in his mind. He pressed his lips together, looked into Dean’s eyes, and gathered his courage.
“I watched you raking leaves,” he said in a low, gravelly rush, his voice sticking with nerves. There was a pause. A few grains of sand fell.
“You… at the bunker?” Dean asked, a little startled. He’d been gardening just the other day. Cas fixed his eyes on Dean’s shoulder and continued.
“Years ago. Back before – before I started working with Crowley, and ended up… betraying you. I watched you raking leaves in the garden. You were making a home. And you looked so… safe, and – and I thought I could keep it that way. I thought I could keep you safe, when I should have been keeping you close.” Sand had been falling in a steady stream as Cas had been talking; he looked up, heart hammering, to meet Dean’s eyes. Dean looked more shocked than Cas had ever seen him; Cas watched his adam’s apple move as he swallowed, twice. He started speaking, slowly and awkwardly.
“When, uh. When I realised what you’d done, you remember you made that dumb slip? Superman going to the dark side.” Dean’s cleared his throat loudly. “It felt like everything was ending.”
“Everything?” Cas questioned, but Dean waved the question away.
“I was so mad at you, Cas, because I thought it meant we’d never be able to work together again. Or be friends. I thought I’d have to cut you off, Cas, when you were my friend, I even thought – god, I thought that I might even have to –” Dean broke off, huffing in a sharp breath and turning away.
“When I walked into that lake,” Cas took over, speaking to Dean’s back, “I was there, I was in there. I knew what was happening, I was – I couldn’t fight it. I knew I’d broken everything. I knew there was no way you’d trust me again. I couldn’t fight it.” A glance at the frozen sands forced him to say, “I wouldn’t fight it, Dean. There was no point. I wouldn’t have made you see me again, if I could have helped it.”
“But I did,” Dean said, still facing away. “I did see you again.”
“Yes. You did.”
“Because you came back,” Dean said, spinning around so quickly that Cas took a step back; Dean followed him, taking a step forward to keep the distance between them the same. “You came back, and you didn’t remember us. You didn’t know me.” Cas could hear him trying to keep the accusation and the hurt out of his tone, keeping his words clipped so that his voice wouldn’t wobble or break.
“I didn’t want to,” Cas said. Dean threw a horrified glance at the Truth Glass; when the sand fell, he looked at Cas with a new kind of fear in his eyes, strong enough that Cas stepped forward, laid a hand on his shoulder briefly. “Yes, it’s true, I didn’t want to. Emanuel was a miracle man. He saved lives. His wife loved him. He made people happy. When you arrived, looking so worried and hopeful… and then you saw me and suddenly you were terrified, and confused, and sad, Dean, you looked so sad, and I didn’t –” Cas’ lip trembled. “I didn’t want to be the person who had done that to you. I didn’t want to know you. In that moment, I wanted to be someone else for you, you understand? Someone you’d never met. Someone who’d never made you look like that. Your face,” Cas said, pressing his eyes closed for a second, trying to blot out the vivid pictures in his brain with the inky darkness behind his lids.
“I thought I was never going to talk to you again!” Dean was saying loudly and suddenly, his tone raw and angry. “I thought it was forever, I thought – I thought you’d gone, I thought I’d lost you, that you’d never remember… that was what made me – made me sad, or whatever – not finding you again! How could you think that? How could you think I’d be sad to find you alive?” Dean grabbed Cas by the shoulder, shook him slightly. “How could you think that?” he demanded at a shout, looking right into Cas’ eyes. Cas opened his mouth to speak, and found he couldn’t. He shook his head wordlessly, and shrugged. Dean held onto his shoulder for a few more tense seconds, and then his anger seemed to melt; he let go, and moved away, running both hands through his hair and over his face. His fingers were trembling.
“I knew this was going to screw with us,” he said, not looking at Cas, one hand still pressed against his mouth. Cas nodded silently, even though he knew Dean couldn’t see, then said,
“I thought it might, too,” just to watch the lone grain of sand fall from the top of the hourglass to the bottom.
Dean made a grim, bitter noise than was probably supposed to be a laugh, and turned to press his back up against the wall.
“I like kittens,” he said with a strange, painful smile. “I like card games. I like pie.” He bent his knees, slid slowly downwards to sit on the floor. After a moment, Cas came to sit by his side.
There was a long, long pause. The sound of the Time Glass sand flowing downwards was like the hiss of a snake, a boa constrictor curling tighter and tighter around them. Cas looked over at Dean; he was sitting with his index fingers pressed to his temples, eyes wide open and fixed on his denim-clad knees. He was picking at a loose thread at the hem of his jeans with a kind of vaguely frantic agitation. Cas sighed, taking the air deep into his lungs until it was almost painful, and then releasing it in a sudden whoosh. While we’re here, he thought to himself. Might as well.
“I never saw you before Hell,” he said, facing outwards. In his peripheral vision, he saw Dean look up.
“Before I went to Hell, you mean?” he asked. Cas nodded.
“I never saw you before then. You know, when we were battling the demon hordes to reach you, it took years and years because I played it safe. Every morning, I’d watch the sun rise over the wastelands and I’d taste the blood of demons in my mouth and feel the cuts and tatters in my wings and I’d think, you’d better be worth it, Dean Winchester.”
Dean sat silent.
“And then, I found you.” Cas shook his head, looking up at the ceiling, his eyes glowing with remembrance. “You were… not as you are. You’d twisted, warped, but… I could see it in there. A part of your soul that wasn’t broken, that would not be tainted. And it was –” Cas swallowed. “It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in decades. In amongst all the screams and the howling winds and the stench of blood and metal, there was you. And you were worth it. You were worth every second.”
Dean was looking up at the sand pouring down of the top of the Truth Glass with wide, wide eyes.
“You fought me. You broke yourself apart trying to hide from my eyes, so I put my hand on your shoulder to calm you, and it was like – like a fire had been waiting for a breath of air. Your soul, it… straightened, like an old man shaking off his disease and his shame, and I remade your body right there, even as the garrison fought around us, protected us against the fury of Hell. I took the beauty, the code that I saw in your soul, and I made it flesh. And I saw your face for the first time.” Cas looked down. “You looked at me like I was impossible,” he said. “And when we were fighting our way out, I was reckless, brave to the point of stupidity. In those days I earned myself a reputation for rebellion because I flew so far and so fast with you. I just wanted you to be home.”
There was a long silence.
“I remember you coming, a little,” Dean said. “Not much. Just… light. And shame, and fear. Lots of blue light and screaming. And wings.”
“I miss my wings,” he said sadly.
“I miss your wings,” Dean agreed. “I wish I could’ve seen ‘em.”
Cas looked over at him.
“I miss you wearing Sam’s amulet,” he said, and Dean looked confused. “I miss what it represented in you. That faith, or hope.”
“I still have faith, Cas,” he said. “Just in things a little closer to home.”
Dean was looking right at him, but Cas couldn’t meet his eyes.
“I miss being able to fly in and save the day. Tell you all the answers. Heal you with a touch. Do all the heavy lifting.” Dean opened his mouth to protest. “Leave when you got angry,” Cas went on. “You told me never to change, and…” he gestured down at himself, a defeated gesture. Dean licked his lips.
“I told you that before I knew how you’d change, Cas. I’d just seen you more miserable and angry – more like me, than I ever thought I’d have to. I needed you to know that I didn’t want that. And I’m, uh. I’m actually glad you can’t fly away anymore.”
“I’m glad you can’t expect me to,” Cas replied. “Sometimes I used to feel as though you were deliberately pushing it too far, asking me to leave so that you wouldn’t have to deal with me.”
Dean nodded, his mouth pulled into a strange downturned smile.
“I’m glad you see through my crap,” he said.
“I’m glad you admit that it’s crap,” Cas replied, a little more acerbically than he’d intended.
“I’m… glad it was you who found me,” Dean said, tense again. “I’m glad it was you.”
“I’m glad you found me again, all the times I was lost,” Cas replied quietly. “I’m glad we keep finding each other.”
“I’m glad you trust me.”
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“If I had to be here, Cas, I’m glad it’s with you.”
Cas wanted to reach out and take Dean’s hand, but didn’t. He looked up at the hourglass: still just under a fifth full, Cas guessed, and they were running out of time.
“I want to hold your hand.”
Cas thought for one bizarre, horrible moment that he’d said the words aloud himself without meaning to – and then his stomach flipped and rolled and his jaw dropped, because he hadn’t said the words – Dean had.
“I want to hold your hand,” Dean said again, less sure this time, but the sand still flowed. Cas reached over and put his hand over Dean’s, a friendly reassurance. Dean twisted his hand under Cas’ and threaded their fingers together. Cas stared up into Dean’s eyes, hardly daring to believe. He cleared his throat.
“When we get out of here,” Cas said, “I want to hold your hand more.”
There was a pause, and Cas suddenly felt sick.
“I’m sorry –” he began.
“I don’t think we can do that, Cas,” Dean said, but the sands in the Truth Glass froze. Cas looked over at them, and then at Dean.
“You’re lying,” he said in wonder. “You’re lying to me. You think we could do that.”
“I – I just think it’d be a bad idea!” said Dean, but there was no answering hiss of sand.
“You think it’d be a good idea to hold hands more,” Cas said, trying not to sound as smug, as madly happy, as he felt, and then realising that it didn’t matter, and repeating the sentence with all the joy he could muster. “You think it’d be a good idea if we held hands more often.”
“’S’not a big deal,” Dean muttered. “So do you. Right?” He looked up, real fear in his eyes. Cas looked at him disbelievingly.
“Dean, you are a complete moron sometimes,” Cas said carefully, and a little sand moved in the Truth Glass. Dean eyed the thing angrily before returning his gaze to Cas. “Of course I think it’d be a good idea.”
Dean opened his mouth several times, and then closed it again, and rubbed the soft pad of his thumb along the back of Cas’ index finger, and smiled, and tried to say something again, and stopped. Cas sat watching, unable to stop a shaky little laugh from escaping.
“Well,” said a clear, female voice, “this has all been delicious.”
They looked up. Veritas was standing behind the table again, tapping on the hourglasses with her long, sturdy fingers.
“Really, an excellent vintage. Barely one lie to soil the flavour, gorgeous. However, time’s almost up. I’ve been talking with dear Sam, keeping him busy, but now he’s about to come face to face with the harshest reality.” Veritas smiled. “So unless you two have something amazingly truthful to say, I’ll be starting my meal in three minutes’ time.” She vanished again.
Dean looked at Cas, who looked right back at Dean. They stood up.
“Do you…?” Dean said.
“I knew I was going to end up saying it. Didn’t think you’d be saying it with me,” he said, squeezing Cas’ hand tighter. “Does it count if you’ve already guessed?”
“Does it count if I’ve already said it ten thousand times? Every time I heard you praying, or thought I was going to die, or watched the dark sun rising over your face in Hell as I raised you out?”
They threw a glance at the hourglasses; both nearly empty now.
“It has to count,” Dean said, and looked at Cas expectantly. Cas set his mouth.
“I’m not going first,” he said. “You go.”
Dean chuckled, straightened his shoulders.
“Right then. OK. Here goes.” He cracked his knuckles, looking everywhere but Cas’ face. “Yeah. Uh, so do I just…?”
Cas reached out and put his hand under Dean’s chin, stroking along his jawline and soft cheek.
“I just,” Dean croaked, and then looked Cas straight in the eye and said firmly, “I love you, Cas. I love you so much. And I want to hold your hand, in front of the whole damn world. Because I love you and I want to be with you. And I love you. I love you. I love you.” Once it had been said, Dean couldn’t seem to stop; he pulled Cas in close and hugged him for several long seconds, then pushed him away.
“You didn’t say it yet,” he said accusingly.
“I love you, Dean Winchester,” he said, echoing the words he’d spoken so many times before, forlorn and tired and sad and furious and alone, but no more, no more. “I love you. I’m so glad you’re here. You’re wonderful and beautiful and inside, you stretch out infinitely, like the night sky, like the ocean. I love you more than anything.”
“I want to kiss you,” Dean said.
“I want you to kiss me,” Cas said. As the last of the sand in the Time Glass filtered through to the bottom, Dean leaned forward and pressed his lips to Cas’, warm and strong, pulling back softly just to move in close again, pressing his hands against Cas’ neck and then his cheeks, every action seeming to whisper finally, finally, ten thousand times over. Cas twisted his hands into Dean’s shirt, stay, please stay close, and Dean wrapped one arm around his shoulders, the other around his waist. I’m not going anywhere. There was a loud splintering noise, followed by a light tinkling.
“Oh, well played,” said that familiar, serene voice. “Well played. Kept that True Love card up your sleeves right until the very end. Excellent, very exciting.”
Dean and Cas had broken apart, but not moved out of each other’s arms.
“You’ll let Sam go? You’ll let all of us go?” Dean demanded. Veritas gave him a brittle smile.
“I would hardly be the goddess of truth,” she said stiffly, “if I made a habit of lying. Go.”
The doors swung open. With a quick glance back at the hourglasses, Dean and Cas left. The Truth Glass had shattered; it lay in pieces on the floor. As soon as they were outside, the doors swung closed.
Dean and Cas stood facing them, hand in hand, breathing a little hard as though they’d just been running.
“Dean,” said Cas eventually. “What happened… what we said, I – if you want it to stay between us, if you’re going to pretend that it never happened, could you tell me now? So that I can –”
“Are you kidding me?” Dean asked, his tone light but his eyes steady and serious. “I finally had the guts to tell you how I feel, and you think I wanna pack it away again inside ten seconds? You wanna hear it again? I love you. I love you. I loved you inside that room and I love you now and I will love you in half an hour and I hope we’re still holding hands by then. And I’m going to love you until there’s nothing left to love with. So quit your bitching, I’m not pretending anything.”
Cas nodded, stole a quick kiss from Dean, pulled away fast like a bandit who was surprised that his heist had been successful. He took another, and another.
“I love your mouth,” he said simply, “and the way you kiss.”
“We’re gonna keep up the whole truth thing, then,” he said.
“Unless you dislike being told that you kiss well?”
“I don’t mind it,” Dean admitted with a cocky grin, leaning in again.
They went downstairs together, finally locating Sam in the corner of the basement.
“It was this woman, she was talking crazy, saying she was going to – wait, um. What’s that?” Sam asked cautiously, indicating Dean and Cas’ joined hands.
“The truth,” he said, meeting Cas’ eyes with a twinkle before looking back at Sam. “It’s the truth.”
Sam paused, and then nodded.
“OK,” he said. “So I was thinking, when we get back to the bunker, there’s this case that I’ve been hearing about…”
He talked all the way to the car, hopping straight into the backseat with a smile, saying,
“Next time we play rock-paper-scissors for it.” Cas nodded, grateful. He slid into the front seat of the Impala, and they drove away.
Cas watched the clock; it was half an hour since they’d left the house. Dean was still holding his hand.