Castiel watches the back of Captain Winchester’s head as he leads them into battle, stony and stoic as ever. Castiel’s grateful for it, honestly—Dean’s calm is about the only thing keeping him calm, and he’s almost certain it’s the same for the rest of the company.
Winchester is giving quiet directions to each platoon leader, using quick, sharp hand signals and whispered words to explain their tactical positioning and how to carry out their mission. This is it, after all. The final push in their efforts to take back control of the territory currently occupied by enemy soldiers. If they succeed, the war is practically won, and Castiel can’t even begin to express just how much he wants this to be over—how much he wants to go home.
He waits with bated breath, clutching his rifle close to his chest as Dean glances back at him, their eyes meeting for one heart-stoppingly brief moment before Dean’s fall away, but not before Castiel catches the flash of regret in them, and he feels it like a fist to the gut. He looks away, swallowing the lump in his throat as he waits for their orders.
A shiver runs through him as his breaths puff out in white clouds. It’s not far from sun-up, but the air is crisp and cold. There’s just enough moisture in the air to have his fatigues clinging to his skin and chilling him to the bone. His nose drips and his teeth chatter—he closes his eyes, focussing all his energy on staying calm and, most importantly, staying quiet.
Captain Winchester will have his head if he alerts the enemy—that is if they didn’t all die first. The element of surprise is all they have, considering the artillery fire they came under yesterday, so if they can get on top of the enemy before they even realize they’re there, Dean is damned sure that’s all it’ll take to get the upper hand.
Castiel is so focussed on not giving away their position that he doesn’t even notice when someone steps up in front of him, and he jumps when Dean bites out his name.
“Novak!” Winchester says, his voice low and commanding, and Castiel snaps to attention.
“If you’re done daydreaming, we have a war to get back to,” he says, his tone cold and mocking, and Castiel ducks his head, hating the twist in his gut at the harsh words.
“Yes, sir,” he says again, and Dean stands there for a moment longer before turning away, his back stiff and shoulders straight—ever in control—and Castiel can’t help the bitter smile that tugs at his lips. Walls built so high, there ain’t nothing getting past, were Benny’s words of wisdom to Castiel after his first encounter with Dean. That was a couple of months ago, now—the day before Benny died. Castiel still remembers the blank look in Dean’s eyes when he saw his best friend fall—blood seeping too fast and too thick from the bullet wound to do anything to save him. More than that, he remembers the bruising kiss the Captain had pressed to his lips, not an hour later in a dark alleyway, out of sight of the rest of the men.
That was four cities and five hundred miles ago, though. Things were different now.
With every minute that passes, they draw closer to their attack, and Castiel’s heart crashes harder against his rib cage until Winchester gives the signal, and suddenly they’re moving.
Castiel’s platoon’s job is simple. They are to flank the enemy on the west side and hold for the Captain’s command, waiting for the enemy’s attention to be drawn to the east before they move in, then they will go from building to building, catching the enemy off-guard as they clear the area. That’s the plan, anyway.
For about ten minutes, nothing happens, and Castiel starts to wonder if it ever will. His legs are cramping where he squats down in the high grass, waiting anxiously for the gunfire to start.
But it’s so quiet.
Beside him, Kevin Tran sniffles before reaching up to wipe his nose with his sleeve. He glances up and catches Castiel’s eyes—gives him a small smile.
The air is warmer now and, as Castiel looks around him at the dew-soaked grass—the way the faint light of dawn glimmers in the crystalline droplets—he can’t help but think this place is so beautiful.
He stops, feeling the sudden need to take it all in, and, just for a moment, he allows himself to forget the rain of bullets and whistle of mortar fire that’s soon to begin, and he thinks that, if this was another time and, perhaps, if he was somebody else—not a soldier in a war that belongs to someone else—he’d love to have a house up on that hill over there, overlooking the little town they are about to attack, where he could watch the sun rise and fall day by day. Maybe he’d have a garden with all kinds of flowers. Or maybe it’d be a vegetable garden, which he would tend to every morning before the heat hit its peak.
Maybe…maybe there’s another person there, too—one with not-quite brown hair, striking green eyes, and freckle-speckled cheeks. One that never knew the title ‘Captain,’ and never felt the need to hide their kisses like some dirty little secret. Castiel can almost picture it. It’s right there in his mind’s eye, just out of reach—
The rat-tat-tat of gunfire startles him out of his reverie and he readjusts his rifle as shouts ring out and the whistle of artillery hits the air.
Another ten minutes and there’s a crackle over the radio, the Captain’s voice sounding loud and clear—they’re moving in.
Castiel straightens his helmet, pushing it out of his eyes before pulling his rifle up to his shoulder. He follows his platoon leader, lieutenant Hester, as he weaves through rubble and debris until they reach the edge of the town—structures rising high above their heads—and fan out, clearing the buildings as they go.
Castiel empties his mind as they move like a well-oiled machine through the streets, pushing aside the twisted and tattered mess that is his life. He buries Dean as far from his thoughts as he can and, with every beat of his heart, it becomes easier and easier as he focusses on the moment, and the men filtering out of buildings with their arms raised in surrender.
His head clears of everything as he ducks into cover, shots cracking the cobblestone at his feet before he lays down suppressive fire so his comrades can move up and take control of the building the shots are being fired from.
Castiel’s heart jolts as Aaron Bass goes down, and he curses, flinching away from the bullets whistling by. The enemy fire is too heavy—he can’t even pop his head out for a second, let alone shoot off some suppressive fire—and his gut twists as he tries to shove down his panic.
When he glances across the street from his crouch behind a building, his eyes catch on a familiar face, staring right back at him. There’s Dean, not twenty yards away, signaling wildly at him, and it takes Castiel a second to translate what he’s saying.
He wants Castiel to move up as he lays down suppressive fire. Castiel flattens a hand on top of his helmet as he nods, then pulls his rifle up and gets ready to run. He closes his eyes, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he counts down from three.
He pushes off the wall, his heart thundering in his chest, and he’s suddenly out in the open, completely exposed to the enemy. I’m dead, I’m dead, I'm dead, he thinks, cringing away from gunfire as he forces his aching legs to carry him faster, harder, further.
The bullets don’t hit him, though, and he starts to relax some as he sees his target. Only a few more steps, he thinks. His breaths come a little easier because he’s safe—
I high-pitched shriek pierces his ears as he takes his next step, and his heart clenches because he’s too far—he’s still too far—and the mortar explodes in front of him, ripping through the earth and sending searing sharps of shrapnel through the air. Castiel tossed back like a rag doll and he smashes onto the cobblestone, his vision whiting out as his ears ring—his head, spinning, as the earth pulses beneath him.
It takes a moment, but the pain does come, and it hits hard as the sounds of war filter back in. Gunfire…mortars…the screams of his comrades.
His name, a shout that carries through the air, but he doesn’t move, too terrified to even blink as he stares up at the reddening sky. What was the saying? Red skies in the morning, soldiers warning? He knows it’s not quite right, but the bleeding sky is distracting him from the fact that he’s dying, so he holds onto it for now.
He doesn’t scream—at least, he doesn’t think so—as the edges of his vision shift and blur. The sky is so pretty, though, and his mind drifts to the house on the hill…to a vegetable garden and Dean Winchester in the gentle light of dawn.
Then, he’s there, standing over Castiel with a look on his face unlike anything Castiel’s ever seen, but he doesn’t have time to think about it because then he’s screaming.
“Fuck, shit! Oh God, I’m sorry, Cas, but I gotta…” Pain tears through him as he’s dragged across sharp stones and rough ground. The sky disappears from view, and he screams again as hands press down on his stomach, but it clears his head some. Just enough so that he’s aware of what’s going on.
He’s breathing hard, sucking in air and forcing it out in quick pants as pain ripples through him in waves, blood pouring from his stomach as hands press down hard enough to bruise.
Castiel doesn’t think about that, though, because, as he looks up at his Captain, he doesn’t see the stoic, unflinching military machine he’s grown to know and—impossibly—to love. No, Captain Winchester—Dean—is a babbling, crying, pleading mess, his hands soaked with Castiel’s blood as he screams for a medic.
“Please, please, please! Oh, God, Cas, you’re gonna be okay. Okay? Come on! Medic!” Dean’s voice is thick with the tears that trail down his cheeks—shrill with panic—and his hands shake where they press into Castiel’s wound, but all Castiel can do is stare, completely dumfounded.
He just doesn’t understand—this isn’t how Dean Winchester reacts to death. He’s cold and methodic and realistic; he doesn’t so much as bow his head at the death of his men, so this? Castiel is stunned. His eyes prickle with unshed tears as pain and regret swell inside him. How did we get here, he thinks. How did it come to this?
Dean takes Castiel’s hands and presses them to the wound. “Press down hard, okay? Okay, Cas?” Castiel manages a weak nod, another wave of fear ripping through him, and does his best to press harder as Dean positions them so that Castiel’s head rests in his lap, holding him steady as Dean blinks tears from his eyes. “Hey,” he says with a brittle smile when Castiel’s eyes catch and hold his, and he manages a weak curve of his lips in return.
“Hey, hey, don’t talk. It’s okay, you don’t—” Dean cuts himself off as he bends over, putting his face closer to Castiel’s. “You’re gonna be okay, Cas,” he says as he presses his trembling lips to Castiel’s forehead.
But they both know he’s not. No one is coming and he’s going to bleed out before they take control of the town. Castiel takes a shuddering breath—it’s shallow at best, and gurgles a little—and tries to ignore the constant, pulsing pain, but it’s getting more insistent as his head throbs and he’s seized by a coughing fit that fills his mouth with blood.
“Okay, It’s—Cas, it’s okay,” Dean soothes as he turns Castiel’s head so the blood runs out. He can hear the panic in Dean’s voice as he rambles on, trying to keep Castiel awake for as long as possible. “Hey, you wanna hear something?” Dean says, his voice shaking as he readjusts Castiel in his lap, pressing their hands down harder on Castiel’s seeping wound.
He yells for the medic again, his voice cracking as gunfire clatters against the entrance of the alleyway ahead of them before he turns back to Castiel.
“This morning…” Dean sniffles and Castiel watches as more tears well in his eyes. God, he has beautiful eyes, Castiel thinks. Even red-rimmed and puffy, they are just so beautiful. “This morning, as the sun was rising, there was a…a moment.” He lets out a chuckle that’s quickly taken over by a sob as another tear drips from his eyes and onto Castiel’s cheek. “I couldn’t help but think how nice it’d be, you know? To…to have a house on that hill up there. Watch the sunrise every morning.” Dean’s smile is bitter and forced, but Castiel revels in the rare sight. He clutches at the front of Dean’s uniform, giving up on holding pressure on his stomach in favor of feeling Dean under his fingers one more time. “Of course, you were there, too—at the house, that is—and we watched the sunrise, just like we’d talked about, you remember?”
Castiel does, but he’s too weak to answer, and Dean’s face crumples as his forehead comes to rest against Castiel’s, his trembling lips brushing his hairline as Castiel closes his eyes, breathing in the scent of gunpowder and fresh blood.
He’s going numb now, the pain fading into the back of his mind. He’s so cold—worse than the chill of the morning—and he wishes, more than anything, to be back there before all this happened, when his mind was filled with Dean and how he could get him to let down his walls. He’d give anything—everything—to go back, though, as Dean is wracked by another sob that tears at Castiel’s heart.
He aches for Dean, knowing he will suffer, but everything is a little bit hazy now—muffled and fuzzy—and it doesn’t hurt so bad, which is nice. Castiel doesn’t fight against it for long, knowing his death is inevitable—only a matter of time.
Castiel offers Dean a weak smile and, with all the strength he can muster, he reaches up to brush his fingers against Dean’s stubbled cheek, leaving a smear of blood, but Dean doesn’t seem to care as he closes his eyes and leans into the touch.
“Don’t leave me,” Dean whispers, a desperate plea in his voice as he holds Castiel tighter. “Please, Cas? Please, don’t leave me alone?”
But darkness, thick and cold, floods in faster and faster, clouding the edges of his vision and moving inward until there’s nothing left. With one, last, shaky breath, he whispers, just loud enough for Dean to hear, “Love…you…”
A gut-wrenching sob is the last thing Castiel hears before he succumbs to the weight of unconsciousness, his eyes staring up into the bleeding sky as the war—and the world—falls away.
And then, finally, there’s peace.
Upon a hill, in the garden of a little country cottage, Castiel sits in the grass with a small, contented smile on his face as he watches tendrils of light curl over the horizon. The sun is just starting to rise over the picturesque town at the bottom of the hill—the townspeople, not yet up and about this early in the morning—and Castiel looks over to his right, smiling, as a pair of pretty greens eyes catch on his. He squeezes the hand tucked into his own and leans closer, resting his shoulder against Dean’s as they both turn back to the rising sun.
It is in this land that has never known war, that Castiel finds his peace with Dean at his side. Always with Dean at his side.