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“You can go, you know,” Sam says, one day out of the blue, when they’re perched on the hood of the Impala, gazing at the night sky.

Dean shifts a bit, takes an absentminded sip of beer but keeps his eyes on the heavens, on the star that each night seems to get a little bit bluer, a little bit brighter the more that Dean watches it.

“Go where?” Dean says, and Sam’s next words are careful, spoken so softly that Dean can barely hear them.

“I know you miss him, Dean,” Sam says and his voice is gentle. “You don’t have to stay for me.”

It’s been years.

 

 

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

It’s Sam who finds him. It’s Sam who hits the ground knees first and clutches his brother’s face, who finds Dean trembling, who looks at Dean with such terror in his eyes, because maybe he’s never seen his brother like this, never seen Dean so broken.

“What happened?” Sam asks, urges him with every fibre of his being, white-knuckled grip around his brother’s shoulders, but Dean’s lips won’t move, can’t move, even as Sam begs him.

Instead, all that comes out is a shaky breath. All that comes out is one last sob, something empty and unfinished, something that doesn’t do justice to fill the void in Dean’s chest, and then, voice breaking, Dean finally answers.

Cas,” he says and it’s as if the world pitches itself into darkness and he covers his face with his hands again and tries to forget that he exists.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

They reap God.

They do it because Dean’s fury knows no bounds. They do it because Dean won’t stand it, can’t stand it, won’t let the world end, won’t let Cas go because that stupid selfish bastard can’t just keep leaving Dean like that (hasn’t he told him that enough times?).

But God laughs. God sees the spark of defiance in Dean’s eyes, sees that flaring anger and all of its power, and he still laughs and he laughs and he laughs.

“You think you’re going to save him?” Chuck sneers, grinning cruelly even as Dean breaks him apart with Death’s scythe. “Bring him back? Please. Nothing comes back from the Empty, Dean. Not anymore. I’ve snapped away all the angels, all the demons, your nephilim. All my children. The Empty’s gone to sleep and it won’t ever wake up again because your one disobedient little angel is finally locked away.

“This my story,” Chuck says even as his body turns to dust, even as his voice withers with it. “And I wrote a horror story.”

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Maybe they’re expecting the universe to collapse, to turn itself inside and out now that its balancing forces are gone. But the world doesn’t do that. The world keeps spinning, devoid of life, inhabited solely by two brothers who grieve.

The world is empty, Dean thinks, so why isn’t Cas here?

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Dean starts dreaming. The rare instances when his eyes close, when he’s too tired to keep reading, when the tomes he finds in the library are too heavy in his hands, and when he can’t find a single word, not even one goddamned measly word that could be a clue about the Empty—at some point during those times, his eyes close and he dreams.

You changed me, Cas tells him each night, smiling through tears and every part of Dean’s body aches, every part of him wants and he pleads with himself to say something, to tell Cas to stay, to beg him not to go. He tries to move his arms, tries to hold him, tries to cradle Cas’ face in his hands, wipe the tears away from his cheeks, but maybe God isn’t really dead.

Because no matter what Dean does, no matter how much he wants to, he stands in the scene as before, unmoving, breathless, a memory.

Cas always says, Goodbye, Dean, and the smile he gives him breaks Dean into pieces and pieces.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

“We’ll find a way,” Sam keeps telling him. “We’ll start the universe back up again, bring Eileen back. Cas. Everyone who Chuck disappeared.”

Sam goes through the books in the library like Dean, day in, day out, month to month. He reads and he rereads, and whatever is in Sam, maybe it’s not in Dean. Maybe it’s because Dean’s anger becomes overrun with grief, and maybe because the hope in his chest dims, so Dean starts drinking, starts drowning. Because Dean can’t stand to stay in the bunker anymore, can never go to his room, because it’s the same way they went that day, the same fucking way, and if he tries going to his bed, he thinks maybe his feet will carry him somewhere else instead.

“C’mon, Dean,” Sam says, three months later, when Dean’s really falling apart, when Sam maybe for the first time notices that Dean’s been sleeping in chairs, that he only moves between the kitchen and the library. Sam wraps an arm around his shoulder, carries and half-drags him down the hall, and Dean’s so drunk he can barely walk, but even then, he knows this scene, knows where it leads and he doesn’t want to reach the end of it.

“Stop,” Dean begs him. “Stop.”

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

They leave the bunker for the first time the next day, because maybe the supplies in the bunker are running low, and maybe because it’s not good to be eating things packaged in the fifties, and maybe because Sam doesn’t know what to do after his brother sobbed in his arms last night.

It’s Sam who drives. Sam who turns the key and Baby, despite all her bruises and dust and broken glass, still rumbles to life. Dean doesn’t ask where they’re going. Dean’s head aches and he stares out the window and watches as Sam passes empty house after empty house, as the silence of the entire world echoes around them.

Where is Cas? Dean thinks. Where is he?

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

They don’t get very far.

They hit a lake forty minutes out and Sam stops, pulls out fishing gear that Dean didn’t even see him pack, and he hands one rod to Dean and Dean wonders if there are even any fish in the water or if God erased them, too.

After an hour, Sam’s jaw finally unclenches, only enough to get a few words out so, putting down the rod, “What was that?” he says. “Dean, what was that last night?”

Dean clutches the rod harder and pretends he doesn’t hear him.

“We’re going to get him back, Dean,” Sam says, runs a hand through his hair in frustration. “There’s got to be a spell, something. We’ve done stuff like this before. Hell, man, we’ve crossed dimensions, opened rifts—once we find the right incantation, Cas will come back, Dean, just like the others. Just like Eileen.”

And maybe that’s what makes Dean lose it.

“No,” Dean snarls and Sam starts at the sudden anger that rushes back into Dean’s body. “No, we won’t, Sam, because God didn’t just disappear him. God didn’t do this to him! It was the fucking Empty!

“He loved me,” Dean says and something breaks in his chest and maybe Sam can hear the sound, a terrible cracking splintering thing, from somewhere deep within Dean’s heart because he stares at Dean, stares at him, eyes wide, full of sudden pity. “He loved me and I—I didn’t say it back. I didn’t say it back, Sammy. I just let him go.”

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

They stay at the lake past nightfall. They stay there and watch the stars paint the sky, breathtaking in their beauty now that the entire world’s gone dark, and they cook their fish on the spot and something about those hours, for the first time in a long time, makes Dean feel okay.

Or maybe it’s because the heaviness that’s been weighing him down gets lighter.

There’s a star in the sky tonight, one that seems to burn grace-blue, one that blushes under Dean’s earnest attention, and then, unbidden, two words come rumbling into Dean’s mind.

Hello, Dean, the star says and something broken in him mends itself a little inside his chest.

For the first time in a long time, when they get back, Dean sleeps in his own bed.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

The only times that exist after that are times where Dean’s restless, when the ticking clock in the library feels like hours upon hours folded over one another infinitely, and all Dean can do is flip through book after book, from dawn to dusk, just until the darkness swallows up the earth and cloaks it in night again.

As soon as the stars come out, Dean’s coat is on and he’s out the door. He turns the key and Baby’s engine sputters to a start, and they drive down the long gravel road, passing no one and nothing until they hit the lake, its inky depths hidden behind a smattering of trees.

There Dean gets out, leaves Baby in the shadows and walks the path to the water, kneels at its edge and searches the sky fervently for him.

“Cas?” he says, each night, and just like the stillness of the water, his voice never fails to break.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Dean starts praying.

Not only at the lake. Dean squeezes his eyes shut at each moment of the day, whether Sam’s looking or not, begs Cas to talk to him, begs him to come back.

When he’s praying, Sam knows better than to disturb him. Sam continues his work quietly, except it’s been a year now, and even the books that Sam’s found on road trips to other hunter libraries don’t yield much. But maybe because he’s always been stubborn, he doesn’t stop. Sam keeps searching for clues, keeps trying spells while Dean searches for a way into the Empty (but maybe praying’s become his best shot).

They go on and on, a year exactly, and that same night, when Dean goes to the lake, the blue star is gone and Dean suddenly can’t breathe anymore.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Sam is always the one to find him.

But maybe that’s not saying much when he’s the only other person left in the entire fucking universe.

Sam finds him and maybe, for a moment, Sam wonders if they’ve gone back in time, if it’s May again, if it’s the day where they lost everyone and everything that mattered to them because he finds Dean in the dungeon, just like last time, slumped on the floor, draped in the jacket with Cas’ bloody hand print on it, stinking of liquor with a loaded gun in his hand. Sam doesn’t know it then, won’t know it for years, but he comes only seconds before the end.

“Dean!” Sam says, once again drops to his knees, once again clutches his brother’s face and pleads with him. “Look at me, Dean,” Sam says but Dean’s eyes are lifeless, Dean’s heart is broken, Dean is gone and has been gone for a long time, and Sam takes the gun away (it’s easy because Dean’s barely holding on anyway), and he says, “Dean, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

“I love him,” Dean says and his face crumples and it’s wet and it’s taken him a year to say it.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Sam takes him back out to the stars that night. Sam makes him promise that Dean won’t leave him, and Sam’s crying, and Dean maybe realizes that somewhere in the last year, Sam became broken, too.

“We don’t have anyone but each other, Dean,” he says, and years ago, that seemed so right, Dean thinks, but now it seems like damnation. “Promise me you won’t go. Promise me we’ll get through this.”

But maybe it’s a good thing that Sam said it.

Because when Dean can’t look at him and answer, he looks instead to the stars again, just happens to glance over to a place up there that he's never looked at before, and there it is, blue as ever, still in the sky, just shifted.

Hello, Dean, the star says so Dean says, “I’m not leaving without you.”

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

The star keeps moving. It starts to dim, starts to lose its blue hue so Dean drives further and further each night, as if he maybe he can get closer, and it shouldn’t be possible, Dean knows that, except it is.

Sam’s afraid at first. Sam spends six months tailing him, spends six months watching Dean find a spot by the water (because it’s always a lake where the star seems to settle, always a lake where it seems the brightest), and six months watching Dean squeeze his eyes shut and pray, and then maybe Sam realizes at last that Dean’s not going anywhere, but that it’s not because of him.

“I miss you,” Dean says, each night, through a throat full of unshed tears and unsaid words and sometimes, Dean thinks, the star exhales sadly and says, I miss you, too, Dean.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

It’s almost two years to the day when Sam opens the door to Death’s library and starts a new search there. Dean doesn’t go with him. Dean’s breathing quickens, memories of that night flooding back in like a tsunami, so Sam puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “It’s okay, Dean. You don’t have to come.”

Dean watches Sam leave, waits and waits for him to come back, and then when Sam does, Sam is different and there’s something in his face, something changed, and he says, “Let’s go see stars tonight, Dean,” so they do.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

It goes on like that, for a week, and Dean doesn’t see Sam research, only sees him sitting in the library with the same two books, books from Death’s library, and their titles are Sam Winchester and Dean Winchester, and something in those books, something within their pages, has Sam the quietest he’s ever been.

“You can go, you know,” Sam says, one day out of the blue, when they’re perched on the hood of the Impala, gazing at the night sky.

Dean shifts a bit, takes an absentminded sip of beer but keeps his eyes on the heavens, on the star that each night seems to get a little bit bluer, a little bit brighter the more that Dean watches it.

“Go where?” Dean says, and Sam’s next words are careful, spoken so softly that Dean can barely hear them.

“I know you miss him, Dean,” Sam says and his voice is gentle. “You don’t have to stay for me.”

It’s been years.

Dean swallows then, gazes at the blue star, because hell, maybe he’s expecting an answer, but the truth is he can’t. He can’t leave anymore. He can’t go because he doesn’t know what’s out there after it all ends, but mostly because that blue star keeps shining, every night, and Dean knows that as long as it does, he couldn’t go anyway because he promised he wouldn’t.

So, “What did you see in Death’s books?” he says. “Sam…why are you saying this?”

And Sam’s jaw clenches and his bottom lip wobbles like it used to do when he was a kid, and he says, “I thought the books might say it, Dean. I thought they might say how we die…if I get Eileen back…if you—”

Sam stops then, and all Dean wants to do is hear what’s next, but Sam stays silent for a long, long time, and when he finally starts up again, Dean feels like he’s hovering over the edge of a cliff, feels as if any second, he could be drowning.

“There was nothing, Dean,” Sam says and his voice cracks. “They’re blank. There’s nothing anymore. Nothing.”

Sam looks at him hopelessly, watches him as Dean’s mind races, and for a moment, Dean thinks maybe this is it, thinks maybe the promise that he made that felt so unbreakable just a second before can be broken after all, and maybe that’s why, amidst all the despair hanging over them, he looks to the star, says what he needs to say, maybe the last words left locked away in his chest.

“I love you, Cas,” and in all that great emptiness that surrounds them, as if to prove the contrary, as if to tell him that it’s not really the end, the blue star in the sky starts shining brighter than ever before.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

They follow the star that night. They follow it because it starts moving, faster, and they follow it because Dean thinks if they return to the bunker, this time it’ll be Sam loading the bullets this time, and maybe the only reason Sam is telling him it’s okay to go is because Sam doesn’t want Dean to figure out that his little brother wants to be the one to go first.

They drive for hours, they drive through deserted town after deserted town, and Dean doesn’t know what he’s doing anymore, just keeps his foot steady on the gas, and then, just when they reach the outskirts of Pontiac, Illinois, the blue star burns bright one last time before it starts falling, blasting through the sky like a comet, and the sound of its impact is the loudest the universe has heard in years.

At that, Dean slams the brakes and his hands start shaking and then all he can hear is the thumpthumpthump of his heart, that too a sound he hasn’t heard, he realizes, at least not since Cas died.

In the passenger seat beside him, Sam turns to look at him.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

They make it on foot. They follow the sight of smoke and Dean’s running like he’s ten years younger, Dean’s scrambling to get there, and truth be told, he doesn’t look, doesn’t need to see the smoke, because he already knows where to go, and when the old barn at last comes into sight, the one where they first met, he barrels through the doors, the wood splintering under his hands.

“Cas!” he says, frantic, hears Sam’s running footsteps follow him from right behind. “Cas!” he says, feels like he’s screaming himself hoarse even when Cas’ name only comes out a whisper, as if he’s afraid if he gets too loud, Cas might leave again.

But Dean’s wrong.

Because lying amidst the hay and the dirt and in a crater that’s still smoking, Cas opens his eyes and smiles at him.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Dean’s dreamt of this moment.

Dean’s prayed for it night after night on repeat.

But now that it’s finally here, his throat closes up altogether.

He can’t speak.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

He thinks that it would be instinctual. He thinks that by now, he’d have his arms around him, because all he knows in that moment is that he won’t ever be able to let go of him again if he does, not after all this.

But he doesn’t do any of those things.

The energy in his body rushes out. He walks to Cas on shaky legs and extends his hand but Cas doesn’t take it.

Cas stands on his own two feet and says in that same simple way, “Hello, Dean,” and Dean, as if unable to contain it anymore, finally feels the grief leave his throat.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

They drive home in silence. Sam offers to sit in the backseat but Cas just shakes his head, smiles again, and takes his place like before, as if he knows exactly where he belongs. For hours they go, for hours it’s only the sound of Baby’s wheels on smooth road, and every few minutes, Dean can’t help himself, keeps glancing at the rear view mirror as if to make sure Cas is really there, as if to make sure he’s not dreaming, but Cas never catches his eyes, never looks his way.

“What happened, man?” Sam says incredulously, because it’s been two years, hasn’t it, and nothing was happening before so why now this? “I mean, what woke you? Chuck said the Empty was asleep again. That you’d never get out. It’s—”

“I don’t know,” Cas says quietly and for the first time, he looks up, catches Dean’s gaze in the mirror, and all the breath gets knocked right out of Dean. “I just woke…and the Empty was so irritated that it tossed me out again. I suppose being annoying has its benefits.”

For the first time in two years, Dean hears Sam laugh.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Things go back to normal just like that, except Dean doesn’t want normal but he doesn’t know what to do about it.

Sam goes right back to spending his days in the library, except this time with renewed hope, hauling truck after truck full of new spell books from across the country, and it seems Dean can never find Cas, at least not alone, because wherever Sam is, Cas is too. It doesn’t matter if night falls. Before the world ended, when the sun used to set with people still in it, Dean could always see Cas, find him in one nook of the bunker or another, except now, as soon as Sam stretches his arms and says it’s time for bed, Cas who has never needed sleep nods and locks himself up in his bedroom, too.

It starts to gnaw at Dean, starts to settle deep in his chest, almost like grief but different. He savours every moment their fingers brush, when Cas greets the both of them with coffee ready in the morning like always. He feels that gnawing feeling again and again over the next three weeks, intensifying each time he tries to lock onto Cas’ gaze but can’t get him to meet his eyes. And then, at last, when Cas offers to grab a book abandoned in the kitchen for Sam, Dean darts right after him, thinking maybe it’s the only chance he’ll ever get.

But Sam grabs his arm before he can get far.

“He needs space, Dean,” Sam says softly. “I know he’s been avoiding you…but you have to give him time.”

And Dean stops. Dean stops breathing altogether, and lips quivering, “It’s been two years, Sam,” he says and his voice cracks and he thinks he’s going to break apart all over again, but Sam smiles sadly and tells Dean, “But not for him.”

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Dean lasts three months.

Dean does what Sam tells him, keeps his distance, lets Cas pass him again and again, but Dean’s never been good at being patient, because after weeks and weeks of Dean’s longing growing and growing, all it takes is for Cas to meet his eyes one time and Dean snaps.

Cas is too slow to escape him.

Dean pins him up against the door of his bedroom before Cas can even turn the knob.

Cas looks at him then, exhales a breath that’s shuddery and warm and tickles Dean’s nose, and Dean swallows and tightens his grip on Cas’ shirt, except how tight can his grip be when his hands won’t stop shaking?

For a long time, Dean can’t get his tongue to work. For a long time, they sway against the door, and when Dean knows that he’ll never be able to get a word out, at least not without turning into a blubbering mess, he just closes his eyes and leans his forehead against Cas’ and Cas inhales then, sharp and surprised and maybe a little afraid.

“Dean,” he says, softly, gently, and Dean can feel the tears sliding down his cheeks against his will but just then Sam’s door creaks open and as soon as Dean steps away, Cas has already slipped into his bedroom and left the door shut in Dean’s face.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

It’s infuriating, except it’s not because Dean’s heart is just broken.

Maybe it wasn’t an I[’m in] love [with] you like Dean thought. Maybe it was just an I love you and Dean misinterpreted it like he always does, and Dean thinks if that’s the case, he won’t be able to survive anymore, he just won’t.

In the morning, Sam sees Dean’s face. Sees the hurt and pain and he doesn’t know what’s happened, only knows that it’s day and Cas still hasn’t come out of his room. So Sam goes and knocks and Cas finally hesitantly makes his way down to the kitchen for breakfast, and Dean can’t look at him, feels worse than dying, when Cas brushes past him to get to the peanut butter.

Sam coughs and says he’s going to the bathroom and they’re left alone all over again.

And then, for a moment, nothing.

And then, for a moment, the longest most excruciating silence that Dean has ever felt stretches across time and space and they don’t move.

But then, “I’m sorry,” Cas says. “I shouldn’t have done that to you, Dean,” Cas says, and the most confusing thing of all: “I didn’t mean to come back.”

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Maybe the air in the bunker is too suffocating now because Sam proposes they go get some that's fresher, so they pile into the Impala and finally go back to the lake.

They sit under the stars, except there’s no blue star anymore because that star’s burning bright right next them, and Dean can’t help it, can’t stop his gaze from wandering over Cas’ beautiful face, radiant under the moonlight.

When Cas turns to him and sees him looking, Dean licks his lips and pushes down the gnawing feeling in his chest again.

Cas turns back just as quickly.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

“Perhaps—” Cas says abruptly, when hours have passed and Dean has spent every one of them fighting the urge to reach out and kiss him. “Perhaps it would be better for me to leave you.”

And Dean’s heart falls in his chest and the panic starts to take over and he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe anymore, and maybe Sam sees it because he darts a worried look towards Dean, as if he can divine whatever happened between them just like that.

“What, Cas, why?” Sam says and Cas shifts, gazes out across the lake and at the night sky and every bit of him is uneasy.

“I could be more useful to you somewhere else. I could find more spell books and bring them to you.”

But Sam shakes his head earnestly and says, “Cas…we’re all alone in this world now. Don’t go off by yourself,” and because Cas looks like he won’t listen and even though Dean knows he shouldn’t, he opens his mouth and says, “We need you here.”

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Dean does a lot of things that he shouldn’t, all the time, but tonight he does maybe the worst one of all.

When they arrive back at the bunker, he goes to Cas’ door, knocks and knocks until Cas opens it, trench coat already off and strewn across the bench, and Dean, with his heart pounding, says, “Can I come in?”

It’s the longest they’ve been alone together in years.

Dean paces back and forth, runs his hands through his hair while Cas stands there, and then finally, he blurts, “Don’t go.”

Cas looks like he doesn’t know what to say.

Dean moves toward him then, presses a hand to his shoulder, really just wants to cradle his face, and if Cas sees the desperation that’s running off Dean in waves, he doesn’t show it.

“Look, I know I made a mistake, alright?” Dean says and he clenches his fingers, and he knows it’s not possible, not when Cas hasn’t had wings in a decade now, but he’s still afraid he’ll disappear just like that. “I shouldn’t have tackled you against the door. I thought it was lov—so let’s just forget it, alright? Everything that happened. We’ll pretend it wasn’t real—we’ll go back to the day before Billie came and all that crap, but—you can’t go, alright? Please, Cas, I’m begging here—stay with us.”

And Cas says okay.

Cas shakes a little under Dean’s hand, can’t seem to meet Dean’s eyes, but he says, “It’s forgotten, Dean,” and something in Dean’s chest twinges again, and he nods quickly and bolts out the door before he falls apart once more.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

Dean thinks it’s better than before, but it’s not. They talk, Dean convinces him to watch a movie here and there, and sometimes, Dean forgets the yearning in his chest, and sometimes, Dean thinks this could be okay, being at Cas’ side but never being able to touch him, as long as this gets Cas to stay.

It’s after another movie session that they go out to the lake, and there’s something in the air, something with all of them, and maybe it’s because they watched a movie about family, about friends, and lovers, and maybe that’s why Sam’s jaw is clenched and he can’t look hopeful tonight because it’s been years and they’re nowhere closer to fixing this mess.

But it’s Cas who drops a bomb.

Cas fidgets by the shore for a long time before he says, “I want to cut out my grace. I want to be human.”

And then, softly, with his eyes closed and such a look of yearning on his face, Cas says, “If we’re going to be alone in this world forever, I want to grow old with you.”

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

It’s quiet when it happens. At least at first.

Cas holds his angel blade in his hand, stares at it for a long time, but when it finally comes to it, his hand trembles and he can’t hold it steady.

So, “Let me,” Dean says, and maybe the only reason he says that is because he wants their hands to brush when Cas passes the blade, and when Dean presses a hand to the side of Cas’ face to steady him, Cas looks at him for a long time, so long that Dean doesn’t think he’ll be able to stop himself, so long that all Dean wants to do is lean forward and kiss him and kiss him and kiss him.

“We’ll find a way to get it back,” Sam says. “The universe. Everybody in it. There’s going to be more in this world for you, Cas. For all of us. There has to be. And your human life will be happy.”

Cas swallows then, and Dean brushes his thumb across Cas’ cheek, and Cas says, “I wish for that,” just as Dean slices the skin of his throat open and lets his grace escape.

Cas shudders as it leaves him, and Dean can’t help it. Dean pulls him into his arms, holds him and god help him if he ever lets go. Cas’ grace drifts upwards, beaming and beaming in the sky, and then it does something that grace has never done before.

There’s a bright white light as it shatters, a thousand pieces raining down to earth, and in a split second, the universe and everything in it comes back in an instant.  

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

When it comes down to it, no one will remember. They drive past homes filled with light and laughter and when they reach the bunker, Jack is standing there, cheeky as ever with a hand raised in Hello.

Eileen follows then, shows up at the bunker as if she’s just casually dropping by, and when Sam throws himself at her, she’s more than a little surprised.

Seeing it makes Dean smile.

Seeing it makes Dean’s heart ache.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

It takes them a while to figure out what's happened. They don’t know if there are still things out there that they need to hunt, but they spend the first few days visiting friends (family) and basking in the noise that drapes over them again.

It’s four days after it, after the world is made right, that Cas realizes that he needs to change his clothes if he’s going to be a proper human, so Dean leads him that night to his bedroom and pulls out whatever will fit him.

Cas tries on Dean’s clothes, makes Dean turn around and Dean wishes more than anything that he didn’t have to. It’s somewhere between shirt three and four. It’s somewhere between either the second pair of pants or the third. But whatever combination it is, when Cas lets him look and, “What do you think, Dean?” he says, that’s when all of Dean’s resolve leaves him and he presses Cas up against the wall and kisses him.

Cas doesn’t fight him. Cas doesn’t pull away because as soon as Dean realizes what he’s done, how he’s ruined it all over again, his heart stops and he takes a step back. But Cas’ eyes shine with exhilaration. Cas kisses him all over again and Dean doesn’t question it, kisses him stupid until they both have to break apart for air.

“I don’t understand,” Cas says. “I thought you were angry about what I said to you before the Empty came.”

“What?” Dean says and he feels like he’s been doused in cold water. “Why would I be angry?”

“You threw me against a door.”

“Cas, I was—wait, you said you didn’t mean to come back.”

“I didn’t want to burden you with my feelings. I know you don’t feel the same—”

“I just kissed you, Cas! I thought you didn’t want me—”

“I told you, Dean—I want to grow old with you.”

And it’s the stupidest thing, Dean thinks then. It’s the stupidest thing that’s ever happened to him and probably the stupidest thing that’s ever happened in the history of the universe, but the elation at knowing the truth no matter how late it comes feels like freedom.

 

 

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

 

 

When they’re lying curled up in bed together, it turns out that all it takes is talking to each other to straighten things out.

They lie there under the sheets, and Dean buries his face in Cas’ neck and clings to him, still a little afraid to let go. They lie there and the earth still spins, and the universe is balanced, and everything is good and right with the world.

And when Cas tilts his head down to look at him and asks, “Why does this feel like love?”, Dean knows the answer. Dean says, “Because it is.”