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The Rough

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Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

- Dylan Thomas

 


 

The skies are always blue, except at night. Long, balmy summer nights when fireflies dance under the trees and not a damn thing goes bump. Sometimes there’s crisp cold and snow falling in Christmas-movie flurries, but it’s never the kind that bites into your bones, and there’s always a roaring fire and a mug of hot chocolate around some convenient corner. When he emerges into daylight again, the skies are blue.

They go to the beach. “Sand between our toes, Sammy,” Dean declares. Just an observation, now, not a We should do that someday, because there are no more days.

Feels like just yesterday he first said it. Feels like a dozen lifetimes.

They kick back on the sand, waves washing around their toes, tide never coming in far enough that they have to pack up and move. Salt and icecream sticky on his lips, tasting of an imagined childhood.

Drowsy sunshine, and a breeze soughing gently through the dunes a little way behind them. Just enough to lull, not to disturb.

It takes Dean a while to recognise the restless feeling itching in his nerves. He hasn’t had time to be bored in fucking years.

He looks sideways at Sam and finds him gazing contentedly out to sea, the dumb eighties comedy shades Dean shoved into his hands earlier perched halfway down his nose.

Dean elbows him. “You wanna go do something else?”

Sam folds his hands over his chest. “Nah, I’m good.”

“You sure?”

That makes Sam prop himself up on his elbows, sunglasses sliding down further so he can fix Dean with his best suspicious look over the top. “Seriously, Dean. It’s just nice not to be falling asleep by two o’clock in the afternoon.” His forehead wrinkles. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Anytime we want it to be, Sammy.” He grins, meaning it, but it feels like it doesn’t sit right on his face. “Anytime we want.”

“Right,” Sam agrees. “So, we’re not gonna miss anything if we just… relax. Chill out, Dean. It’s fine.”

“I’m so chilled out I’m in freaking Antarctica,” Dean grumbles, but there’s something pricking oddly in his belly. Maybe he’s eaten too much icecream—but nah, you don’t have to worry about moderation (or brainfreeze) in Heaven.

Maybe it’s that thing Sam said, about dozing off in the middle of the afternoon. It was an old man thing to say; reminds him that, by the time he got here, Sam was tired. Ready to rest.

Dean should be, too. Sure, he only lived half a life, but it was bloody and messy and there was never time to stop fighting, and if there was ever a time to just stop and faceplant into the soft epilogue, this ought to be it.

So why can’t he keep still?

 


 

He goes fishing. Leaves Sam to get in some quality Mom and Dad time and takes off alone. It’s the quiet place from his dream, the lake still as glass, the beers at his side never getting warm.

The sky, of course, is blue.

He’s weirdly relieved when there’s a disturbance of air, a sandpaper-rough, “Hello, Dean,” at his shoulder.

Dean tips back in his chair, peering up so he can see up Cas’s nose, his face comically distorted from this angle. He thinks that might make it easier to say what he needs to, but his heart rabbits anyway, and the small discomfort kinda makes him feel… better? Not easier, but less like he’s trapped under glass.

“Was starting to think you were avoiding me,” he says.

“Perhaps,” Cas admits, after a moment. “I didn’t wish for you to feel… pressured.”

Straight to the point, then.

“Look, Cas. About what you said—”

“You don’t have to say anything, Dean.” Cas is smiling down at him. Dean searches for the strain in it, the hint of regret, but there’s nothing. He guesses Cas really did mean it. Just being is enough.

Doesn’t stop him fumbling his own words, though. “Yeah, but I want to. I mean, I’m gonna suck at it, but—what I’m trying to say—fuck.” Dean rights himself; scrubs a hand down his face. He keeps his eyes on the lake as he tries again. “Just being. With—you. Maybe that could be okay, y’know?”

Why the hell is he making it a question? Cas didn’t exactly leave what he thought about it in any doubt. And why is the awkwardness comforting?

“But I need time,” he says, one finger raised. “I can’t just—jump in with both feet, okay? It’s new.”

“Dean.” Cas’s voice is closer now, and when Dean twists round to look at him, he’s crouching beside Dean’s deckchair. His face is still perfectly open, perfectly happy. “We have nothing but time,” he says, and hesitates a moment before reaching for Dean’s hand and threading their fingers together.

Dean looks down at their joined hands. A warmth blooms inside his chest.

Only it still doesn’t feel right, not completely. “Nothing but time,” he echoes, not raising his eyes.

Cas must hear something in his voice, because he squeezes Dean’s hand until he looks up, and when Dean does, he’s frowning. “Is something wrong?”

Some perverse part of Dean wants to say yes, to push at Cas until he sighs and rolls his eyes and gets all pissy. Then he remembers the beatific smile on Cas’s face as the Empty swallowed him up, and he can’t do it.

“Nah,” he says, and raises Cas’s knuckles to his lips. “’S all good.”

 


 

Dad comes looking for him later on, after Sam’s done with his parental heart-to-heart. That’s one thing Dean can’t wrap his head around: Dad, in a place this perfectly peaceful, joking with his arm around Mom’s shoulders, sipping beer in the sunshine instead of slugging cheap bourbon in the small hours.

“You didn’t join us,” Dad says, eyes watchful on Dean’s face.

“Needed some alone-time,” Dean replies, but his tone is all, You got a problem with that? His shoulders square, and he feels the small old flame of fear spring to life inside him even as he’s spoiling for a fight.

But Dad just claps him on the shoulder. “Take your time,” he says, and Dean’s left deflated, a hollow inside his chest where the adrenaline high ought to be.

Mom’s the one who figures it out, strangely enough. Halfway, at least.

“I get it, you know,” she says, coming up behind him while he stirs pie filling in a too-shiny facsimile of the bunker’s kitchen.

Dean turns to blink down at her, uncomprehending. “Thought you said you didn’t cook?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Mom sticks her fingers in the pie filling, smirking when he bats her hand away and popping a chunk of apple in her mouth. “I’m talking about how you haven’t sat still for ten minutes since Sam got here.”

“How do you figure?” Dean concentrates intently on his pie dish.

“Come on, Dean, I’m not blind,” says Mom. “You’re like me. When I married your father, I was going to stop hunting. That was the plan. But there was always one last job, you know? Always somebody who needed help, and if I didn’t do it, who would?”

Dean makes a noncommittal sound, because okay, that’s kind of him. Except it might not be, not this time. But either way, Mom’s trying, and he’s gotta give her props for that, right?

“But the truth is, I was arrogant,” she goes on, then. “Somebody else would’ve picked the job up. It wasn’t all on me. I just didn’t trust the world enough to let it take care of things without me.”

“Great,” says Dean. “So you’re saying I can’t be happy in Heaven because my ego’s overblown, I got that right?” He doesn’t realise what he’s admitted until it’s out of his mouth.

Mom lays a hand on his arm. “I’m not great at expressing myself sometimes. You know that.”

“Damn straight I do.” He manages a little smile with it, for her sake, and she glances at him sideways, a soft curl to her mouth.

“What I’m saying is, it’s not your responsibility anymore, Dean. It’s time to trust the world. Jack did a good job with it, you know.”

“Yeah,” Dean sighs, and pushes everything else he could say about Jack aside. “Yeah, he did.”

Apparently satisfied, Mom leaves him to it.

She’s half right, he thinks. Maybe he can’t trust the world just yet. Maybe it’s gonna take a lot of Heaven-time before he does.

But maybe, when Dean’s honest with himself—hey, it’s a thing he’s trying these days—he misses it. The rough spots, even the dangers. The things that aren’t just a honey flow of uninterrupted goodness.

It’s fucked up. He definitely should’ve had his fill of them by now. Maybe he really is just that unfixably damaged, that he can’t kick back and accept a life without horrors.

But it isn’t life. That’s the thing. It’s awesome, but it isn’t life; life’s a hard, painful, infuriating mess, and Dean only got halfway through his own, and he feels cheated. For all he held it together for Sammy at the end, for all he tried to take Cas’s big moment-of-happiness speech on board, he feels cheated.

There’s supposed to be peace at the end. When you’re done.

Dean wasn’t done.

The realisation winds him. He’s pretty sure it’s the most selfish, screwed-up thing he’s ever felt.

The oven dings. The pie is perfect, golden brown. He doesn’t even remember putting it in.

 


 

There’s a cabin by the lakeside. He and Cas spend nights there, sometimes, pressed together beneath the covers, not doing anything but trading slow, lazy kisses. For all that Cas can be an impatient, eye-rolling ass half the time, he never pushes in this. It’s been—weeks? months?—but Dean’s pretty sure Cas will be patient with him forever, if that’s what it takes.

Tonight, though, he pulls back, his hand moving up to cup Dean’s cheek. “There’s something on your mind,” he says. “Tell me?”

Dean rolls onto his back and makes a face. “Ugh, do we have to?”

“No.” Cas’s voice is gentle. “We have—”

“—nothing but time. Yeah, yeah, I know.”

Cas props himself up on one elbow, squinting down into Dean’s face. “You’re not happy about that.” Statement, not a question.

“It’s stupid. Don’t worry, man. I’ll get over it.”

“Dean.”

He closes his eyes. “It’s—this. All of this, everything,” he hastens to add, before Cas can get the wrong idea and think Dean is dumping his ass. “It’s all so… perfect, you know? I can’t get used to it. Doesn’t feel real.”

Cas is quiet for a long time, and eventually Dean gets uneasy enough to open his eyes. His face is soft in thought, and his fingers move up to curl gently in Dean’s hair. “You miss it,” he says. He doesn’t need to specify what.

“Yeah.” Dean rubs at his temples, though the headache he’s expecting is nowhere to be found. “What a mess, right?”

Cas doesn’t contradict him, which… well, Cas has never been great at the comforting lie. That might be why Dean spends so much time around him these days. He looks kind of distant, and after a moment he says, “We designed things to minimise contact. Between the planes, I mean.” He holds his hands flat, one above the other, not quite touching. “We thought that would be best.” Cas hesitates, then. “Of course, when we designed this place, we didn’t anticipate… everything.”

Didn’t anticipate Dean getting himself ganked by some vampire Juggalo two weeks after the first day of the rest of his life. Didn’t anticipate him washing up here unready and broken.

“I’ll talk to Jack,” Cas says, then, and Dean realises what he’s offering. He’ll warp the architecture of Heaven just to make Dean a little happier, and it’s a shitty, dumbass thing to do, and Dean loves it.

Fuck. He loves it.

 


 

“You sure you’re okay with this?” he asks Sam, for the sixteenth time.

Sam laughs, open and easy, and pulls him into a one-armed hug. “I’m not going anywhere, Dean. This isn’t going anywhere. I’ll be here anytime you want to see me. And when you’re ready to come home for good? Still gonna be here.”

Dean bites his lip. “And you really don’t wanna come?”

A huff of a laugh over his shoulder. “Just thinking about it makes me tired.” Sam pulls back, holds him at arms’ length. “I got to take the long way around. I’d be kind of a dick if I begrudged you the chance to take in the scenery, right?”

“Scenery ain’t what I’m looking for, Sammy,” he says, but something inside him has loosened at the words, at, I’m not going anywhere, at, home.

He turns to Cas.

“Let's roll, man,” he says, “got no time to lose,” and Cas doesn’t correct him.

Jack gave the angels their wings back, so they can go anywhere, anytime they want. When they land on an empty stretch of blacktop in Illinois, the glitter of broken glass at the roadside’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.

There are bars where the beer’s warm and the countertops are sticky. Dark alleys where nasty things lurk. Dean’s heart beats steadier all the time.

He makes Cas take them to the beach. It’s drizzling, there are cans and cigarette ends in the sand, and a rogue selkie’s drowning tourists two towns up the highway. Dean tips his face up to the rain and tastes it on his tongue, standing there in the shivery November grey until Cas touches his shoulder.

“Are you ready to leave now?” he says.

Panic slams into Dean. Already? This is all he gets? He’s isn’t ready, he isn’t ready, and something twists tight and hot behind his ribcage.

Cas watches his face solemnly. “You estimated the culprit was striking every ten days. If you’re right, she’ll kill again tonight.” He frowns. “I assumed you were planning to stop her.”

Dean’s laugh is breathless with relief. “Yeah, Cas. Let’s go save some people.”

And they do.

They head back upstairs whenever the ache of being without Sam gets too much. The unending perfection’s easier to take now Dean knows he has an out; now that it’s a refuge, not a prison.

And when he starts feeling like he might crawl out of his skin, Cas draws him aside, and there’s a flutter of wings, and they’re right back down in the crappy world.

They have their first time in a dingy motel room off I-90, which is exactly what Dean would’ve imagined, if he’d ever dared imagine it at all. The curtains don’t meet in the middle, and the neon-yellow light of the motel sign falls right in Dean’s eyes, Cas’s face in shadow above him.

They fumble, adolescent-clumsy with nerves, their kisses all teeth and desperation. The chasm of all the years they’ve waited is vertiginous. When Dean thinks about it for too long, this whole thing starts to look terrifying.

Also, his fortysomething knees complain like hell.

It’s nowhere near perfect, and that makes him so grateful he wants to weep.

 


 

Sam gave him one rule: no crossovers. No zapping back into the rest of Sam’s life and spying on him and Eileen and Dean II. (“Like T2,” Dean says, with a too-sharp smile. “Way better movie.”) Can’t risk fucking up the timeline. Which means avoiding the bunker, too, because apparently Sam dropped back in every now and then to raid the library, and a handful of other trusted hunters got keys, too.

But there’s one thing Sam hasn’t mentioned since he arrived upstairs, and that makes Dean suspicious.

“So,” he says, on one of his stops topside. “My baby.”

“What about her?”

“You taught Junior how to take good care of her, right? Treat her like a lady?”

There’s a flicker of guilt behind Sam’s eyes, now, something Dean hasn’t seen since he arrived. It feels as much like home as any of the good stuff, and even as Dean narrows his eyes in suspicion, something in him expands with relief.

“Sammy,” he says, warning in his voice. “What did you do?”

Sam won’t meet his eyes. “Well, she, uh, actually. She got stolen.” He takes a deep breath. “When we had Dean—little Dean, I mean—I figured we needed something safer to drive around in until he was older, and we didn’t have a lot of room at the house, so I left her at the bunker. And you wouldn’t believe how crazy things get with a newborn, so I didn’t make it back there for a couple months, and by the time I did…” He trails off helplessly, spreading his hands.

Dean stares back at him in shock.

And then the realisation dawns.

“You left my baby alone for two months,” he says flatly.

Sam nods, grim-faced, like he’s expecting to get socked in the jaw.

“Well, which months, asshat?”

“Uh, January and February. ’27. But why—oh. Dammit, Dean are you…?”

“Oh, you bet I am.” He can’t keep the giddiness out of his voice. “You sure you don’t want in on this one?”

Sam shakes his head, but he’s laughing, some part of him infected by Dean’s enthusiasm. “Don’t forget where the booby-traps are. And don’t go poking around in the library, there might be someone you know up there.”

Dean tunes out the lecture and calls over his shoulder. “Cas? Where are you?”

A sound of wings. “Yes, Dean?”

“Come on. We’ve got a car to steal.”

 


 

Hunters say Dean Winchester died last year, five years ago, twenty. You can ask his brother, if you know how to find him. 

But others say they've seen him, across a dingy bar or a back-alley, a flash of green eyes and a grin like every bad idea you've ever had. Or they drove all night to work a job, but it was already taken care of when they arrived, and nobody remembers the men who did it, but they remember a big black car gliding away down an empty highway. They were backed into a corner, thinking this was it, and then a shot rang out in the darkness and the monster dropped like a sack of rocks. Things that kill people turn up dead, and maybe it was just for a moment, blurry, seen from the corner of their eye, but somebody swears Dean Winchester was there, an angel at his side and a gun in his hand. 

They see him other, less likely places, too. An AC/DC tribute concert in a sweatbox bar in Chicago. A food festival in Lincoln. Parked up in an empty field in Kansas, soaking up sunshine on the hood of his Impala, glimpsed in a rear-view mirror and then lost in the glare. There might have been somebody with him, or it might have been a trick of the light.

They don't investigate further, because you don't stick your nose into the Winchesters' business if you know what's good for you. They just whisper. 

The incidents get fewer and farther between as the years wear on, but by then the stories have a life of their own.

Everybody knows that angels haunt the backroads of America. And that down in the dirt and danger and the rough spots of the world, you can sometimes glimpse a tiny scrap of Heaven.