Been traveling these wide roads for so long
My heart's been far from you
Ten-thousand miles gone
Oh, I wanna come near and give ya every part of me
But there is blood on my hands, and my lips aren't clean
In my darkness I remember
Momma's words reoccur to me
"Surrender to the good Lord
And he'll wipe your slate clean"
Take me to your river
I wanna go…
Leon Bridges, River
Dean leaves the bunker not long after midnight as Wednesday turns to Thursday.
He drives and drives and drives some more, silence deafening in its presence from the speakers. The roads are deserted and he isn’t sure where he’s headed in particular. He’ll know it when he sees it.
The sign comes, in the end, in the form of a quite literal sign. Baby’s headlamps inform him of the presence of Meadow Bee Farm - no more than a building on the side on the highway, fields and trees as far as the eye can see. Dean waits for the building to go out of view before pulling off the road and stopping the car, stepping out into the early morning breeze.
He grabs his rucksack from the passenger seat and flings it over his shoulder, heavy contents rattling and bashing against his back. He starts to walk back towards the farm sign, never quite allowing the building to come into view but following the trail until he stops dead.
Dean can’t remember how many times he’s seen a windmill in real life, but he has to imagine it’s less than a handful. This one is dilapidated and old, wood splintering but bricks fair and sun-bleached. He stares up at the blades, illuminated by some far-off floodlights, wondering how it would look if they were turning.
Cas would get a kick out of that, he thinks, imagining him staring up into the sky with the sun shining on his face. He walks towards it, touching his fingers along the bricked wall before veering off the path into the thin woods.
He hears the water before he sees it – an honest to god babbling brook with a stream running from it out from the trees towards a source of dawn light. He follows the path of water, tuning into the sounds of birds above him and the crunch of leaves under his feet.
Through the trees is a clearing, and in the distance a meadow runs down a small hill. He pauses in front of it, looking down, and thinks this is the spot.
The sky is starting to lighten, and he knows sunrise isn't far off. He sits down in an overgrown patch, feeling the faint creak of his joints as he stretches his legs out. The grass is a little dry and scorched beneath his hands and he runs his fingers through it, feeling the sharpness of its ends.
There’s something growing on green leaves around him and he stretches to pull a branch towards him. It’s blackberries, he thinks, then wonders how ashamed Sam would be if he knew he wasn’t sure.
He pulls a couple from the branch and places them into his mouth. They’re sharp and bitter, juice filling his mouth spilling onto his lips as he tips his head back. He takes one more, then another two, and feels the wind on his face as the sky changes colour.
The sun rises in oranges and pinks, hue spreading over branches and the bare skin of Dean’s ankles as it slowly envelops the horizon. It doesn’t last long before it’s replaced by the light blues of early morning, rays beating down on him.
“I wonder if you can hear me.”
It’s the first thing Dean’s said since he sat down. The first noise he’s made full-stop, barely able to breathe. His voice sounds strange and sharp against the sound of the stream and the birds and he shuts his mouth again.
Busying his hands before he can think of anything else, Dean pulls the wooden box with its metal fastening from his rucksack. He places it down on his lap, running his hands over the carvings on the top. He doesn’t even remember where it came from – a relic from someone else’s life that found its way into his hands. Cas would’ve liked that too, he thinks: he always did get a kick out of the finer details of humanity.
Dean places both hands palm-down on the lid with purpose, and looks at the space between his thumbs.
"I've been thinking about what to do with you. Sam wanted to bury you but I... y'know what kept getting to me? You bought me back from Hell and you made me dig myself out of my own frigging grave. You son of a bitch." Dean chuckles to himself and shakes his head. "So I didn't wanna put you underground. I guess I thought if... well, I don't know. But Sam said it's my call and so here we are."
He doesn’t allow himself to think what he’s really wondering. That he didn’t like coming back to life underground and so he didn’t want Cas…
Sam had pity in his eyes when he said it, Dean remembers. He’d hated it. It felt like a betrayal – some kind of weird form of gossiping behind Cas’ back that Sam could admit that they had something extra beyond Sam that Dean had never once allowed himself to vocalise to Cas when he was here. Because of.. well, because of too many things that he was far too fucked to start to entertain in a meadow at 7am on a Thursday.
Dean looks down the hill in front of him and listens to the stream behind him as it passes towards the brook. He forgot nature could be so loud.
“Better than being in the ground, huh? You’d like this better.”
He has no way of knowing for sure, of course; he never asked, but it feels like something he just knows about Cas. An affinity with nature and animals, the sense of calm he exudes even when he himself is running on chaos. Was, he corrects himself.
This place is nice. A windmill, river and trees, and a meadow alongside a honeybee farm. He can’t think of anywhere else that would make him think more of Cas, actually, but that thought hurts somewhere sharp in chest and he puts it to one side.
He opens the box and looks at the ashes. Sam hadn’t said a word when he’d found him on his knees collecting them, which had somehow been worse than if he had said something. He places his fingertips inside and runs the fine dust through them, wondering if its morbid.
“I’m not gonna make some big speech. Not now.” Not when you’re not here to hear it, Dean thinks, though that’s a pointless exercise because he knows he can’t say it face-to-face now either way. Still a coward, even now. “I just hope you’re alright wherever you are. I hope you’re at peace. And if not then.. well, you’ve got this place.”
He rises back to his feet with the box in his hand and begins to spread the ashes, allowing several feet between each turn through his hands. When he’s finished he sits back down and it hits him in a wave, grief and shock and something else washing over him and filling him from the inside out.
“I’m so sorry, Cas.” He says eventually, his voice so quiet he isn’t sure if he’s even said it out loud. “I should’ve.. done something, stopped him somehow. He didn’t even hesitate.” Images flash in Dean’s mind, bright light spreading from Cas’ eyes and mouth. He swallows. "I tried to stop you. Don't know if.. well, I did. Sammy grabbed me. Think he was worried I'd follow you. Maybe I would've, I don't know." He would. He knows that for certain. “He tried telling me you wouldn’t want me to. Which is.. I mean, it’s true isn’t it? You hate all my self-sacrificing crap.”
Ironic, really, considering how they met. Even more ironic, considering where Cas is now.
“I’m still here, though. Just about. Mom’s gone, Crowley’s gone, but we’re carrying on. I feel like I’m going fucking insane but the world’s just.. keeping on turning.” The words feel bitter and Dean runs his tongue over his teeth. “I don’t know, man, maybe that’s not fair. I know I’m not the only one that’s lost you.” And that – that feels foreign on his tongue. He can barely even admit it in his own head. “Sure feels like it sometimes, though. Every time I close my eyes I just…”
He closes them now and sees him. Shadows of wings behind him in a disused barn. Smiling at him on the side of a highway at night. Blood pooling from his mouth as he begs him for his life.
“I guess that’s why Sam said I could have you.” Your ashes, you, same difference. “’m not very good at hiding this stuff. I tried to give some to the kid, but he had no idea why he was supposed to want that. You probably woulda thought the same when you first got to earth. I think it’d be different now, right? Maybe.. I don’t know, if it was me I think you’d care.” It feels like some kind of confession and so Dean stops himself.
"So yeah, Jack's here. I guess you know that, though. He's.. well, he's probably a little bigger than you were imagining. And he - he looks like you, actually. Which is-" hard. confusing. gut-wrenching. "-weird. You'd probably get a kick out of it if you could see him."
He can barely look at him, if he’s being honest with himself. He knew he’d find it hard because of who Jack is but he didn’t expect that added dagger, driving deep into chest when he looked up and saw the kid tilt his head in confusion.
"I know you'd want me to give him a chance. I do. I just-" he chokes on his words, "God I wish you were here, man. I don’t know what else I can say."
Desperate tears are stinging his eyes and it’s a wonder he has any left, to be honest. He told himself he wasn’t going to when he did this. He manages to swallow these ones back inside as he listens to the birds again. The rustle of the trees in the distance.
After a few moments he hears a faint buzzing and squints his eyes against the sun’s rays to see the blurred shape of a bee circling in front of him. He feels a smile twitching his features.
“That you, Cas?” The bee approaches him further, maybe smelling the grass on his skin, before flying away in the direction of the stream. Dean watches until it disappears and then feels his smile grow further, self-pitying. “God, what’s wrong with me?” He shakes his head and laughs a little at the absurdity. “Ah, I don’t know. Maybe I’m cracking up. About time, huh? I should try getting some sleep one of these nights.”
Dean closes his eyes and tilts his head to the sky, feeling the early morning sun beating down on his skin. He feels dirty then – when did he last have a shower?
He makes his way back towards the stream and bends down at its edge, staring for a few moments at his hazy reflection. Even in the glimmering water he can see the pallid tone to his skin and the bags under his eyes.
He cups his hands in the water and brings it to his face – it’s cold in spite of the sun, and fresh, and he does it a few more times.
Face wet and elbows on the ground Dean lies down on his back and feels Cas surrounding him – in the grass, in the sun shining on his face, in the wind that spreads him. He closes his eyes.
"I'm gonna stay for a while if that's alright with you. I'll be quiet."
Dean must fall asleep in the end, because next thing he knows his eyelids are opening heavily and the arm he’d had tucked under his head is heavy.
His mouth is dry and he coughs, wondering if he swallowed a bug.
“Lucky I bought reinforcements.”
He checks his phone. 11:37am. 5 missed calls, which he ignores. “It’s not past 12 but you aren’t gonna tell Sammy, huh? Between you and me.”
Dean pulls open his rucksack and retrieves two glasses and the last of the bottle of whiskey he’s been clutching like a life blanket.
He places the glasses carefully between his legs and pours a thumb into both.
“Thank you, Cas. Thank you for.. every single damn day.” He lifts his glass towards the sky, before downing the small measure. It tastes dull.
He pulls the second glass from between his legs and tips it up diagonally, watching drops of the liquid land across the grass.
A glance at the scorched ground from the sun concerned him. Could he start a fire like that? No. Right? No, that’s dumb. Only he hasn’t really slept properly in weeks and he didn’t exactly finish high school, and so Dean finds himself jumping to his feet and heading back to the stream.
He fills the glass with water and returns to his space, doing the same pouring motion onto the grass.
"Sorry about that, man. This place is nice."
He feels heavy all of a sudden, his breathing increased from standing up, and he takes a couple of deep breaths to try and settle himself. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
“I should get going before someone reports Baby.” He says it to himself rather than to the invisible Cas-entity, but doesn’t make any efforts to stand up again. “Maybe I’ll come back another time.”
He knows he won’t. If he comes back, he won’t be able to leave.
He stands up.
“Yeah I’m gonna… OK.”
He doesn’t say goodbye. He doesn’t make another sound at all actually, until he’s back amongst the trees and a sob escapes his throat.