Warning: Character death, no ensuing resurrection. Angst, so much angst.
Disclaimer: I cannot claim to own Supernatural in any shape or form.
Spoilers: up to 8.16. But very general spoilers, not specific.
Summary: Dean/Cas. The tablet gives them a shot at a happy ending. But everything requires a sacrifice...
Basically this is a short, depressing segment I came up with and I decided my misery needed to be shared.
Holding On and Letting Go
It’s everything you wanted, it’s everything you don’t
It’s one door swinging open and one door swinging closed
Some prayers find an answer
Some prayers never know
We’re holding on and letting go
-”Holding On and Letting Go” by Ross Copperman
Dean keeps thinking these angel tablets should look more impressive. They’re the secrets of the universe written by Metatron as dictated by God or whatever, so shouldn’t they look less like rejects from some middle-school art class?
It turns out Cas can read this one, and it must be the one God wrote the cheat codes on, because he’s saying they can basically undo everything that happened since the angels decided to jump-start the apocalypse.
Which means Dean’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“So, if this is a giant reset button, do I end up back in Hell?” he can’t help asking.
It’s not that he’s not willing to take one for the team – especially when the team happens to be the whole freaking world – but if this is going to send him back down to the pit, he’d like to know beforehand.
Cas shakes his head, still scanning the tablet. “No, it’s not precisely a ‘reset button’-” Dean kind of loves it when he can hear the quotation marks in Cas’s voice like that “-so much as a method of restoration. The events will still have taken place, but the lives lost will be restored.”
Which sounds great on paper, but Dean knows that kind of thing has to come with some impossible price tag. So he’s waiting to hear Cas tell them it’ll unleash Cthulu or break reality or reset life back to single-celled organisms.
Of course, Sam’s always been the more optimistic of the two of them. “So could it...could it bring back Mom?”
Dean’s grateful Cas shakes his head quickly, before Dean can feel even a sliver of hope at that possibility.
“I’m sorry,” Cas offers quietly. “The tablet can only restore those who fell after open war was declared.”
Which still means it can bring back people like Bobby and Ellen and Jo and...fuck, what’s the catch? There’s got to be a catch – there’s no way they’ve just been handed this, that’s not how their lives work.
Sam’s looking cautious as well, but it’s kind of drowned by the sheer eagerness in his expression. “We can really do this?”
Cas nods. “Yes. If one is willing.”
He’s still staring at the tablet, and the whole ‘if one is willing’ thing sounds kind of ominous.
Dean’s getting a bad feeling about this. Cas has been silent and broody for a long time now, not to mention that time when he zapped back to Heaven and was out of contact for weeks, and Dean can’t believe he’s thinking this but they really need to talk. Though Dean’s not sure what that talk will consist of, other than him trying to find a calm, no-pressure way of saying ‘please don’t ever kill yourself, I don’t think I can take losing you again’.
“May I have a knife, Dean?” Cas asks, holding out his hand without looking away from the tablet.
He seems perfectly calm, and he’s as polite as a stuffy Victorian gentleman asking for tea, but Dean still doesn’t want to give him a sharp implement. He can’t say why, exactly – he trusts Cas, he does – but something’s telling him to just grab the guy by the lapels and drag him away from the tablet. And maybe smash the thing for good measure.
Dean tells himself he’s just being paranoid and hands over his silver knife. Which Cas promptly uses to stab himself in the palm.
“Cas! What the hell?” Dean yells, making an automatic grab for the knife.
He’s expecting Cas to jerk it out of reach, and is honestly surprised when he manages to grab it. Dean was preparing for a tug of war (that he’d lose quickly and stupidly, given that he’s going up against angel strength), but Cas just opens his hand and lets him take the knife back. Probably because it’s already served its purpose – he’s already smearing blood all over the tablet.
Dean likes this situation less and less every second.
Sam doesn’t look any happier at the sight of Cas impassively spreading his own blood all over the ancient writing. “Are you sure you need to do that?”
“This will initiate the...” Cas’s brow furrows. “It’s inaccurate to call it a spell, but that’s the closest translation.”
Just bleed over the tablet and everyone gets a happy ending? That seems suspiciously simple.
“So...we can really do this?” Sam repeats, staring down at the blood-smeared tablet.
That makes Cas look up, with an expression that suggests he can’t understand why Sam is asking him a question he’s already answered. “Of course.”
This is good, Dean knows that. He should be happy. So why is every instinct telling him this is really, really bad?
The weird carvings in the tablet are glistening with Cas’s blood, and Dean’s seen plenty of blood in his time but this seems especially morbid for some reason. Maybe because the blood doesn’t seem to be drying? And is it just his imagination, but are the carvings getting kind of shiny, like they’re starting to glow?
“You said someone had to be willing,” Dean points out, still side-eyeing the tablet. “Willing for what?”
Cas smiles at him, but it looks kind of sad. “Willing to make the sacrifice.”
And just like that, every internal alarm Dean has starts blaring: Red alert, red alert! Someone you love is doing something incredibly stupid!
“What kind of sacrifice?” Dean’s aware his voice is too unsteady to pass for calm, but he really doesn’t care.
“Energy,” Cas says simply. “It’d take many human souls, but in this case, I think a seraph’s Grace will suffice.”
Just like that, Dean understands what Cas has done. And for a moment, he’s back in Purgatory – or back when he was getting out of Purgatory – in that moment when Cas let go and Dean was left with his hand outstretched and his world crumbling around him. Sam’s face twists in horror, and Dean’s glad his brother speaks because he can’t, can’t do anything but stare and think softly, helplessly, ‘No’.
“No, Cas, we don’t have to do this,” Sam says, reaching out for the tablet like he’s going to try to take it away from Cas. “We’ll think of something else-”
“It’s already begun.” Cas is so calm, so painfully, stupidly calm that Dean wants to punch him. How can he stand there smiling like he’s given them some kind of gift while Dean’s world is cracking down the middle?
Cas glances down at the tablet – and it’s definitely glowing now, bathing Cas in white light – and Dean lunges forward, seizing Cas by the wrist and trying to twist the tablet out of his grip. It feels like he’s trying to twist a tree out by the roots, and it works about as well.
Cas lays his hand over Dean’s like Dean isn’t trying (and failing) to break his wrist. “Dean, it’s alright.”
And that finally breaks through whatever was strangling Dean’s voice. “No it’s not! Cas, this is the opposite of ‘alright’! You can’t do this!”
“It’s only fitting,” Cas says quietly. “You can’t pretend I haven’t done damage. At least this way, I can repair some of it.”
Dean wants to swear, but he doesn’t know a word strong enough, savage enough to be worth it. He doesn’t think one exists.
So he settles for some more yelling. “That’s not how this goes! You can’t...”
He trails off. There’s nothing he can say, nothing he can offer, except the truth. “I can’t lose you again, Cas.”
Dean’s trying to shout, trying to shove his words in Cas’s face like a wall that’ll stop the angel in his tracks, but instead he sounds thin and hopeless, like the pitiful whine of a dying animal.
Cas is starting to shimmer, light leaking out from his eyes and mouth like he’s swallowed glowsticks (or like his Grace is being leached away, fuck!) and the hand on top of Dean’s feels strangely light.
“You won’t lose me,” Cas whispers, and it might be the glow but Dean will swear those are tears in his eyes. “I’ll die as the restoration consumes me, but the process will...well, you won’t remember me. You won’t miss me, Dean – you’ll never know there’s anything to miss.”
Cas seems to think that makes it better, but it only makes it so much worse. Never knowing Cas existed? Not remembering how Cas smiles or frowns or the expression he makes when he’s working out a new piece of human culture or behaviour for the first time? Not remembering the way he stares at Dean like he’s looking straight to the bottom of Dean’s soul and he actually likes what he sees? Not remembering Cas’s weird sense of humour, the way Dean is never sure which jokes he’ll get and which will just make him stare at Dean like he’s an alien life form?
Dean would rather Cas just throw him back into the pit. If that’s the alternative, he’d welcome Hell.
“You…you stupid son of a bitch,” Dean grinds out. “You can’t do this.”
For all his personal space invasions, Cas usually isn’t a fan of touching people, but now he steps closer and curves his hand against Dean’s cheek like he’s trying comfort him. It feels like the brush of a snowflake – cold and weightless and almost insubstantial. Like Cas is just fading away as the tablet sucks him dry. But it doesn’t seem to be hurting him, and there’s a part of Dean that’s pathetically grateful for that.
“You can’t.” Dean’s brain and voice seem stuck on that; like if he says it enough, he can make it true. “You can’t do this, you can’t-”
Cas leans forward and kisses him, and the endless loop of ‘can’t’ on Dean’s tongue stutters to a halt. Not because it’s being prevented from getting out or anything – Cas’s lips have about as much weight as a breath, like there’s nothing solid behind them anymore. He’s even turning translucent; Dean can see straight through Cas’s forehead to Sam behind him, and it doesn’t surprise Dean to realise that his brother is crying – judging by the way Dean’s vision is blurring, he’s probably crying too. No, the reason Dean stops speaking is purely because Cas is kissing him, and anything resembling coherent thought in his brain has made like that scene in The Matrix when everything froze.
Cas is kissing him and Dean can’t move because he’s certain that if he moves – if he tries to hold Cas or even just kiss him back – he’ll pass right through Cas like the angel’s a brand-new ghost. And if he moves and goes through Cas then that means this is really happening, and Dean just can’t deal with that, not now. Not with Cas’s mouth resting gently against his own – not hungry or desperate or anything like the kiss of a dying man but just there, like this is something too beautiful and perfect for him to risk moving. Like all those thoughts and feeling and dreams that Dean told himself he didn’t have, that Cas didn’t have because he was an angel and anything Dean thought or felt was stupid and impossible and would only end in heartbreak.
And hey, look at that, it is ending in heartbreak. Just not the kind Dean thought.
“I’m sorry,” Cas whispers.
No, no, he can’t do this – not now, not ever. Dean brings his arms up, trying to clutch at Cas as he slips through Dean’s hands like mist and sunlight.
“Cas!” Dean’s scream feels like it’s ripping his throat apart. “Cas!”
He thinks Cas smiles, but he can’t see through his own tears. The last fragile outline of Cas shivers and blurs and finally vanishes.
Dean’s world shatters.
“Dean, wake up!”
A lifetime of hunting means those words work better than a bucket of water – Dean is sitting up in bed with his knife in his hand before Sam’s even finished speaking.
It takes him a moment to realise there are no ghosts or demons attacking them (not even stray cockroaches) and when he does, he throws his pillow at Sam on principle. “Why’d you wake me up?”
Sam swats the pillow out of the air and doesn’t even toss it back to his big brother – he just leaves it on the floor. Like a bitch. “You sounded like you were having a nightmare – you kept muttering in your sleep.”
Dean doesn’t feel like he just had a nightmare; he doesn’t feel tense and his heart isn’t pounding with the lingering remnants of terror. But then, he doesn’t feel particularly good, either. In fact, he feels almost...empty. Like he’s missing something.
“What was I saying?” he asks, feeling vaguely curious.
Sam shrugs. “Don’t know. Sounded like ‘case’ or ‘cast’ or something.”
Dean has no idea what that might mean. “Hey, maybe I want White Castle.”
“It’s always food with you,” Sam sighs. “And not even healthy food.”
“We’ll get you a salad somewhere, Samantha,” Dean mocks.
Sam just rolls his eyes. “I was talking to Bobby, and he thinks he’s got a job for us. A guy found dead in Nebraska looks like the clone of some sales provider living in Pontiac, except said sales provider swears up and down he’s never met the guy.”
“So they’re twins,” Dean shrugs. “Separated at birth or whatever. Very Lifetime movie, but what’s it got to do with us?”
Sam smiles, the kind of smile that says he knows something Dean doesn’t. Dean kind of hates that smile. “They have the same fingerprints. Exactly the same fingerprints. Dean, even identical twins don’t have the same prints.”
Okay, Dean can admit that does kind of sound like their gig. “So are we thinking shapeshifter?”
“Probably not – not with the way the guy was found.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You have to see it to believe it,” Sam says, motioning towards the laptop. “Jo emailed us some photos – go take a look. In the meantime, I need a shower.”
“Don’t take too long washing your hair – I need hot water, too,” Dean manages to get in before the bathroom door closes.
He’s still yawning as he makes his way over to the laptop and turns it around to face him. The photo’s still open, so Dean takes a quick look to see what makes this guy so special and...
It must be because he’s tired. Or he’s having some kind of weird allergic reaction. Because suddenly Dean’s eyes are watering and his throat is tight and holy shit, he can’t actually be crying, can he?
No, it has to be an allergic reaction. After all, Dean’s seen dead bodies before, and this is just one more to add to the list – a dark-haired guy in a trenchcoat, sprawled on a road. The vast wings charred into the tarmac on either side of him are new, but it’s still nothing to get weepy over. In some of the close-ups, the guy even seems to be smiling slightly; whoever he is, he went out happy.
But Dean still can’t stop crying.