Like A Candle In The Window On A Cold Dark Winter's Night
Things in Heaven had been settling down for some time now, and while there was still unrest and discontent among the Host of angels, Castiel mostly had it under control.
Therefore, since Castiel could now spare the time, he decided that it was once again time to visit Dean with a problem that he ‘needed Dean’s help with.’
It had taken Castiel a long time to work out that in some mysterious, subconscious fashion, Dean’s sense of self-worth was tied to his perception of being helpful. If Castiel did not seem to need his assistance with anything, then Dean gradually grew insecure and aggressive and tense. As long as Castiel sought his help from time to time, however, Dean was fine, secure in the knowledge that he was wanted and needed.
Helping those he cared for was not only one of the ways Dean showed his affection, but the way in which he reaffirmed his importance in their lives.
Castiel was unlikely to ever admit to it, but he held something of a grudge against John Winchester for this.
He humoured Dean, however, making sure to periodically seek his help, and made a point of commenting afterwards on how Dean’s assistance on the matter was appreciated.
Dean might grumble about ‘the things I do for nerdy angels,’ but his eyes always warmed, and a small smile always lurked at the corner of his mouth in response to Castiel’s thanks.
Leaving Balthazar in charge, with Jegudiel nearby to act as a restraining influence, Castiel left Heaven and went to visit his favourite person.
Dean was sitting sprawled across a motel bed, beer in hand, watching the small television set opposite.
“Hello, Dean,” Castiel greeted him, as Dean turned eagerly towards the sound of wings.
Castiel watched fondly as the hunter’s eyes brightened.
He wouldn’t leave it so long, next time.
“Hey, Cas. What’s up?” Dean responded. “You want a beer?”
“I believe I would,” Castiel agreed.
“I was just about to order pizza,” Dean told Castiel, as he fetched a fresh bottle of beer. “What do you think, pizza sound good?”
Castiel shrugged. If Dean wanted to share pizza with him, he would eat it. It tasted pleasant enough.
“See, this is why you are so much easier to live with than Sam,” Dean decided, handing Castiel a beer. “Sam’s always lecturing me about my diet and telling me I should eat healthy.”
Castiel refrained from informing Dean that the only reason he wasn’t insisting that Dean take better care of himself was that he’d recently cleared out Dean’s arteries and rejuvenated his heart.
Some things Dean didn’t need to know.
While Dean ordered the pizzas Castiel studied the television screen.
Members of a military organisation were shooting at a non-human entity. An angry-looking man was ranting at someone who appeared to be the leader of the group.
“So,” Dean said, and Castiel turned back to him, “you here for the company, or is there something you want?”
Castiel rolled his eyes to indicate frustration with his situation.
“Unfortunately, much as I would like to visit solely for the purposes of eating pizza and watching television with you, I do have more pressing matters to deal with.”
This was not a complete lie: Castiel did, strictly speaking, have more pressing issues to deal with. It was just that for the moment, he had left them all with Balthazar.
Dean accepted this.
“You want to tell me what’s going on, then?” he suggested.
Castiel looked back towards the television.
“Right now I would rather know what you’re watching,” he replied.
Castiel stared expectantly.
Dean grinned some more, and sat back down on the edge of the bed. Castiel joined him, sitting close enough that their shoulders were touching.
This would have bothered Dean, once. But they had both been different people, then.
“Okay,” Dean began, and Castiel listened attentively, “first I’d better explain about the Stargate movie…”
- - - - - -
- - - - - -
Sam returned the next morning, while Dean was eating the pie that Castiel had obligingly gone out to get him for breakfast.
Castiel eyed Sam thoughtfully.
“Good night?” Dean smirked knowingly.
“All right,” Sam replied lightly, with a smirk of his own.
“You have a ‘hickey’ on the back of your neck,” Castiel contributed.
Sam’s hand flew to the back of his neck, and Dean burst out laughing.
Sam glowered, muttering something annoyed, and stalked into the bathroom to try and see for himself.
Castiel sent Dean a sideways glance, smiling faintly.
Dean, still chuckling, shook his head at Castiel’s look.
“You did that on purpose, didn’t you.”
“I was merely making an observation,” Castiel claimed, feeling pleased that he had succeeded in making Dean laugh.
Sam exited the bathroom, wearing a scowl of vague chagrin.
“What’s Cas doing here, anyway?” he asked Dean.
Castiel had never understood why Sam didn’t ask him these questions, but had given up wondering why on the grounds that it was simply one of many mysteries associated with the Winchesters, such as the fact that Dean possessed a single, bright blue sock, even though he only ever bought black ones (except for the Batman socks, however those were mostly black in colour, so they probably didn’t count).
He had asked Dean about the sock once. Dean didn’t know either.
“He’s got a case for us,” Dean told Sam cheerfully. “Right, Cas? Some kind of weird demonic activity near Dublin, Ohio.” He gave his brother a large grin. “The annual Dublin Irish festival is in a week. I want to get me some of the luck of the Irish, Sammy.”
Dean grinned suggestively.
Sam groaned a little.
“Thank you,” Castiel said solemnly. “I’m grateful.”
Sam shot him a sharp, calculating look, as though he wasn’t convinced of Castiel’s sincerity, but he didn’t pursue the issue.
Castiel was not entirely surprised; someone as intelligent as Sam, and with as much knowledge of Dean and Castiel as he had, was bound to notice what Castiel was doing sooner or later. Castiel just hoped that Sam didn’t decide that they needed to talk about it.
“I should go,” said Castiel. “I’ll stop by when I can.”
“You can’t stay a little longer?” Dean asked. He appeared slightly crestfallen.
“I left Balthazar in charge.”
“Ah. Say no more.”
“He is… easily bored,” Castiel admitted. “I find it best not to leave him in charge too long.”
“Yeah, I hear you. Okay. Guess we’ll see you soon. Don’t be a stranger, Cas.”
Castiel nodded, and left.
- - - - - -
- - - - - -
Castiel next visited when the boys were at the laundromat.
He appeared unobtrusively outside, and walked in through the door like everyone else, shutting the door behind him.
Sam was reading a book with an air of vaguely-hostile intensity that suggested that he did not want to be disturbed. Dean was drumming his fingers against his leg, looking bored, and watching the clothes in the dryer in front of him for a lack of anything better to do.
Castiel walked forward until he was standing next to his friend. Dean glanced sideways with a smile, looking unsurprised by Castiel’s presence.
“Sam appears absorbed,” Castiel commented, in lieu of a proper greeting.
“Yeah,” Dean said with a sigh. “I’ve been bored out of my mind. Good timing, Cas.”
“It seemed convenient.”
“I definitely agree with you on that one.”
For a moment they both watched Dean’s laundry roll around and around in the dryer.
The effect was strangely mesmerizing, Castiel noted.
“So,” Dean asked, after a minute or so. “Anything interesting happen in Heaven lately?”
Castiel thought about it.
“It was discovered that Raziel has been granting false revelation, that left those affected convinced that paisley print is a tool of Lucifer,” Castiel confided dryly, after a moment’s thought. The whole affair had been rather tiresome. “I believe she found it amusing.”
Judging by the way that Dean was snickering, he couldn’t agree more.
“Seriously?” he choked on a laugh. “They seriously believed that the Devil works through paisley pattern?”
“I don’t understand it either,” Castiel said. “Even with the power of revelation behind it, the idea shouldn’t have taken hold so strongly.”
Dean laughed again.
Castiel smiled gently.
“So Heaven has pranksters besides Gabriel,” Dean remarked, grinning. “Who knew.”
“Balthazar also thought it was funny,” Castiel observed. “I did not agree. Such antics undermine Heaven’s position.”
“Well, yeah. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t funny, dude.”
They fell into a comfortable silence once the dryer finished. Dean pulled some of his clothing out and prepared to stuff it haphazardly into his bag. Before he could, Castiel calmly took it from him and folded it, before putting it into the bag himself.
Dean shrugged, and the next piece of clothing out of the dryer was immediately handed to Castiel without comment. They fell into a pattern for the next minute or so of Dean removing his clothes from the dryer, passing them to Castiel, and Castiel neatly folding them and placing them into Dean’s bag.
Sam was glancing at them out of the corner of his eyes behind his book, trying to pretend that he wasn’t interested in what they were doing. His eyes were vaguely amused.
A couple of minutes went past, and then Dean was pulling the wet whites load from the washing machine and loading them into the dryer.
“Dude,” he called to Sam. “Yours done yet?”
Sam lowered his book and glanced at a different washing machine.
“How is the case going?” Castiel asked, as Sam’s attention returned back to his novel.
Dean let out his breath in a long exhale.
“Weird, man. I don’t have any other word for it. I mean, it’s like…” Dean glanced at the bored laundromat proprietor near the door, and lowered his voice a little. “It’s like, all these demons are coming in, like they’re being lured in or something, but none are coming out. We have no idea what is going on.”
“This is concerning,” Castiel acknowledged. He meant it. The last thing he wanted was for the Winchesters to get caught up in something outside their ability to deal with. “I will look into it.”
“Great,” said Dean. “I mean, me and Sam are happy to take care of it, but there’s nothing worse than going into a situation completely blind, with no idea what you’re facing.”
“I will try and find out,” Castiel said.
Castiel stood and studied his friend. Dean was looking reasonably well; Castiel had assigned Jophiel to monitor Dean and Sam on a regular basis while Castiel was dealing with heavenly matters (unobtrusively, of course; clothed, the cherubs were relatively good at fitting in with humans – well, compared to the other angels, anyway), and he said that Dean seemed to be getting more sleep recently, and had been laying off the alcohol a little. Castiel had been glad of the news, and observing Dean now, the changes seemed to be having a positive effect on his health.
“What?” Dean asked, looking at Castiel curiously.
“Nothing,” Castiel claimed. He knew that Dean would not appreciate being assigned an angelic ‘babysitter’, no matter how justified Castiel’s concern was. “You look well.”
Dean smiled a little, and Castiel gazed warmly back, enjoying Dean’s expression.
This relaxed, smiling look – this was exactly what Castiel had fought for. He hadn’t quite realised it, but to see Dean as close to happy as he ever got – this was what he had wanted.
Castiel mulled over that realisation.
“Yeah, things have been pretty quiet lately,” Dean admitted. “I’m finally getting eight hours on a regular basis, instead of catching sleep whenever I can. Makes a nice change.”
Castiel nodded thoughtfully. He’d been perilously close to human himself, and had been in that condition just long enough to understand the relief of experiencing the necessary amount of sleep.
For him, it had been annoying and disturbing, but to Dean it was most likely a comfort.
“So how about you?” Dean asked. “How’ve things been going for you? I didn’t really ask last time. Done anything worth mentioning? Still surrounded by dicks up there?”
“Yes,” Castiel responded without hesitation, making Dean snicker. “I suspect it’s a little like what being a parent must be like. I am beginning to have a great deal of sympathy for Father. I no longer entirely blame him for leaving us.”
“That bad, huh?”
“There is no longer any outright rebellion,” Castiel agreed, “but now everyone looks to me for orders on everything. They have no independence. I’ve come to prefer the initiative of humans.”
Dean grinned, and laid an hand on Castiel’s shoulder. Castiel looked up at him with undisguised affection.
“Of course, that can be just as annoying,” Castiel added, rather meaningfully.
Dean gave him a playful shove that had absolutely no effect.
“Yeah, yeah. Come on, you know you love it. Like you’d want me any different.”
“True,” Castiel admitted. “Although a little less belligerence and disrespect on your part would be nice.”
“That’s too bad,” Dean replied cheerfully. “Suck it up, dude, because I ain’t changing.”
“I had deduced that for myself, Dean,” Castiel said dryly. “If the combined efforts of Hell and Heaven had no effect on you, I doubt I have much of a chance.”
Dean’s expression turned introspective.
“Well, you never know,” he murmured.
Castiel just gave him a doubtful look.
Dean smiled, the expression oddly wistful. Castiel wondered why.
“Whatever,” Dean said, before Castiel had a chance to ask. His voice was back to its normal tone, the odd moment past.
Castiel glanced around. Dean’s current load of laundry had almost finished the drying cycle.
“Your laundry is almost done. I’ll see you soon, Dean.”
“You too, Cas.”
Castiel left just as the dryer beeped, the drying cycle complete.
- - - - - -
- - - - - -
The area in which the demons had been reported was deserted of any supernatural phenomena.
Castiel searched the area thoroughly, using all of his senses as best he could within his vessel, but the best that he could come up with was that some kind of magical activity had taken place here in the recent past. Beyond that, there were no clues as to what had occurred, or why, or how it involved the demons. The one responsible had covered their tracks very well.
Castiel phoned Dean to let him know, and left in a rather grouchy mood.
He returned to Heaven to find that his brothers had begun squabbling again without his quelling influence.
Castiel paused for a moment, and implored his absent father for greater reserves of patience, because he was clearly going to need them. Then he moved forward.
“What is going on here?” he demanded, his words easily drowning out the voices of the lesser angels.
The group of increasingly-aggressive angels stopped instantly, and all turned to regard him with varying degrees of guilt, sheepishness, or alarm.
Castiel turned to Balthazar and Jegudiel when no one else spoke up.
“Just a little difference of opinion,” Balthazar replied, although from the tense glow of him the truth was rather different.
Castiel examined him sharply, but he trusted Balthazar enough not to ask further.
He turned a gimlet stare on the other angels, and felt grim satisfaction when they flinched back.
“Zadkiel, Barachiel,” Castiel noted, after a moment of foreboding silence. “Raguel. Is there an issue you wish to discuss with me?”
There was a pregnant silence.
“Perhaps you should return to your duties,” Castiel said, after allowing the silence to draw out for an uncomfortably long period.
The other angels fled.
Castiel turned to regard Balthazar and Jegudiel questioningly.
“Don’t worry, Cassie,” Balthazar said darkly. “I’ll handle it. You deal with making sure that no one blows up the 15th century human heavens again.”
If Castiel had been in a vessel, he would have groaned at the reminder. Personally-reconstructing an entire region of heaven had not been his idea of an enjoyable pursuit.
“Don’t remind me,” said Castiel. “I have better things to do than repair Heaven because someone had a temper tantrum. It was bad enough fixing everything after Raphael – I don’t have time for this. There are too many other things to do.”
“And yet you’ve been visiting your pet Winchester lately.”
Castiel’s wings curved ominously.
“I’m just saying.” Balthazar pretended innocence.
“Dean is important to me.” Castiel’s tone said very clearly that they weren’t having this discussion.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing,” Jegudiel spoke up unexpectedly. “You’ve changed things, but we needed change, I think. Have needed it since Father left. Dean Winchester has taught you to change, and is still teaching you, and you have begun teaching the rest of us. It may be what allows Heaven to survive for the rest of eternity without self-destructing.”
Balthazar looked sour, but didn’t disagree.
Castiel was not completely sure why Balthazar and Dean seemed to loathe each other so much. He suspected that it had something to do with the fact that both of them were used to being his best friend, and resented the fact that now they had to share that status with somebody else.
Castiel had no patience with this. He was allowed to have two best friends if he wished to. Balthazar and Dean could, to quote Dean, ‘suck it up.’
Besides, his relationship with Balthazar and his relationship with Dean were two very different things. Balthazar would likely always be his favourite brother, but Dean was… Dean. Balthazar’s various cracks about infatuation and true love were… not as inaccurate as they might have been.
Castiel gave Balthazar a long look.
“I’m going to talk to the cherubim,” Castiel said. “I think it’s time they knew what happened to their commander.”
“Take a spare box of tissues with you,” Balthazar recommended. “There’s nothing worse than a snotty naked group hug. And when you need to escape, I advise cake as a distraction. It works wonderfully.”
As it turned out, Balthazar proved to be right.
Castiel made a mental note never to visit the cupids without an emergency cake ever again. Cake was clearly a successful strategy.
- - - - - -
- - - - - -
Castiel was in communication with several other angels when a desperate prayer of Castiel! ripped across his awareness.
Without a word of explanation to the others he was gone, already winging his way to Earth.
He landed in an abandoned warehouse.
Several things leapt to Castiel’s immediate attention, but at that moment only one detail mattered.
Dean was being tortured.
Fury blossomed at the heart of Castiel’s being, burning like a searing flame.
“Let him go,” Castiel ordered, striding forward.
The trickster grinned at him, all leering malice.
“Oh-ho, so the hunters have a little back-up on the side! I thought the Trenchcoat Brigade was for comic books, but hey, what do you know!” he crowed. Dean was still making strangled sounds of suffering that vibrated down Castiel’s wings. “Make me, Constantine!”
Castiel looked at him.
The demigod… exploded.
Castiel instantly turned to his friend.
“Easy there, Rambo, I’m fine,” Dean wheezed, answering the unspoken but ever-present question. He sat up, gingerly, but now that the trickster was dead, he appeared to be more or less unharmed.
“Um, a little help here?” Sam called out, from where he was chained to the warehouse wall – apparently he had been the helpless audience to Dean’s torture at the trickster’s hands.
The manacles unlocked.
Castiel looked back at Dean.
“What happened here?” he asked.
A minute ago, when Dean had been writhing in agony on the floor, the question had seemed irrelevant. Now, however, it seemed a little more important.
Dean wobbled as he got to his feet, and Castiel put out a concerned hand to steady him.
“Well, from what we heard before you turned up with your smiting face on – thanks, by the way – Mr ex-Trickster’s been luring demons in, playing with them for a while, and then destroying them. Unfortunately, their hosts didn’t survive the experience.”
“Some of what he was doing was pretty nasty,” Sam added, joining them.
Castiel gave Sam a cursory glance. He was fine.
Castiel’s attention returned to Dean.
Sam gave an exaggerated, exasperated sigh. Castiel ignored it.
“I was in the middle of a meeting. If I am no longer needed here, I should return. I didn’t stop to explain my exit.”
“Wait.” Sam raised his eyebrows. “You just skipped out on a meeting in Heaven without a word to anybody?”
“Yes. I expect that when I return, my brothers will be quite annoyed.”
Dean gave a soft little laugh, barely audible.
“Well, everything’s fine here, I guess. Thanks for the save, dude. Have fun at your meeting.”
“Unlikely,” Castiel deadpanned, and returned to Heaven without another word.
- - - - - -
- - - - - -
Castiel turned his gaze to the seraph before him. Nuriel was flickering with worry and nervousness, wings beating rapidly in response to her agitation.
“There’s a problem, on Earth,” Nuriel said quickly. “I think it needs your attention.”
Nuriel was fairly low in the seraphic hierarchy, but generally went about all their duties obediently and without any problems.
“Very well,” said Castiel. “Take me there.”
Nuriel glowed briefly with astonishment and perturbation, but immediately headed for Earth, flinging on her vessel as she went. Castiel did the same, and landed on Earth only a millisecond after she did.
The instant that Castiel landed, someone appeared directly in front of him, almost nose-to-nose.
Even as Castiel recognised the other angel, a sense of biting cold clamped onto Castiel’s wrists, searing icily through his Grace, and suddenly Castiel felt as weak and powerless as he had before Father had resurrected him the second time.
He looked down at his wrists to see silver manacles around each, inscribed with complicated Enochian script.
“Shit,” Castiel said aloud. It seemed appropriate.
He looked up in time to see Barachiel draw his sword.
Castiel had neither the time nor the physical space to dodge the attack. He threw himself sideways, so that instead of going through his heart, the blade pierced his shoulder.
When Barachiel pulled his sword back for another strike, Castiel summoned up what little energy was left to him and took flight.
Castiel had not had to escape another angel in a while, but it had been nowhere near enough time for him to forget all the evasive flying manoeuvres he had perfected first during the impending apocalypse, and then during the war with Raphael.
He established a random flight pattern through several difficult-to-navigate areas, sometimes doubling back on his own flight path, until he was sure that Barachiel had lost his trail.
Then, almost powerless, both his Grace and vessel seriously injured, and frighteningly vulnerable, Castiel landed by the one person Castiel automatically came back to no matter what the circumstances, the one person that Castiel always knew he could trust when he was in trouble.
He went to Dean.
- - - - - -
- - - - - -
Castiel loved Dean, fiercely and wholly with a possessiveness that angels were not supposed to be capable of, but he had never felt any carnal desire for him.
Such want was largely foreign to Castiel. His vessel had automatic reactions of its own volition – ‘a mind of its own’ to use the human phrase – but Castiel himself was untouched by sexual attraction.
He tilted his head for a moment in consideration of the position that the two humans were in. The woman was remarkably flexible.
“Dean,” Castiel said aloud.
The effect was instantaneous and chaotic.
“Cas!” Dean bellowed furiously as the woman screamed, his hips still jerking even as the young blonde managed to extricate herself from him and dive for her clothing.
“I’m sorry,” said Castiel. “You were the first one I thought of.”
To his surprise, his legs gave out beneath him.
Castiel put a hand to his injured shoulder, and stared as his hand came away covered with blood.
The wound wasn’t healing.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Dean chanted, his face white, as he threw on a pair of boxers and crouched at Castiel’s side. In the confusion his bedmate slipped past them and ran from the room. Dean didn’t appear to notice.
“What the hell happened to you?” Dean asked urgently, trying to suppress the bleeding.
“The manacles,” Castiel answered, his eyes drifting closed. “They make my Grace vulnerable in ways that aren’t usually possible. Most of my abilities are currently being blocked.”
“Fuck,” Dean said again. “If you bleed to death, will it kill you?”
“I don’t know,” Castiel admitted.
Dean made haste to grab bandages from his duffel, and after pulling away Castiel’s coat and jacket, and unbuttoning his shirt to fully expose the wound, began binding up Castiel’s shoulder with quick precision.
“Your arteries are fine, thank God,” Dean said tensely.
Castiel agreed with the sentiment, but he had more important things on his mind. He might not bleed to death, but in his current condition his survival was by no means assured.
And there was something he had wanted to say to Dean for a long time, something that he probably should have told Dean a long time ago, but he had been too unsure of how Dean would take it.
“Dean,” he said. “I want you to know that I love you.”
There was a fast inhalation of breath.
“You stupid son of a bitch,” Dean said through gritted teeth. There was a suggestion of tears in his voice. “Don’t you dare die on me, Cas, don’t you dare, you hear me?”
“Shut up, you think I can do this without you?” Dean demanded.
Castiel opened his eyes to see Dean looking both angry and terrified.
“Just shut up, and hold on. You’ve lost a lot of blood, but you’ll be fine, understand me? You’re going to be just fine.”
Castiel closed his eyes again. He was sorry to cause Dean such worry and distress, but at the same time Dean’s obvious concern and attachment to him made something warm unfurl in his chest.
“I believe you, Dean,” he murmured, and promptly passed out.
- - - - - -
- - - - - -
Castiel regained consciousness to find himself lying on a bed in Dean and Sam’s motel room. His shoulder was throbbing painfully, which wasn’t a surprise. Someone had removed his coat, jacket and shirt entirely, so that his torso was bare but for the bandages around his injury. Castiel wiggled his toes, and noted that his shoes had also been removed, but not his socks.
Castiel blinked around to see Sam watching him.
“Hey, Cas. How are you feeling?”
“Like I was stabbed in the shoulder,” Castiel said after a moment’s thought. “It is rather painful.”
“Yeah, that’s to be expected,” Sam agreed.
“Where’s Dean?” Castiel asked.
“He’s just getting some breakfast,” replied Sam. “I mean, I know you probably wanted to see him when you woke up, but, he was really worried about you and I thought it would be a good idea to get him out of the motel room before he broke something. Sorry. He should be back soon.”
Castiel just blinked softly and didn’t respond.
Staring at the ceiling, Castiel contemplated his current state. He could still feel his Grace, distantly, but it was precisely that, distant; he felt as worn-down and powerless as he had before Lucifer had killed him, barely removed from the human condition. The manacles still burned coldly around his wrists.
The motel door opened, and Castiel looked over in time to see Dean enter the room.
“Hello, Dean,” he told his friend.
Dean’s face instantly broke into an expression of relief, followed by a thankful smile.
“Hey, dude.” He dumped the bags he was carrying on the table. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I’ve been stabbed,” Castiel said, again. Dean’s lips twitched. “My condition appears to be stable, however.”
Dean exhaled a long sigh.
“Have you contacted any of my brothers?”
Dean and Sam exchanged glances.
“No,” Dean said succinctly.
“Since we weren’t sure who was responsible for stabbing you, we figured it’d be better to keep quiet about where you are,” Sam offered. “we didn’t want to risk attracting the attention of whoever had hurt you in the first place.”
It was a sound idea. While Castiel trusted Balthazar and Jegudiel, at least, the Winchesters had had no way of knowing who had perpetrated the attack on him.
“I was attacked by dissidents,” Castiel explained. “They took advantage of my surprise in order to restrain me with manacles designed to suppress Grace, to render me vulnerable to their assault. I escaped, but until I can get these off, I am… close to defenceless.”
Dean’s eyes instantly hardened and his shoulders set, as though readying himself to defend Castiel from any angels who might attempt to harm him.
It was endearing, Castiel privately had to concede.
“How do we get them off?”
Castiel gingerly sat up to better participate in the conversation.
“There’s a cache of weapons, that Balthazar stole. Back when I was still fighting Raphael,” Castiel said, trying to talk through the sudden flare of agony in his shoulder and the wave of dizziness that had hit him the moment he tried to sit up. “Not all of the weapons were in the same place, and some of then are still hidden on Earth. There’s a key, in one of the remaining collections, that should unlock the manacles. It's in a safety deposit box.”
“You’re keeping a bunch of heavenly weapons in a safety deposit box?” Dean repeated incredulously.
“It’s warded, and it’s bigger on the inside,” Castiel replied tersely. “Besides, most normal angels would look for them in a more traditional hiding place. A bank on Earth is the last place any of them would think of.”
Dean looked like he was about to argue further, but Sam sent him a glare, and glanced at Castiel’s shoulder meaningfully before meeting Dean’s eyes again.
Dean subsided, looking displeased.
“Right, well, let’s have breakfast, and then we can talk about what we do next. And that includes you, Cas,” Dean added, with a stern look. “I got you a couple burgers.”
Castiel didn’t protest. Injured and weak as he was, he likely needed food to power his vessel.
“Thank you, Dean.”
Dean grabbed the bag of burgers and sat on the bed next to Castiel, while Sam opened the bag containing his own salad wrap. Dean passed a burger to Castiel, who did his best to eat it one-handed.
Dean extracted his own burger from the bag and didn’t move from where he sat next to Castiel, eating it where he was. His proximity was insensibly comforting.
“So,” Dean said after several minutes, through a mouthful of burger. It was an unattractive habit, but Dean didn’t believe in waiting until he had finished eating to speak, if he had something that he wanted to say. “Guess things upstairs aren’t as rosy as you’ve been painting, huh?”
“There has been some unrest, still, but things have mostly settled down,” Castiel replied, after swallowing his own mouthful. “It’s partly why I was taken by surprise. I should have been more vigilant.”
Castiel frowned at himself and his lack of caution.
“Hey. Like you said, things had settled down. Why would you expect a sneak attack now?”
“Because my brothers are dicks,” Castiel replied darkly, borrowing one of Dean’s favourite phrases.
It was enough to surprise a laugh out of the hunter.
“My shoulder really is quite painful,” Castiel added, apropos of nothing.
“Cas, you were stabbed,” Sam told him, as though he thought that Castiel might perhaps have forgotten. “It’s going to hurt.”
“But hey, once we get the manacles off you’ll be fine, right?” Dean asked positively.
“Mostly.” There would still be damage to Castiel’s Grace, but overall his condition would be much improved.
“Right. So all we need to do is collect this key, free you, and you’re good.”
“Assuming it’s that easy,” Sam added. Castiel privately agreed with him. He saw no reason why retrieving the key and unlocking the manacles shouldn’t be that easy, but his experiences on Earth had taught him that even the most undemanding of tasks could be unexpectedly problematic.
Dean sent Sam a scathing glare at the pessimistic statement.
Castiel ate his second burger.
- - - - - -
- - - - - -
The drive took five hours.
It was uneventful, but boring. Castiel sat in the back seat listening to Dean’s music, and to the periodic arguments that sprang up between the two brothers. Castiel noticed that these arguments seemed to occur whenever one of them seemed particularly bored; one of them would either do something to irritate the other or make a remark designed to annoy, and for the next ten minutes they would banter back and forth about whatever insignificant, inane thing that was under discussion.
Castiel grew tired of this after a while.
Dean and Sam were arguing over whether there was any appreciable difference between the musical bands Journey and Asia: according to Sam they were much the same, while Dean seemed to believe that Sam’s opinion almost amounted to sacrilege.
“Come on Sam, there’s a world of difference!” Dean spluttered.
Castiel decided that he would no longer sit as a mere observer.
“Asia had bigger hair,” Castiel put in.
Sam let out a whoop of laughter, while Dean turned an outraged stare on Castiel’s reflection in the rear view mirror.
Castiel slightly raised one eyebrow, and stared back.
“You troll,” Dean said indignantly. He stabbed an angry finger at Castiel’s reflection. “You’re trolling me. Jesus. Since when do you troll?”
For some reason this made Sam laugh even harder.
“Your argument was boring,” said Castiel. “I was bored.”
Dean gaped angrily at him.
Sam was almost in hysterics by this point.
“Your sense of humour sucks,” Dean declared, bristling like a disgruntled cat.
“Oh, I don’t know, I think he’s pretty funny,” Sam disagreed, still chuckling.
Dean made a growling noise, and didn’t reply further.
Castiel smiled faintly to himself, and settled back against the seat again.
He must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew Dean was gripping him gently by the uninjured shoulder and going “Cas,” in a voice that suggested that he had been doing this for some time.
Castiel grumbled something that was unintelligible even to him.
“Dude. Wake up,” Dean prompted, beginning to sound a little exasperated.
Castiel squinted at him in confusion for a minute, before sitting up properly.
“Finally,” Dean grumbled, as Castiel shuffled out of the car. There was an undertone of fondness in his voice, however, that made Castiel wonder what he must have looked like.
They walked into the bank together – Dean and Castiel and Sam – and into the area where the safety deposit boxes were kept.
“So, you’ve got your key?” Sam asked.
“No?” Dean hissed furiously. “What do you mean, no?”
“I don’t have the key,” Castiel clarified. “Balthazar has it.”
“So – what – how – what did you think –” Dean broke off mid-splutter to go aargh and wave his hands around in a gesture that Castiel suspected meant that Dean was, on some level, tempted to strangle him.
Castiel was not offended by this. He was often inclined to strangle Dean, as well.
“What Dean means,” Sam put in, “is how do you expect to get the box open without a key?”
“I intend to smite the lock,” Castiel explained calmly.
“You have the juice for that?” Dean asked, still looking irritated.
“Barely, but yes.”
“Okay then,” Sam said, looking around, “we should probably, uh, try and block everyone’s view of you.”
He and Dean huddled furtively on each side of Castiel in what Castiel felt was a remarkably conspicuous fashion.
Outside the room, a security guard stared at them suspiciously.
“Close your eyes,” Castiel said under his breath, and smote the lock.
There was a brief flash of light, and the safety deposit box door swung open.
Castiel focused hard on the object he wished to retrieve, and reached into the box.
After several tense moments, his fingers closed around the key.
“I have it,” Castiel said, withdrawing his arm. “Dean?”
Dean held out his hand, and Castiel placed the key on his palm.
“Hold out your wrists,” Dean ordered. “How does this work?”
“This sigil, here,” Castiel told him, pointing to the sigil for unbinding where it was engraved on the manacles.
“And what? Do I just – touch the key to it?”
“Hurry up,” Sam muttered under his breath. “The security guard keeps looking at us.”
Dean shrugged, and touched the key to the manacles restraining Castiel.
They immediately fell to the floor with a loud clank, and Castiel gasped as his Grace was suddenly free, no longer suppressed.
His shoulder healed instantly, his vessel restored to its usual state of health.
“Excuse me,” a voice asked ominously, “but what are you doing?”
Castiel repaired the lock of the safety deposit box, and before Sam or Dean could protest, transported them.
Dean yelped to find himself suddenly standing by the Impala.
“It seemed prudent that we leave,” Castiel said, in explanation.
“Whatever.” Dean’s posture lost some of its aggression. “Are you okay?”
Castiel spread his wings and tested his Grace. It hurt, but the damage would heal.
“I will live.”
There was a moment of long silence where Castiel and Dean stared at each other.
“Okay!” Sam said loudly, clearing his throat. Castiel frowned at him. “I guess Dean and I will go check into a motel, somewhere, and, uh –”
“You should come too,” Dean interrupted. He was still staring at Castiel. “If you want.”
Castiel regarded him. Dean didn’t shift, or look away. Sam made an impatient noise, and climbed into the passenger seat.
“I will come,” Castiel agreed, and turned to climb into the Impala’s back seat.
- - - - - -
- - - - - -
The Winchesters checked into a nearby motel, Castiel following behind them.
Almost immediately Sam gave Castiel and Dean an excuse about buying some things at the store, and hurried out of the motel room, leaving Castiel and Dean alone.
They looked at each other.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Dean said finally, moving closer to Castiel. His eye contact didn’t waver.
“Thank you for your help,” Castiel acknowledged.
The conversation stretched out into one of the long, staring silences that he and Dean were prone to, a wordless sense of communication present in their bodily expression and proximity.
Castiel was never discomfited by the silence. It always felt as though he and Dean were exchanging something beyond words, something deeper and more truthful than any spoken communication.
Dean was still staring at him, far too close, Castiel knew, his remarkable green eyes full of something warm and soft, when someone cleared their throat.
“Barachiel is no longer a problem,” Balthazar announced, ignoring Dean’s sudden scowl. “Anyone else who might even have been thinking about doing something similar has had it made clear to them why this would be a bad life choice, and I’ve taken the liberty of removing all similar restraints from the armoury. Also, don’t ever ask me to fill in for you in your absence ever again.”
“Thank you, Balthazar,” said Castiel. “How did you know what happened?”
“The fool thought that he could boast about what he’d done and get away with it,” Balthazar said disdainfully. “Much as I hate to interrupt your Hallmark moment, I refuse to be in charge for another second. It has a degrading affect on my nerves.”
“Of course. I appreciate everything you’ve done.”
Dean grumbled something uncomplimentary.
“I suppose Cassie came running to you?” Balthazar eyed him. “Well. At least you’re good for something, I suppose.”
Dean’s expression darkened angrily.
“Balthazar, must you antagonise him?” Castiel asked wearily. “Dean has been of the utmost assistance.”
“Besotted,” Balthazar muttered. “Fine, yes, the human played his part, well done. Have a cookie, or a pie, or something.”
Dean glared murderously.
Balthazar turned to Castiel.
“I will return soon,” Castiel told his brother, without moving. “I have things to finish, first.”
Balthazar surveyed Castiel and Dean dubiously, and gave a disdainful sniff.
“Oh, fine. I’ll let Jegudiel know.”
Balthazar vanished, after a meaningful look.
“I swear,” Dean muttered, “it’s like having a douche brother-in-law.”
Castiel couldn’t help smiling at the comparison.
“I feel I should tell you,” he said, glancing away to stare at the wall, “that sometimes I come by on a pretext.”
“What, you’re saying that you make up reasons to see me? Yeah, I actually kind of worked that out a while ago, Cas.”
“You like to feel useful,” Castiel observed, in lieu of anything else.
This time Dean’s chuckle was rueful.
“Okay, yeah, you’re not wrong. But that doesn’t mean you can’t drop in just to hang out, Cas. I realise I’m not exactly Mr Healthy Relationships, but I like to think I’ve reached the point where I can spend time with my best friend without all my issues getting in the way.”
“I do need you, Dean,” Castiel confessed. “But not for killing demons.”
“Yeah, I know. I get it, buddy.” Dean looked pained and uncomfortable for a second. “You do know that I… that, uh, same thing for me, right?”
“I did deduce that fact, yes,” Castiel agreed.
He smiled at Dean.
Dean smiled back. His eyes had softened again.
There was a comfortable silence, again.
“What do you say,” Dean asked after a minute, “that we sit down and watch some TV? Apparently this place has cable.”
“I would like that,” Castiel said honestly.
“Then come on.”
Dean settled onto one of the two beds, television remote in hand. Castiel sat down beside him, Dean close and warm against his side.
It was, Castiel thought, close to perfect.