"And that wasn't a clue?" Sam yells, watching Dean flinch with grim satisfaction. "Some angel, one that Cas vouched for, tells you Cas can't stay in the bunker, which, by the way, is the safest place for him, and you kick Cas out?!" Sam is practically roaring now, he's so angry. Dean doesn't back down, of course he doesn’t, because he's a stubborn jackass who'll cut off his nose to spite his face.
"He had your life on a leash, Sam," Dean says, low and grim, but not apologetic. "I told you nothing comes before you. Not even Cas."
Sam takes a deep breath. Yelling at Dean is only going to make him dig his heels in further. "Not even my own wishes," he says, just as calmly deadpan as Dean. He meets Dean's eyes and dares him to look away first. That breaks Dean's composure and he turns his face away, rubbing a knuckle into his eye.
"Sammy," Dean says, his voice broken and small. Sam lets him have the time, in case he decides to argue, because sometimes he does, for no other reason than Dean can't stand anyone seeing his weaknesses, even when fighting about it makes them more obvious. He must know none of his arguments hold water because he doesn't follow up with anything.
"I'm pissed at you, Dean," Sam says, calmer now that Dean's finally listening. "That isn't going away any time soon. But right now, Cas is out there, alone, and that comes first."
Dean nods, glancing up to meet Sam's eyes. "All right," he says, and Sam knows there's a whole lot more packed into those two words than simple agreement. He can count on one hand the number of times he's heard Dean actually apologize, and this is as close as he's going to get for now.
"We're going to go get him and bring him back here," Sam says, "and then you're going to find some way to apologize to him – with the words 'I'm sorry' and everything." Dean opens his mouth to protest but Sam glares at him until he snaps it shut. He's still pissed and he knows Dean doesn't usually see his rage, especially not directed at him, so it's almost always effective at getting Dean to shut up. Dean tilts his head – almost a nod, though Sam's sure he'll deny it later when he tries to weasel out of apologizing to Cas.
"All right. Pack your gear, we're leaving in ten."
There's no smart remark, nothing about Sam being bossy or even a half-hearted complaint, and that's when Sam's satisfied that Dean really does feel bad about it all, he knows he fucked up big this time. It's not as gratifying as hearing the words come out of Dean's mouth, but they'll get there. For all he bitches about chick flick moments, it's Dean that needs to say the words, not Sam. Sam's the one that needs to hear them.
It takes sixteen days, better tracking skills than he thought they had, a run of good luck, and two locator spells, but they track Cas down in a dilapidated hunting shanty in northern Montana, spitting distance from the Canadian border.
He's dressed for cold, but not for this kind of cold, and they find him huddling in a pile of blankets, biting his mitten to keep his teeth from chattering too loudly. Sam can't even react, he's so overwhelmed by seeing Cas there, so pitiful and small, so unlike the angel he used to be. Dean's right on top of things, though, he walks right over to Cas and hauls him off the ground, steadying him with both hands when Cas looks like he's going to fall right back down again. "Cas," Dean admonishes in his best mother hen voice, the one Sam only gets to hear when he's too sick for Dean to tease, "what the hell were you thinking?"
Dean is always best in crisis mode, so he half-walks, half-carries Cas to the Impala, turning her on and blasting the heat. He makes Sam sit in the back seat and shoves Cas on top of him, covering them with everything Cas had in the little hut and the wool blankets and sleeping bags from the trunk. Sam would protest but he runs hot, always has, even more since the trials, so it only makes sense that he should bring Cas up to temperature. He's a little surprised and pretty damn pleased when, after packing up all of Cas's stuff and throwing it in the trunk, Dean crawls in with them, settling himself between Cas's legs and leaning back to lend his warmth to Cas, too.
It was far from comfortable with just him and Cas in the back seat; with Dean in the car, Sam feels like he's being squeezed in a vise. The armrest is digging into his back uncomfortably and everything below his waist is numb from a combination of Cas and Dean's weight and extreme contortionism. Dean's curled up with his boots on the door and his knees practically in his face – Sam's a little worried that he's going to put too much pressure on the window and knock it out. They warm Cas up pretty quickly between them, though, and when Sam realizes Dean is massaging Cas's feet, he feels like just maybe he got through to Dean back in the bunker. Then he remembers it's standard first aid for hypothermia, so he grabs Cas's hand and does the same.
They keep Cas awake until he doesn't feel like a popsicle anymore, and then they do rock-paper-scissors for who gets to drive. Sam has no idea why Dean even bothers but he goes through the motions anyway, and helps with the blankets and sleeping bags while Dean gets them re-situated so Cas is resting again his chest. Cas is a complete rag doll, mostly sleeping and sometimes looking up with empty eyes, blinking at them like he's trying to piece together what's going on. It doesn't last long and he goes back to sleep as soon as he's settled against Dean, on his side with his head resting on Dean's chest. Sam can't help smiling. He slept like that for years and remembers exactly how comfortable it is, though Sam'd be willing to bet Cas will wake with leg cramps in a couple of hours.
Sam is totally wrong. Cas sleeps for twenty-two hours straight while Sam drives them out of the mountains, back to the Kansas plains and the bunker. He stops for gas five times and takes over Cas-holding long enough for Dean to hit the head and stretch his legs, but Dean always comes back and lets Cas curl up against him again. Sam's pretty sure guilt is riding Dean hard – if he didn't feel responsible for Cas's semi-frozen state, he would've slipped into the driver's seat while Sam was stuck being Cas's body pillow and just driven off. But he doesn't, he taps Sam's shoulder and they do the hokey pokey until Cas is settled somewhat comfortably again and Sam's back in the driver's seat.
When they finally get back to the bunker, Dean wakes Cas up for real. "Cas, wake up." Sam pulls off the last of the wool blankets – Cas had been gradually peeling off layers since hour four and he gave a great heave at the last gas stop, throwing most of it over the front seat.
"C'mon, Cas, we're home." Dean shakes him a little harder and Cas's eyes open a bit, still glassy.
"Can you walk?" Sam asks, and Cas stares at him for a long time before asking, "What?"
"Can you walk?" Sam asks again, shooing Dean out of the car so Cas doesn't have anything to lean against. "Just to get you to a room – you can crash as soon as you hit the bed."
Cas perks up noticeably at that, glancing out the rear window. "Where are we?"
Sam grins. They'd never stayed at a place nice enough to have indoor parking, so it's not that surprising a question.
"The bunker," Sam answers just as Dean loses his patience and drags Cas bodily out of the car. Cas lets out a yelp.
"But…" Cas says, looking back and forth from Dean to Sam. "It's not safe for me to be here."
Sam looks at Dean meaningfully and pats Cas on the shoulder as he heads out of the garage. "Good night, Cas," he says, leaving the explaining to Dean and looking forward to face planting on his own mattress.