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The One Thing You Can't Lose

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His laptop automatically shuts down and Sam simply hits Dean on the shoulder to indicate for him to pull over. The newer Taco Bells are Wi-Fi-ready for some reason. They've got high counters set up like bars where you can plug in your phone and laptop and spill shredded lettuce all over your tablet.

Dean yawns. It's dusk. He needs trashy food and sugary sodas. This stretch of highway heading into Louisiana is sparse on a Tuesday night, and so is the parking lot as he pulls in.

Sam bee-lines for the power outlets and starts plugging in three of their phones, his laptop, his iPad, and his attention twitches between the news on the ludicrously giant tv screens and the paranormal blogs he's monitoring like a junkie.

Cas had followed Dean in at his own pace. He digs through his pockets for his cell phone to hand over to Sam for a charge, too, before he follows Dean into the short line for orders.

They're behind six local kids with skateboards, and an older couple already up at the register.

Dean finds his own phone and replies to a text from Jody Mills.

Is it possible to bless town water supply? Not sure if surrounded by assholes or if everyone is possessed today.

get a rosary and find out. better safe than sorry.

Everyone in front of them orders slowly and individually. Dean isn't bothered yet. He's borderline drowsy and Sam will keep them here for at least 45 minutes, letting his taco salad go cold, forkfuls of it half-way to his mouth as he scrolls the news sites.

Dean plucks at the sleeve of Cas's trench coat to pull him through the corral. "You pickin' out something to eat?" he motions to the light board above.

Cas squints at it and nods.

Dean shoots off another text to Jody.
do LEOs have keys to water treatment plants? should probably do that in every town now that i think about it.

He pockets his phone. Grabs Cas's coat again to tote him through the queue as it moves forward. Cas follows easily and it doesn't break his intense study of the menu. They pause in line and Dean yawns again and drops sideways a little to slump against him while he does his best impression of a load-bearing wall and doesn't sag under the weight in the slightest.

They move through the line in this way for the next seven minutes, Dean tugging Cas along until they're up next to order.

"Time's up. What'll it be, Cas?"

His eyes fall from the menu at last to meet Dean's. "I'd like to try a Choco Taco," he says with fierce solemnity.

"I thought beef was your thing? No red meat tonight?"

Cas shrugs. He's polite like that, never asks to try more than one thing when Dean's paying.

"Tell you what," Dean digs through his pockets for some change. He's only got a dime and a quarter. He pulls Cas forward to the Coin Drop game, a hexagonal tank on the counter next to the register. "Here," he hands over the coins. "You gotta drop it on the last shelf and you win free food. I think you get burritos or something."

The trainee next to the register pipes in, "You get a taco if you land the dime and a bean burrito for the quarter."

"See? I know you've got this, try it."

Well, of course Cas has got this. It's a simple matter of spinning the top to align the shelves, and after that, all inertia, coefficient of kinetic and static friction, impulse conversion into change in momentum, and gravity. He gets both coins on the correct platform in one try.

Dean pats him on the back, grinning and pleased, and gladly throws some kind of beefy nacho burrito monstrosity on their order, along with the dessert taco, for Cas. When the veritable feast for the three of them is paid for, Cas follows Dean to the drinks machine.

He got more coins from the transaction. "Take these. Maybe you can play it again. And the receipt. Listen for our order number, okay? That's your job."

"243," Cas nods, solemnly, and picks through the coins before pocketing them.

At the machine, Dean gets Sam's iced tea and tries to illustrate for Cas how to mix the Mountain Dew and the Baja Blast just so, making it the perfect drink. He takes a sip to confirm and offers the same to Cas.

Castiel purses his lips and squints. Probably parsing the parts-per-million of citrus flavoring from the fructose and water molecules or something.

"Yeah, it's awesome, right?" Dean nods to himself, pleased with his selection.

Cas makes no further comment.

Dean turns to the opposite counter to put lids on the drinks, already intuitively adjusting himself for Cas's proximity. He doesn't bother to tell Cas to back off so much anymore, so he hovers close and Dean's forever moving around his own space with his elbow nudging Castiel's stomach and ribs, the angel practically a part of his personal space these days. But for Dean, Cas is at least less steel where he needs to be, where Dean drapes himself over his shoulders on occasion or bumps their arms as he's gathering things. He could be all solid power, an immovable, occupied vessel, but for Dean he's learned flexibility.

He allows Cas's closeness, then, and takes advantage, too. Here, he shoves a handful of paper napkins at Cas, then glances over his shoulder to make sure the staff aren't watching him pilfer extra hot sauce packets.

He grabs for Cas's coat pockets and opens them to dump packets in. "Hold on to these for me, I'm gonna use 'em on my eggs tomorrow. Sam thinks it's gross."

Again, no comment. Cas serves as a very accommodating spare pair of pockets for Dean.

Sam is taking up one whole side of the bar-style counter he's docked all his equipment on, so Dean extends one finger from his soda cup to poke Cas in the arm and direct him to the far seat, across from Sam. Dean takes the stool next to him and reaches over to clear a space of power cords to put down Sam's drink.

"Thanks. Time-wise how far are we from Lafayette?"

"We won't get there before--" he checks his watch, "it's 8:30 now. Ten. 10:30, maybe."

"Crap. I wanna get there before-"

"Well, it all depends how long we stay here. You wanna eat on the road?"

Sam picks up his phone and checks the charge. He drops it with a 'tsk' and picks up the iPad. "Can't. I need at least a half hour here if we're gonna stay on the road all night."

Dean's not looking forward to this drive. Maybe he'll have Sam stay in the back seat monitoring all his info traffic and have Cas sit up front to talk, keep him awake.

The teenagers gather their orders and, all at once, filter out of the restaurant, taking their noise and their bad haircuts with them.

Cas perks seconds before their order number is called as if he senses it coming. Dean tugs Cas's elbow to get help carrying everything.

Cas enjoys his free taco and the beefy nacho thingy and basically everything else the brothers let him sample. Sam zones out over his food, so Dean gets up again and has Cas win him a cinnamon twist with a nickel while he gets more to drink.

When they're finally ready to leave, Dean knocks Cas with an elbow and ticks his head in Sam's direction, help him out? Castiel helps Sam tie all his cords up and ferry everything to the car while Dean cleans up.

'Great minds' and all; Sam sprawls out in the back seat and Dean flashes Cas a smile so he knows he can take shotgun.

They make it to the hoodoo shop Sam needs supplies from in good time, Cas asking silly-human questions and holding Dean's Dew, passing the drink over whenever he needs a hit, him gunning the Impala down I-12 to I-10.


Dean likes to direct with touch, and the more Cas lets him, the handsier he gets. A palm lightly on the small of Cas's back as they enter a police station and he ushers him through the door. Grabbing Cas's pocket and hauling him close to whisper in his ear that he thinks something's not right with the witness.

After surrendering his personal bubble to Castiel's constant invasions, he can't be blamed for moving like Cas is just a limb that doesn't automatically receive his mental signals. It's really close enough, to be honest. Cas gets into the practice of moving where Dean does and doesn't need the coat-grabbing so much after a while (though Dean still does it).

When he stops to think about it, Dean likes the thought of Cas under his hands. He's an angel, right? All light, power, an extension of Almighty God made physical. He's a skyscraper's worth of energy curled into a human suit and when Dean pulls him in by the lapels to find out if he's got a spare badge in his inside pocket, Cas just comes. He accepts Dean into his space, lets him rifle through his stuff, and only aims a curious gaze at him for the intrusion.

But almost anyone else?

Well. A CSI at one of their (vampire) crime scenes once went in to pat Cas on the shoulder over what he thought was a joke (actually an awkward Cas-like misunderstanding of human nature again).

Cas almost snapped his wrist off his arm before Dean could blink.

His restraint held, though, so Dean only leaned back, letting the tension fall away from him and stuffed his hands in his pantsuit pockets, affecting a casual air.

"My partner here doesn't like to be touched. He did his training in Special Ops instead of Quantico. You understand," the words heavy with warning and implication. He flashed an insincere smile as Cas dropped the guy's arm and let circulation return to it. It looked painful, the way he clutched his hand to his chest and backed off, horrified.

Dean pulled the same move, four minutes later, commending Cas on spotting a broken-off fang lodged in the rug. Cas was all warm muscle and bone under Dean's hand, terror, power, creation, annihilation, all of it packed away inside him somewhere it wouldn't ever burn Dean when they touched.


Cas flashes him across a warehouse, flying them ten feet away, yanking Dean out of the path of a bullet with just two fingers.


They creep through a state library at night, following what they assume is a wraith. Dean starts to think someone's stalking them as they go. He keeps hearing a light tapping every time they move. It actually turns out to be the ends of Cas's shoelace that's come untied, clicking against the tile floor. He tugs Cas into a corner and drops down real quick to tie his shoe, pats his calf as he rises and whispers, "look out or next time you'll trip and hurt yourself."

Not that a full-on angel could mortally harm himself tripping over a shoelace, but Cas looks sincere and grateful, solemn when he nods. "Of course. Thank you, Dean."


A fucking werewolf fight breaks out right in front of them. Dean clutches a handful of Cas's coats in an attempt to drag him back, out of the way. Cas, instead, maneuvers Dean behind himself so he's standing just slightly in front of him, shielding, his flesh turning to stone under Dean's startled grasping.


A hunter mistakes them for intruders in the night and opens fire, directly at Cas's face, point-blank range. Dean shouts and grabs for Cas even though he's blasted him with a shotgun before, himself, and knows it won't leave damage. "Hold your fucking fire asshole!!" Dean screams, sounding a little more hysteric than he'd intended.

They fall back, around a corner, and Dean presses Cas up against the wall, handles his face to check for injuries. He must have been acting too human at the moment it happened, hovering in Dean's personal space, because there's actually blood, this time, and other severe damage. Not like when Cas is normally untouchable, invulnerable.

"I'm alright-- I'm fine, Dean," but he doesn't shove Dean's hands away as Dean inspects the damage. One blink of blood and bone, the next Cas is all dark lines again, the scruff on his jaw permanent and whole, the blasted ear all back in one piece. Dean's hands, cupping his neck and jaw, relax on his pristine skin. Just a hilariously funny frown of annoyance on Cas's face.

"Christ," Dean gusts out a breath in relief, drops his hands to Cas's chest. Pats him there to feel him whole and alive, then moves back. "We're coming back out!" Dean yells at the hunter, "Don't shoot us again, dumbass!"


And then, of course, there's the everyday.

Dean placing Cas's hands where they need to go when he teaches him how to play pinball. Leaning over Cas and hooking his chin over his shoulder to make sure he's putting the right search term into Google. Pulling him by the shirt cuff through the laundromat and explaining where everything goes, the best snacks for while you wait.

He'll hook Cas's elbow so he doesn't cross the street without looking both ways. Stop Cas with a hand to his chest before they hit the road to make sure he added the new jug of holy oil to the trunk.

Dean will be in a bar, angry at the world. He will disappear for hours before Cas finally tracks him down. And Cas will be relieved, he will call Sam, he will promise to bring Dean home. Only Dean isn't thrilled with Cas right now, either. Saw their last dealings with an angel as a manipulation, as a return to Cas's old ways. He will express disappointment in Cas; Castiel will express nearly the same, witnessing Dean's bristly and vulnerable state slumping over the bar, unwilling to be moved.

But in the next moment, when one of the burly locals agrees that Dean should take a hike with his 'nagging wifey, here,' Dean will be willing to lay that fucker out flat.

When the asshole takes exception to Dean's defense of his friend, Cas will step up to fight, too.

And before Cas destroys that pissant, Dean will get only three fingers over the curve of Cas's shoulder and he's still as a statue, fist about to descend. Right before he kills a man in cold blood for daring to come too close to Dean, Cas will let himself be stopped by Dean's touch, insubstantial as it is. A finch alighting on a redwood. Something Castiel can barely feel through his vessel, let alone against the light and decimation and love and genesis that composes his colossal true self.

With that one touch, Dean can bring a dead halt to the momentum of his angel's instinct for complete obliteration.


Things still aren't too great for a while after that.

Dean says some things. Makes some mistakes.

(Fuck. Don't I always?)

Cas speaks this language better than Dean would like. Answers stubbornness with stubbornness.

He elects to stay back, head deeper into the woods if Dean's gonna meet Sam to review the evidence and try to decide exactly who or what it is they're hunting. Cas wants to see where the corpse was dumped.

But all signs so far are pointing to some type of demi-god and Dean doesn't think any of them should be investigating on their own right now. Too dangerous.

When Cas insists, Dean makes another mistake: he reaches for Cas's tie, grabs it, and yanks him to a halt.

Castiel lets himself be stopped. That is entirely clear. And it's not a privilege Dean openly abused before now.

Cas's forward momentum is, therefore, willingly paused by himself in response to an action that Dean dared to take. An action unlike the others in its abrupt and insulting method. The tie slithers right out of Dean's hand again as Cas's gaze swings low and dangerous from the dark of the woods to Dean beside him, now rightfully backing the fuck down, hands up in surrender, stuttering, "Too far, right, too far, sorry, Cas, sorry. Seriously. But, uh, but we can't just split--"

Cas rolls his eyes, reaches out and grabs Dean's hand. His unshakable, angelic grip means that Dean can't untangle their fingers until he figures out he's supposed to ask nicely. Only, by then, they're being stalked to the edge of the plot of land where the first body was found and he reaches for Cas's hand again and presses them both behind a tree.

He's sandwiched Cas in against an oak and there they stay, listening to the footsteps and hearing the low, mournful noise that the other witnesses claimed to have heard in their statements. They still don't know what this thing is or what weapon will work against it. Cas can almost always just burn something out with his grace, but they don't know yet that the creature is deserving of it or if someone else is at fault.

They have this conversation with their eyes, up close. Dean leaning to his left, ready to balance on the tension that will enable him to uncoil and spring with his gun in hand. Cas draws his eyes back with a shake of his head, places his hand around Dean's wrist and guides it back, where Dean can return his pistol to his jeans. He keeps his hand there and they wait.

The shuffle of the creature is slow and Dean's tempted to get his phone out to record the sound it's making for Sam, but he'll be lucky enough if a text doesn't come up and alert it to their presence as it is. He keeps the phone in his pocket where it will remain at least somewhat muted.

At that thought, he shakes Cas's hand off and starts patting the pockets of his trench coat. He presses up and finds it in an inner pocket. He opens the front of Cas's coat and quietly pulls out the phone to mute it. Cas is a lot more likely to get a call from Sam than a text and Dean reset his ringtone to Don't Stop Believin' yesterday for shits and grins and left the volume turned all the way up.

Dean slips the phone back into Castiel's pocket and the sudden cry of a bird makes Cas grab for his wrist again. They are motionless, listening.

They are like that for a while. The low moan of the creature fades but doesn't disappear entirely.

Dean nods to the left like, Do we follow?

Cas's eyes go wide like he suddenly knows what it is. He shakes his head and then he reaches forward, around Dean's waist, and pulls Dean against him entirely.

Dean lets him do it, but he starts to ask if they're gonna zap out of there. Before he can get the question out, Cas shakes his head real fast, silencing him. They wait a long time, listening to the monster shuffle through the autumn leaves. Eventually Dean pulls out his phone to try and get a recording of the sound, anyway, and mute the message tone. Cas only allows him to make small, quiet movements, cautioning him with touches to his wrist.

It starts to get cold. Cold even for the three layers that Dean's in. His hands are cold and he keeps them under his arms but that moves him away from Cas who is generating more heat. Eventually he just steps into Cas's body again and shivers. Knowing what he needs, Cas pulls his coat out and around them both as best as he can. Dean's starving and it's well past sunset before they can't hear the creature anymore.

Cas's voice is rough, startling after the few hours of nothing but nature noises and haunting keening from the creature. "We're well out of range now. We should go."

Dean watches Castiel's throat and jaw work around the words from up close.

"You sure?" he asks, instead of bolting away from Cas's touch like he thinks he maybe once would have done.

Cas's eyes drop to his and he nods. He sweeps his hands up and down Dean's back once before releasing him.

They're close enough to kiss, but Dean doesn't. Didn't this entire time. Just had Cas hold him, guard him from the cold.

It's unspeakably fucking nice to be able to lean on Cas, to let him be the sentry and savior for once. When he remembers that he can trust Cas, sometimes it makes him exhausted. Not like when him or Sam were always dying and they were fighting the entire world. Not the kind of exhausted that makes him want to give up and step into the jaws of death. More like a pleasant exhausted, from a day well-filled, a life well-lived.

Dean eases away from Cas and extends his hand to him, to hold. He leads the way back out of the woods toward the car, thinking about how this is gonna work:

They'll get back to the motel, they'll figure this thing out. Clearly, Cas had some insight as to what it was and that they couldn't tangle with it unprepared. They'll solve the case, get some sleep. They'll wrap everything up in the morning and hit the highway.

In the next town, Dean is gonna work something out.


Since Dean had been saying douchey things before, Sam doesn't object to getting separate motel rooms for the next night. And when he plucks at Cas's sleeve for him to follow, Cas joins Dean in room 18.

Dean dumps his bags around the room, kicks off his shoes, plugs his phone in, flips over the card that's got all the pay-per-view options. Cas doesn't exactly know how to make himself useful right now, but he knows he is invited into Dean's space. He drifts around, closes the curtains and puts the six pack of beer in the fridge.

Dean finishes the snack pack of Goldfish he'd been munching on and balls it up to toss it in the trash. "Hey," he says. And then he moves back across the room to Cas.

"Hey," he repeats when he's all up in Cas's space. He watches Cas's serious nod from up close.

"I was wondering something. Tell me to fuck off if you're not okay with it."

"Alright," Cas agrees, starting to look curious.

Dean clears his throat, then moves his hands to Cas's lapels to push lightly at his coat. "Can you take this off?"

Cas nods and removes the trench coat.

"And this?" Dean plucks at the suit jacket.

Cas takes this off as well.

Dean reaches out to loosen Cas's tie himself and takes the garments from Cas to drape over the back of the kitchenette chair.

"Cas, can we lay down together? Do you mind?"

Cas shakes his head and a light smile teases at the edges of his mouth. "I don't mind."

"Shoes?" Dean points. Cas kicks them off, under the chair.

Cas lays down on the bed and waits, adjusting minutely to make sure Dean's got enough room on the other side. But Dean doesn't want him scooting away. He climbs onto the other side and pulls at Cas's shoulder, a small, directional touch. Then he turns away from Cas and presses his spine into him, spooning Castiel outside of himself, curling into him.

Cas's hand falls to Dean's side without anywhere else to go. Dean reaches up and pulls it around himself, then settles his head on the pillow.

"This okay?"

He feels Cas move in and nod against the back of his neck before he says, "Yes."

"So it's alright if we stay here for a while? Like this?" Dean tries to confirm.

"Yes. Do you mind if--" Cas moves his other arm so he can rest more comfortably against Dean's back, then bends his knees into the backs of Dean's legs, aligning them together until Dean feels properly enveloped. Until Cas is still and quiet at his back and he can imagine himself staying this way, being safe, protected, maybe even cared for deeply. Loved in his wildest fantasies. Cherished in some other lifetime where he's more deserving of it.

Dean closes his eyes.

"It's okay if you've got some other place to be, Cas. Or if you just wanna leave. You don't have to... say anything. Or explain. I just. Thanks. For this. For trying. It's nice."

"I like being this close to you," Cas says into Dean's shoulder.

Dean feels like an idiot, afterward, for missing as much of it as he does. He's not conscious too long after they settle in together on the bed. It's snug and comforting. Everything that Cas is, all the might and violence in him, wrapping Dean up and easing him into relaxation and sleep, is totally intoxicating. When Dean claws back to waking it's slow, one awareness building on top of the next until reality is a solid wall in front of him and Cas is still a luxuriant warmth behind him.

Dean wriggles out of Cas's arms to lay on his back and stare up at the darkening ceiling of the room.

When his eyes drift to the side, he can cautiously take in Cas, propped up on an elbow and looking down at him.

Something in that look really does it for him. Whatever words of discretion he was gonna ask Cas to have if Sam started asking questions, he just forgets about them. He trusts in Cas to understand this.

And Castiel does.

Laying together becomes Castiel's expectation. When it's time for Dean to rest, now, Cas will do the pulling, hooking a finger in his jacket pocket to draw him back to his own motel room. Or hooking a hand around his elbow and telling him to say goodnight, asking Sam to text if he thinks of anything.

Cas takes charge.

It's not the same, of course. Dean is small. Nothing in contrast to the universe's mightiest creations and most fearsome warriors; nothing like an angel. Dean is a human and he so often feels like nothing in comparison to, well, Sam, his dad, Jo, Bobby, anybody in his life he's ever esteemed. He is weaker willed and prone to violence, he's not smart and he's built to spill, basically. Meant to fight back the forces of evil and save a few innocents until he croaks.

It's nothing like being able to yank Cas around by the cuff of his sleeve.

He doesn't think it is. Until he blinks awake one night to the low, comforting rumble of Cas at his back, talking low to himself.

It's been a few weeks of this. Cas has been really cool about it. He lets Dean sleep in his arms, doesn't disturb him, doesn't ask what it's all about, doesn't make mention of it in Sam's company. This is the first time he's woken Dean up before the alarm. (Or his unusually-well-rested mind, an unexpected health benefit of Cas encouraging him to be at ease.)

"And it's fine," Cas continues as Dean becomes mindful of the words. "But I wish I could make you understand." His breath ghosts over the back of Dean's neck as he speaks. "I would wish for you to know that holding you here in my arms is a privilege and honor. Being invited to stay so close to your soul is a pleasure. You don't extend it to anyone but Sam and now me. I wish I knew why. I am not worthy of it. You are brightness and purity, pain and rage, righteousness and solidity in your soul. I could so easily be anchored by it, chained to it. You are beautiful and I want to go where you are."

The final words of the speech are, "I would stay."

And then nothing.

Dean blinks at the dark and turns, rolling out of Cas's arms and turning to face him.

"If what?"

Cas is quiet. "If what,... what?"

"You would stay if what," Dean demands.

"I would stay," Cas pauses, "if anything. For anything. If ever you wanted me to. I would simply stay."

Dean unconsciously taps nervous fingers around Cas's rolled-up shirtsleeves, up and down his arm. "What if I always want you to? What if I want you to stick around so I can use you for the rest of my life? What if I'm just gonna keep you in my car, in my bed, and use you to feel good about myself for the rest of forever? What if I made you stick around so I could use you?" Dean asks, thinking, you wouldn't want that, not ever.

"If I were capable of making you feel good about yourself, I would count myself blessed, Dean. You're impervious to compliments and resistant to praise. If I could make you feel good, I would value that."

It's very dark in here. Shoddy old motel with great privacy curtains and without proper security lights. "Can't see anything," Dean says. "Can't see you."

"I can see you."

"So find me. So kiss me. So stay."

The pause before Cas moves is brief but weighs on Dean's heart like the tense silence right after a gunshot.

Cas moves over him in the dark, then, moves to cover his body and lips seek his lips.