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Four times they didn't hug and one time they did

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Minnesota, March 2010

Cas sits in the Impala when Dean leaves the motel room, waiting, just waiting, staring at something just beyond the windshield like he has all the patience of the fucking universe, and, damn, maybe he does. Only Dean knows how impatient Cas can be, still hears Cas' muttered words of utter despair from several nights ago and knows that there's everything wrong with the picture.

He seriously didn't expect Cas to still be here. Not after he'd looked so... Dean hesitates to use the word even in his head, but Cas had looked broken; after the meeting with Joshua, Sam and Dean's tale about heaven proved to be the one tiny piece that made the scale tip, that dragged Cas down, made him lose his faith. Made him slide down the rabbit hole to the mortal world of confusion and fear and anger and hopelessness. Cas had tried all the coping mechanisms, too. Tried booze until his ears bled and his skull rattled.

It's all too familiar and Dean knows too well that there's not a single damn thing he can do to help. Not when he's like a puppet with his strings cut himself.

Dean looks through the Impala's windshield; Cas is in the shotgun seat, his face tipped up, his mouth only seemingly relaxed, his eyes open but dull and, in the end, that's what makes Dean move, because this apathy is the last thing he wants to see in Cas.

He opens the door and slides into the Impala's seat, surrounds himself with the familiar scent of old leather and aged metal and a hint of oil. The door bangs shut but Cas doesn't even twitch. He's already drifting, already lost at sea. Dean needs someone to keep the faith he lost so long ago, lost so ultimately today, he needs to keep his faith in Cas so when Cas loses his, then what the hell does Dean have left?

It’s a damn selfish reason to be here.

Dean sits still for a long while, listens to Cas breathe and looks out the windshield as well. It reminds him of sitting with Sam when John had disappeared for a week, leaving them at a cabin while he went out during the night to hunt for a nest of vampires. They'd spent every night in the Impala with its protective runes and symbols and readily accessible supply of weapons, Dean in the driver's seat, Sam in shotgun, waiting in there instead of in the motel in the distant hope that John might return. The familiar scent of the Impala that they both associated with their father made the wait more bearable and less frightening. Still, at some point during the night, Sam would always wake up from a bad dream with his eyes wide and frightened and Dean would pull him against his side each time, put his arm around him and play music until Sam fell back asleep.

Dean slants a look at Cas and knows he can't offer Cas what he offered Sam then. He doesn't even know if Cas would appreciate the comfort touch can bring, even if Dean's insides twist with the need to take some of his own from it, Cas' reaction be damned.

He doesn't. Of course he doesn't, even if his hand twitches to at least rest against Cas' for the blink of an eye.

Instead, he directs his hand to the radio, turns the knob and pushes a tape in. When the first tunes blare out, Dean snorts a laugh, slants another look at Cas.

"But you won't fool the children of the revolution..."

Cas looks away from the windshield to the radio. His focus returns and Dean holds his breath.

After a while, Cas reaches out and turns the volume all the way up.

 

Indiana, November 2010

Dean does things in Cicero that Castiel never would have associated with him. He makes breakfast. He fixes broken faucets in the house. He teaches Ben how to work on cars and how to deal with bullies. He maintains the garden, and it's such a sudden, weird flash toward Joshua that Castiel wants to laugh. He doesn't. Dean is nothing like Joshua. He's not a keeper of this garden because he doesn't belong here. What he does is perfunctory, his moves are mechanical, the fluid grace he displays in fights missing from his movements, aborted. It's like watching an angel with clipped wings. Dean moves wrong. Brittle. He has too much time to think out here when he's alone.

Castiel had surprised himself by how comfortable he was with Lisa, how he considered her a positive influence in Dean's life and, for a while, he had thought, hoped, that it would be enough.

He watches Dean rake leaves, pick up a single, bright yellow-and-red maple leaf and twirl it between his fingers by the stem, gaze fixed on the leaf but his mind a thousand miles away.

Castiel remembers them sitting next to each other in a rest area near a highway a year ago, a cold fall afternoon, the light golden and gentle, the maple leaves around them falling gently with the merest whisper as they touched down on the ground. Castiel had picked up a leaf and twirled the stem between his fingers much the way Dean is doing now, fascinated by the way the colours blurred into a halo of orange and gold. He'd lifted the leaf to see the veins stand out against the light, still prominent, still beautiful even if this single leaf was already cut off from the life the tree provided it. Beautiful in its death. Grasping one last chance to shine even if it was already alone.

"Don't make this a metaphor for your life, feathers," Dean had said when he caught Castiel's look. His voice had been low and surprisingly gentle.

They didn't speak after that. Didn't have to.

Back in the Braedens’ garden, Dean shakes his head at the leaf. "Your metaphor still sucks, Cas," he says under his breath, low enough that Castiel has to step closer to hear the words. "Even if it's true."

Castiel wants to reach out then, the urge strong enough he feels it seep from his vessel into his grace, because didn't Dean know that he'd never be cut off, never be cut loose?

His hand twitches, hovers just above Dean's shoulder so he can feel the phantom outline of Dean's flesh and bones already under his fingertips. His grace reaches out along with his vessel, curling around Dean's shoulder like a halo, quietly, carefully --

A shudder goes through Dean's frame and he rolls his shoulders, moves a hand as though trying to brush off an insect against the spot where Castiel's hand still hovers.

Dean has dropped the leaf.

Castiel smiles, decision once again affirmed. He leaves soundlessly.

 

South Carolina, February 2011

So, of course. Of course, it would have to be the weird ones. Not just the regular, well-known all-American monsters, no. Whatever was happening with Crowley trying to get to purgatory, his damn milkshake seemed to bring all the monsters, including the rare ones, to the yard.

This one, here, which after a long time, Bobby had helped to identify as an Afreet, or Ifrit, came all the way from an Arabic nightmare. Infernal djinn, extremely powerful, but not quite at the level of angels.

It had shifted its shape five times before they finally found out what they were dealing with, and right now, it's burning bright like hell's fire itself. Of course, the thing had been asleep for hundreds of years and was utterly unable to understand modern English. Great.

So Sam's idea of reasoning was out, as was proved by Sam sprawling unconscious on the floor after the Afreet had somehow mind-whammied him. Good thing he went in first and went down immediately, or Bobby never would have had the hare-brained idea of their surprisingly effective counter-measures. Which, really, Dean thinks, Sam would have refused to wear on principle, because it would have messed up his hair. Who would have thought that the aluminium foil hats would really work against mind attacks? Even if Bobby looks absolutely stupid in it. Dean hopes he himself at least carries his with grace.

"How the hell do we stop it?" Dean yells at Bobby over the crackling of flames while he pulls Sam's stupid, heavy, giant body out of harm's way and onto the porch.

Bobby flips frantically through the book he's holding when Dean comes back inside. "Calm it with Harmal, fight it with iron."

"Iron? That's all? Then why don't we just -- " The Afreet approaches, burning so bright that just getting close to it singes the hair on Dean's arms.

"Wanna try and stick it with a knife? Through that?"

Dean hates it when Bobby has a point. "Harmal?" Dean echoes. Seriously, what?

"Esphand, African rue?" Bobby offers.

"Cut the botanical lesson, where do we find it?"

"California, Arizona, Washington, the Middle East and," Bobby frowns, then rolls his eyes, "Middle Eastern grocery stores."

"Grocery stores," Dean echoes, stupidly, feeling more than mildly pissed off. "Grocery stores? So the next monster we'll fight with a shish kebab?"

It stops being funny after that because the Afreet either feels threatened or finally is done playing, because it releases mayhem on them. Soon the house around them is burning, the smoke thick and the attacks coming from all sides, its claws and long, whip-like tails leave tears and gashes all over them. Dean's eyes are watering and he can no longer see Bobby through the smoke. He spares a thought to how really fucking convenient it would be if one had, you know, and angel friend in situations like these.

Before he can so much as cough, something hisses and crackles and a sweet, aromatic smell overpowers the stench of burning plastic and wood. The Afreet's movements become slower, like it's in a trance, a weird slow-motion dance as it calms and finally curls on the ground like an overgrown cat from hell. As the flames grow smaller, Dean sees the familiar tan flash of a trenchcoat, and a sharp, quick movement as Cas rams a blade into the Afreet's exposed spine.

It goes down in a blaze of fire and Dean expects to be burned by the flames, but he only sees them stop a few inches away from his body, held back by an invisible barrier.

Cas.

Dean smiles through a bout of coughing while he shakily climbs to his feet.

He sees Bobby slap a broad hand on Cas' back with a grumbled but heartfelt thank-you, watches Sam wake up and give Cas an impromptu hug and something in Dean's stomach tightens at that, because, yeah, he wants that, too. He's damn grateful, he's elated and just coming off an adrenaline high so doing something stupid like giving Cas a hug seems like a fucking brilliant idea.

He loses his thunder when Cas is actually in front of him, all piercing, half-amused gaze and singed trench-coat. Dean's mouth is dry and his tongue too big for his mouth and he wants to make this as easy as Sam and Bobby did, wants to reach out and just pull Cas against him, something exuberant and meaningless, just going with the flow, but he finds that he can't. Instead, he reaches out, awkwardly pats Cas' arm and says, "Thanks, buddy."

He pretends not to see how Cas' face falls before he disappears.

 

South Dakota, August 2011

Bobby tells him about Cas showing up broken and bleeding on his kitchen floor and Dean's heart constricts. How many times has Cas done this now, has given them a snowball's chance and very nearly sacrificed himself in the process?

He finds Cas under the broken streetlight in the salvage yard, looking pale and washed out, a ghost in the moonlight.

Dean reaches out a hand to get Cas' attention, to rest it on his shoulder, maybe, to feel a connection. "Hey, are you -- "

He never makes it to the end of the sentence. Cas is gone in a gust a of cool night breeze blended with ozone, the unmistakable smell of air filled with crackling energy.

Dean lets his hand sink back down and folds his fingers into a fist. " -- okay," he finishes, toneless.

A night bird cries somewhere in the distance. Dean feels cold.

 

South Dakota, September 2011

 

Bobby still hasn’t got the angel proofing right when Cas comes back. Despite what he said a day ago, Cas comes back and Dean will be damned if he's not glad. Cas looks ragged, grey, his cheeks hollow and his coat rumpled and bloodied.

Dean goes with his first instinct, pulls his fist back and slams it into Cas' jaw, no matter how much he knows it'll hurt. Surprisingly enough, Cas stumbles back, though, doesn't look up, only squares his shoulders as though he's expecting this, as though he's getting ready for more punches and, no, no, hell no.

"You stupid son of a bitch," Dean rasps, his throat suddenly too dry to speak. "Stupid, stupid son of a..."

There are a lot of things he could do now. Probably should do. Cross-examine Cas, for one. Press for an apology, maybe. Accuse and shout, vent a year’s worth of outrage.

Instead, he walks up to Cas, waits right in front of him so Cas has to raise his head, has to meet Dean's eyes. "There's nothing that can't be fixed, hear me?" He holds Cas' gaze, doesn't back down even when the darkness and despair in Cas’ eyes makes him want to recoil. "Nothing."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because," Dean says, and, yeah, that'll have to be enough, because he's got nothing. Nothing but this. He reaches out his arms, stiff, hesitant, afraid of what will happen if he goes through with this but too stubborn not to do it.

Carefully, he folds his arms around Cas, first one, then the other, moulds himself against Cas' unresponsive, bony frame and just holds on. The seconds trickle to a stop. Dean doesn't dare to breathe.

When Cas finally does respond, Dean has a hard time not yelping in pain, because Cas wraps his arms around Dean and squeezes until Dean's ribs protest, clings to Dean like a lost child, presses his cheek against Dean's shoulder and breathes broken and uneven, moist exhalations that go through Dean's shirt and warm his skin.

For one long moment, Dean forgets how to breathe, how to move.

He relaxes into the desperate embrace eventually, cups one hand around the nape of Cas' neck and rubs the other one over the smooth fabric of the trenchcoat that's pulled tight over Cas' back, feeling muscle and bone and warmth and smelling all too human fear. "It's okay, buddy," Dean murmurs into dark hair that's cool near the tips. "It'll be okay."

He hopes he's not lying.

 

Fin

Beta by murron and Auburn. Thank you so much!