Castiel followed closely on Dean's heels as he exited Crowley's lab, the screech of the fire door's rusty hinges disturbing the heavy silence which had descended upon the night. A light breeze ruffled Dean's sweat-dampened hair, and he felt the sudden urge to just stand there and breathe in the sweet, fresh air.
Castiel bumped into the hunter as he came to an unexpected halt, and jerked himself back as if burned. “Sorry,” he mumbled. He had a feeling he'd be saying that a lot in the foreseeable future.
Dean made a dismissive gesture, only to wince when it jostled his injured arm.
“Is it broken?” Castiel asked.
“I don't know,” Dean replied, dropping back a step so they could walk side by side as they continued to make their way around the building. “Hurts like a bitch, though.”
“I wish I could – ” Cas began and then fell silent, biting his lower lip in shamed dismay.
“I know,” Dean said softly. “I wish too. I should've mentioned it to Chuck before he buggered off. Still...” he smiled happily as they rounded a corner and the Impala came into view, two familiar figures standing next to it, deep in an animated conversation. “Given a choice between fixing me and fixing my baby, I'm glad things worked out the way they did.”
Castiel nodded uncertainly and kept walking. His stomach gave a funny little flutter as they drew nearer to the car and Sam and Bobby's faces were more fully revealed. Predictably, neither man appeared happy. Castiel swallowed dryly. What, exactly, was the proper protocol for greeting people you had just threatened to smite if they didn't bow down and love you?
It turned out he wasn't given the opportunity to say anything at all.
As Castiel and Dean stepped into the bright sphere of light a streetlight cast, they heard the sharp, unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked and Bobby brought his shotgun up to bear on the former angel's chest.
“Whoa! Whoa, Bobby!” Dean cried, swiftly positioning himself in front of Castiel. “Chill! It's Cas!”
“I can see that,” Bobby snapped.
“He's human!” Dean said, pivoting to keep Castiel safely behind him as Bobby slowly circled around, attempting to get a clear shot.
“All the better,” Bobby growled, quickening his pace so that Dean was forced into a ridiculous, shuffling dance in order to keep Castiel shielded.
“A little help here, Sammy,” Dean shouted.
Sam shrugged. His gaze was icy as it swept over Castiel and not much warmer when he finally focused on his brother. “Have you forgotten what he just put us through?”
“Of course I haven't. I'm not a fool.”
“Neither am I,” Sam said flatly. “Why should we believe he's what you say he is – who's to say you are really you.”
“Sam...” Dean said, wearily scrubbing his right hand across his face as he stepped smartly to the left, countering Bobby's move while Castiel remained frozen in place. “I'm really not in the mood for this. We'll run the tests. Give you whatever proof you need. But can we please not do it here? I'm tired and my arm hurts like hell. So put that fucking gun away, Bobby, or I swear I'll come over there and shove it up your ass.”
“I'd say that's definitely Dean, Bobby,” Sam said, a tiny smile twitching at the corner of his lips.
“Maybe so,” Bobby allowed, coming to a stop and reluctantly dipping the barrel of his shotgun towards the ground. “But I still ain't riding anywhere with them. I'm going home in the truck you came in, Sam. You're a damned idjit if you don't join me.”
“Can you drive with that arm, Dean?” Sam asked.
“I'll get us there,” Dean said through gritted teeth. “Might stop off at ER on the way, so don't wait up for us.”
“You want me to ride with you?” Sam offered. “Help keep an eye on Cas?”
“Nah. Take Bobby home before he gets cranky. I'll see you there tomorrow. Set the wards, lock the place down. Cas and I will crash in the car till you come get us.”
“Works for me,” Bobby said. “Coming, Sam?”
“Yeah...” But still Sam lingered. “Are you sure, Dean?”
“Go!” Dean ordered, standing tall and carefully maintaining that invincible stance until his brother and Bobby were well on their way. But, as the truck's tail lights finally faded in the distance, his shoulders slumped and he gave a muffled little whimper of pain.
Dean reached into his pocket, fishing for his keys. Finally pulling them free, he dangled them from his index finger.
Castiel looked at him blankly.
“You drive,” Dean said quietly.
“Dean, I don't know how to – ”
“No time like the present to learn,” Dean interrupted, blinking rather owlishly. “You've watched me do it often enough. Hospital's only five or six miles that way.” He pointed north, whimpered again. “Ow. I think a couple of my ribs are busted.” A second, slower blinking attack followed before he concluded, “Anyway, since there are two of you, one of you should be able to figure it out.”
“Two of me? Dean...”
But Dean's only reply was to close his eyes and slip quietly into unconsciousness.
Castiel's arms were around him before he hit the ground.
Dean woke to the comforting sound of a purring engine, the familiar scent of the Impala's backseat rising from beneath his prone body, the equally familiar scent of Castiel's trench coat spread over him from above. Slowly, his eyes cracked open to focus on the driver. Castiel's posture was more rigid than usual, which was really saying something. The ex-angel was also muttering under his breath in a steady flow of Enochian. Curses or a pep talk? Dean wondered. Maybe a mix of both...
Dude really needs to learn how to relax, Dean thought fondly. He drifted then, eyes opening and closing as streetlights came and went, the rhythmic hiss of pavement under the wheels a soothing lullaby, luring him back towards sleep... until that rhythm was suddenly disturbed by Castiel's unpractised arrival at a stop sign.
Dean grunted as his poor, abused body was jarred.
Instantly, Castiel twisted around, a piercing blue gaze sweeping to meet Dean's eyes, his own face bathed in concern and light and shadow.
“So I am.” Castiel smiled. “I think I like it.”
Dean returned the smile, their eyes locking as they so often had in the past, the world narrowing to the two of them lost in silent communion.
Abruptly, a horn sounded behind them and an impatient SUV tore around the Impala, horn still blaring and a young man's middle finger angrily stabbing the air.
“Uh,” Castiel said, clearing his throat self-consciously, the moment gone. “Apparently, I am a traffic hazard.”
Dean gingerly eased up to a sitting position. “No, you're doing fine,” he said, glancing around, trying to orient himself. “Hospital's just over that way, if I remember right.” Lord knows, he should remember. Pre-locating hospitals had become instinctive over the years. He and Sam visited the places often enough, when a quick patch-up job wouldn't do or they were running low on medical supplies.
“Do you want to take over?” Castiel offered, a frown creasing his forehead.
“No,” Dean repeated, leaning back and closing his eyes.
He didn't have to look to see a smile return to Castiel's face. He just knew that it was there.
Dean made it to the admittance desk on his own two feet, Castiel hovering anxiously by his side, but his head was aching too badly in the cold glare of the fluorescent lights for him to read the fine print on the form a busy nurse thrust his way. In turn, he passed the clipboard and pencil over to Castiel and dug out a phoney credit card for the nurse to process while the two men settled in nearby chairs.
Name. Castiel neatly printed Dean Winchester.
“Jagger,” Dean whispered.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The name on that credit card is Dean Jagger. J-a-g-g-e-r.”
Castiel dutifully made the correction.
Address. He frowned.
Date of birth. Castiel entered Dean's correct birth date, then shot a defiant glance his way. Dean huffed in amusement and shut his eyes.
Next of kin. Sam Win– No. Castiel erased the surname and started over again. Sam Jagger.
“Cas,” Dean murmured.
“No, I mean put Cas Jagger down as my next of kin.”
Dean sighed. “Being my brother gives you special privileges. Might come in handy if I pass out again.”
Castiel carefully rubbed out 'Sam' and wrote 'Cas' with a slightly trembling hand. Swiftly, then, he completed the rest of the form and sat there studying it as Dean began to softly snore. Brother. The word leapt off the page and made his heart swell uncomfortably in his chest. He didn't deserve that honour. Not any more. But he would someday – however far away that someday might be. He might never regain his wings, but he would regain Dean's trust – or die trying.
Dean slept on.
“Mr. Jagger,” the nurse called more loudly.
“Yes,” Castiel said, rising from his chair and passing the clipboard over to her waiting hand.
“Possible head injury,” she read, a manicured finger swiftly skimming across the form. “He fell?”
We both did, Castiel thought giddily. “Yes,” he managed to reply in an even tone.
“Seems like you had a little accident too,” she observed wryly.
Castiel wiped a hand across his face, dried blood flecking his fingers as he drew them away. “It's nothing,” he said. “A nosebleed. I – I bumped my head when I was helping Dean into the car.”
The nurse stared at him dubiously for a few seconds, but then simply handed back Dean's credit card. “Take a seat, Mr. Jagger. The doctor should be with you shortly. Your brother picked a good night to fall.”
Two hours later, Castiel was once again sliding behind the wheel of the Impala, this time with Dean settled beside him in the passenger seat.
Dean's ribs were bandaged, his arm in a sling. Nothing broken, thankfully, but he was obviously out of commission for awhile, and the bruising promised to be quite spectacular by morning. As for his slight concussion and the ensuing headache... the small sample bottle of painkillers he held clutched in his hand should take care of that soon enough. And he had a prescription for more when those ran out.
“Wake him every couple of hours tonight,” the doctor had advised Castiel as Dean shuffled from the examination cubicle, obviously half dead on his feet with pain and exhaustion. “He's going to be fine, but better safe than sorry.”
“I'll take care of him,” Castiel promised. And never before had he meant those words more sincerely.
Cautiously, he started up the car and exited the parking lot, fully intending to continue their interrupted journey to Bobby's. A few miles down the road, however, he hit a T-junction and a flickering neon sign several hundred feet off to the left caught his eye. He activated the turn signal accordingly.
“Where are you going?” Dean asked drowsily. “Bobby's is that way.” He gestured to the right.
“I know.” Castiel turned the wheel to the left and accelerated with a head bobbing series of short jerks.
“They're expecting us.”
“They'll have to wait,” Castiel said, pulling into his new destination, turning off the engine and pocketing the key. “You are not spending the night sleeping in this car.”
Before Dean could open his mouth to argue, the car door slammed in his face and Castiel was striding across the pavement into the motel office. A few minutes later, the 'vacancy' signed sputtered off and Castiel reappeared, holding a key attached to a hideous pink fob.
“Room 9,” Castiel said, opening Dean's door and hesitantly offering a helping hand. Much to the ex-angel's surprise, Dean took it, obviously grateful for the assistance. And then he simply stood there, swaying slightly, while Castiel retrieved his duffle from the trunk and locked up the car.
“How'd you pay for this?” Dean asked, struggling to hold back a yawn. He failed.
A puzzled Castiel found himself yawning too. What a strange reaction, he thought. Humans are such curious creatures. He withdrew Dean's credit card from his breast pocket and gave it back to him. Dean's laughter was cut short by another yawn, which Castiel echoed a second time.
“I think we both need a good night's sleep,” Dean said as Castiel opened the door and fumbled for a light switch.
Castiel's murmur of agreement died as a dim wash of light revealed the contents of the room. There was one bed. It wasn't even queen-sized – maybe a double, at best. A small double.
“I'll sleep in the car,” he said. “Just let me clean myself up a bit and I'll – ”
“Come to bed,” Dean completed the sentence.
“Leave,” Castiel said at the same time.
“No,” Dean said quietly. “Stay.”
“Stay,” Dean repeated. “You have to wake me up every now and then. Remember?”
“Oh. Of course.” Castiel's eyes skittered around the scantly furnished room. “I can sleep in the chair.”
“You'll break your neck if you try that without your angel mojo. Look, we've both had a long, hard day. It's no big deal, Cas. There's plenty of room for two. You're smaller than Sam and he and I have squeezed into tighter spaces.”
I should argue against this, Castiel thought wearily. I don't deserve this act of kindness. But I'm too weak to refuse...
“Wash up and come to bed,” Dean ordered, fumbling his jeans open one-handed and kicking his legs free after toeing off his boots.
Following the latter part of his own advice, Dean climbed under the covers and closed his eyes. He was deeply asleep long before Castiel tiptoed from the bathroom, turned out the light and tentatively crept in to lie beside him, fully dressed except for his shoes, and determined to only rest his eyes a little while... just until it was time to wake Dean...
The late morning sun woke them both, a piercing ray of light sneaking in past poorly closed curtains and falling squarely in their faces as they both lay on their right sides facing the window. Castiel was tightly spooned against Dean's back, his left hand possessively curled around the handprint he had branded on Dean's shoulder.
“Good morning,” Dean said softly, rolling over and staring into Castiel's widening eyes. “Sleep well?”
“I'm sorry,” Castiel blurted, withdrawing his hand and all but tumbling to the floor in his haste to escape. What must Dean think? His face flushed scarlet as he bent to search for his shoes.
“Sorry?” Dean said, stretching warily to test the soreness of his muscles before crawling out of bed. “Oh, because you forgot to wake me up? That's all right, Cas. I'm okay. I managed to wake up on my own a couple of times. No brain damage sustained – at least none that I know of,” he grinned.
“I should have kept watch,” Castiel muttered angrily.
“Hey!” Dean said sharply. “None of that. I've been through this dozens of times. I know the drill. You needed the sleep, Cas. It's not easy being human.”
Castiel focused all his attention on untying a nasty knot in his shoelace.
“Hey,” Dean repeated more gently. “You needed a little comfort too. I don't mind that you found it.”
Castiel nodded, not knowing what to say. Comfort. Touching. It was the human way... and he couldn't deny that he'd found it very... pleasant. Extremely so. In fact, to be quite honest, he wouldn't mind doing it again. Sleeping with Dean... Touching Dean...
“I meant what I said, you know,” Dean said, laying his hand on top of Castiel's and stilling his absentminded, nervous plucking of the stubborn lace.
“Oh,” Castiel said faintly, staring at their hands, the warmth of Dean's fingertips spreading tendrils of answering heat throughout his body.
“Not because I was trying to get you to step back from becoming a god. Not because it was convenient at the hospital. You're family. Have been for awhile now.” Dean's head dipped down, trying to catch Castiel's deliberately averted eyes. “You know what family means to me?”
“I know,” Castiel whispered, unable now to tear his gaze away from Dean's. Unable to move. Unable to breathe.
“Okay, then.” Dean patted his arm and moved away. “See that you never forget it. Because, Cas,” he turned back then, the fervent glow in his green eyes beautiful to behold, “Family is sacred... but that doesn't mean I don't call 'em on crap and butt heads with them now and then.”
“I know that too.”
“Then we'll save that discussion for another day,” Dean said firmly. “Let's head for Bobby's.”
“Ah, yes. Time for me to face the inquisition.”
“Together,” Dean said. “We face it together. You're not alone, Cas. Not anymore. You've got me. Sam and Bobby too... eventually. So... are you ready?”
“Yes?” Cas said doubtfully, tucking in a dangling shirttail and trying to project an air of confidence he didn't feel.
Dean shot him an exasperated glance. “Dude, seriously, don't you think it's time to shed the holy tax accountant look?”
“What is wrong with my clothes?”
“It looks like you slept in them.”
“I did sleep in them. They are the only clothes I have.”
Dean snorted and pulled a clean T-shirt from his duffle bag. “Put this on,” he said, tossing the garment at Castiel's head and heading for the bathroom. “I'll be right back.”
Castiel stood there a few moments, staring at the closed door and clutching the shirt to his breast. The fabric was soft and faded from multiple washings. It smelled like Dean. Holding it was almost like holding Dean... almost like being held by Dean...
Swiftly, he stripped out of his wrinkled suit coat and blood-stained dress shirt and whipped off his crooked tie. Slipping into the T-shirt felt like coming home. He stuffed his discarded garments into the duffle and zipped the bag.
“Ready?” Dean inquired, returning to the room as Castiel was tying up his shoes.
“Yes,” Castiel replied. And this time, much to his surprise, he found he truly meant it.
“Good,” said Dean, looking slightly sheepish. “Because I think I could use some help getting dressed.”
“Where are they?” Bobby asked for what had to be the fourth or fifth time, peering out the window at his empty dooryard. “Probably halfway to Canada by now,” he answered his own question.
“They'll be here,” Sam said. “Dean said they'd come.”
“Dean said a lot of things,” Bobby muttered darkly. “It's what he didn't say that worries me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don't he seem a mite too willing to welcome Cas back into the fold, no questions asked?”
“It's Cas, Bobby. They have that whole 'profound bond' thing going for them. And Cas almost died... again. You know how Dean is. You know how he was when he lost me.”
“Cas is not you.”
“No, he isn't. But he's somehow worked his way into Dean's heart. We're going to have to accept that.”
“I don't know if I can.”
“Then you'll lose Dean. Don't make him choose, Bobby. You won't win. Hell, I'm not sure I would.”
“You're his brother, for Christ's sake!”
“Yes, I am. But Cas... Cas is... something more. He has been for some time.”
Bobby nodded slowly. “Okay, Sam. We'll do it your way. They pass the tests, and I won't try to kill Dean's boyfriend. Don't think I'm gonna roll out a red carpet, though.”
“I'm not sure how I feel about having Cas around either. Not after all the shit he pulled. But if Dean says he's family, he's family.” Sam grinned wolfishly. “At least he's human now. I'm pretty sure I can kick his ass if he gets out of line.”
Companionably, they settled at the kitchen table, sipping coffee, reading the morning paper and pretending not to watch the clock.
It was approaching mid-afternoon when the familiar rumble of the Impala finally sounded in the distance.
“Ready?” Sam said.
Bobby nodded, snatching up his shotgun and a few other necessary tools of the trade. They were already outside when the car came into view, its passage less fluid than usual as it navigated a twisted path through Bobby's junkyard.
Sam squinted against the glare partially obscuring the windshield.
“That's not Dean at the wheel,” Bobby observed.
“No,” Sam agreed. “It isn't. It's... it's...”
“Cas?” they said together.
Mouths agape, the two hunters watched as Castiel pulled to a fairly smooth stop and turned off the engine. Then he opened the door, stepped out and calmly stood there, head tilted to one side, as Dean clambered awkwardly from the passenger seat and came around the Impala to stand beside him.
“Sam. Bobby,” Dean said casually, as if he routinely handed his precious car and favourite T-shirt over to anyone who happened to ask for them.
“Christo!” Sam cried, and tossed a vial of holy water in his brother's face.
Bobby laughed until his sides ached and tears leaked from the corners of his eyes.