"How is he?"
Castiel glanced to his left, where Dean was leaning against the Impala, eating from a bag of peanuts and stubbornly pretending that Castiel wasn't talking to Sam just fifteen feet away from him.
"He's been better," Castiel said, which wasn't technically a lie. Just not the whole truth, either.
Sam sighed. "Has he said anything about when he wants to head back home?"
"I tried asking him," Castiel admitted. "But he ignored me." Granted, Dean had spent most of their trip so far ignoring him. He hadn't wanted Castiel along at all, but Castiel had insisted that he either bring him or stay in Stanford. "At this point, I don't think he wants to go back at all."
"Can I talk to him?" Sam asked.
It was doubtful, but Castiel still turned to Dean. "Sam wants to-"
"Nope," Dean said, and popped another peanut into his mouth.
"Sorry, Sam," Castiel said.
"It's okay. Just keep in contact."
Castiel nodded. "Of course." He startled as Dean, clearly sick of waiting, got in the car and slammed the door. "I have to go."
It didn't seem likely that Dean would leave him behind, when the nearest town was more than ten miles away, but Castiel wasn't taking any chances. He said quick goodbyes to Sam, and got back in his seat just as Dean started the car.
"Where are we headed now?" Castiel asked.
Dean shrugged, the same response he'd been giving for the past three days. Then he turned on the radio, turning the volume up until Robert Plant's voice drowned out all chance of conversation.
They stopped by a roadside motel just before sunset. Dean went and checked them in, while Castiel called Sam briefly to update him. He made sure to hang up before Dean could hear them talking, but judging by the glare he shot at Castiel when he got back to the car, he knew what Castiel had been up to anyway.
The room was nice enough for an establishment like this - there were no noticeable stains on the carpet or bedding, and the wallpaper wasn't as garish as it could have been. The shower stall was hopefully in a decent condition as well, because Castiel felt filthy after spending all day cooped up in Dean's car.
But before he could inspect it, Dean announced: "I saw a bar about half a mile back. I think I'm gonna go check it out."
"I'll come with you," Castiel said immediately, in a voice that allowed for no arguments.
"I don't need a babysitter," Dean argued anyway.
"I know you don't." Which they both knew was a lie. "But I want to come with you."
Dean clenched his jaw, but he stayed quiet when, five minutes later, Castiel followed him out the door.
Dean hadn't seen John in almost three years when he showed up at his door.
A part of Dean - a big one - wanted to slam the door right in John's face. It would serve the bastard right. But he'd never been able to turn away his dad, no matter how much he deserved it, so in the end he stepped aside and let him in.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, as John made himself comfortable on the couch.
"It's nice to see you too, Dean," John said gruffly.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Would have been nicer if you'd called ahead."
"I didn't think you'd pick up."
Anger flared up in Dean's chest. It was the same tactic John always pulled - if he didn't keep in contact with his sons, it was for their own good or because they didn't want him to. Never mind asking them what they wanted, no, John Winchester always knew best.
Of course, Dean didn't say any of that out loud. Instead he asked, "Are you in town for long?"
"Depends on how long you'll have me."
Dean blinked, the words sinking in. "You want to stay here? I don't have an extra bed."
"Couch will be fine."
And that was that.
The bar, like the motel, was more sanitary than it looked like from the outside. There weren't many people there, probably because it was Tuesday, and most of the seats by the bar were free. Dean and Castiel sat down, and Dean immediately ordered himself a glass of whiskey.
"Just water for me, thank you," Castiel said when the bartender turned to him.
"Water?" Dean repeated incredulously.
"I don't like drinking in strange places. You know that."
Dean snorted. "Whatever, man."
They didn't speak for a while after that. Dean sipped his whiskey, Castiel his water. It was almost companionable. There was a jukebox in the corner playing some old bluegrass song that Castiel didn't recognize, and the bartender was chatting with an older man in a denim jacket and a baseball cap a couple of seats away from them, but that aside the place was quiet.
After he finished his whiskey, Dean turned around in his seat. He scanned the bar, his eyes stopping on something that caused the corners of his mouth to quirk up in a smile. Castiel turned, dismayed to see that it was a woman Dean had spotted, sitting by herself in one of the booths. She raised her head, as if sensing that she was being looked at, and when her eyes met Dean's, she gave him a small come-hither gesture.
Dean got up and walked towards her, and Castiel forced himself to turn back around. He'd seen this scene play out a hundred times, and lately it had started to bother him for reasons he'd rather not look too closely at. Right now, though, Dean needed whatever pleasure he could get, and so Castiel kept his mouth shut and didn't try to interfere.
Around ten minutes later, Dean's hand landed on his shoulder, and he leaned in, closer than Castiel thought necessary, to mutter, "I'm heading out. Don't wait up, okay?"
Castiel nodded curtly. He didn't watch Dean and the woman leave, just listened to the door slam shut behind them.
Castiel went back to the motel by himself a little less than an hour later. He showered, finding to his dismay that while the stall was in fine condition, the water pressure was practically nonexistent, before turning in for the night.
He laid awake for a while. Just as with drinking, Castiel didn't like to sleep in strange places, and not knowing where Dean was left him on edge. But eventually, his eyelids grew too heavy to keep them open, and he drifted off into a light, uneasy sleep.
At some point in the night, Castiel was startled awake by his mattress dipping. He didn't dare turn around, heart hammering in his chest, and it took him a few moments to realize that it had to be Dean, since he would have heard if anyone had broken in.
Dean, who was lying down on the bed next to him. The thought did nothing to calm Castiel's heart, but he tried to reason that Dean probably hadn't seen him, and that he had mistaken the bed for his own.
But then he grabbed onto the back of Castiel's t-shirt. His fingers curled gingerly around the material, careful so as not to wake Castiel up. Even so, Castiel could feel that his hand was trembling. He ached to turn around and pull Dean into his arms, to grant him that physical comfort Dean was clearly dying for.
He didn't. He knew that Dean would leave if he tried, and that it would scare him off from ever trying something even this small again. Instead, he laid there in the dark, falling asleep only once Dean's breathing had steadied and his grip on Castiel's shirt had gone limp.
When Castiel woke that morning, Dean was in his own bed.
"Think you could get Sam to come over?"
Dean didn't take his eyes off the tv. "Not if I tell him you're here."
John snorted, not arguing it. It had been a day since his unexpected arrival, but near as Dean could tell he hadn't gone to see anyone else. At least not Sam. Probably because he knew that unlike Dean, Sam would shut the door in his face.
"You don't need to tell him," John said.
Dean frowned, finally turning to look at his dad. "I'm not helping you ambush Sam. Why do you wanna see him so bad anyway?"
"He's my son, ain't he?"
"Didn't seem to bother you for the last three years."
John glared at Dean, but it was subdued. Then again, everything about John seemed subdued now, at least compared to the angry drunk Dean had last known. He had aged more than those three years he'd been gone. He looked old. Tired.
“Why are you here, Dad?” Dean asked.
John was quiet for a long while. When he finally spoke, his voice sounded strained. "Just wanted to see you boys."
There was more to it than that, but Dean knew better than to push.
They crossed into Nevada and, not long after, Arizona. Neither one mentioned Dean crawling into Castiel's bed, but after that it happened every night without fail.
Dean also attempted to pick up a new woman every evening, without fail. Sometimes he succeeded, mostly he failed, but either way it always left Castiel with a hollow feeling in his chest.
The days weren't much better. They would drive, seemingly heading nowhere, only stopping for gas or food, or to stretch their legs and empty their bladders. This was something Dean usually enjoyed; the road stretching in front of him, his tapes playing, nowhere to be and everywhere to go. But through it all, his face remained worryingly blank.
On the evening they crossed into Texas, they went to a cowboy themed bar. It had silly memorabilia on the walls, a mechanical bull in one corner, and, aside from one waitress who looked to be pushing fifty, no women.
They still stuck around. Dean ordered himself three glasses of beer in quick succession, before moving on to the hard liquors.
"You should slow down," Castiel advised him.
"You should learn to live a little," Dean retorted. He pushed his whiskey at Castiel. "Drink this, and I won't." Castiel glared at him. Dean wagged his eyebrows in response, and nudged the glass closer to Castiel. "If you chug it, I promise I won't order another drink."
It was a clear ploy, but Castiel found himself falling for it anyway as he grabbed the glass and downed it in one go. He gagged, and it seemed the whiskey would come straight up again, but in a few moments the nausea passed.
Dean whooped, the first genuinely joyous noise Castiel had heard from him in days, and Castiel couldn't help but smile. He was already feeling a bit lighter from the alcohol, although logically he knew it shouldn't be affecting him for a couple of minutes.
"I guess it's all right to order one more drink," he said, not wanting to diminish Dean's joy in any way.
"Shots?" Dean asked, grinning widely.
Castiel nodded. "Shots."
A few shots and a couple of beers later, they stumbled back to their motel room, Dean leaning against Castiel and giggling into his shoulder. It took Castiel two tries before he got the key in the lock, but he got the door open and they tripped over the threshold, nearly landing in a heap on the floor.
"Man," Dean laughed. "I can't believe you drank all those purple nurples."
"They were delicious," Castiel said decisively.
Then his legs decided to stop working. He stumbled forward, just managing to land on the nearest bed, and dragging Dean down on top of him.
Dean didn't seem to mind, as he nuzzled his nose against Castiel's neck with a soft hum. "I'm glad you're here with me, Cas."
"Oh," was all Castiel could say. Every puff of Dean's breath against his skin sent tingles down his spine. He was starting to harden in his pants and he shifted uncomfortably, trying to not let Dean know.
But then Dean was shifting as well, moving to blanket Castiel's body more effectively. His hip brushed against Castiel's crotch, and Castiel could tell the moment he realized what was going on as he stiffened. "Cas?"
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Castiel babbled, averting his eyes as he blushed. "I didn't mean to-"
"It's fine," Dean cut him off. His hands cupped Castiel's cheeks, and he raised his head and kissed Castiel on the lips. It was a short but open-mouthed kiss, and Castiel found himself craning up to meet it. "It's more than fine."
They shouldn't be doing this, Castiel thought dazedly. They were both drunk and Dean was grieving, and he'd never shown any interest in Castiel or any other man before, and there were probably about a dozen other reasons why this was a terrible idea that Castiel just couldn't think of right now but were very important because they shouldn't be doing this.
But when Dean kissed him again, all Castiel could do was melt into it.
Three days after John's arrival, Dean came home from work and found him dead on the couch.
Liver failure, he and Sam found out some hours later. John had already known it was coming. He'd come to Stanford to die.
Dean stuck around for the funeral, but as soon as it was over he went home and packed his bags. He was out on the road alone an hour later. Or he would have been, were it not for Cas.
Castiel woke up alone.
He blinked slowly, trying to remember why this was unexpected. When it came back to him, he shot up in the bed, and the movement almost caused him to throw up. He pushed through the feeling of nausea, looking around the room with ever increasing panic. Dean wasn't in his own bed, either. He was nowhere to be seen.
He'd bolted in the night, Castiel thought desperately. He'd sobered up and realized what he'd done and he'd panicked and bolted, and now he was out there all alone and angry with Castiel and probably himself and-
The sound of a flushing toilet startled Castiel out of his thoughts. Shortly after, the doors to the bathroom swung open and Dean stepped out, clad in nothing but boxers.
He took one look at Castiel. "You thought I left, didn't you?"
"No," Castiel said. He averted his eyes. "Maybe."
"I kind of wanted to," Dean admitted. He walked over and sat down on the bed next to Castiel.
Castiel let out a wounded noise. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have taken advantage of you like that."
"Taken advantage?" Dean repeated incredulously. "I was the one who got you drunk."
"But you were drunk as well, and emotionally vulnerable. I should have known better."
Dean grabbed his shoulders and Castiel raised his eyes again. Dean's cheeks were flushed pink, but he looked determined. "Did you want it?"
"Of course," Castiel answered without hesitation, causing Dean to blush brighter.
"Yeah, well," Dean dropped his hands, "so did I. So there's no harm done."
Castiel licked his lips, head swimming with this new knowledge. He wanted to kiss Dean again, to press him flat into the mattress and make him want Castiel even more.
But there was too much still lying unsaid between them. Before they did anything else, they probably needed to clear the air.
"Is this about your father?" Castiel asked.
Dean jolted. "What? Jesus, Cas! What kind of a question is that?"
"Is it?" Castiel pressed.
"No! I wanted this way before-" Dean cut himself off. "I've wanted this for a while, okay?"
"It is an awfully big coincidence that you would give into this desire so shortly after... what happened."
Dean ducked his head and glared down at the comforter. Castiel waited patiently for him to speak again, and a minute later, Dean said, "I'm not okay."
Castiel startled. Of everything he expected Dean to say, it hadn't been this.
And Dean wasn't finished. "I wasn't okay before Dad... before he died, either. But I'm really not okay now. I haven't even cried yet, which I'm pretty sure makes me a crappy son."
"Dean," Castiel said. "That's not true."
"Isn't it?" Dean looked up. "He came to make amends, Cas. Yeah, he was a terrible dad, but at least he tried."
"That doesn't make up for everything he did."
On impulse, Castiel reached forward and wrapped his hand around the back of Dean's neck. Dean sighed and leaned into him, pressing his forehead against Castiel's shoulder. "I'm not even sure I miss him."
Castiel kissed the top of Dean's head. "That's okay. You're not supposed to feel any one way about this."
Dean was quiet for a while. Castiel could feel him breathing, steady but shallow, against his collarbone. Then, "Cas?"
"Can we go home now?"
The drive back took only three days, as they'd mostly been going in circles before.
The first day passed uneventfully. On the second day, Dean pulled over in the middle of nowhere, and Castiel held him in the backseat for nearly two hours as he cried his eyes out. He cried again that night once they'd gone to bed, soft, quiet tears streaming constantly and wetting Castiel's shoulder.
The third day, Dean pulled over again and got into the backseat with Castiel, but this time he kissed Castiel deeply and pulled down their pants just enough so he could grip them both and they could slide together, warm and wet. They came with quiet gasps, and then Dean buried his face in Castiel's neck and promised this was more than a one time thing, that he wanted this to be forever. He stopped short of any declarations of love, but Castiel could hear them anyway, and it warmed him.
When they got back to Stanford, Castiel took Dean back to his apartment. Dean didn't try to protest, which only confirmed Castiel's suspicions. He didn't want to be alone in the place where his father had died any more than Castiel wanted him there.
Two weeks later, they went there with Sam and Jess, and packed all of Dean's earthly belongings. They sold most of the furniture, save for the living room couch, which they took to the beach and burned on the sand. Dean held Castiel's hand the entire time, squeezing it tight like a lifeline.