“We’re engaged.” Dean told her, grinning in a way that Castiel had never seen before, and the face of the woman at the front desk all but melted into a smile.
“Oh my gosh, that is so cute.” She covered her mouth with both hands. “When’s the big day?”
Castiel looked between them in utter confusion. Dean leaned on the desk, face now melodramatically downcast.
“S’not legal in his home town. His folks, they’re really religious.” He said, and she seemed close to tears, enlightening Castiel no further as to what was going on.
“Oh my god, but you got engaged anyway. That is just-“ She paused, as if faltering for the words, and reached over the desk to take Dean’s hand in her own. “I’m gonna make sure you have a good time here, okay? How does the honeymoon suite sound? No extra charge.”
Dean smiled hesitantly at her, almost bashful, yet another expression Castiel had never seen on his face. “That would be so sweet of you.” He squeezed her hand. Castiel stood blankly beside him. Dean added, quickly, “Does that come with breakfast?”
The woman at the desk looked confused for a second. She shook her head. “No, but – you know what, I’ll include it. What’s the point if there’s no breakfast?” her grin returned, as did Dean’s.
“You are such a doll.” Dean told her, and Castiel, had he been prone to bouts of dramatics, (and were he not an angel of the lord) might have fainted dead away at that point. Dean was grinning and holding her hand, and as soon as she’d entered their details – both IDs fake, Castiel’s surname on the driver’s license ‘Brando’ for reasons Dean refused to divulge – he let go of her hand and put it on Castiel’s shoulder, instead. He took the key from her as she handed it to him, her eyes flitting between them, smile wide and simpering. Dean steered him away from the desk, arm around his shoulders as they went down the hallways to find their room. Castiel was, truth be told, a little perplexed by the entire thing. Dean looked at him and let him go as soon as they were out of sight of the receptionist.
“What?” he asked him, like it was nothing, and Castiel frowned.
“Why lie to her?”
Dean waved a hand dismissively as they reached the door. He dug in his pocket for the keycard. “Whatever. Me and Sam used to do it sometimes, in places like this – free breakfast, best room in the place. Beats paying extra for stuff.”
Castiel followed him blithely into the room. “But there’s only one bed.” He said, pointing out the obvious, and Dean shrugged.
“You don’t sleep. ‘Sides, me and Sam are brothers. We’ve shared beds before. It’s worth it for the food and the bathroom – check it out.” He shut the door to the room behind him, and beckoned Castiel to peer at the ensuite, which, even Castiel had to admit, was oddly lavish for a relatively unimpressive bed and breakfast, the only place that offered a bed for the night for miles.
“It’s – clean,” he admitted, and Dean nodded, shut the bathroom door, threw himself onto the king sized bed and put his arms behind his head, bouncing softly as he hit the mattress. Castiel stood awkwardly at the threshold of the room, still, until Dean - in his grappling for the remote – looked at him strangely.
“So, what, you gonna stay there all night, or are you gonna watch Pulp Fiction on the big screen TV?”
Castiel wandered over to the bed. When he got there, he toed off his shoes and perched on the edge of it, hands folded in his lap. Dean seemed satisfied.
“See?” he said, a moment later, after finding the movies channel and settling in. “S’worth people thinking we’re a couple. Most girls think it’s cute, anyway.”
Castiel hummed thoughtfully. “I suppose so.”
After Dean let him in on the ploy, Castiel embraced it relatively fully. It turned out there were a lot of things you could get out of people if you were a) brazen enough, and b) had a tragic enough love story. Castiel’s quest to find his father went on, but like Dean said, he could be anywhere – why not in a diner in Ohio, a motel in Connecticut, or any of the millions of other places Dean called him down to ‘help’? Not to say that the ploy worked everywhere – Dean told him, fairly regularly, how much easier things would be if he had taken a female vessel, a wistful tone to his voice – but he was good at picking his targets, spotting the Alliance symbols on their car windows, the PFLAG bumper stickers, the little rainbow pin on their lapel. Eventually Castiel could do it too, fairly comfortably, though Dean often insisted on doing the actual lying himself.
“On the house, boys.” The bartender told them, his eyes darting around the bar conspiratorially. “Me and my partner have been together for eighteen years. Not tied the knot, though. He doesn’t believe in it.” He said, and Castiel leaned forward, interested. “What about you two?”
Castiel opened his mouth, but at Dean’s reproachful look, he closed it again. Dean answered for him.
“Two years, now.” He answered, and Castiel’s gaze slid over to him carefully, looking for some sort of clue as to where this was going.
The bartender smiled. “Just wait ‘til you’ve been together as long as we have. It’s a whole other world.” He said, chuckling softly. “You watch a lot of TV.” He amended, and Castiel thought mildly that they already did –any more television and there’d be no time for hunting. “How’d you meet?”
Dean sipped his beer, and elbowed Castiel to do the same. He opened his mouth to begin, but Castiel cut in over him.
“He was in a bad place. I pulled him out.” He ignored Dean’s warning expression and put a hand over Dean’s, to complete the image. “Then he did the same for me. We’ve been together ever since.”
The bartender nodded, and looked at Dean. “I can see why you like him.” He said. “You look good together.” He finished, looking at their joined hands on the table. “Enjoy your night, boys.” He wandered away, down the bar to serve a customer who’d been frantically waving throughout the whole exchange. As soon as he was out of earshot, Dean looked at Cas.
“What was that?” He muttered quietly, and Castiel, surprised, looked at him blankly. “It was… pretty good, actually.” Dean said, frowning, and pulled his hand out from under Castiel’s. “Where’d you learn to lie like that?”
“It was the truth.” Castiel told him, just as confused as Dean sounded, and Dean looked at him for a long moment.
“I guess it was.” He turned back to his beer.
Strange though he supposed it was, Castiel saw no reason not to keep with it. Dean would call him down with a whispered, Little help, Cas? And Castiel would adapt to whatever situation Dean was attempting to manipulate as best he possibly could.
When the call came desperate and wearied, he was in the Pyrenees, tracing the edge of a snowcap with the toe of his vessel’s shoe, skimming snow from it. His father was not there.
He tilted his head towards the sky at the sound of his own name. He went, in his own time; he assumed Dean was in a motel or a restaurant or a police station, bartering for something and wanting to use Castiel as part of the weight. When he appeared at Dean’s side, however, the sight was altogether different to what he expected.
First of all, there was a lot more blood.
Dean was leaned against a tree, one hand clutching his shoulder. His other hand lay uselessly in his lap, a dead weight, and his strained smile when he saw Castiel was weak and blurry. Castiel crouched beside him.
“What took you so long?” Dean looked up at him and his skin was washed-out. He could have been here an hour, maybe more, before he deigned to ask Castiel for help – without his brother he hunted alone, and Castiel had almost forgotten, seeing Dean only at his best, just how bad his worst could potentially be.
“I –“ he couldn’t find the words, a sensation so utterly human that he was almost distracted by it. “I didn’t think it was urgent.” He pressed his hands tentatively over Dean’s shoulder, trying to find the wound. It wasn’t a bullet-hole, but it was a hole. He eased the jacket off Dean’s shoulder and pulled up the sleeve of his shirt to see better; it was wide, not fatal but dangerous enough, and blood was pooling at Dean’s back, where the hole had gone straight through. “I’m sorry.” He said quietly, and Dean started to laugh, then stopped, wincing.
“Fuck. Ow. Could you get with the mojo, maybe, Cas?” His tone was almost nonchalant – or would have been, had he not been dribbling red all over where Castiel fit his hands.
He drew his grace around him carefully and knitted him back together – sinew to sinew, flesh to flesh. Under his palms, pressed gingerly to the skin of Dean’s shoulder, above the handprint scar, the skin renewed itself, forged together by the pinprick fingers of his Grace. It took less than a second, and then Castiel stopped, suddenly, with an intake of breath.
“What?” Dean asked him, concerned. Castiel breathed in.
“It’s nothing.” His voice was laboured. “I –“ he concentrated on the wound – it was nothing. Just an indent now, almost fully healed, scabbing over on the inside, half-sewn back together, the back of the wound all closed up; all that was left was the hole at the front, the fissure that traced a weapon’s path - a sword perhaps, it was hard to tell – but his grace surged inside him and then ebbed away. He frowned, gathered it around himself again, and realised there was nothing more to gather. The light inside him, usually so full that it threatened to burst from his borrowed flesh, was almost entirely gone, pooling pathetically in the well of him, barely a puddle. He looked at Dean. “I can’t heal you fully.” He said. “But I still have my wings. I can take you to hospital.” He offered. Dean shook his head.
“Can’t.” He stirred against the treetrunk, then flopped back. “Cops. Price on my head. You know; outlaw stuff.” He rasped a breath. “Shit. Just – take me back to the motel?”
Castiel frowned. “Alright.” They were there in a blink, Castiel touching his hand to Dean’s arm and flying them back to the room Dean had rented. He helped Dean stagger the few steps to the lonely single bed, then watched as he lay down. Dean looked up at him once he was settled.
“Thanks, Cas. I’ll be okay now.”
“But you’re still hurt.” Castiel protested, dithering next to the bed. Dean’s expression, turned on him, was confused, half-mocking.
“I’ve had worse. Seriously, I’ll be okay. Go off and, I dunno, do whatever it is you do in your spare time. Convert some heathens.” He flapped his good hand, the other still dormant, lying on his stomach.
Castiel frowned, and shook his head. “No.”
Dean frowned at him. “Cas, I’m fine.”
“There’s no one to watch you, Dean. I won’t have you further injured, when I’m able to prevent it.”
Dean stared at him dubiously for a couple of seconds before he gave in. “Whatever. Just don’t watch me all night, okay? Gives me the creeps.”
“I’m sure I can manage that.”
The next day, much to Dean’s chagrin, Castiel insisted on following him into the forest to help get rid of the creature for good. Dean told him (a lot) that it wasn’t necessary, but the angel wouldn’t hear of it, and so for the rest of the day Dean, grudgingly, let him tag along.
They found the gravesite after an hour or two of quiet searching. Dean knew the general area that the bones were supposed to be in, and Castiel – though Dean suspected, for the first hour, that this was bullshit – could sense where they were, if they walked close enough.
One benefit, at least, to keeping Cas around wasn’t just the honeymoon suite; he could dig a hole like a trooper, all angelic strength concentrated around the end of a shovel, and Dean wondered if maybe he could dig as well with just his hands (he concluded, watching, that he probably could).
They burned the bones in the daylight, avoiding the spirit almost entirely – it rose before they finished digging, growled a little, brandished its spear (Dean flinched instinctively; he would later deny allowing Castiel to stand in front of him), and they salted and burned it before it finished overdramatically cursing them out, vanishing into the air with an anguished gargle. Dean snorted at the noise then turned away, not waiting for the angel to catch up (though he did, anyway).
In the car, on the way back to the motel, the silence grew too large. Castiel was quiet, and he could deal with it, usually – but he was so used to having someone to talk to, five years with Sam under his skin, and his cellphone started to burn a hole in his pocket. He cleared his throat loudly, eyes on the road. “Cas,” he said, and the angel didn’t respond from the passenger seat. He gave it a second or two, then turned in surprise as a snore of truly gigantic proportions wracked the car. “Cas?” he repeated; but it was the angel who’d made the noise, however unlikely that seemed; Castiel was slumped against the impala’s window, his eyes closed, his mouth open. Dean stared at him for a second before he had to look back at the road.
“Okay, then,” he said to himself in disbelief. “Sure.”
Getting Castiel – who was, by that point, dead to the world – into the motel was more trouble than it was worth. Dean was half-tempted to leave him in the car, but since he had it on pretty good authority that angels didn’t usually sleep, and since he had no idea where the fuck this was coming from, he couldn’t really leave him all alone.
Sighing – he was heavy, damnit – he dragged Castiel back to his room with an arm around his shoulders, ignoring the glances of onlookers. His shoulder screamed its agony as he pulled the angel along, and when he finally reached the hotel room and dropped him down on the bed, he felt as if he’d ripped the fucking thing in half.
“You better appreciate this,” he muttered sourly. Castiel, oblivious, let out another hideous snore and curled against the sheets, dead to the world.
Dean went into the bathroom to inspect the number he’d done on his shoulder. He peeled his shirt off and turned it towards the mirror, blinking against the bluish halogen lights. He winced. It was – worse than he thought. Cas had helped, the day before – had turned it from ‘mortal wound’ to ‘potential scar’, but running around all day today hadn’t exactly assisted the healing process, and what he was left with now was a hole, a rip in his shoulder that he could probably get his whole fingertip into if he tried (he wasn’t going to). He put his hand over it.
He went out into the main room; grabbed his bag and dug out painkillers, bandages, disinfectant. With a hiss he poured the liquid over it, wrapped the wound up as best he could without the full use of both his hands, and with a glance at Castiel (who was still sleeping peacefully), resigned himself to a night sleeping in the tub. He tossed back a handful of aspirin and pulled his shirt back on, then climbed into the bath and rolled over, closing his eyes; was carried off on an uneasy haze of dulling pain and exhaustion, as the pills kicked in.
He woke significantly more comfortable than the night before, and Castiel was there, watching.
He sat up too fast, flailing in the dark, and realised immediately that he was in the bed rather than the bath. Castiel stepped forward from where he stood, hands out in front of him.
“I’m sorry, Dean,” he said, first, and Dean stared at him.
“For what?” his voice rose an octave, but hopefully Cas wouldn’t go telling anyone.
“For-” Cas paused, puzzled by his reaction. “For falling asleep. I don’t know what happened.”
Dean blinked at him. The angel’s face was torn with worry and guilt. “You were tired,” he said, like it was obvious (because it was?). “Are you …okay?”
“Of course,” Castiel replied. But he was blinking too often, sluggish, even as he said it, and with a glance at the watch on his wrist, Dean saw that it was 2am.
“Did you move me?” he asked, and the angel shuffled guiltily.
“I thought you were uncomfortable in the bath. I can move you back, if you like-“
“No, I’m good.” Dean looked at him and, despite himself, felt sorry for the poor guy. Castiel looked just as freaked out about sleeping as Dean felt about waking up somewhere different than where he’d slept; he sighed. “Do you still need to sleep?” he asked him, weary, and Castiel shook his head.
“No. I won’t let it happen again,” he said, voice perhaps not as confident as he’d meant it.
Dean rolled his eyes. “Get in.” he said, shuffling over, and the angel looked at him blankly.
“In bed, you fuckin’ idiot, where else?”
“I feel like this is inappropriate,” Castiel said gently, and Dean flushed a little.
“It’ll only feel like that if you’re dumb about it,” he said, well aware of how childish he sounded, and not caring. He pulled one side of the bedcovers back. It was going to be a fairly tight fit – neither of them were exactly small - but whatever. He’d shared with Sam in smaller beds, out of necessity, and the angel was swaying where he stood, his insistence fooling absolutely fucking no-one. “Look, you’ve obviously worn the mojo out a little. Whatever. Just get in, don’t be weird about it, and go to sleep.”
He shuffled down, then, under the sheets, and turned his back on Castiel. Already he could feel sleep taking him – he felt the bed dip with Castiel’s weight, just before everything winked out.
So, in hindsight, he should really have expected it to get …weird.
Pretending to be married – engaged, civil-partnershipped; whatever – was bad enough, but when he woke in the morning with an armful of angel snoring against him, he realised he’d somehow accidentally set a standard that was going to get really fucking awkward really fucking fast. Especially since Castiel’s face was dug into the side of his neck, and he was breathing right down Dean’s nape, and he was warm, and Dean had never thought he was bad-looking, exactly, and – this had really never happened with his brother, so he had no fucking idea how to deal with it.
“Cas,” he whispered awkwardly, face flushing – from the heat or the embarrassment, whichever came first. “Cas.” There was no way the angel couldn’t hear him; his fucking ear was literally right next to Dean’s mouth.
“Dean,” he replied, voice lazy and quiet, and Dean had the funny sensation of being both pleased that the angel was responding, and fucking terrified that neither of them had yet moved.
“Morning,” he said awkwardly. Castiel lifted his head.
“Good morning, Dean,” he said, as if it wasn’t – Dean would never get used to angels. He really wouldn’t.
“Yeah. Could you, uh. Move over a little?”
Castiel did so immediately; pulled his arm from over Dean’s waist, shifted entirely away so that they were no longer touching. Dean breathed a sigh of relief.
Castiel rolled over on his side and looked at him. “So, what next?” he asked, and for a moment Dean’s breath stuttered in his throat – this was nothing like the time at the brothel he’d taken Castiel to, this casual come-on, and for a second Dean’s brain had so much trouble wrapping itself around the idea of Castiel fucking hitting on him that he stopped talking entirely - and then he realised what he was really getting at.
“You mean hunting. Oh my god,” he muttered under his breath. Castiel looked at him blankly.
“Yeah. That. Well,” he swallowed, and pulled himself up, cringing in anticipatory pain when he leaned on his injured shoulder – and then coming away surprised when he felt nothing. He looked down at it, braced on his hands, and reached up to peel away the bandages. The skin underneath was completely clear. He looked at Cas.
“Did you heal me?”
The angel peered at his shoulder, and raised his eyebrows. “I must have,” he said, sounding surprised. “I suppose it was because I was touching you as we slept.”
Jesus. Dean got out of the bed, and resisted looking back at him – the angel, fully dressed, lying next to the warm space Dean had just left behind. “Yeah. Maybe, don’t …mention that to anyone else. Our secret, okay?” he felt creepy even as he said it, and backtracked. “I mean, just-”
“You’re embarrassed,” Castiel said, right on the money, as usual, and Dean nodded, hoping he wouldn’t be – offended? Put out? He wasn’t sure. “I understand.”
“Okay. Cool. As for the hunt, uh…” He tugged at his shirt – pulled the collar of it up to his nose, and sniffed. It’d be alright for another day. “I dunno. Maybe hit the road, see if we can find anything.”
Dean looked at him. “You used up your mojo, right? Might as well stick with me until you figure out what the fuck is going on.”
“It won’t happen again, Dean. I’m recovered.” Castiel sat up and crawled out of the other side of the bed, not bothering to straighten his clothes, even though he was rumpled beyond belief. Dean’s hands itched to straighten his collar.
“Okay.” Dean said, unconvinced. “Stick around anyway, though. Just in case.”
Castiel frowned. “If you think that’s best,” he said. “I suppose I could search for my father wherever youare.” He touched a hand to his neck, below the knot of his tie, and Dean remembered what lay beneath it with a lost, strange sort of pang. At least if Cas was with him, he knew the damned necklace wouldn’t go missing.
“Exactly.” He gestured at the door, picking up his bag on the way out, already ready to go. “C’mon.”
Their second night sleeping in the same bed, after Castiel dropped again, was awkward.
The third was almost normal; a decent gap between them in the wide honeymoon suite, a comfortable silence. Castiel stared at him until Dean told him to go the fuck to sleep. Dean followed after, to the sounds of his soft breathing.
The fourth was familiar; they went to bed with little fuss, Castiel on the right, Dean on the left.
The fifth was – difficult.
On the fifth, Dean lay staring at the ceiling.
They’d had a good day. The hunt was a couple of towns over; they’d only stopped to sleep, ready to set out again the next day to pick up a lead Bobby had told him about, in-between chiding remarks about his brother. Cas’ snoring next to him had become, somewhere between the third day and the fourth night, a source of comfort rather than the opposite.
Dean rolled over.
“Cas,” he muttered, and regretted it almost immediately when Castiel’s eyes opened. “You awake?”
Castiel turned onto his side to face him, and raised his eyebrow in answer. “Clearly,” he said, and Dean snorted.
“Sorry,” he murmured, and shuffled against the blankets – shut his eyes to go to sleep again. Castiel didn’t move.
“Was there something you wanted?” he muttered across the sheets, and Dean cracked his eye open again.
“No, I’m – I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? It seemed like-“
“D’you think this is weird?” Dean blurted to the ceiling rather than looking at Castiel, and the angel was silent for a moment.
Dean choked. “I wouldn’t – say that. Exactly,” he swallowed. “But, yeah.”
“You and Sam did it,” Castiel offered reasonably, and Dean sighed.
“True. But we’re not brothers.”
“Do you want to stop?” Castiel asked him, and his gaze bored a hole in the side of Dean’s face. Dean shook his head, quickly.
“No, I just-” he hummed. “It’s just been cool getting to know you, I guess,” he said quietly, and turned over to face Cas. “I’m not used to having – you know – friends.”
Castiel’s mouth twisted – half amused, half pitying, but Dean could deal with it. “Me neither,” he said, and rolled over onto his back again. He said, to the dark room, “Goodnight, Dean.” Quiet as a whisper, and Dean chuckled softly.
They reached the place that Bobby had told them about the next day.
It was no big deal; something in the water making everyone go buck wild, most likely a poltergeist. Lately that was all he’d been getting; no demons, no possessions, no nothing; just vamps, werewolves and ghosts, the most cliché Twilight bullshit Bobby could apparently manage. Dean could take a hint; he knew it meant call your brother; but he also knew he was doing the right thing with this distance, and since Cas had been around, distracting him with his pensive gaze and his weird mannerisms, Dean had found it much, much easier to ignore the silence of his phone.
The local water tower was easy enough to find, sticking out like a raised thumb above the town, and Cas climbed it after him instead of zapping himself to the top, sparking a thread of worry deep in Dean’s gut, which at the moment was pretty much par for the course. Castiel had been difficult to wake that morning, curling in on himself, fists clenched in the sheets; he’d been bleary-eyed in the car, mostly quiet, and staring at the side of Dean’s face without a word, making an uncomfortable itch crawl under Dean’s skin.
The tower, large and white, was rimmed by a thin gangway; there was a hatch on the top, and with a great deal of scrabbling and one terrible, slightly hilarious moment where he kicked Cas in the face, they reached the top to crack it open, and leaned down to look inside.
It was pitch-black inside there, and though Dean assumed this was how the spirit was getting around, he couldn’t see anything in the darkness, let alone anything that could qualify as remains.
He was just about to turn to Cas and discuss it – maybe ask him to help lower him in – when he heard a short shout, a thick splash, and looked just in time to see Castiel, trenchcoat and all, floating in the town’s water supply.
Luckily, the water level was high enough for Dean to reach for him; clasp his hand, and pull him out; but Castiel ignored his proffered hand, expression miserable. “I’m in here already,” he said. “I might as well find the remains.”
Dean frowned. “Can you even swim?” – to which Castiel replied by diving beneath the surface of the water, and not coming up again for a good five minutes.
Dean sat, cross-legged, at the edge of the hatch, trying to remind himself that it was going to be fine. Angels don’t breathe, he reminded himself, but they weren’t supposed to sleep, either, and Dean had woken up beside a snoring one that very morning.
“Cas?” he called, tentatively, into the water; there was no reply.
Castiel resurfaced minutes later and gasped when he hit the surface, but otherwise seemed unaffected; he stretched out his hand, and Dean put out his own to meet it, expecting to clasp Castiel’s, and pull him up. Instead, Castiel pressed a small, cold object into his hand, then let him go.
Dean looked at the thing in his palm. “It’s a ring.” he said, dumbly, and Castiel nodded. Dean sat there for a moment, just looking at the small, gold band; Castiel coughed wetly from below him.
“Dean. Help me up.”
“Right, sorry,” he lay on the surface of the water tower after slipping the ring into his pocket and pulled him up, both his hands wrapped around Castiel’s own.
Castiel was bedraggled and miserable all the way to the motel after burning and salting the ring. He dripped obstinately all over the car seats, saying nothing. Dean all but pushed him out of the car and into the motel room, not even bothering with the honeymoon thing this time; he got them a room, shoved Castiel into it, told him to take a shower, and shrugged off to the car to get their stuff.
When he returned, steam was everywhere, but the shower was shut off. He knocked on the door.
There was a brief jangling sound as Castiel fumbled with the door handle, and then it opened – just a crack. Castiel looked slightly less grumpy than before, skin flushed pink, hair dripping with clean water now, at least. “Mm?” he sounded lazy, sated; Dean almost laughed.
“Got you some clothes. We’re going out.” He had decided this on the way to the car, for no other particular reason than he hadn’t had a drink in a few days, and he wanted to see what it would take to get Cas tipsy.
Castiel took the clothes with an obliging thankyou, and shut the door again. Dean leaned against the frame, waiting, saying nothing. Breathing the warm steam from the room.
He let his mind wander, imagining what it must feel like to have your first shower, your first step out of it, your first foray into warm, clean clothes afterwards. He imagined Castiel’s body, warm and pink, and thought of how it was always so warm, even all the way across the bed from Dean, heat radiating from him like he was a sun beneath the thin sheath of flesh that housed him.
Castiel came out of the bathroom, hair a mess, still slightly damp. Dean looked him up and down, and grinned.
“That’s better,” he said, and Castiel smiled lightly. “C’mon.”
He remembered getting to the bar – Castiel’s awkwardness, his stilted movements, the way he perched himself on a stool, stiff, always. He remembers buying drinks, remembers Castiel’s scrunched-up, horrified face after tequila; remembers laughing more than he had in a long time.
“How’d you fall in, anyway?” he asked, and Castiel frowned.
“I was-” he stumbled over his words, tongue thick around them, and Dean tried not to laugh. “I was tired.”
“You fell asleep?”
“I-” Castiel grimaced, obviously aware that Dean was making fun of him. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”
Castiel shook his head, took another sip of his drink, looked away. There was a deep, resonant pause, in which Dean’s gaze lingered on the curl of Castiel’s hand around his glass; the empty shot-glasses, the rim of foam on his own half-drunk beer. He could feel himself going red, but he didn’t know why.
“D’you wanna go back to the motel?” he said, and Castiel lifted his gaze from his glass.
They walked back, the bar only across the road, and in the darkness of the parking lot Castiel was yammering about something, moving his hands with enthusiasm. Dean was too distracted to listen to him, eyes rapt on the movements of his fingers in the air, the way his mouth curved around a word with an ‘l’. By the time they got back to their room, he was lost.
He fumbled with the key, feeling the heat from Castiel bleed through his side. He shouldered his way in – Castiel followed – and then he plunged straight into the bathroom to piss, leaving the door ajar. He could hear Castiel shuffling around, and he avoided looking at himself in the mirror as he washed his hands, breath and mouth rank with the bitter, thick taste of alcohol.
He wandered back into the main room – stumbled a little – and when he got there Castiel was already in bed, back facing him. Dean swallowed.
He tried; sat on his own side of the bed, unlaced his boots. Lifted the covers to crawl inside, body heavy, buzzing, half-awake, half-alive. Something grasped at his navel and tugged; he stared, in the darkness, across the endless gulf between them, and all he could think was touch me.
The sensation spun out of him as if in one long, endless thread; Castiel’s hands were curled against his chest, turned away from Dean, and Dean’s own hands were flat against the bed.
He breathed; clenched his fingers in the sheets.
He whispered, soft, in the dark, “Cas?”
Castiel mumbled something in response and rolled over to face him, and just looking at his hands again made Dean feel strange and full, aching. He reached over, not really knowing what he wanted except that he wanted those hands on him, those fingers clasped around his body.
He reached for Castiel’s hand across the sheets; clutched it, his thumb against Castiel’s palm.
He sat up; crawled across the bed until he was on all fours above him, thigh between Castiel’s legs.
“I’m-” but he had no words to explain himself, only the burning sensation in his gut, like he was on fire. “Cas.” He took both of Castiel’s hands in his, and moved them; Castiel looking up at him all the while, lips parted, eyes soft. Feeling daring, dangerous, he moved Castiel’s hands to rest on his thigh, near his hip; on his waist.
“Ssh, don’t, I just-” he just wanted his hands. “Is this - ?”
Castiel’s palm, warm on his thigh, shifted; he slid it up Dean’s side, brought it around to rest on his lower back, fingers so tentative, so far from what he needed. Dean could feel him though; the warm, resolute, weird weight of Cas’ cock twitching against his knee. “It’s good. It’s fine.” Castiel breathed in response to Dean’s half-question, and Dean nodded, leaning down; he pressed his forehead against Castiel’s.
“Cas, touch me,” he mumbled, and Castiel did exactly as he was asked, long, graceful palms skimming up his back, under his shirt; rucking the shirt up around his armpits, finding the wings of his shoulderblades, the curve of his belly. Dean breathed warm onto Castiel’s face, lips a bare inch from his chin.
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s good.” Using one arm to balance himself, he fit his own hand against the side of Cas’ face; brushed the swell of his lip with his thumb, dragged his hand down his neck, over his collarbone, over his chest, hand separated from skin by the shirt Castiel had borrowed earlier. He felt strange, head swamplike and muggy. His hand found Castiel’s stomach, the gap between the waistband of his underwear and the hem of his shirt; he pushed his thumb into the dip of Castiel’s navel; pushed back against the hand that had slid down the back of his shorts.
He was sweating, breathing the damp musk of alcohol onto Castiel’s face. He dragged his hand further down; hooked his thumb into Castiel’s underwear, then let his hand drift further down out of curiosity; found the hot shape of him, and dragged his fingers against his tented boxers. Castiel’s breath spilled against his cheek.
Dean moved his face, searching; looked down at him, their foreheads pressed together. It would be so, so easy to dip forward. To fall.
Inside him, something caught.
This, all of this; this body trembling beneath him, those hands touching him so carefully fucking everywhere, so fucking slowly; all of this was for him in some way, and Dean felt the weight of it bear down on him with sudden and horrifying vehemence.
He pulled back.
“This is bad.”
Castiel stared at him, hand still lingering on his ass; Dean pulled away, dislodging it. He felt hot with dread when he realised how far he’d slipped; his cock hung heavy between his legs; his clothes were damp with sweat. He shuffled back over to his side of the bed and sat there, breathing hard; Castiel rose up on his elbows, but didn’t follow after. “Bad in what way?”
Dean shook his head. “Bad. Really bad. Just – fuck.” Despite every other bit of his body going cold there was still that want, shushing at the back of his head like a wave, touch me, and he swallowed against it. “Sorry.”
Castiel frowned. “I was here too, Dean.”
Dean dragged both of his palms over his face; he could smell Cas on them, and that just made things worse. “I know, I just- It’s not a good idea.” His friend. Fucking idiot.
“Should I go?”
He hadn’t mean to answer like that; Castiel’s face fell. “I think so.”
“Maybe we need-”
“I understand.” But he didn’t sound like he did; not really; and a couple of seconds later that didn’t matter anymore, because he was gone.
Sam didn’t call; Dean spent two weeks trawling up and down the country, coated in dust, alone.
He went from shitty motel to shitty motel on all number of bullshit hunts, most of which turned out to be nothing. It was no different to usual except that no one warmed his front seat; no one sat beside him and complained about the music, or filled the silence with their quiet questions.
He dragged his body out of bed in the mornings, dragged it back in, at night; wondered at the stillness and emptiness that a bed and a bedroom could hold.
He had his phone in his hand, driving, and was inches from calling Sam when it rang of its own accord, the number not one he recognised. He answered it with a brash, “Who the hell is this?” and the woman on the other end took a moment to answer, clearly startled.
“Is this Dean?”
She paused again, affronted. “I’m calling from Boone County Hospital, Iowa. We might have a friend of yours here.”
Dean’s heart plunged into his shoes. “Who is it?”
“He’s unconscious; we don’t have a name. You were the only contact in his phone.”
Sam had way more contacts in his phone than that, more than Dean, and if it wasn’t him, it was Cas. He felt briefly, horrifically ashamed for being relieved that it was Cas instead of his little brother, then readjusted the phone in his palm. “Short dark hair, kinda tall?” The nurse made a sound of assent on the other end; Dean choked a little. “Is he okay?”
“He’s not in any current danger, but I really shouldn’t discuss this over the phone.”
“Can I see him?”
“We’ll keep him overnight.”
Dean asked her for the address, thanked every fucking manifestation of fate that they’d somehow ended up in the same county, and pulled a U-turn on the road so sharp that he heard car-horns hollering after him as he drove away.
He made it to the hospital in less than three hours, trapped by traffic, toeing the speed limit the whole way. When he finally got to the hospital he ran inside, skidded up to the desk, and surprised the nurse sitting there by barking over the desk, “Where is he?”
The nurse looked back at him and frowned. “Name?”
“You haven’t got it on file, I’m Dean.” He swallowed. “You called me, said my friend was here.”
“Yeah.” He didn’t even stop to consider that it might have been a mistake to give them his real name; the nurse at the desk nodded. He tapped something into the computer, then looked at Dean again.
“He’s in ER. Do you need someone to take you down?”
“No, I’m fine,” he garbled, and took off down the hallway, guessing which direction it would be in. Reaching the department there was another desk, another nurse – a woman, this time, with long, curly hair – and she looked at him tiredly when he told her his name.
“What’s your relationship with the patient?”
Dean looked at her. What a fucking question. “He’s my friend,” he said, and she nodded.
“I’m afraid it’s family only in the room.”
He nodded, knowing from experience that it was better not to fight. “Can you at least tell me what happened to him?”
She peered at him over the rim of her glasses. “He was admitted dehydrated, yesterday evening.”
“Is he okay?”
“He’ll be fine; he’ll be out soon enough. The waiting room is over there.” She pointed, and Dean nodded, every one of his veins juddering and jolting under his skin.
He sat, phone in his hand, and wished he’d said something else; brother, nephew, cousin, something. Now all there was to do was wait, not knowing what was happening behind the door, trying not to give in to the impulse to phone Sam for the first time in months.
He picked up a magazine, opened it, then put it down again.
He sat with his elbows on his knees, phone clutched between his hands, shaking, and tried to hang on.
They released him into Dean’s custody a couple of hours later; Dean forged some forms, gave them a fake credit card, and had a quiet, pale Cas against his side in a matter of minutes.
Dean resisted the temptation to smack him for getting himself into such a fucking mess, and steered him through the hospital and to the car by his elbow. Once he’d got Cas into the passenger side, he slammed the door shut and pushed himself into the driver’s seat. He leant his forehead against the steering-wheel and breathed out, then lifted his head again.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Castiel blinked back at him; his eyes were sunken, his hands shaking. They’d told him just to keep him hydrated; he’d been on a drip for hours, and he’d only fainted; it wasn’t too bad. But all in all this had happened for a reason, and Dean had the horrible, sneaking suspicion that he knew what it was.
“I forgot,” Castiel mumbled irritably, and Dean clenched his hands into fists.
“I didn’t realise I was unwell, I thought – I’ve never had to eat or drink before.”
“When was the last time you ate?”
Castiel mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like ‘Wednesday’. Dean started the car.
“You’re a fucking idiot, you know that?”
“You fucking should be,” he growled, and meant it. Castiel, beside him, was quiet.
“Yeah, I know.”
Castiel was silent for a moment more, and then he said, “Why didn’t you come in?”
“I wasn’t allowed,” Dean hissed back through gritted teeth, unwilling to let him get off so easily. He pulled up to the nearest McDonald’s drive-thru – desperate times – and jerked his head at the building as he rolled the car slowly towards the window. “What do you want?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re getting a big mac.”
“Don’t fucking thank me,” his anger simmered all the way through the ordering process, all the way through payment, all the way into the parking lot. When he pulled the car to a stop he thrust the bag at Castiel and left him to pick through it, finding the burger and shoving it into his mouth. “Eat slowly or you’ll get sick.”
“I know.” There was a pause. “Is there somewhere nearby that we can stay?”
“There’s a motel near here,” he said, curt. They sat there in silence, Dean occasionally reaching over to steal some of his fries. Dean stared out of the window mostly, and then came to a decision.
“We’re gonna get married,” he barked, and Castiel looked at him.
“You don’t have a choice. I’m not waiting in the fucking waiting room for your ass ever again,” he shook his head, mostly to himself. “We’ll get married on paper, and then next time you fuck up like this I’ll tell them I’m your husband. Capisce?”
Castiel looked at him and finally, finally was himself again. “Dean, that is not a good idea.”
“I know. I don’t care.”
“I really think-”
“It’s not up for discussion.” Dean paused and then, reasonably, he thought, said, “Do you want to take my name or come up with your own?”
Castiel swallowed his mouthful of burger and looked down at his hands. “I’ll take yours. It would be hard to decide on another one.”
There was quiet, for a few seconds, until Castiel coughed and said, “I’m glad you came to get me.”
Dean couldn’t look at him. “Yeah, well, I’m glad you’re okay.”
In the end, they kept to Dean’s decision; they applied, waited the standard three days, used those three days to get Cas back up to speed (and for Dean to complain about him being an idiot), and then Dean dragged him, surly and sure, to the closest courthouse.
At one point Cas muttered, “This isn’t very romantic, Dean,” but the look Dean shot him shut him up immediately.
They signed the forms, paid thirty-five dollars for the privilege, and afterwards sat outside on a bench, Dean with the license in his hands.
“See?” he said, feeling suddenly at a loss. “Problem solved.”
“Only in thirteen states.”
“Better than nothing.”
Castiel shifted beside him, and Dean could feel him gearing up to speak. He spoke first. “I didn’t want to fuck things up.”
Castiel looked at him. “Fuck what up?” the first word sounded strange coming out of his mouth; Dean laughed.
“I miss my brother,” he said, “But you make it, you know – not, better, just- different? I don’t know.”
“Are you okay?” Dean asked him, because it was important. Again, Castiel closed his mouth on a sentence.
“Of course.” Castiel took a deep breath, then said, “I think you should call your brother.”
Dean nodded, tiredly. He sighed; he got out his phone.
“I really can’t leave you alone for five minutes, can I?”
Dean grunted something resentful; Sam, from the passenger seat, laughed again. The marriage license sat in his hands; Dean reached over, snatched it away, folded it up, and stuffed it into the side-pocket of his door. “Shut up, Sam.”
“Sorry, I guess I’m just a little pissed I didn’t get to be best man.”
“Sammy, fuck off.”
Castiel, from the back seat, remained mostly quiet. He slept a lot on car journeys; like a child, the rolling lulled him to sleep; but now he was awake, just choosing not to speak. Dean peered at him through his wing-mirror.
It was so much better; Sam back in the car, the two of them rolling off towards the horizon, guns swinging. To hell with the devil; they were better together than apart.
With Cas, though, things hadn’t changed. They were married now, of course, which in the long run meant nothing – Dean had only done it as a formality, after all – but with Sam back there was someone in the room, now, to look at him oddly when he suggested he and Cas share a bed. The longer Sam was with them, the more he realised his behaviour – their behaviour – hadn’t exactly ever just been friendly.
He said nothing to Sam of this, of course; he told him, straight up, that it was for the legal benefit, and though Sam made jokes, he seemed to see the ultimate point. Cas, however, got quieter and quieter on the matter.
He stayed with them, now; Dean hadn’t asked whether or not he was able to leave, worried he’d take it as a hint, and go. Every time Dean looked at him he felt that thrum, that roar in his ears, twist in his gut, touch me, but Castiel hadn’t, and Dean hadn’t asked him to.
Dean found him one night sitting in the impala, feet up on the dashboard. He was originally marching over to tell him off, but he stopped after wrenching the door open, seeing the folded paper in Castiel’s hands.
Castiel looked stricken; embarrassed. He made a half-hearted attempt to throw the paper away, but stopped before he could let it go, and dropped it into his lap instead.
“We were gonna get food.” Dean said, feeling slightly numb, and Castiel looked up at him.
“I wanted you to do it.” Castiel muttered, and even without context Dean knew what he meant. He frowned.
“It was a stupid idea.”
“Maybe.” Castiel shrugged, folded paper in his hands. He swept his thumbs over it. “I still wanted it.”
“Then why not?”
Dean shuffled on his feet, uncomfortable, wishing that hadn’t been the question he’d asked. “It’s – I don’t know. You’re my friend.”
“I’d still be your friend.”
“I don’t see how.” Castiel’s voice snapped, impatient, and Dean laughed.
Castiel sat for a moment, messing with the paper in his hands, and then said, “Dean, the world could end very, very soon. This isn’t the time to be cowardly.”
Dean laughed again, half out of disbelief. “You think I’m a coward?”
“Not in general, no. When it comes to this – absolutely.”
Dean sputtered for a second, leaning into the car. “Fine.” He dipped forward, crushing Castiel’s nose against his, and kissed him. “How’s that for cowardly, asshole?” Castiel started laughing – gripped his shoulders, pulled him forward, into the car. He fit his hands to Dean’s face.
“Dean,” he said, foregoing further bullshit. “We’re already married. How much can this change us?”
Dean had to admit he had something, there.
Husband was a big word. Dean rolled it in his mouth a couple of times, goaded by Sam’s laughter, but it never seemed quite right; partner was gross, boyfriend just wasn’t true, and lover made him throw up in his mouth a little.
All in all, they were living on borrowed time; they kept up with the scam (although now it was less of one than before), and Castiel enjoyed telling elaborate, euphemistic stories of their love when Sam and Dean deigned to get him drunk, stopping only when Dean hauled him away.
Sam figured out that it was going on, eventually; mostly by walking in on them when Cas was balls-deep inside Dean; but the marriage, and the questions it raised, went undiscussed.
Dean lay beside Cas some mornings, wondering what to get for breakfast, if the apocalypse would start that day, if they’d stave it off for another year, and thought that all those words weren’t right for them; too normal.
In the end he decided just to bypass it; it didn’t matter what it meant, if this was (shock! Horror!) commitment; all it really meant was that Cas could be there, every day. That they could visit him if he got hurt; that they were family, for as long as they survived.
Husband irked him, made him nervous, but Castiel Winchester he could cope with.