They decide to stay in a motel instead of driving back to Kansas right away. Dean would have preferred to go home immediately, but after the night they all had, he trusts none of them to drive more than a couple of miles. He tells Cas to hand the keys to his truck over to Sam, and Mary gets in besides her youngest so that they can fetch her car.
Cas still seems somewhat unsteady, even though his physical injuries are completely healed. He moves a little slower than usual, as if he was suddenly more conscious of his human limbs again. Dean finds that his hands move towards his friend's arm of their own volition as they make their way to the Impala. He can feel how tense Cas’ muscles are, even though the many layers of clothing, and Dean has the overwhelming urge to keep a hold on him, even when he is finally sitting in the passenger seat. He settles for a last squeeze and a little stroke of the back of Cas’ head, where his hair, Dean notes, is still damp with sweat. He lets go reluctantly, closing the passenger door, and then quickly walking around to the driver's side.
They reach the nearest motel quickly. Dean makes Cas wear Sam's heavy woolen FBI coat and closes the buttons for him, while Cas looks at him with fond exasperation in his tired eyes. It looks ridiculously large on him, but it also hides the stains of blood and black sludge. Dean gets them a room that will accommodate all four of them and texts Sam their room number. He wants them all close by tonight. He even makes Cas go up the narrow staircase in front of him, not being able to stand taking his eyes off his best friend for even a minute.
Cas patiently accepts all of this. There is even one of his barely there Mona Lisa smiles gracing his lips when Dean starts fussing over him the moment the door closes behind them. The hunter’s hands methodically remove Cas’ blood stained tie and coat and the angel moves to accommodate his efforts to get his arms out of the sleeves. He only starts to protest when Dean begins to open his shirt buttons. His hands move up and it takes a moment to find the place where Dean is fumbling with the buttons, but eventually he’s able to gently cup his friend's hands, forcing them to still.
"I'm fine Dean, you can stop worrying," Cas says.
Dean can't meet his friend’s blue gaze. He knows he would find it gentle and so unlike the way it once bore into him so many years ago. Suddenly there is a lump in his throat that he has to swallow before he can reply.
"Let me do this. You didn't use your mojo to clean up, so I'm guessin' you're drained. I'll give you somethin' to wear."
There is a small stretch of silence in which Cas seems to mull over Dean's proposition and Dean can sense the moment he concedes.
"Alright. But then I'd also like to take a shower. It would be nice to be completely clean again."
"Sure thing," Dean moves away to fetch his own shower kit, a faded t-shirt and an old pair of sweatpants to lend to Cas and when he turns around again, the angel has already shrugged out of his shirt. Dean stops short as if he had hit an invisible brick wall.
Castiel's torso is a dark red and black mess. Crusted blood stains his whole abdomen and the layer is so thick that it almost completely obscures his elegant angel warding tattoo. The black sludge that had been spewing from Cas's mouth when he had been so close to his last moments and which, Dean realizes with paralyzing horror, was probably his own rotten insides, is still sticking to Cas's chest. For a moment Dean's mind takes him further back to a lake site over five years ago and a drenched coat sullied with very similar stains.
Dean doesn't even find it in himself to feel flustered at the sight of Cas half naked in front of him.
Cas looks troubled, too. As he gazes down at himself, his brow furrows a little more. Then he moves to inspect his shirt.
"We can get you a new one," Dean says, shaking himself out of his stupor. He reaches for the shirt and takes it in exchange for the shower supplies. "You need any help in there?"
Cas eyebrows arch up.
"I'm not so alien to this world anymore as to need help showering. I was human for over half a year, remember?"
Of course Dean remembers, he just doesn't like to think about that particular time in his life and the decisions he had been forced to make. At Cas' comment he actually feels his face grow hot. He hadn't even thought about the implications of his offer for help. The urge to stay close to Cas right now, to not let the angel out of his sight had erased all other thoughts and social restrictions from his mind.
"Sorry. I didn't... I'm not saying you're not capable ... I just ..."
"It's alright, Dean," Cas saves him from his stammering. "I’m not offended. But you don’t have to worry so much. I'm fine."
"I always worry about you."
Cas's face falls at that and for a moment Dean's is afraid he said something wrong, but only a moment later he recognizes the expression as the same one that Cas wore when they had refused to leave him to die alone in that barn. It's shock, wonder, grateful awe and overwhelming fondness all chasing each other across Cas' features and Dean wonders where he went wrong that Cas is this moved by a simple expression of care.
Dean clears his throat a little awkwardly.
"I'll be waitin’ out here, if you need anything."
Cas thanks him and retreats into the bathroom. Dean had expected that he would be able to relax a little once he was no longer scrutinized by Cas, but the exact opposite seems to be the case. While he changes into his pajama pants and a loose t-shirt he listens intently for any unusual sounds coming out of the bathroom. But all he can hear is the running water and the soft sounds of Cas putting bottles of shampoo on the ledge in the shower.
Cas takes about fifteen minutes. Longer than probably necessary to get cleaned up, but Dean won't begrudge him the extra hot water, when the angel barely gets to shower at all.
Once Cas is cleaned up and back in their room, Dean moves into the bathroom to brush his teeth and get a quick shower himself. He might not be covered in his own blood and insides but he still feels dried sweat and grime from the hunt clinging to his body. After that, he writes a short note for Sam and Mary and puts it in front of the door where they would surely find it.
He finds Castiel, sitting on the edge of one of the beds. It's the first time in a while that Dean has seen him without his suit and trench coat. Actually, it’s the first time since Cas was human. And even though the angel looks exhausted, his shoulders hunched and the bags under his eyes like bruises, Dean thinks the more casual clothes suit him well. So far, he has tried not to think about the weight of everything Cas had said with his dying breaths, but he knows beyond doubt that the angel had barred himself to them, had reached into his own chest and taken out everything that made him vulnerable and laid it out on the dirty barn floor for all of them to see. It seemed only appropriate that now he should shed his physical armor, too.
"You should lay down. Try to get some sleep."
As it has the whole evening, it takes Cas a little longer than usual to respond.
"I don't think I'll be able to sleep, Dean," he says dejectedly, while Dean moves over to sit on the bed across from him.
"You think you'd have nightmares?"
Cas shakes his head. "That's not why. There have been many instances since I regained my grace that left me wishing for nothing more than to be able to sleep. But I can't. Dean, my mind works differently from yours. Not only does it not require rest, it simply can't fall asleep and the brain in this body is merely a host to me. It too, can no longer fall asleep."
"You still want to, though? Why? Seems like not needin' to sleep 'd be great."
Cas sighed and averted his gaze.
"I still remember the feeling, Dean, of bone deep exhaustion after a twelve-hour shift at the Gas 'n Sip. And even though my eyes aren't falling shut on their own accord anymore, and my limbs aren't aching, I sometimes still get the longing to shut the world down for a while, to not have to face it."
"But you can't sleep?"
"No. It's not my body or my grace that's defective."
"Defective?" Dean asks, taken aback. "Cas, there ain't anything defective about you!"
"No? Then why is it that I can't seem to function properly whenever you are gone, in other words, whenever I am needed the most?" The angel’s eyes are wide as he looks to Dean from across the gap between the beds and Dean is suddenly and violently reminded of a situation very similar to this. "Because if I see what heaven has become, what I made of it, I'm afraid I might kill myself."
"Cas ..." the name comes out a strangled croak. He clears his throat before he tries again. "Cas, how can you still say it?"
Cas tilts his head a little. "Say what?"
"That knowing us has been the best part of your life. You've suffered so much since you've met us."
"And you were there for all of it."
"No, I wasn't! I wasn't there when you fought Raphael, I wasn't there after you took on Sam's memories and I sure as Hell wasn't there when you lost your grace." It all came spewing out of him in a desperate wave. How could Cas honestly believe that that part of his life was the best? Now it is Dean who looks at his friend in desperate need of answers and it is Cas whose features soften.
"We did hurt each other a lot, didn't we?" Cas asks wistfully. Dean nods, dropping his gaze down to stare at his own hands in his lap.
"How can you say it’s been good? You've had nothing but pain here, Cas", he echoes a conversation that feels like a lifetime ago.
"That's not true", Cas ducks his head to meet Dean's gaze and distantly Dean notes the irony that now Cas is comforting him instead of the other way around, as he’d intended. “And even if it were, Dean, I have now come to realize, it would still have been worth it.”
“You just told me that you think you’re defective.”
Now, it’s Cas’ turn to gaze down again.
“I sometimes find myself … without any way to move forward, but then you come back into my life and I remember why I have to use the time that was given to me when I was resurrected, why I cannot simply let go. You’ve made yourself essential to me Dean, and sometimes it frightens me, but I would not have it any other way.”
It comes so close to the “I love you” from earlier that Dean feels his eyes well up with tears. Cas wears the familiar sadness that has been clinging to him for many years now like a well-worn coat, but when he goes on, there is something new in his gaze, a fierce certainty that Dean has never seen on the angel before.
“Do you realize how extraordinary that is? I have seen evolution in its entirety, I have seen planet earth form and Pangea break apart and yet there has never been a point in my existence that I could claim to love someone so thoroughly that they could be my undoing as well as my salvation.”
“You used to be so much more.”
“Did I? As I recall you used to call me and my brethren ‘dicks with wings’. You didn’t seem to think very highly of me.”
“I was afraid.” It’s a confession that’s long overdue.
“But, to an extent you were right. Yes, I was more powerful. My years on earth have worn me down, as life is prone to do. But that is what happened, I lived!”
Dean raises his eyes and sees that Cas leaned forward slightly, his gaze imploring, willing Dean to understand. As their eyes meet, his gaze softens and his smile widens.
“I worked at a gas station”, he says gently. “Sometimes I still marvel at that. I used to be stationed near Jupiter to watch and make sure it formed in its correct orbit. Time passed differently for me then. I could spend a millennium not moving a single feather and I was content to simply be pulled along with the planet around the sun. Now I find myself wandering the bunker at night, as I did the Gas ’n Sip when I couldn’t sleep, and my mind wanders to you and Sam every time.”
Dean expected the usual agitating sensation of otherworldliness to cling to Cas as he talks about watching freaking Jupiter form, but it doesn’t come. His best friend’s face is so open, his eyes so vulnerable that Dean has no problem connecting the person he drinks coffee with every morning to the ancient being he just told him about. For the first time, thinking about the sheer enormity of Cas does not make him feel inadequate and he feels a peace washing over him that he hasn’t felt in a long time.
But the angel hasn’t finished yet. He has leaned forward so much now, that he is almost rising from the bed.
“Yes, it’s been difficult, yes it’s been painful, but that’s because it matters. You matter to me, Dean. Sam matters to me. Mary matters to me. I have never felt so much pain in my life and I have never felt so much love. But such is the nature of love, Dean, I have learned. To let it in is to let in pain. And I would not trade it for all the power in the world, not even for answers from my father, not for the grudging acceptance of my angelic siblings.”
Dean feels something break open inside of him and still, he has to ask …
“Am I really worth that, Cas?”
The angel reaches out and puts his hand on Dean’s knee, like Dean had done earlier with him when he had laid dying on that couch in the barn.
“You have always been worth it.”
“Then I really hope I didn’t interpret this the wrong way.”
“Why would you …”
Cas voice hitches in his throat as Dean surges forward and meets his lips in a fevered kiss. It’s short and a little too forceful and nervous, because Dean isn’t at all sure that he interpreted what Cas had said in the right way and he might just ruin everything. But Cas had said he had accepted the pain to let the love in and Chuck damn him, if Dean couldn’t be brave enough to do the same.
Cas doesn’t respond, though, so Dean moves back, his face still inches from Cas. He must look ridiculous, half risen from the bed and frozen in a half-bent posture. For several agonizing seconds, neither of them move a muscle in their bodies.
Then, Cas’ face, previously stuck in wide eyed shock, relaxes and he bridges the gap between them again. He is gentler than Dean, grabs the hunter’s shoulder as he kisses him and gently pushes him back until they are both sitting on Dean’s bed. The kiss is languid and soft and they aren’t touching except for their lips and Cas’ hand on Dean. And that is what Dean’s whole world narrows down to Cas full lips on his and his soft lean hand, somehow still guiding him after all the times they lost each other. It is only when he feels wet droplets on his cheeks that he remembers that the rest of his body exists. He opens his eyes and they find that Cas’ have apparently stayed open the whole time and Dean realizes that they are wet with tears.
He moves back a little, but he doesn’t want to lose contact, so he reaches out his hand and cups Cas’ face and the angel leans into the touch, his lips quivering.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
“After all this time,” Cas whispers, “For all the time that I have known what my feelings were for you, I never thought you would return them in such a way.”
His tears are falling freely now, tumbling down his cheeks and onto the mattress and Dean is shocked to find that a sob wretches his angel’s body.
“Hey”, he moves forward slowly and pulls Cas into his arms, lets the tremors run through both of their bodies. “I’m sorry. To be honest, I thought the same about you. I didn’t think you would even be capable of loving me like this and even if you were, I never thought I deserved it. I’m sorry.”
Cas hiccups against the crook of his neck and Dean is surprised to find that it’s a strangled laugh. “We really are a couple of dumbasses.”
Dean can’t help the grin that appears on his face. “Yeah, we really are.”
They stay like that for a while, holding onto each other, until Cas’ last tears are shed and his body has stilled. Than Dean disentangles himself, only to reach one hand under Cas’ legs and the other under his torso to gently lift him unto the bed completely. The angel’s eyes follow Dean as he moves to the door to turn off the overhead light and they never leave him until he lies down next to him.
Dean kisses the crown of his head before he lies further down into a position that is comfortable to sleep in, one arm draped over Cas as they lay facing each other. Nothing more has to happen tonight. He feels drained and can sense that the angel is emotionally exhausted and despite everything that was said tonight, Dean doesn’t want to overwhelm him.
“I still can’t sleep, Dean.” Cas murmurs in a raspy voice.
“What do you want to do instead?” He asks gently and allows his hand to rub soothing circles on Cas’ t-shirt clad torso.
“May I watch over you?” Cas whispers and Dean feels his throat tighten and his eyes sting. Something heavy that was in his stomach before dissipates and he exhales audibly.
“Yeah, Cas.” And with that Dean’s eyes fall shut and his thoughts stop spinning in his head. An instant later, he is asleep.
This is how Sam and Mary find them half an hour later. They move silently through the dark room, doing their best not to disturb the two figures on the bed.
Cas only looks away from Dean once. When Sam comes out of the bathroom he moves directly into Cas line of sight and he lifts his head a little to lock eyes with the younger Winchester brother. A momentary worry skims over the angel’s face, but Sam’s eyes are gentle and knowing and his smile is uninhibited and Cas feels comfortable to lose himself in Dean’s relaxed features once more.