It’s quiet after Jack mind whammies them and disappears. Too quiet.
Sam is instantly in deep research mode, determined to find Jack. Cas is desperate to find the kid but he seems a bit lost, just sitting there at the war table and watching Sam’s frantic typing. The two are discussing their options and debating the benefits of getting other angels involved.
Dean, for the most part, hangs back.
He doesn’t want to join them. It’s sweet, really, how the two are so instantly determined that they can and will find Jack, but it’s not going to make a difference. Dean knows all too well that when somebody disappears like that … you can’t find a guy who doesn’t want to be found.
They will find him, of course. But they’ll find him when he’s had a chance to calm down, when he’s ready to face them. That isn’t going to be today. That isn’t going to be soon and Dean is far too aware that he’s the only one ready to admit that.
The twinge in his lower back that his thirties have graced him with tells him that he’s been standing here, watching them, for a long time. Their conversation is going round in circles and he still hasn’t said a word. It’s because of this that they instantly stop and look at him when he speaks, despite how quiet his voice his.
“Dean?” Sam sounds annoyed.
“That’s enough, Sam. Cas.” Dean looks up from the floor. “We’re not gonna find him tonight.”
“We have to keep trying, Dean.”
“Yeah, I know. And we will. But Jack ain’t gonna let you find him tonight. It’s late, and we’re all beat. Time to hit the hay.”
Cas and Sam look at each other, reluctant to quit. Sam looks away first, nodding in acknowledgement that his brother is right. His eyes have been heavy for the past forty five minutes, anyway; he’ll do better after some sleep.
“Alright. Come on, Cas. Leave it for tonight. We’ll find him in the morning.”
No, you won’t, Dean thinks, but he doesn’t say it out loud.
Cas looks like he wants to argue but he just nods once, looking down with a pained expression. Sam rises from his seat, pats Cas firmly on the shoulder and then heads off in the direction of his bedroom.
Dean watches him go and then sits down in front of Cas. The angel hasn’t moved.
“I thought you were going to bed” Cas says quietly, eyes still fixed on table.
“I am. You alright, Cas?”
The simple, strikingly honest answer hits Dean like a slap in the face. Dean didn’t really need to ask; he can tell by looking at the guy that Cas isn’t alright at all. But he’s asked that question so many times and the angel always has the same answer. ‘I’m fine’ is the answer Dean was expecting. He’s not sure what to do with the answer he got.
Cas looks up when the hunter doesn’t reply.
“Okay” Dean says quietly, settling in for an unpleasant but necessary conversation. “Talk to me, man.”
Cas glances at him briefly before looking back down at the table. He’s fidgeting when he speaks. “I should have been here. He trusted me to keep him safe and I let Lucifer stop me from keeping my promise.”
“Cas, you didn’t let him do anything, he killed you! He came up behind you, there was nothing you could have done to stop him.”
“It doesn’t matter now, does it?” Cas snaps. “I’m back and it didn’t make a difference.”
Dean holds his hands up in surrender, knowing that saying anything to the contrary won’t go over well. Cas is stubborn as hell.
“He made a mistake, Cas. The first time that happens … it kills you. But he’ll get over it. You just need to give him some time.”
“He doesn’t need time, Dean, he needs help. That was supposed to be my job. I promised Kelly I’d keep Jack safe and now I’ve … I’ve failed.”
“You haven’t failed. You’ve been back one day, man. You haven’t had a chance to fail yet.” Dean nudges the angel’s foot with his shoe, prompting Cas to look at him. “And you won’t. Look, Jack needs some time to get over what happened but he’ll come back. And when he does, you’ll be here. That’s all you can do.”
Cas it quiet for a moment before he sighs and lowers his head. “It’s not enough.”
“Not yet, but it will be.”
Dean lets his response hang in the tense air between them, taking it as a victory that Cas doesn’t argue any more. He lets the quiet go on for long enough that it starts to feel vaguely uncomfortable before he tries a tentative change of subject.
“How’re you doing, anyway? With being back, I mean.”
And there it is - the same old response he’s gotten for years. It’s hard-wired into Cas to wave off anyone’s concern for his well-being. Dean wonders if that’s a trait which is inherent to Castiel or if the angel learned it from him. God, he hopes it’s the former.
“You sure, man? Cause you were … y’know, gone. Like, actually gone, and now you’re back. And don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have you back, but … I know what it’s like to be dead and then to be back. It doesn’t get any easier.”
“No, it doesn’t” Cas quietly. He hesitates for a moment before warily meeting the hunter’s eyes. “The Empty was … strange. It was nothing at all but after I woke up I was aware of everything. I was aware of it being nothing.”
“You said you annoyed a cosmic entity into sending you back?”
“I did. He didn’t like me being awake and I refused to go back to sleep, so he sent me away.”
“How’d you end up back here?”
“I’m not sure.” Cas smiles faintly. “Maybe because this is home to me now. I’m not welcome in Heaven any more, Dean. This place is the closest thing to a home I have.”
“This is your home, Cas” Dean says without hesitance, with so much conviction that the angel’s eyes widen in pleased surprise. “I’m glad you're back.”
“No, man, I mean it.” Dean glances away and he keeps his eyes fixed on the angel’s familiar blue tie as he speaks, but he doesn’t let the pounding of his heart stop him. “We thought you were dead and gone. For real this time, no coming back. And it … I can’t remember the last time something hit me that hard, Cas.”
“Don’t be sorry” Dean scoffs, leaning back in the chair with his usual bravado that tells the angel he’s not entirely comfortable with this conversation. “Look, I’m not saying any of this to make you feel guilty or whatever. I just wanted you to know that I … we … missed you. A lot.”
“Well, thank you for that” Cas says, smiling genuinely. “I would say I missed you, too, but honestly I was mostly unconscious and unaware of anything. When I was awake, all I could really focus on was wanting to leave the nothingness.”
“Fair enough” Dean grins, knowing that the angel’s dry sense of humour is in place.
The two smile at each other for a moment before Dean can’t keep it in place any more and he lets the smile fall. His face is suddenly so serious that Cas frowns.
“Are you okay, Dean?”
“Never do that again, alright?” Dean mutters. “I mean it this time!”
Cas looks confused for a moment before he smiles in understanding. “Alright. I’ll endeavour not to let it happen again.” He smirks at the hunter. “I mean it this time.”
Dean nods in response, the angel’s reaction pulling a barely there smile to his lips even though he doesn’t really feel like smiling.
The silence is back but it’s much more relaxed this time. Cas is still eyeing the laptop Sam left behind - a testimony to the fact that the younger Winchester was exhausted - and he’s clearly still worried about Jack, but he seems to have conceded the point. Dean knows he’ll be back to trying to find the kid as soon as the hunter leaves the room, but he can’t stop him. A guy who doesn’t sleep has to do something while the lowly humans catch some shut eye after all.
“You good, man?”
Dean accepts the answer this time and stands up to stretch. “Alright. In that case, I’m gonna hit the hay. You need anything first?”
Cas starts to say no but then stops himself, and he hesitates for a moment before he stands up, too.
Dean is slightly confused for a second but then Cas steps into his personal space and winds his arms around him, and Dean gets it. After all that’s happened over the past couple of days, he’s not going to begrudge the angel a hug. Dean wraps his arms tightly around Cas, smiling when he feels the arms around him tighten in response.
The two stay like that for longer than usual. Longer than what’s probably appropriate, but Dean finds that he doesn’t really care. After all these years, even he can admit that he and Cas have an admittedly strange bond, that they stand too close, and sometimes their hugs last too long. It’s still weird, but it stopped being uncomfortable a long time ago.
Cas holds onto him for long enough that Dean knows the angel’s not as okay as either of them want to believe, but he doesn’t comment on it. He just stands there with his angel in his arms, surprisingly content to just hold onto him. It’s the longest embrace they’ve ever shared.
It’s also the first from which Cas is first to pull away. When he does he seems hesitant, like he knows he has to let go but doesn’t want to and has forced himself to step back. Dean keeps one hand on his arm and the other on his waist, trying to let the angel know that he can step back into his arms if he needs to.
But Cas just smiles. “Thank you, Dean.”
“Any time, Cas.”
Dean’s hands drop away and he tells the other that he’s going to bed, meaning it this time. Before he leaves, though, he pats Cas on the cheek, and his hand definitely lingers there a moment too long. Dean leaves the room with his face burning, his hand feeling warm, and the knowledge that he had, beyond all doubt, done that on purpose.
Back in the main room, Cas sits back down and smiles. His cheek feels warm from the heat of Dean’s hand, especially over the cheekbone where the hunter’s thumb had stroked the skin. There have been times over the years when he has doubted whether or not Dean truly cares for him, but the proof from moments ago is undeniable.
He’ll keep looking for Jack in a few minutes, but for now he can take a moment to enjoy his own certainty.
It’s good to be home.