It shouldn’t be this hard, Dean thinks. Weeks ago, he would’ve never thought about it, would’ve never considered the consistency or the depth, the warmth, how it felt sliding down his windpipe, into his lungs.
Sometimes, if he closes his eyes, he can remember how it tasted, how his body spasmed for breath for what felt like an eternity, until he clawed his way to the surface. Over and over, only to be shoved back down, to swallow his weight, hidden deep within the murky depths, never to see sunlight again.
Touching water reminds him of acid, now. Muscle memory, most likely, but he wishes it would stop. Showering, he can handle; his first, after stripping off the layers and promptly trashing them, lasted an hour, long enough for him to scrub himself raw and to rid Michael’s memory from his skin. This, though—baths are supposed to be his quiet time, the one place in the bunker besides his room where he can relax, can drown out the rest of the world. And, now, the several dozen others who somehow took up residence the moment he disappeared.
What he wants is to be alone, and he can’t even get that, after all he’s been through.
Rolling his neck, Dean looks down into the mostly-filled clawfoot tub, warm water mocking him as it steams. Suck it up, he tells himself, repeatedly. His feet remain rooted into the tiles, skin clammy; his heart pounds, and briefly he wonders if his nerves are acting up, or dinner is coming back to haunt him. Nerves, probably. His blood has been boiling since the minute he stepped into the bunker, the initial comforts of home replaced by an internalized dread of having to confront those he left. If only coming home didn’t feel like a death march. If only he could function like a normal human being, without the self-loathing and nightmares, and the memories of drowning, of passing out for hours on end. Deep, deep.
Dean shakes his head, scrubs his face. It’s just a bath, he tells himself, ignoring his shaking hands. It’s not gonna kill you.
But it might. For all he knows, this could be another ploy, another scheme concocted by Michael just out of pure spite, and this might be another method of tugging him back in, dragging him deeper than he’s ever been. Stories of children being sucked down drains spring to mind, but never before has it ever felt this real. And he hates it—every second of it, Dean wishes he could forget, could take a bath without making himself sick over it.
The knock to the door startles Dean, sending him to his knees in a panic. Though, it’s mostly an attempt to cover himself—his underwear and pajamas sit in a pile beside the sink, well out of arms reach. “Occupied,” he hisses, but whoever it is lets themselves in, uncaring of Dean’s plight. He catches sight of Castiel’s coattails before he even makes it fully in the door, and only marginally does his heart calm, only to pick right back up again.
He’s naked—and Castiel is in the room with him, fully dressed, and looking every bit as concerned as he ought to.
“Are you alright?” Castiel asks as soon as Dean stands. Hands cupped over his crotch, Dean turns his attention to the floor, at his bowed knees and untrimmed toenails. Another thing he needs to take care of—grooming. Shoes still on, Castiel crosses the room, their feet separated by mere inches; Dean can feel the heat radiating off of him, just from proximity, warm against sweat-chilled flesh. “I sensed your distress.”
“I’m fine,” Dean lies, not even bothering to look up. Letting his hands drop to the side, he turns to face the water, pointedly ignoring Castiel’s presence. If only Castiel would stop walking closer, would take his hand off Dean’s elbow. Gentle, like somehow in the last few weeks, he became even more fragile, like anything that touches him might shatter his bones, break his soul.
At his back, Castiel hums, then slips off his shoes. Socked feet press against Dean’s bare soles, scratchy and woolen. “Sam can’t keep secrets,” he begins, and Dean snorts, hating how much it hurts his chest. “I figured you might want some company.”
Dean just shrugs, back still turned while Castiel undresses himself. Coat folded neatly, suit jacket and shirt placed on top. His pants are almost an afterthought, leaving him only in his boxers before Dean stops him, abruptly reaching out to grab Castiel’s hand, thumbs tucked into the waistband. “Don’t do this,” he says, finally managing to wrench his eyes from the floor to settle on Castiel’s face. “Don’t… I don’t need your pity, man. Not right now.”
“This isn’t pity,” Castiel says, nonchalant as anything. Red-faced, Dean watches him slide his underwear off, leaving him bare and utterly human. Approachable, even, if Dean wanted to go that far. Again, Castiel cradles Dean’s elbow, hand drifting up to cover the wound marring his shoulder. “We didn’t get to properly greet each other earlier. I…” he stops, mulling over the words. “I missed you. I heard your prayers.”
Dean’s gut roils, fingers twitching. Castiel knows, then—Castiel knows how he begged for help, pleaded with Michael to release him. Cried for mercy, most of all. “Then you should know,” Dean manages, hanging his head. “I’m just… tired, Cas. Tired and every time I look over there, I feel like it’s gonna happen again. Like this is some nightmare, and I’m gonna wake up and—”
“This isn’t a dream,” Castiel assures, softer now, whisper-quiet. “Come with me.”
Dean can’t help it—he follows.
Castiel steps in first, his weight displacing the water enough to fill it to the lip of the tub. Once seated, he extends a hand, dripping wet, and Dean takes it with some coaxing. With the first touch, Dean flinches, willing himself to chill out. Castiel guides him with steady hands, the only thing tethering Dean to reality. Not necessarily dragging him down, but leading him, until water sloshes over the rim and onto the tile. Facing Castiel is almost easy, despite their tangled limbs and crushingly close proximity; Castiel ends up with a leg over the side, and Dean has to bend both knees just to fit.
But it works. Despite the multiple bruises incurred, they’re closer than they’ve been in a long, long while. “Missed this,” Dean says after his heart settles, a hand atop his knee. Castiel covers it with his own and leans his head back against the tile wall, exposing his throat. Flushing, Dean closes his eyes and sinks further into the water, enough to cover his shoulders. He can’t quite dip his head yet, not until he’s absolutely sure—that he won’t die, that this isn’t a dream, an entire myriad of reasons.
The grip on Dean’s hand tightens; the water shifts, some splashing up onto Dean’s chin, as Castiel leans forward, drawing him into a kiss. Sweet, and long enough for Dean to savor it, to press back into it when he can. This, he’s really missed: the feel of Castiel’s lips against his, the warmth of his body, their shared breaths. “Wouldn’t mind gettin’ a bit handsy,” he chuckles, earning a hum from Castiel. “Been a while.”
“Maybe later,” Castiel says, smiling ever so smugly. “I wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“’M fine,” Dean slurs, slumping back. He spreads out some, legs falling open, and one of Castiel’s feet hooks behind Dean’s, toes tucked beneath his hip. Idly, Dean strokes over Castiel’s dry ankle, tracing wet lines across every bit of skin he can reach. “Took me twenty minutes to convince myself to get in here, but I’m fine.”
Castiel’s toes curl. “Are you really?” An open question, one Dean doesn’t have to answer if he doesn’t want to, but he wants to. Desperately, Dean aches to tell Castiel everything, to wash the sins off his hands, but he doesn’t think he can. Not now, at least. Down the road, when it doesn’t feel so raw, when his own insecurities aren’t so dredged to the surface.
A lot has happened in the last few days—in the last few months, if he’s really counting. Putting it all together will take time, time Dean isn’t sure he has anymore. He’s never had time—but some day, he hopes he will.
For now, Dean occupies himself with surrounding Castiel the best he can, drawing him into kiss after kiss, swallowing down every noise he makes. Castiel’s hands come up to meet him, one cradling his cheek, the other pressed over the wound on his shoulder, fingers digging in. Possessive, like he intends to erase it from his skin, to heal the damage left behind.
Whatever he’s doing, Dean wants more—but not here. “Give me some time,” Dean murmurs, raking a hand through Castiel’s hair. “You know I—”
“I know,” Castiel says and nips Dean’s lower lip, pulling it between his teeth. “And I’ll be here. Whenever you’re ready, I’ll be here.”
“Good,” Dean purrs, dragging Castiel in again. He tastes just like Dean remembered, like everything he’s ever craved—like salvation.