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Dean can’t breathe.

Try as he might, he hasn’t been able to suck in a deep breath in the past hour, not with bruised ribs and the associated pain. Blood continues to drip from his nose and eardrum, probably busted. With shaking hands, he struggles to wipe it away, his attempts all in vain; the motel will probably hate him after he leaves, whenever that is. The least his father could’ve done was leave a note, a map—something telling him where he was, not just dumping him in a nondescript location with a collection of gashes and bruises he can’t even treat, not by himself.

Unpleasantly, his stomach roils. Choking back the bile, Dean wipes at his nose again, holding a lukewarm washcloth there long enough to feel the sting. Through tear-clouded eyes, he watches the parking lot through the sheer curtains, noticing only one car on the far end of the building. No Impala in sight—no escape. The only streetlight nearby sits at the intersection, or what looks like one, anyway: a lone pole with a spotlight, and a flashing four way stop light hanging from connected wires, the bulb dead on one side. Rural, then—out in the middle of nowhere, most likely.

“Really dumped my ass here,” Dean rasps, voice broken. Whoever it was must’ve hit him in the throat, as well.

On unsteady feet, Dean leaves the sanctuary of the bed and stumbles his way across the room, to the desk. Rag pressed to his nose, he rifles through the cabinets until he comes up with a channel guide and a menu for the pizza place down the street. Both read New Hebron, Mississippi. Which, great—not only is he rural, but he’s far enough out of the way that he probably doesn’t have cell service to even call 911, if need be. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that. Hopefully, he can escape here with his life, at the very least.

His vision begins to swim on his way back to the bed; lying on his back only abates the symptoms temporarily, until blood begins to tickle the back of his throat. At some point—time feels different here, with a busted watch and no atomic clock in sight—he rolls over onto his side and watches the empty street, the moonless sky abysmal save for the lone streetlamp.

One hour ago, Dean awoke in a room that felt so familiar but so foreign, with nothing but his duffel bag and his wallet, both thrown in the middle of the stained shag carpeting. Two hours ago, John Winchester watched his oldest son get tossed around by a man Dean didn’t know, but apparently, his father knew well enough to beat some sense into him. Said beating included being slammed into a brick wall and wailed on with steel toed boots and bare fists, all because Dean lost focus for two seconds, a mistake that almost cost both his and his father’s lives.

But that wasn’t an excuse. Neither was abandoning Dean, but that didn’t stop John from dumping him at the first place he could find and taking off. Eyes pinched shut, Dean curls his legs in close, as tight as he can without groaning. If only he could sleep, then he could at least forget about the ache for a few minutes. Staring out the window works too, albeit less effectively. A light rain begins to fall, the cloud layer dropping far enough to muffle the light of the streetlamp, casting the wet asphalt in a hazy glow.

Though now, as he lies there with wet eyes, Dean spots the unmistakable shadow of a man standing in the middle of the crossroads. Hope fills his chest at first glance, but he quickly smothers it, in the off-chance that he’s hallucinating, or dreaming. Hallucinations move, though, and dreams shift and sway—whoever this is, even at a distance, remains still, terrifyingly so.

That alone prompts Dean to make it to his feet, if only to investigate. Purely out of curiosity—and, to confirm his suspicions.

Coat in hand, Dean pulls his tired arms through the sleeves and leaves the room, not even bothering to lock the door. He has nothing left to steal, anyway; John took his weapons before his assailant even started, just so he couldn’t fight back and win. Winter’s chill bites through his jeans; his teeth chatter from both the cold and the fever, and shock. Whatever the reason, he pulls his coat tight and continues to walk, limping across the parking lot and into the middle of the street.

A car hasn’t passed this stretch of road in the last two hours—if one decides to hit him, then Dean sincerely hopes he dies a quick death.

The fog thickens even more once he reaches the crossroads, almost entirely obscuring the man standing not four feet from him. Rain speckles his dark hair, glimmering off the shoulders of his trench coat. Large, translucent shapes pour out of the rain shield, half draped on the asphalt, the rest of them arched into a beautiful column, splitting the clouds in two. His hands hang at his sides, fingers occasionally fidgeting.

Without even seeing his face, Dean knows him, has known him for quite some time. And every time they meet, it almost always seems at the most inopportune moment—when Dean needs help the most.

“Castiel,” Dean croaks, earning Castiel’s attention. Narrowed blue eyes turn to him, widening in increments. Dean knows what he sees, even without looking at himself in the mirror. How he isn’t dead is a miracle in itself. Blood pours from Dean’s nose, dripping off his chin. Last of his strength leaving him, he falls to his knees, tears spilling over. “I need—I need help.”

-+-

“I need you to wake up,” Dean hears vaguely through the cotton in his ears. Blinking, he spots the water-stained ceiling and the fan with one missing blade. A dream, then—but dreams don’t include angels sitting on the opposite side of the bed, and dreams don’t involve him being shirtless. Usually. “Dean, can you hear me?”

In lieu of a reply, Dean mumbles and attempts to roll over—a strong hand stops him, keeps him flat on his back. “C’mon, man,” he huffs through gritted teeth. “Not gonna fall off the bed.”

“No, but I’d prefer if you stayed still,” Castiel rumbles, and—Castiel. Not a dream, then. As much as he always fantasized about the ways they would meet again, he never imagined it’d be here, on his back with a few broken ribs and a fractured nose, among other things. “We shouldn’t keep meeting like this.”

“Hey, didn’t ask for you to come,” Dean lies. The sheer number of times he’s prayed for Castiel to just show up is somewhere in the hundreds; whether or not he heard is a question Dean doesn’t want answered. Sucking in a breath, he hisses through his teeth; Castiel just narrows his eyes at him, a growl low in his throat. “Shit, okay, maybe I did.”

“Even then.” Shaking his head, Castiel fits his fingers over the blackened bruise marring Dean’s ribcage. “Who did this to you?”

“Should be asking you—how I got here,” Dean wheezes. Castiel thwarts his attempt to sit up, a hand to his chest. “Come on—”

“You’re only hurting yourself by moving,” Castiel scolds. Yet, his touch remains gentle, kind enough to set Dean on edge. Palming his cheek, Castiel turns Dean’s head to the side, thumb sliding over the definite fracture in his nose. More blood seeps free, utterly ruining what’s left of Dean’s sinuses. Blue eyes watch him, almost black in the dark. “Who did this to you?”

Dean shrugs, wincing with the sudden pull in his shoulders. “Dad tried to teach me a lesson, ‘cept he decided to sic his friend on me. Big guy, more body than brains.” He sniffles, immediately regretting it. “I fucked up, Castiel. Wasn’t payin’ attention, and the ghoul almost got us, but that’s… It’s my fault, but that—”

“That’s no excuse for his behavior,” Castiel finishes for him. Dean nods, turns his head away. “Even if he was frustrated, he never should’ve laid a hand on you, or anyone else, for that matter.”

A shake of the head; this time, Dean whines, kicks his foot into the bedding. “Just how he is. Ain’t my fault he’s an ass.”

Castiel’s thumb swoops just beneath Dean’s eye, gathering the tears there; pointedly, Dean looks away. “None of this is your fault,” Castiel soothes. “Can I heal you?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, body shaking as he exhales. “Yeah, please.”

Two years—two years, Dean has known Castiel, and it still floors him, how an angel could take pity on just one man, for no reason other than curiosity. A steady blue light emanates from Castiel’s hand, and quietly, Dean watches tendrils of white spread through his torso, abating the fever and bruises. Three of his ribs pop back into place, and Dean inhales sharply, tears springing to his eyes. “You’re okay,” Castiel whispers, creeping somehow even closer. His fabric-covered knee brushes Dean’s side, his warmth a sharp contrast to the chill sweeping through him. “Just breathe.”

“Kinda hard,” Dean laughs, covering his eyes. Castiel’s hand leaves him, and Dean laments the loss, suddenly bereft. “Fuck, you’d think I’d get used to that.”

“It takes adjusting,” Castiel says. “Though, I’d rather not have to heal you every time I’m here.”

“Perks of hanging around me,” Dean says. With a grunt, he sits up, residual grace still lingering enough in his system to leave him chilled. Castiel doesn’t help him, as much as Dean would’ve appreciated feeling his touch again; he does, though, watch, never straying too far from Dean’s orbit. “Don’t know how I’m gonna explain to my old man how I’m not beat half to death when he comes back.” He stops, corrects himself. “If.”

“The car at the end of the lot has been sitting there for two months,” Castiel observes. “No one would miss it.”

Good idea, Dean thinks. Scrubbing his now clean face, he tucks his feet underneath his thighs; acutely, he knows he’s still naked from the waist up, his cock half-hard just from having another man treat him like a human being and not a punching bag. Whether Castiel notices is up for debate, but something must catch on, because Castiel leans in closer, lips pressing a featherlight kiss just beneath his ear.

Oh—oh, so that’s how today is. “One day,” Castiel says, one arm bracketing Dean’s waist. Another hand presses into his thigh, spreading him open. “I’ll have to erase your memory. We’re still not supposed to meet for another five years.”

“I know,” Dean hums, tilting his head to allow Castiel more access. And really, he does know. The first time they met, Castiel threatened to wipe his memories seconds after the afterglow faded, and only by some miracle did Dean talk him out of it. But now, it might as well be an empty threat—and even if Castiel planned to follow through, he wouldn’t tell Dean beforehand. “You like me too much, though.”

“One of my faults,” Castiel whispers, mouthing his way to Dean’s jaw. “You’ve taught me so many.”

Fuck.” With little prompting, Dean falls back onto the mattress and allows Castiel to surround him, kissing his way across whatever he can find. Dean, meanwhile, just moans, hyper-responsive and beyond turned on. “Always feels like you’re talking about another person when you say shit like that.”

Castiel hums, drops a kiss to Dean’s lips before slipping a thigh between his own. “You’re still the same person, you and the Dean I know,” he considers between kisses. “But he’s older, wiser from his struggles. Yours have only just begun.”

Lazily, Dean rocks up into him and drapes his arms around Castiel’s neck, dragging him closer. “Mine’ve been happening for a while,” he murmurs. “Make it sound so cryptic. Never did tell me how we meet.”

“In time.” Palming Dean’s inner thigh, Castiel spreads him wider, just enough to align their clothed cocks. “Rock with me.”

Being with Castiel feels natural, somehow, in a way Dean can’t quite explain. The very air he exists in radiates a power Dean can’t drag himself away from, especially like this, all that muscle and strength holding him down, guiding him where he needs to be. Castiel kisses like a wildfire, all-encompassing and scalding, like he plans to lay a claim on Dean from the inside out. Dean clings to him, hands in Castiel’s hair while they kiss, while their hips rub together with increasing fervency, their moans melding into one another.

“We should fuck, next time,” Dean begs, delirious, as Castiel sucks a mark to his throat. “Nice and slow, get you good ‘n deep in me. Know you like that.”

Castiel hums in approval, clamping a hand around Dean’s hip for emphasis. “You taunt me like you’re in the position of power,” Castiel chides, growling against Dean’s lips. “But I know you, Dean Winchester. And for someone as strong as you, you can’t help but give yourself over to the first person you find.”

“Not just—not anyone,” he gasps. Hips flexing, he chases Castiel’s thrusts, head thrown back. Close, close. “Just you. Been you for a few months.”

“That long?” Castiel wonders aloud. Pinning Dean’s wrists into the bedding, he continues, closer to Dean’s ear, “I must not be doing my job.”

Down to his toes, Dean shudders, sucking in a breath. “Trust me,” he chuckles, “you’re doing your job, alright. Such a good job.”

“You should show me more respect,” Castiel says, just as he reaches between them to palm Dean’s cock. Dean bucks up to meet him, lip between his teeth; above his head, Castiel holds both of his wrists, keeping him immobile—right where Dean wants to be. “I’m not here just because I want to be.”

“Kinda are,” Dean snorts, and earns a hand to his throat. No threat of violence, no sense of urgency; still, Dean swallows and thrusts up into Castiel’s grip. “Cas, please—”

Unzipping Dean’s fly, Castiel strokes him over his briefs, close but not quite—regardless, Dean topples and gives himself over, allowing Castiel to piece him back together, make him whole again. “I’m here to watch over you,” Castiel says when the static in Dean’s ears has subsided and he can breathe again, fully. “I’m here to keep you safe. Nothing more.”

“Don’t lie,” Dean says—no, begs. Pulling one arm free, he undoes Castiel’s zipper and takes him in hand, swallowing Castiel’s moans with another kiss. “You need me, much as I need you. Say it.”

Bringing Castiel off has always been too easy, especially now, enthralled in each other as they are. Castiel smothers a groan into Dean’s neck as he paints his hand, come dripping through his fingers and staining whatever fabric it touches. Namely, the front of Dean’s jeans. With nothing but the sound of their own breathing, Dean rests there, Castiel half-draped over him, mouthing unintelligible syllables into his throat.

Minutes pass—Castiel normally never stays more than two, maybe three minutes after they come down. But tonight, heart full, Dean listens to Castiel breathe and strokes his clean hand through his hair. “We ever gonna talk about this?” Dean asks, somber as the night. Castiel shakes his head, drawing his arms around Dean. “Why not?”

“Because I want to keep you like this,” Castiel admits. He looks up, and Dean deflates, just from how exhausted he looks, dark circles under his eyes, brow perpetually furrowed. “And until I’m no longer able, I’ll do what I can to keep you safe.”

Swallowing, Dean drags him up for another kiss, savoring the love on Castiel’s tongue. “No one likes a liar, Cas.”

“I know,” Castiel sighs. “But I hope in the future, you’ll understand that everything I did, it was all for you.”