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Castiel has never wanted an angel.

He does just fine on his own, has for a long time—since he was old enough to hold a shotgun and make a salt circle. He’s proud of what he’s been able to achieve without angelic help, and the longer he can keep hunting solo, the better.

But judging by the summons he’s just received to the Men of Letters’ bunker, his time is up.

He can’t avoid his future angel partner any longer.

They make him sign all the paperwork before he even meets the angel, which he does with a scowl, tapping his pen against the edge of the clipboard as he waits alone in the cold, empty hallway for someone to summon him. Finally, after what feels like an age, a sharply dressed man comes to take his paperwork and escort him through to where he’ll meet his angel.

“This is quite the honour, to be selected for a partnership,” the man tells him as they walk. His tone is crisp, curt—he can probably tell that Castiel is less than enthused about the situation. “Most hunters put their names on our lists for years before they’re assigned an angel.”

I’m not most hunters, Castiel thinks, and he gives no response. He may not have a choice about being partnered—the Men of Letters are powerful, and do not like being defied—but he isn’t about to feign enthusiasm just to please them.

They stop in front of a large steel door, covered in a series of impressive wardings. Angels aren’t usually dangerous towards humans, especially not once they’re partnered to a hunter, but it doesn’t look as though the Men of Letters are taking any chances.

“He’s just through here,” the man tells him. “Are you ready?”

So his angel is a male—not that it matters, but Castiel didn’t even get to find that out until after he signed the partnership paperwork. He sets his jaw, displeasure continuing to mount, but nods his head anyway.

The man pushes the door open, and they step through.

The room inside is large and brightly lit, though Castiel can’t quite pinpoint the source of the light. For the most part, it’s empty, save for a single table with two chairs, placed in the very centre of the space.

And in one of the chairs sits an angel, booted feet kicked up on the table in front of him, tawny wings sprawled expansively on either side of him but not a single feather touching the ground.

For a moment, Castiel can’t help but stare, feeling something catch in his chest. For all that he’s tried to avoid angels, there’s something about them that’s irresistibly captivating.

And then the angel looks up, their eyes meet across the room, and the corners of his lips lift into the self-satisfied smirk that Castiel has come to associate with the cockiness of all angels. Just like that, any connection, any momentary change of heart he might have been risking, disappears in a second.

He grits his teeth and glares coldly at the angel. The man next to him sighs, barely containing an eyeroll.

“Castiel, this is Dean, your assigned angel. The Men of Letters congratulate you on your new partnership.”

And with that, he turns on his heel and leaves, leaving Castiel alone with the angel. Dean.

The clang of the steel door behind him rings out through the room, slowly fading out into silence.

Dean is watching him with a level gaze, sizing him up, just as Castiel is currently doing to him. His smirk never wavers. Cocky asshole, with his wings and his powers. I’d like to see him take on a Wendigo without losing his cool, Castiel thinks spitefully.

“Never met a Wendigo,” Dean says casually, his words breaking the silence. “Would be interesting though. I’d like to see how my ‘wings and powers’ would stack up against it.”

Fuck.

“Stay out of my thoughts,” Castiel growls. Fucking angels.

Dean just raises his hands. The smirk stays exactly where it is. “You’re the boss, sunshine.”

This is going to be a very long rest-of-Castiel’s-hunting-career.

~

It’s less than a week before Castiel begins considering ways to return Dean to the Men of Letters without being blacklisted from the hunting community forever.

He acts like he knows everything, despite having only just decided to venture down from Heaven in order to explore Earth and be partnered to a hunter, and it’s infuriating.

But what’s most infuriating about the situation (and Castiel is loathe to admit this) is that Dean is actually good at hunting. He’s been watching Earth for long enough to know how things work, and he’s a quick study. Castiel only needs to show or explain something to him once, and it sticks.

And Dean knows it, which makes him totally fucking insufferable.

“You sure this devil’s trap is gonna hold, Cas?”

Castiel grits his teeth and spitefully repaints part of the trap, just because he can, staining his index finger black with his careless frustration. “Yes, I’m sure,” he growls. “Now, can you get out of my way and go check the outside of the house?”

There’s not any reason to, but if Castiel has to deal with Dean’s know-it-all tone any longer, he can’t be held responsible for his actions. He feels Dean’s gaze burn into the back of his head for several long moments—

And then there’s a snap of wings, and he’s gone.

Castiel exhales the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding, closes his eyes for a moment to steady himself, then begins the summoning incantation.

Despite how rattled Dean’s presence has made him, Castiel has summoned his fair share of demons, so the words to the incantation roll off his tongue without thought. It’s not long before he feels reality shift around him and opens his eyes to see a very pissed off woman glaring down at him.

“Castiel Novak,” she spits, her tone ice-cold and her eyes coal-black. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Castiel fixes her with an unimpressed look, barely refraining from rolling his eyes at her faux-ignorance. “You really believed that manipulating people into making unnecessary demon deals with you wouldn’t earn you a courtesy call from a hunter?”

He’s expecting a sharp, acidic response—but he doesn’t get one. Instead, her eyes narrow, and she holds his gaze for a few long seconds. As though she’s searching for something. Feeling for something.

And then she smiles, all teeth and no kindness, and between one second and the next she moves, so that she’s standing in front of him, her fingers squeezing around his throat.

“I figured, with your reputation,” she muses icily, “that you’d at least know how to draw a proper devil’s trap. Very sloppy of you, Castiel. And you don’t even have an angel to protect you.”

Her grip tightens, and Castiel is too shocked to do anything but scrabble at the death-grip of her fingers. Nonono, this has never happened before, please—

The demon smirks at his panic and leans in, so close that her lips are almost brushing his ear as she chokes the life out of him. “See you in Hell, Castiel,” she whispers.

And then there’s a flash of light, and all of a sudden, the hands fall away from his throat.

Castiel falls to his knees, raking in great wheezing breaths and coughing it back out again. His lungs burn and his head feels like it’s swimming as he tries to reorient himself. It’s a few moments before he’s able to look up without feeling like he’s going to pass out, and his gaze lands on the body of the demon first. Her eyes are nothing more than blackened sockets in her skull, and even though he knows that what means, he forces himself to keep looking upwards.

To where Dean is looking back down at him, wings half-furled, standing over the body of the demon so casually that it’s as if nothing had even happened. “Told you the trap wasn’t gonna hold,” he says, in that same fucking overconfident tone that makes Castiel want to set fire to his feathers. “You’re welcome.”

And then he turns and walks away, leaving Castiel seething on the ground and regretting the day he’d ever agreed to partner with an angel.

~

Ever since Dean saved his life, Castiel feels that he owes him a debt.

And he hates it.

He’s never had to rely on anyone else, just his own skill and knowledge, and the fact that he’d been so off his game that he’d failed to make a functional devil’s trap and had to have his life saved by an angel

It’s something that keeps him up at night, staring silently at the ceiling while Dean is off doing who knows what, because apparently angels don’t even need to sleep. He thinks himself in circles about it, his anger and frustration only growing, and eventually tells himself that no matter what, he will never owe Dean another life-debt again.

Of course, that resolution only lasts a week.

Shifters are one of Castiel’s least favourite monsters to hunt. As if seeing one’s own self reflected back isn’t unnerving enough, the way the creatures are able to get inside his brain with his own knowledge and pick him apart always puts Castiel on edge.

Thankfully, Castiel had managed to dispatch this shifter quickly and with minimal torturous self-examination, putting a well-placed silver bullet into its heart while Dean distracted it. But despite their best efforts to be discreet, they’ve managed to draw the attention of several local police units.

“Can’t you just fly us out of here?” Castiel whispers to Dean. He peers past the dumpster they’re hiding behind towards the numerous cop cars and criss-crossing beams of torchlight standing between them and the Continental.

Dean’s body is a tense line beside him, the corners of his mouth pulled down and a frown creasing his forehead. “I thought you preferred to get out of situations on your own,” he mutters, just loud enough for Castiel to hear. It puts Castiel’s hackles up (yes, usually he does, but he’d also rather not get arrested and go to prison for manslaughter—)

But before he can snap back a response, Dean keeps talking.

“My powers aren’t endless, and having to keep my wings hidden today has taken a lot of focus. I don’t want to risk messing it up or missing my mark and landing right in the middle of…” He gestures vaguely as another police car pulls up. “All that.”

And so the only option is to go around.

Dean leads the way, using his grace to determine where the police officers are, and for once, Castiel follows without protest. He’d like to stay out of prison, and if Dean is his ticket to doing so, then so be it.

It’s only once the Continental is back in sight, with a clear run between them and freedom, that Castiel forgets himself.

Emboldened by the sight of his car and the taste of escape on his tongue, he goes to step around the corner—

And suddenly finds himself being dragged back, Dean’s wing curving around his body and shoving him up against the wall. “Quiet,” Dean hisses as he slaps a hand over Castiel’s mouth, pressing their bodies together and cocooning them with his wings. Castiel would be more indignant about his situation if his brain wasn’t currently short-circuiting at the feeling of having over six feet of (admittedly very attractive) angel pressed up against him—but still, he draws a breath to protest anyway.

Until, barely a second later, they hear the footsteps.

Castiel goes very still, holding his breath as the footsteps come closer. Dean’s eyes are hooded, half-focused on the wall beside Castiel’s head as they start to glow a faint blue.

The footsteps round the corner, and Castiel’s blood runs cold as the back of Dean’s head and his wings are illuminated by the light of a SWAT torch.

But nothing happens.

The light lingers for a moment, then sweeps away, the footsteps passing right by the spot where both Dean and Castiel are pressed up against the wall. Dean is trembling against him now with the effort of using his grace, his eyes still glowing, and it’s not until the footsteps have faded into the distance that he lets go of whatever visual shield he’d been holding up to keep them safe. The blue of his eyes fades back to the normal green, and his gaze catches on Castiel’s for a long moment, the two of them just watching each other, trying to process what just happened.

And then Dean steps back, and the moment shatters.

Castiel clears his throat and moves away from the wall, his cheeks burning—from the panic of almost being caught or his proximity to Dean, he’s not really sure.

But still, the only reason he isn’t in handcuffs right now is because of the angel, so even though it slightly pains him, there’s something he needs to say.

“Thank you, Dean.”

Dean exhales shakily, clearly exhausted from using his powers, then gives Castiel a weak smile. “No problem. Now, let’s get back to that ugly fucking car and get out of here.”

And for once, Castiel agrees.

~

After that night, something changes between them. There’s a tension that wasn’t there before, more than just Castiel’s frustration with Dean, and it simmers away under the surface in every single one of their interactions.

Whether they like it or not, something has changed.

But, in typical Castiel and Dean fashion, they do their best to ignore it. Which means chasing down any hunts they can get their hands on, just to keep themselves distracted.

Today, they’re going after a werewolf that’s been killing people in a town in South Dakota. It’s taken them all day to track it back to its lair, but they’ve managed to find it, and Castiel’s blood hums through his veins as he watches the moon rise overhead. “You know where it is?” he asks Dean, who is looking out into the forest.

Dean nods, focused in a way that Castiel has come to understand means he’s concentrating on using his angelic senses. “It’s out there, but not too far. I can hear it changing.”

Castiel loads the last silver bullet into his revolver, and Dean pulls his angel blade out from the depths of his flannel overshirt. “Then let’s go get ourselves a wolf.”

But despite having the edge of Dean’s powers, the werewolf’s superhuman senses are just as strong.

They end up meeting it halfway between the edge of the forest and its lair, with Dean only just able to warn Castiel before the hulking wolf comes crashing out of the trees towards them. Castiel finds himself shoved out of the way and landing in the dirt and leaf litter, rolling to his feet in time to see Dean slash at the werewolf with his angel blade.

Because he’s human, he’s much more vulnerable to the effects of the werewolf’s bite, but he still hates the idea that Dean is treating him as something fragile, so he throws himself back into the fight with renewed effort.

Castiel wields his silver knife in one hand and his gun in the other, trying to use his bullets sparingly. The werewolf is moving fast, and while it’s good that Dean is able to keep it occupied and taking damage, Castiel doesn’t want to hit his partner by accident instead.

So he bides his time, slices at it where he can, puts a bullet into its chest and one into its leg when he gets the chance. It slows the monster down, howls of pain and fury echoing through the moonlit trees, and they’re getting close now. It’s weakened, close to being finished off, and in his overconfidence, Castiel gives himself a half-second more than he usually would to line up his shot—just to make sure it finds its mark.

In that moment, the werewolf lunges, and suddenly Castiel is sighting down his revolver into a gaping maw full of razor-sharp teeth.

Fuck— is the only thing he gets a chance to think, before all of a sudden there’s a flash of tawny feathers in front of him, and the werewolf’s teeth are sinking into the arch of Dean’s wing instead of Castiel’s throat.

“Shoot it, Cas!” Dean shouts, his voice thick with pain, and it’s only due to so many years of hunting and his own quick reactions that he’s able to fire two shots into the werewolf’s skull.

Its teeth release Dean’s wing, and it slumps to the ground, dead.

“Holy shit,” Castiel breathes—and then he turns his focus to Dean, whose right wing is a mess of blood and feathers. His teeth are gritted in pain, and he curls his injured wing in close to his body, looking the most vulnerable Castiel has ever seen him.

“You didn’t have to—” he starts, and then stops himself, because of course Dean had to. Angels can’t be turned, but if those teeth had made contact with Castiel, there would have been no saving him. So instead, he reaches gently for Dean’s wing, and says, “Let me look at that.”

For a second, he’s not sure if Dean will let him. There’s a look in his eye that’s unsure, but slowly, he takes a step closer, and stretches his wing out a little towards Castiel.

He reaches for it with soft hands, brushing loose feathers out of the way to determine the extent of the damage. The bone looks like it’s been crushed by the power of the werewolf’s jaw, and the skin below the feathers has been shredded by sharp teeth. Castiel exhales through his teeth and meets Dean’s gaze once more, letting his fingers comb lightly and reassuringly through the undamaged feathers.

“I’m sorry, I should have been more careful. Let’s get you back to the car so that I can clean this up and then you can work on healing yourself, okay?”

For a long moment, Dean just watches him, an unreadable look in his eyes. There’s something quiet and vulnerable in that moment—an unspoken trust forming between them. Dean may have saved Castiel’s life yet again, but this time Castiel wants to be able to return the favour in some way, on some level.

Finally, Dean says, “Okay,” his voice low and rough. Slowly, the two of them make their way back to the Continental, where Dean sits on the hood and looks up at the stars while Castiel cleans the wound and does his best to set the bone in Dean’s wing.

They don’t speak, and even in the days that follow, they don’t talk about it. Castiel’s thank you was clear enough in his care for Dean’s injury, and they both know that something has shifted between them once more.

That’s enough.

~

Castiel has gotten good at shoving down whatever it is that’s developing between him and Dean.

I never wanted an angel partner, he tells himself every day, but each time he does, it gets a little less convincing.

He’s slowly gotten used to Dean’s mannerisms, his personality. The cocky attitude that most angels bring to Earth has become more and more interspersed with sharp humour, endearing quirks, and joy at every new human experience he gets to have. Like it or not, Dean is slowly melting away the stubborn ice surrounding Castiel’s heart.

But still, he has to remind himself that they’re just partners. They work together, because they’ve been assigned—they are not friends, they are not…

Well, they’re not anything.

Hunting helps him cement that. The days in between hunts, when they return to a Men of Letters safehouse or stay at a motel somewhere… those are the days that stray dangerously close to domesticity. When they’re on the road, though, it’s much easier to focus on the things that aren’t Dean’s fascination with food, or his love for old Western movies, or the way he laughs at Castiel’s deadpan humour.

Which is why Castiel has volunteered to train a handful of new hunters, teaching them how to deal with a Wendigo that the Men of Letters have only recently been able to locate in the wilderness of Minnesota.

They’re doing okay so far, from what he’s seen, but the real test of what they’ve learned is yet to come. They’ve found the cave where it’s hiding out, and Castiel feels the familiar tingle of anticipation creep up his spine as he hands out a flamethrower each to his small group and reminds them once more of the safety protocols.

Dean stands off to one side, his arms folded and wings tucked in close. None of the new hunters have ever seen an angel before, and while usually Dean would keep his wings hidden to avoid being gawked at, he needs to save his grace for whatever might happen in this hunt. As a result, he’s been a little standoffish towards the hunters.

But as much as Castiel wants to go over and talk to him, joke with him, put a smile on his face and get him to relax his body language…

They have a Wendigo to kill. Unwinding Dean will have to wait.

“Alright,” Castiel says, gesturing to the mouth of the cave. “I can’t prepare you any more than I have. Let’s go.”

They creep into the cave network as quietly as they can, each hunter tightly gripping their flamethrower. When the tunnel branches into two, Castiel splits the group up, sending Dean with two of the trainees while he takes the other two. From the frown Dean gives him, he’s less than pleased about being separated from Castiel when there’s a Wendigo around, but he follows the direction nonetheless. The three of them disappear down one tunnel, and Castiel leads his two hunters down the other.

The smell intensifies the further into the cave they go, and while Castiel has smelled worse, one of the other hunters holds his shirt up to his nose in an effort to block it out. “Keep your hands on your—” Castiel starts to whisper harshly, but before he can finish his sentence—

All hell breaks loose.

The Wendigo appears from around the corner with a roar, seven feet of pallid skin and bone and enough to scare the life out of any grown adult. Castiel reacts on instinct, firing his flamethrower in the direction of the monster to keep it back, and one of his trainees does the same—

Except for the man who had been holding his shirt over his nose. With only one hand on the flamethrower, he has no way to keep it steady, and as he stumbles back to get away from the Wendigo, his flame swings wildly—

And then searing pain is blistering across Castiel’s side.

Everything after that feels like it happens in slow motion.

He crumples to the ground, agony coursing through his body. The acrid smell of burnt skin and hair fills his nose, and distantly, he thinks he can hear someone screaming.

It takes a few seconds for him to realise that that someone is him.

There’s a snap of wings, then the sound of shouting. He recognises the voice, but his mind is too focused on the pain to process it, and he barely manages to close his half-open eyes as there’s a blinding flash of blue light.

The world is nothing but spinning, delirious pain, but in amongst it, Castiel manages to pick out a handful of words.

“—fucking idiot, why would you—”

“—first aid kit in the trunk of the car—”

“—Cas? Cas, can you hear me? You’re gonna be okay, I—”

Dean, he thinks belatedly, as his mind slowly shuts itself down. It’s Dean.

And after that, everything goes black.

It’s hard to figure out what happens next. He drifts in and out of consciousness, but the pain is always there, and it always sends him back under.

Gentle hands press gauze against his ribs. He’s lying on something, a jacket, maybe, and the ground is unyielding beneath his unburnt side. The air smells like smoke and burning.

There’s a hand against his shoulder, gripping tight. It feels like he’s being ripped apart and put back together, all at once. That single touch is the only thing keeping him from shattering apart.

The world is softer, this time. Everything is dark, but when Castiel squints his eyes open, just for a moment, he can make out the shape of a person in the chair opposite him.

Someone is speaking. There’s a weight over his body, but it’s feather-soft. He feels warm, if the warmth could be in his bloodstream, burning and healing him all at once from the inside.

“You’re gonna be okay, Cas. Please be okay.”

When Castiel wakes properly, it’s hard to tell how much time has passed.

He feels exhausted, and for a few long minutes, he just lays still, staring up at the rough wooden ceiling. Everything that had happened comes back to him in pieces, and he sucks in a breath as he remembers the excruciating pain of being burned, and the fragments of the time that had followed.

Eventually, Castiel works up the strength to pull himself into a sitting position. It feels as though he’s just run three marathons, but the pain is gone. When he looks down at his naked body, there are no burns or scars to be seen. His skin is smooth, unblemished—

Apart from a single handprint, seared onto his shoulder.

“You were so badly burned… you almost died, Cas.”

When Castiel looks up, he finds Dean standing by the door of the cabin. His hands are pushed deep into his pockets, his wings held close. He looks more exhausted than Castiel has even seen him, with deep circles under his eyes and a slump to his broad shoulders.

The silence between them hangs heavy in the air. Castiel is the one to break it.

“You healed me.”

Dean runs a hand through his hair and shakes his head, his lips set in a grim line. “Only just. I had to put that mark on you so that I could connect my grace better. I was so scared you weren’t gonna make it.”

“Will it fade?”

The way Dean looks away, something unreadable in his expression, is answer enough.

But if Dean thinks he’s going to be angry about the mark… he’s so far from the truth. But Castiel doesn’t want to unpack its implications right now—probably not ever.

“It’s okay,” he says quietly, trying to put as much truth and feeling into his words as he can. “I owe you my life, Dean. Thank you.”

It’s the most he’s ever meant those two words, and from the way Dean holds his gaze, his expression slowly softening into a tiny, grateful smile, he knows Dean can feel the weight of them too.

It’s a few days before they hit the road again, and once they do, they don’t talk about it any more, but Castiel can still feel the touch of Dean’s hand on his shoulder.

~

It’s another few weeks before everything comes to a head.

Castiel tries his best to ignore it all—the handprint on his shoulder, the hazy memories of Dean healing him, the connection that has developed between them despite his vehement insistence that he’d never get attached to an angel partner.

So again, he throws himself into hunting as a distraction (not the healthiest solution, he knows, but it hasn’t failed him yet), and decides to go after an incubus. The plan is that it will give him some time away from Dean, since the only way to get close to the incubus is to pose as a victim, which is purely a one-man undercover job. Maybe going back to doing a solo hunt will remind Castiel of what was so good about not having Dean around constantly.

He can only hope.

Dean, of course, is not thrilled about this newest hunt, but he relents anyway. He knows there’s no way he can win this argument.

“Just don’t get yourself killed,” he mutters grumpily in the passenger seat of the Continental, watching as Castiel fixes his hair in preparation with his date with the incubus in its penthouse.

Castiel barely refrains from rolling his eyes, trying to pretend he doesn’t feel the weight of Dean’s gaze burning into the side of his head. “Trust me, Dean. I’ll be fine.”

And he is. Everything is going well so far—he’d pretended to stumble into the incubus at a local bar a few nights ago and managed to secure a date, and he has to admit, he’s… kind of enjoying himself. It’s been a long time since he’s been on a date with anyone (before he partnered with Dean, come to think of it…), and if he ignores the fact that his date is a demon who wants to consume his soul, it’s a pretty nice night.

They’re sharing a drink on the balcony of the incubus’ penthouse, looking out over the lights of the city. For the last thirty minutes, they’ve just been sharing polite conversation, but now that they’re out here, the incubus’ hand is resting on the small of Castiel’s back, and he can tell they’re beginning to move towards the pointy end of the evening. It’s time to start wrapping things up.

“I’m going to get another drink,” he says, downing the rest of the whiskey and gesturing towards the bottle they’ve left on the table. “Do you want one?”

The incubus—Mark, Castiel has had to remember to call him tonight—also finishes his glass and then hands it to Castiel with a seductive smile. “I would love one,” he says, and it’s clear that his tone is meant to be sultry, flirtatious, but all Castiel can think about is how his voice isn’t quite as deep as Dean’s, how his lips don’t form words with the same accent that Dean does.

Fuck.

Castiel takes the glass from Mark’s hand and makes his way back to the bottle, turning his back to the incubus to shield what he’s doing. He pours out the drinks, then tips a small amount of sedative powder into one—if he starts trying to exorcise the incubus while he’s conscious and functioning, there’s no way it’s going to be successful.

Making sure to carefully note which drink is the drugged one, Castiel puts the vial back into his jacket pocket, picks up the drinks, and makes his way back over to Mark. “Here,” he says, handing him the drugged drink with a smile he hopes is convincing.

“Thanks.” Mark takes the glass and lifts it to his lips, watching Castiel with hooded eyes as he does so. It’s only through years of practice that Castiel manages to keep his expression schooled, even though every part of him is tense, poised to move as soon as the sedative takes effect.

Mark touches the glass against his lips, something in his eyes that Castiel can’t quite unpack—

Then reaches out and tips the contents of the glass over the railing of the balcony.

Castiel is already reaching for his gun, but the incubus is quicker, striking Castiel on the temple with the now-empty whiskey glass and pinning him up against the balcony railing. Even though the world is spinning now, Castiel still desperately tries to fumble his gun out and point it at the incubus.

Strong fingers close around his wrist, and he cries out as his hand is slammed once, twice, into the edge of the balcony, until he’s forced to let go.

“You stupid hunter,” the incubus hisses, his eyes glowing faintly red now that neither of them are pretending any more. “You really think you can con your way into my domain and try to defeat me? As though I can’t see every desire that goes on in that pathetic brain? Civilians don’t lust after angels, hunter boy. And even if you’re in denial, I know every last bit of it. You never stood a chance.”

He leans in, smelling along the side of Castiel’s neck, even as Castiel struggles against the superhuman grip. “Such a shame, you would have made a good meal. But I can’t risk it. Goodbye, Castiel.”

And before Castiel can react, the incubus uses its grip to lever him up, and shoves him over the railing of the balcony.

He’s falling.

It takes a second for Castiel to register exactly what’s happened, and then he starts to pray—frantically, and more fervently than he’s ever prayed for anything in his life.

Dean, I know I told you not to listen to my thoughts but please be listening now, I need you I need you I need you and I’m sorry that I ever made you feel like I didn’t, I care about you and I’m sorry I never showed it enough and I wish I could get the chance to tell you that in person but I don’t think I will now.

The wind is whipping through his hair, catching at his clothes. He’s pretty sure he left his stomach up on that balcony.

The fancy apartment building is tall, but not that tall.

Castiel closes his eyes—at least if he dies, the last thing he’ll see will be the stars.

Please save my life just one more time.

And the next thing he knows, a shape hurtles out of nowhere to catch him, wrapping him in arms and wings and plucking him out of the sky.

They land hard, and Castiel still gets the wind knocked out of him, but he’s somewhat cushioned by the body beneath him and the cocoon of wings wrapped protectively around his body. For a second, he just lies there, catching his breath and trying not to panic by focusing on the rapid thud of the heartbeat beneath his ear.

It’s only when the wings start to loosen their hold on him just a little that Castiel lifts himself up onto his elbows and looks down at Dean where he’s lying beneath him, arms still wrapped tightly around Castiel’s torso. His eyes are closed, and for a second Castiel is terrified that he’s badly injured, but those fears wash away when the corner of Dean’s mouth ticks up and he gives his head a tiny shake.

“I’ll be okay,” he rasps, and for once, Castiel is not even the slightest bit mad about Dean reading his thoughts. “Just gotta do some minor repairs and get my breath back. Worth it, though.”

“You saved my life.”

Again,” Dean adds with a grin, but it’s soft, tempered by the look in his eyes and the way his hands linger at Castiel’s waist. “Seems like it’s becoming my job, at this point. Someone’s gotta do it.”

Castiel can’t help but snort softly. “I suppose you’re right,” he admits, letting himself smile even though his heart is still beating jackrabbit-fast in his chest.

For a moment, they just look at each other, and then something in Dean’s expression shifts, a serious look in his eyes. “Hey, Cas?” He ventures, his voice quiet in amongst the sounds of the city. “What was that you said before—in your prayers. You… you care for me?”

The question in his voice is obvious—care for me how?

And there’s no way that Castiel can answer that with his words, not right now, so instead he leans down and gently presses his lips against Dean’s.

The kiss is slow, soft, full of everything that Castiel wants to say but can’t, and his sheer gratitude to Dean for saving his life once more.

“Oh,” Dean says quietly after Castiel pulls away again, his eyes wide. And then—

That’s what kissing feels like? Fuck, I totally get it now.”

Castiel can’t help but laugh, looking down at his angel with pure affection and finding Dean grinning back up at him. They need to get out of the parking lot where they landed and back to somewhere safe, but he can’t help it—

He kisses Dean again, deeper than before, and revels in the knowledge that they’re both safe, that they’re together.

Castiel may still owe Dean a life debt (or several), but for once…

He’s okay with that.