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Castiel is light years older than the most ancient star. 

He has watched planets coaxed from disparate atoms as one might coax the shape of a vase from a lump of clay; he has seen mountains rise, and cities fall; he has sat himself on the edge of heaven and watched for a billion years as water carved a place for itself in the bedrock of the earth, winnowing out the path of a river, of a lake, of an ocean. Castiel is good at waiting. 

Yes—Castiel is good at waiting. But the time he spends waiting in the Empty is nothing short of interminable. 

So when the impenetrable darkness surrounding him flickers, and the filaments of his heart begin to beat restlessly in the cradle of his ribs, Castiel doesn’t hesitate to pick himself up off of the nothing-floor and rise to his feet. 

He can hear his name being called somewhere, an echo of voices pressed up against the wall of this dimension and the next. It thrums beneath the soles of his feet, voiceless and entire— Castiel, he hears, and the darkness flickers a second time, a third, Castiel, Castiel, Cas—

A crack of light before him, like a knife-slash. Castiel breathes, and Castiel jumps through. 




Angels have no need for hope. 

What is there to hope for when fate has already unspooled itself before them, a long and unchangeable road? Hope is a feeling which strays too far from blind faith put in a higher power. 

But humans, Castiel has discovered—humans hang their hats on hope. Humans build their houses from it.

And he is an in-between creature. 




He falls to his hands and knees on the other side. 

Beneath his palms is hard-packed earth, flecked with graying hay that sticks to his clammy skin and fills his nostrils with a musty scent. An old shotgun shell rests a foot beyond him, nestled in the pockmarked dirt, half the red plastic cylinder crushed and the metal end tarnished. 

The Empty seals itself behind him with a sound like gnashing teeth, and someone gasps. 

Castiel barely has time to look up before he’s being hauled to his feet. 

His son’s arms are strong though he’s slim and young, and he squeezes Castiel’s ribs as tightly as a band of steel. “Castiel!” Jack cries, his face buried in the crook of Castiel’s neck. He’s crying. Castiel can feel it on his skin—he can feel something other than barren darkness, than frigid air, oh —and Castiel holds him all the tighter for it, his own eyes growing hot. “It worked! I knew it would!”

“Hello, Jack,” Castiel murmurs, and for a moment he has to close his eyes. It’s almost too much. The light pressing down upon him though this place they’re in is dim, and the sound after an age of soundlessness, and the warmth of another living being subsuming him. He would not trade it for anything he can name. “It’s so good to see you.”

Jack squeezes him even tighter, and though he’s human now—he is; Castiel can see it in the timbre of his soul, mellow and warm and tenderly ochre rather than icy celestial white—he still nearly lifts Castiel from his feet with the force of his embrace. 

“It’s good to see you too,” Jack says. His breath hitches a little and Castiel rubs his palm up and down Jack’s spine, a soothing, instinctual movement. A human one. “I missed you so much. We all missed you.”


Another emotion angels have no comprehension of his cowardice, but Castiel is human enough to admit that he experiences it now as he keeps his eyes stubbornly closed for one, two, three more seconds. 

But no. There’s no room for it here. Castiel has learned humanity from the best of them that exists, and cowardice is not a trait that was taught by example. 

“I missed you all as well. Very much,” says Castiel. And then he lifts his eyes. 

Beyond the slender point of Jack’s shoulder is Sam, gazing at them with a soft smile, eyes openly damp, and Castiel’s heart pangs as he looks at him. Strong, sweet Sam, standing in the background letting Castiel and Jack have their reunion even as his face lights up with joy when Castiel looks at him. Castiel can’t help but send a smile his way, warm and grateful; he’s sure that whatever took place to get him out of the Empty’s clutches, much of it was made possible by Sam Winchester. 

“Hey, Cas,” Sam says, a bit thickly. He squeezes Castiel’s elbow where it’s wrapped around Jack’s lower back. “Glad you’re back.”

“Sam,” says Castiel. Jack pulls back and Sam’s arm goes around Jack’s shoulders easily, leaving Castiel to face them both. “Thank you.”

“Of course, man,” Sam says, and he’s still speaking, but the sound of his voice fades away as Castiel sees his third rescuer. 

Dean stands alone. He’s a few yards beyond where Jack and Sam have crowded, with the smoking remnants of a spell that Castiel really doesn’t care to examine at the moment at his feet. His arms hang at his sides, and his face is very pale; he bleeds freely from both palms, reminiscent of stigmata, dark scarlet blood flowing in rivulets down his fingertips. 

“Dean,” Castiel breathes. 

Something in Dean’s face breaks open at the word, as if he’s been hit. He takes a stumbling step forward, weak like his knees have better things to do than hold him steady, but that doesn’t matter because between this breath and the next Castiel is crossing to him, gathering Dean up in his arms. 

“Cas,” Dean whispers—that voice, precious to Castiel in a way that he doesn’t have words to describe, not in all the world’s languages—and collapses into Castiel. He hits Castiel like a comet hits the earth, and Castiel takes him into his center. Castiel bends his foundation around him. 

The dull thud of their bodies colliding is music. 

Dean trembles slightly. Here, sunk deep into Castiel’s arms, clinging to the front of Castiel’s coat desperately, like he thinks that if he doesn't hold on until his knuckles blanch Castiel will be ripped away. 

He keeps saying Castiel’s name. “Cas,” he says, and the wings of his shoulder blades are sharp beneath Castiel’s hands, “Cas. Cas.”

Dean feels—oh, he feels small in Castiel’s arms, thinner and more brittle, somehow, than he had been before. The way he curls into Castiel, spine curved and elbows tucked in like a creature who has learned to protect its soft underbelly, makes something in Castiel’s throat burn. 

“You rescued me,” Cas murmurs. 

He means it in gratitude, in breathless thankful acknowledgement. He means it in devotion, perhaps: you did this for me, and I would do anything for you. 

Dean doesn’t take it that way. He jerks back from Castiel with his eyes wide in the drawn planes of his face, and his hands on Castiel’s lapels shake. “Of course we did,” he gets out. He sounds angry, harsh and crumbling; but Castiel knows him better than he has ever known a living thing, so he sees the anguish making thunder out of Dean’s expression. He sees the way Dean is bowed inward, grief in every arcing line of him. “Cas,” Dean whispers. The hands become fists. He has smeared blood on the pale fabric of Castiel’s coat; Castiel bundles those hands in his own and holds them, safely, closely. “Of course I did. You don’t—you don’t even know…”

Castiel can’t take it for a moment more. He cradles Dean’s hands, turning them palm-up and running his thumbs gently beneath the two deep lines that have been cut there into his flesh. Dean jerks when Castiel heals him, as he does every time—sharp and reactive, like he expects more pain, like it’s illogical to assume tenderness is being handed to him—but when Castiel is finished, Dean melts. Wavers close to him, eyelids dropping, face set with determination and no small amount of fear. 

Castiel would rather spend another week in the Empty than let Dean doubt himself where Castiel’s desire to touch him is concerned. He pulls Dean in again immediately, guiding his face to the warm slope of Castiel’s neck, lowering a reassuring palm to Dean’s nape. 

“Thank you, Dean,” Castiel says. “I had no doubt that you would try your best.”

Dean’s arms slip around him now, take up clutching fistfuls of fabric behind Castiel’s back. He’s breathing into Castiel’s skin. Castiel can feel the bumps of Dean’s spine through his layers, pressing up from beneath his flesh like a mountain range. 

They stay like this for a long time. Castiel allows himself to finally take in where they are, and he isn’t as surprised as he should be to see that it’s the barn where Dean saw Castiel for the first time in his memory. A spell like the one they must have worked would need a very strong connection to work, a tether—it’s flattering to think that their first meeting on earth had this much of an impact on Dean. Castiel holds him tighter. 

Sam and Jack are cleaning up the remnants of the spell, talking quietly amongst themselves. Likely to give Dean and Castiel their privacy, though Castiel doesn’t think either he or Dean has room enough in them for shame right now. 

Castiel doesn’t, certainly. He is filled to the brim with the feeling of Dean Winchester in his arms again. He is drowning in him, and doesn’t wish for air. 

“Cas,” Dean rasps after a moment, letting his forehead drop to Castiel’s shoulder. He seems—he is exhausted. Beaten in a way that Castiel has never seen him before. A way that seems almost dangerous. For a man so strong, he’s closer now than ever to breaking. “Please. Come home.”

And what else is there to say? “Of course,” Castiel murmurs. “Of course, Dean.”




Jack slides in close to Castiel’s side in the back seat of the Impala, taking Castiel’s hand as soon as they’re both buckled in. 

It humbles Castiel, this blind, entire devotion. That Jack has chosen Castiel as one of his own, and that Castiel gets to experience the whole of his affection every day. 

Sam smiles at the two of them openly from his position in the passenger seat, but it’s Dean’s reaction that guts Castiel. The way he flickers his gaze to them in the rearview mirror, the shape of his mouth softening as Jack rests his head on Castiel’s shoulder. 

Even now, Castiel realizes. Even now, after everything, Dean thinks of love as a beautiful untouchable concept he may only view, like a child yearning for a toy through the window of a department store. Doesn’t he understand that this family’s love, all of it, belongs to him? Doesn’t he understand that if love were a tangible object then Castiel would drape Dean in his, wrap him up so he wouldn’t go a day without the warmth of it on his skin? 

“I’m so glad it worked,” Jack tells Castiel happily. He’s playing a game on his phone, nearly forty minutes into the six hour drive back to Lebanon, but he’s doing it one-handed. He still hasn’t let go. “We all missed you so much, but it was even worse for Dean. Even worse than last time.”

The car goes quiet. 

Castiel watches Dean’s shoulders tighten, watches his jaw go jumpy with how hard he clenches it. He stares out at the road sightlessly, fingers once again white-knuckled on the wheel.

Sam meets Castiel’s eyes in the mirror. He isn’t frowning, exactly, but there’s sorrow in the way he glances quickly toward Dean and then back again. 

Jack, oblivious to the sudden tension, continues. “He was very angry last time, but this time he couldn’t even get mad.”

Dean breathes. It jerks in and out of him like he has to force his lungs to move, too sharp, and something about the shape of him, all brittle-edged and limned by the slate gray Illinois sky, has Castiel reaching a hand over the back of Dean’s seat and curling it around the point of his shoulder. 

It works immediately. Dean relaxes back into Castiel’s touch, point of contact small though it may be, a little of that hard tenseness gone from his muscles. 

He doesn’t look at Castiel, but he doesn’t have to. Castiel stares at the fan of his eyelashes above the dark circles beneath his eyes, the way they spread soft as fleece, and wants so badly to stop the car and coax Dean to sit back here beside him. 

“I’m glad it worked too, Jack,” Castiel says finally. He soothes his thumb over the seam at Dean’s shoulder. Thinks of the way he’d folded into Castiel, as thin as creased paper. His voice is too heavy in the small space of the Impala’s cabin, but there is nothing he can do to change that. “Very, very glad.”

Jack smiles, chin tucked down to his chest. Castiel squeezes his hand. 




They stop at a gas station an hour into their trek home. Sam and Jack run inside for snacks, so Castiel joins Dean at the pump while he fills up Baby’s tank. 

Dean is leaning sideways against her smooth black exterior as he does so, gaze trained on some distant place that Castiel can’t follow. He startles when Castiel’s shoes scuff on the concrete, looking up fast; when he sees it’s only Castiel he softens. 

One of his hands lifts partway, like he wants to reach out, before he stops himself abruptly and lets it hang empty at his side. 

Castiel steps up beside him, close. He takes that hand in his. 

Dean’s throat clicks voicelessly at that, startled into silence as he stares down at the place where fingers overlap fingers. Slowly, the tops of his cheeks pinken, and—and if Castiel could consume him to keep him safe, to keep him warm and loved, he would. He would. 

“Dean,” says Castiel, soft. Dean’s shoulders are up around his ears but it isn’t defense, or fear. It’s shock, maybe. He looks overwhelmed, and so hopeful that humanity bleeds from his every pore. “You don’t have to stop yourself from touching me. I will always welcome it, to whatever level you’re comfortable with.”

He’s back to gripping Castiel with careful, cautious force—a guarding sort of grip. Like a precaution. He wets his dry lips before he speaks, and the flash of his pink tongue makes Castiel want to cup Dean’s face in his hands. 


Castiel can feel Dean’s heart beating through the translucent skin of his wrist, pressed right up against Castiel’s. He doesn’t hesitate. “Because I love you,” he says. 

There’s divinity just in saying it aloud. He watches Dean’s eyes close, watches him sway into Castiel like the words move him on their own, and thinks that telling Dean how he feels is the thing he regrets doing least in all his days. 

“Cas,” Dean whispers. He steps close, tucks his head up beneath Castiel’s jaw. Butts softly at his chin. Castiel slides his hand between the layers of Dean’s flannel and his t-shirt, around to rest in the soft dip of his waist, and Dean lets him. “I…”

“It’s alright, Dean,” Cas says. And it is. He knows Dean loves him, has been able to hear it in every prayer for years—but even if Dean didn’t feel the same way, Castiel would be alright. It’s enough just to love him aloud, and it will continue to be enough, even if Dean wants only to do just this for the rest of their lives. “It’s alright.”

The gas pump clicks. Dean draws away reluctantly to remove it, and then he’s right back into Castiel’s space as they wait for Sam and Jack. It makes Castiel smile. 

Sam eyes the places where Dean and Castiel are touching as soon as he and Jack are back outside—pressed up together from shoulder to elbow to hip to thigh—and Castiel watches him make a decision. He turns to Dean, putting on his most effective obstinate brother face. “Alright,” he says. “Keys. My turn.”  

Dean rolls his eyes. He’s holding the hem of Castiel’s sleeve between two fingers, and Castiel isn’t sure he knows. “‘M fine, Sammy,” he mutters. 

“Nope,” Sam says. “You’ve been awake for three days and I don’t trust you not to run us off the road. Keys.”

Dean doesn’t even roll his eyes. He sighs, but Castiel is fairly sure he knows what Sam’s doing by the way his blush darkness again and spreads to the tops of his ears. 

Either way, the four of them pile into the Impala once more, Jack in the passenger seat now that Sam is driving and Dean and Cas are settled in the back. 

Castiel keeps their hands tangled, watching the landscape blur by them as the Impala eats at the miles of road between them and home. When Dean slides across the bench seat so he can be directly next to Castiel, Castiel simply smiles and squeezes his hand; and thirty minutes later when Dean’s head droops down to rest against Castiel’s shoulder, when the roll of the interstate lulls him at last to sleep, Castiel marvels at how a love this big can even fit inside him. 




It’s dark when they arrive. 

Dean is still sleeping against him. He’s been out cold this whole ride, cheek turned in to Castiel’s coat, lips parted slightly as he breathes, and there is a great welling tenderness tucked up beneath Castiel’s breastbone that’s so large it’s almost pain. He smooths Dean’s hair back from his forehead as Sam urges Jack out of the Impala, murmuring something about “privacy,” and bemoans waking Dean up. 

He could carry him, Castiel supposes. Though he isn’t entirely angel anymore, he’s still a hundred times stronger than any human, and lifting Dean would be next to nothing. Yes. He could carry him. Happily he would take the weight of Dean Winchester in his arms, hold him against his body and walk him into their home. 

But he knows the issues Dean has with leaning on others, with letting himself be taken care of. The last thing Castiel wants to do is upset him so soon—to scare him off. As much as the idea of holding Dean pleases Castiel, he isn’t willing to risk making Dean uncomfortable. 

So. Awakening him it is. 

Castiel lets his hand finish tracing the arc of Dean’s forehead, down his temple, down his cheek. He cradles Dean’s jaw for a moment, heart clenching at the sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of Dean’s nose and cheeks, and then drifts his hand down to Dean’s shoulder. He shakes him as gently as possible, murmuring his name. 

Dean wakes up with a flinch. 

He always does. Constantly on the lookout, constantly hunted. Cas used to watch him laugh about it with Sam, watch him never notice that Sam’s smiles were strained. 

Castiel gentles him now, palm sweeping up and down his arm. The interior of the Impala is still and dim around them, like a ribcage, like a cacoon. Dean sits up but not away. 

“We’re home,” Castiel says, keeping his voice to a velvet hush. 

Dean tightens his hold on Castiel’s hand slightly as he says that word, and Castiel doesn’t miss it. It strikes him dumb, some place deep beneath his skin: he’s never said that aloud to Dean, has he? Never explained what the bunker means to him, and the people in it, not with clear, unarguable words. Dean never knew. 

Castiel intends to make up for that. 

“Sorry that I…” Dean trails off vaguely, gesturing at Cas’s coat, the way it’s gone wrinkled under Dean’s weight. 

“It was lovely,” Cas tells him honestly. 

Dean blinks at him, a little stunned. “Jesus,” he murmurs, voice sleep-soft in the way it goes when he’s not quite awake enough to roughen it on purpose. “You’re somethin’ else, Cas.”

Castiel laughs quietly. It’s the first time he’s laughed since confessing to Dean. It’s the first time he’s laughed in ages. 

“That’s a good thing, I hope,” he says. 

Dean looks like he wants to answer, but he hesitates, and Castiel doesn’t fault him for that. He knows how difficult Dean finds vocalizing how he feels on the best of days—and now, today, grief still lining his face and weighing down his shoulders, thinner than Castiel has ever seen him, exhausted in a way that hurts to look at… now it’s easy to believe he’d have trouble speaking. 

But no trouble answering. He hugs Castiel, tight, one hand on the back of his head to keep him in close. He hugs him, and Castiel feels more than he hears Dean’s breath shudder out of him on an exhale. 

Castiel loves him, and loves him, and loves him. 




The bunker is spotless, and if Castiel hadn’t yet realized that something had been deeply wrong with Dean while Castiel was gone, he’d be realizing it now. 

Every surface is free of dust, shining and polished. The floors are waxed. The faucets gleam. Dean only deep-cleans when he’s sad, and Castiel has never seen the bunker this clean before. 

The only outlier is the crowd of empty whiskey bottles taking up some counter space to the side, rinsed clean and waiting for Sam to take them to the recycling center. 

Something about them is so terribly heart wrenching that Castiel has to look away. 

While Dean slept, Jack and Sam had filled Cas in on everything: he was gone for a month and a half, during which Dean refused to do anything but search for a way to free Castiel from the Empty, and finish God off once and for all. And after they defeated Chuck and Jack decided to be human, that list of things he would do dropped down to one item. 

Castiel sees the evidence of that in the way the bunker looks. In the way Dean looks. 

He deserves to rest. They all do. 

Though it’s nearly midnight, Dean makes dinner, and Castiel can tell by the surprise in Sam and Jack’s faces that it’s been a while since he’s done that. By some unspoken rule, the three of them stay in the kitchen as Dean cooks: Sam puts together a salad and Jack very carefully slices tomatoes for the burgers Dean’s making, chatting happily all the while. 

Castiel just sits at the table and watches the three of them work, heart so full that it’s difficult to imagine eating. He talks to Sam and Jack some, but he’s content to mostly listen. He’s missed them, and it’s good just to hear the easy flow of conversation between them all, steady and loud. It’s such a stark contrast to the Empty that Cas finds himself failing to blink, not wanting to miss a second of what’s taking place in front of him. 

When Dean looks at him, he makes sure he’s looking back. 

Dinner is quiet as the day catches up to all of them. Castiel knows that the spell took a lot out of all three of them, even though it was Dean’s blood used in the actual ritual; Sam gathered the ingredients and set it up with Rowena on speaker phone at the other end, and Jack helped to recite the incantation that brought Castiel back, over and over again for nearly ten minutes. They’re tired, Castiel’s family, leaning into each other sleepily at the scrubbed-clean kitchen table, and Castiel nearly can’t speak around the lump in his throat because they did it for him. 

He has people who love him deeply. People who would do anything to have him safe and by their sides. 

Halfway through dinner Dean catches Castiel’s hand beneath the table, focusing intently on his burger with a slim little frown between his eyebrows. Castiel holds Dean’s hand in both of his. Castiel runs his fingers over Dean’s scarred knuckles three, four, five times, until that frown lifts away. 




After, when they’re all sleeping, Castiel sits in the library with a mug of tea. 

It’s quiet, but it isn’t silent. The ambient noise of the bunker washes over him, warm and comforting: the pipes groaning faintly, the ancient heating and cooling system whirring, the buzz of the refrigerator several rooms away. Somewhere down the hall a door clicks shut, likely one of the Winchesters going to the bathroom or getting a cup of water. 

The little sounds of existence—of life—settle Castiel. Light an ember in his chest, small and resilient as a candle flame. 

He sips at his tea, which tastes less of molecules than it would have years ago and closer to its actual chamomile flavor now. Dean made it for him before he went to sleep so it’s gone mostly cold by this point, but Castiel doesn’t quite mind. Dean had added a spoon of honey the way he knows Castiel likes it; he’d touched Castiel’s wrist as he handed it over, light, fingers grazing the skin under Castiel’s sleeve. 

They haven’t ever touched this much before, except for if one of them is injured. Or dead. 

It’s nice. It’s so nice that Castiel feels his eyes growing wet just to think about. 

He isn’t so narcissistic as to think this change came about because of his confession—though he won’t deny that it likely played a part. Dean, a man so sensitive to loss already, has lost so much lately. Friends, family, even the illusion of his own free will. And though he’s gained it all back—gained true free will for the first time—well. Castiel hadn’t lied when he’d told Jack that Dean feels things more deeply than any human he knows. This loss isn’t something Dean can simply move past, even though it’s been rectified. 

He must feel the need to hold tightly to what’s his. In this case, what’s his is Castiel. 

Castiel hopes he knows that. 

A small sound in the hallway, a shuffle of feet. Castiel looks up. 

“Hey,” Dean says, as if it isn’t two in the morning and they’re simply running into each other somewhere. As if he didn’t seek Castiel out. He’s wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, and the lack of overlayer makes him look smaller somehow, strangely bare. “What’s up?”

Castiel restrains a smile. “Reading to pass the time,” he says. He takes a look at the book propped open in front of him, which he hasn’t really been paying much attention to. “A book on Grecian spellwork.”

Dean nods, a quick little movement of his chin, the abruptness offset by the way he wanders tentatively into the room. Like he’s not sure he’s welcome. It’s his room, Castiel thinks, his house—but he remembers the way Dean had lit up when Castiel said home, so he tilts his body slightly toward Dean, welcoming him closer like it’s his decision whether Dean sits by him or not. 

He watches Dean lower himself to the chair at Castiel’s side. He’s lit up gold in the lamplight, the fine hairs on his arms iridescent. 

“I read that one,” Dean says. “Couple times. Not much help.”

His head is bowed slightly, not quite turned toward Castiel—he doesn’t look like he’s slept since he went to bed a few hours ago—but he keeps glancing at him anyway from beneath heavy lids. Glances that linger, soft, and have to be torn away. 

Dean hasn’t drawn him in years, but Castiel remembers the way he would used to do it, casual and quick-glancing in motels smeared across America. The way he would study Castiel openly, for once free of the shame that kept him from looking his fill most of the time, brow slightly furrowed in concentration as his scarred hands worked a soft piece of charcoal over the back of a diner receipt or the blank pages at the ends of books. 

Castiel learned to blaspheme from the lines on those pages. To find holiness in an image of his vessel sketched by a mortal man with blood on his hands. To learn to be covetous of this vessel—of his body—because for Dean to capture its likeness so tenderly, it must have a value that Castiel didn’t yet understand. 

Dean looks at Castiel now the same way he used to when drawing him. With quick thorough glances, a sweep of those eyelashes, an inscrutable study as if to memorize every detail. 

He wants to tell Dean that there’s no need for memorization. That if Dean likes, Castiel will be here every day for the rest of his time for Dean to look upon. 

That Dean need only ask. 

“I wouldn’t have left you if I didn’t need to,” Castiel murmurs now. He didn’t mean to, but the words slip out of him anyway. He touches Dean’s thigh, and Dean’s breath stutters. “I don’t regret telling you the truth, but I do regret what came after.”

Dean’s hand comes down weighty on Castiel’s wrist, just holding him there. He works his jaw for a moment, words caught up. 

“You gotta. You—” a breath. His thumb is pressed up against the delicate assemblage of veins at the root of Castiel’s palm. Dean is choked when he says, “You can’t leave again.”

“I don’t think any of us will have to,” Castiel says. “With Chuck gone, and only regular hunts to go on. Nobody should have to do any self-sacrificing, or make any deals.”

“No,” Dean says, and it’s too loud in their golden pocket of night, and by the way he’s frowning at himself he knows it. He’s clinging to Castiel, and finally he looks at him head-on. “I don’t mean—I don’t even mean anything big like that. I mean you can’t leave , Cas, you can’t—I couldn’t even get to sleep without you just now, man,” he says, voice dropping down to something broken and low. He’s ashamed and it rolls off of every line of him, the way he thinks he’s in the wrong. Castiel wants to hold Dean down in the core of him, where that ember flickers. “I fucking, I hate when you leave, I always have. I want you here all the time. I’m a goddamn idiot for you. Please don’t leave.”

“Dean,” Castiel murmurs, and then lower, from a place that feels too tender to touch, “darling.”

Dean makes a face like Castiel hit him. Eyes wide and the skin of his lips gone pale. 

Castiel slips from his chair to kneel at Dean’s feet. He takes Dean’s hands in his, and there on the floor holding something with devotion, he understands Communion. He understands Eucharist. He understands believing in someone so deeply that to shelter a piece of them within yourself is an act of untempered faith, love and prayer and deep-wide trust. 

“I will stay with you,” he murmurs, lips grazing Dean’s knuckles while he speaks. He doesn’t know that he’s ever seen Dean make this expression—so close to betrayal, but with a sweeter edge. A wild kind of devotion that Castiel feels echoed as its twin, thrumming like a bird’s wings beneath his breastbone. “As long as you’ll have me.”

“Come here,” Dean begs him, “come here and—“

He tugs Castiel up to a half-kneel and he kisses him like that, with his hands pressed up to Castiel’s beating heart. It’s gentle, a brush of his mouth to Castiel’s, as if he’s afraid he’ll break Castiel with anything stronger. 

Castiel wants to tell him that he’s who Castiel learned gentleness from at all. Perhaps another night. 

“I-I love you,” Dean whispers. Their mouths touch as he speaks, as he breathes out a shivering breath. “God, god, I love you, Cas.”

And Castiel knew, but it still slices down into the meat of him, that red warm too-soft halfway-human filigree heart of his. And it lodges itself there, and Castiel knows it will stay.