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Starved

Chapter Text

Since he’d told Cas to haul ass back to the bunker, Dean’s keys hadn’t left his pocket.

When he went to bed, he made sure they were in the pocket of his pajama bottoms and was careful not to roll over on them in the middle of the night.

When he showered in the morning and pulled on a clean pair of jeans, he put the car keys in his pocket.

Throughout the day, he would frequently reach down to grab them through his pants – just to make sure they were still there.

It made him feel a little better, hearing them jingle with every step he took.  It made him feel like he was at least ready to do something – if something ever came up for him to do.  And he desperately wished it would, because it had been just over a month since he’d told Cas to come home and they hadn’t heard from the angel since.

Fallen angel,’ Dean numbly corrected himself.  He dunked the soapy plate in his hands back into the sink, scrubbing at a bit of dried cheese that was refusing to let go.

Cas had fallen – along with the rest of his siblings – and was now wandering somewhere between the bunker and the Pacific Ocean, trying to find his way home without wings.  Without any knowledge about how to rent a motel room or read a bus schedule.  Without anyone he could ask if he needed help figuring out a digital gas pump to fill his car – if he had one – or to explain how and where to buy a cell phone so he could let his family know he was ok.

Dean threw the plate into the dish rack, the bit of cheese still stuck to it, and picked up a mug with petrified coffee stuck in the bottom.

Cas was powerless and alone.  He’d just been conned into destroying his family and robbed of his grace.  He’d been tossed in the woods like a stray cat and left to fend for himself.

Dean had spent the last five weeks lying awake at night wondering if Cas knew what it meant when his stomach growled at him.  Or if he knew how much water he should drink a day.  How long had it taken him to figure out that he had to sleep every night, sometimes more?

Was he ok?

Was he scared?

Was he hurt?

Was he still trying to get home or had he not made it beyond the phone call he’d made to Dean.  From a payphone on the side of the road, which he’d only been able to use because some old man driving by had taken pity on him.

Dean reached down again to make sure the keys to the impala were still in his pocket, the soapy water from his hand soaking through the denim and leaving the skin underneath chilled.

They were still there, like they always were, so that the second Cas called, Dean would be ready to go and get him.

The very second Cas called…Dean would drop the mug in his hands, let it shatter on the floor, and run to the car.

The very second.

He put the mug in the rack, on top of the plate, and grit his teeth when it slid down and the wet porcelain shrieked.

Why hadn’t Cas called?  What was taking him so long?  Of course, he refused to contemplate any of the logical answers to those questions.  Instead he and Sam had spent all their time trying to track him down.  But there was no trace on his old cell phone.  No one at the gas station he’d called from remembered seeing him.  There were no weird news stories that might be explained by a confused fallen angel stumbling in to something he ought not to have stumbled in to. 

There was nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  As if Castiel had merely been a figment of their collective imagination for the last seven years.

Out in the library, Dean heard Sam’s chair scrape across the floor and sighed, knowing his little brother was coming to check on him.  Sam did that a lot now, came to check on him.  When he’d first started recovering from the trials it had been easy for Dean to turn over his worry for Cas and heap it on top of the worry for his brother.  But, as each day passed and Sam got better and stronger again, it was more difficult to hide it.

Sam had always been a perceptive little bastard – most usually when Dean least wanted him to be – and it didn’t take him long to figure out that Cas hadn’t called.  Dean hadn’t even said the words out loud, Sam had just taken one look at him hunched over the library table, reading a book about communicating through dreams and his broad shoulders had slumped.

“Three weeks,” Dean said without looking up from the book.  “It’s been three weeks, Sammy.”

Sam had squeezed his shoulder and sat down, grabbing whatever book had been on top of the pile Dean had made, and started reading.

Dean heaved a sigh.  But now it was that time of day again, when Sam came to check that he hadn’t tried to drink himself into a coma.  But Dean hadn’t touched a drop since they got back to the bunker, because he needed to be ready to drive the second Cas called him.

He pulled the plug in the sink and wiped his hands on his jeans, fingers catching on the edge of the cell phone in his other pocket, and turned in time to see Sam come through the door.

His brother had lost weight during the trials, but now that he was on the mend, Dean was sparing no expense when it came to cooking up three square and ridiculously huge meals a day.  Despite the near constant churning in his gut and the never ending tingle along his nerves, Dean allowed himself a moment to appreciate how well Sam was starting to look again.  Color in his face, light in his eyes, hair clean and glossy once more.

Sam was ok and it helped settle the nauseous feeling in Dean’s stomach a little.

Sam was ok.

Now if they could just track down Cas and make sure he was ok too, Dean might be able to sleep.

“You want me to go grab something for super?”  Sam asked, his brown eyes raking quickly over Dean’s face, looking for anything out of place.  Anything that might be dangerous.  Sam had always been able to see that on his face before Dean himself even knew it was there.

“I was gonna make burgers again,” Dean replied, stuffing his hands in his pockets.  He toyed with the keys and the cell phone.

To be honest, he didn’t feel like cooking tonight.  He was tired, and with every day that passed, it was getting harder and harder not to jump in the Impala and go find Cas himself.  But he knew that Cas was aiming for the bunker.  If he drove off in a random direction, Dean knew he would likely only be putting more distance between himself and wherever Cas eventually did call from.

The inability to take action was a caustic toxin under his skin; eroding his sanity.  He felt like he was trapped in a cage while he knew one of his family was on the outside, in danger, but he just couldn’t get to them.

It was maddening.

“You’ve been cooking non stop for weeks,” said Sam.  He smiled and it only looked sad.  “Let me go pick up some pizza or something.”

“Ok.  But take…one of the other cars.”

After all, the keys in his pocket were for the Impala and he was going to need the car to be there for when Cas called.

 


 

An hour after Sam had left to get their pizza, Dean’s phone rang shrilly and hummed against his thigh. 

Heart pounding in his chest – the ringer was up all the way so he didn’t miss any calls – he nearly broke his fingers shoving his hand into his pocket.

Unknown number’

He had to try twice to hit the answer button.

“Cas?”

Dean –“

His knees nearly gave out and a sound that was as much relieved as anguished punched from his chest.  He felt like he’d finally gotten circulation back to his heart after weeks of it being squeezed dry.

“Fucking Christ, Cas, where are you?”

He yanked his keys from his pocket and ran for the garage.

I’m…I’m in Norton.  I can’t go any farther, Dean, I’m sorry…

It was only then, as he was slamming the car door closed and trying to jam the key in the ignition with a trembling hand, that the exhaustion in Castiel’s voice finally registered and he paused.

“That’s ok, Cas, I’m coming to get you.”  There were people talking in the background.  Laughing between the sound of knives and forks on plates.  “You did great, buddy, I’m gonna come get you now.”

He finally got the key in the ignition and the Impala roared to life, sounding nearly as eager as Dean was to get on the road.

Castiel mumbled something Dean couldn’t quite catch, the words whispering past his ear.

He ignored them.  There was only one thing he wanted to know right now.

“Where are you?”

A…I’m at a restaurant.” 

He heard the sound of Castiel pushing back a chair.

The Impala’s tires sprayed gravel in a shower as Dean tore up the dirt road.

It says, um…it says Town and Country on the sign.

Somewhere far in the back of Dean’s racing mind, something was nudging at him.  Telling him something was terribly wrong. 

He pushed the feeling down.

“Ok, stay right there, Cas, you hear me?  Don’t leave that spot.  I’m coming to get you.”

The tires squealed when they hit the paved road.

Dean, they’ll find me.”

The gas pedal was already touching the floor.  Dean pressed it harder, his knuckles white around the steering wheel.  In his other hand, the plastic casing on his phone cracked in his grip.

“No one’s gonna find you, Cas!”  He didn’t sound nearly as in control was he wanted to.  He was talking too loud, nearly shouting, and each word he spoke shook like pebbles in an earthquake.

I can’t stay here, I can’t.  They’re going to find me.  I have to keep moving –“

“Cas, stay there!”  The needle climbed on the speedometer.  “Stay right where you are, Cas!  You’re only an hour away!  Stay right there!”

The angry roar of the engine was nearly enough to drown out the roar of blood between Dean’s ears.

I’m coming to get you.

Chapter Text

It was lucky, Dean realized after he nearly took the front tires off pulling in to the Town & Country diner, that there hadn’t been a single cop on the highway over. He knew from personal experience that ‘driving with the intent to kill’ was an actual thing.

He was out of the car before the engine even stopped running and made an effort to at least slow his charge forward into more of a march when he nearly bowled over two little old ladies coming out the door.

The diner was large, sitting right on the edge of the road, with a green tin roof and cheap beige stucco siding.  Inside, there was the customary long bar and a few tables shoved under two big windows.

It took him less than two seconds to spot Castiel. 

He was sitting in the very last booth, his back firmly to the wall, staring down into a steaming mug of something. 

Cas looked cold, Dean thought numbly.  He had both hands wrapped around the mug as if he sought to siphon its warmth into his own blood.  He was wearing a heavy, military green jacket that was done all the way up under his chin while everyone else in the diner was in tshirts and his face and lips looked paler than Dean remembered, like his body had pulled all the blood inward to keep his organs warm.

And he looked twitchy too; index and middle finger of his left hand tapping against the mug, eyes sliding sideways wherever someone walked by or a noise came from the kitchen.  Then snapping back over to stare out the window.  If he had ears like a cat, they’d be swivelling incessantly.

The grid-lock in Dean’s brain finally released and he had to make a real effort not to charge forward like a bull.

Cas.”

His head snapped up, blue eyes wide and tired looking, and Cas was half out of the booth when he realized it wasn’t an enemy coming to kill him, but a friend coming to save him and he sagged just as Dean barreled in to him.

He wrapped his arms around the angel’s shoulders, cupped the back of his head and crushed Cas against him with every ounce of the tension that had built inside him over the last five weeks.

Cas.”

He just needed to breathe.  He just needed a moment to let the realness of Castiel finally, finally being here to solidify in his mind.

But Cas grabbed at his shirt, breathed a single, harsh breath against his base of his throat, and pushed away.

“Dean we have to go,” he muttered urgently, glancing over his shoulder, then out the window, then over Dean’s shoulder to where the door was.  He looked back up, his blue eyes at once wild and weary.

He pushed at Dean, both hands flat against his chest, “Come on, let’s go, move.”

“Cas, slow down.”  He placed his hands over Cas’ and gently pried them off his chest, holding them.  They were icy cold.  “It’s ok.”

Undeterred, Castiel simply pushed forward with his whole body, hands clutching at Dean’s.  “No – let’s go, come on.”

People stared as Dean allowed himself to be shoved back out the door.  Stared when the strange, blue eyed man looked over his shoulder at them all.  Stared as Dean grabbed Castiel by the wrist before he could get in the car.

“Cas, hey – stop for a second.”  He tried to gentle his voice, worry growing all over again like a pit in his stomach when he took a moment to watch how Castiel couldn’t seem to rest his eyes on any one spot for more than a second.  Or how his hands weren’t only freezing but trembling finely as well.

In the brief moment Castiel’s eyes darted up, they stared right through Dean – hyper-alert but completely lost.

Dean placed his hands on either side of Cas’ face, feeling sick.  In the back of his mind, he felt that little nudge again. 

Something’s wrong, something’s wrong, something’s wrong.

He smoothed his thumb over a sharp cheekbone and Castiel’s eyes raised to his and stayed there, wavering like it was taking everything he had not to keep checking every direction for a threat.

“It’s ok,” Dean nearly whispered.  “You’re ok.  Just breathe, Cas, you’re ok.”

As slowly as the sun was setting behind them, Dean could feel some of the thrumming tension seep from Cas’ body.  The long fingers grabbing his shirt loosened, the wild look receded from his eyes and Cas suddenly took a full breath like he hadn’t in days.

Dean nodded, trying and failing to smile encouragingly.  “Good.  That’s good.”

Castiel nodded back, the movement a subconscious mirror.  He stared up at Dean steadily, most of the panic gone from his eyes, replaced with something more focused and infinitely more disturbing.

 “Can we go now?”

Swallowing hard, Dean let his hands slip from Cas’ face and nodded again.

Castiel only spoke once on the drive home, when Dean stopped for gas.  He’d stared down the dark highway from the direction they had come like he expected a pack of hell hounds to come barreling down the road after them.

Before Dean had even finished filling up the tank, Castiel had been tugging on his arm.

“Dean, come on, let’s go.”

 


 

He watched Castiel practically press himself against the wall as he walked swiftly down the hallway.  Every few seconds he would glance over his shoulder, back the way he had come, then raise his eyes to land on Dean before looking ahead once more.

Cas didn’t have a bag with him.  He had nothing but the clothes on his back and whatever was in the many pockets of his military style jacket, which he still had done up like it was February.

There were some clothes he could give Cas, until they could get out and get him his own.  A pair of jeans Dean had outgrown after getting his own kitchen; a few band shirts that had shrunk in the dryer one too many times.  But right now, Dean’s biggest concern was getting the angel to sleep, because if the dark circles around his wide eyes were anything to go by, Cas hadn’t in a while.

“That room on you’re left, Cas.”  He tried to speak gently, as he had been the entire ride home, but Cas’ head whipped around to check behind him all the same, lingering on Dean just a little longer this time, before facing forward again and stopping at the indicated door.

“There’s not much in there right now.  But there’s a bed and pillows and the blankets are clean.”  Of course they were clean.  He’d washed them every week, wanting Cas to have fresh sheets when he came home.  “I can give you something to sleep in and the showers are down the hall.”

Castiel turned to look at all four corners of the room before turning back to Dean, looking distracted.  “Yes. Showers. Thank you.”

He half turned again, looking at the bed.  It was pushed against the wall opposite the door so that when Cas slept in it, his feet would be facing the door.  Lifting his head, Cas took in the bare walls with a growing look of discomfort.

“Are there any rooms with windows?”

“No,” Dean carefully replied, trying to read Castiel’s body language.  “Most of the bunker is underground, Cas, you know that.”

At the word underground, a spark of panic flashed in Cas’ eyes, and Dean finally understood.

He thinks he’s trapped.  He’s been running for weeks like a rabbit from the wolves, moving from city to city, probably never stopping more than a few hours to get some sleep.  And now he’s finally at his destination only to find himself in what he probably sees as a concrete cage.

Dean stepped in to the room and immediately moved away from the doorway so he wasn’t blocking Cas’ only escape rout, walking around to lean against the wall several feet away as casually as he could manage.  It was no easy feat, given how his heart felt like it was in a vice and Cas was watching him like he’d caught the scent of wolf in the air.

He made sure to hold the angel’s gaze.  “Cas, this is the safest place in North America.  It’s warded against ‘any evil ever created’, remember? There is no radio signal to detect in a twenty-mile radius around us. You don’t need a window.  You’re safe here.”

Castiel didn’t look convinced, only mollified for now, but Dean lept at the opportunity to change the subject while he still could.

“I’ll get you something to sleep in and then you can have a shower and get some rest.  Sound good?”

Castiel nodded, the movement nothing more than a jerking motion of his head.

“Ok.  I’m gonna go tell Sam we’re home first, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Dean’s legs very nearly didn’t carry him to the library.

When he came around the corner, Sam leapt out of his chair. “What the hell happened?”  he demanded.

Suddenly, Dean realized how tired he was, and he had to resist the urge to sink into the nearest chair and catch his breath.

“Long story.  Cas called.  Went to get him.  Here we are.”

Sam shook his head, an incredulous look on his face.  “Well, is he ok?!  Did he say why he didn’t call?  Is –“

“Sam, chill.”  Dean licked his lips, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Cas hadn’t followed him.  “He’s…he’s pretty on edge.  Really jumpy.  I don’t think he’s slept in a while so, priority one is getting him to bed.  Then we can get the whole story.”

“But –“

Sam, I’m not fucking kidding.  You haven’t seen him yet; you don’t get it.  He’s exhausted and at the end of his rope.  He needs to rest.”  Dean sighed harshly.  “More importantly, he needs to realize that he can rest now.”

Sam deflated, all the urgency draining from his posture, leaving nothing but concern in his big brown eyes. 

“Of course, yeah.  Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.  There’s pizza in the fridge if he’s hungry.”

Dean shook his head, “I’m just gonna show him the showers and then he’s gonna sleep.”

He hoped the angel could sleep.  If he couldn’t, the paranoia would only get worse until he pitched himself into a full blown mental breakdown.

And they didn’t want that.

He stopped by his room to grab a pair of the warmest pajama bottoms he had – black fleece – and a long sleeved tshirt.  When he got back to Cas’ room the door was still wide open and Cas was sitting gingerly on the edge of his bed.

He rose the second Dean came through the door, stance wide, unconsciously ready for a fight.

But for once Dean couldn’t be worried about it, because a much, much bigger problem had just been revealed to him and his stomach was sinking through the floor. 

Castiel had taken off his jacket – it was laid out on the end of the bed, some of the pockets lumpy with whatever he’d put in them – and was standing in jeans and a grey tshirt.

Swallowing down something hard and unyielding and blinking back the sting in his eyes, Dean took in the way the tshirt hung off Castiel’s thin shoulders; how the neck of it swung low enough to show prominent collar bones.  Jeans slung low on his narrow hips and, now that the jacket was gone, Dean noticed the sharpness of Cas’ stubbled jaw line; the stretch of his once golden skin pulled taut over his cheekbones.

Castiel blinked back at him, his eyes gleaming in the dimness of the room like gemstones, stark against the dark circles around them.

“The…the showers are down the hall.”  Dean tried to loosen the vice crushing his ribs.  “There’s shampoo and soap there you can use.”

A careful nod, an even more careful step forward, and Castiel took the clothes from him.  “Thank you.”

Dean left the room first, fighting the sting in the back of his throat and the way the corners of his mouth wanted to pull down all the way back to the library.

 

Chapter Text

It took Dean far too long to figure out just what he was feeling after seeing Cas without his bulky jacket – too thin, too tired and too vulnerable looking – and it was only Sam’s startled expression that made him realize that that’s what he was feeling.

He felt…blindsided.  Shocked.  Of all the problems Dean had expected to have to fight through, of all the states he thought Cas might be in when they finally got him home, starving wasn’t something that had even crossed Dean’s mind.

But that’s what it was.  Castiel was starving.  It was plain as day and impossible to deny as Dean stood there and watched Cas pull on the clothes Dean had given him. His ribs were just visible under his skin, his collar bones and hip bones were sharp and his shoulder blades shifted, too close to the surface of his skin as the angel pulled the old tshirt over his head.

Dean made sure his face was composed for when Cas turned around and hoped Sam was heating up the rest of the pizza like he’d told him to.  He’d left his brother equal parts confused and shocked after a hasty explanation of the state of Cas’ health and a hissed order to heat up some food for the angel.

Freshly showered and now in some clean clothes, Castiel looked a little better.  The hot water had pulled some color back into his skin and calmed his nerves, his eyes weren’t so wide and wild and he was no long looking this way and that in an incessant sweep for enemies.

Lastly, Cas pulled on a navy sweater Dean had brought him.  He understood now why Cas had the massive coat.  Given the state of him, he was probably cold constantly.

Dean cleared his throat.  “I know you’re probably tired, but you should come have something to eat before you go to bed.  Say hi to Sam, too.  He’s worried about you.”

The full body freeze was so quick Dean almost missed it, but then Cas was turning around to face him before he could figure out what it meant.

“How is, Sam?” 

“Come on, you can come ask him yourself while you have some pizza.”

When they got to the kitchen, Sam was just setting a large plate on the table and he looked up when Cas came through the door, his eyes going a fraction wider and darting quickly downward to take in the changes in the angel since they’d last seen each other.

But it was over in a blink – Sam had always processed new information at lightning speed – and then he was coming around the table with a wide smile and arms open.

Cas looked heart-stoppingly small with Sam’s long arms wrapping clear around him.  But his arms lifted and squeezed back around Sam’s waist and Dean could just make out a gruff and fond, “Hello, Sam,” muffled by his brother’s chest.

Sam briefly let his chin rest on Cas’ damp hair before he pulled away to look back down. 

“Jesus, it’s good to see you, Cas.  We were worried sick.”

Almost at once, Castiel lowered his gaze, “I’m sorry I didn’t call, I…well, I suppose I have a very long story to tell both of you.”

Sam was steering him towards the table, gently urging him into a chair. 

“First you need to eat, then sleep.  Then we’ll talk.”

Dean watched silently, observing the way Sam was moving and talking.  He knew this body language of Sam’s well.  It was his ‘I’m not a threat, you’re safe around me’ way of carrying himself and he wondered what it meant that both his and his brother had picked up on the need to move and speak so gently.  What had happened to Cas over the last five weeks to turn him in to this skittish creature?

Castiel had been on edge before all this stuff with Metatron had started; take away his power and, essentially, everything he had been for the last million or so years, and Dean supposed he had every right to be scared.

It would be like being born forty and expected to just know how the world worked, with no time to learn and no one to show you.

With the realization that Castiel needed a lot of help came the realization that Dean was woefully underequipped to help him through the mental and emotional trauma Cas had likely endured over the last month.

Finally, Cas noticed the pizza on the table and spark of primal hunger flickered behind his eyes.

Dean’s heart constricted painfully, wondering just when the last time Cas had eaten was.  At the diner, he’d been nursing a mug of either tea or coffee but had he been able to effort anything more than that?  Had even the drink been a courtesy extended by a pitying waiter?

“Eat, Cas,” Dean ordered softly, “Me and Sam will be right back.”

Evidently perplexed and halfway to sitting in the chair next to Cas’, Sam stood, flashing the angel a reassuring smile – that he missed because he was busy staring a hole through the plate of pizza he was reaching for – and followed his brother from the kitchen.

Once they were in the safety of the library, Dean turned to his brother and pulled a face as if to say, “Well?!”

“Yeah, this is bad.”  Sam took a deep breath and let it all out in a whoosh.  “Ok, we need to do damage control on this before it gets even more out of hand.  How bad is it?  It was hard to tell with the sweater on.”

Dean shook his head.  “I could see his ribs.”

Swallowing thickly, Sam nodded.  “Ok…ok.  I’m gonna make a call, I know someone who’s a nurse, and we’ll figure out the best way to help Cas.”

“There’s another problem, Sam,” Dean added quietly.  “He’s…I dunno he doesn’t seem all there.  When I picked him up from the diner he kept looking around like there was a hell hound on his tail and earlier he was looking at me like he thought I was gonna stab him or something, I –”

“Dean.”  And now Sam was using his patient voice.  “He was tricked into boarding up his own home and stranding his siblings on earth.  Metatron stole his grace.  He woke up as close to human as an angel can get.  He had no money, god knows how many pissed off angels trying to find him and no time to stop and rest.  Of course he’s going to be a little skittish.  Try not to take it personally, you know exactly how he’s feeling right now.”

And wasn’t that the truth.  Dean remembered how he felt after he got out of Purgatory.  Remembered how it had taken his brain a while to realize his body had stopped running.

He sighed, realigning his view of the situation.  “Right.  Ok, you go call the nurse, I’ll make sure Cas hasn’t managed to choke on his pizza.”

As it turned out, Cas hadn’t choked on his pizza, but he was curled over the sink and throwing it back up when Dean walked in to the kitchen. 

He rushed to Cas’ side, putting a hand on his back and wincing when he could feel the faint knobs of his spine through the sweater.

“Jesus, Cas, what happened?”

Cas spit one last time into the sink and then turned the faucet on, standing back up.  All the reclaimed color in his face from the shower had vanished, leaving his skin pale and dull looking.

“I guess I don’t like pizza.”

He stared at the side of Cas’ face.  His voice was gravelly and raw from vomiting and it looked as if the last of his strength had been used to toss the one thing that might have given him a bit more.

“Dean, I’m tired.”  Cas’ eyes closed, like he didn’t even have the energy to keep them open.  “I’m so tired.  I haven’t slept in days, please can I sleep now?”

“Yeah, Cas, yeah of course.  Come on.”

With his heart in his throat and his stomach in his shoes, Dean turned off the water, gently grabbed Cas’ arm right above his elbow and then wrapped his other arm around Cas’ shoulders, keeping him steady on his feet as he guided him back to the bedroom.

 


 

When Castiel woke he dearly wished he hadn’t.  His mouth felt like it was full of cotton – a dryness that had spread all the way down his throat and hurt terribly when he swallowed.  His head felt equally as barren, like his brain had shrivelled into a raisin over night.

And, as always, he was freezing.

His body had already curled him in to a ball as he slept but he pulled himself in tighter all the same, clutching at the blankets laid over him.

He froze.

Blankets?  Why were there blankets?  He didn’t sleep with blankets.  He slept in his coat.  Sometimes in newspapers or under bushes.  But never with blankets.

Well, except that one time – but he hadn’t done that again.  He wouldn’t have.  Not after what happened last time he went home with someone.

He wouldn’t be that stupid, would he?  Surely he hadn’t gotten that desperate. 

Castiel made an effort to even his breathing before he got too light headed.  Though he seemed to be light-headed near constantly the last few weeks.  It was becoming a struggle just to combat the constant dizziness and stay on his feet.

Sleep was slow to leave him, which was unusual in itself.  Normally he was asleep and then he was just…awake.  Sometimes he was already running before he even realized it.

He never felt more rested afterwards.  He never felt like his body had replenished its energy stores.  He only felt as if he had prolonged the inevitable for a few more hours.

The room was dark; so dark he couldn’t see a thing when he managed to peel his eyes open and panic clogged his throat, making him startle badly when a door slammed shut somewhere outside his room.

The bunker.

He sagged onto his back, taking deep breaths. 

I’m in the bunker.

When he turned his head, the darkness tilted around him and his entire head felt like a gyroscope.

The vague need to vomit rolled through his stomach, but he hadn’t eaten in days.  There was nothing for him to throw up.

Miserably, Castiel rolled to his side and pulled his knees even closer to his chest, trying not to shiver.  No wonder it was so cold, the bunker was underground for God’s sake.  Why would anyone build a house under the ground?  Stupid humans…

He successfully managed to drift somewhere between asleep and consciousness for a while, far enough under to not feel the magnitude of his many discomforts but awake enough to hear Sam and Dean start shouting at each other down the hall.

It jarred him back in to alertness, his heart seizing painfully.  But they weren’t yelling about him.  Or at him.  They were just yelling at each other, he told himself.

Knowing that seemed to do nothing to stop the nervous feeling bleeding into his gut and he sat up, throwing the blankets off and scowling when his teeth chattered uncontrollably. 

Gods, but he hated being cold.  It had to be the worst thing about being human. 

It didn’t help that the polished concrete under his feet was like stepping on ice, but he grit his teeth and stumbled in the dark for the door, because he was nothing if not a soldier.  He needed to take a piss and no god damn coldness was going to stop him from doing it.  It was just a sensation on his nerves, not a rope around his neck. Though he may have spent the entire walk there with a hand braced against the wall to stop the hallway from tilting, trying to recall all the times he’d been in the scorching heat of deserts across the globe.

Predictably, the memories did nothing to sooth sharp chill radiating under his skin.

After he’d relieved himself, Castiel headed for the shouting, which seemed to be rising in volume and surprise, surprise, when he got to the war room, Sam and Dean were standing on opposite sides of the large table, roaring at each other like a couple of angry lions over a watering hole.

Dean’s back was to Castiel and Sam spotted him at once over his brother’s shoulder, brown eyes shifting from narrowed and annoyed to wide and concerned.  It had Dean spinning at once, the anger melting off his face so quickly it was dizzying.

“Cas.”  A thick smile spread under Dean’s troubled eyes.  “Hey, I thought you were sleeping.”

“I was,” Castiel drawled lowly, letting his unimpressed gaze shift from one brother to the next, but couldn’t keep it up for long.  After all, he was quite sure that was more sleep than he’d gotten since falling.

Sam shifted guiltily, “You should try and get a few more hours.  You were only out for two.”

But his brain was already whirring up like a warming engine and Castiel knew it would be ages before he was exhausted enough to shut down again.

“No, it’s fine.”  He pushed away from the wall, at least pretending like he didn’t need it to stay standing.  “Where are my boots?”

“Why?” Dean asked sharply, his whole body going stiff.  Behind him, Sam’s eyes darted between the back of his brother’s head and Castiel.

“Because my feet are cold.”

Dean sagged.  “Oh.  Well, I’ll get you some socks then.”

As Dean brushed past him, Castiel called over his shoulder.  “And another sweater…if you have one.”

He didn’t acknowledge the pause in Dean’s footsteps, nor the tingle of his concerned gaze, only stared at Sam and moved to sit at the massive table.

“So, Sam, how have you been?  You are looking much better than the last time I saw you.”  He offered what he hoped was a somewhat pleased smile.  “I’m glad.  I was worried about you.”

With a small huff, Sam looked down with a sad smile before looking up again, his eyes soft. 

“I was worried about you.  We both were.”

Undoubtedly true, Castiel told himself.  It seemed the three of them did little else these days but worry about things. And who wouldn’t worry about a rogue fallen angel possibly leading an entire host of powerful beings right to their doorstep?  Still, it was nice to know at least someone had been thinking none-murderous thoughts about him.

“Well, I wish I could say I looked better than the last time you saw me.”  Castiel grinned sardonically and Sam seemed taken aback by it.  “But alas, I seem to struggle with the most basic of things.”

Sam dropped himself into a chair, looking ten years older than he was.

“Given the circumstances, you did great Cas.  You survived.  You got home.”  Fine lines etched themselves into the skin around Sam’s eyes and the younger brother suddenly looked anguished.  He looked hurt.  “Why didn’t you call us, Cas?” he asked quietly.  “We could have come and got you.  We could have helped.”

Castiel was too tired and too fragile to feel any more guilt than he already did.  But the dark hole that had been growing in his chest over the last month pulsed and grew.

He felt like a wet paper bag – that was full of rocks.  And people kept throwing more rocks in.  Soon he was just going to rip open and his blood and innards would just slop onto the floor.

Castiel rubbed a hand down his face, swallowing bile at the mental image and trying to shove it away.

“I’m sorry.  I should have kept you both updated but I…it was difficult enough just to stay hidden from the other angels.  I couldn’t do both.  I, um,” he looked away, shame coloring his cheeks.  “I was struggling.”

“Well…you’re home now.  And we can help you.”

Castiel slouched in his chair.  “Can you help me sleep?” he asked the table dully.  “I never quite got the hang of it.”

Sam’s eyebrows climbed and he sat up a little straighter, evidently relieved that there was something he could help with.  “Actually, yeah – “

“Incoming sweater!”

Castiel flinched when he turned in time for the sweater to fall over his head and quickly pulled it off, scowling up at Dean.  The sweater was more of a jacket.  Heavy grey fleece that looked warmer than anything Castiel had come across.

“Thank you.”  He pulled it on over the sweater he was currently wearing, zipping it up, shoving his hands in the pockets and shuffling down so the bottom half of his face was tucked under the neck.

“And socks.”  Dean handed them over.  Thick wool things that Castiel gratefully pulled on.

“Better?”

Castiel nodded up at Dean from within his layers and layers of bulky clothes, smiling when Dean did.

But it was only a few seconds later when Dean’s smile slipped away and he eased himself slowly into the chair next to Cas’, turning it a little so he could face the angel.

“Ok, buddy, we gotta talk about some stuff.”

Ah, yes.  The explanation for…everything.  Castiel felt an ominous heave in his stomach and his heart began to pound hard against his ribs.  He sat up a little straighter and swallowed around the dryness in his throat, nodding minutely.

“Okay,” Dean glanced across the table, sharing a look with his brother.  “First things first, when was the last time you ate?  I mean before the pizza,” he added, seemingly reading Castiel’s mind.  “Because you threw that up, so it doesn’t count.”

This wasn’t the direction Castiel had assumed the conversation would take, but he tried to answer the question all the same.  Thought back farther and farther to the last time he remembered managing to scavenge something to eat.  Alarmingly, all he could recall was an orange a small child had given him in the park.

Six days ago.

Or had it been seven?

He supposed it didn’t really matter; he might be new to being human but even he knew they were supposed to eat more frequently than that.

He shook his head, thinking harder, because, “That can’t be right,” he muttered.  He had to have eaten something since then.

When he looked up, the room swam.

“Cas?”

“Um,” he closed his eyes and rubbed his fingers against his temple.  “Four or five days ago, I think.”

He lied.  Why had he bothered to lie?  Four or five days ago sounded much better than six or seven…until you thought about it and realized it really wasn’t any better at all.

Though, when he opened his eyes and saw how worried the brothers looked, he supposed it was worth the little lie.

Dean cleared his throat and Sam heaved a sigh, picking up the conversation in place of Dean, who still looked like Castiel had reached out and slapped him instead of just answering his question.

 “Cas, when humans don’t eat for a few days, their digestive system shuts down and adapts to feeing off itself for energy.  And if you suddenly eat a lot all at once, it’s a really big shock to your system.”

He supposed that explained the incident with the pizza.  He hadn’t felt hungry in days but the second he’d laid his eyes of the plate of food, he’d been consumed with the desire to devour every last crumb.  It had been a primal instinct flaring in the back of a brain that shouldn’t have even been connected to Castiel’s consciousness.  But he was stuck in this body now, and was a slave to it’s baser needs.

It had been almost as alarming as when Famine had control over him, and the intensity of his desire to devour the food before him had been eerily reminiscent of it.  He didn’t like feeling that out of control.  He loathed it.

“I called a friend of mine, he’s a nurse, and he told us how to help you recondition your body to handle food again,” Sam finished.  “He said you’re dehydrated right now and your body doesn’t have enough nutrients to keep you going, so it’s actually breaking down any stores of fat.  Once it runs out of that, it will start breaking down and consuming the muscle and other tissues.”

Alarm flared, bright and painful in Castiel’s chest.

“It’s ok,” Sam hastened to assure him, “You’re not even close to that kind of trouble yet.  But obviously we want to make sure it doesn’t get that far.  So he gave us a pretty solid idea on how to tackle this.”

Castiel listened as Sam outlined what he was allowed to eat and drink over the next few days.  How much he was allowed to eat – hardly anything – and how often he could eat it – not often.

He listened while Sam told him that if he was feeling dizzy, shaky, nauseous, over tired or weak that it was all normal, but that he had to tell one of them immediately if he suddenly started experiencing chest pains or had trouble breathing.  Or if he started shaking and couldn’t stop.

Sam didn’t tell him why they needed to know about these things or what it meant if he did and Castiel didn’t ask, feeling as if he’d been hollowed out by an ice cream scoop by the time Sam was done talking a long while later.

Dean had been uncharacteristically silent the entire time, never once butting in while Sam spoke and Castiel found himself wondering what it was they had been arguing about earlier.

Chapter Text

Swallowing the last mouthful of a cup of milk was a much bigger challenge than Castiel would have anticipated.  But he managed – didn’t he always?  His stomach contracted threateningly and he had to bow his head, pressing the palms of his hands into his eyes while he took measured breaths.

A hand on his back made him jump and he spit out an Enochian curse word, feeling as if the milk might not be far behind it.  Sam’s hand stayed on his back, rubbing soothing circles between his shoulders and, after a few seconds, Castiel let himself relax.

“Think you can keep it down?”  Sam asked him quietly, as if he was worried talking too loud might scare the meager amount of sustenance right out of the fallen angel’s stomach.

“Standby,” Castiel muttered, easing the pressure on his eyes when white spots danced before him. 

Sam huffed a laugh, his hand stilling.

It was several minutes later when Castiel’s stomach felt stable enough for him to move and he finally put his hands down, blinking around the room.  “Ok.”

“You’re good?”

Castiel nodded.  “I’m good.”

Sam leaned back in his chair, looking thoroughly relieved.  “Ok, step one was a success.  Step two for today – rest.”

Castiel groaned and stood, pausing to let his stomach settle when it rolled unhappily with the sudden movement.  He’d only been back in the bunker for a day and already his hope of becoming magically better at being human once he was safe had evaporated.

He was still barely keeping down a cup of milk and the three times he had tried to take a nap he had failed to fall asleep.  The dizziness made it difficult and, in the quiet, it always became harder and harder as the moments passed to remember that there was nothing sneaking up behind him.

“Not that kind of rest,” Sam assured him.  He stood too and motioned for Cas to follow him out of the kitchen and towards the sitting room.  “We know that sometimes it’s hard to fall asleep when it’s too quiet or too still or too dark.  There’s nothing wrong with you, Cas.  People that have been human all their life struggle to fall asleep.  But there’s other ways to rest.”

When they got to the living room, Dean was already sitting on the sofa, his legs sprawled across the coffee table.  He rolled his head to look when Sam and Cas entered the sitting room, then threw up his hands with his fingers waggling in the air.

“Jurassic Park marathon!”

Despite the fuzz at the corners of Castiel’s vision and despite the way his stomach was still protesting the milk, Castiel smiled, feeling the gaping hole where his grace used to be shrink a little.

He soon found himself wedged between the brothers on the couch, the best part of which was that both men were throwing off heat like a furnace and Castiel was torn between which brother he should try to wrap himself around like an octopus. 

“How are you both so warm?” he grumbled as the intro credits rolled on the tv.  He sounded exactly as jealous as he felt and did nothing to hide it.  “I’m always cold.  I hate being cold.  It is the absolute worst thing about being human.”

He scowled at the TV, shifting to try and shuffle down further into the three sweaters he was wearing.

“It’s ‘cause you lost so much weight, Cas,” Sam explained gently, “As soon as you gain some back it’ll get better.”

Castiel grumbled, “Then I’m going to eat until I’m fat so I never have to be cold again.”

Dean choked on the mouthful of beer he’d just taken at the same time Sam threw his head back and laughed.  Dean pounded a hand to his chest a few times and coughed before he too was laughing and Castiel was left to stare between them, wondering what the hell was so funny.

“Cas,” Sam’s voice warbled, “You don’t have to get fat to stay warm.  Muscle mass can help keep you warm just as good.  Better, actually.”

“’Cept building muscle is way less fun and way more work than building fat,” quipped Dean, having finally gotten himself under control enough to take another sip of his beer.

“But considerably less healthy,” Sam added firmly, shooting his brother a look over the top of Cas’ head.  “And we want Cas to be healthy.”

Dean rolled his eyes, “Yeah, yeah, college boy.  I’m just gonna sneak him steak and donuts when you’re not looking, you know.”

“Dean, we agreed that I would be teaching Cas how to take care of his body because you’re a negligible, reckless, pig –”

Dean sputtered, some beer dribbling down his chin in his haste to swallow.  “Hey!”

“If Cas wants to learn how to dick around with a car or listen to terrible music, he’ll come to you.”  Sam shoved a handful of popcorn into his big mouth and grinned, his cheeks puffed out and lumpy.

Dean looked absolutely scandalized and Castiel felt one corner of his mouth pulling up.

“Excuse you, Samsquatch, but I am the one with more life experience.  I’ll be able to teach him more useful crap than you can.  I mean, sure, if he wants to grow his hair out, I’ll send him to you, but for everything else –”

“That’s rich, coming from the guy who uses more product in his hair than I do.”

An appalled gasp rushed from Dean’s throat.  “I do not use product in my hair!”

Sam grinned, glancing down at Castiel briefly before raising his eyes back to Dean with a dangerous grin.

“Dean has a flat iron, did you know that Cas?”

I don’t have a fucking flat iron!” Dean snarled.

“What is a flat iron?”

“I have like an inch and a half of hair, for Christ’s sake, there’s nothing to straighten!”

The bickering continued between the brothers for several more minutes, until Castiel finally snapped at them.

“Shut up, you’re both morons!”

The silence was so abrupt and the tingle of disbelieving gazes on either side of his face was so palpable, that Castiel had to fight hard to keep his face straight.  He stared resolutely at the TV, where some people were walking alongside a mostly accurate depiction of a Brachiosaurs.

“Are you laughing at us?” Dean asked lowly.

Castiel’s chin lifted and he bit the inside of his cheek.  “No.”

Sam leaned heavily against him, mushing their shoulders together, and stared at the side of Castiel’s face.

“Something funny, Cas?”

He couldn’t speak without releasing whatever it was shuddering in his chest, so Castiel merely shook his head, biting his lips even as they stretched into a smile against his will.

He wasn’t sure what it was that he was feeling, but it didn’t feel bad for once.  It was light and wobbly like a newborn foal trying to find it’s legs and it bubbled up in his chest.

When Sam’s long finger poked him in the side through all his sweaters, the feeling shuddered loose and he made a sound that was half laughter, half protest as he recoiled into Dean’s side, grabbing Sam’s wrist to still his prodding fingers.

The entire situation was ridiculous because Castiel had lost his grace and they had just saved the world again and Sam had recovered from the trials and Castiel was tired and the three of them were safe and home and together and it was all just so ridiculous.

Sam looked thoroughly pleased about something, frozen with shock and delight, staring down at Castiel with the light of a little brother that had just gotten a one up in his eyes.

“You’re ticklish,” Sam’s head shook slowly from side to side, his devious grin widening.  “Oh that is just so good to know.”

“Sam – Sam, no – ahh!”  Castiel couldn’t help the laughter bubbling from his throat and he pushed his feet into the sofa cushions, trying to get away from Sam’s wriggling fingers but getting nowhere due to Dean sitting solid and warm at his back, grabbing his arms so he couldn’t slap Sam’s hands away.

Sam’s touches were gentle but they sparked intense reaction everywhere they landed and Castiel squirmed around the new sensation, giggling and squealing and feeling Dean’s low chuckles vibrating through his back.

It was only a few seconds later that Sam took his hands away, laughing so hard himself that he leaned back against the arm rest with his arms wrapped around his stomach and Castiel went limp in Dean’s arms, breathing hard and grinning up at the hunter.

Dean was shaking his head fondly, his eyes as soft as the smile on his lips as he stared down at Castiel.  He still had his large hands circled around Castiel’s arms.

“You know, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you laugh,” Dean told him softly.

“I think that’s the first time I ever have.”  Castiel blinked, his smile slipping when he realized just what the feeling spreading through him was.  “I’m happy.”  He sounded as shocked as he felt, blinking up at Dean in wonder.

Impossibly, Dean’s eyes softened even more and his smile looked both sad and elated.  His fingers tightened around Castiel’s arms.

“Hey,” Sam suddenly barked, “Remember me?  Third-wheeling pretty bad over here.”

It was only then that Castiel realized his head was in Dean’s lap and he quickly sat up, heat flaring in his face.  With a sideways glance at Dean, Castiel was suddenly overwhelmed with a confusing mix of emotions he refused to examine. 

He didn’t want to complicate this wonderful moment, where they were all smiling and relaxed and there was no threat hanging over their heads.  He didn’t want to ruin it by analysing just why heat was spreading through his belly at the memory of Dean’s fingers squeezing around his biceps.

No, he pushed everything far, far away – he’d gotten quite good at that – and vowed to deal with it in a few hours when it all inevitably came crashing back down on him.  Because it always did.

Before, when he was an angel – when he was himself – he could push things away indefinitely.  He could shove away hurt and sadness and loneliness and know that they would never come back.  Now, he could still push them away, but it was like throwing a ball in the air; it always came back, falling harder and faster and crashing in to him painfully when he was least prepared to deal with it.

But, as he had learned over the last several weeks, sometimes he had to clear out his mind, push everything away, just to get through the moment.  Once he was safe, then he could deal with the backlash.

So for now he threw the ball into the air and enjoyed the movies and the heat radiating off the brothers.  He even managed to forget that the ball was racing back down and, for the first time, he felt…warm.  Inside and out.

He didn’t even make it to the second movie before he was curling into Dean’s side and finally, finally falling asleep.

 


 

Dean dared not breathe, and had to wrestle back a dopey grin when he looked down to where Castiel was sound asleep, legs folded under him, side pressed up against his.  Cas’ head was resting on his shoulder and his hair was soft – ridiculously so – against the side of Dean’s neck.

“He out?” Sam whispered, leaning forward to try and see Cas’ face.

“Out cold,” Dean whispered back, lips twitching.  He turned back to watch the movie but didn’t see it at all.

Cas had always been smaller than him, but now he felt...

He felt like something that needed to be protected.  The weight of his body leaning in to Dean’s was slight and he was swimming in all his sweaters.  He looked – dammit – he looked cute, Dean thought, something gross and fluffy bouncing around his chest like an infestation of bunnies.

He pulled his face into a scowl – or tried to at least – but Castiel chose that moment to sleepily snuggle closer and Dean had to squeeze his eyes shut, lest they start jutting from his face in the shape of cartoon hearts.

“Kay, g’night!”  Sam whispered jovially.  He stood with a shit eating grin and fled the room before Dean could so much as hiss at him to get the fuck back here.

But then he and Cas were alone.  Cuddling on the couch while a movie about fucking dinosaurs played on the TV and bunnies were running around inside Dean’s chest.

The whole thing was fucking ridiculous.

He carefully freed his arm from where it was squished between his side and Cas’ and lifted it over Cas’ head to curl around the angel’s shoulders.  And fuck if Cas didn’t just squirm even closer, like he was made to fit against Dean’s side.

He allowed his thumb to stroke back and forth on Cas’ arm, carefully leaning his head against Cas’.

“I’m so glad you’re home, Cas,” he whispered into the slumbering angel’s hair.  “I’m so fucking glad you’re home.”