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The bunker had its own silence while the Winchesters were locked up. The symphony of noises - creaks and groans and ticks from an old building - could never compete with what he wanted so desperately to hear. Even angel radio faded to blurred out and half tuned noise. Only one word mattered - the word that never came: Winchester.

Here in the back seat of Mary’s car Castiel finds himself in a similar situation. The car is alive with the buzz of tires on pavement, the harsh growl of the engine as Mary eats up the miles, the gentle half snores coming from Sam, asleep in the front seat. But it’s silent in all ways that matter. Mary has her eyes on the road, her lips pursed in determination over something he can’t quite detect. Dean is pressed up against the other side of the backseat, either pretending or attempting to sleep.

After Castiel scraped his feelings out of his chest and hurled them wetly onto the pavement, they’d all climbed into the car again. Silently. The engine kicked to life and they were away, tearing through the mountain landscape back home. Castiel supposes he should feel relief or joy or peace at having Sam and Dean safe once more. Instead, he’s angry. The Winchesters have a tendency to hurl away their lives for each other creating an endless braid of self-sacrifice and misplaced guilt. Castiel, for one, is sick of it. The moment he saw that look on Dean’s face as Mary’s car expired on the bridge, he knew. And all he could think was, you asshole . He’ll never be done with trying to save their lives, but he’s still just...done.

Castiel balls his fists into his lap, burying them in his coat, and thinks how peaceful it would be to just flap out of this car. Even he can tell that this silence is awkward. Good , Castiel thinks. Stew in it .

There’s an exit just east of Denver. It’s a dusty, rain-shadow town on the edge of the Kansas plains and boasts exactly two gas stations, one equipped with an all-night, all-you-can-eat, truckers-welcome diner. When Mary stops the car Dean flicks the back of Sam’s head. “Rise and shine,” he grunts as Sam jolts awake. Dean snickers, Sam grouses, and Mary rolls her eyes and opens her door. Castiel follows her out of the car. “Let me, Mary,” he says. “Why don’t you go inside and get something to eat?”

Mary lifts her brows and opens her mouth as though about to launch a full speed protest. But then she looks over at her boys, yawning and stretching as they climb out of the car, and nods instead. “Okay.” She hands over her keys and then heads inside, Dean and Sam following after.

Castiel opens the gas cap, inserts the pump nozzle, expertly flips the switch, and uses his credit card to pay for the fuel. While the car fills he washes the windows, scraping and wiping them clean and dry. He removes the pump nozzle, screws on the gas cap, and then moves the car to one of the parking spaces wrapping around the station. He can see Dean, Sam, and Mary inside. They’ve grabbed a window booth. Four cups of coffee sit on the table and Dean already has a slice of pie set up in front of his menu. It’s a warm scene and it threatens Castiel’s bad mood.

Castiel shuts off the engine and steps outside of the car. The floodlights illuminating the parking lot and pump canopy are blindingly bright but Castiel has superior senses. He may not be able to see the wheeling panoply of stars in the sky but he can feel them. He leans against the trunk of the car, legs crossed at the ankles and hands shoved deep in his coat pockets, then tilts his head up and watches the stars.

Castiel has always thought of himself as a warrior. It has only been this last flicker of his existence where he has tried to be anything else. The process of reinvention - of “finding oneself” as the talk shows put it - is exhausting. If Castiel could still sleep he would stay in bed forever just to cope. He’s made so many mistakes in his journey. While killing Billie has unforeseen consequences (and with their luck, probably dire) Castiel can't bring himself to count that action among his mistakes. He wonders if self-improvement might follow planetary dynamics. If there’s a point where you’ve fallen so far that the only option is to swing back up.

He’s jolted from his reverie by a hard slap on his shoulder. “Hey, man,” Dean says. “You coming in?”

“I have no need to eat, Dean.” He obstinately trains his gaze on the stars.

“Yeah, okay.” There’s a scuffing sound and then Dean is next to him, leaning against the back of the car. Dean has pulled his arms in tightly to his body, hands jammed into his pockets against the late night chill. “Got you some coffee.”

“I’m fine. You go inside. Be with Mary and Sam.”

“Cas.”

“Dean.” Castiel turns to look at him and just manages to keep from flinching. This close Dean’s breath ghosts in the air, softening his features. “Go inside. Please. I’m fine out here.”

Dean nods. He nods and he nods and then he finally says, “Okay.” He leans slightly to the side to bump his shoulder against Castiel’s own. “Okay. See you in a bit.”

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The car smells like bacon and harsh coffee. The scent clings to the Winchesters’ clothing. Sam drives. Mary sleeps in the front seat, curled like a small bird against the window. Next to him, Dean clears his throat. Castiel glances over but Dean isn’t looking at him. Dean’s hand rests on the bench seat, palm up. As Castiel knits his brow at it, Dean shoves his hand up in the air between them, an unmistakable invitation.

It would be disingenuous to say he didn’t know how long he sat there, staring at Dean’s extended hand. Castiel sat there for four minutes and thirty five seconds, looking at the hand on the bench seat, Dean staring out the window as though he didn’t care one way or another what happened. It was the tremble in Dean’s fingers just after the four minute mark that broke him.

Castiel reaches out and twines his fingers through Dean’s, then settles their hands onto the leather seat between them. Dean glances at him once, his gaze full of unreadable things, then squeezes his hand. Then he scoots down in his seat, resting his head against the seat back with a sigh, and closes his eyes.

While Dean sleeps Castiel holds his hand in the dark as the scenery tears away. He’s still angry. So, very angry at these stupid, foolish Winchesters. But when that anger burns out, he thinks he might be left with this: a warm palm, a gentle smile, a home. Castiel settles back with a sigh, presses his forehead against the window, and watches the stars.