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Put your empty hands in mine (I’m gonna stand by you)

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They arrive back at the bunker almost at sunrise.

Sam wishes them a goodnight, yawning around the words, and claps Cas on his back when he passes him by. It’s a comforting touch, meant to reassure them both that they’re still alive and well, and Dean immediately longs to do the same. To put his hands anywhere on Cas’ body, to make sure that their friend is truly okay. His fingers twitch restlessly and he balls them into a fist, to keep himself from reaching out.

“You should go to bed, too. You still look like crap,” Dean hears himself say, though there are a million other words burning on the tip of his tongue. Or maybe just three. Three words, finally said aloud by one of them after they were left unspoken for so long.

Cas turns around to look at him, one eyebrow raised. “I thought you said that I look devastatingly handsome?”

Dean is so taken aback by the dry-witted reply, that he flounders for a few seconds. He blinks at Cas, who cracks one of his crooked smiles which he usually directs at Dean whenever he means to cheer him up or comfort him. Right now, it does little to calm the anxious feeling deep inside him, considering that Cas’ clothes are still a bloody mess and he looks utterly exhausted under that smile.

“Yeah, well, maybe I’ll call you that again when you don’t look like you’re gonna fall over any moment,” he answers gruffly and then makes the mistake of stepping closer and actually reaching out to put one rebellious hand on Cas’ left arm.

“Dean, I am fine. My wounds are healed and I will recharge my batteries soon,” Cas tries to reassure him, making those damn dorky air quotes and Dean is taking another step closer, right into Cas’ personal space, before he can stop himself.

He takes a deep, shuddering breath and his grip tightens on Cas’ arm. “Just- just please, take it easy. You’re home now, Cas. And I don’t want you to leave all on your own in a few hours, hell, not even in a few days, okay? Just get some rest and… just stay,” he pleads, the words tumbling from his lips in a desperate rush.

Something flickers in Cas’ eyes, a look of hesitation which Dean has seen there before, but it’s different this time. It seems both more open but also more guarded than ever, which should be a contradiction in itself, but his mind can’t seem to define it any better.

“I won’t leave today,” Cas replies, his voice steady and calm. “But Kelly Kline is still out there and-“

“We have months to find her, okay?” Dean interrupts, not wanting to hear this argument right now. He’s not ready to let go yet, quite literally. “And I will go with you, when you follow the next lead on her.”

That hesitant expression slides off Cas’ face at that and he smiles again, all soft and pleased and happy, and Dean wants to move his hand up to trace that smile with his fingers so badly, he’s shaking with the need.

“It could become rather unpractical, if you don’t want to let me out of your sight again,” Cas says, but he’s only lightly teasing and obviously far more overjoyed and captivated by the way Dean moves even closer, until he can feel Cas’ breath on his face as he speaks.

“I almost lost you tonight. Again. Cas, I – I can’t…” Dean’s voice breaks and he swallows against the painful lump in his throat. His eyes burn at the unbidden memories of Cas lying there in that barn, torn up and bloody and his flesh rotting away right before his eyes, while Dean was unable to help him.

His gaze flickers down to Cas’ lips and Dean can almost see that black mass of goo bubbling up his mouth again and the panic seizes his heart back into an iron fist and he can’t – he can’t let go, he can’t say what he truly wants to say and at the same time can’t think about what he’d do if Cas died without knowing that Dean feels the same way. That he loves him, that he’s family, that he belongs to them – belongs to Dean, just like Dean wants to belong to him.

It’s always been such a scary thought, wanting to belong somewhere or to someone, knowing that good things don’t last and people he loves always either go away or end up dead. But in the last few years they have built themselves a home here at the bunker. It’s not home though, without the people in it. Without Cas.

“Dean.”

Cas’ hand comes up against the left side of his face, shaking slightly, and Dean feels both electrified and worried about that unsure touch at once.

“Did you… did you mean it?”

The question leaves him in a whisper and he almost wants to take it back as soon as he utters it. Because what if he’s wrong? Cas had been dying. They had both been almost unable to keep eye contact, though for different reasons probably, and Dean is afraid that he’s reading too much into it, that those words hadn’t been solely meant for him that first time Cas had spoken them.

But Cas leans in even more, until there’s no space left at all between them, and Dean can smell the filth and blood still sticking to his clothes. He wants to pull them all off from Cas’ body and take him back to one of their showers where he can inspect every inch of him and clean him from every evidence of his injuries. His self-control is slipping alarmingly fast, considering how well he’s always been able to suppress the need of physical contact between them.

“I love you, Dean.”

Cas looks at him unwaveringly, the blue of his eyes intense in its determination and raw adoration, and Dean’s heart seizes so painfully, he thinks he might pass out himself.

He wants to say something. He does. But in the next second his lips are pressed against Cas’ mouth in something that can’t even be described as a real kiss. Dean’s mouth is open, since he can’t stop drawing in a desperate breath of air, and Cas doesn’t react for a long moment which makes Dean stay right where he is, completely still and only breathing against Cas’ lips, even as his body starts shaking.

Something salty runs down into the corner of his mouth and he realizes it’s his own tears, but before he can pull away and hide, Cas finally moves. His thumb brushes against Dean’s cheek right under his eye, wiping away the next tear that threatens to fall, and then he’s kissing back with an urgency that overwhelms Dean’s senses completely.

He doesn’t know how long they remain like that, wrapped up in each other, trading kisses and hushed whispers between each touch of their lips. It feels like it can never be enough and he’s sure that he will curse himself later for waiting this long, until it was almost too late, to give in to the feelings he’s harbored for his best friend for years. But right now he can’t bring himself to care, to regret anything that led them to this moment.

When they finally break apart, Cas is smiling at him and taking his hand in a gentle hold, his eyes alight with happiness. “Let’s go to bed,” Cas says, and he knows instantly and without any doubt that he means Dean’s bed. That Cas means to stay.

A smile breaks out on his own face and he nods, while he tightens his grip on Cas’ hand. “Yes.”

They leave the war room, holding onto each other all the way towards their room. He hasn’t said it back yet. Maybe the words will remain stuck in his mangled heart for even longer, even though he feels certain that he won’t be able to hold onto them forever. But considering the way Cas is looking at him, he knows. And that makes Dean feel more calm about it, more at ease that they will do this right, no matter what life will throw at them in the future.

They will face all of it together, as family.

But there’s one thing to be done, before they can crawl onto Dean’s amazing memory foam mattress and hold each other close like Dean has longed for so long.

He sweeps his eyes over Cas’ body again, the sight of all that blood still painful to look at, and his voice is firm and allows no argument when the next two words rush out of him.

“Shower first.”