Dean awakes strapped to a rickety chair in the same house he, Sam, and Cas entered with the intention of killing the child-murdering witch living there just a few hours earlier.
Dean fights the urge to bang his head against the back of the chair. It was supposed to be an easy get in, kill the witch, and get out, but the witch was more prepared than they’d expected. She lured Cas outside with the ruse of fake child screams and had the door slammed between Sam and Dean before Dean even realized she was trying to separate them.
That’s the last thing Dean remembers, so he can only assume from that, and from the throbbing pain in his temple, he got knocked out.
He had told them not to split up, damnit. He’d told them! How is he expected to protect them if they’re out of his sight?
And now Dean’s practically helpless in this room with the bitc-sorry, witch, with no idea where Cas or Sam are— if they’re alive, or okay, or…anything that she’s done to them.
He squints at the blurry witch in front of him. Standing fully upright, she can’t reach higher than mid-chest on him, and he would feel bad they were hunting her down if it wasn’t for the fact she’s killed at least four people in this already-too-small town, two of them were kids.
Dean’s almost embarrassed they got one-upped by this tiny, minuscule wisp of a woman.
Similar to nearly every other emotion Dean doesn’t allow himself to feel, he uses the shame to fuel his anger.
“If you hurt them,” he hissed, pitching his voice low and talking slow. “If you so much as fucking touched either of them, so help me, I-” His cliché threat is cut off when she slaps him full across the face with surprising strength.
“Aw,” she coos, her sweet voice a direct contradictory to the menacing grin Dean can almost make out thought the heavy vertigo plaguing his vision Her finger trails across his shoulder blades as she circles him joyously. “What am I going to do with you, huh? Such a pretty hunter.”
She stops in front of him and squishes his jaw with one hand to force his head up. Dean’s careful not to let his eyes drift like they want to. She giggles when he snaps his teeth at her.
“Oh!” she exclaims, and Dean can’t help but think her voice is so too young and bubbly to fit the norm for a witch. “I think I know just the thing that’ll keep that beautiful mouth of yours busy.”
She releases him and saunters to the other side of the kitchen to rummage through a drawer. She makes a delighted squeak when she finds what she’s looking for, pulling out a needle filled with purple liquid.
Dean can’t be sure, but he thinks the liquid is shimmering slightly as she makes her way back over to him.
He wriggles in his chair as she approaches, trying futilely to untangle the ropes around his hands and feet. The witch, heedless of Dean’s attempts, uncaps the tip and squirts a bit of liquid out experimentally.
“Listen up, bitch,” Dean growls, probing the frayed rope around his wrists for a weak spot. “You even think about putting that gunk in my body and I will gank you so hard you’ll feel it in hell.” His eyes water staring up at her, the light in the room too bright for his sensitive state, but he fights to keep his voice steady. He thinks he mostly succeeds.
Until she gives him the same fond expression one might give to a frustrated toddler or a particularly adorable baby duck, eyes crinkling in mirth, and stabs the needle unceremoniously into his neck.
She decompresses the plunger and the last thing he hears before he passes out is sort of whooshing noise, the out-of-place sound bringing him a surprising amount of peace.
When he next opens his eyes, the first thing he's aware of is the hideous lighting fixture on the motel ceiling above him.
“Who would choose that as décor?” he wonders aloud. He’s happy to find speaking doesn’t cause his brain to rattle in his skull anymore.
Sam and Cas’ concerned faces pop into being on either side of his periphery not a second later.
“Hello, Dean,” Cas rumbles, his deep timbre colored with concern. He’s leaning against the right edge of the bed so far he’s practically on top of Dean, who doesn’t move from his position staring up at the ceiling, but has to smile.
Sam shoots Cas an exasperated look from his side of the bed, but Dean replies joyfully, “Hey, Cas! You’re okay! You’re both okay! I’m glad you two are okay, I was legit worried.” Dean’s eyes bug out of his head in bewilderment. On their own accord, his mouth continues, “But I’m so glad you’re here, I miss you when you’re not here.”
Sam’s expression has turned into a similar one of shock. He exchanges glances with Castiel over Dean’s body as Dean sits upright and shoves off the bed.
“You’re gone too much, Cas,” Dean’s saying seamlessly as he marches across the motel room. “The bunker’s lonely without you. It’s not home.”
Dean hunts the tiny kitchenette fridge for a bottle of anything that he knows must be there, and turns back to Sam and Cas only when he’s got his traitorous lips busy with chugging half a bottle of beer.
“So,” Sam says vaguely, “obviously the witch did something to you.” He clears his throat and looks pointedly anywhere but Dean.
“It is our fault you were with her long enough for her to do this; we will fix it,” Cas contributes evenly.
Dean does not miss the way Sam grimaces apologetically at Cas’ words. He wants to tell them to shut the hell up, or maybe just to knock him out to shut him up, but instead what comes out of his mouth is reassurance.
“Sam,” Dean sputters, because he was still gulping alcohol when he tried to speak. “Sammy, don’t look so sad. I’m glad you’re here too, Sammy. I couldn’t do any of this without you.” Dean’s tense from crick in his neck to curl of his toes, but he doesn’t stop talking casually. “I couldn’t do a damn thing without you, you keep me going. I hope nothing ever happens to you. It haunts my dreams sometimes.” The beer wobbles precariously as it’s finally slammed on the edge of the counter, before tipping over onto the ground. No one makes a move to pick it up.
“I’d do anything for you Sammy, you know that, right?” Dean’s free hand has a white-knuckled grip on the counter and he stares at it avidly so he doesn’t have to look at them. He can’t manage to shut his mouth, but he can damn well refuse to watch the chaos go down. “You too, Cas. I need you both. You’re both so important and I need you so much.”
“I…” Sam’s searching for the right words. Dean wishes he had that problem right now.
“I’m going to go call Bobby,” Sam decides, taking his phone from his pocket and making for door. But he halts when Dean drops his beer in favor of holding onto Sam’s arm.
“Please don’t go,” Dean says, still in that casual, ‘nothing is wrong’ tone that sounds so bad with everything he’s saying.
Dean almost bites his tongue off trying to swallow his next words, but they come out anyway. “Please don’t leave. Everybody leaves—Cassie, Charlie, dad, mom. I force them all away.”
Sam and Cas are too stunned to say anything, so Dean’s mouth decides to fill the silence again. “Cas leaves us all the time, too.” Dean swallows thick and states softly, “He leaves me, too.”
Cas makes a wounded noise. Dean’s too afraid to lift his gaze from the abandoned beer on the floor, watching the liquid stain the already soiled motel floor, but notes it’s a strange sound to be coming from an angel.
“He doesn’t like to stay with us, it’s understandable,” whatever strange liquid the witch injected Dean with makes him console Sam. Or himself. Or maybe Cas.
Sam reaches out to Dean. To do what, he doesn’t know. Comfort, perhaps— but Dean sees his movement and turns to him.
“You left me too, Sam, but it’s okay. I forgive you. You leave me all the time- started leaving me way back when you went to Stanford! But it’s okay, ‘cuz you always let me drag you back-” Dean’s voice is distorted with Dean’s strain to stop, his grip on Sam’s arm starting to bruise “-I know you don’t want to be here either, that you hate this life and being with me, but I’m really glad-I’m really, I really appreciate you let me-” Dean finally lets go of Sam and slaps a hand over his mouth to end the word vomit.
Sam actually takes a step back in surprise when he’s released. Sam’s in disbelief. Dean look like he’s on the brink of a panic attack, but he can’t seem to force his mouth to stop. Even now, with his hand plastered tight over his own mouth, Dean’s still trying to speak with muffled words barely audible.
Cas is the first to break the semi-quiet moment this time. “I think I may know what that witch injected Dean with.”
Sam whips his head up and nods eagerly, and Dean waves a shaking hand at Cas in a ‘get on with it’ kind of motion, his other hand still adhered to his face.
“I believe you’ve been injected with a drug called ‘Veritas’.” Sam’s tilts his head to let Cas know they have no idea what that means. “It’s essentially an herbal form of a witch’s truth spell,” Cas explains. “Basically a liquid curse, except much more potent than anything which could be cast.”
Dean’s groan isn’t even slightly dampened by his hand.
“The good news,” Cas continues, undeterred, “is that it should wear off in 24 hours. Considering you were injected nearly four hours ago, you have only 20 hours left.”
Dean drapes himself backwards over the counter and fights the urge to kick his arms and legs in a childlike tantrum. He’s at least glad he’s the one cursed, and not Sam or Cas, but he doesn’t think he can take 20 more hours of this. He’s not even sure he can take 20 more minutes of this.
“Great. Awesome. So we’re just suppose to, what? Wait till it wears off?” Dean’s relieved that at least Sam’s asking the right questions, seeing as Dean is still too afraid of word spewing again to move his hand.
Cas averts his eyes and shifts his weight from foot to foot. “Well…”
Dean can’t take it anymore. He drops his hand and picks back up right in the middle of a sentence. “-aren’t you telling us Cas? Is it something bad? It’s something bad. We can handle it. Why don’t you trust us? You don’t trust me after I hit you that one time, I know I get it, but you should trust Sam. The blood wasn’t his fault, I promise, he’s good now he’s-”
The hand that seals Dean’s lips this time belongs to Sam. “Hush, Dean. Let Cas talk.”
Cas lilts his head to Sam in appreciation. “As I was saying, there is one way to shorten its effects. If the person afflicted tells their personal fear, the thing that drives and haunts them more than anything else, the spell ends.”
Dean lets himself lean into Sam’s hand. Just a bit. Dean kind of needs the support right now, and Sam can’t leave if Dean’s physically keeping him here.
“That’s it?” Sam sounds dissatisfied, like he expected it to be more difficult.
‘All this fuss for nothing?’ Dean hears.
“It must be specific,” Cas clarifies. “Dean will have to say exactly what his worse fear is. Nothing less with suffice.”
“Okay, well, that’s easy then!”
Sam sounds so hopeful. Dean’s glad Sam’s covering his mouth so he doesn’t have to disappoint him by telling him there’s no way Dean’s ever going to talk about his feelings like that with the two of them.
Sam removes his hand from Dean’s mouth, and Dean will deny the soft whine he makes until the day he dies.
“-not exactly a solution, because I really, really, really don’t wanna do that, guys. Like, for real, that’s the last thing I want you to know. I don’t think you want to hear it either, you wouldn’t-”
Dean continues to blabber uncontrollably about how much they don’t want to hear this, going on to list the things more enjoyable that they’d rather do instead, like pulling out their toenails or attending a three-hour jazz concert, while Sam speaks over him.
“You have to tell us Dean. You- no, listen to me,” he grabs Dean’s arm when Dean refocus his argument against telling them. “Listen, Dean! You have to tell us. We’re on a case, we can’t have you going around spilling all our secrets.”
He bites his bottom lip to break his blathering to the point he tastes blood. Sam’s making sense. Dean knows Sam’s making sense, but he still doesn’t want to tell them. He pulls his arm out of Sam’s grip and walks over to plop on the bed again.
Cas hesitates for a second, then sits rigidly on the edge of the mattress. He places his hand on Dean’s other arm, mirroring Sam’s a moment ago, and informs Dean very carefully, “We will not judge you. Your fears are your own. They do not define you, and we will respect this.”
Dean doesn’t find that comforting in the least. The liquid spell he’s pumped full of, however, apparently does.
“I’m afraid you’ll leave me, whether you want to or not. I’m going to be all alone.”
Silence settles over the room for the first time since Dean woke up. The magic in the Veritas apparently registers that as getting closer to the truth, and allows Dean to stop spewing his every thoughts in an unbroken stream
Well, shit. Dean didn’t hold out nearly as long as he’d hoped. He licks his lips, ignoring the heavy metallic taste of his blood, and studiously refuses to lift his gaze from the sheets.
“That’s your deepest fear? For real?” Sam sounds like he can hardly believe it. “It’s not flying, or a beer shortage or something?”
Dean’s glad Sam hasn’t noticed the shift in Dean’s behavior recently. His extra clinginess, the way Dean’s been following them around like a lost dog since he got back from Hell. He refused to be in any room but theirs at the bunker, always keeping them within his line of sight, even during hunts.
Sam had asked him once why he’s been more twitchy than normal, but Dean shrugged and told Sam they could never be too careful. Dean’s always been protective, so what if it’s crossed a little into paranoia?
Cas’ reprimanding, “Dean,” shakes him from his train of thought. Cas looks like a stern father, his brows furrowed and eyes full of disappointment. “That’s a stupid thing to fear.”
There’s no other way to explain it- Dean shatters at the statement. He ducks his head further and his grip on the bed begins to rip the low thread count. He feels his eyes burning against his will.
He can’t argue back though, can’t tell them ‘Piss off’ the way he wants to, needs to, because the Veritas is urging him to tell the truth about what he’s terrified of and Dean doesn’t know if he can handle the embarrassment after Cas dissed him near-admission.
What Dean does say, however, is a clipped, “I know.”
Cass frowns at Dean’s calm tenor. “There’s more, isn’t there?” Cas guesses, correctly.
“Do you think I don’t know that?” Dean finds himself whispering quietly, forced to subdue what would normally be roared. “You think I don’t know that it’s irrational? I know that we have a dangerous job and that I’m not-” he bites his tongue to silence himself, but the unspoken words are still out there.
That I’m not strong enough to protect you.
Sam shakes his head. “You gotta trust us, Dean. You need to realize we’re here because we want to be, not because we want your…protection or whatever, as good as you are at giving it.”
“But that’s all I have!” Dean whisper-shouts. “That’s the only thing I can give you! I don’t bring smarts to the table like Sammy, or magic transportation and healing voodoo like you! I just…all I can give you is an extra body for whoever tries to hurt you to go through first.”
Dean still refuses to untuck his chin, so Cas scoots closer to Dean on the bed and places himself firmly inside Dean’s personal space bubble.
“Say the full truth,” Cas orders him.
“I’m afraid of what I’ll say,” is Dean’s chipper, loopholed reply. Technically, it is still stating his fears.
Cas continues his unashamed eye contact with Dean, probably peering into his soul in that creepy-but-also-soothing way he does sometimes when Dean’s being stubborn.
“Do you really think we don’t understand what you are and aren’t capable of? Sam’s been by your side your entire life. I crafted you from nothing, I know every strength and weakness. I know exactly what is too much for you to handle and what you can give, and I don’t ask for anything more from you.”
Sam nods his agreement from his place standing at the foot of the bed. Dean’s teeth pierce skin in an effort to keep quiet and his cheek is freely bleeding into his mouth.
“But even further than that,” Cas stresses, “I’ve seen all you have, and I promise nothing you could do can scare me away. Sam and I always come back to you, Dean. Always. If you can’t trust our words, trust our actions.”
“I’m afraid you’re going to realize I’m too weak to protect you, and you’re both going to leave, and I’m going to be alone because I failed to keep you two safe.” Dean can physically feel the Veritas abandoning its hold on Dean, the weight focused on his tongue lifted.
Cas’ face is less than a foot from Dean’s, so only he can see the blood escaping the corner of his mouth from his bitten cheek mix with a tear, but the sniffle is heard by all three men.
The bed dips as Sam places his weight on Dean’s other side. He reached out and clasps Dean’s shoulder the same way he did when Dean told him he wanted to celebrate family Christmas with everyone and Sam had to remind him mom was in the other timeline and Charlie was in Oz and Jody’s family had their own ritual and Cas didn’t want to celebrate an inaccurate holiday, and he and squeezes it for emphasize when he insists, “You don’t have to be useful for us to stay.”
Dean doesn’t know what to do. Anything he says right now will only further disgrace his already-tarnished reputation.
Of course, if it’s already so damaged, maybe it would be okay that he give in, maybe. Just this once. He’ll blame an aftereffect of the spell.
He leans over and carefully rests his head on Cas’ chest. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, Cas’ hand lifts to wrap around Dean’s back.
Dean should be stopping this, he knows he should be. Grown men don’t hold each other like this. All powerful angels don’t hold mere humans like this, like they’re worth something. But he can’t find it in him to move just yet.
He feels Sam drop down on the bed a second later and his whole body tenses. Sam’s said nothing about their display of affection up to this point, but surely he’s come to the same conclusions Dean has.
Dean’s heart skips a beat when Sam shimmies across the bed and drapes himself over Dean’s back, so he encompasses Cas and Dean both.
“Breathe,” Sam reminds him, jabbing a finger into his side playfully.
Dean let’s out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. This is…this is okay. It’s not weird, the three of them. Where he expected awkwardness, there’s only camaraderie. He’s okay. Cas and Sam are here with him, he’s gripping them both- they can’t leave him like this.
If anything comes through the door right now, Dean’s facing it; he’ll see it coming. He’s still doing his job as protector.
“We’re not going anywhere, Dean,” Cas reassures him, as though he’s heard Dean’s thoughts. Dean feels the material on his shirt scratch his back with Sam’s avid nod.
Oh. It suddenly hits Dean how serious they both are. This isn’t some half-assed reassurance after a rough hunt, this is serious.
Dean thinks it’ll take a while for him to come to terms with it, but for the first time since he got back from Hell, he also thinks he can.