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something to remember me by

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Dean looks up from his phone to find that Cas has picked up the first article of clothing he could find and pulled it over his head. Dean can't blame him for not being able to find his own shirt, really, as their clothes are strewn around the room from this morning's...activities. He'd stopped allowing people to borrow it because then it smelled wrong for weeks or until he could sneak off to a laundromat with a bag of his and Sam's clothes. But the sight of Cas in nothing but the large navy sweatshirt makes Dean wish Cas had broken his rule earlier.

Dean's phone goes into sleep mode, but he doesn't care. He's watching Cas breathe a thick cloud of smoke out of his nose and tip his head back. The soft wind from the open window ruffles his black hair softly, and Dean can see the sweat still glistening on his neck by the light of the rising sun. Most importantly, though, Dean is staring dumbly at the way his sweatshirt comes to rest midway down Castiel's thighs. His painted black nails curl around the too-long sleeves and the hood doesn't come up enough to cover the dark mark on his neck that Dean had been sure to leave. Cas raises the cigarette to his lips again, still staring out the window. Dean wants to say something, to call him back to bed and fill the rest of their limited time together with the one thing they've been able to do since John texted Dean to pack his things.

They haven't talked about it, outside of Dean sending Cas a screenshot and receiving a "come over" text in response. It's usually Dean who wants it to stay that way. No teary goodbyes, no bullshit. Just a lingering kiss and the memory of a boy with green hair and light brown hair. But Cas is different. He makes him want to stay. He makes him want to give away his one good sweatshirt.

"Didn't your dad ever tell you that it's rude to stare?" Cas is looking back at him now, the cigarette stuffed into the ashtray next to the window and his fingers tugging at the hem of the sweatshirt subconsciously. Dean swallows thickly. He knows he is supposed to say something witty, but he can't get the words to come out. Cas looks at him critically for a moment with those startlingly blue eyes, and then he sighs. He crawls back under the sheets with Dean and curls up next to him. Dean's arms come up around him naturally and he turns so his nose is pressed to Cas' temple. They both ignore the buzzing of his phone. "We knew you'd be leaving eventually when we started," Cas reminds him.

"Yeah," Dean agrees, the hollow pit in his stomach growing slightly. Cas rests an arm across Dean's bare chest, the fabric of the sweatshirt warming him. He closes his eyes.

"But you're upset." Dean blows out an amused breath at the statement, peeking an eye open to look at Cas. Somehow, he looks both older and younger than seventeen at the same time. There's a depth of knowledge in his eyes that ages his face, but there's an innocence there too. An eagerness to learn and understand.

"Yeah," Dean says again.

"Me too," Cas admits quietly. Dean holds him tighter, breathing in deeply. It doesn't smell amazing, to be honest. They're both sweaty, Cas smells like smoke, and the bed reeks of sex, but it's them. "Is it always this hard?" Cas skims his fingers over Dean's skin absentmindedly. The phone buzzes again. He's going to get an earful when he gets home.

Is it always this hard? It's a valid question, but the answer invokes about a million more in Dean's head that he doesn't think he can take.

"It's never easy," he says slowly. Cas traces the letter's CN on his chest. Right over his heart. Fuck. He swallows. "But it's never this hard." He wonders if Cas can feel his heart rate speed up. The question is answered for him as Cas spreads his hand out until his palm is flat against his chest. It's warm and comforting and Dean has to swallow the lump in his throat. The phone begins buzzing repeatedly, and Dean knows John is trying to call him now. Cas sits up with him, watching as he picks up the phone and stares at the caller ID. If he lets the call go to voicemail, they can lay together a while longer. And he'll get beaten bloody right before a long car ride. He slides his finger across the screen and brings the phone to his ear.

"One minute, dad. I'm trying to find something," he lies easily. He hears John's exasperated sigh on the other side of the line. His fingers shake as he puts the call on mute and looks at Cas. His heart is in his throat. He can't find the right words to say. Cas wouldn't entertain what he wants to say anyways. 'It's not fair.' 'I hate him.' 'I'm only seventeen.' 'I love you.' So he just stares, waiting for the blue-eyed boy to speak first.

"You have to leave," Cas tells him. It's not exactly what he was wanting to hear, but he nods anyway.

"I should."

"But you don't want to." He shakes his head. "I don't want you to either." He feels the tears prickling in his eyes, but for once, he doesn't move to wipe them away.

"What if I stay?"

"You can't."

"What if I do?"

"Dean."

Dean lets out an agitated breath and presses his palms to his eyes until it hurts. He feels Castiel's weight shift off of the bed and hears him moving around, but he doesn't open his eyes. Eventually, he hears a bag being zipped and feels Cas' fingers curl around his wrist. He fights him at first, turning to bury his head in his pillow, but then he hears John say something over the phone and he knows he has to leave. He can't stay. It doesn't matter if it's fair, or if Dean hates him, or if he's just a kid, or if his first love is coaxing him into a sitting position and wearing his sweatshirt. Dean lets Cas guide him through the motions, pulling on his jeans and undershirt and slinging the bag over his shoulder. Then, Cas hands him the phone. He presses the mute button again.

"Hey, sorry." He hopes his dad can't hear the thickness in his throat. "I found it."

"Just get over here. We've been waiting for you for half an hour." The call goes dead. He doesn't ask where Dean has been, or if he's ready to go. Dean swallows the rage that threatens to claw its way out of his mouth. He stuffs the phone into his pocket and turns to Cas, who is standing by the door. He's still only dressed in Dean's sweatshirt, the oversized sleeves crossed along with his arms. This is the part where Dean is supposed to ask for it back. It's almost October, after all, and it will be cold soon. But the experience under his belt doesn't matter. Because no one who has ever worn this sweatshirt was Cas. None of them made Dean want to cry and laugh and scream at the same time. So he doesn't say anything about it.

He backs Cas up against the wall one more time, kissing him until they're breathless and he isn't sure whose tears caused the wetness on his face. Cas touches his cheek, and they rest their foreheads together, catching their breath.

"Goodbye," Cas whispers.

"See you later," Dean lies. And then he's gone. He walks out the front door and wipes angrily at the tears streaming down his face. His phone buzzes in his pocket, but he doesn't reach for it. In fact, he doesn't even look at his phone again until they're an hour and a half away from the town. Sam has his nose in a book, and John is stewing in his own agitation at Dean for being late. Dean glances at the notification and hesitates when he sees who it's from. His fingers shake as he unlocks the phone.

From: loverboy (bee emoji)(angel emoji)

im going to hold you to that promise. ur bound to be back in town sometime. c u later.

Chapter Text

The sweatshirt still hangs in Castiel’s closet. He doesn’t get it out often and he never wears it out of the building. He doesn’t want to have to put it in the wash, because there’s so little of Dean’s smell left on it. Sometimes after a hard day or a particularly bad date, he’ll go home and pull it off the hanger. He’ll pull it on and put the hood over his head and close his eyes. If he’s high enough, he can almost imagine that Dean is there with him.

He might’ve been able to forget him, move on with the fond memory of a sweet boy who was in his life for two weeks that felt like two years and two days all in one. He might’ve been able to forget him if it weren’t for his last words to Cas.

//“See you later,” Dean whispers. And then he’s gone.

Cas watches from the window as Dean appears on the street and wipes his eyes. When he turns the corner and is out of Castiel’s sight, he pulls out his phone.

To: D (candy emoji)(smiling with tongue out emoji)

im going to hold you to the promise. ur bound to be back in town sometime. c u later.//

So they held onto that hope. They don’t talk much. Sometimes Dean will get drunk and call him. But mostly it is a scattered text here and there. If he remembers, Dean checks in every few months to let Cas know he’s alive. Cas texts on holidays.

It’s been six years since Dean left. Cas starts to doubt that he’ll ever be back. He can’t help but wonder whether Dean found someone new on one of his stops. Someone who made him forget about his promise to Cas.

//It’s never this hard,// Dean had told him. He’d believed him then, but as more time passes he wonders if it was just something Dean said to everyone, like an artist performing at a concert: every night they tell the random city they’re in that they’re the loudest and the most fun and the craziest, because it’s what the crowd wants to hear. He’d never thought of Dean as a people pleaser, but he was sure happy to let his dad and little brother walk all over him without putting up a fight. Maybe Cas was wrong about him. That ugly thought grows more and more believable the longer he goes without hearing from Dean.

This year, Dean hasn’t responded to Castiel’s Halloween or Thanksgiving text, and he hasn’t updated him since August. Dean has disappeared before, but Cas has a pit in his stomach that grows as each day passes without a reply. He’s searched for Dean’s name in obituaries and looked for his description in national John Doe sites, but he’s nowhere to be found.

All of this considered, it’s highly unusual that Cas is leaving his apartment with Dean’s sweatshirt on. He’s sick, his nose stuffed and throat burning. He’d been taking a nap, cuddled up in the fabric, when he woke up with a nasty headache on top of everything else. He hadn’t thought of taking off the sweatshirt before grabbing his keys and heading out the door, mind set on finding the closest, cheapest drug store. After consulting google, he finds that it’s a short walk to the nearest Walmart so he bypasses his car where it’s parked in the street and stuffs his hands in his pocket.

The wind bites at his nose and his ears, so he pulls the hood up close to his face as he goes. It’s already starting to get dark. He walks quickly, noting without much thought the nice vintage car parked in front of the store. It isn’t until he’s shouldering the door open that he pauses, staring at the car. A black chevy. He can’t be sure what year it is, but it looks just like--no. There’s probably hundreds of this make and model of car on the road right now. He’s being stupid. Besides, the license plate says Wisconsin, and Dean’s dad’s old car definitely had Kansas plates. It’s too nicely kept to be as old and used as he knows the Winchester’s car is anyway.

He pushes into the store and winces as the bell above the door rings loudly, his head throbbing. He keeps the hood up as he walks briskly to the pharmaceutical section. He’s really not in the mood to run into someone from work or the gym or anywhere, really. He takes more time than necessary to pick out the cold medicine that he wants to avoid lining up in the queue of people in front of the desk. He doesn’t mean to eavesdrop on the two men on the other side of the aisle, he just happens to catch sight of them between the gaps in the shelves.

It’s not like they’re being quiet anyway, one of them is impatiently hitting the side of a machine that looks like a printer.

“Dude,” the taller one gripes, slapping his companion’s hand away. He has shoulder-length hair and freakishly long legs. His counterpart has short brown-blonde hair and is still tall, but the slight bend in each of his knees takes him down an inch or two. Cas can feel his heartbeat in his temples. Something about the way the shorter man stands…

“Sammy, it goes quicker when I hit it. Trust me.” Cas claps his hand to his mouth to stifle the involuntary gasp that forces itself out of his mouth. He recognizes that voice. Despite his best efforts to quiet the noise, the men turn and glance around suspiciously. Dean Winchester quirks an eyebrow at his little brother before shrugging and turning his back on Cas again.

“Why do we even need new ones, Dean? The FBI badges work fine.”

“We haven’t done a fun one in a while. Besides, Henrikson could be on our tail. We don’t need anybody calling the real FBI about two young agents working a weird case,” Dean explains patiently. Cas almost laughs. It’s been six years, Sam is about double the height he was when Cas last saw him, and Dean is still the watchful older brother.

“We’ve got to have something in the car that’ll work. This thing is shot.” Cas backs up slightly as they turn around again, Dean stuffing his hands into his jean pockets and whistling a low tune. His hand is still held over his mouth, trying to muffle the sound of his heavy breathing, but he can’t breathe through his nose. The attempt to sniff is louder than it would’ve been for him to breathe normally. The brothers freeze. Cas sees Dean’s hand shift to his waistband where there is an outline of a handgun. Sam looks over his shoulder as Dean’s green eyes scan the area in front of them. Cas holds as still as possible, but Dean frowns and steps closer to the shelves. He says his brother’s name quietly.

Cas grabs the first medicine he sees, clearing his throat loudly and stomping towards the register, hoping that they’ll think he’s just another customer. It doesn’t work.

“Hey,” Sam hisses, and then there’s a big, meaty hand on his shoulder and he’s being turned around. “Why were you hiding behind there?”

“I wasn’t,” Cas says quickly, his heart going a million miles a minute. It’s clear that the younger Winchester doesn’t recognize him, he was thirteen when they met and he only ever say him twice when Cas was sneaking through the house to get to Dean’s room. “I was just getting—I’m sick. I was getting Nyquil.” He goes to turn and join the line where he can’t be interrogated without drawing attention, but he runs smack into a broad chest and his medicine falls to the ground.

“Whoa there,” Dean says, tense amusement in his voice. Cas turns his head down even after he grabs the medicine, hiding his face in the hood of the sweatshirt—oh, shit. The sweatshirt. Dean’s sweatshirt.

He feels his whole body shaking as he raises his gaze slowly. Dean is staring at him, eyes wide and mouth open slightly. If he only recognized the sweatshirt at first, that changes when Cas swallows and finally meets his eyes.

Cas pulls the hood back. Dean freezes.

“Castiel?”

“Dean.”

“Castiel,” Sam repeats from behind him. “The Castiel?” They ignore him, but Cas has to stamp out the pride that rises in his chest. He’s //the// Castiel.

“You’re wearing my sweatshirt,” Dean points out aptly. Cas smiles.

“You’re observant.” Dean gives a sarcastic laugh, but he’s still staring at Cas in wonder. “I don’t wear it. Usually. It’s—I’m sick. So.” Nice. Smooth. He hears Sam blow out a laugh behind him.

“Right,” Dean says. They stand there, under the harsh lighting, and they look at each other.

Dean has aged almost exactly as Castiel pictured it. He has smile lines around his eyes, which are still breathtakingly green, and he grew into his ears. His smile is hesitant but somehow sure at the same time. He’s Dean. Just six years older.

“You didn’t tell me you were going to be in town.” He does his best to keep his voice level, not accusing him of anything, but the disappointment shines through anyways. “And you haven’t...” he chews on his lip. “I was starting to get worried.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I had to ditch the old number so I lost all my contacts. We’re kind of in trouble with the government.”

“You’re kind of in trouble with the United States government,” Cas repeats. He’s not even surprised if he’s being honest. Dean nods sincerely, eyes big and genuine and everything Castiel remembers. There’s something more there too, something deeper and sadder and muted. Cas tucks that away for a different day.

“I’m sorry,” Dean says again. Before Cas can brush him off, he continues. “I should’ve told you before I ditched the number.”

“It’s alright. If I was kind of in trouble with the government my first worry wouldn’t be sending a postcard.” Dean grins at him, rubbing at the back of his neck. Cas can’t take his eyes off him.

He has half a mind to wonder if this is some hallucination. Maybe he’s sicker than he thought. Either way, he doesn’t care. Dean is here.

Oh, shit. Dean is here. That means a case is here.

“So, you guys catch wind of a case up here?” He tries not to look worried as Sam walks around him to stand next to Dean.

“It should be a salt and burn,” Dean tells him, smiling kindly. Castiel’s nerves must be showing through. “We should be in and out in a day or two.” His heart sinks in his chest. Of course.

“Oh,” he says smartly. Then he stares at them in silence. They stare back at him, Sam looking desperately awkward and Dean’s eyes flicking over his face. “Uh—where are you staying?”

“Nowhere yet,” Sam blurts. Dean shoots him an annoyed look. “We just got here.”

Nowhere. He knows from Dean’s scattered texts and calls that they usually stay in two-star shitholes, and he shudders at the thought of then staying at the motel down the street. He's heard stories about that place. Stories about rats and bats and--yuck.

“Great. You’re staying at my place.”

“Cas,” Dean objects immediately like he knew it was coming. “You don’t have to—”

“I want to. Besides, if you guys are in town that means trouble and my roommate is visiting her parents. There’s no way I’m sleeping alone in the apartment.” Sam grins at him. He smiles back, but it falters when he sees the hesitation in Dean’s eyes.

“That’d be awesome, thanks.” Sam barely gets done speaking before Dean’s elbow is in his ribs. He glares reproachfully as he rubs at the sore spot.

“Cas, I’m serious. It’s safer for you if we are a long way from your apartment,” Dean tells him seriously. Cas sets his jaw, lifting his chin.

“Dean Winchester, you are not sleeping in a dusty motel room when you are staying in my town." Dean looks as though he wants to object, but can't find the words. "Wonderful. I’m going to buy this cold medicine and then we’re all going to get in your car and head to my place.” He doesn’t wait for a response, pushing past them to the now empty line and setting his purchase on the table, fishing for his wallet.

“I’ve got it,” Dean says, suddenly right behind him. Cas stares straight ahead, trying very hard not to notice the warmth radiating from Dean as he leans forward to hand the bored-looking cashier a (definitely stolen) credit card. The girl swipes the card and nods uninterestedly, handing it back to Dean.

"Have a nice day."

“Thanks,” Cas mutters, grabbing the medicine and leading the way out the door, his cheeks burning. Christ. If he can’t handle Dean standing innocently near him, how is he going to house him for the next 36 hours?

The car ride is fairly quiet besides Cas giving the occasional direction, and when they get to the apartment Dean hovers outside the door. Cas fiddles with the key, struggling to get it out of the lock, and when he’s finally successful he finds that Dean is still outside, his hands stuffed into his pockets.

“Dean?” He tilts his head, holding the door open for him. Dean looks like he wants to say something, but he doesn’t. He lets Cas usher him inside and up the stairs to his apartment.

“This is a really nice place,” Sam says, looking around interestedly. “Is there somewhere I can drop my stuff?” Cas makes a split-second decision that he realizes belatedly sets a tone for the rest of the night. He takes Sam to the room that his roommate, Felicia, usually occupies.

When he comes back alone, having left Sam to change and get ready for bed, Dean has taken it upon himself to begin changing as well. Cas freezes, his hand on the doorway, and watches as Dean pulls his shirt off. His back muscles flex and move with him and he tosses it on the ground. Cas swallows thickly. Some shallow scars criss cross the skin there, but Cas barely registers them. Dean’s always been covered in cuts and bruises and calloused skin, even when they were young.

“Didn’t your parents ever tell you that it’s rude to stare?” Dean is smiling at him in the reflection of the black screen of the TV, but Cas barely registers it.

All of a sudden, he’s seventeen again. He’s just put out a cigarette and asked Dean the same question. He’d felt Dean’s eyes on him the whole time, knew the conversation that was coming. And he had been scared.

Now, Dean is turning to face him.

“Sorry, spaced off,” he lies, walking further into the room until they’re an arms distance apart.

“Mhm.” Dean moves closer. They’re a foot apart. Cas isn’t sure who makes the next move but one way or another, he ends up with Dean’s lips on his.

It’s familiar and new all at once. They’re both far more experienced now than they had been, but it still only takes them a matter of seconds to find their rhythm. They maneuver until Dean is sitting back on the couch and Cas is straddled over him.

This comes as easy to Cas as breathing. Maybe more so, if the inhaler on the table is any indication. The sensation of Dean’s hands pressing up his shirt and Dean’s shoulders beneath his own hands feels like coming home. Just as he begins to relax into it, though, Dean pulls back.

“Cas. We should talk first.” Cas laughs against the column of Dean’s throat.

“You’ve got me in your lap with your hand up my shirt and you want to talk?”

“I’m serious.” Cas lets out a slow breath before clambering off of him and collapsing on the couch next to him. He’s right anyway. They don’t need to rush into anything. Except maybe they do. Maybe Dean will be gone by noon tomorrow.

“Alright. Let’s talk.” Cas stuffs his hands in the pockets of Dean’s sweatshirt, watching as Dean picks at his nails.

“Cas, I’m not who I was when I was seventeen,” he says eventually. Cas raises an eyebrow.

“Neither am I—”

“No. It’s not that, it’s—“ he breaks off, seeming agitated suddenly. Cas curls closer to him subconsciously as Dean pushes a hand through his hair. “The things that I’ve seen. The things that I’ve done…” There’s that flash of emotion again, and Cas still can’t recognize it. Regret? Grief? Anger? He isn’t sure. All he knows is that it makes his stomach twist and churn to see Dean like this.

He reaches out slowly and cups Dean’s cheek in his palm. It’s a reflex, really. A six-year-old habit that crawls to the surface. When Dean’s eyes flutter shut and he leans into the touch, Cas calls that a reflex too.

“You look like you to me,” he says softly. Dean opens his eyes. Cas drops his hand and finds that his fingers tangle with Dean’s before he can stuff it back into his pocket.

“You wouldn’t think so if you knew what I’ve done.”

“So don’t tell me.”

Cas had forgotten how stubborn Dean is. How stubborn he himself can be when it comes to Dean. Dean shakes his head just a little.

“Cas--”

“Dean. You’re leaving in a couple of days at most. We don’t have to make this into more than it is.” That was the wrong choice of words. Dean lets go of his hand, shrinking back from him.

“What is this, then? A hookup for old times sake?” The hurt in Dean’s eyes isn’t hard to identify. Cas shakes his head.

“No. That’s not what I meant. You know it’s not what--”

“That’s what you said, Cas. How am I supposed to know if you mean it or not?”

They glare at each other. There’s a much darker vibe in the room than there had been just minutes ago. Cas is glad that Dean made him slow down. He wouldn’t want to go to bed with this Dean anyway. He’s on edge, accusatory.

“I meant that when we were kids you were mature enough to understand that you pass through. You’re a drifter. You knew that this,” he gestures between them, “couldn’t be permanent. How is it that you were more mature then than now?”

“I’m mature enough now to know that I don’t want to be a drifter! I don’t want to pass through. I don’t want any more random hookups.”

“I wasn’t trying to say it’s a hookup!” Cas stands from the couch. “God. I need to go to bed.” He doesn’t look at Dean as he digs through a cabinet under the TV, finding a pillow and a blanket for Dean to use. He hadn’t planned for him to sleep on the couch, but things change.

“Where’s the bathroom?” Dean’s voice is rough and when Cas gestures towards the bathroom door, he stomps away and slams the door.

“Jackass,” Cas mutters.

“Whoa,” Sam says, appearing at his elbow. Cas jumps.

“Sam! You scared me.”

“Sorry. Is everything alright? I tried to come downstairs earlier but you guys were...busy.” Cas flushes.

“It’s all fine. We’re fine. We got into a...disagreement,” Cas tells him, watching as Sam rubs his eyes. It’s weird, seeing him grown up. He’d never really thought about Sam as anything other than Dean’s nerdy, lanky little brother.

“Hmph. Not surprising, honestly. It’s been a little rough for him since--” he breaks off. Cas turns to him eagerly.

“Since what? What could he have possibly done that was so bad?”

“He talked about somebody’s personal business behind their back,” Dean growls from behind him. Cas jumps again. Dean is glaring at them, wiping his hands on his pajama pants.

“You two move like cats,” Cas accuses.

“Comes with the job,” Dean says roughly, pushing past Sam and Cas to lay the blankets out over the couch. Sam looks between them apprehensively.

“I’m going to--”

“No need, Sam. I’m going to bed. Clearly, Dean and I are done with this conversation.” Cas turns on his heel and marches into his room, slamming the door so hard that the picture on the wall wobbles dangerously.

The first thing he does is pull the sweatshirt over his head and throw it in the corner of the room, changing into one of his own before burrowing under his comforter and glaring at the wall. Even after the soft sound of Sam and Dean’s voices goes quiet and he hears Felicia’s door shut, he can’t fall asleep.

Dean Winchester is on the other side of that wall. Why is Cas in bed alone?

Because Dean’s an asshole, he thinks to himself. He didn’t need to blow what Cas had said out of proportion. He’d just been honest because he thought they were on the same page.

It only takes an hour for him to realize he never actually took the Nyquil Dean had bought for him. His throat is raw from the limited shouting they had done and his head still hurts. The Nyquil is in the kitchen. Right next to the couch where Dean is sleeping. Great.

He sneaks out of his room as quietly as possible just to find that it doesn’t matter. Dean is sitting up with his feet on the coffee table, staring straight ahead. For a moment Cas thinks that he is sleeping with his eyes open, but then the TV flashes a bright color over his face. He turned on the TV.

Cas stumbles past him. He doesn’t stop when he feels Dean’s eyes on him. He swallows the medicine in one gulp and rinses out the little measuring cup. He almost makes it past the couch again but he pauses when he hears Dean shift.

“Cas?” He doesn’t turn around at first. He isn’t up for a fight right now. The Nyquil is going to kick in and he’s going to be able to fall asleep. But Dean Winchester is sitting on his couch right now. How is he supposed to walk away?

“Yeah?” He turns around, feeling quite proud of himself when he is able to meet Dean’s eyes. “Do you need another pillow?”

“No.” Dean just looks at him. In the dark he looks blurry. Cas hugs himself as he stands there, unsure of what to say. “Do you want to sit with me? For a while?”

“Yeah,” he blurts a little too quickly. He moves carefully through the room to avoid stubbing his toe in the dark, and then slumps onto the couch. “What’re you watching?”

“Jeopardy,” Dean tells him. He laughs, tugging at the blanket until Dean shifts so they can both sit underneath it comfortably. “This guy is going to win.” He points at a boy who looks younger than both of them who also is in last place.

“Doesn’t look like it.” Cas stares at the screen critically. “It’s going to be the old white lady.” Dean clicks his tongue and shakes his head.

“Cas Cas Cas, it’s never the old white lady. She’s in the lead right now, but they’re out of the questions for her best category. She’s maxed out. Trust me.” Cas glances sideways at Dean, and finds that he isn’t watching the TV at all. He’s looking right at Cas.

“Didn’t your dad ever teach you it’s rude to--”

“I’m sorry.” Cas is taken aback.

“Huh?” He says smartly. Dean shifts closer to him.

“I said I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have picked a fight.” Cas raises his eyebrows. When the hell, now or six years ago, has Dean ever been the apologetic type? “You were right anyways. It was stupid of me to think things could change.” Cas sighs deeply, the guilt he had buried rising in his chest at the look in Dean’s eyes.

“I’m sorry too. I was an asshole about it.” He drops his eyes. “Maybe we could make it work--”

“No.” Dean’s voice is rough again, and Cas looks up at him in surprise. “You were right. It’s easier this way.” He gets brave then, throwing an arm over Castiel’s shoulder. Cas melts into him, his muscles relaxing and his chest loosening.

Dean feels different than the last time they were cuddled up like this. He’s far more muscular, the stubble from his five o’clock shadow tickles the top of Castiel’s head, and he smells like cheap cologne. Cas wonders what feels different about himself.

“I missed you,” he admits quietly. It’s so quiet that he wonders if Dean even hears him. Dean doesn’t respond at first, and Cas decides that he definitely didn’t hear. But then Dean shifts and his arm pulls Cas closer and he presses a soft kiss to the side of his head.

“I missed you too.” Cas feels like his insides are glowing. He wants to stay in this moment forever, pressed up against Dean and--

“Dean,” Cas says suddenly, sitting up enough that Dean’s arm falls from his shoulder. “Isn’t this exactly what we decided not to do?” Dean stares at him, the light from the TV making his face look blue.

“We agreed we wouldn’t try to make this into anything long term,” Dean says slowly.

“If we do this...the cuddling and kissing...I’m going to get attached. I’m going to want something more. I’m going,” he pauses, taking a deep breath and steeling himself, “to fall back in love with you.” Dean stares at him, eyes wide. Cas pushes a hand through his hair and clenches his jaw. Well, it’s all out in the open now. He might as well keep going. “If I ever stopped loving you in the first place,” he adds. He feels as though a dam is building up in his chest, threatening to snap and flood him.

“Cas--”

“I know that you’ve been a lot of places and met a lot of people. People more interesting than me and more attractive than me and less stubborn than me. I know I was only just another short stop for you on a roadtrip with your dad but you were everything to me--”

“Castiel. Stop,” Dean interrupts, sitting straight up. “Are you kidding me?” Castiel’s heart is in his throat. Is he about to get yelled at? Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. He shouldn’t have invited them to stay here in the first place. “You were never just another stop. I wanted to stay with you more than I’ve ever wanted anything. I swear. I know that I never stopped loving you.”

Cas’ breath gets caught in his throat and his eyes sting. Dean grabs his hands.

“Say it,” Cas whispers, blinking away the tears that had threatened to slip from his eyes. Dean squeezes his hand.

“I love you.”

The dam breaks. Cas has Dean’s face in his hands and he’s kissing him again. It’s softer this time, sweeter. They’re relearning each other and they’re taking their time. Dean ends up on his back and Cas pauses, hovering above him. The view takes him back again.

“I’ve seen this before,” he says, leaning down and pressing his lips against Dean’s neck.

“The first time,” Dean confirms, chasing the words with a gasp. But nothing happens. They rock against each other slowly, lips and hands everywhere, and then they’re done. Cas can feel the evidence against his back when they curl up on the cramped couch that Dean would’ve been happy to move the party to Castiel’s room, but neither of them makes the move. Dean kisses behind his ear one final time and tugs him close with an arm around his waist. “Look,” he says softly, his warm breath against Cas’ neck. “My guy won.”

He’s right. The young man on the TV is shaking hands with Alex Trebeck. Cas doesn’t have time to respond before he’s slipping into a heavy sleep. There’s a nagging thought in the back of his mind, even as he falls asleep. They have a lot to talk about. Dean is still a hunter. He’s still going to leave soon. It would still be better to just let him go.

Chapter Text

Cas wakes up to Dean trying to climb off of the couch.

“No,” he objects, wrapping his arms around Dean’s hips.

“Castiel,” Dean laughs, prying at his hands.

“No.”

“I have to piss.” Cas lets him go as though he burned him, rolling over to hide his face in the pillow. “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Dean says. Cas mutters into the pillow angrily. When he hears Dean’s footsteps returning, he rolls over, shielding his eyes from the light. Dean’s hair is adorably ruffled. Everything is softened by the blurriness of early morning, the sunlight just barely peeking through the kitchen window. Castiel’s chest fills up with warmth as Dean smiles down at him. He could get used to waking up to this.

But he shouldn’t, because it’s only lasting a few more days at most. At that unwelcome thought, he rubs at his eyes.

“What time is it?”

“Seven.” Dean stretches his arms above his head. Cas watches appreciatively as Dean’s shirt rises and shows his stomach. “You’re a perv,” Dean informs him, eyebrow arched. Cas shrugs.

“We should go, Dean!” Sam calls as he opens the door from Felicia’s room. “We--oh! Hey, Cas.” His eyes flick between them and he smiles.

“Shut up,” they mutter at the same time. He raises his hands defensively, not saying another word, but he doesn’t stop smiling as he makes his way to the bathroom. Cas stands and stretches as well, reaching his arms out and making grabbing motions at Dean. Dean blows out an amused breath and concedes, moving towards him slowly.

“I have to get ready,” Dean tells him. Despite his words, he wraps his arms around Castiel’s hips.

“Then go get ready.” Cas pushes onto his tiptoes and presses a soft kiss to Dean’s lips. “I’m not stopping you.”

“Not directly, anyway.” Dean’s eyes glint and Cas laughs, stepping back and holding up his hands as Sam did. Dean looks at him, all the uncertainty from last night gone. Now he looks at him with wonder, as though he can’t believe Cas is really there in front of him. Cas feels his face heat up under Dean’s gaze and he looks down. “I love you,” Dean says quietly. Cas has to bite his lip to keep his smile from growing too wide as he looks back up at him.

“I know. Go get ready.”

“Dude just Han Solo’d me,” he hears Dean mutter under his breath as he grabs his bag and disappears into Castiel’s room to change. Cas is breathless for a minute.

They still have a lot to figure out. In fact, they never really figured //anything// out. He’d been so caught up in the realization that Dean has loved him that whole time, he didn’t care. But now he’s watching Sam load a gun and a container of salt into a duffel bag in his kitchen, and reality comes crashing down.

Nothing has changed at all. Dean can’t give up hunting. Cas sure as hell isn’t going to start hunting. They’re stuck. Just like they had been when they were seventeen. It’s beyond frustrating. He feels like the universe is playing some big joke on them. Then again, it wasn’t as though the universe had forced them to cuddle up on the couch last night. They're free to do as they please. Ironically, in their infinite free will, they've chosen to trap themselves.

He chews on his nails as Dean returns to the kitchen. Cas can see the outline of a gun poking out of his waistband. He swallows, doing his best to return Dean’s warm smile.

He watches from afar while the brothers move around each other with ease, packing things into the duffel bag, eating some of Castiel’s (now toasted) bread, and talking about the hunt. Cas can’t help but watch the way the muscles on Dean’s back tighten and move under his t-shirt as he sharpens the point on a wooden stake.

“...can’t assume that it’s her, but I’m almost 100% sure,” Sam is saying when Cas finally convinces his shaking legs to move him to the island.

“Almost isn’t good enough, Sam. I’m not going to just torch some random bones and hope for the best.” Dean tosses the stake into the bag and turns to look at Cas. “Hey,” he says, his voice suddenly gentle. Sam perks up, looking between them with a mix of amusement and interest.

“Hi.” Cas somehow manages to keep his voice from shaking. He grips the chair in front of him until his knuckles turn white. “Um—I have to get ready for work. Just—” he sighs, breaking off and biting his lip. What’s he going to say? Be careful? Being careful isn’t in the job description, and he knows that. “Watch each other’s six, okay?” Dean’s smile grows, and Sam snorts.

“Okay,” Dean responds, his voice level. Cas looks at him for a long moment, and then at Sam, who gives him a small nod, and he turns away.

He gets dressed with shaking hands. He jumps when he hears the sound of the apartment door closing and curses under his breath. When Dean makes it back from the hunt, which he //will//, they have to talk. Cas is about to give up on buttoning his shirt after putting the wrong button through the wrong hole for the third time when the door to his room opens and he whips around.

Dean is standing there, silhouetted by the bright hallway lights. He looks like an angel, Cas notes offhandedly. He’s embarrassingly close to repeating this outloud when Dean moves into the room and looks down at him.

“I thought you’d left,” Cas tells him. His voice is quiet. He hopes Dean thinks he’s whispering for any other reason than the simple fact that he’s breathless. Because that’s what Dean does to him.

“Sam went to start the car. I had to say goodbye, didn’t I? You were shaking like a leaf out there,” Dean points out, not unkindly. He notices Castiel’s uneven shirt and that little smile is back on his face. Cas, in his defensiveness, wishes he could slap it away. He hastily pulls at the buttons, to no avail, and Dean catches his hands. “Stop. Let me.” He undoes the buttons with deft fingers, meeting Castiel’s eyes when he’s done. The shirt falls open, sending a chill through his spine as the air hits his stomach. Dean looks at him silently, the promise of something in his eyes, but they can’t.

“Sam went to start the car,” Cas reminds him. Dean mutters under his breath and begins to button the shirt back up. He steps back dutifully when he’s finished, and Cas manages to smile at him.

His heart is heavy. Like most pretty things, Dean, with his sly grin and shining eyes, is temporary. He reminds Cas of a flower his mother used to talk about. Selenicereus Grandiflorus, he recalls, blooms only once a year, and stays open for one night. She used to rave about how badly she wished to see one bloom, but she passed away before she got the chance. Cas reaches up with a shaking hand and touches his fingers to Dean’s cheek, just under his eye. How blessed, she would say, are the people who get to experience that beauty? Cas wonders if this is how those people felt, as they watched the short life of the flower begin and end. This sense of peace and sinking tragedy all at once.

“Hey,” Dean says quietly, pulling Cas from his thoughts. His fingers wrap gently around Castiel’s wrist, pulling his hand from Dean’s cheek. “You still do that, huh?” He blinks.

“Do what?”

“Disappear into that head of yours,” Dean explains, stepping closer to him. He wraps his arms around Castiel’s waist. Cas lets him, resting his head against Dean’s shoulder. “What were you thinkin’ about?”

“The fact that both of us are going to be late,” Cas lies. Dean chuckles, releasing him and clapping him on the shoulder. The gesture is off putting, so platonic compared to the past few hours. A leftover habit, he assumes, from his macho-man stage.

“Alright, I get it. I’m leaving.” Dean flashes him a smile, but doesn’t go to move. Cas raises his eyebrows.

“This doesn’t look like leaving to me.”

“Fine. Fine. I’m going.” Dean turns and makes it almost all the way out the bedroom door before looking over his shoulder. “I’ll see you later, Cas.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Get out.” Cas watches the door snap shut, the smile melting off his face. He tips forward against the door and rests his forehead on the wood. “Shit,” he mutters.

Somehow, he makes it through the day at work. It doesn’t take much, he’s prepping for a wedding shoot the following week. All he really has to do is drive out to the church and look at it. Identify some areas that would make good pictures. So why does it take so much effort? Why does the cross bear down on him menacingly as he stands with his hands in his pockets in front of the alter? Even the future bride asks him if something is wrong. By the time he gets home, finding the apartment empty--which disappoints him, even though he knows it’s far too early for the hunt to be over--his nose is stuffed and his throat hurts.

He flops down on the couch after recovering Dean’s sweatshirt from where he threw it the night before. When he flips the TV on and finds that Jeopardy is still on, he doesn’t change the channel. He drifts into a Nyquil powered nap with the best intentions of watching to see if Dean’s underdog theory was true.

When he wakes up again, he forgets himself for a moment. He squints around the room. The TV is still on, playing a rerun of some game show he doesn’t recognize. It’s still light outside, but the room has taken on an orange-ish glow that tells him it’s almost sunset. He rubs at his face, attempting to swallow past the dryness in his throat. Eventually he stumbles to his feet and grabs his phone from the kitchen counter. It takes a moment for him to register the notifications on the screen.

Three missed calls and a text from a random number. His heart leaps into his throat. He’d put his number into Dean’s new phone last night. He ignores the text and slides the call notification across the screen, raising the phone to his ear, his breathing shaky. It rings twice before someone picks up.

“Cas?” It’s not Dean, but Sam who says his name into the receiver.

“What’s happening?” he asks by way of greeting. “Where’s Dean? Is he hurt?”

“I--uh--I don’t know.”

Silence. Cas pulls the phone away from his ear and stares at it for a moment before bringing it back to his ear.

“//What?//”

“I don’t know! He was supposed to pick me up from the library after he talked to this girls roommate and he never came. So when I went to see what was taking him so long I found the car unlocked outside their house and his phone was sitting on the seat. I opened it and it looked like he was about to call you,” Sam explains. He sounds stressed. Cas can understand why. Dean is missing. Dean, who’d just come back to him.

He knows it’s a selfish thought, but he can’t help it. He pushes his hand through his hair and begins to pace back and forth. It isn’t until he hears Sam shiver on the other side of the line that he realizes the younger Winchester is stranded. He grabs his keys and his coat, balancing his phone between his shoulder and his cheek as he makes his way out of the apartment.

“Where are you?” Sam gives him the name of the street corner he’s on and Cas steps out into the night air, pressing the button on his key to unlock the car. That’s how he ends up leaving the house in Dean’s sweatshirt for the second time in two days. He doesn't notice.

When he pulls to a stop and watches Sam jog up to the car, he’s hit with the realization that Dean’s last words to him once again have the potential to be a promise that he can’t follow through on.

I’ll see you later, Cas.

Chapter Text

“It’s been hours, Sam! Where the hell is he?”

“I don’t know.”

They’ve had the same conversation over and over since the moment Sam slid into the car. They’re back at Castiel’s apartment now because Sam figured that would be where Dean went if he came back.

Cas checks his phone again, even though Dean’s cell is sitting on the counter in front of them. His stomach churns.

“I shouldn’t have let him go. I should’ve made him get back on the couch and stay with me,” he says numbly.

“Don’t be stupid,” Sam mutters, not unkindly. “Nobody can make Dean do anything.”

“I can.” It’s a stubborn, stupid, childish thing to say, but when he lifts his chin to meet Sam’s gaze and he doesn’t object, he knows it’s true.

“I know. But we had a job to do, Cas. Today wasn’t any different than any other day. He was coming no matter what.” Sam goes back to typing on his computer. What he could possibly be looking up, Cas doesn’t know, but he hopes it’s going well.

“Okay, let’s go over the facts again.” Cas paces back and forth and Sam looks up at him. He’s kind and patient where Dean can be rash, Cas notices. He makes a mental note to thank Sam when all of this is over. If it ever ends. If they ever find Dean.

“The family claims that he showed up, asked them some weird questions about cold spots, and then left,” Sam says.

“He got in the car and wasn’t running from anything, because he was trying to call me. If he’d been in trouble, he would’ve called you,” Cas adds, pushing a hand through his hair and continuing to pace.

“When he got out, he left the car unlocked and left his phone in it, so he probably wasn’t planning on going anywhere. Maybe someone caught his attention and he stepped out to talk to them?” They go over each fact carefully, but by the end they have no more information than they did when Sam found Dean to be missing. Cas needs something to clear his head. He needs a hit. He excuses himself from the kitchen and searches through his bedroom drawers. He knows he has a little bit left.

By the time Sam gets worried about him and knocks on his door to ask if he’s alright, he has the lighter raised to the end of the blunt. He flicks it on until it lights successfully.

“Come in,” he says, taking a deep pull. Sam opens the door hesitantly, eyes skirting around the room before they land on Cas and widen a little bit. He smiles as he breathes out, relaxing into the chair next to his bed. “You want a hit?” he offers, holding the blunt out to him.

“I’m alright,” Sam says. He looks awkward standing there, his hands stuffed into his pocket, rocking back and forth on his heels. Cas flashes back to this morning, the way Dean looked silhouetted in the doorway. He takes another pull. “Cas, we’re going to find him. This kind of stuff happens more than you think.”

Before Cas can respond, the apartment door opens and slams shut. They sit in shocked silence for a moment and then clamber over each other to get to the door. It would’ve been funny, in any other circumstance, to watch them stumble into each other in the doorway as they both try to get out at the same time. Cas puts the blunt out in the bathroom sink, not even caring that it’s going to stink up the apartment like crazy. When he catches up to Sam in the kitchen, he sees the tail end of what he assumes is a very tight hug.

“Dean, what the--” Sam breaks off when Cas pushes him aside and practically tackles Dean in a hug. He lets out a shaky breath, burying his face in Dean’s shoulder. There’s a moment of hesitation before Dean’s arms come up around him. Maybe it’s the warm feeling settling in from the weed that makes him ignore the nagging feeling in his gut as he pulls back and looks at Dean. He’s smiling, but there’s something about his eyes--

“Where the hell were you?” Sam appears at their side, his eyebrows knitted. Dean looks away from Cas to grin at his brother. Cas steps back, glancing around the room. Everything has fuzzy edges, and he has to blink hard to bring himself back into focus.

“...warehouse type thing. I broke through the ropes and had to walk around forever until I finally found something I recognized,” Dean is saying. Cas looks between him and Sam slowly. Sam is frowning.

“Look, man, I’ve got to…” he pulls a bottle of something out of the bag on the counter. Dean nods, sighing.

“Just get it over with, then.” Dean braces himself, and Sam flicks some of the water onto him. Holy water, Cas realizes belatedly. They go through multiple tests, from spraying him with holy water to simply having him hold a silver pen. Dean passes with flying colors. The tightness in Castiel’s chest loosens slightly. He’s probably just being paranoid.

Sam still looks unconvinced. Maybe he can feel something in his gut too, but neither of them say anything more. Dean asks for a beer, which does something to ease Castiel’s nerves. He grabs a Coors Light from the fridge and hands it to Dean. Their fingers brush and Cas sucks in a breath, but Dean doesn’t seem to notice.

“So you didn’t see what grabbed you?” Sam cracks his own beer open and looks at Dean skeptically.

“I told you, man. The little sister asked me to help her with somethin’ so I went to go back into the apartment and got whacked over the head,” Dean rubs his head reproachfully, as though remembering the pain. Cas makes a sympathetic noise and presses a kiss to the side of his head.

Dean smiles up at him and Castiel feels like his heart has been dunked in a bucket of ice water. He’s still smiling, and if Cas couldn’t see his eyes maybe he’d be able to pretend that he’s looking at his Dean. But his bright green eyes look muted, the smile not quite reaching them. There’s nothing there.

All of the love, the loss, the guilt, the humor that Cas saw last night, even in the dark, is gone. It’s replaced by a blank gaze.

He stumbles back, his legs taking on a mind of their own and having one goal: away. He trips over something, a discarded pillow from the couch maybe, and falls on his ass. Hard. Dean gets to his feet, rushing to help Cas up, and before Cas can object he’s being lifted back onto his feet.

“Are you okay?” There’s some concern in his voice, but Cas doesn’t have to strength to meet his gaze, afraid of what he’ll see if he does. He can feel Dean’s steadying hand on his waist, lingering. “Cas?” He swallows and looks up. Dean does look worried, his eyes search Castiel’s face. Cas forces himself to smile.

“Yeah. I think I’m just tired. I’m still sick,” he mutters weakly. Sam watches him, eyebrows raised. “I’m going to head to bed, I think.”

“Okay,” Dean says, releasing Cas from his grip. “I’ll be in in a few minutes.” Cas hesitates, but how can he say he doesn’t want to sleep in the same room as Dean without drawing suspicion?

“Take your time,” he says instead. How he makes it to his room without his shaking legs collapsing underneath him, he doesn’t know. The only thing he knows for sure is that whoever is standing in the kitchen with Sam isn’t his Dean. He clambers into his bed, turning away from the door and staring at the wall.

He hears Sam and Dean talking in the kitchen just like last night. Maybe he’s being crazy. Maybe he got some bad weed. Sam tested Dean to make sure that he was fine, and Dean showed no sign of being anything but human.

So why does the sound of the bedroom door opening scare him? He doesn’t turn over, just listens closely as Dean moves around the room. Eventually, the bed dips and the covers shift behind him.

“Cas?” He doesn’t answer. Dean repeats his name in a whisper before giving up and laying down behind him. Cas almost jerks in surprise when Dean slings an arm over him, but it’s scarily easy for him to close his eyes and sink back into the warmth behind him. When they lay like this, when he can only feel and smell Dean, it feels right. There is no blank gaze to give him away.

“Goodnight,” he whispers, barely above a breath.

“Night, Cas.”

He should find it hard to sleep. Instead, he cuddles back into the feeling of Dean and feels himself slipping away. Even if something feels off, he’s still Dean, and Cas still responds to him like he always has. Dean breathes deeply behind him, and Cas drifts off to sleep with his legs tangled in Dean’s.

Chapter Text

Dean towels his hair and avoids looking at his reflection. He doesn’t think he can meet his own eyes without shattering Castiel’s mirror. He wraps the towel around his waist and closes his eyes. Mistake. He watches his hands close around Sammy’s neck until the life leaves his eyes. He gasps, wrenching his eyes open and taking stumbling steps backwards. Every time he blinks he sees his dreams from last night. He grips the sink until his hand cramps up and aches, the memories popping up unbidden. Waking up in a cold sweat with Cas in his arms. Falling back asleep and dreaming of slitting his throat.

He feels like he’s going to be sick.

The sound of someone knocking on the bathroom door almost makes his heart stop.

“Dean?” Cas is clearly trying to conceal a tone of anxiety. “Are you okay?” Dean takes a steadying breath and wills himself to stand up straight before he opens the door.

“I was admiring my stunning reflection,” he quips, hoping that his smile is convincing. If he’s as bad as Cas is at faking smiles, he’s screwed. Castiel’s eyes search his face, brow creased.

“Is that so?” he asks eventually. Dean nods, turning away from him and digging in his bag so he doesn’t have to look at Cas anymore. It’s clear that they can all tell something is wrong, but Sam and Cas won’t mention it to him, and he sure as hell isn’t going to bring it up first. He just hates the way Cas looks at him.

Just yesterday morning Cas looked at him in a way that made his ego inflate. As though he’d put the stars in the sky. He couldn’t even look away. Now he looks at him like he’s afraid to look away, afraid of what Dean might do if left alone. He can feel the same gaze on him now as he grabs a t shirt and pants from his bag. He closes his eyes and takes a steadying breath as he turns around again, just briefly meeting Castiel’s eyes before heading back into the bathroom to change. He barely has his pants on before Cas joins him.

“You hog the bathroom,” he says, grabbing his toothpaste and toothbrush before offering Dean a small smile. He’s trying so hard to keep up the facade of normalcy. Dean’s heart aches.

“It takes effort to look this damn good all the time, Cas.” He throws his t shirt over his shoulder and crosses his arms, watching Cas run water over his toothbrush. This is what they’re missing out on. This domestication. Getting ready together in the morning. This is what is hanging just beyond their reach. “How’d you sleep?” His voice comes out rougher than he intended.

“Fine,” Cas says around his toothbrush. Dean knows he slept better than fine, because he sat and watched him sleep for an hour before he woke up, and Cas didn’t so much as shift in his sleep. In fact, he drooled all over Dean’s arm.

“Good,” he says quietly, still looking at Cas in the mirror. He has some toothpaste on the side of his mouth. Dean fights the urge to step forward and wipe it off for him. Instead he pulls his t shirt over his head and goes to leave. He can feel Castiel’s eyes tracking him in the mirror, so he turns and presses a kiss to the side of his head before walking out. If he was hoping for a reprieve, he doesn’t get one. He walks right into his little brother, who has been just as weird as Cas since he got back.

“Whoa--sorry. Is the bathroom…?” Sam glances over Dean’s shoulder where he assumes Cas is watching them.

“Cas is brushing his teeth.” He tries to push past him, but Sam doesn’t budge. Dean stares over his shoulder for a moment, collecting himself before meeting his brothers gaze. “What?”

“Something’s up with you.” Okay, so they’re going to talk about it. Sam seems to be waiting for him to object. He doesn’t. “Something happened when you got taken to that warehouse.” Dean doesn’t respond again. “Bobby doesn’t know what’s happening, but I think maybe if you talk to him--”

“Okay,” Dean says gruffly. Sam looks surprised. Dean doesn’t blame him, usually he would object, demand that Sam leaves him alone, and drink for four hours. But as he looks at his little brother, all he can see is the memory of choking him, of his nails scratching at Dean’s arms until they dropped to his side. He can’t stand the idea of falling asleep again. Of seeing Castiel’s blood spill over his neck and stain Dean’s hands. “I’ll call him.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Cas doesn’t know quite what to do. Dean basically threw his phone at Sam after talking to Bobby and marched into Castiel’s room. Cas, naturally, followed.

It’s an intimate scene. Dean is sitting on the edge of the bed, his feet planted on the floor. Cas stands between Dean’s legs, Dean’s hands anchored on his hips. He half expects the hunter to grin up at him and say something mildly sexual, but he just tips forward slightly and rests his forehead against Castiel’s chest.

“Talk to me,” Cas says, his voice low and gentle. Dean doesn’t look up as Cas’ hands come to rest on his shoulders.

“Something’s wrong with me.” His voice is rough and resigned and ouch. Cas wonders distantly if Dean can feel how fast his heart is beating. “I think something happened when I got jumped. Something—something’s wrong.” He lifts a hand to brush his fingers lightly through Dean’s hair.

“Okay.” He sounds calmer than he feels, but if Dean notices the shaking of his hand he doesn’t show it. “We’ll figure it out. Bobby and Sam are working on it right now. You told Bobby you had dreams. What did you dream about?” He feels Dean tense, the muscles in his shoulder contracting under Castiel’s hand. He doesn’t answer. “Dean,” Cas coaxes, pausing where his fingers are curled in Dean’s hair.

“When I close my eyes--” he breaks off, a sharp breath wracking his body. Cas is completely thrown. He’s never seen Dean like this. Not when they were kids and not when Dean would call him, drunk and blubbering. “Every time I close my eyes I see it.”

Cas thinks he might get sick. His fingers return to their slow pattern, but his stomach churns. He has to close his eyes and swallow thickly before he can manage to answer.

“See what?” Dean pulls back and Cas lets him go. Their gazes meet and there’s that terribly empty gaze again, so out of place among the agony that taints the rest of Dean’s features. Cas has to fight himself to stop from looking away.

“I see me slitting your throat,” Dean tells him. He sounds wrecked. Cas knows the feeling.

The statement should make him stumble back, distance himself from Dean, or even just call for help. It shouldn’t make his heart ache. It shouldn’t make him reach out and cup the hunter’s cheek in his hand. He can’t help it. It’s Dean.

“But you wouldn’t,” Cas says. “Not in real life.”

"I wouldn't," Dean repeats. Cas has a feeling that neither of them feel any better. "God, I wouldn't. But I can't stop seeing it. I dream about it, I see it when I close my eyes. I--I'm afraid I'm going to lose control and hurt you."

Me too.

"You won't lose control," Cas mutters as though he can promise it and make it true. "You don't want to hurt me, right?"

"I'd rather die."

“Then you won’t hurt me. We’ll figure this out, okay? I promise.” He sounds more confident than he feels. Dean looks down and leans against Cas again, his fingers flexing against Castiel’s hips. He resumes the carding of his fingers through Dean’s hair until there’s a knock on the bedroom door. “Come in,” Cas calls. He’s surprised that Dean doesn’t try to pull himself together before his little brother walks in, he just turns his head and watches the door swing open, still pressed against Cas.

“What’d Bobby say?” Sam’s eyes flick over the scene but he doesn’t react.

“Witches.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Damnit. Damnit.” Lilian snaps out of the spell and kicks her chair. Jen stops her pacing and turns to stare at her sister.

“What? What’d you see?”

Lilian doesn’t answer. She’s always been quiet, infinitely stuck inside her head. Sometimes Jen wonders if she forgets she’s not alone.

“We have to go,” she says eventually. “We have to get out of here. Now.”

“Lil, what did you see?” She follows her into the kitchen.

“The hunters, they made the connection. They know it’s witches. There’s only a matter of time before they come knocking,” Lilian tells her. “We should’ve left the moment that girl died. I told you.” Jen bristles, glaring as Lilian searches for something in the cupboard under the sink.

“How can we leave? Mother—”

“Mother left me in charge, Jennifer. And I say we leave.” Lilian doesn’t look up, leaning farther under the sink.

“Maybe we can talk to them. It wasn’t our fault. We can make them understand—”

“They’re hunters,” Lilian snaps, as though that ends the conversations. She stands up, some kind of plant in her hand.

“We have to try. Our lives are here. Our friends. What about Andrew? I have a fiancé,” Jen hisses. She can’t believe this, how rash Lilian is being. The idea that she would just pack up and leave—

“It was a mistake to get attached,” Lilian says, her mouth in a thin line. Jen feels herself go red and she spins on her heel, half running towards her room. She mutters a spell as the door slams shut behind her, locking it.

Fucking hunters. They should’ve killed the first one when they captured him. She glares at her wall, tears of frustration flooding her vision as she remembers.

“Why aren’t we killing him?” she asks, watching her sister tie his hands behind his back. He’s attractive and young, so part of her is glad they don’t have to, but it’s dangerous to leave survivors.

“This is Dean Winchester,” Lilian explains patiently. “The righteous man. I’ve heard whispers, but—to kill him would be a death sentence. It’s safer to take our chances with letting him live.”

“But—”

“Enough. We leave him. Do you remember the spell mother taught us? How to see through another’s eyes?”

Jen comes crashing back to the present at a knock on her door.

“Jen, I’m trying to keep you safe. I know you’re pissed at me, but please try to understand,” Lilian says through the door. Jen doesn’t reply and doesn’t move a muscle until she hears her sister's footsteps receding.

She knows what she has to do. She has enough ingredients in her room to replicate the spell, to see through the man's eyes, and to figure out where he is. And then she’s going to kill him.