A few days after that first confrontation in the old warehouse, Castiel showed up somewhat unexpectedly in Bobby’s house. It was way too late and they were all way too drunk for the encounter to go well, but the three of them were still trying to process the existence of angels, so they had a little bit of an excuse. Sam had already suggested once or twice that they stop drinking, but everyone knew it was just because someone had to say it. It was one of those nights when nothing Dean said sounded quite right to his ears and the placement of the furniture was bothering him.
The room felt a bit stifling and Dean was just about to make a comment about zoo animals for no reason when Bobby and Sam both suddenly stilled. Dean knew without looking that something was off but not necessarily wrong, because there was a noticeable absence of guns being drawn. He turned slightly in his chair, a cautious guarded motion, and caught sight of the angel in his peripheral vision. Castiel was way too still to be human.
Bobby was the one who spoke first, shattering the prolonged silence. “What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded, aggressive-sounding but still not standing up from his chair. The glance Sam gave him reminded Dean that his brother remained a little awestruck by the angels, not really taking well to Bobby’s barked questions and irreverent attitude. Bobby didn’t even return the look despite the fact that Dean knew he had noticed, and Dean was reminded that Bobby didn’t give a damn what Sam thought.
Castiel stared impassively at Bobby but addressed Dean. “You are needed immediately,” he stated, no elaboration, but with something ominous underlying the bland words delivered like badly-performed lines. The way he held himself, the conscious positions of his arms and neck, seemed entirely too deliberate. Dean kinda shrank back into his chair (though he would never admit it) and noticed absently that the other two men were looking at him.
“What for?” Dean asked, trying not to let his totally nonexistent nerves about speaking to an angel show, trying to make sense of the whirlwind in his mind, trying trying trying.
“Classified.” The reply was almost instantaneous, like Castiel had been drilled on what his answer must be, even though the speech pattern didn’t really fit him. He still wasn’t looking at Dean, who was torn between his instinct to refuse on principle and the feeling that it would be really dumb to refuse an angel’s command. Castiel seemed different now than he had in the warehouse, and Dean was struck by the sudden thought that “this is Castiel, much more frozen anger and contained orders than divine grace.” And he didn’t really know why that mattered, but somehow it did. His drunken mind gave an instinctive insistent no and he found himself saying it out loud without thinking too much about it.
Everyone was looking at him now, and he wondered why one additional set of eyes seemed like so much more. Dean’s mind hooked on the fact that Castiel’s eyes looked both more human and more alien than all the rest of him, and he reminded himself that drunken staring at an angel was a terrible idea. He honestly expected Castiel to ignore his answer and drag him away regardless, but Castiel just blinked once and disappeared again.
None of them slept that night.
They were all exhausted, feeling the worn-down buzz of fading adrenaline as they returned to the motel. Cas accompanied them with no explanation and Dean didn’t ask for one, knowing there was probably some important angelic purpose but not really in the mood for the inevitable lecture. The air in the Impala was all sorts of charged. Dean for some reason half expected Sam to leave as soon as they got back, escape the room with a muttered excuse about food or research, but instead he settled in the shoddy corner chair with his laptop and retreated into his own bubble.
Cas was pacing, acting just far enough from normal that it set Dean’s nerves on edge, and he snapped, “Dude, would you cut it out,” before remembering why he hadn’t said anything to Cas earlier. The angel’s answering glare was reason enough, but Dean was itching for something to yell about, on his feet suddenly without really knowing why he was angry. “Either sit down or tell us what the fuck is going on or—” the get out of here went unspoken as Dean shut his mouth with a click.
Cas turned towards Dean, all angelic wrath and piercing eyes and something indefinitely more fragile, looking sorta like a puffed-up cartoon dragon that Dean had seen on a book cover somewhere, and Dean fought down the conflicting terror and laughter. Cas was about three feet too close to him in a heartbeat, hissing, “You have no idea what is going on right now. My brothers and sisters are dying, and I can’t do a single thing to help them. All I can do is watch this war from the outside and wait for news and watch over you two to make sure no one tries to kill you for the thousandth time. If I could do something else productive, believe me, I would.”
“We don’t need a heavenly guard dog, Cas!” Dean exclaimed, the surging purposeless fury under his skin making him forget what a bad idea it was to be yelling at an angel. “You don’t have to watch us 24/7, you don’t have to pace around here when you clearly can’t stand being trapped in this frigging motel room with us, you can leave us alone for ten minutes without the world ending!”
Something electric cracked through the air. Dean was glaring at Cas and everything kinda froze in place, icy eyes caught on his own, Sam looking at them both over his laptop, nowhere near enough air in the room. A low humming rush of something blurred the world around him and those eyes, those goddamned eyes were locking him in place and this nagging voice in his head kept saying on a slightly hysterical repeat “this is Castiel, an angel of the Lord.”
And then Cas was gone in a flutter of wings and Dean collapsed back against the green and white bedcovers, feeling kinda like punching something or driving to New Mexico. In his peripheral vision he saw Sam watching him, eyes glittering in the dim broken light, looking tentative and a little sad and a lot helpless.
“Are you… you and Cas…” Sam started to ask, voice sort of braced and pitying. He was no longer looking at Dean, but rather at the faded marks and scratches on the cheap motel walls.
“No,” Dean said all scraped and raw-sounding, turning and flicking off the light, and maybe he was trembling all over by that point but no one could see anymore.
Something cut through him, something sharp and bitter and crippling, and he stumbled against the wooden counter. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sam glance up halfheartedly, then do a double take and push his chair back, scrambling over to where Dean was sliding towards the floor. The word never kept running through his mind in all sorts of contexts, I’ll never see him again and it will never be the same and people never really move on and I never told him—but he cut that thought off before it finished because admitting that to himself might just kill him and denial had always been his strong point. Dean was crying. Sam had a hand on Dean’s shoulder, lost helpless pitying expression in his eyes, and Dean tried to look away. He half expected Sam to ask what was wrong, but he had a sudden flash of a motel room and a cut-off question and he realized that by now Sam was way past asking.
Sam helped Dean to the faded chair without a word, at least after Dean’s hard look had interrupted Sam’s hesitant breath to speak. By that point Dean was mostly recovered at least on the surface, jagged line of his jaw and half-clenched fist the only remnants of the turmoil. Sam didn’t ask what he could do to help, probably because there wasn’t really anything and Sam didn’t go around trying to make Dean punch him.
Dean made a half-formed, broken sound, and Sam turned to look at him. He cleared his throat and tried again, cursing the desperation surging through his thoughts. “Do you think. Maybe. Maybe he could have.” Dean swallowed. “I mean, if the Leviathans had some other purpose in mind for him, then maybe they wouldn’t have, and this is Cas, he’s always fine—” Dean stopped, breaking off his tortured rambling at the twisted pitying expression on Sam’s face. “Fuck. He’s dead, isn’t he.” Sam nodded, and the tears in his brother’s eyes were what hurt the most in that moment.
Dean slammed his fist into the wall, threw the nearest small objects across the room, pushed and screamed and cursed and he had wished for people to be alive before, of course he had, but never like this, nevernevernevernever—
—because he’s Cas—
—god get ahold of yourself Dean Winchester—
—Where the fuck is Mom when I need her—
—and he had never had that thought before, and wow, that hurt more than anything, but it kinda snapped him back to the present again. Sam was looking at him all scared and broken. Nothing looked right. Dean, even now, was a little shocked to discover tears on his own face.
“Cas, what’s going on?” Dean demanded, wrenched by the former angel’s refusal to meet his eyes. Cas turned away from him, stepping around the corner of the doorframe, and Dean’s eyes caught briefly on the way Cas still moved as if he was making room for his wings. But there was something small and vulnerable in his stance, something that had never been there when Cas was an angel. Dean turned him around with a hand on his shoulder and Cas stood there looking at Dean all twisted-up and scared, a clockwork mouse.
“What’s wrong?” Dean found himself asking, and a pause stretched out all staticky and tense. For a second he considered taking the question back, saying something loud and brash to get rid of the chick-flick moment, but he was struck by the overwhelming thought this is Cas, and he’s hurting. A delicate sort of atmosphere had been formed by his words, a hoping vulnerable query, and Dean couldn’t just sacrifice that even for the sake of his dignity. So he stood and looked at Cas and tried to remember that it was Cas’s turn to break the silence this time.
Cas stared back at him for just as long as he had used to, when he was still an angel, and Dean felt some sort of useless annoyance over the fact that Cas didn’t seem to ever learn from his experiences. There was a simmering ache under Dean’s thoughts, a long-faded murmur pushing for his attention, but he ignored it. He always ignored it.
“I.” Cas stopped, cut himself off, looking surprised at the chopped raspy sound of his own voice. He cleared his throat, yet another thing he had never done as an angel, and started again. “I cannot be here right now. I ‘need space,’ as you might say.” He still refused to meet Dean’s eyes, and Dean felt an irrational lightning-surge of terror that there was something way off right now.
Dean took another step, moving cautiously towards Cas, who shrank into himself even farther. Dean couldn’t quite see straight, a mixture of worry and fear and useless fury sliding through his head, muddling his thoughts. Cas looked shattered and scared, and there was something so infinitely wrong about that that Dean wanted to shake him.
“I’m sorry,” Cas managed halfheartedly. He turned away again and slipped through the swinging wooden door, ignoring the outstretched hand and half-formed word intended to stop him.
They were laughing, all three of them. Dean took a moment to enjoy just that simple fact, because those moments of genuine amusement were constantly becoming rarer. It seemed the world was determined they would all die crying.
Sam choked on his laughter as Cas quoted from some story he was telling about a mailman and a possessed collie, and Dean felt so unquestionably fond of them both that he had to tip his chair back and stare at the ceiling to stop himself saying something cliché. The world blurred a little at the edges. He wondered at what point in the evening they had started drinking.
When Dean came back to himself, Sam was pulling on his coat and muttering about the snowy roads, and Dean had to backtrack in the conversation to figure out that Sam was going out to get bad Chinese from the place across town. Cas was still chuckling about something, and it didn’t quite register for Dean that they would be alone until after the slam of the door was echoing around the room.
It was quiet except for the remnants of Cas’s laughter and a faint radio talk show left on somewhere. Dean was conscious of way too much in the room, and tried to distract himself with facts. There were seven feet between him and the door. There were three glasses on the table. There were two dusty books about politics in the eighteenth century that Sam had dragged in for god knows what reason.
There was one other person in the room.
Cas was looking at him in mild concern.
Dean stood up abruptly and started to say something but gave up halfway through the sentence when he realized it didn’t make any sense. He noticed in some frantic corner of his mind that the last word he had said was something like “waffles.”
His eyes caught on Cas’s, and Dean swore aloud out of the blue because he had known even way back at the beginning, facing Cas half-drunk and terrified, that those eyes would do him in. They were standing too close and Dean had lost both his memories of the last few seconds and his plans for what he had been about to do. His mind was looping, thisisCasthisisCasthisisCas over and over again but not getting any farther than that.
“Yes, it is,” Cas said, voice full of amusement, and Dean had less than a second to wonder uselessly if he had said it aloud or if Cas had read his mind before Cas was kissing him. Dean froze for a solid five second before he finally, belatedly broke that stupid mental loop and kissed him back.
When Sam got back, he dropped the Chinese food, laughed, then immediately went back out to buy some more.