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To Have And To Hold

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“Hey, watch where you’re going, you great Sasquatch-”

Dean saw what Sam was staring and his words caught in his throat. Cas was laying on Dean’s bed, curled into a ball and struggling to even breathe.

Dean threw himself forward and gripped Cas’ shoulders tight so he could check the scrawny little guy for injuries. There weren’t any but that didn’t, couldn’t make sense, because Castiel – Angel of the Lord, invulnerable titan Castiel – was quivering in his arms. He cupped his cheek with one hand and brushed the other over his forehead, searching for fever. Bile rose in his throat as he watched Cas shudder and gasp uselessly, nothing but a litany of pleas running through his head. ‘Please no, not again, not Cas too, I can’t, help him, not Cas.’

“Dean,” Cas moaned.

“I’m here, buddy. It’s okay, I got ya.” It was a lie, nothing about this was okay. “How can I help?”

“Dean Winchester… offering… to help. Must be a… red letter… day.”

Dean huffed a laugh through the gritty feeling in his throat: a sign of the tears Dean wasn’t about to let come. “Could you try developing sarcasm sometime when you’re not dying?”

“M’not dying,” he protested weakly.

Dean latched on to that desperately, ignoring all the evidence to the contrary splayed out before him on the bed. After all they’d been through together, it couldn’t end like this. He hated feeling this impotent. Normally there was a wound to sew up or a monster to hunt, something to do. Now, he was just… useless. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’s ok, Dean… you aren’t useless. You’re helping just by… being here.”

“I’ve told you to stay out of my head!”

Cas blinked curiously and made an abortive gesture, as if he had gone to tilt his head as usual but found it too painful. “I do.”

So, he was really that transparent, huh? A shiver trickled down his spine at the thought of anyone knowing him that well. In this life, being predictable was being vulnerable. Sam, and maybe Bobby, were the only ones Dean let get that close to him. He wrestled down the urge to flee and asked again, “How can I help?”

Cas frowned. “I just told you. You are helping simply… through proximity.”

Dean made a face. Of course Castiel was being literal. The angel wouldn’t be able to tell a reassuring lie if his life depended on it. “What the hell does that mean?”

“I can’t stray too far… from your side. It’s the marriage bond.”

Sam had been hanging back awkwardly, feeling like a trespasser as he watched his brother fuss over Cas. Now though, he ventured, “So, the closer you are to Dean, the better you get?”

When Cas agreed, Sam nodded to himself and then decided to pay for a second room. If he knew anything about his brother, it was his abhorrence of looking ‘girly’ and weak. The less witnesses there were, the more likely Dean would actually get over himself and help out his best friend. (Tomorrow morning, of course, his patient understanding would run out and he would be creeping in with a camera for blackmail purposes). He gave Dean a meaningful stare and then told them he was booking another room and not to wait up for him. Crossing his fingers, he left and gave the two their privacy.

Reluctant as Dean was to admit it, he understood Sam’s look completely and the implications within. The thing was, Dean really didn’t have anything against gay guys – love is love and all that – but it was never for him. The idea of basically snuggling with Castiel was incredibly awkward. Still, when Sam had fixed his gaze on Dean, he had been daring him to wimp out, and Dean Winchester never backed down from a dare. With a groan, he slid down the bed until he was lying pressed up against Cas’ back and rigidly wrapped his arms around his waist.

“Dean, what-” Cas began.

“Shut up. You don’t tell anyone about this, ok?” After a pause he added, “And this isn’t cuddling, it’s manly huddling.”

Cas left it just a beat too late before confirming, just long enough to let Dean note the slightest cheekiness in his ‘of course’. Dean felt a smile sneak unbidden onto his face. Slowly, as Cas’ convulsions jolted his arms, Dean relaxed his grip and began to trail his hands across Cas’ chest soothingly. With each brush, Castiel quieted a little more until finally he was breathing easily. The regular puff of breath had never sounded as wonderful as it did now. Eventually, all the tension dripped out of both of them and Dean rested in the soft warmth of Cas’ embrace.

Finally, Dean murmured, “So, when were you planning on telling me about the whole marriage-comes-with-a-leash thing?”

Instantly, he knew it was the wrong thing to say. Cas went tense in his arms and pushed away. “I didn’t know. I should have, it was blindingly obvious really. I am sorry.”

“Hey, hey, it’s ok, you didn’t know, no biggie.” He reassured, confused. When the crease on Cas’ forehead only deepened, he realised that whatever he’d said to upset Cas was more than just that. “How could you have seen that?”

Cas shook his head and twisted in Dean’s arms so that they faced each other. “It’s a fundamental rule of Heaven. Angels aren’t made to live alone, Dean. It’s why I’ve been losing my powers one by one. My brothers knew that by cutting me off from the Host, I’d become easy prey.” His lip twitched with self-loathing at this, but he moved on before Dean could find any words to help. “It makes sense that that bond should be magnified to the point of absolute dependency with you.”

Which, yeah, where do you even begin with that? Dean laughed it off, the way he always did, with a joke. “So, you literally can’t live without me.”

Surprisingly solemn for a man whose face was squished against hideous floral pillows, Cas replied, “Do not worry Dean, I’ll work on finding a loophole as soon as possible. I know you don’t want me around any longer than necessary.”

Dean recoiled as if he had been slapped. “What the hell man! Seriously, you think after everything I’ve done for you, I don’t… Where do you get off on thinking that?”

Castiel shrunk back from Dean’s uncontrolled lash of anger and something indeterminable shifted in the air as he spread his wings to flee. For one long moment, one second struggling through the gooey syrup of time (what? Dean had never claimed to be a poet!), blue eyes warred with green, before sinking into the realisation that he couldn’t leave whilst this vulnerable. As bad as he felt for tethering Cas to the ground like this, he couldn’t help but feel a vicious glee. For once, Cas couldn’t leave him hanging whenever he felt like it. 

Relieved, Dean dropped his head back against the bed and considered his friend. To a stranger, Castiel was unaffected, but Dean had long ago seen past his poker face. The creases at the corners of his eyes gave away Cas’ urge to flinch away. Dean cringed inwardly. So that was why Cas believed himself unwanted. That’s the problem with forming friends in the stress of war. You have no idea of your footing when it comes to peace-time. Dean never meant to lash out, but that was his first instinct whenever he was unsure. A child of battle, fighting was the only thing he knew how to do.

“Cas, you know that… I mean, I know I’m not good with this but… You know what, never mind.” Cheeks burning, Dean switched tracks. “You know, we never did celebrate averting the apocalypse. It’s the kinda thing you ought to throw a party for, right?”

“What did you have in mind?” was Cas’ dry reply.

“We could travel the globe. See the Seven Wonders of the World.” Cas raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, first stop should be Mrs Penny’s Tasty Treats shop, she serves the best cake. No, wait, pie comes first! I’ve heard there’s a really nice pie place in South Carolina-”

Cas huffed out an almost-laugh and, if he was aware of the custom, would probably have facepalmed. Dean couldn’t help the soppy smile which spread across his face. It was strange, to know so much and so little about the guy at the same time. He knew the big things; the pivotal moments in Castiel’s life (hell, Dean was one of them!) knew he was sly and mischievous, loyal and full of faith, clever and oh so very brave… But not whether he took coffee or tea. Was he a morning person? What was his earliest memory? Did he have a favourite colour? Suddenly, Dean found himself craving all those insignificant details that, together, formed the man that threw away Heaven for a boy from Lawrence.

“Tell me about your life in Heaven, Cas.”

“What is there to say?” Castiel asked, jolting back. “It wasn’t very interesting. I am - was – what humans would call a grunt. Most angels are formed in batches for war, I was nothing special.”

Well, Dean couldn’t possibly leave it there. He pressed on, “Dude, you’ve been around for millennia. You have to have done something in between frowning at us mud-monkeys and grooming your wings.”

And so, Heaven’s golden secrets were unearthed on a greasy motel’s scratchy sheets, safe in the tightly knit circle of an angel and his hunter. Sam would have been impressed, Dean was sure, of how attentive he remained whilst Cas went through his fond memories of each of his garrison. When he reached Uriel and Anael, his content tone tempered and petered out. The edges of Cas’s mouth pulled tight and, before he could think about it, Dean raised a hand to smooth out the creases. Halfway there, his brain came back from vacation and he froze, arm waving awkwardly above their faces. He grasped Cas’s shoulder as if that was where he’d been heading the whole time. To his astonishment, the mockery of the handprint on his own shoulder made all of Cas’s tension leak out. With the ease of someone who was already used to being beaten down (and what Dean would give for Cas not to be in that category), Cas built back up his defences and carried on with his tales.

His favourite task was singing hymns. When angels sing, he confided, it isn’t purely on a vocal level. Their whole being rejoices and thrums to the sound of the universe, grace arching up into prisms of song. Dean didn’t understand in the slightest, but made a list of artists he had to get Cas to listen to anyway. He elbowed Cas and demanded a private performance but Castiel wouldn’t go for it, blushing like a freaking high schooler as he declined. Dean refused to think of that as adorable. As Cas moved on to describe the various assignments he’d had over the centuries, Dean found himself yawning. With a soft smile, Castiel’s story tapered off.

Almost asleep already, Dean finally asked the question that had been bugging him all evening. “If you weren’t a ‘special’ angel, why did Heaven choose you to pull me out of Hell?”

A blinding grin suddenly split Cas’s face and he admitted proudly, “Only I could find you. Hundreds of angels were sent in, but the demons had hidden you in a remote corner of Hell. But your soul… it called to me, even through its corruption.” He met Dean’s eyes and Dean shifted uncomfortably under the intensity of that stare. “I will always find you, Dean Winchester.”

And then Dean was asleep.

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A nose nuzzled into the crook of his neck and Dean stretched back his neck to encourage more. He sighed as he buried his head in the downy-soft hair below him and tugged the hot skin closer to his. It had been a long time since he’d had a chance to relax into another warm body. A hand trailed over his hip, exposed where his shirt rode up, and Dean shivered. He didn’t remember bringing a girl back with him last night (wouldn’t be the first time) but he had clearly enjoyed himself – he felt better rested than he had in weeks. He strained his mind back: he’d been inspecting the hotel, Sam had figured out what the trouble was, they had come back to the motel to find Ca-

Oh.

Oh shit.

Very, very carefully, he slipped out of the bed, struggling to escape Castiel’s octopus grip. Cas hummed a small noise of discontentment and Dean froze, but then he merely turned over and hugged Dean’s pillow instead. So, the almighty Angel of the Lord was a hugger. Who knew. Dean backed into the bathroom and glanced down at his lap to confirm that, yes, he was going to Hell. Again. Perving on sleeping angels had to be a big no-no, right? Dean stepped into the shower and turned down the temperature as much as he could stand, because the other way of dealing with… that… would mean he could never meet Cas’s eyes again. The second he had dealt with his problem, he rushed to pull on some clothes from his duffel. He wore even more layers than usual, seeking all the protection he could find. Funny how he’d been all gung-ho to fight the Apocalypse but this scared the shit out of him. He glanced over at Cas and found, to his relief, no signs of stirring as he snuck out. Dean couldn’t shake the image of the awkward morning after, even though he knew it was nothing like that.

He found Sam waiting for him in the lobby. The kid was sitting in the epicentre of a disarray of papers on all kinds of ghosts and ghoulies. Real subtle. With a smug smile, he looked up at Dean and pushed forward one page.

“I narrowed it down to just one type. I’m pretty sure the spirit we’re working with here is a Leshy.”

“Right,” Dean answered, slightly taken aback. “Did you do this instead of sleeping, you giant nerd?”

Sam snorted. “Not exactly.”

Dean was instantly on red alert. Years spent trapped with his annoying little brother had taught him to recognise that tone of voice right away. It was Sam’s taunting voice. Whatever it was that he knew, Dean wasn’t going to like it. Nervously, Dean attempted a subject change.

“What are you doing working out here? Anyone could see. I’m fairly certain even a high class establishment like this will have some objections to a pair of devil worshippers.”

“You didn’t know which room I’d booked and I wasn’t going to use your one in case I… interrupted something.”

“What the hell, Sam? You know it’s not like that!”

“Ok then, why else were you still in bed at four in the afternoon, Mr Insomnia?”

Dean squeaked.

Sam grinned.