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To Have And To Hold

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The day Dean Winchester had been waiting for all his life had finally come. Truth be told, it had been so long that Dean had begun to lose hope the day even existed. But here it was, written down in black ink on a yellowing scroll: proof that it was the day the Winchesters finally caught a break.

“Sammy, have I ever told you, you’re a genius?” he muttered admiringly, and because his brother was so awesome, even pretending he didn’t see Sam’s cheeks flush red.

“Well, what are ya waiting for? Call your bloody angel already!” Bobby grumbled in an attempt to cover his own excitement.

Dean squeezed his eyes shut and started praying. After a second, a flutter of wing beats told him Castiel had arrived. He opened his eyes and was met with Cas’s blazing blue gaze. Stepping out of the heat radiating off Cas, he gestured at the parchment.

“We think we’ve got a way to stop the apocalypse,” said Sam. “Apparently, angels can’t take a vessel if the body has already been claimed by another angel – and this tells us a way for them to claim anyone they want!”

Cas snatched up the paper and peered at it intently. After a second, his eyes widened almost imperceptibly and his stony façade shook minutely. For the usually stoic angel to falter, this had to be good.

Then he put the paper down and started shaking his head, “It wouldn’t work. No angel can bond with anything demonic. Sam is still tainted by his demon blood.”

Sam’s face fell, guilt rising up once again. Quickly, Dean interrupted.

“We don’t need it to be Sam. I’ll do just as well – if Michael can’t take me, there’s no apocalypse. The angels won’t get their big finale and so they will just focus on putting Satan back in his box the way they should have done all along!”

“I don’t even know if I am still enough of an angel for it to work.”

“Oh for crying out loud… why are you being such a Debbie Downer today?”

Averting his eyes, Cas began to mumble, “I don’t understand that reference.”

There was an agonisingly long pause. Dean glanced at Sam and Bobby and received helpless shrugs. Gingerly, he stepped forward, knowing how the angel’s guard fell when Dean invaded his personal space. Softly, his eyes sought Cas’s, which were still staring at the floor. He fell for the bait and Dean reeled the connection in, pulling Cas back into the conversation.

“It’s worth a shot, right?” he pleaded gently. “For me?”

A battle waged in his bright blue eyes until, finally, Cas bit out an agreement. The rush of victory felt somewhat hollow. Dean shook off the nagging guilt and started arranging everything for the ritual. He didn’t want to upset his best friend but this was the end of the world, desperate measures and all that. They didn’t have time to start fretting because the angel was getting his knickers in a knot. He could always find out what was going on with him after (though, as a Winchester, Dean was far more likely to ignore the subject until it endangered someone’s life.)

When everything was set out, Dean stepped into the circle of salt in the center and, unhappily, Cas followed. The candles placed around the ring gave off a dim glow that licked across Cas’s face and turned his features to bronze. It was a pale imitation of the halos angels were always depictured with. Bobby wheeled his way towards them and began to read. Normally, God would do the reading, but in his absence Castiel had said a different father figure would do. Bobby had tried not to look proud that the host of Heaven effectively decreed he was the Winchester’s father. He failed miserably.

“Ego haec duo simul animas. Erunt simul usque ad finem seculi, adversus iram et dolorem et laborem. Inter se omnino pertinere. Nemo potest venire ad invicem…”

As Bobby continued to drone on, Dean was startled out of his thoughts as a small, cool hand slipped into his. He swung round to find Cas clamping on to him rigidly.

“Dude,” he hissed, “what the hell are you doing?”

If Cas heard him, he didn’t show it, steadfastly staring straight ahead. Dean went to pull his hand away, angel strength or no angel strength, when he caught a proper glimpse of the guy’s face. He looked terrified, vulnerable and… small. It was a word he hesitated to attach to him, as Cas had always seemed to fill the whole room wherever he went. His vessel bristled with unseen power. Yet now, for the first time, Dean felt powerful compared to the fragile porcelain of his skin. God, it was like trying to kick a puppy. Sighing, he folded his fingers round and gripped him tight. He met Sam’s questioning look with a shrug and a face that said, ‘He’s an angel. He doesn’t know you don’t do this.’ 

Bobby stopped chanting and picked up a bottle of holy water. He poured a trickle over Cas’s head and he gave a full body shudder. Dean braced himself as Bobby’s attention turned to him. The water splashed on to him and suddenly Dean could feel. A gaping, cavernous hole inside Dean he’d never even known was there was filled and Dean felt lighter than a cloud. Everything he thought he’d lost in Hell was regained. It felt like, like… like ice cream bought by his mother on a sunny day whilst she watched her two children playing happily together. He fought back the prickle of tears.

“Dean?” Sam asked, his voice sounding small and worried, “Are you alright?”

He turned and quickly reassured his brother, “Of course I’m alright. In fact, I’m better than alright. I imagine I’m probably about to start pooping rainbows.”

Castiel huffed, “Only you would describe a deep celestial bond with a reference to excrement.”

Laughing, he slung his arm around Cas’ shoulders. They’d stopped the apocalypse, his friend seemed to have gotten over whatever was worrying him and Dean felt better than he had in years. All was alright with the world.

 

 

It didn’t last.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t long before someone noticed their little scheme. When the sound of wings filled the air, Sam and Bobby were still in the living room. Dean had managed to convince Cas to stay for once and was now bitterly regretting it as Cas was just staring at him. Which, yeah, he was used to but it didn’t normally last for hours like this. Dean eventually had to move to the kitchen, only to find Cas followed him, found a place where his line of sight wasn’t interrupted and then continued staring. All in all, he was grateful when the angelic dick showed up.

“What the hell have you done?” Zachariah asked in a tightly controlled voice, storming towards Cas in a way that was eerily similar to just a year ago, when he caught him drawing a sigil in his own blood.

“A human? Really? Have you lost all sense of self-worth?” he hissed. Castiel drew into himself. “Our Father would be ashamed.”

Dean still hadn’t talked to Cas about finding out his dad had abandoned him to fight the apocalypse alone, but he was betting Cas wasn’t dealing well. The last thing he needed at this point was for some jerk to use daddy dearest as a weapon. Dean deflected the attention in the room to himself, puffing himself up and striding forward.

“What we’ve done is win our war!” he crowed. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to start doing your jobs and actually fight the Devil now, because Michael isn’t getting his slimy hands on me.”

Zachariah froze, then did a double-take. He peered intently and Dean felt tendrils of Grace crawling across his mind. Comprehension dawned and suddenly he exploded into action, shoving Dean up against the wall. As his head slammed back, supernovas of pain clouded his vision. A distant part of him reminded him to check for a concussion when this was over. Sam ran into the room, Bobby quickly wheeling in after, and began to try peeling Zachariah off – futilely, of course. What was he thinking? Maybe Sam was the one that needed to be checked for concussion.

“Stop,” commanded Cas and Dean had clearly imagined him seeming small, because there was no way this amount of righteous fury could be hidden. The shadow of his wings flared out and the lights shattered into thousands of glittering shards. Each jagged edge seemed blunt compared to the sharpness of Cas’s death glare.

To his surprise, Zachariah’s grasp weakened and Dean dropped to the floor. The angel rounded on Castiel and shook with silent anger. After a moment, he was contained enough to lean in and hiss, “I hope your little boyfriend is worth it. Sometime in the next millennia, call me and tell me how you find it; giving your most intimate self to someone who hates you for all time. Because he will hate you, you know. Stuck with you for eternity – who’d want that?”

Then Zachariah was gone.

The silence hung heavy in the air. A stalemate formed, with no one wanting to be the first to brave breaking it. Eventually Bobby, never one to back down from a fight, grumbled, “Would someone mind explaining what the hell just happened?”

Expectant eyes turned to Castiel, who shifted guiltily but stayed silent. Dean added, “He didn’t know we’d stopped Michael. It wasn’t until I pointed it out that he saw it. So… why was he angry? What have you done, Cas?”

“I did as you asked, Dean,” he gritted out. “That’s all. It’s all I ever do.”

Dean pitied the guy, really he did, but there really wasn’t any time for his burgeoning identity crisis. Cas was keeping something from them and, in his experience, secrets never worked out well. He crossed his arms determinedly. Apparently Cas recognised the steely glint in his eye as he folded instantly.

“The ‘bond’ the spell speaks of. It’s hard to describe but the nearest human equivalent would be… marriage.”

“Marriage?” Dean squeaked (in a very manly way).

“And you didn’t think it was important to tell us this?” chimed in Sam.

“Marriage?” Dean asked again.

“It makes no difference. The apocalypse needed to be stopped at any cost,” he paused for a moment then added, “Besides, as a human, the ritual isn’t binding. Once Lucifer has been defeated, you may ‘divorce’ me.”

“Like, rings and vows and ‘forever hold your peace’ and marriage?” Dean said, still reeling. He was so out of it that it took Dean some time to notice the sniggers coming from Sam. Immediate problems solved, he had seemingly decided this dilemma was hilarious.

“Well, we don’t have any flowers but…” he dashed into the living room, picked up the catnip roots used in the spell – no, wedding! – and placed it in Dean’s arms. “A bouquet for the blushing bride.”

“Shut up, bitch. I am so not the girl in this relationship.”

------------

Three weeks later, things were still awkward. They’d been kicked out by Bobby, who wanted his house back, but Cas had decided to stay with the boys. The uninterrupted staring apparently came with married life, as he hadn't stopped since that fateful day. Dean felt claustrophobic and trapped, taking any and every opportunity to get away from him. You need a soda? I'll get it. Haven't got wireless connection? Tell, you what, I'll walk around town until I find somewhere with free wi-fi. Sam stopped letting him do these jobs after a while, half because Dean dragged it out twice as long as it would’ve taken to do it himself and half because he thought that avoiding the problem was never going to solve it. What did he know anyway?

Things came to a head one night when Sam loudly announced he was going to research in the local library. As he pushed past Dean, he leant in and whispered, "You better have made up with your angel by the time I get back or I swear...."

He slammed the door shut and Castiel sighed. "I didn't mean to upset your brother."

"What, so you did mean to upset me?"

"That's not what I meant and you know it," he bitched.

"You're insufferable sometimes."

"Impressive Dean, insufferable is a big word. Are you sure you know what it means?"

Was that a joke? Clearly he'd been hanging round with Dean too much. Cas didn't look like he was trying to be funny though - he just seemed tired. 'You and me both, sister,' he thought.

"That sounded like sarcasm. You sure you know what that means?"

Cas snarled, "Just because I don't keep up-to-date on your puny race's latest developments, doesn't mean I'm ignorant or stupid."

Something about that reminded him of the night spent trembling against the kitchen sink and the words 'Show me some respect'. The unpleasant reminder finally snapped his threadbare patience and Dean lashed out.

"Oh, and don't you feel mighty, now you've tied yourself to a 'puny human'. Now you've... what was it Zach said... given your 'most intimate self' to one." Dean snorted derisively at the innuendo. They both breathed loudly in the heated silence. "Get out."

The angel's mouth flapped open and closed as he struggled to find words. His knuckles turned white as he clenched his fists. "Dean..."

"No, seriously, I've had it up to here with your angel perving. Get out."

As wings beat the air, Dean realised Sam wasn't going to like this one bit.

---------

That night, Dean headed out to a bar to flee from Sam’s immense disapproval. He hadn’t had a chance to flirt for three weeks as everyone assumed he and Cas were together, what with the whole staring thing. It wasn’t as if he could argue, either, considering he was apparently married to the guy. He sat down and winked at a couple of gorgeous girls. Eventually, one sauntered over to him and sat down beside him, sliding her hand down his leg. He grinned at her forwardness and started boasting about himself, casually lying about his job. Sammy hated this too but it wasn’t as if she actually expected him to stick around anyway. She wanted something, he wanted something, might as well get it together and have a good time doing it, right? Quickly, their small talk dried up and she began trailing kisses down his neck.

He wondered where Cas had gone after he’d kicked him out. The search for God had been dropped ever since Dean had passed on Joshua’s message and it was unlikely the socially-awkward angel had made any friends since rebelling against Heaven. He tried picturing Cas in a pub, picking up chicks, but the idea made his stomach churn. There was something profoundly wrong with some anonymous girl fucking Castiel. She wouldn’t care that he was a virgin or that women terrified him. He deserved someone who would make love to him, not fuck him, for his first time. He was an angel after all. No, Cas was probably sitting on a mountain somewhere, observing his Father’s creation. The corners of his mouth lifted in a smile. That sounded more like his nerd angel. He’d have to introduce him to National Geographic sometime.

“Let’s take this back to my place,” whispered the girl in his lap huskily.

Blinking, Dean suddenly remembered he was in the middle of something. Wincing guiltily, he realised he was going to have to call this off. This woman obviously wasn’t his type if he was drifting off. “Listen Chrissy–”

“It’s Leah.”

Not a good start. “Actually, I made prior arrangements so…”

She saw through his lie with ease, stuck her nose in the air and stormed off. Cas didn’t even have to be here to cockblock him apparently. Ashamed, Dean felt like sneaking back home quietly. That, of course, would tip Sam off more than anything. Instead he burst through the doors professing the wonders of the bar’s alcohol, staggered to his bed swaying from side to side and then collapsed face down on the covers, pretending to have lost consciousness. Unfortunately, Sam had lived out of Dean’s pocket for long enough to know when he was faking it.

“I know you’re still awake. We are going to have that talk, you know.” Then he sighed and turned off his computer, “Luckily for you though, I’m way too tired to do anything about it now. You have until tomorrow.”

Far too quickly, dawn came and found Dean was wondering whether shooting himself to escape Sam’s heart-to-heart would be overdoing it. Figuring that the angels would just bring him back anyway, he got dressed and then waited anxiously for the axe to fall. Sam wavered and eventually perched on the bed next to him.

“Look, Dean, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable but we’ve got to talk about what has been going on with you lately.”

“What do you mean? Nothing’s been ‘going on’ with me. I’m just the same old Dean.”

“Then why’ve you been fighting with Cas pretty much non-stop since you… married… him? I mean, he’s always been able to get under your skin,” and what was that supposed to mean? “But this is ridiculous!”

“I had perfectly valid reasons.”

“You yelled at him for keeping his trench coat on all the time, then yelled at him for giving in too easily when he took it off!”

“Dude looked stupid either way,” he grumbled, but half-heartedly, knowing Sam had him.

“Is this just because he married you?” Sam asked, appalled, “Because seriously, man, it’s not his fault we didn’t read the small-print.”

Dean was affronted. “No! It’s just… Do you remember what Famine said to me?”

Sam’s eyes widened and he ventured tentatively, “About not hungering for anything?”

Dean couldn’t blame Sam for being surprised. He’d successfully avoided talking about that for weeks and now he was voluntarily bringing it up?

“Yeah. It was like, like I was dead inside, man. Everything I felt was sort of shallow or hollow. Nothing was real like it is in Hell.”

“Dean-”

“And then Cas goes and marries me and messes it all up. I feel like I never made the deal – better even! I’m probably the happiest I’ve been in years.”

Sam looked thoroughly mystified. “And that’s a bad thing?”

Dean said nothing and eventually it clicked. Dean didn’t think he deserved to be happy. He didn’t deserve to be saved. After all this time, he was still beating himself up for what he’d become in Hell. Sam ached for his brother.

“Dean, what you did down there doesn’t mean anything. Anyone would have broken eventually. You held out for 30 years! That’s amazing. Just, for once in your life, be kind to yourself. Let yourself have this, have Cas.”

Sam could see Dean’s walls rising up, his face closing off, and knew that was all he was going to get out of him today. Backing off, he teased, “So now we’ve sorted this, can you two stop fighting like an old married couple? Literally.”

Dean laughed and shoved Sam’s shoulder. “Whatever, bitch.”

“Jerk,” he responded automatically. Sam turned back to his table, which was covered with information on each of the victims from the latest hunt. He’d scoured them last night but he had a feeling that between his tiredness and worrying about Cas, he’d missed something important. His eyes flickered from one to the other, almost catching the connection. At the last second, it slipped away from him again. He groaned and buried his head in his hands.

“You alright?” Dean asked.

“Yeah, sure.”

Dean was not calmed, older brother protective instincts out in full force.

“Maybe you should stop for a minute. This job can be tough sometimes. If you want, we can swap. I might not be as good at researching as you are but it’ll be fine. We both do the same job, you know.”

 Sam whipped his head up and stared straight at Dean. “That’s it!”

“What’s it?”

“Julia Anderson was a receptionist. Robert Black was a waiter. Sandra worked in staff management and Nicolas did the cleaning. But, get this: all work for the same hotel. They all do the same job.”

“Well then, guess it’s time for their routine hotel inspection.”

-----------

Sarah Milligan smiled nervously up at the two professionally dressed young men. The FBI agents had taken a tour around to where each of the missing workers had last been seen, looking increasingly frustrated each time. The taller one did one last sweep of the reception with some weird scanner thing and then sighed. Sarah felt her heart sink. She’d hoped that now the disappearances had caught the attention of the FBI that she might be able to get her friends back, but it seemed they were having no more luck than the local police had had.

“Sarah,” said Sam, bending down to her with an empathetic expression on his face, “Have you noticed anything different about the hotel recently? Any sudden cold spots, lights flickering, sulphuric smell?”

“Anything unusual,” added Dean.

She frowned at the strange prompts. “No, not really. Why?”

Dean shrugged as Sam mumbled something about a possible connection to a previous case of theirs.

“What about any changes to hotel since the disappearances started?”

Sarah smiled, more secure now. The police had asked this as well. “Yes, actually. Three days before Robby - he was the first one – went missing, we started building an extension to the hotel. C’mon, I’ll show you it.”

The brothers followed her and searched the bare square of land at the back of the hotel. The building backed onto a forest so there was a clear line where the extension ended marked by chewed stumps and sawdust.

“So you cut down all the trees round here to make room?”

Sarah nodded. “I’ve been thinking; it couldn’t be like, tree-huggers gone mad, could it? People get really upset when it comes to the environment, maybe they thought kidnapping the staff would halt the build?”

Dean gave a reassuring smile and promised, “We’ll look into every prospect.”

Having exhausted all their normal routes of investigation, Dean hustled Sam off. As soon as they were out of sight of the hotel manager, he turned and asked, “So, what’ve you got? I know that look – that’s the look you get when you figure something out!”

“Well, I can’t be sure but… you saw the building site. Maybe Sarah’s right, it is tree-huggers, just not human ones. They pop up all over legends, woodland spirits that get vengeful when their homes are disturbed.”

They shared a relieved smile, glad for the break from apocalyptic monsters. For once, this seemed like a regular hunt. They climbed into the Impala and drove back to the motel. Sam walked in then froze in the doorway. Dean kept going and crashed straight into him.

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

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

Chapter Text

“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.

-----------

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.