Dean woke slowly the next morning, his awareness coming in stages. He'd conked out hard last night – his memory was hazy, but there had definitely been an earth shattering orgasm and then bam, oblivion. He realized he must have slept for hours without waking. It was already bright enough outside that the light was leaking in past his eyelids. He felt warm, relaxed, and more well rested than he'd been in... possibly ever. It was fucking awesome.
His hand crawled across the sheets, seeking the warm body beside him. Except there wasn't one.
Raising his head, he cracked his eyes open to confirm. “Cas?”
He was alone.
An uneasy feeling crept over him. Sitting up, he quickly scanned the room, but there was no sign of the angel, not even his clothes.
“What the fuck?” Dean muttered to himself. He rubbed his eyes, then dropped his head and prayed, “Castiel? Where are you, man? Is everything okay? ...Cas?”
Where had he gone? And why wouldn't he answer? He hadn't just left, not after last night. Had he? The sick feeling grew worse, pushing at the back of Dean's throat.
Kicking back the covers, he slid out of bed and pulled on his boxers. It was too goddamn early to think about this. He took in a sharp breath and released it slowly through his nose, shoving aside all the panicky bullshit flying through his head. Cas popped in and out all the time, so his disappearing was probably no big deal. After a quick stop in the bathroom for a piss and a whore bath, Dean dug into his duffel to find some reasonably clean clothes to wear. Thinking this through would definitely require pants.
After he was dressed, his boots tied and gun holstered, he still didn't want to think about it, but his brain wouldn't let it go anymore. Where the fuck was Cas?
A prickling heat began burning under his skin. It crept up his neck and into his face as doubt gnawed at him. Yesterday had really happened, right? It wasn't some weird-ass dream or parallel universe or some asshole prank by Gabriel. Right? He and Cas had actually... done stuff. Together.
He went back into the bathroom and glared into the mirror over the chipped sink. Angling his head, he could see the vibrant hickey Cas had left on his throat – the one Dean distinctly remembered him leaving there. He ran his fingers over the discoloration, and a pain lanced through his chest as if triggered by the touch, but when he tentatively poked at it again, there was no new stab of pain. Just a dull, aching echo of it.
Turning away from his reflection, he stalked out of the bathroom, closed his eyes, and tried praying again. “Hey, Castiel? I don't know what's going on or why you're pulling an Amelia Earhart, but I'm kinda worried, and I just want to know that everything's okay.”
This was ridiculous. Why wasn't he answering?
“Cas! A little hint from Emily Post here: you don't bail on somebody the morning after...everything!” The anxiety that had been plaguing him since he woke was gradually bleeding into anger, which Dean was a whole lot more comfortable dealing with. “Come on, this isn't funny, Cas!”
But the room remained frustratingly angel-free.
“Figures,” Dean grumbled to himself, abandoning the prayers. “Freakin' pointless anyway.”
He snatched up his clothes from yesterday and threw the washables into his duffel and tossed the suit onto the bed to deal with later. He knew this whole thing was too goddamn good to be true. He knew it. Cas had thought himself to be in love, but one night with Dean's fucking issues was enough to send him screaming for the hills. He just fucking knew it.
A horrible weight settled on Dean's chest, crushing the air from his lungs and forcing him to stop what he was doing to focus on pulling in slow, careful breaths. He didn't know if he'd done something specific or if Cas had just finally realized how pathetic he was, but the happiness he'd felt last night and the peace he'd woken up with this morning were gone.
Somehow he'd fucked things up royally, and now he'd lost his best friend.
Clenching his jaw, he reached for his jacket and phone. Fine. He'd lost people before, and he'd survived. He'd survive this, too. He was just fucking fine.
He slipped into the jacket while the phone powered up, then stared down at the device in surprise when the screen lit up like the goddamn Las Vegas Strip.
Twelve missed calls and twenty-seven texts from Sam. And one missed call from New Hope General Hospital three hours ago.
Cold panic clutched at him as he scrambled to bring up the voice mail from the hospital.
“Hello, I'm trying to reach Mr. Dean McCafferty, who is listed as the emergency contact in Sam McCafferty's phone? Sam was brought in to the emergen--”
Dean didn't hear the rest. He was already out the door and piling into Baby, burning rubber as he tore out of the motel's parking lot. The drive was simultaneously the fastest and longest trip he'd ever taken. He screeched to a stop in the first thing resembling a parking space he found in front of the hospital and burst through the doors at a run.
“Where's Sam?” he called to the woman behind the desk as he rushed toward her. “Uh, McCafferty. Sam McCafferty! I got a call – he's my brother.”
With a few clicks of mouse and keyboard, the woman pulled up the information. She peered at the screen through her reading glasses and nodded. “He's stable, but he's still in the ICU.”
Alive. Sam's alive.
Dean released a sigh of relief that came out as more of a sob. The woman offered to have someone take him to Sam, and he nodded. Everything was a blur as he followed a short man in green scrubs past curtains and beeping monitors until they finally reached Sam's bedside.
As the green garbed man left, a woman in a white lab coat approached. She was older, brown hair graying at the temples, body thickened with middle age. She asked crisply, “You're Mr. McCafferty's family?”
“Dean,” he answered. “Sam's brother. What happened? Will he be okay?”
“I'm Dr. Fisher. We don't know what happened, quite frankly. A driver called 911 after noticing your brother unconscious at the side of the road just outside of town with no indication of how he got there. We're not terribly worried about the bumps and bruises, and he has no broken bones or obvious internal injuries, with the exception of a knock to the head. MRI and CT scans don't show anything out of the ordinary, but he's been unconscious this whole time, which is very concerning.”
“What does that mean? When will he wake up? He's gonna be okay, right?”
The doctor's face got that look, and the cold that had settled over Dean wrapped itself tighter, slithering between all his organs and into the marrow of his bones.
“Mr. McCafferty, head injuries are extremely unpredictable. He might wake up in five minutes or in five years. Or he might not wake up at all. And if he does wake, it's quite possible there's been serious brain damage.”
Dean stared at the doctor in shock. He and Sam had been bashed around by demons, monsters, and ghosts a million times, and they'd always been fine. They'd been fine.
“I'm sorry to have to give you such bad news, Mr. McCafferty, but I want you to be prepared.”
He nodded dumbly. “It's Dean. Just Dean.”
Dr. Fisher reached out to give his shoulder a squeeze. “All right, Dean. I was just about to have Sam moved up to a room, so why don't you go ahead and stay with him while I get that arranged. There's no chair here, but you won't have to wait long. Once we get him moved, you'll both be more comfortable.”
“Okay,” Dean answered, only half hearing what she said.
She patted his arm once more and left him there with Sam. Dean moved up as close to the head of the bed as the equipment would allow and wrapped his fingers around Sam's hand, careful not to disturb any of the tubes and needles attached to his baby brother.
“Sam?” he said. He cleared the raspiness from his throat and tried again. “Sammy? It's me, Sam, I'm here.”
He tried to go on, but what the fuck could he possibly say? Tears burned his eyes, and when he blinked, they left scalding trails down his cheeks. This was all his fault. If he hadn't been a selfish asshole, he'd have been with Sam to protect him when this – whatever this was – had happened. But no, he had to be a prick and ignore his brother when he needed him.
And for what? After everything he'd allowed himself to hope for last night, all of it was gone. He laughed bitterly. He supposed he should have seen it coming. Not this situation specifically, but he should know by now that shit never works out. Not for him. His one and only purpose in life was to look out for Sam. Getting distracted from that was what caused this – he got greedy, wanting too much, and now he'd lost Cas for good, and Sam might never wake up.
He squeezed Sam's fingers tighter as more tears pushed their way out. “I'm sorry, Sammy. Fuck, I'm so sorry.”
Two people came past the curtains then, so Dean let go of Sam's hand and quickly wiped the tears away. They detached Sam from most of the equipment, and Dean trailed after them as they transferred him up to a room. The other bed was empty, so it was more or less private, to his relief. As soon as the nurses got Sam all set up again, Dean pulled the chair up to the edge of the bed and reclaimed hid brother's hand.
He talked, hoping his voice would be an anchor for Sam or maybe a beacon he could follow to pull himself out of the dark. He brought up stories from their childhood, funny things that'd happened long ago or awful things that were funny in retrospect. He told a few choice stories from when Sam was away at Stanford that he'd never gotten around to telling before. He even talked about the few clear memories he still had of their mom.
But Sam didn't wake. He didn't move or react in any way, either to Dean's voice or to the hand holding his.
“Sammy, come on, man. Please, just wake up.”
Dean wasn't above begging. He bowed his head and forced himself to ask for help. Surely Cas wouldn't let Sam suffer for Dean's stupidity. “Castiel? I know this is probably the last thing you want to hear, but I need you, man. Sam's hurt, and it's not looking so good. Please, I need you to come heal him.”
Opening his eyes, he craned his neck to scan the room, but they were still alone. The stab of pain that had cut through him this morning returned, but this time it lingered, making his whole chest hurt. His throat closed and more tears welled, but he was beyond giving a shit.
He stayed there for hours, leaving only briefly to use the bathroom and to get coffee. Each time he came back, he had a spark of hope that Sam would be awake and fine when he arrived, but each time, Sam remained unconscious, and the spark was smothered.
One of the nurses who'd come in to check on Sam's IV had just left when Dean finally heard the familiar rustle of wings.
“Hello, Dean,” Cas said.
“Cas--” Dean cut off in surprise as he spun to face him. The angel was a wreck – his hair disheveled, his clothing in disarray, and it looked like he'd been rolling in the dirt. He was breathing hard, apparently from a fight since he was tucking away his angel blade.
“Are you okay? What the hell happened to you?” Dean demanded, reaching out to straighten Cas's hair without thinking, but he stopped himself at the last second.
Cas shook his head. “No time. I came as soon as I could. What happened to Sam?”
Dean hesitated, but Sam's need won out. “No idea. He was brought in like this. Will you heal him?”
Stepping past Dean, Cas touched two fingers to Sam's forehead. He closed his eyes, but then frowned. “Something's wrong,” he muttered.
Fear replaced the tangled mess of other feelings. “What do you mean 'wrong?'”
Holding up his other hand to quiet Dean, Cas tilted his head as he focused on Sam. As Dean watched, the scrapes and bruises on Sam's face and arms faded, but Cas didn't pull away, instead scrunching his face up even more as he concentrated.
Finally, he released a heavy breath and took his fingers from Sam's forehead. He was still frowning, and every alarm bell that wasn't already ringing in Dean's head joined the clamoring.
“Cas?” he prodded.
“What did this to him?” Cas asked.
“How the fuck should I know?” Dean snapped. “I wasn't with him; I was with you.”
Cas blinked, thrown by Dean's anger.
Dean shook his head and pressed on, “Why? What's wrong with him?”
Eyeing Dean cautiously, Cas answered, “Nothing, physically. The problem is with his soul. It seems to have been... folded in on itself somehow. I've healed his physical injuries and eased his soul free as much as I'm able. I cannot heal him completely, but I believe he'll wake on his own soon enough.”
Hope and relief bloomed in Dean's chest. “He'll be okay?”
“He should be, yes. Given time, he would likely have recovered on his own, but the process should be quicker now.”
Dean's shoulders sagged as he heaved a huge sigh. “Oh, thank fuck.”
“Now I have to get back,” Cas said.
“Whoa, wait!” Dean reached out to catch his arm before he could take off. “You're leaving?”
Cas huffed impatiently. “Dean, I shouldn't have come here at all.”
“Right.” Dean snatched his hand back. “Forget it. Doesn't matter.”
The tension that'd been thrumming through Cas's body seemed to shift as he focused on Dean. His head tipped slightly as he squinted at him. “Is something wrong?”
Dean looked away and shook his head. “Nope.”
“What?” he snapped back. “Everything's hunky damn dory! So go on – run off to wherever the fuck you disappear to, and have a nice life. Everything's just fucking fine here without you.”
Cas froze, staring at him like he was nuts. “Dean?”
The anger suddenly dissipated, and all Dean felt was hurt. “Never mind, Cas. I get it. I know I'm a big fucking disappointment – I always am. It's fine if you've changed your mind.”
“Why would you think I changed my mind?” Cas asked slowly.
Dean threw his hands out. “You left! You left without a word and wouldn't answer me. I can take a hint, Cas!”
White fire blazed in Castiel's eyes as he crossed the narrow space between them and took Dean's face in his hands. Dean yelped in surprise, but it was muffled as Cas crushed his lips to Dean's possessively, delving into his mouth with a forceful tongue. Dean clutched at the angel's overcoat to keep his balance.
Cas pulled back. “Then take this hint, Dean Winchester. I love you. I want you. I will never leave you. I may occasionally need to attend to things elsewhere as I need to now, but I will never leave you. Last night I didn't wake you because I didn't want to disturb your sleep, though I realize now that I misjudged the situation. I apologize for hurting you.” His eyes softened as he gazed at Dean. “I love you.”
Dean's head was reeling from the kiss and the angel's declaration. “You do?” It was half a question, half an exclamation of wonder.
Cas touched their foreheads together, never breaking eye contact. “Of course I do. Always.”
Stupid, embarrassing tears stung the backs of Dean's eyes. He let go of Cas's coat and wrapped his arms around him instead, holding him as tightly as he could and burying his face against his neck. Cas held him and murmured reassuring words into his ear.
Finally, Dean's grip slackened, and Cas eased back a little. “Dean, I have to go. I'm needed now, but I'll return as soon as possible. All right?”
“I'm sorry, Cas. I should've trusted you.”
“Yes, you should have,” Cas teased as he traced his fingers along Dean's jaw. Catching his chin, he pulled Dean up to meet his eyes. “Do not doubt me. I'll be back soon.”
Dean nodded, and Cas released him to take a step back.
“I love you, Dean.”
That weird-ass happy feeling returned, swelling Dean's chest and squeezing a smile out of him. Cas looked at him for a long, expectant moment before finally disappearing in a swirl of air.
Still staring at the place where Cas had just been, Dean sank down into the chair at the head of Sam's bed, almost afraid to believe this horrible day had turned around so completely. He grinned.
Cas loved him.
And Sam was going to be okay.