There’s a man watching him from across the bar.
Dean keeps one hand curled tight and close around the bottle in front of him. Keeps his head down.
There are a couple people watching him, actually: the bartender who winked at him when he sat down and bent low enough that he got an eyeful of her cleavage as she served him, and two college-aged chicks giggling enough that he could probably have fun with both of ‘em if he wanted to.
Their gazes are different though, just carousing admiration, a heat behind their eyes that’s too far away for Dean to warm himself against. Flattering, but nothing he has to act on if he doesn’t feel like it.
And Dean doesn’t feel like it. Not tonight. Not with the gouge running up the shell of his ribs from a hunt he let get too messy, that Dad let him know real quick was his own damn problem to deal with before he left him high and dry in the middle of Minnesota.
Not with that man’s eyes on him—right on him, a weight against Dean’s skin.
Dean drifts his free hand down to the gun tucked beneath his jacket, and then Dean meets his gaze.
The guy—he doesn’t startle, he doesn’t flinch from being caught out. He also doesn’t wink at Dean, doesn’t tip his head slow to the bathroom or the front door.
He gets sad around the eyes. Longing around the mouth.
Dean goes white-knuckled on the gun.
“‘Nother round, hun?”
Dean flashes his best smile up the bartender’s way without thinking about it, already sliding out of his chair. “That’s all for me, sweetheart, thanks,” he says, tossing down a few wadded-up bills onto the sticky bartop and leaving his half finished beer where it is. “You have a nice night.”
She says something back, she’s still looking at him, it would be so fucking easy to turn around and touch the back of her hand and ask when she gets off—
The man stands when Dean does, and with a last long look, he heads out the door.
Dean follows him.
It’s cold outside, cutting down beneath the layers of his jacket in the way only a midwest January can. It fills Dean’s lungs up like glass shards when he breathes in deep, even colder against the pump of his blood as he ducks around the corner of the bar in three long steps, following the tan slope of the man’s shoulders.
He’s waiting for Dean right there on the other side, just leaning back in all those shadows, silent as a prayer.
Dean fits his gun up in that notch beneath the man’s chin.
Guy don’t even blink.
“Dean,” he murmurs.
Dean’s hand is shaking and he doesn’t know why. He grips the man’s shoulder, right over the crumpled fabric of the ugly trench coat he’s wearing, and presses the gun up harder until the man has to lift his head a little. “How the fuck do you know my name?” he hisses.
The man doesn’t look scared. He is watching Dean like there is nothing else worth watching, lips a little parted, eyes a little soft. And blue. Real blue, like the ocean on a postcard.
The ice spreading down Dean’s spine makes him shiver.
“I suppose you could say I’m your guardian angel,” the man murmurs. His breath fogs pale between them. All of him is unnaturally warm, like Dean’s touching somebody with the sun sewn up beneath their skin. “I have known you, Dean Winchester, for a very long time.”
“Wrong thing to say if you want me to lower this gun, pal,” Dean says, and his voice is only slightly unsteady. He can hear the roar of cars on the highway behind them, barely audible beneath the rush of his own blood. “Angels ain’t real and everybody knows it.”
He fucking smiles. It’s slight, but it’s there—this crazy motherfucker has a gun beneath his chin and he smiles at the guy who’s holding it.
“I assure you, Dean,” he says. “We very much are.”
The man is still drinking him in. Drinking him in. It’s hard to see in the low light, but Dean thinks those eyes are damp, and it makes something in him go wild, volatile, like a can shook up too hard.
“Listen,” Dean says, low, angling his body in toward the man as the arc of a passing headlight cuts too close for comfort. “I don’t know who you are or what you want from me, but I’m not in the businesses of letting things that can hurt me walk free. So either you tell me what’s really going on, or I do what I gotta do to make sure I don’t have a stalker on my tail when I leave this place.”
His gaze flits around Dean’s face like shadows passing over a riverbed. “It’s so difficult for you to trust already, isn’t it?” he asks. “Even so young.”
That wild thing in Dean makes his throat hot. “I ain’t alive because I trust people,” he growls.
For a moment more, the man is quiet. He is guarding Dean’s front from the acerbic air like a furnace.
“My name is Castiel,” he says finally. “I am, for all intents and purposes, an angel of the lord. I’m from the future. I have—I have known you for a great many years, Dean. I have fought battles at your side. I have saved you, and been saved by you in return.” His voice dips lower, rough like a gravel road. “I have sacrificed everything for you, and I would do it again.”
John would tell Dean to kill him. Don’t think twice. Pull the trigger.
John isn’t here.
Slowly, Dean lowers his gun.
There is something about him. There is something—Dean lowers the gun but doesn’t let go of his shoulder, and the smile Castiel gives him at that makes Dean’s skin heat.
“We’re not done,” Dean says roughly. The gun is lowered, but still very much in his hand. Castiel could be a shapeshifter, a skinwalker, a ghoul. He could be a demon. He could be a thousand things Dean hasn’t heard of yet, sent here in the shape of a man who looks more like a tax accountant than any kind of monster, here speaking devotion to Dean that he doesn’t want to hear. “But it’s cold as shit out here. Walk ahead of me and get in the car when I tell you to, and don’t try anything funny.”
“Of course,” Castiel says. “Nothing ‘funny.’”
He emphasizes the last word carefully, as if he’s testing out its colloquialism on the tip of his tongue and finding it strange-shaped. He lets Dean turn him around with no hesitation at all, presenting his back to him fearlessly.
Dean stares at him for a moment. The back of his neck, pale above his collar and beneath the ends of his mussed hair. A tender place for a bullet to slip into.
I have saved you, and been saved by you in return.
Dean nudges Castiel between the shoulder blades, walks him like that from their dark corner to where the Impala is parked beneath a streetlight.
Castiel glances back at Dean over his shoulder as he slides into Baby’s passenger seat, as if not staring at him for the thirty seconds it took to cross the parking lot was some kinda hardship. He’s careful where he touches the car, hands gentle, almost reverent; it’s true, honest respect with which Castiel pulls Baby’s door shut behind him. Like he knows her. Knows what she means to Dean.
His eyes track Dean as he moves around the front of the car.
Dean’s got a silver knife in his duffel in the back, and a vial of holy water. He gets behind the wheel and twists until he can grab them, then he holds his hand out for Castiel’s, fixing his face into a scowl that he hopes won’t invite any argument.
Castiel complies immediately. Even rolls his sleeve up a bit, courteous and succinct. Like he’s done this before.
Dean’s pulse is still doing something nasty in the side of his neck, throbbing fast beneath his skin. He takes Castiel’s wrist in his hand, and Castiel’s palm is big and wide and warm, and Dean makes a neat slice across his life-line.
Blood bubbles up sluggishly. Castiel doesn’t even wince.
He’s sitting turned completely toward Dean, one knee resting on the seat; as he breathes, the shallow cut knits itself back together before Dean’s eyes.
Dean grits his teeth. Upends the holy water over Castiel’s healing flesh.
Nothing. It runs off him like rain, puddles in a dark spot in a fold of his coat.
“Alright,” Dean says. Even to his own ears he sounds grim. But Jesus—it’s been a hell of a goddamn day, and by the looks of it, it won’t be slowing down any time soon. “Sit still.”
Castiel just looks at him, one eyebrow lifting into an arch, as if to wryly ask Dean what else he would be doing. Dean can think of a couple things. Gouring him to death with a knife, mainly, or possessing him and making him steer Baby off the nearest cliff.
Dean scowls again. He stretches past Castiel’s lap to root around in the glovebox, where he’s got the salt stored; he ignores the solid line of heat Castiel makes, gently warming Dean’s side.
His injured side. He’d forgotten all about it in the wake of Castiel and his bold claims and his tragic eyes, but it goes sharp-white with pain as he straightens up.
Castiel frowns at him. “Are you hurt?”
“No,” Dean says shortly. He grabs a handful of salt and tosses it Castiel’s way, internally mourning all that he’s gonna hafta do to get that out of Baby’s interior. Castiel blinks his eyes shut as it hits them, and then back open, brushing grains smartly off of his lapels.
“Dean,” he says. Castiel speaks Dean’s name like it fits nicely in his mouth. Like he’s said it a thousand times. “I saw your expression.”
Ignoring him, Dean shoves the bag of salt into one of the cupholders, his other hand still hovering pessimistically over his gun. It’s not quite midnight; Bobby’ll probably still be up, drinking himself to sleep in front of one of those shitty documentaries he likes to watch, and if anybody’s gonna know anything about angels it’ll be him. Would’ve been nice if he’d mentioned something like that before, though—
“Dean,” Castiel says, more insistent this time, enough of an edge to it that Dean’s helpless to look up.
Dean was right earlier. Castiel’s eyes are still a bit damp, a bit red around the rims like he’d been crying about something before he decided to go all Fatal Attraction on Dean’s ass. People don’t—nobody—it’s not—nobody looks at Dean like that. Like there’s nothing else they’d rather see.
So close that Dean feels flayed, skin from blood from bone.
“May I heal you?
What the absolute hell. Dean thinks of the way Castiel’s skin had knit itself back together effortlessly, leaving not so much as a smear of blood in its place. He wants to do that to Dean? He wants to take away the evidence of his own recklessness, this injury that he wears as a hallmark of his own mistake, as if it had never happened in the first place?
No, Dean thinks. No, no, and then “Why?” is what comes out of him instead.
Castiel looks confused for a moment—a slim little line between his eyebrows—and then sorrowful. It’s uncomfortable enough that Dean shifts where he sits.
“Because you are in pain,” Castiel says. “And you do not deserve to be.”
This is blatantly untrue. Were it some other injury, maybe, some other poor fool’s mistake that had cost Dean and John their hunt, Dean might not feel this hot sour rebellion rising to the back of his throat at those words—but it isn’t anybody’s fault but Dean’s own. He’s the one who let himself flag, let his exhaustion get in the way of his common sense; he took one moment to rest during a restless job, and the ghoul they were after got the jump on him. That’s how this shit works.
“That’s not your job to decide,” he says tightly. Castiel is sitting too close. He’s warmer than the heat pumping out of Baby’s vents. “And—how am I supposed to trust you? For all I know you could lay a hand on me and burn me to death, if you’re really an angel like you say. Which I still don’t buy, by the way.”
“I would never hurt you voluntarily, Dean,” Castiel says. There’s too much weight in the way he stares. He seems genuinely bothered by the prospect, too, in a way that makes Dean’s throat dry. “But I suppose it’s reasonable of you not to believe me, given the life you lead. What could I… what could I do to convince you?”
“Of the angel part or the time travel part?” Dean asks, and there’s a definite snap in his voice. He wants to tell Castiel to get out of his car and never bother him again. He wants to know why Castiel says his name like it’s his favorite word. “Oh I dunno, Castiel, smite something. Tell me something only I would know.”
Castiel tips his head, as if he’s seriously considering either of those options. Dean has time to worry about more than a little salt ruining the Impala’s leather before Cas says, “You are less angry that Sam left you and your father than you are that Sam is the one who got out.”
The air goes still around them. Heavy.
Dean’s fists are clenched so tightly that his nails cut into his palms.
“Keep Sam out of this,” he growls.
“I would never hurt him either,” Castiel says, slow and measured and calm. “Sam Winchester is my friend, too, and on top of that he is one of the best men to whom I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted.”
This gives Dean pause—and something tells him that Castiel knew it would. He says, keeping his voice as hard as he can make it, “You know Sammy too?”
“I have known the both of you for over a decade,” Castiel murmurs. He smiles slightly, and it’s somber. “When I come from, at least.”
“So he, uh.” Dean wipes the salt from his palm onto his jeans, looking for an excuse not to have to meet Castiel’s probing gaze. “He comes back."
Another car passes them by. It washes Castiel in pale yellow light.
“Yes, Dean,” Castiel says quietly.
Dean nods. His side really does hurt. “He happy about that?”
Castiel’s hesitation tells him all he needs to know.
“I really don’t think I should reveal much more about your future, Dean,” he says apologetically. “I don’t—it is unprecedented, what has happened to me to put me here with you. I don’t want to alter the course of your life.”
God, of course. Dean meets a time traveling entity who’s maybe the only person in the world that can give him any kinda information on the little brother who won’t answer his calls, and the dude refuses to speak. Even though Sam is apparently some sort of saint in the future or something—and Dean can buy it. Sammy’s always been the good one out of the two of them, the just one, the kind one. The one who thinks to comfort a victim’s family before jumping in to ask them how their loved one was killed.
The one who got out.
The one who gets dragged back in.
“So what did happen?” Dean asks. He stares through the darkness beyond Baby’s headlights to the bar he’d been wallowing in thirty minutes ago, the trickle of people leaving it on unsteady legs. “Assuming you’re not makin’ all this up, which I’m still not convinced of, by the way.”
Another hesitation, where Castiel stares at Dean until he goes warm again inside. “Perhaps I should save that story for another time. It seems that you have had quite the day, and this is a lot to take in.”
“What makes you think I’m gonna let you hang around long enough for there to be another time?” Dean asks, but he sounds more weary than truly upset, and the way Castiel looks at him like he knows it makes his ears burn.
“I think that your curiosity will win out over your instinct for self-preservation,” Castiel tells him. He doesn’t quite smile, but the corners of his eyes go soft. “Fortunately in this instance, that’s not a foolhardy decision, although I certainly wish it was a trait you would work on overcoming.”
Jesus. This guy talks like he more than just knows Dean—he talks like he knows every part of him. It’s… strange, to say the least. The flayed-back feeling persists.
“Shut up,” Dean says, and then “You gotta leave before Dad gets back.” It isn’t a yeah, Castiel, you can stick around, but it also isn’t a no, and of that they’re both aware. “He ain’t gonna be choosy with the bullets, if you know what I mean.”
Castiel hasn’t exactly been restless before, but Dean notices it anyway when he goes still.
“John Winchester,” Castiel says. If Dean’s name in his mouth sounds treasured, John’s sounds reviled. “Are the two of you no longer traveling together?”
The burn-out ache in his ribs. “Apparently not.”
They’d been in the same hotel room—paid for for two nights, a rare luxury—but John had held the keys, and he’s skipped town by now. It’s certainly not the worst punishment John Winchester has ever doled out, but it’s far from the most convenient: Dean’s gonna need to find another cheap motel in the area if he doesn’t want to sleep in the Impala injured like he is, and he can only hope this Castiel guy brought a wallet with him from the future because Dean didn’t have time to make any money tonight and he sure can’t afford two rooms.
“Did he leave you behind?” Castiel asks.
For the first time, he sounds upset. It’s slight—a tightening to his voice, a bit more of a rasp than usual—but Dean catches it easily. What the hell does an angel have to be upset about some guy’s dad leaving town?
“He had his reasons,” Dean says. He doesn’t know why he’s jumping in to defend John just like he always does. He doesn’t know why it’s this—the unwarranted and unwanted concern in Castiel’s face, the indignation on Dean’s behalf—that is making Dean’s eyes prickle hot. Goddamn mortifying is what it is. “I fucked up. Moved too slow, nearly got us both killed. He’s right to be pissed.”
He starts Baby and maneuvers her smoothly out of his spot. The low rumble of her engine calms him, like a strange sort of lullaby.
“You don’t deserve to hurt, Dean,” Castiel says softly into the space between them.
Dean’s shoulders are too tight, and his jaw and his hips and his spine. He seeks out the blank darkness of the highway as if it’ll hold him in. “What are you, a fucking shrink?”
“No. I’m an angel of the lord, so you should listen to what I say.”
Dean snorts. He’s pretty sure Castiel wasn’t angling for a laugh, but neither of them wanna see the other reaction Dean’s wavering on the edge of.
“Look, man,” he says, and it comes out mean, an edge to it, but one more bump in the road of this day might just shake Dean apart and he’s gotta use what armor he has, “you may know future me, but you sure as hell don’t know me now. So stay out of it, ok?”
Castiel is silent for one moment, two, three. Dean can feel Castiel looking at him. Dean refuses to look back.
He turns up the music and he drives.
Dean pulls off at the first motel he sees that looks to be about his price range: one of those that’s just called MOTEL, half the letters in the vacancy sign blinking out, cracks in the barren pavement outside the width of Dean’s forearm.
“Got money for a room?” Dean asks gruffly.
They’ve been quiet for the ride over. Dean’s not sure if Castiel is mad at him or John or if he’s sitting there plotting Dean’s murder; still, Dean can’t help but feel like he’s done something wrong.
It’s a cold, heavy feeling, and it sinks down into his bones. It’s familiar.
“I don’t sleep,” Castiel says, and Dean must make a face because Castiel clarifies, “No angel does. So I can… I suppose I can wait out here in the Impala for you until morning if you are uncomfortable sharing a space with me—”
“Not gonna leave you out here in my damn car,” Dean says, twisting the keys in the transmission and pocketing them. It probably says something about him that he’d rather risk his own life by falling asleep in the same room as an all-powerful entity than give that entity the chance to steal his car, but it’s something Dean isn’t willing to examine. Not on this dogshit day. “You can take the couch. Or something.”
“Thank you, Dean.”
Dean doesn’t take out his gun as they cross the parking lot. He’s sure Castiel notices.
If he does, he gives no comment.
Dean goes to give Castiel first shift in the bathroom—like he’s John, like he’s human—before he catches himself with that heat in his chest again. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. You don’t extend showering courtesy to a guy who stalked you in a bar, even if you are having one of those days where you feel like you gotta repent for every little thing.
Castiel, already seated at the rickety desk chair in the corner, looks at Dean from beneath heavy lids. The smile he gives him is fond. The smile he gives him is for another man.
Dean grabs the cleanest clothes he can find in his duffel and shuts the bathroom door tight behind him.
The water pressure is weak, sputtering. He turns it as hot as it’ll go and steps in close to the wall. Leans his forehead against it. Shuts his eyes.
It fucking hurts. The gash along his side. It hurts and—and Dean knows he’s lucky the wound isn’t deeper, or further down over the soft fragile flesh of his stomach, he knows he’s damn lucky this is all that happened to him after that stupid, stupid move he pulled—
He scrubs at his eyes, harsh. Here in the privacy of this room, the first privacy he’s had since Dad left him, he feels small and dumb and scared. It’s been years since Dean’s been so busted up about being on his own, but it’s different this time. With Sammy gone already and not taking any of his calls, with John so disgusted that he couldn’t even look Dean in the eyes before he’d left. Just tossed Baby’s keys his way, hands shaking with anger. Hadn’t even stayed to help Dean clean his wound.
Not that Dean needs his goddamn dad to survive—hell, he’s twenty-two, and he’s been on hunts by himself before. If he’s being honest, he’s been taking care of Sammy and himself for most of their lives.
But Sam isn’t here to take care of anymore. And with just himself to look after, it almost doesn’t seem worth it.
Dean stands there until the water’s gone cold on him, and it stops running pinkish down the drain. He washes with the tiny, bad-smelling soaps they stock places like with, and dries off with a thin towel, shivering a bit as he climbs out onto the cracked tile floor.
He wonders what it would feel like to be healed by an angel. By Castiel. Warm, probably, like the heat that pours in a miasma from Castiel’s skin.
Not that he’s going to take Castiel up on it. Dean doesn’t know him, and he has some self-preservation left.
And he does deserve this. Doesn’t matter what Castiel says.
He’s half-asleep by the time he wanders back out to the main room, the hair he was too tired to dry dripping cold down his neck. Castiel is still sitting sentinel in his chair: his back is straight and tall, his shoulders broad. He has his feet planted a hips-width apart, and his big hands rest atop his thighs. He looks almost relieved to see Dean—again with the sense that he doesn’t like to not be looking at him.
Dean wonders if he’s used to it, in the future where Castiel is from. Used to the low-grade fever of Castiel’s blue, blue gaze.
“You gonna kill me while I sleep?” Dean asks.
Castiel looks upset by this, and Dean feels a swift flash of guilt. Dean thinks of his insistence from earlier. I would never hurt you voluntarily, Dean. Voluntarily. Like maybe it’s something he’s been forced to do before.
“Quite the contrary,” Castiel says softly. “I’ll watch over you. I will keep you safe.”
“Guardian angel,” Dean says. He wants to scoff. He wants, ridiculously, for it to be true. “Right.”
There are a lot of things he should be doing right now. He should be salting the windows and the doorframe, he should be trying to contact Dad or Sam or Bobby, he should be drilling Castiel for information. He shouldn’t have even let Castiel in this room.
Dean’s pulling his gun out and slipping it underneath his pillow on autopilot, and his knife, too. He’s climbing beneath the covers.
He’s letting Castiel watch him do it.
“You’re gone tomorrow,” Dean murmurs, eyes slipping closed. The pillow is flat and the mattress is lumpy and he is weary down to his bones. “Soon as you answer my questions.”
The room is silent save for the sound of their mingled breaths, gentle in the darkness. “Goodnight, Dean,” Castiel says.
That wasn’t an answer. Dean’s asleep before he can point it out.
Something in the darkness. A shape. A light.
Dean moves forward.
It is gray around him, like water-stained granite; for a moment that’s all he can see, and then the grayness resolves itself into walls and a floor, crude and stark.
Dean is in a room.
It pulsates with a single repeated sound, over and over again—something ringing and rhythmic, like bone on bone. A heartbeat.
A heartbeat. It surrounds him. It slips up under his skin and nestles in close ‘round the sinew of his tendons, and he beats with it.
Dean wakes up.
He’s not sure, for a moment that clouds his brain with fear, what startled him awake: the motel room is empty as far as he can see, ugly wallpaper stained lilac with the sunrise, nothing watching from the still-shadowed corners. He registers the heaviness of his gun in his hand before registers that he’s picked it up at all, but there is no figure looming over him to aim it at.
No ghost seeping in through the window cracks. No John stumbling in drunk through the door.
Nobody. That’s it. Castiel is gone.
Dean just sits for a second and lets his pulse wind down. There’s sweat at the small of his back. The nape of his neck. He can hear somebody’s dream-heart sounding in his ears.
The front door is unlocked.
Dean’s cold when he slips out of bed and across the room to shove his feet in his boots, but he doesn’t bother grabbing his jacket. He opens the door as quietly as he can, peering out into the hazy pre-dawn.
Castiel is sitting on the edge of the sidewalk a few paces away.
They’re in one of those motels where each room has an outdoor entrance, no need to go through a lobby—perfect for a hunter, who might be passing through at all hours of the day covered in all manners of substances. Perfect, too, for a breath of fresh air when everything inside is getting to be too much. Dean would know.
“What happened to watching over me?”
Castiel doesn’t startle, doesn’t turn around. Of course he doesn’t. Dean doesn’t know anything about angels, but if this guy really is one, he probably knew the second Dean woke up.
“I can watch over you perfectly well from out here,” Castiel says, confirming Dean’s thoughts whether knowingly or not. He glances at Dean when Dean moves to sit beside him a careful couple of feet away, arms wrapped around himself against the chill. Castiel’s eyes are even more striking in the daylight—otherworldly. It seems like an angelic enough trait. Or maybe that’s just him. “You are very loud.”
“Hey,” Dean says, vaguely offended. His sweat is already starting to dry down tacky and cold. “I don’t snore.”
Castiel smiles at him, and it’s strangely indulgent—the crinkles at the corners of his eyes, the soft curve of his mouth. “No, Dean,” he says. “You don’t snore. Your soul is what I was referring to. It is… quite vocal.”
Dean stares. He has no clue why the words make him go hot again, flustered like an itch beneath his skin that he can’t scratch, kinda—kinda embarrassed. Bashful, maybe, and Jesus. Dean Winchester doesn’t get bashful.
It’s too fucking early for this.
“My soul,” he repeats flatly.
“Indeed.” Castiel’s hands are curved over his knees, his scuffed shoes resting evenly in the gravel. He speaks quietly. “I have always found it to be lovely.”
Castiel looks more tired than he did yesterday in the dark, with shadows hiding out in the swoops beneath his eyes, with the permanent echo of a frown across his forehead. Dean wonders how far in the future he’s from. Dean wonders if he’s told his own Dean this.
“God,” Dean says. He should’ve grabbed his jacket before he came out here; he shivers a bit, and grips his elbows. “What the hell, Cas.”
The nickname slips out before he can think about it, and he searches Castiel’s face quick for any sort of annoyance. He finds none. He finds, instead, a measure of that hollowed-out sorrow from before that hits him in a place he can’t reach.
“I don’t apologize for believing so,” Castiel says. The gentle purple light makes his edges thin. “Though I am sorry if voicing that makes you uncomfortable.”
“It’s fine, Castiel,” Dean says. He’s careful to pronounce his full name, wary of making Castiel gaze at him like he wants something from Dean that Dean doesn’t understand again. “Only, that’s a helluva thing to say to a guy you just met.”
‘Course, they haven’t just met, according to Castiel. God.
“Oh, Cas is…” a pause. Castiel’s coat pools around his hips on the dirty pavement. “You may call me Cas, if you’d like.”
He doesn’t quite look at Dean when he says it, and that must mean something. It’s gotta. His throat bobs as he swallows, one hand tracing something on the knee of his pants that Dean can’t see.
“Alright, Cas,” Dean says. He doesn’t say that he won’t be calling him much of anything here soon—sometime overnight it’s become important to Dean that Cas and John never meet, and that means getting Cas out of here as soon as possible. The idea of John letting something that calls itself an angel and claims to know his son walk free is laughable, and Dean ain’t willing to risk it. “Think you can answer a couple questions for me?”
Somebody a few doors down from them ambles out onto their own stoop, a cigarette held in long gray fingers. Cas glances at them and then at Dean, and the fan of his eyelashes spreads a shadow over his cheeks.
“I can try,” he says. “Inside, though.”
He stands, brushing road dust and parking lot grit off his coat as he does so. He looks down at Dean. He extends a hand.
Dean takes it. Cas’s palm is warm in his, and broad, and he’s got calluses in different places than the men who have touched Dean before; he pulls Dean easily to his feet. He gives Dean a look when Dean winces at the bite of pain in his ribs, which Dean ignores, because Dean doesn’t know him.
He lets go of Dean when they’re both standing.
They go inside.
The bed is a wreck from where Dean left it in a hurry, a twist of colorless sheets. The gun sits abandoned on the pillow. Dean perches at the foot, and Cas takes the wobbly desk chair again.
“Ok,” says Dean, and for a second he reminds himself of Sam: gathering up all the loose threads of an event and sorting through them until they make sense. Dean can’t ever wrangle them quite right. Tugs too hard. “So you’re—you’re tellin’ me you’re an angel.”
“I thought we had been over that,” says Castiel.
“This is a lot for me, man,” Dean snaps. His eyes are dry from too little sleep, and he’s got a meandering sort of headache crawling beneath his skin. “I don’t—I mean, I’ve been in the life for years. Hunting, seeing all kinds of shit. You’d think that if angels were real I’d have at least heard of one.”
Cas sighs. “Heaven is… taciturn. Secretive. They don’t wish to involve themselves in earthly business more often than they have to.”
“I can think of a couple times I coulda used some heavenly involvement,” Dean mutters. He thinks of Mom. He thinks of Sam.
He wonders if Cas can tell. If the regret putting lines at the sides of his mouth means anything, he can.
“I know,” Cas says. “One of my greatest regrets is that it took me until I knew you well to see the wrongness with which heaven operates.”
He really doesn’t hold back, does he? Dean tries not to look like that statement does much to him. “Right,” he says a bit weakly. “All that stuff about knowing me. What’s that about? How’d we meet? Why did we meet, if heaven don’t like you guys mixing with us?”
The look on Cas’s face tells Dean he won’t be satisfied by his answer, but he groans when he hears it anyway. “I don’t think I should tell you that, Dean.”
Dean lets himself scowl. “You can’t just storm in here and tell me I’m bosom buddies with a fucking angel in the future and not offer any explanation,” he says. “What’s to keep me from just ganking you right here? How am I supposed to believe anything you say?”
“I didn’t choose to be ripped from my timeline, I’ll have you know,” Cas says, and for the first time there’s some heat behind his words. He looks upset again, and his hands are restless. It’s difficult, just looking at him right now, to think him anything other than utterly human. “I expected something entirely different, in fact. So forgive me if I am not well-versed in how to deal with a situation of this sort. Right now, ensuring that your future is unharmed is of more importance to me than answering your questions.”
“Whatever, dude. Sorry, I guess,” Dean says, oddly chastened. There is something so sincere about Cas, so genuinely worried, that Dean Winchester, known pusher, isn’t gonna push.
The light outside the window is starting to sharpen up into a flat winter day, the color of gunmetal and cold just to look at. It turns Cas monochromatic there in his corner, sketchy dark lines like a charcoal drawing. He sighs again, looking at Dean. Looking.
“Heaven has a plan for you,” he murmurs, and it’s a second hand extended: appeasement. Not quite successful. “Something that neither you nor I could stop, in any timeline. It is the reason you and I meet at all.”
Dean snorts, incredulous. He thinks of his coarse, hard body, the gun on his pillow, the alcohol in his veins. The blood on his hands. “Heaven don’t want anything to do with a guy like me,” he says.
Cas is unwavering. Softly, he says, “You’re wrong.”
“Yeah, ok.” Dean rubs at the ridge of his knuckles. He sounds like he doesn’t believe Cas, and he leaves it that way. “Sure.”
There are a thousand things he wants to ask Cas that lay quivering on the tip of his tongue, almost too tangled to parse through. He wants to ask what kinda guy he is in the future, and if he’s still hunting, and if Sam is happy. He wants to ask how Castiel got here, to him. He wants to ask how close they are. If Cas is someone Dean leans on.
He doesn’t. Can’t, maybe. Like maybe he’s scared of the answers.
I have sacrificed everything for you, Cas had told him. And I would do it again.
“So uh,” Dean says. The dream-heartbeat has faded, and he didn’t notice when. “How old are you?”
It’s a stupid question, and Dean only half cares, but Cas appears to consider this with all the gravity that he considers everything else. “I am older than the ground itself,” he tells Dean at last. “I am older than human comprehension.”
“Oh. Um, you look about forty.”
That small smile again. “Thank you, Dean. I’ve found that this vessel retains its moderately handsome appearance remarkably well considering what I have put it through.”
There is so much in that sentence to be hung up on that Dean decides to think about none of it very hard. Tries not to, at least: thinks, with an itch in his palms, that Castiel is a whole lot more than moderately handsome, and chews on the soft skin of his lip until it tastes like copper.
“Well,” he says. “Well. Good.”
“Mm,” says Cas. He tilts his head, lips parted for a moment before he provides voice to his thoughts. “And you. How old are you now, Dean?”
“I’ll be twenty-three at the end of the month,” Dean says, and then tries not to blush, unsure why he said it that way. Like a little kid eager to announce his birthday to somebody older and cooler than him.
Cas unbalances the hell outta him.
“So young,” Cas says quietly. He had said something like that last night, too, when Dean had him pressed up in the shadow of that bar with a gun on his pulse. He is marveling at it.
Dean hasn’t felt young since he was born.
“Jesus,” he says, digging his heels into the carpet, “Cas, s’not like I can’t drink yet or somethin’.”
“No, pardon me, of course not,” Cas says dryly, “that would mean you were one year and eleven months younger than you are now. A veritable infant. How could I be so foolish.”
“Fuck off,” Dean says, wrongfooted and unclear how he feels about it. He’s saved from answering by his phone ringing from his jacket pocket across the room.
He holds up a finger in Cas’s direction— stay —though Cas seems disinclined to cut up and run again, even just for some fresh air. His eyes are still on Dean when Dean fishes his phone free and checks to see who’s calling.
He’s been—it’s been—this morning’s been ok. His side feels like it’s stuffed full of hot coals and there’s an angel across the room with a fuckin’ mouth on him, but considering how yesterday went, Dean’s been alright today. Maybe even calm.
Not so now. Those three letters shoot his heart somewhere up in the back of his throat, big and beating fast for him to choke on.
“Hey,” he says, turning to face the wall. “Dad, hi.”
“Got a lead on a hunt down in Illinois,” John says.
Dean’s used to no introduction when Dad calls him, no hello; the guy’s busy. Don’t have time for shit like that. “Alright,” Dean says, hating the way his voice forces itself deeper just ‘cuz of the man on the other end of the line. “Need me to meet you somewhere?”
John is silent for a beat too long.
“Going at it alone this time,” he says, gruff. Dean can hear the roar of the highway behind him, something playing loud and tinny over the speakers. AC/DC, maybe. “‘Bout time you learned how to take care of yourself anyway. Get a couple solo kills under your belt. Figure out how to survive without your old man.”
The plastic of the phone is cold against Dean’s hot cheek, hard in his hand. Dean stares at the dirt ground down into the baseboard. Swallows, tight.
“Yessir,” he mumbles.
“What was that?”
“Yes, sir,” he says, louder. His spine is so straight that it hurts.
“Can’t make stupid mistakes when there’s no one there to cover for you, ain’t that right?”
Dean thinks of the look on John’s face when he saw that ghoul on Dean. Anger, pure and simple. Dean thinks of the way he’d killed it right there on top of Dean, so its blood got on his skin.
Breathe in. Out. “Yes, sir.”
“That’s what I thought,” John says. “I’ll find you when I need you, son. This’ll be good for you.”
“Yes, sir,” Dean says, but the line goes dead before he’s finished.
Castiel is standing behind him when Dad hangs up. Dean can feel him. A disruption of air.
Dean has had a lifetime to develop the skill of knowing who is standing at his vulnerable spine.
He turns around. He is holding the phone so tightly that it cuts into the meat of his palm, cheap plastic straining; Cas’s face, when Dean can look at him, is wearing an expression so foreign that he can’t name it with a glance.
“Where are you going?” Dean interrupts. His voice is still that low-down scrape, older than himself. He drops his gaze to Cas’s shoes. “After this. Back to where you’re from?”
Cas is quiet for a moment too long. The weight of what he wants to say rests between them, pushing at the air. Pushing. Dean thinks of the way he’d scowled at John’s name last night; Dean thinks of a curled fist.
“No,” Cas says finally. Just that.
Dean makes his smile like a knife. “Wanna hit the road?”