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What It Means to Love

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“Dean, I am perfectly fine, I—” Cas paused, face scrunching up, then he sneezed before he could finish his sentence.

Dean took a step backwards. “Dude, gross! Seriously? Sneeze into your elbow. That’s like preschool 101.”

“Oh, then it’s so great that I went to preschool,” Cas said, managing to sound sarcastic even with his nose stuffed up. Dean winced as he wiped his nose on the sleeve of his trenchcoat. “It’s not like I haven’t been a human for only three months.”

Right. “Yeah, well, guess this is the perfect introduction." How the hell did Cas manage to still look so adorable slumped against the kitchen counter, clothes wrinkled and nose red? “Welcome to humanity, you have a cold. Here, stop that.” He couldn't watch Cas wipe his nose on his sleeve again. They didn’t have tissues in the kitchen, but he grabbed a napkin and handed it to him. Dutifully, Cas took it and blew his nose. “What you need is to get in some comfier clothes, lay down, and get some sleep.”

Violating the few feet he'd put between them to stay clear of the germs, he stepped closer to loosen Cas' tie. Cas let him, saying, "I can still help research—"

"No, no." Cas leveled him with a glare, but it had lost its bite now that Dean knew he couldn't strike him dead with his angel grace. Okay, it was still pretty menacing. "I'm trying to save your ass. Sam will kill you if you sneeze on his laptop or precious books. Come on, take off the coat, you gotta be burning up."

He was helping Cas slip it off when Sam walked into the kitchen. “Ew, gross," he complained, covering his eyes with his hand, and Dean realized he was essentially undressing Cas in front of the kitchen island. "Get a room."

"Grow up," Dean said, draping Cas' coat and tie over his arm. Okay, so maybe they’d given Sam a reason to be on-guard now, but, "It's not what it looks like." 

Sam lowered his hand, then frowned at Cas. "Woah. What happened to you?"

"I'm sick," Cas answered, as if that wasn't obvious enough by his glassy eyes and disheveled appearance.

"Well, uh, wash your hands," Sam said, stepping back as Cas started for the door, Dean following. "Don't wanna spread any germs. And try to stay out of the library."

"Told you," Dean whispered to Cas as they went down the hallway. In their room, he gestured for Cas to sit on the bed as he rummaged through their dresser. “T-shirt and sweatpants,” he said, handing them over. 

Cas unbuttoned his white button-down which was identical to the dress shirts he always wore as an angel. Apparently old habits died hard—in this case, an affinity for business casual. Actually, maybe Cas getting sick and out of his old clothes was a good thing. Dean didn't know the last time the trenchcoat had been washed.

Collecting Cas' shirt and pants, he said, “I’ll get rid of these disease-ridden clothes.” He thought he caught Cas rolling his eyes as he pulled Dean’s sweatshirt over his head. "You watch TV or something, I’ll go see if we have cold medicine.”

After starting a load of laundry and raiding the medicine cabinets in the bathroom and cabinets in the kitchen, he returned to the room to find Cas sitting cross-legged under the covers of the bed, remote in his hands.

“Here, you go,” Dean said, handing over a warm mug. Ancient Aliens played on the TV; one of Cas' favorite pastimes was refuting every crazy claim and theory the show presented with his own recollections of the ancient times. “Sam said this tea will help. He ran out to get some medicine.”

Eagerly, Cas took the mug from him and took a large gulp, then coughed. "Ow. It's hot."

"Drink it slowly, idiot."

Cas took a more hesitant sip, then squinted up at him. "This tea is incredibly flavorless."

Dean snorted. "’Cause your nose’s clogged up. And you probably burned your tongue. Another joy of being human."

Groaning, Cas dropped his head back on the pillows and stared at the ceiling. "Why is being human so difficult?"

Dean inwardly winced at that. Or thought he did so inwardly, but his expression must've revealed something because Cas glanced over at him, then straightened up, nearly spilling his tea. "Dean, I didn't mean anything by that."

Clearing his throat, Dean shrugged and sat down on the other side of the bed. "No, it's fine. You're right, being human sucks."

"And I wouldn't trade it for the world," Cas said.

"Yeah, yeah. I know."

Cas seemed about to say more, but then he sneezed. Into his elbow this time. Progress.

 

Ancient Aliens finished, and they got halfway through an episode of UFO Hunters before Cas started to nod off. Dean took the mug from him, and his eyes fluttered open, head jerking up. "I'm fine," he said.

"I know you're tired because you missed them saying aliens created the lost city of Atlantis."

Cas sniffled. "That's ridiculous. Everyone knows Atlantis was formed by—" He was interrupted by a yawn, and Dean made a mental note to return to that subject later.

“Come on, take a nap.” 

“I am not a small child, Dean,” Cas protested, but he settled down anyway. Dean couldn’t resist adjusting the covers, essentially tucking him in. He wasn’t trying to baby him, but it was second nature seeing how miserable the guy looked. Turning off the lights, he went to the door. "You good? Need anything else?"

"No." Cas squinted one eye open to look at Dean over the blanket pulled up to his shoulders, and, fuck, if he wasn't still the most beautiful man Dean had ever seen, even sick as a dog. "Thank you."

A tiny alarm went off in Dean's brain about germs, but he returned to the bed to kiss Cas on the forehead anyway. True love, and all that. God, he was getting sappy in his old age.

 

Cas looked marginally better when he woke up from his nap. If marginally better meant pillow hair and pillow lines on his cheek. Well-rested, at least. He swallowed down the cold medicine Sam had brought home, complaining that he could taste enough to know the flavor was not, quote, "similar to anything occurring organically in nature."

"Whaddya wanna eat?" Dean asked him as he drained his glass of water. "And don't say PB and J," he added before Cas could speak.

Cas set his glass down on the nightstand and slid further down under the covers. "Anything that won't make my throat hurt more."

"My, uh, mom used to make me soup when I was sick."

"That sounds wonderful."

 

"Whatcha making?" Sam asked, coming into the kitchen. He lifted the lid of the pot on the stove and Dean snapped him with the towel.

"That's for Cas, back off."

"Wow," Sam said, leaning against the counter and crossing his arms. "Look at you."

"Look at me what?" Setting aside the pot lid, he scraped the celery he'd been dicing from the cutting board into the pot.

Sam shrugged. "Taking care of Cas, making dinner, you're almost domestic."

Dean turned red and scrambled furiously for a comeback. "Yeah, and you're, you're still a little shit." Nailed it.

Sam laughed. "Wasn't an insult. Just meant, I don't know. Different for you, I guess."

Dean eyed him, stirring the soup. "Don't have much of a choice. Poor guy just turned human and he's already going through it."

"I think he's dealt with worse than a cold before."

"Yeah, well, wish he didn't have to deal with any of it." Any of it meant plenty. Between Dean’s own fuckups, world apocalypses, and near-death and actual death experiences, Cas had been through the ringer several times over. And now he was human—which, by all counts, wasn’t the worst thing he’d been through, but it wasn’t ideal. It’d been a rough transition, anyway.

Cas seemed better recently, though, since getting somewhat used to being human. And things were going well between them. Getting sick was just one tiny wrinkle compared to everything they’d been through, right? 

He stared at the soup and startled when Sam straightened off the counter with a comment that Jack was out with friends, he was leaving for Eileen’s, have fun giving Cas a sponge bath. Dean flipped him off as he headed out the door. 

When the soup was finished, he ladled a bowl full and returned to the bedroom. Cas looked up from his phone when Dean entered with the bowl of steaming soup. “Hear from Claire?” Dean asked, nudging the door shut with his foot.

“She says she and Kaia have almost closed up the case." He set his phone aside. “They’ll be able to visit soon.”

“You tell her you’re sick?”

“She was incredibly non-sympathetic—thank you." Cas took the bowl from him. “She seemed to find it amusing that I once ruled garrisons and now can’t go five minutes without sneezing.”

Dean tensed, hoping Cas wasn’t hurt by the comparison, but Cas didn’t look offended. “Sounds like her.”

"Yes.” He breathed in the steam coming from the bowl. “This smells incredible.”

"Family recipe," Dean joked, sitting down next to him. "Well, someone's family. Straight from some blog online. Think it's pretty close to what my mom would make." He watched Cas pick up his spoon, and added, "Don't tell Sam." He'd never hear the end of it if Sam knew he was reading mommy blogs.

"Your secret is safe with me."

Dean picked up the remote as Cas ate, wondering if he should give Claire a piece of his mind. Sure, Cas was pretty easy-going about the whole giving up his grace thing, but no need to rub it in his face. Becoming human had to feel pretty pitiful after ages of being an angel.

He was trying to make it better where he could, though. “You wanna watch a movie tonight? I'll let you pick because you're bedridden."

"I am not," Cas protested, though he looked more than a little pleased at the idea of getting to choose. Dean braced himself for whatever ridiculous romance or musical Cas insisted on watching now—to date, he'd been subjected to La La Land, the ending of which had reduced Cas to tears for the rest of the night; Pride and Prejudice, okay not too bad, though he'd never admit it; and You’ve Got Mail, dammit not bad enough for him to hate either. 

Instead of suggesting a movie, though, Cas said, "You're very caring, Dean."

"Uh." Dean turned from cycling through the movie options on the TV to look at Cas. He felt himself turn red under the look Cas was giving him, head tilted, that fond almost-smile he got. "Yeah, uh. What I do."

"Yes," Cas agreed. "It is what you do. You're very good at taking care of others."

"Oh, God, don't start that." By that, he meant the long compliments Cas so shamelessly gave him now, like he'd been storing them up for a long time and was finally able to hand them out. It was like the dam had broken that night when Billie and the Empty—

But he didn't want to think about that. Not when all the events since that day had led to Cas now sitting in bed blowing his nose, the trashcan by the bed overflowing with tissues. Poor bastard; he'd gone through one whole Kleenex box already.

"I'm only going to stop because talking hurts too much," Cas told him, tossing a tissue at the trashcan and missing sorely. Dean grimaced.

They nearly got through Mama Mia before Cas dozed off, head resting on Dean’s shoulder. It wasn’t the most comfortable position and Dean’s arm was half-asleep, but he refused to move. The mere fact that they were sitting together in bed, pressed against each other, was still enough to send him into shock anytime he thought about it too much. Cas—a literal former angel—had fallen in love with him. It was almost too good to be true. 

But Cas was currently slumped against him, drooling on his shoulder, so he guessed it really was true.

As the credits rolled, he turned off the TV and touched Cas’ forehead with the back of his hand. Not as warm as before. At his touch, Cas blinked awake. 

“It’s over already?”

“Whaddya mean, already? I just had to sit through two hours of singing and dancing.” It hadn’t been that torturous, but he couldn’t admit that—he had a reputation to uphold. Straightening, Cas rolled his eyes. “Feel any better?"

Cas’ expression turned thoughtful, as if taking stock of every physical sensation in his body, and Dean had to grin at his seriousness. He nodded. "Yes."

"Great.” He glanced at the time on the clock and realized it was later than he’d expected. “You probably wanna get some rest.”

Cas nodded with a yawn. "You don't have to sleep here if you don't want to."

Dean froze in the middle of pulling back the covers, mind immediately spinning out. "What?" They'd only started sharing a room a month ago, oh God, he'd known it was too good to be true, Cas was sick of him—

"I want you to," Cas said quickly, as if sensing Dean's downward spiraling. "I just don't want you to get sick."

Oh. Oh. Feeling a little sheepish for immediately jumping to the worst conclusions—one of his greatest talents, if he did say so himself—he shook his head. "Nah, I have a great immune system."

Cas' expression turned guilty and Dean narrowed his eyes. "What?"

"About that..." Cas started slowly. Dean gave him a look. "Well, uh... Your immune system isn't quite as healthy as you think. I've been giving it a boost for the past several years, every time you started to get sick."

"What?" Looking back, it was pretty remarkable that he'd never gotten even a common cold with all the other shit they dealt with. "Fuck."

"Sorry."

"No, don't apologize. I should be thanking you. So, uh. Thanks."

"You're welcome."

Of course Cas had been taking care of him for years, Dean thought, when they settled in bed and he turned off the lights. Cas told him he was caring, but it was Cas who was the caring one. He’d sacrificed his life for him, for Christ’s sake. Then gave up his grace to return to Earth because he wanted to be with Dean and Jack and Sam and everyone. The guy didn’t have a selfish bone in his body. 

The thought should’ve been a comforting one, but instead he felt antsy, unable to stay still, shifting under the blankets. 

Turning onto his side, he nudged Cas, whose eyes had fallen shut. With a grunt, Cas opened his eyes and looked over at him. 

“You alright?” Dean asked, which wasn’t really what he wanted to say, but he wasn’t sure how to say it.

“I was when I was falling asleep,” Cas grumbled. But he shifted to face Dean. In the faint light coming from the bunker hallway, Dean could see the concern in his eyes. It sent a pang through him. Cas had given up so much, and Dean was doing all he could to make sure he never regretted it, and Cas told him all the time that he was content with his choice, but still the worry sat heavy in his stomach. 

"Listen,” he started. “I just wanna let you know that being human isn’t all bad. I swear it won’t be miserable forever. I know you've been introduced to the bad shit first, but—"

"That's not true," Cas interrupted, touching Dean’s hand resting between them. Dean raised an eyebrow. "Dean, being human has been the single most rewarding experience in my entire life second only to raising Jack. It started with you rescuing me from the Empty and revealing my feelings weren't unreciprocated like I thought. I would say that's far from miserable.”

"Yeah, but you had to adjust to living without your grace, and eating food, and getting sick..."

"It's been difficult, yes. I won't lie and say I enjoy bodily functions or sneezing or headaches. But I do enjoy being with you and eating chicken soup and watching absurd TV shows. I wouldn't change this for anything. Whatever happened in our lives, it led us here. And I’m happy with where we are.” He studied Dean for a moment before asking, quieter, “Are you happy?”

“Yes, yeah, of course,” Dean hastened to say, because it was true. Fuck, it couldn’t be truer. “Of course. Just feel bad, I guess. That you gave up your grace and all that. Feel like I’ve hardly done anything.”

Castiel’s expression softened. “You’ve given me more than I could’ve ever dreamt of. And anyway, it’s not a competition, Dean. I take care of you, you take care of me. That’s what love is.”

Throwing that word around, love, still made Dean’s heart skip a beat. But it was true. He loved Cas and he’d do anything for him. The same, he knew, was true on Cas’ end.

Cas said it best, so he settled for lifting Cas’ hand and kissing his knuckles.

“I would kiss you," Cas said, smiling, "but I don’t want to get you sick.”

“Screw it," Dean said, and propped himself up on an elbow to kiss him. Then he shifted, turning over and pulling Cas’ arm to wrap around him. Even if the bastard was sick, Dean was making him be the big spoon.

"For the record,” he said, feeling Cas curl around him. “I wouldn't change anything either."

And he meant it. Even when he woke up the next morning with a sore throat and stuffed up nose. Cas—who seemed to have gotten over the worst of his cold—took only one look at him before declaring it was his turn to play doctor, throwing extra blankets at him and demanding the chicken soup recipe in a flurry of activity.

He’d take care of Cas, and Cas would take care of him. It sounded like a good life, Dean thought, settling back against the pillows with a smile. He wouldn't change a thing.