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(yeah so this is a follow-up to this. Where the first part was a season finale sort of thing this is sort of a what-happens-during-the-following-season-in-bits-and-snatches so it’s not as epic, but here it is anyway.)
Castiel drifts in and out of consciousness for a few days. He’s weak, and he doesn’t understand the sensations that are plaguing his body so overtly now that it’s his own and no longer a vessel to contain what he had been. Aches and pains, blood, anxiety, fatigue, all hit him hard, and Dean and Sam keep a close watch on him, help him recuperate.
Even after he’s able to get up, there’s so much he has to get used to. His body feeling dirty under the same clothes day after day, for example. For the first time in a long time, he changes clothes. (Plaid looks frighteningly good on him — another sign he’s meant to be a hunter, he points out in one of his attempts at humor. He gets twin grimaces; Sam at least forces a smile for a moment.) His body wears down long before he expects it to, and he keeps asking “Am I sick? Am I dying?” The answer is, inevitably, “No, you’re just human.”
In the meantime, the gates to hell are still open. Kevin has found one more trial, but Sam has yet to undergo it. For one thing, they’re having trouble getting spell ingredients without a continent-skipping angel on their side. For another, they still have Death’s warning ringing in their ears — try to bind me again, and you’ll be dead before you start. So instead of summoning the guy directly, they’re trying to get a reaper to extend the invitation. They’re still not sure what they’ll say to him once he actually arrives.
Their plates are kinda full
Doesn’t stop all the rest of it from happening.
Doesn’t stop Castiel, in a loose-fitting plaid shirt that was Sam’s in his pre-Gigantor days, from watching Dean load bullets with rock salt for a good ten minutes before clearing his throat. “Dean.”
Dean doesn’t look up. “Yeah?”
"Dean." Damn it, he can feel that gaze. It wants him to meet it; it’s a damn persuasive gaze, really. He gives in. "What do you want, Cas?"
Castiel takes in a slow breath. “I’m wondering if we’re going to talk.” He shifts his weight. “About that.”
Time to turn back to bullet-stuffing as fast as humanly possible. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don’t." He stops himself. Cause hearing Cas saying out loud would be horrifying. "Yeah, I do." He points a finger at Cas. "No.”
Castiel blinks. Dean should feel bad for him, really. He’s even more at a loss than Dean is. But it’s too freaking embarrassing. “Oh. My mistake. I thought it was the sort of thing we— people— talk about.” He’s couching his words very carefully. They’re both on the defensive, Dean thinks.
He sighs, relents a little. “Cas, I was — I was all messed up in the head, all right? I thought I’d lost you.”
"You have lost me before."
"Yeah, well, this time was different." Can’t he leave it at that?
Apparently not. “Because I’m human? Or because you had the opportunity—”
Dean stiffens, and Castiel cuts off. In the silence, a slideshow flickers quick and dim across Dean’s mind. Cas exploding in Chuck’s house. And at the cemetery. And into a pool of water, Leviathans burning his body through. And letting go in Purgatory, pushing Dean through—
"I already said we’re not talking about this," he says. "What part of no don’t you get?"
Castiel backs off. “I understand,” he says.
And he leaves it at that. He turns, walks toward the door.
"Cas," Dean says.
Stop. Turn. Hopeful. “Yes?”
Rock salt bullets, damn it. Bullets. “Nothin’.”
Castiel looks him over. “Also nothing,” he says, and leaves the room.
Doesn’t stop the army of black-eyed bastards advancing on Sam and Dean, pouring forth from the warehouse in an endless swarm that reminds Dean of an army of Uruk-hai and makes Sam look at him funny when he mentions it. They’re hiding out around a corner, waiting for the swarm to step into the traps they’ve painted all along the alleyway. It’ll be like shooting demons in a barrel.
Sam cocks his shotgun and says, out of nowhere, “So, how are you and Cas doing?”
"What?" Dean almost trips over his own boots. "What’s this me-and-Cas? There is no me-and-Cas. What the hell do you mean?”
Sam grins, and Dean gets that sinking just-stepped-into-a-tripwire feeling. “You tell me, dude. Have you guys talked about it?”
"Talked about what?" But nope, still too embarrassing to think of Sam saying it out loud, too. "No." He points at Sam just like he did at Cas. "No.”
"OK, just asking."
"Well, don’t. There’s nothing to ask about."
"OK, OK, I get it."
The first wave of demons comes around the bend ahead of the rest, and they don’t even have to shoot. Sam murmurs the exorcism and fells them before reinforcements catch wind of it. Now there’s a mountain of corpses, like sandbags, blocking their path. Dean misses the days demons used to regularly possess live people. Never happens anymore.
"You know he’s gonna come to me eventually, right?"
Dean groans. Holy mother of God, can’t anyone leave it alone?
"Dean. You know he’s gonna wanna talk about it with someone. He had to ask me in detail about why going to the bathroom was so strangely satisfying. He’s gonna ask.”
"Yeah, well… what are you gonna tell him?"
"Depends on what he asks me."
"Wrong answer." A demon peeks around the corner. Dean blows its head off. "You’re gonna tell him nothing, Sammy. Nothing. You hear me? Tell him to leave it alone."
The sound of the gunshot brings the mother lode of demons swarming around the corner. Sam lifts his shotgun over his shoulder and takes aim. “You really think that’s gonna be the end of it?”
Dean’s too busy firing to answer.
Doesn’t stop Dean from calling Charlie, just to catch up. She asks him if he’s over his breakup yet. Somehow, Dean can’t bring himself to yell at her like he’s yelled at everyone else.
Doesn’t stop Castiel from trying, one more time.
"So the reaper has granted Sam an audience with Death," he says.
"Tell me something I don’t know," Dean says, whittling his stake. He’s got nothing in mind to slay with it,but stake-whittling has always been a good use for nervous hands. Besides, he likes the way the wood peels off into ribbon-like curls on the floor.
"Are you nervous?"
"Nervous?" Dean looks at him sidelong. "I’m not the one who’s got to convince Death to allow him access to the Mouth of Hell. Compared to Sammy, I’m sitting pretty."
And Castiel sits beside him, picks up one of the curling shaves of wood from the floor and twirls it between his fingers. The fireplace casts red light on his face and on the shaving, and a strange curling dark shadow falls on Castiel’s cheek where the wood blocks the light. Dean looks at it until he realizes he’s looking, and he casts his gaze away as quickly as he can.
"It doesn’t have to be you in danger for you to be nervous," Castiel notes. "There doesn’t have to be any danger at all. I’m surprised at how nervous I seem to get at the least provocation."
"Human condition," Dean says with a shrug. "Lesson No. 1, not knowing."
"Which is why it’s frustrating when I ask and don’t get an answer."
Dean’s knife falters. He scowls at Castiel. “You’re not going there again.”
Castiel meets his gaze, “It would ease my nerves,” he says. “I don’t like being nervous whenever I’m around you, Dean. Especially since I can’t pinpoint why.”
"Just let it go." Dean’s surprised by the pleading in his own voice. "Just forget about it and then we can go back to being buddies again. No nerves, no nothing."
Castiel shakes his head. “I’m not sure that’s what I want.”
"Well, it’s all you’re gonna get." Dean clenches his fist around the knife and cuts a too-deep groove into the stake, scowling at it instead of Cas. "C’mon, Cas, we got bigger fish to fry than this. Priorities, man."
"Right," Castiel says, and settles back, watching the fire. "Priorities."
That’s when Dean realizes he’d probably better check in with Sam before the whole Death thing goes down.
"I’m good," is all Sam says. If Dean could strike that phrase from Sam’s vocabulary forever, he’d do it.
"Seriously. I’m good. Dean, the more I think about it the more I’m glad it was me who did that first trial. No offense, but… you’re not exactly the poster child for persuading people to see the up side of things."
"I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a bucket of fun." It sounds a lot less convincing than it did five (or forty-five) years ago. "Anyway, for what it’s worth, Death’s not a bad guy… for, you know, Death. He might ask you do to something crazy, but if you go with it, he’ll probably bite. Just keep your head, Sammy. You suckered that manwitch all those years ago, you can do this."
"You remember that, huh?" Sam grins.
"Course I remember it. Proud moment. Knowing I’d taught you well."
"You lost to that manwitch, the way I recall it.”
Sam raises his hands in benign surrender. “Got it. Hey, Dean, thanks for the advice.”
Dean isn’t expecting that. He tries to shrug it off. Patting Sam on the shoulder, he heads for the door.
"Can I give you some advice back?"
"Talk to Cas. Dude, you kissed him. Be a man about it, ya know? Take responsibility."
He’s talking like Dean knocked the poor guy up or something. “Why are you so keen on this?”
"Because it’s you. And it’s Cas. Look, I want you to be happy. I don’t care what shape that takes, it’s nothing to do with me. I just don’t want you closing any doors that’ll just hurt you in the end."
"That’s not what I—" Dean pauses in the doorway, bangs his head against it. "Doesn’t it freak you out? The whole concept."
And Sam shrugs and smiles. “The things we’ve been through, the things we’ve seen. Why would this freak me out?”
Dean’s got no answer. “Get some sleep, Sammy,” he says instead.
Castiel’s still sitting on the floor by the dying fire, turning over slivers of wood in his hand. It’s three a.m. Tomorrow they escort Sam to the mouth of hell.
Doesn’t stop Dean.
He crosses the room, drops to his knees, and presses his hands against Castiel’s face. “Don’t say a word,” he warns, and kisses him.