The first call, the only call, came about a month after Castiel disappeared. Dean had given up carrying the thing around, he almost missed it. Digging through a drawer in the kitchen he grabbed it just as it gave a final ring.
"Uh...Mr Winchester? This is a little unusual but...one of our residents would like to speak to you. Normally I wouldn't, well, we wouldn't, allow it. But your number is the only thing we found on him."
For the second time Dean found himself in his car, speeding towards a hospital. When he got there it was too familiar, the nurse, the ward and Cas. Castiel sitting on a bed in a little white room. When he made a move towards the door a hand stopped him.
"Son, before you go in there just...take a second." The middle aged nurse turned him away from the door and lowered her voice. "I don't know what they told you on the phone but your friend, he's a little confused. Just be prepared you know?" Dean couldn't think of anything to say. He opened the door.
"Cas?" His head snapped up at the intrusion. He formed an uncertain smile.
"I guess." Dean's taken aback. He's looking into the face of Jimmy Novak, or what Jimmy looked like in his photos. The easy smile and open face of someone who has never suffered.
"You know who I am?" Dean edges further into the room and takes a seat in a chair near the window.
"Should I?" He actually seems worried that he's offended him.
"Yeah." Dean can't begin to cover why Castiel should know him. This is Castiel, he's sure of it. Despite the appearance of Jimmy's easy humanity there's still something about him. Something uniquely Cas.
"Sorry." The frown that crosses his face is one of self-doubt.
"It's ok. Uh...they found my number on your cell, 's why I'm here. Do you remember..."
"No" Cas cuts him off with a small smile "I can safely say I don't."
"Nothing?" Another frown.
"Pain. I guess that's why I don't know anything. They only have my name because..." He laughs to himself.
"It was written on my arm." He looks at Dean as if expecting an explanation. Dean just looks confused. "I know! someone found me in a parking lot with 'Castiel' written on me in permanent marker. It's bizarre."
"Not really." He seems unconcerned, but then he's had a week to get used to this. "I had a suit. They found a cell phone in the pocket. Had your number in it." He nods at Dean "Other than that...just noise and pain."
"Noise?" Dean's voice is sharper than he intended.
"Like screaming, higher and on and on...probably a siren or something." Dean doesn't respond. Angel noise, it has to be. An angel has been speaking to Castiel. Castiel who is currently, mysteriously human. Dean knows Cas must have been in trouble, is that why he left the phone? Had he know this would happen? Castiel waves a hand to attract his attention.
"So...how do I know you?" His head's on one side, hair falling messily. He looks younger than Dean, younger than Sam even.
"and...come on, are we family? Roommates? You date my sister in college?" Underneath the joke Dean can sense Cas's interest. He's working it out.
"We just, know each other." Dean knows it's a lame answer, He turns his attention briefly to the window. Cas's next question comes from behind him.
"Have we slept together?" Dean whips round and faces the level blue gaze of the man on the bed. Cas's eyebrows draw together, he knows.
"Huh." He rubs a hand self consciously across the sole of his foot. "Interesting."
"It's not..." Dean can't let it just lie there, can't let Castiel think whatever it is he's thinking. "I have a girlfriend, and a son."
"So I'm just..." he looks confused "What am I exactly?"
"There were circumstances" Dean stands up awkwardly and sits on the end of the bed. Castiel doesn't flinch away, he seems intent on the conversation now. "You were kinda stuck where you didn't want to be. We were stuck in the same...mess." The loosest, fuzziest definition of apocalypse. "And...it happened."
He feels the need to defend it, those nights of guilty, desperate pleasure. Because it wasn't how he's making it sound, cold and lonely. It was a catalyst, the exact circumstances that made them work together. Humanity meant Castiel suddenly being able to feel, made him warm and alive and responsive. Angelic Castiel, for all he was similar, had lost that.
Memories that he's successfully repressed until now take their cue and jump him. The feel of Cas's body sliding against his own. The muscles at the base of his spine twitching against Dean's stomach. The overwhelming sensation of being inside him. The way Cas would curl up afterwards, messy, damp hair pressed into the hollow under his jaw. The mindless, breathless sounds he made when...
"Wow." Dean's snapped back to the present. Cas is watching him intently, eyes wide and almost disbelieving. "You're not making it up."
"No" Dean's voice has dried up. He coughs. "No, I'm not."
Castiel closes the small space between them and runs a hand up to Dean's shoulder, kneading the muscle slightly. Dean can feel the need there, Cas is testing it, feeling for any sign that he belongs. Between the onslaught of memories and the warm hand against his skin he almost looses it. For a second he enjoys the contact, then reluctantly pulls away.
"Sorry." Castiel draws himself back against the headboard and crosses his legs. "Guess I'm kind of a cheap imitation, huh?"
"No." Dean rubs a hand over his face "It's just...you left. There was a good reason but you left and...it's complicated, but you couldn't come back. Now here you are."
"Did I want to come back?"
"I don't know."
"So, the reason I couldn't come back. Is that still...God this is too weird, talking about myself like this."
"I hear that." Dean sinks back onto the bed. "I don't know, I think all this, the memory loss? I think it's you. You did something so you could come back. You left your name and my number so I could find you" Cas raises an eyebrow "I know that sounds crazy."
"Almost." Castiel stretches suddenly, frowning as if his own movement surprised him. "So, how does this work? Can I go home now? Or, uh...do I have to stay here?"
"The hospital's gonna let you come home with me, just, if anyone asks? Your last name is Winchester."
"Got it." Castiel gets to his feet and pushes his feet into the shoes by the bed. "Uh...Dean?"
"You called me Cas...that's not my name." He's watching him carefully, knowing almost instantly that he's said something wrong. "If you want you can..."
"No, it's...I can stick with Castiel."
In the car they sit in silence. Dean absorbs himself in the task of driving but can't relax. Castiel is sitting next to him, less than a foot away, and he's still not with him. Almost as if he senses Dean's discomfort Castiel breaks the silence.
"What am I like?"
"What?" He turns to Dean with a look that Dean's seen many times before. The verging on impatient gaze of someone with no time for tact.
"You heard me Dean."
"Ok, you were kind of a dick."
A very unangelic snort of laughter interrupts him. He can't help but smile.
"Then you changed, got a little more relatable. Easier to be with." He doesn't want to draw this out, thinking about Cas is not something he indulges in often. But he owes him this. His history, or as much of it as this man can understand.
"And I changed back?"
"You, uh...yeah you changed, you couldn't help it I guess."
"You're not telling me everything."
"No I'm not" Dean sighs "Look, this memory loss thing? I hope to God it's not permanent, because if it is? I might have to tell you everything and it's not all stuff you're going to like... or be able to deal with."
Castiel gives him a long look.
"What if I don't want to know." Dean meets his eye, but it takes a lot of effort.
"Then I can give you some money, get you set up, and then leave you the hell alone. Whatever you want." He pauses then says the words that just occurred to him. He means them, more than he can make Castiel understand. "You deserve it. Whatever you want."
"What about you?" his voice deepens as it softens, lowering to the tone Dean remembers from the motel. The night Cas became human. "What do you want?" Dean wants to, but he can't say. It's not fair to Castiel. That the one thing he wants is to know what they are to each other. To fall back into their pre-apocalypse life.
"Hell if I know"
Castiel stays at Lisa's for a week. A week of snatching sleep on the couch, eating dinner with the weight of silence hanging over him. Dean isn't surprised when he asks to leave. He finds the ex-angel an apartment over a hardware store. Pays the rent himself from his limited construction pay check. They say goodbye awkwardly and Dean doesn't hear from him again. After two months he gets a letter, a cheque for the rent he fronted Castiel and notice that Cas's found a job.
A few weeks later he gets another letter. This one isn't from Castiel. It's a letter from his grandfather, a short bitter note to let him know that the angels finally got to Sam. Sam's been missing for just over three days. The enochian seals were breached. Dean feels the knowledge settle in his chest. There for the long haul. He's failed his brother, again.
He's not sure exactly how he winds up at Castiel's apartment. Walking through the streets gone midnight he's taken a few wrong turns and ended up right outside. He's drunk, naturally. It's only after he's climbed the concrete steps and knocked on the door that he remembers. Cas is gone. What kind of reception can he expect from a stranger?
Castiel opens the door before he can head back to Lisa's. He's barefoot, wearing a faded T-shirt and pyjama pants. Mentally Dean curses. Normal people slept at 2am.
"Dean?" Castiel opens the door wider and squints tiredly at him. Before Dean can think of a response, Castiel takes in his rumpled and more than slightly drunk appearance. "What's wrong?"
It's so easy to go inside, following Cas into the tiny living room. Sitting on the worn couch and watching him take a seat opposite, waiting for an explanation. He looks so patient, almost Castiel again. But Dean knows the difference. Castiel fell and because of that Dean's lost the one person he's been comfortable with in a good long while.
"I...uh...my brother, Sam, he's...He's gone missing." He shakes his head to clear it and corrects himself " 'cept I know where he is, I just can't get him back." To his credit Castiel doesn't bat an eye at this. Dean heaves a sigh and closes his eyes. Now or never. "Angel's took him."
"Yeah, I know it sounds crazy. But all that stuff..." He ticks off on his fingers "Angels, demons, wendigos, the devil, God...maybe" He checks to see how Castiel is taking this and sees that he's frowning warily. "Yeah, believe me I am right there with you. Sometimes I can't believe the shit out there but, me and Sam? We used to fight that stuff."
"You fought, angels?"
"Hey, some of them are frickin nuts!" He barks nervous laughter. He didn't mean to tell Cas everything, he must be completely wasted.
"But, uh...well the thing is, you were one. An angel."
"That's...probably the craziest thing you've said so far." But he's gone quiet, can't summon up as much fear or anger as he should. Dean spots something in his eyes. All of this is resonating.
"You were, and a dick, naturally. But then you helped us" He smiles without much humour "we saved the world. You got screwed over by God big time though, I mean, you lost your powers, everything. But you still helped. Then they took you back."
"I think..." Castiel's groping for something, the strain of remembering creases his forehead. "At the hospital, they gave me something for nightmares...night terrors. I saw things like that, the end of days and..."
The spark he saw in Castiel back at the hospital dies suddenly. His face loses its new youth and becomes thoughtful. Dean realises that Castiel believes him, maybe he doesn't remember it happening. But he knows it did.
There's something else too. Dean knows, without any doubt, that the one thing Castiel can remember is his fall. The part of the dreams that remains unshared, the pain of tearing out his own grace. The shadow in his eyes is so much like the one in his own, the one that surfaces with the memories of hell.
Castiel remembers now and it's all his fault.
He's ruined Castiel's life in one drunken rant.
"Cas? uh, Castiel? I didn't..."
"Cas" It's faint but the voice still carries authority "It's Cas. I know."
"I'm...God, I need a bigger word than sorry." Dean can't bring himself to look him in the eye. "I shouldn't of come here..."
It's a combination of alcohol and shock that blur the next few seconds. One moment he's staring at his boots, crushed by the weight of what he's taken from Castiel. The next he's pressed into the back of the couch, Castiel kneeling in front of him, hand on his neck pulling him into a kiss. He responds without thinking, mercifully, and the arm wraps closer around him. It's been nearly two years since he last felt this. Castiel breaks away first, panting, and swallows nervously.
"I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm doing this."
Cas's mouth hits his again. Dean's hands fall to his waist, instinctively tugging at the fabric. The other man breaks the kiss again and fixes him with a look. Uncertainty warring with lust.
"Sorry, I..." Dean starts to back off but Castiel's mouth moves to his neck, short circuiting the sentence en route. Dean's voice locks in his throat, producing only a strangled groan. A light hand fumbles with his belt, urgency overcoming clumsiness.
"Cas" he can't help the rawness in his voice "Cas...please..." His mouth covers Dean's again.
They wake up on the floor by the couch, cushions pawed to the floor around them, half covered in a plaid blanket. Dean's back is against the base of the couch, Cas is facing away from him with his head on Dean's outstretched arm. For a second Dean almost believes he's in Bobby's spare room. Castiel shifts and presses back against him, Dean's arm tightens around his waist.
"Do you remember why?" He asks suddenly. Knowing Castiel is awake, knowing he will understand the meaning of the question.
"No alternative." The reply is bleary and half smothered against his skin as Cas turns into his shoulder. "It was worth it though."
"The pain or the amnesia?"
"Both" Dean moves slightly, trying to get more comfortable on the threadbare carpet.
"Who do you think it was anyway, speaking to you?"
"No one" Castiel sits up slightly and from his suddenly grave expression Dean knows he isn't going to like what's coming. "It was me, the pain of removing my grace..." He notices Dean's expression and leans against him to soften the blow of his words. "Dean, imagine my true voice, screaming."
Dean can't bring himself to think about it. Castiel has suffered, suffered a huge amount to be here. On the floor of a shabby apartment, naked and entwined with him underneath a scratchy blanket. From the first night he gained humanity this is what they've been heading for. All the rest, Sam torturing Castiel, Sam being taken and him losing Cas over and over again. It's bought him this. This time.
The idea alone is ludicrous. So is the notion that he would leave Lisa and his son, his whole goddamn fairytale, for this. Whatever it is it's not normal. It's not the apple pie life. It certainly won't be restful or easy.
But that doesn't mean it isn't going to go that way.