Castiel's barely manifested in the motel room when Dean pounces him, Dean's lips against his and Dean's hands tight against his hips. He's too surprised to do anything but let Dean push him hard against the wall and open his mouth to the kiss when Dean insists. "Hello, Dean," he says when Dean finally pauses for breath, still baffled but very pleasantly so. "Was I gone much longer than I'd realized?"

Dean shakes his head. "Answer. Your God damned. Phone."

"Dean, don't."

"Sorry." Dean's lips twist. "Y'know what? No, I'm not sorry. That deadbeat is why you're off who knows where in the first place..."

Castiel kisses him before he can indulge his talent for creative blasphemy. "Why were you calling me? Did something happen?"

"No, it...well, there was this hunt we thought might be demon related but it was just some kids screwing around."

Castiel knows he's missing something; Dean's reaction doesn't seem to match that explanation. "If the situation wasn't serious why are you upset I didn't answer?"

Dean has that Seriously, Cas? look on his face. "Because I've been calling you for three daysand you haven't been answering. I didn't know what the hell was up with you."

Castiel slides his phone out of his pocket. "I never even heard it ring." There's a light blinking in the corner of the device he's never noticed before, but before he can investigate it Dean snatches it from his hand.

"Did you put the ringer on silent?"

"I can do that?"

Dean puts the phone on the nightstand and kisses him again; Castiel can taste Dean's favorite whiskey as he deepens the kiss, trailing one hand through Dean's hair the way that always brings out that soft little moan. Dean presses him closer against the wall and Castiel runs his other hand down Dean's arm, feeling the stored-up nervous tension start to work its way out. "You can't go that long without checking in, Cas," Dean says, looping one arm around Castiel's neck. "When me and my dad were split up on hunts we checked in regular, just so we'd know we were both alive. That's how I knew I had to get Sam and go after him, he just fell off the map." Castiel wonders if Dean realizes how hard he's shaking. "You got every jackass in Heaven after you said, anything could..." Dean bites off the words but Castiel can see the images in his mind anyway, visions of him lying alone and bleeding, or broken and empty with his wings seared into the earth.

Castiel's never known Dean worried when he was gone. He puts his fingers to Dean's lips to prevent any more words; he's never understood why but he knows emotions embarrass Dean. "I didn't mean to trouble you."

Dean's already started undoing his belt. "Yeah, well, do it again and I'll kill you myself." Castiel nods, leaning against the wall to make it easier for Dean to pull the belt free. "But you're gonna make it up to me, you got that?"

"How will I do that?" Castiel asks, although of course he knows the answer. Dean just smirks at him, winding his necktie around his hand and using it to pull him toward the bed.

Castiel's still not sure what the purpose is of that particular garment, but he's grown quite fond of this use for it.


Come dusk the next day Castiel finds himself in the Great Salt Desert with only the disappointment of another empty lead for company. He's been here before, long ago when the country surrounding it still called itself Persia; he remembers being taken with the land's stark beauty then but now the endless solitude seems hollow and mocking. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and realizes he's never checked the messages Dean left him during those three days; before he left Dean told him to erase them – his actual words were, "Look, I got pretty trashed one night, so you don't want to hear any of that. And anyway, it doesn't matter now, so just get rid of them," - but he doesn't see the harm in listening to them once. He concentrates on the procedure Dean taught him and is pleased when he's rewarded with Dean's voice: "Hey, Cas, don't know what you're up to but we've got a weird hunt here. Might be your kind of thing. Let me know." The next message comes without prompting: "Dude, scratch that. There's nothing here. Fucking frat boys." He's not sure what that means, but he presumes it has something to do with the disappointing hunt Dean mentioned.

The third is nothing more than a stretch of silence and a beep indicating an ended call, but the fourth features Dean's voice again, worry beginning to creep in: "Cas? Everything cool? You're usually pretty good about the whole phone thing. Call me back." There are two more hang up messages, then one where Dean's voice is hushed, making Castiel wonder if he was trying to not wake Sam: "I'm gonna crash. Cas, if something's up just do your dream thing, okay?" There's a pause, and then, "You know me and Sam will come get you if you need it, right? It doesn't matter where you are. Let us know."

Castiel sits on the ground and wraps his free arm around his knees as the messages continue to play; the wind is biting at night and he has to duck his face down to keep the stinging sand and salt out of this eyes. The next one is just a location, "Twin River Motel, Minneapolis," then one is timestamped less than a minute after: "Your feathery ass had better show up today, Cas." There isn't another one until late that night – Castiel wonders if they'd managed to find another hunt so quickly - and Dean does sound rather intoxicated: "Cas," he says, his voice low and dangerous in a way Castiel's only heard a handful of times, "if anyone's got you I'm gonna cut their fucking hearts out, you know that. And if someone's got this phone and is hearing this, you listen-" Castiel advances past the message; he knows that's one of the ones Dean hadn't wanted him to hear.

There's another empty message, then one with just a short, frustrated, "Fuck." The last one is from two hours before Castiel showed up: "Cas, I swear, I'm gonna kick your ass if you keep this up...I don't know why I keep leaving these, you probably don't even know how to check them. Shit." That makes Castiel smile, because at the time it was certainly true.

He knows it's a weakness, but when the option comes to play the messages again Castiel chooses it. Angels aren't meant to endure loneliness. All his existence he's had the thoughts of his brothers and sisters running through his mind but since his exile there's only been silence. He's never appreciated before the comfort of a concerned voice on a cold night.

When the voice tells him to press nine to save the messages Castiel does so. He thinks Dean would understand.