AN: A future!fic taking place in Season 8. Brief spoilers for S7 and S8.
Dean Winchester has had more breathtaking reunions than most people. But that doesn't lessen the impact of seeing Castiel resurrected from Purgatory. Castiel—who was supposed to have been eaten up by a host of angry Leviathans, who Dean was forced to leave behind—is suddenly standing a few yards away from Dean in the middle of a two lane highway around 10:30 PM, the smell of rain still lingering in the cool air and the blacktop gleaming. Castiel with his dark beard, covered in layers of grime and blood and God knows what else so thick that his clothes are unrecognizable, face dirty, eyes still blue. It's not the first time the angel has come back from the dead, but Dean's breath still catches in his chest. The world stops. A hole in Dean's heart fills up.
"Dean," Castiel says. And it's the right voice, the one that Dean remembers.
"Is it really you?" Dean says, because he doesn't trust himself. He could be dreaming. He could be hallucinating. Someone might be playing tricks on him.
Castiel nods, looking at Dean almost as if he's feeling the same awe and doubt.
Dean approaches the angel slowly, his hand reaching out as he draws near, fingers meeting the trench coat stiff with muck. Castiel doesn't move at all, waiting the same way he did when Dean found him by the stream in Purgatory. Dean's hand moves up, touching Castiel's cheek lightly at first, feeling the rough skin and the hair of Cas's beard. He cups Castiel's cheek and jaw with his whole hand, and they stand a few inches apart like that, staring into each other's eyes. Each breath they exhale turns white between them. Castiel lifts his own hand to touch the back of Dean's, but before he can cover it, Dean grabs him in a crushing hug. The mess doesn't stop him.
This time, Castiel wraps his arms around Dean.
Dean drives until the first motel he sees, a good twenty minutes in silence. Sam is asleep in shotgun, and Dean doesn't bother waking him. He glances into the rearview mirror at Cas every few moments, making sure the angel is still there. Castiel looks back at him every time.
When Dean wakes Sam to move into their room, Sam jumps in astonishment when he sees Castiel, but Dean doesn't let his brother hold them up with more than a quick hug for the angel. "He needs a hot shower and rest. We'll talk in the morning."
Sam brushes his teeth and promptly collapses into his bed, leaving Dean to take care of Cas. At Dean's instruction, Castiel sheds his clothing onto the bathroom floor and showers. Dean paces around the room with his arms crossed, waiting for the angel to come out. He's too restless to sit: ready to launch into the bathroom if he hears Cas slip, adrenaline coursing through his body from the angel's return. The room's dark, except the strip of light under the bathroom door and the dim colored lights outside that filter through the window.
After twenty minutes, the sound of the showerhead stops. Castiel emerges from the bathroom wrapped in a towel awkwardly, his hair and beard still dripping. Dean almost itches to check him over, comb his entire body for wounds or bruises or broken bones. Instead, he hands Cas an old t-shirt and a pair of boxers to sleep in. He turns his back as the angel dresses, then makes him sit down at the foot of Dean's bed. Dean dries Castiel's hair with the towel, wondering how lucid the angel is. He throws the towel across the room in the general direction of the table and pulls back the duvet and the sheets on his bed. "You're going to sleep," he says to Cas. "Whether you think you need it or not. And if you can't, then you're going to lie down and rest until Sam and I wake up."
Castiel looks at Dean in the dark. Sam breathes softly near them, face in his pillow. Dean stands in front of Castiel, waiting.
"Don't you want to know what happened?" the angel says.
Dean wants to know everything. He wants to know how Castiel got out, what happened to him after Dean left, what kind of shape he's in physically and mentally. But it's almost midnight and the angel needs to recover from being spit out of Purgatory. "You can tell me everything tomorrow, when Sam's awake. Let's just go to bed."
Dean changes into his pajamas as Castiel gets into bed, leaving space for Dean on the side closest to Sam's bed. Castiel lies on his back, left hand on his stomach, staring at the ceiling. Dean slides in next to him, lying on his back too at first. He's never shared a bed with Castiel or with any man other than Sam, for that matter. But right now, Dean doesn't care if it should be awkward. He's inches away from Castiel, thinks he can feel the warmth of the angel's body reaching his own, and he still can't believe that this is real, that Castiel is alive and here with him.
Dean only lasts a few minutes before he snaps. "I'm sorry," he says. "I should've saved you. I should've fought for you. I left you all alone in that place—" He chokes up and hates himself almost as much as he did the day Sam threw himself into Lucifer's cage.
"You did everything you could," Castiel murmurs. "I know that. You wouldn't have left if you knew I was still alive." After a pause, he says, "I was glad you got out. All I wanted was for you to survive."
Dean closes his eyes, tears rolling across his temples and into his pillow. Just when he thinks he's reached the peak of guilt, more comes. Carrying the weight of Castiel's death was bad enough. Now, he has to live knowing that the angel was alive when Dean abandoned him.
Dean's afraid his voice will fail him if he tries to speak, so he lies motionless with his lips pressed together.
"Dean," Castiel says again. He finds Dean's hand on the duvet and slips his fingers cautiously between Dean's thumb and forefinger. "Please, don't cry."
Dean can't even bother with embarrassment, doesn't try to hide his tears or pull his hand away from Cas. He's full of guilt and relief at the same time, glad beyond words to have Castiel back and worn down by the threat of Sam leaving him and the life forever, hungry to close the gates of Hell and more ragged from Purgatory and the Rambo-mode he's been in ever since he got out than he'd like to admit. He hasn't stopped since he got topside, not for anything. Not to recover from what happened to him, not to take a good look at the man he's become, not to really feel how pissed and hurt he is that Sam gave up on him so fast and wants to do it over again. It's kill, run, chase without breathing—as if he's afraid that slowing down will mean losing his shit completely. He can't afford to buckle right now. When has it ever been a good time for that?
"Dean," Castiel says, voice so soft but not a whisper. "Tell me how to comfort you."
And Dean's face breaks into a toothy smile because it can't get any more fucked up than this. He grasps the angel's hand loosely in his own. He takes a breath, a shaky breath, and considers how bold he is tonight. He turns his head on the pillow to look at Castiel, meets those eyes but can't see their color in the darkness. They look at each other for a while.
Castiel takes his hand out of Dean's and pushes himself up on one elbow, while Dean stretches out his arm across the bed in the space Castiel leaves. Castiel sinks down again next to Dean, lying on his side and pressing against Dean's, his head on Dean's chest and his arm around Dean's belly. Dean's whole body relaxes in the angel's embrace. The warm weight of Castiel: alive, whole, real. Dean can smell the soap and the shampoo the angel washed with. He can feel the breath moving in and out of Castiel's body. He can feel his own heart beating under Castiel's cheek.
Dean lays his hand over Castiel's head, feeling the soft, thick hair beneath his fingers. He doesn't know how much angel is left in Cas, but all Dean sees and feels now is a man. A man who can die, a man with a beating heart, air in his lungs, heat rising from his skin because he's alive. And Dean wants to protect him. He feels it in his blood now, the need to protect Castiel, not much different from the primal urge to protect Sam that's been part of Dean as long as he can remember. A brother is a brother. No one alive has sacrificed more for Dean than Castiel, except Sam. No one else has loved Dean as much.
This room is Dean's whole world: Sam and Cas. It's come down to them. Narrower and narrower with every death. The emptiness left behind in Dean's heart has only made more room for his love for Sam and Cas. He needs them. Just like he told Castiel in Purgatory. He needs them now more than he ever has.
He silently gives thanks. Thank you for bringing him back. And he doesn't even know who he's thanking because God left them a long time ago, if He was ever around in the first place. The Universe, Heaven, Hell, whoever's responsible for Castiel lying here with Dean: Dean thanks them.
He moves his thumb over Castiel's hair, almost as soft as down. Breathing slow and shallow under the weight of Castiel's head. He's stopped weeping. "I love you," he says.
When Castiel doesn't answer, Dean figures the angel's asleep.
Then, as Dean's on the edge of sleep, Cas says "I love you too."