Chapter 1

"What the hell was that?" Dean demanded angrily, finally breaking the silence in the car after a good two or three hours. Both brothers had spent the first half of the drive with stiff jaws and clenched fists, neither wanting to confront the other and start the inevitable fight that was brewing. But apparently Dean had had enough; he needed to let off some steam.

"What are you asking me for? I didn't do anything wrong!" Sam snapped. "It was your stupid idea in the first place, and you're the one who screwed it all up."

"I screwed up? Really? Because last I checked you were supposed to follow my lead and have my back, not go off on your own and leave me alone with a freaking shifter!" Dean glared at his brother.

"Well excuse me for thinking you could handle yourself for two seconds without me," the younger Winchester said in a voice positively dripping with sarcasm.

"You can't just disappear like that, Sam!" Dean almost shouted. "I had no idea what was going on and you were just gone!"

"What do you want me to do, give you a play-by-play of everything I do? 'Dean, I'm taking two steps to the right, now I'm going one step forward, Dean I'm gonna stab the shifter now, I'm raising my arm –'"

"Cut the crap, Sam, I'm serious," Dean hissed. "Don't joke around about this. You could've gotten hurt."

"I'm a big boy, I can go for all of 60 seconds without you watching my back," Sam rolled his eyes. "You're so damn protective. Lay off a little."

Dean's grip tightened on the steering wheel and his knuckles turned white as his face turned increasingly deeper shades of red. He grumbled to himself before punching the power button on the radio, blasting Motor Head to help ease the tension that was suffocatingly heavy in the small car.

The rest of the drive to Bobby's was uneventful, Sam staring out his window in a pout and Dean focusing unusually hard on the road. They pulled up outside the house and started bickering again before they even got to the front door.

"Go ahead, take your anger out on my car, Sam. Could you have slammed the door any harder?"

"Jesus, you're even protective of your car, just give it a rest."

"One more word, I swear..."

"What are you gonna do, huh? Beat me up for saving your life back there? That's one hell of a way to say thanks."

As they entered the cluttered living room, Bobby stood up from his seat on the couch, bottle in hand.

"Nice to see you too, boys," he chuckled, looking back and forth between the two obviously pissed off hunters. "There's more beer in the kitchen."

"I got it," Dean muttered, leaving the room and his brother as fast as he could.

Bobby resumed his place next to Sam as the bigger man settled on the couch. "Tough job?"

"You have no idea." Sam closed his eyes and leaned his head back, taking a deep breath. "He is so on edge. I think he just needs a break for a while. He's been going nonstop since..."

"Yeah," Bobby murmured in agreement. Though Sam had trailed off, they both knew exactly what he was talking about. "Maybe you boys should just stay here for awhile, let him settle down before you run off again. Wouldn't mind havin' some company around here."

Sam looked over at Bobby and nodded appreciatively. "Yeah, sure. Thanks."

The older hunter grunted and took a swig of his beer as Dean returned with two more bottles, one of which he tossed to Sam before opening and gulping down his own. "I'm tired, where can I crash?" he asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

"I only got this here couch and that panic room downstairs," Bobby told him.

Glancing at Sam sitting comfortably on the couch, Dean sighed, "Thanks. I'll be downstairs. Don't wake me up." And then he was gone again.

Bobby shook his head. "That boy sure is upset about somethin', ain't a doubt in my mind it's that angel of his. How long s'it been?"

"Almost a year now." Sam kicked off his boots and propped his feet up on the coffee table. "You'd think he'd just send Dean a message or something, tell him where he is or why he even left in the first place. But we haven't heard anything."

"Damn shame. And to think, I was starting to like him, too."

"Dean! Dean wake up! Get up!"

The older Winchester groaned, "I thought I told you not to wake me up." He waved a hand, shooing his brother away without opening his eyes.

"Dean, it's Cas. You gotta get up man. He's hurt."

Dean's eyes shot open and he was out of bed in a flash. "What? Where? How?"

"Come on." Sam tugged at his shirt and pulled him up the stairs, still blinking sleep out of his eyes. "I don't know how he got here but something's wrong with him, he won't talk to me, he's just asking for you and he looks bad –"

Dean stopped short when they reached the living room. Bobby was kneeling over the couch with a wet rag in his hand, trying to get it onto Castiel's forehead, but the angel wouldn't lie still. Despite the strong hands holding his shoulders down, he kept reaching upwards, trying to sit up, frantically calling out, "Dean! Dean!"

Immediately the hunter was at his side. "I'm here, Cas. Lay down. Be still."

Castiel relaxed almost instantly when he heard Dean's voice. He settled against the pillow propped behind his back and shut his eyes, trying to slow his jagged, uneven breathing. He was covered in sweat and his vessel was in bad shape. It looked as if he hadn't slept or eaten in days, dark circles under his eyes and skin stretched tight over angled bones. Dean never noticed how tiny Jimmy's body was; now he looked especially fragile, thin and bony and swallowed up by the trench coat he was wearing, which had never looked so big on him before. Dean's eyes trailed over the dark, messy hair, the light stubble on his chin, the sculpted cheekbones and jawline.

It had been almost a year since he'd seen that face. They had just finished a hunt, were celebrating with burgers and beers at a diner, having a great time. One second Castiel was there, pressed into Dean's side, talking and even cracking a small smile at one point – and then he was gone without a word. Just left and didn't come back or call or send a message. Dean had no idea where he was, what happened to him, how he was doing... until now.

"What happened, Cas?" he whispered, bringing a hand up to lay on his shoulder.

The angel hissed at the contact, obviously in pain. He looked up at Dean with what seemed to be tears in his bright blue eyes. "I am injured," he stated simply.

Dean sighed in exasperation. "I know... but how? Where? What hurts?"

Castiel flicked his gaze nervously at Sam and Bobby before settling back on Dean. "My... everything. It all hurts," he whimpered.

"What do you need? Ice? Heat? Water?" Dean asked, gently but forcefully. When he didn't get an immediate response, he added, "I need to know how to help you, Cas." He rubbed the angel's arm tenderly, soothing him.

"Water," Castiel finally gasped after a moment, still unable to get his breathing under control.

"Sam, get water," Dean barked without moving his eyes away from Castiel's face. The younger Winchester rolled his eyes before rushing to the kitchen and bringing back a full glass of cold water, which he handed off to his brother.

Dean raised the glass to Castiel's mouth and helped him take a small sip. However, as soon as the cool liquid touched his lips, he recoiled and yelped, "No! Too cold!"

Dean thrust the glass at Sam again. "Warm water."

"Right away, your highness," he muttered, nevertheless running into the kitchen again without hesitation.

Dean noticed that Castiel had goosebumps and that he was shaking. "Are you cold Cas? Bobby, get some blankets," he demanded. He stood to help, but Castiel clutched his arm with frail fingers and held it tight, staring up at him with pleading eyes. So instead he settled back on the couch, allowing himself to be pulled down to lie beside the angel and circling his arms around him, sharing his body heat.

Sam returned with another glass of water – warmer this time – and raised a questioning eyebrow at his brother, who was practically spooning the other man. But Dean ignored him, taking the water and holding it up for Castiel, who drank it eagerly.

Bobby spread an old ragged blanket out over the two men and then stepped back, chuckling. "Well ain't that cute."

Dean glared at him. "This isn't funny."

"It's a little funny," Sam smirked.

"I feel better," Castiel murmured, rolling over and burying his face in a very surprised Dean's chest. "I'm going to sleep now."

True to his word, he fell asleep almost immediately, curled up against the hunter, arms wrapped around his torso.

Dean looked up at Bobby and Sam helplessly. "What do I do?" he whispered.

Sam grinned, "Take a nap with your boyfriend, I guess." He grabbed his abandoned beer from the coffee table and sauntered out of the room, not even attempting to hide his laughter.

Dean turned to Bobby, eyes begging him for help, but the older man just shrugged and followed Sam out with his own hearty chuckle.

Dean groaned. He looked down at the sleeping angel on his chest and debated whether or not he should try to get up before deciding he was actually pretty comfortable. He shifted slightly to lay down better and Castiel moved with him, slotting their bodies together with ease. It was a tight fit on the narrow couch, but it was kind of nice, Dean thought. He tightened his hold around the smaller man and closed his eyes, picking up his nap from where he left off.

Sam leaned against the hood of an old car in Bobby's salvage yard, looking sadly at his empty beer bottle. Sure there were more in the fridge inside, but he was too lazy to move. It was warm out, and he was watching the sunset, which he didn't get to do very often.

He was glad that Castiel had shown up. Worried, yeah, but still glad. Ever since he disappeared, Dean had gotten even more angsty and hard-headed than usual. Hopefully they would sort things out so Sam could go back to being able to have a normal conversation with his brother without getting into a full-blown fight. From the way the two men were cuddled up on the couch, it looked like there was a pretty good chance of that happening.

Suddenly he felt a slight breeze and heard a rustle of wings beside him. He jumped to his feet and tensed up, but relaxed when he realized who it was.

"Hey there, Sammy," Gabriel greeted him with a smirk, caramel colored eyes twinkling. "Long time no see, eh? How're things in Winchester World?"

"Uh, fine, I guess," the tall hunter replied. "What are you doing here?"

"Can't ever stop by just to catch up with friends then, huh?" The archangel sat on the faded blue car and patted the spot next to him, where Sam joined him. "You're right though, I am here for a reason. Unfortunately, not a very good one. Lil bro is in some trouble."

"What, you mean Cas?" Sam asked. "You know what happened to him?"

"Not completely... but what I do know ain't any good." Gabriel shook his head. "Poor kid got his grace ripped out."

"He what?! How? Why?"

"One question at a time, buddy," the archangel chuckled. "But I don't really know the answer to any of 'em. All I know is, we gotta find that grace. It's not good for it to be out there in the open, up for grabs like that. Plus, we oughta get it back to Castiel. Without it, he's pretty much completely human, and he's not gonna be too happy about that."

Sam nodded and stood up. "Okay then, let's go get it."

"Whoa whoa whoa," Gabriel held up his hands, an amused smile in his eyes, "slow down there, partner. I'm glad you're all up and armed, but we don't even know where to start looking yet. That's why I came to you; you can use all those nerdy research skills of yours to figure out where this thing might've landed."

Sam nodded again. "C'mon inside, I'll grab my laptop." He turned and set off for the house.

When he made his way back into the living room, laptop and Bobby in tow, he found the archangel staring at the two sleeping men intertwined on the couch.

"It's kinda creepy to watch people sleeping, ya know," Sam pointed out.

"They're a cute couple," Gabriel snickered before turning his back to them.

"If Dean ever hears you say that, he's gonna hit you so hard."

"Dean-o would never hit me! He likes me."

"Yeah, right," Bobby snorted. "Let's just get crackin' on this grace thing before more trouble starts showin' up at my door."

Castiel woke slowly, melting into the warmth surrounding him. He buried his face in the soft fabric he was laying on, breathing in a familiar smell, one that he loved. Sort of earthy, mixed with aftershave and motor oil... His eyes flew open as he realized – he was laying on top of Dean. He glanced up anxiously, but the hunter hadn't woken up yet. His face was relaxed and his full lips were slightly parted, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm.

Castiel settled back on his human pillow, inhaling deeply and memorizing his scent. He moved his hand and ran his fingers down the muscles of Dean's stomach, admiring the firm, defined curves that were visible through the thin t-shirt. He wondered if Jimmy had muscles like that. He had never looked – he had never showered, or changed clothes. He had never needed to.

Come to think of it, he had never slept either. This whole waking-up thing should have freaked him out, but it didn't. He felt... warm, content, safe. And he was pretty sure that had a lot to do with the fact that he was with Dean.

The angel wasn't afraid to admit that he had feelings for Dean – not-so-friendly feelings, either. They were much deeper than that. They had been there since he pulled the hunter from Hell, but he had never known what to do with them, so he never did anything. Just was there when he was needed, watched over and protected his charge. Sometimes he thought maybe the feelings were mutual, but other times he was certain they weren't.

Whatever Dean felt, Castiel was willing to just love him however he was allowed to. Now, he was laying with him, being held by him, and he cherished it, knowing that he may not get this chance again.

He laid there in silence trailing curious fingers across the hunter's stomach for a few precious moments while he slept. Much too soon, Dean began to stir, and Castiel stilled his hand and shut his eyes, waiting to be pushed away.

He felt Dean inhale sharply and the larger man's hands jumped, hovering uncertainly over Castiel's body. Then, to the angel's surprise, he chuckled softly and let his arms fall back down, actually tightening his hold on Castiel. He rubbed a hand in small circles on his back and murmured softly, "Morning, sunshine."

Castiel shifted gently, moving his head to meet Dean's gaze, instantly mesmerized by the shining green eyes. "I believe it's actually rather late in the evening," he stated matter-of-factly.

Dean chuckled again, and Castiel felt the vibrations rumble through him. "You feeling better?"

He nodded enthusiastically. "Much better."

The smiling face above him suddenly took on a more serious look. "What happened to you, Cas?" Dean asked quietly.

The angel broke eye contact, laying his head back down. "I... don't remember."

"You're a terrible liar."

He sighed heavily. "I think... I lost my grace."

"You what?"

He could feel the concerned eyes on him, but Castiel refused to meet them with his own. "I lost my grace," he repeated.

"You lost it? How? Why?"

"What is it with you Winchesters, asking a million questions at once?" Dean and Castiel jumped away from each other at the sound of the taunting voice from the other side of the room, causing the smaller man to tumble ungracefully down to the floor. Gabriel smirked as he sauntered into the living room, Sam and Bobby at his heels.

"Gabriel? What are you doing here?" Dean asked as he sat up and reached out a hand to help Castiel up off the floor.

"Just dropping by to say hello to my favorite happy couple," he grinned. "How was your nap, gentlemen?"

Before Dean could shoot out a nasty comeback, Castiel began explaining to his brother, "Gabriel, I am in need of your help. I think I lost –"

"Your grace, I know, I know." The archangel motioned over to the other two hunters. "We're on it."

"Actually, I'm glad you're up," said Sam, walking over to the fallen angel, "because I wanted to see if you could help us. If you remember falling or anything."

Castiel furrowed his brow and tilted his head. "I don't believe I remember anything. Just..." He glanced over at Dean, who was watching him with worry on his face. He decided to leave out how painful the fall was, how awful it was to have his grace ripped out of him, because he knew it would just concern the hunter even more. "Just darkness," he finished finally. He met his brother's eyes and they shared a knowing look. Gabriel understood Castiel's pain, but also understood his desire to keep it hidden.

The younger Winchester shook his head with disappointment. "Guess I gotta get to work then. I'll be in the study." He hurried off, determined to find some answers, soon followed by the archangel after he nodded at his brother and shot a quick wink at Dean.

Bobby handed Dean a beer and pointed at Castiel. "You oughta get him cleaned up. I imagine falling from heaven's gonna leave a couple bruises."

The angel's eyes widened with panic. He had never been injured like this before – like a human. He was always able to heal himself quickly and he had never really felt any pain from simple wounds. But now that he thought about it, he did feel slightly uncomfortable and sore in some places, and when he moved there was a sharp pain in his ribs.

Dean grunted and swung his legs around to stand up. "C'mon, Cas, there's a bathroom upstairs we can use."

Castiel rose to his feet, but he swayed a little, still weak. His hand flew out and held onto Dean tightly, who put an arm around his shoulders and held him steady.

"You okay buddy?"

Castiel nodded and allowed the hunter to guide him up the stairs and into the bathroom. Dean then lifted him up and placed him gently on the counter next to the sink before rummaging through the cabinet for first aid supplies. He found some rubbing alcohol and a washcloth along with some bandages and gauze.

"Let's get you outta this coat, huh?" Dean began stripping Castiel of his clothes, starting with the old trench coat. He peeled off layer after layer, unbuttoning the suit jacket and the white shirt, undoing the tie and throwing it carelessly on the floor along with the rest of the clothes. He motioned for Castiel to lift up his arms so he could pull off the thin undershirt, but the fallen angel winced and cried out when he tried.

He looked up at Dean, vision blurred with tears. "It hurts," he rasped.

"I know, I know," the hunter soothed him, cupping his cheek with one hand and resting the other on his thigh. "Where?"

"My back and my shoulders," Castiel whimpered.

Dean stood between Castiel's legs and moved his hands around to grip the hem of Castiel's shirt, moving forward until their cheeks brushed together and he felt him lean into the touch. He carefully lifted the undershirt as high as he could, gasping at what he saw in the mirror.

"Oh my God, Cas..."

Deep blue and purple spots marked Castiel's shoulders, blending together so they looked as if it was one giant black bruise covering his back. No wonder he was in such immense pain. There were tiny tears in the skin along his spine, as if it had just stretched too far and ripped apart, leaving streaks of dried blood on the inside of his shirt. He hissed when he felt calloused fingers trail over the open cuts.

"Sorry," Dean apologized quickly, drawing his hand back. He pulled away and green eyes found watery blue ones. "I'm gonna try to clean you up, but it might hurt... a lot. I promise I'll be as fast as I can, okay?"

Castiel sniffled and nodded his head. "I trust you, Dean."

Dean just stared at him a moment longer, his face reflecting the sadness and pain he saw in his friend's, almost as if he could feel what his angel felt. Finally he sighed and reached over for the rubbing alcohol, which he poured onto the washcloth. He hesitated over Castiel's back, grimacing, then gingerly dabbed it on one of the cuts.

Castiel stifled his scream by biting down on the hunter's shoulder hard enough to draw blood. Dean's free hand flew to the back of his head, cradling it against him as he moved swiftly with the cloth over Castiel's back.

"It's almost over, I'm almost done," he whispered into Castiel's ear. With one last swipe, he had cleaned all of the open wounds, and he dropped the bloodied cloth into the sink as he gripped the shaking body in his arms and rocked back and forth.

"It's okay, you're okay, we're finished," he repeated over and over, though fingernails still dug into his back and strangled cries were still muffled into his shoulder. Finally the sobs subsided into sniffles and the small form relaxed against him.

"The worst part's over," Dean sighed, "but I still gotta put these bandages on, okay? Are you with me?" He felt the nod and reached over to get the gauze without letting go of Castiel, who still clutched him tightly.

Castiel breathed deeply, trying to calm himself. That hadn't been nearly as painful as the actual fall, but he couldn't help his reactions, feeling utterly, helplessly human when he lost control. As he was being wrapped up by sure, gentle hands, he realized how comforting it was to have Dean taking care of him. The sound of his voice and the warmth of his touch instantly made him feel better. He nestled further into Dean's chest and breathed in his scent. He didn't even notice when the hunter stopped working on his back.

"You okay, Cas?"

"Mmm." The ex-angel didn't want to move from his safe embrace and he savored the last few seconds.

"Come on," Dean murmured, backing up from between Castiel's legs and moving around to his side. He scooped him up in his arms like a child and carried him out of the bathroom, back downstairs where he laid him down on the couch again. Castiel settled on his stomach, avoiding putting pressure on his aching back. Dean tucked the blanket around him and whispered, "Sleep now."

Dean watched as Castiel's breathing slowly evened out and he fell into a deep sleep. He resisted the urge to reach out and caress his cheek, run his fingers through that dark hair, lay beside him and protect him. It was strange, caring for Castiel. Their roles were reversed. But as Dean gazed down at his fallen angel, he thought to himself, it felt good to finally be able to give back to the one who had given everything for him.