Dean awoke the next morning, cramped and aching in the Impala, with the distinct feeling that he was being watched.
"I am not watching you," said Cas. Dean jumped.
"Jesus fucking Christ, Cas," he said, hand on his heart.
He did have a few questions; namely as to why there was an angel of the Lord lying alongside him in the back passenger seat of the Impala, pressed up against his side so closely that he was starting to lose feeling in his left side. He felt a flutter of nervousness in the pit of his belly. Why the Hell was Cas here? Had he overheard his argument with Sam somehow and come to offer some misguided sort of comfort? Or worse – had he been somehow telepathically privy to Dean's big gay revelation?
"I highly doubt that Jesus had anything to do with this situation," Cas retorted, still lying alongside Dean, pressed far too close for comfort. Dean cleared his throat.
"And what is our situation?" he asked carefully. "Because I gotta say, Cas, your personal space issues aren't exactly improving."
"That is also irrelevant." Cas turned to look at Dean, and Dean hastily looked away. Looking directly into Cas' eyes right now was probably not the best idea, all things considered.
"Then tell me something relevant," he said, staring at the roof of the Impala. There was a small scuff on the interior upholstery. He'd kill Sam.
"It appears as though, without our knowledge, we have been subjected to a bonding ritual," Cas replied, and sighed. "I accept, it isn't entirely convenient."
Dean blinked. It was too early in the morning for this shit.
"We're bonded? Isn't that like, angel married?" he asked. Did this have anything to do with last night? He felt a cold sort of dread knot itself in his stomach and work its way up his spinal cord. Sam was going to have a field day with this.
Cas looked at him.
"No. Bonding is a very complex ritual which requires explicit written consent from both parties," he explained, talking slowly as though Dean were that child who sat at the back of the classroom and had special after-school sessions with the teaching aid. Dean swallowed. He didn't really need to hear Cas say 'explicit' while he was in this position. "We are not bonded, not exactly, but there is a form of bond present."
Dean shifted position so he was half sitting up and no longer touching Cas, back propped against the door of the Impala. It wasn't comfortable, but it did alleviate some of the tension in his left kidney.
"So what, we're angel engaged?"
"No, Dean. Put your hand back on my leg." Dean blinked, and Cas made an impatient noise in the back of his throat. "Or anywhere else."
"Because in about two seconds, you'll be in blinding pain."
"What are you – son of a bitch!"
The pain was sudden and, despite Cas' warning, unexpected, like a cold rush of water to the brain or a knife to the skull. Dean hissed, and through the blinding wall of agony he heard Cas sigh before he grabbed Dean's hand. As suddenly as the pain had started, it stopped. Dean inhaled and exhaled heavily, trying to regulate his racing pulse. What the Hell was that?
Cas looked at him with relative sympathy as Dean's hand shook in his.
"What the Hell was that?" Dean asked. Cas blinked.
"The bond," he replied.
"Cas, if that's what a bond feels like, then I'm surprised that the rate of angel divorce isn't sky-rocketing."
"I have already told you that we do not share a marital bond," Cas retorted, and Dean wondered why he'd even woken up today. He still had to explain all this to Sam. He wasn't looking forward to that conversation. "It is rather a more complicated bond to explain."
"Every time we stop touching, I feel like the subject of a Taylor Swift song. You'd better try to explain."
Cas looked away from Dean. Dean swallowed.
"Are you familiar with the concept of arranged marriage?" Cas finally asked. Dean frowned.
"Yeah, a little. Why?" he replied, his heart rate beginning to increase again. That was never a good opening question to a conversation.
Cas met Dean's eyes again, and Dean could swear he saw something that looked a little like worry there. He felt his mouth go dry. He'd seen Cas face demons and monsters without so much as a nervous frown. This wasn't going to be good.
"It is a common practice amongst high-ranking families in many cultures," Cas continued. "Including ours. By its nature, many couples are not exactly well matched. Not by personal means. The bond we seem to share reminds me of the pre-marital bond used before arranged marriage ceremonies."
"So we are angel engaged?"
"No, Dean." Cas sounded exasperated, and Dean resolved to shut up and listen. "It is a pre-cursor to an engagement. The families of the intended bride and groom often wish to make the process as easy as possible, so as to ensure that the marriage will not fail. In order to do so, it is not uncommon for the couple to be placed under a temporary bond that forces them to spend time together."
"That's kind of shitty."
"You misunderstand the intention. It is not designed to force them to like one another so that the marriage can go ahead. The marriage will happen anyway. With a bond such as this, it simply means that the marriage will be happier. It helps them to make the best of an undesirable situation."
"Undesirable? Yeah, that's one word for it."
Cas tilted his head slightly to the left.
"You are angry."
Dean rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. 'Angry' didn't cover it, somehow.
"I'm something." He squeezed Cas' hand in a way that he hoped was more reassuring than lecherous. "One thing's for sure – Sam's gonna laugh his ass off when we tell him."
Cas opened his mouth as if to respond, but was cut off by a frantic rapping on the window behind their heads. Dean frowned and spun around, making sure not to break any physical contact with Cas. It was Sam, and he looked about as panicked as Dean felt. Reaching behind him at an angle that threatened to rip his arm out of its socket, Dean managed to open the door of the Impala, and Sam leaned in.
"Dean," he said breathlessly. "Why is Sarah Blake in our motel room?"
Dean's heart plummeted to the bottom of his stomach. Whatever was happening, it wasn't limited to a freaky arranged marriage.
"I have no idea," he replied.
"Something is happening," said Cas.
"Why are you holding hands?"
"So," said Dean, sitting on the bed opposite Sarah and Sam. Cas held his wrist, and Dean was well aware that his life had become infinitely more complicated than it had been yesterday at only 9am. "What brings you here?"
Sarah fixed Dean with an irritated glare and looked at Sam, who shrugged for her to continue. She sighed.
"I already told Sam," she said. "I fell out of the sky. Literally. One minute I'm about to have brunch with this unspeakably hot guy in New York, and the next I'm lying in a heap on some vomit-stained motel room floor in - " She looked around the room and clenched her jaw, irritated. "I have no idea where I am, but that wallpaper suggests it's no place good."
"We're in Ohio," Sam told her.
"Brilliant," said Sarah, her shoulders slumping slightly. She looked pointedly at Dean, and she immediately perked up again. "And apparently a lot has changed since I saw you last."
If Dean could have torn his hand away from Cas at that moment, he would have. Sadly, he was acutely aware that holding Cas' hand looked slightly less batshit insane than rolling around on the floor in intense pain at being physically apart from him, and so he managed a sarcastic smile.
"Dean is not homosexual," Cas chimed in, and Dean saw Sam hold back a laugh. He really did hate his life sometimes. It came to something, he thought, when he'd rather be out hunting wendigos and flesh-eating unicorns than sitting in a motel room.
"I didn't say anything," Sarah replied slyly, and damnit, Dean could feel himself start to turn red.
Sam cleared his throat.
"It seems like something weird is happening," he stated. Sarah raised an eyebrow.
"You're telling me," she agreed. "Your brother definitely had the hots for me last time we met."
"Also, you fell from the sky," Cas added.
"I didn't have the hots for you," Dean argued. "That was Sammy. And I don't have the hots for Cas either, thank you very much."
"Did I say you did?"
Sam raised his hands before Dean could argue back, and Sarah smirked.
"We have to deal with this calmly," said Sam. Dean didn't know how he could possibly be calm when he was forced to hold the hand of the dude he'd just discovered he was quite unfortunately in love with, but he stayed silent. Sam was usually pretty good in crises. He'd have a plan.
"Cas," said Sam, turning to the angel. "Do you know of anything that could cause this?"
Cas shook his head, and Dean cursed silently.
"The bond between myself and Dean could only have been implemented by an angel," he answered. "But Sarah's appearance could be caused by anything, and I see no clear motivation for either event."
"Maybe something's just screwing with us?" Dean suggested. Cas shook his head.
"An angelic bond is a serious undertaking," he explained. "It expends a not inconsiderable amount of grace. A teleportation is not such a noteworthy event, but it is still frowned upon to teleport a human against their will unless it is for a greater good."
"So maybe this is for a greater good," Sam suggested. Sarah huffed.
"Ruining my date is for the greater good?" she said. "It had better be, because that guy had cheekbones I could cut my face on." She sighed. "I was looking forward to trying."
Sam shuddered, and Dean wondered if he remembered that he had kissed her.
"So our best guess is angels?" Sam asked. Cas shrugged.
"It is our only guess at the moment," he replied.
Dean sort of hated angels.
"This is all wonderful," said Sarah. "But how exactly do I get home?"
They dropped Sarah off at the bus station with the full fare she needed and an apologetic grin. She promised to call them when she arrived back in New York in ten hours' time, and Dean hadn't been able to avoid noticing the small grin on Sam's face.
The car journey back from the bus station was uncomfortable as Hell, and not just because Cas had to keep his hand on Dean's leg at all times.
"So," Sam asked. "Why do you think the powers-that-be chose to stick you two together?"
"It just seems odd, is all," Sam continued, and Dean saw Cas frown out of the corner of his eye.
"Not really," Cas said.
"What do you mean?" asked Dean indignantly, set to enter denial mode if necessary. "They couldn't have angel-married me to a hot chick instead?"
Cas' grip on Dean's knee tightened, and Dean was more than a little worried at the fact that his first reaction was to regret that the intention behind it was irritation rather than desire.
"I have told you before," Cas started. "We are not married. And no, it is not odd. Whoever is doing this – and I have my suspicions – is evidently not intending for you to have sexual intercourse."
Sam choked. Dean focused on the road and not the fact that Cas had just said 'sexual intercourse' while holding his knee.
"I hope not," Sam managed to say, and Dean hummed in agreement.
"Why?" asked Cas, after a moment's silence, and Dean furrowed his brow in confusion.
"What do you mean?"
"Why do you hope that their intention was not for you to have sexual intercourse?"
Dean could hear Sam valiantly attempting to withhold hysterical laughter. He didn't need this conversation right now.
"Well, Cas, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but I'm not actually able to stop touching you at the moment. It would be kinda awkward if that was their intention, don't you think?"
Dean was blushing again, he could feel it. And damnit, wasn't it typical that this conversation had started now, when he couldn't escape and Sam – who already resented the time that Dean spent with Cas – was here? There was a time and place for these sorts of discussions, Dean thought, and that was at the halfway point in B-list romantic comedies. This was real life, and this was Dean's car, and he wouldn't stand for that shit. Not here. Not now. Not ever, if he had his way.
There was only one thing for it.
Keeping his right hand on the steering wheel, he reached into the glovebox and fumbled around, pulling out a Led Zeppelin cassette and handing it to Cas.
"Put that on," he instructed him, and much to his relief, Robert Plant drowned out any hope of an embarrassing conversation that Cas might have had.
Dean rounded on Cas as soon as they were inside their motel room.
"What the Hell was that?" he hissed, locking the door behind them and grabbing Cas' wrists so that they were facing each other.
Sam had taken the liberty of booking them a separate room, a gesture which Dean was both thankful for and resentful of. He knew how it must look to Sam, who was already angry about being usurped. This road trip had started off as the two of them, and now they were three. He could see why it was something of a bone of contention, and this fucking bond business wasn't exactly helping. Christ, it had only been a few hours, and already he was sick to the teeth of it. He was constantly torn between embarrassment at being literally stuck to the unfortunate object of his secret lust and arousal at the same thing. It was hardly ideal.
Still, they were here now, and he had to make the most of it. If that meant actually talking to Cas, then so be it. Perhaps it would make Dean's stupid crush go away, he decided, if Cas were to irritate him so much as to quash any burgeoning flames of desire.
Cas tilted his head to the right, blue eyes wide and unfollowing, and nope, Dean thought, nothing was being quashed here apart from previously-held notions of heterosexuality.
"I don't know what you're referring to," said Cas. Dean snorted.
"That!" he cried, letting go of one of Cas' wrists and gesticulating inarticulately. "In the car just then, with Sam. You saying that. What the Hell, dude?"
Cas narrowed his eyes.
"Are you speaking in code?" he asked. "I still do not understand to what you are referring - "
Dean threw back his head in exasperation.
"'Why do you hope that their intention was not for you to have sexual intercourse?'" he responded. "That. That is what I'm referring to."
"It was a valid question," he said. Dean internally screamed. This would be a great conversation to have, he thought, if one were a masochist.
"Not an appropriate one," he countered. Cas didn't respond, and Dean closed his eyes and loosened his grip on his wrist. "You can't just ask that sort of thing. It's gonna be misunderstood."
"Then I will be easy to understand," said Cas. Dean doubted it very much, but let him continue. Cas straightened himself and looked Dean in the eye, and Dean hastily looked away. "You said that you would not offer me sex. Why not? I have been led to believe that you are not usually so choosy with your sexual partners."
Dean looked at Cas and blinked. He felt a little like he'd been slapped in the face, and he had to check that they were still physically connected. They were. He wet his lips to speak.
"Jesus, Cas, I'm not some kind of whore."
Cas shook his head.
"You are still misunderstanding."
"You think I'm easy, is that it?" Dean asked, a familiar flare of anger rising in the pit of his belly. "That I'm some kind of creep who gets off on being attached to someone like this?" He raised their joined hands. "No, Cas. I wouldn't wish this on anyone."
"But why not me?"
"Because you're my friend," Dean said. "Jesus, Cas, so help me. You're my friend. I'm not exactly Miss Chastity 2013, but I'm not going to take advantage of this bond thing and ruin that." Cas narrowed his eyes again, and Dean hastened to clarify. "Also, I don't think of you in that way. You know."
Dean let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, and was about to change the topic to something less awkward when Cas wrenched his wrist free of Dean's grasp and Dean's heart seemed to leap into his mouth.
"Cas, what are you doing? That's going to hurt – oh fuck, fuck - "
His head was on fire. It had to be. Oh God, and his arms were made of lead. His heart was being invaded by tiny little men with bayonets and his brain was under attack from some sort of horrible miniature army.
"You don't want to be attached to me," Dean heard Cas say through the white noise of his pain, and Cas sounded far away and hurting, and it made Dean want to reach out for him for another reason entirely. "So I'll - "
"Fucking Jesus, Cas, get back here," Dean gritted out, stretching towards Cas with heavy, aching arms. White-hot pain seared through his bones.
"It might pass," Cas said, voice strained and shaking, and fuck this. It might pass, but Cas was in pain right now and he thought that this was what Dean wanted. Dean could stop it.
Gathering every last scrap of energy, he pushed himself forwards, fumbling blindly through the dotted haze of peripheral consciousness because Cas' voice hadn't sounded like that in a long time, and just before everything went black he felt the soft pad of skin between Cas' thumb and forefinger, and the last thing he thought was that it was kind of scary how familiar that felt.
When Sam kicked the door down ten seconds later, presumably having heard the shouting, Dean was lying on top of Cas and they were breathless.
"You know," said Sam. "That's really gay."
"He's got a point," Sarah agreed.
Didn't Dean know it.