Becky took her time cleaning Castiel’s arm, applying alcohol to the small wound which made Castiel suck in a deep breath, and then taping some gauze over the site. The kitchen remained quiet as she worked, and as Dean stayed busy at the stove. In the meantime, Castiel tried to think about what to do, what he could possibly say to Dean. Did Dean even want to talk?
‘There you go. All better. I’ll change the dressing tonight, okay? And for now, you should probably eat.’ Becky turned to put everything back into the first aid kit, and Castiel knew that he was being dismissed, though he wasn’t ready, not yet. He felt disoriented, and he needed someone to help him along. He seriously doubted whether anyone else would help him. Dean was still mad at him, they were still broken up, and Sam and Charlie would definitely be on Dean’s side. Becky was the only buffer from Dean’s temper that Castiel had.
Dean placed a plate of food and a mug just in front of Castiel without even looking at him, and then climbed back onto the seat he’d clearly been sitting on before, stabbing a fork into the food on his own plate. Castiel watched him for a moment with a stifling weight in his chest, before he looked down at the meal that Dean had provided for him. Pancakes. He lifted his fork gingerly, and prodded one of the small dark lumps in the cake, unable to believe his eyes. Dean had made him blueberry pancakes? He looked at the mug as well, and saw something frothy inside. Was it too much to hope that Dean had made him the same breakfast that Castiel remembered him making in his illusions? What did it mean?
He slowly cut a triangle of fluffy pancake, trying to avoid all eye contact, and put it into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. It tasted nothing like he’d imagined, nothing like it had in the dream or mirage, or whatever it was. It was sweeter, with a fresh burst when he hit a blueberry. It was better than he could have imagined, light and fluffy and delicious. He grabbed the drink, sipping it slowly, wondering if it would taste anything like how he’d imagined, or if it too could surpass his expectations. It was foamy and frothy as he’d expected, and although there was a sweetness to the drink, it was still fairly bitter.
He lost himself in eating the meal Dean had provided, and it was only as he was finishing up that he realised they knew he was human. They would have to, or Becky would never have ordered him to eat, and Dean wouldn’t have cooked for him in the first place. How much did Dean know? Castiel risked a glance at his ex-lover, but Dean was on his phone, his eyes trained on the screen. Sam was talking quietly to his brother, out of Castiel’s earshot, and Charlie was watching Castiel, scrutinising his every move. Becky had finished putting the first aid kit away, and was instead scribbling away on a notepad, concentrating hard on what she was writing. Castiel felt so disjointed, so far away from all of them, despite there only being a few feet of distance. They were so used to being human, and they were all on good terms with each other. It made Castiel feel lonely, and like a stranger to the people who should have mattered.
‘If you’re finished, you should wash up,’ Charlie announced the moment Castiel swallowed the last mouthful. He barely glanced back in her direction before he was scraping his chair back, picking up his things, and then having them taken out of his hands almost instantly.
‘How about we don’t have any broken plates?’ Dean said tonelessly as he took Castiel’s things to the sink himself. Castiel felt awful, Dean wouldn’t even look at him, wouldn’t speak to him, and was treating him like a child. And yet Castiel knew that he deserved some of Dean’s anger, deserved some of the vitriol, because he had put Dean through a lot. He couldn’t shake the image of Dean crying over him, pleading with him to do the right thing.
‘I want to help, Dean,’ he said softly, following the hunter. Dean ignored him, or at least seemed to judge that it was best not to answer. Castiel couldn’t work out what to do, how to get Dean to talk to him again. How were they supposed to sort everything out and work on their relationship if Dean wasn’t speaking to him? ‘Dean?’
‘Hey, Charlie, did Becky show you that thing?’ Sam said loudly, when it became clear that Dean wasn’t going to acknowledge Castiel.
‘Thing?’ Charlie sounded confused.
‘Yeah, that thing.’ Sam sounded like he was making a pointed argument, and Castiel looked over his shoulder at the younger hunter, who was gesturing to the door. Becky joined in.
‘Oh, that thing! No, I haven’t shown Charlie. Come on.’ She grabbed Charlie by the arm and pulled her out of the door, Sam following them as he went. He turned in the doorway and caught Castiel’s eye, winking as he did. Castiel mouthed a thank you at him, before turning back to Dean, who was watching his brother leave too, Castiel’s cup in his hands and coated in suds. From the hallway, they could hear the girls whispered voices, and Sam exclaiming, slightly louder, ‘Because they’re going to be so freaking awkward as it is, Charlie! And trust me, you don’t want to be around when the make up sex starts.’
Castiel looked away from Dean then, not sure he that he wanted eye contact if Dean were to turn to him. But he still couldn’t resist being near the hunter, in the hopes that the tension between them would soon alleviate itself. Dean didn’t start washing the cup again until the voices had long since faded away, and they were alone in the kitchen again. Castiel wanted to ask him what he was thinking, get him to open up again, but he knew he had to go slowly, and address the more important issues first. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from blurting out the mundane.
‘How did you know, Dean? About the pancakes?’
Castiel could see a tic in Dean's cheek and knew that he was fighting himself not to answer. He pressed on.
‘How did you know to put the blueberries in? You did in that other world, and you made the same drink, but it was even better here-‘
‘It was a dream, Cas.’ Dean practically barked at him. ‘Your dream. Don't hold me accountable for stuff you make up.’
Castiel felt the sting of his words, but he couldn't help himself from carrying on.
‘But I hadn't had either of them, and you still made them. That has to mean something.’
Dean finished washing up, and grabbed a dish towel to start drying.
‘I figured you'd girl up your coffee. If I could make the coffee machine make a mocha-choca-skinny-whatever-bullshit, you would've got that. And I told you about pancakes, our first date. Now you're human I figured I should make that right.’
The words would have been nice if Dean hadn't sneered everything out. It took Castiel a moment to figure out what Dean had said, hidden amongst the temper.
‘I don't remember discussing pancakes at paintball.’
‘I don't count paintball. I'm talking about going for breakfast the next day.’
Where Dean had said Castiel was missing out but would make for a cheap date. Despite Dean's gruff demeanour, there was something touching about him cooking pancakes specifically for Castiel based on a conversation from an old date.
‘How did you know I was human now?’
‘How else would you have been caught up in that siren’s spell?’ Dean deflected the question, which really gave Castiel the answer he’d been anticipating.
‘Meg? You saw Meg? She told you-‘
‘Will you shut up?’ Dean snapped, punctuating the sentiment by slamming Castiel’s plate down on the drainer, and Castiel couldn’t help but flinch.
‘Why can’t I talk about Meg? She’s my friend.’
Dean didn’t respond, or even look at Castiel. Instead, he drained the sink of water and grabbed a dish towel to begin drying his hands. Castiel couldn’t help but be reminded of the easy way they worked together to do something as simple as the dishes in his dream. He knew this version of Dean wouldn’t let him anywhere near the tableware. Eventually, the hunter turned to him, still not meeting his eye, and pointed wordlessly at the table. Castiel took the hint, and sat in one of the chairs, feeling a slight relief when Dean sat in the seat beside him.
‘Okay. Let’s talk Meg,’ Dean’s voice was still clipped, and Castiel could feel a burning sensation in the pit of his stomach. ‘So exactly how long did you leave it after I broke up with you before you went off with her?’
The words didn’t make sense to Castiel, but he didn’t want to admit that to Dean.
‘I got summoned to Heaven, not long after you went for a drive in the Impala-‘
‘I don’t need a run down of your life, Cas. I just want that answer.’ Dean interrupted harshly. Castiel tried to stand his ground.
‘If you listen to the story, Dean, you’ll hear how I ended up with Meg, okay?’ He forced his voice not to shake. ‘In Heaven, they stripped me of my grace, saying it was because of how I treated you, and then threw me back to earth. I think I ended up in Texas. I spent about three days just trying to get back to Becky’s house, hoping you would have gone back there, hoping I could explain everything and you’d at least listen, even if you never took me back. And her house was empty, but Meg showed up and said she’d been waiting for me, that she had a message for me.’ Dean made to interrupt, and Castiel pushed on, knowing that Dean’s interjection would be snarky, and then he would never get the words out. ‘I told her I wasn’t interested, okay Dean? But then she said she would help me get to you, she could just about work out where the bunker was. She offered me a ride, that’s all. We stopped at a motel halfway to here because she thought someone was running the plates on the car she stole, and we were going to share a room, but then I went for food and I thought I saw you and the next thing I know …’
Castiel couldn’t speak about the marriage fantasy. It hurt too much to reflect on it, even though it haunted most of his thoughts. Dean was staring at the top of the table, his tongue fixed inside his cheek.
‘You um, you said that you’d fought the siren?’ Castiel pressed softly. ‘When I was under its spell, and you found a way to talk to me?’
Dean still wouldn’t make eye contact. It was driving Castiel crazy.
‘I said I rescued you from it.’ Dean corrected.
‘That’s the same thing, isn’t it?’
Dean exhaled noisily.
‘So it took you a few days to hook up with her.’ Dean refused to entertain Castiel’s question, even though he was demanding answers. To Castiel, it wasn’t fair. There was no question about whether he’d made mistakes and hurt Dean, but Dean wasn’t exactly blameless either, and Castiel was hurting too. But he knew even addressing that would create even more bad feeling between them.
‘I didn’t “hook up” with her, Dean. She offered to help me. She was trying to warn me about Vibeke encouraging the other angels to strip me of my powers. Like I said, she was being my friend. I’m not complaining about you spending time with Charlie.’
Dean pursed his lips, and Castiel waited for the fallout.
‘So you’re jealous of Charlie? Still?’ Dean snorted with dry laughter. ‘Well, you can relax, Castiel, because first off, she’s a lesbian and so far removed from being interested in me, and second because I never kissed her on one of our dates.’
The silence that fell between them was almost deafening. It took Castiel far too long to realise that maybe this was what Dean had been referring to when he had accused Castiel of cheating on him.
‘I thought we cleared that up?’
Dean gave that dry, humourless laugh again.
‘Right. Doesn’t really work when you were erasing all my memories and using it to your advantage. You made it sound like it was an innocent mistake, Cas. Not you making out with a demon while we were on a date. So no, your poor excuse for an apology doesn’t count.’
‘I was trying to win a stupid toy for you, Cas. I had to work the carnie to win that for you, because you made it seem like such a big deal to have one. And I turned around and you’re tongue deep in Meg.’
‘I never asked her to, okay? She kept saying you weren’t interested, you were going through the motions, and she could help. And I told her to go away, and she did it anyway. And okay, I didn’t push her away straight away, she took me by surprise, but I did when I could, and you’d already walked away. You didn’t let me explain-‘
‘So you wipe my memory?’
Castiel could feel tears prickling in his eyes. Dean wasn’t even going to try to listen, was he? Even though he’d promised that he wanted to try, that he wanted them back on track.
‘I panicked, Dean. You left me alone in that carnival, you didn’t ask questions, you didn’t even try to find out what had happened. You just made the assumption I was cheating on you. And the guilt that I didn’t push Meg off straight away was eating me up, that’s why I apologised, even if you didn’t remember it happening.’ A tear rolled down his cheek, and Castiel wiped it away slowly, using the heel of his hand like a child. ‘Why would I fight so hard to be with you just to throw it all away like that?’
The tears began to fall thick and fast, and Castiel couldn’t wipe them away fast enough. He was starting to feel like the entire situation was useless. He should never have left his fantasy world.
‘Why did you wipe my memories, anyway?’ Dean sounded a little less stern, a little more compassionate. Castiel didn’t trust it. ‘That’s what I don’t get.’
‘I was being selfish,’ Castiel mumbled.
‘That doesn’t make sense.’ Dean’s tone was gentle. It was as though Castiel’s tears had flipped a switch inside the hunter, because he turned in his chair and took Castiel’s hands carefully, holding them in his own on Castiel’s knee. ‘Look, Cas, you get why I need to ask this stuff don’t you? Why I’m angry? You’re an angel, you gotta know right from wrong.’
Castiel looked at his hands, wedged in Dean’s, at the way Dean’s thumbs were stroking gently across his knuckles, at the state of his nails and the way they somehow still fit together.
‘I do, Dean. I knew it wasn’t a great solution, but it made sense at the time.’
‘I still don’t get it.’
Castiel chanced a look up at Dean’s face. The hunter was watching him, his eyes guarded but the venom had left them. It didn’t ease Castiel’s mind to see Dean so tolerable however, because he knew it couldn’t last. He knew Dean was going to get angry again the second he admitted everything. He would deserve it, and Dean deserved to hear the truth, no matter how much it made Castiel miserable.
‘Do you remember, just after you agreed to go out with me, when you were telling me about past dates you’d had so we could work out what we were going to do?’ He made himself stare into Dean’s eyes as he asked. Dean bobbed his head once in a nod, and Castiel made himself carry on. ‘Do you remember me saying that I wanted to do something similar to what you were describing one time, and your response was to ask me how many dates I was expecting.’
Dean’s expression changed minutely, his eyes squinted slightly, and his lips quivered as though he were talking himself through the past scene.
‘And I turned it around on you, because I knew I couldn’t cap it, I didn’t want to lose you once I got you, but I think that scared you. So I gave you the control. But I guess no answer was going to be good enough, because there would be a limit no matter what. Still, Dean … did you have to say only one date?’
Castiel felt such a mix of emotions at that point, desperation for Dean to assure him that he had changed his mind, fear of Dean’s reaction, and an echo of the ache that had come with Dean’s decision for one date. He couldn’t stop talking now, even as Dean’s brow furrowed and he pouted in concentration.
‘I know it was selfish of me, I know I should have talked with you more, but I’d worked so hard to even to get you to agree to that one date, I didn’t know how to get you to agree to any more. I thought it was the best solution, I’d get all the dates I wanted, and you still got your one. But then it didn’t go so well, because I kept wanting more and every time we started again, I hated myself for doing it. But I couldn’t stop, because what if the day I did was the day you didn’t want me any more?’
Dean looked ready to answer, but he didn’t get the chance to. The entire bunker began to shake, and a piercing noise rang through both their ears.
‘Dean?’ Castiel pleaded with his ex-boyfriend, as though his name carried another question. Dean seemed to know what Castiel was asking.
‘Angels, its angels. Cover your eyes,’ Dean pulled him closer, helping to block Castiel’s eyes and cover his ears, while protecting his own head from the onslaught of the angelic arrivals. Castiel secretly hoped that the angels would never come, because it was wonderful to be pressed close to Dean once more, embracing the scent of leather-wood-and-spice that clung to the hunter. But then reason caught up with the ex-angel, and he clung tighter to Dean. Somehow, this was connected to his ultimatum, which he had all but forgotten about in his determination to get to the hunter. The time limit couldn’t be up already, it had only been a week. Still, he had a bad feeling that the next time he opened his eyes would be the last.