Dean opened his eyes in surprise. He must have passed out. He felt uncomfortable and hot, dried sweat sticking his scrubs uncomfortably to his body. He turned his head. Castiel was lying next to him, still unconscious. The blood and tears had dried on his face. He looked dead.
Dean lurched upright, flinging the covers away from him. The violent movement jerked Castiel out of his dreamless slumber and he gazed blearily up at Dean, shirt still rucked uncomfortably up under his arms from the night before.
Dean didn't look at him, didn't speak to him as he got up to shower.
He turned the dial all the way to the left, the water still freezing as he stepped inside the cubicle, but as the droplets hammered down on him like white-hot needles it began to warm to an almost scorching degree. He scrubbed violently at his skin, scraping it raw. The knuckles on his right hand were webbed with dried blood from the punch he had thrown at Castiel. The dissolving red-brown threw Dean, unwilling, back into his memories and he slumped down onto the cold, cramped floor of the shower.
The first emotion he felt was horror. The second was wracking guilt.
Dean felt like the lowest piece of scum on the face of the Earth. Castiel had helped him, saved him, more times than Dean had bothered to count. This was how he repaid him. In his most vulnerable moment, when he'd most needed help and comfort, Dean had become furious, assaulted him and then...
Dean winced. He didn't want to think about it. But then he saw Castiel's face, streaked with tears and blood as he begged for Dean to stop, screaming his pleas at him.
The word sucked all the life out of Dean and he collapsed, boneless against the wall. The scalding water poured down on him still, doing nothing to clean him, and Dean's face contorted against a sob. He covered his face with his hands.
What have I done?
Oh God, what have I done?
He would never be able to make this right. This wasn't like the other times, when Dean had been all words, cruel and barbed as they had been. Dean could have killed him; it could have happened so easily, with Castiel's struggling beneath him becoming weaker and weaker as he fought to surface for breath...
The image made him shudder. It was obvious now. He was uncontrollable – dangerous. He was poison.
He decided the only way he could make it even somewhat right was to cut himself out of Castiel's life. There would be no more amiable chatter at breakfast, no more board games, no more secret smiles and words whispered in private.
Dean had been the only person whom Castiel had trusted. He'd spoken only to him, touched only him. The memory of Castiel cradling his hand after his punishment with Naomi sent agonising tongues of flame over Dean's body. He had already broken Castiel, but Dean knew that this horrifying end to their relationship would devastate him. It wouldn't make anything right at all, Dean realised in defeat. He couldn't break off their friendship. It would destroy them both. The only good thing he could do now was try to apologise, now the haze of overpowering anger had lifted from his eyes.
Painfully, Dean clambered upright. He turned off the shower and stepped out, towelling his hair and tugging on his scrubs from the day before. They were stiff with dried sweat, and the memories that engulfed him with the clothes made Dean want to be sick. He opened the door, steam billowing out in front of him, and stepped back into the bedroom.
Castiel was still lying on the bed, looking as if he hadn't moved at all since Dean had left him. He didn't look at Dean as he approached the bed.
“You still here?” Dean asked, subdued. No answer came, and Dean breathed out a fractured sigh. “Cas, please. Please talk to – no. I'm sorry. I have no right to ask you anything, I...” He gulped. “What I did was...evil. I'm a monster, Cas, and I'm so, so sorry. I can't even try and put it into words. You were so vulnerable, and I just –” He broke off, bile rising in his throat. “I'm not going to ask you to forgive me. I can't forgive me, let alone you. But please, just believe me: I could not be more sorry for what I did to you, and I will do whatever it takes to try and make up for it.”
Castiel stayed silent, and Dean felt hot tears drip down his cheeks. “Why would you stay here? After what I did?” he asked hoarsely. He'd thought Castiel might have stayed to hear him out, to talk, but he had evidently been mistaken.
“I can't move,” came Castiel's voice, flat and emotionless as its owner stared up at the cracked ceiling. “I tried to get up, but it hurts too much.”
Dean was drowning in guilt and shame and self-disgust. “God,” he choked. “Shit. You can stay here, until you're able to walk,” Dean promised, desperate to redeem himself. “I'll sleep on the floor, or...no, I'll sleep in your room, there's no way you want me around. I don't want me around.”
Castiel didn't seem to hear him. “I thought I wanted it,” he said, voice still wooden, and he wasn't talking about Dean's company. “I saw you with Lisa, and you said it made one forget. I so wanted to forget.”
Dean shook his head, pain setting his ears ringing in a way that was horrifyingly far from the buzzing that was so loud it made him unable to think. What he would have given for it in that moment.
“All the books say it's a demonstration of love,” Castiel continued. “I believe I wanted to feel such love. Or perhaps I just wanted the assurance that someone cared for me, wanted to be with me.” His face remained motionless, but his eyes became heavy. “You were right,” he told Dean. “Who would want to be with me? Look at me.”
Dean couldn't take it any longer. “Shut up!” he cried, voice ragged. “Please shut up, that's not true!”
Castiel finally looked at him, and his gaze was empty, defeated. “Isn't it? What happened last night was not love. It wasn't even close.”
Dean shook his head. “No, no it wasn't. But you have to understand, Cas, that wasn't me! I'm not making excuses, nothing like that, but me, the real me...I do care about you Cas, don't you ever doubt it. You know I care about you, right? That I'd do anything for you?”
Castiel dropped his gaze. “I thought I did once,” he said. “Now I am not so sure.”
His stomach cramped and Dean collapsed on the mattress next to Castiel's prone form, the whine of pain Castiel bit out at the jostling clawing at his heart. He cupped Castiel's cheek tenderly with his hand, gently tilting his head until the man was forced to look at him.
“I do care about you,” he vowed. “I would do anything for you. I hate myself for what I did more than you ever will.”
Castiel's eyes narrowed in the excruciatingly familiar squint that for Dean embodied the very essence of his steady, innocent friend. “I don't hate you, Dean. I don't think I will ever be capable of that.”
“Then please listen to me,” Dean begged, caressing his temple with his other, trembling hand. “I would kill myself before ever doing that again, before thinking about doing it again...” He inhaled brokenly and expelled the useless air in a heartbroken sob. “Please, I –” he tried again, voice cracking and breaking off.
Closing his eyes and forcing himself to regain his calm, Dean relaxed every muscle in his body deliberately, one by one. When it was done, he opened his eyes, Castiel's searing blue gaze trapping him, their eyes connected as if by an invisible, unbreakable force.
Slowly, almost painfully so, Dean trailed his left hand down Castiel's cheek until his face was framed by Dean's hands in a hold so gentle it was barely there. Haltingly, Dean leaned forward, centimetre by centimetre, eyes never leaving Castiel's. When their lips were only separated by mere inches, Dean stopped, allowing Castiel time to push him away if he wanted.
“I care about you more than anything now,” he whispered, pained. “I'll prove it. I swear I will.”
Castiel only gazed up at him, lips parted and eyes thawing despite the guarded look that remained in his gaze. Dean stared at him a moment longer before he closed his eyes and softly brushed Castiel's lips with his own. Castiel inhaled shakily, lips trembling, and Dean froze. They stayed like that for a few tense seconds, and then Castiel moved. Timidly, almost fearfully, he pressed his lips against Dean's, releasing a tiny sigh as Dean caught his lips between his own and returned the kiss that was so light it was barely more than a brush of skin. Dean allowed Castiel to take the lead, knowing he would feel infinitely more comfortable in control, and they worked their mouths against each other for a long minute, the chasteness of the kiss gradually dissolving as they parted their lips and soft, dry hesitation became warm, slick tenderness. Castiel raised a hand and buried his fingers in Dean's short hair, pressing them together more firmly. Dean gasped against Castiel's mouth then, the intake of air drawing the heat out of it momentarily. Dean could taste Castiel on his tongue, underneath the faint tang of rust and the stale blanket of restless sleep. The taste sent a thrill through him; it matched his scent perfectly, and while Dean still doubted he could be attracted to Castiel romantically, there was no uncertainty in his mind that he could happily and enthusiastically kiss him for the next eternity. It wasn't love; Dean knew that. But their irrefutable co-dependency and unbreakable bond brought them close enough.
Hesitantly, unsure whether Castiel would feel comfortable with such intimacy after the events of last night, Dean traced his lower lip with his tongue, gathering even more of that unique taste. Castiel stiffened slightly and Dean immediately retreated, attempting to pull back from the kiss entirely. Castiel held him gently in place with the hand entwined in Dean's hair.
“Don't stop,” he whispered. “I'm merely unused to this.”
Dean didn't ponder the implications of his words before he sealed their mouths together once more, his relief and eagerness lending more passion to their second kiss. Castiel reciprocated thirstily, a tiny noise escaping his mouth that sent a bolt of electricity down Dean's spine.
The door opened.
Dean and Castiel broke apart with a jerk as Crowley stumbled backwards in surprise, only just catching himself on the door. The two swung dangerously, but Crowley thankfully regained his footing, along with most of his composure, though he still clutched the door handle tighter than necessary.
“Not that I'm at all against whatever the hell's going on between you two,” he said, “but do you mind giving a man some bloody warning?”
Dean scowled at him in a decidedly unfriendly manner. “Maybe you should try knocking,” he suggested.
Crowley paused, realised he had a point and shrugged. “You two weren't at breakfast, so I decided to come and find you,” he justified. His eyes flicked to Castiel's face, which was bruised and bloody. Dean could not express his gratitude enough when Crowley did not comment.
Dean cleared his throat, licking his lips. “Why are you so desperate to find us?”
Crowley's gaze darted to the corridor behind him, then, and he warily shut the door. “It's a bit of a sensitive matter,” he admitted.
Suspicious, Dean sat up straighter, fingers tensing against the blankets. “What kind of sensitive?” he asked.
“I-could-get-fired sensitive,” Crowley said with a toothy, savage smile. “Or I at least hope I would get fired. The other option seems to be slightly more unfortunate.”
Dean felt cold hope trickle slowly into him. He tried to ignore it. “What is it?” he asked.
Crowley produced his phone and started fiddling, tapping the screen in a brisk and efficient manner despite the slight shaking of his fingers. “It seems when anything odd's going on, you two are always right in the middle of it,” he started, addressing his phone. “So,” he said, looking up, “I was wondering if you could inform me as to why exactly I have a picture of Short Round here in a doctor's coat.” He extended his phone.
Dean leaned forward to look more closely. It was a snapshot of Kevin, relaxed and happy, reclined in an armchair as he smiled in amusement at the camera. The badge on his lapel clearly read:
Crowley sniffed and slipped his phone back into his pocket. “I was browsing through old photos and came across this gem. Why don't I remember this?” he asked relatively calmly. “And more to the point, how the hell is this possible?”
Dean bit his lip. “I'm going to sound crazy,” he said.
Crowley looked at him in exasperation. “Seriously? I just showed you that, and you're worried that you'll appear crazy? That's a good bloody joke. Do you know anything about this?” he snapped, tapping his foot impatiently.
Dean stared at the floor. “Kevin was our group leader,” he said.
“...Naomi takes your group. She always has done.” Crowley looked hesitant and more uncomfortable than Dean had ever seen him. He would have enjoyed the moment, in any other context.
“He was our group leader,” Dean insisted. “They put him in charge of the non-volatile ones because he was still technically in training.”
“Now that's interesting,” Crowley commented, “because as far as I can tell...” His eyes flicked over to Castiel, who glared back at him. “...you are very volatile indeed.”
“So why do you reckon I was put into Group 1?” Dean asked.
Crowley frowned. “You weren't very violent when you came.”
“No, I wasn't. But there's another reason,” Dean said grimly. “Think about it. Kevin was the only group leader who wasn't a Balt. He was the only one that would ever have helped me and Cas.”
“Help you to do what? And I'm still not entirely sure about this group leader story; surely I'd remember if it hadn't always been Naomi.”
“What reason would I have for lying?” Dean pointed out. “No one remembers Kevin, except me and Cas.”
Crowley looked to Castiel. “You remember this, Angel?” he asked.
Castiel nodded. “He gave us gifts when he left,” he said quietly. “I got a book, Dean got a ring, Charlie got a phone and Chuck got a notebook.”
Crowley blinked. “Wait, surely if the others got something as well, they'd remember too.”
Dean shrugged. “Apparently not. Not even Kevin himself remembered. They deliberately made sure it was just me and Cas.”
“By 'they', I assume you are referring to the Balts. So you're saying this is a deliberate act.” Crowley inhaled deeply. “Do you mind if I sit down?” he asked, gesturing to the chair. Dean shrugged and Crowley sat. “What I'm gathering from this story so far is that Kevin Tran was a doctor here, he helped you two with something and now he's suddenly a patient, with no memories or people who remember him. Apart from you two.”
“And Naomi and Raphael,” Dean said. “Hell, I'd bet anything every single one of the Balts is in on it.”
“In on what?”
Dean sighed tiredly. “I guess we'd better start from the beginning.”
They told Crowley everything. It took an hour and a half. Dean told him about his punishment at the hands of Naomi, and the things he had seen there. He told him about the ever-growing noise that had led to his seizure, the noise that had stopped when Naomi had finally let him remember. He told him about their gradual uncovering of the true nature of Balt's, and how Alfie and Kevin had helped with it. He said nothing about Sam, and he said nothing about the creeping worry that dropping the barriers holding his memories had let insanity re-invade as well. Crowley listened attentively, asking a few questions but for the most part remaining silent. He seemed shocked when Dean told him Naomi had admitted outright that the Balts were not human, and horrified when he'd explained Alfie's fate.
“You're telling me he was murdered?!” he spluttered, eyes wide.
Dean nodded grimly. “Kevin said his eyes were burned out, but I don't think he looked much further.”
Crowley winced, scrubbing a hand over his stubble. “Bugger,” he commented eloquently. “This doesn't put me in a great position, then, does it?”
“You'll help us, though, right?” Dean's voice was urgent, almost demanding.
Crowley hesitated, and Dean felt his stomach sink. “I'm not sure, George,” he said slowly. “It's one thing to make excuses for you when you're in the infirmary without a reason, but something completely other to help you escape the hospital, which I'm assuming is what you're trying to do.”
Dean's brow creased. He hadn't really thought of it as definitively as that. Balt's had always seemed so final to him; the end of the line. But, in the end, Dean supposed Crowley was right. He did want to get out, and he wanted to take the rest of the patients with him, even the newly ever level-tempered and hollow Gordon.
“Not to mention,” Crowley continued, running a hand through his sparse hair, “the apparent punishment for such activities. If Baby Face was their brother, not to mention some kind of unthinkably powerful Not-Human, I'd really hate to imagine what they could do to me.”
“Kevin was human and he wasn't technically hurt,” Dean pointed out.
Crowley levelled a glare at him. “Frankly, I'd rather die than end up like that poor shell of a kid. So. Sorry, boys, but I'm afraid you're in this on your own.” He stood up to leave.
“Wait!” Castiel cried, trying to sit up but falling back onto the pillow with a groan.
His exclamation had the desired effect. Crowley stopped and turned, uncharacteristically obvious concern shadowing his face. “Are you alright, Angel?”
“I'm fine,” Castiel gritted out through the throbbing pain.
Crowley scowled accusingly at Dean. “What did you do to him, George? Or do I not want to know?”
Dean glared back at him, though the intensity of his glower was diluted with guilt. “He'll need some painkillers,” he said, defiant but shamefaced. They both ignored Castiel's protests.
“I'll fetch some, then,” Crowley sighed, turning once more for the door.
“No, you can't go!” Castiel cried again, this time making no attempt to move.
Crowley wheeled around again, marching back to the chair and sitting pointedly back down, crossing his arms. “Alright, then. Why may I not leave, Thursday?”
Castiel paused. “I was summoned to Raphael's office yesterday,” he said finally.
They both looked at him, Crowley alarmed and Dean expectant. Castiel avoided Dean's eyes, looking instead at the doctor. He had to convince him to help them, Castiel thought urgently. He had to.
“This isn't just about Dean and I,” he explained. “It involves you, too. It involves everyone.” He bit his lip. “Raphael told me about the experiment they're conducting here.”
“What did he tell you?” Dean asked, and Castiel's eyes fixed on his.
“He said we were mistaken in thinking you were the subject.”
Confusion clouded Dean's eyes before it was chased away by cold, sharp fear. “It's about you.”
Castiel nodded, a little embarrassed that Dean had caught on so much quicker than he had himself. He cleared his throat quietly. “I'm not sure whether to believe him,” he said. “He would have every reason to lie, after all. But the things he said had a...weight to them. It felt like the truth.”
“Well, as long as your instincts are sure,” Crowley said, sarcasm chewing through every word. “What else did he say? So far I'm not really seeing how some obscure and morally dubious experiment concerns me.”
Castiel's face had drained somewhat of colour. He hesitated, glancing nervously at Dean.
“No one's going to push you away, Cas,” the man assured him, seemingly casual. Castiel could feel the stronger, meaningful undercurrent to his words.
He took a deep breath. “Raphael said I was one of them.”
“One of who?” Crowley looked impatient as he picked incessantly at his coat sleeves. “Please, Angel, do be more specific.”
“One of the Balts.”
There was a brief silence before Dean scoffed. “Well, that's just bull. You're nothing like them, Cas. They're some kind of freaky monster with magical powers or whatever the fuck they have. You're...you. Human. Normal.”
“Relatively,” Crowley chipped in uninvited.
“But still normal,” Dean insisted. “There's absolutely no connection between you and them.”
“That's not all, though,” Castiel said glumly.
Crowley closed his eyes, massaging the bridge of his nose. “Here comes the really worrying part. I can just smell it.”
Castiel cleared his throat quietly. “Raphael told me that I was made human as a punishment. The entire hospital is apparently a stage for it. He didn't say what I'd supposedly done, but he did say what the punishment was going to be.”
“Going to be?” Dean prompted reluctantly.
“It was going to be you,” Castiel admitted softly, barely audible. “They were going to incubate some sort dependant relationship between us and then...” he trailed off, face losing all the colour it had so far retained.
“Spit it out,” Dean croaked.
“'Break you', he said.”
The room held its breath.
“Well,” Crowley said finally. Sweat was beading on his forehead. “That really is worrying. For George, anyhow. Again, though: I'm not hearing my name in any of this.” He fidgeted nervously, his movements belying the calm his voice exuded.
Castiel hurried on. “That was going to be the plan,” he reminded them, “but it fell through. Apparently Dean was stronger than they expected.” He glanced at his friend, gauging his reaction. Dean had a small, wan smile gracing his lips, and Castiel's breath came slightly easier. Dean took pride in besting the Balts, and Castiel needed him as proud and as strong as possible.
“So what's their new plan?” Dean asked, subtly stroking Castiel's shin through the blankets, an action revealed to be not quite as subtle as planned when Crowley rolled his eyes and huffed loudly in exasperation.
“The new plan...” Castiel hesitated. “...doesn't seem to exist. He merely said that I've 'repented enough' and that I can 'go back home' soon.”
“And where is 'home'?” Crowley asked him, interest piqued.
Castiel shrugged. “He did not say and I did not wish to ask.”
Crowley groaned. “You see, Angel, this is your problem: a complete disregard of curiosity!”
In contrast to Crowley's hot frustration, Dean was coolly wary. “If Balt's is only supposed to be a stage for this punishment crap he was going on about,” he said slowly, “then what happens when it's over?”
Castiel stared hard at the blanket.
“I suppose this is where I come in,” Crowley sighed. “Oh, come on, regale us. I couldn't possibly keep all my hair after this anyway.”
Castiel swallowed. “The establishment will be destroyed,” he mumbled.
“Lovely,” Crowley commented. “I must say, Thursday, you are a very convincing speaker when you decide to open that lovely mouth of yours. I'll help you,” he stated, looking very unhappy, “but for no sake other than my own.”
“We wouldn't expect anything else,” Castiel assured him.
Dean snorted. “I dunno about you, Cas, but it'd sure be nice for me if we could trust this guy to not stab us in the back if the Balts offer him a sweeter deal.”
Crowley's eyes narrowed. “Question my motives if you will,” he said, affronted, “but never my integrity. And besides, so far the Balts are offering me a sure and painful death, while you two offer an indulgence for my slight pyromania and freedom from the tedious job that has been boring my toenails off for the best part of a decade. There's really not much risk of betrayal, rest assured.”
Castiel looked at him warily. “Where does an indulgence for pyromania come into it?”
Crowley smiled, looking mildly evil. “Well, if they're going to raze this place to the ground, I want to get there first. It would be pleasant to see some of my colleagues go up in flames, I won't deny.”
Dean looked horrified. “Hey, we're not burning anyone!”
Crowley raised his eyes heavenwards. “Really, George? And what did you think the Balts were going to do to you?”
“The Balts aren't anyone,” Dean said. “The Balts aren't people.”
Castiel winced slightly at that, remembering Raphael's words. Dean had said he would not turn away from Castiel, but so far he had refused to believe he was a Balt. What would the man do, Castiel wondered, if his doubts were disproved?
“I'm talking about innocents,” Dean was spitting vehemently. “Not just the patients, either. What about Ellen, or the cleaning staff, or the kitchen workers?”
Crowley succumbed. “Very well, we'll try and keep collateral to a minimum, then. But I'm not taking any chances with this,” he told them, eyes steely. “You two can be as soft-hearted as you like, but at the end of the game, I'm leaving this place, with or without you.”
“It's a little early to be planning escapes, is it not?” Castiel piped up. “We don't yet know what we are facing.”
“Tell you what,” Crowley said, business-like, “I'll try and figure that part out. You lot don't exactly have research materials at your fingertips, after all.”
“Research?” Dean sputtered, dumbfounded. “What the hell would we need to do research for?”
“Know thine enemy?” Crowley suggested, voice dripping with irony. “Humans have a lot of myths and legends; maybe some of them hold true. We can't go into this blind.”
“So what, you're gonna read fairytales until you find something involving memory loss and burnt-out eyes?”
“If I have to. But it hopefully won't come to that. There are far more productive means of research.”
Dean sighed. “Oh, do whatever. As long as I don't have anything to do with it.”
Crowley looked sightly put out. “You know, George, for someone who desperately needs my help, you're being awfully rude.”
Dean glared at him. “I don't need your help,” he grumbled.
Crowley released a bark of laughter. “Don't be soft,” he hissed scornfully. “You need me. I need you. Miserable, isn't it? Unfortunately, choice doesn't come into the matter.” He stood. “I'll start sniffing about. You two: do nothing. Keep your noses down. Stay out of trouble. Don't moan too loudly during copulation. I'll see you wastes of space tomorrow.”
With that, he sauntered out of the room, the door swinging shut behind him.
“We do need him,” Castiel said quietly as the echoes of the slamming door faded away.
“Oh, Jesus, let's not talk about him,” Dean moaned, twisting to look at him. “He'd better come back with those painkillers. We're gonna get you under a hot shower; a bath would be better, but...”
Castiel sighed. “No bathtubs due to suicide risk,” he finished wearily. “But Dean: I don't want to move.”
“Why not? It'll loosen up your muscles, you'll feel better.”
“Before my muscles are loosened, I have to use them to walk to the bathroom,” Castiel reminded him. “It hurts.”
That brought the guilty look back onto Dean's face, and Castiel felt his heart clench even as spiteful gladness touched it. It was confusing: on one hand, he wanted Dean to suffer as much as (if not more than) Castiel had himself. On the other hand, Castiel wouldn't want to see Dean hurt for the world.
“I could carry you,” Dean offered.
Castiel almost laughed. “No, you couldn't.”
The corners of Dean's mouth quirked upwards, but he still looked unimaginably sad. Castiel reached up to touch his face.
“We could just stay here,” he suggested, voice soft. “For hours. Days, maybe.”
“I've seen you when you're hungry; I'm not spending days locked inside a room with that,” Dean quipped. The humour didn't reach his eyes.
Castiel curled his fingers into Dean's hair and pulled him nearer, Dean's back bowing as their faces neared each other.
“Please stop hating yourself,” he begged.
“How can I?” Dean asked. “Look at you. I've ruined you.”
Castiel raised an eyebrow. “No one will ever have the pleasure of ruining me. Not even you.” He tugged Dean down and captured his lips, relishing the feeling as his stomach melted into a warm pool beneath him.
Dean made a noise of protest and pulled away, disentangling Castiel's hand from his hair.
Castiel frowned. “What is it?”
Dean looked pained. “This would never work,” he whispered. “I can't trust myself.”
“I trust you,” Castiel hissed, digging his fingers into Dean's shoulder. “And you said you'd rather die than do it again.”
“Let's not tempt fate. I'm not good for you, Cas.”
Castiel glared at him. “Cold feet are not allowed,” he stated. “You were fine with this a few hours ago.”
“It's not cold feet!” Dean protested. “It's a moment of clarity! A few hours ago I wasn't thinking straight. You'd never feel comfortable with me, not after what I did. You'd constantly be terrified of making me angry – it'd be the most unhealthy relationship in the entire fucking world! I can't stop the anger, Cas, no matter how much I try. I'm scared of it. When Naomi gave me back my memories...I think she gave the insanity back too.” His voice became ragged towards the end, his shoulders sagging in exhaustion.
“Raphael did say something of the like,” Castiel admitted. “He also said it would make our relationship – whether it were friendship or whatever else – impossible. I refuse to allow him to be proven correct. And I am only hearing you telling me what I would feel,” Castiel continued, voice softening. “You may know me better than any other man, Dean Winchester, but you do not know me as well as you assume.” He gripped Dean's face tightly in his hands. “I would fall without you,” he said. It sounded like a vow. “I need you, Dean. Don't leave me behind just because you are frightened.”
He kissed him again, and this time Dean leaned into him sighing into his mouth.
“I can't love you,” Dean choked out against his lips.
Castiel closed his eyes against the sting. “I know,” he said. “But I believe I can love you. Can that be enough?”
Dean nodded fervently and sealed their mouths together once more. Castiel was comforted by the kiss, and he knew this was what a kiss was supposed to be: a promise for eternity, whatever that might entail.
A loud knock at the door made the pair jump, their foreheads jarring painfully, teeth ringing.
“I brought the meds,” they heard Crowley call from behind the door. A small sheet of pills flew through the gap underneath, skidding noisily until it skittered into the chair leg. “Two every four hours, and I'm prescribing bed rest. Emphasis on the rest,” were Crowley's words of farewell before his steps echoed away on the hard wooden floor of the corridor.
Dean huffed in irritation, snatching up the painkillers. “Sometimes I hate that guy,” he muttered grumpily, popping a couple of pills and laying them next to the lamp as he went to fetch a cup of water.
“He's kind,” Castiel said as Dean returned.
Dean looked dubious. “You sure about that?”
“Kind enough to help us.”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Only because his own ass was on the line too. You see too much good in people, Cas.”
Castiel looked at him. “And if I saw nothing but bad, what would I turn into?” he asked.
Dean shrugged. “A Balt, probably.”
Castiel said nothing and took the water, gratefully gulping down the tablets when Dean helped him to sit up. Dean watched him in discomfort.
“Sorry again,” he apologised. “I have no idea how I'm going to make it up to you.”
Castiel sighed. “Stop mentioning it. I'd really rather forget.”
Dean nodded morosely. “So would I. Come on, let's get you cleaned up anyhow.”
Castiel looked horrified. “Crowley prescribed bed rest,” he protested.
“I'm sure sitting on a shower floor counts as rest,” Dean said, standing up and gripping Castiel tightly under the arms. “You ready?” he asked.
Castiel shook his head vigorously and Dean heaved him into a sitting position. Surprised at the unexpectedly small amount of pain, Castiel sat motionless for a while, wondering where the hot needles shooting up his spine had gone. Then Dean pulled him out of the bed and they returned. Groaning, Castiel was forced to lean heavily on his friend, who supported him steadily, if gracelessly. Castiel felt like a heavily bruised sack of potatoes as Dean slowly walked him to the bathroom. Sitting down against the wall of the still-damp shower was agony, but it subsided as Castiel leaned his head back and breathed deeply, willing away the spinning that came with the sudden end of a long period in a horizontal state.
“I hope those painkillers start kicking in soon,” Dean said, looking concerned as he unbuttoned Castiel's shirt and slipped it off his shoulders. He threw it behind him and turned the shower on, spluttering in surprise when he was blasted directly in the face with the water jet.
Castiel (who had barely been dripped on) smirked as Dean hurriedly slammed the water off and wiped his face, hair streaming water. Dean saw his expression and glared accusingly at him.
“Oi, don't laugh,” he said, affronted. “This'll be you in a minute.”
“I'm not dressed,” Castiel pointed out. “I won't look half as ridiculous.”
Dean, whose wet scrubs now seemed to be at leave five sizes too large for him, glared some more. “There are clean ones outside. Now close your eyes,” he ordered as he detached the shower head from its fitting and held it over Castiel.
Castiel obeyed and was promptly drenched with lukewarm water. It stung a bit when Dean cleaned the cuts on his face, wiping the blood from his nose and split lip, but Dean tried to be as gentle as possible, checking each and every one of Castiel bruises as he went.
“None of these look too bad,” he commented. “Your nose isn't broken, either.”
“I'll be fine,” Castiel said.
The rest of the shower was admittedly humiliating for Castiel, but he bore it well, gritting his teeth and not making one sound as Dean's fingers probed his thighs, examining the purple marks on his skin.
“Why did you do it?” he asked softly in a moment of accidental curiosity.
Dean froze, and Castiel immediately regretted his words, though he still strained to hear the answer that was nearly drowned out by the water. “I was horny and angry and you were there and I lost control,” Dean said. “There's no other reason.”
Castiel could sense Dean was about to apologise again and gripped his chin in his hand, tilting his head so Dean had no choice but to look at him. “Stop,” he whispered. “I can't forgive you if you won't forgive yourself.”
Dean's eyes softened and he nodded, pressing his lips against Castiel's as the hot water hammered forgotten against the shower wall.