Pero (peroxide_fic) wrote,
Pero
peroxide_fic

Supernatural- "The Law of Conservation of Energy" (Ch 7)



Seven

Sam watches Dean pick at the bandages on his hands as he eats because his brother has no appreciation for the EMT work Sam has to do on him whenever he gets his ass handed to him by an angel (or a half angel, or whatever Cas counts as right now). Meanwhile, Cas sits across from Dean at their table, poking thoughtfully at a congealing pile of cheddar and bacon fries with a fork.

“Just eat it, man,” Dean grunts at the angel, impatiently.

Castiel blinks at Dean and goes back to picking off the bacon and setting it aside. “I am not particularly hungry.”

“But you’re not not hungry,” Dean argues back.

“I ate that pie you purchased for me sixteen hours ago,” Cas reminds him. “I still feel relatively sustained.”

“Just eat the damn fries,” Dean tells him again, and after a moment of challenging looks between them, Cas capitulates and picks a chunk of cheese off of a fry and sets it aside, leaving it bare of extras. He pops it into his mouth, which prompts Dean to roll his eyes, because clearly Dean knows it’s the bacon and cheese that really make the fries worth eating. But he seems to be satisfied that the part-angel is eating at least, and allows himself to go back to his slice of cherry pie for the time being, at least until Castiel pushes the plate of fries away with a grunt of dissatisfaction and steals a piece of Dean’s dessert instead. Dean sighs and shoves the rest of it at Cas, the look on his face telling Sam that Dean is just happy that the angel is finally listening to him, kind of. Sam is just glad he has his tablet out so that he can hide behind it while the wait staff gives his brother and the angel knowing looks that neither of them notices because they’re too busy annoying the crap out of each other. Sam thinks he may have a lead on the next grace piece, but it’s kind of ridiculous (which is just on par with their lives, he supposes). Mostly, he just wants to make sure it’s the only plausible option they’ve got given their current direction of travel based on Cas’s borrowed grace leading the charge. Otherwise, Dean will probably yell. Hell, he’ll still probably yell, even if it is the only logical destination.

Seriously. This lead is weird, even for them. So Sam keeps looking while Castiel and his brother continue to shoot awkward glances at each other from across the table like they’ve just now hit puberty and have no idea what these strange feelings they feel are. Sam wonders, absently, as he finds another stupid news article, if a Broncos fan finding the face of John Elway on a tortilla constitutes enough of a draw to count as archangel faith. Probably not.

It is with some irritation ten minutes later that Cas has to excuse himself to the restroom—ostensibly to deal with the pie Dean had gotten him sixteen hours ago—when Sam gives up on the tortilla lead because to him, it looks more like Joan Rivers (and thus must be the work of the devil). In the meantime, Dean looks surreptitiously to his left and then his right before hooking his fingers around Cas’s forgotten plate of fries. He starts picking at the bacon himself. “Dumbass doesn’t know a good thing when he sees it,” Dean mutters to Sam as he cycles through Cas’s food, though he seems particularly gleeful about the whole thing when he realizes that he can pile bacon bits about an inch thick on each remaining fry because Cas left so much of the meaty goodness behind. In any case, Dean seems happy enough to pick up the angel’s slack, and he hasn’t been grumbling too much these past few days about Cas, which probably means his mood towards Cas’s little demon deal must be improving somewhat. Sam hasn’t grumbled about Cas that much either come to think of it, though that’s mostly because if someone takes a knife for you, you tend to be kind of forgiving, even though that person might have accidentally left your soul in Hell for the equivalent of a century and a half.

Not that how Sam feels about Cas has ever particularly mattered to Cas or anything. As long as Dean’s okay with him, the angel seems pretty content with the world. And right now, Dean seems fairly content. Either that or he’s pretending really well.

Sam eyes his brother curiously, and wonders if bloody beat downs in Arizona deserts constitute some sort of manly acceptance ritual or something.

Dean feels Sam’s eyes on him and studies Sam back, before pulling his plate of fries a safe distance away. “You look like you’re going to hurl, Sammy,” he says. “Don’t do it on my bacon.”

Sam frowns. “I’m not going to throw up. I was just thinking.”

Dean’s eyebrows lift questioningly as he continues to make bacon piles on fork. “And?”

Sam tries to think of a clever way to segue into this, but gives up because there really isn’t. “Are you and Cas okay then?” he presses, setting his tablet down for a bit. “I mean, you seem…relatively normal. For you guys. Despite the punching-each-other-in-the-face-a-lot.”

Dean winces. “Guy made a deal with a demon and started a war with the Mother of all Monsters that could have ended the world, man. So I don’t know if okay is where we’re at yet.” Pause. Frown. “But he saved you. And that always means something.”

Sam shifts. “You think you’ll ever be okay again?”

Dean stops fiddling with his fork for a minute to look at Sam and sigh in some sort of weary resignation. “Cas is family,” he says resolutely, and that’s it.

Sam isn’t sure if that answers his question or just avoids it, but for the moment, he takes it for what he’s sure it does mean. Regardless of feeling, to a Winchester, family means they’re in this together ‘til the end. Or however many ends there are, given their track record.

Sam huffs and picks his tablet up again at the thought, bringing up the website of the most likely culprit he’d found when Cas had pointed them in this direction the other day. “So I think I’ve got a lead?” he poses cautiously, while Dean is staring contemplatively into the mess of re-solidifying melted cheese on Cas’s plate. “I mean, it’s kind of iffy, but it seems like the only thing worth mentioning in Colorado right now that isn’t horrors on a tortilla.”

Dean perks at that, as if thankful for the distraction from all the brooding and the tragic waste of cheddar. “Yeah?”

“Apparently there’s a hot spring resort a couple hundred miles north of here that’s acting as some sort of marriage counseling retreat,” Sam begins, and doesn’t have to look at his brother to know that his brother is making the stinky-fart face. Sam pushes on before Dean can ridicule him. “According to the website, the waters of the spring around the resort are guaranteed to rekindle the love in your troubled marriage.”

Dean’s stinky-fart face goes straight to stinky-world face. “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”

Sam pushes the tablet under Dean’s nose. “There’s a 100% guaranteed success rate, since 2010, Dean. Hundreds of couples swear by it, saying that it helped them forgive, understand, and rediscover why they loved each other in the first place. It’s the only possibility that I can find in the direction Cas is pointing us in.”

Dean stares at the headline on the top of the site’s Testimonial’s page. “Heat up in the waters of love? Seriously?”

Sam shrugs. “Like I said, it’s the only thing that makes any sense right now.” Pause. “Besides, even if I am wrong, they say the water’s good for the relief of minor aches, pains and rashes.” He gives Dean a pointed look, because his brother is absently picking at his bandages again.

Dean snorts but does stop picking at his bandages. “None of that sounds like it has anything to do with grace, if you ask me. Seems more like a scam.”

Sam shrugs. “We still haven’t found mercy or love, right? I mean, a lot of the testimonials say that it’s been helping couples with infidelity problems get over that. Plus the timing is right. According to the owner, the spring had run dry up until a month after Gabriel died. Then bam, one night in early spring, it just started flowing again. Apparently he and his wife were having marital problems at the time, and when the spring started flowing again out of nowhere, they took it as a sign.”

Dean grabs the tablet and scrolls through a little more of the page, looking like he’s about to say some particularly derisive things about fake testimonials and once a cheater always a cheater, but Cas’s arrival kind of kills that, mostly because he’d forgotten to do up his fly properly. “It sounds like a possibility,” the angel intones as he takes his seat across from Dean again. “We should check it out.”

“Fly, Cas,” Dean says, in a long-suffering sort of way.

Cas frowns. “Where? I cannot…”

“No, fly,” Dean reiterates, making a vague gesture in the area of Cas’s crotch and turning slightly red when he does.

Cas blinks and then looks down at his lap.

“Oh.” He zips up his fly.

Dean wordlessly hands the tablet back to Sam. “So we’re really checking this out? Really?”

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t,” Castiel responds, and grabs what’s left of Dean’s milkshake to polish off.

Dean sighs. “Fine. So how do we do this? Journalists again? Health inspectors? Or do we go the direct route and bust in after dark?”

Sam snorts. “Anyone who isn’t signed up for the counseling retreat isn’t allowed past the front lobby, Dean. Apparently it’s part of the bonding process.”

A moment.

And then Dean balks. “No. No way. I am not pretending to be gay married to you. Do they even let gay people into this sort of place?”

Sam can’t believe his brother sometimes. “Of course they do, Dean. Straight couples aren’t the only ones with marital problems or money, you know.” Pause. “And obviously you and Cas are going to be ones who are gay married. I’m pretty sure if it was you and me we would have to do couples’ exercises that would only serve to make people like Becky really happy.”

Dean balks. “Me and Cas?” Dean eyes Cas like he’s suddenly grown two heads. “Why? Why don’t you pretend to be gay married to him? Most of the time I think you’re gay anyway.”

Sam frowns. “Maybe because you’re the one he gave a necklace made of his grace to use as a dowsing rod?”

“Well it’s not like he needs it with bits of Gabe inside him leading the way now!”

Cas starts to look like he’s annoyed that neither of them seems to remember that he’s still right here and no one is asking him what he thinks about it. Dean pauses in his argument to tell Cas to stop sulking, which gives Sam the advantage of an extra second to formulate his argument. “I’m just saying,” he insists. “Two of you will cover all that ground faster than one. It’s a big, expensive resort.”

Dean balks. “Don’t even start…”

“Apparently they have a four star buffet for attendees,” Sam interrupts. Just throwing that out there.

Dean pauses. Frowns. “Four out of how many?”

Sam grins at his brother. “Four.” Meanwhile, Cas is just sitting there watching them like he has no idea what’s going on anymore. He probably doesn’t. He slurps up the rest of Dean’s milkshake in a resigned sort of manner as he waits out the results of their argument, somehow getting some whipped cream on the corner of his mouth in the process. Dean absently hands the angel a napkin while still glaring at Sam, and Sam is pretty sure two of the waitresses behind the counter are having conniptions at how ridiculously cute that gay couple from out of town at table three are as a result. Sam wisely does not bring up the fact that they already act like they’re married half the time as part of his argument though, because he knows it will just make Dean fight harder.

Eventually, Dean sighs and Sam wins. “Fine. Whatever.” He turns to Cas, who is just holding the napkin Dean handed him and not actually doing anything with it. Dean mutters something derisive under his breath and snatches the napkin back to wipe Cas’s mouth for him. “Here, honey,” he sneers. “You got a little something on your face.”

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas answers, completely unperturbed. “I like milkshakes.”

“Yeah, great,” Dean tells him, sounding grumpier than usual as he goes up front to pay the bill. Sam gleefully registers Dean and Castiel for the retreat while his brother isn’t looking.

*****

Welcome to the Second Chances resort!” a woman in a Barbie pink dress suit intones the minute Dean and Cas are through the front door, her smile a little too wide and her eyes a little too bright as she looks at them. It makes Dean instinctively want to punch her in the teeth and run away, because he’s seen a lot of different types of zombie in his time as a hunter and this is pretty much showing all signs of the evil undead except that instead of wanting to eat anyone’s flesh she probably wants to cuddle it to death.

Which is probably worse.

“Hello,” Castiel answers her politely, duffel bag clutched in one arm while he looks from one side of the room to the other, clearly on the lookout for renegade slabs of archangel grace. It makes him look incredibly seedy.

Dean glares at him before shouldering his bag while the woman in the pink dress suit continues to look at them with that freaky horse smile still on her face, like she’s waiting for something. Dean is not sure what it is. Eventually, she blinks, once, and says, “Do you have a reservation with us?”

Dean’s glower turns even darker. “Yeah,” he coughs.

“Name?” she asks, without missing a beat.

“Gaylord,” Castiel intones, when Dean can’t say it.

Fucking Sam. He nearly had a fit laughing at how clever he is when he’d printed out the reservation conformation e-mail for Dean and Cas at the Kinkos back in town.

The woman lights up again. “Gaylord party of two!” she chirps, like there are parties that come in to this place in numbers other than two. “Welcome! Right this way!” She makes a sweeping motion with her clipboard-free arm behind her, gesturing grandly towards the dual spiral staircases straight out of some cheesy Hollywood movie mansion that line the foyer. She spins neatly on her heel and precedes them up the leftmost spiral staircase, all the while chattering on about the resort’s 100% success rate, something about couples’ massage therapy, and trust exercises. “Luckily you two booked when you did; we just happened to have a cancelation yesterday. Divorce, you know. Too bad, if they’d come here first they might have avoided it! Here’s your room, we call it the Odyssey Suite! We call it that because we like to think that married couples, even after years and years journeying apart, can reunite in the end as long as they believe. Isn’t that wonderful? My name is Barbara, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to ring down to the concierge desk and let me know.” She pauses to actually take a breath then, flipping over a few pages on her clipboard before shoving into Dean’s face. “I’ll just need your signatures there, Mr. and Mr. Gaylord.”

Dean looks distrustfully at the mile-long small print on the paper. Barbara continues to blink robotically at him. It’s unsettling and makes him want to stab her in the face because his hunter reflexes are screaming it’s not human at him.

Meanwhile, he can practically feel Cas staring at him in a why are you wasting our time sort of way, and between the angel and the robot lady, Dean grits his teeth, signs his name Dean Gaylord and shoves the clipboard at Cas.

Cas signs it without any of Dean’s theatrics, and when they hand it back to the Barbara-bot her smile broadens somehow, and she tilts her head a little to the side. “Welcome to your first step towards matrimonial reconciliation, Mr. and Mr. Gaylord!” she pulls a sheet of paper out of her clipboard and hands it to Dean without missing a beat. “Here is your daily schedule, please note that by signing the contract you have agreed to comply with every activity on this list. Now, I’ll give you both an hour to settle into your little love nest and then you’ll be expected downstairs for your group ice-breakers and the welcome barbeque. See you soon!”

She spins around before Dean can protest about welcome barbeques and closes the door behind her. He looks hopelessly at Cas. Who is looking out the window again, all squinty-eyed and serious. “This is a very large facility,” the angel says after a beat, apropos to nothing.

Dean scowls and throws his bag onto the room’s single, slightly undersized boat shaped bed. Odyssey room. What the fuck.

Eventually, Cas turns to him and looks vaguely concerned. “What is an ice-breaker?”

Dean shoves the schedule at him—he thinks he saw couple’s counseling on it twice— and goes to raid the mini bar.

*****

As luck would have it, Cas’s grace pings the yes it’s here signal to Dean the minute they get past the horrible catching-each-other and I’m-bringing-whatever-to-the-picnic games on the lawn during the welcome barbeque and move on to the couple’s scavenger hunt and nature hike along the mountain.

Dean similarly feels like he’s been pinged when his hand automatically goes up to clutch at the vial around his neck as they’re passing by one of the idyllic little brooks that dot the property, right as Cas’s head tilts in his universal gesture of something interesting is happening here. “The grace is in the water,” the concludes out loud, while a troubled middle-aged married couple struggles to help each other up the trail ahead of them as they very intently search for something in nature that reminds them of each other along the way. According to their counselors, this scavenger hunt will have a presentation element later. Personally, Dean thinks he’d rather get a divorce than have to find a rock or a leaf or a stick and tell people why it makes him think of Cas.

In the meantime, the angel is crouching by the edge of the water, running his fingers in the stream and sighing to himself.

Dean winces as Cas’s grace doesn’t seem nearly as keen on the idea of the water or the grace that’s inside as the vial pulses wildly under his palm.

“Well?” he asks after a beat, when another couple goes rollicking past them on the trail, talking about how pinecones remind them of each other. “What’ve we got?”

“Mercy,” Castiel answers eventually, voice quietly reverent. “We have found mercy.”

Dean snorts. “So what? An archangel’s mercy is all about forgiving cheaters?”

Castiel looks at him. “God’s mercy is forgiveness in its purest form, Dean,” he intones very solemnly, perhaps even a bit wistfully. “Even after wrongdoing, divine forgiveness is meant to grant relief and acceptance to those who have trespassed on Heaven’s good will. My Father’s love is boundless, even in the face of disappointment or anger. Humans, I believe, are capable of this type of absolution as well, which is what drew the shard here in the first place. What is more merciful than to forgive those whom we love, and are thus capable of hurting us the most?”

Dean swallows, suddenly feeling oddly self-conscious. “Yeah, okay. So divine mercy is forgiving cheaters and liars. This means we just need to get it out of the water, right?”

“It is not here, exactly,” Castiel explains. “I can only feel it faintly in the water as it runs off. I believe the grace is the reason why the spring began to run again, and so we must find the source of the water instead.”

Dean starts to feel hopeful at the news. “Great. Then we get in, get out, and skip the presentation about our feelings and why pinecones make me think of your eyes.”

Castiel frowns and reaches into his pocket. “I have found a rock that makes me think of you,” he reveals, and takes out something small and shiny and jagged. “It lodged itself in my shoe.”

Dean scowls. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It was very irritating and poked me incessantly for the last kilometer.”

Dean isn’t sure if his feelings are hurt or not. “Yeah, well, maybe it’s half your fault for picking it up in the first place,” he tells Cas, mostly without thinking.

Cas’s eyebrow furrows, like he doesn’t get Dean at all. “I had no choice in the matter,” he says. “But when I removed it, I decided it was not unpleasant to look at.” He holds it up on the flat of his palm. “When the light hits it, it shines very brightly.”

Dean is pretty sure he’s officially embarrassed now. “That’s creepy, Cas,” he mutters, watching as the angel absently turns the rock in his hand.

“I like this exercise,” the angel reveals. “It is…creative. I have not often had the option of being creative for creativity’s sake.”

Dean belatedly realizes that this probably means that Cas actually expects him to find something that reminds him of the angel in return. He wonders if he can catch one of those really annoying birds that mimic all kinds of different noises in the middle of the night and poop on your car.

Meanwhile, a young couple in matching polos on the path behind them snickers as they scoot past Dean and the angel; the douchebag husband wags his eyebrows at Dean and declares, “If you two lovebirds stand around staring at each other all day, you’ll definitely come in last!”

His wife giggles, playfully hits her husband on the shoulder, and murmurs “Oh you,” in a way that isn’t as friendly as it sounds and makes Dean think she might have caught him cheating with dudes before and is not happy with how he’s side-eyeing Cas right now. She grabs his wrist and pulls him away from the unusually handsome gay couple flirting by the stream.

Dean sighs and pulls Cas further along the path, out of earshot of the douchy polo-wearing creepers just outside the main trail. “So we hit the source tonight, when everyone’s asleep, right?”

Castiel sticks the rock back in his pocket. “It seems like the wisest course of action. We are constantly being supervised or attended to otherwise.”

Dean hesitates for a moment, because as much as he’d like to have this little slice of organized-activity hell as far back in the rearview mirror of the Impala as physically possible, he also knows that incorporating foreign archangel grace hasn’t exactly been a picnic for Cas, either. “You uh, you sure you’re okay to go so soon after the last piece?” he asks under his breath. “Last time you had more than a week in-between charge ups, man. I don’t want to, you know, overload the system or anything.” Blow you up again, he means.

Castiel looks down at his own hands. “I believe I am ready. Wrath took significantly less time to recover from than truth, and so I surmise they will grow easier with each additional fragment.”

Dean eyes him for signs of squirrely behavior. “You sure there’s space?”

Castiel doesn’t seem overly concerned. “If there is not,” he says, reasonably, “then we will know.”

Dean scowls. “What, by angel explosion?”

“Yes.”

Dean really could punch the guy right about now, except that their guide, Mr. Mack, a scrawny sixty year old man with the stamina of a twenty-something, rounds the corner at a leisurely pace at exactly that moment and Dean is pretty sure they’ll get thrown out if he suddenly becomes Mister DV in the middle of this cute bonding exercise. “Mr. and Mr. Gaylord!” Mr. Mack calls out cheerfully to them when he sees them lingering, “Please don’t wander off the main trail! And you’re falling behind! C’mon, here we go! Buck up and keep moving forward, like the trails on the journey of life, don’t you think?”

He grins a little bit like the Barbara-bot as he says this and continues to enthusiastically wave them over like they’re puppies he’s trying to train with positive reinforcement or something.

Dean grudgingly lets Cas lead them back towards the trail, where Mr. Mack winks and nudges and asks them if they’d stopped off to have a private moment.

“Yes,” Castiel answers readily, mostly because it’s true in the most basic sense of the word and also because he obviously doesn’t get what all the eyebrow wriggling and elbow nudging is supposed to signify.

“Oh wonderful!” Mr. Mack cries, clapping his hands in over-exaggerated glee. “I can’t wait to hear what you two lovebirds managed to find during the scavenger hunt.”

Dean mutters darkly to himself and stops to surreptitiously pluck a dandelion as he follows Cas and Mr. Mack up the incline.

*****

Approximately twenty minutes later, the rest of the hiking group looks reproachfully at Dean from their picnic blankets in perfect unison.

“And er…how does a weed remind you of your husband?” Mr. Mack asks Dean carefully.

Dean glares because these people have no fucking right to judge him and his…weed thing. Castiel, on the other hand, just seems curious and completely unfazed by the unflattering comparison as he watches Dean fidget with the little yellow flower in his hands while everyone else stares.

“You know, it’s er…tough,” Dean manages, after a minute. “No matter how much you try to get rid of it, it keeps popping up again and again.”

Everyone looks at him like he’s some kind of monster.

He backtracks quickly when he realize why. “Not that I try to get rid of Cas, or anything. I’m just saying. He doesn’t look like much, but he’s a pretty tough guy.”

This earns Dean more glares. Castiel just appears thoughtful as he holds that stupid pointy-edged rock that gets shiny in sunlight. Dean looks at him in a pleading kind of way. The angel isn’t sure what he’s asking for though, and just blinks back. Tilts his head. Is not helpful at all.

Eventually, Mr. Mack coughs. “Okay, Dean. Do you realize that everything you just said was basically a backhanded compliment?”

“Yeah, you’re basically the worst husband ever,” that peppy bitch in the polo pipes up from somewhere in the background. She sounds incredibly smug about it, like this is some sort of competition or something.

Dean balks, because fuck her, he’s an awesome fake husband and she knows shit about him.

Mr. Mack tsks in Dean’s defense. “Allison,” he chastises Polo Bitch, gently, “there’s no call for that kind of judgment. We’re here to help each other.”

Allison just shrugs while Dean crushes the dandelion in his fist. Mr. Mack continues to gauge him in an even more judgmental way with his eyes than Allison had with her words.

“Hey, Cas’s thing for me is way worse. Look at that stupid pointy rock,” Dean objects, when he can’t take those looks anymore. They make him feel inexplicably shitty.

“It’s so pretty,” some dumbass with a wine glass comments to Cas, before turning to Dean with angry eyes. “Much prettier than a weed.”

Dean wants to cram his fist down the dumbass’s throat. “Hey, he’s the one who cheated, not me!” Dean points out. Because it’s true. Just, you know, completely out of context.

“Well some of us can see why,” Allison the Polo Bitch snipes.

Eventually, Mr. Mack holds out his hands to silence the others. “That’s enough of that, ladies and gentlemen,” he says patiently, before turning back to Dean and folding his hands together in a damned patronizing kind of way. “Dean,” he begins after a deep, calming breath, “why don’t you try again? Forget the object. Just tell us something beautiful that reminds you of Cas.”

Dean stares in horror. Give him a ghost, give him a werewolf pack, give him a fucking coven of witches. Anything but this.

But nothing evil and man-eating comes tearing out of the woods to save him. Mr. Mack just stares back, expectantly. Cas is still watching sunlight glint off of his stupid shiny Dean-rock.

“Dean, is there really nothing pleasant that reminds you of Cas?” Mr. Mack prompts, after a prolonged moment of silence.

Dean, without thinking, hastily grabs for the vial of grace around his neck. “This,” he says, because he’s shit for ideas. “It’s uh… a necklace thing that Cas gave me?”

Everyone stares in awe at the softly glowing light of Castiel’s grace as it pulses warmly in the sunlight. It’s way shinier than the fucking rock and about a billion times prettier to boot, as far as Dean’’s concerned.

“Well, that is beautiful,” Mr. Mack says, sounding oddly touched. “Do you always wear it around your neck like that?”

“Er…since he gave it to me, yeah,” Dean answers, inexplicably embarrassed by the looks some of the couples are giving him now. Like he’s all tough and mean on the outside and super soft and gooey on the inside.

Mr. Mack looks delighted. “And it’s always right over your heart like that? That’s a powerful sign of something, don’t you think, Cas?”

Castiel finally tears his eyes away from the rock and looks straight at Dean. “That container holds my essence,” he agrees. “So of course I am glad he wishes to keep it close to him at all times, despite everything.”

Dean squirms, feeling his face heat up for no good reason. He quickly tucks the grace back under his shirt. The other couples look vaguely disappointed to see its bright, swirling depths disappear. Whatever, it’s not for them anyway.

“All right,” Mr. Mack pushes. “Let’s move on down the list then, shall we? Why don’t you show us the item you found that reminds you two of the first time you met? Cas?”

Castiel stands and reveals a hawk feather that he’d found early on the trail. Dean automatically does not like where this is going.

“Oh, that’s lovely,” Mr. Mack coos when he sees it. “And what about it made you think about the first time you meant Dean?” He pauses to grin slyly. “Did he hunt you?”

Castiel thinks about that. “He attacked me with a kn…”

Dean manages to clamp his hand over the angel’s mouth a little too late.

And then there they are again. The center of attention via some horrified expressions.

Mr. Mack actually seems to pale in light of this revelation. “You…attacked him?”

Dean tries to think fast, even as he feels Castiel’s calm, unperturbed breathing under the palm of his hand. “I thought he was stalking me, okay?” he answers, defensively. “And to be fair, he kind of was.”

Everyone eyes Dean and the fact that he has a hand clamped over Cas’s mouth like a wife beater. He hastily removes it.

“I had something important to say to him,” Castiel fills in, once he’s allowed to speak again. “He could not hear me the first time I tried to speak to him.”

Some of the other couples inch backwards. Mr. Mack honestly looks lost, and he’d been the one to go on and on at the beginning of this whole stupid hike about how he’s heard all kinds of stories and that no one should be afraid to share, thinking that they were weird or something.

To him, this is most definitely weird. Dean doesn’t really blame him though. It’s still kind of weird to him and he fucking lived it.

He looks sideways at Cas. “Okay so the first time we met we didn’t get along. That happens, right?”

Nervous laughter. More backwards inching.

Dean sighs and looks at Cas. “I blame you for this.”

Cas frowns and puts the feather back in his pocket.

Mr. Mack quickly moves on.

*****

After the disaster hike it’s back to the main resort area for an outdoor movie screening of some idiotic romance drama where Dean has to hold Cas’s hand the whole time and some ludicrous book club-esque discussion afterwards ensues about how Hollywood distorts the concept of relationships and the expectations people attach to them and blah, blah, blah. “It should never come to I’d die for you, I’d give up everything I am for you,” their moderator—Patti, or something— blabs cluelessly. “Real, working romance and relationships are about compromise and communication. The high dramatics you just saw lead to destructive and ultimately short-lived relationships at best. They aren’t realistic, despite how much the media wants us to believe they are.”

Castiel frowns at that part—Dean can see it out of the corner of his eye—and looks like he’s thinking he’s been going about everything all wrong for the past three years. Dean is pretty sure Patti or something has never had to take on Heaven and Lucifer smack dab in the middle of the end of the world, and if he could do it without looking like a crazy person, he’d probably tell her to shut her stupid face because sometimes, all you have is I’d die for you, I’d give up everything I am for you. Instead, he awkwardly squeezes Cas’s hand in his (because apparently they have to keep touching in one way or another for the course of the evening), and after a moment, Cas cautiously squeezes back, signaling that he understands that their lives are by no means the norm. Satisfied that the angel is aware that his actions shouldn’t be classified as dramatics, Dean promptly raises his free hand and asks Patti or whatever her name is what the hell was up with that tree symbolism in the end of the movie, which gives her a hard on for cinematography that forces them to finally change the effing subject.

It isn’t until they get called in for their “dinner dates” that Dean finally sees the actual hot spring source, barred off from the rest of the resort by some natural rock face and a well placed line of wooden fencing. The grace around his neck gives a lurch as they pass by it, and he and Cas share a look at that moment that means the angel definitely felt it too, though Dean is betting the Gabe grace inside him reacted much more favorably than Cas’s original grace did.

They surreptitiously drop to the back of their group and come to a stop along the fence, right beside a sign that very prominently reads, “Enter From Lobby Only.” Dean pauses mostly to see if he can sneak a peek inside to get a lay of the spring while Cas closes his eyes like he’s trying to commune with the grace shard from a distance.

“Looks pretty crowded,” Dean mutters, perched on a round, smooth boulder while balancing on his toes as he tries to see over the top of the fence. “Guess they keep a full schedule on the magic waters or whatever.”

“There is a lot of interference,” Castiel agrees. “I will definitely have to touch the grace directly.”

“Ahem,” Patti or something interrupts, nearly causing Dean to lose his balance against the fence. Cas reaches out a hand to steady him on his boulder before he can go careening into the woodwork though. “Gentlemen, your group will be allowed to enter the spring for bath counseling tomorrow afternoon. Please give the current group their full opportunity to enjoy the healing waters of our main attraction during their allotted time.” She smiles in that freaky way everyone who works here does and then ushers Dean and Castiel along the path insistently, herding them like sheep towards the dining hall.

“So, the spring must be pretty busy then, if it’s the main attraction at all. You ever close it down, or is it open 24-7 for this kind of thing?” Dean asks along the way, trying to act casual.

Patti just continues to smile at him. “The spring is a very important part of Second Chances, and every couple who comes through the program is guaranteed at least one group session in the water,” she informs him, sounding like a TV commercial. “If you’re interested in additional time in the spring, we make hourly reservations for an additional fee subject to availability.” Pause. “I will say, however, that usually a week’s advance notice is needed along with a prepaid deposit.”

Dean scowls. “What if I want to book it for like three in the morning?”

Patti blinks. “Due to high demand, all hours outside of those reserved for group water sessions are booked at least a week in advance, Mr. Gaylord. If you want, however, I could have Barbara pencil you in tentatively for three am next Friday?”

Dean sighs. “Great. Sure. Do that.”

She positively lights up at the sound of that, pausing to pull out her phone and furiously text something to the front desk as they reach the entrance to the dining hall. “We’ll go ahead and charge it to your account then! Enjoy dinner, you two! Feeding each other is a crucial couple’s activity here at Second Chances. And the chocolate soufflé is amazing.” She makes a little squealy joy face that reminds Dean a lot of Becky before turning around and scurrying off.

“I do not wish to stay here for a week,” Castiel declares, after a beat. “That movie was very difficult to follow.”

“Finally,” Dean mutters, and yanks open the door to dim dining room, “something we agree on.”

He supposes this means that bath counseling tomorrow is going to be an interesting group experience with the added addition of grace hunting involved. Hopefully no one will get punched in the face when they find this shard.

*****

When Dean calls Sam to update his brother on their progress and accidentally lets it slip that they’d done some ridiculous exercise where one person was blindfolded at the dinner table and the other had to feed them, Castiel can hear Sam’s laughter through the phone, loud and genuine and a thing not heard by his ears for a very long time. Dean grouses appropriately, calls Sam a litany of insulting names, and then hangs up with a sheepish look across their bedroom at the angel, who still has chocolate sauce on his tie from a small mishap during the meal. “Sam’s going to try and hack the system, maybe cause some of the people ahead of us in line to uh, lose track of their payment,” he explains, while Castiel stifles a yawn. The angel can’t help but realize that Dean is incredibly interested in watching him yawn, even though Castiel is certain that he has seen Dean and Sam do the very same thing countless times over the years. He wonders if it is simply because he is doing it that it is interesting, like when Sam uses his computer to watch video clips of cats being ridiculous. Sam insists that it’s because it’s cats doing these things that makes them amusing, and not because the act itself is amusing. Castiel writes it off as just another one of those things that he will never understand about humans.

“I think I require sleep,” Castiel says after a moment, in which Dean just watches him.

“Well yeah. You haven’t slept in what, forty-eight? You got less than half a grace in you, I think that means you count as mostly human still, Cas.”

Castiel nods and settles down in the bed. Dean balks. “Hey, man,” he protests, and points towards the bathroom. “Just like that? Really? We’ve had this talk before.”

Which is not true. The last time there had been a talk about pre-sleep rituals, Bobby had given it to him, albeit grudgingly. Castiel huffs in annoyance and climbs out of the ridiculous boat-shaped bed to go change and brush his teeth.

When he returns from doing as such a few minutes later it is only to find Dean stretched out in the middle of the bed, face buried against a pillow and looking more than comfortable. Castiel allows himself to feel a tired sort of irritation at the sight, especially since Dean still seems to be fully dressed and possibly drooling.

Sometimes, Castiel is uncertain of how this person came to be the most important human in all the universe to him.

He quietly shuts the light off and fits himself carefully into the edge of the bed, filling in the empty spaces where Dean is not.

*****

When Castiel is woken some hours later, it is by the buzzing of Dean’s phone on the nightstand and the fact that the entire bed is suddenly shifting.

“Dammit, Cas, move, will you?” he hears Dean grunt, right before he feels his arms being lifted from whatever it is they are clinging to. The process is jarring, and he ends up hitting his chin on something in a faint attempt to struggle. The impact wakes him a little more though, while earning a soft, “Ow, dammit, move,” from Dean.

Eventually, Castiel realizes that the thing he is clinging to is in fact, Dean, and that he is completely wrapped around the human, which is making it impossible for Dean to move and pick up the phone. A groggy, irritated part of Castiel thinks that’s just fine, because his body is warm and comfortable as is and it feels far too early to move in the first place.

Dean seems to disagree though, valiantly fighting off Castiel’s attempts to burrow in and go back to sleep, and there is a string of more incoherent noises of frustration from Dean before the human finally manages to squirm out from underneath Castiel and grab the phone. “Yeah, Sam?” he mutters, rubbing at his eyes with his free hand while Castiel blinks owlishly at him from the other side of the bed. “What? Seriously? Okay, okay. Cool. Great. I hate your stupid face. Bye.”

Dean hangs up and flops his head back onto the pillow with a sigh. “We’re in. Sam says someone from scheduling should call us,” he reports groggily, before pausing to look at the clock. “At seven? Ugh. Move the fuck back to your side, man.”

The clock reads six-thirty, Castiel notes, as he blinks a few more times and yawns once. Dean watches him, looking awkward. “Is something the matter?” the angel asks, after a beat of more watching.

Dean scowls, face turning red and shoulders going tense. “Nothing. Jesus Christ, how is this my life? I’m taking a shower. Put some damn pants on and keep an eye on the phone.”

“Of course, Dean,” Castiel responds, and wonders why Dean thinks he is incapable of using the phone without constantly keeping eye contact with it. Dean is the one who had taught him how to operate one in the first place, and it is not an entirely difficult concept once you get the hang of it.

Dean gives him one more dubious look before getting up and blustering into the bathroom, looking like he’s already in a foul mood for the day, despite only being up for seconds.

Fifteen minutes later the phone rings, and Barbara’s inhumanely cheerful voice greets the angel from the other side. Dean is still in the shower for whatever reason, and so Castiel listens to her delighted machinations about fate and timing and how a spot had mysteriously opened up for them to have a private hot spring therapy session this morning. In fifteen minutes if they can make it. “We will be there,” Castiel promises solemnly, prompting Barbara into another fit of squealing delights before wishing them a good morning and hanging up.

The sound of the shower continues to run from the bathroom, and absently, Castiel looks down at his lap and wonders how long his morning erection is going to stare back at him.

He goes to put on pants and hopes that Dean will hurry up and finish his shower. He would like to brush his teeth.

*****

Dean is already supremely uncomfortable at the start of the morning, when he wakes up to the sound of his phone buzzing by his ear only to realize that he’s got an angel wrapped around him, nose buried against his chest and snoring softly. It only gets worse from there when he actually opens his eyes, sees that said angel’s morning wood is up and about long before its owner is.

So of course he retreats to the shower, uncomfortable and awkward and trying not to think about anything as he quickly rubs one out under the spray, dries off, and proceeds to brush his teeth like he does every morning.

He’s almost back to a decent state of equilibrium when a knock on the door jars him from his mantra of just a few more hours, just a few more hours and Cas’s voice prompts, “Dean, if you do not hurry, we will be late. I have confirmed our seven o’clock session in the spring with Barbara. She was very happy with us.”

Dean scowls into the mirror and spits before rinsing his toothbrush out. “All right. Do you have pants on?”

“Yes, Dean.”

Dean wonders about his life as he shaves quickly, gets dressed, and throws the door open. Castiel is wearing pants now, thank god, and looks vaguely perturbed because it’s five minutes to seven and he won’t get to brush his teeth or something. Dean absently points at the mouthwash as he exits the bathroom and two minutes and one cranky partial angel later, they’re out the door and hustling it down the stairs to the locker rooms down on the lobby floor.

From there, they hose down again, climb into the gross black speedos the resort provides as a courtesy, towel up, and head out to the hot spring entrance in the lobby.

Where Mr. Mack is waiting for them.

“Uh…what?” Dean says automatically, when the older man claps them both on the back, wishes them a hearty good morning, and asks if they’re ready for their session. With him.

“I thought it was private,” Dean intones, and is too disturbed by the thought of climbing into a hot spring with an old, way too cheerful dude to even notice that Cas and his speedo aren’t making friends so much as ultimate wedgie enemies.

“It is private, Dean,” Mr. Mack assures him, as he strips off his towel with a little too much enthusiasm. “Just you, me, Cas, and a little one on one counseling in the healing waters of Second Chances.”

Dean wants to punch someone. Mostly Sam. “Can’t it just be me and Cas?” he prompts, hopefully.

Mr. Mack laughs. “Of course not, Dean. The spring has a 100% reconciliation rate. If we left couples in there alone, it would definitely get unhygienic! Plus, I feel your hour will be used most constructively with guided discussion and arbitration, don’t you? Now let’s go! It’s a strict one hour policy, and the McKenzies are scheduled to take this baby at eight sharp.”

Mr. Mack herds them through the door and out into the hot spring without another word. Notably, it looks a lot like a hot spring Dean had seen in a Japanese animated porno once, when he’d been surfing the pay-per channels in Vegas and hit the international one by mistake. These, apparently, are the places where vicious gang bangs happen if one isn’t careful.

Mr. Mack, apparently unaware of the whole stigma, stretches luxuriously before sliding into the steamy water and beckoning Dean and Cas in after him. “No need to be shy. The whole point of this exercise is to bear our entire beings to one another, isn’t it?” he prompts.

Cas eyes the counselor dubiously before stepping down in to the water, and Dean is forced to follow, even though the minute his toe comes in contact with it, the grace vial around his neck gets twitchy and uncomfortable, feeling like it wants to burrow into his skin and hide.

But Cas gives him what must pass for a significant angel-ish look, and Dean grudgingly settles down in the water, sitting across from Cas while Mr. Mack perches on a stone ledge between them, looking expectant. “Well, let’s get right down to it, shall we?” he declares, clapping his hands together. “What is it that brought you two here today?”

“Grace,” Castiel answers absently, as he settles more deeply in the water, before Dean can kick him under it. The angel has a look of quiet concentration on his face as his chin hits the top of the bath, his hand rooting around underneath for what Dean presumes is where the grace shard is buried.

Mr. Mack is too surprised by the unconventional answer to notice (or call attention to) Castiel’s strange bath time behavior. “Grace? Who’s that?”

Cas looks like he’s going to answer again, but Dean viciously cuts him off. “Our dog!” Dean bites out. “Grace is our dog.”

Mr. Mack looks even more confused now. “Your dog… is what brought you here?”

Dean manages a sheepish smile, biting back a yelp as Castiel’s hand brushes along the instep of his foot as it roots around at the bottom of the spring. “You know, don’t want a broken home for our…Grace. She uh, she deserves better than that.”

Mr. Mack takes this in, while Cas’s eyebrows are furrowed like he’s trying to discover Dean’s angle while doing his very best to find the mercy shard. After a minute of rapid back-and-forth facial expressions, the angel reluctantly nods in understanding. “Yes. She is like a child to us.”

“Oh, I see. Well yes, of course. That makes sense. A lot of couples come here hoping to reconcile for the sake of their children.” Mr. Mack, clearly glad to be back in familiar territory again, takes up that line of reasoning faster than Dean had attacked the shrimp at the buffet last night. “Okay, well, great! Whatever reason brought you here, we’re happy to have you, and we’re glad that you wanted to try and patch things up between you with our help.” He looks back and forth between them, growing serious again. “Now, before we start a dialogue, I want you two to both sit and think for a minute, about a list of reasons that you’re dissatisfied with one another. Don’t say them out loud for a bit, just close your eyes and think about them.”

Dean stares. Mr. Mack waves his hands at him. “Go ahead, Dean. Close your eyes. Think.”

Dean grudgingly closes his eyes. Thinks.

“I believe I have found something, Dean,” Cas says a moment later. He sounds encouraged.

Dean nearly slumps in relief. “Great. Be merciful and hurry this up, then.”

“It is very deeply buried, Dean. And reluctant to make itself known.” Castiel sounds as frustrated as Dean feels.

“Good, good, this is good!” Mr. Mack encourages. “Grab a hold of those feelings and pull on them. Like a little thread, unraveling a giant tapestry of pain.”

Dean opens his eyes just so he can roll them at that. Meanwhile, Castiel is standing right in the middle of the spring now, speedo discomfort momentarily forgotten as he tries to puzzle out how to invoke the grace in the water’s source.

“Uh, Cas, do you want to go first, then?” Mr. Mack asks.

“No,” Castiel answers. Then pauses. “Thank you.”

Mr. Mack frowns. “Well, that’s not conducive to a dialogue, Cas. You have to be willing to share to…”

“I’ll share,” Dean pipes up, because the more Cas can concentrate on getting the shard out, the less sharing there will be all around. “Can I go first?”

Mr. Mack looks very happy at Dean’s voluntarily offering to speak. “Of course. Please, Dean. As I recall, you talked about how Cas cheated on you yesterday during the group hike. Why don’t we talk about your feelings with that betrayal first?”

Dean blinks. “Right. Uh, well. Cas cheated.”

Mr. Mack makes a cyclical motion with his hand that means go on.

“And… it sucked?” Dean finishes.

“How long had this been going on?” Mr. Mack asks.

Dean thinks. “Uh, a little over a year, I guess. I mean, that I know of.” He pauses then, to look thoughtfully at Cas, who also pauses to look vaguely wounded back.

“I have disclosed everything to you since your discovery of my partnership with Crowley, Dean,” Castiel butts in, making Dean narrow his eyes.

“Yeah, well, sorry if I can’t exactly take everything at face value right now, man,” Dean answers. “You lie once and a part of me keeps wondering if you’re still doing it or something. Everything we’ve been through together, everything we’ve seen and done, the minute you have a problem with something and I’m the last person you talk to about it? That either means you gave up on me or that you stopped caring, Cas. How can I trust someone who feels like that?”

Mr. Mack makes clucking sounds of understanding. “It is very natural to feel that way, Dean. But tell me, do you want to trust Cas again?”

Dean looks at the counselor like he’s stupid. “Of course I do. But we don’t always get what we want, am I right?” That, at least, is a story he knows really freaking well.

“I think that this is something you could get if you worked towards it, Dean, instead of dismissing it as impossible right off the bat. Obviously, what Cas did really hurt you, and all this anger and mistrust are just signs that mean you still care about him, right?”

Cas tilts his head, like he hadn’t thought of it that way. Dean feels inexplicably embarrassed. “Well yeah. He’s the one that stopped, isn’t he? Nothing changed for me.” Dean forces himself to look the angel in the eye, challenging, as he says it.

Mr. Mack smiles. “Pardon me for stepping in, but I think it’s obvious to anyone who sees you two together that you both still care. It’s just going to take some work to communicate and reinforce that. Now, Cas. Why didn’t you try to talk to Dean about the problems you were having before you decided to cheat?”

Cas is the one to look embarrassed this time, eyes darting down towards the steam rising up off of the water. “Because I wished for Dean to have the peace he always longed for,” he answers after a moment of thought. “Because I did not wish to burden him with my problems because they are not a weight I wanted to put on his shoulders. I thought I would spare him that anguish and I sought to take care of it on my own.”

Dean feels inexplicably furious at that, like it’s somehow his fault even if he hadn’t known. “So you ran straight to Crowley instead? Yeah, that makes my life easier, Cas. And the lying? That made it better too.”

Castiel winces. “You already know that I did it with the intent of helping ease the burden on you. You already know that your happiness and your safety are always foremost in my mind and that I did not for a moment, wish to abandon you or cease to care about you. That is the reasoning behind my actions and I have explained them to you more than once. I know now that what I did was wrong, and I regret how I have handled them because they caused you pain, but I cannot explain them to you any more than I already have. At the time, they seemed right, Dean.”

Dean runs a weary hand over his face. “Jesus, Cas. You never wanted to burden me? You want me to be happy? You think you mean so little to me that I would be happier letting you carry a load like this all on your own? That’s bullshit, man. What would you do if you knew I was in a situation like that? Fuck off to a more peaceful life because you didn’t want to deal with it? What makes you think I would want to do that to you?”

Cas huffs, but there’s a small upturning at the corner of his mouth. “I had not considered it from that perspective. Of course I would not have left you to bear that weight alone.”

Dean flushes slightly at that, at all the earnestness there, like Cas never actually did consider it if had been turned around because he’d been too focused on Dean and saving Dean that he couldn’t think about anything else. It’s not unfamiliar for Cas, and Dean can sympathize with the feeling, knows it inside and out because he’s been that guy for Sam since he was four. He sighs, a little rueful, kind of helpless. Something like fondness overwhelms whatever anger he’d been drowning quietly in since Arizona. “Well okay then,” he grunts, out loud. “Good. Just so we’re clear.”

Cas’s lips turn up slightly at the corners at that, like he knows exactly what Dean really means anyway.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mack looks triumphant. “I think we’ve had our first breakthrough of the hour, boys! You know what that means, right?”

Dean and Cas both turn from each other to look at him. “That…you can leave?” Dean offers, hopefully.

Mr. Mack shakes his head. “It means we’ve made it to our first hug!”

“Hug?” Dean and Cas say, at exactly the same time. Dean’s version is slightly tinged with horror though, while Cas’s just sounds curious.

“Go on, boys. We now understand each other’s feelings, each other’s motivations. I think this calls for a hug.”

“I don’t understand that reasoning,” Castiel pipes up, and Dean thinks thank god for him, not for the first time.

Mr. Mack just looks like he gets that all the time. “I believe that showing that our physical bodies are in harmony with the emotions of our psyches are an important way of reinforcing the things we discover along the way in our session. It’s like a bookmark, boys. I want you to remember what you said, but also the things that were felt, the things that were heard and said and smelled and seen and touched in that moment. And what better way to communicate a physical sensation of forgiveness and reconciliation than a hug? Right?”

“No way,” Dean protests, while Cas says, “I do not think I have ever been hugged.”

Mr. Mack looks at Dean all judgmentally again. “Never?”

Jesus Christ, is this what Sam feels like whenever someone looks at him like he’s the antichrist or something?

Dean puts up his hands in surrender. “Fine! Fine. This is us hugging.” Dean stands and goes to hug Cas before Mr. Mack starts to psychoanalyze that whole statement. He grabs Cas around the shoulders and pulls him in for a manly one-two pat and quick release.

Except that the minute they’re in proximity, Cas’s arms go around Dean again, kind of like they had when they’d woken up this morning, except with a lot more skin-on-skin action and a lot more determined (conscious) purpose this time.

“Oh,” Cas says after a moment, sounding like he’s just had some sort of revelation. “This is…nice.” Dean is torn between shoving the angel backwards and running away or pulling him closer, because holy shit, Cas really never has been hugged. No wonder he’s been acting out, or something.

Dean kind of feels like a jerk again.

So he doesn’t end up running in the end, just sighing to himself about his life as he eventually just wraps his arms around the angel full on, letting his hands rest clasped together at the small of Cas’s back. Between them, Dean feels the vial of grace thrum happily, maybe for the first time since truth and Georgia all those thousands of miles east.

His arms around Cas like that seems to be some sort of permission given or something, because while they’re pressed up close like that, Cas lets himself rest his head on Dean’s shoulder and breathes in deep. And just when it’s about to get a hair uncomfortable, Dean hears the angel murmur, “I am sorry, Dean,” too softly for Mr. Mack to hear. It echoes like a scream in Dean’s ears though.

He finds himself squeezing Cas a little tighter without meaning to and murmuring, “Don’t worry about it, Cas. I get it. I do.”

And he means it.

Cas shudders then, and Dean frowns, and before Mr. Mack can have a party in honor of their success, the ground starts to shake and bubble and a flash of light like a photograph being taken explodes upward at them, through the bottom of water. It makes the soles of Dean’s feet tingle.

Cas gasps audibly, and Dean looks him in the eye just in time to see the very center of his pupils glowing white before he stumbles and nearly falls, except for Dean’s arms around him holding him determinedly up.

“Cas? Cas?!” Dean prompts, when Cas’s knees give out from under him. “Hey, Cas!”

“Is everything okay boys?” Mr. Mack chimes in, sounding a bit shaken himself. “Was that an earthquake?”

“Yeah, uh, probably,” Dean manages, as Cas lolls in his arms a little, his skin flushed and hot as he pants against Dean’s shoulder like well… like something Dean saw in a Japanese animated porno once. “Uh, I think Cas has had a little too much steam, man. Heat must be getting to him.”

Mr. Mack shakes his head a bit dazedly. “Right! Right, that happens all the time. Uh, why don’t we just take him out for a bit and let him get some air?”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Dean says quickly, and has Cas’s arm up over his shoulder before Mr. Mack can offer to help. “I’ll just take him back up to our room. I think uh, I think we’re okay now. Thanks for the help, Mack.”

“But we still have thirty minutes!” Mr. Mack calls after him.

Dean ignores him and gets Cas back inside.

He tries not to think about how the vial of grace against his chest feels oddly cold for the first time.

*****

By the time they reach the hotel room Castiel feels relatively stable again, the impact of the mercy shard fittingly less jarring than either wrath or truth. Dean hovers anyway, hand absently clasping the vial of grace around his neck as he eyes the angel warily, like he expects Castiel to expire any second now.

“I am getting stronger with each subsequent piece, not overflowing, as you fear,” Castiel reassures Dean gently, heartened after their encounter in the spring. “The initial burn upon absorption is less painful than it was before.”

Dean pauses in his absent pacing to look dubious. “Yeah, okay. I mean, it’s good that you didn’t get knocked on your ass completely this time, I guess,” he offers.

Castiel stretches out a little on the bed and gets comfortable. “Though perhaps more rest will help me recover more quickly,” he adds, and some of the tension from Dean’s shoulders lifts at that.

“Yeah. Good. That’s good. I’ll head out. Get some breakfast or something while you rest.”

Castiel is not feeling particularly sleepy or hungry at the moment, and the bed seems less inviting than it had earlier that morning, but he pulls the blankets up slightly anyway, and closes his eyes. “Thank you, Dean,” he says.

“Sure,” Dean grunts back, and closes the door softly behind him.

Castiel leans back against a pillow that smells faintly of Dean and lets himself bask in the relief of forgiveness. He falls asleep very quickly.




BACK//NEXT//MASTERPOST
Tags: balthazar, bobby, castiel, dean, death, sam, supernatural
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