Dean waited while Cas fiddled with the hem of his shirt and explored the hallway with his eyes. He wondered what the angel might be thinking that made him so nervous. Trying to catch Cas's eyes, Dean laid a hand on his shoulder and smiled.
"What is it Cas?" he asked again, curiously.
"I... um.... I... ah... that is..." Cas stuttered, his eyes skipping over Dean's face. He was shy and nervous and terrified that Dean would hate the question dancing on his tongue. He knew Dean, like no one else did, and thought his answer to the question would not be positive.
"You know what?" Cas finally said. "Forget it. It's not important." The angel shrugged and walked to their room, his eyes on the floor. Dean stared after him, wanting to run after him and make him explain. He still wasn't good with the whole serious-relationship thing yet and thought that forcing Cas to talk to him would probably be a bad idea.
"All right," Dean called after the retreating angel. "I'll go talk to Gabriel and you just hang out." Dean hoped that this newfound avoidance was some reaction to the torture Cas had gone through and not related to anything he had done. Shaking his head, the hunter walked downstairs and saw Sam and Gabriel cuddling on the couch with Bobby nowhere in sight.
"Hey," he greeted them. "Gabriel, have a favor to ask you." The archangel looked interested, his eyes widening.
"What's that?" he asked. "Decided what to do with dear Zachy?" Dean nodded and both Sam and Gabriel sat up, intent looks on their faces.
"I'm going to let him go," Dean said, laughing at their shocked expressions. "He gets to live as a human, all by himself. I was wondering if you could drop him somewhere far away from here?" Gabriel chortled at the punishment chosen, holding his sides.
"That is perfect!" the archangel crowed. "To have to spend the rest of his life among beings he detests is the best torture possible for him." Sam smiled up at Dean, relieved his brother had found such an elegant solution to their problem. Gabriel gave Sam a quick hug before standing and smirking at the brothers.
"I know the perfect place to drop him," Gabriel chuckled darkly. "Be back soon." The archangel snapped and disappeared, Sam's face falling slightly when he did.
"You're such a sap," Dean snarked at his brother. Sam just grinned and shrugged.
"So are you," he replied. "Who's the one who went through hell to get his angel back?" Dean dropped down on the couch next to his brother and punched him on the shoulder.
"Bitch," Dean said fondly.
"Jerk," Sam replied, laughing. They waited, talking absently about previous hunts and the people they missed. They ignored the thumps and yells coming from upstairs as Gabriel took charge of his former brother. About twenty minutes later, the archangel returned with a satisfied look.
"Took him to a little place in the north of Great Britain," Gabriel said, winking at Sam. "He'll have plenty of sheep and cows for company." The three snorted with laughter, loud enough that Bobby walked in to see what the fuss was about. Soon, the older hunter was laughing as hard as the others, tears rolling down their faces.
"This calls for a drink," Bobby finally said, gasping for breath. He poured shots of scotch into glasses and handed them around. The four toasted silently and drank down the alcohol, savoring the flavor and the burn.
"So what happens now?" Sam asked Gabriel curiously. "Is this it? Cas gets to stay here and the other angels keep their noses out of it?"
"Pretty much," Gabriel replied, nodding. "Dean proved himself a formidable challenge and no other angel will take the chance of losing as Zachariah did. Castiel is safe and I don't think any of us will be bothered again."
"That's great," Dean said, standing and stretching. "I would hate to have to go through that bullshit again. I mean, really? Myths and challenges to prove that I should keep my angel? How childish is that?"
"Sometimes, it's all one has," Gabriel said thoughtfully. "Power struggles among my brothers happen all the time and Zachariah may have seen you as easy prey." Dean snorted and realized he was starving. He ambled into the kitchen and put together a simple meal for him and Cas. He wanted to talk to the angel and see if he could convince him to talk about what he sidestepped earlier.
"See you guys later," Dean said, walking upstairs with his hands full. He barely heard the acknowledgement from the others and nudged his bedroom door open with his foot. Seeing Cas lying on the bed with silent tears running down his face nearly broke Dean's heart. It felt like someone just kicked him in the head. Dean dropped the tray on the desk in the corner and walked around the bed to kneel at Cas's side. Dean gently took Cas's hand and brushed his other hand over the tears.
"Cas, talk to me," Dean said. "What's wrong?"
"Memories and hopes," Cas said, turning his head away from Dean. "It hurts, it all hurts." Cas plucked at the bandages around his chest, his fingers coming away spotted with blood. Dean swallowed and rushed to grab the medkit he kept in his duffel.
"Let me change those bandages again," he muttered, worried that something was going wrong with his angel. "Shouldn't they be healing by now?" Cas shrugged and sat passively as Dean stopped the bleeding yet again and rewrapped his chest. All the other cuts and scrapes had healed but not the ones on his chest and back. When Dean was done, he laid his arms across Cas's shoulders and pulled the angel back against his chest.
"Well, Zachariah is gone," Dean said, his fingers twisting around a lock of the angel's hair. "Gabriel took him to Great Britain." Cas laughed hollowly and made no move to touch Dean. He was sunk in a depression, knowing how Dean would react to the question he had tried to ask earlier.
"You can tell me anything," Dean whispered in Cas's ear. "If you need to talk about what he did to you, I'll listen." Cas shrugged again and sighed.
"What hurts is not those memories," Cas said quietly. When he didn't go on, Dean ran gentle hands down the angel's arms and kissed the nape of his neck.
"Then what does?" the hunter asked quietly, his heart hammering in his chest. He would do anything to help his angel, to fix whatever was wrong.
"What I want," Cas murmured dejectedly. "I know its something you will probably hate, with your past." Dean tilted his head, confused as all hell. What was the angel talking about? Something he'd hate because of his past?
"Cas, I don't understand," Dean finally said, turning the angel so he could look into his eyes. "What are you talking about?" Cas met his eyes, sadness floating in his. He didn't realize it yet, but Zachariah had destroyed a lot of the innocence the angel had had around Dean. Had almost trained him to believe the worst.
"The girls you were with in the past," Cas finally mumbled. Dean frowned as he tried to work through what his angel was and wasn't telling him. Nothing made sense and he finally gave up with a sigh.
"I still don't really understand," Dean said. "You know I chose you, right? Even though your vessel is male."
"I know, Dean," Castiel replied, his eyes boring into Dean's. "But when we sleep together, you are always the one penetrating. I want to return that. I want to be inside you. But I doubt you will accept that."
"Wh... What?" Dean asked, stuttering in surprise. Cas wanted to do that? And here he thought he would have to take the initiative in their relationship. Smiling, Dean pressed his fingers to Cas's cheek and stroked the smooth skin. "Why didn't you just ask me?