As the days go on, Dean feels as though he's getting further and further away from finding anyone bearing even a passing resemblance to Cas, and he's starting to find he doesn't much mind. Cas has a few odd quirks - well, if falling asleep in short, unsure bursts and having to be reminded to attend to a few normal bodily functions can be called quirks, anyway - but is probably the least disruptive housemate he's ever had. He is singularly focused on Dean, though, to a point that at turns makes him feel flattered and extremely nervous. I would be so bad, though, he finds himself thinking, if Cas just stuck around for a while.
That, of course, comes crashing down on him in the next call he makes.
It's only a cursory call, really; Charlie, in her infinite wisdom, had suggested he ring round the local hospitals, giving out a description of Cas to see if it matched with any recent John Doe admissions, or any missing patients. Cas has glared at her slightly from across the room, because as much as he'd agreed to stick with Dean, it hadn't made him like the idea any more than he already had.
"Oh, yeah," says the guy on the other end, "That sounds like an AWOL patient we had recently. If you could bring him to the hospital, one of the attending doctors could check him out?"
He doesn't remember saying yes, but knows he must have; ever the professional. He shuts down his computer, and waves for Cas to join him, glad he'd managed to convince the guy to ride in the car today. Cas follows him out with a smile Dean doesn't share.
"You've stopped early," he says, pleased, once they're both strapped in and cruising along. "Have you perhaps stopped completely?"
"For today," Dean concedes, not knowing what else to say. This feels like a betrayal somehow, despite how he'd said this was what he'd do.
He didn't have to though, did he? Dean could just leave Cas in the car, listen to what the guy at the hospital said - and it'd be a different guy they were looking for, like everyone else, and he could just drive them both home and call it a day.
* * *
"I'm here to see Dr Adler?" he asks the receptionist, having left Cas sitting on a waiting room chair with the least battered wooden toy he'd spotted. The man on reception gives him a blank look briefly, before shaking his head, dazed, and saying "Of course, he's in consulting room 5, you can go on through." When Dean thanks the receptionist, he looks blankly confused again, and Dean groans internally. He has a bad feeling about this, that he's not entirely sure can be separated from the inappropriate churney feeling he gets being near Cas.
As it is, Cas looks mighty suspicious when Dean collects him. "Why are we here?" he asks, stern.
"Eliminating a lead," he says. "Trust me, this is for the best, all right?"
* * *
Castiel, it turns out, is a man called James Novak.
James Novak, it turns out, is a man with a wife and daughter worried sick about him.
Dean, it turns out, feels awful.
When Dr Adler explains all this in calm, measured tones, there are minute changes on Cas' face that Dean knows means he is becoming more and more confused by what's being said to him, weighing what the good doctor says against when he thinks he knows and finding it wanting. Dean just feels sad.
"That's not true," Cas says, eventually, in a much smaller voice than the one he uses with Dean.
"I'm afraid it is, James. I was treating you just the other day. It's a complex condition," he tells Dean, in a tone that rankles against him. He really hates anyone talking down to him. "Amelia will be ever so glad to see you," he adds to Cas, simpering tone doing nothing to dismiss the toady image the guy is giving off, and Dean can imagine just how much a handful the guy must be, and he feels sad all over again.
He was all ready to make it his handful.
The doctor grabs an orderly - a short guy who looks way too cheerful for Dean's liking - as Dean says his goodbyes. Or tries, at least.
"It' for the best, Cas," he promises, not entirely believing the words himself, but needing Cas to. "These people are your family, they're really worried about you."
"I don't know them," says Cas, bluntly. "I'm not interested. I already told you what I want."
"I know," says Dean, grabbing Cas' hands and grasping them between his own, "but these people came first. I know you don't know it right now, but you promised to make them happy too, at some point. And what would make me happy right now is knowing you're with people who care about you, all right?"
Cas shakes his head and pulls his hands away. "If that's what you want," he says, plaintively, and damnit if every selfish atom in his body isn't trying to just grab Cas and run and forget the whole thing, but. He can't.
"It isn't," he finally says out loud, as Cas gives him a solitary wave all the way down the corridor, following the jaunty orderly deeper into the hospital. It really isn't.
* * *
"Breathe in," Dean tells himself, "breathe out. You knew this was gonna happen, Winchester, hell you were looking for it to. Don't chicken out now."
As self-motivating pep-talks go, it wasn't the worst he'd ever given himself, but it wasn't exactly gonna hit anyone's top ten most inspiring speeches any time soon. It's just a phone call, he reminds himself, a phone call he owes to a woman whose husband he has accidentally cheated with. Yeah, maybe leave that part out of the opener.
He does as he has told himself, breathing in, and out, and telling himself that he's about to give someone some really great news, really great, and ignoring how much he's hoping no-one is home to take his call and he can just leave it to the hospital like a sensible person would. This a stupid idea in its entirety; he knows no matter how happy the Novak family will be to have Cas - no, James - back with them, it's not gonna stop his heart aching, and being the one to break the news, really isn't gonna cut it in the feeling good about oneself stake, but. He has to try.
When a woman picks up on the third ring, it's really hard not to curse his good luck out loud. "Yeah uh, hi, is that Amelia Novak? I'm calling on behalf of County Hospital, I have some good news about your husband-"
"Wait," she cuts in, and there is something that sounds a lot like panic in her tone, which isn't exactly what he'd expect from a worried spouse. "Is this about Jimmy? Has something happened?"
"Uh, well, kind of?" Dean says, thrown way off his game. "I mean, he's been found."
"Err, yeah, found. I know he's been missing a few days, you must have been worried."
There is a dead silence on the line, where he waits for some kind of reaction. Cautious joy, maybe? Certainly not the flat-cold disbelief he eventually does get. "Is this a joke?" Amelia says, and were they not talking over the phone Dean would be fairly worried for his own safety if he had to say yes. "I saw my husband this morning."
That completely throws him for a loop, and he mentally congratulates himself for not just shouting 'what?!' down the line. "Uh, he's about six foot, dark hair, blue eyes, kind of a distance runner's build? You definitely saw him today?" he asks.
"I know what he looks like," she says, sharply.
"Does he have any tattoos?"
"No," she says, "What exactly is this about?"
"Uh," he stutters out, because right now, he has almost no clue himself what this is about. "Does your husband have any relatives that closely resemble him?" Dean eventually manages to get out, letting himself slip into work-speak as he builds a lie in his head.
"No," she says, "Now could you please explain what's going on?"
"Sure, ma'am," he says, the all-business tone doing an amazing job of covering up the confusion he's all but vibrating with. "Someone who looks a lot like your husband's come in, along with his insurance card. Based on what you've told me, it could be an honest mix-up, or it could be insurance fraud." For some reason, Dean found, people were always willing to go along with you if they thought you were gonna stop someone defrauding them. "Sorry to bother you." He hangs up before she can ask any more questions he doesn't have a real answer to, and, before he thinks better of it, turns the phone off in case she tries to ring him back or something.
"What the fuck?" he asks the walls. "What the hell does that mean?"
"It means," says the short orderly from this morning, "that good men really do grow on trees."
* * *
"Castiel," says Naomi, after the brief recess, and there's a touch of sadness on her foreboding voice. "You have told your story very well, and we do understand your intent." There is a rippling in the audience, an uneasy kind of approval, as though they aren't sure if her words should be taken as red. He doesn't blame them. "In many respects, your behaviour was admirable, given the constraints you were working within.
"Nonetheless," she says, "your actions represent a massive breach of trust, and of protocol. From a model soldier like yourself, it's all the more disappointing."
Over the low, tense hum of disappointment in the room, Castiel feels a muted spike of spiteful glee from Zachariah. Not everyone is that disappointed, then. He himself can only wait; whatever he'd expected from this mock trial, it hadn't been that they'd actually find him guilty of anything. He may have bent a rule or two, but this hardly felt an appropriate response.
"Picking a horse to back is one thing," says Zachariah, "but taking a vessel to do it? In this economy? Kid, I figured an upstart like you'd know better."
Castiel stares long and hard at him, eyes narrowing in confusion. "This isn't a vessel," he says, slowly, as he might if trying to explain a difficult formula to a child.
"What?" says the courtroom.