It’s Merlin’s fault. Honestly, he takes total responsibility. Really.
Except for the part where it’s actually not his fault at all- he just tried a little bit of magic around this supposed sacred glade that Gaius only told him about later. Suddenly there were two strangers falling from the sky- one hit the ground and disappeared in blinding light, and the other just made a really loud crunching sound. Merlin yelled as he ran over to the body.
“No, no nononono,” he chanted as he turned the man over. On his tunic was some kind of burned sigil- one that Merlin had never seen before- and he was bleeding heavily from his jaw and wrist. Merlin’s fingers dug frantically into the man’s neck, searching for any sign that he had survived. His vein pushed back against Merlin’s fingers with a strong and steady beat.
“What the hell—-” croaked the man, opening his eyes slowly. “Goddamnit,” he cursed, feeling the blood on his jaw. Then his eyes shot wider open.
“Who the hell are you? Where’s Cas?”
“My name is Merlin,” Merlin tells him. “I’ll help you.”
Three weeks later, Dean is all cleaned up and good as new, laying low as he searches day and night for his ‘angel’. Apparently his name is Castiel and he’s going to be wearing some kind of brown coat made of trench- Merlin wasn’t sure he understood it when Dean explained it, fuzzy on Gaius’s healing herbs and low, frantic, clearly worried in the same way Merlin would be for Arthur if he couldn’t find him. Merlin has been looking, sending out little pings of magic every now and then trying to turn up Dean’s friend, but it’s turned up nothing. He offered to try to send Dean back to wherever he came from, even though he really doesn’t know how, but Dean was steadfast. “I will not leave without him,” he said, his eyes burning dangerously. So when Dean asks him every night if he’s found Cas yet, he has to look away from the disappointment in the other man’s eyes. Cas could be anywhere.
Except for the fact that three days later in court, a scared peasant woman runs in demanding an audience with the king, clearly scared half to death. She barely composes herself enough to tell Uther that he was wearing strange clothes and chanting some sort of spell. It’s enough. Without even a moment’s delay, Arthur has been dispatched to try to catch this mysterious stranger. Merlin has a sinking feeling he knows who he is.
“But you have to make sure they don’t hurt him,” Dean says urgently as Merlin packs. “He’s a celestial being, he- I don’t know what he would do.”
“I’ll do my best,” Merlin promises. His voice is grim. He wants to help Dean, really he does, but He’s not sure how much longer he can pull this kind of thing off.
“Okay.” Dean’s eyes burn into his back like a brand as he walks out the door.
Well, Arthur catches him, and Merlin gets a look at what a coat of trench really does look like. Cas is not as dirty as Merlin would have expected him to be and he doesn’t fight. He seems very worn out and very unfocused as Merlin and another knight walk him behind Arthur’s horse the long, long way back to Camelot.
“Dean is my friend,” he whispers, low, as he’s feeding Cas some stew by hand. “He’s fine. We’ll get you out of this.” It’s a foolish promise, but Merlin always follows through.
“Dean is okay?” Cas breathes back. “I tried, I tried-“
“Mer-lin,” drawls Arthur. “I need more stew.”
Merlin is forced to turn away from Castiel and go tend to Arthur. That night, he makes himself wake up just a few minutes till dawn and try to take Cas away, but Arthur’s guards are actually attentive this time, scared by the peasant woman’s talk. Castiel is gagged. Merlin feels like he may vomit as he starts the fire.
When they get back to the kingdom, Dean is in the crowd. Cas sees him, lifts his eyes heavenward then back to Dean’s. Dean’s brow furrows and he actually seems to be radiating anger, about to do something very, very stupid. Merlin hisses a few words that make him trip into a nearby trough of water, glancing forward as soon as Dean’s head drops out of sight.
When he comes out of the palace, Dean is waiting for him.
“What the HELL?” he yells, shoving Merlin back against the castle wall. “I trusted you!”
Merlin lowers his eyes, is forced to tell him the sad truth. That there was nothing he could have done, not without outing himself as a wizard, tells him about what happens to magic users in this kingdom. Dean’s eyes blaze like hellfire.
When Merlin wakes up to a sore face and a forming bruise, he leaps up. Dean punched him! Dean knocked him out! He runs as fast as he can up to the throne room.
Dean rounds the corner at the same time he does. Merlin just watches, the beginning of a plan forming in his mind, as Dean barges straight in.
“Greetings, you royal sons of bitches. I’m here for the guy you have in your dungeon. He belongs to me.”
Uproar ensues, but Merlin lurks back and watches as they bind Dean, as he fights like crazy against impossible odds. He steals down the stairs just in front of the guards, melts the locks on all the other cells, tells Cas that he will fulfill his promise. Cas looks up and smiles as Dean is thrown into his same cell by frustrated guards.
“Cas.” Dean’s voice is flat and strangely unemotional. Cas smiles.
“I heard you,” he murmurs, dragging a piece of charcoal around on the floor. “Praying to me. Every night.”
Merlin turns away so as not to see some definitely illegal kissing.
“Hey, Merlin-” Dean’s voice makes him turn around. “Thanks.”
They disappear in a flash of light in the middle of a charcoal sigil.
“Sleep, Dean,” commands Cas. He adjusts his grip on the angel blade, which flashes with its own light, as if it were alive. “Don’t make me force you.”
Sighing irritably, Dean shuts his eyes and burrows his chin deeper into the trenchcoat. The fabric is heavy, musty. Still warm from its previous wearer. Dean inhales once, quietly, then jerks the coat down around his shoulders.
Several heartbeats go by before Dean lets himself open his eyes. But Cas has not moved. The angel is tensed, like an angry dog: chest thrust out, chin bared, every muscle in his arms flexed, alive. Cas looks even more imposing than usual, thinks Dean, which, given the tight cotton scrubs, is proof enough for him that God exists, and has a terrible sense of humor.
“You’re still wearing that hospital bracelet?” The chuckle Dean forces out sounds more like something a wounded animal might make; Cas flinches toward the noise, deep lines under his eyes. “Dude, how’s it even still on you?”
“I like it,” he says softly. “It reminds me. When I forget.”
Without turning, Cas kneels and holds up his arm for Dean’s inspection. His gaze falls on a line of small block letters printed neatly on the flimsy paper.
“WINCHESTER, CAS,” he reads.
For a moment, Dean can only stare, open-mouthed, at the bracelet. Then he swallows guiltily.
“Well, we had to put something.” He shrugs himself deeper into the coat to hide the flush rising in his cheeks. “I don’t think ANGEL OF THE FRIGGIN LORD would’ve fit in the box.”
Cas stands back up and smirks out at the gloom. “All the same.”
“It’s just a name.” Dean can’t quite bring himself to add it doesn’t mean anything, because he remembers that awful night at the hospital, with Sam, and Meg, and staring at what he’d written for a full minute, palms sweaty, heart in his throat, until Sam had to nudge him in the ribs and ask if he was alright. He draws a shaky breath.
“Just a name,” he murmurs, as he did back then.
“Adam said the same thing after he named the zebra,” replies Cas with nostalgia so obvious Dean can’t help but wince. He turns then, finally, his eyes soft and fond in the low light. “A name is a powerful thing, Dean. You humans, you don’t just name to classify. You name to remember.” His smirk evaporates, and he stares down at the blade in his hand. “Sometimes I have trouble remembering.”
At the wistful tone of Cas’s voice, something ugly and jealous inside Dean snarls to life.
“Look, it doesn’t mean anything,” he snaps.
Cas looks up, face drawn. “I suppose,” he says coolly, “I deserve that.”
Internally, Dean kicks himself. He rolls over, away from Cas’s unyielding stare, and stares up at the starless sky.
“No, Cas, I meant—“ Dean pauses, searching for the right words before giving up and continuing anyway. “Look, Bobby used to say, ‘family don’t end with blood’, right? Well, it don’t start with names, either, Cas. You’re family. No matter what.”
As the tension sags out of Cas’s shoulders, Dean sighs in relief.
“Thank you,” the angel replies, his voice no more than a whisper.
“Don’t mention it.”
They share a quick smile before the angel returns to his survey of the underbrush and gloom.
“But if it’s all the same to you,” says Cas eventually, casting a quick, almost shy glance back at Dean. “I’m going to keep wearing the bracelet. You’ve given me two names now,” Cas adds, not bothering to hide his smile. “And I intend to keep them.”