dumbassery, denial, doing (the three d's to the destination) - sobsicles (2024)

Chapter 1: The Dumbassery


Okay, so we've got a long one. There's not much really to say about it, I guess. I had fun writing it. I hope you all have fun reading it!

Enjoy :D

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

In a bar on a Tuesday morning, it's a few months out from the final shot at the world ending. But hey, Chuck's long gone, and everything has worked out for the best, and the world keeps right on turning. Funny how that goes, huh?

Dean's gotten over celebrating at this point. He and Sam spent, like, a whole month not really doing much of anything at all while Cas and Jack took that entire time to try and fix some kinda issue with the Empty. Apparently, Cas' dumbass had made some kind of deal, and it had taken the combined efforts of Cas, literal Death, and the new God—an actual toddler with a bedtime—to get the Empty to let him out of said deal. Jack did the heavy lifting on that one, offering the Empty a coma-like state where nothing could wake the son of a bitch up, and that had supposedly been a dream come true, so.

Hey, freedom is had by all, apparently. Dean has stopped making snide remarks about deals and not telling people about aforementioned deals at this point, mostly because Cas continuously found ways to turn it around on him—an insult, obviously. Like you have any room to judge, Dean, he'd say. And yeah, okay, whatever...but still. f*cking still.

Anyway, Dean isn't angry about it anymore. The deal is null and void, and life goes on. Truly, it does. Things are just moving along, no problems at all, and Dean's sort of tired of basking in it already. Yay, they have free will! Awesome. Can they please get back to not treating every day like a goddamn gift? It's annoying dwelling on what was real and what wasn't. He just wants to be f*cking normal for a little while—or, well, as normal as he gets, at least.

So, a bar. Some nice alone time where he doesn't have to watch Jack be all adorable with his new obsession with magic tricks, as if he's not actually God now. The irony of the kid earnestly demanding they watch him do a card trick that he fails at when he could actually blink people in and out of existence—well, it's not lost on him. And don't even get him started on how Sam is trailing around after Eileen like a goddamn shadow, all wrapped around her finger. Then, of course, there's Cas who is just sticking around all the time now, which is abnormal because he's always dipping out, or dead.

Dean sort of wants to nail him to a chair the longer he's around, even though him being around should be relaxing that urge rather than making it worse, and also Cas seems to have no desire to leave. And yet, the urge only grows by the day. Another week, and he's convinced he's gonna chip Cas just so he'll stop getting twitchy every time Cas walks too close to the exit. Actually, a chip would be—

And nope. See, this is why people need to get out sometimes, this right here. Staying cooped up, savoring every second of every day in a painful awareness that it's his now, it's only taking him to crazy-town. He needs to chill the f*ck out.

There's a lady who might be able to help.

Her name is Rebecca. She's exactly what he's looking for at the beginning, a pretty smile and a soothing voice. Her hair is short, cut just to her chin, blonde and straight. She has a mole above her lip, and it's cute. The best thing about her? She is focused entirely on Dean, almost hungry about it, flourishing under his attention, hanging off his every word. It's easy.

It's been a while since Dean has done this, not even a one-night-stand. He's older now, usually too worn out by the world to actually care, but the world's all fine now, so why not? He thinks he misses it, misses the feel of connection, misses the flirting and the blatant interest and the little dance of being wanted.

The problem is, he doesn't really do any of the wanting in return. He realizes it about halfway through that he's just not...feeling it. She's pretty, sure, and she'd probably be fun to roll around in the sheets with, but Dean's spent an hour with her and feels mostly fulfilled. Just that small tap into it, like a brief rest in between a long marathon. It's been nice, but he's—well, he's bored with it already.

There's nothing wrong with her, truth be told. He thinks maybe he just wanted to speak to another human being for a little bit, smile and laugh and maybe playfully flirt, but there doesn't need to be some kind of result. He used to always be about the results, like that was the best part, but he's sort of sated now. He's had a good night and spent an hour with a beautiful woman, doing absolutely nothing wrong, and that's nice. It's not even about sex, and he's weirdly proud of himself for it.

He thinks, maybe, that she might even appreciate it. She's a beautiful woman who likes conversation, so there's no doubt in Dean's mind that she can find someone to take home. Hell, maybe it'll even make her happy to know a guy wanted to spend time with her without just being eager to get into her pants.

At this point, Dean's ready to call it a day and head home. He's already thinking about what to make for breakfast before Sam and Jack can get in there. Sam's been trying to teach Jack to cook, but that's like setting loose two puppies with no leashes. Who the f*ck knows what Cas has been up to. Probably shut up in his room, watching Netflix again. Idly, Dean wonders if he can rope Cas into watching a western tv show with him. Probably.

"Dean?" Rebecca asks. "Are you listening?"

"What?" Dean blinks, startled. "Sorry, I was—uh, actually, I think it's time for me to call it. This has been fun, but I should probably get home. Hey, seriously, thanks for hanging out."

She seems sort of hurt by that, so Dean tries to smooth it over, only to get a long lecture about mixed signals and leading people on.

He tells her as kindly as possible that he's not interested, that he's sorry if he gave her the wrong idea, and that he seriously has to go. And then, he's getting up and walking out, no backwards glance.

He goes home.

"You headed out early this morning. Day-drinking, Dean, seriously? Everything okay?"

Dean grunts as he flips the pancakes he's going through the trouble of making, glancing over his shoulder to watch Sam pad into the kitchen. "Yeah, just had to get out for a while."

Sam sighs. "Right. Of course you did."

"Want some pancakes?" Dean gestures to the pan with his spatula, eyebrows raising. "I can make you some outside of the bacon grease, if you want."

"That'd be great, thanks," Sam says.

Dean hums and finishes making the rest of breakfast, taking the time to make Sam his special pancakes while he's at it. Give him an award.

They're sitting down to eat when Cas appears in the doorway, and Dean greets him with a, "Mornin', Sunshine," that's becoming more habitual by the day the longer Cas sticks around.

"Good morning, Dean," Cas replies, by rote, and then tactfully adds, "Sam."

"Cas," Sam returns, amused.

"And Jack," Jack pipes up cheerfully, appearing behind Cas in the doorway, head popping up over Cas' shoulder comically. He's beaming. "What's for breakfast? Ah, pancakes!"

Dean swallows down a snort of amusem*nt as Cas and Jack come sweeping into the kitchen. Jack is very excited about the pancakes, God or not. He probably doesn't even need to eat anymore, but he clearly wants to. He uses too much syrup, and Sam lightly scolds him for it, but Dean adds a little more with a wink when Sam isn't looking. Cas catches it and smiles down into the cup of coffee he stole from Dean. He doesn't need to eat or drink anything either and usually doesn't, but he has a fondness for coffee—or, Dean suspects, a fondness for the fact that Dean will let him get away with his thievery.

Still, Dean generally just steals it back the moment Cas puts it down, and then Cas does the same in reverse. Lately, they've spent their mornings passing coffee back and forth under the guise of stealing it from each other. It's become something of a ritual.

Sam eyes him like he always does, eyebrows raised, and Dean shrugs lazily in response. It's not like he has any clue how it started, and it's just coffee, so what the f*ck does it matter? Sam rolls his eyes and focuses back on his food, shaking his head.

"Dean, you left early this morning. Were you going drinking?" Cas murmurs.

"Huh?" Dean looks up, frowning, a little startled. He looks at Cas and clears his throat. "No, dude, I'm fine. Just needed a break. No biggie."

Cas surveys him for a long moment. Dean is about to open his mouth to reassure him again when Cas abruptly reaches out with his hand. Dean blinks at the feeling of a finger gently smoothing in between his crumbled eyebrows, easing the tension away. It sort of reminds him when Cas heals him, though there's no flare of grace this time.

"Okay," Cas murmurs, apparently taking his word for it, dropping his hand away again.

Dean looks down at his plate, then looks up and takes his coffee when Cas offers it—dropping the facade of thievery for now. "Thanks. Hey, I need to go grab some groceries 'cause we're running low, so if anyone needs anything, lemme know now."

"Can I come with you?" Jack asks, perking up.

"Yeah, s'fine," Dean says, waving a hand flippantly.

"I'll make you a list," Sam tells him, flicking his gaze between Dean and Cas.

"You do that, Sam," Dean mumbles, flexing his fingers around his fork. "Sure thing."

After breakfast, Dean puts Sam and Cas on cleaning duty—to their twin frowns of annoyance as an instant response—and makes his way to his room. It's a few hours before he hauls himself up and gets ready to go into town. He snags his keys, calls out for Jack to be in Baby in two minutes, then goes to steal the list from Sam, who is in the middle of facetiming Eileen.

"Don't you dare forget the quinoa again," Sam tells him distractedly.

Dean snorts. "Dude, I already get you the other rabbit food you want. I won't be caught dead getting quinoa. You want that sh*t, you'll get it yourself."

He ducks out amidst Sam's protests, chuckling under his breath as he goes. Jack is already waiting in Baby, as per Dean's instructions, so they're out on the road pretty quickly. Jack seems to be in a good mood, though he rarely isn't these days. It's not so much being God that's cheered him up; Dean thinks he's happy that things have finally calmed down, and he's free just to be a kid at home with family.

When they get to the grocery store, Jack bounds out of Baby with a skip in his step, but Dean snaps his fingers and tosses him a quarter. It's one of those places where you have to put a quarter in to get the cart—which you get back after—and Jack gets oddly excited about getting to pay the carts, as he calls it.

They've got this down to a science at this point. It's become something of a routine by now, because Jack always asks to go along on these little shopping trips. Dean doesn't mind, and it helps that he doesn't have to haul all the bags everywhere by himself. Besides, the kid isn't bad company.

The way this goes is, Jack doesn't get to push the cart, but Dean makes him hold onto the side the whole time anyway—the kid likes to wander off, and Dean's already lost him in stores a few times and has no desire to do so again. There's nothing quite as embarrassing as that first time where Jack just seemed to disappear, and Dean had freaked out like a young mother misplacing her toddler. Also, there's something vaguely mortifying about asking employees to speak over the intercom and have Jack meet him at the front of the store. So, Jack has to hold onto the cart at all times, and if he lets go to wander off, he doesn't get whatever he wants from the store—he gets to pick one thing, which usually turns out to be some kind of toy.

"I want that," Jack informs him almost as soon as they enter the store, pointing to a bin of hula-hoops.

Dean sighs. "Put it in the cart."

This is something of a routine, too. Jack changes his mind at least five times throughout the whole store, leaving them to wander around at the end and put back the things he decides he wants less than the next thing that catches his eye. Until then, Dean's stuck with a pink hula-hoop sticking out of the goddamn cart while Jack beams at it.

He has something of a system when grocery shopping. First, he goes and gets everything Sam wants, though he actually does draw the line at quinoa. After that, he restocks on the things they need, making sure to keep the freezer sh*t for last. Eggs go in the front of the cart, while bread goes on top of them, and drinks go on the bottom.

"Sam wants to teach me how to make avocado chicken salad with kale," Jack says, nodding to the avocados that Dean puts in the cart with a grimace.

"The only thing these are good for is guacamole," Dean mutters, shaking the bag at Jack. "And, just so we're clear, that's for chips."

Jack hums. "I don't think Sam would agree."

"Sam shouldn't get to have opinions," Dean says easily, huffing slightly. "Seriously. Kale? Jesus."

"Hey, I want this," Jack says, hands already reaching out to pluck a lone bike helmet—he doesn't even have a bike—off the shelf. It's blue with orange flames on the sides.

Dean sighs again. "Yeah, yeah, put it in the cart. Helmet instead of the hula-hoop. Also, why is that even on this aisle? Animals."

Jack wants to wear the helmet, but Dean tells him no, and then there's a mild disagreement because Jack thinks he should be able to use the hula-hoop since he isn't getting it, and Dean once again tells him no. Jack eventually concedes, as usual, and Dean doesn't mention it when Jack keeps holding the helmet to his chest instead of putting it into the cart. He almost killed the kid, multiple times; he can stand to let him get away with a few things.

The shopping continues in this fashion for a while, and Jack replaces the helmet with a pack of play-doh that Dean knows damn well is gonna end up on the carpet. He can only hope something else will catch Jack's eye before they're ready to go.

Dean's thinking about making some kinda stew tonight, and he can't remember if they have canned corn or not. There's only one can, so he lightly tosses it up and down in his hand, lips pursed as he considers if they actually need it or not. He can't actually remember, and he forgot to check the pantry before they left. Well, damn, might as well, right?

He throws it in.

"Oh! Dean, I want this," Jack declares, holding up a bright green sandwich box with a broad smile. It's not even a toy. It just has glitter on it.

Dean grunts. "Put it in the cart."

When they're almost finished, Dean ends up helping a tiny old lady get something off a higher shelf. Jack tells her that he likes her scarf, and she tells Jack that he's a nice young man. Dean finds all of this incredibly amusing, especially when he catches the old lady eyeing up his ass when he turns around. He has to swallow a laugh as he hands her the box of taco shells that she asked for. She smiles sweetly at him and continues on her way.

"Dean!" Jack gasps out, nearly lunging away from the cart to grab a packaged yo-yo, which lights up when he pulls on the string. He whirls towards him with wide eyes. "I want—"

"Yep, in the cart." Dean pauses, shuffling forward with a thoughtful look. "Actually, let me see that. I used to have one of these when I was a kid. I mean, mine didn't light up or anything. It was just red. Still, it kept me pretty occupied."

Jack lets him see it, and Dean hums as he looks it over curiously. When he was a kid, toys were a helluva lot different than the toys that exist nowadays—not that he ever had a lot of toys of his own to begin with, admittedly. His toys ended up being guns and pocket-knives. Nonetheless, he's a little surprised to find that they somehow managed to upgrade goddamn yo-yos. They light up now, which is baffling and oddly amusing.

He tosses it in the cart.

The rest of the shopping trip passes without incident. Before they go through the line, they trek all over the store to put the things Jack decided he didn't want back where they're meant to go. When they leave the store, a couple is coming in, so Jack gives them their cart and says they didn't need the quarter anyway. It's kind of him with just a hint of rebellion, so Dean approves.

When they get back to the Bunker, Jack shows Sam his yo-yo, and Sam responds in nostalgic amusem*nt, while Cas dutifully pulls up YouTube to put on a video showing the fundamentals on how to actually use a yo-yo. None of them get the hang of it, but Dean does idly wander out of the kitchen to take the yo-yo and show off that he can still do it, even one of those funny tricks where the yo-yo slides along a surface and retracts back. Jack is enthralled, Sam is reluctantly impressed, and Cas doesn't even watch him do it—he completely misses it, so Dean gets a little huffy and goes back to finish dinner.

It turns out that they do have canned corn, so Dean's is definitely making stew, which turns out really good. Cas even lets Jack pass him the fork with a chunk of potato on it and eats it without pulling a face. Hey, Dean must be doing something right if he can get past those angelic taste buds of doom.

When Sam finds out that Dean didn't get him the quinoa he asked for, he smacks Dean over the back of his head, then huffs and stalks out of the kitchen.

Jack goes back to his room, cheerfully declaring that he now needs to master the yo-yo and somehow work it into his magic act. Again, he is literally God. Yes, Dean is bemused about all this, too.

"You won't ditch me, will you?" Dean mutters as he starts heading for the sink. Jack and Sam have already washed their bowls—because they do have some manners, at least—but Dean still has to wash his own and the pot the stew was in.

Cas hums and joins him at the sink. "No, I'll stay."

"You're an angel." Dean quirks a teasing smile, because out of everyone, Cas will appreciate his puns the most. Or, well, he'll at least do that squinting thing that Dean likes. "Hey, can I ask you a kinda weird question?"

"Yes," Cas says simply.

Dean purses his lips and dunks his bowl into the soapy water. "Are you worried about me drinking? You and Sam, I mean."

"We've discussed it." Cas passes him the pot, watching him with a small frown. "You haven't been lately. It's not usually a good sign if you do."

"Oh." Dean clears his throat. "Well, I'm not."

Cas' eyebrows furrow. "You don't sound particularly pleased about that."

"What? Nah, man, I'm fine," Dean says, both a lie and not. He's certainly been worse, so he's fine enough. "Just saying. I just don't want you to be worried about it. Anyway, you've been on a Netflix kick lately. Whatcha watchin'?"

"I just finished a movie called Sucker Punch, recommended by Claire. It had a solemn scene involving a dead baby dragon in the middle, but otherwise it was quite good," Cas murmurs.

Dean snaps his fingers, flicking suds against them both. Cas doesn't even flinch. "Oh yeah, I know what movie you're talking about. That sh*t was full of action, dude. Kinda not sure what to make of the whole maybe-brothel, maybe-mental institution thing, but it was good. You watch A Fistful of Dollars yet? The one with Clint Eastwood?"

"Not without you to force me," Cas says.

"That's the spirit." Dean grins at him, plopping the pot into the other side of the sink to rinse it. "If you promise not to watch any episodes without me, we can start Bonanza."

Cas sends him a flat look. "That's the one with the father and the three sons, all with different mothers, isn't it? Fourteen seasons?"

"Sure is."

"I don't know, Dean, I think I'll struggle not to skip ahead and watch without you. It sounds riveting."

"f*ck you," Dean says, laughing. "Don't tell me it's too much of a commitment for you, Cas. What else do you have to do with your free time?"

"Well, when you put it that way," Cas mutters dryly.

Dean hums, side-eyeing him. "I mean, if it is too much of a commitment, I get it. Fourteen seasons is a lot to get invested into, and I'm not gonna watch without you, so if you're gonna leave me hanging…"

"As you said," Cas murmurs, "what else do I have to do with my free time? I might as well."

"You could at least pretend to be excited, dude. Bonanza is a f*cking classic."

"I am struggling to contain my excitement."

"Oh yeah, you're just jumping for joy right now," Dean says sarcastically, snorting at Cas' bland expression. "You're really breaking my heart, man. I can't believe I'm going to watch this show with someone who won't appreciate it."

"I can't believe I'm going to watch fourteen seasons of a show I won't appreciate," Cas replies, sighing.

"Well, you already agreed, so you can't back out now. Too late." Dean moves away to dry the pan and bowl before putting them away, and Cas stays put by the sink. Dean moves back a second later, grinning at him as he drains the water and waits for it to gurgle down so he can rinse the residual suds away.

Cas turns and leans back against the counter, surveying him curiously. "Sam told me that you have been, as he put it, climbing the walls."

Dean blinks. Oh, Sam's got him all figured out, huh? Damn him. "Yeah, actually. It's not really anything bad. I've just been getting into my own head lately, I think. Started thinking about weird sh*t, sort of. Just a few hours away helped."

"Are you alright?" Cas asks, blunt and to the point.

"Uh...yeah? It's not the first time I've ever had to deal with it, and it probably won't be the last. It's not the worst I've ever had to deal with, period. You know that."

"I do know. I still wanted to ask. We haven't been in any bizarre situations since…"

"Chuck," Dean mumbles.

Cas nods. "Yes. I suppose we're all adjusting to being comfortable. I can't say I blame us."

"You're tellin' me. It's new." Dean snorts and shakes his head, shutting off the water and turning around to lean against the sink beside Cas, their shoulders brushing. "But no, man, it was fine. I don't think we need Chuck around for bizarre sh*t to happen. Being comfortable ain't so bad; I just get a little cagey sometimes."

"That's true," Cas agrees, lips twitching.

"You thought I was pissed off?"

"Perhaps. It would seem unfair for everything to be so...stagnant. We're not used to it, and this freedom came with the insinuation that we're no longer meant to be suffering, but I don't think it's that easy for any of us. If you're upset, it would make sense. Sam was worried you might be."

Dean rolls his eyes. "Sam worries about everything. Doesn't really matter, though, does it? I don't think it's about freeing ourselves from suffering so much as making sure the suffering is our own. Does that at all make sense, or am I spewing bullsh*t?"

"It makes sense. Whatever happens now happens not for divine purpose or a plot in a story we have no desire to be a part of," Cas says.

"Yeah," Dean says softly, "exactly."

"If it's any consolation," Cas murmurs, lips curling up into a small smile, "I'm sorry you've suffered."

"S'okay. I don't mind." Dean pauses, then grimaces and reaches up to squeeze and palm at the back of his neck. He's got aches everywhere. "Well, that sounded way worse than I meant it. Just—I dunno. I guess I'm tired of acting like this newfound freedom is something we gotta treat like glass, like if anything bad happens, we f*cked it all up. sh*t happens sometimes. Life goes on."

"So it does." Cas sighs and flicks his gaze to Dean's hand on the back of his neck. "Are you injured?"

"Nah, just got kinks every-f*cking-where," Dean mumbles, huffing. "Can't relax for sh*t. It's fine."

"Hm," is Cas' quiet response.

Dean blows out an explosive breath and tips his head back, closing his eyes as he slides his hand from the nape of his neck to his shoulder, squeezing as he goes. It hurts a little, but not enough to dig into the knots. He can't even reach all the damn tension in his shoulders and back if he tried, but f*ck if he wouldn't be willing to try.

He's held so much tension in his shoulders and back for so many years that he sort of just has a dull ache there all the time. What he wouldn't give for some Magic Fingers right about now, though it honestly wouldn't help very much. It'd be too soft. Even his f*cking memory foam does f*ck all for him. What he needs is someone to either crack him like a glow stick or use their fingers to dig in and work all the knots out, methodical and hard, enough to make him f*cking cry from how good it hurts.

Like his prayers have been answered, there's suddenly fingers digging harshly into the middle point between his shoulders, right up under the place he just had his hand on the back of his neck. His eyes fly open as he gives a full-body flinch, whipping his head around quickly and expecting Cas to be giving him an impromptu massage, because who the f*ck else could it be?

Sure enough, that's exactly what Cas is doing, seeming to be concentrating as he does.

When the fingers spread and dig into the knots in Dean's shoulder, he makes a low, choking sound and feels tears immediately spring to his eyes. That sh*t f*cking hurts, really goddamn badly, but it's also just right, too. When the fingers press down and dig in, Dean releases a startled moan that echoes in the otherwise silent kitchen, and he reaches up to clap his hand over his mouth. The fingers disappear almost immediately, leaving behind a heavy throb that feels painful and relieving all at once.

Dean glances at Cas, then immediately wishes he hadn't, because Cas is staring at him with wide eyes like he's just done something f*cking insane. Which he has, right? Because why the f*ck would he suddenly just moan for literally no reason? It felt good, though. It hurt, but it also helped.

"I—" Dean falters, because he has absolutely nothing he can say to explain. He feels ridiculously helpless at this moment, and the only option he has left is to flee. "Uh, sorry, I gotta—go. Tomorrow, Bonanza."

He does a quick, little shuffle and beats a hasty retreat, leaving Cas staring after him incredulously.

Eileen coming over is one of Dean's favorite things.

The thing about Eileen is, she's f*cking wonderful. She's weird and kinda crazy and totally, completely out of Sam's league. Dean kinda hopes she never figures that out because he secretly wants her to get trapped in this family and never get out. She really livens sh*t up, so to speak.

"Shh," Dean hisses between his teeth, shoulders jerking from how hard he's trying not to laugh. He puts his finger up to his lips and watches as Eileen presses her mouth into a thin line, turning red from the strain of not laughing.

Sam makes a small sound in his sleep, face twitching a little, and Dean freezes in place. He holds his breath and watches as Eileen reaches up to run her fingers through Sam's hair, settling him again. After, she winks at Dean and nods.

Dean goes back to drawing a dick on Sam's forehead. He's dedicated to the cause, making sure to add little doodles of suggestive markings out the end of it. Yes, it's crass; yes, it's in permanent marker; yes, it's paired with a mustache already drawn on Sam's top lip.

The best thing about it? This was Eileen's idea. The dick and everything, which she conveyed to him through some very suggestive gestures. Dean thinks she's the best girlfriend Sam has ever had.

When he finishes, Dean caps the marker and shares a grin with Eileen before slipping out of the room and heading into the kitchen. Cas gives him a knowing look, though it's not disapproving in the least. Dean can pretty much get away with anything these days, it seems like. Cas mostly just appears fond about everything he does.

"What art did you decide on?" Cas murmurs, holding out Dean's cup of coffee—well, their cup of coffee, because they share all the time now.

Dean says, "You'll see," and raises his eyebrows as he takes a large sip from the cup.

Cas does, in fact, see just a little bit later. Sam comes stumbling into the kitchen with Eileen in tow, none the wiser about what's on his face. Eileen smiles too sweetly and can't look at Sam for more than five seconds at a time, but she hides her amusem*nt very well. Cas is like a rock, unfazed, stoic as sh*t. He doesn't so much as blink, or twitch a smile, or give anything away. He meets Sam's gaze and talks to him like this is a normal day. Jack, surprisingly, doesn't ruin it either. He blinks, just once, then carries on with his beaming smile and his demand that Sam pick a card out of his deck.

So, all-in-all, it takes Sam until about midday to notice. When he sits down at the map table to get on the laptop, he catches sight of his reflection in the black screen, leaning in and squinting.

Mere seconds later, he bursts out, "Dean!"

Yeah, Eileen is the f*cking best.

No matter how much Dean tries to claim her as his accomplice, Sam flat out just doesn't believe it, somehow completely oblivious to Eileen's wild, mischievous streak. Eileen, being who she is, frowns at Dean and complains that he's trying to drag her into something she had no part in, because she would never do something like this to Sam. It's kinda hilarious how easily he believes her, and no amount of trying to convince Sam otherwise works, so Eileen may be the best, but she's also a traitor.

Sam does eventually get his face clean, even though it leaves lingering red spots where he scrubbed everything off. He decides to retaliate by spraying whip cream in Dean's ears, which is f*cking rude, actually. Cas somehow gets in the crossfire—a mistake, obviously, because it's not smart to get involved in a war between Sam and Dean—and ends up with enough whipped cream in his hair and on his clothes that he's gonna need a shower.

Before Cas lets Dean lead him out of the kitchen, he walks over to grab a five-pound bag of flour without a word and doesn't even hesitate as he opens it, takes a handful, and blows it into Sam's face. Throughout, he looks severely unimpressed, and now Sam looks like the betrayed one, while Dean howls with laughter to the point he nearly cries, tugging Cas to his room as he does.

"I'm going to have to wash this," Cas grumbles as he holds open his trenchcoat, frowning.

Dean snorts and tugs out a t-shirt and jeans from his dresser drawers. "If I knew whip cream could've got you outta that thing, I'd have whipped that sh*t out years ago." He grins at Cas. "Heh, get it? Whipped, because it's whip—it's a pun, Cas."

"Not a very good one," Cas mutters, still in a pissy mood because the equivalent to his goddamn blanky is covered in whip cream and he'll be separated from it for at least an hour. He needs help, obviously.

"Well, I think this calls for a celebration. I've rarely seen you outta that thing. Why the hell are you so attached to it anyway?" Dean asks.

"It sometimes feels as permanent as you," Cas says, like that makes any kind of sense.

"Uh," Dean says, thrown, "what?"

Cas sighs and reaches out to take the clothes that Dean offers him. "I've worn it through most of every significant thing that's happened since coming to earth and...staying. At first, it was only a part of my vessel, but then it seemed to become a part of me. It remained even through many resurrections, though it always changed after. Slightly different each time that I came back. It seemed to represent me, as well as how much I and those around me have changed. This is not the same trenchcoat I wore when I first met you, just as you are not the same man you were, yet you've both always been here."

"Oh," Dean mumbles, blinking rapidly. He raises his eyebrows and tips his head from side-to-side. "Okay, that seems...fair. Well, hey, even if you burned that thing and never put it on again, you still got me."

"Thank you." Cas smiles at him, then narrows his eyes. "Don't burn it."

Dean chuckles. "I won't, Cas, I promise. But I will wash it for you. Leave your clothes out by the door, and I'll throw them on."

"Okay, Dean," Cas says.

Sam—who has washed his face again—is leaning in the doorway when Cas slips by and Dean starts to follow him out. He says, "You never wash my clothes for me, Dean. What's that about?"

"Wash your own damn clothes," Dean says, shrugging and trying to move past.

"Why does he get special treatment?" Sam asks, eyebrows raised, his tone a little pointed like he's playing 3D chess while Dean doesn't even know how to play checkers.

"Dunno. Don't care. He just does," Dean replies flippantly—it doesn't matter if he doesn't know how to play, not if he refuses to participate to begin with.

Sam watches him head out into the hall, whistling a jaunty tune, then throws his hands up and walks away while muttering under his breath. Dean's pretty sure he hears his name and idiot in the same sentence, multiple times, but he just grins and keeps going. He swings by to take the clothes Cas has left outside the bathroom, scooping them up and making good on his promise to wash them.

While Cas is in the shower, Dean teaches Jack more about the yo-yo. Or, well, he tries. Jack can be so very awkward sometimes, endearingly so, and also terribly uncoordinated. He'll get the hang of it, Dean is sure, but probably not for a while. His card tricks are starting to get a little better, at least. He manages to do the one where he pulls a card from behind Eileen's ear and doesn't actually drop any cards on the floor, so it's a success.

Sam eventually shows up in the doorway, dressed up a little, and he whisks Eileen off on a spontaneous date after getting the keys off of Dean. That's a bit of hilarity dropped in, because Dean spends a good ten minutes teasing him and listening to Sam get increasingly more huffy. Dean does eventually forfeit Baby's keys with strict instructions on how to treat a lady, and it takes Sam a few moments to realize that Dean is talking about the car and not Eileen. Sam brings out a bitchface for that one.

Jack abandons him to go resume his dedicated watch of Teen Titans, and Dean finds himself lingering in the hallway a few minutes later, waiting for Cas to get the f*ck out of the shower already.

He does, eventually, walking out in Dean's shirt and Dean's jeans, hair still slightly wet and dripping droplets down the length of his neck, leaving little damp blots on the collar of his shirt. Dean's shirt. Whatever. He looks severely underdressed without all the layers, and Dean feels like he needs to clap a hand over one of his eyes so he can't take in the full image of him all at once. It's kinda intimidating, which is ridiculous because Cas looks sort of comfy and more human-like outta his angel get-up, but there's something...formidable about it, somehow.

"What is it?" Cas asks, squinting at him.

Dean frowns. "I don't know," he admits. Then, "Uh, nothing, I'm fine. Hey, Sam stole Eileen away to take her out on a date, and Jack is using up his TV time to watch Beast Boy kick some ass, so whaddya say we get back to Bonanza?"

"Mm, acceptable," Cas says.

"Great." Dean grins at him, reaching out to grab both of his shoulders and turn him around, marching him along to the Dean Cave.

Cas doesn't protest the manhandling, like he never has, but he does peer over his shoulder to arch an eyebrow at Dean. "Were you waiting for me?"

"To get outta the shower? Yeah, dude, you were sure taking your time," Dean tells him. He leans forward and inhales, huffing. "Is that my shampoo?"

"Should I have used Sam's?"

"Ya know, it's fine. My body wash, too?"


"You've got me all over you. My clothes, my shower stuff. We could put you in a wig, let you drive Baby, and send you out with a gun. I bet the monsters wouldn't know the difference."

"Don't be ridiculous," Cas murmurs, "you would never let me drive Baby."

"You know me well," Dean agrees, clapping him on the shoulder as they file into the room.

He instantly breaks off to get Bonanza set up. Cas shuffles over to the couch, easing down on it and looking oddly smaller in regular clothes. Dean peeks at him, then looks away with another frown. This becomes a cycle of him getting distracted over and over. He can't put his finger on it, but there's something… Well, he doesn't know what it is, but it sure is something.

Again, he shrugs it off and gets Bonanza on. They're already halfway into season two by now, so they've got this down to a routine—broken only by the times that Dean wants popcorn. He moves over and plops down on the couch beside Cas with a grunt that young people do not give, even if he refuses to admit that he's getting up in age. f*ck off, he's in the prime of his goddamn life.

They get through three episodes without speaking, but Cas does eventually start muttering under his breath—a running commentary on the ridiculous, over-the-top fight scenes. Dean knows he only does it to get a reaction out of him, but it works a damn treat to get Dean to defend the show. Yes, the people who get punched throw themselves all around the room and into various furniture. Yes, it's a little stupid. Yes, it's kinda out of time. That's the f*cking point, though, and Dean spends a few minutes in a heated but whispered debate with Cas about it, offended when Cas mocks it more.

Ultimately, though, they both get distracted by the sight of Hoss fighting a man as big as him. It's over-the-top again, yeah, but there's this whole subplot of one big man trying to teach another big man how not to be so angry. Cas makes a few more comments, but he also seems to be a little invested as well, so Dean waves him off.

On and on it goes, and they swing between quietly bickering among themselves and actually watching the show, which are equally enjoyable for Dean, so he's clearly the real winner here. At some point, he fumbles for the blanket spread over the back of the couch, accepting that the goosebumps on his arms aren't from the amazing quality of the show—not that he'd ever insult it out loud—but that he's just actually really f*cking cold.

They've nearly made it to season three when Cas gets really quiet, but Dean doesn't think anything about it. One of the episodes is unexpectedly intense, so he figures Cas is just focused on it.

A few minutes later, however, he starts a little in surprise when he feels Cas' head drop down on his shoulder. They've been sitting beside each other the whole time, slumped towards the middle of the couch, their arms pressed together, so it's not like Cas has suddenly moved over or anything. Still, it's a little unexpected, and it's never happened before.

Dean blinks down at him in the glow of the TV, narrowing his eyes when he sees Cas has his eyes closed. He huffs and mutters, "I know damn well you're not sleeping, Cas. You don't sleep. If you're not gonna watch, I'm cutting it off."

Cas hums, eyes still closed. "I'm listening. I don't need to see it to pay attention. And I can sleep, if I really want to. I just don't often do it."

"You tryna say Bonanza is making you want to sleep?" Dean asks, lips twitching.

"It's a better alternative," Cas murmurs.

Dean snorts. "f*ck you. I can't believe you're going to pretend to sleep and use me as a goddamn pillow. You're ridiculous, you know that?"

"You make a nice pillow," Cas tells him. He sags into him a little more, pointedly. "Don't worry, I can still hear the absurd sound effects of people hitting one another. I'm not missing anything."

"I'm making you watch Gunsmoke next," Dean says with a huff, untucking the corner of the blanket and swinging it out to flutter down over Cas as well.

Cas makes a low sound of amusem*nt, an undercurrent of approval in there somewhere. "I would say wake me when it gets entertaining, but you would never be able to wake me if I did."

"Don't you f*cking dare fall asleep on me," Dean mutters, wiggling his shoulder a little. "If you drool on me, I swear I'll let you choke on it."

"Hush. Ben Cartwright is about to shoot someone again," Cas murmurs.

Dean clicks his tongue. "Lucky guess."

"I'm paying attention."

"Yeah? Shut up, then."

Cas does, falling silent, and Dean focuses back on the TV. He can feel Cas' hair—still a little damp and smelling like Dean's shampoo—tickling his neck. He thinks there's something about this, too, but he gets distracted by the show before he can figure out what, exactly, it is.

Dean knows when Cas has actually fallen asleep. He knows it the instant it happens, because Cas settles in like his last few strings have finally been cut, breathing going deep and even. Dean fumbles for the remote, jaw cracking with a yawn, trying to get his hazy mind to remember what episode they're in the middle of so they can pick it back up later. He pauses the TV, blinking slowly, warm and comfortable and definitely about to get up.

Any second now, he's going to haul himself off this squishy, comfortable couch and push Cas off to head to bed if he's so tired, maybe hit his own bed while he's at it because he's sleepy in a really good way that only comes around rarely. Any second now, he's going to get up. He really is. Any second—

"Can I help?"

Dean jerks his head around in surprise, then huffs out a quiet laugh. "Jesus, you need a goddamn bell. Uh, no, I think I got it covered."

"Car restoration seems pointless, at times. It can be more effort and expense than just replacing the vehicle," Cas notes calmly as he moves closer, reaching out to lightly swing the hanging headlight of the car they're next to.

"Hey, stop that," Dean mutters, darting a hand out to grab his wrist and drag it away. "I'm fixing that, so don't make it worse. And it's not pointless. You gotta look to the heart of a car, ya know, open up your eyes to the potential. Just 'cause something seems beyond repair don't mean it shouldn't get a little TLC, too."

Cas narrows his eyes at him. "Tender, loving care?"

"Exactly. Cars are only broken until someone fixes 'em up, or until someone cares enough to try," Dean points out, fondly patting the hood of the car.

"Hm." Cas makes a dubious noise and crouches down to examine the car further from new angels, knowing damn well that he doesn't know sh*t about cars as it is. "Baby isn't getting replaced, so what plans do you have with this one?"

Dean watches him in faint amusem*nt. "Mm, maybe give it to Jack. He doesn't have his own, and he knows how to drive. I taught him. Or hell, maybe even Sam—what if he wants to do something with Eileen while I'm off in Baby? He shouldn't have to steal a car for that. If not, I could even fix it up and sell it for a pretty penny, 'cause she's a classy lady and would go for a high number."

"Do you think you'll restore everything in here?"

"Dunno. Might get around to it at some point. It gives me something to do, ya know?"

"That's nice." Cas pops back up and fixes him with a serious look. "The motorcycles in the back, under the tarp, aren't to go to Jack. Admittedly, I would prefer if no one got the motorcycles."

"Well, now I want one," Dean says, grinning.

Cas frowns at him. "I'm serious, Dean. Being on a motorcycle leaves you exposed. It's far too easy to get killed on them—not even for your own skills in driving, but sometimes for the lack of someone else's. Sell them, but don't give them to anyone."

"Alright, alright, I hear ya." Dean raises a hand in a placating gesture. "No wipeouts in this household, got it. We'll stick to the guns, and monsters, and apocalypses, and—"

"Dean," Cas says, a warning.

"Yeah, okay," Dean replies, shutting up because it's probably in his best interest to do so.

Cas lingers in the garage with him for a while, which Dean doesn't really mind. Sam and Jack are in the kitchen, apparently handling dinner today. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, so Dean's already preparing to resign himself to swallowing food that's ridiculously healthy and waiting until everyone goes to bed to sneak out of his room to indulge in a sandwich or something. He's pretty sure he saw Sam chopping a goddamn eggplant, so Dean knows it's gonna be a rough one this time. He barely survived the squash casserole.

Despite the fact that Cas is not adept when it comes to cars, he makes for a good assistant. He can hand Dean the tools he needs, at least, and he will hold a flashlight steady when Dean needs better lighting. Plus, he listens to Dean's chatter about everything he's doing without complaint, so that's nice.

Dinner turns out to be grilled turkey with eggplant rolls, stuffed with f*cking quinoa, as a side. Oh, and it's all perfectly portioned, too. Not that Dean wants more than he's already got, because he struggles to choke any of it down. And, look, he knows what Sam and Jack were going for here, okay? It's all seasoned really well, and there are some ingredients Dean doesn't know about, and it looks good…

The thing is, Dean wants a goddamn burger so bad.

Sam glares at him until he eats every bite, and Jack goes back for seconds, apparently very proud of his and Sam's cooking prowess. Cas allows Sam to hand him one of the eggplant rolls, takes one bite, then opens his mouth like he's about to spit it right back out, only to go back to mechanically chewing when he catches sight of Jack's expectant expression. That makes Dean feel mildly better, at least.

After dinner, Sam sticks around with Dean to clean up, and Cas allows Jack to rope him into playing some kind of board game with him. Sam and Dean work in comfortable silence for a while, not having to speak, moving around each other and the kitchen with familiarity, holding out things before the other can ask for them, that weird sibling thing where they can communicate without uttering a word. Dean's trying to figure out a way he can casually ban Sam from the kitchen for the foreseeable future, while Sam is carrying around the knife he used to cut the eggplants, so Dean decides not to approach the idea of banning him just yet.

"You know," Sam says, breaking the silence as he starts gathering the cups from the table, "I saw you and Cas asleep on the couch the other day. It was after my date with Eileen."

"Mhm," Dean hums idly, turning around to catch the cups Sam throws at him, just as he does it.

Sam's eyebrows jerk up. "You two were really, uh, knocked out, man. Looked pretty cozy."

"Yeah, we were," Dean confirms. He dunks the cups into the soapy water. "How did your date with Eileen go, by the way? She didn't come back after."

"Oh, it was good. Really good. She just had a friend who needed her help with something, so she had to go," Sam tells him, moving to join him at the sink.

Dean shoots him an amused look. "And when is she coming back again?"

"Not sure just yet, but soon."


"You sound way too excited about that, Dean," Sam mutters, shaking his head. "Whatever you're planning, cut that sh*t out. Eileen isn't about to get caught up in your stupid pranks, dude."

"Sammy, I'm trying to tell you, she's the f*cking mastermind behind it all," Dean insists.

Sam scoffs. "Don't bullsh*t me. Anyway, if she is, then it's okay when she does it, but she's not. Quit using my girlfriend as a scapegoat, man."

"Don't say I didn't warn you," Dean says, sucking on his teeth and shaking his head, still amused. "You're going to be cutting the cake at your wedding, and you're never gonna see it coming when she shoves a slice in your face, but I know it's gonna happen."

"No, she won't," Sam argues.

Dean snorts. "Okay, we'll see. God, it's like you don't even know who you're marrying."

"She's never done anything wrong, ever," Sam declares, then frowns. "Wait, why are we talking about marriage? Who says Eileen and I are gonna get married? She hasn't talked about marriage, and neither have I. Jesus, Dean, aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?"

"It'll be cute. One of those weddings where the bride drinks the groom under the table and leads him in the first dance. She won't wear heels, I'd bet my life on it," Dean says, grinning at him.

Sam looks at him oddly. "Dude, stop planning my wedding. That's weird. I haven't thought about marriage. Eileen and I are perfectly fine the way we are right now, so chill out. What about your wedding? Why don't we talk about that?"

"Mine? Pfft, to who? Baby?" Dean pauses to consider that a little more seriously than he should. She's an older lady, but they'd be happy together. The thought cracks him up, and he shakes his head as he passes Sam the next plate to rinse. "Nah, I ain't getting married. Ever. It's a scam, dude."



"And you're convinced Eileen and I will? Hypocritical of you, Dean."

"Well, we need some way to trap Eileen in this family with no easy way out. If you let that one go, Sammy, you're a goddamn idiot."

"First of all," Sam says in disapproval, "that's really underhanded of you. Second, divorce is a thing. Third, Eileen can do whatever she wants. And, finally, I'm doing my best not to f*ck this one up."

Dean nods at him. "That's the spirit. Knew you were smarter than you look."

"I hate you." Sam sighs and swivels a pot under the running water, rinsing the suds away. "So, wait, you seriously haven't given any thought to marriage? Or...maybe, um, settling down at some point?"

"I feel pretty settled now," Dean admits.

"No, yeah, I get that," Sam says. "I just mean...you know, maybe with someone."

"Like who?" Dean asks, arching an eyebrow.

Sam's face does something strange. "No one comes to mind? At all? Seriously? You can't think of one person you'd want to...uh, call your own, kinda?"

"Call my own?" Dean echoes incredulously.

"You know what I mean. It's nice, that's all. Having someone. Letting someone have you. I don't mean in a bad way, like a possessive thing, and it's not ownership, obviously… But, you know, just someone who gets to see every part of you. It's special. Or, it can be," Sam explains, raising his eyebrows.

Dean rolls his eyes. "I know how relationships work, Sam, if you'd believe it. I've actually been in a few over the years, so relax."

"Yeah, but you haven't since—" Sam cuts himself off, clearing his throat and keeping his promise from a long time ago. "You haven't in years, man. We've been really busy dealing with so many other things, so I get it. Just...you seriously haven't thought about it? Not even a little bit?"

"Not really," Dean tells him, grudgingly. He shrugs and passes over the last cup, letting the water drain immediately after. "I don't really feel like I need it, I guess. You'd think I would crave it, seeing as I've wanted it before, but honestly? I kinda feel, uh, satisfied in that way, too. Don't really know why, so I can't tell you, but I'm good."

Sam stares at him. "So, you—you don't feel like you want those things because...you've already got it?"

"Yeah, something like that. I mean, I don't, but maybe other sh*t makes up for it, ya know? Like I said, I'm good. There's the kid, and you, with your amazing girlfriend, and then there's Cas, too." Dean flicks his fingers to get the suds off and gives another lazy shrug. "Really, that's good enough for me. I'm living the dream, dude."

"Right, okay, but—" Sam takes a deep breath, then slowly lets it out. He wavers for a second, like he's choosing his words carefully. "To be clear, you don't feel like you want a relationship for the sole reason that you sort of feel like you already have one, correct? And—and that doesn't seem a little odd to you, Dean? That doesn't raise some questions?"

Dean reaches over and claps Sam on the shoulder, clicking his tongue. "Hey, man, don't question a good thing. Family's always been important. You know that. I ain't complaining."

"Okay, not—not exactly what I'm talking about. Let's get back to how you're not in a relationship, but you feel like you are."

"Eh, it's not exactly like that. Sort of, but also not? I'm just...fine all the way around, I guess."

"Dean," Sam says, sounding pained, "I think maybe you should, uh, think about this a little. Do some soul-searching, ya know?"

"When have I ever?" Dean chuckles and drops his hand from Sam's shoulder. "I have a relationship with my life. That's not weird."

Sam's face does that strange thing again. "Look, Jack is a kid—our kid, but Cas' kid, and your kid in a way that's not so different, and my kid in a way that's definitely different, as in he's not really my kid. And Eileen is your friend, for sure, but she's my girlfriend. So…"

"So?" Dean prompts, raising his eyebrows.

"So, who else…" Sam trails off, studying Dean's face, and then he heaves a sigh. "You know what? Nevermind. Uh, glad you're happy, or whatever."

Dean nods and turns to walk away, only to turn back around with a small frown. "Hey, what did you mean about Jack being my kid in a way that's apparently not different from the way he's Cas' kid?"

"Does it feel different?" Sam asks him.

"How am I supposed to know? I'm not Cas," Dean says. "I don't know how he feels."

Sam rolls his eyes to the ceiling, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Yeah, I'm getting that. Might be part of the problem."

"Problem?" Dean scowls. "What problem?"

"Just—" Sam drops his hand from his face and waves it weakly. "Nevermind. I'm exhausted already. Go help Cas cheat at board games."

Dean narrows his eyes. "Sam, don't bullsh*t me. Is there a f*cking problem I don't know about?"

"Besides the ignorance of idiots? Probably not," Sam says dryly. "Seriously, it's...fine. Just go away before you give me a worse headache. You know Jack is kicking Cas' ass right now, so go help him."

Dean wants to argue, because if there's an issue, he should at least know about it. However, Sam doesn't seem to be budging on this one. He can be stubborn when he really, really wants to be, so Dean knows it'll only lead to a fight if he pushes it. Best to just wait him out, because Sam can't sit on a problem for too long without addressing it eventually.

So, Dean backs out of the kitchen and goes to help Cas not get absolutely slaughtered in Trouble.

Dean glances up from the laptop on his legs when he gets the sense that someone is entering his room without invite. It's Cas, who doesn't even knock before barging in and marching up to the bed to drop a paperback book off on his chest. His eyes are narrowed to slits, lips pressed into a thin line.

Well, this can't be good.

Cautiously, Dean lifts the book to stare at the cover, his eyebrows jumping up his forehead at the sight of a bare chest on the front. There's also a toned arm wrapped around that chest, a pair of shoulders behind to make it clear that there's a man and also another man. For some reason, there are wings, too?

The front of the cover is emboldened with glossy, loopy letters declaring, "Romance so sweet it'll molt your heart and sex so steamy you'll fly," with absolutely no trace of irony. Dean can't quite keep the incredulity off his face as he turns to the back cover to read the summary in morbid fascination.

Dan, almost thirty, is a man with no direction in life. He's haunted by a past that he wears like armor against the world, unwilling to open up and allow anyone to get close to him. However, when a man comes crashing into his life—quite literally—he doesn't really have much of a choice. Carlisle is a man unlike any other, part-angel and with his own set of wings. He has a mission from angels in Heaven, but knows no way to navigate a world of humans. He needs Dan's help to learn the customs of a world he was never a part of. The only problem? Dan's no normal human, and Carlisle keeps getting distracted…

"Dude," Dean chokes out, ripping his gaze up to stare at Cas, "is this erotica? Like, gay erotica?"

"Yes," Cas answers promptly.

Dean has to resist the urge to throw the book across the room. "Well, uh, I can't really say that this is my type of genre, man. Thanks for the recommendation, I guess? Just—erotica in general isn't for me, but gay erotica is something else entirely, ya know? So, I—"

"Dean," Cas growls, "I found that in Jack's room."

"You—" Dean looks down at the book in absolute horror. "You what? Jack had this?"

Cas huffs like an angry bull. "Yes. Fortunately, he hadn't read it. He said he found it in a dusty box in the Library and thought it would be good to read because it's about angels."

"Oh my god," Dean whispers, slowly looking up at Cas, then promptly breaking out into hysterics. He busts out laughing, wheezing through it. The laughter shakes him so hard that he flicks his laptop shut and sits it aside, cackling loudly as he curls up on his side and waves the book at Cas.

This is f*cking hilarious. He can just imagine Jack oh so innocently finding the book and cheerfully taking it to his room to read at some point. He would have been in for a surprise, and it wouldn't have been good for Cas, who would have probably ended up needing to answer a lot of questions, but Dean's almost crying with how hard he's laughing at this.

"This isn't funny, Dean," Cas snaps, reaching out to snatch the book back. "He's three years old!"

"No, I know, I know. I just—" Dean cracks up again, unable to hold it together.

"He could have read this!" Cas hisses, jerking the book out like Dean needs to see it better.

"Ah, come on, it might not be that bad. Who's the author? Selcis Bos? Sounds German, or maybe a penname," Dean suggests, his chuckles subsiding slowly. "I'm sure it would have been fine."

Cas narrows his eyes and turns the book around, opening it up to a random page and arching an eyebrow. He clears his throat and begins reading, in a very rough, yet detached voice. "Dan clenches their sheets in his hands and rides it out, the breath getting knocked loose from his lungs over and over, his eyelids fluttering, mouth slack as he gasps and gasps and gasps. He can't seem to catch his breath. Everything feels good. The way Carl is f*cking him, the way Carl is gripping his hip with one hand hard enough to bruise, the way Carl slides his hand down the arch of Dan's back until he reaches his head and shoves it down harder."

"Uh," Dean says, suddenly no longer laughing.

"No, there's more," Cas says dryly. "They get sweaty. Dan can feel it when Carl folds over his back, chest slick and sliding, hot and heavy."

Dean's face is getting hot. He clears his throat. "Cas, I get your point, man. It's—I get it."

"There are a lot of commas here," Cas notes critically, eyes narrowed. He's still squinting at the book, and a beat later his eyebrow arches. "Ah, it's very...descriptive as well. Dan feels like he's being melted down and absorbed, like Carl is cupping every inch of him and shrinking him down to a fine point that exists only for this feeling that makes him shake all over. Carl moves his hand from Dan's head to his hand on the bed, fingers tangling through the back of Dan's instead. Well, at least there's intimacy."

"Okay, okay," Dean blurts out, alarmed and a little unsettled. He surges forward to snatch the book out of Cas' hand, his face hot, eyes darting around. "I hear you loud and clear. It's not funny. Got it."

Cas stares at him for a second, studying his face, and whatever he finds makes both of his eyebrows raise up very slowly. Dean wants to launch the book at his face, but he's unwilling to draw more attention to his sudden embarrassment. It's just… Come on, erotica is a little heavy-handed, and anything would sound good if it's written a certain way, even gay sex that he has absolutely zero interest in. Anyway, it's been a while since Dean has had any kind of sex, not even with his own right hand, which he's abruptly feeling very starkly at this moment.

No way in hell he's hot and bothered because Cas started reading some sex scenes—of the gay variety, on top of that. And it's not even written that well! It's not peak literature. Jesus, maybe Dean does need to go out and get laid, except he just can't be bothered. Right hand it is, then.

"I've told Jack to show one of us whatever book he's going to read before he reads it from now on," Cas tells him, still just staring at him.

"You can't shelter him forever, dude," Dean says awkwardly. "He does have access to the internet."

Cas frowns. "I have parental controls on."

"I—" Dean snaps his mouth shut, then chuckles weakly. "Of course you do. Still, there's gonna come a day, and then what? The birds and the bees, man. That sh*t's mortifying for everyone involved." He glances down at the book, then coughs. "Or, well, in this case, the bees and the bees. Which is...totally okay, definitely, 'cause who knows what Jack may, um, be into when he gets older."

"Dean, I desperately do not want to think about that right now," Cas says, strained.

"If we put our minds to it, we can probably trick Sam into handling it instead of us," Dean suggests, amused when Cas' face relaxes. "That could be the solution to that problem. Sam's definitely better at sh*t like that than we are. He'd even be all supportive and give the sex-talk with, like, clinical facts. And you know he's good at being, uh, inclusive, so whatever Jack does end up liking… Well, Sammy would be great about it."

Cas nods. "Yes, let's allow Sam to handle it."

"Sometimes you just gotta," Dean agrees reasonably, bobbing his head. "But that's years and years away. We'll be old, bitchy men by that point, probably fully grey. Or, well, I will be. Do you even age? No offense, but you look like you age. I mean, you age well, but I didn't think angels got older at all."

"Most do not," Cas admits, inclining his head. His lips twitch a little. "I'm not a normal angel, however. This is my body, not a vessel. It is...me, and it ages just like any other human does."

Dean makes a thoughtful expression. "Does that mean that, theoretically, you could get old and die?"

"Yes," Cas says. "I could abandon this body and find another before doing so, or just return to Heaven, but I likely won't."

"Oh, sh*t." Dean blinks at him. "Dude, we're gonna be on our deathbeds, still fussing about some bullsh*t. Watch us be those old men that are just too spiteful to die, and then Sam and all his kids and Jack are gonna be around, like, telling us to shut up and get on with it already."

"I'm...quite sure that they won't," Cas murmurs.

Dean grins at him. "Yeah, maybe not, but how much you wanna bet we'll die mid-argument? I'll die first and be pissed you got the last word."

"Mm, I'm not sure if that's how it would go," Cas tells him, lips ticking down at the corners.

"I don't want it to be sad," Dean admits.

Cas sighs. "Nevertheless, it will be. The day Dean Winchester leaves this world for good will be a very sad day, indeed. That, I am sure of. Hopefully I am already gone before I have to see it."

"Nah, f*ck that," Dean mutters. "You die first all the time. I'm tired of that sh*t. Maybe I don't wanna stick around if you're already gone, you think of that? I go first next time."

"Can we not—discuss this anymore?" Cas asks softly, his gaze dropping, discomfort in every single line of his face.

Dean clears his throat. "Yeah, Cas. It's kinda morbid anyway, huh? Besides, with Chuck out of the game, we got a long time before we gotta think about that kinda sh*t—hopefully, anyway."

"Hm," is Cas' response, quiet and troubled.

"Ya know, I heard from Jody a couple of days ago. There was a case with some vamps out in Washington that Claire and Kaia went to handle. You know what that means, right?"

"I don't."

"It means we could probably get back out there here soon. Things have been quiet, and the break was good, but we don't gotta stay shut up in here forever," Dean tells him.

Cas glances up at him, head tilting. "If you find something, you'll let me know?"

"Yeah, dude, sure." Dean pauses, pursing his lips, then offers a weak smile. "Hey, you know we don't need a case as an excuse. If you wanna get outta here, we could—I dunno, grab a bite to eat, or go to a bar, or something. If you want, I mean."

"Right...now?" Cas asks slowly.

Dean shrugs. "Yeah, why not? Sam and Jack can figure out dinner. You and I can get a few hours away, then come back to start in on the fourth season of Bonanza."


"I gotta get some shoes on and let Sam know he's fending for himself and Jack tonight. Meet you at Baby in five?"

Cas smiles at him. "Yes, that's fine," he murmurs, flicking his gaze down to the book in Dean's hands, eyes bright with mirth. "I trust that you will do something with that book to keep it from Jack."

Before Dean can come up with a proper response, Cas is turning and whisking out the door much the same way that he came. Dean looks down at the book, face unnecessarily hot again, and he scoffs as he leans over to toss it on his nightstand. What the f*ck ever. He'll throw it away later.

Dean sits up to shove his socked-feet into his boots, then moves to the dresser to pick out a flannel. It's gonna be too hot outside for a jacket, so his usual three layers are out the window. He just sighs and rolls up the sleeves, fingers fumbling carelessly over the purple plaid.

It doesn't take him long to get ready, but it does take him a minute to locate Sam, who's not in his usual haunts—not the war room, or the kitchen, or even the Library. No, he's actually in his own room for once, which is how Dean realizes that Sam's been a bit of a social creature lately. Dean knocks and sticks his head in when Sam calls out permission.

"Yeah? What's up?" Sam asks, looking up from a notepad on his desk, a pen in hand.

"Cas and I are going out, so it's on you and Jack to feed yourselves tonight," Dean tells him.

Sam's giving him the eyebrows again. "Oh, are you? Got a case, or something?"

"Nope," Dean says. "Just gonna go grab some burgers with him, probably."

"Jack and I could come," Sam replies, though it sounds more like a challenge than an offer.

Dean purses his lips, then shakes his head. "Yeah, sure, but you're not, so."

"What if we wanted to?"

"Well, that's just too damn bad. I ain't offering."

"Uh huh." Sam's eyebrows are doing something extra weird now, and his lips are twitching like he's trying not to grin. "So, it's just you and Cas?"

"Great, you got ears under all that hair. I was beginning to wonder." Dean grins when Sam's eyebrows dip into a scowl. "Anyway, yeah, that's what I said, isn't it? If you're feeling neglected, I'll set aside an hour for you tomorrow."

"You're such an asshole," Sam declares with a sigh, shaking his head. He waves a hand, chuckling despite his annoyance. "Go, go, get the hell away from me. Take your time, please."

"Make sure the kid eats."

"Jack will be fine, dude."

"Make sure you eat."

"Jesus Christ, Dean, I think I can handle a few hours without supervision. Actually, if anyone can, it's definitely me and not you. Go away now."

Dean salutes him teasingly. "Sure thing, Sammy. Don't burn my kitchen down."

"Go away." Sam watches him leave, then calls out after him, "Have fun! Hold the doors open for him!"

"Cas knows how to open doors, Sam!" Dean calls back, shaking his head as he carries on his way.

When he makes it to the garage, Cas is leaning up against Baby, playing on his phone. Probably texting Claire to check on her—he does that a lot, Dean has noticed. What Dean's noticing now, however, is that Cas has changed for some reason.

He realizes abruptly that Cas just never gave his clothes back after the whip cream incident. He had changed back into his trenchcoat getup as soon as the next day, but Dean hadn't thought to ask for his shirt and jeans back. Cas is wearing them again, and he's also apparently come to own some boots of his own, though that's not a surprise. There are a lot of boots floating around the Bunker, which might just be a Winchester thing. They always seem to multiply, and Dean only knows which ones are his because Sam has gigantic feet.

Anyway, Cas looks startlingly human-adjacent again, sort of...bare without the suit and sensible shoes and trenchcoat. Dean has to come to a halt to take him in for a second, wondering at the reason behind the wardrobe change, and his boot squeaks against the floor. It makes Cas look up, blinking.

"What?" Cas asks, eyebrows furrowing.

"Nothing. You, uh—" Dean gestures at him from head-to-toe, his gaze following the motion of his own hand, flicking up and down quickly. "You changed. Into my clothes. Again. Why?"

Cas glances down at himself in faint surprise, like he didn't change himself. "Oh, yes, I just thought I would look strange wearing what I usually do out in the heat. The weatherman says it's getting to temperatures it never usually does, so wearing as little layers as possible is encouraged."

"Yeah. Encouraged." Dean rolls his lips together, tucking them in. After a beat of silence, he presses them back out on an exhale and clears his throat, grabbing Baby's keys and juggling them lightly in one hand. "Sure. Ready to go?"

"Yes," Cas says, then pushes away to get into Baby.

They end up going to a bar-restaurant type of place, something with TVs everywhere and pool tables in a back room and finger-food to share. They get into a mild argument over an order of mozzarella sticks because Cas wants to eat the crunchy bread off of all of them and let Dean just have the cheese on the inside, which would take letting them cool down, and Dean's not on board with that because mozzarella sticks are good for the stringy, hot cheese and crunchy bread combination. He ends up giving in anyway because—well, because.

Cas has weird eating habits when he does eat, and it's painfully obvious in every way. He picks at food, pushing the mushy parts out of fries and just eating the salty skin, peeling the fried part off pickles and sucking on what's left over, showing more interest in the sauces for the boneless wings than the wings themselves. Even dessert—when the cherry pie turnover with vanilla ice cream catches Dean's eye—is something of an experience. It comes out to share with two spoons, and Cas commandeers a small section for himself where he scrapes all the cherry parts out and eats the bread dry, then mushes the ice cream until it's basically a milkshake.

It's so quirky, and weird, and Cas. It's just...him. Dean can't help but be endeared by it, because Cas wouldn't be Cas if he wasn't too much of himself and not enough of whatever others expect him to be.

When they finish eating—which Dean did the heavy-lifting on, admittedly—he makes Cas play a round of darts with him, which turns out to be a huge f*cking mistake. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that Cas is, like, a warrior of a different level that no human can actually match. Cas not only hits the bullseye every single f*cking time, but he does it a couple of times without looking and tossing it over his shoulder. He's a bastard, but a talented one.

Because of his defeat in darts, Dean demands a game of pool—which Cas calls billiards unironically, so there's no hope for him, obviously.

Except, well, Cas is good at this, too. Unnaturally so. He's got perfect eyesight, doesn't he? And it's not like he's not smart. He probably knows all about angles and sh*t without having to really think about it. He barely has to look at the placement of the stripes he's trying to get in a pocket before he's got the easiest route mapped out. The only thing that works against him is that a) he's awkward as hell, and b) he's never played pool, so he doesn't really know how to hold the pool stick, nor does he know to keep rechalking his hands. So, he happens to miss a few shots because of this, which is helpful.

Dean's good at this, too. He's got an ease with it that Cas just doesn't. To be fair, Dean has played pool for years, and he's done it to hustle money more times than he can count, desperate to win at sixteen to be able to feed Sam when their dad hadn't shown up in a couple of weeks. He had to be good at it, and it comes as second-nature now.

Admittedly, he's laughing a little at Cas struggling with the pool stick. It's like he'd rather just toss it aside and smack the ball in with his hand, which is so funny that Dean has to keep coughing so he won't laugh too loudly. Cas keeps sending him flat looks like he knows exactly what Dean is doing.

"Here, come here, look," Dean says through a smile, when he finally can't take it anymore. He reaches out to grab Cas by the wrist, dragging him over to the chalk to shape his hand around it, moving it back and forth a little. "Yeah, it's kinda important. Keeps the pool stick from sticking against your skin and f*cking up your shot."

"It's messy," Cas notes dispassionately.

Dean snorts. "Yeah, buddy, I know. C'mere. Look, I'm gonna show you how to hold it, okay?" He tugs Cas back over to the pool table, then proceeds to maneuver him around like he wants him. He has to bend down beside him and adjust his elbows, reaching out to place his fingers right. "Also, it helps if you lean your weight into the table." He presses his palm in the middle of Cas' lower back and pushes him forward a little. "There ya go. It feels weird, I know, but it helps if you relax. Why are you so tense anyway? It's just pool, Cas."

"Billiards," Cas argues instantly, and his voice comes out rough, low, and muffled. He's not quite looking Dean in the eye. "I'm not tense."

"You kinda are," Dean points out, flicking his gaze down to the death-grip that Cas has on the pool stick. He reaches out with a huff to loosen Cas' fingers. "I just said not to hold too tight. Ease up, man, this isn't a fight or anything. Well, these things come in handy for a weapon 'til they break, but I can confirm it's a bitch when they break over you."

Cas clears his throat. "Okay. Twelve in the corner pocket," he rumbles, then sinks the shot.

"See?" Dean grins at him and backs off, leaning against the wall with his pool stick rolling lazily in between his hands, watching Cas.

When Cas goes to take the next shot, he's on the other side of the table, and he looks up at Dean for a moment. He keeps looking, not blinking, and Dean looks back without really making the decision to. Cas' mouth parts just a bit, fingers going rigid and tight around the pool stick, and Dean thinks the bar must be kinda crowded and stuffy now, because breathing ain't so easy.

"Nine, corner pocket," Cas says softly in a rasp so low that Dean can barely hear it, and then he keeps right on staring at Dean while he takes the shot and makes it without ever looking away.

Dean swallows as Cas slowly straightens back up, suddenly seeming just a bit taller than he did mere seconds before. His mouth is incredibly dry, so he forces his fingers to peel away from his own pool stick because they've apparently been gripping it way too tight for a minute now, and then he looks away as he mumbles something about going to get a goddamn drink. Despite it being busier out by the bar, Dean feels like he can breathe again.

He doesn't really think he's gone that long. He has just enough time to order a co*ke and get back in there, but somehow, a guy has wandered in while Dean was away. He's talking to Cas, leaning on the pool table and not even noticing Dean come in, all smiles and warm, hazel eyes.

Dean raises his eyebrows at Cas, who sends him a very flat look, and so he grins and waves a hand lazily like nah, man, go on ahead as he takes a sip of his co*ke. The guy keeps chattering away, and it takes Dean a couple of seconds to realize that this guy is actively hitting on Cas, which is… He's not really sure what that is, but it makes him frown.

The guy is bold, because he makes his intentions very clear, to which Cas gives a calm rebuttal. This makes the guy say, "Oh, are you not gay?"

And Cas bluntly says, "Well, technically, yes. Just not for you," and Dean chokes on his swallow of soda so hard that it comes back up and dribbles down the front of his shirt.

He hacks and struggles for air so hard and for so long that it draws Cas' attention and gives the guy room to escape—rejected and probably mortified. Cas moves over to Dean with furrowed eyebrows and pats him on the back a little too hard until Dean can finally suck in a breath that doesn't immediately shatter in his throat and assault him.

"You're—you—" Dean stares at Cas from up close, stumbling over his words, and it takes him a second to realize that there's something a little guarded in Cas' eyes, something a little telling in the way he drops his hands and leans away. Dean swallows everything he wants to say in an instant and says, instead, "That was kinda harsh, Cas. We gotta teach you how to let someone down easy."

"Are you good at that?" Cas asks quietly.

"Letting someone down easy?"


Dean gives a weak smile. "I don't know. I'd like to think so. I'm better than you, at least."

"Hm," is Cas' response, and just like that, they drop it and move along. "It's your shot."

"Right," Dean breathes out, blinking. "Right."

He doesn't win the game of pool, either.

He doesn't really know what he's supposed to think about the gay thing. It's a distant confusion in his mind, a little blurry. Not knowing that Cas likes men. How did he not know that? He feels like he should have known, even though Cas never told him. Also, Cas never f*cking told him. It's hard to wrap his brain around, that Cas likes men, and that Dean somehow never f*cking knew.

He wishes Sam was here for this part. Sam would know what to do. He'd be kind about it, supportive, quick to address it positively, whereas Dean fully doesn't acknowledge it at all. Does Cas want him to bring it up? Should he? He's not really the type to do anything like that—his main response to finding out people are gay is an eyebrow raise, a beat of silence, and maybe a quiet, "Oh. Oh," if he knows them, but that's pretty much it. That's what he did with Charlie, at least, ten seconds before he coached her through how to flirt with a man, because she didn't know how and didn't find men attractive.

He doesn't really do the react thing. He just prefers to skip over to the part where he's cool with it and treats it like it doesn't change anything, because he thinks that's what he'd want everyone to do for him in that situation. He's given it some thought before, imagining how he would feel most comfortable if it was him, even though it's not, so he knows exactly how he would want it to go. But not everyone is him, and Cas sure as sh*t isn't.

Cas isn't just some regular guy, either. He's Dean's best friend of twelve plus years. Isn't this something they should talk about? It feels like something they should talk about. Except Cas seems perfectly relaxed now that Dean's not stumbling over the new revelation, and he thinks that Cas maybe wants Dean not to care or treat him any differently, which he won't. Of course he won't. He'd hate that if it were him, and he's pictured that, too.

So, Dean drops it entirely and doesn't bring it up, and Cas seems content with that fact. They carry on as normal, and maybe that's for the best. Hopefully.

They head out when a group of younger people come in to take over the next pool table, talking and laughing loudly, getting a little drunk. Dean isn't really ready to head home, though, and Cas readily agrees with walking around the block with him.

There's not much to see, really. There's the place they just left, a bank, and an empty lot with construction machinery parked in it. Still, he and Cas leisurely stroll on the sidewalk, basking in the temperature drop that comes with a cool breeze. It's nice out, getting kinda late, not too quiet and not too loud, sort of perfect for a casual walk.

Dean almost trips and lands on his face because there's a sizable chunk missing from the sidewalk, and Cas reaches out to wrap both hands around his arm to haul him up before he goes down. Dean curses up a storm, then bursts out laughing, then keeps on walking. Cas' hands stay on his arm, one threaded through it, the other in front of it, warm fingers draped over goosebumps.

Cas is leaning into him, holding onto his arm, and Dean doesn't think twice about it.

They make three laps around the block like this before finally deciding to go home. It's too late to start in on Bonanza, so Dean tells Cas goodnight and wanders off to his room. He flicks on the light and the lamp to get undressed and ready for bed, then clicks off the light and climbs under the covers.

He's humming under his breath.

When he goes to lean over to cut the lamp off, he catches sight of the book. The title jumps out at him, Faith and Fire. He scowls at it. There's no way he's going to read gay erotica. He's just not.

He has no reason to. Just because he has a gay best friend does not mean he needs to show his support by reading about gay sex. What's he gonna do? Start watching gay p*rn in solidarity, even though he won't enjoy it? He does not need to know anything about gay people to be a good friend. Lately, Dean thinks he and Cas have been great friends. They have the freedom to be, now, and they're really good at it. Gay erotica won't win him any awards.

Dean cuts the lamp off and lays down, staring up into the darkness. He turns over. He punches his pillow. He turns over again, huffs, flops onto his back. He glares up at nothing.

The thing is, why the f*ck does Dan call Carlisle Carl? Why does Carl go from shoving Dan down and f*cking him silly, to holding his hand? Why is Carl a gay half-angel, and why the f*ck is Cas a gay angel, and why didn't Dean know?

Cursing under his breath, Dean jerks up in his bed and cuts his lamp back on, snatching the book up. He glares at it, then grimly opens it to start reading.

"Mornin', Sunshine," Dean greets from the stove as Cas comes into the kitchen. "Coffee's on the table."

Cas hums. "Good morning, Dean," he says, moving over to take the cup of coffee that they're not really stealing from each other anymore, just sharing. He nods at Sam, adding, "Sam," as he always does.

Sam grins at him, a knowing thing. "Cas."

Dean glances between them curiously, just noticing for the very first time that there's something a little odd about how they greet each other every morning. It had started up about a month after Chuck was defeated, Dean remembers that much, but he can't recall why it ever began. He doesn't even remember thinking it was out of the ordinary, either.

But now, Dean thinks that it is a little strange. There's a certain way that Sam looks at Cas these days, kind of amused like there's some joke that Dean's missing. Is it the gay thing? Does Sam know?

Breakfast isn't anything special—omelets, which Cas will actually eat as long as there are no tomatoes in them. Dean spends the majority of it sharing his coffee and glancing between Sam and Cas, trying to work out if they're acting different. There are a few moments where it becomes clear that Sam is extra amused about something Cas has done, usually involving the way Cas touches Dean at random intervals. But, then again, Sam keeps giving Dean looks and weird eyebrows about the coffee-sharing and other stupid things, so Sam isn't a reliable source just based on his facial expressions.

Jack has to be told twice to put his things away during breakfast—first the yo-yo, then his cards. He tries to bring the yo-yo out again after Cas tells him not to, and Dean gives him a look, so Jack slowly puts it back into his pocket with an actual pout. God or not, he's still a toddler.

"Hey, Bonanza marathon today?" Dean asks Cas, briefly touching his shoulder as he stands to start gathering everyone's plates.

Cas nods. "If we must. I'll go start it."

"Awesome," Dean says.

"I'm going to call Claire," Jack announces, which is him basically pitching a fit, because he usually only tells them he's calling Claire when he wants them to know he's about to complain about something they've done. Claire encourages it, the little sh*t.

"Tell her I said hello," Cas replies, not rising to the bait because he's a passive-aggressive little sh*t himself, and then he sweeps out of the room before Jack can come up with anything to say back.

The kid's not the best with sarcasm, though he tries. Dean can see the potential in him. He's definitely gonna be a smart-ass one day, and Dean's kind of excited to watch how Cas responds to that. Cas is gonna be such a bitch about it, Dean is sure. He's convinced it'll be hilarious.

Jack's never really upset for long, so Dean watches him huff and march out of the kitchen with a small laugh. Sam chuckles and pushes his hair back from his face, shaking his head, looking fond.

"You're on dishes," Dean tells Sam.

Sam rolls his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, go watch your cowboy show with Cas."

"Hey, before I do...got a quick question." Dean dumps the plates in the sink and then shuffles back over to the table, bracing his hands on top of it and lowering his voice after glancing towards the empty doorway. "Did you know that—" He halts, suddenly unsure if Cas would want Sam to know, if he doesn't already. He tries again. "Do you know who Cas' type is? Uh, romantically speaking."

"Why are you asking me this?" Sam says slowly, his eyes growing a little wide. Oh, he definitely knows something. Dean isn't sure what it is, but he does.

"Do you know that he's…" Dean trails off, raising his eyebrows significantly.

"That he's…" Sam presses, just as unwilling to finish as Dean is, apparently a good friend, too.

Dean huffs. "You know. Sam, you know."

"You know?" Sam hisses, leaning in, eyes bulging.

"Yeah. Some dude asked him if he was gay, then Cas said he was but just not for him, and it was so f*cking brutal, dude," Dean admits.

Sam's face clears, relaxing. "Oh. You know that he's into guys. Okay. Yeah, I...uh, I knew that."

"How long have you known that?" Dean mumbles, slightly offended that Sam knew before he did.

"I mean, I had suspicions for...years, really. A while. But I didn't have it confirmed by him until a little bit after Chuck was handled. I don't think Cas meant to confirm it, either. It was a whole thing," Sam tells him, waving a hand carelessly.

"Oh." Dean purses his lips. "Well, I had no idea. He just said it so casually, and I didn't—I mean, I didn't really do anything. Please tell me you gave the supportive speech for the both of us."

"Don't worry, you're covered," Sam says dryly, rolling his eyes again. After a moment, he raises his eyebrows and looks at Dean curiously. "So, uh, how do you feel about it?"

Dean frowns. "What do you mean? I'm not being a dick about it, if that's what you're worried about."

"Well, I'm glad you're not, but that's not what I meant," Sam mutters. He braces his chin on his loose fist, giving Dean his undivided attention, weirdly focused on him. "How does it make you feel? Like, do you—are you—"

"What?" Dean asks, eyebrows furrowing.

Sam clicks his tongue. "No, don't let me lead with examples. Just—how does it make you feel?"

"That Cas is gay?"

"Yes, that."

"Uh." Dean leans back a little, reaching around to scratch at the back of his head. "I dunno, really? I mean, good for him, I guess?"

"It doesn't feel like...maybe a good thing?" Sam prods, his head craning forward like he's willing Dean to grasp a concept he can't even see.

"It's...not...a bad thing," Dean replies haltingly, half-sure that this is the right answer. Well, it's not a bad thing, plain and simple, but he feels like he's being tested for something right now.

Sam closes his eyes and reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose, which means that Dean absolutely did not pass. Well, f*ck him. That's his fault for giving pop quizzes for sh*t Dean didn't even study for. Dan and Carl didn't prepare him for this. He's barely past chapter two. Dan and Carl have only just met! Jesus Christ.

"Yes, but I mean, a good thing for you, in particular," Sam reiterates, dropping his hand with a weary sigh.

"For me," Dean echoes. "A good thing for me. That Cas is gay. Why is that good for me, in particular? It's not like we've ever fought over chicks before I knew that, except for his terrible taste in them, and huh, the gay thing would explain that. Whatever, the point is, how is this a good thing for me?"

Sam stares at him, the skin around the corners of his eyes oddly tight. "Jesus," he mumbles. "Okay, um, you said Cas was basically hit on by a guy, right?"

"Yup. Cas shut that sh*t down. I almost felt bad for the guy," Dean admits, except it's kind of a lie, because he didn't at all. Upon reflection, Dean found a twisted sense of amusem*nt from watching him fail. It's with abstruse relish that he looked back on that guy and found him lacking. It was entertainment to him, really, and it gave him this bone-deep arrogance that he can't quite make sense of.

"Right, but did you see the guy hitting on Cas?"


"And how did that make you feel?" Sam presses.

Dean snorts. "Okay, Dr. Phil, what does that have to do with anything?"

"Just asking," Sam says.

"I dunno," Dean lies, leaning back and looking away as he clears his throat. He's not really sure why he's lying about this, other than because he doesn't want Sam to start lecturing him on hom*ophobia or some sh*t. This isn't hating the gays. He just...well, he sorta found himself cheered when it didn't work out.

"You didn't feel anything, or you felt something and you just didn't know what it meant?" Sam asks.

"Okay, I'm not sure what Cas being gay has to do with me, so I'm gonna back the f*ck outta this conversation before it gets weirder," Dean informs him, snapping his fingers and shooting Sam with finger-guns, blowing out a deep breath. He flees while Sam groans from behind him with a thump like he just dropped his head to the table.

Watching Bonanza with Cas is much more fun than talking about gay sh*t, anyway.

Dan shot Carlisle with a shotgun when they first met, and Carlisle called Dan a walking prison of flesh, and somehow—by chapter five—Dan has given Carlisle his more casual nickname, and Carlisle has saved Dan's life a total of four times.

"The gays are intense," Dean mutters under his breath, eyebrows raised as he turns another page.

The thing is, Dean doesn't mean to get invested in the book. It's gay erotica, so he fully went into this not expecting it to be very engaging. He definitely didn't think he'd be at all interested in Dan and Carl's blossoming relationship, but he's somehow found himself secretly rooting for them. No, he hasn't gotten to a sex scene or anything, and he's fully prepared to skip all those parts, but the build-up is pretty good for a trashy romance novel.

Dean kinda doesn't want to put down the book because Dan's in the middle of telling Carl a little bit of his tragic past—which is tragic, so far. Basically his whole family died in a house-fire, and they all practically sacrificed themselves to get him out, so he's got some serious issues going on because of that. Also, there's this quirk of Carl absolutely despising snakes because of the whole Lucifer thing, which is hilarious.

So, he's in the middle of chapter five and not very eager to come to a stop—not that he'll ever admit it, even to save his own life—when there's a knock at his door. Dean immediately scrambles to shove the book under his pillow, barely settling back into place before Sam sticks his head in.

For a second, Sam narrows his eyes at him, apparently taking note of Dean's shiftiness. Seeing as he can't locate anything incriminating, he eventually just sighs and says, "Hey, Eileen's got a case she wants me to come help her with. It involves some kinda funhouse, so Jack wants to go."

"Hey, be careful," Dean says immediately.

"Yeah, definitely," Sam assures him, bobbing his head. "But, get this, there's another case I just found about five hours south of here. I think it's ghosts, honestly, but no one wants to touch it because it's in a trash factory of some sort. Cas said he'd be willing to handle it if you were. Up for it?"

Dean sits up straight. "What? Yeah, actually. I mean, it's ghosts, so it's kinda low-level, but I'll take it. What are you up against?"

"Wraith, we're pretty sure," Sam tells him.

"Gross," Dean replies reasonably. "Yeah, I'll take grave-digging over that any day. Cas getting ready to go now? Should be quick, right?"

"Yeah, two days, max. He's ready, but he's wearing your clothes again," Sam says, lips twitching when Dean jolts a little on the bed.

"Oh. Yeah, he does that," Dean mutters.

Sam smirks. "Yeah, I noticed."

"Anyway," Dean blurts out, loudly, "I'll get started packing a bag now. When are you leaving?"

"Now. Glad you got that car up and running, at least. We're going in opposite directions," Sam murmurs, his smile slipping. "Been a while since we've, uh, worked separately like this. You be careful, too. You and Cas, okay?"

Dean nods at him. "Make sure to check in, and hey, don't let the kid do anything stupid."

"Will do and...will try," Sam assures him with a weak chuckle, backing out of the room.

Sighing, Dean drags the book out from underneath his pillow, shaking his head at the cover of it before slipping it under his mattress. Looks like he won't be reading that for a couple of days. God, he really hopes he doesn't die before he finishes it.

With this freedom post-Chuck, they also have to consider that there's not gonna be any miraculous saves to bring them back from death, or even the brink of it, to keep the story going, so they gotta be careful. Billie had told them loud and clear that she would not be making exceptions for them again, and even if she wasn't going to toss their asses into the Empty, she would be damned before she let them weasel their way out of certain death ever again.

So, it's only fitting that the first case he gets after Chuck is a goddamn ghost. It's practically elementary, but he knows better than to act like sh*t can't go wrong with this, too.

Cas is wearing his clothes again, and Dean wants to bring it up, but he also absolutely does not. Whatever floats his boat, and it's not like Dean really cares. Cas just kinda does whatever he wants to these days, and Dean's reached the point where he's just letting him. They both let each other get away with anything now, for some reason. It's not bad, but it's new. It's kinda nice to be able to indulge one another instead of fighting while the world goes to sh*t all around them. Like a breath of fresh air. Their final form, or whatever the f*ck.

Working alone with Cas isn't new. Dean's done it plenty of times over the years, more so than Sam, even. He's used to it, oddly enough, and it's exactly the same as it has always been. Comfortable, mild bickering, being exasperated with one another, working together to handle a problem. Dean falls back into it like it's a bad habit.

The thing is, Dean realizes that he hasn't exactly missed hunting. Yeah, he's been going stir-crazy, but getting out of the Bunker has helped with that. And yeah, it's nice to work the issue, to settle in with Cas, to revisit the nostalgia of microwave burritos and sketchy motels. He likes the mystery of it, and the helping people part, and getting to pass ideas back and forth with Cas.

But, truth be told, he hasn't missed the research. He hasn't missed reading about the gruesome deaths, or the way he has to wear a goddamn suit, or the pressure of feeling like he's on a time limit before someone else dies, and if he doesn't stop it, it's gonna be his fault. He doesn't miss the sh*tty motel coffee, or the headache and body aches from getting up too early after sleeping in a terrible bed, or the way he gets tossed around by a ghost because it turns out that it's not just a simple salt-and-burn.

He doesn't miss nearly dying.

Dean almost does get his ass handed to him by what appears to be a seven-foot tall ghost with a really weird attachment to a fork-lift. There's a section of the factory where it's fenced-off, and it's secured with a goddamn keypad lock of all things. All of the workers wear dingy, dirty gloves, so the keypad is filthy, and there's no chance of lifting a fingerprint. But the fork-lift they need to set on fire is in there, so Dean makes Cas give him a boost over.

Cas is, like, super strong as an angel. It's insane, and Dean forgets it because Cas hasn't really shown off in a while. He shows off this time by easily letting Dean step into his threaded hands with one boot, then just fully tossing him up without breaking a sweat. Dean goes up and over, dropping down and looking through the chain-links to stare at Cas, his mouth opening and closing.

"The fork-lift," Cas reminds him.

"Oh," Dean says, "right."

And then, this is precisely when the ghost shows up and goes absolutely batsh*t insane. Dean doesn't even get time to do anything, because this motherf*cker is huge and absolutely not f*cking around. It doesn't really matter in the end, though, because Dean gets clipped over the head hard enough to make him see double, which means he gets double the show of Cas being a badass again.

Cas just—well, he just reaches up and rips the whole panel of the fence off in one, reckless yank that makes metal squeal. He wrenches it aside, sending it skittering across the floor so hard and so fast that sparks actually come off of it—either that, or Dean's been hit over the head even worse than he thought.

So, Dean ends up fighting while he's swaying on his feet, and Cas ends up doing most of the work. When the fork-lift goes up in flames, Cas helps Dean stumble towards the exit of the factory. The only problem is that Dean feels like he's about to be sick, and he's definitely not really walking anymore. He thinks he mumbles something about kicking Cas' ass if he dares to carry him, which turns out to be the wrong thing to say, because it just gives him the idea. Dean's head is pounding, his vision is swimming, and he doesn't have the wherewithal or knowhow to even protest when Cas grabs his arms, dips forward, and shrugs Dean on his back.

"Oh my god, I hate you," Dean garbles out as Cas straightens up without strain, hands coming down to hook under Dean's knees and piggyback him all the way to the f*cking car.

Cas hums. "No, you don't."

"M'gonna be sick all over you," Dean warns him, arms flopping over Cas' shoulders, the world swaying with every step Cas takes.

"Close your eyes," Cas suggests.

Dean groans. "Good idea."

It turns out to be a great idea, because closing his eyes makes him feel less nauseous. He still presses his face down against Cas' shoulder, blocking his closed mouth in case anything tries to escape. This only gets more humiliating if he just so happens to blow chunks, on top of everything else, and he's trying to save some of his dignity.

Cas smells like him. It's not as strong as when he gets right out of the shower, but it's clear he still takes them and keeps using Dean's stuff. This definitely helps with his roiling stomach and also eases his headache a little, for some reason. Actually, Dean's pretty comfortable. He thinks, a little dazedly, that he could fall asleep like this.

He apparently tells Cas this, because Cas softly, yet seriously orders, "Don't go to sleep, Dean. Not until I can heal you. I believe you have a concussion."

"Nah." Dean smacks his lips, and turns his head, resting his cheek on Cas' shoulder. The hair behind his ear tickles Dean's lips. "I think I'm good, Cas. Feelin' better already. And hey, didn't you say you gotta conserve your grace 'cause it's...less now, or something? Don't waste it on me."

"It's not a waste if it's you," Cas murmurs.

"Well, ain't that sweet," Dean teases, lips curling up and breaking out as he grins.

"We're at Baby. I can put you down now and heal you, but we have to be quick. I think we caused an explosion, and I hear sirens."

"Whoop, whoop, that's the sound of the police."

Cas sighs heavily. "Dean, you have to let go now."

"What?" Dean blinks and squints, head still throbbing to a seriously concerning degree. It takes him a second to realize that he's got his arms around Cas' shoulders, fingers digging into his shirt. Dean's shirt. "Oh. Well, sh*t. Sorry, dude."

Dean lets go, and Cas keeps him steady while healing him, and any hope of Dean having any dignity is completely dashed. Thankfully, the sirens save him from his mortification, sending them both into the safety of Baby and quick getaway before anyone spots them at the scene of the crime.

So, all-in-all, hunting is still hunting, and this case wasn't the absolute worst. Could have been better, sure, but he knows it could have been worse, so he's not looking a gift-horse in the mouth.

They go home and beat everyone else back. Cas immediately f*cks off to his room, so Dean does the same. The case was quick, only four days in total, including driving time, but that doesn't mean Dean hasn't been looking forward to getting back. There's home-cooked meals here—he has to make them, yes, but still. There's Bonanza with Cas as well, which is great. There's a book he's trying to convince himself he's not eager to get back to.

On the last one, he's not doing a good job of it, because the first thing he does after he gets comfortable is start reading again. He reads for a few hours, right up until he gets hungry and decides he wants to make lasagna.

He leaves off on Dan getting injured and Carl giving him a feather from his wings. Apparently, the feathers have healing properties or some sh*t, which Dean finds vaguely amusing.

Dan, however, doesn't and asks, "Should you even be giving me this?"

The book says that Carl replies with a very simple, very curt, "It is unwise, but I shall because it is you."

Dean snorts and shuts the book, muttering, "That's gay and sappy," before getting up to go to the kitchen, where Cas is waiting with a small smile and cup of coffee that they're definitely gonna share.

Christmas swings around when Dean's not really paying attention, and Jack somehow gets one over on everyone by inviting the ladies to come celebrate with them this year. Dean gets absolutely no warning beforehand, so he has approximately five hours to throw together a Christmas dinner for ten f*cking people—would be eleven, but Patience is off at College and apparently very frazzled about some projects and tests that are coming up after the break, so she elects to stay behind and get prepared.

The Bunker is full in what seems to be one fell swoop. Eileen rallies everyone into decorating, so Dean ends up being thankful that he gets to hide in the kitchen. Kaia wanders in at some point, and Dean decides she's just the extra pair of hands he needs, so he shoves a potato peeler at her and practically begs her to help.

Everyone comes in and out of the kitchen a few different times. Claire, to distract Kaia by being a blatant flirt. Eileen and Sam, to steal Baby's keys so they can ride into town and get gifts for everyone. Jack, to grab a juice-box from the fridge and ask Dean a million questions and spend five minutes showing Kaia what he can do with his yo-yo. Jody and Donna, to come sneak bites of the food before it's ready, until Dean and Kaia run them off because it's their kitchen now and no one's eating a thing until it's ready. Alex, just to say hi. Cas, at some point, just to come murmur to Dean about not much at all and be a willing taste-tester for whatever Dean shoves at him on the end of the fork, even though he can't really taste much of anything. He always says it's good, so Dean was smart to choose him.

In the time that Dean and Kaia bustle around the kitchen together, they forge something of a bond that can only sprout from the fires of working under pressure in a stressful environment. When they reach the other side of calm, having survived, they give each other tired grins and now have an unspoken understanding between them.

It's all worth it, though, when everyone crowds around the map table—the biggest space available to splay all the food out with no issues—and settles in, elbows bumping, passing comfort food back and forth to each other. It's nice. Relaxing. Family.

"This is so good," Eileen groans as she spoons out more mac-and-cheese to her plate.

Dean jerks a thumb at Kaia. "Thank her, not me. That was all her. My best mac-and-cheese comes out of the microwave."

Eileen signs thank you to Kaia, who automatically signs it back, then apologizes for not knowing how to sign you're welcome. This prompts a conversation about how it's normal for people to sign thank you back as a you're welcome, rather than the actual you're welcome, which can kinda be interpreted as welcome in a greeting way. That prompts an impromptu lesson on how to sign certain, common things. Claire is very interested in how to curse in sign language, which is kinda hilarious, and also maybe Dean pays attention to that, too.

Dean's favorite is co*cksucker for very valid reasons, because Eileen teaches it very seriously without batting an eye, while Sam looks scandalized. It has nothing to do with the motion itself. Okay, maybe it has something to do with the motion itself.

Anyway, dinner is good. Everyone has a good time, eating their fill, talking and laughing and drinking. Dean doesn't have any of the wine that Jody brought with her, but he does share his co*ke with Cas in a wine glass, returning to the tradition of stealing it from one another again. Jack drinks juice out of a wine glass, too, and seems very proud of that.

Once again, he tries to crack out the cards at the table, only to be stopped yet again by Cas. This doesn't last very long because Claire leans across the table and says, "Beanstalk, you're all the way at the end of the table while Cas is over there with Dean, so just do it. If he gets up, run."

"You," Cas declares, "are a bad influence on him."

"I know," Claire agrees, grinning.

Jack does the card trick anyway. Dean wheezes at the flummoxed look on Cas' face, like he's actually not expecting Jack to be a little bit of a rebel. Hell, look at who his f*cking dads are—literally all of them, including the one they don't claim. Jack's meant for rebellion. Cas is in for a long ride, and Dean's gonna have the time of his life watching.

Jody doubles down on scolding Claire for encouraging Jack to act out, and Donna winks and sneakily pours Claire some more wine, and Cas is trying so goddamn hard to not smile, but Dean sees it. Oh, he sees it, and it's got an answering grin stretching across his face when their eyes meet.

Cas looks happy. Flushed, eyes bright, chapped lips curling up into a helpless smile that makes the corners of his eyes crinkle a bit. An angel who ages. An angel like no other, at home with the humans. Dean feels something solid rattle in his chest, making him clench his fist and take a steady breath.

After dinner, they all come together to start transporting the food back into the kitchen and make up tupperware full of food for the others to take back with them. Kaia wants to take home a whole pie, and after all her help, Dean gives her the green-light, much to the shock of literally everyone.

The back-and-forth in and out of the kitchen becomes a disaster when Eileen starts taping f*cking mistletoe in the doorway. It goes downhill pretty fast, so Dean can't imagine where she got the idea. Kaia and Claire are the first to get caught under it, and when Eileen playfully points it out, Claire takes it as a personal challenge.

Jody thankfully breaks it up before it gets too bad, but Dean's not at all pleased that he had to see Claire groping Kaia like a woman possessed. Kaia does not look as mortified as she should, considering, and instead seems to be rumpled and happy about it. Young love, or whatever.

The next to get trapped is Alex and Donna. Alex has been a quiet, yet steady presence throughout, mostly talking about working at the hospital and finding ways to tease Claire. However, when she ends up under the mistletoe with Donna, she blushes bright red when Donna squeezes her into a hug and smacks a kiss on the top of her head, cheerfully affectionate. Claire cackles at her, then turns around and suffers the same treatment from Jody a few minutes later, finally suitably embarrassed when she, too, gets a sardonic kiss on the top of her head.

Jack ends up underneath with Eileen, who kisses him on the cheek, then ends up underneath again with Kaia, who allows him to kiss her on the cheek. He seems delighted by all the affection going around, not seeming to notice the rest of the Winchesters—and Cas, by proxy—avoiding the doorway like it's the plague. Dean has decided that he'll just be trapped in the kitchen forever.

One of them eventually makes a mistake, but it's okay because it's Sam. He ends up underneath with Eileen, which seems to relax him a little. He gives her a chaste kiss, a small smile, and keeps it moving. After that, Jody and Donna bump into each other in the doorway, and Donna gives Jody a kiss full on the mouth like it means absolutely nothing, and Jody just rolls her eyes and carries on.

Sam has let his guard down, which is how he ends up bypassing Claire in the doorway, and they both do some awkward shuffling to try and get out of it. But Jack has found a nice little game in this, and the rules of it are now law to him, so he insists that they have no other choice here.

"Well, you ain't kissing my cheek, dude. Get the f*ck down here," Claire mutters, heaving a sigh.

It's a bit of a deep dip because Sam is freakishly tall, but he does bend down and scrunch up his face when she dutifully kisses him on the cheek. They both wrinkle their noses at each other, apparently in agreement about being averse to this whole showing affection thing, and then they snort and smile before going their separate ways.

Dean nearly folds in half with how hard he's trying not to laugh, and Cas keeps looking at him with amusem*nt because he knows. He always knows.

Cas is the next to make the mistake, leaving the kitchen safely but losing that status on his return. He ends up in the doorway with Donna, of all people, and she stands up on her tip-toes to give him a kiss on the cheek, smiling prettily at him before bustling her way out again. Cas sighs.

"I told Sam that Eileen's a little evil, but he didn't believe me," Dean mutters, raising his eyebrows as Cas moves over to come stand beside him.

Cas eyes the mistletoe in distaste. "I believe you."

"Ah, come on, lighten up," Dean teases, knocking their shoulders together. "It's Christmas, Cas."

"I don't see you leaving the kitchen," Cas points out knowingly, arching an eyebrow.

Dean snorts. "Yeah, f*ck that."

More people come and go. More people get stuck under the mistletoe. Eileen and Jody. Alex and Claire, which is hilarious because they hiss at each other like two angry cats before arguing about who's kissing who's cheek, and then Alex wins by grabbing Claire's face and smushing a kiss to her forehead before Claire can react. Jack and Donna. Jack and Eileen. Then Jack again, this time with Cas, and Jack just hugs him and waits for the kiss on the top of his head because he's apparently associated it with parents, so Cas does it and smiles weakly when Jack bounds off happily.

Dean's mistake comes in the form of Kaia, because he thinks he's got a window to escape to the bathroom, but she's coming in with some empty wine glasses. There's no one else around, so they eye each other with the understanding that they can just pretend it never happened and never tell a soul, but Claire catches them and finds it all very funny. She calls for everyone to come watch because she's terrible, so Dean heaves a sigh and ducks down to let Kaia kiss his cheek, finding it not to be the absolute worst thing he's ever had to endure.

Kaia mumbles an awkward apology, and he waves her off to make her feel better, then makes his way to the bathroom. When he comes back, Jack and Claire are in the doorway, and he spends a few minutes laughing his ass off while Claire is forced to kiss Jack's cheek. He is, once again, delighted by the affection. Claire? Disgusted, appalled, infuriated.

Fortunately, the mistletoe disaster comes to a halt when they all reconvene in the war room and trade presents. Sam and Eileen handled the gifts for themselves and also Cas, Jack, and Dean. It's all mostly normal things anyway, nothing special. Still, it's nice to pass bags back and forth. When asked what things are, Dean cracks the joke that he has no idea what he got everyone, since he didn't actually get anyone anything. Thank god for Sam and Eileen.

Jack has the time of his goddamn life because everyone all seemed to agree that getting him toys was the way to go with him. Sam actually got him one of those gravity-defying toys—the fushigi ball, to be specific—and Jack is ecstatic.

Overall, it's a really good Christmas. Probably one of the best, if Dean had to rank all of 'em. It's crazy that the ladies all made a five hour trip to them and plan to take turns making the five hour trip back, some of them having things they have to get back to as soon as tomorrow. They usher out with hugs and well wishes, and then it's really quiet after.

Eileen stays, of course, but her and Sam declare the Dean Cave theirs for tonight and pop an unholy amount of popcorn before settling in to cuddle and watch Christmas movies that Dean would rather chew his own hand off than watch. Jack disappears with his haul of toys, still beaming happily about what he announces was one the best days. Cas and Dean have to do a raincheck on Bonanza some other time, so they head to their separate rooms.

It's stupid, but Dean kinda wants to follow him, just to spend time with him, which is a pretty weird urge to have. He's spent time with him all day. He grimaces at himself and settles in to read again.

The Dan and Carl saga is getting increasingly more interesting. They've just gotten into a pretty serious fight because Carl was ordered to do some shady sh*t by his superiors, and Dan found out about it and felt betrayed. Dean figures the explosive fight won't hold up against the stupid longing they're currently going through. Oh, for a couple of guys who aren't in love, they sure as sh*t miss each other a lot. Dean snorts because he isn't buying it.

He does end up getting caught up in again without meaning to, following along, frowning as he reads. There's a whole thing about them reuniting because Carl's superiors try to punish Dan for Carl not completing his mission, and then Carl is doing some crazy, spy sh*t to break him out.

Dean doesn't know why he's not really expecting this to be the first kiss, the first sex scene, the first everything, really. He's just not. It takes him by surprise, because the tension is actually pretty good, and Dean doesn't realize he's waiting for something until he exhales shakily when they do kiss.

"About goddamn time," he mutters to himself, then instinctively looks around his room, abashed.

His face is still hot when he goes back to reading. In his defense, it's practically been twelve chapters of Carl and Dan falling into some kind of inevitable love with no pay-off. They deserve it, at this point.

Yet, somehow, Dean is still startled by the sex. It's not that it doesn't fit, or anything; it's just that he doesn't realize he's not skipping it like he was supposed to until Carl is three fingers deep in Dan's ass. It's at that precise moment that it hits Dean what the f*ck he's doing, what the f*ck he's reading, and what the f*ck he's allowing himself to get caught up in. Horrified, he slams the book shut on Dan's apparently loud moan of pleasure and nearly throws it across the room again.

He doesn't. In the end, he just shoves it under his pillow again and sits up in the middle of his bed, rubbing his fingers over his forehead.

"Gay is not contagious," Dean whispers to himself, eyes fluttering shut. "You don't become gay through f*cking osmosis, Winchester. Stop being a dick."

Dean flops back onto his pillow with a gusty sigh, staring listlessly up at his ceiling. He ends up feeling kind of bad for trying to reassure himself that he's not gay, because being gay is fine, so it's not like he needs to treat it like a problem. He just knows he's not because...well, because of women.

Sam would one hundred percent kick his ass for thinking of being gay like it's something to be afraid of. Charlie would find some way back just to sit him down and pitch funny little ideas about how to kick those instincts in the ass. Claire would probably verbally rip him to shreds for being a sh*tty person. And Cas would—Cas would…

Dean doesn't know what Cas would do.

The point is, gay is okay, Dean knows this. Dean is totally on board with this. Sure, he was raised in a time when it wasn't, and he hasn't always been the best representative of treating gay people properly, but he's learned. He's older now. He's come around. He likes to think that he's not as bad as he once was, and he knows he's not as bad as his dad used to be.

Now fully f*cking determined not to be a terrible person about this, Dean sits up and snatches the book back out from under his pillow. He fumbles with shaking hands to get back to the page he left off on, and he forces himself to read.

The thing is, it's not hard to force himself. It's sex. It's written in a way that suggests these two are super f*cking into it. Pleasure is pleasurable any way you slice it—or it is for Dean, at least. It takes nothing at all for Dean to get sucked into it, reading every single word, his heart thumping unevenly in his chest, mouth dry from where he's let his lips hang open and forgotten about it.

And still, still, Dean reaches a point where he's freaking the f*ck out a little and has to put the book aside to calm down. His hands are shaking. The back of his knees are sweaty. There's a rush in his ears like he's about to get into some deep sh*t with no way out. He's not scared; it's more like...panic.

Through sheer force of will, Dean gets through the sex scene. It's somehow thrilling in a really complex way, like he's getting away with something he knows he shouldn't be. He has to stop reading when Carl and Dan do something as stupid as be sweet and intimate and start cuddling, because he has to draw the line somewhere. He's been through enough tonight, he's sure, so he allows himself to close the book, congratulates himself silently on being a real trooper, then squirrels the book away and flops down to go the f*ck to sleep.

He has weird dreams that night. There's something about rug-burn on his face, but then the rug turns out to be a beard—Benny's, specifically—and Dean somehow ends up with Benny's beard scratching down his neck, with lips possibly involved. He ends up getting bitten—vampirate teeth and all—and wakes up with a jolt and also a boner.

This. This is what happens when you read gay erotica. Jesus f*cking Christ.

He lays there until his boner goes away because he's absolutely not indulging it. Obviously it's just confused. He needs a break from Dan and Carl.

Dry-mouthed and cotton-brained, Dean stumbles from bed with bleary eyes, yawning as he lazily makes his way out of his room. He sleepily rubs his face, idly taking note that it's the middle of the night. The Bunker itself seems to be in a slumber. He stays quiet and heads into the kitchen, only to knock smack-dead into Cas, who's coming out.

"Woah," Dean croaks, reaching out to grab Cas' hip and steady him. He's still in Dean's clothes, the shirt riding up a little. Dean can feel the warmth of his skin under his fingers. "What're you doin', man?"

Cas blinks at him. "I left my phone in here earlier, so I came to get it. Dean, it's two in the morning. What are you doing awake?"

"Just woke up," Dean mumbles, thumb stroking Cas' hip bone without much forethought. "You ain't sleeping tonight?"

"No, not tonight." Cas tilts his head a little. The dim light from the overhead stove casts shadows across the valleys of his face. His eyes are otherworldly and bright in the dark. "Are you thirsty? You sound it. I have some coffee. Here."

Dean hums gratefully and takes the coffee mug that Cas holds out to him. He drinks down a few gulps, not minding that it's lukewarm. "Thanks, man. That's what I came here for anyway, something to drink. M'gonna go back to bed now."

"That might be for the best," Cas says softly, his lips curling up. He reaches down with his free hand to curl his fingers around Dean's own, the ones still on his hip. He opens his mouth like he's about to say something, then closes it and slowly looks up. Dean follows his gaze to blink at the mistletoe, which is such a damn cliche, but Cas doesn't look particularly pissed off about it now. He slowly lowers his head at the same time Dean does, their gazes meeting in the middle. "Goodnight, Dean."

With those unbearably tender words and a gentle squeeze of his hand, Cas leans forward and presses an altogether simple kiss to Dean's cheek. The contact lingers for a beat, warm and soft, and Dean's fingers spasm in response. Cas drops his hand as he pulls back, smiles at him, then slips past and away.

Dean stands there for a long time, blinking at nothing, his heart sort of thrown out of rhythm and his face warm like the heat of Cas' lips spread over everywhere. Dean flexes his fingers, then turns around and goes right back to bed. He's not entirely sure he even left it in the first place.

That was definitely a dream.

The new year breeds new problems. Dean and Cas get into a fight. A really, really bad one. A fight so bad that Cas leaves for the first time in months.

It starts innocently enough. Dean's in a sh*tty mood, so that isn't helping anyone. He's in the Library, a dull throb at his temples that lets him know he's going to need to pull out the aspirin, and Cas finds him in between two shelves. He smiles, and Dean smiles back, and five minutes later, they're in a full-blown argument about nothing important.

Cas makes a comment that has Dean making a comment, and then they're on the subject of angels, and then Dean's pissed off about Benjamin—the one angel Cas has ever seemed to seriously like, which Dean hates because he isn't an angel, and he doesn't even come close to Benjamin. Somehow, this leads to Crowley, of all people, and Dean takes a second to marvel at how he can still come between Cas and him, despite being dead. Then, Benny is involved, which is huge f*cking no-no, and they're definitely yelling now, and it escalates until they're dredging up sh*t that's been dormant for years.

It gets so bad that they're shouting some seriously harsh things at each other, things that only they would know to weaponize against one another, and Dean maybe makes a comment that he definitely shouldn't—something along the lines that Cas is a bad judge of character, so it's probably for the better that the Benjamin fellow is dead, and just because you had a stupid f*cking crush on him, Cas, doesn't mean that—

And then, it reaches peak levels of problems when Sam gets involved, because apparently the yelling was kinda loud and they're being ridiculous, they should calm down, why are they about to come to blows for no reason? Cas snarls something at Sam, so Dean snaps at Cas, and it just gets worse and worse because Jack comes into the Library. Mistakes are made when Dean tells Jack too harshly to get out, and Cas starts berating him for that, too.

So, eventually, it gets too intense, and then Cas is banging his way out of the Library, and Dean is yelling after him. Dean leaves Jack and Sam looking very uncomfortable and goes to lock himself in his room for a while, pissed off and pent up and kinda wishing that Cas would have hit him, maybe. It takes him a few hours to cool off, mostly because there's something else to this anger, something that makes him ache with disappointment at the lack of injury he's got. No blood, no soreness, Cas didn't even toss him around a little. f*ck him.

When Dean comes out of his room, he's not prepared to apologize, and he won't, no matter what Sam suggests. It turns out that he doesn't have to. Cas took off, won't answer his phone, and Dean definitely should have chipped him.

"What was the argument even about?" Sam asks him over a very stilted dinner.

Dean pushes the food around his plate, scowling, not hungry at all. "I don't know."

"Was it worth it?" Jack murmurs, looking at him with wide eyes and furrowed brows and childish innocence that shines through so brightly it hurts.

"M'not hungry," is Dean's response, gruff and short, as he averts his eyes and shoves away from the table to ignore everyone while hiding in his room.

He deliberately doesn't read about Dan and Carl.

For the first full day that Cas is gone, Dean is mostly still just pissed off, and his anger is only fueled because Cas left. He stomps around while Sam and Jack give him a wide berth. He considers watching Bonanza alone, then decides against it, because he's not gonna stoop to betrayal—that's more Cas' speed, because he's done a few traitorous things over the years, and Dean spends a few hours thinking about that and getting even angrier.

It's funny what a shower and some sleep can do for a person. By day two, Dean's anger has dampened, and then he's just… Well, he keeps glancing at the door a lot. Worry starts to creep in, even though it's only the second day, but Cas has consistently been here without leaving for months. Dean finally caves and asks if Jack and Sam have heard from him. Jack has apparently texted and told Cas to come back whenever he's ready without demanding anything, because he respects boundaries or whatever, and Cas is definitely raising him right. Sam holds up his hands and says it's Dean's mess to clean up, so he's staying completely out of it, which isn't helpful.

Throughout day two, Dean hides in his room a few times to try calling Cas, except he can never go through with it. His thumb hovers over the name. His stomach cramps. He tosses his phone aside with a low curse, then scoops it back up to stare at it uselessly, rubbing his free hand over his face. Over and over again, he doesn't call.

Day three is when the worry really kicks in, and Dean is starting to get anxious. Sam and Jack refuse to get involved, which only makes it worse because it feels like it's all on Dean to fix it, but Dean's only really good at screwing things up, not mending them. His perpetual anger is still there—it's always there, because he's always angry—but it feels so unimportant compared to his worry.

So, finally, Dean plucks up the courage to call, his heart pounding in his throat until Cas answers on the third ring with a sigh and a, "Hello, Dean."

"Where the hell are you?" is Dean's immediate response, sharp and irritated, because he's got relief coursing through him and feels like an idiot for it.

"I am currently in the next town over, sitting in my truck that will not turn on," Cas informs him.

Dean frowns. "Your truck broke down?"



"No. Two days ago now, I believe," Cas mumbles.

"Cas, have you been sitting in your broken down truck for three days, dude?" Dean asks.

"Well," Cas says, "yes."

"Why didn't you call me?" Dean snaps, already getting up to locate his boots and keys.

Cas sighs again—a weary sound. Annoyed and frustrated, too. "We were...not communicating."

"You still could've—" Dean cuts himself off, tilting his head back and scoffing. Jesus, the pride of two stupid, stubborn men. Look where it gets them. "I don't even care. Whatever. Just send me where you're at, and I'll be there in an hour."

Dean hangs up on him, just for the satisfaction.

As promised, Dean rolls to a stop on the side of an empty street with nothing around for miles, heaving a sigh as he throws himself out of Baby. Cas also gets out of his truck, face blank, hands shoved into his trenchcoat pockets. They don't say a word to each other, and Dean does his best to ignore him as he turns the key, listens to it scrape, then pops the hood to go see what the problem is.

He locates the issue quickly enough, but he's gonna need to ride into town and get the correct part, so he wordlessly waves Cas into Baby. Even then, they don't speak, despite the rising tension all the way into town. It's a little ridiculous, Dean knows that, but he's just irritated now. Not as angry, but no longer drowning in worry, so he's found some middle ground that demands his silence.

And, the thing is, he knows exactly what happened here. Cas got into his stupid trunk that he hasn't cranked in months probably, and then he drove because he wanted space from Dean, and then he broke down on the side of the road and didn't move for three days because he was too stubborn, and spiteful, and prideful to call for help. How long would he have sat there? He doesn't need to eat, or sleep, or anything like that. He would eventually come back, even just for Jack, but it's the principle of the thing. Dean wants to lecture him, but he settles for the silent-treatment instead.

After scoring the part that's needed, Dean gets back to the truck and proceeds to fix it, which he's trying not to be a mixture of annoyed and smug about. He thinks about how he's basically Cas' personal mechanic, and there's some kind of joke in there, but this isn't the time to tell it. Cas stays in Baby, not even offering to help. That's for the best.

The last thing that needs to be done is the truck needs a jump to get cranked again, so Dean grabs the jumper-cables from the trunk of Baby and gets everything connected. It's going to need to charge for a bit, so Dean slides back into Baby with a frown, staring out at her raised hood, oddly feeling sheltered away like a secret with it blocking most of the world out. He releases a deep sigh.

Dean risks a glance over to Cas, who is already looking at him, and then he quickly looks away again. He bites the inside of his cheek, refusing to break his silence, not even to yell. Half of him wants to apologize, while the other half wants to rip Cas a new one for being so f*cking stupid, for being gone, for not calling. He doesn't even remember what they were fighting about at the start of this.

Grimacing, Dean lays his arm out on his leg, letting his fingers tap rapidly at the bottom of Baby's wheel, near his knee. He clears his throat, then finds himself breaking his silence by accident. "Look, I—"

He doesn't get much farther than that because he loses the rest of that sentence—whatever it was—when he feels Cas' hand settle over the inside of his wrist, a light touch, the tips of his fingers just brushing the inside of Dean's palm. Dean looks down, his own fingers automatically curling down to touch, to trap Cas' fingers there, like he's holding on. It's a pure reaction, just an instinctive twitch of his fingers, and he flicks his gaze over to Cas.

It's funny in a way that's not at all funny because Cas is staring down at their hands, just for a beat, a second full of thoughtful contemplation. That one breath of a moment yawns wide, then passes, and Dean jerks his gaze from Cas' face to watch as he pushes his fingers up with no resistance, sliding into the spaces between Dean's fingers and pressing their palms together. Despite literally watching it happen, it takes Dean an embarrassingly long time to work out what the f*ck is going on.

Holding hands. They're—okay, that's a thing that's happening. Why? Dean can feel his face contorting in knee-jerk response, eyebrows coming together, lips ticking down into a prominent frown, his fingers slack and unresponsive. He likely looks like he's scowling, and maybe he is, but when he slowly glances at Cas, there's absolutely no reaction.

Cas just looks at him, keeps looking at him, searching his face. He murmurs, "What happens if I keep holding on?"

"Why—" Dean cuts himself off, because he sounds unexpectedly hoarse. Like, really raspy with a crack in his voice and everything. He clears his throat, then tries again. "Why are you, uh, doing that? The, um—the holding on thing. Why are you…"

"I read something yesterday on my phone," Cas informs him casually, lips twitching. "You'd be surprised where you can end up on the internet when you have nothing to do for three days. Have you ever heard of something called a discomfort zone, Dean?"

Dean's fingers twitch. "Like a comfort zone?"

"Mm, yes, of a sort," Cas agrees. "It's the concept that people formulate a discomfort zone in response to spending long periods of time stressed, or dealing with consistent anxiety, or generally always in a persistent state of negative emotion. It becomes your...normal. It's what you get used to, so things that bring you comfort—" He flicks his gaze towards their hands briefly, "—or would usually be in your comfort zone end up making you uncomfortable. It's foreign, and not what you're used to, so you naturally and instinctively avoid it. I suppose I am...pushing you out of your discomfort zone."

Dean stares at him.

It's at this precise moment—after all this time—that he gets the idea that there's something going on. He can't say what it is, but it's something.

Is this a gay thing? Like, Cas is more comfortable now that he's shown that part of himself, so he's okay with affection like this. Is holding hands just something that Cas doesn't realize is only really socially acceptable in certain situations? He's never done it before, but maybe he's never wanted to, and maybe he just doesn't know. But no, he would know, because he's not a goddamn idiot. Is it seriously the discomfort zone thing? Maybe this is him just trying to do something nice, his form of apology. Maybe he's actually still pissed at Dean and is using this to torture him because he's a passive-aggressive ass.

"Do you have a discomfort zone?" Dean asks, unable to think of what else to say.

"Yes," Cas answers.

"What is it?" Dean mumbles, turning his gaze back to look at their hands again. No one has held his hand in years. It's such a simple, harmless contact, and yet it does make him uncomfortable for how comforting it can be. His heart is racing.

Cas hums quietly. "Restraint, I would say. I'm pushing past that, too."

"Restraint isn't a bad thing," Dean says. "It's control, right? Not giving in…"

"I think that this freedom after Chuck has shown me that my restraint has only ever made me unhappy. My control was based off of those who controlled me, and it held me back from things I was afraid to pursue." Cas meets his eyes when Dean glances at him. "There are things, and people, and wants that are worth giving into, wouldn't you say?"

"I don't know," Dean croaks. "I'm really—I'm more of a fly by the seat of my pants kinda guy, Cas. Do what I gotta do, no matter what that is, ya know? I don't really operate on restraint."

"You don't? Are you sure?" Cas asks, fingers tightening on Dean's hand, holding more firmly. His thumb sweeps around on Dean's skin in gentle circles. "Would you know if you were?"

Dean's whole arm tingles uncomfortably, goosebumps breaking out startlingly fast. His fingers twitch again, then curl down, and then he's all but clinging to Cas' hand. He blinks rapidly and turns his head away, not responding.

So, they sit there in silence and hold f*cking hands, and Dean does his level best not to think about it or acknowledge it. If he doesn't look, it's not there, it's not happening. He can't pretend he doesn't feel it, though—the warmth of Cas' skin, his firm grip, the way he steadily strokes Dean with his thumb. It's weird. It's so goddamn weird, and so uncomfortable, and definitely a discomfort thing, and Dean's not letting go. There's an answer to what's going on here, and it feels like it should be so simple, but Dean doesn't know what it is. He can't work it out.

He deals with it until he literally can't anymore, finally breaking and snatching his hand back to the safety of normalcy as he chokes out, "Your truck can probably crank now. Be right back."

The truck does crank, and Dean spends a few minutes hiding behind Baby's hood as he gathers the jumper-cables, just breathing. He flexes his fingers, closing his eyes. It's fine. It's fine.

"Dean," Cas says when he gets out of Baby, about to follow Dean home in his truck, "I'm sorry for our argument. I should have called."

"Yeah," Dean agrees, "you should have. But, I mean, I get it. It's fine. All's forgiven. Uh...right?"

Cas smiles at him, amused. "Yes, Dean, you're forgiven as well."

Dean huffs out a weak laugh. "Yeah? Good. And, uh, about the—about what you did with—"

"Yes?" Cas asks, arching an eyebrow.

"Um." Dean curls his hand into a fist, then stuffs it into his pocket, swallowing thickly. "Ya know what? Nothing. It's fine. See you back at home, Cas."

"Okay," Cas says, smiling again.

Dean turns around and goes back to slide into Baby, taking one second to squeeze her wheel and let out a deep breath that trembles on its way out. Then, he shakes his head, tugs Baby out of park, and whips back out onto the road. He decides to let it go, because he's pretty sure trying to figure it out is definitely out of his discomfort zone.

Dan and Carl are having so much sex, and you know what? Good for them. They've earned it.

That being said, Dean doesn't think they should be f*cking while they're on the run. He's pretty sure that being chased by corrupt angels—and doesn't that just hit close to home, oh the irony—should be the main priority. How Dan and Carl can find the time to do some seriously filthy sh*t while people are trying to kill them, Dean doesn't know.

Don't they have other things to worry about? They're literally an hour out from Carl's wings nearly being cut off—it was oddly emotional and super intense. The fact that Dan now has his hands buried in the feathers of Carl's wings while he's getting his brains f*cked out is just a little surreal to Dean. They should be making plans, or putting more distance between them and those that want to kill them, or—more realistically—too stressed the f*ck out to do anything even remotely sexual.

It's funny how an abundance of gay sex scenes have slowly desensitized Dean to the embarrassment of them. He's read, like, ten by now. There are apparently a lot of ways for gay men to have sex, and even more creative ways when there are wings involved, so he's read some sh*t that makes a simple scene of them f*cking feel tame.

Dean has found that he can react almost normally to them by now—raise his eyebrows when it gets really filthy, chuckle ruefully when it gets so flowery that it's funny, push through that mortification when it gets detailed, completely ignore the spark of interest when it goes in depth about how good it is. He always needs a break after the sex scenes, just to kind of recalibrate, and he makes sure to read on before going to sleep to avoid any weird dreams. He's had some questionable ones about Benny so far that he doesn't want to examine.

This supposedly tame sex scene doesn't end up being that tame because Carl tells Dan that he loves him, and then Dan doesn't say it back.

"Ah, sh*t," Dean mutters, settling in with a grimace to see how this plays out. Dan's got some serious issues about opening up to people and talking about his feelings, which Dean uncomfortably relates to.

The chapter is Dan's point of view—the book switches between him and Carl, which is wild as f*ck—and it turns out that Dan simply doesn't believe that Carl actually loves him. He doesn't think that Carl knows what love actually is.

Dean rolls his eyes and resists the urge to facepalm because this dude is ridiculous. Yeah, maybe Carl doesn't really get humans and their ways, but Dean has read his point of view. He's been inside the dude's head, so to speak. Carl's definitely in love, so Dan's really just ruining his own chance at happiness at this point.

"I got five more chapters, so I know you're gonna end up f*cking him again," Dean mutters at the book, shaking it a little. "Why are you making it harder on yourself? Go be gays on the run. Heaven is f*cking overrated anyway, trust me."

Fully not in the mood for all that drama right now, Dean shuts the book and slips it away, sliding out of bed. He heads into the kitchen to put together a sandwich. Sam and Jack have announced that they're going to handle dinner tonight, so another round of torture is up, by the sounds of it. He figures it's in his best interest to get some unhealthy food in now while he still can.

It's while he's sucking mayo off the end of his finger that Cas appears in the doorway, and Dean nearly drops the butterknife as he perks up.

They'd gotten back home for all of an hour after the truck broke down before Claire called Cas and asked him if he'd come help her and Kaia with a case, and he'd immediately went, of course. He's been gone for a little over a week, not counting the three days where he sat on the side of the road in a tantrum.

Dean feels like he hasn't seen him in years.

"Hello, Dean," Cas greets, moving into the kitchen, wearing Dean's clothes again for some reason.

Dean grins at him. "Hey, Cas. How'd the case go?"

"It was...exhausting," Cas admits wearily, though there's some fondness in his eyes. He looks so much softer like this. "Claire had to kill a witch that Kaia wanted to save. Many life lessons were taught."

"I'll bet. Sounds rough."

"They were okay, overall. It is good to see you."

"Huh? What? Oh, yeah, it's good to see you too, Cas," Dean says, caught by surprise a little. He laughs and tries to scrub his hand over his mouth, forgetting he has the butterknife with mayo on it in his hand, ending up with a streak of mayo on his cheek. He huffs and tosses the knife in the sink.

"There's more," Cas informs him, lips twitching at the corners as he gestures to where Dean hasn't swiped at yet. "No, not there. No, Dean, you're missing it entirely. It's—just, here, let me—"

Cas sweeps forward and reaches out to swipe the mayo away, which had somehow gotten right below his right eye. Cas' thumb gently slides across, pressing in and collecting it, lingering for a second that gives Dean just enough time to process the feeling of Cas' warm palm against his cheek. Then, he pulls his hand back and considers the mayo with serious intent, and Dean knows he's not about to—

But yup, Cas pops that bad boy right in his mouth and sucks the mayo off very casually, complete with a comical pop as he tugs his thumb from his lips. Dean's brain has a lot of jokes for him to make for about two seconds, and then Cas looks at him, and his brain has absolutely nothing in it.

Sam makes a strangled noise from the doorway.

"Oh, hey," Dean says, blinking over at Sam. "Are you about to start cooking? It's a little early, isn't it?"

"I…" Sam stares at them mournfully. He reaches up and scrubs his fingers over his eyebrow, making a frustrated sound in the back of his throat. He sounds absolutely miserable when he speaks next. "You can lead a horse to water, but you just can't make him drink. Jesus, I don't need this sh*t."

With that and nothing else, Sam shoves his hand out at them as if he can physically push them from across the room, then turns and walks away.

"What was that all about?" Dean mutters.

Cas hums. "I have no idea. Bonanza?"

"Oh, hell yeah." Dean grins. "Bonanza."

Dan and Carl do end up f*cking again—twice. It's because Dan is a weak man who can't stick to his guns about keeping his distance, but he's also a pretty f*cked up guy who's scared to get close to people, so admitting that he's in love just ain't gonna happen. Dean is judging him really hard.

There's a whole scene where Carl's wings actually do get burned off, unnecessarily sad and gorey for gay erotica. In this book, hellfire is apparently what's used to harm or kill angels and half-angels, which is kinda funny because Dean's life does not agree with this lore. Still, reading about Carl's wings getting scorched in hellfire is just tragic as f*ck.

"Well, now you gotta tell him you love him," Dean mutters. "The dude lost everything for you."

Except, still, Dan doesn't tell Carl sh*t. It's getting closer to the end of the book, and Dean's pretty sure that it's going to end all happy-go-lucky with Dan finally admitting his feelings, and then Dan and Carl will go driving off into the sunset.

That's not how it ends.

As sappy as that would have been, it's a better alternative to what actually happens, because Dean reads it and hates it. He hates it with a burning passion so visceral that he wishes he never picked up the book to read it.

Because Carl f*cking dies. He dies sacrificing himself in hellfire for Dan, and he dies not knowing that Dan loves him back, and he dies while Dan has to stand back and watch. He just...dies, and Dean has a few pages left, but he almost doesn't want to read them because his hands are shaking and he's so furious about this that he doesn't want to keep going.

It's bad. It's so bad, really, because Dan feels so f*cking horrible. It's a mess of tears. The same thing that happened to Dan's family happened to Carl, and now Dan feels like he really is some kind of curse, and he now knows for sure that Carl did, in fact, love him, because he died proving it.

And the book ends with Dan clutching that feather Carl gave him and finally confessing his love out loud, expect Carl isn't f*cking there to hear it, and it's the worst book Dean has ever read in his life.

He wants to burn it. He hates it. When he closes it, he clenches it in his hands so tight that it makes a weird, squeaking noise. Why didn't this book come with a warning? Why is this the conclusion? He turns it over to read the reviews on the back for the very first time, throat tight, jaw clenched.

"A story that will make you laugh, fall in love, and rip your heart out. It's the kind of story that will change you after you've read it…" says some esteemed journalist from some goddamn place, and no f*cking kidding.

It's just so f*cked up. Dean has no idea why it hits him so hard, because it's just some book, but he can't help but cling to how unfair this is. It's just wrong, plain and simple. Dean hates it. He hates it even more when he ends up f*cking crying, which is possibly the most ridiculous thing that's ever happened to him. Crying over two guys who aren't even real. Jesus Christ, what is he doing?

Dean puts the book in his closet in a box inside another box under a bunch of other things, trying to bury it and never think of it again. It deserves to be banished to the deepest part of hell. That's not how erotica works, gay or not. There should be, like, an ending involving sex and swooning.

So, he ends up having a crisis of a very peculiar kind. It leads him to go to the garage and hide in Baby for literal hours, no longer crying but definitely struggling not to be so pissed off. He doesn't really know how to explain to anyone else that he got stupidly invested in a book about gay romance and it didn't end well, so now he wants to break things. He'll avoid that at all costs, thank you very much.

At some point, Cas finds him. He knocks gently against the driver's side window, only to straighten up and move around to the passenger side as soon as he gets his first glance at Dean's face. He's sliding into the car in seconds, easing the door shut and looking over at Dean, eyebrows furrowed.

"I'm fine," Dean says, just to head him off.

"No, you're not," Cas counters instantly, studying him, knowing and knowing. "What happened?"

Dean tips his head back against the seat, closing his eyes. "There was, um, this...book that I read. It had a sh*tty ending. I'm pissed about it."

"Oh." Cas sounds comically surprised. "I thought it was something more, ah—"

"Serious?" Dean prompts dryly. He opens his eyes and rolls his head to the side to look at Cas, his eyebrows raised high.

Cas hums. "Well, yes. It's always been something serious, hasn't it? In all the years I've known you, I don't think I've had the opportunity to see you get deeply upset about something relatively normal. It's always life-altering things, not just a book."

"Yeah, well, I didn't always get the time to do some casual reading," Dean mutters.

"And now you do." Cas glances at him, then doesn't look away. He tilts his head. "If it helps, think of it this way: there are other books with better endings."

"Yeah, I guess," Dean agrees, subdued.

"Was it a sad ending?" Cas asks softly.

Dean makes a face at him, shrugs, but does end up muttering, "Really f*cking tragic. We've had enough of that to last us a lifetime, I think."

"Mhm," is Cas' sage response. He stares at Dean for a long moment in thoughtful silence, and then he straightens up a little. "Do you want to go for a walk, Dean? Just to get outside."

"Maybe," Dean mumbles, but his lips quirk against his will when Cas looks pleased.

They do go outside, leaving out the back way through the garage. The Bunker is secluded, surrounded by woods; though there are no real paths to walk, they pick a direction between the trees and start going that way. It's midday, but still cool out, right in the middle of winter—the leaves crunch underfoot, the trees waiting to be littered with green and life once more when winter turns to spring.

The air is crisp, a little brisk in his lungs, but in the best way. He breathes easy as he walks, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets, his arm brushing Cas' arm with every step. They're quiet, enjoying the simplicity in the comfortable silence. Dean forgets to be mad about the book.

"I think it will get easier, with time," Cas comments idly, looking ahead with a small frown, a wrinkle in between his eyebrows.

"What will?" Dean asks.

"The absence of tragedy," Cas replies quietly. "You said before that we've had enough to last us a lifetime. I don't believe that it's very easy to feel as if it's really gone, not to begin with. After suffering so long, justice can no longer be the goal. All that's left is the hope for peace. When faced with that peace, however…" He glances at Dean, his gaze strangely solemn. "Well, it's not as simple as accepting the peace we've never known."

"The discomfort zone again," Dean says, resisting the urge to chew on his lip.

"We're so used to fighting," Cas murmurs.

Dean blows out an explosive breath. "Yeah, we are. I mean, there was always going to be a point where it stopped, one way or another. I guess I always figured that it would be—different than this. When your life is one sh*tty thing right after the next, not living doesn't sound so bad, ya know? I thought I'd go down at some point, and that'd just be...it. I wouldn't really have to figure anything out."

"I don't mean this selfishly, but I'm grateful that wasn't the case," Cas tells him, looking forward again. "Even if it's not easy now, I would rather you be around to endure it than...not."

"I'm so goddamn tired sometimes," Dean admits.

Cas releases a soft sigh. "I understand, Dean. I truly do. We've had some very eventful years. I think we're all weary now."

"Sam seems…" Dean trails off, unsure how to put into words how Sam seems. There's just something to him, something more...rested now.

"That is something I've always admired about Sam. Even when you and I lost hope," Cas says, "he refused to, no matter the odds."

"Is that what it is? He's got hope, and we don't? How the hell do we not have hope when everything is—I dunno, better now?"

"I don't think we lack hope; I believe we're just wary to trust in it. Sam's hope is branded with defiance. He has always used it to feel stronger, and the way things have worked out have only proved him right to keep that hope. Your hope has been betrayed time and time again, so you naturally expect it to happen now to keep to a pattern."

"And you?" Dean asks, glancing down at his boots with a frown, kicking lazily at leaves.

"I'm not sure," Cas says softly. "I...don't really know. I have hope because I care. Yet, at the same time, it is because I care that I don't trust in hope. It doesn't make things okay, it never has; hope is just a concept that urges someone not to give up, but it does not guarantee that things will be resolved. I have hope that Jack will be safe and live a good life, for example. But it's not my hope that will make it so; it will be my actions to ensure it that will."

"Not everything works out how we want it to, though, no matter how hard we try," Dean mutters, shaking his head slightly, lips thinning out.

"Yes, but I don't think we're under threat of cosmic consequences if it doesn't any longer," Cas points out.

Dean snorts, mouth softening. "Well, ain't that a relief? Is that what peace is for us? We finally don't gotta worry about cosmic consequences anymore?"

"It sounds peaceful," Cas says wryly.

"Okay, yeah, I'll give you that." Dean inclines his head towards him with a huff of laughter. "But still, what do we even do with peace, dude? I don't even know where to f*cking start."

Cas looks over at him, and Dean feels it, so he looks back. They stare at each other as they stroll along, and Cas hums again. "I think you already have. It's been months since everything settled. All that's left to do is...get used to it, and perhaps—" His voice stalls out for a moment, uncharacteristically, and his gaze roams Dean's face with intensity. When he speaks next, his tone is a little raw. "Perhaps what one does with peace is...whatever they want."

"What if I don't even know what that is?" Dean grumbles, arching an eyebrow in challenge. "'Cause I know damn well you don't just mean good food and a good bed and time in Baby, not simple wants like that. You mean—ya know, the big things, the wants we didn't get to have before."

"Yes," Cas agrees. "If you're not sure, figure it out."

"Easier said than done." Dean grimaces slightly, making a face at him. "Alright then, smartass, what about you? What do you want? You got it all figured out, or what? Because if you do before I do, Cas, I'm gonna be so pissed."

"Yes, I—I—" Cas stalls out yet again, which is very unlike him, and he swallows thickly as he abruptly inhales sharply through his nose and looks away, blinking rapidly. He clears his throat. "I do have it figured out. I think I've always known. That being said, I already have it, if not necessarily in the exact way that I want it. Sometimes, compromise is all you get, and that has to be enough. It is enough."

Dean's eyebrows jerk up. "Well, that doesn't seem very fair. After all the sh*t you've done for this godforsaken world, and you gotta compromise? That's some grade A bullsh*t if I've ever heard it."

"I do not mind," Cas says simply, and it sounds like he really doesn't. He even smiles a little, like there's secrets trapped behind his blinking eyes.

"What is it?" Dean asks, curious despite himself.

Cas tilts his head back a little, looking up at the treetops with a serene sort of appreciation. All he says, very calmly, is, "Love."

"Oh." Dean is the one blinking this time, and he feels a surge of affection hit him square in the chest. Ah, sh*t, Cas is a goddamn sap. Okay, that's kind of sweet, Dean will admit it—internally, at least. He chuckles under his breath and knocks his elbow into Cas', his lips curling up. "Who knew you were a romantic, Cas? Softie."

"Doesn't it sound nice?" Cas muses, looking over at him. "To love and to be loved wholly in return?"

Dean opens his mouth, then closes it and shrugs a little awkwardly. "I guess. I mean, yeah, obviously it is. It doesn't make things easier, though, Cas. Not always. Some ways, maybe, but love isn't always the happy ending people pretend it is."

"No, I don't believe it is." Cas tilts his head in agreement. "But isn't it normal to want that love when it already exists?"

"Like...unrequited love?" Dean asks.

"Perhaps. Hypothetically," Cas says, waving a hand in front of him, eyebrows raised.

"Then yeah, it's normal, I think. But, I mean, unrequited love hurts, man. It's not a good thing. You know that, right?"

"Why does it necessarily have to be a bad thing? Is it not fulfilling just to love someone and require nothing in return?"

"Maybe, but it's going to hurt like a bitch if you hope for more," Dean points out.

A small smile flickers over Cas' face. "And if someone is the type not to trust in hope? If they believe that hope is just a feeling and not necessarily a force that promotes resolution?"

"Then it's just depressing." Dean clicks his tongue and shakes his head. "Doesn't really change that it's going to hurt. Can't escape that part. You can love someone to hell and back, want them to be happy, but knowing they don't feel the same… It's heartbreak, ya know? And not knowing how they feel at all is a different kind of torture all together. There's no peace in that."

"Is there no easy medium? Taking what you can get and making peace with that, perhaps?"

"Sure, but then you're gonna spend so much time wondering. Do they love you? Do they not? Could you have more, if only you'd take the chance? Are you going to lose 'em to someone else down the line, and how the f*ck are you going to handle it if you do? It eventually gets complicated. It gets messy, no matter what you try to do, and it always comes out, one way or another. All that confusion and heartache, for what? You don't even know, not until everything comes to a head, and then you just gotta deal with whatever happens. Good results, or bad, and there ain't a damn thing you can do about it."

"Is that the only way you see something like that happening?" Cas asks quietly, lips tipping down.

"Well, I ain't exactly a hopeful guy, am I?" Dean flashes him a weak grin. "I'm not an optimist."

Cas surveys him curiously. "No, you're not. I'm not either, I'll admit. I just think I'm starting to find peace in the idea of loving freely."

"And all the sometimes terrible sh*t that comes with it?" Dean challenges. "You sure you want that, Cas?"

"Some people are worth it," Cas says softly, turning his head, gaze latched on the ground as he walks.

"Or maybe you're just trying to find new ways to suffer," Dean suggests.

"Love can be so destructive for something meant to be innocent," Cas replies, like an agreement, though his face softens. "It's just about being willing."

Dean looks at him incredulously. "Willing to suffer?"

"Well, what would you do for those you love?" Cas retorts, arching an eyebrow over at him.

"I—" Dean stumbles over a half-formed thought, knowing it without saying it. Anything. I'd do absolutely anything. He shakes his head. "Okay, fair enough, but that's pretty f*cked up that you'd want to put yourself through that. I mean, more power to you on the whole love thing, but I hope like hell that it's not the tragic kind."

"Well, we know how we feel about hope," Cas tells him, lips curling up.

"f*ck you, I mean it in a good way. For you, at least. I'd hate to have to kill somebody for breaking your heart, especially if I'm on some grand hippie search for peace and bullsh*t," Dean mutters.

Cas chuckles, rough and rumbly, looking genuinely amused. "Oh, I don't think you need to worry about that, but the sentiment is...appreciated. I wonder, would you threaten to kill my supposed suitors if they were women, or is that only allowed for men?"

"Dude, I actually did kill April. Did you forget that?" Dean asks, taking his hand out of his pocket and mimicking a stabbing motion.

"She was a reaper."

"A reaper who looked like a chick. You think I gave a f*ck? You're welcome, by the way."

"You didn't do it to defend my honor because she broke my heart, because she didn't break my heart," Cas points out, most certainly amused now.

Dean waves a hand carelessly. "Semantics. Whatever. She killed you, which was motivation enough for me to kill her."

"Mm, not very peaceful of you," Cas says, his eyes lit up with mirth.

"I'm not a very peaceful person," Dean reminds him, shooting him a look.

Cas' face relaxes into something a little more serious, his gaze warm but focused. "You could be. Your life can become so. You have that opportunity now, to have the things you want, or at least have the chance to chase them. Figure out what those things are, Dean, and try to have them."

"Like I said," Dean mumbles, "easier said than done."

"There is one thing about hope that I think we often tend to forget, that perhaps Sam does not." Cas holds his gaze, lips twitching. "Our hope is our own. It can't be taken from us, and when we have nothing else, we still have that as long as we don't let it go."

"It's a slippery son of a bitch," Dean says bitterly.

Cas hums. "Yes, it can be, but I think that's partially our own fault. I believe we should hope more. Truly hope, as ridiculous as that may sound."

"Well, it does sound kinda ridiculous," Dean admits, grinning when Cas rolls his eyes at him.

"Maybe so, but there's a chance we can find hope in peace, and peace in hope." Cas reaches out and tucks his hand through Dean's arm, fitting his fingers over the bend in his elbow. He gives a steady tug, turning them around and pointing them back in the direction of the Bunker. "Not all endings have to be tragic, Dean. We shouldn't find home in our discomfort zones. There's no peace there."

"Oh, but I'm so used to it," Dean complains, wrinkling his nose at Cas, teasing just to see him look absolutely exasperated with him.

"You're hopeless," Cas mutters, even as he leans into him and lets Dean guide them home, his hand draped through the space between Dean's arm and side, tethered by Dean's hand in his pocket.

Dean smiles, watching the leaves stir on the ground, warm from Cas' proximity. "Well, we both are."

Cas releases a quiet huff of laughter, and Dean echoes him, and they walk the rest of the way home in comfortable silence.

It takes Dean nearly all day to realize.

"Mornin', Sunshine," Dean greets cheerfully as Cas comes stepping into the kitchen.

Cas smiles at him, slow and warm. "Good morning, Dean," he says, then—as usual—adds on, "Sam."

"Cas," Sam replies, by rote, lips pinched at the corners as he tries not to smile.

Despite looking like he wants to, Cas does not actually roll his eyes. He just moves further into the kitchen and shuffles over to the open chair next to Dean, where he always sits. The very first thing he does is take the coffee that Dean offers him, and he gives Dean another smile like a reward. The thing is, it kinda does feel like a reward. Dean can't help it—he smiles back, small and secretive and pleased.

Jack, in a demand to show off all his culinary skills, has demanded to be the one to cook breakfast today, which is exactly what he does. He burns some of his bacon, and there's a couple of shells still in the eggs, but otherwise? Well, it's pretty damn good.

Of course, the praise fills up his energy tank for the rest of the goddamn day. This kid has this weird scooter with no handles that he's learning to ride, and he zooms around on the damn thing all through the Bunker. Dean doesn't approve of it. It's an assbackwards scooter, and he's convinced everyone needs the experience of having a scooter slam relentlessly into your ankles, because what's the point if not? Also, it leaves Jack's hands free to keep practicing with his card tricks, but his ability to do two things at once is practically non-existent.

Sometimes, the funniest part of Dean's day is watching Jack wipe out in various places all over the Bunker, like he's going for a record or something. Jack's a good sport about it, always eager to get right back up and try again. Cas gets tired of finding the weird board-scooter in the random places that Jack just leaves it laying around.

Dean does end up laughing his ass off when Eileen hops right up on the abandoned toy and rides off on it the very first try. She likes to use it for mischief, zipping past someone to poke them, or throw something at them, or just be a general menace, and then quickly slide out of the way if they make a playful swipe for her. She does this to Sam a lot, who is still pretending she is an angel who has never done anything wrong in her life, ever.

So, in the downtime—because there is an abrupt lull in between cases—things at the Bunker have just the right amount of disaster to keep things feeling mostly okay. There is peace to be found here, clearly.

He gets lucky and convinces Cas to watch some more Bonanza with him, the two of them bickering back and forth, making a firm satisfaction settle in Dean's bones. Cas puts his hand on Dean's arm at some point as he's arguing, squeezing it, and then he doesn't move it afterwards. Dean finds himself noticing it and forgetting it in startled intervals, swapping between feeling the touch almost too much and barely taking note of it at all. He wonders at it, at his reaction to it, and then he decides to make sandwiches for lunch.

Cas and Dean dedicate an hour, max, to searching for cases, because they're aware it's futile right now. Everyone's a little dry all around, and they're expecting contact from Garth, or Claire, or Jody when something comes up again. Dean mostly spends his time sneaking pictures of Cas, trying to get candids of him making weird faces, except Cas doesn't really make weird faces, so he just ends up with thirteen new photos of Cas looking completely normal. At least five of them are a little blurry, but Dean doesn't delete them.

After that, Jack demands Cas and Dean to sit down and play a card game with him. An actual one, not something he just made up. Dean settles in with Cas to help him cheat—or, well, not cheat. It isn't cheating to give him an edge, not when Jack calls Claire and drags her into the game. He rotates between putting her on speaker so she can talk to everyone, and then taking her off and whispering really low when he wants advice. Cas is stupidly charmed by this, and Dean finds it hilarious.

Sam and Eileen eventually wander in from whatever the hell they were doing that took a couple of hours, probably jumping jacks or something, and they make a team of their own. They win because they're equally good, and Eileen absolutely can call a bluff like she can read minds, good as she is at studying facial expressions and mouths.

The card game eventually breaks up for dinner, and Claire hangs up with her usual, "Give 'em hell, Beanstalk," which makes Cas sigh and Dean cackle on his way to the kitchen, while Jack beams.

Sam and Eileen handle dinner this time, which is a nice break for Dean, and it turns out that Sam will bend his healthy habits for her just a little. They declare it Taco Friday—which makes no damn sense, except Dean isn't about to complain—and there are the regular options for regular tacos, as well as healthier alternatives for Sam, instead of just the latter for everyone. This is apparently because Eileen eats tacos like Dean does, loaded and kinda trashy and very good, so she gets special treatment. Dean is very grateful that she's around.

For every bad taco that Jack has, Sam requires him to eat a healthier one as well. Jack's a weird kid, though. He likes the healthy ones as much as the regular ones. Sam is so damn proud of him.

Cas makes derisive comments about the diced tomatoes under his breath, but he dutifully breaks up taco shells and eats them like chips after dragging them through the sour cream on Dean's tacos. Dean tries to insist that he get his own sour cream, but Cas ignores him, so he gives up. There are some battles just not worth fighting.

Dean and Cas end up on clean-up duty, while Sam and Eileen squirrel Jack away to go watch some animated movie in the Dean Cave. Something to do with animals who act like humans, and maybe a fox and a bunny fall in love? That's some star-crossed lovers bullsh*t if Dean has ever heard it.

"Foxes eat bunnies, you know," Dean points out as he starts scrubbing the pan Cas passes him.

Cas shoots him an arch look. "I don't think the bunny and fox actually fall in love. I believe it is, at the most, implied. If that."

"Well, that's just disappointing," Dean mutters, rolling his eyes. "Don't do anything halfway. If you're gonna go the lion fell in love with the lamb route, then you might as well give it your all. Otherwise, you're just wasting everyone's time and too scared to own up to your sh*t, ya know?"

"It's a children's movie, Dean," Cas says.

Dean snorts. "Yeah, so? I'm just saying, it doesn't have to be accurate, that's all. Let the fox and bunny fall in love. Why not? It's a cartoon."

"Movies such as this are rarely accurate. For example, barracudas do not eat clownfish eggs, so the entire start to Finding Nemo is false. It is known, however, that clownfish will eat their own eggs," Cas tells him seriously. "It is more likely that the mother ate all the other eggs."

"I—" Dean stares at him. "Why would you f*cking tell me that, Cas?"

"Lions with darker manes—black over red—are actually stronger and healthier, so Scar's portrayal as the weaker lion was inaccurate." Cas makes a thoughtful face, eyes unfocused and distant. "In fact, Scar was technically not a villain, as he was only following the rules of nature—they will kill each other to take over a pride, so his actions against Mufasa were not extreme. Actually, if you think about it, Scar was very merciful because he did not kill the cubs once he took over. Also, Rafiki was not a baboon. He was a mandrill."

"Yeah, okay, but that's all animals," Dean mutters, shaking his head as he goes back to scrubbing the pan. "You can bend the rules a little for animals, Cas, especially for kids. It's supposed to be cute, so it doesn't gotta be accurate."

"Cute," Cas echoes flatly. "Was Bambi a cute movie, Dean? The Fox and the Hound? Hm? Jack cried."

"I...have no argument," Dean concedes.

Cas hums. "If you haven't noticed, a lot of children's movies are very sad. I've discovered this with Jack. There is a lot of death."

"Ah, come on," Dean says, "it can't be that much."

"Bambi's mother, as we've established. Mufasa. Bing Bong, in Inside Out. Kerchak, in Tarzan. Tala, in Moana. Sitka, in Brother Bear. Ellie, in Up." Cas arches an eyebrow at Dean. "Do I need to go on? I could go on. For a while."

Dean frowns at him. "Okay, you've clearly given this a lot of thought."

"That's not even including the movies about children," Cas continues. "Bridge to Terabithia? Jack thought the movie was going to be fun. My Girl? I've taken to researching if anyone dies before allowing Jack to watch. It just upsets him otherwise."

"No one dies in the fox and bunny movie, right?" Dean checks, eyebrows raised.

Cas shakes his head. "No, I checked. It should be good. As of right now, Jack's favorite animated movie is Brave. No one really dies. There are bears. He likes the accents."

"That's the Irish girl who doesn't wanna marry any of the idiot guys, right?" Dean asks.

"Scottish, but yes," Cas says.

Dean chuckles and dumps the pan on the other side of the sink, shuffling over a little as Cas moves in close to rinse it. "Hey, more power to ya, girl. Marriage is a scam. I'd fight it, too."

"I read an article that said marriage is beneficial for taxes," Cas muses, eyebrows crumbling inward.

"Dude, I don't file taxes," Dean replies.

Cas blinks. "Oh, yes, that's true. So, marriage is something you never wish to do?"

"Never," Dean agrees firmly. "I mean, call me radical, but the only way I'm getting married is if there's a chance I can use it to stick it to the man. Otherwise, I don't need a goddamn receipt for loving somebody, if that's what I wanna do. Why? Is that something you want to do?"

"I've been married," Cas murmurs. "Twice."

Dean fumbles with the bowl he's washing, dropping it in the water with a small splash. He blinks over at Cas, startled. "Wait, twice? I mean, I—I knew about Daphne, obviously. That doesn't even count. Who the f*ck else did you marry? When did you find the time to marry someone else? Cas, what the f*ck?"

"The Djinn Queen, while I was in Syria getting fruit from the Tree of Life," Cas explains, glancing over at him curiously. "It was necessary at the time, if you recall."

"You married a—" Dean cuts himself off, shaking his head and reaching back in the water to grab the bowl. He's scrubs at it a little jerkily, nostrils flaring as he scoffs under his breath. "Of course you did. You do stupid sh*t all the time and call it necessary."

Cas narrows his eyes at him, holding his hand out for the bowl. He huffs in annoyance when Dean shoves it at him a little forcefully. "It was necessary. It doesn't count any more than my fraudulent marriage with Daphne."

"Well, you actually knew what you were doing this time," Dean argues. "Plus, a djinn? A monster, Cas, really? Are you f*cking kidding me, dude?"

"Garth is a werewolf. He's married," Cas says.

"He's married to another werewolf," Dean snaps.

"Oh, are beings other than humans not allowed to have relationships, Dean?" Cas challenges. "Only amongst themselves, or not at all? Is it a problem for two things that aren't the same to be together?"

"No, that's not—" Dean bites off his sentence again, gritting his teeth. "You know I don't mean—actually, what, you got the hots for the monster lady, Cas?"

"I don't have the 'hots'—" Cas lifts his wet hand to do air quotes, glaring all the while, "—for any woman, Dean, and you know this."

"Well, you married her," Dean says sarcastically.

"Because it was necessary," Cas growls.

Dean shoves another pan at him, water splashing up to cling to his t-shirt. "Yeah, I bet it was. Hey, excuse the hell out of me, djinn queens can have epic love stories, too. I mean, sure, why the f*ck not? It's not like they drain people of their blood and put them in a dream-world while killing them. No, not at all. If you look past that, really, what's not to love? More power to you."

"You're very biased when it comes to monsters, have you noticed?" Cas asks sharply.

"Are you—" Dean's head whips around, hands fisting around for a cup in the sink. "Are you seriously defending your wife right now?"

Cas fixes him with a harsh glare. "No, Dean, I am not. I'm just pointing out that you have a tendency to make a few exceptions for only specific monsters, rather than give them all the benefit of the doubt."

"There's a goddamn difference between a monster that can live life without hurting people, and a monster that can't, or won't," Dean snaps. "Djinns? Explain to me how they can, or would. 'Cause I don't think you can. There's no way—"

"There are clans of djinn that do not harm people as you believe only they can. They take in the sick and dying to help them pass in a preferred dream-state where there is no pain. Sometimes, people go to them. And those that feed on fear? They're often incorporated in punishing people who have committed unforgivable acts, befitting a death like that. There are ways, Dean. Not everything that isn't human is a monster, and I know you're aware of this already. You were very partial to the vampire."

"Benny was—look, don't f*cking talk about Benny, okay? I do know what you're saying, so f*ck you. I've come a long way since trying to kill anything that wasn't human, and you know that."

"So, why are you so angry?" Cas asks, eyes narrowed.

Dean tosses the cup into the other side on the sink, huffing out a deep breath. "I'm not angry. It was just a very stupid thing to do."

"Marrying her was—"

"I swear to god, if you say necessary one more time…"

"What does it matter?" Cas starts rinsing the cup out, his movements stilted. "The marriage was a bargain for lives, not a union bred from love or attraction. There was no epic love story."

"Yeah, but you're still married," Dean insists, though he's not sure why it does matter, only that it does.

Cas swivels his head to squint at him, lips pulled tight and thin. "Marriage customs for the djinn are not the same as what you're used to. For this, it was more of a treaty—lives spared and the necessary item retrieved. I didn't have to kill anyone else, and I did not end up dead, and I had the required ingredient for the ritual to open up the rift. I had a mission to fulfill by any means for the sake of my family, and I did. Would you not do the same?"

"Oh, don't turn this around on me, asshole," Dean grumbles, scrubbing the last pan with vigor. But he already knows he's lost this argument. He's just not ready to wave the white flag of surrender yet. "That doesn't change that you're still married, Cas."

"Regardless of my marriage to the Djinn Queen, I was still married, as you say, anyway," Cas points out bluntly. "Daphne and I never divorced."

Dean looks over at him, expression flat. "Okay, so you're married twice over. Awesome."

"Neither of those marriages mean anything," Cas says, heaving a weary sigh. "For one, there was no foundation of love. But, most importantly, I did not go into those marriages freely. It was not a choice I would have made if I truly got to choose."

And that—well, that softens Dean right on up in an instant. He immediately feels kinda bad, and also like an asshole. Here comes the white flag. "Ah, sh*t, Cas. Why'd you go and have to say it like that, man? Now, I just—" He shakes his head and slides the last pan over into Cas' waiting hands with far more careful movements than before. "Well, hey, I bet there's some way we can get you outta both marriages if you really, really want out."

"I don't particularly consider myself in them, so it would be a waste of time," Cas admits.

"Yeah, but what if you wanna get married later down the line, dude? Two marriages will be kinda hard to explain," Dean says.

Cas glances at him, annoyance draining to be replaced by an unexpected undercurrent of amusem*nt. "I don't foresee that being an issue. I won't be getting married again."

"What about your quest for love?"

"I have a feeling marriage won't be a part of that."

"You don't know," Dean counters, bracing his wet palms on the side of the sink. "Whoever you—I mean, maybe marriage is in your future."

"I'm...quite sure that it's not," Cas tells him, looking away as his lips twitch.

Dean nudges him with his elbow. "Well, that ain't so bad. Like I said, marriage is a f*cking scam anyway. You couldn't pay me to do it."

"Hm," is Cas' calm response. He picks up the pan and slips it back into the soapy water, lifting his gaze to meet Dean's eyes. "You missed a spot."

"Asshole," Dean mutters as he grabs the pan, jerking when Cas peels away from the counter and starts towards the door. "Hey, where are you going?"

"Sam, Eileen, and Jack are watching a movie. We can do Bonanza tomorrow," Cas says, turning back to him with raised eyebrows.

Dean finishes the last pan and pulls the plug to let the water drain out. "Yeah, but that doesn't mean you gotta run off. You wanna go do something?"

"If you'd like," Cas replies.

"Could be nice to get some air. Go change. We're going out in public," Dean tells him.

Cas glances down at himself, then lifts his head and squints. "I've worn this out in public before."

"Yeah, and you wear my clothes sometimes now, whenever the mood strikes, I guess." Dean waves a wet hand at him. "Just go get decent. Your attachment to that coat is starting to get embarrassing, Cas."

"Whatever you say, Dean," Cas muses, rolling his eyes up and over as he leaves the room.

Dean shakes his head and blows out a deep breath, eyes bulging a little bit. Talk about losing battles but winning the war. Jesus Christ. That came very close to being a serious argument, which would have just ruined his whole day.

No need for any of that bullsh*t.

Going out with Cas today ends up being the beginning of the epiphany, but the foundation of the knowledge has been settling in for a lot longer.

Dean doesn't really have an idea of where he wants to go, no real plan knocking around in his head, just the vague desire to spend some time away from the Bunker with Cas. He decides to just get in Baby and go into town to see where they end up, which Cas doesn't protest or seem to mind. He looks as relaxed as Dean feels, pleased to just be here.

They end up going to a goddamn strip mall because there's a little pastry place Dean wants to try and window shopping is something to do. They wander around at a leisurely pace, Dean eating this weird cinnamon roll creation that leaves his hands sticky and Cas getting randomly distracted by various things he knows he'll never actually buy. They do a lot of people-watching, too—observing regular, everyday people with so much time ahead of them and not enough in a day, still.

Something eventually snags Dean's eye, and he drags Cas into one of the stores for the sole purpose of putting him in a pair of sunglasses. It's a bright green pair with slits through the eyes and a plastic pink mustache hanging from the bottom of it. Dean can just see Cas' eyes narrowed through the slits, and he spends about a solid five minutes wheezing and cracking up, laughing so hard that it hurts.

They keep going, and Dean comes to the conclusion that Cas is very weird, but that's okay. He sort of already knew that this whole time, and—well, he kinda likes Cas' weird. Cas being Cas is probably one of Dean's favorite things.

They go into one of those shops with whole beds in them, which all have small signs warning people not to fall asleep on them. Despite this, Dean plops down on one of the beds almost as soon as he finds one, groaning because it feels like being supported by a goddamn cloud. This bed is close to an outdoor porch set, so Cas moves over to sit on a porch-swing that he idly eases back and forth on. He has a wind spinner flower in his hands, carefully tapping the edges of it to watch it twirl around and around.

Dean doesn't really know what sets it off—the sudden awareness. It comes to him in slow, unhindered waves. He just sprawls out on a random bed in the middle of a store and realizes that he feels peaceful—well and truly peaceful, and it has nothing to do with the bed. He thinks about it. Recklessly, he follows that thread, tugging on it, completely oblivious to where it's heading.

He thinks about how deeply he doesn't want to fight with Cas—never again, as unrealistic as that may be—and how sometimes the weirdest things get under his skin anyway, no matter how hard he tries not to let it. He thinks about how Cas is weird and quirky, and how he likes that about him. He thinks about peace and what he wants, and how—without him noticing—both of those things seem to have Cas included in them.

The thing is, Dan and Carl never had a moment where they realized they had a thing for each other. They just did increasingly stupid sh*t for and around one another until, eventually, they cracked and ended up f*cking. And, of course, the f*cking didn't really solve anything, or make any of it clear. They just did it a lot and wanted each other so badly that the way they ended still remains a subject Dean will not look at head-on, because it pisses him off.

This, though? Laid out on some bed in a department store, watching Cas curiously eye the whirligig as he spins it around and around, understanding suddenly that he is smiling as he looks, his arm propped up behind his head and a gentle curl of pleasant warmth in his chest… Well, it comes to him like it's being filtered through. A slow drip, drip of quiet realization that doesn't seem to be much at first, so he doesn't immediately panic.

Just that first, easy thought. I like him. And, of course, he does like Cas. He's always liked Cas, even when he sometimes can barely stand him. It's Cas. What's not to like, really? He's an asshole, he's got a heart of gold, he's ridiculous and stubborn and stupid and kind of wonderful. Dean's used to him. Used to him being in his life, used to him in his space, used to him hanging around.

But that thought snowballs out, gaining steam, leading places that it doesn't really need to. A curious, little niggling in the back of Dean's mind that suggests there's more, if only he'll go poking around. And why not? What's the harm in it?

That's a big question for a guy who doesn't even know what he's going to find. He's not really all that worried about it, which turns out to be pretty stupid of him, actually, because that I like him turns into something else shockingly fast. It turns into awareness that makes him sit up on the bed, staring at Cas hard, eyebrows furrowed.

Dan and Carl never really had a moment, but this? This is Dean's moment. It crests in his mind before evening out, settling in. That moment of: oh. That moment of: ah, sh*t, I really do like him. That moment of: well, I'll be damned.

"Huh," Dean says out loud, grunting as he blinks at Cas, adjusting to the abrupt realization that he—

Well, sh*t.


Selsic Bos is literally just sobsicles backwards, and that excerpt Cas read and critiqued was literally smut from one of my fics, lmao. I just wanted to poke fun at myself a little, I guess. Yes, Dan and Carl were literally Destiel, and yes, they got the Ending That Shall Not Be Discussed. Dean hates it, and he's right 💅

Chapter 2: The Denial


Will warn for Character Injury in this chapter!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Dean sits on it for a while.

It's a little complicated because he has to go back to his daily life, which has Cas practically in every part of it. When Dean looks at Cas, he looks at him with the new knowledge that he's got feelings, which makes him do a lot of looking without blinking and zoning out until multiple people call his name to snap him out of it. It's mortifying.

His feelings—whatever they may be—have to be explored in layers, because there's something more than just considering the whole best friend angle. There is the fact that his best friend is a man.

Having a starting point helps, for all that he hates it. His main starting point is just Benny. Having confusing dreams about him and waking up with boners is definitely something to go off of, and okay, maybe Benny was a good-looking guy. Dean can admit that. Definitely. Does he have a type?

So, both and all and maybe a few all around the world is an option. Dean's been rallying to not be a dick and wholeheartedly support the gays for a while now, which turns out to be a good thing. He doesn't even want to imagine how this would go if he was still being an asshole about it, or if he didn't find out his best friend was gay long before, or if he'd never met Charlie and didn't adore Claire and his dad was still around. It's better this way.

There's some kind of irony to Dean trying to be supportive of the gays—a blanket term he's using at this point, just to get through his whole ordeal—and then turning around and being a gay. Or, well, according to Google, the technical term is bisexual. That, or pansexual, but Dean's old and there are a lot of terms, and bisexual is one he's heard before, so it seems the safest. He wishes Charlie were here for this, he really does. She would be a big help.

He's already on shaky ground with the whole gay part, so adding Cas into the mix is complicated. The thing is, if he has a type—which he is willing to admit that he does—then Cas fits into it. Blue eyes, dark hair, scruff. And his voice—

Dean has a thing about voices, and accents, and drawls. Proven by Benny, and maybe a little bit by Crowley, but he'll take that to the goddamn grave. But Cas' voice, in particular? Well, it's all rumble-y and deep and raspy and...yeah, Dean likes it.

The final nail in the coffin is admitting that he has an irrational attraction to people who can kick his ass. Benny, again. Crowley a little, shamefully enough. And okay, Meg was hot. Abaddon was hot. Cassie could absolutely kick his ass, and Lisa once did a weird yoga move that pinned Dean to the bed, leaving him helpless, and his brain almost melted out his goddamn ears. But Cas?

Oh, Cas has kicked his ass, and Dean can't really think about it without his skin prickling in a way that's alarming because of how not alarmed he is. He doesn't want to admit that he finds it sexy that Cas has beat him bloody multiple times, but...yeah.

On that front, he has also kicked Cas' ass before, while Cas just let him, so maybe Dean's not alone in this. Obviously they can't go around punching each other, but it would be nice to be thrown up against some walls every once in a while.

So, yeah, Cas has got the looks, and the voice, and he's badass, and he's Dean's type. Fine. That's fine. That doesn't have to mean anything. It doesn't mean that they should start having sex or anything. The mere thought of that is terrifying.

But then the thought of that is terrifying and exhilarating, then mostly just exhilarating, and Dean thinks he should probably get laid before making any hasty decisions. Except he doesn't want to go out and get laid, which is… Oh. Well. That's a pretty obvious sign, huh?

Dean spends a lot of time in his room, on his computer, researching. He learns a lot and almost doesn't really learn anything, because nothing really gets any clearer. He's still stuck, but now he's just a little more aware and accepting of his gay side. Yay.

Dean's only an idiot for however long he allows himself to be. There comes a point where one has to reevaluate some things when other, more pressing things come up. A realization that he has feelings for his best friend, who is a dude, is a very pressing thing. Reevaluation came in the form of is this a problem, can I do that, what does this mean? It just so happens that Dean buckles down and demands better results from himself, because inconclusive isn't really cutting it. He takes no less than three am I gay? quizzes to see if he has a chance of not being what he thought he was, then decides if he thinks he has a chance, he probably does, and then watches an episode of Dr. Sexy on his laptop to see how slim that chance is, only to understand like a bullet between his eyes that not being an idiot costs so little.

Charlie would have been so goddamn proud.

The main issue seems to be the discomfort zone, as well as his comfort zone. He shies away from the idea of things that make him uncomfortable, and he avoids the things that might bring him comfort. He's both content and discontent with it all.

Logically, he should give into the good things rather than the bad. Realistically, he spends a total of six days avoiding either of it. Just safer that way.

However, there's no safety in his and Cas' normal, everyday dynamic. They've come to form something of a routine at this point, and Dean is only just now starting to understand how much time they spend together. It's pretty much all goddamn day, only halted when and if they don't go on cases together, which isn't exactly a regular occurrence. This fact doesn't exactly help Dean get a handle on these feelings that are only new for how he's only just figured them out, even though he's somehow sure they've been taking root for a long time.

That's another thing. Dean thinks that he has known in some way or another for a while now, even though he didn't actually know. If this sh*t has been going on for years—and god help him if it has—then Dean is willing to forgive himself for not being fully aware on the grounds that the world wasn't exactly a safe place to realize these feelings. That wouldn't have gone over well. What, he'd work it out and Cas would die a week later? No, thanks.

Peace wasn't an option before. He didn't know that Cas would be so tangled up in it. They didn't have this ease about them that they do now, which Dean thinks is because life was never easy for any of them.

Suddenly, wanting to chip Cas makes so much sense.

So does, "Mornin', Sunshine," as he says it, and keeps on saying it, because stopping now will just be suspicious, and also Dean still finds it so easy to do.

"Good morning, Dean," Cas replies, as always, adding, "Sam," even as he ushers forward quickly to grab the coffee cup right out of Dean's hands. He takes a large swallow of it, then plunks it down to the table. "Claire called. She has a personal issue that she requires my help with, so I'll be gone for a few days. I'll call you when I'm on my way home."

Dean fiddles with the coffee cup, staring up at him with a frown. "Do you need me to come?"

"You and Sam promised Donna you'd check out that warehouse in Utah, remember?" Cas reminds him, shaking his head. "It's a personal matter anyway."

"Yeah, okay." Dean purses his lips, then clicks his tongue. "When are you heading out?"

"Now. She needs me there as soon as possible."

"You taking the kid?"

Cas nods. "Yes."

"Right." Dean gives a rueful chuckle and shakes his head. "Okay, well, be careful. Don't do anything stupid, and call me if—"

"I will," Cas cuts in, rolling his eyes a little. He dips in to steal another swallow of the coffee, his hand coming to brace on the back of Dean's chair, wrist pressing in between Dean's shoulders. "The sentiment is returned. Be safe in Utah."

"You got it, chief," Dean says, giving a small salute and trying very hard not to react too strongly to Cas' proximity.

Cas tilts his head at him. "I mean it, Dean."

It's so stupid how looking at someone differently can make the all the things you've seen before seem so new. Cas has done that head-co*cking thing so many times over the years, and Dean has always been a little fond of it—kinda cute, like a sweet, innocent thing. But, because there's feelings involved or what the f*ck ever, Dean's heart does some dumbass squeezing thing in his chest, and he realizes that it's really, really cute in an adorable way that says more about his own feelings than the action itself.

"Right, got it," Dean replies weakly, sort of just staring at him helplessly because ah, f*ck, he's in so deep. Jesus Christ. That's the thing. He's got it bad. Really f*cking bad. It's not going away, and in fact, it only seems to be getting worse.

"Alright, I have to go. Be safe." Cas pulls back with a sigh, his hand sliding over Dean's shoulders as he steps away. He marches out of the door, only to appear right back in the doorway with a grimace a beat later, looking at Sam a little sheepishly. "You be safe, too, Sam."

Sam's lips twitch. "Sure thing, Cas. Same to you."

Cas sends him a look and turns around to leave again, this time for good. Dean sighs when he hears the door close, lifting the coffee to take a sip of it. At least half of it is gone now—Cas apparently decided to collect on his half, even if he was leaving.

"Well," Dean mutters, "we might as well head out to Utah now. No reason to stick around."

"Uh huh," Sam says, eyeing him weirdly, but he does dutifully head out to get ready to go.

The warehouse in Utah turns out to be a thing, a seriously grueling thing that takes up too much time and leaves him and Sam working from dawn to way too late in the night. They're pushing hard, grinding through to try and save lives when the dead keep on stacking up. It's a bad case. A really bad one.

They barely get the time to sleep and eat, let alone keep a connection to the outside world. Even Sam complains that he hasn't gotten to talk to Eileen enough—at most, a text or two a day, but she's got her own case that she's handling right now, all the way over in Virginia. So, Sam has the added bonus of fretting about her when he's not fretting about their own case that keeps on stretching out and stretching out and getting harder by the day.

And Dean? God, he's not much better. He does text Cas about halfway into the case, because Cas had said he'd be home in a few days, but then Cas texts back and says there were complications. This reply, of course, just frazzles Dean even more. He can't get to Cas and Jack right now, which makes a low buzz of anxiety and frustration settle into his skin. Day in and day out, Dean works this goddamn issue in Utah and worries pretty much nonstop about everyone.

When they wrap everything up in Utah—finally—he is fully ready to get the f*ck home. It's been ten days in total, and he feels every inch of them, exhaustion pressing into his every muscle. However, they've barely finished cleaning up—haven't even really hit the road yet—when they get a call from Garth who has caught wind of something pretty big brewing in Oregon. The Winchesters are closest to the issue, and probably the most adept, so they're asked to go.

Absolutely everything within Dean wants to say no and just go the f*ck home, but that's not how the life works. sh*t happens, and sometimes that's all there is to it. He sucks it up and blasts the radio as he hits distantly familiar backroads, eyes burning and doing his best not to fall asleep, while Sam snores over in the passenger side.

Another three days pass, and both Dean and Sam are as cranky as they can get. Eileen has wrapped up her thing in Virginia, so she's agreed to go rest at the Bunker until they make it back. Cas, on the other hand, hasn't texted Dean with any updates at all. His messages are fairly short, overall, just more hinting at things being complicated. They haven't seriously spoken in two weeks, and in that time, they've traded about six text messages.

The thing in Oregon is quicker than the thing in Utah was, but it's more tiring. They have to get out of town quickly, no time to stop on the way home, and Dean probably hasn't slept in nearly two days. He and Sam both smell faintly of death and are covered in blood, but they're a day away from home and not eager to slow down or stop. Dean's even reached the point where he lets Sam drive the first half so he can catch some sleep—just so he won't kill them trying to drive through the night.

When Dean wakes up and takes over, Sam slumps in for some more rest. Dean leaves him to it, the awareness that they're only about eight hours away from home seeming to wake him up a little. He checks the phone as he drives, surprised to see that he's missed a call from Cas. Despite the fact that it's late, Dean calls him back anyway.

"Hello, Dean," is how Cas answers the phone, and there's an undercurrent of weariness in his voice that suggests he's spent the last eighteen days having a rough go of it as well.

"Hey, Cas," Dean replies, just as tired, his lips curling up a little anyway. His voice is pitched low, kind of private for no reason. He glances over to make sure Sam is still sleeping. He is.

"I told you I would call you when I was on the way home," Cas murmurs. "I called."

Dean huffs a quiet laugh. "Yeah, uh, you did. Sorry, I was asleep. Funny, we're on the way home, too. How far away are you?"

"Seven hours, I believe," Cas tells him. "Jack and I should make it back a little after two in the morning. What about you and Sam?"

"You got us beat by an hour. ETA is looking to be a little after three in the morning. We're coming from Oregon now. Garth tipped us off to something going on there after the Utah thing. I'll tell you all about it later. How did it go with Claire?"

"It was remarkably complicated."

"Yeah, you mentioned that," Dean points out, drumming his fingers over the wheel lightly. He purses his lips. "Anything I can do?"

Cas makes a small, pleased sound. "No, but thank you. It...worked out in the end. I'm sure I would have saved more time if I weren't also trying to keep Jack and Claire out of trouble. There were also issues between Claire and Kaia that I had to—mediate. I'm not a very good mediator."

"They were fighting?" Dean asks in surprise.

"Not fighting so much as...not seeing eye-to-eye on some things," Cas says with a sigh. "I'll explain later. Do you know if Eileen handled everything in Virginia yet?"

"Yeah, she's fine. She's already at the Bunker."

"Oh, that's good. Sam will be pleased."

Dean grunts. "There is that, at least. We've spent the last two weeks essentially getting our asses kicked, so you can probably guess that we've both been at the end of our ropes for a while now."

Cas sounds wary when he asks, "Are you injured?"

"Nah, not really. Got some bruises and cuts and sh*t, but what else is new? Gotta add to my scar collection somehow," Dean mutters.

"And Sam?" Cas checks.

"Yeah, he's good. Bumped his head again. I don't know how he doesn't have brain damage by now," Dean admits, snorting.

"Divine intervention," Cas says, flatly.

"Well, now we gotta worry about concussions. He's fine, though." Dean sighs and shifts in his seat, glancing at the speedometer. He slows down a little, because he's going thirty over the speed limit. Rushing. "I know there's no point in asking, but Jack's fine, right?"

"Yes. He's currently watching a cartoon on his laptop. He, of course, stayed out of everything."

"Just along for the ride."

"Mm," Cas agrees. "Perhaps it is selfish of me, but I prefer it. I'd rather him not be involved, whether or not he could fix everything."

Dean grunts. "No, I get it. sh*t starts getting complicated if he gets involved. Power is—it's a dangerous thing, man. He intervenes once, and then it becomes a question of when he'll do it again, or why he can't do more, and the next thing we know, dogs are talking and everything falls outta whack. Anyway, he's a kid. He's God, but he's a kid, and he should—he shouldn't have to give up one of those for the other, especially when it ain't his fault."

"You're right," Cas says softly, "I feel the same," and there's something about how he says it, sort of gentle and careful, like it means a lot to him, like Dean saying it has made him—feel something.

"Right," Dean mumbles, squeezing his fingers around the wheel, his heart thumping unevenly in his chest. Oh, boy. Not this sh*t again. He clears his throat. "Um, yeah, so. I mean, I should—we're both kinda driving, so we should—"

"Do that," Cas fills in.

Dean coughs. "Yeah. Um. See you in eight hours?"

Cas chuckles. "Goodbye, Dean."

He hangs up immediately after, and Dean exhales heavily as he slips his phone away. He braves a quick glance to make sure Sam is still asleep—he is—and then he allows his face to twitch through the stupid goddamn expressions that it wants to. He's not sure where it starts, or what it actually looks like, but he ends up smiling by the time it's over.

Okay, so he's doing his best to handle this. He thinks he's doing pretty well, actually. He hasn't actually gotten much farther past the stressful experience of acknowledging the fact that he has feelings for his best friend. Sometimes, that feels surreal enough on its own, even when it absolutely doesn't surprise him at all. It's not like he can't see it, like it just cropped out of the blue. He's sort of sure that it's always been there, muted by bigger, worse things that had a knack for eclipsing a lot of important things through the years—not just this.

But…acknowledgement is one thing. That's not where this ends, and Dean knows it. What comes next is what he's going to do about it.

He's going to have to do something about it, because it's affecting him now. It's always affected him, he's sure, just not to his knowledge. So many goddamn lingering touches, ridiculous amounts of stupidity for each other, even some of the things he's said, or admitted to, or let slip. The hugs. The grieving when Cas is dead. The f*cking mixtape. Oh, Jesus f*cking Christ, the goddamn mixtape. That might be one of the most obvious things, and oh, he's so stupid.

Dean stifles a groan and resists the urge to beat his head against the steering wheel, if only because it would wake Sam up and clue him into the fact that Dean is having something of a crisis.

Because, here's the thing, now that Dean knows, he's going to have to live with it. He's going to have to adjust to it being a part of his life, just all the time. He knows what it means now to miss Cas when they're not together, to worry about him so much that it drives him insane, to want to talk to him and be around him and touch him and—

He knows now, and that's a point of no return. He walked right into it, not knowing what he'd find, and all that's left to do is face the consequences.

His options are—limited, to say the least.

Dean soothes himself with the knowledge that at least Cas isn't, like, not into men. That would add a whole other problem to this already massive mound of problems. But, then again, it's not as much of a balm to this wound as he wishes it were. Cas being gay doesn't automatically mean he finds Dean in any way appealing, which is fair. He can understand why Cas wouldn't—he knows he's kinda f*cked up, has a long list of mistakes working against him, and tends to be an asshole by default.

Besides, what would it even matter if Cas did find him appealing? Dean has no idea what would even come of that. They're best friends. They f*cking live together, for f*ck's sake. If Dean screws this up…

So, yes, his options are limited. He could tell Cas, which is the equivalent of stepping off into the unknown and absolutely scares the sh*t out of him. He could aim for not-so-accidentally falling into something sexual with him, except he has no idea how that would go and will likely end up being the equivalent to fumbling in the dark, awkward and uncertain and the cause of worse issues. He could try to actually get Cas to catch feelings for him, since he's on some kind of quest for love anyway, but that requires Dean to have any clue how to be someone worth falling in love with in the first place.

Or, he could just...deal with it. Just do his best to adjust, and keep quiet, and be thankful for what he's already got. Because what he's got is already so damn good, and he doesn't want to lose it.

And really, is it even a question of what he'll do?

Dean keeps on driving and thinks, vaguely, that he wishes he could go back to not knowing what he now knows. He was right about what he said when talking about unrequited feelings, and ain't that just ironic as hell? Who knew, two months later, he'd end up in the same position he was complaining about? The law of average, right? Of f*cking course.

About three hours out from home, Sam wakes up with a yawn cracking his jaw. He smacks his lips and doesn't really come out of his slumped position, but he seems to be in a better mood now that he realizes they're closer to home. He doesn't say anything, and Dean doesn't either. They're both tired and ready to relax at home. They drive on in comfortable silence, not saying a word.

Something about it appeases Dean's turmoil. When everything else is f*cked up, trust Sam to be a steady presence through it all. Dean almost considers telling him, but he wouldn't even know where to begin. He's sure that Sam would be supportive about it, but that's part of why he holds off. Sam would be too supportive about it. He'd probably encourage Dean to do something stupid, like risk it all, because he finds hope even when no one else does.

Dean wisely doesn't tell him.

When they make it back to the Bunker, it's 3:17am. Dean is exceptionally tired, and Sam is dragging his feet, even though Eileen is likely in his bed. They're both still in clothes covered in stale, dried blood and undeniably grimy. They've had a rough near-three weeks, and it shows very obviously.

"Shower first," Sam mumbles as they both start heading inside.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Dean replies carelessly, heaving a sigh the moment they step inside.

Shower first, Sam had said, but it is instantly clear that someone else already beat him to it. When they make it into the war room, both Eileen and Cas are sitting down beside each other at the table. They appear to be having an entire conversation with their hands. Eileen's hair is slightly damp, and she's in one of Sam's shirts that comes down far over pajama pants. She has on fuzzy socks, feet propped up lazily on the table. Cas' hair, however, is more damp than hers is—curling around his ears—and he's wearing Dean's clothes again, but something different, one of his baggier black t-shirts with a small hole around the collar that shows a flash of the divot of his collarbone, and a pair of his red pajama pants with the goddamn bears all over them and the quote don't wake the bear. His socks appear to be his own, though they're different colors.

Eileen and Cas look up and notice them at the same, exact time, almost in perfect sync. Eileen smiles big and wide, eyes sparkling, and Dean doesn't even have to check to know she's looking right at Sam, and Sam is no doubt looking right back.

Dean doesn't really have the space to check, too busy feeling like an idiot for how his breath momentarily freezes in his lungs when he looks at Cas, who is already looking at him. Cas doesn't start off smiling like Eileen—no, his eyes flick over Dean quickly, scanning, taking him in as if making sure he's all in working order, the same way a creator would assess a product they haven't touched in a while. It's a sharp gaze that Dean feels like prickle under his skin wherever it trails over him, and he's too f*cking exhausted for this sh*t, but f*ck if he doesn't have to clench a fist anyway.

Sam wastes no time, moving across the room to step up beside Eileen, signing as he approaches. Her smile grows, and she tilts her head back at the same time that Sam dips down to give her a chaste kiss. When he draws back, Eileen stands up with a wink.

"I'll come with you," she declares, laughing at the way Sam's face spasms wearily. "Relax, I figured I'd help you wash your hair."

"You're the best," Sam exhales, giving her a lopsided grin as they start leaving the room.

Dean jolts a little when Cas abruptly stands up, too. For absolutely no reason at all, he feels his heart lurch stupidly in his chest. Cas is smiling now, a small thing, like a secret he just left lying around for Dean to find, a punch to the chest.

"Sit down," Cas tells him. "I'll bring you coffee."

"Thanks," Dean says, and does what he's told.

Sitting down settles him a little, grounds him. He exhales and tips his head back against the chair. He closes his eyes, breathes, and breathes some more. Distantly, he can hear Cas rummaging around in the kitchen, ceramic clinking, the coffee streaming into the pot in a steady drip as the machine gurgles.

For the first time in what feels like weeks, Dean slowly relaxes. He's tired, and sore, and suffering under romantically-inclined insanity, but he's home. He stays exactly where he is until he hears Cas move back into the room, sitting the cup of coffee down on the table, and Dean inhales deeply as he lifts his head. Cas is close, lowering down in the chair beside him. He smells like Dean's shampoo and body wash again, and it does unfortunate things to Dean's ability to be a normal human being.

"You look tired," Cas comments.

"Yeah," Dean agrees, because he knows he does, because he is. "You, on the other hand… You, uh, look—you look—" He gestures a little helplessly to Cas' attire, his voice coming out faint. Stupidly, his mouth is dry, so he reaches out to take the coffee and steal a moment to get his sh*t together. After, he clears his throat. "You raid my closet again?"

Cas looks down at himself, reaching down to pinch the fabric of his shirt—Dean's shirt—between his fingers. "Yes. Eileen insisted that I would feel better if I got more comfortable. In her defense, I didn't look much better off than you do right now."

"Came home covered in blood, too, huh?" Dean asks, flashing a weak smile.

"That, and glitter." Cas holds up a hand the moment Dean opens his mouth. "Don't ask. Also, remind me to never allow Jack and Claire to spend more than two hours alone again."

Dean laughs, ducking his head and shaking it before taking another swallow of his coffee. He offers it to Cas right after, mostly by habit at this point. "They bring out the worst in each other. It's a sibling thing, dude. Best to just get used to it."

"Hm." Cas doesn't smile, but he's visibly pleased as he drinks some coffee. His eyes are bright with a simple happiness, like he's delighted by the prospect of Jack and Claire being considered siblings. He may be possibly over the moon about the coffee as well, but you can never tell with him. "I suppose so. It was a very...draining eighteen days."

"Tell me about it." Dean grimaces. "It felt like years. Handling rough sh*t like that back-to-back is gonna put me into an early grave one of these days. I wanna sleep for a f*cking week."

Cas frowns slightly. "How bad was it?"

"Too many people died before we could help. We saved who we could once we could, but…" Dean rubs at his temple until Cas holds out the coffee, and he takes it with a nod, heaving a sigh.

"I'm sorry," Cas says softly.

Dean takes a sip and shrugs with one shoulder. "It's not your fault."

"Or yours," Cas adds, like he's very aware that Dean's been blaming himself, and he probably is. He knows Dean criminally well.

"Still sucks," Dean admits. He looks away, throat tight, and he offers Cas the coffee. Their fingers brush when Cas takes it, and he's abruptly knocked loose from his self-depreciating turmoil, heart turning over in his chest. Oh hell, is this going to be a regular thing? This is bullsh*t. He coughs and flicks his gaze to Cas. "So, uh, at this rate, we're never going to finish Bonanza, are we?"

"We lead busy lives," Cas points out, lips twitching. He tilts his head, and it's still cute. f*ck him. "If it makes you feel any better, I think we're making progress. I am looking forward to the end."

"Oh, f*ck you," Dean chokes out, his shoulders wrenching up on a laugh. "We're watching Gunsmoke next. You can't say no."

Cas arches an eyebrow as he holds out the coffee again. Not much left now. "No is, in fact, in my vocabulary, Dean."

"You're gonna watch it with me anyway."

"It's twenty seasons."

"So?" Dean challenges.

"You can't hold me hostage with cowboy TV shows," Cas tells him, squinting.

"Well, it's my only option, Mr. Flight Risk. Short of tying you down—" Dean snaps his mouth shut before he can finish that sentence, looking down into the coffee cup like it holds all the answers to the universe, or possibly all the dignity he just lost. He keeps his eyes averted as he takes a gulp of it.

"There are so many other genres of television, Dean. Does it have to be cowboys?" Cas says, continuing on like Dean didn't just insinuate anything about tying Cas down somewhere.

"Shut up, I like cowboys," Dean mumbles, holding the last bit of coffee out to Cas, who holds up his hand and shakes his head. Dean must look really tired if he's not trying to take the last bit of coffee.

Cas hums. "I know you do. What about something more modern?"

"You tryna pick the next show?" Dean asks, raising his eyebrows. "What ya got in mind?"

"Game of Thrones," Cas suggests. "Claire says it is very, ah, f*cked up. There are, however, dragons and men with swords."

Dean chokes on the last swallow of his coffee, sitting the cup aside and coughing as it goes down the wrong way. He wheezes, "You like men with swords, Cas?"

"Well, I don't...not like men with swords," Cas replies, eyes narrowed like this is a trick question. "Claire liked the show for women murdering men, but she used men with swords as a selling point for me. Her main critique and piece of advice was to ignore the incest."

"Ignore the—" Dean's face scrunches up. He shakes his head. "Okay, first of all, Game of Thrones is complicated. I'm vetoing this suggestion because it sucks. Next one better be good, or it's Gunsmoke."

Cas rolls his eyes. "Fine. Claire recommended True Blood, which is apparently about vampires, fairies, and werewolves."

"Okay, I haven't watched that one," Dean admits, waving a hand lazily. "One episode. If it sucks, we're going straight to Gunsmoke."

"We have to finish Bonanza first," Cas says.

Dean perks right on up. "Hell yeah we do. And we will do that as soon as I've had a shower, some sleep, and something to eat. Tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow," Cas agrees. He co*cks his head again, then leans back in his chair to squint down the hallway. After a beat, he releases a quiet sigh and looks back at Dean. "I do believe Sam and Eileen just went to bed. You can shower now, and you need to. You have...flesh behind your ear."

"Gross," Dean mutters, shuddering a little as he pushes to his feet. "Alright, night, Cas."

"Goodnight, Dean," Cas replies, offering him a smile again as he tips his head up to look at him.

Dean reaches out and claps Cas on the shoulder, forgetting for a moment that he's fighting a losing battle with feelings, because things are sometimes so easy with Cas that he gets too comfortable. This comes back to bite him in the ass when he feels the warmth of skin through the shirt, a sudden awareness kicking to life in his chest. A realization that oh, Cas is real, he's tangible, he's warm, he looks—

And it's kind of his downfall because he gets stuck there for a moment, startled with the revelation that Cas is right f*cking there and Dean is so casually touching him. They look at each other for a second, and Dean's fingers twitch, curling up without permission or direction to tug on one of the damp strands of hair towards his neck. It's soft, and his knuckles brush Cas' ear, and Dean is about to do something really goddamn stupid if he doesn't get out from under Cas' gaze right this instant.

He can feel it like a live, squirming thing. Butterflies kick up a fuss in his stomach, which is a goddamn disgrace, because Dean doesn't do sh*t like this. He doesn't feel things like this—nervous, and tempted, and recklessly desperate. His ability to think is always shaky at best, but it's blown to sh*t now. This is f*cking dangerous. Cas is a goddamn hazard, who should most definitely come with a warning label.

He just looks so—so obtainable. He's in Dean's clothes, and it's only pajamas, but he looks fresh and kind of human and unnecessarily good for a man with bears on his pants. He's got his head tilted up, his whole body open and relaxed, like an offering. He's right f*cking there, smelling like Dean, and not going anywhere, and just—just—

Jesus, how did Dean make it this far? How? For years, too, somehow. It's simultaneously not even that different, because Dean just sat down and carried on a relatively normal conversation with him, and yet it's so goddamn new at the same time. Nothing has changed, yet everything has, all because Dean's aware of his own feelings now. It's not even seeing Cas in a new light; it's more like Cas has always been this, has always invoked these things in Dean, but this is the first time Dean has actually been allowed to stop and take it in fully.

It's exhilarating and panic-inducing in equal measure. Dean could slide his hand up into Cas' hair right now, feel his fingers split the damp strands, tangle around and slip over his knuckles, and he could dip down to get closer, closer, too close—

But he draws his hand back, blinking hard as his fingers automatically curl into a fist. Cas blinks at him, reaching up like he's about to touch his own hair, or maybe the shell of his ear where Dean's knuckles did. Dean jerks his gaze away and mumbles another goodnight, a half-hearted thing that likely doesn't even really make much sense, lost in the distance as he beats a hasty retreat.

This is going to be f*cking excruciating.

Because Chuck is gone, getting sick is something that actually happens to them, burdened with an immune system that actively works against them, and so Dean is now f*cking miserable.

It's not even two days after they've made it back from the two cases from hell that it really sets in, and when Sam and Eileen take notice, they practically tuck tail and turn around to get as far away from him and his germs as possible. It would probably be a little more insulting if he was being abandoned entirely, but as Sam said, he's being left in the care of an angel who can't get sick and, well, literal God.

The thing is, Dean doesn't really do this whole sick thing. He would just rather...not, to put it plainly. He feels like sh*t, he looks like sh*t, he sounds like sh*t. Hell, he's grumpy and tired and achy, and he may or may not be curling up in bed and waiting for inevitable death. The headache? Abysmal. The nausea? Awful. The stuffy nose, and watery eyes, and persistent coughing? Unacceptable.

Is he, perhaps, blowing this out of proportion? Well, if he is, who can blame him? He doesn't really get common colds. If they're so common, why don't more people walk around pissed off if they have to experience them so frequently? They're bullsh*t to the highest degree. Dean is a grown man with a lot of endurance and a remarkably high pain tolerance, but being sick? It turns him into a very surly, very fussy, and very unhappy person.

He spends about two days taking medicine like clockwork and sleeping most of the time, waking up to try and eat the soup either Jack or Cas brings him. That, or he shuffles around the Bunker with the feeling like his head is full of cotton and the misplaced desire to do something like he's better already, even though he's not. He just feels kinda sh*tty and pretty much dislikes the whole world and everyone in it, with Cas being the only exception.

Cas is—quite literally—the only saving grace during this time. For an angel who doesn't really have to think about getting sick, he's oddly accommodating. It's like he knows what to do, and that certainly seems to be the case. He knows things without having to ask. By the croak in Dean's voice, he knows to have him gargle saltwater and drink plenty of hot tea with honey—helping his sore throat. He brings out a little container of Vicks VaporRub from somewhere and makes Dean rub it on his nose and chest to help with the stuffed nose, as well as working to suppress his coughs—that sh*t stinks a little, but damn if it doesn't work. He provides what's likely chicken soup out of a can, an ungodly amount of Gatorade, and a few pills that Dean is to take every five hours, no exceptions.

"How are you so good at this?" Dean mumbles one day, sweaty and feverish and trailing down the hallways towards the Dean Cave because, sick or not, he still wants to watch Bonanza, goddammit. He's stumbling a little as he goes, unsteady on his feet, vision a little bleary, all wrapped up in his Dead Guy robe and pajamas because f*ck it, at this point.

"I've been sick before," Cas admits, reaching out to gently turn Dean when he almost bypasses the door. He guides him inside, waving him towards the couch. "I don't mean unnaturally. I mean as a human. There was something going around the—at where I was staying, and I didn't really know what to do. I didn't understand. Nora was very kind about it. She wouldn't let me work while sick, and she made me stay in the back while she provided what relief she could. She explained some of it. Other parts, I just learned on my own."

"Oh." Dean slumps down on the couch, rubbing his tender and probably very red nose with a scowl. "I mean, I know what to do, too. Sammy and I got sick when we were younger, before we started having to deal with apocalypses and sh*t. I guess I just didn't think that you'd be so…"

"Helpful?" Cas asks, glancing over at him in amusem*nt as he gets Bonanza on.

"Yeah, maybe," Dean replies mutinously, snatching the cover from the back of the couch and wrapping it around himself as effectively as he can.

"I live to serve," Cas says, wry about it. He moves over to ease down on the couch next to him, settling in as they pick up Bonanza where they left off.

Dean grunts unhappily. "Well, don't say that. Thanks for everything, really, but you don't gotta…"

"I don't mind," Cas murmurs. He looks over at Dean with a small smile, then focuses back on the TV, relaxing back into the cushions. Dean stares at him for a long time until he speaks again, never looking away from the show. "Are you going to watch me, or are you going to watch Bonanza, Dean?"

"Shut up," Dean grouses, but he dutifully turns his head and starts watching the TV.

Dean doesn't really have the energy to bicker about the show, and Cas seems to sense that. He doesn't say one word about it, nothing mocking at all, and he doesn't pretend to sleep again. They get through at least three episodes without commentary, which does suck some of the fun out of it, Dean realizes. He finds that he enjoys how they usually watch the show, with the flow of conversation dropped in, and he's a little irritated that he's not in a state to keep up with it now. Jesus, he's in a pissy mood because he doesn't feel good enough to bicker with Cas.

Well, he's grumpy about pretty much everything, as it stands. Sam called him an hour ago to check on him from Eileen's, and Dean thinks he ended up yelling through a coughing fit for possibly no other reason than because Sam had the audacity to ask if he was okay. Dean barely even tolerates the kid right now, mostly just grunting at him and grumbling whenever he tries to cheer Dean up with magic tricks. Even Eileen—if she actually tried, though she has not—likely wouldn't get a kind reception right now. At this point, the only person Dean wants anything to do with is Cas.

He thinks it has something to do with Cas knowing exactly how to walk a fine line. He doesn't call attention to Dean being sick in any way, nor does he act like Dean's not at a hundred percent. He doesn't protest when Dean wants to get up out of bed, and he doesn't argue when Dean declares that he is fine, and he doesn't get bothered when Dean complains. Yet, at the same time, Cas has somehow figured out exactly how to get away with making sure he gets better—making sure he eats, making sure he takes his medicine, making sure he gets rest. He even dotes on Dean a little, occasionally gentle with him in a very unnecessary way, but something that Dean accepts nonetheless because—well, it's nice.

Dean has decided that Cas is now his favorite person and everyone else in the world sucks. This might be because he's doped up on all sorts of medicine and feeling like complete sh*t, but he's pretty firm on this decision. Also, feelings, so.

About halfway through the fourth episode, Dean can feel a sneezing fit coming on fast. He sits up a little, preemptively miserable about it, as well as devastated because he has no goddamn tissues.

Right before he sneezes, Cas reaches down by his feet on the floor to grab a box of tissues and tug a couple out. He offers them to Dean, who snatches them just as his face scrunches, covering his nose and sneezing so hard that his f*cking eyeballs ache. It's so violent that he sags a little after he's finished blowing his sensitive nose, and his eyes are itchy when he slowly opens them.

Cas has a wastebasket raised towards him, still just watching Bonanza without even looking at Dean, and he says not a word when Dean tosses the tissues. He just drops the wastebasket back to the floor, puts the tissue box back down, and reaches into his trenchcoat pocket to pull out a small bottle of sanitizer that he pops the cap on, wordlessly holding it out to pour a small dollop on Dean's hands. He says nothing. He doesn't look away from the TV. He just closes the cap, pockets the sanitizer, and relaxes back into the couch.

Dean sniffles. "How'd you know I was gonna sneeze?"

"You raise your hands and squint your eyes," Cas replies quietly.

"You weren't even paying attention to me."

"I'm always paying attention to you, Dean."

"That's creepy," Dean mumbles, even as his eyes close and he sags to the side a little, leaning into Cas a bit more. His eyes feel swollen, and though he's sweating a little and wrapped in a blanket, he feels cold. Cas is warm. "How're you paying attention to Bonanza if you're paying attention to me?"

"I can multitask," Cas assures him.

"Talented bastard," Dean says, his head still throbbing from the echoed assault of sneezing. It feels so f*cking heavy.

Cas chuckles, low and warm. "Yes, well, we all have things we're good at."

"And you're just so good at focusing on multiple things at once?" Dean mutters. His words are slow and syrupy, sort of slurring and off-center in his mouth, stuffy because his nose is. He can feel his head bobbing against the couch, rolling, and he's so exhausted that it barely even registers when he eventually settles against Cas' shoulder, ear and cheek resting in the curve of it.

"I'm good at focusing on you, as well as other things," Cas corrects, his voice softer, like maybe it's coming from a greater distance or drifting off.

Dean hums vaguely. "S'nice. S'really nice, Cas."

Maybe Dean's the one drifting off, because he doesn't hear Cas' reply, if there even is one. He feels weighed down and warm, so he sinks into it and takes the comfort of it, browbeaten by being sick.

He's not really sure how long he sleeps for, but he jolts awake at some point later, grumpy and squinting blearily around the dim room. It takes him a second to locate Jack kneeling on the floor by the couch, and Dean grunts at him, displeased. He shifts a little, coming to the slow realization—like trying to run through mud—that he's slumped against Cas' side, sweating all over him, and oh, Cas is asleep, too. His face is smoothed out, eyes shut, breathing even and unbroken—a steady lulling motion in the rise and fall of his chest that makes Dean immediately want to go right back to sleep.

"Dean, it's time for you to take your medicine again. Castiel says you have to take it every five hours," Jack whispers, holding out a palm full of pills and a glass of what's probably gatorade.

Dean makes a low, unhappy noise and reaches out to take the pills. He scowls as he tosses them back, then grabs the glass to wash them down. He shoves the glass back at Jack, albeit very weakly, and then proceeds to turn his face back into Cas' shoulder. He closes his eyes and goes right back to sleep.

"Hey, Cas and I are heading out again."

Sam leans back in his chair, his eyebrows doing that weird thing they do. "Are you? And where are you two going this time?"

"Wherever the road takes us, I guess. We're probably gonna check the PO box while we're out, too. I think those bacon-shaped bandaids I got off of Amazon should be there by now."

"Why would you—no, you know what? I don't even know why I'm surprised."

Dean grins at him. "I don't know why, either."

"You know," Sam says, "I could do with stretching my legs. Hey, maybe I could come with—"

"Nope," Dean cuts in. "Don't even start."

"Ah, so your brother can't come," Sam says, staring at him with intent. "You and Cas are going to go do things together in public and no one else is allowed to be there. Just you and him."

"I—" Dean's stomach all but falls out from under him. Oh, there's no mistaking Sam's tone. There's a little bit of accusation in it, as well as a pressing tint to it, like he's trying to get Dean to understand something. To realize something.

Dean blinks, coming to the abrupt conclusion that he doesn't have to tell Sam sh*t, because Sam apparently already knows. What, precisely, he knows remains to be seen, and Dean doesn't want to find out. Because if he finds out, and Sam finds out that he's found out, then they're going to have to talk about it. That's the last thing Dean wants to do.

But still, Sam knows. Suddenly, all the things he's been saying recently makes so much sense. Asking how Dean felt about Cas being gay, pointing out that Dean gives Cas special treatment, suggesting that it's a little sketchy that Dean feels like he's in a relationship when he actually isn't—which, holy sh*t, he's been subconsciously aware of this thing he has for Cas this whole time. Oh, Jesus Christ. And Sam knew. Sam f*cking knew, and he knew even before Dean did, and this is—not shocking.

Sam's always been too smart for his own good.

The safest thing to do, at this point, is continue to play dumb. He can drag this out if he's gotta, and he's going to have to, because Sam? Oh, Sam would have a f*cking field day if he found out that Dean is aware of his own feelings now. The pep-talks. The absolute sheer force of his determined support. The teasing, because that would be there, too. The advice he'd give, which would likely sound reasonable enough that Dean would hate him for it.

Yeah, no, Dean's not doing this. Not today. Probably not ever. Lies and secrecy—the Winchester way. He's sticking to a theme here.

"Yup," Dean says, finally, as if he has completely missed the point. Got beat over the head with it and still missed it, but he's been doing that for a while now. It's not hard to pretend like he still is. "Lunch is in the oven already. Got a timer on, so keep an ear out. If you burn it, there's bread and peanut butter in the pantry, and don't call me complaining."

With that, Dean taps the table and makes his escape to the garage before Sam can call out a reply. He exhales deeply the moment he slides into Baby, glancing over at Cas, who's already ready. He's not even paying attention to Dean, scrolling on his phone with his eyebrows furrowed.

Except—like he said—he's always paying attention to Dean, and without even looking up, he says, "Are we leaving any time today?"

What an asshole, Dean thinks with an unnecessary amount of affection. Ah, sh*t. He's so stupid. "Yeah, we're—yeah," he mumbles. "Got any place in particular that you wanna go?"

"Food for you, of course," Cas says slowly, like he's actually thinking about it. He hums thoughtfully, glancing up just as they pull out onto the road since Dean is actually driving now. "I saw a preview for a movie that actually looked intriguing."

"Yeah? What's it about?"

"A movie about men's thoughts being broadcasted out loud, and a woman who shows up unexpectedly. I...think aliens are involved."

"Well," Dean mutters, "I'm always down for some aliens. So, what, you wanna go to the movies?"

"Why not?" Cas asks placidly.

Dean can think of at least five reasons why not, and all of them revolve around the idea that this could be, like, a date—except it couldn't, because that would require actually asking, which would require admitting a few things, and he's definitely not going to do that. So, yeah, sure. Why the f*ck not?

So, they go to the movies.

Dean hasn't been to the movies in… f*ck, it's been a long, long time since he's been to the movies. It's still overpriced, but Dean figures that comes with the whole experience. They get popcorn and a drink to share, and Dean gets some Red Vines, and then they spend nearly three hours in a dark room, facing a very big screen, their arms touching.

Pathetically, Dean pays attention to approximately zero details of the movie. He spends basically the entirety of the near-three hours staring at Cas' hand and absolutely despising himself for it.

He doesn't do this. He just doesn't. This is just f*cking ridiculous, but he can't help it either. The thing is, Dean remembers in stark clarity when him and Cas held hands that one time—getting out of his discomfort zone. He definitely took that for granted at the time, he knows that now. Like an idiot, he wants to go back and appreciate it better.

Dean's struggling to fathom how he's sitting here, fighting the stupid desire to hold Cas' hand. Is this who he is now? It's kinda pitiful.

It's just that he doesn't do this, except for how he sort of does. He can feel the shift in him, the way knowing what his feelings are has caused him to respond and adjust accordingly. Because he does do this. He did it with Lisa, he did it with Cassie, and now he's doing it with Cas. Apparently, it doesn't matter if it's a man or a woman, Dean still goes soft the moment he gets in deep enough.

He remembers what it was like with Cassie. She was fun, and bright, and he loved her a lot. Enough to try and open up to her fully, to show her every part of himself, even the things better kept in the dark, where the monsters are. It didn't end well, obviously, but they got their closure when all was said and done. However, what they had when they had it was a surprise to himself when he first encountered it.

Dean was soft with her. Yeah, sure, they fought like all couples do, and they f*cked rough and like rabbits, but outside of that? He was affectionate. He hugged her from behind and basked in the feeling of her laugh lilting in his ears. He kissed her fingers when she swatted him away playfully. He cuddled with her on the couch, and he rested his head in her lap, and he treated her sweet without an ounce of shame. He was in deep, and he couldn't help it.

Lisa was different, both for timing and how Dean felt in general. He loved Lisa, yes, but it wasn't a love like Cassie's. It came at a different time in his life, and he wasn't—he was never really settled into it right. He couldn't be. At that time, everything was wrong and different and hard. That wasn't Lisa's fault, not really, and Dean knows now that it wasn't his either. He loved Lisa, and Ben, and he needed them as much as he needed to leave.

That being said, he was also soft with Lisa. He was going through a rough time back then—nightmares every night, paranoid, suffocating under the strain of trying to be even semi-normal. He would let her cradle his head to her chest, closing his eyes to the feeling of her fingers running through his hair. He used to kiss her before work, half-out the door and rushing back to steal another kiss until she would laugh and lock the door behind him. He held her hand over breakfast, and he brushed her hair when her arthritis flared up, and he exchanged warm glances with her every time Ben would do something mischievous. He had carved out a place in their family, even if he couldn't stay.

So, he does do this. He just has to get in deep enough to be unable to stop himself, first. Oh, and he has to be aware of what the f*ck he's feeling.

Cas doesn't know it, but Dean's practically putty in his hands at this point. Sitting at the movies for nearly three hours and spending every excruciating moment resisting the terrifying urge to reach out and hold his hand...well, that's proof enough. It is, quite possibly, one of the stupidest things because he's not a goddamn teenager, and he shouldn't be forced to feel like this. It's not fair.

And, as much as he hates to admit it, there is a difference because Cas is a guy. Well, there's no difference in how Dean apparently wants to act, but there is the added and unfortunate bonus of him having to fight the feeling that this is absurd, not allowed, and not okay. He doesn't want to think like that, and he knows it's not true, but the knee-jerk reaction is there anyway. It's not really so much about the act as it is about his desire to do it—his, personally, because his brain only seems to find it a problem when it comes to himself. He does his best to shove it away, thinking about Charlie very hard and imagining her kicking his bullsh*t right out of his head. Thankfully, it helps a lot.

Of course, none of that actually matters. Cas isn't even his to be soft towards. He can't just reach out and grab his hand, so even thinking about it is kind of pointless. At this point, he's just torturing himself. He's a masoch*st of a very specific kind, and not generally of the emotional variety, not like this.

In the end, their hands don't even touch.

When they leave, Cas says, "I enjoyed the movie," and Dean mumbles, "Oh, yeah, me too," and Cas asks, "What was your favorite part?" and Dean cringes a little as he ventures, "The...middle?"

Cas doesn't ask him about the movie after that.

They go to a weird, little bistro in the middle of downtown in between quirky shop fronts, and they eat out on a patio. It's a little different from the diners they usually go to, but the reviews online had insisted they had pies to die for. While Dean isn't about to die for another goddamn thing if he can help it, he feels like he's earned some pie.

Cas has his weird eating habits through lunch, and Dean considers just getting up and drowning himself in the stupid waterfall-pond piece they've got on the patio, because he recognizes the swell of warmth in his chest easily. He watches Cas turn the breadsticks inside out, endlessly fond, and he wills himself to get a f*cking grip.

But he doesn't, and he can't, and he's apparently so obvious about it that Cas, at one point, squints and asks, "Why are you looking at me like that, Dean?"

"I'm not," Dean protests immediately, only to realize belatedly that this response solves exactly nothing. He stares down at his plate. "I mean, I don't know what you mean. Like what?"

Oh, that's a dangerous game, because Cas is blunt on a good day and completely tactless on a bad one.

Cas arches an eyebrow. "You were smiling."

"I wasn't," says Dean, who was.

"You were," insists Cas, who saw it.

Dean scoffs and spares himself another blessed moment to gather his wits by drinking nearly his whole glass of soda in one go. "Whatever. What's wrong with me smiling? Can I not smile?"

"It was a very different smile."

"No, it wasn't."

"You also said you weren't smiling at all, so I don't believe you get to be the judge of this. It was a different smile. It was...softer," Cas says.

"I like the—" Dean glances down at his plate, practically grasping at straws here, "—noodles. They're very, um, good. So."

"The noodles," Cas echoes skeptically.

"Yes, Cas, the noodles. Lemme enjoy my damn noodles," Dean mutters, then barrels ahead before Cas can argue—because he always does. "Anyway, where do you wanna go after this?"

Cas narrows his eyes at him, then seems to decide to let it go. They're both stubborn, so picking battles can be an extreme sport. It requires precision and careful planning. "I don't have anywhere in particular I'd like to go. Just not home. Not yet."

"Yeah," Dean says softly. "Yeah, I get that."

They go to a park—one that has a large paved track around the whole thing, as well as fields for people to bring their dogs, but also sets of swings and slides and sh*t are here, too. It's pretty multipurpose, at least, and Dean's surprised it's not very busy on a mid-afternoon like this where the weather is nice. Nonetheless, it's pretty sparse and that's just fine.

Dean glances at the park benches as he passes them, an inexplicable pity for who he used to be sweeping through him. He used to do this thing where he'd go to open areas like this and sit down to just—watch. To take in the variety of families, the kids shrieking with laughter or outrage, the couple kissing or fighting during a picnic, the old man throwing a ball for his dog and wincing at the strain the motion put on his back, those that were happy and those that were stressed and everyone in between.

He'd sit back from it all and lazily observe, completely on the outside of it. There was life teeming everywhere he looked, and he would look and tell himself that everything he did, everything he was going through, was worth it for the people who got what he didn't. He stayed back and watched what he wasn't a part of—not teeming with life on his own, not any closer to peace, not participating in the unrealism of being for the sake of being. It wasn't his, and he couldn't have it, and he found that it wasn't so bad if he could see others enjoy it, even if they took it for granted. There's a certain kind of beauty in having so much of something and being so certain of it that you don't even take the time to be grateful for it. Kind of like breathing, because really, that's the first step to living anyway.

When he came to places like this, he found a spot on the benches, and he didn't get up to join, only to leave. Today, he doesn't sit down at all.

There's something to this whole figuring out how to adjust to peace thing. He thinks he's starting to get the hang of it a little better. Life is rough, sure, but it's not grinding against the walls of death and cosmic consequences half the time anymore. So, if he wants to stroll around the track with Cas beside him, that's what he'll damn well do.

They do it in comfortable silence. Dean likes that about them, that they don't have to talk if they don't want to, that they can just exist in the same space and be perfectly at ease. He doesn't feel the need to say anything, and he doesn't feel the need to stay quiet either. There's no pressure, just a simple stroll with no real obligations.

Eventually, they do speak. Dean says something, and Cas says something back, and then they're talking low and steady as the breeze rustles around them. A jogger comes by them, smiling as they scoot to make room, her ponytail swinging back and forth as she continues on. Dean watches her bounce ahead, then tries not to react at the feeling of Cas' fingers curling through the bend of his elbow, tugging him back onto the center of the track. Cas leaves his hand there as they walk, and Dean fists his hand in his pocket, heart in an uproar in his chest.

Cas does this sometimes. Just...touches him so casually, and lets the contact drag out with no reason or interruption. It's something he started doing more frequently after Chuck was handled, a hand on Dean's arm, resting there, or leaning fully into Dean's side, or dropping his head off on Dean's shoulder to sleep there, that one time that he did. He's become so tactile lately, and he does it like it means nothing, like it's an afterthought, like it comes easily to him. Dean barely spared a second thought to it, so long as it wasn't too wildly out of both his comfort and discomfort zones. The hand holding? That had been wild.

Dean's sparing a second, third, thousand thoughts to it now. He can feel the weight and warmth of Cas' hand pressing into his flannel, the impression of his fingers draped loosely over Dean's elbow. It's such a small thing, a simple thing, and Dean's over here losing his collective sh*t about it.

"Dean," Cas says, hand tightening on his arm before his fingers abruptly fall away, "a dog is approaching us. It's very big."

Dean mourns the loss of Cas' hand on him for about two seconds before the words register, and then he glances over in enough time to catch sight of a very large dog running full pelt right at them. It becomes apparent why when a ball lands on the track and bounces slowly towards them, coming to a slow halt right in front of Cas' shoe.

The dog skitters to a stop a few steps away from the ball, the whole back end shaking from side to side from the force in which it is wagging its tail. It can barely sit down in its excitement, though it does try. The dog wriggles, staring at Cas with no small amount of patience, doing its best to wait.

"Seems friendly," Dean mumbles wearily.

Cas hums and crouches down, reaching out with a hand. The dog immediately comes in closer, very excited to be scratched behind the ears apparently, which Cas does. "Ah, hello," he greets quietly, because of course he does, the dork. "I'm assuming you would like me to throw your ball again, hm?"

The dog doesn't reply, obviously, but someone else does—a man jogging up towards them with an uncanny resemblance to Bradley Cooper, calling out a cheerful, "Sorry, sorry! I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to throw the ball that hard, my bad. Shasha isn't bothering you, is she?"

"No, not at all," Cas replies easily, patting Shasha on her head and scooping up the ball as he stands to his feet. He nods at the man, who smiles in response.

The Bradley Cooper knockoff puts Dean on pins and needles almost instantly, because Dean has eyes and can clearly see this man flicking his gaze over Cas in appreciation. It's quick, but it's there. He does it to Dean, too—which would be nice literally any other time—but Cas appears to be more his type in the end, because that's who wins the most of his focus.

This man is attractive, and he has a dog, and he seems altogether at ease in the world. Bradley Cooper 2.0 knows how to talk confidently and casually to complete strangers, and he does. He has an entire conversation with them both—except Cas is really the only one he's speaking to—and his dog seems to be his gateway to interaction. In a short amount of time, he manages to get Cas and Dean's names, tell them his name (Brian, which is worse than Bradley), and get Cas fully engaged into a whole talk about dog breeds and sh*t.

Dean doesn't want to be jealous—or worse, weirdly possessive and territorial when he has no right to be. He is internally begging himself not to do anything, not to say anything, not to overreact. This isn't who he is, this is not what he does, and he and Cas aren't even—

But alas, Dean feels the slow starts of something sharp and hot skitter under his skin, making him itch all over. He's suddenly recalling in perfect clarity how Cas wants to experience love or some sh*t, and how—to do that—he's first going to have to actually give someone the time of day. Namely, someone who is not Dean.

As you can imagine, he isn't taking this well.

First of all, Bradley Cooper The Second can take his dog and f*ck right the f*ck off, because he and Cas were having a perfectly fine day right by themselves. B-list Bradley Cooper has absolutely no reason to be hanging around, and Dean will take it lying down for approximately three...two...one…more second.

"Oh, man, Jack would love this," Dean cuts in rather rudely, because Bradley Cooper's less attractive doppelganger was right in the middle of chattering incessantly away, but excuse the f*ck outta him—Dean has a goddamn ace up his sleeve and zero shame in using it. With a cheerful smile that etches across his face so hard it makes his eyes squint, he clarifies, very happily, "Jack is our kid."

And whaddya know? That sends all the right signals, because Not-Actually-Bradley-Cooper briefly looks between them in surprise—which does sincere damage to Dean's already distant hope that he and Cas would be in any way compatible—and then hangs around for just enough time to be polite. Less than five minutes later, he's taking his dog, and he's leaving from whence he came.

Dean is stupidly pleased with himself.

Well, he is until Cas looks at him in open amusem*nt and says, "Was there something particularly off-putting about him?"

"He's a goddamn Bradley Cooper reject, dude."

"The actor from Hangover?"

"American Sniper, but yeah," Dean mutters.

"Well, there are worse things to be," Cas tells him, lips twitching. "Bradley Cooper isn't unattractive."

Dean cuts him a sharp look. "Then aim for Bradley Cooper, not the second option."

"You think I could get Bradley Cooper?" Cas asks, tilting his head a little, eyes a little bright like he's enjoying this immensely.

"You—" Dean scoffs and whirls around to start marching in the opposite direction, ignoring it when Cas easily matches him stride for stride. "Whatever. Don't tell me you were interested."

Cas makes a low, thoughtful sound. "If I were?"

Dean feels like he's being yanked into two different directions. On one hand, he wants to inform Cas to never find anyone other than Dean interesting, ever. On the other hand, he wants to make sure Cas knows that Dean supports him in his—romantic endeavors as a dude being into dudes. Except he sort of doesn't, unless those endeavors directly involve him, but they never will. So, really, he's in between a rock and hard place here.

He takes the easy way out.

"There was something sketchy about him," Dean says, eventually. "Definitely wouldn't have deserved you. So, hey, you dodged a bullet with that one."

"He seemed remarkably normal," Cas tells him.

Dean snorts, nearly offended. "And what? You wanna be with someone normal? Your kid is literally God, Cas. Good f*cking luck with normal."

"Our kid," Cas corrects.

"What?" Dean's head whips towards him, blinking rapidly in startled surprise.

Cas arches an eyebrow at him. "You told him Jack is our kid, Dean. Isn't he?"

"Well, I mean—he's—" Dean struggles for a moment, making a wide gesture with his hand, refusing to look Cas in the eye. "Yeah, I guess. Sort of. I dunno. Shut up."

"Hm," is Cas' response, and now he sounds pleased. He reaches out to curl his hand around the bend of Dean's elbow again, chuckling quietly. "To answer your question, Dean...no, I don't want to be with someone normal. Not at all."

Well, Dean has that going for him, at least.

"Do you have—" Dean halts, because that is a thread he might not want to pull on. Oh, asking that question could lead to some really hurt feelings. But, then again, he really wants to know. The question crawls up his throat, unbidden, spurred on despite the knowledge that it's probably not going to do him any favors. "What type of person do you want to be with, Cas?"

"Someone caring, and selfless, and loving," Cas says softly, releasing a gentle sigh. His hand tightens around Dean's arm, as if the mere thought of it makes him want to hold on and grasp it.

Dean feels something deflate within him as he quietly says, "Oh," and then doesn't really say much of anything else. There's nothing really to say.

The thing about hope that you didn't even know you had is—it hurts like a bitch when you only find out about it once it's been fully snuffed out.

At this point, Dean's starting to resent him.

He's wearing Dean's clothes again, and he's relaxed on the couch, and he looks achingly familiar and good, like someone Dean could reach out and touch, and he's settled in to finish Bonanza, which is a show he's only watching because Dean made him, and his eyes are stupid and blue and—

God, Dean's going f*cking crazy.

It's actually getting a bit concerning. Cas hasn't changed, but it seems like everything he does these days is a direct assault on all of Dean's senses. It's the kind of stupid sh*t you see in movies and read in books. This is what Carl and Dan felt for each other. They were so f*cking stupid about each other, Dan and Carl, about the dumbest things. Like, Carl had a mild obsession with Dan's wrists, and Dan couldn't string two sentences together whenever Carl would bring out his wings—which, kinda weird, kinda kinky, Dean can dig it.

This is the sh*t teenagers feel bumbling through crushes—the nerves, the butterflies, the inability to focus. Dean's got it all, the whole nine yards, and he despises it with a passion. Hell, he didn't have to deal with sh*t like this when he was a teenager. This isn't fair. What kinda bullsh*t is this?

Cas smiles at him from the couch, and Dean wants to die. He has been dealing with this in increasing intervals from the moment that he realized his own feelings, and it's starting to f*ck with his head.

"I believe we'll finish today," Cas says.

"Optimistic of you," Dean mumbles gruffly, ducking his head as he shuffles towards the TV to get the show on. He's about to sit on a couch with Cas for hours—this equates to torture, and thus there is no reason to ever be optimistic again.

"We're on the last season," Cas points out.

"Here's to hoping the last episodes don't disappoint." Dean heaves a sigh and moves over to plop on the couch, doing his absolute best not to think about the warmth that radiates off of Cas. An angel quirk? He wouldn't know. He's never asked. He probably never noticed, or maybe everything just seems so hot right now because he's spiralling. "I want you to actually pay attention, by the way."

A very hypocritical demand of him, seeing as Dean hasn't really paid attention to the last two seasons himself. It's incredibly hard to do any sort of focusing when Cas' thigh is pressed into his, and it always tends to be when they're on the couch together. Abuse. Dean's being abused.

Cas does actually pay attention, but he does it while he's sitting right next to Dean, their sides pressed together from shoulders to thighs, so Dean takes in about zero of the last episodes of the last season—it is a damn good thing he's seen it before. The whole time, Dean asks himself if he and Cas have always been this close. Do they always sit like this? Are they always in each other's spaces this way?

Upon reflection, the answer is generally yes. Cas has always stood a little too close, even back when he was doing his Tin Man routine. He didn't know the meaning of personal space, not when it came to Dean, and—despite the fact that he should most definitely have a better grasp on it by now—he still seems to have no concept of it. Come to think of it, they've always been a little touchy and yet somehow equally distant—it's a weird line to walk, and they still did. It's gotten a lot worse since everything evened out in the world, which may have something to do with how they aren't so stressed out and withdrawn all the time. Now, they have the freedom and space and leisure to be as close and tactile as they want, which apparently involves more contact than Dean's fully capable of handling these days.

"Ah," Cas murmurs when the last episode ends, shifting a little so he can look over at Dean.

"So? What did you think?" Dean asks, glancing over at him with his eyebrows raised.

"I think I just watched fourteen seasons of a show I didn't appreciate," Cas tells him, serious and solemn. His eyes betray him, bright with humor.

Dean reaches out and whacks Cas on his arm, then does it again for good measure, glaring when Cas huffs out a quiet laugh. Oh, even that's nice. His laughter. It's contagious, and it feels like a prize of some sort, like Dean's been trying to work for it. He's earned it, and he wants to keep earning it, and ugh, he's so f*cking screwed.

"Literally f*ck you," Dean says, and thinks no, literally, miserable and still laughing a little because Cas is. "It was good. Shut up, don't deny it."

Cas swats his hand away carelessly, their fingers bumping even as he says, "You couldn't force me to do it again," followed by a begrudging, "but I did enjoy the overall...experience."

"Yeah, you did." Dean grins and flicks Cas' fingers, snorting when he smacks back in retaliation, the little sh*t. "It grows on you, man, I'm telling you. I mean, I'm a part of it, so what's not to enjoy?"

"That's unnecessarily boastful," Cas tells him.

"Come on, Cas," Dean needles, "you gotta admit that I'm half the fun."

"Well, it certainly wasn't Bonanza that I stuck around for," Cas says dryly.

And ooh, doesn't that just warm Dean all the way through? Jesus Christ, he's a thirteen year old girl with a goddamn crush. "It isn't being co*cky if I got reason to be, is it?" he asks, waggling his eyebrows, very aware that he's—ah, hell, he's doing a thing. He can sense it coming on. There's an innuendo in here somewhere, he just knows it. Here it comes. "I think co*cksure fits better, because when you know, you know, and I got every reason to be sure."

Not the thinly veiled reference to his dick size. He didn't. Oh, good god, what is he doing?

This could possibly fly right over Cas' head, or be brushed off as Dean making immature jokes again. If there's any luck in the world with Dean's name on it, Cas will either miss it entirely or consider it meaningless. But, of course, there has not and likely never will be any luck in Dean's corner.

Cas tilts his head a little, snatching Dean's hand right out of the air and snapping it down to the small space between their legs on the couch, forced there when they started swatting at each other. He presses his whole hand over the palm of Dean's, pinning it there, fingers sliding in between the crevices of Dean's in a way that feels distracted and not at all on purpose. His hand is warm, and Dean is already at a disadvantage from the contact, so he has no ready response to what Cas says next.

Which is, "Am I supposed to be impressed?"

Dean stares at him sort of helplessly and—blank. Because, yes, ideally Cas would be so impressed with his stupidity that he'd push Dean down on the couch and demand proof. This is the real world, though, so Dean is nothing more than an idiot in this scenario who is suffering quite a bit.

In the end, Dean chokes out, "No, shut up," and then gets promptly distracted by his own fingers curling up to latch on Cas' hand, holding tight.

He doesn't remember making the decision to do that. He is supremely flustered right now, which is all kinds of embarrassing, but such is life. Undoubtedly, he will waste hours he could spend sleeping at night agonizing over the disaster of this moment. That's a future issue, though. For right now, he's stuck blinking down at where they're just—holding hands.

They're doing that again. Okay. Well. Just—how did that happen, exactly? He's not complaining at all, because this is something he's been itching to do since the agony of his own feelings came to light and he got reduced to a fumbling idiot with no charisma when he could have used it the most. This is sort of daunting in an oddly thrilling way, and he can't figure out what it means now no more than he could the first time it occured.

Dean can't imagine what Cas is thinking about it. He snatches his gaze from their threaded fingers to find Cas already watching him, curious about it, studying him closely. Dean can't tell what Cas thinks about the hand-holding at all, but he gets the sense that Cas is trying to work out what he thinks about it, which means they're doing the same exact thing right now. Though, realistically, Dean's also sort of trying to come up with enough reasons he can present for why they should just keep doing it.

He wants to keep doing it, and maybe that's sappy, maybe he's so far gone that he's pathetic, but he doesn't even care. Cas' hand is warm, and there's something strangely enrapturing about getting to actively feel what it's like to hold it. There's a comfort in it that is undeniably uncomfortable, but it's beaten into submission by his own stupid nerves and the strict desire to just have what he can.

"The discomfort zone again?" Dean prompts in a croak, his fingers twitching and spasming around Cas', gripping a little tighter.

"You deserve comfort," Cas replies, which isn't an answer but is close enough to one that Dean will take it, gladly—he just needs the excuse.

Dean swallows thickly. "Yeah, I mean—I think you do, too. So if you—um, it's… We could start that other show now, if you want."

"That requires one of us to get up," Cas says, not even indicating that this means they'll have to let each other go to do that, and not having to.

"Maybe tomorrow," Dean whispers.

Cas looks f*cking delighted. Holy sh*t. He smiles and tips his head back against the couch, looking right at him, murmuring a pleased, "Okay, Dean."

For all that Dean's been going out of his mind, this is the first moment that he has a true, direct desire to actually do something in response to Cas driving him up the wall. So far, he's just been having these torturous realizations about Cas that amount to him being attractive, or funny, or something that Dean wants in broad terms. Outside of the desire to hold his hand—which is practically juvenile, in some ridiculous ways—Dean hasn't actually had the genuine gut-punch urge to do something crazy.

He does now, forcefully, and it's exactly like a gut-punch. It slams into him hard and fast and so powerfully real that his heart lurches in his chest with how badly he wants it. Right there, looking at Cas looking at him, he wants to surge forward and do something stupid like kiss him.

The impulse is a little wild, but it's also merciless. He can feel the compulsions to do it all the way in his goddamn toes. Basically, it's very f*cking strong.

He can picture it so clearly, too, which is a dangerous thing. Honestly, it wouldn't take much. They're already so close together, and Dean could just lean forward and close his eyes. It would only be a kiss—a simple contact, almost meaningless in the grand scheme of things, except for how Dean knows it absolutely wouldn't be.

It'd f*ck him all the way up in so many different directions, especially if it ended like he imagines it would. The doubt that Cas would appreciate it is heavy in Dean's mind, splintering that little fantasy apart with ease. He won't do it because he'll hate himself when it goes sideways, but that desire remains. It's stupid and doesn't help him at all, but that want doesn't go away even a smidge.

Give him an inch, and he'll selfishly ache for every mile he knows he can't have. He's got Cas' hand in his, no matter the reason. It's enough. f*ck, it's more than enough. It's almost too much.

Yeah, a kiss would f*ck him up twice over.

Wisely, Dean rips his gaze from Cas', and chooses instead to stare down at their hands. They're both holding on, which is a strange relief. It's weird because their hands do sort of just—fit. It's not like Cinderella's slipper because this isn't a goddamn fairytale—Cas isn't tailor-made to him—but it doesn't feel wrong. Their fingers slot together, easy as you please, no resistance and no adjustment required. It's so simple.

The discomfort zone is a real thing, Dean is learning. There's an unease in this, just because it's nice, and he's not used to nice. Not like this. Not in this way, with peace cradled in the palm of his hand. However, there is something combating it.

It's like a war of the comfort zone versus the discomfort zone, except they're both steamrolled by the new realized feelings that come out of nowhere and win the war entirely. That sh*t is so loud, in comparison, drowning everything else out. He doesn't get to be uncomfortable with the comfort of this, or even fully comfortable with the niceness of it, because he's too busy trying not to have a heart attack. He's wrapping his head around the fact that he's holding Cas' hand, and that he wants to, and that Cas is letting it happen, and how thrilling that is, which takes priority, funnily enough.

Talk about loopholes.

So, they sit there and hold hands. They don't talk. They don't move. Dean eventually calms the f*ck down, because it's inevitable after a while. He relaxes into it, letting his head lean sideways on the cushion as he stares down at their hands. At some point, the grip loosens, not clinging but still connected. Dean's heart eases, and he can breathe again for a little while.

Cas reaching out with his free hand does make Dean's pulse jump, admittedly, but can you blame him? He is doing exceptionally well, all things considered. In fact, he doesn't tense up or do anything stupid when Cas' free hand moves over Dean's caught hand. He stays perfectly still, watching and feeling in a distant kind of fascination as Cas pinches his knuckles, or strokes his fingers over the back of Dean's hand, or traces the veins and scars and small flesh-lines.

Dean watches it until he can't watch it anymore, suddenly sure that if he does keep watching, he'll snap his hand out to grab Cas' and pull him in and risk absolutely everything. So, it's flying blind here on out, for both their sakes.

Instead, he closes his eyes and just feels it. The brush of Cas' fingers. The press of the pads of those fingers, gentle and exploratory. The catch of one of his nails as he drags it along the small scar on one of Dean's knuckles. Just the feeling of it, the difference in pressure, the absurd knowledge that it's happening.

And it's so absurd, it's f*cking unreal, but it's also so relaxing, too. Dean basks in it, which is stupid because it's just hands, except it's really nice anyway and whatever, he's far past the point of coming out of this looking anything less than pathetic. So, he sinks into it and focuses on it and loses himself to it, and—somehow—he drifts off because of it. Lulled into a sense of calm. Simply at ease. Uncomplicated.

Dean goes the f*ck to sleep. At some point, unhindered, he settles down so deeply that he falls off. Just like that, sitting up on the couch, holding hands with Cas, who is still touching him.

And, when he wakes up, he does so alone, but he's been laid out with a pillow under his head and a blanket thrown over him, and he's never slept so damn good in his life.

"So, get this," Sam starts, and this is very bad because of the forced casualness to his voice that suggests that he's meddling, that he's got ulterior motives no one knows about, that he's venturing into depths unknown to anyone else, and Dean will be stuck along for the ride and it will be horrible and there's no way out of—

"Eileen has this friend," Sam continues, completely ignorant of Dean's internal meltdown. He's looking right at Dean, something a bit like a challenge in his gaze. "Eileen vouches for this friend, a hunter, someone in the life, someone really nice. Eileen wants to set her friend up, so I was thinking—"

"Not interested," Dean blurts out quickly, and Sam straightens up like he's been called on. Dean clears his throat and ignores how he can feel Cas and Jack looking between him and Sam. "Uh, thanks, Sammy, but I'm...ya know, good. I'm fine."

Actually, Dean is dying, but that's only because Cas found one of Dean's hoodies that he hasn't worn in a good five years. Cas had, of course, immediately came out of Dean's room with it on, as if he hadn't been going in Dean's closet for something specific (an old pair of nunchucks because Dean was trying to prove a point, but sadly couldn't because they were not found, likely because Cas got distracted by the hoodie). He had pulled the hood of it up, which wasn't f*cking fair because he's got sad eyes, but in a hot way? He's sad-hot. Dean doesn't know how to explain it, but he looks thirty percent more dejected and human with the hood up, which translates into Dean fighting the instinct to reach out and do inappropriate things. It's like a dog in the rain that you want to bundle up and keep safe, except Cas is in Dean's hoodie and Dean wants to rip it off of him and make sure he never frowns again. So.

"Huh," Sam grunts, focusing on Dean with suddenly razor-sharp intensity. "You're not interested? At all? Why is that, Dean?"

It takes a lot of dedication to fight the immediate impulse to flick his gaze to the right of Sam, where Cas is sitting. Dean plays it cool, because he can definitely do that. He shrugs and says, "Just not."

He thinks that's the end of that, but Sam hits him with this double-whammy:

"Interesting, but it doesn't matter because I wasn't actually talking to you," Sam says, swiveling in his chair to look right at Cas. "Eileen's friend is a guy, who is gay. What do you say, Cas?"

Cas blinks at him, his eyebrows furrowing in genuine confusion, which makes no sense. There's nothing to be confused about here. Sam is obviously setting out to absolutely ruin Dean's life. He's doing a damn good job of it, too, because Dean can feel a low sense of dread pooling into his stomach, his heartbeat picking up pace, a steady rise of panic starting in the slightest tremble of his fingers.

Sam raises his eyebrows at Cas, and Cas narrows his eyes in response, and then suddenly they're having a very silent conversation that Dean can't follow at all. They're clearly talking (and not talking) about something that Dean doesn't even know about, and that thought is just as daunting. In the end, Sam has a stern expression on his face, and Cas looks slightly mutinous, but some kind of agreement must have been drawn up between them because Cas sighs.

"Fine," he says, clipped.

Dean's pretty sure he's going to throw up. His heart drops to his stomach, and that's not where hearts are supposed to be, so he just—

Holding his breath, Dean ducks down and starts fiddling with his shoe with shaky fingers. He clenches his eyes shut and takes one moment to lock his sh*t up, because now isn't the time and this isn't the place. He can't be properly upset now, when his family—who all know him better than anyone else in the world—will notice if he acts like this is one of the most tragic things that has ever happened to him, which it may very well be.

When he pops back up, Sam and Cas are both looking right at him, and Dean blinks at them. He arches an eyebrow, aloof, and has no idea why Sam clenches his jaw and Cas looks down at his laptop with a sigh. Beside him, Jack clicks away happily on his computer, completely oblivious.

"Fine," Sam echoes, narrowing his eyes. "Yeah, okay. Eileen will text you everything you need to know. It's tomorrow anyway, because he's in town, and hey, Dean can make sure you look date-ready."

"Fine," Cas grits out, before Dean can even form a weak protest, and then he cuts Sam a scorching glare and snaps his laptop shut, jolting to his feet and marching right out of the room.

Dean huffs and looks at Sam with a scowl. "Dude, what the hell? What did you do?"

"Something!" Sam bursts out, flinging his arms up, his own face set into annoyance. "I did something, because someone around here freaking has to!"

"You pissed him off, is what ya did," Dean snaps, shoving his chair back and sending Sam one last cold glare—possibly a bit too harsh, but that's because Sam has effectively ruined his whole goddamn day, week, maybe even his life, depending on how well the date goes. f*ck him.

Dean marches after Cas, shaking his head as he goes. It doesn't take him very long to find Cas, who only went to his room. Dean knocks, but it's more of a habitual warning than a request to enter. He pretty much immediately sticks his head in right after.

Cas is sitting on the edge of the bed, hands shoved into the big pocket on the hoodie, the hood over half of his head, leaving the little fluff at the front of his hair sticking out. With the anger on his face, he now looks like he's brooding, rather than just being sad, and this is somehow equally hot. Cas is angry-hot.

At this point, Dean's starting to think that Cas is just always good to look at, or maybe Dean's biased. He doesn't know which option is worse.

"What, Sa—" Cas cuts himself off the moment he actually looks up to see Dean in the doorway. He blinks. Some of his anger fades. "Oh."

"Yeah. Oh." Dean gives him a lopsided smile and shakes his head as he walks in, shutting the door behind him. He hovers closer to Cas, looking down at him. "Pretty sure Sam's smart enough to know to give you some space right now, unless he wants an angel blade in his gut."

Cas narrows his eyes. "It wouldn't be fatal."

"Well, thank f*ck for that," Dean says with a chuckle, shaking his head. "Listen, Sam—he means well, I guess. I…think he's probably trying to be a good friend, or some sh*t. I don't actually know. Don't hold it against him, okay?"

"I know that he is," Cas murmurs, heaving a sigh as his shoulders slump, and oh, he's sad-hot again.

Dean chews on the inside of his lip for a moment, then takes the dive. "Hey, if you don't wanna go on a date, Cas, you don't gotta go."

"It's not that," Cas counters, and Dean's heart plummets yet again. "It's...complicated."

"Right." Dean looks down at his shoes, then takes in a tiny breath, then looks up with a small smile fixed firmly in place. "So, you're gonna go?"

Cas stares down at his knees. "I agreed to."

"Yeah, you—that is something that you did, yup. You sure did," Dean mumbles, and it comes out a little hoarse. He grimaces and internally pleads that he'll get his sh*t together at some point in the next few minutes. He takes his best crack at it, but it falls flat. "Well, I hope—I mean, um, dates can be… Uh, they're supposed to be—just… Fun. Good. So, yeah."

"I don't want to talk about this right now," Cas informs him, suddenly very firm. He tilts his head back and looks up at Dean with a frown, eyebrows pinched together. Oh hell, the hood is tugged tight around his head, except for where his hair pokes out at the front, and his eyes are big and blue, and he looks so, so f*cking sad-hot that it's insane.

Dean wants to reach out and trace the line of Cas' bottom lip, and there goes another specific, direct desire he's in no way prepared for. It hooks deep in his center and yanks, a swell of the most absurd yearning he's ever had to endure. It's a frantic scramble to slam the lid on it before it leads somewhere it shouldn't, and Dean has to clench his fist and blink very hard to shake it off. Even then, he doesn't really get rid of it.

All these desires stay stitched into him once they crop up, and they remain even once he's left the heat of the moment. They continue to stack up, getting precariously higher, and he's struggling to keep them all from toppling down.

"Okay," Dean blurts out quickly. "Okay, sure. We can just—we can hang out and not talk about it. Sounds perfect. Wanna start True Blood?"

"Yes," Cas murmurs.

So, that's what they do.

They do not talk about it, or much of anything, and Dean finds that True Blood is intriguing enough that they can get past the first episode. There's a bar, and vampires, and a girl who can read minds and choke people out with chains, so he's willing to keep going.

Cas actually seems really into it, too, because he genuinely pays attention in a way he sort of didn't when it came to Bonanza. To be fair, this show is a little more intense than that one was. Even still, Dean struggles to stay firmly enriched into the episodes when Cas' head ends up on his shoulder again, the hood brushing Dean's neck and ear.

Dean peeks at him a few times, but Cas is still firmly awake. His eyes are fixed on the TV, focused. He apparently just wants to...lean on Dean tonight, which is fine. That's totally fine. Well, it's excruciating, but it's also f*cking fantastic, so that cancels each other out enough to be fine.

They stay up a little too late watching the show, but Cas does eventually lift his head with a sigh and mumble something about it being close to three in the morning, so Dean should get some rest.

Dean doesn't get very much rest. He finally allows himself to be upset, even though he knows he has no right to be. He and Cas aren't a thing. Dean can trick himself into thinking that they feel like a thing, but that's all it is—a trick.

He'd like to think that they would be just like they are now, if they were ever to be a thing. Well, maybe with more touching. The shows together, the sharing coffee, Cas stealing his clothes, the way they go out, just the two of them? It'd be that, Dean thinks. That, and the thing that's missing now that keeps what they already have from being a thing.


Oh, Jesus Christ, Dean's been trying to sneakily date Cas on the sly, hasn't he? Doing it without doing it, except the only way to do it is to...well, do it. And do it with the knowledge between them both that they are doing it. If they were doing it, Dean's pretty sure that they'd hold hands more.

Except Cas is going to actually be going on a date with someone tomorrow, and Dean hates it.

Dean wonders, miserably, what sort of date they'll go on. Is it the other guy taking Cas out, or the other way around? How does that work with two men? Will they hold hands? Will they kiss? Who pays? Are they going out to eat? The date won't know that Cas rarely eats, and when he does, it's a very weird process because he's picky. An arcade date, maybe? Cas would probably like air-hockey. He'd probably be scarily good at skee ball, and he'd probably make weird comments about Pac-Man, and he'd probably want to bring home a prize for Jack. Dean doesn't know for sure because they've never been to an arcade together. They should do that.

Needless to say, Dean doesn't get very much sleep.

The following day, he's in a pretty sh*tty mood. Sam keeps looking at him, and Dean outright gives him the cold shoulder because he's angry with him right now. Cas does something similar. Jack is the only one who isn't angry with Sam, and Sam doesn't seem apologetic. In fact, he clearly feels justified because he's looking at the dark circles under Dean's eyes, and the way Dean grows increasingly more frustrated the closer to the date they get, and he appears f*cking satisfied. What an asshole.

Dean only knows that Cas is supposed to leave at three because Sam makes it a point to ask, and Cas woodenly answers him. When two o'clock rolls around, Sam suggests Cas take a shower, and Cas clenches his jaw and goes to do it. Dean makes sure to accidentally clip Sam in the shoulder as he walks by to send him into the wall, and Sam takes it with a surprising amount of grace and an unsurprising amount of smugness, like his point is proven.

The thing is, Dean knows exactly what Sam is trying to do. He's trying to get his dumbass brother to notice that he's a little stupid for Cas and maybe do something about it. What he doesn't know is that Dean is very, very aware of this already and can't do anything about it, because it would ruin everything. So, yes, Sam means well. He's trying to help. In his own way, he's probably trying to be supportive.

It's just f*cking torture, though, and Dean maybe hates him a little bit for putting him through this.

"You have to go make sure he looks date-ready, Dean," Sam tells him, barely even looking up from his phone—no doubt texting Eileen.

Scratch that, Dean hates him a lot. "Why do I gotta do it? Why can't you do it? You got eyes."

"Cas is mad at me right now," Sam replies flippantly, shrugging. Not a goddamn care in the world. He's the worst person. The absolute worst.

"I'm mad at you right now," Dean snaps, before he can stop himself.

Sam's head whips up. "Really? Why is that? What have I done to piss you off?"

"Your face is enough," Dean mutters, standing up and getting away before he can say anything else incriminating. Sam will not be winning any awards for Brother of the Year.

Dean goes to his own room because f*ck if he's actually going to Cas' and make sure he looks nice for someone else. He just...doesn't have it in him to do that. He's done it before, that one time with Nora, and it rings as bittersweet in his memory. Cas was human and deserved good things, and Dean had thought he looked great and would get good things, and it had stung—just a little—in a way that Dean didn't understand then but definitely does now.

Nonetheless, Dean's maybe in his room for about, oh, three minutes before he learns the true meaning of karma. And this is most certainly karma.

Cas doesn't knock. He just sweeps in, and Dean takes one look at him and knows, instantly, that this is for everything wrong and stupid he's ever done in regards to Cas.

This is for expecting Cas to do whatever they wanted, no matter if there was a war going on. This is for getting mad at Cas for working with Crowley when they had done and would continue to do the same, exact thing—though, in fairness, Cas was doing something stupid, so. This is for every time Dean called Cas a brother, because oh boy, what a goddamn lie that was—he knows that now. This is for every fight, and every argument, and all the times that Dean got angry and pushed too far. This is for trying to kill his kid—twice—and for every single f*cking time that Dean treated Cas like he was too other to be able to make the right call. This is for all the ways in which Dean pushed Cas away, or took him for granted until he was gone, or didn't appreciate him enough.

Because Cas comes into Dean's room without any warning whatsoever, and he's wearing his white button-up shirt completely unbuttoned, swaying at his sides as he walks in, and he's in Dean's jeans with the button still open to reveal a strip of skin and a peek of hip bones because, apparently, he's just not wearing any underwear. He's f*cking barefoot. His hair is damp and sort of all over the place like he scrubbed it with a towel. There's a little line of water running down his neck to his chest, and so much skin is on display—so much skin.

This is the definition of karma. Because Dean's appreciating Cas right now, in a very inappropriate way, and he's abruptly aware of every single time he failed to do right by Cas. All the ways he could have done better, been kinder, tried harder. All the ways he didn't, and now he's just the guy that's too little, too late, and Cas is going out with someone else.

The moment that Cas clocks Dean on his bed, he comes to a screeching halt, blinking. Dean blinks back, struggling—seriously struggling so hard—to keep his eyes on Cas' face. For a long beat, they just stare at each other, and that's it.

Then, Cas sighs and says, "I lost my socks. Can I borrow a pair of yours? A clean pair, Dean."

Dean tries to reply, but he ends up just releasing a noise that...doesn't sound exactly human, actually. It's mortifying. Cas' eyebrows jump up his forehead, and Dean's in hot water immediately. He launches out of bed, very determinedly not looking in Cas' direction as he goes for his sock drawer.

He's fumbling with the handle a little too much, heart doing some stupid sh*t in his chest that he detests. He can't f*cking concentrate for sh*t, and his eyes keep wandering towards Cas, so he has to squeeze them shut over and over. It takes an embarrassingly long time to get his drawer open and a pair of socks in hand.

"He-re," Dean manages, except he doesn't manage at all, because the word cracks in the middle. He clears his throat and swivels around, forcing himself to be as aggressively normal as possible. It's stilted, but he marches over to Cas, keeping his distance as he holds out the socks. He tries again. "Here."

There. That's better.

"Thank you," Cas says, sighing. He takes the socks and proceeds to put them on right then and there, and then he buttons his jeans, and then Dean realizes he's just getting ready in here now. Karma. The worst f*cking karma in the world. He deserves this, doesn't he? Cas huffs as he starts fumbling with the buttons on his shirt. "This is unnecessary and pointless. Sam is—I am generally fond of him, you know, but I've been reevaluating."

"I know what you mean," Dean mumbles, his gaze fully just stuck on the way Cas is trying and failing to button his shirt up.

"I don't think we often acknowledge how very prying he can be," Cas says, his voice low and gruff, almost a growl. It's not fair. It's not.

Dean exhales shakily and chokes out, "Yeah, he's so f*cking nosy, dude, oh my god."

"He struggles to accept that some things are simply not his business." Cas releases a frustrated noise when he buttons the wrong button into the wrong hole, and it's definitely a snarl, and Dean is probably about to combust. "He believes everything can be solved with some positivity and—"

"Okay, stop. Jesus f*ckin' Christ, just stop," Dean blurts out, swooping in closer to smack Cas' hands away before he fully goes insane. If Cas keeps fumbling and getting more annoyed, Dean's going to just yank the goddamn shirt off, and then how is he supposed to explain that? At this point, it's just better if he handles it quickly and sends Cas on his way. "I got it, Cas. Just—let me. I got it."

Dean exhales sharply through his nose and very firmly doesn't look up as he focuses on pushing the buttons through the proper holes. He puts every ounce of his concentration into it, trying and trying not to look at Cas from up close, or touch his fingers to Cas' skin, just within reach. Cas smells good. Cas smells like him. This is the worst thing that's ever happened to him, hand's down, no contest.

"You skipped one," Cas says softly, reminding Dean just how close he is.

"Oh, sh*t. Yeah, I did." Dean huffs out a short laugh, dragging his fingers back down to the button he missed. His mouth is so dry, everything he says comes out a little cotton-y and hoarse. "Sorry. I've got it. Don't, uh—don't wear a tie, okay? And roll your sleeves up. You look—just, with your sleeves up, you're… Uh, wrists are good. To show."

Ah, yes, the apparent erotism of wrists. Dean's a f*cking genius. Not.

Cas mutters, almost petulantly, "Maybe I don't want to be good."

He didn't mean that sexually, do not go there, do not f*cking go there, Dean berates himself. He can feel his tongue dart out to wet his lips, and he wishes that he wasn't this hopeless, but here he is. He's so gone on Cas that it's almost physically painful.

"Well, it's a date, Cas," Dean forces himself to say, inwardly patting himself on the back when it comes out even. "You wanna look your best."

He finishes up with the last button, sliding his hands up after a beat of hesitation to fix his collar while he's at it. He flicks his gaze up to Cas' for a second, which is a grandiose mistake of epic proportions. He stills like he's caught in a trap, fingers frozen on Cas' collar, pinned in place by the stupid magnetism of Cas' eyes. It stretches on until it's blatantly obvious that he's stopped, as if someone hit his pause-button.

Cas flicks his gaze over Dean's face like he's searching for something, his eyebrows furrowed slightly. He murmurs, like a confession, "I don't want to go on a date with Eileen's friend."

"So, don't. Yeah, just—just don't," Dean says, and the relief that floods into him is so heady that it makes him a little lightheaded.

"I already told Sam I would," Cas admits.

Dean blinks slow and stupid. "Okay, and? God wanted you to be a brainless soldier, and you told him to f*ck off. What's the difference here?"

Cas fixes him with a dry look, though his lips twitch up at the corners. "It would be rude to stand someone up, I think."

"Do it anyway," Dean whispers, fingers spasming around Cas' collar, a surge of adrenaline hitting him square in the chest at his encouragement. He's being so obvious. Too obvious.

"Okay," Cas replies, just like that, also blinking a little slowly. His eyes are flicking up and down, up and down, and Dean wonders what he's looking for.

Dean can feel his own lips curling up in response to Cas' agreement, a grin threatening to steal over his face and absolutely ruin everything. There won't be any ignoring what that means. Dean will be too pleased, too relieved, beaming, and Cas will know.

So, he drops his hands and steps back, ducking his head as he clears his throat. He reaches up to palm at his mouth, hiding the smile until he can force it away, and he mumbles, "Sam's gonna bitch at you, but I'll smack him upside the head for you."

"I think I can handle Sam," Cas tells him, arching an eyebrow.

"I mean, yeah, probably. But still, he needs some sense knocked into him anyway," Dean grumbles.

Cas chuckles, low and warm. "I'm inclined to agree, as of late. He's usually so much more aware of the simple truths in the world. He's been persistently insisting on...things that simply aren't possible."

"Like I said, he means well. It's all that rabbit food. I think it goes to his brain. Grease would give him some clarity, I'm pretty sure."

"Mm. In any case, I think he'll be argumentative when I don't leave."

"Yeah, probably." Dean looks at Cas and bites his lip, then coughs. "You wanna sneak out?"

"Sneak out," Cas repeats, squinting.

Dean shrugs as casually as possible. "Yeah, you know, get away for a little while. Avoid his bitching for a few hours, at least. I'll take you wherever you wanna go, and I mean—well, it'd be a damn shame not to go somewhere when you got dolled up so nice. Live a little, Cas."

"I put on a shirt and jeans," Cas argues, looking down at himself skeptically, apparently unaware what effect he has. He shakes his head and looks back up at Dean, considering. "I'm not opposed to sneaking out, as you called it, but I don't have anywhere I want to go. Do you have an idea?"

"Well…" Dean tips his head, trying not to smile again. "You ever been to an arcade?"

"No," Cas answers.

"Not yet," Dean corrects. He jerks his head towards the door. "Go put on your shoes and don't make direct eye contact with Sam. He can sense fear."

"I'm not afraid," Cas mutters, even as he heads for the door, rolling his eyes.

"Must be nice," Dean says under his breath, watching Cas go, both miserable and stupidly excited at the same time.

Sneaking out is successful. When Dean slides into Baby and books it before Sam can figure out the coup, Cas is relaxed against the seat, resting his head over on a closed fist. His sleeves are rolled up.

The arcade is fun, Cas does get Jack a prize, and Dean marks it down as another date that isn't a date, but at least no one else got to do it with Cas first.

"Can I ask you a question?"

Dean looks up from where he's putting the Great Value five-pound bag of sugar into the cart. He stares at Jack a little warily, because he's been quiet for the last ten minutes of this grocery run, and he's now sporting a pensive frown on his face. He sounds confused, but also serious, and Dean can sense that this is going to be a conversation that requires treading lightly, which isn't his specialty.

"Yeah, sure, what's up?" Dean asks, aiming for casual, hoping that this isn't a big deal.

Jack flicks his gaze up to stare at him, and he mumbles, "Why did Sam try to get Castiel to go out on a date with Eileen's friend?"

Alarm bells ring in Dean's head.

Okay. So, this is going to be a big deal. Great. The thing is, Dean is not properly prepared for this conversation. Did it have to be him? This is better for Sam. Hell, this might even be better for Cas. Dean has no idea how he's supposed to give the it's okay to be gay talk. This is not in his skillset, despite not being straight himself, which is still so new.

He's not the expert. He doesn't know all the proper terms, and he doesn't know what's insensitive and what's not. He hasn't actually even admitted outside of his own head that he, himself likes dudes.

Nonetheless, Jack is looking right at him, clearly wanting an answer. Dean's not sure why Jack came to him about this, but it's clear that he made the decision to do so. It has been four days since Cas was supposed to go on that date, and Jack could have asked anyone else in that time, but he obviously waited for time alone with Dean to bring it up to him, specifically.

"Okay. Um." Dean pauses for a long moment, trying to think of where to start. He braces his hands on the side of the cart. "Right, so, you know how you're a boy, Jack?"

"I'm not a boy," Jack replies immediately.

Dean falters.

Ah, sh*t, he's definitely not prepared for this. For a second, Dean genuinely panics because he doesn't know what to do, or what to say. He doesn't know enough about the gay thing, let alone the gender thing. He tried to take it all in when he was researching, but some of it was very daunting. It had felt like the first match he ever had as a wrestler in school, stepping up onto the mat and not knowing if he was even meant to be there, scared he was going to mess up because he couldn't remember all the rules, and maybe he'd accidentally hurt someone.

He scrambles to try and remember the gender thing now, but mostly comes up blank. He gets the gist of it, though. Okay, so Jack isn't a boy. Right. That's new, but it's—Dean can be supportive about it. Just use broad statements and make sure the kid knows that Dean still cares, regardless.

"Okay," Dean says slowly, like he's slowly clipping wires on a ticking bomb, "so you're a girl?"

Jack blinks at him. "No. I'm Jack."

"I—" Dean has never felt so helpless in his life. He suddenly wants to get on Google, or call Sam, but he doesn't wanna come off as an asshole. There's clearly a reason Jack is talking to Dean about this, and Dean alone. He'll respect it. "Uh, listen, I'm gonna be honest with you, kid. I'm really not informed on this kind of stuff, and that's on me. That's my fault. So, I'm not trying to be a dick with what I'm saying, okay? Just tell me to shut up if I say something I shouldn't. But, to be clear, you're not a boy and you're not a girl. That's what you're saying? You don't feel like a boy?"

"No," Jack confirms.

Dean blows out a deep breath. "And you don't feel like a girl?"

"No," Jack says, head tilting. "I'm just Jack."

"Just Jack. Okay." Dean drums his fingers on the side of the cart, pursing his lips. "I'm, like, almost a hundred percent positive that there's a term for that, but I don't really know it. I think I'm supposed to ask what you're comfortable being called."

Jack—if it's possible—looks even more confused. "I'm not sure what you mean."

"Well, you're not a boy, right?" Dean waves a hand weakly. "But we call you a boy all the time. We say he and him. Do you want that? What do you wanna be called, Jack? That's what I'm asking."

"Oh." Jack's face clears. "You can call me whatever makes you comfortable."

Dean stares, his eyebrows jerking up. "Uh, no, I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be the other way around, kid. We're supposed to call you whatever makes you feel comfortable."

Jack shrugs. "But I don't care."

"So, if I called you a girl, you wouldn't give a sh*t, even though you're not a girl?" Dean checks.

"Exactly." Jack smiles at him. "It doesn't really matter to me. I don't think I'm any of those things, or maybe I'm all of them. But I'm definitely Jack. You can call me a girl, or a boy, or even an it."

"I'm not calling you an it," Dean says.

"Okay," Jack replies.

"Right. Okay, so you're overall Jack. Glad we cleared that up." Dean blows out a deep breath, resisting the urge to scrub a hand over the side of his face. He thinks he handled that well. Jesus Christ, he needs a f*cking nap after that. "So, it's fine to just continue the way we have been?"

Jack nods. "Yes."

"Alright, cool," Dean says, releasing a deep breath. There's a point to all of this. Back on track. "Um, okay, back to the point. You're not a boy, but sometimes, boys like other boys. And that's okay. So. Well, actually, scratch that. The main takeaway here is that it's okay to like whoever you like, no matter what. Live and let live. Happiness is the main goal, and there ain't nothing wrong with who some people find that with. So, you can like whatever and whoever you like, but also...don't, maybe? You're three. Well, almost four! Yeah, your birthday is coming up, isn't it? I didn't forget. Anyway, my point is, everything is fine. Ya know?"

Jack seems to ponder that for a long moment, then he slowly nods. "Yes, I already know that. Sam said something similar. He said it better, I think. I didn't understand why he needed to say it at all, but Sam says that there are social constructs that really don't make any sense, and he wanted me to know in case I was ever exposed to them."

"Oh. So, Sam's already had that talk. Great." Dean releases a sigh and tosses up his hand. All that worrying for nothing. They're all gonna have to start comparing notes to avoid sh*t like this. "Well, that's good. But uh, why are you asking about Cas going on a date with a man, then?"

"I wasn't." Jack frowns at him. "I'm not confused about the friend being a man. I'm confused why they think Castiel should go out with Eileen's friend."

Dean has a strong urge to nod in ready agreement, but he refrains. "Well, I don't really know. Maybe they thought that Cas would like him."

"I don't think Castiel would," Jack says, simple and to the point. He looks Dean right in the eye when he continues. "I think Castiel would like you."

"One could dream," Dean responds, cracking a small smile. He heaves a sigh, deflating a little. "Listen, Jack, I can...see where you're coming from, okay? Cas and I have been friends for over a decade. We're pretty comfortable with each other at this point, and we're good friends, so I get why it may seem that way to you. Thing is, Cas just...doesn't feel that way about me. That's all there is to it."

Jack stares at him, frowning again. "Oh," he says, very softly. "I'm not sure if that's true, Dean. I connected with him on a cosmic level before I was even born. Do you remember? He loves you very much. I knew you were a good man because of him. I trusted you because of him."

Dean's breath hitches against his will, and he has to clench his jaw as he ruthlessly stomps out the abrupt surge of hope that pushes him to believe that. He swallows and rasps, "I get that, but...I'm not sure if you fully understand the whole, uh, love thing. I mean, Cas loves Sam, too, right? You felt that."

"Well...yes," Jack agrees hesitantly.

"Exactly," Dean murmurs, shrugging one shoulder and trying his absolute best not to feel the sting of it, of having to explain to Jack that Cas isn't in love with him and never will be.

"You said Castiel doesn't feel that way about you," Jack says, watching him curiously. "Do you feel that way about him?"

Dean's heart turns over in his chest. His mouth goes dry. He's never been directly asked this before, and it's somehow so much worse coming from the kid that's kind of his and Cas' in a weird way. For some reason, the pain all wrapped up in it feels so much heavier like this. Because how does he admit it? How does he say it out loud and show Jack just how f*cked up things can be? How does he open himself up and expose Jack to something like this?

He'd had this kid kneeling down in front of him, awaiting death that Dean was going to damn him with—damn them both with. The least he could do is be a little vulnerable with him now, no matter how hard it is. Denying it would do him little good at this point, because Jack can see his f*cking face, and Dean doesn't need a mirror to know how upset he looks right about now. Answering will only confirm what Jack already seems to have figured out, except it'll be a moment of Dean letting him in a little bit, trusting him with something painful and sacred.

"I do," Dean says softly, after a long moment of silence between them.

Jack frowns harder, eyebrows crumbling together, and he looks like he's thinking really hard about something. Finally, he whispers, "When you said that love is complicated, this is what you meant."

Dean huffs out a weak, strained laugh. He reaches up and palms his mouth, looking away and blinking hard. Because, yeah, probably. He didn't know it at the time, but yeah. This? It's complicated.

"Yeah," Dean croaks. "Yeah, kid, this is what I meant."

"Oh." Jack releases a quiet sigh. "I'm sorry."

"S'okay," Dean mumbles, waving a hand as carelessly as he can manage. He starts to say something else, but Jack abruptly wheels around the cart to slam into him and hug him without any warning. He squeezes a little, making Dean's breath leave him on a wheezy gust. "Ah, okay. You're hugging me in the middle of the grocery store. That is a thing you're doing. Of course you are."

Dean rolls his eyes a little, but his lips twitch as he pats Jack on the side from where his arms are pinned. Jack is taking the hugging thing seriously, apparently, and he looks very determined when he pulls away, defending himself with, "You looked like you needed it."

"Yes, thank you for saying that, Jack, really," Dean mutters flatly. He shakes his head and pats Jack's arm, nudging him back to the cart. "Get back over there and don't let go. We've talked about this. You want something, you hold onto the damn cart."

"That was more important," Jack says defiantly, stubborn about it. He does go back and hold onto the cart, though.

"You're alright, kid," Dean tells him, cracking a smile and moving around to grab the cart and start pushing it.

Jack glances back at him hopefully. "Does that mean I can get two things this time?"

"Just this once," Dean agrees, holding up a finger to get his point across, very aware that he's been softened up a little but not minding that much. Like he said, Jack's alright. He's a good kid.

"Yes!" Jack hisses, perking right on up.

Dean chuckles under his breath and keeps on going, listening to Jack pick out various things over and over, cheerful and at ease.

Eileen comes and spends a week at the Bunker while Sam and Cas go handle a situation that has to do with something they got into in Arkansas a little while back. That weird town—Charming Acres. Dean doesn't really get all the details, but Cas and Sam seem to take it as a personal offense that there's another issue, so they set off to go handle it.

Dean offers to go, but Eileen and Jack have basically a whole itinerary planned out of all the things they can get up to without Sam and Cas there to be sensible and stop them. Dean figures that means he's supposed to be the sensible one left over, but that's never really been his style anyway.

In other words, chaos ensues.

After four hours, they go on a fishing trip, because Jack thinks it would be fun, and Eileen bets Dean that she can catch a fish faster than he can. As it turns out, she does catch a fish before him, but she isn't the one who catches first. Dean does, except it's a snapping turtle, and he nearly loses his goddamn finger. He ends up having to go to the hospital to get a few stitches that are dissolvable.

The following day, Eileen puts together an obstacle course for Jack that involves shooting at various targets around the room, lock-picking, and stumbling around blindfolded. Dean gets tied to a chair as a pretend hostage, and Eileen pushes him over when he keeps breaking out in less than two minutes. She gets increasingly more competitive until she's demanding he dislocate his own thumb to escape, and when he does, she forces him to teach her how to do it. Jack also wants to learn, but Dean draws the line at letting the kid do it.

The day after that, Eileen disappears for three hours and is finally found—after a frantic, panicked search for her—in the garage, curled up underneath a goddamn car, taking a f*cking nap. When Dean berates her for scaring them half to death, she uses the excuse that she couldn't hear them yelling for her, smiling all the while. Dean flicks her nose and refuses to let her have any donuts at lunch.

On the fourth day, Jack admits he's never been to a museum, so Eileen wrangles Dean and Jack into Baby, pulling up the closest museum and directing them to it. What is supposed to be a relaxing day quickly becomes not that when they find a cursed artifact at the museum and have to go on the basic equivalent of a heist to get it out. This involves a lot of distracting guards and actual sneaking through vents, as well as shooting through glass cases with alarms on them. Turns out, mermaids are real, and their scales are pretty f*cking dangerous. Jack almost gets arrested, and Eileen throws a quarter out of Baby's window and shatters the windshield of a cop car following them, so it all works out.

The fifth day rolls around, and Dean somehow gets talked into teaching Jack how to play pool. Eileen and Dean of course get very competitive. Someone mistakes Eileen and Dean for a couple, and they both—without even talking about it—lean into it so hard that they spin a whole tale about how they just got engaged, and oh, free dessert? That's so nice, thank you so much. After, Jack says that he's going to tell Sam, and both Eileen and Dean call him a snitch and teach him about the stitches and ditches rule. Eileen ends up telling Sam herself over facetime, and Dean somehow is the one who gets lectured for it, which is just rude, really.

With the sixth day, they somehow conjure a literal black hole in one of the storage rooms in the Bunker. Half the things in the room get sucked in, including one of his guns, his shoe, and at least four inches of Eileen's hair. It's a joint effort between him and Eileen to get rid of the black hole before it sucks in the whole Bunker and possibly the world—a precarious situation—and, after the fact, Jack admits that he could have done it, but wouldn't because that's technically interfering. On a bright note, Dean's stitches finally dissolve.

The last day, though, all is calm. Sam and Cas are on their way back, and that leaves them on their best behavior. They all hang out around the Bunker, eating junk food and watching movies, having a grand old time. Eileen keeps looking at the clock on her phone, and Dean finds himself doing the same.

After nine, Jack goes to his room. Eileen and Dean settle into the war room, taking turns looking at the door, waiting for Sam and Cas to get home.

Eileen—the little sh*t that she is—calls him out for being obvious. "Wow," she starts, "I didn't know you would miss Sam this much."

Dean flicks a balled up piece of paper at her. "What are you talking about? Time away from that dickface is a relief, my friend."

"Oh, that makes me feel better. I was going to be worried if you were looking like an eager puppy because Sam was coming home," Eileen says, leaning back in her chair with a grin.

"Oh, like you can talk," Dean mutters, flipping her off. He tries his hand at signing, because he has been trying to learn—either from the internet or her, when she felt like it. He does his best, signing you and talk, and she gets the rest from his lips.

Eileen crooks an eyebrow at him. "Sam's my boyfriend."

"I'm so sorry," Dean replies, and he can sign that just fine, even if his grin kinda ruins it.

"Does Sam know you've got a hard-on for Cas?" Eileen asks him.

"Yeah," Dean admits, then immediately follows that up with, "but you can't tell him."

"You're aware that makes no sense, right?"

"Oh, trust me, I know. It's kinda complicated. Sam knows, but he doesn't know that I know that he knows, and he can't know that. Also, Cas doesn't know anything. Let's keep it that way, okay?"

"Are you biding your time?" Eileen asks, starting to look sincerely confused now.

Dean grimaces. "Something like that. Just getting used to it, I guess. I've never actually, um, told anyone before. I mean, Jack knows, but that's a little different. He doesn't think in terms of...you know."

"Oh." Eileen abruptly looks serious. He likes that about her, that she always knows when to joke, and when to be sincere. "Is it because Cas is a guy?"

"Ehh…" Dean does a weird little dance of shoulders in his chair. "That's complicated, too."

Eileen's eyebrows shoot up. "You've never been with a guy before?"

"No, I haven't."

"Ah, so this is really new for you."

"Yeah," Dean admits, a little awkward about it. He throws up a hand. "I mean, I guess I knew. Sort of. That's also complicated. Sam knew, apparently, but I don't have the faintest clue when he figured it out."

"Well, if you're not ready to talk about it, then you're not," Eileen says decisively. Dean signs thank you, and she smiles. "Do you want pointers?"

Dean blinks. "Pointers? On...what?"

"Being with a man," Eileen tells him.

"That's kinda…" Dean's face scrunches up. "Eileen, come on, you're with my brother."

Eileen arches an eyebrow. "Ah, yes, because I was an untouched virgin before Sam ever got a hold of me."

Dean opens his mouth, then closes it, his face going hot. "Okay, fair point. Alright, whaddya got?"

"First rule," Eileen states, sitting forward and fixing him with a serious look, "all men are idiots."

"I—what? Eileen, what?" Dean cracks up, sinking down in his chair and clutching his stomach as he busts out laughing. She's grinning at him, but he can barely breathe. Jesus, she's so f*cking funny. He wheezes after a while, sitting up straighter and pointing at her. "Okay, that was—that was pretty good. I believe you. You're right. Go on."

"No, there's a secondary point to the first rule. It's very important." Eileen swipes her finger down her nose, raising her eyebrows. "You're probably guilty of it, too. I've noticed that men—good men with good intentions—don't mean to be idiots. They don't even know they're doing it. Try and remember that. It pays to settle in and say exactly what you mean, rather than what you think they want to hear, or what you think you're supposed to say. Otherwise, they'll be idiots about things that don't even match up to what you feel, and that's a whole other load of issues you could have avoided in the first place. If you're going to like men, first accept that they're stupid, all of them, and then do yourself a favor by minimalizing the impact of their stupidity, meaning don't be an idiot on top of them being an idiot."

"Don't be a dumbass, got it," Dean says.

Eileen sends him a pitying look. "Well, you're a man, Dean. You won't mean to, but…"

"Yeah, yeah," Dean mutters, laughing. "Rule number one. I hear ya."

"Second." Eileen holds up a finger. "If they think they should get a say in what you wear, or where you go, or if they won't do anal but want you to do it, then they're not worth your time."

Dean blinks at her. "Wait, seriously?"

"I'm very serious."

"Um. Right. Okay. That...makes sense."

"Third," Eileen continues, holding up a third finger to join the first two. "Don't put your mouth on their dick unless they'll eat—well, in your case, unless they'll put their mouth on your dick. If they won't do it, they don't get it. And, frankly, if they think you should but won't themselves, run for the hills."

"There are guys who don't?" Dean hisses, leaning forward to stare at her incredulously, appalled.

"Sadly, yes," Eileen confirms. "I've never been with one, though, because I don't waste my own time."

Dean nods. "Yeah, good move on that one. That's just...insane to me. Jesus, who doesn't want to do that? It's a very good way to engage in foreplay."

"Hey, you said it. And that takes us into the next rule," Eileen says, sticking up a fourth finger. "If they don't think foreplay is important, then kick 'em right out of bed. But, to clarify, there are extenuating circ*mstances for this one. Flirting can be foreplay in some cases, and there are more ways to get the engines running than just getting into bed and starting them up, if you catch my drift. But, if there's no lead up, and they just wanna jump straight into their own pleasure? Huge red flag."

"Again, makes total sense," Dean says, tipping his head. "I'm picking up what you're putting down."

Eileen chuckles. "Rule five. Breathing through your nose when giving a blowj*b helps if you feel like you're going to choke. If they like the gagging, and you don't mind, don't be scared to do it a little. If they don't like the gagging, or you're not comfortable with it, don't force yourself to take what you can't handle. You got a hand for a reason. Let it do what it needs to where your mouth can't reach."

Dean rears back, eyes bulging. He's aware that his mouth is hanging open, but his brain whites out for a second and he can't help it. He feels like he's been reset. It takes him a second to stop sputtering and making weird, choking noises. Eileen is looking at him with amusem*nt, eyes sparkling.

"Eileen, Jesus Christ," Dean blurts out, slightly scandalized for no reason at all. He literally asked for this. But still. Still.

"What?" Eileen shrugs. "It's an important rule."

"I haven't even thought about—" Dean stares at her helplessly. "Oh, f*ck you. Now I'm going to be thinking about it. With Cas."

Eileen rolls her eyes and slumps back in her chair, flicking her fingers. "Whatever your plans with him, I'm pretty sure he's not going to complain about you giving him a blowj*b. I bet if you just asked one day, he would let you do it."

"Oh, right, 'cause what are best friends for?" Dean drawls sarcastically, but his skin is prickling all over, and he's most definitely thinking about it now. "And I don't have any plans with him."

"You don't?" Eileen asks, frowning at him. "Why?"

"Because he doesn't—" Dean cuts himself at the distant sound of a door slamming. He sits up straight in his seat, heart abruptly slamming away in his chest. He meets her gaze, eyes wide. "Don't say anything, Eileen. I'm serious, okay? I'm trusting you with this, so not a word, not even to Sam."

"Don't worry," Eileen murmurs, and she's serious again, holding his gaze. "My lips are sealed."

Dean relaxes instantly, relieved.

In the next minute or so, Sam and Cas come ushering inside, having what appears to be a very heated conversation, involving hissing back and forth and trading glares. When they reach the bottom of the stairs, they see Dean and Eileen, then immediately fall silent and share a quick look, apparently coming to some unspoken agreement to put a pause on their debate.

Cas is wearing a sweater. It has patches on the elbows, and the sleeves tuck down into his hands, almost as long as his fingers. It looks very soft, and it's doing things to Dean that might be fatal. He's never seen Cas in a sweater like that. It's blue, too, which is just f*cking criminally unfair.

"Hey," Sam blurts, shuffling closer to Eileen with his eyes narrowed, "you cut your hair."

Eileen smiles at him. "Yeah," she says, which is a lie. Her hair is now above her shoulders because some of it got lost in a black hole. Her expression remains innocent. "Do you like it?"

"Love it," Sam says easily, signing what Dean now knows is you're beautiful. "Looks great."

Dean rolls his eyes and goes back to looking at Cas, who is removing an angel blade from his back pocket, which is unnecessarily attractive for no reason at all. He carelessly sits it down on a table and looks up, catching Dean staring at him, and he smiles at him as if it's automatic. Dean's heart clenches in his chest. He missed Cas. Jesus.

"New sweater?" Dean asks, teasing a little.

"It was a long week," Cas replies. He tugs at one of the elbow patches. "It's very comfortable."

"Looks it," Dean admits, his gaze roaming over it again. It takes a second before he can pull his eyes back to Cas' face. "Want some coffee?"

Cas smiles a bit more. "You have some?"

"Nah, but I'll make you some." Dean pushes to his feet, tapping the empty chair beside the one he's leaving. "Sit, take a load off. I'll be right back."

Dean ignores the way Sam is looking at him as he heads to the kitchen. He doesn't need that sh*t right now. He just wants to be pleased that Cas is back in peace, dammit.

It takes a little bit to make the coffee, and Dean spends the entirety of the time trying his best not to think about what sounds Cas would make if Dean actually did give him a blowj*b. Eileen is a menace. sh*t, as if he needed another urge to add to the mountain of things he wants to do with Cas, but can't. He's not even sure why he let her give him tips, especially when he knows there's no point.

These feelings… They're the big kind, Dean knows that. They're the kind of feelings that made him let Jack label it as love, because that's what it is, isn't it? Thinking about it in abstract doesn't make it any less true. If he zooms in, if he stops looking at it in broken parts and puts all the pieces of it together to form one picture, it's just love.

Sighing, Dean shakes his head and stirs the coffee, forcing himself to brush past it. He can break it up into pieces and handle it better that way, so he does. He doesn't have to torture himself all the time.

When he heads back with the coffee, Sam and Cas are having another debate, but this time there are no heated whispers. It's all jerky, stilted movements of their hands and arms, faces flickering through multiple expressions. They stop when Dean comes back into the room, and Eileen has a strand of hair in front of her face that she's playing with, seemingly bored of their antics.

"Thank you," Cas murmurs when Dean gives him the coffee. He isn't looking Dean in the eye, and for some inexplicable reason, his face is very red.

"No problem," Dean says, glancing between Sam and Cas with a rising sense of suspicion. "Is everything...okay? How'd the case go?"

"It was fine," Sam answers. "We tied up a few loose ends we didn't know we're loose. Charming Acres is no longer a problem."

Dean is alarmed instantly. "You didn't, like, blow up a whole town or something, did you?"

"No, of course not," Sam says, huffing.

Dean feels entirely justified in asking that. He knows from experience that leaving Sam and Cas to their own devices can end with disastrous results. There's a reason that Sam and Cas are rarely left alone together. They either do crazy things, or nearly get themselves killed, or worse.

"How was your week?" Cas ventures, holding out the coffee to Dean, sharing it as always.

"Pretty normal," Dean lies, flicking his gaze over to Eileen. She grins at him, and he hides his echoing grin into the rim of the cup as he has a sip.

"What'd you two get up to?" Sam asks, not sounding worried at all, as if he can't imagine that they did crazy sh*t when left alone.

Eileen hums, waving a hand. "Oh, nothing much. Boring stuff, really. We were both excited for you two to come home."

"Really?" Sam's eyebrows shoot up, and he chuckles as he looks between Dean and Eileen. "I bet. So, you missed us, huh?"

"I wished on a shooting star every night for my beloved Cas to come back to me," Eileen teases.

Cas smiles slightly as he takes the cup of coffee back when it's offered to him. Dean winks at him as Sam and Eileen go about flirting like idiots, and Cas almost drops the damn coffee cup. Dean jolts forward to catch it from the bottom, cursing when some of the hot liquid spills out over his fingers.

"I'm sorry, I'm—" Cas makes an odd, miserable sound as he rushes to sit the coffee cup down, snagging Dean's wrist and dabbing furiously at his fingers with the sleeve of his sweater. He looks embarrassed in a way Dean has never seen before, and his face is very red, which is odd and endearing and unexpected as hell. "Dean, I'm sorry."

"Dude, chill out. It's fine," Dean says, chuckling despite himself. His eyebrows raise when Cas' eyes dart to his, then quickly bounce away. "Seriously, Cas, it's not a big deal. It's just coffee."

Cas still looks mortified. "I didn't mean to do that," he murmurs. "I just—I was—"

"Okay, hey, it's cool." Dean reaches up and catches Cas' hand, halting his insistent dabbing at Dean's fingers with his sweater, even though the coffee has been dried off for a good minute now. "Don't even worry about it. You good?"

"I'm—" Cas' face clears, and his eyes narrow as his hand whips around shockingly fast to snatch Dean's fingers closer to his face. He looks up with a squint and a frown. "You have a new scar."

Dean blinks. "Uh, yeah. Fishing incident. A snapping turtle had it out for me, I guess, so I had to get a couple of stitches. How...did you even notice that, man?"

"Ah," Cas says, though it comes out alarmed. He's right back to being a little bit of a mess, his eyes going wide, his face turning red again. He stares at Dean, mouth opening and closing.

"It's a really small scar," Dean points out.

Cas will not meet his eyes. He abruptly wrenches his hands back from Dean's and shoves his chair back in one quick, frantic motion. He's on his feet in a second, muttering, "I'm tired. Excuse me."

"You don't get tired," Dean says incredulously, leaning over the side of his chair to try and catch Cas' gaze. "Hey, where are you—" He nearly topples right out of his chair trying to reach out and grab Cas' wrist to haul him back, then has to rock back to overcompensate so he doesn't land on his goddamn head. Cas slips away, and Dean huffs. "You didn't even finish your coffee!"

Dean stares after him, baffled, and then he slumps back into his chair with a frown. He lifts his hand up closer to his face, inspecting his fingers. The scar is small, barely noticeable, and it's already faint. How the f*ck did Cas even notice that? He shakes his head and drops his hand, swiveling in his chair to look at Sam and Eileen for help.

Sam has his hand over his mouth, shoulder shaking, and Eileen is playing with her hair again, likely bored. She probably didn't catch half of that because she couldn't see their lips, so she's not going to have much of an opinion. Sam, on the other hand, seems to find something about this particularly hilarious.

In the end, Sam drops his hand and says, "Oh, dude, you're both so stupid."

Eileen catches that, and she smiles as she declares, very seriously, "Well, yes. All men are."

There's a case down in Texas that Dean claims for himself and Cas, leaving Sam to get back to more cooking lessons with Jack, who is back in his yo-yo phase, while Eileen lingers and takes an extended break because she has apparently decided she wants one. Which, hey, more power to her.

The first two days of the case are pretty smooth sailing. Dean and Cas do their usual investigating, being nosy, trying to work out what's going on and what, exactly, they're hunting. They do a lot of eating gas station food and bouncing ideas off of each other at the motel.

On the second day, there's a breakthrough when Cas comes in with a newspaper—an old one with cigarette burns on it. He smacks it down in front of Dean, who was trying to enjoy some goddamn curly fries. He takes one look at the filthy paper and glares at Cas for ruining his appetite.

"Come on, did you go dumpster diving for a goddamn paper, Cas?" Dean grouses, wrinkling his nose as he reaches out with the very tip of his finger to nudge the paper further away from him.

"I did locate that in the trash, yes," Cas confirms, rolling his eyes.

Dean snatches his finger back. "What? Dude, gross. Listen, Garfield doesn't change, okay? He always hates Mondays. You ain't missing much."

"The headline caught my eye," Cas says flatly, "and if you were paying attention, it would catch yours, too. Look at it, Dean."

"You get on my damn nerves," Dean grumbles, face scrunching up as he cranes his head to look at the headline. A beat later, his face is clearing, and his mind is working. A homeless guy thrown in the drunk tank tries to blow up the police station because he's convinced aliens have come down and started cloning the law enforcement? Well, that gives another layer to the situation, and Dean quickly has an answer. "We're dealing with shifters, aren't we? Time to crack out the silver."

"Indeed," Cas agrees, sighing.

Shapeshifters are some of Dean's least favorite creatures to put up with for the sole reason that they can imitate him and get into his head. He's obviously dealt with them multiple different times in multiple different ways, and worse as well, but it's still annoying every single time.

This is really no exception. Merely a day later, they've got a target, except their target keeps switching to look like other people. And, listen, okay? Dean knows that not all Shapeshifters are monsters—his mind goes to Mia—but the ones killing people? Well, those definitely are, and this one definitely is, so it's his job to gank it.

It just sucks that, when they catch up to the shifter, it just so happens to look like a teenage girl. Dean's uncomfortable with it, but he's prepared to do what he's got to do. Besides, the shifter looked like a grown man just yesterday, so.

Things go wrong, because of course they do, and then there are two Deans running around. This, as you can imagine, puts Dean in a sh*tty mood. It's happened before, and that didn't end well for him, so he's not about to let history repeat itself.

The problem comes in the form of him and Cas getting separated. Dean corners the shifter in an alley, fighting his own body, fighting something that knows the inside of his head and knows how he fights. As much as he tries to get the upper hand, there's a bit of challenge there. At some point, Dean gets tossed against a brick wall in a decidedly not fun way, and his gun with the silver bullets is knocked aside, skittering out of view.

Then, a few moments later, Cas is suddenly there, shouting, "Dean!" and both the shifter and Dean look up at the same time to find that Cas has his gun in hand, then they look at each other.

"Ah, sh*t," Dean says as soon as he realizes what kind of conundrum they're in now.

The shifter backs off a little, glancing between Dean and Cas, wearing his face and saying, low and wary, just like Dean would, "Well, this is some bullsh*t."

"Shut up," Dean snaps at the shifter.

The shifter grunts. "He's an angel, ya know. He's gonna know who's who, so you're sh*t outta luck, buddy. Might wanna start running now."

"He ain't a goddamn idiot, so don't try that sh*t," Dean says, narrowing his eyes at his own face. "You can play-pretend like you're me all you want, but eventually, you're gonna screw up. You just got my memories, not who I am."

"Oh, you're good," the shifter replies with a laugh, shaking his head. "We can prove it, can't we? Get me some silver."

"Dean, shut up," Cas abruptly snarls, and Dean's mouth automatically snaps shut because that's the tone Cas uses when he's fully not f*cking around.

"Hey!" the shifter protests, because he really doesn't have a lock on Dean Winchester at all. "I'm just—"

Cas shoots the shifter. Like, with no hesitation. He doesn't get the heart, but he does get some place in the chest. The shifter goes careening back into the wall, eyes bulging, hand coming up to grip the bullet wound. Cas apparently isn't the best shot, but he doesn't really like guns anyway. This is obvious in how he carelessly slips the gun in his pocket and pulls out the more familiar angel blade, clearly preferring that over the gun.

"Don't even try and look betrayed," Dean tells the shifter, raising his eyebrows. "The jig is up. Pretty as you are right now, you ain't foolin' nobody."

The shifter shudders against the wall, coughing. "What gave me away?"

"Cas tells you to shut up like that, you shut up," Dean says simply, shrugging a shoulder. He reaches out and pats the shifter's knee. "Better luck in Purgatory. It's a shame, ya know? You coulda had a normal life if you didn't go killing folks."

"Screw my sob story," the shifter chokes out. Cas crouches down, spinning his blade in his hand, and Dean's eyes track the motion against his will. It is mind-numbingly hot. The shifter gives a hoarse laugh, head lulling a little. "Oh, Cas, don't you wanna know what Dean thinks about you? He has all these thoughts running around in his head."

"And that's enough of that, thank you," Dean grits out, reaching over to snatch the angel blade from Cas' grip, a frisson of alarm jolting through him.

"So many thoughts," the shifter continues. "All these things he doesn't want you to know. He's so scared you'll find out how he—"

Dean claps a hand over the shifter's mouth for good measure as he sinks the blade into the heart. It's not as easy as one would think. It takes some shoving and some amount of strength, but Dean does it. He covers the shifter's whole mouth—his mouth—to stop the flow of the words, watching the light die in his own eyes. There's something very strange about that, about seeing yourself die. It's not even Dean's first time, but it continues to be weird as f*ck.

Once the shifter is for sure dead, Dean wrenches the blade back out and wordlessly wipes the blood off on the shifter's coat. He glances up to find Cas looking at him already, eyebrows pinched together.

"What?" Dean mumbles, passing him the blade back. He automatically dips in to grab the body to start clean-up, and Cas joins him.

"I couldn't help but notice that you seemed particularly eager to shut him up," Cas says.

Dean scoffs. "Yeah, and? Dude was gonna start spouting off bullsh*t. It's what monsters do, Cas. He was just trying to get in your head, is all."

"He seemed pretty certain," Cas says softly, averting his eyes as they haul the body to Baby, where the trunk and some tarp is waiting.

"Hey, it's not—it isn't—" Dean struggles for a moment, then really struggles as he strains to get the body into the tarp. Damn, he's heavy. He really needs to lay off the cronuts. After, he slams the trunk and watches Cas awkwardly fiddle with his angel blade. "Look, we all got things that we think about each other, okay? And not all of it's guaranteed to be nice. I know you think not-so-nice sh*t about me all the time, that's just the way of life. Doesn't mean you hate me, and the same in reverse. I don't care about you knowing about that, Cas. That's not the...problem."

Cas squints at him. "So, what were you worried about me finding out?"

"Just—well, ya know." Dean waves a hand, clearing his throat. "I think nice things too, Cas. You can't know about that sh*t, though. It's embarrassing. For me, I mean."

"It's embarrassing for you that you think kind things about me?" Cas asks, and his eyes open a bit, lips twitching up in the corners.

Dean rolls his eyes. "Shut up."

"What kind things do you think about me?" Cas presses, looking genuinely entertained now.

"Come on, fishing for compliments is just tacky."

"Well, now I want to know. I'm curious what's so embarrassing that you would kill to make sure I didn't find out about it."

"Dude, you have no idea." Dean blows out an explosive breath and shakes his head. Cas is laughing at him without laughing at him, the bastard, and Dean is so f*cking fond of him. Jesus Christ. He bites down on a smile, looking away as he bends over to see if the tail end of Baby is slumping too noticeably. "Anyway, it doesn't matter, Cas. The main thing to remember is that you're annoying as sh*t, and the sooner I don't gotta put up with you being a dumbass, the better."

It's a joke, obviously, and Dean means the exact opposite, which he assumed Cas would know. But Cas makes a hurt sound, a truly pained one, like he's been gutted. Dean's heart drops because he didn't actually mean it, and he whips up and around to immediately take it back, but flinches and goes still because Cas' eyes are flickering and the angel blade is sticking out of his stomach and—

There was a second Shapeshifter.

In short order, Dean realizes why the first shifter was trying to stall for time, waiting for backup. This second shifter is right behind Cas, hand wrapped around Cas' to drive the blade into his own gut, likely a surprise. Cas certainly looks surprised, and also in pain, and his eyes are flaring and dimming in intervals. He stares at Dean, and Dean stares back.

Time seems to speed up and slow down at the same time. Cas' body hits the ground when he yanks the blade out and weakly tosses it forward, and Dean's not really sure how he ends up with it, or how the second shifter gets killed, but suddenly the shifter is dead and Dean's on the ground beside Cas.

Somehow, Cas isn't dead. That's pretty much the only thing that's keeping Dean together right this second. There are no eyes burned out, and Cas is still f*cking bleeding, so that means he's alive. Dean's not sure how, because the angel blade should have killed him, but he doesn't give a sh*t either.

It's a blur after that.

Dean leaves the second shifter's body behind without a second thought. He somehow gets Cas into Baby, keeping a hand pressed tight Cas' wound, blood pouring out over his fingers and all on the leather seats. Cas isn't awake. His head rolls on his neck, his eyes are closed, his breathing is coming out short and choppy. He's alive, though. Somehow, he's still f*cking alive.

They've already been to the hospital once to see one of the fresher bodies in the morgue, so Dean knows exactly where to go. He fully just screeches to a halt outside the emergency entrance and blares on the horn until he breaks away to scramble over Cas to get the passenger-side door open. He blares on the horn again, keeping his other hand pressed to Cas' stomach, his bursts of panicked breathing almost matching Cas' strained puffs of air perfectly.

Eventually, finally, someone comes to figure out why someone is making so much noise, and then it's a blur of raised voices and a rush of people appearing to get Cas out of the car and onto a stretcher. He shouts at someone, and someone shouts at him, and he's covered in blood and getting pushed to the side and Cas is being whisked away with a team of doctors, and sir, you're not allowed to go in there, you need to calm down, you're in shock—

Dean isn't in shock. He doesn't go into shock. He's been through too much to be shocked like this. God tried to kill him, multiple times, and failed. He doubts that this is going to be what shocks him.

Nevertheless, Dean feels abnormally numb as a kind nurse with a soothing tone leads him to a room and sits with him. She doesn't ask questions, but she does make him eat and drink something, and she keeps him relatively calm until the police show up.

That's a whole other sh*tshow, because Dean is covered in Cas' blood, and Dean showed up with the stab-victim, so obviously there's going to be a lot of questions. Dean finds himself uncharacteristically stumbling through his answers, his mind scrambled, and he keeps getting distracted by asking the nurse if Cas is okay. No one will tell him anything, and they all want him to answer questions, and Dean can barely keep his story straight.

The most they get out of him is what story Dean can stitch together in his state. Just that Cas was mugged on the other side of town, far away from where a dead body is currently, and that the mugger got away. No, Dean didn't see any defining features. Dean was a little busy getting Cas to the f*cking hospital. Can Dean wash the blood off of his hands now, please? Dean has rights, you know!

Dean hides in the bathroom, turns on the faucet as hard as it will go, and then calls Sam.

"Hey, what's up?" Sam answers cheerfully, and it's so surreal that Dean's head spins. Sam sounds perfectly okay, like nothing is wrong in the world, but Cas is apparently in emergency surgery and might be dead for all Dean knows, and none of this is okay. "Dean? Hey, you there?"

Dean tucks the phone between his ear and shoulder, shoving his shaking hands beneath the water. "I need you to, um—I need—" He wheezes out a harsh breath, scrubbing furiously at the dried blood under his nails. "Sammy, I need you to get here, okay? I need—I need you to—"

"Woah, hey, what's going on?" Sam abruptly sounds serious, the muffled sounds in the background going silent. "Dean, what happened?"

"I don't know," Dean whispers hoarsely, bracing his hands on the side of the sink. It leaves smudges of pink from where he's shaking. "There was—I didn't even see it. I just—I looked up, and Cas was stabbed, and he's in the hospital, Sam. He's in surgery, but I don't know if he's—I don't know—"

"Okay, okay, we're on the way. Eileen and I are on the way right now."

"The kid. You can't tell Jack, Sammy, 'cause I don't know if Cas—they won't tell me, and I—"

Sam releases a harsh noise on the line, and there's the distant sound of a door slamming. A beat later, a car cranks up. "Jack wanted to go spend time with Claire and Kaia, so Eileen and I took him. We only just got back, actually. He's not here. It's okay, Dean, and I'm sure Cas is…"

Dean's breath shudders out of him as he slams his hand into the soap dispenser, gathering too much and scrubbing his hands together. "I'm sorry," he says, which is such a weird thing to say right now, but he is. He really f*cking is.

"It's fine. Everything is fine," Sam replies, tone sharp. "Dean, hey, I need you to focus. I need you to tell me, are the police there? What's the story?"

"Um, yeah. Yeah. Um." Dean blinks hard down at his trembling fingers, swallowing thickly. "Right. Uh, the police are here. I wasn't—I didn't even really think, I just gave 'em our first names, told 'em Cas was mugged. You gotta come up with something, Sam. We need—we need papers, and—and—"

"I'll handle it. Tell 'em your last name is Smith. Cas' can be Carson. We've got paper trails for both of those aliases already, so I can figure something out. Just keep saying you didn't see anything."

"I got a dead body in the trunk, Sam. It's—well, it looks like me."



"Okay. Um." Sam blows out a deep breath, then curses quietly. He pauses for a beat. "Okay, so park Baby out of the way as soon as you can. We'll handle that as soon as we get there. Anything else?"

"There was a second shifter. I killed it and just left it there. Cas was—he was bleeding, I didn't have time to do anything," Dean croaks. He scrubs at his hands a bit more, though they're clean now. "Sam, I don't know how he's alive. It was an angel blade to his gut. Can he even survive that?"

Sam is silent.

"Sam?" Dean rasps. "Sam, can he survive that?"

"Just—just don't say too much of anything until I get there, okay?" Sam mutters, and Dean's eyes sink shut. "Remember, Smith and Carson. You didn't see who mugged you. Call me if anything changes, Dean, I mean it."

"Yeah," Dean whispers, his eyes hot and his chest tight. "Yeah, I—I will. Just...get here."

"We're coming, Dean," Sam says, his voice softening a little. "We're on the way."

Dean stays in the bathroom for a bit longer, still trying to clean his hands, even though there's no more blood on them. Eventually, someone knocks and asks if he's okay, and Dean takes another few minutes to rinse his face and try to regulate his breathing. He stares at himself in the mirror, doesn't even recognize himself, then screws his eyes shut and turns away from his reflection.

Back into the fray, Dean has to give more in depth answers to both the police and the nurses. He at least has a story now, though, some aliases at the ready as well. He is allowed to go park Baby at some point, and he puts her in the corner of a nearly empty parking lot a few streets over, then runs all the way back to the hospital.

When he gets back, the kind nurse from before shows him where the waiting room is, and the police leave with basically no information.

No matter how many times Dean asks, no one can tell him anything about Cas. He asks a lot. Every half hour, pretty much. The nurses take pity on him to begin with and try to soothe him, but after the fourth hour, they start getting annoyed. He doesn't care. He keeps going back, no matter how many times they tell him that someone will update him as soon as they can. He feels like he's going insane. Every second is a slow torture, and Dean spends hours just pacing in the waiting room, various people littered around watching him with pity.

At some point, the police come back and get an actual statement from him. Again, they don't have much to go off of, and they can't really do much more until Cas wakes up. They leave again.

Dean sits down eventually, the heels of his hands pressed into his eyes, elbows braced on his knees, bent over as he tries to stop freaking the f*ck out. A little girl keeps trying to get him to play with her, and Dean can't even bring himself to indulge her, or do much more than shrug when her mother apologizes profusely and scolds the little girl.

Some eight odd hours or so later, Sam and Eileen come whisking into the hospital, and Dean almost gags on his relief. Sam immediately sweeps him off to a quiet corner to get every single detail of what needs to be done, and then he and Eileen disappear to go do it, just like that. Dean watches them go, the phantom squeeze of Sam's hand on his shoulder still lingering, a weak comfort in all this sh*t.

Two hours after they're gone, they're back, and they settle in with Dean to wait. Sam assures him in low tones that both shifters are handled and everything will be fine. Eileen gets a bag of peanuts from the vending machine and makes Dean eat half of them, then ends up playing with the little girl that Dean hadn't been able to. Dean goes back to pacing and harassing the nurses, but now he's not alone in it.

Another hour passes, and the hospital isn't as crowded anymore. It's night now. Quieter. Dean's thoughts seem so much louder in his head, and that's worse. He just keeps thinking about the way Cas' eyes flickered before he hit the ground.

"I don't understand," Dean admits in a low rasp, aware that Sam is watching him, listening. "It should have—it was an angel blade. They're fatal every single time, aren't they? Immediately, as soon as they're stabbed. But he didn't—he was—"

"I don't know," Sam murmurs, looking at him with concern etched into every line of his face. "Dean, I really couldn't tell you. I mean… It is fatal for angels, but maybe...well, Cas isn't exactly what angels are supposed to be, is he? And he's got that problem with his grace, too. So, maybe he—maybe it's okay."

"He died last time, though," Dean replies, only distantly aware that his voice cracks and goes a little tight and high with anxiety.

Sam swallows. "Yeah, but that was instantaneous. Maybe it's different this time. Angel blades are touched by God, right? But God is...well."

Dean considers that for a long moment. He knows angel blades have been used creatively not to just kill. Hell, he stabbed Crowley through the hand with one once, and he walked away. But, in general, when stabbing an angel in a direct way—rather than slicing them, or digging into spots that wouldn't be fatal—they always immediately die. Except Chuck isn't God anymore, so maybe it's different? Or, maybe Cas' grace is too faulty for it to work?

He doesn't know what the answer is, or which one will give him the hope that Cas can survive it. He ends up not replying, too lost in his own head, and they lose the thread of the conversation entirely. He sees Eileen and Sam exchange worried looks out of the corner of his eye, but he ignores it.

Less than an hour later, a nurse sticks his head in and calls out for Dean Smith, and he nearly breaks his goddamn neck trying to get across the room. Sam and Eileen surge forward as well, and they all follow him through the door.

They end up speaking to a doctor who starts off the conversation by asking if Mr. Carson has a next of kin, and Dean's knees nearly give out right then and there in the middle of the f*cking hallway.

"Doctor, we're his family," Sam says, as stern as he ever gets. "Dean is his emergency contact. Dean is his healthcare power of attorney. There is no one else to contact."

"Of course," the doctor replies, flicking her gaze to Dean, focusing on him.

The doctor proceeds to dump a whole list of things that Cas will be required to do for his recovery, which includes staying at least seven days in the hospital and making sure there's no risk of infection. Dean also gets a long list of things Cas can't do for a while after he gets out of the hospital, which pretty much boils down to no strenuous activity, stretching, or bending. The doctor is calm and concise, and Dean stares at her with his head feeling fuzzy the entire time.

Once the doctor has finally finished talking, Dean breathes out, "He's okay?"

The doctor blinks, then smiles, her face softening as she looks at him. "Yes, Mr. Smith, he's okay."

"I can see him?" Dean checks.

"He's not awake yet, and might not be until morning, but yes, you can see him. All of you can." The doctor smiles and jerks her head. "Follow me."

Cas is conked out in room 401, hooked up to an IV, the little machine beeping from the corner with his steady heartbeat. Dean pretty much immediately abandons Sam and Eileen murmuring quietly to the doctor, moving over to claim the chair beside the bed. He sinks down into it, pressing his hands together and bringing the tips of his fingers up to his mouth. He exhales slowly, shoulders slumping.

It's quiet, even after the doctor leaves. Sam and Eileen stand on the other side of the bed, staring down at Cas with complicated expressions. They're glad that Cas is alive, of course, but it is confusing how the f*ck it happened. Dean honestly couldn't care less at this point. He just fixes his gaze on the rise and fall of Cas' chest and doesn't look away.

Sam—always a man with a plan—insists on them all eating now that everything has worked out for the most part. He and Eileen take off with promises to be back, and they all come to the agreement to call Jack and Claire and everyone else now that they have more information to actually give. Dean watches them leave, then goes back to watching Cas breathe. It's calming.

"You scared the sh*t out of me," Dean whispers, lifting his gaze to roam Cas' face. It's slack with sleep—almost innocent, really.

Dean swallows and says nothing else until Sam and Eileen return with food and news that Cas' kids freaked the f*ck out and now are on the way to Texas. After that, there's nothing else really to do in a hospital room, and Cas is clearly in a deep sleep. A nurse comes in to get his vitals at some point and mentions that Cas will probably be a little woozy when he does wake up. The anesthesia, she says, but also the crazy amount of drugs he's on right now.

Once it's really late—way past visiting hours—Sam insists on getting a motel room so they can have showers and sh*t. He and Eileen get up to go, and Dean stares at them blankly when they look at him. The nurse is back again, silently fluttering around Cas' bed. She goes ignored.

"Dude," Sam says, "you need to get a shower and change clothes, man. Cas isn't going anywhere, I promise. He'll be here in the morning."

"I'm staying," Dean tells him, firm and with finality, and Sam doesn't look particularly surprised.

Dean does, in fact, stay. He doesn't move from the chair, not even to get the remote on the other side of the bed to turn the TV on. Actually, he doesn't really move at all until he settles down a little more, getting as comfortable as he can. He's pretty sure he's about to fall asleep, but he fights it anyway.

It's stupid, but he has this irrational fear that he'll close his eyes, and all of this will go away. Like, he's gotta watch Cas' chest to make sure it keeps rising and falling, because if he doesn't, it might stop. He's never been this furious about falling asleep before.

In the end, he sucks it up and reaches out to grab Cas' hand, because that's about the only thing he can think of that's going to serve as comfort enough for him to shut his eyes. It works a treat. Cas' hand is cool, but the pulse in his wrist is pressed right up against Dean's, so he can feel it beating. He exhales and lets his eyes flutter shut, their fingers threaded loosely together as he drifts off.

The hand-holding serves as a good alarm system, because Dean jolts awake the moment he feels a tug on his hand. He snaps up in his chair, instantly alert, and Cas is squinting at him through cloudy, confused blue eyes.

"Dean?" he rasps.

"Hey, Cas," Dean mumbles, leaning forward. "'Bout time you got around to waking up."

Cas blinks hard, his head rearing back a little. He looks vaguely alarmed. "I have—oh. Ah, Dean, my head feels abnormally...heavy. And slow."

Dean huffs a weak laugh. "Yeah, you're all kinds of doped up right now, man."

"I do not feel awake," Cas states. He blinks at Dean again, then smiles. "Are you real?"

"Well, what the hell else would I be?"

"I'm not sure. A dream? You look like a dream."

"I don't—I don't actually know what that means, Cas," Dean admits, squeezing their still-tangled fingers and smiling a little, unable to stop it.

Cas makes a low, pleased noise and lets his head flop back against the pillow. He tries to reach out with his free hand like he's about to touch Dean's face, but it gets caught and tugged from the IV and the wires, and he clicks his tongue a little clumsily. His small frown is practically a pout, and Dean brings their threaded fingers up to his lips, hiding his smile behind it. Cas gets distracted by that, apparently, and Dean turns his hand, letting his cheek rest against their tangled fingers.

"Mr. Carson?" There's a knock on the door as the nurse sticks her head into the room, and she smiles when she sees that Cas is awake. "Ah, this is good. You've got some more visitors, Mr. Carson."

"Who's Mr. Carson?" Cas murmurs, squinting at the nurse with blatant distrust.

"That'd be you, Cas," Dean tells him, squeezing his fingers again as he tugs their hands back down to the bed. He tries to give Cas a significant look, but he has no idea if Cas catches it in the state he's in.

"Now, you should be feeling a little woozy and very nice right about now," the nurse says as she pushes the door open and leads in Sam and Eileen, "but you'll start feeling more alert here soon. We're going to get your vitals for now, but once you're more clearheaded, we'll have some questions and explanations for you. The police will, too."

Cas flicks his gaze to Dean. "I don't know this woman."

"She's your nurse, Cas. You're in the hospital," Dean says, fighting valiantly not to laugh. "Just—listen to her, dude. It's fine."

"Good to see you awake, Cas," Sam comments, perching up beside Dean with Eileen leaning against his side. They're both smiling and look as if they got much better sleep than Dean did.

"Hello, Sam, Eileen," Cas says. "I know you."

"Yes, you do," Sam agrees, visibly amused. He keeps darting his gaze down to their hands, but Dean flat out refuses to meet his gaze.

"Why am I in the hospital?" Cas asks.

"Do you remember?" the nurse cuts in before anyone else can inform him.

Cas shoots her another shrewd look, eyes narrowing with suspicion. "I remember...hm. Not very much. I think—was I stabbed? It was a Shapeshifter, wasn't it?" He looks towards Dean at that point, clearly waiting for confirmation. "Dean?"

"Shapeshifters, muggers, all the same, really," Dean says with a loose shrug as the nurse glances over at him. He gives her a bright smile, then winks when she chuckles and goes back to what she was doing.

"Can I have a different nurse?" Cas asks abruptly, cutting the nurse a harsh glare out of nowhere, albeit a slightly squinty one that's off-center because his head is tipping to the side.

Sam heaves a sigh. "Oh boy, here we go."

Here, in fact, they do go, because Cas proceeds to be one of the worst patients Dean has ever seen for however long it takes for him to come down from the drugs and actually have some sense of clarity. By the time that's happened, though, Cas has been argumentative, uncooperative, and even outright rude to his nurse—who he seems to dislike the most. Throughout all of this, Cas doesn't let Dean's hand go, and he keeps making these sarcastic comments that he no doubt thinks are quiet but actually aren't.

Around the time he gets his head about him, he tells his nurse that he's very sorry and she's wonderful at her job, but he does all of this with pain straining his face because, without the drugs, he's starting to feel the wound. With this pain comes the sudden understanding for Mr. Carson and the being mugged story. It's in just enough time for the police to show up and demand to get a statement from him.

It's the first time their hands break apart, and Cas' fingers tighten around his the moment he stands up. Dean looks at him for a beat, then murmurs, "Hey, it's cool, man. I'm just gonna be right outside. I'm not going anywhere, Cas."

The heart monitor spikes, and Cas wrenches his hand back so fast that Dean feels the burn of the motion afterwards. Cas closes his eyes, a dash of red brightening across the bridge of his nose, under his eyes, down into his cheeks. A blush. He looks f*cking humiliated, but Dean is delighted. He grins and opens his mouth to say something else, but Eileen grabs his arm and yanks him towards the door, the heart monitor slowly easing as they go.

Cas is left alone to be interrogated by the cops, and Dean is left alone with the knowing, piercing gaze of his bigger little brother. Out of the two of them, Dean clearly drew the short straw.

But, surprisingly, Sam takes a different route, leaning in and pinning Dean with a serious look, his voice a little gentle as he says, "I know you're going to want to stay the whole week, Dean, but you're going to have to leave and take a shower, get some clothes, get some sleep. Things like that. You gotta make sure to take care of yourself, too. Cas is fine."

"I know," Dean mumbles. "Sam, I know, I just—"

"You were freaked out. I get it." Sam smiles slightly, and it's a sad one, for some reason.

Dean swallows. "Sometimes, I think about all the times that he died—that we did—and then came back, and I figure the world's gonna try to correct itself one day. And I just—"

"I know," Sam says, his voice soft. "It's different now, especially, because we're...free."

"Free to live," Dean croaks, "and free to die."

Sam sighs. "Still better than the alternative, though."

"Not when it's him," Dean whispers, then immediately looks away, reaching up to swipe his hand over his mouth, clearing his throat. He takes a step back, turning away, putting that admission behind him because it's too raw, it's too real.

It's one of his biggest fears that they're all just walking corpses that don't know they're dead yet, and that he'll be the last to figure it out.

There's a heavy silence between them, only interrupted when the doctor slips into the room to, presumably, check on Cas and finally explain some recovery things to him, as well as check on his wound. The cops are still in there, but they come back out right around the time that Eileen shows back up with a package of oreos.

They spend the next few minutes talking to the police, who swear they'll do everything that they can, except they can't do much because they don't really have anything to go off of. Dean makes sure not to give them a hard time. The sooner the cops are out of their hair, the better.

After, Dean heads back into the room with Sam and Eileen. The nurse comes in behind them, and she has no qualms about walking through the curtain drawn around the bed. Dean and Sam awkwardly linger outside of it while Eileen munches on her oreos, swaying from side to side and dancing a little like she does when she really enjoys food.

When the curtain yanks back as the doctor and nurse leave again, Dean is quick to steal the chair once more, aware that he's going to be spending a lot of time in it over the next week. Cas looks tired, but he gives them a small smile when they swoop in and start demanding to know the updates.

Cas has been given medicine again, so it's not a surprise when he falls asleep under an hour later. Sam fusses at Dean to go get a shower and change clothes, eat and sleep, then come back. He swears that he and Eileen won't leave, and everything will be fine, and Dean doesn't really doubt him, but he also doesn't really want to go.

In the end, Eileen bullies him into it, stating that Cas is passed out and won't give him points for sticking around, then practically shoves him out the door. The nurse gives him a sympathetic, knowing smile on his way out as she comes in yet again.

Dean sighs and leaves.

He showers. He changes clothes. He swings through a drive-thru to get a burger, fries, and co*ke. He goes back to the hospital. It takes him a little over an hour to do all of this. Sam fixes him with a flat look when he returns, and Eileen rolls her eyes as she hops out of the chair to let him have his spot back.

Sam and Eileen linger for the rest of the day again, updating Jack and Claire in regular intervals. Dean's phone is dead, and he doesn't give a sh*t about charging it. The TV is playing one of those stupid cop procedural shoes that are all interchangeable. Cas sleeps for f*cking hours, and Dean watches his chest rise and fall more than he watches the TV.

By the time nightfall rolls around, Sam and Eileen are heading out to sleep at the hotel before coming back in the morning, likely with a large group in tow, because Claire is breaking the speed limit, apparently. Dean settles in his chair and gets ready to fall asleep again, reaching out to take Cas' hand the moment the door shuts, leaving them alone.

He jerks awake in the middle of the night when the nurse on the night shift comes in. Her and Cas are talking quietly, and they both pause to look at him when he sits up. The nurse smiles at him, and Cas' fingers spasm around Dean's.

"I'm just checking on him, that's all," the nurse murmurs. "Is there anything I can get you, Mr. Smith? A blanket might help."

"No, I'm—well, it is kinda cold. Uh, thanks." Dean knuckles at his eyes with his free hand, smothering a yawn. "Just call me Dean, by the way."

"Sure thing," she replies, then smiles warmly at Cas and slips out of the room.

Dean blinks at Cas. "You okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine." Cas settles back into his pillows, lips twitching down. "I don't appreciate the effect the medication has on me. I'm very...lethargic."

"I noticed." Dean pauses, reflexively squeezing Cas' hand again before diving into this next question. He has a feeling it's gonna be a tough one. "We haven't really had the time to talk about it, but...do you know what happened? We've been trying to figure it out, but we haven't thought of anything concrete so far. How did you survive that, Cas? Are you…"

"Human?" Cas supplies wearily. He heaves a sigh and rolls his head to the side, his eyes strangely solemn. "No, not really. I'm not particularly an angel anymore, either. My grace is… It's nothing more than a wisp now, a mere echo. There, but nothing truly substantial. It's so depleted that the angel blade stabbing me had nothing to truly connect to and destroy, so the wound registered as it would for a human. But I do have grace, for all that it's not very much, so I'm also...not human."

Dean chews on the inside of his bottom lip, mulling that over for a long moment. "We thought because angel blades are touched by God, but Chuck is out of the picture now...so maybe that had something to do with it, ya know?"

"Perhaps," Cas murmurs, his gaze downcast. "I wouldn't know, and there would be no true way to find out. There aren't very many angels left."

"Well, let's not test it out. No reason to look a gift-horse in the mouth anyway." Dean crooks a lopsided grin at him. "Whatever it is, I'm glad, man. You'd be dead otherwise."

"Yes," Cas agrees, but he doesn't sound happy or relieved the way that Dean does.

"Cas," Dean says, "what is it? Talk to me, dude. I can't read your mind here."

"It's just…" Cas looks away, the column of his throat bobbing up and down. His fingers tighten around Dean's, then go slack, flexing and spasming. An unconscious gesture. His eyes are a little shiny with hurt, and Dean's heart f*cking clenches. "I'm not a human, but I'm not much of an angel. I don't even know if I'd be able to heal anyone anymore, Dean. Everything I was… I was an angel, and now…"

"Hey, you're still—" Dean leans forward, ducking his head until Cas will finally meet his gaze and actually hold it. "Cas, listen to me, you're still an angel. You'll be a goddamn angel until the day you die, and probably beyond that, even if you didn't have a scrap of grace in you. Just—you've always been an angel, man, and you always will be, and you're the best out of all of 'em. You don't need wings, or grace, or a damn halo and harp to prove it, okay?"

Cas' heart monitor immediately goes irregular as soon as Dean has said this, and Cas is looking at him with wide eyes, blue and fathomless, lips parted. He looks like he's seeing the divine, even though he certainly has before and Dean definitely can't compare. Nonetheless, Cas is awestruck, and it's a really good look on him, to say the least.

"You should probably calm down," Dean murmurs, lips curling up as he sweeps his thumb over the side of Cas' hand that he's still holding onto, stroking it lightly. If anything, the heart monitor spikes even worse, and Cas glares at it like he wants to put his fist through it. Dean chuckles and keeps right on sweeping his thumb back and forth. "Relax, Cas. Seriously, you're gonna have a team of doctors and nurses in here worrying about your ticker if you're not careful. They might kick me out."

"I won't let them," Cas mutters with that undercurrent of defiance that always exists in him. He huffs when Dean grins at him. "Stop. Go back to sleep. I didn't mean to interrupt your rest."

"It's no big thing. I'm glad you're awake."

"I'm still tired."

"Well, yeah, you're recovering, dude."

"It's the drugs."

Dean snorts at the bitterness in Cas' tone. "Yeah, let's blame it on the drugs. Go the f*ck to sleep."

"I will." Cas keeps looking at him, blinking slow. He does look tired, but for a guy who was stabbed, he looks awfully content, too. His heart monitor is calm again, and it stays that way for a while.

The nurse comes back in with a couple of blankets, also a bonus pillow because she's awesome. Dean tells her this, and she chuckles as she heads back out. Cas' eyes are a little droopy by now, but he's still just watching Dean, so Dean squirms to get comfortable in the chair. He stuffs the pillow behind his head with one hand, awkwardly fumbling to get the legs of the chair lifted. He has to adjust his elbow and shoulders a little so he can keep holding Cas' hand, but he does it. He refuses to let go.

"Goodnight, Cas," Dean mumbles, tilting his head back and letting his eyes slip shut.

"Dean," Cas says, low and raspy, secretive.

"Hm?" Dean asks, not even opening his eyes.

The heart monitor jumps again, and Cas murmurs, "Why are you holding my hand?"

"Uh." Dean's brain goes blank, and he's suddenly very glad that he doesn't have a heart monitor, too. Cas' is bad enough, because it's sending all kinds of wild pings at the moment. Dean lifts his head, looking at Cas, mouth dry. "Well, I just—I...figured you wouldn't mind. Do you mind?"

"No," Cas replies quickly, almost too quickly. It doesn't answer his question, but he closes his eyes and settles in. "It's fine."

"Okay, uh, good." Dean clears his throat and drops his head back, exhaling quietly. "Yeah, good."

They don't say anything else, but it takes a few more minutes before Cas' heart rate goes back to normal. Dean sweeps his thumb back and forth, and he doesn't let go. Cas' fingers eventually slacken a little with real sleep, and Dean keeps right on tracing a line up and down his skin, right up until he drifts off to sleep, too. They don't let go, though.

Well, they don't until the next morning when they both jerk apart as Claire bangs her way into the room, berating Cas for being stupid before he's even fully awake. Jack comes in at a more sedate pace, but he keeps asking if Cas is really okay, and there's a pretty prominent frown on his face. Sam and Eileen come in with Kaia, and they all have food with them.

Day three is much like the two days before it, except the kids are here now. Claire plops down on the end of Cas' bed and makes fun of his hospital socks. Jack asks the nurse for a pair. Cas smiles so, so softly as they do their own version of fussing over him, and Dean has to look away so he can breathe.

So, the hospital stay continues in this vein for basically the whole time. During the day, there's those stupid cop shows. There's Sam and Eileen hovering, occasionally bullying Dean into leaving to actually clean up before coming back. There's the kids being either a thorn in all their sides, or the greatest source of entertainment available, absolutely no in between. There's the nurses coming in and out, sometimes making everyone leave to dress the wound and check how Cas is healing, keeping an eye out for infection. There's the walks that Cas has to go on, which he complains is never long enough, because he hates lying around so much. There's hospital food that Cas has to force himself to eat, even if he hates it, and then Cas sleeps a crazy amount and is pissed about it.

At night, when everyone else leaves to go back to the hotel rooms, Dean stays. He takes Cas' hand. Sometimes, they both just sleep, holding on. Other times, they wake up and talk about nothing of importance—hospital gossip, mostly. They don't let go until the morning, when visitors show back up.

Two days before Cas is released, Claire and Kaia head out. Claire bitches at Cas some more, but she also squeezes his hand before she goes. Kaia gives Dean a fist-bump and promises Cas that she'll make sure Claire stays out of trouble, or she'll try.

The day before Cas is released, Sam and Eileen head out early to the Bunker with Jack so they can make the place a little more accessible for Cas, who will still need to keep taking it easy. This means pulling down coffee cups from the cabinets before Cas' stubborn ass can reach for them, and it means putting a chair next to Cas' bed so he doesn't try to get in and out of it without something to hold onto.

The day Cas is released, Dean wakes up when the nurse on the day shift comes in—Melody—and smiles at him and the still-sleeping Cas.

"Morning, Dean," Melody greets quietly. At this point, they're all on a first name basis with each other, especially Dean and the nurses. He's almost always here, so he'd have to be.

"Morning," Dean replies easily. "Told Vivian goodbye last night. Pretty sure she almost cried."

"Cas has been a dream," Melody replies with a grin, shuffling over to set her computer up. "I know he was in a lot of pain; he had to have been. Usually, when patients are in pain like that, they can be very grumpy and mean. We're used to it. We get it, you know? But Cas was always so nice. Really makes you remember why you come to work."

"Even though he was kind of a dick to you in the beginning?" Dean teases.

Melody huffs a quiet laugh. "I think that was mostly the heavy drugs, plus you're a natural flirt."

"A—what?" Dean blinks at her, thrown. "I'm a natural flirt, and that somehow made him be a dick to you? Jesus, how is that my fault?"

"A little bit of jealousy in a relationship is normal, no big deal. Outside of being heavily sedated, he seems to find it funny when you flirt with all the nurses," Melody tells him. "Seems pretty secure in the relationship to me. Plus, between you and me, the flirting isn't really flirting, is it? You're just making sure we're all having a good time. We appreciate that, you know, because you're kind about it. That makes our jobs a little more fun, so you've been great to have around, too. Sometimes, spouses and families can make things harder."

Dean stares at her for a long moment, his mouth hanging open, stunned to realize that she assumed he and Cas were—are—

And, well, why wouldn't she? Why wouldn't all the staff at the hospital? They keep walking in on him and Cas holding hands. He and Cas are holding hands right now. Dean is Cas' emergency contact and healthcare power of attorney, though that's courtesy of Sam's skills with fabricating documents. So, yeah, it makes sense that she would think that.

There's a kind of thrill to it, to getting to pretend a little, even for a moment. Dean's mouth snaps shut, and he has to duck his head to hide a grin as he mutters, "Yeah, uh, that makes sense. Well, I'm glad we made things easier for everyone."

Melody smiles at him, then proceeds to go through a long list of things Cas needs to do and not do, what he can and cannot eat, as well as how long it's recommended to wait before engaging in any strenuous activity, up to and including the sexual kind. Dean's pretty sure his eyes cross when she mentions that one, but she doesn't seem to notice.

Cas wakes up at some point, and he seems pleased when remembering that he gets to go home today. He listens to what the nurse tells him, being a model patient. They have to wait around for the doctor to come by and give them yet another rundown, a couple of packets of information, some prescriptions they gotta pick up at a pharmacy on the way home, and then they wait another hour before Cas is officially discharged. He gets to change into the clothes Dean went out and got him, which is just a generic t-shirt and jogging pants, and then he's walking out a free man.

Well, shuffling out, just a little.

The moment they're in Baby and a good three hours down the road, heading back up to Kansas, Cas is out like a f*cking light. Dean huffs a fond laugh and reaches over to tangle their fingers together.

I love you, he thinks, and he keeps thinking it, and keeps thinking it, and doesn't stop thinking it.


Dean sweet sometimes 🥺

Chapter 3: The Doing


Have fun!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Dean loves Cas, he really does, but he's about to punch him in the face here in a second.

"Jason is a goddamn idiot, Cas. He's a tool."

"He's stupid in an...endearing way."

"Endearing?" Dean sputters, slamming the cup of coffee down on the table, ignoring the small sigh that Sam lets out. "He f*cks anything that walks!"

Cas arches an eyebrow. "The amount of sexual desire someone feels is not a measurement to judge their character. There is nothing wrong with how much sex he has with other, consenting adults."

"He objectifies women," Dean says, distractedly flipping Sam off when he snorts.

"It's a television show, and he means well. He is a good friend, or he tries to be. He cares about his sister very much. In fact, Sookie's love for her brother could be considered a good indicator of his character," Cas responds.

Dean scoffs, snatching the coffee cup away when Cas tries to grab it. "You like him 'cause he's pretty, don't you dare f*cking deny it."

"You like Tara because she's beautiful," Cas retorts.

"Not just because she's beautiful. Tara is awesome. She could probably kick my ass," Dean argues.

Cas' lips twitch, and he inclines his head. "That is true. Nonetheless, I do think there is more to Jason than him just being a little stupid."

"Just say he's nice to look at and call it a day," Dean mutters, shaking his head and taking a sip of his coffee. True Blood is going to ruin their friendship.

"Maybe Cas doesn't think he's attractive," Sam suggests, adding input to the conversation, despite never having seen the show.

"He's a dumbass, but he is attractive," Dean argues.

Sam's head whips up towards him. "Like...broadly speaking? Does he just fill that role in shows where everyone would be willing to have sex with him?"

It's a trap, except Dean doesn't even see it, because the next thing he knows, he's carelessly rattling off a flippant, "I mean, as long as he wasn't saying stupid sh*t, I'd f*ck him. Yeah, that's his role, I think."

There's a beat of silence.

It takes Dean a second to run that last bit back over in his head, and then it becomes very clear why Sam and Cas are staring at him with identical looks that can be summed up as what did he just say?

Oh. Well, damn. That's...not how he planned to handle that. To be fair, he sort of planned to never handle it, actually. Just quietly hold it close to his chest and let only Jack and Eileen know. But, that's the thing about adjusting, at some point...you do.

Dean has been thinking of himself as a bonafied bisexual with increasing casualness ever since he first realized he had feelings for Cas. He's come up with numerous funny things to call it in his head, because humor helps—being half-gay, a sexual chimera, someone who took Adam and Eve a little too literally, a lover of the multifacetes of available beauty in the world, a person with no desire to make a solidified decision on anything, ever. In short, Dean has accepted himself pretty much the only way that feels right—cracking jokes until he can smile about it, until he's at ease with it.

So at ease, it seems, that it just slips right on out. Charlie would be laughing her ass off right now.

The longer the silence stretches, and the longer that Cas and Sam just stare at him, the less comfortable Dean feels. He's starting to get hot around his collar, an unpleasant squirming feeling in his chest.

He realizes now how he used to think about what he'd want people to do in response to him telling them wasn't exactly straight behavior. Actually, come to think of it, a lot of sh*t he's done over the years wasn't. But he can ponder and panic over that at a later date. For now, he has to mourn the fact that he already knows how he wants this to go, and how it's going is the exact opposite.

Sam breaks first, blinking and clearing his throat. He sits up a little straighter in his chair. "Okay, I didn't know that you...um."

He seems to find himself in a pickle, and Dean would feel bad for him at any other time. The thing is, Sam actually did know that Dean wasn't straight, because he had to know if he knew about Dean's feelings for Cas. But he clearly can't come out and just say that. Thank f*ck for small mercies.

"Well, yeah. Guys, am I right?" Dean says weakly, lifting his coffee and taking a long slurp, looking far away from both of them.

"So, you're..." Sam trails off.

Dean coughs. "Bisexual. The pan one. No labels? Whatever, too many people are hot. I can be whatever I wanna be. Shut up."

"Right," Sam says. "Right. Okay, so—"

"Nope." Dean holds up a hand. "Don't start. It's not a big deal, and I don't need you preaching to me about me. Support me by shutting up."

"I'm not going to preach at you, Dean," Sam tells him with a huff. "I just wanted to—"

"Sammy, please stop."


"There's literally nothing you could say that would make this better," Dean admits.

Sam looks stricken in an instant. "What? Oh god, Dean, I'm sorry. I—"

"You're not shutting up," Dean interrupts, starting to feel a little better. He's amused now. Nothing like tormenting his little brother to cheer him up. "You mean well, but I'm being serious about nothing you could say would make it better. In this case, less is definitely more. I'd rather you not say anything at all."

"I'm sorry," Sam says again, deflating like a popped balloon. He's probably going to cry in his pillow tonight. This is likely the first time he's ever f*cked up being supportive in a situation like this, and he did it with his brother.

There's something kind of amusing about that, as well as endearing. Sam tries so hard, just because he cares so much. Knowing him, there's a chance he had a whole speech planned out in his head, maybe some articles to link him to, possibly some tears and hugging thrown in somewhere. Instead, he's got this. Sam staring at Dean like he's from a different planet, then being told to shut up.

Dean's not sure if he would have enjoyed anything else as much as this. He has an absurd burst of affection for Sam, just for the way he's probably going to never let himself live this moment down, and how it's probably actually hurting his feelings that he didn't get to do it the way he feels is right. Heart of gold, that one.

In a weird way, Dean's kinda glad that it went this way, instead of smooth sailing. It reminds him that they're all a little stupid, as well as human. Plus, it gives him a huge upper hand that he can and will be using as ammunition for a long time.

"So, when you said Jason was pretty, you meant you actually thought he was pretty," Cas says.

Dean turns to look at him, struggling not to fidget. When it comes to Cas, this is a little complicated. He clears his throat. "Well, he ain't ugly. He's still stupid, though."

"Hm," is Cas' diplomatic response, and he looks away, his gaze a little distant. His voice is soft and thoughtful when he speaks next. "Right. Of course."

Cas looks like he's going through something over there, and Dean wants to pretend it has nothing to do with him, so he focuses back on Sam. "Gotta question. It's a gay question. Uh, sort of."

"Shoot," Sam says weakly.

"What's the term for when someone isn't a boy or a girl?" Dean asks, leaning forward on his elbows.

"Um, agender, I'm pretty sure. Nonbinary and genderqueer are umbrella terms, I think, and I guess it's up to the person more than anything," Sam replies, like the walking encyclopedia he is.

Dean snaps his fingers. "See, I knew I read that somewhere. Ya know, I noticed that the gays have a whole lotta terms and definitions, but it's also kind of a just do whatever feels right thing, too. Be your true self, or whatever. Anyway, Jack's that."

"Jack's what?" Sam asks.

"The agender thing. Or the other one. Any of those, I think. He isn't a boy or a girl. Get this," Dean informs them, "he's just Jack, and we can call him whatever the hell we want."

"I thought that was kind of like an angel thing," Sam admits, shooting a glance at Cas, who looks like he needs someone to snap fingers in front of his face.

"Maybe. I mean, angels never seemed to give a f*ck. Cas didn't when he first got here, remember? But he's a dude. He ended up being a dude, anyway."

"He identified as a man."

"We just said the same thing, but differently."

"Yeah, I think we do a lot of that."

Dean snorts, and he rolls his eyes when Sam's lips twitch down. "Dude, chill out. It's fine. The less of a big deal you make this, the better."

"I just really want to tell you all the ways I'm fine with it," Sam admits, strained like he's actually forcing himself not to do it.

"You don't gotta. I already know." Dean taps his fingers to the side of his cup. "It's not a big deal."

"Yeah, but you're my brother."

"I hate to tell you this after all these years, Sammy, but the truth is… You're adopted."

Sam huffs, but he's smiling a little. "Wouldn't that be the worst luck? Being adopted into this family?"

"Jack seems to be happy."

"He died before he turned three, Dean. Anyway, he didn't have Dad for a dad. He has Cas."

"I think I added some aspects of Dad to it, though. Not proud of it," Dean admits, "but I did. On to greener pastures, though. He's spoiled."

"You spoil him," Sam declares.

Dean arches an eyebrow. "I put a gun to his head. Damn right I spoil him. I won't discipline him a day in his life. That's on Cas, not me."

"Cas spoils him," Sam points out.

"Cas has a soft spot for kids. Leave him alone." Dean shrugs and hides a smile behind his cup, then holds it out and nudges Cas' arm, urging him to take it. He has to push him a little harder to get him to snap out of his weird trance. "Can you be normal about this before you give me a complex, dude?"

"What?" Cas blinks at him, then takes the cup a little mechanically. "Oh. Yes, of course."

"Sam says you spoil Jack," Dean tells him.

Cas frowns. "You spoil Jack, Dean."

"I tried to stuff the kid in a box without asking you first," Dean mutters. "Hell yeah I spoil him."

"Good," Cas says simply and sips their coffee. A beat later, he downs it entirely and plops the cup down. "Do you want to go watch True Blood?"

"Yeah, sure," Dean agrees.

Sam clicks his tongue. "Dude, you're on dishes."

"Oh, I see. Trying to give the gays the chores. That's kinda hom*ophobic, Sammy," Dean tells him, biting back a grin as he pushes to his feet. Before Sam can protest, Dean reaches out to grab Cas' shoulders, marching him out of the kitchen.

Sam is left alone, sputtering, stuck with the dishes.

"I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover. My heart's been borrowed and yours has been blue," Dean croons, swiping the rag along the undercarriage of Baby. "All's well that ends well to end up with you. Swear to be overdramatic and true...to my lover. And you'll save all your dirtiest jokes for me. And at every table, I'll save you a seat, lover. Can I go where you go? Can we always be this close, forever and—"


Jolting, Dean tries to sit up and bangs his head off metal, cursing under his breath. Grimacing, he rubs at the sore spot and tries to swipe his hands clean on the hand-towel used specifically for Baby. He starts pulling himself out from under her, first just dragging his feet, then clasping the side and tugging himself out. He rolls to a stop and sits up, blinking up at Cas, who blinks down at him.

"Hey. Hi. Hey, Cas. Did you, um—did you hear—"

"I won't tell Sam," Cas cuts in.

Dean grins before he can stop it, sticking his hand up in the air, the generic creeper seat shifting and sliding as he moves. "'Course you won't, 'cause you're the best. Help me up."

Cas does, reaching out to grab his hand like he's some dainty Victorian woman who wears corsets and needs a steadying hand, instead of just grabbing his wrist like a normal person. Dean braces his feet and goes with the motion anyway, springing up and rocking forward a little too much. He has to hastily lean back to overcompensate and put some space between them, and somewhere between doing that and getting steady on his feet, he forgets to drop Cas' hand. Their clasped hands drift down, dangling in between their bodies, going ignored.

Except, well, Dean can't ignore it. He forces himself to pretend like he doesn't notice, cool as a cucumber and definitely not freaking out, but on the inside? It's a goddamn storm of chaos in there.

Cas is wearing Dean's hoodie again, but the hood is down, so it's not as dangerous as it could be. He does look unfairly softer like this, like Dean could slide his hands up under the hem of it and bask in the warmth of his skin. The mere idea makes Dean's body prickle all over.

"It's a nice song," Cas offers.

"Jack picked out, like, a bundle of Taylor Swift CD's from the store—came with some of her newer stuff, too. He made me listen to it, so blame him." Dean shrugs a little. "He's God. Can't really defy God."

Cas' lips twitch. "Of course not. That's not within your plethora of abilities and certainly hasn't happened once before. Your obedience is superlative, Dean, truly."

"What can I say? I'm a good boy who reads his Bible every night." Dean flashes him a smile. "When Jesus died, he didn't do it for me, 'cause I ain't never sinned in my life. Hey, I'm even in good with an angel."

"Ah, I'm afraid I won't be a good addition to your clean standing with God," Cas tells him. "I'll make you look worse, for I have sinned and continue to do so. Often and frequently."

Dean doesn't know why that's so hot. Why is that so hot? His brain does the equivalent of a record-scratch and cuts to static before repeating: he's a rebel, he's a rebel, he's a rebel. Heh, Dean fell in love with a bad boy. The original but mama, I'm in love with a criminal, except it's just the first God, and f*ck that guy anyway, so.

Maybe it's the often and frequently. That doesn't necessarily have to be suggestive, but Dean's mind desperately wants it to be. How often? How frequent? In what ways, list them all, please? Like the worst pick-up line in the world, Dean has the most absurd urge to offer himself up to let Cas find new ways to sin with him. A part of him thinks over Cas' most depraved moments and wonders at how big the chance is that Cas would actually do it.

Dean really missed an opportunity when Cas decided to become God. Bow down and profess your love unto me, your Lord, or I shall destroy you. First, upon reflection, Cas was just objectively a better God than Chuck anyway. Second, Dean really could have made the best of a bad situation back then if he knew what he knows now. Damn. Hindsight sure is something.

There is something kind of cute about the fact that Cas can make jokes about these things now. Once upon a time, Cas' faith and desire to be a good angel was such a staple in his life that he struggled with the things he did because of it. Even long after Heaven fell to shambles and Cas had no place with other angels, he still had such strong faith in Chuck. Now, there's some kind of freedom Cas has found in autonomy, in being a rebel and a sinner and an angel who made a family for himself with those that were never supposed to have freedom at all.

Dean obviously needs to be hosed down for finding this to be an attractive quality. Cas having hedonistic tendencies so strong that they defied every order he was supposed to follow, to the point that he alone is one of the only versions of himself that didn't fall in line—words out of Chuck's own mouth—is a trait that deserves approval and admiration, yes, but it doesn't call for Dean getting legitimately hot and bothered by it. Cas just wanted to do the right thing, save the world, win wars in Heaven, help the angels, save Dean and save Dean and save Dean. That's it. He just wanted to do good and live freely. And then, later, he wanted to be a parent to Jack, to do right by him, to keep everyone he cared about alive.

This sad, doomed little world—it's cute how much Cas loves it. It's cute that Cas rebelled, and sinned, and almost ended the world trying to save it, and built up loyal armies only to give them away, and couldn't do a goddamn thing that he was expected or told to do. It's f*cking adorable that Cas is now standing here in one of Dean's old hoodies while his kid, who is God, is inside likely trying to learn a new yo-yo trick, and he wants to experience love and steal Dean's coffee and shove himself—as well as Dean, by proxy—out of the discomfort zone. He used to explode lightbulbs walking into a room and killed cosmic beings without an ounce of regret, and now he'll hold Dean's hand and joke about sinning.

On one hand, a part of Dean that's becoming fainter and fainter the further out they get from everything that happened with Chuck feels absolutely horrified about his hand in this. And he definitely has a hand in this, because denying that would be a level of stupid he practiced only as an unwise man who didn't realize he was in love with Cas in the first place. But he does have a hand in it, and that part of him that's growing more and more muted hates it. Because it's corruption in an odd way.

Dean took Cas and touched him, softened him up, pushed him and pushed him to see the world the way that Dean did, demanded that he adjust to all these rules and constraints of a world he never expected to be a part of. Didn't even really give him a guidebook to do it, either. Just looked at Cas and wanted him in some inexplicable way, wanted him to stay and learn and be, wanted him to keep letting Dean touch him and change him and keep him.

Cas let him. Or, maybe Cas just didn't know what he was getting into until it was far too late to get out, and Dean sure as hell didn't tell him. Dean was too busy absolutely ruining him and calling it friendship. It was a ruin that had less to do with what was right and wrong and everything to do with how Dean looked at Cas and wanted to keep him, how he demanded things from him without explaining them or why he felt entitled to them, all because he didn't know how to.

In his mind, he would die for Cas, and Cas was family, and that meant Cas should never leave and never make mistakes and never die. But Cas did. He did it so much, and f*ck, it f*cked Dean up every single time. Jesus, he was so in love with Cas. He was so pathetically gone on him that it was frustrating and terrifying and fuel for anger, because they didn't have this yet. They didn't have this freedom or this calm. What they had, instead, was the separation and mistakes and death, and Dean felt at fault for it because all of it, every time something went wrong, would have never happened if he wasn't a disease that infected Cas and corrupted him. Just by wanting him.

But now, they have this. They have the after where things are calm, where freedom isn't a goal to fight for but a way of life they have to adjust to. Cas isn't gone, and he's not forced to make decisions that could come back to bite them in the ass, and he's not dead. So maybe, just maybe, the corruption doesn't have to invoke shame this time.

What Dean feared would be destruction turned out to be his midas touch.

Cas stands here in a hoodie and isn't quite an angel or a human. He has a kid, who is both a child and God. He steals Dean's coffee in the mornings and wears his clothes and has the weirdest eating habits known to man. He smiles and smiles and smiles, and he calls this place home, and he ages with the world rather than watching it age from afar. Dean looks at him and thinks you used to have the power to level whole cities, and now you bring our kid's earphones to me to untangle them because you can't do it and have no patience for it.

Dean did this to him. He touched Cas and ruined him completely, and Cas is golden.

And he tells him, like an idiot. Just stands there and blurts out, "You're perfect," because he is, he just is. A rebel, a sinner, a sh*tty angel—whatever, it doesn't matter. Dean's biased, he knows this, and maybe it's the love part, but he's fully convinced Cas is just f*cking perfect.

Cas blinks at him. "I'm far from it, actually."

"No, you're not. I mean, okay, yes. Because no one's perfect and being perfect is bullsh*t anyway, but it's because you're not perfect that you're perfect. You were supposed to be different, and not this, but you are anyway. And it's not even just because of me, because you made it your own, so it's not like I molded you into something I—" Dean cuts himself off, realizing that he's getting into dangerous territory, and also he's a little heated about this. "You're just you, and it's not—I mean, you're a gay angel, for f*ck's sake. It's just—just, you're perfect, okay? So, shut up."

"That's a very rude, inarticulate way to say a kind thing, Dean," Cas murmurs, lips curling up, his eyes brighter than before. He squeezes Dean's hand. "Is this one of those embarrassing things you didn't want me to find out from the Shapeshifter?"

Dean's face is getting hot, he can feel it. "One of 'em, maybe. Out of a few. Mostly, I just think you're annoying as all hell, so."

Lie. It's what humans do when they want something really, really bad. Jesus, he's so f*cked.

"I think you're the best man I've ever known," Cas tells him, very sincerely.

"You don't know that many people," Dean mutters, and the way he feels a jolt of warmth from the compliment is so humiliating that his face is most definitely about to melt off at any second.

Cas smiles, small and sweet. "There is no need to. I met you and knew there was no one better."

"Shut the f*ck up," Dean blurts out, on reflex. Jesus Christ, he doesn't know how to suck dick, but he is so willing to learn. Holy sh*t.

"No," Cas says simply, then proceeds to not shut the f*ck up because he's a rebel. "There is no shame in being nice. I'll be nice to you if I want. There are many kind things I think about you. I think—"

"You're my best friend, you have to think kind things about me, but the general rule of best friends is to never say them out loud. So," Dean reiterates, his heart thumping in his chest, "shut the f*ck up."

If Cas says nice things about him, Dean might just die, or do something stupid. So, he obviously can never be kind to Dean again, ever. Though, Cas being an asshole doesn't stop Dean from being stupid for him either, so maybe there's no reprieve.

Case in point. Cas rolls his eyes as he says, "Your dedication to being ridiculous astounds me," and Dean wants to make out with him so bad.

"Dick," Dean says, possibly too affectionately. He's struggling. "Did you come out here for a reason, or was there no point to giving me a headache with your name on it?"

"If it's customary to label headaches after the cause of them, all of mine would bear your name, which is truly remarkable considering that I should not even be able to get headaches," Cas tells him, arching an eyebrow. He's such a smartass, and he looks so f*cking good. Dammit. "However, yes, there was a reason that I came out here."

"Elaborate any time, man. I got all day," Dean mutters, biting back a grin when Cas narrows his eyes at him.

"There is something that we should—discuss," Cas murmurs, his face smoothing out into something much more serious.

Dean's mouth goes dry, his heart jumping up into his throat. "Yeah? What's that?"

"I spoke with Sam," Cas says, and Dean starts sweating immediately, "and he believed you'd respond better to this if it was coming from me."

"If—if what was coming from you?" Dean asks, his voice pitching higher as the panic in him starts mounting. sh*t, sh*t, sh*t. So help him, if Sam f*cking said something, Dean will actually kill him.

Cas frowns. "I don't think you need to be alarmed. Frankly, I'm not even sure if you've really...noticed. Are you aware of Sam's increasing visits to Eileen, and how he stays longer and longer each time?"

"I—" Dean snaps his mouth shut, blinking. His panic is put on pause for a second, because that's the last thing he was expecting this to be about. He needs a second to come down from the genuine fear he just experienced. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, of course I noticed. Makes sense. They're dating, in love, all that jazz. When that happens, you tend to want to spend all your time with the other person."

"I'm aware," Cas says, "and I—"

"You're aware?" Dean cuts in, his calming heartbeat spiking all over again as a new source for his dread steals over him. "You mean you know from personal experience, or—or—"

Cas' face abruptly goes blank. He doesn't even really blink. "Why wouldn't I know? That's how love is portrayed, isn't it? Especially in the media. I do have access to the television, if you've forgotten."

"Oh. Oh, right," Dean breathes out. Once again, his panic dims. He clears his throat. "Okay, sure, whatever. Um, what's the thing we need to talk about, and what's it got to do with Sam and Eileen?"

"As I said, Sam is increasingly spending more time with her, and—well, he wants her to stay. Here. In the Bunker," Cas says bluntly.

Dean waits for the point, but Cas seems to be waiting for a response. "Okay? So, he's gonna ask her to move in. Big step. Good for them. So what?"

"Eileen is intrigued by the idea as a Legacy," Cas murmurs, slow about it, "and she is willing."

"Great. Eileen's awesome," Dean says. "What's the problem? Don't tell me Sam thinks I'd have some kind of issue with it, or something."

Cas shakes his head. "No, he doesn't. In fact, he said that you would probably be even more excited than him. He also said you wish to 'trap' her in the family."

"Well, she's family now. There ain't no escaping that. Winchesters are like quicksand. Once you're in, you're in, and struggling to get out only makes you sink faster." Dean chuckles and swings their hands for a second before he becomes aware that he's doing it, then stops abruptly. "But uh, it would be nice to have her around. She makes Sammy happy, you know, and that's nice. Mostly, though, she's just pretty f*cking great. She's way too good for him, right? I hope she never figures that out."

"Quicksand," Cas murmurs, almost to himself. He looks amused by the metaphor. "Yes, that fits. And yes, Eileen is wonderful, but I don't necessarily believe that she's too good for Sam. I think they bring out the best in each other."

"Maybe. They love each other, but that's not the reason. Sometimes, people who love each other bring out the worst, not the best," Dean mutters. He would know. Loving Cas has definitely brought out the worst in him multiple times. Though, to his credit, it's brought out the best, too. "Anyway, I still don't get why Sam needs you to talk to me about this. What, are you like a personified stress-ball for me or something? My walking smelling salts for when I faint? My—"

"Person," Cas interrupts, suddenly looking—shy, almost. Bashful, maybe, even sheepish. Just a general air of uncertainty to whether he's allowed to say it, like it's taboo. "Sam says I'm your person, and that he knows you find it easier to talk to me than others. Even him, in some cases."

Dean's voice is flat when he says, "Sam said that, huh? I bet he f*cking did."

"He's not exactly wrong," Cas tells him, just a touch defensive, frowning now.

"No, he's not," Dean agrees, "but it's another one of those general rules that it's not...said. Anyway."

Cas squints at him. "There are too many rules. There have always been too many, and now it seems like you're adding more."

Well, yeah, I didn't know I was in love with you before, Dean thinks sardonically. It's for his own sanity at this point to have lines he can't cross. He sighs and shakes his head. "Don't worry about it. Sam's an asshole. I hope Eileen cuts his hair in his sleep."

"She wouldn't. His hair is important to him." Cas pauses, then frowns. "This isn't the point. What's important to discuss is not that Eileen is happy to move in and will be, but that she has declared that she does not see it as something that will be permanent. At some point, she will want to move out of the Bunker, though no timeframe is given."

Dean takes a second to work out why this is important, because hey, Eileen can do what she wants and live where she wants. More power to her. It takes him a second to draw the natural conclusion that she's moving in with Sam now, and will one day go, but she wouldn't move in to only leave alone later. Sam. Sam's going to go with her.

Ah. Suddenly, it makes so much sense why Cas is the one sent to talk to him about this.

Kind of a dick move on Sam's part. He's such a wuss. But, in retrospect, Dean can understand why. If this conversation was between them and went sideways, it could get ugly very easily.

Okay. Well. Huh.

Dean takes a step back and leans against the side of Baby, and Cas moves with him. It's a mixture of Dean accidentally pulling him in because he hasn't let go of his hand and Cas just automatically moving when he does, something instinctive. Cas stands in front of him, and Dean stuffs his free hand in his pocket, staring down at his shoes.

Maybe there seriously is something to this whole peace thing. Many months ago, especially right after Chuck, if this came up… Well, he would have reacted badly, he's sure. He would have been cagey about it, bitter, possibly even outright angry as soon as he found out. He'd have thought of it solely in the terms of Sam skipping out the first chance he got, like his real freedom is getting away from Dean.

The thing is—the thing is, Sam is his brother. But, deep down, Dean knows that's not all he is. In a complicated, complex way, Sam's his kid, too.

Dean doesn't know how to feel about the fact that at the beginning of all this he blamed Sam for wanting to get out of the life and go to college. In the truest sense, Dean was the mother who had given everything for their child, living and breathing their kid, only to feel a deep well of hurt and betrayal like a slap to the face and a knife to the heart when that child went off to college. Literally and figuratively.

And Sam… Well, Sam didn't know. He didn't really get it. He likely doesn't really get it even now, and he probably never will until he raises a kid of his own. Jack doesn't even count, because for all that Dean talks about Sam helping out with Jack, the truth is… Well, it's exactly what Sam told him once. Jack's not really his kid. So, no, Sam doesn't get it, and he's not supposed to get it because—well, because he's the kid in the scenario.

How is he supposed to know? This is just their lives, and they grew up pretty damn sheltered. For Sam, Dean is just his older brother, and his parents are dead. All the things Dean did, he's grateful for them, of course, but he can't fully grasp them. Dean prefers it that way. He encourages that.

But they've come so far from where they started. Sam's not packing up and heading off the college to get away from his f*cked up family and f*cked up life. He's in love. He has a family that he feels is safe now. He's got a calmer world to find a place in and a life to actually live, rather than sludging his way through the crap they've had to put up with from where this all began.

This isn't running from Dean, and it has taken months of consistent and persistent feelings that things are safe and peace is available for Dean to be able to get to this conclusion this quickly. Does the idea of it sting? Yeah, of course. He and Sam have been living out of each other's pockets for years. The only time either of them have actually, genuinely lived somewhere without the other was when they were on outs, or one of them was dead. They never had the opportunity to live apart peacefully.

Dean doesn't particularly want to live away from Sam, but he also doesn't...not want to? He thinks he could genuinely live here in the Bunker with Sam, Jack, Cas, and Eileen—if she wants to be here—for the rest of his natural born life. That would be the preferred option, admittedly. Everyone being close together. But, also, it's not fire and brimstone and the next apocalypse if that's not how it goes.

It gets him thinking about what he understands about Sam now—and Eileen, by extension. They're not going to want to settle down and retire from the start, Dean just knows that. They're still going to be hunters for a while. It's just that hunting has taken on a new meaning since Chuck was defeated.

These days, there's inconsistencies in the patterns of the monsters that need to be hunted, which makes more sense, actually. There will be months where there's nothing, where there isn't a case to be found, and then there will be two months back to back where it's one case right after the next, spread out between all the hunters. There will be times where months will go by with a few cases dropped in between, and there will be times where months will go by with a few days of rest dropped in between. It's erratic and all over the place, because left to their own devices, monsters don't f*cking schedule themselves to some internal clock for the Winchesters to hunt them and stay busy. The seasons matter, too. Location, phases of the moon, whether hunters are rumored to be nearby. The monsters have their freedom now, too.

The schedule does open up the opportunity to have a sense of normalcy in the life. It gives them time to just be for a while, not even needing to give up being hunters to do it. Dean has always wondered how others made it work. Garth being a hunter and a dentist, having kids and a home. Bobby being the heart of a hunter network, owning a scrapyard, and still taking cases sometimes. Jody and Donna being cops and hunters, raising the girls while they're at it. He couldn't wrap his mind around it most of the time, because he and Sam never had that much wiggle room to be anything other than what they were, all because Chuck made it so. But now…

So, yeah, Dean understands that Sam isn't trying to get out like everything he's a part of is something he despises, Dean included. It will be so weird not living with Sam, but Dean doesn't think they won't be in each other's lives. Sam still being a hunter will bring him to the Bunker at times, at the very least, and Dean has a hard time believing that they're not going to see each other, even if they're not right up the hall from each other. Hell, if he has to get in Baby and barge his way into Sam and Eileen's life right by his damn self, that's what he'll damn well do. Dean's almost let the world burn for that kid, dammit, so he's earned the right to do so.

Just...there is also Cas and Jack to consider. Dean's heart turns over at the thought of them leaving, too. One, Jack's his kid. Two, Cas is someone he loves, deeply and irreparably. Not having Sam around is going to sting and drive him a little crazy no matter what, but Cas and Jack would make that better. But if they were gone, too? Jesus, Dean's internally flinching away from the very thought.

He doesn't know how to ask Cas to stay without bringing the whole love thing into it. If Cas wants to go out and find his own place in the world, how is Dean supposed to come up with a reason that he should be included in that? They're best friends, sure, but he's pretty sure best friends don't often live together and grow old together and raise a kid together. They should. It would make this a whole lot easier.

Dean heaves a sigh, lifting his head to find Cas watching him with clear eyes, waiting to see how he's going to react to this.

"I should probably go talk to Sam," Dean mumbles, pushing himself away from the car, only to be firmly but gently pushed back against it by Cas' free hand coming up to rest against his chest. It brings them closer together, Cas nearly leaning against him.

"Yes, I believe you should," Cas agrees quietly, his voice level and calm, "but I think you should wait a moment as well."

"You think I need time to come around to the idea?"

"Adjustment takes some time, yes."

Dean chuckles weakly. "I'm not gonna go yell at him, if that's what you're worried about."

"No, I didn't assume you were." Cas' hand slides up Dean's chest to rest on his shoulder, the tip of his thumb ever so slightly pressing into the side of Dean's neck. "As I said, I don't think there's a specific timeframe for this. It could be months or years before Eileen wants to leave the Bunker. You have time to come to terms with the idea, and frankly, so does Sam. Whether you believe it or not, it's not that much easier for him than it is for you."

"What about you?" Dean blurts out.

Cas' hand tightens on his shoulder, spasming just a little. He blinks. "What about me?"

"Just—just...what about you and Jack?" Dean asks weakly, severely wishing that he hadn't asked this, but he also desperately needs to know. "Do you think you're gonna want to, um, get out of here anytime soon? And, well, Jack would go with you, obviously."

"I…" Cas' eyebrows pull together, and he looks at Dean for a long moment in silence. He clears his throat and glances away. "Do you even want to stay in the Bunker, Dean?"

Dean wants to stay wherever his family is, but that goes without saying. He gets what Cas means. "I mean, this has been my home for the last… Jesus, it's been a while. I dunno. I guess I could see eventually leaving one day for—for—" He struggles for a moment, trying to picture it. Everything he comes up with in his head involves Cas. Every single house he imagines has Cas in the background, but he obviously can't come right out and say it. He clears his throat. "I could see different options, I guess. Maybe a house by a lake. A little cabin in the woods. Could live near a mountain. Probably nothing in a big city, just something outta the way. Maybe something like Bobby's house. Hell, if I could have Bobby's old place, I would."

"Why can't you?" Cas asks.

"Huh?" Dean blinks at him. "Oh. Well, I mean, it was pretty much abandoned after the Leviathans got through with it, and Bobby wasn't around, ya know? God, the salvage yard must be a f*ckin' forest by now. And the inside of the house… It's still standing, but it's rough. Really rough."

Cas hums, raising his eyebrows. "It could be something to do. It has been years since you've been there. It's out of the way. It's near Jody. If it's something you want, you should do it."

"M'not saying I don't want it," Dean mumbles, a lump forming in his throat. The idea of fixing up Bobby's old place is a nice one, kind of sentimental, but something he likes. That being said, the idea of living there alone makes him feel slightly ill. "I dunno. It's something to think about, I guess."

"Perhaps…" Cas stares at him from up close for a long moment, then he frowns. "Jack would be notably...saddened by the idea of us leaving. Ah, that is to say, he's come to think of you as—well, he's got something of an idea that—"

Dean watches Cas struggle, which is very unlike him, and he feels like his heart is swelling three sizes. He says, gruff and fond, "Yeah, I got a soft spot for the kid, too."

"Unless you asked him to, I don't really think Jack would even consider the idea of being away from you," Cas tells him, his gaze darting to the side, then right back. Away and back, away and back.

"Jack, huh?" Dean bites the inside of his cheek so he won't smile. "Well, God or not, kids don't always know what's best for 'em. If you wanna drag him away kicking and screaming, that's your choice. You got custody, and we all know it." He chuckles when Cas frowns at the wordage. It's hard for him not to smile when Cas looks like that. "So, really, it's up to you, isn't it? Whether you'd, uh, stick around."

"The Bunker is nice," Cas says softly.

"You'd wanna stay here?" Dean asks.

Cas looks away again. "Bobby's house is also nice."

"Uh huh." Dean has to bite the inside of his cheek again, ducking his head. God, he's in so deep that he's f*cking sick with it. Lovesick. "So, you'd wanna stick around, is what I'm hearing."

"I'd actually have to be around you to watch Gunsmoke, Dean. There's so many seasons." Cas looks at him again, suddenly not looking away at all. There's an earnest, open expression on his face. "I don't want to go anywhere you aren't, unless you'd want me to."

Dean's heart flips around in his chest, relief bursting free and coursing through him. I don't want to go anywhere you aren't. Oh, that's going to be sticking with him for weeks. He's going to be riding the high of that for—well, possibly forever, honestly. Maybe best friends don't do things like that, but they've always been weird best friends anyway. Unless…

For the very first time, Dean considers the possibility that Cas might actually…

He's almost scared to even think about it. The mere idea seems impossible, because Dean is Dean, and Cas is Cas, and he can barely fathom it. Cas has said out of his own mouth that he wants someone caring, and selfless, and loving. Dean is exactly...none of those things, but he also knows that people don't always have a choice in who they love.

Given the choice, way back when Cas came into his life, he wouldn't have chosen a man to fall in love with. Certainly not a goddamn angel. Certainly not the guy who shouldn't even give Dean the time of day. Certainly not his own best friend, because that's where things get complicated.

He didn't have a choice. Here he is, loving Cas anyway, even when he would have never thought it possible long ago. Now, he can't imagine loving anyone else. Complicated as it may be, Dean wouldn't choose any differently.

Thinking that Cas may love him, even reluctantly or unknowingly, is something that can be so very dangerous. It's a small root of hope that he can't dig out, spreading and spreading, cracking apart the earth of him and growing into more. If—when that hope gets squashed, it's going to f*cking hurt.

But still. I don't want to go anywhere you aren't. That plays a loop in his head, blaring loud into the suddenly empty space. He wants to ask why. Does it have to do with Jack, with the kid's wants? Is it because Cas has devoted himself to the Winchesters for so long that he doesn't know how to do anything else? Is it just that Cas remembers being on his own as a human, and he doesn't want to do it again?

Dean doesn't know the reason, and he doesn't even care. The fact of the matter is, Cas doesn't want to go anywhere for as long as Dean won't ask him to. And, oh buddy, he doesn't even know what he's getting into with that one. Dean's never going to ask him to leave, never again. They're in this sh*t for the long haul if Cas is serious about it.

He might be right now, but that could change in the future. He could meet someone. He could just get comfortable enough that he wants to leave. There are so many endless ways that Cas could change his mind, but right now—right now, he doesn't want to be anywhere Dean isn't, and that? f*ck, Dean's soaring on the delight of that.

"It would be kinda hard to watch Gunsmoke if you were off living in Timbuktu," Dean agrees.

Cas' eyes light up for a split second, and then he's looking away again, taking a deep breath. He holds it for a moment, releases it, then squeezes his hand and takes a step back. "Yes, well...if you still wish to speak with Sam, now would be a good time. He's leaving for Eileen's tomorrow."

"Hey," Dean drawls, the word coming out honey-thick and secretive, his hand tugging on Cas' until he's stepping back again. He keeps tugging, pushing and pushing to see what he can get, because that kernel of hope is a dangerous thing.

It's almost a surprise and sort of also not when Cas indulges him fully. He comes all the way in when Dean continues to tug on him, his free hand lifting once again to rest on Dean's shoulder. At Dean's insistence, he fully leans up against him this time, pressing his body into Dean's into Baby. They lean there, and Dean's free hand raises just enough to rest on Cas' hip, fingers precariously close to the hem of the hoodie he wants to get up under.

Cas indulges him so much these days. Dean's bad about it, too. They sort of just give each other whatever they want, probably because they have the freedom to do so now. Dean's motivated by love, but he can't imagine what motivates Cas.

There's a small moment where neither of them move, as if the gravity of how they're touching each other really hits them, and then Dean brushes it aside. Whatever. He knows why he's doing it, even if he doesn't know why Cas is allowing it. Maybe Cas actually does have a thing for him, and oh, that hope is starting to sink its claws into him. Then again, maybe Cas just thinks Dean needs the comfort because of the conversation they had about Sam.

Either way, Dean's not stupid. He capitalizes on it the moment he gets the unspoken green light. He drops Cas' hand and braces both hands on Cas' hips for a second, then takes the plunge. It's one of the easiest and most torturous things he's ever done to just wrap his arms around Cas' lower back, pulling their bodies flush, giving Cas little option to do anything else but hold onto Dean's shoulders. Dean closes his eyes and lets his forehead land on Cas' shoulder, exhaling quietly.

There's a long moment of silence and stillness between them until Cas—openly hesitant about it—ventures an unsure, "Dean?"

"I'll go talk to Sammy later, if that's okay," Dean mumbles. "Let's just—do this for a little while."

"Okay," Cas agrees immediately. There's another pause, and he seems to be struggling with some internal battle. Something eventually wins out in the end. "Ah, just...why are you doing this?"

"Discomfort zone," Dean rattles off, because that excuse works wonders, truly.

Cas makes a low, doubtful sound. "You seem very comfortable right now, Dean."

"Yeah. You're, like, really warm. Like a goddamn furnace." Dean curls his fingers down, bunching up the fabric of the hoodie until he can reach the hem of it and hook his fingers over the edge of it and the t-shirt underneath, pressing the back of his cool fingers into Cas' skin. It's not exactly hot in the underground garage, and he's been handling cold tools. Cas' skin is so warm that it makes his fingers prickle from the warmth of the contact. "S'kinda nice. Never really noticed that before I… Well, before I had the time to, I guess."

"Oh," Cas chokes out, which is absurd because Cas doesn't choke on his words, except he is now. It's a little insane to hear a voice in his register crack, a rough thing that makes Dean grin.

Maybe… Maybe…

Everything within Dean wants to lift his head right now and cross all of his lines in one fell swoop. Would Cas let him? This steadily rising sense of hope doesn't feel misplaced, especially when they're leaning up against Baby with their arms around each other like they're some young couple waiting around for the first bell of senior year to ring, too wrapped up in each other to make it to the first class on time. Dean even has the cool car and the aloof attitude to go along with it, except he's the dumbass who went off and fell in love with the weird dork.

All of that being said, there's that lingering doubt. He can't push it or ask for too much, because this is so good right now. Like this, it's so easy to just admit things, like a safe place to tell secrets. He can say that Cas is warm, and that it's nice. He can feel Cas' skin where he most likely shouldn't be allowed to in this way, borderline intimate as it is. He doesn't want to give this up, or let it slip away, and he knows he'll kick himself if he f*cks it up by trying to push for more, only to get rebuffed.

Rejection isn't something Dean's ever really had to worry about, not in the broad sense. His hookups have always been mutual and a great time for everyone involved, and if someone gave off an air of not wanting to give him the time of day, he left them alone and didn't waste either of their time. His experience with rejection is tied into something much deeper, something that hits hard.

His dad rejected him in so many ways growing up. Dean embodied everything his father was, trying to be a good son, trying to be what his father wanted. It was because all of Dean's wants weren't his own that his dad was disappointed in him, and that's likely also why his dad always favored Sam.

Sam wanted things. He was hungry for a life of his own, digging his heels in for every single thing that their dad expected out of him. He was what their dad thought a real man should be—fierce and argumentative and stubborn about all the things he wanted, no matter what John wanted for him. As furious as John would get about it, he also respected it, because the fire in Sam was something John recognized within himself. Sam didn't even have to try. It just came so naturally to him.

Dean? Dean was an empty slate that he copied everything he thought his father was unto himself. The music, the car, the jacket—for a while. Dean didn't want anything, just his father's pride and respect. He didn't know how to want anything, or how to figure it out if he did. He was trying so hard that it was blatant, and that wasn't what a man was supposed to be. Dean could pretend all he wanted, and he did for years, but it was that he was pretending that made his dad disappointed. It didn't come naturally to him, and John—well, John wasn't proud, and he didn't respect Dean.

He rejected him.

And then, you've got Sam, who found so many things about their dad distasteful. So, by extension, this meant he found things about Dean distasteful, too. Sam didn't want to be in the life to begin with. He wanted to get out, get away, and the life was what Dean ate, slept, and breathed. So, once more by extension, he wanted to get out and away from Dean. Yet another rejection, and that one…

Well, that one hurt.

And finally, there was Cassie. She was the first person Dean loved enough to be himself with. Completely and utterly, every single part of him, the good, bad, and the ugly. He still had no idea what he wanted or how to work that out, but he loved her enough that he hoped she'd want to help him. Instead, she saw the reality of him and couldn't fully believe it. And, later, when she had her proof, that still wasn't enough because she didn't want to be a part of that life. His life. He can't blame her for that, and doesn't. He respects it, even. But, when it came down to it, she'd rejected him, too.

Love didn't really protect from that.

So, Dean doesn't have to worry about rejection, no, but that's because he's learned to avoid it entirely. It's instinctive. Sure, a girl from a bar could laugh and jeer and kick him to the curb, but that's different. This? The bigger things like having Cas under his hands and teetering on the edge of what could possibly be a rejection he wouldn't recover from, if he pushed too far… Well, he's not doing that. He's just not risking it. f*ck that.

Instead, Dean takes exactly what he dares to demand and absolutely nothing more. He basks in it, letting his head rest against Cas' shoulder, breathing him in. He keeps his hands still, not sliding up under his clothes any further, just appreciating the smallest contact of his skin against the back of his fingers. He sprawls up against Baby and settles into the comfort of Cas sprawling up against him, a sturdy weight that feels so, so goddamn nice.

And that's it.

That's all there is.

Sam looks at him like he might bite.

Dean doesn't particularly appreciate being observed like a bomb waiting to go off, but he's self-aware enough these days to understand why Sam's doing it. Dean's not exactly known for his cool head.

He leans up against Sam's desk, fiddling with the pendulum that Eileen got him for Christmas. It's hypnotic watching the balls swing back and forth. Calming. Or, well, it's calming for Dean. Sam looks like he's never going to relax again.

"Wherever you end up, whenever you do," Dean starts, "if there's a white-picket fence, I'm never going to let you live it down."

Sam grimaces and mumbles, "They're not even practical. Eileen would hate it."

"Yeah, she's got a good head on her shoulders," Dean agrees, lips twitching.

"We've talked about her moving in before, you know. Way earlier," Sam tells him quietly, looking down at his hands with a frown. "She told me then that the Bunker wasn't going to be permanent for her, so we agreed to hold off because I wasn't—I couldn't even come around to the idea of leaving one day in the distant future. She was nice about it. Most people would have run for the hills, I think."

"Like I said, good head on her shoulders." Dean sighs and reaches out to catch the string and release it, letting the pendulum gain speed. Click-click, click-click. "I can't believe you sent Cas to talk to me about this, dude. That's just...such a copout."

"Yeah, maybe," Sam allows. "I thought—I don't know. If it was going to be an argument, I wanted you to at least be able to vent to him first. He's—"

"My person," Dean fills in dryly.

"Well, he is," Sam mutters.

Dean snorts. "Whatever. Dude, come on, why did you think this would be an argument?"

"Is it...not going to be?" Sam asks cautiously.

"Nah," Dean says easily.

Sam frowns. "Okay, but why? It was an argument for me. I mean, Eileen doesn't really put up with my sh*t, but I was a little… Uh, I kinda didn't handle it really well to begin with."

"Tell me you didn't fight with her about it." Dean groans when Sam winces, an answer in and of itself. Oh hell, Sam's capable of being stupid, too. Eileen was right. All men are idiots. "Look, Sam, you love her. I know you love her. She's great, and I think she's great for you. Maybe if we weren't… Maybe if life wasn't like it is now, I wouldn't be able to come around to it. But, if Eileen doesn't want to be here forever, and you want to be with her, then that's all there is to it. Nothing I can do about that, and I wouldn't if I could, 'cause she makes you happy. We should get to be f*cking happy, man."

"Not just me, though. You too, Dean. If I'm being honest, I hated the idea of leaving at first. I don't exactly want to be away from you. We've done so much sh*t at this point…" Sam shakes his head, lips pressing into a thin line. "I don't know."

Dean hums, tapping his fingers to the top of the desk, pursing his lips. "How long has it been since Chuck was handled?"

"Almost ten months, now," Sam answers.

"Makes sense that you'd hate it to start with. Cas says some bullsh*t about us having to learn to adjust to a peace we've never known. It's...not really bullsh*t, to be clear," Dean tells him. "We had to get used to the idea that this freedom wasn't gonna up and walk away from us."

Sam looks upset about this. "Man, f*ck Chuck. He's so—the sh*t he put us through, Dean…"

"No, I know. I hear you, Sammy." Dean waves a hand, letting him know he gets it. He sighs and goes back to tapping on the desk. "How long do you think Eileen will want to stay in the Bunker?"

"She couldn't pinpoint an exact time, really. She just said she's too used to moving around a lot. All the foster homes, plus being a hunter. She thinks it will be a long time before we even find a forever home, as she calls it," Sam says, lips curling up almost unconsciously, fond and adoring. "She can usually stay in a place for one or two years, so that's probably how long it'll be."

Dean blinks. "Wait. Years? You got years of having her around here before you two skip town, and you're acting like I'm gonna flip out?"

"Dean, I flipped out," Sam retorts, raising his eyebrows. "I don't know how you're so calm about this right now."

"Your happiness is more important than mine," Dean says, then immediately wishes he hadn't, because that's getting into the whole I raised you territory he usually skirts around. Sam's expression cracks a little, stunned, and Dean waves a hand quickly to preemptively shut him up. "I'm not saying I'm gonna lose it if you're gone, Sam, or that I'll never be happy or whatever. That's not it. I mean, I'll miss your stupid face every now and again, sure, but it ain't gonna kill me. Besides, I'm gonna bug the sh*t out of you whether you're here or gone, so you can't really get away from me anyway."

Sam takes that in for a long moment, then he makes a sort of helpless expression, complete with a small shrug of his shoulders. "I'm probably going to have to call you every day. Eileen's already agreed that wherever we go will need a guest room. That was something I wouldn't compromise on."

"There ya go, you put your foot down, Sammy, I'm proud of you. I know she wears the pants in the relationship, but you gotta stick up for yourself sometimes," Dean teases, lips curling up.

"That expression is so outdated," Sam complains, wrinkling his nose.

Dean chuckles. "Face facts, she's got you all wrapped around her little finger."

"She's not manipulative," Sam says.

"You're moving in with a stranger," Dean informs him, grinning when Sam rolls his eyes.

There's a moment of comfortable silence, and Sam is fully relaxed now. He co*cks his head, studying Dean curiously. "What about you? Are you going to stay in the Bunker? I mean, it's great for resources and stuff, but with the way cases come in, we can go months without even needing to be here."

"Ya know, I kinda had an idea about that. I mean, the Men of Letters have always been kind of a secret thing, but the resources could help out so many hunters. Even just the space when someone needs to lie low, or they're passing through," Dean says, waving his hand to encompass the hunter lifestyle and how the Bunker is a huge help for it. "We could kinda open it up, you know. Make use of all those rooms and give people access to books and information that could save their lives. It isn't what the Men of Letters would like, but that's kinda half the reason to do it, isn't it?"

"Sort of like I did when all that Michael stuff was going on," Sam suggests.

"Yeah, like that," Dean agrees, snapping his fingers.

Sam raises his eyebrows. "You'd actually want to do that? Live with all those people, be around as people come in and out? Seriously, Dean? You?"

Sometimes, Dean is reminded that there are just some things about him that Sam genuinely doesn't know or understand. He can have a perception of him that's wildly different to who Dean actually is in some cases, and that's not always his fault. Dean doesn't exactly open up to him about certain things, and how much can you really know your parents anyway?

Still, Dean doesn't have to dive into that, because he's got something else to counter with. "Actually, I kinda had a different idea for myself. You know… Um, Bobby's old place is a fixer-upper, but I bet it goes for pretty cheap. It always felt like a safehouse, or home away from Baby, and I think Bobby would like it being cleaned up, don't ya think?"

"You want to—" Sam cuts himself off, leaning back a little, openly startled. "Oh. You want to fix up Bobby's and live there. Run a salvage yard, too?"

"Could be something to do in between cases, or when I retire, if I live to see it. I'm good with cars, and I used to mess around with 'em out there all the time. Bobby called me Tinkerbell," Dean explains, grinning without even meaning to. Sometimes, he'll be struck by how much he misses that man.

"Huh." Sam blinks and stares at him, tilting his head a little. He still looks startled, like his worldview is shifting a bit. "So, you—you see a future for yourself and stuff? That's—Dean, that's awesome, man. And Bobby's? Jesus, that did feel like home, didn't it? I bet he'd love that."

Dean tosses a hand up lazily. "Yeah, I think he would. But uh, if you asked me this kind of stuff months ago, I probably would have flipped out about it. Guess it really does take time to figure sh*t out."

"Right," Sam says with a little laugh, his whole face lighting up. He looks f*cking delighted. "Dude, I could help you fix the place up. When are you buying it? Oh, you'll be so close to Jody, too."

"Yeah, that's nice. Dunno when, but it'll be a project. Damn right I'm putting your ass to work. Eileen, too. She's gotta earn your hand in common law marriage before she steals you in the night."

"Do you know what annoys me about what you just said? Eileen said something eerily similar. Basically that she'd have to, like, prove herself to get your permission. Like I'm the daughter waiting to be sold off to someone who has the fattest pig to offer in exchange. She thought it was hilarious."

"That's because she's funnier than you," Dean says, cracking up when Sam's eyebrows dip low. "God, you should have to compete for her favor, man. She's so out of your league."

Sam sighs, eyes warm. "Yeah, she's perfect. Well, no one is and she's not, but it's because she's not that she is. You know?"

"I—" Dean feels the weirdest sense of deja vu he's ever had in his life. Dear Jesus, he and Sam really are related. They think the same way sometimes without even knowing it, and f*ck, Dean doesn't want to be slapped in the face with proof of how smitten he is with Cas just because Sam is equally smitten with Eileen. "Yeah, Sam, I know exactly what you mean. You have no idea."

"Well, I do." Sam tips his head, considering him for a moment, lips pursed. After a beat, he straightens up like he's about to go into battle. "So, uh, in all of these plans of yours, where's Cas?"

Dean is prepared for this, okay? He knew Sam would ask, so he already has his answers locked and loaded. He'll play dumb until he's dead if he has to, goddammit. Easily, promptly, he says, "Cas is wherever he wants to be," and he has to work not to sound too pleased by that, because Cas wants to be wherever Dean is. For now, at least.

"Where do you think that will be?" Sam needles, narrowing his eyes slightly.

"Dunno." Dean shrugs.

"You going to let him and Jack live with you at Bobby's old place if they want to?" Sam asks bluntly, apparently going for the jugular these days, likely getting tired of Dean being a dumbass. A selective dumbass, but he doesn't know that.

"Yeah, sure," Dean says calmly.

Sam's eyebrows do something weird. "So, you're just comfortable with the idea of Cas living with you for the rest of your lives?"

"Yup," Dean tells him, forcing himself to stay calm. Sam's fully not beating around the bush anymore.

"That doesn't seem...oh, I don't know...a little weird to you, Dean?" Sam insists, waving his hands around, sarcasm flashing across his face.

Dean clears his throat, working not to shift, because Sam will pounce like a shark scenting blood in the water. "Nah, not really. Cas is family."

Ah, the age-old line. That comes in so handy right now. It's sorely lacking in describing what Cas is to him, but it works a treat to sell that he's an idiot.

"Dean…" Sam heaves a sigh, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He looks so tired. Dean almost feels bad for him.

"Anyway," Dean chirps, "good talk. Glad we had it. Have fun with Eileen."

Once again, he escapes unscathed.

"Mornin', Sunshine," Dean says, aware that he's perking up like a dog seeing a treat as Cas comes ushering into the kitchen, but unable to help it.

"Good morning, Dean," Cas replies, not even sparing Sam a glance as he adds, "Sam."

"Cas," Sam replies, like normal, his lips curling up as he looks down at his nasty egg-whites.

"Jack wants to go spend time with Claire and Kaia at Jody's," Cas informs Dean as he slips into the seat next to him, stealing the coffee cup right out of his hands. "I'll be driving him later."

Dean deflates a little. "Oh."

Cas eyes him for a second, then tips his head at him, lips twitching. "Or, you could drive us. You might wish to stop by Bobby's old property, and there's a good excuse to do it."

"Oh," Dean repeats, perking right back up. "Hey, yeah, I could do that. Sam, we don't have anything planned, right?"

Sam hums. "Not that I know of. I do. Eileen's stopping by to drop off some things from her place on her way to Nevada."

"What's in Nevada?" Dean asks.

"Something happened to someone she's helped before on an old case, years and years ago. She said it should be quick," Sam replies.

"Okay. Sounds like I've got plans for the day. Roadtrip," Dean muses, stealing the coffee back from Cas and knocking their knees together under the table, grinning.

Cas glances over at him, arching an eyebrow, and Dean jolts in place when he feels a hand clamp down on his leg. He straightens up automatically, heart thumping heavy in his chest. Cas just keeps his hand there for a long moment, a little bit above Dean's knee, his grip firm. Dean's whole brain fixates on the feeling immediately, and he nearly drops the coffee because he forgets he's holding it.

With a squeeze of Dean's leg and a pleased smile, Cas removes his hand, setting Dean free. It's too late, though. The damage is done. Dean's ruined for the rest of the day now, which is just cruel.

He really is sh*t out of luck after that, and Cas only proceeds to make it worse.

After breakfast, Jack appears with his bag packed, because he's apparently going to be spending a week away. According to him, he and Claire have plans. This is worrying, admittedly, but the kid looks so excited about it that Dean can't bring himself to protest in any way. At least they're getting along.

Meanwhile, Cas is just—he's clearly trying to give Dean a f*cking heart attack. He puts on that sweater with the patches on the elbow, which is only second to Dean's hoodie at making him look soft and easy to touch. As if that's not bad enough, Cas keeps f*cking touching him.

Every time they pass each other in any room or hall, Cas brushes up against him, smiling at him, and he doesn't have to do that because there's a lot of other space in the rooms and halls, but he's evil, so. When they stand next to each other, Cas touches his arm, or his shoulder, or just forgoes any sense of personal space and fully leans against him. And, once, he reaches out to halt Dean before he can slip into his room to get his wallet, and he does this by grabbing Dean's hand and tugging him back, their fingers tangling together. Dean goes slack like a rubber band and lets himself be reeled in, a worm on a hook, knowing better than to try and get away.

It gets worse on the roadtrip, in the car. It should probably be easier, but Cas makes it torture.

For one, he scrunches his goddamn sleeves up to reveal his naked forearms, which is scandalous enough and so distracting that Dean is actually a little worried about a possible car wreck. Focusing on the road has never been harder.

To make matters worse, Jack and Cas carry on a steady conversation for nearly the whole ride with occasional comfortable silences dropped in. But every time Cas says something to Jack, he turns slightly in the front seat to face the back. And, every single f*cking time, he braces his hand on Dean's leg to do it. The first time, Dean nearly runs off into a goddamn ditch, so this is a hazard as well.

Dean gets reprieve in talking to Cas and the kid, joining in on the flowing conversations. He laughs a lot, enjoys himself. He's got Baby out on the open road and them, so it's really damn nice. Well, ignoring the heart palpitations every time Cas touches him and keeps touching him.

He's stuck in an agonizing cycle of waiting in anticipation for Cas to touch him again, then losing all semblance of calm when Cas finally does. He feels f*cking deranged.

Eventually, though, things take a swift turn. When they're not too far out from their destination, Jack declares he's going to watch an episode of one of his cartoons, and Cas has to turn around to hold Jack's bag open so he can dig around for his headphones, but he only does it with one hand. His other hand is braced on Dean's leg again, but way higher than it has ever gone because Cas has to do some serious swiveling and reaching.

Then, Jack is absorbed in his show, and Cas is turning back around to look out the window and not remove his f*cking hand. Dean's heart is about to give the hell out in t-minus ten seconds, and Cas is watching the passing scenery with a serene look on his face, reflected in the window.

Dean keeps waiting for Cas to move his hand, but he doesn't. He just—rests it there. That's not a place to put a hand on someone unless you're close to them in one way and one way only, and Dean knows for a fact that they're not that close, because he wishes they were. It's just way too high up on his thigh, and there's nothing innocent about it.

Frankly, it's giving Dean inappropriate ideas. Inappropriate ideas he shouldn't be having with a child in the car. Also, ideas he shouldn't be having about someone who might not appreciate it.

Though, Dean's starting to wonder… Cas has been exceptionally touchy ever since the embrace in the garage. They can't watch True Blood without Cas' head ending up on Dean's shoulder at some point, or their hands somehow tangling together, or—when things get really excruciating—both of those things at one time. Also, Cas smiles at him in excess, like he's just pleased as pie that Dean's near him. When they go for walks, Cas slips his hand into the crook of Dean's elbow every single time, like those older couples do, which should be cheesy but is unbearably heartwarming instead.

And the clothes. It's a direct assault, honestly. Cas barely wears his trenchcoat getup these days, though he still seems attached to it. Instead, he's almost always in Dean's clothes, often his hoodie that Dean gets distracted by every time. Cas takes showers and pretty much always smells like Dean's shampoo and body wash these days, but with the undercurrent of him underneath.

Also, there was one time that Cas was talking about the scar he got from being stabbed, and he proceeded to lift his f*cking shirt and show Dean the scar, which was cruel and unusual punishment. The scar, though—well, what little grace Cas does have couldn't make it disappear entirely, so it's just a faint line on his abdomen that Dean genuinely lost sleep over, because he was too lost in imagining licking it. He's beyond help.

So, maybe… Maybe there's some hope. Maybe.

But still. This? The thigh touching? Cas is gonna kill him. Dean takes it for as long as he can, worried the wrong brain—the one south—is gonna get the wrong idea. Eventually, Dean seriously can't f*cking focus, and he clears his throat.

"Hey, Cas," is what comes out, and it's a croak until he clears his throat again. "You lose something?"

"Hm?" Cas turns to look at him.

"This," Dean prompts, taking one hand off the wheel to reach down and grab Cas' wrist, lifting his hand off his leg.

"Ah, yes," Cas muses, then snaps his hand around and down to thread their fingers together before turning back to look out the window. He's smiling slightly in the reflection. "Thank you, Dean."

Dean opens his mouth, closes it, gives up.

Yeah, okay. Sure.

So, they hold hands for the rest of the drive, and Dean ends up stroking the side of Cas' thumb, pathetic like a man in love—because essentially, that's what he is. His mind runs in circles, going around and around on a loop of wondering if Cas has a thing for him, or if he's somehow looking at it wrong because of his own feelings. He can't be sure he's not biased.

He knows, okay? He knows that people doing the things Cas is doing is—well, it means something. It has to, because Dean might fully f*cking go insane if it doesn't. But, at the same time, Dean has these doubts—not trusting in his own hope. Jesus.

It gets worse when they make it to Jody's, because everyone is there and Cas doesn't see this as a reason to stop at all.

It's nice to see the ladies. Patience, especially, because Dean hasn't seen her in a while now. His heart pangs when thinking of Missouri, and he spends a good hour just getting caught up on Patience's life, checking in. She's in college, doing good for herself, learning to cope with being a psychic. Her relationship with her father is still a little complicated, especially because she stays with Jody, rather than being at home, but Dean is glad to hear that they're working on it. Missouri would have loved that, he's sure.

Claire and Kaia are always a treat, as well as Alex. They have a good time, Dean can tell. Claire and Kaia are comfortable with each other here, legs draped over laps, holding hands, sharing conversations through looks. Claire and Alex still have that sibling relationship, slightly ever so antagonistic but with the undercurrent of fondness underneath it all. At one point, Alex pelts Claire with a pillow, and Patience warns them before Jody comes back in, so they won't get caught. She makes the most of her psychic abilities, apparently.

Jody seems cheerful at getting to see Dean and Cas, pleased to get to talk to people she doesn't see as children. Donna's not around now, and Dean's sorry to have missed her.

Jack surprisingly fits in well to everything. Dean's never actually seen Jack with the ladies, even though he knows that the kid visits pretty regularly. He's comfortable with every single one of them, basically hanging off every word they all give, like they're bestowing unparalleled advice when they're talking about why the big hoop skirts women wore centuries ago should or should not come back into style. Claire is shockingly for it, claiming that it's basically a physical statement of get the f*ck out of my bubble. Alex is against, because she's partial to jeans. Jack says he wants to wear one to see what it's like, and Kaia starts googling how to make one, because she's apparently someone who likes to create things rather than buy them.

Throughout the visit, Cas continues to touch him and basically plaster himself to his side. He even dares to hold Dean's hand when dragging him out of the kitchen, which makes Dean's whole face go red-hot. The only person who seems to notice is Kaia, who just smiles slightly and goes about her business, not even letting Claire in on it because she's definitely a wonderful person.

By the time they leave, hours later, Dean's so frazzled that he nearly brains himself trying to get into Baby. Claire cackles from the doorway, and Jack calls out goodbye, and Dean thinks maybe that will be it. He'll finally get some reprieve.

But no, of course not. They're barely on the road towards Bobby's old place before Cas leans over and drops his head onto Dean's shoulder, humming quietly in a pleased fashion. Dean has to clamp his teeth together so he won't curse, or worse, beg for Cas to give him a f*cking break.

Cas is so warm, and his hair is tickling Dean's neck, and he reaches for Dean's hand just as Dean miserably reaches for his. Their fingers slot together, old hats at this by now, and Dean—

Dean doesn't think he can do this anymore.

Something's got to give. He once complained to Cas that unrequited love was painful, or even not knowing fully if it's unrequited, and he was right. There's so much pressure involved. Trying not to do too much, trying not to be too obvious, trying to hide how overwhelming it is. The yearning, being so stupid, constantly making rules and then breaking them because he can't help it. That's not even including the struggle of keeping Sam from finding out, as well as worrying about Jack and Eileen letting something slip, trying so hard to juggle who knows what and how easily everything could unravel if someone says the wrong thing.

It gets messy, no matter what you try to do, and it always comes out, one way or another. All that confusion and heartache, for what? You don't even know, not until everything comes to a head, and then you just gotta deal with whatever happens. Good results, or bad, and there ain't a damn thing you can do about it.

That's what he'd said, and then he went on to live it. And it's true, that's the thing. It's messy now, because Dean's barely keeping his sh*t together on a good day. It's a constant self-check not to do something stupid that he wants to. And it will come out eventually, Dean knows that. Cas will find out at some point, and that's all there is to it.

This additional hope that he desperately wants to believe in? It's making all of this so much harder. Because Cas is just blurring the lines further without clarifying a damn thing. So, Dean's stuck in this middle ground of confusion and desire and hope and panic. And is this what it is to want? All those years not wanting anything, not knowing how to figure out what he wants or how to want at all, and then here comes Cas.

Jesus Christ, Cas is the first thing he's seriously wanted—selfishly, in spite of all his pretending, the first thing he hungered for and did not understand. There's some irony in there somewhere. His dad wanted him to be a man in a specific way, and the only way Dean has been is when it comes to wanting another man, something his father would hate.

Damn, he really is the family disappointment. He genuinely cannot win.

It's just a f*cking mess, really. Here they are, holding f*cking hands as they get closer to Bobby's, and Dean's got a cramp in his stomach at the idea that Cas will never touch him again when he finds out that Dean's head over heels for him.

He doesn't come to a decision on anything, because this is a no-win situation. Instead, he clenches his jaw and keeps his sh*t locked down tight, and he mourns the loss of Cas pulling away from him when they make it to Bobby's, even as he breathes a sigh of relief, too. Complicated, like he said.

Bobby's is…

Well, yeah, it's going to be a project. Cas comes back to his side once they're both up and moving, his hand tucking through Dean's elbow as they walk. Dean loves and hates it in equal measure, but he focuses on the house and everything else. The house, surprisingly, looks mostly the same. Abandoned and gutted. The scrapyard is even more overgrown than the last time he saw it.

By Dean's guess, it could take anywhere between six months and a year to return the place to its former glory. It depends on how many hands they'll have to help, as well as how much free time from cases they'll have. But it'd be worth it.

Just being here floods Dean with nostalgia. He has memories embedded into the ground here, foundations of himself built on this land. He remembers that Bobby once stood over there and berated him for being a dumbass about something. He remembers that, back there, he and Sam got into a fight and wrestled on the ground until they were both bloody and laughing. He remembers that Cas, right here, showed up and stared at Dean through the night from far too close, this unfathomable power wrapped in a body he hadn't entirely made his own yet, but his eyes—oh, Dean had been f*cking enraptured by his eyes.

God, he was so pathetic, even then. Jesus.

"It's been a long time since I've been here," Cas murmurs, a strange quality to his voice.

"Yeah," Dean breathes out, strolling along and pulling at overgrowth because he may as well. "I was so different. We were so different."

"Mm," Cas agrees. "We've changed."

Dean chuckles weakly, glancing over at him. "I think you get the trophy for changing the most."

"Perhaps," Cas says softly, troubled.

"Hey, no, I don't—" Dean sighs, inwardly kicking himself. He doesn't mean to upset Cas with this sh*t, but he always finds a way to. He's doing great. Really. He's so good at this. "Cas, there isn't anything wrong with that. I think—well, this is embarrassing, but I like how different you are."

Cas' eyebrows furrow together. "You didn't like who I used to be?"

"What? No! I mean—" Dean nearly gives up again. He sighs and separates himself from Cas, turning to face him head on. "That's not what I meant. You were different then, but so was I. You don't gotta problem with who I used to be, right?"

"No," Cas says.

"Great. There ya go. Same thing with me. I like who you were, and I like who you turned out to be, and I'll like whoever you become." Dean stops talking for a moment, his heart tapping on his chest to let him know there's a serious reason to be freaking out. That was obvious. That was too obvious, and Dean knows it just by the way Cas' lips part and his eyes widen. Ah, sh*t. Everything within Dean is screaming abort, abort! He barrels on. "Anyway, we change, that's the way of life. I don't know what made you change, but—"

"You," Cas interrupts, his voice soft.

Dean stalls out, then blinks. "What?"

"You changed me, Dean," Cas tells him, quiet about it, resolute. He holds Dean's gaze, almost like a challenge, like he's daring Dean to do his worst.

And Dean knows that already. He knows it. But having it said to him by Cas, who he had no idea was even aware of that… Oh, that does something to him.

He remembers standing out here just like this with Cas long ago, close just like this, staring into his eyes just like this. The feeling is the same, that complicated want, except he didn't know how to identify it back then. He didn't know what it was, and it frustrated him. It scared him. It was the unknown, and he wanted to escape it, but couldn't.

For all that they've changed, this feeling hasn't. Whatever f*cking thing that ties them together, no matter what they've gone through, it never goes away. It's only gotten worse, especially since Dean knows that he wants Cas, needs Cas, loves Cas. There's still this, still them, and Dean knows that this isn't something he can get away from. He can't outrun it. He can barely survive it.

And Dean can't do this anymore. Sincerely. He doesn't have it within him to continue in this way. He's just flesh and blood, a man. Cas once told him that, right in that house, words that Dean has never forgotten once they were said to him. You're just a man, Dean. I'm an angel.

f*ck that, and f*ck this, and f*ck Cas while he's at it. None of this is ever going to go away, and Dean's eventually going to break, or Cas will find out one way or another. Cas isn't the same angel that he was, and Dean's been through more things than any other man in the world. The only option—the only option left is to trust in hope.

It's a hastily made decision based solely on the fact that Dean wants to kiss Cas so bad that he can taste it, and he now knows that this isn't going to go away, only get worse. Cas will find out eventually anyway, so Dean's got one shot at this to do it while he's not cracking completely under the pressure.

Because, Jesus Christ, Dean would hate for this to come out in a way that's not what Cas deserves. Dean perfectly pictures it—him buckling under the strain and pushing Cas away, snapping at him, eventually getting into an argument where it just bursts out of him. Even worse, him blurting it out by complete accident while he's in the middle of short-circuiting because Cas is touching him. Or, maybe he'd just haul off and attack Cas mouth-first, which would end in one of two ways—Cas shoving him away, or frantic sex they should talk about first but don't. If none of those things, maybe Sam would say something, or Eileen, or Jack.

None of those options are what Cas deserves, not really. For one, Cas should hear it from him. For two, Cas should know what the f*ck Dean is offering. Because, goddammit, if Dean's going to do this, he wants to do it in a way that gives him the optimal chance at actually getting what he wants. Maybe that's selfish, but he can't help it. He has never wanted anything the way he wants Cas.

So, feeling like he's going to lose Cas if he says it, and die if he doesn't, Dean takes a deep breath.

"Cas," he breathes out, "I gotta tell you something, and I need you to hear me out, okay?"

"Okay," Cas agrees, eyebrows twitching together.

"Okay," Dean repeats. Then, again, "Okay. Um. Okay, so…" He takes a second, because sh*t, this is big. His heart is loud in his ears. He breathes in and out, the sound hitching in his throat. Cas is starting to look concerned and wary, and Dean has faced down the devil with less fear than this. "I always wondered, ever since you asked, since you told me to figure it out. I wondered what it was, what I even really wanted. I didn't know at first, because what I want is something I don't really deserve."

Cas frowns at him. "Dean, that's not—"

"No, just—just listen, okay? Hear me out," Dean cuts in, bringing his hands together like he's about to pray and resting the tips of his fingers against his chin. His lips are trembling, his breath coming out shaky. "I know what you think about yourself, Cas. You think the same bullsh*t that Chuck thought about you. A f*ck up, self-hating angel, coming off the line with a crack in your chassis. But that's not—that's not true, man. Everything about you—every single thing about you is what free will is all about. You chose to learn about this world and the people in it. You chose to find a home here, a family. You took everything that you were supposed to do, and you chose to do differently. Ever since you pulled me outta Hell, you have wanted to choose, wanted to do the right thing, wanted to belong exactly as you are. You gave so much for it, too f*cking much."

"I don't—Dean, I don't understand why you're telling me this," Cas whispers, his voice hoarse and his eyes wide, staring at Dean like he has been gripped and shaken. Rattled. Emotions clattering loose within him.

"Because I—" Dean has to stop to swallow past the tight passage of his throat. His heart seems to break off and shoot to his throat whilst it also drops to his stomach. "I want you to know how I—the way I see you, Cas, and why I don't deserve you at all. I don't, but I—" He stumbles again, blinking hard. "I just really, really… I love—f*ck, I love you so much. I think I probably always have, but I didn't know then, and I've known for some time now. And I can't—I'm just me, so I can't offer you much. I know you said you want to love and be loved wholly in return, and I can do one of those things. I already am. And I'm not gonna be able to get over it. Probably never. So, that's really—I just really...love you…"

He feels like he just defeated Chuck again.

That hollow sort of ringing silence afterwards, and the promise of relief after so much turmoil, except you can't really feel it yet. Reeling from it, shaky and too caught up to actually rejoice. Dean has the most absurd urge to bend over and put his hands on his knees, as if he just ran a f*cking marathon.

He doesn't, though, because Cas looks stupefied. Dazed, astonished, overwhelmed. Take your pick, he's all of it and more. The angel who used to never so much as twitch with emotion, and now he looks like he's overflowing with them. Dean does not know if this is a good thing or not.

"Do you even know—" Cas cuts himself off as if he can't help it, a deep breath bursting out of him. He immediately sucks it back in, his chest swelling, and he blinks so rapidly that he looks a little ridiculous. Dean still wants to kiss him. "You don't even—you genuinely have no idea."

"That's not—helpful," Dean wheezes, a little breathless, a f*cking idiot in the flesh. He's winded from confessing his love. Jesus Christ.

Cas huffs out a small, stunned laugh, though he's not exactly smiling. "I can't—Sam was right."

"Sam told you?" Dean blurts out, horrified. Oh, that little sh*t is dead f*cking meat.

"No, no, he—well, he told me that you didn't realize your feelings for me." Cas gets a strange look on his face. "Dean, do you remember the deal with the Empty that Jack had to get me out of?"

"Uh…yeah?" Dean ventures cautiously, not entirely sure where this is going, only sure that Sam is on his f*cking hit list.

"I traded my life in for Jack's, but the Empty would only take me when I felt true happiness."

"What a dick."

"Yes," Cas agrees absently. "In any case, it didn't work because the thing that would truly make me happy, the thing that I wanted, was something I knew—something I thought I couldn't have."

Dean swallows. "Please say you mean me."

"Of course it's you," Cas tells him, like the idea of it being anything else is ludicrous. He shakes his head again, as if Dean's the most amazing thing he's ever seen. "Sam thought to ask me about the deal, and I didn't expect him to work it out when I told him. He knew almost immediately as soon as he understood how I managed to skirt by the deal for so long. He insisted that I could have you, actually, because you may not have known it, but you loved me."

"Oh." Dean internally crosses Sam's name off his hit list. Okay, he can forgive him on this one. Jesus, Sam was trying to get him to realize his own feelings so he could tell him about Cas'. Oh, f*ck. "So, you—but you said you wanted someone selfless, and caring, and loving. I specifically remember you saying that to me, Cas."

Cas fixes him with a steady look. "Dean, I was talking about you. You are the most caring man on Earth. You are the most selfless, loving human being I will ever know. Everything you have ever done, all of it, has been for love."

"Oh," Dean says again, dumbly. His head spins, and he feels like he needs a second to recover. "So, when you said you were trying to stop your restraint, you meant with me. And when you said marriage wasn't in your future, it's because I told you I'd never get married. And—and you've… This whole time…"

"Yes," Cas confirms gently, his lips curling up, eyes bright. "It's really quite funny, you know. We've been doing the same thing this whole time. Wanting each other and doing nothing about it."

"Was it as bad for you as it was for me? Because you've been killing me here," Dean mutters. "Really put in the work to make sure I'd suffer."

"Oh, yes, you're completely oblivious to what effect you have on me," Cas says bluntly. "Sam wouldn't leave me alone about it and let me resign myself to living with it in silence. I attempted to prove to him that you would not be receptive in any way. But you...always were. You shared your coffee with me. You let me touch you however much I liked, so long as I didn't push it too far. I took advantage of it, perhaps, and still didn't think you felt anything. Frankly, I marveled that you allowed any of it at all. It was so intriguing and also…"

"Torture," Dean supplies, coughing.

Cas hums. "To divide it up, yes."

"Sum it up, Cas. It's—the saying is to sum it up," Dean corrects weakly.

"You know what I meant," Cas murmurs, waving a hand like he's saying tomato, tomahto. He's so f*cking—he's still driving Dean nuts. "I want to know when you knew."

Dean huffs a laugh. "Of course you do. Um. Okay, so do you remember that day we got into the argument about you being married, like, twice-over?"

"Ah, yes, I recall."

"Right, so we went out and walked around the strip mall. Well, when we got into that store with the beds you're not supposed to lay on—"

"That you laid on, despite that."

"Yeah, you know the one. Anyway, you were just kinda sitting on the swing, f*cking around with that spinning flower thing. And I just—I mean, it had been leading to that anyway, 'cause things just kept happening, and you kept doing things. Ya know, saying you were gay in front of me. Holding my goddamn hand. You—you kissed me on the cheek, dude. I was fully convinced that was a dream. So, I mean, it was heading in that direction. But I was just looking at you, and I thought you were—great, I guess, but there was more to it. I didn't have a f*cking clue what I would end up realizing if I decided to think about what I felt. You were just sitting there, and that sh*t hit me like a ton of goddamn bricks."

"You've known that long?" Cas asks, frowning.

"Yeah. It's kinda been hell," Dean admits.

Cas sighs. "And no one else knew."

"Actually, uh, Jack and Eileen knew. Jack knew first, and he knew it was love. He tried to tell me you had a thing for me, but I just thought he didn't really have a full grasp on it. Eileen knew because I sucked at hiding it, and she didn't really know the full scope of it, not really. Sam knew, but I knew that he knew, and I didn't want him to know that I knew that he knew, so I pretended I still didn't know."


"I know, Cas," Dean mumbles. "Trust me, I know."

"I don't—Dean, I don't have a thing for you," Cas murmurs, taking a step forward and looking at him with heavy sincerity, meaning whatever he's about to say with every fiber of his being. Dean knows he's never meant anything more than what he's about to say. He can just tell. "It's not just a thing. I love you. I loved you before I even understood what it meant to love at all. It is through you that I learned. It is because of you that I loved anything, and you were the first, and you are the reason—"

"Stop, stop, I believe you. Okay, I believe you. Just, f*ck, come here. Come here," Dean chokes out, nearly losing his footing with how quickly he surges forward to reach out and draw Cas in.

He knew. Dean knew that it would be like this. The kiss f*cks him up entirely. They've barely even gotten started, and he's already gone. There's legitimately no coming back from this in any capacity. Cas is it. He's it.

Dean thought that the wanting would be soothed by confirmation, but that only makes it worse. He's practically shaking apart with it, just from the way their mouths meet and part and come back together—warm and dry, then hot and wet.

The thing about getting what you've always and never known you wanted is that you tend to build it up in your head, subconsciously, so it can be so very anticlimactic or disappointing when you finally, after such a long time, do obtain it.

The thing about this is, there's absolutely nothing anticlimactic or disappointing about it. There is a brief moment where their lips meet and neither of them breathe or move at all, and then that pause passes like a ship drifting off in the night. Cas tips his head a little, Dean melts forward and slides his arms around Cas' shoulders, and there's the peak, the climax, the satisfaction.

Dean groans in relief. Cas swallows the sound easily, as if he's been doing it for years, using the opening to deepen the kiss with absolutely no hesitation whatsoever. It's wonderful, it's the best thing that's happened to Dean ever, without a doubt, and it's absolutely going to kill him. He won't survive it because Cas is kissing him like he wants it, like he has wanted it so long that he already knows how to make it good, like he has been studying Dean's mouth and imagining this moment so much that he doesn't even need to have experience to do it right.

And the truth of it is, neither of them know what they're doing, not really. They're beginners, stumbling into it, but they're also very quick-learners. It all comes down to bumping teeth and the pass of tongues, and then suddenly it works itself out. Instinctual. Natural. Perfectly imperfect.

It's a long kiss, long and deep and slow and intense. Dean feels it in his goddamn knees. His heart is beating fast and hard, thumping in his ears. He's only distantly aware of the sounds that leave his lips, muffled noises of approval and encouragement, breath hitching on gasps he can't even be ashamed of.

Cas licks them right out of his mouth, and yes, Dean is going to die. He has experienced it before. He knows what it feels like, and this is getting close, but it feels so good this time. He could die so very happy, right here and now.

"No, no, no," Dean chants, his breath hitching when Cas starts to pull away. He fists a hand in Cas' hair, tugging at him. "Come back. Do it again. Don't stop."

"Dean," Cas whispers into his mouth, sounding wrecked and rough, giving the smallest groan, like he is so, so very weak and unable to resist.

Good, yes. That's good. Let him be indulgent. Let him give Dean whatever he wants, because Dean wants the best for them both, which can only be kissing until they die. Surely.

Cas folds back in at Dean's demand, kissing him again, harder this time, a little wilder. Which, yes, good, great. Cas should never have any restraint ever again if going without leads to him sucking Dean's bottom lip into his mouth and biting it. Dean has never been so excited by something in his life.

"Stop it," Dean mumbles when Cas, once again, tries to pull away. "Stop going away. Never go away again. We're doing this until we die."

"Preferably, yes," Cas agrees roughly, "but not to the point of death. Breathing is a necessity."

Dean has literally never cared about breathing less than he does in this moment. He slides his hands down Cas' chest, down his sides, walking him backwards. "Come make out with me in my car."

"In Baby?" Cas asks, laughing quietly as Dean continues to guide him back. He doesn't even look behind himself, trusting Dean not to let him trip or take him somewhere he shouldn't. "Do you know that I've always wanted to do that?"

"Make out with me in my car?"


"You're so smart," Dean tells him, turning him slightly to point him in the direction of Baby, keeping his hands on Cas' hips so he doesn't stumble too much over the rocks. "You've got my attention. What else?"

Cas arches an eyebrow. "That's a long list."

"Start at the top," Dean insists.

"In reference to Baby, sex too. In as well as on," Cas informs him, not even batting an eye.

"You have a thing for my car, Cas?"

"I have a thing for your car because you have a thing for your car. It's sacred to you, in a way. I would like, so very much, to christen it by desecrating it."

Dean chokes on air for a moment, then redoubles his efforts to get them to Baby as quickly as he can without falling. "Okay, yes, that's—I'm on board for that. Just—we can't right now because—"

"We'll get home so late," Cas says.

"Right. Right," Dean blurts out, just as Cas' back finally hits the back passenger door. "We'd get home really f*cking late, and we have to—we're supposed to go do a thing tomorrow morning. Something. It was—what was it?"

"Help Sam move the rest of Eileen's things into the Bunker while she's on her way back from Nevada," Cas informs him, sliding his hands into Dean's jacket to brush along his sides, slipping around and wrenching Dean closer.

"We can't f*ck in my car, we can't f*ck in my car, we can't f*ck in my car," Dean chants under his breath, eyes slipping shut.

"We can still make out, as you said," Cas murmurs.

"Oh, Jesus f*ckin' Christ," Dean hisses, fumbling for the door handle and pressing in closer to kiss Cas again, which is as good this time as the first. Again, breathing becomes inconsequential.

Getting the door open and trying to kiss Cas at the same time requires motor functions Dean just doesn't have right now. He's not firing at all cylinders at the moment, fully just sucked into sensation. It takes an embarrassingly long time to manage it, and when he does, they part just enough for Cas to hum in approval.

Cas' eyes are so goddamn bright when he says, with a small smile, "Are we going to get home late?"

"Get the f*ck in there," Dean mutters, giving him a little tug to get him moving.

With a low, warm, unfairly attractive chuckle, Cas indulges him again. Dean's getting too old for this sh*t, but he climbs in after him anyway.

It's a mess of elbows and knees and trying to get situated as two fully grown men in the back of Baby. It's not impossible, but it is cramped, and they're making it harder on themselves by their mutual reluctance to stop kissing. In the end, Dean is pretty sure they're going to have to admit defeat.

"Hold on," Cas mumbles into his mouth, just as Dean's about to say this isn't going to work, let's try the hood. Thankfully, Cas has the solution to all of their problems, which turn out to be mostly Dean.

The solution is for Cas to lean up and forward, all while pushing Dean back, practically laying him out on the seat like he's trained for this. He has no qualms about grabbing Dean underneath the knees to jerk his legs apart and settle in between them. Dean's head rests on the door, and it's only by the grace of the back of the front seat that neither of them go toppling off into the floorboard.

"This should not work," Dean points out, sliding his hands up into Cas' hair anyway.

"It won't for an extended period of time. Some fantasies are better left unexplored," Cas muses.

"Not all," Dean says.

Cas' lips twitch. "No, not all."

"My knees are gonna hate this in, like, twenty minutes," Dean tells him.

"Endure," Cas replies, then dips in to kiss him, and alright, Dean sure as sh*t will.

So, like a couple of idiots, they make out in the backseat of Baby because their need to be horizontal and also keep kissing meets at the crossroads of the car being a good spot to fulfill those needs.

It's so f*cking good, is the thing. Dean doesn't even give a sh*t when his knees start getting fussy. He barely even notices. Instead, he focuses entirely on how seriously amazing it feels just to f*cking kiss Cas. It's ruining him for anything else, better than food or booze or his favorite song. Those are things that he enjoyed, or partook in because of the things going on in his life. He didn't crave them.

He craves this. It's the first time he truly experiences the depth of that feeling. The whole thing, the true meaning of it. Craving—to feel a powerful desire for something. Wanting. Longing. A hunger that genuinely stuns him when he comes to know it. He can feel it through every inch of him, like his whole body and something deeper, unexplainable, is calling out for it. This matters so much more than anything else, and he didn't know that anything could. Not like this. It leaves him insatiable.

Cas, it seems, isn't in any better shape. He can barely remember to pull away long enough for them to sip in air before going right back to it, and Dean consistently encouraging him doesn't seem to be helping. His own hedonism bleeds out all over them both, and Dean f*cking soaks in it.

And yet, at the end of the day, it's just kissing. As good as it is, there comes a point where the options are to slow down or go further. Seeing as they don't have the space to go further, the kissing eases. It turns a little sweeter, softer, and feels just as nice.

They explore the impressions of each other in the darkness. Dean thinks it's good that they get to do this, to take their time and break it up in fractures. f*cking is definitely on the table, but there's safety in first getting to work up to it. Starting with roaming hands over the clothes, shaping each other out with their palms, occasionally sliding up shirts to get at skin, just to feel it.

At some point later, when it feels like hours have passed, their breaks between kissing gets longer until it tapers off entirely. Cas is fully just sprawled out on top of him, head resting on Dean's chest. Dean thinks he's listening to his heartbeat. He runs his fingers lazily through Cas' hair and keeps his eyes closed, peaceful. Free.

"Hey," Dean says eventually, lightly tugging on Cas' hair. "So, all those times you and Sam were being weird, it's because he was trying to tell you to make a move?"

"Essentially, yes," Cas admits. He hums, and it rumbles in Dean's chest. "When I was in the hospital, you knew your feelings then, yes?"

"Yep. I was pretty f*cked up before I knew you were okay. Then, you were, and I just—well, call me sappy, but holding your hand kept me chill. Hey, so that heart monitor thing…"

"You have an effect, as I mentioned before. I was mortified."

"I thought it was adorable."

"Mm, I did not. The hospital was when I first considered the possibility that Sam could have been right, but I still didn't believe it."

Dean grunts. "Huh. Wait, that's why you couldn't be normal about me being in the leprechaun club."

"The—" Cas raises his head a little to squint at him through the dark. "I don't know of any leprechaun club, Dean."

"C'mon, Cas. Leprechauns, rainbows, the gays."

"Ah. Well, yes. I had never considered that you would ever learn that about yourself."

"What, you knew?" Dean asks.

"Yes, but that mattered very little if you did not. You could have gone your whole life not acknowledging it," Cas murmurs.

"I might have. I dunno. I think—well, I guess I kinda knew. I especially started figuring it out when I read—" Dean grimaces and cups the back of Cas' hand, smooshing his face back to Dean's chest. "You are not allowed to laugh about this. So, uh, do you remember that gay erotica book you found in Jack's room, that you gave to me to get rid of?"

"Yes," Cas replies, voice muffled. "You read it?"

"Picked it up that same night after you turned that guy down, which—ha! You were gay for me."

"Technically, yes."

Dean makes a pleased sound and drags his fingers through Cas' hair again like a reward. "Well, anyway, I picked it up after that. I guess I was trying to be supportive, but then I ended up getting way too into it. f*cking ended horribly, by the way."

"That was the book that upset you?"

"You read it and see if you don't wanna burn some sh*t down afterwards. I guess it was kinda like a cautionary tale, in a way. Gotta tell someone you love 'em while you still got the chance."

"I'll admit," Cas says, "I'm intrigued. Can I ask you something?"


"If you knew how you felt, why didn't you react negatively to Sam setting me up on a date?"

Dean snorts. "Oh, buddy, I was devastated. It was the first time I'd wanted to punch Sam in a while."

"That was a feeling I was accustomed to at that point. He was so very encouraging, and I know he meant well, but I simply never believed you'd…"

"It's like we said. Even when we don't hope, Sammy does. He's still a little sh*t, though. I was trying really hard to be normal about it, but I don't think I did a good job of it. sh*t, man, I practically begged you to skip out on your poor date."

"And I agreed the moment you asked me to," Cas replies, amused. "The thing with the shirt. Never do that to me again."

"Really?" Dean asks, eyebrows jerking up.

Cas makes a dissatisfied sound. "Unless you plan to to take it off afterwards, yes. It was...tempting. You're so very tempting, Dean. Worse, even, than the apple as the source of temptation, because one bite would not suffice."

"That's—Cas…" Dean bites the inside of his lip, his chest stuttering on a broken inhale. "You've gotta stop hitting on me in borderline blasphemous religious metaphors, man."

"Why? You like it."

"Yeah, a little too much."

"You reoriented my faith and made me realize what the desire to worship truly feels like," Cas murmurs, lifting his head again, his voice going soft and slow, rough and breathless. "If your body is likened to an altar, I would offer everything I have for the chance to kneel before it. Perhaps my prayers to God never reached their destination because I had converted long ago and was devoted to you."

"Oh my god," Dean chokes out.

"Perhaps you are mine," Cas whispers.

Dean's breath punches out of him, and he yanks Cas down a little frantically to kiss him as deeply as he can manage, then deeper.

It's a long time before they resurface.

When they do, however, Cas checks his phone to see that they've literally spent hours being idiots in the backseat. Regretfully, they crawl and crouch and stumble their way back out. Dean has to stand up to a while because his knees are f*cking pissed, and Cas doesn't seem to mind. He just holds Dean's hand and walks around with him.

When Dean's good to hit the road, they get back into Baby and go. Once again, Cas leans into him, head on Dean's shoulder, their hands clasped. There's nothing torturous about it.

They get home late.

"I'm in love."

Sam's head snaps up so quick that Dean's pretty sure he just pulled something. Dean sighs and turns the phone to show Sam the video of the really cool grenade launcher that he's watching. Sam deflates a little bit, heaving a sigh.

"Yeah, of course you are," he mutters. "Can you stop messing around and get ready? Eileen will be back from Nevada by eight, and I think she'd appreciate having all her stuff already here."

"As much as I adore your girlfriend, Sammy, I'm not rushing through a bowl of Mummy Munchie Marshmallows," Dean says, clicking his spoon against the side of the bowl as he closes his phone and sits it aside. "Besides, Cas isn't even up yet."

"He doesn't even sleep," Sam mumbles. "You two got in late last night. How was the roadtrip?"

Dean bites back the urge to laugh. "Really, um, informative. Hey, Sam, gotta question."

"Yeah?" Sam asks warily.

"You get the idea that Cas is starting to look...kinda good lately?" Dean asks, co*cking his head.

Sam sits up straight in his chair. "Uh, no. I mean, Cas looks like Cas. What, do you think he looks good?"

"Eh, s'probably nothing," Dean says lightly, keeping his face smooth as he looks down at his cereal.

"You think Cas looks good, and you think it's probably nothing?" Sam asks, strained.

Dean sighs dramatically. "I think Cas is just the best, you know? He's so nice, and funny, and his smiles really brighten my day. Sometimes, I think he deserves a hug. Don't you think he deserves a hug, Sam? You know, as his friend. Because I'm his friend, and I think he deserves a hug."

"I mean, sure he does," Sam says slowly, staring at him incredulously, "but I think, uh, there's a little more to that...particular urge than you're aware of."

"Have no idea what you mean," Dean tells him airily, waving his spoon around. "A kiss, too. Cas deserves a kiss. He's probably a great kisser. You ever think about how Cas is probably a great kisser?"

"Literally never have, not once in my life," Sam blurts out. "Dean, don't you think that's kind of… I mean, you're thinking about Cas like—like that, and that doesn't raise some alarms?"

Dean picks his bowl up, slurping at some of his milk, then thunks it back down. He makes a good show of considering Sam's words, then chirps, "Nah, not really. I'm just a better friend these days. Also, have you ever wanted to hold Cas' hand? I mean, dude, Cas has really nice—"

"Dean, stop it," Cas mutters as he sweeps into the kitchen, rolling his eyes.

"Hey-oh! There's my best, good buddy in the whole wide world. My pal. The Louise to my Thelma. The Spock to my Kirk. The Ennis Del Mar to my Jack Twist," Dean announces.

Sam makes a choking noise. "Dean, that's literally Brokeback Mountain. What—"

"No, no, it's the cowboy movie," Dean counters, waving a hand flippantly. "Anyway, Cas is making me coffee because he's just the bestest friend I've ever had. My completely, totally platonic soulmate. My other half without the—"

Cas heaves a sigh and sits the coffee down on the table with a thud, pressing his hand to the back of Dean's neck. His fingers drape around, squeezing and making Dean's head tip back. Cas dips in and kisses him, almost chaste but not entirely because Dean leans into it without even meaning to.

"Mornin', Sunshine," Dean breathes out when Cas pulls away and straightens up.

"Good morning, Dean," Cas replies as he slips into the open chair and picks up the coffee cup. He fixes Sam with a level look. "Sam."

"Cas," Sam gasps out, almost like the reply is wrenched from him. He's gaping at them, mouth hanging open, and then he slams his hand down to the table and points at Cas. "I freaking told you!"

"Told you what?" Dean asks.

"You're—you—" Sam flaps his hand between them, flailing a little. "You have feelings for him, Dean, and I told him that."

Dean draws his eyebrows together. "Sam, what are you talking about? I don't have feelings for Cas at all. He's my best buddy. No feelings involved. Is it because he's gay and I'm bisexual? That just ain't right, assuming we're into each other just 'cause we snort rainbows on Sundays."

"Dean," Cas says, looking exasperated.

"Oh, you absolute asshat," Sam spits. His eye twitches, and he looks like he wants to bludgeon Dean to death. "How long have you known?"

"You remember that time Cas and I went out, and when I got back, I barely left my room for six days?" Dean asks, then swipes his hand out to steal the coffee from Cas. "Yeah, since then."

"You—you knew for that long, and you pretended not to? Dean!" Sam bursts out.

"In his defense," Cas muses, "he was doing the same, exact thing I was doing."

Sam looks mutinous. "I was right. I was right. I told you, Cas, but noooo, what do I know about my own brother? And you, Dean. You let me try to—"

"Hey, that's not on me, dude." Dean waves his free hand once Cas steals the coffee back. "You're the one who thought I was a f*cking idiot. I mean, okay, I was for a while, and then I was later for different reasons, but come on. It wouldn't take me that long to figure it out. I'm a dumbass, but I'm not dumb."

"Don't talk to me. Neither of you talk to me for, like, three hours," Sam declares, pushing to his feet. "I was right, and you both made this so much more complicated than it needed to be, and I hope you're both really freaking happy together. Assholes."

"Thank you, Sam, we are," Cas says calmly, tipping the coffee cup up and looking right at Sam over the rim without breaking his gaze.

Sam huffs, his nostrils flaring, and then he turns and marches away. Dean steals the coffee back and muffles his laughter into the ceramic. Cas slides Dean's mostly-empty bowl of cereal over to himself and swirls the spoon in what's left of the sugary milk. He's smiling ever so slightly.

"Hi," Dean murmurs when he puts the coffee down and turns in his seat to look at Cas head on.

"Hello, Dean," Cas responds quietly, his voice soft.

"Tired of me yet?" Dean asks.

Cas' lips twitch. "Not quite. It's day one."

"How long will it take?"


"That's a long time." Dean bites on the inside of his cheek so he won't grin and leans closer, his heart still doing stupid things in his chest. Isn't that supposed to go away now? It hasn't. "I don't believe you, so you're gonna have to prove it."

"I'm a devout man," Cas tells him, turning towards him, eyes flicking over Dean's face. "I would be honored to prove my unending exaltation."

"You gotta stop doing that," Dean whispers, ducking in to press his mouth to Cas' shoulder, looking at him a little helplessly. Jesus Christ, the sh*t that comes out of Cas' mouth sometimes.

"Is it not expected to use the morning for praise? We pray before we sleep, and we rejoice when we wake, for it is through the divinity we claim as our own that we are granted the opportunity to be thankful for another day," Cas murmurs.

Dean groans and reaches out to pinch Cas on the arm. "You didn't even sleep last night, shut up."

"Well, no," Cas agrees, "but I was grateful for another day to get to spend with you."

"When I end up a narcissist, I'm blaming you."

"Dean, your self-esteem is so lacking that you're in absolutely no danger of becoming a narcissist. In fact, I'd say that a God-complex might do you more good than harm."

"Not a literal one. You're gonna have me out here writing the Winchester Bible. It's gonna be held together by duct tape. Also, f*ck you, go back to comparing me to the divine. Don't bring my self-esteem into this."

"I would be interested in how you'd revise the commandments, admittedly."

"Thou shalt not be a f*cking asshole," Dean mutters, lifting his head to rest his chin on Cas' shoulder, lips curling up. "But you're a natural rebel, aren't you?"

"I've been told I embody free will," Cas replies, eyes practically sparkling with humor. "Is it rebellion if the command is foolish?"

"Sinner. Look at you, already breaking the rules," Dean teases, his hand sliding down the length of Cas' arm, tracing mindless circles into his skin.

"Was I being an asshole?"

"When aren't you?"

"I believe that rule has little structure and depends completely on perception."

"Yeah, but I'm the one making the rules, so I get to decide when you're breaking them."

"As is your right, in the position you're in and the power you hold. Am I meant to beg for forgiveness now?" Cas asks, arching an eyebrow.

The way Dean's body reacts to that can't be normal. It sends a physical jolt through him, making his breath hitch, and he chokes out, "How, uh—how exactly would you go about doing that?"

"Do I have the time to show you?"

"We'll f*cking make the time."

"Mm, so we will," Cas says, pulling away to scrape his chair back and stand to his feet. He catches Dean's hand and tugs him up and along.

Dean stumbles after him, dazed, unsure who the holy one is supposed to be in this metaphorical situation. His morning is going so well.

It gets even better.

Cas begging for forgiveness, as it turns out, involves less clothes and hands on skin, and Dean's cursing and gasping out things no god would ever say. He's truly never had such a good start to his day.

The thing is, sex with Cas—even as innocent as a couple of swapped handjobs—turns out to be something of a religious experience, if Dean's determined to stick to a theme here. It's just so unnecessarily good? Like, he knows, realistically, that it's just kissing and squirming around in bed naked and hands on dicks, but Dean genuinely cannot think of it as anything other than the best he's ever had. And he's had some really good sex, so that's a tall order for Cas to fulfill.

But fulfill it, he does.

It's the craving thing, it has to be. The hunger. The want. The way that Dean isn't doing it for relief, or because it's something expected of him, or because he's drunk, or trying to lose himself in someone else, or seeking out the pleasure of it. It's because he wants it so very badly. He doesn't care where it goes, or how it ends. It's just about the experience, feeling every single second of the moment, every touch and every sensation.

It's the best he's ever had because he wants it for the sole reason of wanting it, and he wants it even while he's getting it, and he wants it even when it's over.

He thinks he's going to want it for the rest of his life. He thinks he's going to be able to have it.

After, Cas doesn't complain when Dean sprawls out all over him, breathing hard and probably losing his collective sh*t because wanting things like that is a rush and high of which he's not accustomed to. He just runs his fingertips back and forth between Dean's shoulders, his touch light. Dean just knows he looks stupid right now—dazed, blown pupils, slack-jawed. You'd think he was a virgin being touched for the very first time, and ah, that's what Madonna meant by that. Huh.

"Am I forgiven?" Cas asks, his voice rough. There's a rumble to it, and Dean's brain is about to shut down just remembering the sounds that Cas made.

"Cas, you have been hereby pardoned of all past and future sins for the rest of our godforsaken lives," Dean mumbles. "You can do whatever you want."

Cas hums, amused. "I'm going to win many arguments this way, aren't I?"

"Nah, we'll just have angry sex. God, the angry sex we would have."

"That doesn't sound positive."

"Well, we're pretty f*cked up. I want you to fight me. Just throw me around the room or something, I dunno. Rough sex—it's a miracle in the making."

"Is it?"

"Yeah," Dean breathes out, sighing as his eyes flutter shut. "Makes the make-up sex so much sweeter. Anyway, give me hell. I can handle it."

"Yes, of course you can," Cas tells him, brushing his hand up into Dean's hair, gently massaging his scalp. He sounds doting, like he's indulging Dean. Why yes, Dean, you're completely capable of getting beaten up, and of course that's something you want, dear, now tilt your head back for better petting of your hair. f*cking asshole. It's only worse because Dean co*cks his head into Cas' hand anyway.

Dean, who doesn't appreciate being patronized and also exposed as someone weak for affection, mutters a gruff, "f*ck you, I could kick your ass."

"Mhm, I'm sure," Cas replies, and Dean can't see the arched eyebrow from this angle, but he somehow hears it in Cas' voice. He knows it's there.

Dean has got a ready reply for this, he really does, because he's so willing to roll around in the bed with Cas some more—if it's them seeing who can shove each other the hardest, all the better. In the end, however, he never gets the chance. Cas slides his hand back down to Dean's back, right between his shoulders blades, and he starts digging into the knots and massaging them.

Dean chokes and goes limp immediately.

Cas makes a small sound of satisfaction at having the equivalent of Dean's off-button on hand and knowing where it is. The thing is, Dean's always so tense. He's held so much tension in his shoulders and back for so many years that Cas doing this is actually painful in the best way.

He remembers, once, that Cas stood in the kitchen and did this to him, only to quickly stop when Dean accidentally released a moan because of it. This time, Cas doesn't stop no matter what noise Dean makes. Some of them sound obscene, while others sound like he's in agony. It aches so good, and it's a relief that hurts. Cas is unnecessarily good at it, too, digging his fingers in relentlessly and moving with the motion of Dean's body arcing to try and escape but also get closer. He seems to know Dean's body the way someone can sing their favorite song.

He's so glad he's not standing. Cas doing this sh*t to him would have made him buckle. It legitimately brings tears to his eyes, which is the most absurd thing. Dean's got his ass handed to him by multiple cosmic beings, up to and including God, and he didn't shed a f*cking tear. This? Well, it's a pleasure-pain that makes him want to die and ascend to the next plane of existence.

Cas gets, like, super into it. In no time at all, he's shifting to the side and letting Dean faceplant the bed, swinging up to settle on the back of Dean's thighs, straddling them. He works both hands all over Dean's back and shoulders. The only way this would be both better and worse is if he had lotion.

Dean is turned into a cooked noodle pretty quickly.

There's kinks and tension in places he didn't even know existed, and Cas seems to unearth every single one. He dedicates his time to pressing in and forcing them out the only way available after how long they've existed under Dean's skin. It's like he's yanking them out by the root, merciless.

Eventually, he stops. He just gently rubs his palms up and down Dean's back, tracing apologetic caresses into his skin. He seems to get distracted by Dean's bone placement, thumb gently mapping out every knob of Dean's spine, fingers spreading and sliding along Dean's ribs. He could be counting them, or just remembering how he rebuilt them. Dean has Cas' memories in his bones, holding them, living them. It's incredible.

Dean is so f*cking sore after that. His muscles and skin actually ache. He feels like he's throbbing. And yet, it was so awful and wonderful that he chokes out, into the fabric of his pillow, "f*ck, I love you."

"I love you, too," Cas says simply, dragging his fingers back down Dean's back. He sounds pleased.

"That f*cked me up," Dean admits. "M'gonna be sore all goddamn day."

"It helped."

"Yeah, but sometimes getting help can hurt."

Cas hums. "You're better off for it."

"Trying to take care of me, Cas?"

"For as long as you'll let me."

"Sap. Get off me. C'mere." Dean groans as he twists and flops on his back, Cas moving to sprawl out next to him again. It is true that it helped, to be fair. This ache is better than the one before it. He turns, reaching out to press his hand to Cas' jaw, thumb resting against his bottom lip. "No one's ever wanted to do that before."

"Give you a massage?" Cas murmurs, eyebrows pinching together like he can't imagine anyone not wanting to get their hands on Dean's bare skin.

Dean huffs a quiet laugh and slides his thumb along Cas' lip, watching the chapped skin catch and chase his finger. "No, I mean no one's ever wanted to take care of me for as long as I'm alive. And I don't...I don't mean like the small things—making dinner, or looking after me when I'm sick. That too, but mostly I mean… Caring about me at my best and worst, wanting to, even when it ain't easy. At some point, everyone wants to walk away."

"I've walked away before," Cas says softly.

"But did you want to?" Dean croaks.

Cas holds his gaze, not blinking, steady. "No, never. All I ever wanted was to be with you, but I didn't always get the choice. You didn't always allow me to. You didn't really ask me to stay."

"I know," Dean whispers.

"Did you want to?" Cas asks.

Dean swallows. "Every time."

Cas rocks forward with a soft exhale, displacing Dean's finger, and their lips connect so simply. Even this, even something as gentle and warm as this, it's something Dean wants. It's a tender want, an ache not unlike the one in his back now, born from having the tension plucked out of him.

What's better than the want itself is the fact that he can have it. They both can have it. They can keep it.

It's not something they can spend hours getting lost in just yet, not this morning. They have other things they've promised to do, namely helping move Eileen's things into the bunker. Between him, Sam, and Cas, it should take one trip between three cars, especially since Cas is driving a truck.

It's a four hour drive there, and the same back, so they're getting an early start so they're back by the time Eileen makes it in from Nevada. This means that Dean has Baby all to himself for the first time in a while. That means he puts on the radio and cranks it up loud every time a Taylor Swift song comes on.

Dean pulls into the parking lot where Eileen's apartment is last, swinging Baby into the space next to Sam's car. He catches sight of Sam jangling keys at him and making vague motions that either mean he's going into Eileen's apartment and will be right back out, or he's choking on his own spit. Dean figures it's the former and slides out of Baby as Sam walks away, disappearing up some steps.

Cas comes around his truck a few minutes later, his trenchcoat flapping because today is apparently a day for indulging his attachment to it. Dean still feels his heart flip the moment he looks at Cas, and then it does it again when Cas looks back, and then it does it again when Cas smiles and starts walking right for him. That's never going to go away, is it? sh*t, at least it's not painful anymore.

"Sam's going to get everything ready. Eileen is leaving some of her things at the owner's permission. A dresser or two, I believe. Things such as that," Cas informs him as he draws closer. He leans back against Baby, stuffing his hands into his pockets so his sleeves bunch up.

"So, we're basically waiting around for Sam?" Dean snorts when Cas nods. He turns and starts pacing, rolling his eyes. "He was in such a damn rush. It's always hurry up and wait with him, the little sh*t. I would have stopped for coffee if I knew that."

"I doubt you need more energy, Dean."

"Screw you. I had a really good morning."

Cas cracks a small smile. "Come here."

Dean does automatically, shuffling in the moment that Cas reaches for him. He doesn't have a clue what Cas plans to do, but he doesn't really care. Touching is good. Any form of it.

Cas turns him slightly and tugs him back, making Dean stumble back into him a little. He gets situated as Cas' arms slide around his middle, his forehead pressing against the back of Dean's neck. Dean's feet are braced on the other side of Cas', and he relaxes back into him in increments. He rests his arms on top of Cas', tapping his fingers to Cas' wrists to a beat that probably comes from a Led Zeppelin song, and he scans the parking lot leisurely as he waits for Sam to show up again. Cas releases a quiet sigh and squeezes him, just a little.

"Woah," Dean blurts when he feels something dig into his hip. "Is that an angel blade, or are you just that happy to see me?"

"Ah, that's actually an angel blade," Cas tells him, huffing a soft laugh.

Dean clicks his tongue and pushes his fingers up into Cas' sleeves. "Well, now I'm just offended. You really brought an angel blade, dude?"

"Old habits."

"Yeah. My gun's probably poking you in the stomach right now, huh?"

"I don't mind," Cas murmurs.

"You think we'll ever go anywhere without a weapon?" Dean asks.

"Freedom is no excuse to be careless."

"You got that right."

Cas makes a small, inquisitive sound. "I find it interesting what things Eileen is willing to part with when relocating. It makes me realize that I have so few things I would take if I were doing the same thing. I don't have...much."

"You can pack me in a bag and take me wherever you go if you want," Dean offers, lips curling up when Cas' arms tighten around his middle again. "Anyway, you've got stuff, Cas. Well, you've got people. It's not like your gonna have a whole lot of clothes, 'cause you don't technically need to change. But you got your truck. You got those presents from Christmas. You got that mixtape I made you. Um, you do still have that mixtape, right?"

"Yes, of course. You said it was a gift and that I should keep it. So I did," Cas murmurs.

Dean leans his head back, letting it rest against the top of Cas'. "Ya know, it was all the rage back in my day to make a mixtape for someone you at least wanted to get to second base with. I've been wooing you for years, and I didn't even know it."

"A romantic gesture?" Cas asks, and the way he asks is what Dean imagines a dog would sound like if they could speak when their ears perk and their heads co*ck to the side. Suddenly alert. Interested. Possibly even excited.

"Yeah, I don't know how I missed that. Ain't never made a mixtape for a friend. Well, I haven't ever made one for anything other than Baby, and she's the love of my life, so it should have been obvious."

"I'm competing with a vehicle?"

"You're a great runner-up, sweetheart. She ain't never left me high and dry," Dean teases, and the last word leaves him on a slight wheeze as Cas' arms tighten around him again.

"I made you a sandwich once," Cas says gruffly.

Dean snorts and stares up at the sky as he shakes his head on top of Cas' head. "Doesn't count. You made Sam one, too."

"I gave up an army for you."

"I kept your trenchcoat in my trunk for months after you were dead. Took it out sometimes before you got back, too, when I was really drunk. Just to—I don't know...hold it, I guess?"

"I bought you pie and beer when I upset you."

"Weak. I refused to leave Purgatory without you, and then made up a whole fake story about what really happened. Top that."

"I was brainwashed by Naomi and put through countless simulations of killing you, only to fail to do so when met with the real thing," Cas informs him, oh so casually.

"You what?" Dean's head jerks up, and he leans forward to crane his head around and stare at Cas incredulously. "Are you serious?"

Cas looks at him, frowning. "That would not make for a very good joke. Yes, I'm serious. When I was sent to retrieve the angel tablet, I had already been put through many exercises that would prepare me to handle killing you quickly and efficiently. Of course, when it came time to actually do it, I argued with Naomi. When asked to choose between Heaven and—well, you, essentially...I chose you. Really, I do still feel guilty for hurting you in that crypt."

"Je-sus Christ," Dean hisses. "I asked what broke the connection then, and it was—"

"You. Of course." Cas' lips twitch, like this is something to be fond about. "Naomi was foolish to think I'd ever kill you, no matter what she had done to my head by that point. Her mistake was thinking love could be stolen from someone, but it can't."

Dean blows out an explosive breath and turns back around, slumping against Cas again, staring ahead without really seeing anything. "Damn, Cas. Just… Damn. I'd—I swear I'd give you that one, I really would, but I did something similar when I had the mark, ya know, and I just...didn't kill you when we had that fight. Came real close to it, you have no idea, but when it came down to it, I couldn't."

"I would have let you."

"I know."

Cas' chin hooks on Dean's shoulder. "I killed Billie for you, when you and Sam made that stupid deal."

"Not for me, though. That was all Winchesters in general," Dean protests. "Anyway, I could have sent Ishim packing to bumf*ck nowhere, remember? But it coulda killed you, so I was gonna let that f*cker kill me instead. I win this round."

"He only wanted to kill you because you're my human weakness, in his eyes."

"Yeah, and Amara probably only tried to kill you 'cause it was easier for me to not focus on her when it had anything to do with you."

"I kept as much distance between us in Purgatory as I could to protect you, despite wanting to be with you and answer your every prayer."

"That's another thing. I prayed to you. Like, all the time. Even when I wasn't technically supposed to."

"I killed my own brethren to protect you."

"I dealt with your brethren trying to kill me, sometimes for information on you I refused to even give 'em."

Cas huffs, and now he's starting to edge towards getting defensive. "Dean, I—quite literally—rebelled from Heaven for you. Everything I did was for you."

"I'm just saying, Cas. No flowers, no love letters, no hints at all, really. How was I supposed to know?"

"I do not know how I could have been more obvious, Dean. I genuinely don't."

"You calling me dense?" Dean asks, pinching the skin of Cas' wrists in preemptive retaliation.

"You are so very intelligent, but on this subject…"

"Okay, yeah, you got me there. I had people tell me, you know. Meg called you my boyfriend once. Balthazar outright f*cking told me you were in love with me. Uriel was first, I think. He said it was a problem that you liked me. Ha! Gotta say, he wasn't exactly wrong, but he had no idea what a problem you'd turn out to be. Not for me, though, just everyone else."

"Well, for you as well, at times," Cas muses.

"I had an org*sm this morning that says you've been forgiven for all past sins. Problems? Never heard of 'em," Dean replies, grinning when Cas huffs a laugh.

"And what of your past sins?"

"What, was this morning not enough for you? What's a guy gotta do to get some forgiveness?"

"You didn't ask for it."

"It was implied."

Cas hums. "I believe it has to be an explicit plea, or else you're seeking atonement without first admitting why you need it, and thus takes the meaning out of it entirely."

"You just wanna f*ck," Dean says, running his fingers up and down Cas' hands and wrists, slipping in and out of his sleeves. He's got a low curl of warmth in his chest, so stupidly pleased.

"I always want to do that, and you need not earn forgiveness for it to happen," Cas tells him, blunt about it.

Dean chuckles. "Oh, so I can still be stained with my sins, and you wouldn't care."

"You could be actively sinning, and I wouldn't."

"Kinky. Who knew you would turn out to be such a freak, Cas?"

"You're the focal point of my desires. All of them."

"I hope you got a long list and a lot of ideas, 'cause I'm gonna need something to keep me busy until we get too old to do much more than kick each other in our sleep. Long way away on that one, though, because I'm in my goddamn prime."

"You are," Cas says agreeably, back to being indulgent again, the asshole. His head has turned, resting on Dean's shoulder, seeming very relaxed the way he's wrapped around Dean and behind him like he's a shield. "Do you not have ideas?"

"To tell you the truth, I gotta think about wanting you in broad terms. If I try to think of something too specific, I get kinda weird. Like I need to go lay down for a couple of hours," Dean admits, pursing his lips. "You drive me f*cking crazy."

Cas makes a small, pleased noise. "We'll work on it."

Dean hums in agreement, or approval, or acceptance. Maybe all three. They fall into comfortable silence, and Dean doesn't really know how he ended up right here. He doesn't understand how he made it to this moment where Cas is holding him from behind, all wrapped around him, almost hiding away from the world with Dean blocking him and leaning into him. He's not sure where this conversation started, or where it was going, or what the point of it was.

None of that really seems to matter. He just feels really—good. Calm. Comfortable. He tries to picture himself doing this months ago, and he can't. Hell, there was a time that holding Cas' hand seemed like a foreign concept to him. Dean idly wonders what other things that seem strange and impossible will become his new normal, and the idea that there's so much more sends a thrill through him. Will this? Will Cas just always want to do this now, hold onto him when they're waiting somewhere?

Dean can't think of a reason that he wouldn't be agreeable to it. Maybe on a case when they have to be professional and focused, but when they're clocked out? Well, it's just nice, is all.

There's going to be other things, too. Dean knows that. For all that they've been basically dating for a while now, a confirmed thing is a new dynamic. Things will be different in some ways, while staying the same in others. And what about living together, outside of the Bunker? They'll have a house. It's not just Dean. Cas will be a part of that, too. It'll be theirs, and that's different from a Bunker they all live in, or even Dean's house that Cas lives in.

"Hey," Dean mumbles, drawing lazy shapes into the skin of Cas' arms up under his sleeves. "Was just thinkin' about us living together in our own place, right? And I figured out that I don't—I don't even really know what you want."

"I don't know what you mean," Cas murmurs.

"You know… Um, like you gotta have opinions, right?" Dean drags one hand out and waves it around. "Kinda like how no one can really do anything to Baby, 'cause she's my car. I make all the decisions for her. But if we're—I mean, it'd be our place. Yeah, we'd call it Bobby's to keep his memory alive or whatever, but it ain't gonna be what his house looked like. Does that at all make sense?"

"You want me to have input on the reconstruction of Bobby's old house?"

"Well, yeah. Maybe. I mean, in a roundabout way, it's like someone building a house for the person they're trying to spend the rest of their life with. I wouldn't want to bust down a wall that you wanted to keep up, you know?"

"I'll admit, I haven't given it much thought. I don't know if I'd have much of an opinion."

Dean snorts. "Oh, please. You're one of the most opinionated assholes I know. I'll put money on you wanting a garden, or something."

There's a beat of silence, then Cas murmurs, "A garden doesn't sound...bad."

"f*ckin' knew it," Dean says, grinning.

"Bigger bed. More covers. More pillows," Cas states, because he does have opinions.

"Mhm. Yeah, I'm good with that."

"House plants."

"No. I draw the line at bringing the garden into the house, Cas," Dean tells him.

Cas huffs. "It wouldn't be a garden. Plants are nature's sign of life. It would be nice."


"Only a few."

"I'll get you one for every anniversary, how about that?" Dean negotiates, raising his eyebrows even though Cas can't see him. He grunts a little when Cas squeezes him again.

"That's acceptable," Cas allows.

"I've always wanted a wet bar," Dean admits.

"You don't drink anymore, Dean," Cas points out.

Dean grunts. "I know, but still. I could really spruce it up, ya know? It'd be nice."

"You could replace the alcohol with coffee."

"I could, or I could collect really old Whiskey that I'll never drink. Be like one of those uppity, classy people who show off their fancy drinks from the early nineteen hundreds, but no one's allowed to drink 'em 'cause they're stupid expensive."

"Mm, and you wouldn't be tempted to drink them, if only to be contradictory?"

"Nah. Some of those older bottles are just real nice to look at. Bobby used to do that, you know. He had the drinks we could drink, and the drinks we couldn't. I'll do the same thing, except the drinks we can drink are just coffee."

"You enjoy building things," Cas notes. "Using your hands and finding pride in the finished product."

"Doesn't everyone?" Dean clicks his tongue and heaves a sigh. "What else do you want?"

"Books. As many we can find that I've never read before or had forced into my head by Metatron. I want to be able to pick up a book off the shelf and not know what to expect."

"Yeah, that's fair. Kinda like the idea. People coming to my house and thinking I'm smart 'cause I have a lot of books."

Cas protests with a quiet, "Dean, you are smart."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Bookshelves are going on the list of things we'll need. Plenty of 'em. Oh, dude, I wanna get one of those couches with the recliners built into them," Dean says, perking up at the thought. The naps he'd have in one of those.

"Rather than a recliner or a couch?"

"Sweetheart, I can't pick between men and women and everything in between to find hot and stick there. What makes you think I'm gonna wanna pick between a couch and a recliner?"

"Fine." Cas' arms tighten around him again, and he sounds like he's smiling. "I want a rug."

"You can have as many rugs as you want," Dean tells him, lips twitching. He can feel Cas shaking his head against his shoulder, laughing softly as if he's amazed. "What? What is it? What'd I do?"

Cas sighs quietly, a happy sound. "Nothing. You're just...remarkably affectionate."

"Shut up. We're in the honeymoon phase. Gimme like a week, and then I'll go back to being an asshole," Dean mutters, pinching Cas again.

"I don't think you've been an asshole to me the way you believe you have, especially since we've had the freedom to be much kinder to each other in a kinder world," Cas tells him. "Regardless, to have a honeymoon, we would first have to be married, and you said you never want to do that."

Dean chews on his bottom lip, considering for a long moment. He wavers back and forth, then grimaces because he just has to ask. "Do you, um, want to do that, Cas?"

"Ah," Cas says delicately, and Dean knows instantly what his answer is. And sure enough, it's exactly what he's expecting. "I told you I have never been able to choose when getting married, not really. I would choose you, of course, but I also… Truthfully, I would like to have you in every way I could get you."

"Yeah, but that's the thing, dude. Marriage is just a piece of paper."

"I would cherish that piece of paper."

"Cas…" Dean groans and drops his head forward, closing his eyes. "It's not—it's just that marriage was basically ownership back in the day, and I know you know this, because Claire has talked about how it's all bullsh*t before. You don't wanna own me."

Cas clears his throat. "Well…"

"Oh, Jesus Christ." Dean's head snaps up and around, narrowing his eyes at Cas. "You possessive bastard. Seriously?"

"No one has ever had you in that way before," Cas points out, not even having the decency to be sheepish. He's completely unapologetic. "I don't want to own you, no… Or, not in a way that devalues you. I would appreciate having something no one else ever has, as well as the finality in it. Marriage is a commitment greater than a common relationship, isn't it?"

"No, 'cause if you're committed, then you just are, and marriage ain't gonna make you if you aren't. Divorce exists, you know."

"You don't find anything compelling about the thought of—not necessarily marriage itself, because that's not what I appreciate, but perhaps the idea of being married to me?"

Dean opens his mouth, then closes it. He slowly turns around, considering that. Marriage? A scam. Marrying Cas? Well, that's a little different. He gets it. Why Cas is into the idea. Dean himself kinda likes the thought of being the one person Cas has ever married that he actually wanted to.

Dean leans back into Cas and blows out a deep breath. "It's not you I'm objecting to, so I get what you mean. I don't know. We should come back to this topic later."

"Okay, Dean," Cas says simply, as easy as that. He's made his point and left it there. Dean doesn't doubt they'll revisit it down the road, and who knows where he'll stand on it then? That's the beauty of freedom, he guesses. The flexibility to change.

"That's right, Cas, you wear him down," Sam announces as he comes around the front of his car, heading for the trunk with a bag in his hands. He glances at them in amusem*nt. "No, seriously, wear him down, because I've already got the flowers picked out for your wedding. They're going to match your eyes, Cas."

Cas hums and says, "I appreciate that, Sam, thank you."

"Jack can be the flower-girl," Sam continues as he pops the trunk and tosses the bag in. "It only makes sense."

"Stop talking to each other. Never talk to each other again. I am the bridge that forged the bond between you, and I will burn it all down," Dean mutters, kicking out with his leg as Sam walks by, sputtering when Cas tugs him back and doesn't let him land the kick. He's a traitor.

Sam snorts and glances back at them over his shoulder. "Good luck with that. Anyway, if you two are done with your canoodling, you could come help me get Eileen's things at any time."

"Can you believe I had opportunities to kill that asshat and let them pass me by?" Dean asks flatly as he watches Sam disappear back into the apartment.

"Hindsight helps no one," Cas replies, sighing as his arms go slack and drop away.

Dean shuffles forward and around, leaning right back into Cas and flicking his gaze all over his face, taking him in. "Sure as sh*t doesn't. If I knew then what I know right now… Well, I guess I woulda told you I love you a lot sooner than I did."

"One day, you'll have told me for longer than you didn't," Cas assures him. "And I you."

"You don't know that for sure," Dean mumbles.

Cas smiles slightly. "I hope."

"Thought you didn't believe in that."

"You could say I'm coming around."

Dean whispers, "Yeah, Cas, me too," and leans in to kiss him until Sam yells at them from the doorway, and then—just because he wants to—for a little bit longer.

Jack gets dropped off by Jody, and he announces his arrival by whisking into the kitchen and catching Dean kissing Cas while also trying to fry bacon.

They don't actually notice him until he's suddenly there, politely interrupting and telling Dean to pick a card, any card. Dean heaves a sigh as Cas turns his head, his shoulders jerking from an aborted laugh, and Jack doesn't even seem to care that they were in the middle of something.

"Fine, there," Dean mutters, reaching out to tug out a card. Ace of diamonds.

"Put it back," Jack instructs. Dean does, and he starts shuffling them with his eyes closed. After a second, he whips a card out and springs his eyes open, beaming at Dean as he shows it. Ten of spades. "Is this your card?"

Dean's lips twitch. "Yeah, Jack, that's my card."

"Ah, I'm getting better at this! That's the first time I got it." Jack straightens the cards back and smiles sweetly. "So, it's not complicated anymore?"

"No, it's not," Dean says with a sigh, already knowing what the kid is talking about.

Jack hums, pleased with himself—that's a Cas thing, it has Cas all over it. "So, I was right?"

"Yes, but don't brag about it," Dean mutters.

"Can I brag to Claire?" Jack asks.

Cas huffs a soft laugh and takes the spatula from Dean, poking at the bacon. He provides absolutely no input, leaving this one to Dean. He's terrible. Just the worst. Dean loves him so much.

"Does Claire even know that we—"

"Everyone knows. She just thought you two would never do anything about it."

"Her faith in us is astounding, truly," Dean says flatly, rolling his eyes. "If I say you can, will you go and brag to her right now?"

"Yes," Jack confirms.

Dean hums. "Have at it, kid."

"Thank you," Jack chirps and starts for the door almost immediately.

"Jack," Cas calls, waiting for Jack to skitter to a halt and turn back, "did you have fun on your visit?"

"Yes," Jack answers.

Cas raises his eyebrows. "Did you and Claire stay out of trouble?"

"Castiel, we didn't do anything wrong and were innocent angels the entire time," Jack says slowly, his head tipping back and forth on every word, like he's reciting them. Oh, Claire gave him a script. Jesus Christ, this doesn't bode well.

"What did you do?" Cas asks wearily.

Jack smiles, eyes bright. "We had family-fun, bonding time that didn't result in injury, death, or major problems for the world."

"Cas, I think it's better if we just...don't know," Dean mumbles, grimacing.

"Perhaps," Cas says with a sigh. He shakes his head at Jack. "If—if something happened, you would have called, right?"

"Oh, that reminds me!" Jack lifts a finger, still smiling. "I need a new phone."

"What happened to your old one?" Cas asks, strained, alarm threaded through his tone.

Jack's smile slips slightly. "It…got melted."

"There was fire?" Cas snaps, eyes narrowing.

"Not exactly and not the whole time," Jack replies reasonably, as if that's going to help his case here.

"How're you gonna brag to Claire if you don't even got a phone?" Dean mutters.

"From my computer," Jack says. "That didn't end up submerged in the lava."

"Lava?!" Dean and Cas burst out at the same exact time, and Jack's eyes go wide immediately.

"I wasn't...supposed to tell you about that," he whispers, starting to back out of the room. "Um, forget I said that. I didn't say that. We had family-fun, bonding time that didn't result in injury, death, or major problems for the world. Bye!"

"Do you know the worst part?" Cas asks, staring after him with a wrinkle in his brow. "I'm not worried for his well-being. He won't be harmed. It's the others, and what would happen to them, and how it would affect him if he interfered to help them. Worse, even, if he didn't."

Dean shakes his head. "f*ckin' lava. Where the hell did they even find lava? Jesus Christ. This is exactly how Bobby felt, isn't it? We just showed up one day and slapped an apocalypse in his lap, and he turned gray so quick." He tips his head back, like he's looking heavenward. "I'm so sorry, Bobby. I get it now. I really do."

Cas sighs. "I'll need to go out and get a phone."

"Probably should talk to Claire, too. Tell her to stay the f*ck away from lava."

"Can't you do it?"

"Me? Dude, stop trying to baby-trap me." Dean nudges him with his elbow. "You give her the no-lava talk, don't pawn it off on me. That's just lazy parenting, man."

"If I tell her to stay away from lava, she will go out and submerge herself in it," Cas says miserably.

Dean swallows a laugh, because yeah, that's true. Cas and his little band of rebellious kids. Tough break. "You think she won't if I tell her?"

"You'll figure it out." Cas leans in and kisses him, distracting enough that Dean misses the fact that he's being swindled currently. "I'll be back in a few hours with a new phone."

"Uh huh, sure," Dean agrees, smiling, his heart still doing gravity-defying flips in his chest. It takes him a few moments to realize that he's been effectively baby-trapped again. "Wh—hey! Cas, you—"

Cas was a strategist for Heaven, so he's skilled enough to follow his plan all the way through and not stick around when Dean realizes too late what he just agreed to. Kissing as a distraction. That's a low blow. Dean's kind of offended that it worked.

So, while Cas is out getting Jack a new phone, Dean finishes up breakfast and goes banging on doors to get everyone around the table. Eileen asks how Jack's visit to the ladies went, and he says they had family-fun, bonding time that didn't result in injury, death, or major problems for the world. Eileen looks skeptical at this response, and Sam looks to Dean for confirmation, and Dean's definitely going to gray so fast. So much for a peaceful world without Chuck.

Because Jack was involved in something to do with lava, Dean puts him on dishes duty. This is not really a punishment, because Jack actually likes doing dishes. He finds the suds to be fun and enjoys how clean his nails get afterwards. Eileen and Sam retire to the war room to see if there are any cases that have come through recently. They've all been in another lull, the monsters taking a sabbatical for now. Meanwhile, Dean slinks off to his room to call Claire and bully her into staying away from lava.

This, as you can imagine, is a long process.

Claire picks up the phone with a dry, "Do I have to start calling you my step-dad now?"

"You know, most people would be honored. I'm kind of a big deal to some people," Dean tells her.

"Those people don't know what a dork you are, which is a pretty big one for an old man. So, when's the wedding? I'm not being the flower-girl, just to be clear," Claire says.

Dean sighs. "No, apparently, that's supposed to be Jack. But there's no wedding. Marriage is a scam. You and I have agreed on this. Anyway, that's not what I'm calling to talk to you about."

"If it's about cases, we're bone-dry over here. I think Alex is considering raising one of the corpses from the hospital just to give me something to do. Kaia has taken up pottery. Have you ever seen someone do pottery, Dean? Wet clay. Fingers. I'm f*cking going crazy. If there's a case, it's going to be for me, so ask around somewhere else."

"That's—Claire, it's not about cases. Well, maybe it is. I don't know, because I can't imagine what stupid f*cking thing you all were involved in that somehow got you close to lava."

There's a beat of silence, then Claire says, "I don't know what you're talking about. We had family-fun, bonding time that didn't result in injury, death, or major problems for the world."

"Jesus," Dean mutters, pinching the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes. Yeah, he's going to find at least ten extra gray hairs by tomorrow.

From there, trying to get Claire to admit that they did anything other than their tagline is like pulling teeth. She refuses to come right out and say it, and then she argues that she will touch lava if she damn well wants to, and then she says that if lava wasn't meant to be touched, maybe it shouldn't look like that. In the end, Dean has to genuinely bully her a little to get something sort of resembling an agreement to not do dangerous things that are, in some cases, even worse than hunter-typical things, of which she had no interaction with to begin with because they had family-fun, bonding time—

Anyway, Cas is terrible.

When he gets back, he comes with a new phone to give to Jack. Dean finds them in the Dean Cave, setting it up while the TV plays a cartoon that he doesn't recognize. He joins them, plopping down on the couch in the open spot beside Jack, meaning to help them figure out all the new features on the phone but getting distracted by the cartoon instead.

Eventually, Jack and Cas seem to work out the phone, and then Jack is hanging out with them for a bit to keep watching the cartoon. Dean, who has unexpectedly gotten a little invested, asks Jack a question about the cartoon. This spirals into a long tale summing up what it's about, what the names of the bears are, and what Dean's missed so far.

At some point, Eileen and Sam give up on trying to find monsters who aren't ready for another round of whack-a-mole yet. They wander in and squeeze into a chair together, watching the cartoon in silence. Jack puts on the subtitles and nearly breaks the remote when he loses it somewhere in the couch, and by the time he locates it, his hair is sticking up and out all over the place. It takes grandiose effort not to laugh about it.

When a different cartoon comes on, Jack declares that he doesn't like that one and gets up to go to his room. Kaia apparently gave him a new hobby, which is something Dean has never heard of before. It involves plastic strings of some sort and is called gimp lacing. Supposedly, it can be turned into bracelets, somehow? Dean thinks Kaia is a good influence on Jack. She probably doesn't call lava forbidden foam. How she survives Claire, he doesn't know. Mentally, he wishes her luck.

After Jack leaves, Dean immediately puts on True Blood, so he and Cas can pick it back up. This show has turned out to be pretty f*cked up. It generally sparks conversation, and it does this time as well, especially with Sam and Eileen lingering to watch.

"Poor Jessica," Sam notes at one point, then seems to realize precisely what he just said and has a moment of general confusion, like he's just been hit over the head. In the end, he frowns and pulls Eileen a little closer to him.

Dean snorts.

When Dean starts yawning, he gives up power over the remote, tossing it to Sam, who catches it with one hand. They trade mumbled, distracted goodnights as Dean tugs Cas out of the room by the hand, pulling him along. They end up in Dean's bed, shoved up against each other and doing their own things, enjoying the comfortable silence.

"Hey, you would have eventually told me, right?" Dean asks, scrolling through his phone lazily.

"Told you?" Cas murmurs, looking up from his book, which is—unfortunately—the book Dean still hates, because Cas had wanted to read it since Dean had and clearly felt something for it.

Dean puts his phone down on his nightstand, turning on his side to look at Cas. "Yeah. That you love me. You would have told me, right?"

"Admittedly, if life had continued to be one negative thing after another, likely not," Cas tells him. "It wasn't until everything calmed down, and we were granted freedom to just...be, that I realized I held back so much from you. Even if I could not have you, I no longer had to hide. I think I planned to tell you eventually, even before you confessed first. I wouldn't have told you if we were still, as you say, stuck in the hamster wheel."

"Why?" Dean asks.

Cas considers that for a second, then sighs. "I knew that confessing it would make me happy. The Empty would have come for me, and whether or not you would have felt the same at that time, with everything going on, I would never put you through that guilt and loss."

"You weren't mine to lose," Dean says softly.

"Yet, you lost me too much," Cas replies.

Dean ducks his head and presses his mouth to Cas' shoulder, right at the seam of his shirt. Dean's shirt. He stares at Cas, who stares back, and then he nods and pulls away slightly. "Yeah, I did. Every goddamn time, it was always me who lost you, and we weren't even...what we are now. I've felt this way for you for a long time, Cas. You know that, right?"

"I didn't then. I do now." Cas smiles at him. "Either way, I would not want to contribute to your pain. I could only see myself confessing before I got out of the deal if it was necessary to save your life. That would be worse, I think, but I would have done it to save you. In despair, perhaps, but alive."

"Oh." Dean swallows and flicks his gaze towards the book, noting where Cas is in the story. Carl has just given Dan the feather—the same one Dan clutches at the end of the book and confesses to, far too late, with the man he loves not around to hear it. Dean's heart rattles in his chest, his stomach cramping, and he realizes that it could have been him.

Cas looks at him curiously. "Dean, are you alright?"

"I—" Dean cuts off the instinctual I'm fine, because he's not. Not exactly. He reaches down and slips his hand into Cas', threading their fingers together. "You gotta know that I—well, I'm f*cking crazy about you, Cas. I think if you did do that to save my life, it wouldn't have mattered, 'cause I would have given up the first chance I got. I don't wanna do any of this without you. It's so f*cking easy with you, man. Loving you is so easy. It's the easiest thing I've ever done, and I've been doing it a long, long time."

"It's not without its complications, surely," Cas muses, arching an eyebrow at him. His eyes are very soft, his lips curling up, fond and delighted.

Dean shakes his head. "Not the love part. That was always easy. The rest? That sh*t had nothing to do with the love. It didn't change it. That was always there, no matter what. You think the betrayals would have hurt the way they did without the love? You think losing each other would have hit us the way it did if we were just friends? Everything was more difficult because of it, but the love itself? That was easy, and that's why so much of everything else was so hard. It stayed anyway. It's still here, Cas."

"Do you know that I love every single part of you?" Cas asks, holding his gaze, weirdly intense. "I can say that without it being a lie, Dean. I know you on a cellular level. I know you down to less than your every atom. I know your soul down to its faintest wisp. I love every single part."

"That's so weird," Dean breathes out, only to fold in and kiss him with a shuddering breath, reaching down to slip the book out of his hands and toss it aside carelessly.

Cas lets him, humming in approval, sliding his hand around Dean's neck to hold him in place. They kiss slow and deep, and Dean sinks into it with a sigh. It's like they're both trying to prove just how much they love each other, but one kiss won't suffice. It's going to take more, many more, and it's going to require time that they get to be comfortable showing it, and they'll need every single day they have ahead of them to say it until they don't even need to, even though they will.

When Cas pulls back just a bit, he murmurs, "You took my book, Dean."

"f*ck that book," Dean mumbles, shifting closer to slide his hand over Cas' hip, tugging him until they're scooting closer together. "I hate that book. Who cares about their gay romance?"

"Well, I was intrigued," Cas admits.

Dean huffs. "Ours is better."

"Our gay romance is better?" Cas asks, amused. He chuckles when Dean bites his chin. "I'm only asking how ours is superior."

We get a better ending, Dean thinks, but all he says is, "Ours is real, Cas."

"Yes, well, I still do want to read it," Cas informs him, leaning back like he's about to roll out of bed.

"Pick it back up tomorrow." Dean tightens his grip on Cas, yanking him back in until their noses brush. He quirks a smile when he feels Cas automatically relax into him.

"Carl just gave Dan a feather."

"And I'm about to give you me. What's more important to you?"

Cas has his hands up under Dean's shirt in mere seconds. "Don't ask stupid questions."

"That's what I thought," Dean says smugly, laughing when Cas starts yanking at his shirt.

Cas is intense in bed. Not rushed, but fervent. He's passionate about it, about every single touch, every single kiss. Even when he's going slow, cherishing, he's deeply intimate with every single thing he does. Like his own wants are consuming him and spilling out over onto Dean, which only makes Dean's that much more impactful.

There's something to the way Cas touches him. He treats every part of Dean like its special. He's reverent, admiring. He's not careful, though, like he's worried Dean will break. No, he's firm. He's rough. He's even pushy, to an extent, a steady hand guiding Dean to do what he wants him to.

Dean is so, so f*cking okay with that, holy sh*t. He allows it, pliant in Cas' hands, more than pleased to follow the implied commands. Cas tugs on his shirt, so he lifts up and helps remove it. Cas goes for the button on his jeans, so he lifts his hips and wriggles a little to kick them off when Cas pulls at them. Cas pushes his hands up and out of the way, so he closes his eyes and grips his pillow as Cas starts mouthing at his throat, down and down and down.

The force of his own wants doesn't go dormant, and he is just as happy to be rough and pushy when the urge strikes. He's blindsided by Cas curling back up and into him, kissing him, making him groan and start bunching up the shirt Cas is wearing insistently. He wants to get at skin. He is still blown away by how heavy and harsh-hitting these desires are, a craving so strong that he feels a little insane because of it.

They're in this cycle of indulgence, so it comes as no surprise when Cas murmurs, "Okay, Dean," into his mouth and pulls away to start getting out of his clothes, revealing more skin.

Dean can't stop touching him. His head is spinning.

Cas feels so warm, soft in some places, firm in others. Dean traces the scar on his stomach from where he was stabbed. They squirm and shift around on the bed, too busy throwing themselves at each other to do any of this with grace.

This f*cks him up every time. How badly he wants it, how easily he can have it, how overwhelmed he is once he's got it. He never knows what he wants because he wants so much, even more than he ever has. Sex—for him—has always been about the connection, the build where tension is mounting higher and higher, and then the release. This? Dean doesn't give a f*ck about the release. It's about Cas' skin underneath his hands, the way their mouths meet, how good it all feels without it even going anywhere to begin with.

He does want something, though. He's thought about it. Is it an original thought? No, it isn't. Eileen can be blamed for this. However, it's an idea that won't really leave him alone.

"I want—Cas, I want to—" Dean gives up and pushes at Cas' shoulders, urging him to get flat down on his back.

Cas is bad about letting Dean move him around, despite being a force that could refuse. He goes down, watching Dean with clear eyes, waiting. Dean knees himself up and over, huffing as he gets situated, psyching himself up by distracting himself with kissing Cas. Working up to it, so to speak.

Time to find out if Eileen's advice on giving a blowj*b was any good.

As it turns out, this comes natural, too. Almost another instinct, again. He's vaguely surprised by how easy it is to maneuver his own mouth, how simply he can use his tongue and control his teeth. It's kinda simple, actually, if not something that takes focus. A part of him can't believe he's never done this before.

It's a shame, really, because it's nothing bad. Cas tastes clean on his tongue, warm and silky-soft skin, all with just the twang of something bitter and salty. There's hair at the base of Cas' dick, and Dean has to resist the urge to tug on it with his fingers. All-in-all, it's very simple.

Well, he has to figure out a rhythm, really. He can't fit all of Cas in his mouth, and he's not going to try. He compensates with his wet hand, twisting it and stroking to meet the bob of his lips. Eileen was right. She's a f*cking gem.

The best part?

Cas sounds like he is dying, or possibly transcending, or a mixture of both. Dean could wage wars on the power that it gives him, hearing Cas actually whimper, releasing lost, gutted moans that he can't seem to hold back. Dean can see, through the dim light, that Cas is clawing desperately at the bedsheets.

Dean would grin if it wouldn't mess up his rhythm. He's so smug that he's going to be walking around on air for weeks. This is all him. He did this. He's ruining Cas in the only way that's acceptable.

Dean goes at it for a while, figuring out what to do and what not to, what he can handle and what he can't. He finds that he sincerely likes it. He likes it even more when Cas' fingers land in his hair, nails dragging over his scalp. Dean's eyes flutter shut, and he thinks about every blowj*b he's ever gotten, and he moans just to see, just to figure out what Cas would do about that. What that turns out to be is Cas' hips jerking, his breath stuttering. Dean hums in satisfaction and continues.

He keeps going, and then Cas is curling up and letting out a shocked sound as he chokes on Dean's name. That's his only warning, so Dean has just enough time to pull away as warmth and salt spills into his f*cking mouth, the rest coating his chin and neck as he jerks back. He's curious enough to swallow what's on his tongue, only to immediately decide he will never be doing that sh*t again. He's not fond of the taste.

Overall, Dean would count this a success.

He is smirking—yes, a smug little smirk, because Cas looks like he needs a second to get back to himself. The unflappable Cas, never one to lose his control, and Dean completely obliterated his higher brain function. He should get a f*cking achievement, or an award, or a goddamn trophy of some kind.

He's about to make a comment—probably a semi-assholish comment being boastful—when he's cut up by Cas' broad hands snapping out to grab him by the arms and wrench him down.

Dean doesn't get the choice to let Cas move him around. Cas can just do it. And he does. And it's so unnecessarily hot that Dean's a little breathless from it. He didn't know you could get even more aroused from giving someone a blowj*b, but world of wonders, it turns out you can. He should have known. Giving a woman head has always been something he liked. Manhandling, though? Well, he knew he liked that. He's always enjoyed a woman who would push him around a little, and that still seems to be the case with Cas.

Dean groans when Cas slams him down onto the bed. Cas fits himself between Dean's legs, hovering over him as he proceeds to, quite literally, use his mouth to clean up his own mess. Dean obligingly tipping his head so Cas can reach where he needs to, his eyes fluttering shut.

Cas bites him, likely leaving a mark. It's high on the other side of his neck, visible, and Dean won't be able to hide it. That might be something of an issue later, but that is a problem for future Dean, not present Dean, who is very much enjoying the creation of the aforementioned possible issue.

What Dean enjoys even more, however, is that Cas' hand eventually finds his dick. He likes Cas' hands very much. They're broad and warm and simultaneously soft and textured with smoothed-over calluses from years with the angel blade. He likes Cas' hand even more when it's exploring his dick, fingers expert in this just as much with his weapon, like his hands have never not known how to recognize something he can influence with just a touch. He's so f*cking talented, and Dean is absolutely going to die.

It doesn't help that Cas is still kissing a hot, wet path down his neck, heading for his chest.

Cas goes at his own pace, no matter what Dean has to say about it. Without a doubt, it is the most delicious torture he has wanted to speed up and also never end. By the time Cas has worked his kisses down to his hips, Dean has his eyes screwed shut and absolutely no control over his own mouth. He's definitely saying a lot of words, but he has no f*cking clue what they are.

So, about a blowj*b with a man.

From the end that Dean was at first, it was just fun. He enjoyed it. He would do it again. From the end that Dean is at now, it is dangerous.

He understands with sudden clarity why Cas had reacted the way he did. Wanting it with this specific person somehow makes it so much better than he's ever gotten, and he knows that he's gotten blowj*bs from lovely, experienced women that could be categorized as better than this. And yet. This is a feeling like no other.

He can't be still. He has no idea how Cas managed to be still. In this, he needs help, and Cas is apparently happy to provide. He pins Dean's hips to the bed in an unrelenting grip and then doesn't let up, doesn't slow down, doesn't show mercy. Dean gets loud, very loud, calling Cas every version of cruel and perfect, including just moaning his name at various pitches.

Unlike Cas, he thinks to announce his release as it approaches. He gasps and moans and begs, then can't stop his hips from jerking, no matter how hard he tries. He feels possessed, like his pleasure has turned sentient and stolen his body. He knows only it and has only just enough mind to try and warn Cas before everything snaps.

Cas only hums and keeps going, and that's pretty much it. Dean shouts, digging his nails into Cas' shoulders, so mindless that he doesn't even think about how hard he's doing it. If Cas minds, he doesn't say so. Not that he could. He's too busy still working his mouth over Dean, draining him of everything he has to give, and then continuing past that.

Dean twitches like a fish out of water, groaning and jerking helplessly. "Holy sh*t, Cas, what the f*ck? Oh my f*cking—"

It's on the dagger's edge of pleasure-pain and so sensitive that Dean is not at all surprised to find himself gasping when Cas finally does release him. Cas makes a deep, satisfied sound and crawls back up the length of his body, settling down beside him.

"No mess," Cas notes in a pleased fashion, his voice deep and rough, like tires over gravel.

"Just—just gimme a second. Jesus Christ." Dean groans and flings his body at Cas so there will be skin on skin. Cas allows it, pushing his fingers into his back and shoulders where he doesn't ache as much as he used to, because Cas always works the knots out. Dean closes his eyes and breathes, settling. "f*ck, I'm gonna sleep so good tonight."

"I'm going to read," Cas informs him.

"Yeah, you—you do that, Cas," Dean mumbles, fingers idly tracing over the scar on his stomach.

Cas hums and says, very softly, "I love you."

"Ditto, sweetheart," Dean replies, his words coming out a little sloppy. Ah, hell, he's about to pass the f*ck out. He feels so f*cking relaxed. This is great.

"Look at you." Cas chuckles. "You want to cuddle."

"f*ck you, Cas," Dean says. His eyes flutter shut when he feels Cas' lips brush over his forehead, a tender caress. "Also, pot, kettle."

"Go to sleep, Dean," Cas rumbles.

"Mm, night, Cas," Dean murmurs.

He keeps stroking small circles into Cas' skin, even when they break off and fit themselves together, falling silent and breathing even. Drifting to sleep, tangled up with Cas, comforted by contact, is so easy. It's all so easy, this peace he allows himself, once he figured out how to want it.

Then again, it was always going to be.


Okay, so there's something I did that I wanted to point out bc it's not super obvious. But at the end, when Jack has Dean pick a card, he first picks an Ace of Diamonds, which means a desire for change/growth in life. But Jack, as God, gives him the Ten of Spades means a success in wisdom/transformation. His Card Tricks work perfectly 🥺

Anyway, Cas and Dean should be allowed to be soft.

Chapter 4: The Destination


This is pretty much like an epilogue. Very small compared to the other chapters. Still really fun, nonetheless. Enjoy ☺️

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Dean ends up getting invested in cleaning up Bobby's old place, which comes as a shock to exactly no one. As it turns out, he does have a thing for building and reconstructing and working to a final product he can be proud of.

It takes time, and it takes scheduling hunting around the project. It also takes a lot of f*cking help. Sam actually goes out to help more often than he doesn't, and Eileen generally comes as well. Jack and Cas allow themselves to be put to work. Cas, especially, is a huge help because he's unnaturally strong, no matter how small his grace is. He still has grace, and that makes him stronger than a normal man. Jack flat out refuses to use any abilities he may have as God, and it's kind of hilarious getting to watch him huff and puff through hauling wood. He thinks it's fun, though. He has a great time.

The ladies provide assistance a lot as well. When hunting is especially sporadic and Claire's going stir-crazy, she'll sometimes call Dean asking if he needs any help on the house. Kaia gets very serious about what colors to paint the walls—when they finally get there—and she's surprisingly rigid about the whole process. Dean gives her creative liberty to do some fancy designs on the walls if she really wants to, and this turns into basically no wall in the house being without something a little extra. She's good, though. It's all great to look at, and it makes her happy, and it makes Claire happy to see her streaked with paint and beaming.

Alex doesn't have a whole lot of free time from the hospital, but she always seems to know where to get the best materials and tools, or what company to call when they actually have to get professionals in to help. Patience is back at college again, but she introduces Cas to pinterest for ideas on interior design, and it's quite possibly the worst thing she's ever done because Cas becomes obsessed. Jody and Donna aren't scared to get their hands dirty, and they have a knack for ordering everyone around and telling them what to focus on.

Sometimes, a long day of work can end with people nearly coming to blows. When it's hot out and everyone is tired and aching, they're all volatile enough that it doesn't take much. At one point, Dean and Sam get into an argument so bad that they don't talk to each other for a week. Jody and Claire have an explosive fight that ends with a hole in the newly painted wall and Kaia getting furious with Claire because of it, which results in them arguing and is apparently resolved in ways Dean doesn't want to know the details about, if only by the way Claire's eyes light up when he thinks to ask if they're okay later. Eileen threatens to shoot Cas with a nail-gun when they get into a passive-aggressive argument about, like, roof tiles? Dean doesn't really know, but he takes the nail-gun before Cas can goad her into it, because she will actually do it.

Jack, of course, has a great time the whole time and only gets into muted arguments that pale in comparison to everyone else's. The first time Claire yells at him, tears immediately shine in his eyes and he looks like his hero just turned out to be a villain, and Claire curses, stumbles over an awkward apology, and has to disappear for a little while. When she comes back, she lets Jack do a card trick and lies to say that it is when he asks if the card he's chosen is hers. Cas and Dean firmly stay out of it.

As for them… Well, they get into so many fights that it puts everyone else to shame. Some of the fights are more snipping and bickering than anything else. Others are bad. Really bad. The first fight they get into after getting together is at Bobby's, and they spend the next three days bitching at each other, or alternatively ignoring each other. Cas doesn't come to bed, and Dean refuses to share his coffee, and when they finally break and have angry sex three days later, it's exactly as good as Dean expected it to be. Dean pretty much passes out afterwards, then wakes up to the make-up sex that is a whole helluva lot sweeter with the angry sex proceeding it.

Other times, though, the project is so f*cking nice. They'll all get together and sprawl around, drinking and eating. When they get the firepit set up, they have a little bonfire where they all sit around laughing and talking the night away, the stars a blanket above them. They chase each other around with paint, and come together to think up solutions to problems, and the place feels like a home long before it's even finished.

When it is finished, it's definitely something to be proud of. It's not exactly like Bobby's, but Dean is sure the man would have approved of it, even the additions that Cas negotiated for.

That last day is mostly just moving in more furniture and putting the final touches on the place. Cas and Eileen are still at the Bunker with Jack, the three of them having just gotten back from a hunt in Omaha. Sam and Dean had gotten back from one in Kentucky a few days before them, so they're the ones who finish up the house.

Dean tosses the last throw pillow on the couch, because Cas insisted on throw pillows, and then he flops down on it with a gusty sigh. Sam joins him a moment later, staring around the living room.

"You're going to be happy here," he says quietly.

"Yeah," Dean agrees. He glances over at Sam, lips twitching. "You gonna miss me?"

"Absolutely not. I can't wait to be rid of you," Sam replies, and it's a lie. Dean knows it's a lie.

"You and Eileen decide where you wanna go yet?" Dean asks.

Sam purses his lips and shakes his head. "Not yet. We both agreed that staying in the Bunker for a little longer will be fine. We want to clean it up some more before we open it up, you know?"

"We'll help," Dean offers, because of course they will. It's their Bunker, too. Their responsibility. Their home, even, for a very long time.

"Yeah, I kinda figured," Sam says, shrugging a little lazily. "Garth is just waiting on the green light to start letting people know through the grapevine. It'll be faster with more hands."

Dean hums. "We've made some progress."

They have, actually. Outside of this house, they've been cleaning up the Bunker as well. Doing what they can to make it accessible to an amass of people, instead of just four or five. Getting rid of cursed objects, organizing storage rooms, hiding sh*t people shouldn't touch, sorting out the lore and archives. That's taken a group effort so far, too.

"Yeah. I wonder what Ketch would think. Or Mick. Or, hell, even Henry. Dad's dad," Sam murmurs.

"f*ck 'em," Dean declares, shrugging one shoulder when Sam blinks over at him. "Who f*cking cares what any of them think? We're the Legacies around, me and you and Eileen. It's our choice, and this isn't a bad one. Helping people. It's what we do, right?"

Sam's lips quirk up. "Right."

"They're all dead anyway," Dean mutters, fiddling with the tag on the pillow squished up under his arm. "What do they care?"

"You have a point." Sam glances around the room again, pushing his lips from side-to-side like he's thinking pretty hard. He focuses back on Dean a beat later. "I think Bobby would care about this. He'd like it. He'd be proud, you know?"

"Yeah, I reckon he would. Hard not to be, seeing how far we got. That we even ended up living to see all this sh*t is…" Dean shakes his head, eyes bulging as he blows out a deep breath. "Sam, this might be our crowning achievement, dude. Not even that we defeated God, but that we lived on without him screwing around with our lives."

"I guess the story ends when we say it does." Sam co*cks his head a little. "I feel like we need beers to clink together. That's what this moment needs."

Dean snorts. "I don't have beers in the fridge. Got some soda, though. Or juice boxes for Jack."

"I'm not drinking a juice box, Dean," Sam says, heaving himself to his feet.

"Well, sh*t, bring me one," Dean calls after him, grinning. "Apple juice is the kid's alcohol, Sammy, and it's actually pretty f*cking good."

"It has artificial sugar!" Sam shouts back, sounding genuinely appalled by this.

"Don't be a bitch about this, Sam! You used to drink them all the f*cking time. You were so weird, too," Dean says as Sam walks back into the room with—ha—two juice boxes. "You liked the orange juice, which was f*cked. That sh*t used to make my eye twitch. But you loved it."

"Orange juice is a good source of Vitamin C," Sam tells him, wiggling his juice box—ah, it's orange juice, that explains it—at Dean pointedly, even as he tosses the apple juice to Dean. "You drink orange juice sometimes."

"Yeah, but not outta the box. Still makes my eye twitch," Dean mutters, wrinkling his nose as he pops the small straw off and opens it, jabbing it down to stick it in. He snorts when he does it, because he has a dirty mind, and Sam looks at him in judgement like he knows exactly what Dean was thinking. "Well? You wanted to clink drinks together. Beers, but this will do. Come on."

Sam rolls his eyes. "I can't stand you."

"Put it there," Dean insists, holding his juice box out, cackling when Sam heaves a sigh and taps them together. "Look at that. A solid moment. Put it in a f*cking scrapbook."

Dean grins and sticks the tiny straw in his mouth, sucking on it hard to make that obnoxious gurgling noise. Sam grimaces and drinks his juice much more primly, the small box looking extra small in his big, awkward hands. He looks like an overgrown kid somehow, and Dean suddenly gets a vivid flash of the kid he used to be, all gangly elbows and eyes wide with a hunger for life, stumbling after his big brother with an awe usually reserved for fathers.

For a second, Dean aches for the kids they once were, aches even more for the kid that he never really got to be. Their lives… Sometimes, he doesn't know how to handle the idea of what it could have been, and what it was never going to be.

But they got this now. Dean can't complain. It's more than he ever expected to have.

"I will miss you, you know," Sam says after a while, his eyebrows furrowed.

"I know," Dean murmurs, wondering at the fact that he's going to be the one leaving first when, originally, he thought it was going to be him watching Sam go.

Sam's face pinches together, twisting. "Are you worried? About doing this, I mean. Not even necessarily without me, but...you know, settling."

"Sort of, but not really. It's just another thing I reckon I gotta get used to. This isn't like the first time I tried something close to it. You're still alive and kicking, for one. I'm doing it with Cas, for another. It's gonna be an adjustment," Dean admits, glancing around the house—his house, "but that ain't always a bad thing."

"No, it's not," Sam agrees, taking a deep breath. He lets it out slowly, lips curling up. "I'm happy for you, Dean. For all of us, I guess. But you, for this."

"Bitch," Dean says affectionately, holding out his juice box again, his chest warm.

Sam huffs a quiet laugh and taps their juice boxes together again. He says, "Jerk," like he's telling Dean thank you, even if he doesn't realize it.

Dean has never needed that, and he never will, but he appreciates it all the same.

The first week that Dean "lives" at his own house is pretty much spent entirely at the Bunker. He sleeps one night in the bed with Cas, then they all wake up and drive back to Kansas and spend three nights in their gutted rooms because they keep meaning to go back home, but then they get caught up helping Sam and Eileen clean up. Dean and Cas go back on the fourth night while Jack elects to stay, and then they get up on the fifth day to head right back to the Bunker, where they stay the next two nights.

The second week is a little better. Dean, Cas, and Jack spend two consecutive days and nights at the house instead of breaking it up, as well as an additional night. The third week is an improvement because they spend the first four days in Sioux Falls, then the next three days in the Bunker. The fourth week is where it really sticks, because they all go to the Bunker to help at two different points in the week, but they don't stay overnight.

So, all-in-all, it takes a solid month for it to settle in that they've actually moved out and away.

Surprisingly, Dean's not the only one who struggles with it. Jack complains that his new bed feels weird, and he gets absurdly sad when he looks in the pantry and doesn't see a box of whole wheat pasta. Cas seems to have gone to war with the house itself, like he's not used to the dimensions and placement of everything just yet, so he's walking around in an annoyed state as he continuously bumps his hips and toes into various furniture. Dean spends a lot of time distracting himself in the scrapyard, feeling misplaced somehow, texting Sam every few hours to make sure he hasn't accidentally tripped and split open his skull or something.

Nonetheless, they adjust. They start to get used to it. Jack makes Dean take him to the farmer's market to get healthy foods so he can cook whole-wheat fettuccine with zucchini, and Dean wants to die, except he forces himself to eat every goddamn bite. He texts Sam a picture of it, and Sam replies with a golden-star review of why it looks great and should become a normal part of Dean's diet. It's kind of wonderful that Dean can escape that conversation by simply putting his phone away, and it's also kind of awful, too.

Cas reaches a point where he's glaring at every goddamn table in the house, so Dean goes and smooths down all the edges. Cas bruises now, even though they fade quickly, and he's not exactly happy about being jabbed by the edges of everything wherever he walks. Dean doesn't tell Cas he's doing this. He just does it. When Cas finds out, he tosses the keys to his truck to Jack and tells him, very calmly, to go visit Claire. Jack, completely oblivious, does as he's told, leaving Dean to get f*cked over one of the tables, his hands scrabbling for purchase over the edges he smoothed down. Cas, as it turns out, is very grateful for his initiative.

Dean… Well, Dean finds his routine. He enjoys breakfast with Cas and the kid, sharing his coffee, fond of Cas' weird eating habits. He hangs out around the house, and he goes out to tinker with cars, or he goes for a drive. He checks to see if there's a case waiting to be found, or if Garth has anything he knows of. And, at some point, he calls Sam to either check on the status of the Bunker, or to just check in, full stop.

They do go back to the Bunker, but not as frequently. It's strange showing up after spending weeks away, but Dean finds that reunions don't always have to hinge on hard goodbyes. There's a certain kind of relief in knowing that when he leaves, it's not because he can't visit again. He can always visit again.

Sam and Eileen visit the house, too. Often just to get out of the Bunker. Once when they're passing through because they were lucky enough to grab the first hunt that cropped up in a while. Dean almost asks to go with them, but Jody expects them over for dinner the next day, so he skips it. There will be more cases, he knows. There always is.

That becomes very f*cking blatant when, not even a week after, everyone everywhere suddenly finds themselves all over the map when the monsters come out of hibernation. Jack goes with Claire and Kaia to somewhere on the east coast, and he doesn't make it back home for nearly a month. Dean and Cas are all over the place, barely getting a goddamn break, and they run into Sam and Eileen unprompted in Michigan.

It's probably one of the most surreal things ever to accidentally show up to the same crime scene as his brother, not even meaning to end up on the same hunt. Dean kinda finds it hilarious, and the four of them end up working it together. They split up after, Dean and Cas heading to South Dakota, Sam and Eileen heading back to Kansas. Both of them going home, going in separate directions.

When they arrive, Dean flops down onto the couch with a groan as he says, "Jesus Christ, it's good to be home," and Cas slumps down next to him with a quiet hum of agreement.

"You called the kid today?" Dean asks, his head tipped back, eyes closed. Cas' hair is tickling his neck, smelling like his shampoo.

"Mhm," Cas confirms. "They've just finished handling a tulpa."

Dean makes a soft ah sound. "Those are rare. You don't often find one of those out in the wild."

"No, I suppose you wouldn't. People don't often believe in things that forcefully," Cas agrees, fingers running up and down Dean's arm. It makes Dean's skin tingle. "Jack says he should be home within the week if nothing else crosses their path. He was driving because Claire and Kaia were exhausted."

"Aw, the kids are all tuckered out from their first tulpa case," Dean teases, lips curling up. "Like baby's first steps."

Cas clicks his tongue. "Don't mock them. Those things were once hard for you and Sam, too."

"Damn right. Ah, the good ol' days." Dean sighs and turns his face into Cas' hair, breathing him in. His heart flips around in his chest when Cas' fingers slip between his, their hands tangling together, holding on. It's still as exhilarating as the very first time. Dean is so pathetic. "No angels, no God, just some regular hunts."

"I thought you'd appreciate the surge of angels in your life," Cas murmurs.

"Only one," Dean drawls, low and sweet, grinning when Cas shifts, breath hitching. It's so easy to make him happy. "Never really cared for most of 'em, but the first… Well, the first one I met, now that's a different story."

"I'm your exception," Cas muses, lifting his head to peer at him from up close, his gaze flicking all over Dean's face, snagging on Dean's lips a few times.

It's so nice to be wanted so openly, and to know it. Dean can't even doubt it, because Cas always looks at him like he's so very happy just to have the chance. Cas touches him like he's never going to get enough of him, like he's being granted a gift because he's allowed. Cas just loves him, unequivocally and unconditionally.

"Cas, you're my happy ending," Dean tells him, secretly pleased when Cas' lips part. "I was never gonna have that without you."

"Oh," Cas breathes out, and it's always so delightful getting to do that to him, getting to shake him up by loving him with the same ferocity that he gives. He looks genuinely beautiful when he's stunned like this. "Oh. Yes, well, come here. Now."

Dean grins into the kiss, letting Cas tug him down on top of him, the both of them situating themselves to get lost in each other for a while. Truly, it's one of Dean's favorite things to do.

And so it goes.

Jack turns up with Claire and Kaia three days later, late at night. They're all so tired that they just find their separate places to rest. Claire and Kaia are additions to breakfast, but not unwelcome ones. They stick around for the day, and Dean finds it incredibly amusing that Claire's about as grumpy as he is when first waking up, barely even managing more than grunts as conversation before her coffee.

For a while after that, cases are spread out. Frequent, but not stretching everyone thin. So many hunters are keeping in contact with each other now, reaching out to one another to give cases away or ask for them, needing a break or something to do.

Dean, Cas, and Jack start going back to the Bunker again, impressed with the progress being made. It's not very long before it's a place that people can start coming to. Sam and Eileen start looking more seriously into where they want to go next.

Five months after Dean, Cas, and Jack officially left, Sam and Eileen find an apartment in Brookings, South Dakota. It's approximately one hour away from Sioux Falls, and Dean busts out laughing the moment that Sam sheepishly tells him.

"Cas! Cas!" Dean shouts from the kitchen, still laughing while Sam sighs from over the phone. "Sweetheart, you're never gonna believe this. Sam and Eileen are moving to Brookings!"

"Oh, that's nice," Cas says, appearing in the doorway. "They'll be so much closer."

Dean grins at him and puts the phone back between his ear and shoulder as he continues cutting the bananas. Donna gave him a f*cking fantastic banana pudding recipe, and he's become a little obsessed. It's his second time making it, and it's like the girls can sense it. He caught Claire and Alex raiding his fridge when they stopped by last week, two spoons scooping out bites from the container like a couple of animals. Cas is fond of the vanilla wafers.

"You're just not gonna let me cut those apron strings, are you, Sammy?" Dean chirps, sounding far too happy to really sell the joke, but still.

Sam huffs. "Shut up. The city is nice, okay? Eileen picked out the apartment! It's a college town, too."

"Well, it'll be nice having both of you closer," Dean admits. "Just a hop, skip, and a jump away."

"It's not like you're not constantly bugging me now," Sam mutters, but he's laughing a little.

"That's kinda my job," Dean tells him.

"Retire," Sam says flatly, and Dean can't see it, but he can hear the eye-roll.

Dean pops a slice of banana in his mouth, chewing right into the phone as he says, "Can't do that until I'm dead, I'm afraid. Make your peace with it, 'cause we got a lot of life ahead of us, and I'm gonna bug you every single goddamn day of it."

"Bother Cas. Can't you bother Cas?" Sam complains, except Dean can hear him snorting.

"Oh, trust me, I bother him every chance I get. No one's safe," Dean declares.

"God help us all," Sam mumbles through a laugh.

"Jack's busy right now," Dean replies, and then cracks up when Sam does.

By the time he hangs up, he's finished the banana pudding, and Cas has Gunsmoke up and ready. After finishing True Blood, which had a disappointing ending in Dean's opinion and an alright ending in Cas', they agreed to move onto Dean's choice. Back to cowboys, where nothing lets him down. Cas has bad taste sometimes, liking things that Dean doesn't. Other times, he doesn't, completely agreeing on Dean's opinions of them.

Faith and Fire, the story of Dan and Carl, for example, was something that Cas wholeheartedly agreed with Dean on. They threw the book away when he finished it, and Cas walked around in an odd, desolate state afterwards. Dean had been angry, but Cas? Oh, it had made him sad, and that made Dean angry with it all over again.

Gunsmoke gets mocked much the same way that Bonanza did, but Dean enjoys that anyway. He looks forward to it, to getting to curl up on the couch with Cas and bicker about the show. Some traditions are worth keeping, and this one certainly is.

"Where's Jack?" Dean asks as he flops down on the couch. He tugs the lever that lets it recline out, squirming to get comfortable so Cas can scoot in close to him. They share a blanket, as always.

"In his room," Cas murmurs. "Are you excited about Sam and Eileen moving to Brookings?"

Dean hums. "Yeah, it sounds good. They'll be closer, which is nice. Dunno if they'll stay there forever, though. Eileen likes to move around, remember?"

"I guess we'll see," Cas says. He makes a small, pleased noise when Dean threads their fingers loosely together. "I like the idea of all of us being in the same vicinity."

"Me too," Dean admits, because he does.

Cas strokes Dean's hand with his thumb. "When do you think the Bunker will open to everyone?"

"Sam said in a month, probably. He and Eileen will need help moving again. Gonna need your truck."

"Of course."

They don't talk for a while after that, and when they do, it's to bicker about the show. Dean fiddles with Cas' fingers, wondering if he'll ever get used to this enough to stop being so pathetic about it. Cas still makes his heart jump, still makes a flood of want rush through him, and it's never going to stop. At least Dean's not alone in it.

He wouldn't trade it in for anything else, either.

Dean and Cas get into a fight that pushes Dean out the door and an hour up the road, barging into Sam and Eileen's apartment, cursing up a storm.

Well, he has the decency to knock first, but then he barges in as soon as Sam opens the door and squints blearily out at him. Eileen is on the couch, nearly snoring into her bowl of cereal, her hair a mess all around her head. Dean throws himself down beside her and goes off on a rant that doesn't really do anything other than make them blink at him sleepily. In their defence, it's seven in the morning.

"Did you and Cas wake up fighting?" Sam asks wearily, retrieving his oatmeal when it's done and sitting on the floor like a weirdo, perched half-under the coffee table so he can eat.

"No," Dean snaps.

Sam raises his eyebrows. "Before breakfast?"

"Yeah," Dean admits. "You got more cereal?"

"In the kitchen," Sam says with a snort.

Eileen offers him her bowl. "The good cereal is behind Sam's oats and fruits."

"My cereal is good," Sam protests.

Dean grunts as he leaves them to their stupid, happy domesticity and goes to raid their kitchen. He scowls through making himself some cereal, then scowls through eating it when he returns to the couch. Sam and Eileen don't seem sympathetic to his plight, but they don't kick him out, so that's nice.

"So, want to bet who will swallow their pride first?" Eileen asks cheerfully, a few hours later, fresh from a shower and clearly in a great mood. She's evil. She's so evil, and Sam doesn't even know.

"Oh, it's going to be Cas, definitely. He's stupid about Dean," Sam answers immediately, and dear god, Eileen's evil is infecting him.

Eileen shakes her head. "No, no, it won't be Cas. He's so stubborn."

"Dean isn't?" Sam blurts out.

"I'm right here!" Dean shouts, waving his hands, gesturing to himself in disbelief.

"Well, you can't be a part of the bet, Dean," Eileen says reasonably. "You have control over the results."

Dean signs you are evil, and Eileen grins.

"You probably should swallow your pride, though," Sam points out. "You're not wallowing on our couch waiting for Cas to call you."

"Oh, that's exactly what I'm gonna do," Dean argues, slinking down further into the couch like he can melt into it. "I'm not going home until he apologizes, so he's gotta swallow the pride this time. And I mean that literally. Not as an innuendo."

Sam wrinkles his nose. "Dude, come on."

"Well," Eileen says with a sigh, signing along and shaking her head, "I guess we should get the guest room ready. Dean's going to be here for a couple of days."

"Bullsh*t," Sam replies, then signs something that looks like he'll crack in an hour, and Dean has no idea if he means Cas or him.

Either way, Dean refuses to apologize first. He's not in the wrong here, not this time. If Cas wants to be stubborn, then fine, let him.

This decision is solid for the entirety of the first day. Dean does not waver. He's in a piss-poor mood and spends all his time refusing to look at his phone, watching action-packed movies with Eileen, while Sam makes stupid f*cking goo-goo eyes at her because they're happy and not fighting. Coming here was a terrible idea, but going to Jody's would have been worse, because she would have told him to stop being a dumbass and made him go home with his tail tucked between his legs.

The decision is...less solid when the next day swings around and there are no calls or texts on his phone from anyone other than Jack and Claire. Jack just sends him a string of sad faces. Claire sends him laughing emojis and calls him stupid in precisely five different ways. Dean has to cut his phone off so he'll stop opening up his and Cas' text thread. There's a f*cking heart by Cas' contact name, which he can't even remember doing, but it makes his own heart clench in his chest. The last message Cas sent him was I see you with a smiling emoji from when they got separated in a grocery store and genuinely couldn't find each other for a while. Dean hadn't replied because he'd looked up and grinned.

God, he's so stupid.

Nonetheless, he's firm in this decision. He spends the second day in a less pissed-off state, mostly just maudlin at this point. Eileen eats ice cream with him and puts on a string of romance movies that all have sad endings, and Dean realizes she's trying to win the bet. She's terrible, but her ice cream is good.

When he goes to bed in a bed that's not his own and far too empty on the second night, Dean spends a long time just staring up at his phone through the darkness, finger hovering over the call button. He realizes, like a slap to the face, that Cas genuinely makes him pathetic. He f*cking misses Cas.

In the end, his phone slips from his grip and smacks him in the face, and Dean sits it aside with a sigh. He turns into a pillow that doesn't smell like Cas, and he groans because his decision is as solid as water at this point. He's not lasting another day, and he knows it. He cannot believe this. He used to be good at things like this. What's happened to him?

The third day is further proof that he's not going to last that long. He's silent through yet another bowl of cereal, and Eileen has stopped trying to do things to win the bet, either because she actually feels bad for him—unlikely—or because she can tell she doesn't need to do anything else. Sam just smacks his teeth, claps him on the shoulder, and shakes his head without saying a damn word.

But, just when Dean is about to crack first, his finger hovering over the call button yet again, his phone starts ringing. He fumbles and drops it, his heart lurching in his chest from the small flash of Cas' name on his screen. Sam's head lifts at the sound, and Eileen's lifts when his does, taking his cues. They both stare at him, amused.

Dean clears his throat and scoops up the phone, answering with a gruff, "What?"

Cas sounds exceptionally pissy when he snaps, "Come home."

"Apologize," Dean says.

"No," Cas replies.

"You f*cking asshole." Dean exhales sharply through his nose and pushes to his feet, grabbing his keys out of his pocket. "I'll be home in an hour."

Cas hangs up, because he's horrible. Dean's moving for the door immediately, biting back a grin.

"See?" Sam prompts, watching Dean march by in amusem*nt. "Knew it would be Cas."

"He apologized?" Eileen asks skeptically.

"No," Dean admits. He opens the door, waving a hand carelessly. "He's a dick. 'Course he didn't apologize. Just told me to get my ass home. Anyway, I'll see you both later. Check in if you get a case, or if you plan to stop by."

Dean closes the door on them furiously signing about who, technically, won the bet.

An hour later, Dean's barely got into the house good before Cas is pinning him to the wall, and ya know, Dean's totally okay with that. He appreciates that they can't make up like normal people, that they often find themselves f*cking like they're fighting, like a physical continuation of their argument. For one, it's really f*cking good. For two, the sex after the angry sex is always so, so soft and sweet, like the physical proof of their apologies.

Anyway, the kid must not be home because Cas rides him on the couch hard enough to make the recliner spring out and have Dean sprawl out backwards. This turns out to be a good thing because it changes the angle and gives them even more room, and their wants are already so brutal by that point, so they barely even slow down. That recliner portion of the couch will always be quicker to slide unlocked without the lever, though, and Dean won't ever fix it because he likes knowing why.

After, Cas drags him to bed and murmurs, "I missed you," into the small space between them, like it's a secret that could ruin something if revealed.

Dean swallows his pride, because he is oh so weak for Cas, and growing weaker by the day. "Sorry I left. I should've come back sooner."

"Mm," Cas hums. "I wasn't wrong, but I am sorry about our argument."

"That's not—oh, f*ck you," Dean chokes out on a fond laugh, dragging his fingers through Cas' hair.

"You just did," Cas points out. "Technically."

"Yeah. Yeah, that was nice," Dean agrees with a sigh, eyes fluttering shut. "Give me a nap and a quick lunch, and then you can f*ck me for make-up sex. Then all will be right in the world."

Cas releases an amused noise. "Will it?"

"Can't have angry sex without make-up sex soon after it," Dean says reasonably.

"You and your rules," Cas says fondly.

"Shut up. You love me," Dean mutters.

"Yes," Cas agrees, "I do. And you love me."

"The sky is up, and grass is green, and Baby is the best car ever made." Dean peeks down at Cas, who's squinting at him. "I was pointing out other obvious things, since you started it. 'Course I love you. Now, shut up and let me sleep. I've barely got a goddamn wink the last two nights without you."

Cas smiles into his shoulder.

One day, out of the blue, marriage is brought up again. Dean distantly remembers asking to put a pin in the conversation, but the pin is taken out because of none other than Jack.

Cas and Dean are watching a new show that Cas picked out, something to do with witches off of Netflix. They're barely into the first season, but it's pretty good, to be fair. They've been throwing theories at each other throughout the whole episode, and they're only interrupted when Jack comes barreling into the room, looking so damn happy that he could cry.

"What?" Dean asks. "What is it?"

"Claire just told me that Kaia wants me to be her Maid of Honor in their wedding," Jack blurts out breathlessly, nearly vibrating in his excitement.

Dean has never felt so betrayed in his life. "What? No, Claire agrees that marriage is a scam! She's talking about a wedding?"

"Dean," Cas says, exasperated. He rolls his eyes and focuses on Jack. "That's wonderful, Jack."

"Claire says marriage is okay for gay people especially since they went without the right to do it for so long," Jack informs Dean.

"I—" Dean deflates back into the couch a little, sighing. "Yeah, okay, she's got me there. The gay card trumps the scam thing, I'll give her that."

Cas arches an eyebrow at him, then turns back to Jack, smiling. "Have they been talking about a wedding seriously? Are they planning it?"

"Sort of. Claire said that neither of them have proposed yet and probably won't for a while, but they already know how they want the wedding to be. Alex would be Claire's Maid of Honor, and I would be Kaia's. Claire says Jody would walk her down the aisle, and Donna would walk Kaia, and then the father-daughter dance would be with you," Jack informs them in a rush.

"Ah, the—oh." Cas blinks rapidly, clearly startled by that last bit.

Dean snorts. "Oh, that would be a treat, watching you and Claire dance. Ha! Hold on, I'm coming around to the wedding idea."

"Me? Are you certain?" Cas asks cautiously, eyebrows pinching together.

Jack bobs his head. "Mhm. Claire said it's because it only makes sense, and she also said that they can probably bully Dean into dancing with Kaia, since Kaia ran away and hasn't seen—"

"Wait, me?!" Dean cuts in loudly, eyes bulging. Ah, hell no. There's no way. He doesn't f*cking dance.

"For Kaia," Jack insists firmly, eyebrows pinching together just like Cas' do when he's about to be stubborn about something. This wedding is clearly very important to him.

Dean opens his mouth to protest again, but Cas pins him with an identical disapproving look to Jack's, and they're actually bullying him. Together. As a unit. He sighs. "Hey, if she wants to subject her toes to that, then fine. But this is all in the distant future, right? Like, I don't gotta think about it too hard just yet, 'cause I am not prepared for dancing lessons. Put me on the Macarena and I'm golden. Anything more sophisticated than that, and...yeah, no."

"Oh, yes," Jack says glumly. "Claire said it's probably years away."

"Well, better than never, I guess," Dean says before he thinks about it, and then Cas sends him a look, and he wishes he never opened his stupid mouth.

"That's true," Jack agrees, perking up, oblivious. He starts backing out of the room. "I'm going to ask if she'll let me do a magic show."

With that, he darts away again, practically skipping. In the resounding silence following his departure, Dean looks down at his and Cas' hands where they're tangled together, their fingers bare. He chews the inside of his lip, and Cas turns to focus on him, the pin fully f*cking removed.

"Dean, it's fine. I'm happy with the way things are," Cas tells him.

"I know, Cas, but marriage is just—wait, what? You don't wanna marry me anymore?" Dean blurts out, his head snapping up. He's so surprised by how deeply that thought stings, especially because marriage is just a piece of paper.

Cas blinks at him. He stares at Dean for a long moment, reevaluating. "It's not necessary, no. You were right to say marriage isn't some form of deeper commitment. I feel committed to you completely as we are right now."

"Yeah, but the gays had to, like, fight to get the right to have that tacky piece of paper. I mean, I didn't do any fighting around the time that was going on, outside of monsters and stuff, but I supported the cause, at least," Dean replies weakly.

"And I'm glad that it's possible now," Cas agrees.

Dean huffs. "I thought you wanted to have me in a way no one else has."

"I already do," Cas tells him.

"I—I—" Dean stalls out, suffering through a strong bout of bemusem*nt. How has he gone from protesting marriage to arguing for it? This is some bullsh*t. He frowns. "M'not saying I don't think marriage is a scam, 'cause I still do, but...but…"

Cas raises his eyebrows. "Did you change your mind?"

"Our rings would clink together when we held hands," Dean mumbles.

"Is that a pro or a con?"

"I don't even know, dude."

"Dean," Cas says fondly, "we can just do the parts that you like. Why can't we just wear rings and tell people we're married, even if we aren't legally? Who is going to argue?"

Dean purses his lips, then sighs. "I wouldn't want a wedding party, you know? Like, with the dancing and vows and suits. Having cake and food sounds good. Some good music. Friends and family. Rings would be—okay, I like the idea of rings."

"We could do all of those things tomorrow," Cas points out.

"It's kind of a big deal," Dean murmurs.

"I thought it was a scam."

"Well, that too."

Cas' lips twitch. "We can be married without getting married, Dean. It doesn't have to be complicated. Though, I wouldn't mind dancing with you."

"You can dance with me right now," Dean grouses, wrinkling his nose.

"Oh?" Cas arches an eyebrow at him, a challenge, and Dean realizes immediately what he just did.

"Okay now, hold up, buddy," Dean says with an awkward laugh as Cas springs to his feet and sweeps over to the stereo that they spent a lot of money on, which has a built-in record player, CD player, and cassette player.

Cas glances over his shoulder with bright eyes, lips curling up. "What do you think? Something we can agree on, obviously. Billy Joel? The Eagles? Ah, yes, I know. You hum this when you're feeling particularly affectionate towards me."

"I don't hum sh*t," Dean protests, narrowing his eyes, because he's pretty sure he doesn't.

The Eagles come on a few moments later, and Dean raises his eyebrows at the first twang of Love Will Keep Us Alive. Does he hum that? Oh f*ck, he is such a sap. And it's such a sappy song, too. A good one, though, he'll admit that.

"Come on," Cas insists, turning back towards him and waggling his fingers. He arches an eyebrow when Dean doesn't budge an inch. "Do I have to marry you to dance with you, Dean? Because, if so, that would be reason enough."

"f*ckin' Casanova," Dean mumbles, feeling very stupid and getting to his feet anyway.

When it comes down to it, though, dancing ain't so bad. It's nothing fancy. They just sway together in the middle of their living room once they get past the initial discomfort of it, and that takes seconds. It's far too easy to sink into each other and hold on.

Dean closes his eyes, lips quirking. Yeah, it's sappy, but it's nice, too. He has a visceral memory of watching Bess and Garth dance in their own home and feeling a sharp yearning hook in his chest. On the outside looking in yet again, never thinking he'd get to have that, not even knowing who he wanted it with, or even if he wanted it at all. And now, here he is, basking in it with Cas.

"Now I've found you, there's no more emptiness inside. When we're hungry, love will keep us alive," croons from the speakers, and Dean finds himself humming along to it as if he does it often, which means he does.

"Hey, Cas?" Dean whispers.

"Hm?" Cas hums, sounding ridiculously content.

"Will you not-marry me?" Dean asks softly, his stomach in knots for no reason, heart thumping loud in his ears.

"Yes," Cas answers instantly, "of course."

Dean exhales shakily and clears his throat, holding Cas' a little closer after that, continuing to sway.

"Hey, you two arrived just in time," Dean declares as Sam and Eileen come sweeping into the house. "The rest are outside getting everything set up for the s'mores. Did you bring the hangers? Because we only had plastic."

Sam holds up a package of—not wire hangers, but actual marshmallow pokers. How fancy of him.

"I tried to tell him that hangers are a part of the s'mores experience, but he didn't listen," Eileen says, reading the expression on Dean's face exactly right.

"Buzzkill," Dean mutters.

"They're specifically designed to hold s'mores together," Sam mutters with a huff. "It's practical."

Eileen's face softens a little, and she bounces up to kiss Sam quickly, backing away and winking at Dean as she says, "You deal with him. I'm going to go find my beloved Cas."

"Still don't think she's a little evil?" Dean asks, amused. He starts gathering the last few bags of marshmallows and graham crackers.

"She's a wonderful person, who has never done anything wrong, ever," Sam announces doggedly, determined that that's the story he's going to stick to. He's biased, clearly.

"If that was the case, I wouldn't like her so much." Dean laughs when Sam rolls his eyes, and they head for the back door in sync. "How was Pennsylvania?"

"Exhausting. The woman who was being haunted fainted when her dead grandmother tossed a perfume bottle at her head," Sam says. "We swung by the Bunker before heading home, though. The hunters tried to feed us. How was Montana?"

"A bitch. The Djinn kidnapped Jack, and of course he didn't interfere and just let it happen. But he's God, so the whole dream-juice didn't work. I don't think I've ever seen a Djinn look that confused in my life," Dean admits, shaking his head as they file down the rickety steps and head for the bright spot of orange where the fire is going.

"Jack was alright, right?" Sam asks.

Dean snorts. "The kid was trying to show him a card trick when we got there. He was fine."

"Sounds like him." Sam huffs a laugh and glances up at the sky when they draw closer to the circle of chairs around the firepit. "It's going to be a clear night. Good for this kind of thing. It always looks so nice on the anniversary, like the world remembers."

"Maybe it does," Dean suggests. "It would kinda have to, right? The day Chuck wanted to end the world and was defeated instead. It's not like we can forget, so why should the world?"

Sam makes a small, gratified noise. "Yeah, I like the idea of that. Just another reason why everything we went through was worth it, I guess. It doesn't really make it okay, but it's still a nice thought."

"Can't have too many of those," Dean agrees, nudging Sam companionably with his elbow before they find their empty chairs next to each other with Cas and Eileen on either side of them.

There's a long process for getting the marshmallows passed around, along with everything else. Claire and Alex poke at each other with the marshmallow pokers until Jody cuts in and calls them off, Donna laughing discreetly behind her hand. Kaia and Jack are completely absorbed in pointing out shapes in the flickering flames, and Patience keeps throwing sticks in to make the shapes shift and change. Eileen and Sam get into a conversation with their hands, her feet propped up in his lap, his arms resting on her legs.

"I don't think I'll like it," Cas murmurs when Dean tries to get him to make s'mores.

Dean makes one for him anyway and cups his hand underneath it, insisting that Cas tries it. He laughs at the long string of melted marshmallow, swiping it away with his thumb. Then, he leans in and kisses the stickiness away, just because he can. As long as Dean will do that, Cas will eat s'mores, so they have themselves a compromise.

The night bleeds on, the smell of woodsmoke and melted sugar and chocolate in their nose, the sound of good conversation and bursts of laughter ringing out into the space around everyone. Dean leans quietly up against the side of his fold-out chair, his arm stretched out so his hand can find Cas' in the dark, their rings clinking together when their fingers tangle.

"You like the s'mores, Cas?" Dean asks him.

"Not particularly," Cas admits, "but I love you."

Dean grins. "Makes all the damn difference in the world, sweetheart. I love you, too."

Cas smiles at him and squeezes his hand. For a long time, they sit right there, basking in the warmth from the flames and the warmth from family. Dean looks around and thinks that this is it. This is what freedom is, what peace is. It's what he wanted, even when he didn't know he wanted anything at all, and he's got it. He has it. It's his, and he gets to keep it.

Today, and tomorrow, and for the rest of his life.


And there you have it, folks and friends. If you enjoyed, don't hesitate to drop off some kudos and leave a comment; I sincerely adore every single one! Thank you all so much for your support ❤️

Shout out to my good buddy who gave me a few ideas for this fic, you can find them over on tumblr here: donestiel

And you can find me on tumblr here: sobsicles

dumbassery, denial, doing (the three d's to the destination) - sobsicles (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Prof. Nancy Dach

Last Updated:

Views: 6110

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (57 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Prof. Nancy Dach

Birthday: 1993-08-23

Address: 569 Waelchi Ports, South Blainebury, LA 11589

Phone: +9958996486049

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Web surfing, Scuba diving, Mountaineering, Writing, Sailing, Dance, Blacksmithing

Introduction: My name is Prof. Nancy Dach, I am a lively, joyous, courageous, lovely, tender, charming, open person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.