take the bones, begin anew - JustStandingHere (2024)

Chapter 1: december (prologue)

Chapter Text

Cas comes back on a Thursday.

Later, everybody will see the irony in that. It’s lost in the moment. One second it’s quiet, just Sam and Dean in the bunker library. Sam is texting Eileen, who’s on a hunt out in Boise. Dean is tipsy, bordering on drunk, reading up on the Empty and searching for cases. It’s been two weeks since they nerfed God, and Dean’s near itching to get out of the bunker if only so he doesn’t have to keep looking at the walls. They don’t look right anymore, or something like that. He keeps expecting them to open up to nothingness.

(There’s also the fact that he can’t go down to the basem*nt. He has a jacket stuffed into his closet that he’s neither looked at, cleaned, or burned. Things he’s putting off for now, and hopefully will until the end of time.)

Then, there’s a wet gurgle, and out of nowhere there’s Jack with Cas hanging over his shoulders. They’re both smudged in black, with more than a few cuts and bruises. Jack manages to give a little wave before they both pass out on the ground.

Dean doesn’t remember much after that.

He must’ve done something, because the next thing he knows he’s in an uncomfortable 50’s office chair facing a sleeping Cas. He’s still got scratches and bruises all over, but some of them are stitched up, and he’s gunk-free. He’s wearing one of Dean’s AC/DC t-shirts. Dean’s got blood under his fingernails, and his knees ache.

Dean asks Sam about it later, once things have settled. Cas and Jack wake up eventually, and the next few days are mostly a lot of playing nursemaid and gleaning what little they can about what happened. As far as anyone sees it, Cas’s grace is still in the Empty, so he’s effectively human now. Jack is still his own little ball of weird, but he’s not God anymore. Apparently Amara’s taking care of things—all for the better, Dean realizes in retrospect. The weight of the universe shouldn’t be on the back of a three year-old.

They sit in the kitchen. It’s somewhere in the dead of the night—everyone’s sleep schedules have been f*cked to hell. Sam sits at the table while Dean prepares some midnight breakfast for Cas, who has recently relearned the emotion of “hangry”.

“It’s better than what he was a few days ago,” Sam says. “With the…” He gestures broadly to his own face. “Well, you remember.”

Dean plays along, and goes back to knocking Cas’s food back and forth on the pan. “Yeah,” he says, clearing his throat.

Sam doesn't buy it, because of course he doesn't. Dude may not be psychic anymore, but he’s apparently got the emotional perception of a shrimp. “You...you remember that, don’t you?”

Dean shrugs. “I mean...pieces, yeah. I think I blacked out for a bit. Big day, you know.”

Sam nods. “Makes sense. You were kind of out of it.”

Dean frowns. “Out of it like how?”

“Like...when they passed out, you kind of started yelling Cas’s name,” Sam says. He says each word like it’s a ticking time bomb, “Like, a lot. I was busy, y’know, with helping Jack, but you stayed on the ground with Cas for a while.”

Dean gets a vague sense of his knees on the floor, and a heavy feeling in his chest that he wills away. “Huh.”

“And I mean a—a while,” Sam goes on. “Like maybe an hour. I think at one point you were holding him, kinda like a pieta moment or something.”

Dean snorts. “Haha, very funny.”

“I’m not joking, Dean,” Sam says, and his face tells Dean he’s dead serious. “You were pretty upset. You don’t remember any of this?” Dean weighs the pros and cons of lying, realizes it's all futile anyway, and shakes his head. Sam let's put a breath. “You, um. Once we got Cas into his own room, you wouldn’t stop talking about cleaning him. And then, when I was walking by I think you were like, using a washcloth on him and crying.”

And okay, maybe Dean woke up with his eyes all sore, but come on. He doesn't cry publically if he can help it. He's not willing to embarrass himself like that. But then he remembers what he woke up to—the stitched up wounds, the t-shirt, and feels something well up in his throat.

He lets out a dry laugh and points his spatula at his brother. “Okay, now I know you’re joking. You’ve got a f*cked up sense of humor, Sam.”

Sam’s frown deepens. “Dean, I’m not. It was kinda scary, to be honest. I’d never seen you act like that.”

There’s not much Dean can say to that. He returns to the food, suddenly sheepish, and finds it’s done. He dumps it on the plate. “Yeah, well. It’s been a messed up couple of months, I dunno.”

“Yeah, but that’s kind of normal for us. Did...did something happen, with you two? You never told me what happened when Cas summoned the Empty.”

Dear god, not this conversation. Anything but this conversation.

“Yes, I did,” Dean says, and punctuates it by dropping the pan in the sink. “He summoned it. End of story.”

Sam, the little sh*t, presses on. “Yeah, but that can’t be—”

“Why do you want to talk about this, Sam?”

Sam blinks. “Because we can? Chuck’s not in charge anymore, Dean, which means we can finally...I just think that we’ve finally got the chance to talk about things we weren’t allowed to talk about before, y’know? Because Chuck wanted us to—to suffer in silence. So we should talk about the things we don’t want to talk about.”

Kid’s got a point there. A real good point, if Dean’s honest, but he just...he can’t do this right now.

Dean nods and scratches the back of his neck. “Okay. Uh, so.” He clears his throat. “In Hell, they had this really fun trick. It was where they would rip my jaw off its hinges, and then use it to scoop and uh, scrape through my own insides.”

Sam goes wide-eyed. “What the f*ck?”

“You wanted to talk about this kind of stuff, Sammy. You get what you asked for.” He picks up the breakfast tray on the counter. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Cas needs his breakfast.” And with that, he leaves.

Dean passes by his own room on the way, and pauses in front of the door for a moment. He hasn’t really been using it, opting to take care of Cas or sleep in the library. Maybe it’s because if he goes in there, he’s going to see that he needs to do his laundry, and then he’s going to have to look inside the closet and see the jacket. Or maybe it’s because he’ll wake up alone in the dark if he sleeps there, heart racing, Cas’s voice playing like a scratched record of I love you. Goodbye, Dean. I love you. Goodbye, Dean. I love you. Goodbye, Dean.

He feels like he doesn’t fit in his own room anymore, and isn’t that the saddest thing you’ve ever heard? And it’s not just his room. It’s the basem*nt. It’s the library. It’s even the goddamn kitchen, sometimes. Before Cas came back, he was looking at every opportunity to leave, every hunt to pursue. Part of him wanted to stay behind, crack open a few books and do his best to get Cas out. And he would try: he’d sit down and get to work, and it would be fine for all of five minutes before he’d get antsy. He’d get damn near itchy, and all of his research would go into finding the next case. By the time he hit the road he’d feel much better, and by the time he hit Lebanon city limits he felt guiltier than ever.

Even with Cas back, the itch is still there. He ignores it and keeps walking, until he makes it to Cas’s door. He opens it, balancing the tray on one arm, and closes the door behind him.

Cas is sitting upright this time around, bruises gone from black to sickly yellow, but he must’ve dozed off again. The laptop at the foot of the bed is asking him if he’s still watching Blue Planet. Dean takes a moment to marvel at the fact that the guy is alive, living and breathing in Dean’s clothes. When Dean sets the tray down on the nightstand, Cas jolts slightly and blinks awake.

"Hey there, sleeping beauty,” Dean says, smiling. Oh god, is he flirting? Is that what’s happening? Why is that happening? Cas doesn’t seem to notice, opting to blink owlishly at his breakfast. Dean sits down in the office chair, still positioned next to the bed, and takes Cas on a tour of the food. “This one is uh, orange juice. Bacon, obviously, and some toast. And some fruit because Sam insisted, but you can just ignore that."

Cas looks at the tray, turns it so the fruit faces him first, and looks up. "Thank you, Dean. I appreciate your kindness."

Dean fights the blush creeping up his neck. The bitch of it is, despite not discussing the…’event’, Cas’s earnestness hasn’t really stopped. Yesterday he called Dean a ‘shining example of human goodness’ and Dean felt twitchy for hours afterward. "It's not kindness, Cas, it's breakfast. You're bedridden, what were we gonna have you do, eat your own sheets?"

"Still. I do appreciate it." Cas picks up a clementine from Sam’s bowl of fruit and starts to pick at the skin absently. "You have an unending talent for kindness, Dean."

He says with this look on his face, all open eyes and a soft smile, and it reminds Dean of another, worse time. Neither of them have brought it up—Dean because, well, he’s Dean. He’s not so sure why Cas hasn’t, though.

"Yeah, well, that's..." He clears his throat. Sam’s words echo in his head. "Actually, I think that's something we need to talk about. Or, not this, but y'know. What happened. What you said."

Cas’s expression immediately changes, and he looks down at his own lap. "Do we?"

"Yeah, I think we do,” Dean says. He feels his heart in his throat. “You, I mean you told me that, that you—"

"I love you,” Cas completes. It’s a shock to hear it again, and he says it so easily. “Yes, I remember. I was there."

He clears his throat again. "Yeah, that. Let's talk about that."

Cas’s eyebrows raise. "You want to talk?"

"New world, new leaf, new me.” He spreads his hands in a grand flourish, hoping to relieve the tension. Instead, Cas goes back to looking at his own lap, fingernails worrying and peeling the clementine in bits and pieces.

"I...I don't know if there's much else to say,” he says. “I've said everything."

Well, what about me? I haven’t been able to say sh*t. The response is on Dean’s tongue, but everything after that is blank. What would he say? He hasn’t thought it out this far. He’s got this tight feeling in his chest, and he’s not sure what it is. Or, maybe he does, but the word for it circles his brain and he isn’t able to get his hands on it. Every time he tries to form a reaction, his mind goes blank.

He must be too quiet for too long, because the next thing he hears is a sigh from Cas. "Dean, you don't have to do this."

Dean frowns. "I don't have to do what?"

"Let me down easy. I already know. You care for me greatly, but as a—friend. A...a brother." And god, does he look sad. Not devastated, or heartbroken, but resigned.

It’s an opening. It’s an easy way out, so Dean doesn’t have to keep thinking about these things that keep making him feel like sh*t warmed over. "Yeah,” he says, and continues to feel like crap. “Yeah, that's...yeah. But that—that can't be enough for you, can it?"

Cas looks at him now like he’s stupid. "Dean, being in your life has, and always will be, a gift to me. That's never going to change."

Dean snorts. "Some gift." Cas gives a look of protest, but doesn’t say anything. It's an old fight, though, they don't have to talk about it. "Cas, I..." Something still feels wrong. He’s not...he’s not, but he wishes he was, if only to make the guy feel better. But then Cas would be stuck with him, with this mess who doesn’t even know what’s going on in his own head. He blows out a sigh and shakes his head. "I don't know, never mind."

His throat feels heavy. The silence in the room is near oppressive, and Dean’s willing to do anything to break it. He eyes the breakfast tray, leans forward, and snatches a piece of bacon off the plate.

"Dean, that's my food,” Cas argues.

"I know,” Dean says, and grins. “Damn good, too. You should eat it before I do."

Cas watches him eat before going back to his clementine, popping a slice in his mouth. The room smells citric and alive.

“Let’s watch a movie,” Dean suggests. Anything to distract from this feeling, this situation, this f*cking life he’s decided to lead. “Have I shown you The Outsiders yet?” Cas shakes his head. “Oh, man. You’re in for a treat. Matt Dillon is…” He clears his throat. “Anyway.”

He queues the movie up on the laptop and props his feet on Cas’s bed. Just like old times, he thinks to himself, and can’t quite figure out why that makes him feel so sad.

Sam figures his Sundays would be better spent digitizing bunker artifacts, but Cas really only has two pairs of underwear. And it’s not like he doesn’t wash them regularly, but it’s the first time they’ve been out of the bunker in a while, so once an errand run comes up they high tail it to the first Goodwill they see.

Sam, for the most part, is ambivalent towards Goodwill. He has a lot of fond memories of him and Dean playing hide and seek in between the sweater racks as kids, and it was always a good place to go for presents. He owes like, the majority of his material possessions to this place. The cashiers all seem to hit on him when he comes in, though, which is weird.

Dean, though—Dean loves Goodwill. The guy perpetually lives in the basem*nt of 1970s, and even though that thing is coming back into style now for some reason, this is the only place where he can get his fixings. He beelines for the clothing section, telling Cas that he’s going to make him look like “the most badass sonofabitch alive” before making a quick pass at the bins and picking up a leather jacket that’s two sizes too small. Jack instantly breaks for the toys and appliances section, as he always does.

Sam splits off with Cas after that. The poor guy looks like he’s caught in a death maze of fleece vests and wicker baskets. Sam grabs a 5 pack of boxers off one of the add-on hooks and leads him over to the men’s section. “Look,” he says. “Dean lives thirty years in the past, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Just go with whatever feels natural.”

“Thank you, Sam, but I have picked out my own clothes before,” Cas tells him, glaring. He looks back to the racks and racks of clothing. “I’ve just never had this many options.”

“Well, it’s all up to you,” he tells him. He picks out a random article of clothing and takes it off the rack. It’s a red shirt with a random school sports team on it. “Try this.”

Cas takes the shirt. “I’m not even a fan of the Marion High Wolves.” After a moment of contemplation, he nods and lets the shirt hang on his arm before scanning the racks with a little more intent. “Thank you, Sam.”

Sam leaves Cas to it from there, wanders a little bit. He thinks there might be something for Eileen that he could get her—she has a thing for ironic mugs, and even though no one in the family really celebrates Christmas, he thinks he might give her one for New Year’s. He finds one that reads “Unlock, Unload, and Unwind” with a little illustrated gun on the side. He texts her a pic of it and waits with bated breath for her response. He’s glad Dean’s too preoccupied to make fun of him for it.

He catches glimpses, between filing through jackets and contemplating getting a vase, of Cas and Dean shopping, eventually meeting in the middle of the men’s section. They continuously ask each other for their opinion on this and that, with Dean making faces and going on long winded rants at Cas’s choices and Cas simply regarding Dean’s choices with a neutral face before silently putting them back on the rack. At one point, it looks like they’re agreeing on something, and their faces light up.

Sam’s not one to presume—and Dean’s touchy on the subject, like a weird amount, but he knows something is going on. Cas won’t stop making what can only be described as heart-eyes whenever Dean’s not looking at him, and Dean’s been acting weird ever since Cas died in the first place. He’s either overly snippy or overly happy, and there’s no in between.

Actually, now that Sam thinks about it, Dean’s mood always seems to elevate like this whenever Cas comes back from the dead. He’s surprised he hasn’t poked and prodded Dean about it before. Maybe it was something Chuck did, but it certainly means Sam’s gotta make up for a lot of lost time.

When Sam sees them again, Dean has moved them from clothes to the shelves of discarded electronics in the back, adding some bits and pieces to the already overflowing shopping cart. Castiel is crowded next to Dean, studying the object in his hand. It’s a knockoff Walkman, one of the ones that’s got an AM/PM radio built into it. Sam honestly thought they stopped making those in 2006. Dean’s frowning. Neither of them have noticed Sam lurking ten feet away from them.

“Whaddaya mean you never listened to the tape?” he asks.

“Dean,” Cas says, “I just learned how to use the email. What do you expect?”

“So, what, you just kept it without listening to it? Why?”

“Because it was a gift,” Cas says slowly. “You keep those.” Dean opens his mouth, closes it. “And I love you.”

Dean goes red, and okay, something definitely happened that Sam doesn’t know about. He’s had, like, inklings about this kind of thing. Or, more than inklings. Him and Cas would do this thing, especially when Dean was missing, where they would get drunk together. They’d usually end up scouring spellbooks for some harmless magic—fireworks, or the occasional blood ritual to ensure no one tracked dirt inside, etc—and talking. Cas was a silent drunk, but when he talked, all he’d talk about was Dean. His worries, his admirations.

It got to the point of being overbearing. And, honestly, a bit irritating. Sam loves Dean and all, but not like that. And certainly not enough to hear Cas wax poetic about him for two hours.

Still, it’s weird to see said inklings proven correct. And even weirder to realize Dean’s not saying it back, and that’s a whole other mess. Sam, all at once, is too tired to do anything about it. The world stopped ending a month and a half ago. He needs a break.

Dean clears his throat and changes the subject. “Well, I still think you should get it. All the kids today are all about records, which I get,” Dean rambles on. “But tapes…nothing beats tapes. You can’t play records in your car. Plus, they’re more portable. I mean have you seen a CD player? They’re friggin’ huge. But these.” He holds it up, smiles. “Just the right size.”

“There’s always iPods,” Sam points out. Dean jumps a bit, Cas stays stock still. “Smart phones, too.”

Dean frowns, the obvious bubble he had going on now popped. “Yeah, well. Something to hold in your hands is better, and also f*ck off, Steve Jobs.” He turns to Cas. “As I was saying, you should listen to that, uh. The tape I gave you, so.” He places the Walkman in Cas’s hands, smiles. Their hands linger a little longer than they should. “Go wild, dude. They got other tapes here, too.”

They end up buying a sh*t ton of stuff. Cas manages to find a whole new wardrobe, consisting of a lot of sensible, hunter-esque kind of clothing, but also veering into thick cardigans and a f*ckton of t-shirts shouting support for random high schools, work events, and tourist spots. There’s also an assortment of toys, a jean jacket, and a lamp for Jack, and the mug that got Sam a heart emoji from Eileen, and a few various bits and pieces that seemed interesting in the moment.

They also purchase the knockoff Walkman, and three tapes.

Dean shuffles through them as they exit the parking lot, the bags in Sam’s hands because “Jack’s a kid, Cas is an invalid—”“I’m not an invalid”“—and I’m driving”. Jack takes some of Sam’s bags, and it’s hard to imagine that for a month this kid was essentially God when he manages to almost trip over the parking curb on the way out.

“A Mormon Tabernacle Christmas,” Dean reads aloud. “The Animal House Soundtrack, and Billboard Top Hits of 1983.” He nods. “Interesting choices, Cas.”

“They have songs I recognize,” Cas reasons. “Also, you mentioned that you enjoy the movie. I figured that I could at least know the music since I haven’t seen it yet.”

Dean’s face goes a little pink at that, and clears his throat. “Fair. Hey, we’ll watch it when we get back to the bunker, yeah?”

Cas smiles, looks Dean in the eyes. “I’d like that, yes.”

Sam, who can’t stand this any longer and is also carrying twenty pounds worth of clothing in his hands, shouts, “Hey guys, not that I’m not enjoying this little moment, but we’ve got groceries, so.” He gestures to the car by swinging the bags lazily in its direction. “Let’s get going.” Dean grumbles, but his heart isn’t in it, and he and Cas awkwardly shuffle into the car.

Sam and Jack unload the bags into the trunk, and Jack looks pensively at the two heads in front of them.

“They’ve been acting odd,” he says.

Sam huffs a laugh. “Yeah, that’s one word for it.”

“Cas told me...” Jack says. He swallows, frowns, then looks at Sam. “He told me, when I was retrieving him, that he wasn’t sure it was best if he came back. He sounded…”

“He sounded what?” Sam asks.

“He sounded sad,” Jack says. He shakes his head and puts back on a smile. “I’m sure it was nothing. We should get going.”

Sam closes the trunk, and has a sinking feeling that his brother is an idiot. After everyone’s situated in the Impala, Dean puts the Animal House soundtrack into the cassette slot, and “Louie, Louie” plays as they peel out of the parking lot.

Castiel thinks he has a good grasp on linear time. He’s been experiencing it regularly for the past 12 years or so. He remembers birthdays, and significant dates. He is, however, still baffled as to why New Year’s is in the middle of winter.

“Many pagan societies considered the new year to occur in the spring,” he says as he hangs streamers up around the bunker library, feet balancing on the rolling ladder, “as there was new life after the dead of winter. It makes the most sense. I myself have been very fond of Ugadi. It certainly has better decorations.” He regards the shiny set of streamers in his hand, and imagines them as mango leaves.

“It’s an excuse for people to get drunk and exercise,” Kaia explains. They’ve been put on decorating duty as Dean, Claire, and Jack get the food and Patience and Alex are preparing what they call ‘The Spritzer of the Century’. Last Castiel saw, they were pouring an entire bottle of Amaretto into a surprisingly orange-looking bowl. Donna is on her way back from ‘borrowing’ confiscated fireworks from the police station, and Jody is taking a much needed nap. Sam and Eileen are...elsewhere. Castiel didn’t bother to check in after Sam had handed Eileen a small mug, and Eileen had practically dragged him down the hall.

Castiel frowns. “Well that’s an extremely ill-informed decision.”

Kaia rolls her eyes. “Not at the same time. It’s like...resolutions and whatever. Goals for the year. People usually make it a month and then give up.”

Castiel hums. “And they do this every new year?”

Kaia nods. “Every new year.” Castiel smiles, mostly to himself, and pins another streamer to the shelf. “You got any resolutions?”

Rubbing the shiny plastic between his fingers, Castiel contemplates. “I’m not sure,” he says. “In all fairness, I’m still getting used to being alive in this dimension.”

Kaia snorts. “Preaching to the choir.” She finishes hanging up the ‘2021’ sign and steps off the library ladder. She goes to where Castiel is still balancing himself and leans against the shelves, hands stuffed in her hoodie’s pockets. “I guess I’d think about the kinda stuff you wanted to do when you were in that other place, then. Or stuff you haven’t been able to do until now. Like, I kinda want to get into baking? There was so much weird sh*t I had to eat in the Bad Place. And I wanna save up for an apartment with Claire. No offense to Jody and Donna or anything, but there’s something about having a place to call your own, y’know? Me and Claire, we’ve never really had that.”

Castiel hums. Claire and Kaia had arrived earlier than the rest, and though Claire was still prone to sarcastic quips and rolling her eyes, there was a definite...shift in her, since Kaia returned. She was happier, looser around the limbs. She was more prone to joking.

Castiel thinks about what he wants. The first thought is easy, but now unattainable. He feels very gracious for the fact that Dean still wants his company, but his unreciprocated love still hangs heavy on him. This is a familiar conundrum, however, so he focuses instead on what’s past that.

“I was always jealous of Joshua,” he says. Kaia frowns, confused. “The gardener of Heaven. I’ve spent so much of my life as a...a hammer. Something made to destroy. I think I would like to grow something this time around.” He pauses, considering. “I’ve also contemplated opening an account with Facebook.”

“Okay, get a cactus or an herb box or whatever,” Kaia tells him. “But don’t...don’t do the Facebook thing. They have, like, algorithms. It’s freaky as f*ck.”

Castiel nods, only vaguely understanding what she’s saying. “Noted,” he says. There’s the sound of the door opening, and they both turn to see Dean, Claire, and Jack coming down the spiral staircase, paper bags in their arms.

Dean’s grinning as he walks, swaying with a bag in each arm. There’s still a bit of snow on the shoulders of his coat. This is the Dean Castiel most likes to see: joyous and carefree. He’s been seeing more and more of this Dean lately; a logical transition to make, when your life isn’t being controlled by the whims of a sad hack author. “Three words,” he says. “Cheddar-stuffed cheeseburgers.”

“Another three words,” Claire responds. “Instant heart-attack.”

“We also have three different kinds of chips, and four kinds of dips,” Jack says. “Oh! And Rocky Road ice cream—don’t tell Sam.”

Dean peers inside the library and whistles. “Looks like a real party,” he says.

And soon enough it does become a real party. Castiel is beginning to realize how, even though he’s been on this planet for 12 years and has observed it for eons, there are still things he’s learning about. Like how cold rooms seem to get warmer, when they’re filled with people you care about. Dean shows them all how to make the burgers, despite the fact that no one in the room will remember it later, and once they’ve all had dinner the drinking starts. They all migrate from the kitchen to the living room, Patience and Alex’s mystery punch managing to elicit slurred speech out of anyone who partakes in it.

From there it is the natural ebb and flow of a party, one Castiel has only observed once or twice. Usually when they were convinced the Apocalypse was nigh. It’s nice, he muses, to see them celebrating the beginning of something rather than the end. It’s...lighter. People are dragged from room to room, needing to grab one item or another. Jody regales the group in a tale involving Donna, Alex, and a dishwasher that Castiel doesn’t quite understand, but laughs along to anyway. Jack, prohibited from drinking the punch, has opted instead to play checkers with Patience, who always wins.

It’s a lovely night, but Kaia’s question about resolutions itches something funny in Castiel’s head. It becomes apparent more so as the night progresses. Things have been good. They’ve been like how they’ve always been. Dean will pat his shoulder as he leaves, and convince him to watch movies. And Castiel, in turn, feels like he’s simultaneously doing both too much and not enough. He will compliment Dean, and something will flash in the man’s eyes that Cas can’t reasonably name. He will leave Dean alone, taking walks outside with Jack or simply perusing through the extensive bunker library, and in under an hour Dean will be asking where he was.

Castiel doesn’t know what to do with this. Loving Dean has always been easy, loving openly even more so. But there are rules to this, and he’s growing to hate them more and more as the days pass by. He wishes, distantly, that things could go back to what they once were. That was at least a familiar ache.

This is all to say that, as the minutes towards midnight tick closer and closer, the ambient warmth of the room starts to feel all too hot, and Castiel eventually finds himself needing some air.

There’s no access to the roof, since the factory is all but a facsimile for the bunker, but there is an emergency exit. One has to journey through a series of identical, chilled hallways to reach it. It is an 8x8 square of concrete with metal railing, and a set of stairs that go into an open field. Donna’s fireworks sit in a pile in the center, a tall innocuous silhouette among the snowdrifts and shallow shrubbery. The cold air is bracing—he forgot to grab his coat—but in a way he appreciates its open bite.

For a few minutes he leans against the railing, marveling at the large expanse in front of him. He can see house lights in the distance, little flecks of orange in an otherwise navy-coded atmosphere. He doesn’t wish to go back inside. In fact, something in him wants to go down those stairs, walk across the field, and keep walking. It’s a fleeting thought, but a frightening one nonetheless.

He hears the door open behind him, and is both relieved and disappointed to see Kaia. “Oh,” she says. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting anybody to be out here.”

“It’s alright,” he says.

Kaia nods, sleeves pulled up over her hands, and leans against the railing with him. “It’s just...sometimes parties are too much for me, y’know? I’m not used to having this many people in one place.”

Castiel nods. He understands her sentiment.

They sit in silence for a few minutes—neither has anything to say, and neither have really grasped the significance of small talk. Eventually, though, he remembers their earlier conversation. The silence suddenly feels deafening, and he has the compulsive need to speak.

"Can I tell you a secret?" he asks.

Kaia starts. "What kind of secret?” she asks. She frowns. “You're not dying, are you?"

He chuckles. "No, no. But I...it is about when I was dying, before."

"Oh,” Kaia says, her face sober. “You sure you wanna tell me about that? No offense, but we barely know each other. I mean, I am dating your daughter, I guess. Even though she hates it when I call you her dad."

That makes him smile, a warm affection for Claire blooming in him. "It's..it's nothing, really,” he says. “Just something I need to get off my chest."

Kaia nods. "Okay. Go ahead."

Castiel takes a breath in, then one out. "When I was dying, before,” he says, “I told Dean that I loved him."

Kaia’s eyes go wide, and she goes to look back over the field. "sh*t,” she says. "And did he...?" Castiel thinks back to Dean a few weeks ago, face pained and words catching. He looks at Kaia and shakes his head. Her eyes grow wider. "sh*t.

"Yeah,” Castiel agrees. “I don't...I'm not surprised, but I do find myself overwhelmed. It was something I kept secret for so long, and now I feel like I am overexposed. That and my recent reintroduction to humanity have caused me a great deal of stress."

"Yeah, I can imagine,” Kaia says sincerely. “That’s heavy, Cas, I’m so sorry.” She’s a very good person to talk to, never overbearing with advice or offering half-baked condolences. She fidgets for a bit, hands going into her pockets. “Hey, um. Feel free to say no, but I might have something that can help. It’s kind of what I came out here to do in the first place."

"What is it?" Castiel asks, frowning.

He's expecting possibly some sort of dreamwalking concoction, or possibly an enchanted amulet. Instead, Kaia pulls out a small glass pipe, a lighter, and a baggie. She begins to stuff the weed into the bowl in earnest, before looking back up at him. "Wait, do you know what this is?"

He fights an eye roll. "I used to work at a gas station. I know what marijuana is." He remembers one of the teenage employees, a lanky kid named Mark, offering a joint to him. He doesn’t know if it was the stress he was under or some odd angelic after-effects, but he never found himself intoxicated, even after a couple puffs. He’s hoping for a different result now.

"Oh, good,” Kaia exhales. She lights the bowl and takes a hit. “It just, it calms me down, y'know? Sometimes the world's too big and I just need it to shrink down a little bit."

"I understand.” He takes a pipe and relights it, letting the smoke fill his lungs. He lets it sit there for a moment or two before watching it escape up into the night sky. He passes the pipe back to Kaia, and they go on like this for a few minutes until there’s nothing but ash.

It doesn’t hit him all at once, but there’s a noticeable shift in how the world feels. Kaia’s right, it does feel smaller. Much like a blanket. There’s only them, the field, and the fireworks. "My limbs feel much lighter than my body,” he says, and laughs a little at the statement. His body, now on autopilot, hiccups out a few more laughs than he supposes the statement warrants.

Kaia starts giggling as well. "Hell yeah, dude. Let it all out." And they stay there some more, the laughter slowly fading, and the cold becoming more and more apparent.

"This is....this is very helpful,” he tells her. “Thank you, Kaia."

"No problem, Cas.” She grins and bounces off the railing. “Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go ring in the new year with my girlfriend."

Cas hums and hears the door shut behind him. He’s starting to shiver, but he’s high enough now that part of him is convinced the inside of the bunker is a different plane of reality, and he’s done enough dimension hopping for one lifetime. Besides, he prefers it here. The little orange house lights in the distance unfurl something soft in his chest. Even overcast, the snow reflects the landscape bright and blue. It reminds him of a Heaven he once visited, of a Scandinavian researcher. She was doing amazing things with fish eggs.

He doesn’t know how long he’s been out there, but eventually the door squeals open again, and he’s momentarily bathed in warm light. When he turns, he sees Dean, who has a glass in one hand and something cloth in the other.

Dean sighs. "God, f*ck, there you are. I've been looking all over." He shuts the door, and all goes blue again.

Cas smiles. He loves Dean, and the feeling floats out of him like helium. "I needed some air,” he explains.

Dean scoffs and walks up to him. "You need a jacket.” He thrusts the cloth towards Cas. It’s one of his newer articles of clothing, a beige suede coat with wool lining. “Here. Kaia told me I'd find you outside, figured you'd be the kind of dumbass to die of frostbite. She also called me a dumbass, for some reason." Cas slips the jacket on, and feels Dean’s hand slide up and down his back, warming him up, before giving a light pat and dropping to its side.

"Thank you,” Cas says. He studies Dean, the way the lack of light brings out the most important parts of him—his hair, his smile, his eyes, his crow’s feet. The warm thing in his chest unfurls further. I love you so much, he thinks. It’s a mundane realization, one that happens almost daily, but it still manages to astound him.

Dean smiles. "What's that look on your face for?"

"I'm...appreciating you,” Castiel says slowly.

Dean smiles, but his eyebrows draw together. "Man, that punch must've gotten you bad."

"I believe it's called the Spritzer of the Century,” Castiel corrects.

"Yeah, well, whatever it is, it's got me feeling tipsy,” Dean says. He takes a sip from his glass. “Me. Those f*cking honor roll kids, man, I tell ya. They know how to party."

Castiel remembers the Dean he met all those years ago. That Dean would’ve been furious to see his counterpart now, he would imagine, drinking something so light and fruity. He fights back another giggle.

"What are your resolutions for the year, Dean?" he asks, apropos of nothing.

Dean finishes another sip. "Resolutions?"

"Kaia told me about them."

"Uh. Man, I dunno. Exist? Drink less?” He regards the drink in his hand, shrugs, and continues sipping. “I haven't thought about it."

Castiel hums. "Those are good resolutions."

“And you?”

“Small things. Plants. Avoiding Facebook.” Dean looks at him, confused. Castiel shrugs. He’ll tell him more in the morning. “I like your idea about existing.”

They sit there for a few moments. Dean downs the rest of his drink. His elbow leans against Cas’s. "So,” he says, words starting to slur. “Kaia told you all about New Year's traditions, huh?" Castiel nods. "So you...you know what happens when the ball drops, right?"

Cas frowns. "You...catch it?"

Dean snorts out a laugh. "No,” he says. “I mean...you're supposed to kiss someone when it hits midnight."

"Oh,” Cas says. “I didn't know about that."

Dean looks him up and down a moment before hanging his head. He chuckles a little. "Right, of course you didn't." He sniffs. "Well, y'know. I had to double check. Make sure you didn't try anything."

Castiel has never understood the term ‘harshing one’s buzz’ until tonight. The fizzy helium feeling he’d been enjoying seems to crash down all at once. His stomach turns. "You know I wouldn't."

The laughter in Dean’s eyes fades quickly, and Castiel is glad to see it go. He clears his throat. "Right, right. I wasn't—"

"You're implying that given the opportunity, I would express my desires,” Castiel explains. The anger seeps out of him, low and exhausted. “I've loved you for 12 years, Dean. I've had plenty of opportunities to express myself."

Dean blinks. "You...you have?"

Castiel lets out a heavy sigh. "Yes.”

Dean nods, continues nodding, then frowns. "Like when?"

Castiel wishes he could go back to five minutes ago. "I don't wish to talk about this."

Dean nods again, but it’s short and succinct. "Sure. Sure.” There’s another few moments of awkward silence before a regretful look graces Dean’s face. He inhales sharply. “I'm...you know I'm happy to have you back, right? Really, Cas. No matter what happens, that's always gonna stay the same. We’ll be back to normal in no time."

That is precisely the problem, something horrible in Castiel says. Despite it, the rest of Dean’s words soothe him. It's always a good reminder that he’s wanted in any capacity. "Of course."

The door squeals from behind them, and Claire and Jack come spilling out. It becomes immediately obvious that Jack has somehow managed to sneak some of the Spritzer of the Century, and that’s a conversation for another time. “Thirty seconds to the new year!” Donna whoops from behind them. Everyone from inside piles out onto the concrete patio.

“Alright, everybody!” Jody yells, a smile on her face and her eyes on her watch. “Twenty seconds! Jack, you got the fireworks?”

Jack nods with a small smile. His eyes glow gold, and out in the field something sparks.

“Ten, nine, eight!” Jody calls. Castiel joins in around six, and Dean at five. They all hit one with a shout, various cheers coming from everywhere. The first of the fireworks launch into the night sky, turning the air all sorts of bright yellows, reds, and blues. On either side of them stands a couple. Eileen pulls Sam in for a kiss to their left, and Claire to Kaia on their right.

Castiel looks out ahead at the field, at the fireworks. He can feel Dean’s eyes on him, but doesn’t look back. He won’t, in fear of hoping for something. For now, he will swallow the bile in his throat, and watch the sky erupt.

Chapter 2: january


It’s been two weeks since New Year’s. Castiel has learned many things since then:

1.He does not like pea soup.
2.He does like marijuana, very much.
3.He doesn’t like living in the bunker.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Dean holds out on asking until the first week of January. He’s never really had ‘resolutions’ before, mostly because he’s always been too busy saving the world to care about self-improvement, but he thinks he might give it a shot. The first one is to drink less, which is proving to be a bitch. He’s trying to follow some semblance of rules—no alcohol until after 5PM, never alone, and it has to be rosé or something else he’s embarrassed to have on hand.

(He actually kinda likes it, but he’s not telling anybody that.)

The second one is to fix whatever the hell’s going on between him and Cas. Because something is going on. Whenever Cas is in the room Dean keeps getting this feeling, like his whole body’s electrified. It reminds him of when Cas was an angel, and how he’d get pissed and the air would crackle. Cas is human now, or something like it, so he probably doesn’t have that kind of ability anymore, but Dean’s seen weirder. There’s some sort of friction going on, and he’s pissed that it’s still there.

He also can’t stop thinking about what Cas told him on New Year’s. It’s got Dean examining every close moment in their relationship and wondering if Cas was two seconds away from trying to f*ck him into the nearest wall. Or trying to shove his tongue down his throat. ‘Expressing his desires’ and stuff.

So he decides to two-birds-one-stone it when he drags Cas along to the grocery store. Or, actually, three-birds-one-stone it, because he does it while he’s picking out the bottle of rosé he’s going to shame-drink for the next couple of days.

"So, before,” he says, eyeing the bottle. They all look the same. He picks out the one with a chicken on the label, just because. “Uh, back at the New Year's party—you said you'd had opportunities to express you're uh, 'desires' before."

Cas is otherwise occupied, texting of all things. Dean tries to spy what he’s saying, but all he gets is that he’s texting some random number a leaf emoji. "Did I?" Cas asks, in the way that suggests he remembers, but he’s going to be bitchy about it.

"Yeah, you did,” Dean states. He pushes the cart forward and they turn into the chips and dips aisle.

Cas doesn’t look up from his phone. "If I recall, I also said I didn't want to talk about it."

"Yeah, but,” Dean says. He throws a bag of tortilla chips into the cart for lack of words. “Come on, Cas, you can't blame a guy for being curious." That gets Cas to look up from his phone, eyes wary. "What, did you expect me to shut up about it forever?"

A head tilt. "Isn't that how you usually process things?"

Fair point. But like he said, new leaf etc etc etc. "Whatever. Come on, lay one on me,” he says. Thinks about it. “Not, not like that."

Cas rolls his eyes at him, his glare teetering between anxious and murderous. He looks around the aisle, tossing things into Dean’s slowly moving cart.

"I'd considered telling you many times,” he says after a beat. He carefully places a bottle of salsa in the cart. “The night we set off to capture Raphael—though I hadn't truly grasped the true depth of my feelings, I had wanted to express your importance to me.” Next he throws in a bag of veggie crisps, and a pack of Oreos. “When the Apocalypse was occurring. When I had...taken on the Leviathans.” They round out of the chips and dips aisle, over to the produce section. Cas grabs a thing of blackberries that will definitely be sour. “When I became human. When I was losing my battle with my grace.." He stops at the citrus section, smiles ruefully. "I'd tried to tell you, when I was struck by the Lance of Michael, but the pain was too great for me to express myself fully."

Dean remembers the moment vividly, the words flying over him. In the moment, all he could do was try to look at anything but the dark veins crawling up Cas’s skin, the way his brain had screamed this is wrong what the f*ck this can’t happen this is wrong. He’d supposed those words were familial, a brothers in arms thing. Now, though, everything shifts on its axis.

Cas packs a couple oranges into the bag. A couple lemons, too.

Dean watches Cas toss the bag into the cart. "Huh. So you only wanted to get busy when you were dying?"

"I didn't say 'getting busy',” Cas says. His gaze leans towards murderous. “I only meant that I would tell you that I loved you."

He’s ignoring the dying part, which is...whatever, Dean doesn’t want to unpack all of that, at least not before checkout. It’s not like he’s one to talk with the deathbed speeches he’s made over the years. He’s not inclined to speak much, anyway, when Cas says that he loves him. Each time it hits in a new way, like he’s realizing all over again. It makes him feel like his skin is curling inwards, and his heart rate goes through the roof.

However, the only way out is through, and Dean is nothing if not a battering ram when he wants to be.

"So, what, just talking?” he teases. “Not even a kiss?"

Okay, eyes are definitely murderous now. "Dean, I'd rather we didn't discuss this in the produce section."

"You're telling me there wasn't a moment you wanted to go all Brokeback on me?" Dean jokes, and hopes Cas won’t ask how he knows what that is, or how he’s seen it three times. To be fair, two of those were on accident, because motel TVs are as reliable as paper in the wind.

He suddenly gets the thought of him and Cas as the leads, and that one scene where Heath Ledger nearly breaks Jake Gyllenhaal’s nose trying to make out with him. And then his brain short circuits a bit, because what the f*ck are you supposed to do with that? The scene keeps replaying in his head over and over, only he’s Jake now, and Cas is Heath, and he can’t stop his brain from acting like a skipped record.

When he comes back online, he realizes he’s walked them into the flowers and bouquets section. Well isn’t this romantic, Dean thinks, and again: what the f*ck are you supposed to do with that? Cas still hasn’t responded, and is facing away from Dean. He’s considering a row of orchids, their pots wrapped in shiny foil.

"In Rexford,” Cas says finally, “in your car. You had told me not to go in, and I...I had misinterpreted. And then afterward, when you let me stay in your room for the night. The TV was on the weather channel, and you looked so...yourself. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I wanted you so terribly." He turns back to Dean. His face has gone soft. He sighs like he’s tired, and smiles softly. "The impulse is ever-present, but it's the first instance that comes to mind." He picks an orchid off from the shelf and puts it in the cart. "We're buying this."

Dean doesn’t have anything to say to that. Dean doesn’t even know what to think, his mind going blank. He stares resolutely at the shelves of flowers, trying to wrestle some kind of coherency, or at least the ability to move. By the time he gets control of himself, Cas has walked ahead, towards the line for the self checkout. Dean clears a lump in his throat that wasn’t there before, tightens his grip on the shopping cart, and marches ahead to meet him.

It’s been two weeks since New Year’s. Castiel has learned many things since then:

  1. He does not like pea soup.
  2. He does like marijuana, very much.
  3. He doesn’t like living in the bunker.

Or, maybe that last one is incorrect. It feels more like the bunker doesn’t like him living in it. As an angel, he saw the place as a respite, full of a multitude of books to read from and hallways to peruse at his leisure. A place where his family was guaranteed to be, and therefore something to come back to when he was inevitably pulled away. Being human, however, and deciding to indulge in human pleasures, he has encountered too many obstacles.

The grievances are small, at first. Another thing Castiel has recently learned about himself is that he is allergic to dogs. This had been no problem when he had first arrived, as he didn’t know there was a dog to begin with. Eileen had apparently taken Miracle with her for a few hunts, and Dean had jokingly accused her of stealing his dog. Castiel had laughed, and thought nothing of the future situation.

Now, however, Eileen is back. Ergo, the dog is back. Castiel enjoys Eileen’s presence—he knows all languages, but she has begun to teach him some slang from ASL and ISL that has led to a myriad of inside jokes. The dog’s presence, however, has left Castiel puffy-eyed and constantly sneezing. He’s tried taking allergy medication, but all it did was leave him unconscious at 1PM. He’s also tried simply not being in the room with the dog, but it seems to have sensed his displeasure and takes pride in following him everywhere.

“Dean,” he says, “please tell the dog to leave me alone.” There is a whine from behind him, and he sneezes.

Dean looks up from his book. “Her name is Miracle,” he reminds him.

“She is no miracle to me.” Dean laughs. He feels another sneeze incoming. “We’ve also run out of allergy medication.”

So Dean takes him to the pharmacy downtown, and they buy five kinds of allergy medications along with a stuffed monkey for Jack. Dean’s the one to hand it to him, and because of that Jack names the monkey Han Solo, and Dean’s eyes light up.

None of the allergy medications seem to work. Or they do, but with side effects Castiel is not willing to compromise on, because he finds it debasing to have to have his body suffer something in order for it to gain respite from another. He explains as much to Dean. Dean laughs and calls him a stubborn bastard.

Castiel finds himself going on a lot more walks because of this, or simply existing behind closed doors. Sam and Eileen have even been training the dog to come when they call. In all cases, the dog will still end up following Castiel. Everyone in the bunker but him thinks this is absolutely hilarious.

But it’s not just the dog. It’s also that Castiel enjoys marijuana, and he lives in a badly ventilated bunker.

“Dude, you reek,” Dean tells him one morning. “Your room, too. Smells like friggin’ Woodstock.”

This happens during one of his more allergy-heavy days, so Castiel simply snaps back, “At least I don’t smell like a liquor store.”

This quickly devolves into a fight about coping mechanisms and hypocrisy. Dean has an odd look on his face the entire time, calling Castiel a ‘hedonistic hippie’. Castiel has a pretty good definition of hedonism, and he’s sure watching nature documentaries is not that. He says this, and the coping mechanism fight devolves into a semantics fight, which is only ended by Sam coming in and asking Dean to take a look at something in the archives. Dean storms off.

“Um,” Sam says from the doorway. “He is kinda right though, about the smell. Maybe use some damp towels?”

Those don’t work, and a week later Dean comes into his room brandishing Febreze like a fire extinguisher. Kaia suggests something called a ‘sploof’, but more often than not Castiel finds himself choking down leftover smoke in the process. Castiel opts to stand outside in the freezing snow, numb fingers sparking a lighter. It kills his high, a little bit. He doesn’t like having to wander through the hallways afterwards. He’ll run into Dean sometimes when he does, and he worries the fight will start up all over again. Mostly, though, Dean just has that odd look, and brushes past him.

There is also, of course, the basem*nt. He does not dare go down there, but it seems like he’s always being led there by one task or another. There are still scratch marks on the wall and dents in the door. And even if he’s not in the basem*nt, there is always the dark. He will wander by himself, in the dark, for the bathroom, and a slow anxiety will crawl up his back. He has nothing to fear, he knows. But when the lights turn off, all he sees at the end of the hall is dark nothing.

He will go back to his room, where his coat hangs off the back of the door, and stare at the smudges permanently intertwined with the fabric now. He will stare for a long time, and go back to wandering the hallways. And when that gets old, he will wander into the war room, where Dean is sleeping fitfully. He will be tempted to give him good dreams, and then remember he can’t even do that anymore. So he will go back to his room, and the cycle repeats itself.

These are things Castiel can compromise with, and he does for many weeks. The final blow, however, hits hard.

"I could fix it,” Jack offers.

The orchid, which three weeks ago was pink and full, with new blooms on the way, is now spilling over its own pot and onto Castiel’s desk. The dirt is still moist, and the flowers have all but curled in on themselves. It looks like it fainted theatrically, then decided to never get back up.

"No,” Castiel says, sighing. “Thank you, but...it wouldn't be the same."

He realizes, belatedly, that it would be nigh near impossible to keep houseplants in an underground bunker. There are variants he knows about, of course. He could probably drive to the nearest garden supply store and pick out a few. But it’s the realization about the lack of sun that sticks with him. The lack of nature’s most important ingredient for thriving.

"I'm sorry your plant died,” Jack tells him.

"It lived a very brief life, but it was very beautiful while it lasted."

Jack nods. "Like humans,” he suggests.

Castiel hums and smiles sadly. "Yes, like humans."

Jack turns to face him, tilting his head. “Would you like a hug?”

For a moment, Castiel is at war with his current grief and his unbelievable pride for his son. He nods, and Jack wraps his arms around him, resting his head on his shoulder and giving him soothing pats. He’s learned this from me, Castiel realizes, and feels a little better when they part.

They stand there for a while, holding silent vigil for the plant. He never named it, but he’s beginning to wish that he had.

Jack inhales, moves like he’s about to say something. He stops, eyes darting back and forth, before starting again. "Cas, how did you summon the Empty?" He looks at Castiel, frowning. He has too many frown lines for his age. "I only ask because you—you made that deal because of me. I feel sometimes like it's my fault—"

Castiel frowns. "No, Jack. Don't ever think that."

"Why not?"

"Because it's not true,” he states. “None of it was your fault." Jack’s face smooths out slightly. Castiel sighs, preparing for the fallout. "I told Dean that I loved him.” Jack’s face is blank. “Romantically."

Jack blinks. "Oh." Then he frowns again, head tilting. "Didn't he already know?"

Castiel huffs a laugh. "No."

"But he does now,” Jack says slowly.

Castiel nods. "Yes, we have discussed it,” he says.

"So you're...happy now?" The last word comes out higher than the rest, Jack’s face scrunched together in a way that pulls at Castiel’s heartstrings.

He doesn’t know what to say. Or, he does, but it’s not a simple answer. He feels lighter, yes. Freer, to love and accept whatever love he gets back in return. It’s funny how he had gotten used to carrying something so heavy like it was nothing. It’s odd to exist without it, when he’d had it for so long. But Castiel is, above all things, a coward. He waited until the last moment to tell the man he loves his feelings, and now he stands in its wake wishing to be anywhere else. He hates the confirmation of his unrequited feelings. He hates the edge his friendship with Dean has taken—it’s too mundane for him to know how to properly handle. If it were perhaps another Apocalypse, he would have better luck.

He cannot tell Jack that. He won’t.

"In some ways, yes, I am happier than I once was." It is not a lie. He can pride himself on that, at least.

Jack smiles. "That's good. I don't like seeing you sad." They both go back to staring at the dead orchid. "Do you wanna go get another one?"

Castiel shakes his head. "No. This place...it's not a suitable environment for plants. They need sunlight and warmth."

"Maybe during the summer, then,” Jack suggests.

Something cold burns in Castiel’s stomach, a realization brewing. "Maybe."

Later that night, Dean prepares a lovely dinner of steak and potatoes. Eileen shares a dirty joke with Castiel when no one is looking. The cold feeling persists. They watch Riverdale with Jack, making various comments at the screen as Jack shushes them. The dog tries to sit on Castiel’s lap, and he sneezes through the episode. The cold feeling persists. Sam and Dean share a bottle of rosé once Jack’s gone to bed. They both tease each other about it, Sam exacting revenge for all the times Dean questioned his masculinity and Dean telling Sam to shut up, I’m only drinking this because it sucks. They both continuously ask Castiel for his input, which he gives with his bias obviously leaning towards Dean. Sam throws his hands up in the air and leaves. Dean laughs, and pats Castiel on the shoulder as he heads to bed himself. His hand does not linger like it once did. The cold feeling persists.

Castiel rolls a joint in his bedroom, and makes his way towards the emergency exit. He passes Dean’s open door on the way there.

“Don’t stay up too late,” Dean calls out.

“I’ll try,” Castiel responds back. He smokes. Despite the best efforts of the joint and a documentary about the Pacific Islands, the cold feeling persists.

The next day, he looks at the dead orchid on his desk. He thinks about sunshine, which leads him to thinking about windows. With that come walls, and floors, and a roof. A yard. He stares at the rotting plant carcass and envisions it alive on a dining table. He feels warm.

He pulls up Kaia’s number, and sends her the emoji of a waving hand.

Kaia: hey cas! what’s up?

I’m considering stealing one of your resolutions. Would that be permissible?

Kaia: lmao yeah dude! they’re just goals i don’t own them

Cas sends her a thumbs up, and is about to put his phone away when it dings again.

Kaia: which one were you thinking of stealing?

Kaia: if you don’t mind me asking

The one that involves getting your own place. He then sends her an emoji of a small house.

Kaia: oh sh*ttttttttttt

She then sends an emoji of a face with its lips zippered shut. It’s a terribly graphic image for an emoji, in Castiel’s opinion.

Kaia: yeah go ahead. best of luck ig?? can i tell claire or will you tell her??

Castiel considers this. You can tell her. I’m sure she will call me soon after.

Kaia: ok cool. and again, best of luck.

Castiel sends an emoji of two hearts swirling around each other. He hopes it gets across his appreciation for their growing friendship, and how he feels they are kindred spirits and that he appreciates her input. His emoji gets a thumbs from her, so he believes it got the point across.

He puts the phone down on his bed, and goes over to his desk. He considers the orchid, then considers the laptop next to it. He opens it, and the address comes to him naturally. He remembers how the sunlight came through the windows, the soil beneath his feet. He remembers holding a can of yellow paint. It’s been years, he can’t be sure it’s even available, but...

He types the address into the search bar. The first result is a realtor website.

Dean’s birthday passes during a salt and burn. He honestly doesn’t think much about it—he hasn’t since he was nine, really. But he gets a few texts from Jody and the girls, a whole wall of emojis from Cas, and a ‘Happy Birthday, pretty boy’ with a fire emoji from an unknown number that’s definitely Rowena. Sam buys him a milkshake on their way out, a birthday tradition they’ve yet to give up for each other, even though they’re both reaching the age where lactose intolerance is rearing its ugly head.

The week trudges on. They’re having to go out less and less, he realizes. Not only because there’s not much to do, but because there’s a staggering number of hunters out there coming out of the woodwork. Sam’s best guess is that having so many Apocalypses happen has created a lot of people who just...know about everything. Which is so incredibly weird, and sad, and Dean’s doing his best not to think about it.

All in all, things are alright until they aren’t. And when Cas gives the news over breakfast, and effectively ruins the entire day.

He comes into the kitchen wearing a t-shirt saying it’s 5 o’clock somewhere and one of those elbow-patch cardigans old men wear. He looks more disheveled than usual, hair sticking up like it’s 2008 again and his eyes red rimmed.

He sits down next to Dean and proceeds to steal his coffee. He doesn’t eat anything, only fidgeting and jiggling his leg as Jack regales everyone about the dream he had last night. Apparently Sam and Dean were in it, and some kids named Sharkboy and Lavagirl were involved. As he continues to tell it, Cas is listening, but his leg shaking is beginning to make the whole table quake. Dean puts a hand on Cas’s knee, and the leg shaking stops.

“So, wait, was I Sharkboy?” Sam asks.

Jack shakes his head. “No, you were Max. Cas was Sharkboy. Dean was Lavagirl.”

Dean nearly chokes on nothing, and points to himself. “I was Lavagirl?” he asks. Sam and Eileen are laughing their asses off, and Jack frowns.

“Of course,” he says. “Lavagirl’s the best. She makes lava.”

Dean shakes his head. He can’t really argue with that logic. “Yeah, but why—”

“I’m moving out,” Cas says, and the whole conversation grinds to a halt. If it weren’t for the grinding of the generators, you could hear an eyelash hit the ground.

“What?” Dean asks, going through all five stages of grief at once. He must get them mixed up, because instead of ending on acceptance, he lands straight on anger.

Cas blinks at him, wide and blue-eyed. He inhales shakily. “I’m—”

“I heard you,” Dean interrupts. His whole body screams to do something. Part of him wants to pin Cas to the ground and make sure he never leaves. He thinks he could keep him like that for a while, if he had the proper equipment. The other half of him wants to yell, wants to punch his lights out.

He moves, just a flinch, and he doesn’t know what he would have done, but he sees how the entire table holds its breath. He knows what it's like to be on the other side of this. It’s been the running theme of his whole childhood. He especially sees Jack, who not one minute ago was happily chatting, and now has a look on his face that’s too heartbreaking to bear. And now Dean’s not only angry, but sad—or, maybe sadder than he was before. He’s probably still cycling through those stages of grief.

So instead of pinning Cas, or punching Cas, or yelling at Cas, Dean just gets up. Hears the chair scrape across the floor. Cas is still looking up at him, eyes wide. Dean turns towards the hallway, and storms out.

He doesn’t know how he ended up in the gun range, but the next thing he knows he’s got his earmuffs on and there’s already two new bullet holes in one of those stupid Carver Edlund books. Him and Sam had found an entire bin of them at a charity shop some months ago, and have made a habit of lining them up and blasting Chuck’s stupid words off the page.

Dean stands three books up on a table. He thinks about Cas leaving. He reloads his gun. He thinks about Cas leaving, again, and isn’t that f*cking typical? He adjusts his stance, even though he doesn’t need to.

He aims. When the Levee Breaks goes down.

He gets angry again, because seriously, what the hell?

He aims again. The End becomes scrap paper.

What the f*ck is going on in Cas’s head? You tell a guy you love him and then leave? Again?

The gun’s warm in his hand. Hello, Cruel World gets clipped on the side, and somehow still stands. He shifts his feet, breathes, and the book is shot clear through the center.

And sure, Dean doesn’t return his feelings. And sure, that thought gives him a headache, but whatever.

He stays down in the gun range for a while longer. He probably goes through about fifty books, never looking at the descriptions or whatever’s inside them. They don’t matter now. Later on, he’s gonna be pissed that he just wasted so much ammo, but he’s too busy being pissed at Cas.

Eventually shooting isn’t enough. He needs to yell at someone, just for a little bit. Open communication and all that therapy junk.

He bypasses Cas’s door, because that’s just a mistake waiting to happen. It’s closed anyway, and Jack isn’t anywhere to be seen, which Dean counts his lucky stars for. All that’s left is Sam.

He opens the door to Sam’s bedroom, and finds Eileen watching some game show or something with the subtitles on. She’s got on sweats and is curled up cozy in the bed. Sam is nowhere to be seen. She gives Dean a weary look.

"You realize you could've walked in on me and Sam, right?" she says/signs.

"Yeah, whatever,” Dean says/signs back. He’s getting better at it, and wants to make an effort. Lip reading can lead to a lot of misunderstandings pretty quickly. He still doesn’t know all the words for everything yet, so he relies on the ones that come naturally. “I've walked in on worse. Where is Gigantor, anyway?"

"Out getting me Ben and Jerry's,” Eileen explains. Dean frowns.


Eileen grins, "Because he loves me."

Dean shakes his head. "Sap." He fingerspells it, and Eileen laughs.

He doesn’t really know what to do, now. He supposes he could just sit down next to Eileen and watch TV, but she knows he came in here for a reason. Hell, if he hadn’t come to her, her and Sam would’ve come to him. They’re a united front like that. It’s as sweet as it is freaky.

"You wanna talk about it?" Eileen asks.

"About what?” Dean asks. He feels his anger from earlier returning. “About the fact that Cas is up and leaving? Again? I just...I dunno, you give a guy food and shelter and, and family and you'd think he would be a little more grateful.” He swallows the lump in his throat. “Would wanna stay."

Eileen smiles sympathetically. "I'm sure he is grateful. This just might not be his place."

"He's already been living here for years. I mean, it's not like much has changed."

"That's a lie and we both know it."

For a moment, Dean’s blood goes cold. He thinks maybe word got out about Cas’s confession—after all, it’s not like he forbade the guy from talking about it. Then he remembers that Cas also died and came back to life. That’s probably what she’s talking about. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to consider.

He recovers quickly and clears his throat. "Yeah, well. Still, he's got people here. People who care about him. I mean, what about Jack? What about me?” sh*t, that last part wasn’t supposed to come out. He’s glad Eileen can’t hear his voice crack. “And you and Sam, obviously."

Eileen shrugs. “Maybe you should talk to him about it.”

Dean scoffs, looks around the room. There’s a growing collection of funny mugs on the desk. Some of them hold pens and pencils, some are empty. “Yeah, because that always works out so well,” he says under his breath.

“Dean, just because you mumble doesn’t mean I can’t read your lips.”

Dean looks back at Eileen, who’s smiling back at him like he’s the dumbest motherf*cker on the face of the earth. Maybe he is. He signs ‘f*ck you’ to her. It’s his favorite, mostly because it’s so similar to ‘thank you’ that he can sign it multiple times at Sam and play the dumbass. Eileen knows better, though. She signs ‘f*ck you’ right back at him, and they both laugh a little.

Dean bites at the inside of his cheek. “What if I talk to him about it, and he still goes?”

“Then you deal,” Eileen says, as if it could ever be that simple. She looks him dead in the eye. “Dean, would you rather he leave and be happy, or stay and be miserable?”

In one option, Cas leaves, but when Dean sees him there’s a smile on his face. In the other, Cas stays, but there’s no joy in his eyes. None of that stuff that makes Cas...well, Cas.

Either option sucks ass. But, he supposes, he’s gonna have to try.

“Sam’s really lucky to have you,” Dean tells Eileen.

“I know,” she preens. She makes a shooing motion. “Now go, Sam’s gonna be back any minute with my Ben and Jerry’s, and I want to thank him.”

Dean does not want to be here for that. “Gross,” he says, signing ‘thank you’ to her nonetheless. Eileen laughs and signs it back.

Cas’s door is open when Dean comes upon it again. Dean feels like maybe he should have his gun on him, check all corners. Him and Cas never do things by halves, and he’s certain this will either end in happy smiles and patted backs or an all out brawl. He’s preparing for the brawl. He’s preparing to fight with all that he’s got in him.

But then he stands in the doorway, and looks into Cas’s room. He doesn’t have many things, Dean realizes. His walls are decorated with near nothing, his nightstand is bare except for an old water glass and a framed picture of all four of them at some tourist trap Jack had begged to go to. On his desk there’s a couple case notes and a dead plant—the orchid Cas wanted, Dean realizes. He should get him another.

Cas is putting some of his things into a box. It’s a small box, with a fruit company label on the side. Cas is piling some bunker books inside, along with some used five dollar paperbacks. He looks up from what he’s doing, and Dean shuffles from side to side.

“Hey,” he says, putting his hands in his pockets.

“Hello,” Castiel says. He stares for a moment before looking away.

Dean clears his throat. “So,” he says. He takes a step inside. “Moving.”

Another book falls into the box with a thunk. “Yes.”

“What does Jack think?” Dean asks. He tries to keep his voice even, because he thinks if he loses the both of them, especially just after getting them back, he’s going to lose it.

Cas sighs. “He’s conflicted,” he says. “He doesn’t want to be too far from the girls, but he doesn’t want to be too far from me either. We’ve agreed that he will come live with me when he’s ready.”

It’s not the answer Dean was expecting. “Right,” he says. “That’s very mature of him.” Dean apparently has less emotional maturity than a three year-old. Great. He scratches the back of his neck. Better now than never. “Look, Cas, uh…” He trails off. He can feel the argument rising in his chest.

“Yes, Dean?” Cas asks, eyes big and blue, and Dean swallows.

Don’t leave me, he wants to say. It’ll probably come out more like You don’t abandon family or some sh*t like that. Something that will make him stay. But he looks at Cas, his face open and waiting, and is taken back to the basem*nt. And then back even further, and further, and further. Then he’s in the Beautiful Room, asking Cas to choose free will. And Cas does. He always does, Dean realizes, because Cas loves him. This isn’t breaking news or anything, but the implications of it begin to settle on Dean like ice.

I always come when you call, he remembers him saying once. Cas has followed Dean to Hell and back, to Purgatory and back. If Dean asks Cas to stay, he’ll stay. He’ll stay and be miserable, and it’ll all be because of Dean. Dean can’t ask for that. He wants to, but he won’t. He won’t be selfish like that. Not today.

So Dean looks around the room and shrugs. “Just, uh,” he says. He nods towards the box. “If you need any help, y’know.” He pastes on a sheepish smile and hopes it looks real. It is, he supposes. Cas has helped him out so many times, he figures he should return the favor. Even if it makes him feel like sh*t warmed over.

Cas pauses and considers the book in his hands. It’s title is long, and there’s a series of vague photographs on the cover. It looks well-loved, and Dean wonders who did the loving. He wonders if Cas is the one who put the creases in the cover.

“I am in need of transportation,” Cas says finally. “I left my car in Bozeman some months ago.”

And Dean thinks I can work with that.


hmmmmm i wonder where the house is??? and what's dean gonna do huh???

as always thank you to my lovely beta reader zoe officialbabayaga on tumblr.

Chapter 3: february


It’s been two months since Castiel was resurrected, and the rain is coming down in droves.

Chapter Text

It’s been two months since Castiel was resurrected, and the rain is coming down in droves.

He watches as the Impala’s wipers try to catch up, shovelling out sheets of water that continue to pile themselves onto the windshield. He doesn’t know much about where they are, only that it’s extraordinarily green, and lacking any kind of diner or gas station, much to their collective chagrin. The music is low, playing a radio ad for a nearby mattress store.

They’ve been driving for five hours now. The car’s air is beginning to turn sterile—unlike Dean and Sam, Castiel hasn’t spent most of his human life inside a car, and continues to get car sick. He can feel a pressure building between his eyes, a faint queasiness in his stomach. He fishes around in his pockets as Dean drives, and pulls out a lighter and half-smoked joint. He flicks the lighter once, twice, then finally gets a flame.

Dean turns to him, eyes the joint in his hands, and groans. “Dude, we talked about this. No smoking in the car.”

“I’ll open a window,” Castiel offers.

“And ruin the upholstery? No thank you.” Dean continues to cast glances between him and the road. “Don’t know why you smoke that sh*t. Bad for your lungs, man.”

“It’s very beneficial to me,” Cas argues. “And in any case, you’re one to talk. When I raised you from hell, I had to cure you of the beginning stages of emphysema.”

That was different, okay,” Dean says. “That was, was just what you did before all those PSAs kept popping up. And in any case I quit, thanks to you. I tried to pop a Marlboro in my mouth and nearly hacked my lungs out.”

Castiel smiles, feeling a bit smug. “All the better.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean waves off. “So, what, if I do it’s bad, but if you do it it’s fine? Is that how it is?”

Castiel shrugs. “Your lungs are very important to me, Dean,” he explains. “They keep you alive, and anything that contributes to your continued existence is a gift.”

He watches as Dean looks at him, then at his own shoes, then at the road. Red-faced, he taps out a nervous beat on the steering wheel and laughs under his breath. “Sure, yeah,” he says, but there’s no conviction to it. The car lapses into silence, as it always does, and Castiel suddenly feels more exhausted than carsick.

He looks towards the open road. Towards his new home, where there will be some semblance of sunlight and fresh air. Where Dean will drop him off, and Cas will miss him, but then again Cas always misses him. It’s not of import. Soon things will be very different, and the throbbing behind his head seems to agree that that’s probably a good thing.

He goes back to flicking the lighter. It's a compulsive habit he’s started to form; he finds he always needs to be doing something with his hands. A callus has begun to form on the edge of his thumb. He starts turning the edges of the joint over the flame, letting the orange glow encircle itself.

Dean sighs, but pulls the car over. He reaches a hand behind Cas’s seat, digging for something, and pulls out an old umbrella.

They watch cars going by, as Castiel smokes and Dean holds the umbrella for him. Dean lets the rain pour down on him, flattening his hair onto his forehead. It makes him look ten years younger. He’s obviously miserable, but continues to hold the thing at arm’s length for Cas’s benefit. Castiel asks about it.

Dean shrugs. “A little rain never hurt anybody,” he says, but he’s beginning to shiver. Castiel sighs, and grabs Dean’s arm. He pushes the umbrella over Dean’s head, and takes a step to the left to accommodate himself. He offers the joint as an apology, but Dean waves it off.

“Nah, I uh…” He clears his throat. “That stuff doesn't agree with me. Tried it once when I was sixteen and ended up freaking out. Kept thinking my dad was gonna notice and tear me a new one.”

He states the last sentence like it’s a funny story. It’s not, but Castiel decides not to push it. Things are evening out now, his mind delightfully fuzzy and things like love confessions and relative closeness a distant haze. Another, later Castiel’s problem. All the now-Castiel is concerned with are the lush trees around them, and the comforting sound of the rain pattering above their heads. In the distance, he thinks he might be able to hear birds.

“You were a stoner in the future, too,” Dean says. Cas turns to look at him, and finds Dean staring at the joint in his mouth. “Or the, the not-future. The future that might’ve happened, if Sam had said yes to Lucifer. I told you about that, right?”

Cas nods. “I remember.” He remembers Dean under a streetlight, and the way it cast a wholly earthly glow upon him. He remembers how he kept glancing at Castiel, like he was unsure of the reality around him. He remembers the way Dean had seemed to tighten into himself at the mention of what he’d seen. He sees a little bit of it now, in the way Dean regards him, and looks him in the eye. “But I’m not him.”

Dean laughs. “You're damn right. That you was…” He inhales, and shakes his head. “I’m just glad you’re you. This you.”

The comment lights something amber in Cas’s stomach, and he smiles. “Thank you, Dean,” he says. “I’m glad you’re you, too.” His hand is still on Dean’s arm, he realizes. It's probably been there too long, but he thinks he’ll keep it there. It's nice where it is.

Dean looks at him, and starts to say something. His lips part like he’s about to speak, and he eyes Castiel’s hand on his arm. A car passes by them, on the opposite lane. Dean inhales shakily, and uses his other hand to pat Cas on the shoulder. “We should get going,” he says, and disengages for Cas’s hand to shake the umbrella and close it. “We’re burning daylight.”

When they get back into the car, umbrella in the backseat and smoking paraphernalia tucked back into pockets, the radio comes alive to something folksy and rambling. Dean keeps the volume on low and peels back out into the road, where the rain continues to pile on and on and on.

The rain breaks once they cross the state line into Washington. For miles there’s nothing but rolling green hills, tiny towns dotting off into nothingness. They finally find a gas station with a diner attached to it, and head in for some food. It’s the kind of diner that could exist anywhere, down to the gingham tablecloths and the cookies for sale on the counter. Dean orders a burger and fries, and Cas does the same.

They sit in silence for a bit, Cas absently fiddling with his straw wrapper and eyeing the specials menu propped to the side. Dean’s realized that, over time, he’s become so human that it comes naturally to him. Even before...everything, when they found themselves in diners, Cas would more often than not spend his time fidgeting. It’s a stark difference, he realizes, from the guy who could stand perfectly still for hours on end.

It also scares the sh*t out of him. Before, Cas had grace. It was wishy-washy, sure, but it could pull him out in a pinch. Now he’s all vulnerable, and outside the bunker that becomes even more apparent.

“So,” Dean says, clearing his throat.

Cas looks up from the specials menu. “So?” he repeats. His eyebrows draw together.

“Why…?” The question has been sitting on Dean’s tongue since Cas showed him the ad. He saw it and nearly went stomping back to the gun range. “Why this place? Why now?”

“It was for sale,” Cas tells him, speaking Dean just asked him why the sky is blue. “And had been for years. Which makes sense. There was...a lot of property damage done to that cabin.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“It’s a very special place to me.” Dean starts to roll his eyes again, but is interrupted. “It’s where Jack was born, Dean.”

“It’s also where you died,” he points out. It’s funny how easy it is to say now. Before the...before, he still had a hard time acknowledging it even happened. And it’s not like it mattered anymore, since Cas had come back. But then came everything else, and now Dean can say stuff like this. It’s like ripping off one bandaid to stick it somewhere else.

“I’ve died in many places,” Cas tells him earnestly. Like it’s that simple—but then again, Cas has never seen the aftermath. Dean watches as Cas sighs, looking at the table before looking him in the eyes. He plays with the rim of his red water cup. “I want a home, Dean.”

“The Bunker’s your home,” Dean says. I can’t lose you right after I got you back. But he can’t say that. He’s always known that wherever he goes, Cas will follow. Cas loves him and Dean…

The point is, he can’t give Cas what he wants, and he’s not going to be selfish, so he keeps the words quiet and shakes his head. “Never mind. Your life, dude. Your choice.”

There’s a look on Cas’s face that Dean can’t figure out, but it’s quickly gone and replaced with irritated confusion again. “I don't understand your frustration. You’re the one who decided to come with me. You could have said no.”

He’s got a point there. “Yeah, well...I don’t trust the place.” It’s not a lie, but it’s not the whole truth either. He should work on that. Later, though. “I dunno man, so much sh*t has happened there. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

Another sigh. “I’m not going to.”

And that’s a whole other argument, one that’s years old and not worth the time. Luckily, the waitress arrives just in time with their food. They thank her with mild politeness, and once she’s gone Dean starts munching on soggy fries and changes the subject. “What are you going to do up there anyway? Besides, y’know, the tomato plants.” Cas had, over the past week, told him the extensive plan he had for the yard. It involved a lot of things called gardening zones and debating fertilizers. Dean had nodded along.

Cas is much more particular about how he eats, and how he responds. He thinks on it for a minute, turning the plate so the fries face him and creating a careful blank space on the plate for his ketchup. “I want to set up a research hub, of sorts,” he says as he organizes.

“Like Bobby?”

Cas looks up. “I don’t have the adequate mechanic skills, but I do have infinite supernatural knowledge and a reportedly...gruff personality. So yes, like Bobby.” He unrolls his silverware—for what reason, Dean doesn’t know. It’s a burger and fries. But he does it anywhere he goes. “Once the house is adequately repaired and protected, Jack will come to live with me. And then, I suppose, we will simply exist.”

It’s a nice thing to imagine, of Cas and Jack somewhere in rural Washington, nothing bothering them. Sun shining on their happy faces, two semi-angelic weirdos learning how to be human beings. Still, it feels wrong, the way it sits in the pit of Dean’s stomach.

“So me and Sam...you’ll just see us in passing right?” Dean asks, trying not to sound like a twelve year old girl. “Random phone calls for fact checking?”

Cas sighs, and is now definitely going from ‘irritated’ to ‘pissed off’. “What you and Sam do is of your own concern. As you put it so eloquently: ‘your life, dude. Your choice’.” It’s all bite, and would come off more scathingly if he didn’t do the air quotes thing.

“Yeah,” Dean says, throat tight. What else can he say that won’t sound needy? He can’t take advantage of Cas’s feelings for him like that, now that he knows about them. He focuses on his own food instead.

The next few minutes pass without a word from either of them, surrounded by the empty noise of clattering forks on plates and idle chit-chat. Dean feels like sh*t. He shouldn’t, but he does. Something sits in him like a horrible knot, and he can’t seem to undo it. He does his best to eat it away, until he hears a soft exhale from the other side of the table.

Cas looks at him. “I am...I'm fallen, Dean,” he says. “I'm mortal. I would like to have a soft place to land, of sorts.”

Dean watches as Cas goes back to eating. More chatter, more forks on plates. The knot tightens.

The cabin is less pristine than Castiel had remembered.

The landlord had done their best to remove most of the blood, but it’s quickly becoming obvious why this place was so cheap. The front door has a crack down the middle, the bedroom has a giant, dark stain on the floor, and the nursery is in tatters. From outside the window, he can faintly see the outline of under-grown grass where the pyres must have been. And there are, of course, the holes in the dining room wall.

Castiel grazes a hand over one of them. He’s not come back to this place since his death here, and he’s beginning to realize that much had occurred in the aftermath. The real estate agent toes around the house nervously, her fingers running lines through the thick dust.

“So, Mister Winchester,” she says—Cas had soon realized he couldn’t use Jimmy’s name again, since it’s how he rented this place, and figured the brothers won’t mind, “are you still looking to buy?”

Cas takes in the dust and the damage, inhaling pine-heavy air. The sun filters pale yellow through the windows, and through the cracked window glass Cas spies the view. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, I would like to buy this place.”

The realtor is relieved—something tells Castiel that she’s been looking to sell the cabin for a long time. It’s a quick transfer of scribbles on paper, and a check that leads to one of the many bank accounts Charlie’s algorithm has set them up with. This one is apparently connected a Mr. J. Bezos, who apparently won’t miss the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will be gone come tomorrow.

After she leaves, Castiel goes back to the driveway. There, Dean is sitting on the hood of the car, arms crossed, regarding the house like he would an iPod or vegan cheeseburger.

Cas goes to the Impala, grabs his duffle bag from the backseat, and starts heading back to the house. It’s only when he’s halfway there that he hears Dean clearing his throat. He turns to face him.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” he asks.

Castiel frowns. “I thought you wanted nothing to do with this place.”

“I—” Dean sighs. “Just—I’m coming with you, okay?”

Castiel nods. If anything, Dean’s presence is a welcome addition. “Okay.” He turns again, walks towards the house, and hears Dean’s shoes crunch the gravel behind him.

Once inside, Castiel watches as Dean pulls out the EMF and stuffs a few hex bags in the corners of the house. Nothing goes off or rises from the ground, which makes sense. Kelly’s soul has peacefully moved on to Heaven, and the only other person who died here was Castiel himself. He supposes, if one were to get technical, that he’s only beginning to haunt this house.

Dean shuts off the EMF detector after he’s done his sweep. “Still gives me the creeps,” he says with a sniff. He surveys the damaged floorboards, the stains, the cracked windows. “You sure you want to live here?”

“Yes,” Castiel says. “It has potential. This was a lovely home, once.” He skims his fingers across a dusty chair—besides the couch and the bed upstairs, it’s the only furniture in the house. “It will become a lovely home again.”

Dean looks at him for a moment before nodding. “Right,” he says. “Well, it’s gonna need some fixing.” His foot toes a bloodstain on the wainscotting.

“I’ll hire someone,” Cas tells him.

Dean’s eyes go wide. “Hire s—uh yeah, you could. If you want to get ripped off.”

Castiel raises an eyebrow. “Do you have any bright ideas?”

“I...uh, I did construction, for a while, when I was living with Lisa. ” Dean tells him, as if Castiel didn’t watch him. He supposes Dean still doesn’t know. An old guilt creeps in. “I picked up a few things. And I’d do it free of charge.”

Castiel blinks. “You would?”

“Of course,” Dean scoffs. Castiel again marvels at Dean’s instinctive kindness. “Need to get this place spruced up, and who better to do the sprucing?” He does a ‘finger-gun’ and makes a clicking sound.

Castiel feels a swell of fondness. “I would appreciate that very much.”

Dean smiles. “Great,” he says. The moment hangs there, and Castiel watches something odd happen in Dean’s eyes. “Great. Well, uh. I’ll grab the rest of the stuff out of the car, and then we should go into town for the necessities.”

Castiel nods. He suddenly feels a little out of his depth. He doesn’t know if it’s looking at the damage in the cabin, or just the general theme of being human. He opts for a mix of the two. “Yes, the necessities,” he says. “Like…DVDs. And...food.”

Dean blinks. “You decide to buy a whole-ass house and you didn’t think about stuff like sheets?” Cas blinks. “Cups? Those little string lights everyone has up nowadays? Really?”

“To be fair,” Castiel says, “I was mostly focused on exterior decorating, as opposed to the interior.”

Dean huffs out a laugh and runs a hand through his hair. “Of course you were,” he says, voice fond. “Alright, I’ll be right back.” He walks back out of the house, his stride only stuttering as he passes the entrance to the dining room. There, he glances at it, his back gone rigid. It’s gone as quickly as it came, and soon Dean is out the door.

Castiel lays warm between new bedclothes. He picked the colors out himself—a muted jade for the sheets and a muted light brown for the comforter. Everything else from their shopping trip lies in piles among the various rooms, the two of them too tired to do much else. Dean stopped moving around downstairs ages ago, but Castiel still lies here awake.

This is the bed Kelly Kline died in. Or, this is the bedframe. The mattress is new. He supposes it would’ve taken too much effort to wash that much blood out.

He sends a small prayer to Jack. We have arrived safely in Washington, he prays. I look forward to when your room is ready for you. Please don’t eat all the ice cream in the freezer, some of it is Eileen’s. Please call me in the morning. Amen.

He had lit up before bed, basking in the ability to open a window and watch the smoke curl out into the night sky. That was two hours ago, though, and he finds his high is fading incredibly fast. He spreads his arms and legs across the bed, trying to resemble a starfish. It’s nice, he notes. The bed is large. Still, he wishes for another occupant. He strains his ears for the sound of Dean breathing, but he’s too far away.

It’s the silence, Castiel realizes, that is keeping him awake.

Castiel’s life has always been punctuated by some sort of background noise. For the longest time, it was the low level chatter of his siblings bouncing back and forth. And then it was the purr of a car engine, or the woosh of speeding vehicles on a nearby road. Even during his first stint as a human, Castiel was always accompanied by noise—the social back and forth from the camps and shelters, the rumbling of the stock freezer at the Gas-n-Sip. And even recently, in the bunker, he could always hear the low buzz of the generator, the squeaking of the old ventilation fans.

Cas has only experienced this silence in one other place. The lack of light in the room does nothing to dispel his anxieties.

The Empty seemed to swallow sound whole. It would exist for a moment, but disappear so quickly you could never be certain if you spoke aloud at all. There was no one out there to hear you.

Castiel heaves a sigh and turns on the nearby lamp. The room instantly transforms—it’s too bright for his liking, but a marked improvement. He gets up from his bed and goes to his meager pile of belongings stacked in the corner. It consists of two large duffel bags and three small boxes. He takes the top box off of the pile and opens the one beneath it labeled ‘miscellaneous’.

There’s not much inside, aside from a few extra books he’d snuck out, a few framed pictures, and a myriad of refrigerator magnets from Lebanon that Jack insisted he have. The Walkman is at the bottom of the box, the tapes stacked underneath. He chooses the one without a case, handwriting imprinted onto the label.

Tape slotted in and earbuds on, Castiel presses play and wanders back towards the bed. The opening a steady strum of guitar strings, all at once soft and inviting. In the springtime of my loving, the singer croons, the second season I am to know. Castiel gets back under the covers, choosing to lay on his side. He turns off the lamp.

It isn’t hard to see me glowing, the singer says. Castiel doesn’t know if it’s Robert Plant or Jimmy Page. He’ll make sure to ask Dean in the morning. I watched the fire that grew so low, oh.

In the dark, Castiel curls in on himself, and lets the music in his ears lull him to sleep.

“Why does this sound like a goodbye?”

“Because it is.”

Only, the landscape’s changed. It doesn’t smell like wet concrete here, but the earthy smell of grass at midnight. There are crickets humming, and from behind Cas an open wound spills gold, tenuous light.

“I love you,” Cas says. His face is younger, but it’s still crying. Dean’s never seen him cry before, he shouldn’t for another 3 years. “Goodbye, Dean.”

The portal pulses. There’s a blade in Cas’s chest, and then nothing but blinding light.

Dean wakes up to total darkness, chest heaving.

He’s not used to it, the total absence of light. He does his best to keep the lights on in the bunker hallways, even though the ancient generators keep crapping out. And every motel he’s stayed in has been punctuated by some neon glow spilling through the blinds. Out here, though? There’s nothing. Only the moonlight, and it’s overcast now.

It takes a couple moments for his brain to right itself. He’s in a cabin—Cas’s cabin. He’s on the couch, which is slightly sunken in the middle. His back is killing him, and he’s got two scratchy bunker blankets layered on top of him. Cas had handed them to him, apologetic. I hope you don’t mind that I took these, he’d said. To which Dean had taken them, still warm from Cas’s hands, and had said, It’s fine, man. They’re not even mine.

He sits up from the couch and stutters out an even breath. Rubs his face. His hands come away wet—had he been crying? He doesn’t remember crying. He flexes his wet fingers once, twice, then wipes them on the lap of his jeans.

It’s freezing, but he can’t go back to sleep just yet. He ends up standing up, breathing in the musty air, and pacing his socked feet along the wooden floor. His eyes adjust, and he can just make out the silhouettes of the sparse decor. He walks himself in circles. He just needs to calm himself down, and then he can sleep again.

He’s still drowsy, though, and he doesn’t realize he’s upstairs until he is. With the amble of a sleepwalker, he finds himself in front of Cas’s bedroom. The door is wide open, and from inside he can see a lump under the comforter. It rises and falls, rises and falls, and from within there is the whisper of someone almost-snoring.

Dean’s need to pace leaves him almost immediately. He trudges back downstairs and falls back onto the couch, one of the support beams digging in his hip. He doesn’t dream the rest of the night.

In the morning, Dean tests out whether the stove works or not. It does, thankfully, and so does the oven. The outlets are a different story: half of them seem to work alright, but you can’t have more than three things plugged in before everything shorts out. He curses his way around finding the fuse box, which sits in the bathroom of all places, and it ends up taking an extra 20 minutes to make a simple cup of coffee.

Cas, of course, sleeps through all of this. It is only 6 in the morning, though, so Dean can’t blame him. He starts unpacking some of the bags they’d piled onto the tile countertop, sorting bowls and plates into one cabinet, mugs and glasses into another. They’d spent an unbelievable amount of money at Walmart and the charity shop that was open until 10pm. Cas had insisted on buying a series of seashell themed ceramic bowls that Dean now stacks onto a shelf. They’re going to have to cut up a few credit cards in the upcoming weeks, Dean figures, with how much work there needs to be done.

First, there’s the electric. That obviously needs some rewiring, if Cas doesn’t want to experience a power outage anytime he uses the toaster and the Mr. Coffee at the same time. Then there’s the gas furnace, which needs some tuning up. And that’s not even getting to all the superficial damage that marrs the house.

He thinks about how much it’s going to cost for hardware supplies, and what kind of wood the floorboards are. Maybe he’ll do a stain? That might be easier, and he can just work his way around any dents or chips when they come to him, he thinks. Then he’s thinking about how much work goes into a home renovation, and then how much time, and he realizes he should call Sam.

“Hey,” Sam says after the second ring. “I'm guessing you made it there in one piece.”

“Just about,” Dean says.

“How’s Cas doing?”

Dean blinks. “Sleeping like an angel. Or—former angel. You know what I mean.”

“How’s he adjusting?”

“Fine, I guess. We went shopping last night. He, uh, really liked picking stuff out for himself.” He plucks a plate from one of the bags, covered in Russian circus bears, and smiles. “He has the weirdest taste.”

Sam huffs a laugh. “And how are you doing? With the house, I mean.”

“It’s...I mean it’s weird,” Dean admits as he sets the plate on the countertop. “And kind of macabre, him deciding to live here. But it’s a nice enough place. Or it will be. It’s kind of a sh*thole right now.” He looks up, sees some dark brown spots on the ceiling, along with some bulging in the plaster. That doesn’t spell anything good. “That’s actually why I was calling you.”


He inspects the spots further. Mold? Water damage? He’s betting water damage, which means roof and/or pipe troubles. “Yeah, I promised Cas I’d help him fix up the house, so it looks like I’m gonna be here a little longer than I thought. You’ll need to mail me some of my clothes and sh*t”

“You’re…” There’s a long pause at the end of the line, and some half-whispered words. He must be talking to Eileen. “Sorry, you’re staying longer?”

Dean drops his gaze from the stain and frowns. “Yeah, I just told you that.”

“To help Cas fix up the house,” Sam repeats.

“Yes. Did you get hit on the head or something? Tell Eileen to get your pupils checked.”

You’re helping Cas fix up the house.”

Dean scoffs. “Well what else was I supposed to do, Sam? Let the guy get ripped off by some weird corporate renovation company? I know I’m not exactly a Property Brother or anything, but I can get a job done.”

Another pause. “Right,” Sam says into the phone, voice distracted. “No underlying motive or anything. Just helping a friend out.”

Dean frowns. “Yeah,” he says. “What else are friends for?” Another, longer pause. “Dude didn’t know you needed to buy a different kind of detergent for the dishwasher, Sam. He told me he was going to use dish soap. He needs all the help he can get.”

“Does that cabin even have a dishwasher?”

“No, but that’s not the point. He…” Dean swallows. “Look, I’m doing him a favor, alright? What’s so weird about that?”

A beat passes, then another. “Uh, nothing,” Sam says, voice tinged with laughter. “Nothing at all.”

Dean nods. “That’s what I thought.” From upstairs, Dean can hear someone shuffling along the floorboards. “I should probably get going. Tell Eileen hi for me, if you haven’t already.”

“Of course,” Sam says. “And Dean?”


Sean pauses, then sighs. “Just...nevermind. Tell Cas I said hi.” And then he hangs up.

Dean looks down at his phone. “Weirdo,” he scoffs.

Cas comes downstairs, still rubbing sleep from his eyes. Instead of asking for a cup of coffee, he wordlessly takes Dean’s own and drains it. He leans with Dean against the countertop, and looks up. He co*cks his head to the side. “I don’t think ceilings are supposed to do that,” he says, voice sleep-rough.

Dean snorts and takes his coffee cup back to refill it. “No, they are not,” he says. Castiel hums. Outside, the clouds start to let off a light drizzle. The whole house begins to smell metallic with rain.

Dean adds waterproofing to the list, along with the electrics. He doesn’t know what Sam’s laughing about. The house needs work, yeah, but Dean’s seen worse. Dean’s spent the night in worse, at any rate. This’ll take, what, a few weeks? A month, tops. Dean will bet good money on that.

Chapter 4: march


Dean owes someone twenty bucks.

Chapter Text

Dean owes someone twenty bucks.

“Perhaps we should’ve hired someone,” Cas suggests through the hole in the ceiling.

“What? No,” Dean says from the roof. “No, it’s—I can fix this, okay. Everything else has gone fine, this is just a...a glitch.”

Cas stares from Jack’s bedroom, which hasn’t changed much with the exception of moving the crib out. “I’m going to grab a tarp.”

“Just—f*ck,” Dean says as Cas disappears from view. The sun beats down on his back; it’s been one week of projected nice weather, which is why this week is as good as any to get the roofing fixed. Dean feels like he’s playing Clark Griswold to Cas’s Ellen. He scales back down the roof to the ladder, where Cas stands with a blue tarp draped over his forearms. “Thanks.”

“We’re going back to the hardware store, aren’t we?” Cas asks. Dean nods, and takes the tarp from him. “Good. I need to pick up some supplies.”

“What are you thinking of getting now?” Dean asks.

Over the past month, Cas has been sneaking different seed packets into Dean’s cart at the local hardware store. He’s yet to plant them, opting instead to keep them on his nightstand: dill, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, spinach, and strawberries all propped up like postcards against the wall. “The last frost is projected for the 20th. I would like to gather the necessary supplies for a few raised beds, and some pots for the more...intrusive plants.”


“Mint may be delicious, Dean, but it’s incredibly invasive.” His face is dead serious, even if he’s wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Full Time Fisherman’ under a Sunday morning newspaper cartoon.

“Oh, so we’re getting mint now? We sacrificing a lamb anytime soon?”

“It’s not on the docket,” Cas says with a small smile, “but I am amenable.”

Dean snorts. “Yeah, okay,” he says. He climbs up the ladder again, and ignores the twinge in his back as he scales the roof and tacks the tarp over the hole. The couch still dips in the middle, and Dean’s not as young as he used to be. Some nights he’s taken to sleeping on the floor, or slumping over the kitchen counter. It’s all the same, anyway: he wakes up in the middle of the night, he checks on Cas, and sleeps again until the sun rises.

He goes back inside the house for a glass of water. They’ve been meticulously combing through all the antique/charity shops/estate sales in the county, and the result is a mishmash that would make HGTV have a heart attack. The walls are decorated with various maps and framed cross stitch patterns (courtesy of Cas) and license plates and saloon signs (courtesy of Dean, who couldn’t stand Cas’s walls being so ugly by themselves). The couch is now joined by a scratched up coffee table, a faded yellow rug, and a soft armchair that’s finally stopped smelling like cigarettes.

The dining room sits largely untouched. Cas moved a table in there a week ago, when they’d picked up the Uhaul to move all the big furniture in. Right now it’s mostly just holding boxes.

It's not that Dean is avoiding the room, it's just that he has no need to go in there. Him and Cas will eat their meals over the kitchen counter, starting on opposite sides but somehow still ending up crowded over the middle. The damage inside the room is superficial: torn curtains, fist shaped holes in the drywall. Dean will catch a glimpse occasionally and his knuckles will ache with some phantom pain.

There are other, more important rooms to get through first. Like Cas and Jack's bedrooms, or the roof, or the draft that still comes out of the back door. Outside there's the garden Cas is planning, and down the ways the dock could use new tethers. So no, he's not avoiding the dining room. He's just prioritizing.

Dean walks into the kitchen, which he considers their pride and joy. The dark spots on the ceiling have been plastered over, and while Dean’s put off fixing the electricity, it’s clean and makes good food. Dean fills up a glass in the sink, noting that Cas’s basil and oregano plants are finally starting to sprout on the windowsill, and swallows it all down in three gulps.

He’s doing some washing up when his phone rings. It’s a FaceTime call from Sam. He props the phone up on the window as Sam and Eileen’s faces pop into view. They’re shoulder to shoulder, the bunker brick behind them. Dean can hear something in the background, but he can’t figure out what.

“Hey!” he says/signs. “How’s my favorite girl?”

Eileen smiles. “Fine.”

“Actually, I was asking Sam.”

Sam crowds the screen with an exhausted bitchface. “Thanks, Dean.”

“We’re doing alright,” Eileen says. “A bit overwhelmed.”


“Some hunters showed up two nights ago,” Sam explains. The background noise suddenly transforms into idle chatter. “Apparently Jody gave them our contact info, and they got caught up in a werewolf hunt thirty miles from here. We’ve set them up with some rooms and extra weapons. They’re heading out tomorrow, but I have a feeling they won’t be the last coming through.”

“They were young,” Eileen adds.

“What, like Claire’s age?”

“Younger. Just out of high school.”

Dean whistles. “Jesus. How the f*ck did they end up doing this?” He was hunting at that age, but he’d been doing it so long it just felt normal. He can’t even imagine throwing himself into this with no experience.

“From what they told me,” Sam says, “two of them lost their parents to Michael’s super-monsters. The other one I think grew up in the life.” What he isn’t saying is they ended up here because of us, but Dean hears it anyway. He swallows down the guilt and washes out a cup. “We’re only telling you because we gave them your info, just in case they’re in the area. You’re almost completed with the renovations, right?”

Dean snaps out of his guilt fugue, instead going for total innocence. “Totally,” he lies. “Right on schedule.”

From behind him, Cas comes strolling in, frowning into his phone. “Dean, according to the weather app there’s rain on the horizon. We should leave before we accidentally flood Jack’s room.”

Dean shuts his eyes and lets out a breath. “Yeah, let’s head out in five.” Cas nods, still not looking up from his phone, and wanders out the backdoor. Dude’s been spending a lot of time just laying in grass now that the weather is starting to warm. Like a human sunflower, Dean thinks, and fights the fondness that rises in his chest.

He turns back to his phone to see Sam holding back a laugh. “Shut up.”

“You owe me twenty bucks,” Sam tells him.

“I do not,” Dean says, punctuating it by throwing a spoon back in the sink.

“You owe both me and Eileen twenty bucks, separately.” Eileen nods.

Dean wipes his hands on a dish towel. “Yeah, well, you still owe me my clothes.”

“I mailed them out yesterday. Pay up.”

Dean smiles and signs f*ck you. Sam scowls. “I’m saying thanks,” he tells him.

“No, you’re not,” Sam argues.

“Whatever. Me and Cas gotta go. Talk to you later.”

He hangs up, and heads out the back door. As he guessed, Cas is laying in the sun. Dean pauses on the back steps, seeing the way Cas seems to ease into the ground, the early spring sun haloing around his head. For a moment it reminds Dean of another time, of a cold body and the smell of smoke. It passes, though, in favor of how goddamn peaceful Cas looks. Peaceful and alive.

He sits down on the step and lets Cas lay there, roof be damned. He’s running behind schedule anyway.

Jack: look what Claire helped me do!

The picture below is of Jack, smiling into the camera. In his left ear there is a new addition, a small bit of cubic zirconia. Castiel sends an emoji of a diamond and a smiley face. He shows the picture to Dean, who is sitting beside him on the couch. The TV, recently scavenged and built in that in-between period of box sets and flat screens, plays The Goonies.

“Holy sh*t,” Dean says, “And it stuck?”

“It seems he really wanted it,” Castiel explains.

Dean glances back at the picture and nods. “I mean, yeah. Who doesn’t want to get an earring? I did when I was younger.”

“Why didn’t you get one?” Dean would look nice with one, Castiel muses.

Dean shrugs. “Just, uh. Just never had the time, I guess.” He shifts in his seat. Castiel nods and goes back to Jack.

It looks marvelous. Where did you go?

He remembers when he went to the Hot Topical, that there was one store that did piercings. He only remembers because it shared Claire’s name, and he was disappointed that it did not have more Claire-related products in store.

Jack: oh, nowhere! claire did it herself with a sewing needle.

Jack: she also told me not to tell you that.

Jack: she is now also telling me how bad piercing guns are, so apparently what we did was safer. and that she used to do this all the time, so ‘don’t worry about it’. :-)

Castiel relates this all to Dean, who starts laughing. “You gotta admit, she’s crafty,” he says, with something like pride in his eyes. Castiel is inclined to agree.

Tell Claire it’s alright. Please do consult me the next time if you wish to do it again, though.

He sends Jack a string of differently colored hearts, which is their way of signing off to each other. Jack sends a string of hearts back, and Castiel misses him dearly. The hole in Jack’s ceiling has been patched, and the walls have been repainted with the soft yellow Kelly had picked out. There are still, however, bloodstains on the floorboards and the matter of replacing the crib. They are a long ways out from complete, and Castiel wants everything to be perfect for when Jack arrives. He is hoping to make up for the first time Jack was in the house.

He stares at the photo a while more, heart aching. It takes him a few moments to feel Dean’s eyes on him, one corner of his mouth turned up and his eyes shining. He looks beautiful. He always does.

“You know,” he says, turning back to the TV after a moment of eye contact, “Sammy’s birthday is coming up in May.” Castiel nods. “So’s Jack’s, so I was thinking of, uh.” He scratches at his jaw. “Of having them all come up here for a joint birthday party. Think it might be fun, having them here.” He looks back at Castiel. “What do you think? ‘S your house, after all.”

Castiel smiles, affection fluttering in his chest. “I think that would be wonderful,” he says.

Dean nods curtly. “Good.”

“Dean?” Cas asks, and Dean hums. “Thank you.”

He scoffs. “Nothing to thank me for, Cas,” he says, as if he hasn’t just quelled Castiel’s anxieties with a simple suggestion. As if his hands aren’t sporting bandages from an incident with the gutters.

On the TV, the kids are reunited on the beach with their parents. Everything is wonderful. “This is the best part,” Dean whispers to him, and they watch as the old pirate ship emerges and sails out into the horizon.

Mona counts her lucky stars that she’s finally caught them. She’s been walking down this driveway once a week for the past month, after Janet told her about the newest additions to the neighborhood. I’ve only seen the man, she’d said. One of those lumberjack types. Very pretty. If I wasn’t already married I’d be on him like jelly on peanut butter. Janet has a habit of oversharing on wine nights.

In any case, Mona’s just glad that the car was in the driveway this time around. Her knees aren’t what they used to be. The car is the kind Mona would’ve liked to hop into, back when she was a teenager. Her Frank had driven a Camaro when she went steady with him, all cherry red with the Monkees playing on the radio.

She sighs, then snaps out of it. Focus, she thinks to herself, be neighborly.

The house certainly looks nicer than it did the last time she was here. There was talk for a while about the whole thing getting bulldozed to the ground, especially after all that nastiness that occurred inside. There’s still graffiti on the side of the house that Mona can’t name in good faith, but the windows have been replaced and the front door is awash with funny little windchimes and trinkets.

She shifts the plate of cookies in the crook of her arm and knocks on the door. She looks around at the windchimes; they seem to be mostly squiggly bits of metal, some old keys strung together as well. Above her, on the ceiling, she thinks she can see the remnants of some painted-over graffiti. She can just make out a five-pointed star—kids will draw anything these days.

The door opens onto a man who is decidedly not a lumberjack, but looks familiar in a way Mona can’t place. His face and hair are average enough—brunette, stubble, tired eyes. He’s wearing a cardigan over a shirt that says ‘Boston Thespian Conference 1994’ on it, along with a pair of theater masks. For some reason, he looks out of place to her. She thinks he’d be better suited for formal attire, possibly a large tan coat. A memory seizes her for a moment, of a man and his pregnant wife vacationing here a few years back. It’s gone as quick as it came, and all that’s left is the man in front of her. He eyes her warily before scanning the ceiling and relaxing.

“Hello,” he says. His voice is gruff. Mona wonders briefly if he’s the sort to chainsmoke, and to possibly warn him about wildfire season.

“I’m sorry to intrude,” Mona says, “it’s just that I’ve been meaning to meet you for some time now. I’m Mona Engram, your neighbor down the way. Little green house?”

The man blinks, then nods. “The one with the red flowering currants.”

Mona beams. “Oh, you’ve noticed! They’re my pride and joy.”

“They are perfect pollinator plants, and it’s quite beneficial for you to be reintroducing native species to the area.” Mona hears it as a compliment, but he still has a very serious look on his face. Maybe he’s just a serious man?

“Oh,” Mona says. “I just thought they looked pretty.”

The man smiles slightly. “There is also that.”

From inside, there’s the stomp of boots on the floor. Another man appears, looking down one end of the hallway before turning towards them with a frown. He is definitely the man Janet had described earlier, down to the flannel. His face is also familiar in a way Mona can’t put her finger on. “Cas? What’s the holdup, the sink’s—” He stops short at the doorway. Like the dark-haired man, he also glances up at the ceiling before relaxing. “Hi,” he says, smiling wide. Mona glances up again, looking for a spider or a water leak, but only finds the old graffiti. Odd.

Mona waves. “Hi.”

“This is Mona,” the man—Cas—explains. “She lives down the street.”

“And she’s brought cookies,” Mona sing-songs, and holds the tray out.

The lumberjack man’s eyes go wide as saucers. “Well, I can’t say no to that,” he says, and takes the plate. He seems to rock back and forth a bit as he does, like he’s doing a little food dance. It reminds Mona slightly of her grandson Eddie. He shakes her hand. “I’m Dean.”

“They’re double chocolate chip. My grandkids always go crazy over them.” She’s about to say her goodbyes and head out, but their familiarity still bugs her. Frank’s always complaining about how she’s a bit too stubborn for her own good, always trying to get an answer to a question. It’s the very same reason they’ve had to stop watching Unsolved Mysteries together. “You know, I recognize you two from somewhere,” she says, waving a finger between the two of them.

The two of them visibly blanche, but it only lasts a moment. Dean huffs out a laugh. “Probably just saw us in town,” he explains. “Hardware store, supermarket, y’know.”

Mona shakes her head. “No, no, I...did you rent this place before?” Again, the memory of Cas and a pregnant woman seems to spark in her mind. She turns to him. “I could swear I can picture you in my mind’s eye with this big coat—”

“We came here a few years back,” Dean interrupts. He smiles sheepishly. “Borrowed the house from a friend. Had a little weekend getaway.” He twiddles his fingers at that, a glint in his eye. He looks over at Cas with a soft smile.

The puzzle pieces start to fall together in Mona’s mind. Two men, living together. The thespian t-shirt. There are no rings on their fingers, but they both look like they work with their hands plenty. The pregnant lady still bugs her, but Mona’s growing old. She loses track of her reading glasses when they’re perched on her head.

Dean slings his arms around Cas’s shoulders, who stiffens slightly. He’s got a wide-eyed look about him, kind of like a chihuahua. He looks to the ground, and Mona figures Cas must be one of those closeted types.

“Oh. Oh, well,” she says, just to soothe the poor man. “You have nothing to worry about, just so you know. Everyone around here is very progressive. Except for Geraldine, but nobody likes talking to her anyway.” She laughs a little, but it doesn’t do much to lighten the mood. She notes the inside of the house, with its clean floors and knickknacks strewn everywhere. “I will say, you really fixed up the place.”

Dean preens. “Ah, it’s our...our little slice of heaven.” He looks to Cas and pats the man’s chest. “Isn’t it, sweetheart?”

Cas looks up, eyes still wide. He blinks, then nods. “Yes, it is.” He looks at Dean and nods again. “Husband.”

Maybe he’s not closeted, Mona figures. Maybe he’s just one of those eccentric types.

“Well, I’m sure the realtor told you about all the nastiness that went on here,” she continues on. The two men nod hesitantly. Mona leans in, even though there’s no one around to eavesdrop on her “They never did figure out what happened, but my money’s on a cult.”

The two men share a look before Dean clears his throat. “Yeah. We just had so many, uh, fond memories here that when Cas here found out it was for sale he jumped right on it.” He smiles, but it’s strained.

Cas rolls his eyes. “I didn’t jump—”

“Eh, you were pretty quick to make the call,” Dean argues.

“I didn’t—” Cas closes his eyes and sighs. Mona suddenly feels like she’s intruding on something. “It was a thoroughly thought out decision.” He glances back at her, before looking at Dean again. “Husband.”

The smile becomes even more strained. “Agree to disagree.”

They’re clearly on the edge of a lovers quarrel. Lord knows Mona’s had enough with Frank over the years to know when the warning signs pop up.

“I should get going,” she says. “Frank’s going to want me back. But if I ever have any leftovers, I’ll be sure to bring them over.”

“Please do,” Dean says. Mona sees them standing on the front step until she heads out to the driveway. Nice men, she decides, if not a little odd. Maybe she’ll invite them over for charades one day. Their type usually likes charades.

Castiel’s shoulder is still warm from where Dean had slung his arm around him. It is all at once comforting and frustrating. Much like this entire interaction, Castiel supposes. The image of Dean, romantic affection pouring out of him, should be something that makes his heart sing. It is a lie, though, and a cruel one at that.

Once Mona is out of sight, they return inside the house. The air is charged with something Castiel cannot name until Dean closes the door and turns to him, face angry.

"What the hell was that?" Dean asks.

Castiel returns his glare. "I should be asking you the same thing."

"That was me trying not to blow your cover,” Dean says. “She recognized us, Cas, or at the very least recognized you. What would've happened if she realized you were here the day Kelly died, huh?"

"That's...there were a myriad of other covers we could have used.” And none that would be so enticing, if not so tainted.

This seems to anger Dean further, for some reason. "Well, acting in the moment doesn't allow for a lot of options. It’s not like she’ll be coming ‘round here every day. So suck it up and act the part. I know I will." He scoffs and scrubs his hand over his jaw. "I mean Jesus, for a guy who's apparently in love with me you're pretty bad at acting like it."

The words come at him like a slap in the face, and one thoroughly undeserved. Castiel knows he did not make his affections clear until it was too late, but he knows what he is. If there is any common thread amongst his actions, it has been Dean. Even when he was young and naive, when he had cradled the fractured soul in his hands, he did things he shouldn’t have. Other angels would have created a body fit for the Michael sword and left it at that, but Castiel made sure it felt lived in. Human and unique down to the cell. And he marked it, like an artist would sign a painting, before he even thought better of it. Because he was proud. Because he loved the body he made, and the soul it housed.

So to hear Dean say such a thing, Castiel feels nothing but indignation. It must come across, from his glower to the set of his shoulders, because the anger immediately drains from Dean’s face.

Dean shifts from one foot to the other. "I mean...f*ck, I didn't mean it like that."

Castiel tilts his head. "And what exactly did you mean?"

"I just meant...not that,” Dean explains. “It’s just...you called me 'husband'."

Castiel frowns. "That is what we are, in this reality you've made real for Mrs. Engram."

"Yeah, but people don’t usually refer to each other as, like, 'husband' or 'wife' unless they've gone complete Stepford."

"Would you rather I call you darling?” Castiel asks. It is an earnest question, but he is inclined to see Dean squirm. It feels like an appropriate punishment for his words. As expected, Dean looks anywhere but Castiel. “Or perhaps you would prefer beloved. I could also call you honey or sweetheart.” Dean has turned pink. Castiel, for all his anger, still loves him. “There are other languages as well. Mo chroi, mon petit chou, media naranja. I can go on."

Dean lets out a breath. "I—Jesus f*cking Christ, okay. I get your point. I’m sorry.”

Cas nods. “Thank you.” His anger abated, Castiel comes to grips with the full situation, and internally grimaces. “You are correct, though. About the cover.”

Dean looks at him then, shaking his head. “Look, you just act like yourself, and if it falls short I’ll compensate. I’ll…I’ll camp it up.”

“Camp it up?” Castiel knows full well what Dean means, but he’s intrigued as to what Dean will possibly come up with.

“Yeah, y’know I’ll….” He then lets one wrist fall limp, looking much like half of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, while the other does a sort of circle motion above his head. His face is doing something neither of them can properly describe. It’s so ridiculous that Castiel suppresses a chuckle.

“I didn’t realize gay people had muscular atrophy,” he says, fighting back a smile. “And…large hats?”

Dean drops the act, looking at the hand doing the circular motion and frowning. “It’s not—actually I don’t know what this is.”

“It’s incredibly offensive,” Castiel tells him, and the smile takes over his face.

Dean huffs a laugh. “Okay, that’s fair. But I’ll…y’know.” He clears his throat. “I’ll be that guy, if need be.”

“Why not be yourself?” Castiel asks him.

Dean opens his mouth, closes it, then opens it again. “Because, I...because.”

“Sound reasoning,” Castiel quips. He sighs. “You shouldn’t need to,” he says. “Be that.”

The next few moments stretch out for what feels like eons. They are not—Castiel has experienced many an eon—but the same waxy, horrid feeling permeates the air. He watches as Dean swallows and seems to work out the words.

“We’re okay, aren’t we, Cas?” is what comes out next, and Castiel’s heart breaks a little more.

He smiles. “I still love you, yes.”

Dean shifts from foot to foot. “But…”

Castiel sighs. He hasn’t flown in years, but he misses its usefulness. Especially in times like these. “It’s been a long day. I think I will retire early,” he says. He ascends the steps and is careful not to look back.

The next few days consistently suck. There’s a weird energy in the house now, and it feels even weirder to Dean because he knows he put it there. But what else was he supposed to do? What other explanation could he have for that lady? There’s only so much that can explain two grown men living together.

He supposes he could’ve told her they were brothers, but he and Cas don’t even look alike. And it doesn’t feel right. Dean’s called Cas his brother for years, but in the way of like...brothers in arms. Like how old war buddies call each other brother, you know? That easy camaraderie, all that stuff.

That, and Cas is in love with him. Made the most sense. What didn’t make sense was Cas acting so weird about it. It almost had Dean feeling offended—was it really so horrible to love him? Was it such a chore to act like it? It made Dean feel near sick.

In any case, he made an ass of himself. And he apologized, and things should’ve been okay. But there’s a distinctive funk around the house now. They still talk, but there’s an edge to it. It feels like when Cas first got back, all of what they were saying looping around something huge and unspeakable. Hell, if Dean really thinks about it, they’re never not looping. It’s just more apparent now.

Cas keeps retiring to bed early. Sometimes Dean will check on him in the middle of the night to find him fast asleep. Other times Dean wakes up at 2AM to the sound of the front door opening and closing. Cas never goes far—Dean will check out the window to see him sitting on the edge of the dock. Dean never follows him, and within the hour Cas’ll be tracking mud back into the house. Dean cleans it up every morning without saying a word. He figures he owes Cas that much.

He owes Cas a lot, actually. The next few days have him turning what he said over and over in his head. For a guy who's apparently in love with me you're pretty bad at acting like it, and Cas can barely smite a spider now, but god if he didn’t look like he’d fry Dean alive right then and there. And Dean would’ve probably deserved it.

What Cas deserves, though, is someone better. And with his mood lately and everything else going on, Dean finds himself a new mission: he’s gonna get Cas laid.

After all, there’s the old saying, isn’t there? Best way to get over someone is to get under someone else? Cas may love Dean, but that doesn’t mean he should be like a monk for the rest of his life. And he imagines the guy needs it, badly. The last time he had sex was half a decade ago, and he basically died. Not a good track record.

And who knows what kind of frustrations and emotions he needs to get out now? Dean knows he’s good-looking, and if Cas is attracted to him that can’t be easy. He’s probably been wanting to f*ck Dean into the floor for ages now, but can’t. Because Dean doesn’t swing that way, with the exception of his exceptions (because everybody has them, it’s completely normal and very modern, actually, so he’s being very progressive here), and Cas isn’t one of those exceptions (maybe). Mostly because he’s a real person, and not Han Solo or Dr. Sexy or any of the others.

So Cas can fantasize all he wants about having Dean on his knees or whatever it is he thinks about, but it’s not going to happen. It sucks, but it’s not going to happen.

Dean’s ideas center around either dropping Cas off at nearest gay bar or setting up a dating profile, but neither of those feel particularly safe. Cas is human now, and he can kick ass, but guys are creeps. No, no. Instead, he starts scanning the aisles at the grocery store, trying to find someone who might fit the profile, and either this town is incredibly straight or he has horrible gaydar, because no one really stands out. And when they do, they don’t exactly look like the spring rose Cas deserves.

Dean’s only been at it for about a week, but he’s coming up short. It’s gotten to the point where he’s feeling sexually frustrated for Cas, of all things, which makes things even worse.

It doesn’t help that the electrician is being a massive creep, either.

He comes in around the end of March to fix the wiring. Dean and Cas have both gotten tired of the whole house shorting out when three things are on at the same time. Turns out to be a circuitry issue, and a relatively easy fix all things considered. Minimal ripping up of the floorboards and the walls and everything. They’ve even gotten a deal on installing extra landline outlets around the house, a plethora of receivers already labeled “FBI” and “CDC Commissioner” lying in a box somewhere.

The guy fixing stuff, though, is a mega douchebag. His name’s Ricky. He’s average height, dark hair with a beard. Kinda reminds Dean of Mick, except this guy’s not British and Mick...well, Dean did hate Mick for a bit, so nevermind. He’s got callused hands and a charming smile if Dean’s ever seen one, and he won’t stop talking to Cas.

Dean’s busy with other projects throughout the house—the shower curtain rod needs replacing, and he’s still working on fully sealing that backdoor draft. So he only catches glimpses of things, but it’s a lot of Ricky and Cas talking. Something about plants or growing up in the area. Cas’s voice is light when it comes down the halls. Sometimes he’ll pass by and Ricky’s got his face way too close to Cas for his liking, and he’s pretty sure he saw the dude giving Cas the once over.

It just...it weirds Dean out, okay? And he’s not hom*ophobic. The people he cares the most about tend to swing a certain way: Cas, for one, not to mention Charlie, Claire, and Kaia. He would consider himself a total Rent-head, if that were a thing, mostly because “What You Own” just rocks out on principle. He’s been hit on plenty by dudes and felt nothing but flattered by the compliment.

But the way Ricky interacts with Cas—using him like a human guardrail to haul himself up, sneaking glances when he thinks neither of them are looking. It’s just...Cas is Dean’s best friend, and he doesn’t think Cas should hang around with guys like that, who take advantage of Cas being friendly. He’s gotta look out for the little ex-angel.

He sits them down for dinner in the kitchen a few days after Ricky starts working on the wiring. It’s evening now, and the dude’s gone home, but not before handing Cas a slip of paper to “keep the conversation going”. Dean nearly ripped the piece of paper out of Ricky’s hand and slammed the door, but he settled for angrily making a delicious pot of mac n’ cheese instead. Four kinds of cheeses and everything.

He sets the bowls on the kitchen counter. The dining room is still crowded with crap and unrenovated. Dean’s not paying attention to it. The weather’s gotten much nicer lately, and the windows are open to let the night air in. The two of them lean over the counter to eat, neither of them saying much besides small talk. It’s better than it was when they had the fight. You can only stay mad at someone you’re living with for so long.

“So,” Dean says finally. “Ricky.”

Cas swallows his food, looking up. “Yes, what about him?”

“Nothing,” Dean says. Then: “Just...I get an off vibe from him, don’t you?”

“Not at all,” Cas says with a frown. “He’s actually been quite helpful. His mother does gardening year round, and he’s offered to lend me some of the books she keeps.” There’s a kind of light fondness in his voice, and Dean feels his stomach bottom out.

“Did he?” he asks. “So you’re gonna go over to his house? Alone?”

Cas’s frown deepens. “His mother’s house,” he corrects slowly. “And yes, possibly.”

Dean chews on the inside of his cheek. “I dunno, man. He seems kinda skeevy to me.”


Dean shrugs. “Suspicious.”

“He made it through the front door without setting off any of the wards—”

“Human kind of suspicious, Cas,” Dean interrupts. “He...he looks at you like…” You’re an expensive steak, he wants to say, but doesn’t. “He just looks at you funny, is all I’m saying.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Cas says. He frowns, but it quickly transforms into a small smile. For what reason, Dean is entirely unsure.

“Yeah, well, now you know,” Dean says. He sniffs. “I mean, get the books or don’t get ‘em. I just have a gut feeling about the guy.”

“I trust your judgement,” Cas tells him, and Dean relaxes. “Should we fire him?”

Dean opens his mouth, considers it, then closes it. “Nah,” he says. “He’s almost finished anyway.” Cas looks perturbed, which makes sense. He’d found a friend in someone who’s not such a good guy. Dean’s been there before. They both have. “Hey, maybe tomorrow morning we can go to the library. See if they have any of those books he mentioned.”

Cas smiles. “I would like that very much, Dean,” he says.

And they do. They even get a library card, just like all those kids sang about on Arthur. They come home with a sh*tton of books, and when Ricky comes by to complete the last bits of the job, Cas stays outside with Dean as he nails in the loose floorboards on the front steps and checks over the warding. The day is slightly overcast and chilly, and Cas succinctly traverses through the house to bring them tea that Dean won’t drink, but will hold in his hands to warm them anyway.

Ricky leaves without much fanfare and an invoice on the kitchen counter. The two of them watch Netflix and Cas doesn’t go to bed until Dean does. It seems Dean’s mission is a moot point, because Cas is all smiles now. He can get laid on his own time, Dean figures. Cas is happy, and that’s all that matters.

Chapter 5: april


can you uhaul if you aren’t a lesbian?
Claire: why are you asking me this?
just wondering. don’t worry about it.

Chapter Text

It is dark, and the air is finally starting to smell like fresh vegetation. On the nights Castiel comes out to the dock, it usually smells of rain-soaked wood and the ever-present winter chill. This, however, is softer. Castiel welcomes it gladly.

“The Carol of the Birds” plays softly in his ears as he makes his way across the lawn. His mind is sleep-fuzzy but ultimately restless. Dreaming, for him, is never quite a mundane thing. He finds himself hopelessly volleying between the human and the divine, colors coming about that he can no longer see and voices shouting that he wouldn’t be able to hear even if he wanted to. This time, he had been at a gas station in Phoenix, and had opened the bathroom door to find himself among the Maccabean Revolt, Uriel cracking jokes about Antiochus. He was just about to respond, something about fire he can’t quite recall, when he found himself suddenly in his own bedroom, a silhouette in his doorway that he recognized instantly.

The figure had frozen when Castiel called its name, and in between rubbing his eyes it had disappeared back down the stairs.

Castiel had hoped, slightly, that this was going to turn into another kind of dream altogether. His heart rate had climbed considerably, and he lay back down as he waited for the figure to crawl over him. But the figure never came back, and Castiel slowly came to terms with being in the waking world.

He had waited until Dean had settled before sneaking out into the dark. Now, he turns off the tape player and stuffs it in his pocket. The quiet here is different from the quiet indoors; it is alive with all of the small creatures that exist within it, the water of the lake lapping against the shore. He makes his way down the small dock as it teeters under his weight.

Once he reaches the end, he lowers himself down and slowly dips his feet into the cold lake water. Kelly and him had done this once, a whole lifetime ago: she had told him stories about growing up, and he had told her how the mountains were formed. The memory brings back a familiar sharp twinge. His mind is still restless.

There is no God for Castiel to believe in anymore. Amara may be running the show now, but the idea of a centralized power has been effectively ruined for him. As such, confession and prayer seem moot. Even before he died, the only prayers he heard were from Sam or Jack or Dean, and he never spoke of his own until he had to make good on his deal.

He prays now, though. There is happiness in saying it—all of it. His hopes, his fears, his doubts. He says them all as he prays to the mountains, to the water, to the rusted nails holding the dock together. He prays to the house, and to the man sleeping inside. He prays to what he hopes is listening to him.

“I thought coming out here would settle me somewhat,” he confesses to the bit of frayed rope floating up from under the dock. “That I would be...content?” He ponders that question. “I am happy. I am happier than I ever allowed myself to be. But I find, with that happiness, a lack of contentment. I want…”

It is against an angel’s nature to want. To covet. It is something Castiel cast aside fairly quickly, upon seeing Dean’s soul, but the echo remains. He can look, but he cannot touch. He can speak it aloud, and watch as Dean’s face falls apart. He can dream, absently, of figures in his doorway in the middle of the night, but they will not join him in bed.

“...I want everything,” he confesses to the stars between the clouds. He thinks of himself months ago. Happiness isn’t in the having , he had said. But there is something, he thinks, to having it. There is something to holding your desire in your hands.

It’s no matter to him, in the end. He takes what he can get. He knows what he can get. And he is happy. Despite it all, he is happy.

The tree limb bobs up and down. Castiel’s beginning to go numb up to his ankles. He will return to bed soon. He always does, on night trips like these. And in the morning, he will wake to Dean’s voice telling him there’s fresh coffee. They will sit in the kitchen and go over the plan for today, and Castiel will savor it all as it is.

For now he keeps his feet in the water, and savors this, too.

Sam’s been sending Dean’s clothes to him via snail mail, amongst other things. Dean’s books, for example, and his DVD collection. Stuff to keep him entertained while he’s working the job. This of course means that the more Dean asks Sam to send over his stuff, the more likely Sam is going to ship everything to Dean in separate, smaller boxes, each drawn with a wide smiley face. Dean’s almost impressed enough to not be pissed.

This means that sometimes, especially on laundry days, Dean has to borrow from Cas’s clothes. Some of them were originally Dean’s, in all fairness, and they’re sharing the same closet anyway. Jack’s closet is empty, but it’s also Jack’s room, and has therefore become a mess of ripped-up floorboards and boxes of yet-to-be constructed furniture. They’re in overdrive mode at the moment, gearing up for Sam and Jack’s birthday party in mid-May.

This is how Dean ends up shopping for bed frames in a Walmart wearing a dark green t-shirt with Tigger embroidered on the front. He’s buttoned up his flannel a bit to try and hide it, but Tigger’s face continues to peek out of the top.

“I look ridiculous,” he says, continuously looking back down at himself. No one’s looking at him, or commenting on it, but his skin still itches to get out of it. On Cas, this stuff works. Dean doesn’t know how he does it, but he’s seen Cas pull this shirt off in a kind of laid-back, quirky hot dad way. Even now he’s got on that ridiculous elbow patch sweater and a generic Snoopy shirt, and he still looks good. On Dean, though, it feels like he should be telling everyone about his most recent trip to Disneyland and ordering ridiculous coffee.

“I think you look cute,” Castiel tells him.

Dean feels his brain short out for a moment, unable to fully compute what being called ‘cute’ does to him before coming back online. He rolls his eyes. “You always think I look cute.”

“True,” Castiel concedes. He squints at the furniture displays. “Do you think Jack would appreciate a race car bed?”

“Dude, what kid wouldn’t?” It’s a pretty sweet race car bed, too. Flames on the side and everything. “I just don’t know if he’d fit into it.” Cas hums. “But hey, maybe he can angel mojo it longer if he wants. Hell, he could probably make it a real race car.”

They look at each other a moment, the same thought going through their heads. “We will need to tell him not to turn it into a real race car,” Cas says.

“You can tell him that,” Dean says. “I’ll tell him to make it into a ‘68 Barracuda.” He laughs at the image of it: him and Jack going down some windy highway at 70 miles per hour, dino-print sheets flying in the wind. He looks to Cas, who seems to be having a similar thought, and glaring at him. He swallows. “Or not.”

They end up getting the race car bed, and nix the dino sheets for one with birds on them. They also manage to find new curtains at the Goodwill, and a horrible lamp base shaped like a fish that Cas insists on having for his own room. They stop by the P.O. Box on their way back and Dean is over the moon to see a new box waiting for him, a smiley face drawn on the top. He’s hoping for his AC/DC shirt, maybe his jeans where the ankle’s bitten off but his ass looks too good in them for him to throw them away. There’s also a couple postcards from Claire and Kaia, and a couple coupons for pizza that are going up on the fridge under the Lebanon magnets.

When they get home, Dean beelines for the boxcutter in the living room while Cas brings the smaller items in from the car. He slices open the boxing tape and settles into the couch, which now knows his body better than any woman he’s ever slept with. At the very top, nestled between two flannels, is Dean’s heavily dog-eared copy of The Catcher in the Rye . Underneath them are a few t-shirts, AC/DC included thank god, and the jeans. He pulls them out one by one, until…

His first thought, oddly enough, is sweet, this is one of my favorite jackets . Then he tries to remember why he didn’t bring it with him in the first place. Then, as he unfolds it, the handprint unfurls itself with everything. It’s still a thick crust of black-red, and Dean swears he can smell metal and concrete coming off of it.

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

No, no, Cas is here . Or, just outside. But he’s here, and alive. All of that other stuff doesn’t matter, because it’s in the past. He was gone, now he’s back. They’re not even in the bunker anymore, there’s no reason why Dean should feel like he’s sitting on the floor in the basem*nt. There’s no reason for the damp smell in the air or how everything’s gone quiet, because it’s over with. It’s done.

I love you. Goodbye, Dean .

He can feel his heart in his throat, and he swallows it whole. There’s nothing wrong anymore—no Apocalypse, no Chuck, Dean hasn’t been on a hunt since January, so why... why does he feel like he’s about to pull a gun on something with teeth? His fingers itch. His legs are restless. He can distantly hear Cas’s footsteps upstairs, and they don’t help anything at all.

He shoves the jacket back in the box, and walks over to the dining room where the curtains are still torn and there’s still holes in the walls. It is piled high with boxes, some filled with books Cas has started amassing for his library, others filled with stuff they just haven’t gotten to yet.

He places the box on the table, where various unneeded items are strewn about: here’s a new lampshade they’ve yet to put to use because it’s kind of ugly, here’s that bowl for blood rituals just in case they need it, and here’s the jacket that’s shredding the last of Dean’s sanity.

“What did Sam send over?” Cas asks over dinner. It’s an innocent question, but hell if it doesn’t send Dean further down the panic spiral.

“What business is it to you?” he snaps back. “Can’t a guy have a little privacy, Cas? I mean, f*ck, we live out of each other’s pockets now, can’t I have some things for myself?”

He leaves the kitchen before Cas is able to, and manages to spend two hours driving the Impala around town, contemplating getting drunk at a dive and bringing some girl to the back of his car. Only, he’s not twenty-five anymore, and he’s still got that resolution hanging over his head. It’s not like he’s stopped drinking, but it’s much less than he did before. And Cas still doesn’t have a car, which he supposes is gonna need to change sometime, and Dean’s not built for sleeping in the backseat anymore.

So he drives and drives, drives until he’s going 90 miles down a backroad and his anger exits through the gas pedal, and when he’s on his way back he notes where all the fruit stands are going to start setting up shop. He’s planning on telling Cas where they are when he gets back, as a means of apology.

When he gets back to the house, all the lights are still on, but Cas is nowhere to be found.

Dean turns off the lights in the kitchen. He turns off the lights in the living room, and the front hallway. He contemplates the box in the dining room, smiley face staring back at him, before turning off the lights there, too.

He goes upstairs. Cas’s door is closed shut. He turns off the lights up there, too. He goes to bed.

This nightmare’s just as bad as the other ones, only now it sits differently on his chest.

This time he watches Cas walk into a lake of pure black. He doesn’t look back at Dean as he does this, and he says nothing. Somehow, this is worse.

Dean tries to dive in, tries to walk on water, but something holds him back. Something’s always holding him back. Say it, he thinks. Say it, you always say it when I dream about you. But Cas doesn’t, and Cas sinks to the bottom.

He wakes up realizing he never saw Cas go to bed, and whether that door’s always been shut, and feels cold panic.

Cas doesn’t stir when he opens the door. He doesn’t stir when Dean slowly steps towards him either. Something plays on a tinny frequency, half-in half-out, and Dean vaguely recognizes the beat to “Ramble On”. Cas is laying in bed, dead to the world, with his knockoff Walkman in his hand and his headphones nearly wrapped around his upper arm.

Without thinking, Dean reaches out. He takes the headphones out of Cas’s ears and slowly unwinds them from his arm. He overlays Cas’s hand with his own. He pries Cas’s fingers, one by one, from the knockoff Walkman. He wraps the headphones around the tape player, nice and tight, before setting it gently on the nightstand.

It’s only when he finally presses pause that Cas seems to stir. His face scrunches up for a moment before blinking blearily awake. He looks up, eyes wide and bright and unguarded. “Dean?” he asks.

Dean, for some reason, feels like a kid who got caught stealing from the cookie jar. “Go back to sleep,” he says, voice soft, “you’re dreaming.”

Cas blinks at him once, twice, before slipping back into sleep. Dean lingers for a moment longer, but ultimately goes back downstairs. He passes over the dining room as he does. The smiley face stares back at him. He doesn’t sleep for the rest of the night.

Some mornings, Castiel will wake up to find another blanket piled on top of him. Other times, the window he left open will be closed shut. There is one occasion where he finds the socks he kicked off before bed bundled into a ball, lying on top of the laundry hamper.

“I think I may have a guardian angel,” he says to a leaf floating in the water one night. He is delightfully high, still. Kaia, who has been sufficiently jealous of his access to the local dispensary, had recommended a certain strain he finds lifts his spirits immeasurably.

“There is a fruit stand two miles from here that sells chanterelles and blueberry jam,” he prays. “Dean told me about it. We plan on visiting this weekend.”

Other nights, he stays inside. When he wakes, it is to a figure standing halfway in his room. Castiel will crack open an eye to see Dean with a hand on the doorframe. Some nights he will stand there for a few moments, then go back downstairs. Other times, Dean will get closer. Castiel pretends to sleep as best he can as Dean folds his laundry, or covers one of his feet that slipped out from under the bedclothes.

Castiel takes what he can get. And when Dean’s gone, Castiel will do his best to fall back asleep. Sometimes, he succeeds. Sometimes he dreams, and sometimes those dreams are not full of bloody war or restless souls. Sometimes they are simply about a figure in a doorway, a hand on his cheek. No words, of course, just actions. Castiel imagines the feel of Dean’s morning stubble against his, of following a trail of freckles down Dean’s chest, of burying himself in Dean anywhere he can.

Each time the morning comes, and Castiel wakes.

Castiel will rise from his bed, cold and reluctant. He will untangle himself from his sheets. He will sit there, for a moment, and contemplate the sound of the spring rain outside, or the way the light comes into the room, or Dean humming downstairs. At this point he will also acknowledge his inevitable erection, and either will it away or fold himself back under the comforter to indulge further in the fantasy.

Either way, he will eventually descend the stairs to find fresh coffee and breakfast. There will be toast and eggs over-easy, just the way Castiel likes it. He will watch the yellow yolk spill over. Neither of them will talk about what happens during the night, and neither will mind. This is how they’ve always done it. No sense is fixing something that isn’t broken.

“Hey,” Sam’s voice is a little breathy through the phone. Dean settles into his side of the couch, propping his feet up on the coffee table. Every part of him aches, especially his eyes. He rubs at them.

“Hey,” he says, yawning, “you busy?”

“Uh, I was ,” Sam says. “I was, uh, trying something out. Trying to make more knives like Ruby’s. You know, with the angels busy with Heaven, there’s a limited number of angel blades out there. I’m pretty sure we’ve busted or lost half of them ourselves.”

From the kitchen, something clatters. Dean frowns. Cas is trying his hand at making cake for the party next month. I won’t be anything if not prepared, Dean , he’d said. “How are you doing that?”

“Well, there’s a few spells in The Book of the Damned that me and the Baneses have been trying out,” Sam says.

“Hold up,” Dean says. “The Baneses ? As in, plural?”

“It’s...a long story, I’ll tell you later when I’m not covered in cypress sap.” Okay, Dean’s not even going to touch that one. “Hey, you get the package I sent you?”

Dean swallows. The box is still in the dining room. Dean can feel it boring holes into the back of his head. He’s been sleeping a lot less, mostly watching whatever comes up on TV. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, about that. Could you be a little more selective with what you send over next time?”

“Dean,” Sam scoffs, “there won’t be a next time. That was the last of your stuff.”

Dean blinks. “What?”

“I mean, aside from all the guns and stuff I couldn’t ship through FedEx,” Sam continues. “But those are coming up with us next month. You want us there by the 15th, right?”

“Right,” Dean says absently. “What do you mean that was the last of my stuff?”

“I mean...well, I mean what I said. Your room’s empty, dude.”

Dean lets that sink in. He knows that, realistically, he’s lived a life of things being permanently temporary. It makes sense that he didn’t have too much stuff, but the sentence still hangs over him. Makes him feel warm, almost, in an odd way. “Huh.”

“Yeah,” Sam says. “Oh, uh. I was doing some case-searching, and I think I might’ve found something near you. Looks like a poltergeist outside Spokane. You think you’re up for it?”

Dean considers this. It might be nice to deal with something using his bare hands, watching the face of some poor miserable bastard as it flames up into the great beyond. His hands are tired, though, from all the work he’s been doing already. In the other room, Cas has abandoned the cake entirely, and has decided to mutter sweet nothing to the herbs on the windowsill.

“I think I’ll pass for now,” Dean says.

“Okay, yeah. I’ll send someone else on it.” Dean thinks he can hear a smile in his brother’s voice. “Anyway, I should go. There’s still a couple other rituals I’ve gotta get through today if I want this to work.”

Dean nods. “Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Tell Eileen and Jack—”

“I’ll tell them,” Sam says, and hangs up.

Dean sets his phone on the couch arm and looks around. The stuff Sam’s sent him has, through some miracle of migration, made its way into most corners of the house. His DVDs and VHS tapes are stacked next to the TV. His books are piled on the coffee table, Vonnegut and Palanhiuk sandwiched between demonic texts and books written in Enochian. Him and Cas share the washer and dryer when they go to the laundromat.

They’re living together. Like, fully living together. They’ve done that before, obviously, but mostly out of a survival, let's-pool-our-resources thing. Or because there was nowhere else to go. But now?

Dean picks his phone up again and scrolls to find Claire’s number.

can you uhaul if you aren’t a lesbian?

Claire: why are you asking me this?

just wondering. don’t worry about it.

Claire: i mean yeah ig????

Claire: also nice evading there dude

ok cool thanks

Claire: dude


Claire: nvm

Okay, so Claire’s obviously a dead-end here. Still, Dean knows the signs. Charlie took him through the steps of lesbian relationships once. And even though he and Cas aren’t lesbians, obviously, he thinks they might have copy-pasted some stages into their friendship. But this happens all the time, right? People just do things without realizing, and it's fine.

There’s another bang from the kitchen, and the sound of Cas muttering. Something about eggshells.

Dean decides not to worry about it, and smiles at the warmth pooling in his stomach. People just naturally gravitate towards each other, and find ways to fit into their lives. If Cas and him are a little unconventional, then there’s nothing to it. They've been unconventional their entire lives.

The dirt is dry between Castiel’s fingers. It will inevitably leave splinters, but they will be small and wash themselves away when he sticks his hands under the tap. For now, though, he digs his fingers in fully. He creates a divot, and reaches for the tomato plant propped up nearby. He frees it from it’s pot, the roots already crawling out from the holes in the bottom. He loosens and untangles the roots with his fingers, and places the plant in the hole. He fills in the gaps with leftover dirt.

He does this six more times, with one more tomato plant as well as the peppers, the basil, the cucumbers. And when the planter box is full, he waters the planter box heavy with water and fish fertilizer. He watches as the dirt from the pots becomes the same color as the dirt he laid down in the planter box, and feels a sense of satisfaction.

There are three other planter boxes still waiting for the same treatment, all filled with fresh soil and ready for planting.

(Two days earlier, he and Dean had been eating breakfast, and Castiel had wondered out loud about finally turning the dining room into something useful like a library. Dean had grunted noncommittally, and then told Castiel he was going to go to the hardware store. Four hours later there stood the planter boxes, and five hefty bags of soil.

“What about the dining room?” Castiel had asked.

Dean had shrugged. “This is more important,” he’d said. “It’s planting season anyway, isn’t it?”)

This is the box for his starter plants. The next one he fills with the seeds he’s gathered, gingerly placing two to three per the fingerpoke hole in the ground he’s made. Garlic, spinach, thyme, dill, rosemary, and oregano all spaced out accordingly. In one box he only plants dahlia root bulbs and other perennial flowers. He notes, mildly, that he would love to see a trellis propped up against the house one day for wisteria to hang on, but that’s another dream for another time.

The last box is purely for a Three Sisters garden of corn, beans, and squash. The books he procured from the library tell him where and how to plant the seeds to give him the best result. Once he is done with those, he moves onto the pots, where he easily transplants the strawberry and the mint into their own, separate containers closer to the door and far, far away from the other plants.

“Holy sh*t,” Dean says when he walks outside. “You got busy.” He’s absently munching on a lemon square, Mona having made good on her promise to bring over leftovers. Castiel is still adjusting to Dean absently rubbing his back whenever she comes over. He’s glad he’s without his powers, or he fears the entire county would have experienced a power outage from that alone.

Castiel smiles, feeling proud and covered in dirt. “Hopefully it will be slightly more impressive in the coming months,” he says.

“‘S impressive now,” Dean says, sidling up next to him. There’s dark circles under his eyes; Castiel will often hear the television playing into the dead of night. Dean leans in and sniffs. “You go roll around in a grave or something?”

“It’s fish fertilizer,” Castiel tells him. He looks back over the garden. “Though, I suppose this is a grave of sorts. My body once rested here.”

Dean stops chewing, looking out at the wide expanse. He opens his mouth as if to speak, then closes it. He scratches at the side of his face. “Not for long,” he says.

“No?” Castiel asks.

“No,” Dean says, voice rough. “I, um. I carried you inside.”

“Oh,” Castiel says. “I didn’t know that.”

Dean looks down and clears his throat. “I never mentioned it.” He looks at the last half of the lemon square, bits his cheek, and wordlessly hands it over to Castiel. Castiel takes it, and relishes the cool sour-sweet taste in the midday sun.

“You know, uh. When we...when we burned you,” Dean says, words halting. He’s looking anywhere but at Castiel, and anywhere but the ground. “I kinda…” He huffs a laugh. “I spent so long trying to grab every last piece of you. All we had was this mason jar…” He mimes a gallon sized jar with his hands. “...and I spent a good two hours just—combing through the pile. And when we left, all I could think about was whether or not I missed something—a chip of femur or rib or something left in the dirt.”

He’s trying to tell the story like it’s funny. Dean does this often, trying to make something serious sound like it has a punchline. Castiel knows why he does this, but he’s yet to understand it fully. He keeps listening.

“And then I...then you got laid to rest in that meadow,” Dean continues. “I tried to do it all in one spot. Right next to the blackberries, ‘cause I know you like ‘em so much. Then I got stupid and washed the damn jar out in the creek, and I felt like such an idiot after that.”

“I probably would’ve enjoyed the water,” Castiel tells him, and Dean looks at him with glistening eyes. He’s beautiful. “If it means anything.”

Dean is quiet for a moment. “It does,” he says. He takes a deep, shaky breath. “Uh, anyway. I did my best not to think about it, for a while.” He pauses, eyes flickering back and forth, remembering something unsaid. Castiel watches the sun light up the outline of his head, something like a holier halo. “Then you came back, and I started worrying again. That, that you had an achy joint or a, a chunk of skin gone, because I…” He chuckles. “Because I missed something. Sounds kinda stupid saying it out loud.” He bites the inside of his cheek. “Did...was there ever? Something missing?”

Dean looks at him, eyes shining, and Castiel falls in love all over again. He imagines, for a brief moment, holding Dean’s face in his hands and kissing his sadness away. He imagines the leftover specks of his grace soothing Dean’s eternal worry lines.

The moment passes. Castiel shakes his head. “No,” he says. “Everything was where it was supposed to be.” He looks back out over the garden. “I don’t know whether I came from the ash or from something wholly recreated, however. For all we know, a chip of my femur is currently buried under all of this.” Dean lets out a breath, and Cas puts a hand on Dean’s back. He rubs small circles, and watches as Dean sways a little with the motion. “I prefer the former, if it’s any consolation.”

Dean doesn’t say anything. Castiel knows he wasn’t there for the aftermath, doesn’t know what Dean’s currently feeling. It’s a gap he desperately wishes to have filled, but cannot. He takes the piece of it Dean has given to him. He continues to rub circles into Dean’s back, and finishes off the lemon square.

A couple birds chirp back and forth to one another. The wind weaves through the trees. Eventually, Dean’s back straightens. “Are you coming inside?” he asks. Castiel nods. He goes inside, and when he’s done washing the dirt and fertilizer off of his body, Dean’s made grilled cheese and tomato rice soup.

Later, when Dean opens the door to Cas’s bedroom, he finds himself at a loss. Usually there’s something: something to clean, something to adjust, something to make right. Now, though, everything looks perfect.

Dean swipes his thumb over the door latch a couple times before stepping in. Cas has a tendency to sleep on his side, Dean notices. His tape player is about to fall off the bed, still drumming out something Dean can’t make out. His hands hang limp off the side of the bed.

He’d thought that maybe, if he talked about it somewhat, things would get better. That’s what Sam told him to do, right? We should talk about the things we don’t want to talk about. Yeah, well, it’s gone just peachy. Dean poured his soul out, and now he just feels like a live wire ready to zap the next person that touches him.

He wonders if he should move Cas’s hands back onto the bed. Something in him, small and childish, suggests that monsters could grab him if they wanted to.

There are no monsters here. There’s just Dean, watching Cas sleep from the foot of his bed. Holy hell, how the tables have turned.

Dean stares for a little while longer before there’s a quick intake of breath. Cas blinks awake, sitting up straight. “Dean?”

Usually Dean just stays still at this point, or tells Cas to go back to sleep. “I, uh,” he says instead, and shifts from foot to foot. “I was just…” Something lodges itself in his throat.

Cas stares at him for a few moments. Dude doesn’t know how powerful his eyes are sometimes, Dean swears. Sometimes he’ll look at him and Dean feels like his soul is on display all over again.

“Come to bed, Dean,” Cas says.

Dean feels his face go red. “To what?”

“To bed,” Cas reiterates. He sighs. “I should have offered earlier. The couch must be very uncomfortable.”

It’s an out. Dean takes it, for fear of figuring out what it’s an out from . “The...it’s not so bad,” he lies. Cas continues to stare at him. “But…”

“I’m offering.”

“Right.” Dean nods. “Right.” He ambles over to the other side of the bed. He raises the light brown comforter, and tucks himself under it. “Thanks,” he says to Cas, who is warm beside him.

“No thanks are necessary, Dean,” Cas tells him. He’s half-bathed in the light from the hallway, but Dean doesn’t mind. He thinks a little light out of the darkness is probably a good thing for now.

They lay side by side, Cas on his back and Dean turning to settle on his stomach. Everything smells like Cas, like ozone and wet earth and cheap laundry detergent. The knockoff Walkman still plays, and Dean gestures to it. “Can I?” he asks. He doesn’t know why. He’s too tired to know things.

Cas plucks one of the earbuds out of his ears. Dean takes it, Cas’s fingers warm against his own, before placing it in his ear.

As we walk down the country lanes

I'll be singing a song, hear me calling your name

Hear the wind within the trees

Telling Mother Nature 'bout you and me

Dean smiles. “You’ve got good taste,” he quips, voice sleep-rough. Cas doesn’t answer, just looks at him like he’s discovered a diamond mine. Dean can’t help but stare back.

Dean blinks, eyelids suddenly heavy. Cas does the same. They go like this for a few moments, nodding off out of sync, until Dean can’t open his eyes anymore. All he feels is the warmth Cas is radiating, and the soft percussion of the drums. And finally, for the first time in what seems like years, Dean falls into a restful sleep.

Chapter 6: may


“Don’t quote Princess Bride at me, I’m still pissed at you.”

“As you wish.”


hooooooooo this one's a doozy. a full 11k! hope y'all have fun with it.

Chapter Text

Castiel joins the local Home Gardening Association.

It was Mona’s suggestion. They had been lounging in the front yard, a pitcher of lemonade on the table between them, as Dean hammered in iron nails along the window frames. Castiel had been watching the sweat drip down his deck, and had idly imagined himself licking it off. She had commented on Castiel’s garden, saying how lovely it was, and Castiel had been inclined to disagree.

Certain plants were doing fine—the herbs, for the most part, were doing well, but the cilantro has spots he cannot identify. His tomatoes were flowering—almost at an exponential rate—but his strawberry plant was currently in stasis with the fruit it's born, none growing or turning red. His seedlings were doing alright when they weren’t being dug out of the ground by passerby squirrels.

At Dean’s suggestion, he’d gone online to find answers. There were many, many opinionated forums on the subject, all offering wildly different answers. He told Mona as much.

Mona had chuckled, then clicked her tongue. “Ah, I’m sorry. I’d help you, but most of the plants at my place survive by pure chance.” She took a sip of her lemonade, then started slightly. “Oh! Oh, why don’t you join the gardening club? My friend Ettie is a member, and she has the most wonderful garden I’ve ever seen. Her pumpkins have gotten ribbons.”

Which is why Castiel is currently hosting a flock of elderly women in his kitchen.

There were others, earlier. Castiel had invited them over to inspect his garden and give tips. He’s taking most of their opinions into account—except for Marge, who clearly has no idea what a Three Sisters garden is and is therefore not worth his time. He’s also planning on visiting their gardens as well, since this is mostly how their meetings go. He’s excited for next week. Ettie has passionflowers growing up the side of her house, and he’s eager to see them.

Now, he’s left with the stragglers: the aforementioned Ettie, and Mona, who had come to visit on the principle of seeing her friend. They’re lined up on the stools under the counter, eyeing the wire-covered table in the back corner.

“Are those phones?” Ettie asks, sipping lazily at her water. “Whatcha need so many for?”

“Ah,” Castiel says, and is grateful that such labels as ‘FBI’, ‘CDC Commissioner’, and ‘Garth’ are hidden under the mess of wires. “It is for our...work.”

“Your work?”

“We work with phones,” he says. It’s not a lie, exactly. Once they had set up the station, calls had begun to come in by the hour.

“Ah! Telemarketing,” Mona says. She points. “You know, I always wondered why you two were such homebodies.”

“Yes,” Castiel agrees, “telemarketing.”

Dean comes in through the back door, hands splotched with off-white paint. He’s got his headphones in, humming along to a song Castiel has no name for. Castiel enjoys him the most like this: happy and unworried about the world around him. Dean closes the door behind him, takes stock of the guests in the kitchen, and takes his headphones out.

“Hey!” he says, walking up to Mona. He wraps an arm around her and kisses the top of her head. “How’s my favorite girl?”

Mona blushes under her sunhat, and swats him. “You be careful, Dean. Wouldn’t want to make your husband jealous.”

Dean grins. “Who, Cas?” he asks. “Nothing to worry about. He’s not the jealous type.” He looks to Cas. “You jealous, sweetheart?”

“Slightly,” Castiel says, because it is the truth.

Dean falters for a moment, looking Castiel up and down. “Well, we’ll fix that up real quick,” he says, and walks over to him.

Dean places a hand on either side of Castiel’s face—not a completely foreign gesture, but it feels different. Perhaps it is because Castiel is not dying this time around. Or maybe it is because Dean tilts his head down slightly, and places a quick kiss on his hairline.

“See?” Dean asks, still smiling and ruffling Cas’s hair. “No problemo.” Castiel finds himself unable to do anything but stare, his heart rate climbing and climbing.

“You two are the cutest,” Ettie says. Dean’s the first one to break eye contact, turning back to their guests.

“Ain’t they just?” Mona drawls. She waves a finger between the two of them. “You know, you never told me how you two met.”

“I raised—” Castiel starts, then thinks better of it. Mona and Ettie, at this stage in their lives, would not find comfort in the existence of Hell. “Dean might tell this story better than I,” he says.

He turns to look at Dean again. Castiel has heard the phrase ‘deer in headlights’ before, but is just now realizing its application. Dean huffs a laugh, then turns back to the ladies. “Cas, uh. Got me out of a tight spot, a long time ago. Real bad place.”

Ettie titters. “Was it love at first sight?”

“No,” Dean says, at the same time that Castiel says a simple, “Yes.”

Dean’s head snaps back to him, eyes wide and lips parted slightly. Castiel stares back, slightly confused. Castiel has difficulty lying, if you discount omission. This is the truth, plain and simple. Or maybe that is what surprises Dean? Castiel remembers the basem*nt again, the way Dean had looked at him. Something clenches in his chest.

“I saw him for who he was,” he says, not breaking eye contact. “A kind, loving man with the purest intentions. I didn’t know it at the time but...it was love at first sight, for me.”

From over the counter, Mona coos. “How cute. And you?”

Dean closes his mouth and looks back to Mona. “Me?” he asks. Castiel watches his throat bob slightly, before he shrugs. “It’s...I honestly don’t know. Could’ve been at any time I’ve known him.”

Ettie hums. “So when did you put the moves on him?”

“Ettie!” Mona admonishes.

“What?” Ettie asks. “My Nora Roberts novels ain’t doing it for me anymore. Spill the beans.”

“It was me,” Castiel says. “I confessed my feelings towards him.”

Dean snorts and ducks his head down. “In the dumbest way possible, yeah,” he mutters.

It could be taken as teasing, Castiel supposes. It comes across that way, but he knows Dean well. Dean’s looking at the floor. Dean’s got one of his fists clenched. Dean is angry.

“I thought that it was perfectly admirable,” Castiel argues.

Dying was perfectly admirable?” Dean asks, frowning. Like he’s one to talk. “Really, Cas?”

“It was worth it,” Castiel states. You were worth it .

“It was...no, Cas, it was stupid as all hell!” Castiel tenses. He had hoped his parting words would have instilled such a lesson in Dean, but it seems his efforts have been futile. He feels bitterness crawl up his throat.

“Dying?” says a voice from next to them. Mona has her hand slightly raised, as if she is a student. Ettie is frowning.

“It was...it’s a long story,” Castiel improvises. “Obviously, I’m fine.” He looks Dean in the eye. “I would do it again, if need be.”

Dean scoffs. “Not on my watch.”

Castiel feels his jaw clench. “That isn’t your decision to make.”

“I think it is,” Dean growls. “I think if you tell someone something that important and then leave , that someone gets a say. That someone doesn’t allow for a next time.” The words hit Castiel right where they matter. That’s right. He’s a coward, and he ran. He ran out on Dean. “What if the roles had been reversed, hm? What then?”

Like a wounded animal, Cas retaliates. “I don’t know,” he says, slowly. He squints. “Would they be?”

Dean swallows. His eyes search Castiel’s face, throat working. He looks terrified.

A shrill ring pierces through the room. From the corner table, one of the burner phones is playing the marimba. “I’ll get it,” Dean says, and is gone from Castiel in the blink of an eye. He accepts the call. “Hello? Yes, this is…” Looking around the room, Dean clears his throat. “One moment, please.” He exits through the back door, and Castiel can hear the murmur of him reciting his spiel. Yes this is commissioner so-and-so. Yes Agent Pop Culture Reference has jurisdiction…

Inside, the kitchen is dead quiet, with the exception of the box fan. Mona lets out a breath. “Well. That was certainly something.”

“I apologize,” Castiel says. “Dean is a...passionate man.”

Ettie gets up and rubs a calming hand on Castiel’s shoulder. “It’s alright, hon. It’ll all blow over soon. And you know what they say, huh? The best part of fighting is the making up.” She gives him a wink. Ah, sex. She’s insinuating sex.

Castiel wishes it were that simple. The figure in the doorway is now the figure in his bed, but Castiel still dreams. Some mornings he wakes up to find Dean still next to him, fully clothed, and it feeds something animal in him. Like he might pretend the dreams were real.

Castiel has been taking a lot of long showers as of late.

Castiel nods. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, they do say that.”

The routine is this: Cas will go to bed, and within an hour Dean will follow. They will turn off the lights. Most nights they share headphones, listening to whatever tape Cas has on hand until one or both of them lull themselves to sleep. Dean prefers the Led Zeppelin tracks, but the Top Hits of 1983 compilation is slowly winning him over. Dean can’t turn down listening to Air Supply.

It’s inevitable that the both of them will wake in the middle of the night, but neither mention what happens then. If Dean hears Cas make his way outside, he won’t comment on it; in turn, Cas makes no note of his cleaned ashtrays, or the way his comforter will be drawn up to his chin. Sometimes Dean’s hand never leaves Cas’s chest before he conks out again, or it migrates as he sleeps. Sometimes Dean wakes up with his hand on Cas’s shoulder, gripping tight. Sometimes Cas’s hand is wrapped around his wrist, gripping right back. They make no mention of that either.

He doesn’t know if it’s the physical labor pumping his blood or something, but he’s woken up with way too many morning woodies than a man his age should be capable of. Dean doesn’t really know what to make of it. Or, he tries to, and he finds himself confused and frowning at his own dick for a solid five minutes

Dean’s been taking a lot of long showers lately. Cold ones, too, for some reason. He thinks he might have to check the pipes.

Cas went to bed an hour ago, and Dean’s sitting on the couch watching Cheers reruns and nursing well whiskey. They haven’t talked since this afternoon, Dean preferring to work on the warding until the sunset and after that, opting for his first trip to the liquor store in a while. He looks at the glass in his hand, and feels his stomach turn slightly.

He drank a lot, when Cas died. Which is all he seems to be able to think about right now. He just kept doing it, even though it never helped anything. He remembers whenever the anniversary of Mom’s death rolled around, his dad would drink more. “What you can’t remember, you can’t cry over,” he’d slurred once, Dean propping him up on the way to the car. He’d been sixteen.

So Dean drank, and Dean cried anyway.

He sets the glass down, anger still bubbling restlessly inside of him. Cas was a dumbass. ‘ I would do it again, if need be’ ? Cas had already done it five, six times over. Dean’s lost count. He knew love made people idiots, but Cas willing to die over Dean really takes the f*cking cake.

And it’s not because Dean thinks himself worthless. Or, he does, but he’s working on it. Because Cas told him he wasn’t. But the thing is that Cas is worth more . Cas basically invented free will in a place specifically designed against it. Cas eats his food in a specific order that only makes sense to himself, because he’s still trying most food for the first time. Cas has plants that need him, people who need him.

Cas asked him what would happen, if the roles were reversed. The thing is, Dean knows what he would do. He would do it in a heartbeat. He just doesn’t know what he would say .

He gets up and paces around the room, glass in hand. He wants to throw it. He wants to punch a new hole in the dining room wall, wants to take a hammer to something. He wants to burn the jacket. He wants…

He wants to go to bed.

Trudging up the stairs, Dean hesitates when he gets to the top. The door is closed, light pouring out from under it. There’s the faint smell of skunk.

Dean knocks, and there’s a hum from inside. He opens the door to see Cas by the window, relighting a joint and blowing smoke outside. Dean watches the smoke trails lazily upwards as Cas turns his head. He hasn’t shaved yet. He looks a little like that hippie Cas from the Croatoan world. I’m not him , Cas had said, but that Cas had died for him, too.

“Not that crap again,” Dean grumbles, starting to strip down to his t-shirt and boxers. He turns away, unsure if Cas is watching him or not.

“What,” Cas says, and there’s the slightly-whistled sound of another exhale, “‘ crap’ do you mean, exactly?”

Dean turns back around to shoot him a glare. “You know what I mean,” he says. Cas doesn’t say anything, just looks at him. Tilts his head. “What, are you expecting me to apologize for earlier? ‘Cause I’m not.”

Cas flicks the joint over his ashtray. “I’m not apologizing either.”

Dean wants to bang his head against a wall. “Well...good.”

“Good,” Cas says. “We are in agreement, then.”

Dean stomps over to the bed, lifts the covers on his side. Hesitates, slightly. This is Cas’s bed, and they are fighting. He doesn’t know if he can do a night on the couch, though. He’s worried he might end up busting it to pieces.

“Can—” he starts, and immediately feels embarrassed. “Can I…?”

He waits as Cas regards him. He feels like a pathetic little kid, and Cas can kick him out if he wants, even if the thought makes Dean’s stomach turn.

Instead, Cas nods. “As you wish.”

Dean imagines Cas in a Dread Pirate Roberts getup and momentarily loses his train of thought.

Dean, once he recovers, points at him. “Don’t quote Princess Bride at me, I’m still pissed at you.”

“As you wish.”

With a roll of his eyes, Dean tucks himself into bed. He turns to his side, away from Cas even though he can still feel his eyes on him.

There’s no headphones, no tape player, and the sound of Cas leaving to go outside. Whatever, he could care less. It’s still nice though, he supposes, that when he wakes up in the morning Cas is still there, even if he’s facing away from him as well.

“Dude, nice mom car,” is exactly the kind of thing Sam was expecting Dean to say when they arrived. Which, f*ck him, it’s not . Minivans just have more storage, and they’re bland enough to blend in during hunts unlike the Impala, thank you very much . But it’s what Sam expects, so all he can do is deliver some kind of bitchface as Eileen and Jack come out of the car.

What Sam was not expecting is literally everything else.

First of all, Dean just looks different. He’s got his ‘Meat Man’ apron on and reeks of raw beef when he pulls Sam in for a hug, which is also just weird and unexpected. They only hug each other when they’re dying, so Sam’s right to be on red alert. But overall Dean just seems...different. Looser in the way he moves, though he seems to stiffen slightly when Cas comes out to greet everyone. They seem to be looking everywhere but at each other, like they’re in the biggest game of chicken Sam’s ever seen.

Then there’s the house itself, which has become something so removed from the original that Sam has to double check the address when he pulls in. The coloring’s the same, and the general build is no different, but there’s something...whole to it. There’s stuff lining the windowsill, charms all over the doorway. Nails in the window frames, planter boxes lined like soldiers in front. Even the ground, which he remembers as solid dirt, has become overgrown with grass.

Inside is even stranger. When Cas and Kelly lived here, all Sam could remember was spare furniture and the smell of paint from the nursery. Now the walls are barnacled with knick-knacks, the furniture cobbled together but lived in. Dean takes them on a tour the same way a parent gushes about their kindergartner, pointing out little bits he’s proud of and shying away from the parts of the house he’s yet to fix.

As Eileen starts ragging on Dean for the decor—“It looks like a yard sale threw up in here.” “That’s...whatever, this is all Cas.” “Oh? The Rebel Without a Cause poster is Cas?” “Shut up.”—Sam turns around to see Cas and Jack still hanging out in the front doorway. They talk in low voices, and Jack’s rocking back and forth on his feet.

Jack had been pretty talkative for most of the ride here, reading billboards out loud and telling Sam and Eileen all about the latest movie night he had with Max, Stacy, and Eliot, who he has apparently made up with. “Once I explained everything to them they got it,” he’d told Sam. “Unrelated, but they might be coming over later to look at enchanted mirrors.” When they dropped Miracle off at Jody’s, he’d spent an hour afterwards talking about how he’d wanted to invent a new kind of dog when he was God, but Amara had vetoed it. After that he’d made comments about road names and The 100 and then, like someone flicked a switch, had gone abruptly quiet once they got outside of Yakima.

Sam watches as Cas nods once, then puts a hand on Jack’s shoulder. Jack then turns around and heads away from the house, towards the dock. Sam frowns and walks over to Cas, who looks a little lost.

“Everything okay?” Sam asks Cas.

Cas sighs. “I think it’s an adjustment for him,” he says.

“Well, yeah. Last time he was here you and Kelly were…” He gestures.

“Deceased, yes.” Cas looks around the front yard. “I’ve heard that birth can be a traumatic experience, but I suppose Jack’s was...more traumatic than most.”

Sam snorts. “You can say that again.” The two of them watch as Jack ends up at the edge of the dock and sits criss-cross applesauce. Sam watches as Cas’s brow furrows in deep thought. “It’ll be okay, Cas. He bounces back quick.”

“He shouldn’t have to bounce back from anything,” Cas says, and Sam can’t really find anything to say back to that.

Leaving Jack to his own devices, they find Dean and Eileen still talking about the decor. Cas and Dean make eye contact for a brief moment before pointedly looking anywhere else. Dean taps his fingers on the counter while Castiel pours himself a glass of water. The tension is thick, and Sam feels like he’s been projected back to 4 years ago, right after Cas killed Billie the first time around.

“So,” Sam says, trying to break the tension, “house looks nice.” The both of them nod, but are obviously distracted with trying to ignore each other. Sam clears his throat. “Uh, you on the hunt for a car yet, Cas?”

“Still searching,” Cas says, arms crossed. “Of course, who knows if I will get one, since Dean apparently needs to approve all of my decisions.”

“Just the stupid ones,” Dean mutters. Cas throws him a glare, and Dean cracks a winning smile before turning to Sam and Eileen. “Weapons and sh*t still in the Mom-mobile?” he asks as if nothing’s happened.

Eileen frowns. “Yes, but what—”

“Great!” Dean claps his hands together. “Let’s get ‘em unloaded. I’ve been itching for my old shotgun anyway.”

I thought it was all domestic bliss , Eileen signs to Sam as they make their way to the car.

Apparently it’s more ‘domestic’ than ‘bliss’ , Sam signs back.

“Everything alright?” Sam asks.

“Oh, of course,” Dean asks as they unload the crates of guns, knives, and ammo. “Just friggin’ peachy.”

“You...wanna elaborate on that?”

Dean unloads a box of guns with a grunt, dusts on his hands, and looks up. “Nope.”

Sam thinks of a hundred different ways to egg him on, and then gives up. Knowing his brother, it’s going to be at least another day until he finally tells Sam what the hell is going on. “Great. Glad to see nothing’s changed.”

Eileen pops out back out from the passenger seat, their duffle bags in tow. Find out what’s got him so grumpy? she signs.

Trouble in paradise , he signs back to her. She laughs. It’s loud and rises and falls like a rollercoaster, and it’s the prettiest sound Sam’s ever heard. He does his best not to think about the box in his duffle bag, but fails spectacularly.

Dean frowns. “What? What are you laughing at?” he asks her. That makes Eileen crack up even more. Dean turns back to Sam. “Okay, stop staring, loverboy, and help me get these inside.”

For all that today’s been a sh*tshow, it’s worth it when Jack finally comes inside. “It’s so different,” he says, and Dean can’t help but preen.

“Wait ‘til you see your room,” he says, unable to contain his excitement.

Jack grins and runs up the stairs, the rest of them hovering around the bottom step. From above, there’s a shout of, “ No way! ”, followed by a couple of gasps here and there. Jack comes running back out, face as bright as a kid on Christmas. “It’s perfect!”

Next to Dean, Cas beams, and for a moment Dean forgets that he’s pissed at him. It’s a short moment, though, maybe five minutes, and then he’s back to being peeved again.

The rest of the day goes by much the same—it’s a rest day, three-fifths of the house exhausted from driving for some twenty-odd hours. Dean makes burgers for dinner, remarking how Cas doesn’t know how to cook, which earns him a dirty look. They try to sit around the living room to drink and talk, but someone ends up calling one of the burner phones, and soon there’s an hour-long research session about werewolf anatomy that Dean never wants to experience ever again.

Eventually, the exhaustion of the day settles into everyone’s bones. It’s the most people Dean’s been around in a good 3 months, barring running errands. He pulls out the air mattress he and Cas bought a week prior and starts to pump it up as Cas and Jack retire upstairs to their respective rooms.

“This thing costs a pretty penny, so don’t go popping it,” Dean tells Sam, who sighs.

“It’s not—”

“We can’t promise anything,” Eileen interrupts. Dean grins. He’s missed her.

“That’s—okay, f*ck the both of you,” Sam says. Eileen signs something Dean can’t understand, but knows well enough. Sam clears his throat. “Anway.”

Once Sam and Eileen are set up on their mattress, he makes a big deal of cleaning up the kitchen. He takes his time with it, and is happy to see the two of them sound asleep on the floor by the time he starts climbing the stairs.

He lingers in front of Cas’s door. It’s nearly closed, the light peeking out. It’s practical , his brain tells him. There’s nowhere else to sleep. I’m in my forties, I can’t sleep on couches anymore . It’s what he’s been telling himself for the past week or so. Cas and him will bitch at each other, will ignore each other between the bitching, but at the end of the day he always ends up here. Because it’s practical, and softer than the couch, and he’s still getting nightmares of Cas’s face swallowed up by the dark.

He’s about to go in when he hears a door creak open. “Dean?” Jack asks. “Is that you?”

Dean lowers his hand and smiles. “Hey, kid,” he says. “What are you doing up?”

Jack stands in the doorway, fingers playing with the edge of his shirt sleeve. “I can’t sleep,” he says simply. He has a look in his eye that Dean knows well. He’s seen it in the mirror often enough. “It’s okay, though. It’s not like I need to, it’s just—” He doesn’t finish the thought. He’s not learned how to lie about this stuff well enough yet. Dean counts it as a small blessing.

“Just what?” Dean asks.

Jack frowns. “It’s…” He looks around the hallway, like somebody might pop out.

Dean nods. “Okay,” he says, and points to Jack’s room. Jack nods and goes back inside, sitting on the race car bed (that he’s definitely made longer, and purple). Dean sits on the rug next to the bed and crosses his legs. There’s a little whirligig in the corner, the kind that makes stars glide along the walls as it spins. “What is it?”

Jack looks down at his knees. “I don’t know how to feel,” he says, “about the house.” He pauses, and Dean waits for him to continue. “It’s just...the last time I was here…everything was so terrible.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, and remembers Jack, brand-new to the world and already learning what it was like to lose somebody. To have someone be angry at you for no real reason. Dean’s stomach twists with guilt.

“And I know you and Cas have put a lot of work into making this place look different,” Jack says. “But somehow, it being different almost makes it…”

“Weirder?” Dean guesses. Jack nods. “Yeah, I, uh—some years back, me and Sam had to go back to our old house in Lawrence. The whole case was just...it wasn’t a fun one, I can tell you that much. But the worst part for me was coming back and realizing everything had changed. I’d sort of imagined the house had just stayed the same the entire time I was gone, and it hadn’t at all. It sucked.”

Jack nods, thinks a bit. He frowns at his knees again, then at Dean. “It’s not that I’m not grateful—”

“Kid, you don’t have to be grateful,” Dean says, even though he can imagine John behind him, telling him otherwise. Instead, he pictures Bobby out there somewhere, patting his shoulder. “It just is what it is. Hell, I still get the heebs about this place. But...I dunno, I think making it different is gonna be a good thing. Cas certainly does.”

Jack nods again, no longer frowning but still twitching. He keeps glancing at Dean like he’s going to say something, and Dean knows exactly the kind of phrases itching at his throat. Man up, tough it out, it’s no big deal . It’s his immediate response. That or crack some joke, leave Jack to his own devices.

Jack knows this. Jack’s expecting it, and Dean can’t afford to mess this kid up any more than he already has. So, instead, he clears it throat.

“I’ve got an idea,” Dean says. “Get back under the covers, lay down.” Jack does as he says, and Dean lays out flat on the carpet. “When we were munchkins, Sam couldn’t stay asleep. Kid would poke me awake at 3am asking me to play Legos with him.” He chuckles at the memory. “Pissed me off to no end because then I couldn’t go back to sleep either. But I figured out a trick that would have us snoring in no time.”

“What was it?” Jack asks. Both of them watch the stars float across the ceiling.

“You know how to count to a hundred, right?” Dean asks.

Jack sighs. “Yes, Dean, I know. I was God.”

He sounds so much like Cas that Dean has to stifle a laugh. “Okay, okay. So we’re gonna count backward from a hundred, each of us switching off. And we’ll just keep doing that until we hit zero.”

“What happens when we hit zero?” Jack asks.

“Then we start over again,” Dean says. Jack props himself up on one elbow, frowning down at Dean. “It’ll work, don’t worry. Lay back down.” Jack does so. “Here, I’ll start. A hundred.”

“Ninety-nine,” Jack answers back.



It goes on and on like this, like breathing in tandem. Jack nods off somewhere around the late 60s, and Dean suddenly finds the carpet soft enough that he continues on his own. He keeps counting and counting, watching the stars go by.

Forty-four , he counts to himself. Forty-three...forty-two...forty-one...fo—

In the middle of the night, Castiel wakes up cold. The other side of the bed is still unruffled and unoccupied, and he feels a pang of regret in his chest. It’s quickly replaced by anger again, as is often the case these days. It will volley back to regret in a few minutes, and so it goes.

He does find himself needing to urinate, however, and reluctantly crawls out of bed to head to the restroom. After relieving himself, he washes his hands in the sink and looks at his face in the mirror. It is still odd, after all these years, to have a form that changes with time. There is a pimple on his hairline that wasn’t there a few hours ago, and a small lighter burn on his thumb that’s been repeatedly healed and re-burned in the past few months. He opens up the medicine cabinet and places a band-aid over the injury, as he’s done many times before.

On his way back to his bedroom, he makes a note to check on Jack. Easing the door open as quietly as he can, he sees Jack sound asleep in his bed, hands folded across his chest as if in quiet meditation. Next to him, on the floor, Dean lies on his back with his head tilted to the side. He’s snoring slightly.

The ever-present volleying of regret to anger halts for a moment, replaced by pure fondness. Castiel smiles softly, and goes back into his room to pull an extra blanket from the closet. Carefully and quietly, he drapes the blanket over Dean, who only stirs enough to turn his head the other way.

In the morning, he’s sure he will be angry again. He can near guarantee it. For now, though, he just feels happy to have this at all.

Sam was right. Of course he was, he always is. Still, the minute Dean asks Sam to tag along with him to Party City, Sam knows Dean’s about to spill the beans on whatever the hell’s been going on. Him and Cas have been acting like parents on the brink of divorce, snapping at each other whenever Jack is out of earshot. The minute Dean makes the suggestion to leave the house, there’s a collective sigh of relief.

The trip itself is inconsequential. Jack was pretty clear about what he wanted for his birthday party. “I want everything Trolls,” he’d said, because he’s seen the movie well over twenty times, and holy hell did Party City deliver. By the time they leave the store, Sam’s lugging Trolls themed plates, streamers, and even birthday party hats. Dean keeps asking Sam to try one on, and calling him a bitch when he doesn’t, and for a moment everything seems normal.

They’re on their way back to the cabin when Dean’s face starts to do that thing again. For all that Dean presents himself as a ‘wild card, totally in the wind’ kind of guy, he’s comically predictable. Sam glances back between him and Eileen’s texts about Cas’s attempt at baking (disastrous, and Sam wonders if they should stop for a sheet cake), and watches as Dean’s face slowly becomes more and more furrowed in frustration.

“You wanna talk about it?” Sam asks, because he’s also predictable, but at least he knows it.

Dean redajusts his shoulders. “Talk about what?” he asks. He keeps looking out at the road.

“Whatever crawled up your ass and died,” Sam answers. Dean shoots a glare at him, but Sam holds his ground.

Dean frowns. “Nothing. I don’t know what you’ve been smoking, but I think I’ve been peachy.” He flashes a smile.

“Dean.” Dean glances at him again. Sam decides to break the pretense once and for all. “Is it Cas?”

Dean sputters. “Why would it be Cas?” he asks. He shrugs passive aggressively. “Cas is fine. Better than fine, even. Sure, he might be an idiotic, self-sacrificing dumbass , but he’s fine." Dean’s grip on the wheel tightens before exploding in an angry gesture. “Might be the biggest moron this side of the Mississippi, but he’s just fan-friggin’-tastic!”

Sam purses his lips and nods. “Okay, so it is Cas.”

“Yes, Sam , of course it’s Cas!” Dean snaps. He lets out a shaky breath and runs a hand over his jaw. “Just...f*ck, yeah, it’s Cas, okay?”

“Okay,” Sam says. “Do you wanna…?”

Dean huffs through his nose and turns on the radio. Okay, Sam can play this game. Dean always takes his feelings in two steps: outburst, then explanation. Sam remembers once that he came back to their motel late at night, slammed his keys on the table, and said I friggin’ hate bartenders . He’d then paced for like ten whole minutes, Sam constantly asking what was wrong, before he finally sat down and told him how the bartender at the dive down the road looked like dad a little bit, and how he had the sudden need to deck him in the face. Because it wasn’t him , Dean had said. And I realized I could this time .

Dean taps along to the beat of the song, and Sam waits.

For the next few minutes, it’s nothing but classic rock and jewelry store commercials. Dean keeps making a pained face, and Sam keeps waiting for his next text from Eileen. It’s kind of ridiculous how much he feels like a teenager again, but also so nice he wants to hold onto it forever. Fifteen years of death and guts, and now he’s waiting for his girlfriend to send him a picture of her covered in flour.

There’s a jerk, and Sam realizes that Dean’s pulling the car over. The Impala buzzes over the gravel before rolling to a stop. Dean hasn’t stopped looking at the road, but he’s fidgeting now.

“Dean?” Sam asks.

Dean starts, and clears his throat. “You...you watch Queer Eye , right?” he asks, turning to look at him.

Sam has to take a moment to process what his brother’s just said. “No,” he says. It’s on his list, but he’s not exactly the king of free time.

“Really? Huh. Weird.” Dean purses his lips, breathes in. “So, you know how Cas made a deal with the Empty?”

“Well, yeah, but why—”

“The deal was it would take him when he was happy,” Dean explains. “Like, Fourth of July, pop rocks in the chest kind of happy. So, to summon it he, um. He pulled a f*cking Éponine on me.”

Sam, who is just happy to be learning anything about this at all, finally , is thrown for a loop. “A what?”

Dean blinks. “ Les Mis ? Come on, Sammy, even I’ve seen that show. Anyone who's alive has seen it.” Sam has, but he’s also not the walking pop culture encyclopedia Dean expects everyone else to be. “God, you’re the worst,” Dean gripes. He bounces his leg up and down, shaking the whole car. “He told me that he loved me, okay? Said this big f*cking speech about how much he cared about me, told me he loved me, and then let the Empty take him and Billie.”

Sam sits with that for a second. A feeling comes over him, of putting all the puzzle pieces together finally to get the full picture. He knew Cas loved Dean, but he didn’t know that he’d told him like that . It explained so much. The missed phone calls, the drinking afterward, the obsessive researching. The jacket in the back of Dean’s closet and holy hell does Sam feel guilty now.

It makes so much sense. Cas confesses to Dean, Dean confesses to Cas but doesn’t tell anyone because he’s as closeted as an old prom dress. Cas and Dean move in together, and now they’re having some kind of couple’s fight. Sam and Eileen joked about this, but he didn’t think he would be that spot on.

“Huh,” he says, in light of all this.

Dean raises his eyebrows. “Well, don’t act so surprised on my account.”

“And when he came back, you...?” Sam asks, hoping to ride the wave of actually talking about things for once.

“Let him down easy,” Dean answers simply, which is definitely not what Sam was expecting. “Oh, what, now you’re surprised?”


“What else was I supposed to say, Sam?” Dean asks him. “I’m not...look, he’s my best friend, and I care about him. That’s it.”

“And you renovated a house for him,” Sam continues. “And live with him.”

Dean shifts around in his seat. “He said he’d do it again, if he had to,” he says. “Die for me, I mean. Dumb son of a bitch.”

Sam blinks. “Okay.”

“Okay? Sam, it's not okay. It’s the exact opposite of okay. He’s Cas.”

“Yeah, he’s Cas,” Sam says, “and I’m me. And you’re you. And we’ve all died for each other. It’s basically on our yearly checklist. Or, was. Hopefully won’t be happening again anytime soon.”

Dean drags his hands over his face. “It’s just...Cas has already...look, Sam, he’s done so much for the both of us already. For me. And I don’t…” He lets his hands fall into his lap. “I don’t know why , man. I still don’t know why.”

“He loves you,” Sam states, and Dean drops his gaze. Looks at his hands, then puts them back on the steering wheel.

“Yeah, and what good has that ever done for him?” Dean asks, and then pulls back out onto the road before Sam can answer.

Sam has the sudden urge to take his brother by the shoulders and yell at him for being an idiot. He also wants to call up Eileen and tell her everything. Both will inevitably end up with Dean crashing the Impala, however, and Sam’s gotten used to being alive.

“People care about you, Dean,” he says instead.

Dean shakes his head, and is quiet for a few more moments. He sighs. “Maybe you’re right,” he admits.

Sam’s more than right, but he won’t gloat about it.


Okay, maybe he’ll gloat a little bit.

“Shut up, this is one-off,” Dean argues. He’s wrong, but whatever. Dean fiddles with the car radio, and the Impala blasts Foreigner all the way back to the cabin.

The cake is less of a cake, and more of a collection of batter in a pyrex container. Castiel attempts to better it by writing “Happy Birthday, Sam and Jack!” in blue frosting, but he finds he doesn’t have the room for it and ends up with “Happy Birthday,” instead, comma included. Eileen put some candles around the edge, but they are slowly beginning to descend as if the cake is made of cartoon quicksand.

We should buy a cake , Cas signs to Eileen, who shakes her head.

It’s perfect, she signs, and then catches a candle before it falls into the chocolatey goo. She bites her lip. Bad accidents make good memories?

Castiel frowns. Is that a saying?

It is now, Eileen signs, and laughs as she shrugs.

It turns out that neither Sam nor Jack mind. The two of them sit in the middle of the living room, now bedecked in Trolls-themed birthday hats to match the Trolls-themed streamers and the Trolls-themed plates. Castiel wants to feel bad for Sam, but the man just seems to find the whole situation hilarious. Jack is absolutely beaming.

“I thought you’d practiced,” Dean says under his breath. Castiel bites back a snap of irritation.

“I did,” he grinds out. “This is actually a marked improvement.”

“Yeah, maybe stick to gardening,” Dean says. He opens his mouth as if to say something else, but shakes his head. “Never mind. Let’s get this show on the road.”

He pulls out a matchbox and lights up the candles. There’s a disjointed half-sung, half-signed version of “Happy Birthday”. There’s a candle that refuses to be blown out until Jack snaps his fingers. Dean makes a quip about Sam’s tenth birthday, where he bought those candles that never go out and Sam apparently used a motel room fire extinguisher so he could make his birthday wish.

The cake isn’t cut so much as spooned out of the pyrex. Castiel waits with bated breath for Jack to try it, watching his son’s eyebrows pinch in concentration.

“Did you put cinnamon in this?” he asks. Castiel shakes his head, which causes Jack to frown further. “What am I tasting, then?”

“Burnt cake,” Eileen supplies. “Sorry.”

Jack shakes his head, then smiles. “It’s okay. It’s made with love, that’s what matters.” Somewhere behind him, Sam spits a bit of eggshell back out onto his plate.

Presents are a simpler affair. Sam goes first, as his birthday was earlier in the month. He opens Dean’s gift, wrapped in newspaper, and inside he finds a pack of KitKats, a wolf t-shirt, and a mood ring. Dean then sets a strawberry milkshake, cold from the refrigerator, down on the coffee table.

Sam laughs. “Way to keep the tradition alive, dude.” He takes it and has a sip. “Wait, did you make this yourself?”

Castiel watches Dean fight back a smile. “Well, who wants a melted old milkshake, huh? Only the best for my brother.”

“Thanks, man,” Sam says, and continues to absently sip on it while he moves on to Castiel’s carefully wrapped gift, covered in wards just in case. Inside he finds an old spellbook, centuries old with an opal bound to the cover that may or may not be enchanted.

“Is this the Omnaturge? ” Sam asks.

“I hope you don’t already have a copy,” he explains. “I was up against several covens on eBay.”

“No, no, this is great! Oh, this has spellwork even Rowena hadn’t gotten her hands on. Not, like, dangerous stuff, but the techniques in here, if they work could—”

“Alright, alright,” Dean says. “You can nerd out later. Eileen?”

Eileen had apparently already given Sam his present, and wasn’t afraid to go into detail with Castiel about it while they were baking. To Dean, however, she simply says, “I also gave him a new book”, and smiles knowingly.

Jack apparently gifted Sam with a drawing some weeks ago, showing him as a powerful witch with accompanying lightning bolts. Sam pulls it from his pocket proudly. “Okay, your turn,” he tells him.

Sam and Eileen Jack with a new jacket, a letterman that everyone in the room immediately recognizes as Riverdale merchandise. Jack immediately puts it on as soon as it’s unwrapped. “I’m just like Archie!” he proclaims, and one of the light bulbs blows out in his excitement.

“I got it,” Dean says, and hands his gift over to Jack. “Open that while I grab a dustpan.”

Dean puts on a facade of nonchalance, sweeping up bits of glass in the corner but constantly looking over his shoulder. It’s adorable, or it would be if Castiel wasn’t supposed to be angry at him.

Dean’s gift to Jack is also wrapped in newspaper. When Jack opens it, Castiel sees that it contains a pack of Mike and Ike’s, a vinyl version of Led Zeppelin IV , and a small toy car whose shape is so familiar Castiel would know it a mile away.

“Now you can drive her all the time,” Dean says from his corner. He finishes sweeping up the glass and stands up. “I figured we’d go out for a spin tomorrow, but—” Jack collides with Dean, who manages to keep the glass from spilling out. Dean hugs Jack back, an awkward affair of one hand patting his shoulder while the other carries the dustpan. “Okay, kid, just make sure not to blow up the ceiling fan, okay?”

Jack clings to Dean for a few moments longer, and Dean lets him. Castiel is finding it extremely hard to be angry with the man at this moment, and decides to give up on it entirely.

Once things have settled back and the glass has been disposed of, Castiel presents Jack’s gift. He’d put it in a bag that proudly pronounces Jack’s age, and stuffed it with tissue paper. Jack rips through the paper like a hurricane, and pulls out twenty different sets of earrings.

“I wanted you to have some variety,” Castiel explains. Jack pokes at the multicolored puffballs and glittery stars, before toying a bit with the piercing in his ear. He sends Jack a small prayer conveying how much he loves him, and Jack beams up at him. “I hope this is acceptable.”

“Can you help me put these ones in?” Jack asks, pointing to a pair of disco balls. Castiel nods, and does so.

At some point during the night, in between sips of beer and throwing the cake into the bin, Jack excuses himself up to his bedroom. “I wanna show my friends all the stuff I got,” he explains, and goes on a twenty minute long tangent explaining Max and Stacy’s Riverdale opinions and how Claire met Eliot once and nearly scared him to death before remembering what he was going to do and racing up the stairs to his room, presents in tow.

Castiel feels himself begin to wane, his throat itching for smoke and his nerves frayed. He excuses himself from the conversation at hand—something about okamis that Eileen and Sam have been bickering about for a month on and off—and journeys up to his bedroom to retrieve a carefully rolled joint and a lighter. Next door, he can hear Jack talking loudly and enthusiastically about his presents, and smiles.

He opts to go outside to smoke tonight. It’s a beautiful night, and the house with this many people inside feels slightly stifling. He makes his way to the dock, letting the water rock him back and forth as he stares out at the stars. He flicks the lighter once, twice, then watches the cherry grow bright orange.

He’s taken a few puffs, content to listen to the bats fly between the trees and the conversation of crickets, before he feels the dock rock under someone else’s weight.

Sam stands next to him, hands in his pockets. “Can I?” he asks, gesturing to the joint. Castiel gives it to him, and watches as Sam carefully inhales before passing it back. “That’s, um…” He fights back a cough. “Wow, that’s strong. I haven’t smoked since college.”

Castiel hums. “I highly recommend it.”

“Yeah, I bet you would,” Sam says with a snort.

They go on like this, passing the joint back and forth. Castiel likes the easy conversation he can have with Sam, neither of them expecting much from each other. Sam asks a couple questions about the warding on the Omnaturge , Castiel answers. Castiel asks about Sam’s ongoing campaign for more demon-killing knives, and Sam explains his process.

"I have a secret,” Sam says eventually, breaking the rhythm. “But you can't tell Dean. I know you're, uh..."

Castiel frowns. "That I'm what?"

Sam looks at him like he might break, which confuses Castiel even further. "I know, Cas,” he says, putting an emphasis on every word. “About your deal with Empty. And I...I overheard you say it to Dean, a while back."

"Oh.” Cas blinks. “I don't understand the look on your face. It wasn't like I was trying to hide it."

Sam flounders. "I'm...I'm trying to be supportive, here."

"Then you are doing a terrible job."

"Whatever,” Sam says, sounding disappointed. “And I'm sorry."

"What for?"

"I mean, correct me if I'm wrong,” Sam says, hands in a placating gesture, “but it seems like you got the raw end of the deal here. Dean's not exactly the best with feelings."

Castiel supposes that is true. He should agree, if not to find some passive aggressive satisfaction in doing so, but his heart’s not in it. He loves Dean too much.

"That may be true,” he concedes, handing Sam the joint, “but he does feel fiercely. And even if he may not be romantically inclined towards me, to have his friendship is itself a privilege so few get to experience."

Sam blows out smoke with a laugh. "Wow. Dean does not deserve you."

Castiel snatches the joint back from him. It’s nearing the end of it’s lifespan, the smoke harsh on his throat. "I take offense to that,” he responds hoarsely, and snuffs it out on the surface of the dock. "What did you want to tell me? Your secret?"

"What?” Sam asks, then starts. “Oh! Yeah, wow, this stuff is hitting me hard. Um.” He smiles. “I'm going to ask Eileen to marry me."

"Congratulations,” Castiel says, unsure if that’s the correct response.

Sam continues, excitement and nervous energy bursting out of him. "Yeah. I mean, we've talked about it a lot. And with everything going on back at the bunker, the way everything seems to be kind of...settling. I don't know. It just feels right. I don't think I've ever felt so lucky in my life and I kinda wanna...feel this way forever, y'know?"

Castiel smiles. "I know."

Sam shakes his head. "I would've told Dean first, but I just...I dunno, I’m excited and I—I actually have the ring here, if you wanna see it." Castiel nods, and Sam pulls out a small black box. Inside is a silver claddagh ring, the heart a small diamond cupped between two hands. Sam keeps looking between the ring and Castiel, slightly bashful.

Castiel feels a wave of affection. "Eileen will love it."

"You think so?" Sam asks, a smile forming on his face. Castiel nods. He inspects the ring himself for a moment, before closing the box. "I also...I'm kinda worried, that if I tell Dean he'll take it badly. It’s just been us for so long, and I...I don’t know."

"He'll be happy for you,” Castiel says. “I know he will."

"Thanks, Cas,” Sam says, and slips the box back into his pocket. He stares out at the landscape beyond. "This place is actually pretty beautiful, when the world isn’t ending."

Castiel hums in agreement, and the two of them listen to the water.

"I have an important question to ask you,” Eileen says/signs from the armchair.

She and Dean now exist in that fantastic place between tipsy and all-out drunk, a place Dean had forgotten in favor of drowning his liver. They’ve mostly been playing a loose game of Never Have I Ever, mixed with telling embarrassing stories about Sam.

Dean grins from the floor, and signs back. "Shoot."

Eileen purses her lips, then shifts in her seat. "Me and Sam have a date planned for when we get back, and—"

"Don't take him to see a kid's movie,” Dean interrupts. “He'll bawl every time."

"I wasn't finished."


"—and I have something very big planned. Very big." She looks at him expectantly, and signs two hands clasping together. Dean blinks, and she sighs. "Dean, I want to ask for Sam's hand in marriage."

Dean feels his brain sober. "You're going to propose to him?" he asks.

She shrugs. "Someone's gotta do it."

"Holy sh*t,” Dean says, the gears in his brain working on overdrive.

Sam’s girlfriend is going to propose to him. Sam’s going to say yes, obviously. He’d be a moron if he didn’t. Sam’s gonna get married .

Dean thinks back all those years, back to when he’d picked Sam up fresh from Stanford. I was gonna ask Jess to marry me . Then everything in between—Madison, Ruby, Amelia. Rowena, too, Dean thinks, but he’s been too afraid to ask. And now here’s Eileen, back from the dead and awesome and Dean feels his eyes begin to prick a little.

"Is that a yes or a no?" Eileen asks, waving to get his attention.

Dean shakes himself out of his reverie. He can cry later, or preferably never. "Hell yeah it's a yes,” he tells her. “Are you kidding me? You're the best. Like, way out of Sam's league."

Eileen snorts. "Okay, you're talking about my future husband here."

"Whatever. Brother privileges." He points at her. “You better make an honest woman out of him.”

Eileen does an ‘x’ motion over her chest. “I’ll do my best.”

The sound of a door creaking open turns Dean’s attention to the front of the house, where Sam and Cas shuffle in. Both stop once they see Dean and Eileen’s eyes on them, Sam slightly more wide-eyed than Cas. Dean’s suddenly hit with a powerful wave of skunk coming off of them.

He whistles, waving a hand in front of his face. Sam shoots him a look while Eileen snickers. “You two potheads going upstairs to listen to Pink Floyd and talk about the universe?"

Cas glares at him. "Your perception of what happens under weed consumption continues to astound me."

"Whatever,” Dean says.

Cas sighs and glances up at the stairs. “I am going to go to bed,” he announces, then looks at Dean. “Will you be joining me?”

Dean feels heat climb up his face, and only continues to look at Cas so he won’t see the sh*t-eating grin on Sam’s face. He holds onto some far-flung hope that if he looks at Cas long enough, the dude will backtrack. Cas holds his ground. Dean swallows. “Gimme a few minutes,” he stutters out.

Cas, the stubborn bastard, smiles and makes his way up the stairs. Dean looks up at the ceiling. Maybe if he doesn’t say anything, it’ll all just go away.

“Wow,” Sam says, because Dean can’t have nice things.

Dean looks at him, grin and all, and points. “Don’t—”

Wow .”

“It’s purely practical, Sam, don’t mix stuff up,” Dean argues. Sam’s eyes focus on something over his shoulder, and Dean turns around to see Eileen tapping two v-shaped hands together. “Oh, come on. Eileen, what’s—” He gestures the sign back to her poorly. “What’s this?”

Eileen raises an eyebrow. “Do you really want to know?” she asks, and Sam bursts out laughing.

“I—screw this,” he says, and stands up. He beelines for the stairs, not looking at either of them. “Happy Birthday, Sam. I’m going to bed.”

“Tell Cas I said goodnight!” Sam calls out, and Dean flips him off as he makes his way upstairs.

The light is already out in Cas’s room when he gets there, and Dean changes into his pajamas before finally collapsing onto the bed with a sigh. The window’s still open, but the cool night air is welcome for once. He can hear the crickets outside. Downstairs, Eileen laughs at something.

“Damn good party,” Dean says, and hears Cas hum next to him. “You have a good time?”

“Mm. An excellent time,” Cas replies sleepily. Dean turns to look at him.

Dean’s supposed to be pissed at him, but he’s too damn adorable like he is now: hair ruffled, half buried in the covers. In the dark, Dean can just make out his half-shut eyes staring at him. “Good,” Dean says, a smile on his face, and promptly falls asleep.

A couple days after his birthday, Jack finds himself pulling up weeds. The gloves Cas gave him are slightly too large, and there’s a large hole on one of the knuckles. Jack supposes he could just fix it, or give himself new gloves, but he finds that he likes the little inconveniences. It’s what makes for a genuine human experience.

There are many things that Jack is experiencing right now, dimensions that he’s yet to fully grasp full of sound and light and waves. There used to be more, when he was God. Almost to a frightening degree. There’s very little that remembers of his tenure, except for how loud everything was. He prefers the dimension he’s in right now, the quiet easiness of him and Cas pulling up small, one-root weeds and smoothing over the soil.

“How do you know which plants are the bad ones?” he asks.

Cas shrugs. “Growing spots, leaf patterns. Nothing’s ever certain, though.”

Jack nods, and takes that wisdom into account as he combs through the seedling patch. “I think I might have pulled up a couple good ones,” he admits. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Cas tells him, and leans in as if to admit a secret. “I’ve done that a few times myself.”

From the driveway, there’s the sound of an engine revving. Dean is under the hood of Sam’s minivan, a constant stream of jokes coming out of his mouth. Yesterday, as promised, he let Jack drive Baby as they made a trip to the grocery store, where he let Jack buy a set of ice-cube trays that make the ice cubes look like dolphins and pink Crystal Light.

Jack looks at Cas, who is looking at Dean sadly. Jack knows they’ve been arguing—they’ve been trying to hide it, but Jack’s hearing is good.

He thinks it’s kind of dumb for them to be fighting. Couples fight all the time—he’s seen Claire and Kaia get into it multiple times, and Max and Stacy once stopped talking to each other for a whole week. He’s even seen Sam and Eileen fight about whether or not they’re going on a risky hunt. Fights are dumb in general, in Jack’s opinion. When you look at someone, look at their soul, you find out what they really mean, even if they’re saying the opposite.

Take Dean, for instance. He keeps acting like he doesn’t love Cas, even though his soul’s got marks all up Cas’s arms and face. Almost like handprints, but not quite. Dean has a habit for leaving them wherever he goes.

And Cas, for all that he’s acting like he doesn’t care, has his soul reaching out to Dean like it’s a magnet. Dean is nearly covered in marks from Cas’s soul, so much that sometimes Jack has to switch to human vision if he wants to see anything.

Jack pulls at another weed, and realizes that it’s a seedling. “I did it again,” he says. “Sorry.”

Cas nods. “It’s okay. I’m sure in a couple weeks you’ll be excellent at this.”

Guilt claws at Jack’s throat. He was hoping he wouldn’t have to tell Cas any of this, but he supposes they do communicate differently now. Cas will still send him prayers, little sensations and concepts he thinks Jack will enjoy. Here’s the feeling of the sun on a cold day , the prayers say. Here’s the smell of my hands after I prune the tomato plants, here is a song I think you would like . Jack will occasionally visit Cas’s dreams, if they aren’t too busy. They’ll walk on beaches Jack has never been to and talk about their days. But it isn’t like before, where Jack could feel one thing and Cas would immediately feel it as well. He misses it.

“Cas,” Jack says. “I’m...I don’t think I’m ready to move here yet.” Cas frowns, and stops pulling weeds. “It’s not that I don’t miss you, or that I don’t appreciate all that you’ve done here. I do, I really do. But I...I’m not used to this place being nice, yet. I will! One day, but not yet.” He sighs. “And I...I’d miss my friends. Max and Stacy and Eliot are going to college in August, and I—I want to spend as much time with them as I can before they leave. And with Jody and the girls. I know I could fly to meet them, but…”

He tries to think about his next set of words. “I want to do things the human way. When I was God, there was so much that was happening. Everything was simple, but so complicated. And I think I like it when things are complicated, but simple. Does that make any sense?”

Cas stares at him a moment, eyes sad, before nodding. “I understand, Jack,” he says, even though his soul is beginning to sulk around him.

Jack frowns. “You’re lying,” he says.

Cas nods. “Yes, and no. I am...sad, that you won’t be moving in, but I understand that it’s what you need, and I respect it.”

He’s much sadder than he lets on. “Everyone leaves for college in August. Maybe I’ll move in then,” he suggests, and smiles. He could live here in August, he thinks, just when the seasons are about to change. He likes to imagine the house will feel different, when it becomes fall and it starts to rain again. He’s never seen it rain here.

Cas smiles. “I like that idea very much,” he says. “And if you ever do want to stay here, even for a night, your room will always be open.”

There is a small prayer, then, sent his way. Here’s me remembering how much I love you and how proud I am of you , it says. A simple smile passes between Jack and Cas, they return to the weeds.

Sam’s Mom-mobile is packed up and ready to go. Sam keeps giving Dean sh*t for the name, but if it walks like a duck and drives like a duck, etc. Jack is hugging Cas while Eileen loads the last bag into the car. Dean got the news yesterday, and it hurts him a little, but Cas is right. Besides, August is prime beach season, and Dean’s got some plans for when Jack comes to live here.

Sam lumbers out of the house and next to Dean in the front yard, hands in his pockets and face nervous. "Hey,” he says. “So, before we go I actually have some news to share with you."

"Please tell me you're finally getting a haircut,” Dean says, and Sam rolls his eyes.

"No,” he says. Dean notices one of Sam’s hands moving in his pocket, fidgeting with something. He looks around before pulling out a small black box. “Um...when we get back to Kansas, I'm going to take Eileen on a date, to that restaurant we went to before the world almost ended."

Oh god. This cannot be going where he thinks it's going. Real life isn’t this serendipitous. "Okay," he says, and tries to play the fool.

"And I'm going to propose to her."

It turns out life can be this serendipitous, even without the hack writer. Dean steels himself, tries to put on a face of surprise. "You are?"

Sam smiles sheepishly and opens the box, revealing a small silver ring, hands clasping a diamond heart. He lets Dean look at it a moment before putting it back in his pocket and shrugging happily. “Yeah, I just. I think this is it, Dean. I really do. After all we’ve been through, this kind of happiness, I—I think it’s gonna be alright this time with her, y’know?” His voice catches on that last bit, and Dean’s never been so glad to see Sam emotional.

Eileen’s revelation to him a few days ago suddenly hits him like a ton of bricks. Sammy’s getting married . His little brother, who went to Hell and back, whose life has been such a constant sh*tshow even when Dean tried his best to make it better, is finally happy . He’s going to have a wedding and a reception and he’s going to be able to do dorky married sh*t, and Dean’s going to be able to witness all of it.

"Well sh*t, Sammy,” he says, and finds himself choking on a lump in his throat. His vision goes a bit blurry on the edges, and when he wipes at his eyes his hands come away wet.

Sam leans down, a smile on his face. "Are...” he says. “Are you crying?"

Dean waves him away. "Shut up, I'm.” He takes a breath in, looks his brother in the face, and beams. “f*ck, I'm so proud of you, man."

"Really?” Sam asks. “You aren't...?"

"What else would I be, Sam?” Dean asks. He laughs and throws his arms out wide. “My little brother’s getting married!"

Sam smacks his arms back down and shushes him. "She hasn't said yes, Dean. I haven't even asked."

Dean has to bite down on saying she’s proposing to you, too, you moron . God, he feels like walking on air a little bit. Things in life never turn out this good. "Right, right,” he says, trying to be serious and failing. “Of course."

Sam looks at him a moment, face sobering. “And, uh...” he starts.

“And what, Sam?” Dean asks.

Sam looks around again, before looking Dean square in the eye. “Can I give you some advice?” Dean nods, not knowing where this is going. “With everything that’s going on with Cas...if there’s anything I’ve learned, especially in the last few months, it’s that when something’s good, you gotta hold tight to it, man. Like, even when it’s terrifying.”

Dean doesn’t really know what to do with that. I’m the older brother , he thinks, shouldn’t I be the one handing out advice? But Sam’s always been looking out for him like that, Dean realizes. He nods and pulls him into a hug, patting him on the back. “Call me when she says yes, Sam.”

Sam pulls away and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, love you too, jerk.”

“Bitch,” Dean responds. Sam heads to the car, turns on the engine. All three of them wave from inside, and Dean and Cas watch from their separate places as the Mom-mobile turns back onto the road and disappears through the trees.

“Don’t,” Dean tells Castiel the next morning. It’s the first words either have said to each other since everyone left, opting for calm quiet after days of a full and noisy house.

Castiel lifts his head up the counter, sleep still fogging his perceptions. “What?”

Dean fiddles with his coffee mug. “If you ever feel like you have to die for me again, fine. Whatever. I can’t stop you. But don’t. You’re worth more than that.” Castiel moves to argue, but Dean puts a hand up. Lowers it, slowly, then looks Castiel dead in the eye. “I’d do it, too. I would, I hope you know that.” Castiel feels a chill run down his spine. Even the thought of Dean dying for him is terrifying. Dean swallows. “But I won’t. For you, I won’t. So don’t.”

Castiel can’t promise that. He can never promise that. “Dean,” he says. “That’s not—”

Dean holds a hand out again. “Nope,” he says. “No more. No more fighting.” He shakes his head. “Man, I hate it when we fight.”

Castiel thinks back to the last time they fought— truly fought. The lonely hours out on the road, Dean’s prayer. “Me too,” he says.

“Then we agree,” Dean says, and smiles. “Awesome.”

Castiel smiles, and watches as Dean turns around to grab a mug out of the cabinet. On the counter, his cell phone buzzes. It’s a picture of Jack, next to a sign that reads ‘PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD’ in big red letters. He’s giving a peace sign.

Jack: sam said you’d think this was funny, so here ya go!

It’s a lovely picture, even if it does make Castiel feel sad. He stares at it a little more, sends an emoji of a man holding a child, an emoji of two hearts circling each other, a face with a single tear attached to it, and a thumbs up. He hopes it accurately portrays his emotional state.

Jack’s reply is quick.

Jack: i miss you, too. i’ll come visit soon, tho!

Jack proceeds to send five different hearts of varying colors. Castiel smiles at it sadly, only looking up when he hears a loud thunk.

“I think this house needs a deck,” he says, pulling one of Castiel’s favorite mugs down. It’s got foxgloves on it.

“Really?” Castiel asks, still staring at the phone. Dean turns back to face him, pouring out a hefty cup of coffee.

“I just was thinking, y’know, once people start coming over more, it would be nice to have a deck,” Dean continues. “Put out a barbecue and some lawn chairs, maybe even a table. Dinner outside hits different, man, I’ll tell you that.”

Castiel hums in response. “It would be nice,” he considers.

“Yeah?” Dean asks, eyes alight and smile wide. He slides Castiel’s mug to him over the counter, until it is near equal from his phone.

Oh. Something warm climbs up Castiel’s chest. He tamps down on the urge to kiss him, then. It’s not even 8AM yet.

“Yes,” Castiel replies softly. “And much appreciated.”

Dean swallows. “Awesome,” he says, quietly. He then looks around and scratches at his head. “You want eggs?”

“I would eat anything you fed me,” Castiel responds honestly.

Dean stops scratching and, a moment later, snorts. “Yeah, alright,” he says, and pulls out the pan. Castiel watches him, and so it goes.

Chapter 7: june


It’s three in the goddamn morning, Claire and Kaia are busy stabbing someone in their front yard, and Dean’s having a sexuality crisis.

Chapter Text

Their first hunter shows up at 3 in the goddamn morning.

Dean should’ve seen it coming. Sam and Eileen are in a pre-honeymoon honeymoon period at the moment (because of course they said yes to each other, and spent the entire announcement call being teeth-achingly schmoopy about it. Apparently Eileen was the first to go down on one knee, so Cas owes Dean five bucks), and as a pre-wedding gift Cas and Dean have been taking the call overflow for the past couple weeks. They’ve accounted for it. What they did not account for is a midnight housecall.

Dean is having a wonderful dream—hands, lips, and he thinks there might be leather chaps involved at some point—when the knocking wakes him up. His hand immediately reaches for his pistol, only for him to realize it’s downstairs. Stupid, he realizes. He’s gone soft. Also, it’s currently gripping Cas’s bare upper arm, because Cas has elected to go shirtless in the hotter weather. Layers are uncomfortable when you’re able to sweat, he’d explained simply. Half of the covers are also kicked off.

Sitting up, he uses his hand to shake Cas awake. The knocking continues, even more insistent. “Hey,” Dean says. “Wake up.”

Cas sits up as well, eyebrows pinched. There’s a shared look between the two of them. Dean can’t exactly pray to the guy anymore, but the message is conveyed nonetheless. You grab the angel blade, I’ll grab the pistol, it says. Cas nods, and two minutes later they’ve got their weapons behind their backs and the door is shaking from the force of whoever’s knocking.

Dean opens the door. On the other side is Kaia, sporting a few cuts and bruises. “Hey,” she says, slightly out of breath. “Either of you two know how to kill a siren?”

Dean blinks. “What?”

“Siren, dude, come on,” she says. “It’s kind of urgent. The thing’s trying to punch a hole through our trunk.” To make her point, she gestures to the sh*tty Ford Taurus in the driveway, lights still on. It keeps rocking back and forth, punctuated by muffled yelling. Dean watches an equally beat-up Claire trying to hold the car in place.

From behind him, Cas sighs. “I’ll go grab the bronze knife,” he says solemnly, then retreats back inside the house.

The moment shifts slightly, Kaia eyeing the gun in Dean’s hands. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, he tucks his gun into the waistband of his boxers. He wipes his hands on the front of his shirt and looks at her again. “So,” he says, and finds he’s got nothing to talk about.

Kaia lets out a long, exhausted breath. “So.” She looks at him a moment, frowning, before looking over his shoulder, where Cas is filing through a pile of boxes stacked up in the hallway. “I wasn’t—we’re not, like, interrupting anything, are we?”

Dean frowns. “What do you—”

From behind him, there’s the sound of something crashing to the ground, and Cas swearing in Enochian. A moment later, Cas returns with a curved bronze knife, fingers wrapped around the ornate hilt. “Stab it in the heart with this,” he says, handing it over to her. “And return it, when you are able. We have a limited supply.”

Dean looks at him and Cas. Cas is still shirtless, and they’re both wearing their underwear sans pajama pants. He doesn’t know what he looks like exactly, but Cas’s hair is stuck up at odd angles and his face is still blotchy red from sleep.

“Ah,” Dean says, letting out an embarrassed laugh. “No, no, that’s not—not happening.”

“What’s not happening?” Cas asks.

“She thinks we—that we’re…” He fights back an exhausted groan. “Sleeping. Together. Us.”

“Oh,” Cas says, then tilts his head to the side. “We were attempting to sleep, yes.” He turns to look at Dean directly. “I suppose now is as good a time as any to tell you that you woke me several times before this with your kicking.”

Kaia’s looking at the ground now, tossing the knife between her hands and holding back a smile. “Man, Claire owes me thirty bucks now.”

“Thirty—” Dean starts, but is quickly interrupted by Claire yelling, “Kaia! What’s the hold up?”

Everybody seems to snap back into action mode, Kaia gripping the knife steadily by the hilt. “Right,” she says. “Hunting.”

“Will you need any assistance?” Cas asks.

“I think we got this handled, but we’ll shout if we need anything,” she says, then smiles. “And, uh. Congrats, Cas.”

Cas frowns, but Kaia’s running back towards the car before anybody can say anything. Dean drags them both back inside, shutting the door. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll get the coffee started, you put a shirt on.”

Cas looks down at himself and frowns. “But I’m comfortable,” he says.

“Don’t care, no one else needs to see your nipples except for me,” Dean argues, and cringes internally. Cas, however, just nods and heads back upstairs.

Dean makes himself busy by putting on a pot of coffee and keeping an ear out for sounds of distress. Kaia’s comment has him reeling a little bit, if only because it’s one remark in a long line of remarks that Dean’s heard over the years. People have made their assumptions about him—he knows his dad was always worried that he was too soft to hunt, and he’s gotten more than enough innuendo from front desk managers whenever he asks for a queen bed. And he knows people have always made certain comments about Cas to him. He was your boyfriend first, the angel in the trenchcoat that’s in love with you, and so on. At the time he’d just been confused a bit, something flipping low in his stomach, but hindsight’s 20/20 he guesses.

This feels different, though. This is someone they know looking at the two of them and immediately going oh, yeah alright. First with Mona, then with Sam, and now Kaia. And there’s such an air of surety about it that he can’t really ignore. He knows they’re two guys living in the same house, but he wonders if there’s something he’s doing that’s putting that energy out there. Or maybe it’s Cas’s doing, his apparent love for Dean so obvious people just fill in the blanks.

But what is it, though, that actually makes people assume so quickly? Do they act like a couple? Dean tries to picture couple-y things: romantic dates by candlelight, walking by the beach, picnics in the park. He can’t imagine them doing any of that stuff.

Or—no, he could see them having a picnic in the park. It’s their backyard though, in this fantasy. Cas would probably insist on going to the farmer’s market beforehand to stock up—he’s been pointedly showing Dean ads for when they open next week—and they’d be out on the deck Dean’s been drawing up schematics for. They’d probably just talk about their day like normal, only they’d be hovering over a dumb little picnic basket. Cas would still eat his food in an order that only makes sense to him, and Dean would be splitting his attention between listening to Cas and fixing the stray hairs that fall on his forehead.

The thought comes so fully formed that Dean doesn’t notice the water overflowing in the coffee pot. He swears, turns off the tap, and pours out the excess. He fills up the water tank in the coffee maker, puts a couple scoops of coffee grounds into the filter, and let’s the machine do the rest of the work.

Cas comes back into the kitchen, shirt on this time. This one fits a little tight and says “Life is Good” under a cartoon dog. His hair’s fallen onto his forehead, and Dean makes a move to sweep them away. Cas lets him, and Dean remembers the picnic fantasy he was having just a minute ago. He drops his hand and turns to pull mugs out of the cupboard instead.

Cas says something, and Dean turns to face him. Man, he’s close. Dean can feel his breath on his shoulder. Do they always stand so close? Is that one of the reasons people keep mistaking them for a couple?

Cas is staring at him. Cas does that a lot, and Dean usually stares right back. Is that the other thing? He can’t help it if Cas is an easy guy to stare at—and he kind of likes it when Cas is doing that intense, all-or-nothing gaze at him. It hits him low in the gut, like it does now. It—wait, is he turned on right now? Is that what’s happening?

“Dean?” Cas asks, frowning. Dean starts.

“What?” He clears his throat. “Sorry, I, uh. I spaced out.”

“I said we need to go to the laundromat soon,” Cas tells him. He shifts uncomfortably. “I dislike this shirt. It’s stifling.”

“I like it just fine,” Dean says, eyes caught on Cas’s torso for a moment before looking literally anywhere else. It’s 3AM. It’s three in the goddamn morning, Claire and Kaia are busy stabbing someone in their front yard, and Dean’s having a sexuality crisis.

Cas opens his mouth to say something, but a commotion from outside has them turning their heads and racing towards the front door.

When they get out front, Claire’s on the ground with her nose busted in, and Kaia’s got a bloody fist around the handle of the knife. The siren, who looks like Kaia’s long-lost older sister, lunges. Kaia in action is all practicality, immediately going for a stab in the gut. Nothing happens when she pulls the knife back out. The siren goes in for the punch, but Kaia manages to clock her in time. It hits the ground, and stays down.

Dean runs over to her, Cas following behind and pinning the siren in place. Passed out, it’s starting to...Dean guesses the only word is “transform”, but it’s much grosser than that. It’s skin is bubbling, for Christ’s sake.

Kaia looks at them with wide eyes. “It didn’t work!” she says. “Claire went to stab it and nothing happened, and then it spat on her and now she’s all...all…”

They hear a groan from behind them, and see Claire unsteadily standing on two feet, a murderous look in her eye. She spits a bit of the blood that’s congealed onto the grass, and starts walking towards them.

“Dean,” Cas says, looking on with horror, “the blood.”

“The blood?” Dean’s memory jogs a little. “f*ck, the blood. The knife needs to be dipped in the blood of someone who's been whammied.”

Kaia stares at him. “You didn’t think to mention that?”

“It’s the middle of the night, kid,” Dean snaps. “I can’t even think straight.” He shakes his head. “Look, just—” Kaia seems to be two steps ahead of him, looking down at her bloody fist and wiping it on the knife with a grimace. “Yeah, okay. I’ll hold off Claire.”

Claire’s not doing so hot, her steps dedicated but small. Dean gets himself in front of her, holding his hands up. “Claire, come on, now. You don’t want to do this. You don’t wanna hurt any of us—or, no, that’s a lie. But you don’t wanna hurt Kaia, right?”

“Kaia left,” Claire argues, a hazy lilt in her voice. “Everybody leaves, all the time. They die or get possessed or just plain forget about me.” Her eyes flick over Dean’s shoulder, where Cas has the siren pinned down. “But she won’t. She’s forever.”

“She’s not a real person, Claire,” Dean argues. “Now, come on, let’s just—”

“Oh, f*ck off, old man.”

That throws Dean for a loop. “Old man?”

She lunges at him, all nails and teeth. Dean does his best at playing pure defense, hoping against hope that Cas and Kaia won’t take their time. They’re pretty evenly matched: what Claire lacks in height and expertise she makes up for in pure energy and stubbornness. He blocks her hits as they come, quick and scrappy. There’s a couple moments where it looks like she’s trying to bite him, for f*ck’s sake.

She gets in a hit, right on his jaw, and another to his stomach. It looks like she might get him a third time when there’s a wet snick behind them.

Claire stops suddenly, blinking once, twice. “sh*t,” she says. Her raised fist goes down to her nose, pulling away bloody. She stares down at it, then behind the both of them. Dean turns, and sees Cas and Kaia covered in arterial splatter, a dead siren sitting between them. “sh*t.”

Ten minutes later, Dean’s rinsing off the knife while Cas grumbles about laundry and doles out the coffee in a line. Kaia’s cleaning up Claire’s face, murmuring apologies to her as Claire murmurs apologies right back. There’s bloody tissues all over the counter now, along with the ransacked first aid kit. That’s not even counting the body that’s propped up against the side of the house, or the dirty boot prints that run a line down the hall.

Dean feels the ghost of Bobby possess him for a moment. Friggin’ idjits making a mess all over the damn place.

He hands Claire her mug, placing it next to Kaia’s. She smiles bitterly. “Thanks,” she says. “Sorry for trying to bite you.”

He waves it off. “Don’t be too harsh on yourself,” he says. “Sirens are nasty. Sam and I dealt with one years back and it was…” He whistles, then shakes his head.

Claire nods, and proceeds to take a sip of coffee as Kaia continues to dote on her. It’s adorable, and Dean should be focusing on that, but instead he finds himself remembering that hunt all those years back. Siren’s are kind of a one-trick pony, he realizes. They only know how to do one thing, and Dean’s beginning to suspect that he probably wasn’t looking for brotherly love when he got whammied. And that just opens up a whole new line of thought, about other guys. Like Aaron, or Benny, or that one guy Dean met in Pasadena who wore a Stetson and called him darling.

It’s a dangerous line of thought, and he’s thankful for the twinge at his jaw that pulls him out of it. He winces, rubbing at the tender spot.

Cas tuts and pulls a bag of frozen peas out of the fridge, placing it on Dean’s jaw. Dean takes it, their hands overlapping briefly in the exchange. “Thanks,” he says. And because Cas is standing so close again—which Dean is simply not thinking about—he notices there’s still some blood spray on the guy’s temple. “Uh, you got some—”

He gestures, and Cas swipes at it, getting some of it but not all. “Here,” Dean says, and takes the washcloth from the sink to wipe the rest away. “All good now.”

Cas smiles. “Thank you,” he says.

When Dean gets his eyes on Claire and Kaia again, they’re both staring. “Oh my god,” Claire says, “I owe you thirty bucks.”

Cas shoots them a confused look. “I don’t understand.”

Dean, unable to take this any longer, intervenes. “Look, it’s been a long night. We’ve still got a body to bury. You two staying over?”

The two of them share a look, seemingly communicating without words, before Claire says, “Yeah, we’ll stay.”

“Great,” he says, and claps his hands. “Alright, you two stay here and get yourselves settled. There’s an air mattress in the closet, make sure to clean up your mess out here. Cas and I will take care of the body.”

The rest of the night goes without much of a hitch. They take the body a couple miles out, to a clearing nobody’s going to think twice about, and bury it in a shallow grave. Neither of them talk, too tired to keep conversation but not tired enough to stop going through the motions. When they get back, the girls are passed out on the floor, Claire having wrapped herself around Kaia like a squid. Kaia doesn’t seem to mind, her arm wrapped loosely around Claire’s back.

Dean clicks his tongue. “Ah, young love,” he says, and doesn’t think about his own hand wrapped around Cas’s arm earlier that night. It’s late, he’s sleep deprived.

Him and Cas take turns showering off grave dirt, finally settling into bed, and Dean doesn’t think about it. In the morning he wakes up next to Cas, feeling disappointed that they’re not touching, and Dean doesn’t think about it. He spends the morning making everybody breakfast, ignoring Claire and Kaia’s comments from the previous night, and doesn’t think about it. They send them off with a couple extra knives and a next first aid kit, Kaia apologizing again for “interrupting” them last night, and Dean doesn’t think about it.

“That was nice,” Cas says on their front doorstep. “We should have them over again.” He’s still got on that stupid “Life is Good” t-shirt, all sleep-mussed and turning pink in the early sun, and Dean continues to not think about it for the rest of the day.

The weather gets warmer and warmer. This is a boon for the plants, which thrive and grow thicker and fuller by the day. Not so much for Castiel.

His first time as a human, he thought that being cold was the worst thing that could happen to you. Muscles shivering involuntarily, the crawling numbness. And when he was an angel he found comfort in layers, in the same way a warrior finds comfort in his armor. There was shelter there.

Now, he’s human and owns a house, and he’s beginning to realize that while being too cold is horrible, being too hot is invariably worse. At least with the cold he could bundle up, or find a warm fire. In the humidity of a global-warming-themed June, the heat is inescapable. They are currently in the middle of the 5-7 business days it takes to ship in an air conditioning unit, and all the while Castiel resists the urge to tear his own skin off.

Dean hasn’t been complaining much. Dean has been spending most of his time outside, building the deck. The bones of it are complete now, a 12”x14” rectangle with unsanded edges and the promise of railing. Castiel will watch Dean as he hums along to a song on the radio, wearing nothing but a pair of tan shorts while his freckles grow darker in the sunlight. When dinner rolls around, sometimes he elects to keep the shirt off, putting his back and shoulders on full display. Castiel is averse to looking away.

“I’ve long understood why Eve could not resist the apple,” he says one night, praying to a group of skipper bugs that glide across the surface of the water. He pulls sweet smoke into his lungs, let’s it fall out of his mouth. “It is...enticing, to see something so perfect and ready for consumption.”

The skipper bugs offer no dialogue, choosing instead to jump at the slightest disturbance in the water. Castiel shrugs. “I cannot blame her for choosing to take a bite,” he confesses. “If anything, I am envious of the ease with which she did so.”

To put it in a way that’s less theological and long-winded: he is perhaps the most sexually frustrated he has ever been. The last time he felt this debauched, he was in Rexford. He’s told Dean this story: the motel room, the weather channel, the wanting. What he hadn’t told him was how he spent a good amount of time in the motel shower pleasuring himself.

He finds his days punctuated with a low-grade simmer of arousal that only abates when he is adequately distracted. The calls from hunters continue to grow in volume—some of them people Castiel has had no interaction with before, others he knows well. A few even stop by the house during the day for a book or weapon they are in desperate need of. Anael calls once from the CIA cellphone, asks him if he wants to grab a croissant in St. Louis, and then hangs up when he says he is otherwise occupied.

Jack continues to text him photos of him wearing the various earrings Castiel gave him, as well as many pictures of him smiling with Max, Stacy, and Eliot. He also sends a photo of Claire smoking outside the bunker to Castiel, followed by a string of texts from Claire calling Jack a tattletale. Castiel and Kaia end up having to mediate the following fight that ensues through a FaceTime call that runs over two hours long.

The gardening club is a mixed bag. He has yet to host again, and as such enjoys viewing, and subsequently judging, the other women’s gardens (he really is surprised that Marge’s garden has survived, given her tendency to overwatering). However, Ettie has decided to invite herself over more often than not, and Castiel is soon learning that Ettie and Mona are a bonded pair. He does not mind it much—they are invariably wise and funny women—but their conversation is no match for Dean wandering in, sun-warm and smelling of sawdust, and calling Castiel sweetheart, even if it’s an act.

There are only so many showers one can take during the day, and as such Castiel finds his frustration bleeding into his dreams.

This is an alleyway that could be in any city in America. It smells mostly of gasoline and cigarette smoke, and beyond its limits a neon sign is advertising something. Castiel is not sure what. He is preoccupied at the moment.

Dean is warm in his hands. Castiel is hungry to touch wherever he can—his neck, his chest, his stomach. In between teeth-knocking kisses Castiel buries his face in Dean’s shoulder, nearing biting at his t-shirt as Dean quickly unbuckles Castiel’s belt, his hands dipping under his waistband.

“That’s right, sweetheart,” Dean pants in his ear. He pulls Castiel’s co*ck out of his pants, wrapping his hand around it. “That’s it, let go. Come on, Cas.”

Castiel bucks into Dean’s hand, pleasure humming low and desperate in his stomach. He feels a moan escape his lips, and resumes his exploration of Dean’s mouth in particular. He has no taste here, which is nigh tragic, but Dean’s moans make up for it. Castiel palms at Dean through his pants for a few moments before managing, through the hazy logic of dreams, to free Dean’s own co*ck without much preamble.

He draws back for a moment, teeth catching on Dean’s lip as he does so, to get a good look at him. His view is half-there, half-not, tripping between reality and dream. Still, he knows Dean is beautiful. He knows he is looking at Castiel with soft, begging eyes.

“Please,” he says. Castiel draws his hand up, then down. “Like that. Come on, please, Cas.”

And then Castiel wakes up.

It is a simple transition: one moment he and Dean are rutting up against each other in an alley, and the next moment Castiel is rutting up against Dean’s wayward thigh in a too-hot bed. Castiel chases the pleasure for a moment, then stutters to a stop as he opens his eyes.

Dean must have turned over too close in the middle of the night, the sheets a huddled mess towards the foot of the bed. The bottom of his thigh rests against the head of Castiel’s still-hard co*ck, his hand resting lightly on Castiel’s bare chest. He’s still sleeping peacefully on his stomach, his slow breath ghosting over Castiel’s shoulder.

Castiel lies as still as he possibly can, trying to will his erection away through sheer concentration. He attempts to count how many birds are outside by sound alone. He tries his hand at reorganizing his ever-growing collection of books in his head. He inhales, taking in Dean’s sleepy scent of musk mixed with leftover sunscreen, and forgets the other two things completely.

Closing his eyes and sighing, Castiel bites the bullet, so to speak. “Dean,” he says, his throat scratching.

“Mm,” Dean hums, and seems to pull himself in closer. His hand flexes, his nails scraping lightly across Castiel’s chest. Castiel comes to the conclusion that not only was Eve right to eat the apple, but that she had the restraint of a saint for not swallowing it whole.

Dean,” he tries again, louder this time.

Dean groans and turns his face into his pillow. “What, Cas? Come on, I’m tryin’a sleep.”

“I need you to move,” Castiel says. Dean opens his eyes slowly, realization dawning over him. His hand curls back to his own chest with a muttered apology. He slides his leg back an inch, the motion catching on Castiel’s erection. With a cut-off moan, Castiel grabs Dean’s thigh, halting any further motion. “Not...not like that.”

Dean frowns. “Not like…?” A second dawning realization seems to come over him, his eyes trending downward. “Oh.”

For a moment, they simply stare at the intersection of their bodies. Then, reluctantly, Castiel releases his grip on Dean’s thigh. “Yes,” Castiel says. Dean lifts his leg up this time, pivoting quickly to sit up. “I apologize.”

Dean’s face is flushed now, both legs pushed up to his chest. He shakes his head. “No, no, it’s…” He laughs, a little too high-pitched. “I mean everybody gets ‘em, right? I certainly do. Not, um. Not that I have one right now, of course because that would be…” Castiel watches Dean swallow. “...weird.”

The thought of Dean’s erection reminds Castiel of his dream, and he rides through another wave of arousal. He looks anywhere but at Dean. “This conversation isn’t helping.”

He can feel Dean’s eyes on him for a moment. “No, probably not,” he says, then clears his throat and gets off of the bed. “Well I’ll uh. Go get started on breakfast. Let you have some me-time. Or, you-time, since I’m not…” Another laugh. “I mean, what happens in that noggin of yours is none of my business. Obviously. So.”

When Castiel decides it is safe enough to look at Dean again, he’s got a nervous look on his face, dawdling in the doorway and absently rubbing his hands together. “Are you alright?”

Dean nods curtly. “Yeah, yeah. I’m just gonna...yeah.” With that, he exits the room, pulling the door completely closed.

Castiel lays there for a moment, taking in the warm sunlight and attempting to process what just happened. It was certainly ‘awkward’, a category he has begun to recognize now that embarrassment is a part of his emotional repertoire. He stretches slightly, feeling his erection catch against his boxers, and let’s the dream unfold over him again.

It has been a while since he’s been able to masturbat* in bed, and Dean has given him permission. His heartbeat pulsing loudly throughout his body, Castiel makes the snap decision to free his dick from his boxers, wrapping his hand around the shaft and giving it one, then two pulls. Closing his eyes, he imagines himself in the alleyway again, pressing sloppy kisses into Dean’s jaw and taking both of their erections in hand. A low moan stutters out of his lips.

Downstairs, Castiel hears the pipes groan awake, and the far-away woosh of water coming out of a shower head.

He turns over onto his stomach, his face close enough to Dean’s pillow that he can still smell him. In the fantasy, Dean now tastes of sunscreen, and Castiel is not one to complain. In the fantasy, Dean keens against him. In reality, Castiel ruts against his hand desperately, noise muffled by the pillow.

It doesn’t take long. In the alleyway, Dean pulls him in for a sloppy kiss, hums a needy noise into his mouth as he spills all over Cas’s hand. In reality, Cas feels his org*sm punch out of him, his thrusts frantic before slowing languidly, until he feels a little boneless and very, very sticky.

After catching his breath, he rears back and stares at the new stain he’s made. Ah, well. It’s laundry day, anyway.

Five minutes later, he’s bringing the laundry hamper and wadded up sheets downstairs to put next to the door. The kitchen is empty, and the shower is still running. Castiel takes only a moment to contemplate the sound, before one of the cellphones starts ringing in the kitchen.

Castiel picks it up. “Yes, this is Director Spears,” he says, and is so preoccupied with convincing a small-town sheriff to allow for access to a body that he doesn’t notice Dean finally exiting the bathroom fifteen minutes later than usual.

Dean’s not thinking about it. Even with the weird, morning-wood shower jack-*ff session slip-up, he’s not thinking about it. Not really.

“No, no,” Cas says into the phone, pinching his eyebrows. “That text is mistranslated, I can assure you. The counterspell itself is incredibly dubious. It could work, or it could remove you from your genitals.”

The two of them sit inside Cas’s 1995 Ford F150. It’s ugly as sin, bright turquoise with a white stripe going down the side, but Cas insisted on it when they were shopping through Craigslist. It’s also got an alternator that’s on the fritz, and currently working by carefully disconnecting the battery every time they turn it off. This was actually stated in the Craigslist ad, but again: Cas insisted.

They’re supposed to be driving into town for the new part, and some more wood for the deck that definitely won’t fit in the Impala, but right now they’re still stuck in the driveway. Cas is hunched over an ancient-looking book that smells like mothballs, and is getting increasingly frustrated.

“It could either be via explosion or implosion, the text isn’t specific about that part.” He sighs. “Either way, I highly advise against it.” A pause. “I don’t have anything at the moment that could help, no.” Another pause, longer. Dean can’t exactly hear the words being said, but from the look on Cas’s face they aren’t anything nice. Cas pulls the phone away, stares at it, for a second, and then hangs up.

Dean whistles. “Tough customer,” he says.

Cas sighs again, wedging the book into the side door compartment. “Indeed,” he says. He puts the car into reverse and pulls out of the driveway, out onto the main road.

Dean prefers to be the driver most days. It used to be that driving was the only thing in his life he had any ounce of control over, and now he just likes the feeling of it. Being in the passenger seat is still a pretty foreign concept to him. He keeps looking out the window and then feeling like he should keep his eyes on the road. With Cas, though, that urge is a little less. Dean looks at the way he grips the steering wheel, and feels his mind go blank. Okay, whatever. A crisis for another time.

The alternator pickup is easy enough, and the guy at the garage actually gives Dean a box of overstocked parts for him to use. Cas puts his Top Hits of 1983 tape into the deck, and slowly starts to brighten as the phone call becomes a distant memory. They pull into the hardware store blasting ‘Electric Avenue’, and Dean can’t even complain.

Entering the hardware store, they quickly go their separate ways: Cas to the garden section, and Dean to the lumber. Dean checks off his list in quick succession—at this point the kid working the saw knows him by name—and spends some of his time wandering the aisles. He grabs a few more odds and ends for the house, and even nabs one of those little rainbow pinwheels because he knows Cas will like it. It sticks up and out of the cart, and spins as he pushes the cart around.

He goes to the garden section to wrangle Cas, but doesn’t find him. He circles around twice, and while he’s looking for him he spots a couple terra cotta planter boxes. Cas is always happier when he’s gardening—he’s got a natural need to nurture—so putting some planter boxes on the nearly-complete deck railing couldn’t hurt. Yeah, that makes sense. Dean puts them in the cart as well.

Eventually, he finds Cas in the lighting section, staring up at the chandeliers and ceiling fans. He’s staring up at them, hands in his pockets. Dean feels his steps stutter to a stop. Maybe it’s the unearthly glow on Cas’s face, or maybe it’s something else entirely.

“Enjoying the view?” Dean asks, and is surprised by how soft his voice sounds. He abandons the cart and sidles up next to Cas.

A corner of Cas’s mouth ticks up. “They remind me of the human soul,” he tells him.

Dean looks up at all the lights. From this angle they look like fireflies stuck in time. “They all look like this?”

Cas shakes his head. “No,” he says. “Just yours.” He looks at Dean briefly for a minute, eyes alight, before turning back to the lights. “There’s a reason I fell for you the moment I saw it.”

Dean has to take a moment to process that. It’s...well, it’s certainly something. Sometimes he forgets that Cas had a front-seat ticket to his soul. He knows what it felt like when he was in Hell—flayed alive, hungry for blood. He follows Cas’s eyes towards the chandeliers. “Wow,” he says. “When you said ‘from the moment I met you’ I just thought you meant the time I shot you.”

Cas chuckles. “That, too. I had seen all the parts of you. I had assembled them myself, but it was a new kind of elation to see them in action.” Okay, that’s just unfair. How is Dean supposed to respond to that?

Looking at all the lights, Dean spies a porch light screwed into the bottom of the display wall. It’s rectangular in frame, a mix of yellow, orange, and green stained glass. It reminds Dean of the cabins they’d rent sometimes when they hunted up in the Rockies, and how after hours of hunting werewolves in the snow he’d see the light and instantly know a warm fire was within reach.

“That one’s you,” he tells Cas, pointing. Cas frowns, confused. “You’ve got a soul now, right?”

“It’s highly likely.”

“Okay, so,” he nods towards the porch light, “I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that’s what yours looks like.”

“Dean, we technically have no money. We’re committing excessive credit card fraud and embezzlement.”

“Oh, yeah, be louder about it, would you?” Dean asks. He rolls his eyes. “Just take the compliment, Cas.”

Cas looks at him a moment, his smile growing wider. He goes back to looking at the porch light, taking a step closer. He reaches out for it. Dean watches as Cas’s fingers graze the glass. He watches the curious look on his face. Cas’s head tilts to the side, eyes locked on.

Dean doesn’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the light on Cas’s face, or the way he seems to study Dean’s dumb arbitrary assignment like it’s gospel. Maybe it’s the smell of sawdust. Maybe it’s the way his hair is standing up today, or the way it looked yesterday, or a hundred days before that. Or, maybe, it’s just that he looks so much like himself. Maybe it’s a whole bunch of little things that have been piling up and up and up, and now Dean’s watching the inevitable avalanche.

Dean looks at Cas studying a porch light, fondness rising in his chest, and thinks Man, aren’t you the most lovable thing?

Dean tries not to think about it, and finds that he can’t. And it feels good to think about it, if only for a second—almost too good. Too good for him by far.

Cas stares at a display porch light. Dean stares at Cas, and realizes he’s maybe, possibly, a little bit in love with him. And then, with terrible clarity, thinks, Oh, f*ck.

Chapter 8: july


Castiel lets him, of course, because he loves him. For a moment, he remembers what it felt like to be a god.

Chapter Text

Dean has been acting odd.

Castiel doesn’t know when it began, but the behavior is certainly there. He often finds Dean staring out the window, or staring at the floor. Sometimes, even, he is staring at Castiel. He always has this look on his face, much like he’s experiencing an aggressive bowel movement. Castiel has asked, multiple times, if Dean would like an antacid, only for Dean to shake his head and change the subject.

He has also taken to existing mostly outside of the house, his sole focus being the deck and swimming in the lake. Castiel, who has opted to only go outside when he must water his plants, watches from their newly air-conditioned kitchen with rapt fascination. Sometimes Dean will catch him staring, and that look of indigestion will return again.

Dean has also been spending his nights either falling asleep on the couch with the television on, or shoving new tapes in Castiel’s direction for them to fall asleep to. Castiel is fine with this, for the most part (though he hates waking up alone, he does enjoy Dean’s Billy Joel mix), but it is confusing.

He contemplates this as he dutifully slices at the strawberries he picked from his garden. They are quite small, with more than a few nicks and pest bites on them, but they taste better than anything he’s ever bought at the store. The tomato plants are beginning to topple their cages from their sheer weight, and the corn in his Three Sisters garden is starting to form husks with wispy tufts.

Soon he’ll be plucking food from his garden every day to give to Dean, and the thought thrills him. He enjoys trimming the herbs, leaving them on the counter, and finding them in the spaghetti sauce Dean makes them later that night. Even better is when he trims his flowers, and finds them not thirty minutes later in an old sauce jar on the counter.

He once was an instrument of divine war, made to create Heaven’s order with an iron fist. Now, he hums as he scoops strawberries into a bowl. Oh, how the mighty have fallen , he imagines his brothers and sisters saying. To which he would reply: Have a strawberry. It’s homegrown. And please, shut the hell up.

From outside, he hears a splash, and goes to the front window to spy Dean wading in the lake. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea—for all that Castiel spends his time by the water, he hasn’t done much to swim in it. Making his decision, he journeys upstairs and borrows one of Dean’s two pairs of swim shorts, plain red with a white drawstring. He brings the bowl out with him, stopping for a moment to pluck a couple mint leaves from his pot and chew on them. Dean always makes a face when he does this, but Castiel figures it much the same as chewing gum without all the effort.

When Castiel gets to the dock, Dean is swimming laps back and forth, back and forth. Instead of getting in immediately, Castiel elects to sit down, the bowl of strawberries next to him. He watches the muscles of Dean’s freckled shoulders shift, the way his arms and calves slice through the water.

He means no offense to the fallen leaves and skipper bugs, but he would vastly prefer to pray to this instead.

He watches for a minute longer, before the sun beating down on his back starts to take its toll. Steeling himself, he stands up and takes a couple steps back. He’s about to jump when he sees Dean is now treading water and is staring at him.

“Hello, Dean,” he says.

Dean’s eyes stay on him for a moment before snapping up to his face. “Are those my shorts?”

“Yes,” Castiel tells him, and jumps into the water.

It’s a cool balm to the oppressive heat. The last time he went swimming was in Purgatory, where temperature was virtually nonexistent and leisure was something for other dimensions. Here, though, he lets himself feel the cool water on his skin, enjoys it, and comes up for air spitting water out of his nose and mouth.

Dean’s still staring at him. Tilting his head, Castiel asks, “Would you prefer it if I wasn’t wearing them?”

Dean goes wide-eyed. “Uh. Huh. I mean—” He sighs, muttering something like ‘ jesus f*cking christ ’ under his breath. “We’re going shopping tomorrow. Get you your own.”

Castiel nods. “Alright,” he says.

He positions himself so that he is floating on the water, watching the tree branches overhead rock back and forth with him, the birds flying back and forth from their nests. He closes his eyes and lets the sun warm his face.

“What are you doing?” Dean asks him, muffled under the water.

“Relaxing. You should try it.”

For a while Castiel doesn’t hear anything, just the occasional splash of water, but eventually he looks to his side and finds Dean floating the same as he is three feet away. They both do this for a while—Castiel enjoys floating. It’s not close enough to flying, but he enjoys being untethered, if even for a moment.

For the next hour, neither of them speaks much. They swim lazily like koi fish in a pond, simply enjoying the water in the heat. Castiel watches the wispy strings of light dance across his skin and the rocks below, and watches Dean as he continues to swim laps, all burnt honey against the green-grey water.

Remembering the strawberries, Castiel hoists himself back onto the dock to lie down and dry off. Dean follows him, plucking one from the bowl and letting out a small moan as he lies down. “Friggin’ delicious,” he says. “You’ve got a real green thumb, Cas.”

Castiel hums in agreement, and takes one for himself. “I simply pay attention,” he says.

“Still,” Dean says. “Hey, you know what you’re gonna put in the window boxes yet?”

“No,” he says. Thinks about it. “Well, nothing concrete. I’m considering some geraniums, perhaps some gerbera daisies. I think their colors would be a welcome addition. I might add some zinnias as well, or creeping jenny. They spill over the pot, and give a wonderful effect, much like a cascading waterfall. There are some other plants I wish to consider, but their light and watering needs might not be conducive.”

He realizes he has been talking for quite a long time, maybe even rambling, his hands now gesturing in the air. He looks over to Dean, surprised he hasn’t heard a single quip or comment, and sees Dean smiling at him gently, hands behind his head. They hang there like that, for a moment. It almost looks like he’s…

The indigestion face comes back again. “Sounds good,” Dean says, and sits up. He eats another strawberry. “I’m gonna take the first shower, that alright?”

“Of course,” Castiel says, incredibly confused. “I think I will stay here a bit longer.”

Dean nods and heads inside. Once the door is shut, Castiel sits up, and hopes this mood of Dean’s will come to pass. He opts to slide back into the water, letting himself float for a little while more.

Okay, so Dean’s not exactly ‘handling it’. Ever since the trip to the hardware store (which he can’t go back to without feeling fond , f*ck everything) he’s been nothing but an overthinking mess. He can’t stop thinking about it, can’t stop looking at Cas every chance he gets. He’s always been kind of hyper aware of his presence (and isn’t that just the hindsight Dean needs right now), but now it’s geared up to a hundred.

The whole liking guys thing, that’s one thing he can come to terms with. Has, actually, pretty easily, but he figures it’s like not feeling a paper cut because you’ve got a stab wound. He’s in love with his best friend . Who he lives with , and who, apparently, loves him back. Has even died for him, a couple times.

Part of him just wants to say it. He keeps getting close to saying it, but then he feels like he’s going to throw up and nixes the plan immediately. He knows he wants it, but every cell in his body keeps telling him to shut up. Dean’s never been good with talking; for all that he’s quips and jokes he can’t get the words out when they matter. So all they do is sit there, on the tip of his tongue, and ferment.

Because, okay. He’s in love with Cas, and Cas is in love with him. So that should be it, right? Game, set, match. But Dean knows a thing or two about love, and most importantly he knows it doesn’t stop all the bad parts. Hell, his parents were cosmically meant for each other and still fought, still left each other. When he and Cas fight, they end up on the opposite ends of the continental United States. It hurts like a bitch, too, and he can’t imagine how hard it would hurt if you add romance and sex into the mix.

They could end up not working out. They could end up absolutely despising each other. One of them could die for the other, again , and it’d be a wreck. Cas could realize he deserves better, and leave. And the real kicker is, Dean would let him do it, because he’d be right to.

What they have is good. Confusing, and full of weird feelings, but good. Dean’s used to wanting more than he can have, and Cas seems content to just exist where they are.

Still, he’ll be damned if it isn’t frustrating. It’s not like Cas can help just existing as he is, but Dean keeps noticing all the little things he does that make him lovable. He’s beginning to remember what lovesickness actually feels like, the kind of low grade churn of fondness and dread.

So, he’s not feeling too hot, to say the least. He feels like he needs to get into a bar fight, or maybe just kill something. He’s been doing his best hammering nails into the deck, but it’s basically finished now, and he doesn’t know if he can survive another round of looking at Cas in swim shorts.

So when Sam calls about a hunt, Dean doesn’t hesitate.

“On it,” he says.

O kay,” Sam says. “I didn’t even tell you what it was. Or where. Or...anything, really.”

“Come on, Sam, it’s a hunt. You know I’m always itching to gank somebody.” Dean spies Cas’s confused look from the armchair, and decides to pace his way into the dining room where the weapons stash is.

“Yeah, except you haven’t killed anything since January.”

Dean frowns. Has it really been that long? “No, there was that siren last month.”

“Which Kaia killed while you were busy getting your ass kicked.”

Hey , that’s—Claire’s a filthy liar, alright? She got me once .” The box of ammo sits in the corner of the room, right next to one of the holes in the wall. Dean eyes it warily, chest clenching, before ducking down and fishing out a box of shotgun rounds. He starts counting. “So what’s the case?”

“Well if you let me finish ,” Sam bitches, “I would’ve told you it’s not a case. Or, other hunters are already on the case and figured it out.”

Dean stops counting. “So what the hell do you need me for?”

“It’s—have you ever heard of a shadow program? It’s like that.”

Dean let’s that sink in. “Wait, what?”

“It’s been doing pretty well over here. I mean, it kinda started up on its own. All these kids kept coming in looking for answers, and we were able to keep a lot of them away from this kind of stuff, but the ones that stuck around...we’re not going to send them out there to die on their first hunt.” He hears a loud thunk on the other end, probably another massive tome Sam’s lugging around. “It’s pretty easy, actually. You just stick around while they go and confront the thing, and make sure to step in if things get too hairy.”

“So this is...babysitting,” Dean concludes.

Sam winces. “Not exactly, but yeah. Look, it’s a vamp nest just outside of Yakima, so you’ll probably end up in the action anyway. Marla and Taylor were able to count four of them when they did reconnaissance, so everyone gets a head.”

Dean considers it. Truth be told, he just needs to do something with his hands that doesn’t involve Cas, because if he thinks about that for too long he’s just going to end up lovesick and horny. And if it means helping out some clueless kids who are in way over their heads, sure. But— “Wait, what do you mean ‘everyone gets a head’?” he asks.

“Well, Cas would be coming with you, right?” Dean must not respond quick enough, because soon Sam’s sighing again like it’s his job. “Look, Dean, I know he’s human now, but he’s a good fighter. He isn’t going to get hurt.”

“No, that’s not...that’s not it,” Dean says, even as he looks at the hole in the wall again. “He just can’t come with.”

“Why not?”

“Because I—” Dean doesn’t know what he’s about to say, but whatever it is dies the minute Cas walks in, eyebrow raised. They maintain eye contact for a couple moments, Dean’s IQ lowering by the second, until he finally looks away. “Nevermind. Send us the address, we’ll be there at sundown.”

“No, wait, what were you—” And then Dean hangs up.

Castiel stares down at him. Dean stares back, and fights away the weird intimidation boner that’s starting up in his pants. “Where are we going, exactly?”

Dean stands from his crouched position, leaving the shells on the floor. “Hunt,” he says. “Or...not. We’re gonna make sure a couple of dumbass kids don’t get themselves killed.” He thinks again about Cas possibly getting injured. “I mean, unless you don’t wanna go. I can probably handle it just—”

“I’m going.” Cas’s voice leaves no room for argument.

Four hours later they’re stuffing machetes into the trunk of the Impala, along with some shovels. They argue, briefly, about taking the truck instead since it’ll carry the bodies better, but Dean’s having none of it. As a compromise, he lets Cas play his Mariah Carey CD the whole ride over, and tries not to think about the lyrics to “Love Takes Time”.

It’s an hour’s drive out to the meetup spot. When they get there, they pull into a ditch occupied by one beaten-up old Volvo and two girls who can’t be older than 21. One’s got her long hair pulled up into a ponytail, more freckles than face and sharpening a machete. The other’s got a shaved head, almond-shaped eyes blinking away at the glare of the headlights.

They exit the car. “You Marla and Taylor?” Dean asks.

“Taylor,” says Freckle-Face, with a lemon-pinched expression.

“Marla,” says Baldy, mirroring her partner.

Dean nods. This is gonna be just peachy. “Awesome. I’m Dean, this is Cas.”

“We know,” says Marla. She eyes the two of them for a moment, contempt written all over her face. Dean can’t really blame her. If he’d been told he needed a babysitter at that age he would be pissed, too. She points towards the woods. “Vamp nest is a quarter mile that way. They haven’t spotted us yet—”

“We think ,” Taylor interrupts, crossing her arms. “We don’t know.”

Marla sighs. “ Whatever . So I’m thinking we just go in there, slice some necks, and leave.”

After so many years hunting, Dean can tell when a case is personal. This probably isn’t the vamp nest Marla wants to tear apart, but from the way she’s bouncing on her heels he knows she’s rearing to get out some old aggression. He doesn’t know about Taylor, but he can see that she’s got her jaw clenched and her shoulders tight. She’s worried. It’s a recipe for disaster.

“You got dead man’s blood?” he asks, and Marla frowns before shaking her head. “Okay, first rule of vamp hunts: always keep some dead man’s blood on you. Makes things way easier. We’ll just have to deal without it this time around.”

“And the second rule?” Taylor asks.

“Don’t die,” Cas supplies. He nods his head to the side. “Though, I would consider that a universal rule.”

Dean smiles, feels a wave of fondness well up in him that he squashes as soon as he possibly can. “Alright,” he says. “Lead the way.”

The nest is situated in a barn and grain silo situation. There’s an entrance on the side, and by the silo according to Marla and Taylor. They crouch low in the bushes, the sun beginning to set. Marla suggests she and Taylor go in as the first wave, which Dean disagrees with immediately because that’s a bad idea waiting to happen. This devolves into him and Marla arguing for the next few minutes, until Cas suggests that he and Marla go in instead. Dean also disagrees with this immediately, because he’s not having Cas get hurt, but he’s not able to say much before Cas and Marla are sneaking towards the barn’s entrance.

So Dean and Taylor sit in the bushes, waiting for ten minutes to pass or for someone to start screaming. He keeps his ears peeled for anything and everything, but only hears squirrels hopping along the branches and Taylor passive aggressively hacking at twigs with her machete.

It’s not like he thinks Cas is a bad fighter. Cas is a great fighter, all thousands of years of battle strategy and quick thinking. He’s definitely the guy Dean would bet money on in a heartbeat. But he’s human now, and breakable. Sometimes Dean thinks Cas is almost too aware of that fact, and other times believes he’s not aware of it at all. Dean doesn’t know how many times he’s had to force Cas to sit down so he can bandage up a days-old scrape or cut that’s a day away from getting infected. One time he was making pasta for dinner and asked Cas to strain the noodles, and the guy nearly put his whole hand into the boiling pot of water.

Every second that ticks by, Dean feels his stomach twist, imagining Cas getting too co*cky and getting his throat ripped out as a consequence. He hasn’t even kissed the guy and he feels like he’s going to lose it if something like that happens. He can’t imagine what’d it be like if they were actually together.

Eventually, Taylor sighs. “This is stupid,” she says, and stands up. She looks down at Dean, a question in her eyes.

“Amen, sister,” he says, and gets to his feet. They stalk towards the silo entrance, not really in the mood for being subtle, and share a look at the door before busting in.

The first thing Dean notices is that Cas and Marla are holding their own pretty well. There’s a headless body already on the floor, and Marla’s hacking at another like a child possessed. Cas is going toe to toe with one of the guys, teeth bared and blocking hits. He manages to sweep the guy’s legs out from under him, swinging his blade down for a clean slice.

The second thing Dean notices is that he finds Cas is action kind of hot, and probably has for a while.

The third thing is that there are way more than four vamps in this nest. It’s more like eight, and they’re wasting no time getting in on the action.

The next minutes are a rush of blood and teeth. Adrenaline greets Dean like an old friend, and he won’t lie that he feels good as he chops the head off of a vamp that comes barreling at him. The scrabbling, the nails scratching and the punches that don’t quite land right are also something he finds home in. It’s when he’s chopped off his second head, though, that he realizes that his knees ache. That he’s not really paying attention to the hunt so much as he is making sure Marla and Taylor aren’t doing something stupid. At one point Taylor swings from the wrong angle, too eager and too inexperienced, and he has to rush to knock the guy out before she gets herself killed.

God, he really is babysitting.

He’s so preoccupied with the kids that he doesn’t notice Cas is in trouble until he hears a startled grunt. A vamp that looks like a Rob Zombie reject has Cas up against the wall, arms in a wrestling match as Cas keeps trying to swing his blade down.

Dean doesn’t think, just rushes in and bodyslams the guy to the side. Dean goes down with him, a few of his ribs getting bruised in the process. Dean begins to get back up, but the guy kicks him square in the chest. He goes flying, arms flailing. He lands on the one holding his machete, and hears an agonizing snap that he’s too shocked to feel just yet. The machete goes flying.

The vamp crowds over him, greasy long hair falling onto his face. Dean tries to fight him off. His breathing’s beginning to get a little faltered, though, and his left arm is basically done for. There’s a hit to his head, then to his side. The guy smiles, fangs glinting with saliva, and the next thing Dean knows is pure pain from his neck. He must hit a carotid, because Dean can feel his shirt starting to get wet. He pushes and pushes as much as he can, but every time he feels weaker.

So this is how he’s going to die: on a hunt, in a barn, and without Cas knowing he loves him. He’s starting to understand Cas’s habit of deathbed confessions a little better now.


He feels the guy’s head getting pulled back, a small chunk of muscle going with it. The guy stares wide eyed, a hand grasping his nasty-ass head of hair, before a blade slices clean through his neck. His body falls to the side, and Cas stands with the head in hand, eyes ablaze. Dean watches as Cas drops the head before collapsing to his knees.

He doesn’t feel Cas’s hands on him, but he sees them scrambling. “Dean,” he’s saying, but it all sounds so slow. “Dean? Stay with me.”

“Hey, Cas,” Dean says, trying to smile. “Feeling...fuzzy.” Which is true—Cas is nothing but a fuzzy blob above him. A beautiful blob. An amazing, beautiful blob that Dean’s in love with.

“I can’t…” he hears Cas saying, voice catching. The hands are still scrambling. Dean sees a flurry of movement above him, then something is being pressed into the open wound on his neck.

Dean takes his one good hand, and it wills everything in him to grab at Cas’s wrist. It’s warm, and alive. Dean’s died for a lot of things, and they’ve always been worth it. This is no exception, but there’s a sense of urgency now. “Cas,” he says, and sees the fuzz of Cas’s eyes looking directly at him.

I love you so much , Dean wants to say. I’m sorry I only realized it now. If I wasn’t dying I’d love you until you got sick with it. I wanna become an embarrassing old couple with you. I wanna burn down the dining room and build you a greenhouse in the ruins of it. I wanna hold your hand when we’re driving. I wanna not be terrified anymore.

But he is. He is still terrified, and he’s bleeding out, so all he can do is rub his thumb across the veins of Cas’s wrist. “I…” he starts, unsure of what’s going to come out.

It ends up not mattering anyway, because soon enough everything goes black.

When Dean wakes up, everything smells like sanitized rubber. He doesn’t feel much, except that his arm is itchy, and when he tries to scratch it something rock-solid is in the way.

Opening his eyes, he sees thin, white hospital sheets, and bright pink cast on his arm. He pokes at it, unsure if it’s real or not, then pokes at it again.

“It was the only color they had available,” a voice says, thick and scratchy.

Dean looks up and oh—Cas is so beautiful. What the hell? He also looks very tired, and there’s a stain on his shirt that’s dark and crusting. But he’s still beautiful, sitting in the chair next to him. And he’s apologizing about a color , god that’s adorable. Dean gets now why Cas talks like he does, all open compliments and everything. He feels so full of love he thinks he might be choking on it—it’s that or it’s the leftover bile still in his throat. He can’t really tell.

“‘S okay,” Dean tells him softly. “Kinda like it.” He feels himself blush, and ducks his head down to hide it. He usually doesn’t say stuff like this, does he? But everything’s all fuzzy around the edges now. It’s a softer world than he’s used to.

How did he get here? He tries to jog his memory. There was a barn, he remembers. And vampires, and…oh, yeah. He was dying, slightly. Not so much anymore. They’re not supposed to be dying for each other anymore, are they?

Oh, god, Cas must be pissed. “Broke my promise, huh?” he asks.

Cas glares at him. “Yes.”

Dean shrugs. “Well, better me than you,” he says, tongue loose.

If looks could kill, Dean thinks he’d be dead by now. He can see the fury in Cas’s eyes, as well as the worry and the guilt and the whole smorgasbord. Welcome to what I felt like for an entire month , he muses to himself, and it's only when Cas flinches that he realizes he’s said it out loud.

Dean winces. “I didn't—”

“Don't do that again,” Cas demands.

Dean thinks about what Cas told him in that argument all those month’s back. I’d do it again, if need be , he remembers, because he realizes he’s about to say the exact same thing. Well, ain’t he a hypocrite.

He settles into bed, still fuzzy. “Yeah, okay,” he says, though they both know he doesn’t mean it. “Hey, where are the kids?” he asks, changing the subject. “They make it out okay?”

“Marla and Taylor left shortly after you were admitted,” Cas explains. “We agreed it would be best if we kept as few names on the record as possible.” He looks down at his hands. “I’ve yet to call Sam. Everything was happening so quickly. I should—”

“Don’t,” Dean tells him. “Don’t, he’ll get all…” He tries to gesture with his left hand, remembers it’s in a cast, and gestures lazily with his right. “...you know. He’ll think it’s his fault and feel all bad, even though it’s not.”

Cas smiles gently. “I wonder where he learned that from,” he says. Before Dean can respond, Cas stands, looking a little shaky on his feet. Dean notices a startling number of coffee cups in the trash. “We should get going. I told the officials it was an animal attack, but I have a feeling they’re suspicious of me.”

“Because you’re a bad liar,” Dean tells him, and Cas sends a bitch glare his way.

“I can see the morphine is working,” Cas says, and oh yeah. That’s why everything feels so soft. “They gave me prescriptions for oxycontin and antibiotics, as well as instructions for changing your bandages. The last nurse was in here fifteen minutes ago, so another should be coming in the next ten. If you’re able to get dressed, we should be able to escape before they ask us for our insurance information as well.”

Dean grins. “I like it when you go all angel strategy,” he says. Cas stares at him for a moment. Right, that’s not what he usually says. “Gimme the clothes and let’s get out of here.”

Ten minutes outside of Yakima, Castiel can tell Dean’s in pain. Wordlessly, he hands over the small orange bottle, instructions to take just one, no more , and tries to be grateful that Dean’s alive at all. Neither of them comment on the dried blood on the seats, or the red-stained, wadded up flannel that’s been thrown in the back.

Castiel never understood what it meant to lose hours in the day until yesterday. One moment he is in a barn, and Dean is dying. The next he is attempting to steer the Impala one-handed, still pressing his shirt into Dean’s neck. Then he is in a waiting room, fielding questions he only half knows the answer to. Then, finally, he is in a patient’s room, Dean lying before him, in a sick reimagining of where they were all those years ago, back when Castiel only knew him as the Righteous Man and had yet to understand why he felt so much for him.

Now, they are thirty minutes outside Yakima, and the medication is kicking in, because Dean keeps scratching at the bandage on his neck.

"Stop doing that,” Castiel orders.

Dean continues to scratch. "Why? Feels good."

Dean scratches some more, so Castiel switches to driving one handed, and swats Dean’s fingers away.


"Tomorrow you will regret it,” Castiel tells him. "Trust me, Dean."

Out of the corner of his eye, Dean pouts. "Tomorrow me sounds like a dick."

He says it so childishly, as if the past twenty-four hours haven’t been full of gut-wrenching terror and confusion. Castiel is sure there’ll be an APB put out for the both of them soon, and that means fishing out the old license plates. Then there is the prospect of calling Sam, which Castiel will be doing despite Dean’s protests. And above all else, he has to make sure Dean stays safe and healthy, which isn’t so much a chore as something Castiel has dedicated the better part of his mortal life to already.

Yesterday Dean was near dying from blood loss, and now he’s pouting about an uncomfortable bandage. Castiel does not know if it is this fact alone, or the sleep deprivation that causes a low chuckle to burst from his mouth, seeming never-ending and constantly hiccuping its way out.

When he glances over at Dean again, Dean is smiling at him like he was in the hospital. It’s a look Castiel has savored in the rare moments it occurs, and feels lucky to have gotten it twice in one day. Despite his pallid appearance, bloodstained clothes, and array of bandages, Dean still looks radiant.

The moment hangs between them for a couple seconds, until Castiel remembers to look back out at the road. Out of the corner of his eye, Dean seems to settle into the passenger seat, his smile transforming into something more smug.

"I have a secret,” Dean says, like a child in elementary school.

"Do you?" Castiel says, imagining it’s something about Taylor Swift or Reba McEntire or any of the other hundred of things he already knows about Dean. Or maybe it’s something as small as wanting a milkshake. Dean on pain medication is a thoroughly unpredictable animal.

"Yeah,” he says, nodding. “Big one. Huge.” He makes a wide gesture with his uninjured hand, letting out a small huff. “Can't tell you, though."

Castiel hums. "And why is that?"

"Tomorrow me won't like it if I do,” Dean says. He shifts again, then grumbles, “Tomorrow me sucks ass."

Castiel chuckles. "So you've said."

The rest of the car ride is punctuated by Dean’s random commentary on the following: certain diners on the highway, how itchy his neck bandage is, and different things that could be signed on his cast. He tells a story of how once Sam broke his arm during a hunt, back when they had recently reunited, and Dean had taken the time to draw a hundred interpretations of a penis and testicl*s on it while Sam was sleeping. “Exactly a hundred,” Dean says, “I counted , it was awesome.”

When they get back to the house, Castiel is quick to pull Dean into the bathroom, sitting him down on the edge of the bathtub and peeling away the bandage on his neck. It is still oozing gruesomely, all plasma and pus. Castiel dabs away at it the best he can, keeping his fingers gentle.

“You are a self-sacrificial idiot,” Castiel says.

“Takes one to know one,” Dean says, grin wiped off his face the second Castiel introduces the hydrogen peroxide.

After that he orders Dean to shower, despite the drooping of his eyelids, and to tell him when he’s done so Castiel can replace the bandage. He wraps Dean’s cast up in saran wrap and, once he hears the rush of the shower water, dials Sam’s number.

“I should drive over,” Sam says.

“That’s not...he’s fine,” Castiel argues. “He is...I guess the term would be ‘loopy’, at the moment, but otherwise he is recovering. It is a testament to your shadowing program that Marla and Taylor were not injured as well.”

Sam lets out a bitter laugh. “You got me there,” he says. He’s quiet for a moment, but Castiel doesn’t mind. “Just...tell him I’m sorry alright?”

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry for,” Castiel says. “If anything, he’s in this situation because he was protecting me.”

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for either,” Sam says. He sighs. “Look, tell him not to be such a dumbass, then.”

Castiel smiles. “I will,” he says, and they chat for a little while longer about the phone lines (in constant need of work) and Jack (has introduced Eliot to the cursed objects room, much to the anxiety of everybody). Eventually he hears the shower turn off, says his goodbyes, and finds Dean sitting on the edge of the bed, freshly showered and in new clothes.

Wordlessly, Castiel brings over the first aid kit and starts to apply a new bandage. Dean’s eyes have gone drowsy, which makes sense given the medication and how much healing his body needs to do. There is an old ache Castiel feels, one that he’s carried for a while now, that he is not as strong as he once was. He can press his fingertips to Dean’s skin and dress his wounds, but he cannot heal him. He hates this.

As if sensing his self-hatred, Dean turns slightly towards him with a smile. "You know what I like about you?” he asks. “Everything. You're the absolute best."

Castiel huffs out a laugh. "That's very kind of you, Dean."

Dean searches his face, then turns further. "You're like...you invented free will, man. How'd you do that?” Castiel feels a pang of fondness in his chest and is unable to answer. Dean shakes his head. “And you're so good at making flowers."

Castiel frowns, thinks on his phrasing. "Do you mean gardening?"

"No, like,” Dean licks his lips, considers it. Castiel starts applying the last strip of medical tape. “Well yeah I mean that. But like they're here because you made 'em grow. With your hands.” He smiles wider. “That's another thing I like."

He is unsure what the point of this conversation is. It’s very nice, if not very confusing. Dean never talks like this. "My hands?"

"Uh-huh. Look at these things. Heh." Dean takes Castiel’s hand and observes it like one would a carburetor or a shotgun. He pinches and squeezes at the webbing between his fingers, the soft muscle of his palm.

Castiel lets him, of course, because he loves him. For a moment, he remembers what it felt like to be a god.

Then, Dean closes all of Castiel’s fingers against his palm, except for his index. Dean then brings the index finger to the tip of his own nose. "Boop,” he says, laughing. He drops Castiel’s hand and, in a move no one was expecting, taps Castiel’s nose with his finger. "Boop."

Ah, yes. This is the medication and blood loss talking. Castiel suppresses a sad smile and puts a hand on Dean’s shoulder. "I think you need to go to bed, Dean."

Dean is easily malleable, tipping down towards his pillow. "Mmm,” he agrees, and pulls the covers up over him. “Whatever you say, sweetheart.”

The pet name is a shock to Castiel’s system, especially given that they are alone. For a moment he sits there and watches Dean make himself comfortable. He then makes quick work of changing into something more comfortable. He’s too tired to smoke tonight, and he doubts it would do him any good at this point. When he settles into bed, exhaustion washes over him in a wave, his body finally able to relax after hours upon hours of constant exertion.

Tonight is not a night for silence. He knows it almost immediately. Leaning over his nightstand, he pulls out the tape player, as well as Dean’s mix. He offers an earbud to an already drowsy Dean before putting in his own. Castiel turns off the light and presses play.

It picks up in the middle of ‘Thank You’, a song that Castiel now knows by heart. They’ve curled towards each other, like parentheses, and he wishes he didn’t have to wait for his eyes to adjust to see Dean’s face.

And so, today my world it smiles
Your hand in mine, we walk the miles
Thanks to you, it will be done
For you to me are the only one

Castiel sighs in agreement. He finds himself beginning to lull towards sleep, the song rocking him further and further down, when a hand comes up over his on the tape player. It fumbles with the buttons for a minute, until it clicks off.

For a moment, all is quiet. Castiel wonders if he is already dreaming. "Tomorrow me is gonna hate now me for saying this,” Dean’s voice says, slow and molasses thick with sleep, “but I'm gonna tell you my secret."

Castiel lets out a huff of air. "I would advise against that."

"Mm,” Dean hums. “I'm gonna tell you anyways."

It takes a moment, but Castiel’s eyes finally adjust. He can see the broad outline of Dean’s face, his slow-blinking eyes and relaxed jaw. Castiel imagines it will be another adorable, half-conscious ramble, and so after a minute he says, "Okay. Tell me."

Dean blinks again, but his eyes stay closed. The next words out of his mouth are something about greenhouses, then something about porch lights, and everything else is slurred together into a sort of speech even Castiel can’t translate. It all runs together until it becomes the soft exhale of a man thoroughly asleep.

Castiel smiles, and revels in the warmth of Dean’s hand still over his. He’s sure it’s against the rules—there’s no real purpose, no act to put on. He finds himself not really caring. Then, before sleep can truly take him, he presses Dean’s finger down on the play button again, and listens to the drums.

Castiel is learning firsthand that Dean is truly terrible at being injured. After the first few days, which consist mostly of sleeping, changing bandages, and drinking Gatorade, he’s finally rested enough to be walking and talking, even if he shouldn’t be.

There is a phrase out there Castiel heard once. Something about herding cats, which makes no sense given cats have no agricultural value beyond pest control, but the image it conjures is very similar to how he is dealing with Dean. He leaves the man’s side for five minutes to find him trying to cook or clean or, on one occasion,tune up the Impala. Castiel has to use battle strategy to take care of him, waiting until he least expects it to feed him ready-made meals and give him his medication.

Coming out of his fugue state, it seems Dean doesn’t remember much of the first couple days surrounding the injury. Castiel recounts the events, watching Dean go from intrigued, to guilty, to intrigued again, to turning bright red. He mentions Dean’s ‘secret’, watches the man go stock still, and keeps staying still as Castiel mentions the greenhouse and the porchlight. He tries to ask what it means, but Dean quickly changes the subject. Castiel resolves that it is probably an odd fear or fetish; humanity tends to lean in those directions when it comes to shame.

The herding of one Dean Winchester continues well into the week, when Castiel hands Dean his painkiller and antibiotic. He turns his back for ten seconds to grab Dean a glass of water, and by the time he’s finished Dean is sipping absently on another one of those alcoholic lemonades.

He swipes the bottle away from Dean, a bit of liquid spilling to the floor as Dean sputters. "No."

Dean wipes the leftover alcohol from his face. "What? Come on, Cas, it's just one."

Castiel trades the water cup for the bottle of oxycontin and shakes it. "These do not mix well with alcohol, Dean, and I'm no longer able to repair your liver like I once did." He sets the bottle down with a thunk .

Dean frowns. "Repair my— what ?"

"At the rate you were once drinking, I had to spare you from liver failure at least twice,” Castiel explains.

Dean blinks. "And you didn't think to mention this to me?"

Castiel stares at him. He knows Dean has been drinking less and less, but he remembers the years before. "Would it have changed anything if I had?"

Dean stares back, something odd going on with his face, before he scoffs and looks down. "Damn,” he says. “First my lungs, then my liver. What part of me haven't you stitched up?”

Castiel’s eyes catch on Dean’s cast, then the bandage on his neck that’s beginning to scab over. In the barn, he had tried to pull together whatever scraps of grace he had left to shove inside of Dean. In the car he had done the same. Nothing came of it. Of course nothing came of it, but it still made him feel hollowed out on the inside.


Castiel’s gaze snaps up to Dean’s face. "I apologize,” he says, drawing in a breath he cannot even out. He swallows. “I am...before I could just..." He reaches two fingers out, and presses them into Dean’s forehead for a moment before pulling back slightly. His hand hovers in the air.

Dean clears his throat, looks down. "Yeah, doing it the old fashioned way now."

"I'm sorry I'm not of much use,” he apologizes, which causes Dean to frown further.

"Cas, you've gone full Nightingale on my ass."

He drops his hand to the kitchen counter. "I'm overcompensating."

"Who isn't?” Dean asks, and takes Cas’s wrist in his grip. He licks his lips, Castiel following the movement, before looking him in the eye. “It doesn't matter. And it doesn't matter if you can heal me or not, you're still here. That's all I care about."


Dean looks at him. The infamous look of indigestion returns, briefly, before being replaced with something more resolute. "Yeah. I need you, man. Didn't you already know that?"

His thumb swipes at Castiel’s wrist. The feeling is electric, and...not new, not exactly. But there’s something in Dean’s eyes that says...maybe…

Castiel wants. It was his first true sin, and he lives and breathes it every moment of his life. He wants and wants and wants, but he does not hope. That is the key here, to wanting endlessly. There must never be a promise of satisfaction, because once it’s there, how can one resist?

It’s dangerous. Too dangerous, given the fallout. Dean is still injured, Dean is merely expressing fondness. He does this often, with no meaning behind it. He’s done it recently, with the help of prescription narcotics. Castiel shouldn’t go about making assumptions where there is a concrete answer: Dean is his friend. This is enough. This is all there is.

“I—” Castiel starts, looking into Dean’s eyes for a moment before looking down. He pulls his hand away, still feeling the warmth around his wrist. “Thank you,” he says. He lets out a shaky breath. “You should lie down. Your medication seems to be kicking in.”

Dean offers a wavering smile. "Yeah,” he says. “You’re probably right.” He turns and paces back to the living room, where Castiel hears the couch groan under his weight. The television turns on. Castiel stands in the kitchen for a moment longer, feeling cowardly, before following.

I’m a goddamn coward , Dean thinks to himself, and doesn’t stop thinking it. He feels like he got himself up on a diving board, looked over the edge, and scrambled back down the minute someone told him he could. And the look on Cas’s face, the quiet surety that Dean didn’t mean what he said...it kills him, a little bit. And it kills him further that he can’t follow through to fix it.

The pain medication runs out, which means Dean has to deal not only with full sobriety but with the low-grade soreness that permeates his body. Cas continues to mother-hen him, and Dean slowly begins to let him. I’m overcompensating , he said. Well, fine. If Dean can’t love him, he’ll let Cas overcompensate. He thinks that’s a fair trade-off. Plus, there is the soft touch of Cas’s fingers on his neck whenever he changes his bandage.

Everyone else also seems in a mood to baby him, which is just weird. Sam calls and apologizes profusely. Jack offers to come over and heal him, which Dean says a quick no to because the kid shouldn’t be worrying about stuff like that. He even gets a short call from Claire, which involves her asking if he really got his ass kicked by vampires, him saying yes, but he’s alright now, and her saying ‘good’ and hanging up. The only sane person in his family seems to be Eileen, who keeps sending him puns about broken bones and tells him the pink really brings out his eyes.

Mona and Ettie come over and immediately start fawning over him. They completely take over the kitchen, leftovers from other gardening club members tucked into the far corners of the fridge and a pitcher of lemonade constantly being brought over. Mona bakes him a pecan pie, and signs her name on his cast. Ettie does the same with a little heart over the ‘i’, before telling him about the time she sprained her wrist and talking, in detail, about the many ways you can keep your husband satisfied one-handed. Him and Cas don’t look each other in the eye much after that little conversation.

Cas signs the cast, too, after that. Neat, blocky letters over the top of his hand. CAS , in black permanent marker. It’s like he’s constantly holding my hand , Dean thinks when he does it, and feels like a teenage girl for the rest of the day.

Cas has taken to floating in the lake. Dean has taken to watching him from the dock, because he’s going to have this stupid cast on for the full eight weeks if Cas has anything to say about it. He eats Cas’s strawberries, and roves his eyes over Cas’s body, and continues to worry that Cas is gonna fall asleep in the water and drown. He tells him as much. He has nightmares that Cas sinks down and the lake water turns black. He doesn’t tell him that bit.

Besides the one with the lake, Dean’s nightmares have been fully reserved for Cas getting his throat ripped out. Cas still tells him that he loves him, every time. He shouldn’t be able to, he doesn’t even have vocal chords by the time the dream gets to it. Dean always tries to say it back, and he’s always horrified to find out he doesn’t have a mouth. Somehow that bit hits harder, an old terror rising, rising, rising in his chest until he wakes up gasping with it.

On nights like those he grabs at Cas with his good hand. He stares at him, and tries to find a way to say it. Even in the dark, even when no one’s listening. He still can’t say it, but he’s getting close. He’s getting close.

Chapter 9: august


Dean nods, a confused look on his face. “And what’s Uniqua supposed to be? A...ladybug?”
“Uniqua’s a Uniqua.” Jack knows. He looked it up.
Dean looks at him a moment before shrugging again. “Yeah, alright.”


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Jack: guess who’s coming to live with you in five days!!

The message comes just as Castiel is about to drift off. They’ve had a long day of phone calls, and a couple gruff-faced men and women showing up at odd hours for books and weapons. Castiel has made it a policy to return them, and now has two new hunters added to his ‘sh*t-list’, as Dean calls it. Needless to say, he will be expecting a new sacred olive branch from them the next time they come around, or they will have to find service elsewhere.

Dean is sleeping peacefully on his back, snoring slightly. Castiel reads the text once, then proceeds to stare at it for a good long while. His phone buzzes again.

Jack: it’s me!!! sorry i couldn’t wait for you to guess :D

Castiel feels a wave of happiness come over him. He wants to shake Dean awake, have his hands on his shoulders as he announces Jack is coming home , but he knows better. Instead he sits up, feeling incredibly energetic, and prays.

Dear Jack, he prays, here is the feeling of my absolute joy that you are coming to stay. Also, it is far past your bedtime. Please go to sleep. Amen.

He knows Jack has received his prayer, because the next message he receives is a prayer hands emoji, a thumbs up, and a sleeping face. Castiel sends back a series of hearts.

For a few minutes, he simply basks in the joy that his son is coming home in five days. However, with that joy also comes memories of Jack’s last visit. While he understands Jack’s reason for not staying, there is a selfish sort of heartbreak that reawakens in him. Dumbly, humanly, he wonders if perhaps there is something that solidified Jack’s first decision, something that can be fixed.

This is why he ends up wandering the house in the middle of the night, inspecting surfaces and reorganizing their bookshelves. There are some parts of the house that could not be repaired—they are still finding spots of blood on the wainscotting, and while the front door has been replaced, there are still scuff marks and split wood around the entrance. Outside, the scant remains of funeral pyres are well-mixed into the dirt. These are things he cannot change, though he might convince himself otherwise. So he resorts to other, smaller repairs: emptying and breaking down boxes that have long-haunted the corners of the house, sweeping Jack’s room of any dust or debris.

The behemoth of this venture is the dining room, which underneath the piles of boxes and detritus is the same as it was when they moved in. Something happened here, he knows. Something Dean doesn’t want to talk about, something he suspects Jack would want to avoid as well. He can only guess—perhaps a great fight happened here, from the dents in the wall. Or maybe this is where Dean last saw his mother. I carried you inside , Dean once told him, and Castiel imagines his body here, before discounting that theory. When he imagines his body, he usually pictures Kelly and him, side by side in the hallway, waiting for the fire beyond the door.

There is much to be done with the room, but first: the boxes. He gravitates towards the ones Sam and Eileen dropped off back in May, full of books and weapons. They have a few bookshelves around the house, which he proceeds to stuff with occult texts and, when they become full, circle them with stacks of books organized by subject. He also manages to fit a few around the television, and on the windowsills. There are still three whole boxes left of books that he has no idea what to do with, nor does he know where to put the weapons.

Perhaps the dining room doesn’t need to be a dining room? Maybe it could become a library. Maybe it could become a weapons cache, or a panic bunker. Anything but a storage room. For some reason the image of this room, filled with things broken or left behind, is beginning to fill him with irritation.

He is at least organizing the boxes themselves when he hears Dean make his way down the stairs. He is sleep-ruffled, scratching at two-day-old stubble with his good hand before scratching underneath his cast. He is wearing one of Castiel’s shirts, something blue that’s slightly too big on him that advertises a Vermont brewing company. Castiel watches him wander into the kitchen, then into the living room, before finally stopping in the dining room.

"You're up early,” Dean says, still blinking awake.

Castiel puts a box labeled ‘silver knives’ atop another one labeled ‘silver misc.’. "I didn't sleep,” he says, and continues organizing. “There’s too much that needs to be done. Clean, for one. We also need adequate wall hanging equipment for all of our weaponry—frankly, it’s irresponsible to leave everything as it was. Then there is the matter of this room.”

Dean looks around, not stepping foot inside. “What about it?”

“It’s the only thing that hasn’t been repaired. If we’re to use it—”

“We are using it,” Dean argues.

Castiel glowers at him. “Yes, as a glorified storage unit. If Jack is going to be living here soon, we will need adequate space for eating.”

“That’s what the kitchen is for,” Dean argues. He rubs a hand over his face before shaking his head. “Wait, wait, what do you mean Jack is going to be living here soon?”

“He messaged me a few hours ago,” Castiel says. “He’s coming here in five days. Which is why we need to clean.”

I clean,” Dean says. “Like, all the time.”

“Clean more , then.” Castiel finds his mind racing on an odd co*cktail of adrenaline and sleep deprivation, thoughts barreling out of his mouth without a moment’s hesitation. “Jack needs a good home. A wonderful home, where he can be comfortable.” He goes over to the table, and starts collecting the glass bottles and lampshades he had purchased, moving past Dean to finally place them in the vacant surfaces still left around the house. “One of the many reasons he returned to Lebanon was the fact that he had a social group he could rely on. We will also need to find adequate groups for him to join. It's very important for a child to be sociable at his age.”

Dean, who has followed him into the living room, asks, "What about school?"

Castiel stops frantically rearranging the couch side table, feeling his stomach bottom out. "School,” he says. “Oh." He hadn’t accounted for school. Does Jack wish to go to school? If so, which grade should he attend? Which school should he attend? If he decides to go, will the other kids be kind to him? If he wishes to be homeschooled, what curriculums will he need?

Dean’s face goes soft, and he walks towards Castiel. "Oh, hey,” he says, placing a hand on Castiel’s shoulder. “Okay, Cas. Slow your roll there. What's gotten into you? You weren't nearly this freaked out last time." His thumb rubs comforting circles into the soft part of the joint, something Castiel would find pleasing if he weren’t so thoroughly jarred.

"Last time Jack decided not to stay,” Castiel admits, looking Dean in the eyes. He feels ashamed to say such a thing out loud, as if all of his selfish want will become apparent with that statement alone. “Which is fine. It was understandable, but I still...I want it to be perfect."

Dean scoffs. "Yeah, because perfection is so attainable."

Castiel’s nerves flare. I could make it attainable for him , he thinks. Wrenching himself from Dean, he continues to replace lampshades and place knick-knacks. He goes back into the dining room, and starts to work on the boxes stacked there.

One is full of books when he opens it, which he places with the others. The other is smaller, with a large smiling face drawn on the top. He’s seen it before, but has never given it much thought. He goes to open it, fingers on the cardboard flap when someone wraps their hand around his wrist.

“Cas,” Dean says. His grip is tight, his breathing slightly uneven. He licks his lips, then starts to pull Castiel back towards the stairs. “Everything’ll turn out okay. Get some sleep.”

“I don’t need to sleep,” Castiel argues. “I feel fine.”

Dean snorts. “Yeah, sure you do.” He tugs Castiel, harder this time, and he gives in. Dean leads him up the stairs. “You rest up, I’ll get to work on everything else.”

Then enter the bedroom. “Even the dining room?”

Dean stops a moment, before nodding. “Yeah. Even that.”

The bed, when Castiel collapses onto it, is warm and comforting. He finds all the adrenaline from before leaving him in one fell swoop. His eyes are already beginning to droop down.

Dean laughs. “Don’t need to sleep, my ass,” he says under his breath. The last thing Castiel feels before succumbing is a hand on his shoulder, lingering, before he finally drifts off.

Dean doesn’t work on the dining room.

Or, he does, in the way that he picks up a couple of Craigslist IKEA bookshelves in Cas’s truck, and a wardrobe for good measure to keep all the guns and knives. He goes through most of the boxes and throws out all the junk they don’t need anymore, and puts everything they do need in a pile in the living room. He stares at the box with the jacket, but the most he can do is take it off of the table and shove it into the corner. And even that has his heart pounding something strange, the impulse to punch the wall again only stopped by the fact that if he did, he wouldn’t have any good hands left.

When Cas wakes up again, well into the middle of the afternoon, he’s in a much better mood. Dean makes him eggs over-easy on toast and hash browns, watching as Cas turns the plate so the hash browns are facing him, just as he always does.

“Why do you do that?” Dean asks. “The…” He points to the plate.

Cas frowns, looks down at his food. “Does it bother you?”

“No,” Dean says. “It’s…” Adorable, endearing, one of the many things I love about you, apparently. “...not usual.”

Cas sighs, and toys with his hash browns. “I like there to be a certain...order, to things,” he explains. “I believe the phrase is, um….’saving the best for last’?” He nods to himself. “Yes, that. Not that I don’t enjoy any of the things you give me, but there is a ranking, and I intend to follow it.”

“So what happens if you break it?” Dean asks.

“I don’t.”

Dean shifts, intrigued by Cas’s line of thinking. It’s something he’s never considered before. “Well,” he says, “what if you want the best right away? I mean, if I want bacon, bacon’s the first thing I’m gonna chow down on.”

Cas gives him a small smile. “Yes, you are incredibly direct in that regard,” he says. “It’s one of the many things I love about you.” Dean feels himself flush, and scratches where his fingers meet his cast, where Cas’s name is still written in slowly fading Sharpie. Cas goes back to his food. “I am of a different mindset. I believe in...delayed gratification.”

He scoops the hash browns onto his fork, and into his mouth. Dean’s eyes follow the motion, then look up to see that Cas is making eye contact with him. For a moment, that paired with the phrase ‘delayed gratification’ has Dean’s brain going straight to his dick. “Really?” he asks.

Cas hums, continuing to eat his food. “That, and it just feels correct. I believe if I did it any other way, it would feel massively uncomfortable.”

“How would—” Dean’s brain, momentarily, disengages from his crotch to remind him that they’re talking about food, not sex. “Huh.”

“I believe it is one of my many ‘quirks’.” Dean watches as Cas turns the plate to dig into the egg and toast. “Though, in my mind, it’s perfectly natural.”

Dean shrugs. “Different strokes for different folks, right?” he says, and then wants to kick himself. “Uh, I should get back to…” Only, he doesn’t want to go back to dealing with the dining room. Dean suddenly finds himself between a rock and a hard place. “Uh.”

Cas frowns. “Is everything alright, Dean?”

“Yeah, yeah, just…” He clears his throat. “Just, hurry up with the food. I got some stuff we gotta bring inside.”

Cas takes the brunt of the furniture, Dean’s arm rendering him useless except to direct where Cas is going and, subsequently, argue with Cas when the directing gets to be too much. Cas doesn’t seem to feel the weight, though, either powered by some leftover angel strength or just utilizing the natural muscle he’s somehow gained over the years. Dean decides that between having to visit the dining room more than once and his sexual frustration, this day is definitely out to get him.

The next few days follow a similar pattern of cleaning and organizing. They give Jack’s room a once-over that leaves the place smelling of Lemon Pledge and Windex, sneak the bookcases and wardrobe into unoccupied sections of wall. By the time they’re done, the house is even more of a mishmash. The wardrobe finds its place in the corner of the dining room, innocuous and stuffed to brim with shotguns, daggers, and angel blades.

Jack’s two days away from arriving when Cas mentions wanting to redecorate the dining room. He has a plan, it seems: chartreuse walls, sheer curtains, perhaps a large mirror on one of the walls. Dean knows what this means, knows it was going to happen eventually, but finds dread pooling in his stomach when Cas lays out his plans. He smiles anyway.

So here Dean stands, staring at a hole in a wall like it’s a mouth with teeth. There’s a bucket of plaster at his feet, and a trowel in his hand. Cas is out for gardening club—Dean can almost imagine him, surrounded by old ladies and handing out the strawberry jam cookies Dean whipped up last night, talking about zinnias or some sh*t. He doesn’t know Dean’s fist is beginning to ache with phantom pain, which is good. Cas can’t know, shouldn’t have to know.

Dean stares at the hole a little while longer, the cracks in the plaster, the bit of exposed wood past the drywall. Maybe he’s starting off too big. He turns around, looking for something else to do, and his eyes land on the box. The smiley face looks innocently at him from the corner, and Dean tries to imagine where else it could go. Back of his trunk? Back of his closet again? Wouldn’t that be some kind of poetic irony.

He could put it in the wash, he reasons. He could burn it. Then it would be gone, the evidence of...of…

“Nope,” Dean says, shaking his head. “No.”

He drops the trowel onto the table, and rubs at his aching eyes. Jesus Christ, it’s a room . It’s a jacket , he shouldn’t be so worked up about either, and yet here he is.

Something brushes his shoulder, feather-light. It jolts him a little, his body immediately suspecting a ghost and wanting to swing. When he turns to it, he sees that it’s the one intact curtain, caught in the breeze of the open window.

Dean grabs at it, and tugs. One handed, the curtain doesn’t tear as easily as it once did. He tugs again, harder. Instead of the curtain giving way, he feels the whole rod and both brackets rip out of the wall, falling to the floor with a loud clatter.

“sh*t,” Dean says, and kicks the rod. It collides with the wall underneath the window, leaving another dent. “ sh*t!

Sighing, Dean picks up the road and inspects the damage. There’s holes above the window, too, from where the screws got ripped out. Dean stares at it, and decides he’s being stupid. If he leaves this as is, Cas is going to ask questions. And Jack deserves a home that doesn’t remind him of one of the worst days of their collective lives.

He patches up the holes around the window, and patches up the ones he created four years ago. The plaster goes on thick and easy, and soon the room is less of a warzone and more a plain room with a table, a wardrobe, and white patches that dot the wall like acne scars.

He tries to drink, remembers that he still can’t. Shouldn’t, probably, even though part of him thinks it’s still bullsh*t. Instead he spends the rest of the day fielding phone calls and cleaning the kitchen until it’s spotless.

When Cas gets home, his only note is that he’s glad the curtain rod is gone, and that he hopes to start painting soon. Dean manages to nod through it without throwing up. Little steps.

The house glows gold when it comes into view. It did the last time Jack was here, if only in certain corners. The kitchen sink, and the garden. Now it shines—not like a beacon, but like the warm coals of a fire. There are still some gaps, he figures, where Cas and Dean haven’t loved the place enough. Jack wonders if one day he’ll be able to fill them.

When he looks at it normally, it stands like it did the last time he was here. Yet the pit of dread that overcame him last time is barely there, now. The house is too loved to be anything but lovely. Jack barely remembers what it looked like before Cas and Dean moved in.

And there’s so many new people to meet! He can’t wait to go to gardening club with Cas, or hang out with the hunters that have been showing up more and more for tips and tools. He misses his friends already—Max and Stacy left for University of Nebraska two weeks ago, and Eliot soon followed to make his way out to Eugene. But he can text them as much as he wants, and he’s already got a surefire plan to convince them to let him drive down to see Eliot that involves a lot of things he learned from watching Full House .

And he gets to live with Cas and Dean.

So, Jack isn’t too worried when they pull up to the cabin. Sam turns the engine off, and looks at Jack with what Eileen affectionately calls The Big Old Puppy Face. Outside the car, Jack sees the front door open, and Cas waiting on the doorstep.

“You ready?” he asks Jack.

Jack frowns. He thought that was perfectly clear. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Sam lets out a shaky breath. “Well, it’s just...last time you were pretty shaken up.”

“Yeah,” Jack says, nodding, and thinks a little. Part of him still doesn’t like this place very much. He thinks it’s going to be a while before he can step foot in the master bedroom, and he doesn’t like looking at the front yard for too long. He shakes his head. “But I miss my dad. Besides, I’ve grown up.”

Sam blinks. “You have?”

It’s funny that he’s so surprised. “I’ve been four for a while now, Sam,” Jack tells him. He thinks that means he’s pretty grown up. He’s already learned a lot, too: how to say goodbye to good friends who aren’t dying, how to pirate movies, how to make that special ‘S’ Claire has drawn all over her notebooks. He can’t imagine what other kinds of stuff he’ll know by the time he turns five.

Sam chuckles. “Right, of course. How could I forget?” They both turn to look out the windshield. Cas is still there, his face full of lines as he continues to look directly at the car. Jack can feel him praying a vague sense of welcome and worry. “Alright, we should go say hi before Cas blows a gasket.”

When they get out of the car, Cas is instantly off of the front doorstep. He storms towards Jack and pulls him into a hug, large and protective and warm. Jack hugs Cas back, and they stay like that a while before pulling away. Cas immediately holds Jack’s face in his hands, smiling.

“Your hair has gotten long,” Cas says.

“I know,” Jack says. It’s beginning to curl at the back of his neck now, and sometimes it gets in his eyes. He doesn’t mind it all that much. “You saw it last week over FaceTime.”

“Yes, but it’s different in person.” Cas regards him with an odd look, and drops his hands. “You’re growing up.”

Jack smiles in agreement. “I am.”

Cas then turns his attention to Sam, and immediately goes for a hug. This seems to surprise Sam slightly, but Sam always seems surprised when someone hugs him. “Hey, Cas,” he says, patting Cas on the back.

They’re exchanging pleasantries about driving and Sam’s progress with the Omnaturge when Jack hears the front door open again. Dean wanders out, one arm in the pink cast and muttering something about a hunter in Arkansas taking up his time with stupid questions. He pulls Sam into a hug, quick with a pat on the back, before turning to Jack. There’s a moment of hesitancy from Dean, like he’s not entirely sure if he’s allowed, before he steps in to give Jack a quick hug and pat as well.

Dean looks at everybody and frowns at Sam. “Where’s the missus?” he asks.

“Eileen stayed behind to hold down the fort,” Sam tells him. “And she’s not ‘my missus’.”

Dean nods. “Right, forgot. You’re her missus.” He looks at Cas, as if he might laugh, but Cas just tilts his head in confusion. Jack does the same. He still doesn’t get a lot of Dean’s jokes.

Sam shakes his head. “Yeah, that doesn’t hit as hard when you’ve got that on.” He points at the cast, letting out a small chuckle before his face turns a little sad. Jack remembers when they got the call last month, and how Sam sat at the kitchen table for a long, long time. “Look, Dean, I never…”

Dean shakes his head, making a broad sweeping motion with his hand. “Nope, no. Don’t get all self-blame-y on me, okay.” He holds up his cast, grinning. “Besides, look at all the cool signatures I got.”

Jack goes up to inspect the cast. There’s a few names written on there—Mona, Ettie, Patricia, Agnes, Blanche. Jack looks up at Dean. “Can I sign it?” he asks.

Dean makes an odd array of faces in quick succession, before shrugging. “Sure, kid. Why not?” He looks over to Cas. “Cas, you mind?”

Cas smiles and gives them the okay. Dean takes Jack inside, rummaging through the junk drawers in the living room for a Sharpie. As Dean looks around, Jack filters the soul prints back into his vision. The interior burns softly with thousands of marks over knick knacks and bookshelves. The only place that it seems to be lacking is the now-sparse dining room, where the only marks lie on top of the table. They’ve been there a long time.

Or, no. There’s something in the corner. What’s—

“Found it!” Dean says. When Jack turns around, Dean is brandishing a black Sharpie with a smile.

They sit down on the couch, Dean handing Jack the marker and raising his arm. The action shifts the collar of his shirt, where several small circles scab and gnarl his skin. Jack frowns, something uncomfortable twisting in his gut. He doesn’t think he’s seen Dean this injured for this long, him or Cas always stepping in eventually. It makes him look a little less like the big, imposing figure Jack’s always seen him as. He doesn’t know what to do with that.

“You know,” Jack says, reaching out, “I could…”

Dean holds a hand up. “Nope. Not happening.”

Dean’s never turned down an offer for healing before. “But—”

Dean sighs, holding his arm up. “Just sign the damn cast, kid.” Jack leans forward, pen in hand fully intent on at least speeding up his arm’s recovery time. “And no sneak-healing, neither,” Dean adds, and Jack jumps back a little. “Yeah, you and your dad are too similar, kid. God knows if Cas was still an angel he’d have healed me in my sleep by now.” He grins at this, fond.

Jack nods, and writes his name under Cas’s in big, blocky letters. When he leans back, he sees there’s still a big blank spot on the front. “Can I draw on it, too?” he asks.

Dean considers this a moment, before shrugging. “Sure, why not?” Jack feels himself break into a grin, excited at the idea. He knows exactly what he’s going to draw, and gets to work on it.

For a few minutes, all is quiet. Jack catches Dean staring out the window, where Cas is showing Sam his garden and Sam is pretending to be absolutely fascinated by it. Jack finishes the drawing. It’s not perfect, but he likes it well enough. He leans back, and Dean looks down at his drawing, frowning.

“What’s it supposed to be?” he asks. “Shrek?”

“It’s Uniqua from The Backyardigans ,” Jack tells him. “She’s my favorite. And she’s pink, like your cast.”

Dean nods, a confused look on his face. “And what’s Uniqua supposed to be? A...ladybug?”

“Uniqua’s a Uniqua.” Jack knows. He looked it up.

Dean looks at him a moment before shrugging again. “Yeah, alright.”

The rest of the day is mostly like the first day of Jack’s visit in May, only with a lot more sorting things from his bag into closets and drawers, and hanging his things up on the walls. Cas helps him with a lot of that, Sam and Dean driving into town for takeout pizza for the night. They don’t talk much as they do this, except to ask if it's okay to put one thing in one place, as opposed to another place. They have time to catch up, after all.

Dinner’s fun. They all sit out on the next deck, crowding around a clouded glass table and exchanging stories. The air smells of grass and is thick with summer humidity. Sam and Dean fight over the last slice of pizza. Dean tells everybody the story of when Sam was eight and threw up in the jungle gym at the Chuck E. Cheese in Joplin, and Sam, in retaliation, tells Cas and Jack about Dean’s brief stint with ghost sickness. Cas tells a joke about the convergence of the spheres, which is pretty hilarious, but Jack supposes you have to see into the sixth dimension in order to really get it. Dean laughs anyway.

He also looks at Cas a lot, when Cas isn’t looking. Cas does the same. They did that a lot before, but they’re doing it a lot more now. Jack supposes it’s one of those things that happens when you become a couple.

Dean’s also drinking water with his pizza, which just looks weird. “Where’s the beer?” Jack asks.

“Hm?” Cas hums.

“Well, Dean told me once that pizza and beer is a—”

“Sacred combination,” the three adults finish.

Sam frowns, as if he’s just noticing. “Yeah, actually. Dean, are you…” He seems to start one word, beginning with an s , before stopping. “Are you...not drinking anymore?”

“For now,” Dean says, lifting up his injured arm. “Meds don’t mix well.”

“Never stopped you before.”

Dean shrugs. “Yeah, well.” He looks down and breaks apart the remains of his pizza crust. “Don’t think this means I’ve become a teetotaler or nothing.” He taps his fingers on the table. “Someone’s cleaning up who ain’t me,” he says. “One hand short.”

“You weren’t saying that two weeks ago,” Cas argues.

Dean waves him off. “Yeah, yeah.”

Jack and Sam help clean up, while Dean sets up the air mattress for Sam. Dean elects to stay with Sam downstairs for a little bit, if only to talk. Jack knows they’ve missed each other a lot, and so does Cas, so they leave them to it and make their way upstairs.

Cas comes into Jack’s room once Jack has settled into his racecar bed. He likes this bed a lot. It reminds him of the few times he’s driven the Impala around. He wonders, for a brief moment, if he could turn this into a real car for him to drive around, but thinks better of it. He doesn’t think Cas would approve.

Cas goes over to Jack’s starry sky night light and turns it on, before turning to him. “I’m happy you’re home, Jack,” he says.

Jack smiles. “Me too.”

Cas shifts on his feet, a little uncertain. “You are?”

“For the most part, yes,” Jack tells him. “I will...it’s different now. I’ve grown up.” Cas nods. “And you’re here. I’ve missed you.”

That elicits a smile. “I’ve missed you, too, Jack.” He glances over at the doorway. “I am going to retire. Will you be alright?”

“I think so,” he says. He really isn’t sure. “Goodnight, Cas.”

“Goodnight, Jack.” And with that, Cas leaves, shutting the door behind him.

Jack watches the stars roll along the ceiling. A kind of uneasiness, lesser than it was before, makes itself known in his stomach. After all the excitement of today, it is all at once too quiet.

“A hundred,” he says to himself. “Ninety-nine, ninety-eight…”

In junior year of high school, Sam had a girlfriend named Gabby. They didn’t last very long—a month, maybe, before John shipped them out to another town—and in all honesty, Sam doesn’t remember her face very well. He remembers her voice though. She’d been in show choir, and was always singing something under her breath. And he definitely remembers her backyard, the way they’d spend hours outside talking at a plastic table while the world began to smell of fresh grass and damp flowers.

It kind of smells like that now, which is probably why Gabby’s coming to mind. Cas and Jack went to bed an hour and a half ago. Dean and him have lapsed into an easy silence that only comes with knowing a person your entire life. The stars have just come out, and staring up at them with his brother, especially after so much time apart, has Sam feeling sentimental. He suspects Dean’s on a similar wavelength, even if he isn’t talking.

For now he looks up at the stars. Cassiopeia’s always been Dean’s favorite, mostly because it’s shaped like a ‘W’. Sam’s more partial to Orion and Sirius, always remembering that it points due north in case he ever got lost. He can spot it now, just hiding behind the trees.

“So, you and Eileen set a date yet?” Dean asks. When Sam looks over to him, Dean’s fidgeting with the tab of his co*ke can.

“Uh,” Sam says, taken off guard. “No.”

Dean blinks. “Oh. Well is it gonna be a summer wedding? Because man, I’ll be sweating like hell in a tux.”

Sam shrugs. “We haven’t really discussed it.”

Dean’s eyebrows draw together. “You’ve been engaged, what, nearly three months and you haven’t even got a ballpark?”

“I mean, it just hasn’t been that important?” Sam says. “We’ve had other things to deal with.” Which is the truth—between the Bunker, and the hunting network, and just regular old monster-killing him and Eileen haven’t had much free time. “And, if I’m honest, I don’t even know if there’ll be a wedding.”

“No wedding,” Dean repeats. “Come on, Sam. You tellin’ me you don’t want the—the fancy clothes and the big afterparty? Or the f*ckton of flowers? Jack as a ring bearer, Donna or Jody officiating, little seating charts, the whole nine yards?” As he says this, he gestures loosely with his hands and fingers, getting into it in a way that’s got Sam’s eyebrows raised.

“Maybe I did,” he admits. “Years and years ago, but…”

I’m not that person anymore , he thinks. With Jess, he imagined a big wedding, but it also felt a little...selfish, the entire time. Like it was going to be a big middle finger to John. And he really wanted to because she had wanted it, had always wanted it, and he would’ve given her nearly anything. It’s the same with Eileen, only Eileen’s not like Jess at all. He brought it up, a couple days after they’d proposed to each other, if Eileen wanted a big celebration. Who gives a sh*t about a celebration? I already know I’m happy with you , she’d told him, and he’s been riding that high ever since.

“We’ve already promised to commit to each other, Dean,” he says simply. “We’ve got the rings. We’re thinking of maybe forging a certificate and exchanging vows, but it would be a small thing.”



Dean snorts and sips at his co*ke. “So no special cake or shmoopy slow dance for you.”

“No, that’s not what I want,” Sam tells him, slowly. How is Dean not getting this? “And it’s not what Eileen wants.”

Dean lets out a “huh” and continues to fiddle with his co*ke can.

Realization dawns over Sam. “Is it...is that what you want?”

Dean starts his sentence a couple times before he finally speaks. “Maybe, yeah,” he says with a shrug. “I dunno, it would be nice, don’t you think? A massive party, a free bar, everyone you care about all in one place. We don’t get that very often. And, you know, planning it out and stressing over seating arrangements is like, the least stressful kind of stress I can imagine.”

He seems so earnest about it that Sam almost does a double take. “So you’d really do it? The whole nine yards?”

Dean shrugs again. “Maybe not the whole nine yards. None of those French appetizers—”

“Hors d'oeuvres.”

“—yeah, none of those. And no fancy venue or destination either.” He leans back, sweeping his hand across the land in front of them. “Nah, I’d rather have it in my own backyard.”

He looks like he’s imagining it now. Sam tries to imagine it with him—tables and chairs laid out everywhere, a canopy of some kind. Colored ribbons, a full buffet. Dean, in the middle of it all, wearing a suit. It oddly fits. He tries to imagine the other person under the canopy. He imagines someone, pretty easily. Dean might be thinking of the same person as well, but as far as Sam’s concerned, his brother is a whole complex f*cking web when it comes to sh*t like this.

“You don’t think Cas would mind?” he asks, trying to hedge the question.

Dean looks at him, wide-eyed. He looks back out at the lawn, a smile sneaking up on him before it vanishes from sight. He then proceeds to look down at his soda, frowning, his throat working. He does this for a couple seconds before his face becomes more neutral. “No, I don’t...I don’t think so,” he says, voice a rasp. He clears his throat and stands up. “Look, it’s late. And you’ve got a long day ahead of you, so.”

Sam tries to not be disappointed. “Yeah,” he says. He supposes it’s progress, however small it may be. If Dean doesn’t figure his sh*t out soon, though, Sam’s tempted to drive back here and whack him on the head until he does.

He helps bring the cans and bottles into the house. They amble into the living room, attempt to do an awkward-side hug, and then proceed to laugh it off as something sappy. They say goodnight to each other.

Sam begins to get the blankets on the couch that is way, way too short for him when Dean stops two steps up the staircase.

“Oh, and Sam?” Dean says. “Wedding or no wedding, I’m still throwing you a bachelor party. And for that , you are going the full nine yards.”


“‘Night, Sammy,” Dean says, and he’s already gone by the time Sam’s got anything to say.

After a few awkward goodbye hugs and a minor argument about the bachelor party thing (which will be awesome, his brother’s just got no taste), Sam heads back to Kansas. Things fall into a kind of rhythm for the next few days. Jack takes his time readjusting. Dean notices how he won’t go into certain rooms, and how he tends to latch onto Dean or Cas for the majority of the day like they’re walking safety blankets. Dean can’t really fault him for it, mostly because that’d make him a hypocrite.

Cas seems to be in a whole new type of mood, mostly happy but with an underlying current of anxiousness that Dean supposes comes with being a good parent. It’s a good look on him, as he asks Jack what he wants to do today or attempts to make food that’s Jack’s favorite and fails at it, badly. Dean has to buy a whole new skillet after the guy messes up grilled cheese, which shouldn’t be possible, but doing the impossible seems to be built into Cas’s very being. Dean finds himself tossing the skillet into the trash, and feeling weirdly fond about it.

He’s been feeling that fondness more and more these days. He likes sitting back and watching Cas and Jack play Scrabble, even though half the words they use are Enochian and also, apparently, highly subject to debate when it comes to how they’re spelled with the Latin alphabet. Jack has slowly been getting better at weeding, according to Cas, and keeps going to Dean with a fishing pole and a pack of hot dogs, asking Dean if they can fish for the crayfish living under the dock. They never eat them, only catch and release them.

It’s a new level of domestic. It scares the sh*t out of him. It doesn’t help that Cas has been leaving paint swatches everywhere of different shades of green, circles drawn around the colors he likes. Any day now he’s gonna ask Dean to go to the hardware store and pick up a couple cans, a few rollers, and a tarp. And then after that, he’s gonna be asking Dean why he can’t move the box or the table in the dining room, and Dean’s not sure he’s going to be able to give a solid answer.

That’s a ways off, though, with how things are looking. Late summer/early fall is always a busy time for hunting, things driven wild by the crazy heat coming up to the surface and things about to hibernate hoping for one last hurrah. The phone lines go off like crazy, to the point where there’s barely a two hour block of free time before one of them is going off again. And that isn’t even counting the hunters that will show up at all hours, asking for this or that or lugging a body in the trunk that they want to dunk in the lake, which is a hard no.

It doesn’t help that Cas’s gardening club friends keep stopping by as well, wanting to finally meet the Jack they’ve heard so much about. More than a few of them seem surprised at how old he looks (apparently most of them have it in their head that he was a poor toddler in the middle of a weird custody battle), but Jack charms the sh*t out of every one of them just by being himself. It’s a big help that he wants to talk to every new person he meets, especially if it means keeping the nice old ladies away from the living room where some guy named Mike is arguing with you about whether you salt the body before or after you burn it.

It’s a lot, is all Dean’s saying. He kind of got used to the house being just him and Cas, and now it’s one big adjustment after the other. He’ll adjust, and things’ll calm down, but for now he spends a lot of time outside checking the wards or tuning up his car.

Today he’s elected to spend his time under the hood of the Impala. He’s calling it a lunch break, as if he has a real, full-time job for the first time in years. It’s a bit more difficult, what with the arm still wrapped up, but there’s still a kind of zen that falls over him while he checks all the gauges and joints for any sign of repair. It’s just him and his car, and nothing else to worry about. No dining rooms, no crowded houses, no unspoken terrifying love for a best friend who loves him back.

He notices a bolt that’s a little loose, and moves to tighten it.

“Whatcha doin’?”

Dean starts, banging his head on the hood. “sh*t!” He rubs the back of head and turns to see who it is. He’s greeted by a short girl with a shaved head and almond-shaped brown eyes who is wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans. She looks familiar. “Who—oh. You’re that kid from Yakima. Uh...Marla?” She nods, and stuffs her hands in her pockets. Dean grabs a rag and tries to wipe the grease off his hand before realizing he can’t. That brings on the image of Cas wiping it off for him, which—okay, nice, but more important things to focus on right now. “What brings you around here?”

Marla kicks at some of the gravel. “Well, we had to bail pretty quick after the whole...you know.” She nods to his general person, eyes locked on his arm. She inhales deeply. “But we heard you made it out alive, and wanted to come round to say thanks. We…” She bites her cheek, looking down before gritting out her next words. “We would’ve been pretty screwed, if you and Cas weren’t there.”

Dean suppresses a laugh. “Taylor make you say all that?”

“Yes,” Marla says simply. She nods towards the house. “She would’ve done it herself, but your kid’s currently asking about her whole life story.”

Dean lets out a chuckle at that. “Yeah, Jack doesn’t have too many friends around here yet.”

He watches as Marla’s eyes assess everything in front of her, scrutinizing everything from the car to the cast to Dean himself. Dean doesn’t like this kind of analysis that only comes from younger people; he keeps expecting her to say something like “so, how’s the closet treating you?” or “you know, you’re not what I pictured”.

Instead, she says, “So. You do cars?”

Dean shifts from one foot to the other. “Yeah.”

“The uh, the engine in mine’s been making a weird clicking sound for the past month,” she tells him. “I’d usually ignore it, but it basically announces our location a mile away, so.”

She looks at him, a weird edge on her shoulders, like she’s ready for some kind of joke. Dean sighs and shakes his head. “Lemme take a look at it,” he says.

Marla guides him over to her Volvo at the edge of the driveway. He has her toss him the keys, and when he gets inside the car smells like copper and laundry detergent. He turns the keys, and marvels at all the symbols showing up on the dashboard. “Jesus, kid, it’s like a f*cking Christmas tree in here. When’s the last time you changed your oil?”

Marla looks down at her lap. “Uh. Definitely within the past two years.”

“f*cking Christ,” he says. He nods. “Okay, get a pen and a piece of paper. I’m gonna show you how to take care of this piece of sh*t. Your parents never run this through with you?”

“Didn’t live long enough,” Marla says, and Dean decides to shut up about anything other than cars.

He goes through the basics with her: oil changes, tire inflation, brake fluid and coolant levels, battery corrosion, etc. She’s a good student, taking notes in chicken scratch only discernible to her, but that’s what matters anyway.

He finds the problem with her engine—the timing belt is frayed to all hell. After searching through that box of spare parts he got a couple months ago, he finds a replacement and fixes the car up lickity-split, using Marla as a spare set of hands wherever he needs it. After they’re done, he offers her the rag while he smears grease on his jeans.

“Thanks, man,” Marla says, tossing him the rag back.

“Anytime,” Dean says. There’s something nice running in his blood—not exactly like the adrenaline rush after hunting, but just as exciting. There’s something to the cars, a little bit of the teaching, that’s got him on a high he hasn’t felt since Ben was handing him his tools as he tuned up his truck. “And uh, if any of your buddies out there ever need a tune-up, just send ‘em my way, alright? Don’t want any of you pipsqueaks dying because of an overdue oil change.”

“I’m literally 20,” Marla says, with the voice of someone who believes they’re old only because they’re so young.

“Yeah, whatever. Just have them swing by, okay?”

Marla shrugs. “Yeah, okay.”

When they get back to the house, Taylor’s entertaining Jack by showing him pictures on her phone of various places she’s been along the coast. Her and Marla leave soon after that, leaning into each other as they talk. Dean’s not sure what they are—he can hazard a guess, but who knows? Maybe they’re in the same boat. He’s certainly doing the same to Cas as they leave, leaning in a little too close as he tells him all about fixing up the Volvo. In turn, Cas tells him about having to guide a fire ritual over the phone, and how the hunter on the other side nearly singed his eyebrow off.

“He was an idiot,” Cas says. “A well-meaning one, but an idiot nonetheless.” And it makes Dean laugh and laugh and laugh. Cas looks at him, eyebrows folded together in confusion, and Dean has to catch his breath.

“It’s just...I mean it’s fitting, right?” Dean asks Cas. “Two of us make up one whole Bobby.”

Cas chuckles at that, a fond smile reaching his lips. “It is very fitting, yes,” he says, and they stay leaning in the front doorway like that until Jack asks them what’s for dinner.

The days slip into weeks. The tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers are beginning to bear the last of their fruit, the Three Sisters Garden ripening quickly for a harvest that’ll have Castiel’s hands full come September. The strawberries have reached their height, to the point where Dean is cooking waffles every morning just to make sure they don’t rot on the vine.

The haze of late summer leaves Castiel feeling content; his son is here, and everything feels near complete. It is as if his cup is overflowing, and he doesn’t know what do with this extra amount of happiness that has been gifted to him. He holds it awkwardly within himself, years of experience telling him to hold tight lest he loses it all over again.

He knows his days where Jack is always at the house are limited; Jack wants to try his hand at the local community college. It’s a mess to coordinate, with a lot of trips to the Kinkos twenty minutes away to create a convincing-enough social security number and birth certificate that states that one Jack Kline was born very, very far away from here before the year 2017. After that, everything else is surprisingly easy: Jack registers for upcoming classes, and he’s set to start in the fall.

“The Former God is taking Spanish 101,” Dean quips as he reads Jack’s class schedule. “There’s gotta be a joke in there somewhere.”

Castiel hums. “I pray you find it one day,” he says, which earns him a scowl followed by a low chuckle.

That isn’t to say things have been easy. Castiel’s midnight prayers double in their anxiety, his relationship with Dean intermingled with worries about Jack’s wellbeing. The crickets and skipper bugs offer no advice, and neither do the fallen leaves on the water. The influx of hunters means Castiel ends his days exhausted more often than not. Some night he collapses onto top of the bed and wakes up, hours later, with his socks peeled off and the covers pulled up just to his waist, just the way he likes it when the weather is warm.

Dean has been...interesting. His look of indigestion is ever-present, and he continues to either touch Castiel more often than he usually does, or not at all. He is, mercifully, okay with Jack. There will be moments of stilted silence, a few words thrown out without meaning, but Dean still makes Jack waffles every morning. On the rare day that someone brings a car in (though the gaps in between are becoming shorter and shorter), Jack will venture outside to lend an extra hand.

And then there are the nights like these, where they’ve settled down in the living room. It reminds Castiel of movie nights back in the Bunker, only with a smaller television and less damp hanging around in the air. Dean and Castiel sit on the couch, Jack sitting on the floor and meticulously organizing his earring collection onto a wooden stand that Donna mailed over three days ago, along with a long note from Jody and the girls about how they need to come back and visit them all, or they’ll be heading out to Washington themselves. Castiel isn’t sure if that is meant as a threat or not.

The movie on the television is on my pure happenstance, after a long while of channel surfing. “Lost the remote,” Dean had muttered, even though halfway through he’d used it to adjust the volume.

“I don’t understand,” Jack says, tilting his head. “He says men and women can’t be friends, but we’re friends with many women.” He turns to look at them. “I don’t want to pursue a relationship with any of them.”

“It’s...it’s not really the point,” Dean says. “It’s about how they’re friends and then they’re...just watch the movie.”

Jack nods and goes back to watching. Castiel agrees, the thesis statement of the film leaves a lot to be desired, but he enjoys seeing the two main characters interact. They are very obviously in love, and well suited for each other, even if they do tend to disagree on many things. Castiel enjoys the soundtrack of the movie very much, with it’s bassy instrumentals and lilting baritones.

There is a scene at a diner that has the both of them moving to cover Jack’s ears, only to find him leaned back against the couch and asleep. Castiel doesn’t exactly get the joke at the end of the scene, but it makes Dean laugh, so he isn’t one to complain. For a while it’s comfortable silence, until Sally’s friend is being fitted for a wedding dress. Castiel is certain he’s seen that actress somewhere else.

“What kinda wedding would you have?” Dean asks out of the blue. Castiel looks at him, and Dean falters. “I mean, just. Wanna make sure you have some taste, unlike Princess Leia over here.”

Ah, that’s what he knows her from. Castiel considers Dean’s question. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.”

Dean frowns. “What? You’re telling me you’ve been sweet on me for years and never planned out our vows?”

The comment bristles slightly. It has been a while since Dean has made these jokes. Castiel had thought them gone from his repertoire. He supposes he thought wrong. “No.”

This is not the correct answer, according to Dean. “No? Why not?”

“Because I...there wouldn’t be a point,” Castiel explains. There is this, and only this. To willfully imagine anything more would be, in Castiel’s mind, akin to self harm.

“Yeah, but that’s what fantasies are for, right?” Dean asks with a laugh. He nudges Castiel with his plastered elbow. “Come on, look me in the eyes and tell me you never thought about it.”

“I never…” Castiel starts, until he looks at Dean. He bites his tongue, sighs. He says, quietly, “I...I would want orchids as centerpieces.”

There’s a smile on the corner of Dean’s lips. “Yeah?”

“They are simple, but beautiful,” Castiel says.

“So...nothing other than that? Really?” Castiel shakes his head. Dean shifts in his seat, frowning at the movie. “Huh.”

“You seem surprised,” Castiel states. Dean gives him a series of facial expressions he can only interpret as Yeah, genius, how’d you figure that one out? That bristles as well. He looks Dean in the eye. “Do you expect me to pine?” he asks. “To wax poetic about you? Throw myself upon you?” He does, indeed, do a few of these things, but that’s not the point.

“I…don’t you?” Dean asks. “Except for that last part, I mean.” He angles his body in an odd way, half leaning in and half retreating.

Castiel sighs. “Yes, but that is for my own benefit,” he argues. “And yours, if the situation calls for it. I wouldn’t subject you to something you didn’t want.”

“Well, what if…” Castiel waits for a conclusion, but it never comes. Dean looks at him a moment, before looking away. “Never mind. You know you can, if you wanna.”

Castiel tilts his head. “I can...?”

“Fantasize,” Dean says. He fidgets a little, adjusting in his seat until he’s leaning in fully. Castiel can feel the warmth of his upper arm on his own. “If you want, I mean it’s not...I don’t mind.”

“I already do,” Castiel says, noting the scar tissue on Dean’s neck and wondering what it would taste like. He then realizes his mistake. “Oh. You meant the weddings.” Dean leans back a little at that, and Castiel feels irritation well up. This whole conversation is bordering on something, but he can’t reasonably name what that ‘something’ is, and it’s all Dean’s fault. “Don’t look so surprised, I told you. My desire for you is ever-present.”

“So you think we’d f*ck, but we wouldn’t get married?” Dean asks, voice pitched high.

Castiel shifts uncomfortably. “I don’t wish to talk about this anymore,” he says, because he doesn’t. He doesn’t understand Dean’s fascination with humiliating him like this, of this odd tension that seems to rise whenever they broach the subject beyond simple reassurance.

Dean pitches out a sigh. “Great, yeah,” he mutters, and turns up the volume. “Let’s just watching the f*cking movie.”

They sit there a while longer. On the television screen, the main characters are having sex. Castiel is glad Jack is asleep. Then, Harry is looking at though he just witnessed a great atrocity, and leaves. Castiel feels an odd kinship with him, though he’s irritated at his choice.

When he sneaks a look at Dean, all he sees is a look Dean gives before punching someone in the nose.

“Why does it matter to you?” he asks finally, his curiosity getting the best of him.

Dean rubs a hand over his eyes. “Because it...it just does, okay?” he says, loud and defensive. Then, quieter, “Why doesn’t it matter to you?”

Castiel tries to look away, he really does. Because if it mattered any more, he thinks, it would be unbearable living like this, and I want to have you happily as much as I am able to.

“Let’s not discuss this,” he says instead. “It’s late. We’re missing the movie.”

Dean’s quiet for a moment. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, okay.”

On the screen, the two main characters are arguing. Between the long days and whatever this conversation was, exhaustion begins to lap at Castiel. He doesn’t even make it to the end of the movie before falling asleep, catching something about a New Year’s party.

In his dreams, Harry and Sally are outside the bunker, and the snow reflects pale blue in the night. They are discussing resolutions. Castiel hopes for a happier ending.


hi all! originally i had hoped to update this week by week, keeping a couple chapters ahead to ensure everything was updated on time. however, the past couple weeks have seen me busy with life and a little burnt out. i also have a much-needed vacation coming up that involves little to no internet, so updates for the last couple chapters will probably be more spaced out, somewhere around every two weeks. i'm still writing, no worries there, but i wanna make sure these come out in a timely manner for you all.

Chapter 10: september


“Stand up.”
Cas looks up and frowns. “Why?”
“Because we’re gonna dance. Now stand up.”


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Dean’s cast comes off on the 2nd.

Castiel only knows this because Dean has the date marked on his calendar. Not wanting to alert any more medical professionals to their ambiguous legal existence, Dean relents and lets Jack do the job of removing the cast with a snap of his fingers. The cast reappears on the coffee table in front of them, faded drawings on the outside and discolored slightly yellow on the inside. Dean’s arm is intact, if not also discolored and reeking slightly of 6 weeks worth of body odor. Castiel and Jack watch as Dean flexes his fingers and winces at the motion.

Jack reaches out, probably to ease Dean of his discomfort, but Dean catches him. “Uh uh, no,” Dean says. “That’s all you get to do.”

“But the…” Jack starts, pointing to Dean’s arm, then his neck. “And—”

This is all staying,” Dean says. “I mean, what’s more awesome than battle scars?”

“I think good health is pretty awesome, actually,” Jack argues, and Castiel is inclined to agree.

Dean waves his newly freed hand. “No, that’s—okay, that’s true, but…” He sighs. “Look, before you two and all the other winged dicks set foot down here, you had hunters from all over sliced up and living. The more you looked like a piece of chewing gum, the more respect you gained.”

Castiel stares at Dean for a second, before turning to Jack. “It was a fairly stupid system of respect that cost many people their lives,” he tells him.

“Hey, I used to have a ton of scars and I ended up fine!”

Castiel regards him with derision. “You died, Dean. It’s the reason we met.”

“And, what, you regret that?” Dean asks, which stings. Castiel bites his tongue, and resolves to glare at him. Dean glares right back, and turns his attention to Jack. “Before you dad here made me look like a Ken doll, I had a full collection.”

He then goes into detail about the various marks on his being that no longer exist. He points to his ankle and tells them about the time a ghoul tried to eat his foot. He points to his fingers and tells a tale about a gravedigging gone wrong, and points to his hairline as well. He notes a small section of flesh below his eyebrow, and how a spirit threw a vase at him and sliced the skin, and he and Sam thought he’d lost an eye from the amount of blood that was pouring out.

Castiel watches as his newly freed fingers drift to his ribs, start talking about a hunt in Flagstaff, before suddenly switching to the underside of his thigh, where he had a chunk taken out of him by a chupacabra down in Texas. At long last his hand drifts to his left shoulder, blemish free.

“Well,” Dean says, “Your dad can probably tell you about that one.” He says it in such a way that Castiel is tempted to burn it back into his skin.

Dean with uninhibited arms is more prone to touching, Castiel finds out. Or maybe he was always like this, and Castiel is finally noticing in the wake of it’s resolved absence. He insists on being the one to make dinner, and to clean. He does the same at breakfast the next day as well, and the day after that. He maneuvers around the kitchen with fleeting touches of his hand against Castiel’s back, or a simple grip of his shoulder, or sometimes sweeping his fingers through Castiel’s hair as he walks by. Fleeting touches that happen so quickly Castiel is unsure if they ever even existed.

It’s all very confusing, especially because when Castiel attempts to do the same, he gets much of the same reaction as before. He compliments Dean’s eyes once, on a rare morning where they wake up at the same time, and Dean rushes out of the room. He tries to grip Dean’s shoulder as Dean has to him, and Dean’s speech sputters to a stop before he, again, leaves to go somewhere else.

The delicate balance maintained within the house is wobbling on shaky legs. Castiel finds himself on more than one occasion fighting some overwhelming mixture of arousal and affection because Dean leans in too close at the grocery store to suggest a brand of cereal Jack would enjoy. And, now that his cast is gone, Dean’s grip on Castiel while sleeping increases twofold. Sometimes Castiel is gripping back, which is nice for all of three minutes until his brain reminds him: Take what you can get it. This is all there is .

“But…” Castiel muses to the pine needles wedged between the boards of the dock. The nights are beginning to chill again. He’s tugged on a simple sweater. “...what if…”

He can’t even say it out loud here. Hope lodges itself wet and sticky in his chest, tasting saccharine. It clogs his throat. It’s a dangerous precipice to lean over, even if he so badly wants to see the other side. He’s certainly not stoned enough to consider it as a stupid little thought a person has while high.

He takes another long hit off his joint, and coughs harshly when he finds it smoked down to the crutch. Grumbling, he snuffs it out on the dock and brushes debris off his legs as he stands. The seasons haven’t begun to change exactly, climate change creating a summer stretched like warm taffy to the very end, but already a few clouds dot over the distant mountains. The stars are shifting. The trilling of the crickets has begun to soften.

When he wanders back into the house, he casts a glance into the dining room. It looks much the same as it did last month: bare walls, a few cupboards, that odd box in the corner. It grates at him, how it sits like a dislocated joint compared to the rest of the house. Dean’s insistence that he’s going to ‘get to it’ has resulted in a new curtain rack and pair of curtains, still packaged, and a couple cans of paint sitting in a corner.

Grumbling at this as well, Castiel ascends the stairs. The light in Jack’s room is still on, along with the unmistakable noise of someone humming. Castiel smiles at this, and heads into the master bedroom.

Dean is asleep on his stomach, tape player unwinding and clicking in the crevice between their pillows. A spare earbud has been cast out to Castiel’s side of the bed. Castiel shucks off his sweater and gets into bed, picking up the earbud and placing it inside. Dean has chosen one of his own tapes tonight, something Castiel recognizes from many a late night on the road. He’s heard it so many times in that context that it feels incomplete now without Dean’s low, slightly off-tune voice singing I am a rock, I am an island alongside it.

There’s a soft noise next to him. He turns his head to see the outline of Dean nosing further into his pillow, hand reaching out blindly and splaying itself across Castiel’s chest. “You back?” he asks.

“Yes,” Castiel replies simply.

Dean hums. “Good,” he says sleepily. His fingers tighten into a fist, snagging the collar of Castiel’s shirt in the process. “‘S good when you come back.”

Dean’s breathing evens out soon after, Castiel’s doing the opposite. All he feels is the warm, heavy weight on his chest, and Simon and Garfunkel asking the listener not to talk of love. It feels like a warning directed towards Castiel specifically, almost an order. As such, it is his very nature to defy it.

The thought bubbles in Castiel’s throat, too sweet for its own good. He looks for something to pray to, and his eyes fall on the man next to him. He isn’t even listening, but that’s for the best.

“What if there’s more than this?” he prays.

The hope bursts from his chest, filling him down to his fingertips. He holds it there as long as he is able to. Under the cover of darkness, reality takes it’s time to enter. The mere idea of it makes him feel...happier. He is surprised to find that happiness is exponential, and without limit. He thought he’d already reached its full capacity, but it seems he was sorely mistaken.

He stares at Dean’s face until it hurts, until the wave of hope crashes down into something like heartbreak. It caves in on itself, and continues to do so over and over and over again. You fool , the feeling says. This is all there is . This is all you are allowed. Live with it.

In the morning, Dean’s hand will be gone. They will continue to exist as they are, not quite here or there. This is fine. This is what Castiel is used to. He just wished it didn’t hurt so damn much.

His heart breaks a little more for good measure. He keeps staring at Dean’s face anyway.

Dean’s lying under a mud-caked 2002 Camry when Jack suggests it. The kid’s shaping up to be a pretty good mechanic, always asking questions and willing to stand around with a toolbox. It reminds Dean of when he was a kid, right down to the old boombox they picked up from a Goodwill a week ago, already caked with dust and an antenna a yard long shot up to the sky. Right now Dean’s got the Billy Joel tape in, humming along to “Movin’ Out” under his breath. It was always Sam’s favorite as a kid, which is hilarious in retrospect.

“Wrench,” he says, sticking a hand out into the sunlight. Something heavy and metal is placed into his hand, and he goes back to fixing the rock-scraped underbelly of this thing. The owner, a twenty-six year-old who came in last night with a half-man half-frog in his trunk, is currently watching Ugly Betty in the living room as Cas and Sam do some nerdy research tag-teaming over the phone.

“I’m going to community college next week,” Jack tells him.

Dean’s so focused on loosening a tightly-driven bolt that he nearly doesn’t hear him. With a grunt, he manages to get it moving, and his brain finally catches up. “Yeah,” he says. “Uh, excited?”

“Oh, yes! I mean, it’ll be nice to learn everything the normal way.”

“Normal way?”

“I knew everything when I was God, but it wasn’t very fun. There was a lot of...stuff, all the time.” He’s quiet for a moment. Dean stills under the car, wondering if he should kick Jack’s leg compassionately or something. Luckily, Jack seems to recover. “And it means I’ll get to meet people, which is good. Not that you and Cas aren’t nice, but you’re old.”

Cas is old,” Dean argues. “I’m not old.”

Jack hums, like he disagrees but doesn’t want to say anything. “Anyway,” he says. “Could we go to the beach? Before school starts?”

Dean frowns, and slides out from under the car. Jack is sitting on one of the deck chairs, kicking his feet back and forth. He’s wearing star-shaped earrings that he’s begun to favor so much his ears are starting to turn green. “Yeah, kid,” he says, putting the wrench back in the toolbox. “Why the sudden interest?”

Jack shrugs. “I’ve never seen the ocean before.”

“You were God.”

“I was pretty busy.”

It’s been a while since Dean’s seen the ocean. Really seen it, not just passing by and driving up some coastal highway on the way to another town. And it’s been even longer since he’s stuck his feet in the sand. He’d always imagined, in some odd fantasy, going down to California and letting the sun hit his face, but he supposes Washington will do. It’s the same water, anyhow.

Dean shrugs. “Yeah, alright.”

This is how, at 6AM on a Sunday, Dean manages to wrangle a former angel and a former All Omnipotent God into his car. It takes a lot of work, and bribery, and at one point he has to physically bar Cas from the bedroom, but it means that by the time they hit the far edge of the Olympic Peninsula it’s still before noon. Jack’s first out the car when they park, running down the path at an unreal speed. Dean and Cas stay behind to round up the beach supplies, Dean taking the cooler and blanket while Cas takes the chairs. Cas is finally awake thanks to some Venti Starbucks thing they got on the way here but visibly disgruntled. He’s still rubbing the sleep from his eyes when they make their way down the path, an expression so adorable Dean nearly trips over a rock from looking at it too long. Cas catches him on the way down.

“You should pay better attention,” he says, something dark in his words.

Dean frowns. “You okay?”

Cas stares at Dean a moment, mouth open to say something, before looking back to the water. He shakes his head. “No,” he says.

“Okay,” Dean says. “You wanna elaborate on that?”

Jack’s shoes lie propped up against a sand dune, and Cas picks them up without a word. In the distance, Jack is already down to his swim trunks and hip-deep in the water. Dean watches him for a moment, all happy in the water, before turning to Cas, who is smiling sadly. Something clicks in Dean’s head. He sets down the cooler.

“You know he’s only gonna be gone for like, six hours out of the day, right?” he says.

Cas’s mouth sets into a thin line. “Yes. I also know I’ll miss him all six hours.”

Dean sets a reassuring hand on Cas’s shoulder, which Cas seems to lean into for a moment before swaying away. Trying to not make the moment awkward, Dean chuckles. “Can you imagine if he was his actual age?” he postures.

He can imagine it already: first day of kindergarten, Cas crying at the bus stop. Maybe even chasing after it for a block or two. Furthering the fantasy, he imagines holding a crying Cas in his arms and walking him back to the house for some comfort food. God, he’s become such a sap.

“I don’t,” Cas says, breaking up the fantasy. “If I did…” He lets out a huff. “It’s an exercise in fruitlessness,” he concludes.

Dean doesn’t really know where to begin with that.

Cas drops the chairs and looks down at his feet. “I’m going to go for a walk,” he says, and is gone before Dean can think of something to say.

The coastline is nothing like in the movies, all twisted, craggy boulders and wind-blown evergreens. Cas immediately beelines for one of the rocks jutting out of the sand, still damp from the tide and painted with all sorts of sea creatures on the bottom half.

He huddles over it as if he’s greeting every mussel and barnacle individually, all bundled up in a dark green sweater and khaki shorts. Dean watches him for a while, lovesick.

He’s been trying—really, truly trying. Their whole wedding conversation flicked a switch in Dean, and now he finds himself trying to be the world’s most hopeless romantic with the emotional budget equivalent of $5. He’s only half-certain of what he’s doing and what he wants, but something in him itches to prove itself.

It’s addicting, too. The more he touches, the more he wants to touch. The more he compliments Cas, the better the words taste coming out of his mouth. He’s even got Cas’s lunch separated into little bags, numbered according to dumbass ‘best for last’ policy. Like he said, he’s trying. Like, an embarrassing amount.

He doesn’t know if Cas has picked up on it or not. The guy isn’t exactly Hawking-level when it comes to human interaction. He’s not even sure how he’ll react if Cas realizes what he’s doing. Almost every instinct in him says that he should run away once he’s found out.

Almost .

It’s just...it would be nice, you know? Sure, Cas deserves better. Deserves someone who hasn’t hurt him time and time again. But Cas loves him, said so himself, so...Dean’s starting to come around to it.

Jack comes back about fifteen minutes later, hands cupped.

“Whatcha got there?” Dean asks.

“Seashells.” He offers his hands out, and Dean can pick out a couple broken sand dollars and pearly razor clams. He shifts from one foot to the other. “These shorts don’t have pockets.”

Dean huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, okay, give ‘em here,” he says, and stuffs them into his own pockets.

Cas eventually traverses back from his little sulking rock, and his spirits pick up immensely when he has something to eat. He then pretends whatever just happened didn’t happen, which is par for the f*cking course, but whatever. It’s Jack’s day, nobody’s dying. Dean reluctantly lets it go.

Jack tries to get the both of them to come down to the water, promising that it’s not that cold, really. Jack also forgets he’s still operating on grace, and the water is actually f*cking freezing. For a half an hour Dean and Cas act as human carrying bags for whatever Jack finds in the ocean. This includes, but is not limited to: a two dozen broken and bleached seashells, a few whole ones, a simple gray rock that is shaped like a rock, a clump of kelp, a mole crab that Cas secretly releases back into the ocean, and a simple gray rock that’s kind of shaped like a heart if you squint at it.

Cas only talks when someone talks to him, and even then it’s short sentences. Jack eventually convinces him to wade further in, and soon Dean’s right behind him with numb calves. He doesn’t really know what to dohe scans the perimeter sometimes out of habit, and tries to jump over a wave once before remembering that he’s a full grown man. Mostly he watches Cas, who stands stock still and just...stares at the horizon.

They pack up a couple hours later. There’s sand everywhere in the Impala, which is gonna be a real bitch to clean, but Dean finds he doesn’t mind. Jack passes out five minutes into the drive. There’s a silent agreement between all parties involved to just not talk. Something about breaking the moment, probably.

When they get home, a bone-deep exhaustion settles over him. It’s not violent, nor is it annoying. It almost feels like a Turkey coma after Thanksgiving dinner, without all the food. It doesn’t make him sleepy, exactly, but settled. Cozy.

He supposes that’s why, as twilight crawls in and Cas and Jack look ready to keel over, he suggests they do some crawdad fishing.

They settle outside with the boombox, switching out tapes every thirty minutes or so. Cas sits bundled on a chair, actively not participating and instead settling in with some ancient text and one of those infomercial reading lights. Dean and Jack sit on the edge of the dock, a camping lantern sitting between them, and Jack names each of the lures in Dean’s tackle box as they wait for something to bite.

“Aloysius?” Dean asks. The green lure glints between his fingers, and he sets it back in the box. “Where the hell did you pull ‘Aloysius’?”

“The Bunker’s got some of his bones,” Jack tells him. “He’s a saint, I think.”

Dean turns back to Cas. “You ever meet him, Cas?”

Cas sighs. “No. Saints were Samandriel’s division. He was...better at first impressions.”

Dean tries to imagine Cas’s lightshow entrance in the eyes of a 14th-century nun, and snorts at the image. “Yeah, probably for the best.”

Jack’s line tugs slightly, and there’s a lot of whooping and hollering as he brings in a little crawdad, munching happily away on the small piece of hot dog on the end of the line. Cas looks up from his book for this, smiling wide and congratulating Jack as Dean plucks the little guy off by the tail.

“Lookit that,” he says. “Wanna name him, too?”

Jack tilts his head. “Aren’t we going to eat him?”

“Nah,” Dean says. “Too small. Gonna have to throw him back, though.”

Jack hums. “I think Jeremy’s a good name.”

Dean nods. “Wanna hold him?” Jack says yes, and Dean shows him how to hold him so he doesn’t get pinched, since Jack seems to forget every time. Jack attempts to show his catch to Cas, but whenever he brings it close, the little guy starts swinging wildly in Cas’s direction, claws frantic.

“I think Jeremy likes you,” Jack says.

Cas nods. “Perhaps a little too much.”

They toss Jeremy back into the water soon after. Jack pulls up five more crawdads, Dean six. Jack names every one of them, the names ranging from a simple Mark or Susan to Lollapalooza or Justinian the Third. Cas sneaks in the occasional comment, but mostly sticks to his book.

After Jack catches and releases his sixth crawdad, newly christened Guy Diamond, he abruptly stands up. “I think I’m going to go to bed,” he says decisively. “Sam told me that it’s important to be well-rested before your first day.”

“Sam’s a nerd,” Dean argues automatically, but waves him off. “Yeah, alright.”

Jack smiles. “Today was a lot of fun. The most fun I’ve had since I was dying.” He says this like it’s not even a little heartbreaking. He nods to Dean. “Goodnight.” He then nods to Cas. “Night, Dad.”

Cas smiles back. “Goodnight, Jack,” he says. The minute Jack’s feet are off the dock, it turns sad. His eyes don’t leave Jack until he’s inside the house, and then drift back to his book, where he reads on resolutely.

Dean fidgets for a couple minutes. He catches another crawdad, has the thing nearly pinch his nose, and names it Angus Young on Jack’s behalf. Tosses it back in the lake. Cleans up his lure box a bit. The tape currently playing runs out, so he rummages through the small pile stacked on top of the boom box, and slots the Animal House soundtrack in on the B side.

Cas continues to look some strange mix of sad and content. It’s an emotion only Cas could perfect to the point where just looking at him hurts, and Dean’s fingers itch to grab hold of him and try and force some happy down his throat. Instead he hums along to “Money”, glancing at Cas with the occasional glare shot back. By the time “Let’s Dance” hits the speakers, he’s too antsy for his own good.

He goes to stand in front of Cas. “Stop moping,” he demands.

Cas doesn’t even look up from his book. “I am not moping .”

Oh, okay, this is how it’s gonna be. Great. Dean licks his lips and sighs. “I get it, alright? When Sam left for college…” Cas glares up at him. “Well, okay, it wasn’t exactly like this. But I get it. And he’s not even leaving. He’ll still be back here.”

Cas sobers a little at this, shoulders slumping. “I know,” he says. “I know, I’m just...emotional, I guess. He’s growing up.” His voice breaks a little at the end. Dean wants to kiss it better.

“Yeah, kids tend to do that,” he responds. He tries to go for a joking tone, but it comes out soft. He clears his throat. Cas returns to his book. “So, you just gonna sit there all miserable for the rest of the night?”

“Preferably,” Cas says, turning a page, “we will move inside once it gets cold, but yes.”

Dean sighs. He doesn’t know if it’s Cas’s bad mood, or the comfortable exhaustion, or just the lyrics of the song playing quietly next to them, but he gets an idea. He holds out a hand. “Stand up.”

Cas looks up and frowns. “Why?”

“Because we’re gonna dance. Now stand up.”

This only causes Cas’s frown to deepen. “I won’t have you pity me, Dean,” he says. Like that was even a thought in Dean’s head. Dean can’t believe he’s in love with an idiot.

He lets out a grunt of frustration. “It’s...it’s not pity , Cas, it’s me wanting to…” Make you feel better. Also to touch you, that would be a huge bonus. “Look, I’ve known you for over a decade, and I’ve never seen you dance once. I don’t even know if you can if it’s not the head of a f*cking pin or whatever.”

Cas looks at Dean’s outstretched hand, then at his face. “You’re very adamant about this.”

“Yeah, seeing you feel like sh*t tends to make me wanna fix it, so.” He fights back a blush and holds his hand out further. “Come on, Cas. Please?”

Cas’s face softens. “Fine.” He sets his book to the side and takes Dean’s hand. Dean squeezes momentarily, and hauls him up. It’s a familiar gesture, usually reserved for when they’re done killing something, but it feels different here.

Dean doesn’t let go, and Cas doesn’t pull away. The song fades into “Dream Girl”, the singer’s whiny falsetto ticking along.

“Here, we’ll just, uh.” Dean sets his free hand on Cas’s shoulder, Cas doing the same. “Yeah. Yeah, that.”

They swing back and forth to the tune, nothing serious. It’s all very innocent, like two kids on the dancefloor of a wedding. They step on each other’s feet. One of them tries to improvise and the other stumbles to catch up.

It’s not romantic at all, but it is fun. Sure enough, Cas’s sad smile is replaced with a happier one. Dean tries to teach him how to do the spin out, and has to reel Cas in with a “whoa, whoa, whoa” when the guy nearly falls off the dock. Cas’s free hand scrabbles for the fabric of his shirt, and stays there for a bit as he mutters apologies and Dean laughs and says it’s fine, really, it’s fine.

They’re still laughing when the whiny falsetto fades out, replaced by Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World”. It’s slower, and hits Dean square in the chest. Naturally, they fold in closer together, their steps careful. Cas’s hand lets go of Dean’s shirt and travels, ever so casually, to the top of his hip bone.

Cas is smiling at him. Dean’s smiling right back. This close, he can smell ozone and the last remnants of sea salt and driftwood in Cas’s hair. The comfortable exhaustion settles in further, and Dean begins to realize that this is what happiness feels like. Real, persistent happiness. Old married couple sixty years strong, twin chairs on the porch kind of happiness.

The song croons over the water, low and sweet.

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me, too
What a wonderful world this would be

He wants it. He wants so badly to feel like this until the day he dies, and he wants that day to be a long way off. He’s never had that kind of resolution sit so surely in him before.

“Mm,” Cas says. Dean can almost feel the vibration in his chest. “This is very nice. Thank you.”

“Hey, no problem for me,” Dean says. And, because he’s feeling a little bold: “Could be a new addition to your fantasies, if you want.”

It’s flirting, plain and simple. Dean waits for Cas to laugh, say something back. Maybe even give a small smile he could kiss off his face like they do in the movies.

Instead, Cas stops. His face clouds with something Dean can’t name, but twists his gut nonetheless. With a shaky breath, he steps away and takes his hands with him. When did the temperature drop? All of a sudden it feels twenty degrees lower than it was thirty seconds ago.

The sadness on Cas’s face is quickly mixed with anger. “No, Dean,” he says. He says it slowly, each word pounding into Dean’s skull.

The happy feeling leaves Dean instantly. The comfortable exhaustion is replaced with just plain old tiredness. Something in his chest cracks. Something fragile that he didn’t even know he still had. It cracks loud and horribly, sticky on the inside.

Cas gathers up his book and walks back to the house, the absolute picture of resolute. Dean stands out on the dock for a while longer, heart breaking as Sam Cooke continues to posture. What a wonderful world this would be…

Castiel drives Jack to school alone. There’s no discussion between Dean and him about it because Dean and him haven’t exchanged many words. Or, Castiel hasn’t exchanged many words. Dean attempts to talk to him multiple times, but Castiel isn’t having it.

He knows Dean to take things to the edge. He pushes and prods and never relents. He did this to Castiel, long ago, in relation to free will. That had been devastating in its own right, but rewarding. This? Castiel doesn’t know what to call this. It's a joke about a kiss on New Years. It’s the affection that only comes when it’s a cover. It’s questions upon questions about the best moment of Castiel’s life, now left out in the open and festering.

Jack talks the whole car ride over about how excited he is for classes. He has a new blue backpack in his lap, and a simple sack lunch that Dean made him. He’s got his favorite clothes on and his voice is enough to soothe Castiel’s frustration for the time being. He asks many questions about community college that Castiel cannot answer, then talks at length about a show about a community college that Castiel can’t be a hundred percent sure is accurateor appropriate for Jack to be watching, for that matter.

When Castiel pulls them into the front parking lot, Jack stops talking. He looks at the building and starts to fidget with his hands.

Dear Jack , Castiel prays, and sends over a memory. It’s a simple one. It’s from before Jack was born, of Kelly standing by the water’s edge. It’s early morning. “I just know he’s destined for great things, Castiel,” she says. Her hands cup her stomach. “He’s not even here yet and I’m already so proud of him. It’s kinda silly, isn’t it?”

To which Castiel in the memory replies, “No, Kelly. I don’t think it’s silly at all.”

Jack looks at him, tears forming in his eyes and smiling. Castiel blinks back his own tears, and is soon enveloped in a tight embrace. They stay like this for many minutes, until Jack mumbles a “Love you” that Castiel echoes right back. Jack withdraws eventually, one last look shared between them before he opens the door and climbs out of the truck.

Castiel watches as Jack until he disappears into the school building, watches some more. He doesn’t start crying until he’s halfway back to the house and has to pull over.

Dean is gone when he gets back to the house. There is a small cup of coffee on the table in one of Castiel’s favorite mugs, room temperature, and nothing else. Castiel prefers it that way. He thinks if he’s alone with Dean, his heart will just break all over again. Instead he fields calls and does copious amounts of research. If Dean ever reenters the house, he does it when Castiel is too distracted to note otherwise.

They only see each other again when Castiel brings Jack home. Dinner is already most of the way done. Dean doesn’t speak to him directly most of the time, and when he does it’s small talk. ‘Can you pass me this’, ‘did you get that book Sam mailed a week back’, etc. Castiel acts much of the same.

It is a saving grace that Jack wants to talk endlessly about school. He likes math the most, because it’s easy for him to spot and recreate patterns, cause and effect. He shows off the phrases he’s learning in his Spanish class, tumbling over the worlds and overcorrecting on his accent. He mentions the people he sits next to in every class; some talk to him, some don’t, but “it’s okay, we’ll be friends soon”. When they’re done, Jack leaves to get started on his homework, and the conversation between Dean and Castiel is...amicable. Mostly centered on Jack, but better than nothing.

This is how it goes the next week or so. It’s a tedious balancing act, being miserable but trying not to act like it. Dropping Jack off at school gets easier and easier, and coming home gets harder and harder. If he ever ends up in the same room as Dean, they either don’t speak or start bickering at the drop of one passive aggressive comment. Castiel has never seen Dean be so passionate about where they put their shoes and has never known himself to suddenly care so much about it either.

Dean’s taken to sleeping on the couch most nights. Castiel supposes it must be some kind of punishment for setting up a singular boundary, and does his best to pretend he’s sleeping well alone. The nights Dean does sleep in the same bed as him, he turns away and doesn’t speak a word.

It all comes to a head over dinner a week later. It was bound to, sooner or later. They’re eating Hamburger Helper, doctored up with peppers and tomatoes from the garden. They’re crowded over the countertopan image Castiel once thought of as sweet and intimate, but now only reminds him of Dean’s empty promise to patch up the dining room. Their hands bump into each other every time someone moves their fork, elbows jamming into ribs, and the stools have Castiel’s back aching from lack of support.

Dean’s the first to get up and clear the dishes away. Jack continues to relay a story about one of his friends from school, a girl named Kim who is, to Castiel’s knowledge, a girl experiencing a startling number of relationship problems for her young age.

“She was very upset,” he relays. Castiel nods. “Which is fair. I don’t understand why she doesn’t talk to Mikey about it, though. I think it would be very easy to just ask to go out to dinner. It’s just the same as asking a question.”

“Communication is very important in relationships,” Castiel agrees, and doesn’t look at Dean.

“That’s what Sam told me, too,” Jack says. He sighs. “I also don’t see why going out to dinner would be so important, though. I mean, you and Dean don’t go out to eat very much, and you’re fine.”

The whole world stands still, the only sound coming from the faucet running. Castiel watches as Dean turns, every so slowly with a sponge still in hand, to face their way.

“Jack,” Dean says, “do you...do you think me and Cas are together?”

Jack looks at him as if Dean’s asked him if the sky is blue. “You’re my parents,” he says slowly. “Parents on TV are usually together.” He nods his head to the side. “Except in Riverdale , of course. Those parents do a lot of weird things.”

“Sam’s also your parent,” Castiel argues.

“Yeah, and he’s with Eileen, who’s also my parent,” Jack states. He frowns. “Are you two not together? That doesn’t make any sense. You own a house together.” He looks at Dean. “And Cas told him he loves you.”

Dean winces, and Castiel tries not to react. “Well, yeah , but that’s

“Dean does not reciprocate my feelings,” Castiel interrupts. “We have decided that it is best if we move forward as things are.” He looks to Dean for confirmation. Dean stares at him a moment, does a small nod, then turns back to the sink. The dishes bang and clatter as Dean roughly washes them.

When Castiel turns back to Jack’s face, he sees it downturned. “Oh,” Jack says quietly.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t love you any less.”

“I know. I’m just confused.” Jack stares at the countertop, eyebrows furrowed. The Dean makes a show of manhandling the plates and forks onto the drying rack. Eventually, Jack looks up and makes eye contact with Castiel. “Do you love this house?”

“I...yes,” he answers, unsure of what Jack means. “Of course I do.”

Jack holds his gaze for a moment before looking at Dean. “And you do too, right, Dean?”

The manhandling stops, and Dean’s fingers flex a couple times before he turns to face them. His face is the picture of nonchalance. He shrugs. “I like it well enough.”

“But do you love it?” Jack presses.

Dean opens his mouth to speak. Shuts it. Swallows. “Yeah,” he says, sheepish. “I mean, I helped rebuild it. I can’t help but love it a little.”

“So…hm.” This doesn’t help Jack’s confusion at all, if the deepening crease in his forehead is anything to go by.

Concern fills Castiel’s being. “Is everything okay, Jack?”

Looking up, Jack nods faintly. “Yes. I think I’m going to go to my room and call Claire.” He gets up from his seat and nods to the both of them. “Thank you.”

There’s the sound of him running up the stairs and shutting the door. Castiel puzzles over Jack’s statement as Dean continues to loudly clean the dishes. The sound, all harsh porcelain and metal, grates at Castiel’s ears. Dean glances at him occasionally, and it’s only on the third not-so-covert look over that Castiel realizes he’s doing this on purpose.

Castiel sighs and bites the bullet. “He must have drawn conclusions when I told him about my confession. I apologize.”

Dean shrugs. “Nothing to apologize for, Cas,” he says. Castiel would believe him if he didn’t look so tense. “People think we’re a couple all the time. All your friends think we’re married. Must be something to it.”

“And this doesn’t bother you?”

Dean turns, eyebrows raised. “Does it bother you?”

Castiel frowns. “It’s an incorrect assumption.”

Dean stares at him for a good, long minute, slowly wiping down the last plate in the sink. “It really bothers you, doesn’t it,” he says, and it’s the furthest thing from a question. Moreso an accusation. He sets the plate down in the drying rack.

Castiel fidgets. “I don’t like lying.”

Dean scoffs and throws the towel onto the countertop. “Right, because that’s never stopped you.” His tone sends ice through Castiel’s veins.

“What do you mean,” he asks, head tilting. Also not a question. Moreso old interrogation tactics.

Dean lets out a small, harsh laugh, and looks Castiel in the eye. “I dunno, Cas, maybe it’s the fact that you were head over heels for me for years, and didn’t think to mention it until it killed you.”

It’s not a new statement by any means, but it’s always been said in halves. I’ve loved you for years separated from when you died by time and language, because together they form a horrible, indestructible truth. It’s come straight from Dean’s mouth, and it hurts like nothing else.

“I was acting in your best interest,” Castiel argues. “It was the only way to—”

“And now, whenever someone brings up the idea that we’re together, you get pissed,” Dean continues, as if Castiel’s words mean nothing. He looks around, lost. “I mean, what’s the truth, Cas? What’s the deal here?”

Castiel would like to answer. He knows the answer very well, has been aware of it since he sacrificed himself to the Empty. Even before that, it’s hung over him, in the teasing words of past enemies, in the knowing looks in their eyes. I never planned on any of this happening , he should say. I always planned on telling you and never seeing the end of it, because I knew that option would be better than whatever’s happening now. I love you like a coward would.

The words get stuck in his throat. He can’t let them out, his cowardice crowding his lungs. Instead, he looks down, trying to hide his shame. “I’m going for a walk,” he says, and gets up to put on a pair of shoes left by the back door.

“Yeah, of course you are,” Dean says. “Great.”

He lets Castiel leave. Of course he does.

Castiel immediately heads for the dock, but memories of dancing have him turning around and heading down to the shoreline. It’s colder than he expected, and he didn’t grab a coat. He muscles through it, though, trying to trick himself into believing that he’s an angel once more. It doesn’t work.

He continues to walk anyway. One of his shoes gets soaked in the water, and he nearly runs into a tree with how hard he’s concentrating on 1) not feeling cold and 2) not feeling anything, really. Because he finds he’s feeling quite a lot. It’s usually something he welcomes with open arms, but these are not the feelings he seeks. They are ugly, raw things.

What is it to Dean, anyway, if Castiel is bothered by other people’s assumptions? They are an unwelcome reminder of what Castiel cannot have. It’s not like Dean has any stake in them either. He’s mentioned, time and again, that he has no interest in Castiel. This is fact made solid, indisputable.

They can share a bed and live together, but everything else is an act or a joke: the New Year’s kiss comment, the ego-stroking questions at the supermarket, the cover for the neighbors. Dean can only be in a relationship when it’s in the hypothetical; it’s always an act or the set up to some punchline. It’s never real, but just as enticing. It makes Castiel’s blood boil.

The low simmering in his stomach lights aflame. He’s angry now, well and truly. He’s angry for himself , too, something he’s never had the luxury of before. It burns bright and righteous within him, and he doesn’t want to let go of it.

He walks the lake a little more, and feels his anger crest. He doesn’t pray to anything; he figures the frogs and dragonflies shouldn’t hear such language anyway. Eventually he comes across a large log blocking his path and takes it as a sign to turn around.

When he gets back in sight of the house, none of the lights are on. The front door is locked, but the back opens easily. When he surveys the house, he sees that the couch is empty. Dean must be waiting for him upstairs. Well, he can wait all night, as far as Castiel is concerned.

He starts to get the couch ready when the dining room catches his eye. He flicks the light switch and sees it bathed in yellow light. It’s incompleteness, along with Dean’s failed promises to fix it, suddenly come crashing down on him.

It’s fine, he thinks to himself. Castiel will just do it himself. There’s no use waiting on Dean nowadays.

The first thing Castiel does is lay down some tarp. He then pries open a can of paint, realizes it needs to be mixed, and does so with one of the wooden sticks lying around. He gets to work, and realizes the importance of painters tape very quickly. He also realizes the importance of painting clothes, and the fact that he should have cleared the room of furniture before starting. He starts on the wall opposite the window, already empty of furniture and wall hangings, and comes to the conclusion that he needs a bigger brush.

Despite all of this, he feels a sort of peace in watching the walls change color. It’s a messy coat of paint, uneven and splotchy, but it’s progress. Half of the can has found its way onto his clothes and his face. Already the room is beginning to transform into something lived in. Castiel takes pride in it.

He moves to the next wall. This one has a bookshelf and that box propped up against it. He manages to maneuver the bookshelf to the opposite corner with some minimal groaning. He even scoots the table over easily despite its size.

He hauls the box onto the table last and finds it surprisingly light, compared to everything else. Castiel wonders if there’s anything inside it at all, and Dean’s just forgotten to throw it out. He finds himself curious. He opens it after a moment of hesitation.

Inside is a familiar jacket. Castiel wipes leftover paint onto his pants and picks the jacket up, holding it up to the overhead light.

It’s Dean’s jacket. He’d been wondering where it had gotten off toDean had worn this thing constantly. It brought out his eyes in a lovely way. Castiel, despite his anger, thumbs the fabric with fondness. When he does that, he notices the dark smudge on the shoulder. A handprinthis handprint.

He can’t draw his eyes away from it. His mind goes blank. He hasn’t thought much about the actual event that started all of this, but it comes to him unbidden and frayed at the edges. Dean’s open, shocked face at his words. Was he angry? Disgusted? Castiel could never parse it out. He was too busy being in the moment. It didn’t matter at the time, because there was never supposed to be a reaction. An after. An effect to follow the cause.

His thumb sweeps over the bloody stain on the jacket. He remembers what were supposed to be Dean’s last words to him:

Please, Cas. Don’t do this .

Too late.

Dean’s lying awake in bed when he hears Cas come inside. He’s been stewing for two hours already, and as he hears Cas traipse around downstairs, he only stews further.

He can still smell Cas on the bed. f*ck, how pathetic is it that he’s pining for a guy who’s less than twenty feet away?

Less pathetic than pining after a guy who rejected you , Dean thinks, and fights a groan of embarrassment.

Granted, said guy is a dumbass who can’t even answer a simple question. Seriously, what’s his deal? Maybe he’s just as confused as Dean is in all of this. Maybe he’s just not good with his words, despite spouting love poems at Dean whenever he gets the chance.

Or maybeand this is the worst one, so Dean’s got it playing on loop in his headmaybe Cas is having some kind of buyer’s remorse about loving Dean, and he’s just now beginning to express it.

Whatever. Either way, Cas is the one who stormed out, so he’s gotta be the one to storm back in. They’ll figure it out from there.

Only, Cas doesn’t storm back in. Cas doesn’t come upstairs at all , which creates a pit in Dean’s stomach. Dean waits a little while longer, dredging up fake conversations of how this will all go: Cas will make some snarky comment, Dean will make one back, and they’ll have some conversation where they get the bare minimum of their feelings out and call it a night. It’s how they always do things, and it might be slightly broken, but Dean’s not in the mood to fix it.

It’s when he hears something being dragged across the floorboards that Dean gets too curious for his own good. What the f*ck is going on down there? He gets up, slowly, and makes his way to the door as the sounds continue. He grabs an iron rod from the closetsafety precautions and everything, because who knows? Maybe Cas went and found himself a ghost. With their lives, stranger things have happened.

He inches down the stairs and hears nothing out of the ordinary. The living room is empty, and there’s a light shining in the dining room.

“Cas?” Dean asks out into the room. When he rounds the corner, what he sees strikes a strange kind of fear into his heart. Cas’s thumb is pressed into the blood stain on the jacket. It takes him a second to make eye contact, and it quickly sours. Dean stands there, unsure of what to do. “I said I’d take care of it,” he argues weakly.

Cas’s face is quick to sour. “And you hadn’t,” he says, and places the jacket on the table. Dean can’t stop staring at it, nerves raw. In his periphery, Cas starts laying down a sheet of tarp. He’s been painting. Dean was waiting for hours, and all Cas has done is frolick by the lake and f*cking paint.

“So you’re just gonna pretend three hours ago didn’t happen, huh?” he asks. “Not gonna answer my question?”

Cas sighs, face souring. He turns away. “It’s…”

“It’s what?” Dean presses. He takes a step inside the room. “Hm? Gotta let it out sometime, pal, I know you wanna say it. So say it, come on.”

He’s waiting for it. I am no longer in love with you, Dean or We can’t live together anymore, Dean . He’s bracing for it so hard he feels his hands begin to shake.

Cas crouches to spread the tarp. “No.”

“No?” Dean parrots back, incredulous and f*cking pissed.

“No.” He continues to spread the tarp as if nothing is wrong.

Dean can only laugh. “You are a stubborn bastard, you know that?”

At that, Cas stands and turns around. Dean almost steps back from the glare on his face. He hasn’t seen him this kind of mad in...well, ever. “At least I’m not cruel,” Cas fires back.

He says it as if he was the one who got rejected a week ago. “I’m cruel? Me?”


“Well, I’d love to hear how,” Dean says. He spreads his hands wide. “Come on, share with the class, Cas.”

Cas breathes heavily through his nose, chest heaving. “You…” he starts, then stands there a moment, fury in his eyes, before continuing. “...you know how I feel about you, yet you continue to say and do things that...it’s cruel, Dean, to subject someone to that.” He drops his gaze, voice going quiet. “I never...I never would have had you stay, if I knew that this is where things would end up.”

And there it is, Dean’s worst fear realized. Of course they’d never work, because Cas has finally gotten it into his head that Dean’s love is some kind of punishment. That it’s not good. And he’s right, which is the real kicker. He’s right and Dean knows it, and something deep in Dean’s chest cracks in two.

He wants to cry, but he won’t. Not for this. Instead, he goes on the offensive. Like a wounded dog, he goes in biting.

“Right,” he snaps back, “and you would know.”

Cas tilts his head to the side dangerously. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means...you think I’m cruel, Cas? After all the sh*t you pulled? Telling me you love me and then, then f*cking leaving?” Dean’s yelling now, he realizes.

Cas’s chest heaves again. “I would—”

“Yeah, you’d do it again,” Dean snaps, and doesn’t look at the jacket on the table. “Because you’ve already done it, again and again and again. I mean, hell, you’d only been back two goddamn months before you decided to f*ck off again! I ask you a simple f*cking question, and you disappear for hours, like some kind of f*cking coward!” At that, Cas flinches. Good. “You say you love me, Cas, but I’m not seeing any of it! So how’s that for cruel, huh?”

Cas takes a step forward like he’s going to leave. Dean blocks his way out, and they stand like that, less than a foot between them. Cas glares at him with unholy fury.

“No,” Dean says. He shakes his head. “You know what? Gonna beat you to the punch this time.”

When he goes upstairs, Cas doesn’t follow him. When he packs his old duffel bag with a few clothes and weapons, Cas doesn’t barge in to contradict him. Dean throws on a pair of jeans and a coat, some shoes, and ignores the fact that he’s the only one making any noise in this goddamn house. Fine, whatever. Let it be quiet for the rest of time, for all he cares. Cas can sit in the silence.

He storms out of the master bedroom, and that’s when he sees that Jack’s door is open.

The kid is standing there in the doorway, eyes shining. He’s four and his parents are fighting. Something familiar in Dean’s chest aches, and his anger leaves him for a moment.

Jack looks at the duffel bag slung on Dean’s shoulder. “Where are you going?” he asks.

It takes Dean a moment to speak. “Away,” Dean says, and doesn’t try to hide the hurt in his voice. “Back to the Bunker, I suppose.”

Jack swallows. “Is this...because I…?” His voice wavers. “At dinner…”

Dean shakes his head. “No, kid. No. This was…” He sighs. “This was a long time coming. Nothing to do with you.” He looks at Jack until he’s sure Jack knows it to be true. He swallows the lump growing in his throat. God, he’s such a piece of sh*t. “Take care of your dad for me, okay?”

“Okay,” Jack says, and that’s that.

Dean makes his way down the stairs, and towards the front door. He stops when he gets to the dining room. Cas is still standing there, covered in paint. For a moment, they make eye contact. Dean doesn’t say anything, and feels disappointed when Cas does the same. He doesn’t even know what he’d want Cas to say at this point.

Cas is glaring at him now. Fine, even better. Dean glares right back, and exits the house with the door slamming behind him. He spares a glance back when he peels out of the driveway, only to see the lights in the house go dark. He doesn’t look back the rest of the drive.


posting this a little early since i'm gonna do my best to be offline during my vacation. also just realized you can post links in the story! will probably not relink a lot of the songs mentioned in the past, but these ones were a) very integral to the atmosphere and b) not really available on spotify, so.

next chapter's still two weeks away! things have to get worse before they can get better :/

Chapter 11: october


The man tries to go back to sleep. His fingers stay gripping in the coat until morning.

He does this every night.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Somewhere in the northwestern continental United States, saddling the side of the Olympic range, there is a house. It's also many other things—a library, for some, a garage for others. To a few special people, a mausoleum. The people who occupy it are living, so some would argue that definition needs changing. Those people have also died a great many times, so maybe it should stay the same.

In the master bedroom of Schrodinger's mausoleum lies a man. There is a jacket opposite him. It was once laid out carefully, a little rumpled and clean save for the giant stain on its shoulder, but has been stuffed under the pillows and sheets enough times that it’s become wrinkled. The stain flakes in odd patches, leaving the air smelling like rusted iron.

The man has been having trouble falling asleep. The tape has just run out. He sighs and flips it over again. He reaches out and places a hand on the jacket. He grips it tightly, his thumb rubbing over the fabric back and forth, back and forth. A little more of the stain flakes off, but he doesn’t mind. The man tries to go back to sleep. His fingers stay gripping in the coat until morning.

He does this every night.

The garden is dying.

This was inevitable. This was something Castiel was aware of from the very beginning, but the reality settles on him heavily. The various fruits and tubers that need harvesting sit patiently waiting among curling and browning leaves. Castiel hasn’t been able to harvest them, because if he does, that means he must uproot almost everything. Then he will be left with sad, empty garden beds in a sad, empty house.

The rain has calmed to a drizzle, and combined with the smell of burning leaves makes the air in the living room smell both damp and dry all at once.

“Do you like the coffee?” Jack asks.

Castiel looks over to him and realizes that there is a mug in his hands. A few coffee grounds float on the top. He takes a sip. It is slightly watery, but Jack made it, so it’s perfect. “Yes,” he says with a smile. “Thank you.”

They have to leave for school soon. Jack nods, pleased with Castiel’s answer, and fidgets. He’s been doing a lot of that lately. Castiel wonders if that is how he chooses to miss Dean, as opposed to Castiel’s route. Then again, silently staring out into space and smoking copious amounts of marijuana after dark aren’t exactly fun, or age appropriate.

When they pull in front of the community college, Jack looks at him. “When do you think Dean will come back?” he asks.

Castiel doesn’t want to tell Jack that he doesn’t know. He doesn’t want to say ‘possibly never’ and he certainly doesn’t want to say something as foolish as ‘tomorrow, with any luck’. He doesn’t want to say that the only reason he knows Dean is alive at all is because Sam called asking what the hell happened. He doesn’t want to say that even if Dean came back, Castiel doesn’t think it would do either of them any good.

But Jack looks at him so earnestly, and Castiel decides he must be brave. He must tell the truth.

“I can’t say,” Castiel confesses. He sighs shakily. “And even if he did, I don’t know if things could return to what they once were.”

Jack nods, accepting this. A puzzled look comes over his face. “You say that like it’s a bad thing. But wouldn’t it be good, if things changed?”

“It would,” Castiel admits. “But I believe they wouldn’t change in a way that’s beneficial.” Jack continues to look at him, confused. Castiel thinks about him, just a short while ago, confused at the kitchen counter. He summons a well of patience. “Jack, I know you thought that things were...a certain way, with Dean and I, but they’re not. I don’t think there’s much hope for it.”

“But you love him,” Jack argues. “And he—” He cuts himself off, making a frustrated noise. “It doesn’t make sense. I think you’re both being very stupid right now, and it’s making me angry. I don’t like it.”

Castiel puts a hesitant hand on Jack’s hunched shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he says.

Jack shakes his head and exits the car in one swift motion. He’s about to shut the door when he turns, a hard look still on his face. “I love you,” he says, in the kind of petulant affection only achieved by adolescents.

Cas gives him a small smile. “I love you, too.”

Jack slams the car door and stalks towards the school. Castiel watches him enter through the front doors, and heads back to the cabin.

The day progresses as it always does. He answers phone calls. He continues to stare out the window as he does this. A hunter or two stops by with a weapon or question in need of answering. He has a mild conversation with the mailman. It’s bearable for a bit.

Then they leave, of course. For all the clutter and collectibles strewn about, the house feels astonishingly empty nowadays. Voices seem to echo a little more. The cabinets seem too full of cutlery for the amount of people using them.

Sometimes Castiel goes outside. He walks until Jack needs a ride home, or his fingers grow numb from the cold, or until his joints feel less like muscles and tendons and more like ramshackle boards and nails. Then he returns to the empty house again, and sits.

This is what he had wanted, all those months ago, wasn't it? He'd wanted a life away from the oppressive feeling his and Dean’s relationship had adopted. In a way, he does feel a little less frustrated, and he holds onto that feeling with all the spite within him. No more temptation, no more apple, no more jokes, no more confusion. Good.


It’s been a week since Dean left, and he thinks he’s doing pretty okay.

Coming out of a dream, he reaches blindly for someone else and finds nothing. For a moment, all he feels is blind panic before reality sets in. He feels cold concrete on his cheek, and when he opens his eyes he sees an empty duffel bag stuffed under an old bed. Right, right. Okay. So he didn’t even make it to the mattress, that’s fine.

It’s better than some of the other places he’s ended up. The war room, once, and after the look Eileen gave him he’s tried to stick to places that are a little more discreet.

Dean unsticks himself from the floor with a groan. The hangover’s just as bad, ricocheting around his head and souring his stomach the minute he moves. He’s been trying not to drink. But with the not-drinking comes the not-sleeping, and with the not-sleeping the hours and hours of playing music to block out Cas saying it’s cruel, Dean, to subject someone to that . So he has a glass, then another, and another.

Then comes the eventual passing out, followed by the typical nightmares: Cas’s smiling, stupid face getting swallowed whole by the Empty. Cas shutting the door in his face. Cas getting stabbed over and over, and coming back to life on the table to say it wasn’t even worth it. Sometimes they rocket Dean out of bed, some instinct to find Cas and make sure he’s okay taking over. So he’ll wander the halls for ten, twenty minutes at a time until he either fully wakes up or sobers up, it’s hard to say. Then comes the wandering back, and did he go down the right hallway?

Then comes the passing out for the second time, and here Dean is again: standing in front of a mirror, face red from the floor and eyes red from he’s not thinking about it, getting ready for the day.

The Bunker’s already in full swing by the time he leaves his room. It reminds Dean a little of coming back after Michael, only on steroids. Dean has to dodge past three different people he doesn’t know on the way to the kitchen, where somebody else has already made breakfast because there’s a f*cking sign up sheet now for that sort of thing. Dean swipes a pancake from the counter and walks as briskly as he can to get to the garage.

He spends the next three hours deep in the bellies of $1500 cars bought off Craigslist, all in serious need of a tune up. He likes this part of the day best—his brain doesn’t turn off so much as it works on autopilot, too preoccupied with engine schematics than stuff like love confessions and people regretting ever having lived with you.

Sam shows up when he’s in the middle of diagnosing a coolant leak and already caked in grease and dirt. He always does this, and Dean always expects him to start cross-examining him about the fact that a week ago Dean drunk-dialed him from a bar just outside of Lebanon and he’s been haunting the Bunker ever since. Instead, all he gets is the minutiae of the day.

“I’m thinking of sending Millie and George out to Arkansas for the salt and burn,” Sam says. He hands him a glass of water with a couple ibuprofen already sunk to the bottom. Dean drinks it all down. “You think they can handle that? They’re pretty green.”

Dean finishes his drink. “Sam, I got no clue who those people are,” he tells him.

Sam stares at him. “You’re working on their car.”

Dean blinks. “Oh. Well, no, then. I mean, unless they find another ride.” He gestures to the popped hood. “This thing’s gonna need a couple days until I have the replacement parts.”

“Right,” Sam says slowly. “And you’re still going to be here.”

Dean scoffs. “Well, yeah. This is my home, ain’t it?” His throat wobbles on the word ‘home’ and Sam raises an eyebrow at that, but doesn’t say anything. “Not like I’m needed anywhere else.” He flashes a smile that doesn’t last and opts to get back under the hood. “So, what else is on the agenda?”

Sam blows air out his mouth and shrugs. “Couple more hauntings, maybe a few demon summonings, but I’ve got Rowena on the line to deal with that. Full moon’s coming up, so Garth’s got everybody checking in, and a couple people have been unaccounted for, so I’m sending a few people his way.”

Dean whistles. “Sounds busy.”

“Not really. I mean, it’s par for the course, isn’t it? And this time there’s no apocalypse, no impending doom or weird spell we need to find ingredients for.” He laughs. “I think this might be the easiest October I’ve had since Stanford.”

Well, bully for you , Dean thinks. Doesn’t say, because that would mean admitting he’s miserable, which means Sam would ask him what’s wrong and Dean just...can’t deal with that, right now. And he’s happy for him, he really is. Sam looks happier now. It’s not some kind of physical quality in him that’s changed—maybe he’s a little fuller, a little less pale—but an overall sort of thing. It’s the way he carries himself around here like he knows he’s exactly where he needs to be.

Dean wonders, briefly, if he ever looked like that back in Washington. If he was ever that obvious. He swallows and pushes the thought away.

“Sounds like a walk in the park,” he quips.

“Yeah,” Sam says. Dean continues to fiddle around under the hood, tries to make himself look busy. Sam stands there for a moment longer before saying, “I’ll just leave you to it, then.”

Dean spends another three hours in the garage until his back starts to ache and he’s begging for some lunch. The kitchen is stocked full of people absently running in and out of it. There are even people sitting at the table, which just feels wrong. It’s not theirs. Those aren’t their spots. It should be Dean sitting at the table, with space to spare. Sam should be sitting with him, and Eileen and Jack and C—

No. Cas and Jack have their own table, in their own stupid dining room in their own stupid house. They’ve got a stupid lake that’s probably cold as balls right now, and a stupid garden full of stupid delicious food. Has Cas even harvested any of that stuff? It looked like a behemoth to accomplish. Dean was supposed to help out.

Fresh guilt claws at his insides. He’s still in the kitchen, and people are staring at him. They’ve been doing that a lot since he first arrived. A couple people he already knows from when they stopped by the cabin. The looks they give are probably the worst by far.

He makes a quick, bland sandwich, grabs a beer, and heads to the lower levels for some peace and f*cking quiet. A little mental respite. It doesn’t work. He goes to clean his guns, and the only words ringing in his head will be “I know how you see yourself, Dean. You’re—You’re ‘Daddy’s Blunt Instrument’.” He catches the M*A*S*H finale on TV, f*cking classic, and makes it to “I want you to know much you meant to me. I’ll never be able to shake you” before getting up and forcefully pressing the power button. He watches the static fizzle out.

So this is what being in love is: the whole world relating itself back to one person, and you can’t escape it. Even when they don’t love you back anymore.

Is Cas doing okay? Dean’s tried messaging Jack, but the kid’s been radio silent. Fair enough, but he wonders how they’re doing. Part of him wants to drive back, but he doesn’t know what he’ll do if he sees Cas’s face again. He doesn’t know if he can hear Cas reject him again and live to tell the tale.

Dinner is bland, and eaten from his room. Another thing that involves a sign up sheet, and Dean wonders absently if he should write a cookbook or something for hunters on the road. There’s, like, a thousand things you can do to make a can of Spaghetti-Os taste like something straight out of Olive Garden.

He tries the not-drinking again and fails spectacularly after seeing a Chia pet commercial on TV. His first thought is I didn’t know those were still a thing and his second is I should buy one for Cas .

A glass and a half later, a stupid, half-drunk thought forms in his head. Like, incredibly stupid. Almost as stupid as how he realizes he has Cas’s primary cell number memorized, like he might as well be hanging out in the kitchen and twirling the cord of the landline around his fingers.

He punches in the *67 and Cas’s number, and only regrets it for the first two rings. By the third he’s worried. Did something happen? The house is a hunter hub, after all, and sure, Cas is capable, but he’s human. And what if Jack’s off at a study group or something, or what if it wasn’t anything supernatural and the guy choked on a peanut, all alone in the place because Dean—


Cas’s gravelly voice makes something funny happen. For a moment, all Dean feels is relief. Then, utter mortification. He feels his throat and mouth working, but nothing’s coming out. He doesn’t even know what to say; he never planned that far.

“Hello?” Cas asks through the phone. “Your number is shown as unknown, I don’t know who you are.”

It’s me, the guy who’s in love with you , Dean wants to say. He stays silent.

There’s a sigh on the other end of the line. “I suppose this must be a ‘butt-dial’.” Dean can almost hear the air quotes. Is he sad? Does Cas sound sad, or is Dean just imagining things. “I will...I will let you go.”

The line goes dead. Dean lays there, in his empty room, for a few minutes. He wants to call again, number unblocked. He wants to yell at Cas, or maybe just ask how his day was. He does nothing. He keeps the light on—he doesn’t sleep very well in the dark now. He closes his eyes. Something in him reaches out—for an earbud, for a warm kitschy t-shirt, for another body. He falls asleep with empty space instead.

Gossip travels quickly, and the minute Castiel explains that Dean will not be around for any future gardening club meetings he hosts, the women descend upon him. He hasn’t known such a siege since Jericho, the way they come in and out of his house to chat with him and leave treats. They never mention Dean’s name, and when they do they act as if they’re speaking ill of the dead. Castiel feels he has to explain, many times, that Dean is alive, but when they ask for any further details he goes into evasive maneuvers. It would blow their cover, after all, to reveal anything.

This goes on for many days. There’s hardly a moment Castiel is alone. It’s exhausting, but he’s thankful for it. It makes sleeping at night a much easier process.

None of them mention the state of Castiel’s garden. Instead, they arrive one morning bedecked in sweaters, hats, and gardening gloves; a small army of ten or so elderly women who stare down at Castiel’s carefully lined planter boxes with utmost determination.

Mona arrives separately—Castiel always forgets that, for how much she’s friends with everyone in the group, she isn’t actually in the gardening club. She comes with a tray of leftover snickerdoodles, and the two of them watch from the living room window as Ettie and Agnes and Patricia dutifully uproot the now-empty tomato plants from the dirt.

Mona makes absent chatter about the decor of his living room, and the color of the dining room walls. Castiel does his best to hold up a conversation, but finds himself lacking. Eventually, Mona gives him a pat on the shoulder and goes outside to help. And when all is said and done, the women leave with a small wave and a promise to meet again next Tuesday over at Ettie’s house. Their cars peel out one by one, until the only one left is Mona waving for him to come outside and help with the baskets of newly-harvested herbs and veggies.

Castiel ventures outside and views the empty beds. Or, no. Not so empty. The herb garden still contains the hardy plants. Your rosemary and thyme. They’ll look dead for many months, but come the spring will be green and bountiful.

Mona continues to talk as they haul the baskets in. The house comes alive with the smell of rain-soaked dirt and vegetation.

“—and so Blanche was telling me...well, I’m sure she already told you when she was over here on Sunday,” Mona prattles as they traverse down the hallway.

Castiel nods. “Yes, the uh, supermarket conundrum.”

Mona shakes her head. “She’s just stuck in her ways. Doesn’t like it when things change. You should’ve seen her when they switched up the packaging on Oreos.” She chuckles to herself, and they set the baskets down on the kitchen counter. “That everything, you think?”

“Yes, I think.”

Mona grins and nudges him with her elbow. “Quite a harvest you got there, Cassie dear.”

“Yes.” It is. It’s endless food, and he should feel proud. He does feel proud, a little bit, but...he doesn’t know what to do with it. His mind draws a blank as he considers it all: garlic, corn, squash, beans, cucumbers, basil, tomatoes, spinach—and that’s just what he sees from the tops of the baskets. He realizes, belatedly, that his garden was always made with the idea that someone else will make them into something wonderful. Like most things in the house, the garden harvest was made for more than just himself.

Mona frowns. “Something on your mind?”

Castiel surveys the pile of vegetables with panic. “I don’t know what to…” He looks at Mona. “Dean did the cooking.”

She gives him a gentle smile and a pat on the shoulder. “I’m sure you can cook just fine.”

Castiel thinks about how he and Jack have been surviving off of DiGiorno’s and canned soup, and how even then three days ago he almost set the oven on fire because he left the plastic on the pizza. He looks at Mona with wide eyes and shakes his head.

Mona, suddenly comprehending the scale of the situation, nods. “Okay, okay.” Her hands stutter as if they don’t know what to do, before they steady. She nods again, mostly to herself. “Here, let me show you how to make a garden vegetable soup. It’s as easy as pie.”

“Soup isn’t pie,” Castiel points out.

“No, but it’s just as comforting. Grab some veggies, come on.”

He goes through the motions with ease. He picks out things that sound good together—some garlic, the Three Sisters, and a couple tomatoes and peppers. He also grabs a few herbs here and there.

Mona tells him which vegetables to peel and how to chop them up. It’s a bit condescending—Castiel knows how to use a knife—but he follows her instructions anyway. She pulls a few things out of his refrigerator as well. Most of them she tosses out, because they have apparently gone past their expiration date, but she keeps the carrots and the carton of half-and-half that two days from souring.

She finds the stockpot buried in a cabinet and adds in a generous amount of oil and garlic. Soon the kitchen is smelling fragrant and warm. Her voice is gentle as she tells him what vegetables to add in when, and what herbs and spices to put in with them. For the first time in a while, Castiel feels like he has a soft place to land.

“Dean left,” he says as he stirs the contents of the stockpot. Mona has told him to wait until the squash has browned. He stares down into the pot. “We had a...a fight.”

There is a hand on his shoulder again. “I’m sure he’ll come back.”

“No. No, he won’t.” Why is everybody so certain? It’s mildly infuriating. None of them know Dean like he does. He looks at Mona’s open, wrinkled face. “Mona, he doesn’t love me.”

A look passes over her. Is it pity? Castiel can’t tell. It’s that, maybe, or something else. She clicks her tongue. “Well I know that’s not true.”

“It is,” he asserts. He goes back to watching the stockpot, and when the squash has become golden around the corners, Mona hands him a large measuring cup full of water and some bay leaves. She lowers the heat slightly and sets the cover on top before leaning against the counter and crossing her arms.

“You wanna hear a story?” she asks, then waves away his response. “I’m gonna tell it whether you say yes or not. You know my Frank, right? I ever tell you how we met?”

Castiel shakes his head. “No.”

The window is open in the kitchen. The damp-dry smell of the outside meets the warm-sizzling aroma of the inside. Castiel doesn’t know why this feels relevant, but it changes the way he sees Mona, the way she holds herself as she springs into her story with a soft smile.

“I was...oh, about twenty-six or so, and people were pushing their single friends on me left and right,” she tells him. She sniffs. “I was damn near sick of it, until one brought Frank up to me. She told us we had the same birthday. August 22nd, and don’t mind that you didn’t get either of us a present, you can always make up for it next year now that you know.” She sighs, a dreamy look in her eye. “We talked about throwing parties in the late summer, and ice cream cakes, and...oh, you know how conversations like that just spiral out. He asked me on a date by the end of the night, and soon we were going steady. We went out for eight whole months and it was wonderful. Best relationship I’d ever had. When everything just clicks, y’know? Even the little disagreements.”

Castiel nods. He knows this experience very well.

Mona sighs. “Well, in any case, our birthday came up. The big 2-7. We threw this big double party with all our friends, and it was during this party that the truth came out.” She chuckles. “See, since we were told we had the same birthday, we just assumed we were the same age. Then someone tells me that Frank is turning twenty-two. Twenty-two, can you believe it? A whole five years difference between us! I was incensed.”

Castiel frowns. “That doesn’t seem like much. You were both adults.”

“Yes, but I didn’t see it that way at the time,” she admits. “I didn’t even consider it was human error, I just went right for the worst. Assumed Frank had been lying to me the entire time and was a dishonest man. I confronted him about it and told him I was five years older than him, and he just seemed to get angry, so I thought my worst fears had just been confirmed. I broke it off then and there. Worst birthday either of us ever had.”

Castiel shifts from one foot to the other. The soup boils lazily beside them. “What happened then?”

Mona smiles, if not a bit ruefully. “Well, I tried to get over him for a couple months, but he stuck to me. For all that I was angry with him, I still loved him. So I rang up his apartment and found out he’d moved in with his mother two states over. Then I called her long-distance and got the most enormous earful in my life. Woman ripped me a new one for twenty minutes straight, saying that I’d broken her poor baby’s heart, that I was a no-good liar, and hung up before I even got a word in. Confused the hell out of me.” She pauses. “Also cost a pretty penny, too.”

“What happened next?” He doesn’t know why he asks this. Realistically, he knows how this story must end. There’s something, though, to having it be told to you.

“I went to meet him in person,” Mona says. “Took a train to his hometown and showed up at his door. His mother nearly kicked me to the curb, but he agreed to getting a coffee. And we talked and talked and...it turns out, he’d assumed the same as I did!” She laughs, high and crackling. “Thought I’d been lying the entire time as well and had decided to come clean too late. Neither of us considered the fact that we’d both just been idiots. You know how it goes, assuming makes an ass out of you and me and so on.” He had not. He makes a note to keep the phrase in mind going forward. Mona laughs again, and wipes at a wayward tear in her eye. “Oh god, we laughed so hard when we found out.”

She shakes her head. “We were engaged a month later. And to think, I nearly lost the most important relationship in my life because of something so stupid.” Then, looking him in the eye, she says, “He’ll come back.”

Oh, this was supposed to be some sort of lesson. Castiel sighs and moves to check on the stock pot. The water has changed into a nice red-brown. “Mona, our fight wasn’t so simple.”

Mona simply shrugs, and hands him the half-and-half and a cup of chopped basil. “What fight is?”

Castiel stirs these ingredients in as well. “I’m angry with him,” he admits, but it feels like a half-truth. “I miss him, but I am angry with him.” Better.

“And I don’t blame you for that,” she says. “In fact, I’d be worried if you weren’t. But he’ll come back, I know it.”

She’s so sure of herself that, for a moment, Castiel allows himself to hope. Only for a moment, though. “And if he doesn’t?”

She reaches in front of him and turns the heat down to low. “He’s an even bigger idiot than I was, and that’s saying something,” she says. She squeezes his arm. “Now let’s dish up. This is gonna be good.”

The first thing Dean notices when he wakes up is that something smells like Cas. Not his shampoo or the bars of homemade almond-scented soap that Agnes makes in her free time, or even the dirt and tomato smell he’s adopted recently. This is what lies underneath, a mixture of newly human B.O. and otherworldly ozone, and something else that reminds Dean of bonfires and old blankets.

He’s dreaming. He has to be. He’ll open his eyes and he’ll be back in the house, under the light brown comforter that’s got another blanket thrown on top because the heater’s still a bit sh*t. Cas will still be asleep and Dean will take his sweet time watching him. Maybe, since this is a dream, he can kiss Cas awake or give him a blowj*b and try to say sorry in all the ways he can’t to the real Cas.

Dean’s excited for a break from all the other kinds of dreams he’s been having lately. So it’s confusing, to say the least, when he opens his eyes and sees no Cas, no comforter and blanket. Just brick.

His head begins to ache—or it always ached, but he wasn’t awake enough to notice. He sits up and tries to get his bearings. He’s not in his room, but he’s in a bedroom. An unoccupied one that’s been empty for a while. It looks familiar. Looking around, Dean spies a desk with a pot on top. It’s still wrapped in shiny foil, but whatever was in it has disintegrated. The walls have nothing on them, and on the door is—

Dean’s hands clench the sheets. Suddenly, it makes sense why everything smelled like Cas. His drunk ass led himself straight to the guy’s old bedroom. He slept in the same bed as Cas did all those months ago, and now he’s staring at the black-stained coat he apparently shoved off the guy’s shoulders when he first came back.

It hangs off the back of the door innocuously. Did Cas just forget to bring it with him, or did he leave it here on purpose? The more Dean looks at it, the more he seems to remember about the night Jack and Cas dropped back into his life. He remembers the way they fell like ragdolls, and the way he’d nearly tipped his chair over trying to get to Cas, to touch him. If he touched him, then he was real.

Dean stands up. His stomach sloshes with every step he takes. The fabric of the coat snags between his fingers, messy and tangled. He rubs his thumb over it.

Dean takes the coat off the hook. He runs his fingers over the lapel for a moment. He brings it close to his face and inhales.

He exits the room when the hallway is finally empty, coat bundled under his arm, and doesn’t look back.

Dean finally gets up the courage to call Jack somewhere between fixing up cars and ignoring Sam and Eileen’s attempts at getting him to bond with the other hunters.

He’s been putting off talking to Jack. He sent a text the morning after arriving at the Bunker, but he got no reply and hasn’t done anything else. He knows he should—he owes him that much, at least—but he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say. ‘Sorry for leaving you and your dad, how’s school?’ He thinks he’s almost filled out his punch card when it comes to f*cking the kid up, and it would probably be better if he just never talked to him again.

Something either incredibly brave or incredibly dumb has him dialing up the number anyway.

“Dean,” Jack says when he picks up. It’s too neutral for Dean to feel comfortable.

“Uh, hey—” Dean clears his throat. “Hey, Jack.”

“Why are you calling?” Jack asks. Again, neutral. Almost steady.

“Just wanted to, uh. To see how you were doing, I guess.”

“I’m fine.”

Dean waits for something else. Jack’s normally such a talker that the silence is unnerving, to say the least. “Good,” Dean says. “That’s...that’s good.”

Another long silence. Dean stays on the line, because he doesn’t know what else to do. Then, a sigh. “That’s a lie. I’m not fine.”

“Oh,” is all Dean can say to that.

“I hate you,” Jack tells him. It’s the first time he’s shown any emotion during this phone call, and it punches Dean right in the gut. “I hate you for leaving. And for making Cas sad.”

Dean swallows the lump in his throat. “Yeah, that’s fair.” He laughs bitterly. “I hate me, too.”

“So come back,” Jack argues.

Dean shakes his head. “It ain’t that simple, kid.”

“It is, though,” Jack argues, with all the certainty of a former All Omnipotent God.

God, does Dean want to make a promise he doesn’t he can’t keep. Maybe it could be that simple. Maybe he could drive overnight and reach the house by mid-afternoon tomorrow, but what then, huh? What’s going to happen when Dean sees Cas’s face and everything they said comes back at full force? He’s too much of a coward for that.

“I’m sorry,” Dean says, and it’s not enough. It’s all he can give.

There is another long pause, then: “Call me back on Saturday.”

Dean blinks. “Saturday?”

“Yes, I’ll probably hate you less by then,” Jack says.

Dean can’t help but smile a little. “Yeah, alright.” It’s a start, at least.

The weather continues to get colder and wetter. Castiel drives Jack and him to the local charity shop for various sweaters and jackets. As they shop, they pass by the end-of-aisle kiosks where the cassette tapes are kept, and Castiel does his best to ignore the sharp twinge in his chest.

Jack is up before he is. Nowadays Castiel comes down the stairs to find the coffee already brewing and the bread about to pop out of the toaster, since it is the only food Jack is allowed to make besides microwaved pizza rolls. Castiel eats it, every time, and misses the over-easy eggs that used to lie on top of the bread. He misses many things.

Thanks to his continuous rota of houseguests, he’s taken what he’s learned from the gardening club ladies and has begun to mend the clothes of the various hunters that pass by. They always come by with a question on their face. A few mention stopping by the Bunker on their way here, and Castiel keeps his eyes on the needle and thread between his fingers.

He prays. Nowadays there are no more bugs or birds to listen to him, so he sends his prayers to the damp wood of the dock and the pinecones that scatter the ground.

He takes a long drag of his joint. “I can live without him,” he says to the lone star poking through a hole in the clouds. “I did so for many millennia before I knew him. I’ve done it even as I’ve known him. I can re-learn to love him from afar.”

The star blinks at him from above. He thinks it might be Ruchbach, the knee of Casseiopeia. He can almost recall the name of the angel who shaped it.

He sighs and looks down at the wood boards. “Forgive me,” he says. “I am lying.” He shakes his head. “I just don’t see any other option.”

The star continues to wink, because it is a star and Amara is not one for signs or a cohesive narrative. Castiel continues to smoke under it’s watchful eye.

Dean calls Jack on Saturday, as promised. It’s after he’s had a beer or two, and a glass of whiskey but hey, he needs to be brave. His throat feels acrid and he doesn’t even know if he likes the taste of this stuff anymore, or if he ever did, but it gets the job done, right?

God, he’s so full of sh*t.

The kid picks up on the second ring. “Hello, Dean,” Jack says.

“Hey,” Dean says. “Still hate me?”

“Yes,” Jack says. Dean appreciates his honesty. “But not as much as before.”

Dean hums. “How’s college?”

This earns a long series of updates, all strung together by countless run-on sentences. Kim is in another relationship crisis, apparently. Jack has befriended a few people from his discussion group, and has even been making plans to to study over at their houses. He goes over each of their names and everything he knows about them: their hobbies, the color of their auras, how they do their hair. He talks about how he wants to get a new car, and is fully considering turning his bed into an actual, road-certified automobile.

“Cas says I have to wait until I turn six,” Jack says, as if this is the worst thing to have ever happened to him. He lowers his voice into a whisper. “I might do it anyway, though.”

“Uh uh, no,” Dean says. Jack makes a sound of protest. “Look, kid, what your dad says is what goes. I don’t need him more pissed at me than he already is.”

Dean can hear Jack’s frown through the phone. “But on TV the dads always agree to do the opposite of what the other parent says. Especially if they’re divorced.”

“Yeah, well, me and Cas ain’t divorced,” Dean says. “We ain’t even…” He bites back on the rest of that sentence, something about wishful thinking at the end of all things. Jack doesn’t say anything, and they sit in awkward silence for a few moments.

Dean clears his throat. “So is...how’s Cas doing? Y’know, since...”

There’s a pause. “He doesn’t know I’m calling you,” Jack says. His voice lowers, and Dean realizes the kid’s probably in his bedroom, Cas right next door. “I don’t know how he is when I’m at school, but when I’m home he does everything he did before. Just...sadder.”

Dean swallows. “Yeah.”

“He’d probably be less sad if you came home,” Jack points out.

Dean laughs. It’s a sad thing. “I don’t think so.”

“He keeps trying to cook. He’s not very good at it. Or, no. He can make soup now, but that’s about it. And soup gets old after a while.”

“Tell me he hasn’t burnt down the kitchen,” Dean says. He doesn’t know what he’d do if that kitchen went up in flames.

“No. Mona and Ettie come over a lot to help. They also miss you.” There’s another long pause. “Can you at least tell me why?”

There’s something in Jack’s voice that Dean instantly recognizes. It’s like hearing a recording of his own voice played back in his ears. The real question is obvious. The kid hasn’t gotten very good at hiding that kind of stuff yet. Dean hopes he never does.

“It’s...it’s nothing to do with you, Jack,” Dean reiterates.

“People only say that when they mean the opposite,” Jack says.

“Yeah, and they also say that when it’s the truth,” Dean argues. “Look, me and your Dad is...it’s complicated. It sucks now but he’ll...he’ll get less sad with time.” He swallows again, and his voice feels rough in his throat. “Trust me, he doesn’t want me there.”

“But he loves you.”

Dean lets in a shallow breath. He can’t cry, not right now. “I think he used to.”

“I think you think a lot of stupid things,” Jack snaps.

“Hey, now,” Dean warns, but doesn’t go any further. The kid’s going through it, he’s allowed the outburst. He checks the time on his phone, does the mental timezone math, and puts the phone back to his ear. “Kid, it’s getting late. You should go to bed.”

“Yeah,” Jack says reluctantly. Dean knows the feeling.

“You wanna count down?” Dean asks, and Jack says yes. He waits until they’re both settled into their separate beds. “Okay,” he says, and starts the countdown.

Jack’s voice peters out over time. It takes a little longer than it did before, but by the time they hits the thirties Jack’s voice is nothing but a low mumble. By the twenties, Dean’s on his own, counting every other number and still pausing in between. He doesn’t want to fall asleep just yet.

Eventually he hits zero. “You still up? Jack?” he asks. He gets no response. He thinks he can hear a faint snoring sound from the other end of the line. Dean smiles to himself, in his empty room, and tries to not feel so sad. He fails miserably. “Night, kid,” he says, and hangs up.

When it comes to Dean and Cas’s fights, Sam considers himself an expert. He’s only been made one against his will, mind you, but he usually knows how these things go. He places himself at firm Switzerland and tries to make sure nobody kills each other. Only, those all happened in person. Over the phone is a whole new ballgame.

Sam’s got experience with stonewalling. He’s lived with Dean all his life, for f*ck’s sake, and even Eileen tends to close her eyes if they’re ever in an argument. Cas is a master at, though, in a way Sam’s never seen before. It’s been two weeks since Dean showed up and all Sam’s been able to glean is that Dean either teased Cas too much about being in love with him or insulted his interior decorating. Or maybe it’s some other third thing, and the other two are diversions.

And Cas calls. A lot . To be fair, he called a lot before this mess. And they are mostly work-related, but Cas has all the subtlety of an air horn.

“So you think it’s one of the Horae?” Sam asks at his desk. The mugs on top of it have multiplied like Furbies, to the point where Sam only has enough room for his laptop. They’ve gotta invest in a shelf for these things.

“If the link you sent me is accurate, then yes,” Cas says. “I’ve seen this kind of weather activity before. They’re Greek seasonal deities, and are known to argue about their custody of certain months and regions. I imagine global warming hasn’t helped.”

Sam nods and types ‘ horae ’ into the Bunker database. It doesn’t pull up much, because digitizing is a f*cking hassle and the place is huge, but he gets the gist. “So which of the two are you thinking?”

“Auxo and Carpo,” Cas says. There’s a pause. The next words out of Cas’s mouth come out rough, like he’s about to start coughing. “They’re the ones who bicker the most.”

Sam hums. “I’m guessing this is less of a shoot-first situation and more of a mediator one.”

“Definitely,” Cas says. “They mean no harm. Any other year, their arguments result in long summers and the occasional flood.”

“I’ll see if Mia has any colleagues in the area,” Sam says. On the other end of the line, there’s a harsh sound as Cas coughs, then laughs. “Are you...are you high right now?”

Cas hums. “Halfway there,” he says. “Jack is spending time with his study group tonight.”

“You sure that’s wise?” Sam asks.

“Sam,” Cas says, bitchy, “you are not one to talk to me about drugs.”

Sam lets out a breath and raises a hand that Cas can’t see. “Fair enough,” he says. “Just...I worry about you, man. You know that.”

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Cas says. Which is a lie, but a common one.

Sam snorts. “Yeah, you and Dean alike.”

It’s...look, Sam’s dealt with Dean’s issues enough over the years to see the signs. He’ll hole himself up, he’ll drink, he’ll mope. And it’s worrying, but Sam knows it’s not worth it to pry unless Dean fully puts himself out there. He’s waiting for the outburst. He’s waiting for the explosion, because that’s the only time things are going to resolve. So all that he’s left with is this...build up, he supposes, all laden with passive aggressive wanderings through hallways and heavy looks.

Cas takes this opportunity to strongarm the conversation, because again, tact of an airhorn. Sam hears his shuffle on the other side of the line. “And how is...Dean?” he asks, trying but failing to be nonchalant.

“I mean, you could ask him yourself if you want,” Sam says. What he doesn’t say is stop treating me like a carrier pigeon , because he actually has some tact. Enough to spare for his whole friend group, apparently.

“This is more convenient,” Cas says.

Sam sighs. “I dunno. Same as always. He's either fixing up cars or...moping in his room.” He doesn’t mention the drunken wandering because even that worries him a little bit. He’s only seen it once or twice, the way Dean will shuffle around the hallways like a death echo when he thinks everybody else is asleep. There’s also the coat thing, which...yeah, he’s not gonna mention that just now. He doesn’t want Cas having a heart attack.

“And the drinking?”

Sam thinks about how Dean stumbles out of his room every morning, and how he takes his Advil Water without a second thought. “Yeah,” Sam says. “Same.”

There’s a pause. “So...not well.”


Cas hums, and that’s all he does. Sam moves to pinches his brow, and nearly knocks a couple mugs over in the process. There’s a question, sitting on the edge of all this. Does he need me or some other bullsh*t they’ve concocted for each other. Sam doesn’t know. Sam, frankly, doesn’t care beyond his brother and one of his best friends being happy and not using him as their little messenger boy. This was a lot better when they were passive aggressive and funny towards each other.

“Look, what Dean did was stupid,” Sam says. “Whatever it was. I'm not arguing with that, but maybe...I dunno, maybe call him?”

Cas is quiet for a moment. “I have nothing to say to him,” he says, all stubborn resolution. “And, in any case, I’m sure he wouldn’t want to hear from me.”

Sam snorts. “Right. Of course.”

There’s another, longer pause, accompanied by a short cough. Sam can imagine Cas out on that dock, a joint hanging between his fingers. He looks miserable. It’s not a pretty image, and he wishes these two would make it all better. Sam’s got other stuff to worry about. “Please let me know if his condition worsens,” Cas says.

“Yeah,” Sam says, as gentle as he can. “Yeah, I’ll uh. I’ll talk to you later, Cas.” And with that, Cas hangs up.

The dining room sits much the same as it did the night they fought. Half of the master bedroom’s closet is dedicated to Dean’s clothes. Everything in the house has Dean’s imprint on it, from the nails that line the windows to the patched ceiling of Jack’s bedroom. There are so many small corners of the house that know Dean’s careful touch.

This means something. Castiel knows it does. He just wishes he knew what that something was.

He guesses, sometimes. He creates an explanation that makes his chest ache, before reeling it in and calling it wishful thinking. A fantasy.

(Dean said he would be okay with Castiel fantasizing, didn’t he? This means something as well. Castiel decides it’s best to leave it well alone.)

Somewhere in the geographic center of the continental United States, there is a factory. Or a facsimile of one, at least. Underneath it lies a vast underground bunker, full of many beds that host many bodies. On one bed lies a man. There is a coat on the opposite side of where he sleeps, bundled up into a ball. It is stained heavily and smells half like tar freshly melted in the sun, half like ozone and old camp fires. This is not the first black-stained coat the man has held like this.

He wakes up startled and, for a moment, reaches out blindly. His scarred hands curl around the black-stained cloth. They grip it in a vise, then slowly release it into a loose hold. The man watches the outline form in the dark. He speaks a name that does not answer him. The man tries to go back to sleep. His fingers stay tangled in the coat until morning.

He does this every night.

The blocked calls have been coming in with increased frequency. Sometimes it really is just a paranoid hunter who needs information, but more often than not all Castiel hears is silence. Maybe the occasional shuffle or some breathing. It would be unnerving if it didn’t fill the lonely silence Castiel experiences some nights.

Tonight, his phone rings just as he’s settling into bed. Dean’s jacket lay beside him. It doesn’t smell like much of anything now. Same with the pillow and the sheets.

Castiel picks up the phone on the second ring. “Hello?” he asks, trying to rub the sleep from his eyes. There’s nothing but silence. He sighs. “I know you cannot hear me, but you are incredibly inept with your phone.”

More quiet.

“That, or you are attempting to psychologically torture me,” he continues. “I have seen one or two horror movies, though I see no appeal to them. The effects are obvious.” He remembers how once, however many years ago, Dean had sat him down for a horror movie marathon. Castiel had to be removed from the room a half an hour in, because he kept pointing out and explaining all of the rubber hoses and practical effects used to make the gore. He laughs to himself. “A friend of mine once…”

He drifts off. This kind of talk is usually reserved for just himself and the leaves on the lake. “Nevermind,” he says. “As I was saying, if you are trying to psychologically torture me, it won’t work. I believe the saying is, ah, ‘been there, done that’.”

A sound comes from the other side of the line. It’s a stifled laugh, and a familiar one at that. Castiel’s heart rate picks up as a fumbling sound echoes through the speaker, along with a bitter, sharp, “ sh*t .”

Castiel swallows. “Dean?”

All is quiet for one, two seconds. Then: “Hey, Cas.”

You’re the one who’s been calling me?” he asks. He feels a swell of affection in his chest, completely unbidden. “Dean, you blocked your number.”

“Yeah,” Dean admits.


There’s another bout of silence. Dean clears his throat. “How are you doing, Cas?” He asks it gently, like it matters. It warms Castiel’s heart just as much as it confuses him.

Castiel sighs. “Fine, though I don’t see how that’s relevant.”

“‘S always relevant,” Dean says. Slurs, actually. Castiel feels a bit of fury rise from inside him at the thought of Dean squandering his liver again. With that comes the old anger he’s been feeding off of for the past few weeks, piling one on top of the other like dominos.

“Are you drunk?” he asks. Dean doesn’t answer. “Look, Dean—”

“How—uh. How are you, really?” Dean hiccups. Castiel doesn’t know how to answer. Part of him, bitter and petty, wants to say that he’s doing just fine, actually. Much better now. The other part wants to explain that he’s on constant watch by a horde of elderly women and has been calling Sam every few days to see if Dean is still alive. “Just answer the damn question, Cas. Please.”

“You left, Dean,” he says, and hopes it conveys all that needs to be said. “And I am...coping. How are you?”

“Uh, not good,” Dean admits with a laugh. “Also, uh. Coping.”

A long period of silence stretches out between them. Castiel wants to say many things. He wants to say how dare you and I love you and I want you to come back, but I don’t know how to deal with the aftermath . He wants to say something about being terrified, and he wonders what Dean is holding back right now. He wonders if it’s much of the same.

“Would it make you feel better if I came back?” Dean blurts. Before Cas can answer, he plows forward, all slurred and frenzied speech. “I’ll come back. I’ll come back and I’ll stop at—at every fruit stand on the way over. Come home on my damn knees, man, I’ll do it.”

He says it so desperately that Castiel almost believes him. The image springs to Castiel’s mind with full force: Dean on his knees with a bounty of peaches in his arms, looking up at him. It sends a thrill down Castiel’s spine. He would say yes . He would say I would like to see you try , except for the way Dean’s words roll one into the other, the uneven quality of this speech that sours Castiel’s stomach.

“Would you say this sober?” he asks.

Dean stutters. “What?”

“These promises, would you make them sober?” Castiel continues. “Would you make them if you could remember saying them?”

More silence. This is almost worse than arguing.

“I...I don’t know,” Dean finally says, voice low.

Irritation bubbles within him. “Dean,” he says, rubbing at his forehead. “I—”

“Do you still love me?” Dean asks. Castiel stops himself from responding with an immediate yes, of course . He feels petty. He thinks he has a right to that. “Come on, Cas, you gotta...you can’t leave me hanging like this. I gotta know.”

“Oh, I’m the one ‘leaving you hanging’?” he asks. Irritation surges into full-blown anger. “When you—” He sighs and cuts himself off. There’s already too much damage that has been done. “This conversation is over. Don’t call again, please.”

There’s a small sound on the other line. Castiel doesn’t know what to make of it.

“Goodnight, Dean,” he says, because he still loves him. “Sleep well.”

He sets the phone on his nightstand and feels uneasy and raw. He tries to take a steadying breath and settle into his pillow. The house isn’t exactly silent nowadays: Jack’s usually on the phone in the other room, and the autumn winds make the house creak and groan. But it’s still too quiet for his liking.

Castiel puts his earbuds in and turns on the tape player, and attempts to fall asleep.

Dean doesn’t call Cas again.

Jack still calls. He does his best to appear sober for that, but he knows Jack can tell after a certain point. At this point it’s mostly Jack doing the talking as Dean hums and nods. He’s stressed about midterms. He wants to get a pet turtle, then pet rats, then just a cat. He likes his study group, and he’s trying to cajole Cas into a trip around the country so he can visit his friends at their various colleges. Dean asks why he can’t just fly, and Jack responds with some innocent but weirdly profound thoughts on the human experience.

Other than that, though, Dean keeps to himself. At one point Eileen tries to get him to watch a movie with her, but there’s other people around and Dean knows they’ve got questions. Knows these hunters have probably swung around to the house or have been on the phone with Cas. Knows they’ve got questions Dean can’t answer, because he can never answer them.

He just feels like a big ball of...something. Anger, definitely, but it’s all tangled with other messier emotions that he can’t name for the life of him. He feels it bubbling under his skin like a volcano ready to burst. He tries to get rid of it. He fixes up cars. He cleans his already pristine weapons. He goes to the shooting range and guns down every Carver Edlund book they’ve got until they’re nothing but wisps of paper and glue. There’s a couple instances where he jacks off with Cas’s old coat stuffed in his face, but all that does is make him feel sad and pathetic.

He drinks. A lot. Not that he wasn’t drinking a lot before, compared to the past couple months, but even Dean’s getting a little worried now. Every time he ventures out to the liquor store he has a moment where he’s staring at mid-shelf whiskey and gets a little sick remembering how it burns down the back of his throat. He buys it anyway, because he knows come 8PM he’s going to want to call Cas again, and he needs something to occupy his hands and mouth for the next while.

Sam and Eileen keep offering him hunts, too. There’s a couple times he considers going, until the scar on his neck twinges. He’d probably feel better if he killed something, but Dean’s always been a masoch*st.

Maybe that’s why he ends up here.

He doesn’t know the time. Middle of the night, maybe early morning. Barely anybody’s up. He stumbles along the hallway, brain foggy from alcohol and lack of sleep. He’s had another nightmare. Standard stuff, Cas getting taken by the Empty, only Dean tried to talk and found his throat cut open. He’d garbled something. He’d tried to say it until the blood ran dry, and Cas got taken anyway.

Gotta find him , he thinks. He doesn’t know if he’s searching for a way into the Empty, or just the master bedroom of the house, but he keeps walking. His fingers graze over glazed brick until they go rough and stutter at his fingertips. He lets his feet guide him until he comes face to face with a door. Cas must be in here, he figures. He opens it.

The first thing that hits him is the smell. It’s dank and musty, like nobody’s been in this room for ages and ages. He closes the door behind him and sees the remnants of a bloody sigil on the door, chipped away with age. The second thing he sees is the devil’s trap on the floor, and suddenly Dean feels very, very sober.

Why does this sound like a goodbye?

Because it is.

Something in Dean breaks. The wave of grief that comes over him is almost too much to handle. He worries he’ll forget it all over again. His breathing becomes uneven. His vision blurs—f*ck, is he crying? He is. And he doesn’t even have it in to act ashamed or laugh it off. It just keeps coming and coming. He thinks this is the kind of grief that’s been building up over years and years, growing roots in graveyards and reservoirs and dusty dining rooms and old basem*nts. It’s a monster Dean can’t kill. He just has to ride it out.

He takes in a deep, unsteady breath. It doesn’t help a lick. “f*ck,” he rasps.

What a f*cking sh*t show, he thinks to himself. He’s known, in the back of his head, that he’s been in love with Cas a lot longer than a few months. Grand realizations of love in hardwares stores don’t exist in a vacuum. But he’s only just beginning to comprehend that fact. It’s been ages. Years.

He had something wonderful, and he lost him. And then he came back again, and he’s still going to lose him. Has already lost him, maybe.

f*ck .”

The chair flies into the wall with ease. Next come the shelves, which are bolted into the ground, so Dean rattles them a little before knocking the leftover boxes to the ground. The place is pretty empty, actually. There’s not much else to exact violence on, so Dean turns it inward. He punches the wall with his good hand once, twice. He tries to topple the shelves again, but that doesn’t work.

This goes on for a while, until there’s nothing left. Dean stands in the wake of his destruction and feels scooped out. He can’t move, no matter how hard he tries. His legs stay firmly planted where they are.

He remembers sitting here for hours. He remembers a sort of feeling taking hold of him, the kind of feeling he’s only felt so many times in his life. It followed him from an ambulance in Kansas to a hospital room, to a ghost town, to a cemetery. It followed him through motel rooms and cabins in the woods, through reservoirs and dining rooms.

It’s followed him here again, and Cas ain’t even dead this time around. He just doesn’t want him.

He doesn’t know how long he stands there. He just knows Sam finds him and says he’s been looking everywhere for him, that he wasn’t in his room or at the garage. He sees Dean’s hands and says they need to get them checked out. Dean nods and lets his brother lead him. He’s too tired for much else.

They pass by a couple other hunters on the way to Sam and Eileen’s room. There’s more than a few odd looks. When they get inside the room Sam parks him on the bed and rustles through a large file box that smells faintly of old candle wax and herbs.

Dean turns his eyes to the desk, which has become some kind of mini mug city. A lot of them contain spare pencils and pens, and the occasional hairbrush. Sam plucks one that advertises a small tourist attraction in Florida off the desk.

Dean whistles. “Wow,” he says. “Think Eileen’s a mug-aholic.” He starts to laugh at his joke, only for Sam to glare at him and yeah, probably not that funny considering the hangover Dean’s transitioning into right now.

Sam mixes a couple herbs and other things into the mug, says something in Latin, and gives a self-satisfied nod when the contents glow faintly purple. He walks over to where Dean is sitting and pours the potion onto his hands. “Hold still,” he says. “This is gonna sting a bit.”

Hey, that’s my line , Dean’s about say, but holy f*cking sh*t Sam wasn’t joking. This sh*t is like IcyHot on steroids, and all Dean can do is hold back a whine as his hands knit themselves back together. The sensation fades, and Dean flexes his newly-repaired hands. “Whoa.”

Sam nods. “Rowena taught me that one. Comes in handy a lot.” He hands Dean a spare towel, and Dean wipes the purple stuff off. Sam awkwardly shuffles in front of him. “You wanna talk about it?”

Approaching sobriety at a rapid pace, Dean shakes his head. “Nope.”

He waits for Sam to shake his head and call him an idiot. He waits for him to poke and prod and try and get Dean to talk about his feelings like he usually does. Dean’s been waiting for a while, actually, now that he thinks about it. He’s been waiting since Sam picked him up from that bar all those weeks ago and let Dean sleep it off in the backseat of his f*cking Mom-mobile.

Instead, Sam just shrugs. “Okay.” He takes the towel back and wipes out the inside of the mug.

Dean blinks. “What, you aren’t gonna wheedle me about it? Keep asking? That’s like, your number one M.O. when it comes to me, come on.”

Sam looks at him and shakes his head. “Uh, no. Not this time.”

“Well why not?”

Sam shrugs again. Dean wants to punch him. “You don’t want to talk about it. I’m respecting that.”

“Oh, I don’t want to talk about it?” Dean asks. He stands up. “Sam, I showed up here three weeks ago out of the blue. I’ve been spending my time getting hungover for the first time in ages, I’ve been—been wandering the halls for hours like a person possessed. I just went full Mel Gibson back in the basem*nt! I got my heart f*cking broken, man, of course I want to—”

His throat closes. He’s close to tearing up. And Sam is smiling . “God, you’re such a manipulative bitch.”

Sam laughs. “Oh, I’m manipulative? When you’ve been practically wearing a sign that says ‘ask me what’s wrong with me’ ever since you came here?” Dean doesn’t dignify that with a response. Sam sobers a little and sits down on the desk chair. “So you and Cas broke up?”

Now it’s Dean’s turn to laugh. He wipes at his eyes and shakes his head. “Listen, whatever page you and the rest of the world are on—would love to be there, but uh, no. We’re not...we haven’t…” He gestures, and realizes he’s making the sign for ‘marriage’. f*cking hell.

“Oh,” Sam says. He blinks. “ Oh .”

Dean nods and chuckles bitterly. “He f*cking rejected me, Sam. Twice.” Their phone convo comes to mind, and he rubs his hands over the stubble growing on his face. “Three times now, actually. f*ck.”

Sam stares at him. “Cas did,” he repeats.

Dean shrugs with one shoulder, the other rubbing his eyes and forehead. God, he’s tired. He thinks this might be the longest conversation Sam and him have had since he came here, and that’s just a whole other level of sad. “Who else?”

There’s a pause. When Dean looks up, Sam’s frowning. “You really love him, don’t you?” he asks.

He could deny it. He could walk out of the room and not give an answer. The impulse is still there, but Dean keeps himself rooted. Would you say this sober? Cas had asked him. Dean still doesn’t know if can. But he wants to try.

“Yeah,” he says. His voice is rough and too small for comfort, but it gets out anyway. It shouldn’t feel like he just climbed a mountain to say it, but here he is anyway. He swallows. “Yeah, I do.”

Everything he says after that is easy in comparison. He tells Sam everything—the moving in together, the sleeping in the same bed. The realization of love in the lighting section, which Sam gives him sh*t about. That devolves into a minor argument that then devolves into a slap fight. They get back on track eventually, and Dean recounts everything leading up to the fight and the sh*t they said to each other. By the end of it he feels a lot better, so maybe therapy does work but he’s not going to admit to it, and his throat’s sore from talking so much.

“...so I left,” he says. Sam starts in on something and Dean cuts him off with a wave of his hand. “And don’t say that he loves me or whatever, because it’s pretty obvious to me that he doesn’t. Or he does, but he doesn’t...doesn’t want me. So.” He lets his hands fall to his sides.

“You really think that,” Sam says. He’s got a funny look on his face.

Dean shrugs. “What else is there to think?”

“I think...you two have been through a lot,” Sam says diplomatically. “And I think you need to talk to him.”

Dean doesn’t know what to say about that. He thinks he might’ve talked himself into becoming mute. Instead, he just nods. “Maybe,” he gets out.

He spends the rest of the day dumping his whiskey down the sink and watching sh*tty horror movies. By the time 6PM comes around, Sam’s knocking on his door and asking if he wants to have takeout with him and Eileen. And Dean, to his own surprise, says yes.

The rain is coming down in sheets against the kitchen window. Castiel almost makes the suggestion that Dean should build them an ark before he catches himself.

He watches as the rain sloughs down the glass. His phone conversation with Dean was a week ago, and it still leaves Castiel feeling...he’s not entirely sure. Unsettled? No, that’s not right. Angry, sad? Those don’t fit either. It feels almost like grief for another person still alive. He’s sure he’s felt it before, but never this strongly.

Ettie is supposed to come over today. They’re going to watch Murder, She Wrote and he is going to sit patiently as she guesses who the murderer is every five minutes. Halloween is coming up, which means that the veil will be thin and more hunters will be coming by. Castiel is quickly learning to stock up on extra shovels, and he probably needs to check his inventory for things like silver and iron. This also means he’s going to have to juggle his time with the gardening club and his time with the hunters, which was much easier when there were two people around to entertain either group.

"Do you like the coffee?"

Castiel wrenches his gaze from the window. Jack is looking at him expectantly, and Castiel realizes that there is a steaming cup in his hands.

"Yes,” he says. He lifts it to his face and drinks. It’s still a little watery, but he’s getting used to it. Coffee is always better when brewed by another person, Castiel is realizing. Dean used to make a wonderful cup of coffee, but he supposes he’ll just have to live without it now.

"You don't,” says Jack.

Castiel looks up from his cup. Jack is frowning, and Castiel realizes he’s mirroring his own face. He shakes his head. "I'm...I apologize, Jack. I have a lot on my mind."

Jack tilts his head to the side. "Are you sad?"

"A little,” Castiel admits. It does nothing to ease the troubled look on his child’s face. Jack shakes his head and stares, hard, at the tiling of the countertop. "Jack, what is it?"

"I’m trying to take care of you like Dean told me to,” Jack confesses, voice small. “I think I’m doing a bad job.”

Anger sweeps through Castiel all at once. He grits his teeth and sets his coffee down carefully. "That isn't your job,” he tells Jack, clear and concise. “Dean shouldn't have made it your job.” He lets out an uneven exhale. “You don’t have to take care of me.”

Jack nods, accepting this. “Okay,” he says. He shrugs. “I mean, I’m still going to, but okay.”

Castiel sputters. “No, that’s...I just told you that you don’t have to.”

“I know. And that’s nice, but I want to.” He tilts his head to the side. “That’s what you do when you love someone, right? You take care of each other?”

Castiel’s thoughts stray to Dean offering to fix up the house. To Dean coming into his bedroom in the middle of the night to tuck him in and organize his clothes, clean his ashtrays. Dean built the planter boxes for his garden, Castiel remembers. Dean made him coffee and eggs on toast just the way he liked them.

With a shake of his head, he sends those thoughts away. “You shouldn't have to worry about me,” he tells Jack instead.

"But I do,” Jack insists.

"There's nothing to worry about,” he says. “We have a lovely home, nobody is in mortal danger, and we have each other's company. This is all I need." He doesn’t know who he’s trying to convince at this point.

Jack presses on. "But you're not happy."

That takes Castiel by surprise. "I am...displeased at the moment, possibly, but no. I am quite happy." He has to be. He is, but even as the words leave his mouth he knows something’s wrong with them.

Jack continues to frown. “Jack?” Castiel asks.

"You said you have no hope for you and Dean,” he says. He shakes his head. “But hope is a kind of happiness, isn't it? It's being happy for the future, that things will be alright. So when you say you have no hope, that makes me think you aren't happy for your future. And the future is happening all the time, so that makes me think you're not really happy at all. And you haven't been for a long time."

Castiel doesn’t know what to say to that. All he knows is that something clicks in the back of his head, in his chest, and he realizes that Jack is right. He’s been allowing himself to want in halves. He’s been robbing himself of possible futures because the alternative was too painful, yet here he stands in it. And it’s livable, yes, but it’s also terrible.

"I'm going to go watch Sabrina in my room, is that okay?" Jack asks.

Castiel snaps out of his epiphany for a moment. "Yes, that's fine,” he says. He hears Jack scurry up the stairs.

Castiel watches the rain hit the window, and feels very, very unhappy indeed.

Dean doesn’t exactly improve, but he thinks he’s doing a hell of a lot better. He isn’t waking up hungover every day anymore, and he only keeps to his room when the bunker gets way too overcrowded. He tries to talk with some of the hunters that are living in the Bunker more long-term. He finally does that movie night with Eileen. He comes out occasionally to thwack Sam upside the head for no good reason before leaving, and Sam does the same. Normal stuff.

That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t feel like a piece of sh*t. Now that someone knows Dean loves Cas, Dean feels less like a person and more like a walking open wound. He sticks to cars most days, and still avoids a lot of people he doesn’t want to talk to by going out on milk runs. Everybody’s gearing up for Halloween, so Dean’s been running the Impala back and forth with a buttload of shovels and chunks of iron that get him strange looks from the cashier.

He’s also making sure no one’s car craps out. Nothing like chasing a dead hitchhiker and ending up hitchhiking yourself because you didn’t top up on antifreeze. He’s under the belly of a dirty truck, fixing up a fluid leak when he feels someone kick his shin.

“Yeah, what?” he asks, distracted. He gets another kick. “What?” Another kick, hard and near bruising. He slides out from under the car. “Okay, buddy, what the f*ck are you—oh, hey Eileen.”

Eileen smiles smugly. Next to her, Miracle shakes something loose from her fur. “Hey yourself,” she says. She lifts up the leash with one hand and signs with the other. “Walk?”

Walks are never good. Walking means talking, and Dean’s kind of out-talked to all hell at the moment. “Kinda busy,” he says, signing sheepishly. Eileen just stares at him with a small smile. Miracle waits patiently by her side and whines slightly. Dean sighs and gets up off the ground, dusting his hands off on his jeans. “Yeah, alright.”

The air’s so cold that it hurts Dean’s nostrils. They wander in a lazy circle around the bunker and to the field out back. They don’t talk at all, and Dean takes advantage of the silence to look at the thinning trees and laugh as Miracle nearly strangles herself trying to run ahead of Eileen’s leash. Fall in Kansas is full of bright reds and smoky air. Dean tries to remember what fall’s like in Cas’s neck of the woods. Green, he thinks, and grey, with a splash of orange or yellow. So many goddamn evergreens.

They walk out into the field a bit, and Eileen let’s Miracle off of her leash. She hands Dean a tennis ball that appears out of the nowhere, and Dean lobs it further out into the field. They watch together as she bounds after it and nearly trips over her own legs in the process.

Dean feels an elbow dig into his side, and looks over to Eileen. “Sam told me,” she says/signs.

Great. Okay, no getting out of this. He sighs. “Figured,” he says/signs. “Guy’s a blabbermouth.” He doesn’t know if there is a sign for ‘blabbermouth’, so he just repeatedly signs the word ‘talking’.

Eileen smiles. “For the record, I think you’re both stupid.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Gee, thanks.”

Eileen shrugs. “I’m just saying, I think that if you went back he wouldn’t mind.”

Miracle runs back and drops the ball in front of Dean. He tosses it again. “He would,” he says. Eileen looks at him like he’s a dumbass. He shakes his head. “He doesn’t wanna see me, Eileen.”

Eileen laughs. “Yeah, he said the same thing to Sam about you.” That takes Dean by surprise. It shouldn’t, because Cas and Sam have some sort of weird, deranged book nerd bond that Dean doesn’t fully understand. Makes sense that they call. But Cas calling about him ? After what he did? Dean just stares at Eileen, dumbfounded. “Like I said: stupid.”

“No he didn’t,” Dean says.

It’s Eileen’s turn to roll her eyes. “Why would I lie?”

“Because...he just didn’t,” he reasons. “I f*cked up. I said stuff I didn’t mean, and I left, and now I’m…” His hands drop to his sides for a moment before he picks them back up again. “I can’t go back there, Eileen. I can’t face it.”

“And even if that were true, you’re miserable here,” Eileen points out. “Look, I wasn’t around for a lot of it, but I know that when you and Sam care about something, you fight for it, right?” Dean nods. “So why not fight for it now?”

“Because, I…” His hands stall in front of him. Because he deserves better than me, and if he doesn’t know that now, someday he will , he could say. Because I can’t take him rejecting me again .

Dean can’t say that, though. Instead, he opens his hands wide, palms facing towards his chest. He pulls them back and forth, back and forth horizontally over his torso.

Eileen signs it back to him, a questioning look on her face. Scary? Dean nods.

Eileen lets out a snort. “Yeah, love’s like that sometimes,” she tells him. “My advice? Man up and own it.”

Dean laughs. He can’t argue with that. Miracle returns with the ball again, and Dean sends it flying.

The dining room sits in the house like a dislocated joint. The walls are finally painted, but the chartreuse has taken on a sickly quality as the weather has turned. The more Castiel looks at it, the more a low-grade kind of nausea churns in his stomach.

Jack has just left for school. No one has come over to the house today, as Mona and Frank are out of town for their anniversary. A hunter came by an hour ago asking for a shovel and spell to bind a shadow spirit, but otherwise Castiel has been left alone.

The box with the smile drawn on it has long been thrown away, and the floor is still covered in tarp. The furniture has been relocated to random corners of the house, leaving Castiel in the middle of the room, staring at the walls.

For a few minutes he daydreams. Small fantasies that he never allowed himself to have unfurl before him. He imagines a family dinner here in the room. The walls are a different color, he notes. Dean comes in with the food and kisses Castiel on the cheek, a fleeting bit of intimacy that underscores something deeper. Something more permanent. He imagines them all having a wonderful dinner, and him offering to do the dishes, and Dean telling him he loves him as a thank you.

They were so close to it. They were practically already there, which means...which means...

What if there’s more to this? he asks himself. No, that’s not right. There has to be more to this .

But that was then, and this is now. Now, Castiel stands here alone.

He is unhappy. He hates the color of the walls, and he is unhappy.

His fist meets the plaster, and now there is a hole in the wall where there once was none. The anger quickly dissipates into regret, then a strange kind of relief. He looks down at his hand and notes the way the skin has split. He sighs and goes to look for the can of plaster.

Two hours later, he’s shuffling through swatch cards with bandages wrapped around his fingers. He looks up and the great behemoth of the rainbow stares back at him.

Choice comes easy to him. It always has, but he still finds himself overwhelmed by how many choices are out there. It’s funny, when he thinks about it. His first acts of free will were earth shattering, but the obvious choice. Now he looks at paint swatches and doesn’t know if he’s making the right decision.

He wants it to be green. He knows that much. He wants the room to be verdant, and not in the sickly way the chartreuse has taken on. He pulls out different swatch cards until he finds the color he’s been looking for, a color that’s two steps from bordering on turquoise. It’s called ‘Nile Green’ and it isn’t the color of the Nile at all, at least from what Castiel remembers, but he appreciates the sentiment.

Maybe it’ll turn red overnight , a voice says in the back of his mind. It’s familiar and deep, and he wants to laugh, but he doesn’t.

He has a few awkward conversations with the store employees as his paint gets mixed. It is a conversation he’s had over and over, and it never gets easier. Yes, Dean’s been away. It’s complicated. No, he is not alright. He has actually just reached the conclusion that he’s been unhappy for ages because the man who loves him probably does not love him back. And even if he did, he is likely not going to return. Yes, like he said: it’s complicated.

He gets home. He sets the paint cans down. He gets to work.

The more he paints, the more the room is transformed into something habitable. The green is lush and lively, and doesn’t dull with the gray of the outside. It looks more and more like a place one could eat in, exist in. Be loved in.

Yes, that’s a nice idea , Castiel thinks. He would like to be loved here. He continues to paint.


look, i could go ahead and write long-ass meta posts about cas's relationship between desire and happiness and dean's relationship between want and verbality but i also wrote 13k words in the span of like 5 days so i would hope i get the point across. like i said, it gets worse before it gets better, and it's starting to get a little better! can only imagine what the last two chapters hold....

Chapter 12: november


Dean comes back on a Thursday.
Castiel doesn’t know this yet, so he doesn’t see the irony in that.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The supermarket’s playing “Somewhere Out There” on the overhead speakers. Little on the nose , Dean thinks, before he remembers that the world doesn’t revolve around him anymore. At least it’s not the f*cking mouse version.

Halloween candy is on sale, so Dean adds a couple bags to his already full grocery cart. Sam had basically shoved a list at him and told him he needed to get out of the Bunker. Dean figures he only did it because he’s been hanging around him and Eileen like a lost toddler and they’ve got weird witchy engaged-people sex to do.

Dean pulls out Sam’s list. It’s unsurprisingly thorough and notes which groceries are for who, with brand specifications and everything. The post-October rush has the infirmary stocked full of even more people Dean doesn’t recognize. He’d had a weird realization a few days ago when he’d wandered into the library and saw people using it like...well, like an actual library. Groups at tables, no stray laptops and only the occasional takeout container. My home is filled with strangers , he’d thought, and then: This isn’t my home anymore .

So, that’s fun. Dean grabs a couple boxes of strawberry Frosted Mini-Wheats. He picks up a couple craft beer six-packs because apparently that’s all the rage with these kids, and a couple normal people six-packs just to even the score. He rounds out to the chips section. A memory slaps him in the face of Cas, holding a bottle of salsa and talking about all the times he wanted to tell Dean he loved him.

It makes Dean stop for a moment and grip the handle of the shopping cart. He lets out a breath. He’s gotta pull it together.

He snatches a bag of Tostitos off the shelf and throws it in the cart. He doesn’t even know if it’s the right kind, but if anybody has a problem with it, they can take it up with the guy who beat God.

He does his best to keep his mind blank and go through the motions. He keeps his eyes on the stuffed cart and preemptively feels bad for whatever poor bastard’s gonna be bagging everything. He bags up a surprisingly large amount of fruits and vegetables. He reaches for a bag of clementines because he knows Cas and Jack eat those things like candy, hesitates, then grabs them anyway. There’s already a Vitamin D deficiency going around the Bunker, and he doesn’t want to add C into the mix.

He’s contemplating asking Sam to purchase a couple of those stupid Happy Lamps when he realizes where he is. They’re laid out almost the same as last time. The color of the foil’s changed, no longer bright fuschias and yellows but reds and greens for some sort of preemptive Christmas marketing. The flowers are the same, though. Pale whites and pinks.

A couple memories fly at him. Cas, nearly a year ago. I wanted you so terribly. Cas holding the orchid in his lap on the car ride home. He’d cradled it in his hands and Dean, in retrospect, was nearly jealous of it.

I would want orchids as centerpieces , Cas had told him.

Dean’s hands grip the handle of the shopping cart tight.

An hour later, Dean’s staring at the flower on his desk. It’s still shrouded in green foil and protective plastic.

He keeps watch of it from his bed. He shouldn’t have bought it. This thing is gonna die if it's kept down here. He’s learned enough about gardening from Cas to know that much. It’s gonna die here, all alone. Dean’s not even gonna take care of it well, he knows that. He’s gonna overwater it and watch it drown on dry land. Or, barring that, it’ll wilt from lack of sunlight.

His mind ticks, ticks, ticks along.

“f*ck it,” he says, and starts packing.

In a few minutes he’s strolling into the garage with a stuffed duffle bag in one hand, and the orchid in the other. Cas’s coat is wedged between his arm and ribs, carefully folded. He places the coat and duffle in the trunk, and carefully places the flower in the passenger seat with the lap belt on.

The Impala roars to life, and it’s only when he puts the car into reverse that he remembers something important. He pulls out his phone.

hey don’t worry if you can’t find me i’m going to washington

Sam: what??? have you been talking with cas again???


also take my name off the dinner sign-up sheet.

ok thanks bye.

He throws his phone into the back seat and pulls the Impala out of her parking spot. Rumbling down the driveway, he rolls to a stop where the gravel meets the road. He taps his fingers on the steering wheel for a bit. He’s a little bit terrified.

He lets out a shaky breath. “f*ck it,” he says again. He peels out onto the asphalt, westward bound.

Dean comes back on a Thursday.

Castiel doesn’t know this yet, so he doesn’t see the irony in that. He’s currently preoccupied at the moment.

The air smells like burnt leaves. It is one of those rare times in fall where the sky is only half mottled with clouds. The sun has only just set, the half-light making everything seem only half-real in a way that Castiel hasn’t experienced since Heaven. The mountains are fading into a deep teal, and the last remnants of pink and orange cling to the edges of the clouds.

Castiel’s fingers itch for something to occupy them. A lighter, maybe, or a joint. He has neither. He’d only gone outside to take out the trash, and now it’s been a half hour of him sitting cross-legged on the dock and staring at the ever-shifting sky. You never see the same sunset twice , Dean had told him once, when they’d pulled over into a field some years ago. Gotta make sure you see as many as you can. He’d been falling for the first time, then, something that dragged his skin down and left him aching.

He feels much the same way now, only with blunt, all-or-nothing human awareness. Jack was picked up an hour ago for his study group, and isn’t expected to return until tomorrow morning. Mona packed up her things a couple hours before that, after teaching Castiel how to make grilled cheese without setting off the smoke alarm. The loneliness is not new, nor is it unbearable—Castiel used to stand sentry for centuries—but it is still loneliness.

He prays to the pine needles drifting on the water. “There is a difference between hope and faith,” he says. “Many philosophers have debated their relationship. ‘Without faith, there is no hope’ is a common saying, I believe.” He picks at a loose nail in the wood. “I have faith. Faith in myself, in humanity. Sam and Dean, especially. So why…?”

The pine needles don’t answer him. It’s of no matter; the response is already bubbling in his throat, low and acrid. He clears his throat. “I’m getting ahead of myself,” he says. He takes in a breath. “Hope is a precious thing. It is also...quick to shatter. Sharp. I’ve lived so long without it, because I’ve had to. It was necessary and I don’t regret that. But now I don’t know how to...how to…”

He looks at his hands, the open palms of them. He clenches them. Every word stings coming out of his mouth. He stops talking and instead turns his thoughts inward. He watches the sky grow darker and feels his fingers begin to numb in the cold. His breath fogs in front of him, and he can almost pretend he is smoking to calm his nerves.

In fact, he would prefer a joint right now. The night is perfect and calm. He will smoke and watch the stars peek through the clouds. He will watch PBS on the television and fall asleep on the couch. He will wake up with an ache in his back in the middle of the night, and finally make the journey up to his empty bedroom.

He stands, abandoning his prayer and fully set on putting this plan in motion. He nods to the leaves and pine needles.

Something bright passes over the water. When Castiel turns, he sees two headlights pull into the driveway, near blinding. As they turn towards the house, he can see the outline of a familiar black car attached to them. His breath hitches in his throat. He doesn’t know whether to be excited or terrified.

The lights turn off, and there’s the sound of a car door opening and closing. Castiel watches as Dean’s silhouette stalls by the car for a moment before walking up to the front door. He knocks, which is odd because he still has his own key. There’s something in his arms.

Castiel walks up to the house, curiosity taking over. Dean knocks again. “Cas?” he says, voice growing less distant with every step. “Cas, it’s...it’s me.”

He’s half in the light of the front window, half in the dark. He almost doesn’t look real. Castiel feels the sudden, irrational fear come up that if he touches Dean, talks to him, the dream will shift into something else.

Castiel keeps walking anyway.

Dean’s back is still turned to him as he approaches the house. He knocks again, once, twice. “Cas, open up,” he says. “Come on, you alive in there? Cas? Cas?”

“Dean?” Castiel asks.

Dean whips around. Half his face still lies in shadow. His jaw stutters. “Cas,” he says. “Hey.”

“Dean,” he says again. His mind has gone horrifically blank at the revelation that Dean is here before him. He blinks and lets the image solidify. It raises many questions: ‘Why is Dean here?’ for one, followed by ‘Is he coming home?’ and ‘Will that end up just as disastrous as it did over a month ago?’.

He does not ask these questions, though. Instead, his mind is drawn towards the object in Dean’s arms. He tilts his head at the curious sight. “Is that an orchid?”

Dean blinks. “Huh?” He looks down at the flower as if it’s materialized out of thin air. “Oh, yeah. It’s um. It’s for you, here.”

He thrusts it in Castiel’s direction. Castiel takes it hesitantly, their hands overlapping. Dean’s hands are warm under his, then gone. Dean lists from one side to the other, clasping his hands together before pointing. “You told me you liked them.”

“I did,” Castiel says. His voice is distant. The orchid is difficult to make out in the dark, but he recognizes the foil. This is from Lebanon. Dean drove for 25 hours to give him a simple flower. Something stirs in Castiel’s chest. “I didn’t realize you remembered.”

“Who would forget?” Dean asks with a shrug.

Castiel blinks down at the orchid, then up at the man in front of him. “Dean, what are you…?”

“You...you wanna take this inside?” Dean asks. He chuckles. “Freezing my balls off, here.”

Castiel nods. Dean doesn’t move from his spot in front of the door, eyeing Castiel. “It’s unlocked,” Castiel tells him.

“Oh,” Dean says. He turns and grasps the knob of the door. It opens easily before him.

Inside is much warmer, thanks to the furnace and small fire that’s currently dying in the living room fireplace. It all smells faintly of hot dust.

Dean lets out a breath and looks around. “Where’s Jack?”

“Studying for midterms with friends,” Castiel says as he closes the door behind him.

“Right. Good, he’s a smart kid.”

Castiel nods and takes a minute to regard the orchid. The flowers are mostly white, a pale pink blush dotting the pebbles and yellow pistils poking out of their center. A wave of affection rushes over him.

“Do you...do you like it?” Dean asks. When Castiel looks up at him, he sees Dean in a better view. He’s still much the same as he was a month ago—his hair is a little longer, and his clothes are warmer—but there’s something about him that’s changed. Maybe it’s the discoloration under his eyes, or the odd set of his shoulders. It’s of no matter, though. Castiel still loves him the same. Another swell of affection courses through him, mixed with arousal and some solid feeling that Castiel thinks might be contentedness.

“It’s quite lovely,” Castiel tells him. “I know just the spot for it.”

He makes his way around Dean and enters the darkened dining room, flipping the switch on the wall. He sets the orchid down on one of the side tables, where the windows will filter in the most light. Gone are the tarps and painter’s tape. The walls are now that brilliant Nile Green. The furniture has been pushed back in, a few knick knacks placed amongst the bookshelves and on top of the wardrobe. A lamp sits in the corner. There is a rug under the table now, some sort of knock-off of a Persian design that he found at a charity shop the other day. The curtains, white and sheer, frame the windows.

There are still a few things here and there to be done—the walls are barren, still, and he has to find more chairs, and a tablecloth.

“You redecorated,” Dean says from behind him. Castiel looks up from the flower. Dean stands in the doorway again, a tentative hand on the frame. He takes a step inside and his eyes seem to go everywhere at once before landing on the table. “You…” He swallows. “I was going to take care of it.”

“You left,” Castiel points out, slightly confused. “It only seemed fitting…” He shakes his head and sighs. “I happen to like it.”

Dean nods, but his eyes are vacant. He walks towards the table and lays his fingertips there, swallowing. He looks around the room again with a look on his face that Castiel has never seen before, lost and restless. It’s an echo of something, but Castiel doesn’t know what.

"What happened here?” he asks, finally. He wants to move, to comfort him, but he stays where he is next to the wall.

Dean’s eyes snap up to him. They hold contact for a moment before casting back down to the table. Castiel watches Dean’s fingers graze over the old wood, scratched and worn from decades of use. Slipped forks and knives, wet glasses left without coasters, bored children’s fingernails. And something else, something Dean hasn’t told him.

Castiel is prepared for almost any response. Kelly died here , maybe or this is where I last saw my Mom or even Sam almost got killed here .

Instead, Dean looks up at him. His eyes shine slightly, and his voice is rough. "I buried you here,” he says, almost disbelieving. He swallows and looks back down at the table.

No, no. That doesn’t...that doesn’t make sense. "You cremated me,” Castiel tells him. “You spread my ashes in a—"

"Yeah, but I,” Dean interrupts. He licks his licks. “After you...I carried you inside. I told you that, right?” Castiel nods. Dean lets out a shuddering breath and smooths his hand over the wood again. “And I placed you on...I laid you down here. Covered you with a tablecloth and wrapped you up using the damn curtains."

He’s still not looking at Castiel. He lets out a wet scoff. "I stayed in here for damn near an hour just...pacing around you. Retying the bow around your ankles so that it was just right.” He looks up, then. He’s almost sheepish. “It wasn't. I was never, uh.” He licks his lips again. “Eventually I had to give up.” His voice breaks at that. “You weren't laid to rest in this room, Cas, but I buried you here."

Castiel doesn’t know what to say to that. The mere idea rips a hole in his perceived reality. His body is no longer lying in the hallway, in the company of the dead. Instead it lies among the living. It’s carried here with purpose. It’s wrapped carefully. Someone holds vigil for it. Someone collects the ashes, as much as he can find, into a jar so that they can be spread somewhere peaceful. His body is given respect. It’s cared for. It’s...

It’s loved.

That half-real feeling begins to settle over the room again. The thing in Castiel’s chest hums low, almost singing. Almost growing.

Dean’s still looking at him. The shiny eyes have graduated to a kind of silent crying, learned and perfected over many years. "And it's...every time I come in here I bury you again, a little bit,” he continues. “And it sucks. It's like losing a limb, man." He shakes his head and looks down at his feet, then back to Castiel. "Cas, I wanna home. I...I need you."

The feeling continues to grow. Yet still, Castiel can’t believe the words Dean is saying. They point to something that can’t be possible; Dean must not know what he’s talking about. "Dean,” he says, “you don't—"

"I do, okay? I mean it,” Dean tells him. He looks near angry. “You die, and every time I'm reminded of how much I need you, how much I love you, how much I miss you." He spreads his arms wide. Castiel only barely notices; his whole body is alight and buzzing."I'm a damn mess! I—" He swallows the rest of his words. He drops his arms. His voice, when used next, is quiet and hoarse. "I'm not going to leave again. I'm not gonna lose you again, Cas, I can't do it. So I just...can I come home? Please?"

The question is a moot point. Nothing else Dean’s said has really reached Castiel’s ears yet, he’s still focused on the part at the beginning. How much I love you, how much I love you, how much I love you . It echoes without a voice. It’s too good to be true.

The feeling bursts alive in Castiel’s chest. It’s hope, he realizes. It teems within him, bright and messy and purely animal. He takes a step towards Dean, and does not miss that he flinches. He takes another step anyway.

"What did you say?" Castiel asks him, voice monotonous. It’s an out. He has to give one because, if things are not as he perceives, there’s real damage to be done here.

Dean licks his lips, and for a moment Castiel thinks he’ll take it. "I...I love you,” he says instead. He shrugs, like he hasn’t broken Castiel’s world. “That's it, Cas, plain and simple. No speech. I love you.” His voice is wrecked. He inhales through his nose, wet and sticky. He’s beautiful. “And look, I know I f*cked up, and I know you probably don't love me anymore because of all the stupid sh*t I pull and that's fair, I deserve it, but I really do—"

Castiel closes the distance between them. It isn’t an exact science—the trajectory is off by half an inch, and his hands only barely make it to the sides of Dean’s face in time. Dean’s mouth is still slightly open when Castiel kisses it, and closes over his top lip with a hum. Hands come up to cup his own face, warm and sturdy. Everything smells like Dean, and it is wonderful.

A noise rumbles low in his throat. Dean responds in kind, opening his mouth slightly. Castiel pulls him into himself with a sharp inhale. He makes a quick catalogue of how Dean’s lips feel and taste, the inside of his mouth. It’s not enough—to kiss Dean is a miracle, but Castiel needs more. He wants more.

When they finally part, Castiel realizes that he’s half-shoved Dean against the table. Dean is...oh, Dean is a marvel. Cupped between Castiel’s hands, his lips are swollen and his eyes are bright.

Castiel fights against his heaving breath. “Stop talking about yourself like that,” he says.

Dean nods quickly. “Yeah okay,” he babbles, breathy. “Okay. Whatever you say.” He tugs Castiel back in, and Castiel isn’t one to deny him.

Desire overwhelms him. All of Castiel’s fantasies crowd his mind at once, and for a few moments he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. Dean hums and bites at his lower lip, and Castiel’s fingers itch for more contact—arms, chest, the small of his back. The softened flannel of Dean’s shirt, the clumsy collision of their fingers as Dean goes to get his hands under Castiel’s sweater. He crowds himself in further, and Dean lets him with a sigh.

It's been years since he's touched Dean's soul. He thinks of the many things that have touched it after him, taken it for granted. He can never get back to it, can never reclaim it or soothe it's worried parts like he once could, so he aims to get his hands on every other part of Dean available to him. He doesn't want to leave an inch of skin not witnessed by him.

He latches himself onto the skin under the hinge of Dean’s jaw and revels in the salty taste. Dean grips the hair at the nape of his neck and inhales sharply. “Jesus, you’re gonna leave a mark,” he says.

Castiel hums and plots a path down Dean’s carotid, laps at the mangled scar poking out from under his collar. “Marks,” he corrects with a huff. He feels Dean swallows under him. He peppers a few light kisses along the way, and sucks another mark at the base of Dean’s throat. Dean’s hips twitch, his erection evident against Castiel’s own. He groans through a wave of arousal and pulls away to shove Dean’s flannel off of his shoulders. “Too many clothes.”

Dean laughs. “You’re one to talk,” he says, tugging at the hem of Castiel’s sweater.

Castiel bats his hands away. “Later,” he says. Dean whines, so desperate and genuine that Castiel is nearly overwhelmed with the heat in his gut. He bucks into it, and Dean pulls him back in for another filthy kiss before Castiel pulls away again. “Lie down.”

Dean nods, wide-eyed, and scrambles to recline against the table. The angle’s all wrong, though; the table’s not wide enough, and the corner digs into Castiel’s thigh as he leans down to ruck Dean’s t-shirt up and press his lips to the soft skin of his chest. He growls, unsatisfied, and stands up fully to correct the problem. He shoves the end chair out from under the table and hears it collide with something else in the room—hopefully nothing too damaging, though Castiel could care less right now.

“Oh f*ck,” Dean says as Castiel hooks his arms under Dean’s thighs. He rotates him so he lies down the length of the table, his legs hanging off the edge. Like a feast , Castiel thinks to himself. All panting indulgence. All mine.

He must’ve said that last part out loud, because Dean lets out a low sound. Castiel resumes his exploration of Dean’s chest, cataloguing what sounds are made where and for what reason. “Beautiful,” he mutters. He nips at the skin of Dean’s sternum and continues to mumble his way down Dean’s torso, little truths he’s been dying to say only in this context.

“What a miracle to have remade you,” he says before latching onto Dean’s right nipple.

“I wish I could see your soul,” he murmurs against Dean’s ribs.

“Wanted...to have…” he says between sucking at the skin of Dean’s soft, scarred belly. He may or may not be losing the plot, but he thinks he gets his point across. He trails another series of kisses down Dean’s stomach. He thinks he might finally, truly understand what all the saints were talking about when they described divine ecstasy; the simple act of worship leaves him heady and disoriented, and he never wants to be anything else.

“sh*t.” Dean’s stomach muscles hitch under Castiel’s touch, and a small sound comes from above. Castiel looks up to Dean’s face and sees that Dean’s wiping at his own wet face. He notices Castiel watching him and lets out a shuddering breath. “sh*t, f*ck. Sorry, this isn’t sexy at all.”

Castiel pauses his ministrations to bring Dean up again, hands framing his face. He wipes at a stray tear. “Do you want to stop?” he asks.

“No,” Dean says. God, his voice is cracking at the edges. “f*ck, no, don’t stop, I just…” His jaw moves, but no sound comes out. Castiel knows the words he wants to say.

“I love you, too,” he says, and kisses Dean softly on the lips.

He goes to pull away, only for Dean to drag him in. “f*ck,” he growls into Castiel’s mouth. His face is still wet. When Dean pulls away, it’s to finally take off his shirt. It’s nothing Castiel hasn’t seen before, but now it’s his , all freckled and scarred, all hard muscle with soft edges. A desperate sound escapes Castiel’s lips and shoves Dean back down onto the table.

His hands are clumsy as they try to work off Dean’s belt, but he manages to undo it as well as Dean’s fly. He gets Dean’s jeans around his ankles and nearly salivates at the wet spot already forming on the front of his tented boxers. He presses a series of quick kisses down Dean’s torso before tugging at his waistband. Dean’s erection springs free, hard and leaking. Castiel immediately takes it into his mouth.

“Oh, f*ck ,” Dean says as Castiel wraps his lips around the head of his co*ck. “Cas, Cas .”

He’s already got a hand gripping Castiel’s hair, and his breaths are coming out short and needy. His eyes, red-rimmed, are wild. He’s not going to last long, and that fact sends a thrill down Castiel’s spine. How wonderful , he thinks, that I get to take you apart here. That I get to care for your body where you cared for mine.

He wraps his hand around the base of Dean’s co*ck and sucks him down, tasting pre-come and something wholly Dean. He drags his nails down the side of Dean’s thigh, wanting to mark the flesh there, before using an arm to hold Dean’s half-aborted thrusts down. He watches Dean’s face as he licks and bites his lips, fighting back the most amazing sounds.

He works at Dean a little more, learning what punches the whines and moans from his chest. He deviates once or twice to nip at the junction of Dean’s thighs and hips, and licks his way around the base of Dean’s co*ck until the man’s keening. He takes him in and feels him fill his mouth.

Dean’s free hand scrabbles for something. It grabs onto the hand holding down Dean’s hips and turns its palm to the ceiling, and grasps it tightly.

Castiel hums, and Dean drives further into his mouth. He’s babbling now, mostly repeatedly Castiel’s name like it’s a form of prayer. “Sh- sh*t , Cas,” he groans out. “I’m gonna...f*ck, I’m gonna come.” He bites off a moan, and lets go of Cas’s hair to tap his shoulder as a warning.

Instead, he doubles down and lets Dean f*ck up into his mouth. He feels the head of Dean’s co*ck hit the top of his throat once, twice. Dean grips his shoulder, and he lets out a strangled, “ f*ck , Cas,” before spilling into Castiel’s mouth. Castiel works him through it, jaw aching slightly, and sweeps his thumb across Dean’s knuckles as Dean shakes and shudders.

He comes off of Dean’s fading erection with a pop and notices that some of Dean’s cum escaped his mouth. He makes quick work of cleanup with his tongue, eager at the taste. Dean stares at him, wide-eyed, saying something under his breath before sitting up and pulling Castiel’s face to his own, licking into his mouth.

“Bed,” Dean says when they part. His voice is wrecked and his face is wet.

Castiel hums in disagreement. “Too far,” he says, and realizes he’s not faring much better. He’s wearing far too many clothes, and divests himself of his sweater and shoes. He leans in for another kiss, rutting against Dean’s open thigh for a few moments before Dean is tapping and shoving at his shoulders. Castiel relents.

The next five minutes are a glorious mess. They don’t break for long, and continuously collide back into each other like balls in a pinball machine before remembering that they’re supposed to be making their way upstairs. Dean still has his boots on, and nearly collides with the wall trying to kick them off, as well as the jeans wrapped around his ankles. Castiel doesn’t do much better; he almost faceplants on the stairs trying to get his own pants off, and tries to will the offending stair to disappear before remembering that he’s human. This causes Dean to laugh and call him adorable, which means Castiel gets distracted and has to resist the urge to perform fellati* on him all over again.

They do , however, manage to get to the bedroom. Dean’s tongue elicits all sorts of noises from him that he can’t name or reasonably explain. Castiel wonders if there would be a way to stay like this forever. He thinks a pair of performance artists tried it once, existing while joined at the mouth. They did, unfortunately, pass out after several minutes, but Castiel’s sure he can perfect it where they went wrong.

The back of his knees hits the bed, and they scramble up the sheets until Castiel feels Dean pressed into him from above. Dean’s hands are invariably fascinated with his nipples, pinching and swiping his thumbs over them repeatedly. Castiel’s erection arches hot towards the junction of Dean’s leg and hip, and he rolls up into it with a moan.

Dean pulls away, and Castiel is remiss for the lack of him, but stills as Dean’s thumb swipes at his cheekbone. His looks...happy. He looks like he’s in love. He’s in love with Castiel , holy f*ck. A lump forms in his throat at the thought. He’s so lucky. He’s so, so lucky.

Dean’s eyes drift to something just above him. He takes a hand off of Castiel’s chest and slowly reaches for what he sees. He pulls out the olive green jacket, stain still flaking. Everything stops.

Dean leans back until he’s sitting on Castiel’s thighs. The fabric is bunched between his hands. Dean frowns at it for a few moments, before looking at Castiel questioningly.

The lump continues to grow in Castiel’s throat. “I missed you,” he croaks out.

Dean’s face goes through several changes. He lets out a ragged breath, and then tosses the jacket to the side. “C’mere,” he says, hands reaching forward. Castiel surges up to meet him halfway.

Dean is frantic in his explorations. His hands grip Castiel in a vise, as if he might disappear into the sheets to never be seen again. He’s got his tongue on the underside of Castiel’s jaw between long, profanity-ridden rambles about all the things he wants Castiel to do to him. “Gonna f*ck me,” he babbles, “let me f*ck you, gonna...sh*t, get down on my knees, gonna be good for you.” Each suggestion pulls a desperate sound from Castiel’s throat as the images dance through his head. He falls back onto the bed with a groan, and Dean follows him.

Castiel is already a live wire of arousal, and he continuously bucks into whatever fleeting contact he can get. It’s not enough—not enough at all. He wraps his legs around Dean’s midsection, crowding him in closer, and manages to dislodge one of Dean’s hands and guide it to his co*ck. “ Dean ,” he says, and feels his breath hitch as Dean’s fist encircles him. “Dean, Dean .”

There’s that look on Dean’s face again. Happiness, big and bright, bursts from Castiel’s chest. Dear lord, he didn’t know it could feel like this. Dean’s hand grips at the nape of Castiel’s neck and he kisses him, ever so softly. Like he loves him, because he does. He does . Castiel wonders when that fact is going to stop feeling like divine revelation. He hopes never.

The lump in Castiel’s throat dislodges as he f*cks himself up into Dean’s fist. His eyes prick. He feels himself slipping past coherency at an alarming rate, so he tightens his legs around Dean’s waist and grips Dean by the back of his head, hoping it gets the point across. Dean picks up speed, and Castiel repeats his name as his heart beats louder and louder still. He pulls Dean back in for another kiss.

His thrusts quickly lose their rhythm, and everything narrows down to a point. He spills white-hot onto his stomach and over Dean’s fingers. The org*sm leaves him panting against Dean’s mouth. He chases it through the aftershocks until he is finally, delightfully boneless. There’s a press of lips to jaw, and through half-lidded eyes he brings Dean’s head down to blindly kiss his face. He thinks he manages the forehead, he’s not sure.

When he opens his eyes, Dean is rolling off of him. His hand pulls away, but Castiel manages to grab him by the wrist and bring it to his face. He marvels at the sight of his own release smeared over the knuckles of Dean’s fingers, at the evidence of them existing like this together. This, too, he makes quick work of cleaning with his tongue, before letting go of Dean’s hand and swiping his fingers over the smear of sem*n on his stomach. He can feel Dean watching him with rapt fascination.

“Jesus f*cking Christ,” Dean rasps out.

A hand grips Castiel’s wrist, slightly hesitant. Dean studies Castiel’s hand much the same way he did on painkillers, all careful mechanical assessment and squeezes to the fleshy part of his palm. Then he sticks Castiel’s fingers in his mouth, tongue swiping over fingerprint ridges and swallowing. He...oh, he really likes it, doesn’t he?

Castiel pulls his hand away and lunges for him with a strangled whine, tasting himself on Dean’s tongue. Castiel grips at the meat of his ass. Dean moans underneath him. “Cas,” he says between kisses, “That’s...f*ck, we’ll just keep going if you don’t stop.”

He doesn’t see a problem with this. He tells Dean as much, and Dean chuckles. “Friggin’ horndog,” he says. “Just...sleep, alright? I need it. I’ve been up since Tuesday.”

Castiel doesn’t want to stop, but he sees Dean’s point. Exhaustion is already clawing at him. The day has been...quite eventful. Still, he wants this to last. He gives Dean one last kiss before rolling away.

They arrange themselves under the bedclothes quite easily. It’s how they’ve slept most nights in this bed: Castiel on his back, Dean on his side. But there are more points of contact now, skin unafraid to touch skin. Castiel wraps an arm around Dean’s shoulder. He can feel Dean’s breath on his clavicle. He feels Dean’s fingernail lightly scraping meaningless shapes onto his chest, his movements becoming slower and slower with the passing time.

Happy and content, he falls asleep.

Dean’s reluctant to wake up. To be fair, in the past 48 hours he has a) driven for 25 straight hours b) confessed his love to his best friend and c) got his soul sucked out of his dick, so he thinks he has the right to sleep in an extra ten minutes. Also, he’s tucked into the arms of the man he loves, and everything is warm and smells good, and it’s...it just feels nice. He feels lucky, and that’s a feeling he’s so rarely been given that he wants to grip it tight and never let it go.

Cas has other ideas, though. Dean’s only awake because Cas had shifted under him. He cracks open an eye to see Cas staring down at him. He’s f*cking gorgeous, his hair messed up five ways to Sunday and a smile on his lips. God, and he’s so earnest about it, too.

Dean inhales sharply and stretches his limbs out a bit before wrapping himself around Cas like a python. “Morning, sweetheart,” he says, because he can. It still sends a thrill through him, like any minute someone’s gonna catch him out and everything will go sh*t there and then.

Nothing happens. Or, no, that’s not right. Cas says, “Good morning, Dean,” a smile, in his voice, and the world keeps turning. Huh.

Cas keeps lying around looking stunning, so Dean kisses him. The sweat-sex smell from last night is making his dick perk up like it just won the lottery—which, technically, it did. Cas is in the same boat, judging from the hardness pressing into Dean’s leg.

Lazy morning sex is awesome. Cas must have some sort of boning itinerary or whatever kind of horndog nerd sh*t for all the things he wants to do to Dean, because the dude is thorough . His hands don’t really stop for more than five seconds until he’s got both of their dicks wrapped around his fist, and for the second time in 24 hours Dean feels his soul leave his body as he watches Cas come apart.

Dean could get used to this. He could really, really get used to this.

Castiel moves to get up, and Dean clings to him. He doesn’t whine , he doesn’t do that, but he does make a high-pitched complaining noise. “The f*ck are you moving for? We’re basking.”

“We need to get up,” Cas says. “Jack will be home soon.”

Dean recalls losing most of his clothes somewhere between the dining room and here, and cringes. He thinks Cas’s underwear might’ve ended up on a lampshade. “Yeah,” he says. “No kid should have to see that.”

It’s a sticky process, disentangling. Dean slips on an old pair of pajama pants and a shirt, which both smell slightly musty from a month of being locked away in a dresser. Out of the corner of his eye he watches Cas take his old jacket off the ground and fold it carefully, before tucking it under the bed.

Cas’s underwear isn’t on a lampshade, but the path of destruction’s pretty obvious. There is a small dent in the wall from where Cas manhandled the chair away from the table. Not obvious at first, unless you know it’s there. Easily coverable with a small shift of a cabinet. They manage to clean up the clothes without causing any more property damage, throwing the occasional comment or joke in but not speaking of anything too heavy. That conversation’s coming, though. Dean can feel it on the horizon.

Jack pops in while he’s making breakfast. Like, literally pops in, gust of air and all.

“f*cking—” Dean bites off the rest of it. He’d gotten so used to Cas and Jack ambling around like humans. He double checks Cas’s eggs to make sure he didn’t ruin the yolks or flip them straight into the stratosphere. “I thought you didn’t do the flying anymore.”

“I saw the car outside and got excited,” Jack tells him. “It’s okay, only one person saw me.”

Cas frowns. “Who?”

“Kim,” Jack says. “But it’s okay. She was pretty delirious from being up for 72 hours.” He frowns. “I hope she doesn’t crash her car.” He looks up at both of them. “Hold on.”

A blink and he’s gone. Dean stares at the empty space for a couple moments, still reeling, before Jack pops back in. “Okay, I gave her enough alertness to go home. She didn’t see me in the rearview mirror, I don’t think.” Then he smiles, proud of himself.

“Jack...” Cas says, voice all full of affectionate, fatherly disapproval. He shakes his head but doesn’t say anything else. Dean loves them both so much.

Jack turns his full attention to Dean. “So you’re back?” he asks. “You’re not leaving again?”

The words get stuck in Dean’s mouth. “Uh, yeah,” he says. He looks at Cas. “If that’s alright.”

Because sure, they love each other and f*cked, but there’s all the other sh*t that comes with it. Dean still left, and said some pretty horrible sh*t on the way out. He wouldn’t blame Cas for not wanting him back full time.

All’s still for a moment, and Dean waits on Cas’s answer.

Cas frowns, confused, before smiling. “Of course it’s alright,” he says.

Relief floods through Dean. He feels his knees nearly give out, but he covers it up with a manly grunt. “Then, uh, yeah. I’m back.”

Next thing he knows, Jack’s hugging him. Dean hugs him back, patting his back and trying not to cry for the god’s honest third time in 24 hours. “Good,” Jack says. “Don’t do that again.”

Dean huffs out a laugh. “Not planning on it.” Jack stays attached to him like an octopus. Dean has to tap his shoulder. “Uh, kid? Breakfast is about to start burning.”

Jack sniffles a little and pulls away. “Can I have some?” he asks.

“Dude,” Dean says. “Don’t even have to ask, sit down.”

He sets Cas’s eggs on some toast and sets it aside. He whips up a quick batch of cheesy scrambled eggs for Jack and himself, and sets it all down on the table. He picks up Cas’s empty coffee cup and refills it, and kisses Cas on the cheek with a “Here ya go, sweetheart” just because he can.

He digs into his own plate across from the two of them, leaning across the counter. He digs into his food—the last meal he had was a Hostess Fruit Pie he got at a gas station some 500 miles back. He’s halfway through it when he looks up and sees two faces staring at him: Cas, with some mixture of fondness and what Dean’s beginning to realize is barely-restrained horniness, and Jack with wide, shocked eyes.

Oh, right. Dean sets his fork down. “Uh, so,” he says to Jack. “Uh yeah, that’s...that’s also happening. Me and Cas are…” They’re not dating, Dean knows that. He thinks they skipped over that part sometime in 2011. And they’re not married, though doesn’t that idea sound just swell and absolutely terrifying. “We’re…”

“We love each other,” Cas supplements. “Very much.”

Dean nods. “Yeah, that,” he says, pointing. A smile creeps up his face, and he feels like a teenage girl. “That’s it.”

“Cool!” Jack says, and starts to eat. “I’m glad you two aren’t being stupid anymore.” Dean lets out a laugh at that.

Jack soon fills the conversation gap with news about school and his friends. It’s all stuff Dean’s already heard over the phone, so he thinks Jack might be trying to pull a fast one and cover up the fact that he went behind his dad’s back for a month. He does it pretty badly, though, weirdly over enunciating and constantly saying things like “you wouldn’t know because we definitely haven’t talked at all in the past few weeks”. Like father, like son.

Cas either doesn’t pick up on it or doesn’t mind. He mostly stares at Dean with that lovey-dovey look in his eyes, and Dean catches himself glancing away the first few times they make eye contact before he realizes he doesn’t have to do that anymore. It’s like he’s just taken the training wheels off; he hasn’t crashed into the concrete yet, but he’s still wobbly.

Jack’s Impala-fueled adrenaline rush wears off pretty quick, and he’s soon off to go sleep away a night of doing nothing but studying. Dean watches him trudge up the stairs and wonders if Sam ever looked like that at Stanford, all slumped shoulders and tired around the eyes for reasons other than death and destruction. And then that reminds him of Sam, and the fact his phone is still in the back of the car.

“sh*t,” he says, and turns to Cas. “Uh, be right back.” He doesn’t know what to do. He’s only going to be gone for like, fifteen minutes. Does he kiss him on the lips? Squeeze his shoulder? He opts to quickly give a slightly befuddled Cas a kiss on the forehead, and makes a mad dash for his car.

When he opens his phone, he’s got twenty texts and just as many missed calls. Dean quickly scrolls through the texts, which start out confused and concerned before devolving into calling him stupid and an asshole. Yeah, that sounds about right. Grimacing, Dean dials Sam’s number. It picks up after the second ring.


“Heyyyy Sam,” Dean says back, as casually as possible. “How’s it hanging?”

He can practically feel Sam trying to summon whatever psychic mojo he’s got left to blow his brains out. “What the f*ck, Dean, I’ve been trying to get ahold of you for two days.”

“I told you where I was going!”

“You told me you were impulse-driving to Washington without telling Cas,” Sam points out. “And then went radio silent. I thought you’d...I dunno, accidentally driven into a ditch or thrown yourself into the lake if Cas told you to f*ck off.”

Dean cringes at that. Fair enough. “Well, it worked out! I got here yesterday, alive , and he didn’t tell me to f*ck off, so...put that in your pipe and smoke it, bitch.”

Sam sighs, is probably rubbing at his forehead right now if he isn’t single-handedly translating all of this to Eileen like the deaf version of landline eavesdropping. “You could’ve called earlier is all I’m saying,” he says.

“Yeah, well, I got distracted,” Dean tells him. He fights back a smile and leans against the car, feeling smug. “Good kind of distracted, by the way. All-night distracted.”

“You—” Sam cuts himself off with a half-frustrated, half-disgusted groan. “I really didn’t need to know that.”

Okay, now this is fun. “Hey, Sammy, I thought you’d be happy for us!” Dean says, all mock offense.

“I am!” Sam protests. “Just—” He makes another sound that translates roughly to ‘I don’t want to think about my brother and my best friend doing it’

“All night,” Dean repeats, reveling in his little brother’s misery. “And this morning, too. Looking for another round here before dinner.”


“Don’t be hom*ophobic, Sam.”

Sam sputters. “I’m not being—” Then, a resigned, “I hate you.”

“No, seriously,” Dean continues, having the time of his life, “I didn’t know you were some kind of bigot.”

“I’m hanging up now,” Sam tells him. “Happy for you both. Call me when you wanna talk about literally anything else.”

He makes good on his promise and the line goes dead. Dean shoves his phone in his pocket, grinning, and leans against the car for another minute before heading back inside.

Mona’s happy that Dean has returned to the house—she well and truly is. She’d only heard the news when Cas had missed his weekly round of cribbage with Blanche (which is one of those things that you show up for even if you’re sick and/or dying) and the woman herself had gone over to investigate. It caused quite a titter among her friends, many of whom were too opinionated for their own good, and the poor man was practically assaulted with questions come Ettie’s birthday that next Saturday.

But he hadn’t seemed to mind. In fact, there was an otherworldly glow about him. Mona had told him as much, and Cas had chuckled knowingly. And he answered everybody’s questions earnestly—almost too earnestly, especially when it came to anything Ettie was wondering about—and with a smile Mona was unsure had ever graced his face before in her presence.

So, mostly, Mona is glad to have Dean back. Mostly .

“Honey, please do not tell me how to cook my own recipes,” she tells him. She wields her spoon at him as threateningly as she can; the effect is slightly lost on account of her stature, but she does manage to flick bits of beef and garlic onto his shirt, which she counts as a win.

Dean grimaces at the new stains on his shirt, but holds a hand up in surrender. “Okay, okay,” he placates, putting on a soft voice Mona’s sure worked very well for him in his youth. “I’m not, for the record. I’m not. I’m just saying, as a friend , you could use a little more bacon.”

Mona shrugs. “Well, your Cas likes it just the way it is.” She pointedly doesn’t add it any more bacon, and instead opts for the brown sugar and the canned chilis. “Now write that down, two teaspoons of brown sugar, two cans of green chiles, you got that?”

Dean nods and writes it all down on a spiral notebook held together by duct tape. Mona lets the meat continue to brown just a little more, stirring and poking at it this way and that. Cas is apparently outside ‘doing garden maintenance’ according to Dean, though Mona knows it probably has something to do with the dirty old car that rolled up ten minutes after she arrived.

She doesn’t know if what they’re doing is some sort of book collector hobby-trading, or something more like what that Walter White does on TV. She knows Cas smokes marijuana, but that stuff is everywhere now. Hell, she even split a cookie with Frank once and they ended up dancing to Neil Diamond and eating their weight in leftover lasagna. She’s inclined to shy away from the idea that these nice hom*osexuals sell drugs, but who’s to say? She’s made her peace with it. As long as everybody’s happy and nobody gets hurt. And as long as they both continue to indulge in her baking.

Dean taps the notebook a couple times before looking up at her. “You know he’s never going to make this, right? That whole month was just a fluke.”

Mona scowls. “Oh, give him some credit.”

Dean chuckles. “Yeah, yeah.” He grins. “Y’know he made me pasta the other day? I mean, it was for breakfast, but...pasta’s pasta, y’know?” He shifts a little. “Thanks for looking after him, by the way. When I was gone. You really helped him out.”

Mona nods. “I know,” she says sweetly. Then, less sweetly, “You better not pull any of that sh*t again.”

Dean blinks. “Whoa, Mona.”

“I’m serious,” she says. She looks him dead in the eye so he can get the message. “You didn’t see him when you were gone. Now I always had faith that you two would pull it together, but that doesn’t excuse anything.” She threatens him with her spoon again. “You hurt him like that again, I’ll find you.”

From the end of her spoon, Dean looks at her with wide eyes. “I believe you,” he says.

“You better,” she says, and goes back to stirring the meat in the pot. “Pass me the mesquite seasoning, won’t you, dear?”

It takes a moment for Dean to respond. Mona thinks she might’ve frightened the poor boy a little more than intended. Good. “Uh, yeah,” he says, finally, and hands her the shaker.

She puts the exact amount, tells him to write it down. He does. They go through the same routine with the crushed tomatoes, and then with the beef broth. The whole kitchen comes alive with the smell, a certified balm against the cold and dreary weather churning outside. Finally, during a bout of comfortable silence, Dean clears his throat.

“I won’t,” he says. “Do that again, I mean. Wasn’t like it was all sunshine and rainbows for me, either.”

Mona smiles, satisfied. “Good,” she says. She knocks her shoulder against his. “He loves you very much, you know.”

Dean smiles and looks down, as bashful as a newlywed. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I know.”

They’re lying in bed with the window open. The rain’s putting up a goddamn show outside, and the cool breeze makes their skin turn all goose-pimply, but it feels nice on Dean’s chest. They’ve had to be much more quiet most nights, what with Jack next door. Dean doesn’t mind it too much. Makes him feel like he’s a part of an old married couple, not that he’d tell anybody but Cas that. And there’s something to the fact that they’ve made it an unspoken contest to see who gets who to break the silence. Cas is winning, unfairly and with his foolproof ‘delayed gratification’ strategy, but Dean can’t bring himself to be mad about it. And in any case, he’s starting to pick up a few wins himself.

As the post-org*sm haze dies down, Dean thinks and keeps thinking about the past couple weeks. He didn’t think he could be this consistently happy. It’s not perfect, obviously. He still doesn’t know what to call what they are to each other. He fumbles sometimes on what to do or say, but that’s par for the course as far as he’s concerned.

They’ve had dinner in the dining room once. It was a bit of a f*cking ordeal, mostly because Dean had to juggle whatever emotions spring from simultaneously remembering the worst and best day of his life and Jack kept looking between Dean and Cas like their whole family might collapse at any second. It went fine, though, is the thing. They ate and talked and by the end of it Dean had another good memory in his arsenal.

Still, it’s that and what Mona said that has Dean’s mind reeling a bit. Guilt claws its way up his throat, threatening to close it. He fights back.

“I’m sorry I left,” he says. He turns to Castiel. “‘M not doing it again, I hope you know that.”

Castiel looks at him, concerned. “I know that now,” he says. He reaches out and laces Dean’s hand in his. He’s quiet for a moment, staring at their hands before asking, “Why did you?”

Dean swallows and looks anywhere else. He looks at their hands as well. “Thought you didn’t love me anymore,” he tells him. “Thought you wanted me gone.” When he finally feels brave enough to look at Cas, the guy’s face is so confused it’s almost hilarious. “I came onto you like, three separate times, and each time you turned me away. And I mean, I didn’t...didn’t tell you, that’s on me, but I just felt dejected and angry. Thought it’d be better if you saw less of me anyway.”

“I didn’t want that,” Cas tells him.

“I know that now,” Dean parrots back. He feels his eyes prick, and licks his lips. “I just... I friggin’ slow danced with you, and you ditched me. And you seemed so angry about it, how else was I supposed to take it? What was happening there, man?”

Cas holds his gaze for a moment before bringing their hands up between them. He rubs the pad of his thumb over Dean’s knuckle, face heavy in thought.

“I’d...there were rules,” he says finally, “about what I could and couldn’t have. And I was happy to follow them, to keep your friendship. But you broke them, and I...I thought you were acting callous. That it wasn’t real to you, even though it was very real to me.” He fidgets a little more with his thumb, eyes locked on the movement. “And it was too...too tempting, and I was a coward.”

His voice breaks on the last word, and he looks at Dean like...f*ck, like he’s waiting for confirmation. Holy sh*t, does he really believe that? How could he, who would…?

Dean remembers their fight. Remembers what he said. f*ck . Dean wants to hold him, or kiss him, or buy him flowers or just f*ck again and hope Cas gets the message, but he won’t. Or he will, but later. He’ll keep doing it the rest of his life to make up for what he did, but he’s gotta start somewhere.

“You’re not a coward, Cas,” he says, and looks him in the eye so that he knows. “You’re...f*ck, you’re the bravest person I ever met. I mean you, you defied God and fate without batting an eyelash.” He swallows. “And...love’s terrifying, man. I don’t know how you’ve managed it. I only realized I was in love with you five months ago and I’ve been scared sh*tless the entire time.” He lets out a disbelieving laugh. “Hell, I’m still scared now.”

Cas’s eyes go soft around the edges, and next thing Dean knows they’re kissing. It’s a chaste thing, close-mouthed and only lasting a couple seconds. When Cas pulls away, Dean wraps an arm around him and pulls him close.

“I’ve been in love with you longer than five months, by the way,” he says a minute later. “Just pulled my head out of my ass sometime in June.”

“Oh?” Cas asks, subtle as a baseball bat. “How?”

Dean sighs. “I...f*ck, this is stupid. You remember how I said your soul looked like a friggin’ porch light?” Cas nods. “Yeah, that.” He feels a low rumbling against his ribs, and sees that Cas is chuckling. “Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up, asshole.”

“No, I’m not laughing because of that,” Cas says. “I just find it...interesting.”


“I fell in love when I first saw your soul,” Cas tells him, “and you realized your love for me when you saw mine.”

Oh god, okay. Dean’s already cried more times in the past month than he has in five years, he can’t keep breaking that record. “Shut up,” he mutters. “Was just a porch light.”

“I find it incredibly endearing.”

Dean snorts. “Endearing’s just a nice way of saying stupid.”

Cas hums and shrugs. “Still.”

Cas falls asleep before Dean does. When he hears the sound of Cas’s snoring, he extracts himself slowly. He slides the window until it’s only just open. He puts a pair of socks on his feet, and finds another pair to put on Cas’s. He grabs the tape player off of the nightstand and fishes out a cassette to play. When he crawls back into bed, he pulls the comforter up high over them and places an earbud in Cas’s ear. He turns off the light and puts the other earbud in. When he presses play, the music is so low you’d only be able to tell the song if you knew it by heart. Luckily, Dean does. Wrapping an arm around Cas again, he lets the words drift in and out as he falls asleep.

Hey, I felt the coldness of my winter
I never thought it would ever go
I cursed the gloom that set upon us, 'pon us, 'pon us
But I know that I love you so
Oh, but I know
That I love you so


one more chapter to go! ;)

Chapter 13: december (epilogue)


Castiel was around for the discovery of fire. He’d been fascinated by the way humans drew themselves towards it. He hadn’t understood the concept of the cold, or of sanctuary. He thought it an endearing quirk, how humans were drawn to that glow, to the noise of other people.

This is all to say that he understands now, better than ever.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Eventually Cas finds the coat.

They’ve just finished a quick run to the store—they haven’t decorated the house for Christmas or anything, and likely never will, but Dean wants Jack to experience the epic highs and lows of building a gingerbread house. He’s got it all planned out: slow cooker hot chocolate, double feature of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Die Hard , and a nice roaring fire. Just like families on TV.

He’s wrapping up a text from Jody, simultaneously planning for New Year’s and apologizing for not calling lately, when he hears Cas go to get the groceries. It’s snowed a little bit thanks to the elevation, but it’s weak sh*t compared to what gets conjured up in the midwest. Dean hears Cas’s boots trudge through the slush, and the click-swing of the trunk opening behind him. There’s the rustle of the bags, and then—nothing. It all stops. Dean thinks he might also be distracted by a text or something, but the silence stretches on and on and on.

Dean wraps up his text and makes his way to the back of the car.

Cas has got on one of Dean’s old jackets, a brown suede thing with a hole in the shoulder seam and a crusty sheepskin collar, and a thick navy-colored sweater Dean likes to stick his hands under when they get cold. He’s also holding his old trench coat in his hands, eyebrows drawn together. His fingers trace over the smudges of black and knock into the buttons.

He looks up at Dean, a silent question written all over his face.

Dean shrugs, trying for nonchalant and not getting there by half. “I missed you,” he says.

Twenty minutes later, the coat’s in a pile near the door, dropped or thrown. Dean can’t really remember. Cas hadn’t let go of it when he’d pulled Dean into a kiss in the driveway, he knows that. And it’d been with them going through the front hallway and up the stairs. Dean had nearly gotten jealous of the thing—it was taking up precious Cas real estate, and so he’d—oh, yeah. He’d been the one to throw it. Well, good. Mean’s Cas’s hands are free, which Dean is enjoying very, very much.

“Oh, f*ck me,” he lets out between gritted teeth. He grips the headboard and lets the sensation roll through him. He doesn’t have another option, really; Cas is following his ‘delayed gratification’ philosophy to a tee, which means Dean is slowly beginning to lose his mind with Cas’s fingers up his ass.

Cas’s fingers stop pumping. He’s got an eyebrow raised. “That is what I’m doing, yes,” he says. Dean doesn’t know how he can be so cool and collected. Dean feels like he’s losing coherency by the minute.

Dean laughs and swats at Cas’s shoulder. “f*ck you.”

Cas hums, and Dean feels his fingers crook a little inside him before pumping in and out again. Dean keens and Cas kisses the underside of his jaw. “Later,” he says, and Dean’s suffering. Oh god, he’s suffering in all the right ways, Jesus f*cking Christ.

This goes on and on and on, and Dean’s got a sneaking suspicion that Cas is only taking his sweet time to see if Dean can come untouched, the bastard. It just might happen. That or he’s waiting for him to beg, which he does eventually.

“God, come on just—just,” he babbles. He grips at the forearm keeping his hips in place. “Just give it to me, come on, please. Please.”

He sees something light up in Cas’s eyes, followed by a low sound. Dean only whines a little when Cas pulls his fingers out too quickly. Then there’s the mad dash of relocating the lube that got folded between the sheets and comforter sometime around finger #3.

It’s only in the absence of sensation that some of Dean’s blood flow returns to his brain, and he can see that Cas is sweating, hands frantic. His lubed fingers keep slipping around the bottle—rookie mistake—and he glares at the thing like it just killed a loved one. Dean takes mercy and takes the bottle from him, pouring a generous amount onto his hand and watching as Cas’s eyes widen when he wraps his fingers around him. He strokes one, two, three, and Cas lets out a low groan, gripping Dean by the shoulder to keep himself from falling forward.

They take things slow (the smart move, considering what happened when they first did this way too eagerly a couple weeks ago) so by the time Cas is fully seated inside Dean, they’re both breathing heavily. Cas has a dazed look on his face, all wide blue eyes and hair clinging to his forehead, and Dean pulls him for a kiss before saying, “Please, Cas” and then Cas is moving.

They find a rhythm fairly quickly, Dean getting impatient and rolling his hips with Cas’s as his arousal builds back up again. Cas, for his part, is stuck to Dean’s shoulder like a leech, rebruising old marks and murmuring sweet nothings that Dean can’t concentrate on for too long without feeling like he’s about to explode.

Dean’s not very good at keeping his mouth shut either, once they shift a bit and the angle gets good. It bubbles out of him, totally uncalled for, his breath hitching as Cas f*cks the words out of him nice and steady.

“Missed you,” he says like he hasn’t been back for over a month. “So f*cking much, f*cking Christ, I jacked off to that stupid coat way too many times.”

Cas pulls away and up, bracketing Dean with his arms. His eyes are dark and hungry and it’s the only warning Dean gets before Cas rearranges his legs a little higher and slams back into him 0 to 60 in under five seconds. From that point on Dean doesn’t really know what he’s saying, all he knows is that he’s getting f*cked into the mattress and someone’s moaning like they’re losing their goddamn mind. And Cas keeps looking at him like...god, Dean doesn’t know what he did to deserve that look, but he’s got it and he ain’t letting go of it.

Cas takes a hold of his co*ck, thumb swiping the head, and Dean’s org*sm punches out of him in a string of half-sounds, coursing through him from head to toe as Cas f*cks him through the come down.

Dean grabs a hold of the hair at Cas’s nape. Cas folds into the crook of his neck, breath fast and shallow. There’s a string of profanities Dean recognizes as Enochian as Cas’s hips begin to stutter. There’s a low groan against his neck and Cas stills above him before going limp.

They bask. They’ve got time to spare, and these cold afternoons always remind Dean of when their motel would get snowed in somewhere and he’d have an excuse to just not do anything for a few hours. Cas makes quick cleanup and tastes salty in the aftermath. The bed smells like it needs to be washed in the best way possible. They nap for an hour.

When Dean opens his eyes again he takes a moment to just watch Cas. He’s realized that the guy’s getting new sleep lines on his forehead. They intersect and cross-hatch with Jimmy’s old ones and with the frown lines evident all over his face. Dean traces them like he would a map of the world. Cas’s face twitches and his breath wheezes between his teeth.

Letting his hand drop, Dean sits up. His eyes fall to the coat on the floor, and something catches in his throat.

“Cas?” Dean asks. Cas rouses awake at the pace of molasses. “You still got my jacket under the bed?”

Cas’s eyes blink open. “Yes,” he says, voice like gravel. “Why do you ask?”

The hot chocolate doesn’t taste good until Cas suggests Dean add a bit of cinnamon into it, and then it becomes perfect. At the rate he’s downing them he’s going to be regretting it here in a few hours, but that’s a problem for later Dean. Now Dean is sipping bitching hot chocolate and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on the couch as the fire cracks and pops in the fireplace. The smell of snow is coming in through the cracked windows.

Their attempt at a gingerbread house is sitting down in the hall in the kitchen. It turned out...surprisingly well, but then again the people who built it were either a) former construction workers or b) beings of celestial knowledge. They still didn’t get the chimney exactly right, and it’s now lying in the vanilla frosting front yard alongside Jack’s gingerbread people. They’ve all made promises to eat it, but if Dean knows anything it’s that they’ll each take a bite tomorrow and then leave it to go stale until next week.

“No one’s very nice to Charlie Brown,” Jack observes from his seat on the floor. He sips at his hot chocolate. Cas nods next to Dean. They’re sitting up straight but have managed to maintain contact from their shoulders down to their feet.

“They’re a bunch of dicks now, yeah, but just...just wait, okay?” Dean tells him. He pats Cas’s knee and watches as the man visibly relaxes.

I wouldn’t be mean to Charlie Brown,” Jack continues. “We’d be best friends.”

And, of course, people stop being dicks to Charlie Brown and Linus gives his speech and they all sing as the snow starts to fall. It leaves everyone feeling all warm under the chest and they’re all going to have “Christmas Time is Here” stuck in their heads for weeks without knowing half of the words.

The credits start to roll, and Dean gets up from the couch to put the next DVD in. He stretches a bit—doesn’t hurt to give Cas a show—and feels his back pop in three different places. He switches the discs and, when the previews start playing advertising for movies coming soon in 2008, decides to tend to the fire.

It’s not in need of a new log, not yet, but Dean pokes at it anyway. A piece of black-stained fabric has found its way out of the embers and onto the floor, so he guides it back into the flames. It’s nearly all gone now.

He takes the jacket folded up next to the fireplace and regards it for a moment. He rubs a thumbs over the stain on the shoulder and watches the old blood flake off. It still terrifies him a little, he can admit that. He thinks that even when it's gone, it’s always gonna scare him.

“Dean,” Cas says from behind him. “Let me.”

Large hands tuck themselves between Dean’s palms and the old fabric, lifting it up and away. There’s the brief smell of lighter fluid, and then the jacket is lying in a heap on top of the blazing log. It catches quickly, and before long the bloody handprint disappears into the flames, its ashes already mixing with the trenchcoat. They’ll sweep it all out by the end of the week and dump it into the compost bin for the garden soil. Dean hopes that come six months from now he’ll be eating tomatoes off the vine and forgetting what it took to grow them.

A hand grips his shoulder and pulls him up and away from the fire. “The movie’s about to start,” Cas tells him.

The hand on his shoulder trails down to grasp his hand. Dean squeezes back, and they make their way back to the couch.

Jack twists from his spot on the floor to frown up at Dean. “You okay?” he asks.

He’s got secret permission from Dean to yell out ‘yipee-ki-yay motherf*cker!’ when John McClane says it later in the movie, and it’s going to be hilarious. Cas is going to be pissed at him for this, he knows it, and he’ll be passive aggressive about it for a day or two but it’ll be okay because they’ll still kiss and maybe even f*ck each other goodnight if they’re not too tired. And in the morning there’ll be breakfast and the stale gingerbread house and fielding phone calls from Sam as they drive Jack to school for his last run of finals. And they’ll keep doing that over and over again until something better comes along, but honestly? Dean can’t think of anything better than what he’s got right now.

Dean lets out a breath. “Yeah, kid,” he says, and for once he’s not lying. Jack is sitting criss-cross applesauce in front of him. Cas’s hand is warm in his, full of love and all that goop and Dean’s got it just as bad as he does. The fire makes everything glow soft orange, and they’ve got Die Hard on the TV. It doesn’t get any better than this. “I’m good.”

When they arrive at the house, the party’s already in full swing. Sam can hear Claire and Alex arguing about something inside, and Jody intervening. He can hear newscasters talking about looking forward to the New Year on the TV. He knocks a couple times for the sake of politeness, but it becomes apparent pretty soon that no one can hear him. Eileen steps in front of him and opens the apparently unlocked door, stepping inside.

Cas is the first one to see them, relief clear on his face. “Oh, good,” he says/signs. “Did you bring them?”

Sam nods. “Uh, yeah,” he says, and holds up a grocery bag full of potato chips. He’d gotten a text from Cas with a list of flavors, a pair of prayer and praise emojis, and a follow up text that just said ‘please’. Eileen was happy to comply, only because it meant she could cajole Sam into also buying matching wolf t-shirts from the truck stop.

Cas makes no note of the shirts, and immediately takes the bag. “Thank you,” he says. “We were running low on food.”

They follow Cas into the dining room, which looks... way different from the last time Sam was here. It’s painted, for one, and the walls are full of framed pictures and protective amulets behind glass. The table is absolutely covered in snacks, some store bought and some housed in secondhand pyrex dishes: coffeecake, popcorn, a whole tray of what Sam can only guess are the ‘cheese and pepper stuffed sliders’ Dean was talking about last week.

“Are you sure about that?” Eileen asks. Sam tries not to think about the fact that they’re sharing one bathroom with at least ten other people.

Dean rounds into the room, then. He looks so different from the guy Sam last saw at the Bunker, and it’s not just because he’s got an actual, god’s honest button-up shirt and jeans thing going on. Last Sam saw Dean, he was only just starting to talk to the other hunters and was still looking pale coming out of a weeklong detox period. Now he’s got color in his cheeks, and his voice when he makes a sound of greeting is clear and well-used.

After giving them both hugs, he pulls away and points at their shirts. “Went full Duran Duran, huh?” he asks.

“I think you both look very stylish,” Cas says.

“Well of course you would,” Dean says. He gestures to Cas’s torso. “You usually dress like a tourist from Maine. A hot tourist, but still.”

Cas looks like he’s about to say something, then turns to Eileen and begins to sign at a rapid pace. Sam’s fluent enough at this point to catch what he’s saying, and only manages to look away once Cas mentions something about a costume fantasy.

Dean goes to bat Cas’s hands down. “Eileen...Eileen does not want to hear about that.”

Eileen shakes her head. “No, I do,” she says. “I definitely do, keep going.”

Dean makes eye contact with Sam, which is very difficult to do now that Cas is signing something about Batman. “Want a drink?”

“Yes,” he says. “Please.”

Sam nearly knocks into Jody in the hallway, who says her hellos before going back to the living room where everyone’s seemingly gathered. Sam thinks he can hear some noise upstairs in Jack’s room—he knows Jack flew Max, Stacy, and Eliot over for the party because he’s supposed to be the responsible adult cover for any of their parents. The counter’s already littered with half-empty glasses and cans, and a big punch bowl full of orange liquid and what looks like sour gummy bears.

“You want a beer?” Dean asks. “We’ve also got soda and the, uh, New and Improved Spritzer of the Century.”

“New and improved?” Sam asks.

Dean shakes his head. “Look, all I know is that Patience and Alex came in with a full box from the liquor store, and now every bottle that was in that thing is empty. Donna had like, half a cup and now she’s stuck to the floor.”

Sam eyes the punchbowl warily. “I think I’ll stick with beer for now,” he says.

“Smart choice,” Dean says, and fishes through the fridge for a bottle. He uncorks it and hands it to Sam, before going in again and, thank god, pulling out a can of soda.

“Mr. Pibb?” Sam asks. “Seriously?”

“It was on sale, shut up,” he says. He gestures. “Besides, you’re one to talk with that thing on.”

Sam looks down and pulls at the hem of the shirt. “Eileen thought it’d be cute and funny,” he says.

Dean grimaces and makes a whip crack noise.

Okay, two can play at that game. “Oh yeah? And why’re you wearing that whole getup, huh? I don’t think I’ve seen you wear something like that outside of a case in like...never.”

Dean shuffles from one foot to the other, looking down at his chest. “Cas said I looked handsome in it,” he mutters. Red is crawling up his neck.

Sam makes a whip crack noise.

“Okay, yeah, yeah, whatever,” Dean says. He takes a sip out of his knockoff soda can. “How long are you two staying here, by the way?”

“Not long,” Sam says. “We’ve got a uh, trip planned. Visiting a few old Men of Letters hideouts along the coast, staying in a cabin in the mountains for a couple days, that sort of thing.” He smiles and picks at the label. “We’re calling it our ‘non-honeymoon honeymoon’.”

Dean whistles. “A vacation?”

“I mean, things run pretty smoothly in the bunker without us. It’ll only be a couple weeks.” And Sam’s excited. The last time he went on vacation was when he was 19 and drove up to Pfeiffer Beach for a weekend. “But yeah. Weird, right?”

“Well, yeah. Always thought the job was gonna be an all-or-nothing thing, that…” He lets the sentence hang there. Sam can fill in the blanks. That we’d only get time off when we were dead .

“Yeah,” Sam agrees. He’s still getting used to the idea himself. He always thought for so long that it had to be one way or the other, but now...He’s got a dog and a wife and a home, and sure that all looks normal on paper. But then you see that the dog is some last f*ck-you from God, and both him and Eileen are still legally dead, and that home is a library full of monster hunters. It doesn’t exactly fit, like the puzzle pieces don’t line up for the right kind of picture, and Sam thinks that might be why he loves it so much.

Dean fiddles with the soda tab. “You know I’m proud of you, right?” he asks. “And that I’m happy for you?”

Sam smiles and clears his throat. “Yeah, man,” he says. “Of course I do.”

Dean nods. “Good,” he says. “Good.”

He stands there next to the fridge, looking perfectly content. Or, not content—he’s still fidgeting, and Sam guesses he’s probably keeping his hands busy so that he doesn’t go back into the fridge for a beer. But...happy. No tension in his shoulders, no closed off expressions, no volcano waiting to happen.

“You know it’s the same for me,” Sam tells him. “With the...being proud and happy for you.”

Dean blinks. “Really?”

Sam laughs. “Yeah, man, really.”

Dean fiddles with the soda tab more, smiling like a little kid. “Awesome,” he says. “Hey, we should go check in on our better halves, don’t you think? I’m getting kinda worried about what they’re telling each other.”

Sam, who’d been taking a pull from his bottle, sputters a little. “Definitely,” he says, nodding.

Laughing, Dean pats him on the shoulder and leads him back out into the party.

The sky is mercifully clear. It had been touch and go for a while, with the rain and the slush coming down all week, but when Castiel steps out onto the back deck all he feels is the cool, dry air coming off of the mountains. It’s a welcome reprieve from the stuffiness of the interior. Not that Castiel doesn’t appreciate the party—he enjoys the company. He enjoys sitting next to Dean on the couch as conversations come and go, as the mild chaos seeps into every room and leaves no picture frame rightly angled, no surface unlittered with paper plates and plastic cups. The house isn’t meant to be empty, and Castiel rejoices to see it so full and lively.

Still, he needs a break. He is mildly drunk, having had a glass of the New and Improved Spritzer of the Century, and slightly sweaty. The deck has been cleared of any chairs or tables since the rain came in, so Castiel goes to the wooden steps and sits there.

There is a nail sticking out of one of the steps. Nothing hazardous, just a result of expanding and contracting wood. Castiel presses his thumb against the top and slowly pushes it back in. He thinks about the past summer and Dean working for hours on constructing this whole thing. He was in love with you then , he thinks to himself, and smiles. Out of everything that has occurred since Dean and him have confessed to each other, these small realizations are his favorite. Castiel feels as if he is being loved non-linearly. It is the closest he’s come to time travel in quite a long time.

He fishes through his pockets for his lighter and a small plastic tube. The man at the dispensary had given him this one for free, calling it a ‘frequent flyer discount’ and telling him to enjoy the new year. Castiel sticks the filter between his lips and lights the end, taking a long draw before watching the smoke climb up, up, up into the sky.

He hears the back door open. Shuffling footsteps make their way to him, and Kaia plops down on the step next to him. “Hey,” she says.

“Hello,” he says. He passes the joint to her without prompting. They’ve gotten into somewhat of a pattern since everyone started arriving a couple days ago. Claire even joined in yesterday, and proceeded to be incredibly quiet before bursting out into a long, meandering ramble about American Girl dolls completely unprompted.

Kaia exhales. “No offense, dude, but your place is way too cramped.”

Castiel hums in agreement. “It was worth a try,” he says. “Perhaps next year we’ll go back to the Bunker.”

“I mean, it’s nice,” Kaia amends, “and like, cozy and everything, but right now it feels smaller than my apartment.” She takes another puff before handing it back. “Again, no offense.”

“None taken.” He inhales. “So,” he says. “What are yours for this year?”

Kaia’s eyebrows knit together. “What are my what?”

“Your resolutions,” he clarifies. He can feel his fingers beginning to numb at the tips. “I believe it's customary to ask about them on New Year's Eve, along with the exercising and excessive amounts of alcohol.”

She snorts. “Ha-ha,” she says. She takes the joint from him and shrugs. “I dunno. This is the first year I ever actually, like...followed through? Kinda scared to break my winning streak.” She watches the end of the joint glow red as she breathes in. “Also, I don't want you stealing any of my ideas again.”

Castiel has to give her that. “In all fairness, you told me I could.”

Kaia shrugs again. “True.” She hands the joint back, and plays with her sleeves. “Maybe I'll start a garden, too. One of those kinds you grow out of window boxes or something. Or...catch up on all the moves I missed when I was gone. Like, I don’t really know what the deal is with Cats .”

He frowns. “They're a diminutive subspecies of feline,” he tells her, though he’s surprised she doesn’t know this, “domesticated in the Fertile Crescent in the early—”

Kaia shakes her head. “No, no,” she says. “Different kind of cats.”

Castiel nods. “Ah,” he says, trying his best to sound like he’s not completely confused.

As he takes another puff, Kaia asks him, “What about you?”


“Your resolutions.”

Castiel contemplates this. He takes one hit, then another even though he’s recently learned the etiquette of ‘puff puff pass’. He finally hands the joint over to Kaia, now nearing a stub. “Meet as many new people as I can,” he says. “Reorganize the bookshelves. General continued existence and happiness.”

Kaia blinks. “Wow,” she says. “Broad. And kinda boring.”

“Yes,” Castiel happily agrees.

Once they’ve smoked the joint down to the filter, Kaia stands up and thanks him before heading back inside. Castiel elects to stand up himself, but walks in the opposite direction towards the lake.

The mountains, usually already dusted with snow, are great ridges of white on the horizon. As Castiel makes his way around the perimeter of the house, he notes the empty garden beds and their frozen soil, the line of cars that trickles out on the gravel driveway. His boots crunch under the thin layer of snow that is spread out on the landscape.

Castiel wanders toward the dock and notes the long, bright green flotation device tied to it and loaded with many illegal fireworks. The alcohol and weed buzz low within him, and he does his best not to slip on any icy patches as he makes his way out to the edge. There are no crickets, no birds. Just the muffled sound of the party behind him, and the twinkling light on the water. It’s twenty minutes to midnight.

He stuffs his hands in his pockets and simply watches. He wants to pray, but he’s having a difficult time figuring out what he wants to say. It all feels too big for words, this feeling in his chest. The light of the house behind him doesn’t warm his back, not in the literal sense, but…

Castiel was around for the discovery of fire. He’d been fascinated by the way humans drew themselves towards it. He hadn’t understood the concept of the cold, or of sanctuary. He thought it an endearing quirk, how humans were drawn to that glow, to the noise of other people.

This is all to say that he understands now, better than ever.

He stands there at the end of the dock, rocking along to the ebb and flow, until he feels the wood tilt with the weight of another person. “Figured you came out here,” Dean says. He’s got Castiel’s sheepskin jacket in his arms. “Also figured you’d start freezing.”

Castiel smiles and takes the jacket. “Thank you,” he says, and kisses him.

“Need to get you some breath mints,” Dean says. “You taste like friggin’ Pepé Le Pew.” Despite this he goes in and kisses Castiel again. “Was missing you back there.”

Castiel hums. “I needed some fresh air,” he explains, and puts the jacket on.

Dean nods. “Yeah, so did Kaia by the smell of it,” he jokes. He goes over to the floatie and leans down to push it. They watch it amble and drift out until the rope goes taut about a hundred feet out. “Y’know,” he says, standing up to his full height again, “you’ve never told me what you do when you’re hanging out over here. And I know you still do it, you ain’t as slick as you think.”

Castiel studies Dean’s face for a moment before looking out on the water. “I smoke,” he tells him, “and I pray.” When his eyes meet Dean’s again, they’re full of surprise and confusion. “Not to God, obviously.”

“Then to who?” Dean asks.

Castiel shrugs. “Pine needles, mostly. The mountains, the stars. The fish. Whoever I wanted to be listening.” He gives Dean a soft smile. “To you, on occasion.”

Dean doesn’t say anything to that, his mouth parted slightly and his fidgeting goes stock still. Castiel admires the constellations above as he waits for Dean to process; he spies Cassiopeia again, and the Ursas Major and Minor. He sees their breath form one temporary, conjoined fog.

“Were you praying before I got here?” Dean asks finally. His voice is rough.

“I was about to,” Castiel says.

“You, uh,” Dean licks his lips, “you mind if I listen in this time? For real?”

Instead of answering him, Castiel beckons him closer. He presses a kiss into his cheek, and rests his head on his shoulder. They both look out on the scene before them.

“I was attempting to express my gratitude,” he tells him. “For this...simple feeling.”

“How Spock of you,” Dean says, his body humming the words against Castiel’s cheek.

Castiel laughs under his breath. He likes prayers better when the objects of worship talk back. “In any case,” he says, then sighs through his nose. “For so long I thought this kind of happiness was for other people. That it would never…” He collects his words. “A little over a year ago, I decided to die. I had thought it to be the end, and even when it wasn’t, I had wished it was.”

He feels Dean swallow. “Cas—”

“But now,” he continues, “now I’m happy. Truly happy. And I feel such gratitude.” He lifts his head up to look Dean in the eyes. “I’ve always been grateful to have you, Dean, in any way I could. But I’m most grateful to have you as I do now.”

Dean stares at him for a good, long while, his eyes going glassy. His head ducks down and he clumsily wipes his face. “f*ck,” he says. “Now I feel I gotta say something.”

Castiel frowns. “Like what?”

“I...I dunno, a grand declaration or something,” he says. He holds Castiel’s gaze. “You keep giving me all these great ones and I…” He swallows, then scoffs. “I wish I could. But I try to put it into words and it just all feels too…” He gestures to his mouth. “I can say I love you, but everything else just gets swallowed up.”

Castiel considers the deck that wasn’t there a year ago, the new glass in the windows. He considers the patched roof and the raised beds, the flooring, the paint clutching the outside of the house. Socks tugged onto his feet in the dead of night and a blanket pulled up to his shoulders. The smell of coffee and eggs in the morning, the orchid in the dining room.

“Dean, you don’t have to,” he says.

Dean blinks. “I don’t?”

Castiel puts his back to the water and looks at the house, a verified beacon on a dark winter night. Dean turns with him. “I think your heart resides in your hands,” he tells him. “And if that is the case, then you’ve given me a grand declaration at least three times a day.”

Dean stares at the house, realization dawning. His eyes drift from the roof down to the very foundation of the house itself before his lips form a small, self-conscious smile. “Well, now I’m blushing,” he says, and he is.

Castiel goes to say something, but before he can Dean reaches out and intertwines his hand in his. Dean’s smile goes from self-conscious to loving, and Castiel can’t stop himself from smiling back. He feels a thumb slowly and reverently graze his knuckles. The grip is firm—not suffocatingly tight, but resolute.

There is the sound of a door opening, and suddenly many voices are piling on top of each other, growing closer. When Castiel finally tears his eyes away, he sees a great crowd of twelve or so people rushing out of the house and towards the dock.

“Two minutes to midnight!” Donna yells.

The dock is overcome with people, rocking back and forth as it attempts to carry the weight of too many people. It suddenly rights itself, and Castiel sees Jack crouch down to give the wood an affectionate pat. There’s a lot of minor arguing as everybody tries to get themselves a good view of the lake, and Stacy nearly shoves Eliot into the water. Castiel and Dean get themselves turned around to face the lake again, hands still interlocked.

“Alright, alright, settle down!” Jody commands. “We got fifteen seconds left. Light her up!”

Jack’s eyes glow, and there’s the distant sound of a fuse hissing.

“Ten, nine, eight!” they count down, voices clumsy and discordant with joy. They all harmonize around five, and when they hit one it comes out in a great burst of cheers.

Castiel has his eyes to the sky for a moment before he feels Dean squeeze his hand. He cups Castiel’s face and pulls him in for a kiss. It is as sweet and lovely and awe-inducing as any other kiss they’ve shared. Dean’s hand slowly goes to the back of Castiel’s neck. Castiel grasps the fabric of Dean’s shoulder.

Distantly, there is the sound of water splashing. Someone has definitely fallen into the water. He and Dean are certainly missing this hilarious occasion, as well as the fantastic display of fireworks going on in front of them. Castiel really can’t bring himself to care, if he’s honest. For now there is only light, only celebration, only the great boom of something new.

the end.


aaaaaand it’s done. i’ve gotta say that finishing this has me feeling some kind of way. It’s the longest bit of writing that i’ve ever completed. I just want to thank my lovely beta zoe whose comments instilled endless inspiration and motivation. I’m so glad we’ve become friends. I also want to thank my local dispensary for the weed that had me writing insane dialogue exchanges in my notes app and my writing group for letting me sit down and randomly cackle my way through the latter half of this fic. and i wanna thank you all for your lovely comments and kudos!! I hope you all had a lovely time reading, and i wish you all well wherever you are. <3

take the bones, begin anew - JustStandingHere (2024)


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